The United States did beat Italy, 1-0, in Genoa on Wednesday. However, that was not the Italy of four World Cup championships, and it probably was not the Italy that will play in the European championships in June.
If it had been Italy – you could say – the home team would have found some resourceful and maybe even nasty way to take the air out of the Americans’ tires to salvage at least a tie. But the Italians could not get that done. Therefore, logic dictates, that was not quite Italy out there, even with Andrea Pirlo chipping exquisite passes to all kinds of forwards.
Still, the Yanks were able to create the one sturdy goal that gave them the first victory ever against Italy, in 82 years of competition. The Americans had lost seven and drawn three until Wednesday.
Probably the best part of the victory was that Jozy Altidore did what he was not able to accomplish in 2010 in the World Cup in South Africa – that is, hunker down near the goal, control a neat centering pass from Fabian Johnson, and hold off the Italian defenders while Clint Dempsey slipped into position to take a pass and knock in the goal.
Altidore and the U.S. are still capable of playing stinkers in more important matches, as proven in the 2010 World Cup when after drawing with England they were held to a draw by Slovenia, barely survived with a last-minute victory over Algeria, and then were outplayed by Ghana in the knockout round.
It was good to see the stalwarts like Tim Howard, Steve Cherundolo, Michael Bradley, Carlos Bocanegra and Dempsey play solid ball with a lead. Jurgen Klinsmann’s trio of German-born recruits – Danny Williams, Terence Boyd and Johnson – displayed the depth of soccer in German, or rather the lack of widespread development in the U.S.
There have been revolutionary victories before – over Spain in the Confederations Cup in 2009, for example, and over Mexico in the 2002 World Cup, still probably the most important victory by the U.S. in half a century.
In the post-match interview Wednesday, Dempsey called the victory “ a confidence builder,” and he called the team “a work in progress.” He was right. Been there before.
Chris Going to America; Chris Gonna Find Michael Bradley
Our lads – well, our German lads
-- are in Genoa, about to play Italy. Why am I not in Genoa? I would find the hotel along the Ligurian Sea where I once interviewed Ruud Gullit. Best shrimp risotto I ever had, on one of the most beautiful afternoons I can remember, warm breeze along the sea.
That’s the first thing that comes to mind while waiting for the friendly at 2:30 PM on Wednesday. I have no idea what to expect from this latest makeshift lineup from Jurgen Klinsmann.
He is looking at potential players; this is why they play friendlies.
Meantime, the mind wanders. Mine wanders back to 1993, when I scored a trip to Milan to watch Italy qualify for the 1994 World Cup, and arranged an interview with Gullit, who was playing for Sampdoria during their brief glory days.
But I screwed up, and took the slow train from Milan, and arrived at the Sampdoria grounds after Gullit had left. I remember Gianluca Pagliuca would not talk to me when I asked if he knew where Gullit lives, but my taxi driver extracted from his colleagues that Gullit lived in a villa in a suburb just south of Genoa. He took off down the hill and spotted the right villa and we knocked on the door and Gullit poked his jangly dreadlocks out the window and told me to have lunch at the team hotel across the street, and he would join me after his family’s lunch.
I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes wondering if I tipped the driver enough.
The aforementioned risotto was tremendous, and Gullit, true to his word, popped over from his villa. Heads turned in the restaurant as we chatted for an hour. The item I remember most from the interview was that in 1993, already an international celebrity, Gullit had never visited the United States.
I guess I exhibited chauvinistic surprise, because he quickly said, “But I have met Nelson Mandela.” That pretty much shut me up.
When Gullit scooted home, the hotel manager was evidently so impressed that he invited me for an elegant coffee in his office, and we chatted for half an hour – in Italian. This is why I love Italians: they let me speak their language, in however wretched a fashion.
Then I took a stroll along the sea, mid-November, people out for a stroll on one of those bonus autumn afternoons that you know you will remember all your life. Then I took the light rail to the Genoa station and headed back to Milan.
