An American Hajj

hajj – an honorary title given to an individual who is engaging in pilgrimage. The honorific title “Hajj” stays with him, even after his return from pilgrimage until his death, quite often as a permanent title and part of his name with friends and public.

main-buildings-golden-dome-university-of-notre-dame-library-of-congress-lc-dig-highsm-18705One weekend this coming September, I will embark on a pilgrimage to the one of the most important sites for American Roman Catholics.  No … not St. Patrick’s Cathedral, not the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, not the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa … not the Vatican …

I will be attending my first football game in South Bend, Indiana at the University of Notre Dame!

No doubt in some yet-to-be-discovered scroll tucked in a Galilean sea cave resides an ancient admonishment for all Roman Catholic citizens of the United States to make The Pilgrimage of The Fighting Irish at least once in one’s lifetime!  I’m sure of it.  It must exist … for how else to explain this overpowering physical attraction to The Program???

This is a phenomena with which I grew up in Irish Catholic Philadelphia during the 1960-70s.  It’s been a fascinating thing to witness, especially when few – if any – of those adults and children with whom I grew up actually attended Notre Dame!  The dedication is real and pervasive to the point where many families and friends set aside at least one weekend each football season to make the annual pilgrimage.

Frankly, an Irish Catholic’s love for Notre Dame football is not all that difficult to decipher as a natural development of growing up in undeniably wholesome and homogenous settings, where The Church was a central and integral part in the lives of our Parents and Grandparents … and thus onto us.  It’s a confluence of Sports and Religion unique in its roots, devotion and enduring strength.

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Rockne, The Four Horsemen, and friends

It’s origins likely the outgrowth of the rise of collegiate football in the decades preceding the existence of the National Football League (NFL); and the result of The Fighting Irish’s success and broad appeal in the collective conscience of those proud Catholics. While “the greatest generation” – the generation of my father and uncles, Irishmen all –  lived its formative years, Notre Dame football was a constant presence.

My father was born in 1919.  The years of 1918-1930 were the Knute Rockne years.  A twelve-year stretch consisting of FIVE undefeated seasons and SIX where no more than 2 losses were booked by The Fighting Irish!  So it’s not hard to see how a generation was immersed in the success and glory of Notre Dame football, even in a time long before football polls, National Championships, and the dreaded BCS.

Unfortunately, the lack  of clear-cut test for determining such pressing issues as football supremacy begot arguments that probably sent many an Irish-Americans into Saturday confessionals

For some reason I was not bitten as severely by the ND football bug as so many were in my extended fraternal family.  I like Notre Dame football; enjoy watching; and always pull for them when I catch their broadcasts.  But the fanaticism never took complete root.

In my family, I have had uncles and cousins make the pilgrimage as once-in-a-lifetime excursions or as regular visits.  I had at least one cousin buried in full Notre Dame regalia.  So many funerals and a few weddings had references to The Fighting Irish.

It’s a guy thing … a Catholic thing … a family thing …

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A family thing … Brother Pat and his two sons, Joseph and Andrew

Yet despite all that kelly green DNA, I never had the Irish-urge to see Notre Dame play locally or even think about taking the trip out to South Bend.

That changed a few weeks ago, when a close friend suggested we go out to God’s Country with mutual friends, who have made ND football an annual gig.  I demurred at first … again not smitten with the ND bug.  Then I found out my brother – a true ND football devotee – had decided to join the very same group from his home base on the West Coast.

Though I may not be a Notre Dame football disciple, I am certainly a huge fan of family, friends, fun, and good times.

What better reason could there be to embark on such an American hajj?!?

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The First Amendment: A Double-Edged Sword

american-flag-1It’s been awhile since last we spoke.  Personally, I have been having a hard time finding subjects on which I feel strongly enough to write.  My writer’s block has however been finally been broken by a flood of Facebook posts deriding the recent trend of National Football League (NFL) players refusing to stand; kneeling through; or raising black fists in protest of varying social conditions during The National Anthem.

The Facebook pleas encourage me to stop watching the NFL; to boycott league-sponsored merchandise and broadcast sponsors; and demand corrective action, even laws to punish the offenders.

