Another Lost Season

Another Browns season has ground to a dismal and disappointing halt. Their game today wasn’t broadcast on TV here in Columbus–which tells you something, because typically a divisional matchup of Cleveland versus arch-rival Pittsburgh, both of which have significant fan bases in Columbus, would always be on the air. But the Browns have been out of the NFL playoff race for a while, and the Bengals are ascendant. In the Columbus TV battle ground–as on the football field, this year–the Browns have come up losers. So I listened to the Browns’ season-ending loss to the Steelers on the radio.

In many ways, today’s game was a microcosm of the Browns’ pathetic season as a whole. The Browns had a lot of penalties. They suffered inexplicable defensive breakdowns, and kept giving up big plays in crucial, potential drive-ending situations. They turned the ball over on offense. And in the second half, when the game was in the balance, the Browns didn’t have it, and the Steelers did. Once again, a game slipped through their fingers.

Another playoff-free season is in the books, and the Browns have somehow frittered away another season where they have been blessed by having one of the very best running backs in the NFL in Nick Chubb, but just can’t seem to make the plays needed to be a winner. So teams that have stunk up the joint recently–like Jacksonville, and Miami, and others–have made the playoffs, while the Browns are, as always, on the outside looking in. I listened to today’s game with resignation, but also with a puzzling lack of passion about it. The never-ending futility of the Browns has just ground me down–and I suspect I’m not alone.

Will the Browns keep Kevin Stefanski as a coach after a less-than-mediocre 7-10 season in which the Browns lost multiple games they could and should have won? I’ve argued earlier this year that I’d give Stefanski another season, just to have some stability in the franchise, stop the coaching revolving door, and see whether Stefanski can make the Deshaun Watson experiment work. Now that the season is over, however, I find that I really don’t care one way or another. That’s a sad testament for a loyal fan.

Coming Up Just Short

The new year got off to a disappointing start for Ohio State fans as the Buckeyes came up just short against Georgia in the College Football Playoff last night. The Buckeyes and the Bulldogs traded haymakers all night in a classic football game between two powerhouses, and to the extent anyone doubted that Ohio State belonged, those thoughts should have been immediately dispelled by the team’s performance on the field. Unfortunately, a defensive mishap–an Ohio State defender fell down, leaving a Georgia wide receiver wide open for a long touchdown that let the Bulldogs quickly cut into a double-digit lead as the game wound down–and a missed game-winning field goal as time ran out knocked the Buckeyes out of the championship game.

After a heartbreaker like that 42-41 loss, it’s easy to focus on the end of the game, and one or two plays when the game hung in the balance. I think it is important to take a broader view, and when you do that Buckeye Nation should feel a little bit better. Ohio State has been decimated by injuries on offense, with their best receiver and starting running back out of the game. As the game wore on more pieces of the Ohio State offensive puzzle were lost, as running back Miyan Williams played only a few downs and otherworldly receiver Marvin Harrison, Jr. and tight end Cade Stover went out with injuries. (I’m not quite sure how the blow delivered to Harrison’s head on the play that knocked him out of the game, and in my view changed the course of the contest, wasn’t deemed targeting, or unnecessary roughness, or some other penalty, but I digress.) But even though the team was without many of its stars, new Buckeyes came in and kept at the Bulldogs. You have to give credit to the guts and determination of Ohio State, which fought on to the final whistle.

And two people who have been criticized by some members of Buckeye Nation–C.J. Stroud and Ryan Day–deserve special credit for the Buckeyes’ effort. Stroud was magnificent in the biggest game of the season, throwing for 350 yards and four touchdowns, playing error-free football, and making some crucial plays with his legs, including a scramble that put the Buckeyes in position to attempt the final field goal. He stood up under great pressure, moved in the pocket to gain additional time, and made pinpoint throws that shredded the vaunted Georgia defense. Anyone who has questioned C.J. Stroud’s toughness or will to win should feel ashamed of themselves in the wake of last night’s game. It has been a pleasure watching C.J. Stroud master the quarterback position. He will be missed.

