Saturday, January 31, 2009


Cats are where it's at. They are low maintenance and just need a good rub now and then. Rudy joined our family in August 2001. He's just the best damn cat I've ever been around. He's funny, personable, greets everyone who comes to the door, and just loves to roam the great outdoors.

He's named after another Rudy. That Rudy was also a big yellow tom who belonged to my late mother. That Rudy was a big butterball who loved donuts. I inherited him after my mother's passing and unfortunately eight months later he contracted feline leukemia. It was tough because it brought up a lot of emotion so shortly after my mother's death.

The new Rudy used to have a running mate. China Cat Sunflower lived to be a ripe old 18 but we had to put her down in 2002. China lacked Rudy's charisma. She was a good cat and was never overly demanding.
Rudy on the other hand can be a handful at times. He always wants to roam outdoors but that's no longer allowed. Between the fleas and the threat of becoming a meal for a gator we don't let him out. Occasionally he escapes and returns dirty and happy from his adventures.

He loves water. It's the amazing how he loves to drink out of an ice filled trash can as I try to nurse an injury. Rudy demands running water from the faucet of the bathtub at least four times a day and if that's not available, the toilet does just fine.

Ice Baby Ice

My poor friends in Western Kentucky are enduring the unthinkable. The winter storm that swept up through Arkansas across the Ohio Valley did a real number on parts of Kentucky and Tennessee. I believe this photo was taken by Lew Jetton just outside his home in Tennessee. Lew's reporting power could be out for weeks in some parts of the area.

I've been through a few ice storms. The first bad one I remember was in Kansas City in either 1986 or 87. The ice storm hit when the trees still had leaves so it really created a mess. The house I was living in didn't have power for a couple of days. What I remember most about that storm was all of the debris that was cleared throughout the city. The mulch was laid out on a runway at Richards-Gebaur air base in Belton, Missouri. The pile ran more than a thousand feet and was 20 to 30 feet high and about 60 feet across.

The worst storm was in 1994 in Paducah, Kentucky. That's the same area hit this week and not far from where Lew currently lives. The rain, ice mix started falling the evening of Sunday, January 16th. I ran 11 miles that day and remember the rain started to turn to ice. Before going to bed I had a conversation with Tom Butler, a grand gentleman who was my mentor at WPSD where I was news director. Tom was going to anchor that morning and wanted to know if I could drive him into work in the morning if there was a problem.

I went to bed just after 10 p.m. and it was snowing pretty good. I got the call from Tom sometime after 3 a.m. and told him no problem, I had front wheel drive. Well, the snow by then was up to the wheel wells of my car. Underneath the heavy snow was pure ice. I couldn't budge my Mazda and called Tom. He had a tow truck on the way to try and rescue his Cadillac, I got in my running clothes and headed to his house, a little more than a mile away. When I got there the situation was hopeless. There was no way his boat was going anywhere short of a helicopter airlift.

I decided to run into work and see if I could to prepare a newscast while Tom waited for the wrecker. The run was the most incredible of my life. It was just three more miles from Tom's house to work. It was eerily silent and beautiful beyond belief. The snow was up to my calf, fresh, soft, and very moist. Nary a vehicle had been down the road so I was alone in this winter wonderland. The trees, so weighed down from the ice and snow were bending over the narrow two lane street. Occasionally a branch would hit a power line and the pop and arcing blue flame would light up the night sky. This must have happened a half dozen times on the way into work. By the time I got up to the main highway about a half mile from work I realized that travel on this day was impossible.

I made it to the newsroom grateful to find that a director had spent the night at the station with his girl friend who also was the chyron operator. I called Lew, who was the morning weatherman to access his situation. He was stuck as well and a mile away from work. I told him to walk. He reluctantly agreed. It was about 5 a.m. and the news was starting at 6 a.m. There was no way to prepare anything that resembled a newscast and I was feeling more and more sure that Tom Butler would never arrive. The phones were starting to ring. Businesses, schools, people, wanting to know what the heck was going on. My two words of advice, stay home.

