Let The True Season Now Begin

Kudos to the Penn State Nittany Lions for playing a very tough, gutty game today in cold, rainy Columbus.  Fortunately, for Buckeye Nation, Ohio State was able to overcome lots of turnovers and sloppy play and continue their quest for a slot in this year’s College Football Playoff.

osu-michigan-banner-1024x700But that’s for another day.  As the seconds ticked down this afternoon, all true Ohio State fans felt a little shiver in their spines and a quickening of their pulses.  With the Penn State game behind us and a W secured, we knew deep in our guts that the greatest rivalry week in college football — really, in all of sports — is now upon us.  And we also know that this year The Game is set up to be an absolute classic.  Ohio State hopes to continue its march to the National Championship, and Michigan — which has an excellent team — knows that it can derail those hopes, and break the hearts of Buckeye fans everywhere, if they can just win this year’s edition of The Game.

Next week Ohio State will head to That State Up North to take on the Maize and Blue.  The teams and their fans despise, but somehow respect, one another.  Players who have taken the field in The Game say that it is one of the hardest-hitting, but cleanest, games they’ve ever experienced.  Both teams want to win, but they want to win the right way.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s Michigan Week.  Brace yourselves!

Now Comes Michigan Week

Most Americans think of this as Thanksgiving week, when it’s time to give thanks, embrace our common humanity, and be generous to our fellow man.

Not so in Buckeye Nation. As soon as Ohio State eked out an overtime win over a feisty Maryland team yesterday, Ohio State fans breathed a sigh of relief, wondered what in the hell happened to the Ohio State defense this year, and then immediately thought: “It’s Michigan Week.”

Michigan Week used to be the week before Thanksgiving week, but a few years ago the Big Ten changed the schedule and moved The Game to the Saturday after Turkey Day. I wish they hadn’t, because bloodthirsty thoughts don’t fit comfortably into the expected Thanksgiving mindset. Before, Buckeye fans could hope to kick the ass of That Team Up North, watch The Game, and then after the violent clash ended shift gradually into pleasant, huggy Thanksgiving mode. Now we think about breaking Michigan hearts right up to the point the turkey gets carved, piously give thanks while we’re really pondering crushing tackles and Statue of Liberty plays, and then after the plates have been cleared abruptly return to full Michihate mode for the remaining hours leading up to the tilt with the Maize and Blue.

It’s jarring, to say the least. But hey — it’s Michigan Week!

Woody Week

Ohio State has viewed Michigan as its great opponent for more than a century, but the modern rivalry really took its shape when Wayne Woodrow Hayes became the head football coach at Ohio State in 1951.  It was Woody Hayes who schemed all year for the game against That Team Up North, Woody Hayes who purportedly pushed his car back to Ohio rather than buying a tank of gas in Michigan, Woody Hayes who attempted a two-point conversion rather than an extra point in a beat-down of the Wolverines and, when asked why he went for two, responded “Because I couldn’t go for three.”

That’s why, for members of Buckeye Nation who are my generation or older, Michigan Week really is Woody Week.  From the Ohio State side, Coach Hayes is the inescapable colossus who helped to define what the ultimate rivalry in sports was really all about.  You can’t help but think about him as The Game draws near.

But there is more to the story than that.  Woody Hayes was always a complex figure — professorial and intellectual, a student of military history who was likely to quote Emerson, yet possessed of a volcanic temper that propelled him into embarrassing sideline outbursts, including the furious punch that cost him his job.  A man who was the iconic face of Ohio State football but didn’t insist on large contracts and happily lived in the same tidy Upper Arlington house for years, who was gracious to the timid students who knocked on the door of his office and asked if the Coach might sign a football for their father or uncle, who mentored his players and hectored them into getting their degrees and pursuing post-football careers as doctors, politicians, and lawyers.  Living in Columbus, you inevitably encounter people who were touched by the generosity and decency of Woody Hayes, whether it involved an unpublicized hospital visit to a sick child or an encouraging word to a struggling young person.

