The Power Of Positive Thinking

In 1952, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale wrote a book called The Power of Positive Thinking. The book used anecdotes to argue that maintaining a positive, optimistic attitude actually helps people to achieve their goals and feel better about themselves. One of the core messages of the book was that if you are pessimistic about what you can do, you’re heading for defeat before the contest has even started. Critics were dubious of the notion that a simple change in mental attitude could have a big impact on anyone’s life, but the book was a hit and resonated with people who thought there was a lot of common sense in what Dr. Peale was saying. I remember seeing it on Grandma and Grandpa Neal’s bookshelf.

It’s a huge step from believing that your own attitude can affect what happens in your own life to believing that your attitude can influence what other people are doing. Of course, that’s exactly what many committed sports fans do believe — deep down in their hearts, even if they wouldn’t admit it to others. They may not be sitting in the stadium or arena cheering on their team, but they believe that what they wear, what they eat, where they sit, and what they say and do on Game Day can have a crucial, outcome-determinative impact. The Dr. Pepper Fansville commercials definitely nail that aspect of the whole sports fan experience.

Can fans sitting in their living rooms watching on TV affect a game played far away? Can their thoughts and actions create eddies in the prevailing karma that can ripple out to the players and coaches and give them extra energy and mental focus and make a difference in their performance? Given life’s many mysteries, we’ll never know for sure — but we all believe it does, in some mysterious way, so why not be positive about it?t

Today, once again, I’m going to be positive about the prospects for the Cleveland Browns, and I’m hoping to enlist other fans in my positive thinking crusade. The Browns will be going on the road to Pittsburgh to play in their first playoff game in 18 years. They’re lacking a number of their coaches, including their head coach and ultimate play-caller, and some of their best players thanks to the coronavirus. For that same reason, they only got to practice once before their most important game in two decades. These aren’t the things you want to have happen when you’re the underdog in the first place.

Clearly, the odds are powerfully stacked against the outmanned Cleveland squad. They need all the help they can get. Who knows? Positive thinking by the legions of Browns Backers could well tip the balance in some inexplicable yet meaningful way.

Whatever happens tonight, I’m going to stay positive about this team and its chances for an astonishing victory, and concentrate on sending positive, optimistic vibes through the cosmic ether to the Browns’ players and coaches. Will you join me?

Ohio Against The World (II)

And speaking of Ohio Against The World, the Cleveland Browns punched their ticket for the NFL playoffs yesterday. The Browns somehow managed to hold on to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers despite having a slew of their players unavailable due to NFL COVID protocols. Fittingly, the game was finally secured when Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield kept the ball for a single wing scamper and picked up a crucial first down that allowed the Browns to run out the clock.

Next weekend the Browns will participate in the NFL playoffs for the first time since the 2002 NFL season — the only time the Browns made the playoffs since coming back into the League. The Browns lost in heartbreaking fashion in that one playoff appearance, to the Pittsburgh Steelers. This time, 18 years later, they’ll be playing the Steelers again in the first round of the playoffs.

Eighteen years is a very long time, and in 2002 the world was a very different place. No one in 2002 would have forecast that it would take the Browns 18 years to return to the playoffs, but here they are. Will they advance? Given the impact of the coronavirus on the Browns this year, and the number of players who have been disqualified from games, we’ll have to see who even gets to play. But it’s nice to know that the long drought is ended.

Ohio Against The World

I first saw the slogan “Ohio Against The World” at the Sugar Bowl game against Alabama years ago. Ohio State had just made a great play, and the TV broadcast showed this shot of the two guys above, screaming their brains out at the prospect of a colossal Buckeye upset in the making. I was screaming my brains out, too, but nevertheless retained the ability to think rationally to myself: “Wow! That’s a very cool shirt.” I loved the sentiment of the shirt in the context of that particular game, where Ohio State was a huge underdog against a great Crimson Tide team. Of course, Ohio State went on to win that game, and then won the next game, against Oregon in a game I got to watch in person, to take home a national championship.

