First Cut

I still remember the first time I was cut.

Despite being Grant Fuhr’s doppelgänger and my 6.85 House League goals against average, the Orillia Pee-Wee rep team didn’t want my netminding “skills”!

Then again, that wasn’t the last.

In Grade 9 I was thrilled when the basketball coach suggested I join the wrestling team, until my parents advised me this wasn’t an “incremental” suggestion. What I really needed was some incremental inches given I was 4′ 6″, without the skills of Spud Webb.

Seems lots of coaches had some great suggestions for me over the years, but they never involved sticking around. The late Tom Dimitroff took one look at my 5′ 2″ freshman frame and suggested the Guelph campus paper needed a sportswriter more than the Gryphons needed a wannabe Pinball Clemons. (Though in those days, Johnny Rogers would be a better example.)

Even today, when I’m 25 years past trying out for teams, I endure regular cuts from potential clients during the pitch process. Many of them sound just like my old coaches. “We loved your agency, but you finished second.” “If we could only hire everybody.” “Your pitch was great, we just found a better fit.”

But today it’s me who has to do the cutting. It’s my first time. It’s making me sad. I have never had to boot someone off the high school football team I have coached for over 15 years. But I have finally met the kid who won’t try. Won’t listen. Won’t commit.

So it’s bye bye time. Unless he can turn it around. He doesn’t have to be good. He just has to try.

When I am angriest at myself at work, it’s when I lose a pitch I know I didn’t put enough effort into. A valiant effort resulting in a loss is okay. Losing because I was outworked…grrr!

For three long weeks I’ve tried to create the teenage analogy of this lesson in junior’s head. But he doesn’t give a crap.

There is no room in my world for people who won’t try hard. Maybe I should try harder to turn him around. But I really think it’s time. The first time. For me to make that cruel, everlasting decision to cut someone. Because I believe it’s the only message that he will remember.

NCAA Record Holder

I set an NCAA Football record last Saturday night.

I did have help from one-hundred and fifteen thousand, and one hundred and eight other people. (Is that even how you spell 115,108?)

The record, which to be precise is 115,109, was for the largest crowd ever to see a single NCAA event… football, baseball, hockey, or otherwise. Michigan-Notre Dame football. Live on ESPN. The Game Day crew camped out in Ann Arbor, MI.

The best part about being there is that I can actually say when I am old (next week), that “I was there.” For real. Isn’t it amazing how many people were at the Joe Carter walk-off home run World Series game at SkyDome? Or attended the first ever Coachella? Saw Usain Bolt win his first 100M gold medal in Beijing?

I-was-there syndrome isn’t just related to major events. House parties. Political events. Epic bar nights. Flash mobs. Full moons. Solar eclipses. Floods. Celebrity sightings.

It’s amazing how the desire to have been witness to a great event suddenly turns the most honest of us all into stone-faced fibbers. Many times we don’t even do it on purpose. The conversation starts, the magic of the moment expands in every converser’s mind, and without an ounce of guilt you are suddenly nodding vigorously, ruthlessly implying your participation.

But I was there. Michigan-Notre Dame. 115,108 people & me. If you want, I will show you my ticket stub. Then you show me yours.

Roman Times

My friend got mugged at the Super Bowl.

Not Michael Crabtree ticky tack on the most important fourth down of his life, which he deserved for running a wimpy route to cap off a deer in the headlights set of play calls to end the 49ers chances.

No, I mean mugged mugged.

Confronted on his way home by two apparently friendly locals, he was cowardly jumped from behind and flattened. The trio then pummeled him with their boots in a unique Louisiana welcome. Fortunately, two rent-a-cops from a nearby party scared off the unwelcoming committee before too much damage was inflicted.

That incident is a snapshot of New Orleans to me.  What a beautifully strange place. It’s everything the TV shows and movies make it out to be. The music was amazing, the food even better. The weather, highly cooperative.

It was only my third Super Bowl. Yes, I’ve already received plenty of kickback for saying only, but it was by far the best and definitely the strangest.

A kid tried to swipe my wallet in broad daylight. He grabbed it. I grabbed him. Shrieked some foreign shriek at him and it was over. TKO by Harrison.  Unfortunately, another Canadian we knew wasn’t so lucky succumbing to a Bourbon Street pick pocket.

Emboldened by my pugilistic prowess, I glared down a drunk who grabbed and threatened me in the men’s room at the Superdome. Truthfully, I was backed up by six new best friends made while waiting for this weak belly to finish ralphing all over the stall we were awaiting.

But don’t let these misdemeanors dissuade you from seeing NOLA some day. Everyone needs to once. But as our pilot said when we landed, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. What happens in New Orleans winds up on Twitter!”

