Category Archives: Athletics

Super Reflections

super bowl

(Photo credit: sinosplice)

I’m old enough to say that I’ve watched and enjoyed all 47 Super Bowls, and eagerly await the next one, which hopefully will include my team, the Seahawks. Never been to a Super Bowl, but that only means I’ve missed the hoopla, not the game.

Thoroughly enjoyed Sunday’s game as the Ravens held off a 49ers comeback.  Has to rank among the best just for its down-to-the-wire finish.  Game turned on a kickoff return and clutch defense. This could’ve been one for the ages if San Francisco had completed its comeback. Now it’s just one for the ages for Baltimore fans.

I was a football player myself when the Super Bowls started in the late 1960s and felt more personally linked to the action in those days.

Sorta like naming the presidents, I can pretty much recall every Super Bowl winner, although the order might be skewed. And like the presidents, I remember the early and recent ones best.

I grew up admiring Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers and read Jerry Kramer’s “Instant Replay” as gospel. Read it on the recommendation of my high school coach, who was a big Lombardi man in his own right. Recall the scene in “Instant Replay” where Kramer talks about going out for ice cream at training camp and ducking around a corner when he spotted Lombardi approaching. Not that Kramer was doing anything wrong, mind you; he just didn’t want the coach to see him enjoying himself for fear of  what he “might” say. Had a similar respect for my high school coach, who was a  tough ol’ bird to play for, but a source of pride for me years later when I’d still rather eat a cigarette than allow him to see me smoking one.

Memorable Super Bowls for me include those involving friends who also played for my old high school coach: Curt Marsh with the Raiders in 1984, coach Keith Gilbertson Jr. with the Seahawks in 2006  and coach Bret Ingalls with the Saints in 2009. Always been a Seahawks fan, so the 2006 loss to the Steelers remains particularly vivid.

Before the Seahawks, I very much liked the Vikings coached by Bud Grant and the Cowboys under Tom Landry,  in addition to Lombardi’s Packers. I also appreciated Chuck Noll’s Steelers, John Madden’s  Raiders and Marv Levy’s Bills.  Never cared much for the Raiders after the Madden days, or the John Elway-led Broncos when they were division rivals of the Seahawks. Not much of a 49ers fan now either for the same reason.

 I like offensive football as much as the next guy, but I like good defense even more, which led me to embrace Minnesota’s Purple People Eaters, Miami’s No-Names, Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain and Dallas’ Doomsday Defense in the 1970s.

Most Memorable Super Bowls

1. Seahawks losing to the Steelers in 2006.

2. Joe Namath delivering on his victory guarantee in the Jets’ 16-7  upset of the Colts in 1969.

3.  Dolphins’ 14-7 win over the Redskins in 1973 to cap a perfect season.

4. Giants’ 17-14  win over the Patriots in 2008, spoiling New England’s perfect season.

5.  Steelers’ 27-23 win over the Cardinals in 2009.

6. Giants’ 21-17 win over the Patriots in their 2012 rematch.

7.  Ravens’ 34-31 win over the 49ers on Sunday.

8.  Colts’ 16-13 win over Dallas on Jim O’Brien’s last-minute field goal in 1971.

9. Bills’ 20-19 loss to the Giants in 1991 on Scott Norwood’s missed field goal on the final play.

10. Chiefs’ 23-7 win over Minnesota in 1970 to give the AFL it’s second SB win prior to the NFL-AFL merger.

Most Memorable Super Bowl Plays

1. Miami kicker Garo Yepremian’s botched pass after a blocked field goal, and Mike Bass’ subsequent TD interception return, in the Dolphins’ 14-7 win over the Redskins in 1973.

2. John Mackey’s tipped-ball, 75-yard  TD catch  from John Unitas in the Colts’ win over the Cowboys in 1971 in the first Super Bowl after the  NFL-AFL merger.

3. Jackie Smith’s dropped pass in the end zone in the Cowboys’  35-31 loss to the Steelers in 1979.

4.  James Harrison’s 100-yard interception return in the  Steelers’ 27-23 win over the Cardinals 2009.

5. Mike Jones stopping Kevin Dyson a yard short of the end zone on the final play in St. Louis’ 23-16 win over the Titans in 2000.

6. David Tyree’s one-handed, top-of-the-head catch from Eli Manning during the Giants’ game-winning drive against the Patriots in 2008.

