Author’s Note: I have attempted to recreate the fan experience at TCU-Ohio State through a chronological lens, complete with timestamps. I took notes on my phone before, during, and after the game. Where indicated, I have included those notes verbatim in this column. I will try to decipher them for you, as I was typing quickly, often in the rain and with a post-tailgate buzz. Nothing has been embellished. I like to practice journalistic objectivity and don’t wear team colors to games when I’m in press boxes — but for this piece, I was intentionally embedded with TCU fans, and so wore the appropriate purple.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 15
4:15 p.m. — “at Stadium 70/30 Ohio State — could be because TCU coming later?”
We rolled into Lot 10 of AT&T Stadium, six of us and a Yeti cooler packed into my friend’s Toyota RAV4. We were surrounded by scarlet and gray, a sea of Ohio State fans looking only mildly uncomfortable in the heat and humidity. We set up shop in a parking lot and were quickly joined by our friends, most of which were recently-graduated alumni like us. I thought maybe the early crowd was so heavily filled with OSU fans because TCU fans had their own places in the Metroplex to tailgate and would show up closer to kickoff. Turns out that wasn’t exactly the case — there were just a ton of Buckeyes in the house.
4:45 p.m. — “realize I’m drunk”
Look, not all of these notes can be winners. We’d skipped out on going to the Campus Commons for College GameDay and had been drinking mimosas since 9 a.m. I make no apologies. This is participatory journalism, dang it.
4:55 p.m. — “Southern Nights”
I’m not an anthropologist, but I did make a 4 on the AP Human Geography exam, which is basically the same thing, and I was intrigued to see the different styles of tailgating between TCU and Ohio State fans. From what I saw, stereotypes held up — TCU fans were content to stand around and drink and shoot the breeze, all in yuppie purple and white polos (my outfit of choice) or FrogCamo LaDainian Tomlinson jerseys or sundresses and boots. You know the drill.
I don’t remember seeing one gameday polo on an Ohio State fan — which is not a judgmental statement at all, because T-shirts should be acceptable for all occasions — but I saw plenty of Buckeye hoodies and Ezekiel Elliot jerseys. Ohio State fans also were a bit more active. Four guys had a football and were running deep post routes on each other near our tailgate for a good 30 minutes, which seemed miserable in the humidity.
Oh — “Southern Nights” is Glen Campbell’s second-best song, and that’s what was playing when I wrote this.
5:15 p.m. — “make friends OSU joe big is TCU but beer” (in English: “make friends from OSU, ‘how big is TCU,’ buy beer)
A group of middle-aged men from Ohio were tailgating about 20 feet from us, and I ambled over to introduce myself and make conversation about Wisconsin losing to BYU. They seemed shocked to learn how small TCU’s enrollment was. One of the guys asked me if I needed to buy a ticket off of him, then leaned in close and questioned me about how hard the police were on scalpers, as if that’s something a 23-year-old naive idiot like me would know.
Another in the Buckeye group jogged over to where our cooler was and tried to pay one of my friends cold hard cash for a Miller Lite. My friend refused to take money for it. There’s a reason the state motto of Texas is “Friendship” — we know how to treat a guest, dadgum it.
5:40 p.m. — “rAin”
It was fun when the drizzle started, before the cool breeze turned into a chilly gust and the rain came hammering down on our group. Many of the tailgaters in Lot 10 sprinted for the entrance to JerryWorld as soon as the first drops fell. We toughed it out for a solid 15 minutes, some of us seeking shelter inside the RAV4 and others shrugging off the downpour as best we could. Eventually the novelty of trying to keep a Coors Light out of the rain wore off, and we all made our way to our seats, which were spread out across the stadium.
6:15 p.m. — “seats OSU fans in front very good hot dog before LSU win auburn cheer Texas Tech hosito on screen” (in English: “got to our seats, Ohio state fans in front, hot dog was good, LSU beat Auburn, Texas Tech-Houston on screen)
I was the first of the group I was sitting with to reach our seats, located in Section 405, Row 1,890 (or so it felt), up over the right-hand corner of the Ohio State end zone. In front of us were a group of eight or so Ohio State fans that seemed pleasant enough — by which I mean they didn’t talk to us at all, which was fine by me.
If you ever go to a game at JerryWorld, get a hot dog. Mine was outstanding, with more meat than you normally fine in a football stadium dog, and good flavor. 7.9/10 on my scale, all things considered.
As I was walking through the concourse I heard a cheer rise up and saw that the big screen, which had been showing Texas Tech-Houston, had just shown LSU knock off Auburn on a field goal. I don’t know if the cheer was for LSU in general or for Ed Orgeron in particular, who is an absolutely frightening man to see in 50-foot tall form hovering above a football field in high definition.
