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Add-on posted early Wed. a.m. …including my Annual Christmas Special!
***As I go to post, we’ve just learned of the passing of Steelers legend Franco Harris, 72. Harris’ jersey is being retired Christmas Eve in a ceremony also commemorating the 50th anniversary of “The Immaculate Reception.” The timing is unreal. So sad.
Due to time constraints, I’ll talk about his career in my next Bar Chat. A lot of us are shocked.
--In catching up with late Sunday action, the Giants picked up a big win over the Commanders (7-6-1) on the road, 20-12, as Daniel Jones was good enough, didn’t cough it up, and Saquon Barkley had his best game on the ground in a while, 18 carries for 87 yards and a score.
Jones had been 0-9 in prime-time games.
But the star of the day was rookie defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, who had his best game yet…a sack, three tackles for a loss, 12 tackles over all, and a strip fumble that he took in for a touchdown. Very encouraging for Giants fans.
The Giants (8-5-1) are in the sixth playoff spot, a game ahead of Washington, though with a Christmas Eve contest at Minnesota, then home for Indianapolis, and the finale on the road at Philadelphia (13-1), which may not have anything to play for, though Jalen Hurts is out for their Christmas Eve game against the Cowboys.
--The Bengals (10-4) have won six in a row following their 34-23 win over the Bucs (6-8), and have a one-game lead over Baltimore in the AFC North.
But Tampa Bay still leads by one in the godawful NFC South. Tom Brady threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles Sunday, and also lost for the first time after having a 17-0 lead (89-0 prior).
The Bucs are at Arizona Christmas Day, home to Carolina, and then at Atlanta.
As in 8-9 should win the division…remarkably, and then you have Tom Brady in the playoffs and who the heck knows from there.
--Monday night, the Packers (6-8) barely stayed in the playoff hunt with a 24-12 win over the Rams (4-10), Aaron Rodgers pretty solid, 22/30, 229, 1-1, 92.2, Aaron Jones with 90 yards on the ground and a TD reception, Green Bay outgaining L.A. 345-156.
Baker Mayfield was not good, 12/21, 111, 1-1, 67.8.
Green Bay has three remaining…at Miami and then home to Minnesota and Detroit, so would 9-8 be enough?
--Huge game…as in ‘it’s the season’…Thursday, Jacksonville (6-8) at the Jets (7-7) in no doubt awful weather. It looks likely Zach Wilson will be at the helm again as Mike White’s fractured rib hasn’t healed enough.
But the New York defense will face a stern test in the red-hot Jacksonville QB, Trevor Lawrence.
The Jets must win, and then win on the road at Seattle and Miami.
--All are in agreement, the ending to Patriots-Raiders was the dumbest ending, and the worst, of all time in the NFL.
New England was up 24-17 on a Rhamondre Stevenson 34-yard touchdown run with 3:43 left in the game.
But Derek Carr engineered an 81-yard drive for the tying score, a 30-yard pass play from Carr to Keelan Cole for the touchdown. So 24-24 with 0:32 left in regulation.
The Patriots had two timeouts but didn’t advance the ball much and on 3rd and 10 from the New England 45 and with three seconds left, Stevenson took a handoff and ran 23 yards before lateraling to Jakobi Meyers.
Meyers then tried a ridiculous, cross-field lateral to Mac Jones, but Raiders defensive end Chandler Jones grabbed the ball out of the air, stiff-armed Jones, and ran to the end zone with no time left.
30-24 Raiders. A massive loss for the Pats’ playoff hopes.
Meyers said after he “tried to do too much.”
--Just twiddling my thumbs waiting for the New Year’s weekend and the CFP semis and other big bowl games.
--Marshall (9-4) completed a nice season with a 28-14 win over UConn (6-7) in the Myrtle Beach “Give it up for Crystal” Bowl. [Guys, don’t forget to tip the barmaids, they work hard too.]
Huskies freshman QB Zion Turner threw three interceptions, UConn nonetheless with an impressive turnaround season.
--In the Pac-12, Bo Nix is returning to Oregon for a final year of eligibility, after a terrific first season as a Duck, having transferred from Auburn. Nix joins Heisman winner Caleb Williams and Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. as returnees off strong seasons.
--TCU’s Sonny Dykes was named AP Coach of the Year, receiving 37 of 46 first-place votes.
TCU (12-1) faces No. 2 Michigan in one of the CFP semis Dec. 31.
Tulane coach Willie Fritz was second, followed by Tennessee’s John Heupel.
--New AP Poll (records thru Sunday)
1. Purdue 11-0 (40)
2. UConn 12-0 (21)
3. Houston 11-1
4. Kansas 10-1
5. Arizona 10-1
6. Virginia 8-1
7. Texas 9-1
8. Tennessee 9-2
9. Alabama 9-2
10. Arkansas 10-1
11. Gonzaga 9-3
12. Baylor 8-2
13. UCLA 10-2
14. Duke 10-2
15. Mississippi State 11-0
16. Illinois 8-3
17. Wisconsin 9-2
18. Indiana 8-3
19. Kentucky 7-3
20. TCU 9-1
21. Virginia Tech 11-1
22. Miami 11-1
23. Auburn 9-2
24. Marquette 9-3
25. Arizona State 11-1
UConn, unranked in the preseason, has its highest ranking in the poll since they were No. 1 on March 2, 2009.
