In honor of it being the NBA All-Star Weekend, the guest contestant on the 'Not My Job' segment of this week's NPR quiz show, Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me!, is Mike D'Antoni, head coach of the Houston Rockets of the NBA. The talk is largely about basketball -- but don't go rushing off, since he's a pretty open, amusing guy. And the quiz is a lot of fun.
This is a great story that I heard about briefly yesterday on ESPN'S Pardon the Interruption. It's about Laurent Duvernay-Tardif who plays offensive guard for the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL -- and this past year became the first player in league history to not only graduate medical school, but be a practicing physician.
The Canadian-born Duvernay-Tardif (who speaks fluent French -- or perhaps it should be better put, also speaks fluent English) graduated from McGill University, which gave him an extended program allowing him to complete his training. What oddly leaped out to me in the short report is perhaps the one idiotically-gnawing part of the whole, great story. After he graduated, Duvernay-Tardif petitioned the NFL to allow him to put "M.D." after his name on his jersey. For reasons inexplicable to Man, the petty, small-minded league said "No."
That pathetic foolishness aside, here's a very good video on him --
James Corden sent his parents down to Atlanta to cover the Super Bowl there and its surrounding activities before the game. Similar to when David Letterman sent him mom to events, I thought the segments with Dorothy Letterman were funnier because she was more endearing (and I suspect the writers had better set-ups), but the Cordens are more game to taking part, especially his dad.
The guest contestant this week on the 'Not My Job' segment of the NPR game show, Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me! is Charles Tillman. That may mean little to most people, but to me and those from Chicago he's beloved there, known as "Peanut," being one of the best NFL defensive backs of his time and a member of the Bears' great 1985 Super Bowl Team. And a wonderful guy too, a winner of the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for humanitarian efforts. His interview with host Peter Sagal is free-spirited, fun, wildly friendly and endearing. And with the Super Bowl tomorrow, I figured that this was the right time to post this.
We have an inside baseball article today. I'll give some of you a moment to gather your hats and go rushing off before it begins...
Mariano Rivera yesterday became the first player in the history of Major League Baseball to be voted into the Hall of Fame unanimously. The argument of some voters over the decade was always something along the lines of "If Babe Ruth wasn't elected unanimously, then so-and-so shouldn't be." And by the way, why on earth wasn't Babe Ruth voted in unanimously???
Mariano Rivera was a remarkable relief pitcher. Likely the best of his era. Possibly the best of any era (though the era of relief pitchers being so prominent only goes back about 40 years at most). And he obviously deserved to be in the Hall of Fame. And voted in on the first ballot. And probably even unanimous. But the fact that he was unanimous and the first-ever is – to me – SOOOO New York.
I can absolutely justify him being a unanimous choice. It’s just notable to me that Hank Aaron wasn’t, Willie Mays wasn’t, Ted Williams wasn’t. Sandy Koufax wasn't. Warren Spahn wasn't. Roberto Clemente wasn't. Stan Musial wasn't. Ernie Banks wasn't. Frank Robinson wasn't. Bob Gibson wasn't. Rod Carew wasn't. But a New York relief pitcher was.
Before the vote, there was a lot of wondering in the baseball world if this was finally going to be the year and that Mariano Rivera would be the first to get voted into the Hall of Fame unanimously. Most I heard thought "No." I thought he would be. Because...baseball writers were finally ready, and -- he played in New York.
Someone had to be first. Rivera is utterly deserving. And we live in a different time when I guess enough voters said “Enough is enough.’ But the Hall of Fame is littered with players who were as deserving if not more so to have been unanimous before this. (Not just in terms of credentials, but they were everyday players and played nine innings every day. Not one inning three times a week. To be clear, I know full well that the way the game is played today, relief pitching is extremely critical, no matter how many innings one pitches.) What all these other full-time, deserving players weren't, though, is former players in New York.
And yes, I know some New York greats weren’t unanimous, too. But those greats were from another era, when it was almost a given that no one got a unanimous vote. In fact, the last, fully-New York position player (one who spent most of his career in New York) voted into the Hall of Fame was Mickey Mantle in 1974, 45 years ago. (And no, even Mickey Mantle wasn’t elected unanimously. Nor was Tom Seaver in 1992, the only other fully-New York player elected in half a century.)
