Bob and Tom explain it all again




Remember when the Blues Brothers were on a “mission from God” to get the band back together? This isn’t quite a religious experience, but it IS cool to pair up with longtime bud and sports-writing hero Bob Molinaro for a new edition of the Bob/Tom Super Bowl Series™ now in its 22nd year. Well, that isn’t true, either. Still, we’ve been doing these things a while – and well, thanks to Bob’s generosity, here we go again.

BobMSweeping winds off of Brambleton Ave. recently scattered us . . . but we boys do not so lightly dissipate. Bob this month rejoined the traditional media product on an ala carte basis. His fan-fave “Weekly Briefing” — insightful and bemused takes on the sports world – drops on Fridays. And I noodle around here with words and stuff, exercising writing muscles while deciding between barista and mall-cop opportunities.

So with Super Bowl 49 nigh – no Roman numerals here, yo — the time has come to banter and stream-of-consciously spar regarding this sporting tilt between the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots in Glendale, Ariz.

(Only officially inflated footballs whose pressure will be checked between plays to avoid chicanery, not mentioning any names, need apply.)

That’s where we hope to provide some useful football-speak i.e. things to perhaps watch for on the field, as well as reminding you for the umpteenth time that Seattle stars Kam Chancellor and Russell Wilson are . . . wait for it . . . from Norfolk and Richmond, respectively!

 And so I say:

reportermickYour envy does not become you, Robert. You well know that in our most recent collaboration before the season, I guessed, savant-like, the Patriots would meet the Seahawks in the Super Bowl. I can tell it’s eating you up.




I had Patriots vs. 49ers. Failed to anticipate Jim Harbaugh would be  more of a Michigan man than a match for Pete Carroll. Now we’ve got a  Stupor Bowl with the NFL’s two least likeable teams. Or so they say.  You?




reportermickTrash Talkers with an annoying gum-chompin’ coach vs. Envelope Pushers led by an evil genius. Speaking of which, Bill Belichick’s brought six teams this far now, so the Pats are like the Yankees. Everybody but Yankees fans hates the Yankees. But Seattle struts and preens and goes on and on about its fittingly loud-mouth “12th Man” fans.

It’s a rooting-interest dilemma — but alas, a really compelling match: Seattle trying to become the first repeat champ since, yep, the ’03-’04 Patriots. The Tom Bradys, after losses in ‘07 and ‘11, trying to win No. 4.

I root for a good game and decent chili. Wasn’t so lucky last year when the Seahawks obliterated Denver 43-8. An aberration, that was, just the second SB in the last seven decided by more than a touchdown. You could look it up . . . but, I mean, I just did so.


 BobMWe’ve come to expect compelling SBs, but in the ‘80s and ‘90s when  The Pilot was printing money in the basement, I covered a series of  busts, most decided before “Up With People” hit the field. Wait, am I old  enough to have seen Pete Rozelle’s favorite halftime group perform live?  On second thought, I’m not THAT old, but you get the point.

And you’re right, Tom, last year’s rout was an outlier, the most lopsided result since ‘93.




reportermickI like this game in part for the powerful personalities involved. Gut reaction, Bob: Richard Sherman.






BobMThe kid who said the emperor has no clothes.






reportermickOk, Marshawn Lynch. Are you good with his belligerence with the media?






BobMHe just doesn’t want to be fined. If a man has nothing to say the best thing to do is say nothing. Typically, the media have taken the bait.






reportermickBelichick. My take: you’ve got to give it up to him. The Pats have won more since he was caught, you know, cheating with the clandestine signal-taping eight years ago than before. Plus he’s brilliant and ruthless — brilliantly ruthless — managing a roster. Complicated fella. Is there an unauthorized biography out on him? It would be fascinating. OK, Brady. Go.




BobMNixon and Belichick have embarrassing tapes in common. Both claimed they were not crooks. Beyond that, well, Brady throws a better pass than Haldeman could. He just might be the best QB ever . . . after Johnny Unitas, of course. Sorry, couldn’t resist. Do we agree, though, that top to bottom, Seattle’s roster is stronger?




reportermickYeah, more Seattle star power for sure, even without the mercurial — mercurial! — Percy Harvin, who just didn’t fit and was moved in a ballsy October trade that clicked. With the Pats, once you get past Brady, Gronk and Revis, it’s pretty much yeoman-city. I mean, their top runner, LeGarrette Blount, was cut by Pittsburgh in late November. Belichick re-signs him — Blount was with him last year — and he torches the Colts for 148 yards and 3 TDs in the AFC title game. Crazy.