Haven’t been back since.
This is what I wrote back in 1993:http://www.nytimes.com/1993/11/26/sports/soccer-gullit-finds-his-separate-peace.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
Now we will get a glimpse of Genoa, or at least its soccer stadium. Via good old ESPN2, we will watch our latest recruits from the academies and reserve teams and rosters of the Bundesliga.
But no shrimp risotto.
The Helicopter Was Lower Than This
The 40th anniversary of Buffalo Creek kicked up all kinds of flashbacks.
One of them was a glint of sunlight on a wire, stretched across the valley.
I did not see the glint; fortunately, the helicopter pilot did.
The official total of dead from the flash flood in Buffalo Creek, West Virginia, on Feb. 26, 1972, was 125, but it almost became higher.
The helicopter episode came when somebody in authority offered The New York Times a place on an Army helicopter that was doing reconnaissance in the long narrow valley. As a reporter, you always accept these offers.
I had been in helicopters before, but they always had doors and stuff. This one, as I recall, had a chain or belt stretched across a portal. I was strapped into my seat, but my inner core had the sensation of dangling out.
It was eerie enough, trying to adjust to pickup trucks lying in creek beds, mobile homes stretched across roadways, lowlands flattened as if by a giant bulldozer, and knots of rescue workers, poking in the flotsam at every bend of the river. Not much was moving.
We were heading uphill, where the coal company had placed an earthen dam to catch all the water and junk from the mine.
Suddenly, I heard the pilot mutter something as he made an evasive veer, straight up, as I recall. We came to understand that he had spotted an electric or telephone line stretched across the valley.
Forty years later, I have no idea how close we came. All I remember is the mixture of gravity and fear in my stomach. Whenever I think of Buffalo Creek, that little episode comes to mind.
* * *
The pistol adventure happened a few days later, when the Times home office asked me to check for more earthen dams in the region. I caught up with Ken Murray from Tri-Cities, who remains one of the great photographers of Appalachia
Ken and I had met right after the mine blew up at Hyden, Ky., on Dec. 30, 1970. We both went to the first funeral -- the shot man who had been using outdoor explosives indoors, during weather when methane gas is at its most explosive.
We became a unit on subsequent assignments, with Ken contributing far more than this city boy ever could. This was when I learned to rely upon
all the great photographers I have worked with.
Ken and I drove around, looking for likely topography that might harbor an earthen dam. We were halfway up a hillside when the company guards caught up with us, clearly trespassing. I won’t say they were aiming their pistols at us, but they let us see the pistols.
Ken and I were well aware that in 1967, the Canadian filmmaker, Hugh O’Connor
, had been blown away after walking onto somebody’s property in rural Kentucky while making a documentary. My fellow journalists always told me that story – I think, to get a rise out of me, but they were surely doing me a favor, too.
(The only time I ever had a gun actually pointed at me was by a very nervous young trooper wielding a nasty-looking shotgun during a riot in Baton Rouge in that same era. The trooper told me to produce my identification and I talked him through the process of my rummaging around in my pockets, and was he all right with that? I still do that whenever an officer tells me to produce my wallet. Nothing like play-by-play to calm testy officers with weapons.)
Anyway, the coal guards interrogated us, until their boss arrived. As it happened , Ken and I knew the man from an earlier story we had done. He shook his head and said he was very disappointed in us.
Meanwhile, Ken whispered, “Let’s get down to the state road; that’s public property.” We started putting one foot after another, telling our story walking, until we reached the highway. I told the foreman I had made a terrible mistake and would never get lost like that again, and we drove off. Didn’t find any earthen dams that day. Just guessing they’re still up there, waiting for the next hundred-year-rain in a week or two.
Something has been lacking all through this silly season of debates, and I finally figured out what it is.
We need an alarm system that will go off when the malodorous material gets piled too high.
