I am currently polishing my book about the eight World Cups I have covered, enjoying memories from Barcelona in 1982 to the American rally against Algeria in 2010 on a goal by – now here’s a name from the past -- Landon Donovan.
The bulk of the book needs to be turned in by July 1 so it can be published next May, before the World Cup in Brazil.
However, the last chapter is just sitting there, unfinished and unresolved. Right now it looks like the editor could be waiting for the final chunk of copy in late November.
Our Lads are currently in the middle of six finalists from their region. The American team plays its two final qualifiers, against Jamaica in Kansas City on Oct. 11, and in Panama on Oct. 15. But if the Yanks finish fourth, they will have to play a home-and-home series against New Zealand, the winner from the Oceania Football Confederation, in November.
After watching the Americans once again look inadequate in a friendly against Belgium on Wednesday night, I don’t see them dominating their Concacaf region. Jurgen Klinsmann’s team plays his home nation of Germany in Washington, D.C., on Sunday at 2:30 PM in good old RFK Stadium.
The Germans have not called in regulars from Bayern Munich or Dortmund, who played in the Champions League final last Saturday, but I think reserve players from the Bundesliga could infiltrate the American defense.
This generation – at least the version assembled and coached by Klinsmann – is clearly not working out. After watching the defense bumble against Belgium, I am extremely nostalgic for stalwarts of the past.
Whatever Donovan has left, can you imagine how he could open up the field with his speed and experience?
As of now, the last chapter in my soccer book is sitting there, awaiting a conclusion.
In the Copacabana section of Rio de Janeiro, Altenir Jose Silva imitates John Sterling.
Silva is a writer with television and movie credits in Brazil, and he also writes in English, including a recent play about F. Scott Fitzgerald.
He also pays around $70 a year to subscribe to a web site that streams Yankee games, direct from New York. He works on his English by shouting, “YANKEES WIN! Thuh-h-h-h-h Yankees! Win!”
(It’s only fair. Some Americans imitate soccer goal calls by South Americans.)
Silva and I become email pals, and he is a frequent contributor to this site.
Recently, he visited New York for a screenplay course and he and his wife, Célia, took their last big trip before she delivers their first child, after years of marriage.
We met for the first time at Foley’s, the Irish baseball pub on W. 33rd St. and he had already bought tickets to last Saturday’s Yankee game. Altenir and Célia were glad to hear Curtis Granderson was back in the lineup after his injury; Altenir gave his version of John Sterling’s rendition of “The Grandy-man can, oh the Grandy-man can.”
From the nation of Pelé and Sócrates and Romario and Neymar, a man sings of Curtis Granderson.
The very nice publicity director of the Yankees, Jason Zillo, arranged for a greeting for Altenir and Célia on the message board before the home half of the third. I advised them to have their cameras ready.
They are great tourists. On their last night here, they caught Woody Allen’s weekly appearance at the Café Carlyle with The Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band. Now they are back home in Rio. Instead of imitating Tom Jobim or Caetano Veloso, Altenir warbles along with John Sterling.
The link is Jamaica High School, built to last forever, high on a glacial hill.
The White family moved into the house in 1938. Jean White was our class president for 1956, a born leader. President for Life, we call her.
Jean was captain of the cheerleaders when her boy friend Eddie Grenning played for Brooklyn Tech against Jamaica, in the PSAL semifinals in 1955. Then she led the cheers for Alan Seiden and Artie Benoit as Jamaica won the title.
When Eddie passed, way too young, Jean sought out adventures, getting air-lifted onto a remote island in Alaska, where she spent a winter working as a community liaison. Now she lives on another island, called Manhattan.
A few weeks ago, Jean White Grenning was in the old neighborhood and decided to take a look at her childhood home, which the Whites had sold to the Forrestals in 1977. Jackie Forrestal sent her daughter Kathy to Jamaica High, where she worked on the school paper, the Hilltopper, and loved her time there.
On this spring day, Jackie and Kathy were both gardening in the front yard when Jean dropped by. So much history in that meeting. Jackie has become a leading activist, sticking up for the legacy of Jamaica High, as the city, in a fit of Pol Pot nihilism, has sought to destroy the landmark high schools. Jamaica High is being phased out, with the gorgeous indestructible building turned over to the new fad in education, boutique mini-schools.
In its time, Jamaica nurtured Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat from Houston, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Stephen Jay Gould, Bob Beamon, epic Olympic long-jumper, Paul Bowles, Sid Davidoff and Herb London. Four friends of mine, who lived a few blocks from each other, became doctors, some still working.
The last legal hopes for Jamaica High are stalled somewhere in the court system; Jackie Forrestal goes to meetings, reminding people that her daughter Kathy had a great time in Jamaica not so long ago. Jackie has come to be the caretaker for bound issues of the Hilltopper, our school paper, and other treasures, just in case the school somehow emerges from this dark age.
A few weeks ago, Jean White Grenning and her brother Stuart White took the subway to Parsons Blvd and walked up 164th St., visiting their old church, the First Methodist Church of Jamaica. “The minister graciously showed us around the church and explained that he would be leaving for another church in South Jamaica. In general, he said, church attendance is down all over.”
They stopped in the old candy store, now a deli, and talked to new owner who has been there six years. Then they visited their old house, a few blocks from Jamaica High, and Jackie showed them around the house “which looks the same to us. We then walked to Union Turnpike stopped in another deli (now Korean) and peeked into the windows of Dante's which did not open until 4 o'clock.” (Back in the day, Dante’s was a mere pizzeria, where everybody went after the basketball games.)
Jean and her brother walked up 168th St. to Jamaica High, where they chatted with a few boys in one science-oriented mini-school. “They were unsure if they liked the smaller school and thought maybe they would like a bigger school,” she said.
