the good old days.

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Fall used to be a lot busier than it is these days.

For most of the last two decades, about half of our fall weekends were spent driving to Columbus, prepping a tailgate party for somewhere between 10 and 20 people, going to Ohio State’s home game and then coming home on Sunday. For several of those years, we would get home just in time for me to turn around and drive to work for my regular Sunday night shift.

It was a blast. And even when we were in our early forties, it was exhausting. And now that it’s ten years later? It would be impossible.

For me, there was a turning point a few years ago, with a game against, I think, a directional Florida. It was early September and stinking hot, as Columbus can be. It also rained all the way through tailgate “party,” which mostly consisted of us huddled under a canopy, eating soggy food and trying keep rain out of our beers. And when the rain ended, it didn’t help — it just made it feel even more humid.

There was talk among the adults initially — even in my mid-40s at that point, I am not one of the adults — and several decided they were going to do the comfortable thing: Go home and watch on TV. At that point, I was pretty hardcore — even leaving the game early was something you just did not do; skipping a game entirely was out of the question.

But once the sweat became so profuse that I could feel it running down my back, I started listening: Air conditioning. Cold beer. No lines for food or bathrooms. A 70-inch television, comfortable chairs and no danger (well, not much) that someone would dump a gallon of Diet Coke down my back.

OK. I relented. And it was awfully nice.

With the exception of the mostly-annual big deal non-conference game or the home opener, the September games were the first to go. They generally didn’t mean much, and Columbus can be as hot in September as it is in July.

Next, we started paring back on the not-as-big-deal Big Ten games. You know the ones — they would be historic upsets if they happened (and they occasionally did), and who wants to brag about watching Illinois upsetting Ohio State in Cbus in 2007?

(Spoiler alert: We were there. BUT I’M NOT BRAGGING.)

Once my folks made the decision to stop going to games, this became a bit easier. We had one season, two years ago, when we had four seats together, and four of us made it to a few games that season together — and they were awesome. But there were only a couple of them, and realistically, it was too much of a chore for my folks to get into the stadium, deal with the crowd and still be able to enjoy — or even see — the game.

I’m not at all suggesting that they are responsible for this change. It was part of it, but we’re getting old too. And when we were able to do a full weekend, we were exhausted by the time we got home on Sunday.

So we don’t do it. And life is better. We did four home games last year, and we’re about to go to our second of four this season. Mom and dad still love the tailgate parties — so do we — and we’ll have four good ones in 2019. They go home and watch on TV, and we go inside the Shoe and see some college football that many fans would kill to see live.

I haven’t made too many concessions to my 52-year-old self yet, but this one has been good. And I still get to see Michigan State, Wisconsin and Penn State, have great tailgate parties with the Killer Nuts Tailgating group that’s been doing this for 20 years — and I don’t feel like I’m doing to die by the time December begins.

 

hopeful cleveland sports.

Browns Jets Football

Waaaaaaay back in 2007, I said I was retiring the tag “Hopeless Cleveland Sports” from Uncle Crappy. I made the decision based on a sudden rash of tolerable performance by the Cavs and the Indians and a draft by the Browns that included now-certain Hall of Famer Joe Thomas. It got even better later that year, when the Browns actually finished with a winning record for the season.

But then? More of the same.

There have been peaks since then — the Cavs title that brought grown men to tears (and by “grown men,” I mean me) and the frustrating, maddening and ridiculous — and awesome — World Series run by the Indians later that same year. But that marvelous year coincided with a 1-15 season by the Browns and a winless season the following year. The Indians got stomped by the Yankees. And there was another inevitable departure — albeit a much less acrimonious one — by King James.

But then last year happened. And things truly felt different.

It’s not perfect, not even close. The Cavs are rebuilding without LeBron, and the Indians can’t quite catch the Twins, although they still have a shot at the AL wild card.

But last night, I sat in my living room and watched the Browns win their first MNF game since 2008. A friend in Cleveland remarked that we weren’t aware that Hank Williams Jr. was still coherent enough to sing the MNF intro … although it struck both of us that we hadn’t really had a reason to pay attention to MNF for a while.

But now we do. And that’s the point. The team that beat the Jets last night isn’t good enough to win the division, but when you recall that the Browns finished last year 5-3, you understand — It’s a long season. Things can improve.

