Tailgates and Touchdowns
Catch the spirit of autumn during an Ohio college-town football weekend.
With all due respect to education and research, many people identify colleges and universities solely with the football teams they field each fall. And how can you blame them? In Ohio, football is firmly ingrained in the cultures and traditions of college towns throughout the state. Every home game is an event to be celebrated well before kickoff and long after the victory bell tolls.
There's something about college football that incites exuberance in everyone from the wide-eyed freshman to the fan who has seen every game in person since 1966. On Saturday afternoons in the fall, generational gaps fade and everyone unites to show their school spirit.
As we flip our calendars to September, optimism abounds from Toledo to Cincinnati and from Oxford to Athens. This time of year, all of our favorite teams are still in the race, temperatures are just right and Ohio's landscape is beginning to explode with the vivid colors of fall. It's the perfect time to load up the SUV and hit the road for a long weekend.
For anyone interested in experiencing the pageantry of college football and the places where it is king, Ohio's got your ticket. So, pack your scarlet, orange and purple sweaters - Columbus, Bowling Green and Alliance await.
"OH ... IO!"
Ohio State Buckeyes, Columbus
A stroll down Columbus' Lane Avenue on an autumn Saturday might have you asking yourself, "Who isn't here?" When the Buckeyes are in town, more than 100,000 fans fill Ohio Stadium and thousands more pack the parking lots, bars and outdoor parties in a stew of scarlet and gray surrounding the Columbus campus.
If someone passes you and yells, "O-H!" be prepared to respond with an "I-O!" When you oblige, high fives, hoots and hollers undoubtedly will ensue. While authorities have cracked down in recent years by stepping up enforcement of open-container and public-intoxication laws, Buckeye fans still get drunk on the adrenaline that pumps through their veins on game day. But you still can't swing a buckeye-strewn necklace (which vendors sell on just about every corner) without hitting a tailgate party. In the mammoth parking lots just north of the Schottenstein Center, you'll find a sea of RVs and the appetizing aroma of barbecued brats, dogs and burgers.
As one of the nation's largest institutions of higher education, and with one of its elite college pigskin programs, Ohio State University has a high demand for football tickets from alumni, students, staff and fans every year. While that makes the probability of scoring tickets very slim for those without a connection, you can always peruse the Columbus Dispatch classifieds, contact a ticket broker, make a bid on eBay or hope to make a deal with someone looking to unload their seats on game day. But consider yourself warned - university officials remind us that they can't be responsible for tickets that aren't purchased directly from the school. "We have no dealings with brokers or scalpers," says Steve Snapp, the school's sports information director.
In the event a visiting team turns in some of its allotted tickets, however, there's a slight possibility that you could purchase some directly from the university. If you feel lucky, call 800/GO-BUCKS.
Even if you can't make it through the gates for one of this season's seven home games, there's still plenty to experience on or near campus when the Buckeyes are in town.
Two of the best places to stay for a football weekend are both located just beyond the shadow of Ohio Stadium. As you might expect, both the Holiday Inn on the Lane and the Blackwell Inn sell out quickly for home games. While both require two-night stays during football season, the Holiday Inn - home of the always raucous pre- and post-game Hineygate party - takes reservations by application only and the Blackwell - where the football team stays on Friday nights - requires a security deposit. While you may not be able to get rooms at this late date for this season at either hotel, it's never too early to start planning for next year.
Another place you may want to try for weekend accommodations is the Hilton Columbus at Easton, which is about a 15-minute drive from campus. The Hilton is part of Easton Town Center, an outdoor village of trendy shops, department stores, entertainment venues and a variety of restaurants located on the east side of Columbus. You can grab some great seafood at The Ocean Club, stock up on some Ohio State gear at the Buckeye Corner and catch a national touring comedian at the Funny Bone Comedy Club on the night before the game.
