Posted Jan. 8, 2015

Nov 11, 2010

A Rivalry Without Respect

It’s about scarlet and gray, blue and white.

It’s about Woody and Joe, Archie and Cappy.

It’s about The Horseshoe and The Beav, the Olentangy and Mount Nittany.

It’s about Brutus and The Nittany Lion, “Fight The Team” and “Fight On State,” Dotting The ‘I’ and, well, OK, we don’t really have an answer for that one.

It’s about the Midwest Monster that is the Ohio State University and the Beast of the East that is Pennsylvania State University.

The Ohio State-Penn State rivalry is about all of that stuff. All of that good stuff.

Unfortunately, it’s also about some not-so-good stuff, too. Specifically, the following: Stubborn and unreasonable Midwestern football pride;  a decades-old chip that rests firmly on the shoulder of one Saint Joe Paterno; some still-festering bitterness about the manner in which Penn State ended up in the Big Ten in the first place; and an ever-broadening divide between two football cultures that seem fully intent on ignoring the accomplishments, history and relevance of the other.

It is about bitterness.

It is about a false sense of superiority (Ohio State).

It is about a holier-than-thou attitude (Penn State).

It is about city vs. country and middle America vs. BosWash.

It’s about all of this stuff, and so much more.

Which is why, of course, Ohio State-Penn State is now one of the greatest rivalries in all of college football.

Even if people in Ohio won’t admit it.


Any Ohio State fan reading this column probably rolled their eyes. Or chuckled. Or maybe threw something across the room.

And here’s why: Ohio State people don’t really respect Penn State.

Never have. Most likely, never will.

You may think I exaggerate. I do not. And I speak from experience.

While the anti-Penn State/anti-East Coast sentiment actually dates back to the 1960s (I could elaborate, but suffice to day, that's another column completely), I first experienced this sentiment (and came to understand it) on October 30, 1993, the day on which the Nittany Lions traveled to Columbus for their first-ever game at Ohio Stadium as a member of the Big Ten.

Though I was not a Penn Stater at the time (I was still in high school), and though I was still in some respects an “Ohio State fan” (like every other Ohio resident, I dutifully cheered for the Buckeyes; to do otherwise is anathema), I attended that game as a de facto Nittany Lion—part of a caravan of Cleveland-area Penn State alumni who made the trek down I-71 for what they figured would be a grand old time at one of college football's grandest old stadiums.

Well, as it turned out, it wasn’t a grand old time.

Not in the least.

It was cold as hell—snowy, sleety, rainy. Our seats turned out to be the absolute worst seats in the history of seats—folding chairs (yes, freaking folding chairs) lined up directly behind one of the end zones. Our Buckeye hosts turned out to be a bunch of miserable jerks. Oh, and then there was this: The Buckeyes absolutely hammered the Nits. I mean, hammered them. Big Ten-style.

The final was 24-6. And just like that, so began the refrain: “Welcome to the Big Ten, Joe.” “You’re not playing Syracuse and Temple anymore, Joe.” “Eastern football isn’t gonna cut it here, Joe.” “The joyride is over, Joe.” Heck, even Ohio State President And Eternal Nerd Gordon Gee got in on the trash talk, telling reporters afterwards that his boy John Cooper had “out-coached” the allegedly great Paterno.

What I remember most about that day, except for the brutal cold, is just how much pleasure—an absurd amount of pleasure, to be honest—Ohio State fans seemed to take in that win. To say they were “gloating” would not do the situation justice.

In the span of one cold-as-hell afternoon, it was all made clear to me: To Ohio State—team, coaches, fans, state, culture—that game wasn’t just another Big Ten football game. It was nothing less than an affirmation of everything they believed to be true about college football, about Big Ten football, about Ohio State football, about Penn State football and, yes, about “Eastern football.”