7. Mario Manningham’s clutch 38-yard reception from Eli Manning in the Giants’ game-winning drive against the Patriots in 2012.

8. Jacoby Jones’ 108-yard kickoff return in Baltimore’s win over San Francisco on Sunday.

9. Willie Parker’s 75-yard TD run against the Seahawks in 2006.

10. Joe Montana’s game-winning TD pass to John Taylor in the final seconds of the 49ers’ 20-16 win over the Bengals in 1989.


Filed under Athletics

Leaf Laughter

While raking leaves the other day, I time-traveled back more than 20 years to when my little girl used to keep me company in the yard and play in the leaf piles as they accumulated.

My daughter’s laughter ranks No. 1 in the archive of audio clips in my brain. Leaf laughter had bit of a squeal to it as she dug out from being buried alive. Or threw herself on a mounded pile and burrowed down to hide. She was hesitant at first, until I dove in for a demonstration. After that, there was no holding her back.  Could never bag the leaves or put them in the recycle bin until after she was played out and inside napping.

She was so tiny back then, she used to hide behind  a rhubarb plant in my backyard flower bed. Her mom outfitted her in cute clothes, but really it was the girl who made the outfits cute. Rubber boots. OshKosh pants or overalls. Jacket or sweater, both with hoods on them, or some kind of hat with animal ears pulled snug over blonde hair, blue eyes and sweet smiling lips from which came that glorious, precious, carefree laugh.

Back then, I had only the leaves from one pear tree to contend with.  I’ve since added a pair of birch trees on north side of my yard, tripling the area of the red, yellow and brown leaf carpet and rising up closer to the house to fill my rain gutters, too.  There’s now a small maple tree in the front yard as well, adding scarlet leaves to the boughs, berries and brown shakings that blow down off the three cedar trees grouped in the southeast corner of my place. The cedars offer great foliage for Christmas wreaths, but we’re in no hurry for that, with Halloween and Thanksgiving still to savor. The magnolia trees that my daughter and I planted in her youth on the south side of our yard retain most of their leaves but still shed year-round.

Fall also brings to mind the sound of the cannon they used to fire at Snohomish High football games after every touchdown. You could hear it all over town. That tradition started when I was in school and ended shortly after my daughter graduated when the cannon, apparently stuffed with an oversized charge,  blew up and injured one of the ROTC kids manning the gun.  Great fun while it lasted.  Football fortunes have seemingly been down ever since.

The grown girl doesn’t jump in my leaf piles anymore, but, unlike the cannon, I still hear her live laughter on a regular basis, and my fortunes are reassured.


Filed under Athletics, Memoirs

A Life Well Played

When my friend and former high school football coach Keith Gilbertson Sr. died in February of 2011, I contacted the minister doing the funeral and gave him a copy of the classic Grantland Rice poem “Alumnus Football,” suggesting that he reflect on the verses and think of Gilby as the “wise old coach Experience” while preparing his homily.

Can’t say whether the reverend took my advice. He made no mention of Rice or the poem during the service, although he and others spoke in glowing terms of the great and modest man who coached at Snohomish High School for 61 years, including the last 30 as an unpaid volunteer.

Keith Gilbertson Sr. bust at Snohomish High School

“For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against  your name, he writes not that you won or lost, but how you played the game.”

from “Alumnus Football” by Grantland Rice

Since Gilby’s death, I’ve written and/or edited some two dozen articles about him in conjunction with a fund-raising effort to permanently endow an annual SHS memorial scholarship in his name.  Sadly, the campaign has yet to generate the groundswell of grass-roots support that we expected among from the thousands of students, athletes and teaching/coaching colleagues that Gilby touched over the years.

Next to Grantland Rice, I feel a bit like Edward Everett speaking for hours at Gettysburg before being upstaged by Lincoln’s brief and appropriate remarks deemed closer to the central idea of the occasion.

I’ve written that Coach Gilbertson lived what he always taught: Whatever you do, give it your best shot. But I don’t think I’ve conveyed the spiritual side of the wise old coach and mentor as well as Rice did nearly 100 years ago on Nov. 2, 1914, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


Filed under Athletics, Memoirs, Religion

Inner-Tube Baseball

Long before there were video games or paint-ball guns, my buddy Gale and I developed a game of our own called inner-tube baseball. It was an offshoot of Whiffle ball after our last plastic ball either caved in from overuse or got belted into the neighbor’s blackberries.