When 6 a.m. rolled around I took to the air wearing a sport coat over my Macy's marathon shirt. The shirt was particularly tasteful, bright red with gold lettering. We had a camera set up in the newsroom and I spent about five minutes showing the radar, reading off the closings and telling people not to venture out. I tossed it back to the "Early Today Show," praying that Lew would arrive soon. He walked in not more than a couple of minutes later. We went back on the air probably five minutes after that, Lew talking about the weather, while I answered phones and told folks about the closings and whatever other vital information I could lay my hands on. I think we managed to fill almost all the way to "The Today Show." Ironically it was the same morning as the Northridge earthquake in California so there was plenty of news.

It was a mess but we had all hands on deck that day and covered heck out of this major story. That night a national guardsman in a Humvee drove me home. It was the only way to get around. Tuesday, I managed to free my car and get into work. The main roads were fairly passable. I remember heading out for some lunch at a little seafood joint. I walked in and I realized that everyone was staring at me. I couldn't figure out what was wrong until one of the patrons spoke up and told me what a great job I had done the morning before. Two or three others joined in with compliments. I continued to get the, "Hey aren't you the guy who ran into work," comments for the next two months.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Wrestler

The Czarina is on the road so I took advantage of my solitude to head out to a film that she would never see. "The Wrestler" has gotten so much buzz because of Mickey Rourke's acting. It's a fine art film. Rourke does a very good job. But it's not a great movie. He'll probably win the Oscar for Best Actor but I've seen better, more compelling performances this year. Clint Eastwood got screwed.

I'm not sure why I'm not ga-ga over this film. I've never been a big fan of Rourke. I can remember when he was going through his boxing phase and he blew into Kansas City for some bout. He ended up live on the station I worked at doing an on set interview with our sports anchor. I didn't even care enough to go down and meet him. I was ambivalent about the whole thing. Just the way I feel about this movie.

Don't get me wrong, I get a kick out of meeting celebrities. I can remember the first time I met George Brett face to face. He sat next to me on press row at a Big 8 post season tournament game drunk off his ass. It was K-State versus KU and Brett had the nerve to cheer for the Mildcats. He liked Ed Nealy, go figure. It cracks me up now every time I see Brett sitting in Allen Field House at a KU game.

I've met a few other minor celebs, Paul Ruebens, AKA Pee-Wee Herman, Dr. Demento, "Weird" Al Yankovic, Joe Walsh, Minnie Pearl and a lot of running stars like Olympic Gold Medalist Frank Shorter and marathon great Bill Rodgers. It's a long list.

Perhaps my best brush with greatness was when I went down and watched the Moody Blues perform a sound check at the Barbara B. Mann center. I've seen more than a half dozen times in concert and they've always been one of my favorite bands, right behind the Beatles when it comes to British groups.

Anyway, I met them before the sound check. They were very gracious and enjoyed chit-chatting about their new album, their love of their work and other mundane subjects. It was a big thrill. Much better than sitting through two hours of Mickey Rourke playing a washed up Hulk Hogan.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Germinator

German Fernandez just set the running world on its collective ear. Every track and field fan knows by now that this freshman who attends Oklahoma State ran a 3:56.5 mile over the weekend in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Taken into perspective, Jim Ryun, arguably the greatest collegiate miler ever didn't run that fast indoors until two years after graduating from the University of Kansas. Ryun ran his then indoor world record in the mile of 3:56.4 in 1971 on a board track that at the time was considered state of the art.

Fernandez had the advantage of running on a state of the art synthetic indoor at in Arkansas, but he's barely 18 years old. Ryun was 23 when he ran his record, that's the same age as Hicham El Guerrouj was when he set the current world indoor record for the mile of 3:48.45 in 1997. Fernandez is a relative baby and here's the kicker, pardon the pun, he's a running neophyte.