Play Howie Long for me, Bob. What’s a game matchup that could have the most impact?


 BobMGot one. Seattle safety Earl Thomas is coming off a separated left shoulder. That gives the Patriots even more incentive to attack him downfield with Brady’s favorite target, tight end Rob Gronkowski. Brady to Gronk could have Cris Collinsworth’s Telestrators working overtime. On the other side, if Pats can’t contain Lynch, The Hoodie may not have enough answers.


reportermickThat’s my Captain Obvious matchup: Lynch averages about five yards and Wilson seven a carry for the league’s best rushing team. Can it be slowed? Stopped?

The other (obvious) thing, turnovers. Not sexy, just damn important. New England coughed it up a league-low 13 times in the regular season, Seattle 14, although Wilson was picked four times in the NFC title game and still beat the chokin’ Packers. Green Bay was just powerless against the beastly Lynch, whose interview if/when he wins MVP ought to be awesome.

Having typed that, the rules say if you picked something in August then you have to stick with it in February or else . . . well, I really don’t know what else. Anyway, this is why I will bet you a short one that New England wins 24-21, the margin in honor of an odd stat: Four of the Pats’ five SBs were decided by three points. The other? Four points.



BobMRoger Goodell wants — he needs! — a dramatic, thrill-filled finale to divert attention from his horrible, rotten, most terrible — and sometimes deflating — year. Even if it means Pats’ owner Robert Kraft, his friend and some say “assistant commissioner,” takes the fall.

Given the year it’s had, the NFL deserves a game bad and ugly enough to make viewers want to gouge out their eyes with toothpicks. But if “deserved” had anything to do with it, Goodell would be paying to get into the game.



reportermickThis season really proves the unsightly mega-power of the NFL (duh). Domestic abuse upon scandal upon investigation! The league is shameless, and now somebody monkeyed with a bunch of balls to gain an edge — the search continues for Zapruder-like film of the dastardly crime. But this league rules. Ironic choice of words there. Ha . . .




BobMThe NFL prevails because it’s America’s biggest, most popular TV show. And this year, the Emmy — uh, Lombardi Trophy — goes to the Seahawks. Here to accept is Pete Carroll. Damn, I hate that grin.

Thanks, Tom, for sharing the blog.



reportermickGod bless America, Bob. And God bless Katy Perry.

Coach K and the next thousand




The day after claiming his 1,000th coaching victory, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, battling sniffles, was back at the business of claiming No. 1,001. Or at least talking about it for a few minutes with media jackals.

His 17-2 Blue Devils (ranked fourth) play at Notre Dame (No. 8) on Wednesday night, the first top-10 clash on the Irish’s court in 12 years. That little tidbit surprises me some, but that was the word on Monday’s ACC coaches conference call.

With 1,000 down, Krzyzewski was asked how he’ll get those Blue Devils to reboot and start the climb up the next mountain. “We’re trying to figure that out,” he said. “I think our team the last month has gone through some things other teams haven’t gone through, because of all this (hype). It’s a different journey. We’ve won the 1,000th game; what does that mean?”

Well, right away he hopes it means a mentally sharp bunch will win Wednesday before heading to Charlottesville for Saturday’s big tilt with No. 2 and 19-0 Virginia at John Paul Jones Arena.

Coach K was benevolent as could be when asked about U.Va.’s Tony Bennett, fluffing him as “one of the truly outstanding coaches in the country.” Hard to argue, considering the Cavaliers are an incredible 49-7 the last two seasons.

“He’s lived the game since he was born and it shows,” Krzyzewski said, noting the broad-leafed family coaching tree from which Bennett emerged. “He’s just got a consistent, outstanding effort in preparation for each game. He has a great system, and he recruits to that system. And it appears he has great support from his university.”

