Thursday, January 31, 2013

Super Bowl Miscellany

Random thoughts related (or at least somewhat related) to the big XLVIIth championship game that takes place this Sunday.

Who I Think Will Win

I can make an equally compelling case for each team, but my gut tells me Baltimore will pull this off and that feeling in my gut gets stronger with each passing day. The Ravens have that "team of destiny" feel about them. The large number of high-performing thirtysomethings on their roster reminds me of the 1982 Redskins team that won Super Bowl XVII. My prediction is Baltimore 20, San Francisco 17.

Who I Want To Win
For the first time in my life, I can not choose a favorite to root for among two teams playing in a Super Bowl. I like the smashmouth style and hard-working philosophy that both teams employ, and like that both have been built largely through the draft...I like that both quarterbacks played at colleges that aren't known as football factories...I like both head coaches (and am not going to mention the "br-----" word)...I like both cities' home-harvested seafood, whether it's blue crabs from Chesapeake Bay or Dungeness crabs from Frisco Bay...And, I like both teams' nicknames.

Yes, nicknames.

I have great appreciation for the fact that "49'ers" honors San Francisco's Old West past when it was a go-for-broke frontier port at the height of the Gold Rush. I have visited today's San Francisco, and must admit that it has many charms and is the single most beautiful city I have ever seen; however, its modern culture is infused with a high dose of flakiness that -- let's be honest -- is simply not consistent with the spirit of football. What is consistent with that spirit is the image of gun-toting prospectors sifting for gold in rushing streams while looking over their shoulders for thieves and grizzlies.

Across the continent, Baltimore's nickname is a brilliant twofer. Back before Art Modell ripped the heart out of Cleveland, I often thought that "Ravens" would be an awesome nickname for a professional sports franchise. After all, ravens are big and ominous-looking, and some ancient cultures associated them with warfare while others identified them as deities. But what makes "Ravens" even cooler as a moniker for Baltimore's football team is this: The team was given the name because Baltimore is where Edgar Allen Poe died and is buried.

And think about this: Poe died in 1849, the very same year the Gold Rush occurred and spawned the word "49'ers."

Players Not to Forget About
As in, here are my psuedo-predictions about players the media is not talking about this week, but who will make a key play to determine the outcome of the Super Bowl. I say "pseudo-prediction" because I am taking a weasel's way out by picking one from each team, ignoring the fact that only one team can have such a player.

If San Francisco prevails, it will do so in great part because of a play made by cornerback Carlos Rogers. It will be either an interception after he drops surprisingly deep in pass coverage to pick off one of Joe Flacco's deep throws; or a tackle made after he darts daringly close to the line of scrimmage a split second before the ball is snapped on a crucial third-and-short. I am calling Rogers's number because he is still a lights-out, clutch performer -- and, yes, because he went to Auburn. The predicted interception I just described is identical to one he made against Georgia during the 2004 undefeated season; and the predicted tackle is identical to one he made in the Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech to preserve that undefeated season.

However, if Baltimore wins, it will be because second-year linebacker Josh Bynes, during one of his turns on the field, reads the eyes of Colin Kaepernick, drops back, picks off a pass intended for Vernon Davis, and sprints to the house for a game-changing TD...My reason for thinking Bynes can do such a thing on football's biggest stage? Simple, and impeccable: He played for Auburn and was on the 2010 national championship team. Like you should know by now, everything I am saying in this post is extremely subjective.

Hall of Fame
As happens every year, inductees to the Pro Football Hall of Fame will be chosen the day before the Super Bowl. From a list of fifteen finalists, only five can make it. If I had a vote, these are the five I would choose: Andre Reed, Charles Haley, Warren Sapp, Michael Strahan, and Eddie DeBartolo.

It is tough to whittle the list down because it means eliminating people who are worthy of being inducted, like Bill Parcells. And it means eliminating one of the best offensive linemen who has ever played (Jonathan Ogden) even though I believe the O line is every team's most important collective position.

For the record, I do not expect Andre Reed to be chosen on Saturday by those who do have a vote, and I believe his exclusion from the Hall is a travesty. I also believe it reflects an unjust bias against wide receivers -- for I suspect that many voters believe receivers are made great by their quarterbacks, even though my decades of watching football have shown me that quarterbacks are just as likely to be made great by their receivers.

Ray Lewis
As everyone who watches football knows, Lewis was present when two men were killed at an Atlanta nightclub 13 years ago; was charged with their murder; and while never found guilty, subsequently plead guilty to obstruction of justice in regard to the investigation of their killings...And as everyone who watches football also knows, in the years since that killing he has worn religion on his sleeve and become known as an inspirational team leader.