As for Ryan Day, he showed that he has all of the qualities that you want in a college football head coach. He had his team prepared, fired up, and uncowed, and they executed when all of the marbles were at stake. He called a great offensive game, and he had a trick play up his sleeve–a fake punt–that would have produced a crucial first down but for an official allowing Georgia to call a time out just as the ball was snapped. Coach Day showed guts and fire, and the “next man up” mentality that Ohio State displayed in the face of crippling injuries shows that Coach Day and his staff can instill resilience, too. He clearly is an excellent coach, and Buckeye Nation should feel lucky to have him.

Ohio State always has three goals: beat Michigan, win the Big Ten, and win the National Championship. They did not meet those goals this year, but they showed a lot of character and played well in the glare of the spotlight.

A Redemption Tale

The world of literature is filled with redemption tales. From ancient mythology to the stories of the Bible, from medieval narratives to modern novels, the basic contours of a redemption story plot have proven to be irresistible: the hero does something terrible, is tormented by his misdeed and seeks atonement, and must face some incredible challenge in order to redeem himself and wipe the slate clean. Sometimes the hero successfully meets the challenge, and sometimes he doesn’t.

In Greek mythology, perhaps the most famous redemption tale is that of Heracles (Hercules, in its Romanized form). Hera, the queen of the gods, hated Heracles because he was the son of her husband Zeus, kind of the gods, and Alcmene, a mortal princess who Zeus had tricked and seduced. Heracles’ presence therefore was a constant reminder to Hera of Zeus’ extraordinary and never-ending infidelity and philandering. To punish Heracles, Hera caused him to go mad–and in the throes of madness Heracles killed his wife and children.

When the madness lifted and Heracles realized with horror what he had done, he sought guidance from the famous oracle at Delphi, which advised that he must go into the service of King Eurystheus in order to atone for the murders. The King then required Heracles to complete a dozen seemingly impossible tasks requiring immense physical strength, stamina, extraordinary fortitude, and intelligence and guile, besides. The tasks included slaying the nine-headed Hydra, cleaning the colossal (and filthy) Augean cattle stables in a single day, and bringing the three-headed dog Cerberus, the guardian of the gates of hell, up from the underworld. Heracles completed all of the labors and was thereby redeemed.

Tonight we will see how another redemption story plays out. The Ohio State Buckeyes seek redemption in the College Football Playoff semifinal game after a disastrous second-half performance against Michigan a month ago. To start on the road to redemption, the Buckeyes don’t need to slay the Hydra, but they instead must defeat the mighty and top-ranked Georgia Bulldogs, a three-headed powerhouse on defense, offense, and special teams. Rather than 12 labors, the Buckeyes will need to play a complete game of four quarters of tough, disciplined, hardnosed football, block and tackle, avoid penalties, execute under great pressure, go toe-to-toe with a great and talented team, and perhaps bring some guile and misdirection into play as well.

It’s a plotline as old as time, and we’ll be rooting that the Buckeyes–like Heracles–meet the challenges before them so that redemption lies ahead. Go Bucks!

The High Cost Of Cannings

It’s been another disappointing season for the Cleveland Browns this year and, as is always the case in sports, some fans are calling for the coach’s head. That means that Kevin Stefanski is on the hot seat, and the team’s owner will have to make a decision on whether to keep the coach or look to someone else.

ESPN reports that, at owners’ meetings this past week, the NFL presented owners with information about the staggering cost of now-fired coaches, general managers, and other front office executives. The total tab comes to $800 million, which is real money even in the fantasy world of NFL owners and the jaw-dropping pay packages for athletes and coaches. Some teams are shelling out big bucks for multiple firings in recent years; the New York Giants, for example, are paying two prior head coaches along with their current coach. And here’s the thing to keep in mind about those terminated coaches on the spreadsheet that the NFL shared with the owners: every one of them came to their job with great fanfare and with the promise of leading their teams to great success.

