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T. Buckingham Thomas: a personal website



The semifinals of this year's College Football Playoff are scheduled for New Year's Day.  Which four teams should participate?  There was endless disputation in the media.

Columnist Norman Chad watched the much-hyped announcement.  “The show began with a shot of the ‘Selection Committee War Room’ — 13 mostly aging white men sitting in front of laptops, a handful of suits evaluating flawed data amid half-empty pizza boxes.

“Think about this sad state of American affairs:  From the moment the Ohio State-Wisconsin game ended until the moment ESPN announced the national semifinalists 12 hours later, the CFP selection committee spent more time deliberating on playoff seedings than the U.S. Senate did on a 479-page tax bill.

“It's a crooked system weighted toward the richest schools.  The solution is simple, makes more money for everybody and remains one of the five best ideas I have ever had:  LET 'EM ALL IN!”

Mr. Chad advocated a 128-team playoff in which every school would participate.  That might prove rather impractical.  I imagined a field of 64, excluding teams with losing records in the regular season.

This year there were 82 teams with at least .500 marks.  Of those bowl-eligible schools, 78 were actually invited to bowl games.  I seeded the list according to the AP rankings, then according to records, and consigned the bottom 14 to consolation bowls.  That left 64 teams, which I inserted into a tournament bracket.

(I made a few adjustments so that, in the first two rounds, no two teams from the same conference would have to meet.  For example, #64 Duke, the only 6-6 squad in the field, would have drawn #1 Clemson in the opening round.  But both schools are in the ACC, so I reassigned #64 to Georgia State.)

The 32 games of the first round would be played at campus sites during the weeks of December 9 and 16.  Unfortunately, many would be blowouts and others would match mediocre teams.

During the latter half of December, the winners would meet in the second round, played at 16 various bowl venues.  Then the next round would be held about January 5, the four quarterfinals January 12, the two semifinals January 19, and the national championship the week before the Super Bowl.

If everyone “held serve,” #1 Clemson would need to defeat 6-5 Georgia State and 10-4 Fresno State in December.  Then, with the bracket pruned to 16 top teams, Clemson would have to defeat 11-3 LSU, 14-2 USC, and 15-1 Alabama on consecutive weeks in January to reach the title game against 17-1 Oklahoma.

According to Mr. Chad, a more inclusive playoff “beats the current system.”  At least there would be many more meaningful games, and winning the trophy would be a tremendous achievement.


DEC. 15, 2017    RADIO SILENCE

I'm in the habit of starting my day listening to Pittsburgh radio, specifically WDVE-FM.  This station has been playing classic rock since the days of the hippies, when “DVE” alluded to the dove of peace.  Nowadays from 6:00 to 10:00 AM during the week, it's something different.

“Randy Baumann and the DVE Morning Show” is mostly talk and comedy, with a heavy emphasis on local sports because WDVE is also the flagship station for Steelers broadcasts.  Every hour of the Morning Show promotes the hometown NFL team, including commentary and phone interviews with players and national pundits alike.  With off-season draft speculation and training camp news, it's a year-round Black and Gold obsession.

Except, that is, for this time of year.  After staging a Christmas music and comedy extravaganza at a local establishment two nights ago (broadcast on tape this morning), the Morning Show folks are taking almost three weeks off for the holidays.  These familiar voices won't be on the air previewing and postviewing this Sunday's big game against the Patriots, nor the final two regular-season games that follow.

Our friends talk to us every morning all year — until the climax of the season.  Now we get coal in our stockings.  Hmmph.



Each December around 1960, when my family lived on Hoskins Pike, we decorated the glass on our front door using a stencil and spray-on "snow."

When I returned home from school in the late afternoon, it was still daylight outdoors.  Once I got inside the house and looked back out through the glass towards Arby Cramer's place across the road, the decoration appeared gray (as I've simulated in the upper picture).

We had electric candles in every window and I was impatient to switch them on, but I knew it was too early.  No one outside would notice that they were glowing.  Mustn't waste electricity.

But around 5:15, when it became darker outdoors than inside, I noticed that the "snow" on our glass had turned white.  That was my signal that it was time to go around to all our lights and plug them in.

Merry Christmas, everybody!


DEC. 12, 2007 flashback   THE INITIAL MAKES THE NAME

When we read, we skim over the material to get the sense, but we don't necessarily look carefully at every letter.

Last week, Pittsburgh Steelers safety Anthony Smith boldly "guaranteed" a victory over the undefeated New England Patriots.  On Sunday, Tom Brady burned Smith on a couple of long passes, and the Patriots easily won.  On Monday, Pittsburgh pundits roundly criticized Smith for his foolish boast.

Then on Tuesday, there was more bad news for the Steelers defense:  During that Patriots game, Aaron Smith tore a biceps muscle.  He'll be out for the season.  "Does this count as irony," I wondered, "or just bad karma?  Either way, this has not been a good week for him."  But as I read further, I found no mention of the rash "guarantee" that had been so widely discussed only the day before.  Finally I realized that the injured player was a different A. Smith, this one a defensive end.

The first letter is most important in recognizing a word, at least for me.  If I'm not careful, Anthony and Aaron appear to be the same.

I remember a similar confusion when reading Albert Schweitzer's biography of Johann Sebastian Bach.  In Leipzig, Germany, there were several Lutheran churches including St. Thomas's, St. Nicholas's, and St. Peter's.  I couldn't keep them straight.  "Where was that cantata performed?  I don't know; St. Somebody's."  It's much easier for me when the churches' German names are used: Thomaskirche, Nikolaikirche, and Petrikirche.  The initials are completely different, and therefore the names are quite distinct.



