A Gameless Weekend

The Ohio State Buckeyes aren’t playing this weekend.  After a grueling last few weeks in the Big Ten meat grinder, and some hard work in pulling out a win over Northwestern at Evanston, the Buckeyes are getting a well-deserved rest.

IMG_3108We fans, however, are pining for a weekend game.  I enjoy the adrenalin rush the games provide, and I rationalize that the spikes in my blood pressure caused by bad calls from referees during an OSU game probably are good for my system.  Every once in a while, you want to make sure that your body can withstand various stresses.  Isn’t that what those doctor-supervised stress tests are all about?  Getting seriously into a Buckeyes game is just the self-administered version.

Still, in a way it’s also nice to have the weekend off.  We get to see other teams play without having an enormous emotional investment in the outcome.  Today I’ll watch the Michigan-Michigan State game.  Whatever the result, it will help the Buckeyes in their quest for a higher seed in the Big Ten Tournament.  If Michigan loses, they drop below Ohio State in the loss column; if Michigan wins, Michigan State joins Ohio State and Michigan with five losses in the conference.

So today I’ll watch the games with a relaxed attitude.  I’ll be husbanding my emotional and stress-related resources for Tuesday night, when Ohio State travels to Bloomington for a make-or-break game against the top-ranked Hoosiers.

Another Reason Why You Don’t Give Up And Leave Early

Today Ohio State fans learned a valuable lesson:  you don’t give up and you never, ever leave a game early.

The Buckeyes were stumblebums for most of the game.  The offense sputtered.  The defense gave up an 83-yard TD on Purdue’s first play from scrimmage.  Purdue returned a kickoff more than 100 yards for a touchdown.  Braxton Miller was injured (no report yet on how seriously, but it didn’t look good).  The Buckeyes had a field goal hit the upright and gave up a safety due to a holding call in the end zone.  And, with 40-some seconds left, the Buckeyes were behind by 8, with no timeouts, trying to rally behind their second-string quarterback.  By then, many fair weather fans had already left, and only the diehards remained.

Yet somehow, improbably, the Buckeyes came back to win.  Kenny Guiton, the backup QB, led the Buckeyes on a drive that saw them score the crucial touchdown with 3 seconds left, and then gain the essential two-point conversion with a beautiful play that featured Guiton throwing a fine touch pass to his tight end.  And so, improbably, the Buckeyes sent the game into overtime, where the Buckeyes scored on their possession and Purdue didn’t — and that was the ballgame.

I always stay at games until the end.  I’m there to see the game, and the last seconds of a loss are as much a part of the game as the first few plays.  I’ve also seen enough football to know that anything can happen . . . and today it did.  It gives me some pleasure to know that the early departees are kicking themselves for giving up and missing the chance to witness one of the most unbelievable comebacks in Ohio Stadium history.

As far as the Buckeyes go, this is a team that still needs a lot of improvement on both sides of the ball.  For now, though, I’m going to enjoy a game that showed you should never give up, whether you are a player, or a fan.  Go Bucks!

Attention: Sports Lobotomy Needed!

Well, another Sunday, another loss for the Cleveland Browns.  The Browns never charge out of the gate to start the season, they just slowly deflate their diehard fans by finding a way to lose every stinking game.  They’re now 0-3, and the season is effectively over.

The sad sack Browns can never quite make the big play.  They don’t know how to win.  Today’s game is a good example.  The Browns look like crap to begin the game as the Bills roll to a 14-0 lead.  The Browns fight back and get the ball in the second half with a chance to take the lead, and they produce . . . nothing.  Buffalo gets the ball and takes it in for a score, and the Browns’ rookie quarterback throws two picks to end the game on an even more sour note.

I’m sure Pat Shurmur is a nice man, but what signs have we seen that he can be a successful NFL coach?  The Browns are loaded with rookies and young players and are outmatched, from a talent standpoint, against virtually every opponent.  How about trying a trick play, or going for it on fourth down, or doing something, anything, to show your team and your fans that you are trying to win games?  Instead, Patient Pat just stands on the sidelines, with a quizzical, resigned look on his face, as the Browns throw a three-yard pass when six yards is needed, don’t get the crucial first down, and then go down to another frustrating, painful defeat.

The Browns have the scent of death about them.  The gnawing feeling of permanent futility is more than any sports fan should be asked to bear — and yet I am called back to the TV set, weekend after weekend, to absorb another defeat and another lost season.  Is there a doctor somewhere who can perform a very targeted lobotomy directed at the sports fan lobes of the brain?

The Curse Of Sports Cursing

I try to maintain a placid disposition.  Normally I succeed, at work and at home.  Introduce a sports disappointment to the mix, however, and you’re likely to hear me string together vile curses that would shame a longshoreman.