So, what about Stefanski? The record is decidedly mixed for the third-year coach. He took the Browns to the playoffs and won a playoff game in his first year, suffered through a bad 2021, and stands at 6-8, with a very remote chance at the playoffs, with three games to go this year. But here’s a statistic that should give Browns’ fans some pause: with the team’s win over the Ravens last Saturday, Stefanski is the winningest Browns coach since the team came back into the league in 1999. That’s because the Browns have had a ludicrous number of different head coaches during that period–ten head coaches and two additional interim head coaches. The Cleveland head coaching carousel is outpaced only by the number of quarterbacks that have started games for the Browns since the team returned to the league.

I’m in favor of keeping Stefanski, although I reserve full judgment until we get to the end of the season. The team still seems to be playing for him, I think his run-oriented approach is well-suited to a team that will play a number of foul weather games every year, and I believe his stolid demeanor is well-suited to Cleveland, too. This season has been a strange one, in view of the Deshaun Watson situation and the need to start a career back-up for most of the season. Even so, the Browns could be in the thick of the playoff race this year, but for the kinds of mishaps that seem to happen only to the Browns.

If there is one thing the Browns could use, it is stability. Assuming the team still plays hard during the next three games, I hope Cleveland’s ownership learns from that $800 million spreadsheet and decides to keep Stefanski.

Gaylord Perry

I was saddened to read earlier this month of the death of Gaylord Perry. A pitcher who won more than 300 games and who was later enshrined in the Hall of Fame, Perry was an intriguing character who was the one bright spot for beleaguered Cleveland Indians fans of the early ’70s.

Perry came to Cleveland in 1972 as part of a trade that sent “Sudden” Sam McDowell, a fireballing pitcher with an equally volcanic temperament, to the San Francisco Giants. McDowell was my favorite player, so I wasn’t happy with the trade–but Gaylord Perry quickly captured the hearts of Cleveland fans, including me. He somehow won 24 games for the Tribe in 1972, when the team was awful and won only 72 games, finishing well below .500. Perry’s ERA that year, in 342.2 innings pitched, was 1.92, and he threw an astonishing 29 complete games. If you do the math, Gaylord Perry accounted for exactly one-third of the Indians’ victories that year. His record and success for a crummy team was so remarkable that he won his first Cy Young Award. (He won a second time, in 1978, for the Padres.)

Perry was a workhorse for the Indians during some of the darkest, most hopeless years in the franchise’s history. He not only was a consistent 20-game winner–winning 24 games in 1972, 19 games in 1973, and 21 games in 1974–but he always put on a good show, too. The big question with Perry was whether he threw a spitball, and the does-he-or-doesn’t-he element was part of his appeal. His fidgety pitching routine featured pulling on the brim of his ballcap, tugging his uniform, and touching other areas where the illicit substances might be stashed, and it wasn’t unusual for opposing managers to ask the home plate umpire to go out to the mound and conduct a search, as in the photo above. Perry never admitted throwing a spitter, to my knowledge, but he certainly encouraged the speculation, knowing that getting into the batters’ heads was a strong step toward success.

When Gaylord Perry was on the mound, he put on a show. For Cleveland baseball fans of that era, that was about all we could hope for. Rest in peace, Mr. Perry!

Second Chances

After going 11-0, the Buckeyes laid an egg in the second half of The Game–giving up big plays on defense and failing to score a touchdown on offense. The result was a score that embarrassed both the team and all of Buckeye Nation. Losing to That Team Up North always hurts–and particularly this year, when Ohio State was playing at home and seemed to have so much promise.

But the breaks have gone the Buckeyes’ way in the days since that dismal loss. LSU lost, USC lost, and today the Buckeyes snuck into the College Football Playoff through the back door. The Buckeyes ended up number 4, and will play mighty Georgia in the semifinals. Since the game will be played in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta, it’s basically a Georgia home game. Meanwhile, TTUN, ranked second, will take on plucky TCU in the other semifinal game. The Buckeyes played poorly against the Wolverines, especially on defense–although you have to give some credit to TTUN, which obviously has a solid team. As a result, no one is giving them much of a chance against the undefeated Bulldogs.

