Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Only Way?

The NFL is a copycat league. This we know. When one team has success utilizing a certain play or system, other teams mock it. The Wildcat, for example.

This seems to have extended to how you build a successful team. Recent Super Bowl winners have featured homegrown Quarterbacks taken high in the first round of the draft – Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and so on. So other teams, seeing this success, are copying it. This would explain the Redskins mortgaging their future for the shot at drafting Robert Griffin.

And it also explains why some Browns fans are screaming for the front office to take Ryan Tannehill, who does not even represent the QB consolation prize in this year’s draft – that was Griffin. Tannehill, by most accounts, is the distant-third-best QB in the draft. A project that will need time to develop. A guy who we will not even know for about three years whether he was worth the investment.

But hey, recent Super Bowl winners have first-round QBs. So we gotta have one too, right?

No. Recent success by other teams doing something a certain way does not mean it’s the only way to be successful. See, I could point out a 6th round pick by the name of Tom Brady, or going back ten years, Trent Dilfer. The supporters of ‘Draft a QB High’ blueprint don’t like it when Dilfer is invoked. But it is a valid point – there’s more than one way to win in this league. Baltimore’s plan was a dominating defense and a ball-control offense…and a QB that doesn’t have to go win games (and on the flip side doesn’t lose them).

I know our front office has a plan. And I am sure somewhere in that plan is upgrading the QB position should Colt McCoy not be the answer. McCoy was a third-round pick, so if you subscribe to the ‘Draft a QB High’ theory to success, that’s about two and a half rounds too late, thus his fate is sealed. I am hoping by the point some are starting to see the over-simplistic folly of equating success with where your QB was drafted.

What I would say about the QB position is, it the most visible position on the team. He handles the ball on every play. And we know the QB gets too much of the credit when the team wins and too much of the blame when they lose. Which, by the way, explains much of the criticism of McCoy. With a losing record as a starter, he hasn’t (yet) captured the lightning in a bottle and elevated the play of those around him; therefore he doesn’t represent the express elevator ride to the top that the ‘Draft a QB High’ theorists want to see.

Well, I would offer that Tannehill won’t give us that ride either.

So here it is, here’s my take. Ready?

There are many ways to build a winning NFL franchise. Recent success of other teams notwithstanding. What we have experienced recently are teams that, somewhere along the way, were in a position to upgrade their QB position. They were in a draft position where they could get their QB of the future, let him ferment on the bench for a while, then step in and carry an already good team to higher level of success.

Read that last sentence again. Teams that were already good is the key.

The Browns are not good. Yet.

So how do we get good? Well, this year’s draft is going to be critical. With (presently) three picks in the top 37, we have the opportunity to get three impact players. If Heckert parlays that #4 overall pick into multiple first & second round picks, we will have even more. But unfortunately (or in my opinion, fortunately), QB will not be one of those players chosen.

Unless, of course, Heckert ignores the plan and instead tries to shortcut the way to the top like the Redskins are trying, by ignoring obvious areas of the team in need of upgrading in favor of a project QB.

I have a theory. And I will admit I hope it proves true since the Browns have been living it for about a decade now. It goes like this: The longer it takes for a team to get good, the longer they will be good once they get there. In other words, teams that have a plan and patiently stick to it will be rewarded once the plan produces. Conversely, those that try to shortcut their way to the top will either never get there or, if they do get there, won’t be there long.

So for the 2012 draft, ignore QB. It didn’t work out for us this year and we are in no position to be drafting projects in the top ten. Let the Dolphins take Tannehill. I will gladly welcome Trent Richardson, Justin Blackmon or Morris Claiborne to the team and enjoy watching them improve the team immediately.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

