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Finding my family through Ohio State football on Saturdays

Demario McCall of the Buckeyes scores a touchdown during the game against Bowling Green on Sept. 3. Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

In September, espnW's weekly essay series will focus on college football.

Loving the Ohio State Buckeyes has never been about the game atmosphere or the tailgating. I am an Ohio State football fan simply because my father is, and it was never up for discussion.

I grew up as the fan equivalent of a gamer when it came to college football. I've never seen the Buckeyes play in person, and somehow that doesn't feel like a missing piece.

My father was born in the heart of Columbus, just a few blocks from the sprawling old homes decorating Broad Street. My grandparents' cul-de-sac is nestled near the border separating Columbus from the green lanterns of Bexley, the town where my father attended high school at St. Charles Preparatory.

When fandom is so often determined by geography, that small detail is enough to justify my cheering for Ohio State.

I vividly remember the Fiesta Bowl against Miami in January 2003, and the cheesy grin on my father's face as Jim Tressel hoisted the BCS championship trophy, not caring one bit about the controversial pass interference call that gave OSU another shot at the end zone and ultimately the win. He let me stay up well past my bedtime to watch that play.

The next time we played for the championship, however, did not go nearly as well. It was January 2007, my sophomore year of high school. I screamed as Ted Ginn Jr. returned the kickoff a touchdown, thinking Ohio State was going to win. Soon, however, those cheers gave way to my father banging his fist against the couch cushions and my almost-11-year-old brother yelling at the television en route to a 41-14 defeat. It was an embarrassment and the first of back-to-back national championship losses to SEC teams.

And of course, there's Michigan.

The last time we lost to Michigan was in 2011; I was in college. Since I've been an OSU fan, I can remember only two losses, the other one coming by two touchdowns in 2003. There have been others since I've been alive, but I have no recollection of them. Must have blocked it out.

It doesn't matter how great a season Ohio State is having; that game will always make me nervous. It's the biggest of the year, and I always talk to my dad before kickoff. He proudly wears his "Muck Fichigan" shirt that he reserves for these occasions. Sometimes my brother will drive home to watch the game with him, a gathering of which I am deeply jealous because I cannot join them. The last time I was home for the Michigan game was November 2008.

For the past seven years, I haven't lived closer than four hours from my hometown, with the majority of that time spent living 10 to 12 hours away. No matter how far I drifted, however, Ohio State football brought me back.

My dad and I aren't great at talking on the phone, and the same is true with my brother. It's easy to call my mom or my sister and talk about the mundane details of my day. That's what we do. Neither my dad nor brother cares about that stuff.

I am the nomad, the drifter of the three of us, going wherever opportunity takes me. Both my brother and sister enrolled in colleges only two hours away from home, in direct response to my distance.

Knowing what happened in the Ohio State game each week gives me something to talk to my dad and brother about.

"How 'bout those Buckeyes?" I ask after a good week. When they lose, the question is normally the same, but laced with profanity. I was particularly fond of calling my dad and texting my brother after a big play, a habit I still have. I care if Ohio State wins, but I care more about making sure I talk to them.

My father definitely noticed my growing love for his, our, team. For Christmas my freshman year, my dad gave me an Ohio State blanket, which I still snuggle with on game days. He followed the blanket with a sweatshirt and winter hat. Most Christmases my brother and I can bet on there being at least one Ohio State item under the tree for me from my dad.

With the air cooling and the tinge of color to the leaves bring phone calls, group texts and shouts of exasperation. Sundays might have been football days in my family, but I've come to appreciate Saturdays just as much.

I sit on my couch with the Ohio State blanket my father gave me wrapped around my legs. If it's an evening game, I might have a screwdriver, which is his favorite drink. All errands either wait or are paused until the end of the game. I smooth the sleeves of my Buckeyes sweatshirt and drink from the mug he bought me.

My phone sits next to me, and I'm ready to call home at a moment's notice. It's not quite as nice as watching the game from the same couch, but it's as close as I can get.

I'll take it.