2020

The dumbest magazine cover

A friend alerted me to the newest issue of the University of Delaware’s alumni magazine, which features the cover headline TAKE NOTE: HOW TO LEAD LIKE A BLUE HEN.

And I would like to offer my own alternative headline: TAKE NOTE: HOW TO RUN AN ALUMNI MAGAZINE WHEN ONE OF YOUR GRADS JUST BECAME THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.

I mean, seriously. We’re Delaware, not Harvard. Or Yale. Or UCLA. Or Notre Dame. We’ve got Joe Flacco and Rich Gannon, Chris Christie and Steve Schmidt. So when someone from the University of Delaware wins the presidency, and you’re trying to convince people of your school’s gravitas … maybe, just maybe, don’t relegate the news to Page 7.

Yes, Page 7. Of the University of Delaware alumni magazine.

Page 7.

Not Page 1 or 2 or 3 or 4.

Page 7.

There are questions, of course. Did the heated political climate cause an editor to say—”Yeah, we probably need to run something, but let’s bury it inside”? Did the issue close a few days pre-election, and an editor said, “We have to reserve space for this”? Did aliens invade the alumni magazine’s offices and harvest eggs inside the brains of decision makers? Is leading like a Blue Hen more important that one might imagine?

So many questions.

Life as a Jets fan

“By the time I’m 30, maybe the Jets come through …”

Today summed up life as a New York Jets fan.

The team has been awful this year. Just awful. 0-13 entering this afternoon’s clash against the Los Angeles Rams. A supposed phenom quarterback who no longer looks particularly phenomenal. A featured halfback who was born before the Kennedy assassination. A coach whose personality (arrogant and dismissive) lines up perfectly with his leadership abilities (minimal to none). A roster pocked by poor signings, poor selections, poor overall judgment.

But … there was a silver lining. All the Jets—my Jets—had to do was lose out their last three games, and they’d lock up the No. 1 selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. And, to be clear, this would be no ordinary No. 1 selection. Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence is, by most accounts, the brightest quarterback prospect to leave college since Tennessee’s Peyton Manning more than two decades ago. Lawrence is strong, polished, savvy, tested. He’s the real deal; the type of generational talent scouts drool over.

All.

The.

Jets.

Had.

To.

Do.

Was.

Lose.

Out.

So they played the Rams—a legit Super Bowl contender. And … fucking fuck fuck with toasted almonds. The Jets won. Because of course they won. Why guarantee yourselves a franchise-changing quarterback when you can capture a meaningless December game for a coach destined to be fired? Why line up the stars when you can shit in a bucket?

The great Michael J. Lewis, my pal and Jets lifer, said today there’s still hope the Jaguars beat the Bears next week and the Jets reclaim the top choice. But anyone who’s rooted for this team beyond a year or two knows that’s impossible. The Jets are Murphy’s Law come to life. Everything that can go wrong goes wrong. Every screw is turned the wrong way. Ever knife blade is dull. The Jets are Mariah Carey in “Glitter.” They’re Alex Karras in “Webster.” They are helpless and hopeless, and with the No. 2 pick in the 2021 Draft I predict they will select Nick Lorden, wide receiver from the University of New Hampshire.

Why Nick Lorden?

Because I randomly found him via a Google search.

The Jets way.

The Blue Lives Matter Flag

A couple of months back, new people moved into a nearby house.

They parked their cars.

They unloaded their stuff.

They hung a Blue Lives Matter flag.

This did not sit well with me. My first reaction was, “What the fuck?” My second reaction was, “What the fuck?” My third reaction was to rant on Facebook. So I ranted on Facebook.

A day later, another neighbor (one I consider a friend and kind soul) gently criticized my post. He said it wasn’t particularly neighborly, and caused me to think about whether a Blue Lives Matter flag—and a Blue Lives Matter flag alone—is enough to presume someone’s character.

Answer: I’m not sure.

Over the past few weeks I’ve had casual chats with the flag bearers as they’ve passed my house, and they seem warm, friendly, engaged, inviting. For all I know they’re law enforcement vets simply trying to support their profession. For all I know they’re Biden voters who believe one can be pro-law enforcement and Democrats. For all I know they hate Trump, and have always hated Trump.

But … in the current climate, with the aspiring lunatic dictator doing his best Wanna-Be Stalin, my hopes seem unlikely. The Blue Lives Matter flag has come to symbolize something; something ugly and unwelcoming and decidedly threatening to African-Americans and the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s a flag seen too often at #MAGA rallies; a flag seen positioned at roadside Trump booths alongside red ball caps and MAKE AMERICA GREAT T-shirts. It feels like a big middle finger. A FUCK YOU to members of the anti-MAGA crowd.

