Monday, October 20, 2014

Genius

Today all are marveling at the genius of Jeff Fisher, the coach of  the St. Louis Rams.  Yesterday on fourth down from his own 15 yard line, with only two minutes left to go in the game, Fisher called a fake punt.

The Rams were up by two points at the time. Fisher figured that to punt the ball to the skilled, smart, and crafty Russell Wilson of the Seahawks would have amounted to a guaranteed three points for Seattle.  Those three points would have resulted in victory for the Seahawks and a loss for the Rams.

So Fisher took a gamble and faked the punt, threw a pass, and earned a first down.  The play sealed the upset for the Rams. And today, Fisher is being regaled as a hero.

And he should be; it was a gutsy call. But what makes him a genius is that it was a successful play. Had the punter  botched the pass or the receiver dropped the ball, you can be assured that Fisher would be skewered by those loaded with retrospective wisdom.

Several years ago, this precise series of events took place.  The New England Patriots were playing the Indianapolis Colts.  There was a fourth down deep in New England territory.  Bill Belichick figured that by punting the ball to the Colts he would be all but guaranteeing a defeat, with the skilled, crafty, and smart Peyton Manning at the helm for the Colts.

So, he went for it.  Not a fake, he just went for it on fourth down.   Officially, Kevin Faulk who received a pass did not make the yard to gain for a first down.  Indianapolis got the ball deep in New England territory and ultimately came out of the game with a victory.

Was Belichick regaled as a genius for a gutsy move? No he was reviled as an arrogant fool.

The difference between deferential treatment as a wizard and excoriating criticism for a fool is the result of a play.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Piling On

I am writing this about an hour before the Bengals-Patriots kickoff.  Last Monday night the Patriots were shellacked by the Kansas City Chiefs who, just moments ago, lost to the San Francisco 49ers.

For those of us who have cheered for the Patriots and enjoyed their successes, the game last week was the anomaly of anomalies.  The home town team could not stop anyone or move the ball anywhere. Tom Brady, one of the best quarterbacks ever to play, looked less than pedestrian. He threw one interception that was just horrible and another that was returned for a touchdown.  What made this stinker of a performance more pungent was that  it was such an aberration.

Since 2001 the Patriots have been just great. Only twice since then has the team NOT made the playoffs. They have gone to 5 superbowls, winning three.  In addition, they have gone to at least two other championship games.  This means they have been the best team three times, the second best team twice, and one of the top four teams two other times.

So, it was shake your head stuff to listen and read the media pounding the Patriots took and are taking.


  • Belichick is a stiff.
  • Brady is over the hill.
  • The team has no talent: 
    • Nobody can catch the ball
    • Nobody can tackle
    • There is no running back worth a damn
    • Revis is overrated.  


Today we hear that Brady is so upset that he wants out of Boston to finish his career.

One columnist during the week wrote that the Patriots have not had a meaningful win in January since 2005.   That is an interesting statement since the Patriots went to two super bowl games since 2005; two other championship games; and the only year they did not make the playoffs was when Brady was injured in the first game of the season. (And that year the team was eliminated on the last game of the season).

I think the Patriots will win tonight against the currently undefeated Bengals. (A) I don't think the Bengals are so extra (B) the Patriots are not as bad as they played last week and (C) the Pats will want, I assume, to shut a few people up.

Even if they get shellacked tonight like they did last week, this week's piling on by the pundits has shown little class. Everyone feels crummy when they get their ass kicked.  Last week, the Patriots got their ass kicked.

However, the team has been regularly successful since W was in his first year in the White House. Go ask Jacksonville, Detroit, Cleveland, Jet, Bengal, Houston, Oakland, Redskin, Viking, Buffalo, Atlanta, Carolina, and/or Miami fans if they think the Patriots have had any meaningful wins in January since 2005.  Those teams have a parade when they finish above 500.

The press has been immature this past week.  The Boston folks are just spoiled so when the team loses it is time to announce that the apocalypse is on the horizon.   Last January in the championship game,  the Patriots lost to the Broncos in Denver in a game during which Peyton Manning played like the Almighty.  I think the final score differential was eight points.