More platitudes ensued, but you get the drift. My friend David Teel of the Daily Press did draw some insight from Coach K, however, when he quizzed him on whether he thought U.Va.’s suffocating post defense might trouble Duke’s stud freshman big man Jahlil Okafor.

Krzyzewski said Okafor, who averages 19 points and nine rebounds, meets collapsing double-teams with unfrosh-like poise, and gave an interesting hint as to why that fans can watch for.

“Part of it is he’s got really huge hands, so he can pass out of it one-handed, which gives you a little more room,” Krzyzewski said. “You’re longer than you would be with two hands and wider in making your passes out. He can pass, and he wants to pass. He’s made overall great decisions in handling that.”

Then again, those passes are just pretty pictures if Duke misses an unhealthy share of the open perimeter shots that ensue. The Blue Devils shot 37 percent and 44 percent when they lost back-to-back games this month to North Carolina State and Miami, the latter by a ridiculous, for college hoops, 90-74 score. 90!

“So,” said the Coach, “we have to help (Okafor) out by completing the play.”

Truer words were never . . . well, you know.

7 p.m. Saturday. Enjoy the game.


My man



I can guarantee I didn’t watch President Bill Clinton deliver his first State of the Union address 21 years ago tonight. That was nothing to do with political leanings or being at a ballgame or on a plane. Our family’s union had grown by one male child earlier that day, the brand-new brother to his 2-½ year old sister. My state at that point was pretty much oblivious.

Today, it is more like incredulous. Twenty . . . plus one? No way . . .

I don’t make a huge deal out of birthdays, especially my own. I’m a killjoy in that sense, among others. But 21 for your only son begs a mention, if not a party hat, a paper horn and an embarrassing childhood photograph posted on social media because as ever, 21 is real. The fake ID, shredded; the crutch of “youth” or whatever, dismissed. The mantle of adulthood, drawn and fitted for permanence, adorned.

Except I suspect mommy and daddy take all of this life-passage business, sniff-sniffing down Memory Lane, much more to heart than the actual passenger, who just wants to finally enjoy a beer without threat of police action. It’s a personal sample size, granted . . . but my 21st was so time-stopping and monumental, I have only the barest recollection of getting obligatorily drunk at a happy hour in Allentown, Pa., where I was playing summer baseball, courtesy of teammates with shocking disregard for the training rules.

Anyway, what I mean is, for the subject most intimately involved in aging, the beginning of 21 is really just a day after the end of 20, a milepost reached in the relentless scuffle through degrees of clarity and wilderness that continues unabated, for all of us.

But yet, the parental pang commands an emotional revelry forthwith. A reflection on first steps, lost teeth, report cards, hair styles, fastballs, goals scored, prom pictures, skateboard tricks, speeding tickets, ER visits and acceptance letters. The plucking of an upright bass, the deepening of a voice, the violence of a volleyball, well-spiked.

But now, and better still, his gradual awareness of a world beyond those daily dramas. The recognition of his unique place and potential impact as a young adult and citizen.

So yes, 21 today it is for that . . . well, normally here I would write “boy.” But that pat-on-the-head diminutive really no longer fits, even draped with affection — and not only because he physically dwarfs me, but because of merit. Chronology announces a “man,” but not all who transition to the stature can or will answer to all it demands.

I burst for this one who has arrived to the path, and beam for this one who walks on.



Bella Donna


Donna Faith


She is Donna Faith. You don’t hear either name a whole lot these days, especially Donna. I guess Faith has picked up some speed the last 15 years or so. But Donna peaked in the late ’50s. Donna Reed was everybody’s sweetheart then. Donna Douglas was Elly May. Donna Summer came along soon after and compelled us all to the disco, God forbid. But through time and trends, Donna suggests romance, mystery, grace, love. The Madonna. Prima Donna — first lady. Bella Donna — beautiful lady.

Our bella Donna arrived not long after midnight last Monday, a day and much of a night after her mother began labor. She belongs to my nephew — my sister’s oldest son — and his wife. She is the first grandchild among my siblings and I, my first grandniece, the first flower of new life for a family, like all families, that has danced its inevitable dance with loss and grief over the last decade.

