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[Posted: Sunday p.m., and admittedly not proofed that well as I need to move on, friends, with family duties and all ....the next Bar Chat won’t be until Jan. 1.]
New England Patriots Quiz: 1) Who are the only three with a 100 receptions in a single season? 2) Who are the only three to rush for 1,400 yards in a single season. Answer below.
--The biggest story in New England this week was Pats coach Bill Belichick reportedly stripping Tom Brady’s longtime trainer and business partner, Alex Guerrero, of his special privileges.
Guerrero is a somewhat controversial figure because of his unorthodox methods, and with his Brady connection (and the QB’s TB12 brand...alternative training methods and lifestyle tips) Guerrero has been granted his own office next to the locker room and has been treating a number of the players, which irked the Pats’ strength and training staff.
So this week the Boston Globe first reported that Guerrero was banned from the sidelines, and will not be able to travel on team flights, plus he can only work with Brady.
When questioned Friday, Brady himself got annoyed and claimed both he and Belichick haven’t talked about it.
Matt Bonesteel / Washington Post
“No one is saying we’ve reached the point where Tom Brady and the Patriots are breaking up over Coach Bill Belichick’s treatment of Alex Guerrero, Brady’s training guru. But we are at the point where some on the team are referring to Guerrero as ‘Yoko,’ according to Boston Sports Journal’s Greg Bedard, and whenever the name of the woman who allegedly had a hand in breaking up the Beatles is invoked, you know there’s at least some measure of disharmony on the table....
“Guerrero’s presence around the team...has agitated the team’s medical and training staffs, and Bedard says his presence at the team’s facility outside of his private Brady room ‘is an intentional irritant to Belichick.’ Things apparently took a turn early in the season after an unnamed Patriots starter refused to do squats as directed by the team’s strength staff after he had been told not to by Guerrero. That led to a meeting with Belichick.
“ ‘Belichick professionally informed Guerrero that the team wanted to keep everyone on the same page for the betterment of the franchise,’ Bedard reports. ‘Guerrero told a different account to many of his clients – one that painted Belichick in a poor light – which further damaged the relationship, perhaps to the point that it can’t be repaired.’”
So, yeah, there are tensions under the surface, and it’s true Brady has thrown five of his seven interceptions this season in just the last four games since things reportedly started to go sour in Foxborough. The curse of ‘Yoko Guerrero’? Take heart, Steelers fans.
But today, Brady and the Pats whipped the Bills (8-7) 37-16, as TB12 threw for two touchdowns and Dion Lewis rushed for 129 and a score (plus one receiving); though Brady did throw another pick.
New England (12-3) now needs to beat the Jets next week (cough cough) to secure home-field advantage, assuming Pittsburgh doesn’t stumble tomorrow.
Buffalo is still in the hunt for a wild-card.
The Steelers, who play Houston on Monday night, need to clinch a bye because it appears receiver Antonio Brown wouldn’t be available for the wild-card round of the playoffs, Brown having suffered a partially torn calf muscle in the loss to the Patriots a week ago.
--Also on Sunday....
The Rams (11-4) defeated the Titans (8-7) 27-23 as Jared Goff threw for four touchdowns, two to running back Todd Gurley II who had a spectacular day, 22 carries for 118 yards, and 10 receptions for 158 and the two TDs. L.A., in clinching the NFC West, is in the playoffs for the first time since 2004. The best story in football this season.
Tennessee stays in the wild-card hunt with Buffalo and San Diego, all at 8-7.
Kansas City clinched the AFC West at 9-6 with a 29-13 win over Miami (6-9), Alex Smith throwing for 304 yards and a TD.
The aforementioned Chargers stayed relevant with a hideous 14-7 win against the Jets (5-10). I was one who favored giving Bryce Petty a shot, thinking he had a chance to develop into a solid signal-caller.
Well Mr. Chairman, I’d like to revise and extend my remarks. This guy isn’t the answer, Petty with another poor effort, 14/27, 114, 0-1, 47.5; the Jets wasting Bilal Powell’s 145 yards on the ground.
New Orleans (11-4) clinched a playoff spot with a 23-13 win over Atlanta (9-6) in the Big Easy.
And another NFC South team, Carolina (11-4) also clinched as Cam Newton scored on a dramatic 2-yard TD run with 0:35 to play, the Panthers defeating the Bucs (4-11) 22-19 despite another solid effort from Tampa Bay QB Jameis Winston, who threw for 367 yards.
[If Atlanta beats Carolina next week, they are in.]
Detroit (8-7) was eliminated with a poor effort in Cincinnati, the Lions losing 26-17 to the Bengals (6-9).
Seattle is still in it, though, 9-6 after a 21-12 win over Dallas (8-7) despite just 136 yards of total offense! The Seahawks took advantage of 3 Cowboys turnovers, including an interception of a Dak Prescott pass returned for a touchdown.
Ezekiel Elliott made his return for Dallas but his 97 yards on 24 carries were meaningless.
The amazing Jimmy Garoppolo is now 6-0 as a starter, lifetime, 4-0 with San Francisco (5-10) after the 49ers beat the Jaguars (10-5) 44-33. The new franchise QB was 21/30, 242, 2-1, 102.4, while for Jacksonville, Blake Bortles had three interceptions.
But the Jags clinched their first playoff berth since 2007. Congrats, Steve G.! [Hey, Steve, where was Touchdown Tommy Bohanon today?!]
The Giants lost to the Cardinals (7-8) 23-0, New York now 2-13. The only thing worth noting here is that the great Larry Fitzgerald, in probably his last game in Arizona, and possibly next-to-last in the NFL, had nine receptions for 119 yards and a score, plus a 21-yard pass completion.
I only bring up the Bears’ (5-10) 20-3 win over the Browns because it drops Cleveland to 0-15.
--Continuing....in Saturday’s games....
Baltimore (9-6) moved closer to clinching a playoff berth with a 23-16 win at home over hapless Indianapolis (3-12), as Wake Forest’s Michael Campanaro caught two passes for 21 yards and a touchdown, while carrying it once for 9 yards. Go Deacs!
And Minnesota got a step closer to clinching home-field advantage at 12-3 with a 16-0 win at Green Bay and the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, the first time the Vikings had shut out the Pack (7-8) since 1971, which I found kind of startling.
For Green Bay, Brett Hundley, once again filling in for Aaron Rodgers, was awful, 17/40, 130, 0-2, 30.2, but to be fair, his supporting cast sucked even more.
Hundley, in five starts at home this season, had zero touchdown passes and 7 picks.
But speaking of Rodgers, a lot of teams around the NFL are ticked at how Green Bay handled his injury.
Rodgers came off injured reserve to play last week in the loss to Carolina, and afterwards coach Mike McCarthy said his QB was “sore.”