We will see what takes place in an hour. But even if it is another pummeling, the critics might be wise to check out a mirror and ask themselves if they themselves have ever had a streak of successes like the Patriots have had.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Rocking Chair

I bump into a guy today who I have seen at the university forever. We always smile, share hellos, and how are you's.  Today he says, "30 years as of two weeks ago".

We stop and talk some about our longevity at the u.  I started a few years before he did.  I asked him if he got his watch.  He says he did, but he was disappointed because he had been hoping for the rocking chair.

For years the gift for 25 year old associates was a rocking chair.  They were quite nice. I recall seeing a colleague's in his office when I had been here for just a few years.  Very classy chair. Had your name on it and your years of service at the school.

I remember when I was to be feted for my longevity.  I, and a few others, sat in an anteroom where we were to receive our gifts. Then, the seven or so of us were taken to a room where multi yeared others--who had previously received their chairs--welcomed us to the club.

They have changed the choreography since my date, but still the honorees receive a gift.  Starting with the year that I was to receive the chair, however, the school eschewed the snazzy chairs and handed out watches instead. The watches had your initials on the back, but still were a bit of a disappointment.

As it happened, during my next lap--the year after I received my watch--I was reminded one day that there was a function out in the suburbs that I was supposed to attend. The function was for a complementary unit at the university that I was working for at the time, and had worked for sporadically during the time I have been employed in Boston.   I had forgotten about the event and had to switch some things around to get out to the burbs on time.

When I arrived to the satellite location I picked up a program for the event and noticed that my name was on the program. This was news to me.   I asked around and found that I, with others, were to be recognized for years of service with this complementary university unit.  And, this unit, was giving out rocking chairs for 25 years of service.  And I was going to get a chair.

This was great, but the thing is--it was a mistake.  While I had been working at my day job for 25 years--for which I was rewarded with the watch--I had NOT been working for the complementary unit for 25 years. I had done some work for it a quarter of century ago, stopped, started, stopped again, and was now back.  Probably all tolled I had worked there for 15 years.  But the records showed I was there for the requisite trips around the track.  So, I--incorrectly--got the chair which now sits in my living room.

So, the point?  Sometimes you don't get what you should.  But sometimes you do get what you do not deserve.

Thing is--it doesn't really even out.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Peace Like a River

I noticed on Facebook that a few people had posted a list of the top ten most influential books they had read.  A few of these listed the book Peace like a River by Leif Enger.  And those who identified this book are people with whom I share similar sensibilities.

I'd never heard of it.  I saw it was published in 2001, a time when I was not--as I recall it--living under a rock.  I bought the book from Amazon and when the paperback arrived I noticed that the first pages were filled with beautiful words of support and praise for the novel.

The story is told from the perspective of a boy in North Dakota who has a sweet precocious sister a few years older, and a several years older brother.  Their dad is a single parent who had a revelation while studying to be a doctor. The revelation was such that he quit studying to be a doctor and became a janitor. At that point his wife fled to Minneapolis.  All this is background.  Then something happens which causes the older brother to escape and the rest of the remaining family to try and find him.

Much of this book refers to the power of a superior being and the value of praying to that superior being.  The father prays a good deal after his epiphany which had him leave the world of medicine. Very early in the book we read of another event that seems miraculous and a result of some super being's hand.

The story is engaging in parts.  Reuben is the boy narrator and he can turn a phrase. His sister Swede is nothing short of delicious and the Dad, a wonderful man, and endearing.  This said the book did not do it for me in the same way it did it for others.

I imagine the story is meant to be fantastic (in the sense of a fantasy) and not literal.  Still too many parts of the plot don't fit and one character's whereabouts at the end ought to be a matter of concern and does not seem to be.  Swede, Reuben, and Davy (the older brother) do not appear to be as bruised by their mother's fleeing as you would think they would be (though there is a reference to such bruising).  The mother, despite some serious ongoings with her children, does not factor into the events.   The story is set in 1962 and there appears to be a lot of wild west in it, even for North Dakota. Lots of folks on horseback and very remote towns. The remote towns would make sense in this part of the country, but not sure the absence of modernity.  The Cuban Missile Crisis was 1962.  John Glenn had already orbited the earth.

