Monthly Archives: June 2014

A very, very long day

Whew. I’m beat. Finally back at the Overland Park Marriott, and it’s now Friday. Thursday featured:

  • Numerous episodes of One Tree Hill on DVD
  • A five and a half hour drive (by design)
  • Dozing off after enjoying the good food in the hotel’s concierge lounge
  • A terrible overreaction
  • A visit to my favorite Buffalo Wild Wings at the opposite end of Kansas City, one which started terribly and ended much better

I have been watching a lot of One Tree Hill for the last week. I watched seasons five, six and seven through Tuesday, then got into season eight Wednesday and the wee hours Thursday. I couldn’t complete it, but thankfully, I found seasons eight and nine on my long-lost Flixter account.

How I got hooked on One Tree Hill is another story for another post.  In fact, I could write a whole chapter of a book about my likes and dislikes from that show. HINT: Brooke was not my favorite female.

I can normally get from my house in Russell to the Overland Park Marriott in under four hours. But since I wasn’t going to make it to Kansas City in time to find a place to watch the USA-Germany World Cup match, I figured I might as well avoid the incredibly boring Salina to Topeka stretch on Interstate 70, even if it was well out of my way.  The Kansas Turnpike doesn’t have much to view, either, but I don’t take it nearly as often as I do I-70, and thus I don’t get nearly as tired traversing the toll road.

I’m not big on hotel food, but the fare in the concierge lounge this evening–pork tenderloin, roasted potatoes and beef vegetbale soup–was outstanding. Best I’ve ever had at the Overland Park Marriott. The food at the Kansas City Airport Marriott’s concierge lounge was always awesome, but I can’t stay there anymore.

Let’s just say I made a very wise move visiting Buffalo Wild Wings tonight. Got to see some lovely ladies and gentle men, and played a lot of trivia. I promised I had to come back later today.

There’s a comfortable king sized bed with my name on it. Have a good night. And a pleasant later today.

Starting at the top

The NFL did something today I don’t think it has ever done. It has nothing to do with a player, a coach, or an owner.

The league announced it was hiring Brad Allen as an offical. Allen is certainly deserving of a job in the NFL; he has been a first-rate referee in the Atlantic Coast Conference for many years, and if you’ve watched Clemson, Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech or anyone else in that conference, you’ve probably seen Allen announcing penalties, even if you didn’t know his name.

What makes Allen’s hire unusual is he has been hired as a referee without having worked an NFL game.

I’ve followed the NFL for 30 years, and I’ve studied the history of the league plenty, but I cannot recall any official starting out as a referee right off the bat. Every referee had to pay his dues at another position before becoming a crew chief.

Ed “Guns” Hochuli was a field judge for two years in 1990 and ’91, and was scheduled to be a field judge again in ’92, but when another referee, Stan Kemp, was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease during training camp, Hochuli was tapped as a referee.

Jerry Markbreit, the only man to serve as referee in four Super Bowls, was a line judge in 1976 before moving to the top the next year after his crew chief, Tommy Bell, hung it up. Bell was one of the all-time greats, calling Super Bowls III and VII, and it was easy to see Markbreit learned from the beset.

Red “First Down” Cashion was a line judge for four years before becoming a crew chief. Jim Tunney, called by many the greatest football official of all-time, had to put in seven years before his ascension to the throne.

Many, many, many more officials work decades and never become a referee, either (a) because they would rather not have the hassle, or (b) they get axed before they get the chance. I can think of many greats in those positions: Stan Javie (29 years as a field judge) and Lou Palazzi (30 years as an umpire) were two of the best to never climb to the top rung.

Some referees even get demoted to another position. It happened to Fred Swearingen, Ben “Giving Him the Business” Dreith and Fred Wyant.

NFL Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino is rolling the dice with this one. Allen should be in the NFL. But to start as a referee may cause some great friction, especially if Allen is assigned to a veteran crew, some of whom may feel Johnny-Come-Lately got preferential treatment.

