Delenda Est Carthago

Why not delve into a twisted mind? Thoughts on the world, history, politics, entertainment, comics, and why all shall call me master!

Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

I plan on being the supreme dictator of the country, if not the world. Therefore, you might want to stay on my good side. Just a hint: ABBA rules!


Back on track?

Semi-regular posting (as opposed to the once-a-blue-moon posting of the past week) should resume now that my parents have flown back to Pennsylvania. In the meantime, I encourage you to check out my daughters' blog for video of Mia doing some cool stuff. I learned how to post videos online this week, so I may go a little nutty showing the kids doing all sorts of goofy stuff. These videos show her working, and I always find it heartening when I see her working hard!

Labels: ,


What I've been reading

Breaker Boys: The NFL's Greatest Team and the Stolen 1925 Championship by David Fleming. 311 pages, 2007, ESPN Books.

I have been getting more and more interested in the early history of the NFL and college football, and as I've mentioned a few times, Krys grew up in Pottsville, so this book was something I was very keen on. The title refers to the Pottsville Maroons, a seminal team in the formation of the NFL, but one which gets absolutely no credit from the league it helped make great. Fleming's book, which may get the movie treatment in the near future, aims to change that. He has an uphill battle, because of the villain of the story, whom I'll get to below.

Fleming begins his book in fine fashion, as he tells the story of a speech Red Grange, who was probably one of the two or three best college football players in history, gave in Forksville, Pennsylvania (his home town). Grange teased the audience by saying he would speak of the greatest football player and the greatest team he had ever seen. They assumed he meant himself and the Chicago Bears of the 1920s and 1930s, but Grange instead told them of Tony Latone and the Pottsville Maroons, against whom he had played in 1927. Fleming writes that the audience was stunned, because by the 1950s, nobody had ever heard of the Maroons. But according to Grange (and many others, including Fleming), the Maroons were most responsible for giving respectability to the National Football League, and how the league treated them in return was, and is, disgraceful. Fleming then back tracks to tell the story of this forgotten team.

Fleming begins by focusing on Latone and Pottsville, which is a pretty good place to start. Pottsville in the 1920s was booming (unlike today) thanks to the coal industry, of which it was the center. It was built on the back of men like Latone, whose father was a coal miner and who drank himself to death in 1908, forcing his 11-year-old son to find work in the mines. He became a breaker boy, kids who sat on steep coal chutes and picked slate and other debris out of the flow. This, of course, caused great injury to the tips of their fingers, but they had very little choice. Latone joined the Navy in 1915, but after the war he returned to the mines. His only release was football, which he began to play in the early 1920s. Luckily for Latone, he began playing football just when a new pro team was starting up.

Dr. John Striegel, a local Pottsville magnate, bought the team in 1923 and immediately began stocking talent. Striegel was a perfect 1920s businessman, unafraid to take chances. In 1924-25, he went after the most talented players he could find and petitioned for entry into the NFL. Fleming takes a brief look at the early years of the league, when teams entered and left with regularity thanks to financial problems, scheduling was a mess, and the professional game was held in much lower regard than college football. In fact, most pro sports (with the strange exception of baseball) were held in far lower regard than amateur sports - remember, tennis and golf stayed amateur for years - and football struggled with this more than most sports. Striegel showed the commissioner, Joe Carr, that the team had great support in Pottsville, but Carr really let him into the league so other teams could beat them up. In Pennsylvania, blue laws prohibited games on Sundays, which made it difficult to convince teams to come east just for one game on the weekend. Pottsville ignored the laws, and Carr figured teams could play a game against the Frankford Yellow Jackets in Philadelphia on Saturday and get an easy win against Pottsville on Sunday, picking up some additional gate receipts in the process.

Striegel hired Dick Rauch as coach, and the two began building their team. Striegel and Rauch shared a vision of pro football, one that emulated the wide-open style of college football. Pro football in the early 1920s was an ugly affair, with teams simply pounding each other into submission. Passing was extremely rare, and scoring even more so. Striegel and Rauch got together a talented team, including Tony Latone, and the team won their first NFL game but then lost their second 6-0, to Providence. This wouldn't have been such a big deal except for the fact that Striegel and the team were going broke. The only way they could stay afloat was to keep winning, because that would spur interest and allow Pottsville to go barnstorming later in the season, which would bring in additional revenue. Their next game was against Canton, an early NFL powerhouse, and it might have been the final game in Pottsville's history. Except the Maroons won 28-0, holding the Bulldogs to 1 first down. They were almost unstoppable after that, shutting out their next three opponents (giving them five total for the season).

After these blowouts, the team played Frankford in Philadelphia. Shep Royle, the owner of the Yellow Jackets, is one of the villains of the story, as he considered himself far above the coal-black miners from the north. He played his games on Saturday to honor the state's blue laws, and teams that played the Yellow Jackets then had to travel 90 miles north to play another game the next day. Meanwhile, Coach Rauch was able to watch the games on Saturday and scout the Maroons' opponent. However, on 14 November, the Maroons were soundly beaten, 20-0, and the season, once again, appeared doomed. But before their rematch on 29 November, the Maroons won three more games, including a shutout of the Green Bay Packers, while the Yellow Jackets lost two. Fleming makes the point that the Maroons were gaining a reputation as a team that "played the game the right way," meaning they played like college teams, without ego. The public saw professional football players as mercenaries, but as reporters saw Pottsville play, they began to write articles about how it shouldn't be a problem for football players to make money, and how they could play the game as well as Notre Dame, the paragon of football in America. This came into clearer focus when the Maroons played the Yellow Jackets again and destroyed them 49-0. This led to an "unofficial" Championship Game against the Chicago Cardinals in Chicago on 6 December. The Cardinals were 8-1-1, while the Maroons were 9-2. The Championship went to the team with the best winning percentage, so the winner of that game would probably be the NFL Champion. More importantly in the context of the finances for the team, the winner of the Pottsville-Frankford game would get to play the 1924 National Football Champions, Notre Dame, with their legendary stars, the Four Horsemen. This would guarantee thousands of dollars for the struggling franchise.

