The Bert Bell Bowl and the VP Debate

instant-replay-green-bay-diary-jerry-kramer-hardcover-cover-art-1One of the seminal books of my child hood – right up to 1971 and Ball Four– was Jerry Kramer’s Instant Replay. Jerry Kramer was an all-star guard on the great Green Bay Packer teams of the ’60’s. On the many occasions that golden-boy Paul Hornung was injured or suspended for gambling, Kramer also kicked field goals.

Kramer played every season of Vince Lombardi’s run with the Packers. He wrote Instant Replay in 1968, it ends with the Ice Bowl game against Dallas, Kramer’s the guy who made the block that allowed Bart Starr score the winning touchdown with 16 seconds left, the wind chill at the time was -56.

Kramer’s description of the Ice Bowl is riveting … well, especially to a pre-teen who got to see maybe one NFL game every other week before the playoffs. What really struck me about the book though, was Kramer’s description of life in the game. He didn’t hold back – for a mainstream book in 1968, I suppose – in describing his injuries, some really gruesome, or Lombardi’s brand of intensity and sometimes nastiness, though even then, I realized it was the kind of nastiness a coach can get away with when the iplayer knows the guy really cares about him.

Kramer didn’t flinch from the brutality of the game, this might account for the fact he’s the only member of the NFL’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team not in the Hall of Fame. He also didn’t hold back from describing some of the more ridiculous aspects of the NFL.

One such inanity was the Playoff Bowl. Between 1961 through 1970 the division championship game losers met in the Orange Bowl to decide who would finish 3rd.The game was, unsurprisingly, loathed by the players – except when they got to play the perennial runner-up Dallas Cowboys, they were that hated by the rest of the league.

The game really didn’t have an official name, Third Place Bowl was too depressing, Playoff Bowl wasn’t used because, logically enough, the teams playing it were, in fact, already out of the playoffs. Some referred to it as the Bert Bell Bowl, after the former commissioner of the NFL. Lombardi called it the Shit Bowl.

playoffbowl-e1450633792223Kramer didn’t skimp on describing one of the Packers two ventures into the Shit Bowl. He skipped their win in 1963 but vividly described their loss to the St. Louis Cardinals (ask your grandfather) in 1964. Well, vivid to a ten-year old – Kramer described the huddle as reeking with stale alcohol and staler vomit.  Players were either hung over or still somewhat drunk, no one cared, least of all Lombardi who just wanted out of Miami (he said it was a “hinky­dink football game, held in a hinky­dink town, played by hinky­dink players.”)

Naturally, I thought of the Kramer and his description of the Shit Bowl when my youngest asked me if I was going to watch the Vice Presidential Debate. I don’t know if I ever saw a Playoff Bowl game, but I did see the Bentsen-Quayle ‘debate’ and experienced the Jack Kennedy moment first hand. I was in a bar in Manhattan after rugby practice, the place erupted. And that was it. Everyone remembers that 20 seconds and nothing else. The exchange effected the election as much as the Playoff Bowl effected the NFL Championship game – not at all.

images-1The Playoff Bowl occurred in what’s considered almost the primitive days of the NFL. The Bentsen-Quayle debate occured in the primitive days of cable TV news. The news wasn’t really a 24/7 thing then, many people first read about the debate in newspapers.

Mostly, though, no one had been subjected to weeks of appearances by campaign ‘surrogates’ on news shows hour after hour after hour to regurgitate and spin and regurgitate the spin for their bosses.

The VP debate isn’t a debate between two governors, it’s a debate between two more surrogates. We have as much chance hearing something different, or hearing their own opinions on anything, as the winner of the Playoff Bowl did being invited to play the NFL champs.

And, barring an otherwise memorable but ultimately impotent soundbite, VP Debate’s share the fate of the ten years of Playoff Bowl games – the NFL erased them from history years ago. That’s right, according to the NFL, they never happened. The outcomes, stats, everything, no longer officially exist.

So instead of wasting ninety minutes of my life with Hillary/Trump stand-ins I’m going to catch dial up a movie from the late ’60s. Maybe something with a Dandy Don Meredith cameo.


Just In . . .