On TV you saw the same magical game we did. Though I would be remiss in not telling you I was a mere ten rows from the last gasp play. But from Section 135 I experienced more than a football game. Pregame concerts, tailgate parties, live alligators, and fortunetellers surrounded the stadium. Rich, and wanting to be rich, and never going to be rich united for a single day in their entry into football heaven. Ravens fans and 49ers fans, inebriated by the Mardi Gras spirit, dancing together in the stands to the pre-game marching bands.

The emotional high evaporating when twenty-six Sandy Hook students came to the field to sing America the Beautiful. In front of me, David Arquette had brought one of the Sandy Hook first responders as his guest. His t-shirt imprinted with small footprints, a morbid reminder that life isn’t a game.

There was the eerie feeling when the blackout first struck. Immediate thoughts of Hurricane Katrina cast a spell of unease over the stadium. The tensions on the field rose, as the delay grew longer. Maybe this was a life or death game as we anxiously awaited Emperor Goodell to allow the combatants back into the arena.

In Roman Times the losers would have died. Thankfully, all the San Fran players and my buddy get to see another day. That’s sort of how you will feel after wading through Bourbon Street.


Second Fiddle

I feel badly for Alex Smith.

Smith is the recently minted backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.

He has fallen from being the overall # 1 pick in the NFL draft, and after several underwhelming seasons, to almost leading his team to the Super Bowl a year ago. Magically this year he was leading the NFL in passer rating before the cruel twist of being injured led to becoming a sideline patrolling clipboard carrier.

If I have to explain this to you, then clearly you are not a football fan and evidently you are not tracking the second biggest story line of Super Bowl XLVII. It’s not that Smith is the first QB in NFL history to lose his role as a starter. But it’s the way he fell on the depth chart and the amazing manner in which he has responded that contributes such an intriguing thread to this story.

There is an unwritten rule in sport that you don’t lose your job to injury. Meaning your replacement’s tenure is over the minute you are medically cleared to play again. In football this rule is close to a constitutional right especially for key skill positions such as quarterback. Amplify that Smith was, statistically at least, the best performer at the QB position in the league, at the time of his injury, and the violation of the injury rule code is even more amazing.

But unfortunately for Smith waiting in the wings was a freak of nature named Colin Kaepernick. I will bet you a souvenir Super Bowl t-shirt that you never witnessed CK7 play in college at Nevada. Well I saw a few games on late late late night ESPN, and I knew what was coming. Partially anyway. Not even his supporter emeritus, Head Coach Jim Harbaugh, could have imagined what was coming.

Kaepernick is part Michael Vick, part Peyton Manning, part Cam Newton, and part Adrian Peterson. Whatever parts I missed are covered in his tattoos. This guy can play.

He has set records with his legs, sliced up defenses with his arm, and energized a franchise with his energy. Plus he seems genuinely nice in his interviews.

So this weekend will feature this newly minted phenom against retiring warrior Ray Lewis.

What about Smith? Has he run away to pout? Is he spending his waking hours inebriated? Has he picked up a weekend’s supply of Mardi Gras beads for his stay in NOLA?

None of the above. Instead he is thrilled to be competing in a Super Bowl. He has turned into a coach, confidant, and cheerleader for his usurper. He has kept his skills sharp, his teammates motivated, and his ego in check for the betterment of his entire team.

Let that be a lesson for us all. I know we all want to be #1, but at times fate or failure stop us short of our goal. Alex Smith will benefit in the long run from how he responded to this dose of adversity. He will rise again.

Bye Week

This is the second worst weekend of the year for me. No football.

Grey Cup, Vanier Cup, Metro Bowl, Rose Bowl, Go Tell Your Daddy on Me Bowl are all a distant memory. In the name of Peyton Manning, don’t even try to tell me to watch the Pro Bowl. Peyton may want his fellow stars to play harder, but there is no worse all-star game than the Pro Bowl. Heck how can it even be a true all-star game when two teams can’t send their players?!

I am left floundering as to what to do this weekend. Maybe I will join all of you hopelessly hypocritical hockey fans and jump right back on the noisy bandwagon racing down the ice. You know who you are. I heard you telling me you weren’t going to buy NHL tickets, watch games, or join a fantasy pool. You’re the same cats who are emailing me for my Leaf tickets and screaming in my ear at the local wing joint last night because the Leafs are now 2-1.

I could shovel my driveway for the first time all winter, but despite this deep freeze called Friday we are in, it only has an inch of snow on it and heck it’s going to be +5 next Tuesday, so what’s the point.

