On a cold Sunday in October, 1908, Fred Cornell, a freshman football player for the Ohio State Buckeyes, was on an evening train heading home to Columbus. He sat among other members of his football team, most of whom were quietly reflecting on their afternoon.
That morning, the undefeated Ohio State football team and over a thousand Columbus natives traveled north for their game against the Michigan Wolverines. A capacity crowd of 6,000 fans created a halo around Michigan’s Ferry Field as the greatly anticipated game was set to start. The buzz was generated around Ohio State, who hadn’t surrendered a single point to an opponent through their first four games.
The Wolverines quickly brought that streak to an end.
When the game mercifully concluded, the Buckeyes walked off the field trying to digest the embarrassing 86-0 defeat they had just suffered. With their pride as bruised and bloodied as their physical bodies, the Ohio State Buckeyes boarded the train for their long trek home.
On the train, Fred Cornell couldn’t shake the way Michigan and their fans gleefully sang their slow paced school song. Despite the crushing loss, Cornell felt inspired, grabbed a blank envelope, and started jotting down lyrics for a new Ohio State song...
Time and change will surely show
How firm thy friendship ... O-HI-O
Years later, the lines he scribbled on the back of that blank envelope became the lyrics to Ohio State’s school song, Carmen, Ohio.
Exactly 100 years after Cornell penned the lyrics to Carmen, Ohio, Jim Tressel was bringing the “time and change” line to life. The 2002 Buckeyes were in the middle of their National Championship run, something that hadn’t happened for Ohio State in over three decades.
The Buckeyes piled up a school record 14 victories that season, and after the final whistle of every game, Tressel would gather his entire team in front of The Best Damn Band In The Land to sing Fred Cornell’s Carmen, Ohio.
It was a new era of Ohio State football. It couldn’t maintain the heights it reached in 2002—in fact, it never even matched it again—but it was a magical time for the Ohio State community.
It was the Jim Tressel era.
The new wave of optimism had washed away an almost annual disappointment among Buckeye fans during John Cooper’s time as head coach. Although Cooper was incredibly successful by the numbers (111-43-4 record at Ohio State), he’s largely thought of as the man who couldn’t beat Michigan (2-10-1 against the Wolverines) and couldn’t win a bowl game (3-8 in postseason play).
That was the John Cooper era.
You can go back even further and evaluate the highs and lows of different coaches and their time in Columbus. Woody Hayes accomplished more at Ohio state than most coaches will achieve in their lifetime, winning an incredible 205 games for the Scarlet and Gray and five National Championships. Hayes also physically assaulted an opposing player (0:30 mark) in the waning moments of a 17-15 Gator Bowl loss to the Clemson Tigers.
That was the Woody Hayes era.
Saturday marks the beginning of a new era of Ohio State football. We don’t know what kind of accomplishments Urban Meyer will achieve during his time in Columbus, and we don’t know what disappointments we’ll face.
The only thing we know for certain is that “time and change will surely show”—the good and bad.
Urban Meyer might win one or more National Championships for the Buckeyes. He might dominate Michigan in a way that would spark envy in Jim Tressel. He might take Ohio State to a level of dominance the college football world has never seen.
Or he could struggle. He could lose more games than he wins before he ever has the chance to take Ohio State back to the promise land. He could lose so frequently and completely to Michigan that it makes fans think fondly of Cooper’s glory days against “that team up north.”
He could even lose a game 86-0.
What won’t change is that feeling Fred Cornell had on his train ride home to Columbus, the feeling that lives somewhere in all Ohio State fans. The feeling that regardless of the outcome of any game, you could still link arms with the person standing next to you and sing:
Time and change will truly show
How firm thy friendship ... O-HI-O