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Winners and Losers in the NFL
[Posted Sunday p.m.]
***I will be throwing in some small stuff up top during the week, like the new AP hoops poll, and the NFL playoff picture following Monday night’s game. Otherwise, taking a little break***
NFL Playoff Standings / Opponent Week 17
1. Baltimore 13-2...clinched home field...Pittsubgh*
2. New England 12-3...Miami
3. Kansas City 11-4...L.A. Chargers
4. Houston 10-5...Tennessee
5. Buffalo 10-5...N.Y. Jets
6. Tennessee 8-7...at Houston
7. Pittsburgh 8-7...at Baltimore*, which is sitting Lamar Jackson, among other key players...big breatk for the Steelers, but they need Tennessee to lose. Steelers put Mason Rudolph on IR, so up to "Duck" Hodges.
1. San Francisco 12-3...at Seattle Sunday night in a dramatic finale.
2. Green Bay 12-3...at Detroit
3. New Orleans 12-3...at Carolina
4. Philadelphia 8-7...at N.Y. Giants
5. Seattle 11-4...San Francisco
6. Minnesota 10-5...Chicago
9. Dallas 7-8...Washington...Philly hasn't clinched it yet.
New AP Top College Basketball Top 25....
1. Gonzaga (54) 13-1
2. Ohio State (9) 11-1
3. Louisville (1) 11-1
4. Duke (1) 10-1
5. Kansas 9-2
6. Oregon 10-2
7. Baylor 9-1
8. Auburn 11-0
9. Memphis 10-1
10. Villanova 9-2...up 8
11. Michigan 9-3
12. Butler 11-1
13. Maryland 10-2...down 6
15. San Diego State 12-0...Aztecwear stirring in sports drawer
16. Virginia 9-2...down 7
19. Kentucky 8-3...down 13!
20. Penn State 10-2
NBA Quiz: With the league dominating the sports scene on Christmas Day, and having mentioned Milwaukee and its 18-game winning streak the other week, two shy of the franchise mark set by the 1970-71 title team, name the main eight in the rotation for the ‘70-’71 Bucks. Answer below.
--After a string of mediocre performances that had all of New England concerned, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was his old, steady self, 26/33, 271, 1-0, 111.0, as the Pats (12-3) beat the Bills (10-5) 24-17, in a hard-fought contest in Foxborough.
Brady rallied the Pats from down 17-13 with two scoring drives in the fourth quarter, including a two-point conversion on a touchdown giving them the final margin with 5 minutes to play.
The Pats thus clinched their 11th consecutive AFC East championship.
Buffalo’s Josh Allen showed off his skills. He was only 13 of 26, but he had some outstanding throws, two touchdown passes, a 102.7 PR, while rushing for another 43 on seven carries. You can see he’s right on the verge of truly breaking out, which Bills fans hope is in the upcoming playoffs.
New England assured itself of a home game (assuming it beats Miami next week), if not home-field advantage.
Buffalo has lost seven consecutive games to New England.
--The Rams slim playoff hopes ended in San Francisco last night, L.A. falling 34-31 on a last-second Robbie Gould 33-yard field goal, L.A. 8-7, the 49ers 12-3 and still hoping for a top seed and a home playoff game.
But a year after playing in the Super Bowl, the Rams will be watching the postseason from home. One of the two or three biggest disappointments in the league this year.
After 11-5 and 13-3 the last two seasons, the Rams gave their coach, Sean McVay, quarterback, Jared Goff, and GM, Les Snead, contract extensions as they move into a new stadium next year.
But the 49ers were playing with a heavy heart, as backup quarterback C.J. Beathard’s younger brother, Clayton, was killed senselessly in a bar fight in Nashville, along with Clayton’s friend.
Father Bobby Beathard is in the Hall of Fame as a general manager for his work with the Redskins and Chargers.
--The Houston Texans wrapped up the AFC South title for a fourth time in five seasons, beating Tampa Bay 23-20 in a wild and crazy game.
Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston continues his own wild ride this season (and basically for his career), throwing four interceptions, but taking his league-leading passing yardage total to 4,908. He has 31 touchdown passes and a whopping 28 INTs on the year, with a highly-mediocre 84.6 passer rating, but he is exciting.
The 28 interceptions is the highest figure for a season since Brett Favre threw 29 in 2005.
--Today, the Ravens locked up the No. 1 seed in the AFC (sorry Pats) with a 31-15 win at Cleveland (6-9), Lamar Jackson with another three touchdown passes and 103 yards rushing on 17 carries. Lamar, your MVP trophy is being expressed to you tonight so you can unwrap it on Christmas morning....as is only appropriate.
The No. 1 seed has won five of the last six Super Bowls.
--New Orleans stayed in the No. 1 seed chase in the NFC, 38-28 victors over Tennessee (8-7), Drew Brees and Co. 12-3, Brees with another three touchdown passes to extend his NFL record.
But receiver Michael Thomas broke Marvin Harrison’s single-season NFL record with 12 receptions for 136 and a score, giving Thomas 145 and an opportunity to end up with 150+.
Tennessee, though, has the wild card advantage over the Steelers, but it’s complicated.
--The Jets put a major crimp in the Steelers’ playoff bid, defeating them at MetLife 16-10, half the crowd Steelers’ fans. Pittsburgh had one injury after another, and then when Devlin “Duck” Hodges was replaced by Mason Rudolph after throwing two early interceptions, Rudolph went out with an injury after rallying the team back to a 10-10 tie, Hodges having to return.