Now most people, who know me, will expect me to come down hard and fast on the side of showing our National Emblem the deference and respect we believe it deserves without fail … ever.  And certainly I believe that …

What nags at me however is the thought that Respect for national symbolism – be it The Anthem or The Flag – trumps the Rights of the First Amendment, particularly that of Free Speech.  While I do not appreciate disrespectful displays or treatments of The Flag, what I choose to cherish most are the Freedoms that allow such behaviors as an expression of perceived failures or injustices.

Unfortunately for our various sensibilities, Respect for the First Amendment requires a higher level of tolerance for the ways in which our Freedoms are expressed.  Accommodating the freedom to express oneself requires an Advanced Degree in American Citizenship, particularly when its display encroaches on the symbols, institutions, and rituals for which we wear our Hearts on our sleeves.

This is not easy.  But then again, it was never intended to be easy.

Certainly we can express our scorn and anger at what we interpret to be unconscionable violations of national heritage and symbolism.  That freedom to express one’s disdain is covered in the same protections that allow the type of demonstrations that annoy the bejesus out of us.

We can publicly judge those who burn The Flag or choose not to stand for The National Anthem is the best – or only way – they can express their own anger and frustration.  But punishment and retribution?!?

No, those reactions are the purview of authoritarians, dictators, and oppressors who look to preserve their own peculiar claim to rule by denying Voice to the People!  This is not what Americans do.  It is not how we roll!

No matter how maddening the behavior …

Allow me please to reiterate, since I am sure some will take this message as endorsement of the practices.  I do NOT agree with flagrant displays of disrespect for my Country, its cherished symbols, or the Principles for which it stands.  What I do recognize is that there are degrees of disrespect I can live with, in the knowledge that our Founding Fathers no doubt intended for The Bill of Rights to be a challenge to both the Government and its citizens!

And I have had my moments in celebrating the actions inherent in those who Advanced Degrees in Citizenship spurred them to action!

I applauded – wildly, I might add – the Chicago Cubs’ Rick Monday, when on April 25, 1976 he ran from his outfield position to arrest the flag-burning attempts of two supposed war protesters.

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Those of us who would appreciate Mondays’ quick actions should also recognize that demonstrations of national disrespect sometimes accomplish nothing more than to illustrate a protestor’s failure of perspective, particularly when they simply draw negative attention to the person or position they claim to support by physically mistreating or burning The Flag.  In my opinion, your cause, your candidate – even the people who support them – will suffer in our view.  When they fail to recognize or value the Sacrifices made by others, whose sacrifice allows them to express themselves so freely, they cheapen whatever message they are pushing.

There’s the rub really that protesters of this sort fail to appreciate.  You might attract limited, short-lived attention for your cause or position ; but that transient recognition will fade faster than the headshakes and mental “F— you!”s tossed your way by those drawn serendipitously into your protest.  For those whom your message is intended, you run the greater risk of alienating them rather than changing minds or opening a discussion.

The story is quite different when it comes to the quiet, almost reverential protests we have witnessed recently at football games … at least in my opinion.  These passive demonstrations, inspired by a back-up quarterback no less, where sitting or taking a knee as the National Anthem is played or the slightly more active stance of raised black fists is – if nothing else – much easier to manage emotionally.

We may not like such displays.  But we should also wonder why they are considered necessary by those protesting.

I may not understand the need to turn one’s back to The Anthem or to embellish one’s seemingly reluctant participation with a raised fist.  But many people do understand the need to take such action.  If they did not, we would not be having these conversations today.

And that’s really what that pesky, sometimes irritating Freedom of Speech is intended to do … Give voice to those who feel isolated or left behind, whether or not we can appreciate their position!

So no … Do not ask me to boycott the NFL or Pepsi or Hyundai or Papa John’s pizza simply because your sensibilities were offended by a kneel or a clenched fist at an inappropriate time.  Because I have news for you …

The emotions you feel, the reactions you have to such displays are exactly what the Founding Fathers were likely hoping might occur when one group or another feels the need to draw attention to their perceived plight in any way that stirs our emotions.  The Stars and Stripes is a collection of fabric to which we attach a great deal of pride and symbolism; but it’s the Fabric of our Nation, expressed in the Freedoms passed down to us, that makes all things possible.

