Adios Joe Paterno

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

–       Edmund Burke

 

When a hot topic arises that I feel compelled to address in this forum I try to do so in a timely manner. However, there are occasions when it takes a bit for my thoughts to gel together. I have learned to go with the flow rather than go off half-cocked and let emotion get the best of my senses…atleast most of the time.

 

As a kid growing up in northcentral West Virginia and a WVU Mountaineer fan, I always hated Penn State. The Nittany Lions were among the nation’s elite college football programs and one of West Virginia’s biggest rivals. Unfortunately it was pretty one sided, with the Mountaineers only winning 2 games against their foes in my lifetime. A 1984 upset victory broke a 25 year WVU losing streak in the rivalry and is still considered one of the most memorable moments in Old Gold & Blue history.

 

The annual matchup came to an end after 1992 because Penn St. joined the Big Ten, and over time my stance softened. Coach Joe Paterno became an elder statesman, the kind of old guy that one tends to root for because it’d be nice to see him “go out on top”. I’m a sucker for those kind of stories, like when John Elway won the Super Bowl and was named MVP in his last game or when Ted Williams hit a home run in his final at bat (although that happened before I was born). Alas, such a storybook ending was not in store for college football’s all-time winningest coach. Not by a long shot.

 

Several weeks ago a firestorm erupted when former long-time Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was arrested for allegedly molesting atleast 9 young boys dating back as far as 1994. That is bad enough and Sandusky will have his day in court eventually, but the issue was complicated by implications that Paterno and other university officials had been alerted about Sandusky’s…activities…especially on one specific occasion in 2003. The story is that apparently Paterno was told by another assistant coach, reported the incident to his athletic director, and then took no further action. He did not call law enforcement, nor did he follow up with his bosses (the AD and school president). The accusation is that Joe Paterno…the most powerful chief in his little kingdom…did the bare minimum then went on his merry way without really confronting the issue, choosing instead to bury his head in the sand in a misguided effort to protect the reputation of his school and his football program.

 

Legendary college basketball coach John Wooden once advised to “be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” Taking that up several notches, 1 Chronicles 28:9 says “The Lord searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts.” No one knows what really went through Joe Paterno’s head or heart except God, and that must sorted out between the two of them. However, Paterno has had to deal with this pesky little thing we call the court of public opinion, and it’s a battle that he seems to have lost handily. One of my Undeniable Truths of Life is that perception is reality and reality is perception, and the perception is that Coach Paterno chose the heretofore untainted reputation of his football team ahead of the safety of children, and that has angered a lot of people.

 

Two things need to be noted at this point. First of all, one of the reasons my dislike of Penn State football dissipated as I matured was the general belief, held by most fans, that Paterno and Penn St. were one of the few programs that were aboveboard and unblemished. In a world beset by cheating scandals of all shapes & sizes over the last few decades they seemed beyond reproach and were highly respected for conducting business the right way & not forgetting that the student athletes were in school primarily for an education. Joe Paterno’s graduation rates usually hovered around 90%, which is remarkable and certainly among the best in his profession. Over the course of his 46 years he was known to have given back to the school & the community in the form of millions of dollars in donations that had far reaching benefits. Even their plain blue uniforms with the unadorned white helmets conveyed a sense of cleanliness & purity. Secondly, as rabid as many sports fans…including yours truly…can be, most of us have a sense of perspective. We realize that there are many many things in life far more important than the outcome of a game.

 

Taking these two things into consideration, it is not surprising that the situation at Penn State took an ugly turn very quickly. For one of the “cleanest” programs in college football to be plagued by a scandal is shocking enough. For that scandal to involve repeated sexual assault of children is unspeakably horrifying. Joe Paterno and his sterling reputation would likely have survived some recruiting violations or other relatively benign indiscretions that aren’t uncommon in big time collegiate athletics, but to seemingly ignore sexual abuse of young boys was just too big of a transgression to overlook. Paterno’s legendary career came to an abrupt end when he was fired, a conclusion that no one in their wildest dreams could have ever foreseen just a few months ago.

 

Sure, there have been many that have been calling for an end to the Paterno era for several years. He was old, out of touch, just a figurehead. But even though the Nittany Lions haven’t really been in the national title hunt for most of the past 15 years they were, for the most part, still very successful and won a lot of games. That fact combined with Paterno’s legendary status, his record of community service & involvement, and the unsoiled status of the program made him virtually unchallengeable. But there was no way that he could survive the battering that he & the institution he served so faithfully for over a half century have taken in the past several weeks.

 

I think it is vitally important to make a clear distinction between Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno. No one is defending Sandusky or feeling any kind of sympathy for his plight. Though under the outstanding American legal system he is technically innocent until proven guilty there seems to be enough smoke to indicate that there was indeed fire, and if he did commit the acts for which he is accused to say that he is a vile, revolting, sinful, sick & twisted dirtbag would be a huge understatement. The general attitude toward Paterno is much more ambiguous and diverse. Few are denying that he made a huge error in judgment, but just how sinister that mistake was and how harshly he should be scorned is a spirited topic of debate.

