- "Ohio State Football": The Forgotten Dawn by Robert J. Roman
The football program at The Ohio State University (OSU) has become a national brand burnished by appearances in multiple championship games and New Year's Day bowls. Robert J. Roman, an OSU alum and New York–based author, chronicles the origins of the program in his book "Ohio State Football": The Forgotten Dawn. The choice of beginning his history in the 1880s rather than starting with OSU's first intercollegiate season of 1890 allows Roman the opportunity to offer insight into how the program came to be instead of a simple recitation of scores and statistics upon which most football histories depend. Roman's well-researched work on the early years of Buckeye football specifically, and the athletic department generally, reveals that a driving force behind the creation of the football program was the result of a collective inferiority complex among the OSU student population. Utilizing latenineteenth-century editions of the OSU student newspaper the Lantern and correspondence from administrators and student leaders, Roman shows that, during the early days of OSU, students of the land-grant university felt looked [End Page 125] down upon by the many private and/or religious schools throughout Ohio. The slights were not imagined as Roman shares the views of other institutions through their school papers that OSU was "atheistic," "blasphemous," and "a drain on the state" (24–25). OSU students responded by organizing athletic teams and scholarly contests, such as oratorical competitions, to demonstrate the equality or superiority of their school to their instate rivals. These events drew the disparate student body closer together on a campus featuring populations of different races, creeds, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Roman sets the stage well for an underdog tale in the first seventy-five pages, but the real slights that energized the student body in the beginning are replaced by imagined slights during the early years of the sport, which make OSU look paranoid rather than put-upon. Also, Roman's narrative doesn't critically analyze the words and actions of those with an outsized view of the contributions of sport to campus life, which undermines the underdog thesis. An example of the former is found in the early years of the programs when losses to their instate competitors piled up. The words of students as found in issues of the Lantern Roman cites convey a sense that anytime OSU loses a game, it is the result of nefarious actions. Lantern writers would open by crediting the athleticism of the opponent, but would always add a caveat of impropriety to excuse the result. A game story following a 32–0 loss to Wooster in 1890 credits the opponent for great play, but goes into detail on how dirty a player the Wooster eleven fielded (129). The headline following a 26–0 loss to Kenyon in 1891 positively credited an opposing back and blamed a biased referee, "O.S.U. Lose to Superior Running and Unfair Umpire" (170).
Roman also fails to balance accounts of the outsized emphasis on college sports that began in the 1890s and continues today. There is much outrage in the Lantern over the College of Wooster's use of Joseph Tyndall, a ringer who was not enrolled in the college (146), and Roman is correct in pointing out the use of such ringers during this time. Roman does not, however, take to task the student body of OSU for protesting rule changes imposed by the administration requiring football players to pass their courses in order to be eligible to play. The quote in the paper reading, "If the rule is enforced we cannot hope to place a winning team in the field this fall" (219) isn't tied into the rampant use of ringers at other schools. An expectation of the equation of using ringers and using players who are in college but not working toward a degree isn't unrealistic for a book that chronicles the formation of...