Monday meanderings

The pollen is out and the sniffles have returned. Even with medication, when I am outside doing chores, that stuff gets into your system somehow to wreak havoc. I do a double dip of Cetirizine (generic Zirtec) and a generic nasal spray which helps immensely. Yet, still…

For college basketball fans, a terrific rivalry game in the semi-finals ended the illustrious career of Coach K on Saturday night. Mike Krzyzewski walked off the court holding hands with his wife Mickie as his Duke Blue Devils were bested by the North Carolina Tar Heels. These schools are only eight miles apart and both play high level basketball, so the rivalry can get intense. Coach K has been a credit to the game and his players.

Speaking of the Tar Heels, its coach Hubert Davis played there as well, before embarking on a NBA professional career. While a good player, his uncle was Walter Davis who also starred for the Tar Heels. The older Davis went on to a multi-year all star career in the NBA. Those are some nice genes. If it weren’t for some guy named Michael Jordan who was a cut above everyone, Walter Davis would arguably be on a short list of best players to play at UNC.

On a more serious subject, there are a lot of folks in Russia advising a certain malevolent autocrat that don’t remember the story about the emperor having no clothes. Apparently, they are telling the autocrat what he wants to hear and not what he needs to hear. Interestingly, the naked emperor has destroyed a well-crafted effort to impose Russian will on other countries through disinformation. He may be able to hide this from many Russians, but the rest of the world is seeing his true colors and the war crimes, as well.

Speaking of the naked emperor, there is a reason the former US president holds him in high regard. In this autocrat, the former president sees a strong-arm leader who squelches dissent and will say anything to get his way. That is what the former president wanted to be all along – an autocrat that gets his way. I think we should say he is emperor of a small US island territory and let him do whatever he wants. Maybe that will keep him occupied. It would be better than letting him continue to divide us with his inability to distinguish truth from lies.

My last post is based on what we need to tell all elected officials. We need them to better than they are being. I have seen where many Republican Senators will sing praise of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first African-American woman to get on the US Supreme Court, yet will not vote for her. This is kind of like having your cake and eating it too. I will let you draw your own conclusions. In my mind, this does not rank up there with political courage and falls in the category of following some PR decision to oppose her to secure more conservative votes.

Speaking of the Supreme Court, for the second time Justice Clarence Thomas is likely wishing his wife Ginni would be more silent about public issues. On the tenth anniversary following Dr. Anita Hill’s testimony at the justice’s confirmation, Ms. Thomas publicly asked Hill for an apology for her testimony. Hill declined saying she told the truth. It should be noted that another credible witness was waiting in the wings, but was never called. Now, it is apparent Ms. Thomas is a huge fan of the former president and helped offer counsel and support on his Big Lie and efforts to incite an insurrection to stay in power. I realize fully Ginni Thomas is her own person, but I am confident the justice does not want his name in the news for this.

Finally, Representative Madison Cawthorn, one of the more strident members in Congress who has a track record of being untruthful made unsubstantiated claims about being invited to orgies and coke parties by senior members of Congress. Since he is so strident, the only members who could have so invited him would be in his own party. Party leadership took offense at such accusations and said this lie broke their trust (apparently earlier lies were not so bothersome). Now that he is cornered, he took a page out of the party figurehead’s book and blamed the other party and the press. In essence, he is saying it is their fault he is lying. Just because his flock might believe this BS, does not mean we should. Fortunately, he is running in a primary against seven Republicans and state party leadership is endorsing someone else.

John Madden – a class act

John Madden passed away yesterday. People outside the United States may not know this exuberant and larger than life man. But, he was a superb professional football coach, a groundbreaking football announcer and an innovator in a football video game.

He made the game simple for us without talking down to his audience. He was colorful with his sounds and drawings to define what was happening. And, people loved it – but they loved him more. He did not use arcane terms to define things and just told you what was happening and how it happened.

Fellow announcers, coaches and players have all described how genuine he was. Three stories can shed light on this. One of the things that precipitated his retirement was a vicious hit one of his players made on an opponent named Daryl Stingley which paralyzed him. This kind of hit is now illegal in football as the intent is to injure. Madden visited Stingley daily in the hospital as the injury occurred in Madden’s home city.

