On this week’s ‘Not My Job’ segment of the socially-distanced NPR quiz show Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, the guest is pro basketball player A'ja Wilson, who was this year’s Most Valuable Player in the WNBA. In her good-hearted conversation with host Peter Sagal, she talks about playing the past season in their official “bubble.” (She says that one of the biggest challenges during the season was that, with no fans in the stands, the referees could hear everything you said.) Also fun is how worked up and competitive she is playing the quiz.
There was a bit of a well-deserved controversy when the CMA Awards broadcast didn't even mention the passing of legend John Prine this year from COVID-19. One of Prine's close friends singer Sturgill Simpson posted several scathing messages and videos on his Instagram account. The team of Jason Isbell and Amanda Shire posted on Twitter pictures of their Country Music Association lifetime membership cards that they were returning, referencing not only Prine, but the passing of greats Jerry Jeff Walker and Billy Joe Shaver not getting mentioned either. "I doubt anybody will care," Isbell wrote, "but we cared a lot about our heroes,” And comments on social media expanded on the general disdain.
That was Thursday night. Needless-to-say, not having the gift of foresight, I was unware of what was to come when, earlier that morning -- having the gift of an odd love for watching golf-- I had put on the Masters golf tournament was beginning this year's coverage on ESPN. And to my dearly-happy surprise, the way the Masters opened their broadcast was with a lovely video about past champions of the tournament and its history, all played to the music of -- John Prine, the last song he recorded, the gorgeous, "I Remember Everything."
This was on ESPN. Since CBS begins its coverage of the final two rounds on Saturday, I wonder if they'll open with the video, as well. On general principle, but also since it's now gotten so much attention.
The two occasions combined just brought out more scorn at the CMA, how they could manage to even mention John Prine who had major impact on the industry, and the Masters golf tournament could devote such thoughtfulness to Prine's song.
I had thought about mentioning Prine's song and the video here after I'd seen it, but couldn't find a copy of it. However, thankfully, it showed up on some Twitter feeds.
Remarkably, especially at the beginning of the song, the words almost sound like they were written specifically for the Masters. But, of course, they were written for...well, everything.
Here 'tis. Even if the CMA blew it, the Masters got it right.
So did John Prine. Pretty much always.
When the 1984 Chicago Bears went 15-1 and won the Super Bowl, it was in large part thanks to its stifling defense, famously known as the "46 Defense" after safety Doug Plank.
Here's to a good 46 Defense, whenever it comes. In 1984 or 2020.
You may not care much about football or sports. So be it. But bear with me (no pun intended). This is about football, yes, but it's mostly about the foundation of the man underneath it all.
I was very saddened to read today about the passing of Chicago Bears Hall of Fame halfback Gale Sayers, at the age of 77. Because of a leg injury, he only played seven years, but oh those years. Man was he great. The cliche "poetry in motion" was invented for him, fluidly gliding through the line, stopping, changing directions and making cuts you didn't think were humanly possible. When he was a rookie, he tied the NFL record by scoring six touchdowns in one game. He led the league in touchdowns that rookie year, with 22. He was that special.
By the way, the first knee injury didn't end his career -- he rehabbed, actually came back...and then led the league in rushing the next year! As I said, he was that great. But another injury to his knee is what ended it. When he was elected to the Hall of Fame, he was the youngest man in the history of the league.
And as amazing a runner as we was, by all accounts I've read over the years, he was a better person. Many people may know of all this because of the most acclaimed TV movies of all time was made about him and his relationship with fellow halfback Brian Piccolo, the first black and white roommates in NFL history, though that was only just a small part of the film, notable as it was.
His time with the Bears was odd. In what has to have been the greatest draft in NFL history, the Chicago Bears had two first-round selections in 1965 -- and they picked Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus, not only another Hall of Famer but considered by many the greatest linebacker in the league, but if not, at least of the five best. The college award for best linebacker of the year is called the Butkus Award, that's how great he was. What made it all odd, though, was that the team was absolutely awful -- yet with Sayers on offense and Butkus on defense, even as a little kid I knew enough not to miss a game or a down whether the Bears had the ball or not. They were both too special to watch.
