It’s Michigan Week! (II)

I would call the rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan during the week of The Game a friendly rivalry — except it really isn’t.  Deep down, every Buckeyes fan wants to crush Michigan like a cockroach.  We want to punish them, humiliate them, and leave them wailing forlornly to their misbegotten gods. Michigan fans share this perspective.

But, since we aren’t fighting with broadswords, we need to make do with humor.  When I was a kid, and Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler were fighting the 10-Year War, the battle was waged with bumper stickers.  I remember one of the Michigan bumper stickers said:  “Save Fuel.  Burn Woody!”  And I thought — boy, Michigan fans are about as funny as, say, Jerry Lewis during the MDA telethon.

The Ohio side of the humor equation, however, isn’t appreciably better.  Consider these two representative efforts:

1.  “A University of Michigan fan walks into a doctor’s office and removes his hat to reveal a frog sitting on his head. The doctor asks, ‘How can I help you?’ The frog replies, ‘I was wondering if you could help me get this wart off my butt.'”

2.  “Two University of Michigan grads are laughing it up on their way into a bar.  The bartender asks:  ‘Hey, why are you guys so happy?’  One of the Wolverines says, ‘Well, to be honest with you, we’re proud of ourselves.  We just finished a puzzle in a week, and when we were done we noticed the box said 4 to 6 years.'”

In Ohio, we try to make our statements on the football field.

It’s Michigan Week!

On Saturday, Ohio State will play Michigan in the annual renewal of the greatest rivalry in sports.  Each year, Michigan Week is a much-anticipated time, when every member of Buckeye Nation focuses anew on The Game.

But here at Webner House, we are also about education.  And today, we’re interested in learning about Michigan’s mascot, the Wolverine.  It looks like a deranged skunk, and it’s a member of the weasel family.  So far, it seems like an appropriate mascot for Michigan, all right.  But what about other attributes of the animal?  Specifically, does a Wolverine have any kind of special odor?

Imagine our surprise when we learned that, according to environmentalgraffiti.com, the wolverine is one of the seven smelliest creatures in the world — right there between the bombardier beetle, which shoots a stinky combination of liquid and gas from its rear end, and the musk ox, which has exceptionally smelly urine.  The website explains about wolverines: “They’re seldom seen by humans, but they’re frequently smelled. Like most members of the weasel family, the wolverine has glands that it secretes fluid from to mark its territory. The musky scent is supposed to be very unpleasant, and has given the wolverine the colourful nicknames of ‘skunk bear’ and ‘nasty cat’.”

It’s official — even environmentalists think the Wolverines stink!

Being A “Visitor”

Today Kish and I are going with friends to West Lafayette, Indiana to watch the Ohio State-Purdue game.  We’ll be the “visitors” you see mentioned on the scoreboard.

I’m looking forward to the prospect of being a “visitor.”  Until today, my college football experience as a visiting fan has been limited to several trips I’ve made to see the Buckeyes play Michigan up in Ann Arbor — and I’m not sure that such a rivalry game tell you much about the “visitor” experience.

IMG_5276I first went up to Ann Arbor as a high school student in the ’70s, Michigan won, and one of the happy Wolverine fans stole my Ohio State hat and ran away after the game was over.  Stealing a hat from a high school kid seems like a pretty cheap stunt to me, but it’s just another reason why it’s not hard for me to hate Michigan with every fiber of my being whenever we play That School Up North.

I think I’ve been to Ann Arbor four times.  Ohio State won twice and lost twice, and each time the experience was pretty much the some — lots of (mostly) good-natured razzing, some angry, obscene comments, reasonably good behavior by all concerned once you sit in the stands, and always that slight hint of potential personal danger lurking right around the corner.  You have to stay alert for an abrupt change in the vibes coming from the fans around you.

I’m not expecting today’s atmosphere to be as charged as an Ohio State-Michigan game, but I’ll keep my eyes open — and a hand firmly on my hat.

Like Pilgrims In An Unholy Land

Here’s another little example of how the internet has made the world a better place.

We wanted to find a bar where we could watch the Buckeyes play Penn State last night.  But we were in Michigan, of course, and therefore were like pilgrims in an unholy land.  Walking into any randomly selected bar and openly rooting for Ohio State seemed like a bad, and potentially reckless, idea.

