Last night I witnessed what seems to be a yearly ritual. Ohio State’s football team lost to an opponent in which they had no business losing. This Ohio State team was ranked #2 in the nation, a Heisman trophy candidate quarterback, and all the aspirations of having a showdown with Alabama in the championship game or at the very least a spot in the College Football Playoffs. They were up against a Purdue team that lost their first three games and have managed to climb back since, but still should have been no match for the Buckeyes. Not so fast, as Lee Corso from College Gameday on ESPN would say. What we didn’t factor in and what I was not even aware of before the game started was the emotional side. The forces greater then the game. Who wanted the game more and why?
As the game started we were made aware of a 20 year old Purdue student named Tyler Trent. Tyler is battling terminal bone cancer and is in hospice care. They would show the signs of fans that read “Tyler Strong” and “Cancer Sucks”. Tyler was at the game. He had circled this date on his calendar and was doing everything he could do to make it to the game. In an interview in the press-box Tyler talked about how just 24 hours prior he was so sick that he wasn’t sure he was going to make it. Tyler did make it to the game and Purdue players and fans used the emotion to light a fire under them.
From the beginning this game had a different feel. The Buckeyes couldn’t get into a rhythm and kept making huge mental errors. Couple that with the fact that everything seemed to open right up for the Boilermakers and I knew we were in for a rough night. I had no clue how rough but ironically it will go down in history as a loss that I can justify in my heart and mind. Tyler’s story started wearing on me and even my deep love for the Buckeyes could not dismiss that maybe, just maybe, we don’t have to win them all.
I’ve been reminded many times that Ohio State football games are just that, games, and that I should not invest so much time and emotion into them. Many people don’t understand why I would schedule my life around a bunch of 20 year old players running around on a football field. Nights like last night are my reason. The emotion and the stories that come out of College Football touches me. I remember the two National Championships we have won during my lifetime. I remember watching in anticipation each time the College Playoff teams were announced or the Bowl Games. And every once in a while there is something greater than football.
This past year when we were playing at Iowa we were made aware of a new tradition where at the end of the first quarter all of the 75,000 fans and all of the players and coaches turn to the Children’s Hospital that overlooks the field and they wave. It’s a way to show them that they care, that they see them, and they are rooting them on in their fight. I am tearing up as I write this thinking about the symbol and the emotion. There are things bigger than football, many things. But we have to understand that these things are not separate from Saturdays at the football stadium. They are intertwined. To those children in the Children’s Hospital fighting it is more than just a game. To Tyler Trent it is more than just a game. It is a momentary escape from their reality. It is something to look forward to seeing.
Last night was a tough loss for Buckeye Nation. We will get over it. It will just give us another game to talk about in years to come. The game we should have won. I take solace in knowing that the game meant a little more to others and it showed. The fact that you couldn’t wipe the smile off of Tyler Trent’s face as he was wheeled to the locker room. No Buckeye fan should want to take that away from him. I certainly don’t and I say enjoy the moment Tyler, stay strong, and yes your Boilermakers beat the #2 Buckeyes! It will forever be on the books and your story will forever be in our hearts.