Ohio State fans brave cold to celebrate championship

By ANDY RESNIK, Associated Press Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The bitter C-O-L-D couldn't stop the chants of O-H-I-O.

Thousands of Ohio State football fans piled on layers of scarlet and gray clothing Saturday for a celebration at Ohio Stadium honoring the Buckeyes' national championship.

The sun-splashed day did nothing to make the frigid air -- 10 degrees with a minus 3 wind chill -- more tolerable, but the 50,000 to 60,000 people who attended the 50-minute event didn't seem to

Not when it comes to honoring the Buckeyes, who won the title on Jan. 3 by beating Miami 31-24 in double overtime in the Fiesta Bowl.

"It's just another reminder of the special place we just happen to be blessed to be a part of," coach Jim Tressel said. "We shouldn't be surprised they showed up today."

Fans stood and cheered as Ohio State players wearing their home jerseys walked out of the tunnel and onto a stage that had been set up on the center of the snow-covered field.

University President Karen Holbrook, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman and Gov. Bob Taft thanked the players and coaches for their effort and the fans for their support.

Coleman unveiled a street sign that renamed nearby Lane Avenue, one of the campus' main drags, Champions Lane.

"We know this is the best team in the nation, at the best university in the nation, in the best city in the nation," Coleman trumpeted as fans applauded. "We are No. 1."

Tressel heaped praise on his players, coaches and fans.

"You folks, right here, are the greatest," he said. "We couldn't have done it without each and every one of you."

During the celebration, the Ohio State marching band performed "Script Ohio" with the senior players dotting the "i." Senior linebacker Cie Grant then took the microphone and led everyone in
singing the Ohio State alma mater, "Carmen Ohio."

Several hours before the pep rally began at 1 p.m., fans wearing hats, gloves, scarfs and even blankets crowded outside the stadium's gates and chanted "O-H-I-O."

Once inside, they watched a replay of the Fiesta Bowl on the stadium scoreboard and cheered play after play, as if the game, which happened 15 days earlier in Tempe, Ariz., was being played live.

"We couldn't make it to Tempe, but we're happy to be here," said Ahmad Sinno, a sleeping bag draped over his shoulders. "We're happy to be here to be able to celebrate with the team."

Despite the freezing weather, a shivering Krista Flanagan never thought about passing on the celebration.

"To me, it's worth it," said Flanagan, a 23-year-old Ohio State student from Cleveland. "I love football."

With seating being first-come, first-served, fans crowded the 101,568-seat stadium's lower bowl -- nearly packing it -- to get a close-up look at the stage.

Paula Anderson and Dan Koontz kept warm by wearing long johns below their scarlet Ohio State jackets and wind-breaker pants.

"If someone said this is your job to come out and stand this morning I'd say 'You're nuts.' But we followed the team all season and wanted to be part of the ceremonies," said Koontz, a Canton

With more than three decades having passed since Ohio State last finished atop the polls after the 1969 Rose Bowl, Andrew Showalter thought battling the elements was a small price to pay for honoring the Buckeyes.

"I figured this isn't going to happen again. It could, I guess, but you never know," said Showalter, 21, of Bryan in northwest Ohio. "It's cold, though."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)