But then Green Bay didn’t announce Rodgers’ status until Tuesday, after they were officially eliminated from playoff contention, at which point he was placed back on IR.
The issue is a serious one. I didn’t know until reading a piece in ESPN.com by Adam Schefter that the Packers violated the rules regarding players who are eligible to be placed on IR; the rules stipulating that a player needs to have suffered a new injury that would sideline him at least six weeks and, if that is not the case, the team is obligated to release the player once he is healthy.
Rodgers did not suffer a new injury against Carolina. Green Bay just felt, hell, the season is over, we’re not going to risk him in the final two games.
The league has to come down hard on Green Bay. [Take away a late-round draft pick.]
The bowl season thus far has been far from memorable, with a slew of blowouts, but Saturday offered up two great finishes.
In the first, South Florida (10-2) beat Texas Tech (6-7) 38-34. It was 24-24 with 9:30 to play in the fourth quarter, then 27-24 Tech, then 31-27 USF, then 34-31 Tech, the Red Raiders seemingly locking down the win on a 25-yard TD pass with 1:31 to play, only to have USF quarterback Quinton Flowers march the Bulls 75 yards in seven plays, the final 26 on a TD pass to Tyree McCants for the win.
Flowers passed for 311 yards and four touchdowns, plus he rushed for another 106 and a score. If ever there was a guy to root for its him.
Then we had Army and a 42-35 win over San Diego State, a game I thought was a terrific matchup going in (only I missed the end of it while doing my Mom-care deal at the nursing home...whaddya gonna do....).
After the Aztecs (10-3) took a 35-28 lead with 5:47 to play, Army and quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw (32 carries for 180 yards) drove the Black Knights 72 yards in 15 plays, Darnell Woolfolk going over from the 1-yard line with 18 seconds left, and then Kell Walker running it in for the go-ahead two-point conversion. Army added a last-play defensive touchdown.
For SDSU, though, the nation’s leading rusher, Rashaad Penny, scored four touchdowns and rushed for 221 yards on just 14 carries; thus matching the all-time FBS (Div. I-A) record of five consecutive games with 200.
Startlingly, Army had the ball 46 of the 60 minutes, running it 87 times for 440 yards, while Penny was scoring on runs of 81 (his first carry), 31, 49 and 4.
Meanwhile, Bradshaw became the single-season rushing leader for the FBS service academies, passing the 1,587 gained by Navy’s Napoleon McCallum in 1983; Bradshaw finishing with 1,746.
Bradshaw is a senior, but the academy announced he would spend an additional year at West Point, the QB not playing as a freshman due to “an academy matter.”
Army wrapped up its first 10-win season since 1996.
--One other note...UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, a consensus 1st or 2nd pick in the NFL Draft, will sit out Tuesday’s Cactus Bowl against Kansas State, team physicians not wanting Rosen to risk further damage following a concussion suffered during UCLA’s loss to Washington on Oct. 28.
What’s worrisome is that Rosen, after sitting out a game, played in the following two before sitting out the second half of UCLA’s regular season finale against California, where he was pounded.
Rosen reportedly wants to play. UCLA has some explainin’ to do. If he hasn’t recovered well enough all these weeks later, why was he out on the field at all?
--Since I last posted, the big news this week was Wofford’s stunning upset of No. 5 North Carolina Wednesday, 79-75, the Terriers 8-4, the Tar Heels 10-2.
Wofford had never beaten a top 25 team in 23 previous attempts, though the Spartanburg, South Carolina school has qualified for the NCAA Tournament four times since the 2009-10 season.
Johnny Mac pointed out that Wofford’s star guard, Fletcher McGee, who had 27 points in the win and is averaging 24.3 ppg on the season, is shooting .570 from the field, and a stunning .549 from three...56 of 102, so a rather hefty sample size for the junior out of Orlando.
As Ronald Reagan would have said, ‘Not bad, not bad at all.’
--Thursday, my old ‘second team,’ San Diego State, pulled off a nice upset, defeating No. 12 Gonzaga 72-70; the Aztecs 8-3, the Zags 10-3.
--UCLA pulled off a bigger one in New Orleans against 7 Kentucky (9-2), 83-75, as the Bruins moved to 9-3.
Meanwhile, the other two UCLA freshmen involved in the shoplifting incident in China with LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, will remain suspended throughout the current season, the school announced on Friday.
Coach Steve Alford said the two players “have done everything asked of them and continued to work hard in the classroom and in their own personal workouts.”
--In other games Saturday....
6 Miami suffered its first loss of the season, upset by New Mexico State (11-2) in Hawaii, 63-54, the Hurricanes 10-1.
23 Seton Hall moved to 11-2 with a 74-62 win over Manhattan (5-7) behind Angel Delgado’s 15 points and 18 rebounds. This guy is going to be something to see in the NBA...a total rebound machine.
But Hall coach Kevin Willard has a lot on his plate these days. Two days after freshman guard Jordan Walker left the program only to return the next day after apologizing to the team for the distraction, Willard suspended senior forward Ismael Sanogo indefinitely for a violation of team and school rules...not academics-related, but the result of a pattern of “really bad judgements.”
After the Manhattan game, where sophomore guard Myles Powell was ejected following a fight, Willard addressed the media.
“I’m not a happy camper. It’s been a tough week. You put time and effort into kids and you hope that you’re guiding them the right way. When it goes off the rail a little bit, it’s like a stab in the heart. I’m disappointed and sad. I’m not going to have a merry Christmas.”
I watched Willard. The poor guy was visibly upset.
Of Sanogo the coach said: “I’m in no rush to bring him back. You have to act in a certain way at this university. When you don’t, then it’s a big issue with me.”
So my “Pick to Click” for the Final Four, Seton Hall, is going through a rough patch heading into Big East play. I was telling Johnny Mac, who is on the Pirates Train with yours truly, that I’m shocked how many are asking me for refunds on the fare from Summit to South Orange.
--Patrick Stevens of the Washington Post had a story we repeat every year, but for the record as you follow the season the rest of the way...four teams in Division I since the NCAA men’s basketball tournament’s inception have never made the field.
Army, St. Francis of Brooklyn, The Citadel and William & Mary.
One school that hasn’t been to the NCAAs in a long time is Auburn, 2003 being their last bid. But this season they are 11-1, following an 89-64 win yesterday against UConn (7-5). Tigers coach Bruce Pearl, though, is so loathsome it’s hard to root for the school.
Finally, Wake Forest could not have sucked more in falling to 21 Tennessee 79-60 in Winston-Salem, the Vols now 9-2, the Deacs 7-5.
