Monday, September 26, 2011

College Football Four Weeks In

We are four weeks into this college football season. And so far my expressed opinions have been met with facts that have proven to be, shall we say, humbling.

The day before the season started, I wrote this about my Auburn Tigers: “…I do believe they are way, way better than the so-called experts are saying, and I look forward to watching them prove those so-called experts wrong.” Well, the Tigers are 3-1 and have beaten a ranked team, which may not sound bad, but up to now their play has done more to prove the experts right than to prove them wrong. Their defense has looked so meek and flaccid that it is almost impossible to see them winning any of the games in the murderer’s row that is their immediate future -- when they face South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida, and LSU over the next four weekends, with only one of those games at home.

Also, I opined that “Central Florida is the most underrated team in America. By far. And they absolutely should be ranked.” And after I wrote that, Central Florida went out and lost two games in the next nine days.

On the positive side, I correctly predicted South Florida winning at Notre Dame and Oklahoma winning at Florida State. But those positives were overshadowed by a very dark cloud: the untimely death of Lee Roy Selmon.

So maybe I should hold off on opining about college football for the time being. But unfortunately, I can’t help myself. We are four weeks into the season, and I have always said that this is the week when we have seen enough action to start making educated without further ado, here is the Stanton’s Space Top Twenty:

1. LSU

2. Alabama

3. Oklahoma

4. Boise State

5. Wisconsin

6. Oklahoma State

7. Oregon

8. Stanford

9. Virginia Tech

10. Clemson

11. South Carolina

12. Florida

13. Nebraska

14. Texas A&M

15. Baylor

16. South Florida

17. Florida State

18. TCU

19. Georgia Tech

20. Arkansas

Note: I wanted to comment on Texas A&M leaving the Big 12 for the SEC, which became official today, but I decided to wait and write about that in its own post. For now I will simply say that no matter what you think about conference realignment in general, Texas A&M made the right decision for them, and the SEC made the right decision when it opted to welcome them into the fold.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Autumn Equinox

Some thoughts about autumn on this, its first day:

I love stepping outside on that first morning that fall’s nip is in the air.

I love how changing leaves turn Appalachian mountainsides into fiery palettes of orange, red, and gold.

I love driving winding roads through those mountains, catching glimpse after glimpse of falling leaves as they twirl their way to the ground.

I love cold nights marked by the scent of campfire and the sound of wind in the trees.

I love watching my daughter skip through the pumpkin patch looking for the perfect one to bring home.

I love walking behind her as she trick-or-treats on Halloween night.

I love pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving Day, and how it sets the ideal tone to start the Christmas season.

I love watching flocks of birds land in Florida at the end of their migration, while others keep flying to points further south.

And last but not least, I love football, especially college games where the fans are loud and the bands are blaring…and most of all, where Auburn is winning and the fight song you keep hearing begins with the line: “War Eagle, fly down the field, ever to conquer, never to yield!”

Thursday, September 15, 2011

et ceteras

That is the advice MSM members have given each other about covering Tuesday night's special elections in New York and Nevada, and apparently they have heeded it. Although a few pundits acknowledged that the elections were held and were won by Republicans, very few news shows or newspapers have bothered to inform their customers. So in case you are one of the scores of millions who don't know about the results, here they are: In New York's 9th Congressional District, career businessman Bob Turner defeated career politician David Weprin; and in Nevada's 2nd, Mark Amodei trounced Kate Marshall.

Both of the above results should cause the White House in particular, and Democrats in general, to be worried about their chances in 2012, but the one in New York is especially ominous for them. Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in that district by more than three to one, and prior to Tuesday it had been more than 90 years since a Republican won a congressional election there. Yet not only did Turner win, he did so by a comfortable, eight-point margin while running as an unapologetic conservative.

Turner was openly pro-Israel, pro-military, pro-life, pro-traditional-marriage, and pro-business; just as he was openly anti-government, anti-spending, anti-tax, anti-amnesty, and anti-Obamacare. He openly called for the elimination of both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture, and for a reduction in the size and scope of the Department of Education. He advocated a 35 percent reduction in aggregate federal spending, which would be unprecedented to a head-spinning degree. Yet he won handily, and in a blue district to boot. Even though he is a Catholic and his opponent a Jew, and even though Jews usually vote almost 90 percent Democrat, he got nearly half the Jewish vote across all lines of the Judaic spectrum -- Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox, or secular and religious, however you want to slice it.

There is no way for Obama & Co. to spin this as a positive.