Four week fans

The United States is caught up in World Cup fever. I am old enough to remember every time the Americans have qualified for the final tournament (what it is officially called by FIFA, the sanctioning body of futbol), and I can only recall the fervor for the beautiful game (as it has been termed by many, especially Brazilians) coming close to this in 1994, when the World Cup was held in the US.

My question is: how many of these new “futbol fans” will follow the sport, at least on a casual basis, after the World Cup wraps up July 13? I can tell you that percentage will be in single digits. I’d bet my bottom dollar many of the people following the World Cup can’t name one Major League Soccer team, and some may not even know MLS exists. They certainly can’t name all 32 countries in the World Cup, and maybe can’t tell you who won in 2010 (Spain). I’m not an expert on futbol in the least, but I know the MLS teams, I know about the Premier League in England, and I can name all the World Cup winners.

I actually watched the World Cup for the first time in 1986. The Americans weren’t in it, but it fascinated me. Thankfully, the Cubs and Braves were on WGN and TBS, because there was NOTHING else on in the world of sports. The USFL folded, the NBA and NHL were over,the NFL was still a month away from training camps, and other than the Cubs and Braves, there was only one Major League Baseball game on per week.

In 1990, the first time the US qualified in 36 years, hardly anybody cared. The matches were not even on a full-time sports network–they were on TNT, part of Ted Turner’s media empire which televised the NBA then and still does, but is better known for dramas like The Closer and Rizzoli and Isles, plus endless reruns of Law and Order.  The US matches barely got any play on SportsCenter, and they certainly were nowhere to be found on the nightly newscasts on ABC, CBS and NBC. I was between my eighth and ninth grade years at Brother Martin High School, and I watched the World Cup simply because there wasn’t much else on other than Major League Baseball on WGN, TBS and ESPN. The US, predictably, lost all three matches, but played its best against host Italy, a perennial powerhouse. The Azzuri was harshly criticized for “only” defeating the Americans 1-0, especially after the Yanks were destroyed 6-1 in their first match by Czechoslovakia.

The US did a spectacular job of hosting the World Cup in 1994. The opening match in Chicago drew President Clinton, Oprah Winfrey and a galaxy of superstars. Unfortunately, two major stories overshadowed the World Cup: (a) the impending Major League Baseball strike, which would commence that August and wipe out the entire postseason; and (b) O.J. Simpson being charged with the slayings of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and Ronald Goldman.

Hours after the opening match concluded, Al Cowlings drove the white Ford Bronco at a snail’s pace on Los Angeles freeways, pissing off most of Houston and New York City, whose NBA teams, the Rockets and Knicks, were locked in a tense NBA Finals. Game 5 of that series coincided with the Simpson chase, and NBC opted to put the basketball game in a tiny box in the corner while Tom Brokaw narrated the chase, even though two of the five largest media markets in the US were represented on the hardwood.  NBC should have politely declined to cover the chase until the basketball game was over, and instead told viewers to switch to ABC or CBS. Today, that isn’t a problem, because the Simpson chase would have been on MSNBC.

The US made the knockout round in ’94, where they lost to Brazil in a tight match. That finish sent expectations into the exosphere for the 1998 World Cup in France. Instead, the Americans laid a gigantic egg, losing all three group matches, including an embarrassing 2-1 loss in the second match to Iran in a contest which was nowhere near as close as the score. FIFA ranked the uS 32nd–dead last–after the ’98 Cup.

The stinker in France made American fans leery for the 2002 tournament in South Korea and Japan. That, plus the 13-hour time difference, depressed viewership. Too bad, because the Americans advanced to the quarterfinals before losing a 1-0 heartbreaker to Germany, a match in which the Yanks outplayed Deutschland.

There are going to be watch parties all over the fruited plain Tuesday when the Americans face Belgium (probably). Don’t expect to see the same for the MLS Cup, the CONCACAF Gold Cup, or the UEFA Champions League antyime soon. If you miss it now, you’ll have to wait until 2018.

Lose but win

Never has a loss been so readily cheered by Americans.