The neighborhood has changed; there is a bustling mosque on 168th St. A few years ago, I had a great time visiting some classes at the old school; I felt Jamaica High was still producing strong people like the Whites and the Forrestals.
In New York we have multiples of everything – exquisite Indian restaurants or places where the roti is as heavy as a discus. The same applies to our sports teams – eight of them overlapping in the early spring.
The Devils vanished early, the Nets could not sustain; and the Islanders taught their doomed constituency to care again. The Red Bulls are in first place under my man Mike Petke. The Rangers won a seventh game on the road. And the Yankees are doing amazingly with replacements, showing that Brian Cashman is indeed a dandy general manager when he is not rappelling or sky-diving. Or maybe because he does.
That brings us to the Mets, who are reaching the nether level that was preordained once the budget was shrunk. The Mets are squabbling over the temper tantrums of Jordany Valdespin. Rick Ankiel as the great center-field hope -- the ball clanking off his borrowed glove? Oy.
Then there are the Knicks, who managed to win a playoff series against Boston, but are the dysfunctional playoff team they always were going to become.
The great Harvey Araton – once labeled The Rebbe of Roundball – dissects the imperfections of Carmelo Anthony in the Wednesday New York Times.
Anthony is a point machine, which is fine for the regular season, when every night is Garbage Time. But he is not a player for pollen season, when defenses tighten up, when the Hibberts of the world assert themselves.
Anthony is the softest superstar you will ever see. The Knicks brain trust surrounded him with ancient guardians with the mobility of the Xi’an terracotta warriors. I could have sworn I spotted Wally Osterkorn, Bob Brannum and Al McGuire from the old elbow-wielding days of the N.B.A. But none of the imported tough guys could give Anthony the imagination of a true superstar.
Can I drop a name on you? I know Jeremy Lin did not have a great playoff round with Houston, but I still have the memory of him penetrating defenses and finding the open man in his wonderful Linsanity flurry a year ago. He made his teammates better – even Steve Novak – but Anthony demanded the ball early and often. This was always going to happen once the Knick ownership broke up a very decent developing team two years ago, to bring in Anthony for a sugar rush of points.
Now the Xi’an warriors are calcified; Anthony and J.R. Smith keep chucking away. It is mid-May and they are exposed. This was always going to happen in the playoffs. But it could be worse. The Knicks could be the Mets.
When Jim Brown returned to his old high school last week, everybody had stories about how he dominated five different sports.
I also learned something about a friend of mine, the late Dick Schaap. Somehow, I had never known Dick played lacrosse – against Jim Brown – when Dick was at Cornell and Brown was at Syracuse. Back in the day, Cornell used to compete with its upstate neighbor in many sports. I did know that.
The lacrosse history was in Dick’s autobiography which came out before he died at the end of 2001, but either I skipped over it, or forgot.
I thought of Dick as a great and gregarious journalist, who knew everybody, and threw great Super Bowl parties, but I never knew of this bond between two Long Island guys, Schaap from Freeport and Brown from Manhasset.
Now I know they played against each other on May 18, 1955. Brown was a sophomore star in football and basketball, and was building his legend as the greatest lacrosse player ever.
Dick was the goalkeeper for Cornell, wearing No. 21. He later claimed Brown fired a dozen or more goals past him, one of which he actually saw. But the Cornell Chronicle set the record straight in its tribute to Dick when he passed:
“Probably the most notable lacrosse game during Schaap's athletic career was on May 18, 1955. Syracuse barely beat Cornell, 13-12, scoring the winning goal with about a minute left in double overtime. Syracuse's Jim Brown, who would later become a National Football League legend, scored four goals against Schaap, who made 20 saves in that game.”
Schaap liked to play up the terror he felt at seeing Brown in a lacrosse uniform. That may have been the same day that Cornell’s football coach, Lefty James, saw Brown jog out to play lacrosse, and said something to the effect of, ''Oh my goodness, they let him play with a stick?''
The fact that Schaap was a jock before he was a celebrity made me enjoy a photo, entitled Three Great Cornell Goalies. Dick is on the left. Ken Dryden who helped win a national hockey championship with Cornell in 1967 and six Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens, is in the middle. And Bob Rule, who won the first official N.C.A.A. lacrosse title with Cornell in 1971, is on the right.
Rule was also a backup goalie on the Cornell hockey team that won the national title in 1970, which, according to Arthur Kaminsky, another member of the Cornell tribe, makes Rule the only athlete to win N.C.A.A. titles in two team sports.
And Dick Schaap almost beat Jim Brown. (Some of these details were verified by another Cornell guy, Jeremy Schaap, the terrific ESPN journalist, Dick’s son, who notes that his dad was named second team All-East as a senior.)
Dick had such regard for Brown that he would not participate in the Heisman Trophy voting for decades because Brown had been passed over for the Heisman after his senior year at Syracuse. As the saying goes, learn something every day. .
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Two more things about Jim Brown: My friend and neighbor Paul Nuzzolese played baseball against Brown when Paul was a sophomore in nearby Port Washington. Paul thinks he struck out Brown (“That was the least of his sports.”)
Paul was out of the game when Brown scored on a Mookie-esque dribbler. The first baseman backed away from contact with Brown and a throw went past him. Brown kept going and was sliding into third base, but the third baseman sidestepped him and the ball zipped past, and Brown raced home. Under-standable, Nuzzolese said, considering everybody had seen Brown run over people during the football season.
Nuzzolese recently saw Brown visit the Henry Viscardi School in Albertson, N.Y., which does such great work with severely disabled students. (Brown’s old Manhasset teammate, Michael Pascucci, is involved with the school.) Nuzzolese said Brown could not have been nicer with the students, talking with them, up close and personal. In old age, when he comes home, Jim Brown adds to his legend.
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.