We need a referee who will flash the yellow cards and the red cards when the elbows and the knees are being wielded too freely.
We need that guy from Oct. 10, 2008, who reminded the whole country that there must be limits to the rabid fantasies being tossed around.
Remember him? It was like a scene out of Awakenings, the movie in which Robert DeNiro briefly emerges from a coma. In Lakeville, Minn., somebody looking a lot like John McCain was making a public appearance. According to The New York Times: When a man told him he was “scared” of an Obama presidency, Mr. McCain replied, “I want to be president of the United States and obviously I do not want Senator Obama to be, but I have to tell you -- I have to tell you -- he is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared' of as president of the United States.'' The crowd booed loudly at Mr. McCain’s response.Later, a woman stood up at the meeting, held at Lakeville South High School in a far suburb of Minneapolis, and told Mr. McCain that she could not trust Mr. Obama because he was an ''Arab.''
Mr. McCain replied: ''No, ma'am, he's a decent family man, citizen who I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. And that's what this campaign is all about.'' At that, the crowd applauded.
That man resembled the John McCain I interviewed
in his office in 1999 during a hearing into Olympic business, the same John McCain who led a bunch of vets who shipped materials over to Vietnam. When I asked him why he did that, after his suffering during captivity, McCain shrugged and said it was the right thing to do.
We need somebody like that John McCain now, when a Franklin Graham can decide who is a Christian and who is not, when a Rick Santorum can talk about a “phony theology” and when a Newt Gingrich can accuse a president of being “dangerous.” Americans know the code words; we understand what is going down.
We need an arbiter who can draw some kind of line with the words: “I have to tell you.”
We only saw that guy once in the 2008 campaign. Wouldn’t it be nice if he could have another awakening this spring, to inject a note of decency into the silly season?
After 40 years, the name still haunts me.
I think of people and homes and cars, scattered like toys, demolished by a capricious child.
The morning of Feb. 26, 1972, looked pretty much like coastal Japan during the tsunami of 2011, except this destruction was man-made.
The coal company had created an earthen dam near the top of the valley, to capture waste slag and water from the mine. Apparently, they never counted on a heavy rain.
They called it a "hundred-year rain." I would hear that phrase every few months, somewhere.
I was working in Kentucky as a national correspondent for The New York Times when I got the call. The dam had let loose near dawn on Saturday morning. By the time I drove across to West Virginia, the death toll was heading toward 125.
I went to a shelter at the local school and found a man who had been up on the hill tending to his garden when the dam broke, and he watched the wall of water sweep his family away.
This was my second coal disaster, after Hyden, Ky., on Dec. 30, 1970. My boss, the great reporter and editor, Gene Roberts, had prepared me for covering Appalachia by telling me that if you spoke quietly and carried yourself respectfully – not like the stereotype of the network broadcaster -- people would talk to you, because they needed to tell their story.
The man described watching his house tumble down Buffalo Creek, with his wife and children inside. He said they had no warning, despite the heavy rain on Friday.
They all knew the earthen dam was up on the hill. Perfectly safe, the coal companies said.
Then again, coal companies claimed coal dust was good for you. Could cure the common cold.
* * *
In my first hours in West Virginia, I got very lucky, in the journalistic sense.
This was before computers and the Internet and cell phones. I needed a landline to call my story to the office in New York, so I knocked on a door, and an old lady let me use her phone, and then she invited me to stay for supper.
After we said grace, she and her grown son casually mentioned that a friend of theirs had been up on the hill trying to shore up the earthen dam that morning. As the water exploded from the dam, their friend had suffered a nervous breakdown and was in the Appalachian Regional Hospital down in the valley.
Poor feller, they said.
That piece of information told me the coal company had known the dam was in trouble for hours before it blew. Yet the valley was not warned.
The next morning the sun was out, and I found a lawyer from the regional coal company. I indentified myself as a reporter from the Times, and casually asked about the relationship with the major energy company in New York.