Another story is Madden was scared to fly. So, he would travel across the country in a Winnebago leaving days before a game. Madden would visit with people along the way. This endeared him even more. He was truly an everyday person.

The final story is he was a player’s coach. He told you what was expected of you – show up for practice, pay attention and play hard. Those were his rules. He did not care about what you looked like or wore. No dress codes, just play and practice hard. One of my favorite lines of his is “In my experience, when you practice well, you usually play well in the game.” 

It was said Madden was well-read and did his homework for each game. Fellow announcers would commend him on well he knew the players in the game he was announcing. The time on the road allowed for this.

Madden may not have looked the part, but he truly was s class act. 

Sports movies that echo real life lessons (a reprise)

Last month, I highlighted a sports movie that made even men cry called “Brian’s Song.”  The movie was about friendship between men of different backgrounds who were competing for the same job on a football team. So, the movie inspired me to note a few other sports movies, that echo longer, due to the story and/ or circumstances. There are many sports movies that can easily be forgotten, so those that are not have a reason for lasting in our memories.

To me, the most profound sports movie is called “Invictus” which chronicles the greatness of Nelson Mandela using the example of the national rugby team. Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon star in the movie directed by Clint Eastwood. Mandela would not let the Springbok team favored by white South Africans lose its support and galvanized a whole country behind it as it hosted and won the world championship. The team was a metaphor for inclusion and showed why Mandela was able to bring a fractured country together. Mohammed Morsi should have taken notes when he took over Egypt and he may still have a job.

“42” about Jackie Robinson becoming the first African-American major league baseball player is of the same ilk. The story is far more than about baseball, as Robinson (played by Chadwick Boseman) and Dodger owner Branch Rickey (played by Harrison Ford), showed a huge amount of courage to break the color barrier years before the Civil Rights Act. Both received death threats, but Robinson had to face so many obstacles, hatred and abuse by racists, fans, players and even teammates and do so, without responding with anger. Many people would not be up to this challenge and, at some point, would have reacted. By example, he helped pave the way for others.

A movie some might be surprised is on this short list is “Bull Durham.” The reason I picked this one is it captures the camaraderie of teams quite well and shows the not so glamorous side of baseball in the minor leagues. But, the movie is about an old player and unique woman mentoring a young talented pitcher with a “million dollar arm and a five cents head.” Kevin Costner plays the veteran catcher, while Susan Sarandon plays a unique and astute baseball fan. Ironically, Tim Robbins, who becomes her husband in real life, plays Nuke Laloosh, the pitcher who needs seasoning. It also provides advice for that would resonate in the non-baseball world.  Here a few:

– Strikeouts are fascist. Throw more ground balls, they are more democratic.

– Don’t mess with a streak. If you think you are on a streak because of….then you are.

– I am not interested in anyone who is interested in that boy.

– Don’t think, just throw.

But, one you may not have seen is a worth the watch – “Bang the Drum Slowly” which is similar to “Brian’s Song,” but about baseball. It stars Michael Moriarty as a pitcher who will not play unless his catcher played by Robert De Niro can play. The catcher has cancer, so this will be his final season, a secret only Moriarty knows.

There are several others that could have been highlighted. “Hoosiers” with Gene Hackman as the imperfect coach of a high school Indiana basketball team that beats all odds to win, is excellent. “Field of Dreams” is also excellent where Costner creates a baseball diamond in his corn field and has the best game of catch at the end. “Seabiscuit” and “Phar Lap” are two movies about race horses and people who should not win, but do while overcoming great adversity. The latter is an Australian movie and is worth the watch. “The Greatest Game Ever Played” about a teenage golfer, Francis Ouimet, who beat three of the best golfers in the world is a little cheesy, but excellent. “The Lou Gehrig Story” is cheesy at times, but with Gary Cooper playing Gehrig, it is worth it. And, even “Rocky” is a classic, although they should have stopped at one.

Let me know your favorites. I know I have left off some good ones,but would love to hear your thoughts.