 

There is little argument that the Board of Trustees made the right decision by dismissing Paterno. They were put in a very difficult position and did the only thing that made any sense for the long term good of the school, the town, and the victims of the alleged crimes. However, it is also a fact that Joe Paterno is not being accused of doing anything illegal and that when the situation was reported to him he did tell his immediate superior. It’s not that he did nothing, it’s that the general consensus is that he did not do enough under the considerably serious circumstances.

 

There is a part of me that feels very sad for Coach Paterno. In contrast to my fondness for heartwarming stories in which people retire at the height of their glory, his fall from grace has been so rapid and so precipitous that it is hard to really wrap one’s head around the epic descent. Complicating matters is the fact that the man is 85 years old. There will be no comeback, no opportunity for absolution, and that is disheartening because we all love a good redemption story. However, with the aforementioned proper perspective we should all realize that Joe Paterno, Penn State University, and the Nittany Lion football team are largely inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. The fact is that 9 or more young boys were violated in a way that will have an ineradicable impact on their lives. No legal outcome, no amount of money, no public apologies, no job dismissals will ever erase that. My prayer is that those young men have and will continue to find a way to move forward, seek happiness, and not let what one disgusting pervert did to them ruin their lives. In due time I am sure society will find a balance between the success Joe Paterno had & the good things he did versus the mistakes he made & the negative way his legacy has been permanently tarnished, and that’s about as much as can be expected.

 

 

 

 

Holiday Essentials with Your Humble Potentate of Profundity

It goes without saying that Christmas is…or atleast should be…all about the birth of our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ. It should also be christmas-lightsabout family, an attitude of giving, and a time of reflection & contemplation of life. However, I am not here to hop up on my soapbox (not today anyway) or proselytize (not that there is anything wrong with that). There are a lot of cool things about the holiday season, and since I do not have a spouse or children I tend to enjoy a lot of other peripheral traditions besides opening presents on Christmas morning. So these, in a nutshell, are the things that entertain me, make me a bit wistful, and help me fondly recall the idyllic childhood of my selective memory.

 

 

 

 

Santa Claus on the Biography Channel

I’ve railed against the stupefying mediocrity of television elsewhere here at The Manofesto, but I have to admit that amongst the plethora of nothingness that passes as “entertainment” on The Idiot Box there are occasionally some hidden gems. Whenever I am not watching a ballgame on TV I tend to gravitate toward more informational fare on Discovery, History, or The Science Channel. If only I’d have had that sort of intellectual curiosity 30 years ago. Ah well…c’est la vie. At any rate, A&E used to run this terrific show called Biography, which is exactly what it sounds like. A few years ago the show somehow got its own channel, which is probably overkill but what’re you gonna do?? At Christmas time they inevitably run a show about the jolly old elf himself…Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus, Sinterklaas, Father Christmas, etc. They explore the origins, the myths, and how our modern interpretation came to fruition. It’s educational, it’s fun, and it’s not a bad way to spend an hour or two.

 

 

Reading A Visit From St. Nicholas

Unfortunately I do not have children of my own and have begun to have very serious doubts about whether I ever will. If I did I would like to think that one of the final things I would do as they lay their little heads down to sleep on Christmas Eve is read this most beloved poem. As it is I still like to find it online and read it to myself. What a beautifully written story it is, with the power to make even middle-aged men feel like children once again.

 

 

Die Hard

Coming in at #9 on my list of Favorite Movies is the best action movie of all time and the world’s most unlikely Christmas film. It’s a terrific change of pace from the sentimentality and mawkish preachiness of typical holiday fare. Obviously I don’t shy away from all that sweetness & light…not at all. But sometimes it’s fun just to sit back and watch smartass Bruce Willis (at his very best) shoot things and blow stuff up.

 

 

Crazy Christmas Lights

lightsI am physically unable to put up a huge decorative display, and even if I could The Bachelor Palace is not really conducive to that sort of thing anyway. So I can get my fix a couple of ways. If the weather cooperates I can hop in the ol’ gasoline powered extended cab sleigh and traverse local neighborhoods where folks with that funky Christmas spirit have decorated the outside of their own homesteads. The swankier sections of town where the pretty people live are usually the mother lode of ornamental holiday nirvana. It’s not a bad way to spend a chilly December evening. The other, far lazier option is to just hang out on the couch and find The Travel Channel on your television. They frequently replay a couple of specials about people who go all out with their Christmas light presentations. Either way the soft glowing lights (I am partial to white lights) are an essential part of the holiday season.