And yet, here’s the thing: In 2020, when we’re all positioned in front of our computers, ranting and raving and Tweeting and Facebooking, what I should do—and likely will do—is steel my nerves and go old fashioned.

Be human, and just ask them.

Do nothing

One thing this pandemic has taught me: It’s OK to do nothing.

I know that sounds obvious, but I’m one who likes to go here, go there, see this, see that. I dig long drives and fun meals and adventures to spots that sound adventurous. What I don’t like—well, what I didn’t like—was sitting around the house.

Now, however, I’m sorta getting used to it. And I think, in 2020, that’s important. One of the biggest COVID fuck-ups came because men and women felt compelled to “go about their lives.” Which meant going places. Seeing people. Engaging. Talking. Hugging. Sharing.

And, truly, I get it.

I really do.

But—in the name of safety—I’m not coming to your barbecue. I’m not eating inside at a restaurant or, in all probability, outside at a restaurant. I’m not making exceptions for certain people. I’m not having neighbors come close to pet my dog. I’m not flying. I’m not meeting up with people.

I’m doing nothing, mostly inside, with my wife and kids.

It sucks.

But it feels necessary.

Venice, 1999

In 1999, shortly after my 27th birthday, I took off a few weeks from work and backpacked Italy.

It was my first time away from North America, and I had no real idea what I was doing. The backpack I purchased was way too heavy, and came equipped with wheels (adding unnecessary weight). I spoke no Italian, and knew little of Italy’s history or culture. I arrived in Milan armed with a guide book, some train advice and a shitload of excitement.

The trip was amazing.

I trekked from hostel to hostel. I marveled at the cathedrals of Rome, the architecture of Florence. I hopped a boat to Sicily, then followed two Australian women to Malta (maybe my favorite spot on earth). I tried Vegemite (don’t). I soaked in the culture. I felt free and young and euphoric.

I also took the above photo—maybe my all-time favorite image.

It evokes so many feelings and emotions. I was walking through the streets of Venice, dazzled by the colors, the smells, the waterways, the people. At one point I found myself staring at a religious figurine behind a pane of glass. I stopped to take the picture, probably thinking it offered a cool reflection of the buildings positioned behind me.

It’s better than I’d hoped for. The clothing lines, dangling above. The red- and mustard-colored structures. The flowers. And, in the righthand corner, young me, gangling armed, snapping the shot in my $8 Marshall’s T-shirt.

It still does something for me.

Assholes in Costco

I’m just back from Costco, where I acquired a chicken, drinks, a chunk of cheese, two dozen eggs — and some seriously raised blood pressure.

As I stood in line, I noticed two people sans masks.

The first guy was heavily tattooed, short, sorta squatty, with the confident bravado strut of a high school bully. He wore a baseball cap and cargo shorts, and pushed two filled carts toward the check-out register. It was obvious his mask—dangling loosely from his chin—was there solely because it’s requisite for entering the warehouse, and as he exited I heard him complain to someone about, “all the people afraid to breathe.”

The second guy was with his wife. He wore an American flag mask, only it was wrapped below his chin and around his neck. I’m no body language expert, but MC Slick was clearly trying to make a show of it all. Masks—I don’t need your stinking masks! His wife was also relatively mask-less, as were their three kids.

And here is what I would like to say:

Fuck you.

Fuck you.

Fuck you.

Fuck you.

Fuck you for reveling in your stupidity. Fuck you for not following the (actual) news. Fuck you for not caring about science. Fuck you for not giving a shit that a mere quarter mile up the road—at our nearby hospital—100 percent of ICU beds are filled, and emergency workers are busting their asses trying to keep it all together. Fuck you for lacking any remote empathy for the shittily paid Costco worker (standing right there before you) who has to wear that mask for nine hours—five days a week. Fuck you for every restaurant we can’t visit, every coffee shop we can’t visit, every hotel we can’t stay in. For every closed business that has suffered because idiot conspiracy theorists think COVID is created by the Fake News or Joe Biden or Sixto Lezcano.

Fuck you, because it’s idiots like you who refused—and still refuse—to take this seriously. All the while we’re staying home, fighting the good fight so humanity (all of us) can move past this awfulness.

Lastly—on a personal note—fuck you for complaining about libs not loving the United States, meanwhile your snot rag mask is an American flag.

Fuck you for 2020.

The most beautiful funeral

Yesterday I attended the most beautiful funeral.

It was of a woman I did not know; a friend’s mom.

