Is it just me, or do other people think the Super Bowl has a moral obligation to take place in a warm climate?
On Sunday they will hold the Super Bowl in Indianapolis. The weather forecast
is for a high of 42 degrees, with showers predicted.
That sounds about right for February in central Indiana. When I lived in Louisville, I could always count on the temperature warming up a few degrees as I headed south on I-65.
This is no region for the Super Bowl. I know, the game is going to be held in a dome. And I have no stake in personal comfort, since I am not going.
But still, doesn’t the National Football League have a responsibility to present a warm, sunny spectacle, all week, to the millions of winter-bound fans in the United States and Europe and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere?
The N.F.L. is trying to spread the game
and the riches, but this is a grim, limited vision. They’ve got the Super Bowl coming to New Jersey in 2014. The weather has been gorgeous this winter – I was working out in shorts the other day – but a blizzard is guaranteed for 2014.
Homebound Super Bowl viewers deserve to turn on the game and see fans in comfortable outfits, outdoors, enjoying themselves. This sight warms the soul, makes us realize that spring will be arriving.
What’s the best bowl of all
– the granddaddy of them all, as Keith Jackson put it? The Rose Bowl, of course. Even if it’s chilly in Pasadena, it’s still southern California; it makes us feel good.
As it happens, I covered three of the coldest Super Bowls ever.
Super Bowl XVI in a dome in Pontiac, Mich., in 1982 was marked by Vice President George H.W. Bush choosing to arrive near game time, snarling traffic. The media bus driver had to let us off, to scramble across a frozen field to get to the dome.
Super Bowl XXVI in Minneapolis in 1992 was not terribly inconvenient, since the dome is right downtown. My vivid memory of extracurricular activity that week was watching people carve ice sculptures with power saws at a winter carnival in St. Paul.
Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta in 2000 was a farce. The roads were icy, and our friends had to cancel a house party because nobody could drive to the suburbs. We spent one day before the game sitting by the window in our hotel room, watching Southerners try to drive on ice – they would go too slow up the hill, then accelerate coming off the hill, and crash into light stanchions and fences along the interstate. This, too, is spectator sport, probably no more dangerous than the brain-bashing that goes on in the actual game.
Nasty weather at Super Bowl sites is inconvenient for the people in the Super Bowl town, and for fans who spend fortunes to attend. Who really cares about the travails of visiting sportswriters?
But the N.F.L. should think of the people back home. In the yawning time before the actual game, the TV audience deserves to see shots of warm and happy fans, strolling the streets, giving us hope that one day soon we, too, can wear shorts outdoors.
The N.F.L. needs to go back to a southern strategy – Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona and California – not so much for the people attending but for the people watching.
Do you agree? Comments welcome.
If we’re lucky in life, we meet somebody who teaches us just by existing; I’ve been fortunate to have two for the price of one.
Stan Isaacs acted as a mentor when I started out taking high-school basketball games over the telephone at Newsday. He was the iconoclastic sports columnist, one of the best in the business, and he somehow found time to praise and criticize, escorting me to ball parks, showing me how it all worked.
Then Stan invited us to his home, to meet his wife. It did not take long to recognize that Bobbie Isaacs was always going to be the adult in any room. In my early twenties, I found myself watching her, how she listened, how she smiled, how she kept the conversation going, something like a point guard who keeps the ball moving, but does not need to take a shot.
We could be talking politics or the newspaper business or sports, with me grumbling over which manager wasn’t talking or which player was a good interview. Bobbie always seemed interested in what we were saying.
She was a social worker, trained to observe, meeting families with serious troubles, She did not talk about her work, at least when I was around. It took me a while to figure out the kind of heavy-duty cases she handled.
I watched her with Stan, and their three daughters, and their smart and involved friends. This is how a grownup acts, I thought. My wife the painter managed to establish that Bobbie was also an artist, a quilter of real talent. Until last week I did not know she was also an ace at crossword puzzles.