The Trump campaign announced that hot on the heels of Jerry Falwell’s endorsement in today’s Washington Post (favorably comparing Donald J. Trump with Winston Churchill) comes another major endorsement: Carmine Lupertazzi, Jr.

little-carmine-lupertazzi-1024The DVD movie mogul released a statement this morning reading, in part: “This country is on the precipice of an enormous crossroads . . . we are, as a nation, in a stagmire. We need Donald J. Trump. . . He’s an old-fashioned kind of guy – very allegorical, with a grasp of the sacred and the propane . . . Donald J. Trump will guide our military to previously unheard of heights because he knows, better than most, that a pint of blood is worth more than a gallon of milk. But, if the time comes when military action is needed, Donald will not hesitate because he understands that historically historical changes come about because of war . . .

. . . Trump will be a more effective leader than Clinton, even more so until he is elected but until he is it will be hard to verify that he will be as effective as I am sure he will be.”

Faulkner and Running …

IMG_2389Went for a run this morning in Faulkner country – Oxford, Mississippi, home of Ole Miss. My daughter directed me to a rail trail behind campus … I hit it at 7:45 am, already 83 out with humidity at 70%, no breeze, not a cloud in the sky. Some observations:

  • Mississippi is hot.
  • No matter which way you go on a rail trail run it always looks like it’s uphill. This was no different, I was cursing my daughter all the way out (2.25 miles) while looking forward to the downhill back … only to be struggling going back? A look at MapMyRun a few minutes ago showed a kind of short, sickening, shallow roller coaster pattern that I somehow interpreted as always up … except for:
  • Almost dead center of the trail there’s a quick, nasty, 60 foot drop, then a quick, nasty, 60 foot hill, all over just overIMG_2386 a hundred feet on a straight line – it’s a ravine, there used to be a trestle across the gap but …
  • Dead bottom of the ravine is a historical marker – the Buckner Ravine was spanned by Buckner’s Trestle. Two major train tragedies occurred there – one in 1929 that injured 50 or so Ole Miss Students and professors, and one in 1870 that made national news – 20 dead, 60 injured.
  • This was interesting on the way up, on the way back I realized that I was the third train wreck at that particular spot,
  • I’m used to chipmunks running underfoot every two feet. There were no chipmunks. None. Where are the chipmunks? There ought to be chipmunks. Well, maybe next year.
  • IMG_1010All of this naturally made me think of Oxford’s most famous non-football resident, William Faulkner. It’s a Sunday morning in JUNE and it’s 83 before 8 am – it was 89 when I finished. Not the hint of a breeze, not a hint of a cloud. Back in the day, the rail line ran pretty close to Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s home. Faulkner didn’t believe in air conditioning, he refused to install it. When he died in 1962 his widow put in air conditioning before she put him in the ground. This was a man who embraced misery. Like his characters.
  • For me, this says it all about Faulkner. Forget sitting through Comparative Lit 301; go to Oxford in the summer, walk, run, crawl around town for a few hours, try to sleep with the windows open and ceiling fans twirling, and for God’s sake avoid air conditioning for a day or so, and I guarantee you will learn more about the man and his literature than you will ever learn sitting around talking about him.




Too Long A Sacrifice …

proclamation-irish-republic-1916One hundred years ago today one of the most ill-considered, worse-executed rebellions in history began. Dublin, Easter 1916, while over 35,000 Irishmen were dying fighting for Britain on the Western Front and Gallipoli, a group of Irishmen, some veterans of that fighting, took over the Post Office and other key buildings in Dublin, ostensibly waiting for the populace to rise up and join them.They issued a Proclamation establishing an Irish Republic.

It never happened. There were over 5,000 British troops – many of them Irish – around Dublin at the time, the rebellion lasted six days, over four hundred – mostly civilians – were killed, a swathe of downtown Dublin was blown to pieces by British artillery. The self-styled Irish Volunteers surrendered, were vilified by the people of Dublin who had had no warning of the rebellion.

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Lower Sackville Street, Dublin (1916)

That was that and it probably would have been another short circuited Irish uprising doomed to historic obscurity along with Vinegar Hill and the skirmishes of the ‘Year of the French’ except for what followed. Despite British Prime Minister Asquith’s assertion to the House of Commons that the Irish Volunteers “fought bravely and did not resort to outrage” harsh reprisals followed.