All you needed for inner-tube baseball was a wood bat and an inner tube like any of the ones we all used to float down the Pilchuck River in the summers of our youth. But the game was unique in that you could only play it in my backyard, because of the ground rules.

Muttsy was a pitcher’s best friend in inner-tube baseball, unless his chain on the drag wire cracked you in the head.

Pitching and hitting was  simple. You rolled the inner tube toward the batter, and he smacked it with the bat. Any tube rolling past the pitcher was a single. Past the pitcher in the air was a double. Past the pitcher and over my dog Muttsy’s elevated drag wire was a home run. The drag wire ran half the length of our backyard,  six to seven feet off the ground, between the garage and the catalpa tree,  just this side of the clothesline. The foul lines ran from home plate to the grape arbor in left field and from home to the corner of the chicken coop in right.  Home plate to the drag wire was maybe 25  feet. There were also two fielding hazards to consider: 1) a raised water spigot roughly 12 inches high in right-center, and 2) Muttsy getting excited by any passing person or animal and racing blindly across the field, pulling his chain along the drag wire and head-smacking anyone in the way.

There was no baserunning in inner-tube baseball.  Every swing was either a hit or an out. Any tube snagged in the air was an out, whether it cleared the drag wire or not, and anything smothered before getting past the pitcher was also an out. Two tubes hit foul or any tube that happened to strike Muttsy, fair or foul, also constituted an out.

And, as a carryover from plastic baseball, you had to announce who you were before every at-bat:  Mantle . . . Mays . . . Maris . . .  Yastrzemski . . . Frank or Brooks Robinson  . . .  Clemente . . .  Kaline . . .  Aaron . . . Alou (any of the three) . . .  Frank Howard . . . Boog Powell . . . Tony Oliva.  Gale favored the Giants and the Orioles, while I liked the Yankees and Twins. Gale’s dad once duck-hunted with Harmon Killebrew, so that made him a dual favorite in my yard.

It was mostly a game of strength, as you had to hit it well to clear the drag wire. Anything popped up was  caught, so you had to hit liners or launch like Willie McCovey. Grounders down either line had a chance to get through, but anything  up the middle on the ground was an easy out.

Being stronger, Gale had the upper hand from the start. Then my big brother Skip waded in to challenge the winner and he dominated.

“Way to go, dumbass,” he taunted me, “inventing a game that you can’t beat anyone at!”

That eventually spelled the end for inner-tube baseball. That and the drag wire getting broken or pulled down so many times that it no longer functioned as a measuring rod or a dog restraint.

Still, it was fun while it lasted. Even if I never beat anyone.


Filed under Athletics, Memoirs

Gator Baiter

It was a probably a bad idea in the first place for Ned “Buck” Tyler to flip off the impatient biker  trying to get around his shiny Airstream trailer with the “Buckeye Buck” banner on the gravel road leading from Gator Lake in central Florida.

The finger from the Ohio State football junkie went up in answer to the biker’s shaking fist as the speeding motorcycle approached the diver’s side window of Ned’s scarlet and gray Suburban, en route to the OSU-Florida game in Gainesville after an overnight stop to buy booze, sex and some alligator meat. Ned didn’t actually intend to run the biker off the road, but he lost control a bit on the loose gravelGator face with only one hand on the wheel and drifted over enough to push the biker onto the soft shoulder and subsequently off the road and into a swamp water bath.

“Whoa, sorry there, pal,” Tyler uttered, although not sorry enough to stop, or even slow down. “That’s what you get for messin’ with the Buck.”

Buck Tyler always had an inflated image of himself ever since playing sousaphone in the OSU matching band and, more than once, getting to dot the “i” in the band’s script OHIO halftime maneuver. An insufferable Buckeye booster ever since, he bought the Airstream to supply home luxury at every OSU road football game he could get to, pulling into tailgate areas on Friday afternoons and usually staying until they threw him out on Sunday night or Monday morning.

He hit Gainesville right on schedule and made himself at home, cranking up the OSU fight song to play incessantly and setting up Lois, his bodacious Buckeye mannequin cheerleader with the nicest pompoms you ever saw, outside the trailer door. He then started to grill gator steaks, drink heavily and swap barbs with all the Florida fans within shouting distance, promising everyone a sound thrashing on game day.

