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The Playoff Picture
[Posted Tuesday p.m.]
Annual College Bowl Game Quiz: We were supposed to have 43 bowl games this year. Back in 1973, we only had 11. Name ‘em. Answer below.
Two weeks to go…somehow the NFL has gotten it done.
NFC playoff picture….
1. Green Bay 11-3
2. New Orleans 10-4
3. Seattle 10-4
4. Washington 6-8
5. Los Angeles Rams 9-5
6. Tampa Bay 9-5
7. Arizona 8-6
8. Chicago 7-7
AFC playoff picture….
1. Kansas City 13-1
2. Buffalo 11-3
3. Pittsburgh 11-3
4. Tennessee 10-4
5. Cleveland 10-4
6. Indianapolis 10-4
7. Miami 9-5
8. Baltimore 9-5
Washington 6-8…Carolina, Philadelphia remaining…
Dallas 5-9…Philadelphia, New York
New York 5-9…Baltimore, Dallas
Giants have tiebreaker over Washington, but Dallas has it over Giants
--So after I posted last time, we had the Giants and the Browns on Sunday Night Football, a game a lot of us were looking forward to for various reasons. And in the end the Giants laid another egg, losing to the Browns (10-4) 20-6, New York for the third straight game with a pathetic offensive display, less than 300 yards.
In fact the last three games the Giants have gained 290 (win over Seattle), 159 (loss to Arizona) and then 288 Sunday.
But a lot of us had been singing the praises of rookie coach Joe Judge, even when the team was 1-7. There was no doubt they had a keeper and he had the team headed in the right direction.
Then the Giants reeled off four straight wins, had the lead in the NFC East over Washington by virtue of their sweep over the ‘Team Searching for a Name,’ and Judge was a hero in these parts.
But the last two weeks he has played the part of Village Idiot, first in bringing starting quarterback Daniel Jones back a week too soon in the loss to Arizona, 26-7, Jones suffering new injuries and out on Sunday night, and then in stupidly going for a fake field goal early in the first quarter against the Browns.
I mean did you see that play? Punter Riley Dixon set up 10 yards behind the snapper positioned as a quarterback, hardly a field goal formation, and after Riley airmailed his pass in the endzone in heavy coverage, the throw intended for center Nick Gates, Judge was like, ‘We thought we’d surprise them.’
You line up the punter in a passing situation, three linemen split out wide left, and you think the Browns would be fooled? Duh…looks like it’s a pass, guys, not a field goal attempt. So let’s drop back into coverage.
Well, the Giants find themselves a game back with two to play and it’s close to over.
So to summarize, the Giants obviously brought Daniel Jones back a week too soon, and it cost them two games, instead of the potential of winning one of them, though beating Cleveland with a healthy Jones still would have been a tall order.
As for the Browns, who are on the verge of heading to the playoffs for the first time in 18 years, Baker Mayfield continued his strong play, 27/32, 297, 2-0, 126.2. He’s now thrown just one interception his last seven games and for the season is at 25 touchdown passes, 8 INTs; quite a step up from his miserable sophomore campaign in 2019 (22/21, TD/INT ratio, for starters).
Baker has also secured a bunch more commercials from Progressive.
Meanwhile, last night the Steelers shockingly lost their third in a row after an 11-0 start to the season, playing atrocious football against the lowly Bengals (3-10-1), who were 14 ½-point underdogs, Cincy winning it 27-17.
It was 17-0 Bengals at half, Ben Roethlisberger and Co. with 40 yards of offense in the first 30 minutes. 40!
It was just a hideous game all around, Pittsburgh outgaining Cincinnati 244-230, but Bengals quarterback Ryan Finley, subbing for the injured Joe Burrow, did just enough with a touchdown pass and a 23-yard TD scamper to make it 24-10 in the fourth.
Big Ben, on the other hand, threw an absolutely hideous interception in the first half that had me commenting to avid Steelers fan Jeff B. that it looked like all the concussions and hits to the head Roethlisberger has suffered, including off-the-field, finally caught up to him.
Pittsburgh hasn’t scored more than 17 points in any of its three losses and is averaging less than 300 yards of offense over that stretch.
As for Cincinnati, they snapped an 11-game losing streak to the Steelers, and coupled with the Jets huge upset of the Rams Sunday, it was the first time since the 1970s that two teams favored by 14 points or more lost on the same weekend.
--Jets fans are still crying over the team’s massive upset win on Sunday in Los Angeles, which with two games has cost us the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft, aka Trevor Lawrence. Already, however, folks are forced to look for alternatives, like would the Jets trade the No. 2 pick and keep Sam Darnold another year, he being under contract for 2021. They could get a ton for it if they’re smart. Or do they take BYU’s Zack Wilson, or Ohio State’s Justin Fields, both of whom NFL scouts and GMs like a lot, they just aren’t Trevor Lawrence.
