Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Love of A Rose

Since we have to endure one more game in the exceedingly dull NFL preseason, I thought I’d switch from football to one of my other favorite subjects, and make this a DOG BLOG. (Just a quick editorial note: I think it’s time professional football dispense with the farce of charging fans full price for tickets to preseason games that are essentially practice sessions held at night.)

Anyway on to the story:

Three years ago this week, my dog saved my life. Her name is Rose. I won’t tell you what breed she is, so you can imagine your own beloved dog in her place as I narrate this story. It was early one Sunday morning. My wife and I were working in our back yard installing a new irrigation system. Rose played her usual key supervisory role of lying under a shade tree and watching us as we worked.

My wife went inside to get us iced tea. I continued working, on my hands and knees connecting the irrigation tubing. What I didn’t know is that a few feet from my head, coiled under a grape vine, was a rattlesnake that had somehow crawled through a small crack in the wall. There was never any rattle, never any warning.

I was about to get struck by a deadly snake, possibly in the eye or the throat.

But Rose sprang forward and got between me and the rattlesnake just as it sprang out from under the vine. Rose took the bite for me, and it struck her squarely on the nose. It occurred so quickly, I didn’t realize what happened, until I saw the blood coming out of two puncture wounds on her nose.

Our Vet was not open on Sundays, so we had to rush Rose to an emergency clinic on the other side of town. Her face and neck swelled up horribly as we drove, and she began having trouble breathing. The emergency Vet had to give her 3 full vials of the anti-venom treatment. It wasn’t until 11:30 that night that he told us she was going to live.

The bill for her treatment was $3,500 but I would have gladly paid $35,000—or sold my house and everything in it—to make sure she came back home safe and sound.

Today, she’s fine, and she’s snoozing on a chair in my office as I write this, blissfully unaware that the entire World Wide Web is learning of her heroic exploits. And there’s more to this story.

One year later: we had an elderly neighbor who was suffering from a variety of ailments and had trouble walking. He came out one day and went down his driveway to the mailbox. He somehow lost his balance and tumbled into the street, hitting his head and blacking out.

Rose, sitting on the couch in the front window, saw this. We live in a Midwestern-style tri-level house and both my wife and I were upstairs, at the other end of the house where our “home offices” are. We had no idea what had happened to our neighbor. Construction trucks rumble down our road all day long, and they may not even have seen him in the street before it was too late.

In true “Lassie” fashion, Rose barked hysterically, even banging on the window pane to try to get our attention. There was a special sound to this bark; it was definitely some kind of alarm. We came downstairs, saw Rose indicating the window, and then discovered what had happened across the street.

After our neighbor had recovered from this frightening incident, he told all his friends and relatives about this “wonder dog” across the street that had come to his rescue.

But actually, Rose is just your average awesome canine, the same as many of you have in the room with you right now as you are reading this. Besides being our best friends, I believe dogs were put here to be our guardians, ever ready to protect us from life’s calamities—no matter the danger to themselves.

I wrote a screenplay about the love between dog and man. It has been recognized by several writing competitions, and is now under consideration by several producers in Hollywood. (But at the snail’s pace Hollywood moves, it probably won’t be in the theaters for a long time, possibly even after Brett Favre retires in 2012.)

In the meantime, here’s a bit of dialogue from the script. This scene takes place at a dog park. A Veterinarian is talking to a young man about the difficult grieving process we face when we lose a beloved pet:

Dr. Ray:

"Dogs break our hearts because they leave us much too soon. An era of our lives ends with a beloved dog’s passing, and we grieve not just for the loss of our loyal companion, but because that era will never come back again."


And I give thanks each day that I didn’t lose my “Rose” on that frightening Sunday morning three years ago.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

You're A Good Egg, Goodell

This feels strange because I’ve never written a blog entry like this before. I’m breaking new ground, thinking outside the box, pushing the envelope (or is it pushing the box and thinking outside the envelope?).

What is this groundbreaking development?

I’m about to praise an authority figure. Wow. I feel a bit dizzy.

In a lot of my writing, particularly screenplays and novels, I have great fun lampooning corporate greedheads, pompous politicians from both the right and left wing, the rich and fatuous, celebrity goofballs, and anyone else who seems in need of a good verbal shellacking.

But in the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, I’m going to suspend all satirical activities for a few minutes and actually hand out some plaudits to a high-profile public figure.

And a big huge deal authority as figure as well, the Commissioner of the National Football League, Roger Goodell.