I’m not saying Mariano Rivera shouldn’t have been unanimous. He should have been. And someone had to be first. Just that it’s SO New York to me that a New York relief pitcher was the first. In this era, indeed in these very recent years Ken Griffey Jr. should have been just as unanimous three years ago. Greg Maddux should have been equally unanimous five years ago. Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn should have been 12 years ago. And as for relief pitchers, Bruce Sutter should have been unanimous 13 years ago. And Dennis Eckersley 15 years ago. Or Nolan Ryan and George Brett. And on and on. But none of them played in New York.
Was Rivera “the greatest relief pitcher ever”? Arguably, yes. But at the time he was voted in, Sutter probably was, too. And then Eckersley succeeded him and was, as well. They just didn’t play in New York.
Again, as clearly as possible, I think Mariano Rivera is deserving of being a unanimous choice. And someone finally was going to be first. It’s just that it is SOOOOO New York to me that a New York relief pitcher was. And not Ken Griffey Jr, Greg Maddux, Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn, Bruce Sutter, Dennis Eckersley…
But congratulations to him. It's no aspersion on him what the baseball writers did. And what they did was proper. They just should have done it years earlier.
You may have read about or even seen the video of UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi who put up a perfect 10.0 score on her floor routine this past Saturday in a competition at Anaheim. That makes sense, since it's the home of Disneyland, so you get to see what it's like for Peter Pan fly in real life. As a grad school graduate of UCLA, I was admittedly proud of it, but whatever planet you're from it's a joy to watch.
It's even better with perspective, and this article by Allyson Chiu from today's Washington Post does that impeccably. You can read it here, and I heartily recommend that before watching the video.
If you don't want to take the time (but do, it's not long, it's a sports article for goodness sake...), two passages give the most perspective.
The first is -- "But for many, Ohashi's performance stood out simply because she appeared to be having fun, a rare sight in an often stressful and grueling sport that demands perfection from its athletes.
"'I don't think I've ever seen someone visibly having this much fun while competing,' one person tweeted.
"Another person wrote,'Not only was it perfect looking, her joy is absolutely contagious.'"
And the second, longer passage puts even this above in perspective. That's because only a couple years ago Ms. Ohashi had pulled back from gymnastics. She was considered a top gymnast, and had been on what's considered an "elite" Olympic track, spending four years on USA Gymnastics' junior national team. Just five years ago, she won the American Cup, beating her teammate Simone Biles, who soon after won four Olympic gold medals. But Ohashi pulled back from the sport, burned out and hurt. She still competed, but not that elite level. For the publication Players Tribune, she recently put out a video, "I Was Broken," delving into her story that took her out of that level of competition.
The article continues --
"'There was a time where I was on top of the world, an Olympic hopeful,' Ohashi narrates. 'I was unbeatable, until I wasn't.'
"Ohashi went on to describe the intense pressure she faced competing at the elite level - fans telling her "she wasn't good enough," constantly stressing about what she ate and being compared to "a bird that couldn't fly." In video clips of her at meets during that time, Ohashi rarely had a smile on her face. When she finally made the decision to retire from elite gymnastics with the hopes of becoming a college athlete, she had been competing with a fractured back and two torn shoulders.
"'It took me finding Ms. Val [Kondos Field] and UCLA and having a different goal and path to follow, to finally find joy and love within the sport again,' Ohashi said in the video, adding, 'I haven't been able to feel this type of happiness in a long time.'
She continued: 'It's not the outcome. It's not me standing on the podium with medals. It's me being able to walk out with a smile on my face and truly being happy with myself.'"
And this is the result.
By the way, I recommend watching the video again. But not with your eyes on Katelyn Ohashi -- watch her teammates, and their utter joy watching her on the floor. You can see some of them in the picture above. There's one young woman -- you can't see her above -- blond and with a bun, who at the end seems almost out of her mind with happiness, bouncing her way enthusiastically. That's how good this floor exercise is -- it's great without even watching the gymnast.
As I wrote yesterday, I left home early so that I could drive to Las Vegas for CES in time to get checked into my hotel to watch the Chicago Bears playoff game. I could have spared myself that, given what an absolutely dismal end to the game it was.