 

 

Thanksgiving with The Macy’s Parade, Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, and NFL Football

This list is obviously more about Christmas, but sometimes I feel like Thanksgiving gets the short end of the holiday stick. In 21st Century America it is treated as nothing more than the kickoff to the commercialized Christmas season. I am not excessively offended by that, but I also think Thanksgiving deserves some love. It isn’t quite as special these days since my mother and grandparents are gone and I usually go out to eat alone instead of having the old fashioned family feast at home, but I do have my own little checklist for the big day. I still love to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, even if it does strike me as being a lot hokier now than when I was a kid. Being a huge football fan I appreciate the fact that there are always a couple of NFL games with the Dallas Cowboys & Detroit Lions facing off against various opponents and sometimes there is even a college game or two. And to top everything off I like to watch the 1987 Steve Martin/John Candy classic Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, which is the world’s best…and maybe only…Thanksgiving movie.

 

 

A Holiday Inn & White Christmas Double Feature

I’m an old-fashioned guy, and no time of the year lends itself to kickin’ it old school better than Christmas. One of the things I could never do but would love to have the talent for is singing and dancing. I envy people who can entertain a crowd with song & dance, and that is what these two films are all about. The plots themselves are secondary to watching Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Rosemary Clooney, & Danny Kaye display their inimitable talents. It’s such a shame that films like these are not made or barely appreciated anymore. I have two teenage nephews and I’d be surprised if they’d watch either of these for longer than 10 minutes before wanting to play some inane video game or watch “reality” television. That’s fine…to each their own. As for me, I will anxiously await AMC’s showing of these two films, during which I will dim the lights, snuggle with Rocco under a warm blanket, and drink a mug of piping hot cocoa overflowing with marshmallows.

 

 

Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

Rudolph & Frosty get all the love, but among the plethora of classic, Rankin-Bass produced, stop motion animated holiday specials this one deserves some props as well. Starring the voices of Mickey Rooney, Fred Astaire, & Keenan Wynn, it’s a unique Santa Claus origin story with one of the most memorably named villains ever, Mayor Burgermeister Meisterburger. It’s usually on ABC Family a few times.

 

 

 

Christmas on The Food Network

I am addicted to The Food Network. I can’t actually cook all that well myself, but I sure do get a kick out of watching pros who know their way around a kitchen whip up a plethora of edible delights that look quite tasty on TV. The holiday season provides folks like Bobby Flay, Rachael Ray, Giada De Laurentiis, and Emeril Lagasse several weeks to wow the viewers with all kinds of festive ideas & recipes. Yummo!!

 

 

 

 

Made-for-Television Holiday Movies

We are all familiar with the big screen classics that debuted in the theaters decades ago and now grace our television screens each & Christmas season. However, there are a lot of other lesser known holiday films available for our viewing pleasure every year. Channels like Hallmark, ABC Family, and Lifetime (Television for Women) produce new made-for-TV flicks all the time and replay several that have evidently gotten good ratings. You won’t see many big stars, great production values, or even very good stories, but you’ll be entertained, maybe have a laugh or two, and possibly get your heart tugged on a bit.

 

 

Miracle on 34th St.

This is a fantastic way to kick off the holiday season!! The beginning of the film incorporates the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade into the story, so it is usually amongst the first Christmas movies I watch. It used to be on NBC immediately following the parade every year, but then they started showing a dog show instead. However, if my sources are correct then NBC is showing it on Thanksgiving this year again!! I know that most of us (unless there are young crumb crunchers out there with an odd addiction to The Manofesto) understand the truth about Santa Claus, but I also think that most of us retain…dare I say…an inner child that we love to bring out during the holidays. Even if we know the real deal with Santa there is something charming about the idea that he may actually exist.

 

 

 

Mannheim Steamroller & Trans-Siberian Orchestra

I love all sorts of music and I really enjoy Christmas carols. I have to give a shout out to my friend Greg and The Godfather of Conservatism Rush Limbaugh for introducing me to these two groups, both of which put a distinctive spin on traditional holiday tunes. They are each a unique mix of orchestral & progressive synthesized music, with TSO having more of a rock edge. Once one is familiar with their singular styles it becomes instantly recognizable when heard on the radio or the sound system at your local shopping center. Both groups have done tunes other than Christmas songs, but it is the latter for which they are best known & loved and that has become an integral part of my yuletide merriment.

 

 

Elf

The new kid on the block in the pantheon of beloved Christmas films is 2003’s Elf, starring Will Ferrell as an orphan who accidentally ends up in Santa’s bag on Christmas Eve and grows up at the North Pole think he is…you guessed it…an elf. He learns the truth and sets out to New York City to find his real father, who just happens to be a grumpy book publisher who is on Santa’s Naughty List. Ferrell is hysterically funny and nails the childlike vibe one may assume would mark an elven personality, and James Caan is the curmudgeonly Dad. This is one of Ferrell’s best roles, and it is amazing just how quickly Elf has taken its place amongst the annual holiday classics. I do have a concern about possible overexposure, because USA Network shows the film a lot starting even before Thanksgiving.