But Donna, it turns out, also is the forever link to my family’s foundation, as well as the herald of its future. Her daddy’s grandmother, my mom, was Dorothy. Sweet, darling Dottie. Her mother’s grandma was Anna. Lovely Anna.

Do-Anna. Donna.

Just perfect.

My sister knows her son, and she knows her daughter-in-law. Both refused to disclose the names they were considering, just as they declined to learn from the doctor whether their baby was a girl or a boy. They wanted, they honored, both secrets. But my sister was certain they would go with family, in some variation. Which variation, she could not and never did puzzle out, for a child of either gender. (The chosen male name will remain locked in the vault for later potential use, it is presumed.) But when Donna was bestowed and announced, so simple and powerful, it was as if every karmic force clasped hands and cast their light, shined their blessing, rained their love upon the parents and upon their families.

I thank them for Donna Faith. I thank them for the lives she memorializes, for the milestone she marks in our shared history, for the days she gets to grow and learn and hope and love, and us along with her.

This beautiful day. This beautiful girl.

Prediction: No more NFL predictions


It’s healthy to engage in a little personal review every year – except when your personal activity involves predicting before the NFL season the records with which each team would finish, which would make the playoffs, reach the Super Bowl and ultimately emerge as champion.

It’s a fool’s errand. Ah, but such prognostications were still part of my full-time sports journalistic duties last September, when I went on printed record for the 28th consecutive season – eh, more like six – and in the process somehow predicted the Dallas Cowboys would stink out the NFL joint and win only five games. Um, they were a powerhouse at 12-4.

Ha! And let me flagellate myself further. (What? That’s a word! Keep it clean, people!) Not only was I dubious on Dallas, but I ‘ciphered and figgered and ruminated and churnchurnchurn whirlwhirl . . . I endorsed the New Orleans Saints for 13 – count ‘em, 13! – victories. Yes, in print that people paid for! With my name attached. I assumed their loaded offense would erupt all over a soft schedule and a weak division. Ha! The NFC South turned out weak indeed – the Carolina Panthers won the stupid four-team division with a 7-9 record. The Saints, the outfit I expected to win the most games in the NFL? Yeah, they won six silly contests.

I note this at this point because those who care know that the NFC and AFC championship games will be played today (Sunday). And seeing the teams involved – Seattle and Green Bay in the NFC, then Indianapolis and New England – it jogged my memory that I THOUGHT I’d picked the playoffs pretty well, at least. And I did. That is to say, I thought Seattle would be playing at New Orleans today and that the Seahawks, with that mighty Kam Chancellor-led defense, would win. And I thought that Denver would lose in New England; alas, Brady and the other Gray Hoodies will still host, but they will instead take out Indianapolis, which beat Denver last week.

Alas, these results will set up the Super Bowl I DID predict five months ago and subsequently put my mortgage down on in Las Vegas (which isn’t true at all) – New England vs. Seattle, with the Patriots winning that championship game with the pretentious Roman Numerals ridiculously attached to it.

Overall, then, I judge this slight salvaging as positive to my self-esteem as a sports writer with an NFL emphasis, in that I predicted six teams right on the number and 11 more within one victory of their total — so that 53 percent came in perfect or plus-or-minus 1.

That is about the very definition of middling. The good news is I will be doubtful to ever quit my day job – if I ever get another day job – to launch a venture as a sports-book railbird.

And that’s really all I have to say about that.

Enjoy the games.

A dog’s tale.


Ollie got a clean bill of health today from the vet, although he ate a cotton ball and also snapped at the poor doc when he was messing too long with his mouth or eyes or something. No teeth-baring, just like, snap, get off! The doc pulled his hand away fine, but I hate when that happens. That sounds like an old sarcastic joke, but truly, I hate it. It embarrasses me. Remember, there are no bad dogs, just bad owners . . .

I don’t think I’m a bad owner. Nor do I think Ollie, an 85-pound yellow lab who’s about 10 give or take a couple years (based on the initial Humane Society guess five years back) is a bad dog. Quirky, yeah. Feisty around (most) other dogs, hell yeah, sigh. One with arthritic ankles, and whose sight is starting to cloud from cataracts enough so that people on bikes suddenly freak him out when they never used to, because I guess he isn’t sure if they’re fish or fowl or friend, why yes, heavier sigh.

