Buckeyes Roasting Over an Open Fire

By Johnny Ginter on December 24, 2012 at 5:00p
An athletic director and his coach

I don't like Christmas Vacation, despite my frequent claims that it's "okay." There, I said it. I don't think it's that funny.

A Christmas Story is good, but after seeing it roughly five thousand times after TBS got their greasy hands on it, it too has lost some of its charm. A Muppet Christmas Carol is my go-to jam when I need to remind myself that I should always treat my fellow humans and muppets with respect and dignity, and Die Hard conveys critical lessons of the importance of proper footwear, but let's be real here: the true champion of Christmas-themed holiday specials will, for me, always be Simpsons Roasting Over An Open Fire.

SROAOF is a pastiche of pretty much every Christmas story ever told, from the part where the dad gets a crappy holiday bonus, to the unending annoyance of relatives you put up with for the collective sanity of all, to that time when the son gets a tattoo and the mom has to spend all of the family's gift money getting it removed via laser.

And that's fine, because the whole thing is filtered through the lens of Matt Groening and company, who, for 7-9 years (depending on who you ask) made the greatest show of all time and probably, if not definitely, the greatest American satire of the latter half of the 20th century. I would say greatest American satire of the entire 20th century, but I'm hedging my bets with Mark Twain. I am not a crackpot.

Anyway, I digress. The reason why SROAOF is so good is because it is eminently relatable, and despite starring yellow cartoons, is more human than 99% of Christmas specials before or since. At its heart is a stupid but generally well meaning dude who tries, and fails, to save Christmas. And then gets a dog, which somehow does save Christmas, because everyone loves dogs.

So, for the purposes of this post, remember a few things: Gene Smith is Homer Simpson, Urban Meyer is a dog, and to reiterate, I am not a crackpot.

"It doesn't seem possible, but I guess TV betrayed me."

Ohio State's handling of the Jim Tressel situation could not possibly have been worse. Gee's "I'm worried he'll fire me" line was just the dumbest in a long, long line of stupidity that came from the university at large regarding the situation, but it all started two Christmases ago with a five-month slog of brain-numbing dumbness.

No Christmas bonuses for anyone. As it did for Homer, Gene Smith's most visible cash cow dried up, leaving him in an incredibly vulnerable position.

In SROAOF, Homer gets a job as a department store Santa to cover up for the fact that he didn't get a bonus. It goes predictably poorly, and after Social Security, unemployment insurance, Santa training ("Do you like children?" "What do you mean? All the time? Even when they're nuts?!?"), costume purchase, beard rental, and Christmas Club, he's left with 13 bucks.

"So love at first sight IS possible!"

I don't know what was going through Gene Smith's head which each successive conference detailing the NCAA sanctions, Jim Tressel's firing, Luke Fickell's promotion, etc. But he increasingly came off as a $13 brain in a $1,000 suit. There was a lot of justifiable anger directed toward him, especially since the immediate problem of "who the hell is going to coach in the event Fickell can't deal?" didn't look like it was going to be solved by anyone competent.

Homer takes Bart and his 13 bucks to the dog racetrack. Ignoring his friend Barney's advice and accepting Bart's, he bets all of his money on Santa's Little Helper, a 99 to 1 long shot. And loses. Badly. Like really badly. So badly that his owner abandons him, and Santa's Little Helper decides to take up with Homer and Bart, who take him home.

When they get there, Homer braces himself, because instead of gifts and a bonus he's returning with no gifts and the world's slowest greyhound. He grimaces, expecting his wife, daughters, sisters-in-law, and dad to all berate him for his failure. Instead, they assume the gift is the dog and are overjoyed. Through either providence or dumb luck, Christmas was saved and all was well.

So that's where I'm at with Gene Smith right now. I'm sure he played some role in bringing Urban Meyer to Columbus (beyond telling him that there was no way OSU was getting a bowl ban), but the much larger role was of course played by the Board of Trustees and the random chance that Urban Meyer wasn't coaching at the time.

Or fate. Whichever! It doesn't really matter because in the interim things worked out. Ohio State beat Michigan, went undefeated, and for the most part looked good doing it. Urban seems happy. The athletic department continues to rake in cash. Through either providence or dumb luck, Ohio State sports continue to chug onward with Gene Smith at the helm.

Maybe I'm being too generous, but you know what? It's Christmas, and when things inexplicably work out in your favor, maybe the best thing to do is to forgive past grudges, think real hard about the people who aren't as stupidly lucky as you, and be thankful that thinking about who the next wildly successful football coach will be at Ohio State is the worst thing you've had to worry about with regard to the program in two Christmases.

"This is the best gift of all, Homer." "It is?" "Yes, something to share our love. And frighten prowlers."

Merry Christmas, everybody.

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