The Gator baiting went on past midnight, when a drunken Buck finally retired for the night, unaware of the swamp-stinky figure that strolled into the tailgate area looking for the Airstream with the Buckeye Buck banner. Next morning,  when security was called to determine what had happened, funny how nobody had seen or heard anything.

They found the Suburban inoperable from a half-rotten gator snout stuffed into the tailpipe. Lois lay headless, armless and topless, wearing only a pair of men’s UF swim trunks with a cucumber stuffed inside the front, while her head, arms, cheer suit and pompoms smoldered nearby next to a half-can of kerosene.

There was a gaping hole in the back of the trailer, where someone appeared to have cut through with a chain saw, but there was no sign of Buckeye Buck.

“Hmmm,” the security chief muttered as he surveyed the damages. “Fella must’ve gone a little overboard with his partying last night. Gonna have to write him up for that open fire!”

(Note: This was written as a Writers Kickstart prompt containing the following elements: an Airstream trailer with back ripped off, a sousaphone, a rotten alligator snout, a half-can of kerosene and a headless, armless female mannequin in men’s swim trunks.)

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Dolan to Doubleday to Chance

It’s October, and I’m feeling a resurgence of baseball interest with the major league playoffs about to begin. I played baseball as a kid,  and, after overcoming fear of failure,  managed to gain confidence, if not athletic competence,  on the Little League fields of Snohomish, Wash., home of Baseball Hall of Famer Earl Averill and a half-dozen other big-league players. Farther from home, my wife’s paternal grandfather and two other relatives played pro baseball in the  early 1900s, and I’ve uncovered evidence linking her Irish immigrant great-great grandfather John Dolan to the national pastime as far back as 1861.

Records confirm that Pvt. John Dolan did two tours in the Union Army during the American Civil War, the first a three-month stretch in Company H of the 10th Pennsylvania Volunteers, which was mustered less than two weeks after the war’s opening shots at Fort Sumter on April 12. 1861. That’s about the same time of year that baseball season traditionally begins.

John Dolan

Known as the Allegheny Guards, the 10th became part of a 16,000-man force under Maj. Gen. Robert Patterson, ordered to occupy a force of Gen. Joe Johnston’s Confederates in the Shenandoah Valley in the vicinity of Harper’s Ferry and Winchester, Va., while the main part of the Union Army under Maj. Gen. Irwin McDowell attacked the main Confederate forces under Gen. P.G.T.  Beauregard at Bull Run outside Washington.  The idea was to keep Johnston from reinforcing Beauregard, but we all know that didn’t happen and Johnston’s arrival at Bull Run saved the day for the rebels and sparked a rout of the federals.

A regimental history of the 10th from Samuel P. Bates’ “History of Pennsylvania Volunteers” suggests the Allegheny Guards went through spring training with the Yankees but saw little live pitching until confronted by an occupied toll house near the Potomac River.

According to Bates:  “On Monday, the 24thof June, Capt. Doubleday, having completed an earth work, placed in the battery one smooth-bore 24-pounder and one 8-inch howitzer, and opened on the toll house, a stone building situated about 1 mile from the river on the Martinsburg Pike and occupied by rebel

Abner Doubleday

scouts. The first shot struck the corner of the building, driving out a party of about 20 of the enemy, who were just then preparing to partake of a bountiful supper. Unwilling to leave the savory dishes, prepared with much care, the party halted some distance from the house to consider the situation. But a well-timed shell from the howitzer brought the conference to a sudden conclusion, scattering the party in all directions, amidst the cheers of thousands of Union soldiers who witnessed the scene from the Maryland shore. On entering the house on the following day, the supper was found undisturbed.”

I love this story, because Capt. Doubleday was Abner Doubleday,  mythically portrayed as the inventor of baseball in 1832 but more accurately perceived as the man who fired the first shots for the Union at Fort Sumter, where he was second in command to Maj. Robert Anderson.

After an “0-fer” day batting leadoff at Sumter, these might’ve been Doubleday’s first hits of the war.

Imagine the rebel scouting report from the toll house: “Watch yourselves, they’ve got a cannon out there in center.”

Or consider the lingering banter from the Union side, perhaps by Pvt. Dolan himself:

“Ah, Cap’n, those were a fine couple o’ balls ya pitched at ’em the other day. The first one might’ve been a wee high, but ya sure knocked dem buggers off da plate.”

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