And if they do — if Baker Mayfield understands that he doesn’t have to throw for 30 yards on every play; if Freddie Kitchens finds a running game; if Myles Garrett can maybe not try to actually end the life of the opposing quarterbacks he hits — they could get to the post season for the first time since 2002.

That’s a loooooong drought, boys and girls, and I’m ready for a drink.

2. one.

A couple nights ago, I was flipping channels and came across Urban Meyer’s B1G kickoff luncheon news conference from Chicago last week. After watching Urban’s far-too-brief presentation, I started feeling the familiar twitch that i seem to come up with at around this time every year.

I type the schedule into our calendar. I start thinking about tailgating food. I note the Saturdays when we won’t be traveling … but when I’ll still need to be in front of a television. The players don’t report until next week … but I’m starting to get ready now.

And if the Big Ten Network turning towards football isn’t enough, there is this surprise treat from the Associated Press: A ranking of the top 100 college football programs of all time.

Guess who tops the list?

And guess who’s now really ready for the season to start?

another lifetime ago.

derrick 1 2

I thought I had already said goodbye to Derrick.

When I found out last week that he had died, I realized I was wrong. And this was harder than I thought it would be.

derrick 1 1

I hadn’t seen Derrick since … my wedding, maybe, almost 17 years ago? I have a more definite memory of my last contact with him, although I don’t recall the date. It was a message on AOL, and he asked about a mutual friend; immediately after I answered, he was gone. After a couple more attempts to get him to respond — and a few more passing weeks — I understood that I wouldn’t hear from him again.

derrick 1 4

I was mostly OK with that. That Derrick wasn’t the Derrick I worked with at The Post, or the one who had been one of my best friends when I returned to Athens. I was largely insulated from that Derrick, although I know that wasn’t the case for everyone.

derrick me

And in that respect, I’m lucky: the memories I have of the real Derrick — the one I knew in Athens, the one in these pics — I get to keep for the rest of my life. I remember meeting him, in R.J.’s office, not long after I returned to school following my Army-sponsored field trip to Germany; I think we were both a bit dubious of each other, but it was quickly clear to me that Derrick, who was editor of The Post that year, was the real deal: smart, talented and driven. I figured out something else a little later on: Derrick’s prickly exterior wasn’t as prickly as it appeared to be. If you were willing to weather a bit of abuse — and maybe give a little back — you were in.

derrick me tight

And I was. For the three years I was in Athens following my return from the Army, Derrick was one of the best friends I had. And like everyone else, I learned a lot from him too, even though I was the old guy coming back to Athens and The Post when I finished with the Army. He was so smart about journalism and about running a staff of kids who were just figuring out how to make a newspaper work. He could be intimidating — even to me, a little bit — but without fail, he’d stop and help anyone on staff figure out a writing question, a difficult source, a bit of political juggling. He wanted to be better, and he wanted that for everyone who worked for him.

derrick 1 3

We are the sum of our experiences and the people we share them with. I wouldn’t be me if I hadn’t had that time with Derrick. I owe him. For all the time at The Post. For all the pitchers of Lowenbrau Dark at The Union. In the pink house. Above Campus Sundry. All over Court Street. For Ren and Stimpy:

For Ween:

And for that goddamned awful song he insisted we play at every single staff party so we could pogo around someone’s living room (and if anyone remembers what song that was, let me know?).

derrick 1 6

This is the Derrick I knew. This is the Derrick I’ll remember when we attend his memorial service in Mentor-On-The-Lake this afternoon.

This time it’s for real. Goodbye, my friend.

the last time.

Not my stub. But I still have it somewhere.
Not my stub. But I still have it somewhere.

I had a good run with the Grateful Dead. But by 1994, my expectations were diminished.

I started seeing the band in the mid-1980s, during a pocket of high energy, powerful tours that peaked, for me, at Riverbend in 1985 (otherwise known as the show when I “got it” for the first time). Garcia’s diabetic coma slowed things down for a couple years, but when he was back, he was back, driving the band through its last consistently great period.

