Friday, October 31, 2014

Motivational speeches are so often ... silly

     The cynic in me, growing as I get older, is scoffing at coaches' motivational speeches today. Especially college football coaches.
     Sorry, they are just so over the top, So silly. Forgive my irreverence.
     Perhaps not as over the top -- or weird -- as the fire-and-brimstone preachers you and I have seen and heard, the ones exhorting people to heaven and warning of the damnation of hell. Not as earnest as the motivational speakers people actually pay to hear at seminars. Not my thing.
      (I do know our old friend Terry Bradshaw is one of those speakers, and he is a good one -- as good at speaking as he was at quarterback, and he's a Hall of Fame QB. Go hear Bradshaw and you know you've been entertained.)
     But, gosh, what a show some of these coaches can put on. Do I find them entertaining? Not at all.
     Here's what triggered this piece. I turned on the recording of the Alabama-at-Tennessee game -- played last Saturday while I was watching Ole Miss-at-LSU -- and the SEC Network telecast began with the cameras inside the Tennessee locker room.
     Vols coach Butch Jones, the tough-looking, tough-acting guy with the old-fashioned crewcut, was in front of his football team and staff.
From his first day as the Tennessee Vols' head football
coach, Butch Jones was familiar with the seven Gen. Neyland
 game maxims. (Knoxville News Sentinel photo)
     Jones screamed, "WHO'S GOT MY BACK?"
     Tennessee players: "We've got your back."
     Jones again: "WHO'S GOT MY BACK?"
     Players: "We've got your back."
     Jones (loud, intense): "I've got your back tonight. Everyone in orange has each other's back tonight, on every single play. ... Just do your job. If we win the game maxims, it's going to be a great night for the Big Orange."
     Then he turned to a bulletin board that lists the seven game maxims originated by Tennessee football coach/military hero Gen. Robert Neyland in the 1930s. Jones began reciting those maxims and the players dutifully repeated them.
       This is Tennessee football tradition. The Vols have done this before every game since the '30s. All their coaches know this is part of the job. Lane Kiffin, I heard, didn't want to continue the routine, but the players -- in his one year as head coach (2009) -- insisted. Also, I read that many coaches around the country, some with Vols ties, have their team recite similar maxims.
        With that, the Tennessee team stormed out of the dressing room at Neyland Stadium, ran through the "T" formed by the "Pride of the South" band ... received the kickoff, soon gave up a sack, punted ... and promptly gave up an 80-yard touchdown pass on Alabama's first offensive play.
         So much for starting the game fired up and playing with pride and intensity. So much for
that fiery Jones motivational speech and pregame routine.
          Apply Neyland maxim No. 3: "If at first the game -- or the breaks -- go against you, don't let up ... put on more steam." (Put on more steam; how 1930s is that?)
          Alabama had 27 points by the time Tennessee scored. The Vols did make a game of it, closing to 27-17, but no amount of motivation was going to be enough this night. Not enough steam.
          Don't mean to be picking on Jones or the Vols. We have ties to Tennessee; daughter and son-in-law are graduates, who live in Knoxville, work in the area, and we lived there six years (I worked for the paper there). Granddaughter Josie can sing Rocky Top. I root for only one SEC school, but we don't mind the Vols.
          I'm just using the Neyland maxims routine as an example that what said in the locker room often isn't really meaningful when the game begins.
          It's just kind of a show, part of the tradition of the game. Coaches, at any level and in any sport, have been trying to "motivate" their players for forever. It's really the coach showing how much he cares, and how much he wants his players to care.
          We love a lot of college football traditions -- the pregame band show (it's always the same at LSU, and how great is that?), the team touching the banner, or the bulldog/tiger/whatever statue, touching the rock and running down the hill, and now -- in just about every sport -- the team- and student-bonding drill ... jumping up and down together. Love many traditions in all sports, really.
           But the point is, motivation only goes so far.
           What's a heckuva lot more important is how prepared teams are after a week on the practice field, or in basketball, a day or two; in baseball, day after day. What's important is if coaches -- and players -- can adjust to what the other team and players are doing during games.
          We've all heard the Knute Rockne exhortations for his Notre Dame teams in the 1920s and '30s. Lots of Rockne imitators since then. I'm just not much of a believer that it makes a difference.
          Butch Jones is about as intense as anyone, and he's had success in previous stops. Not so much -- yet -- at Tennessee. But one coach who might be more intense, more frantic, more vocal, is having great success now and has had it in the past: the local guy, Gary Patterson at TCU.
          Putting it bluntly -- he is a screaming fool. (I find him hard to watch.)
          Again being recognized as one of the nation's best defensive coaches, Patterson takes every opportunity to "motivate" his team. Even his comments to the media -- and he is, in my opinion, no friend to the media (nor is that his job) -- are calculated to send messages to his players.
