Archive for September, 2011

For the first time in the history of this website, it’s Fury starting off The Tapes. Lots of pressure.

Sports Illustrated’s Joe Posnanski is one of the best baseball writers in the country and he tried to make some sense of Wednesday night’s craziness, when millions of people realized that, hey, even though baseball games seem to last an average of five hours these days and the season makes the NBA look like a sprint, it can still produce magical moments. I will say that I never feel more like a real New Yorker than when I revel in the downfall of a Boston team. I hated the Celtics long before I came to NYC – I started hating them about the time I started preschool – but it’s fun watching the Sox and Patriots fall.

* Really interesting story in the new Esquire. One of my favorite writers, Tom Junod, profiles one of my favorite performers, Jon Stewart. The story’s not what you’d probably expect and takes a fairly critical look at the Daily Show star. Those who don’t like Stewart’s persona or performances will probably really enjoy the piece. But even unabashed fans of the TV host will find it fascinating.

* The Onion caused a bit of chaos on Thursday when it tweeted that a hostage situation was underway in Congress. People thought the fake news agency had broken a real story. And then they got upset at the Onion for pulling an Orson Welles. It’s not the first time the Onion’s fooled people. It is one of the first times I can remember people being so upset, which seems very odd. It’s The Onion, folks. No matter how straight-sounding a story or tweet appears, if you see it’s from the Onion…wouldn’t you assume it’s satire? People reacted as if the Wall Street Journal pulled this off. It also shed a bit of light on just how crazy it is when news breaks these days. There’s no longer a 24-hour news cycle – it’s more like 24 seconds, and even that might be pushing it. It’s on Twitter? Go! React! It’s true!

* The Johnnies face the Tommies on Saturday and for one of the few times since John Gagliardi took over SJU, St. Thomas enters as an overwhelming favorite. The Tommies are confused, trying to figure out what this means to not be the underdog (they’re Tommies, things have to be explained slowly). My totally impartial prediction: SJU 28, St. Thomas 24.

* Big thanks to Fury for leading off this week. Looks like he taken some of that Midwestern work ethic back to New York. Speaking of hard workers, NBA player Delonte West may or may not have taken a job at a furniture store. This if funny if West is trying to be funny. It’s also funny if he’s not trying to be funny given that he was once rumored to be dating LeBron James’s mom. That one never gets old.

* Tell me this isn’t the best name – and maybe the best bio – in the history of college football.

* The Twin Cities Marathon is this weekend. A few friends are participating – and I am in awe. Seriously. It’s one thing to play in a softball league or try a spin class, but to willingly participate in endurance sports as an adult is fascinating. There’s more preparation and strategy involved than I ever imagined. And, obviously, it’s a huge time commitment, but it’s not like that time is spent doing something easy. The mental tenacity required first to get going and then to push through the wall blows my mind.
So good luck to everyone. Don’t forget the body butter.

You know how many articles offer facts and solid information, while others offer opinions?

Well, this doesn’t do any of that. It’s pretty much just a string of questions pertaining to the curious case of Jerry Kill.

See, the University of Minnesota football coach has been suffering seizures – lot of them – this season. Except it’s not just this season, his first with the Gophers. Reportedly, the issues date back several years following a bout with cancer.

Why is this flaring up more now than when, say, he was at Northern Illinois or Southern Illinois? Who knows? Maybe the pressure of the big stage has something to do with it. Or maybe it’s just a coincidence.

The real question is this: How much did Minnesota know or not know – and there is a difference – about the health issues when it hired Kill? I mean, nobody has ever asked me about my medical history during a job interview. Pretty sure that’s not even allowed. Do the same rules apply – at least in theory – to college football coaches in the Big Ten?

It’s hardly unprecedented to have a high-profile coach in less-than-perfect health. But rarely has this come up so early in a tenure – nobody even has enough information to judge Kill’s performance yet – and due to a preexisting condition.

Should the Gophers have done more digging on the health front? Certainly, they were aware that Kill had cancer. Should Kill have been forthcoming about the ongoing issues? Or was that unnecessary given that the seizures didn’t seem to hamper him at NIU and SIU? Is there a chance he flat-out withheld information or mislead people about the severity of his condition?

Those questions need to be asked at this point if only so that the answers can be filed away for future reference.

The stickier wicket is what to do now. If he’s truly unable to function as a coach, should Kill take it upon himself to resign and maybe as soon as the end of this season? Does Minnesota have the right to let him go without honoring the rest of his contract? (Again, I’m sure there are legal procedures and precedents that need to be followed, but I’m not a lawyer and not going to pretend to be versed in the letters of the law.)

Or are the Gophers willing to stick it out, hoping Kill turns a corner both in terms of health and that Minnesota follows suit?

It’s just a strange situation all the way around, one that may or may not be a reflection of a flailing program.

By Dan Frasier

Guest blogger

Sunday nights I have to do one of those things that make you lose your appetite. Something that you have to do over and over, even though once seems practically emotionally unbearable.

Right on schedule, my old companion – the lump in my throat – joined me.

The one that we have been trained to have, not so much as a prelude of crying, but rather as the obstacle around which the sob cannot find a path. It is a strawberry piece that gets stuck in the straw of your strawberry milkshake. No matter how much better it would be to get the lump out and just let the milkshake come, there is no forcing it. I wonder if I taught myself to have that at about the time I learned to not cry anymore when my feelings were hurt.

