Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gerald Ford, Football Star

The news came over the wire late yesterday that former President Gerald Ford has passed away at the age of 93. Many others will write about his career as a public servant, but I wanted to take an opportunity to briefly recount that in his youth, Ford was a great football player.

In the mid 1930s, Ford was one of the stars on a powerhouse team at the University of Michigan. He played center and defensive lineman in an era when every man played both offense and defense. His Wolverines were national champions in 1932 and 1933, and Ford was voted as the team's most valuable player in 1934. Ford played in the annual East-West College All-Star game in San Francisco in January of 1935 and the College All-Star football game at Soldier Field against the Chicago Bears in August of that year. Two different NFL teams offered him a contract -- the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers -- but he spurned them to continue his education. Ford went to Yale University, where he worked as the boxing coach and assistant football coach while pursuing his law degree.

In later years, as people reminded the President of his athletic prowess, he was always humble. While making an appearance at his alma mater in 1976 he said:
In those stories that I was a great all-time center, I found this--the longer you get away from the reality, the bigger those stories get. ... And I can only say that they get better, because the longer you are away from school, the fewer there are of people to tell the truth about what happened.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Saying Farewell to 2006

At the end of the year, various media outlets like to look back at the prominent people who've passed away during the year. The sports world lost some legends in 2006, including Red Auerbach, Byron Nelson, and Floyd Patterson. The folks at ESPN's page2 opted for a different approach, recognizing the players and coaches who called it quits during the year. From AA (tennis great Andre Agassi) to ZZ (scocer star Zinezane Zidane), they offer a final sendoff to some of their favorites... while they're still around to appreciate it.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Federer and Woods

Tiger Woods is the most dominant golfer of his era. Roger Federer can say the same thing about men's tennis. The two champions have formed an unlikely friendship, traveling to watch each other play and comparing notes over dinner. What kind of things do the two talk about? Woods told Time magazine, which profiled the pair in their "People Who Mattered 2006" feature.
"It's more the mind-set: what it takes to do what we do, how do you manage all that, the balancing act. We pick each other's brain." They exchange tips on training and preparing for big events. Woods was wowed by Federer's media load; he does press conferences in three languages. Tiger also got some help with his backhand. "He plays much more tennis than I play golf," says Federer, "but that is going to change when I retire." He'll know who to call for a game. "It's been a really neat relationship," says Woods. "Roger and I are going to be friends for a very long time."

Friday, December 22, 2006

Paying the Price

Does Mark McGwire belong in the Hall of Fame? That's a question that baseball writers are faced with this month, as the slugger comes up on the ballot for the first time. Although he seemed like a shoo-in when he retired, the voters are looking at his candidacy in a different light now, and more and more of them are saying "no." Growing suspicions that his home run record was fueled by steroid use and his refusal to address the subject when called before a Congressional committee seem to have swayed public opinion.

Ann Killion of the San Jose Mercury News is one of those voters weighing in.
I'm not voting for McGwire. What would I tell my kids, who saw my disgust at the congressional hearings in March 2005 and have heard my opinion over the years? "Sure, I think he cheated, but look at the rate at which he hit homers! Let's enshrine him forever!"

Bob Verdi of the Chicago Tribune is another:
Perhaps, in the best interests of the game, Mark McGwire should wait a while for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. ... Under normal circumstances, McGwire and his 583 career home runs would merit serious consideration. However, McGwire's situation is anything but normal because he is Exhibit A from an era tainted by the suspicion of performance-enhancing substances.

McGwire does have at least one prominent supporter, though it's not clear if it helps or hurts his case. Pete Rose, who was banned from baseball and the Hall for gambling, told the Associated Press that McGwire ought to be voted in.
"Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, I think they kind of saved the game in (1998) with the home run contest," Rose said. "That home run derby kind of brought baseball back."

Friday, December 15, 2006

Float Like A Butterfly

Did Muhammad Ali invent rap? ESPN aired a documentary that advanced this theory. It's the central premise of a new book the company has published, called "Ali Rap." Author Chuck Klosterman proclaims that Ali's verbal barrage was more than self-promotion, it sowed the seeds of hip-hop.

I'm not sure this is a claim that stands up to close scrutiny, but it was a lot of fun to see clips of Ali's most boisterous moments. In watching many of them, I was struck by the spirit of fun that permeated everything he did and said. Ali wasn't bombastic in a mean spirited way. If he was attacking his opponents, he did it with humor rather than malice. It's a refreshing change from what we see so often from the athletes of today.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Catching Up on Correspondence

Bryan Curtis of tells the interesting story of a former ballplayer who answered his fan mail... 15 years after he'd received it. Don Carman, a relief pitcher who spent ten years in the majors found a box of unanswered letters tucked away in a box in a garage, and felt compelled to respond.
Carman could hardly bear to throw the letters away. But at age 47, he didn't have the enthusiasm to pick through them, either. So he paid his son Jackson, who is 8 years old, $4 to open and sort them. Then they sat down together, with Jackson, who never saw his father play, marveling at the rapturous odes inside. ("Dear Mr. Carman: You are my favorite baseball player. … ") At first content with merely signing the cards, Carman got caught up in the spirit and started writing notes to the now-grown kids.