(I won't go into a long analysis, so don't worry. I'll just say that they lost because a last-second very-makeable field goal attempt doinked off the goal post. There's more I could say, but won't -- other than the team only had itself to blame because two years ago their excellent field goal kicker, Robbie Gould, was due for a contract raise, and they didn't want to pay it, so they let him go. This year, he set a team record for the San Francisco 49ers for most consecutive field goals. And the guy the Bears signed in his placed tied for the most missed field goals in the NFL year.)
But I digress. The point here is to honor a terrific season. So, here is a fun version of the Chicago Bears fight song, with thanks again to Eric Boardman who sent me the link. By the way, the Bears fight song is actually a really fun one, I think, one of the better in sports. And it has a little-known, notable history. The song is written by Al Hoffman who's in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and wrote -- among his many credits -- "Mairzy Doats," "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo" (and other songs from Cinderella, including "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Make"), and Perry Como's big hit, "Hot Diggity," as well as "Fit as a Fiddle," which was used in Singin' in the Rain.
I've posed another version of the song -- when Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony and Chorus performed an enthralling rendition as a surprise encore to a classical concert to honor the team getting into the 1985 Super Bowl, which they won. (You can hear that recording live, with the stunned and thrilled symphony audience clapping and cheering along at this link.) This version below is a montage that cuts between Chicagoans singing different passages. Most are residents, but a few local personalities are mixed in, a Chicago Bull and even a national celebrity who they caught on the street. I was going to keep it a surprise, but since that's the graphic image on the video, the surprise is gone. Making George Wendt's appearance all the more appropriate than just him being from Chicago is that he's part of the famous, "Da Bears/Ditka" sketch on Saturday Night Live.
So Bear down. And best of luck next year.
What a great, long, odd day it was yesterday when an Northwestern alumni friend and I drove down from Los Angeles to San Diego to see the beloved NU to play in the Holiday Bowl -- and then back again after the game.
(A lot of friends through we were nuts to want to drive back, but I had no interest to spend New Year's Eve in a San Diego hotel and then miss most of the bowl games on New Year's Day. We also figured that with the game likely to end before 8 PM, there shouldn't be an issue with traffic. Most concerns on New Year's Even come closer to midnight as being have been drinking all night and switching between parties, and on side streets. Not driving from San Diego to Los Angeles at 8 PM.)
The game began at 4 PM, though we had tickets for the official Northwestern "N Zone" tailgate party which began at 1 PM. But my friend was wary of traffic on New Year's Eve day, and wanted to leave early -- which he kept pushing earlier. I thought traffic would be fine, but was fine with leaving early, guaranteeing that you'd beat the traffic. And if you're there early, so beat. Even incredibly early. We were there incredibly early.
We left at 8:30 in the morning, and it took less than two hours to make the drive. So we had 2-1/2 hours before even the tailgate party began! The game was still 5-1/2 hours away.
The tailgate wasn't really at the back of a car, but under a huge tent, which turned out to be a good thing because while San Diego is known for it's glorious weather, always around 70 and sunny, I am sure the city's Chamber of Commerce was beside themselves for the national TV coverage. There was nothing glorious about the weather, starting out around 58-degrees and rainy. (Thank you for the tent! A nearby corporate tailgate party had lots of tables and chairs, but zero tent. I suspect theirs was far less comfortable...)
Very good barbecue -- brisket, chicken, potato salad, barbecued beans, well, you know -- for which I dd my best to get my money's worth. The NU band and spirit team showed up, and ESPN host of Pardon the Interruption Michael Wilbon -- a Northwestern grad and trustee -- hosted, and there were several speeches. Happily, I ran into my good pal Morty Schapiro (the president of Northwestern) who...okay, maybe not a good pal, but an email buddy who I've met a few times, and his wife Mimi Rothman Schapiro (a Writers Guild member whose written half a dozen TV moves for Lifetime, most notable a biography of Olympic skater Oksana Baiul), had a nice visit and he invited us to sit at one of his tables right up from. This is Wilbon on the left and Morty on the right.
We then headed over to the stadium -- where there was still an hour-and-a-quarter to go before the game would begin. But the weather at least cleared up, and if it wasn't warm and sunny, it at least was not raining anymore, so that was something.