7:17 p.m. — “Ohio State long play middle finger next play behind scrimmage”
This was the first indication that maybe our Ohio State neighbors in front of us weren’t as placid as they seemed. After Dwayne Haskins found Austin Mack for a 48-yard pass that put the Buckeyes at the TCU 2, Ohio State’s next play was a pointless run that lost a yard. A lady clad in a red Buckeyes shirt in front of us immediately shot the middle finger up. I have yet to determine if that was directed at TCU, at the running back, at the OSU playcallers or at some other unknown aggrievance.
7:35 p.m. — “bloodcurdling scream from OSU in front safety”
When Shawn Robinson was strip-sacked by Nick Bosa and the Buckeyes recovered for a touchdown, the Ohio State fan in front of us let out a noise so piercing and so brutally high-pitched I thought a window was going to shatter. The scream was so disorientating that I didn’t realize OSU had scored a touchdown for a solid minute or two — I thought it was a safety.
7:48 p.m. — “Girls behind us high five TD”
We were mostly surrounded by Buckeye fans, but there were pockets of TCU students and alumni around us. One group of girls sat a row behind us and to the left, and after every big play I’d scurry down the row and high-five them and every other person in sight wearing purple. In the front row of our section were two TCU dudes who were a riot to watch — they’d turn and point at us after touchdowns and wait expectantly for us to point back. The athletic department should immediately hire them to pump up the crowd at Amon G. Carter.
7:52 p.m. — “war bathroom TCU OSU”
The men’s room of any sporting arena is without fail one of the strangest places on the planet. The air is all testosterone and alcohol, mixed with a heavy dose of sweat and other excretions. Dueling chants of “GO! FROGS!” and “O-H! I-O!” echoed off the walls of the men’s room on the fourth level after the first quarter while everyone was doing their business.
Men are weird, is what I’m saying. I include myself in this.
8:20 p.m. — “Darius TD nuthouse”
The first set of hands in the stands flew up to signal a touchdown for Darius Anderson right about when he was on his own 25-yard line. That 93-yard scamper down the left side was by far the loudest cheer TCU received all night and was the rowdiest the crowd got on either side. Once the roar subsided there was a sense of reluctant belief that you could feel creeping into Horned Frog fans — “my god, we might really do this,” mixed with “now it’s really going to hurt if we don’t do this.”
9:05 p.m. — “loving ona prayer halftime m”
I don’t care who you root for or what you believe in, if you don’t sing along to “Living On A Prayer” during halftime, security should escort you from the stadium.
9:55 p.m. — “rally beer backfired”
Desperate times can call for desperate measures. In my case, the desperate time was that I was out of Miller Lite and Ohio State had just intercepted a screen pass and ran it back for a touchdown, and the desperate measure was hustling down the stairs to get a rally beer. As I settled back into my seat, Adam Nunez bobbled the snap on a punt and the Buckeyes blocked it, scoring two plays later to go up 33-21.
As an aside, that backfiring rally beer was not the worst alcohol-related impact in our section. The middle finger-shooting lady in front of us spent most of the second half blissfully passed out or dozing on her neighbor’s shoulder.
10:05 p.m. — “heights td”
This was the last bit of real hope that TCU fans had in the stadium, a falling, twisting touchdown catch from TreVontae Heights that brought the Frogs within five points at 33-28. The general consensus from my friends was that TCU had to have a stop on the next drive, just absolutely had to, or we might as well pack up and walk out of the stadium.
Anyway, Ohio State drove 75 yards in eight plays and went back up by two scores. Whatever energy TCU fans had was sapped.
10:36 p.m. — “people leaving”
Judging by the Frogs O’ War Twitter timeline, this was just after Ohio State had picked up a first down on the ground and essentially ended any hope of a comeback. I happened to look around and see streams of purple on the stairs, passing by blocks of scarlet that remained planted in their seats to see out the end of the game. For what it’s worth, my camp stayed until Shawn Robinson’s interception with 2:37 left in the game, after which we booked it to the parking lot to beat traffic.
When I got to the car, my friend was cleaning the last of the beer cans from the tailgate out of his RAV4. We piled back in, riding to Fort Worth mostly without conversation except for a few half-hearted attempts at analysis of what went wrong.
I have one last note in my phone that I believe I wrote sometime around 2 a.m., when a sentence struck me on the side of the head while I was talking with friends: “Purple gumbo red holy days flecked.” At the time, I had the phrasing for the sentence all worked out and had a whale of a metaphorical description of what the gameday experience was like. It was a commentary on where TCU is as a school in the national conversation, how neutral-site games get an undeserved amount of flack and how the Frogs showed oodles of potential that I didn’t know they had.
But — like TCU against Ohio State — my masterpiece just sort of slipped away from me.