          But maybe his motivational tactics work. He'd say so, and so do TCU fans. I'd say his teams' success has more to do with practice drills and time, and a drive for perfection.
          Certainly that's true for Nick Saban at Alabama (and LSU before that). He can go off during games and practices, but I suspect his pregame/halftime speeches are more calculating than high-volume.
           And I can't see Steve Spurrier -- who has been among the greatest of college football coaches in his time -- screaming at his team. He'll get irritated and livid for a moment, but he doesn't seem to be a "yeller." Bobby Bowden (speaking of great success) wasn't, either. But he was a helluva speaker.
           I've heard and read that LSU coach Les Miles is quite the pregame/halftime motivator, that is if the players can understand what he's trying to tell them. But I really like his softer, more low-key manner during games, even talking to players who have screwed up. I prefer that, although -- honestly -- I would have been in the "screaming" category. That's where I am during some games (not all) watching at home on TV.
           I think high school coaches still believe in motivational tactics or speeches, and it's part of many college basketball coaches' makeup, too. But I just can't imagine that very many pro coaches -- NFL, NBA, NHL, soccer and certainly not baseball -- stand in front of their teams and their well-paid players and scream at them.
            No, I think the pro coaches leave it mostly to the players to motivate each other. Certainly that's true in the NFL, where you routinely see the crazy gyrations by players on the field and the sideline -- before and during games.
            Ray Lewis, who is going to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of the great linebackers of his time, retired the "honor" of the nuttiest pregame hysteria. His act alone was enough reason for me to turn off live NFL games for good.
           My favorite football coaches were Tom Landry, Joe Aillet and Lee Hedges (you know Landry; my old friends know the other two), and they weren't "motivators." They were teachers, detail-oriented and organized. They calmly told players what needed to be done, and left the high-tone motivational speeches to their assistant coaches ... and to the players.
           My favorite "motivational" coach was the man who inspired the name for this blog; I heard him give hundreds of talks to kids at the high school level (and not just in athletics). Jerry Adams didn't yell his messages, but he talked earnestly and was always focused on mental preparation.
           When I called him at his home in Tennessee the other day to talk about this, we agreed that the key for any team, or any function, is the work done prior to the event ... in football, the work done on the practice field.
           "It's not necessarily a long speech by a coach before a game," he said. "Whatever is done or said, it has to be the right time. It (motivation) can come from one moment, one sentence, or one play, or from a (verbal) challenge by a player or two. ... But you have to have a good game plan; everything has to be in place. You have to be prepared beforehand."
           Back to those college traditions. I love the tradition of players (and the coaches) singing the alma mater in front of the school band after victories; I especially love it for LSU and Louisiana Tech. To me, that's a reason to be motivated to win.
           I'm sure the Tennessee Vols like doing that, too. That should be Neyland maxim No. 8: After you win, go sing the alma mater. Then you can yell.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Luck is what you make of it, or it makes of you

     So are you a good-luck person, or a bad-luck person, or somewhere in between?
     Luck, or fate, has been on my mind since my previous blog post when I declared Les Miles "the luckiest coach I've seen in 55 years of following sports." Since then, his LSU football team has won twice more -- and luck had nothing to do with it.
     Those were well-deserved victories. Not much crazy business and lots of discipline and willpower in those games.
     But the intention of this piece isn't to write about sports; it's about luck -- or lack thereof -- in life. I find it a fascinating subject; maybe you will, too.
      I often write from the viewpoint of athletics and journalism because that's who I am, that's where I've been. But, of course, I have many other roles and viewpoints -- son, brother, husband, father, uncle, Opa, friend, co-worker, agitator, etc. -- and I've been here 67 years to offer these opinions.
      I look at my life and say "glad to be here" and "damn, I've been lucky."
      How about you?
      To come to the United States from another country with my family -- as millions have -- and see life develop so splendidly, that's good fortune. That's with a lot of help from a lot of people.
      To settle in Shreveport, La. -- no garden spot, but a beautiful place for us -- and move to a neighborhood and schools where all seemed to be just right for a decade, how fortunate.
      And I'm not alone in that thought. On Facebook recently, my co-sports editor for the high school yearbook in 1963-64, Lewis Allgood, wrote of the Class of '64 reunion ... "how lucky we all were" to be at that school at that time. Several others expressed the same thought.
      How lucky we all are to still be here. One of the photos from that reunion shows the "in memoriam" board -- 71 names listed, including some good friends ... eight of them athletes. From the five seniors on our basketball team in my senior year, one survives.
      We lost so many of these people when they were so young, so far ahead of what we thought was "their time." We've all lost family, friends much too soon. It was not their luck, or their fortune, to live long lives.