The United States lost their final FIFA World Cup group match to Germany 1-0 earlier today, but the Stars and Stripes will still advance to the knockout round of 16. The Americans and Portugal, which defeated Ghana 2-1, each finished with one win, one draw and one loss for four points, but US was far superior on goal differential.

Portugal was done in by losing 4-0 to Germany in its first match. Portugal played much of that match with 10 men–one fewer than the maximum–after defender Pepe was given a red card for a violent tackle. Portugal was down 2-0 when Pepe was expelled, and not only did it severely hamper them defensively, it handcuffed the offense and prevented them from making up goal differential.

Portugal was behind the 8-ball from the get-go with the minus-4 goal differential. The US was plus-1 after defeating Ghana, and of course, the 2-2 draw Sunday between the Americans and Portugese failed to move the needle.

I did not watch the match at all. I left my home in Russell at 8:30 a.m. after watching far too many episodes of One Tree Hill on DVD. Since I had nothing but time, I detoured at Salina down I-135 to Wichita, then took the Kansas Turnpike northeast. i just checked in to the Overland Park Marriott, where I’ll be for the next week. I’m sure the sports bars were racous all around Kansas City, where Sporting Kansas City won last year’s Major League Soccer championship.

By moving into the knockout round, the US has advanced past the group stage in back-to-back World Cup tournaments for the first time since the World Cup began in 1930. The US reached the semifinals in 1930,, missed the tournament in 1934, and ’38, made it again in ’50, but then went from 1954 through 1986 without qualifying. Since qualifying in 1990, it was alternating between eliminationin the group stage (1990, ’98, 2006) and moving on (1994, 2002, 2010) until now.

The US most likely plays Belgium Tuesday at 3 p.m. Central. Might have to hunker down in the room and avoid the crowds again.

Throwback Thursday, June 26

2006 MCL volleyball tournament championship at Stockton, Hill City vs.  Phillipsburg

2006 MCL volleyball tournament championship at Stockton, Hill City vs. Phillipsburg

Hayli Bozarth during the 2006 MCL volleyball tournament

Hayli Bozarth during the 2006 MCL volleyball tournament

Countdown to kickoff

It’s a little past 2 a.m. in middle America. I’m sitting at my computer with season 8 of One Tree Hill playing. We are nine hours away from the kickoff of the most anticipated football game in the history of the United States of America.

Have I gone mad? Have I forgotten about 48 Super Bowls? Nope. I’m serious, because it’s the game everyone else calls football.

Of course, Americans and Canadians call it soccer. But from this point forward, I will use the Spanish spelling, futbol, to distinguish it from the gridiron game Americans and Canadians love so much.

Just past 11 a.m. Central, the Americans will face mighty Germany in the final round of play in Group G at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

World Cup Fever is at an all-time high in Uncle Sam’s land. Part of it comes from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, when Landon Donovan scored a goal in stoppage time to defeat Algeria and advance to the knockout stage, where the Americans lost a heartbreaker in extra time to Ghana. Part of it comes from American manager Jurgen Klinsmann, who played for West Germany’s 1990 World Cup championship team and coached Deutschland in the 2006 Cup, when host Germany reached the semifinals.

Klinsmann didn’t exactly endear himself to most American futbol fans leading up to the World Cup because of two controversial decisions.

First, he left Donovan off the final 23-man roster which traveled to Brazil. Donovan is probably the most popular male player to wear the United States kit, and he played in the World Cup in 2002, 2006 and 2010. Even though Donovan scored the dramatic goal vs. Algeria four years ago and was part of the 2002 team which reached the quarterfinals before losing 1-0 to Germany, Klinsmann felt (correctly, in my opinion) Donovan’s advanced age was of limited use, and his stamina was a question, especially given the debilitating heat and humidity of Brazil. Klinsmann believed he would be better served by using young players and let them learn on the job. He figured if the Americans didn’t make it out of the group, which was termed the “Group of Death” before the tournament, the experience would serve them well in 2018 in Russia, provided the Americans qualified.