In the midst of all of this was a run by the band at the old Richfield Coliseum south of Cleveland. It must have made sense geographically; Richfield was an easy-ish trip for Deadheads from the Midwest and East alike, and I know the Coliseum was bigger — and, with a solid roof instead of a retractable one, better able to handle the weight of the band’s PA and light rig — than Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena. The result? An easy trip to suburban Cleveland from Columbus or Athens, over and over and over.

richfield snow

The short run at Richfield in March 1994 was what had become a regular spring break for me: while most of my friends headed to a beach somewhere, I set up in slushy parking lots in Detroit or Cleveland.

I was excited to see the band, but I was also aware that things had taken a downturn. The end of Bruce Hornsby’s extended residency took a little wind from the sails, and the old guys never seemed completely comfortable with Vince Welnick alone in the keyboard seat. And while we weren’t privy to the details of his heroin addiction, Garcia’s up-and-down health seemed to be on the way down again.

So — I would have settled for good on March 20 and 21, 1994.

On March 20, that’s pretty much what we got — good. A solid set list, well played, but no fireworks. We left happy with with the show and feeling mildly optimistic about what we might see the following night.

On Monday, March 21, something else was going on. The tip-off for me was Bertha, the second song of the first set … the band was tight and energetic, and Jerry was fully engaged, nailing lyrics, solos and the kinds of flourishes that he reserved for nights when he was feeling really good. That energy continued through what looks to be a standard-ish first set, on paper, anyway. From the stands inside Richfield, though, we knew different.

A good Picasso Moon started the second set — not the song I would have picked, but a good start nonetheless. But then: New Speedway Boogie, with the authority of a band that had seen Altamont with its own eyes. Victim — not my favorite song, but on this night it was especially dark and intense. He’s Gone, which is my favorite Grateful Dead song, and this was the best one I had heard since the Riverbend show I mentioned earlier.

And then it got really good.

There was a rote rhythm to the second sets of those 1990s shows: Three songs, maybe four; the drums and space segments; pump it up out of space, then Jerry ballad, then roar into the set closer. After the vocal jam on this night, Bobby, Phil and Vince packed it up, ready for their 10-minute break while the drummers took over. Jerry, however, wasn’t done; he stayed on stage, eventually locking in on a calypso rhythm with the drummers that turned into a jam based on the Harry Belafonte song Matilda (a song the band would sort of play five or six times before Garcia died in 1995). The jam seemed to be spontaneous and it was driven entirely by Garcia, who didn’t often take that initiative at that point, and it was good enough that Weir came back out on stage to play along.

Post-Rhythm Devils? We expected something up-tempo, and we got it with Lovelight that was surprising because that was always — always — a second-set closer. While we tried to comprehend that twist, the band downshifted … and started into Stella Blue.

I can’t argue with people who say that Garcia’s best days as a guitarist were in the late 1970s, probably 1977 and 1978. But the 1990s version of Jerry was head and shoulders above the the 1970s version in another area — vocals. Age gave 1994 Jerry’s voice an authority that 1977 Jerry couldn’t match … and that’s what we heard in this Stella Blue. Raw. Emotional. Subtle and powerful in the same song. The band behind him sparkled, but this was all about what Jerry was feeling right then … and it was the best version of the song I’d ever heard.

And that’s still the case.

The Stella Blue turned out to be the middle of a Lovelight sandwich, a thunderous end to the set. And I always liked Liberty as an encore.

And that was it … the last truly great bit of Grateful Dead I saw in person. There were at least a couple other shows — a rainy, cold day at Buckeye Lake the following summer and an odd afternoon at Three Rivers Stadium in 1995. That’s the one where we got a rain storm during the set break that finally cut that day’s stifling heat and humidity … and we got a sloppy, fun Grateful Garage Band Dead version of Gloria as the encore, one month before Garcia died.

I’d classify those shows as pretty good, memorable for the fact that they were the last ones for me.

But the last great one was that Richfield show, 22 years ago today. Here’s a link to a stream of the soundboard recording. Listen, at least, to the second set from He’s Gone through the Lovelight coda. In a year when the Grateful Dead could occasionally be written off as a nostalgia act, I was lucky to get that bit — that one final hour — with the band that could breathe fire. And I will never forget it.

this one goes to eleven.

eleven giphy

Most March Madness basketball contests only go to 10.

But this March Madness basketball contest — the Eleventh Annual Uncle Crappy NCAA Final Four Challenge (Brought To You By Bocktown) — goes to 11.

