Monday, January 31, 2011

METS: Martin, Exit This Situation!

So... because of the money they lost investing with Bernie Madoff, Mets owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon have announced they are selling 20 to 25 percent (1/5th to 1/4) of the ownership of the franchise.

One group has already come forward, with an interesting pedigree. It's led by a stockbroker named Ed Kranepool. Yes, the Ed Kranepool who...

* Was signed by the Mets out of James Monroe High School in The Bronx in their first season, 1962.

* Was called up at age 17, couldn't hit, was demoted to the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons (who are, again, the Mets' top farm club), then demoted again, and was the subject of a banner at the Polo Grounds: "IS KRANEPOOL OVER THE HILL?"

* Was called up for good in 1964, having played a doubleheader for the Bisons, then played a doubleheader for the Mets the next day, against the San Francisco Giants, the second game of which went 23 innings, meaning he played 50 innings in 2 days.

* Was a member of the 1969 World Champions, although he was not the regular starter in either of his main positions, right field (enabling Ron Swoboda to make his catch that saved Game 4) or first base (enabling Donn Clendenon to be the Series Most Valuable Player).

* Was a member of the 1973 National League Champions, although he was not the regular starter at either right field (Rusty Staub) or first base (John Milner).

* Made two commercials for Gillette Foamy in 1978, including one that stated that, from 1962 to 1970, he batted .227; then switched to Gillette Foamy, and since 1971 had been batting .283. "What do you think of that, Ed?" "I don't know, but now I shave every other inning."

* Was the last original Met, and the last member of the Miracle of '69, to still be on the roster, in 1979 (although Tom Seaver returned in 1983).

Kranepool's group includes Donn Clendenon Jr., the son of his late teammate.

It also includes another son of a famous father, Martin Luther King III, who runs the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, his father's hometown.

Uh... The last time the Mets made a move for someone identified with Atlanta was when they signed Tom Glavine, labeled "the Manchurian Brave" by Greg Prince, author of the blog and book Faith and Fear In Flushing. (See the link to the right.)

I don't know if Martin III knows anything about baseball. If he doesn't, he'll fit in perfectly with the Mets.

Is selling an ownership stake to the son of Dr. King the Mets' attempt to convince black fans to switch from the Yankees to the Mets? If so, history is not on their side. The transactions of Omar Minaya did very little to convince Hispanic fans to switch from the Yankees to the Mets. And while Willie Mays and Monte Irvin were both better players than Jackie Robinson (though not by much), it didn't convince black fans to leave the Brooklyn Dodgers for the New York Giants.

Maybe Martin III really does know a few things about baseball. Anyway, he certainly has the right to buy into the team, assuming he's got the money. Maybe... cliche alert... he has a dream.

If so, and if this dream comes true, the dream will become a nightmare. These are the Mets we're talking about. I don't think his father ever imagined black men and white men sitting together in the boardroom at a baseball team's stadium, saying, "In this room, we are all equal... equally miserable in watching our team lose!" (After all, Dr. King died a year and a half before the Mets finally went from worst to first.)

If Martin III buys into the Mets, there will come a day when he's had enough, and sells his share. And when that day comes, he may very well say, "Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty -- and the fool who bought my share -- I'm free at last!"

I'm not saying Martin Luther King III is a fool. But if he does buy into this particular baseball team, he'll be on his way. His father tried to tell us that love is a greater force than hate, that peace is a greater force than war, that justice is a greater force than evil. He was right. But is there a greater force in the universe than Met ineptitude?

There will always be at least one Major League Baseball team whose owner is thinking of selling. He should find another.

I know Reggie Jackson has tried to put together ownership groups to buy the Oakland Athletics and the Whatever They're Calling Themselves Now Angels of Anaheim, both of whom he played for, but was rebuffed with both. Maybe Reggie should give Martin III a call, and see what they can do together. Certainly, Martin will have a better chance of avoiding frustration than if he buys into the Mets.

METS: Martin, Exit This Situation! You'll thank me for it later!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Brad Benson, Don't Quit Your Day Job

For those of you under the age of 30, Brad Benson is an auto dealer, with his showroom on Route 1 in South Brunswick, New Jersey, about 10 miles from my house.

For those of us over 30, Brad Benson was previously an offensive lineman with the New York Giants, who had his best season in 1986-87, winning Super Bowl XXI and going to the Pro Bowl -- in each case, for the only time. (He played one more season and then retired, so he was not involved in their Super Bowl XXV team.)

Benson does his own commercials (radio and TV), which is something I respect tremendously. Colonel Harland Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Dave Thomas of Wendy's, ice cream man Tom Carvel, potato-chip man Herman Lay, these were guys who stood by their own products, putting their face as well as their name and reputation on the line. I love guys like that.

(One notable exception was Victor Kiam, who said of the Remington Micro Screen electric razor, "I liked it so much, I bought the company." Then he bought the New England Patriots, and turned it into a disgraceful organization, and almost killed it: There were rumors that, depending on which cities got NFL expansion teams, the Patriots might get bought by groups trying to bring teams to Baltimore or St. Louis. Both of those cities got moved teams instead, and Kiam sold the Pats to Robert Kraft, who kept them in the Boston suburbs. Whatever I have to say about Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and anyone else on the team, Kraft is a class act. Certainly, compared to Kiam.)

Today, I heard Benson on the radio talking about how the Rex & Michelle Ryan "foot fetish video" was too much of a distraction, how, "I knew the Jets would lose." He made a few corny jokes, including, "If the Jets had won the Super Bowl, instead of Disney World, Rex would've said he was going to Foot Locker."

Ouch.

Let me explain something to you, Brad: The week after that video came out, the Jets beat the Patriots. In Foxboro.

The week before it came out, the Jets beat the Colts. In Indianapolis.

True, the Jets haven't won a Super Bowl under Ryan -- or any other coach, for that matter, except Weeb Ewbank, 42 years ago. While Benson won one with the Giants. Fair enough.

You know how many road Playoff games the Giants won while Benson played for them? I had to look it up:

December 27, 1981: 27-21 over the Philadelphia Eagles at Veterans Stadium. This was Dick Vermeil's Eagles, with Ron Jaworski, Wilbert Montgomery, Harold Carmichael, Carl Hairston, Claude Humphrey and Herman Edwards. (Although Bill Bergey had retired the year before, following their defeat in Super Bowl XV.) The Giants lost in the next round to the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park. No shame in that, that was the beginning of the Joe Montana dynasty.

December 23, 1984: 16-13 over the Los Angeles Rams at Anaheim Stadium. The Rams were a good team then, with Jim Everett at quarterback and Eric Dickerson having just set an NFL single-season rushing record (which still stands) of 2,105 yards. But The House That Gene Autry built, with a football capacity of 70,500, 30 miles down Interstate 5 from downtown L.A., and across from Disneyland, "the Happiest Place On Earth," was a considerably less intimidating place for visiting teams than the 93,000-seat Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, adjacent to the USC campus but also on the edge of the South Central Ghetto.

That's it. Two road Playoff wins for Benson's teams in 10 seasons. Or as many as the Jets won this month.

And while beating Vermeil's Eagles at the Vet was impressive, beating John Robinson's Rams at the Big A doesn't carry nearly the same emotional lift as beating Peyton Manning's Colts in Indy or Bill Belichick's Pats in Foxboro.

I guess what I'm trying to say, Brad, is, "Don't quit your day job."

And don't forget something that you probably would have said to Rex yourself, if you were as smart as you think you are: Time wounds all heels.

Benson is from Altoona, Pennsylvania. He went to Penn State. That explains a lot of things. Mainly why he thinks he's so much smarter than he actually is.

Friday, January 28, 2011

How Long It's Been: The New York Jets Were World Champions


The Jets' loss probably still hurts to their fans. Not just because they were a touchdown away from going to the Super Bowl, but because of how much they'd talked about winning it all.

They haven't done so since January 12, 1969, when Joe Namath walked off the field at the Orange Bowl waving that "We're Number 1" finger, having predicted that the Jets would beat the Baltimore Colts, and making it happen.

Forty-two years. Here's an idea of how long it's been:

The stadium in question, the Orange Bowl in Miami, no longer stands. Nor does the Jets’ home field at the time, Shea Stadium – or the building they moved into afterwards, Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, which, in all that time was planned, built, used, replaced and demolished. Nor does the Colts’ home field at the time, Memorial Stadium in Baltimore – or the building they moved into afterwards, known first as the Hoosier Dome and then as the RCA Dome.

Now the Jets play at the New Meadowlands Stadium (EDIT: Since renamed MetLife Stadium), the Colts play at Lucas Oil Stadium, and the Baltimore Ravens now play at M&T Bank Stadium (which is usually called “Ravens Stadium” or, like the baseball park next door, “Camden Yards”).

The Mets, playing in the still-new Shea Stadium, had played 7 seasons, none of them winning. If anyone thought the Jets’ AFL and World Championships were a “miracle,” they hadn’t seen anything yet. The Yankees and NFL Giants were both playing at Yankee Stadium, which was in serious need of repair. The Knicks and Rangers were in the new Madison Square Garden for less than a year – it really was still the “New Garden.”

The Nets were in the ABA and playing at the Long Island Arena in Commack, a place that seated just 6,500, and they couldn’t fill that. They were sharing it with a minor-league hockey team called the Long Island Ducks. (The name is now used by a minor-league baseball team.) The building, built in 1959 and best known for a 1960 John F. Kennedy campaign rally and some rock concerts, was demolished in 1996. The Islanders and Devils did not yet exist.

The NFL, in the process of being merged with the AFL, had a combined total of 26 teams. As I said, there was a team in Baltimore, but it wasn’t the Ravens. There was one in St. Louis, but it wasn’t the Rams. There was one in Houston, but it wasn’t the Texans. The Boston Patriots had yet to move out to the suburbs and became “the New England Patriots.” The Patriots, Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers had yet to win any World Championships. Between them, they have now won 24 (and the Steelers could well make it 25 a week from Sunday). (EDIT: They didn't.)