I beg to differ. I think this game will be a bit more interesting, perhaps, than people expect. Ohio State has been incredibly banged up on offense, with their top running backs, their top receiver, and one of their key offensive lineman out for The Game. Will those important missing pieces be back for the CFP? It would be nice to see a healthy Jaxon Smith-Njigba playing alongside Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka, and Miyan Williams and Trevyon Henderson running like they did earlier in the season. As good as Georgia’s defense clearly is, a healthy Ohio State with all of its weapons will be a handful. If all of these guys play, and Ohio State’s offensive line is intact again, this game will offer the irresistible force versus immovable object/OSU offense versus Georgia defense matchup that people have been eager to see for several seasons now.

The bigger question will be the Buckeyes’ defense. Georgia has a good offense, but the Buckeyes’ problems in The Game were self-inflicted, with lots of missed tackles and big play breakdowns. Can coffee-guzzling defensive coordinator Jim Knowles figure out how to fix those problems? Those of us who watched Ohio State teams of days gone by, when the Buckeyes played rock-ribbed defense, chafe at the blunders and poor fundamentals on D. I think the key will be whether the Buckeyes can play some tough D in a big game.

As for C.J. Stroud–well, he was very gracious after the defeat in The Game, and showed some real character. I think he will take advantage of his second chance and play a good game against the Bulldogs. I’m not saying the Buckeyes will win, but I think this game will be a lot more competitive than people think, especially if Ohio State is healthy.

This game will make New Year’s Eve a much better holiday than just sitting at home watching Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.

Bridging The Great Soccer Divide

Today the U.S. Men’s National Team plays a crucial match against Iran in the 2022 World Cup. If the Americans win, they advance beyond the group stage into the knockout stage and keep their long-shot hopes for the World Cup alive. If they lose or tie, they are out. Since the U.S. team has played to two draws in its first two games, they face a significant challenge, and because their opponent is Iran there are obvious geopolitical overtones.

I’m not a soccer fan, but I am a fan of my country, so I watched the U.S. game against England that ended in a scoreless tie. After the match, some loudmouth commentator on another channel said that the 0-0 tie (“nil-nil” in soccer lingo) was boring, and that’s why more Americans don’t pay much attention to soccer. The guy’s comments were part of a weird dynamic that has bedeviled the U.S. soccer scene for as long as I can remember: non-soccer fans make fun of the injury-faking and the low scores and argue that the sport is a total snoozer, and soccer fans respond that the non-soccer fans are basically knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing cretins who can’t appreciate the subtleties and strategies of a game that, incidentally, the rest of the world absolutely loves.

I didn’t think the U.S.-England match was boring. The U.S. has a very young team, and the fact that they played heavily favored England to a draw and kept their chances of advancing alive was a great result for them. They don’t seem to go in for the ridiculous play-acting on the injury front, either, which I appreciate.

I clearly don’t get all of the nuances of world-class soccer, but it doesn’t take much watching to appreciate concepts like reversing the field and trying to clear things out for breakaway runs and passes. I’m still working on the penalties, what results in corner kicks, and other elements of the game, but I can watch a soccer match without understanding those issues just like I can watch a hockey game without knowing what “offsides” is or the significance of the red line and blue line. A low-scoring soccer match involves its own special brand of tension where you know one mistake could be fatal–just like in a low-scoring baseball game. And you can’t help but admire the energy, athleticism, and skill of elite players, who run hard throughout the match, can bend and place a ball with amazing precision, and then can mash it with astonishing force. Soccer may not feature crushing hits or thunderous dunks, but it definitely offers a lot to admire.

I’ll be at work today and won’t get a chance to watch the U.S. match against Iran, but I’m definitely hoping that the U.S. finds a way to win and advance. I’m also hoping that, if they do so, we can put this perversely American argument about soccer to bed, once and for all. Both sides of the great soccer divide need to understand that not every sport needs to appeal to every person, and there’s no value in denigrating either soccer or those people who just don’t enjoy it. Live and let live, sports fans!

Go U.S.A.!

Striking The Thirteenth Letter

This week, the thirteenth letter of the alphabet is not to be seen in Ohio’s capital city. All around town, it has been crossed out on street signs, billboards, and business signs–even scooters, as shown by the scooter above that we saw near Goodale Park earlier this week. We excise old #13 wherever it is found because we don’t want to see anything that represents That State Up North this week.

