Thursday, January 29, 2015

Da Bears gave us a Super memory

     Read a story last week about the three sportswriters who have covered all 48 previous Super Bowls, and will be there again Sunday.
     Hey, I'm 1-for-48. I was there for the day, and the crowning, of Da Bears. It is the only Super Bowl I've seen live, and likely the only one I ever will see.
     It also was the only live Super Bowl for our son Jason, who was 11 -- nearly 12 -- that day at the Superdome in New Orleans. His recollection: "Sat in the end zone where The Fridge scored his touchdown."

A victory ride for Bears coach Mike Ditka (right) ... and
defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan (Chicago Tribune photo)

     Yep, "The Fridge" -- William "The Refrigerator" Perry, the 335-pound behemoth whose 1-yard TD run was one of the bizarre twists of a Super Bowl -- and a Bears team -- that was as wacky as any in history.
     The 1985 Chicago Bears were great ... and they were nuts. They were unique.
     It was one of football's greatest teams ever, nearly perfect (one loss in 19 games) and on Jan. 26, 1986, destroyed the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX, the most one-sided Super Bowl to that point. The 46-10 score still is tied for second-largest margin, exceeded only by 49ers 55, Broncos 10, four years later.
     It was the Bears team of Iron Mike Ditka as head coach, the famed "46" defense that was equal to any defense in any Super Bowl, its brash and mouthy coordinator Buddy Ryan, the NFL's then all-time top rusher (Walter "Sweetness" Payton), the NFL's all-time quirkiest quarterback (Jim McMahon), a world-class hurdler/sprinter/receiver (Willie Gault), the Super Bowl Shuffle video ... and The Fridge, the largest but not really all-that-important parts of that awesome defense.
     Fridge was the circus act. That he scored, and Payton didn't, was a joke.
     The AFC champion Patriots that day were a huge surprise to be there. Let's say that the six-time Super Bowl participant Patriots of the 2000s were much more legit.
     I was 38 when I covered the game for the old Shreveport Journal; it was one of the smallest papers to have a representative there, so I didn't get a seat in the main press box. I was in the auxillary press box, which actually was a section of seats high up in the stadium and -- as I recall -- across the field from the main media area (I did get a seat there for several games I covered at the Superdome).
     It wasn't the media crush of today -- no Internet yet, not many TV or radio sports talk shows -- but there probably were 200 of us in that area, and one memory is that a couple of rows above me and to my right sat Chris Berman.
     ESPN was still young (maybe in its sixth year) and he was not yet the omnipresent Swami he would become, but he was already a loud and visible presence there.
     More media memories in a moment.
     A pregame memory: It was Super Bowl XX, so the NFL brought in all past the Super Bowl game MVPs: a great group including Bart Starr (who, representing the group, tossed the ceremonial coin), Joe Namath, Len Dawson, Joe Montana, some of my Cowboys heroes (Chuck Howley, Roger Staubach, Harvey Martin, Randy White) and our Woodlawn/Louisiana Tech hero, Terry Bradshaw.
     The game referee was Red Cashion, so we heard him drawl his trademark "First dowwwn!" several times that day.
     Ditka had been the star tight end of the last Bears team to win an NFL championship, in 1963 ... also a tremendous defensive team. He was a personal favorite because he came to the Cowboys late in his career and helped them reach two Super Bowls -- the awful loss to the Colts and then (finally) the long-awaited first championship when he caught a pass for the final TD against the Dolphins.
     Then he joined the coaching staff for nearly a decade -- the clipboard-throwing, screaming assistant coach. That he did not learn from Tom Landry, who must have rued those 15-yard penalties Ditka sometimes earned.
     When he returned to Chicago to take over as head coach before the 1982 season, he promised a championship. They delivered in four years.
     One huge reason, no question: Buddy Ryan was his defensive coordinator. He was already on staff and he had been part of the staff for the New York Jets' Super Bowl winners and three Minnesota Vikings teams that lost in the Super Bowl. He knew how to put the pieces together.
     So Ditka had Payton, one of the classiest and greatest running backs; McMahon, who made all the right plays that year at QB and led a productive offense; and that defense.
     They were big and strong and fast and quick, and overpowering. Mike Singletary was the most dominant middle linebacker in football and, to think, maybe not even the best middle LB in Bears history (that Dick Butkus guy). But those defensive names that year ... Richard Dent, Dan Hampton, Wilber Marshall, Leslie Frazier, Otis Wilson, Gary Fencik, Steve McMichael, Dave Duerson, etc.
  (OK, I had to look up some of them.)
     They gambled fiercely, blitzing from everywhere and usually succeeding. They pulverized opponents, such as -- yikes -- the Cowboys. I do remember that 44-0 score -- Ditka's team beating The Man in the Hat's team.
     The only loss -- the only game that kept the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only unbeaten team in NFL history -- was a Monday Night Football loss to Dan Marino and the Dolphins in Week 13. McMahon was hurt and didn't play and at halftime of what became a 38-24 loss, Ditka and Ryan had a shouting match.
     They did not like each other (but then, other than his family and players, did like Ryan?) This set up a storyline for the end of the Super Bowl victory.
     In the playoffs, the Bears shut out the New York Giants 21-0, then shut out the Los Angeles Rams 24-0. So who really gave New England much of a chance in the Super Bowl?
    The Patriots, like the Bears and Ditka, also had a Hall of Fame player as their coach, and Raymond Berry, who as a receiver made Johnny Unitas a pretty good quarterback (kidding), was one of the NFL's class acts. The man from Paris, Texas, and SMU brought the Patriots a long way that season.
     They barely got in the playoffs, with an 11-5 record giving them an AFC wild-card spot on a tiebreaker. But it was a talented team -- John Hannah and Andre Tippett were Hall of Fame players, and Stanley Morgan, Irving Fryar and Craig James were familiar names -- and they got to the Super Bowl by winning three road playoff games.
      No Patriots had won a playoff game in 22 years and the closest the Patriots ever got to a championship was a 51-10 loss to San Diego in the 1963 AFC title game. Not much of a history.
      The Patriots' QBs were the forgettable Tony Eason, who started the Super Bowl, and Steve Grogan, who replaced him. And here is one of the funny things about this game: New England had a 3-0 lead after just 1:19 -- the quickest lead in SB history. Payton lost a fumble on the game's second play.
      The Bears scored the next 44 points.
      Looked this up: Chicago set Super Bowl records for sacks (seven) and for fewest rushing ayrds allowed (seven). Seven yards on 11 runs; think New England just conceded it was not going to run the ball? At halftime, when it was 23-3, New England had minus-19 total yards. It finished with 123 -- a bonanza.
      Payton ran 22 times for "only" 61 yards and -- notably -- did not get into the end zone. No, Ditka had been using "The Fridge" all season as a short-yardage battering ram, and it had worked. In this game, Fridge was going to try a pass and got smothered. But late in the third quarter, with the Bears on the Patriots' 1, he scored.
      It was a pigheaded and thoughtless call by Ditka, who could have let Payton score in the most important game of his brilliant career. But Ditka -- not yet the TV commentator/ad pitchman of future years -- was all for showing off.
      But showing off, that was McMahon's speciality -- his crazy punk hairdos, his fiery on-field demeanor (he argued with Ditka, teammates, refs, etc.), his out-of-whack off-the-field antics, his "message" headbands and, the week of the Super Bowl, his comments about calling New Orleans "sluts" and then mooning a helicopter above the Bears' practice field.
      (A story about those incidents prompted Ed Cassiere of our sports staff at the Shreveport Journal to write this award-winning headline: "No if, ands, or sluts about it.")
      A media memory: When McMahon came sauntering into the interview room post-game, wearing his usual dark shades, he was instantly surrounded by about 300 media people. That was a sight.
      Another memory: Ditka, too, was besieged by reporters. But so was Ryan, who soon was leaving to become head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. In an unforgettable postgame scene on the field, Ditka was given a ride of his players' shoulders ... but, only a few paces behind, so was Ryan.
      They did not embrace each. They did not hold a joint news conference.
      The Bears, in subsequent regular seasons, went 14-2, 11-4 and 12-4, but they lost to the Redskins in the playoffs twice and the 49ers once ... and that group, that fearsome defense, McMahon and Payton, never got to another Super Bowl. Injury luck wasn't the same, and neither was the aura.
      Maybe Ryan did give them that extra edge. But was he lovable? No, no, no.
      One final media memory: After the game, Payton sat on a podium and faced wave after wave of reporters, Most of the questions were about The Fridge's TD and how Payton felt about it. I got close enough to hear the questions and answers, and he stayed calm and just kept saying how happy he was to be on a championship team.
      It was quite a team and quite a day. Like Payton, I was happy to be there, and it was a good memory for our Jason.
      Payton died far too soon; I'm glad to be able to write about Super Bowl XX 29 years later.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Another Super Bowl ... I'll be at the Abbey