Stan and Bobbie were also examples in the way they handled retirement, giving up their warm home on Long Island, finding a complex outside Philadelphia, with facilities that ranged from independent living to medical care. As usual, their friends were interesting and diverse. Bobbie and Stan became part of the daily life at their new home, taking part in the senior-olympic competitions. I found out only last week that, social worker to the core, Bobbie had arranged for people and their pets to visit the homebound.
When I heard that Bobbie’s health was deteriorating, I called her a few months ago. She was the same person I had known for half a century -- asking about my family, my work. How was she? A little tired, she said. She passed on Jan. 22 at the age of 82. Our thoughts go out to Stan, Nancy, Ann and Ellen and their families. Thank you for sharing Bobbie.
One response to the memorial service for Joe Paterno:
People were attracted to Penn State because of its successful, charismatic and apparently idealistic football coach? Sorry, but that makes me just a bit uneasy.
I can see going to a school for its academic rating or a specific major, or well-known teachers who can be accessed by signing up for a course, or reasonable in-state tuition, or a scholarship, or a workship program that prepares you for real life, or proximity to home, or distance from home, or a beautiful setting. Or even the reputation of a party school.
But choose a university because you might score an occasional ticket to a football game or once in four years find yourself in the presence of a JoePa? Yikes. How did a football program become a beacon for a university?
I was able to watch the memorial live, streaming on PCN.com
. I loved the stories about how Paterno recruited players’ mothers in their kitchens, raving over their pasta, and I believed every word about his fierce loyalty to players. And I respect the dean who praised Paterno's support for the classics.
Paterno was way above most big-time coaches in his relationship to education, and the media reported it.
However, I could not help but react to the defensive note being spun around the many wonderful traits of Paterno, almost as if they had been coordinated by a public-relations firm. Or defense counsel.
The most outspoken comments were from Nike’s Phil Knight, who said the flaw in the Sandusky investigation “lies in the institution, not in Joe Paterno’s response.”
Paterno wore Knight’s footwear. So there’s that.
The people from the university seemed to be addressing some other audience – history? A grand jury? The politicians of the state?
It is hard for an outsider to believe that insiders in the extremely inbred society of the university and the football program did not know about Jerry Sandusky’s at-least very creepy tendencies.
Whatever Mike McQueary told him
, there is no evidence that Paterno understood the implications, or did enough to follow up. For a man that powerful to turn the rumors over to authorities (whom he apparently stonewalled) was just not enough. Football players are trained to follow Coach. However, I would expect a university and the surrounding community to be a bit more skeptical.
The tributes to Paterno were very touching; he had a better grip in a long and honorable life than most big-time football coaches – which is saying what?
But people’s choosing a university in order to be in the reflected glow of a hallowed football coach should be enough to make us question the link between football and higher education, so-called higher education. Even if Coach loved the classics.
As the mourners pay respect
to Joe Paterno, it becomes increasingly clear just how badly he was served in his final years.
Paterno had enough left in his final weeks to understand that he was going to be judged as a public figure who did not do enough when warned about the possibility of male rape on his watch.
“I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was,” he said. “So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn’t work out that way.”
That’s what Paterno told Sally Jenkins
of the Washington Post. The most important person in the state of Pennsylvania lived inside a castle, behind barricades and moats formed in the name of winning a national football championship.
This is what college football is all about – win at all costs, including isolation and ignorance. Take a look at an excellent article
, “How Big-Time Sports Ate College Life,” by Laura Pappano, in the New York Times education supplement of Jan. 20. It asks the question, how did it get to be like this?
But Joe Paterno’s legacy should endure. The entire Penn State community accepted Paterno’s public reputation and his millions in donations to the educational and spiritual side of Penn State. But the mob let him down by not allowing even a court jester to speak some truths to him.
How alone he was. This was more than the King Lear paranoia of a coach who will not be shoved into retirement.
In 2004, the president and the athletic director of Penn State shuffled up to Paterno’s house and suggested it was time for him to retire. Paterno gave them the bum’s rush
. Of course he did. By that time, it was already too late to create a dialogue between an aging coach and anybody he respected.
He was on his own, living by his wits, against anybody who would challenge him – because in his street-smart Brooklyn way, he knew they had only one thing on their minds, and that was winning more football games than the powerhouses in Ohio and Alabama and Florida. That’s all they cared about. He was there to be No. 1. So he told them to get lost.