IMG_5222So we used our iPhones to google “Ohio State bar in Detroit,”  and found Hi-Tops Ten & One Half, just down Woodward Avenue in Royal Oaks.  It’s where some diehard Buckeyes meet to drink a few beers and watch Ohio State games on one of the dozens of TVs found around the room.

So, instead of worrying about drawing evil looks from Michigan fans drinking at nearby tables, we were able to watch Ohio State demolish Penn State in comfort, with friendly fellow citizens of Buckeye Nation who shared our interest in seeing the Buckeyes triumph.  High fives were exchanged, OH-IO chants were had, the beer was cold, and the burgers and wings were tasty.  When the game was over, we were happy, well-fed, and well-lubricated pilgrims, girded and ready to reemerge into unholy territory.

The Michigan Question

This week was a bye week for the Ohio State football team, so the Buckeye Nation had to wrestle with deeper, almost philosophical questions — like whether it is ever appropriate to root for Michigan.

Normally, the notion of supporting Michigan would be anathema to most Ohio State fans.  They despise the strutting Wolverines and everything they represent.  Asking purists Buckeyes to root for Michigan would be like asking Ted Cruz to do whatever he can to ensure that “Obamacare” is a great success.

This year, though, the issue is slightly different.  The Buckeyes have won every game, but they haven’t looked particularly impressive in doing so.  And their schedule is weak.  It’s apparent that the Big Ten, top to bottom, just isn’t that good this year, and if Ohio State hopes to play in the BCS championship game it needs some signature wins.  Pragmatists argued that if Michigan goes undefeated then Ohio State would gain credibility by beating them.

The debate between the pragmatists and the purists raged in Columbus this past week.  Alas, it was mooted by yesterday’s results, as the Penn State Nittany Lions beat the Michigan Wolverines in four overtimes, 43-40.  Now everything can go back to normal and Buckeye Nation can root for teams to beat the pants off Michigan every week.

A Bit Closer To Home

The geographic orbit of the Webner clan will tighten come January.

Richard told us yesterday that he will be working next semester at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  The University of Missouri apparently requires students getting their Master’s degree in journalism to have a professional internship in the last semester of their second year, and Richard will be fulfilling that requirement at a fine newspaper in the Steel City.  Russell, meanwhile, moved into his new lodgings in the Detroit area yesterday.  He’ll be starting work toward his MFA at Cranbrook Academy of Art on Monday.

So, after years of Richard hundreds of miles to the west and Russell hundreds of miles to the east — each honoring the unwritten but apparently ironclad “no parents within 8 hours driving time” buffer zone — our family circle will shrink spatially.  With Richard and Russell each in a neighboring state, we’re looking forward to seeing them more often, and the fact that they will be located in interesting places we haven’t had a chance to explore yet makes the prospect all the more enticing.

The world is a big place, and New Albany, Ohio is just one tiny spot on the globe.  As parents, we want our children to dream big dreams and then try to make those dreams a reality.  That means having the independence and self-assurance to go out on their own and move far away if necessary as they pursue their passions and interests and work to build careers and lives that make them happy.

We understand this, intellectually — but our hearts tug in the opposite direction.  It will be wonderful to have the boys a bit closer to home for a few months.

Buck Back Gack

We had our annual Buck Back draft the other day, and I think I gagged big time.

Long-time readers may recall that I play in an alternative approach to NCAA pools called the Buck Back.  Rather than trying to forecast the results of every game, eight of us put in eight bucks each, select eight teams in a serpentine draft, and then get $1 — i.e., a buck back — every time one of our teams wins. The Buck Back during March Madness is now a time-honored tradition.

This year the draft was the hardest ever, because it’s impossible to have great confidence that any team is going to do well in the tournament.  Every school has struggled at some point during the season, and every team has weaknesses.

I drafted fourth, and I look at my teams and wonder whether I’ll win even a few games, much less break even.  My first pick was Indiana, which stumbled to the finish line, and my second pick was Michigan, which also struggled in the last half of the season.  Both have talented players, but which teams will show up — the early season world-beaters, or the battered squads that limped home?  My third-round pick was Memphis, which plays in one of the weakest conferences in the country, and my fourth selection was Wichita State, which has to start the Tournament against a tough Pitt team.  My later round picks — San Diego State, Cincinnati, Montana, and Iona — all are question marks.

So I sit, waiting for the Big Dance to start in earnest tomorrow, and I wonder whether my entire Buck Back draft was a choke.  I’ll bet I’m not the only one who feels that way — and I can’t wait for the Tournament to start.