The Yogi of malapropisms (or Yogi-isms)

A malaprop is defined as “the mistaken use of a word in place of a similar-sounding one, often with unintentionally amusing effect, as in, for example, ‘dance a flamingo’ (instead of flamenco).” A malaprop or malapropism is the closest word(s) to describe what a rather famous baseball player would articulate to reporters on a recurring basis. The player had the iconic name of Yogi Berra.

Yogi was actually a very good and well-liked ballplayer on a very good team, the New York Yankees. As the Yankees were in the World Series with regularity, reporters had a lot of access to Yogi and what would become known as “Yogi-isms.” The funny thing about Yogi-isms is while they may sound unusual, they actually had a basis of simple truth holding them up. In other words, when you studied what he was trying to say, it actually made sense.

Here are a few Yogisms

It gets dark early out there – Yogi started as a catcher, but as he aged, he was moved to left field because he was such a good hitter and needed to be in the line-up. Late in the afternoon, the sun would cause shadows in the outfield which made it hard to see the baseball coming your way.

The future ain’t what it used to be -This may be my favorite Yogi-ism. In essence, things are happening so fast in the world, predictions of the future need updating. This is even more true today with technology advances.


It ain’t over ’til its over – This may be truest of all Yogi-isms as he has witnessed many a come from behind victory as a winner and loser. The game is not over until it is over. There is always a chance to win or lose, so finish the game.


When you come to a fork in the road, take it – This one needs to be read with a smile. You think you know what he means, but it is funny to play it against Robert Frost’s road not taken. Which way should you go? In Yogi’s mind, make a change. Or, is he saying stay the course? Or, maybe he is just saying don’t stand still, make a choice.

You can observe a lot by watching – this is one of the obvious truths. Shut up and watch what is happening. I have often felt reporters just loved to hear Yogi talk, so they would make big deals out of anything he said. Since we still have too many folks that are not present in the moment, this Yogi-ism is good advice. Pay attention, you might learn something.


Baseball is 90% mental; the over half is physical – this is one of his more famous lines. Math must have not been his strong suit. Or, more than likely, he forgot the first percentage when he closed out his point. Any endeavor has a mental aspect to it, even one where there is a ball, bat and glove involved.

Yogi-isms are priceless. They are funny, yet profound on occasion as the examples above portray. When I said he was well-liked, that is not an overstatement. He was charming and self-effacinig. He did not look like a star player, like his teammate Mickey Mantle, but he was a very good one. Kids, especially, just flocked to Yogi.

Please let me know your reactions and any other favorites.

Celebrating success with too much gusto concerns me

Watching the Ryder Cup, which every two years pits twelve US golfers against twelve European golfers in team competition, it continues to concern me over the lack of sportsmanship the match has devolved into. Dating back to the late-1990s, the televised competition has created a fervor of fans cheering the mistakes of their opponents. There was a time when Jack Nicklaus picked up the coin of Brit Tony Jacklin marking a ten foot putt to halve a match resulting in a tie, but those days are long gone.

But, I must confess, when I played sports, trash talking was something I just did not do. I was taught taunting an opponent is just poor form. As my basketball coach used to preach to us, the way to get back at an opponent is to win. The way to get back is not let them score. I mention the last point as it takes more effort to play defense, so to shut down an opponent from scoring brings satisfaction.

I know the crowds in team sports and some competition want to see demonstrative theatrics. They want to cheer success, even if it is for only one play. Yet, one coach used to say, if you are going to draw attention to your successful play, should you not draw attention when you mess up? Look what I did, I missed a tackle.

With that said, I do love offensive linemen in a football game. Usually, they only get attention when they mess up. It could be a penalty for holding or missing a block that leads to a tackle for a loss. On the flip side, these linemen are the reason games are won and lost. Yet, they don’t get the same upside notoriety when they are doing their job well. Their running backs and quarterback get the glory when they are blocking their opponents.

Mind you, it is OK to be happy with a successful play. But, the baseball term used is “you do not want to show up your opponent.” It is better not to rub it in a pitcher’s face that you just hit a home run, as you may have to face him or her again. One famous football running back used to say when he scored a touchdown, act like you have been there before. Of course, the fans want to see more. Maybe this is why drunk fans should steer clear from the other team’s fans.