I leave you with this

 

 

 

 

 

Prescription for 2016 Philadelphia Phillies fans

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Maikel Franco

Spring is in the air!

OK … not so much today with temps in the 30s. But somewhere they are playing Major League Baseball, and that should be close enough to prove that the Spring has sprung.

With this baseball season, comes many conflicted emotions for Philadelphia Phillies fans.  After two seasons of barely watchable baseball, the organization has turned over a good chunk of the roster, including highly-respected, World Series contributors (Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley); opened the gates to its minor leagues prospects of the Future; and hired a manager – Pete Mackanin – befitted to let the Future develop under an appropriately watchful and instructive eyes.

Led by an infield of Maikel Franco, Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernendez with the compromise platoon of Ryan Howard and Darin Ruf, the Phils should bring the enthusiasm and hunger of youth ready to prove to all they belong in The Show.  And at some point this season, the Phillies look to get even younger and – as a result – LESS experienced.

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Manager Pete Mackinin

As Phillies fans, we just have to be patient, understanding, resisting the urge to be overly critical or incessantly accommodating like Little League helicopter parents.  There will be bumps, lumps, and frustrations along the way.

The Future looks bright if the organization’s prospects pan out, especially on the pitching mound.  And the Phillies will have to find out who can play, who can hit, and who can pitch.  It’s a process that can alternate between Promise and Disappointment.

Now, the 2016 Phillies might just surprise us all and jump out to a fast start … Yesterday’s come-from-ahead loss aside.  They could make a run at contending or at least make a run at looking like contenders.  But those odds are long and smaller than a Kerwin Danley strike zone!

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Pitching prospect Jake Thompson

For the 2016 season, Phillies fans should fall back on the tried and true concepts of baseball as the best way to spend a Summer’s evening or a Saturday afternoon.  Harken back to days when you visited minor league stadiums and marveled at how hard hungry young men playing a kid’s game can be as you watch this young flock of Phillies go through their growing pains.  Maintain perspective when young mistakes and journeyman veterans kick away a Win.  Look at each Loss as a learning opportunity that just might make 2017 or 2018 a bit more interesting … and promising.

As the saying goes, it takes a few broken eggs to make omelet.

And who knows, maybe these kids might surprise us all!

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Remember the joy of kids playing a kid’s game

Has my Absence made your Heart grown Fonder?

mccainofflawnThis Winter has been a killer – motivation-wise.

Not sure exactly what the problem has been; but I have a few suspicions with which I will not bore those who still care enough to open those Cranky Man’s Lawn e-mail notifications they may wish they never requested.

Tough darts there, my friends!

I’m back, baby!  And I will be imposing my beliefs, viewpoints, and advice in your general direction regardless of your silent trepidations that – one day – I might rediscover my keyboard.

Here are a few ideas I am working on for near-future proselytizing:

  • A return to my roots – so to speak – with a renewed season-long look at keeping your lawn Cranky Man worthy!  Only this time I will reveal what I really do instead of what the Lawn Bible preaches.
  • a Trump dump … Not to be confused with a “Dump Trump” movement, this will only be my attempt to lance a boil I have been struggling to understand.

(Big Hint:  If it’s Hillary as the Democrat nominee, I would likely vote for just about any one or thing rather than to see her in the Oval Office unopposed by my guaranteed Right … even if I have to hold my nose the entire time I’m working the polls in early November.)

  • a look at the upcoming Phillies season with a different twist on what looks to be a painful, disheartening, glamour-less baseball season for Philadelphia’s faithful.  Now, doesn’t that make you want to run out and buy a Phillies season ticket plan?!?  Could be worse … They could be playing in 76ers jerseys!

So hang in there kiddies!

Rumors aside … The Cranky Man isn’t lawn fertilizer yet!

Chuck Bednarik: They don’t make them anymore!

2Chuck “Concrete Charlie” Bednarik, legendary figure in Philadelphia sports history died yesterday at the age of 89 after a short illness.