Global Warming
It is no secret that I am a skeptic when it comes to global warming. I absolutely do not believe that there is such a thing as man-made global warming, and for that matter, I also do not believe that global warming of any kind is happening right now. If it were, they would have kept calling it global warming instead of slyly changing the phrase to "climate change" a while back. By "they," I mean liberals, environmental extremists, journalists, so-called "moderate Republicans"...they are all pretty much the same.

But I digress. What I wanted to do was point out a few things from this week that do not jibe with the notion of global warming. One of them is the fact that even though it is still summer, the National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for the mountains of southern Colorado. Another non-jibing item is that abnormally low temperatures are gripping a large swath of the country. Yet another one is Nobel-winning physicist Ivar Giaever resigning from his post with the American Physical Society, in order protest that organization's unscientific and politically driven position on global warming theory.

Lee Roy Selmon
My September 4th and September 6th posts were about Lee Roy Selmon, the Hall of Fame football player who passed away after suffering a stroke. After publishing those posts, I heard some stories about him on sports radio that I feel I should share.

University of South Florida Athletic Director Doug Woolard, talking about his many business interactions with Selmon over the years, mentioned that they talked extensively about their families each time. Woolard said this was true for every meeting, no matter what the meeting was scheduled for, and he noted that Selmon was always the first one to ask, "How's your family?"

Dan Sileo, host of the morning drive time show on 620 AM, said Selmon was so sincere that he made everyone he came in contact with, even in a room full of people, feel as if he or she was the most important person in the room. He remarked that Ronald Reagan was the only other person he has met who had that gift. Sileo also said that every time he conversed with Selmon, he was so impressed with his character that he left the conversation feeling compelled "to be a better man."

And finally, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Shelton Quarles said that Selmon told him, "It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice."

Selmon's viewing was one week ago today, and a large, public memorial service was held for him the next day in Tampa. One day later, another funeral was held for him in his home state of Oklahoma. I will say it again: What a tragic loss his passing was.

College Football
Central Florida is the most underrated team in America. By far. And they absolutely should be ranked.....The most valuable player last week was not Denard Robinson. It was the collective unit known as Denard Robinson's receivers. Their spectacular catches during Michigan's fourth quarter comeback against Notre Dame obscured the fact that Robinson's throws were God-awful wounded ducks that he should be embarrassed of.....Auburn continues to master the art of winning nail-biters in the last minute. I shouldn't complain, since they have not lost a game since 2009, and since they defeated a ranked opponent last week despite losing 16 starters from last year's national championship squad -- but I really wish they would win just one game by a comfortable margin so I wouldn't have to experience ulcers and palpitations every Saturday.....And lastly, a prediction: Oklahoma will defeat Florida State in Tallahassee on Saturday night. If Auburn can't win the national title this year, I want Oklahoma to win it and dedicate it to Lee Roy, their greatest alumnus.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Reflections on 9/11

There it stood. Fifty-two months earlier, when America first saw the steel cross standing amidst the ruins of the World Trade Center, I had assumed that rescue workers fashioned it from beams found in the wreckage. I had assumed that was how it came to be a fitting tribute to those who perished on September 11, 2001, and I still thought that when I looked upon the cross in person on a cold January afternoon in 2006. It was not until shortly afterward that I learned the truth: This portion of crossbeam had fallen, as-is, from the upper reaches of the collapsing North Tower and landed upright in the debris.

As I stood at Ground Zero, it was eerily silent despite the fact that America’s largest city was bustling all around me. A gaping hole occupied the spot where the Twin Towers once stood. I looked at the cross and thought I could walk to it and touch it in less than five seconds, were it not for the chain link fence encircling the grounds.

Instead I turned and walked south, to the corner of the property where Liberty Street intersects with Church Street. Looking back to the north, I shifted my gaze from the hole to the street and recalled the images of people leaping hundreds of feet to their bloody deaths on the very pavement which was now before my eyes. How hellishly hot must the temperatures have been, for human beings to choose crushing their bodies to death before knowing the towers were doomed to fall?

I thought of rescue workers proffering aid to others at the very instant more than 100 stories of steel and concrete came crashing down to extinguish their lives.

* * *

Like most Americans, my thoughts about New York over the years had not been wholly positive. The city held poignant symbols of freedom, and hence of the American dream, which was very good. It housed many of the engines of capitalism and birthed some of the best jazz ever played, and those things were also good. Yet it swaggered with arrogance, oozed with moral ambivalence, and was the home of socialites who lived off inherited wealth while attacking the very institutions that made it possible for others to achieve success – and those aspects of the Big Apple were not good.

