Why I’m Pulling for the Saints in the Super Bowl

5 02 2010

New Orleans suffered one of the worst heartbreaking disasters that has ever occurred in the United States.  The city is today still attempting to recover from the unspeakable horrors caused by Hurricane Katrina nearly five years ago.  Many great people in the area have refused to let scenes like these kill their spirit or their optimism.

There are heroes like Norman Francis, an African American man born in 1931 in Lafayette, Louisiana.  His father was a barber who rode a bike to work every day because the family could not afford a car.  His mother was a homemaker.  They were poor, but Norman later said he never realized it. (Further proof that money is way overrated).  He shined shoes as a young boy.  His parents emphasized the importance of a good education and made certain that Norman attended and took it seriously.

As it turns out, they needn’t have worried.  Norman Francis did take school seriously, and he went on to attend Xavier University in New Orleans, where he worked in the library repairing damaged books.  Ironic, since he would go on to be a central figure in the repairing of the whole city.  In the 50s, he became the first African American accepted to the Loyola University Law School in New Orleans.

A couple of years later, he returned to Xavier University to begin his professional career, starting as Dean of Men.  He was instrumental in providing dorm rooms for “Freedom Riders” whose bus had been attacked in Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement.  He quickly moved up the ranks at Xavier and became the university’s president in 1968.  He is still in that role today and is the longest tenured University President in the nation.  He has spent his life working to improve the lives of those around him and is the chair of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, whose primary responsibility is to help the region recover and rebuild in the aftermath of Katrina.

He has received commendations from Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II and two United States Presidents, among others.  In 2006, he received this nation’s highest award for a civilian, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  When receiving it, he said, “These are the sorts of things that happen in one’s lifetime that you never expect.  I accept it for all the people who made this possible, whose shoulders I’m standing on and who helped me be encouraged to work hard and to serve the career that I chose. They all are part of this award. It’s not for me alone.”

He has loved and worked for the people of a city that has seen so much sadness and despair for the last five years and now is bristling with excitement over their Super Bowl team.  Sports (though I love them) don’t matter much in the big scheme of things, but the Saints have an opportunity to bring  joy to a region that deserves it right now, and I hope that they do.

They can go from this:  to this:

Oh yeah, Norman Francis, a lifelong sports fan, was one of the initial members of the ownership group who brought the NFL to New Orleans, and one of the only minority ones as well.  He’s been waiting over 40 years for a Super Bowl Championship to come to the city he loves.  The Saints may be a five point underdog to the Colts, but this city has been an underdog since Katrina swept through in 2005, and they haven’t given up yet.  Go Saints.

Norman Francis:

Fool Me Once, Shame on You; Fool Me Since 1990…

15 09 2008

Fair-weather sports fans –  I can’t stand them.  I don’t even like them when they are pulling for one of my  teams that is playing well in a particular year.(I realize using the word “my” is not really correct and just goes to show how sick sports fans can be – thinking a team is “theirs” in any capacity.)   Take this year, for instance.  There are Chicago Cubs shirts, hats, bumper stickers, eye patches and band-aids coming out of the woodwork.  I’m going to guess that some poor suckers around here decided to get a Cubs tattoo in the past couple of months.  When the Cubs fall flat in the post-season yet again, they can commiserate with the fools who got Cubs tattoos in 1984 or 2003 and are still waiting.  Personally, I can’t stand the Cubs, but I am especially annoyed by those who are suddenly Cubs fans this year now that the team is (it kills me to say it) winning.  I at least have an ounce of respect for real Cubs fans who are there year in and year out.  (Not like, but respect.)  Those people have provided some real humor to my life as they continue to believe “this is the year” every year until the Cubs blow it yet again (something that will likely occur again in the next month or so).

However, I can only laugh at them so heartily.  Why?  Because I’m just like them.  I realized it yesterday afternoon somewhere in the 3rd quarter of the Cincinnati Bengals football game I sat through despite near hurricane force wins and another pitiful performance by the team.  I have never been one of those fair-weather fans.  I stick by my (there’s that sad word again) teams no matter what.  I don’t throw away a hat or a shirt when they are losing.  I don’t lie about who I like when I talk sports with someone, no matter how embarrassing it might be to say, “I like the Bengals.”  I have been a loyal fan.