I wasn’t alone in my reaction to the shirt. The “Ohio Against The World” shirt and slogan, which were the work of a guy from Cincinnati, caught on. The creator aptly described the slogan as a “battle cry for the underdog,” but it goes beyond that. The phrase captures deep-seated beliefs about disrespect, and being dismissed, and not being given a chance, and being the subject of withering criticism when the weaknesses of other teams, and their conferences, seem to get a pass. And, because Ohio is part of “flyover country” and the so-called “rust belt,” the shirt no doubt transcends college football to tap into much deeper wellsprings of feeling on the part of residents of the Buckeye State.

People outside of Ohio and Buckeye Nation believe it’s odd — and, apparently, a bit brittle, and even phony — that one of the most successful college football programs in history believes it has been disrespected. Before the game against Clemson, an ESPN writer wrote about how Ohio State and its fans almost seem to search for “perceived slights” to get amped up for big games. The underlying notion was that other teams wouldn’t really care that the opposing coach ranked them at number 11, or campaigned against including them in the playoffs in the first place. I can attest, however, that the touchiness about disrespect is definitely real and not feigned — and when opposing coaches or commentators hit that nerve, the Ohio State football team and its fans are going to take notice and react.

Did the Clemson coach’s ranking, or the questions raised about the validity of including Ohio State in the playoffs in the first place, actually affect the outcome of the game Friday night? I can’t say for sure — Ohio State simply seemed like the better team that night — but I have to believe it sure didn’t hurt.

I note that Ohio State has been installed as a very significant underdog — I understand the betting line now favors Alabama by 8 points — in the National Championship Game. The storylines are very reminiscent of that last game against Alabama, or the National Championship game against Miami before it. Ohio State is once against the David standing against the seemingly unbeatable, juggernaut Goliath.

I imagine this Ohio State team is very comfortable with the fact that it’s “Ohio Against The World” once more. Members of Buckeye Nation can get their OATW gear here, but don’t be surprised if it isn’t delivered in time for next Monday’s kickoff. I’m guessing the company has seen a lot of orders recently.

Once More Unto The Breach

Yesterday the College Football Playoff Selection Committee announced that Ohio State will be playing Clemson in one of the semifinal games. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it is. The two teams played last year in the semifinals, too, and in the semifinals in 2016 as well.

Those games haven’t ended well for the Buckeyes. In fact, Ohio State has never beaten Clemson, in four tries. And that record includes two immense black eyes for the Men of the Scarlet and Gray: the 1978 meeting that ended with OSU Coach Woody Hayes slugging a Clemson player who made an interception that sealed Clemson’s victory and brought the Ohio State legend’s coaching career to an end, and a 2016 CFB meeting in which the Tigers embarrassed the Buckeyes with a crushing 31-0 win. And last year’s game left the members of Buckeye Nation shaking their heads at what might have been if a few head-scratching officiating calls had gone the other way — a view, incidentally, that Clemson fans say that Clemson coaches will use to give Clemson motivation to win again this year. Some Ohio State fans view the upcoming game with Clemson with trepidation; others (including me) think if you want to be the best you need to beat the best. Clemson is up there with Alabama, and Ohio State needs to knock the Tigers off that perch.

But the fact that Ohio State will be playing Clemson in the playoffs — again — raises a larger issue for the sport of college football. The same teams seem to make it to the playoffs, year after year. This is the fourth time the Buckeyes will be in the playoffs, but they are pikers compared to Clemson and Alabama, which seem to make it pretty much every year. In fact, if Clemson and Alabama both win their semifinal matchups this year, they’ll play each other in the playoffs for the fifth time in the last six seasons — which is why one ESPN writer called the CFP the “Alabama-Clemson Invitational.”

This isn’t good for college football, in my view — and I think that view is shared by a growing number of people. The answer isn’t to arbitrarily exclude teams like Clemson and Alabama, which routinely dominate their conferences and put up impressive records year after year. Their performance shows that they deserve to be in the mix. Instead, the solution is to open up the playoffs to more teams, so that other worthy teams — like Cincinnati and Texas A&M this year — get a chance to play on the big stage and show that they belong.