Second, Klinsmann angered Americans, both futbol fans and non-futbol fans alike, by stating the US lacked a realistic chance of winning the World Cup. Not what championship crazed Americans wanted to hear. Fans of every team in every sport, from the New York Yankees and Miami Heat to the Florida Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars, expect to hear their leaders state “we are going to win every game we play” and “the championship is our only goal” and other cliches. I’m sorry, but I found Klinsmann’s honesty refreshing. He’s been around the elite level of futbol far too long and is well aware just how strong the sides from Europe and South America are. To ask the Americans to first get out of a group which includes Germany and Portugal, two elite European teams, and a strong African side in Ghana, and then have to navigate their way through Belgium, France and others is too much for ask, especially for a tenderfoot American squad.

The Americans began the tournament well enough. Clint Dempsey scored 30 seconds into the match vs. Ghana, the fifth fastest goal to begin a match in World Cup history. John Brooks came off the bench and scored in the 86th minute to lift the US to a 2-1 victory and three huge points.

The Portugal match, played in brutal conditions in the Amazon Rainforest metropolis of Manaus, was unforgettable. An errant clearing pass by the Americans early in the match led to an easy Portugal goal, and the first half ended with Portugal ahead 1-0. The US came to life in the second half, scoring twice, with Dempsey’s goal in the 80th minute putting the Stars and Stripes up 2-1 and approximately 10 minutes away from a guaranteed berth in the knockout stage, regardless of what happened vs. Germany.

In futbol, the clock does not stop and counts up, unlike football, basketball and hockey, where the clock is stopped for injuries, the ball/puck going out of bounds, and of course, television, and it counts down. The referee in a futbol match has the discretion to add what is known as “stoppage time” to the end of each half. In this case, the referee declared there would be at least five minutes added to the end of the second half.

If there were exactly five minutes added, the US would have won. However, about 30 seconds after that five minutes had supposedly elapsed, Portugal’s best player and the reigning FIFA Player of the Year, Cristiano Ronaldo, played a perfect pass into the box, and Portugal’s Silvestre Varela headed it past US goalkeeper Tim Howard to level the match. It literally was the last play of the match, because the referee blew his whistle 10 seconds later.

Germany, which defeated Portugal 4-0 but drew Ghana 2-2, and the US each have four points (three for a win, one for a draw). If the match ends in a draw, both teams advance, and Ghana and Portugal will both be eliminated, regardless of what happens. If the US loses, it had better hope that Ghana does not win by two goals or more. If that happens, the US is out.

The kickoff time is great news for futbol fans in the Eastern and Central time zones, because the vast majority of sports bars open at 11 a.m. I wonder what those in the Mountain and Pacific zones will do. The bars will open for the second half in the Mountain zone, but not until too late in the far west.

I’m tempted to make it to Buffalo Wild Wings in Kansas City for the 11 am.. kick. Part of me says stay away. Decisions, decisions. Either way, gotta make it fast.

Unhappy anniversary

June 25, 2004 should have been one of the happiest days of my life. It was the happiest day of my life at the time it happened.

Today, it brings back heartache, pain and all of the associated emotions. It reminds me of just how lonely I am and what little chance I have of finding happiness with someone else in what little time I figure to have left on this earth.

Ten years ago today, I met the lady I thought was “the one”. The lady I thought I would spend the rest of my life with. This was our first date, mind you, but the connection was so strong, the passion so burning between us, it seriously hurt to end the date and go home. And I was hurting for days, wanting to see her again so bad that the two weeks which passed between dates seemed like at least two years.

I never dreamed I would have met someone so beautiful as Renetta Rogers. And I never would have dreamed I would have met her through an online site. And I REALLY never would have dreamed she would have been the one to initiate contact, but sure enough, on June 3, 2004, she contacted through Match.com. To that point, I had a Match.com profile for two and a half years at that time, and I could count the number of replies on my hands. Of those replies, I had met only one. She was a very nice lady, a high school teacher, and we met at my apartment in Hammond (this was during my ill-fated time when I worked at Southeastern Louisiana University in that town, which is 40 miles east of Baton Rouge and 50 miles northwest of New Orleans). We went out for a drive and everything seemed great, but lo and behold, another tenant sideswiped her parked car, and she freaked out. We kept in touch for another week, but it went nowhere, and we never talked again.

