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DEC. 31, 2011     ON INCREDULITY

In sports, as in life, sometimes an unusual event occurs.  But overenthusiastic reporters often can’t believe it.

“That was an unbelievable catch!”  What?  You don’t think he actually caught the ball?  Was it some sort of magician’s sleight-of-hand trick?

“They’re behind by ten; if they manage to win, it would be incredible.”  What?  You’ll refuse to accept the result because of its alleged impossibility?

Extraordinary catches and comebacks might be rare, but we shouldn’t doubt that they can and do happen.  We can call them “remarkable.”  But “unbelievable”?  “Incredible”?  I’d reserve those terms for events that are truly beyond belief.

What might those events be?  Well, baseball announcer Jerry Coleman once described an attempted catch by Dave Winfield in which he accidentally decapitated himself.  “Winfield goes back to the wall.  He hits his head on the wall, and it rolls off!  It's rolling all the way back to second base!  This is a terrible thing for the Padres.”

Or for another example, suppose a sportscaster describes the quarterback impaling the football on the point of a javelin, sprouting wings like an angel, flying downfield at an altitude of 20 feet, and using the spear to deliver the ball to a receiver in the end zone.  I might consider that unbelievable.



Hello, young lovers!  It's time to send in the clowns and make someone happy.  We must climb every mountain, people!

That is to say, the fourth and final quarter of my three-quarter-hour piano concert from 1978 is now available, at the end of this article.  It's my Boxing Day gift to you.


DEC. 23, 2011     HOLIDAY CHEERS

Congratulations to Debbie Honkus, who last weekend in New York became the first woman inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame.  She’s pictured here with her husband Michael.  Click the photo for George Guido's report in our local newspaper.

Deb was one of my fellow employees at TCS some 30 years ago.  She stayed on when many of the TCS assets were purchased by NEP and now is NEP’s chief executive officer.  Here is her story, quoting several other people with whom I’ve worked (John Roché, Dave Mazza, Eric Thomas).

On this website, I’ve mentioned Deb briefly here and here.  And I’ve mentioned George Guido here and here.

Also, I pass along Christmas greetings from the president of my alma mater, Marvin “Kris Kringle” Krislov!

Click the picture for a link to the YouTube video.  You’ll be rewarded with wintry scenes of Oberlin College, ten bassoons swinging out on a holiday tune, and much more.


In the “remix” of the video, I also discovered a few frames of old film from my era at the college radio station, WOBC.  I added an image to this article.


DEC. 21, 2011     ONE YEAR LEFT

“There will be a great disaster next week!”


“The end of the world!  It's coming, a week from Sunday!”

So soon?

“I have proof!”

You do?

“Look at this calendar!  After Saturday, December 31, the next page is blank!”

So what?

“There’s no Sunday!  It’s the end of days!  We’re doomed!”

Silly, on Sunday we’ll simply start a new year.  Look, I bought a 2012 calendar just last week.  See here?  Sunday, January 1, 2012.  Monday, January 2.  And so on.

“Oh.  —Well, forget about that.  But there definitely will be a great disaster one year from today!”

One year from today, huh?

“It will be the end of the world!  I have proof!”

What proof?

“Look at the Mayan calendar!  Scholars have figured it out.  According to the Mayan Long Count, the thirteenth b'ak'tun of the current era will end on December 21, 2012.  And that will be the end of civilization!  We’re doomed!”

Silly, the Mayans never said there won’t be a fourteenth b'ak'tun.  We’ll just start a new period of another 5,126 years.  As Sean Sturgeon writes,

The Mayan Long Count calendar is built in great long ages and the last one they really bothered with just happens to end (maybe) in December of 2012. They never got any further because they were too busy having their culture wiped out.

All such numerology is false; even if nature could care about our days and years, it would not. Every human calendar is just that — human — and no more predicts the end of planets, stars and civilizations than the lyrics to “MacArthur Park.”

We shouldn’t worry that the sun will explode or tidal waves will wash over the Himalayas.  However, we should worry that fanatics, in their misguided religious belief that Armageddon is at hand and there will be no 2013, may take reckless actions in 2012 that will destroy civilization.