When it comes to college football, 2020 has demonstrated that the sport can be flexible. The COVID-19 pandemic threw old ways of scheduling and operating out the window, with different conferences starting at different times and playing different numbers of games. Doesn’t that show that the college football powers-that-be could manage things to accommodate a larger eight-team playoff? Maybe a new approach to crowning a national champion could be something good that comes from this strange and star-crossed year.

Vaccine Politics

I was watching TV this week and saw two related stories. One featured a truck delivering the first coronavirus vaccines to Ohio, where a masked Governor DeWine took a look at one box being unloaded, as shown in the photo above. The other was a story saying that the NFL was not going to try to cut in line so that its players and coaches would get the vaccine before others do.

The second story seemed weird to me. I’m sure the NFL thought it was being noble by publicly announcing that it was eschewing any effort to jump the queue for vaccinations. But I had the opposite reaction: why in the world would the NFL even entertain the notion of trying to move up the vaccine priority list? The fact that the NFL apparently considered it, and decided not to try, just shows the risk of political games being played with vaccine distribution and administration.

I suppose this should not be surprising to anyone. The coronavirus has had a devastating effect on our society, our culture, our economy, and individual families who have suffered losses of loved ones. Of course people are going to want to get the vaccine so they can put this whole weird chapter of their lives behind them, and the sooner the better. (Unless, of course, they are anti-vaxxers who aren’t going to get vaccinated at all.) But priorities have to be established so that there’s not a mad scramble for inoculation, and that means there’s a chance that people will try to pull rank, call in favors, apply pressure, and move up the list.

The initial priorities are easy: front-line health care workers and the places where COVID-19 has had the greatest impact — such as nursing homes and long-term care facilities — and that’s how Ohio is going to proceed. But the tougher questions come after those obvious initial candidates are identified. I think there should be some consideration of impact and risk in the distribution decisionmaking. People who work in areas of the economy that have been crushed by shutdown orders, like restaurants and the arts, should have the opportunity to get vaccinated before white-collar workers who have been able to safely continue their jobs from home. And people who have existing health care conditions that increase the impact of the coronavirus should be ahead of healthy people.

I’m happy to wait my turn — hey, if the NFL is doing it, so can I — but I’ll be very interested to see how the vaccine rolls out. I’ll be watching to see when the political types get their shots.

Back To The Spiders

The New York Times and other media outlets are reporting that the Cleveland professional baseball team will be changing its name. After more than 100 years of being known as the Indians — and several years after getting rid of Chief Wahoo on their uniforms — the team will now be changing its nickname.

There’s a pretty heated debate going on already about what the new team name should be. I’ve always thought the “The Tribe” would be a pretty good alternative, since many of us already call the team by that name and “tribe” is defined as “a social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect, typically having a recognized leader.” Those of us who have followed the Cleveland baseball franchise for decades would fall within that broad definition; we’re inextricably linked by years of suffering and frustration.

“The Tribe” doesn’t seem to be getting much traction, however, and many of the potential team names identified in the story linked above are pretty dismal. The one option that seems to be getting a lot of support is to call the team the Spiders. It would mark a complete break from the “Indians” and would also link the team back to the 1890s, when Cleveland had a National League baseball team called the Spiders. According to Wikipedia, the team was called the Spiders because the players who wore the team’s black and gray uniforms had a spidery look. The Spiders were decent for a while, finishing second in the National League several times, and included players like future Hall of Famer Cy Young, but also had a year that featured the worst won-loss record in major league history.

The Spiders seems to be a popular choice, and already people are designing logos and uniform concepts with a spidery look. If it can’t be The Tribe, I’d be fine with the Spiders. With the blog name Webner House, how could we object to supporting a team of arachnids?