New York may have been the ultimate ethnic melting pot, but it was shuttered and monochromatic when it came to intellectual matters. How could a city with eight million citizens not have a single conservative? I loved the Statue of Liberty but could never bring myself to root for the Yankees.

Nonetheless, standing at Ground Zero I thought of how all roads seem to meet in this place. Visiting the city in person, walking its sidewalks among its inhabitants, brings a welcome realization that it actually likes the fact it is in the United States. Yes, there was the raw irritation of seeing Che Guevara's mug plastered with praise on a giant window in Times Square – but then I heard the patrons of a subterranean sports bar praise our troops.

The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was still up two weeks after Christmas, and the walkway to it from Fifth Avenue was lined with tall figures of angels blowing trumpets. Here, Christmas had not been neutered by any transformation to something called Happy Holiday.

One block from Rockefeller Center are the twin spires of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, from whose pulpit the late Cardinal John O’Connor delivered many of the strongest sermons in American history. Though a prominent and uncompromising foe of abortion, he was revered in this city that is considered a hotbed of abortion-on-demand secularism. Standing across the street from Saint Patrick’s, it was hard not to notice the street sign showing that this block of Fifth Avenue is officially designated as Cardinal O’Connor Way.

In the East Village we slurped beers at McSorley’s, an old Irish pub where Abraham Lincoln once quaffed ale after delivering a speech. Small and cramped, it does not appear to have been enlarged or significantly upgraded since Lincoln’s time. When our party of four made it inside, a rough-looking worker with an Irish brogue showed us to a small, thin, wooden table and asked if we wanted “light or dark.” Two of us ordered the former, two the latter, and it must have been two-for-one because he returned carrying eight mugs of beer with no tray. He slammed them onto the table in one theatrical move, and we drank them without ever knowing their brand.

* * *
And finally, at Ground Zero, we were a very short walk from my favorite New York City nexus. Head one block east and you come to Broadway. Turn south for two more blocks and you come to Wall Street’s western terminus, directly across from Trinity Chapel.

We strode onto Trinity’s grounds and wandered through its aged cemetery until we found what we were searching: The grave of Alexander Hamilton, marked by a modest obelisk. At its base someone had laid a bouquet. Amazingly, right beside Hamilton’s grave is that of Robert Fulton, father of the steam engine.

Leaving Trinity, you cross Broadway and start down surprisingly nondescript Wall Street. Just one block onto it, with Trinity’s steeple looming behind you, you come to the site where George Washington took the oath of office as America’s first president.

And across the street from that site sits the New York Stock Exchange. We’ve all seen the images of frantic traders on the exchange floor, and we know the atmosphere inside must be noisy and stressful and chaotic. But viewed from outside, the exchange building is a picture of serenity that is dwarfed by much of its surroundings. American flags fly beneath its facade of Corinthian columns, giving it the appearance of a county courthouse from somewhere in the heartland.

So here, in less than two city blocks, you can walk in the footsteps of at least two Founding Fathers; visit one of their burial sites; visit the grave of one of history’s most prominent inventors; stand at the spot where our republic’s executive branch came into existence, and see the building where more wealth has been created than at any other spot on the planet.

Here, you can feel the heart of freedom beating strong.

Update: I first published this piece in 2008. I did not realize until later that McSorley's serves only its own beer (hence us being offered simply "light or dark") and that it has a two-drink minimum (hence us being served twice what we ordered). In my mind, those facts make McSorley's even cooler than I already thought.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Gone Too Soon

It’s interesting, the things we remember vividly years after they take place.

The day was December 3, 1978, and I was seven years old. That was the day my father took me to my first professional football game. I remember sitting in the stands at Tampa Stadium with him and some of his co-workers from Ernst & Ernst, the old accounting firm that has since morphed into Ernst & Young. We left shortly before the final gun and as we were walking along the sidewalk outside the stadium, with me holding my brand new Tampa Bay Buccaneers pennant, a motorist slowed down and asked what the score was. I still remember my dad’s response: “17-7 Green Bay.”

My lone clear memory of the action on the field does not involve either team scoring. It involves an injury. I don’t recall if it was a running play or passing play, but the Bucs were on defense and as players from both teams stood up after a tackle, one of them remained on the ground in obvious pain. The stadium as a whole fell silent, but people around us were talking in low voices and I could tell they were distressed about whoever that was on the turf. I asked my father which player was hurt, and I remember his reply like it happened yesterday. He leaned over and said: “That’s Lee Roy Selmon. He’s our best player.”

Selmon was helped onto the trainer’s cart. As it was driven behind the east end zone to take him off the field, he was sitting upright with his helmet off and I remember precisely how he looked: Calm. How fitting that was.