The NFL was not even 50 years old. Some of its founding fathers were not only still alive, but still involved: George Halas with the Chicago Bears, Art Rooney with the Steelers, and Dan Reeves with the Los Angeles Rams – no relation to the Cowboys running back of the same name, later to be head coach of the Broncos, Giants and Atlanta Falcons.

The defining football players of my childhood? Roger Staubach was finishing up his U.S. Navy commitment, and would soon join the Cowboys. O.J. Simpson and Mean Joe Greene were in their senior years in college. Terry Bradshaw was in his junior year. Walter Payton was in high school. Joe Montana and Earl Campbell were in junior high. Lawrence Taylor was in grade school.

In baseball, there was an American League team in Washington. All but one of the 24 teams about to start the MLB season (including 4 new expansion teams) were playing in stadiums with permanent lights, but only one, the Houston Astros, was playing on an artificial turf field, and only the Astros were playing under a dome (retractable or otherwise).

There was no designated hitter, and no regular season interleague play. The first season of divisional play and Playoffs was about to begin: Now, if you won over 100 games and another team in your League won more, so long as you still won your division, you were no longer out of luck.

Lyndon B. Johnson was in his last 8 days as President of the United States. Richard Nixon was about to be inaugurated to replace him. Harry Truman was still alive. So was Dwight D. Eisenhower, for 2 more months. Gerald Ford was the Minority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. Jimmy Carter was a former State Senator in Georgia, about to run his second, much more successful, campaign for Governor. Ronald Reagan was in his first term as Governor of California.

George Herbert Walker Bush was a Congressman from Texas, and his son George had entered the Texas Air National Guard. Apparently, it was okay for him and his father to support the Vietnam War even if he didn’t have to actually fight in it. Bill Clinton was at Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship, and Hillary Rodham was about to be named valedictorian at Wellesley College. Al Gore was in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, while Dan Quayle was in the Indiana National Guard. Guess which one supported the war, and which one didn’t. Joe Biden was about to be admitted to the Delaware bar, and too old to be drafted. Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich both had teaching deferments. Rudy Giuliani got a deferment as a law clerk. John McCain did not have a deferment, and the Navy pilot was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. John Boehner enlisted in the U.S. Navy, but was later discharged for medical reasons, and was now going to college. Jon Corzine was a new college graduate and about to enlist in the Marine Corps.

The Governor of New York was Nelson Rockefeller, having made 3 unsuccessful runs for President. The Mayor of New York City was John Lindsay, who was about to be denied renomination by the City’s Republican Party because of his poor handling of snow removal during a blizzard. Later that year, he would win a second term as a third-party nominee. The Governor of New Jersey was Richard J. Hughes, about to wrap up his second term. Former Governor Robert B. Meyner would try to get the office back, but would fail, losing to South Jersey Congressman William T. Cahill.

Hugh Carey was in Congress. Ed Koch, David Dinkins and Mario Cuomo were practicing law. Brendan Byrne was Essex County Prosecutor. Tom Kean was in the New Jersey Assembly, Harry Reid in Nevada’s. Michael Bloomberg was a young stockbroker.

Nancy Pelosi was about to move to San Francisco, where her brother-in-law was on the Board of Supervisors. Jim Florio was the assistant city attorney for Camden. Mitch McConnell was an assistant to the man whose job he would later hold, Senator Marlow Cook of Kentucky. George Pataki and Donald DiFrancesco were in law school.

Christine Todd was about to join the Nixon Administration, working in the Office of Economic Opportunity. (There’s a laugh: The future Christie Whitman working in the War On Poverty? That’s like Jim McGreevey becoming a priest! Wait a minute... ) Richard Codey was in the family business: He was a funeral director. David Paterson was in high school. Barack Obama, Michelle Robinson (Obama), Eliot Spitzer, Andrew Cuomo, Jim McGreevey and Chris Christie were in grade school. Sarah Palin was in kindergarten –- unless she quit.

Major films out at the time included Easy Rider (one of the first mainstream films to have so much rock music, and so much drug use), Midnight Cowboy (one of the first mainstream films to have so much rock music, and so much nudity) and The Lion In Winter (in which the House of Plantagenet, “led” by Peter O’Toole as King Henry II of England, displays a rather different kind of obscenity). Michael Douglas was filming his second movie, Hail, Hero! Catherine Zeta-Jones was not yet born.

Major novels of 1969 included The Godfather by Mario Puzo, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton, The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles, Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth, Rich Man, Poor Man by Irwin Shaw, The Seven Minutes by Irving Wallace (about a novel, of the same title, that was “the most banned book in history,” containing a woman’s thoughts during 7 minutes of sex), and Naked Came the Stranger by Peneleope Ashe (a name used for a composite of 24 authors, conspiring to see if a novel could be really really bad, but still sell big if it had a lot of sex scenes in it, a truly late-Sixties kind of experiment – and it worked).

Major non-fiction books included the career-launching memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou and the career-launching historical work Mary, Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser.

Television shows that debuted in the 1968-69 season included Julia (Diahann Carroll as the first person of color to be a single star of a TV show, after Bill Cosby had co-starred with Robert Culp on I Spy), Adam-12, The Mod Squad, 60 Minutes (still on the air in 2011), and the original version of Hawaii Five-O.

Elvis Presley’s “1968 Comeback Special” had aired on NBC the previous month. So had “Plato’s Stepchildren,” an episode of Star Trek, where Captain James T. Kirk and Lieutenant Nyota Uhura were forced by aliens to kiss each other, resulting in the first interracial kiss on U.S. television (Shatner is white, Nichols is black).

Psychedelia and bubblegum music peaked in 1969. While Namath was leading the Jets to victory, Paul McCartney was leading the Beatles down the drain during the recording and film sessions for what became Let It Be. Elvis was recording From Elvis in Memphis, which included Mac Davis’ “In the Ghetto,” Burt Bacharach’s “Any Day Now,” and “Only the Strong Survive,” which Jerry Butler had just turned into a big hit (he’d written it with the rising Philadelphia-based geniuses Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff). Elvis was reminding everyone who was king around here anyway, and he was enjoying it. Woodstock would happen later that year -- but so would Altamont.

A month later, Johnny Cash recorded At San Quentin, which included "A Boy Named Sue." A woman named Vickie Jones was arrested for impersonating Aretha Franklin at a concert – a performance so good that no one asked for a refund. The very day of Super Bowl III, the self-titled first album by Led Zeppelin was released. The next day, Dusty In Memphis by Dusty Springfield was released.

Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees and Scottish singer Lulu were married. Just 4 miles from the site of that Super Bowl, the Doors played the Dinner Key Auditorium, and lead singer Jim Morrison allegedly flashed the audience. (He was just pardoned for it by outgoing Florida Governor Charlie Crist.)

Canada's Prime Minister was Pierre Trudeau. He was young (49), dashing and charismatic. It was as if John F. Kennedy was singing lead for the Beatles –- in French. Canada was also about to get its first Major League Baseball team, the Montreal Expos. And a group called The Guess Who was about to become Canada’s biggest rock band ever (to that point). For the first time ever, Canada was hip. Especially if you were an American worrying about being drafted.

Elizabeth II was Queen of England -- that still hasn't changed -- but she was just 42 years old. Britain’s Prime Minister was Harold Wilson. The English Football League was won by Leeds United. The FA Cup was won by Manchester City, the defending League Champions, beating Leicester City 1-0 on a goal by Neil Young – no, not that Neil Young. Man City have not won either the League or the FA Cup since. (EDIT: Man City won the FA Cup in May 2011, and the Premier League in May 2012.) AC Milan, led by perhaps Italy’s greatest player ever, Gianni Rivera, won their 2nd European Cup by beating Ajax Amsterdam, led by 21-year-old wunderkind Johan Cruijff. Ajax and their “Total Football” would be back, big-time.

The... Ohio State University, led by Woody Hayes and his “Super Sophs,” had just beaten O.J. Simpson’s University of Southern California (USC) in the Rose Bowl to dethrone them as National Champions of college football. USC’s arch-rivals, the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), coached by John Wooden and led by Lew Alcindor (later to be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Michael Warren (later to be Sgt. Bobby Hill on Hill Street Blues and Jessica Alba’s father-in-law), were about to win their 3rd straight National Championship in basketball, going 88-2 in the process.

There was no official heavyweight champion of the world, as Muhammad Ali had been stripped of the title for refusing to be drafted, an unconstitutional measure that would take until October 30, 1974 to be rectified.

In the opening weeks of 1969, Rupert Murdoch purchased The News of the World, Britain's largest-selling Sunday newspaper. An explosion killed 27 people on the U.S.S. Enterprise -- the real-life U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, not the TV starship. The Saturday Evening Post published its last weekly issue, though it would return as a monthly. In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that freedom of speech extends to public school students. Levi Eshkol, the Prime Minister of Israel, died in office, and Golda Meir became the country's first female Prime Minister.

In the opening weeks of 1969, Allen Dulles, and Boris Karloff, and Gabby Hayes died. Jennifer Aniston, and Pauley Perrette, and Roy Jones Jr. were born.

January 12, 1969. The New York Jets were World Champions. They have not been since. Will they ever do it again? If they can't do it with Rex Ryan in charge -- and, thus far, they can't -- then it looks highly unlikely.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Jets Lay Egg, Steelers Fry It

In the words of the immortal Jim Croce...

You don't tug on Superman's cape.

You don't spit into the wind.

You don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger.

And you don't mess around with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Specifically, you don't get your fans' hopes up that maybe, finally... FINALLY you're gonna reach another Super Bowl, and then spot a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers 24 points.

So, yes, let it be said: SAME. OLD. JETS.

Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame the New York Jets for Losing the 2010 AFC Championship Game?

5. The Steelers were better.

4. Seriously: The Steelers were better.

3. I mean, the Steelers were a lot better.

2. The Steelers were way better.

1. The Steel... Oh, who am I kidding?

The Indianapolis Colts were better... and the Jets beat them anyway.