As Fleming gets to this point in the book, he does a nice job with the political machinations that swirled around the team. Pottsville beat the Cardinals easily, 21-7, but then the problems began. Royle was angry that his team would not reap the benefits of a game against Notre Dame, especially because the game would be played in Philadelphia. He quickly scheduled a game for the same day and then cited a rule, which had never been written down in the NFL rule book, that claimed a team had a "territory" that could not be violated by another team. Striegel and Royle met with Carr, the commissioner, but they couldn't come to any agreements about the game. Fleming claims that the NFL was keen to put Striegel in his place and went along with Royle because they were angry that Pottsville was showing up the rest of the "established" teams. There is quite a lot of blame to go around in this case: Striegel could have backed down, but he wanted the money from the Notre Dame game. Obviously, Carr could have ignored the rule, especially because it was just being invoked to anger the Maroons. Fleming is puzzled by this, because the Maroons' success was making pro football more viable in the country. He conveniently ignores Red Grange's barnstorming tour that was taking place at this time, although he does mention it. He doesn't give it as much credence as many football historians do, though. Still, he makes very good points that the Maroons, with their concentration on team play and their "modern" style, were just as attractive to customers as Grange's flair, especially because at the end of his tour, Grange wasn't playing as much due to injuries. Fleming makes it clear that Carr was cutting off his nose to spite his face when he sided with Royle.

In another twist, the Maroons beat the Fighting Irish, 9-7. Nobody expected them to win, but most people thought if Pottsville made a good showing, they would validate the NFL. But the Maroons smashed the Irish silly and a late field goal gave them the win. This victory legitimized the NFL but wrecked the franchise, as Carr suspended them because they defied the league. It gets more confusing, as Chicago scheduled two more games after their loss, attempting to get enough games to pass Pottsville in winning percentage. In the second game, a Cardinals player recruited four high school players to play for Milwaukee, and Chicago won both games easily. Carr, incensed by this obvious ploy, struck the games from the records and fined the Cardinals. In a deal brokered by the league, the Maroons, as the best team in the league, were allowed to return to play on the condition that they give up any claim to a championship and stop demanding proof of the territory law cited by Royle. The owner of the Cardinals also agreed to not stake a claim to the championship, something that would become important later.

The Maroons didn't last much longer, as the stock market collapsed and the coal market with it, and Striegel left the town, and his wife, later on and disappeared into obscurity. Fleming gets into the efforts of several NFL bigwigs to get the Maroons recognized, to no avail. In the early 1960s, Art Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, along with many other presidents and owners, petitioned the NFL to allow Pottsville to claim the title in time for the opening of the Hall of Fame in 1963. Their petition was abrasive and unfocused, but the real reason it was denied was because of one man, one of the two villains of the book (the other is his brother): Charles Bidwill Jr. Bidwill's family purchased the Chicago Cardinals in 1932 and almost immediately laid claim to the 1925 title. Bidwill helped defeat the petition, and in 2003, the Cardinals' current owner, Bill Bidwill, was named a member of a three-person committee to look into the Maroons controversy after a new petition by Dan Rooney and Eagles' owner Jeffrey Lurie, who suggested the teams share the title. Not surprisingly, in October 2003 the owners voted 30-2 against even discussing the issue. Bidwill keeps it that way to this day.

Why does Bidwill do this? Well, the Cardinals are one of the oldest professional football teams (operating since 1899), and in that time, they have won one NFL Championship - in 1947. Since that one, they have won one playoff game, in 1998. The theory is that it's such a pathetic franchise, mostly due to the ineptitude of the Bidwill family, that any attempt to take away even stolen glory will be squashed. Bidwill, despite wasting all the money he receives from the league as part of the profit-sharing that makes the NFL a bastion of parity, is still a major player in NFL circles, and he has enough power to keep the issue off the table. Fleming mentions that the Cardinals might be under a "Maroons curse," which explains their awful teams for the past, well, 60 years, and that would be poetic justice.

Unfortunately for the Maroons, their players are all gone, so the team's window might be closing to reclaim their title. As unfortunate is the fact that the league refuses to even recognize anything the team did - Tony Latone, for example, was the unofficial rushing leader in the 1920s (outgaining even Red Grange), but he's not in the Hall of Fame. This means that web sites like this one can claim that "the NFL crowned the Cardinals its champions." No, it didn't. If the NFL isn't going to let the Maroons share the title, the least they could do is take it away from the Cardinals. Bidwill has tried to wreck football in three cities (Chicago, St. Louis, and Phoenix), so this is one of the more minor things he needs to answer for, but it's still a shame that one man is allowed to tamper with history this way.

Fleming's book is a fascinating read. He brings us a wonderful portrait of a 1920s town that was trying to create something relatively new: a connection to a professional football team. The players lived in the city and got to know the residents. Fleming lionizes the team and the city a bit too much, of course, and, as I mentioned, he discounts Grange's contributions to legitimizing the NFL, but for the most part, this is an excellent look at an extremely important part of NFL history that has never been highlighted enough. As I mentioned, there's a rumor that a movie is in the works, and maybe it will spur more interest in the team and shame Michael Bidwill, who is more important these days in the Cardinal organization than his father, into admitting that his team has no claim to the 1925 title and that it should be shared. The Maroons helped make the NFL what it is today. The NFL should recognize that.

Labels: , , , ,


Please stand by

My parents are in town, so I'm having some issues getting enough time to post. I had a pretty good idea for a Top Ten list, which will have to wait until next week. I know my eight loyal readers are jonesing for content, and I'll try to get some up soon!