Tuesday, 6 Virginia fell at 22 Miami, 66-64.
But in a terrific comeback from its 24-point loss at Rutgers on Saturday, Wake Forest (9-4) beat 14 Duke, 81-70, in Winston-Salem.
For the Deacs, whether Duke is good or not, the fact is Wake has a top 25 win, and earlier defeated then-unranked Wisconsin on the road.
One other, Drake (9-3) handed 15 Mississippi State its first loss, 58-53. Terrific win for the Missouri Valley Conference.
--Sunday, the Knicks won their seventh in a row, 109-106 at Indiana, to improve to 17-13, while the Nets (19-12) ran their streak to 10 of 11, 124-121 over the lowly Pistons (8-24), as Kevin Durant (43) and Kyrie (38) combined for 81.
The Knicks then made it 8 in a row, 132-94 over the Steph-less Warriors at the Garden last night.
--Two-time MVP Nikola Jokic had a game for the ages Sunday night as Denver (18-11) beat the Hornets (7-23) 119-115.
Jokic had 40 points, 27 rebounds and 10 assists; only the second 40/20/10 triple-double since Kareem did it 50 years ago (44-20-11). DeMarcus Cousins had a 44-23-10 game back in 2018. Wilt Chamberlain had six of them.
Tuesday, in an important win for the Nuggets (19-11) over the Grizzlies (19-11), Jokic had another triple-double…13-13-13.
--With Anthony Davis out a month with a right foot injury, stick a fork in the Lakers (13-17).
--It was a bizarre day for Carlos Correa, Tuesday. The Giants were all set to introduce him and then suddenly canceled the press conference after a medical concern arose during his physical.
The Giants had reached agreement with the All-Star on a reported $350 million, 13-year contract.
All such deals are subject to a physical, so us fans went to bed wondering just what the Giants had come up with since they said nothing.
And then we awoke to the news that our Uncle Stevie, the Mets’ owner Steve Cohen, had struck again!
Correa, in the middle of the night, reached a deal with the team, $315 million over 12 years…subject to a physical.
“We need one more thing, and this is it,” Cohen told the New York Post from Hawaii. “This was important… This puts us over the top. This is a good team. I hope it’s a good team!”
“This really makes a big difference,” Cohen said. “I felt like our pitching was in good shape. We needed one more hitter.”
The Mets’ payroll will be a record…estimated at $380 million+.
Correa’s durability has been a serious issue over the years, particularly his back, but he did play 148 and 136 games each of the last two seasons.
But we’ll see what the Mets doctors come up with…hopefully nothing serious, though obviously the Giants saw something.
--Justin Turner’s nine-year run with the Dodgers has come to an end, a month after the team declined an option in his contract and let him become a free agent. Turner, 38, signed a two-year, $22 million deal with the Red Sox.
--The Angels made another move…signing utilityman Brandon Drury to a two-year, $17 million contract. Drury had a breakout 2022, with 28 home runs and 87 RBIs, playing all four infield positions and right field.
--We note the passing of former All-Star pitcher Tom Browning, who died Monday at 62. No cause given.
On Sept. 16, 1988, Browning threw a perfect game for the Reds against the Dodgers, 1-0.
He was 123-90 in his 12-season career, eleven of which were with the Reds. In 1985, he was runner-up for Rookie of the Year, going 20-9, 3.55. He had another great season in ’88, where aside from the perfect game he was 18-5 overall, 3.41.
World Cup…final look…
Chuck Culpepper / Washington Post
“Occasionally, a game will wriggle out of its standard definition and start taking on certain human characteristics. It will defy assumption after assumption, dazzle and dumbfound, stun and stir, swerve and swerve back almost as if cackling. It will soar off into some life of its own – uncommonly alive and maybe even delighted by its own caprice.
“Then sometimes, as with this festival of endorphins of a World Cup final between Argentina and France on Sunday night in an outlandish din at Lusail Stadium, it will pull a trick the rest of the world can’t: It will go ahead and prove immediately deathless.
“That’s where this one heads now as the billion or so who watched begin the hard art of processing how Argentina and its 35-year-old global hero, Lionel Messi, edged France and its 23-year-old global hero, Kylian Mbappe, 4-2 on penalty kicks after an unreal 3-3 draw. They can try to recollect the ride on which this thing took many of the 46 million Argentines and the 67 million French and much of the rest of the world, from 2-0 Argentina after 79 minutes to 2-2 after 90 to 3-2 Argentina after 108 to 3-3 after 120 to the penalties. Here this whole episode goes, breathing on into the future.