      That's hard to explain, perhaps, and we can say it was their "bad luck" (and ours, in a sense). To understand it, we lean on whatever faith we believe in.
      Luck so often is a right-place, right-time deal. Just as bad luck is a wrong-place, wrong-time deal.
      Most of the "bad" that's happened to me has been self-inflicted; it wasn't "fate." I put myself in that wrong place. Conversely, I've been lucky that someone -- Bea and others -- was there to give me a lifeline, a boost ... a job. My family certainly benefited from those times.
      Oh, I could point to some "bad" luck with, say, automobiles. Haven't we all had that?
      Let's see ... three instances where we had huge dents or extended scrapes on one side, a blown-out tire on a bridge coming into Baton Rouge, a loose truck muffler I couldn't avoid on a bridge going into Jacksonville that caused a busted oilpan, a flash-flood I ran into in Knoxville when the car got caught in deep water, killing (and ruining) my engine, a 10-car pileup (I was third) late one snowy, icy night at "malfunction junction" on the interstate in downtown Knoxville ... another dented bumper and side panel.
      Almost forgot my first accident -- the day I backed my mother's car into my father's car. Oh, yeah. Dad didn't get all that mad at me very often, but that day, he was just a bit ... furious.
      As my son Jason and my friend Teddy Allen taught me to say ... "My bad."
      So I kind of understood when Jason, while in high school, came home and told us that he had backed the rented car he had used to take his date to the prom into the girl's father's car.
       But -- knock on wood -- no injuries, no pains. Bad luck, but also good luck.
      We, Bea and I, have had some things stolen from us here and there, but nothing major. My parents' home got broken into, and it shook them up, but the damage was minimal and the crime was solved in short order.
      We've known people who we thought were beset by "bad luck." Something disastrous -- a family problem, financial woes, physical trouble -- was always happening to them. Sometimes it was out of their control, but the feeling we had also was that they caused their own issues, and so often you can feel their "woe is me" vibes.
      Most importantly, whatever happens to us -- good luck, bad luck -- it's how we react to it. We can take a positive approach, deal with it and move on; we can whine/complain about it, or be angry ... and then what?
       I am dismayed when people express their frustration/anger at their bad luck, or what they perseve as bad treatment, on Facebook. That happens much too often; it's tiring to read.
       It's all in what you make of your luck, or if you let it control you.
      When I think of good and bad luck, though, what counts most is a person's health. Nothing is as crucial as good health.
       It is, as we know and have been told repeatedly, imperative to do what you can to preserve your health -- to eat properly, exercise, stay in shape, to live as safely as possible.
      We had our big scare in 2002 when Bea was found to have colon cancer. It was Stage II (Stage IV is most often fatal), and the chemo was a tough process. But she recovered and a relapse scare and radiation/more chemo three years later was difficult, too, but she is here and she's well, and we are blessed.
      My parents each lived into their late '80s, mentally alert for most of those years. There were some issues (kidney stones, diverticulitis, a broken wrist, a growing battle with diabetes) on the way, but they rolled on and kept living.
      But, gosh, we see people, friends, whose lives were cut short by cancer, strokes, heart trouble, brain tumors and accidents, and the thought is "bad luck." It is those sudden deaths, when people were seemingly well or in the prime of their lives, that shake us so. We don't forget them.
       I have close friends who have had heart attacks/blockages, have stents, have survived prostate cancer, and a stroke. I am thankful they seem to be doing as well as they can.
      We've all known people who were physically handicapped -- some from birth -- and those who have had to care for those people, parents with babies/kids with special needs. And yet, they face their challenges and so many have managed productive lives. I have so much empathy and admiration for those people. Bad luck maybe, but no give up.
       I think about my family history, and I can say it was "bad luck" that my grandparents, uncles and aunts -- and my parents -- were caught up in Europe in the late 1930s/1940s and were Jewish ... and were victims of the Nazi horrors.
       My parents' good luck was that they somehow survived and -- with a lot of breaks, some self-made -- found the way to a new and better life.
       Final thought, back to Les Miles. Our "good luck" football guy coached Saturday's big game with nemesis Ole Miss a day after his mother passed away. The death wasn't unexpected; she was in her early 90s.
       But the unexpected happened 3 1/2 years ago when the Tigers' coach and his family lost his younger sister in a car accident near Baton Rouge.
       So no matter how famous, how high-profile a prominent coach is, how "lucky" he might be, he's human. Bad luck or fate affects him -- and it has nothing to do with football. We should all handle matters as gracefully as he did this past weekend.            

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The joy, and agony, of LSU football

     LSU football can drive a person mad, specifically the person writing this.
     I was at my best -- no, worst -- Saturday night. The woman who also lives in this apartment, a Dallas Mavericks fan, also was mad ... at me. Don't blame her.
