Saturday, November 27, 2010

Kyle Brotzman

I am rarely up at 2 in the morning, but now it is 2:33 and I am wide awake.

The old Wide World of Sports program would begin each show with a narrative that included, "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat." A cynic might wonder how agonizing can defeat be. It is just a game.

Tell that to a fellow named Kyle Brotzman. I am up because I wanted to see Boise State University play a game against the University of Nevada at Reno. Boise State has been heralded all season as the little engine that could. A team from the regularly dissed Western Athletic Conference (WAC) that had not lost a game in two years. Earlier this season it beat Virginia Tech in Virginia, and since then Boise State has mowed down every one of its opponents, attempting en route to dispell the idea that all they play in the WAC are patsies. All Boise State had to do was beat Nevada, a very good team itself having lost only one game this season, to have a shot at being part of the discussion regarding the best team in the land.

As has been typical, they went way ahead and led Nevada 24-7 at the half. But then Nevada playing at home with wild fans rooting them on, came back and tied the game with only a few minutes left in the fourth quarter. In true championship form, Boise State came right back to go ahead 31-24. Then in true championship form, Nevada tied it at 31-31. With nine seconds to go, Boise came out and threw a hail Mary, an expression used to refer to a prayer that might be answered. Someone up there was listening and a player for Boise made a beautiful catch with two seconds left on the 9 yard line.

Enter Kyle Brotzman, the regular kicker for Boise State and an excellent one. After a delay to check and see if the time was correct, Brotzman lined up for what would have been the last play of the game, a dead ahead 26 yard field goal. Incredibly he missed it. The ball went wide right and Brotzman berated himself as he walked to the sideline.

In overtime, Boise State moved the ball to the 9 yard line. In came Brotzman to kick another 26 yard field goal. This one he hooks to the left.

Out comes Nevada and they get in position to kick a thirty yard field goal which goes in. End of national championship season. End of winning streak. Beginning of conversation that believes Boise State is a fraud.

So what, you might say. Fans should get over it. What is this agony, people are sick, wars are going on. This is not agony.

Well, it shouldn't be, but Kyle Brotzman's life will never be the same again. The hell has just started. And it won't be external. His greatest challenge as an athlete will be to not let this event define him. I went to a site before I started writing and I see that Brotzman was a star athlete in high school. I wish I could talk to him and may yet send him a note. This does not define him. I know this, and you know this, but the challenge will be for him to know it. Otherwise this defeat will be a long agony.

A number of years ago, Sports Illustrated wrote an article about Scott Norwood, the kicker for the Buffalo Bills who will forever be known as the player who missed a 47 yard field goal at the end of a super bowl game. A successful kick would have made the Bills champions. In the article, the authors make this very correct point. What makes someone a hero is not a failure, we all fail, but the measure of success: is how we react when we fail and whether we are willing "to pick yourself up and try again."

I feel for Kyle Brotzman today. He will become the butt of jokes and people in Idaho, from where he hails, will never forget him. People will tell him obligatorily that it is "all right." Some will mean it. The challenge, however, will be for him to realize that what anyone says is irrelevant. We all mess up. The champions are those who can dust themselves off, and keep on moving.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Potemkin Love

My parents met each other at a sweet sixteen party in the early forties. My dad asked my mom if she would like to take a walk. Sometime during that stroll he says they knew. Sixty plus years later they still know. It is remarkable, I think. When I was a kid it was not at all unusual for me to come into the living room and find my folks embraced in a big smooch. Every December 31st in a way that seemed just natural to me until I realized otherwise, as soon as the ball dropped my folks engaged in a long kiss that I figured was what you did when you grew up and it was midnight on New Years.

There are so many things we cannot understand and explain in the same way our ancestors could not explain so many things. Get in a time machine and go explain to citizens in 1800 about the internet or airplanes. It's not possible for them to understand the phenomena. If we go fast forward from 2010 and imagine 2300, maybe the people we would encounter then could explain to us, scientifically, the pull and nourishment from genuine love.

In the absence of that genuine love or the substitution of Potemkin love we stumble about, making as best sense as we can out of the world, but we need drugs of some sort because the natural drug is absent or falsified. I have been lucky as have been my parents, but I think that if we want to enjoy our upcoming thanksgiving we need to give thanks and respect the real, not Potemkin loves, of our lives and realize--in ways we might not be able to understand right now, the importance of familial, fraternal, and romantic love.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Bus Ride

This really happened.

I am in San Francisco this Monday morning attending a conference of the National Communication Association. I am taking the opportunity of this meeting to visit with my cousins who live just a 20 minute bus ride from the conference hotel.

This morning my cousin walks me to the stop and I get on the Geary Limited which will take me to where most of the sessions are held. The bus is jammed and I can't get a seat so, in a manner I'm familiar with having been reared in Brooklyn and having lived in Boston for the past 30 years, I am hanging onto a metal railing leaning over a number of riders fortunate enough to get a seat.