     I wrote a blog piece 53 weeks ago about the Super Bowl, and how I wouldn't be watching. As you might have read last week, I haven't changed my mind.
     Downton Abbey, a series that is one of PBS' jewels, is on Sunday night, and I must keep up with the latest developments. The football game be damned.   
     I will do all I can this week to keep from reading any Super Bowl stories or watching any of the news. I will leave that to the rest of the uncivilized world.
     How would I feel if the Dallas Cowboys were playing this week? Not much differently, but at least I'd have someone to root for ... in my silent world.  (Yeah, now I know you're disbelieving.)
     Last I looked Dez Bryant was one of the Cowboys' biggest stars, and what a fool he appears to be. I know he can play; I know he's a special talent. But one of his talents is running his mouth on the sidelines, on the field, and acting out. I've seen the games (on replays, long after the live event).
     Find it difficult to root for him, or -- as I've written often -- the guy who owns the team.
     I have talked to reporter friends who say Bryant has grown up some off the field and that Mr. Jones is fine to deal with, but my problem -- again, I'm repeating -- is the NFL itself these days.
     Deflategate" was last week's example. Marshawn Lynch is this week's example. With each controversy, the people in charge of the NFL look dumb and dumber.
     I don't care to revisit the deflated footballs issue except for this: (1) I want to use the photo-shopped artwork designed by my friend Roger S. Braniff Sr. of Shreveport; (2) I want to reiterate that I think Bill Belichick is the most clever/wicked manipulator of the NFL rules, his players, his system and team formations of any NFL coach in history; and (3) maybe quarterback Tom Brady isn't quite the class act I claimed he was in last January's blog.
     Let's say that I cannot root for the New England Patriots or Seattle Seahawks (as I can't root for many other NFL teams). I don't care who wins.
     Two low-class organizations in a low-class league, thank you.
     But other than the devious Patriots, Lynch is what is despicable about the Seahawks. Last year it was cornerback Richard Sherman who turned much of the world against Seattle with his big mouth. He would not shut up about how good he was and how good his team was.
     Lynch doesn't want to talk -- not to the media. (More on that in a moment)
     Here is a guy known as "Beast Mode." He might be the baddest running back in the NFL; he certainly acts like one of the baddest.
     He has, on his record, a misdemeanor weapons, a hit-and-run charge with his drivers' license revoked, and a DUI charge. But there are people out there who admire him.
     In his first playoff game, in a 2011 NFC wild-card game against the Saints, he had a 67-yard touchdown run on which he broke nine tackles -- one of the great runs in league history, an instant legend.
     He is a remarkable football player. He also is remarkably deviant.
     This season he has taken to grabbing his crotch after a couple of touchdown runs, one of the grabs on a backward dive into the end zone. The NFL loved that. He was fined $11,050 for that; $20,000 for his "grab" after the game-winning TD against the Packers in the NFC Championship Game two weeks ago.
     In the past, he has been a reluctant media interview. In the 2013 season, he flat-out refused to talk to media, and the NFL fined him repeatedly. He did go through Super Bowl Media Day, petulantly, explaining that "I'm just here so I don't get fined."
     This season more of the same. He spent one interview answering every question with "yeah" and another one by repeatedly saying "thanks for asking."
     Look, athletes and coaches not wanting to deal with media -- or screaming at/threatening media members -- is commonplace. In the 1970s, Duane Thomas (Cowboys) and Steve Carlton in baseball happily went silent.
     And some coaches and athletes, and team officials, talk far too much. I give you Jerry Jones, and with our Yankees, Reggie Jackson. No one ever talked more than Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali, and some of us loved it and many despised it and him.
     I had my battles with coaches and athletes, and I gave as well as received. So that's part of the game. I don't think the media should hang on every word from team officials or coaches or athletes, and it so often all gets overblown. Do we really need to hear from them that badly?
     Super Bowl Media Day, as with many things about the Super Bowl, is pretty much a joke. But I guarantee you that -- unless Bill Belichick or Tom Brady or someone blows their stack about underinflated footballs -- what Marshawn Lynch does or does not do, says or does not say, on Tuesday will be the "news" of the day.
     It's not that Lynch can't express himself. I saw a video in which he narrates the great run against the Saints, and he's funny. And some people think his "yeah" interview was funny, too.
     I don't, but I will say that if he doesn't want to talk to the media, the NFL should let him be. Don't make a spectacle of it.
     The NFL has warned the Seahawks that if Lynch, or other players, do the crotch-grabbing or some other weird celebration, the team could be hit with a 15-yard penalty (and fines). So what? Think they care? Money and fines mean little to people making millions.
     Wonderful role models in this league, in this game, right?
      If the NFL really wants to punish teams and players, I say -- as I did in the previous blog -- to send a really strong message. Tell Bill Belichick he can't coach in this game; he can't even be in the Phoenix area. Tell Marshawn Lynch he can't play or eject him from the game first time he acts improperly.
     They can watch the game from elsewhere. Or they can be like me and watch Downton Abbey, which has so many story lines going that it's infinitely more interesting than the Super Bowl.