Wake was outscored 13-0 in the final 4:30 after cutting Tennessee’s lead to 66-60; the Deacons committing 20 turnovers in the contest, with guard Bryant Crawford, a player with NBA potential, scoring just 3 points on 1 of 6 shooting from the field, while turning it over 7 times.
I do have to say that Tennessee, under veteran coach Rick Barnes, has an intriguing lineup. They could make some noise come March.
--Some games of note since I last posted early Wed. a.m.
Thursday, the Knicks beat the Celtics 102-93 at the Garden, as the enigmatic Michael Beasley came off the bench and poured in 32 – 28 in the second half – with 12 rebounds in just 24 minutes. It was Beasley’s third 30-point effort of the season.
What was bizarre about the win over a top team is that Kristaps Porzingis, in his first game back from injury, had 1 point....0-for-11 from the field!
But then Friday, the Knicks had to travel to Detroit to play the Pistons. New York played tough, as I took a break from that other column I write to catch the fourth quarter, the Knicks up 99-95 with a minute to play before totally imploding....the Pistons emerging with the win 104-101; the Pistons 18-14, the Knicks falling to 17-15.
So as my boys geared up to host Philadelphia on Christmas Day, all New York hoops fans know the deal. We are 15-5 at home, 2-10 on the road. And after tomorrow, the stretch we’ve been dreading all year begins...16 of 20 on the road. Eegads. This could get ugly quick, sports fans.
But there was another game of note Friday, the Clippers (13-18) defeating the Rockets (25-6) on the road, 128-118, behind Austin Rivers’ career-high 36.
Houston’s James Harden, however, had his second-straight 51-point effort (15 of 28 from the field, 6 of 14 from three, 15 of 16 from the foul line, along with 8 assists....and 8 turnovers).
Harden is the first with back-to-back 50-point games since Kobe Bryant in 2007 (Bryant having four straight in that run).
But Houston lost both of them, which as far as I know has never happened before.
Harden leads the league in scoring at 32.5 ppg, with the Greek Freak second at 29.6.
--As some of you watch Cavs-Warriors Christmas Day, you’ll hear a lot about something I brought up recently, how LeBron James, at age 32 and in his 15th season, is playing better than ever.
As in his points per game, 28.4, rebounds, 8.2, and assists, 9.2, are all above his career averages, while he has never shot better, .570 from the field, and .411 from three, plus .785 from the foul line. Pretty remarkable.
--I’ve watched more NBA action early in the season than normal because of the relative success of the Knicks, and I’m not alone. ESPN said Thursday that average viewership for its 30 games was up 18 percent, to 1.8 million a game, over a year ago.
TNT said its average is up 25 percent to 2.1 million.
NBA TV is also up 25 percent, though on a much smaller base.
Collectively, this is the best start since 2010-11.
--The jerk who won’t go away, LaVar Ball, now says he’s launching a basketball league for nationally-ranked players who have graduated from high school but don’t want to go to college.
Ball’s Junior Basketball Association, which he says is fully funded by his Big Baller Brand, plans to pay the lowest-ranked player a salary of $3,000 a month and the best player $10,000 a month, Ball said. He’s looking for 80 players to fill 10 teams that will seek to play at NBA arenas in Los Angeles, Dallas, Brooklyn and Atlanta.
--Tampa Bay traded longtime third baseman Evan Longoria to the San Francisco Giants for infielder Christian Arroyo and two minor league pitchers, plus the Rays must take outfielder Denard Span’s contract, $9 million.
Longoria is a three-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner who spent his entire 10-year career with Tampa; the best player in their history, hitting 261 home runs, driving in 892, and batting .270.
Last season the 32-year-old (33 next October) hit .261 with 20 homers and 86 RBIs, and he’s played 156 or more games each of the last five seasons.
Great move by the Giants. The guy is clutch, and a leader. Yes, the Giants need much more to return to the top of the NL West, but Longoria has at least three more productive seasons. [I was surprised how some learned baseball fan friends of mine were like ‘whatever’ as I sang the praises of the Giants’ acquisition. My reply was, “Wish the Mets had him!”]
--It’s hard to believe that Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, the looming kings of next winter’s free-agent class, are still just 25.
--The Mets announced Friday that they were bringing back former general manager Omar Minaya to be a special assistant to current GM Sandy Alderson, who at age 70, was just given a new two-year contract. Alderson, understand, replaced Minaya.
Many Mets fans are saying the same thing...this is freakin’ nuts!
Or as the New York Post’s Joel Sherman put it, it’s “a decision both awkward and tin-eared.”
It’s clear this wasn’t Alderson’s decision. The manager he just fired, Terry Collins, is also a special assistant to him. But Collins and Minaya are beloved by owner Fred Wilpon, “who may not talk much publicly these days, but still wields plenty of behind-the-scenes authority.”
To be fair, Minaya was far from awful, in hindsight, having drafted Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Steven Matz, and a 13th-rounder by the name of Daniel Murphy, while picking Justin Turner off the waiver wires in 2010. And he made some big trades and free-agent signings.
--Last Wednesday, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred defended Derek Jeter and the new ownership group of the Miami Marlins.
In a contentious interview with The Dan Le Batard Show on ESPN Radio, Manfred said MLB “did not have player-specific plans” from Jeter et al, which has been slashing payroll and trading away stars Giancarlo Stanton, Dee Gordon and Marcell Ozuna.
“We do not get involved in operating-level decisions in the ownership approval process,” Manfred said. “Clubs make those local decisions.”
Tuesday night, Jeter fielded some angry questions from approximately 200 season-ticket holders during a 90-minute town hall.
Asked if the team got enough in return for Stanton, Jeter pointed out that they got $265 million of relief that will give them the flexibility to do what they want to do.
“We gave a gift, right?” Jeter said. “I hope every gift I give returns $265 million.”
Manfred said he was “fully aware” of the angry reaction of the fan base in South Florida but also urged patience.
The commissioner pointed to the past five seasons as examples of baseball’s “cyclical” nature. In 2013, the teams that had the first five picks in the draft – Houston, Chicago Cubs, Colorado, Minnesota and Cleveland – all were in the playoffs last season, while the teams that were in the 2012 World Series – San Francisco and Detroit – have the top two picks in this year’s draft.
And of course this year’s World Series winners, Houston, had three consecutive 100-loss seasons from 2011 to 2013.
One thing is clear. The Miami story is going to be a fascinating one this season...a truly ugly one, though, for Marlins fans....all 48 of them.
It’s the best time of year for soccer/football fans. As I noted last time, only the Premier League puts an emphasis on scheduling a slew of games during the holidays.
Friday, Arsenal and Liverpool played to a thrilling 3-3 tie.