This was not a great game by any stretch, the Steelers outgaining the Jets 260-259, as the Jets are now a useless 6-9, the Steelers 8-7.
Pittsburgh lost running back James Conner in the game, status unknown, and there simply is no offense.
As for Jets fans, we already knew coach Adam Gase was returning, as much as we can’t stand the guy, so the whole thing is like, whatever.
--And in the Battle for NFC East supremacy, the Eagles came up with a huge team effort, 17-9 over Dallas (7-8), Philly taking the division lead at 8-7. Now a win against the Giants next Sunday and they’re in.
Dallas owner Jerry Jones so badly wants to fire Jason Garrett tonight, but that would be senseless. Wait until next Sunday evening.
I mean the Dallas receivers dropped a ton of balls, and at the same time quarterback Dak Prescott (25/44, 265, 0-0, 74.5) overthrew, and underthrew, countless passes. Just a total team crapathon....and super Eagles team effort from a bunch of second- and third-teamers, what with all the injuries they’ve suffered. Quarterback Carson Wentz has been terrific the last three weeks, all must-have wins, as he shed the ‘Senor Wences’ tag.
--Meanwhile, the Seattle Seahawks suffered a dreadful loss at home, 27-13 to the Cardinals (5-9-1), Arizona running back, and Miami castoff, Kenyan Drake with 166 yards on the ground and two touchdowns, including an 80-yard burst for six. Seattle was outgained 412-224, as they drop to 11-4.
--There were a lot of beyond meaningless games today, and some I have zero comment on, but locally, the Giants may have, emphasis on may, saved coach Pat Shurmur’s job with a 41-35 overtime win over Washington (3-12) in the Chase Young sweepstakes*. New York is now 4-11. No one cares...except those wanting Young!
*Cincinnati will have the first pick and no doubt will go for Ohio native and Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback Joe Burrow of LSU.
However, rookie quarterback Daniel Jones returned for the Giants after sitting two weeks with his high-ankle sprain, and Jones showed, yes, he is the future, throwing five touchdown passes, including the winner in OT.
Saquon Barkley also proved that he was fully recovered from his own high-ankle sprain with a career day...189 yards rushing, including a 67-yard touchdown scamper, and another 90 receiving with a score.
Washington rookie QB Dwayne Haskins was off to a great start, two touchdown passes, 12 of 15, but he went out with an ankle injury.
And I have officially written too much about this game.
--In another totally meaningless game, Atlanta moved to 6-9 with a 24-12 win over Jacksonville (5-10), the Jags having fired GM Tom Coughlin (officially executive vice president of football operations) earlier in the week. It seems the NFLPA had won a grievance filed by players against the organization; the issue being Coughlin’s excessive player fines. He had lost the respect of the Jags’ locker room.
I only mention all this because the lone Jacksonville fan in my readership, Steve G., who is now living in Mexico, wrote to say he was watching the game from a Hooters, allowing his wife to go shopping, because to force her to watch the Jags with him would be spousal abuse.
I think we all can agree on that, Republicans and Democrats.
--Steelers safety Kameron Kelly was arrested Friday for allegedly making terroristic threats and resisting arrest, according to court documents obtained by USA TODAY Sports. The Steelers waived Kelly on Friday afternoon.
According to the criminal complaint, Kelly was allegedly upset his music selection had been skipped on Mario’s Southside Saloon jukebox, and he threatened to knock out an employee of the bar. A Pittsburgh police officer removed Kelly from the bar and told him he could not reenter.
Then, the complaint said, the officer accidentally stepped on a woman’s foot, Kelly claimed she was “his girl” and allegedly “aggressively approached” the officer, saying, “I promise to God I’ll (expletive) you up, boy.”
Kelly began resisting arrest and an officer punched Kelly in the face, according to the complaint. He was treated at the hospital for a lip injury and then taken to Allegheny County Jail.
Since the season opener, when he made a season-high six tackles, Kelly hasn’t been used much.
But everyone on the Sunday NFL pregame shows will tell you that 95% of the players in the NFL are model citizens, as they rerack J.J. Watt tapes of his giving back.
College Football / Bowl Season
--So I targeted one game in which I was going to place a sports bet. I’ve told you, honestly, I don’t bet on games these days, just DraftKings lineups in golf and NASCAR. I did bet, preseason, on the Jets winning 8 games (I think it was), which I obviously lost.
Well, I bet $42,500 on SMU, giving 3 against Florida Atlantic, and then even when the line went to –7 suddenly prior to the game, I bet another $42,500 on the Mustangs. [Actual figures I wagered may differ from what you see above.]
So FAU, playing without two key players sitting out for the NFL, and another three suspended for academic reasons (welcome, new coach Willie Taggart, who didn’t know about this stuff prior to taking the job), jumped out to a 7-0 lead. OK, I thought, no problem.
Then FAU scored again, but SMU countered, 14-14. OK, I thought, no problem.
Then it was 28-14 FAU at the half. OK, I thought, Mustangs get your freakin’ act together!
Then it was 42-14 FAU in the third. OK, I thought, I will never talk to SMU alum Paul P. again. [Just kidding, Paul. I know how pissed you must be as well. At least I would be if that were my team.]
Well, FAU won 52-28. What an embarrassment for SMU coach Sonny Dykes. Disgraceful, Sir. The day before the contest, the school had given him an extension.
The Mustangs finish 10-3, still their best season since before the death penalty, 1984. FAU finished 11-3, and Lane Kiffin, who has departed for Ole Miss, clearly did a good job in bringing in quality athletes. Not that they are also good students and citizens, but, hey, it’s about Wins and Losses, sports fans!