I recognize I am old school. What I wrote runs counter to what is being done today. To me, it promotes this we/ they mindset on too many things. It has bled over into tribal politics. Fans are too invested in winning, that they don’t realize what is truly at stake. When politicians are too invested in winning than governing, we all lose.

Weekend warrior wisdom

Now that pro and college football (the American version) have started their new seasons, watching, betting, imbibing, overeating and playing by those who are less talented at the game will begin. Here are a few truisms of which to be mindful as we watch the games.

Monday comes early for Sunday drinkers watching football.

Fantasy footballers need to be wary of those who use multi-variant regression models to select their players. Bet what you can afford or don’t bet at all.

Tuesday comes early for Monday drinkers watching football.

A football is not round so it bounces in peculiar ways. Remember that when you wager.

Football players do not get that big and strong without chemical help.

The best of football helmets will not prevent the brain from rattling around in your head when hit on the field..

For every Tom Brady who plays that long, there are thousands of players who won’t make four years in a football career.

There are two halves to every football game. Do not celebrate victory before it occurs.

Finally, college success does not automatically translate into pro success – the pros are bigger and faster and the significant majority of college players from the bigger universities will not make it to the pros.

Enjoy the seasons. Don’t drink and drive. Wager wisely.

Then, there is class

In an Olympic race yesterday, two male 800 meter runners got their feet tangled in the heat and down they went.. In a show of unity, they got up and jogged together across the line.

From Big World Tale, here are the opening two paragraphs to define what happened:

“Olympic spirit: Isaiah Jewett, Nijel Amos help each other to finish line after ‘devastating’ collision in 800M heat August 1, 2021 Sunday’s Olympics men’s 800-meter semifinal did not go as planned for USA’s Isaiah Jewett and Botswana’s Nijel Amos. Jewett was running in third place late in the qualifying heat when Amos approached him from behind.

Then one of those moments that embodies Olympic sportsmanship and seems to happen at every Games took place. Jewett didn’t express the disappointment and frustration he was certainly feeling after being tripped from behind. As he stood up, he grasped the outreached hand of Amos, and they helped each other off the ground.” 

In a true sportsmanship move, after two high jumpers matched each other jump for jump before both failing at the next height, they decided to share the Gold medal rather than have a jump off. Apparently, one got injured right before the Rio Olympics in 2016.

From a Buzz Feed, by Lauren Strapagiel called “The Moment These Two Olympians Decided To Share A Gold Medal Is So Joyful” :

“Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy and Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar both took the gold for the men’s high jump in a truly heartwarming decision.”

What’s better than winning gold in Tokyo? Getting to share the win with a friend and fellow competitor.

On Sunday, athletes Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy and Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar chose to share first place at the Olympic men’s high jump final thanks to a quirk in the rule book.

According to the rules, they could either settle it with a jump-off or share the gold. NBC video from the competition shows an official trying to explain just that when Barshim cuts in.

‘Can we have two golds?’ Barshim asks the official.

Before the official can even finish explaining, Barshim reaches out to Tamberi to shake hands, and the two — and the crowd — go wild.”

Sportsmanship still exists, but it is nice to witness it.

Heartbreaking moments

For some reason, we seem to be watching more of the Olympics in Japan than we have in previous ones. The exhilarating competition and human stories are wonderful to watch. But, it also exposes us to heartbreaking moments where you just want to hug the athlete and say it will be OK. Let me set aside the Simone Biles story, as I have written about that as have others.

There are two stories I want to focus on, but I will leave off their names, as I do not want to highlight who they are, just what happened. Plus, these two people qualified for the Olympics, which is not a small feat.

First, in one of the many “heats” for the women’s 400 meter hurdles, the Great Britain champion racer was looking to qualify for the semi-finals. This was her first race of the Olympics. Sadly, on her way to the very first hurdle, she got her feet tangled and fell into the hurdle. Her Olympic competition was ended. Seeing in live action was one thing, but when they showed it in slow motion, you truly agonize with her.