The New England Patriots were better... and the Jets beat them anyway.

Yes, the Steelers were better. That doesn't matter. You show up. You look fear in the eye and say, "Get lost." You man up. You don't let the occasion faze you. You stand your ground. And, as former Jet coach Herman Edwards taught you, you play to win the game.

The Jets didn't show up in the first half. They let the Steelers drink their milkshake.

Who's to blame? Everybody. Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez, the offensive line, the runners, the receivers, the defense... this stink bomb was a team effort.

The fact that the Jets closed to 24-19 with 3 minutes to go doesn't suggest that they actually had the character all along. It suggests that they SHOULD have come with it in the first half -- and that, if they had, they would have won. But they didn't. As they say in English soccer, the Jets bottled it.

The Jets were beaten by the same team that always beats them: Themselves.

Can you imagine how frustrated I'd be if I actually were a Jets fan?

*

I am actually a New Jersey Devils fan. I was at their game yesterday. Beat the Florida Panthers, 5-2. That's 4 straight, and 13 of a possible 14 points in the last 7 games.

Maybe they're not hopeless after all. I saw some new names on the ice, guys I'd never heard of before, and they... they... they... worked hard.

As if they knew they still had to impress people. Well, they can cross one, me, off their list: I'm impressed, specifically with Henrik Tallinder, Adam Mair, Mark Fayne (who showed me more as a defenseman in 18 minutes of ice time yesterday than Colin White has shown me in the 5 years since the lockout ended) and especially Anton Volchenkov.

Volchenkov. Sounds like the name of a tough guy. He is one. The 6-1, 225-pound 28-year-old Muscovite announced his freakin' presence with authority, throwing some hits and outworking everybody. Devil fans are already beginning to wear jerseys with his name and Number 28 on them. This could be the blueliner we've been looking for for a while. I can't wait to see him take the ice against the Rangers (who, in case I haven't mentioned it for a while, SUCK!).

I also thought Patrik Elias looked better than he has in ages. Brian Rolston and Jason Arnott may be having late-career renaissances. Andy Greene looks like he's finally blossoming. Maybe getting rid of Jamie Langenbrunner, as player let alone as Captain, was overdue.

True, the Devils were facing an opponent with considerably less talent than the Jets were. But the Devils worked hard early as well as late.

The Jets? A day late and a dollar short. Story of their life.

So how many years DID they trade for that one Super Bowl? Now 42 and counting.

*

And did anybody else notice? Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York and Governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania, each newly-sworn into his job, made a bet involving various home-State food products. Cuomo now has to pay up.

Meanwhile, in Manhattan, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the ol' Human Jinx himself, guaranteed a Jet Super Bowl, and a win therein, just as he'd guaranteed a Yankee World Series win last fall.

Meanwhile, at the Jets' sendoff rally at their Florham Park, New Jersey headquarters, Chris Christie, Jabba the Guv, made a big deal about how the players play in New Jersey, train in New Jersey, and most of them live in New Jersey, and they were going to bring the Super Bowl back to New Jersey.

Mayor Moneybags and the Four Year Blimp run their mouths. But neither one of them was man enough to call the Mayor of Pittsburgh, Luke Ravenstahl, or Governor Corbett to place a bet. Not even the smallest, friendliest, least consequential of wagers.

Andrew Cuomo is a man. Like his father before him.

At this point, I think if you add Bloomberg's approval rating to Christie's, you might equal Cuomo's.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Top 10 Things This New Yorker Likes About New England

“In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.

“Now the trumpet summons us again. Not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need ; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are; but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, ‘rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation,’ a struggle against the common enemies of man: Tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.

“Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort? The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it. And the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

“And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
-– President John F. Kennedy, January 20, 1961, 50 years ago today

Granted, I'm actually from New Jersey, not New York City, but the majority of the focus of this blog has been the New York Yankees, and a big chunk of that has been the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry, and the larger rivalry between the New York Tri-State Area and New England.

Therefore, in the spirit of President Kennedy, I'm going to make this a blog entry of inclusion.

Top 10 Things This New Yorker Likes About New England

1. The Kennedy Family. I guess that was easy enough to figure out. For over a century, dating back to John F. "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald (who was Mayor of Boston 100 years ago and was in the U.S. Congress for the first time in 1895), the Kennedys and the various wings of their family (the Shrivers, the Smiths, the Lawfords, et al.) have lived by the motto of, "From those to whom much has been given, much will be expected."

With the death of Sargent Shriver this week, and the deaths of Ted and Eunice last August, the only remaining members of JFK's generation are sister Jean Kennedy Smith, Bobby's widow Ethel, and Ted's first wife Joan (his second wife Vicki is a bit younger). But their children, and theirs, fight on.

The haters, people who would've hated the Kennedys even if Ted and Mary Jo had reached the mainland safely, will never accept that, yes, the Kennedys -- and the Roosevelts, and the Carters, and the Clintons, and by the time Barack and Michelle are out of the White House almost certainly the Obamas as well -- will always mean more to humanity than the Nixons, and the Reagans, and the Bushes, and whoever the next Republican President is and his (or her) entire family.

Liberalism is about "we," conservatism is about, "Me, me, MEEEE!" The Kennedys understood that in 1911. They understood it in 1961. They still understand that in 2011. Anyone who doesn't accept it can forget about having my respect, and doesn't deserve political office.

“Some men see things as they are, and say, ‘Why?’ I dream things that never were, and say, ‘Why not?’”
-- George Bernard Shaw, frequently quoted by Senator Robert F. Kennedy

“For all those whose cause has been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.”
-- Senator Edward M. (Ted) Kennedy, 1980 Democratic Convention

Okay, that's enough about politics. Well, maybe a little more. Politics is the main driver of history.

2. History. New England has always preserved its history better than New York. In New York, it so often seems like the past doesn't matter. But it does: As the saying goes, "If you don't know where you've been, how can you understand where you're going?"

New England gets this, from Mystic to Newport, from Hyannis to Plymouth, from Dorchester to Concord, and from Bennington to Old Orchard Beach. Particularly on the streets of Boston, you can feel the presence of Founding Fathers walking alongside you.

Oh, and, for the record: The leaders of the Boston Tea Party, such as Samuel Adams, were protesting an oppressive conservative government that was not listening to their concerns. Today's "Tea Partiers," had they been around then, would have wanted them hanged for being traitors to the British Empire.

Speaking of caffeinated drinks...

3. Dunkin Donuts. Founded in Quincy, Massachusetts by William Rosenberg in 1950, they are New England's best export since the Kennedys. How much do I love Dunkin Donuts, particularly their mocha swirl iced lattes and "coolatta" iced-coffee drinks? If Catherine Zeta-Jones appeared before me and said, "Let's go, he'll never know, but you have to promise to never visit a Dunkin Donuts again," I'd have to turn the magnificent woman down. (And spend the rest of the night crying in my coffee.)

Dunkin Donuts appears, through its employee Larry DelVerne, to have been the inventor of the little round pastry they call "Munchkins" -- others call them donut holes or pop-ems.

Dunkin Donuts is such a New England institution that the building formerly known as the Providence Civic Center -- home of the Providence Bruins minor-league hockey team, Providence College basketball, and the occasional NCAA Tournament basketball game -- is now named the Dunkin Donuts Center.

I like Tim Hortons. Krispy Kreme, not so much. And Starbucks, well, sometimes I like it, although it's not as direct a competitor as you might think. But I run on Dunkin. Matter of fact, I got my breakfast there this morning.

4. New England is a great sports region. Say what you want about its teams (I certainly have), but when you consider that New England (Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, and about 2/3 of Connecticut) has only half the people of the New York Tri-State Area, the amount of passion they generate, and the amount of titles they've won, is remarkable.

5. Fenway Park. It's a relic, but it's no dump. I mean, I've been there a few times, but I've never seen a rat there. Okay, I've seen a few Red Sox fans who resembled vermin... But most Sox fans, when sober, are good fans. They know and respect the game. And that thoughtfulness pervades Fenway. The 30,000 or so who come to see baseball generally refuse to let the 5,000 or so who come to get drunk and disorderly ruin the beautiful spectacle.

Besides, with Comiskey Park, Tiger Stadium and the original Yankee Stadium all gone -- and Wrigley Field being in the other league -- it's nice to be able to see a baseball game in a building whose field was once patrolled by Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove, Hank Greenberg and Bob Feller.

6. Respect for Summer. The Long Island Sound shore of Connecticut. The beaches of Newport, which (or so I've heard) makes Rhode Island the surfing capital of the Atlantic Coast. Martha's Vineyard. Nantucket. Cape Cod. Old Orchard Beach. Kennebunkport. What could be better than an 85-degree day on a New England beach, with beautiful women all around you, a bottle of beer to one side of you and a radio tuned to the Sox game on 850 WEEI to the other side? Well, maybe the Jersey Shore and the Yankee game tuned to 880 WCBS... But this is not the time to get partisan.

7. Public Transportation. South Station is one of America's finest train stations, and the adjoining bus station might be the best one in the country -- it's almost as big as Port Authority in New York, and it's a hell of a lot cleaner. From there, on Greyhound, Cape Cod Transit, Vermont Transit, New England Trailways, Amtrak and the commuter rail service of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), you can get almost anywhere in New England fairly quickly.

In addition, Boston's subway (the T) is easy, timely, and cheaper than New York's. And with a lot of stations on their lines having retail concession stands, including Dunkin Donuts, you don't have to go down to the Scollay Square (now Government Center) station at quarter past 2 to get a sandwich from Charlie's wife!

The one thing I don't like about the MBTA is that they don't provide service to Foxboro except on Patriots home gamedays. This is a problem if you don't have a car and you want to go to Gillette Stadium for a New England Revolution soccer game (last summer, I had to take cabs to and from the Walpole Station for Red Bulls-Revs) or shop at the adjoining Patriot Place mall. Other than that, the MBTA provides great service.

