Friday, December 28, 2007

A bit of a celebration...

Since it looks like Rob Ray's book, "Rayzor's Edge," is going to have a second printing in early March, here's a tribute to his video work -- an old ESPN commercial:

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Women and children last

Here's a little tip for the football fans of Western New York: Attending a Buffalo Bills' game in Ralph Wilson Stadium is not for the faint of heart.

Particularly when the New York Giants are in town.

Let's start with the disclaimers. It was a miserable day, squared. The temperature went from 53 to 35 during the game, and it at least drizzled and sometimes poured. There was virtually no way to stay dry. A moment of silence, please, for my gloves. With the home team eventually losing, no local fan was going to have a great time.

Then there's the tailgating/alcohol issues. I think I wrote last year about how the parking lots at the Ralph look a little like an Iraqi city after a game, with empties and broken glass scattered about the grounds. Driving out of there is not for the faint of heart most days. In the stands, this week there was a steady stream of fans carrying $8 beers back to their seats (and how can they afford them?).

However, the games I attended in 2006 were fine once I got in the gate. My group and I sat down and watched the game in a relatively civilized, dignified manner. That's perhaps because the Titans and Jaguars don't bring bunches of fans with them.

Well, that sure didn't happen Sunday against Giants. Whew. There was a constant stream of bad language directed at the Giants, often about the personal habits of Eli Manning. New York had a good supply of its own fans at the game; they were easy to pick out since they were wearing Giants' jerseys. There was some less-than-clever, back-and-forth conversation between the Giants and Bills' fans.

At one point at halftime, a Bills' fan yelled at a Giants' fan wearing a Lawrence Taylor jersey, "Hey, why don't you wear a shirt from this decade at least? That's so 1980's." The Giants fan replied, "Nice franchise you've got here. And how many rings do you have?" Add a few bad words in the midst of the conversation, and you'll get the idea.

Here's the catch. I was sitting in seats owned by a season-ticket holder of at least 30 years. In other words, this was not the end zone where fans were a little more likely to be single-game ticket holders who were just there for a party. I should have been surrounded by people who were veteran fans. It was almost a surprise there were no fights, although an usher had to come down to break up a shouting match.

One friend of mine brought two teenage girls to the game. When he told two fans behind him to watch the language because of the kids, he got, as he put it, "some lip" for his trouble. I've heard all sorts of profanity over the years, so I'm at least used to it even if my vocabulary is close to squeaky-clean. But this was as bad as I've heard at a sporting event.

I'm glad I didn't bring any kids to the game, and I'm glad I didn't bring my wife to the game. And that's not a particularly good sign about a sporting event that's features the sale of tickets to all the general public.

Friday, December 21, 2007

"No, you go..."

When you post a family tree on line, you never know what the day's e-mail will bring.

For example ...

I received a short note today from someone who had noticed an entry for a distant relative of mine, John Wallace. I had found a note from the Daughters of the American Revolution that he had fought for the Americans, and posted it.

Here's the fun part. The note said Wallace was with General Washington at Valley Forge. He didn't like the conditions there, so he packed up his bag and went home.

After the winter, the Americans sent out word that all was forgiven, and that anyone who reported back for duty wouldn't be punished. Well, our pal John wasn't sure if he believed that completely.

So ... he sent his son -- also named John Wallace -- to take his place.

I wondered if courage runs in the family. Apparently not.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


After a mere 11 years, the city of Buffalo finally is starting to figure out how to get rid of Memorial Auditorium.

It announced that some of the blue seats will go on sale to the public next summer, as well as some other, to be determined items. The place has been sitting empty since HSBC Arena opened in the fall of 1996. Now that the Bass Pro development apparently is set (note the word apparently), our city fathers have decided it is safe to tear the place down within the next two years.

And that raises a fundamental question. Should I buy a couple of the seats?

Hmmm. That's a tough one.

I grew up as a sports fan in Memorial Auditorium. I saw the Buffalo Braves there. The Buffalo Sabres. Canisius College basketball. The Buffalo Stallions soccer team. I saw Roberto Duran fight there, Ernie Ladd wrestle there, John McEnroe volley there. Heck, I saw Joanie Weston take part in a Roller Derby match there.

And that doesn't even cover the concerts: Bruce Springsteen, the Police, U2, Genesis, Rush, Yes, INXS, Bob Segar, Huey Lewis and the News, Elton John, Billy Joel, Diana Ross (sister's idea), Emerson Lake & Palmer (my idea), etc. One time on my way out of work, Roger Waters was rehearsing for that night's concert. So I sat down at 10th row center ice and watched the band go through a complete version of "Money" from "Dark Side of the Moon." I was an audience of one.

And I even worked there for six years. After 16 years of attending and covering events there, I worked for the Sabres and had a key to the side door. (Interestingly enough, the Sabres never asked for the key when I left. I was honest enough to leave it on my desk while departing.) Then I went back to journalism, and covered games there for four more years.

So owning seats to the place would be, at the least, fun. But, another question quickly follows.

What would I do with them? I don't have a classic rec room where they could be displayed. They would sit in the basement, unused and unseen. That would be a bit of a waste of money.

So I think I'll sit out of the Aud souvenir sale. But I do have one item from the place stashed away. The press box had little plastic squares with seat numbers on them, as there were no individual chairs up there. On the night of the last hockey game in the Aud, which I covered, I brought a screwdriver and took my seat number, #35, with me.

Has the statute of limitations run out for that little bit of larceny yet?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Welcome to the club...

In my never-ending efforts to spread the word about good work, check out the new blog by Glenn Locke of Boulder, Colorado:

The fact that he wrote about my book today has absolutely nothing to do with this plug. I would have done it anyway.

Just not today.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Cough, cough

There's nothing like my second annual early December illness.

And this was a good one -- a nice case of bronchitis. It came complete with chest congestion, a 101-plus fever, and fainting at 4 a.m. on the way back from the bathroom. The biggest problem is trying to sleep -- the bed doesn't work because of coughing, forcing the patient to a reclining chair in an unsuccessful effort to get some shuteye.

I hadn't missed a day of work in 10 years, and I missed a week this time. Somehow, work was done without me. The first few days of the illness were something of a blur -- I couldn't really read, and it almost hurt to watch television. Besides, I was dozing a lot.

After recovering a bit, though, the job of getting better turned really boring. It supposed to be cool to be able to sit home while sick and watch videos or something. All I had, though, was the Ken Burns' series on World War II ... which I had watched when it was originally on. That sure didn't help. I would have killed for a trip to the video store. You can only watch ESPN News for so long.

Let's hope this December sickness doesn't turn into a tradition.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Stop the insanity

Let me just review the Presidential selection process briefly, just to make sure I have this right.

A bunch of candidates spend about a year campaigning and raising money. The campaigning is mostly done in Iowa and New Hampshire, and fund-raising is done anywhere there is a hand to shake and some shrimp to eat.

Then the business of selecting delegates starts. Well, sort of. In Iowa, voters aren't selecting delegates, they are caucusing in order to pick delegates. Not many people understand the system, but somehow winners and losers are determined -- mostly on a basis of expectations. In New Hampshire, you can vote for anyone you want regardless of party affiliation. So if you are a Democrat who is scared stiff that Rudy Giuliani is the only Republican who can stop a Democratic win (and that's not a ridiculous thought), then you'll sprint to the voting booth and become an instant Republican.

And when we are done with Iowa and New Hampshire, we have clear front-runners as well as candidates who can no longer raise money and head for the hills, leaving a few buttons (we should have more buttons in politics, don't you think?) and signs in their wake. In a couple of more weeks, a few more primaries will be held, and the winners of the two major nominations may be determined.

And it won't be February. Which means the voting population won't be asked to pay attention again until ... un ... Labor Day. Seven months later. In meantime, 90-plus percent of the electorate won't have much to say about the outcome.

