As the final seconds of Ohio State’s 77-63 win over Michigan ticked off the clock at the Schottenstein Center, the Buckeye fans in attendance took the opportunity to twist the knife just a little bit more.
“Just like foot-ball! (clap clap clapclapclap) Just like foot-ball! (clap clap clapclapclap)” echoed through the arena loudly enough to be heard on TV.
It’s common for fans of college football or basketball teams to say mean-spirited things to each other from time to time.
This is pretty much always considered acceptable behavior within civilized society as long as it’s done without profanity (don’t swear in front of kids, man) and without incitement to violence.
These taunts come with the territory in the high-stakes arena of college athletics, but since they’re often delivered on an individual level, they generally don’t get broadcast to a national audience.
There are exceptions, of course. Toward the end of many Ohio State road football victories, the “O-H-I-O” chant can be heard echoing around some other, defeated team’s stadium.
It’s an athletic marking of territory of sorts. Thousands of fans of a team coming together to use just four letters to say that “even though the end zones still have your name in them, this place is ours now. Please leave now and take your crappy team with you.”
Fans of various Southeastern Conference schools have made things even more efficient and communicated “me and/or my friends can beat up you and your friends” with the three letters: “S-E-C.”
There are the sarcastic versions of those cheers: a well-projected “Roll Tide” can bring the house down if delivered at the proper time and with the proper gusto during an Alabama loss.
But there is no cheer in college sports more cutting than “Just like football.”
It’s a way for thousands of fans to simultaneously remind a rival school of not one, but two losses.
“Yes, you’re getting your butts kicked now in one of the sports you care most about. But also it happened a while back in another sport that, statistically, you probably care about even more. Remember that? When you lost in football just like you’re losing in basketball? That probably made you sad. And yet here you are, losing once again.”
When you’re on the receiving end, there are few things that sting more harshly. You can probably think back to some time as a kid when some school’s fans chanted that after pulling off the football/basketball double against the Buckeyes or some other team you cheered for.
It’s the most concise way to say, “You played us twice, and all you got was one year closer to death.”
The fans weren’t the only ones reminding everyone about what happened in Ann Arbor on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. OSU wasn’t exactly subtle about having head football coach Ryan Day in the building.
Postgame after 77-63 win over Michigan that gives Ohio State its 30th 20-win season in program history. pic.twitter.com/Rt25zHR6FE
— Dan Wallenberg (@OSUADAthComm) March 1, 2020
The heat of the rivalry between the Buckeyes and Wolverines on the hardwood isn’t close to the intensity of the one on the football field. After the game, OSU head basketball coach Chris Holtmann acknowledged that.
“It’s different in basketball but it matters. It matters,” Holtmann said.
But while the echoes of the football rivalry unquestionably up the stakes for the basketball games, one of the biggest turning points in the Ohio State vs. Michigan football series happened while their basketball teams were meeting at the Schott.
On Thursday, January 18, 2001, while Jim O’Brien and Brian Ellerbe were busy talking to their teams in the locker room at halftime, OSU’s new head football coach, Jim Tressel grabbed a microphone to address the Schottenstein Center crowd.
“I can assure you that you’ll be proud of our young people in the classroom, in the community and, most especially, in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan on the football field,” he said.
Since that speech, the Wolverines are 0-9 in Columbus in football, and 2-15 at the Schott in basketball.
Outside of a couple rare exceptions, the Columbus editions of the basketball rivalry have, indeed, been just like football.
It undoubtedly won’t stay this way forever. Juwan Howard is seemingly on his way to building a solid program, and at some point in the next few years Jim Harbaugh will either have to beat the Buckeyes or find other employment.
But for one more day, and one more year, things were “just like football” in the Schottenstein Center.