Thursday, February 5, 2015

A Moment Of Perfection

"I'm open," I realized as I sped down the cold gray parking lot surface. "But does he see it?"

Growing up a boy on the Jersey Shore in the early 1970's, baseball was our summer passion. We'd play all day long on a sandlot and then go home and put our uniforms on for that night's Little League game. In the fall, it was football, of course. No helmets, no pads, barely any rules. However, in the winter, we played street hockey.

I first became aware of street hockey when three local boys, Andy, Jay and Gary, were playing outside early one winter morning waiting for the school bus. I had seen ice hockey, of course. I loved the Philadelphia Flyers and Bobby Clarke was my hero. But this was something new. There was no ice, no skates and no puck. Just a hard plastic, orange Day-glo ball and a net. When I got to school, I couldn't wait to tell my best friend, Bobby, a diehard Boston Bruins fan, what I'd seen. That weekend, we pestered our moms to take us to the nearby sporting goods store to buy our first street hockey sticks.

"We got a two on none here. Does he see how open I am or is he going to shoot with his backhand?"

Bobby and I spent the next several weeks playing non-stop out in front of my house. We were both right-handed in everything we did but for some odd and yes, soon-to-be-fateful reason, I picked up and held my stick left-handed. Bobby soon developed a hard right-handed slap shot. With power and accuracy, his cannon shot struck fear in every goalie he faced. I never could get the hang of that big shot so I concentrated instead on a swift and deadly left-handed wrister. I learned how to flick the ball and hit open spots like a sniper. Upper corners, lower corners, underneath the blocker, between the legs, near side, far side, it didn't matter. If I could see twine, I could kiss it.

"These guys are the local kings. We're a new team and we're challenging them. This first score is critical. I'm so open. God, I hope he sees it."

When we got good enough, Bobby and I asked Andy, Jay and Gary if we could play with them. They were better than us because they had been playing a little longer than we had been. But we all decided to try playing together and maybe find other neighborhood kids and play their teams. We added Dieter and then we asked Neil to be our goalie. Neil had never played goalie before but, after a few weeks and a few thousand shots fired at him, Neil was good to go. And we indeed did find other teams to play including a very good group who went to another school in the next town over.

Before long, lots of other kids wanted to play too. My younger brother, Joe, wanted in. So did some other local boys, Kevin, Mike and two brothers, Donny and Bobby. Soon enough, Bobby and I approached Andy, Jay and Gary and told them we were going to leave to form our own team. Our first order of business, naturally, was choosing a team name. We both knew we couldn't use Flyers or Bruins so we chose the most distant, neutral team name we could find. And so the Canucks were born.

Bobby and Kevin alternated between left wing and center. The two brothers, Donny and Bobby, played defense. And together we all put Mike through the same goalie "training" program we had previously used with Neil. My brother, Joe, three years younger than all of us, was our super sub. And with my funky but lethal off-handed, lefty wrist shot, I manned the right wing.

"This is incredible. I can see it all slowing down beautifully. Just tap it over here and I'll put it home. Please."

And so we scheduled our first game. Against Andy, Jay and Gary. And Dieter and Neil, of course. Our old teammates. The original gang. They were good and they knew it. They had been playing longer than us and, more importantly, they had been playing as a team longer than anybody. They were the gang to beat. We were the upstarts.

"Do it. Slide it over. I won't miss. I can't miss."

Admiral Farragut Academy was a private boarding school in our little town and it had the most perfect parking lot for street hockey. On weekdays when school was in session, the teachers filled it but it was totally empty on weekends. The school owners didn't care for us using their parking lot though. Something about liability insurance should one of us get hurt. So we had to keep an eye out for the town police cruiser they'd send to chase us off. But on this day, we weren't getting hassled. It was a cold but clear and crisp winter Saturday and it was game on.

Neither team could get much going at first. Andy and Jay had a few good shots but Mike turned them aside. I don't recall why but Gary was in goal for them that day and he was just as good as their usual goalie, Neil. We also took some shots at Gary but he had no trouble blocking them. We had been playing for about half an hour and the score was still tied at 0-0 when it happened.