Does this make any sense? Do people really wonder why voter turnout isn't too high?

I like the idea of retail campaigning that Iowa and New Hampshire bring to the table. It's charming to watch the candidates work the crowds one at a time on C-SPAN. The two states seem to take the responsibilities seriously, too. It would be a great way to start the campaign. Instead, it feels too often like the beginning of the end.

I'm not sure what might work here -- a "no delegate picked before March 1" rule or something might not be too practical -- but this system makes the electoral college look downright civilized.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

On the border...

Gotta throw in a quick note about one of the fun sports/television traditions north of the border.

It's Grey Cup week in Canada, as the Canadian Football League stages its annual championship game. That means one big party, and it lasts for week. Our friends to the north do it up right.

For those of us with access to the CBC, which means in a border state, we get to see "Grey Cup Classics" if we stay up late enough. At about midnight, I think, the CBC each night in the week leading up to the game shows a game from the past.

It's charming, especially the old ones. One game earlier this week must have been from the early 1960's. There were no graphics, no replays. Numbers on uniforms were all over the place, unlike the modern system of standardizing numbers by position. One game the other night had the Ottawa Rough Riders and the Saskatchewan Roughriders -- that's right, two of the nine teams in the CFL had the same name, more or less.

It's kind of like watching ESPN Classic, but this is really classic stuff. I'd imagine it would be even better if I had heard of more than a couple of the players. You won't see NBC try something like this. Too bad; it would be fun to see a couple of those old AFL games from the 1960's in their entirety.

(Oh, and give yourself 10 points if you recognized the title from the Al Stewart song. I think he said it's the only top 20 hit about gun-running in Africa.)

Monday, November 19, 2007


The end is finally coming in the Barry Bonds case. Finally. We're all sick of hearing about it, but we can almost see the finish line.

The likely result is that Barry will do a good impression of Marion Jones, saying he made some mistakes concerning steroids and his testimony before the Federal grand jury, is sorry, and accepts responsibility. It would be nice if he would do this on the courthouse steps, just to keep up with the others in this boat.

The other option is that we go through a trial, which will have plenty of television coverage on its way to a breathless and probable conclusion. A Pittsburgh paper found that 99 percent of all Federal indictments result in convictions. In other words, these guys don't mess around, and they are pretty darn good.

And it was all so unnecessary. At the start, Bonds could have been happy being a multi-time baseball MVP and not worried about Hank Aaron's home run. His ticket to fame and fortune would have been assured. Nope, not enough.

Or, he could have simply told the truth before the grand jury. Jason Giambi did that. Sure, he took a hit in the court of public opinion, and he's headed down the slope right now, but he's not headed to jail like Bonds may be. Bonds opted to deny the charges.

Bonds made a bargain -- take his chances by cheating and then denying it (allegedly). He broke the biggest record in American sports, and made millions of extra dollars. Now he'll pay the price, which looks like a chance at jail time. Did he make a good deal, as Howie Mandel would ask? Tough call.

I don't know what took everyone so long in this case, but at least we seem to be headed toward some sort of closure.

About time.

Friday, November 16, 2007


My former high school classmate, Becky Harbison, had some comments about seeing excerpts on the Rob Ray book in The Buffalo News. And she even let me comment on the comments.

So I did.

Thank you, Becky. Head to And it was nice to see another Clarence Class of '72 member, Jim Donnelly, at today's book signing. Jim had a heck of an outside jumper in his day, even when he had a broken leg back then. He just swung the cast forward, leaning back, and stuck another jumper.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Don't look ahead...

When the National Football League season was announced last spring, there was much sadness among fans of the Buffalo Bills. Fans looked over the week-by-week lineup and said the Bills looked like a candidate to capture the first overall draft choice for the spring of 2008.

Then a funny thing happened. Teams started to play games.

Here we are at the midpoint of the season in Buffalo, and the Bills are 4-4. They aren't going to the Super Bowl, but they are on the fringes of playoff contention. So what happened?

People used the 2006 as a way of predicting what would happen in 2007. And that never works. Teams go up and down the ladder quickly these days, what with injuries, free agent movement, etc.

In the Bills' case, Buffalo has beaten the Jets twice. New York was a playoff team last year and looked too strong for the Bills in April. Now the Jets don't look too strong for anyone, except for maybe the Dolphins and Rams. The Bills also beat a weakened Ravens team, playing without its starting quarterback and some other key people, and a Bengals team that seems to have an arrest every few days (I exaggerate, but not much). That puts Buffalo at 4-4, and it hasn't even played the Dolphins yet.

I know football fans need something to do in the spring -- witness the popularity of the run-up to the NFL draft, even though one trade can change the entire mock draft order -- but let's keep the ups and downs of teams from year-to-year in mind before writing off a season.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Growing pains...

A man named Joseph was working at Iowa State University in the late 1800's. He was considered the leading horticulturist in the country, having practically invented the science. In fact, something like 75 percent of the nation's horticulture chairmen at universities of the time either studied under him or were said to be inspired by him. The government fsent him to Russia at one point to study plants there and to see if any could be brought to grow in the harsher climates of the U.S.

Joseph had a daughter, Etta, who taught art at Simpson College in Iowa. Etta ran into a student who was a young black man, the son of slaves. He loved to paint but also loved gardening, and Etta got him gardening jobs in the area. Etta told the man that he couldn't make a living at art, that gardening was a much better option, and that he should head to Iowa State to study under her dad.

The man did that. However, he was unhappy the day Etta dropped in to see him. The problem was that, as the only black student on campus, he had to eat alone in the kitchen while the white students all ate in the dining hall. So Etta simply took the man into the dining room, and started eating with him, day after day, until the man was accepted by the rest of the student body.
The man graduated from Iowa State, went to grad school there, and became the first black teacher in Iowa State history before moving on to another job.

It's funny what happens when you plug in names from your family tree into Google. The original teacher was Joseph Lancaster Budd, a relatively distant relative. His daughter was Etta May Budd. And the student was George Washington Carver.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

You can't be Sirius

Here's the latest reason why sometime it is difficult to take radio talk show hosts seriously.

When the New York Mets failed to qualify for the playoffs in uproarious fashion, SportsNet New York's Daily News Live program devoted plenty of post-mortems on it. When one of the panelists was asked how that compared to Boston's 1978 collapse, he responded by saying that there's no way he'd ever say anything was worse than the Red Sox loss, because it involved Boston. Scott Ferrell was identified as working on Sirius radio.

Fast forward a few days later to a different show -- same guy is interviewed. Ferrell is asked how the Mets' collapse ranked. He said it was the worst ever.

How's that for insight? Give different answers to the same question. Good going, Scott. Way to put a match to your own credibility.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Listing in a new direction

A short note on the life of someone who is about to become a co-author of a book:

Rob Ray and I teamed up for a short autobiography -- more of a memoir, even if I don't understand the difference -- that is coming out in November. I've been checking the boards for the past few weeks to see how it looks. Amazon doesn't have the right cover picture up, but the title is right and the price is right (Check it out at

The fun part is that has a best seller list, broken down to great extremes. The book popped up a while ago around #75 on the best seller list for hockey, which was pretty exciting in of itself. Then the other night, it went up and up by the hour, it seemed. It peaked at #10 for hockey and #23 for winter sports books, which isn't bad for a book that isn't due out until mid-November.

Now, there's a scene in the Tom Hanks-directed movie, "That Thing You Do!", when a band comes out with a single and its members hear the song on the radio for the first time. And they start screaming.

That's exactly how I felt when I saw #10. For at hour at least, I had a "best-selling hockey book." I didn't scream, but it would have been worth it.

Hopefully, more thrills are coming in the weeks ahead.

(P.S. It went as high as #2 on the hockey list around the end of September, but soon sunk off the top 100 several days later. Guess we'll actually have to publish a book to keep sales going.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Flash of insight

Sometimes perspective comes when you least expect it.