--Congrats to No. 20 Appalachian State, who beat UAB 31-17 in the New Orleans Bowl behind Darrynton Evans’ 157 yards on the ground and a touchdown. The Mountaineers thus finish up 13-1 and will be firmly ensconced in their first AP final top 25 in school history.
--Washington coach Chris Petersen retired in style, a 38-7 winner over his former team, 19 Boise State (12-2), the Huskies finishing the season 8-5.
Petersen, just 55, clearly wanted to take a break, but for how long we’ll see.
--In the College Football Playoff semifinals, LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire is dealing with a hamstring injury, which coach Ed Orgeron described as “very unusual.” It was suffered in a noncontact team drill. So this is a concern, not having seen an update on his status for Saturday in a while.
And Oklahoma will be playing the Tigers without starting defensive end Ronnie Perkins and backup running back Rhamondre Stevenson (along with special teams player Trejan Bridges), all suspended for the game after failing NCAA-administered drug tests.
--In the recruiting game, Clemson and Ohio State appear to be the consensus winners, the rich getting richer, but Kentucky is winning kudos for recruiting the best on both sides of the line, which is kind of cool, coach Mark Stoops continuing to build the program the right way it would seem.
Meanwhile, as expected, USC, given all the uncertainty this season with the status of coach Clay Helton, was graded last in the Pac-12 and 78th nationally.
Helton explained during national signing day, “We had a very good day today that we’re very happy about.”
No you didn’t. According to the Los Angeles Times’ experts, the Trojans whiffed on all of their top targets.
--In the FCS (Div. I-AA) playoffs, 1 North Dakota State whipped Montana State (11-4) 42-14, the defending champion Bison now 15-0.
And in the other semi, 2 James Madison (14-1) easily handled Weber State (11-4) 30-14.
So on Jan. 11, it’s as it should be for the championship...No. 1 vs. No. 2.
--Wow, we’re going to have another new No. 1 on Monday with the release of the AP poll, Gonzaga.
The No. 2 Zags defeated North Carolina last Wednesday, 94-81, to move to 12-1, the Tar Heels falling to 6-5.
That same night, Utah (9-2) upset 6 Kentucky (8-2) 69-66.
Thursday, we then had a stunner. Out of nowhere, Seton Hall (7-4) beat 7 Maryland (10-2) 52-48, despite playing without their top two scorers, Myles Powell and Sandro Mamukaleshvili. Talk about a gut check...one the Pirates passed. Congrats to them. Seton Hall held the Terps to just 14 of 52 from the field, 26.9%, as Seton Hall’s two 7-footers, Romaro Gill and Ike Obiagu, blocked a combined 12 shots. [Steve G., shades of Artis Gilmore and Pembrook Burrows, circa Jacksonville Dolphins, 1969-70.]
--Well, as I was saying, we’re going to have a new No. 1 because 18 Villanova (9-2) beat 1 Kansas (9-2) in Philadelphia (Wells Fargo Center) on Saturday, 56-55, as the Jayhawks’ Devon Dotson missed a driving layup attempt at the buzzer (not an easy shot as ‘Nova played great defense).
This is a tough week for teams. They are coming off exams, a lot of the players are homesick and thinking of heading home for a few days (if they’re lucky), and it’s a time when you need a good coach to keep the kids focused.
So yesterday, we had more biggies.
No. 5 Ohio State (11-1) beat 6 Kentucky (8-3) 71-65, the Wildcats no doubt falling out of the top ten this week after two losses.
Utah, the team that had just upset Kentucky, then lost to undefeated and No. 20 San Diego State (12-0) 80-52, the Aztecs an early-season surprise for sure.
My “Sleeper Pick” for March, Colorado, pulled off a terrific 78-76 win in overtime, defeating No. 13 Dayton (9-2) on a D’Shawn Schwartz three at the buzzer, the Buffaloes 10-2 and no doubt back in the top 25.
And St. John’s (11-2) shocked 16 Arizona (10-3) in San Francisco, 70-67, a great win for new Red Storm coach Mike Anderson as he attempts to build a program that keeps some of New York City’s talent at home.
With the Knicks so dreadful, Gotham needs a strong Johnnies team.
--But wait...there’s one more! No. 9 Virginia (9-2) lost to South Carolina (8-4) 70-59 in Charlottesville, the vaunted Tony Bennett defense a shell of its 2018-19 self, allowing the Gamecocks to shoot 27 of 49 from the field.
Like I said...these Christmas week games yield one surprise after another.
Great last four days for college hoops as the season really begins to take shape. As in it’s a total mess....and we like that.
--Meanwhile, we have the story of Memphis freshman center James Wiseman. Make that former Memphis freshman center James Wiseman, the most sought after player in the country a year ago.
Jerry Brewer / Washington Post
“It’s quite possible the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA draft will be an American, college-aged phenom that few people really know. When (James Wiseman) ended his eligibility fiasco Thursday by deciding to leave school and train for the pros, he shouldn’t have stood out as some singular, nonconforming complication of the one-and-done era. He’s not alone, sadly. College basketball has a mounting superstar problem.
“Wiseman played just three games at Memphis. Two other contenders for the top draft spot, LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton, decided to skip college altogether, and both play in Australia now. They’re both injured currently, but Ball’s stock has improved significantly over the past year while Hampton has had his talent confirmed for the most part while playing overseas.