Bobby broke loose down the left side of the parking lot and I took off after him about ten yards to his right. A two on none. The game's first real scoring chance. He had the orange ball on his backhand and he had a head of steam bearing down on Gary. But when Gary shaded over to cut down Bobby's shooting angle, he left the right side of his net yawning wide open.

And here's where the hockey gods intervened. Bobby had a strong backhand but it wasn't nearly as strong as his cannonball slapshot. He had no time to pull up for one though. Gary wasn't going to let that net stay open for long. But as fate would have it, that strange decision I had made earlier that year to shoot left-handed was about to pay off in solid gold. By coming down the right side, with my stick facing inwards, I had both the open net and the perfect angle. If Bobby saw it, the Canucks would go up 1-0 on the big boys.

Fifteen yards away. Ten yards away. Five, four, three ... And there it was. He saw it.

I hardly noticed Bobby nudge the ball my way and he never made a sound but I could see that lovely, beautiful little orange ball coming toward me in a perfect line with perfect timing. Not a pebble or a pothole in sight to knock it off stride. Nothing but a timeless moment of perfection. It was the perfect pass. And with one quick flick of my wrists, that little orange ball was nestled safely in the back of their net.

Bobby and I both ran past the goal and then pulled up in unison, turned around and casually jogged back to the center line for the ensuing face-off. We touched gloves to acknowledge the 1-0 score but neither of us said a word. We didn't have to. Perfection doesn't need words. The moment was all that mattered. He had seen it.

A few hours later, the cops drove by and chased us off the lot. And wouldn't you know it, those brash upstart Canucks were ahead at the time, 4-3.

Bobby and I are both in our mid-50's now. We don't see each other often but we keep in touch by phone and social media. And without fail, I always remember to thank him for that pass. It's a moment frozen in time for both of us. A moment of perfection.
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Of all the four-letter words in the English language, "fear" might be the worst. It's certainly the most terrifying. Everyone knows fear and no one escapes it. There's a special kind of fear that youngsters confront though. Fear of yourself. Fear of discovering who you might be and what you might be able to do. It's the great unknown that young kids face every day. Some conquer that fear spectacularly. Some find different ways of coping with it. And some get crushed by it.

I could play baseball. My father started me early and instilled a love for the game and helped me find the joy in playing it. After seven years of Little and Senior League, I made the Toms River South (Toms River, NJ) high school freshmen team as the backup catcher. About midway through that first season, our coach put me in for the remainder of the schedule. I even got a late season call up to the junior varsity. All in all, I was happy with that first year of high school ball.

But I wanted to be in better shape for my sophomore year and the junior varsity. So I came up with the brilliant idea of trying out for the wrestling team. I figured I could get stronger, quicker and have better endurance if I wrestled. I had dabbled in wrestling in eighth grade but nothing serious. Serious however was exactly what I was about to see firsthand.

He was a squat little man. He was a fire hydrant with short legs that looked like tree trunks. He was balding on top and he had awful looking "cauliflower ears" from years of wrestling. His name was John DeMarco. It was the fall of 1973, he was the new wrestling coach at Toms River South and my life was about to change forever.

On the first day of practice, Coach D blew his whistle and gathered everyone in a circle. And the first thing he said was, "I will not cut anyone from my team. No one will be asked to leave. The only one who can make you quit is you. Now line up for calisthenics." And with that I entered a world of pain. After about 10 minutes of various exercises, I was gassed. But somewhere in that first practice, a light bulb went on. It might have been the first revelation this 15-year-old boy ever had. Coach DeMarco said he won't cut anyone. That means he won't cut me. All I have to do is not quit.

I will not quit. It was the first time I actually made up my mind to do something I didn't know I could do. Baseball was easy compared to this. Studies were easy too. Girls were impossible but that was a fear best put off for a while. Maybe a long while. This wasn't easy. Wrestling was hard and Coach D was going to make it even harder. I now understood what he meant by his no-cut policy. It was up to me. I will not quit.

