In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade’s Sports section. Sports writer Matt Markey talked with Mark Rea, the author of the latest book on Ohio State football - The Die-Hard Fan’s Guide to Buckeye Football, which received a public endorsement from OSU head coach Jim Tressel at a recent news conference.
Rea’s book is intended to be the ultimate chronicle of one of the greatest college football programs in history. It starts with the genesis of the Buckeyes and then works its way through the nearly 120 years of scarlet and gray.
Rea documents all the football legends, the national championship seasons, and the Heisman Trophy winners, but he also goes in-depth on the rich history of Ohio Stadium, recounts the Horseshoe’s greatest games, and details some the biggest games in college football’s best rivalry - Ohio State and Michigan.
Rea, who is the managing editor of the popular OSU fan-based publication Buckeye Sports Bulletin, is also an analyst on the NFL Network’s College Football Now program.
“I HAVE always been interested in the roots of Ohio State football, and while there are a million books on the Buckeyes, most seem to believe the program started with the 1968 national championship team. I always thought there was room out there for a book that explored the early days of Ohio State football. I wanted to know more about how the program started, how it grew, and the coaches, players, and people behind the scenes that allowed Ohio State football to reach the status it enjoys today.
“TO UNDERSTAND the relationship Ohio State football fans have with their team is to understand the very basic tenets of a love story. Entire generations have been weaned on scarlet and gray, and when it is their turn, they pass the folklore and traditions on to the next. It’s nearly impossible to be anything but a die-hard Buckeye fan because there is no such thing as a casual follower of Buckeye football. Each Saturday in the fall, millions live well when the team wins and die hard when it loses. The fan base is so divergent - big and small, young and old, affluent and those who live paycheck to paycheck. There are fans who have had season tickets to home games practically all of their lives and those who have never laid eyes on Ohio Stadium. There are those who were rocked to sleep in a scarlet and gray cradle and want to be laid to rest in a scarlet and gray casket. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that being an Ohio State football fan is every bit a part of some people’s lives as breathing.
“I THOUGHT I knew quite a bit about Ohio State football, but I found out so much information the publishers finally had to cut me off. There was only so much that could fit into one book. One of the most interesting tidbits I found was about the first football All-American in Ohio State history. Most fans would probably guess the first All-American was Chic Harley and they would be right ... but only partially. The first OSU player to achieve All-America acclaim was Boyd Cherry, who earned his honor in 1914. Every Buckeye who has earned first-team All-American status has a buckeye tree planted in his honor in the Buckeye Grove near Ohio Stadium - except that Cherry wasn’t a first-team All-American. He received honorable mention from sports writer Walter Camp, who named the college All-America teams from 1889 to 1924. Two years after Cherry’s mention, Harley was honored by Camp as Ohio State’s first-ever first-team All-American.
“IT’S PRETTY HARD to beat national championships for providing the best moments for the Ohio State program. The first year I truly remember starting to pay attention to Ohio State football was 1968. That was a pretty good year to get started. And, of course, the 2002 championship run with all of its close games topped off by the crowd rushing the field after the win over Michigan and the double-overtime thriller over Miami - also great moments in Buckeyes history.
“I COULD NAME a lot of the favorite personalities that have been part of Ohio State football. I got to cover Woody Hayes a little bit when I was just starting out as a sports writer and I will admit the man scared the bejeepers out of me. I would have liked to have been able to spend more time with him, though. What I have read and what people who knew him [really knew him] have told me, he gave new meaning to the word ‘colorful.’ More recently, Earle Bruce is a guy who is always a joy to be around. What you see is what you get with Earle. If he likes you, he’ll tell you. If he doesn’t, he won’t hesitate to tell you that, either. From a reporter’s point of view, I have always enjoyed being around the guys who told you exactly what was on their minds without toeing the company line - guys like Art Schlichter, Alonzo Spellman and Kirk Barton readily come to mind.
“I DON’T THINK there is any question that Ohio State fans have one of the most insatiable appetites in sports. They don’t slap the university logo on everything from dog food cans to bathroom tissue because Ohio State doesn’t sell. The Buckeyes are uniquely positioned in that they are centrally located in the state, have one of the largest on-campus student bodies and one of the largest alumni bases in the world. There is a reason why Ohio State is so protective of its marketing - it is a huge money-maker for all concerned.
“I THINK success breeds contempt, and Ohio State football has enjoyed a whole lot of success over the years. I think the old saying is ‘They hate us because they want to be like us.’ I don’t remember anyone giving OSU much thought during the late 1980s and early 1990s when the Buckeyes were struggling. It’s only after Jim Tressel became head coach and the team won the 2002 national championship that the contempt returned. Tressel isn’t exactly media-friendly, which doesn’t help in this day and age of 24/7 coverage from such outlets as ESPN. But the funny thing is that he really doesn’t care what the national perception is.
“IT WAS A lot of fun to write The Die-Hard Fan’s Guide to Buckeye Football. I especially get a kick of out someone who tells me they thought they knew everything about Ohio State football, but learned something new by reading the book. That is the highest compliment they could pay to me.”