Monday, May 31, 2010

A sobering Memorial Day wish

Today is Memorial Day ... when we give thanks to all the veterans who paid the ultimate price to keep this country free.

Memorial Day, in America, was created after the Civil War as a way to commemorate all all the soldiers who died to preserve the union. And they should be commemorated -- them and all military personnel who sacrificed their lives for whatever cause our government deemed necessary.

And we should honor them, and commemorate them, regardless of our personal feelings about the wars that resulted in their deaths. Because they had nothing to do with creating the issues, or perpetuating them, or deciding to go to war in the first place.

All they did was obey the orders they got -- whether they volunteered for duty or were drafted. They served. And their deaths not only deprived their families of their presence for years to come, they deprived us, as a society, of their contributions to the fabric of the country.

Every serviceman's (or servicewoman's) death is a tragedy in and of itself. Collectively, every war, and every group of casualties resulting from it, is a mammoth tragedy of unspeakable proportions.

And this is why, today, as on every Memorial Day, in between the parades, observances, cookouts, and whatever else families do to observe the occasion, we stop for a few minutes and reflect on this reality, and not simply give it lip service.

Let's strive to keep our governments honest about the reasons why we send our young men and women off to die. Let's continue to ask probing questions about the necessity of the wars we wage. Let's demand that the government exhaust every other method of breaking through international crises before resorting to armed conflict, even if there are people among us who consider that "weak."

And let's also understand that questioning the necessity -- and even the legality -- of sending our men and women halfway around the world to fight in wars in no way dishonors them.

Perhaps 30 years ago, in its desperation to make their feelings known about the Vietnam War, there were some who resorted to taking it out on the soldiers who returned, safely (physically, at least) from that conflict. That was wrong ... certainly not the proper way to vent frustration about a situation that looked, at least at the time, to be untenable.

Again, most of the guys who were coming home in the late 60s and 70s were draftees. They had no choice. In fact, there were too many of them in the same boat as the protesters ... plucked from their lives upon the penalty of incarceration and shipped out to 'Nam. I'll never understand why protesters chose to target them.

Today, thankfully, we are mindful of the dichotomy between serving your country and waging war. We are grateful to those who -- of their own volition now -- sign up for military service and do our bidding overseas.

We're grateful ... but I'm guessing we'd be more grateful if these men and women were able to skip the honor, and use their stint in the military for the purposes of educating themselves and setting themselves up for the future. The War on Terrorism, ushered in by 9/11, took care of that. Now, in order to get that education, our men and women in the service have to take greater risks. And when any of them get off that airplane, and run into the arms of their families, we're all happy for them to the point of tears.

In 1967, I was a 14-year-old high school freshman, full of righteous indignation over how kids not that much older than I was were being bundled up and sent to "some f'ing jungle" to, in the words of Paul Simon, "fight for a cause long-ago forgotten."

That feeling persisted through high school and into college, the war started to wind down and the draft lottery system was instituted. In 1972, I was No. 84. I can remember we had several women in one of my classes who went around collecting birthdays for all the guys so they could keep track of what their numbers were.

No. 84 was on the cusp of either going or not going. As it turns out, my number never got called. An end to the conflict was negotiated by 1973 and the majority of troops -- including prisoners of war -- returned home. And you forgot about the anger from the previous six or seven years and became truly inspired by the sight of all these soldiers getting off planes ... and for the most part intact.

In 1991, when the first Gulf War began, I was the father of a nine-year-old boy, and I just hoped that the struggled didn't become so protracted, and lengthy, that he became involved in it. We didn't have time to get angry over that one, as it was over almost as fast as it started. And I remember thinking to myself, "Thank God. I dodged a bullet."

My son was 20 when the towers were hit, certainly a ripe age for being drafted into the military. And when the invasion of Iraq began, he was almost 22. Whatever else I thought of George W. Bush, and the war, I was always thankful that he didn't re-institute the draft.

Still, I had mixed feelings about all that. I've always believed that if war is that much of a necessity, if the survival of the national is at stake, then it should truly be a shared sacrifice. It shouldn't be left to someone else's kid to go over there and fight while mine or yours sat the war out.

Yet at the same time, I wasn't for the war. I didn't think it was necessary, and as long as no one was demanding that my son join the service, I wasn't for him volunteering. I might have felt different had I believed in it. But I didn't. And the longer it just kept going and going and going (I think it the worst of it went much longer than anyone could have anticipated), the angrier I got about it.

I read something, just today, that Abraham Lincoln kept the emancipation proclamation as a trump card during the Civil War ... meaning that the war was fought, initially, to preserve the union at a time when the idea of a "union" hadn't really taken hold. But after some of the bloodiest battles of the war had already taken place (Antietam still stands as the single most devastating battle in the history of the U.S., with upward to 23,000 casualties), Lincoln felt that merely "preserving the union" wasn't going to morally justify this bloodbath. So, he turned it into a moral cause by freeing the slaves.

I'm not sure I'm that cynical. I think slavery was always the issue and not merely a convenient way to rally people to the cause. I can see the point of people who say the war wasn't about slavery, but I just don't think they take their point far enough.

The issue over which "states rights" became the initial rallying cry was, after all, slavery. So while the southern states seceded might have been states rights, slavery -- and the government's efforts not so much to abolish it as to contain it -- was a large component of that.

Still, there's no denying that as the war got bloodier and bloodier, Lincoln needed something symbolic to drive the point of it home, and he used the emancipation proclamation to do that. According to the article I read, at least.

I think we saw something similar in Iraq. There are those who remain convinced that the war was all about oil, and in some ways they're right. But only in the broadest of senses. The reason we're so involved over there in the first place is because of oil. Whatever other reasons we have for staying there, and slugging it out, it's useless to deny that access to oil -- which is truly one of our lifebloods -- is paramount among them.

Yet while oil always remains the prize off in the distant horizon, this war was undertaken, I think, as a way to show nations what could happen to them if they insisted on conspiring to produce terrorists to commit mass murder against us. Iraq happened to be an easy target, and it had an identifiable bogeyman as its leader. The scenario was perfect. It was only after things got bogged down, and terrorists and guerrillas showed up to make sure we stayed engaged long after we thought we'd be out of there, that the administration started talking about "ridding the world of the evil dictator."

The point, though, is it doesn't matter. Wars can be absolutely justified (as many believe World War II was), or they can somewhat dubious. Either way, they're immense tragedies, filled with heroes, villains and victims all at the same time.

And while I certainly believe in expressing my gratitude for those who have sacrificed their lives so that I can write something like this without worrying about being killed or arrested for it, I also, sincerely, hope that we never get too caught up in the belief that questioning the government's motivation, or wisdom, in waging war dishonors the troops who fight them.

They are two completely separate things.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

My one-day-a-year family

One summer night, about five years after we got married, I got the acting bug again.

I say acting bug like I'm Lionel Barrymore or something (for those who may not know, Lionel Barrymore was mean old Mr. Potter in "It's A Wonderful Life"). I'm not. But in my younger days, I dabbled in community theater with the Saugus Towncriers (now called the Theatre Company of Saugus).

So, I said to my wife that I'd like to take another crack at Town Crying, and she said, "sure, if I can go back to dancing again."

Ah, yes, dancing. Nothing's for free, is it? I remember dancing. Part of going out with Linda back in The Day was attending the yearly dance recital. And when you're 19, the last thing you want to be going to is someone's dance recital. I can see it now, so many years later, as I sel tickets to teenage boys who slink in and out of the auditorium, hoping no one recognizes them, to make their obligatory appearance at their girl friends' recitals.

That was me ... back in the '70s.

I guess I really wanted to get back into community theater again, though, because Linda went back to taking dance lessons, and I took part first in a summer revue and then in a fall productin of "Pippin," in which, among other things, I had to learn how to dance.

Understand, the only "dancing" I'd ever done in my life is that gyrating, do-your-own-thing 60s stuff. Anything else was just a waste of time. Once in a great while, I'd do whatever you call that dance step to "Alley Cat" ... the Hully Gully, I think it is. What a stupid name for a dance step. Oh, and there's the hokey pokey ... the bunny hop. Who thinks of these things?

But here I was ... doing real dance steps under the direction of Karen Harrabine and Nancy Lemoine. I won't go so far as to say I thought I was Fred Astaire (please, I may, on a good day, think I'm Grantland Rice or John Irving, but not Fred Astaire), but I thought I did OK for a guy whose only real coordinated movement in life -- at that point, anyway -- consisted of shuffling to and from the refrigerator.

Next thing you know, I'm dancing in the men's number in my wife's recital. This was a dance that the owner of the studio -- Sandra Rice -- used to set aside for all the members of the stage crew and husbands/boyfriends of other dancers. Nothing too complicated ... perhaps three or four basic steps, some good looking costumes, and away we go, as Jackie Gleason used to say.

But oh, what a blast. We'd convene sometime after St. Patrick's Day, every Sunday night, and rehearse with Jeannie Rizzo (who had the patience of about three saints) and, by the recital (which always fell on the same day as the Preakness Stakes), we'd be in the ballpark enough with the steps to do a decent job with the dance (and get the biggest hand of the day, I might add).

I got through the first year without any trouble at all. Year two ... different story. That was the year Jeannie decided to give us props ... push brooms, to be exact.

I rehearsed all through March ... all through April ... all through May ... performed all through the dress rehearsal .. the dance even, without incident. Then, I had to go on stage for the curtain call and bow. Which I did. Right into the broom handle. Which got me right in my right eye.

That was in 1984 ... the absolute most destructive year of my life. First, I ended up fracturing the orbit bone in my cheek (it's the same one Larry Bird broke during a Celtics playoff game once). I can still remember after stabbing myself with the broom handle, lying on a couch backstage and having a woman I didn't know come up and ask me how many fingers she was holding up.

"Four," I said.

"Oh," she said, with genuine concern. "I was only holding up two."

Oh, swell. But I already knew I had double vision. I saw two of everybody. And I was pretty sure not everyone in that recital was a twin.

Thankfully, there was no permanent damage, and it was only a prelude to what happened to me later that summer when I got hit by a car door that was was opening just as I was riding past it on my bicycle. I went flying ass over teakettle, stabbing myself in the groin area with the handlebars, as I fell to the ground.

It was bad enough that happened. But what on earth do you tell people?

After the broomstick incident, Jeannie never let us dance with props again!

I stuck with it, though. The only time I'd ever see the people associated with the studio was from the time we starting rehearsing for the show through the cast party after the recital (oh, those cast parties! I can remember doing an all-nighter, and getting just enough sleep to get up and watch Game 6 of the 1986 NBA finals, when the Celtics beat Houston for the championship ... in a stupor, I might add).

That first Sunday in March was like old home week. We were all genuinely happy to see each other, and we'd have a great time at those rehearsals. It was one of those things where we never took ourselves seriously, but -- for the sake of the people who ran the show and put so much blood, sweat and tears into it -- took the dance seriously.

It was just a lot of fun.