The striking of the thirteenth letter is one of the newer traditions in the old rivalry. I don’t recall it happening when I was a student at Ohio State in the ’70s. Back then, people settled for things like “Screw the Blue” car stickers and got a chuckle out of TTUN toilet paper. But then a person decided that the 13th letter was just too offensive to be endured during this particular week, and the habit caught on like wildfire. Now it’s just another part of the tradition of the greatest rivalry in sports.

After today, the 13th letter will be invited back into the alphabet and we’ll be able to use it again. That’s a good thing, too–it was challenging to write today’s blog post without using it!

Go Bucks!

My First Visit To “The Game”

In the spring of 1971, my family moved from Akron to Columbus, where Dad began working as the general manager of a car dealership. He quickly recognized that everyone in Columbus, regardless of their politics, religion, or general viewpoint, could agree on one thing–Ohio State football–and he assembled a mass of season tickets to Ohio State games so he could build relationships by handing out the prized ducats to the dealership’s business partners and other managers. Fortunately for the kids in the family, Dad had enough tickets to allow us to go to the games, and I went to my first Ohio State game in the fall of 1971.

Before then, I had only been to high school football games. In Ohio, high school football is a big deal, but going to Buckeye games at Ohio Stadium was different by orders of magnitude. The massive gray stadium, the huge crowd of more than 80,000 roaring fans, the band, and the cheerleaders all made home games at Ohio State an entirely different experience. I don’t remember who Ohio State played in the first game I attended, but I was hooked immediately. And even though the Buckeyes weren’t very good that year, Ohio State fans knew that the season could be salvaged if the Men of the Scarlet and Gray could just knock off Michigan, at Ann Arbor, in their end of the season match-up. Michigan came in as a heavy favorite, but Ohio State gave them a very tough game. The Buckeyes fell just short, losing 10-7, in a game most people remember because Ohio State coach Woody Hayes, incensed that the officials didn’t call pass interference at the end of the game, tore up a yard marker and had to be physically restrained by coaches and players.

That set the stage for 1972, when the game would come to Columbus. Both Ohio State and Michigan were good that year, and it was clear that The Game would decide which team would be the Big Ten champion. I was so excited about going to The Game that I had trouble sleeping the night before and got up even earlier than normal. At Ohio Stadium, the atmosphere was electric–far more charged than at a regular Ohio State game–and the roars of the crowd when the Buckeyes made a great play were deafening. I sat in the closed end of the Stadium, right next to the scoreboard, using a single ticket that Dad had picked up. The game was a rugged, hard-hitting defensive battle, as the Ohio State-Michigan games traditionally were in those days, but the Buckeyes pulled out the win, and the joyous celebration in the Stadium when the game ended and the victory bell rang was just short of a riot. I’m pretty sure the end of that game was the first time I was hugged by an absolute stranger.

Being a sports fan has its ups and downs–Cleveland sports fans, regrettably, have lots of bitter experience with the downs–but when your team wins a big game against its archrival, the surging feeling of absolute elation is impossible to describe. I still remember that feeling from that first Ohio State-Michigan game, on a crisp autumn day in 1972. It’s hard to believe that it was 50 years ago.

“The Week” Begins

Today begins the seven-day period that is known in these parts as “The Week.” It’s the period of time right before the Ohio State Buckeyes strap on their gear and take on That Team Up North in what is known as “The Game.”

This year, as in so many years in the past, The Game is poised to be a classic. Both Ohio State and TTUN won nail-biters yesterday, with the Maize and Blue pulling out a last-minute win at home over a tough Illinois team and Ohio State surviving a road battle against a Maryland squad that pulled out all the stops. It was one of those days that make college football so great, as many of the top-ranked teams were pushed to the limit and the playoff hopes of one–the Tennessee Volunteers–were left crushed on the field in South Carolina.