As for the Jets players, they of course couldn’t give a damn what the fans wanted…an 0-16 season.
“Hey, our job is to go out and try to win every week,” coach Adam Gase said. “It’s been too long for us to even remember what a win feels like.”
For his part, Sam Darnold had his best game of the season.
“It means the world to us to come in here, back-to-back West Coast trips, we weren’t able to stay on the West Coast because of Covid,” Darnold said after the game. “We did our jobs this week.”
“Man, it feels good,” said 37-year-old running back Frank Gore. “We finally got one.”
The Jets have the Browns and Patriots remaining on their schedule; Jacksonville has the Bears and Colts.
As for the Rams, the loss to New York was potentially fatal. At 9-5, they play at Seattle (10-4) this Sunday and then have Arizona (8-6) the final weekend. L.A. goes from a surefire playoff spot to major uncertainty.
--We note the passing of Hall of Fame linebacker Kevin Greene, who died of unknown causes Monday at the way too young age of 58.
‘The entire Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Kevin Greene,” Hall of Fame president and CEO David Baker said in a statement Monday. “I regarded him as a personal friend and a true Hall of Famer in every sense. He possessed the most incredible can-do attitude of anyone I ever met. He was a great player, but more than that, he was a great man.”
Known for his long blond locks, Greene was relentless in his pursuit of the quarterback and finished his career with 160 sacks, which remains only behind Bruce Smith (200) and Reggie White (198). He also had 23 forced fumbles.
Greene was amazingly consistent. In his career spanning from 1985-99 (Rams 1985-92; Steelers 1993-95; Panthers 1996; 49ers 1997; Panthers 1998-99), Greene had 10 seasons with 10+ sacks, leading the league in both 1994 and 1996, his two AP All-Pro seasons (making five Pro Bowls as well). He had 12 sacks his final season in Carolina at age 37.
Greene was part of the 1995 Steelers Super Bowl team that lost to Dallas.
As he once put it, “I wasn’t the biggest [and] I wasn’t fastest. But as long as you have a motor, you have heart…that will overcome any physical limitations.”
Greene used to intensely study game film to search for an opponent’s weakness.
“I figured out how to pass rush,” he said. “I figured out how to put a guy, an offensive tackle three to four inches taller, 80 pounds heavier, put him in a position of failure, and I did that.”
Kevin Greene was a walk-on at Auburn and a fifth-round pick by the Rams in 1985.
College Football / Bowl Games
What a s---show. 15 of 43 bowl games have been canceled. The Liberty Bowl had to announce Monday that Tennessee, a whopping 3-7, which had been selected to play against West Virginia (5-4) in the Dec. 31 game in Memphis, had to drop out as Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt was among those in the program who tested positive for Covid. Pruitt said in a statement that he is experiencing mild symptoms but was “doing fine.”
So Army (9-2) is replacing Tennessee, which works out great for the Black Knights. What made sense is that until Army’s break, they had been left out of the 28-game picture because of all the stupid conference tie-ins, which led to nine teams with losing records being selected owing to the fact so many big players, like USC, Penn State, Virginia and Virginia Tech were among the 15+ who opted out before the bowl matchups were named. [Penn State would have been a 4-5 selection, Va Tech 5-6…but they would have gotten games.]
The friggin’ bowl tie-ins led to Coastal Carolina getting royally screwed as I noted Sunday, playing CFP unranked Liberty, instead of a natural matchup with a quality opponent such as Indiana.
The first game played yesterday in Myrtle Beach, S.C., pitted a solid Appalachian State (8-3) against a less-than-mediocre North Texas (4-5), which didn’t have a win in its Conference-USA against a team with a winning record. And so the Mountaineers romped 56-28, running for 500 yards on 39 carries, a 12.8 average, Camerun Peoples with 317 yards on just 22 carries and five touchdowns. Whatever. Good for App State, they finish 9-3.
And I’m watching UCF (6-3) vs. BYU (10-1) tonight because of a terrific quarterback matchup; under-the-radar Dillon Gabriel of the Knights vs. the Cougars’ Zach Wilson, a probable top ten pick in the upcoming draft.
Let’s just say Wilson is playing rather well, accounting for all of BYU’s five touchdowns in a 35-10 lead at the half (3 passing, 2 rushing).
But among all the other games, only a few halfway interest me, aside from the national semifinals.
I’ll have Buffalo (5-1) vs. Marshall (7-2) on in the background Christmas Day, as I work on that other column I do.
And, of course, Dec. 26, I’ll catch Coastal Carolina vs. Liberty.
For parochial reasons, Dec. 30, I’ll be tuned into Wake Forest (4-4) vs. Wisconsin (3-3). Also that day, Oklahoma (8-3) vs. Florida (8-2) in the Cotton Bowl.
New Year’s Eve we have San Jose State (7-0) vs. Ball State (6-1).