When Ryun started setting records he was a veteran of an intense training system. 100 mile weeks were for Jim routine and it helped him produce two outdoor world records in the mile and win an Olympic silver medal. Fernandez hasn't come close to running that many miles in a week. Because of injury problems his high school coach wisely monitored his mileage. His senior year Fernandez shattered the long standing high school record in the two mile and came amazingly close to breaking four minutes in the 1,600 meters in a solo effort at his state meet.

What does it all mean? It means that American distance running truly is on the comeback. Even with Alan Webb's Olympic year flame out and Ryan Hall's disappointing marathon in Beijing Americans can take heart. We're competitive again, both men and women. I think much of this distance running resurgence can be traced back to one thing, the Internet. Running sites like Dyestat and Let's Run have created this cross polination of running thought, hero worship, criticism, and most importantly, excitement.

Dyestat's coming of age nearly coincided with the emergence of Alan Webb, Ryan Hall, and Dathan Ritzenheim. The trio showed that you have to run more than 50 miles a week to be a competitive distance runner. They were trailblazers just like Jim Ryun and Gerry Lindgren were nearly 40 years before them. And not to leave the girls out but the same thing is happening with them too, hello Shalane Flanagan, I'd like you to meet Jordan Hassay.

This is great stuff for running nuts. German Fernandez may never win an Olympic medal or set a world record. But if he can stay healthy, he's going to create a lot of excitement on the track for the next decade.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Finally a week where I was too busy blog but not to busy to take in the historic changing of the guard in Washington, DC. President Barack Obama isn't wasting anytime putting his stamp on the office. Thank God!

He basically gave the hard line wing of the Republican party the finger. Who can argue with his sentiment that it's time for the GOP to quit listening to Rush Limbaugh and get about the task of fixing the economic ills of this country. Mr. Obama's quote of the week to a gathering of Republican leaders arguing with him over the stimulus package, "I won."

I'm afraid even throwing a trillon dollars at this problem isn't going to solve it. Once they let Lehmann Brothers fail there was no turning back the clock. I think the government needs to take a step back and let a couple of these other big banks go as well, specifically Citi and Bank of America.

I blame deregulation for a lot of the ills that are being visited upon us. The banks simply got too big to control. Unfortunately, they got to big to let fail. Deregulation has killed broadcasting and in some ways the newspaper business as well. These mega media groups bought properties based on ever expanding advertising revenues. Any hiccup in the economy meant painful draconian cuts in jobs. The Internet took a slow burning fire that had been ruining newspapers, television and radio for years and turned it into a raging inferno. The media business set itself on fire when it didn't come up with a pay model for all of that information that gets shoveled to the web.

Communities are going to suffer greatly because newsrooms will stop covering the hard subjects like government and fall back to the easy gets of murder and mayhem. Bloggers will have to fill the void but that is a dangerous path in the search for truth. I believe some bloggers offer useful insight to the political process, take for example Tonys Kansas City. But bloggers generally have agendas, even TKC, a well run newsroom at a TV or newspaper doesn't.

Here's hoping that our new President is given a chance to fix what's ailing us. Rush Limbaugh and his gang had their chance and after a promising start (The Contract with America) but in the end they became even bigger spenders than the Democrats that had wrested power away from. I think we're in for a lot more pain, three to five years worth perhaps. Generation X is going to learn some tough lessons that our parents and their parents experienced.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Watching Kansas cut through Colorado in Boulder and the monstrous slam dunks from Cole Aldrich got me to thinking about how he stacks up with true centers that have played for the Jayhawks over the last 50 years. Wilt fits into that time frame so he's obviously the top dog in that group. But how do the others rate?

The Jayhawks have seen an incredible run of great low post players. The list is long, Bill Bridges, Wayne Hightower, Dave Robisch, Rick Suttle, Danny Knight, Danny Manning, Mark Randle, Richard Scott, Raef LaFrentz, Nick Collison, Wayne Simeon, Drew Gooden, Darrel Authur and Scott Pollard. The best of this group, Manning, LaFrentz, Gooden and Collison all had sweet post moves. Robisch was the king of the turn around jumper and parlayed that into a decent NBA career. Bridges and Pollard could do a little of this and a little of that and turned that into NBA careers.

