It’s Michigan Week! (III)

No Ohio State will fan ever take The Game against Michigan for granted — at least, no Ohio State fan who lived through the ’90s.  For Ohio State fans, the ’90s were the long, dark night of the soul.

Ohio State was coached by a cordial, good-humored gentleman named John Cooper.  Coop wasn’t an Ohio native, but he could recruit great athletes and get them ready for early season games.  His record at Ohio State was 111-43-4.  He beat Notre Dame twice, and won a Rose Bowl and a Sugar Bowl.  But when it came to The Game, Coop turned into a fingernail-chewing, watery-eyed wreck.  His teams were 2-10-1 against That Team Up North, and it got so bad that the Ohio State President described the tie as one of the greatest victories in Ohio State history.

During the Cooper era, Ohio State played Michigan as the favorite and as the underdog.  It played the Wolverines at home and away.  It played Michigan when the Buckeyes were highly ranked and when they were struggling.  And all of that made no difference, because the result — inevitably — was another soul-crushing loss.  Whether it was a record-setting performance by a previously unknown running back or a slip and fall by a defensive back or some other disaster, Michigan always found a way to win.  Eventually, the Buckeye Nation had had enough, and Coop was gone and Jim Tressel was in.

Whenever Ohio State goes to The Game as a favorite, I think of John Cooper and his struggles with the Wolverines.  It’s left me permanently scarred, and I will never forget.  John Cooper taught me to never take The Game for granted.

Cabbie Carols

This morning I took a cab to the Houston airport.  I was intent on catching up on email as I rode, but something kept nagging at me as I read and deleted.  It was lurking just below the level of conscious thought.

IMG_1630Then I realized what it was.

“Excuse me,” I said.  “Are those Christmas carols you’re playing on the radio?”

“Yeah, mon,” the cabbie said, with a grin.  “The station started playing them because it’s almost Christmas.”  Then he turned up the sound, mistaking my question for a request for more volume.

And so, on the day before Thanksgiving, I was treated to Willie Nelson’s rendition of Frosty the Snowman as I rode toward Terminal A.  I’m not a Willie Nelson fan, and Frosty the Snowman is right up there with Do You Hear What I Hear? as one of the worst holiday songs ever written.  Now I have another reason to wish people would wait until after Thanksgiving to start with the annual Christmas bombardment.

Thanksgiving Table Talk

President Obama’s website suggests that Americans talk about health insurance and the Affordable Care Act over their Thanksgiving meal. Some people object to this, arguing that the President is trying to hijack the holidays for political purposes.  I disagree.

In reality, the President is trying to perform an important public service.  Like everyone else who has moved from the kiddie table, he knows from painful experience that family discussions at the Thanksgiving table often can be difficult and filled with awkward pauses.  He just wants to be helpful by suggesting a new topic of conversation for families in which every Thanksgiving conversation sounds the same themes.

During the early ’70s, for example, every Thanksgiving meal at the Webner household included these conversational non-starters:

Grandma W. — The turkey is a bit dry.  Don’t you think the turkey is too dry?

Mom (trying to change the subject) — Would anyone like some jello salad?

Dad (to me and/or UJ) — When are you going to get a haircut?

Grandma N. — Cathy, your mother tells me you’ve been seeing a young man.

Uncle Tony — The football game is about to start.

Dad (to me and/or UJ) — When are you going to get a job?

Those meals cried out for presidential conversational guidance.  And by suggesting that people talk about the Affordable Care Act, the President is doing his best to help families find common ground this Thanksgiving — because just about everyone, young and old, from any point on the political spectrum, thinks the rollout has been disastrously botched.  Raising that topic is bound to produce some jokes and apocryphal tales to keep the table talk going.

Thanks, Mr. President!