One of my favorite holiday sports memories takes me back to the basement of Long’s Bookstore, where decades ago Christmas came early for an 11-year-old boy obsessed with owning an Archie Griffin No. 45 jersey.
In the mid-1970s, Long’s was the place to purchase Ohio State merchandise. I’m not sure if that’s because it was one of the few places to buy scarlet and gray gear or because it offered the most variety. Regardless, entering the basement of Long’s, then located at 15th Avenue and High Street, was like going below deck on a battleship. The main floor offered plenty to see, but descending deep into the hull revealed the nuts and bolts of the operation, and also reduced the risk of missing something important.
It was either 1973 or ’74 when I spotted Archie’s "authentic" scarlet mesh jersey with the black and white stripes on the sleeves. I turned to Santa — ahem — and like Charlie Brown identifying his phobia, let out a "That’s it!"
Christmas morning arrived soon thereafter. Photos exist somewhere of a kid whose face was still growing into his nose and smiling like Gomer Pyle, but wearing that jersey I felt like a two-time Heisman Trophy winner. (Aside: A few years later, as a newly minted too-cool-for-school teenager, I received for Christmas a scarlet and gray "newsboy" cap, the type worn by Orlas King, aka Neutron Man. Are you kidding me? I maybe wore it once.)
Nearly a half-century has passed, and steel-eyed objectivity has replaced starry-eyed subjectivity. Ohio State receives praise when deserved, like this season. When things go south? Let’s just say the boy who bled Buckeyes bias left Long’s basement long ago.
And yet … on this Christmas morning I can say with certainty the Buckeyes are a gift. To kids and adults alike. Ditto the Blue Jackets, Crew and Clippers. Unwrap these presents and what you find inside is connective tissue joining husbands to wives, fathers to sons, brothers to sisters and that crazy Cleveland fan whose nephew wants to believe the Browns will someday be good.
Sports matter. That doesn’t mean they’re life and death, but just as it would be improper to suggest athletics are of utmost importance, it also is wrong to dismiss them as silly diversions. Attending a CBJ game is no more ridiculous than catching a movie or seeing an opera. Singing in the Nordecke sounds like a choir of angels. Or devils?
The Cincinnati Bengals make you teeth-clenching angry? Good. Passion is good for the soul. As that Hollywood philosophical oddity Nicolas Cage once explained it, "(If) you stop enjoying things, you’ve got to look at it, because it can lead to all kinds of depressing scenarios." (Cage also said, "I think I jump around more when I’m alone." But you get the point.)
Without sports teams to cheer and jeer, a lot of depressing scenarios come to mind. Like summer without baseball. Winter without hockey. March without Madness. Saturdays and Sundays in the fall without football.
So yes, the Buckeyes are a gift. Especially this season as they bring happiness to beleaguered fans of Ohio’s professional teams.
"I just know the Ohio State football team means everything to the people of Ohio," Buckeyes coach Ryan Day said. "It runs deep in their blood. It’s who they are. It’s their identity, their pride."
Enjoy again your favorite holiday sports memories. Cousins vs. cousins in the Thanksgiving Day turkey bowl. Bowling on New Year’s Eve. Euchre and board games on New Year’s Day as bowl games blare in the background. Family talking football.
Not every present is found under the tree.