Thank You

The Revolutionary War.  The War of 1812.  The Civil War.  The Spanish-American War.  World War I.  World War II.  The Korean War.  The Vietnam War.  The Gulf War.  The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

So many wars — and those are just the ones that have official names.  In between there have been countless smaller conflicts and instances of service, where members of the armed forces have fought against the Barbary pirates, or rescued hostages, or delivered crucial supplies to survivors of hurricanes or earthquakes.  And in the middle of it all has been the individual Americans serving in the Navy, the Army, the Marines, the Air Force, or the Coast Guard, who have safeguarded our shores, fought against the oppressors, and delivered help in times of need — and often made the ultimate sacrifice.

To those who have fallen, to those who have served, to the veterans and to the active members of the armed forces:  Thank you.

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A Great Win, With Great Respect, In A Great Atmosphere

-8Ohio State won its first game today, beating Navy 34-17.  It was an excellent game, with Navy ripping off huge runs and gashing Ohio State with its great running game, and Ohio State responding with some big plays.  Ohio State’s redshirt freshman quarterback made a bad play but made some good plays and now has a win under his belt, and the Ohio State defense bounced back from some bad breakdowns to stop Navy at the end and allow the Buckeyes to come away with the win.

But I don’t really want to write about the football right now.  Instead, I’d rather write about the coolness of playing the United States Naval Academy, and the great displays of sportsmanship by college athletes from both schools before, during, and after the game.  This was a game where there wasn’t any chippiness, or cheap penalties, or showboating for the cameras.  Both teams played hard, but fair and within the rules.  The Ohio State players obviously had great respect for Navy, and I think the Midshipmen felt likewise.  When the teams honored each other by listening respectfully to both alma maters at the end of the game, it was a fitting and moving end to a great exhibition.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m glad that Ohio State won.  But I also want to point out how refreshing it is to see college athletes behave with class, and dignity, in a manner that reflects well on both institutions.  This is what college sports really should be about.

Ohio State fans used to make fun of Notre Dame for playing the service academies every year; we said it was just a way for the Fighting Irish to pad their win totals against overmatched opponents.  After this game against Navy and the game in 2009 that I was privileged to attend in Ohio Stadium, we know differently.  Even though this game with Navy was a nail-biter, and even though the Buckeyes’ victory was a hard-fought one, I’m hoping that the Ohio State Athletic Department schedules Navy again, and sees whether Army and Air Force might fit on future schedules.  Playing them is a way to honor their service to our country and their role in securing our freedoms.  When you hear the National Anthem on the same field with young men who soon will be placing themselves in harm’s way for the good of the country, it just has a different feel.  I admire those Navy players, and I’ll be rooting for them to win every other game they play this year.

Finally, thanks to Mike N for the great photos.  The photo at the top of this post, of the rows of assembled, white-clad Midshipmen on the field prior to the game, should give us all chills, and the photo below of Carmen Ohio being played while both teams stand respectfully, will remind us of how college sports can be great.

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The Middies Get Into The Spirit

-7Even Michigan fans have to admit one thing about Buckeye Nation — Ohio State fans hit the road as well as any other fan base in the nation.  Today’s game in Baltimore is no different.  Many Buckeyes have spent the last few days in Annapolis, where the U.S. Naval Academy has its home, and the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore areas in preparation for the game. 

One of the intrepid travelers is Webner House friend and loyal reader Mike N, who sends along this picture of the “Tecumseh” statue on the Naval Academy campus.  It shows that the Midshipmen also are looking forward to today’s match-up with Ohio State.  The statue, which originally was intended to depict a native American called Tamanend, was long ago named “Tecumseh” and is painted before every special event as kind of a good luck charm.  The colorful effort above makes “Tecumseh” look like Paul Bunyan — perhaps because the Middies think they have a giant task ahead of them.

Go Bucks!

The New-Look Buckeyes And Their Old-Outlook Fans

Tomorrow the college football season starts for the Ohio State Buckeyes.  Of course, the college football season never truly ends for their diehard fans in Buckeye Nation, who are focused on football, football, football the entire year round.

Most members of Buckeye Nation have ridiculously high expectations this year — just as they do every year.  Even though Ohio State’s defense was porous last year and lost its two best players to the NFL, even though Ohio State’s most punishing running back is also a pro and most of his fine offensive line is gone, and even though star quarterback Braxton Miller is out for the season with a shoulder injury, fans think the Buckeyes will be better than last year’s team.  Some might call that delusional; others just accept it as part for the Ohio State program, where the fans are as demanding as any fan group in the country.

IMG_1827In reality, though, this year’s team has a lot of question marks.  On offense, the questions will start with the man behind the center.  With Miller out, the offense loses its principal big-play weapon, who always kept defenses off balance.  J.T. Barrett, a redshirt freshman who therefore has never played a down in a college game, will be the starter.  He’s known to the coaching staff as “The Distributor” because he spreads the ball around, and Ohio State should have some offensive weapons who can handle the pigskin when Barrett gets it to them.  Ezekiel Elliott showed he could be the next great Ohio State running back in limited opportunities last year, and Ohio State has other running backs who can carry the rock, too.  Devin Smith is a great, big-play receiver, Dontre Wilson showed flashes of tremendous speed and elusiveness last year, and the Buckeyes have two very capable tight ends in Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett.  The big questions are whether the new offensive line can provide the time to use these weapons, and whether the new QB can get the ball to them.