At any rate, that is where I was. In the summer, I would take this opportunity to try out a fishing spot. I like to look for a new stream, somewhere that I have to be intellectually engaged in the fishing and thus distracted enough to wait out the sting. I like to look for new or challenging water, usually moving water. This is where fly-fishing is at its most cognitively demanding.

The water needs to be read so flies can be drifted to the spots most likely to hold fish. Flies need to be selected based on the insect life that the fish have chosen to feed on, and the technical aspects of casting and drifting flies all come into play. That way the repetitiveness of cast and strip that I find attractive at times on lakes and ponds was not there. It is those times when my mind leaves the fishing and I find it pondering relationships or work or other non-fishing topics. It was this mind wandering that I looked to avoid.

So I sought flowing water with fish that could see me. More difficult or at least engaged – fishing that demands my attention. That is what I do in the summer.

It is early December. I decided to get a bite to eat – at this point I am avoiding my quiet apartment at all costs – and head in the general direction of the eateries in my hometown. Somehow, I discover that I am on a highway and have passed all the food joints.  Did I mention the loss of appetite? I was driving out into the country without even making the decision. I had apparently decided, unbeknownst to myself, to head to the river. I wish I had a better explanation than “it just happened,” but I honestly don’t remember deciding to go. It was just happening and I didn’t have the energy to stop it.

There is no good explanation for going out there at 7:30 at night in South Dakota in December; it has been dark for over two hours.  I did have my gear in the trunk and my license in my pocket, but the bank sign of the way out of town read 19 degrees so fly-fishing was not a realistic possibility, although I think I was still convinced that I would at least try a cast or two. It was as though there wasn’t a question. This was what needed to happen and I wasn’t going to have a say in it.

The place I was headed could be called my home water. It is a 30-minute drive from my place and I have spent the lion’s share of my fishing hours working this stretch of water. I am still learning about it, but it is the water that I know best. There is nothing inherently attractive about this place. It is not the greatest fishing spot around. In fact, some people view it as an inferior spot that inexplicably works sometimes and can be defaulted to when the better places aren’t. Nor is it a secret – I have fished with many different types and met some real characters on this stretch of water. It is known to produce, although not necessarily in the size or type of fish that people around here are looking for. Nor is it the most romantic water in the world, being in a cow pasture and near a road. There is no magic here. Or at least the magic here is not accessible to everyone.

What this place does have is sound. There is a very nice riffle over large basketball-size rocks, leading to a narrowing of the channel. That, obviously, speeds up the water as it slides in a deep run under a Works Projects Association era bridge immediately into a nice little fall over some Volkswagen-size boulders, splashing into a picturesque pool immediately adjacent and connected to a large, still pond. The current shoots straight through the side of the pond and exits in a beautiful riffle as it spreads across a gravel bed. The cacophony created by this varied water-scape means a turning of the head is all that’s required to change the sound completely.

From the car, I realize that no fishing will occur on this night. First of all, I am wearing my Puma tennis shoes with soles so grippless that bar floors can become skating rinks. Secondly, I have on my leather coat that causes me to ponder why cows don’t freeze to death every winter. Lastly, the sandpaper sensation on my face caused from walking in the 19-degree air does what it does ever winter, telling me, “Screw this up, be unprepared or less than vigilant on a stone and you will be lucky if your ears are all it will cost you.” I love that realization. I force it upon myself, at times, the thought that I’m in a situation that could kill me. I require something like that, something to contrast daily life against, to remind me just where I am and what I am. I think people say it makes them feel alive. I would say it reminds me that that is all I am.

So, there I am, lump, Pumas and all.  I put my hands in my pockets and walk out on the bridge.  I’m here for some reason; let’s see what it is. Peering over each side of the bridge, I get excellent views of the water, which looks black and oozing. I can hear all the different instruments being played by this stretch of water. Winter cold in SoDak means that the air can’t hold any moisture so the stars are close and obvious. There happens to be a full moon on this night and it shines so brightly that, as I meander back of forth across the bridge, I continually jump, thinking headlights are coming down the road. I can hear a deer crash through the 6-feet high grass. There is no wind at all, so if I stand stock still a sort of body-heat bubble forms around me and I don’t feel cold.

I walked around for maybe 45 minutes before deciding to get back in the car and drive home. By then, the lump was gone. In fact, I felt pretty good. No major life realizations to impart, no new wisdom gained. Just not as bad as before.

Maybe I should go write something.

About the author: Frasier lives in Sioux Falls and studies most anything that comes across his path. But fishing is one of his true passions. Here is his outdoors blog.

John T. Meyer isn't afraid to rock sweet glasses.

The TVFury Podcast is back after brief hiatus.

This week, Sioux Falls entrepreneur John T. Meyer – co-founder of 9 Clouds Inc. – discusses the concept of doing big things in a medium-sized market. And he does so from his new shared office space – another idea that’s new in this part of the world.

Meyer and his brother, Scott, are South Dakota pioneers in terms of social media and social technology, not only creating products, but teaching businesses how to use the technology that is available to them. They’re also genuinely nice, smart and helpful dudes.