“In cafes and hair shops and pubs and classrooms and dens, people can talk forever about a night in which one manager, Argentina’s Lionel Scaloni, said, ‘The match was completely insane,’ while the other, France’s Didier Deschamps, said, ‘We managed to come back from the dead.’….
“On the streets of Argentine cities, those in the crowd will remember how they ran onto the streets of Argentine cities, having waited 36 years to run onto the streets of Argentine cities. ‘Well, this is way too much,’ Scaloni said of having helped give that to Argentines in a harsh economic moment. He added, ‘Our problems are not going anywhere; however, they will be just a little bit happier, and that’s great.’
“But mostly, the people of a planet long since gone mad for this sport will remember how the evening finally tilted to Messi, whose name has long appeared on the backs of shirts all over the world. They will remember how he went over toward his family and the Argentina fans who made so much noise that it almost seemed audible some 8,300 miles away in Buenos Aires. They will remember how he looked, how his hard hunt for international cups wound up glorious in the Copa America in 2021 and the World Cup in 2022: the former before a near-empty stadium in Rio de Janeiro, the latter before 88,966 in a newborn stadium excellent at hanging on to its noise – the same stadium where Argentina started here last month in great noise from the other side during a stunning 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia.
“It’s a funny planet that wishes peace of mind upon a global citizen worth hundreds of millions and visible on billboards all over the various continents. Yet that’s what the world wished to see upon Messi’s familiar face after all these years of wizardry, and that’s what the world wound up seeing after a match that spun into its own unforgettable life.”
An initial estimate for the ratings for the World Cup final is 16.8 million watching on FOX, according to Nielsen. Final figures will be released later in the week, but this beats the previous record of 14.5 million viewers in 1994 when Brazil beat Italy. The U.S. hosted the World Cup that year, and the record-beating final match was at the Rose Bowl on ABC.
This year’s final was up 47% over 2018, when France beat Croatia.
--It would seem after the PNC Championship this past weekend that Tiger Woods, suffering from plantar fasciitis, would love to tee it up at the Genesis Invitational, which benefits his own foundation, Feb. 16, but his condition would have to subside by then and that’s only two months away. Woods admitted last week he had tried to speed up his recovery and he overdid it.
So maybe the Players Championship three weeks later. With all that he’s said about LIV and all the drama, he’d love to play his Tour’s flagship tournament, and it is relatively flat.
Then a month later you’d have The Masters. He needs competition before he shows up at Augusta.
--Speaking of Augusta, since 1999, officials there have invited all those inside the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking at the end of the calendar year, which will be formally released next week.
And then Tuesday, the club indicated what it’s position will be on LIV golfers competing in the championship, whether they be past champions who have earned lifetime exemptions (such as Phil Mickelson, Charl Schwartzel, Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnson) or through other qualifying criteria.
Of the 13 new players eligible off the OWGR (top 50), five of them are LIV golfers (Abraham Ancer, Harold Varner III, Jason Kokrak, Kevin Na and Louis Oosthuizen; Na and Oosthuizen being Nos. 49 and 50).
They’re in too.
Other LIV golfers who qualify through other means are Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Cam Smith, Talor Gooch and Joaquin Niemann.
“Regrettably, recent actions have divided men’s professional golf by diminishing the virtues of the game and the meaningful legacies of those who built it,” Augusta National Golf Club chairman Fred Ridley said in a statement. “Although we are disappointed in these developments, our focus is to honor the tradition of bringing together a preeminent field of golfers this coming April.
“Therefore, as invitations are sent this week, we will invite those eligible under our current criteria to compete the 2023 Masters Tournament. As we have said in the past, we look at every aspect of the Tournament each year, and any modifications or changes to invitation criteria for future Tournaments will be announced in April. We have reached a seminal point in the history of our sport. At Augusta National, we have faith that golf, which has overcome many challenges through the years, will endure again.”
Well, come April 6-9, there will be a few tense moments no doubt. Can’t wait.
And now, our annual Christmas special....best read with the children Christmas Eve.
Apollo 8...54 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.
St. Nicholas was a Greek bishop, known as the patron of children (as well as brewers and sailors, among others), and a man who likely died in A.D. 343 in Myra, a small town now called Demre in modern-day Turkey. Though the year of his death is disputed, the day is not – December 6, now celebrated as St. Nicholas Day.
His remains are venerated worldwide, even as nobody knows for certain where he rests in peace – or more accurately, in pieces. In the early and medieval Christian tradition, the mortal remains of popular saints were scattered among various churches in numerous places to be displayed as sacred relics.
Dating and DNA tests may allow scientists to piece together which relics are actually from the same man. In 2017 Oxford University scholars announced a first step in that direction: A radiocarbon study that shows a bone long thought to be a St. Nicholas relic and housed in St. Martha of Bethany Church in Morton Grove, Illinois, does in fact date to the time of the saint’s death.
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.”