Soon enough, however, I got talked (and I'll let you guess by whom) into take a couples tap class. That lasted for about six years, which means six years of weekly pounding on knees that were already starting to show signs of the family curse ... which is arthritis. Today, whatever cartilage support I have in those knees is due to two uni compartmental replacements (with totals to come someday in the future). I can wait. But what I can't do anymore is dance ... at least not tap dance.

Unlike the men's number, though, the tap number was serious business. The women in the class -- most of them, anyway -- could actually dance. Some of them were pretty good. We men were ham-and-eggers. And while it made for elegant staging, come the recital, to have couples up on stage going through stately tap routines, I always sweated my way through it.

The way I looked at it, nobody cared if the men goofed up their little number. The objective wasn't to be perfect (though we certainly did our best to do the dances justice). We were, in some respects, comic relief. The tap number was different. This was not comic relief. I always understood the ethic, there, and because of that I'd be petrified of screwing up during those dances.

And because I was petrified not to screw up, I always did. The men's numbers ... I never worried about screwing up ... and never did! Go figure.

One of the annual backstage rituals with the men was that we'd practice that dance endlessly. Anytime anyone ever got an opportunity to commandeer some space, we'd all be there, counting out the steps (calling them out even). Everyone except me. I always took the view that I only had so many of these dances in me before I'd start tripping all over myself, and certainly wasn't going to waste any of them dancing around behind stage, sapping all of my energy in the process.

This was just a fun period in my life. But the odd thing about it was that I'd see these people once a year ... they were my one-day-a-year family. It's funny how that works. I consider myself very good friends with a lot of these people, but this is/was the only time I ever really saw them.

I write this because the recital was last night. My wife still dances, though these days she's also the office manager. My son is on the stage crew, and he dances too. He grew up to dance with me in the men's number for a few years, which was even more fun. I wouldn't call it the usual father-son bonding experience (these days, we go to Fenway once a year; I buy the tickets, he buys the pizza and beer) but it was still a lot of fun).

I had to stop, though. For one thing, a lot of the fun went out of it when one of the guys who danced every year for about as long as I did died suddenly. It just really changed things for me. For one thing, even though I was much older, we had a similar sense of humor, and always ended up goofing off the most in those rehearsals. They just didn't the same the same after that.

The second thing is my knees just got too bad. I managed to dance through chronic back pain for several years leading up to the time when my knees totally gave out on me. But having chronic back pain and knee issues, together, was just a little too much.

So these days, I sell tickets at the door. I get to dress up in a spiffy shirt and tie, wear a badge on me that says "staff," or a lapel carnation, or something else that signifies that I'm important, and that's just fine. It keeps me associate with my one-day-a-year family.

And it's amazing how many of those same people are in place. Some of the old students have come back to teach, and some of the staff members who were there in 1983, when I started, are still going strong! And every year, a lot of the people who have come and gone come back just to see the show, so it's always a nice reunion.

The only thing is that the cast parties are much more sedate than they used to be. And that's probably a good thing. They were a lot of fun when I was 30. They tend to wear you out more when you're 57. Just one more indication that getting old is overrated ... though, as one woman to whom I pointed this out last night said, "yeah, but it beats the alternative."

And I will leave you with that.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A Summer Song in my Heart

People have their own definitions about what makes up a good summer song. With Memorial Day weekend upon us -- designated, of course, as summer's kickoff weekend -- I've chosen today to dispense with the heavy pontificating and give you both my definition, and my favorite summer songs.

First, my definition. To me, a summer song is fun first, everything else second. It has to evoke, well ... summer! Which means, to me, it has to sound good coming out of someone's car speakers as it's driving along the beach.

For reasons I cannot understand, "Good Vibrations" has always been seen as a summer song, which to me is simply wrong. First, the song itself came out in the late fall of 1966, and it's anything but summer beach music -- which, of course, a lot of the Beach Boys songs are. Labeling it merely as a "summer song" does it grave injustice. It's one of the best records ever made (and if you want to be completely blown away by it, get a hold of the version done by Annie and Nancy Wilson, and baritone Jubilant Sykes, for the Brian Wilson tribute. It'll leave you with tears in your eyes (sorry, it was removed from YouTube due to copyright issues; you're going to have to order it).

But "Good Vibrations" is not a summer song because you can't listen to it passively. You have to pay attention to it ... savor every nuance of its intricacy ... to fully appreciate it. Brian called it his "pocket symphony" and that's exactly what it was. You wouldn't normally hear Mozart or Beethoven at the beach, and there are some pop songs that deserve more attention than to have some ramped up DJ babbling at the beginning and the end of them. "Good Vibrations" is one of those songs.

Summer songs need not have been released in the summertime ... though it certainly helps. But some of our best "crank it up" music was released and became popular at other times of the year. They've just morphed into summer songs because they lend themselves to a summer-like environment ... which is to say they sound their best blasted through open windows. I'll give you a perfect example: Billy Joel's apocalyptic "Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)." The song itself is pretty deep. It's his scifi-movie vision of what would happen to New York if disaster truly struck (it kind of took on a creepy countenance after 9/11 too).

But way back in the 1970s, when "Turnstile" came out, it was the album's final song, and by then, I'd been so totally wrapped up in other songs from the record (most notably "New York State of Mind") that I barely gave this one any thought at all, save for the piano at the beginning and the end, which I love.

Then, I was hanging out one day in Boston, in the late spring, on a day when windows were open all over the Back Bay, and someone had this record on. When this song came blasting through the window, it just sounded so cool, and seemed to reflect the vibe of the day so perfectly, that it stopped me in my tracks. It immediately became my absolute favorite song of his (which it still is, to this day). And even though it has very little to do with summertime, I always associate it with pleasant weather because of the timing of when I first noticed how great it really was.

(On the other hand, "A Matter of Trust," which tries to evoke, in its video, the same feeling I had listening to "Miami 2017" that day, does not register on my list. It's an all right song, but that's as far as it goes.)

So, as Ed Sullivan would way, without any further ado, here is a list of my Top 15 summer songs.

1 -- (Can't Get No) Satisfaction, Rolling Stones. Actually, it doesn't matter to me when I hear this. I've always considered it the most perfect of perfect rock 'n' roll songs. It's catchy, naughty, has a killer hook, it's not a day-and-a-half long, and -- to boot -- sounds the berries on your automobile stereo system. It's no accident that every time radio stations do one of those "Memorial Day 500" polls, "Satisfaction" is in the Top 10.

2 -- "Schools Out for the Summer," Alice Cooper. Boy, I can remember when Alice Cooper first came out ... how disgusted people were by him. This always amused me. Vincent Furnier may have had a macabre sense of humor, but that's all it was. There's really nothing subversive about him other than a healthy sense of the absurd, which, of course, he took to the end zone for a few years. Alice Cooper, in a short amount of time, put out some classic songs, with classic hooks. This was the best of them. "Well we got no class/And we got no principles/And we got no innocence/
We can't even think of a word that rhymes. Clever, funny ... loud ... all the things that make up a great rock song.

3 -- "Summertime Blues" ... take your pick. This could be one of the most covered songs in rock, and why not? Eddie Cochran did did it first, in the late 1950s, and it was later covered by The Who, Brian Setzer and Blue Cheer -- to name three (Blue Cheer's version is probably my least favorite while I could listen to Brian Setzer's all day long). If you can remember being a teenager, with an odd job in the summer time, scrounging for money so you can go out on a date, being forced to beg your dad for the car and having your pleas fall on deaf ears, this is your song. Also, I remember hearing a comedian one night in a Boston night club do a version of this that just put me away. The part where Cocharn said, "I asked my congressman and he said, quote, I'd like to help you, son, but you're too young to vote," this guy changed to "I asked my senator and he said, quote, "when I returned to the bridge, Mary Jo and the cahhh were gone." He did a good Teddy impression too.

4 -- "Hot Fun in the Summertime," Sly and the Family Stone. The 60s and 70s would have been a lot poorer, culturally and musically, without Sly Stone making this kind of music. What a wonderful, wonderful song. It's not particularly profound. It doesn't advance any kind of social cause. It doesn't open up any new doors with regards to funk, or anything like that. It's just a nice song about summer romance and the kind of fun that one can only have in the good weather. And I swear, Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey used it as the template they wrote "Summer Lovin," one of the more memorable songs from "Grease."

5 -- "All Summer Long," Beach Boys. A lot of people put "California Girls" on this list, and they're justified. But this song's better, as far as I'm concerned. It's almost poignant. Because if you grow up in the northeast, one of the more depressing times of the year is Labor Day -- which signifies the end of summer, as we know it (even though the calendar says otherwise). School starts up again, and all that summer fun everyone keeps writing and waxing nostalgic about becomes just another memory. And contained within "All Summer Long" is that feeling ... that summer, especially here in Boston, always goes by much too quickly, and that you'd better get the most out of it. It's probably different in California, where the Beach Boys grew up. But here ... the song takes on a sense of urgency!

6 -- "Summer in the City," Lovin' Spoonful. This song came out when I was 12 years old, hanging around my neighborhood, during the very hot summer of 1966. There wasn't a whole lot to do back in '66 other than hang out, try to keep yourself occupied, and listen to the radio. Things probably haven't changed much either. The images in this song are tremendous, especially lines like "hotter than a match head," combined with the backdrop of a jackhammer for effect, made this a very memorable song.

7 -- "Maggie Mae," Rod Stewart. I know what this song's about. It's every teen aged boy's fantasy to be taken to school by an older woman, if you get my drift (though this song deals more with what happens when it dawns on us that school's out). But that's not why I like it. It's a great song because it frackin' rocks. It has, easily, the best opening bars in rock, and sounds great on the car radio (and did so in 1971, the year I graduated from high school, which has an awful lot to do with why I like this song so much). This was the opening cut off "Every Picture Tells a Story," an album filled with classic material. Listen to "Mandolin Wind" off that album. Simply gorgeous.

8 -- "Ramblin' Man," Allman Brothers. One of the great things about summertime up here is outdoor concerts. This may not be so special in the deep south, or in San Diego, where the weather lends itself to this all year around. But here, you get all your really good concerts crammed into a four-month period from about June through September. After that, it really becomes too cold for outdoor concerts (though I remember freezing my ass off in Foxborough one October night listening to the Rolling Stones). Back in the day, the Allman Brothers would come to this area around the fourth of July every summer. They'd exhausted themselves (and us) playing incredibly long sets ... and I was there for all of it. And to me, nothing says "summer" than listening to Dickie Betts playing his guitar at ear-piercing decibels.

9 -- "In the Summertime," Mungo Jerry. I'm serious. This was a great song. Well, it still is a great song. It got popular in the summer of 1970, and it was the perfect counterpoint to all the other crap that was going on in the same year ... crap like the Kent State fallout, for example (the country was still in a deep, deep funk over that going into that summer). It was just a nice, little skiffle song about hanging out in the summertime, doing nothing, and just groovin'. Wish there were more songs like that these days.