     It was a tough night, and while the game's outcome at The Swamp in Florida was a good one for us, the method was -- as usual -- maddening.
     You would think that after 10 years of Les Miles-coached LSU teams, we would be used to this. You would be wrong.
Les Miles and the LSU Tigers sing the alma mater after every victory, as
 they did Saturday at Florida, but often it is a struggle to get there. (AP photo) 
     The stress of watching the Tigers is going to take me out of this apartment in future games. I think a padded room, with me as the sole occupant, is the answer. Easier LSU victories would be a good solution. That's not likely to happen.
     The stress of watching the Dallas Cowboys live and the New York Yankees live, and even the Dallas Mavericks live, have taken them out of my television rotation. That's what U-Verse recording system is for. Late-night watching -- by myself -- is a bit easier and much quieter.
     I am writing this strictly from a fan's perspective, not a former dip-spit sports writer. I am a much more passionate fan; when I was working, I did manage to maintain a sense of decorum and -- yes -- professionalism.
     I have been following LSU football since that magic year of 1958, sometimes very closely, sometimes not. There are many, many more passionate Tigers fans that me, and many, many more with greater knowledge of LSU football history.
     But as I've written before, there are few sports teams and events that I enjoy watching more and there are few that provide more agony (see: Yankees, Cowboys, Dutch soccer).
     LSU-at-Florida on Saturday night was agony.
     I have been able to stay fairly calm this season, through the woeful first 2 1/2 quarters in the opener against Wisconsin, and through the basically one-sided SEC losses to Mississippi State and Auburn (if your offense is sporadic and your defense can't read plays and can't tackle, you get what you deserve). But I felt that this Florida team was very beatable, even by a struggling LSU team.
     Thus the impatience with this mistake-filled game. The beautiful thing was Florida was just as prone to mistakes, and in the end, even more so. But I will reveal now that when Colby Delahoussaye made that winning 50-yard field goal with 0:03 on the clock, I wasn't watching.
     As the great Jerry Byrd often said (in this case, it applied to me): No guts.
     I had to laugh when I saw that Miles said that this was "an immensely classic battle." Classic? No,  it wasn't (LSU's 2007 comeback win vs. Florida at Tiger Stadium was classic; those were two outstanding teams; programs that totaled three consecutive titles).
      This game was bizarre. This was two mediocre teams.
     At the risk of the wrath of LSU fans, and Les Miles fans, I am going to put in writing what I've been telling people for several years now: Les Miles is the luckiest coach I ever have seen in 55 years or so of following sports.
     I have tried to think of someone luckier, or equally lucky. I can't.
     Let's qualify this: This luck is a good thing. And maybe luck isn't the right word. Maybe Les is the most fortunate coach. Whatever. It works for the Tigers, doesn't it?
     Saturday's win was Miles' 100th as LSU coach. So many of those can be put in the "unbelievable" category, games when you (I) didn't think it was possible. A friend of mine said in a text after the Florida game: "Seems like every year they win two or three games they shouldn't."
     In this game, it took -- among other things -- the 50-yard field goal at the end, a tipped-pass interception of a last-minute Florida pass (a poor decision and throw by the Gators' QB), a drop of a sure touchdown pass by a Florida tight end that would have given the Gators the lead with less than 2 minutes remaining; a breakdown in the Gators' secondary that let LSU escape a third-and-25 hole when Florida led with 2 1/2 minutes left; three major breakdowns by LSU (two Florida punt returns -- one for a TD, one setting up another -- and a 79-yard Gators pass play). Etc., etc.
     A typical see-saw LSU victory under Miles.
     Our pal Glenn Guilbeau detailed the history of LSU's "lucky" victories under Les in his Monday column for The Shreveport Times and other Gannett Co. papers in Louisiana:
     Read that; it saves me the time of recalling those agonizing games.
     It was baseball icon Branch Rickey who is credited with first saying, "Luck is the residue of design." If so, Les Miles is covered in residue.
     I look at LSU, and so often see a team that is undisciplined, scattered, and looks unprepared. Plays are signaled in late, the QB audibles and then has to rush things, the play clock runs down (or out), timeouts are wasted. Doesn't matter who the QB is or the offensive coordinator, it's happened for nearly a decade. This is by design? I don't think so.
     Defensively, what I see are more problems of execution. I think John Chavis has a strong record as a coordinator, at Tennessee and LSU; he had a great defense in 2011; I didn't hear anyone complaining then. The man knows what he's coaching. But players don't always get where there supposed to be, or tackle/break up passes when they do.
     Special teams? The punt-coverage unit almost cost the Tigers the game Saturday.
     I wish things went more smoothly more often. But all that said, when LSU can pull out games as often as it does, talent does win out, and obviously there is some good coaching going on.