There may never be an apocalypse.  If it does come, it will also be a human event — humans being killed by humans who, in the words of PZ Myers, “really believe in an apocalyptic messiah and are wishing the world would end in a catastrophe before they die.”



The uninvited visitor in his dirty coat was much smaller than you and I, old and fat, like Danny DeVito.  He was yelling out strange names as he charged toward the house in his toy-like vehicle.

The eyewitness report clearly describes his small size and unkempt appearance, but we ignore it because we have a different picture in our minds.

How could we so casually dismiss the original account?

That’s the question in this month’s “100 Moons” article.


DEC. 12, 2011     POETIZING

I have two works of rhyme to offer you today, for what they're worth.

One is whimsical, old, original with me.  It’s called On Your Wooden Anniversary.

The other is political, new, a parody of a Dylan song from the sixties.  The title is It Ain’t Us, Babe.


DEC. 10, 2011     NOËLCO

About 55 years ago, I was visiting my grandparents in Kentucky when I saw a strange object like this in the bathroom.  Upon inquiry, I learned it was my grandfather’s electric shaver.

Almost all other men shaved with Gillette razor blades, but H.F. Thomas explained that because he had a skin condition, he had been advised to use this newfangled Norelco rotary-blade device from Holland.

A few years after that, when I became old enough, my father showed me the standard shaving procedure — the one that H.F. had taught him when he was a boy.  I had to fill the bathroom sink with hot water, wash my face, smear my face with shaving cream, scrape the cream and the whiskers off with a razor, then remove the remaining cream from my face and neck and shirt.  Finally, I had to stop the bleeding from numerous small cuts with the momentarily painful application of a styptic pencil.

I was dissatisfied with this messy ritual and asked if I could try a Norelco like my grandfather’s.

This was much better:  no water or foam required, no washcloth, no towel, no cleaning up afterwards, and never a single cut.  Shaving required only about one minute instead of five.

I’ve been a loyal Norelco user ever since.  My previous model having slowed down and lost battery capacity over the years, this week I bought a new 8240XL.  I recommend it without reservation.



Last year my local newspaper endorsed a gubernatorial candidate.  He’s been in office for 11 months now.  Perhaps having second thoughts, the paper has been editorializing against some of his wrongheaded actions and inactions.  I join them in venting my Regrets about the Governor.


DEC. 2, 2011

The article on this website that has generated the most e-mail response is the one I wrote nearly ten years ago about Ohio Tax Stamps.

Now it’s been reprinted on page 3 of the December edition of the Galion Historian.  That’s a newsletter published quarterly by the Galion Historical Society.  Galion is a small Ohio city located 35 miles northeast of the town where I grew up.

The editor, Mike Hocker, recently received a pad of these stamps (pictured at right below) as a collectible item from a friend.

“I remember them as a kid growing up in Galion,” he wrote me.  “I thought it would make a good Historian article, but realized that I had no idea how and why these existed.”  He found my explanation online and asked if he could use it in the newsletter.

I readily agreed.  “Of course, I’m not a historian,” I disclaimed.  “I'm just a guy who remembered handling these stamps and looked up the date when Ohio's sales tax was enacted.  I didn't interview any state legislators from the 1930s, so I don't know for sure why they decided to issue these receipts and to redeem them for a fraction of their face value.  But I think I've surmised correctly that it was a way to encourage compliance with the tax law.”

As I noted when I referenced the article here a year ago, “Folks who still have some of these stamps wonder whether they're worth anything to collectors.  (I don't know anything about that.)”


I work on sports telecasts, but not often at major events.  I’ve never done a Super Bowl or a World Series, for example.  And I’m actually happier working minor events like a Friday-night high school football game.  The pay rate is the same, and there’s much less pressure.

So I was surprised to read this column from the Los Angeles Times, in which Mike DiGiovanna lists eight of the Biggest Upsets in Sports History.  I was actually on the broadcast crew for 25% of them!  Namely, yours truly worked Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson in 1990 and Appalachian State over Michigan in 2007.  That’s more than my share.



