Someone Worth Cheering For

Andy-Reid

Andy Reid is worth Cheering for. He’s been given another chance. Another chance to coach a championship caliber team that’s playin’ their best ball in January. And that’s why I’m pulling and rooting and hoping for Andy and the Kansas City Chiefs to pull off an upset of sorts and beat the New England Patriots in Foxboro.

 For the first time in seven years, Reid has advanced his team in the playoffs. The Chiefs shut out the Texans, 30-0, in the first round last week and head to New England to face the Patriots on Saturday afternoon in the divisional round. And it should be a whale of a game. Tom Brady is dead set on proving that he’s still the best QB in the game, and the Patriots cannot be discounted, even with a patchwork Offensive line and piecemeal receiving corps that may or may not be healthy enough to play. But play they will and win they might.

Andy Reid and the Chiefs are worth cheering for because they began this season an abyssal 1-5, and no one, and I mean no one, had them going this far this season. But Andy found a way to charge and challenge his Chiefs to win 11 straight games and now, with a win, they’re on the verge of going to the AFC Championship game.

So Despite the 1-5 start that had some declaring Reid a relic, the 2015 Chiefs may be his strongest collection of players since the halcyon days of his Eagles tenure. In fact, they resemble the Eagles, circa 2000-2004. The defense is nasty, the offense is efficient and the coach is involved in every facet of the team.

All of Philly (or most) still like Andy Reid. He did good in Philly. He did. He had multiple winning seasons and he went to multiple NFC Championship games. He just couldn’t get the Eagles (pronounced Iggles) over the incline as the team could never get over the hump. Andy ran out of gas and needed a change. And that’s what happens to many of us. Sometimes you just run out of gas and need a change.

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So if that’s you, take a page from Andy Reid’s playbook. Even if you’re a little kid, you can look and live and learn the lessons Andy has taught us. Because sometimes you just need another chance.

Can Clemson Beat Alabama?

saban-cover by Monte Burke

With Alabama’s help, tonight I can be in bed at a decent hour because the Brick Red will take the Tigers to the woodshed. I like Clemson’s Head Coach, Dabo Swinney. I do. But I don’t think the Tigers can hang with the Alabama Crimson Tide tonight. I don’t. If Clemson pulls it out and pulls it off, the game will go down to the wire, which means I’ll need to stay up way past my bed time to watch. Phooey.

Tonight is college football’s big stage: the College Football Playoff National Championship. And on that big stage lies the 60 minutes that separates No. 1 Clemson from winning its first national championship in 34 seasons. To do so, the Tigers must beat No. 2 Alabama, the most successful program of our time. A victory by the Crimson Tide would be the school’s fourth in seven seasons, all under head coach Nick Saban.

Alabama is the college football team everyone loves to hate. People hate and love Alabama basically because of their colorful, crimson character of a coach, Nick Saban. Because of Saban, “‘Bama has been (and will be?) the standard in college football for a long time,” Swinney said Saturday.  So, the question is this: can Dabo do it? Will Dabo  do it? Or more pointedly, how might Dabo do it?

I ask myself these questions each and every day. Can I do it? Will I do it? Or more pointedly, how might I do it – whatever “it” is?  And the answer is simply this: if you want to achieve you must first believe. And Dabo is driven and determined and set and settled on beating his alma mater tonight. Good for him.  And his win tonight, if he can notch it, will speak volumes and teach another life lesson and set another sports precedent  for the rest of us to follow.

On the flip side, Dabo’s desire and drive and desperation just might spell and equal an UPSET for Alabama. Make no mistake about it; even though the Tigers are No. 1, if they win, it WILL be an upset, because Nick Saban will be UPSET!

So here’s to the Clemson Tigers and cheers and hats off to Dabo Swinney. Because if he pulls this one off, he will have kept me up and kept us all awake and keep the college football world roused up and hunkered down to do it. Because it’s going to take some doing to do this. But isn’t that what we all face every day?