“Since the NBA raised its age limit from 18 to 19 beginning with the 2006 draft, an overwhelming majority of the most gifted high school players opted to spend one season playing college hoops, returning the superstar freshman to the sport. These semi-pros have challenged the NCAA’s rigid and hypocritical standard of amateurism, but while the relationship has been complicated, it also has been mutually beneficial. The sport seems to be forgetting that last part, however.
“If the NCAA isn’t careful, the one-and-done era in college basketball will turn into a none-and-done dilemma. The NBA already is working through the process to lower its age limit to 18, perhaps by as early as the 2022 draft. In the meantime, college basketball seems to have wrongfully identified superstar freshmen as the root of its evil, and it risks sabotaging its own product in distancing itself from these players.
“There’s a chance American basketball ultimately will be better, or at least fairer, when these phenoms again can leap directly from high school to the NBA. But right now, there’s nothing good about the talent starting to flee from the college game. It’s a bad look. It robs fans temporarily of players who can help sell the sport. It makes us focus on the flaws in the NCAA system rather than celebrating the highlight-reel genius of the athletes.
“Wiseman wanted to play college basketball. He was a pied piper for the Tigers’ recruiting; Coach Penny Hardaway brought in the nation’s No. 1 class because many wanted to play with Wiseman. And now, he’s gone.”
I’ve gone through the Wiseman situation a few times, and you know it was about Hardaway, then a high school coach, paying the moving expenses for Wiseman to move his family from Nashville to Memphis. Wiseman didn’t know his parents had accepted the money.
At first Wiseman was ruled eligible, then he wasn’t, Wiseman and Memphis took the NCAA to court, Wiseman could come back if he paid a fine (donated to charity) that he obviously couldn’t pay, and then with the NCAA thinking it had come up with a successful resolution, Wiseman realized, this is bulls---.
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas tweeted: “Some will say elite prospects don’t value college sports. The truth is, college sports doesn’t value its elite prospects, either. No purpose was served by suspending Wiseman 12 games. What a sad waste of time and resources. These rules and sanctions need to change.”
“It doesn’t mean that elite players should be able to do whatever they want and the NCAA should allow lawlessness. But at a critical moment for college athletics, with player compensation dominating headlines and scandal reinforcing a lack of respect...it seems preposterous to frustrate a bright, young talent so much that he would rather quit and go through drills than add excitement to a college basketball season that could use a jolt....
“It’s been a bad few months for major college sports. Tua Tagovailoa, once the potential No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL draft, broke his hip and may never be the same. The potential No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA draft may be a college shunner, and last year’s top selection, Zion Williamson, has yet to play a regular-season game because of a knee injury. There are high-profile examples everywhere telling young players that long careers are not promised, and self-preservation must factor into all of their choices.
“For the NCAA, it’s a very bad message. Big-time college athletics can keep hiding behind this façade of protecting amateurism’s integrity. It can keep counting its money that way, for now. Or it can realize that it’s creating a void, one often filled by a black market but one ripe for a smart and legitimate business mind to create something new and better.
“This is the NCAA’s existential question. The clock is ticking, and its status as the best league for athletes to develop before turning pro – which is a primary, if unstated, reason college athletics are so lucrative – is open for debate.
“So let’s make it clear for the dinosaur: Push away the James Wisemans, and push yourself toward extinction.”
--Going back to last Thursday, the showdown between the 24-4 Lakers and 24-4 Bucks in Milwaukee, L.A. wrapping up a five-game road trip, Milwaukee prevailed, 111-104, as the stars came out on both sides.
Giannis had 34 points, 11 rebounds, and 7 assists for the Bucks.
LeBron had a triple-double, 21-12-11, and Anthony Davis had 36 points and 10 rebounds for L.A.
Milwaukee then beat the Knicks Saturday night at the Garden, 123-102, and host Indiana tonight, while the Lakers are back home to face Denver late tonight as well.
But it’s clear it’s about these two teams the rest of the year, while the Clippers (22-9) will try to stay in the conversation.
--I have to note one of my favorite players, DeAndre Jordan of the Brooklyn Nets. I always just liked the way he played...hard. Good teammate, great rebounder, plays defense...every team should want someone like him on the squad.
Well the Knicks had him for a year, and he was a good mentor to (hopefully) budding star Mitchell Robinson, but New York let him go and the Nets smartly signed him, where Jordan can mentor another potential star in the post, Jarrett Allen.
All Jordan did in helping Brooklyn stave off disaster, rallying with a 37-14 fourth quarter to beat Atlanta (and Trae Young, who had 47) last night, 122-112, was have 12 points, 20 rebounds, and 6 assists in just 26 minutes.
[The Nets, 16-13, are still wondering what the deal is with Kyrie Irving and his shoulder impingement injury that has kept him off the floor since Nov. 14. Irving was listed as day-to-day when his injury was first sustained. He has been doing on-court drills for weeks, but has not fully practiced with the team. This story is about to explode if he doesn’t return soon.]
--Back to the Knicks, I watched a bunch of their game against the Bucks, and poor Mike Breen and Clyde Frazier, having to cover this team night in and night out (at least Breen gets a break with his national responsibilities and real basketball from time to time). But the two were talking about how everyone says the NBA is a “fourth-quarter” league, and they pointed out that Mavs coach Rick Carlisle believes it is a “first-quarter” league.
As in look at the Knicks. They are 5-6 when they lead after the first, and now 2-17 when they are trailing after one. Rather telling.