The woman below me and to my right is on her cell phone. And she is animated. Initially I think she is venting about some issue related to work, then I think it is not about work but some investment. But I realize it is not either of these areas. I realize this because I hear her say touchdown, and then quarterback, and then penalties, and then Singletary.

This woman is ranting about the 49er game played on Sunday--a game which the 49ers won. She is referring to plays from the game and then she comments about "the catch" a phrase that football aficionados know refers to a catch made by Dwight Clark in 1982.

When she gets off the phone I ask her if she likes the 49ers. Her answer is concise.

Actually, I don't she says. But, she continues, she loves the Ohio State Buckeyes. Then this woman who tells me, without solicitation that she is in her 50s, is off to the races. I hear about Troy Smith the quarterback for the 49ers who is a Buckeye. I hear so much esoterica about the Buckeyes and the 49ers that I, a fairly knowledgeable sports fan, feel like I know nothing at all. She is crazy about Singletary, upset with the referees for not letting the boys play, happy to speak with me (really all I am doing is listening) because she rarely gets a chance to talk about football.

I ask her if she is from Ohio. She says yes, from Columbus. I mention Woody Hayes the revered coach of the Buckeyes. To that name she reacts as if I have said Yahweh. She then produces a bit of esoterica that only a zealot could produce. She tells me that she would have done the same thing Hayes did at the end of the Gator bowl.

I know what Hayes did, but what are the chances a stranger in 2010 will know what Hayes did in the late 70s that got him fired. Hayes, when a fellow named Bauman for Clemson intercepted a pass in the Gator Bowl that ended Ohio State's chances for a victory, hauled off and punched Bauman when he came to the sideline. To this date, I have never heard anyone say anything positive about this action. Today, I met the exception. With no solicitation my neighbor says, "I would have punched that Clemson guy myself."

I hope I am not painting her as an unsavory character. On the contrary, while I think punching a player is reprehensible, as I write in the Madness of March, I believe anyone who has such a passion for anything--stamps, coins, or football, is someone who has a nourishing hobby.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Corner of the Sky

I blogged earlier about seeing, almost by pure luck, the musical Pippin in December of 1973. We had gone into New York for the day intending to see a play or plays and stumbled into Pippin with the original cast. Ben Vereen as Leading Man, John Rubinstein as Pippin, and Jill Clayburgh as Catherine.

The story is of Pippin, Charlemagne's son, and how he attempts to find himself. His introductory song includes the lyrics, "Rivers belong where they can ramble, Eagles belong where they can fly. I want to be where my spirit can run free. Gotta find my corner of the sky."

Eventually Pippin meets the woman who is to be his wife, Catherine. Too restless initially to stay with her, he leaves, only to come back at the end of the play despite some ambivalence. At the end he croons, "If you are never tied to anything, you'll never be free."

When he first leaves Catherine/Jill Clayburgh, she sings a song entitled, "I Guess I'll Miss the Man". I guess I'll Miss the Man, Explain it if you can. His face was far from fine, but still I'll miss his face, and wonder if he's missing mine."

Today I read in the paper, that Jill Clayburgh 66, has died of leukemia. Sounds a bit trite, I know, but I Guess I will Miss the Woman.

There was something ingenuous about Clayburgh when I saw her in the parts she played in the movies and that one time I saw her on stage. In an Unmarried Woman, and Starting Over and Pippin. My sense is that the time to find your corner of the sky is when you are underneath it, and from the very little I know about her, and in the characters she played, she seemed willing to find her corner by following her heart during the short time that she had.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

red thong

I heard this morning that Aubrey Huff, the first basemen for the now World Champion San Franciso (nee New York) Giants, wore a red thong each day during the last month of the season because it was good luck.

In the Madness of March I write about the superstitions of sports fans. Athletes are in the same category in this regard. Stories are legion about how players cling to notions that some supernatural connection works for them. Ron Bryant a pitcher for the Giants a few decades ago actually sat in the dugout with a five foot stuffed bear because he was certain this was a factor in his successes. His teammates agreeably put up with this while he was on a winning streak.

My guess is that all over San Francisco and wherever Giant fans reside an assortment of lucky charms were brought out last night in an attempt to rid the Giants of their 56 year drought. It must have been the charms/thongs that did the trick as the Giants finally won a world series.

The first game I ever went to was in the Polo Grounds. My dad took me to see the Giants play the Phillies in a double header. I can still see myself walking with dad to the subway and can imagine my open mouthed awe when I walked into the stadium and saw the field. When I was six or seven I had the baseball cards of the Giant players pasted to the wall above my bunkbed during the season. I don't remember the 54 World Series but I sure remember the loss to the Yankees in the 62 World Series.

Sometime in the 70s about fifteen years after the Giants moved to San Francisco my allegiance to the Mets and then in the 80s to the Red Sox once I moved here, trumped my fondness for the Giants. Still, I was happy last night to see the Giants revel when the last batter for the Texans struck out. I thought of the Giant fans I know, my cousin Marilyn, my friend Warren Greshes who is as fanatical as they come, and others who were glad that their individual brand of rabbit's feet came through for them fifty six years after the Giants swept the Indians in 1954.