The pusher


I keep forgetting to write about an incident that took place two weeks ago that truly fascinated me. I was on a flight from New York to Houston, seated next to a skinny 18-year-old with a twangy accent. He was in the middle seat, so I told him, “Boy, that sucks. Sorry.” He nodded, then said he had just connected from a flight from Israel.

At this point, I made a silent prediction. This kid was either:

A. A Jewish kid visiting the Holy Land.

B A devoutly Christian kid who went to Israel on a “mission.”

The answer was B. After he told me this and we exchanged some brief chitchat, he said, “Can I guess you’re Jewish?” And I said, “What makes you say that?”

“Well,” he said, “there are a lot of Jewish people who live in New York.”

I nodded, told him I was Jewish—and then he spent 25 minutes trying to open my heart, mind, soul (and, presumably, wallet) to Jesus Christ. Now, I have no real problem with those Christians who try and convert we others. Yeah, it’s annoying. Yeah, it’s sorta bullshit. But, from their vantage point, the only way to eternal salvation is through a belief in Christ. In that regard, they’re being sort of selfless.

Turns out this guy is actually attending a Bible college in San Antonio, and his major deals with the actually practice of converting other religions. It’s literally what he wants to do for a living. Hence, he went on and on talking about sin; about how he refuses to look at pretty women because it might lead to impure thoughts; about how homosexuality is a damnation. He ran off sin after sin after sin, and how God is up there, looking down and keeping score.

Finally, I asked a question. “Here’s the thing I don’t get,” I said. “You think God would be mad at you for looking sexually at a pretty woman, right?” He nodded. “And yet,” I said, “you’re sitting here, flying on an airplane that’s releasing tons upon tons of toxic emissions into the air and contributing to the earth’s demise. Don’t you think that’s a little worse than checking out a hottie?”

The pusher proceeded to give a line I’ve heard many born-again Christians utter before; a line that would lose any debate 100 of 100 times. “God,” he said, “made earth for man to do as he pleases.”

Go back to school, kid. Goodnight.

No Troy Aikman, No Emmitt Smith—no problem

As I sit here late Thursday night, a copy of “Boys Will Be Boys” on a nearby desk, I can accurately predict a question that will be asked by radio guys far and wide come September 1.

“Jeff, is there anyone on the Cowboys of the ’90s you didn’t talk to?”

“Uh, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith.”

Loooooooooong pause.

“Well, how can you possibly consider yourself an authority … blah, blah, blah.”

I write this because I’ve been down the road—twice. First, with “The Bad Guys Won!” when neither Dwight Gooden nor Daryl Strawberry would speak with me. Second, with “Love Me, Hate Me,” when Barry Bonds—the subject of the damn book—wouldn’t talk.

Fact is, there’s nothing more off than the idea that you need central characters to cooperate in order to write an authoritative biography. In fact, I’d order just the opposite. Aikman and Smith, both excellent men, have told their Cowboys stories time after time after time. Like a butcher on Day 567,543,112 of the job, they’ve trimmed the fat, and are left with simplistic, one-dimensional Polaroids of experiences. This isn’t a slap at either man; just the reality of what happens when sports stars are interviewed literally hundreds upon hundreds of times about a single play or event. Instead of remembering the moment, you remember your memory of the moment.

That’s why, to me, the key to biography writing comes in the so-called little people. For example, the Mets book wouldn’t have worked without the observations of Ed Hearn, the little-used backup catcher. The Bonds book flounders without Jay Canizaro, a forgotten second baseman who lockered near Barry. With “Boys Will Be Boys,” I interviewed hundreds of players, and my absolute best material came from the on-field witnesses to the magic—but not the magicians themselves. Yes, Michael Irvin was great to speak with. So were Darren Woodson and Jay Novacek. But, come final submission, a biography is made by the people who are willing to talk—and who have never done so before.

The saddest thing in life …

… just might be an un-updated celebrity website. It’s the sign of a true has-been. It’s even worse than not having a website, because basically you’re saying, “Yeah, I exist. But I’ve really got nothing going on in my life.”

I bring this up because, way back in the summer of 1994, my first story for The (Nashville) Tennessean was a profile of Daron Norwood, supposedly the next big thing in country music. I spent a day following Norwood around at an enormous country event called Fan Fair (since renamed), and he was, put simply, The Man. Knew he was about to enter Garth Brooks territory, so he flashed that big ol’ country smile and signed one autograph after another.


