A Schizoid Beginning To Michigan Week

Thanks to being a fan of both the Ohio State and Cleveland football teams, I have a split gridiron personality.  The Dr. Buckeye part expects perfection and routine drubbings; the Mr. Brown side knows that disaster and doom will inevitably rear their ugly heads.

IMG_3501Today’s Ohio State win over Indiana fed both halves of my schizoid football fan persona.  The Buckeye Nation part nods approvingly at the fact that Ohio State is undefeated in the Big Ten and has clinched a spot in the conference title game.  The Browns Backer saw a sloppy game in which Ohio State had three first-half turnovers and actually trailed an overmatched team in the second half.  The Buckeyes fan saw Jalin Marshall score four second-half touchdowns and show some of the lightning-in-a-bottle capabilities of the OSU offense.  The Browns fan saw the defense gashed for more than 200 yards and two appallingly long runs by a good running back as well as a ridiculous rumbling, stumbling, fumbling run by a freshman QB that set up Indiana’s first score.

The commentators say that Ohio State needs style points if it hopes to make the college football playoffs.  Maybe, but the Browns fan in me says that I should be happy with a win that followed on the heels of two high-intensity, on-the-road wins and just be pleased that the college kids on the team finally righted the ship in the second half and prevailed.  And the Buckeyes fan says that Ohio State had better have worked all of the turnovers, penalties, and blunders out of their system, because now things begin to get really serious.

It’s Michigan Week!

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Snow ‘Shoe

IMG_5469I’ve been going to Ohio State home games for more than 40 years, and I’ve never seen it snow as much as it did during yesterday’s game against Indiana.

It made the game a memorable one.  At times the old Horseshoe experienced blizzard-like conditions, and there was sufficient accumulation on the field that two attendants had to go out with push brooms to sweep off the yard lines and the hash marks.  Fortunately I was sitting in B Deck, so I was shielded somewhat from the cutting wind and only had to deal with the distinctly arctic air.  It was cold, and sitting in C Deck must have been brutal.

By the end of the third quarter, as the Buckeyes surged to a 35-0 lead, C Deck had emptied out and so had most of the stands, as even the diehard fans decided that the game was in hand and it was time to start worrying about potentially losing digits to frostbite.IMG_5479

Back, Safe And Sound

Yesterday we drove from Columbia, Missouri to Columbus, Ohio.  It’s a straight shot on I-70, and it was one of those journeys that offer the best and worst that the American interstate highway system has to offer.

At first we rolled through the Missouri and Illinois countryside on a sunny Sunday morning.  We racked up the miles and made good time on good roads, listening to the radio and marveling at the freedom of a fun weekend road trip.

DSC04124Then, as traffic picked up, we encountered the road rage crew — hyper-aggressive drivers who can’t stand to wait in the passing lane with everyone else.  If you drive, you know the type.  You first notice them in the rear-view mirror, darting back and forth through the traffic as they come barreling up.  Then they are upon you, passing cars on the right, stupidly flirting with a semi or two, squeezing into a too-small space in the passing lane left by a driver who still adheres to the quaint notion of maintaining an assured clear distance, and leaving the brake lights of law-abiding motorists flashing in their wake.  If they have to wait to pass, they show their impatience by swinging out to the left of the passing lane to see what is keeping them from driving 90.  I always feel safer when the ragers pass by without incident.

At the Indiana-Ohio border we caught up with the western edge of a slow-moving storm.  On a desolate stretch of road, traffic just stopped for no apparent reason.  We were out in the middle of nowhere in the blackness, the rain pelting down and the traffic inching forward, not knowing whether we were dealing with an accident or a road closure.  It was raining so hard that even putting the windshield wipers on rapid speed provided little visibility relief.  There was nothing to do but grit your teeth, stay alert to the traffic flow, and plow through the storm.  After traffic finally picked up again about 20 miles and an hour or so later, we had to deal with interstate truckers driving faster than conditions warranted to make up for lost time and coating our car with road water in the process.

The day ended with a drive down an unlighted country road in the downpour on our way to pick up Penny and Kasey from the kennel.  When we finally pulled into our garage, our dry and snug little house never looked so good.

Buck Back Gack

We had our annual Buck Back draft the other day, and I think I gagged big time.

Long-time readers may recall that I play in an alternative approach to NCAA pools called the Buck Back.  Rather than trying to forecast the results of every game, eight of us put in eight bucks each, select eight teams in a serpentine draft, and then get $1 — i.e., a buck back — every time one of our teams wins. The Buck Back during March Madness is now a time-honored tradition.

This year the draft was the hardest ever, because it’s impossible to have great confidence that any team is going to do well in the tournament.  Every school has struggled at some point during the season, and every team has weaknesses.

I drafted fourth, and I look at my teams and wonder whether I’ll win even a few games, much less break even.  My first pick was Indiana, which stumbled to the finish line, and my second pick was Michigan, which also struggled in the last half of the season.  Both have talented players, but which teams will show up — the early season world-beaters, or the battered squads that limped home?  My third-round pick was Memphis, which plays in one of the weakest conferences in the country, and my fourth selection was Wichita State, which has to start the Tournament against a tough Pitt team.  My later round picks — San Diego State, Cincinnati, Montana, and Iona — all are question marks.

So I sit, waiting for the Big Dance to start in earnest tomorrow, and I wonder whether my entire Buck Back draft was a choke.  I’ll bet I’m not the only one who feels that way — and I can’t wait for the Tournament to start.

The Reptile At Courtside

Normally I don’t pay much attention to coaches.  I may hate opposing players, or think they are overrated, or wish we had them on our team, but the opposing coach is more of a non-entity.

That’s why I find the revulsion I feel for Tom Crean, the head basketball coach of the Indiana Hoosiers, so interesting.  I’ve come to really despise him, because he seems to have every despicable quality in the book.  He’s a poor sport who won’t give the opposing coach an honest handshake if the Hoosiers lose.  During games he stalks back and forth like a reptile in a pet shop cage and ventures far out onto the court in violation of the rules.  He’s a braggart in victory and a whiner in defeat.  When he loses, he’ll sulk for extended periods before facing the media and answering their questions.  And recently he weirdly berated the assistant coach of an opposing team.  He just seems like a thoroughly unpleasant guy who has some deep-seated issues.

He’s done a fine job at Indiana, I’ll give him credit for that.  He took a fabled basketball school that was on its knees after years of futility and some bad head coaching hires, he recruited some excellent players and coached them well, and he turned things around to the point that the Hoosiers won the Big Ten regular season championship this year.  Some of his former players say he has been a tremendous friend and help to them.  But, what Tom Crean possesses in recruiting and basketball savvy he seems to utterly lack in charm and sportsmanship.  If I were an Indiana fan, I’d be celebrating his success but cringing with embarrassment at some of his antics.

I’ve always thought that coaching was an honorable and important profession, because coaches can have an incredible impact on the young people they mentor and teach.  For that reason, I think coaches should be role models and always strive to exhibit the qualities — like sportsmanship, and generosity in victory and graciousness in defeat, and accepting responsibility — that are so important to success in life.  Crean doesn’t do so.  In my mind, that makes him somebody who can figure out how to win basketball games, but not a very good coach.