To the Buckeye faithful—who to this day will tell you that they were deeply insulted by all the talk of “The Beast of the East” walking into their conference and “dominating” for years to come—the 24-6 win was proof of the following:

1.    That Penn State sucked.
2.    That kids from the East were weak.
3.    That Paterno built his reputation mostly by playing a bunch of similarly weak Eastern teams.
4.    That Ohio was better than Pennsylvania.
5.    That Penn State wasn’t worthy of playing in the Big Ten.


The next season, Penn State beat Ohio State 63-14.

That 63-14 win was not only the singular highlight of my freshman year at Penn State. It was also the third-worst loss in the history of Ohio State football.

The Buckeyes looked helpless. The Nits? Well, anything but “weak.”

Now, you would think that such an absolutely dominating performance would buy the Nits, and Joe, and the East Coast, some measure of respect in The Land Of Woody. But you’d be wrong.

Because as it turns out, the same old arguments that Buckeye fans had against Penn State back in the 1993 (“They never played anybody.”) are essentially the same arguments that they have against Penn State today. And maybe you don’t believe me. But it’s true. So true, in fact, that Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Bill Livingston, a complete hack, published a piece on Thursday morning that makes exactly these arguments. And no, I did not write this piece in response to that piece; I started working on this on Tuesday. I mean, what did I tell you?

We’re now 17 years into this budding rivalry, and nothing has changed.

Ohio State fans still don’t respect Penn State.

Penn State fans still don’t understand why.



Last year, in the days leading up to the 2009 edition Penn State-Ohio State game, I wrote a somewhat flighty column in which I basically made the contention that Ohio State-Penn State rivalry is so damn great because Ohio State and Penn State are so damn similar.

I mean, you’ve got the legendary coaches and mammoth stadiums. You’ve got the awesome uniforms (though it should be noted that Penn State has not sold their souls to Nike and donned those god-awful “combat” unis). You’ve got the fact that both programs are in the illustrious 800-win club. You’ve got the national championships and Heisman Trophies and so on and so forth.

At the time, I thought the column was pretty much spot-on.

But it wasn’t.

Because, upon further reflection, and after spending a lot of time chatting with fans on both sides of Ohio/Pennsylvania divide, I have come to the realization that the enduring hallmark of the Ohio State-Penn State rivalry is the fundamental lack of understanding and/or acknowledgement between these two fan bases—between these two cultures, really.

And because Ohio State fans so stubbornly refuse to budge on a few key talking points (“They never played anybody.”), Penn State fans have retaliated as any self-respecting fan base would: They have in rebuttal refused to acknowledge the greatness of what Ohio State has accomplished (“Jim Tressel is dirty”). They have mocked its traditions (“Script Ohio is the most overrated tradition in the country”). They have written off that 2002 national title as tainted ("They needed a criminal tailback and a B.S. pass interference call to win it.")

Both sides have thrown up their walls.

Communication has ground to a halt.

There is no peace. Only anger.

It’s kind of stupid, and kind of sad, but also kind of ... interesting.

Interesting, you see, because the dynamic of this rivalry is just so different from the dynamics of pretty much every other rivalry in the nation. Oklahoma and Texas may hate each other, yes, but they at least recognize their respective accomplishments; hence, the rivalry. Ditto for Florida-Georgia. And Notre Dame-USC. And Auburn-Alabama.

Those rivalries are built upon hatred, yes. But also respect.

When it comes to Ohio State- Penn State, however, there is no respect. And both sides are to blame here.

To this very day, if you should be so brave as to mention to an Ohio State fan that Penn Staters consider the Buckeyes to be their “rival,” well, prepare yourself for verbal whiplash. “We only have one rival,” they might say. Or, possibly: “Illinois is a bigger rival for us than you guys.”

As for Penn Staters?

Well, they’ve got a roll to play here, too.