Let's not forget some smaller guys who could grind in the post. Paul Pierce could get down and dirty in post. Even smaller guys like John Douglas and Carl Henry scored a lot near the glass.

But the list of true centers is short. We're talking about guys that played with their back to the basket 75 percent of the time or more. The names that come to mind are the immortal Wilt Chamberlain, Walt Wesley, Paul Mokeski, Greg Dreiling, Greg Ostertag, Sasha Kaun, Cole Aldrich and the biggest underachiever of the bunch, Eric Chenowith. Out of this group only Chenowith and Kaun failed to make it to the NBA. Kaun may end up in the NBA yet someday. Wesley, Mokeski, Dreilling and Ostertag all had serviceable NBA careers. Mokeski's was the most interesting because he became more of an outside threat in the pros than he showed in college.

From what I've seen Aldrich could be the best of the bunch, save for Wilt. Nothing was more frustrating over the last 15 years than to watch Ostertag and Chenowith go up with half hearted put backs. Aldrich is ferocious. He doesn't hesitate to jam the ball down the basket. Add to that Aldrich's feathery touch from the perimeter and he just sticks out on the offensive end. Defensively, I don't think I've seen a better shot blocker than Cole at Kansas. If Aldrich sticks it out for all four years, Ostertag's career blocks records should go by the wayside. And he rebounds with passion. The tradition of great Kansas big men is certainly safe for at least the next two years.


The Czarina and I went to see "Gran Torino" last night. It may well be the best movie Clint Eastwood movie to date, which is saying a lot. It struck me as Dirty Harry meets Archie Bunker. The story line was incredible and Eastwood was just Eastwood. He's really marked himself as one of the great movie directors of the last quarter century.

It's hard to imagine coming from the small screen and his role as Rowdy Yates on "Rawhide" to those indelible spaghetti westerns to Dirty Harry that Eastwood has cut the most enduring image as a movie star since John Wayne. Harder still to imagine if you look at his early work as a director which was fairly uneven to what he's done since the mid-80's. It's mind blowing. He rates with Spielberg, Scorcese, Coppola, and Ron Howard as the top American movie makers still working in my book.

I love movies and don't get to the theatre enough to suit my taste. It's hard to justify $9.50 a pop for some of the crap that's out there. Plus add in the ghastly price of soda and popcorn, which I can't even eat anymore, and it has to be something really special to justify the cost. Eastwood is one of the few stars/directors that make the experience of movie going a pleasure. "Gran Torino" was just a strong story, well acted, that delivers on every emotional level. I'm not sure that it's better than "Unforgiven" but it's darn close.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mixed Up Confusion

It's kind of like the look Sarah Palin got on her face when Katie Couric asked the Governor the trick question about what newspapers she read. My God that was underhanded! I mean, what in the hell happened to the Republican Party? I could swallow Newt Gingrich's contract with America in 1994 even with its full on embrace of the religious right. Balanced budgets, welfare reform, laws that apply to Americans apply to Congress as well, it made sense.

Growing up in Kansas voting Republican was a birth right. But the word conservative had a completely different meaning in 1964 with the ascendancy of Barry Goldwater than it does now. To me conservative meant fiscally responsible government. It meant less government not more. And above all government did not preach about issues of morality. Those issues were left to the Billy Grahams of the nation. I don't want to be in your bedroom, I don't care who you pray to and the way you feel about abortion is none of my business.

I voted Republican more often than not most of my life. I saw Democrats as corrupt, beholding to labor unions, and promoters of the welfare state. But 40 years after Goldwater my vision of what it meant to support Republicans completely changed. George W. Bush betrayed every principal that Barry Goldwater represented. Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Yoo, the whole gang, are corrupt war criminals. Iraq, Katrina, and the current economic meltdown all occurred during W's watch. The blame lays squarely at the feet of the Bush White House.

