Good Football Weather

When I stepped outside for my walk on this morning of the Ohio State-Michigan game, I immediately thought of my father.

IMG_1875It was because of the weather — crisp and clear, with the stars sharply outlined and the steam from breath rising upward into the chill.  Those are the kind of conditions that would cause my father to lean back, sniff the air, nod approvingly, and say:  “Good football weather.”

Every Midwestern football fan knows exactly what that phrase means.  It means dry conditions, because no one wants to watch football or play football in a downpour.  It means a day that is not too windy and where there is a significant difference between being in the sunshine and being in the shade.  It means a temperature that is cold, but not too cold; in the 30s or 40s, where you can bundle up and layer against the chill and a few hours outside will bring color to everyone’s cheeks.  The kind of day when you enjoy having your core warmed by a well-prepared toddy, or Bloody Mary, or Irish Coffee at a tailgate and can hear the crack of the pads echoing through the stadium as the crowd roars.

Yes, it’s good football weather today for The Game.  Go Bucks!

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!

Another Reason Not To Celebrate Columbus Day

Columbus Day is one of those “holidays” that really isn’t a holiday in any meaningful sense of the word.  Sure, federal workers and state workers get the day off — they get every holiday off, without fail — and so do bank employees.  For the rest of us working stiffs, however, Columbus Day is just another day to slog into the office and briefly wonder why that the flow of rush hour traffic is lighter than on the average work day.

And these days many people don’t care much for Christopher Columbus, either.  Admiral of the Ocean Sea, persuader of Ferdinand and Isabella, intrepid explorer — forget all that stuff we learned in grade school!  Now we hear that Columbus brought disease and slavery to the New World and is viewed as standing for colonialism, cultural insensitivity, and a Eurocentric vision of the world.  That’s why some people insist, instead, on celebrating Indigenous People’s Day.

Poor old Chris and his lame holiday are taking a beating from every quarter — which is why I got a chuckle out of the story sent along by the Friendly Doc Next Door, about an Ann Arbor, Michigan bank that announced that it wasn’t celebrating Columbus Day because Columbus, after all, is a city in Ohio.  Why not?  College football’s greatest rivalry is as good a reason as any to not recognize a federal holiday that is a “holiday” in name only.  When Arbor Day rolls around, we here in Ohio will retaliate by not celebrating it, either.

The Bloody And Battered Big Ten

Rutgers and Maryland may want to reconsider their decision to join the Big Ten, because apparently the Old Conference really sucks this year.

Saturday, September 6, 2014 was an embarrassing bloodbath for the Big Ten.  The top teams — including, unfortunately, the Buckeyes — all lost convincingly.  Virginia Tech came in, pulverized the overmatched Ohio State offensive line, sacked poor redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett more times than you can count, and came out of the Horseshoe with a tough, physical win.  Kudos to them for a great victory.  Meanwhile, Notre Dame beat the tar out of hapless Michigan, shutting out the Wolverines 31-0 and leaving Brady Hoke looking sweaty and bewildered, as always, on the sideline.  Oregon put on a track meet in the second half and drubbed Michigan State, 46-27.  Purdue got crushed by Central Michigan, and Northern Illinois beat Northwestern.

Even the wins that Big Ten teams racked up yesterday were pretty lame.  Nebraska needed a last-second miracle to beat McNeese State.  Penn State squeaked by Akron, and Minnesota slipped past Middle Tennessee.  Maryland and Rutgers, at least, held up their end of the bargain and won.

The season is young, of course, and I’m hoping that the Buckeyes get better.  They’re young, and without Braxton Miller to energize their offense with his special talents I wasn’t expecting them to contend for a national championship.  But there’s no doubt that, after yesterday’s crippling losses, the Big Ten has taken another black eye and its national reputation, which already was battered, has slipped another notch.

I hope I don’t have to take any trips down to SEC country soon.

Chili Fry, Oh My!

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The Hunter House, in Birmingham, Michigan, is a classic. It’s been there since the ’50s and has achieved landmark status.

The double cheeseburger and chocolate shake were great, but the chili fries are to die for — rich, tangy, and chock full of that mysterious chili meat. We had a late lunch there today, but it’s got to be a fabulous post-boozing spot, with those chili fries ready to soak up any evil excess alcohol.

Yum!

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The Comeback Kids

Because I can’t use my left foot or get exercise in the conventional way, I’m trying to get my blood pumping by watching the Ohio State basketball team. So far, my plan is working like a charm.

Today the Buckeyes played Nebraska in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament. Ohio State stunk up the joint at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second and were getting embarrassed, 48-30. My blood pressure was spiking at the pitiful performance, with flushed cheeks and spittle and epithets flying.

But then, improbably, a mop-topped bean pole spurred the Buckeyes. With Amedeo Della Valle hustling his brains out, and LaQuinton Ross making just about every shot he put up, and Aaron Craft playing the tough D that is his trademark, the Buckeyes came back to win, 71-67. That’s a 41-19 run to close out the game — and it was fitting that Della Valle iced the victory by coolly making four free throws with the game on the line.