Eric D. Snider's relative asked 3-year-old Summer, "Are you getting excited for Christmas?"

"We already had Christmas."

"But we're going to have it again."

"Another Christmas?"

"It happens every year."

"It does?  Wow!"


DEC. 7, 2007 flashback   EVERGREEN MUSIC

Contrary to my expectations, some types of popular music are more than just passing fads but remain with us for decades.

Hippies drove Volkswagens when I was in college at the end of the 1960s, and rock music was producing new hits on a weekly basis.  But I'm talkin' 'bout my generation.  I assumed that "my" songs would soon be consigned to the oldies bin and new generations would listen to their own music.  Thus I was surprised, when I walked through the Syracuse campus in 1985, to find student housing with VWs parked outside and the same rock classics blaring from the stereo systems.  Even today they can still be heard on radio stations catering to us aging baby boomers.

If we go back another decade, we find that most of the music that was popular when I was a kid in the 1950s did fade away, with two major exceptions.

Some Italian restaurants still play a lot of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

And at this time of year, we hear Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Nat "King" Cole, and others of their era.  More than one generation has grown up listening to their Christmas classics, and the holiday season is certainly a time for tradition.


DEC. 5, 2017    D'OH!

On at least a couple of occasions I've recognized someone, struck up a conversation, then realized to my embarrassment that I was actually talking to a stranger.

Have you ever encountered a famous person who turned out to be an ordinary person?   A retired television writer, now living in Santa Monica, blogged about this phenomenon.  He imagined an episode of the long-ago TV series The Twilight Zone.  Here's how I think that episode might go. 

Submitted for your approval:

You're a successful salesman named Willy Highman.  But you're in a predicament.

Other people might not consider it to be a problem, but you have the looks of a movie star!  A specific, recognizable movie star.

And the trouble with resembling a celebrity is that people think you are him.

People mistake you for Bob Hope.

They expect you to tell jokes.

You finally get fed up.  You have plastic surgery.

They unwrap the bandages, you look in the mirror, and your face is entirely different.

Now you're Bing Crosby.

The doctors insist that you sing “White Christmas” for them.



DEC. 2, 2017    OTD

At Thanksgiving time in 1950, the Great Appalachian Blizzard dumped four feet of snow on West Virginia and nearby states.  The Michigan-Ohio State football game was a disaster.

I was living in southeastern Ohio at the time, and my memory is very hazy because I was only 3½ years old, but I think I recall my father putting chains on the wheels of the car and setting off towards town with my mother and me.  Despite all precautions, our car spun around on Highland Avenue, a complete 180°.  I applauded in glee.  “Do it again, Daddy!”  I think that's what I remember.

The next week, on December 2, 1950, another college football game was played in the industrial town of Evansville, Indiana.  The winters there are typically very cold, wet, and windy.  The average mean temperature On This Date in Evansville: a chilly 39°.

Believe it or not, it was a bowl game — the third annual Refrigerator Bowl!  And one team, visiting from Minnesota's Gustavus Adolphus, was known as the Gusties.

However, not all the weather omens were unfavorable.  In the snowstorm the week before, Evansville had escaped with only four inches.  And “Refrigerator Bowl” did not refer to the local climate.  Bowl games are named for local products like cotton and sugar — and kitchen appliances.

On that Saturday, quarterback Ted Sitton (shown here) led the Abilene Christian College Wildcats to victory.  That completed the school's only unbeaten, untied season.  Sitton would later become ACU's head coach.

The high temperature reached a balmy 72° that day.  You can look it up.

(Why did I look it up?  That “Refrigerator Bowl” title caught my eye.  I thought maybe the game was played in Alaska, or at least Green Bay.)



In the final month before 1968 began, I received a promotion.  After a year and a half as my college radio station's Sports Director, I learned that for the next semester I would move up to become the Program Director.

Later in December, a friend and I attended a Carol Service at a local church.  Even later, I looked at things that are blue and things that are green. 

Click here for the second installment in a 14-month series recalling my life 50 years ago.  It's a short installment.  The holidays were coming!



Any time I see the name Tupac in print, I mispronounce it in my head.
I guess it's supposed to be “too-pock.”  But to my mind it looks like “two-pack.”

Any time I hear the word quesadilla, in my head it sounds like “case of deeya.”
I don't need a whole case.  A six-pack of deeya would be plenty.


NOV. 27, 2017    PAUSE & PONDER

You can read 300 words in a minute.  But if it's a particularly informative or poetic passage, you may go back and read it again.  You might be reading it over and over all your life.

A lecturer can speak 150 words in a minute.  But even at that lower rate, his listeners may need to lightly apply the brakes.  Perhaps they can take notes for later consideration.

The urge to slow down a speaker can also apply to podcasts.  Both Ken Levine on this podcast, and Eric D. Snider and Jeff Bayer on this one about movies, often discuss different topics in chunks of about nine minutes each.  The chunks are separated by a jingle or by “I give it an eight out of ten.”

That's usually my signal to stop the player for several minutes to savor and digest what I've just heard, lest my mind mix up the plot points of Thor: Ragnarok and A Bad Moms Christmas.



Unnerved by what they hear at freshman orientation, some new students consider getting back on the Greyhound to Cleveland.  This photo is from my college alma mater's 1965 yearbook.

But most newbies stick it out, leading to the Obie Conversations in my latest article.

What are people, anyway?