10 -- "Sunny Afternoon," The Kinks. As this song suggests, nothing beats "sitting here, sipping on my ice cold beer, lazing on a sunny afternoon." Except that this is Ray Davies signing ... man of biting, ironic wit. Of course, "Sunny Afternoon" is not about mindless idling nearly as much as it is about a broken man who's been taken to the cleaners by a vindictive ex. It's just that the lines are priceless. "Save me, save me, save me from this squeeze, I got a big, fat mamma trying to break me." Sounds to me like Ray had good thing going with the big, fat mamma ... and it's all coming apart. Sort of tragic, really ... except that, in typical Ray Davies fashion, he makes you laugh as he tells his tale. Great song.

11 -- "Got to Get Your Into My Life," The Beatles. Summers back in the mid-60s were never truly complete without a new Beatles album to chew on. In '64 it was "Hard Day's Night," '65 it was "Help!" and in '66 it was "Revolver." Those albums were loaded with great songs, of course, but to me, this is the best of them all.

12 -- "Lazy Day," Spanky and Our Gang. This was one of those "Summer of Love" songs, full of flowers and walks down the lane, that just gave you a great feeling of being alive.

13 -- "The Story in Your Eyes," the Moody Blues. Another Summer of '71 song. Nuff said.

14 -- "The Boys of Summer," Don Henley. Another look-back song about youthful summers balanced with adult reality. Great tune.

15 -- "Pleasant Valley Sunday," The Monkees. All right. Go ahead and laugh. I'll wait. Truth is, the Monkees -- probably without even knowing it -- did one of the great 60s social songs about what it's like to live in "Keeping Up with the Jonses" America. Carole King had a had in writing this, and you can see her fingerprints all through it.


That's all she wrote. I'm sure you all have yours. I'd be interested in hearing some of them.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Small Time in a Big Time World ... Expect the Unexpected

Whether you're talking about the Super Bowl of a Thanksgiving football game, there's one rule of thumb in covering sports ... expect the unexpected.

The Celtics barely broke a sweat this year to take a 3-0 lead in games over the Orlando Magic. After that third game -- a blowout to end all blowouts -- you'd have thought the Magic would have tucked their tales between their legs and slinked out of town.

Instead, they won Game 4 ... and came back and won Game 5 in a rout. Now, it's a series.

And you hear this refrain so often it makes you wonder about people: The league wants it to go six or seven games for the revenues. They tell the referees to call cheap fouls, or phantom fouls, to extend the series.

No it doesn't. This stuff happens all the time. The one thing you cannot measure about athletes is their ability to rise up off the mat, with blood dripping all over them, and respond to adversity. There is that saying "that which doesn't kill you only makes you stronger."

I can't tell you how many times I've seen -- both at the professional and amateur levels -- teams that weren't supposed to even compete in big games not only be competitive in them, but win. In fact, I've always lived by a rule of thumb in this business ... that the more lopsided a game looks on paper (before it's played) the less lopsided it ends up being. The opposite is often true. Very often, you can go into a game expecting a struggle, and end up with a rout. There's just no predicting how these things are going to go.

Today, I'm going to focus on three games -- one professional, two high school -- that illustrate this point. The underdogs in these games were 1-2, but the result doesn't matter as much as the fight they put up under less than optimum circumstances.

The first example is the 2008 Super Bowl, when the New York Giants defeated the Patriots. We all remember that game for the improbable catch David Tyree made -- using his helmet to keep possession of the ball as Rodney Harrison tried to strip it from him.

But that's not why the Giants won the game. They won it because for large portions of it, they kept the Patriots from doing what they'd been able to do for 18 other games that season ... run up and down the field and score practically at will.

There were reasons, of course, But the biggest reason was that although, on paper, the Giants looked to be vastly inferior in terms of total points, their No. 1 strength matched up well against New England's biggest weakness. The Giants had a tremendous defensive front four while the Patriots' offensive line, while certainly not terrible, wasn't its strongest suit.

The Patriots in 2007 were all glitter. They had a high-powered offense that was pass-heavy. What they weren't was gritty. This was not a team built for the trenches. It was a quick strike team, much like the Indianapolis Colts, and teams that got the Patriots in a game of trench warfare had a better chance of beating them.

This ran counter to the teams that won three Super Bowls. Those were true gritty teams with the added bonus of having a quarterback (Tom Brady) who could, if called on, provide the big strike. But those teams won because they gutted it out too. This wasn't the case in '07, even though the Patriots went undefeated during the regular season. They just bombed away that year.

But a few teams along the way figured out the Patriots' Achilles heal, and while they may not have beaten them, they threw a scare into them. The Giants just took that game plan, and, because they'd already caught fire at the right time, had the confidence and the poise to do what no other team had done that season: beat the New England Patriots.

That victory is considered the second-greatest upset in the history of the Super Bowl (the Jets beating the Colts in 1969 is still No. 1). But I can tell you, having been there, that this was anybody's game from the opening kickoff. The Giants came to play, they had the matchups to make it a game, and the Patriots got uncharacteristically erratic on defense at the moment they needed to make some plays.

A sure interception went right through Asante Samuel's hands ... and that would have sealed the deal after the Patriots had scored with just over two minutes to go to pull ahead. And right before Eli Manning threw the pass that connected with Tyree, both Jarvis Green and Richard Seymour had him wrapped up for a sack. Somehow, Manning wiggled free and completed the pass ... which was a prayer, really. It was every bit the "Hail Mary" pass as the one Doug Flutie threw in the 1984 win over Miami. And the catch was even more miraculous than Gerard Phelan's was.

But that is the formula for an upset ... hang around, take advantage of your matchups, make some big plays as the game starts winding down, and hope you've thrown your opponents off their pins enough so that they start making mistakes.

That's what the Giants did ... and that's why they won.

Each Thursday we are going to delve into the fact that, for me, covering sports is pretty much the same, whether it's the Super Bowl or a high school game in March (truth be told, sometimes, the kids are more fun to cover than the pros are). Hence "Small Time in a Big Time World."

The next game on this list occurred just this past March, in a high school gym in Salem, Massachusetts. It was a state sectional semifinal boys basketball game between Lynn English High School and St. John's Prep.

These were clearly two of the three best teams north of Boston (the other one being Central Catholic of Lawrence). Considering The Prep and English are probably within 10 miles of each other, the matchup was one of the most anticipated of the season. They'd already met once in a preseason jamboree and English had to come back for a one-point win.

Both teams had bonafide all-state players: The Prep's Pat Connaughton was a junior who had really come of age; and English's Ryan Woumn was a senior who ended up going Division 1 (East Tennessee State) for college.

A matchup for the ages, right? But wait ... Woumn could not play. Because he'd received two technicals in the previous game, he had to sit this one out, per state athletic association rules.

This clearly gave The Prep an advantage, and most people (including me) were hugely disappointed. We figured we'd be cheated out of what could possibly be the game of the year. How on earth could English -- without its star -- compete against a Prep team that had its best player ready to go and playing his best basketball of the season?

But you know what? It was the game of the season anyway.

English was an immensely talented team, even without Woumn. All Woumn did was put the Bulldogs in the upper stratosphere of basketball teams in the state (they had made the state final a year earlier).

Anyone figuring St. John's would just roll over a Woumn-less English forgot one important ingredient to sports: You play the game for two hours in a gym, not in the papers or on the radio. He who shows up and plays better wins. No excuses. Not even if the refs don't call everything your way.

Connaughton played a great game for The Prep, but by the second half, English started putting all its focus on him and dared one of the other Eagles to pick up the slack. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, that's what happened. Steve Haladyna, a sophomore, picked up the slack. In the end, he -- and not Connaughton -- made the biggest difference.

And again, that's the beauty of sports. Unlikely heroes emerge at the biggest moments. David Tyree was a reserve pass receiver. He's not even with the Giants now, and it's not because he signed a lucrative contract to play with someone else. He is currently -- in the words of the real world -- unemployed. In NFL parlance, he's a free agent.

Haladyna was an unlikely hero, too, because the conventional wisdom went that Connaughton would take The Prep as far as he could. But when English threw the kitchen sink at Connaughton, there was Haladyna to seize the moment. Carpe Diem.

(As an aside, someone from the Celtics had better Carpe Diem Friday night or things are going to get real ugly in this town.)

However, Haladyna's heroics aside, English -- undermanned by virtue of losing Woumn -- shouldn't have even been in the game. But the Bulldogs hung tough. And watching them do that, I couldn't help but wonder why I -- and a lot of others -- discounted the talents of some of their other players. Every one of the kids who could play did more than anyone could have expected. Their center, a sophomore named Keandre Stanton, is already a game-changer on defense (though his offense needs some work), their guard, Travonne Berry-Rogers, never met a shot he didn't like, which can be exasperating when they don't fall. But when they do ... Lordy! You can't defend him.

They had another guard, Paradise Hogan, who came up huge. And their standbys, Irving Vizcaino and Jarell Byrd, all played well.

But the real reason why English stayed in that game for as long as it did was simple: The Bulldogs felt as if they had bull's eyes on their backs. They'd already lost their coach for the tournament because of allegations of that representatives of the school -- and not necessarily the coach -- improperly enticed players to attend the school. A lot of the people connected with English felt the school was under undue scrutiny from officials, and it was quite possible that Woumn had been whistled for two quick "T's" in that game against Lexington because of that.

And while I certainly don't believe that was the case, my opinion doesn't count. What matters is that English circled the wagons coming into that Prep game. The Bulldogs played with a chip on their shoulders from the opening tap, and however they got motivated to do that is irrelevant. The fact is, they got motivated, went out and played a whale of a game.

However, in the end, they missed Woumn. They had chances to win in the end, and under normal circumstances, the ball would have been in Woumn's hands, and he'd have either taken those wide-open outside shots or driven to the hoop. But either way, the ball, and the decisions, would have been his. As it was, The Prep only won by a point, 79-78, and had to come from eight points down in the fourth quarter to do it.

English, without Woumn, simply ran out of gas.

The final game on this list occurred on Thanksgiving 2008, featuring the Swampscott and Marblehead, MA, football teams.

Swampscott, a perennial football powerhouse, was the defending state champion. Marblehead, its traditional rival, had seen some hard times over the past two decades on the football field. But in 2008, the Magicians were making a serious run at the league championship. Swampscott was one of the teams standing in their way.

Things were looking awfully good for Marblehead when disaster struck ... disaster in one of the most frustrating ways possible. The Magicians' quarterback (Hayes Richardson), and their kicker (Iam McKinley), were suspended for the remainder of the season for violating the state's anti-alcohol bylaws.

I hasten to say this doesn't make them criminals. But in terms of being able to compete with Swampscott for the league championship, that was going to be a tall order.

Two days after the suspensions were handed down, Marblehead went to Saugus and completely laid an egg. Thrown into confusion by events of the previous week, the Magicians weren't ready to play, and lost badly to Saugus. After the game, coach Doug Chernovetz pretty much challenged the remaining players that they were going to have to respond to this ... and that nobody was going to take pity on them because two of their best players were no longer eligible to play.

They had 10 days from the Saugus game to the Thanksgiving game against Swampscott, which was to settle the league championship once and for all. Nobody gave Marblehead much of a chance. I think, by then, everyone in town knew that Chernovetz, a good guy whose tenure was pretty much non-stop controversial, was a lame duck (he was let go not long after the season ended). The quarterback situation was unsettled. And Swampscott had the area's best player (Chris Cameron) calling signals.