The other day I was walking around the local supermarket, doing the week's food shopping. Along the way I passed a man in his mid-20's, at least. He was wearing a baseball uniform top of a major league team and a hat of the same team.

And the thought struck me: Boy, does that guy look stupid.

Should you really be wearing half of a major league uniform in a market if you are over the age of, say, 12? Is your life that empty? Do you expect the big league to sign you for tomorrow's game, and you don't want to pack?

I've got nothing against the shirts themselves -- they are very appropriate at games, in sports bars, and other sports-related activities. And I've got nothing against baseball caps; I wear one all the time ... except when I'm in my tuxedo.

But for the most part, here's a reminder to keep those shirts in the closet. And the same applies to other sports gear as well. Sports fans have enough trouble with non-fans thinking they need to get a life without that sort of apparel in the supermarket.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Another note from the late shift...

Here's a story with a rather cruel twist.

When you get home at 1 a.m. from work, it's always fun to see what's on the television dial at that hour. One of the small local stations in town often runs an informercial from Dr. Gene Scott. Dr. Scott usually speaks of some issue of religious significance. A younger woman, Melissa, often is on as well.

I'd usually speed right through that sort of programming, but I have found myself stopping for a look because Dr. Scott often appears to be very sickly. Tonight, I visited the web site,, and took a look around.

There was a surprise waiting for me under his biography. Dr. Scott was born in 1929, and died in 2005. So he passed away more than two years ago. Pastor Melissa Scott is his widow.

There's a moral in there somewhere, probably about me not jumping to conclusions. Because they probably are wrong.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Colonel

Allow me to tell you about Arthur Budd, my great-grand-uncle.

Budd grew up in Connecticut and joined the armed forces for World War I. He led a group of soldiers who practically liberated a town in France (Tannay) by themselves. The grateful town put up a statue to honor him, and named a street after him. Budd ended the war as the second-most decorated soldier on the American side, behind some guy named Pershing.

Returning home, he married the widow of a doctor and eventually retired to an estate east of Pittsfield. He apparently lived happily ever after, dying in 1965 and leaving his property to a land conservancy.

The fun part came when we paid a visit to the estate, Notchview. The place is now mostly used for cross-country skiing, and we found the Arthur Budd Visitor Center. The caretaker took good care of us, impressed that we were related and had come to see the place. We were given a book on the history of the estate, which included a lengthy biography of Budd. We read about the 24-room mansion that had been on the grounds (later torn down; too expensive to keep up), and how Arthur had left an estate of more than $2 million, including thousands of shares of Kodak stock.

After walking around, we were given instructions to the nearby cemetery. It didn't look like it had received a visitor lately, as the gate was rusted shut. So we hopped the fence and said hello to Arthur and Helen. The funny part was, Arthur had this small little headstone that reflected his military background. Helen, meanwhile, had a headstone the size of a small house. OK, I exaggerate, but not much. Helen also was 17 years older than Arthur, which might explain the lack of children.

My mother said the family used to brag about "The Colonel," but she wondered if everyone was blowing his accomplishments out of proportion. Apparently not. The best part of the genealogy stuff is finding out interesting stories about interesting people, and this was a good one.

Guess I'll have to go to Tanney now.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Game day

Another NFL season has arrived across the country and in Buffalo. And that means one thing -- everyone is walking on eggshells about talking about the experience of going to a game. But there are two basic facts about games that are never mentioned, one of which applies to the whole league, the other just Buffalo, perhaps because the city's hold on an NFL team is a little tenuous.

1. It's an old complaint. How long have exhibition games featured fully priced tickets, as if the games count? Forever? Well, maybe the 1970's or so. Does that make it any better? No. The players and coaches are scared to death of getting someone hurt, so the starters play as little as possible. The only exception is the third preseason game, which is something of a tune-up for more than a half. Otherwise, it's filled with players who soon could be joining you in the stands of NFL games, rather than suiting up. Great value, eh?

At least the Bills designate one preseason game as "Kids Day" and charge $10 a pop for them. Better that than empty seats. Otherwise, you could pay about $72 for a great seat to the game -- a game in which no one remembers the final score after Tuesday.

2. Cars are charged $15 to park at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Ever wonder where that money goes?
Once you get in the gates, you are on your own. There is no one directing traffic. The lines of cars aren't exactly even, which can lead to inefficiency in the form of wasted space.

More important, security isn't exactly everywhere. All right, it's virtually nowhere. The times I went last season, it wasn't exactly an atmosphere for children, unless you like your chlidren to watch people be carried upside down and forced to drink beer out of a keg. Then there's the matter of broken glass was scattered about the grounds by the time I left. I felt lucky the tires were OK by the time I reached the parking lot.

I'm no prude; I don't mind people have a good time and tailgating. But I wonder how many potential customers get lost along the way after going once.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Thanks, Scooter

Here's the nicest thing -- no, make that one of many nice things -- that can be said about Phil Rizzuto:

Even Red Sox fans liked him.

Oh, yes, he bled pinstripes. He played for more than a decade, and then worked as a broadcaster for 40 more. Rizzuto said Yankee Stadium was the only office he ever had.

For those of us too young to remember him as a player, Rizzuto did everything wrong as a broadcaster and it came out right. What also came out was his genuine nice personality.

The Scooter would be embarrassed if he heard all of the praise these last few days. He was the first to say that no one had a longer, happier life. It's tough to argue with him, the huckleberry.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Not a pretty picture

An article from Portfolio magazine, which we all can read by going to, is going to be the talk of the baseball world in the next week or so.

It's about George Steinbrenner, the head of the New York Yankees' organization. Steinbrenner has been a dominant face and voice in baseball since taking over the team about 35 years ago. He's turned the Yankees into a billion-dollar business. But now Steinbrenner is 77, and his health seems to be failing.

Franz Lidz, a former Sports Illustrated writer, starts the article on the Yankees' organizational fate by paying a visit to Steinbrenner in Florida, and the legendary Boss pretty clearly doesn't know much about what's going on around him. He kept repeating himself, and according to the description looked poorly.

There are fair questions about Lidz' technique in getting the story. He was turned down in interview requests by the Yankees, so he tagged along with mutual friend Tom McEwen went over to Steinbrenner's house. It was a bit of an ambush, but Lidz was quite polite in his visit and didn't stay long. I'm not sure if that could be considered a major invasion of privacy.

This might explain Steinbrenner's infrequent appearances in Yankee Stadium and his silence about team issues except through prepared statements. And it also gives the Boss a new role: a subject of sympathy. Red Sox fans just aren't used to that one. But if this article is true, and there's no reason to think it's not, the Steinbrenner Era in Yankee history is coming to a sad conclusion.

Friday, July 27, 2007


It's one of those times when you feeling like having one of those Web polls in which 130,000 people vote on

Which was the worst, most depressing event to happen in the last week or two in sports? Has there ever been a longer list of contenders?

Let's go through the carnage:

* Michael Vick is indicted for being heavily involved in dog fights. This is one of the top five names in the National Football League, with millions of dollars coming in through football and non-football avenues. Yet he may have thrown much of that away so that he could watch two dogs fight to the death. It's difficult to say if this is arrogance or stupidity, or some combination of the two, but it's fair to say Vick has torched his reputation. He won't be able to play a football game for years without having fans through dog bones or collars at him ... and that assumes he'll be able to play for a team outside the walls of a prison.

* A referee resigns his post after an investigation reveals he apparently altered the outcome of games through his officiating. His actions instantly stripped basketball of a bit of its credibility. After all, if the games aren't on the up and up, we have professional wrestling. Pro sports need to have the illusion of completely fair play in order to be successful. Perry Mason may win every case on television, but sports can supply that win-or-lose drama.