--Left-hander Dallas Keuchel, one of the few big remaining free agents on the board, reached agreement on a three-year, $55.5 million deal with the aggressive White Sox, as first reported by ESPN. That’s a very fair deal, for both sides, especially if Keuchel, who turns 32 on Jan. 1, can regain his past AL Cy Young Award-winning form.
After signing with Atlanta on June 7 last season, he went 8-8 with a 3.75 ERA in 112 2/3 innings.
--37-year-old infielder Ian Kinsler announced he is retiring after a 14-year major league career. Kinsler said a herniated disk that ended his 2019 season in August with San Diego is why he needed to step away.
The four-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glover ends up with 1,999 hits, 257 home runs, 909 RBIs and 243 stolen bases, along with a .269 batting average...just a very solid career.
Kinsler will stay on as an adviser for the Padres, as the two work out a settlement on the $4.25 million left on his contract for 2020, according to The Athletic.
--Speaking of reworking a contract, the Associated Press was the first reporting that the deal the Mets worked out with Yoenis Cespedes on his contract for 2020 is even better for the team than first reported. Supposedly, Cespedes’ base salary has been cut to $6 million from its original $29.5 million as part of an amended contract that avoided a grievance hearing over an injury Cespedes sustained while rehabbing from double-heel surgery back in 2018.
Under the amended deal, Cespedes would reportedly receive $20 million if he has 650 plate appearances next season (various $ bonuses for 200+ plate appearances, up to 650) and hits other incentives, such as making the All-Star team.
If these terms are accurate, Mets fans should be psyched. I am. The 34-year-old has a huge incentive to stay healthy and perform.
--Angel Stadium opened in 1966, now the fourth-oldest ballpark in the major leagues, behind Fenway, Wrigley and Dodger Stadium.
Bill Shaikin / Los Angeles Times
“Over the decades, the team has changed its geographic label from California to Anaheim to Los Angeles, but it never has abandoned Angel Stadium. On Friday, the Anaheim City Council approved an agreement that could extend the Angels’ tenure in town toward the end of the century.
“By a 4-2 vote, the council agreed to sell the city-owned stadium and the surrounding parking lots to a company controlled by Angels owner Arte Moreno....
“The sale is the first in a series of agreements intended to transform an aging stadium and acres of parking lots into a vibrant entertainment district that would make the area come alive before and after the Angels play, and on days they do not play at all.
“None of this transformation would happen soon, with the deal expected to close by 2025 and development expected to extend to 2050. Moreno’s company has six months to deliver a development plan to the city, including a decision on whether to build a new stadium or rebuild the existing one.”
2025?! 2050?! I mean I’ll be dead by 2025, and the world is ending in 2032, so WTF?!
I mean...let’s move a little more quickly, people.
By the way...the sale price was $325 million.
“For half a century, the city generated relatively little revenue from stadium operations and no tax revenue from more than 100 acres of parking spaces. Now, Moreno’s company would pay for a state-of-the-art ballpark and development on the parking lots, at no cost to the city.”
--MLB and its umpires reached a new labor deal, five years, which includes raises. But the umpires also agreed to the implementation of a computer calling balls and strikes, at least in terms of “development and testing” of an automated strike zone within the next five years.
The Atlantic League and Arizona Fall League tested out the new system in 2019 at MLB’s behest. In the Atlantic League, a radar system called TrackMan transmitted the call to the umpire’s AirPods, and the umpire then made the call out loud.
The system still can’t tell if a ball bounced, so umps would have some discretion. And TrackMan still has some serious issues: it struggles with breaking balls, and can be extremely slow.
As in don’t look for this at the major league level for at least another few years.
--We are in the midst of a four-game in 10-day stretch, Dec. 22-Jan. 2, but things got ugly with today’s final game, Chelsea at Tottenham, when there was a serious episode of racial abuse among some Tottenham fans against a Chelsea player, Antonio Rudiger, and the stadium announcer had to issue three warnings, which according to the NBC analysts was unprecedented.
It’s a situation that is getting worse in the Premier League, and it’s not just black players facing abuse. Of course there has been severe racist abuse throughout the world in this sport among some absolute idiot “fans.”
But now the debate will intensify on how to handle it, with some suggesting sections of stands will have to be closed if it doesn’t stop soon.
Managers are also going to have to start taking their teams off the pitch if the abuse continues.
In the game itself, Chelsea beat a listless Tottenham 2-0 on Willian’s two goals. Tottenham suffered another blow with Son Heung-min's red card, which will have him missing three critical games as the Spurs try to stay in the top four / Champions League race.
Also today, Watford upset Manchester United 2-0.
Yesterday, Everton and Arsenal played to a 0-0 draw. But in the biggie, Manchester City had a terrific win over Leicester City, Kevin De Bruyne with another “master class” performance.
De Bruyne is just so good. I’ve compared my favorite player, Harry Kane, to Phil Esposito, the NHL legend; a classic striker / goal scorer inside the crease, so to speak.
But De Bruyne is the Bobby Orr of his sport, a playmaker who can score as well. [Messi and Ronaldo are Gretzkyesque.]
Standings...games / points
1. Liverpool 17 – 49...game in hand due to below
2. Leicester City 18 – 39
3. Man City 18 – 38
4. Chelsea 18 – 32...CL line
5. Sheffield 18 – 28
6. Wolverhampton 18 – 27
7. Tottenham 18 – 26
8. Man U 18 – 25
11. Arsenal 18 - 23
--Separately, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said he is assessing nine offers from companies seeking to buy the commercial and broadcasting rights for a new club competition he hopes will become the most lucrative in world football, usurping Europe’s Champions League.