I’m not sure that can continue.  For those of you who don’t know, the Bengals were good during most of the 80s and went to two Super Bowls.  The 90s were, umm, a different story.  They stunk.  Yes, for a whole decade, they stunk.  The early part of the 2000s were similar.  Then, Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson and Marvin Lewis came along, and in 2005, they were very good.  Looking back, I almost wish that year had not happened.  It was sort of like 2003 for Chicago Cubs fans.  It was one of those so close years that convince you the team is almost there.  Things have gone down hill for the Bengals since that year.  Yesterday, I saw a team in disarray.  I saw a team that looks like it’s the worst-coached team in football.  I saw a team whose players, for the most part, look defeated and lost.  I saw a crowd that found the perfect opportunity to boo loudly when it was announced that this game was the (I think) thirty-somethingish straight sell-out.  The fans were booing the team, the owner, and I think, themselves for the product they were witnessing despite their loyal support.  They were collectively thinking, “Why are we selling this place out?”  I think that streak will be in jeopardy (but not this season because the seats are already sold).

I actually find myself considering “dropping” one of my teams until they prove they are better.  I know I have the full support of my wife, who puts professional sports right up there with laundry lint in importance.  You can bash me all you want.  However, if you do, keep in mind you are bashing someone who never, never even considered “dropping” a team in the thirty years or so that I’ve followed sports.

Steelers and Browns fans can leave comments about what a joke the Bengals are if they wish.  I want you to know, though, that it won’t affect me one bit as I could not be any lower on this team.

We’ll call this a trial separation.  You guys can keep your cool stadium and your “roar” sound effects.  I’ll keep my Bengals hat and sweatshirt just in case I need them in the future.  Show me some wins, and I’ll considere being a fair-weather fan for the first time in my life.  For now, I won’t put myself back on the market.  I’m not going to start liking the Cowboys or the Patriots.  Not yet, anyway.

Mike Brown, Marvin Lewis and the rest of the Bengals organization:  You will have to earn me back if you care.  I have a feeling that you will care if many others like me adopt the same stance.  I hope they will.

In the meantime, the only thing good about the Bengals?  Probably this.  I think the cheerleaders could beat the team in a football game right now.  I’m not kidding.

Guys: Top 8 Ways We Enrage Women

7 07 2008

Women. I love them. They are amazing, creative, resourceful, beautiful beings. I’ve been fortunate in my life to somehow charm a handful of them who, for some reason or another, thought I was better than I actually am. This has culminated in the crowning achievement of my life: Being married to this woman.

Life with a woman is certainly much better than life without. However, there are times when men and women mix about as well as a dried-up tent filled with fireworks and a lit, gasoline-soaked rag. Guys seem to have an innate ability to make women angry. It has been my experience that there are actually 4,523 ways to tick off a female, but there are eight (call them deadly guy sins, if you like) that consistently get their panties in a twist.

1. Other Women: Guys like to check out women in restaurants, at church, in the grocery, on the street, at the gym, and at parties and events (yes, even cute moms at kids’ birthday parties). Face it: Guys like to look at women, period. This can really irk the woman you happen to be with, even though you really like to look at her, too. In fact, you probably can remember the first time you ogled her with an unhealthy lust in your heart. Still, nothing seems to get us into more trouble. We can try explaining how we just can’t help ourselves, but it doesn’t seem to calm the storm that makes up the emotions of a female. Since giving up this hobby is not an option, there are several ways guys can at least lessen the likelihood of a full-blown argument.

  • Pick the appropriate time and place. You might get away with a quick glance at a beautiful woman when you’re at a Halloween costume party. Your wife/girlfriend is probably in the right state of mind to understand that you’re going to look at the woman from down the street who is dressed in the French Maid costume. It sort of goes with the territory. However, a long stare at your wife’s cute third cousin at a funeral for your wife’s great aunt is not going to go over well.
  • Don’t stop and stare in an obvious, guy-like manner. Use either the “extreme eye slide” where only your eyes and not your head move in the direction of the other female or the “tie your shoe and sneak a peak” maneuver in which you crouch down and pretend to tie/fix/wipe something off your shoe while quickly looking in the direction of the woman in tight shorts a few feet away. These won’t actually fool your mate, but she MIGHT appreciate the fact that you at least tried to be subtle.
  • Under no circumstances do you ever look at another woman when your wife/girlfriend is pregnant, menstruating, recovering from some sort of facial surgery, or has just eaten dessert and is therefore feeling “huge” and unattractive. During these periods, you just have to fight the urge. For those of you who feel you are in a relationship with a woman who is always in one of the aforementioned states, you’re just out of luck.

2. ESPN CLASSIC: Most women hate watching most sports. Most guys like watching most sports. Most woman hate it when most guys watch most sports. Follow? However, women and men have come to friendly truces in this area. The men will watch some sports and sacrifice others while the women will either learn to enjoy some of the sports or will find other, more important things to pass that time. However, this truce becomes null and void if and when the women catch the men watching a sporting event from the past. Men call them classics while women call them old reruns. Women can understand a guy’s yearning to watch their team play in a current NFL playoff game. They cannot, however, understand why a guy would rather watch a tennis match from nearly thirty years ago rather than go shopping with them. Guys, your only hope here is that she won’t notice it’s a rerun classic. However, it’s not easy to pull this off when the guy is wearing tight shorts and using an old wooden racquet.