Fr. Alfred Delp
[From “The Little Blue Book”]
Alfred Delp was born in 1907 in Mannheim, Germany. The son of a Catholic mother and Protestant father, he was raised Lutheran, but became a Catholic at age 14.
He entered the Society of Jesus in 1926, and was ordained in 1937. The rise of Nazism in Germany prevented him from continuing his studies. He worked at a Jesuit publication until it was suppressed in 1941. He then became rector of St. Georg (sic) Church in Munich, where he helped Jews escape to Switzerland. Fr. Delp joined an anti-Nazi group which hoped to build a new Christian order, based on Christian virtues and practices, after the fall of the Third Reich.
Following a failed assassination attempt on Hitler in 1944, Delp was among the dissidents arrested. He was tortured and threatened with execution, but the Nazis couldn’t connect him to the plot. They eventually offered to release Delp if he would renounce the Jesuits and leave the order. The priest refused. Fr. Delp was hanged on February 2, 1945. He was 37 years old.
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 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.
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!
Next Bar Chat, Sunday p.m.
Add-on up top late Wed. p.m.
[Posted early Sunday p.m., prior to late NFL action.]
NBA Quiz: Name the top six in career free throws made…five of the six in the Hall of Fame, the other will be. Answer below.
What a spectacular ending to a truly memorable World Cup, as Argentina outlasted France, 4-2 on penalty kicks after a scintillating, epic, titanic, extraordinary, colossal, historic 3-3 title game that was the best ever.
Lionel Messi cemented his own title as Greatest Ever with the Cup he’s been dreaming of; Messi with 2 goals, giving him seven for the tournament, plus 4 assists.
France staged a heroic comeback after being down 2-0, and totally outplayed, at the half, as their superstar, Kylian Mbappe (Golden Boot winner) scored a hat trick, including a late PK in extra time after Messi had given Argentina a seeming win with nine minutes to play.
In penalty kicks it was goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa) against France’s Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), and Martinez saved one while France’s Tchouameni missed badly, as Argentina put all four of its PKs behind Lloris.
The television ratings for this, even with a 10:00 a.m. ET start, had to be massive, especially by the noon hour.
What a show we’ve had the last month. I said it would be good, especially around the holidays. But no one knew just how good.
Pope Francis is a happy camper.
[Croatia took the meaningless third-place game, 2-1 over Morocco.]
I feel sorry for those who were on teams making a long run in the World Cup who now have to turn around and focus on their Premier League action, which starts back up Boxing Day, Dec. 26, or for those in the other European Leagues. It’s brutal not having a break.
--Saturday, the NFL had a trifecta on the NFL Network and two of the three were terrific. As I note below, I was at a college basketball game early in the afternoon and when I got home, I put on Vikings-Colts and saw it was 33-0 at the half. So I proceeded to do other stuff, put in my traditional Saturday dinner order at a local Italian joint, went out for beer, and when I checked the score on the net later, I saw it was 36-21 with like 8:00 to play in the fourth quarter and decided to watch a little bowl game action and then college hoops. [As Marv Albert used to describe at the end of blowouts, it was “gar-bage time,” (French accent)…a time to pad stats.]
I thus missed the comeback for the ages, as Minnesota (11-3) clinched the NFC North title, overcoming the 33-point halftime deficit to defeat the Colts (4-9-1), 39-36 in overtime on a Greg Joseph field goal with seven seconds left in OT.
The 33-point comeback exceeded the previous record of 32, set by the Bills in the 1992 playoffs against the Houston Oilers.
Funny, but the Vikes were appropriately booed off the field at halftime by the Vikings faithful. At PointsBet, you could have wagered $5 on the Vikes to win the game, received 90-1 odds, and been able to party down hard after.
Kirk Cousins threw for 460 yards and four touchdowns for Minnesota, with K.J. Osborn catching 10 for 157 yards and a score, and Justin Jefferson another 12 for 123 and a TD.
But it was really the Dalvin Cook Show; Cook rushing for 95 yards on 17 carries, but also 95 receiving on four receptions, including the tying touchdown on a 64-yard hookup with Cousins, the Vikes then converting on the two-point conversion to tie it at 36-36.
What a season for first-year coach Kevin O’Connell, Minnesota now with 10 one-score wins.
--In the middle game, the Browns (6-8) beat the Ravens (9-5) 13-3, the Ravens still without Lamar Jackson.
Baltimore is hoping Jackson will return from his knee injury for next Saturday’s game against the Falcons.
--And in the nightcap, with forecasts for 6- to 8-inches of lake-effect snow, only to have the snow hold off after a bunch of it earlier in the day, the Dolphins took on the Bills in a key AFC East contest and after three quarters, it was the Tua and Raheem Show…Tagovailoa throwing for 234 yards and two touchdowns in the freezing temps, while Mostert rushed for 136.
But the snows finally arrived in the fourth quarter, and, down 29-21, Josh Allen engineered scoring drives of 75 and 86 yards, culminating in Tyler Bass’ 25-yard field goal as time expired for Buffalo’s dramatic 32-29 victory, the Bills at 11-3, Miami falling to 8-6.