The next day wasn't any easier. But there was no turning back. I was not going to walk out of that practice room until each day was done. I was not dabbling any more. I was in all the way no matter what. As each day went by, Coach started teaching us his favorite simple basic moves. We were not going to be a fancy wrestling team. We were going to be in better shape than anyone else and we were going to master the basics until no one could stop us. We did hundreds and hundreds of double leg takedowns, single leg takedowns, half nelsons, bar arms, arm drags, gut crunches and ankle rides. These are not exotic wrestling moves. These are fundamental power and quickness moves. And Coach was drilling them into us harder than a boot camp drill instructor.

I was not a talented wrestler and we had plenty of talent on our young team. Simply put, my role that first year was to be a crash test dummy for the starters. In fact, I didn't wrestle in any matches that year, not one. After the season was over, I did go on to have a good year on the junior varsity baseball team. I was in great shape and started every game that spring 1974 season. But something was different. I was different. I was still a better baseball player than a wrestler but Coach D had put me through hell and back and I hadn't quit. I had stood up to his challenge. And I couldn't wait to do it again.

Coach gave the same speech on the first day of practice the next fall. I was a junior now and I was not about to waste that first year of hard work. I was long past the idea of quitting. And so we practiced as hard as ever. We threw a few more hundreds of those basic moves and even learned some new ones. There was nothing easy about that second year but there was a difference. I was nervous about the idea of wrestling a real match against a real opponent but nervous is not the same as afraid. I had crossed that bridge and burned it. Being worked to death and getting tossed around by the better wrestlers has a way of replacing fear with determination.

And so about midway through the season, I finally had my first match, a JV bout against a neighboring rival. I remember two things about it. First, my hearing completely shut down as soon as the match started. And my opponent must have been equally new to this because we both flopped around like fish out of water. It was not pretty wrestling but I did manage to finally pin him late in the third period. And as I walked off that first mat with my hand in the air, there was Coach D smiling at me. He whispered something in my ear. He said, "It's worth it, isn't it?"

You're darn right it is.

I wrestled several more JV matches that year. I won a few and lost a few. I still wasn't very good but that no longer mattered. Coach had turned me into a dedicated, focused young kid who had dumped a truckload of fear behind him. And then came the real reward. Coach D entered me into the year-end Ocean County JV tournament. Each weight class had eight JV wrestlers from the eight county schools. I was the #7 seed and so faced the #2 seed to start things off.

That #2 seed kid didn't stand a chance. By now, I could hear just fine out on the mat and, as I was beating my opponent, I heard Coach call out my name. I looked over to him and he was making hand motions to throw a special move he had taught us. I nodded back and a few seconds later, I heard the ref slap the mat for the upset pin. On to the #3 seed.

I beat him too. He was bigger and stronger but that didn't matter anymore. I even threw some fancy stuff I wasn't supposed to throw and ended the match by judo flipping him over my hip and sticking him good. Another mat slap and another hand raise. I lost the final to the #1 seed. He was just better and quicker and, truth be known, I was a little nervous going in but there was no doubt I had crossed a major threshold. Not only could I survive, I could thrive on my terms.

And there was one more reward. Our varsity team had turned into a fearsome juggernaut that year. In addition to winning our division, we also took the first ever Jersey Shore Conference Tournament and we won our District tournament too. The Toms River South wrestling team was about to become legendary and I was a small but rock steady part of it. I was not leaving now.

I made the varsity baseball team that year, the spring of 1975. It was okay. I played in about maybe half the games. We won most of our games but we didn't win any titles or tournaments. And that's really all I remember about it.

The 1975-76 Toms River South wrestling team, my senior year, went 18-0 and finished tied for the best record in New Jersey. We were unstoppable. An opposing coach said we "were one bruiser after another". We knew we would win and win big every time we went out there. We weren't overconfident. We were just that good.