Over the years, my perception of Coach Hayes changed, and I think I’m not alone in that.  For me he began as a too-conservative football coach whose temper-fueled antics often made Ohio State the butt of jokes, then became the modern Greek dramatic hero whose passion led inexorably to his downfall.  Now, as the stories of what he did are told and retold, he has become a venerated figure whose failings are forgiven, if not forgotten, because his strength of character and good deeds vastly outweighed them.

For those of us who have made mistakes in our lives — a population that includes me and most of the billions of people on planet Earth — the story of Woody Hayes is a warming and ultimately encouraging human story of the possibility of redemption and how good deeds can live on as blunders fade away.  It’s a good story to remember each year during Michigan Week.

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!

It’s Michigan Week!

On Saturday, Ohio State will play Michigan in the annual renewal of the greatest rivalry in sports.  Each year, Michigan Week is a much-anticipated time, when every member of Buckeye Nation focuses anew on The Game.

But here at Webner House, we are also about education.  And today, we’re interested in learning about Michigan’s mascot, the Wolverine.  It looks like a deranged skunk, and it’s a member of the weasel family.  So far, it seems like an appropriate mascot for Michigan, all right.  But what about other attributes of the animal?  Specifically, does a Wolverine have any kind of special odor?

Imagine our surprise when we learned that, according to environmentalgraffiti.com, the wolverine is one of the seven smelliest creatures in the world — right there between the bombardier beetle, which shoots a stinky combination of liquid and gas from its rear end, and the musk ox, which has exceptionally smelly urine.  The website explains about wolverines: “They’re seldom seen by humans, but they’re frequently smelled. Like most members of the weasel family, the wolverine has glands that it secretes fluid from to mark its territory. The musky scent is supposed to be very unpleasant, and has given the wolverine the colourful nicknames of ‘skunk bear’ and ‘nasty cat’.”

It’s official — even environmentalists think the Wolverines stink!

The Flavor Of The Week

I notice that the Baylor Bears lost to the Oklahoma State Cowboys last night.  In fact, losing doesn’t seem quite like the accurate word when you fall by a score like 49-14.  Perhaps crushed is more accurate.  Or obliterated.  Or shellacked.

I’ve got nothing against Baylor, and I’m not one of those thin-skinned Ohio State fans who becomes enraged at every perceived slight from the national media.  I don’t watch ESPN, I don’t read sports columnists on line, and I really don’t much care what some carefully coiffed commentator has to say about whether one team is better than another — because they are so often, and so predictably, wrong, wrong, and wrong again.

This season, however, members of Buckeye Nation can’t help but notice that the sports chat community always seems to want to talk up some team other than Ohio State.  I think that’s not only because the TV shows and the talk radio community focus on ginning up controversy to attract viewers, but also because they are just dazzled by high-scoring offenses.  Until yesterday, Baylor was a high-flying offense that was putting up the points, just as Oregon had done before it.  (Coincidentally, Oregon also got mauled yesterday.)  These teams are like the flavor of the week at the local ice cream shop — it’s interesting to try the vanilla mango cherry pistachio mix, but at the end of the week you realize chocolate chip is just better.

It’s an old saying in college football that November separates the contenders from the pretenders.  With Michigan Week now officially upon us, Ohio State remains undefeated.  There are not many teams left that can say that.

Let’s Go, Buckeyes!

Let’s go, Buckeyes!  It’s time to win The Game and kick some Maize and Blue butt!  (And enjoy Jocelyn Smallwood dotting the i in Script Ohio.)

Edited to add:  It’s cold here in Columbus on Game Day, with a brisk wind and a few snowflakes drifting down.  Perfect football weather!

Hunting For Wolverine

Tomorrow, Ohio State’s season boils down to one game.  Fittingly, the Michigan Wolverines stand between the Buckeyes and a perfect season.

This scenario has played out before.  Michigan has ruined the season for many otherwise perfect Ohio State squads, and Ohio State has wrecked Michigan dreams of unbeaten seasons.  Going into tomorrow’s game, every Ohio State fan knows that Michigan will do whatever it takes to beat the Buckeyes, smash the Buckeyes’ hope for perfection, and start Urban Meyer’s OSU coaching career off with a losing record against Michigan.  Every Michigan fan knows, too, that the Buckeyes want to crush Michigan, get revenge for last year’s loss, and return to the glory days when Jim Tressel led Ohio State to a 9-1 record against the hated Team Up North.

