wine by the color

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Can you feel it? Football season is here.

I love all sports - baseball, basketball, hockey, golf. But nothing compares to football. Last night at the Yankees game (and more about that tomorrow), the Captain and I ran into my friends Hank and Scott, our Jets tailgate revelry friends. The excitement about the impending Jets' home opener was palpable. And that's for a team we think is probably going to suck.

So as I sit in a suburban Philadelphia hotel watching the NFL season opener between the Titans and the Steelers (and hoping the Titans don't lose by more than 5.5 points because I am apparently a borderline degenerate gambler who is involved in four pools - five if you count my contributions to the Captain's fantasy team and yes I just might have convinced him to pick Favre as his back-up but it was a weak moment and my arguments were obviously convincing and old habits die hard), I'm looking forward to two football games this weekend - the OSU game against USC and the Jets' season opener against Houston. Do I expect either of them to go well? No. But WHO CARES! It's football season. (By the way, I've had some wine tonight and should be sleeping. Bear with me.)


The fine folks at The Big Lead pointed out this story today and I have to say, I stenuously object. Sure, I don't love that the Buckeyes keep losing big games. Would I prefer they don't lose Saturday, or at the very least not get blown out? Um, yes.

But I am certainly happy with the consistent Big 10 titles and wins over Michigan. I'm very pleased they are competitive year in and year out. And most importantly, I'm quite happy the program isn't an ongoing source of embarrassment, with players getting arrested for a litany of offenses or suing each other, as happened during John Cooper's era, when one player sued another for an injury suffered during a fight during a Buckeye practice.

This reminded me of a gem from my literary archives. When OSU finally fired John Cooper in 2001, a legendary sports writer named Bernie Lincicome, an OSU alum, wrote a column questioning the hire. I took the opportunity to fire off a passionate communique. He wrote back and was quite friendly, although I'm sure he also notified the authorities. (As a follow up, he covered the Women's Open in Denver in 2005 so I finally had the chance to introduce myself. I admitted I was the crazy lady who wrote 'the Ohio State letter,' and he knew exactly who I was. Guess I made an impression...)

Oh, and as an additional side note, the part about Eddie George talking about how people make too much of the Michigan game is 100% true, which makes what he said to players at the title game a few years later (about it being more important than the Super Bowl) all the more amazing.

Enjoy. And remember, I'm not crazy. I just love football. And my alma mater.


Dear Mr. Lincicome,

I wanted to take a moment to share some thoughts evoked by your column regarding the Jim Tressel hire at Ohio State. I always enjoy reading your work, particularly since your move from Chicago to Denver. Imagine my delight to learn that you are a fellow Buckeye.

As a teenager, I visited the Ohio State campus for the first time in the spring of 1987, the week after Woody Hayes died. Midway though my visit, standing in the lower level of Ohio Stadium, I announced to my parents, "I'm going here." So enthralled and determined was I, only one college application was completed.

I arrived in Columbus from New Jersey in the fall of 1988, the same year John Cooper arrived from Arizona State. After a tenure-opening 4-6-1 season, I wondered what had happened to the glorious Buckeye teams of the past that my uncle, a 1971 OSU grad, had talked about. Growing up in Jersey, I watched Rutgers wallow in this sort of mediocrity for years.

Despite this, I immediately developed a passion for Ohio State and its traditions. I went to Heinegate and the Varsity Club on Saturday mornings. I sat in Block O. I learned how to slur my way through Hang On Sloopy. I vowed I would one day walk down the aisle to Le Regiment. I decided I'd rather be struck down with a horrible illness that ever say one nice thing about the Wolverines.

Cooper quickly brought in a pool of incredibly talented players and returned the Bucks to their winning ways, and the program back to national prominence. He teased fans with a glowing winning percentage, bowl appearances, even a Heisman Award winner.

But he didn't deliver where it mattered most - the big games. Games he should win, and games he needed to win. Bowl games against Air Force. Regular-season games against Michigan State. And most certainly, games against Michigan. The rivalry. The biggest tradition in Ohio State's rich history.

When the Bucks tied Michigan in 1992, I jumped and cheered. For a tie! 92,000 fans were just so happy to have not lost to Michigan for the fifth straight year, they didn't seem to mind that they hadn't actually won the game. We were being lulled into accepting mediocrity.

This is the legacy that is John Cooper.

So you are absolutely correct when you say that Cooper was fired because he did not beat Michigan. Not because he didn't win the games, but because he didn't seem to care that he was losing them.