He said the company still had to investigate the cause, and he added, “but we don’t deny it is potentially a great liability.”
When the story appeared in the Times the next day, the lawyer denied saying it, but I let them know I had very clear notes in my notepad. And to this day, I still have that notepad, sitting right here on my desk, and every notepad I have used since. You just never know.
* * *
With the 40th anniversary coming up, I got in touch with Ford Reid, who was a photographer for the Louisville Courier-Journal back then, and has remained my friend ever since. Ford was at Buffalo Creek for over a week. I asked him to jot down his impressions, and he described the narrow valley as looking like “pickup sticks.”
Ford described the scene at the high school: “Families huddled in corners with Red Cross blankets and perhaps a few things they had managed to grab before scurrying up the hillsides to avoid the wall of water."
Ford added: “Military search and rescue helicopters used the football field next to the school as a landing area. At the first sound of an incoming chopper, people would rush out of the building and toward the field, hoping that a missing relative or friend would step off the aircraft. When that happened, there were shrieks and tears of joy. But it didn’t happen often. Mostly there were just tears.”
* * *
We all went to funerals in the next days, hearing the plaintive wail of the mourners and the mountain church choirs, a sound that still cuts through me.
My original reporting that the company had a man on a ‘dozer up on the hill during that heavy rain held up, as survivors told their stories of not being warned.
In the years to come, the testimony of the survivors was used in three class-action suits that yielded a total of $19.3-million, according to the records. I do not know how that worked out for the 5,000 people displaced or killed by that flood. From what I see and hear, nothing much changes in Appalachia.
Nowadays, I hear people talk about the solution for the energy crisis. The industry and politicians like to use the phrase “clean coal.”
Aint no such thing.
* * *
For more about Buffalo Creek, I suggest:http://appalshop.org/channel/2010/buffalo-creek-excerpt.htmlhttp://www.wvculture.org/history/disasters/buffcreekgovreport.htmlhttp://wiki.colby.edu/display/es298b/Buffalo+Creek+Disaster-+WHAT
Funeral at Buffalo Creek, Photo by Ford Reid
Just say it out loud, the mantra that gets some of us through the winter.
Pitchers and catchers, pitchers and catchers.
The good time is upon us.
The batteries are reporting in Arizona and Florida.
The New York Times has a touching recollection
of the first dippy spring of the Mets, when Casey Stengel tried to convince people he was managing a contender.
Robert Lipsyte, who was there in St. Petersburg that first spring, describes what it was like. My first team – Newsday – also caught the sweet goofiness of the Mets, telling people it was really all right to enjoy whatever was coming next from this motley bunch.
Pitchers and catchers. The Amazing Mets, Casey called them. Too old, too young, too marginal. But what a good time.
In the spirit of pitchers and catchers and rejuvenation and springtime, I am sharing a poem that popped over my transom the other day, from Brian Doyle, not the guy who batted .438
for the Yankees in the 1978 World Series or a bunch of other Brian Doyles, but a writer and editor
in Portland, Oregon. He sent it to me; I send it to you, with his permission.Poem to Celebrate the Day that Pitchersand Catchers Report to Training Camp
One time years ago when I was a geeky goofy gawky teenager
I stood on the baseball mound and waited as our coach ambled
Out to give me advice or take me out, I couldn’t tell just which
From his face. Even though I had walked a couple of guys and
Another kid had hit a ball so hard it bounced through the fence
Before the outfielders could react, the coach didn’t seem angry.
Coaches on other
teams got mad and threw things and shouted,
But not our coach, that I remember. When our coach arrived at
The mound I held out the ball, as we had been taught, and tried
To stay calm, but he said no no, stay in, you’re doing just great,
I just came out to talk a little. Boy, did that kid crush that curve
Or what? I haven’t seen a ball hit that hard in years. You notice
The sound the bat made? Kind of a basso whunk
I would call that sound. Inarguable. Instantly identifiable, right?