The Year Without The Game

With all of the other bad things that have happened during this ill-fated year, I think many of us had a sneaking suspicion that the Ohio State-Michigan football game — known around these parts simply as The Game — would fall victim to the coronavirus, like so many people and traditions and parts of American life have fallen victim before it. Yesterday, that suspicion was confirmed, when a coronavirus outbreak at the University of Michigan caused The Game to be canceled. And so, for the first time in more than 100 years, in 2020 we won’t be able to watch the latest installment of the greatest rivalry in sports.

It’s a tough development to swallow in a year that has brought a lot of hard things to take.

It’s difficult to describe the Ohio State-Michigan game experience if you haven’t lived through it, aren’t invested in it, and haven’t been immersed in it. Let’s just say it’s unique and — during the week of The Game, at least — pretty much all-consuming. Fans of both teams look forward to The Game with a mixture of anticipation and dread — anticipation, because you hope for a victory, and dread, because you hate the very idea that your team might lose to its hated rival. The outcome of The Game pretty much makes or breaks the year. Victory is sweeter than you can imagine, and defeat is like a sucker punch to the gut that leaves that achey feeling at the back of your throat.

This year, as Michigan has struggled and Ohio State is considered to be in the conversation for the College Football Playoffs, some people have suggested that UM used COVID-19 as an excuse to avoid The Game and complicate Ohio State’s potential path to a role in the playoffs. I would never say that. A big part of The Game is the respect that the two schools, and their fans, have for each other. I suspect, instead, that the opposite is true: those inside the Michigan program were looking forward to the Ohio State game as a chance to redeem a disappointing season, which has happened repeatedly in the history of the rivalry. But player safety and public health concerns have to take precedence.

With The Game being cancelled, what other traditions are at risk? Say, how is Santa’s health these days?

Breakdancing Gold

Breakdancing has become an Olympic sport. Yesterday the International Olympic Committee announced that breakdancing — which will be called “breaking” in its Olympic variation — will be one of the sports for the 2024 Olympiad, in Paris. Surfing, sport climbing, and skateboarding will be the other new sports at the Paris games.

The squash crowd isn’t happy about the decision. That sport has been lobbying for years to be added to the Olympic menu and has now been rebuffed — again. The decision to choose “breaking” over squash caused one champion squash player to say that the Olympics has become a “mockery.” I don’t know about the “mockery” stuff, but featuring skateboarding, climbing, and breakdancing will definitely make the Olympics seem a lot more like the “X Games.”

I’m not a traditionalist about what should be an Olympic sport. In its modern incarnation, the Olympics has never been confined to the events the ancient Greeks decided to include way back when. Adding new sports to the roster recognizes that sports is an ever changing area, and there’s no doubt that it requires talent, skill, and some degree of fitness to be a great breakdancer or skateboarder. But it seems like there should be some kind of line between a sport and an activity. And the champion squash player in the story linked above raises another valid point: many of the new Olympic sports won’t have an undisputed victor, like you would have in a marathon, the 100-meter dash, the shot put, or the long jump. Instead, we’ll need judges to tell us which “breaker” got the best score on his/her routine — which just adds subjectivity and possible corruption to the mix. If East Germany still existed, we’d likely be complaining about the East German “breaking” judge’s unfair scoring.

If breakdancing and skateboarding are official Olympic sports now, what’s next? Will videogaming — no doubt to be called “gaming” in its Olympic incarnation — be the next designated Olympic sport to break the squash players’ hearts?

In The Cable TV Tug Of War

This afternoon the Cleveland Browns will play what is easily their most important game in a decade. (That’s not saying much given the Browns’ dismal recent record . . . , but still.) the 8-3 Browns travel to Tennessee to play the 8-3 Titans in a game that features two of the best rushing teams in the NFL and lots of playoff implications.

Alas! We won’t be able to watch the game on our TV, because of some financial tug of war between TEGNA, the owner of the local CBS channel that will broadcast the contest, and AT&T U-verse, our cable provider. If you go to the channel that will broadcast the game, you see the message above that blames TEGNA. And before TEGNA took the channel off our cable, it ran annoying banners on the channel during last week’s Browns game urging viewers to contact AT&T to make sure it does what is necessary to keep the channel on the cable system.