The rebooted Club World Cup is due to begin in June 2021 with a 24-team group stage.
Needless to say this poses a challenge to the Champions League run by UEFA.
Infantino says, “The Champions League is generating money from all over the world...and the money goes where? To Europe. Obviously, it’s the mission of UEFA. The mission of FIFA is the world.”
There is a current Club World Cup (thus the use of ‘reboot’ in 2021), a seven-team version that this weekend had Champions League winner Liverpool defeating South American champion Flamengo in Saturday’s final.
In 2021, as it stands now, the Club World Cup would have 24 teams, with eight from Europe.
I’m not sure I like this. But then I don’t like change of any kind at my age, he typed with a smile.
Junior Johnson, RIP
Robert Glenn “Junior” Johnson, the moonshine runner turned NASCAR driver described as “The Last American Hero” by author Tom Wolfe in a 1965 article for Esquire, died on Friday. He was 88.
NASCAR Nation is in mourning, but smiling broadly. Back in the 1980s, when I was working with Thomson McKinnon Securities (before my PIMCO stint), I had a territory that included North Carolina (as well as living in Raleigh for a spell), and that was when I really got into NASCAR, attending numerous races with the likes of Eddie F., Phil W. and my brother. There were two venues for us, Rockingham and North Wilkesboro, the latter the home of Junior Johnson. Best barbecue sandwiches in the world...washed down by some good ol’ American beer. And racin’.
I’ve talked about this before, but any NASCAR fan knows the sport made a huge mistake in dumping tracks like these two, and I guarantee you the powers that be wish they had kept a link to them, instead of some of the stale venues they race at today (you know which ones they are, but NASCAR would tell me they needed to broaden the sport out geographically, and I get it).
But...y’all still made a big mistake, Bill France Sr./Jr. and Co.
Anyway, Junior Johnson won 50 Cup races (out of 313 starts), including the 1960 Daytona 500, and then 132 as an owner. He was a member of the inaugural class inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010. NASCAR chairman Jim France said in a statement:
“From his early days running moonshine through the end of his life, Junior wholly embodied the NASCAR spirt.
“He was an inaugural NASCAR Hall of Famer, a nod to an extraordinary career as both a driver and a team owner. Between his on-track accomplishments and his introduction of (sponsor) Winston to the sport, few have contributed to the success of NASCAR as Junior has.
“The entire NASCAR family is saddened by the loss of a true giant of our sport, and we offer our deepest condolences to Junior’s family and friends during this difficult time.”
Johnson’s career as a driver only lasted 14 years, retiring in 1966, but then he was a successful car owner for the likes of Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Bill Elliott and Terry Labonte. Johnson claimed six Cup championships, his last race win as an owner the Southern 500 in 1994 with Bill Elliott. From 1976-78, Yarborough and Johnson became the first team to win three straight NASCAR championships, a feat later matched and surpassed by Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports.
Waltrip also won three championships driving for Johnson (1981, ‘82, and ‘85).
Johnson’s legacy goes beyond his presence in the garage. He connected R.J. Reynolds with NASCAR, which led to the birth of the sport’s first title sponsor, the Winston Cup Series.
Johnson honed his driving skills running moonshine through the North Carolina hills, a crime for which he received a federal conviction in 1956 and a full presidential pardon in 1986 from President Ronald Reagan. Johnson, a lifelong Democrat, called the pardon “the greatest thing in my life.”
He was never actually caught on the roads during his moonshining days, but he was arrested when he was caught working at his father’s still. He was sentenced to 20 months, but was released after 11.
Junior is credited with discovering drafting – using the slipstream of the car in front of you on the track to keep up or slingshot past. Using that maneuver, he won the 1960 Daytona 500, outrunning several cars that were about 10 mph faster.
Also, as a young man who could outrun the law on the mountain roads like no one else, he’s credited with inventing the Bootleg Turn, a maneuver that spins the car into a quick 180-degree turn and sends it speeding off in the opposite direction.
Johnson started driving at age 8, long before he had a license.
“I didn’t need one anyway,” he often said with a laugh. “They weren’t going to catch me.”
Phil W. passed on the following from Ed Hardin of the Greensboro News & Record:
“Junior was a simple man who made moonshine long after they sent him to prison for it. And he was a racer long after he stopped racing, even after he no longer owned cars. He was just sort of always around.
“Racing purists bemoan the passing of the sport, looking back over the years to try to capture when it was in its prime, whether it was Fireball Roberts racing against Joe Weatherly or Richard Petty racing David Pearson or Dale Earnhardt racing Jeff Gordon.
“Racing was Junior Johnson leaning on a stack of tires with a stopwatch in his hand.
“Or standing at the back of his truck in the infield opening a jar of cherries.
“We were in Rockingham back in the late ‘80s, and a group of writers had followed Junior out to his pickup. Along the way, he stopped to sign autographs and pose for pictures, and we just sort of stood around and watched and waited as we slowly made our way to his truck.
“When we finally got there, he reached into the bed and dragged a cooler down to the tailgate. Inside was a big pickle jar filled with cherries floating in clear liquid.
“Now, I can tell you I never wrote a story under the influence of alcohol before, but I would be lying. That day, I wrote two or three stories under the influence of one cherry. And to this day, I remember Junior looking at me and giving me words of advice I still pass on to folks not accustomed to North Carolina cherries from Ingle Hollow.
“ ‘Son,’ he said, ‘don’t eat two.’
“I ate one. But I may or may not have written more than one story that day for a couple of writers who ate two.