Second, the next day, in the women springboard diving competition, the top twelve divers were looking to qualify for the semi-finals, I think. After several dives, a Canadian diver was in ninth place and just needed a couple of more decent dives. Apparently, the young woman must have felt she did not get enough elevation for the twists and turns as she hopped once (per the routine) and propelled herself upward. She just meekly fell knees first into the pool. The announcers could not hide their feelings for her as they called it a “failed dive.”

Seeing both of these women, who trained so hard, walk away from what just happened made you want to hug them. Fortunately, coaches and teammates were there to do so.

It reminds me that I have failed on more than a few occasions. We all fail at some time. It hurts. Plus, you replay that hurt over and over in your mind. Hopefully, we have learned from that failure, as it can be a better teacher than success.

One of the things that I admire about the gymnasts (or skaters) is they keep going. If they mess up or have a small misstep, they keep going. It should be noted the women’s gymnastic team winners from Russia overcame two of their better gymnasts falling off the balance beam (I still don’t know how they perform on a four inch wide beam). Guess what they did? The two got back up on the beam and continued on. And, the team won.

So, it may not be a four inch balance beam, but we need to get off the floor and climb back on and keep going. And, for those two women I highlighted above. They were there. They made it to Japan. There is a lot to be said for that.

*Note: People remember failures like this, which is why I did not use their names. If you ask people in Boston who Bill Buckner is, some will tell you about a terrible error he made playing first base for the Boston Red Sox that cost them the 1986 World Series. But, there is far more to this story. His error was in Game Six and there was another game the next day. Plus, the winning New York Mets knew Boston’s weakness was their late game pitchers – they knew if Boston pulled their starting pitcher, they had a chance. Yet, Red Sox fans also forget that Buckner had a heckuva season and helped Boston make the World Series. Yes, he made a key error, but the team lost, not Bill Buckner.

Sports Illustrated Cover and GOAT Jinxes

When the weekly magazine Sports Illustrated was published only in print, whoever made the cover was subject to a jinx. Based on analysis of the data, the player or team who made the cover fared less well in the next few weeks. It may be related to over-confidence after the notoriety or that opponents tried harder to knock off the more publicized.

Lately, sports pundits have been throwing around the term GOAT, which is short for Greatest of All Time. This level of immortality is a hard accolade (or cross) to bear. To me, to call someone this before he, she or they finish playing puts unbelievable pressure on the athletes. Simone Biles has been called the GOAT for women’s gymnastics.

I am not saying this is what happened to Biles, but I have to believe she put enormous pressure on herself. I do know, after several moves have been named after Biles, she is still trying to push the envelope with bigger and better moves. Rather than focus on moves she has done well, she is trying harder ones. Did this lead her to lose confidence in herself when she fell short? – maybe.

It is tough to be king or queen of the hill. I have always felt Tiger Woods handled the pressure so well, but even he had his personal issues that hurt his ability to compete at the same high level. And, just like in Biles’ case, the competition got better. She deserves the accolades she has received, but like Woods, she is only human playing a sport that requires equal parts athleticism, art and precision.

So, we should be mindful no one is immortal. Let me switch to another golfer who even Woods is chasing – Jack Nicklaus. While Nicklaus has won twenty major golf championships, he has also finished second I believe twenty-one times. So, we should not forget that the person who has won the most major trophies, just missed twenty-one times. That shows how hard it is to win, but reveals how talented he was.

Speaking of pressure, many may not know who Bill Russell is. He is arguably the greatest basketball team player of all time. Why? His teams won eleven NBA basketball championships, two NCAA championships and one Olympic Gold medal. One thing about Russell is before every big game, he could be heard throwing up in the locker room bathroom. His teammates knew if they heard this, they were going to win, as if Russell was nervous, he would play better. But, Russell was a rarity. Dealing with pressure is tough.

The baseball pitcher John Smoltz was known for being a better pitcher under pressure. When asked about this, he said he actually performed at the same level, it is every one else whose performance fell off under pressure situations. So, the lesson to all athletes, but especially the better ones, take care of what is under your control. When the best player on a basketball team was asked why he tended to take the last shot to win, he responded that he was the only one who could handle the failure of missing it.