So today we central Ohio Browns fans who are on the AT&T U-verse system are trapped in the middle, peons in this dispute between two corporations that really don’t care about anything but the bottom line. They know people will be upset because they won’t be able to watch this game. Each side wants us viewers to put pressure on the other side to knuckle under, but I’m not going to do that. Other than NFL football games, I don’t watch any CBS programming, so I really don’t give a crap about getting TEGNA’s channel. And I’m sure not going to carry water for a cable TV provider.

And here’s what is really appalling — I have the sneaking suspicion each side might have factored the COVID pandemic into their decision to enter into this corporate game of chicken. In normal times, if this happened you could go to the local sports bar, order a cold one, and watch the game on the direct network satellite feed, but with the pandemic that’s not an option. That means the ability to use an NFL football game as a pressure point in negotiations is increased by orders of magnitude.

So I say, a pox on both their houses. We’ll figure out how to follow the Browns game, somehow. but I won’t forget the ugly willingness of these two companies to ruin the simple pleasure of watching a big game on the TV.

Wednesday Afternoon Football

Yesterday — which was a Wednesday, in case you’ve lost track of the days of the week — an NFL football game was played. The game kicked off at about 3:40 in the afternoon, and it was technically an NBC “Sunday Night Football” game that was broadcast with all of the “SNF” logos and announcers.

More solid evidence of the craziness of 2020: a “Sunday Night Football” game played on a Wednesday afternoon.

But it gets better. The game had been rescheduled multiple times due to COVID testing and the NFL’s oft-cited coronavirus “protocols.” (“Protocols” is a pretty deft word choice by the NFL, isn’t it? It makes the rules they’ve come up sound very scientific and technical and officially sanctioned.) And the Ravens ended up playing with a bunch of guys who apparently just joined the team this week. It was reminiscent of the NFL strike year, where your team fielded a bunch of previously unknown players wearing the familiar uniforms. Not surprisingly, it was a pretty sloppy game that the Steelers won.

The NFL is getting increasingly weird as the pandemic drags on. There are no non-cardboard fans in the stands, crowd noise is piped in, and you might just be watching a game where one team has to use a running back or wide receiver as a quarterback because all of the quarterbacks have violated the “protocols.” There’s no certainty about whether games will be played as scheduled, or when they might be rescheduled.

In short, we’ve reached the point where the NFL is kind of like a Las Vegas casino: time and calendar days have no real meaning, and anything might be happening at any moment of the day or night. The NFL’s old mantra about how anything could happen on “any given Sunday” is out the window. From here on out, rescheduled games, featuring unknown players, could be played on any day of the week, and at any hour, in a mad rush to get the season completed. You’ll just have to check your local listings and ESPN app to try to stay on top of things.

Is the quality of the football up to what you would want? Who knows? But you have to step back and admire the weirdness of it all.

Golf Dreams

I haven’t played golf since I had surgery on my foot about six and a half years ago. I haven’t even picked up a golf club, much less played a round. So why did I have a disturbing dream about golf last night?

In the dream I was playing in a tournament of some kind and was being carefully observed by some stern-looking rules officials. I was on the green, trying to make a putt. My first effort missed, and somehow rebounded back to me and then rolled off a kind of ledge, and I reflexively caught the golf ball as it fell. I saw the officials tsk-tsking at that obvious rules violation, then I realized I didn’t really know the rules or how many penalty strokes should be assessed for that infraction or where I was supposed to put the ball after catching it. So I dropped the ball on the green, missed another putt, then another, and finally choked on a little gimme. At that point I picked up my ball, flipped it to one of the aghast officials, and said: “That’s it. I’m done!” And that’s when I woke up, feeling a surge of shame at my golfing ineptitude.