How do you explain this team? They disappear, then come roaring back. They can’t make a free throw for most of the game, but as the clock winds down they can’t miss. They seem to lose their composure, but as the game ends it’s the other team that is red-faced and stunned.

So, the Buckeyes move on. Tomorrow they play Michigan. The Buckeyes had better bring their A game for all 40 minutes tomorrow, because if they fall behind the Wolverines by 18 there’s no coming back.

Saving A Law Against Being Annoying

For 38 years, the City of Grand Rapids, Michigan has had a law against being “willfully annoying.” Now the law is going to be repealed, because the city attorney has determined that the law is probably unconstitutionally vague and therefore unenforceable.

I’ve no doubt her legal analysis is correct, but I’m also sure that the law was well-intentioned. After all, when you’re dealing with a willfully annoying person it’s just so . . . annoying. I’m guessing the person who came up with the law in the first place had a little brother who tormented them with all kinds of annoying behavior.

Could the law be clarified and saved from unconstitutional vagueness by specifying certain conduct that is deemed per se annoying? I think you would find near-unanimity that certain things are, by definition, willfully annoying. My list of such conduct would include the following:

* Constantly repeating, word for word, everything you say in a sing-song voice

* Repeatedly thrusting things toward your face, with accompanying sound effects

* Deciding to sing 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall for an entire three-hour car ride

* Repeatedly kicking the back of the chair in which you’re sitting

From The Mouths Of Babes

Some enterprising — and young — Cleveland Browns fans have made a video arguing that a familiar name should be selected as the next head coach of the Cleveland Browns. It’s pretty clever. Thanks, kids!

I actually think Jim Tressel would likely be a capable and successful NFL head coach. He knows how to win, he builds capable staffs, and he has an eye for talent and the ability to figure out how to maximize the impact of that talent. At Ohio State, he quickly turned around a demoralized program. He understands how important the Browns are to Cleveland sports fans, just as he understood how important beating Michigan was to Ohio State fans. I think the notion that Tressel is too conservative to win at the NFL level is silly — in reality, the NFL is far more conservative, in terms of scheme and approach, than is the college game.

Of course, the chances that the Browns would select Tressel are remote, and not because the Browns would shy away from a coach who received NCAA sanctions. Even if the Browns had the intelligence to really consider Tressel, I think Tressel has too much intelligence and self-respect to get involved with a front office that seems to be more interested in its own power games and turf battles than producing a winning football team.

Marcus Hall’s Middle Fingers

During last week’s Ohio State-Michigan game, a brawl broke out after a kickoff return.  Senior OSU offensive lineman Marcus Hall participated in the melee and was ejected.

Frustrated because he wouldn’t be able to play in his last game against Ohio State’s arch-rival, Hall threw his helmet, kicked the Ohio State bench, and was escorted to the locker room.  While still on camera as he entered the tunnel — and no doubt being booed and razzed by Michigan fans — Hall suddenly flashed the middle finger from both hands.

The reaction to the double-barreled gesture has been interesting.  The next day Hall apologized to “The Ohio State University, The University of Michigan, my teammates, my family, the fans and the TV viewing audience for my behavior during yesterday’s game.”  Hall said “I let my emotions get the best of me and didn’t conduct myself properly in the heat of the moment” and added:  “From the bottom of my heart, I am truly sorry and hope everyone can accept my sincere apology.”

Hall properly recognized that making an obscene gesture on national TV doesn’t reflect well on him as a person; to his credit, he apologized and took the blame.  Other Ohio State fans, however, seem to be celebrating Hall’s obscene gesture.  You see some fans chuckling about it, saying it captures their feelings about Ohio State’s great rival, and people have even made Hall’s gesture into their computer screensavers and, apparently, shirts where Hall’s upraised arms and fingers as he left the field form the “H” in the familiar “O-H-I-O” Buckeye salute.

This sort of crass fan reaction is embarrassing to me and should be embarrassing to other members of Buckeye Nation.  Hall’s actions were improper, but they were the impulsive act of a young man whose emotions were running high.  There’s no similar excuse for fans who are acting like Hall’s gesture was a great moment in Ohio State history.  I was taught that obscene gestures — whether flashed from a driver’s seat or on the football field — reflect ignorance, lack of self-control, and inability to express oneself in an acceptable way. The right way to root against Michigan is to cheer like crazy for the Buckeyes and boo the Wolverines — not get into fights or launch obscenities or obscene gestures.

I believe in sportsmanship.  The one-fingered salute is not funny, or “edgy.”  It’s pathetic, and the positive reaction to Hall’s conduct by some Ohio State fans makes them look like  ill-educated jerks.  I’d like to think that the Buckeye Nation is better than that.

One For The Ages

In a rivalry filled with memorable games, this year’s version of The Game has to be one of the greatest ever.  Back and forth, with the game ending on a thwarted effort by Michigan to get a two-point conversion and spring a stunning upset.  But Ohio State’s defense, which had been gashed repeatedly during the day, finally made a play, Tyvis Powell knocked down the pass, and the Buckeyes hung on to win.