But both the Buckeyes and the Wolverines survived and kept their unbeaten records intact. Both are 11-0, and both have played games were they have looked unbeatable and games where they looked good, but not great. Both teams have lots of talent, and both teams have been dealing with injuries. But we know one thing for sure: one team’s spotless record and great season is going to be marred next Saturday, while the other team will survive and celebrate and advance to the Big Ten Championship Game and, perhaps, the College Football Playoff beyond. But the Big Ten Championship Game and the playoffs aren’t the focus right now–instead, the focus is exclusively on beating the arch-rival and hated (but respected) foe. Nothing is more important, and there is no looking beyond.

This is a familiar scenario for Buckeye fans, and those of us who have followed the team for decades and have Buckeye football in our family DNA. That’s why it is fitting that The Game always happens around Thanksgiving. For many families, including mine, Buckeye football and The Game is as much of family tradition as the turkey and stuffing and the cranberry relish that still maintains the shape of a can. And when another version of The Game rolls around, and both Ohio State and That Team Up North are top-ranked and having terrific seasons, we think about the Buckeye fans in our families, the great games, joyous victories, and crushing heartbreaks we experienced with them in the past, and the tailgates and the scarlet and gray outfits and the thoughtful and earnest pre-game analysis and the killer Bloody Marys and the riotous post-game revelry when Ohio State notches a win against those arrogant bastards from our neighboring state.

So The Week is here, and we can feel, again, that familiar nerve-tingling anticipation that always arrives at this time of year–only heightened now, with so much on the line. And we know that somewhere, those Buckeye fans in our families will be watching, with Woody and Bo and the rest of Buckeye Nation and the TTUN fans, as these two great programs prepare to square off for another chapter in the Greatest Rivalry In Sports.

The Buckeyes March On

Yesterday I joined a group that headed to Ohio Stadium to watch the Ohio State-Indiana game. On a cold and snowy day, we watched the Buckeyes pulverize the outmatched Hoosiers, 56-14. The win keeps the Men of the Scarlet and Gray undefeated and on track to be in a position to achieve their goals: beating Michigan, winning a Big Ten championship, and competing for a national title.

For the true Buckeyes fan, however, every game, no matter how lopsided, involves good points and areas of lingering concern–because true Buckeye fans hold their gridiron team to impossibly high standards. Yesterday was no exception. The good points included 660 yards of total offense, achieving a nice balance with the ground game and the air attack each racking up more than 300 yards, and five touchdown passes for C.J. Stroud. Putting up these kinds of numbers in cold, snowy conditions is an added plus, because if you play football in the Midwest in November, when the really big games occur, you’ve got to be able to move the ball in cold, sloppy weather conditions. And the Buckeyes’ defense played well, harassing the Hoosier offense throughout the game and holding Indiana to two scores (one coming when the game was well out of reach) and well under 300 yards of offense.

So what are the areas of concern? I’m still worried about Ohio State’s ability to convert in short-yardage situations. Ohio State had some failures on third-and-short yesterday, against a team that doesn’t really match up against the Buckeyes in the trenches. Long runs are great and make the rushing game statistics look good, but as the season winds down, being able to pick up the tough yards, get first downs, and keep the ball in the hands of the offense will become increasingly crucial. The key question that we’ll get answered in the very near future is: can Ohio State and its offensive line do that against a team that has a great defensive line and will make the Buckeyes fight for every yard?

With yesterday’s win, the Buckeyes move to 10-0. Next up is Maryland on the road, and looming behind is That Team Up North, which also stands at 10-0, tied with Ohio State at the top of the Big Ten East. This season is feeling a lot like past seasons, where everything is leading up to The Game once again.

Hike Ohio: Quarry Trails Metro Park

The Columbus metropolitan area population continues to increase. Websites peg the current population at 1,687,000, and every year the area consistently adds another percentage or two of growth to that total. Because people like parks, it’s nice to know that the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department is working to meet the hiking, biking, and walking path demand of all of those new residents. Yesterday, on a beautiful and surprisingly warm morning, we decided to check out Quarry Trails Metro Park, the newest member of the 20-park Metro Park family. The park is being built on the site of an old limestone quarry, and adjacent to the site of a currently working quarry that you can see in the photo above, just west of the Scioto River on the border of Upper Arlington.