So what happened? Marblehead came into Swampscott and played, perhaps, its best game of the season -- under the circumstances. Similar to English without Woumn, Marblehead's players absolutely, totally responded. They hung tough against a Swampscott team that clearly had the better weapons, on this day anyway, and were poised, in the last minute, to score the a touchdown and, the two-point conversion, that would tie the game.

They were right there. On the 14-yard line, with 10 seconds left. But Cameron, the player of the year on the North Shore, the quarterback who made everything happen for Swampscott in 2008, got in front of a pass and ripped it out of the Marblehead receiver's hands -- in the end zone -- to save the 21-13 win.

Games such as these are what make sports so fascinating to follow. Just when you think everything's going against a team, the team somehow manages to find its resolve and fight back. And it doesn't matter whether you're talking about the New York Giants, English Bulldogs, or Marblehead Magicians. It's why, in a world that's sadly predictable sometimes, sports remain delightfully unpredictable.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Most favored status?

There's been a bit of a storm brewing in our community over the last week regarding athletes in an area high school who were found to be drinking at weekend parties.

Some of the athletes who were caught were prominent ones too. Those who manned up (just an expression) and admitted to it were suspended for the length of time mandated by the state athletic association. Those who chose to weasel their way out ... well ... they skated.

The non-athletes, except for whatever reprimands they may have received privately, were not as adversely affected as the sports figures.

First, let me say this: I absolutely think athletes -- especially the prominent ones -- aren't ordinary citizens within the realms of their schools. There is definitely a caste system at most schools, and the better athletes are generally at the top of the chain.

The higher up you go ... the longer the fall, too. That's just the way it is. I generally don't find too many people who agree with me, especially when names of athletes start showing up in the paper for violating state-mandated chemical health rules.

But there is definitely a balance between the amount of fame fame you acquire -- even if it's on a local level -- for your athletic abilities and the commensurate accountability for your actions. And all I can suggest to people is that if they don't think this is fair, then the obvious answer to that is don't play. However, if you sign on to play, you also sign on to follow whatever rules come with the privilege of taking part (and being a star).

Most of you already know this, but to those who do not, I am the sports editor of a local paper that -- with increasing regularity -- seems to be getting caught up in this game. We've never had firm policy on how to handle it, except perhaps to say that if we find out about it, and if it's germaine to what we do (meaning, could the athlete's absence from a game be relevant to the outcome) then we feel obligated to report it.

This opens up a can of worms that, quite naturally, those most affected feel is unfair, and are convinced that their kids, or their players, are being singled out.

Bear with me. If your son is the starting goalie on the hockey team, and he's one of five kids busted for drinking, and he gets the mandatory suspension, it's not just an in-house matter. It is news. It doesn't matter if the other four kids -- all of whom have lesser roles on the team -- also got caught and suspended. The news value of a sub being suspended isn't quite the same as it is if the star goalie, or quarterback, is put on ice for two weeks.

Look at your school as a small microcosm of the NFL. Tom Brady's knee injury, and Ben Roethlesberger's problems with the law (and subsequent six-game suspension) were covered as major events. Some guy on the practice squad, or a special teams player, could do the exact same thing, and suffer the exact same consequences, and it's a note in the SportsLog (of whatever the various papers call it).

The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association's rule on substance abuse is pretty cut and dried. If you're caught drinking, you face suspension. It used to be two weeks, or two games (whichever constituted the greater amount of time) and has since been amended to a quarter of the season for the first offense (60 percent if it's a second), and a loss of captaincy if applicable.

Some schools harden that rule so that students are not simply accountable if they're drinking, but equally accountable if there's in the presence of alcohol. This puts some people in a real sticky wicket, because now we're talking about timing. Let's say you're at a party, and you walk in and see a bunch of people drinking.

You walk back outside and call your parents for a ride home (because you want to do the responsible thing), but can't get out of there in time before the hounds of hell descend upon the place. Now, according to the rule, you're just as accountable as the people who were falling-down drunk. There's no distinction.

I can see the gray areas here. And all I can say in response is that it's up to the schools -- and the people involved -- to ferret out the truth in these situations and apply penalties accordingly. And to make the distinction, if it comes down to it, that the person penalized was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time.

What makes this whole thing difficult is the fact that, as MIAA spokesman Paul Wetzel is so fond of saying, it comes down to self-policing. There are so many of these situations that descend into "he-said, she-said," that it becomes impossible to ferret out the truth. All you can do is count on people to be honest, to confess when they've messed up, and to accept the consequences in the same manner that they accept the accolades and special treatment they get for what they do.

I'm not a big believer in turning over every rock to dig up the names of athletes caught in alcohol/drug stings. But I think that when you find out about it, and if it rises to the level of "news," you can't ignore it simply because "he's just a kid who made a mistake."

There have been enough stories of athletes who have been coddled throughout their high school years, and who have gone on to have serious drug and alcohol issues afterward (does the name Jeff Allison ring a bell?) that you wonder how helpful you are by sweeping this stuff under the rug.

Sometimes, you fall into only one of two camps: Either you're enabling people to keep doing what they're doing (in which case they risk ending up paying the piper in ways way more tragic than a five-game suspension from basketball) or you develop a zero-tolerance policy toward the problem.

It's way easier to do the former. It's much easier to look the other way, and not risk the scorn of people who just don't get it ... and who say things like, "oh, come on, everybody drinks."

Maybe. And maybe not. I've met countless athletes who absolutely understand the responsibility they have, not just to their schools and teams, but to themselves. They put their social lives on hold sometimes for the honor of representing their schools in athletics. What do you say to them when someone who doesn't have that level of responsibility is allowed to walk away free after blatantly violating these rules?

But whatever we do, and whatever our motivation, we also have to remember that, yes, they are kids, and that kids, by their very nature, mess up. It doesn't absolve them of their accountability when they do, but I'm not sure it's the best idea in the world to appoint ourselves as de facto nannys either.

While I do believe that athletes have a higher level of accountability -- mainly because of their status as "most favored people" -- I also understand that they're young, impetuous, prone to make bad decisions, and sometimes easily influenced by what's going on around them just like anyone else their age. They are not destined to be career criminals -- or even career drunks -- because they got caught drinking at a party.

If athletes have achieved notoriety on their own merits (meaning if they're become important enough in their realm to write about), and they're caught drinking, and suspended, then newspapers have an obligation to make note of it ... if for no other reasons than to explain why they're missing from games in which they'd otherwise be playing.

To those who cannot wrap themselves around this ... I don't know what to say. We differ.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Uncharted waters

I've lived through 11 presidents (well, this one's the 11th; and I barely remember the first).

Of those 11, I can honestly say four of them -- John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush and, now, Barack Obama) have faced terrifying uncharted waters that, whether they like it or not, will define their administrations.

I define "uncharted waters" as particularly thorny issues that -- until they happened, hadn't happened before, whether at all, or to the extend that they occured. They are: The Cuban missile crisis (Kennedy), the Iranian hostage crisis (Carter), the attacks of 9/11 (Bush) and the Gulf Coast oil spill (Obama).

You could also perhaps throw Hurricane Katrina in as well, except that we've had hurricanes in this country before ... and bad ones too.

What makes these occurrences unique, other than the fact that they happened at all, is that the responses to them were just as uncharted as the events. To wit: How do you respond to something when there's no precedent to follow?

Kennedy, of course, faced the Cuban missile crisis, and navigated through it like the sailor he was. I'm sure those were tense times, but it was also 1962 and I was only in the fourth grade. I was aware that there was a "Cuban crisis," but, at the age of 9, it didn't register as anything more important to me than any other "grown up stuff."

We obviously got through it, because I'm here, writing this. But I can't say I was overly concerned. I had a child's view of the world ... that adults were there to take care of us, and that they would, indeed, take care of us.

Lyndon Johnson -- one could argue -- faced the same uncharted waters when he was left to pick up the pieces after Kennedy's assassination. But his situation wasn't the same as the four I've mentioned. I'm not sure Lyndon was the absolute right guy to come in and heal the nation (actually, I think Gerald Ford did a much better job of that after Watergate, even if he did pardon Nixon). But he was all we had, and the nation, at least, was willing to be healed.

Johnson ran afoul on other issues, and a lot of that had to do with ramifications of antipathy between himself and the Kennedy faction. But what he faced wasn't on a par with Kennedy, Carter, Bush and Obama.

Carter, we know, faced the prospect of having U.S. diplomats held hostage in Iran (well, some of them may have been diplomats at least). That was a thankless situation because no matter what he did, it was going to be wrong to someone. He chose to wait the Iranians out, and he took incredible heat for it. But in retrospect, I'm not sure that was the worst thing he could have done. Those hostages came home, alive, one year and two months after they were seized.

In fact, the rescue mission he staged in March of 1980 failed so badly it probably set us back in the overall scheme of things.

Carter may have been the most luckless president we've ever had. Things weren't going all that well with him before the hostage crisis. Half the country hadn't even heard of the word "malaise" until one of his aides de camp, used it in an attempt to explain the speech he was about to give that basically told the American people to buck up and stop whining about everything.

Carter never used the word.

He also had rotten luck in that the hostage crisis happened November of 1979, just when he'd be gearing up for a re-election bid. Sometimes, in life, you make your own luck. Carter didn't have that luxury.

(Of course, letting the shah of Iran into the country -- even for medical purposes -- wasn't his smartest move either, though weather that precipitated the ensuing hostage crisis is still a matter of debate.)

The hostages came home in 1981, when Ronald Reagan was elected president. And while the country certainly had its issues from then until September 11, 2001, none of them were unique to history. This country has fought a war on the average of once every 20 or so years since it was founded, so Gulf War I wasn't any big deal in the big picture. Nothing that happened in the Reagan years rose to the level of 9/11.

So when George W. Bush, nine months into office and still basically feeling his way around, was faced with 9/11, I genuinely felt sorry for him -- even though I didn't vote for him, and didn't really have a whole lot of use for him.

At the time, Bush was in this 50s, the way I am now. He'd been a governor, but other than that, his experience in handling anything this big, and this complicated, was on about the same level as mine ... which is to say none.

And I don't say that as an insult. Remember our definition. Uncharted waters are uncharted in all aspects. He didn't have any experience in dealing with a mass terrorist attack on his own soil because nobody did!

Similar to Carter, however Bush chose to act in response to 9/11 was going to anger someone. And we all know he had his share of critics. I might have been one of them.

But the night he got up and spoke to the nation, I don't think there was a person in America, friend or foe politically, who didn't, at that moment, look at him and say "George, you're all we have. I may not have voted for you, but dammit all, I'm putting my faith in you to do the right thing."

And he did ... in some cases. What impressed me the most about him in those first few days was the lengths he took to warn against branding all Muslims as crazed terrorists. I think the only thing that would have been worse than what had already happened would have been to witness local vigilantes rounding up all the Arabs and Muslims and performing terrorist acts on them.

