Archive for sports

screen-shot-2017-01-07-at-6-38-59-pmI received a complementary copy of this book for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.

As a life long baseball fan I jumped at the chance to read and review Marty Appel’s book Casey Stengel: Baseball’s Greatest Character.  Casey’s playing and managing days were before my time (I started following the game as a kid in the late 60’s).  Yet I found interesting the stories of Casey’s playing career and his many years of managing, including winning 10 pennants and seven World Championships with the New York Yankees.

The book is full of colorful stories – stories which make Casey Stengel come to life for those like me who only had a passing knowledge of Stengel’s accomplishments.  I learned that Casey went to dental school in three off seasons while he was an active player.   When he decided to make a career of baseball he quit dental school within a few weeks of graduating.  “‘My quitting with just a month to go was the greatest thing that ever happened to dentistry,’ he often said, with his famous wink,” writes Appel.

Did you know Casey Stengel hit the first home run in Ebbets Field history (an inside the park job)?  Or that he had four hits in four at bats in his major league debut?  “Through 2015, only twelve players have gone 4-for-4 in their debut since Casey did it, including Willie McCovey and Kirby Puckett,” Appel relates.  I only knew of Stengel as a great manager, and didn’t know he was a pretty good ball player in his own right, too.

The bulk of the book covers Stengel’s years managing the Yankees and the hapless New York Mets.  I learned that Stengel was in baseball for 39 years before managing the Yankees, none of which were in the American League.  I found interesting the accounts of Casey’s interactions with the New York stars.  He became a father figure to Mickey Mantle, for example, after Mantle’s dad died at a young age.  Before a World Series game one at Ebbets Field, Appel relates, Stengel took Mantle out for a tutorial on how to play Ebbett’s concrete outfield wall.  “I told him I played that wall myself for eight years,” said Stengel.  Casey continued, “Know what he said when I told him that? ‘The hell ya say?’ and looked at me as if I was screwy. Guess he thinks I was born at age 50 and started managing immediately.”  Humorous stories like this makes the book a fun read, too.

If you were fortunate to live through Stengel’s Yankee heydays, or if you are a younger fan like myself, I think you will enjoy Appel’s book relating stories of “baseball’s greatest character.”

Casey Stengel: Baseball’s Greatest Character will be available for sale in late March, just before the 2017 baseball season.

 

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john woodenI received a complementary copy of this book for review purposes.  The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.

Legendary basketball coach John Wooden passed away four years ago, but his spirit lives on in the scores of people whose lives he touched.  One such man, former NBA General Manager Pat Williams, shares the lessons he learned from Wooden in his new book “Coach Wooden’s Greatest Secret: The Power of a Lot of Little Things Done Well”.

As a basketball fan all my life, I liked the behind the scenes stories of Wooden and how he motivated his championship UCLA teams.  Coach Wooden’s Greatest Secret is full of personal stories from former UCLA players.  In one chapter Williams gives the details of a handout Wooden passed out to his players before every season:

  • You are in school for an education.  Keep that first in your thoughts, but play basketball second.
  • Do not cut classes and do be on time.
  • Have regular study hours and keep them.
  • Work for a high grade point average.  Do not be satisfied by merely meeting the eligibility requirments.

and more.  I got the sense that Wooden cared more about each player’s character rather than success on the hardwood.  In doing so, basketball victories followed (10 ncaa championships in a 12 year period).

At points in the book the author strays from the teaching of Coach Wooden to Williams’ own philosophy about life.  I found some of these anecdotes interesting, such as an account of Walt Disney’s attention to detail.  At other places, though, such as when Williams quotes C.S. Lewis from Lewis’ book “The Screwtape Letters”, I wondered “what’s this have to do with Coach Wooden?”  I liked best the personal anecdotes Williams shares about Wooden in the book, and not so much the tangential stories of others.

I always rooted against Wooden’s UCLA teams because they were just too good (I prefer to cheer for the underdog).  Reading Coach Wooden’s Greatest Secret gave me a new appreciation for what Wooden accomplished with those championship teams.  Whether you are a basketball fan or not, the book will have an impact on you for its simple yet profound life lessons from the game’s greatest coach.