This reformation of what it means to be a conservative really started with the emergence of Rush Limbaugh. I used to listen to Limbaugh and enjoy his snarky takes on feminists, Democrats and environmental wackos. By the end of the Clinton administration the rant started getting really old and by after 9/11 he simply ceased being funny. Now he's just a cranky old drug addict. The world isn't black and white as Limbaugh and his cabal of Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin would have their followers believe. Limbaugh twisted the Reagan revolution into a simple mantra, wealth is good, taxes are bad, let the poor pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. If it were all that simple.

The "Rosemary's Baby" or offspring of this conservative line of thought was the emergence of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate. Palin is white trash run amuck. She is the product of the 700 Club, Bill Kristol and Walmart. In other words, she's an intellectually devoid bible beater whom upon intense scrutiny falls apart at the single tug of a thread. Palin blames everybody but herself for what happened in the presidential campaign. Her lack of introspection is astounding.

The election of a black man with a scant political resume shows you how destructive the Bush presidency has been. Something happened in my lifetime that I never believed could happen. A Black American is President. I'm not sure Barack Obama can fix the country. I don't know that anybody can fix the economic shitstorm that President Bush and yes, this Congress helped create.

Read Thomas Frank's book, "What's the Matter with Kansas." It zeroes in on the destruction of conservatism thanks in large part to the rise of the religious right. I'm not knocking religion or faith. It's important, it provides a foundation for people's lives. But it doesn't belong in politics or government. This country was founded on the belief of separation of church and state. I don't want to live in Iran because that's what we're asking for if we allow the Pat Robertson's and James Dobson's of the world to guide our government. So as the Republican Party gravitates toward "Bible Spice," aka Sarah Palin, let us pray our daily prayer that God helps Barack Obama lead us out of this mess.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The marathon

If you've ever laced up a pair of running shoes and hit the roads the idea of running a marathon has flashed through your mind. Every erstwhile jogger figures they've got to do just one marathon. I see it as the Mount Everest of running, whether you do it under three hours or over five hours, it's a big achievement. Now I firmly believe that if it takes you longer than six hours to "run" a marathon then there's not a lot of running going on. Penguins aren't runners.

The problem with running a marathon is what follows. It's the most painful experience for a runner to go through. The agony can last for a few days. You swear up and down, never again. Then sometime, maybe later that day, or later that same week, you think, "I could do that again and probably knock five minutes off my time." I ran my first marathon at the Kansas Relays in April 1974. At the time I was probably running about 20 to 30 miles a week. As fate would have it, a childhood friend, Kirk Duncan, was back from Stanford and was making his first attempt at the marathon. We agreed to run 7 minute pace (per mile) and stick with each other as long as possible.

Kirk was great company and the plan worked great. By 18 miles I was beginning to fade and Kirk forged ahead. He ended up running just over three hours. I struggled home but managed to make it just under the cut off for finishing in the stadium running 3:14:15. The cut off was three hours, 15 minutes.

I tried to run it again the following year but horrible weather, worse preparation, and the prospect of watching Frank Shorter run the 5000 prompted me to drop out. It's the only time I DNF'ed a marathon. A year later I would break three hours in Wichita and decided that I would quit running marathons if I ever ran slower than marathon #1. It wasn't until 2002 at the Tucson Marathon that I ran just 3:16:13, my slowest ever. That was marathon #16 and I haven't run one since.

The point of all this is my wife ran her fourth marathon on Sunday at Disney. She decided in late October that she wanted to run a winter marathon. This picture was taken of her running a 10K in Fort Myers. The main requirement was that the course be relatively flat. She hates hills with a passion. She decided on Disney which left her short on preparation. She followed the training program I outlined for her to a T. I told her about two weeks ago she should be able to easily manage 9:40 pace and she wasn't sure. The Czarina (one of her many nicknames) did one second better. She ran 4:13:25, which averages out to 9:39 pace.

She was beaming because it qualified her for Boston, which she ran in 2003. While the time is a good 30 minutes slower than her best, it should be noted that she hadn't run a marathon since Boston. She's one crazy Russian. She's probably the only runner I know that's run more marathons (4) than 10K's (2).