“You can’t tell the players without a scorecard!”  The scorecard vendors used to call out that sales pitch to fans entering the stadium.  Accordingly, nine days ago I laid out this card for myself, and for the next week I referred to it constantly.  It summarizes the key details for the WPIAL high school football championships, four games played the Saturday after Thanksgiving at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field and televised by ROOT Sports.

Who’s announcing the Single-A game?  Who’s the Sto-Rox coach?  Which team, 3rd-seeded Knoch or 5th-seeded Montour, will be the “home” team and wear the dark jerseys?  They both wear gold helmets; which is the brighter shade of yellow?  When does the Double-A game start, and when will it actually air?  How shall we abbreviate Aliquippa?  Is that team the “Indians” or the “Quips”?  Which color shall we use to highlight Jeannette graphics, red or blue?  Precisely which shade of blue, in RGB values?  All the answers — collected from various sources — are on this chart. 

I made additional copies so that the director and  the scorebug operator and the video replay team could also keep the teams straight.  Then I went to work organizing the lineups and statistics and such into the proper bins as directed by the chart.

It was my fifth time for this extravaganza.  I described an earlier experience here.

My busiest season is the third of a year from August through November.  For 27 baseball and 10 hockey and two basketball telecasts during that period in 2011, another person coordinated the stats while I simply operated the graphics machine.  But I also worked 19 football telecasts by myself.  I was the one who had to organize the facts and prepare the computer files beforehand.  Usually there were only one or two such events each weekend:  an NFL preseason game, four involving small colleges, and ten weekly high school games.   The big climax came this Saturday, with four games in one 17½ hour day.

Now it’s the big letdown.  I'll archive the football materials for 2012, and until then I can let someone else worry about the details of the hockey and basketball and baseball teams I’ll be televising.


NOV. 24, 2011     PLAY LIKE

In an old Bible, I found a newspaper clipping that my mother probably put there.  It’s a poem written by a lady in our hometown, Dorothy P. Albaugh, otherwise known as Mrs. Charles Stickell.  She once appeared on a local radio program which I transcribed here.  Her poem begins by approximately quoting Hamlet.

“Assume the virtue though you have it not,”
The poet says.
                       The small child says “Play like.”

We are but children; let us “play like” we
Are beautiful and brave, and gradually,
As we assume the virtue, we will grow
Much lovelier and braver than we know.

For God, Who understands the things we do
And loves us, makes pretending true.



When I was in graduate school in 1970, some of my fellow Syracuse students went to the nation’s capital to protest the Vietnam War and President Nixon’s incursion into Cambodia.

In the predawn hours they unexpectedly encountered the President himself.

On the 40th anniversary a year and a half ago, I added the student-written story of that odd event to an article on this website.

Now there's a new development.  Last week, the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum made available online a new set of Dictabelts.  These recordings include Nixon’s own account of meeting the protesters.

Having awakened in the middle of the night and listened to Rachmaninoff, on a whim he took his valet Manolo Sanchez to see the Lincoln Memorial.  The students were there.  He told them he sympathized with their anti-war sentiments.  Then he began talking about travel and European architecture.  “I just wanted to be sure that all of them realize that ending the war, and cleaning up the city streets and the air and the water, was not going to end the spiritual hunger which all of us have — which of course is the great mystery of life from the beginning of time.”  After a lyrically described sunrise, Nixon apparently continued to wander around Washington.  At a restaurant he had corned beef hash and poached eggs for the first time in five years.  (The previous such breakfast was in 1965?  Who remembers these things?)

If you’d like to listen, I’ve added the appropriate links to the end of the student story in my earlier article.



It’s another dark November.  If you’re in a mood to brood, just meditate upon the dark Wordle cloud above.  The words come from November’s “100 Moons” article, a prose poem that I wrote as a senior in high school.



When I was a kid, on a typical fall Saturday our family experienced college football twice.  Most college games weren’t televised, so we’d listen to Ohio State on the radio, then watch whatever other game happened to be on ABC-TV.

When I was a young man, most college games still weren’t televised, so our company’s weekly Penn State highlights show enjoyed a good viewership on Sunday mornings.  Often it was the only way to see the Nittany Lions play.

How things have changed!