 

 

Christmas Unwrapped on The History Channel

Okay, so I am kind of a nerd. I love history, and I love Christmas, so this is a perfect marriage of the two. It explores the origins of the holiday, various symbols like the Christmas tree, and how the celebration has evolved over the centuries from a strictly holy day to 18th century rabble rousing to the modern bent toward consumerism. There is a lot of interesting input from a variety of experts in history, religion, and folklore, and it is all narrated by the soothing voice of newsman Harry Smith. I don’t mind being educated at the same time as I am being entertained. Your mileage may vary.

 

 

Home Alone & Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

MacCaulay Caulkin seems to have followed the same path as a lot of child stars…overnight fame at a very young age, followed by years of personal & legal issues that were tabloid fodder for the jaded, voyeuristic masses, and eventually relative obscurity. However, for just a little while each holiday season he is simply that precocious and insufferably cute little boy that was inadvertently ditched by his family (twice) and left to fend for himself at Christmas time. The original came in at #12 on my Favorite Movies list, while the sequel ranked #37. I fondly recall watching the original when it first started airing on television in the early 90’s with my oldest nephew (who is now in college). We laughed so hard at the cartoon violence when little Kevin is “defending his house” against bumbling burglars Harry & Marv that tears were streaming down our faces. I don’t laugh quite as much now, but these two films are still virtual comfort food. The second isn’t quite as good as the first, but the two still need to be connected and viewed, preferably together.

 

 

The Ref

If one checks The Vault and peruses my Top 100 Favorite Movies series it becomes obvious that I adore Christmas films. I believe somewhere around a dozen made the cut. Checking in at #28 is The Ref, an overlooked 1994 offering starring Kevin Spacey and Denis Leary. The story revolves around a thief who takes a bickering couple hostage on Christmas Eve and regrets it tremendously since they and their crazy family drive him nuts. For some reason The Ref has never quite entered the well-known pantheon of traditional holiday movies, but I have adored it since the first time I rented the video over 15 years ago. It’s rather difficult to find on TV but well worth the rental.

 

 

Chocolate Chip Cookies, Peanut Butter Balls, Peanut Butter Fudge, Hot Chocolate, Wassail, Eggnog, & Pita Piata

Let’s face it…food is an important part of the Christmas season. Even the most steadfast of dieters throw their weight loss goals aside for the holidays. And depending on cultural influences and what our families prepared when we were kids, we all have our particular favorites. Chocolate chip cookies are great any time of year, but when I was young both my mother and her mother always made a huge batch right after Thanksgiving, enough to last until New Year’s, so chocolate chip cookies always remind me of Christmas. My grandmother also always made a big ol’ turn of fudge and peanut butter balls as well. On my Dad’s side of the family I was introduced to pita piata, and Italian dessert that is basically a nut roll containing brandy soaked raisins amongst a host of other tasty ingredients. Pita piata is native to the small village of San Giovanni i Fiore in Calabria, Italy, where my great grandparents immigrated from at the turn of the 20th century. As far as beverages go, who doesn’t like hot chocolate?? And what drink is as identified with Christmas as eggnog?? You may have also heard the old Christmas carol Here We Come A Wassailing. There is actually a beverage called wassail, and the best way I can describe it is that it tastes like liquid apple pie. We usually enjoy some wassail after the folks from church trek through my small hometown caroling.

 

 

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Firmly entrenched as one of America’s favorite holiday classics is 1989’s third offering in the adventures of the wacky Griswold clan, led by the bumbling stumbling Chevy Chase himself. It’s hard to believe that it’s been over two decades since this one originally hit theaters. As I said when I rated Christmas Vacation #6 on my Favorite Movies list, this isn’t high art. It’s mindless entertainment & harmless fun, and it’s something I look forward to every year.

 

 

 

Reading Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

There is no shortage of movie adaptations of Dickens’ tale about mean old Ebenezer Scrooge who is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve and shown the error of his ways. There are a few classic B&W films from the mid-20th century, a “motion capture” animated feature starring Jim Carrey made just a couple years ago, loose interpretations like Bill Murray’s Scrooged or the popular cartoon Mickey’s Christmas Carol, and a particularly well done 90’s TV movie starring Star Trek:TNG’s Patrick Stewart. All of these are perfectly delightful. However, might I suggest the following: On some chilly December evening, take Dickens’ novella off the bookshelf, settle down into a comfortable chair or couch, and read the book!! Last year I discovered a wonderful trick to enhance the experience. The Bachelor Palace doesn’t have a fireplace, but somewhere on the television there is a wonderful channel that is nothing but an endless loop of a roaring, crackling, very peaceful fire. So now I dim the lights (except for what I am going to use to read by), grab a warm beverage, burrow myself under a blanket, and read A Christmas Carol in front of a 40 inch high definition fireplace.