Friday, January 23, 2015

It's been a deflating week in the news

     Let's mix politics, sports and movies today, and I'll begin by saying it's been a week of contentiousness. I'm seeing and hearing lots of anger out there, and I never like that.
     I especially don't like it from myself, and this week we had to endure debates about underinflated footballs -- how stupid a subject -- and the State of the Union address and a movie about a sniper.
     That leads to me writing this blog piece because I can say -- enough already.
Leave it to the New York Daily News' clever 
headline writers for the right touch

     I also must admit, I have paid little attention to any of it, haven't read stories on any of the subjects or stopped to listen to the TV "experts" ... and don't really care that much. I'm just in my own world, right?
     But my world includes Facebook and Twitter, and so I do see people's rants/criticisms. That unavoidable ... and also a good reason why I should leave social media for a week or two. Except I do like the updates on the teams I follow and I like to know when there's actual news out there.
     However, all these opinions, all this bull ... I'm trying to ignore it and not be angry about it.
     Excuse me, but I don't like the NFL -- National Foolish League -- at all these days. I root, as I always have, for the Dallas Cowboys (but not their owner), but I don't watch the games live. I record them and watch later ... less stress that way.
     I am one of the millions who will not be watching the Super Bowl. (When I told a friend that, he corrected "millions" to "hundreds.") I have not watched the Super Bowl, or any other NFL game, for the past two seasons.
     I have had a half dozen friends ask my opinion of "Deflategate" in the NFL, and then offer their opinion. Quickly, I will say: This is one of the most overblown stories of several football seasons. Underinflated/overblown. (I will return to the issue in a moment.)
     You can put the State of the Union address in the same "overblown" category. I stopped watching that about three Presidents ago. But I do like watching the President's entry into the House of Representatives chamber and the civility/pomp displayed as he makes his way down the aisle, shaking hands and hugging admirers and the constant applause, and once the speech begins ... forget it.  All civility ends.
     Members of the President's party applaud everything they can, jump to their feet and cheer; members of the other party often just look grim-faced, especially if -- as President Obama proved Tuesday -- he makes a remark that zings the opposition.
     When he's done, the pundits and the critics take over and here's my view: The State of the Union accomplishes nothing except stir up the rancor. Many proposals have little or no chance; the possible "compromise" issues are rarely compromised.
     It is pointless, but it's tradition. So if you choose to watch or choose to comment, go for it. I think it's foolish.
     Look, I don't like writing about politics here. It is not my field of expertise (I know a little more about sports subjects). But I just find it laughable to read that I live in a socialist society and that the President is a "liar." Maybe he twisted the facts, as his opponents claim, or he's "giving away the store" to Cuba, or he'd be a fool to use his veto to stop the other party's approved bills.
     I just keep thinking, didn't some of us feel the same way about the previous President and his top people
     I see these statements and "debates" from both sides of the aisle and my feeling is that no one ever changes anyone else's mind. My friends who have opposite political views from mine sure as heck don't change my mind, and I'm not trying to change theirs.
     So much for politics. Let's go to the movies.
     American Sniper is getting much attention and very-liberal moviemaker Michael Moore used the word "cowards" in a general comment about snipers, not per se about the movie's hero, the late Chris Kyle. Of course, that set off a mountain of critical remarks about Moore and a spirited defense of Kyle and the movie's director, the legendary Clint Eastwood.
     Obviously, Eastwood has starred in and directed/produced many great films. I've even enjoyed a few.
     Honestly, though, I've never been much of an Eastwood fan -- not even when he was Rowdy Yates on Rawhide when we first saw him five decades ago -- and I'm not much of a movie goer. Movies about guns and wars don't interest me at all.
     You can debate the role of snipers all you want. Maybe they're heroic; that's for certain when the other side also is firing live bullets. I see it as a necessary evil, just as wars are necessary evils.
     I'm not as pro-military as many folks, but I appreciate what the military does and what it stands for. I would not agree with the "coward" view; I'd never go that far. And I see Michael Moore -- even though I slant toward liberal views -- as an American crackpot, as an opportunist and self-promoter.
     But Clint Eastwood's "performance" at the Republican Party convention in 2012 was about the worst political theater I've seen. Even the Republicans were embarrassed at his impromptu act.
     So if you ask me, a Michael Moore vs. Clint Eastwood debate is two empty chairs going at each other. But it might draw better ratings than the State of the Union address did.
     Now, about "Deflategate" ... the talk, the stories are everywhere -- from the White House to the network news shows to the late-night talk-show comics having at it.
     This is about as stupid as "Spygate" several years ago. Leave it to Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. If the rules can be bent, they can do it.
      If they can deflate the footballs -- who knows who did that exactly? -- then they could twist the rules on salaries and the salary cap, on injuries, on drug testing, practice time, uniform regulations ... pick something.
      It's clear that Belichick -- in my opinion, the most successful NFL coach in history as a defensive coordinator and head coach (just look at his record) -- also is the biggest coaching "cheater" since the Cowboys' best friend, George Allen, all those years ago.
      It's also clear that no matter how the footballs felt, that 45-7 score in last week's AFC Championship Game meant the Patriots were a little better than the Indianapolis Colts. As a friend, a former NFL player, pointed out, underinflated footballs can be caught much easier by receivers ... that's the big advantage, even more than Tom Brady throwing them.
      But you have to wonder about the NFL, how it can let the separate teams be in charge of inflating the football? Why don't the game officials take charge of that, and why did they not notice how those underinflated balls felt during a game?
      It's just another in a bunch of "black eyes" for the NFL lately -- the growing evidence of players' brain damage leading to suicides, the Ray Rice female-abuse case and others like it, the "stomping" by he-man linemen, the "football move" controversy of a catch/no-catch by Dez Bryant that took care of the Cowboys' playoff chances.
      The NFL, I think, might be the most overrated, overwatched sports entity today. I'm sure my NFL writer friends will tell me it's not as overrated as World Cup soccer.
      (Incidentally, there is an NFL game Sunday -- the Pro Bowl in Phoenix. Those who watch that really don't have anything else to do. What a waste of time. If you care about that one, I feel sorry for you.)
      One more observation about "Deflategate": Belichick was fined $500,000 by the NFL for "Spygate" when he had the New York Jets' defensive coaches' signals videotaped in 2007. That was the largest fine for a coach in NFL history at the time, part of a package of punishment for the team.
      Of course, penalties were even more severe for the New Orleans Saints and coach Sean Payton (a year's suspension) after the bounty scandal -- bonuses paid for players for injuring opposing players during the 2009-11 seasons.
      I think, after the Patriots' previous transgressions, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell should suspend Belichick from coaching in this Super Bowl game, and he could suspend Brady from playing, too. That would serve them right.
      Won't happen; too much money at stake, too big an advantage for the Seattle Seahawks. But maybe they should make the Patriots play with overinflated footballs, or -- as other people have suggested -- with bricks or big bars of soap.
      And as my friend O.K. "Buddy" Davis suggested, if Belichick -- known for his ho-hum (sloppy) sideline garb -- is allowed to coach, they at least should make him dress in a suit and nice dress hat, like my favorite coach of all, the classy Tom Landry.
      Nah, classy and Bill Belichick don't go together.
      They should make him debate Michael Moore and Clint Eastwood about snipers and inflated footballs. Or have him give the State of the Union address. He's used to the criticism.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A case of mistaken identity, etc.