3. We Just Don’t Understand: Guys (well, most guys) at least have gotten the message through their heads that when a woman says no, she means no. (Those public service announcements may actually be working.) However, we are still clueless as to the more subtle messages we receive from the women in our lives. For example, we still can’t figure out when she said she really, really didn’t want anything for Valentine’s Day that it meant she AT LEAST wanted chocolates, a card, and dinner out at a nice place. We also don’t understand that we are never supposed to agree with her when she says some article of clothing is not flattering on her. On a related note, never fall for the “Which one do you think looks best on me” trap if out shopping for clothes. When you say, I like the red one, what she will hear is, I think you look ugly in the black one. Similarly, even if she told you that you didn’t have to go to a family event with her, you saying: I just don’t feel like going to that get-together today – you go, is the same thing as saying, I hate everyone in your family, and I’d rather stay home and poke my own eyes out than go there.

4. The Kids Are Fine: Sometimes, a guy’s parenting style is, how should I say it…more laid back than a woman’s. This, when noticed, does not always go over well with the female. The following things could instigate disharmony in the home:

  • Letting your kid ride the bike inside the house. The woman is likely to point out that some things in the house are actually breakable and besides, those bicycle tires probably rolled through bird poop yesterday. Everyone in the house may come down with bird flu, and you won’t have that nice blue vase from her great grandma Helga to cheer you up when your sick in bed because your kid bumped into it with the Huffy while spreading disease through the carpet fibers.
  • Women don’t seem to think that Shaved Ice/Hawaiian Ice treats are a substantial dinner. (Even if it’s a cool half and half mix of black cherry and lemon sour.) Your kid will love you for this decision, but that actually just makes matters worse when your wife insists that some carrots be consumed and the kid screams, “I like Daddy better!”

5. We Don’t Care about Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, Charlotte (though she is hot), Emma, Mr. Darcy or Lizzie: We don’t want to see the Sex and the CIty movie or any 4-hour documentary about the life of Jane Austen. We don’t want to read newly discovered letters from Jane Austen to her sister. We get offended when we realize our woman is not thinking of us when she buys an “I heart Mr. Big” coffee mug. We don’t get all misty-eyed and fuzzy inside whenever Colin Firth gets yet another movie role playing the same damn character. We don’t want to re-watch the DVR’d Oprah where Sarah Jessica Parker discussed fashion and the screaming audience members were given free DVD’s of the final season of the SATC tv show. Yes we can tell you who won the 1982 World Series and in how many games, but we sure as hell don’t know which season Carrie and Aidan broke up and why.

6. We Think We Know Where We’re Going: Guys don’t like to stop and look at maps or, God forbid, ask someone for directions. Never before has the saying, “Life is a journey, not a destination” been more true than when a man is trying to drive to a new place. Our sense of adventure kicks in. Sure, we’re just a guy with his wife trying to find a co-worker’s house for a dinner and game night, but we suddenly feel more like pirates traversing the open seas in search of treasure whenever we hit an unexpected “road closed” sign. While the woman would like to take the easy way out and simply pull into the Marathon station on the right, we men know that it is much more satisfying to let our sixth sense kick in and figure out the maze of little-used side streets by using wind direction, instinct, and landmarks. We know we’ll get there eventually (although we can’t promise that we won’t pass through a few extra states on the way).

7. We Look Pretty Good with Some Gray Hair and a Wrinkle or Two. Women are irate that men have a decent shot at actually getting better looking with age. Terms like wise, handsome, stately, gallant, and dignified are often used to describe older gentlemen. This is especially true in Hollywood. Men like Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, Harrison Ford and others continue to be sex symbols, while actresses over the age of 24 may have to start settling for parts as grandmothers or wicked stepmothers. Diane Lane, however, is doing her best to change this attitude. At the risk of doing number one on this list, here is a picture: wow. (I may get away with this, as I think my wife has an innocent woman-crush on D. L.)

In the interest of fairness, I thought about posting a Robert Redford pic here, too. Then, I thought, hey – I’m doing a blog about what makes women angry. Why stick a guy pic in just to appease them?

8. Talking about how good the hot wings are at Hooters: The wings are awesome. Let’s get that out there right up front. However, spending time trying to convince your woman that the two of you should eat at Hooters because the wings are delicious is like saying strip clubs are a good place to go because they play really good dance music. (Who doesn’t find themselves tapping their fingers when You Shook Me All Night Long comes on?) Try as you might, your woman is not going to believe that you are more focused on these…

than these…

If your wife likes to blog, you might want to try my latest tactic. I’m trying to convince her we should go to Hooters so that she can write a funny blog about the experience from a woman’s point of view. Guys, keep checking her blog to see if I’m successful.