Consider yesterday’s Browns game, for example.  My conscious, rational brain knew, to a point of metaphysical certainty, that the Browns were going to lose that game in heart-breaking, last-minute fashion — because that’s just what the Browns do.  I thought I had prepared myself for the inevitable failure . . . but when Michael Vick threw a touchdown pass to put the Eagles ahead with about a minute to go, and the Browns responded by throwing a horrible, game-ending interception on the very next play from scrimmage, I felt the red rage boiling up inside, uncontrollable and undeniable.  I let loose with an embarrassing series of awful epithets that shook the rafters, caused the frightened dogs to flee the family room, and left Kish shaking her head in dismay.

Put a golf club in my hands, and you’re likely to see the same thing.  I’ll be playing along, accepting the many ugly shots and trying to focus on the fact that I’m outside on a lovely day with my friends and golf is just a game.  But let me hit the ball into the water on one of my nemesis holes, or have my fourth putt in a row lip out, and the fury flows forth in a torrent of obscenity that leaves my playing companions laughing helplessly — which just makes me even madder.

I’m 55 years old.  How can I still have these explosive outbursts about sports?  What incident in my past created this wrathful inner demon who is always ready to throw a mortifying, childish tantrum at the latest sports disappointment?  When I’m in my dotage, will I be alarming fellow residents at the old folks’ home when the Browns gag away another game?

Enslaved By Fear Of Jinxes — Revisited

Last week, flush with success and heedless of the risk, I wrote an insufficiently veiled post about a certain team’s success and my fear of jinxes.

The Fates don’t appreciate such temerity.  They become infuriated when puny mortals rise up and stick a thumb in their eye.  They know when the time has come for a beat down and aren’t shy about relentlessly punishing those who don’t quite know their place.  The only surprise is that, having been a sports fan for many decades now, I would need to relearn that lesson, painfully, yet again.

Since I’ve written my little piece, the team in question has lost five out of six, been pulverized by divisional foes, and fallen out of first place.

Don’t believe in jinxes?  I’m just askin’.

Enslaved By Fear Of Jinxes

Being an absurdly superstitious sports fan is a terrible thing.

You’d love to talk about your team and how well they are playing.  You’d relish chatting about their residence atop their division, about how they crushed their divisional rivals, and about their ability to withstand the pressure and win close games.  You’d like to do some trash-talking and razz the fans of opposing teams.

You’d enjoy a chance to brag a little, knowing that sports success can be fleeting and you need to strike while the iron is hot.  But you can’t — you absolutely can’t! — because you understand, to the deepest fiber of your being, that if you even mention the team by name and boast to anyone — even overbearing fans of other teams — about how well the team is playing, you have ensured their ultimate failure just as surely as if you sabotaged their equipment.

That doesn’t mean you can’t silently support your team by, say, wearing a hat that demonstrates your allegiance.  But beyond that, you must maintain the strict jinx-avoiding vow of silence.  And if anyone asks you about it, or wants to talk about it, you must assume the most humble disposition imaginable and change the subject as quickly as possible.

Nothing to see here.  Move along.

Another Disturbing Example Of Why Sports Fans Are Crazy

Sports fans are weird.  “Fan” is short for “fanatic,” after all, and “fanatic” has the connotation of someone on the edge of reason.  Perhaps sports fans in Texas are even weirder than your average, run-of-the-mill sports nuts.

How else to explain the bizarre story of Jesse Joe Hernandez, who was moments away from being executed in Texas for the murder of a 10-month-old boy he had been babysitting?  As Hernandez was being prepared for his lethal injection, was he reflecting on his life or his crime, or contemplating what lies beyond?  Nope.  Instead, he laughed and smiled looked at the audience of witnesses to the execution and said:  “Go Cowboys!”  Apparently, the Dallas Cowboys are his favorite team.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone would be focused on professional football at such a moment.  Much as I enjoy sports, I don’t think I’m going to be pondering the next football season when I’m at death’s door.

It’s My Fault

Uncle Mack’s post, below, quite correctly points out that I haven’t written anything about the unfortunate outcome of the Ohio State-Michigan State game Saturday night.  The superficial reason for the omission is that I didn’t actually watch the game, because Kish and I were out having dinner with friends.  The real, unstated reason, however, is that I know that I am personally responsible for the debacle.

Every true sports fan know that, even though you don’t suit up for games, and your athletic ability could be fully measured in a thimble, your behavior has a real, immediate impact on the outcome of contests.  Perhaps it is because you don’t wear your lucky shirt.  Perhaps it is because you didn’t drink your Budweiser in precisely the right way.  Or perhaps — as in my case — you wrote or said something that was just a thumb in the eye to the unforgiving Fates.

I had to write a purportedly humorous blog posting about the Illinois-Michigan State game and the bricklaying that occurred.  Of course the God of Sports would notice and decide that my hubris merited punishment!  Saturday’s game, in which the Buckeyes shot a ridiculously low percentage from the field, was the inevitable result.

Uncle Mack is well within his rights to call me on this.  It’s all my fault!  I apologize to the team and the Buckeye Nation as a whole.  From here on out, it’s humility, humility, and more humility — and drinking my adult beverage of choice at precisely the right time and in precisely the right way.