Frankly, it’s a fascinating topic, one that should be seen as encouraging to, well, everyone. The world will be a better place if good ideas and products aren’t limited to major cities.

Here’s the link.

I watched my first St. John’s football game in six years on Saturday, but I’m still not exactly sure what I witnessed.

My eyes told me – and newspapers confirmed – that on Homecoming Saturday, in front of an announced crowd of more than 12,000 people, the normally stingy St. John’s defense allowed more than 500 yards of offense to Augsburg, a school that owned one victory over the Johnnies in the last 30 years. The Johnnies then rallied for a go-ahead touchdown in the final 30 seconds, a score that had the students ready to storm the field to celebrate another classic victory that could be filed away as another example of “Johnnie Magic.”

Then this happened:

Augsburg quarterback Marcus Brumm, who looked like a combination of Tom Brady and Dan Marino for much of the day, connected on a 48-yard reception on Augsburg’s first play of its final possession. Two plays later, he hit Auggie tight end Tyler Swanson as time expired for the winning touchdown, which silenced the crowd while the entire Augsburg team swarmed into the end zone to celebrate the improbable victory.

I said two players later. After the first long reception, Augsburg tried a Hail Mary into the end zone, which fell incomplete. Most people thought the game ended on that play. But incredibly, .6 seconds remained on the large scoreboard at Clemens Stadium. Point six. A blink, a breath. Point six. Not even a second, basically an imperceptible amount of time. Where’s the hometown scorekeeper when you really need him on Homecoming? With that remaining time, Augsburg ran one more play and the game went into a history book, which SJU students will hopefully burn in a large bonfire at the next Homecoming.

I watched the game with my dad in the top row of the packed students’ section. As Augsburg celebrated and I realized the refs had somehow missed the four holding calls, three offensive pass interferences, an illegal motion, a trip and a hands-to-the-face penalty and that a flag was not going to save the day for the Johnnies, I slammed the fence behind me with my program. I swore. Shook my head. Muttered. Sighed. Checked again for a flag. Walked down to midfield to meet my old college roommates and their families.

Twenty minutes later, long after nearly every player had gone into the locker room, to shed tears of joy or agony, a few guys from St. John’s and Augsburg wandered onto the field. A man with the Augsburg team shuffled us off to the sideline. Brief hope: The refs threw a late flag! No one saw it earlier but now they corrected the mistake? But no. Instead, the officials called the teams – or at least 11 guys from each school – back to the field to complete the extra point. Augsburg’s TD put it up 32-31, but if SJU had blocked the PAT and returned it for a score, they would have won. Hey, stranger things have happened – like Augsburg’s winning TD. So the rules required the PAT.

As I stood on the sidelines with my dad and friends and their kids – on the same spot where John Gagliardi has watched many of his 480 career victories and a handful of ridiculous endings that led to losses like Saturday’s – Augsburg took the snap and took a knee, again ending the game. This time officially, this time in an empty stadium. The Augsburg players again celebrated. We moped.

Damndest thing I’ve ever seen on a football field.

Today many Johnnie fans are grinding their spoiled teeth, wondering if some new scary era has started in the MIAC, one that includes a world where St. Thomas and Bethel dominate and SJU holds down the third-place spot each season, when it’s not losing to Augsburg or St. Olaf or Carleton or, god forbid, Hamline. I suppose I own some of those same concerns on some level. It’s tough enough living in a world where the Tommies win every basketball and baseball title – who wants to watch them win in the fall as well?

But when you have a coach who’s been on the sidelines for 63 years – 59 of them in Collegeville – you can take a long view. And the fact is, even though it seems John Gagliardi and the Johnnies have controlled the league from the moment he stepped foot on the secluded campus, there are always ebbs and flows in the conference. Even though it sometimes seems like it, MIAC titles aren’t birthrights for Johnnies. Over the years Concordia, St. Thomas, Gustavus, St. Olaf and even Hamline have landed shots to the Johnnies. Yes, this could very well be the first year the Johnnies miss the playoffs in back-to-back seasons since Reagan was running things. And yes, SJU could easily be 2-4, since they next face St. Thomas and Bethel.

But history shows that eventually, maybe not this year, and maybe not next year, but eventually, the Johnnies will return to the top. And chances are, Gagliardi will still be on the sidelines – where we stood Saturday – when they’re back on top. You wanna bet against him?

There’s plenty of time for SJU fans to fret about the team’s fortunes. Message boards and bars were built for those things. Saturday’s miracle ending wasn’t really about the Johnnies, though. At least not completely. Everyone loves an underdog’s story, unless you’re a fan of the favorite. Everyone loves an upset, unless you’re the one with an upset stomach after it. But I could still appreciate Augsburg’s effort. Even though I cursed and slammed a program and questioned both the eyesight and the integrity of the refs following the game, a part of me felt happy for Augsburg, for the enemy. I realize I risk having my SJU degree rescinded by admitting that, but it’s true.

Augsburg’s last victory over SJU came in 1997. Since then, the games usually end with the Johnnies scoring 40 or more and the Auggies scoring zero or…zero. Two plays – the two long passes – wiped away most of those memories, if not the actual scores.