     In a recent column on LSU football, one of my writer friends -- one of several talented and knowledgeable writers who have covered the Tigers for years -- had the wrong quarterback throwing a touchdown pass.
     I saw the column link on Facebook and sent him a private message -- didn't want to post it publicly -- pointing out the error.
     "Sure did. Don't know how that brain fart slipped through. And you are the first [person] that noticed," he answered.
     It's the copy editor in me. But as I replied to him, "Hey, I have had hundreds of those."
     I have. I assure you that I have a hundred "brain fart" awards.
     When I was telling someone about this, they asked, "What was the biggest mistake in your career?" I had to laugh at that. Other than the career itself, gosh, I don't know. Too many choices. I'll let you decide.
This is Chad Campbell (I know that now, but a decade ago,
 you could have fooled me ... and did). See story.
 (photo from www.ryder
     In my freshman year at Louisiana Tech, my first semester on the school newspaper (The Tech Talk), I was assigned the education department beat. The paper's advisor,  the most-often crotchety Mr. Kenneth Hewins, told me to go talk to the head of the secondary education department. I went to the education building and -- I thought I had the right guy -- did the interview, came back and wrote the story, quoting Dr. Bobby Tabarlet.
     When Mr. Hewins saw the story, before it went in print, he came into where I was working -- in Pete Dosher's sports information office -- and he was not happy (he was never all that happy). "The head of the department," he said sternly, "is Dr. John Cawthon." He suggested (ha!) I go back over and do the correct interview.
     One of my friends was victimized in the Shreveport Captains' clubhouse one night when Don Robinson (who would be in the majors the next year) pitched a great game and the very young writer went to interview him. Asked the player in front of his locker if he was Don Robinson, he was told yes and he conducted the interview, quoted him in the story.
     Next day, we found out the guy he talked to wasn't Robinson, who was either in the shower or training room. It was a prank. The team's P.R. director, learning the story, blasted the offending player. The P.R. director doesn't remember doing that, but it sounds like me.
     I can say I never had the incorrect score in a game story. I also can say that in my first year as a fulltime sportswriter at The Shreveport Times, I covered a Fair Park-Southwood football game and the next day, the sports editor, Bill McIntyre (one of the people I most admired) asked me what the score of the game was. Yes, I had omitted it.
     Lesson learned. (Later, sports section would begin publishing the score as an insert or lead-in to stories).
     Well, lesson learned until my last year of work at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram when one night, writing a late game story off a TV game, trying to get it ready on deadline, I had the score as XX-XX (going to fill in the score at game's end). Oops, forgot to do it. We "slammed" the story -- no second read, no proofing -- and the page went in.
     About a minute later, I realized what I had (or had not) done. "Uh, Steve," I said to the night sports editor, "I screwed up. ... " Steve rolled his eyes, we re-did the page and hopefully not too many readers had to fill in their own score.
     But I have seen stories with no score or the wrong score. I have seen headlines with the wrong team winning. I managed to avoid that one, but a friend last summer sent me a story on a 1967 American Legion baseball game I had written in which a pitcher (Ronnie Botica) pitched a no-hitter with 17 strikeouts for Kay's Cookies in a 4-0 victory against Royal Crown Cola. Fine story, I got the facts right. Headline (not written by me) had R.C. Cola winning the game.
     I've had my headline errors, one a misspelled word in 48-point type, lead headline in the sports section of the Shreveport Journal one Saturday afternoon. I worked by myself that day -- and I was careless.
     And for careless and "brain farts," here are two examples of my work at The Shreveport Times in the early 1970s:          
     Bethune High School's football coach was Henry Taylor, a soft-spoken, friendly man. Its basketball coach was Huey Turner, a loud, brash guy. Both very good coaches. People were leery of Turner, including -- I believe -- Taylor. I'm convinced Turner did not like me or trust me.
     In writing about basketball, I referred to Turner a couple of times early in the story, then switched and wrote "Taylor: the next two or three references, then went back to Turner.
     Next day at the office, I answered my phone and heard a gentle voice, "This is Coach Henry Taylor at Bethune. You know, I'm the football coach. ..." My apology was sincere.
     A year later, I'm writing about Jesuit High School baseball. The coach was Frank "Champ" Cicero, a terrific classroom teacher (my friends from Jesuit all told me that) and a good guy to deal with and very successful coach (two state champions). Writing a story on his team, I somehow went from Cicero to "Sardisco," as in Tony  Sardisco, then the school's football coach and athletic director. I'd known both of them for years; how I did that, I don't know.
     But I have a friend who, in writing about the Atlanta Braves, had Ralph Garr in mind, but instead called him Ron Gant, who was about a decade behind Garr with the team.
     Ever do an interview using a tape recorder and find out, when you want to transcribe the tape and get correct quotes, that the tape recorder didn't work? It's happened to me; it's happened to friends. It's always good if or when the person you interviewed agrees to do it again, or if you can remember some or all of the quotes. And if not, you just make up the quotes.
     Typos in stories are common, and you probably have seen some awful ones. If you mistype "shot," it can be embarrassing. Be sure you get the "p" on pass. Be careful typing puck or suck or buck. I know of a case -- in a paper where I began my career -- that the word "count" was spelled without the "o." One omission, one bad keystroke, and you can be shot out of luck.
     Often, in headline writing, I would mess around and put in slang words or off-color expressions. Co-workers would warn me: You better be careful. And I always was, honestly.
     We did have a case at the Shreveport Journal where one day a co-worker was trying out the search/replace function. He took "team" and made it say "mulebutts." Thought he had reversed the process, but the next day a football story include the team "area mulebutts." (We had a laugh about that in the sports department, but kept it quiet.)
     And I have a friend -- again, in the paper where I began my career -- who messed around with a high school football schedule one week and put in an explicit sexual reference to a female. A week later -- obviously by mistake -- someone picked up that schedule and it ran in the paper (in agate type, but it was there). There was a big price to pay for that episode.
     Photo IDs can be really tricky. In my first year at the Star-Telegram, I wrote a photo cutline misidentifying someone in a photo with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones (there were several people in the photo). I could blame that one on an unclear ID by the photographer.  
     A couple of months later, I was doing the golf roundup and the PGA Tour tournament first-round leader that week was Chad Campbell, who lived in the Fort Worth area. Somehow the page designer picked the wrong photo. Next day we found out it wasn't Chad Campbell in the photo. I took part of the blame because I didn't know Chad from a can of Campbell's soup. But I damn sure knew what he looked like after that day.
     But, photos ... here might be my career screw-up, one that my buddies at The Shreveport Times in 1988 never let me forget.  On the first Sunday in May, we had a story in the middle of our sports front on the Kentucky Derby, a photo of the winning horse. At the bottom of the page, we had a story/photo combo on "A Day at Fair Grounds Field (with the Shreveport Captains)." But ...
     The photos were the same size ... a stupid page design of my doing. In the first edition, they were in the wrong place -- a guy in the Captains' video room with the Kentucky Derby story; the Kentucky Derby-winning horse with the Captains story.
     Good grief. Luckily, it was a first-edition mistake, not that many people saw it. Still ... Brain Fart Central.
     Woodlawn-Louisiana Tech people can laugh at these ... I have a friend who, in a story, had Tommy Spinks -- not Ken Liberto -- catching the 82-yard "miracle" touchdown pass from Terry Bradshaw to beat Northwestern State in the final seconds of the 1968 State Fair Classic.
     And, Shreveport sportswriting legend Jerry Byrd -- not one with too many "brain farts" -- did a story once in which he confused Spinks with another '60s Woodlawn receiver star, Jim Hodge. (Spinks and Hodge did look alike and their talents and careers were very similar.)
     Byrd, in his book Football Country (on North Louisiana), refers to Pat Tilley at one point as "Collins," as in Pat Collins. Easy mistake; both were from Fair Park High and Louisiana Tech, and Collins was on the coaching staff when Tilley played.    
     So, as I was thinking of writing this and doing some checking, I came across the Sports Illustrated "Sportsman of the Year" issue, which included a correction up front from the Dec. 8 issue. Instead of using a picture of Melvin Gordon -- Wisconsin's star running back, arguably the best RB in the country this past season -- it used a photo of a teammate.
     "SI regrets the error," the note concluded. Yep, even SI screws up.
     It became part of newspaper routine to publish "corrections" or "clarifications" for mistakes of some magnitude. We didn't do this in the first half of my career, but as time went on, I had my share.
     I'm just lucky they didn't label them "brain farts." I regretted the errors. But they happen, even on this blog.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Oh, Stuart, we hardly we knew you