Later, of course, Bush did a few things that were matters of sincere, legitimate debate ... such as promoting and executing the Iraq war and all-but abandoning Afghanistan after driving the Taliban out. But in those initial days after 9/11 (and throw in the Anthrax scare too), he had to walk a delicate line between responding to a serious situation and keeping a lid on a nation that was primed for panic.

And in that sense, I think he did a pretty damn good job.

This brings us to Obama. He walked into the presidency on the heels of an economic crisis this country hadn't seen since the Great Depression itself. We were in free fall, and -- like a lot of decisions in tough times -- the ones he made were not going to universally popular. But boy, oh, boy, they weren't. I believe that as the times become more uncertain, the rhetoric gets more shrill ... and that the rancor that has followed some of Obama's actions are the natural outgrowth of an uneasy nation. That's understandable. What's not understandable is the willingness some people have to exploit that uneasiness for their own gain. I have a real problem with that.

There's a word for that, and it's "demagogue." And this country, right now, is full of them.

But whatever Obama is facing, or has faced, with regard to the economy pales next to the oil spill.

We've had oil spills before. But Obama is facing the extra-added kick in the pants of having a pipeline that's still spewing oil into the gulf over two weeks since it blew up. The Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons into the Prince William Sound off Alaska in 1989, and there are some scientists who feel that, already, the gulf spill has surpassed it. Of course, there's no way to know. At least there was a finite supply of oil on the Valdez. But in this case, oil is spewing forth into the gulf and there's an infinite supply of it (well, you know what I mean; there's no accurate way to measure it).

This could, already, be the single worse ecological disaster to hit the United States. The pictures cropping up on the internet, and the film footage that's starting to circulate on TV, is heartbreaking. And this is probably just the beginning.

Already, Obama has faced criticism for his handling of the situation ... from the usual suspects, too. Ru Paul (or whatever his name is) called him un-American for turning up the heat on British Petrolium (which owns the rig that blew up and sunk).

The point here is this: In each of the four situations I've mentioned, presidents have had to respond to situations that have on precedent. There's no experience to draw from ... not "playbook" that outlines the proper way to deal with them. No U.S. president has ever had to deal with terrorists who hijacked U.S. planes and flew them into buildings; and no U.S. president has ever had to deal with an uncapped oil rig spewing petroleum into our waters. And I say before you can ever act, you have to know what you're dealing with. And to me, it's impossible for Obama to even know what he's dealing with ... even now ... let along be able to come up with the perfect solution.


Couldn't resist this one: The Orlando Cepedas, sadly, live. Dammit it all. I have Bruins paranoia. I admit it.

Monday, May 24, 2010


If we could ever get past the idea that the only difference between today's Republicans and Democrats is demographic, and not simply ideological, we could go a long way toward attacking the real enemies of the people.

And they would be those unelected hacks and hangers-on who, over time, establish their sinecures and fiefdoms, who are impossible to remove, and stand in the way of any significant progress.

First, let's address the difference between Republicans and Democrats, or, perhaps better, conservatives and liberals. Each sells a package. Each caters to a base. Each has money to distribute. The only difference is who gets it.

See, the real issue here isn't ideology. It's power. More specifically, over whom do you do you hold sway? And do you hold sway over enough people to get yourself elected?

Right now, it would appear as if the Republicans -- in certainly areas at least -- have identified a feeling of unrest over the direction in which the country is headed. Never mind that, for eight years prior to Barack Obama's election, they took the country in that direction. But they're out of power now, and desperate to get back in. So, they've exploited this unrest -- even though they're responsible for a good deal of it -- and the tactic just might work.

And before anyone starts yelling at me, the Democrats did the same damn thing once George W. Bush got elected. If our system is broken, it's broken in that manner. And there really isn't any difference between the two factions except that what they sell benefits different people. The government still spends money. It just comes down to how much it spends, on whom it is spent, and whether enough of it is spent, and in the right places, to ensure election, or re-election.

Anyone who thinks differently is hopelessly naive.

Now that we have all that out of the way, let's address the real issue: Hack-a-rama and, along with that, shadow governments whose power and sway, in many cases, exceeds that of elected officials. I say that because of the pressure they put on elected officials -- often to work against the public good.

In keeping with former House Speaker Tip O'Neill's axiom that "all politics is local," let's say that the most egregious examples of hack-a-rama and its twin cousin, shadow government, will not be found at the federal level (though lord knows they exist); and may not even be found at the state level. But the local level? Whoooooo-eeeeeeee. It's a hornet's nest of conflicted interests, unelected power brokers and silent (and sometimes not-so-silent) pressure.

Right now, in Boston, there's a real donnybrook going on between the firefighters and the city over an arbitrator's ruling on their contract.

I should say, right here, that I absolutely recognize the need for unions, even today. I was the president of my local way back in another lifetime, and I still, to this day, have deep fears about what would happen if some people got their wish and abolished them.

Nothing irritates me more than hearing someone say "these (whoever they are) are good enough to give them job." No they're not. They're not "good enough" to give anybody anything. It's all a business proposition. If I'm a skilled worker, and my skills are needed, then I work. If they're not needed, I don't. That often comes down to the ebb and flow of the marketplace.

Similarly, if I'm an entrepreneur starting a business, and it takes off, and I need help to push my products into the market, then I hire skilled workers ... and pay them to do what I can't do ... or what I can't keep up with myself.

Under this ethic, I'm not "good enough" to give these people jobs. I need their help. We may not be 50-50 equal partners. But there is a partnership there. And that partnership certainly needs to be respected. And to me, unions -- at least at their best -- help foster that partnership.

But that doesn't mean everything unions do is right and holy. Not by a long shot. We all have to be realistic, and understand that if you have the type of business-employee partnership so vital to keeping a firm functioning, there are always going to be tug-of-wars over who has the upper hand. It's the nature of the beast.

But right now, we're in a serious recession ... and while there may be some signs of improvement, we're nowhere close to being out of the woods. This isn't the time to demand exorbitant contracts and pressure public officials into getting our way.

And that's what's happening in Boston right now. The arbitrator, by all reasonable accounts, ruled heavily in favor of the firefighters, and could very well strap the city as a result. The mayor, under the rules of binding arbitration, is powerless to intervene, but the City Council is not. It holds the final say.

So, what we have here is pressure, by the union, on the City Council, to go along with the arbitrator.

Hey, I'd like a 19 percent pay raise too. But I have a better chance of seeing God, and I know that. I wouldn't even ask for that at my place of employment.

However, public employee unions do have power, and they know how to use it. What they don't have, by law, is the right to strike (even though teachers routinely stage work stoppages if they don't get what they want).

You know, sometimes, in my heart, I side with the unions because -- at least I think -- you can often tell when the issues are legitimate and when there's an attempt on the part of a business to stifle union involvement and scrimp on wages and benefits. But I'll also say this: Any municipality that trifles with a public employee union does so at its own peril. There are just too many ways -- even absent job actions -- that the unions can just throw a monkey wrench into the proceedings. In Lynn, MA, where I live, I've seen two mayors in my lifetime absolutely done in by their dealings with city workers.

So, to me, if a mayor, or a town manager, says that there's no money there and it's time to tighten the belts, I'd be inclined to believe them. These people just have too much to lose confronting unions unnecessarily

So while I don't think necessarily that all unions are enemies of the people, I do think they are if they go out of their way to ask for too much, and when they put overt pressure on municipal officials.

I also think, by the way, that companies who spread their own propaganda about how badly they're doing, when the opposite is patently obvious, are just as guilty. Some unions, even though they're organized, have little power by the nature of what they do. Hotel and food service workers, or people who work for Shaws, for example, do not always require specialized skills. They work, for the most part, for near minimum wages and are totally, totally at the mercy of the chains that employ them. That doesn't make it right to bully them into accepting sub-standard working conditions, wages and benefits. I'm right with these unions almost always in their disputes with management.

Public employee unions are just one form of shadow government ... which I define as people who have assumed more power over affairs than the people we elect to run our affairs for us.

Lobbyists are right up there in the "enemies of the people" parade too. And please do not hand me this pablum that lobbyists affect positive change. Bullshit. The only concern lobbyists have is their agenda. And they don't really care if their agendas conflict with what might be -- in the long run -- right for the largest group of people ... which is how I'd define true representative democracy.

Understand that we do not have a homogeneous population in the United States. We are a nation of blocs ... and that's more evident today, I think, than it ever was. Every bloc now considers itself a "group" whose interests are to be represented to the exclusion (or at least a disproportionate amount) of all others.

All these groups have lobbyists. All large corporations have lobbyists. Just about everybody has a lobbyist. This is the genus of the whole Tea Party movement. By banding together and branding themselves, they've become another bloc ... a group of disaffected voters who claim they're "taking the government back."

No they're not. They're asserting themselves, the same way every other bloc asserts itself, and making demands on the government to see things their way, and not someone else's way.

Being an elected official today is like walking through a minefield in the middle of World War II. Over here are the Tea Partiers. Over there are the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Across the way, up against the barbed wire fence, is AFSCME. And right next to them are all the teachers' unions.

They're all the same. They all have an agenda, and they don't really care about anything else except their agendas.

(In case you haven't figured it out by now, I don't trust zealots).

So far, we've targeted municipal unions and lobbyists. We haven't even touched hacks. They may be the worst offenders of them all.

How does one define a hack? Some people think that anyone who works for the government is a hack. I wouldn't go that far. But I do think the terms is legitimate, and that hacks exist.

I think if you're going to determine whether someone's a hack, you have to ask two questions. First, is the job in question really necessary? Could the city/town/state/judicial system/probation department function if the job wasn't filled? And second, does the person who has the job have at least minimal qualifications?

If the answer to either question is "no," then the person filling the job is a hack.

I suppose that hack-dom is built into the political system. It's an imperfect world, and, well, I guess we have to be big people here, and understand that there's a certain amount of patronage that just goes hand-in-hand with political office.

You just have to hope that those charged with filling these jobs have a certain sense of responsibility, and that those who get them have a similar sense of responsibility.

Sadly, neither seems to be the case a lot of the time. We've all heard about no-show jobs, or positions filled by political lifers whose connections mean more than their qualification. What's galling is how often people laugh about it, chalk it up to the system, shrug, and conclude that "what are you gonna do?"

What's also galling is that when the axe starts swinging, it generally misses these people.

It is my opinion that there is no area of local and state government heavier with hacks than education. And I'm not talking about teachers either. I'm talking about administrators. Go on line and look at your average school system, and look at how many mid-level administrators there are. Get a hold of the salary list for these people (it's a matter of public record) and then die of fright at how much these people make.

Oh, some of these jobs are undoubtedly legitimate. But I'm betting some of them could -- especially in tough times -- be eliminated without the school, or department, being too adversely affected.

Yet, when times get tight, we hear about how programs have to go ... sports has to go ... drama has to go ... no more music department ... 450 teachers in Brockton, MA, are pink-slipped.

And yet ... many of these people aren't touched.