I still couldn't crack the starting lineup. That just wasn't going to happen. Hard work and dedication are wonderful things but talent counts too and the guys in front of me were just so much better. But I didn't care. I got to wrestle a few varsity "B" matches and won most of them but I was just happy to be a part of that tremendous team. And then I got a phone call at home on a Friday night in February from Coach D. He told me I was going to wrestle varsity at a four-team dual meet in North Jersey the next day. Gulp. Three varsity "A" matches in one day. Wait a minute, what? Click went the phone.

My first of three matches did not go well. I was a bundle of nerves. Okay, it was fear. Varsity was serious stuff and I shrank from it and lost badly. My second match didn't go any better. Same fear, same passive wrestling, same loss. Fortunately, my team didn't need me to win but I was a mess.

I was actually crying alone in the locker room hiding from my teammates. And that's when I heard the door slam open and Coach D roaring "Where is he?" When he, along with our team captains, found me crying, I stood up and looked down into the fury of hell staring up at me. Coach noticed I was still wearing my headgear and he slapped me hard on my left ear. I don't remember exactly what he said but it sure wasn't a love poem. He wanted to know if I was quitting. Quitting on him. Quitting on my team. Quitting on myself. He wanted to know if all that work, all that sweat, all those moves, all that time and effort was all just a waste. Coach D wanted to know if he was coaching a little boy or a young man. So did I.

I lost that third match that day but I gave the other guy a fight to the last second. As I walked off a three-time loser, I was disappointed but I knew I had once again followed that man to the very end and back. He looked me in the eye and said "That's better." And he was right. I had faced the fear and dealt with it.

Bad coaches fail to reach their players on any level and they don't last long. Good coaches can get a team to play hard and they usually meet their expectations. Great coaches get you to play hard but mostly what they do is they get you to find yourself and reach levels you never thought possible. They're not easy to play for but they leave lasting impressions. They make you a better player and a better person. The playing ends when adult responsibilities crowd it out. But you never stop being a better person.

I wrestled one more time that year. It was a varsity "B" match. Coach didn't tell us in advance who would be wrestling at my weight. The choice was between me and an underclassman. When it came time for the match, he looked at both of us and said to me, "You're the senior, Bob. It's your choice." I looked at my younger teammate. I looked at Coach. And I said to both of them, "Get out of my way. This guy is mine."

The whistle blew. I threw an arm drag, my favorite takedown move. After throwing it about a thousand times in practice over the years, I was pretty sure it was going to work. I could even hear my teammates laughing behind me because they knew how much I loved that move. I then threw a half nelson, another member of the 1,000 move club, and pinned that guy solid. He never had a chance. And as I walked off a high school wrestling mat for the last time, I got one more little smile from Coach John DeMarco, the finest coach I've ever known.

As a senior, I was given the honor and privilege of dressing for the rest of the season with the varsity. I never wrestled again but we swept everything. After we repeated as Shore Conference Tournament champions, we had a team photo taken. I'm in it. Back row, far right. Many years later, that legendary 1976 Toms River South wrestling team was inducted into the Toms River Regional Schools Hall of Fame. That same team photo was used for our induction. I'm still in it. And that 76 South team is still talked about with whispered reverence and hushed awe in New Jersey wrestling circles.

I did not quit.

I love Coach John DeMarco. Other than my own late father, no one helped me grow up more than him. I wasn't one of his stars. He may not even remember me. But I owe more to him than he'll ever know.

I don't remember what the baseball team did my senior year.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Ground Ball To You, I Got The Throw

"Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second."

I joined a Greek fraternity at the University of Virginia in the fall of 1976. Like most large schools with dozens of different houses, an incoming freshman had a lot to choose from. There were old Southern houses that dated back to the Civil War. There were heavy drinking houses. Other houses preferred the "herbal" life. Beach music houses, Grateful Dead houses, preppy houses, Jewish houses, bookworm houses, African-American houses, zoo houses and yeah, there were jock houses.

I joined Pi Lambda Phi, a mutt house. We had a little bit of everything. An "Island of Misfit Toys", if you will. We had pre-meds and pre-laws, Young Republicans and Young Democrats, some "toolies" (engineers) and more than a few English and psych majors. We had long distance runners and couch potatoes both. Boozers, stoners and straight arrows. Some Casanovas but mostly wallflowers. Foosball aces and air guitar shredders. What we didn't have was athletes.

"Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second."

The fraternity intramural program at Virginia was cutthroat. Everyone knew who the jock houses were. Some of them even recruited new members based on what sports they were good at. We weren't one of those houses. But I was happy there. It was a good bunch of guys and I made some new friends fairly quickly. We got crushed in intramurals though. Football, basketball, soccer, volleyball, softball, the scores were always the same. Them many, us few.

I had played baseball from a very young age all the way through high school varsity. To be honest, that was a lot more baseball than any other brother had played. The jock houses would rarely if ever allow their freshmen to play but our house let me, still a spring pledge, play wherever I wanted on the softball team. So I headed right for shortstop, my favorite position.

Our pitcher was Jimmy Joe Townsend. Jimmy Joe was everybody's favorite brother, a natural leader and a certified party animal. Jimmy Joe had also graduated two years earlier. So he was now about to start his sixth season as the house team pitcher. Obviously, he was ineligible but nobody cared. We were the cupcake on everybody's schedule. When Nebraska plays football against Eastern Michigan, we were Eastern Michigan. The other houses couldn't wait to feast on us so a sixth-year pitcher didn't bother them a bit.

"Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second."

I was a young, 19-year-old, hotheaded punk and I wanted to show these guys what "real" softball looked like. In the first inning of our first game, we gave up a single. Man on first, the double play is in force. So this punk freshman calls time, jogs to the pitcher's mound and says ...

"Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second."

"Get out of my face, pledge, and go back to your position", Jimmy Joe snarled.

Okay, then.

Next inning, same thing. Man on first, the double play is there again. This time though, I stayed where I was and called out to him ...

"Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second."

Now, it was Jimmy Joe's turn to call time and wave me to the mound for a chat. "Ground ball back to me? What are you talking about?", he asked.

I told him, "Okay, look, we can get a double play here. If this batter hits a sharp grounder back to you, just turn around and fire it at the second base bag. Don't worry, I'll be there. Just throw it."

Now it was Jimmy Joe's turn to laugh. "We're not going to turn a double play. Not now, not ever. So let's get back to playing, okay?"

Next inning, same thing.

"Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second."

Now he was upset. He turned around to face me and yelled, "Are you going to remind me every time?"

"Yes, I am. Every time."

We lost that game. Pounded into dust as usual.

Back at the house, Jimmy Joe still wanted to know if I was going to remind him every time a man got on first. I assured him that's exactly what was going to happen. Every time. Baseball (or intramural softball in this case) is a game of repetition. You do the same things the same way every time. Everything. That's how you react so you can make a play automatically. Baseball requires persistence, perseverance and rivers of infinite patience. Jimmy Joe was in for four more years of an earful.

"Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second."
"Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second."
"Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second."
"Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second."

All year long, I reminded Jimmy Joe what to do. Once he understood I was not going to stop reminding him, he just stood there facing the plate with his back to me and nodded in silence. Every time. Persistence.

We lost every game that year. Nobody hit a grounder back to him. Not one. And yes, I was still a hothead. Bat slamming, glove tossing, ball throwing, yelling and screaming at my teammates, arguing with umpires, pouting at the house afterwards and so on. I was your typical obnoxious freshman with a serious hatred for losing.

We didn't win the next year either. Same story. We were overmatched and there were no mercy rules. The other teams poured it on and beat us every way possible. But I still persisted with Jimmy Joe, now in his seventh year as our "ineligible" pitcher. Still no ground balls back to him with a man on first though.

"Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second."
"Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second."
"Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second."
"Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second."

Over and over again. Game after game after game. Inning after inning. Runner on first after runner on first. I had mellowed somewhat from the previous year but not all that much. I still hated losing but it didn't seem worth being a complete jerk about it.

Next year, my third year, no change. Same games, same jock houses, same painful losses. But I didn't let up on Jimmy Joe.

"Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second."
"Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second."
"Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second."
"Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second."

Still no grounders. Three years of reminding him and not a thing to show for it.