 

 

The Polar Express

While Home Alone has fond memories that I associate with my oldest nephew, The Polar Express hearkens a memory connected to my younger nephew. He was about 7 years old when the movie hit theaters and I decided to take him to see it. I think I was much more enthralled than he was to be honest. 7 year olds have a bit of an issue sitting still for almost two hours. At any rate, I fell in love with this film and my fondness has only grown in the ensuing years. The Polar Express was really the first movie that brought motion capture technology to the forefront, and it is so unique and so different that one is left with an indelible imprint on the brain. It also allows for things like Tom Hanks portraying half dozen different characters, which is pretty cool. When ranking The Polar Express #16 on my Favorite Movies list I referred to it as “whimsical, magical, and hauntingly beautiful” and said that it embodied the indefinable Christmas spirit.  A few years ago I was spending some post-surgery time in my 2nd “skilled” nursing facility in less than 2 years. It was in late November/early December, and after a kind soul hooked me up with a very small television one of the first things I was able to watch was The Polar Express. This particular period of time was amongst the saddest, most depressing of my entire life, and I will always be forever grateful that this fantastic movie helped pull me from the abyss.

 

 

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Not too long ago I read a really interesting biography of Charles Schultz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strip. I was never really a comic book fan, but I always enjoyed the comics in the Sunday paper, and felt a certain kinship with loveable loser Charlie Brown. It wasn’t until I read the Schultz book that I realized all the ups & downs and insecurities in his life and how much they influenced his work, and really began to understand why I always liked Charlie Brown. Several classic animated TV specials were made based on Peanuts, including A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, but at Christmas time there isn’t anything much cooler than A Charlie Brown Christmas. The story has Charlie Brown having a problem finding the Christmas spirit, the main issue being one that isn’t uncommon in Christmas stories…the overt commercialization of the holiday. Eventually he finds what he is looking for with the help of his blanket toting pal Linus, whose simple rendition of the biblical Christmas story found in Luke 2:8-14 is awesome since we live in such a PC world where every effort is made to appease Islam while spitting all over Christianity. Even back in the 60’s when the special was made corporate TV types wanted Schultz to remove the Bible passage, but he absolutely refused. After reading the aforementioned biography and knowing how devout Schultz was I understand why he took such a strong stance, and I have the utmost respect for the man because of it. As with other classic specials that have aired annually for decades, A Charlie Brown Christmas obviously resonates with the viewing public, and it is certainly an important part of my Christmas season.

 

 

The 24/7 Christmas Carol Radio Station

I love Christmas carols. I never ever get tired of them during the holiday season. In the archives here at The Manofesto you can find a two part ditty where I rank my all-time favorite carols. I think there are basically about two dozen carols, but they’ve all been covered by so many artists in every imaginable music genre that it seems like there are hundreds of them. At any rate, the day after Thanksgiving one of the local rock stations on my radio dial begins playing nothing but Christmas music 24 hours/day, and I think it is marvelous. I am sure stations nationwide do something similar. I really only listen to the radio when I am in my truck, and since I don’t travel all that much and have a short commute to work maybe that explains why I don’t tire of the endless caroling. It always kind of makes me sad when the station goes back to playing crappy pop music immediately after midnight on Christmas night.

 

 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer & Frosty the Snowman

When something is shown annually on television for nearly 50 years then it has obviously made a significant impression on a whole heck of a lot of people. I am secure enough in my masculinity to proudly proclaim that I look forward to watching these two animated specials each Christmas season. Rudolph is based on the song of the same name, written in 1949 by Johnny Marks, who was inspired by his brother-in-law Robert May’s creation of Rudolph for a Montgomery Ward advertising campaign in 1939. The stop motion animated special began airing in 1964, and I’d venture to guess that the vast majority of the population has watched it hundreds of times. Cowboy Gene Autry recorded Frosty the Snowman in 1950, and after the success of the Rudolph animated special Rankin-Bass took Autry’s song and made it into another stop motion classic in 1969. I’m not quite as fond of Frosty as I am Rudolph because let’s face it…little Karen and Professor Hinkle can’t quite compete with Herbie the Elf, Yukon Cornelius, and my favorites, The Island of Misfit Toys. However, both of these shows are absolute must-see-TV for me during the holidays.

 

 

 

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas

The Grinch utilizes more traditional animation than Rudolph, Frosty, and The Polar Express, but that’s okay. Simplicity can be good too. I’ve always sort of wondered what kind of substances Dr. Seuss may have been imbibing, because I’ve never seen an amalgamation of prose & poetry quite like the turns of phrase that made him famous. The Grinch was first published in 1957, and this holiday classic first started airing in 1966. The Grinch is a character whose disdain for Christmas seems very similar to Charles Dickens’ creation Ebenezer Scrooge, and who is similarly redeemed by a sudden change of heart. I don’t know if Dr. Seuss was inspired by Dickens and just decided to simplify the story for children, but it’s an intriguing theory. There is a powerful moment near the end of the story when, despite The Grinch having stolen all their Christmas trees, presents, and even their food, The Whos down in Whoville arise on Christmas morning and still sing, or make a joyful noise, if you will. It’s such a simple yet potent reminder of what Christmas isn’t. I think we forget that sometimes and need to watch this little cartoon to be reminded.