     We can always second-guess the LSU play-calling.  I think it's too often too conservative and predictable. But on Saturday, the Tigers' staff obviously felt it could run the ball against a pretty tough Florida front -- and it did. This was what we'd been waiting to see from heralded freshman Leonard Fournette; he looked like a big-time running back in that game, several times one desperate Florida tackle from breaking a long TD run.
     But I am not here to be too critical of Les Miles and his staff. I think Miles knows how to run a great program. Obviously, talented players are being recruited and put in the right places.
     From everything I've heard and read, and my media friends tell me, Miles treats people well -- even the media -- and he deals with discipline problems best he can (yeah, you can criticize, and people do, but the coaches at this level everywhere have tough jobs in this area).
     I think Miles is fun, and entertaining, and we never know how he's going to express himself. He's refreshing compared to the dead serious, uptight, coach-speak types who can turn on the media (or shut off everyone else in his program from the public).
     Sometimes I wish Miles would show more emotion on the sidelines. He can get animated, but he stays mostly cool. And while I debate this aspect with myself, I come to this conclusion: Because he stays calm, so does his team. I think he instills confidence; he expects his players can perform.
     So there's not a great sense of panic; thus, his players -- such as sophomore QB Anthony Jennings on Saturday against Florida when he made some hurried decisions and rushed (missed) passes -- can make the plays they have to. Jennings made those big throws to Travin Dural and a couple of crucial shorter ones.           
     Here's what we know -- winning in college football isn't that easy. An example close to where I live: TCU upsets mighty Oklahoma one week, then leads Baylor by 21 points in the fourth quarter the next. How do you figure that TCU, with its defensive genius head coach (Gary Patterson really is a great defensive coach), gives up 24 last-quarter points and 61 in all?
     It has been one wild season. How do you explain that Mississippi State and Ole Miss are now the powers in the SEC West? It's a topsy-turvy world, and that's why we love college football.
     So this LSU team -- any LSU team -- will keep us in agony, and will give us some joy. I'll try to hang it there because watching the Tigers play is about as exciting as it gets. But it's stressful. It takes guts. And if you let it, it will drive you mad.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Hey, look at the oddballs (or is that a mirror?)

          I keep thinking that it's an odd world out there, especially in sports.
          Second thought: Maybe it's not so odd these days. Maybe it's me that's odd, or behind the times, or whatever.
          I have been accused of "odd" or "unconventional" or just plain nuts. And that's what I'm thinking when I watch sports events -- or some of our favorite shows on television.
          And I'm not talking about the PBS Newshour or the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, which we prefer over everything else.
          I mean Hawaii 5-0 and Person of Interest, and some of the other things we try to watch. We accept the abundance of violence and noise and some of the strange conversations and twists in these shows (and movies we see) -- and we say, this is just today's world.
          When I see the behavior and the appearance of today's athletes, I have to remind myself constantly that it's not the world I came up in.
           Let's break this down: I am bugged (perturbed?) by (1) the lack of humility in sports and, well, politics; (2) the proliferation of hair and beards in sports and -- I might as well say it -- the guys on Duck Dynasty; and (3) the ever-growing presence of tattoos on our athletes.
           These things probably don't bother the generation or two younger than me. OK, so my 1950s/1960s conservative side is showing. More on that in a moment.
           I have written about this previously (and I probably will again), but I expect athletes to take success in stride.
           I really can't stand all the sack dances and touchdown celebrations, and the poses and 3-ball signs in basketball, the outrageous goal-scoring aftermaths in soccer (when there are goals scored) and mostly -- because I love the sport so much -- the outlandish (stupid) behavior in baseball.
           It's OK to show emotion or celebrate if it's a really big game, such as the home runs hit in playoff games this past week. But in the regular season? Dang, it's 162 games. Not many are worth acting like you just won the World Series.
           The handshake/fist-bump lines after games have become routine. That's not so bad. But when teams win games in walkoff fashion, it gets crazy ... the team-hopping routines, the pouring of the water/Gatorade bucket on the "hero," the shaving creme-in-the-face drill.
           The championship- or playoff-clinching celebrations are now bizarre, with everyone wearing goggles and spraying champagne and whatever all over the place and all over anyone who happens to be in the way. I don't even want to see clips or photos of it.
            It's all too much. And here's what really gets me: When teams celebrate -- and it really doesn't warrant it. Take my favorite baseball team, the New York Yankees, for example (please take them).
            There was a game in mid-July when the Yankees scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth as what should have been an easy popout to first base got wind-blown a bit and ended up falling between three Cincinnati players (any of them easily could've caught the ball). The Yankees treated the batter who hit the ball as it he'd done something great.       
             Same thing in September -- winning run scored in the bottom of the ninth when a ground ball went between the legs of the Toronto first baseman. Again, the batter who hit the ball got the pounding, Gatorade-pouring treatment. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
             As if it helped the Yankees make the playoffs. They didn't come close.