And then there is the suggestion throughout that a super being had a hand in the events, not so much predestination, but a responsiveness to prayer. I think this is dangerous stuff. I think we pray, if we do, to help ourselves feel whole and conduct ourselves respectful of the others in our universe--with sensitivity and love.  I don't think we pray to get us out of a jam or even help us see the light to a right decision.  By feeling and being centered and sound, which may come from prayer--if one is a prayer--that might help one make decisions.  But suggesting that there is merit in asking the Lord for directions is dangerous stuff. We have to make our own choices when we come to the fork.

I had the book on my desk at work while I was reading it. Two colleagues noticed it during that time and told me what a great book it was.  I liked Peace Like a River, but can't recommend it as effusively.  I had no problem putting it down.  I am glad I read it to get to know Swede, the sister, and to read about rural North Dakota (even if it seemed more like 1862 than 1962).  But the book would not be any where near my top ten list.

Friday, September 26, 2014

To Life

If my parents could weigh in from their graves, they would tell me that they are glad that I am posting this photo.

My mom and dad have both passed in the last 15 months.  Before their deaths they would frequently talk about the importance of life and enjoying time.  From their place wherever they may be, they are urging all--whether you just celebrated a new year or not--to live, enjoy time, and seize the day.

My folks would have also enjoyed hearing about an experience I had in Dublin last week.  I walked onto the campus at Trinity College. It is a beautiful campus, majestic buildings and inviting grounds. The day I arrived happened to be student fair day.  Readers will remember this from when you were in college.  Early in the year, club representatives would sit behind tables urging newcomers to join their organization. So, the chess club, theater people, society for the study of Ayn Rand, French club, groups like that were arranged in a common space. Must have been 50 of them.   I walked past the Christian student club table and it reminded me that I wanted to go to a Friday night Shabbat service while in Ireland. So, I asked the woman behind the table if there was a Jewish student association booth. She said there was and very willingly, started walking with me around the various tables, looking for the table for the Jewish student club.  Before we found it, we ran into the Islamic Student Association.  So she asked there if they had seen the Jewish student table. The Islamic students also said they had seen the table. So now myself, the Christian student rep, and two Islamic students went looking for the Jewish student table. And we found it.  And there we stood, all three major religious groups smiling. The Jewish student behind the table thanking the Christian and Islamic students for steering me in the right direction. The Islamic students and the Christian student saying, no problem, as they smiled and went back to their booth.  My parents would have liked that story.

They would also be happy that I am wishing all who read this a good shabbas, and encouraging all to celebrate life.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

GAA Irish football

If you start out in Boston and fly 3,000 miles or so west, you find yourself in San Francisco or thereabouts.  If you fly east and north for 3,000 miles you find yourself in Ireland.  So, now explain this?

When I was in Dublin recently I delivered a paper at a Sports History conference. The paper was based on the Madness of March book I wrote a few years back.  I made the case at the conference, as I hope I have in the book, that those who travel to Las Vegas to bet on the games are not inveterate gamblers, but rather fans who congregate that weekend like those who attend the annual meeting of any group with common affections.

The people who attended the Sport History conference were all knowledgeable about sport-especially as the conference name indicates- sport history.  Yet, a question after my presentation by one fellow was shared by the others in the room. He/they wanted to know if I had coined the term March Madness for the purposes of explaining the fandom.  I was surprised by the inquiry and when I told them, that no, of course, I had not coined the term; it is used throughout the country at that time of year by everyone from sports broadcasters to advertisers peddling products with their March Madness sales, the audience members were surprised.

I know a fair bit about sports. Dad was a big fan and I honestly came to be similarly interested and, more than the average bear, knowledgeable.  As I wrote in an earlier blog, when I had been briefed by the cabdriver from the airport about the GAA football championship that was occurring, coincidentally, the same weekend of my visit, I discovered that football in Ireland was not soccer as I assumed.  It was a game that was completely alien to me.  I have since seen snippets on the television when I was still in Dublin.  I had never seen a clip before.

Fly to San Francisco and mention March Madness to anyone not under a rock and they at least have a passing knowledge about it. Fly the same distance northeast, speak to those who are scholars of sport, mention March Madness, and these aficionados think you made up the phrase.