Heath Ledger has died

I'm sure this will be big news soon enough, but I just found out that Heath Ledger is dead at the age of 28. Was it suicide? An overdose? The article doesn't say so, but pills were found by his body. Also, he was in Mary-Kate Olsen's apartment. Weird.

I'm not really torn up about it, because I didn't know Heath Ledger, but I do feel bad for his daughter. I wonder what will come out about his life and death as we learn more.

And if you haven't seen Brokeback Mountain yet, well, you should. Both it and Ledger are excellent.

Labels: , , ,


Picture Day is in black and white!

On April Fool's Day 2000, Krys and I went into downtown Portland. It was a beautiful day, the kind that makes you really love living in Portland (although there are many days like that), and I had black-and-white film in my camera, so we just wandered the streets, taking pictures of the cool buildings that are all over downtown. As you check these photographs out, you'll know one of the reasons why we loved living there. It's such a neat-looking town.

This is looking south on Broadway, which not surprisingly runs through the center of town. The big building with the round top is the 1000 block, so this is probably four blocks north of that.

This building is at Broadway and Morrison. I'm not sure what building it is, but I dug the columns.

Unfortunately, the sun got in the way of this picture of the venerable Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. It's still a neat photo. Well, I think it is.

This is the Willamette Building at Third and Alder. I took it from the parking garage in which we had deposited our automobile.

Near Portland State University is the University Club at Sixth and Jefferson. It's a cool building, and I often wondered what unholy rituals were practiced within!

At Sixth and Madison stands the Ambassador apartment building. We used to look inside with a bit of longing. I'm sure the apartments were tiny and spendy, but the building was in a great location, and I'm sure they were neat even if they were small.

Hey, it's the Gilbert Building at Third and Taylor! This is yet another building on the National Historic Registry.

Finally, this is City Hall, which is on Fourth between Madison and Jefferson. It's another keen old building. It's pretty nice inside as well.

These buildings are just an example of why Portland is such a cool place. There are plenty of modern buildings in downtown, but the people don't just tear stuff down willy-nilly to throw up monstrosities. They do a good job blending the two, and this makes downtown a much more interesting and inviting place. It's much better than here, where there are a few older buildings, but most of downtown is pretty soulless. Man, I miss Portland.

Labels: , , ,


Suzanne Pleshette has died

Yes, it's true. Pleshette, who was quite the hottie back in the day, is famous for playing Bob Newhart's wife on The Bob Newhart Show, and then, of course, for reprising the role in a cameo at the end of the finale of Newhart, Bob's next show, in what is one of the greatest finales in television history. I always had a thing for Pleshette back when I was a lad.

I mean, who wouldn't?

Pleshette was 70. It's so hard to visualize people who you saw when you were young getting older. But such is life. I've heard it's like sands in the hourglass or something.

Labels: , , ,


Top Ten Day: My favorite wars

As a historian, I enjoy reading about conflict. Of course, actual wars are kind of shitty (unless you're Robert Duvall), but they are interesting to read about. And, naturally, I enjoy reading about some more than others. So here are my favorites, in chronological order:

1. The Hundred Years' War, 1337-1453. Hey, that's not 100 years! And hey, there were several times throughout these years when England and France weren't actually fighting! But who cares - this is still a great conflict to study. Edward III decided he wanted to be king of France as well as England, hearkening back to the good old days of Henry II's Angevin Empire of the twelfth century, so he went across the Channel to bitch-slap the actual French king, Philip VI. This war, which was fought in stages, was momentous in the development of Western history. It led to the first expressions of French and English nationalism and the creation of standing armies. At the battle of Crécy in 1346, the English longbowmen annihilated the French knights in one of the most stunning "upsets" in history; the age of the knights ended that day, as long-range weaponry forced generals to come up with new tactics (something the French didn't learn, as in 1356 Edward's son the Black Prince used the same tactics at Poitiers and captured the French king, John II). Years later, of course, Henry V won the day at Agincourt, inspiring one of Shakespeare's great speeches. Henry couldn't press his advantage, and with the inspirational leadership of Joan of Arc in the late 1420s, France finally gained the advantage. The war officially ended in 1453, although the English held Calais for another 100 years. By then it was clear the Henry VI, Kenneth Branagh's son, was not a terribly good leader, and England was about to be riven by another of my favorite wars!

2. The Wars of the Roses, 1455-1485. The first "civil war" of England came about because, well, nobody liked the king. Henry VI was a crappy king, and since the family of York, led by Richard, the city's duke, was descended from Edward III just like Henry was, they decided they should rule. It didn't help that Henry was often off his rocker and that his French wife was wildly unpopular. The war was also fought in fits and spurts, like many medieval wars, with years of peace and short bursts of violence. Henry was replaced for a while by Edward IV (r. 1461-1470), came back for a while, then died. Edward returned, but his wife was as unpopular as Henry's had been (for different reasons; she wasn't royal, so the marriage brought no advantages internationally to England), and after Edward died, his brother Richard took over instead of allowing her family to dominate Edward's two young sons. Those kids conveniently disappeared into the Tower of London (where Richard had then killed) and Richard took over. However, some mangy Welsh claimant defeated Richard at Bosworth in 1485, killed him, and married Edward's daughter to unite the houses. Richard, however, provided Ian McKellen with a great role 500 years later, so that's something!

3. The Thirty Years' War, 1618-1648. Like all long wars, this was a series of armed conflicts that all centered around Germany, but lurched back and forth over three decades. This is probably the most horrific of the religious wars that wracked Europe for a century or so, as Protestants and Catholics killed each other in the name of that peaceful Jesus dude you may have heard of. This is another interesting war to read about, because of the way it was fought. It's occasionally considered the first "total war" in that civilians were often slaughtered along with soldiers. Civilians had suffered in wars before, but usually as collateral damage, not because the soldiers went out of their way to kill them. This is also the war in which Sweden (yes, Sweden!) was a major player, as the country reached the height of its power under Gustavus Adolphus, who died on the battlefield in 1632. It can also be seen as the first full-scale European war, a tradition which led to the Seven Years' War, the Napoleonic Wars, and those two in the 20th century you may have heard about. As usual with wars, this inspired a great piece of fiction, Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children. It's a brilliant play, and if you get a chance to see it, check it out!