Then Saturday, among the nine matches, Chelsea and Everton played to a 0-0 draw; Swansea and Crystal Palace tied 1-1, CP now unbeaten in eight straight; Leicester City and Manchester United played to a 2-2 draw, Leicester tying it deep in extra time, and down a man for about 20 minutes; Manchester City won its 17th in a row, as superstar Sergio Aguero scored twice; and finally, my Tottenham Spurs had a big 3-0 win on the road at Burnley, the interloper beforehand among the Big Six, as the great Harry Kane had a hat trick.
Understand that Kane, 24, just tied a PL record for goals in a calendar year, 36, originally set by Blackburn’s Alan Shearer in 1995. And Kane has a game Tuesday against Southampton.
Kane also leads the Premier League with 15 goals in 19 games this season, tied with Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah.
[Normally, world-class football stars don’t reach their prime until 27-29. Messi is 30, Ronaldo 32, in case you were wondering.]
Standings...19 of 38...halfway point....
1. Man City 55 points (18 wins, 1 draw)...60 goals for...12 goals against
2. Man U 42
3. Chelsea 39
4. Liverpool 35 ...Champions League line
5. Tottenham 34
6. Arsenal 34
7. Burnley 32
16. Crystal Palace 18
17. West Ham 17
18. Bournemouth 16
19. West Brom 14
20. Swansea 13
--Tiger Woods said Friday that since the fusion surgery on his lower back in April, he has been relearning his body and his golf swing by relying on feel and the previous three years of work with coach Chris Como.
But, “For now, I think it’s best for me to continue to do this on my own,” Woods said. “I’m grateful to Chris Como for his past work, and I have nothing but respect for him.”
I kind of like this idea.
--For those of you are involved in running golf outings for charities, as I am, you’ll love this one, courtesy of Brad K.
From the Associated Press, 12/21/2017:
“Most golfers like short par 3s, but West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice probably wishes No. 18 at the Greenbrier Classic in 2015 was a little longer – 33 yards longer to be exact.
“In 2015, Justice’s charity promised fans at the 18th hole $100 for the first hole-in-one and $500 for the second in 2015. Professionals George McNeill and Justin Thomas aced the 137-yard hole, forcing the charity to give almost $200,000 to fans around the green.
“The charity took out an insurance policy on the payouts, but a federal appeals court says the policy only covered holes at least 170 yards long.
“Old White Charities Inc. accused the insurer of breach of contract for not covering the payout, but the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that claim.”
I cannot believe that the folks running the tournament, and picking up the insurance, didn’t know of the yardage restriction. We always check, and double-check, with the club pro we’re working with.
Justice, who if you’ve seen this tournament (or know West Virginia), is a larger than life figure, obviously had no idea as he walked around with a wad of cash just in case.
--If you were wondering what would happen to the PGA Tour’s Puerto Rico Open after Hurricane Maria demolished the island, the Tour announced on Thursday that the event will be held, but it will not be official as in the past, and instead will be conducted as a special charity endeavor featuring players, athletes and celebrities.
Previously the tournament was held opposite the WGC Match Play Championship, so it was still able to draw a respectable field, but obviously there are too many issues to pull it off as a regular event this year...it’s still in the planning stages, for example...though the Tour did say it would return in 2019 and 2020 as an official event.
As of last week, most reports had at least 33% of the island still without power.
FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Standings
Men...13 of 37 races....
1. Marcel Hirscher (Austria) 534 points...4 wins
2. Henrik Kristoffersen (Norway) 505...no wins, but 5 seconds
Women...12 of 38 races....
1. Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) 721...4 wins
2. Viktoria (sic) Rebensburg (Germany) 430
Dick Enberg, RIP
The broadcasting legend died Thursday at the age of 82, a reported heart attack. His wife said he was all dressed and packed to go to San Diego Airport for a flight to Boston, where he was meeting her. He never made it. Very sad.
Enberg worked for NBC, CBS and ESPN in a broadcast career spanning 60 years, covering 10 Super Bowls, 28 Wimbledons and eight NCAA Tournament title games. He was also a fixture doing baseball.
Heck, he’s an award-winner for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He also picked up 13 Sports Emmys.
Bill Dwyre / Los Angeles Times
“Enberg was Vin Scully, spread over a dozen sports. Scully’s worship was focused, emanating from those who found religion in bats and balls and warm summer days. Enberg’s was also bats and balls, as well as tennis racquets, golf clubs, shoulder pads and squeaky sneakers on hardwood floors. Even racing bicycles.
“If there was a gymnasium, field, court or fairway, and there was a microphone nearby, chances are Enberg was sitting behind it.
“He broadcast eight of UCLA’s NCAA basketball title teams. He did nine baseball no-hitters, or two more than Nolan Ryan pitched. He did the famous UCLA-Houston game in the Astrodome and tried for years to explain to John Wooden why it was OK for the Bruins to lose that one, because a victory by Houston and Elvin Hayes meant more to the sport than just another UCLA win. Surprise, surprise. Wooden never agreed.
“Enberg did Super Bowls that were super, tennis tournaments full of love, major golf events where his descriptions were sweeter than the winner’s swing. He even did the first radio play-by-play, or pedal-by-pedal, of Indiana University’s Little 500, a bike race later memorialized in the movie ‘Breaking Away.’”
John Feinstein / Washington Post
“On a late Sunday afternoon in February 1989, Duke and Arizona played a basketball game in East Rutherford, N.J., that was telecast on NBC.
“Dick Enberg and Al McGuire worked the game. It was their 12th season together, and they had become close friends. After the game, they went into New York to have dinner at Smith & Wollensky, the great East Side steakhouse.
“I tagged along, knowing the food would be excellent and the stories and good wine would flow into the night.
“It was late when Enberg began telling the story about how he had met his wife, Barbara, and how she had transformed his life at a time when, as he put it, ‘I doubted whether I could fall in love again.’
“Al and I listened, and after a few minutes, we noticed something: Dick was crying. He didn’t stop talking, saying again and again through the tears how grateful he was that somehow she had found enough good in him to marry him.
“I’m guessing, but I’m willing to bet when Dick Enberg died Thursday at the age of 82, Barbara Enberg was still finding plenty of good in her husband of 34 years.
“More than anything else, that genuine goodness may explain the magic Enberg brought to a telecast.
“Oh, sure, he was the consummate television pro: His preparation was meticulous; his understanding of every sport he took on always had depth. Even when NBC asked him to add golf, a sport he really wasn’t familiar with, he made it sound as if he were born to sit in an 18th hole tower.
“That’s why it’s no surprise that when word of Enberg’s death began to spread Friday morning, Pinehurst Resort sent out a tweet that included Enberg’s call of Payne Stewart’s historic putt to win the 1999 U.S. Open.
