I finally had a chance to chat with Woody. (M) - HINYG8 [12:18:06 12/04/15]
I wasn't sure if I was going to share this, but I thought maybe I should as others might relate to it.
It happened late Saturday night, long after we had vanquished that team up north. MSU had steamrolled PSU, thereby sealing our conference title fate. However, Stanford had hit that FG against ND about an hour ago so we still have a sliver of hope for the playoffs.
We had just straight up demolished Jimmy Pants and his blue and yellow costumed rodent squad. I mean we decleated them and left NO DOUBT. It was a great victory... but within minutes of the final whistle my joy kinda ebbed away. You see previous years beating TSUN always provided for a few weeks, if not months, of warmth and joy. I always felt great happiness and zen whenever we won THE GAME previously. I suppose this was a positive byproduct of the Cooper years. Normally I put great value in every win to end the regular season.
But this year I just wasn't feeling it. It was like a business transaction more so that a victory of good over evil. I don't know if it was the MSU hangover, the unavoidable reality that we are probably not going to get a shot at repeating as NC....or the fact that I had to cancel my rooms and abandon all plans to attend the Big Ten title game again this year. I wasn't sad...I was just...neutral. Maybe even a little hollow... and it was weird.
SO anyway, I go back into the 'Buckeye room' to kill the TV and the lights before going to bed.... and there was the old man sitting on the couch watching the highlights. As I entered the room Bosa's interception was being shown and discussed and Woody was beaming at the TV. He looked to me and said, "He's a good one. I wish I could have coach him. I envy Urban for this team".
"Oh my god, Woody...what are you doing here? How are you? Did you see the whole game? What's going on? Along with perhaps a dozen more quickfire questions to the man on the couch.
He smiled and said: it was a good day, Bo had to buy dinner. I don't care how good the food was, seeing Bo pick up the tab because we beat those sumsabitches always makes for a fantastic meal...even better than turkey day'. And his grin got wider.
"So what are you doing here?" I asked.
"Well I was pretty happy to see Notre Dame drop that game and keep our hopes alive so I couldn't sleep. Took a look down and say you, a true Buckeye, seemingly not enjoying today's win like I would expect."
"Yeah" I replied, "I'm just kinda hollow about it. I found myself working through all the scenarios rather than enjoying it. And while I didn't think PSU would beat Sparty....I have to admit that one was playing heavily on my mind. Man, Hack is not good and PSU just can't sustain their defensive effort. If only they had found a way."
I followed that up with a sigh.
"Listen, young man. This was a great day. Bo was sure bringing Jim in would cure what ails that program and he would reverse the trend right out of the gate." He paused to let out a chuckle that was clearly more directed at Bo than anything or anyone else before continuing. "I mean this was their start of another 10 year war. They had their hopes sky high and those sumsabitches were convinced they would take the day. But just like General Patton...we stopped them COLD." And as he said 'cold' he pulled the block O cap off his head and slammed it on my table.....with a look of determination on his face that made me look for a helmet so I could get in the huddle and then hit someone across the line for him. And I mean hit them *hard*. He continued, "This wasn't just another win over TSUN, this was a statement."
"Then what the hell is with my malaise?" I asked.
"Your spoiled and you have your eye on the wrong prize. Beating that school up north IS the mission. The rest? Well anything else that may come our way is a reward for completing the mission. It's life..sometimes you do the right thing and no one notices..no extra praise or reward comes your way...but you still did the right thing.
Today we did the right thing.
And we've kept those evil sumsabitches at bay for so long that you have forgotten the evil that we are dealing with. You seem to have lost some of the fire for keeping that school up north down in the dirt..because we've had them there for so long. That moment when we start to let our ambition and drive for winning THE GAME start to wane and take it for granted...THAT is the moment they get us. We take our eye off the ball and they will win. We'll stop playing smart, stop hitting hard..and just go through the motions and it will cost us."
He stopped and let that sink in before continuing. "You remember those fools saying they are for an improved and strong Wolverine team? I mean think about that. Would WWII have been a better victory if the axis had been stronger at the end? Hell no, complete victory is to VANQUISH your foes..not compete closely with them..but to beat them into surrender. Would we have gained anything today if they had beaten us? Would that restored any value in winning rivalry? No... because it is still at a premiun. We wouldn't have won a thing by dropping the game today, but we would have lost so much." We can never relent. We can never relent. And we can never let our victories become bland..even if the end of that battle doesn't give us a shot at winning the war for a national title."
Now I'm realizing how foolish I had been to minimize our complete victory over *ichigan. And I had a sudden urge to punch the "It's better for OSU if *ichigan is good' crew in the face.
Woody still has that effect. While the words themselves may not have been so inspirational...as he spoke I found myself more and more fired up and motivated.
"These kids...and those coaches...they are working harder than most people will ever apply themselves to anything in their lifetimes. The hours, the sweat, the focus, the angst....it's so immense that most fans can't related to it, so they don't notice or consider it. When some question the team's effort..they are out of their dadgum minds. For those that take the field and the good people that directly support their effort...every day is the front line. Acutely aware...and fighting as if it's live or death because for them it is good and evil...it's success or failure. Never question the effort, and never let a win go by unappreciated."
"So what," he continued, "if you don't get to go to Indy next weekend? So what if we are not in this playoff thing. We beat that team up north." Another chuckle, "And my goodness did we beat them. We may well be marching to Pasadena for the holidays. When I was walking the Oval...that was all we could hope for..that was everything. And at worst we're likely getting that this year. At worst. Back in my day there were no championship games...but the game and the team still stood tall. Perhaps even taller in the community than they do today. A season like this one, ending as it did, was so rare. But we strove for it every day and seldom got it. This was our goal. And it's here today. When we did get a season like this...it was glorious. Never, ever lose sight of the people and the value of our team. It's not just the kids or the sport..it's all a metaphor for life, son. Its working hard for something and keeping at it when it's easy..but then rallying and appreciating it even more when it's tough...or even when we lose. It's not the game I was always talking about..it was life...it was beating our enemies and defending our view of how the world should be. Today was a 'let me go for three' kind of win..we took it to 'em, didn't we?"
And then the smile on his face lit up the room. And all at once I got it again. Hours after we did it I finally appreciated just what had been accomplished, how great it is to win THE GAME, and how very much I don't give a damn for the whole state of *ichigan.
But the only words I could find sprung out before I could stop them: "Chad Henne is a bitch, coach!"
"Yes he is. And Bo bought dinner. Even though it felt easy today, it wasn't. That was the product of effort and dedication..and you know it wasn't easy because it is worth far more than a dime. If you are still not sure about that..ask a Wolverine fan..and their venom for today's result will remind you of the value. We win with people and our honor defend."
And then he was gone before I could thank him or get more insight from him about..well...everydamnthing because it remains clear he is wise beyond the playbook and the sidelines.
Now I was alive with the win and no way I could sleep. So I cued up the day's win and watched the second half again, smiling the entire time.
So thanks Coach, we did it. And I have spent this whole week back in the glow of a mission accomplished.
And whatever comes next for this season... I'm all in. All in even if it doesn't work out to be the championship run we thought we had coming. I'm going to miss this team, and I'm damn sure not going to sleepwalk through anything they have left for us.