Being Easterners and all, they probably were a bit too blustery upon their entrance into the league back in ’93, and probably remain a bit too blustery today. They probably haven’t been as diplomatic as they could have been with their new brethren, and certainly haven’t been as respectful of the Big Ten’s traditions as they should have been. They probably come off as a bit too self-righteous, a bit too entitled and, yes, a bit too holier-than-thou. Maybe most importantly, as a group, they don’t seem prepared to acknowledge that Ohio State’s football history is, in fact, just a tad (emphasis: just a tad) more glorious than their own; more national titles, more Heisman winners and, of course, more league championships. Sorry, Nits fans: facts are facts. Accept. Move on.

As for me?

Well, I sit squarely in the middle, growing ever-more frustrated by the impasse.

As a Buckeye in my youth, but now a Nittany Lion at heart, I often find myself acting as something as a translator between these two great-if-stubborn cultures—two cultures that are so very similar, and yet do deeply and permanently divided.

No, this is not quite Catholics vs. Protestants up in Ulster. But in the realm of college football, it’s pretty damn close.

It took mediation genius George Mitchell to solve the Northern Ireland mess. Well, they might need to call him in to handle this one, too.

Because 17 years after that cold, miserable day in Columbus, Ohio State fans still don’t want anything to do with “the new guy.”

And Penn State fans are god-damned tired of it.

This is not rivalry.

This is war.

out and about: news and notes you may have missed

• Minnesota’s difficult coaching search just got even more so. The Gophers, already reeling due to the fact that their overtures to Tony Dungy, Bill Cowher (snore), SABAN, Bill Parcells (snore), Bill Belichik (snore) and Sir Alex Ferguson have been rebuffed, were dealt another crushing blow this week when Colorado (finally) fired coach Dan Hawkins, who had a simply miserable run in Boulder. Hawkins’ firing is bad news for the Gophers, of course, because it creates competition for, well, all of the middling coaching candidates out there who would actually be interested in coaching at Minnesota or Colorado. Though there has already been published rumors that the folks in Boulder are “keeping an eye on Les Miles” (I AM NOT MAKING THAT UP), the reality is that Colorado is only a moderately less challenging job than the Minnesota job. That’s why there is actually a decent possibility that 70-year-old Bill McCartney—the last guy to enjoy any kind of sustained success at Colorado—may get a serious look here. As McCartney told the Denver Post this week: "If Colorado was interested in me, I would definitely be interested in returning. Because my 401k is just getting killed." [OK, I did make that last bit up]. As for the Gophers? Latest word is that they’re looking at San Diego State’s Brady Hoke, who you may remember as the man who led Ball State to a miracle season a couple years back. That’s a good choice. Not as good as Sir Alex, of course, but so it goes when you're Minnesota.

• The University of Texas at San Antonio, or UTSA for short, has never played a single down of college football. But in two years, the school will cut right to chase … and begin playing Division I/FBS football. In an announcement that illustrated just how much conference expansion at the top of the college football food chain has impacted teams and conferences at the bottom of the food chain, the more-than-feeble-than-ever Western Athletic Conference, which is set to lose Boise State next year and Nevada and Fresno State in two years, said on Thursday that would expand (and, by extension, attempt t survive) by adding UTSA and something called “Texas State University,” which kinda sounds like one of those pretend schools that always show up in bad football movies but apparently is a real school. With a football team and everything. Anyway, this move was apparently made with the idea of expanding the WAC’s “television footprint” into football-mad Texas; it certainly could not be said that it was made out of respect for the UTSA or TSU football programs. As I mentioned, the Roadrunners, coached by former Miami (rrr … ) coach Larry Coker (see note on Coker below), don’t actually, you know, play yet. And TSU? Well, the Bobcats are currently 4-5 on the season, including a 1-4 mark in the Southland Conference. There is also talk that the WAC may also invite Montana. Montana! Said WAC Commissioner and Generally Beaten-Down Man Karl Benson:"I  am confident that these ... new members along with the six other WAC schools will continue to compete at the highest level of the NCAA." Benson lies.

quick hits: straight and to the point

• Georgia fans are unhappy with Mark Richt. Well, this won’t make them any happier. Richt revealed this week that, while he and his Georgia staff did in fact recruit Auburn Superstar Quarterback/Volcano Of Off-The-Field-Issues Cam Newton, they did not recruit him as a quarterback. Rather, Richt wanted him as a ... tight end [???]. Said the ever-sober Richt: “I remember him. He was a very talented guy, a guy that we did look at. We actually had him pegged as more of a tight end prospect. A lot of it had to do with what we like to do offensively,  more of a fit [issue] than any disrespect to his ability to play quarterback. He’s proven to be pretty darn good, though.”