I remember another player on that team, too -- Brian Piccolo. If you've never seen the TV movie (the 1971 original with a young James Caan and a young Billy Dee Williams, since they tried remaking it a few years ago), it's highly-worth checking out, just a wonderful film, and it gives a good sense of who Sayers and Piccolo were. Here's just a hint of that.
But all that aside, I have a special affection to Gale Sayers for a particular reason.
Through the first 50 years of the Chicago Bears existence, they played in Wrigley Field, after the Cubs season was over. Though I'm a big Bears fan, have seen countless Bears games over the years on TV, and been to years and years of college games at the beloved Northwestern (where my dad had season tickets for 49 years) and UCLA, I've only been to one Chicago Bears game in person in my life. But that one game, which was played at Wrigley Field, was not just the only time I saw the Bears play live, but it was my first professional football game ever, -- and boy, it was a doozy. It was the game when Gale Sayers as a rookie scored six touchdowns to tie the National Football League record, which still stands. December 12, 1965.
The day was pouring rain and the field was muddy, but while most everyone else was sliding all over the place, Sayers was seemingly unfazed, running free through the San Francisco 49ers defense, or what positioned itself as a defense. The Bears won 61-20. What isn't generally remembered is that although Sayers scored six touchdown, the team actually took him out of the game after three quarters when he had five touchdowns. Perhaps it was because they were so far ahead, perhaps it was because of the muddy field they didn't want to risk injury. Probably both. In fact, they only put him in the fourth quarter, for just one single play. A punt return. And he ran it back for a touchdown! His sixth, which tied the record. Through the mud, with the opposing San Francisco 49ers slipping all over the place. (Also notable about that rainy day is that it was also the game where the 49ers kicker, Tommy Davis, who at that point had the longest streak of kick extra points...missed. Which is why, you'll note, that they ended up with just 20 points, not 21.
This is an affectionate video of Gale Sayers sitting down with a sports reporter and going through film of his six touchdowns. Sayers was always a modest man (the title of his "as told to" autobiography is I Am Third), though an honest one. And in this video you'll hear him repeatedly say, "They couldn't touch me. They couldn't touch me." That isn't bragging. As you watch this video, what you'll see is that...they couldn't touch him.
For what it's worth, our seats were in the upper deck, sort of in the area of the end zone to the right, though we were a little further away, to the left. Yes, it was up high, but we had a great view of the field and everything that took place that glorious, albeit dreary day.
I was going to end things there, on real life -- but I decided to go back to reel life, and the movie Brian's Song. In 1969, Gale Sayers were given the George S. Halas Courage Award (named, as it happens, for Sayers' coach). He won the award for coming back from his devastating knee injury -- a rehab he credited to being made possible by his roommate Brian Piccolo. But though Sayers got the Courage Award, what those in the room didn't really know was the serious condition his dear friend was in, and he gave a famously moving speech, which was memorialized in the film. But though it got edited a bit for the movie, this was basically what Sayers said in his acceptance --
And I decided to go back to the movie because I found an excerpt of the actual speech. And as you can see, it really was Sayers.
"...He has the heart of a giant and that rare form of courage that allows him to kid himself and his opponent --cancer. He has the mental attitude that makes me proud to have a friend who spells out the word 'courage' twenty-four hours a day, every day of his life. You flatter me by giving me this award, but I tell you that I accept it for Brian Piccolo. It is mine tonight, it is Brian Piccolo's tomorrow... I love Brian Piccolo, and I'd like all of you to love him too. Tonight, when you hit your knees, please ask God to love him."
That's Gale Sayers. And that's only just a part of while he'll be missed. And remembered.
A couple friends of mine back in Chicago -- Evanston, actually, home of the beloved Northwestern -- started an interesting online project during the pandemic. Writers Steve and Sharon Fiffer came up with the idea to solicit stories about objects that were important to the person, which the individual kept or wishes they still had, and then they post those stories a few times a week, along with providing a forum for discussion.