Actually, the easiest option would be to join the 24/7, or 7/24 if you prefer, hype on-air and on-line about the Har-Bowl. Hype or not you have to revel in the fact that two brothers are facing each other in the Super Bowl! Less than 80 men have been Super Bowl coaches and the Harbaugh parents have now produced two of them. What’s next? Will Doug Ford run for mayor versus Rob Ford? Should Maya Soetoro-Ng have run against Obama in the last US Presidential election instead of Romney? Will Jazmyn and Jaxon Bieber gang up on JB1 and form their own modern day Donna and Marie revue?

Holy gumbo I know what I will do. Pack. Yes sports fans I am off to NOLA. Oh that’s not very nice of me to just let this slide out… in the most public of domains. But yes I am giggling with delight that MH3 is going to SBIII. No I don’t have the numbers wrong, this is MY SBIII.

As a Steeler man, you know I will be cheering against the Ravens. Somewhat sad the 49’ers will tie us for most rings, but that’s still better than watching Flacco win.

So stay tuned Rajun Cajuns. I will be tweeting with a Creole accent next weekend!


Have a Safe Holiday Season

I used to drink and drive. I probably shouldn’t put that in print.

It’s nothing to be proud of. Not words that make one look good, smart, or cool. But thanks to society, maturity, and unfortunate tragedy I smartened up.

Yet our society has not shaken the deadly shadows of drunk driving. The tragedy in Dallas, where Cowboy Josh Brent killed teammate and long time friend Jerry Brown, is the most recent high profile reminder. After a night of private clubbing, and according to tweets several pails of Ace champagne, Brent was allowed to get behind the wheel.

Minutes later the car was flipped over. Brown was dead. Brent was in shock. Families and teammates would soon be in agony.

Nothing can be done to change what happened in Texas. But we can all try to make sure it doesn’t happen closer to home. Unfortunately for me it’s been top of mind for the past eighteen months given the result of a tragedy involving two former football players of mine.

I’m not going to rehash the story for you. Instead I am going to ask you to watch the attached story from CityTV. If this doesn’t stop you from drinking and driving, I am unsure what will.

Have a safe holiday.

Did the Chiefs get a Two Minute Warning about Jovan Belcher?

For a scant period of time, perhaps a minute or two, the Kansas City Chiefs knew they had an unfathomable problem on their hands with Jovan Belcher.

You know the details. Minutes after shooting the mother of his three month old child, Belcher arrived at the Chiefs complex. Once there he bizarrely thanked the coach and general manager for their support, while holding a handgun. Seconds later he was dead. He hid behind a car. Pointed the gun at his head. Pulled the trigger. Ended his life.

The shootings ignited a tidal wave if reaction. Fans. Media. Teammates. We all had something to say.

I didn’t think the Chiefs should play the next day. They did and won.

Bob Costas railed against gun ownership. He was vilified.

College teammates described him as a caring person. Or at least that’s what they said.

By next weekend will it still be news? Still be a tragedy? For me, yes. I am such a fan, that I am deluded in believing that “making” the NFL or CFL or NBA would provide a person with eternal happiness. I am such a fan, that I believe playing with my wee daughter and then going off to practice football on a Saturday must define heaven. I am such a fan, I can’t imagine what Belcher would have to argue about with his girlfriend.

Of course I am wrong. OJ Simpson, Jerry Sandusky, Art Schlichter, have all proven me wrong. High profile people are messed up.

But still this thing drives me crazy. Did the Chiefs have any warning? Did Belcher’s college issues not surface when they signed him?

Cover Boy

I was a bit of a lunatic at last Saturday’s Varsity Blues (University of Toronto) football game.

Lost my cool. Was a hothead. Violated the code. Insulted the fraternity of football coaches. Compared U of T’s coach to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Neither would be flattered. I am sure my outburst will cost me a piece of business some day. Maybe with Canada’s largest campus or with our largest city.

You see, I was supporting my boy. I use that expression to describe a former player of mine. Not in reference to one of my offspring. But if you have coached long enough, you know your players become like a second family to you.

My boy in this case is #9 Simon Nassar, the U of T backup QB. And to paraphrase his coach, “the most popular guy on the team.” Yes, Simon is/was the reason for my lunacy. Continue reading “Cover Boy”

Cry Baby

I bawled my eyes out last Friday.

Tears of Joy. Relief. Gratitude. They felt good. Very, very good. They lasted a good long while. So long in fact there are a few trying to slip out right now, because I can’t even think about this topic without getting emotional.

Apparently some people are surprised to hear that I would cry. What momentous occasion caused my flood? Did I have a new child? Win the lottery? Or a new piece of business?

Nope. We won a high school football game.

Continue reading “Cry Baby”