Buffalo is battling Kansas City for the 1-seed, while Miami is in a pack of fellow AFC East rivals, New England and the Jets, along with the Chargers, in a battle for the wild-card slots.
--Which brought us to a must-win game for the Jets at home against the streaking Lions this afternoon, and a fascinating development in that quarterback Mike White, who had looked so good the last three weeks, though the Jets were 1-2 in the contests, couldn’t go because of multiple rib injuries.
Which meant it was back to Zach Wilson. The disgraced one.
And Wilson was his usual erratic self, 18/35, 317, 2-1, 89.8…missing countless passes that should have been on the mark, but somehow keeping the Jets in the game until the very end when Greg Zuerlein missed a 58-yarder badly to tie it.
The thing is, Jets head coach Robert Salah, who does a great job maintaining the team’s timeouts in the second half until they are needed, blew it as the Jets were driving for the tying field goal, or the win, inside 1:00, Salah not using a TO after a reception and as the guys back in the CBS studio correctly noted, 23 seconds went off the clock. Dammit.
The Jets (7-7), now have a quick turnaround before facing Jacksonville on Thursday, and we’ll see if Salah goes with Mike White and his bad ribs, or Wilson.
Meanwhile, the Lions (7-7) have won six of seven and are very much in the wild-card hunt, with three remaining.
Summit’s Michael Badgley was 2 of 3 on field goals for Detroit, missing a 54-yarder that gave the Jets a short field to enable them to take a 17-13 lead, 4:41 remaining, but the Lions and Jared Goff then had a brilliant play call on 4th and inches that Goff converted into a 51-yard pass play to tight end Brock Wright for the score that put Detroit ahead 20-17.
--Speaking of Thursday and Jacksonville, the Jags (6-8) beat the Cowboys (10-4) in Jacksonville, 40-34 in overtime on a 52-yard pick-six of a Dak Prescott pass, Prescott with seven INTs in his last four games.
For Steve G.’s Jags, Trevor Lawrence (27/42, 318, 4-1, 109.0) is clearly coming into his own, the team winning four of six and over that stretch, Lawrence has 14 touchdowns and just one interception.
Clemson teammate Travis Etienne had 103 yards rushing on 19 carries.
--The Eagles are 13-1 after a 25-20 win over the Paddington Bears (3-11).
--The Chiefs (11-3) clinched their seventh straight AFC West title, needing overtime to defeat the officially relegated Texans, 30-24.
Houston, 1-12-1, is to be replaced by the CFP winner, the Texans then having to start all over at the Div. I-AA level for three seasons before potentially regaining FCS status…which is creating a massive issue with the season ticket holders and a possible Sam Bankman-Fried type implosion.
Patrick Mahomes completed his last 20 passes, 36/41, 336, 2-0, 117.1 overall, but it was Jerick McKinnon who was the star in the end with a 26-yard touchdown run to win it in OT.
--Pittsburgh (6-8) beat the Panthers (5-9) 24-16, which I only mention for cousin Marilyn’s and Jeff B’s benefit, Jeff B. being snowed in in New Hampshire with Kathy B. for her birthday.
--Thursday, the 49ers (10-4) clinched the NFC West with a 21-13 win over the Seahawks (7-7) as Brock Purdy was solid again, throwing two touchdown passes to George Kittle and Christian McCaffrey racking up 138 yards from scrimmage and a score. Purdy became only the second quarterback ever to register a passer rating of 115 or better in each of his first two career starts. The other is Aaron Rodgers.
But the Niner defense had three sacks, two forced fumbles and seven passes defended, Nick Bosa with a sack to up his league-high total to 15.5. San Francisco, in extending its winning streak to seven, has allowed 17 or fewer points in all seven of those games.
--I have zero interest in all but about eight of the bowl games, but I can’t help but note that Sun Belt Champion Troy, No. 24, completed its best season at the FBS level, 12-2, with an 18-12 win over 25 UTSA (11-3) in the Cure Bowl on Friday in Orlando.
--Southern Miss running back Frank Gore Jr. set an FBS bowl record with 329 yards on the ground and two touchdowns in the Golden Eagles’ (7-6) 38-24 victory over Rice (5-8) in the LendingTree Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. Gore also completed two of his three passes, one for a score that tied the game at 24 late in the third quarter.
Yes, he is the son of Frank Gore Sr., the No. 3 all-time NFL rushing leader behind Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton.
--Florida (6-7) completed its second consecutive losing season (after finishing final AP 7, 6 and 13 the previous three campaigns), the Gators losing to 14 Oregon State (10-3), 30-3, in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Florida hasn’t had consecutive losing seasons since 1978-79, though four key starters, including quarterback Anthony Richardson, didn’t play as they declared for the NFL draft. This is one instance where I don’t blame them.
But for Beaver Nation, when the final AP poll comes out it will be their highest yearend ranking since 2000, and first 10-win season since 2006. The Beaverwear in the sports drawer kept me up all last night.