 

 

 

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Sep
23

Monday Night Football Memories

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broncos/oakland 1973As I get ready to attend tonight’s Denver Broncos game against Oakland, I think back to another classic game in Bronco history – the team’s first ever Monday Night game on October 23, 1973 against the hated Raiders.

When Monday Night Football debuted in September, 1970 it was an instant success. The NFL gambled a solo prime time game would be the perfect end to a football weekend, and they were right. TV Ratings soared in the early years of Monday night football. For the first three years of the telecasts, though, you wouldn’t know there was a franchise in Denver!

The Broncos not only failed to make an appearance on Monday night football in 1970-1972, they were also rarely mentioned on the popular “halftime highlights” segment with Howard Cosell. I remember tuning in to Monday night football after a big Bronco win (like the upset of the KC Chiefs to go to 3-0 in Sept 1970), but no highlights were ever shown. Letters flooded into ABC saying “why no broncos???!!!” Howard Cosell finally during one broadcast said “logistical problems with games played in Denver prevent us from showing Monday night highlights of the Bronco games.” That made the Bronco fans even angrier – a popular activity at a Denver bar at the time was throwing a brick through a tv set when Howard’s face appeared!

This all changed in 1973 when the Monday night crew FINALLY came to Denver. I was a teenager sitting in the South Stands on October 23, 1973. The city treated Howard, Dandy Don, and Frank Gifford like royalty that day, with a special lunch. Denver is known to get big snow storms in October (as it did years later in a home Monday night game against Green Bay) but that evening the weather was perfect – like a warm summer night. The Raiders had not lost in Denver since 1962 and were heavy favorites. I remember one sign hung on the fence in front of the East Stands, “We were going to give out 1,000 Copies Of The Book Cosell, But Logistical Problems Prevented It”

The game itself was memorable, with Billy Thompson returning a fumble for a touchdown in the first quarter. Oakland took a late 23-20 lead before the Broncos tied it with a Jim Turner field goal at the end. Never had a tie been so satisfying!

I think back and wonder why was the approval of Howard Cosell and the Monday night crew so important to the city? It was as if we needed external validation of our worth through our football team.  I was as guilty as the rest of the Bronco fans, tuning into Monday night highlights for a mere mention of the Broncos, only to be disappointed time and time again. The Broncos excellent performance that night was a sweet redemption from the three previous years of no Monday night appearances.

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Sep
03

Growing Up With the NFL Broncos

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This Thursday night I will be in the stands for the opening game of the National Football League – the Denver Broncos vs. the Baltimore Ravens.  Attending Bronco games has always been a big part of my life – I have had Bronco season tickets since age 12!

Yes, in 1968 I bought Bronco season tickets for the huge amount of $2 a game ($14 for the season!) The Broncos at the time had a reduced end zone price in the South Stands of their old stadium (pictured to the left) for kids age 12 and under. I only had $25 in my savings account. I begged my Mom to let me buy Bronco tickets with my best friend and next door neighbor Greg. “Are you sure this has lasting enjoyment?” Mom asked. Dad was on a business trip. Mom let him give the final approval. “Well if its your own money and you think you’ll like it, go ahead,” said Dad. I was ecstatic!

Greg’s Mom drove us to the stadium where we picked out our two seats in the South Stands. Section CC Row 39 seats 23 and 24 – right in the middle 2/3rds of the way up. My Bronco season ticket would become my prized possession in my growing up years in the late 60’s and 70’s. I attended every home game. Floyd Little was my favorite player. There were many losses, but a few memorable wins. A victory over Joe Namath and the defending Super Bowl Champ NY Jets in 1969 was one of the best.

Sitting in the middle of the South Stands was anything but comfortable. We were packed in like sardines, with little leg room (even for a 12 year old). Since we were over 20 seats from an aisle, it was almost impossible to get out during the middle of a game. One Sunday we were able to buy the seat next to ours for Greg’s Dad. He was not impressed. “If I have to take a pee,” he said, “I’ll never get out. I’ll have to take a leak in my thermos!” Still there was just enough room to pound our feet on the hard metal floor. The sound of 8,000 stomping South Standers was deafening, and disrupted many a play from Broncos opponents over the years. Rocky Mountain Thunder was born.