4. The First and Second Opium War, 1839-1842; 1856-1860. I know only a little about the two Opium Wars, but these were early attempts by the West to impose their economic will on China, and led to some really horrible things, such as the Taiping Rebellion, which almost destroyed the country. I just love how the British (and, in the second one, joined by the French), forced the Chinese to allow opium imports, after the Chinese tried to make it illegal. Remember when countries wanted to traffic in drugs? Ah, the good old days!

5. The Franco-Prussian War, 1870-1871. I'm a fan of Otto von Bismarck, and this was his crowning achievement. After wars with Denmark and Austria, Bismarck was ready to unite Germany under Prussia and he needed a big-time war to do it. So he whipped up some antagonism between the Germans and the Second Empire (under one of the lamer rulers of the 19th century, Napoleon III), and managed to get France to declare war on Prussia. The Prussians, who were far superior to the French in every regard, beat the crap out of Napoleon for six weeks before capturing him at Sedan, and then beat the French armies under the Third Republic for another few months before capturing Paris in early 1871. In the aftermath of the war, Paris became a Socialist stronghold for a few months, which led to lots of bloodshed. Bismarck, meanwhile, wrangled a new crown for his king, Wilhelm I - that of the German Empire, which was declared in May 1871 at Versailles. This upset the balance of power in Europe that had been established at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and led somewhat directly to the great world wars of the 20th century. Bismarck stayed in power until 1890, when Wilhelm II, the second emperor, fired him. That might have not been a mistake, but Wilhelm's thirst for overseas glory, which Bismarck warned against, certainly was.

6. The War of the Cricket Match, 1896. I have mentioned this war before on the blog, but I'll do it again! It's the shortest war in history, after all, clocking in at 37 minutes 23 seconds. The Sultan of Zanzibar was peeved because the English admiral, Sir Henry Rawson, brought all his warships close to shore so his men could disembark and watch a cricket match. The Sultan declared war and sent his only battleship into action. The British sank that and bombarded the Sultan's palace. He escaped into German territory, and the war ended. Good times!

7. The Boer War, 1899-1902. This is technically the Second Boer War, but it's the one every remembers. I read a book about this years ago, and it's really a fascinating war, because it might be considered the first modern war, in that correspondents were "embedded" with the British troops (Winston Churchill was one of them!), it turned quickly into a guerrilla war, which allowed the Boers to fight the British for two years after the South African government capitulated, and the British set up concentration camps! Yay, concentration camps! This war reminds us that the Dutch had set up two independent republics in South Africa back in the day, which is kind of weird to think about today. South Africa became a part of the British Empire after this war, and Churchill got a taste for blood that wasn't sated even after World War I!

8. The Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905. I've always been interested in Japan and China, even though my first love is European history. The Meiji Restoration of the 19th century, in which the Emperor regained power from the shoguns, is a fascinating time in history, and the speed with which Japan embraced Western technology is one of the shocks of the past 200 years. They showed off their new prowess by absolutely destroying the Russian navy at Port Arthur in 1904 and bringing the czar's army to its knees, leading indirectly to the 1905 Revolution that was a precursor to the Bolshevik takeover 12 years later. Teddy Roosevelt got a Nobel Peace Prize for bringing the two sides together, Japan earned the respect of the West by showing they could kill vast numbers of people as easily as white people, and it embarked on a path that led to Pearl Harbor.

9. The Balkan Wars, 1912-1913. Another region that fascinates me is the Balkans, and although I need to read more about this particular war, anything about the area and the Ottomans' dominance of it is keen. These wars also crack me up a bit, because in the first one, Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Montenegro allied with each other to fight the Turks, even though they fought pretty much separately because they didn't like each other that much. After defeating the Turks (ending the "first" war), they pretty much immediately turned on each other, especially the Greeks and Bulgarians. Their fighting allowed Romania and Turkey to enter the second war, and the Ottomans regained a great deal of territory that they had lost a few months earlier in the first war! I like this war because it shows how difficult it is for an outside power, like the United States and the United Nations in the 1990s, to go into the region and try to talk peace. The people hate each other there with a centuries-old passion, and as the Turks learned, the only thing they hate more than each other are Great Powers coming in and telling them not to kill each other!

10. The Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939. I know very little about the Spanish Civil War (I have a couple of books on the subject, but of course I'm far behind, so I haven't read them yet), but I find it fascinating, because of the somewhat confused sides, the involvement of several different nationalities, the fact that the Nazis viewed it as a "preseason" war in which they could field-test new weapons, and the involvement of the Basques, which threw a weird spanner in the works. It was a horrific war by all accounts, too, and probably should have alerted the world to what was coming. That it didn't remains a tragedy of history. Of course, it did give us a terrific mural, so I guess all the deaths were worth it.

There are, of course, plenty of other wars that I'm interested in. I didn't count crusades, which I love to study, or even general military actions from medieval times, when "wars" didn't really exist. I mean, Charlemagne was always campaigning against someone, but that's just what he did. So although I like medieval history the best, it's hard to define a "war" for a lot of that time. That's why these more modern conflicts are my favorites. Of course, I think we can all agree that war pretty much sucks. Can't we all just get along?

Labels: , , ,


Picture Day: delayed!

Yes, it's Tuesday, and Picture Day is Monday! How can I call myself a conscientious blogger if I don't adhere to a completely arbitrary schedule?

It's been a rough weekend, as my wife left me (again), and I had to deal with children. I'll explain some day (or maybe I won't; I'm capricious that way). But you know what takes our minds off our day-to-day troubles? Waterfall pictures!