For obvious reasons, Lewis is a lightning rod. Some people think he is a good man who pushes himself to greatness and wants to help others maximize their potential. Others claim he is a murderer who got away with it. While I stop short of calling any man a saint, when it comes to the Ray Lewis debate, I strongly disagree with those in the "he's a murderer" camp. Frankly, I think many of them need to take a look in the mirror, and then do some thinking instead of feeling, before they cast judgment on the man from Bartow, Florida whom they have never met.

Although I could spend thousands of words explaining why I cast my lot the way I do when it comes to Ray Lewis, I have decided to wait until after the Super Bowl to do so, because a post about that topic might be very long and should not have to compete with other topics for attention. Until I write that post, have a good time and enjoy the game!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Note: I wrote the following article that will be published in the January issue of The Land O’ Lakes-Lutz Area News, a.k.a. the LOLA. As of today the issue has yet to go to print. Because the LOLAs distribution area is limited by geography and I do not know if they will edit any of my article (as is their right), I decided to post its full text here.

The 15th of this month marks the 84th birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. Six days later, America will officially recognize the event with the federal holiday known as Martin Luther King Day. I can not shake the feeling that it would be better if the nation observed his birthday on the date itself, rather than as one of those semi-generic “third Monday” holidays.

Placing President’s Day on the third Monday of February has resulted in less emphasis being placed on the specific deeds of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, whose birthdays on the 12th and 22nd of that month used to be noted on all calendars. Now something similar seems to happen with King. As people come to associate his birthday with a long weekend off work, many of them tend to water his place in history down to two or three familiar quotes. Lost is any sense of how perilous things were during King’s time, and how central a role he played in ensuring that the American experiment continued along its rightful path.

We can debate whether it is caused by the media, or politicians, or the state of our schools, but it is hard to deny that popular culture has a strong tendency to look at American history as being divided into racially or socially isolated categories like “black history” and “white history.” However, it takes very little reading of King’s own words to realize he held quite the opposite view. He perceived history as something that is mutually shared by all sectors of society, and from which all sectors should draw lessons from each other to improve the present and future.

When describing his thoughts, King noted being influenced by figures as diverse as Socrates, Thomas Jefferson, and Henry David Thoreau. In his autobiography, when he wrote about reading Thoreau’s On Civil Disobedience, he explained that Thoreau’s “refusal to pay his taxes and his choice of jail rather than support a war that would spread slavery’s territory into Mexico” was his own “first contact with the theory of nonviolent resistance. Fascinated by the idea of refusing to cooperate with an evil system, I was so deeply moved that I reread the work several times.” King added that many of the actions of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950’s and 1960’s were “outgrowths of Thoreau’s insistence that evil must be resisted and that no moral man can patiently adjust to injustice.”

In “I Have a Dream,” King talked of “the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.” He talked of how “the architects of our republic” were, in writing those documents, “signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. The note was a promise that all men – yes, black men as well as white men – would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Born and raised in the Jim Crow South at the outset of the Great Depression, he witnessed – and experienced – real injustice. He had to feel a pull to view America as representing bad rather than good. As an adult he admitted to having experienced youthful bitterness toward his white countrymen, and to youthful struggles over how he should look upon them. However, he did not succumb to those simplistic impulses.

King came to view the American experiment as a major good, albeit one that was not yet complete, and he consistently tied the Civil Rights Movement’s goals to America’s goals. In a letter he wrote to fellow pastors while imprisoned in Birmingham, he said: “We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom…We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.”

Many people know of that “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” but how many have read it? If anyone wants to get a true glimpse into a man’s mind, they should take the time to do so this month. Race relations, and civil rights revolving around race, are of course major factors in the letter, but its overall scope is universal, and the social situations it addresses are broader than race, and the combination of thought and knowledge that went into composing it is breathtakingly deep.

The letter takes Thoreau’s notion that moral people must not passively accept the existence of injustice, and drives home its importance by observing that “we will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability.”

King’s religious upbringing and the fact he was a pastor are evident in “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” – which is one of the things that makes reading it so interesting, for based on current portrayals of King, most Americans are probably not aware that his views on civil rights were outgrowths of his faith.

Do not take that to mean he was shy of criticizing religion, however, for the letter bluntly said “the contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound.” It warned, “If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.” Ouch!

If we are going to have a national holiday in MLK’s honor, we should think about the totality of who he was and what he believed. To pause for only a few seconds, and think only in childlike fashion that “he believed in equality and wanted everyone to get along,” would be to miss the big picture in a big way.