Playing for the Philadelphia Eagles for 14 years, Bednarik was the last of the “two-way players”, on the field for both offense and defense and routinely playing 55-58 minutes in a 60 minute game.

That kind of playing time is unheard of now in a sport where hard hitting is no longer the backbone of a game built on speed and athletic ability.

Bednarik’s life – football aside – was a microcosm of The Greatest Generation.

  • Born in Bethlehem, PA, Bednarik spent his entire life living in Pennsylvania.
  • Bednarik_CorpsJoined the Army Air Corp right out of high school with World War II in full swing. Flew 30 bombing missions over Germany as a waist gunner in the B-24.
  • All-American footballer at the University of Pennsylvania where he played linebacker, center and also punted. (In 1947, Bednarik’s junior year, Penn was ranked #7 in the nation.)
  • Philadelphia Eagles signed him for a $3000 bonus, $10,000 salary. He never made more than $27,000 a season!

Bednarik is most widely known for his hard, legal hit on NY Giants running back Frank Gifford, of Monday Night Football fame and Howard Cosell in a 1960 game.

Bednarik separating Frank Gifford (16) from the ball (1960).

Bednarik was an outspoken critic of the modern football player in his later years, bemoaning the end of the two-way player, then laughing at the likes of Deion Sanders when he decided to play “two-way football” at the cornerback/wide receiver positions.

They don’t make them like that anymore.

The inconspicuous news

The stories that might escape your attention for any number of reasons.

A Greek warning to Peace and Democracy

alexis-tsiprasTracy Rubin, a regular contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer’s editorial board, posted an interesting article on the recent election in Greece and its potential ripple throughout the European Union.  Rubin phrases her warning as one to the European elite, but the effects of widespread dissatisfaction throughout Europe, largely due to financial struggles and large-scale disenfranchisement, should be am alarm to every EU citizen.

Greece’s new Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, won the government’s top post by promising to renegotiate the austere economic measures imposed by the EU and International Monetary Fund in its 2010 bailout of the bankrupt country.  The causes of the collapse are not much different from those in the U.S. in 2008.

Free-wheeling borrowing and lending were the primary cause; but Greece’s overly generous public benefits programs were also a huge factor in the collapse.  Unfortunately austerity measures imposed on Greece in the bailout left many without jobs and even without heat .  Youth unemployment, always a catalyst for populist revolt and even the attraction of political extremism, reached 60%. Many of the same conditions can be found in Spain, Italy, France and other less well-off countries.

One only need refresh their 1920-40s European history to understand what the potential is for such widespread austerity, and the disillusionment it breeds, and to realize the kind of extremist behavior can result.

Boys and our toys

Yes, Virginia, some of us never, ever grow up completely.  Let’s just get that fact out of the way!

So what could be more appropriate on a Superbowl Sunday, than to relive one of those epic memories from those days before animated electronics and computer-generated graphics!  Those days of wiffle ball, street hockey, and electric football!

20150201_inq_fitz01-aThe game was tabbed as the closest a kid could get to real football without the risk of concussion or the need for future hip replacement surgery.  Until you flipped on the power and – as the author notes, the field looks like “a jarful of crickets had been released onto a hot skillet.”

Good memories surround the hours needed to properly set up one’s squad and maybe play a full quarter of football.  More time was wasted than in any other childhood activity that fascinated for reasons that puzzle us to this day.  But the memories? Irreplaceable!

Now for some really crazy numbers.  In 1947 over 40 million sets were sold.  But if you think interest in the game has died in those 70-plus years … An electric football newsletter currently has over 20,000 subscribers.  In 1999 a group from Philadelphia hosted an electric football competition and attracted 1500 participants!

Yep, us boys are loyal to our toys!

Moderates start pulling GOP a bit their way

The political reality in the Philadelphia suburbs is that, if you are a Republican looking for wide, cross-party appeal and win elections, you must present a more Moderate political view.  The same probably holds true in a lot of suburban communities surrounding large concentrations of urban Democrats.

