MARCUS FREEMAN, a star line-backer for Ohio State, wakes up in his princely room at the Blackwell Inn in Columbus, one of the best in the city. Nothing is too plush for a Buckeye. The athletic department at Ohio State leads the nation in spending, at $109 million, more than the GNI of Burundi. Must work. No team has won more games in the last two seasons than the Buckeyes.
Charles Murphy, unemployed carpenter, wakes up by the Scioto River in Columbus on a folded cardboard box with blankets he traded for two packs of cigarettes. Times are tough. Per capita, the state of Ohio led the nation last year in foreclosures and delinquent mortgages. He heads to Faith Mission to get a shower before the other 100 or so men who will be looking to do the same thing. "If you don't get there early," explains Murphy, "you got a very long line." His shiny days as a linebacker at Columbus's East High seem a long way off.
Monday through Friday, Freeman, 21, drives his Ford Expedition to his morning classes. If he's having any trouble, he can walk over to the Younkin Success Center and take advantage of the free tutoring. Then it's off to change in the Buckeyes' massive locker room (15 plasma screens), ahead of practice at one of three full-sized outdoor practice fields or the 120-yard indoor one, none of which are to be confused with the marching band's own, lit practice field. Afterward, if he's feeling stiff, a training staff of 13 can direct him to the 20-man hot tub, the cold plunge or the massage table. But this is game day, so he'll probably just watch a movie in his room. The night before games, there's a first-run film that coach Jim Tressel picks. Freeman's scholarship pays him $1,408 a month for expenses, but the movie's free.
Monday through Friday, Murphy, 49, waits out front at the Mission and hopes the temporary-work van shows up. He usually gets jobs twice a week, often sorting garbage for a recycling company. But this is Saturday, so he'll go to church to pray "for others that ain't got nothin' to eat," then to the library to read the free newspapers. He hopes to be a psychiatrist someday. But with no success center to visit, he's on his own.
For lunch, Freeman joins his teammates for the usual game-day meal: lasagna, steak, chicken and a piece of pie.
For lunch, Murphy goes to the Open Shelter, which feeds 5,000 people annually despite a cash budget of only $250,000—that would barely pay the annual cost of three Buckeyes basketball players—and stands in line for a bologna sandwich, chips and a drink.
For fun, Freeman can play on the team's private basketball or racquetball courts, or head up to the players-only lounge and choose from two Foosball, one Ping-Pong or two pool tables, three video game setups, eight flat screens or the team juice bar.
For fun, Murphy can go to the community rec center and play hoops. "I'm pretty fast," he says. "l can run 22 miles an hour. I know 'cause a policeman chasin' me told me. He said, 'I clocked you in the car at 22!' He said, 'Lord almighty! I thought you was Jesse Owens! Don't you run so fast like that again or I'm a have to shoot you!'"
For most away games, Freeman and his teammates fly in a chartered jet. But this is a home game, so he buses over to legendary Ohio Stadium—a federally protected national landmark—and gets ready. The university has provided him with every possible tool to win, and it's essential he does. Last year football turned a $36 million profit, and that helps pay for many of Ohio State's 35 other varsity sports, the highest count in the nation. There's a lot of pressure, but Freeman thinks what he gets back is a fair trade-off. "Man, when you come running out of that tunnel and 102,000 people are screaming for you, it's an adrenaline rush you'll never forget."
Away game or home game, Murphy gets to the Mission an hour early in order to get his lucky chair in the first row in front of the TV. He hasn't missed an Ohio State football game in so long he can't remember. He lives for it. "I love my Buckeyes! Did you know I used to play touch with [Ohio State legend] Archie Griffin and his brother? Sure! We was raised up together!"
After a victory Freeman comes out of the locker room and is greeted by hundreds of fans. He signs as many autographs as he can, then heads out to meet his girlfriend. Later they might go to a party. "You know, celebrate a little," he says.
After a victory, Murphy leaves the Mission and heads to the liquor store, then back to the park to bed down with his box, his blankets and his two 40-ounce beers.
You know, to celebrate.
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On game days, Murphy gets to the Mission early to get his lucky chair in front of the TV. He hasn't missed an Ohio State football game in so long he can't remember. He lives for it.
PETER READ MILLER