Part of me also felt happy for Augsburg’s longtime SID, Don Stoner, who’s indirectly responsible for my career path. Don worked as a writer at the Worthington Daily Globe until leaving the paper for Augsburg in 1997. I replaced Don at the Globe, my first real job after college graduation. Since then Don’s done standout work for the Auggies, who are kings of the wrestling mat but not much else. Don deserves to write a press release and web stories that talk about miracle endings in Augsburg’s favor. The team deserves to dream big, especially after the biggest of victories.

Augsburg improved to 3-0 with the victory. My faith in SJU means I believe there’s still a decent chance the Johnnies finish ahead of Augsburg in the conference. Even if that happens, it won’t change what happened on Saturday in Collegeville, on a picture-perfect day that had everything I could ever want, except for a Johnnies’ victory.

No, I’m still not quite sure what I saw this weekend. But I do know that endings like the ones I saw on Saturday are why we watch and love sports.

Impartial observers love games like Saturday’s because it’s exciting and a great story. Fans of the victors love games like Saturday’s because they provide unforgettable moments, sometimes in forgettable seasons.

And fans of the losing teams? Even those fans should love games like Saturday’s, because they know that eventually, maybe next week or perhaps not until next year, their team will be on the right side of a miracle.

Death of a friend

Posted: September 23, 2011 by shawnfury in Uncategorized


When someone dies following an illness, the obituary often reveals the deceased “was surrounded by family and friends.” The line is an affirmation that in their final moments, when they left this life and death arrived, they were with those who loved them most. It can also provide at least a shred of comfort to the survivors during a tragic time.

Last Saturday, Janesville native Keith Wiste died at the age of 39 in Mankato. He took his own life, after battling depression for years. He left behind his devastated parents, older brothers Paul and Rob, younger sister Catherine, nieces, nephews and countless friends. Anyone who knew Keith liked him, and those who knew him well loved him. The thought of Keith being alone in his final moments is unbearable, the mental images something out of a nightmare. It rips at your guts, brings tears to your eyes and an ache to your heart.

Even in a town of 2,000 people, it’s not quite true that everybody knows everybody. But everyone knew Keith and his family. Keith’s dad, Ron, owned Wiste’s grocery store, a renowned meat market that had been a fixture in Janesville seemingly since the time the town first appeared as a dot on a map.

Growing up, I looked up to Keith, who was three years older than me. Like small towns everywhere, sports drove life in Janesville. Keith played football, baseball and basketball. At his parents’ house, Keith, his brothers and dad hosted countless basketball games at the hoop in their backyard. Every kid in town knew about the hoop at Wistes and had an open invitation to shoot anytime they wanted.

When I was younger I couldn’t beat Keith or the other older kids who would one day go on to star at our local high school. But I tried. Keith graduated in 1990, a member of the first graduating class from the newly formed Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton. He graduated from Southwest State University in Marshall. Over the next decade, he coached girls’ and boys’ basketball teams at numerous schools in southern Minnesota, staying involved in the game he’d loved since childhood. For a few years he coached at his old school, JWP, a tenure filled with difficult losses and even tougher times, but even that did little to dampen Keith’s enthusiasm for a life on the sideline. Coaching was in his blood. He also umped and reffed. It wasn’t just coaching – sports were in his blood.

He also owned his own successful business, Wiste’s Continuous Concrete Edging; of the numerous online tributes to Keith, many include comments from customers, who remember him for his work ethic, craftsmanship and personality.

Those are just a few of the facts of Keith’s life.

Keith the man? He was funny, generous, personable, outgoing, helpful, quick-witted, empathetic and owned a smile that lit up his whole face and any room he was in. He loved his nieces and nephews. He had one maneuver – a point and smile – that he executed so often and so well, a friend noted online that it was a “patented” Keith move. He was...alive.

And he suffered from depression. Keith endured a couple of debilitating bouts with the dreaded disease, but had been doing well for more than a decade, committed to taking the medications he knew helped him stay healthy. But his latest, final battle with the disease came after he had stopped taking the medicine. He reached out to his family, who, like always, rallied to his side. By the time he started back on his medication, the darkness must have been too overpowering. Suicide was the cause of death, but depression killed him, as surely as cancer and diabetes kills its victims.

His wake on Tuesday brought hundreds of people to the Janesville funeral home, situated along the old Highway 14. The people came to remember Keith and to offer comfort and support to his grieving family. Scheduled to run between 4 and 8 p.m., the wake lasted until just before 10 p.m., the line of people stretching out the door practically from the time it began until it finally ended six hours later. The people who stood in line were his friends, or knew his folks, or shopped at Wiste’s, or graduated with his sister or worked with his brothers or hired him for a job. So often, when a person commits suicide, their life becomes defined by the way it ended, instead of how it was lived. Those people made their way to the funeral home because Keith died, but they were really there because of the way he lived.

It’s impossible to fully understand the pain that drives someone to suicide, just as it’s equally difficult finding the words to describe what was lost. Anything besides “I’m so sorry for your loss” sounds inadequate. You could search the writings of prophets and poets and still never find the words that adequately explain the pain the victim felt or the hurt that crushes those left behind.