“ ‘We’re saddened to hear of the passing of the great Dick Enberg, who had the classic call of what is perhaps Pinehurst’s finest moment: #OhMy,’ the tweet read.
“Enberg didn’t bring out his signature line for first-down catches in the second quarter or for a service break in the first set. He saved it for the right time. When Enberg said, ‘Oh, my,’ you knew something special had happened.
“Enberg knew a moment when he saw it and made it his own without becoming hysterical. No one was better at calling attention to the event and at making his partners better, whether it was McGuire or Billy Packer or Merlin Olsen or Bud Collins or Johnny Miller or the slew of color commentators he worked with through the years on basketball, football, tennis, baseball and golf....
“Because he was so good for so long in so many sports, people often lost track of Enberg’s accomplishments. He did Super Bowls, Olympics, Final Fours, World Series and major tennis and golf tournaments. He did essays and commentaries in his later years and wrote a one-man show based on his experience with McGuire – called ‘Coach’ – that is still staged around the country.
“He and Collins essentially invented ‘Breakfast at Wimbledon’ in 1979, when the notion of televising a major sporting event at 9 a.m. on a Saturday was considered a huge risk....
“It has always been my belief that, as many awards and honors as he received, Enberg never got his full due – in part because he let his analysts be the stars.
“When he retired from calling San Diego Padres games in 2016, his exit went almost unnoticed in most places because he chose to leave on the same day that Vin Scully did his last broadcast for the Dodgers.
“The broadcasting and print awards given out by the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame are named for Curt Gowdy. Enberg was a winner of the Gowdy Award. Maybe it should be the other way around.
“The College Sports Information Directors of American do have an award named for Enberg, but somehow it feels as if there should be something more – something that combines his work in all sports. Perhaps it should go to someone who combines doing consistently superb work with being a better person than he is a broadcaster.
“The plaque should read: ‘In honor of Dick Enberg, a great broadcaster, a better man – who spent a lifetime making someone else the star.’”
Top 3 songs for the week 12/26/70: #1 “My Sweet Lord” (George Harrison) #2 “One Less Bell To Answer” (The 5th Dimension) #3 “The Tears Of A Clown” (Smokey Robinson & The Miracles)...and...#4 “Knock Three Times” (Dawn) #5 “Black Magic Woman” (Santana) #6 “I Think I Love You” (The Partridge Family) #7 “Stoned Love” (The Supremes) #8 “Does Anybody Really Know What Time Is It?” (Chicago) #9 “Gypsy Woman” (Brian Hyland) #10 “No Matter What” (Badfinger)
New England Patriots Quiz Answers: 1) 100 receptions: Wes Welker, 5 times, topped by 123 in 2009; Julian Edelman, 105, 2015; Troy Brown, 101, 2001. 2) 1,400 yards rushing: Corey Dillon, 1,635, 2004; Curtis Martin, 1,487, 1995; Jim Nance, 1,458, 1966.
Next Bar Chat, Jan. 1st
And now our annual Christmas special...best read with the children Christmas Eve. I added a new story to the old favorites.
Growing up, one of the more dramatic memories as a kid was staying up Christmas Eve 1968 to follow the remarkable voyage of Apollo 8.
If ever a nation needed a pick me up, it was America in ’68, after the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, with the ongoing war in Vietnam and the dramatic Tet Offensive, and after LBJ’s sudden withdrawal from the presidential race, the turbulent Democratic Convention, and the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Yes, we were ready for a little space adventure.
Apollo 8 would be the first manned mission to orbit the moon. Commanded by Frank Borman, with James Lovell, Jr. and William Anders, it was launched on December 21 and on Christmas Eve the three began their orbit. What made it all even more dramatic was the first go round to the dark side of the moon, when all communication was lost until they reemerged at the other side. It was the middle of the night for us viewers, at least in the Eastern time zone, and I remember that Apollo was sending back spectacular photos of Earth.
Borman described the moon as “a vast, lonely and forbidding sight,” and Lovell called Earth, “a grand oasis in the big vastness of space.” The crew members then took turns reading from the Book of Genesis / Creation:
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light;” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
James Lovell would later say, “Please be informed, there is a Santa Claus.” And Borman concluded with, “Merry Christmas. God bless all of you, all of you on the Good Earth.”
Ron White, author of “American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant,” had a piece in the New York Daily News (Dec. 2017) on the story of how Christmas became a national holiday, President Grant signing a proclamation on June 24, 1870 making it so.
“The Pilgrims who first came to a new England did not celebrate Christmas. Their memories of Christmas in the old England they left behind were of a season of decadence and debauchery. Nearly two centuries later, in the first year of the new United States, Congress met in session on December 25, 1789 – certainly not a holiday.
“In the early decades of the 19th century Americans began to reimagine Christmas, turning it into church- and family-centered celebrations. Charles Dickens published ‘A Christmas Carol’ in 1843. Carol singing, tree decorations and gift-giving became regular parts of Christmas. Political cartoonist Thomas Nast, a German immigrant, popularized a jolly Santa Claus in his drawings.
“During the Civil War, Christmas meant a day of rest as well as memories of festivities back home. Robert Gould Shaw, who would receive fame as commander of the 54th Massachusetts, the first African-American regiment organized in the North, wrote, ‘It is Christmas morning and I hope for a happy and merry one for you all.’
“Grant, victorious Union Civil War general, emerged from the war with a passion to reunite the nation. If he had become a practitioner of a ‘hard war’ during the four-year-long conflict, as the war reached its climax he grew into an advocate of a ‘soft peace.’ He demonstrated his belief at the Confederate surrender at Appomattox when he offered Robert E. Lee a magnanimous peace.
“Grant’s decision to declare Christmas a legal public holiday reveals two sides of this self-effacing American leader. First, although he is not portrayed as a religious person in biographies, a closer look will reveal a quiet man who did not wear his faith on his sleeve, but displayed his Methodist commitment to social justice. Raised in Ohio in a devout Methodist family, he married Julia Dent, whose grandfather was a Methodist minister.
“His private faith became more public in his presidency. The Washington National Cathedral, whose construction began in 1907, is often thought to be the first national church in the nation’s capital, but Grant played a decisive role in the declaration of the actual first national church in Washington four decades earlier.
“By the Civil War, Methodism had become the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. In the early 1850s, Methodists made plans to build the first national church in Washington. When it became clear that Grant would be elected President in 1868, Methodists accelerated plans to complete their national church.
“On Feb. 28, four days before Grant’s inauguration as President, he sat in the front pew as the Metropolitan Methodist Church was dedicated. Grant would serve as a trustee, while Julia chaired the national committee to retire the debt of the church.