* The man apparently on his way to winning the Tour de France is kicked out of the race by his own team. Let's repeat that last part. By his own team. In a sport in which practically everyone has been at least accused of doping over the last several years, this one set a new standard. Just when we thought cycling wouldn't be taken very seriously again thanks in part to the Floyd Landis mess of a year ago, this comes along.

* The most hallowed record in baseball is under attack by one of its greatest-ever players. Most times, this would be cause for celebration. But Barry Bonds seems to be taking any shred of joy out of the proceedings. Not only is he accused of taking steroids over the years, but he brings a personality to the chase that makes it even more difficult to root for him. The other day he went so far as to call Bob Costas, certainly one of the most credible and well-liked people in the broadcasting business, a midget. Costas pointed out that he comes by his 5-6, 150-pound frame naturally at least. I'm not sure who would be a worse target than Costas for such a remark. John Wooden? Oprah? Just to add to the situation, Bonds has gone into a slump that has dragged out the chase, meaning we all have to have shows interrupted indefinitely to watch him pop out to short.

* Wake Forest basketball coach Skip Prosser dropped dead after a jog. Prosser by all accounts was one of the good guys in the coaching business, a family man who always had a smile on his face. I remember him finishing up an interview session of the press area after a game at Niagara University. He immediately walked to a nearby phone and made a call. "Hi, it's Daddy. ... Yes, we won. ... Is Mom home?" Never saw another coach do that so quickly after a game.

I'm sure I'm forgetting something or someone, but you get the idea.

Too often the world of fun and games has been less than fun and games. It's part of the bargain, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Old friend

I spent a little time recently with something of a long-lost friend: The World Radio-TV Handbook.

You have to be a radio hobbyist to get the reference. The WRTH is the best book out there for telling what's on radio and television internationally. It's for those who like to listen to the radio to hear distant stations, as it is full of program listings, addresses and other information. If you want to write to Trans World Radio of Bonaire (Netherlands Antilles) or Radio Prague, that's the reference source.

I bought the book through a discounter, Hamilton Books ( It took me instantly back to the early 1970's, when I used to listen to such stations. I was in high school then, and a friend down the street was heavily into radio. Not only was he a ham operator, but he had a big radio and listened to as many stations as possible -- AM (medium wave, as it is called internationally) or Shortwave, mostly. (Distant FM and TV stations are hard to receive on a regular basis, although it can be done.)

He got me interested, as I was already doing some listening to out-of-town shows and sports events. I quickly fell into the hobby, an I in turn convinced a couple of friends to follow. We had a nice little group there for a while. We even took a tour of a local radio station one Thanksgiving; as I recall the chief engineer seemed happy that some teen-agers seemed to care about what he did for a living.

I used to stay up until all hours, hoping stations would sign off so I could hear the stations behind them come through louder and clearer. In hindsight, I'm surprised I don't have hearing problems. After hearing the station, I'd send details of my reception and the station would send back a QSL (letter or card) saying essentially, "That was us." In hindsight, I wonder how many people checked -- I only got a couple of letters out of a few hundred that said "not us." The mail usually was pretty exciting, as it often had material from foreign countries. Heck, Radio Havana sent a 5x7 of Fidel Castro. AM station receptions would be reported to the International Radio Club of America (IRCA), a group of hobbyists that compared notes, essentially.

Well, I went off to college, AM stations continued the trend of staying on all night/every night (making it difficult to hear bunches of them), and the big radio and antenna disappeared frm my room one day. (Insert a Puff the Magic Dragon reference here if you like.) I don't even remember selling them, but I certainly did. I still listened to out-of-town games once in a while, but I was generally out of touch. My only contact came when traveling, when I could rattle off a couple of AM stations in a given city. Seattle? "Honey, put on KOMO, 1000."

The WRTH was only $5.95 for the 2006 edition -- I think it is $29.95 normally -- and it surprised me how much I recalled and how much things had changed. When did Radio Moscow change its name? When did Trans World Radio reduce its power to 100,000 watts? When did the AM band go past 1600 kilohertz? That doesn't even include the Internet, which makes it easy to hear distant radio stations at all hours. I put on the Voice of Russia the other day on line; it's almost as boring as it was as Radio Moscow back in the Seventies.

I e-mailed my friend about my experience, and he's at the same stage I am. As he put it, he doesn't listen to the radio anymore, and he doesn't get the neighborhood together for pickup football or basketball games. Sometimes things go away without telling you they aren't coming back.

But at least the WRTH is on my bookshelf again. We'll see if it gets opened again.

Friday, July 13, 2007


It's one of the worst feelings around.

I recently was a captive audience for someone who was absolutely, completely sure of himself, and absolutely, completely wrong.

Here's the situation: I was recently getting a haircut when the barber's friend showed up; the two of them were apparently going to do something together once the day's haircuts were done. For some reason, the visitor launched into a discussion on global warming.

When he said something like "I don't know anyone who thinks global warming is actually taking place," I meekly raised my hand. I pointed out that the warmest years of the last several decades had happened in the past years. While I was unwilling to make conclusions on the causes, something, I said, was clearly happening.

Our pal was having none of it. It was a beautiful day today, he said. What's one extra degree going to do to it? And the raising of sea levels? Garbage. When ice in a soft drink melts, does the level in the glass go up? Of course not. So the seas aren't rising.

Before this, he argued, we used to hear alarms about the population explosion. Or the ozone layer. Weren't we talking about global cooling about 30 years ago? Now all's we hear is about is global warming. Nonsense. Everything will be fine.

And if pollution is a problem, why is China building all these coal-powered energy plants?

The ignorance was pretty much breath-taking. And I had to remember that I was sitting in a barber's chair, with the guy's good friend snipping around my ears, neck and eyes. Danger! Danger!

I was more or less unprepared to launch into a vigorous debate on the subject, but I did think about how many things he was wrong about. Global warming is indeed raising sea levels, in part because glaciers on land are melting. Been to Glacier National Park lately? I have, and it may need a new name soon. Melting icebergs may not affect water levels, but melting glaciers do. And it won't take much to make New Orleans an island in the Gulf of Mexico, according to National Geographic.

Growing seasons are changing as we speak, species are dying out, the Antarctic landscape is changing. But everything is fine, according to my new pal.

Meanwhile, skin cancer rates in the Southern Hemisphere are quite high, to the point where you don't go outside for very long without sun lotion. And Beijing is closing some of its industrial plants during the upcoming Olympics to improve the breathing conditions for the athletes.

I should be headed for oral surgery soon. It's what happens when you bite your tongue for 15 minutes at a time.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Less than classic

I recently attended a concert of one of my favorite bands, a group that has been recording together for more than 30 years. It was a fine time, as usual, but the show serves here as an introduction to a relatively easy target: classic rock formats in radio.

The concert was co-sponsored by the local classic rock station. OK, nice to have it help out. The show featured the usual mix of new songs off the latest CD and the greatest hits, more or less. After the show, when we got in the car for the drive home, we turned on the radio for the traditional "concert replay." Sure enough, it was there.

But a funny thing happened during that replay. Nothing that was recorded after the mid-1980's was included. It was almost as if nothing musically had happened in the past two decades. Since the band played nine songs off the new CD, you might guess correctly that this shortened the concert replay considerably.

It's pretty typical of classic rock stations, which aren't quite conservative enough for Mitt Romney's tastes. There's never any risks taken on these stations. You almost never hear a song that you haven't heard a few thousand times before. It's the same old/same old, hour after hour. It won't make you turn the dial with an objectionable song, but it won't lure you in to hear something new either.

Now, this goes against a long tradition of rock music's roots, which challenge conventional thinking and expanded horizons. But I'm not naive enough to think that something like that will happen on stations anxious for any sort of ratings. Heck, there's money involved here.

Still, would it kill this station to play new music from bands they are playing anyway? Would it be better to play "Lonesome Days" or "Open All Night" by Bruce Springsteen once in a while, rather than "Born to Run" for the 90th time this month? Maybe "Magnification" from Yes rather than "Roundabout"? "We Got a Hit" by the Who instead of "Won't Get Fooled Again"?