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Congressional Rep Charlie Dent (PA-15)

Such an approach helps to explain the popularity of such local talents as Congressional Representatives Charlie Dent and Patrick Meehan.

But another factor to consider is the political weight these Moderates might pull in a Republican Congressional caucus looking to grow their national appeal.  In recent weeks, Moderates in the delegation have been able to blunt some controversial legislation and political moves.

As Dent mentioned in a recent debate, “Week One, we had the vote for Speaker. Week Two, we debated deporting children. Week Three, we’re debating rape and incest. I can’t wait for Week Four.”

The rise of the Moderates might be worth watching.

Inconspicuous news

The video he wishes he never shared

Ahmed Merabet

Ahmed Merabet

The most disturbing piece of video shot during the Charlie Hedbo massacre was perhaps that shot by man across the street from the assassination of French police officer, Ahmed Merabet, a 42-year-old Muslim himself.

Engineer Jordi Mir described the terror and panic he felt after having just witnessed the cold blooded, merciless shooting as Merabet lay obviously wounded on the sidewalk. Alone and feeling isolated in his flat, Mir fled to his computer and posted the video to Facebook.

After but 15 minutes, he thought better of his decision and took the video down; but it was too late. Within an hour he was mortified to see it being replayed across the world on hundreds of media sites and broadcasts.

No one – in my opinion – could blame Mir for what he did, given that moment in time and the terror he must have felt. The story does not go into why he felt posting it was a mistake he regrets. But it is a lesson in the unforgiving nature of today’s instantaneous “share it” culture.

Krauthammer: Boost the gas tax

Political commentator Charles Krauthammer, never one to be mistaken for a “tax and spend” liberal, is championing a $1.00 boost in the national gas tax. But he’s not pushing it as a way to fix the transit infrastructure.

Krauthammer wants the tax boosted to continue the psychological pressure on the consumption of petroleum products and as a way to relieve the pressure – even if only a little – on those consumers living day-to-day in everyday America by reducing Social Security taxes among other options.

He makes several valid points on the both the psyche of the American automotive consumer and his fickle relationship with overseas oil. lying just below the surface is the same mistrust all should feel about the obviously selfish motives of the Saudis, who are driving down the cost of oil (now below $50 a barrel) in a blatant strategy to corner market share and render economically less feasible the hunt for and development of alternative energy sources.

If, as some sources suggest, this artificially low price of foreign oil persists for two years, exactly how much damage will be done to efforts to wean us from the oil nipple?!?

Louie and the Quarterback

If you know the story of Louie Zamperini, you know of the extraordinary trials he went through in his early life. I haven’t yet seen the movie, “Unbroken”, but I plan to. I did thoroughly enjoy Lauren Hillenbrand’s book by the same title. If you haven’t read it, you really should, especially if you can squeeze it in before seeing the movie!

From all accounts, Zamperini is an extremely likeable man. A close family member had several chances to meet Zamperini at public events in a law enforcement role in his native home of Torrance, CA. He had nothing but praise for the old WWII hero.

Zamperini died this past July.

But another interesting friendship Zamperini encouraged was with former USC quarterback, Matt Barkley. Barkley, third string QB for the 2014 Philadelphia Eagles, met Zamperini as a USC freshman in 2009.

Barkley describes how no one know who this “old guy” was as he addressed their class. But by the end, Barkley was listening intently and was so struck by his story that he hung around to talk to “Unbroken” hero afterwards.

Matt Barkley and Louie Zamperini

Matt Barkley and Louie Zamperini

And a friendship was born.

Barkley shares that “Louie embodied what it means to push through your mental limits and even the physical limits of what your body can do.”

It was a lesson that served Barkley well in his struggles to make the transition to the NFL. The two men, roughly 70 years apart in age, conversed regularly. Zamperini even invited Barkley to watch the U.S.-Canada 2010 Olympic Games hockey matchup in his home.

Spoiler alert: Zamperini became such a gracious man in his later years, when he was given the opportunity to carry a torch for the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan he sought a media-arranged meeting with the former Japanese soldier who tormented him in the WWII prison camp. The offer was rejected by Mutsohiro Watanabe.