--In the unofficial Historically Black College or University national championship, the Celebration Bowl in Atlanta, Deion Sanders did the honorable thing and led Jackson State on the field against North Carolina Central, after accepting the head coaching job at Colorado.
But despite the heroics of one of Sanders’ kids, quarterback Shedeur Sanders, who threw for four touchdowns and ran for another, NCC (10-2) handed the Tigers their first loss (12-1), 41-34, before 49,670 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Good for Deion. What he did at Jackson State was immensely important for the future of the HBCUs.
--And in the FBS / Division 1-AA semifinals, No.1-seed South Dakota State beat 4 Montana State, 39-18, while 3 North Dakota State defeated 7 Incarnate Worded, 35-32.
In the latter contest, the Bison were just 1-of-12 passing for five yards! …but rushed for 328, while UIW’s Lindsey Scott Jr., last week’s star over 2 Sacramento State, threw two interceptions and lost a fumble.
Jan. 8, perennial champ NDSU, winners of nine of the last 11 titles, takes on SDSU’s Jackrabbits, who have never won the national championship but were runners-up to Sam Houston State two seasons ago.
--Mississippi State promoted defensive coordinator Zach Arnett to replace Mike Leach, following Leach’s sudden death. Arnett has been MSU’s defensive coordinator since 2020 when he was hired by Leach.
--Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker will be the next president of the NCAA, replacing outgoing President Mark Emmert. Baker, who concludes his second-term as governor Jan. 5, will take over for Emmert March 1.
Baker, a highly popular Republican governor, has not been a president of a university or an athletic director, but the NCAA was focusing on someone with a political background early in their search process, where “Baker emerged as someone with the experience and expertise to navigate the governmental and athletic worlds that often collide in college sports,” according to Sports Business Journal.
This was a terrific choice.
--In some big games in the top 25 Saturday, 4 Alabama (9-2) fell to 15 Gonzaga (9-3) 100-90, Drew Timme with 29 points and 10 rebounds for the Zags.
2 Virginia (8-1) suffered its first loss to 6 Houston (11-1), 69-61.
In a very exciting game that I caught the second half of, North Carolina (8-4) picked up a badly needed win over 23 Ohio State (7-3) at Madison Square Garden, 89-84 in overtime, Armando Bacot with 28 points and 15 rebounds for the Tar Heels.
Also at the Garden, 16 UCLA (10-2) defeated 13 Kentucky (7-3), 63-53.
In other games….
6 Tennessee (9-2) fell to 9 Arizona (10-1) 75-70, while 14 Indiana (8-3) lost to 8 Kansas (10-1), 84-62.
Shocking 3 UConn (12-0) blew out Butler (8-4) 68-46, in their Big East opener, and No. 1 Purdue (11-0) held on to defeat pesky Davidson (7-4) 69-61.
--Back to North Carolina’s win, coupled with UVA’s loss to Houston, the ACC is just 5-13 vs. top 25 teams.
--So that leaves moi…as I ventured to Rutgers Saturday with a fellow Wake Forest classmate to see our beloved Demon Deacons take on the Scarlet Knights and we could not have sucked more, the Star-Ledger rightfully disparaging us in their reporting after, Wake (8-4) falling to RU (7-4), 81-57, the Deacs committing 22 turnovers, seven in like the first five minutes, while our action on the boards was almost nonexistent.
To my fellow Wake fans, this season can go downhill very quickly as our next three are against Duke, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina, though there’s a lengthy break between Duke (12/20) and VT (12/31)…which will at least be good for star point guard Tyree Appleby’s balky ankle, Appleby far from 100% yesterday.
--The Warriors lost Steph Curry to a left shoulder subluxation (partial dislocation). So he’s out for a few weeks, as the Sports Illustrated cover jinx strikes again, Curry Sportsperson of the Year.
--The New York locals continue to play well, the Knicks having won six in a row, now 16-13, and it’s all come since coach Tom Thibodeau went to a strict nine-man rotation, and giving more playing time to young guards Miles McBride and Quentin Grimes, both playing terrific defense.
And in Brooklyn, the Nets, 18-12, have won nine of 10, and 11 of 14 since Kyrie Irving returned, Irving hitting a terrific game-winner as time expired against the Raptors on Friday.
Brooklyn is playing Detroit tonight, while the Knick are at Indiana.
--Saturday, the Suns’ Devin Booker scored 58 as Phoenix (18-12) overcame a 24-point deficit to defeat the Pelicans (18-11) 118-114. It was Booker’s second 50-point game of the season, fifth of his career.
--We note the passing of former Syracuse star, and popular New York Knicks performer for six seasons, Louis Orr, who died after a battle with pancreatic cancer at the age of 64.
Orr helped Syracuse make four NCAA tournament appearances from 1976-80 and earned All-Big East during his senior year.
