Carrying on a family tradition

Jeff Gilliland Staff columnist

Jeff Gilliland Staff columnist

Staring at me from a wall in my office is a painting that never fails to lighten my mood. It is an autumn scene framed by large trees replete in their fall splendor with fallen leaves lying on the ground. Skirmishing over the leaves are young men dressed in scarlet and gold jerseys playing football while friends cheer them on while sitting around small fires, from a perch in a barn loft, or from the bed of a pickup truck.

On one of the large trees is a makeshift wooden sign that reads Buckeyes 18, Wolves 6. Geese fly overhead and clouds drift on the breeze in the background.

The scene takes me back to a time when I spent many afternoons and evenings playing similar games at that special time of year. And the fact that a young man in a scarlet Ohio State shirt is stiff-arming one of the gold-jerseyed defenders in the face on the way to another score only heightens the sense of enjoyment.

The painting has other special significance because it was a gift from my wife. For years it hung in my man cave until my wife covered it behind some new storage shelves. So now it hangs in my office to brighten my workdays.

This week, the painting made me smile a little more than usual when the Big Ten Conference announced that it was reversing its earlier decision to cancel its fall athletic season and decided that the conference football season, barring another coronavirus outbreak between then and now, will begin the weekend of Oct. 23-24.

Now I can look at the painting in anticipation, rather than the disappointment of wondering what might have been this year for the Ohio State football team.

I don’t think anyone knows what the end of October might bring pandemic-wise, but at least I have hope that I will not miss an Ohio State/Michigan game for the first year in my life.

Peering at me from another wall in my office is a picture of the inside of Ohio Stadium, home of the Buckeyes. The picture is taken from an angle above the stadium’s main entrance. But painted above the picture is the interior of the rotunda that serves as that main entrance to the stadium. As a kid, each year my father took me to the Ohio High School Athletic Association Track and Field Championships, I was enthralled as we passed through that rotunda on our way into the cavernous stadium.

The rotunda part of the picture also reminds of the year my brother-in-law sat atop it, when the stadium was completely empty, except for our wives.

Back in the 1980s, when my sister and brother-in-law lived near the stadium, one of the wrought iron bars on one of the stadium gates was slightly bent. And if you were skinny like we were back then, you could squeeze through the gate and wander around the stadium. We did that a couple times, but on one occasion my brother-in-law and I climbed up the steps to the rotunda, crawled out to the rotunda’s edge, and peered down at things from a new perspective — just because we could, I suppose. We lingered there a while. It was a surreal feeling being all alone in the massive place when just a few hours earlier we had been in the stadium with 100,000-plus screaming fans.

At another location in my office is a picture of my two youngest sons and me, plus a life-sized Brutus Buckeye cutout poster and a wooden Brutus about half the other one’s size. We all have our Ohio State jerseys on, and in the background you can see the 2002 national championship game football game being played on the TV. For those who don’t remember, that was the year Ohio State defeated heavily-favored Miami for the national title.

The picture is a reminder of all the priceless times we have enjoyed sharing the Buckeye experience together.

In my man cave, there are a few fireworks left over from the summer’s celebrations. We leave a few extra each year. They are shot into the sky on Ohio State’s first touchdown of the season, on their first touchdown against Michigan, and again when the victory over The Team Up North is complete once again.

For a while it looked like all that tradition was going to be taken away from us this year. Now it looks like it may not, although no one knows for sure.

For now, the hope of OSU football is enough. Because if I have learned anything this year, it is that sports really don’t matter that much. I have learned that time spent with family, and creating memories that last a lifetime, is what it’s really all about.

Still though, sports generate a certain camaraderie and passion. So you can be sure that if the Buckeyes play this year, the first time they take field most of my family will be decked out in scarlet and gray. And if you hear some fireworks going off from my end of town on a late October Saturday, understand — we’re just carrying on an old family tradition.

Jeff Gilliland is the managing editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at [email protected] or 937-402-2522.

Jeff Gilliland Staff columnist Gilliland Staff columnist