Quarry Trail is aptly named, because its quarry past (and quarry present) is evident pretty much everywhere you look. You can see the cliff-like walls of the old quarry operations in the far distance, and large rocks were a constant feature as we walked along. The park’s designers are putting the gradations created by the excavations at the old quarry to good use in other ways, too; there are several mountain bike areas that intrepid cyclists were enjoying as we walked past.

Although Quarry Trails formally opened in 2021, it remains very much a work in progress. The trail signs are temporary, and the grounds are littered with construction equipment. Our visit allowed us to get a sense of what the park’s designers were trying to do, and the plans obviously are ambitious. The configuration of the 220-acre park property is unusual, as the park is surrounded not only by the current quarry operations but also by residential neighborhoods. The park property consists of three larger areas connected at narrow points by a trail, and the park designers have worked to make use of every square inch of space.

We followed the connection trail down to a small lake created by the old quarry operations, where there are swinging benches and large rocks that were irresistible leaping-off points for the kids who were there. You can see one of the residential neighborhoods on the east side of the lake in the photo below, and a nice boardwalk area running along the lake’s edge. There were lots of people out and around, and I would guess that many of them came from the surrounding neighborhoods. I expect they are happy to have a scene like this in their backyards.

Parks are important to communities, and are worth the investment and effort. Quarry Trails was made possible because Columbus voters have historically supported funding for parks and recreation. This year, Issue 15–one of a series of bond issues on the ballot–would provide $200 million in funding for parks and recreation activities, including renovation, replacement, and new park and greenway development. I’ll be voting yes on that issue so that new parks like Quarry Trails can continue to come on line and make Columbus an even better place to live.

Surviving The Down Game

Every college football team, it seems, has a down game. At least once a season, good football squads seem to come out flatter than a partially deflated pigskin. When you combine the down game with weather conditions that work against the more skilled team, very good teams can lose games they are expected to win.

Today’s game between Ohio State and Northwestern in Evanston, Illinois was a down game for the Buckeyes. Ohio State seemed out of sync from the first whistle, and the conditions didn’t help matters. The weather was awful, with strong winds gusting up to 50 miles an hour and rain coming sideways, making it practically impossible for the Ohio State aerial game to get started. As a result, the game became a low-scoring, hard-hitting, one-dimensional contest with each team focused on running the ball. The conditions reminded me of another down game–one I had the misfortune of watching in person–when Michigan State upset the defending national champion Buckeyes 17-14 in brutal weather conditions to keep the Men of the Scarlet and Gray from making the playoffs and defending their title.

But, unlike that Buckeyes team, this Ohio State team found a way to surmount their down game, in ridiculous conditions, on the road, and notch a win to keep themselves undefeated. They won even though C.J. Stroud’s passing statistics were pedestrian in the buffeting wind, because the offense didn’t turn the ball over, C.J. Stroud made smart plays with his legs, the Buckeyes’ run game kept plugging, and the Buckeyes’ defense avoided any breakdowns that would have made it possible for the Wildcats to spring a huge upset.

Did Ohio State look pretty, or dominant? Nope. But they won a down game, and that’s the important thing. Now it’s time to enjoy that colossal Georgia-Tennessee matchup, with the pressure off.

Hike Ohio: Blendon Woods Metro Park

Yesterday was a cool, overcast morning in Columbus–another prime day for a romp in the Ohio woods. For our weekend hike, we decided to stay a bit closer to home, and took a short drive over to Blendon Woods Metro Park. The park is a popular one and very conveniently located in the northeast corner of Franklin County, just outside of I-270, the highway than encircles Columbus.

Blendon Woods is a big park–653 acres in all–with a number of trails, family and picnic areas, and the Walden Waterfowl Refuge, a 118-acre preserve in one corner of the park. We began our day with the trail to Thoreau Lake, which is part of the Walden Refuge. When you reach the lake, the trail ends in two viewing stations where you can watch the birds and waterfowl unobtrusively. We didn’t see any ducks or other waterfowl, but we did catch a good look at a colorful cardinal, shown above, who was munching on some seeds just over the squirrel guard in a bird house next to the viewing station.

