Hooley: Celebrate...it's football season in Ohio

Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes open the season Aug. 31

As of today, and from this point forward, perhaps all the way until early February, football is back in Ohio.

When the Cleveland Browns open the exhibition season tonight against the New Orleans Saints, you will not have to go even one weekend without a football game involving an Ohio team until the end of the year.

Yes, I know there’s no Browns, Bengals or Buckeyes game on Friday, Saturday or Sunday of Labor Day weekend, but I’m counting OSU’s Aug. 31 opener at Indiana as a Labor Day Weekend game, since it’s after 5 p.m. that night, and hence on the weekend

Maybe, if Ohio State makes the College Football Playoff -- and it should -- and if the Cincinnati Bengals advance deep into the playoffs -- and they might -- you will have football on your plate all the way through January and perhaps all the way to the Super Bowl.

That's a great thing, given the State of Ohio's love for the game.

No state has done more to enlarge football's arc of influence than Ohio.

Just last weekend, every luminary in the NFL converged on the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, where the origins of professional football began around 1900 with the Canton Bulldogs.

When the NFL was formed in the early 1920s, it was headquartered in Columbus. And over the years, the Browns and Bengals have contributed to the richest chapters of the game's history with names like Paul Brown, Otto Graham, Forrest Gregg, Jim Brown and others.

Collegiately, Ohio State's legacy is the equal of any program in the nation. Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer ranks atop his profession with Alabama's Nick Saban, who got his head coaching start at Toledo.

But college football in Ohio is about far more than Ohio State. The Buckeyes found their most legendary coach, Woody Hayes, at Miami University...known as the Cradle of Coaches, for producing not only Hayes, but Ara Parseghian, Weeb Eubank, Sid Gillman, Bo Schembechler, John Harbaugh, Bill Mallory, Gary Moeller, John Pont and Randy Walker.

As for high school football, listing all the names of all the great players would exhaust an inkwell of immeasurable depth.

A steady parade of those stars have gone on to stardom at Ohio State and the NFL over the years. Even the Buckeyes arch-rival, the University of Michigan, had to come to Ohio to recruit its only Heisman Trophy winners, Charles Woodson and Desmond Howard.

And where would Notre Dame's football legacy be without Knute Rockne, who invented the forward pass during his playing days with the professional Massillon Tigers in 1915.

Yes, football is king in Ohio, and the fall is when the lights come on in that kingdom.

And this year, those lights will shine brightly on the Buckeyes, who start the season ranked No. 2 in the coaches' poll and consensus favorites to reach the College Football Playoff for a second straight year.

The Browns and Bengals will begin their seasons on Sept. 10 against their division rivals in the AFC North.

The Browns, under second-year coach Hue Jackson, open against the Pittsburgh Steelers and their future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, a Findlay native who played at Miami of Ohio.

The Bengals open against the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. I like the Bengals to win the division this year, and thus make the playoffs for the sixth time in the last seven years.

This is the Bengals' 50th season of existence, and it wouldn't surprise me if the celebration of their Golden Anniversary ends with an extended playoff run.

Cincinnati's defense is young enough, fast enough, and most importantly, nasty enough to take Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton a long, long way.

So, at long last, it is football season in Ohio.

Enjoy it, because the season will not last forever.

But the memories will.

Bruce Hooley

Bruce Hooley

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