And then the game finally began.
And alas, that whole "it at least was not raining anymore" thing didn't hold up. Though the "it wasn't warm" did. Ah, the glorious weather of San Diego. For the next three hours, it rained on-and-off throughout, and the temperature dropped to the lower 50s. (Yes, I know that sounds balmy for the winter climes elsewhere, but San Diego doesn't drop that low often, and it was raining. And you're just sitting there.) Happily, it was never a hard rain, often fairly light. And coming from Chicago, I knew to dress in layers. Also helpful -- every seat had those big, stupid foam rubber "We're #1" fingers. And they made wonderful leg covers at you sat there, especially since so many people around us left for cover, so spreading out three of them was quite a bonus. Stupid for cheering, wonderful for rain protection...
And then there was the game.
And then came the majestic third quarter. Northwestern outscored Utah 28-0. And no, that's not a typo either. Utah's highly-rated defense hadn't given up a touchdown in seven straight quarters. But in the third quarter alone, they gave up three. The fourth Northwestern touchdown came on a defensive fumble recovery and return. It seemed like Utah was shell-shocked. Meanwhile, Northwestern and its fans were euphoric. And at the end of three quarters, NU had erased the deficit and was now 31-20. And then, the team played very well but protectively in fourth quarter, and held on to win by that score.
Just look at that third quarter. I was not a-lying...
By the last few minutes, what with the chill, rain and depressing score, the Utah side of the field had pretty much been cleared out of fans. A lot of the NU side stayed through it all. Cheering wildly to the end. It did make leaving the stadium easier. (Though in fairness, getting there 5-1/2 hours early and finding a great parking spot for leaving made it a whole lot easier, too...)
And then, after a few screw-ups trying to get back to the freeway, we returned in even less time than the trip down. The drive was a breeze, and I was back home by 10:15 PM, and able to celebrate bringing the New Year in. Though plenty of celebrating had been done during the game.
Huzzah. Great day, wonderfully fun day, and very odd.
Happy New Year.
I'm heading off in about a half-hour to drive down to San Diego to watch the beloved Northwestern play the despised and hated Utah in the Holiday Bowl.
The game is schedule to start at 4 PM, which you can all watch on Fox Sports, though don't worry there won't be a test. We're getting there early, however, because we also reserved a spot at the N Zone Tailgate Party beforehand. Packed with fun and frivolity, no doubt, but also food. The important Three F's.
Though we plan to drive back after the game (yes, I know, a busy, long day, but spending New Year's Eve in a San Diego hotel is really not my idea of the way to fly), I don't expect to be writing anything else for the rest of the day -- but not to worry, I've scheduled something that's already written to auto-post in the early afternoon for New Year's Eve.. And we'll be back here on the site tomorrow. So, have a wonderful New Year and a very Happy Holiday...Bowl.
I was hoping to go to today's Northwestern football game, but the only seats were near the endzone, so I figured it was not to be. But then for a series of unexpected occurrences -- which began with me contacting my good, close, personal friend Morty Schapiro, president of the beloved Northwestern, about a totally different matter (well, okay, perhaps "occasional email buddy" is closer...) -- and with a helpful assist from Bob McQuinn (to round out the tale), it ended up with me getting a ticket on the 37-yard-line. Huzzah.
What's additionally odd about this is that my dad had had season tickets to Northwestern for 51 years -- and I went through the exact same gate to get to the seats. (They were one section over, but still... The same gate!) While that initially struck me as wonderfully bizarre, I realized that it probably made sense. He had his tickets from being on the medical school faculty, so these are probably the same NU section. Odd that it maybe hasn't changed much in all this time, but it seems reasonable.
By the way, not to worry, this isn't all about sports. I'll get to the other part in just a moment. But it would be inappropriate to overlook the game -- since Northwestern was an underdog, and playing #20 Wisconsin. And they won! 31-17. The game wasn't even that close, as NU had a lead 31-10 with about 7-1/2 minutes to go.
The thing is, Northwestern is actually a bizarre team this year. They lost to Akron (who lost to mighty Central Michigan today). And had to come from behind in the last minute to beat both 1-7 Rutgers and 0-6 Nebraska. Yet they're 5-3 and just beat #20 Wisconsin. And lost to #5 Michigan by only three points, when Michigan came from behind in the fourth quarter to score with only four minutes left. I can't figure it out. They are either the best 5-3 team in the country, or the worst 5-3 team in the country. But I'm glad they've won five games. One more win and they're eligible for a bowl game.