      I am writing about Stuart Scott, the ESPN anchor/announcer whose death on Jan. 4 sparked an avalanche of tributes, memories and condolences that -- frankly -- surprised me.
      That is surprises me says more about me than him, that I didn't appreciate what he offered sports viewers for 22 years on ESPN. Fact is, I missed about 20 of those years.
      But quickly, let me offer this: I feel for anyone who has to battle cancer and I feel for their loved ones, their friends and their colleagues. In Stuart's case, he had a seven-year battle and he had the world rooting for him.
      He fought it publicly, he fought it courageously ... and I never even realized it. I paid no attention to Stuart Scott.
      We aren't supposed to speak ill of the dead, but I'll be honest. As I told a friend Monday, I could not stand watching him or listening to him. I thought he was a clown. He was too "cool" for me, too hip. I'm just an old-school guy.
      Again, that says more about me. I put a lot of announcers on the turnoff list. See them on TV, turn them off. Or I flip them off; flip the channel.
      I have written about TV announcers/talk show personalities a couple of times previously, so you might know that Skip Bayless is at the top of the "turnoff" list, and Keith Olbermann -- despite taking sports and political positions I agree with -- is right there. I never liked Tom Brookshier a few decades ago and I try to avoid Brent Musberger now.
      Look, I have a long list of "likes" and "dislikes" in announcing (see previous pieces).
      But, of course, no announcer will ever be as totally irritating to me -- and millions -- as the king of bombastic pomposity ... How-ard Co-sell. What he was, mostly, was a name-dropper. In my opinion, he commented so ignorantly so often on football and especially baseball, a thought verified completely in a chapter of fellow announcer Al Michaels' new book.
Stuart Scott (from ESPN Images)
      Seems to me that the emergence of ESPN as an every-day, world-wide sports voice spawned this proliferation of announcers who had to have a shtick. Chris Berman only preceded the snarky, opinionated Olbermann, and then along came Stuart Scott and Rich Eisen as ESPN2 anchors.
      I didn't like them from the start. Sorry, I was never a "Boo-Yah!" guy. So after about a year, I just didn't watch them much.
      Eventually Stuart was everywhere -- the main guy at the NBA championship presentation, a Super Bowl mainstay, someone who had his own language and catchphrases. But I never caught on. If I saw him on, I hit the "mute" bottom or changed channels.
      The past couple of days I have read several beautiful tributes to him from ESPN people, and I watched the 15-minute ESPN remembrance -- with comments from his bosses and co-workers. I'd never seen his speech at last year's ESPYs accepting the Jimmy V Perseverance Award and, honestly, watching that had me choked up.
      President Obama released a statement with his appreciation for Stuart's work and humanity. Twitter was filled Sunday with comments from athletes, administrators, coaches, media people ... it was overwhelming.
      So I was ignorant about his place in the sports world. I asked a few friends what they thought. A couple my age thought what I thought. But one said, "I really believe he was much deeper in his thoughts/outlooks on sports than all of the silly stuff he would say." Another friend, some two decades younger, said he didn't really have much an opinion, but was surprised at the strong reaction.
      Another friend, 10 years younger, said, "He was the anti-Chris Berman. Berman is contrived and tired. Scott was hip and unpredictable."
      Tim Brando, our Shreveport-based national media personality, worked with Scott at ESPN in the mid-1990s and wrote a tribute in The Shreveport Times this week.                      
      "Stuart’s heart was always in the right place," Tim wrote, "and if ya didn’t know him but you formed opinions (as people often do) by watching him on television, you simply didn’t get it, and certainly didn’t get him!"
      That would describe me.
      Tim also added that Scott (and Eisen) were "misunderstood by many" and that he (Brando)
"as a baby boomer, I didn’t always connect generationally."
      That, too, would be me.
      Valid point also that we -- the media, fans -- make judgments on people (coaches, athletic directors, politicians, sports columnists) based on what we see on TV or on one- or two-time meetings. I know I do. Pretty shallow, but also a human trait ... and not necessarily a good one.
      It's good to know that Stuart Scott was a friendly, loyal person, good to most everyone he met and dealt with, a loving father of two young daughters, a guy determined to do things his way -- no matter the criticism.
      So I never liked his style; I wasn't cool with it. But the evidence is in: Stuart was cool, like the other side of the pillow.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 was blessed for us ... Happy New Year