8. Newspapers. The Boston Herald and the Manchester, New Hampshire-based Union Leader are right-wing rags. But the Boston Globe, the Providence Journal-Bulletin, the Concord Monitor (New Hampshire, not Massachusetts) and the Hartford Courant are all fine papers, determined to deliver honest, non-sloppy journalism.

9. Respect for the Human Mind. Unless certain other parts of the country -- and y'all know who you are -- New England knows it has a history of great books, great thought, great educational service, and instead of running away from it, they encourage it, and inspire others to reach it. Of the 8 Ivy League schools, half are in New England: Harvard, Yale, Brown and Dartmouth. To say nothing of MIT, Wellesley, Wesleyan, Northeastern, and many others.

10. They Value Loyalty. Sometimes, those loyalties go a little too far -- witness the 1974 busing controversy, where Ted Kennedy tried to tell the South Bostonians that public-school integration was good for America and they told him he was "a disgrace to the Irish." But, for the most part, New Englanders remember who helped them when they were down, and they resolve to do the same when they have the chance to help -- and they do it. Not because of some message from their priest or their Mayor or their President, but because it's something they feel in their bones is right.

So perhaps a tip of the hat from New York to New England is warranted today.

Or maybe not: They say that JFK's consistently walking around without a hat, unlike his predecessors Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower, killed the American hat industry. (Maybe for men: Jackie sure wore hats.)

I'd like to think JFK would have laughed at that.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Jets Slay the Big Cheating Dragon; Nat Lofthouse, 1925-2011

Hey, Bill Belichick! Yogi Berra called! He said, "It's over!"

Jets 28, Cheatriots 21. Gang Green have slain the big cheating New England dragon.

And they did it my way, as suggested in my previous post. Which includes the 2007-08 Giants' way: They got in the smug face of Tom Brady. And the kicking game did make a difference, but not in the way I expected: The Pats tried 2 onside kicks late, but they both failed. The first one, it was really sweet that it was Antonio Cromartie who recovered it to set up the last Jet score. Cromartie being the one who called Brady an asshole. Which... he is.

Big step up for Mark Sanchez. Pinocchio, you're a real life Playoff quarterback now.

Big step up for Rex Ryan. He can say whatever he wants now. So can any of his players.

Biggest Jet win since... oh, January 12, 1969. They are now 1 win away from the AFC Championship and a trip to Super Bowl XLV.

True, it's in Pittsburgh, and the Steelers have won 2 of the last 5 Super Bowls. But, in the last 2 seasons, the Jets have won road Playoff games in Cincinnati, San Diego, Indianapolis and Greater Boston. Who's to say they can't win one in Pittsburgh? (Troy Polamalu and Ben Roethlisberger, that's who, but they may not have as much say over this as they might think!)

Sometime this week, I want to do a post on "biggest moments in the New York vs. New England sports rivalry." This was, easily, the biggest in football, even bigger than Super Bowl XLII -- for the simple reason that the Jets are in the same Division as the Pats and play them twice a season (3 times this season), while that is not true of the Giants. The Giants cared less about messing up New England, and more about winning for New York. They would have been just as happy to beat the San Diego Chargers, the team the Pats beat in that season's AFC Championship Game.

Is this the end of the line for the Belichick-Brady Patriots? Hardly. Aside from Brady, they're really a young team, and they did win the Division. Lest we forget, Brady is 33 years old. That's not old for a quarterback. Right, Brett Favre?

But if the Jets had shed some of their reasons to be afraid of the Pats before, they've shredded the rest tonight.

*

The Jets move on to their 4th AFC Championship Game -- their 5th if you count the 1960s AFL as the direct ancestor of the AFC. (There were previous American Football Leagues in 1926, 1936-37 and 1940-41.)

This will be the 15th AFC Championship Game appearance for the Steelers, breaking the record for AFL/AFC Championship Game appearances they jointly held with the Oakland (Los Angeles from 1982 to 1994) Raiders. The Steelers were in the "old NFL" from 1933 to 1969, but never appeared in an NFL Championship Game until they started to be called "Super Bowls." The Chargers have been in 9. The Patriots, Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills and the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans franchise have been in 8. The Miami Dolphins have been in 7. The Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts have been in 6 -- although that number rises to 10 if you count NFL Championship Games prior to the 1970 merger. The Jets, as I said, are entering their 5th. The Kansas City Chiefs have been in 4 (including 1 as the Dallas Texans). The Cleveland Browns have been in 3 -- although that number rises to 14 if you count NFL Championship Game appearances (1950-69) and a whopping 18 if you count All-America Football Conference Game appearances (1946-49). The Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens have been in 2. The Seattle Seahawks have been in 1 AFC and 1 NFC Title Game. The Houston Texans, in 9 full seasons now, have not yet made the Playoffs.

Records in Conference Championship Games

Counting only NFL (1933-69), AFL (1960-69) or AFC (1970/71-2009/10).

TEAM W-L PCT. SUPER BOWL RECORD
1. Cincinnati Bengals 2-0 1.000 0-2
2. New England Patriots 6-2 .750 3-3
3. Kansas City Chiefs 3-1 .750 1-1
4. Denver Broncos 6-2 .750 2-4
5. Buffalo Bills 6-2 .750 0-4
6. Miami Dolphins 5-2 .714 2-3
-. Baltimore Colts 4-2 .667 1-1
7. Baltimore Ravens 1-1 .500 1-0
8. Pittsburgh Steelers 7-7 .500 6-1
9. Indianapolis Colts 2-2 .500 1-1
10. Tennessee Titans 1-1 .500 0-1
11. Oakland Raiders 5-9 .357 3-2
--. Houston Oilers 2-4 .333 0-0
12. Cleveland Browns 4-10 .286 0-0
13. New York Jets 1-3 .250 1-0
14. San Diego Chargers 2-7 .222 0-1
--. Seattle Seahawks 0-1 .000 0-0
15. Jacksonville Jaguars 0-2 .000 0-0
16. Houston Texans 0-0 .--- 0-0

Notice that stat? While the Steelers are 6-1 in Super Bowls, they're only 7-7 in AFC Championship Games. What's more, since the end of the Terry Bradshaw years, they're 3-5 in said games. How scary does that Steeler mystique look now?

Maybe the Jets really can go all the way.

*

Nat Lofthouse died yesterday. He was an all-time legend in his sport. He was even one of the legends of Yankee Stadium. And yet, most Americans have never heard of him.

Nathaniel Lofthouse (no middle name) was born on August 27, 1925 in Bolton, then in Lancashire, now in Greater Manchester, England. He was signed by his hometown soccer club Bolton Wanderers as a teenager, and made his debut as a centre forward on their youth team on September 4, 1939 -- the day after Britain declared war on Nazi Germany.

He played for Wanderers until 1943, until, turning 18 years old, he was drafted as a "Bevin Boy." These were 48,000 men, aged 18 to 25, most drafted, some volunteered, to work in England's coal mines to produce for the war effort.

They were named for Ernest Bevin, a former trade union official and a key figure in Britain's Labour Party, brought into the coalition government by Prime Minister Winston Churchill (himself the Leader of the Conservative Party) as Minister of Labour and National Service. The War over, Labour won the ensuing election, and Prime Minister Clement Attlee named Bevin his Foreign Secretary (equivalent in our government to Secretary of State). The native of Somerset in the West Country should not be confused with Aneurin Bevan, the Welshman who served as postwar Minister of Health and created the country's National Health Service.

When the Football League resumed after The War, on August 31, 1946, Nat finally made his League debut for Bolton, just after his 21st birthday. Although they lost 4-3 to West London club Chelsea, he scored twice as Bolton's Number 9, proving he was ready. Over the next 14 seasons, he would make 452 appearances, scoring 225 goals.

In one of their occasional bouts with myopia, the England national team didn't select him for a senior international match until 1950, by which point he was already 25 years. (He did not play in the famous 1950 World Cup defeat of England by the U.S. in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.) It was a 2-2 draw with Yugoslavia, and Nat scored both goals. On May 25, 1952, England played Austria in Vienna. Nat scored England's 2nd goal, but was elbowed in the face and tackled from behind. Had he not scored, it would surely have been a penalty. England went on to win 3-2, and the English newspapers nicknamed him The Lion of Vienna.

In 1953, he was named England's Footballer of the Year, and got Bolton into the FA Cup Final, scoring in only the 2nd minute of the game. But destiny was on the other side, as the sun finally shone on Blackpool and their 38-year-old legend Stanley Matthews. Two months later, on June 8, 1953, Nat scored 2 goals as England beat the U.S. team 6-3 at Yankee Stadium. He scored 3 goals for England in the 1954 World Cup.

In 1958, age 32, he got Bolton back into the FA Cup Final, against Manchester United, who were lucky to get there, as they had suffered the Munich Air Disaster 3 months earlier, losing 8 players to death and 2 others to career-ending injuries. This time, it was Bolton's moment in the sun, as Nat scored early in each half to give them a 2-0 win. It remains the club's last major trophy, 53 years later.
With the FA Cup

Despite 7 of the 8 United players lost at Munich having played for England, and thus not available (the other, Billy Whelan, was from Ireland), Nat was not selected for the 1958 World Cup, and made his last appearance for England later that year. He retired in 1960 due to an ankle injury. He became their assistant trainer, chief coach, and manager for most of the 1968-69 and 1969-70 seasons. He was also briefly their manager in 1971 and 1985, and was named club president thereafter.

In 1947, he married Alma Foster, and were together until her death in 1985. They had a son named Jeff and a daughter named Vivien. In 1994, he was awarded an OBE, the Order of the British Empire. In 1997, Bolton left their longtime home, Burnden Park, and a stand at their new Reebok Stadium was named the Nat Lofthouse Stand.
With his OBE medal

He died yesterday, at a nursing home in Bolton. He as 85 years old.

