Football Season in Ohio

Always to be bravest
and pre-eminent above others

Homer, The Iliad

When the harvest moon appears at the end of summer
and a madness chills the air
it's the beginning of the football season in Ohio,
home of the Buckeyes of OSU
and the "alums" and the parents of the player down the street
and the girl sitting next to you in the library
and the restauranteur who rides around with "Beat 'Em Bucks"
painted on the back of his station wagon:
it's the season Ohio turns the colors of OSU
gray and scarlet,
and hearts begin to pound like the marching band's drums
at the very thought of football
and the Buckeye cheers and the battle cries.

When school begins, the festival begins
the pep rallies and the parties to celebrate the Bucks,
who grow tired of sleep, love, music and dancing
sooner than of playing football.

The team was born at the end of the Gilded Age
when anything went but brass knuckles
and there was no fancy forward passing or razzle-dazzle,
it was all power stuff and wedge work, the flying wedge
like a V-shaped phalanx,
and it was all right to step on a man's face
but you had to be careful how you did:
it was the beginning of the sport in America
when suitcase handles were stitched to uniforms
so the players could maintain their best grip
until a touchdown was scored, or a man wounded.

And then came Woody Hayes, like General Patton
to coach the team and make the Buckeyes champions
on the gridiron of his Kulturkampf
and crusade for the old virtues of pain and discipline
because civilization is built by winners, he said
and people who scorn pleasure, live exhausting days
and keep the ball on the ground,
because if it comes easy it isn't worth a damn:
work hard, sacrifice and win the game
his famous three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust game.
At halftime he would explode in the locker room
and on the blackboard scrawl the words D E S I R E
and E X E C U T I O N
and for almost thirty years he was the head coach
until he stepped from the sideline
and punched a player …
But when Hayes left the team he left his mark.

All season long Ohio looks ahead to the last game
and meeting its old rival Michigan
in the battle for the Rose Bowl:
Buckeye fans on the south side of the stadium
shout to their allies on the north side, "Hey, north side,
OOOOOOOOOO-HHH!!"
in a mad crescendo that ends like an explosion
and thousands answer back in unison, "Hey, south side,
I I I I I I I I I I I-OOO!!" shaking the air
and then someone roars "Beat 'Emmmmmmmm, Bucks!"
and the marching band begins to play
its bass drums thundering like cannons
                                           "Hey, north side,
OOOOOOOOOOO-HHH!!"
                          "Hey, south side,
                                                    I I I I I I I I I I I-OOO!!"
and the players on the field battling it out
as victory shifts from man to man, until the final score
sends everyone home rejoicing, or not.

But when football season has officially ended
and OSU's great stadium lies buried in snow
the long cold nights echo the cries of "Beat 'Em Bucks"
and the moon rises over the stadium
like a last-minute bomb thrown all the way downfield
to the anxious hands of Ohio.

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