“The sport was different then. We were all kind of a family in a strange way. Not everybody got along. But for the most part, we all looked out for each other....
“There are stories of the Wilkes County high sheriff who protected Junior from the feds because Junior had protected the sheriff from getting caught cheating on his wife. There’s a sad story of a highway crash in Martinsville that left a woman dead...
“There are stories of plane crashes that Junior survived. Seriously. He survived several.
“Junior Johnson wasn’t really the last American hero, as writer Tom Wolfe wrote. And he wasn’t a perfect man. Far from it.
“But he was a perfect example of a man from Ronda, a speck of a place in a fold of land called Ingle Hollow, or maybe Engle Hollow, depending on which map you use.
“Junior and Flossie divorced. He kept the race teams, and Flossie kept the chicken farm.
“He remarried late in life and lived outside the public view, raising kids and grandkids in Winston-Salem, showing up at Bowman Gray Stadium [Ed. a little racetrack in town] in khakis and button-down shirts, just as he’d shown up in Daytona a few years ago selling legal moonshine.
“He’d changed, and yet he never really changed.
“They say he still wore overalls, even in the concrete ponds behind his fancy new houses.
“He’d end up in novels and movies and even a Bruce Springsteen song.
“But for those of us who were there before all that, we’ll remember him on that stack of tires. Or at the tailgate of his truck in the Rockingham infield with his own illegal moonshine.
“Or at the end of that long table of grits and bacon and gravy and eggs.
“From his own damn chickens.”
--The women’s Alpine schedule for the World Cup was wiped out this weekend due to heavy snow at Val d’Isere in France, which makes it very difficult to make up the events in such a compressed schedule.
So I looked up Val d’Isere and found a webcam from the ski area and, good golly, there was indeed a ton of snow as I looked at it Sunday, about 3:00 p.m. local time in France. Like so much snow, I didn’t see anyone skiing.
But I just saw a tweet from FIS Alpine that said they were going to attempt to get some action in tonight under the lights.
--After a nine-month investigation, a special task force that looked into 30 deaths at Santa Anita Park during this year’s winter/spring meeting issued a 17-page report that “did not find evidence of criminal animal cruelty or unlawful conduct” by the California horse racing industry.
The report did offer 27 recommendations for safety improvements, most of which have already been acted on.
The report outlined four areas of concern: medication, track conditions, running injured horses and pressure to race.
The task force looked at the toxicology of 23 of the horses that died during the rainy season and found no illegal substances or drugs that were administered in excess of legal limits.
Running on sealed tracks, those that are compressed to keep moisture from penetrating the ground, was also cleared as a factor in the deaths.
--Tokyo Olympic organizers said Friday they are spending about $12.6 billion to stage next year’s games. Robust sponsorship and ticket sales have generated a contingency fund of an extra $300 million.
But Japan’s National Audit Board, in a 177-page report for the national legislature, said next year’s Olympics will cost much more than organizers are saying.
Like for starters, $9.7 billion, while the city of Tokyo has previously said it would spend another $7.4 billion on Olympic related projects.
The respected financial newspaper Nikkei and the daily Asahi peg the overall costs at $28 billion.
When Tokyo was awarded the Games in 2013, the bid committee projected total coasts would be $7.3 billion.
Organizers did report that demand for tickets is “about 20 times over supply.” This has led to criticism on social media by Japanese upset they cannot get tickets to an Olympics they are funding through their taxes.
--We note the passing of Peter Snell, 80, one of the great middle-distance runners of all time. Snell, from New Zealand, set world records in five events and became a three-time Olympic gold medalist in the 1960s.
Snell was a virtual unknown on the international track scene when he surged in the stretch of the 800-meter race at the 1960 Rome Olympics to overtake Roger Moens of Belgium, who held the world record.
Snell then won both the 800 and 1,500 at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
In January 1962, racing in New Zealand, Snell ran a mile in 3 minutes 54.4 seconds, breaking the world record held by Herb Elliott of Australia by one-tenth of a second. He eclipsed his own record by three-tenths in November 1964. [The mile record is currently down to 3:43.13, held by Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco.]
--There was an ugly scene Friday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, as former two-time middleweight world titlist Daniel Jacobs made a successful debut in the super middleweight division, as he made overweight Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. quit after the fifth round.
When the fight ended abruptly with Chavez, the favorite of the largely Mexican and Mexican-American crowd, refusing to go on, spectators rained boos on him and pelted the ring with debris. People in the crowd of 10,000 continued to pelt Chavez with debris as he left the ring.
Chavez (51-4-1, 33 KOs) said he quit because he had a broken nose. His lawyer told ESPN that he will have reconstructive surgery and will be hospitalized at least 24 hours.
The fight was a mess before it even started, Chavez almost five pounds over the super middleweight limit at weigh-in, which forced him to give up $1million of his purse to Jacobs so that Jacobs would fight him. Earlier, Chavez had to obtain a temporary restraining order from a Nevada court to lift his suspension for refusing a Voluntary Anti-Doping Association random drug test on Oct. 24 that left the fight in limbo, which forced a change of venue from Vegas to Phoenix.
--I loved this story: “A Georgia family got a real hoot from its Christmas tree. More than a week after they bought the 10-foot tree from a Home Depot, got it back to their Atlanta-area home and decorated it, they discovered a live owl nestled among its branches. ‘It was surreal, but we weren’t really freaked out,’ says Katie McBride Newman. A nature center helped them release it into the wild.”
