Michigan-Ohio State tests international fandom

There will perhaps be no one on this planet happier than Andrew Karonis when Michigan's winged helmets finally take the field inside Ohio State's Horseshoe on the banks of the Olentangy River on Saturday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). If he sees them, that is.

It will be 9:30 p.m. when Karonis, a 1991 graduate of Michigan and the only American college football diehard atop the famed Rock of Gibraltar, attempts to tune in to the long-awaited Michigan-Ohio State showdown on his laptop. Karonis plans to watch via ESPN GamePlan online, but just like when a Michigan punt sails toward Ted Ginn Jr., he's keeping his fingers crossed.

Arguably one of the most bizarre sites for a college football gamewatch, the monolithic limestone hulk jutting into the Mediterranean Sea also will likely feature the smallest attendance -- "Not too many Americans over here," explains Karonis, who will be watching by himself. But it's just one of the many Michigan-Ohio State gamewatches being organized around the globe.

With nearly 750,000 combined living alumni, it's no surprise that the graduates of Michigan and Ohio State constitute a sizable percentage of the approximately five million Americans living abroad (according to the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs), making viewing of this year's clash in Columbus, Ohio truly a global affair. (For those of you scoring at home, Michigan boasts 440,000 alums to Ohio State's 300,000-plus, but Big Ten rival Penn State claims the highest number of living alums from any U.S. college or university with 450,000).

So what's an expatriate Buckeye or Wolverine, one thousands of miles and several time zones away from Ohio Stadium, to do when the most hyped college football game of the new millennium (and perhaps in the entire storied history of the Big Ten Conference) is rapidly approaching?

Whatever he has to do to watch it.

Just like the expats in 1920s and '30s Europe who notoriously tied up trans-Atlantic telephone lines to get Ivy League scores. Or the American military brass in the Philippines who might have invented the tradition of overseas group gamewatches -- or, in their case, "gamelistens" -- by rigging up radios on Navy ships and floating scoreboards for the annual Army-Navy tussle prior to World War II.

There's a reason why many expats and service members over the years could not resist the pull of the ol' alma mater or the college gridiron. In many ways, the feeling one gets listening to his school fight song a long way from home is much like hearing the national anthem on foreign soil. You get goose bumps. You get that feeling of campus, of dancing leaves, flaming grills, ice-cold beverages and crisp, fall afternoons. You get a feeling of home.

Unless, of course, you're Michigan alum Doug Franke in South Africa -- which has almost no access to U.S. television channels -- who plans to have about a dozen Michigan grads over at his house in Johannesburg to follow the game on the Internet if DSTV, the South African Pay-Per-View service, can't come through.

Too bad Franke doesn't have Orbit -- a satellite network that broadcasts television and radio channels to Europe, the Middle East and North Africa -- like Ziad Katabi, Ohio State Class of '87, who will be watching his Buckeyes in the comfort of his home when kickoff arrives at 11:30 p.m. in Khobar, Saudi Arabia.

Other options available include Sirius satellite radio, which will be broadcasting the game on Channel 130 and the Armed Forces Network, which will beam the game to thousands of U.S. service members around the globe. Michigan alums also can log on to mgoblue.com to listen to the game for free.

Even with the Internet, satellites, Slingboxes (devices that enable users to view satellite programming on their computers) and other wonders of modern technology, it's not easy to watch college football in many parts of the world. Thus many Americans living abroad tap into international alumni clubs which organize community gamewatches.

Fire off an e-mail to Patrick Armstrong of the Michigan Alumni Clubs of France and you can huddle with fellow Wolverines beneath the shadow of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, at the Great Canadian Pub in Saint-Michel.

Big Blue is big in Belgium, too. At approximately 9:30 p.m. Central European Time, Michigan fans in Brussels will be at Fat Boys on Place Luxembourg, a few first downs from the European Union Parliament, downing bottles of Westmalle Triple, a tasty, yet bruiser of a Belgian beer featuring a potent 11-percent alcohol content. They'll be watching on the AFN or the Ireland/UK-based North American Sports Network.

"If the former, we have to put up with military commercials. If the latter, we have to put up with smarmy British commentators during the breaks," writes Eli Cohen, Michigan '86. "It's a toss-up."

Thanks to Brian Hendricks, the official headquarters of the Scarlet and Gray in Aberdeen, Scotland, will be the Devanha Lounge on Bank Street. In recent weeks, Hendricks has "converted" a bar full of locals to Ohio State's side, so you'll be sure to hear Scottish accents rendering the "OH-IO" chant and such "Best Damn Band in the Land" classics as "Hang on Sloopy" and "We Don't Give a Damn for the Whole State of Michigan."

If you're an Ohio State or Michigan fan in Puerto Rico, drop by Shannan's Pub in Guaynabo on Saturday afternoon. But don't forget your wallet, warns Marisol Lugo Juan, Ohio State '88: as per tradition, the losing team's fans pick up the bar tab.

Maggie Hermant, an '87 Ohio State grad from up north -- as in Canada, not Woody Hayes' hated "up north" -- has had no problems organizing a large gamewatch at the Sports Centre Café in Toronto, though both teams' fans will be on the premises.

"We take the front room, they take the back," assures Hermant.

But Hermant's brother Norman, a George Washington grad who lives in Bangkok, has had to enlist the help of the U.S. Consulate to help find a place to watch the game. Even this week, Asia is not exactly Big Ten country.

"Shanghai has caught on to soccer, basketball, tennis, golf, and even some NFL, but college football, if you're not an American, is just not comprehended here," writes Jeff Fertuck, Michigan '93, from China.

Luckily for Fertuck and several other members of The U of M China Alumni Club, Bubba's BBQ in Shanghai's Hongqiao district will show the game on tape delay the following day at 2 p.m. (since Shanghai is 13 hours ahead of "Michigan Stadium Time," reasons Fertuck, a 4:30 a.m. kickoff would not be practical).

In addition to a menu of pulled pork and margaritas, Bubba's owner Ken Walker will treat customers to a taped broadcast of "College GameDay." Lee Corso in the Middle Kingdom? Maybe even in subtitles?

It's just another sign that this game has reached epic, global proportions.

As for that lone voice humming the refrain to "Hail to the Victors" on far-off Gibraltar, Karonis has several contingency plans, including a friend's Slingbox and stateside comrades willing to set up a Web cam.

"I will figure out some way to watch and hear the game live," declared Karonis. "No way I am missing this one."

Until then, the clock, no matter which time zone you are in, keeps counting down to kickoff.

John D. Lukacs is the creative and historical consultant to College GameDay.