In his press conferences in later years, he sounded like any cranky old man shouting at the kids to keep off his lawn. On that November night after his job was taken away from him, he sounded disjointed, telling the students to go home and study but he still did not seem to understand how serious, how ugly, this all was.
His players are now suggesting he died of a broken heart. This is classic football – us against them. We don’t have access to Paterno’s medical history in recent years (when he seemed to be a magnet for players running out of bounds), but he was diagnosed for lung cancer days after being publicly caught up in the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Was he well served by his family, or did they all try to preserve his position against the hordes who resented every rare loss? Was he well served by his university, which allowed him to retreat deeper into the castle?
Above all, they wanted Penn State to be No. 1. And in the end, he became the Wizard of Oz, behind the trappings.
I’d rather remember the vital, earthy, skeptical, educated guy with the Brooklyn rasp, who built a good thing in the Nittany Valley – until the masses did him no favors by making him king.
Maurizio Cattelan at Guggenheim Museum. Photo by Marianne Vecsey
A giant foosball table for 11 players per side? Horses suspended in mid-air? Picasso in the sky with sandals? A giant tombstone cataloguing England’s soccer losses (no victories whatsoever)?
Maurizio Cattelan insists he is retiring, not that I believe him for a moment. But Sig. Cattelan certainly gives new meaning to the dreaded R-word.
The Guggenheim Museum held a celebration of voluntary endings
on Saturday night. The ramparts of the Frank Lloyd Wright building were jammed on the final weekend for the show
– Sig. Cattelan’s letting it all hang out, so to speak.
Just about his entire output of 51 years
on this earth was suspended from the ceiling.
I have seen many athletes take their leave of the arena, rarely on their own. When I was as young as the players, some of my friends on the Yankees would talk in hushed tones about a player who had been cut from the team.
“Hey, did you hear about so-and-so? He died.”
A bunch of people from various disciplines
were asked by the Guggenheim to illustrate voluntary retirement.
In men’s sports, retirement is often connected to that intimate item of sporting equipment known as the athletic supporter, or jock, which protects what any male athlete would say are his most treasured possessions.
When a player retires, I reminded the audience, he is said to “hang up his jock.”
Not being much of an athlete myself, I wanted to know if athletes actually “hang it up.”
I contacted some of my athlete friends from my days at Hofstra College on Long Island. Stephen Dunn
, who won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2001, was a fine player
on the basketball varsity that had a 23-1 record in 1959-60. Stephen was known as Radar for his long-range accuracy, and later played in a weekend professional league.
When I asked Stephen about the end of his active basketball career, he wrote to me. (Yes, that Pulitzer-prize poet uses email.)
“The jock strap, in this regard, has a kind of moral, uplifting quality to it,” Stephen wrote. “When I hung mine up it was a day of sadness, but only for me.” He added that only his wife noticed his “retirement” – and she did not think it was a big deal at all.
Another friend from the old days, Lou DiBlasi
, went on to be a high-school coach and has written a book about the legendary Tiny Twenty team of 1956. He also played on the undefeated Hofstra team in 1959.
After their final victory, they held what he described as a “hang ‘em up ceremony,” which involved pounding some nails into a board, writing the names of the seniors, and hanging up their jocks, accompanied by, I am assuming, copious amounts of beer.
The captain of that team was in the hospital for that final game, because of an appendectomy. They infiltrated the hospital with the beer and the board, and hung up his jock, too.
At the Guggenheim, I gave what I hope was a brief talk on the history of retiring athletes’ numbers – Lou Gehrig’s No. 4 on July 4, 1939 (the day I was born; I remember the hubbub quite well.) The Yankees will soon run out of single-digit numbers after they retire Torre 6 and Jeter 2.
Other speakers talked about forms of voluntary change – one man had given up the priesthood; a woman talked about contraception; a psychiatrist talked about endings in her field; a man did a spin on jarring black standup comedy that I loved; and somebody else talked about what I guess you could say is the ultimate form of voluntary retirement – suicide notes, themselves an art form.