The “Clown Prince” of Basketball

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A merry heart does good like a medicine: but a broken spirit dries the bones. Proverbs 17:22, KJV

Laugh to keep from crying. That’s what George “Meadowlark” Lemon helped us do. I laugh to keep from crying because it really helps. We all need to laugh to keep from crying. That’s what we say sometimes when it gets real bad or real hard or real rough. Life and living is serious enough, so thank God for the Lemons of our life who make us crack up. And that’s why we shouldn’t take life or ourselves too seriously.

And that’s why Meadowlark Lemon was crowned the “Clown Prince” of Basketball. Combining sports with the spiritual principle of good ole fashioned laughter and hilarity and amusement and merriment is a winning duo every time. And Meadowlark Lemon did it better than them all. Along with his running buddy, Curly Neal, these two could play some ball but could also keep you laughing when you hit the wall.

I remember my dad taking my sisters and I to a Globetrotters game at the Spectrum in Philly years ago. It was a total treat. Watching the Globetrotters and Lemon helped us lighten up. Solomon wisely said that “a cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.” Amen to that.

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Here’s a short bio from the Harlem Globetrotters website:

During 24 seasons as the “Clown Prince” of the Harlem Globetrotters, Meadowlark Lemon – who passed away in Scottsdale, Arizona on Dec. 27, 2015, at the age of 83 – played in more than 7,500 consecutive games for the red, white, and blue. He played before popes, kings, queens and presidents in nearly 100 countries around the world.

In April 1952, the Globetrotters received a letter from Meadowlark requesting a tryout. He was given a look, and after serving two years in the Army, was signed to a contract. Meadowlark played his first season with one of the Globetrotter developmental teams, the Kansas City Stars. He played his first season full season with the Globetrotters in 1954.

Meadowlark was part of an extremely popular period in Globetrotters history, appearing on several popular television programs and specials, including “ABC’s Wide World of Sports,” “CBS Sports Spectacular,” “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine.” He also appeared in numerous national TV commercials and was immortalized in animation on “The Harlem Globetrotters” cartoon series and on episodes of “Scooby Doo.”
Meadowlark was enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003, three years after receiving the John W. Bunn Award, named in honor of the Hall of Fame’s first executive director, recognizing outstanding lifetime contributions to basketball.

A native of Wilmington, N.C., Lemon received his Globetrotters “Legends” Ring and had his jersey (#36) retired as part of a 75th Anniversary black tie charity fund-raiser on Jan. 5, 2001, at Chicago’s Fairmont Hotel. Meadowlark spent the last several years of his life as an ordained minister and motivational speaker.

So we honor and remember and respect as we reflect on the life and the legacy of Basketball’s Clown Prince.

Concussions: Football’s Faux Pas

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San Francisco 49’ers quarterback Steve Young lies motionless on field after suffering a concussion against the Arizona Cardinals in 1999. He never played again. (AP/Scott Troyanos)

Concussions are the faux pas of football. Injuries are bad enough, but concussions are even worse. Brain damage from repeated poundings on the football field leave retired players to deal with depression, dementia and even the dirge of death. Big men are reduced to helplessness because of concussions and what we now call CTE: Chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

CTE was discovered by neuropathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu and is the subject of the film “Concussion” starring Will Smith.  It’s a must see.  

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Speaking of concussions, one coach said that “having watched football for a very long time I have to agree that the helmet is designed more like a weapon and less like a protective device.”  Another coach said this: “the hit didn’t look that bad.” He had seen his star defensive player withstand far worse. But still, there Chris Beranger was, laying on the turf after colliding with a teammate near the goal line.

“Discombobulated,” is the description that Sean McDonnell, coach of the University of New Hampshire’s football team, uses when describing players in these moments. “He wanted to play still, and we said, ‘No, you can’t.” That was the last down Beranger, who had suffered a concussion, would play. “The effects kept lingering and linger and lingering,” said. McDonnell.

Helmets are necessary but some say they also provide a myth of protection. The idea has roots in years of scientific research, even in the mythology of football itself. Called risk compensation or risk homeostasis, it’s a theory that holds that protections can actually increase reckless behavior.

