Gator Nation meets its match: Ohio State fans


Published: Tuesday, January 2, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 1, 2007 at 10:53 p.m.

SOMEWHERE IN MISSISSIPPI ON INTERSTATE 10 — A warning to the Gator Nation: The Buckeyes are a different breed.

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The first tacky souvenir of the day comes courtesy of Golden Lariat on highway 69 in Grande Ridge, FL. The crew couldn't resist picking up this Confederate Soldier Bobblehead Doll. Stay tuned for more tacky souvenirs of the day.

BRIAN W. KRATZER/The Gainesville Sun

Facts

Gators Across America

The Gainesville Sun is on the road to the BCS National Championship in Glendale, Ariz., and meeting Gators across the nation. Here's a former Gator The Sun found along the way:

  • Name: Frank Wickes
  • Age: 69
  • Resid- ence: Baton Rouge, La.
  • Occupation: director of Bands, Louisiana State University
  • Fondest Gator memory: directing the Gator Marching Band, 1973-1980
  • Predicted score of Tostitos BCS Championship Game: Gators 24, Buckeyes 21
January 1, 2007-- Grand RIdge, Florida- Roadtrip to the BCS Championship stop at Grand Ridge, FL., where we found Johnny Reb, the Bobble head Confederate Soldier. It was half-off at The Golden Lariat Western Shop on Highway 69 in Grand Ridge, FL. ( BRIAN W. KRATZER/The Gainesville Sun )

Gator fans might have a grudge due to the lack of respect their team is getting. But the Buckeye faithful have a collective chip on their shoulders that transcends football.

I should know. I'm an Ohio State grad, class of 2000.

Yes, Sun readers, your hometown newspaper has an enemy agent in its ranks. And to boot, I'm part of the four-man crew searching for the Gator Nation on the road to the national championship game.

The crew could pass for an expert panel on sports fanaticism: reporter Jack Stripling is a Gainesville native and Gator loyalist, despite the fact he attended two rival universities. Photographer Brian Kratzer was raised in Kansas and is familiar with the extremes of farm-belt fandom. Multimedia producer Chris Rattey is a New Englander who blogged his way across the Red Sox Nation during the team's World Series run.

As we head west on Interstate 10, a debate rages over what fans can lay claim to the title of the nation's most insane. Rattey says Sox fans pass their loyalties through generations, bound by the curse that so long denied them a World Series title.

Sure, but even he admits the team's 2004 series victory lifted some of the misery that served as the glue uniting fans.

Kratzer paints a picture of Kansas as a sports version of Iraq, where residents swear allegiance at birth to either the University of Kansas or Kansas State. But let's be serious: It isn't even the most college-sports crazed state in the heartland, a distinction Nebraska wins hands down.

Stripling rattles off Southeastern Conference towns, each with a fan base more rabid than the last. He claims Gainesville has the greatest fans of them all, turning The Swamp into the loudest and arguably most intimidating stadium in the country.

Nonsense, I say. The Swamp is definitely noisy, but the Horseshoe is a more hostile place for opponents. In my time in Columbus, Ohio State students seemed to have three major priorities on game day: drinking, punching opposing fans and provoking the cops into firing tear gas.

UF's celebration of its national title in basketball was an eye-opener for me. Thousands of students took over University Avenue, climbing traffic signals and acting crazy. Yet the Gainesville police displayed something unknown in Columbus: restraint.

During the late 1990s, Ohio State game days meant cars being flipped and couches set aflame whether the team won or lost.

Students were looking for trouble, and the police were happy to return the favor by shooting knee knockers and tear gas. Other Big Ten schools, such as Michigan State, displayed a similar flair for drunken destruction.

SEC fans aren't shy about arguing and even occasional fist-fighting, but property damage doesn't seem to be among their priorities. My theory about the difference between the conferences' fans is they're a reflection of the two regions where their teams play.

People are coming to Florida in droves, whether for the tourist attractions or jobs. Most of the rest of the South is also growing, luring people for work and good weather.

Big Ten country is a great place to grow up and attend school, but sunshine and job growth aren't among its attributes.

While Ohio, for example, claims to be the birthplace of aviation and rock 'n' roll, it hasn't gotten much respect in recent decades.

Except in college football.

Ohio State's dominance of Michigan and appearances in major bowl games in recent years has been some rare good news to excite Ohioans. Too bad some of them express that excitement like crazed animals.

So Gators, when you encounter Buckeyes in Glendale, think twice about doing the Gator chomp in their faces. Winning the national championship may be important to you, but it's everything to them.

Nathan Crabbe normally covers environmental issues for The Sun, but used his Buckeye street cred to land this sweet gig. He can be reached on the road by e-mail at nathan.crabbe@gvillesun.com or by cell phone at (352) 222-3953.

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