By contrast, “hanging it up” seems delightfully benign.
We didn’t stay for the scheduled Courtney Love finale around midnight. As I left, I could see the young and the hip congregating underneath Maurizio Cattelan’s mock animal skeletons and newspaper headlines about the Brigati Rossi and busty nude sculptures. I’ll believe the retirement when I see it.
Meantime: Bravissimo, Ingeniere
The Giants are playing for their conference championship on Sunday; the Jets are not.
There are many reasons, but one of them has to do with change and self-control. The Giants know how to effect growth; the Jets do not
Let us go backwards more than four years to Tom Coughlin, who often seemed so miserable that a reporter listening to his rants might feel like putting an arm around him and leading him away from the podium, saying, “There – there – there.”
The Giants, and Coughlin’s family, could see how tortured he was, from too many years in the foul dungeons of football.
I caught up with the Giants in London in October of 2007, fresh off their flight from New York, for the league game with Miami. I expected Coughlin to be a basket case because of the enforced trans-Atlantic flight. Instead, he smiled
and said a professional had to live with circumstances.
Surely, I wrote, this is the only man in the world who thrives on jet lag. He was a somewhat modified Tom Coughlin
. And the Giants won the Super Bowl that season. Beat New England. Cause and effect? Partially.
It turned out that after the 2006 season, Pat Hanlon, one of the best team PR people in sports, had put Coughlin in a room with some sportswriters familiar with the team. (I was not one of them.) Later, Coughlin described that meeting:
“One of the things that punched me in the nose was when one columnist told me, ‘You act as if you really don’t have time for us,’ ” Coughlin said. “That really stuck in my craw. I have a coach’s ethic about hard work. I thought to myself, I can be more patient.”
I have no idea what else happened with Coughlin between seasons. I do know that the hybrid ownership of the House of Mara and the House of Tisch is back in the conference title game, partially because their coach learned to relax just a trifle.
The Jets, after two straight appearances in the conference title game, regressed this season. Part of that is directly traceable to the undisciplined behavior from the players and the head coach.
Rex Ryan sets the signals. And the management of the Jets seems blind to the negative impact Ryan ultimately has on his players. He pops off. His players pop off. When an old pro like LaDainian Tomlinson says the locker room is in chaos, this is a sure sign things are bad.
The Jets’ management needs to find a way to get through to Ryan. Talent isn’t everything. The Jets need to take a look at themselves, the way I think the Giants did. Is growth possible for this current bunch of Jets? Unclear.
Quyen, Le Nguyen Binh and Sesame, Hoi An
While waiting for Tet to start on Jan. 23
, I think about two friends of mine from the modern Vietnamese diaspora.
They have never met, but both are making a success of their lives in this new age.
Binh sells gorgeous crafts from Hoi An town, near Da Nang.
Qui sells delicious pancakes and shrimp pho in St. Louis.
I met Le Nguyen Binh while accompanying my wife on a child-care mission
to Vietnam in 1991. We were walking through the coastal village of Hoi An
, part of the Cham ethnic empire
, with a cluster of residents following us.
I noticed a young man in a wheelchair, smiling, listening intently, keeping pace with us. We started chatting in English, and it wasn't hard to figure out that with his language skills and intelligence and interest in computers, he was going to find his place as Vietnam became part of the modern world. We traded names and numbers, and stayed in touch.
Now Binh runs an outfit called Reaching Out Vietnam
, which employs people with disabilities who make jewelry and scarves and other goods. He has also founded Tien Bo (Progress), a self-help group for able-bodied people, and has also founded a computer training center.
This story gets even better. Binh has since married Quyen, and they have a son named Vung, which means Sesame.
A few years ago, Binh flew to a conference in Washington, D.C., and arranged a side trip to New York, staying at the very hospitable Crowne Plaza Hotel near LaGuardia Airport, where he was instantly the star resident.
I could not meet him the first day, so he took off on a sight-seeing jaunt into Manhattan. Imagine the courage of a Vietnamese man, confined to a wheelchair since a medical accident in his mid teens, taking the bus to the train, negotiating the cavernous subway corridors of midtown, visiting the Empire State Building on his own.