“Second, Grant’s commitment to making Christmas a legal holiday needs to be understood as part of his drive to unite the North and the South after the war. Grant began his presidency in 1869 as what was called Reconstruction was unraveling.
“The 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution were enacted to guarantee the civil and political rights of newly emancipated African-Americans. But ex-Confederate generals and Southern newspaper editors, aided by the terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan, determined to quickly replace slavery with what would become Jim Crow segregation. In Grant’s finest moment as President, he would take on the Klan with the power of the federal government, even as his own Republican party retreated from its Reconstruction commitments.
“In this tumultuous year, where bitterness and acrimony seem more regnant than peace and joy, we may well ask: Does Christmas as a public holiday unite or divide? We live in a religious culture quite different than Grant’s world. Yet his public passion to unite North and South in making Christmas a national holiday can inform and inspire attempts to hold up light amid darkness at the end of 2017.”
Michael Gartland / New York Post
“NORAD’s tradition of tracking Santa’s sleigh began with a wrong number.
“Right before Christmas in 1955, Sears ran an ad offering millions of toy-hungry girls and boys the chance to talk to the big man himself. In Colorado Springs, the retailer published the local phone number to the North Pole as ME2-6681.
“There was only one problem: The number was one digit off.
“And that wrong number rang on the desk of a high-ranking officer in a bunker at the Continental Air Defense Command – the predecessor of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which has the less-than-festive mission of detecting and defending the continent against nuclear attack.”
Col. Harry Shoup took the first call on the command’s red phone. In an interview with the Post, Shoup’s daughter, Terri Van Keuren, recalled:
“ ‘The phone rang, and he picked up. ‘This is Colonel Shoup, commander of this combat station. Who is this?’”
Silence on the other end. Shoup repeated himself, then “a meek little boy’s voice came over the line.
“ ‘Is this Santa Claus?’ he murmured.
“Worried there had been some kind of security breach, Shoup again demanded the caller’s name. He heard crying, and another query came through the tears.
“ ‘Is this one of Santa’s elves?’
“Shoup recognized he was in a moment that could destroy the little boy’s faith in Santa.
“ ‘Yes, I am,’ he said. ‘Have you been a good boy?’
After the two talked a while, Shoup asked to speak with the boy’s mother.
“ ‘He asked her: ‘Do you have any idea who you’ve called?’’ Van Keuren said. ‘She told him to take a look at that day’s newspaper.’”
So the calls flooded in and Shoup directed his men to answer as Santa.
Weeks later, Shoup, on vacation, dropped in on his men and spotted a sleigh on the huge plexiglass map of North America in the room. A subordinate was afraid he had just lost his job.
Instead, Shoup said, “There’s something good we could do with this.”
And so Col. Shoup called a local radio station with the news the command center was tracking Santa’s sleigh. Ever since then, NORAD has been tracking Santa.
Speaking of Santa and reindeer, Edward Kosner had a piece in the Wall Street Journal (11/18/16) on the story of Rudolph, “among other things, the first real addition to American Christmas lore since the first decades of the 19th century. That’s when Washington Irving transformed churchy St. Nicholas into a clay-pipe-puffing, rotund charmer and Clement Clark Mooreequipped him with eight flying reindeer and an automatically replenishing, toy-filled sleigh. Gene Autry, the singing cowpoke, made the song into a hit in 1949, and since then it’s been recorded by everyone from Ella Fitzgerald and Destiny’s Child to the Temptations and Burl Ives, not to mention Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and the Cadillacs, the doo-wop group revered for ‘Speedo.’”
So the legend of Rudolph has been deconstructed in a new book by Ronald D. Lankford Jr., who has written books about popular music. In “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: An AmericanHero,” Lankford digs up far more than you would think was available, “a parable of American commerce cloaked in benevolence,” as Edward Kosner put it.
“The Rudolph creation story begins in Chicago in January 1939, when Robert May, a nerdy 33-year-old adman at Montgomery Ward – with its bursting catalog and more than 600 stores, a retail colossus second only to Sears, Roebuck – was assigned by his boss to dream up a Christmas giveaway, perhaps an illustrated story like the one about Ferdinand the bashful bull....(so) May came up with an awkward young reindeer mocked by his fellows whose oddity – an incandescent nose – enables him to save the day when a befogged Santa asks him to lead the team for global toy delivery.
“According to the legend, May read his poetic text to his daughter, who loved it. The Ward hierarchy didn’t; some worried that the red nose would remind too many parents of drunks. But one exec stood up for Rudolph, and the corporation wound up giving away 2.4 million copies of a 32-page illustrated pamphlet to kids brought to Ward stores by mom and dad. Seven years later, after the end of World War II, another 3.6 million copies were handed out. With an entrepreneurial corporate boost, Rudolph was launched.
“May’s ‘Rudolph’ was a work for hire owned by Ward, but the company’s chairman gave the adman the copyright in 1947, and May made the most of it....In 1949, May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, wrote the song that has enthralled or tormented people ever since. He paid $5 to the singer Guy Mitchell to make a demo and sent it to several crooners. At the end of a session to lay down two 45-rpm Christmas records, Gene Autry devoted 10 minutes to ‘Rudolph’ and made it the B-side of one of the discs. It eventually sold 2.5 million copies, his greatest hit.
“The legend only grew. In 1964, another corporate angel, RCA, swooped in and produced a stop-motion animated ‘Rudolph’ special that was shown on TV every Christmas.”
Lankford argues that Rudolph “appeals to Americans because the story is actually an inspirational Horatio Alger tale of pluck and luck leading to unlikely success. And he ponders whether Rudolph should be thought of as true folklore or as ‘fakelore,’ like Paul Bunyan, or even ‘fakelure’ – a commercial come-on. In the end, it hardly matters.
Then how the reindeer loved him
As they shouted out with glee.
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,
You’ll go down in history.”
Kosner: “And so he has.”
Paul Bunyan is fake?! Drat. First I learn Santa isn’t real and now this.
A Visit from St. Nicholas
By Clement C. Moore [Well, he really stole it, but that’s a story for another day. This is the original version.]
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap;
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof,
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof -
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes - how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
The story of Phil Spector’s “A Christmas Gift for You,” as told by Ronnie Spector in her book “Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness…or…My Life as a Fabulous Ronette”.
“One record that did feature all three Ronettes – and just about everyone else who worked for Phil – was Phil’s Christmas album, A Christmas Gift for You. Phil is Jewish, but for some reason he always loved Christmas. Every year he would spend weeks designing his own special Christmas card, which he would send to everyone in the business. In 1963 he took that idea one step further and recorded an entire album of Christmas music, with contributions from all the acts on his Philles label. All of the groups got to do three or four songs each. The Ronettes did ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,’ ‘Sleigh Ride,’ and ‘Frosty the Snowman.’
