Monday, December 29, 2008

1968 Part 2

My life long love affair with sports really cemented itself in 1968. I had started to follow baseball in 1965 because of Sandy Koufax and the World Series. Koufax's refusal to pitch during Yom Kippur got my attention. He retired the following year so the 1967 St. Louis Cardinals next caught my fancy. What a great team full of bigger than life personalities.

I had started following Kansas basketball in 1965. I had watched my first KU game on TV when the Jayhawks pummeled Nebraska at home. I watched the heart breaking triple overtime loss to Texas Western and was hooked. I saw my first game in person at Allen Field House in the winter of 1968. I watched Jo Jo White lead the Jayhawks to an easy win over Iowa State. I remember Phog Allen being introduced at the game. I strained from my nose bleed seats to catch a glimpse of the great man but couldn't figure where he was sitting because the crowd was giving him a standing ovation .

Later that spring I discovered to my delight that Forrest C. "Phog" Allen actually lived across the street from my grandmother. I don't know why this didn't come to my attention earlier but it was then I began to make pilgrimmages across the street and sit on the front porch with Dr. Allen and listen to his tales of basketball and life in general. His greatest regret was never getting to coach Wilt Chamberlain. He was bitter about this and the fact that he was forced into retirement, thus denying him a chance to coach his best known recruit. He also argued that James Naismith really wasn't KU's first basketball coach. Coach Allen told me that the teams that Naismith coached at KU were "intramural" squads and they weren't sanctioned varsity teams. Allen considered himself the "first" varsity coach at Kansas. The chats with this wonderful man were usually 15 minutes to half an hour. He was in frail health and by the following summer he wasn't taking visitors. It broke my heart not to be able to talk with him.

1968 was great year for sports at KU. The football team went to the Orange Bowl. I remember traveling from Abilene to one home game that year and watching John Riggins run all over the Colorado Buffaloes. It was the same year that I discovered Jim Ryun. His loss at the Mexico City Olympic Games broke my heart. Ryun's athletic feats inspired me to become a runner. But that's another story.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


Laying around last night watching "Rain", a Beatles tribute band on PBS I started thinking about 1968 and what a pivotal year it was in not just the life of this country, but my life as well. The big three that stand out are Lyndon Johnson's address to the nation announcing he would not run for re-election, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.

Growing up in a small town in north-central Kansas, King's murder was only of passing interest. Most of my friends including myself loved to use the "n" word. In a town with less than a dozen blacks we could behave like brutish rednecks. But I watched the news regularly and was fascinated by King and his gospel of non-violent change for black Americans. I was profoundly saddened by his killing and when I shared my sorrow with some friends of mine the torrent of hate and ignorance made me realize that my friends had a very narrow view of the world.

Kennedy's assassination was even more difficult. The California primary was so exciting. I was too young to stay up and wait out the returns. I wanted Kennedy to win the nomination. I woke up early to watch the morning news to find out the results and instead learned that he had been murdered. You just got the feeling that the country was spinning out of control into complete chaos.

Watching the Democratic National Convention didn't change that view either. The DNC in Chicago that year made for perhaps the most compelling television that I can remember. The rioting, the down right thuggery on the floor of the convention and Chicago's despotic Mayor Richard Daley running the whole show. Read Norman Mailer's book "Miami and the Siege of Chicago" about the conventions because I believe it really captures the feelings of those times.

By the end of the convention I felt betrayed by Humphrey's nomination. I wasn't old enough to vote but I supported Nixon, even though he made me feel ill at ease. He was promising to end the war. Of course he only made it worse before it finally came to an end. My sister's had college age boyfriends and the fear of getting drafted was palbable. It was a fear that I would grow to know as I approached my 18th birthday and graduation from high school in 1974. I know there was a lottery in 1974 but the numbers were never issued. Fortunately the draft was actually ended about five months before my 18th birthday. I've got more on 1968 next time.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Love Minus Zero/No Limit

This is probably my favorite Bob Dylan song. I can remember hearing it for the first time when my friend Tony Gauthier played it for me sometime back in 1974. Dylan is as good a topic as any to start a blog. I've seen him more than a dozen times in concert. Some of the shows were good, a few were part, but he's never boring.

I saw him for the first time in 1986 when he was touring with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. I caught two shows on that tour. Dylan was pretty disinterested during both shows. I hated the back up singers. Tom Petty simply kicked butt and I became a fan of his music because of his energy and outstanding catalog of tunes.

It really wasn't until Dylan started playing with Larry Campbell and Charlie Sexton that I thought he came out of whatever funk he suffered through. While his voice was shot the shows carried a lot more energy and his song choices were certainly interesting. The albums of original music starting with Time Out of Mind running through today are simply incredible. What singer/songwriter can claim such longevity?

The one I didn't get to see is one I remember. It was 1975 and Steve Riley wanted me to take a road trip with him to Massachusetts to see Rolling Thunder. My mother turned thumbs down and I was too chicken to make the journey so it was an easy cop out. Steve went and witnessed history. That offer from Steve marked the beginning of a long friendship. It's one that I will always treasure.

Steve and I have made an effort to stay in touch, much like Tony Gauthier has, though the years. It's the friendships that I've let slip away that gnaw on me. Unfortunately I've moved around a lot and lost and let go of people that I care about. My cousins Bob and Nancy Fields come to mind. One of my all time favorites Mike Carothers and his father Jim were very important to me as is Walt Riker. It pains me that I let these were important people in my life slip away. I think about them but we just don't stay in touch. Some others I've managed to reconnect with thanks to the Internet.

Seeing blogs by my friend Lew Jetton, who is a heck of a blues guitarist, singer, songwriter, and an old DJ Randy Raley, our paths crossed back in the good old days of Kansas City radio and television, inspired me. Plus writing has been a major part of my life.

I hope I a few of these folks find this blog. I also hope that I can provide a little entertainment for my friends and family with my ramblings. Enjoy!