His funeral on a cool, rainy Wednesday packed the Lutheran church in Janesville. Those who crammed into the pews and balcony said goodbye to Keith and listened to the thoughtful, comforting words of pastor Larry Griffin, who attempted to explain the unexplainable. But not even the heavens can ever truly answer the question we’ll never stop asking: why?

Death brings small towns together, physically and emotionally. There’s comfort in numbers, or at least a bit of support. You see people you grew up with and thought you’d grow old with, before college and relationships and jobs and…life separated you from them and your town. You gather to mourn, while regretting that it took the death of a friend to bring everyone together. At Keith’s wake and funeral I talked to people I haven’t seen in 15 years, sat next to folks I’ve barely spoken with since graduating 18 years ago. It was like an all-school reunion. If you took all the old basketball talent that gathered together you would have had an alumni team that could compete against just about anyone. Of course, we would have been missing the guy with a potent outside shot – Keith.

I last saw Keith over Christmas, when I was home from New York and attended a basketball tournament in Mankato. As I walked out of one of the gyms at Bethany, I spotted Keith near the exit, standing, watching hoops and smiling, a scene that had taken place hundreds of times in his life and one I’d seen dozens of times. I stopped to say a quick hello, how are you? Figured I’d slide out of that gym and head to another one for a different game.

Two hours later… I never left that gym and never actually budged from my spot near the doorway, next to Keith. We spoke about our lives and old times, about basketball, the games we played and the ones he coached. We laughed. We talked about our dads. We talked about our jobs and a few of our goals. We said goodbye and promised to stay in touch. Maybe catch a game the next time I was in town. The regrets about never catching that next game will surely linger, but not as long as the memories of that night and of his life.

Keith Wiste died on September 17. He was laid to rest on September 21. He was surrounded by his loving family, his friends, a town that loved him, a town that will miss him and a town that will never be the same.

Been a weird week on the work and personal fronts, turning TV and Fury into negligent parents in a sense. We’re sorry, passion project. We still love you, passion project. We’ll make it up to you, passion project.

And now the news:

  • Unlike Fury, TV has never written a book – he usually lives his life 15 inches at a time. (Take that whatever way you will.) However, this summer he was given a massive assignment: Putting together an in-depth series about sports psychology. It was a learning experience to say the least, and the project finally ran this week. Here’s the link. It’ll be interesting to see where things go in this field in the coming years – it hasn’t picked up as quickly as I figured it would, especially given how progressive the sports world tends to be when it comes to gaining a competitive advantage.
  • Facebook made some more changes this week, purportedly to prevent folks from bailing in favor of Google+, a platform that became open to the public this week.
    My take as a social media addict: There’s a fine line between making improvements and overdoing it. I don’t have an opinion on the Facebook changes yet because I haven’t had the time to check them out – there are too many.
    As for Google+, I got on board early and now hardly use it at all. Why? Because very few of my friends and/or readers use it. That’s a problem considering most of my social networking is work related; I need to be where my audience is. I’m not sold on the idea that folks are going to run away screaming from Facebook in favor of Google+ if only because old habits are hard to break. With that in mind, Facebook needs to be careful about making too many changes. If their platform becomes unrecognizable, almost foreign, then users might be willing to bail.
  • Fury here. Scroll back up to the top of the post. If you didn’t click on Terry’s link to his sports psychology series, please do. It’ll be one of the best things you read this century. Sorry, Bill Walton took over my computer for a brief second. But it will be one of the best things you read in a long while.
  • My view on the Facebook change is that it’s an outrageous intrusion on privacy and an ugly design. Also worth noting: I am not, and have never been, on Facebook. But I still enjoy having opinions about it, most of which are based on scenes that were fictional in The Social Network. Thankfully, one of us is aware that technology has advanced since the VCR added the SLP option on record. Which is why Terry’s been promoted to Technology Services Supervisor here at TVFury. There will be cake in the conference room. Bring your own plate.
  • An interesting piece in the New York Times looked at Topix, an online message board that many small towns have embraced, only to see it – not surprisingly, really – devolve into a place where vicious rumors spread and character assassinations take place every few minutes. Sounds so unlike the Internet.
  • I attended my first Lynx game on Thursday night – victory! It was a great time. Here’s a story on Lindsay Whalen, which focuses on her upbringing in Hutchinson. When I worked at the Worthington Daily Globe, I saw Whalen when she was a high school junior and Hutchinson played Worthington in the sections. Worthington had a guard who actually outplayed Whalen that night and the Trojans defeated Hutchinson. A few years later, Whalen became a Minnesota icon by resurrecting the Gophers women’s program. Now she’s one of the top players in the WNBA and is leading the only Minnesota sports team that isn’t an embarrassment to the fine citizens of the state. I predicted all of that in my game story after the Hutchinson-Worthington contest.

The aging hoopster

Posted: September 22, 2011 by shawnfury in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Old Man Basketball starts in about a month in northern Manhattan. Here’s a list of the words I’m thinking about tonight, about four weeks before I’ll return to the court with my friends:

Aware. Inherent risks. Exertion. Overheating, limb injuries. Permanent disability. Death.

When do we tip-off?