      In preparation to write this year-end wrapup, I had to consult my daily gratitude journal to review the highlights of our 2014. That was fun, and I'll get to some of that in a moment, but I can sum it up: We had a blessed year.
     Didn't need to look up the date of the best day of the year. That was Sept. 19 -- my mother's birthdate and the day Eli Smith -- our fourth grandchild -- was born.
Rachel posted this on Facebook on Tuesday
     That was a "wow" day, a nervous day for me, but what a thrill when Rachel, just a few minutes after delivering beautifully and surprisingly quickly, posted the first photo of Eli on Facebook with Bea and me looking at it while sitting in the waiting room. "There he is!" I exclaimed.  
     It was a joy, too, to see older sister Josie, then about to turn 7, come bouncing into the hospital room a couple of hours later with the Smith grandparents and take her turn holding Mr. Eli. They've made a great pair these past three-plus months, and Josie -- as she reminds us -- can read. Plus, she's writing books and magazines (I'm not kidding).
     But we get just as much joy -- and laughs -- from our first two grandsons. This year we watched them in swimming lessons and play on soccer teams for the first time, and Jacob went to kindergarten and Kaden gets into all kinds of mischief -- and keeps smiling.
     Obviously, those kids and their parents are what make every year wonderful for us. But there's so much more. We enjoy our lives as senior citizens here in Fort Worth.
     And before I go further, I am going to announce that we intend to get younger next year. (More on that at the end.)
     We attended a half-dozen entertaining Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra Pops Series concerts at Bass Hall; among the best, the music of John Williams and then Marvin Hamlisch. But the highlight was Bea's favorites (and birthday present), the Gala with world-class cellist Yo-Yo Ma. We went to Sundance Square for a Van Cliburn Tribute on the one-year anniversary of his death.
     We went to UT-Arlington for Maverick Speaker Series sessions featuring Anderson Cooper, James Carville and Mary Matalin, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Nina Totenberg, Bill Rasmussen. Plus, there were old movies and jazz concerts and one piano concert at the Fort Worth Central Library.
    A great year for book reading; between printed books, the Kindle and -- thanks to our daughter's influence -- audio books (on our lengthy trips), plus the Beth-El monthly book club, I probably totaled more books than I have in three or four decades.
    We kept upgrading with new stuff: In our apartment, carpets in the bedrooms; wood flooring everywhere else; bedroom blinds; our first flat-screen TV, boxes for the U-Verse; brown shoes and a beige lightweight suit for me; beautiful scarves, a royal blue dress and a yoga outfit for Bea.
    The biggest change of all, maybe, smartphones for both of us -- Bea's first. This was done much to her dismay, and the (unexpected) change from IPhone to Android wasn't easy. (Now she says she's learned to appreciate her phone.)
    Our big trip of the year -- remember, it was my home country, The Netherlands, in 2013 -- was the long drive to Savannah, Georgia, for the spring wedding of our niece Abby (my sister Elsa's daughter). Beautiful event, beautiful and historic place.
    That also led to the first of three trips to Knoxville (Rachel and Russell's home, and we lived there in the late 1990s). Back in September for the week's wait for Eli; then we had to go back and see him again Thanksgiving week.
    One enjoyable week was Rachel and Josie's annual stay with us. And how about those nights when Jacob and Kaden -- who live an hour away -- were here? Kaden, only 2 then, was a little unsettled a year ago, so he stayed up and watched all of the Sugar Bowl game with me.
    There were a couple of trips to see family and old friends in Shreveport-Bossier. The first, on Jan. 3, I made for the funerals of J.W. Cook and Ann Thaxton on the same day; the second was Aug. 1 when Coach A.L. Williams was among those inducted into an athletic Hall of Fame (his second honor of the year).
    We loved going to an early Shaw Family Thanksgiving in central Texas (Bea was a Shaw). On a few occasions, I reconnected with old friends -- some from Louisiana Tech, some from my newspaper past, some on Facebook -- and we made some new friends right here in the apartments and in Fort Worth.
    We are grateful for our family and friends, always.
    One of the best things of the year was -- I'm sure most will agree -- the rapid fall in gas prices. When they get down to 29 cents a gallon, I know we really will be back in the great decade of the 1960s.
    I have grown to like Facebook -- despite too much negative/political commentary -- and in particular the Throwback Thursday photos. I got into Twitter, too, where news and opinion is instantaneous. And television remains a big part of our lives.
    This year's TV highlights for me: the Barbara Walters retirement/goodbye; the Tony Bennett-Lady Gaga  special on PBS; specials on Bing Crosby, Peter, Paul & Mary, and Big Bands as part of KERA (public TV) fund-raising periods; and the tops: A Football Life on Roger "The Dodger" Staubach on the NFL Network. 