IMG_1829This was the kind of game that makes the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry the greatest rivalry in college sports.  Michigan ran just about every play in their playbook, their much-maligned offensive line held up, and Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner was a warrior who played a virtually flawless game.  He never quit, and neither did the Wolverine coaching staff.  Michigan just kept coming, and coming, and coming.  They gained more than 600 yards — 600 yards! — and were clicking on all cylinders.  I give great credit to the Michigan team, from the head coach on down, for developing a near-perfect game plan and showing what this rivalry is all about.

Fortunately for me and other Pepto-Bismol-guzzling members of Buckeye Nation, the Wolverines had no answer for the Ohio State offense.  For the Buckeyes, the accolades must start with the offensive line.  The Buckeyes front wall pushed the Michigan defensive line around like a precision lawnmowing team, and Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller took full advantage.  The Buckeyes ran for 393 yards — 393 yards! — and Carlos Hyde rumbled for the most yards ever by an OSU running back against the Wolverines.  I was especially glad to see Carlos Hyde, who has been a monster, bounce back from his fumble to score the winning touchdown.

So, the Buckeyes’ winning streak continues.  The pundits can talk all they want about style points, and we can worry about that porous defense next week.  For tonight, Columbus and Ohio and Buckeye lovers everywhere will breathe a sigh of relief and crack open a cold one.  The Buckeyes won against their great rival, stay in the hunt for a BCS title game spot, and move on to the Big Ten championship game next weekend.  That’s good enough for me.

It’s Michigan Week! (II)

I would call the rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan during the week of The Game a friendly rivalry — except it really isn’t.  Deep down, every Buckeyes fan wants to crush Michigan like a cockroach.  We want to punish them, humiliate them, and leave them wailing forlornly to their misbegotten gods. Michigan fans share this perspective.

But, since we aren’t fighting with broadswords, we need to make do with humor.  When I was a kid, and Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler were fighting the 10-Year War, the battle was waged with bumper stickers.  I remember one of the Michigan bumper stickers said:  “Save Fuel.  Burn Woody!”  And I thought — boy, Michigan fans are about as funny as, say, Jerry Lewis during the MDA telethon.

The Ohio side of the humor equation, however, isn’t appreciably better.  Consider these two representative efforts:

1.  “A University of Michigan fan walks into a doctor’s office and removes his hat to reveal a frog sitting on his head. The doctor asks, ‘How can I help you?’ The frog replies, ‘I was wondering if you could help me get this wart off my butt.'”

2.  “Two University of Michigan grads are laughing it up on their way into a bar.  The bartender asks:  ‘Hey, why are you guys so happy?’  One of the Wolverines says, ‘Well, to be honest with you, we’re proud of ourselves.  We just finished a puzzle in a week, and when we were done we noticed the box said 4 to 6 years.'”

In Ohio, we try to make our statements on the football field.

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!

Being A “Visitor”

Today Kish and I are going with friends to West Lafayette, Indiana to watch the Ohio State-Purdue game.  We’ll be the “visitors” you see mentioned on the scoreboard.

I’m looking forward to the prospect of being a “visitor.”  Until today, my college football experience as a visiting fan has been limited to several trips I’ve made to see the Buckeyes play Michigan up in Ann Arbor — and I’m not sure that such a rivalry game tell you much about the “visitor” experience.

IMG_5276I first went up to Ann Arbor as a high school student in the ’70s, Michigan won, and one of the happy Wolverine fans stole my Ohio State hat and ran away after the game was over.  Stealing a hat from a high school kid seems like a pretty cheap stunt to me, but it’s just another reason why it’s not hard for me to hate Michigan with every fiber of my being whenever we play That School Up North.

I think I’ve been to Ann Arbor four times.  Ohio State won twice and lost twice, and each time the experience was pretty much the some — lots of (mostly) good-natured razzing, some angry, obscene comments, reasonably good behavior by all concerned once you sit in the stands, and always that slight hint of potential personal danger lurking right around the corner.  You have to stay alert for an abrupt change in the vibes coming from the fans around you.

I’m not expecting today’s atmosphere to be as charged as an Ohio State-Michigan game, but I’ll keep my eyes open — and a hand firmly on my hat.

Like Pilgrims In An Unholy Land

Here’s another little example of how the internet has made the world a better place.

We wanted to find a bar where we could watch the Buckeyes play Penn State last night.  But we were in Michigan, of course, and therefore were like pilgrims in an unholy land.  Walking into any randomly selected bar and openly rooting for Ohio State seemed like a bad, and potentially reckless, idea.

IMG_5222So we used our iPhones to google “Ohio State bar in Detroit,”  and found Hi-Tops Ten & One Half, just down Woodward Avenue in Royal Oaks.  It’s where some diehard Buckeyes meet to drink a few beers and watch Ohio State games on one of the dozens of TVs found around the room.

So, instead of worrying about drawing evil looks from Michigan fans drinking at nearby tables, we were able to watch Ohio State demolish Penn State in comfort, with friendly fellow citizens of Buckeye Nation who shared our interest in seeing the Buckeyes triumph.  High fives were exchanged, OH-IO chants were had, the beer was cold, and the burgers and wings were tasty.  When the game was over, we were happy, well-fed, and well-lubricated pilgrims, girded and ready to reemerge into unholy territory.