And why just pick on education? It's like this almost everywhere. And when someone like Howie Carr of the Boston Herald (who I generally don't like, except when he does his hack exposes) points out how blatantly some of these hacks thumb their noses in our faces and flaunt their hack-dom, you want to just scream. And when the city or town then turns around and begs for an override, or raises the property tax values, it's easy to see why voters are ready to mutiny.

But as I said, it's a minefield and it's difficult for elected officials to go from one end to the other without losing a limb or worse. You serve long enough, you're going to have your battle scars. You can only hope, if you're a mayor or any other type of town official, that you can stay ahead of it.

But that's easier said than done. Soon enough in this world, your enemies unite and defeat you. They may not have anything else in common other than their dissatisfaction with you.

Sadly (for you), that's often enough.

I guess this is as close as I ever get to a full-fledged rant. But this, to me, is more of a reason why things seem to be going to hell in a handbasket. The whole liberal-conservative thing ... to me, that's just cannon fodder that the people who have the real power in this country throw out there to distract us.

Get a handle on the nefarious elements that comprise municipal shadow governments, and get a handle on controlling the hacks who continuously rape and pillage municipal budgets, and you have a fighting chance of cleaning up government.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Idle Chatter: Arlen Specter, Scott Brown ... and more

Idle chatter while waiting for tonight's tip-off between the Celtics and the Orlando Magic (why do I always want to call them the Orlando Cepedas?) ...

I can't say I'm too upset over the demise of Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter. I know that perhaps I should be. He switched parties from Republican to Democrat. And he's always been more of a moderate than the type of ultra-right conservative that I really don't like.

But I'm still happy he's gone.

First, I don' care if you're a Republican or a Democrat. Be what you are. He switched parties because he thought he had an easier road to re-election as a Democrats. Guess he was wrong there.

But the thing is: The idea of the "moderate Republican," which is to say someone who doesn't constantly play to the cheap seats and pander to one political base to the exclusion of all others, is vanishing. For that matter, moderate Democrats are scarce too. That's the whole problem here. We're full of uncompromising people down there who won't do anything -- even if it's the silliest, most innocuous thing imaginable -- that might alienate one base or the other.

Specter, in his day, at least had an open mind about some things ... and was, often, a voice of reason on the senate floor. So -- before he got presidential ambitions -- was John McCain.

And then -- of course -- Specter clumsily inserted himself into the whole Patriots cheating issue because, three years after the fact, he decided that because Bill Belichick got caught filming the Jets during a game, they must have resorted to the same skulduggery when the beat his Eagles in the Super Bowl.

Like a U.S. Senator has nothing better to worry about than pro football. And even worse, he decided to make noise about it not when the cheating scandal broke in September of 2007. No. He waited until the weekend the Patriots were to play in the Super Bowl of 2008 before crying about it.

Some would call that striking while the iron's hot. I call it shameless pandering on an issue that is so far down the line of national urgency that it's laughable.

Again, if he thought being such a fool would earn him re-election, the only thing you can say is that he's wrong.

See ya, Arlen.


Scott Brown is in hot water -- again -- with the people who claim to have carried him to the U.S. Senate in January's special election. This time, it's because he relented and allowed debate to commence on financial overhaul bill.

The Republicans had better watch out here. It's one thing to oppose while, at the same time, move forward. There's nothing wrong with stating your objections to a part of a bill, or the whole bill itself, if the objective is to move the process along. That's the very definition of "loyal opposition."

Brown -- I think -- understands that. When he does this type of thing, and he's done it twice, now -- it means something to me, because I don't want an obstructionist down there ... and wouldn't want one of the situations were reversed. Sure, I want someone down there fighting for what I think is right. I'd have to have 100 Democrats in the Senate.

But Republicans and tea party people who would rather do nothing except wait until the mid-terms, when they can gloat about how their inertia has "saved" the country ... sorry. I don't buy that.

Look, whatever the Republicans are selling is no better than what the Democrats are pushing on us. It's just different. It caters to a different bunch of special interests, and that is all. The political process in the U.S., at the moment, comes down to which special interests can scream the loudest and intimidate the most people.

The Democratic process was designed to be messy and unpleasant at times. Even though I trust it implicitly, I also realize there are times when we're taken down the wrong road. And there are times when you do need to stand up and scream to be heard.

But not every time. And not on every issue. There shouldn't be a debate if everyone comes into the House chamber dripping wet, and someone gets up and says "it's raining." Sometimes, doing the right thing isn't particularly difficult, especially when it's obvious what the right thing is.

I didn't vote for Scott Brown. But I have to say, if Scott Brown allows his own judgment to steer him through the choppy waters down there -- instead of relying on what people tell him he's supposed to do -- then I might have to reassess. I might not agree with everything he (or any of them) do down there.

But I'm happy if he's doing it for his reasons, based on what he thinks and feels, and not just because he wants to be part of some bloc whose only purpose is to gum up the works as a campaign tactic.


Paul Pierce of the Boston Celtics says his Twitter account was hacked, and he didn't post "anybody got a broom?" after the C's went up, 2-0, on the Magic.

Maybe it was. And maybe it wasn't. It wouldn't be the first time in history that someone got over exuberant and posted something on the internet ... and then had to live with it forever.

The internet is forever. That was the name of an episode the other night on "Criminal Minds."

Joe Montagna's character had it about right: The internet is the first technological creation by man that man cannot control. For everything good about it, there's something not-so-good. If you crave privacy, don't even bother to engage in the internet. You won't get any. The world is full of miscreants who make it their lives' mission to hack into accounts (I had my email hacked, and for about a week, ads for Viagra and other male-enhancement pharmaceutical products were being emailed to everyone in my address book).

So maybe someone did hack Pierce's Twitter account. Still, it makes for good theater, and, thank God, it's sports and not something that really matters in the big picture.

But it matters in the small picture ... and in the picture of my life. And after the Bruins' fiasco, and with the Red Sox poised to have a season of mediocrity after so many years of excellence, we here could use a good Celtics run.

And waving the red flag in front of Dwight Howard and the Orlando Cepedas isn't helping here!!


The First Parish Congregational Church on the Wakefield Common (ironically enough, it's on Church Street) has a sign out in front that says "all are welcome."

And they mean that in every sense of the word.

One of the more popular walking and running spots north of Boston is Lake Quannapowitt in Wakefield. On a nice day (such as yesterday), if you walk the circumference of the lake (3.1 miles) you'll find enough people to have your own convention ... and maybe even fill Fenway Park. On the backstretch yesterday there was so many people filing down North Street I thought I was in a procession).

You'll find a lot of people. What you won't find is a rest room. Nowhere in that 3.1 mile loop around the lake is there even a port-a-potty. Nothing. I found this out when I went down to where the kayaks and canoes are kept and asked the attendant, and she broke the bad news to me.

I could go up to Town Hall, she said. I was about to do that, too, until I saw the door in the back of this beautiful, gothic-looking church open. I went in, looked around, found a men's room, and thanked God (and the Congregationalists) that I didn't have to walk to Town Hall.

Talk about doing your part for the comfort of your fellow man ...


What are we to make of Rand Paul? First, the Kentucky Republican (OK, Libertarian) practically says businesses should be able to discriminate based on race. Now, he says criticizing British Petroleum over its handling of the Gulf oil spill is "un-American."


No, Rand. What's un-American is having faulty equipment and piping that frickin BLEW UP on the floor of the ocean, spewing enough oil into the water to create one of the worst ecological disasters in the history of the United States.

God, I hope he loses.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Life is all just social networking

Social networking is part of the new lexicon ... a term created to put websites such as Facebook and MySpace under one umbrella. You could also throw text messaging in there too.

All of these shiny new things follow a similar pattern. They rise up, they're condemned by people who don't understand them as corruptible, we all wring our hands over the amount of time people spend engaging in "social networking" activities ... and ... soon enough ... they're absorbed into our culture.

Then, a curious thing often happens -- something else comes along to take their place and we go through the whole damn thing all over again.

I'm guessing this is what happened with the radio. It came along, and people probably though it was "the devil's airwaves" or something. Next thing you know, Franklin Roosevelt is delivering Fireside Chats via the airwaves, Jack Benny and Rochester are cutting it up, we're glued to it to hear Red Sox games, and, viola, it's an indelible part of our culture.

That's certainly how it was with television. Newton N. Minnow was John F. Kennedy's chairman of the FCC in 1961. Aside from being pissed off at having such a ridiculous name, Newton Minnow didn't have a whole lot of regard for television. While he conceded (grudgingly, I'm sure) that good TV was something to behold, he said -- in a pretty famous speech before the American Broadcasters Association -- that most of it was "a vast wasteland."

Two years later, of course (and I'm sure much to Minnow's everlasting dismay) we got the full scope of how powerful a medium television had become when we all sat in front of one for four straight days after Kennedy was assassinated.

The media aren't the only vehicles that spawn cultural alterations. Music, art, literature ... they all undergo seismic shifts that meet with widespread disapproval before they're finally absorbed into the mainstream. There's probably no more of an accepted musical idiom in America today than jazz, yet, in its day, it had its severe critics, especially among white critics who accused it of "taking us back to the jungle."

As we can see, race had an awful lot to do with the acceptance of certain musical forms into mainstream culture. Besides jazz, rock 'n' roll was called, among other things, race music (as well as "the devil's music"). But it didn't take long for Danny and the Juniors to record a song that said, "I don't care what people say, rock 'n' roll is here to stay."

And it was, too. It's stayed a good, long time too. It has evolved -- often into forms that seem totally foreign to those of us who got in on the ground floor -- but it has endured.

I can remember when cell phone started becoming plentiful. I was already into my 40s when they became more than just cumbersome mobile phones that looked like walkie talkies. I didn't get my first one until I was past 45. And by the time I did, I think I was among the last holdouts.

I confess that I, too, took the view that "whatever did we do before we had cell phones?"

What we did was hunt around for pay phones, fish through our pockets for loose change, and pretty much sit there and take it when the phone companies kept raising the rates and tacking on more charges for the privilege of using them.

I can remember being a reporter in the early days of my career. I worked for the United Press International wire service. And whenever UPI would send a team of reporters out to cover a major story, the lowest guy in the pecking order (and a couple of times, that was me) would have the most important assignment: go procure a pay phone and sit on it. It would require a lot of patience, and a lot of dimes, but it certainly came in handy when it was finally time to report the story!

The advent of cell phones eliminated that responsibility. Now, you just have to make sure you're not in "bad cell hell" when it comes time to make the big phone call. Otherwise, life becomes a chorus of "can you hear me now?"

Of course, these days, you don't use your cell phone simply to call home so your wife/husband can start dinner. You use it to text message your friends. This, I find hysterical (though there are times I text too). With speed dial, all you have to do is press a button and you get your friend. You can talk ... actually carry on a conversation! Develop some seriously-needed social skills. But no. We text. This way, nobody has to talk to anyone and actually engage in any kind of meaningful dialogue. But like everything else, it's become part of the overall culture.

You also use your cell phone to check your email and go on Facebook. Well, technically, when you're reached this level of sophistication, you're graduated to a Blackberry (we can thank Barack Obama, in part, for making this a household word) or an iPhone.