    One special video, found through Facebook (and re-posted): A recap of our Woodlawn High School buddy, LSU quarterback and Vietnam War victim Trey Prather, done by Rick Rowe of KTBS-TV in Shreveport.
    We're still Dancing With The Stars fans and Season 19 this fall provided two memorable moments: (1) the night Alfonso Ribeiro Jr. did "The Carlton" dance he made famous years ago on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and (2) when he and partner Witney Carson won the competition, as I predicted at the first of the season.
     I watched more college football and the NCAA men's basketball tournament than I have in years -- it was as exciting, or more, than I can remember -- and I watched less baseball ... until the playoffs. They were fabulous; the Kansas City Royals were a tremendous story but could not conquer the San Francisco Giants, the every-other-year champions. And Madison Bumgarner did a helluva Sandy Koufax impersonation. 
     For me personally, it wasn't much of a sports year. The only real fun the Yankees had was the year-long so-long for Derek Jeter, a class act to the end of his career. But all-Jeter all the time was a bit much. LSU football wasn't what he wanted -- right through Tuesday's bowl-game loss to Notre Dame -- but Louisiana Tech won nine games and was fun to watch in men's basketball. Plus, hiring Tyler Summitt as the women's basketball coach was an attention getter.
     But The Netherlands gave me some thrills, first with an astounding domination of speed skating in the Winter Olympics -- repeated gold-silver-bronze for the Orange team -- and then in the World Cup of Soccer.
     Didn't win it (those Germans did), but Holland didn't lose a game, only a confounded penalty-kick shootout in the semifinals. And there were some great wins in there -- a 5-1 walloping of mighty defending champion Spain, with Robin Van Persie's spectacular flying-header goal, and finally a 3-0 rout of host Brazil. Yeah, the beautiful game.
     Bea continued to watch, love and support her Dallas Mavericks, no matter what.
     One near highlight, right down the street at Colonial Country Club: David Toms of Shreveport led the Colonial golf tournament going into the back nine on Sunday, looking for his second title there in four years. He faded, but as always, it was fun to follow him.
     Back to the Dutch: One of the best gifts I received all year was a Holland World Cup soccer scarf, sent by Ron Nierman. Another good gift: a CD of 1960s/'70s music, 1,100 songs, from Sid Huff. Another one, from Ron: old clippings -- some of my stories/columns -- from my Dad's desk at his workplace.
     Which reminds me of a project I worked on all year: scanning clippings from my writing career and other clippings I'd saved, going from paper to digital. Lots of room on the hard drive, and there's more to do.
     Other projects: Organizing family photos (especially old ones of my parents) into albums and scanning them in digitally, and working on the family genealogy. That was part of the 34-chapter series I completed on my Dad, centered on his Holocaust experiences. 
     They are on my blog, and I will continue blogging next year, although -- obsessive as I can be -- I decided that two blog pieces every week was no longer necessary. So I will write when I want to write ... and I hope you keep reading.
     Might have a surprise, too, if it works out. Stay tuned.
     No year is without losses, and some were stunning: Robin Williams on Aug. 11 and then Jimmy Moore, son of good friends.
     More personal deaths: High school friends Tommy Watson and Terry Rice; family friends Sylvia Katz and Herb Broughton; the funny David DeFatta; journalism stars Wiley Hilburn Jr., Jeff Fries and Bobby Dower; and Mr. Bill Bradshaw, father of a famous quarterback. Have to add this one: daughter-in-law's old dog Keeley.
     Feel for those friends who became widows or widowers.
     I kept walking, and had some big-money finds: 98 pennies in one place one day, a $10 bill, a bronze dollar one day and a silver half-dollar two days later, and just last week, eight quarters right by the curb on a major street in this area.
     But it's not about money, it's about exercising, which -- finally -- brings me to being younger next year. That's the name of a book Bea has been reading, and on which we heard a presentation, and I have started it, and the emphasis is on mind-set of an active, healthy lifestyle.
     So Bea has stepped up her exercise routine -- including strength work and stamina, and yoga -- and she encouraged me to join the Downtown YMCA, located about a minute's walk from where I worked for nine years (and I'd never been in the building).
     The intention is to work harder and tone up the body and maybe lose weight. Not 30-35 pounds like a certain sports editor I know who has been on the run for three years, but I'd settle for 3-8 pounds, which would get me in the 150-155 range. 
     I know you are laughing now. And by the time you finish reading this, it might be 2016. Have a Happy New Year.                    