Steve asked me to write something for the site, called Storied Stuff, and I sent him two articles. He posted the first one today, which you can read here. It's about baseball cards, though not the general idea of collecting them, but rather deals with two very special cards that I still have to this day which stand out in baseball history for a particular reason. It's a story about an event that half a century later is still galling to Cubs fans, but no doubt gives the inveterate Chris Dunn great pleasure -- what is considered the worst trade in the history of baseball, known in baseball lore as "Brock-for-Broglio." And I have cards for the players involved from before the trade, This is that tale.
By the way, if anyone has an idea for a story they'd like to submit (and not only do the stories not have to be long, but they have a guideline of 250 words or less), there's a link on the site for doing that.
A week ago, I posted a piece here about a radio documentary from WBEZ in Chicago about the history behind the song "Go Cubs, Go" by Steve Goodman, which he wrote in 1984 for WGN radio to play before baseball broadcasts, but which got resurrected by the team 13 years ago and fans have been singing it at Wrigley Field after every Cubs win since then, when the team flies its big blue-and-white "W" flag. This is a sort of companion to that. But even if you don't like baseball, stick with it.
I think the new video here stands on its own, but it helps to have it in perspective. It's not essential -- you can skip this and jump right to the second video below -- but having a full sense of the world at the time will make it much more fun and meaningful.
That "world at the time" is baseball, when in 2016 the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years. And this 3-1/2 minute gorgeous video does a really great job in re-creating that time. And while, yes, it's about baseball at heart, there's almost no sports in it. Mainly, it's wonderful home footage that people around the city took of themselves at home anticipating the moment when, hopefully, the Cubs would win -- and when hearts collapsed en masse as it looked like everything would fall apart. Watching their intense roller-coaster emotions -- from young fans to people who look like they might have lived through that entire 108 year drought -- is real-life, gripping human reactions at their most fascinating. So, while not necessary in order to enjoy the second video, it's awfully enjoyable on its own, being about people even more than sports.
And this is the point of it all.
The video above is about everything that happened that night on November 2, 2016. The video below comes from the next night.
At the time of that Cubs World Series win, the musical Hamilton was playing in Chicago. Though the city was in mass celebration, the show must go on. And, of course, it did.
This is the curtain call.
Over the years, a lot of talk shows have sent "correspondents" to the Olympics as a running comedy bit. But for my taste, the absolute best, the most charming, and the funniest have been when David Letterman sent his mom to cover them. (Okay, in fairness, I feel that way about pretty much any of the segments the show would do with his mother. But the Olympic one do stand out, if only because they're on a much bigger platform.) This is a collection from the Don Giller archive of Dave’s mom at Lillehammer Winter Olympics in 1994. And best of all, when I say it's a "collection," I don't mean a few minutes strung together, but she was on every night during the Games, so this is joyful hour's-worth.
(Actually, it's not a full-hour of Dave's mom. The show did a bit of set up during the week before the pieces started to air, particularly since CBS was carrying the Olympics and this includes that, notably a bunch of Olympic-related Top Ten Lists. Dorothy Letterman first shows up around the 14-minute mark, for those who want to jump forward.)
Maybe the Summer Games have been postponed, but this will have to fill in for the moment.
Almost 12 years to the day (August 2, 2008) I wrote an article for the Huffington Post about the history behind Cubs fans singing Steve Goodman's song, "Go Cubs, Go" after every home game that they win. (I re-posted the piece here on this site a few years ago.) It's definitely not even close the prime Steve Goodman, and in fact was just written as a jingle of sort for WGN radio to lead into Cubs broadcasts. But it's lived on to carry Steve Goodman's fame to a a generation that didn't know his work but then went back to discover it, having won Grammys for his biggest hit, "The City of New Orleans," and more, like the country hit, "You Never Call Me By My Name," which he co-wrote with his close friend John Prine, though Prine didn't want any credit for it.