I don’t think we spend sufficient time appreciating the sonorous
Aspects of the game, you know what I mean? The small musics,
You might say. Like how the fungo bat has a high note. Sounds
Sort of happy and relaxed, a before-the-game sound. And cleats
On concrete, that sounds cool. Clatter, that’s the word. So, what
Are you going to throw this next kid? I’d just stay with the heat;
Now, I know you say you have no control, and while that’s true,
You may actually suddenly achieve
control – it’s not impossible.
And remember that every wild pitch causes trepidation and awe,
Which are not conducive to hitting. Hey, look a blue heron! See,
Right there, by the right field line! Wow. Okay, kid, go get them. Brian Doyle
During this silly season, I have been reassuring my wife that if Mitt Romney were somehow elected president he would not be a total disaster.
“I’m telling you, he could take in information and make rational decisions,” I kept saying.
“Better than those other guys,” I often added.
My deep political analysis of Romney was based upon meeting him at Olympic press conferences from 1999 through 2002.
Plus, I had breakfast with him
in Sydney, I told my wife, recalling the one-on-one interview in 2000, during the Summer Games.
What did I remember from that breakfast?
He doesn’t drink coffee.
Duh, he’s a Mormon, she said.
Lately, however, Romney has been characterized by a forced laugh and brittle syntax and rigid posture and plummeting ratings – and that’s within his own party.
How did Mitt’s personal piano get so badly out of tune? Or was it always that way, and it didn't matter?
I remember a breezy, contemporary guy who was learning about the Olympic movement on the fly, and was able to joke about himself with normal language and personal skills.
Romney came across my periscope after some officials connected to the Salt Lake City organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Games were caught giving bribes and doing favors
for members of the International Olympic Committee. The host city needed a new leader who could command respect out there in the world, and it reached out to Mitt Romney, who had grown up in Michigan and made his bundle in Massachusetts.
“In his work for Bain & Company,” I wrote, “he was a leader among alpha males in nearly identical dark suits and blue shirts and red suspenders who worked long hours and shared a secret handshake and made tons of money. You've heard of Moonies? These guys are called Bainies. He's not exactly a naif. He saw his father, the late George W. Romney, run into a buzz saw when he ventured outside Michigan to try to run for president.”
Romney immediately tried to impose Bainie efficiency on the Salt Lake City effort while learning about the Olympic movement.
''I had no notion of who Juan Antonio Samaranch was,'' Romney said referring to the venerable Olympic leader. “I had no idea what the International Olympic Committee did. I didn't know it was located in Lausanne. I knew nothing about the United States Olympic Committee. The only thing I read on the sports pages were the results.”
He acknowledged that he had a big job ahead of him.
“I specialize in turnarounds,'' he said, with dry humor.
I asked Romney about his previous public foray in 1994, when he ran for the Senate against the incumbent from Massachusetts.
''I learned a lot from Ted Kennedy,'' Romney said. ''He's the master. I used to say, 'Wow, are they good.' ''
After taking a thumping from Kennedy, Romney went back to making money for the Bainies. But in 2000 he was heeding the call from U.S. Olympic movement.
“My wife talked me into it,” Romney said, referring to Ann Romney, who had attended Brigham Young University, just as he had.
The way he said it, I got the impression of a good marriage -- two people who got along, who talked about stuff.
“She told me, 'You have exactly the background.' The more I thought about it, I realized, we're only here for one lifetime. I was making more money than I should have. It was time to do something different.”
I asked Romney what he had learned from the lavish stadium-building and urban infrastructure upgrading in Sydney. He said there was no way a Winter Olympics in Utah was going to spend the way the Australians had splurged on the Summer Games. His stance came off as financially conservative, not “severely Conservative,” as Romney has re-cast himself in recent desperate days.