And aside from the national semis on New Year’s Day, we have a good matchup in the Peach Bowl, Cincinnati (9-0) vs. Georgia (7-2).
The next day, Jan. 2, the Orange Bowl, North Carolina (8-3) vs. Texas A&M (8-1) should be entertaining.
But, sorry, gang…the rest of the games are peopled with teams that just shouldn’t be playing in a bowl game. I mean 2-8 South Carolina?! You kidding me?!
Well, because of Covid issues, tonight the game South Carolina was involved in has been canceled! Make it 16 of 43.
--AP Poll [Mon.]
1. Gonzaga (61) 4-0
2. Baylor (3) 5-0
3. Kansas 7-1
4. Iowa 6-1
5. Villanova 7-1
6. Houston 5-0
7. West Virginia 7-1
8. Tennessee 4-0
9. Wisconsin 6-1
10. Texas 7-1
11. Rutgers 6-0…wow!...if they beat 23 Ohio State on Wednesday, that could move them into the top 10 for the first time since 1975-76…the dream season when they finished the regular season undefeated and then lost in the National Semifinals.
17. North Carolina 5-2
22. Xavier 8-0
25. Oregon 6-1…cheerleaders transitioning to the hardwood, after their stupid Fiesta Bowl appearance
--How dumb is the start of this CBB season? Wake Forest played two quick games, Nov. 25 and 27….and then went on pause. Our next game is Dec. 30 against Syracuse. A whole month later.
But…Saturday, Syracuse played Buffalo at the Carrier Dome. Now they are both on pause after a member of the Buffalo team tested positive.
Syracuse postponed its game Tuesday against Notre Dame and, tonight, Wake announced the game is postponed. One of our players, Tariq Ingraham, is going to miss the rest of the season, recovering from Covid, but no other details given, and another, Ian DuBose, our best player the first two games, is out for medical reasons, according to a news release from Wake Forest.
Hopefully, heart issues are not a reason for Ingraham having to shut down for the year.
It’s the third time Syracuse has been on pause, coach Jim Boeheim having tested positive in mid-November. But the Orange have at least played seven games.
--I’ve written over the years that you have to respect Kentucky coach John Calipari. The guy is totally transparent. He was the first to blatantly recruit one-and-doners, told everyone what he was doing, had one great season after another, developed the kids, and a slew of them were NBA first-rounders. Others than quickly adopted his methods, like Duke’s Coach K.
So Calipari announced Monday he was telling one of his promising freshman, Cam’Ron Fletcher, to “step away” from the team for a while after the kid was visibly upset toward the end of the Wildcats’ loss to North Carolina on Saturday.
Calipari tweeted: “We have asked Cam Fletcher to take some time and step away from the team. He needs to reflect and do some soul searching to get his priorities in order. Any attitude or actions that are detrimental to this team will not be tolerated – and that goes for everyone on the team.”
Good on Coach Cal. As Shu remarked, Coach K should have done this with Grayson Allen early on in his career.
--On the good news front, Florida star Keyontae Johnson is being released from the hospital after collapsing during a game on Dec. 12. We still don’t know the cause of his issue, but the Associated Press had reported Johnson tested positive for Covid prior to the season.
The new season is underway and in the first game, Kevin Durant had 22 points in 25 minutes, Kyrie Irving 26 in 25, as the Brooklyn Nets rolled over Durant’s former team, Golden State, 125-99, in coach Steve Nash’s debut as well. A rather successful beginning for Brooklyn all around.
Top 3 songs for the week 12/24/77: #1 “How Deep Is Your Love” (Bee Gees) #2 “You Light Up My Life” (Debby Boone) #3 “Blue Bayou” (Linda Ronstadt)…and…#4 “(Every Time I Turn Around) Back In Love Again” (L.T.D.) #5 “It’s So Easy” (Linda Ronstadt…not her best…) #6 “Baby Come Back” (Player) #7 “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” (Crystal Gayle) #8 “Here You Come Again” (Dolly Parton) #9 “Sentimental Lady” (Bob Welch) #10 “Slip Slidin’ Away” (Paul Simon…dreadful week, befitting a godawful fall semester, sophomore year at Wake, when being at the “Mendoza Line” would have been terrific for my GPA, and then I came home for Christmas and, let’s just say, things didn’t go well for a number of other reasons…would the editor recover?....)
College Football Bowl Quiz Answer:
The eleven bowl games for the 1973 season:
Cotton, Orange, Rose, Sugar, Fiesta, Bluebonnet (Houston), Gator, Sun, Peach, Tangerine, Liberty.
Ten years later, 1983, we were up to 16, having added the likes of the Independence, Hall of Fame, Holiday and Aloha bowls.
The Fiesta Bowl, which quickly joined the Big Four (Cotton, Orange, Rose and Sugar) in terms of importance, had its inception in 1971.
Next Bar Chat, Sunday p.m.
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!