• Speaking of Georgia, Frank W. "Sonny" Seiler, the longtime trainer/owner of Georgia's "Uga" bulldog mascots, weighed in this week on the progress of the newest Uga, Uga VII. The progress, apparently, is good. As Seiler told the Atlanta Journal Constitution: "He has a great head." But that's not all! "Uga loves his air-conditioned house," Seiler added. "He's not loafing; he's just comfortable in there, and it's hell to get him out."

• South Carolina plays Florida this week, giving us occasion once more to talk about the Ole Ball Coach returning his old stomping grounds in Gainesville. I’ve long said that I think it’s kinda sad that the OBC is no longer a Gator; this Carolina thing just seems an odd fit. And apparently I’m not the only one who misses those OBC glory days. Wrote Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi this week: “Every year at this time, before the "new" ballcoach plays the ol' ballcoach, we always try to draw comparisons between the two greatest coaches in University of Florida history. In my book, as a sportswriter, there is no comparison. I miss Steve Spurrier. I wish he were still coaching at Florida instead of at South Carolina. Not because he is a more enduring coach than Urban Meyer but because he is a more endearing figure. Meyer will never, ever be as beloved at UF or in the Southeastern Conference as Spurrier once was.” Bianchi later called Meyer a “robot.” YEAH MIKE BIANCHI.

• By the way, Boise State plays Idaho on Friday in the meanest, most unpleasant rivalry in the nation (truth). Tune in folks. Because, as if all that vitriol wasn't enough, the game is being played at the Kibbie Dome, Official Indoor Stadium of TCFA.

• There has been a lot of talk of late (including talk right here on this very site) about TCU possibly joining (i.e., saving) the Big East. But if we are to believe TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte, well, the Horned Frogs aren’t interested ... unless the Big East invites all TCU programs, not just the football team, to join its awfulness. As Del Conte told the Sporting News this week: “We’re an athletic department. Whatever endeavor we do, you’re united as one. That’s who we are. That’s how we always compete. We compete as one unit.” This cannot be interpreted as a good thing for the Big East.

• Speaking of Big East expansion, it seems that Villanova is sitting in the catbird seat here. The only apparent problem? The Widlcats’ existing on-campus stadium, the aptly named Villanova Stadium, was built in 1927 and only seats 12,500 people. Not gonna cut it. So where will the Wildcats play their games? Answer: Here. YEAH SOCCER.

• If you were wondering, that stadium linked above is home to the Philadelphia Union, newest member club of Major League Soccer. Their motto? "Jungite aut Perite." YEAH SOCCER.

• Aston Villa vs. Manchester United. Saturday morning. 7:45 a.m. ESPN2. YEAH SOCCER.

• A few months back I had the opportunity interview Larry Coker, head coach of University of Texas at San Antonio, about how he planned to build that program from scratch. During that interview, I asked him if there was a program out there that he would model UTSA after. His response was as follows: “I think it’s South Florida. When I was with ESPN I went down to cover one of their games and, at that time, they were ranked something like No. 2 team in the country. That is something we’d like to model ourselves after. They’re like us in that they play downtown, in an NFL stadium. But we have an advantage because we don’t have an NFL team here, so that’s a huge advantage for us." YEAH LARRY COKER.

• Looking for this week's podcast? Yes, of course you are. You can find it here. And if you want to offer some feedback, well, write us at

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