A few weeks after our sojourn up into the mountains, we headed south from Portland to the beautiful rustic town of Silverton (here's a map!) and Silver Falls State Park. Yes, the park is actually named after waterfalls! I'm a sucker for waterfalls, and this park delivered in spades. It was a chilly, overcast day, but it wasn't raining, and we had a nice time walking around the woods. Check the photos out:

I always dig the top of waterfalls. Don't ask me why. It's always cool to stand above them and check it out.

Here's a nice somewhat spooky shot of a waterfall.

One waterfall projects out from the rocks and you can walk underneath it. Here's one view:

Here's Krys walking behind the falls. She looks good, I swear. You just can't see her too well!

Here are the people walking behind the falls. Don't they look tiny?

Finally, another shot of the upper part of a waterfall. I don't try to understand why I like the top of a falls.

So there they are. I know they're all waterfalls, but that's just the way it is! If you're in the area, Silverton is a cool place to visit.

Next week: black-and-white!

Labels: , , , ,


Top Ten Day: My favorite NFL (and AFL) Championship Games

As it's playoff football time, I thought I'd do a football post. I've also been reading a book about the NFL's early years (book review soon!), and it reminded me of some of the great NFL Championship Games that were played, starting in 1933 and continuing until the advent of the Super Bowl after the 1966 season. So I thought I'd list my favorites, and I threw in some AFL Championship Games too, because they were, after all, a legitimate league. I don't know enough about the AAFC to include those games, however. And anyway, the Browns dominated that league. So here are my favorite NFL Championship Games, in chronological order. These are not the best games by a long shot - half of them are complete blowouts. They're just the ones I like the most. You may notice a hometown bias. Oh well!

9 December 1934: New York Giants 30, Chicago Bears 13. In the second "official" NFL Championship, the Giants played the Bears at the Polo Grounds. The field was frozen solid from rain the night before, and the teams were slipping all over the place. Someone suggested the Giants wear sneakers instead of cleats, and the equipment manager was dispatched to find some. He only found a few, and didn't return until halftime, when the New Yorkers trailed 10-3. But after getting used to the sneakers, the Giants scored 27 fourth-quarter points after Chicago went ahead 13-3 to win going away. So why didn't the Bears try to find sneakers? We'll never know. This is, of course, known as the "Sneakers Game." Life was kooky back in the olden days of the NFL.

8 December 1940: Chicago Bears 73, Washington Redskins 0. The biggest margin of victory in NFL history, plus most points scored in an NFL game. That would have been awesome to see. Washington had beaten Chicago weeks earlier, and the Washington owner called the Bears' crybabies. Oh dear. The Bears came in, used the T formation (which was pretty revolutionary at the time), and demolished Washington and their Hall of Fame quarterback, Sammy Baugh. Chicago scored only 28 points in the first half, then added 45 after halftime, with George Halas bringing in his second-team, who continued to pile on, returning three interceptions for touchdowns in the process. Chicago gained 382 yards rushing. I hope Sammy Baugh's quote is real: after the first touchdown, a wide-open Washington receiver dropped a touchdown pass. A reporter asked Baugh if that would have made a difference, and Baugh supposedly replied, "Sure. The final score would have been 73-7." Awesome.

19 December 1948: Philadelphia Eagles 7, Chicago Cardinals 0. The Eagles' first Championship was the first one to be televised and was played in a blizzard. I've seen film of this game, and it's amazing that they could play - you pretty much can't see the field! Steve van Buren, one of the greatest running backs to play the game, scored the game's only touchdown in the fourth quarter. This was the last time the Cardinals' franchise, which had won their only title the year before, would even sniff the Championship. Since their 1947 title, the Cardinals have played in the postseason twice - this game and in 1998. They've been owned by the same family since 1932. Coincidence? I think not. Suck it, Cardinals!

18 December 1949: Philadelphia Eagles 14, Los Angeles Rams 0. The Eagles picked up back-to-back titles with this effort, which substituted rain for snow (the game was played in LA). Van Buren rushed for 196 yards, for years a Championship Game record, and the Eagles simply bulldozed the Rams. This was a great Philadelphia team - Pete Pihos, Tommy Thompson, and van Buren are all-timers. Norm van Brocklin, who would quarterback the last Eagles team to win a title, was playing for the other team.

24 December 1950: Cleveland Browns 30, Los Angeles Rams 28. Man, the Rams can't catch a break! I like this game because it was the first NFL Championship Game appearance for the Browns, who had dominated the AAFC for the four seasons of that league's existence, and the NFL thought they would be outclassed when they were absorbed. Of course, they beat Philadelphia, the defending champions, in their first game, but people still didn't buy them. So they had to go out and win a Championship. With very little time left in the game, trailing 28-27, the Browns sent out their kicker, Lou Groza (who's so famous he has a college award named after him), who booted a short field goal for the win. The Browns lost the next three Championship Games before winning in 1954 and '55. That meant that Otto Graham, their quarterback, played ten years in pro football and went to the Championship Game every year, winning 7 times. Kiss his ass, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady!

29 December 1957: Detroit Lions 59, Cleveland Browns 14. Another blowout, but I like this game because it's the last time the Lions have gotten anywhere near an NFL Championship. Also, I always liked Bobby Layne, the Lions' quarterback, and Tobin Rote, who played because Layne was injured. All Rote did was throw for four touchdowns and run for another. At least the Lions can take solace in the fact that they won 3 titles in the 1950s and were sort of the team of the decade ... well, except for the Browns. But that's not bad!

28 December 1958: Baltimore Colts 23, New York Giants 17 (OT). Yeah, yeah, "greatest game ever played" blah blah blah. I like it because Lenny Moore of Penn State played in it. Moore was awesome in college and pretty damned good in the pros, too (he still holds the record - with LaDanian Tomlinson - of scoring touchdowns in 18 straight games). And check out the Giants, with offensive coordinator Vince Lombardi and defensive coordinator Tom Landry. How did they not win? Oh, that's right - Johnny Unitas and that great haircut.