Classic rock is comforting in big cities when traveling, because at least it's familiar and usually doesn't require a major search when navigating Interstates. Otherwise, I prefer to take the time to find something a little more adventurous.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Inventive excuses

I used to think that no vacation was complete without a visit to the Inventors' Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio. OK, that's an overstatement. I went some years ago. It's a beautiful building, but there wasn't a great deal of material on inventions there. The honorees were listed on a series of walls with pictures and lengthy captions. Then in the basement came a few exhibits, mostly for children. The concept is/was interesting, although obviously needed some time and work.

Some months ago, I discovered that a distant relative (to be specific, my mother's cousin's grandfather, if you are scoring at home) had been inducted into the Inventors' Hall of Fame in 2006. After contacting the Hall, I was told that no living relative of Lloyd Espenschied -- who helped invent coaxial cable -- had attended the ceremony.

So when the opportunity came to visit Akron on my vacation, I figured it would be a quick and easy stop. I even got back in touch with Lloyd's granddaughter, and figured I could send her a picture of the display.

I don't know if you could label the trip a disaster, but it was pretty useless.

I asked the person at the admission desk for the Hall employee who had written me; she never heard of her but was willing to sell me tickets to get in. OK. I walked the length of the Hall, looking for a display on Lloyd but came up empty. My wife spotted a database of those honored, and Lloyd was nowhere to be found on it.

Now bad thoughts went through my head. What went wrong? Was it some other Inventors Hall of Fame? Had I messed up part of the vacation?

I spoke to a couple of staff members. They tried the database just like I did, and got nowhere. "Sorry, we can't help you." So I left, $20 the poorer when parking was thrown into the mix.

When my vacation ended, I tentatively looked for the entry on line. There Lloyd was, in the Hall's list of inductees. In other words, he's been inducted a year-plus, and there's nothing on him anywhere in the Hall.

Think the Beatles had that happen to them when they were inducted up the road at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland? Or to Joe Montana when he went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton? I think not.

I'm not the type to tell you what to do with your money. But I'm not returning until Lloyd gets his proper due. Maybe you'll keep that in mind the next time you are in Ohio.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Traveling man

One quick note about my recently completed vacation:

We recently did a little tour around Lake Erie for several days, catching up on a variety of attractions that had been overlooked in previous trips. Need to know anything about the dead Presidents of Ohio? The Pro Football Hall of Fame? The Inventors Hall of Fame (more on that in a future post)? I'm your man.

We drove to Michigan through Ontario, crossing back to America on the bridge that goes from Sarnia to Port Huron. We had never been to either place, and stopped at Port Huron to take a little walk at the waterfront.

Then it was on to the road for about a mile, followed by a stop at the Michigan Welcome Center. We always stop there; you never know what you might find for attractions. The woman behind the counter asked us where we were headed, and we said we were going to the Detroit area to see the Ford plant and Henry Ford museum. The woman reacted with surprise, saying there wasn't much to do in Detroit.

Now, who is paying this woman's salary? Probably the state of Michigan, although a local group might have had a tie-in as well. You'd think she would be happy to hear about a Detroit visitor, or at least better at hiding her surprise. Not so.

Oh well. At least the Ford plant was incredible -- a truck a minute rolls off the assembly line, which is in a building something like six football fields in size. It definitely was a well-spent day, no matter what the "welcome center" people thought.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Not cleaning up...

Notes from the small business community:

The other day, the doorbell rang at my house. I answered it, and there was a mid-20's-ish man standing there. I'll paraphrase the conversation.

"Good afternoon, sir. I'm Blank Blank, and I'm about the start my own carpet cleaning service in the coming weeks. I'm in your neighborhood today, taking appointments for our introductory offer of a free cleaning of one room in your house. Here's my flyer (hands me flyer). Now, which room in your house gets the most traffic?"

"Um, I'm not sure. I'm not really prepared to commit to anything like this right now. I would want to talk to my wife first, and she won't be home until later."

"Oh, I'm sorry, sir, the free offer only is issued for right now."

"Well, I'm not doing anything without her approval."

"All right, then, thank you for your time."

And with that, he took the flyer back and walked away.

Now that's the way to build up an business. Put pressure on people to make a decision on an offer from a completely untested and unknown organization. And when they can't do anything about it right away, take away the piece of paper with the business name, address and phone number on it so the potential customer has absolutely no chance of hiring the business down the road.

Nicely played. I don't know how high the percentage of small businesses that fail is, but here's one that's headed in that direction.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Joining the club

Ticket-buyers for concerts and events always have been rather inelastic in their consumer habits, as the economists would say. Put another way, they'll pay almost anything.

Welcome, then, to a discussion of Ticketmaster.

I went online to check out the price of a couple of tickets to an upcoming concert at a local amusement park. The tickets were about $80 and $60 each. Yes, that's a lot of money, but at least you know you'll get a professional show, and the band only comes around every few years.

For the $80 seat, care to guess what the "convenience charge" is? About $12.60. Each. Then after you give your credit card information, an extra few dollars is quietly tacked on to the order just before purchasing. The $60 seat reduces the convenience charge to a little more than $10.

So, I took the cheap way out. I went to Macy's, found the Ticketmaster outlet in the midst of a large collection of women's intimate apparel, and bought it. The convenience charge is still there, although the add-on charge at the end wasn't. I didn't find it all that convenient, either.

So, I had to pay an extra 17 percent for my tickets, and I had no alternative. I don't think the box office at the amusement park is even open for such purchases.

No doubt about it. I'm in the wrong business.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Map quest

Call this yet another reason to wonder about television news.

One of the local stations at 6 p.m. the other day introduced a report on an unsafe bridge. It was complete with sound bites on how you'd have to wonder why anyone drives over the bridge, and why there's a fight over fixing the darn thing. I didn't have the stop watch on it, but it must have run 90-120 seconds.

The bridge's location? Viewers would have to wait until 11 p.m. to find out. Good thing I wasn't driving anywhere in the meantime.

It's easy to expect teasing news reports during Sweeps periods. This one, though, went way over the line of good judgment.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Fan mail

I did something unusual the other night. I watched a sporting event on television -- Buffalo Sabres vs. New York Rangers -- in a bar with some friends. The game was exciting, my friends were fine, the picture and sound were crisp, the beer was cold and the popcorn was free.

Still, it was an odd experience. I had to listen to some other fans during the game. Yuck.

Keep something in mind here -- the Sabres were the league's best team during the regular season. They beat the Islanders in the first round of the playoffs, and had a 2-1 lead going into Game Four in New York. By any standards, this is a pretty good team ... no matter what was going to happen on this night.

For two periods, I had to listen to fans' comments at the next table. They were enough to make me scream.

Jochen Hecht was a horrible player. Jaroslav Spacek was acquired for no apparent reason. The passing was horrible. The coaching was worse. The referee always hated Buffalo. You'd never know it was a 2-1 game, decided by a non-call on a goal in the final seconds. And so on. Some of the remarks were punctuated by obscenities, just to add a little spice.

Now, some of these people were wearing Sabre apparel, so they obviously had some rooting interest in the team. So if these were the friends of the team, what do the enemies sound like?

I'll be happy to defend anyone's Constitutional right to be wrong about their views of sport. But that doesn't mean I'm forced to sit next to them.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Difference of opinion

We just got back from a vacation that mostly took us through Virginia. Appomattox was a thrill, Jamestown was fascinating, Williamsburg was interesting, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel was long. And it was all framed by the coverage of the Virginia Tech massacre, which dominated the news coverage for the week.

There was a lesson to be had in perspective during the trip. In Richmond, we visited Hollywood Cemetery, which has the graves of two Presidents (Monroe and Tyler), a Confederate President, and Generals Pickett and Stuart. Then we went to the Confederate White House and the Museum of the Confederacy.