UPDATE: A statue of Nat Lofthouse was dedicated outside the Reebok Stadium on August 24, 2013, 3 days before what would have been his 87th birthday, moved up to coincide with a Bolton home game.
He remains one of the most honored (or, should I say, "honoured") players in English "football" history.

Top 5 Reasons Why the Jets Can Beat the Patriots... and 3 Why They Might Not

Now that the Chicago Bears have beaten the Seattle Seahawks, and prevented the ignominy (love that word!) of a 7-9 team advancing to one of the NFL's Conference Championship Games, and also set up the biggest game in the 90-year history of their magnificent rivalry with the Green Bay Packers (win and you're in the Super Bowl), let's talk about New York vs. Boston.

Or, rather, the New York Tri-State Area vs. New England. After all, it would be weenie to say, "Let's talk about East Rutherford vs. Foxboro."

Here's the...

Top 5 Reasons Why the Jets Can Beat the Patriots.

1. Familiarity Kills Mystiques. It happened for the Yankees against the Royals in 1980, the Dodgers in 1981, the Red Sox in 2004 and the Rays in 2008. It happened for the Cowboys against the Eagles in 1981, the 49ers in 1982, the Redskins in 1983 and the Packers in 1996. It happened for the Celtics against the 76ers in 1967, the Knicks in 1973, the Lakers in 1985 and the Pistons in 1988. It happened for the Lakers against the Pistons in 1989, the Pistons against the Bulls in 1991, and the Knicks against the Bulls in 1994 (for all the good it did them in the Finals).

Rex Ryan is no longer a rookie head coach. Mark Sanchez is no longer a rookie quarterback. They've faced the Pats 4 times now, and beaten them twice. Never mind the scores. Throw that 45-3 egg laid by the Jets at Foxboro earlier this season out. They are even the last 2 seasons. Should the Jets be concerned about the Pats? Of course. Should they be scared? As my sister, a Jet fan, would say, Hells to the no.

On a related subject...

2. You Can Take Your Home Field Advantage and Shove It. Anyone who says New England sports fans are no big deal has never been to Fenway Park, the Boston Garden (old or new), or even Gampel Pavilion. But Gillette Stadium isn't quite the same thing.

You think the Jets are afraid of Foxboro? Last week, they did what they were unable to do a year earlier: Go into that considerably louder indoor stadium in Indianapolis and beat the Peytons. What they were able to do last season was go into Cincinnati and beat the Bengals (unlike this season, last season that was a notable accomplishment) and go into San Diego and beat the Chargers. Whatever the reasons to be concerned about the Pats, their yard is not going to be one of them. Playing in a place every year, guaranteed, makes the novelty wear off.

3. The Giants Wrote the Script. In Super Bowl XLII, the Giants ended the Patriots' bid for an undefeated season by breaking through the Pats' offensive line, getting in Tom Brady's face, and knocking him on his candy ass. (Ha! Bet Antonio Cromartie wished he thought of "candy ass" instead of "asshole.") The Jets have the defense to pull this off at the front end of the Pats' passing game.

4. Darrell Revis. The Jets also have the defense to pull it off at the back end. (Not to be confused with Bill Belichick, although he is an ass, which is not to be confused with an asshole or a candy ass.) The Giants won that Super Bowl despite not having a defensive back as good as Revis. (In fact, they haven't had one that good since Emlen Tunnell, and that was half a century ago.)

If Randy Moss both was still in Foxboro and felt like playing, it would be a different story. But... Deion Branch? Wes Welker? Excuse me, but is Revis, supposed to be, like afraid of these guys? Algie Crumpler? When Revis is done with him, he'll be more like "Crumpled."

5. The Agony of Da Feet. Make all the jokes you want about Rex and Michelle Ryan, but, last week, the Colts had Adam Vinatieri, and it didn't matter, because Nick Folk of the Jets was the one who kicked the winning field goal. The Pats no longer have Vinatieri. They have Shayne Graham. If this game comes down to either Folk or Graham having to hit a field goal to win it, or to at least send it into overtime, I think we'll have a new round of "Folk Hero" headlines.

Of course, there are at least...

3 Reasons Why the Jets Might Not Beat the Patriots.

1. They're Still the Patriots. Not the Steelers, not the Colts, not any NFC team, the Patriots are still the team that defines pro football excellence. Until someone proves that they're not.

2. They're Still the Jets. You know this team: They tend to self-destruct at the worst possible moment, whether it's in the first game of the season (Vinny Testaverde, 1999) or in the AFC Championship Game (1982-83, 1998-99, last season). In fact, this is the first season they've followed up a really good season with another since 1985-86. Which suggests that the fall, if it comes, will be so shocking, so cringe-inducing, that, 50 years from now, people will still be groaning about it, or trying to come up with a "Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame... " Sanchez for throwing that late interception, or LaDanian Tomlinson for that fumble, or Revis for letting Branch breeze past him, or Folk for missing that last-minute field goal... I don't want any of these things to happen, but these are the Jets: You know they could.

3. Massachusetts Mike. Michael Bloomberg, New England's one-man mole in the Mayor's office, predicted that the Jets would win the Super Bowl, just as he predicted last fall that the Yankees would win the World Series.

Seriously, Bloomy: If you can't resign, and let the City of New York have a Mayor who gives a damn about its people, not just about how it can boost his (or her, I think Council Speaker Christine Quinn is next in line) ego or bank account, then at least, when it comes to sports. Shut. The hell. Up. Because, whatever you know about business, you clearly know less about sports than you know about governance -- which is not the same as politics.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Mariano to Soriano

Me yesterday: "The Rays won't go downhill as a result of their payroll slash immediately... Then again, maybe the Rays WILL collapse. It appears they're going to sign Kyle Farnsworth! Cousin Larry, now, we so happy, we do the dance of joy!"

Me today: Maybe the Rays now have another reason to collapse. For the first time, a player has gone from Tampa Bay to The Bronx because of money. And not just any player, but the Rays' closer, Rafael Soriano.

He's 31 years old. Born on December 19, 1979 -- exactly 10 years and 1 day after me. (And, yes, we're both still Sagittarians, no matter what you might have heard about the signs of the Zodiac changing. Someday, I might do an All-Star team for each of the 12 -- not 13 -- signs.) From Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. Righthanded. Has played 9 seasons in the majors, 2002-06 Seattle Mariners, 2007-09 Atlanta Braves, 2010 Tampa Bay Rays.

Career record, just 11-20. ERA, 2.79. ERA+, 156 (which really does mitigate the poor won-loss record). WHIP, exactly 1.000. All-Star once, last season, having led the American League in saves with 45. Total career saves 88, but has only been a closer the last 2 seasons. No relation to former Yankee Alfonso Soriano, or any other major leaguer, past or present, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

At age 31, he could still be pitching for the next 10 years, although there's no way to tell whether he'll still be a great pitcher for more than 5 (if that). But he could be a short-term solution for the question the Yankees MUST answer, sooner rather than later: Who will replace Mariano Rivera as the Yankees' closer?

Mariano just signed a contract that extends through the end of the 2012 season, at which point he will be just short of 43. He has showed a barely perceptible decline, as yet not particularly harmful. When the 2013 season begins, barring injury or an "offer you can't refuse" trade, Soriano will be 33, which, for a righthanded relief pitcher, should still be "in his prime."

If Soriano is the right guy to be the setup/bridge pitcher out of the pen, that would allow the Yankees to move Joba Chamberlain back into the rotation on a permanent basis. Joba is 25, so it's time to stop babying his "developing arm": It's developed. This, coupled with a return to form for A.J. Burnett, would mean the Yankees need "only" 1 more starter, either Ivan Nova or Sergio Mitre turning out all right.

That "big fat question mark" I mentioned for the AL East yesterday got a bit smaller. But it is still there. The Yankees' chances have (at least theoretically) improved, and the Rays, having lost Soriano and Carl Crawford, have taken a big hit. It now looks like the Yanks and Red Sox for the Division (yet again), the Rays and the rising Orioles sitting back, hoping one of the top 2 falters, and the Blue Jays hoping the Maple Leafs make a Stanley Cup run, and the Argonauts make a Grey Cup run, so no one will notice how badly they stink.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

No Pettitte in Early '11, Kennedys, Arizona Shooting

Yankee general manager Brian Cashman has said that Andy Pettitte has told him that he needs to be close to his home in the Houston suburbs this spring -- possibly to be a witness in Roger Clemens' perjury trial -- so he won't be with the Yankees at the start of the season. However, Cashman says that Pettitte also told him that, if he pitches at all in the 2011 season, it will be for the Yankees.

Suddenly, the Yankees' chances at Title XXVIII this season have gone from pretty good to highly questionable. What does the starting rotation look like without Pettitte?

1. CC Sabathia. Would be the ace of any team, with the possible exception of the Philadelphia Phillies, who have Roy Halladay. But he would still be the 2nd starter on the Phillies, because Cole Hamels has slipped a little, and because Cliff Lee ain't that good.

2. Phil Hughes. Has been terrific in the regular season. Has been iffy in the postseason. Sort of like Chien-Ming Wang. Remember him? I'll have a note about his absence later.

3. A.J. Burnett. He has pitched 12 seasons in the major leagues. Only 3 of them have been bad, and only 1 in the past 7. But that 1 was last season. And he just turned 34 -- also his uniform number. How do we know he's going to be in 2011 what he was from 2005 to 2009? We don't. We don't know whether 2010 was a fluke, or the beginning of the end. If the Yankees are to reach the Playoffs in 2011, and make a run at a 28th World Championship, Burnett needs to come through.

4. Sergio Mitre. He pitched okay in relief last season, but only okay. He started only 3 games last season, and only once has he started more than 10 games in a season (27 with the 2007 Florida Marlins).

5. Ivan Nova. He pitched well at times last season, but he's only 23 and made a grand total of 7 career major league starts.