The British arrested 3,430 men and 79 women all across Ireland. One hundred and eighty-seven men and one woman were tried in secret by military tribunals and were not allowed a defense. The British government later found that the trials were illegal. That would come as little comfort to the the leaders of the rebellion, ninety were sentenced to death.

3785171459_c48090d777Sixteen were executed over the course of five days in the first week of May – despite warnings and pleas by the Irishmen in Parliament. With every execution public opinion in Ireland changed. Radically. The execution of the rebellions de facto leader, James Connolly appalled the world – severely wounded, probably with a day or two to live, he was brought to the place of execution on a stretcher and had to be tied to a chair to keep him upright enough to be shot.

World outrage was so great all the other death sentences were commuted to penal servitude. Almost two thousand Irishmen were held in prisons in Scotland and Wales for a year or more without ever being charged with a crime.

In an instant, Great Britain snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Public opinion swung, unrest grew, the British fed into it, Ireland achieved independence a half a dozen years later.

The inept, local, uncoordinated rebellion succeeded in the long run. There’s scores of lessons, from every viewpoint to be learned.

William Butler Yeats was caught as off guard by the Easter Uprising as most of his fellow countrymen. He wrote one of the great poems of the English language a few moths after the executions. It’s beautiful and ambiguous. But, he saw the future, the last line of the poem is A Terrible Beauty is Born. 

“People Like Stories …”

15-oj-people.w529.h352It was finally said. I had been waiting and waiting and finally, eight and a half hours into The People v. OJ Simpson, someone said it. The thing I had been saying for the previous eight weeks, the – to me – one, clear, overriding, theme of the trial.

Something I had gleefully relayed to my clients, over and over again – um, this might be a good time to apologize, so, ah, sorry – was finally said aloud by Chris Darden (a great Sterling K. Brown): “People like stories. It helps them make sense of things.”

It was obvious to me from pretty early on that this trial – one I saw live, day in and day out while I was studying for the Bar exam, but didn’t see this then – was about story telling.

The prosecution had overwhelming evidence – and proceeded accordingly. The defense told stories. The prosecution talked blood trails, and gloves, and science, and more science, and matter-of-factually laid out a building block, evidentiary case. The defense presented a protagonist, several antagonists, colorful side characters, humor, pathos, theories, and fleshed it out with scenes complete with dialogue.

Marcia and Chris presented the jury with a law school casebook, a scientific journal, and a criminal procedure manual. Johnny, Barry, Bob, and the rest of the defense showed them LA Law.

It was never a contest, as Darden finally realized – at a time when the People’s best bet was a mistrial and a ‘do over.’

The storytellers won out – in the criminal trial. The civil trial, which began less than a year later, was handled by a torts attorney, a man used to telling stories. He told a better one that time around.

It really is all about the stories.

An Open Note to Benin et. al.

February 10, 2016

Dear Benin/Diplomat/Secretaries of States/United Bank of Africa Couriers/UN Ambassadors/Mrs. Michelle Obama/Various and Sundry Agents of the FBI and Interpol:

Thank you for your many, many ‘Urgent’ notices concerning the stolen/lost by courier/won lottery/long time owed by parties unclear/funds totaling $7.5/2.7/22(!)/4.3 million to me and kindly being held by the Benin Republic/The UN Lottery Division/the FBI Lost Funds Department/The State Department/DOD/ubs(sic)/United Bank of Africa/Diplomats scattered across U.S. airports.

reynolds-ogah-benin-payment-approval-mprI appreciate that you are trying so very, very hard to contact me and must apologize for my, utter, lack of response. As you have reached out to me so many times without ever hearing from me I fear I have been rude. Please, then, accept the following as my reasons for not responded to your incredibly generous offers of riche.

