Hometown

Fallback Position

Saving a season of discontent

By Bill Fields

As the Washington Redskins dropped their fourth straight game in the early stages of another lousy NFL season on the same weekend my alma mater North Carolina came heartbreakingly close to beating Clemson, I had one thought: Thank goodness for Ohio State.

There is no way that sentence could have come from my keyboard prior to 2013, when I started dating Ohio-born Jen, whose sporting interests start and end with Buckeye football. They were her parents’ favorite and quickly became her team, too. Jen keeps track of the Buckeyes like a meteorologist watching a hurricane, then, when college football season is over, contentedly returns to reading, cooking or needlepoint.

Since Ohio State wins regularly, it wasn’t a hard sell for me to become a fan, because who wants scoreboards making them sad several months a year? Washington has had only nine winning seasons since 1991, and although things are looking up for the Tar Heels with the return of coach Mack Brown, he is not a miracle worker.

I’m not going to abandon my NFL favorite despite their owner or their nickname, both of which are problematic. I have rooted for Washington since Sonny Jurgensen was passing to Charley Taylor and still have the Sonny-signed 8×10 I sent away for. I had NFL bed sheets, a Redskins toboggan and jacket, and was glued to the television every time they played.

During my childhood of fandom, Washington didn’t have a winning record until I was 10. But the Jurgensen-led offense could always move the ball, as evidenced in a 72-41 victory over the New York Giants in 1966, the 115 total points still an NFL regular season record.

I remember well the joy of the 1983 Super Bowl, when Washington finally won the big one. I drove to Charlotte to watch the game with my friends Brad and Lynne, Brad having grown up in the D.C. area and been a long-suffering fan like me. Washington was Super Bowl champion again in 1988 and 1992. In that decade I was well rewarded for many years of football futility, but recently, with the wayward team management, those highlight memories seem very distant.

The Tar Heels played some of their finest football when I was in school at Chapel Hill, no surprise given their roster included Lawrence Taylor on defense and Kelvin Bryant on offense. Although I was typing for The Daily Tar Heel, which ruled out face paint or a flask in Kenan Stadium, those were heady days. In 1980, when UNC was 7-0 and traveled to perennially good Oklahoma, there hardly had been a bigger Carolina football game.

Alas, the Dick Crum-coached Tar Heels were humbled, 41-7, but there was so much interest in the contest I was able to string for a couple of newspapers and make a few bucks to spend at the Porthole and He’s Not Here. Carolina won the rest of its games that season, concluding with a victory over Texas in the Bluebonnet Bowl, the only time I was in the Astrodome.

After meeting Jen, I soon discovered that despite her longtime allegiance she had never attended an Ohio State game at “The Shoe.” We remedied that in 2016, driving to Columbus to watch OSU play Bowling Green State University. Jen was like Ned Beatty’s character in Rudy, finally going to a Notre Dame game after many seasons of watching on TV. Our seats were way up high, but the Buckeyes and The Best Damn Band in the Land were great, and so was the weather, gloriously warm and sunny. Final score: Ohio State 77, Bowling Green 10.

The Buckeyes were scoring plenty of points in their early games this season, guided by quarterback Justin Fields, whose name makes their games even more fun for this fan. Come the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Jen and I will be in front of a television for Ohio State-Michigan. It’ll never be Carolina-Duke hoops for me, but I’m happy “The Game” is at least a little bit my game too.  PS

Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent.

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