Before the league begins, our beloved, underpaid, hard-working commissioner sends out waiver forms we’re required to sign before the host school allows us to run, walk or crawl up and down the court. We sign it and promise that we’re “aware of the risks inherent in participation in sports” and that we have health insurance that will cover any injuries we suffer and that the school and the Department of Education is not responsible for torn ACL’s, sprained MCLs, ruptured Achilles’, concussions, turf toe, broken arms, shattered noses, swollen fingers, pulled groins, thigh contusions, bone bruises, hernias, chipped teeth, black eyes, hangnails or floor burns.

At 36 years old, this could finally be the year when I suffer one or all of those injuries. There’s always a chance I stay healthy for the next 24 years and I’m fortunate enough to still be playing hoops at 70, like my uncle. There’s a better chance one of these seasons will end with me rolling on the floor or in the emergency room while a doctor asks “Where does it hurt?” and my wife says, “I told you so.”

Back home in Janesville I spoke to a guy who’s six years older than me and starred on the high school basketball team when I served as a manager. He said he stopped playing hoops in 1996, although he played amateur baseball until just last year. I can’t picture giving up the game. I first picked up a basketball when I first started walking and don’t plan on putting one down until I’m unable to run. Football’s the most popular sport in the country and baseball’s the national pastime but hoops remains the game I’ve loved more than any other.

It’s the game I could spend two hours a day playing and 24 hours a day watching. Before our ragtag group of overweight, middle-aged lawyers, communications specialists, professors and mediators meet on a small court in a big school in Washington Heights, I’ll head to our local park to shoot some baskets by myself. I could stand there for hours shooting, just like I did when I was a kid at the Janesville city park. The ball feels at home in my hands, and the only thing that feels more natural is when I release it for a jumper. Hitting a bank shot from 15 feet fills me with a type of satisfaction that a real trip to my local bank rarely brings. I knock down some free throws and toss in some layups. Eventually these solo excursions in the fall and summer give way to full-court games in the winter.

Thirty years after I first watched him play with the Lakers, I still find myself trying to imitate Magic Johnson during our league games. A no-look pass here, a behind-the-back pass there, peppered in with the occasional coast-to-coast drive. For years I was a small-town kid trying to play like the best point guard ever and now I’m a middle-aged man doing the same thing. With any luck I’ll one day be an elderly gentleman trying the same passes.

I like to think my jump shot’s as good as it’s ever been, even if my legs and stamina aren’t. I like to think it – but it’s probably not true. I can’t dribble as well and my instincts have slowed. I’m fatter. Somehow even slower. Not as good going to my left. Lost a bit of my peripheral vision.

For players who get paid to play any of the above would be reason to retire. For those who do it out of love or because they have a sad need to try to re-create their high school and college basketball experiences, those things are simply accepted facts of life.

I play because I still love it and because I can still run. And I play because I dream. Eighteen years after my last high school game and 16 years after my last college contest, I still have nightly dreams that revolve around wins and losses from way back when. In some of them I star – sometimes I even dunk! – and in some of them I flail around or can’t find a shoe or forget my uniform or get benched by the coach or chewed out by my dad. If a dream involves me making a bunch of shots, I can’t wait to get out onto the court to see if I can turn the fantasy into reality. If the dream involves me failing, I can’t wait to get back to the court to make amends for a game that only existed inside my head.

The day I stop dreaming, maybe that will be the day I stop playing.

Or I’ll quit the day I rupture an Achilles.

Wikipedia is a free, online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. It was founded in 2001 and, as of midnight, had 3,745,073 articles published in English.

How do I know this, you ask?

Wikipedia told me. Bam! Wikipedia knows everything about anything, including itself.

Seriously, remember when encyclopedias were printed on actual paper and sold on television or by college kids going to door to door? Lame. In fact, I’m not sure my family ever owned a set. Pretty sure we had to go to the library to find something like that. It all seemed sort of complicated and taxing.

Not so with Wikipedia. Want to know about the Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen that took place earlier this week? There’s an entry for that. Meanwhile, check out the featured article as of Tuesday night:

Hubert Walter (c. 1160 – 1205) was an influential royal adviser in the late 12th and early 13th centuries in the positions of chief justiciar of England, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Lord Chancellor. As chancellor, Walter began the keeping of the Charter Roll, a record of all charters issued by the chancery. Walter was not noted for his holiness in life or learning, but historians have judged him one of the most outstanding government ministers in English history. Walter served King Henry II of England in many ways, including diplomatic and judicial efforts. After an unsuccessful candidacy to the see of York, Walter was elected Bishop of Salisbury shortly after the accession of King Henry’s son Richard I to the throne of England. Walter accompanied King Richard on the Third Crusade, and was one of the principals involved in raising Richard’s ransom after the king was captured in Germany on his return from the Holy Land. As a reward for his faithful service, Walter was selected to become Archbishop of Canterbury in 1193. Walter set up a system which was the precursor for the modern justices of the peace. Following Richard’s death in 1199, Walter helped assure the elevation of Richard’s brother John to the throne. (more…)

Did you know any of that stuff? Me, neither. But I do now. Plus, I’m able to click on one of the 12 incorporated links to find out more about, say, justices of the peace. (Be glad I’m too lazy to link every single word in this piece – pretty sure it would be possible.)

The information chasing could go on forever – like a labyrinth of knowledge. In fact, you can’t help but wonder if anyone has died while on Wikipedia either by being sucked into some sort of vortex that’s hidden in one of the entries or by wasting away, unable to pull themselves away from learning long enough to eat a sandwich.