  • Please understand that I am somewhat skeptical of letters marked urgent addressed to “Beneficiary” or “Friend” – when addressed at all.
  • I am simultaneously charmed and put off by the fact  that the the signatory of almost all the letters has two first names, i.e., James Henry, William George, Charles Alan.
  • I am somewhat impressed, and my sense of irony really tickled, that the other letters are signed by or reference various characters over Law & Order’s long run.
  • Please forgive my doubts that an ATM card, regardless of its province, can churn out $20,000/day.
  • I must say, however, that I know that no ATM is going to cough up twenty grand a pop.
  • I also have my doubts that DHL/FedEx charge $390 to deliver a single ATM card – perhaps I misunderstand and you are sending me my own ATM machine(?)(!).
  • And I’m pretty sure that neither my local Walmart’s (MoneyGram) or Rite Aid (Western Union) has the wherewithal to hand over a few million dollars to despite my having the proper ID and codes.
  • According to my calculations, your last promise would require me to withdraw $20,000 a day, every day, for 7 1/2 years – do you have any idea of what those fees would be?

I trust that you appreciate my concerns. I am fairly sure there’s nothing you can do on your end to cure these defects in your wonderful proposals, so I would very much appreciate it if you stopped sending them. If not, could you at least drop them down to two or three a day?

It would be most appreciated.




Of Datsuns, Central Falls, Ziggy, and the Thin White Duke

Providence Rhode Island, late December, 1975, school’s on break but I’m stuck working  at the Marriott hotel. I’m working the ballrooms, we set up mid-afternoon, keep the bars stocked through a million Christmas parties back in the day when office Christmas parties were parties, tend some bar, bus tables, break down.


A typical Providence winter day.

It’s s blur, we’re putting in 18 hour days, it’s somewhat offset by the fact it’s the Seventies, the drinking age is 18, the Marriott is very generous with food and left over beer.

One night we finish at 3 am and have to be back by 7:30. A co-worker, Manny, offers to let me crash at his place instead of tramping back to an empty campus.

Providence in the winter is a cold, bleak place. The wind is whipping in off Narragansett Bay, wind chill is around zip, week old dirty crusty snow is scattered around the parking lot, the only light comes from the State House a hundred feet away.

Manny’s driving a 1970 Datsun 240z. The heater’s broken, it’s been through one or three too many Rhode Island winters, salt has eaten through some flooring. The defroster datsun-240-z.jpg.800x600_q85_cropwheezes, barely keeping up with our breaths off the windshield. The drive to Manny’s apartment in Central Falls is miserable in the Germans-in-panzers-outside-Moscow-1942 way.

Manny’s apartment is over a bar because in the one square mile that comprises Central Falls everyone lives over a bar. Three am never stopped a bar in Central Falls from being open, we zip in, grab a fittingly freezing cold Narragansett draft, chug, head up.

Nice, comfortable apartment, the couch is as advertised, as it’s 1975, there’s nothing on TV at 3 am, I’m so overtired the beer’s done nothing, I don’t have a book, even at 18 I’ve been in that state enough times to know I’m not sleeping anytime soon. Not so for Manny, he heads for his bedroom and wife, tells me to help myself to his music collection, the speakers are right by the couch, it might help.

1d2379400bbdf2d7cd96e303614d581aHis stereo is one-piece-has-all, AM/FM, turntable, 8-track player. I opt for an 8-track because 8-tracks never end, they’ll play over and over again forever or until the plastic melts.

I’m exhausted, grab the tape on top of the pile pop it in – nothing ever sounded clunkier or more fragile than an 8-track tape pushed into its player. I settle into the couch, pull up a hefty blanket, the tape does the usual 8-track click, whirl, it’s-fifty-fifty-whether-it-plays-or-eats-the-tape sounds.

There’s a silent pause, a drum, more drum, then … wow. As in something fundamental in the world has just shifted, neck hairs rising, difficultly swallowing, there’s a fuck of a lot more to the universe than Providence, college, work, study, books …

… It was Five Years, the first cut of David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the 1371731616_ZiggyStardust986Gb060612Spiders From Mars. I didn’t fall asleep for a few hours, heard the album through and through until I finally passed out, woke up to it around 7.

First chance I had I got up to Thayer Street and the Brown University bookstore and bought the album. And the new Young Americans. And I never stopped buying and I never stopped listening to an artist who never sat still.

Thanks to David Bowie, there’s a lot more than one damn song that can make me break down and cry.