“We worked on that one forever. Phil started recording it in the summer, and he didn’t leave the studio for about two months. We’d start recording early in the evening, and we’d work until late into the night, sometimes even into the next morning. And everybody sang on everyone else’s songs, so all of Phil’s acts really were like one big, happy family for that one album.
“While he was recording it, Phil told everyone that this Christmas album was going to be the masterpiece of his career. And he meant it. We all knew how important this project was to Phil when he walked into the studio on the last day of recording and announced that he was going to add a vocal himself. The final song on the record is a spoken message from Phil, where he thanks all the kids for buying his records and then wishes everyone a Merry Christmas, while we all sing a chorus of ‘Silent Night’ in the background. A lot of people thought the song was corny. But if you knew Phil like I did, it was very touching.
“But then I always did have a soft spot for Phil’s voice. There was something about his phrasing and diction that drove me crazy. It was so cool, so calm, so serene. Phil wasn’t a singer, but when he spoke he put me in a romantic mood like no singer could. He was the only guy I ever met who could talk me into an orgasm.
“Of course, he wasn’t doing that back then. Not yet, anyway. Phil and I were still just sweethearts in those days. We spent lots of time together, and we were very romantic, but we still hadn’t slept together. Maybe that’s why we were so romantic.
“A Christmas Gift for You finally came out in November of 1963. But in spite of all the work we put into it, the album was one of Phil’s biggest flops. It was reissued as The Phil Spector Christmas Album in the early seventies, and nowadays people talk about it like it’s one of the greatest albums in rock and roll history. But nobody bought it when it first came out.
“President Kennedy had been shot a few days before it was released, and after that people were too depressed to even look at a rock and roll record. And they stayed that way until well into the New Year of 1964, when – thank God – four long-haired English guys finally got them to go back into the record stores.”
The Gospel According to Luke
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see - I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Political commentator Pat Buchanan (The Atlantic, December 2015). The question was: “What is the greatest comeback of all time?”
Betrayed, scourged, crucified on a cross between two thieves, Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead and sent his apostles to preach his doctrines to the world, out of which came Christianity and Western civilization. Then he ascended into heaven. His name is known to more people than that of any other man who walked the Earth, and the empire that crucified him is gone.
Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus
A famous letter from Virginia O’Hanlon to the editorial board of the New York Sun, first printed in 1897:
We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:
Dear Editor -
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
World War I – Christmas Truce
By December 1914, the war had been picking up in intensity for five months. Ironically, the feeling during the initial phases was that everyone would be home by Christmas, though little did they know it would be Christmas 1918.
On Christmas Eve 1914, along the British and German lines, particularly in the Flanders area, the soldiers got into conversation with each other and it was clear to the British that the Germans wanted some sort of Christmas Armistice. Sir Edward Hulse wrote in his diary, “A scout named F. Murker went out and met a German Patrol and was given a glass of whisky and some cigars, and a message was sent back saying that if we didn’t fire at them they would not fire at us.” That night, where five days earlier there had been savage fighting, the guns fell silent.
The following morning German soldiers walked towards the British wire and the Brits went out to meet them. They exchanged caps and souvenirs and food. Then arrangements were made for the British to pick up bodies left on the German side during a recent failed raid.
Christmas Day, fraternization took place along many of the lines, including a few of the French and Belgian ones. Some joined in chasing hares, others, most famously, kicked around a soccer ball. British soldier Bruce Bairnsfather would write, “It all felt most curious: here were these sausage-eating wretches, who had elected to start this infernal European fracas, and in so doing had brought us all into the same muddy pickle as themselves. But there was not an atom of hate on either side that day; and yet, on our side, not for a moment was the will to war and the will to beat them relaxed.”
In the air the war continued and the French Foreign Legionnaires in Alsace were ordered to fight Christmas Day as well. Plus, most of the commanders on both sides were none too pleased. Nothing like the Christmas truce of 1914 would occur in succeeding years (outside of a pocket or two) and by December 26, 1914, the guns were blazing anew.
[Source: “The First World War,” by Martin Gilbert]
“May You Always”
From 1959-2002, Harry Harrison was a fixture on New York radio, the last 20+ years at the great oldies station WCBS-FM. Unfortunately, he was forced to retire, which ticked off many of us to no end, but he will forever be remembered for a brilliant greeting titled “May You Always.” Enjoy.
As the holiday bells ring out the old year, and sweethearts kiss,
And cold hands touch and warm each other against the year ahead,
May I wish you not the biggest and best of life,
But the small pleasures that make living worthwhile.
Sometime during the new year, to keep your heart in practice,
May you do someone a secret good deed and not get caught at it.
May you find a little island of time to read that book and write that letter,
And to visit that lonely friend on the other side of town.
May your next do-it-yourself project not look like you did it yourself.
May the poor relatives you helped support remember you when they win the lottery.
May your best card tricks win admiring gasps and your worst puns, admiring groans.
May all those who told you so, refrain from saying “I told you so.”
May all the predictions you’ve made for your firstborn’s future come true.
May just half of those optimistic predictions that your high school annual made for you come true.
In a time of sink or swim, may you find you can walk to shore before you call the lifeguard.
May you keep at least one ideal you can pass along to your kids.
For a change, some rainy day, when you’re a few minutes late,
May your train or bus be waiting for you.
May you accidentally overhear someone saying something nice about you.
If you run into an old school chum,
May you both remember each other’s names for introductions.
If you order your steak medium rare, may it be so.
And, if you’re on a diet, may someone tell you, “You’ve lost a little weight,” without knowing you’re on a diet.
May that long and lonely night be brightened by the telephone call that you’ve been waiting for.
When you reach into the coin slot, may you find the coin that you lost on your last wrong number.
When you trip and fall, may there be no one watching to laugh at you or feel sorry for you.
And sometime soon, may you be waved to by a celebrity, wagged at by a puppy, run to by a happy child, and counted on by someone you love.
More than this, no one can wish you.
Ross Cameron / Sydney Morning Herald…I first read this in December 2009.
“Jesus is easily the most influential person in history, and the most universally loved….
“Of his early life, the record is almost blank; we are left with a few fragments….
“He was deeply literate in Jewish scriptures but silent on writings outside that tradition. We may assume he lived his entire life within 160 km of his birthplace – he never describes a foreign custom or place. After a major spiritual moment under the influence of John, he launched into local prominence as an itinerant preacher at age 30. Tradition holds that Jesus was a public figure for three years but modern scholars strongly believe a single year is more likely….