In 2009, Pope Bennedict XVI traveled into the heart of Cameroon — and the African AIDs epidemic — and proclaimed condoms “increases the problem” of HIV transmission. The backlash was immediate and absolute. The Washington Post even reprinted a cartoon that depicted the Pope lauding Africans dying of disease: “Blessed are the sick, for they have not used condoms.”

But some social scientists — who disagreed with his politics — said the pontiff may have been referring to risk compensation. “When people think they’re made safe by using condoms at least some of the time, they actually engage in riskier sex,” Harvard researcher Edward C. Green wrote in an editorial in the Post. The same, some research has shown, goes for skiing with a helmet. One study, which analyzed more than 700 skiers and was published in Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, said “helmet use is one of the factors influencing risk-taking on the slopes” for men younger than 35.

Erik Swartz, a University of New Hampshire professor of kinesiology, spent years on the sidelines of football games as an athletic trainer. He understood the sport inside and out. Swartz said “it was the thing that scared me the most,” he said. “The implications if you messed it up and didn’t do [the treatment] right. It could mean they’re a quadriplegic. It could mean death. Everything is on the line.”

Every football season, he said, there came a moment when he had to rush onto the field in fear a player had sustained a catastrophic injury. The helmet, Swartz realized, had convinced players they were safer than they were.

So Swartz started looking into the football helmet, analyzing its trajectory from novelty to cultural behemoth. By the 1950s, the helmet morphed from padded leather to polymer equipped with a mask. Around that time, convinced this new technology had ameliorated the risk of head injury, coaches started counseling a new technique: lead with the head. Another tackling style, called “spearing” — a lunging tackle that leads with the helmet’s crown — soon rose in prominence. These evolutions precipitated a surge in catastrophic injuries. In the late 1960s, more than 20 players died every year of brain injuries, before league rules prohibited that style.

According to Professor Swartz, the fundamental cause of concussions is behavior. And so Swartz is advocating the simple act of removing the helmet during training drills in order to train players to tackle with greater caution. The idea is to heighten their instinct to protect their heads, then hope that caution would carry over into real games when they wore their helmets, thereby diminishing the chance of a concussion.

Sounds like a great idea.

Dabo Swinney: #Bring Your Own Guts!

Dabo Swinney
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney

William Christopher “Dabo” Swinney, the head coach of the Clemson Tigers, will play for a National Championship on Monday Night against the vaunted and seemingly invincible Alabama Crimson Tide.  I’m rooting for Dabo, not only because of his insanely cool, country boy name, and not because of his faith or the fact that he’s had a life of family pain and poverty, but because of his manly, macho motto: “Bring Your Own Guts!”

Dabo, that’s right Dabo (how do you get the name Dabo?), took in his mother while playing at Alabama. ALABAMA!? Wow. How’s that for irony? He played AND coached at Alabama, and now he’s got to go through ‘BAMA to reach his ultimate goal. Dabo also reconciled with his alcoholic father before his death. Tear-jerker stuff.

Monday’s championship game will not be his life’s biggest battle, just the most recent.  And I just checked on the name “Dabo:” this nickname was given to him as an infant by his parents when his then-18-month-old brother would try to enunciate “that boy” when referring to Swinney. Ok. I guess that’s just a southern thing.

Anyway, I like Dabo. I like the name and I like his game. I like his maxim and his motto. “Bring Your Own Guts.” This principle and proverb applies to sports and to life. It applies to the pros and the para-professionals. And it applies to collegiate champions and to high school letterman alike. Everyone needs guts, but you’ve got to bring your own.  You can’t live off of mine, and you can’t make it without yours. It’s that simple, and yet it’s that profound.

When I perspire, I can inspire and I can preach hellfire, but at the end of the day, you better bring your own heart and your own spirit and your own mettle and your own muster. Because everyone needs to learn how to aspire to be all they can be. In other words, bring your own guts.

I like another thing Dabo said. He’s a tough coach but he loves and is loved by his players. That’s why he’s right on another note: “Rules without relationship lead to rebellion.” Wow.  The Apostle Paul couldn’t have said it better. Rules, rules, rules.  They breed refusal and rejection and resentment and ultimately rebellion. But with relationship, rules restore and redeem and reconcile. It’s so spiritual. And yet many still don’t get it.