For our first game of my fourth and final year, we played Sigma Phi Epsilon, SPE, the "Spees", a noted jock house. I still kept yapping at Jimmy Joe, he still kept nodding at me in silence and we still didn't get a grounder back to him. The Spees killed us. 17-0. It was my worst game ever. I booted easy grounders, threw the ball away for errors, got thrown out foolishly trying to take an extra base and threw bats and raged at everyone including Jimmy Joe, now in his ninth year on the mound. I had had it with all the losing and took it out on everyone. Just an awful awful performance. But I kept reminding him. That rotten day and every other day.

"Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second."
"Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second."
"Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second."
"Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second."

Our last game of the year arrived and we still hadn't won one. We were actually 0-for-4 years. And we were playing the Spees again. Lovely.

As long as I've played and followed sports, I'm still amazed when weird and strange things happen for no reason. That day, in the rematch against the powerful Spees, someone somewhere had thrown a whole bucket of magic fairy pixie dust on our misfit nine. We couldn't do anything wrong. Every ball we hit fell in for a base hit. We made every catch and every throw. We scored runs in bunches. Every time you looked up, our guys were wheeling around the bases one right after another. It made no sense. There was nothing to suggest this could ever happen. But to our amazement, and they couldn't believe it either, we were destroying the Spees.

And then it happened.

"Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second."

I can't explain why but I was already moving as the batter swung and hit a sharp, one-hopper, chest high right at Jimmy Joe. This was it. Without a word, Jimmy Joe whirled and threw a perfect strike at the second base bag. Belt high, in an arrow-straight line as hard as he could throw it. Four years of persistent reminders, four years of patient nods, four years of waiting, planning and getting ready for this one moment in time. Jimmy Joe was ready and Jimmy Joe let out all his frustration by firing the ball at the bag.

I caught the ball just as it arrived, kicked the bag and then sizzled a bullet to first base. Smack, smack. Double play. It was so quick, so fast, so sudden that the Spee runners froze in their tracks. The umpire, with a shocked look on his face, didn't even bother with an out call. And then we all just jogged off the field in silence as if we had been turning double plays forever. Nothing needed to be said. Jimmy Joe's infinite patience with me had paid off at the perfect time. On the sideline, he and I just nodded and smiled at each other.

A few innings later, after the Spees made their last out, we all celebrated with Jimmy Joe at the mound. Final score was 19-3. It was our first and only win. When we got back to the house to continue the celebration, the other brothers there laughed when we told them the score. The very idea we could even stay close to the Spees was hilarious. Kicking their asses was too much for them to believe. But we tapped a keg anyway and continued celebrating until they finally realized we had actually won. And then everybody joined in for an epic all-night kegger.

"Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second."
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Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Sports Noter, Version 4, Volume 2, Issue 3

Spurious thoughts and idle musings from the world of sports ...

Hole in the track, hole in the track. Lookin' like a fool with a hole in your track ... Yes, that was a real pothole that twice red flagged the red-faced Daytona 500 and delayed the race for more than two hours before Jamie "Jabeep" McMurray finally took the checkered flag this past Sunday. I dunno why it took so long to fix the hole though ... All they had to do was put a cone on it and drive around it. Hell, that's how potholes get fixed on my street.

How come the music for pairs figure skating always sounds like somebody died? Is there a rule in skating that says they simply have to be so serious all the time? What would be so wrong with skating to like a Beatles or a KISS medley? Anyway, congratulations to the Chinese pair, husband Zhao Hongbo and wife Shen Xue, who took gold. Afterwards, Zhao said they'd most likely retire now and try something easier like start a family. Whoa, Zhao, not so fast there. You haven't changed a baby after it's done a double Salchow in its diaper yet. That ain't easy, champ.

I'm confused ... Is a Double McTwist 1260 a rad new snowboard halfpipe trick that Shaun White just stomped ... Did I get that right? Stomped? ... on his way to a repeat gold medal? Or is it the latest new menu item at a McDonald's drive-thru? And when a snowboarder just misses finishing a Double McTwist 1260, do the other snowboarders say things to him like ... Dude, you suck. That was so 900, bro.