I think he’s doing an outstanding job changing the moral tone of the NFL, and bringing a higher level of accountability. His assertion that playing in the NFL is a privilege, not a right—is right on!

Keep up the good work, Mr. Goodell.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The NFL Needs More People Like…

Reggie White.

Another solution to the problem of bad off-the-field behavior in the NFL is to have more on-the-field leadership. We need more players who can serve as role models for their younger teammates, both in the terms of dedication to the game and dedication to being good citizens. In other words, both physical and moral leadership. To paraphrase Vince Lombardi: to do things right all the time, not just once in a while.

With the Green Bay Packers, I’ve seen two prime examples of that: Bart Starr and Reggie White. We all know what Bart Starr accomplished—5 League Championships—and what a great person and great leader he is. But defensive end Reggie White, although he is a Hall of Famer, perhaps never got the credit he deserved for the Packers’ success during the time he played in Green Bay.

Why did the Packers return to glory in the mid-1990’s? Most people would say it due to Ron Wolf’s skill at selecting players, Mike Holmgren’s coaching ability, and having a true winner like Brett Favre at quarterback. All this is true. But I think the key piece to the puzzle was when Reggie White joined the team in 1993. His leadership on defense served to encourage the other players to commit themselves to winning to a degree that had not been seen since the earlier glory years of the 1960’s—and he showed his teammates how to be better people as well. A lesson from his outstanding career is that ferocious play and high character are not mutually exclusive.

I remember a turning point when the Packers started to show signs of championship potential. It was a game in Lambeau Field early in Reggie’s first season with the team. They had stumbled out the gate and faced a critical early season game versus the John Elway-led Denver Broncos. The Packers responded well to the challenge and stormed out to a big lead. But as the game wore on, Elway, the master of comebacks, methodically led the Broncos back. It seemed as though the Packers were going to lose, which would have been a huge blow to a young team trying to find its footing and a path to the playoffs.

Late in the fourth quarter, Reggie more or less took the game over. He made sure the Broncos did not score the winning touchdown. And, for the first time in many years, the Packers did go on to the playoffs. But it was just the beginning of one of the most exciting times Packer fans have ever had, culminating with the championship season of 1996.

And the team has never been quite the same since he left, even though Brett Favre continues to be an outstanding player and leader, and Mike Sherman was certainly a fine head coach (and Mike McCarthy may become one). But in a number of important games, the Packers’ defense has had critical lapses, and sometimes does not play with the same focus and intensity that we saw in the 1990’s. Does anyone think the 4th and 26 debacle in the 2003 Playoff game in Philadelphia would have happened if Reggie White had been on the field?

I don’t think so.

So for the 2007 edition of the Green Bay Packers, the question is, who will be the next Reggie White?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Packer Puzzlement Part I

I’ve been a Packer fan since I was about 8 years old, so one would suppose I should have a good understanding of the game by now. But, on the contrary, there are still a lot of things about the Packers, and pro football in general, that I find baffling. Here is a brief, and by no means exhaustive, list of the things that leave me puzzled, or in some cases hopelessly confused:

1) Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect. NFL teams almost seem to practice year-round these days. In the early spring, they have Teeny Camp, then Tiny Camp in May, then Mini-Camp where they re-learn what they learned in Tiny Camp, then comes the all important Maxi-Camp where they “install” the offense, then of course grueling Mega-Camp where they find out the offense they installed doesn’t work, so they install a new one—and then they head off to Training Camp in July and start all over again.

Given all that intensive practice and planning why do so many teams look disorganized, even clueless, when the first preseason game is played? I went to the Packers first preseason game in San Diego last year, and the offense looked as though they had just seen a football for the very first time that night, and were not sure what to do with the oddly shaped thing. I could picture Aaron Rodgers in the huddle saying, “Okay, guys, the objective is to move toward that goal post down there.” And then the offensive lineman remarking, with a little awe in his voice, “But it seems so far away…we’ll never get there.”

Then we have this year’s first preseason game, against Pittsburgh. Our first team offense netted a whopping 17 yards in its first 12 plays, and ZERO first downs. Note that if you’re 6 feet tall and fall forward 12 times you gain 24 yards.

Just imagine how poor their performance would have been if they hadn’t spent so much time ‘camping’.