According to Wikipedia, Norwood had a couple of minor hits, and was arrested for beating his wife. When I went to his official site, I thought, “Well, at least he has one.” Then I noticed the update date: May 2, 2007. Even worse is his last posting in the NEWS section:

November 10, 2005

My big accomplishment recently: I’ve gotten the fan posting board up and running so check it out!
Tonight I was doing a web search for Daron to see what things I could find that I hadn’t already seen and I came across a couple interesting things. The first thing is a “jingle” for American LubeFast. Daron sings it so of course I just had to hear it right away! It’s a full 60 seconds long and the company has it available for download on their site. I actually like it, even if it is just a commercial, but hey, Daron could probably sing the ABCs and I’d like it!
The second thing I found is an album released last year that I’d never even heard of called America Will Always Stand. Daron has a song on it called “God And General Lee.” Amazon has song clips available to preview the album, so if you haven’t heard this yet make sure to check it out! It sounds like it’s a great song and I can’t wait to get the album asap.
Hopefully within the next couple of weeks I will have some
very interesting news to share, so make sure to keep checking here for updates. Things could be very busy soon!

Bad news, old friend. If things aren’t busy by now, well, don’t expect an invite to the CMAs.

On the bright side, Norwood could have it much worse—he could be New EditionDaron Norwood, which hasn’t updated its site in (egad) four years. You’d think a group with Bobby Brown would have something to say.

Oh, well. There’s always Justin Guarini to mock …

Top 5 r&b/rap collabs …

So I’m stealing a page from Jemele Hill here. Was driving home from Boston last night, listening to that Kelly Rowland song, “Daylight.” An average jam in every sense of the word—save for a killer rap breakout by Travis of Gym Class Heroes. So I was thinking: What are the five best rap breakouts in the middle of a song. Here’s my list …

1. Friends, by Jody Watley (featuring Eric B. and Rakim): A very mediocre tune by a very mediocre singer—but Rakim was almost always off-the-charts dazzling, and here is no exception. Credited on the song as “Eric B. and Rakim,” I question whether Eric B. showed up for anything but the video. By this point in their careers, I believe the two were on pretty bad terms.

* 2. Jam, by Michael Jackson (featuring Heavy D): I’ve long thought Heavy D has caught a bad rap—sort of Kid ‘N’ Play-ish, when the man truly could rap. This isn’t Jackson’s best tune, but it’s pretty damn good. Overlooked in his crazy collection of hits. Heavy D’s add is great, but the video—featuring Michael Jordan and the two kids from Kris Kross—is laughably terrible.

3. Crazy In Love, by Beyoncé (featuring Jay-Z): Killer song, killer rap, and with a Nick Van Exel reference to boot. Brilliant all the way around. I run to this pretty regularly.

4. Daylight, by Kelly Rowland (featuring Travis McCoy): Again, a pretty blah song. But the rap absolutely makes it work. McCoy is an intriguing guy. Oozing with talent, but at a crossroads. Could turn into MC Hammer (bad) or Wyclef (goof). Worth watching.

5. Smack That, by Akon (featuring Eminem): Admittedly, watching Eminem these days (when he shows up) is sorta like paying to see Franco Harris as a Seahawk. But this song is infectious, and Eminem brings his B game—which is still better than the As of most.

* SIDE NOTE: I just watched the Jam video again. So weird. Sort of a homo-erotic basketball/dance lesson between the two MJs—one at the top of his career, the other about to leap off the cliff into a pit of humiliation. Also makes one wonder what would happen if now, in 2008, Jackson called Jordan and said, I’m doing a Jam II video and want you to star in it again …”


“Uh, Michael. Michael?”

What the f$#% is that smell? (Part II)

It seems all reputable blogs have guest writers and guest editors and the such. So, in my effort to be reputable (or at least seemingly so), I introduce my first guest writer.

Michael J. Lewis (see photo below) of the Daytona Beach News-Journal and I date back to our days at the University of Delaware. In fact, when he was a scrawny freshman in a jean jacket and J-E-T-S necklace, I—editor of the mighty, might Review—assigned him his first story. I don’t remember what the story was, but Mike’s gone on to have a very distinguished career in sports journalism. Hence, I gave him a very daunting task: To debate why Room 242 of the Boston Ramada smelled like 12-week-old vomit. Here’s Mike’s report (Editor’s note: He lives in Florida and never actually entered/saw the room):

It was indescribable. Words failed when one stepped inside Room 242 of the Boston Ramda. The odor was stronger than all the World’s Strongest Man’s competitors combined. Stronger than Popeye after a whole bellyful of spinach. It was stronger than the faith of Mother Teresa.
But what was it, people wondered? What possibly could make a smell that foul, that pungent, that miles away people cried out in unmistakable voices, “Dear God, what is that thing?”
And for decades, nay centuries, the mystery has remained unslolved. Ranking right up there with other unsolved Boston mysteries, like Why does only Cliff Clavin have a Boston accent on Cheers?”
Now, the truth can be told.
Picture it, Boston, 1776. A young blacksmith named Paul Revere is sitting in his room, dreaming of the fair-haired maiden he saw in smelting class just that afternoon. He decides to cook some dinner, when, like a lightning bolt, he learns about a devious plot the British are planning. More devious than he could ever imagine. Suddenly, he throws his dinner under the bed, thinking of how to devise a system to warn all his fellow Massachusetts residents, especially one B. Collins, a man who keeps prattling on about some racket sport he’s been watching.
One if by land, two if by sea, he decides. Quickly, like a thief running out of a restaurant without paying the check, Revere scampers out of the room and begins knocking on doors.
His dinner, a pot of Boston baked beans, remained underneath the mattress.
And it is there that those baked beans lie today, a reminder to all of how dangerous it is to operate a stove during a time of war.
That smell, like a British house-
guest who stays too long, is destined to live on for eternity.