William and Trayvon

I don’t know what it is about Orlando, but recently we seem to be in the national spotlight for less than desirable things. What was once all about teacup rides and Incredible Hulk roller coasters has become more sobering storylines about mothers killing their children and getting away with it. We went through a tumultuous summer last year being transfixed on the Casey Anthony trial which culminated in a not guilty verdict over the Fourth of July, and subsequent cries of unfairness of a system with apparently heinous loopholes that would permit an alleged child killer free.
Now we have the shooting of an unarmed teenager by a wannabe cop in Sanford.
Here we go again.
George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin. He confessed to the shooting. He is, or will be, claiming self defense. He felt this young black man-child posed a threat to him even though it was Zimmerman who was the pursuer. It was Zimmerman with the gun. Martin was armed with Skittles. Zimmerman claims Martin jumped him and broke his nose, and thus was justifiably in fear for his life. So he killed him. This we know. We also have a video tape of Zimmerman arriving at the Sanford Police Department with no blood on his face or clothes, and his nose looking pretty much intact.
Now, we really do not know what happened beyond that. There were only two people who saw it, and one of them is dead. However, what we now have coming out from all angles is speculation. That’s fine, that happens. In the absence of verifiable proof, people speculate. Something has to feed the 24/7 news cycle.

But something else is starting to surface, and it is something very alarming and very wrong. Trayvon Martin’s character is being debated. Reports of being suspended from school repeatedly have surfaced. Reports that he was essentially a thug-in-training. A whole line of totally irrelevant to the fact that Zimmerman shot him information. Information that is designed to paint Zimmerman, not as a make-believe cop with an itchy trigger finger but instead as someone doing society a favor. This picture is starting to become clearer, and it will likely be used for whatever defense Zimmerman must use to defend his actions.
I have another name for you. William Schroeder.
You probably do not know who William Schroeder is. Perhaps it will help if I mention the other names that he is connected with: Allyson Krause, Jeffrey Miller and Sandra Scheuer. Still drawing a blank? Then I will give you one more: The Ohio National Guard. Here’s one more: Kent State University. May 4, 1970.
Schroeder was one of the students killed by the Ohio National Guard during the Vietnam War protests at Kent State. Schroeder was guilty of nothing more than going to class at the most inopportune time, at about 12:15 p.m. on Monday, May 4, 1970. That is him, with the box around him, books in hand, part of the group that the Guard fired into. That picture was taken about ten minutes before he was killed.
In the wake of the Kent State shootings, we were informed that this was a rioting mob. That there were snipers on rooftops – and perhaps in the crowd – that endangered the Guard’s lives. That, therefore, the shootings were justified. History ended up showing, however, that there were a total of 67 shots fired that day and all 67 were by the Guardsmen. The final tally was four dead, nine wounded, and none of them Guardsmen. In the aftermath, a lot of spin was attempted, from the President of the United States all the way down to the Mayor of Kent, to portray the shootings as justified. That order had to be restored. That, hey, a few dead radicals…so what.
Look at that picture of William Schroeder again. Do radicals wear windbreakers and carry books?
Keep this story in mind as the George Zimmerman case unfolds. Because we are not a country that remembers our past very well. Trayvon is going to be vilified. As his grieving mother said “They killed my son. Now they’re trying to kill his reputation.” We will be led to believe that Zimmerman was simply doing his job, and Trayvon got what was coming to him.
When I go to the the May 4 Memorial in my visits back to the campus where I spent eight years of my life pursuing and obtaining two college degrees, I am always left with the same conclusion:
These kids did not deserve to die.
And neither did Trayvon Martin.
After all the talking heads have talked, that’s the bottom line. This is not about wearing hoodies or walking though a neighborhood after dark or being suspended from school. It is about abuse of force.
Both William and Trayvon were the victims of it.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

An Intimate Group

I just returned from a trip. It was a trip that can be categorized in a number of fashions – it was a pleasure trip consisting of a lot of golf with some old friends of mine. That is probably the most general way to describe it but certainly not the only way. These are guys I have known, some for over 15 years. Others I had never met before. Some I am very close with. Others, honestly, I probably would not spend a lot of time with.

We are a group that, if not for a shared disease, would not normally mix.

The disease is one that, if not arrested on a daily basis, will kill us. And the way we arrest it is to take action. And one of those actions is what we did for the past five days in Charleston, South Carolina –insisting that we absolutely enjoy life. That may sound odd since I am being purposely vague about our shared malady, so just trust me on this. This is something we had to do.

And we, or speaking for myself, had an awesome time. I played six round of golf in five days. I have the blisters, sunburn and the inability to raise my left arm as proof. I also have the glow of a shared experience. We don’t drink alcohol, which seems to raise eyebrows in others. But one of the ways we don’t drink is to mix with each other. We stay close.

Unfortunately for me, I moved away from Akron 11 years ago (where these guys are from), so the opportunities to stay close to them are limited to these trips. So for me, this was an essential journey.