“Riding a wave of fame and popularity, Jesus moved the road show to the heavily garrisoned provincial and religious capital of Jerusalem, entering the city in the lead-up to the most holy day of the Jewish year. The Roman authorities are not known for their tolerance of burgeoning mass movements. Jesus fairly quickly found his way to the agony and humiliation of public torture and execution by order of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate – famous for casual brutality. It was a routine event in a typical day in a Roman occupied city.
“History’s great riddle followed. His supporters immediately claimed Jesus rose from the dead. The four biographies of Jesus often contradict each other on minor details but nowhere so much as in the resurrection narratives. The difficulty with dismissing the claim altogether, however, is how otherwise to explain the instant, unprecedented explosion of the Jesus movement across the Mediterranean. The willingness of so many sane first-century beings – many of them witnesses – to suffer death rather than deny the central tenet of their faith, is also cause for reflection….
“We are left to ponder how one year in the life of a seeming nobody could transform the Roman Empire and the entire planet. The reason for the triumph of this nobody is to be found in his first recorded words. ‘Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.’ Jesus is specially kind to the weak and the outcast – to women, the poor, children, a madman in chains and a hated tax collector.
“In the pre-Jesus record, in virtually every human society, vast faceless classes of people were less valued than domestic animals. The world’s second-greatest philosopher, Aristotle, while writing the 101 course of every academic discipline, fervently endorsed the keeping of slaves as natural and desirable to good order. Slavery continued for centuries after Jesus but the impulse to end it was Christian. Beyond the Jewish scriptures, to which Jesus gave a megaphone, no one cared about those on the margins. Jesus establishes the sublime idea that everyone matters.
“Today that single thought has transformed our sense of what it means to be human. Major political parties of the earth, whether left, centrist or right wing (with the possible exception of the Greens) agree the welfare of the whole human race is our common goal. ‘Blessed are the meek’ evolved into ‘All men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’
“From whatever perspective we come, thinking people ought to be able to agree, the birth of Jesus was a good day for mankind. I suspect I may never quite shake the childlike hunch that there is some uniquely divine imprint on the central individual of the human story. Happy Birthday, Jesus.”
[From Army Times]
Gen. George Washington’s Continental Army was in a dire situation during the frigid winter of 1776. His army had been defeated and chased from New York, and forced to set up winter camp for his remaining 5,000 troops at Valley Forge, Pa., only miles from the capital city of Philadelphia. With morale at its lowest point of the war and enlistments coming to an end, Washington desperately needed a victory to secure reenlistments and draw in some new recruits. The outcome of the revolution was at stake.
On Christmas night, Washington’s troops began to gather on the banks of the Delaware River at McKonkey’s Ferry. His plan was to cross the partially frozen river by midnight, march to Trenton and surround the garrison of Hessian troops (Germans fighting for the British) in the city in a predawn attack.
Before the Army had even launched a boat across the river, it began to rain, then hail, then snow. Washington was behind schedule. Remarkably, the force crossed the river without a single casualty. At 4 a.m., Dec. 26, the ill-equipped army began to march toward Trenton, some with rags wrapped around their feet instead of shoes.
Washington had achieved complete surprise with the dangerous crossing. The battle began when the Army encountered a group of unprepared Hessian sentries at about 8 a.m., and by 9:30 the garrison had surrendered. The Army had killed 22, injured 83 and taken 896 prisoners.
By noon, Washington had left Trenton, having lost two men in the battle, and returned to camp at Valley Forge. He had won a major victory, inspiring the needed reenlistments. News of the battle drew new recruits into the beleaguered Continental Army. The revolution would live to fight another day.
A number of years ago, Rich Lowry wrote an op-ed in the New York Post on the genius of “White Christmas”:
“America’s classic Christmas song was written by a Jewish immigrant.
“Born in Russia with the name Israel Baline, he was the genius songwriter we know as Irving Berlin. He wrote ‘White Christmas’ for the 1942 Hollywood musical ‘Holiday Inn,’ starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.
“On set, the movie’s hit number was presumed to be another Berlin composition, the Valentine’s Day song ‘Be Careful, It’s My Heart.’ At first, it was. Then ‘White Christmas’ captured the public’s imagination and hasn’t quite loosed its grip since....
“Some estimates point to sales of all versions of ‘White Christmas’ topping 100 million....
“It is a song built on yearning. In lines at the beginning of the original version that aren’t usually performed, Berlin writes of being out in sunny California during the holiday: ‘There’s never been such a day/in Beverly Hills, L.A./But it’s December the twenty-fourth,/And I’m longing to be up North’.
“(Colleague Mark) Steyn thinks that if America had entered World War II a few years earlier, the song might never have taken off. But 1942 was the year that American men were first shipped overseas, and it was released into a wave of homesickness. (Berlin’s daughter) Mary Ellin Barrett says it first caught on with GIs in Great Britain. During the course of the war, it became the most requested song with Armed Forces Radio.
“The irony of the son of a cantor writing the characteristic American Christmas song is obvious. Yet, Berlin’s daughter says, ‘He believed in the great American Christmas.’ As a child on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, he loved to look at the little Christmas tree of his Catholic neighbors. He and his Christian wife Ellin (theirs was a scandalous mixed marriage), put on elaborate, joyous Christmases for their daughters. Not until later would they reveal that the day was a painful one for them because they had lost an infant child on Christmas.
“Berlin knew he had something special with ‘White Christmas’ as soon as he wrote it. He supposedly enthused to his secretary, ‘I just wrote the best song I’ve ever written – heck, I just wrote the best song that anybody’s ever written!’ The song evokes the warmth of the hearth and the comforts of our Christmas traditions in a way that hasn’t stopped pulling at heartstrings yet.”
Some tidbits related to “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” At first, Charles Schulz and his associates didn’t think they’d be able to pull the project off for CBS. Production was crammed into five months and CBS executives were none too pleased with the results. Schulz insisted on the biblical passage, animator Bill Melendez and producer Lee Mendelson weren’t so sure.
The rush to production (they were given just five months) led to a few mistakes, like Schroeder’s fingers coming off the keyboard while music is playing, and Pig Pen mysteriously disappearing for a second. Plus the barren Christmas tree lost, and then regained, a couple of branches. They just didn’t have time to change it.
Melendez, by the way, wrote the lyrics to “Christmas Time Is Here” in 15 minutes on an envelope, after Vince Guaraldi had come up with the music. A children’s choir recorded it just four days before the show premiered.
The show was a ratings smash when it premiered Dec. 9, 1965, on CBS. Last year, 2015, it still averaged 6 million viewers.
Separately, Mendelson recalled speaking to Schulz shortly before he died. “He said, ‘Good grief. That little kid’s never going to kick the football.’”
Linus [From “A Charlie Brown Christmas”]
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shown round about them. And they were so afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you. Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, goodwill toward men.”
That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
Merry Christmas, gang!