Her name was Nettie Perez—86-year-old mother to four, grandmother to four, wife to one. According to the program, Nettie “worked many different jobs through the years from picking in orchards, packing houses, aerospace manufacturing and cleaning homes. She worked tirelessly to help provide for her family. … She had the ability to put worries or concerns at ease with her loving words. Her faith in God was a tremendous one. She gave her life to God and is now in the arms of glory.”

As I stood on the neatly cut grass of the Holy Sepulcher Cemetery, I found my eyes wandering and my thoughts scattered. It is a strange thing, mourning for someone you’ve never met. The sadness is real, but the connection is not. In a way it feels as if you’re playing a part. The people to your left and to your right—they’re hurting. There’s a hole, and they feel it in the way you touch a boiling pot and feel the burn shoot through your hand.

You, on the other hand, are legitimately sad for your friend. But your life is unchanged. The funeral ends, you drive off largely un-impacted.

And yet …

That’s not actually what transpired.

In my 48 years, I’ve attended roughly 20 funerals. I’ve attended funerals with open caskets; funerals with a sparse number of attendees. I’ve attended funerals for grandparents, for friends, for colleagues. I’ve attended funerals where people struggled to summon kind words; funerals where the pain was palpable.

This time, I attended a funeral that featured a nine-piece mariachi band.

Yes—a nine-piece mariachi band.

The men—outfitted in requisite black suits—stood roughly 50 feet from the casket, and played one beautiful, enchanting song after another. The music grabbed me; held me; personalized everything I was beholding. There were probably, oh, 50 of us watching as the casket was lowered into the ground, but I felt as if I were on my own island, connected via haunting sound to the moment and connected via haunting sound to this woman I did not know.

The music evoked pain. It evoked joy. It reminded me of an opera, but also of the Tupac Shakur line: “Throw a party at my funeral/let every rapper rock it.” All the attendees were wearing masks, but the singing served as a connective issue; as a breaking down of a physical barrier.

In other words: It was beautiful.

I felt the loss.

The president drove through them

Today I witnessed an amazing sight.

Admittedly, I watched it via television, not with my own eyes. But still, it was an amazing sight.

In Washington, D.C., land of Washington and Lincoln and FDR and JFK and the Bush(es) and Obama, a million couple of thousand MAGA people marched on behalf of Donald J. Trump, America’s outgoing president and a man who insists he is being robbed of a second term. They showed up by car, by bus, by train, by plane, wearing all sorts of red, white and blue MAGA hats and MAGA shirts, holding MAGA signs and sporting MAGA buttons. Love them or hate them, there is no denying the passion and loyalty. These people adore Donald Trump. They believe in Donald Trump. They worship Donald Trump.

Donald Trump drove right through them.

I wouldn’t have believed it had I not seen it. The president of the United States, sporting a blue windbreaker and ubiquitous red-and-white MAGA cap, drove right through his own protesters—a passenger in the rear of a black limousine. He offered a small wave, but nothing more, en route to the Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia for his (this is no exaggeration) three hundred and first round of golf as president. He didn’t stop to chat. He didn’t take to a podium to address the masses. He didn’t join the march to save his own skin.

He.

Just.

Drove.

Thru.

It reminded me of the scene in “Forrest Gump,” when after three years, two months, 14 days and 16 hours, the title character stopped running, took a deep breath, turned and began the walk back home to Alabama. His followers—mindless disciples of the Church of Forrest—stood bewildered, until one finally cried out, “What do we do now?”

I’m not sure when (if ever) the disciples of the Church of Donald cry out, “What do we do now?” You’d have thought that would have happened long ago—after the endless lies; after learning about all the cons; after the decisive election loss (Riddle me this: If the Democrats cheated, why fall short in the senate and drop so many house seats?); after the juvenile meltdowns; after the fruitless and heartless approach to COVID.

But were I a MAGA guy, and were I using my valuable Saturday to march in defense of Donald Trump, I know how I’d feel as he drove past for yet another afternoon at a golf course whose membership I could never afford; at a golf course whose membership requirements I’d never meet.

I’d feel like a fool.

And I’d wonder what to do now.

We have been here before

I have seen this one before.

Donald Trump.

Potential lawsuits.

Seemingly intelligent people (powerful, wealthy people) falling under his sway.

A death dive to nowhere.

I have seen this one before.

In case you don’t know, two years ago I released a book, “Football for a Buck,” that chronicled the rise and fall of the USFL (United States Football League), a spring gridiron experiment that lasted from 1983-85. The USFL remains my all-time favorite sports league—amazing uniforms, sweet names, players receiving second, third, fourth and fifth chances to make it in sports. It was wild and wacky and indisputably entertaining, and I wanted it to last forever.