“We mourn the loss of an Orange legend – a player, a coach, and most importantly a great person who made everyone around him better,” Syracuse posted on social media. “Louis Orr’s memory will live in our hearts forever, and especially whenever we look up and see his No. 55 in the Dome rafters,” Orr’s jersey having been retired in 2015.
Orr was a second-round pick in the 1980 NBA draft by Indiana, where he played for two years before moving on to the Knicks, where he was a terrific sixth man, averaging 9 points per game from 1982-88.
Orr then went on to coaching, and was the head man at Siena for one season, before five years at Seton Hall and seven at Bowling Green.
He then spent five seasons as an assistant under Patrick Ewing at Georgetown, the two very close friends.
--The Yankees weren’t able to re-sign outfielder Andrew Benintendi and he ended up inking a five-year, $75 million deal with the White Sox. The former Gold Glover, 28, hit .304 last season with Kansas City and the Yanks, though in 461 at-bats had only 31 extra-base hits, by far the lowest total of his career.
--But the Yankees did nab their prime target after re-signing Aaron Judge, reaching agreement with star free agent pitcher Carlos Rodon on a six-year, $162 million contract.
Rodon, 30, is coming off career-bests in starts (31) and wins (14) in his lone season with the Giants, 2.88 ERA, with 237 strikeouts in 178 innings.
The lefty doesn’t come without risks – having struggled with injuries before his last two highly successful seasons, the other with the White Sox.
Rodon joins a solid Yankees rotation that includes Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes, and Luis Severino.
--And the last big name of the free agents goes off the board, the Cubs finalizing a 7-year-, $177 million deal with free agent shortstop Dansby Swanson.
Swanson, 28, hit .277 with a .776 OPS for the Braves last season while playing 162 games. He played in 160 in 2021, helping the Braves to a World Series championship.
This is a lot of money for a guy with a .321 career OBP.
--The Dodgers reached an agreement with veteran DH J.D. Martinez on a one-year, $10 million deal. The 35-year-old had an offseason with Boston, but still had 16 home runs in 139 games. The move could spell the end of Justin Turner’s long tenure in L.A.
--The Mets signed former All-Star catcher (2021) Omar Narvaez, to a one-year, $8 million deal in what could be one of the sleeper moves of the offseason.
Narvaez, soon to be 31 (Feb. 10), has had some solid seasons at the plate, with the left-handed bat having some pop, and he’s one of the game’s top pitch framers. Hopefully the Mets can now rid themselves of James McCann’s contract.
Narvaez just had an offseason, we hope, this past year with Milwaukee.
--Aaron Judge’s 62nd home run ball sold at auction Saturday for $1.5 million.
Cory Youmans, who caught the ball in the left-field seats at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, turned down a private offer for $3 million for the ball last month (after initially turning down a public offer of $2 million in the immediate days after he caught it).
--I watched NBC Sports’ tribute to departing golf commentators Gary Koch and Roger Maltbie Saturday and NBC made the best of a bad situation.
Two of the most recognizable voices in the history of televised golf were told in November their contracts would not be renewed; Maltbie, 73, with the network for 31 years, Koch, 70, for 26, with their last event together at this week’s PNC Championship in Florida.
In interviews recently, they both described as being “very hurt” by the way they’re going out, but the 13-minute tribute Saturday was a good one, including a montage of some of their most memorable calls.
Jack Nicklaus and Tiger were among those chipping in.
Nicklaus: “You both have been at NBC Sports for over 25 years. You both have done a great job and called it like it is. If a guy did something wrong, both of you would tell them that. If they did things right, you praised them. You’ve contributed a tremendous amount to the game of golf. You’ve been good friends to the game, and more than that, you’ve been a good friend to me.”
Justin Thomas: “Y’all are unbelievable people. You’ve put so much time and hard work and effort into the incredible careers you’ve had. I’m going to miss you dearly. I’m going to miss hearing your voice and being able to mess around and hang out with you guys.”
Tiger: “Gary, probably the call of all calls, right, at 17? ‘Better than most.’ You’ve had an amazing career, not only as a player but as a commentator. You understood us players. You understand how hard certain shots were and couldn’t have been more descriptive of shots. …We’re going to miss that side of your commentating, your ability to understand us. You get it. Not too many commentators really, truly get it, but you do.
“Well, Rog. I’m going to miss you, especially those shortcuts you used to take in carts. …I do remember a call in 2000 [in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach] – it ‘wasn’t a fair fight’ – with that little 6-iron up the hill at No. 6. …You’ve been awesome. The needling I used to get from you here and there on a shot I would hit. I’m going to miss you out there, big guy.”
I’ll miss them too, but time to give some other guys, and gals, a shot.
--Meanwhile, Team Singh, Vijay and Cass, won the father/son event, Team Daly second, tied with Team Thomas, while Team Woods, dealing with injuries from both Tiger and Charlie, was T8.
Tiger has plantar fasciitis and he is shutting it down until the spring, determined to be competitive in the few events he has earmarked.