26 December 1960: Philadelphia Eagles 17, Green Bay Packers 13. The Eagles' most recent Championship (and yes, it pains me to type that) was dominated by Green Bay, but they didn't count on one person: Chuck Bednarik! Norm van Brocklin, in the twilight of his career, played a good game, and Ted Dean had a big kickoff return after Green Bay's fourth-quarter touchdown and then scored the game-winner, but the Packers were driving late in the game when Jim Taylor broke free and appeared to be on his way to scoring the winning touchdown. Bednarik, the last two-way player in NFL history, tackled him at the Philadelphia 8-yard line and sat on him until the clock ran out. Then he told Taylor he could get up. Bednarik played 58 minutes in the game. (Bednarik is awesome. He broke Frank Gifford's ankle in 1960 and took him out of the game for 18 months in what is regarded as one of the most vicious tackles in history. He also berates today's players for being soft because they don't play offense and defense. The dude is over 80, and he could probably beat up most NFL players. Plus, he also has a college award named after him.) This was Lombardi's only playoff loss, and the Eagles' last moment of glory until January 1981, when they beat the Cowboys to advance to Super Bowl 15. Well, unless you count pelting Santa Claus with snowballs.

23 December 1962: Dallas Texans 20, Houston Oilers 17 (2 OT). This was a great game, going to a second overtime, but I like it, of course, because of Abner Haynes' famous mistake on the coin flip to start overtime. The Texans won the toss, and Haynes said "We'll kick to the clock," meaning the big clock on the scoreboard. When the ref informed him he couldn't pick both to kick the ball and the field direction, he said, "We'll kick." The Oilers got the ball and could choose which direction they went in, but couldn't do anything with it. Sucks to be them! Dallas eventually won, which probably made Haynes feel better, as he had scored the Texans' only two touchdowns that day. Dallas, of course, moved after the season to Kansas City, where they've had a little bit of success.

5 January 1964: San Diego Chargers 51, New England Patriots 10. This is the Chargers' last Championship, but that's not why I like it (I could have picked the next two years, which were the Bills' only Championships, if that was the reason). It's not even because they hammered the Patriots, which let's hope will be repeated this year (and if it's the Chargers a week from this weekend, so much the better, although I doubt it will happen). No, it's because Lance Alworth played on the Chargers, and I love Lance Alworth. He's awesome. Plus, it's a Tobin Rote sighting! Rote was the quarterback of San Diego, and he had a pretty good game. But I love individual greatness from players you don't expect, and Keith Lincoln destroyed the Patriots. Check it out: 13 carries for 216 yards, and 7 catches for 123, with a 56-yard run, a 67-yard touchdown run, and a 25-yard touchdown catch. He even threw a 20-yard pass! Excellent.

There have been some great NFC/AFC Championship Games (I count the Championship Games for 1966-69 as NFC/AFC Championship Games, because they just gave you the right to play in the Super Bowl), but that's not this post. Anyone have any I might have missed? Everyone reading this was alive in the 1940s, right?

Labels: , ,


Picture Day - it's back, 2008-style!

I have been very remiss about posting pictures here, and I know you've missed them! Who doesn't love checking out photographs of my past?

So let's catch up. In February 2000 the little woman and I went snowshoe hiking in the foothills of Mount Hood, around Trillium Lake. We had decided to try to find things to do through the Parks and Rec Department, and this was the first thing we did. We drove up with a bunch of people we didn't know but who were all pretty cool, and hiked around for the day. Holy crap, was it hard! Of course, I was in much better shape eight years ago! It snowed a lot while we were out there, but we had a blast. It was one of those fun days that, years later, you look back and remember with fondness how unbelievably happy you were. Even though we were exhausted, it was a fantastic trip. Here are the photos!

Here's a placid wintry scene.

We had to cross many little streams on snow-covered logs and such. Fun!

This is Trillium Lake, which was frozen solid. Well, pretty much solid. We didn't test it.

We hiked up a lot of hills. Man, it was hard.

Of course, once we got to the top of a hill, we could run back down it! Now that was oodles of fun!

Here's another charming winter wonderland scene.

Here's Krys emerging triumphantly from the forest. It was tough tramping through the woods, so we were happy when we made it out.

Check out that handsome fellow! I wonder what happened to him? I think I ate him long ago.

Krys and I love this picture. We just collapsed in the snow and someone took our photograph. Like I said, this kind of sums up the day - tired but happy!

So that's our day snowshoeing in 2000. We haven't done it since. It's quite difficult to find snow in Phoenix, after all. We'd have to drive quite far to find it. I'll be back next week with ... well, something.

Labels: , ,


What I've been reading

Rolling Thunder in a Gentle Land: The Vietnam War Revisited by Andrew Wiest, editor. 336 pages, 2006, Osprey Publishing.

There is a great deal we have yet to understand about the war in Vietnam, even 30 years after it ended. Many people rushed to judgment about it even while it was still being fought, but Wiest and the contributors to this book argue that we are still sorting out exactly what happened, why it happened, and what it meant. I have read very little about Vietnam (I read a book called 55 Days: The Fall of South Vietnam by Alan Dawson in the late 1980s, and I think that's it), but it's really a fascinating war, both for what the reasons we went to war were and for how it affected the country. This book, which features several articles by different people about different aspects of the war, is a pretty good introduction to the historiography of the war, which is still in its infancy. (And it brings up the point that we still can't make a judgment on Bush's Iraq adventure. As much as I think it's idiotic, I recognize that we can only really assess it years from now. But that's a whole different topic altogether!)