Again, I have a Blackberry and I check my email about 2,000 times a minute. But I do ask myself why? I do ask myself "whatever did I do before I got one of these? How did I ever keep track of my email?"

I have a cousin (well, I have about 29 of them actually) whom I ran into a few years back outside of Dunkin Donuts in Saugus. We had a brief conversation ... and it was mostly about computer technology and how backward both of us were when it came to keeping up.

"Do you text?" he asked me. "I don't even know how."

I didn't either. But I do now. So like the mule who has to be cajoled and beaten to move forward, so have I.

A couple of weeks ago, in what could prove to be a seminal episode of "Saturday Night Live," Betty White thanked the people who campaigned, on Facebook, for her to host the show. Then, she said that in her opinion, Facebook was a waste of time.

I never had much use for it ... until my son talked me into logging on. Now, I can't get enough of it.

And I love how people justify it, too.

"It's a great way to catch up with people you haven't seen in a while."

Sure it is. Except that, in all but the rarest of instances, there's a reason I haven't seen some of these people in a while!!!

What Facebook represents, to me, is a way to goof off while making yourself look busy. It is now the bane of all American business, because employees tend to spend way too much time messing around on Facebook, sacrificing productivity in the process. Offices all over America are having their Computer Nazis block it.

I can see why. It can be addictive. It's all-encompassing. It's pretty much made AOL's and MSN's chat services obsolete. Why have those programs open when you can log onto Facebook and chat, check up on someone's high school reunion pictures, play a game, pretend you're in the Mafia, or on a farm, or designing a city ... and at the same time read about people who insist on sharing every aspect of their lives in their status reports?

Going to bed now ... getting up now ... Boo hoo. Gotta go to work ... Dammit all, Daisuke sucks (that's usually me) ... It's a beautiful day (U2 thought so too). You can get daily affirmations on Facebook that would have made Stuart Smalley blush. And then there are those "like" things were some nut can say "If you don't like the American Flag I'll be glad to escort you out of the country" or some such ... and thousand people hit the "like" button without even giving a thought as to how Nazi that really sounds.

I like the flag too. Respect the hell out it. But I'll decide how, when, and why I choose to fly it ... or whether I even want to fly it at all. Not you. That's also part of what being an American means.

It is its very own soap opera and central clearing house, all at once.

But do you know what the hell of it is? In another year or so, something is going to come along that renders Facebook as obsolete as AOL Instant Messenger and, eventually, every fan bulletin board on the internet. Because in the computer age, there is always a bigger bread box (or, in some cases, smaller with more gigs of RAM and a more powerful pentium chip).

And the same thing will happen all over again. People like me, who probably haven't even tipped the iceberg of what Facebook is capable of doing, will moan and groan about what a waste this new technology is ... and keep on complaining about until the day comes when I actually learn how to use it. Then, I'll embrace it with open arms.

I mean, I have resisted -- and I'm actually proud of it -- Twitter. I know the whole world tweets. But I also know how much trouble Paul Pierce of the Celtics got into because someone hacked his Twitter account earlier this week, and I wonder why you'd ever want to expose yourself to that type of risk. Just what I'd need ... some jerk hijacking my account so -- in my name -- he could talk trash about my friends.

Then again, I just had to go through hoops to change my email password because some idiot hacked my account and began sending out spam emails hawking pharmaceutical products guaranteed to make Smiling Bob look woefully inadequate.

So maybe I'm already there. After that, Twitter doesn't seem like such a big deal.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Small Time in a Big Time World -- Yankee Panky

It is October 16, 2003, and the City of New York -- you know, the city that never sleeps -- has been up all night worrying about the humiliating prospect of the Yankees losing the American League championship series to the Boston Red Sox.

The Bronx Bombers came back to the stadium up games, 3-2, and with the Red Sox trotting out John Burkett -- a journeyman's journeyman -- to pitch. They took a 4-1 lead, but the Yankees lit Burkett up in the middle innings and ended up with a 6-4 edge heading into the late innings ... and Mariano Rivera time.

But wait ... the Red Sox came back again, and won, 9-6, to force the seventh game.

This is germaine because I was there. Most of what I do revolves around community journalism ... high school sports (and in some cases lower than that). That's fine. I like it. In fact, on most days, I'd prefer covering the kids. The issues are far less complicated, and you have a better shot at meeting, and mingling with, real people rather than over-inflated (and, in some cases, over-medicated) athletes (not to mention other self-absorbed sports writers and broadcasters).

But once in a while, a nugget falls from the tree. And this was such a time ... all, almost.

Red Sox-Yankee games are pretty much like theater productions. They're melodramatic, overly drawn out, they take forever to play, and there's usually so much to talk about afterward you don't know where to begin.

Let's go back to the previous night. Game 6 began at 4 o'clock in the afternoon and ended sometime past 8:30. With all the post-game running around (getting quotes and waiting around for people to talk to you) I got out of there around 10 p.m. -- early enough to hop on the subway back to my midtown hotel.

The subway was full of Yankee fans, and -- quite naturally -- I felt a little out of place ... especially in my team-neutral clothing (not a stitch of MLB brand attire anywhere on me) and, I guess, my reserved demeanor.

Someone sitting near me concluded I was from "Borston." I kind of smiled, because -- unlike some Red Sox people -- I don't mind the whole Sox-Yankees thing. In fact, to be honest, outside of Roger Clemens (of course) I didn't mind these Yankees. Over the course of covering six games, I found that many of them -- especially Derek Jeter -- weren't bad guys at all.

Even Jason Giambi, who I really didn't like all that much as a player, turned out to be an OK guy. For a gorilla!

Anyway, I was prepared to have a little fun with these dudes, and they didn't disappoint. They all started chanting, "Here we go Yankees, Here we go!" and pointing to me. I thought it was great. They assured me that the Yankees were going to win (and I don't know why, but whenever a New Yorker says "Yankees" it sound uniquely evil).

I got home early enough to have a late dinner at Friday's, which was around the corner from the hotel, and watch the end of the Cubs-Marlins game (including the play when Steve Bartman interfered with Moises Alou on that foul pop).

Do you know how, sometimes, you just know? I knew. The Cubs were primed to go to the World Series. They were leading, and the Marlins weren't getting even a nibble out of Kerry Woods. Then, Alou couldn't quite snag the foul ball (Bartman did nothing wrong in a legal sense, but any good fan understands that if there's any chance for a play, you let your team make it while doing everything you can to keep the other guy from catching the ball; Bartman had it backwards).

Of course, the Cubs, being the National League's version of the Red Sox, fell apart like a cheap suit and the Marlins won the pennant. As a lifelong Red Sox fan who truly understands the ebb and flow of fortunes when it comes to this franchise, it sent chills through me. Karma -- to that point -- was dictating that this would be the World Series of Repudiation ... Red Sox-Cubs. Sort of a mano-a-mano battle of star-crossed franchises.

You got the feeling that for one of the teams to win it, the other one would have to be stricken by the plague somewhere in the middle of the series. Neither team could win on its own because, well, both teams had chances over the years and spit the bit miserably ... famously, even. So it wasn't a good thing, to me, to see the Cubbies hold serve in the choke department. This ruined the Karma. I went to bed as unsettled as any Yankee fan could have been.

A nice, long walk through Central Park calmed me down a little. I love New York City, despite whatever feelings I might have about its sports teams. Mainly, I just love to walk around and people-watch. And there's plenty of that going on in Central Park. The New York Marathon was going to be run the following Sunday, so workers were already putting up the barricades along the route. Runners from all over the world had already descended upon Manhattan. And, as one who has covered many Boston Marathons, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole scene.

It was kind of a mild day, too, which made the walk even more enjoyable. It also made me tired, so when I got back to the hotel, I grabbed a quick nap and got ready to head to Yankee Stadium.

I should say that whenever I hear the words "Yankee Stadium," I feel compelled to genuflect. I may not like the Yankees, as an entity, very much; but if you're a baseball fan, and you have an appreciation for how much the Yankees have contributed to the history of the game, it's impossible not to have a little respect for the legacy ... even if you'd rather see George Steinbrenner set upon by ravaged hyenas.

I always get a charge out of people who say, "I wish I had your job ... you get to watch sports for free ... drink free beer ... eat free food ..."

I will admit it's a nice job sometimes. But in the interest of balance, let's also understand this: The game was to begin somewhere in the vicinity of 8:30 (maybe even later than that). That meant getting to the park around 5 p.m. -- just to set yourself up, have something to eat, and catch all the pre-game press conferences. There's ritual to baseball unlike any of the other major sports.

For example, could just imagine Bill Belichick coming out of the bunker to address the media two hours before a Patriots game? How about Doc Rivers (well, he probably would, if he were allowed to; Doc, God bless him, loves to talk)? I didn't notice Claude Julien waxing philosophical about the Bruins' precipitous slide into the Choke Hall of Fame as they blew their playoff series to the Philadelphia Flyers.

But MLB makes the managers available, and also the scheduled pitchers for the next game. You're also allowed to go onto the field prior to the game and hobnob with other writers, watch batting practice up close and personal, and corral any players willing to be corralled.

Good deal! And it's generally when you get your best stuff too. I remember, earlier in that series, sitting in the Red Sox dugout as they all filed onto the field -- with skinheads (all but Nomar Garciaparra and Johnny Damon, that is). It was also on the Yankee Stadium tarmac, a year later, that I corralled Dr. Tom Morgan, the team physician, who explained Curt Schilling's ankle injury to me ... and why Big Mouth was longer going to be able to pitch.

Morgan was wrong about that ... as we soon saw. He was the author of "The Bloody Sock," who sutured Schilling's injured tendon in place so he could pitch two more games and inspire the Sox to finall win the World Series.

By the way, just talking about being on the field at Yankee Stadium gives me goosebumps. Sometimes, in this business, you take it a little for granted. But then you're standing behind home plate at Yankee Stadium and you feel a little like those guys in "That Thing You Do" when they realize they're four kids from Erie, PA, who have made it to the "Ed Sullivan Show," (or at least the fictional equivalent thereof), and ask "How'd we get here??"

I've stood on the field at Fenway Park more times than I can count. Walked in and out of the clubhouse. Gone up and down the stairs from the clubhouse to the dugout to the field ... sat on the bench (next to Joe Morgan, Johnny Pesky, Ralph Houk ...) and never really contemplated how I got there. I just did. But for whatever reason, standing on the grass at Yankee Stadium overwhelmed me.

But it requires getting to the ballpark three hours (or more) prior to the game. So that's when the clock starts ticking. Generally, the clock starts ticking for me when I leave the house at 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning to go to a 1 p.m. Patriots game. It stops ticking when I finally pull up into my driveway -- past 8 p.m. on most game days. Night games are, well, a nightmare.

Grady Little, the Red Sox manager, is an affable kind of guy. He speaks with a kind of sleepy southern drawl (well, he's from North Carolina, so that follows), and -- as far as I know -- is one of the more even-tempered guys who have sat on the Red Sox bench.

During his tenure, his easy-going way was popular with the players, but we hardened, cynical media types pegged him as being somewhat simple, In fact, he was often called "Grady Gump."

