My husband Terry grew up in East Liverpool, Ohio. When we first married, we would visit his parents there. During one of these visits, he took me to a park specifically to show me a buckeye tree.
"They're useless nuts," Terry exclaimed.
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They look like a chestnut, but they are poisonous and have a bitter taste unless they have been heated and leached. And so we picked up a few buckeyes from the ground and brought them home as mementos.
If you wish to learn more about the Buckeye Tree and how Ohio State adopted the Buckeye as its mascot, you can visit http://www.buckeyetree.net/ where you can learn more than you will ever need to know about this tree and its fruit.
And so we have this game next weekend in Columbus, Ohio, where crazed Ohio State fans will wear strands of buckeyes around their necks as they head toward the Horseshoe at Ohio Stadium.
It is an awesome college football environment, and we have never had a bad experience interacting with Ohio State fans.
We especially like the Ohio State band: TBDBITL - The Best Damn Band In The Land - and often we have tried to make their band practice on Friday afternoons before a game. That is when they decide which tuba player will dot the i in their most famous routine. It is really fun to watch the band members' reaction when the tuba player is announced.
Two years ago, there was a noticeable friendliness in the air when Penn State came to visit. We were greeted warmly by numerous Ohio State fans on the way to and from the stadium. It was the result of a four-year fan behavior initiative that has tried to turn around a harassing culture and appears to be working.
Even my students came back from that game telling me that they were treated very well by Ohio State students!
That was amazing to me. So I'm hoping it will be, again, a wonderful college football atmosphere with little or no harassment.
What do we expect this year from the Penn State team? I honestly don't know. I had expected this season that we would improve by November, and so was hopeful that we might pull off an upset against Ohio State.
And here we are. After a disappointing start to Big Ten play, losing to both Iowa and Illinois, Penn State has now won three games in a row. It appears that the Nittany Lions have improved. Even Joe Paterno, in today's media conference, suggests that this is an improved team.
It hasn't been an easy road. But Penn State has achieved some momentum over the last three weeks.
Can Penn State beat a very good Ohio State team? I would say we have a chance - albeit a slim one - to upset the #9 ranked team in the country.
But in order to win, Penn State has to play four quarters of defense, not two. And have an offense that plays error-free football, probably under the leadership of Matt McGloin. For some reason the offense simply performs better when he's at the helm.
For now, the Buckeye remains standing on my mantel. Will he join the Gopher, the Wolverine, and the Wildcat and lay on his back?
We'll find out on Saturday in Columbus!
To see the photo of the mascots on my mantel, visit my blog at www.viewfromstands.blogspot.com.