Ohio State fans nationwide find ways to revel in championship berth

Allison Ward
The Columbus Dispatch

For nearly three years, Monday’s date has sat with a big circle around it for Ohio natives Matt Raby and Meagan Cyrus.  

“I’m a bit of a planner, and before we moved to Miami (in 2018), I was looking at future playoff sites,” said Raby, 31.

He joked at the time on Twitter about seeing the couple’s beloved Ohio State Buckeyes in the 2021 College Football Playoff national championship game, which was already scheduled to take place near their new city. Then, 2020 happened.  

Cyrus, 30, who along with Raby graduated from Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law, said they were devastated when the Big Ten initially canceled the season in the summer because of the pandemic, nixing any dream of seeing that tweet come to fruition.   

Ohio State alumni Meagan Cyrus and Matt Raby, at the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day in New Orleans, will also be in the stands for the national championship game in Miami Gardens, Fla.

However, the now-engaged couple’s hopes were revitalized when the Buckeyes finally kicked off their season in October, went undefeated and bested Clemson on New Year's Day in the semifinal playoff game. 

“I was close to tears and jumping up and down,” Cyrus said about OSU punching its ticket to the title game.  

Not wanting to let this moment pass them, Raby and Cyrus will be among the 16,000 fans allowed in Hard Rock Stadium, which will be at less than 25% capacity Monday night as the Buckeyes take on the Alabama Crimson Tide. (They spent a pretty penny on tickets on the secondary market.)

Buckeye Nation — whether in Miami, Columbus or across the country — will commemorate this occasion in a variety of special ways, despite the coronavirus pandemic restricting access to the game, limiting large social gatherings and even closing bars before halftime in Ohio.  

Gov. Mike DeWine reiterated recently that changing the current orders for a 10 p.m. curfew, which are in effect until Jan. 23, would only add to the spread of the virus. Still, a number of bars and restaurants have touted pregame happy hours and take-and-heat game day dinners to celebrate the Buckeyes’ national championship berth at least in some fashion.  

Many fans will undoubtedly watch from home. Some will have small gatherings outside with garage heaters or bonfires and projection screens. Others might watch on new — larger, higher definition — televisions bought to make national championship viewing a little closer to being there in person.  

Though she’ll simply watch the game from her Worthington home with her boyfriend, Traci Kitchen hopes her Buckeye spirit reaches others. The 59-year-old still has her Christmas lights up on the exterior of her house, including the Ohio State sign she’s fashioned from red bulbs.  

“I talked to a few of my neighbors and told them, ‘Just so you know, I won’t be taking down any of my lights yet,’” said Kitchen, 59, an Ohio State alum and lifelong fan. “For me, it was good luck to have for the Northwestern game and for the Clemson game. It’s got to be good luck for the Alabama game.” 

Traci Kitchen of Worthington will leave her Christmas lights up through the national championship game to bring some luck and spread some Buckeyes cheer.

During the game, she said she’ll most likely FaceTime her son in New York City to go over plays happening on the field.  

As a 2008 alum of the school, Rick Ahir is thankful for the technology that will allow him to watch the game with friends and fellow Ohio State fans across the country. The San Antonio, Texas, resident will host a watch party over Zoom for roughly 10 people, who he said will all be decked out in scarlet and gray and eating tailgate foods. 

“It gives you the sense of being there,” said Ahir, 34. “You can see people’s reactions as if you were there in person. It’s not the same thing as being there in person, but we can have virtual cheers and share reactions to big plays, to bad plays. It’s the closest thing we can do to get together with friends.” 

Ahir initially thought he might try to find tickets to the game, but in the end felt watching virtually might be the safer option.  

“There are other ways to enjoy the game,” he said.  

Even for those fans not willing to miss the game in person, tickets have been very difficult to secure. The university didn’t make any of its 3,750 allotment available to the public, leaving Buckeye fans with few options besides buying on the secondary market — with the cheapest seat on StubHub.com going for nearly $800. 

One alternative to buying tickets was trading for them, as Caleb Mitchell did. The lifelong scarlet and gray supporter from Elizabethtown, Kentucky, swapped four rare bottles of bourbon — which he valued at $2,600 — for two tickets from a Columbus resident. 

“I thought, ‘Am I really going to do this for tickets?’” the 30-year-old said. “I pulled the trigger two minutes later.” 

Fortunately, he and his wife, Jenna, had airline points they could use for flights to Florida: (They had to cancel a trip to Oregon they had booked for this past September when the Buckeyes were supposed to play the Oregon Ducks.)  

For the football and basketball season-ticket holder, the national championship will be the first OSU sporting event Mitchell will see live since the beginning of March. Giving up the booze, he said, will be totally worth it.  

“It’s going to be exciting — like the first time walking into the Horseshoe,” Mitchell said. “It just hits you in the gut.”