And I think he was given such an inordinate amount of time to try and try again was because he was a decent man who seemed to be running a fairly clean program. And let's face it, he got a lot of mileage out of that 97 Rose Bowl win.

I spent a year covering the Bucks for the Lantern, and spent a lot of time in the company of John Cooper. John Cooper is a good man. Someone I defended for far more years than I should have.

But that ran out on January 1, 2001. Eighteen days ago, I opted to watch the Mummers' Parade rather than suffer through another John Cooper-led New Year's Day heartbreak. Mummers!

But I'd seen it too many times, this season-ending two-game fold, and couldn't sit through it again. I did not perform my pre-game ritual of putting on my red jersey and playing the Best Damn Band in the Land CD.

If someone who has converted their dining room into an "OSU Room" cannot bear to watch a bowl game, the State of the Union, so to speak, is sorry indeed.

Ohio State did not call and ask me for my opinion on a new coach either, although I would also have been happy to provide it. Was I delirious at the thought of hiring Glen Mason? That goes without saying. Had I convinced myself, as well as anyone who asked me for an opinion, that Chris Spielman could do the job? You bet.

Sure, the name Jim Tressel lends itself to a bit of queasiness on my part. Can he recruit Big 10 talent? Who knows. Can he handle the incredible scrutiny he's about to face from the media and, worse yet, the alumni? Tough to say. How will he react if the team starts out 2-5 and OSU fans put 'For Sale' signs on his front yard, as they did to Cooper in the fall of 1988? Should be interesting.

But we get to start over. At the very least, Tressel will bring a new enthusiasm to the program. I want to be excited about Ohio State football. I want you to be excited. I want my kids to one day be excited. I want them to sit in Ohio Stadium and have their spine tingle at the sight of Script Ohio.

So, although I don't know who Jim Tressel is and I don't know if he can recruit or win, I do know this: he's not John Cooper, and that's good enough for me right now.

I know there will be someone in the Woody Hayes Athletic Facility who's an Ohio guy, someone who understands how special it is that he's there, who understands the importance of the tradition of Ohio State football.

Someone who understands why the Michigan game is important.

Half the beauty of sports is its rich traditions, and that's what makes Saturdays in Columbus, Ohio so special. I have plenty of friends who went to places like the University of Delaware and East Strousburg State. They'll never have the thrill we do sitting in the 'Shoe, and my sympathies are truly with them.

Cooper didn't seem to feel it. He didn't teach his players to feel it. That was evident watching Eddie George on ESPN the other day, talking about how maybe people in Columbus make too big a deal of the "supposed" tradition at OSU.

An Ohio State Heisman Trophy winner, overestimating the importance of tradition? Quick, somebody stop Woody's grave before it spins itself into orbit. Maybe Coop should have slugged someone.

Maybe Desmond Howard after he struck the Heisman pose in the endzone. At least then we would have known he cared. That he was upset about losing big games when he had a stable of future first-round NFL talent that any coach in the country would have killed for.

I am now 30 years old and eight years removed from my time in Columbus, and it still matters to me whether we beat Michigan. And unless Andy Geiger has lost his mind, I'm pretty sure there is now someone leading the charge to whom it will matter as well.

Go Bucks!

Jersey Girl
Ohio State '93


  • At 9/11/2009 7:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I am going to lean toward you are crazy.

    FYI, a few weeks ago I ran into Carl (comes with Hank) at a Bbq. I have to note it is hard to recognize someone out of tailgate gere and winter jackets in the middle of the summer, your mind plays tricks on you. Is that him, I think it is.


  • At 9/11/2009 8:06 AM, Blogger jersey girl said…

    I've mellowed considerably in the years since I wrote that rambling missive. :)

    I actually meant to send you a message - Carl was at the game too and mentioned he saw you. Not only are there winter jackets involved to trick your mind, there's the multiple beers and other adult beverages to help cloud matters.

  • At 9/11/2009 10:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Do not forget the various types of pork/beef fat clogging the arteries limiting the amount of blood to the brain.


  • At 9/11/2009 11:50 AM, Blogger jersey girl said…


  • At 9/16/2009 5:29 PM, Blogger Brooke said…

    I really, really wanted OSU to win. I can't stand USC ... plus, we were hoping that if OSU walked into Beaver Stadium and both teams were undefeated, we could sell our tickets for, like, a grand apiece. Tressel's been fantastic for the Buckeyes.


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