Some of the articles are far too technical for my liking, such as the later chapters (8-13), which deal with the hardware and tactics of Vietnam. They provide very useful information, but are dry and pedantic, using technical jargon that felt overwhelming at times. The most interesting, to me, were the articles that give us a sense of the country and the people in it. Chapter 6, "A View From the Other Side of the Story," and Chapter 7, "Caught in the Crossfire," are written by Vietnamese, one a soldier and the other a civilian, and show the effect the war had on Vietnam itself. Lieutenant General lam Quang Thi, who wrote the view of the South Vietnamese soldier, has many interesting things to say. He's biased, of course, but he makes the point that the South Vietnamese army (ARVN) was a much better fighting force than it's given credit for. He argues that the Easter Offensive of 1972 proved that ARVN forces could fight NVA (North Vietnamese) forces and defeat them handily, and it was not the American troop withdrawal that doomed South Vietnam, but the loss of funds from the United States, which left the South Vietnamese in an untenable position. Like a lot in this book, the article challenges the conventional wisdom about the war.

Another interesting chapter is Chapter 14, "The 'Living-Room War'," which was written by Professor Daniel C. Hallin, a Professor of Communications at UC-San Diego. Professor Hallin argues that the media had far less influence on the American public's view of the war than is assumed, and he tracks opinion polls about the war to prove it. He makes the case that in the early years of the war (prior to 1967), the media was very gung-ho about the war, with the only exception being Morley Safer's report in August 1965 on the burning of Cam Ne. Even after this exposé, reporters continued to follow the government line that everything was swell in Southeast Asia. It is only after the Tet Offensive in January 1968 that the tone begins to shift, but it's only when President Nixon began to withdraw troops in 1969 that the media began to portray the war in a different light. Hallin shows that opinion polls had begun to swing against the war before this, and points out that media coverage of anti-war demonstrations in 1965-67 was very negative. In an interesting twist on conventional wisdom, he makes the case that only after the government began to be divided on the course of the war, which began in 1967, did the public pick up on it and begin to doubt our involvement. Then, the media followed suit. Once the government began expressing misgivings, the media changed the way they covered the war. I'm not certain Hallin is correct, but he makes a compelling case, both about the timeline, and also about why both sides of the debate want to keep the conventional view of events: the pro-war side can blame the media for the "loss" of Vietnam, while the anti-war side can laud the media for forcing the issue.

Sprinkled in among the chapters are interesting pieces of information, like how this was not a "guerilla war" as we understand it (that was news to me), because the Viet Cong were largely ineffective after Tet and even beforehand, they were more of a nuisance than anything else. The North Vietnamese army was always the dominant force opposing the South Vietnamese and the Americans, and it was only because the Americans couldn't (or wouldn't) adjust their strategies that the NVA was able to succeed. The book also has a fascinating chapter on the wars in Cambodia and Laos, showing again how confused the Americans were about the local situation. As you read the book, you get a sense more and more that despite spending years in Southeast Asia, the American military and government never really knew what to expect. And the final chapter delves in the myth of the POW/MIA, which is new to me. Why the government continued to perpetuate the myth that there were thousands of soldiers left behind is ridiculous, but again speaks to the idea that the American people can't handle the truth about certain situations. This idea is still prevalent today, unfortunately.

This isn't a great book, because many of the chapters, however interesting for the information they impart, are written poorly and read more like instruction manuals for how to (and not to) fight a war. Still, it's a very good place to start if you're interested in Vietnam. There is so much more we can learn about the conflict, not because we can apply the military lessons in Iraq (as one writer points out, the two situations are almost completely different), but because it shows how modern warfare has changed and the way wars are being fought in the post-WWII world. The book takes us back to Vietnam and examines how the post-war generation is dealing with their Communist legacy. One point the authors make, however, is that Americans seem to want to move on, which is an unfortunate attitude. There is a great deal we can still learn from Vietnam, and it would be nice to see more research into the war that damaged America's psyche so much. How can we heal if we don't examine it????

Labels: , ,


Why the Giants will not beat the Buccaneers

Everyone seems to think that the Giants' game against the New England Cheaters last weekend will give them momentum going into their playoff game in Tampa. The Giants played very well and, the pundits say, this bodes well for their game. But does it?

Here is the teams who played the Cheaters this year:
1. New Jersey Jets (L, 14-38)
2. San Diego Chargers (L, 14-38)
3. Buffalo Bills (L, 7-38)
4. Cincinnati Bengals (L, 13-34)
5. Cleveland Browns (L, 17-34)
6. Dallas Cowboys (L, 27-48)
7. Miami Dolphins (L, 28-49)
8. Washington (L, 7-52)
9. Indianapolis Colts (L, 20-24)
10. Bye
11. Buffalo Bills (L, 10-56)
12. Philadelphia Eagles (L, 28-31)
13. Baltimore Ravens (L, 24-27)
14. Pittsburgh Steelers (L, 13-34)
15. New Jersey Jets (L, 10-20)
16. Miami Dolphins (L, 7-28)
17. New Jersey Giants (L, 35-38)

Here are their games following the week they played New England:
Game 2: New Jersey Jets vs. Baltimore: L, 13-20
Game 3: San Diego Chargers vs. Green Bay: L, 24-31
Game 4: Buffalo Bills vs. New Jersey Jets: W, 17-14
Game 5: Cincinnati Bengals: bye.
Game 6: Cleveland Browns vs. Miami: W, 41-31
Game 7: Dallas Cowboys vs. Minnesota: W, 24-14
Game 8: Miami Dolphins vs. New Jersey Giants: L, 10-13
Game 9: Washington vs. New Jersey Jets: W, 23-20
Game 10: Indianapolis Colts vs. San Diego: L, 21-23
Game 11: Buffalo Bills vs. Jacksonville: L, 14-36
Game 12: Philadelphia Eagles vs. Seattle: L, 24-28
Game 13: Baltimore Ravens vs. Indianapolis: L, 20-44
Game 14: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Jacksonville: L, 22-29
Game 15: New Jersey Jets vs. Tennessee: L, 6-10
Game 16: Miami Dolphins vs. Cincinnati: L, 25-38

After playing the Cheaters, the teams were a combined 4-10 the week after. Buffalo and Washington beat the Jets, which wasn't that impressive, considering their record. Cleveland got to play the Dolphins and beat them. Only Dallas played a marginally good team and won. Everyone else lost. It's as if the teams gave so much in playing the Cheaters that they had nothing left for the next week. The Giants lost a few players to injury, too. So the odds are stacked against them.