The Yankees could move Joba Chamberlain back to the rotation, but at this point that might be a mistake. He has been so horribly mishandled by this team. Is he a starter? Is he a reliever? He's not a baby, he can pitch 7 innings every 5 days, can't he? They need to make up their minds on him. And if Joba isn't the successor to Mariano Rivera as closer, then they need to find said successor now, because Mo is 41. He was great at 40, but he's not getting any younger. And I don't think David Robertson is the answer, either.

The Yankees will not have Andy Pettitte, at least for the start of the season. Nor will they have Cliff Lee, who is not this era's Sandy Koufax, but usually pitches well and saves some wear and tear on your bullpen by "eating innings."

Nor will they have Javier Vazquez, and even with Pettitte unavailable, I won't miss Home Run Javy a bit. Nor will they have Dustin Moseley, who they let get away. He signed as a free agent with the San Diego Padres.

Nor will they have Chien-Ming Wang, who, if the National League had decided by Opening Day 2008 to join the 20th Century (if not the 21st) and put in the designated hitter like a real league, would likely still be the Yanks' Number 2 starter.

Instead, since June 15, 2008 -- at which point, remember, he was 8-2 with a 109 ERA+ for the season and 54-20 for his career -- Wang has appeared in a grand total of 12 games, gone 1-6 with an ERA+ of 48, hasn't pitched in the majors since June 28, 2009 (a win over the Mets at Pity Field, by the way), and in 2010 became, and remains, the property of the Washington Nationals. Wang's downfall did not hurt the Yankees in 2009 (indeed, it may have led them to sign Sabathia and Burnett, so it may have helped that season), but it hurt them a lot in 2008 (missed the Playoffs completely) and 2010 (only got the Wild Card and needed another starter to beat the Texas Rangers in the American League Championship Series).

Suddenly, the Yankees not getting Cliff Lee is looking less like no big deal, and more like a mistake, if only because they definitely need at least 1 more starter -- possibly, 2, maybe 3 if Burnett can't come back strong.

The Rays won't go downhill as a result of their payroll slash immediately, and the Red Sox will probably be improved, unless they get hit by the injury bug as badly in '11 as they did in '10. Buck Showalter's Oriole revival may be long-term, or it may have been a false spring. We don't know yet.

Right now, the American League Eastern Division is a big fat question mark. All because of one man, Andy Pettitte. His presence would go a long way toward answering the question. His absence leaves it wide oepn.

Then again, maybe the Rays WILL collapse. It appears they're going to sign Kyle Farnsworth! Cousin Larry, now, we so happy, we do the dance of joy!

I can honestly say I have never been more glad to see a player leave the Yankees than Kerosene Kyle (Squawker Lisa's nickname for him). Not a Darn's Worth! (My nickname for him.)

*

So when will Pettitte return, if he does? Clemens is rumored to be going on trial in July. But, as Lisa Swan of Subway Squawkers -- a huge fan of Pettitte but not of Clemens -- points out, Barry Bonds was indicted in 2007 for the exactly same thing, perjury relating to saying under oath that he did not knowingly take steroids in an effort to enhance his baseball performance, and Bonds has still not yet gone to trial, 3 1/2 years later.

Lisa thinks the idea that a Clemens trial will begin in July is "laughable." Knowing the American legal system, she may be right: The 6th Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing the right to a speedy trial, is not one of the more commonly-invoked Amendments, either in practice or in its usage in political speeches (which often mention the 10th Amendment, but not the 9th, which contradicts what a lot of people think the 10th means).

Does Pettitte really need to stay close to Houston to make depositions? Can't he make them just as easily from New York? Most major law firms have New York offices, although, according to the firm's website, Clemens' attorney and his firm, Rusty Hardin & Associates, P.C., only have an office in downtown Houston, at McKinney & LaBranch, just 5 blocks from the Astros' Minute Maid Park (and 4 blocks from the Toyota Center, new home of the NBA's Houston Rockets). But I'm guessing that Hardin & Associates have the means to fly the necessary people to New York and take Pettitte's statements there, even in the offices at Yankee Stadium II if need be.

*

Maybe Pettitte isn't wavering due to possible Clemens trial implications -- in any sense of the word "implications." Maybe he just wants to spend more time with his family.

Most of the time, when a politician or a sports figure says he's leaving the profession, even temporarily, "to spend more time with my family," it's code for "I did something bad, and my wife found out about it, and I have to make it up to her." But with Andy Pettitte, I find it totally believable.

Then again, we used to think Clemens was a great family man, too. And also Brett Favre -- and I hear his sister has been arrested on drug-related charges. Do we ever really know?

*

Dave Sisler died. He pitched in the major leagues from 1956 to 1962, mostly with the Boston Red Sox. He was the son of Hall-of-Fame first baseman George Sisler and brother of major leaguers George Sisler Jr. and Dick Sisler -- Dick being the most famous due to his Pennant-winning home run for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1950, making him more famous than their father, for all his achievements, was, because he retired before the era of television.

Dave Sisler appeared in more major league games than any player who had also played at New Jersey's Princeton University. He had prostate cancer and was 79.

*

Nice story in the Devils' Blog Fire & Ice about the life and recent death of Hap Kennedy, Royal Canadian Air Force flying ace of World War II, and grandfather of Devils player Mark Fraser: http://blogs.northjersey.com/blogs/fireice/fraser_remembers_the_life_of_his_war_hero_grandfather/#When:20:15:34Z

*

Rumor going around that actress Kate Hudson is pregnant. But she's no longer dating Alex Rodriguez -- so save your jokes, David Letterman. The father, if the rumor is true, is her current boyfriend, Matthew Bellamy, leader of the British rock band Muse.

Also rumors about pregnancies for Beyonce Knowles (her mother has publicly denied it, and neither Beyonce nor Jay-Z has addressed it), Beyonce's former Destiny's Child groupmate Kelly Rowland (no response), all 3 of the "grownup" Kardashian sisters, Kim, Kourtney and Khloe (all continue to deny it), Mary J. Blige (no response), and former Sister, Sister star Tia Mowry (confirmed -- sister Tamera is also married, but no children yet). Along with the already-established pregnancy of Natalie Portman, with her Black Swan co-star Benjamin Millepied.

No such rumors about A-Rod and his current girlfriend, actress Cameron Diaz. She's the female lead in the new version of The Green Hornet opening tomorrow. Starring Seth Rogen as the Batmanesque hero (wealthy playboy by day, crimefighter with cool car and sidekick by night).

First Robert Downey Jr. as both Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes. Now Seth Rogen as the Green Hornet. What's next, Harvey Feierstein as JFK?

*

Actually, there is a miniseries titled The Kennedys that was ready to air on The History Channel, with Greg Kinnear as President John F. Kennedy -- not particularly Kennedyesque in previous roles, but in the clips shown, he really looks like him -- and Katie Holmes as an eerily-spot-on Jackie.

But the History Channel has pulled it, apparently under pressure from 2 members of the Kennedy family with ties to the History Channel's owner, NBC: Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg (JFK & Jackie's daughter does legal work for NBC) and Maria Shriver (the daughter of Eunice Kennedy & Sargent Shriver was a longtime NBC journalist before becoming First Lady of California, a tenure now ended as husband Arnold Schwarzenegger was term-limited out of the Governorship).

It's not clear why Caroline and Maria wanted it pulled. The History Channel has said that, while the miniseries shows the various flaws of various Kennedys, it is a generally positive portrayal.

Certainly, other productions about the family -- The Kennedys of Masschusetts (based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's book The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, with Steve Weber as Jack), JFK: Reckless Youth (Patrick Dempsey as young Jack), and the more recent Jackie, Ethel, Joan: The Women of Camelot (Daniel Hugh-Kelly and Jill Hennessey -- who I love -- as Jack and Jackie) -- have aired, while Ted, and for some of them Jackie, were still alive. Ethel, Bobby's widow, is still alive. As far as I know, none of them ever stepped forward to stop any book or film about the family or any member thereof, and, as we've seen, there've been so many, some of them decidedly anti-Kennedy.

Even the ones that are generally supportive of Jack, Bobby and Ted tend to look unkindly on their father, Joseph P. Kennedy. (In the one sound clip I've seen of this miniseries, in the NBC News story on its being pulled, the actor playing Joe says, "Every man has his price. I've never met anyone who can't be bought." And Katie Holmes as Jackie says, "Well, now you have." But in real life, Jackie was usually very nice to old Joe. I suppose it was her nature). In his posthumously-published memoir, Ted gave us what one reviewer called possibly the only warm-hearted portrait we are ever likely to get of the family patriarch. Yet Ted never stepped in to stop a book or film about the family or any of its members. Is this new film unkind to Ted? If so, no one's saying his widow Vickie, his ex-wife Joan, or his kids -- Ted Jr., Kara and Patrick -- are having anything to do with shelving it.

Indeed, the reasons are still unrevealed. When CBS shelved The Reagans, starring James Brolin as Ron and Judy Davis as Nancy, in 2003 (shortly before the former President's death), it was due to conservative activists' typical holier-than-thou reaction to portraying the old buzzard as anything less than the glorious hero who saved America from liberalism (at least for 8 years) and save the world from Communism (cough-aid to China-cough). In particular, they objected to comments the Reagan character makes about AIDS being punishment from God for gays -- which he never said publicly. The series then aired on Showtime, which has far fewer viewers than the 3 real networks (CBS, NBC and ABC). But at least we knew the reason it didn't air on CBS. We still don't know for sure why the History Channel won't air The Kennedys. They have said, however, that they may make it available to another cable network.

Personally, I think, regardless of politics, the History Channel should show it. It may be a dramatization, but that hasn't stopped them from showing other historically-inspired dramas such as Jesus of Nazareth, 300, the Maximilian Schell version of Peter the Great, and such World War II-themed films as Band of Brothers, Flags of Our Fathers (directed by Clint Eastwood and based on Senator John McCain's book), and the 2001 film version of Pearl Harbor.

Besides, a lot of the History Channel's recent programming has had nothing to do with history. Seriously: Ax Men? Ice Road Truckers? Pawn Stars? American Pickers? Maybe these are worthwhile programs, but they are not historical in nature. Let them air on the Discovery or Learning Channels. Let the History Channel show history.