 

 

24 Hours of A Christmas Story

The older I get the more I embrace the nostalgic impact of Christmas, because really, all of us enjoy feeling like a child again sometimes even if there is a tinge of sadness involved. Nothing embodies this wistfulness quite as well as 1983’s A Christmas Story. It is my #5 Favorite Movie and for most folks under a certain age maybe the most popular holiday movie of all time. In the late 90’s TBS/TNT (it goes back & forth) started running a 24 hour marathon from 8pm on Christmas Eve until 8pm Christmas night. What an awesome idea!! I usually catch parts of the first showing at my aunt’s house after eating our annual family fish fest, then maybe a little more after I get home from church before getting some zzz’s. On Christmas Day I catch glimpses here & there depending on where I am. And I always atleast try to watch the entire last showing, as it kind of puts a melancholy period at the end of what has been a wonderful, month long sentence.

 

 

It’s A Wonderful Life

As mentioned, for most people under a certain age…maybe 30 or 35…A Christmas Story is likely the most beloved holiday film. However, my generation grew up with various television stations showing It’s A Wonderful Life dozens of times during the yuletide season. This created one of two reactions. There was the inevitable backlash, with people beginning to hate the movie because of the endless airings (something that I see happening with atleast 2 or 3 other Christmas classics these days). Or there were people like me that came to love IAWL more & more each year. Unfortunately for us Lifers NBC “rescued” the movie from public domain back in 1993 so now we only get to see it twice a year…usually once in early December and then always on Christmas Eve. It is odd that a movie about suicide would become such a perennial Christmas favorite, but I think the central themes…friendship, family, and realizing that what you have and what your life is ain’t all that bad…really hits home with a lot of people. I know that this is a story that has always resonated deeply for me, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world this and every year.

 

 

 

 

Winning & Musing…..Volume 9.11

We’re in the midst of both the college & pro football season, but there are still a couple other things to talk about.

 

 

When did The MAC become such an entertaining football conference?? Seemingly every Tuesday and Wednesday night these belittled teams with nothing to play for except a December bowl game in Detroit have the most engaging and competitive games of the collegiate football week. I’d rather watch a MAC game than a Big East or Big 10 game anytime.

 

 

 

It’s funny how the NBA season was supposed to start a couple of weeks ago but didn’t, yet I haven’t really noticed and don’t really care.

 


The backlash against Stanford QB Andrew Luck has very quietly begun. His inability to get the Cardinal past Oregon and remain in the national championship hunt has raised the ever-so-slightest of red flags, no matter how much the loss can legitimately be blamed on Stanford’s overall lack of depth & skill. The fact is that someone as hyped up as Luck is supposed to be able to put a subpar team on his back and carry them to victory in such games. I have very little doubt that he will still be the #1 overall pick in April’s NFL Draft, but there is now a question in my mind…and the minds of more than a few others…as to whether he is a mortal lock to walk in the footsteps of Elway, Marino, Brady, and Manning.

 

 

 

I absolutely LOVE the fact that college football’s BCS system is in complete chaos. However, it looks like we could be headed toward a LSU-Alabama rematch for the national title, which isn’t creating much excitement since the first game between the two teams was such an overhyped snoozefest. When is the NCAA going to pry their heads from their own asses and create a freakin’ playoff??

 

 

 

Maybe I’m crazy, but when I was growing up a catch was a catch. I’ve always been a big proponent of the use of instant replay, but it has created a little bit of paralysis by analysis when it comes to defining whether or not a receiver really caught a football. I prefer to see games decided by the players, not the officials, and certainly not by redefining what should be the very simple definition of a completed pass.

 

 

 

I watched the main event of the recent UFC free-per-view on Fox and to say I was underwhelmed would be an understatement. I remember the early days of UFC back in my college days. On a couple of occasions a group of my fraternity brothers got together and bought the PPV. Maybe I was easily impressed, or maybe I was just drunk, but those shows were the essence of brutality. It was two guys beating the living daylights out of each other until one guy couldn’t continue, and for an 18 year old full of testosterone and cheap beer it was awesome. Unfortunately what I saw on television this time around was a championship match that was stopped less than two minutes in, even though the loser had no marks or bruises, there was no blood, and he was able to give a cogent post-match interview less than 5 minutes later. I am not a huge boxing fan, but atleast when someone gets knocked out in a boxing match one can tell. And the competitor is given a fair shot…a standing 8 count for example…to regain his composure and continue. I will even express a preference for professional wrestling. It may be scripted entertainment, but I know I am going to get a 20-30 minute main event with lots of interesting action. The one positive I can say about my most recent UFC experience is that it was free. If I’d have actually paid for the show and had it end like that I would have demanded my money back from the cable provider.

 

 

 

Wow…what a fantastic, fun, exciting run to the championship by NASCAR’s Tony Stewart. Smoke won 5 of the final 10 races to narrowly edge Carl Edwards in a tiebreaker for the Sprint Cup. Both competitors deserve tons of credit for not only putting on a hell of a show the last two months of the season, but for remaining respectful, classy, and honorable in the midst of the battle. Racing fans were the real winners.