There they are. Eight ways to incite rage. Take them for what you will, but for God’s sake, don’t discount their power or consequences, or you could be looking at a long, cold few days of couch-sleeping. For those of you wondering if I wrote this big long blog just to have an excuse to post a picture of waitresses from Hooters, the answer is: Maybe.

December 13, 1977: A Night that Will Never Be Forgotten in Evansville, Indiana

12 12 2007

It’s just before 3:00 p.m. on November 24, 2007 in Evansville, Indiana, a good-sized town on the Ohio River. About 200 miles to the northeast, Pieter Van Tongeren walks off the basketball court at Ball State University’s Worthen Arena. The six foot eleven inch University of Evansville freshman has hit the game-winning shot in the final seconds to give Marty Simmons his first win as a division I head coach. The hard-fought victory for the Purple Aces has come on the road, and many back in Evansville switch off their radios to proceed with their Saturday afternoon, comfortable in the knowledge that this promises to be the first of many wins for the coach, himself a star player for Evansville in the 80s, himself a hero in the waning moments of past games.

The team’s record stands at 1-3, and Simmons has urged the fans and media to have patience as his mostly young team learns his system and his style of tough, aggressive defense. Christmas, the coach says, is when the real potential of this team may start to shine through.

Flashback thirty years: An even younger first year head coach and his raw, fledgling University of Evansville basketball team stand with the same record: 1-3. The program, with its long history of championship success at the “small college” level has made the leap to its first year of division I competition. The town is enthused by the infectious charisma and confidence of the new coach, Bobby Watson, who covered the entire area prior to the season, giving speeches and generating excitement about his new ball club. Watson, like Simmons three decades later, has cautioned that it will take awhile before his team really starts to gel…maybe around Christmas.

On December 13, 1977, the players are anxious to start gelling a week or two before the coach’s preseason prediction. At the airport in Evansville, the team, including their optimistic thirty-four year old leader, Watson, boards a plane on a damp, cold, fog-filled evening and hopes for a tough road victory against Middle Tennessee State. They’ve discussed the opposition and practiced their game plan. This is the type of moment they dreamt of growing up on elementary school playgrounds and in high school gyms throughout the area, and they want to show the town they belong at this level. They want to play well. They want to play smart. They want victory.

The team won’t get that victory, though. In fact, they won’t make it to Tennessee at all. They won’t make it more than a short distance from the airport. In one of the greatest sports tragedies in history, none of them will make it out of the night alive.

At 7:21 p.m., the plane carrying 29 souls crashes about 90 seconds after takeoff. Most of the people are ejected from their seats into a muddy, difficult to access area just outside of a subdivision and perish immediately. A small number of passengers survive the initial crash but live only a short time before being pronounced dead at a hospital. The families, friends, university and town are in shock.

Later newspaper accounts will note the poor weather conditions, possible sudden wind gusts, improper weight balance on the plane, and maybe even errors by the crew as possible factors in the crash. Regardless of the exact cause, a university of around 2,000 students is shaken to its core. A town of 100,000 or so joins in the grief.

In the following years, the team was rebuilt and achieved notable success in the 80s and early 90s. Players like Brad Leaf, Theren Bullock, Scott Haffner (who once scored 65 points in a game for UE, sixth all time for a single game in NCAA division I history), Dan Godfread, Andy Elkins, Reed Jackson, Marcus Wilson, and the aforementioned Simmons brought wins and glory to the program. Head Coach Jim Crews received national attention as the team piled up wins in front of home crowds that regularly reached 9,000 and 10,000 in Roberts Stadium. The team advanced to play in the NCAA tournament a few times, despite being one of the smallest universities in division I sports.

However, the wins and game attendees became fewer by the mid 90s and the program has had difficulty putting together the kind of seasons the town of Evansville has come to expect.

Enter Coach Simmons.

The town has adopted a guarded optimism about the program again. Coach Simmons demonstrates a passion for the job, and a persistent desire to return the program to its winning ways. Interestingly, Simmons was recently named as one of “100 Legends” of Illinois high school basketball, as was Mike Duff, a young man who had immense potential, and who died in the UE plane crash thirty years ago.

No one who lived in Evansville in 1977 will ever forget the events of that terrible night, a low point for the university. In 2007, however, there is hope for new, better memories for UE, as a new basketball era begins. It goes without saying that no wins on the court can make up for lives lost, but somehow it seems to help the town’s psyche just a little bit when their beloved Purple Aces can bring home a win.

The 1977 team is pictured below with head coach Bobby Watson (middle of first row).