Recently I’ve been corresponding with a man on death row. I work for a newspaper which covers sports at the Ohio State University, the main focus being football and the continuing endeavors of the OSU Buckeyes. The condemned man who wrote to us is a self-described “displaced Buckeye” in a Florida prison. He wanted to know if he qualified for a subscription discount as his funds were “limited.”
“I am the number one Buckeye fan on death row,” he wrote. “The guards give me a hard time because they are Gator fans.” It did sound like hell. I asked our publisher about a discount and he decided to give him half-off. We might have given him a better rate but times are tough, especially for newspapers.
I was curious to see if the man really was on death row so one of my co-workers Googled him. We found him right off the bat. It was true, the man had been on the row since the mid 1980s. He was part of a robbery gone wrong. There were witnesses and one recognized them and had to be dispatched. Our Number One Fan was the clean-up man. He went back and shot the man in the head. Over twenty years later the man was still sitting on death row.
But he remained a fan.
Twenty years on death row will change a man or woman. That is not news. Early in our lives we realize our time on this planet is limited. Our contract will be terminated but we don’t know when. Like the ‘Replicants’ in Philip K. Dick’s “Do androids Dream of Electric Sheep,’ we are curious as to when our expiration date will occur. We could die anytime. Life on death row however, certainly puts a capital F on Finite though our Number One Fan appeared to be making a career of it. I admired his optimism for ordering a one-year subscription. Had he been on death row so long that he thought he’d never get the call, do the Green Mile, be a Dead Man Walking? Had he forgotten they were serious about killing him? What would his last meal be, had he thought about that? Would he have a tailgate party? Was he haunted by the images of the man whose head he shot?
Football is probably easier to think about. In our fan’s case, is his ability to to care about the Ohio State Buckeyes in the face of a government-issued death warrant a sign of detachment from reality or perhaps the very opposite, a striking and determined surmounting of the impending ending of hislife? What if they executed him in the middle of the season? He might miss a Rose Bowl or BCS game. This could perhaps be his true punishment. Even the writer Hunter S. Thompson, a lifetime fan of the NFL, waited until the season was over before he killed himself. Our Number One Fan will not have that choice. What, I wonder, goes through our fan’s mind.
Picture yourself on death row. Would you care about football? Would you care about anything? What would you hold unto to keep your sanity? The bible? Cross word puzzles? Writing letters to crazy teen-aged girls? And what about the guards? Are they such hardcore Gator fans that they would rejoice to see a Buckeye fan put to sleep?
I would like to think not, after all, it’s only football. I don’t think Woody Hayes would want to see a Michigan fan dead. He might want to punch them out but kill them? Probably not. I don’t think.
Last week our Number One Fan wrote us and said a check would be forthcoming from his prison account and in a couple of days, it arrived. We signed him up imediately. He would now be reading about our tortured victory over Iowa and our complete stomping of Michigan. It’s hard to feel much sympathy for a cold-blooded killer but I hope our paper brings the Number One Fan a modicum of comfort in his final days. Perhaps when his time finally does come, his last words will be GO BUCKS!
Everyday we receive letters and email from readers who claim to be the number one Buckeye Fan. I have seen possibly every combination of email addresses denoting in one form or another, their proclamation of being the true and only number one fan in Buckeye Nation.
But they are not. They are poseurs, cranks and madmen. There is only one Number One Buckeye Fan and we know who he is. He is living in a five by four cell, waiting for the next issue of our paper to arrive, hoping to live long enough to read about one more game, hoping like all the seniors on the team, to go out on a winning season.