We got Ollie pretty much on a whim, about as spontaneously as I’d ever allowed my uptight self to be since, well, ever. (That’s pitiful, but it’s also another story.) About a year after we met the awful chore of putting down an awesome cat-dog named Socks, one of those felines that defy cathood and behave all friendly and doggie-like, the kids were itching and itching for an actual dog-dog. That I listened, and then entertained, the idea, was an upset of the century in a way. I’d never owned a dog. My dad the mailman wouldn’t allow it when I was a kid, for obvious he-despised-dogs reasons. But I finally realized I had used that long-expired ban as an excuse far into adulthood, so far in it was ridiculous:

“Oh, you weren’t allowed to have a dog as a kid? Big damn deal. You’ve been an adult now forever. Or haven’t you noticed?”

“Yeah, but I don’t really like dogs. They’re messy. They poop all over and throw up and shed. You gotta walk ’em in rainstorms and stuff. They chase and bite people. I’m scared of dogs anyway. They smell my fear, you know. No dog would want me blahblah whinewhine shutthehellup . . . ”

We got a dog. What happened was, a reporter sent a newsroom-wide email alerting potential dog-owners to an ADORABLE yellow lab crated within the Portsmouth Humane Society that anybody looking just HAD TO MEET. So we went. It was hair-raising. Among scads of bellowing pit bulls and beagles and street-mutts sat this big yellow lab serenely in a cage, seemingly oblivious to the din. The Humane Society people had temporarily named him Heathcliff, for God’s sake, but that was fine. Nobody there could really say where he came from, what his back story was. He just kind of showed up or was turned in a few days earlier and that was that.

We asked to meet the dog, take him for a little leash-spin in the yard. The boy took the lead on that; he’d been dog-agitating the most as he entered sophomore year of high school as his sister departed for college. We left, discussed it all that night, went back the next day — maybe the day after that, I’m fuzzy. And when we left the dingy animal barracks this time, a large, yellow lab newly named Ollie — a skateboard trick, but also just a cool name the boy liked — sat in the back seat of the van, slobbering, as it motored him toward a home that would never be the same.

Just like that. No looking back. No regret. Consternation for sure over the copious blond wisps and tufts of hair that suddenly appeared in piles on the floor, the furniture, the pant legs. Budgetary consideration to the monthly demands of food and medicine and supplies, you bet. Special food when his stomach proved finicky. Special attention on walks when it became obvious — to our horror when he would chase down a fellow dog in the field to sniff and then, almost always, to start a scrap — that he didn’t play well with others. Go to the dog park? Um, nope.

But never a regret, especially as time and life morphed “his” home from four to three to two to one permanent human resident.

Oh, like any insufferable dog owner, I could go on and on and on. I’ll suffice to say what older first-time parents always say: they cannot believe they nearly missed out. What they thought of as way too much mess and expense and imposition melts away in the instant they hold the baby. To a lesser extent, but still a remarkable one, it’s like that with a first dog when its eyes lock onto yours — dogs are among the few mammals to do that, right? — and we humanize them into non-speaking humanoids who feel our emotions and think our thoughts.

I don’t know for sure about all of that, but I do know Ollie teaches me things, every day. It’s on me to absorb the lesson. But it’s there. I grab for the leash, any time of day or night, and it’s as if the dog is a Kentucky thoroughbred sprung from the starting gate. Pavlov, I ain’t, but Ollie on cue leaps and harrumphs and sneezes and shakes and spins as if the walk he knows is about to occur will be OHMYGODTHEBESTWALKEVEREVEREVER!! …. The clip locks on, the door opens . . . and he is off to the smells, tastes, snuffles, wonders and threats for the very first time instead of whatever the endless count is up to, pulling along his bad owner, pacing in circles, canine-crazy for the exact same turf he has padded and marked for days and years.

That is pure gratitude, people. That is the honest act of taking nothing for granted, not ever. That is rising to meet each opportunity with freshness, with the joy — if not the actual processed thought — that this moment among so many will be unlike any other, past or future. The best moment. Today. Right now!

