It's Thursday afternoon in Two Dozen Plus One sports bar. Gus and Wally have yet to arrive. They'd better get here fast. The Wives gave us 30 minutes.
The Quiet Guy in the Sports Bar, or GQ as we have named him, walks through the entrance. Well, how about that. Our paths haven't crossed since that thought-provoking, poll-examining Saturday afternoon in the middle of last month, but I knew he'd return.
A perch is vacant at the bar. GQ takes a seat there, stacks his papers to his right, and fetches his iPod Touch from the pocket of his well-cut summer navy blazer. The jacket has to be Joseph A. Bank. Looks sharp with Levis.
I approach The Quiet One. He's sitting directly in front of the 54-inch flat-screen hanging above the twenty-five beer taps. Two Dozen Plus One used to be the Library Alehouse until the attorney representing the Library Alehouse in Santa Monica sent the proprietor of the Library Alehouse in Charleston, West Virginia, a letter delivered registered mail. I don't know what the letter said, but I've never seen signs and a Web site change so quickly.
"Dude," I ask in sports bar parlance.
"Hey, man," he says, turning to me, smiling, offering his hand. I return the gesture.
There is silence.
"I've given some thought to your Lucky 13 poll," I said. He smiled again, waiting for me to say something. "Well, you know, the Lucky 13...of the thirteen, the Buckeyes were eleventh.'
"Thank you for paying attention," GQ says.
"Just what did you do about Ohio State?"
GQ turns back to the big flat screen. The French Open is on ESPN. He stares. It's as if GQ is captivated by women wearing dirty socks. I can appreciate that.
"Ohio State is out," he says, as an unnamed skinny chick from somewhere in the former Communist bloc absolutely crushes a backhand. She's twenty, max.
I pause, offering weight to his proclamation.
"Out," GQ repeats as he swivels his head slowly from the action in Paris to me. He nods to the affirmative.
Anticipating he may be a fan, I offer, "I bet it was tough to be objective."
He is a fan. And, if this conversation is going anywhere, it's up to me. "Ohio State was the best college football team in the first decade of the third millennium. Only one national championship, but two other trips to the title game, with two undefeated regular seasons and almost complete domination of Michigan, even before Rich Rod."
GQ purses his lips and slowly shakes his head to the negative.
"Hell," I continue, "Ohio State is always in the conversation of the best programs in history. That includes the best student-athletes, the best public universities, just the best all around."
"Now..." GQ says, trailing off.
"Now, you have Jim Tressel, one of the greatest Buckeyes, leader of men on the turf, leader of men singing Carmen Ohio, committed to his players, his student-athletes, a man who would do anything for them. But, with painful tragic irony, he did nothing for them."
"This is beyond tattoos and championship rings," I say.
"You have to earn that ring," GQ says. "So, the ring becomes collection fodder, paid for with a tat? That's wrong. Very wrong."
My man GQ is wounded. "Yeah, right," he says. "Now it's hot automobiles driven down the streets of Columbus, in plain sight of all who are devoted to the scarlet and grey."
I'm stoked by my new friend's ardent proclamations. "You know what really hurts?" I say. GQ faces me. "There are 17- to 18-year old boys...boys in Ironton, Pomeroy, Chillicothe, Westerville, Lima, Middletown, Findlay, and boys at the parochial schools in Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Toledo, boys who want so desperately to play, if even for only one game, but are a half-step too slow, twenty pounds too light, and a couple of plates shy on the bench.
"These boys' dreams remain unfulfilled. They just didn't measure up. However, an ember of the dream burns cherry red in their souls, fanned by the young men who made the cut, young men who were awarded a buckeye sticker on their headgear, young men who played for championships.
"So, you know what's important about all this? Those who did and won and those who watched and dreamed are the roots of the Buckeye fan base. They are forever faithful, and remain faithful in spite of the knives Tressel and Terrelle Pryor used, slashing, stabbing, and twisting in the guts of those boys and the men they have become."
GQ and I are still in reverence to my soliloquy. Gus and Wally make their ways through the crowd.
"Yo, Sagarin," Wally says to GQ. "Now where did Ohio State land on your Lucky, or Unlucky 13?"
"This I have to hear," says Gus.
GQ glances at me, rolling his eyes. "Here goes. The most recent poll is: Texas Christian, Boise State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Stanford, Florida State, Nebraska, Louisiana State, Alabama, Texas, Penn State, Florida, and the newest member at number thirteen is West Virginia."
"Oh, yeah!' exclaims Gus. "Mountaineers! Dana embarrassed us at the casino, but what the hay? He's going to lead us to the promised land!"
"Here's my thinking," GQ says. "Because of the relatively light loads on their schedules, Texas Christian, Boise State, Stanford, and West Virginia are 'Ones and Dones,' meaning of course one loss and they are no longer participating in the BCS championship hoopla.
"You also have to realize each of the four Ones and Dones have one big game that could make them a solution to the BCS problem. TCU and Boise State are each other's key game. Stanford has to get by Oregon and West Virginia must beat LSU in Morgantown. Otherwise, the Ones and Dones are merely another 11-1 team."
"Men," says my wife.
"You're early," I say. Gus' and Wally's brides are at the door. Strong body language.
"I want to hear more," I say to GQ.
"Like to talk more," GQ says.
We shake hands. "I'm Mason."
"Pleasure to meet you, Mason."
The wife tugs me away by my shirt sleeve.