Back on campus, a revival is under way along Ohio State's southeastern border. The sleazy college bars that once dominated the High Street strip on this end of campus were bulldozed a few years ago to make way for the South Campus Gateway. Now restaurants and shops are beginning to open in this mixed-use development, which is redefining the look and feel of the area. The Gateway is anchored by Barnes & Noble's massive new college bookstore, which is marked by the venerable Long's Bookstore sign at 11th and High. Also, former Buckeye Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George is opening a sports-themed restaurant nearby called Grille 27, named in honor of the number he wore as an Ohio State running back in the 1990s.
Another relatively new attraction on campus is the Jack Nicklaus Museum. Located next to the Schottenstein Center, the museum tells the life story of the greatest golfer of all time, who also happens to be an Ohio State graduate. The Golden Bear's place is open Tues.-Sat., 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Because the game against arch rival Michigan is on the road this year, the premier home contest will take place Sept. 10 against the Texas Longhorns. Prior to that game or any other, you must attend the OSU Marching Band's "Skull Session" in St. John Arena to work your Buckeye spirit into a frenzy. After that, march with the band to the stadium or just look around for the nearest big-screen TV (there are plenty along Lane Avenue) to enjoy the next best thing to being in the stands.
Ohio State home schedule (www.ohiostatebuckeyes.com, 800/GOBUCKS):
9/3 Miami University
9/10 University of Texas
9/17 San Diego State University
9/24 University of Iowa
10/15 Michigan State University
11/5 University of Illinois
11/12 Northwestern University
Bowling Green home schedule (www.bgsufalcons.com, 800/BGSUTICKET):
10/1 Temple University
10/8 Ohio University
10/22 Western Michigan University
10/29 University of Akron
11/22 University of Toledo
Mount Union home schedule (www.muc.edu, 330/821-6759):
9/3 Washington University
9/24 Otterbein College
10/1 Capital University
10/22 Ohio Northern University
10/29 Baldwin-Wallace College
Bowling Green Falcons, Bowling Green
"Ay Ziggy Zoomba Zoomba Zoomba." Remember those words if you to plan to head to Bowling Green State University for a taste of Falcon football this fall. As the university's unofficial fight song, "Ay Ziggy Zoomba" - an adaptation of a Zulu war chant introduced to Bowling Green by alum Gilbert Fox in the 1940s - reverberates throughout Doyt Perry Stadium whenever the Falcons are flying high, which has been a regular occurrence in recent years.
Bowling Green and other teams throughout the Mid-American Conference have turned heads by regularly knocking off opponents from leagues with more prestige and hype. And this year, fans expect their Falcons to continue their winning ways. Once you arrive at BG, slip on your orange sweater and win over the locals by proclaiming that you believe Falcon quarterback Omar Jacobs has a genuine chance to win the Heisman Trophy this season.
Falcon fans say that while the stadium is typically packed for home games, you shouldn't have any problems buying tickets for most dates. However, the rivalry game against Toledo - which takes place on a Tuesday night, Nov. 22, this year - is always a tough ticket. Call 877/BGSUTICKET to get yours.
Before or after the game, Bowling Green and the surrounding area offer plenty to explore. Grant Cummings, a 1993 BG grad and lifetime resident of the area, suggests taking a scenic tour of the towns around Bowling Green. "One thing I'd highly recommend would be a drive along the Portage River on St. Rte. 105 through the villages of Pemberville, Woodville and finally to Elmore," says Cummings, who also maintains a web site (www.ay-ziggy-zoomba.com) dedicated to BG athletics.
If you're in the market for some antiques or just like to look, you'll find plenty of shops in the towns along Cummings' scenic route. And in Pemberville, you'll have to stop at Beeker's General Store. As soon as you pass through the doors and take a few steps on the store's creaky wooden floor, you'll swear you've been transported back in time to the 1870s. While Beeker's carries a wide range of items made in Amish country and a variety of other homemade goods, its old-fashioned candy counter will have you digging into your pockets for wheat pennies and buffalo nickels. The store is open Mon.-Sat., 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
At the bend in the Portage River just outside the village of Elmore, you'll discover Schedel Arboretum and Gardens. With several varieties of trees and plants bursting with color, fall is the perfect season to invigorate your senses by paying a visit to the immaculate Schedel grounds. The gardens are open for self-guided tours Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and Sun. 12-4 p.m.