So why did I have a dream about an embarrassing golf course episode more than six years after my last actual experience on the links? My theory about dreams is that they are the unconscious brain’s way of sifting together fragments of the day and putting them into some kind of semi-coherent story. I suspect golf became the story line because, as we sat around a great blaze in the fire pit last night, someone asked me what I was going to do in retirement. Since golf is often associated with retirement, that question may have triggered the weird golf dream — fueled by the remnants of a fine Thanksgiving meal and a large piece of pumpkin pie.

If I haven’t played golf in six years and still have humiliating dreams about it, I probably should scratch golf off the retirement activity list. What would my dreams be like if I actually started playing again?

Playing In A Pandemic

Yesterday, the Ohio State Buckeyes beat in the Indiana Hoosiers in a matchup of two top ten teams. It was an entertaining game, we learned that Justin Fields is in fact a human being, and the Buckeyes hung on to win, 42-35, and remain undefeated. As is always the case with Ohio State, some fans were dissatisfied that the Buckeyes didn’t win by a larger margin.

After the game, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day — pictured above in masked mode — commented that people don’t understand the sacrifices these college students have made in order to play football games in the midst of a global pandemic. He was not offering the comment as an excuse, but as an observation — one that people should consider the next time they are thinking about criticizing their team.

In the case of Ohio State, virtually everything we associate with the team and the game and the whole Ohio State experience isn’t happening this year. There is no tailgating, no Skull Session, no walk through cheering fans to the Stadium, no ramp entrance, or Script Ohio, or band, or tumbling cheerleaders. Games are being played in an empty Stadium, with piped-in noise. It’s a dramatically different, and decidedly less energetic, environment, and it’s got to have an impact on the players.

But that’s only the gameday tip of the iceberg. For the players, there’s the isolation from the rest of the student body, in hopes of avoiding infection. There’s the monitoring of symptoms and periodic testing. There’s the uncertainty of whether or not the upcoming game will be played or cancelled because the other team has COVID issues — which has already happened once this season. And many, perhaps most, of the players and coaches have family members and friends who may be sick, and perhaps seriously ill, with the coronavirus at any given point in time. It’s not exactly an ideal environment for intense focus on the upcoming athletic contest. And when gameday arrives, and the experience is so utterly different, the point that this is a surreal time has to be driven home, again. The difficulties no doubt help to explain why some traditional powers, like Penn State and Michigan and Michigan State, are struggling this year.

I’m grateful that the Buckeyes are playing football, because we could all use a diversion, and there’s nothing like sports to provide it — even if the games are stripped of the “color and pageantry” we have come to know so well. But I’m also going to try to stay appreciative of the sacrifices of the players and coaches, on both teams, as I watch the games. They are undergoing pressures and difficulties most of us can’t even fathom.

Jinxing The Year

Lots of people were pretty happy with the election results. Add in some apparent good news on progress toward a coronavirus vaccine, and there are many who have been in a celebratory mood lately. Social media has been littered with photos and video footage of sparkling champagne bubbling away in delicate flutes, ready to be quaffed as part of the party.

Speaking as a Cleveland sports fan, these displays of happiness, glee, enthusiasm, and even confidence for the future are causing me enormous concern about jinxing. 2020 has been an unbelievably difficult and punitive year so far, which suggests that the fates controlling the year are like the fickle and perverse gods of Greek and Nordic myth. My Cleveland sports history means I know all too well what happens when such capricious gods feel taunted or tempted by premature human displays of hope or optimism: that’s precisely when the gods will take steps to crush your soul and send it hurtling into the black pits of despair. Having already steered a pandemic and toilet paper shortages our way, the 2020 gods are clearly capable of just about anything that will further toy with the lives of puny humans.

I’m not saying this is definitely going to happen if the celebrations continue, of course — but it being 2020, why take a chance? Better to remain meek and humble so as not to tantalize the gods with another chance to toss a few more thunderbolts and chuckle at the resulting misery. Better to wait on the celebration until 2021 actually gets here — if that ever happens.