Sigh ... I miss those old school Winter Olympics back in the Cold War days when, if the Russians had won just 3 medals to this point like they have in Vancouver, I mean, you just knew some Minister of Sport wearing one of those big Russian bear fur hats was gonna get shot about ten minutes after the team got back in the U-S, back in the U-S, back in the USSR. Man, nobody brought the grump to the Olympics like the old CCCP.

Hey, we got the America's Cup back again. That's right, the US and A are kings of the sailing world once more. Sailing. In the ocean. In February. While the Winter Olympics are going on. Meanwhile, we're hip deep into basketball season, a Summer Olympics sport played indoors in the winter. Hello, McFly?

Rest in peace, Nodar Kumaritashvili.

See ya next time.
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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Sports Noter, Version 4, Volume 2, Issue 2

Spurious thoughts and idle musings from the world of sports ...

One day many years ago, when my youngest sister was in grade school and doing her homework, she asked me how to spell the word "pneumonia".

Me: Oh, that's easy ... "p-n-e-u-" ...
Her: No, no, that can't be right. Don't tease me.
Me: But that really is how you spell "pneumonia" ... "p-n-e-u-" ...
Her: I don't believe you. No word starts with "p-n-e-u-". I'm gonna go get my dictionary.
Me: Go right ahead ......
Me: Well?
Her: I can't believe it. That doesn't make any sense at all. Who came up with that crazy idea?

Ladies and gentlemen, the New Orleans Saints are Super Bowl champions ... "p-n-e-u-"

Dear NFL, please I'm begging you. Enough with the geriatric halftime shows. Any act eligible for an AARP card should be ineligible for the Super Bowl. Look, I love The Who. They were the party band back in their glory days but that was 30+ years ago. It's time to get some younger bands out there. Hell, I'd rather watch an 'N Sync reunion over another geezer show. Oh wait, bad example. I forgot Justin Timberlake is on the bad boy list.

Daddy? Yes, Peyton, what is it, son? All the kids at school talk about you, Daddy. They say Archie Manning will never win a Super Bowl for the Saints. Gee, Peyton, the Saints are pretty bad right now so I guess it ain't looking too good for us. Well, when I grow up, I'm going to make it to the Super Bowl, Daddy. And when I'm there, I'm going to throw the pass that wins it for the Saints. I'm sure you will, son. Now go outside and play because Daddy has to go over this week's game plan against the Colts.

Super Bowl commercials were a mixed bag as usual. I loved the little kid who protected his mama and his salty, fatty corn chips. The Snickers spot ... more junk food ... with Betty White and Abe Vigoda was good too. And although the CareerBuilder ad featuring casual Fridays in underwear was funny, I'm not sure they realize people will do pretty much anything to keep their jobs these days. Hell, they'd probably watch The Who all over again ... In their underwear.

Boy, isn't it amazing what a great coach ol' Roy Williams is when his Tar Heel roster is all full of next year's shiny happy NBA draft picks? Almost as amazing as how sucky he is when it isn't. Welcome to the low rent district, coach. Say it loud, say it proud ... N-I-T.

The Vancouver Winter Olympics begin this weekend and, as usual, there are several compelling stories sandwiched in between breathless figure skating hysteria. Lindsey Vonn was on the verge of being the superstar skier no one will remember in two weeks. But because of a painful shin bruise, now she might be the superstar skier no one ever heard of. In other Lindsey news, Lindsey Jacobellis is back for another try at snowboard cross. Let's hope she leaves her hot dog moves back at the Village this time. Let the drug tests begin.

See ya next time.
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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Sports Noter, Version 4, Volume 2, Issue 1

Spurious thoughts and idle musings from the world of sports ...

With the two camps haggling over drug testing protocols, it's not looking good for the proposed March 13 superbout between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. Now they're going to try and let a mediator work it all out but there's a much simpler solution ... I say we get these two fighters in a ring. We get 'em some gloves, a ref, three judges and a timekeeper. Twelve rounds, three minutes each. Winner wins the testing argument. There, done. Now let's get it on so we can get it on.