2) When History Repeats. Why were the national news media so skeptical when the Packers hired Mike McCarthy as head coach? Seemed like a no-brainer to me. He was Offensive Coordinator for the 49ers, he’s a little pudgy, and his name is Mike. That’s one of the most successful business models the Pack has ever had in a coach. In fact, even if all he had going for him was his first name, history shows he is likely to win approximately 63% of the games he coaches, well above the all-time Packer team average of 56%. Just to be on the safe side, the Packers Executive Committee did a thorough background check on McCarthy to make sure “Mike” wasn’t just a nickname, and his actual first name was Lindy, Forrest, Lisle, Gene or heaven forbid, “Scooter.” Ideally, he’d be named Michael Vincent McCarthy instead of Michael John McCarthy, but we can’t have everything.

3) The Siberia Factor. I can’t tell you how many times I have read Internet posts warning that the Packers are about to return to being the “Siberia” of the NFL, the grim, dark place no really good players, particularly free agents, want to play. This almost seems like one of those nonsensical “Urban Legends.” People posting these dire warnings usually bring up the cold weather in Green Bay, and the small town atmosphere, as being major turn-offs for today’s young pro football players. But they never seem to come up with any evidence that the players themselves feel this way. If weather were any factor at all, then Arizona, Miami and San Diego would field consistently winning teams. But they don’t.

As far as small town atmosphere, you can’t discount the impact of being a friendly, welcoming place to live. As Bob Harlan has said, it’s the warmest cold city in the country. And here’s what first round draft choice Justin Harrell said about Green Bay: “Just riding through the neighborhoods, it looks a lot like home and it’s a place I know I’ll be able to get settled in and have a good time.”

I remember reading a classic story from the 1930’s about Packer players saying how fortunate they were to live and work in Green Bay, where there are so many great outdoor activities to enjoy—hunting, fishing, etc., in contrast to being stuck playing in New York where there was nothin’ to do. But it’s fair to say that players in those days weren’t paid quite enough money to enjoy all the diversions and delights available in the Big Apple.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Packer Puzzlement Part II

A few more things that leave me confused about the NFL:

4) Don’t Show Us The Money. Why does the NFL publish the salaries of every single player and coach? Why is this information any of our business? In the corporate world, they usually guard the salary information like it has serious national security implications. Public companies have to disclose officers’ compensation, but the only public entity in the NFL is the Packers, so all this disclosure of personal finances seems unnecessary.

One of the reasons companies keep employees’ salary info under lock and key is that it prevents petty jealousies or simmering envy from disrupting morale in the workplace. We’ve all seen instances where a player being given a humongous new contract causes discontent with some of the lesser paid players on the team. For example, if Javon Walker hadn’t known what all the other receivers in the league were earning, would he have made those strident demands that the contract he signed (presumably in good faith) be renegotiated? It’s an interesting question.

5) Here’s Teddy…Why do so many people criticize Ted Thompson for not doing, shall we say, scintillating interviews? In other words, he’s rather boring to listen to. I wasn’t aware that being a stand-up comedian was part of the job description for General Manager in the NFL. Maybe we should try that. Billy Crystal would be a natural for GM of one of the New York teams. How about Robin Williams for the Raiders (if you can’t win, just laugh, baby!).

It’s especially impractical to expect Ted to reveal his draft day strategy, or plans for free agency (if any). For a NFL team, these are the equivalent of trade secrets, and talking too much about your intentions just gives a boost to your competitors. You don’t interview the President of Coca-Cola and expect him to tell you the secret formula for the Coke syrup. “You see, it’s that little dash of cinnamon we put in at the end…” Mr. Pepsi is likely to be listening.

Perhaps Packer fans just miss the blunt comments the more outspoken Ron Wolf used to make. But he’s gone, and we have a new era with some terrific new players. So let’s enjoy 2007, and the fact we still live in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brett.

6) Cyber-Lombardi? It’s funny how Internet posters refer to Packer executives by their initials, as though they are old fraternity brothers of ours, people we’re very familiar with and probably send Christmas cards to. Our Head Coach is “MM,” our General Manager is “TT”. Then we all proceed to contribute our opinions on how we would undoubtedly be much more competent in their jobs than they are. What puzzles me is, where did all of us acquire this in-depth football expertise? Or are we just natural football geniuses? Lucky we didn’t have the Internet in the 1960’s. Woe betide the football “expert” who began his post, “Now, here’s where VL is really screwing up the offense: that play calling is so darned conservative.”

He might have been surprised to see a post later that day: “What the heck are you people writing out there!”

And then just to be on the safe side, he’d unplug his computer from the Internet.