Auburn's team deserved to celebrate last Saturday, not LSU's (AP photo)
             I don't criticizing college kids, or seeing them criticized, but unwarranted celebrations came to mind last Saturday night as LSU was getting pounded at Auburn.
             I posted on Twitter: "I am an old fart, but it is irritating to see DBs on a football team losing by 24 points celebrate a pass breakup [in the end zone]."
             At least some people agreed with me. Didn't help LSU any. But it makes me wonder how LSU's coaches must've reacted to see how delighted that defensive back was with himself.
             Back to the pros a moment. I look and listen to LeBron James and Tiger Woods -- just using them as examples -- and they're not outrageous, but they're not all that humble, either. But I watch Dirk Nowitzki, and the San Antonio Spurs' "Big Three" -- Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili -- and I think, well, there are still some winning, class athletes out there.
             Now about hair and tattoos ...
             I've never had long hair, but I see the early and mid-1970s photos and see thick hair and long sideburns ... and I roll my eyes at that look. Never had facial hair; it bothers me.
             So, yeah, maybe I prefer a "clean" look or at least a moderate one. I'm conservative that way.
             Some people will know that I'm not all that conservative in my political/social views -- sorry, old friends -- but I admit I can never get used to see flowing hair and beards on a baseball diamond, or underneath and coming out of football helmets, and basketball players whose tattoos greatly outnumber their scoring and rebounding averages.
             It's just not my thing.
             I have plenty of friends, young and old, with tattoos and longer hair and neatly trimmed facial hair -- emphasis on neat. So why is it that I find so many athletes (and entertainers/musicians) so hard to look at? And I don't want to hear/see interviews with them, either.
              Does it matter in terms of how they perform? It does not; it should not. And I feel almost guilty because I'm not pulling for those guys to do well. I am making judgments on their looks, not their character, their values. No doubt some are fine people.
              I need to remember how outrageous we thought the Oakland Athletics were in 1972 when most of them grew mustaches -- including Rollie Fingers' famous handlebar -- and some had long hair and it was so wild for the time. All they did was win three World Series in a row and five division titles.
             (And, gosh, didn't the Beatles have such moptops when we first saw them in 1964?)
             Every team, every organization, has its standards or its rules -- and obviously with some, there are no limits on facial hair/tattoos. We know that in baseball, for instance, the Yankees do not allow beards or excessive mustaches and suggest to heavily tattooed players that they cover up as much as they can.
Joba Chamberlain: A "clean" Yankee; a year later, a bearded Detroit Tiger
(photos from 
               So? I haven't seen the Yankees in the playoffs the past two years. I'm wondering if I'd feel better if they all had long beards and long hair and tattoos ... and they won the World Series.
               I'll pick on one ex-Yankee: our old friend Joba Chamberlain. I hadn't seen him pitch for the Detroit Tigers this season or seen any pictures of him ... until late August. Imagine my surprise when I saw his long, thick beard; as one friend said, he looks like he just came in from the woods.
               Oh, Joba -- you're such an oddball. You were with the Yankees, just a clean-shaven one.
               (Of course, Joba lost me as a big fan last season when he smarted off to Mariano Rivera in the clubhouse while Mo was talking to the media. It was rude and uncalled for, and typical of one of several "stunts" Joba pulled while he was with the Yankees.)
               As I observed to a few friends after Chamberlain came in and helped the Tigers blow a 6-3 lead in the eighth inning of Game 2 in their playoff series against the Orioles, he looked like crap (not the word I used) and pitched like crap.
               I will pick on a couple of other relief pitchers, both with the Los Angeles Dodgers, because they exemplify what I don't like about baseball (and sports) now.
               One is Brian Wilson (same name as the Beach Boys founder/star who was pretty unconventional himself in the late 1960s/early 1970s). Wilson, the pitcher, a few years ago with the San Francisco Giants was the most unusual looking player in baseball -- long, thick black beard, shaved head (but not totally) and braided goatee. Braided goatee? Yes.
              He was even more weird-looking than his basketball counterpart, James "The Beard" Harden.
              Maybe Wilson (and we sheepishly acknowledge that he is an LSU guy) started the current baseball trend; he certainly set the standard. He also was one of the big heroes when the 2012 Giants won the World Series.
                Now consider J.P. Howell, a left-hander with a long, unruly red beard who on Monday night relieved Wilson in the eighth inning against the Cardinals. The bases were loaded and Howell  promptly made a great stop on a grounder to the mound to begin a home-to-first double play to end the inning.
                Howell headed to the dugout, screaming in celebration. Only problem: The Dodgers were behind 3-1 (and that's how the game ended). What exactly and why was he celebrating?