On defense, Ohio State is looking to get back to its traditional toughness.  The Buckeyes’ defense struggled mightily at the end of last season, particularly against the pass.  The defensive line has some returning talent, with Joey Bosa, Adolphus Washington, and Michael Bennett returning, but the linebacking corps and defensive backfield is filled with question marks.  The roster of safeties and corners is filled with highly touted recruits — like Eli Apple and Vonn Bell — but we don’t yet know how they’ll perform when the chips are down.  And they get an interesting test tomorrow against Navy, which plays a triple-option offense unlike any other the Buckeyes will see this year.  A few years ago Ohio State played Navy in the season opener and barely escaped with a win, so fans should be wary.  The Buckeyes had better be able to stop the run, which means those new linebackers and safeties will need to make their reads and fill the holes.

We’ll find out whether the new-look Buckeyes will be able to meet the unrealistic, but expected, expectations of Buckeye Nation starting at noon tomorrow in Baltimore.  It’s time for some football!

Old Ironsides Sets Sail

Tomorrow the USS Constitution — America’s oldest still-commissioned warship, and the world’s oldest commissioned ship that is still afloat — sets sail for only the second time in more than 130 years.

The Constitution will leave Boston Harbor tomorrow for a 10-minute deep water cruise under the power of the sails on its towering masts.  Its tour will commemorate the 200th anniversary of its famous battle against the British ship HMS Guerriere during the War of 1812.  In that battle, the Guerriere‘s cannonballs bounced harmlessly off the Constitution‘s sturdy oak hull, causing a sailor to exclaim that the ship’s sides were “made of iron” — and giving the Constitution her great nickname, Old Ironsides.  The Guerriere eventually surrendered to the American ship, shocking the British press and giving American morale a much-needed boost.

Old Ironsides was launched in 1797, sailed the high seas during the Napoleonic period, fought the Barbary pirates, and defeated all four British ships it encountered during the War of 1812.  The ship continued to sail under the American flag until 1855, when it was taken out of active duty, undefeated.  Since 1881, the USS Constitution has sailed the ocean seas under its own power only once — in 1997, on the 200th anniversary of its launching.  Tomorrow, Old Ironsides sails again.

U.S.S. Mitscher

As I mentioned earlier, it’s Navy Week in New Orleans.  One of the stolid, gray Navy ships docked at the pier on the Mississippi River is the U.S.S Mitscher.  As one of the polite, crisp, white-clad Navy officers who are everywhere around town patiently explained to me, the Mitscher is a guided missile destroyer that is bristling with weaponry.  “It’s a great ship,” he said.  It’s named after World War II hero Admiral Marc Andrew Mitscher, and its motto is “Seize the Day.”

A Nailbiter At The ‘Shoe

Just back from the Navy game, which was more exciting than we would have wished. The Buckeyes came away with a victory, which means something when a game comes down to the wire, and the team will have a lot of things to work on before USC comes to town. To the extent any Ohio State players were overconfident before this game, they’ve had that knocked out of them — which could be a good thing, too.

UJ, Aunt Bebe and I got to the Stadium early and went to the skull session, which was a lot of fun as always. St. John Arena was packed to the rafters; I think every seat was filled at the start of the session. We heard from The Best Damn Band In The Land, the Alumni Band, and the Navy Fife & Bugle Corps. John Glenn, who dotted the “i” in Script Ohio at halftime, spoke a few words, Navy personnel were everywhere in their bright white uniforms, and patriotism was in the air. We were treated to Stars & Stripes Forever, Anchors Aweigh, and the Navy Hymn, as well as classic TBDBITL fare like Le Regiment and the Buckeye Battle Cry. Properly fortified for the game, we walked over to the Stadium, walked up the steps to our seats in the closed end, and settled in for some college football.

Ohio State looked good at times and very young and inexperienced — which they are — at other times, including on some crucial plays in the fourth quarter. The Buckeyes went out to a 20-7 halftime lead then started to make some mistakes, with penalties and dropped passes. In the meantime, Navy’s triple option/cut blocking offense gave the Ohio State defense fits. Still, the Men of the Scarlet and Gray had the game under control, ahead 29-14 with a 4th and 2 on about the Navy 20 yard line. They went for it (in a very unTressel-like move), didn’t make it, and Navy promptly threw an 85-yard touchdown pass. An interception and another Navy up-the-gut touchdown later, and Ohio State was up two with Navy trying for a two-point conversion. Fortunately for the Buckeyes Navy tried to convert through the air rather than on the ground, and one of the OSU linebackers picked off the pass and ran it back for two points. An unsuccessful on-side kick later, Ohio State had the ball and was able to run out the clock, and Buckeye Nation heaved a collective sigh of relief.

This was the first game, and one against a gutty team that runs an unusual offense with great success. Still, it seems obvious that Ohio State’s offensive line needs a lot of work. It was largely unable to move Navy off the line of scrimmage and didn’t provide much pass protection for Terrelle Pryor. The defensive line, which was supposed to be a real strength, looked pretty ordinary and had a tough time making plays against Navy’s line. Navy seemed to have an easy time making yardage right up the middle, including two touchdowns in which their quarterback raced untouched into the end zone after faking a handoff to the fullback. I firmly believe that football games are won on the line of scrimmage, and if Ohio State hopes to compete with teams like USC it will need to figure out how to improve its line play pronto.

Still, the season is young, and the Buckeyes can put one in the win column. I also give great credit to Navy’s players and coaching staff. They run a tough offense to defense and do it very well, and their players don’t quit. Best of luck to the Midshipmen in the rest of the season!