Little was at his affable, relaxed best in the pre-game press conference. He'd also shaved his head (he looked ridiculously funny, too) and, when someone asked him what his wife thought, he laughed and said she liked it fine enough ... so long as he brought the check home every two weeks. It got a good laugh. And seriously, you couldn't help but like the guy personally. And even today, still, I feel kind of bad about the way I savaged him after this game.

Yankee Stadium is like The Staples Center in Los Angeles (or, prior to that, the Forum). The stars come out in droves. On the elevator up to the press box, I noticed this little guy standing in between two other really big guys. I had to look for a few seconds before it dawned on me. It was Billy Crystal (who looked nothing like he looked on the screen when Harry met Sally). The other two guys were -- I guess -- bodyguards (or a facsimile thereof).

Remember how I said, in another of these articles, that objectivity is key? And that you must not root in the press box? I lied. When you've grown up with the words "Red Sox" and "Futility" being pretty much synonymous, you root. I don't know if that you root for them as much as you root for yourself ... that you're going to be there when history is made and they finally beat these goddamn Yankees when it counts. Perhaps it's a little of both.

Pedro Martinez started for the Red Sox, with Clemens going for the Yankees. In Game 3 of this series, Pedro got himself into several dustups with the Yankees, and ended wrestling 70-something-year-old Don Zimmer to the ground during one of them. It was hardly the most shining moment in Red Sox history, and this was New York's first chance to tell Petey (as he was called by Grady) how they felt.

Petey, however, had it going that night. He was giving the Yankees nothing. Meanwhile, Trot Nixon and Kevin Millar hit home runs to knock Clemens (who, as he did so often when he was with the Red Sox, came up small in big moments) out of the game by the fourth inning. It was a real turning point, too.

Red Sox fans, wherever they are, break out in a sweat at the mention of 1986 and Bill Buckner. But one of the more unheralded aspects of that series occurred in Game 7, when Sid Fernandez shut the Red Sox down after they'd pounded Ron Darling early to go up 3-0 (why is it that 3-0 leads and Boston sports don't go together?).

While Fernandez was mowing the Red Sox down, the Mets came back and eventually won.

Mike Mussina was the 2003 Yankees' version of Sid Fernandez. He came into the game with runners all over the bases, and with the Red Sox in a golden spot to break the game ridiculously open. Instead, he got Jason Varitek to hit into a double play that ended that inning and kept the score 4-0. The Sox could do nothing with him after that while Giambi hit to solo homers -- one in the bottom of the fourth and another in the seventh -- to make a game out of it.

Still, heading into the top of the eighth, it was 4-2, Sox. Six more outs. And when David Ortiz hit one out off David Wells, it was 5-2 and things were looking great.

This was the season when genius general manager Theo Epstein decided that "bullpen by committee" was better than "closer." While the Yankees had Mariano Rivera at the end of games, the Red Sox ran pitchers in and out of there with little distinction. But they'd finally found a combination that worked ... they'd use either Alan Embree or Mike Timlin as setup guys (depending on the situation) and Scott Williamson, who'd been acquired from the Cincinnati Reds at the trading deadline) would pitch the ninth.

For the entire playoffs, up to that game, Little used these guys. And for the entire playoffs, they'd been lights out. So when Martinez got through the seventh (getting himself out of a jam by blowing a fastball by Alfonso Soriano), we all figured "good job, Petey, take a shower and let the bullpen guys bring it home.

Only Grady Gump brought Petey back out in the eighth -- when every scouting report available to him said that, by this time in his career, Martinez was not the same pitcher when he'd climbed over 100 pitches ... which he had).

So let's just say I squirmed in my seat a little. He got Nick Johnson without any trouble and it was, "whew. Five outs." But Jeter -- and it figures it had to be Jeter -- got him for an opposite-field double.

I was sitting almost directly above where Nixon was playing in right field (that's where the auxiliary press box was), and could see, clearly, that he turned the wrong way on that ball and couldn't recover. I mean, right field at Yankee Stadium is like left field at Fenway. There's not a tremendous amount of ground to cover.

So all right. Runner on second one out. But when Bernie Williams hit a single (knocking in Jeter) and Hideki Matsui followed with a bullet of a double right down the right field line, and there was still only one out, unrest turned into panic.

Little came out to the mound, and you just knew it was to get Petey. But dammit all if he didn't leave Martinez in the game! Let me just say I wasn't the only Boston sports reporter in that press box having conniption fits. One of the city's more eminent broadcasters at the time -- Teddy Sarandis -- was sitting in front of me. And he was jumping out of his skin too.

And while it's true Little had to use his arsenal the night before, it was also a case of "pick your poison." Do you stick with the guy who was clearly, visibly gassed? Or do you put a fresh arm in there, even if he pitched the night before.

I'd have taken my chances with the bullpen.

Next up was Jorge Posada. Now, for all I know, Martinez made some great pitches to Posada. He's a good hitter, but he seemed overmatched. But this hideous chain of event was already starting to unravel. First it was the Cubs the night before, losing bizarrely because they couldn't get over a muffed foul ball.

Now it was the Red Sox, about to done in by this simplton manager who reminded people of Forrest Gump.

Posada didn't really put a good swing on the ball, but it didn't matter. He got enough wood on it to loft a flair that fell between second baseman Todd Walker and centerfielder Damon. I'm convinced Damon didn't have a chance in the world at catching it, but it should be noted that, in the previous series, he'd suffered a bad concussion after a violent collision with Damian Jackson on a similar type of hit, and couldn't even play in the first two games of the ALCS. So while I don't think he had a play on the ball, you couldn't blame him if he were just a tad gunshy about going all out for it.

Making things worse, Walker went out so far in his attempts to catch it that nobody covered second base. Posada, who runs about as fast as I do, had an easy double. Two runs scored. The game was tied. There was bedlam at the ballpark. And if there was ever a single moment in my life when I wanted to punch 55,000 people individually, that was it.

I thought Teddy Sarandis was going to jump out of the mezzanine seats and attack Little all by himself, he was so incensed. I can't say I was too far behind.

One of these days, someone is going to do a comprehensive, psychological study of what I call the "fan mentality." You could probably write a book as thick as "War and Peace" about it. But suffice it to say, when your team loses, you're not mad, or you don't feel badly about it, out of any concern for the athletes. No way. You're mad because they did this to you! They robbed you of your chance of seeing them win. They robbed me of my chance to witness history.

They didn't fail themselves. The desecrated the honor of Boston in its eternal struggle over arrogant New Yorkers.

It's like Michael said to Sonny in "The Godfather." It's all personal. Every bit of it.

What happened next was numbingly predictable. Little finally got Pedro out of there, and the bullpen -- just as we'd all known it would -- shut the Yankees down until the bottom of the 11th. Meanwhile, the Yankees squeezed three innings out of Rivera (which may have actually hurt them in the World Series).

This got us to the bottom of the 11th. This being a Game 7, and with all hands on deck, Little turned to Tim Wakefield, the knuckball pitcher, who doesn't throw hard enough to get a sore arm after he pitches. Wakefield, who has been with the team since 1995, was a warrior in this series. He'd already won two games in the series (Embree had the other victory) and he was, because of his overall attitude and willingness to do whatever the management asked him to do, a fan favorite.

All it took was one pitch. One goddamned stinking, rotten pitch. I was on the phone, talking to my son, telling him to make sure no one was on line, because deadline was approaching and -- at the time -- I had to file through AOL and we only had that one account. One way or the other, I was going to have to file something. And soon.

I never had a chance to finish the conversation. I hadn't even noticed that Aaron Boone was ready to hit. I didn't even see Wakefield throw the pitch. I just saw the ball fly off Boone's bat, heard the roar of the crowd, and knew -- instantly -- that it was gone. Home run. Bucky (Bleeping) Dent redux.

My son tells me I screamed obscenities into the phone. I probably did. And if I didn't, I'll never understand why. You get yourself worked up so much. Half of you becomes a 10-year-old boy, crushed beyond belief that your heroes let you down (again). Another part of you becomes The Adult, The Professional, the "I have to get a story done now" guy. You go into "pro mode," as I call it.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, that works. This was the one percent of the time it didn't. Even today, I go back and re-read what I wrote after that game, and I can safely say I was unkind to Grady Little. Very unkind.

I remember reading "The Boys Of Summer," when Roger Kahn, who covered the Brooklyn Dodgers for the New York Herald-Tribune, was taken off the beat for pouring too much emotion into his story after the Bums lost the 1953 World Series to the Yankees. The Trib people said that Kahn -- the author of the book -- had lost his objectivity.

Well, I certainly lost mine that day. Nobody at my paper seemed to care either. They'd all lost their too ... even our managing editor, who is a Yankees fan. He had a great time rubbing it in.

I've never lost it at a sporting event since. The closest I came after that was in 2008 when I was in Arizona to see the Patriots choke away the Super Bowl and the immortality of a 19-0 season to the New York Giants. In fact, I came up with what I considered a pretty good line, which I shared all over the place, as time as winding down ... History Defeats Itself. I should have patented it, the way Pat Riley tried to patent "Three-peat." It's been used enough times since.

I didn't get out of there until around 2 a.m., and wanted no part of partying Yankee fans on the subway. So I paid $40 for a cab to take me back to Manhattan, got to my hotel, dropped my stuff off and went back down to the lobby and headed out the door.

"Where are you going?" the doorman asked me.

"I'm going to take a walk in Central Park," I said.

"I wouldn't do that, sir," the guy said. "It gets dangerous there this time of night."

I told him I didn't care. And I didn't. If anyone had mugged me, it wouldn't have mattered. I wouldn't have felt anything. I was too numb.

About halfway up Seventh Avenue, something must have slapped me back to my senses, because I turned around and walked back to my room ... and called some people (waking them up, of course) to help me get it out of my system.

My friend Gordon told me, much later, that he was really worried for me that night ... afraid they'd find me hanging from the shower rod in the bathroom. He wasn't that far off. After all, I'm the guy who fumed in front of Gordon for a solid hour after Carl Everett made one of the most boneheaded baserunning plays in the history of baseball to lose a Friday night game in August. No wonder Gordon was concerned for my welfare.

The next day, a bunch of us took the early Acela train back to Boston, where we sliced, diced and digested what we'd seen the night before. And it helped. By the time I got off the train, and back into civilization, I had a pretty good cold, but was OK otherwise.

The following Sunday, on a beautiful fall day, I was watching the Patriots game in Miami. The Pats, who had been kind of in-and-out at that point, came back to tie that game in regulation. They won it in OT when Tom Brady hit Troy Brown with an 82-yard TD pass ... with Brown -- not the fastest guy ever -- outrunning two Miami defenders into the end zone.

I screamed. Now, I never scream when the team does well. Only when it sucks. I take the good in stride; the bad like a 10-year-old.

But on this day, I screamed. I think it's because, finally, something good happened, and I saw it. The Pats never lost again that season, and beat the Carolina Panthers to win their second Super Bowl. And I always credit that play with jolting me out of my depression over the Red Sox.