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.

 

77. torn.

Earlier today, we talked about how I’m planning on starting New Year’s Day. What I’m having some trouble with is what happens later.

The last two years, we’ve come home from the post-swim mean and parked on the couch. There is food, sure, but the big deal? January 1 is college football’s holy day and I like to make sure I don’t miss a thing.

The NHL threw me ┬ácurve ball a few years ago, when it started the Winter Classic games. The year the Penguins played in Buffalo, I watched the game, even though missing the bowl games that were on at the same time made me a little twitchy. I’ve watched bits and pieces of subsequent Classics, but if I’m being honest, I’ve paid more attention to the football. Last year, that plan served me well; watching Penn State’s mud bowl win against LSU, the insane game between Auburn and Northwestern — and yeah, that Rose Bowl game was pretty important to me as well.

In 2011, of course, I have another Penguins game to contend with. There’s no conflict with Ohio State, fortunately — the Sugar Bowl against Hooo Pig Soooey isn’t until Jan. 4. But I’m already getting pretty pumped about the Pens and Caps.

And that’s kind of a problem.

I have strict rules about this stuff. I don’t allow a whole lot of distractions during football season, which runs from early August — when Ohio State’s camp begins — through the bowl game. I’m not a raving, superstitious lunatic, but I don’t like mixing mojo when it comes to sports — I think it tends to dilute whatever I have to offer, to either team.

But I can’t help it. I’ve been watching the first episode of the HBO 24/7 series over and over and over. I find myself reaching for Pens gear when I’m getting dressed on weekends or when I get home from work. I’ve been looking at those Winter Classic jerseys and thinking that I might need one of those.

For me, this is wrong. For me, hockey season starts the minute the final gun sounds at the Buckeyes’ bowl game — and not before. I’m a mess already, and it’s probably likely that I’m going to be a babbling wreck by the time the game rolls around.

Which game? AAAUUUUGGHHH!