Of course, the only downside about the all-encompassing nature of Wikipedia is that those of us who don’t merit mention might feel dispensable. (OK, we DO feel dispensable. Sigh.)

Wikipedia is an incredible – and irreverent – tool that I use on an almost daily basis. Is all of the information true? I have no idea. I’ve never tried it, but supposedly anybody can edit pretty much any entry. This seems plenty sketchy, harkening back to the days when people weren’t allowed to use Internet sources in research papers.

I proceed as if it’s trustworthy. For some reason, I feel better about Wikipedia than I do other reference-style Web sites that seem more out-for-profit – WebMD, for example. I’d probably double check their information against a competing site. Not so with information gained at Wikipedia.

Why? It’s just too much fun to doubt. If Wikipedia is wrong, I don’t want to be right. OK, maybe I do, I’m just not sure where else to go – it’s a one-stop shop of wunderbar in the Internet era.

Loves corn flakes, hates swearing.

I’m in Minnesota for 12 days. About every six months I make it back to Janesville and spend about a week and a half in my quiet hometown. One of my favorite activities on these trips involves digging through the boxes in my parents’ basement, where my mom has a “junk” room that’s filled with school papers, bills, love letters, toys, golf clubs, horrific art projects and books. Books, books, books. I still have about 10 boxes that I left behind when I moved east and my mom has, well, a lot.

She always has the coolest old books, ones she’s found at garage sales or in the belongings of deceased relatives. There’s a new one that has fascinated me on my last two trips. Her version is from 1886. It was written by Dr. J.H. Kellogg – of the cereal – and is called Man, the Masterpiece or Plain Truths Plainly Told about Boyhood, Youth and Manhood. The old doc had some strange views. Now, in 120 years, I’m sure someone will write a blog about the ridiculous viewpoints in some medical book that came out in 2009. The writer will mock the simpleton who wrote it and those who believed it. But that’s in the future. In the present, let’s look back at the past. Men, you still might learn something.

The book is divided by numerous sections, including: From Boyhood Up, How to Be Strong, Getting a Wife, an Evil Heritage, Stomachs, The Rum Family, Biliousness, Germs, How to Bathe and, of course, Sexual Sins and their Consequences. We’ll get to that one.

Start with the brain, because that’s where everything begins. Intelligence “depends upon the size of the thinking portion of the brain in proportion to its body.” Proportion. So if you have a small brain, it’s fine, provided you’re 4-feet tall. If you’re a 7-foot center, your brain should be the size of a basketball, I guess. Otherwise, you’ll really struggle to pick up the concepts of the motion offense.

Kellogg notes that “A man who has a four-pound brain is more likely to be a philosopher.” Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, all – apparently – possessed four-pound brains. Men with 3.9-pound brains are doomed to a life of pretentiousness and arrogance, played out in college classrooms and dorm rooms where they bore everyone with their pseudo philosophies that are laughable to everyone else.

Ladies, sorry, but you “have smaller brains than men. This fact is often cited by a certain class of philosophers (edit: the ones with four-pound brains?) to prove that woman had a weaker mind than man; but the argument is not conclusive. Those who urge it overlook the fact that woman has a smaller body than man. This fact being taken into account, it is found that the average woman’s brain is larger in proportion to her size than that of the average man.” If I had a heavier brain I’d be better at translating that passage.

Kellogg, like all great philosophers with heavy brains, was not afraid to tackle the toughest subjects. Like puberty. “Boys at this period should not be kept too steadily engaged in hard work, as it may stunt their growth and weaken their constitution.” If I had known of this book’s existence, I would have quoted this passage to my parents when they suggested I work at Birdseye as a teenager. “My constitution will be stunted.” Kellogg wants kids to read, “but too much reading, especially the reading of exciting and fictitious literature, should be avoided.” Whatever you do, do not – for God’s sake, do not – let your teenager read an exciting book.

Today’s parents worry about a lot of thing with their teens – bullying, drugs, STDs, drinking, peer pressure…an endless list. Back in 1886, parents had a bigger concern – swearing. Cursin’ and a cussin’. “Nothing is more shocking than to hear, when walking along the street, most terrible oaths, lisped by lips that are too young to speak distinctly, but already familiar with the vile language of the street. What can we hope of such a boy, but that he will develop in due time into a criminal of the deepest dye, and graduate from the school of vice into some prison or reformatory at an early age?” Kellogg likely went through a lot of bars of soap when swearing youth stayed with him.

But swearing is nothing compared to cigarettes. In an anecdote that I’d have to see to believe, Kellogg writes, “Often have we seen, in large cities, ragged little urchins, scarcely old enough to walk, picking out of the filth the short stumps of cigars cast away by old devotees of the weed, and enjoying them with apparently as keen a relish as the most experienced smoker.” Give Kellogg credit – he could paint an image. When I see my mom smoking now, I’ll picture an urchin – a ragged urchin, probably one with a Cockney accent and a hat – picking up the stump with his dirty hands and enjoying – no, relishing – the nicotine.