So we laughed, we ribbed each other, we bet a little, we golfed, we had dinners together, and we shared. Twice we held meetings back at the hotel. In these meetings we each talked about, well, whatever was on our minds. During one of these meetings, John H. Jr. had an illuminating comment. We usually preface our comments with our name & acknowledgement of our malady. Instead John said ‘Do we really need to state our names? We are a pretty intimate group’.

An intimate group.

Indeed we are.

These trips are bittersweet for me. I dearly enjoyed our time together, but I also know that time together is limited, that in a few days I would head south to Orlando while they all headed north to Akron. Sometimes that reality got to me. It did during one of these meetings, as I spontaneously started welling up and crying. It also happened as I said my goodbyes to them when I left to go back to Orlando. I shook each one’s hand, gave each a hug. And then the last one was John. Not the John that said the ‘intimate group’ comment, but John H – my Scarecrow. My closest, dearest friend in recovery. I hugged him…and I couldn’t let go. I told him I loved him. He said he loved me. And I kept hugging him.

Obviously, I had to let go, because John had more golf to play and it is kind of difficult to play golf with someone attached to your chest. I got into my car and started the 400-mile drive back home. Before I even got on the highway I was crying.

I don’t know how much they miss me, and that really doesn’t matter. That’s for them to answer. But I can tell you I miss these guys. A lot. I have similar friends here in Orlando, but it is just not the same. These were the guys that saved my ass time and time again. We are an intimate group, because, despite our apparent differences, we are cut of the same cloth. Nobody knows us like we know each other. It’s not on a physical plane. Not even an emotional one. It is much deeper than that. I cannot explain it, and do not really want to try to. It doesn’t need analysis. It just is.

And I can tell you this –

My calendar is already circled for a trip to Charleston in March 2013.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio

So, where are you from?

This is a common question uttered down here in Florida, as most folks are from somewhere else. When I am asked that, I usually reply with Ohio. When pressed I say northeast Ohio, Akron area. If they are really wanting details I mention the town I grew up in – Cuyahoga Falls.

Ah, Caucasian Falls. In my youth it consisted of 49,572 white people. It is not so homogenous now, as integration and matriculation from neighboring North Akron has brought it into modern times. But my high school graduating class consisted of 841 white faces. I did not share a classroom with a black or minority until I got to college. To be clear, that is not something I am proud of. It’s just how it was.

But anyway. The Falls was a great town to grow up in, and it is still an interesting place to live, as my mother and sister still reside there. So my purpose here is to give a bit of a primer on my hometown.

First off, let’s get the pronunciation straight. Cuyahoga is an Indian word meaning crooked. The Cuyahoga River, which runs through town is also called the Crooked River. One look on a map would explain why. But the correct pronunciation is KYA-HO-gah. That’s if you say it slowly. We don’t, and instead it comes out Ki-ogga. That’s why we just say The Falls. So now that we have that down, here are some interesting (to me anyway) facts about The Falls -

One Of The 24 Nicest Places To Live

When I was growing up in the Falls there were signs at the city limits proclaiming “Welcome to Cuyahoga Falls – One Of The 24 Nicest Places To Live In America.” I was always intrigued by this proclamation. First off – why 24? How did they come up with that number? Secondly, how was ‘Nicest’ defined? Was it because we were all white? Was it because the people were nice, or that nothing exciting ever happened there? To be sure, The Falls of my youth was one of unlocked doors at night and no fear of going anywhere or doing anything. I guess that’s how they ended up with that moniker.

Rex’s Erection

One of the more interesting residents of The Falls was televangelist Rex Humbard. During the 50s and 60s his broadcasts emanated from the Cathedral of Tomorrow, a cool-looking circular building up on State Road. He was on a par with Jimmy Swaggert and the Bakkers as far as power in the God Needs Your Money arena. So Rex pulled in a lot of bucks. In the early 70s he took much of this fear of going to hell money and plowed it into erecting a 500-foot tall tower with plans of having a revolving restaurant perched atop. Construction began, and up rose this concrete monstrosity that looked like a skinny nuclear cooling tower. Not surprisingly, when Rex got the tower completed, he ran out of money to construct that revolving restaurant, so he never was able to finish off his dream. But the tower remains to this day, and is the iconic image of The Falls. The locals have dubbed it Rex’s Erection.