When we got married nearly ten years ago she started running in order to spend more time with me. After dragging her to a 5K barely six weeks into her running career (where she won a medal) she vowed never to run anything longer than a 5K. Two years later she was begging me to train her for a marathon because I was going to Boston and she couldn't stand the thought of not getting to run it with me.

She regularly wins awards at races, something I rarely do anymore. And finally this fall she managed to beat me for the first time in a race. Of course I weigh about 25 pounds more than I did when we got married. But the gauntlet has been thrown down. I've got to get into some serious training, break my vow and consider a marathon this fall. After all, I can't let my wife go to Boston without me.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Earlier this week I read a post from one of the top high school coaches in Kansas on Dyestat, a wonderful website devoted to high school track and field. The coach asked about the days of yore when the Big 8 indoor was held in Kansas City. The meet, much like the old Big 8 Holiday basketball tournament, was an event. It was a crowded, rowdy, festive occasion in Kansas City's glorious art deco monument called Municipal Auditorium. Track and field was still popular when the meet was held in Kansas City and indoor meets thrived across the United States, from New York City to Los Angeles. But by the early 1980's indoor meets started disappearing faster than joints at a Grateful Dead concert.

I attended my first Big 8 indoor in 1972 thanks to Chris Bradt, a high school classmate and neighbor, tagging along with his wonderful parents. I had witnessed a couple of indoor track and field meets at Allen Field House before this. The field house was unique. It featured a dirt track, later replaced with tartan by 1973 or 74. The turns were tight and as you headed into them you came face to face with giant beams with supported the stands above. A well placed shove could send you hurtling into the unforgiving steel. It was pretty raucous with Pat Timmons, wife of long time KU track coach Bob Timmons, hooting from the stands, exhorting on the Jayhawks in their then famous powder blue and neon pink uniforms.

But I digress. I got to Municipal that night without a ticket and one of the enemy, a Kansas State Wildcat track athlete was scalping the precious ducats outside the building. Let's hope the NCAA isn't reading. As fate would have it the seats were right next to the parents of Jerome Howe, probably the best miler in K-State history. Howe captured the mile that night and sweatily placed himself on my lap so he could talk to his parents. The best part of the evening was the championship captured by my beloved Jayhawks. It was one of many more conference titles I would get to witness in the next few years.

The atmosphere at Municipal was electric. It was packed, frenetic, and full of great performances. Unfortunately the Big 8 decided that bigger would be better and moved the meet to Kemper Arena in the mid-70's. That experiment lasted about two years. Kemper has absolutely no charm. It's size swallowed up the crowds and the whole affair was out of place without any drawing power.

The Big 8 then moved the meet to Nebraska and the Devanney Center, a wonderful place. The track was fast and even though the seating was cramped there was plenty of excitement. I remember one particular epic battle between Cliff Wiley, probably the greatest sprinter in Kansas history and Oklahoma's William Snoddy, no slouch himself. The two were locked up in a scorching 300 and at the very end Wiley hurled himself across the finish line slamming onto the track breaking his wrist. I was standing there right at the finish and to this day I'm convinced that Wiley, who would later be ranked as the #1 400 meter runner in the world, won the race. The judges gave the race to Snoddy.

The meet moved to Oklahoma City for one year in 1979 and I just couldn't see making the drive. I didn't see another indoor meet until the 1992 edition at KU's Anschutz Pavalion. It's a horrible place. There's no seating, the lighting is drab, and even by 92 the track was already worn out at the then relatively new facility. Don't get me wrong, it was a great meet. Iowa State's Jon Brown, a runner who ended up becoming a world class marathoner, put on a dazzling show in the 3000 and 5000 meters. But there was very little buzz.

A handful of indoor meets still exist that I suspect still generate the buzz and excitement that the old Big 8 indoor generated. The Boston meet, the NCAA indoors and of course the Milrose Games in New York City. I want to make it to New York City someday and see the Milrose Games. I see it as the holy grail of indoor track and field in this country. Three generations of Jayhawks have competed in its historic Wanamaker Mile, Glenn Cunningham, Wes Santee and Jim Ryun. Maybe I'll get there in time to see a fourth generation Jayhawk add his name to this list of immortals.