All men want to know how to score with the gals. On page 164, Kellogg starts his “Getting a Wife” chapter, a how-to that left me going, “how’s that?” Marriage, according to Kellogg, “is a transaction of no small importance, and demands cool, deliberate judgment, and the careful weighing of numerous considerations, rather than rash obedience to the dictates of a blind and impetuous passion.” What can you say, he was a helpless romantic. Kellogg wanted men to wait until they were 25 to marry. And old men shouldn’t marry. And “nothing is more obnoxious to good sense, and we might perhaps say morality, than the union of an old man just entering upon his second childhood with a young and blooming girl.” Now, there are probably lots of ladies who agree with that. “The old man who contemplates taking a young girl for a wife, should reflect that such an action is contrary to natural instincts, and that it is likely to be prompted by animal desires which, for his mental happiness and his physical and moral safety, should have been long ago extinguished.” I think Kellogg is saying old dudes are risking heart attacks by hooking up with younger women. Otherwise, the picture he paints is not exactly one that will have elderly gentlemen running from young gals.

Also, “a worthless man should not marry.” No argument. “Wicked” men as well. Oddly, “epileptics should not marry.” Because, you know, “an epileptic father or mother begets insane or epileptic children.” And, it probably goes without saying but Kellogg said it anyway, “syphilitics do not have any right to offer himself in marriage to a woman who is not, like himself, contaminated by the physical and moral taint of this disease.” So it sounds like Kellogg was okay with syphilitics marrying syphilitics. What about a matchup between syphilitics and epileptics? No answer from Kellogg.

And what should you look for in ladies? “Do not marry a flirt,” who are, in Kellogg’s eyes, akin to a scorpion. Don’t wed a woman of fashion, for “She knows nothing of the simple arts by which a home is made comfortable and happy.” A nicer way of saying, woman, stay in the kitchen – and don’t wear a fashionable apron while you’re in there pouring your man his Corn Flakes. Kellogg ends the chapter by saying cousins should not marry. Especially, I’m assuming, if one is a drunkard and the other a flirt.

Kellogg devotes an entire chapter to “the rum family.” Obviously Kellogg was opposed to its consumption, probably because you’d start swearing and urchins would feel the need to start smoking stumps.

The book doesn’t simply focus on the insides or the outsides – Kellogg also offers up some fashion tips, which most men probably avoided, provided they came into contact with one of those evil fashionable ladies. He writes that we “need more clothing in summer than in winter.” This remains true.

But let’s get to the sexy stuff.

“Sexual Sins and their Consequences.” Kellogg’s main concern concerned, well, those who were not masters of their domain. “The nature of the practice is unfortunately too well known to require any precise description.” Thank you, doctor. “There are, of course, no accurate statistics wherewith the extent to which this vice prevails may be determined.” We can only assume that thousands – perhaps millions, maybe even billions – of people are guilty of this vice. Kellogg wants readers to know he’s spent a lot of time observing people doing this, an act that could probably get you arrested in 27 states. Kellogg notes that the vice is less common among “the peasantry of European countries, which is perhaps due to the greater simplicity of habits.” Perhaps. “A medical author of some prominence declares that in Russia the practice is universal among the young of both sexes.” Russian women, equally immoral, apparently.

Kellogg solemnly notes that the practice is mostly limited to humans, though monkeys have been known to do it, but it “is doubtful whether in this case the animal has not been instructed by some vicious human being.” Monkey see…monkey do?

Tobacco – again with the tobacco, and those little, wretched urchins – “must be looked upon as a predisposing cause of sexual vice.” That should be on cigarette boxes. Also, “tobacco-using boys invariably have a senile appearance.” Yeah, but they still look cool, especially if they wear leather jackets and swear at teachers. Those who engage in this vice will experience “weakness of the back, feebleness of the muscles, loss of appetite, slow digestion, nervousness, impairment of vision, loss of energy.” No hairy palms?

It also causes epilepsy.

And loss of memory, “especially of names and of recent events.”

Of course, today we know that this vice can lead to a sad life, like the one led by Ray McKigney.

Finally, mercifully, Kellogg turns away from the self and to sex that takes place between at least two people. “No man has a right to treat his wife as a prostitute.” Not even in role-playing or on Halloween? “The man who considers his wife as simply a means of gratifying his animal propensities, is unworthy of a wife. He is worse than a beast.” But is he worse than an epileptic who swears?

Kellogg saves his greatest venom for those who dream. If you’ve ever closed your eyes and pictured a pretty lady, you’re going to hell and might as well get your affairs in order because your life is doomed, and your after-life isn’t looking any better.

“Young man, have you become a slave to a sensual mind? Are you one of those mental adulterers whose lecherous imagination compels every woman to be the victim of his lust, and hesitates not to debauch for his vile pleasure the purest and the best? Do you belong to this horrible class of satyrs, monsters in human shape, moral assassins, cowardly, sneaking, conscienceless invaders of virtue, from whose vile embrace the purest and loveliest have no protection?” Are you? Are you? Are you? Huh? Well, if you are, “Let me say to you that destruction awaits you. Swift retribution will fall upon you. You shall find yourself accursed in this world and the next.”

Kellogg died at the age of 91. When it came to living a long life, the guy knew what he was talking about. Perhaps he made it that long by not swearing, drinking, smoking, fantasizing or self-abusing. Ninety-one. Long life. But I bet he didn’t have much fun.