Top 3 songs for the week 12/21/74: #1 “Cat’s In The Cradle” (Harry Chapin) #2 “Kung Fu Fighting” (Carl Douglas) #3 “Angie Baby” (Helen Reddy)...and...#4 “When Will I See You Again” (The Three Degrees) #5 “You’re The First, The Last, My Everything” (Barry White) #6 “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” (Elton John) #7 “Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy)” (Al Green) #8 “Junior’s Farm / Sally G” (Paul McCartney & Wings) #9 “I Can Help” (Billy Swan) #10 “Do It (‘Til You’re Satisfied)” (B.T. Express...not a great week, ‘C’...)
NBA Quiz Answer: The main eight in the rotation for the 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks:
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 31.7 ppg, 16.0 rebounds
Oscar Robertson 19.4 ppg, 5.7 reb., 8.2 assists
Bob Dandridge 18.4 ppg, 8.0 reb.
Jon McGlocklin 15.8 ppg
Greg Smith 11.7 ppg, 7.2 reb.
Bob Boozer 9.1 ppg, 5.4 reb.
Lucius Allen 7.1 ppg
Dick Cunningham...Kareem’s backup who played less than nine minutes a game and did little statistically.
This Milwaukee team, which swept the Bullets 4-0 in the NBA Finals, not only had a 20-game winning streak that took the squad from 45-11 to 65-11 (before they lost five of their last six to close out the regular season), but after splitting the first two games of the season, the Bucks went off on a 16-game winning streak.
And every hoops fan needs to know Bob Dandridge went to Norfolk State.
Next Bar Chat, Monday, Dec. 30.
And now, our annual Christmas special....best read with the children Christmas Eve. I added a new story or two to the old favorites.
Apollo 8...51 years go....
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 for 45 minutes 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, including “Earthrise,” the first ever seen by humans and probably the most iconic photo in history.
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.”
“Silent night, holy night”
Michael E. Ruane / Washington Post
“On Christmas Eve in 1818, two men with a small guitar entered a church in Oberndorf, Austria, and prepared to sing a new Christmas carol.
“Times had been bad in Oberndorf, where many people worked on the water, manning the salt barges that plied the Salzach River. The upheaval in central Europe caused by the Napoleonic Wars had just ended.
“And only two years before, the dreadfully dark summer of 1816 – later blamed on ash from a volcanic eruption in Indonesia – had caused famine and deprivation.
“But in that fall of 1816, a young Catholic priest, Joseph Mohr, had written a six-verse Christmas poem that began ‘Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht’ - Silent Night, Holy Night – about the Nativity of a curly-haired Jesus.
“Two years later, Father Mohr enlisted a friend, Franz Xaver Gruber, a local schoolteacher and musician, to come up with a melody for the poem that could be played for Christmas on the guitar. (Legend has it that the church organ had been damaged by mice or water and was on the blink.)
“Gruber’s composition is thought to have taken him about a day to compose.
“As the two men put the words to music that day 200 years ago in Oberndorf’s St. Nicholas Church, they voiced for the first time what is probably history’s most enduring and beloved Christmas carol.
Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright...
“The carol spread quickly across Europe. It was brought to the United States, where, some accounts say, it was first performed on Christmas Day, 1839, in the churchyard of New York’s Trinity Church, Wall Street, by a troupe of traveling Austrians, the Ranier Singers.
“The carol was translated into English in the 1850s by an Episcopal priest at Trinity, John Freeman Young. He published it in a book of Christmas carols in 1859. He translated the first, third and sixth verses....
“Young dispensed with Jesus’ curly hair, but added the folksy ‘yon’ and called the child ‘tender and mild.’”
Mohr’s six-string guitar survived and is said to be on display in the Silent Night Museum in Hallein, Austria, on the Salzach river, about 20 miles south of Oberndorf.
Rough translation of the original first verse in German:
Silent night! Holy night!
Everything is asleep. Only the faithful holy
couple are awake, alone.
Lovely boy with curly hair.
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace.
And Episcopal priest John Freeman Young smoothed it into the classic:
Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child
Holy infant, so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace.
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 Moore equipped 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 American Hero,” 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.”
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.
Those of us who are older remember here in the New York area the advent of WPIX’s “The Yule Log,” 1966, which looped 17 seconds of jittery 16mm film, treating apartment-dwelling New Yorkers who yearned for the joys of cozying up to a crackling fire, the first TV-screen-sized “fire,” with flames shot at the mayor’s mansion beneath a pair of stockings.
I’ll never forget seeing it for the first time. Those of us who had a house kind of laughed, but then it made total sense, and you found yourself just turning it on in those early years. It was really kind of ingenious.
In 1970, WPIX introduced an upgrade, looping seven minutes of higher-quality 35mm film. That version ran annually through 1989 and was revived in 2001.
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.
Smithsonian magazine had a piece on the first known references to building snowmen, or snow sculpture.
In 1494: Snow sculpture gets its Michelangelo – literally. “One winter, when a great deal of snow fell in Florence,” Giorgio Vasari wrote, Michelangelo created “a statue of snow, which was very beautiful,” in Piero de Medici’s courtyard.
1690: The first known snowmen in the Colonies are built to stand guard at the gates of Schenectady while the human sentinels head to a tavern. That night, French and Indian forces plow through the meager defenses, devastating the town.
1969: Though a creature capable of melting clearly shouldn’t smoke a corncob pipe, the “Frosty the Snowman” animated cartoon – based on the sappy 1950 song first recorded by Gene Autry – serves up the snowman archetype for generations.
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!