The next day I drove Binh into Manhattan, down through Harlem, alongside Central Park, to the Metropolitan Museum, which made access so easy from the garage. We found our way to the Van Goghs, where, by sheer luck, a docent was giving a lecture on, as I recall, The Flowering Orchard.
I looked at Binh in his wheelchair and have never seen a more beatific smile in my life.
“This is why I came here,” he said.
Binh flew home to Hoi An, to resume his work. Whenever my friends are sight-seeing in Vietnam, I try to steer then to Hoi An. Last year Reaching Out was again judged one of the best small businesses in Hoi An.
I just heard the other day – Binh and Quyen are expecting another child in May.
* * *
My other friend, Qui Tran, runs the family restaurant, Mai Lee
, in a shopping center right near the Brentwood stop on the MetroLink rail line in St. Louis. When I am out in St. Louis pushing my Stan Musial biography
, my buddy Tom Schwarz and I stop at Mai Lee for banh and spring rolls.
Qui’s parents, Sau and Lee Tran, made their exodus from Vietnam, arriving in St. Louis in 1980. At first, Lee Tran worked in a Chinese restaurant but in 1985 she figured a way to sell her national dishes in her own place. Mai Lee now bustles at lunch and dinner, with the entire Tran family trying to keep pace with the crowds.
“The new Mai Lee was worth the wait, believe us. And a weekend night crowd showed a superb mix of adults and children, grandparents and grandchildren, all ages and colors and sizes, and speaking many languages. A joyous experience,” wrote Joe Pollack and Ann Lemons Pollack in their popular dining review, St. Louis Eats and Drinks
It’s not hard to notice Qui. He’s the one with huge tattoos on huge muscles, bristling with confidence. The next generation. The American dream. I call him “my Vietnamese soul brother.”
I doubt my two friends will ever meet, but they are linked in my heart. The word Vietnam evokes all kinds of images in the United States; when I hear the name these days, I think of beautiful scarves, succulent dishes, brains and muscles and courage.
Qui Tran: A Break in the Action
Beats the heck out of TV timeouts
How did we ever live before this marvelous little device?
I was reminded of our good fortune to live in such modern times on Sunday when the cold weather propelled me into a warm corner to watch the Giants-Packers playoff.
It’s been a long time since I had three hours to commit to watching an entire American football game. Of course I could not make it.
After the ball had been in motion for 10-12 seconds within the first quarter hour, my trigger finger got itchy, and I started searching for something, anything. I found “Get Shorty,”
John Travolta doing Elmore Leonard. Had never seen it. What a wonderful alternative to the blather and commercials and sideline shots.
Working the clicker, I understood how Eli Manning felt out there in Wisconsin. He had a touch for his game. I had a touch for mine. Timeout. Click. Travolta wants to step down in class from loan-sharking to making movies. Click. Manning goes long. Click. Rene Russo grimaces at the gaucheness of an old flame. Click. Packers drop another pass. Click. Danny DeVito does shtick about acting.
And Delroy Lindo glowers as a hood bound for serious trouble. (Here’s a tip for you – go find a movie called Wondrous Oblivion
in which lithe, magnetic Lindo plays a Jamaican teaching cricket to a Jewish boy in a tense neighborhood in South London in 1960.)
Anyway, I had the hot hand, catching the ending of the movie and the credits – why, that was the late Greg Goossen
, classic Met, in a cameo role. Still more than a quarter to go in the football game. Giants upset the Packers. On to San Francisco. After the final whistle, I wanted to fall on my knees and give thanks to my clicker for getting me through another football game.
He had it in the Nineteenth Century
The last few weeks I have been having a profound case of déjà vu, watching Creepy and Dopey and Wifty sashay across the country.
There was the sense of having lived this before – or read it somewhere in my younger days.
It was the chubby one, who calls himself Newt. He portrays himself as an intellectual who sees the future, but he carries a whiff of Nineteenth-Century America.