I have a hard time remembering where I live these days, so I’m going to post a refresher about the ins and outs of entering AUCNFFC this year or any other. Here we go:

  • Find yourself a copy of the bracket. If you can’t manage that, I should probably disqualify you from the TAUCNFFC (BTYBB) right now. But I’m feeling generous, so here’s one, provided by the nice folks who employ me. Print it and fill it out.
  • After consulting your bracket, pick the four teams — one from each region — that you think will win the regional championships and travel to the Final Four in Indy.
  • After consulting your bracket again, pick the two teams you think will win the national semi-final games on April 2.
  • Consult your bracket once more, and pick the team from your semi-finalists who will win the title game April 4
  • How do I figure out who wins? You get two points for picking a correct Final Four team, four points for a correct semi-finalist and six points for a correct national championship pick. Assuming I can add correctly (and there is no guarantee of that, boys and girls), the entry with the highest point total is our winner.
  • Yes, there is a tie-breaker and, yes, as we’ve seen several times, tiebreakers are important. When you submit your pick, please also include your projected score for the championship game. If it’s necessary, the entry whose total score is closest to the real thing will be our winner. Note: We do NOT follow the Price Is Right rule; the closest total, over or under, wins.

Still confused? Given that I’m writing this in a hurry I’m mostly copying and pasting from past AUCNFFC intros, that’s entirely possible. Here’s a purely hypothetical example of what an entry from this year’s bracket could look like (Note 1: This is NOT my entry. Note 2: These are the lowest seeds in the tournament; if you want to make this your entry, feel free, but do so understanding the risk of being Blutarskied):

Final Four: Austin Peay vs. Cal State Bakersfield, Florida Gulf Coast vs. Middle Tennessee

Championship game: Austin Peay vs Florida Gulf Coast

Champion: Florida Gulf Coast, 74-66

Simple, right? As you begin to mull your picks, here are a couple of other things to keep in mind:

  • One thing to make sure you don’t do: Send me money to enter. As has always been the case, TAUCNFFC (BTYBB) is free.
  • In the first four years of the contest, we were competing for cheesy trinkets and I usually included a disclaimer that our FABULOUS PRIZES weren’t actually fabulous. And then Chris at Bocktown Beer and Grill blew that out of the water by putting up a $30 gift card to the contest’s winner. I have since taken over the fabulous-prize-providing portion of the Fabulous Prizes: a $50 Bocktown gift card for the winner. An admission: It occurs to me that I never actually got around to doing what TAUCNFFC (BTYBB) winner Kewyson suggested we do with the winnings. This is not the first time this has occurred — as Mr. Burns or Father Spoon could tell you — and we will do that as soon as it consistently warms up a bit.
  • Note: If you’re an out-of-town contestant, you may opt for the equivalent cash value of the gift card, which is, uh, approximately $50.
  • The tournament’s real games (the ones that used to be called the first-round games) get underway around 12:15 p.m. Eastern Thursday; I’m not a huge stickler, but I’ll need to have your entries by noonish that day for you to be eligible (see the Melo Rule below).
  • How do you enter? Comment. Email. Twitter. DM. Text. Facebook. Smoke signal. Please feel free adding whatever commentary you wish regarding how you arrived at your picks; each entry will be listed in a comprehensive post that’ll show up at some point Thursday.

And finally, the fine-printy things:

The Juan Rule: As is tradition, Juan, oh he of very little basketball knowledge, will once again be entered against his will, using either the Phil’s Mom Method or, if Phil’s mom isn’t picking this year, the Penny-Flipping Method.

The Melo Rule: Should an unforeseen thing happen with a player, a coach or a booster that might, in your opinion, have an impact on your already-completed entry, fear not. You may tinker as much as you like until I close the entries at noon on the tournament’s opening day.

The Crappy Rule: If I were to come out on top of my own contest (and believe me, boys and girls, there is very little chance of that happening), the Bocktown gift card would be awarded to the next runner up (although I retain full bragging rights, which I would exercise almost daily until next year’s contest). Mrs. Crappy, should she remember to get her entry in on time, does her own work and is therefore eligible to win the card (as long as she uses it to take me to dinner).

To summarize:

  • Free.
  • Easy.
  • Deadline is noon Thursday.
  • Fifty bucks at Bocktown for the winner.

Have any questions? Let me know. Otherwise, good luck to everyone — especially me Mrs. Crappy.