Making the day all the more fun is that, as part of the kindly offer of a ticket to the game, I also got invited to the "president's pregame brunch" that's held at a building in the stadium parking lot. A bit more elaborate than a tailgate party. Scrambled eggs, frittatas, lox and bagels, grits, muffins, croissants, biscuits, yogurt parfaits, fruit and lots to drink, including some stronger libations. A wonderful way to start the day. They even had a small contingent from the NU marching band come in and play three school fight songs and the alma mater (the latter written to the music of Brahms Variations on a Theme by Haydn...)
By the way, for those of you who watch Pardon the Interruption, you can know that Michael Wilbon is a bit Northwestern support and has an NU football helmet behind him on the set. In fact, he's also a member of the university's board of trustees. If you've ever wondered, though, if it's mainly for television and a sports show -- it's not. Though that should be eminently clear, it was nailed down for any doubters when he was there at the pregame brunch and even served as host for the few presentations. (After talking with my pal Morty, I briefly greeted Wilbon who had come by to visit with the president. At least that's my assumption, since I don't think I was his first choice.)
For those who like to take notes, that's Morty Schapiro off to Wilbon's right in the dark purple sweater. Next to him is the school's excellent athletic director, Jim Phillips.
When Schapiro gave his speech, it was clear why he's been so successful at the school. He was not only charming, he was extremely funny in his comments and off-handed quips. Afterwards, though, I told him that much as I liked visiting with it, it was his wife I wanted to meet, and he introduced us.
I wasn't being facetious. His wife, Mimi Rothman Schapiro, is a fellow-Writers Guild of America member. She's written half a dozen TV movies, most (if not all, but I'm not sure) for the Lifetime channel. Among them, she wrote A Promise Kept: The Oksana Baiul Story, about the Russian Gold Medal figure skater, and the challenges she faced. (You can see her other credits here, including an episode of Diagnosis: Murder.)
What really impressed me though is something that requires a bit of background.
I first came into contact with Morty Schapiro, when I wrote a lengthy piece six years ago about two stories that concerned my dad and his 51 years having season football tickets to Northwestern games. It got to his attention, and offered a wide range of kindnesses to my dad -- like sweatshirts, scarves, caps and other paraphernalia from the school's recent Gator Bowl win, as well as an invitation to see a game in the president's box. That got us in email contact, as I said, and we've lightly stayed in touch over the ensuing six years.
Anyway, when Morty brought me over to his wife and introduced us, her first words were -- "I loved the stories you wrote about your dad!" I was floored. You have to remember: we'd never met, never spoken, never exchanged emails, the articles were written online and not anything I'd sent to her, we'd had zero direct contact -- I think at most maybe she had been aware of my novel, The Wild Roses, and had perhaps bought a copy six years earlier -- but that's it. We were absolutely total strangers. And six years later, he first words to me were an immediate recognition and reference to the article I'd written about my dad. We also talked about Los Angeles where she's from, and us both working at the Universal Studios tour (me as a tour guide, her at the Prop Plaza area). As I told Morty afterwards, "You married well."
The whole event was enjoyable. Tom Brokaw was there, since his granddaughter goes to Northwestern, and it was Family Weekend. (I had a brief chat with him, because I wanted to mention we had a friend in common -- news producer Clare Duffy, who I've written about here often, usually during the Olympics when she covers them, producing Brokaw's pieces. He said, "I don't just know Clare Duffy, we're joined at the hip.") Also there was Mike Adamle, a football great who was the Big Ten MVP and earned All America honors. I mention this because we had had one class together -- not quite a highlight for him, I suspect, since he was a senior and I was a freshman and...well, he was the Big Ten MVP and had no idea who I was. But it was a small class, about 20 people, so I remember him because...well, he was an All American. He went on to play in the NFL for six years, broadcast for NBC, and later co-hosted the show American Gladiators.
And after all that, Northwestern won the game.
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, is a regular columnist for the Writers Guild of America and was for the Huffington Post. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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