Then it hit me. Samuel Clemens. Mark Twain. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. That’s where I think I first encountered Newt. I opened the book and skimmed through it (electronically)
and there from Chapter 19 through 33 were two poseurs who worked the Mississippi, claiming to be a king and a duke. Down on their royal luck, they would perform Shakespeare “wherever the people are as green as the money,” to quote another heartland American hustler, the Music Man.
The king and the duke overwhelm Huck and Jim with their pretentions, using big words and scraps of history, but they also refer to people as “country jakes” and “greenhorns” and “flatheads.”
It takes a while for Huck and Jim to sort out the king and the duke, but eventually they do. Well, anyways, I doan' hanker for no mo' un um, Huck. Dese is all I kin stan'." "It's the way I feel, too, Jim. But we've got them on our hands, and we got to remember what they are, and make allowances. Sometimes I wish we could hear of a country that's out of kings."
Twain, who had such a keen ear for the intellectual bully, could easily have written in Newt as the third scalawag. And this most American character, born in Harrisburg Hospital
smack alongside the Susquehanna, would have been right at home on the Mississippi.
How long would it have taken Huck and Jim to scope out Newt? Without trying to imitate the speech patterns Twain gave them, here’s how I imagine the vagabonds, sizing up Newt: “As Descartes said after defeating the Normans on the playing fields of Eton, ‘Give me liberty – or give me $5,’” Newt announced. “What’s he saying?” Jim asked.“Beats me,” I said.“This is just what the Founding Fathers meant when they came over on the Mayflower,” Newt continued. “They all came over here together to discover America so they could turn it over to the historians.”“Huck, I don’t understand a word he’s saying,” Jim whispered.“Neither do I.”Finally Newt slowed down because he said he was getting powerful hungry and couldn’t educate us any more until we passed the hat and collected enough for a meal, and maybe some jewelry he could ship home. “He wants money so he’ll talk some more?” Jim asked.“Apparently,” I said. “How’s about we pay him not to talk?” Jim said.
Perhaps a fictional version of Newt would escape the fate of the duke and the king, who are tarred and feathered, as Huck and Jim watch.
In these kinder, gentler times, it should be quite enough to let the man talk a bit longer.
Carlos Alberto Waves Goodbye, 1982
For some delightful reason, I have been asked to give a brief sporting flavor to the seven-hour retirement ceremony of sculptor Maurizio Cattelan
at the Guggenheim Museum on Jan. 21. Cattelan is officially hanging ‘em up
by suspending much of his artwork from the ceiling of the Guggenheim. That should be a trip.
As I imagined the farewell for a sculptor, I could not help but think about two sporting ceremonies I attended – both, bizarrely, on Sept. 28.
The one on Sept. 28, 1947 was my first time in Yankee Stadium. I was 8, and it was the last game of the season, and the Yankees were honoring Babe Ruth
, who was dying of throat cancer. (The Babe, in his outsize way, had three farewells – one that summer, the other next spring, before he died on Aug. 16, 1948. This was the middle one.)
I can remember his camel hair coat and his damaged voice echoing around the Stadium’s rudimentary speaker system. The Stadium’s autumnal shadows enforced the gloomy tone, first set for Lou Gehrig in 1939, of dozens, nay, hundreds, of Yankee ceremonies, many of them honoring pinstriped heroes who often seem to die young. Those spectral sounds still seem to echo in the newest version of the Stadium – even though it’s across the street.
A more upbeat ceremony took place on Sept. 28, 1982, at the farewell game for Carlos Alberto, a stylish defender from Brazil, who had finished his career with the Cosmos. They brought up his old team, Flamengo from Rio, in its red and black uniforms
, and he played a half for each team, the way soccer farewells are done.
I was new to the sport in 1982, but could not miss the love and respect the players had for Carlos Alberto, and for the game itself. As Carlos Alberto took a long tour around Giants Stadium, waving and shaking hands with the fans, the new-age speakers played Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better.”
Every time I hear that song, I think of smooth old Carlos Alberto.
Now, the rankest outsider in that world, I will witness the addio
to Maurizio Cattelan. With his diverse works dangling from the beams, the farewell at the Guggenheim is not likely to be anything like the one for the Babe or Carlos Alberto. I’ll furnish a report.