The Naked Lady Building

On Portage Trail there is an interesting building. It is circular in design, and it presently houses the Akron Art Institute. What makes it unique, however, is the exterior of the rotunda. It is replete with...3-D images of...we are not sure what. But for some of us with more imaginative minds, we see naked ladies. Check it out for yourself.

Rockin’ On The River

In the 70s, downtown Falls went through an urban renewal period where Front Street was closed to vehicular traffic and was turned into a walking plaza, which essentially killed the local businesses. There used to be a movie theater, car dealerships, restaurants and so on. When they dried up and died, other businesses took their place, a Sheraton hotel was built, and new venues opened up. The plaza now hosts some kind of festival every summer weekend, and every Friday night there is a drunkfest overlooking the river called, appropriately, Rockin On The River. Live bands perform, cheap beer is consumed, and everyone has a grand old time.

Black Tigers

That is the name for the Falls High sports teams. The Black Tigers, which I always thought was funny for a couple of reasons. One, tigers aren’t black. That would be a panther. Two, as I stated earlier, there wasn’t anything black in the Falls. If you were black, you best get yourself on the other side of the high level bridge into Akron before sundown. So to have our sports teams have a ‘Black Tiger’ moniker seemed goofy…at best. Ah well. We are goofy. But we are also pretty good people.

So that is where I am from. And like they say, everybody has to be from somewhere, and I am a Black Tiger.


Monday, March 5, 2012

I Love My Yoga (Instructor)

It’s Monday night and I am unwinding after my now-standard activity of Monday and Thursday nights. Yoga.

Yep. That Eastern-mysticism adopted by the leftist freeks in Cali in the 60s but now a mainstreamed exercise of health, wellness and funny poses. Downward dog, cobra, cat/cow, warrior…and funny Indian words that I still cannot pronounce.

But I love how Lee pronounces them.

Lee is my instructor. And I love her as much as I do the yoga. Maybe more so. She is the most positive, gentle, empathetic person I have ever met. Never a negative word from her lips. She is beauty and beautiful in one. I love her.

In fact I told her so tonight, after we finished and she was talking to some of the other students in class, I walked behind her, kissed her ear & whispered ‘I love you’ in that lovely ear of hers.

But back to the yoga for a minute. I have been doing it for about four months now, and have finally gotten to the point where I can do most of the poses. And the ones I can’t? Well, that’s okay, and that brings up one of the things I love about yoga. There is no right or wrong. It is all about you and what want to get out of the practice. Nobody is an ‘expert’ at yoga. We are all just yogis coming to our mats as an affirmation of being kind to ourselves. To give ourselves honor. To treat ourselves to a wonderful amalgam of gentle exercise, meditation and blessings.

This is why, at the end of each practice, we honor each other with hands pressed together against the forehead, a bow of the head, and the word Namaste, which means, the light in me honors the light in you.

Mutual beauty and respect. How awesome.

I am now feeling the tangible effects of practice. I am wonderfully loose now, and it shows in my golf game as I have added about 20 yards to my drives. That was one of the main things I was hoping for from this, but to limit the positives to how far I can hit a golf ball is doing yoga a great disservice. It has taught me patience, empathy, soundness of mind and body…not to mention unbinding my 53-year-old body of years of institutionalized stress.

Lee is a taskmaster. Not in the drill sergeant sense, but in the sense of, she can do poses I can only dream of doing, and she makes sure we all get a good workout. At the beginning of class she asks what we want to work on; for example, the back, shoulders, legs, whatever. She then tailors the practice that evening to those areas. She is so giving and obviously loves what she does. I get the sense that it’s not ‘a job’ to her but something she relishes as much as we all do.

I now have a nickname. Being the only regular-attending male in the classes, the other ladies now call me Token Yoga Dude. I love that. Not to mention sharing classes with 10 or so women. Someone name me a better way to spend a Monday night than watching a dozen women twisting and contorting without going to a strip club.

I recently added Thursday nights to my practice, at Lee’s insistence. About a month back she felt I was ready for a second session each week. And I will tell you this – I will do anything she tells me to do.

The only other woman in my life that shares that honor is my mother.

So, this is a love story. I love yoga.

And I love you, Lee.