Despite the packed conditions, we loved our seats. We had a fantastic view of the field, right behind the goal posts. I remember having a great sight lines to see immediately if a field goal was good or not. I knew Jim Turner’s 53 yarder at the gun to beat Cleveland in 1975 was between the uprights soon after the ball left his foot. We could see Rick Upchurch weave his way through the opposition for many thrilling punt return td’s. John Elway’s arm strength was amazing to witness from my vantage point high in the end zone. The “fumble”at the South 5 yard line that decided the 1988 AFC Championship game was within easy view.

We also developed a close relationship with those sitting around us. We saw the same people EVERY home game. An elderly businessman sat behind us. “I own seats on the 50 yard line,” he used to tell us, “but I’d rather sit here. You can really see the plays open up from the end zone.” I came to be known as the “radio kid”. Every game I would bring my transistor radio to listen to Bob Martin’s play by play as I watched the action below. Those sitting around me would ask “what’s the score of the Raider game?” “are the Chiefs losing?” No iphones in those days – my little radio was our link to the outside world.

After 33 years and too many memories to count I left the South Stands in 2001. My current seats are in the Northwest corner of Sports Authority Field at Mile High in the 2nd level. Having bought out my friend Greg in the 80’s I own two season tickets. Unlike the South Stands I can easily get out at halftime for a restroom break or refreshments. My view of the field is good, but not quite the same as the old days. It seems I have different people sitting next to me every game.

Early in 2001 I toured the old stadium for the last time, shortly before it was torn down to become a parking lot for the new stadium next door. I took the picture on the right of my wife and 7 year old twin boys playing on the field with the South Stands in the background. On that cold January day I remembered all the fun times and memorable games I attended in this place. I walked up to the base of those rusty metal stands, put my hand on the wall, and said “Goodbye old friend.”

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11 RingsEleven Rings: The Soul of Success was just the right book for me to read.  Two of my passions are learning about spirituality and following professional sports.  Long time NBA coach Phil Jackson discusses both these topics in depth in his new autobiography, giving a behind the scenes look at Jackson’s eleven nba championship teams.

On the basketball side, I enjoyed reading stories of Jackson’s rise from a high school basketball player in North Dakota to the NBA’s New York Knicks, and his coaching stints with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers.  He tells stories of the star players he mentors, such as the Lakers Kobe Bryant. “When I’d first arrived in L.A., I’d encouraged Kobe to spend time with his teammates instead of hiding out in his hotel room studying videotape,” Jackson recalls. “But he’d scoffed at the idea, claiming that all those guys were interested in were cars and women. (Soon) he was making an effort to connect more closely with his teammates and figure out how to forge them into a more cohesive team.”

Having long been a fan of NBA basketball I found Jackson’s anecdotes about different high profile stars fascinating.  In addition to Bryant, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O’Neal, Dennis Rodman and other players on Jackson’s teams are profiled in the book.  Jackson’s love of the game comes through.  “Some coaches are obsessed with winning trophies; others like to see their faces on TV,” he writes. “What moves me is watching young men bond together and tap into the magic that arises when they focus—with their whole heart and soul—on something greater than themselves. Once you’ve experienced that, it’s something you never forget.”

Equally intriguing was Jackson’s spiritual journey.  His mother and father were Pentecostal Christian ministers, a path Jackson almost followed himself.  He was initially reluctant to play for the Knicks as he wanted to go to graduate school to become a pastor.  Jackson’s transformation from fundamentalist Christian to Zen Buddhist is described in detail in Eleven Rings.  “I am anti lemming by nature. It goes back to my childhood, when I was force-fed religious dogma by my parents,” he writes.  “I was expected to think and behave in a rigidly prescribed manner. As an adult, I’ve tried to break free from that early conditioning and develop a more open-minded, personally meaningful way of being in the world.”