--As I said would be the case, Grant Wahl’s wife, Dr. Celine Gounder, said her husband’s death while covering the World Cup was caused by an aortic aneurysm.
She ruled out anything suspicious.
“It’s just one of those things that had been likely brewing for years,” Dr. Gounder said during an appearance on “CBS Mornings.”
It turns out another journalist died covering the games, photojournalist Kahlid al-Misslan, but the Doha-based Gulf Times didn’t disclose a cause of death beyond saying he died “suddenly.”
--We had a sad situation in Los Angeles, as famed mountain lion P-22 was euthanized, after the city’s lion king was captured so that biologists and veterinarians could check on his condition and it appears he had been hit by a car in recent weeks, a situation that landed him in increasingly precarious interactions with humans and their pets.
“Although I wished so desperately he could be returned to the wild or live out his days in a sanctuary, the decision to euthanize our beloved P-22 is the right one,” wrote Beth Pratt, a National Wildlife Federation official who had become one of the cougar’s most vocal advocates. “With these health issues, there could be no peaceful retirement, only some managed-care existence where we prolonged his suffering – not for his benefit but for ours.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose father was a founder of the Mountain Lion Foundation and championed protections for the species, said in a statement that P-22’s survival “on an island of wilderness in the heart of Los Angeles captivated people around the world and revitalized efforts to protect our diverse native species and ecosystems.”
Biologists believe 12-year-old P-22 entered Griffith Park, the nine-square-mile urban oasis, in February 2012, after a journey of 20 miles or so from farther west in the Santa Monica Mountains (crossing two major interstates in the process). P-22 was then about 2 years old.
That attracted the attention of Steve Winter, renowned for photographing big cats in jungles and savannas around the world. Winter became possessed by the idea of depicting the plight of an urban cat by capturing his image at night, against the backdrop of city lights.
It took 11 months to nab a photo of P-22, a shot showing the puma, standing hearty and regal atop a brown patch of earth that seems to float above the lights of L.A. The photo ran in October on page 1 of the Los Angeles Times, making the mountain lion famous. Four months later, Winter captured the ultimate shot…P-22, with the lighted Hollywood sign as a backdrop, which cemented the big cat’s mystique.
And to those who don’t understand the press this story is receiving, nationally, you probably don’t believe in Santa Claus. Mountain Lions/Cougars are a perennial top 20 on the All-Species List, ‘Man’ being about No. 398.
--An Alaska state trooper was killed Tuesday after he was attacked by a musk ox at his home.
The incident occurred when Curtis W. was trying to protect a dog kennel on his property in Nome from a group of musk oxen. While trying to scare the animals away, he was attacked.
The total number of musk oxen involved is not known.
Musk oxen are a frequent sight in and around Nome. The horned, stocky animals can grow to nearly four feet in height and weigh as much as 800 pounds.
Prayers to the trooper’s family.
--Congratulations to Wisconsin’s Grace Stanke for being crowned Miss America 2023 the other night in Connecticut. First runner-up was New York’s Taryn Delanie Smith (oh baby).
--I have a bunch of rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia in my place and one of the signed works is of the Rascals. Founding drummer Dino Danelli died on Thursday. He was 78.
Rascals guitarist Gene Cornish expressed his grief in a statement shared on social media, writing: “He was my brother and the greatest drummer I’ve ever seen. I am devastated at this moment. Rest in Peace Dino, I love you brother.”
Danelli played with the Rascals during their entire run. The New Jersey band (with New York roots) – initially called the Young Rascals – formed in 1965. They changed their name to the Rascals after their first three albums.
The group consisted of Danelli, Cornish, Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati and had the No. 1 hits “Good Lovin’,” “Groovin’,” and “People Got To Be Free,” along with two other monster hits in “How Can I Be Sure” (#4) and “A Beautiful Morning” (#3), all from 1966-68.
A rather brilliant run. In 1997 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Top 3 songs for the week 12/20/69: #1 “Leaving On A Jet Plane” (Peter, Paul and Mary) #2 “Someday We’ll Be Together” (Diana Ross & The Supremes) #3 “Down On The Corner / Fortunate Son” (Creedence Clearwater Revival)…and…#4 “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” (Steam) #5 “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” (B.J. Thomas) #6 “Come Together / Something” (The Beatles) #7 “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday” (Stevie Wonder) #8 “Take A Letter Maria” (R.B. Greaves) #9 “Holly Holy” (Neil Diamond) #10 “And When I Die” (Blood, Sweat & Tears…B+ week…Mets fans were still celebrating back then…)
NBA Quiz Answer: Top six in free throws made, career….
1. Karl Malone 9,787
2. Moses Malone 9,018
3. Kobe Bryant 8,378
4. LeBron 7,906
5. Oscar Robertson 7,694
6. Michael Jordan 7,327
7. Dirk Nowitzki 7,240
12. Kareem 6,712
23. Wilt Chamberlain 6,057 (but only .511 for his career)
Brief Add-on up top, late Wed. p.m., including my annual Christmas special.