But I do. And I hope you do too. So thanks Dabo. Thanks for being a walk on at Alabama and for graduating with honors and for having the guts to coach Clemson with gusto. Alabama may look good, but your guts will hopefully lead to Clemson’s glory on Monday night.  

I Can’t Believe I Missed The Big Game!?

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Last night I missed the big game. I mean I missed The Game! No. 1 Kansas played No. 2 Oklahoma in one of the biggest mid-season matchups in memory. And I missed it! And to top it all off, the game went to triple – I said TRIPLE OVERTIME! What was I thinking? 

It’s difficult, by definition, for a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown to exceed expectations. But Oklahoma-Kansas somehow did it Monday night. I mean it really, really did it. Did I mention that it took three — three! — overtimes to settle things! In end, which I missed because I went to bed (Slacker!), the Jayhawks held on to beat the Sooners. Final: No. 1 Kansas 109, No. 2 Oklahoma 106.

Wait! What?!

“Toughest game I’ve ever played in,” said Kansas senior Perry Ellis, who finished with 27 points and 13 rebounds and still wasn’t even close to being the star of the game.  That’s because Buddy Hield was.

The Oklahoma senior took 23 shots, made 13 and finished with a career-high 46 points while making a strong case that he should be the leading candidate for National Player of the Year. This was Hield’s fifth 30-point game this season, and his fourth in OU’s past seven contests. And yet it might forever be bittersweet in his mind, and for three reasons.

Hield turned the ball over with 8.6 seconds left in the third OT.  Hield missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer that, if good, would’ve forced a fourth OT.  And, of course, Oklahoma lost.

Still, what a game — for Hield, for Ellis and for college basketball in general.

You like comebacks?

There were plenty. And what’ll be forgotten by most, because of the three overtime periods, is that both teams actually held double-digit leads in regulation. Kansas led 32-21 in the first half. Then Oklahoma led 54-44 in the second half.

Still, the game was somehow tied at the end of regulation. And tied at the end of one overtime. And tied again at the end of a second overtime, at which point it became only the second No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown in college basketball history to ever reach three OTs.

In sports and in life, there will be missis and miscues, bloops and blunders, errors and errata. But don’t lose hope. There will be another big game, another big matchup and another big showdown. Don’t beat yourself up and don’t beat yourself down. Take it from me. I was tired last night, and I still overslept this morning! So, don’t lose heart because I won’t lose sleep. While you can’t win’ em all, you can still try, try, try again.

The Remarkable Return of Peyton Manning! (Another Reason to Watch the NFL Playoffs)

Peyton-Manning (1)Wow! Talk about comebacks and turnarounds.

Peyton Manning led Denver to 20 second-half points in his first action since Week 10 as Denver wrapped up the top seed as the AFC West champions. Manning took over for Brock Osweiler as Broncos QB in the third quarter for his first appearance since he was removed in Denver’s November 15th loss to the Chiefs. Manning came into the game after starter Osweiler was involved in five, count em’ – five turnovers, and won the game for Denver.

What a significant and sensational, incredible and improbable comeback. It just goes to show that nothing in life is as moving and as mesmerizing as an unsuspected and unpredicted comeback. Nothing. Peyton was counted out and left for dead and yet he was ready to play, and play on in the playoffs he will.

Who said sports wasn’t spiritual! Who said you can’t learn lessons and gain insight and acquire understanding from sports? In Peyton’s return today, once again we see Providence at work on the playing field. And to top it all off, Peyton turned 40 in November. Forty! He’s no spring chicken and yet he ran the offence like he’s still got some juice left in the tank. My, my, my.

Peyton ran the scout team in practice this past week and now he will lead the No. 1 Denver Broncos into the playoffs. Peyton’s attitude and fortitude are enviable. How many of us would have had the demeanor and decency and integrity and respectability that Manning displayed during this test of his faith? Dare I say few. And that’s a lesson worth teaching on and off the field.