The following season, the Bucs’ defense would prove to be the top-ranked unit in the entire NFL and Selmon would be named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Although the Bucs had no offense to speak of, their Selmon-led defense was so formidable that it carried the team to three playoff appearances in the four seasons between 1979 and 1982 -- and to within 10 points of earning a trip to Super Bowl XIV.

Because he played in a 3-4 defense with the Bucs, Selmon was double-teamed on almost every single down and quite often triple-teamed, yet he still dominated. Former Chicago Bears offensive lineman Ted Albrecht, referring to a game in which he had to face Selmon, once said this to sportswriter Paul Zimmerman: “At halftime I told the coach my deepest secrets. I said I never wanted to be buried at sea, I never wanted to get hit in the mouth with a hockey puck, and I didn’t want to go out and play that second half against Lee Roy Selmon.”

And I have not even mentioned his legendary college career with the Oklahoma Sooners, during which he was a two-time All-American, won both the Lombardi Award and the Outland Trophy, and led the Sooners to back-to-back national championships. Oklahoma has one of the longest and most prestigious histories in all of college football, and according to former coach Barry Switzer, Selmon is the greatest player to ever don the Sooners’ uniform.

He was inducted into both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and College Football Hall of Fame. He was the first player ever drafted by the Buccaneers, and so far he is the only one ever to play for them who has been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a Buccaneer.

But going back to what I alluded to earlier, when I said he looked calm while being carted off the field 33 years ago, the main thing about Selmon is not all the accomplishments, but the man himself. He was the personification of class and integrity, and for all his on-field ferocity, he was the kindest and humblest person you could ever meet, the ultimate “gentle giant.”

He became known because he was a football player of the highest caliber, but remained known because of his genuine good nature. In all the coverage since he passed away on Sunday, hardly anything has been said about his career because all the talk and ink have been spent declaring what a good person he was. This is remarkable because it is the first time I have ever witnessed such a thing in news coverage, and I have been a news junkie ever since 1980, back when Iran was holding Americans hostage and the U.S. hockey team stunned the Soviets and Reagan kicked Carter to the curb.

Lee Roy Selmon was raised on a farm in eastern Oklahoma, the youngest of nine children. His parents instilled in him a work ethic that never wavered until his dying day, as evidenced by Coach Switzer saying that he “never had a bad practice,” and by the fact he never stopped working even though he could have quit years ago.

Maybe it was Selmon’s farm rearing that made him so adroit when it came to down home food. It was no secret that he could whip up a fine barbecue, and when I was a kid grocery stores around Tampa and St. Pete sold Selmon Brothers Barbecue Sauce, made from a family recipe. In recent years he lent his name to a chain of restaurants and it just so happens that Erika once worked for its president. This gave her the opportunity to meet Selmon on several occasions, and she has always described him as “so nice.”

All through the years, Lee Roy Selmon remained an integral part of the Tampa Bay community. All the way from that first time I saw him from the stands, up to his untimely death, I continued to see him around town with impressive regularity. And even more impressively, he was always doing regular things in regular places. You might expect to see famous rich people only at fancy five-star restaurants, but I saw him eating dinner with his family at Carrabba’s.

Once, I was at a University of South Florida basketball game where the stands were mostly empty. At halftime, when they called out random seat numbers and asked the people sitting in those seats to come down and participate in a halftime contest, it turned out that Selmon was sitting in one of the seats that got called. I don’t remember what the prize was, but I do remember that the contestants had to make a long-distance shot to win it. Everyone else missed, but Selmon’s shot swished through, nothing but net. As he meandered through the arena afterward, people came up to talk to him and he obliged every one with a smile and a handshake.

And speaking of the University of South Florida, he worked for that institution for 18 years, including four as its athletic director. Before he got involved it had no football program, but now it has one that defeated Notre Dame in South Bend three days ago. Sadly, he was supposed to be in attendance at that game, but suffered a stroke the day before and passed away the day after.

People of my generation and older generations know Lee Roy Selmon as a force on the gridiron. People of younger generations know him as a man whose restaurants serve up a delicious pulled pork sandwich. They also know him as a man who quietly and dutifully pulled a little-known university’s athletic department up by its bootstraps and turned it into something to be reckoned with. Everybody knows him as a man of character who believed in doing things the right way. May he never be forgotten.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Lee Roy Selmon (1954-2011)

A model of excellence and humility has passed. Words will come in time, because right now they won't cut it. But this is an undoubtedly sad day for sports fans in Tampa Bay and Oklahoma, and more than that, it is a sad day for people of good will no matter where they hail from. Rest in peace, Lee Roy.