Here's the important part. During those walks and tours, I really felt like a Northerner. And that's not something that happens all the time.

In the North, the Civil War is said to be a heroic struggle in which the North ended slavery by beating up on those stubborn rebels. In the South, though, history obviously had a different slant when it was taught in the years immediately following the war. There, the War Between the States was all about states' rights. (Extremists probably considered it a intramural dispute over labor costs in the textile industry.)

In the cemetery, Jefferson Davis has portrayed as a defender of the Constitution in his large family plot, while Monroe and Tyler are crammed together with some others in a small circle. Tributes to Southern generals are everywhere. Every town seems to have a tribute to a Confederate hero.

The most haunting of the historical pieces, however, came in the museum. There was an article written by a Southerner in 1865, saying that while the North may have won the war, but it's up to the South to win the peace. Considering that life for African Americans in the South was only marginally better once Reconstruction ended through at least 1955 and in some ways several more years, it's easy to wonder if that critic was right.

Sometimes traveling can make you at least see another side of the story when you aren't expecting it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

One last thanks...

The other night at work, one of my co-workers dropped by my department to say hello. He had seen me in the audience of a program that was shown on C-SPAN's Book TV, and wanted to mention it to me -- a nice gesture.

That sort of action wasn't out of character for Lonnie, who was still on the job at the age of 81. He was a friendly presence in the newsroom whenever he worked, and made the rounds when he handed out papers on Saturday nights.

The next night, I turned on my computer to start the work day as usual. The electronic message greeting me was anything but usual. Lonnie had gone home after work the previous night, and died. That was quite a shock.

Two feelings swept through the workplace that day. One was the obvious sadness for Lonnie, whose upbeat attitude will be remembered and missed.

The other came when people started thinking about working until 81 and not retiring. Most didn't know him well enough to find out the reasons why Lonnie did that, but most immediately concluded "That's not going to happen to me."

It's an old moral but a relevant one: Smell the roses while you can.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Fair and balanced

Everyone makes a big deal about bias in the media. This seems particularly inflammatory when talking about the Fox News Channel, but it probably applies to most other outlets. Ask Dan Rather -- some people wanted to believe he was taking orders from the Kremlin for years.

But that's on the news side. What about in sports?

Which brings us to ESPN.

The worldwide leader in sports has a signature show in its SportsCenter. The program has set the standard in its field, and essentially driven local sportscasts into near-irrelevancy. The local station just doesn't get the time to compete, so it only covers local sports with a couple of exceptions.

Here's the catch: There is bias on every ESPN sportscast. It's talked about, but no one ever seems to complain.

The bias is that sports on ESPN get preferential treatment to the ones that aren't.

If you don't believe it, take the matter of arena football. In the past, ESPN ignored the game. Then last summer, the network purchased an ownership share of Arenaball. The games are shown on the networks on a regular basis.

Suddenly, Arena Football highlights are appearing on SportsCenter. And, scores and previews have popped up on ESPN2's news crawl.

Coincidence? Probably not.

In the other direction, I would guess that the NHL's air time on SportsCenter has decreased since that sport jumped to another network about two years ago.

SportsCenter is obviously a tool for ESPN's marketing department for promotion. Everyone seems to accept it as a fact of life. But, is it right? Does journalism take a hit when this happens?

This is an area worth monitoring. Obviously, CNN and Fox News don't pay rights fees for programming, so the analogy doesn't apply to news.


Friday, March 23, 2007

Excedrin headache number 2 a.m.

Paid programming just took a step up on the annoyance scale, just when you thought it wasn't possible.

In dial-flipping last night I went by F/X on my television. I was greeted with a generally static picture of the roman numerals IV, and a clock counting down from six days or so. It also had a Web address:

And here's the good part, every time a second elapsed, a sound effect came on that was like someone using a sledgehammer to pound iron. Boom, boom, boom. It went on for 30 minutes; I could only handle less than a minute of that before running to the medicine cabinet and the remote.

Upon visiting the site, the ad is for the arrival of the trailer of Grand Theft Auto IV, a video game. I didn't know the trailer for a video game warranted such attention, but the last computer game I owned was Super Nintendo.

I don't know if the ad will lead to sell any video games, but it sure will sell some aspirin.

Monday, March 12, 2007

March madness indeed

There's nothing like March Madness for 63 college basketball teams across the country. They get to compete for a national championship in the NCAA tournament. National television audiences follow, alumni are thrilled, and the chance at a memorable upset or a wonderful run (or in the case of George Mason last year, both) await.

Then there are the other two teams that get to participate in the play-in game.

The NCAA used to have a field of 64 teams, which was quite logical and neat. Then another conference became eligible for an automatic qualifier. So what did the NCAA do? No, not drop one of the at-large teams that gets picked on selection Sunday. It takes two of the lowest-ranked teams and has them play off on a Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio, for the right to advance to the main tournament.

One of the teams will lose, so their NCAA experience consists of a hurry-up trip to Dayton to play in a game few care about. The other goes to face nearly certain elimination against a top-seeded team, having had little time to rest in the hurry-up week that preceded the game.

The issue has come up a lot lately in Western New York, as Niagara was given the dreaded play-in game on March 11. The Eagles get to go to Dayton on the 13th to face that natural rival, Florida A&M. As we used to say in college, those schools HATE each other.

But it's a bad idea no matter who is playing. Let's say the last at-large team in the field this year was the 18-12 Stanford. Yeah, it's nice for Stanford to get in, but it's not like the Cardinal has any chance of going all the way this month. So Stanford gets an extra game or two, while someone's experience is spoiled. Doesn't seem like a fair trade to me.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A quick note for now...

I was poking around when I saw a thread about a Web site called Sports Media Guide ( So far it contains interviews with several top sports reporters and columnists from around the country.

I have only read a handful of the interviews so far -- gotta check out the people I know or who have met first -- but the questions are really good and so are the answers. For those in the business, or for those who merely like to read those in the business, this is definitely worth your time.

Besides, there may be a subject or six prompted by the remarks that could lead to a column here. And that's always worthwhile.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


There's always a part of me that will be a Buffalo Braves fan. The team started play the year I arrived in Buffalo. I went to several games a year, year after year. My dad always seemed willing to take me down to Memorial Auditorium for a game, no matter how tired he was from work. He gets some serious props for that in hindsight. When I was in college out of town, I went to as many games as I could. One year I think I saw a quarter of the home games -- no small task when living 150 miles away. Gotta love those bargain seats in the end zone.

The Braves were more exciting than they were good. They started out like any expansion team -- poor -- but slowly built up their talent base. Bob McAdoo remains the best shooting big man I've ever seen. Randy Smith got better every year, to the point where he should have retired the NBA's Most Improved Player award. Ernie DiGregorio was always capable of putting the fans out of their seats on a fast break.

The team moved to San Diego in a complicated transaction in 1978, and generally has been forgotten about by everyone who didn't live in Buffalo in the 1970's. Indeed, it's one of the great "What ifs?" in Buffalo sports -- what if the Braves had hung around until Magic and Bird entered the NBA in 1979 and made the league trendy?

Oh well. I'm left with memories. Between that and the Internet, it was easy to come up with a history of the franchise. You can reach it at It's mostly a narrative of the eight seasons, but I've added the covers of the media guides (I don't have the second one -- sorry -- although I'm trying to borrow it) and programs along with the ticket stub from the last home game in history to the site. It was fun to look around the Internet and see what had been posted on the Braves. Who knew Dick Gibbs had substance abuse problems?

Having your favorite team move away will take away the innocence of a sports fan in no time. There are those in Brooklyn who still miss the Dodgers, more than 50 years later. This is a little bit of a substitute.

And with luck, I'll find out who scored the first basket in Braves' history. That fact isn't anywhere.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Baby Joe

Part of Western New York exhaled a bit on the night of Feb. 22.