This will be a great matchup between two pretty good teams in the greatest rivalry game in college football.  In Ohio State-Michigan games, the great players have a way of stepping up — Denard Robinson, for example, probably played the best game of his collegiate career when the Wolverines beat the Buckeyes last year — and otherwise obscure players can achieve lasting gridiron glory by making the hard hit and recovering the crucial turnover.  We can expect a tough, hard-hitting game tomorrow, because that’s just the way The Game is always played.

I think the key to the game is the Ohio State defense.  The Buckeye D played its best game of the year last week against Wisconsin, but Wisconsin played a traditional Big Ten offensive game.  Michigan, on the other hand, has a bit more of a spread mentality, and Ohio State has struggled to defend against the spread.  If Ohio State can contain Robinson, in his new role as multi-purpose offensive sparkplug, and pressure Devin Gardner, that will take them a long way toward winning.  Consistent with my view that The Game sees big players rising to the occasion, I’ll be looking for John Simon, Ryan Shazier, and Bradley Roby to make some big plays if the Buckeyes are going to win.

Offensively, the Braxton Miller Show ground to a halt last week.  Wisconsin had a great plan, executed it to perfection, and kept Miller bottled up and off balance.  Michigan will try to do the same — but it remains to be seen if they can bring the same defensive assets to bear that Wisconsin deployed.  I think the answer for the Buckeyes may be Carlos Hyde, who has run with punch in recent weeks.  If the forecast for tomorrow is accurate — and they are expecting temperatures in the 30s, with some wind — being able to run the ball effectively may be the key.  Beanie Wells killed Michigan during his career; Carlos Hyde would like to do the same.

Columbus is stoked for The Game.  Let’s go, Buckeyes!

At Woody’s Gravesite

When Michigan Week rolls around, members of Buckeye Nation naturally think of Wayne Woodrow Hayes, Ohio State’s iconic football coach who wanted — deeply, passionately, and unequivocally — to beat Michigan every year.

Recently I was near Columbus’ Union Cemetery.  It’s tucked right next to Route 315, one of the main thoroughfares that fans take to get to Ohio Stadium.  It’s also the location of Woody Hayes’ grave, and I decided to pay a visit.

Ohio State’s famous coach is buried next to his beloved wife, Anne, beneath a simple stone headstone in an unremarkable part of the cemetery.  His headstone, however, bears a memorable and beautiful quote:  “And in the night of death, hopes sees a star, and listening love hears the rustle of a wing.”

As befits Hayes — a much more interesting, multi-faceted man than the media caricatures of the fiery coach ever depicted — the evocative quote has an interesting back story.  It is a quote of Robert G. Ingersoll, a towering 19th century figure who is little remembered today.  Ingersoll was a brilliant and accomplished lawyer, politician — he famously described Republican James Blaine as the “plumed knight of Maine” — defender of Darwin and the theory of natural selection, and religious skeptic.

The entire quote from Ingersoll, attributed by the 1919 edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations to Ingersoll’s statement At His Brother’s Gravereads:  “Life is a narrow vale between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities. We strive in vain to look beyond the heights. We cry aloud—and the only answer is the echo of our wailing cry. From the voiceless lips of the unreplying dead there comes no word. But in the night of Death Hope sees a star and listening Love can hear the rustling of a wing.”

What better expression of the frail needs of the human condition for reassurance when confronted with the deep void of death?  And what does it say about the purportedly knuckle-dragging football coach when he chooses such a quote to mark his place of eternal rest?

When I visited Woody Hayes’ grave, a fan had carefully placed tiny pieces of homemade candy, in the shape of Brutus Buckeye’s face, on the top of the headstone, and another admirer had perched a small, painfully cute stuffed bear wearing an Ohio State sweater on the front of the marker.  They were part of the graveside scene, next to a military marker and an American flag moving gently in the breeze.  As I stood there thinking of Coach Hayes, I couldn’t help but wonder whether those dedicated and well-meaning fans, perhaps, appreciated only a small fraction of a vast and complex spirit.