When Rivalries Get Ugly

The San Francisco 49ers played the Oakland Raiders last night.  Although the two towns are separated only by the San Francisco Bay, they are fierce rivals.

Last night’s game was marked by significant violence.  Two guys were shot, and another guy was seriously beaten in a stadium bathroom.  The story on the violence also features a video of a slugfest in the stands between two big guys who probably had too much to drink and were mouthing off until things got physical.

I’ve been to Browns games where violence seemed to lurk just below the surface, and it is a scary scenario.  After all, when you go to a professional football game you are sitting with tens of thousands of strangers, many of whom have been drinking steadily as they have enjoyed the on the field violence.  It makes for a volatile situation.  It doesn’t take much to move things from taunting to brawling, and once a brawl breaks out it can spread easily.  And then, suddenly, you go from an orderly scene, where you are sitting with other fans watching a sports event, to a melee where the guy sitting next to you could decide he wants to punch you out because he doesn’t like your t-shirt or can’t figure out any other way to deal with the testosterone rush.

I’m convinced that the vast majority of sports fan fights are alcohol-related.  Sports teams could cut back on the fighting if they cut back on the beer service — but they don’t because that would cut back on the profits, too.

The Steady Retreat From Fandom

The other day I realized, with a start, that baseball season is underway.  I haven’t been paying attention, candidly.  The fact that the Tribe is expected to be lousy again this year is probably part of the reason; the fact that the Indians’ roster is largely peopled by players I’ve never heard of also is a contributing factor.  (Seriously, who are these guys?  The Tribe has players named Lou Marson, Vinnie Pestano, and Jack Hannahan, among others.)

The reality, however, is that I’ve been steadily losing interest in sports for a few decades now.  I haven’t watched a boxing match since the 1970s and the heyday of Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard.  I don’t follow the Summer or Winter Olympics and don’t really care if the U.S. wins the most medals.  I stopped paying attention to the NBA in the early 1990s, and you really couldn’t pay me to watch an NBA game these days.  In golf, I’m down to maybe checking out parts of the four major tournaments.  I also feel my interest in the NFL and major league baseball ebbing away, to the point where I have only a vague understanding of which teams are doing well and which aren’t.  I still care passionately about college football and college basketball, but that’s about it.

Why is this so?  Part of it has to do with the fact that the Cleveland baseball and football teams that I follow have been putrid lately.  It’s hard to maintain interest when your team is out of the running before the season is even half over.  But the broader issue is that, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that being a sports fan — other than with respect to OSU football and basketball, of course — is kind of a waste of time and energy.  I’d rather play golf than watch it.  Taking a walk or reading a book or catching up on the news is preferable to spending hours in front of a TV watching a game.  And sports talk radio is too insipid for my tastes.

For some reason, this trend bothers me.  I actually feel kind of guilty about it.

Another Putrid Exhibition

I read UJ’s post on the woeful Browns, and I am forced to agree with him that they stink, big time.  I realize that the NFL season is 16 games long and only two games are in the record books, but I am seeing nothing that indicates that the Browns will be anything other than awful this year.  So, it is likely to be another year of egregious failure and painful embarrassment for long-suffering Cleveland sports fans.

I must grudgingly admit that I could not even watch yesterday’s game to the end.  After seeing the offense sputter dismally in the first two series of the second half, I decided that life was too short and switched it off.  I’m glad I did.  The Broncos may be a defensive powerhouse on the order of the 1985 Chicago Bears — but somehow I doubt it.  I think the Browns are just bad.  Watching their futile, pitiful thrashing on offense is an affront to any knowledgeable football fan.

I don’t think the Browns defense is horrible, just not very good.  They put up a fight at first, then get worn down by being on the field two-thirds of every game.  The Browns offense, though, appears to be so terrible that it may rewrite the record books. Defensive coordinators must rub their hands in glee when the Browns show up on the schedule.  The Browns offense seems to run two first-down plays — an unsuccessful pass or a two-yard run.  Their second down play typically is a three-yard pass, and on third and five either Brady Quinn gets sacked or he completes a pass for a two-yard gain.  There is no big-play threat, no stretching the field vertically, and not even an effort to consistently throw to a receiver who is past the first down marker.  The offense struggles to get into field goal range; an offensive touchdown is a pipe dream.  It is maddeningly frustrating to watch them and wonder how a team that has spent millions of dollars on talent and coaching can be so stunningly inept.

Still, I can’t quit.  A fan has to be a fan.  I admit that there was a certain freedom when the despised Art Modell took the team to Baltimore and there was a football-free interregnum in Cleveland.  But when the Browns returned as an expansion team and Russell started following them, I was sucked back in like Al Pacino in Godfather III.  Now, I’m stuck watching disastrously bad football, with no end in sight.

I keep hoping that one year the cosmic tumblers will fall the right way and years of gut-wrenching losses will be rectified as the Browns surprise everyone, finally make it to the Super Bowl, and win the big game.  If you were to quit before that glorious day occurred it wouldn’t be quite so sweet to enjoy.  Of course, that theory presumes that the Browns someday will be a winning team again . . . .