 

 

 

 

The Arizona Wildcats have chosen former WVU & Michigan coach Rich Fraudriguez to be their new football coach, while former Florida & Utah coach Urban Meyer seems to be headed to Columbus to rebuild a dinged Ohio State program. As much as I despise Fraudriguez and wish him nothing but miserable failure in every single facet of his pathetic excuse for a life, I must admit that on the surface it looks like a decent hire. Fraudriguez’s spread offense will work much better in the Pac 12 then it did in the Big 10, and Arizona doesn’t have any of the pesky tradition & closed-mindedness to “outsiders” that plagued his tenure at Michigan. Ohio State’s issues have mostly been off the field, and interim coach Luke Fickle was an unfortunate victim that was thrown into the frying pan way before he was ready for prime time, so I have no doubt that a proven entity like Meyer will have the Buckeyes back on top in no time, assuming he doesn’t flake out with phantom “health concerns” after a year or two.

 

 

The Trouble with Tebow

I suppose it is kind of obvious that for most sports fans teams and/or individual players fall into three categories.

 

We have our favorites. I have been a lifelong supporter of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Pirates, and West Virginia Mountaineers. I graduated from Marshall University in Huntington, WV and so I cheer on my alma mater’s Thundering Herd. I like Nascar and root for Tony Stewart.

 

Then we have those teams or players we love to hate. Oftentimes it is a rival of our favorites. For example, I naturally loathe the Baltimore Ravens and Pitt Panthers. Other times our disdain is due to a variety of factors that might not really make any logical sense to anyone but ourselves. I detest the New York Yankees, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, New England Patriots, and Jeff Gordon even though they’ve never done anything to me personally.

 

And then there is the third category, which can best be described as “Who cares??”. The Iowa Hawkeyes are playing the Indiana Hoosiers this weekend?? I couldn’t possibly care less who wins or loses. Monday Night Football is featuring a matchup of the Chicago Bears vs. the San Francisco 49ers?? I’ll watch, but I really don’t care about the outcome except for how my fantasy teams are affected. Kevin Harvick won the race?? That’s nice for him, but it neither makes me happy nor upset.

 

However, we now have in our midst an individual that somehow doesn’t fit into any of these categories. He’s the proverbial enigma wrapped in a conundrum hidden inside a paradox. He’s a football player that is difficult to dislike because of his magnetic personality but just as impossible to embrace because of his apparent lack of skill. He’s someone that people want to defend against the haters because of the suspicious nature of the hatred, but a player that it is almost illogical to shield from criticism because, quite simply, the numbers don’t lie.

 

Tim Tebow was a great college football player. So great in fact that he won the 2007 Heisman Trophy and lead his Florida Gators to two national championships. But there have been tons of fantastic college football players…especially quarterbacks…that have gone on to accomplish nothing at the professional level. Troy Smith, Matt Leinart, Jason White, Eric Crouch, Chris Weinke, Danny Wuerffel, Gino Torretta, Ty Detmer, Andre Ware…all were QBs who were at the top of the heap in college and completely flamed out in the NFL. And so most thought it would be for Tebow. But it hasn’t quite worked out that way so far, even if logic says it should.

 

Tebow was inexplicably drafted in the 1st Round of the 2010 NFL Draft and a year & a half later has somehow become the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos. The reason this story is so odd is because Tim Tebow is a starting NFL quarterback whose passing skills are so bad that he can rarely hit the broadside of a barn from 20 yards away. He could throw a pass from a boat in the middle of the ocean and somehow not hit water 80% of the time. Yet somehow, for a variety of reasons that make no sense and at the same time make all the sense in the world, Tebow is not only living the dream, he is winning.

 

Tebow does not fit into any of the categories previously mentioned, atleast for most people. Few people outside Colorado have given a damn about the Broncos since the retirement of John Elway over a decade ago, so for the vast majority of folks Tebow should fit into the “Who cares?” classification. But for some reason everyone does seem to care…one way or another.

 

Ever since his college days Tim Tebow has been a kind of larger than life folk hero, a guy filled with intangibles that, despite all evidence that should dictate a different result, just wins. On the flip side, his lack of apparent pro-level skill and the absolute overkill of hype heaped upon him by a salivating sports media has sparked an irrational hatred by a large portion of the populace. It is seemingly impossible to be ambivalent about Tebow…one either loves him or hates him, even though no one can really understand why anyone would actually do either.

 

A major factor in The Tebow Riddle is his Christian faith. In a world where hating on Jesus is as cool for some as gangsta rap, reality television, and little ribbons on your lapel Tim Tebow wears his faith on his sleeve and is an unapologetic Jesus lover. Therefore it stands to reason that a lot of people want to see him fail miserably no matter what, while fellow believers are more than willing to overlook his appalling lack of discernible ability. However, as a Christian myself I am not so sure the issue has as much to do with the constantly swirling controversy as much as some want to think. The problem is, without the easy scapegoat of faith in a humanistic world there is no rational explanation left.