Baby Joe Mesi didn't die during a boxing match.

That's a little blunt, but true. Mesi is Western New York's representative in the world of heavyweight boxing. His career has been a fascinating one, filled with some odd and unexpected turns.

Mesi came out of the amateur ranks as a good but not great prospect. He slowly worked his way through the heavyweight division, with the emphasis on slowly. Mesi won every bout, but he sure took his time about fighting anyone who might be a challenge to him. He also had an odd period of time when he was promoted by Sugar Ray Leonard, featuring a rather messy divorce.

Still, Mesi was a drawing card in his home region, pulling in five-figure crowds. Mesi also came across as being articulate, handsome and genuine. Yes, he's white, and as promoter Don King once said about someone else like that, "He's got the complexion to attract attention."

Then came disaster. Mesi was in control of a fight three years ago against Vassiliy Jirov when he was knocked down in the final rounds. Doctors discovered that Mesi had suffered two brain bleeds during that bout. The Nevada boxing commissioner decided not to issue Mesi a license, since brain bleeds should not be trifled with. There was some sadness there, since Mesi was on the verge of a major payday -- probably in Buffalo -- and a shot at one of the many heavyweight championships. It must have been tough to be so close to a dream and have it taken away.

But Mesi continued to fight, this time for his right to fight. The jarring part about that is that practically no one in the general public understands why someone would take up boxing unless they had to do so for economic reasons. There are easier ways of making a living that getting punched in the head. That's particularly true for Mesi, who seemed tailor-make for a career as a boxing commentator on television. The well of good feelings for Mesi contained wishes that he get out of the sport after being lucky at least once.

Mesi won a legal battle for the chance to fight again, and has taken on a few nobodies -- and that's being kind -- in under-regulated locations that will give him a license to fight. On Feb. 22, the location was Chester, West Virginia. That night's opponent was George Linberger, who hadn't fought in more than a year and hadn't missed a chocolate cake in more than a week. Timber! It took two minutes, and Mesi was done with his night's work.

Watching a Mesi fight these days is an odd experience. His current class of opponent offers no threat to his health, more or less, but we still hold our collective breathes at the opening bell. His fans still want him to do well, but they are afraid of what one punch, lucky or skillful, could do. They can't bear to watch, but they can't look away.

What's more, it's tough to know what the end game for Mesi is. He doesn't figure to get that big money bout that once was at the end of his rainbow, especially since he has so few options for fighting locations. The sanctioning bodies would get ripped for allowing Mesi to fight for a championship, considering his health history. And if you aren't going to win glory or riches in the ring, what's the point?

Even so, Baby Joe Mesi soldiers on. After all, fighters fight. Perhaps he'll win a few more bouts, then lose a couple against decent fighters and get out of the business with his faculties intact. That's not much of a best-case scenario, but it sure beats the alternatives.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Did you see it coming?

I'm a big fan of unusual career paths, and we seem to have an all-time winner in this department.

That's right, the story of Anna Nicole Smith.

Let's see if bulletpoints do some of her life's highlights any justice:

* Was an unknown stripper in the Southwest who vaulted into a small level of fame when she became a Playboy Playmate of the Year.

* Appeared in the third "Naked Gun" movie with, among others, O.J. Simpson. Not sure if that was his last film, but it was close.

* Married a man of incredible wealth who, by the way, was more than 50 years older than she was.

* When said wealthy 89-year-old guy died, took a case involving the estate all the way to the Supreme Court.

* Starred in a reality show that at least a few dozen people watched, and also did a few soft-core pornographic videos.

* Had a baby a few months ago, and no one seems to know who the father is. (Old school NBA fans can insert a Shawn Kemp joke here; more recent NFL fans can use Willis McGahee for target practice.) The birth came around the time her 20-year-old son died.

If you are playing "Six Degrees of Separation" at home, Anna is the connection from O.J. Simpson to William Rehnquist.

Add all of this up, and it's a lot of incidents in 39 years of living. This puts her ahead of someone like Paris Hilton, who is well-known for no apparent reason. Smith's weight has done an impression of an accordian over the years, and she may have had some other personal addictions. So when the end came for Smith, it seemed only appropriate that it came in a hotel under odd circumstances.

It would have been easy to guess that Smith's demise would be overcovered by certain parts of the media, and it would have been right. Nancy Grace responded with her usual tactful modest coverage (BREAKING DEVELOPMENTS!). My particular favorite came when MSNBC pulled Rita Cosby back from, well, somewhere -- Had she been sent to the minor leagues? Made part of a witness protection program? Given a show on the CW? -- to anchor segments on the story.

Granted, the news machine runs 24 hours a day, and it needs constant feeding. And, no one expects people to watch hours of coverage on all-news channels about the federal budget -- that's why we have C-SPAN (among other reasons). Still, Smith seemed to have a desperate need to be famous. She seems to have succeeded more now than she did when she was alive.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Baby it's cold outside

There are all sorts of reasons to not to like local television news broadcasts, and not just because you might work for the competition. Here's another:

Live shots.

Here's yet another example. My part of the world has been hit by a cold spell lately -- we're not exactly alone in that. One of the local stations wanted to do a report on the 11 p.m. news about the weather's effects on the community. That's fine.

The anchors threw it to the reporter, who introduced a taped package. Guess where she was? In one of the hard-hit areas, so that she could tell us first-hand what conditions are like? No, she was in front of the studio. She might have been literally 50 feet from where the anchors are. So the reporter was told to go out the front door and do an introduction in the cold.

Does this make any sense? Wouldn't it be easy to have the reporter sit next to the anchors and introduce the report? Is anyone supposed to be impressed that the station can beam a signal all the way from the front door to the control room, without anyone tripping on a cord?

Next time, oh news director, keep the talent warm. Otherwise, hope her medical insurance payments are up to date so she can be treated for frostbite.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

A Buffalo-only Top Ten

My wife was staging a party on Groundhog Day at work, and needed a cute way to invite the staff. She enlisted me to come up with a Top 10 list for it, so I got to work. You won't get some of the jokes if you aren't from Western New York, but I felt like preserving them for my local reader(s).

Ten Reasons to Celebrate Groundhog Day in Buffalo
1. Holiday is first sign that this cruel winter is finally ending.
2. We guarantee that no tree debris will be left on party site.
3. It's easier than driving to Punxsutawney.
4. Only five more months to the start of Bills' training camp.
5. Much less egg nog served now as compared to Christmas parties.
6. Construction in front of airport is a year closer to completion.
7. "Woodchuck Day" hasn't made the calendar yet.
8. Not like we can spend the afternoon shopping at Bass Pro.
9. Groundhogs eat insects and leaves, leaving good stuff for us.
10. Hard to find an open spot for a United Nations Day party.

Between this and National Gorilla Suit Day, it's been quite a week.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Happy National Gorilla Suit Day

The long wait is over. My favorite holiday has arrived.

What? You've never heard of National Gorilla Suit Day? Well, I've written this post just in time.

National Gorilla Suit Day was the invention of the late Don Martin, the famous Mad Magazine cartoonist. If you grew up in the 1960's, chances are you read his imaginative work. A few of his cartoons centered on National Gorilla Suit Day. It took a while, but NGSD is showing signs of catching on. It's the day for getting the dusty gorillla suit out of the closet and putting it to use in public.

(For the complete history, click on . Great job by the author by the way. And make sure you check out the banners.)

That Web page only missed two great moments in gorilla suits. I would think every TV network that runs M*A*S*H should air the episode from one of the early years of the show's history. In it, Hawkeye and Trapper send away for gorilla suits. They have them on when Frank Burns comes to them with a personal medical problem, and one of the doctors gets to utter the line, "Why do people wait so long to go see their gorilla?"

