Drubbing in last year’s championship game contributes to apathy this year

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Most of us have heard the clich s from Ohio State football fans: win at all costs, we should be in the running for a championship every year, beat Michigan, so on and so forth. And one would think the Buckeyes lived up to those expectations this year. They finished the regular season with 11 wins, a second straight Big Ten championship, and a fourth straight victory over Michigan. Even with that success, there still seems to be less buzz around this year’s championship game.

This is the first week of winter classes on the OSU campus. The lobby of Barnes and Noble bookstore on North High St. is full of students stocking up on textbooks, notebooks and other school supplies. Just behind the line at the cash register sits a rack of BCS National Championship game T-shirts and sweatshirts, all adorned with a picture of an Ohio State helmet and the helmet of Louisiana State University, OSU’s opponent in the title game. They look a lot like the T-shirts and sweatshirts sold before last year’s game.

And that may be the problem.

After a 41 to 14 thumping by the Florida Gators in last year’s championship game, many fans are hesitant to expect victory this year over another team from the tough Southeastern Conference. Matthew Branson is an OSU senior .

We have the same kind of wait between games as we did last year, Bransen says. It’s against another SEC team like last year, and the Tigers are traditionally a really good team, like last year, and I just don’t think people are expecting a very good turnout.

That sentiment is shared by junior Collin Brannick. Brannick says fans are still excited about the LSU game. Excited, but weary.

Everybody is just sitting back and being a little more relaxed until they actually watch the game and make sure we show up and get it done this year, Brannick says.

Across campus, manager Laurie Wilkens is just finishing up the lunch rush at the Varsity Club. The bar, in the shadow of Ohio Stadium, is a popular Buckeye fan hangout. Wilkens says she too senses less excitement from her customers. Since OSU’s last national championship in 2002, she and other Varsity Club employees have always followed the team to their bowl game to host a tailgate party. But she says the bar almost cancelled this year’s trip because managers didn’t know if they could handle a repeat of last year.

You come off a loss like that last year, and it’s very painful, Wilkens says. We’re back with an SEC playing for the national championship game again. It’s heartbreaking, and you’re definitely a little more hesitant. I think less people are traveling, and there seems to be more tickets available than last year. And they seem to be dropping in price as well, which is generally a sign.

Now some might say stressing out before a big game is normal Buckeye fan paranoia. But even Columbus Police recognize a difference between this year and last. There has been trouble after big OSU wins in recent years, including highly-publicized riots after the 2002 OSU-Michigan game. But police spokesperson Amanda Ford says the department chose to scale back gameday efforts this year, including shortening a parking ban on several core-campus streets.

We’ll still have our plain-clothed and in-uniform officers, our walking crews, bike crews, our mounted unit, Ford says. We’ll still have a strong police presence, but the parking ban was one of the things they chose to downsize this year.

While city officials surely appreciate a more mellow fanbase, clothing vendors do not. Store manager Oren GIllespie is taking in ventory at The Buckeye Room, a sporting goods store in the Tuttle Crossing Mall in Dublin. He says there has been a decreased demand for championship game gear this year, so much that The Buckeye Room is only carrying about 20 percent of what it did last year.

Going in undefeated (last year), the odds-on favorite, there was a considerable amount of hype before the game, so there was a lot more product available, Gillespie says. Things like T-shirts, sweatshirts, styles, designs. Everything from coffee mugs to sweatshirts and things like that. This year I just haven’t seen the product available like it was to us last year.

A big reason for the drop in demand, Gillespie says, is the amount of what he calls unwearable T-shirts purchased last year.

People, you know, they have this T-shirt that they don’t really wear that often, Gillespie says with a laugh. This year they’re kind of waiting to see what happens at the end of the game.

But if OSU wins the championship game, everything changes. Gillespie says most stores have already placed what if orders for national championship merchandise, and trucks would start running almost immediately after an OSU victory.