                That's our sports world today. That's our world. So much of it is about "me" -- look at me. Even if my team is losing, look how great I am. Even if I'm a losing politician, I'm still the best person for the job. (Please let me know when you find a modest politician.)
                 I don't have to pay attention to games or political races/debates, do I? But I choose to pay attention ... so that I can write this blog and tell you how odd the world is.       

Thursday, October 9, 2014

It's only been 50 years, but the memories ...

The Woodlawn shield, introduced in the 1963-64
school year, also was the cover for the yearbook.
     Woodlawn High School's Class of '64 will celebrate its 50th reunion Friday and Saturday in Shreveport, with the emphasis on celebrate.
     This is not my class -- the Class of '65's 50th will be next year -- but we all share this sentiment: We're just happy to be here.
     Unfortunately we lose some of our schoolmates every year and that's sad. But we know we're at that point. The planning committee for this reunion, which has done a wonderful job and kept us posted regularly on Facebook, I'm sure will honor the memory of those who are gone.
    The seniors of '64 were our elders, at least by a year, and we learned a lot from them. At least they'd like to think so, and we'll let them. Actually, we were all in it together at Woodlawn in the early to mid-1960s.
     Most of us will agree, it was a heckuva lot of fun, a great time.
     I wrote a blog piece a year-and-a-half ago for the 50th reunion of Woodlawn's Class of '63 and called the school "our Camelot."
     So let's take another nostalgic trip to the Class of '64's senior year: 1963-64.
     It was memorable, on a national scale, for three notable events: (1) the Kennedy assassination; (2) the Beatles coming to America, and that first TV appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show; (3) only 16 days after the Beatles' Sullivan debut, one of sports' greatest upsets -- a young, loudmouth Cassius Clay becoming the world heavyweight champion by shocking "unbeatable" Sonny Liston.
     I have written blog pieces on each of those happenings.
     For many of us at Woodlawn, the memory of the day JFK was shot in Dallas is tied to New Orleans. We were already there, the football players, coaches and managers, for a state playoff game; cheerleaders, pep squad, band members and fans were probably on the road to the game.
     What we tend to forget all these years later, because Kennedy became a martyr of sorts, is that in the South, in our area, maybe at Woodlawn, he was not a popular President. In truth, many were not fond of him or his policies, his liberal viewpoint.
     And, well, his successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson -- LBJ -- might've been even less popular, and he was from next-door Texas.
     The Beatles, as I've written, is what everyone at school was talking about on the Monday after we first saw them live. Their sound was so fresh, so lively; it was like the moon landing of rock and roll. Only Elvis' TV debut seven years earlier could compare.
     We really had no idea how huge Beatlemania would become, and how 50 years later, it still has a grip on us and the whole world.
     Maybe Clay's victory against Liston doesn't rank with the other two events, but then he became Muhammad Ali, and I dare say -- and you don't have to like him -- that no athlete of our lifetime has had a bigger impact world-wide. OK, maybe Michael Jordan. Maybe.
     The Woodlawn kids of 1963-64 were several years from integrated schools, integrated public facilities, mixed seating in public transportation, from use of drugs, from the feminist movement and Title IX, from color televisions (most of us, anyway), garages at home (carports only, if that), from so many modern conveniences to come (think calculators, remote-control clickers, microwaves, digital watches, etc., etc.)
     And significantly, several years from the Vietnam War. The American "advisors" were already in Vietnam, but the military combat troops would be there in a few years -- and how deeply that would impact us. We lost a treasured friend and popular all-around star athlete, and some other noble ex-Knights in those faraway rice paddies and mine fields. A terrible memory.
     Thanks, too, to the ex-Knights who served over there, and elsewhere, and are here to tell about it. Thanks for service to our country.
     In the early '60s, we wore our hair short, crew cuts were in. Sideburns were not. Well, we did have a few "greasers," in our terminology, throwbacks to the leather jackets and ducktail hairdos of the late 1950s, some of them spoiling for any fight they could find.
     We didn't wear shorts to school, or tennis shoes. We had to wear collared shirts, tucked in.
We did wear white socks, even with dark slacks, sometimes with suits. It looks hilariously wrong in yearbook photos.
     Girls had to wear dresses, no pants. Big hair, teased hair, bleached blonde hair was in. Also, the "bouffant" style, with a flip to it, or a tall beehive. Yeah, we noticed.
     The fads included Bass Weejuns penny loafers, Madras clothing, the Twist in dancing, drag races, "submarine" races.
     We listened to KEEL Radio for the Top 40 and other hits of the day every chance we got. I guess there were country music fans, but not like there would be a decade or two or three later.