Monday, January 5, 2009

On the point

I'm crazy about Kansas basketball. The romance started in 1965 with the great Jayhawk team led by Walt Wesley but the love affair began in earnest four years later during the 8th grade at Abilene Junior High. I devoted an entire history class project to a team that went 17 and 9. I admired Jayhawks like Pierre Russell, Dave Nash and the scoring machine Dave Robisch.

But it was a guard, Jo-Jo White, who first captured my heart. Jo-Jo could do it all, score, handle the ball, and play defense. Add in his outstanding NBA career with the Boston Celtics and you could argue that White is the greatest guard to come out of the Jayhawk program. That's saying a lot. Kansas, especially in the last 30 years, has had an amazing number of outstanding point guards.

Darnell Valentine may be the most impressive physically. I was lucky enough to see him play in high school. He's by far and away the best high school player I ever saw. The Wichita Heights team that he led to a state title in 1977 was the greatest in Kansas high school history. Valentine's squad demolished a very good Wyandotte team led by future NBA player Larry Drew.

Valentine led some very good Kansas teams but bad luck kept them out of the Final 4. He was a great ball handler, could score and was the best defensive player at the point that KU has ever seen. Sorry Mario. In a program other than Ted Owens' walk the ball up and feed the big man system Valentine could have been a world beater.

Other greats have come through the years. Many of them are comparable. Cedric Hunter was a lot like Russell Robinson, both tenacious defenders with average offensive skills. Kevin Pritchard and Ryan Robertson could both score and were adequate defenders. Adonis Jordan with his physicality was a poor man's Darnell Valentine, just as Aaron Miles was a poor man's Jacques Vaughn. Mario Chalmer's, while capable of handling the point, was never truly comfortable holding down that position. And then there's Sheron Collins, the human bowling ball. He will certainly go down as the best penetrator in school history if not one of the best offensive threats of the bunch.

The talented trio of Chalmers, Collins, and Robinson speak to the importance of guard play in winning a national title. Ironically the best three point guards in school history, White, Valentine, and Vaughn, never even made it to the Final 4. White lacked a top notch running mate in the back court. Delvy Lewis couldn't compete against the speed and quickness of Texas Western. Darnell Valentine had Tony Guy with him through much of his career but it wasn't enough to get KU past Wichita State and a shot at the Elite 8 in 1981. Jacque Vaughn was surrounded by more talent than either White or Valentine making it to the Elite 8 twice. But his best team which included Paul Pierce, Scot Pollard and Raef LaFrentz ran into 1997's team of destiny, Arizona.

When fans think of Kansas basketball they always remember Wilt Chamberlain, Danny Manning, and Clyde Lovellette, but it's guard play that has made the Jayhawks a force on the national stage year in and year out.

Friday, January 2, 2009

After the Gold Rush

A handful of moments shaped my musical tastes. As a young boy the first thunderclap came from The Beatles' debut on the Ed Sullivan Show. It was captivating. The excitement that followed that February night was something that will stay forever etched in my mind. My two older sisters streaked out of the house after the show had ended to talk excitedly about what they had just witnessed with the two girls who lived next door. It's impossible to overstate how important that telecast was because even I realized, at the tender age of eight, that these four mop tops marked a revolution away from the syrupy homogenized sound that popular music had become.

The next major awakening came sometime after I turned 15. My oldest sister had abandoned an album when she moved out of the house called "After the Gold Rush." When I first listened to it the shaky voice left me wondering how anyone that could sing this way could be allowed to make a record. But when I came upon "Only Love Can Break Your Heart," the tune spoke to me as it would to any lovelorn teenager. It didn't take long for the album to become my favorite and my appreciation for Neil Young would grow from there.