Sadly it died. In large part because of Donald Trump.

He bought a team, the New Jersey Generals, after the debut season, and from that first press conference (held in the lobby of Trump Tower), Trump was the loudest, brashest, most headline-obsessed owner in all of professional sports. He bragged about his wealth, his girlfriends, his projects. He begged for headlines, then begged for bigger headlines. Mostly, though, what he wanted was for ownership of the New Jersey Generals to result in ownership of an NFL franchise.

Yes, you read that correctly: Donald Trump’s goal—a not particularly hidden one—was to force the older football league’s hand and grant him entry into the world’s most exclusive club: NFL ownership.

So Trump did everything he could. He tried buying the Baltimore Colts—and failed. He begged Pete Rozelle, NFL commissioner, for a team—and failed. Shortly after purchasing the Generals, he literally met privately with Rozelle in a Manhattan hotel suite and said, bluntly, “I will help destroy the USFL if you give me a New York City NFL team.”

Rozelle told Trump he was a conman and a fraud. “As long as I am involved in the NFL,” he said, “you won’t be.”

Then, Donald Trump decided to sue.

This is 35 years ago, well before Donald Trump was known for suing and suing and suing and suing. As the owner of the USFL’s most important franchise (without New York/New Jersey’s TV sway, there was no league), Trump carried extra weight in league meetings. So when, in 1984, he started up with, “We need to move to fall and challenge the NFL directly,” well, the words carried weight. When he said it again and again, the words carried even more weight. Trump asked the other owners if he could gauge the fall/USFL interest of the three major TV networks, and when NBC, ABC and CBS all assured him they would never televise the league were it not playing in the spring—well, Trump did what Trump does. He lied, and told the other owners there was “amazing interest” is us moving to fall.

Now, you would think the other owners would hate this idea. Unlike Trump, whose plan was to build a stadium (or, really, have a stadium built for him) in midtown Manhattan, the vast majority of USFL teams played in cities already occupied by NFL franchises. Could the Pittsburgh Maulers survive in the same season as the Pittsburgh Steelers? Could the Houston Gamblers compete directly with the Houston Oilers? The Los Angeles Express with the Los Angeles Raiders? The Michigan Panthers with the Detroit Lions? The Chicago Blitz with the Chicago Bears? Of course not. But—because Trump is persuasive and a bully and blessed (cursed?) with the ability to have people regularly violate their own interests—he talked the other USFL owners into not only agreeing to move to fall, but to standing behind a USFL-filed anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL.

Trump held a press conference announcing the suit, and told none of the other owners. Trump filed the suit in New York City, and told none of the other owners. Trump plotted with the USFL attorneys he hired, and told none of the other owners. Trump decided he should be the star witness, and told none of the other owners.

But—with the exception of John Bassett, owner of the Tampa Bay Bandits—none of the other owners would stand up to Donald Trump. They were rich, they were powerful, they were successful. But they were also intimidated and cowardly.

So the trial happened, and shortly thereafter the USFL (winners of $3 in a laughable suit that went terribly wrong) ended operations and died.

Its owners lost millions of dollars.

And their dignity.

Superman loved the Bucs

So tonight the son and I wrapped our Superman movie marathon by watching “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.”

The film is, without debate, one of the worst things ever. The plot makes no sense. The effects are laughable (you can literally see strings when Superman flies). The writing is brutal. Truly, everything about Superman IV is a hot mess, and Christopher Reeve bemoaned the project from the day he started filming.

That said …

There is a moment in “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” that sparks absolute joy. It lasts for all of two seconds, and occurs near the beginning of the film, when Clark is shown in his apartment—alongside a miniature white robot, a couch and … a Tampa Bay Buccaneers pendant!

Yes, a Tampa Bay Buccaneers pendant.

Now, intellectually, this makes no sense. We learn in the original Superman film the Clark is never allowed to play high school football in Smallville, which surely led to some resentment for the game. Furthermore, what could Superman/Clark Kent possibly enjoy in the sport? He would throw 100,000 times harder than Warren Moon, break through tackles like Bo Jackson on juiced juice, decapitate ball carriers from (I’m guessing) the linebacker slot. It’d be painfully dull for the Man of Steal.

But then it hit me: This movie was filmed in 1986, when the Buccaneers finished 2-14 behind the quarterbacking of Steve DeBerg and Steve Young. On that roster was K.D. Dunn, the former Clemson tight end who was born and raised in … Smallville, Iowa!

It all makes sense.