A sloppy, frenetic lab tries to tell me this every day. I haven’t always been good at paying attention. My bill of listening health, as it were, has blemishes and sour attitudes. That is to say, I’m not always the good boy, not at all.

But in that, I swear I am behaving better — so help one best friend that has never had one bad day.

NFL rules; and why U.Va. could rule


(USA Today photo)

A little sports talk  . . .

THE DALLAS COWBOYS WEREN’T HOSED by the refs Sunday in their playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers. They were hosed by a convoluted NFL rule applied only after a deft replay review demanded by the Packers head coach.

“NFL” and “convoluted rules” are intertwined, if you haven’t noticed. It’s a circumstance, spun far out of control, that needs to change in order to bring common sense back into the game and to eliminate a creeping and suffocating referee nannyism.

This particular rule, having to do with a receiver controlling the football after tumbling to the ground following a catch, is a few years old. With the advent of the zoom lens peering everywhere, and from multiple angles, the NFL’s intent was to be sure no receiver got away with anything, i.e. half-catching the ball, as it were.

That’s why it wasn’t good enough for Dallas’ brilliant Dez Bryant to out-duel his defender with a leap, catch the ball, and run with it, secure in his hands, for two steps before being tackled just shy of a touchdown late in Sunday’s 26-21 loss. It wasn’t good enough because the ball popped from Bryant’s grasp – and back into his arms — when it hit the ground upon his reaching it toward the goal line.

In every sense of football, athleticism and fair play, Bryant made a spectacular catch that might have set up his team to score the game-clinching touchdown. He caught the ball. He ran with it. He had full control of it in those crucial seconds.

That should be plenty. If a running back fumbles the ball upon landing on it after being tackled, it is not a fumble. Why, boys and girls? Because, as the laymen’s explanation goes, “the ground cannot cause a fumble.”

Easy enough to understand. After seeing the reception rule interpreted in correct, but unfortunate, fashion Sunday, the same disclaimer should be applied. The NFL should not allow the ground to nullify a receiver’s catch if he has obvious control of the ball when he hits the ground FOLLOWING CONTACT.

Catch. Run. Control. Two feet in bounds. That’s a catch. That’s what we all know, and what we’ve always known. The eye-test, whatever you want to call it. Or as a guy on Twitter reminded me was once urged by John Madden, if three guys watching in a bar know it’s a catch, it’s a catch, come on already.

Then again, expecting the ultra-corporate, multi-billion-dollar generating NFL to relax and let the game happen is like asking for world peace.

The unintended consequence of finicky rules and fine-tooth replays in the NFL is continued iron-fist suppression of the game’s spirit. There are enough controversies already swirling around football to rob its supreme athletes of what should be supreme moments.


DON’T LOOK NOW — OH, THAT’S FINE, LOOK — but the University of Virginia’s basketball team remains undefeated (15-0) and will be ranked second in the nation behind Kentucky when this week’s Associated Press poll is released today. (The poll is out; No. 2 it is.) Duke will drop from the second spot after losing to North Carolina State on Sunday.

Pundit declarations of the Cavaliers as being among the favorites to reach the national semifinals and contend for the NCAA title at this point should be met with a resounding “duh.”

Of course coach Tony Bennett’s team is a strong challenger to the crown should it keep all the pieces intact, i.e. prevent injuries from disrupting its flow.

The Cavs still play lockdown, relentless half-court defense better than anybody – they lead the country in fewest points allowed per game 51.1. Teams HATE playing against lock-down half-court defense about as much as purist fans of basketball’s free-flowing motion hate the resultant rock fights, but such is life.

Their attention to defensive detail and commitment to making the life of the other offense hell remains striking. What stands out as different about this team, even from last year when the Cavs were 30-7, won the ACC and reached the regional semifinals, is they score much easier. Dangerous pairing, that one.

They average 71 points a game, five more than last season. Junior Justin Anderson averages 15 points but has made 56 percent of his 3-point shots – 36 of 64, which is just ridiculous accuracy. Super-steady point guard London Perrantes is back with a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. And big men Mike Tobey and Darion Atkins – fyi, the team’s only senior – are an efficient duo combining for 13 rebounds and 57-percent shooting around the bucket.