Earlier this evening I was walking to my car through Harvard Square, thinking how lucky I am. Truly, I could die tomorrow (knock, knock) and—if nothing else—know I’ve lived an incredibly charmed life. My greatest career goal was to one day write for Sports Illustrated, and I did it. When I was young and dumb and unable to meet women, all I wanted was a nice wife who’d eat with me at outdoor cafes. Now I’m married to my ultimate dream woman. I wanted kids, and I’ve got two extraordinary ones who, come tomorrow morning, will greet me with hugs and kisses. I’ve got a cool house, supportive friends and family members, a Mazda … really I’m golden.

Which leads me to Felix.

Upon getting my car from the lot, I was dumbfounded to find the same attendant sitting in the coffin-sized booth who’d been there, oh, 7 1/2 hours earlier. “Holy shit!” I said. “Aren’t you the same guy from this morning.” He nodded. The guy’s name was Felix—an Amherst College student holding down what must surely be the worst summer job in world history. Felix sits in this booth for 12 hours; he can take bathroom breaks in a building across the way until 4:30, when that place closes. He has no AC, just a small fan and an open window.

I’ve had some crap gigs in my life (No. 1 with a bullet—Opinion Survey Taker, Jefferson Valley Mall), but I’ve never spent 12 hours in a 120-degree coffin. (The photo here is where he sits)

So Felix, I told you I’d offer props. Here they are.

five best baseball stadiums …

Just got back from Fenway. Man, what a stadium. I’m a New York boy at heart, but Fenway is sooooo much better than Yankee Stadium or (hahahaha) Shea. There’s just something about the texture to the place—genuine, authentic, oozing with passion. I was sort of instructed long ago to hate the Sox, but it’s kind of hard when you’re there, smelling the smells and feeling the feels. Just a joy.

Anyhow, I’ve decided to give you my five best baseball stadiums in America. In order …

1. Fenway Park—Easily. Yeah, the seats are at odd angles, and the bathrooms are nasty. But the charm conquers all.

2. Wrigley Field—See Fenway.

3. Dodger Stadium—The fans are pretty lame (show up late, leave early), but the stadium is wonderful.

4. Minute Maid Park—I know … I know—the joint is as traditional as a Justin Timberlake single. But there’s something about it that just works. Plus, most important, the press box buffet is first rate.

5. Safeco Field—Still manages to blow me away. Magnificent.

By the way, I’ve invented a word, and I’d like to debut it here. It’s Constaria. This is when you really have to go to the bathroom, and it feels like you’ve got the runs, but when you finally reach the toilet nothing comes out. The term is used regularly in my house to describe a condition nobody wants to endure. Feel free to bring it into your home, too.

Final thought: Why does my nose look so weird in this photo? Hmm …

Jemele Hill and John McCain

Jemele Hill is probably my favorite columnist at ESPN.com, where we both write for Page 2. She’s smart, funny and makes intelligent points without slamming it down the reader’s throat. I have nothing but respect for her.

That said, I strongly disagree with her recent blog post, in which she implies—based on the unknown factor of Barack Obama—

that we might be better off with John McCain as president.

To begin with, there is far, far, far, FAR greater unknown with McCain than Obama. Factually, Obama is a moderate liberal. Factually, he has stated positions on Iraq; on the Supreme Court; on abortion rights; on illegal immigration. Do I agree with them all? No. Am I frustrated by some of his recent Weeble-Wobble statements? Yes. But overall, he’s been pretty darn firm. McCain, on the other hand, is pure Jell-O. He makes appearances with Bush, but only when there’s no press, and the only people present are hard-core, big-money Republican donors. He says we should stay the course in Iraq, but hasn’t even remotely explained what the course is. He paints himself as a moderate, but is strictly an anti-choice, anti-gay, pro-gun candidate. He babbles on about his efforts to curtail governmental spending, yet woos lobbyists in creative ways that allow him to say, “Who? Me?”