How Jackson applies his spirituality to the ego driven, competitive world of the NBA comes across in page after page in the book.  “For a long time, I believed I had to keep my personal beliefs separate from my professional life,” he recalls.  “In my quest to come to terms with my own spiritual yearning, I experimented with a wide range of ideas and practices, from Christian mysticism to Zen meditation and Native American rituals. Eventually, I arrived at a synthesis that felt authentic to me. And though at first I worried that my players might find my unorthodox views a little wacky, as time went by I discovered that the more I spoke from the heart, the more the players could hear me and benefit from what I’d gleaned.”  He teaches his Bulls team mindfulness meditation and gives players books to read to aid in their spiritual development.  He even describes his basketball strategies in spiritual terms, calling his unique triangle offense “five-man tai chi”.

If you are a fan of NBA basketball, you’ll love Eleven Rings for Jackson’s insights into the game.  The book is equally valuable in profiling the coach as a highly successful professional living his spirituality in everyday life.

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Jun
26

Meeting “44” 44 years later

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November 24, 1968 was a cold day in Denver.  That afternoon I sat with my friend Greg in the South Stands at what was then called “Bears Stadium” watching the Denver Broncos-Buffalo Bills game.  We had bought season tickets to the Broncos that summer at what seemed at the time to be a high price for a 12 year old – $2 per ticket!

As two sixth graders we loved attending Bronco games that season.  Denver did not have a very good team, but we enjoyed the excitement of going to the games.  On this day we were happy as the clocked ticked down with under a minute to play and our beloved Broncos ahead 31-29, running out the clock.

Suddenly Broncos star running back #44 Floyd Little fumbled!  A Buffalo player picked up the ball and was tackled deep in Denver territory.  The Bills kicked a field goal to go ahead 32-31.  A tear came to my eye as I sat shivering in section CC row 39 of the South Stands.  There was nothing more important to this 12 year old than seeing the Broncos win, and with 23 seconds left a Buffalo victory looked to be certain.

But Floyd Little had other plans.  The Broncos got the ball back on their own 31 yard line.  Time for one or two plays at most.  I watched as diminutive Broncos quarterback Marlin Briscoe, at 5’10” short by NFL standards, throw the ball as deep and far as he could.  The ball seemed to hang in the air forever as it came towards us in the South Stands.  Little dived and caught the ball, tumbling to the Bills’ 10 yard line.  Bobby Howfield kicked a field goal and Denver won 34-32!

I was so happy I saved the Denver Post sports section the next day – I always wanted to remember this great Bronco victory.  “If I hadn’t caught that ball,” said Floyd in that 1968 game story, “I don’t know if I would have had to quit football or not.  I’d have had to do a lot of thinking.”  It turns out Floyd was “fired” by Bronco coach Lou Saban after he had fumbled, and he ran back onto the field, against Saban’s orders, to make the winning play.  I still have that paper, worn and tattered over the years.

Last Fall I met Floyd Little in person for the first time in my life.  He was appearing at the Denver Broncos Quarterback Club (DBQC) to promote and sign copies of his new book, Promises To Keep.  As a board member of the DBQC I handled the negotiations with Floyd’s publisher to setup this meeting.  I was thrilled when I got to sit next to Floyd at dinner!

I pulled out that old paper and showed it to Floyd, telling him the story of me being in the South Stands that day.  He said, “You ought to put that in plastic!”  We chatted for 10 to 15 minutes.  “44 years ago was when Lou Saban fired you,” I said.  Floyd’s eyes lit up. “44 years?  You’re right!  I’m going to use that in my interviews tomorrow!”  We reminisced about some of the great games in his Bronco career.  “Lou Saban’s last win as Broncos coach, where you beat the Browns 27-0 in Cleveland was a good one,” I said.  “That game meant a lot to Lou – he used to play for the Browns,” Floyd replied.  I didn’t know that!

