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After Hayes got the boot, subsequent Buckeye coaches led teams through seasons that failed to match that high standard. National titles disappeared. And John Cooper, a fine coach by most measures between 1988 and 2000, amassed a 2-10-1 record against the Wolverines. Rather than defuse the fervor of Buckeye nation, Cooper's foibles seemed only to galvanize fan hatred for those who doubted OSU supremacy.
"This is your team, your love, your passion, and now you got to put up with national people on TV, talk shows, Jim Rome: 'Ohio State can't win. They choke. They suck.' You've got to listen to that every day," says Duane Risko. The former host of WKNR's Inside the Buckeyes program, he doesn't softpedal his love for the scarlet and gray — and he still gets riled up thinking back on the negativity he endured. "We suffered, we were taunted and laughed at. 'You guys suck, you blow, you can't even beat friggin' Michigan!"
The program's savior proved to be a mild-mannered straight arrow in a sweater vest. Jim Tressel took over the program in 2001 and quickly reestablished Buckeye swagger with an unlikely national championship at the end of the 2002 season. Tressel would go on to collect six Big Ten titles, five bowl wins, and an 8-1 record against the school up north. In the Buckeye pantheon, he sat right next to Hayes.
The rekindled sense of pride isn't lost on Risko.
"When it was our turn finally to stick it in their ass, Jim Tressel comes up and breaks one off in theirs, then they say, 'Oh it was luck,'" he says, still relishing the conquests of years ago. "Then he turns around and does it again, and again.
"Tressel had us back in the hunt again. And now, all these fans around us who were breaking it off in our asses for years, now we were able to say, 'Yeah, who sucks? Who blows now, huh? Take your urination-stained helmets and go beat it.' Well, we got revenge. We were celebrating.
"Look at Tressel's run. That's why he was loved, because he restored the fan base to where old men could wear their hats and their jackets, they could pull them out of the closet. You could go down to Uniontown, Youngstown, Marion, Ohio, Rio Grande, Ohio — wherever you went, people were wearing Ohio State stuff once again. Why? Because Jim Tressel beat Michigan and restored the proud, rich tradition."
The recaptured glory was also enough to knock some fans a few notches down the evolutionary ladder, to a subspecies of douche: the Bucknut.
THE FREAK FACTION
It was in January of 2008 that sports blogger Spencer Hall found himself sitting amid a thicket of OSU fans at the BCS National Championship Game in New Orleans, with No. 1 Ohio State squaring off against No. 2 Louisiana State. In the first half, LSU's All-American safety Craig Steltz went down with a shoulder injury. About ten OSU fans surrounding Hall stood up in unison, with their index and middle fingers bent together into a mushed "O" shape.
Hall figured he knew what was up, but he asked what the gesture meant anyway. A nearby fan grabbed his fingers together into the shape.
"Pussy," he said.
The pussies went on to win, 38-24.
"It's really hard to get over the anecdotal evidence," Hall says today. He writes about college football for SB Nation, a gig that lets him see up close each big program's fan base — and the stereotypes rivals throw at one another. He's mocked up a vivid profile of the Buckeye Everyman.