But, when folks slap the label GOAT on you while you are still performing, it adds an extra dose of pressure. I feel for those folks, as it takes an extra dose of courage and humility to carry that burden. It seems the best athletes tend to function at the highest level when they have good competition – think Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, Steffi Graf and Monica Seles in tennis.

Who are the greatest of all time? Let’s wait until they finish and then judge. And, let’s enjoy their talent while we can.

Rally caps and what ifs

I recently wrote a post on avoiding celebrating at halftime as the game is not over. Too many politicians want to spike the ball celebrating success, when it has not yet happened. To illustrate my point, I used several games where premature celebration proved unwise. This got me thinking about some other premature celebrations in the sporting world to illustrate a few life lessons about thinking you won before you did or overcoming an obstacle to win..

Baseball has a fun tradition of camaraderie for a team that is woefully behind its opponent late in the game called “Rally Caps.” The magnitude of the deficit will dictate how early rally caps are deployed. The losing team will invert their ball caps and wear them backward in the dugout as they root their teammates on. While baseball is a team game, a key part is based on one individual batting against a pitcher. If a batter gets a hit, the next batter starts to think he or she can too. And, momentum can build.

The Boston Red Sox baseball team has participated in two such rallies in World Series games, losing one and winning one. They lost a lead in game six (out of a potential seven) of the 1986 World Series against the New York Mets, sadly with the game ending on a key mistake by one of its better players. Eleven years before, the Red Sox rallied in another game six against the Cincinnati Reds trailing 6 to 0, winning on a big home run in the eleventh inning. For non-baseball fans, the retelling of this story by Robin Williams to Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting” was a pivotal moment of the movie.

In golf, Arnold Palmer succeeded and failed in two separate US Opens, one of the four major championships. In 1960, he was seven shots behind the leader, when he was asking a sports writer what he needed to shoot in the last round to come back and win. The sports writer told him he had zero chance of winning and laughed. Palmer proceeded to shoot a seven under 65 and win the tournament. Six years later, Palmer had a seven shot lead in the US Open in the final round. He continued to play aggressively while Billy Casper, the best golfer few have heard of, started making putts. Casper would go on to win in a play off.

In basketball, Coach Dean Smith of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels was famous for come from behind wins. One in particular stood out as his team trailed a Florida State Seminoles basketball team by twenty plus points in the second half. Since basketball is a game of momentum, Smith’s team starting playing more aggressively and in short order had halved the lead. Then, Smith called an unusual time out which the announcers questioned. Smith later said he wanted the other team to think more about what was happening. The Tar Heels went on to win easily.

Sports give us many examples of why early celebration is unwise. The above illustrate what can happen when teams or individuals that are ahead start thinking of winning and less of doing what it takes to get there. It also shows how a determined opponent can overcome obstacles. And, it shows how a person or team who think they can win, can build its momentum from a small crack of success.

Let me end with one more story which is telling based on the mental aspects of the game. In golf’s British Open (or The Open as it is called there), Frenchman Jean Van de Velde will go down as the golfer more people anguished over than any other. He walked to the last hole of the tournament with a three shot lead at Carnoustie in 1999. He needed to shoot only a double bogey six to win.

The tragic man made a series of poor club and shot selections that painfully unfolded on live TV coverage and he lost the tournament to Paul Lawrie who started the day ten shots behind the leader and behind many others. Yet, the story does not end with Van de Velde. Colin Montgomerie started the day tied with Lawrie, ten shots back. When asked, Montgomerie told a reporter he had no chance of winning, a self-defeating prediction. The man he was tied with came back and won.

If you think you can, you just might. If you think you cannot, you won’t. As for our dear Mr. Van de Velde, this is one of the few times a caddy should have not given the player the club he asked for. The player needed an intervention to stop the negative thought patterns. Like Palmer before him in 1966, he started to think about what losing a big lead would look like.*

*Note: A friend who went to Stanford was following Palmer that day in San Francisco in 1966. He recalls standing behind Palmer when he was seven shots ahead while Palmer’s ball was in the very deep rough. Palmer pulled out a driver to try to advance the ball to the green and my friend and the crowd groaned. The ball went four feet and Palmer never mentally recovered. He needed his caddy to do what Van de Velde’s should have done and handed him a different club.