Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Book Review: "Namath" by Mark Kriegel (2005)

Joe Willie Namath, the man, the myth, the legend, laid bare with depth and skill by Mark Kriegel.  So many stories: the humble upbringing in a Pennsylvania steel town.  The high school pool hustler, white-boy basketball demon, the fast car driving Romeo, and of course the football star.

Onwards to the University of Alabama and the tough-love world of the infamous Paul "Bear" Bryant, where upon his arrival, Namath gets invited up into Bryant's field tower.  Maybe the only player to ever get invited up into the tower - and they immediately clicked.  A National Championship in 1964 followed.

Then the crazy draft / contract negotiation, where Joe shrewdly held out for more money, something that was to be a constant during his NY Jets career.  He took to NYC and all it had to offer like a duck to water and quickly earned the moniker "Broadway Joe".  His late nights and armloads of girls became legend.  He associated with gamblers and the mob, becoming so notorious that J. Edgar Hoover opened a file labeled "Namath".  The NFL Commissioner was in frequent contact.  Everyone had eyes on Joe.

And Joe got it done on the field, leading the upstart AFC Jets to the 1969 Super Bowl against the highly favored (+18) Baltimore Colts.  A couple of days before the big game and probably well-oiled, Joe Namath uttered the famous words: "We’re going to win Sunday. I guarantee it."  Against all predictions, the Jets won Super Bowl III by 16 to 7.

Sadly, this was the pinnacle of Joe's career.  Both his knees gave out.  The stout offensive line he had in 1969 was broken up and Joe took sack after sack and incurred many concussions.  He ended his NFL career in 1977, a shadow of the man that came into the league in 1966.  While he threw 173 TD's, he had 220 picks. Still he renowned for his ability to read defences and make changes at the line of scrimmage.  He elevated a good Jets team to great in 1969.

Off the field, Joe was was no stranger to the camera and Madison Avenue. He endorsed everything from pantyhose to shaving cream and appeared in several movies.  He owned bars and fast food chains and was smart enough to hire a very capable money manager who ensured Joe amassed serious wealth.  He had a successful stage career and in 1984 married a 22 year old actress (he was 41) and has two daughters. He got divorced in 2000 and ended up entering a clinic for alcoholics in 2004.  He is still heard from every now and then, grousing about the sad state of the Jets or making game predictions. For a full range of on and off the field activities, he may well be the all American boy.   Namath is a great read.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Zombie Apocalypse

As Daryl Dixon has expertly proven on the Walking Dead, a crossbow may well be the weapon of choice in the zombie apocalypse.  Arrows / bolts pierce the skull, destroying the brain and rendering the walker lifeless (for the second time).  The crossbow is silent, meaning other walkers are not cognizant of the threat.  Finally, once yanked out (and cleaned by wiping on pants) the arrow can be re-used.  Nothing like being green at world's end.

I want these two archers on my side when the undead come a-knocking.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Movie Reviews: Lincoln & Jack Reacher

Don't know if Lincoln will get Best Picture at the Academy Awards, but I will eat my hat if Daniel Day Lewis does not win for Best Actor.  From Christy Brown to Hawkeye to Bill the Butcher (not forgetting the crazy oilman in There Will Be Blood, DDL gets prime roles because he literally becomes and makes the character* and the line between acting and realism disappears.   He literally becomes Honest Abe and you forget you are watching an actor.

The movie is very good, focusing on the last few months of Lincoln's life and the 13th Amendment. The supporting cast of Tommy Lee Jone and Sally Field, et al are also powerful.  It is very much a history lesson and has the feel of a documentary but DDL makes it worthwhile.  Best parts are when he tells some long-winded anecdotes and also the three schemers sent out to win (by any means) support for the mendment.  A-

* DDL lives in Roxbury, CT and once when we were having dinner at the Charcoal Chef in Woodbury, DDL was there, sitting quietly at the back.  We were debating whether to approach and say hello.  However, remembering his penchant for remaining in character, we left him alone.  This was around the time of There Will Be Blood.  Good move - one of us could have been bludgeoned with a bowling pin...

Jack Reacher.  I have few comments on this other than Tom Cruise was in it and he drove a classic American muscle car (see the 1970 SS Chevelle below).  Decent action flick.  Those who read the books are livid with the casting of Cruise - apparently he is nothing like the literary protagonist. What, the hero in the book wasn't a 5 '6" religious nut? C.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Book Review: The Long Snapper

Some guy retires from pro-football and becomes a teacher.  Finds God.  Misses the excitement of the game.  Yawn.  Gets a call from the Patriots to come out of retirement to be their long snapper - the player whose sole job is to fire the ball from the line of scrimmage back to the kicker / punter and then block the defence.  Not exactly the star of the show but an important cog in the machine.

Snapper man has doubts about his abilities.  Snore.  Practices alone.  Late at night.  In hotel room.  Really, he snaps the ball into pillows!  Misses wifey.  Sigh.  Gets the yips.  Needs encouragement.  Gets yelled at by Belichick (high point of book). Patriots win Super Bowl on last minute field goal. Groan.  Wifey and kids think he is just wonderful. Thanks God (not realizing God is a Jets fan). Even those whose cross to bear is that of being a  Patriots fan couldn't deal with this syrup...    Grade:  D-  (F, if you root for the Pats)

(Watch for my next review of a football book; hint, it involves a Jets QB from the 1960's, 180 degrees from snapper-man).

Sunday, January 6, 2013

2013 Cotton Bowl

When offered the chance to go to the 2013 Cotton Bowl between Texas A&M and Oklahoma, the decision was made in nano-seconds.  Better yet, the ticket was in the corporate suite (read: good seats, free food and beer).  I have always had a soft spot for the Aggies and was as surprised as anyone at how well 2012 turned out.  There was a lot of skepticism about moving to the SEC. Furthermore,  the Ag's had a new head coach and no firm starter at Quarterback, with Ryan Tannehill now in the NFL.  A signature win over Alabama on the road put A&M squarely on the map of contenders.

By now, the name of Johnny Manziel (a/k/a "Johnny Football") is on the lips of every college football fan in the country.  He ignited A&M from game one and propelled the Aggies from also-rans to potential National Champion contenders in 2013.  Tickets at Kyle Field will be at a premium.

Manziel was heavily recruited coming our of Kerrville H.S. His first choice would have been the Longhorns, but UT did not offer him a scholarship.  That being said, no-one in their right mind could have predicted this seemingly slight kid would go on to become the first freshman winner of the Heisman.  And let me tell you, seeing him in the flesh drop back, throw or scamper for first downs unscathed makes you appreciate his quickness and sharp football mind.  He ran riot with OU.

One memorable 40 yard run where he criss crossed the field made it seem like he was skiing downhill, slaloming left and right while the Sooner D was slogging uphill in snowshoes.  He really was that good.

With 87,000 in attendance, we were on the Aggie side of the field. The game was close at half -time, with the Ag's up 14-13.  But that was all she wrote for OU, they did not score in the second half while A&M found the end-zone four times, propelled by the magical Johnny Football.  The Oklahoma side emptied out early in Q4, with the chants of "Johnny, Johnny" and "SEC, SEC" ringing in their ears.  'Tis a good time to be a farmer.