Ladies and gentlemen, here to present the Oscar for the Best NFL Team in a Supporting Role is last year's award winner, the Detroit Lions. And the nominees are ...

-- The Denver Broncos for starting out a 6-0 tease and finishing up 8-8,
-- The St Louis Rams for going 1-15 so they can draft yet another defensive lineman,
-- The Buffalo Bills for doing the impossible by making Terrell Owens boring,
-- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers for finally realizing it isn't 2002 any more and finally,
-- The New York Giants for playing a throwback 14-game season instead of 16.

... and the Oscar goes to ... the New York Giants. Here to accept the award is Tom Coughlin.

The NBA is currently investigating a recent locker room incident where Washington Wizards teammates Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton supposedly drew guns on each other over an in-flight card game dispute from the night before. I dunno but it shouldn't take the league long to figure out that nothing really serious happened here. I mean, everybody knows the Wizards are terrible at man-to-man defense.

For the first time anyone can remember, a local affiliate in the Redskins market decided not to televise the woeful Skins game against San Diego last Sunday and chose to show the Eagles-Cowboys NFC East title tilt instead. Said Bruce Rader, sports director at WVBT Fox 43 in Hampton Roads, VA, of his decision ... "Honestly, the Redskins are just unwatchable." Unquote. On the contrary, my dear Bruce, I find the Washington Redskins to be must see TV. Hell, I haven't seen a train wreck this compelling since "The Fugitive" when Harrison Ford's prison ride ate a mountain.

Just curious but now that the Steelers have missed the playoffs and won't be able to defend their Super Bowl title, will James Harrison be expecting an invitation to the White House?

See ya next time.
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Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Sports Noter, Version 4, Volume 1, Issue 47

Spurious thoughts and idle musings from the world of sports ...

Two days after Vikings star RB Adrian Peterson was pulled over for going 109 in a 55, teammate Bernard Berrian was stopped and ticketed for doing 104 in a 60. Say whatever you want about the Vikes but that's great team speed right there. No truth to the rumor Brett Favre was also pulled over but he was doing 35 in a 60 while weaving from lane to lane with his turn signal on.

The 2010 World Cup draw was announced this week and we got ourselves a 1776 rematch in Group C. It's Redcoats vs Bluecoats all over again. Cornwallis vs Washington. Chips against Fries. Colour vs Color. Beatles and Elvis. Mirren-Streep. Left lane-Right lane.
£ vs $. "God Save The Queen" up against "My Country, 'Tis of Thee". Beckham-Donovan. Crown against Colonies. Brits against Yanks. Bring it, England.

Bath time is a special time between you and your newborn. When the two of you are bonding, there's no room for tears. That's why Johnson's together with the NCAA and the Florida Gators are pleased to announce ... Tim Tebow's No More Tears baby shampoo. Just wet your little quarterback's hair and gently apply a small dab of shampoo. Lather, rinse and enjoy this special moment together. Keep out of reach of children. Do not use if BCS title hopes are broken.

And speaking of tears, Allen Iverson got a little verklempt at a presser announcing his return to the Sixers last week. Which is odd cause most players shed happy tears when they finally get out of Philadelphia, not back to it. Meanwhile, in other Association news, Ron Artest admitted he used to take sips of Hennessey at halftime when he was with Chicago ... Hey, at least he drank the good stuff ... And commish David Stern said he could envision a woman playing in the NBA before long. So there you have it ... Wine, women and a (redemption) song.

One of these years, the NFL is really gonna hafta get over Janet Jackson's infamous boob flash and get back to scheduling relevant acts for Super Bowl halftime shows. Look, I love The Who. They were *the* party band of my college years. But that was 30 years ago and now they're just Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend with a backup band. Hell, I'm worried Pete's gonna throw his shoulder out any time he tries his patented windmill move. Clearly, the league doesn't wanna take any more chances but somebody needs to hack into Roger Goodell's iTunes and download him some new bands. Preferably those who aren't collecting Social Security yet.

See ya next time.
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