For the first time in eight weeks, I won’t be working a telecast this Saturday, so I checked my local cable schedule to see when Penn State will kick off tomorrow.  It will be their first game without Joe Paterno as a coach since 1949, when I was two years old.

It turns out Penn State will be on TV at noon.  So will Ohio State.  So will Pitt.  So will West Virginia.  So will seven other contests.  Yes, starting at noon, 11 college football games will be televised simultaneously, live, on 11 different channels!  By the end of the day, 27 games will have been made available to my TV set.

Nebraska at Penn State
Ohio State at Purdue
Pittsburgh at Louisville
West Virginia at Cincinnati
Wake Forest at Clemson
Michigan State at Iowa
Penn at Harvard
Marshall at Tulsa
Texas at Missouri
Kentucky at Vanderbilt
Florida at South Carolina

Auburn at Georgia
Michigan at Illinois
Washington at USC
TCU at Boise State
Miami at Florida State
Wisconsin at Minnesota
Richmond at Delaware

Oregon at Stanford
Maryland at Notre Dame
Alabama at Mississippi State
Tennessee at Arkansas
Western Kentucky at LSU

Navy at Southern Methodist
Idaho at BYU
Hawaii at Nevada
Arizona St. at Washington St.

I do not intend to sample them all.

On the other hand, no games are being played in the professional National Basketball Association.  The argument continues over (among other matters) how much of the league’s revenues should go to the players.  Should it be 47%?  52%?

To those of us on the outside, it seems petty for rich folks to refuse to do their jobs over such a trivial matter.  Aren’t they already making millions?  Why should they care so much about an extra two or three per cent?  But they’re competitive men.  They have egos.  They subscribe to Jimmy Valvano’s motto, “Don't give up!  Don't ever give up!”  And so they refuse to make significant concessions, and the standoff continues.

Both sides have expressed regret that canceling NBA games also impacts the income of innocent bystanders — non-millionaires such as arena workers, restaurant cooks, and parking-lot attendants.

UPDATE MAY 26, 2016
Nearby businesses also depend on the games being played as scheduled.  The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote about the environs of the Consol Energy Center:   “Shawn Mozolak, bar manager at the Souper Bowl across Fifth Avenue, estimates that about three-quarters of its annual business comes from Penguins fans.”

No one ever mentions the television crews, but without games to televise, we’re out of work too.  The TV technicians in Atlanta are especially hard hit this winter.  Not only have NBA games been canceled, but Atlanta’s NHL team has fled the country to play hockey in Winnipeg instead.

So have I lost work to the NBA lockout?  No, there’s no NBA team here in Pittsburgh, so I have nothing to lose.  My winter schedule remains full of NHL telecasts and college basketball telecasts.  I worked my first college hoops of the season this past Monday, with at least 19 more games to follow between now and the end of February.  That includes three doubleheaders featuring both the men’s and women’s teams, which are always plenty of work for one day.


NOV. 9, 2011     JA, JA!

Fictional characters can bear any name their creator desires.  On the Fox TV comedy New Girl, two longtime girlfriends have names that are a bit out of the ordinary:  Cece (pronounced See-See) and Jess.

Last night, in the fifth episode of this new series, they were talking about romantic misunderstandings.  They flashed back to the time in grade school when a Hispanic kid handed the mousy Jess a valentine.

JESS.  You want this to go to Cece, right?


JESS.  Okay, then, I’ll give it to Cece.

EDUARDO.  No.  Jess.

JESS.  You don’t want me to give it to Cece?

EDUARDO.  Sí, sí.  Uh, for joo.

JESS.  For me.  To give to Cece.

EDUARDO.  (Turns away in frustration.)

So do you suppose the series creators called these characters Jess and Cece just so they could include this lame 19-second joke in Episode 5?  Or was it only after the names were chosen that a writer realized “Jess” and “Cece” could represent two ways a Spanish speaker might attempt to express an affirmative?  I suspect it's the latter, but I do wonder about these things.


NOV. 6, 2011     IDLE THREATS

“If ever I would leave you, the party's over on the street where you live.  Just in time.  No other love!”

No, I'm not being possessive.  Those are the titles that I played on the piano in 1978 as the third quarter of Great Songs of Broadway, now available for your listening pleasure.