Floyd was very gracious at the meeting.  He made a point to visit each table and greet the 80 fans in attendance.  After I had my 1 to 1 talk with Floyd over dinner he spoke to the group for an hour, telling of his life (chronicled in his new book) and answering questions.  “I played with 50 offensive linemen and 27 different quarterbacks in Denver,” Floyd said.  “I’d be great if I played today.  Back then some of my best runs were just to get back to the line of scrimmage!”

Floyd told us a number of stories.  How the Jets wanted to draft him at pick #9 of the first round and give him the same salary that Joe Namath got as a rookie ($400,000).  Instead Denver selected him at pick #6 and he signed for $10,000.  How Mean Joe Greene, the Hall of Fame Pittsburgh defensive lineman, told Floyd after Floyd was selected to the Hall, “you were the best football player I ever played against – not just the best running back – but the best football player, period. Congrats.”

Sadly, Floyd is still bothered by the lack of respect he got from the press during his playing days.  He told us of an appearance at the Pro Bowl in the early 70’s where the press mostly ignored his accomplishments.  And that continues to this day, as Sports Illustrated’s Peter King called Floyd after the 2010 Pro Football Hall Of Fame selections were announced to say, “I didn’t vote for you.”

If I were to give advice to Floyd, I’d say don’t focus on these negative reporters, and on anyone who says you don’t belong in the Hall of Fame.  Instead think of all the Denver area kids you were an inspiration to, like myself, with your never-give-up positive attitude and tremendous skills on the football field.  Floyd continues to be an inspiration to young people today, as he is an assistant to the Athletic Director at his alma mater – Syracuse University.

 

Floyd Little and me, 10/16/12

Cold football game photo by Express Times Bill Adams

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university of colorado footballIn 1968 at the age of 12 I was a rabid Denver Bronco fan. My Dad was never that much into the Broncos, though. Instead University of Colorado football was his favorite spectator sport. In the late 60’s and early 70’s he took me to a number of games at Folsom Field on the CU campus. Back then the Buffs had discount tickets for sale at 9 a.m. on game days. My Dad and I would leave our south Denver home early on Saturday morning to make sure we’d be in line to get a chance at these tickets.

“I always liked the college game better,” my Dad would tell me when comparing the CU experience to the Broncos. “I like the enthusiasm of the college kids,” he said.

The CU Buffs in the late 60’s and early 70’s had some very good teams – with much better won-loss records than the Broncos. While going to Buff games with my Dad did not change my preference for pro football, I came to learn that going to CU games was pretty cool, too! We saw some great players on those Colorado teams, like the Anderson brothers and Cliff Branch. I remember a high scoring 1969 game against Kansas State that had more offensive fireworks than any Bronco game I had seen (the Buffs won that day 45-32).

We always sat past the goal line on the east side of the stadium (section 121). In a family with five kids I didn’t get that much alone time with my Dad, except on those CU football Saturdays. With our tickets in hand at 9 a.m., we’d talk for hours as we waited for the 1:30 p.m. kickoff. Just me and my Dad. I remember after one game my Dad got lost driving home (he wasn’t the best at following directions), and we ended up in this little town called Louisville. We called home from a pay phone outside a gas station to tell Mom we’d be late for dinner.

I cherished those CU football Saturdays with my Dad. Years later, in the mid 80’s, I found myself living in that little town we had stumbled upon years before. As a young software engineer working at Storage Tech and living in Louisville, I would frequently drive up to Boulder for game days. Watching CU football rise to prominence under Bill McCartney was a thrill in those years. My Dad didn’t go to any games in the 80’s. Except for one.

On October 28, 1986 I treated my Dad to the CU/Nebraska game. I splurged and bought sideline tickets. I drove down to Denver to pick him up. We had lunch out together, just like old times. I wanted to thank him for all those CU football games he had taken me to in my childhood, and the Buffaloes did not disappoint us that day. Nebraska came into the game ranked #2, but CU upset the Cornhuskers 20-10. This still is the greatest Colorado game I have ever attended in person, and my Dad and I loved every minute of it.

There will be no more CU football games for my Dad, as he passed away last year at the age of 90. I will always remember those Fall afternoons at Folsom Field as some of the best times I had with him.

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