Computer? What's a computer?Worst of all, in my opinion, is McCain’s nonstop, annoying-as-all-hell babbling about how amazing it was for him to “stand up and say Rumsfeld should no longer be calling the shots about Iraq.” First off, myriad Democrats were saying the same exact thing for at least a year before McCain had the guts to speak up. Second, where was McCain when it mattered, back when he was supporting the whole Iraq war effort? If being a veteran has served him sooooo incredibly well, judgment-wise, why didn’t he have the smarts to step up and say, “This is misguided” back in 2002? Say what you want about Obama (He had nothing to lose; he was being political; etc) but back when very few people had the balls to say, “This war is a bad idea,” he said—literally—

this war is a bad idea.

One last thing: McCain recently admitted he does not know how to use a computer.

Think about that for a minute. Really—

think about it.

In the year 2008, we would be electing a man who does not know how to use a computer. That’s not a joke, and not particularly funny. It’s friggin’ frightening.

So, Jemele, you’re one of my faves. But you’re waaaaaaaaaay off on this one.

erin andrews

Photo on 2-9-15 at 4.59 PM #2

So about five minutes ago I was in the press box dining room as Fenway Park. A female employee of the Red Sox was sitting at a table, a few seats down from myself and some schlubby dude in a give-away-from-some-lame-event polo shirt. After a few bites, Schlubby turns to the woman and says, “That’s a nice outfit you’re wearing—a different kind of style for you. Where’d you get the dress?”

The woman responded kindly (“Oh, thanks. But I’ve had the dress a while), but I have to believe she was thinking, “Great, another f—ing loser writer looking at my breasts and struggling for something to say.”

I bring this up in the wake of a sadly unsurprising TV moment, when Dick Vitale—being interviewed by ESPN’s Erin Andrews about his beloved Tampa Bay Rays—said, “(Rays manager) Joe Maddon has done a great job. Not as great as you, though. I tell you one thing. All I know is this: If Bo Derek is a 10, you are 15.”


This is the sort of crap I’ve witnessed for more than 10 years in the business, and it continues to mortify me. Here’s Erin Andrews, a professional announcer who works hard, prepares and prepares and prepares, has covered some absolutely awful events in an effort to establish herself—being compared to Bo Derek. Does Vitale think Andrews is supposed to be flattered by this? Is she supposed to shed her professionalism and flutter, “Oh, Dickie. Oh, Dickie.” I still shudder at a moment I witnessed two years ago, when a former Expo outfielder named Warren Cromartie was doing some radio work with the Florida Marlins. “Cro” was in the press box when a young female reporter approached him for advice. As she walked away, “Cro” muttered to the nearby men, “Check out the ass on that stallion.”

In hindsight, I am disappointed in myself. My reply shouldn’t have been silence, but a loud, mighty, “DID YOU JUST SAY ‘CHECK OUT THE ASS ON THAT STALLION!?” I should have made him feel as pathetic and minimal as humanly possible.

Alas, I just kept on typing, thinking, “What a dumb-ass” while doing nary a thing.

Shame on me.

Even in the year 2008, sports writing remains something of an old boys club. Ninety percent of us have no social skills. We spill grease on our free 1993 World Series polos; we kissed a girl once (And it was on the cheek. Of a third cousin). We talk the talk when it comes to women and sex, because we’re embarrassed to admit we go back to the motel after the game and watch porn or cry over 2 am “Highway to Heaven” re-runs.

Women work their asses off to enter the field, and many are truly fantastic. But the crap they have to deal with … well, it’s just wrong. On myriad levels.

Skip Bayless

As I sit here waiting for the Ramada shuttle bus, listening to some groovy elevator music, I started to think about Skip Bayless, the ESPN TV personality. If you go over to my NEWS section, you’ll see that Rich Deitsch over at SI.com made note of my flogging of Bayless within the pages of “Boys Will Be Boys.”

I wrote a small passage on this blog, saying I have nothing personal against Bayless. But now, listening to elevator music, I want to slightly switch that. While I don’t personally have any beef with ol’ Skip, I do hate what he’s become as a journalist, and what many of my peers are starting to become as well. Once upon a time Bayless was of the truly great talents of the industry—he wrote wonderfully; knew an excellent subject matter when it presented itself; took the right tone, RE: soothing; scathing; etc. He was a legit up-and-comer; a potential heir to the Jim Murray throne.

But then something went wrong. This is sort of a guess, but I think Skip saw that yelling and condemning and slamming gets a helluva lot more attention than reason. So that’s what he did—he yelled and condemned and took controversial, seemingly illogical positions for the sake of being, well, Skip. Was he wrong to do so? Maybe not. Now Skip is one of ESPN’s top yellers—he can be seen screaming on television quite often, whether the subject is the Yankees’ pitching staff or pee-wee football. He yells and yells and yells and yells—and gets paid well to do so.

Personally, I can’t stand it. I’ve been asked to take part in televised yells fests in the past, and I’ve refused. Yeah, it’s OK to have opinions, and to express them passionately. But, generally speaking, I’m a fan of the pen, not the mouth.