Back in Bowling Green, a stop at the Wood County Historical Center and Museum is in order, especially if you plan to attend the Falcons' Oct. 22 Western Michigan game in the midst of the Halloween season. Set on the grounds of the former county infirmary, the museum has more than its share of creepy exhibits, including the Lunatic House and "Crime and Punishment: The Fingers of Mary Bach." Yes, preserved in a jar, you can view three of the woman's fingers. Why? The digits are the evidence of Mary's brutal murder at the hands of her husband, Carl Bach, who was hung in 1883 for committing the crime. Through Oct. 28, the museum is open Tues.-Fri., 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., and Sat.-Sun., 1 p.m.-4 p.m.
As soon as you regain your appetite, head into Bowling Green's charming downtown for a buffet of college-town dining options, with an emphasis on pizza. "The de facto standard for BG pizza is Myles' Pizza on Wooster," Cummings suggests. "The pizza is piled high with toppings and cheese, making it a traditional pizza with a deep-dish bulk to it."
For dessert, try to hunt down Cummings partying among the city of tailgaters outside the stadium before and after the game. Rumor has it he makes a mean deep-fried Oreo.
If you're in the "tent city" of parking-lot tailgaters before a game, be sure to await the arrival of the team. The faithful say it's a moving experience to see the Falcons pull up on the east side of the stadium and make the long walk through a tunnel of fans from their bus to the game. And much like Ohio State's band gets everyone pumped up before each contest, the Bowling Green Marching Band provides its version of pre-game pep every week in the school's field house.
For accommodations very near the stadium, the Holiday Inn Express & Suites is probably the best option. If you don't mind a short drive, though, you could treat yourself to a bit of luxury R&R at the River House Bed and Breakfast just up the road in Perrysburg. Located on a bluff above the Maumee River, the River House offers a choice of four rooms where you can kick off your shoes, close your eyes and start sawing some Ziggy Zoombas after a long day of cheering for BG.
Purple Mount Majesty
Mount Union Purple Raiders, Alliance
Many people will tell you that northeastern Ohio is the Fertile Crescent of football. There's a reason they built the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, and much of it has to do with the pure passion for the game that folks in the area are born with. And in nearby Alliance, that passion is clearly evident. No college team in the nation has displayed as much dominance over its opponents in recent years as the Purple Raiders of Mount Union College.
Since 1993, Mount Union has won seven NCAA Division III football championships and at one point, reeled off 55 straight wins - an all-time record. Despite the team's success, which has brought with it some national media attention, football at Mount Union maintains a purity you won't find at the bigger schools.
"It's a family event, a true small-college atmosphere," explains Michael De Matteis, director of sports information for Mount Union. "In a lot of ways, it's an extension of high-school football. After the games, you'll find the players outside the stadium milling around with their parents."
Before and after the games, you won't find rampant tailgate partying and beer drinking at this small Methodist school. What you will find, though, is the oldest college football venue in Ohio - Mount Union Stadium. Dating to 1915, the stadium seats more than 5,500, but even if it is full, there's always plenty of standing room.
"There's no such thing as a sellout," De Matteis says. "You might be standing, but people don't seem to mind."
Of the Purple Raiders' five home games this season, the one that is likely to draw the biggest crowd is the Oct. 29 tilt against rival Baldwin-Wallace. To secure your tickets for a seat at that game or any other, call 330/821-6759.
De Matteis says the best seating in the stadium is under the covered stands, which resemble what you might see at a race track. He says some local families have held onto their covered seats for years, passing them from generation to generation. But if you only plan to go to one game, $7 or $8 a ticket is a pretty good deal to see top-notch college football.
If you still would like to tailgate with friends and family before the game, consider staying at the Zang House in Alliance, a structure that dates back to as early as 1797. It has only two rooms for guests, but owner Rosemary Burke says they can feel free to invite some friends over to "tip a few back," grill some food and have some fun on the veranda outside of the house's lower-level pub before and after the game. "We want our guests to have a good time," says Burke. "It's real relaxed."