*

Finally, a word about Christina-Taylor Green. Born on September 11, 2001, killed in the shooting in Tucson, Arizona last Saturday that killed 5 others, including a federal judge, and wounded 14 others, including the gunman's apparent main target, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Christina was just 9, and already a star in Little League, the only girl on an otherwise all-boy team. She had baseball in her blood. Her father, John Green, is a former minor-league player and now supervisor of amateur scouts for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Her grandfather is Dallas Green, former major league pitcher, the manager of the 1980 World Champion Phillies, the GM who built the 1984 and 1989 NL Eastern Division Champion Chicago Cubs (they have since been moved to the NL Central), and one of only 4 men to manage both the Yankees and the Mets (the others are Casey Stengel, Yogi Berra and Joe Torre). He is now a special advisor to Phillies management, and was one of the few people involved in both of their World Championships, 1980 and 2008.

Christina was just 9, and thus had lots of options. She wanted to become the first woman to play Major League Baseball. She also wanted to go into politics. She already had: She'd been elected to her elementary school's student council. She wanted to meet her District's Congresswoman, whom she admired, and wanted to see if Gabby Giffords was as great as she'd heard. She never got the chance to find out that she was right.

This blog is not about politics, although occasionally my strong liberalism has come through. Last night, at the McKale Center, the University of Arizona's basketball arena, near the site of the shooting, President Obama said that this is not the time to assign blame, this is the time to come together.

It's hard, Mr. President. It's hard. And I would say that even if the main target were a conservative Republican and no potential baseball prospect had been lost.

But he's right. We have to try.

Monday, January 10, 2011

How Long It's Been: The Philadelphia Eagles Were NFL Champions


Well, the Philadelphia Eagles blew it again yesterday. The New York Jets were able to beat the Indianapolis Colts in Indianapolis, but the Eagles couldn't defend Lincoln Financial Field, their "Nest of Death," against the Wild Card Green Bay Packers.

The last time the Eagles did win an NFL Championship -- Super Bowl -VI, if you prefer -- it was against the Packers. It was December 26, 1960, at the University of Pennsylvania's Franklin Field, a 17-13 win.

Tommy McDonald, the shortest member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, caught a touchdown pass and fell into a snowbank. Ted Dean, a local guy all the way, from Radnor and Villanova University, scored the other touchdown. On the final play, Bart Starr threw a pass to Jim Taylor, but Chuck Bednarik flattened him short of the goal line, and held him down until the clock ran out.
Taylor, as the clock runs out: "Get off me, you son of a bitch!"

Bednarik, seeing that the clock has run out: "You can get up now, you son of a bitch, this fucking game is over!"
When you're Concrete Charley, you can smoke
a cigarette and a victory cigar at the same time,
and nobody will say a word about it.

Fifty years. Half a century. Here's an idea of how long it's been:

The Eagles were playing at Franklin Field. Veterans Stadium has since been built, and demolished. So has the Spectrum. The Phillies were still playing at Connie Mack Stadium, formerly known as Shibe Park, at 21st & Lehigh. That stadium has also been demolished, as have the Philadelphia Arena (at 46th & Market, across from the Channel 6 studios), the Philadelphia Civic Center (a couple of blocks from Franklin Field), Temple Stadium and the Cherry Hill Arena.

Yet Franklin Field, built in 1922, still stands, still used by the University of Pennsylvania as their football stadium and the site of the Penn Relays, America's greatest track meet. The Palestra, next door, still hosts games as "The Cathedral of College Basketball."
Franklin Field, with the Philly skyline in the background

There was no NHL team in Philadelphia, and their NBA team was the Warriors, who moved to San Francisco a year and a half later (and then moved across the Bay in 1971, to Oakland, to play as the Golden State Warriors). The Syracuse Nationals moved to Philadelphia in 1963 to become the 76ers, and split their home games between the Civic Center's Convention Hall and the Arena.

A month before the Eagles' title, Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors collected 55 rebounds in a single game, still an NBA record, despite the opposing center being Bill Russell of the defending champion Boston Celtics. The Celtics won the game, and that season's title, anyway. The Chicago Blackhawks were about to end the Montreal Canadiens' run of 5 straight Stanley Cups – and it took them until 2010 to win another. If the Hawks can go all the way, why not the Eagles?

The NFL had just expanded to Dallas, and there was no reason for a fan of any NFL to say "Dallas sucks": They went 0-11-1, so it was obvious. The NFL was also about to expand to Minnesota. The Cardinals had just left the city of Chicago to the Bears, and moved to St. Louis – where, of course, there was already a baseball named the St. Louis Cardinals.
An unused ticket from the 1960 NFL Championship Game.
Price: $8.00. A ticket for Super Bowl XLV, 2011? $5,000.

The American Football League was 6 days away from its 1st championship game, between the Houston Oilers and the Los Angeles Chargers. The Oilers, later to become the Tennessee Titans, won the game, and a few months later, the Chargers moved to San Diego. The AFL's other charter teams were the New York Titans (Jets), the Boston Patriots (New England Patriots), Buffalo Bills, Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos, and, the team owned by the league's founder, Lamar Hunt, the Dallas Texans (who became the Kansas City Chiefs in 1963).

And you had to win your division to make the NFL Championship Game. There were no Playoffs, unless there was a tie for first in either of the Divisions – as had happened in the East in 1958, and in the West in 1950 and 1957. In 1963, the Packers went 11-2-1, and the Cleveland Browns went 10-4 – but the Chicago Bears went 11-1-2 and the New York Giants went 11-3, and so they were the teams that played for the NFL title. (The Bears won.)
This is what a Philadelphia Eagles championship ring looks like.

The NFL was only 40 years old. Some of its founding fathers were not only still alive, such as Earl "Curly" Lambeau of the Packers (the new stadium that would bear his name was still called City Stadium), but still involved: George Halas with the Bears, Art Rooney with the Pittsburgh Steelers, George Preston Marshall with the Washington Redskins, and Dan Reeves with the Los Angeles Rams – no relation to the teenage boy of the same name, at this point playing high school football, and later to play for the Cowboys and to be head coach of the Broncos, Giants and Atlanta Falcons.

The defining football players of my childhood? Roger Staubach had just arrived at the U.S. Naval Academy. Joe Namath was in high school. O.J. Simpson and Mean Joe Greene were in junior high school. Terry Bradshaw and Walter Payton were in grade school. Joe Montana and Earl Campbell were small children. Lawrence Taylor was a few weeks away from his 2nd birthday.

In baseball, there was an American League team in Washington. There was an American League team in Kansas City, but it was the Athletics, formerly of Philadelphia, not the Royals. There was a National League team in Milwaukee, but it wasn't the Brewers. Baseball had only reached the Pacific Coast 3 years earlier. There were no major league teams south of the Potomac and Ohio Rivers.

There was a team called the San Diego Padres, but they weren't in the majors. Those cities, and (for the moment) Minneapolis (and St. Paul), and Dallas (and Fort Worth), and Houston, and Atlanta, and Miami, and Tampa (and St. Petersburg), and Toronto, and Denver, and Phoenix, and Seattle were all then minor-league cities, though most were at least Triple-A. (Oakland had lost its Triple-A team in 1955, before the Dodgers and Giants moved west.) The Yankees were alone in New York, as the Dodgers and Giants had moved out in September 1957 season, and the Mets wouldn't arrive until April 1962.

All but one of the 16 teams then in MLB were playing in stadiums with permanent lights, but there were no artificial turf fields, and no domes (retractable or otherwise).

New York, Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Washington and, for the moment, Los Angeles all had its football teams sharing quarters with baseball teams. If you count the AFL, add their Los Angeles team, Buffalo and Denver -- the latter 2 sharing with minor-league teams. This was in spite of the fact that, in Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Washington, there were nearby college football stadiums that were larger, something the Eagles took advantage of for the 1958 season. The Titans, who became the Jets in 1963, would end up sharing the Polo Grounds with the Mets in 1962 and '63, before sharing Shea Stadium with them from 1964 to 1983.

Baseball had was no designated hitter, and no regular season interleague play. And no divisional play or Playoffs, just the World Series: If you won over 100 games and another team won more, you were out of luck.

There was still 1 pro football team not yet racially integrated: With the name of the team providing some irony, it was the Washington Redskins. Owner Marshall said, "We'll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites." It may have been that Marshall wasn't racist (or not just that he was racist), but also concerned about his bottom line: The Redskins had a huge radio network, taking advantage of their status as (until the Cowboys came in) the NFL's Southernmost team, and he was afraid of those stations dropping his broadcasts.

Stewart Udall, soon to be named U.S. Secretary of the Interior, would have jurisdiction over the new stadium being built next to the D.C. Armory. He would tell Marshall to integrate his team, or build your own stadium on your own dime, or be stuck at the 27,410-seat Griffith Stadium. Marshall allowed the Redskins to draft the 1st black Heisman Trophy winner, Ernie Davis of Syracuse. But Davis said, "I won't play for that son of a bitch." The 'Skins traded Davis to the Cleveland Browns for Bobby Mitchell. Davis got sick and died without playing a down; Mitchell, already an All-Pro in Cleveland, became a Hall-of-Famer in Washington.

Tom Coughlin, now head coach of the Giants, was a freshman at Waterloo high school, in Central New York's Finger Lakes region. Jacques Lemaire of the Devils was in high school in Montreal. Terry Collins of the Mets was 11 years old, Mike D'Antoni of the Knicks was 9. John Tortorella of the Rangers was 2 1/2. Joe Girardi of the Yankees, Rex Ryan of the Jets, Avery Johnson of the Nets and Jack Capuano of the Islanders weren't born yet.

The University of Minnesota was about to win the National Championship of college football, which it had done several times (depending on whose polls you believe), but has never done it again. Ohio State beat defending National Champion California, with Darrell Imhoff, to win it in basketball. That Ohio State team had 3 future Hall-of-Famers. Two would get in as players: Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek. The other, never even a starter on the Buckeyes, would make it as a coach: Robert Montgomery Knight.

