William Hershey

COLUMBUS: These are cloudy days here in Ohio’s sunshine city, not to mention on the campus of THE Ohio State University.

The two are inseparable and that’s part of the problem for the insecure hand wringers determined to cast Columbus as a sophisticated urban hot spot with “swagger,” as opposed to a big city attached to a university with a powerhouse football team.

Columbus, with a recession-resistant economy grounded in jobs and tax dollars created by state government and a major university, escaped the wrenching changes experienced by other major Ohio cities as jobs in the auto, tire and steel industries disappeared.

It’s the state capital and Ohio’s most populous city with 800,000 residents — more than the combined population of Cleveland and Cincinnati.

Still, Cleveland has the Browns and Indians. Cincinnati has the Reds and Bengals. Akron earned the title “Rubber City.” The Wright Brothers made Dayton famous. None of these cities needs a last name.

Columbus?

“Columbus still has no image, but that has sort of become its image,” Joe Blundo, a columnist for the Columbus Dispatch recently wrote. Blundo added that Columbus is “the surprisingly big, surprisingly diverse, surprisingly tolerant city that no one knows about.”

That’s not the kind of compliment that local cheerleaders seek.

Urban Meyer enjoys rock star status here as coach of the football Buckeyes. That’s why his recent unintentional insult to the city’s never-ending quest to be granted “major league” status really stung.

Asked by an Atlanta newspaper why Georgia’s elite high school prospects should consider Ohio State, Meyer responded:

“You get a premium education with the opportunity to go compete for a national championship in a large city that really has no professional sports team.”

Take that, Columbus Blue Jackets, the city’s entry in the National Hockey League. Bow your head, Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

Meyer quickly apologized in a text message to the Columbus Dispatch, whose editorial pages regularly tout Columbus’ swagger.

“I have great respect for both the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Columbus Crew organizations,” Meyer wrote. “The intent of my comment about football recruiting was that Columbus doesn’t have professional football. I should have made that point clear, and I do apologize for the misunderstanding.”

Meyer’s gaffe came shortly after the basketball Buckeyes got bounced from the NCAA tournament by the University of Dayton. That school’s nickname is the Flyers, a tribute to aviation history more noble than OSU’s paean to a nut.

Ohio State routinely refuses to play regular season games against U-D as well as the two Cincinnati hoop powerhouses — the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University — so that made the upset win especially sweet.

The Dayton Daily News couldn’t help itself.

“THE University of Dayton,” it proclaimed in a big-type headline.

The “THE” in front of Ohio State University appears to be part of OSU’s effort to identify itself as THE Harvard on the Olentangy.

It doesn’t work, according to columnist Blundo.

“It reflects the fact that, among three big OSUs (Ohio, Oklahoma and Oregon), the school in Columbus is now widely perceived as the pretentious, insecure one,” he wrote.

The same could be said, of course, for the city’s image makers.

Right now, all the image makers may want to suspend the hand-wringing. The Jackets — as the hockey team is known — for once are winning. Since they entered the NHL in 2000, they’ve been mostly irrelevant except in the local sports pages.

They have made the Stanley Cup playoffs just once and got bounced in four straight games. This year, however, they appear headed for the post-season and in a recent win over the Detroit Red Wings, a perennial winner, showed some real swagger.

Fortunately for the boosters who may want to capitalize on the Jackets’ success, the NHL playoffs don’t start until April 16.

That’s four days after April’s major event here in Columbus, Ohio State’s spring football game.

Hershey is a former Washington correspondent and Columbus bureau chief for the Beacon Journal. He also was the Columbus bureau chief of the Dayton Daily News. He can be reached at hershey_william@hotmail.com.