When Renetta contacted me, I didn’t know how to react beyond a reply. Fortunately, I went to Baton Rouge that weekend with an NCAA baseball regional at LSU and would worry about it when I got back to my parents’ home in suburban New Orleans, where I was living once again after taking a job with Delgado Community College. When I returned to the homestead at 224 Jaguar Drive in Arabi (a community 15 minutes east of downtown New Orleans, one which would become infamous a little over a year later), I e-mailed her again, she replied, and the next week, we finally started talking on the phone. The conversations were long and involved, and I things were looking very good.

I learned Renetta was a very special lady. A true survivor–literally. She was a student at LSU when she was involved in a severe car accident in 2000, one which by all rights should have killed her. She was in a coma for almost two years, and when she finally emerged, she had to start her life over. Imagine trying to learn to walk and talk again. Worse, try learning how to use the toilet and bathe yourself again at 21 or 22, which is what Renetta had to do. Fortunately, Renetta’s mother, Liz, nurtured her every step of the way. The only drawback was her mother would accompany her in public, which did not faze me a bit. I thought it was a great idea to meet her right away and that would take the suspense away–would she like me or not?
We set June 25, a Friday as the date day. The three of us would meet at a Starbucks in Mandeville, which is across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans. I left my home in Arabi early and stopped in Slidell to buy her flowers, then made the drive west on Interstate 12 to Mandeville. I was sweating the whole way. When I got to Mandeville, it started POURING, pouring so much the parking lot at Starbucks flooded. It was one of those gullywashers which are not uncommon to south Louisiana in the summer.

I waited for Renetta and Liz for 20 minutes. Then they arrived. Renetta walked with a noticeable limp from the accident, so it took her a little time to reach me. If she didn’t have that limp, I’m convinced she would have come running at me and may have knocked me down, because she hugged me so hard. The conversation went very well, and while her mother used the restroom, we snuck in a kiss. Not a big deal to most, but here it was, less than four months from my 28th birthday, and it was my first romantic kiss. There would be a lot more of that as the date progressed.
After 45 minutes at Starbucks, we made our way across the street to the Macaroni Grill. No food, but Renetta and Liz wanted wine. Being a teetotaler and knowing I would be driving across Lake Pontchartrain after dark, I passed.

The ride to dinner was something. Renetta rode in my car, and we would kiss every time we would get a chance. We wanted the traffic signals to stay red, because we could get in a longer kiss. Once we got to the restaurant, we started really going at it hot and heavy. We left our table and went to the bar area and really made out, making those around us take notice. They thought we were really in love.

I didn’t want the date to end. Neither did Renetta. She wanted me to come back to their house in Mandeville to stay the night and spend Saturday with her, but Liz said no. I told Liz I would stay at a hotel in nearby Covington and come back tomorrow, but Liz said no. I got lost leaving the restaurant and thought I may never get home, but somehow I found my way back to I-12 and back across Lake Pontchartrain to Arabi.

If I never dated Renetta again and it ended in a normal fashion, I would have been very, very sad for a time, but very, very happy that I had that one date and I got to know her and Liz. Unfortunately, the way it ended still has me thinking what a turd I am.

I’m going to skip all the in between–I will get to that later–and fast forward to April 19, 2009. That was the Sunday night when I finally listened to a voice mail on my cell phone which had been left the previous Tuesday by Liz claiming that I sabotaged her job prospects in Jefferson City, Mo., by something I had posted on Facebook. First, I never, ever remember posting something on Facebook about her like that, and second, did anyone in Jefferson City know me well enough to believe it? If they did, than that’s a crying shame. Liz has never forgiven me, and she will not contact me. I wanted to send her a message today, but I didn’t. I still may do so.

Does anyone think I should send a message? Should I try again?