The trail to the Walden Refuge is a paved trail, and there were a number of families and birders out for a walk in the cool air. The birders are easy to recognize, because they’ve all got their binoculars in hand, with cords looped around their necks, ready to focus in whenever they hear a bird call. It must have been good viewing conditions, with some trees largely stripped of leaves while others are still displaying their colors. The non-birders among us could just enjoy the remaining fall foliage.

The lake trail is a short one, so after our return from the Walden Waterfowl Refuge we crossed the parking lot and headed onto the Sugarbush Trail, a natural trail that winds through the woods and some marshy areas for two miles. The trail was matted with fallen leaves, and you had to watch your step to make sure that you didn’t get snagged by a stray tree root, but the woods were lovely, with lots of brilliant gold and yellow in the background to frame the trees in the foreground.

The Sugarbush Trail wasn’t quite as crowded as the lake trail, but we did see a few other walkers along the way. The trail is mostly level, with only a few easy hills. The woods were quiet and cool as we strolled along, and I once again thought I should learn more about how to distinguish between the different kinds of trees you typically find in the Ohio woods. I can identify a pine tree, a buckeye nut, and a maple leaf–thanks largely to seeing the maple leaf on the national flag of our neighbors to the north–but that’s about it. Otherwise, I can’t tell a walnut from a sycamore from an elm, and I suppose it’s about time I learned.

At one point on the Sugarbush Trail, the woods take a break, and there is a meadow area with a sprawling field of wildflowers. The plants had grown to about shoulder height, and if you stood on tiptoe you could just look over the plants to get the full effect of the field and a better sense of the size of the park. As we finished our hike, a few patches of blue showed up on the far horizon. With our appetites stimulated by the cool weather and the walking, it was time to leave Blendon Woods behind and head home to make some scrambled eggs, sausage, and strawberries for our Sunday brunch.

Football Season Is Political Ad Season

Yesterday, when we watched the Buckeyes game with Penn State at JT’s Pizza and Pub, the vast majority of the TV commercials during the game were for political candidates. The campaign strategists know that, in Ohio, virtually everyone drops everything to watch the Buckeyes on the gridiron, so it is prime time to deliver a message to a captive, very focused, every sense on heightened alert audience. It undoubtedly costs the campaigns a boatload to buy the ad slots, but they figure it is worth it–which is why Buckeye fans were seeing so many political ads rather than the standard in-game car, tire, or “remember to ask your doctor about Altavlid” commercials.

Fortunately, they had the sound off at JT’s, and we couldn’t have heard the voice over of the commercials in any event, over the din of football analysis and “OH-IO” chants. But you don’t really need to have the sound on to follow the political ads. Basically, they fall into two categories: the scary ads and the “humanize the candidate” ads. And it’s immediately clear which category a political commercial falls into, because every ad in either category shares obvious common characteristics. In fact, the touchstones are so commonplace that both Democrats and Republicans use them, and if you run a Google search you’ll find that the British and Canadian political wizards use the same techniques, as the Canadian ad above demonstrates.

Scary ads: Dark, grainy, blurry footage, with quick cuts from one troubling scene to another. Opposing candidate depicted in unflattering poses in slow motion or with some kind of color filter to give him or her a more devilish, unsettling appearance. Children in peril or worried people sitting around their kitchen tables. Messages in large type that appear on the screen like shotgun blasts that usually include the words “we can’t afford.”

Humanize the candidate ads: Candidate is shown in a bulky, woolen, Mr. Rogers-type sweater, carrying a cup of coffee and sitting on the family sofa with their spouse. Candidate makes breakfast or kicks a soccer ball or throws a football with kids. Lots of warm hues and sunshine. Candidate is shown gesturing forcefully to smiling, nodding blue-collar workers, who are deeply absorbed in everything the candidate is saying.

I’ll be glad when November 8 finally arrives and we can go back to watching the Buckeyes, the tire ads, and those helpful spots about the latest miracle drug.