Floyd Patterson had recently become the 1st former heavyweight champion of the world to regain the title, knocking out Ingemar Johansson at the Polo Grounds, as Ingo had gained it a year earlier by knocking Floyd out at Yankee Stadium.

The Olympics had recently been held in Rome, its biggest American heroes being decathlete Rafer Johnson, triple Gold Medalist Wilma Rudolph, and boxer Cassius Clay, the future Muhammad Ali. The Olympics have since been held in America 4 times, Canada 3 times, Japan 3 times, France twice, Austria twice, Australia, Greece, Italy, Norway, Spain, Germany, Mexico, Russia, Korea, Bosnia and China. The World Cup has since been held in Germany twice, Mexico twice, America, England, France, Italy, Spain, Argentina, Chile, Japan, Korea and South Africa.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was in his last 3 weeks as President of the United States. That's right: The Eagles haven't been World Champions since the Ike Age. Richard Nixon was his Vice President. Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman, and the widows of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt, were still alive. John F. Kennedy had just been elected President, Lyndon Johnson Vice President.

Gerald Ford was in the U.S. House of Representatives. Jimmy Carter was farming in Georgia, and thinking about running for the State Senate. Ronald Reagan was still an actor, and still a Democrat, although an increasingly conservative one: He had given speeches denouncing JFK's economic and social plans, saying, falsely and stupidly, "Under the tousled boyish haircut, it is still old Karl Marx."

George Herbert Walker Bush was in the oil business in Texas, and his family included a 14-year-old boy named George, who was a freshman at his father's alma mater, Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. In junior high school were Billy Blythe and Hillary Rodham, although we don't remember them by those names today. So were Al Gore and Dan Quayle. Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani were in high school. Dick Cheney, Joe Biden and Michael Bloomberg were in college. John McCain was a pilot in the U.S. Navy.

The Governor of New York was Nelson Rockefeller, having already made his 1st run for President. The Mayor of New York City was Robert Wagner Jr., son of the Senator who wrote the bills that became the Social Security Act and the National Labor Relations Board -- making him arguably the 2nd-most-important person in FDR's New Deal. The Governor of New Jersey was Robert B. Meyner.

Richard J. Hughes was a superior court judge. John Lindsay and William T. Cahill had just been elected to their 2nd terms in Congress; Hugh Carey to his first. Ed Koch, David Dinkins and Mario Cuomo were practicing law. Brendan Byrne was Essex County Prosecutor. Tom Kean was a college professor.

Nancy D'Alessandro (Pelosi), Harry Reid and Jim Florio were in college. Mitch McConnell, George Pataki, Christine Todd (Whitman), Donald DiFrancesco, Richard Codey were in high school. Jon Corzine and Eliot Spitzer were in junior high. John Boehner and David Paterson were in elementary school. Jim McGreevey and Andrew Cuomo had just turned 3. Eliot Spitzer was 18 months old. Barack Obama, Michelle Robinson (Obama), Chris Christie and Sarah Palin had not yet been born.

Since I'm talking about the Eagles, I should mention Philadelphia's and Pennsylvania's chief executives. On the day after Christmas, 1960, when the Eagles last won the NFL Championship, Richardson Dilworth was Mayor. James Tate was the President of the City Council, and would succeed Dilworth as Mayor. Frank Rizzo was a police inspector. Bill Green had just moved from St. Joseph's College to Villanova Law School. Wilson Goode was a minor political activist. Ed Rendell was at the University of Pennsylvania, and would himself go on to Villanova Law. John Street was at Conshohocken High School. Michael Nutter was 3.

The Governor of Pennsylvania was David Lawrence, a former Mayor of Pittsburgh. Bill Scranton had just been elected to Congress, after serving as an aide to U.S. Secretaries of State John Foster Dulles and Christian Herter. Ray Shafer was in the State Senate. Milton Shapp was in the electronics business, and would soon serve in the Kennedy Administration. Dick Thornburgh and Bob Casey Sr. were practicing law. Tom Ridge was in high school. Mark Schweiker and Tom Corbett were in elementary school.

Alaska had recently become the 49th State, and Hawaii the 50th. The Supreme Court of the United States was about as good as it's ever been: The Justices were Earl Warren (Chief), Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter, William O. Douglas, John Harlan, Tom C. Clark, Charles Whittaker, Potter Stewart and William J. Brennan, who was the last remainder of these, serving until 1990. Three weeks before the game in question, the Court had ruled that racial segregation on public transportation anywhere in the country was unconstitutional.

Canada's Prime Minister was Louis St. Laurent. Elizabeth II was Queen of England -- that still hasn't changed -- but she was just 34 years old. The English Football League was won by Burnley – which has barely been in the 1st division (under any name) since. The FA Cup was won by Wolverhampton Wanderers. Tottenham Hotspur, of Middlesex, a suburb of London – not until 1965 would the city's boundaries be redrawn to put "Spurs" actually in London – was in the season that would see them win "The Double": Both the League and the FA Cup. They have not won the League (or its successor, the Premier League) since. That means that even Spurs have won a championship since the Philadelphia Eagles. That is sick. Real Madrid beat Eintracht Frankfurt to win their 5th straight European Cup – the only 5 that had yet been awarded. The Soviet Union won the European Championship.

The Archbishop of Canterbury – not "the wanky Tottenham Hotspur" – went to Rome to see the Pope. The Most Rev. Geoffrey Francis Fisher met with Pope John XXIII in the 1st-ever meeting between a head of the Church of England and a head of the Church of Rome. Albert Lutuli, then President of the African National Congress and South Africa's foremost current opponent of apartheid, was just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the 1st person from outside Europe and the Americas to receive it. (But he wasn't the 1st black person to get it: Ralph Bunche was, 10 years earlier.)

Major novels of 1960 included Ian Fleming's James Bond story For Your Eyes Only, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, John Updike's Rabbit, Run, and Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham. New non-fiction included Joy Adamson's Born Free, John Howard Griffin's Black Like Me, William L. Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and, for the first time in English, Elie Wiesel's 1958 Holocaust memoir Night.

Major films of 1960 included Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, Billy Wilder's The Apartment, a film version of Sinclair Lewis' eerily prescient sendup of evangelism Elmer Gantry, the similarly provocative Inherit the WindG.I. Blues (Sergeant Elvis Presley he had just been discharged from the Army after 2 years), Stanley Kubrick's and Kirk Douglas' blacklist-busting SpartacusExodusSwiss Family RobinsonButterfield 8, the original version of Ocean's 11 with Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack, and The Alamo with John Wayne playing Davy Crockett (don't forget, the Texans were invaders and slaveholders, so the Mexicans were the good guys there). There had been James Bond novels, but, as yet, no movies about Agent 007.

Television shows that debuted in 1960 included Danger Man (a British spy series known as Secret Agent when it later aired in the U.S.), My Three Sons, The Flintstones, The Andy Griffith Show, Route 66, and the British soap opera Coronation Street. Oh yeah, and the 1st Presidential debates. As President Bill Clinton would say many years later, "People who saw the debates on TV said Kennedy won, while people who listened to the debates on radio said, 'When am I gonna get a TV?'"

Jack Paar, upset at his monologue being edited, walked off the set of The Tonight Show – for a month. When he left, he said, "There's got to be a better way to make a living." When he returned, having gotten an apology from the suits at NBC, he said, "As I was saying, before I was interrupted..." The studio audience's laughter was so hard and long, he never finished the sentence. Two years later, he'd had enough, and Johnny Carson became Tonight Show host.

Sinatra and Presley, once on opposing sides of the popular music divide, had forged a truce, and had appeared together on a TV special. Elvis had the current Number 1 song in America, a cover of a 1926 country song, "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" Roy Orbison had just tasted his first pop success after a few country hits. The country's biggest female vocalists were Brenda Lee and Connie Francis. The world had yet to meet Bob Dylan or the four young men who would make up the Beatles. Michael Jackson was 2 years old.

A U.S. postage stamp was 4 cents. A subway ride in New York was 15 cents, and in Philadelphia 25 cents. The average price of a gallon of gas was 31 cents, a cup of coffee 10 cents, a McDonald's meal 45 cents (and that's a cheeseburger, fries and a shake, since the Big Mac wasn't introduced until 1968), a movie ticket 75 cents, a new car $2,600, and a new house $16,500. The Dow Jones Industrial Average had closed at 613.23, 2 days before Christmas.

There were telephones in some cars, but no "mobile phones" like we now understand that term. Hardly anybody in America had color TV sets. Computers still took up entire walls in office buildings. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Tim Berners-Lee were 5 years old. And no human being had yet been launched into space.

In the waning weeks of 1960, the Congo and Mauritania became independent of France. France's President, Charles de Gaullie, visited Algeria, torn apart by its own war of independence, and 127 people died in riots. A military coup, trying to take advantage of Emperor Haile Selassie being overseas, is foiled in Ethiopia.

A United Airlines DC-8 and a TWA Lockheed Constellation collided in midair over Staten Island, killing all 128 people on the planes and 6 more on the ground. The aircraft carrier USS Constellation, under construction at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, catches fire, killing 50 people, and delaying commission of the ship by 7 months. And Penguin Books was found not guilty of obscenity for publishing D.H. Lawrence's novel Lady Chatterley's Lover – finally allowing it to be published in Britain and America, 32 years after it was first published in Italy. 

Keystone Kops director Mack Sennett, matinee idol Clark Gable and Native Son author Richard Wright died. Diego Maradona, Gary Lineker, Maryam d'Abo (herself a pretty good soccer player), Kenneth Branagh, and John F. Kennedy Jr. – and his future, though brief, girlfriend, Daryl Hannah – were born.

December 26, 1960. The Philadelphia Eagles were World Champions. They have not been since. Will they ever do it again? Men have gone broke, old and insane while counting on it.