     We made regular stops at the Dairy Queen on 70th Street right near the Sunset Acres and Garden Valley neighborhoods, and we had two -- only two -- regular TV stations, KTBS (Channel 3, ABC) and KSLA (Channel 12, CBS), with a third, Texarkana-based KTAL (Channel 6, NBC) just starting to make an impact in Shreveport.
     Don Owen, Al Bolton and a very young Bob Griffin were KSLA's news-weather-sports team. If you wanted network news, it was only 30 minutes -- expanded from 15 just as the school year began. Walter Cronkite (CBS) and the Chet Huntley/David Brinkley team (NBC) were already network anchor superstars.
     The political hero in our area was Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, Mr. Conservative. He would have won the Presidential election at Woodlawn. But he was swamped by Johnson in November 1964, as one-sided an election as there had ever been.
     If Goldwater wasn't the hero, Gov. George Wallace -- staunch segregationist -- was. Not at my house.
     The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a steady presence on the television news, leading the fight for civil rights and equality for blacks. As you can imagine, he was not popular at Woodlawn. The protests and scenes of violence toward blacks were shocking sights on our TVs.
     The biggest sports stars were Mickey Mantle, Johnny Unitas, Sandy Koufax, Jim Brown, the Green Bay Packers, the Navy quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner (Roger Staubach), Bill Russell (the Boston Celtics won the NBA title every year with him at center), Wilt Chamberlain, Arnold Palmer and a blond, chubby kid who was taking golf's majors from Arnie's Army -- Jack Nicklaus.
     UCLA won its first NCAA basketball title in the spring of '64 (and nine more in the next 11  years). Australians ruled the tennis world, and the Toronto Maple Leafs still won Stanley Cups (but  who in our area cared any about ice hockey?).
     The Yankees and Dodgers remained baseball's dominant teams, as they had been for almost two decades. I liked that.
     At Woodlawn, our football team -- as noted above -- made the state playoffs, but only thanks to a couple of Byrd High forfeits. An 8-3-1 record wasn't bad, but it was the worst Woodlawn did in a nine-year span.
     We didn't win enough in basketball or baseball to suit me, but as a team manager/statistician for three sports, I loved the guys on those teams, loved the games, and even loved the practices. That was my life. I made so many friends for a lifetime.
      One story I remember was the late-in-the-school year Sunday Magazine feature in The Times on our beautiful, popular senior cheerleader Barbara Norrid (now Shaver). Still have that story in my files.
     If you were a Woodlawn senior, you had to have a class ring (and they weren't cheap). If you were a student, you had to buy a yearbook. I had a special interest in that.
     It was my first year as co-sports editor of the school yearbook, the Accolade. Lewis Allgood, a recent addition as a Facebook friend, and I agreed that we had a blast sharing the job. We had an All-American rated yearbook, thanks mostly to our advisor, Miss Willa Smith, and our editor, Robbie Ashford (now Chalk). But all the kids on that staff enjoyed the work.
     So did the kids on the school newspaper staff, the Herald. Charlotte Hudson (now Ewing) was our editor and as I looked over the molded bound of that paper a couple of weeks ago, it was an often creative effort. We remember, I think, "The Ballad of Sir Yomas Toungblood," among other gems.
     I was assistant sports editor that year, and -- although I'd had my first bylines in The Shreveport Times in the summer of '63 -- I didn't show any flair or creativity in my stories and "Spotlight on Sports" columns. I would improve some over the years.
     But here is what counted: a friendship. The sports editor that year was a fellow junior, Ray Jackson, who lived right across the street from Woodlawn. We became decent friends and two decades later, our sons played kids baseball in the Bossier City rec leagues.
     Four decades-plus later, we reunited in tough circumstances -- our mothers each were in their final days in a Shreveport rehab/nursing facility. Their obits ran side-by-side in The Times.   
     As I looked back over the Herald papers, I noticed one major error -- and I was not responsible. In an obvious late addition, a story on our playoff game in New Orleans said it was played Dec. 22. No, no, no. The paper came out before that, and of course, it was the day JFK was shot -- Nov. 22. No mention of the assassination.
     (What's more, they cut my column to get in that story. Oh, well. Like I said, my stuff was boring.)
     I know it will be a fun reunion, and the Class of  '64 has invited members of the few classes before and after that year to attend. Also, some faculty members are alive and active, and part of many Woodlawn reunions. Sadly, one reunion regular -- J.W. "Bubba" Cook, then the assistant principal and later the longtime school principal, the man I called "Mr. Woodlawn" -- is no longer with us. He died just after New Year's Day.
     I won't attend this week; my Saturdays in the fall have another priority  (college football), but I'll be thinking of those Woodlawn kids, of my old friends.
     Because 50 years later, I value what they and the school gave me, a love and a time in my life that remains special. I will borrow the title of a Shreveport magazine piece I wrote on Woodlawn football several years ago: "They were Knights (and days) to remember."