COLUMBUS, Ohio -- On Saturday afternoon, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer returned from a three-game suspension to thunderous applause from the Ohio State faithful as the Buckeyes defeated Tulane 49-6.
Before he walked into Ohio Stadium to be greeted by 103,336 fans, Meyer received a standing ovation on the other end of Woody Hayes Boulevard -- from 14,000 supporters packed into St. John Arena.
"That was an extremely emotional moment for me," he admitted after the victory. "I'll be honest, it caught me off-guard."
Escorted into the basketball arena by his team, staff and former Ohio State players, Meyer's path was lined by rows of cheering fans, many wearing shirts and holding signs that read "Welcome Back Coach Meyer," "Urban Strong" and "Urban Legend." He gave a brief speech after waiting more than 30 seconds to start as the crowd stood and roared their welcome back.
"I missed you, band, great to see you, the Best Damn Band in the Land," Meyer said to the Ohio State marching band, the hosts of the traditional "Skull Session" pep rally held prior to every home game.
"I want to thank three groups. The first group is our coaching staff, led by [interim head coach] Ryan Day the last few weeks ..."
After pausing to pump his fist during another ovation, he continued: "The second group, the most important group, a group of people that I love from the deepest part of my heart and soul ... our players went down there to [TCU] and got the victory. Thank you, players.
"And last, but finally, what brings the players and coaches all together, without question, the best fans in the land. Thanks very much for your support. The best about thing about 3-0 is the chance to go 4-0. See you in a couple of hours!"
Meyer was noticeably affectionate through the day and evening, embracing fans, twice taking up a position where he could shake hands with each of his players and being quite literally hands-on with those players during pregame warm-ups and the rout.
After the game, the coach took up his customary position standing shoulder-to-shoulder with his family during the stadium-wide singing of the Ohio State alma mater. But this time it was followed by a lengthier-than-normal embrace of wife Shelley Meyer, a name college football fans have become well-acquainted with through the questions surrounding her level of involvement in her husband's handling of former employee Zach Smith and his eventual firing.
In the locker room after the game, Meyer awarded the game ball to Day. In his postgame news conference, he repeated his thanks from the Skull Session and then disappeared into football offices to start preparations for next weekend's game against Penn State.
"Coach is back, and it feels good. It feels normal," quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. said. "He feels good, too. You could see it all day today."