A few weeks back, I got a Direct Message on Twitter from Jesse Dukes, a radio producer for the well-regarded WBEZ in Chicago, one of the first charter stations for National Public Radio. He was working on a sort of documentary story about the history of "Go Cubs, Go," and had come across my article. We set up a time for a phone interview, and later spoke for about 15 minutes or so.
None of the interview got included in the finished product, but that's fine because he also spoke to people who knew a lot more of the story than I did, notably author Clay Eals, who wrote the definitive 778-page biography on Steve Goodman (that I wrote about here after he contacted me about my original article) and the producer at WGN radio who actually came up with the idea for Goodman to write the song for the baseball broadcasts, . And the finished show has now aired. It was made for WBEZ's podcast, Curious City, and is called "The Man and the Music Behind the Baseball Ballad 'Go Cubs, Go.'"
(Very thoughtfully, Jesse Dukes does give me a totally unnecessary, but appreciated acknowledgement at the end of the broadcast.)
I thought that Dukes did a very nice job with his entertaining and substantive report -- which runs for an enjoyable 20 minutes.. And as far as I can tell from what I know, he got the story pretty close to right. (I think WGN ended up using the song before the game, not just as a bumper between innings, as the piece says.) I do feel that it starts a bit unfocused and rambling as he talks with the Curious City host, who seems not to know much on the subject. (That's not a criticism of her, just a description.) But a few minutes in, the story kicks in, and it's flies by from then on. The conversation between the two ends up adding a personal quality to it all.
Here are a few additional, albeit lengthy thoughts about the broadcast before we get to the show itself:
When Clay Eals mentions Steve Goodman in high school, what got cut from the report is that one of his Class of 1965 classmates was...Hillary Clinton! She's said that they weren't friends but she definitely knew who he was.
One thing I don't agree with Clay Eals about is his theory on why Steven Goodman didn't break out like John Prine. It's not because he was too nice. He was nice -- as the legendary story Eals tells shows -- but a tough guy, very determined, very driven especially knowing the leukemia life-sentence he was facing. He didn't have time to screw around and just "be nice." (All of which does comes across very clearly in Eals' book.) From what I know working in the entertainment industry, executives like things that are simple, easy to grasp so you can identify who someone is in one quick look. They like stories that can be described in "Give it to me in one sentence." They like someone who is a country singer -- or a folk singer -- or a rock musician. But Steve Goodman was none of those, he was spread all over the place: he has songs that are folk, country, comedy, standard ballads, jazz and rock. I just think record producers and radio stations didn't have any idea what to do with him and how to market him.
I thought it was very touching that host/producer Dukes got emotional at the end -- because it is an emotional story. But the reason why I think the story of "Go Cubs, Go" is a "happy" ending story to Steve Goodman's life, different from what was discussed. Most entertainers, and perhaps especially singers, get forgotten once their time on the charts, writing and performing passes. And by all rights, as great as Steve Goodman was, he was really on the verge of being forgotten by the general public (though not remotely his fans). But "Go Cubs, Go," not only kept him remembered, but I think also ended up bringing up new fans who wanted to look up who this guy was. And that's a joyous ending.
Again, it's a very nice piece and well-worth listening to. The song has a wonderful story behind it, not to mention a wonderful singer-songwriter, and it's told me. Unfortunately, I can't embed it here, but you can get to it by clicking this link.
And for those who don't know the song, especially how it's sung with home fans at Wrigley Field after a win, here it is after Game 5 of the World Series in 2016 which the Cubs won, sending the Series back to Cleveland -- where the Cubs won the final two games to win their first World Series in 108 years. Which is why the 41,000+ plus fans singing along with the recording of Steve Goodman are so delirious.
Longtime baseball card company Topps just released a special run of a card with Dr. Anthony Fauci throwing out the Opening Day first pitch. The pitch itself might not have been what he wanted -- but the card had the Biggest Run in Topps 82-year History! 51,512 cards.
No word on a Trump card.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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