U.Va.’s calm, confidence and savvy, personified best by classy junior guard Malcolm Brogdon, stand out in a quiet way against the drum-beating for other programs with higher-profile recruits and more NBA prospects.

Try as media star-making apparatus might, the college game remains first about chemistry and teamwork, which is also why Kentucky and its roster of heralded talents deserve credit for blending well, so far, amid all those egos. Duke as well, bad Sunday and all. These are teams that get what the sense and value of “team” are about. All are worth watching as the long season strides toward March’s tournaments.

It’s just that the team in Charlottesville has already proven it stands as great a shot as ever, and of any around, to stand alone at the end.


TONIGHT, IT SAYS HERE OREGON WINS the national college championship in a high-scoring, entertaining match with Ohio State, which, repeat after me, has lost only to Virginia Tech (which finished 7-6) in the second week of the season. That was early September, a long time ago, way too long for a college sports season to endure, which remains part of the cloying hypocrisy of the NCAA, which rivals the NFL for over-bearing.

Ah, but I admit, or I suppose, I’ll watch with interest — but yes, with a few pangs.

I am amused — bemused? — that Buckeye’s quarterback Cardale Jones, who started the season the third-stringer, is a 22-year-old SOPHOMORE, although I do appreciate that he tweeted a couple years ago, in a moment of honest frustration, the pointlessness of being required to go to class when he was recruited to play ball. “We ain’t come to play SCHOOL,” Master Jones artfully tweeted to, it turns out, his regret as his constant back-tracking and smoothing over during this game’s ceaseless build-up has droned on.

The solution, of course: Pay that man for his time, Ohio State, and for some slices of pizza after practice. He ain’t come to Columbus to play school, and you know it.


Golden goodbye

Golden Gate Bridge


The girl is leaving.

This isn’t leaving for college, though. That was “she’s just going to camp.” Yes, that silliness got me through the rain. Nor is this leaving for Thailand after she graduated from camp. She went to teach English, to travel, for all the adventures those pursuits would suggest. But she wouldn’t be buying land outside Bangkok and motor-biking in every day to sell grilled chicken on the streets to the locals and tourists. She would be back.

This is different, much more. This is emptying the closets, packing the bags, boarding the plane, disembarking on the other side of the country, in the city of her dreams, San Francisco, where her best  friend lives, and where her new job awaits just across the bay in the postcard village of Sausalito.

This is goodbye for real.

But it is time, for us both. So the tears will be that layered blend in which you don’t know where joy overlaps pain, or in what quantities, but you know both are in there, hugging each other, having a good cry themselves.

I don’t remember my mom crying as she stood at the backyard fence outside Philly and watched me pull away, for good, with everything I owned in a piece-of-crap Datsun bound for the far-off southern land of Norfoke. I guess my dad was at work; he doesn’t appear in the portrait in my mind. And sure, mom probably went inside the brick Cape Cod and lay prostrate for days . . . but she put a good face on it, at least. I wasn’t her first to leave, anyway. My brother coincidentally lived in Richmond at that point, but I’m pretty sure she knew he’d be back to the area. And she was right. But with me, I think she knew a few holiday or weekend visits a year – and later, quick dashes from the nearby airport for a cup of coffee during long layovers on newspaper trips – would be the new normal.

That won’t be our case. Too far to travel, as the Datsun flies. Too much excitement and enticement and California thrall for her – she vows to go broke skiing at Lake Tahoe — as she continues to develop the woman, the person, the citizen, the friend. Sure, she could hate it, or be bored with the job, or get sick of gazing at the San Francisco Bay every day of her new life, hahahahaha. But we’re not thinking that’s a possibility, we two, nor do we want it to be.

This is what is supposed to happen. This is how it is supposed to go. This is the richer life we talk big about wanting for our kids, so this is where dad has to prove he means it.

The week is being filled with farewells to her old job and those friends, and to some of the oldest friends who remain here, although there already aren’t many. Norfolk shouldn’t necessarily take that personally. It’s a big, mobile world. Adventures are being forged, latest chapters are being created, all over the country; Roanoke, Charlottesville, Raleigh, D.C., Chicago, Boston, San Francisco.