“It's politically unacceptable,” he said of Olympic largesse in the U.S. “Here it's national pride. For us, it's city and state. I doubt that somebody in Vermont would feel the same way about the Games, even the people who love winter sports.''
He looked ahead to the Winter Games in 2002 and said, “We're going to be like the family that says it doesn't have money at Christmas and is going to have to get back to the old spirit.”
When Salt Lake City’s turn came, the United States was still receiving worldwide sympathy for the attacks in the previous September. The populace of Utah was more than ready for the challenge of being good hosts.
Mormons have lived all over the world as missionaries and they speak other languages better than most Americans do, and they are attuned to the differences in people. This worldliness and sense of service produced thousands of superb hosts, paid and voluntary.
Romney was the leader of this fine effort -- handsome and smart, energetic and competent.
It is also true that he did not have to run for that office. He was recruited, as a techno-manager, brought in to do a very specific job. In replacing bribers and favor-givers, the old burghers of a singular corner of the country, Romney came off as a fresh and honest and capable breeze. For that job.
These days, I turn on the tube and look for the man who made the slalom run on time.
Campaigning for president is a totally different game. The confident manager of a three-week party now exudes the mixed message of condescension and flop-sweat realization that things are going badly.
Gov. Chris Christie is absolutely right in his decision to lower the flags in New Jersey for Whitney Houston, leading up to her funeral in Newark on Saturday.On WCBS radio Wednesday
, Christie said her home state was honoring her as a “cultural icon," not as a “role model.”
What Gov. Christie suggested – and what preachers and mourners will surely say on Saturday – is that people have the responsibility to love the person while lamenting any possible failings.
“And I’m disturbed by people who believe that because her ultimate demise, and we don’t know what is the cause of her death yet, but because of her history of substance abuse, that somehow she’s forfeited the good things that she did in her life. I just reject that on a human level,” Christie said to Levon Putney.
“When I’ve seen these messages and e-mails that have come to me, you know, disparaging her
for her struggles with substance abuse, and what I say to everybody is, there but for the grace of God go I.”
The church and community that will say goodbye to Houston understands that everybody falls short, in some way. The governor struck the right tone as well as substance, giving hints of the mature and compassionate adult inside.
Whitney Houston was a native daughter of New Jersey. She did not die while robbing a bank, or pushing fraudulent mortgages, for that matter. She is surely loved and admired for her talent and also as the human who touched many others. The governor of her home state gets it.
This web site is a projection of what I know best, from all my fun decades in journalism. I write something and, great googamooga, it gets published. On line, but published.
I do not understand Twitter. I don’t know who is talking to whom. I don’t know the difference between Followers and Following and Followed.
I feel like a bloke who mistakenly wanders into a dark room and becomes aware of an orgy going on. (Plato’s Re-Tweet?) I don’t know who is doing what, and to whom -- and why? But it is most certainly going on.
I know people tweet. In the past year or two, I have sat in baseball press boxes (nobody argues anymore) and watched my talented young colleagues who do such good work hunched over little devices, twiddling their thumbs in controlled fashion. Occasionally, somebody chimes up: “Good one.”
The other day, my web guru enrolled me in Twitter; she says hundreds of people signed up Tuesday. I am stunned, and honored, and confused. I will try to live up to expectations.
Which are? (Comments welcome)
The Garden, 2009. Photo courtesy of Transcending.
Wat Misaka did me the honor of calling back Monday night and giving his viewpoint on Jeremy Lin.
We haven't seen each other since the summer of 2009, when he saw his name
on a 1947-48 team plaque outside the Knicks' locker room.
Misaka's comments are up and running on the NY Times site.On Tuesday night, Lin hit a 3-pointer in the final second for a 90-87 victory.
I just looked it up: because of the strike, the Knicks don't play in Utah in this short season. Wat Misaka is going to have to do his rooting via the tube. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/15/sports/basketball/knicks-pioneer-roots-for-the-underdog-in-lin-george-vecsey.html?ref=sports