The other came in the fall of 2005. Theo Epstein was about to (temporarily) leave as general manager of the Boston Red Sox. The action and resulting news conference was a circus, so Epstein put on a gorilla suit to sneak out of Fenway Park. The suit later was auctioned to charity. When told of National Gorilla Suit Day, Epstein quipped in an e-mail, "I guess I got my dates wrong."

NGSD seems to be gaining in popularity. As I recall, a Google search of it a year only produced a few hits. This time, there are many more. At this rate, we'll be giving the postman another day from work for it by 2010.

Sadly, I don't have my own gorilla suit. One on eBay costs $40, with a $50 shipping fee. With those fees, it's easy to buy into conspiracy theories that National Gorilla Suit Day is a cheap ploy by the nation's gorilla suit manufacturers to move product. (I confess - I stole that line from Martin's original cartoon, so consider it a tribute.) But I'll be thinking in solidarity with those who will be visiting their friends as the celebration goes on throughout the country.

(Say, an entire post about gorillas, and not one line about bananas. I'm slipping.)

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Good skate

It's figure skating season once again, and it's time to review my favorite part of that particular activity.

No, not the skating. The writing.

There's nothing quite like the coverage of figure skating. It's almost a parallel universe to normal sportswriting. It's just not enough to tell about what happened. How a program is performed counts almost as much as what goes into it.

Let's take a story on the women's final at the U.S. championship in Spokane. I don't mean to pick on the AP writer, since all of the skating stories have these elements. But here are a few quotes taken from the story, and you can try to figure out where else this might appear:

"She has great speed and uses her edges better than most. But her presentation could still use a little work. She had some nice moments to 'Galicie Flameno,' clicking her hands like a Spanish dancer at one point. But she didn't have nearly the fire or sass flamenco numbers deserve."

" Skating to music from 'Sabrina,' she did Audrey Hepburn proud. She was classy and elegant, from her beautiful lines to her gorgeous black dress with white trim."

And from the other day: "Her footwork was nice, and matched her music from 'Snowstorm' as nicely as her lovely light-blue dress."

It's probably not fair to complain that Peyton Manning's outfits don't get reviewed like that. After all, he is assigned to wear a uniform.

Such matters of presentation are important in figure skating, which at least has gone from something resembling mere dancing on ice to a demonstration of athleticism in the past several years. However, that set of priorities for viewing the sport probably would disqualify me from ever writing about it. Me thinks it won't miss me, and I won't miss it.

Friday, January 12, 2007

After further review...

The New Yorker isn't exactly the traditional source for football writing, and Adam Gopnik is known more for writing about Paris than pigskins. Yet the two teamed up this past week for an article on football called "The Unbeautiful Game."

The article caused plenty of comment in the online world, mostly due to a lack of focus. One part of the story, though, deserves some fresh attention here. Gopnik takes a valid point about the game and draws, in my opinion, a wrong conclusion.

The starting point is that pro football players have become increasingly disconnected with their fans. That's valid. Part of the story is the money involved these days, as the average fan can't relate to some of the salaries paid out. Part of the problem is the mere size of the athletes; we just don't encounter people that big on a regular basis. And I would guess some members of the white audience have cultural problems with a player base that has become largely African-American. (You probably could make the same points about the NBA, but that's another essay.)

Gopnik says fans have gotten around this in two ways. For teens, video games like Madden '07 have become a way to identify with players. The author says the kids are fans of pixels instead of players. Fair enough. Gopnik then says adult fans have become obsessed with statistical analysis of the game. The author argues that several books have come out in recent years about football stats, and that all of them are rather complicated and not particularly predictive and therefore not overly useful.

That's not the correct conclusion. I think fantasy football is that link that some -- not all, but some -- use to escape that disconnect from the current NFL. Don't want to listen to Terrell Owens yap about something? He's reduced to mere numbers and production in fantasy sports. Contracts and trade requests and free agents bore you? That's not a problem in fantasy leagues.
Numbers-oriented football books are merely an effort to capitalize on baseball's success in that area, as we search for a "Moneyball-like" revolution in football that isn't likely to come.

Personally, I've never felt the need to participate in fantasy sports. Part of sports' appeal to me is inclusiveness -- the fact that I can strike up a conversation about the Red Sox, Bills, or some other team with another fan and instantly have a common language. That doesn't work in fantasy sports, which limits its universe to participants -- in other words, about 11 other people -- who have the slightest idea what you are talking about. In other words, everyone connected with sports has had the experience of hearing about someone else's fantasy team ... and yawned. I'm not anxious to inflict that on others.

I'm not arguing here that fantasy sports are bad; I'm for anything that makes people happy. I'm saying that they aren't the traditional way of following the sport, and that the changing nature of, in this case, football is a big part of the reason behind their growth in popularity.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Turned off

It's time to stop feeling guilty, even though a little sadness comes with it.

I'm talking about -- of course -- cable television.

I have had the typical package on my system for the past 14-plus years. It has about 70 channels, of which I watch about 20 even once in a while. I also get Home Box Office.

Here's the catch: I've been receiving the Encore Movie Channel on my television for all of that time, and then some. In fact, I think it was in the apartment before I moved into my current house. Not only that, but I've been getting the Movie Channel for years and years without paying for it, either. The two premium channels were moved to digital tiers long ago, but for some reason the cable company couldn't, or didn't, make the switch on my personal system.

In hindsight, Encore was pretty worthless. I went months and months without watching anything on it. The Movie Channel was a little better. Sometimes it would show movies that had debuted on Showtime. In fact, I think I taped "Hotel Rwanda" shortly before I lost the channel. But HBO and Starz seem to get many of the best movies, so there wasn't much left for Showtime/TMC.

I felt a little guilty for getting something for essentially nothing, although I can't say I felt/feel undercharged for cable. Still, it's not like I did anything. The cable company was the one making the mistake, while I merely turned on the television. There were some interesting ethical questions connected with that sort of situation. I'm someone who has pointed out mistakes in my favor on restaurant bills, arguing that I'd be upset if the mistake went the other way, but I didn't do anything here. Hmmm.

I've looked at digital cable packages at the past, which won't affect my price much, but always figured I'd lose the free movie channels if I switched. Now, with that part of the matter settled, I guess I'll see if I'll bother getting a package highlighted by the Game Show Network. (I'm serious here; I like game shows.)

More likely, I'll do nothing and visit Blockbuster. I'm sure they'll look forward to my increased business -- from two rentals a year to four.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Told you so

I hate to gloat.

Well, let's say I don't like it when others gloat, so I know I shouldn't do it. But sometimes it feels really good to be correct.

Which brings me to the slightly dated subject of Nick Saban.

Back in the summer, I ripped Saban for passing up a dinner with President Bush during the midst of training camp. He wanted to show his players how committed he was; I thought he was teaching them a lack of perspective. Besides, it's tough to root for a coach who has banned other front office employees from saying hello to him in the hallways.

When the University of Alabama went looking for a football coach a month ago, Saban's name came up. He denied any interest in the job, and said there was no chance he'd be leaving the Dolphins to go to Alabama. He practically yelled at reporters for bringing up the subject.

Then the Dolphins' season ended. And suddenly, Saban wasn't commenting on those persistent reports. And then Saban was meeting with the owner of the Dolphins, saying he'd like to go to Alabama to coach but that he was willing to stay. What's more, Saban's agent was supposedly floating a story around football circles weeks before that the coach might be interested in returning to the college game.

The Dolphins let him go, and Saban landed in Alabama. The good citizens of Crimson Tide Nation seemed happy to see him. Miami was happy to see him leave.

There's no doubt Nick Saban will win at Alabama. He's a very good football coach. I think he might have turned the Dolphins around eventually, although he'd probably like that Culpepper over Brees decision of a year ago.

Still, it's going to be difficult to believe anything he might say from now on. He may have gotten a bit richer and happier this move, but he certainly shreded his reputation.

I've never felt like taking sides in Alabama-Auburn games before, but I think I'm going to be saying "War Eagle!" and "Go Tigers" in the future.