At first, the girl wasn’t sure which was for her. She plotted a move to SF on spec: she’d give it a month, then come home – maybe — if she was still jobless. But then Boston became the focus. Man, she wanted to join a certain company there. She knew people, loved the idea of the work, but opportunity was slow to develop. And then . . . a random contact who attended the same university (network online, boys and girls!) volunteered to put a resume in front of the right person at the right cutting-edge ad agency. And yep, the girl took it from there.

Now, it’s for us to take her there. To the airport. To the skies. Through the clouds. Toward her sun.

Right on time.


Life is not a game of perfect

If I were ever asked to give a commencement speech – and to paraphrase an old joke, I wouldn’t want to attend any college that would have me as a commencement speaker – I know what I’d say. I’d tell all those perfect fresh faces that if they are perfectionists, snap out of it. Today. Right now.

As with so many life lessons, I learned, or am learning, this kind of late. The added knife-twist is I chose pursuits – writing, and briefly before that, playing baseball, among our most failure-soaked sports – that especially mock perfectionists, then knocks them down, beats them about the head and neck with a pillowcase full of oranges and sneers, “Sure, kid, come on back and let’s go for perfection again tomorrow.”

But that was always my devilish deal with perfectionism, that it was in fact the perfect motivator for whatever task was at hand. I figured if I tried to write the perfect story, or play the perfect game every single time, I’d of course have high standards (so admirable!) and would at least get close to perfect when I inevitably fell short of perfect (so determined!).

The problem with such high-mightiness, though, comes when you struggle to accept that inevitable imperfection part. It unbalances the equation. I couldn’t complete the formula. It was as if I should possess some magical infallibility that would make me the only infielder to catch every ball and make every throw. As if I should have some extra proprietary gear, known to the most special achievers, that would propel me toward the glorious sports-writing sun every time my fingers touched a keyboard.

What a bunch of insufferable crap. God. Shut up.

Perfectionism weighed down so much of my life, my 31-year journalism career, my marriage, my parenting, my piano- and guitar-playing (I noodle), pretty much anything I touched. It abused me, tormented me, frustrated me, made me feel unworthy, pretty much made me just a total damn joy at parties.

That isn’t correct, though, because perfectionism only did all that because I allowed it to. Allowed it to explode my head if it took me multiple stabs at some stupid household chore for which I had no aptitude;  think Ralphie’s dad in “A Christmas Story,” clanking and cursing the furnace. I was who allowed the satisfaction of conquering an oppressive p.m. deadline — getting the column or story done and in — to die amid almost immediate post-filing angst that Sports Illustrated certainly wouldn’t be sending a limo after reading more of that meatball surgery.

The sports psychologist Bob Rotella writes in his great book “Golf is Not a Game of Perfect” that while “striving for perfection is essential, demanding perfection . . . is deadly.” I read that once upon a time. Must have skipped over that nugget. Pursued golf anyway. Still stink at it. Still tomahawk clubs into the turf now and again after a shank, as if I’m supposed to hit it like Rory Freaking McIlroy.

Ah, but all that internal self-tomahawking happens nowhere near as often, or with such flair, here as I come out as a recovering — I hope — perfectionist. And that hints at perhaps a happy ending, because for pretty much forever, I was as bad as they came at forgiving myself. At being kind to myself, being my “best friend,” whatever you want to call it. I didn’t even understand the concept. Thought it was yoga-babble. It’s embarrassing to be that developmentally challenged, that inwardly inept, so far into the game.

The good news, though, is the game isn’t over. And that while wisdom was later arriving than it should have been – but blessedly so over a past few years of personal tumult and regular shortfalls — it arrived nonetheless, informing me that gratitude is not a platitude, but something real and precious and human and humbling, no matter your transitional stage on the spectrum.

I think that’s kind of what I would yak at the commencement kids, what I’ve tried to reinforce of late to my own kids, who fortunately get it. To take care of others, first take care of yourself. Forgive your flaws. Work to improve them, but forgive them. Breathe. Apologize. Pat your back. Congratulate the full and honest effort. Stir the essential pot of ambition, sure. But don’t muddle it with that demand for perfection, that expectation of it. That’s a disease, the counterintuitive curse that guarantees a complete picture of yourself will never emerge.

Yeah. That’s what I would tell the kids.