Not a person in Dublin that I ran into did not know that this past weekend was the time of the GAA football championship. It would be like someone during the first weekend in February not knowing at least what the super bowl was.  Yet, I who have followed sport since my dad took me to the Polo Grounds when I was maybe 4, had never heard of the game let alone the schedule for the championship.

Sit on the subway in Boston and you might come across some teens carting their football gear to a practice site, or a lacrosse stick, or some sport apparatus.  As I sat on the 16 bus going from city center Dublin out to my hotel on Swords Road, I noticed three young men hauling what, in other countries, would have seemed like weapons. They were sticks shorter than hockey sticks, with a base like a hockey stick but fatter. These kids were obviously coming from some practice.  I knew from a conversation I had had previously with a cab driver that the sticks were for a game called hurling.

Hurling is not Curling, a game with which I have a passing acquaintance.  I asked one of the fellows with the sticks to explain the game to me.  He did. It was intriguing to me but more significantly, I had never heard of such a game before.  (The explanation was so engaging that I missed my bus stop. It was a double decker bus so when I thought I'd missed the stop, I moved as fast as I could down the spiral staircase and approached the driver.  "Did I miss the Swords Road stop" I asked.  His deadpan response was worth the 3/4 mile walk back I had to take. "You did, indeed." said the proper Irishman driver without taking his eye away from the windshield).

Irish football and Hurling are the two major sports in Ireland.  Sports knowledgeable people in the United States, never heard of them.  Sports knowledgeable people in Ireland had never heard of March Madness.

The championship game was between Donegal Creameries and the Kerry Group.  My hotel was jammed with the Donegal Creameries faithful.  I would have liked to have seen the game, but it took place during the first hour of my flight back to Boston.  During the flight, the pilot got on the speaker to inform all that Kerry had defeated Donegal. I could not catch the score because before he uttered it, as soon as he announced the victors, there was a loud roar on the plane from those who followed Kerry.

When I got back home I picked up the Sunday Boston Globe to see if there was a single mention of, what would have been at the time of printing, the upcoming GAA championship game. Not a word. Then on Monday I looked to see if there was a column or even a listing for the championship in the scoreboard section of the Globe.  Alas, no reference whatsoever.

Go figure, same distance as San Francisco. I can find out the nuances of the successes of the San Francisco Giants, 49ers and Golden State Warriors and know much about them without even having to resort to Google.

For fun, if you are a fan of sport, go to youtube and see if you can catch some snippets of an Irish football game. Very fast moving game.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Danny Boy

The scene downstairs in what was a sleepy tavern last night is something for central casting. It is 125am local time.  I got into watching a movie from 10-1230 in my room and was considering going to sleep, but I figured I would just go downstairs and have a pint on this my last day in Dublin.

Well, let me tell you, nothing sleepy about the hotel pub tonight.  The place was jammed in the way taverns become when you have to try and make yourself thin to negotiate the narrow pathways.  Tomorrow there is a football match that is the equivalent of the super bowl held not far from here. And the singing, boisterous, not shy about drinking regardless of how old you are, group are preparing for the day tomorrow.

In my experience crowded taverns are populated by young people, say 20 to 30 year olds with maybe a sprinkling of 40 or 50 year old folks.  The average age downstairs was between 50 and 60 with several feeling no pain having passed 60 years ago. And this was a family affair.  Husbands and wives, their childen--in their 30s-- were crooning with the singer, and to be sure, well on the other side of sober.  I could just imagine my dad taking me to a place like this. Not.

Yet this is not to disparage the revelers. They all seemed to be having a grand time. When the guitar player banged out Danny Boy, good lord, it was a Hollywood scene. The patrons got up, put their arms around each other, and started swaying from side to side, belting out the lyrics, drowning out the miked entertainer.

The guitar player took a break at 1, and this is way past my bedtime, so I went up to my room. But there was no shortage of clients who remained to challenge the sweating barkeepers.

I'm looking forward to seeing some of the singers tomorrow morning to assess how well they weathered the party.  People fifteen years my senior were banging them back and wobbling around the tavern.  The quaffers' abilities to negotiate the terrain tomorrow ought to reveal skill and perhaps there should be some sort of competition to determine who is most mobile at 9 am.