Monday, December 15, 2014

Don't knock Shreveport-Bossier -- and the I-Bowl

      Found out last week how to gain Twitter followers: Just jump on the Tim Brando and Paul Finebaum bandwagon.
      Long story short: A conversation on Finebaum's simulcast TV/radio show included derogatory comments by Paul, but mostly by his producer, about Shreveport-Bossier and the Independence Bowl. Brando, like Finebaum, a national TV/radio voice (and face) with ties to Shreveport, quickly took up defense with a series of tweets in which he was critical of Finebaum and the producer.
      I chimed in -- of course -- to side with Brando in defending our hometown and, in my case, more particularly the Independence Bowl.
      (Excuse me if I don't refer to its sponsor name, the Duck Commander Bowl. But we should thank the Duck Dynasty people, the Robertson family, for its involvement.)
      A couple of disclaimers: (1) I almost never tune into radio or TV talk discussions; I've had my fill of them. I have written this before. (2) I have not lived in Shreveport-Bossier since 1988, but it was home for 30 years, and the base of my sportswriting career, for most of 2 1/2 decades.
      So I am not as gung-ho on Shreveport-Bossier as Tim Brando, whose career has taken him from there to ESPN, CBS and FOX Sports but who -- after living in Bristol, Conn., for a time when he worked for ESPN -- returned to live in Shreveport and base his talk TV/radio show there.
     Shreveport-Bossier isn't the same place as when we lived there; what place is the same? The neighborhoods I came up in sure aren't the same.
      We don't go back that often, but I have hundreds of friends and acquaintances there. I am fond of the place, I root for it and the people there, and I don't like seeing it or them criticized nationally. And I don't like the fun that's made of the Independence Bowl.
      I wrote a blog two years ago addressing that:
      Last Friday, either in reply to Brando or a post of my own, here is what I tweeted ...
      -- Cheap shots at Independence Bowl and Shreveport-Bossier are BS. It's not paradise, but it is home. I am with Timmy B.
      -- For years, Independence Bowl people have done a very good job making this game and visit enjoyable. Give them credit.
      -- Shreveport-Bossier not a sports haven. But Independence Bowl is a lot better show (and bowl game) than people realize. To critics, shut up.
      -- This producer, in the words of the great Jerry Byrd, is "GUTLESS."
      Here is the bottom line: I had 94 "followers" on Twitter before those posts, and picked up six more. But I received the usual weekly notice from Twitter today that those posts had more than 10,000 views (10,119, to be accurate). That's because I included the Twitter handles @TimBrando and @finebaum.
      Those guys have thousands of followers. As I'm writing this, Finebaum has 254,812 followers and Brando has 95,271. I have 100. (Please surpress that laughter.)
      Thank you, guys.
      As Brando tweeted, he considers Finebaum "a dear friend." And, other than one bad moment, my history with Finebaum is fine. I wrote about him, too, a couple of years ago:
      I admire Paul's outstanding career, which is still on the rise with his daily talk show on SEC-TV and his appearances on network pregame/postgame shows. But through the years, he has taken his shots at Shreveport-Bossier and the Independence Bowl.
      I think some of it is for effect, to stir up talk. I consider it show biz. But it irritates Shreveport-Bossier people; it infuriates one of my best friends. Another friend says Finebaum "is dead" to him.
      Oh, gosh.
      Brando was really teed off. Here are some examples of what he tweeted Friday:
      -- Beneath contempt!
      -- Hurrying away from the incredibly horrid comments about Shreveport, Finebaum turns to a Sports Business guru to justify the criticism.
      -- ... not when my hometown is defamed AGAIN! NO! I do defend it.
      -- I'll defend my hometown until my dying days. Finebaum made a horrible error allowing his rookie producer to take him down a horrible slope!
      -- Paul's done this before but it's no less CHEAP! A shame.
      -- Cheap shots against communities that have BOWL games has no place in intercollegiate sports.
      Let's consider this last one: I agree. The communities that have bowl games are doing college football programs, and the schools, a favor. Take the Independence Bowl, which is paying each team $1,200,000 this year. There are -- if I count correctly -- 38 bowl games. The I-Bowl pays more, I believe, than 15 others.
      This will be the 39th Independence Bowl. Shreveport-Bossier has a long history of being unable to maintain sports success, but the people who have carried on to keep this bowl game going are to be commended. It ranks, by my count, 11th among the current bowls in longevity.
      The stadium is old (opened in 1925) and even after several renovations could use a remake. But the south end-zone skybox opened in 2008 is a neat and useful addition. Like the city itself, the stadium -- for so long State Fair Stadium -- is my home stadium. It is for many of us from Shreveport.
      In response to Brando, I saw a dozen "critics" calling Shreveport-Bossier names and how it lacks things to do, how gambling is the community's only attraction, etc. Most of those critics seemed to have Alabama-based Twitter handles; some were defending Finebaum, the bulk of whose career has been in Alabama.
      I looked up tweets by a couple of those people and what I saw almost exclusively was sarcasm, criticism and bitterness. I don't like the negativity on Facebook or Twitter in any form or on any subject. I try not to engage with stupid people, but sometimes ...
       So it's BS (see above). People that come to this bowl game can have fun ... if they want to. And, as I pointed out on Facebook, as a friend said to me, if South Carolina and Miami did not want to be in the Independence Bowl, they should have played better.
      Look, there aren't many teams who start the season aiming to play in the Independence Bowl (or in many of the other bowls). But as my friend Patrick Locke pointed out on Facebook: "EVERY team I've talked to, including Nick [Saban] when he was at Michigan State, said the bowl was a great experience. Make no mistake, though, the best thing about the bowls for college coaches is the extra practice time they get a start on for next year. They only work on their game plans a week prior. The rest of the time is prep for the next season."
      We all agree there are too many bowl games, too many what I consider mediocre -- maybe undeserving -- teams. There are, by my count, 12 teams with 6-6 records in bowl games, 17 at 7-5, two at 6-5, one at 7-6, and one (Fresno State) at 6-7. That's a lot of mediocrity.
      But communities (and ESPN) have the funds to pay those teams, and the NCAA will not turn down that money. And among those mediocre records are some nice matchups: Texas-Arkansas, Iowa-Tennessee, Texas A&M-West Virginia and ... Miami-South Carolina in Shreveport.
      I have a friend (Bob Basinger) who has been to all 38 I-Bowl games -- sometimes through rain, cold and one blizzard. He'll be there again Dec. 27. That's supporting Shreveport-Bossier, college football and the bowl game. He, like Tim Brando and me -- and thousands of others have this message: Don't knock the Independence Bowl. We're proud of it.