 

So at the end of the day I am left with only my own opinions and neither a way or a desire to explain the motivations of others. I think that Tim Tebow was a fantastic college player that has no business being a starting quarterback on an NFL team. I think he can be a good change of pace option that can run the ball in for a touchdown from deep inside the red zone. That is his niche and there’s nothing wrong with that. I believe that he has reaped the benefits of being on a very bad team with low expectations. I think there are a lot of people that want to see him succeed because of his faith and as many that want him to fail because of it, but that the vast majority of folks are looking at things thru the prism of football. Those individuals either see a quarterback with frustratingly horrendous mechanics that in no way resemble what a professional QB should embody, or they see a unique, quirky, interesting change from the normal cookie cutter passers who might not have the proper throwing motion but possesses leadership abilities, toughness, and an infectious will to win. My most fervent desire is that someday soon Tim Tebow will slip into the same football oblivion that thousands of others have before him, because quite frankly no matter how much one wants to root for him because he seems like a genuinely good man it is almost impossible when talking heads like ESPN’s Skip Bayless relentlessly shove him down viewers’ throats. Idiots like Bayless have, in an effort to promote Tebow for whatever reason, unwittingly created a backlash against the poor guy. If the Broncos get to the playoffs or if Tim Tebow suddenly morphs into a Dan Marino/Peyton Manning clone then we might have something to talk about, but until then finding some inane reason to shoehorn Tebow into the conversation literally every single day is obnoxious and needs to stop. Plus I sincerely believe that he has a bigger mission to accomplish in life and all this football silliness is just delaying Tim Tebow from achieving his true destiny.

 

There…I’ve said my peace and expressed my opinion. There is no need for the topic of Tebow to grace these pages again until he actually does something noteworthy on a football field. And for that I am not holding my breath.

 

 

The Great Gatsby

Here’s the cool thing about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby: published in 1925, it so accurately reflects modern America that it could have been written in the 1980’s or after the turn of the 21st Century and, with the exception of a distinct lack of foul language and overt sexuality, no one would know the difference.

 

At its heart Gatsby is a love rhombus entailing multiple affairs amongst people that, to be honest, aren’t very likeable.

 

The titular character is a mysterious noveau riche New York businessman who throws great summer parties at his mansion in the pretentious suburbs, which is about the most anyone seems to know about him. We learn a little bit more as things proceed, but his vague ties to organized crime and how that may have played a part in his amassed wealth aren’t really explored all that deeply. It says a lot about the shallowness of Jazz Age “society” types that legions of people keep showing up to Gatsby’s house every weekend for his soirees even though they don’t know a damn thing about their host. These are folks who just want to see and be seen. Kind of like your typical Hollywood stars of today.

 

Gatsby has an agenda that we don’t find out about until midway thru the story, and things pick up speed from there and become vaguely reminiscent of a dime story crime novel mixed with morally ambiguous modern romance sans the blatant eroticism. We learn that Gatsby used to be in love with Daisy back in Chicago. Not coincidentally Daisy is now living just on the other side of the lake from Gatsby, who is apparently a stalker. Unfortunately Daisy is married to Tom. However, Tom is already in the midst of an affair himself with Myrtle, the wife of George, a local auto mechanic. I guess even in the 1920’s marriage vows meant nothing. Eventually Gatsby makes his presence known to Daisy and she falls for him…again…instantly.

 

The entire tale is told thru the eyes of Nick Carraway, who is Daisy’s cousin and befriends Gatsby. Nick is really the only character with any redeeming qualities, the one I’d be least likely to want to slap upside the head. He seems to get Gatsby and genuinely like the man, whatever his shortcomings may be. Nick is apparently dating Daisy’s tennis pro pal Jordan Baker, but their relationship is barely touched upon.

 

Once all the cards are out on the table things get bloody. Daisy accidentally runs over & kills Myrtle while driving Gatsby’s little yellow sports car. Since little yellow sports cars aren’t that difficult to track down a distraught George comes to Gatsby’s house and shoots him dead in his swimming pool before turning the gun on himself. All the sudden we have an episode of Law & Order or CSI. Daisy & Tom seemingly escape any consequences, and Nick is left to plan a funeral for Gatsby that hardly anyone shows up for.

 

And that’s pretty much it. I am not sure The Great Gatsby deserves to be thought of as one of the two or three best American novels of all time. However, it is an interesting commentary on the attitudes and lifestyles of the superficial, soulless, and egotistical affluent class and how, at the end of the day, their money, power, and fame cannot buy them the love & affection we all truly seek. F. Scott Fitzgerald is a talented wordsmith who writes a novel that is a fairly easy and entertaining read, and I am sure that in 1925 his story was edgy & groundbreaking. Unfortunately in 21st century America its characters are far too reminiscent of the types of empty-headed, out-of-touch, famous-for-no-reason people we see nearly every day on “reality” television and in the pages of rags like The National Enquirer or People, which would seem to reinforce the old maxim “the more things change the more they stay the same”.