Burke and her husband, Michael, remodeled the historic home, which is connected to the family of President Ulysses S. Grant, and opened it as a bed and breakfast in 1999. Since then, they've welcomed several notable guests, including Houston Texans football coach Dom Capers.
Your tour of historic Alliance can continue with a stop at Glamorgan Castle, which was built a century ago by Col. William Morgan. Today, the elaborate structure, which looks like it was transplanted straight from a European kingdom, serves as the administrative home of the Alliance City School District. For tour information, call 330/821-2100.
A weekend influenced by football and history in northeastern Ohio wouldn't be complete without taking the quick trip to Canton and touring the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There, you can learn all about the area's deep football heritage - including the long-defunct Canton Bulldogs - and peruse the mementoes that mark the historical journey of one of America's favorite pastimes. The hall is open 9 a.m.-8 p.m. daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. the remainder of the year. It's closed on Christmas Day.
Be sure to bring your appetite to Canton. After you tour the hall, a stop at Bender's Tavern is highly recommended. There, you'll find a terrific wine list and a selection of seafood and steaks that will make your mouth water. Also, don't leave without trying a bowl of Bender's turtle soup, which has been on the menu for more than 60 years.
Back in Alliance, a popular hangout on game day is Pisanello's Ristorante and Pizzeria, where you can fill up after football with your favorite pie and wash it down with a cool beverage. Along with Pisanello's, you'll find a variety of dining options up and down State Street - from sandwiches to chicken wings - in the heart of Alliance.
If you're still hungry for more football on your long weekend, check to see if the Cleveland Browns have a home game and, if so, head north to catch them in action.
When You Go ...
Columbus-area accommodations and attractions:
Holiday Inn on the Lane, 328 W. Lane Ave., 614/294-4848. www.holidayinnosu.com
The Blackwell Inn, 2110 Tuttle Park Place, 866/247-4003. www.theblackwell.com
Hilton Columbus Easton, 3900 Chagrin Dr., 614/414-5000. www.hiltoncolumbus.com
Easton Town Center, 614/416-7000. www.eastontowncenter.com
The Ocean Club, 4002 Easton Station, 614/416-CLUB. www.cameronmitchell.com
Buckeye Corner, 215 Easton Town Center, 614/416-2827. www.buckeyecorner.com
Funny Bone Comedy Club, 145 Easton Town Center, 614/471-JOKE. www.columbusfunnybone.com
Jack Nicklaus Museum, 2355 Olentangy River Rd., 614/247-5959. www.nicklausmuseum.org
Bowling Green-area accommodations and attractions:
Beeker's General Store, 226 E. Front St., Pemberville, 419/287-3274. www.beekersgeneralstore.com
Schedel Arboretum and Gardens, 19255 W. Portage River South Rd., in Elmore, 419/862-3182. www.schedel-gardens.org
Wood County Historical Center and Museum, 13660 County Home Rd., Bowling Green, 419/352-0967. www.woodcountyhistory.org
Myles' Pizza Pub, 516 W. Wooster St., Bowling Green, 419/352-1504
Holiday Inn Express & Suites, 2150 Wooster St., Bowling Green, 419/353-5500. www.ichotelsgroup.com
River House Bed & Breakfast, 24071 W. River Rd., Perrysburg, 419/878-3900. www.riverhouseohio.com
Alliance-area accommodations and attractions:
Zang House, 1350 S. Sawburg, Alliance, 330/823-9750. www.zanghouse.com
Glamorgan Castle, 200 Glamorgan St., Alliance, 330/821-2100. www.aviators.stark.k12.oh.us/history.html
Pro Football Hall of Fame, 2121 George Halas Dr. NW, Canton, 330/456-8207) www.profootballhof.com
Bender's Tavern, 137 Court Ave. SW, Canton, 330/453-8424. www.bendersrestaurant.com
Pisanello's Ristorante and Pizzeria, 344 W. State St., Alliance, 330/823-7271