Yet, a lot of experts are picking the Giants based on the fact that they almost beat New England. But the numbers are against them, people! Look to the statistics!

[Edit: Okay, maybe that stat didn't work. If Tampa hadn't given the game away, they might have had a chance. Oh well!]

Labels: , , ,


Top Ten Day - My favorite television theme songs

I've been trying to get back onto a regular schedule here at the blog, instead of posting so haphazardly (I know I don't take months off like some people, but still), and one thing I'd like to do is get back to doing Top Ten posts, even though I stopped because I was having trouble coming up with subjects. Then I was watching The Rockford Files last week and was reminded about how cool the theme song was. An lo, another Top Ten list presented itself! So here, in alphabetical order, are my ten favorite television theme songs (you'll notice that most are older shows, because shows don't really do theme songs anymore):

1. The A-Team (1983-1987). I just love the faux-hard rock thing going on in this theme song, along with the hard-as-nails intro of the team: "If you can find them, maybe you can hire ... the A-Team" and then the bullets shooting up the screen before the music kicks in. It's a great song to get you in the mood for some ass-kicking, which is what the A-Team was all about!
(This is the theme song with no images, just a black screen. Sorry!)

2. Cheers (1982-1993). The theme song for the greatest sitcom ever makes you wish there was a bar like "Cheers" as much as the show did. That's not a bad feat.

2.5. Frasier (1993-2004). I was a bit hesitant to include this, because the beginning of the show never had a theme, but I always liked Kelsey Grammer's odd blues riff over the end credits, where he sings about tossed salads and scrambled eggs. Given the subtext between Frasier and Niles, I always wondered if it was some gay thing I was missing. So I decided to lump it in with Cheers so I could cheat and put 11 songs on the Top Ten. Forgive me!
(The theme song is in the middle of this brief video, which is very, very weird.)

3. The Dukes of Hazzard (1979-1985). Man, what a great theme song. How can you not love Waylon Jennings drawling about the "good old boys" and how "someday the mountain might get 'em but the law never will"? It fit the show perfectly, and played over the fun credits helped.

5. The Greatest American Hero (1981-1983). I love this show, and although the theme song is kind of cheesy in an early-Eighties way, it still works well with the general cheesiness of the show itself (that doesn't detract from my love for it, of course). Of course, George Costanza's answering machine message has helped keep this tune alive long after the show's demise.

6. Hawaii Five-O (1968-1980). I actually have not seen very much of Hawaii Five-O, as it was on before I was born and while I was very young. But who doesn't know the kick-ass theme song, with some excellent opening credits as well!

6. The Love Boat (1977-1986). My mother used to watch this show religiously on Saturday night, so I saw a lot of the episodes from 1979-1983 or so, when I was too young to do much on weekend nights. I don't really like the show, although it was goofy enough to be entertaining, but the theme song is awesome. It's such a great, sweeping, dynamic burst of goofiness that you can't help but sing along. It promised hedonism, which is what the show was all about, but in a classy way. Top marks for that!
(Check out the guest stars for this episode. Anne Baxter is in this one! From All About Eve to a guest appearance on The Love Boat. Oh, the precipice is steep in Hollywood!)

7. Magnum, P. I. (1980-1988). That guitar rocks, is all I'm saying. Plus, we get to see Tom Selleck being cool. Was there a cooler guy in entertainment in the 1980s? I think not. Don Johnson? Please. Harrison Ford? No way. Bruce Willis? Not even.
(Check out this early version of the theme song. Man, I'm glad they changed it!)

(Here's the theme we all know and love.)

8. Moonlighting (1985-1989). The show itself went from classic to crap in what seemed like the blink of an eye, but I always liked the old-fashioned, sweeping love song that introduced it (sung wonderfully by Al Jarreau). It was classy, cosmopolitan, and a bit wistful - which is what the show was for the first couple seasons.

9. The Rockford Files (1974-1980). Duh. As the inspiration for this post, you knew it had to be on here! I always loved the messages Jim got on his telephone, and then the rolling drums announced the keyboards, and we got the cool scenes of Jim doing his thing and a nifty harmonica. A classic. (For some reason, the person who posted this on YouTube doesn't want to allow it on other sites, but you can hit up the link to take a trip down memory lane.)

10. WKRP in Cincinnati (1978-1982). "Baby, if you ever wondered, wondered whatever became of me ..." Sing along with me! I just love theme songs that explain the entire situation of the show AND happen to be a catchy tune. It's not the main reason why this show is a classic, but it's not an unimportant one!
(Here's another video with no images, just the song. Another shame - I can't find the opening credits! Of course, this is the complete song, so that might balance it out a bit.)

There are a lot more that I would consider for honorable mentions, from the 1960s sitcoms (Gilligan's Island, The Beverly Hillbillies, I Dream of Jeannie) to the pop culture staying power of Batman, to the 1970s sitcoms like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Barney Miller (but NOT All in the Family, the theme of which is like the rest of the show - overrated), to the brooding keyboard-drenched Miami Vice, to some cartoon themes, like The Transformers (plus more I'm sure I've forgotten). I miss television theme songs. The CSI shows using old rock songs don't really count. I want to say The Big Bang Theory, that new show on CBS, uses a theme song by They Might Be Giants (it certainly sounds like them), which is pretty cool. Maybe the pendulum will swing back in the future!

What are your favorite television theme songs?

Labels: , ,