Neil Young performing "A Day in the Life" at Farm Aid

It was the night of my high school graduation that my favorite teacher and soon to become lifelong friend gave me a lesson in scotch and Bob Dylan. I don't know where my head or my ears had been. Dylan had never struck me until I heard "Freewheelin' Bob Dylan." Tony Gauthier gave me a rousing lesson in the early works of America's greatest songwriter.

The final piece of the Dylan puzzle came later that summer after seeing my rock hero Neil Young for the first time in concert with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, in an epic show that featured the Beach Boys. I went to a party in a Kansas City suburb after that mind numbing concert for a little more beer and a little more weed. Blonde on Blonde was playing and that night I was completely hooked. I also got my first introduction to the Grateful Dead at that same party and a second love was born, one that would also be nurtured by Tony.

The final piece to this five legged musical stool would come more than a decade and a half later. The then love of my life had begged me to take her to see U2. Not four years earlier I had turned down a chance to see the band play free when they were filming "Rattle and Hum," at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. Standing that night not ten feet away from the Edge was a sonic awakening that took hold of me in ways that I'm still trying to come to terms with. It wasn't just loud, but the energy that this Irish band brought to Arrowhead Stadium, the stage craft, the whole visual experience of Zoo TV, and the music, which was lyrically gripping, turned me from a doubter into an instant fan. For that Alice, I will always be indebted to you.

I've been fortunate to see all of my favorites perform except for the Beatles. To me seeing them on Ed Sullivan those three Sundays in a row back in 1964 would be impossible to top. They would appear one final time on Sullivan in 1965 but the icing to that cake came on The Smothers Brothers Show when they performed "Hey Jude." What a magical performance.

I would admonish anyone to see Dylan or Young before they're gone. As for me, I await U2's return to the U.S. hopefully later this year when they tour with their new album due out in March. It would be nice to be able to wash "Popmart" out of my mouth once and for all.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The consequences of alcohol

I know too well the damages that drugs and alcohol can cause. I've been lucky in that the most cruel consequence of such abuse, death, whether through use or an accident has never visited itself upon my immediate family. As a journalist, I've seen the damage it can do to others in the stories I've covered.

Which brings us to the New Year. I don't drink anymore. I've had some particularly disastrous New Years in my past, one which resulted in a stint in rehab. So it's probably not one of my favorite holidays, in fact the holiday season as a whole used to be pretty chaotic because of my personal failings.

Fortunately, it's not that way anymore. My wife and stepson put a special joy in the holiday season. It hurts me when Andrei seems disappointed in not getting the right gift because I remember how I used to feel in the let down. This was a tough Christmas because he was recently laid off. But to his credit he was in a great mood and as I have found these past five years or so he's grown into a wonderful man.

But then there's my wife, who last night taught me the lesson as to why I don't miss alcohol. We made a New Year's Eve pilgrimmage to the local casino. It's run by the Seminoles and it's located in a hell hole of a town called Immokalee. When we first started going there the building was nothing more than a Butler building on steroids. They're finally expanding it and remodeling the facility but it still stinks of cigarettes and is rather dingy.

The free champagne started flowing at about 9 pm. By the time I tracked down my wife, after enjoying a successful stint at the poker table, it was just a touch after midnight. She was in a joyous mood dancing up a storm to a God awful karoke singer the casino had hired with a Mexican about a half foot shorter than her. My wife's not tall to begin with so it was quite a sight. She had stopped drinking by then but she wasn't ready to stop dancing, eventually dragging my neighbor's wife out onto the dance floor. It was something to behold, these two tipsy women dancing with this little Mexican.

Shortly before 1 am the consequences of the night began to catch up with the wife. We barely made it out to the car when she decided it was time to purge herself of the misery that was descending upon her. After about 20 minutes of an horrific effort she got into the car. It would take four more stops over the course of the 40 mile drive home to expunge the demons that were haunting her. She was miserable for about another hour, praying for God's help (I said a few prayers too) before she could finally crawl into bed exhausted.

I remember the way she felt all too well. I remember driving home feeling the way she felt. Thank God I don't have to revisit that chapter in my life.