The Mirror Lake Jump

What’s Michigan Week without a jump into Mirror Lake — the scenic little puddle that OSU students jump into every year before The Game against That Team Up North?  Tonight’s the night for the traditional Mirror Lake Jump.

This year participants will have information their predecessors didn’t:  OSU science students have tested Mirror Lake and determined that the waters are packed with microorganisms, animal dung, urine, sweat, and God knows what else.

Ah, what’s some garbage water between drunken friends, anyway?  The important thing isn’t the risk of disease, it’s recognizing the need to Beat Michigan!

Dotting The i At “The Game”

If you are a Sousaphone player in Ohio, you have one overriding dream:  to one day dot the i in Script Ohio.

Script Ohio is one of the most revered traditions of the Ohio State University Marching Band — commonly known, without exaggeration, as The Best Damn Band In The Land.  In fact, Script Ohio may be the most famous band maneuver in the world.  Starting from the form of a square, the band plays “Le Regiment” and follows the drum major in order to spell out “Ohio” in cursive letters, as if the word were being written by a giant hand.  The climax comes when the drum major leads one of the senior Sousaphone player out to dot the i.  The Sousaphone player high steps out, removes his or her hat, and does a deep bow to make the dot as Ohio Stadium roars its approval.

As great as it is to dot the i, the real cherry is to dot the i in Script Ohio during The Game — Ohio State’s annual grudge match against the Michigan Wolverines. I’ve actually met the Sousaphonist who will have that tremendous honor, and the nationally televised thrill of a lifetime, during Saturday’s Big Game.  Her name is Jocelyn Smallwood, and her parents are Carl and Connie Smallwood.  TBDBITL is a strict meritocracy, and Jocelyn has worked hard to earn the acclamation that will come with dotting the i at the Michigan game.  Among the more than 100,000 screaming fans will be many members of the extended Smallwood clan, cheering Jocelyn on as she prances out to Sousaphone immortality.

Congratulations, Jocelyn!  (And Beat Michigan!)

It’s Michigan Week, Bitches!

This week comes but once a year

When Buckeyes see their duty clear

And college football e’er bewitches

It’s Michigan Week, all you bitches!

And before this week shall pass

We’ll kick with glee Michigan ass

On Saturday at the Horseshoe

We’ll trounce the dismal Maize and Blue

And then a stein of beer we’ll raise

And toast to good old Woody Hayes

Then spray the ‘Shoe with chlorine

To rid the scent of Wolverine.

Let’s go, Bucks!

A Bruising Win, And Now On To Michigan Week

Whew!  Ohio State escaped from Camp Randall Stadium with a 21-14 overtime win in one of the toughest, hardest-fought games you’re likely to see this year.

It wasn’t a pretty game offensively.  The Buckeye offense was pitiful during the second half, when it had multiple chances to put the game away.  The low point came when, with time running out in the fourth quarter, the offense could have salted the game away with one first down — but was unable to pick it up.  Wisconsin’s defense was terrific, and never let Braxton Miller shake loose.  The Badgers covered the Ohio State receivers like a wet blanket, and Miller often seemed baffled about what to do.  Ohio State’s coaching staff had better figure that out, because Michigan will be studying how Wisconsin defended the Buckeyes and will try to follow that approach next week.

The Ohio State defense, though, was stellar.  The Silver Bullets gave up yardage to Montee Ball — who doesn’t? — but penned him in and produced countless big plays.  The biggest was the lick Ryan Shazier laid on Ball to force a fumble on a fourth and goal with time ticking down in the fourth quarter, followed by a stout stand that gave the Buckeyes the win in overtime.  Defensive lineman John Simon was all over the field, playing his heart out.  He graduates this year, but his studly, never-say-quit play has earned him a place in the pantheon of Buckeye gridiron greats.

This was the kind of rugged defensive battle that epitomizes Big Ten football.  The Buckeyes prevailed, won the Big Ten Leaders division (who cares?), and moved to 11-0.  Now it’s on to Michigan Week, when the Wolverines come to the Horseshoe.  In football’s greatest rivalry game, Michigan will have the chance to ruin Ohio State’s perfect record, and Ohio State will have the opportunity to keep Michigan out of the Big Ten championship game.  It doesn’t get much better than that.