Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving => My Favorite Game

It's Thanksgiving weekend. Which means, of course, that my favorite football game of every season is played this weekend. It's a heated rivalry game.

And it's not the Iron Bowl between my beloved Alabama Crimson & the Auburn Tigers. (Always an awesome game, including yesterday's great comeback win by Auburn). Nor is it the UF-FSU game that will be played today. Nor the OU-OSU game in Stillwater today, nor the OSU-Michigan game. All of these are fun games to watch, but they're not my favorite.

The aforementioned games feature multiple players who will play in the NFL after their college days are done. Which is one reason they're so much fun to watch; Marcel Dareus chasing Cam Newton, for example.

My favorite game is usually played in Philadelphia, and features very few players who will ever see an NFL field as a player. Every August, I get fired up again just thinking about this game on the schedule. An intense environment...alums who circle the date on the calendar...student bodies who as freshmen learn all kinds of historical details about the series...players who will leave it all on the field that day...and--get this--student bodies in which every single student goes to their school on a full scholarship with guaranteed jobs after college and academic environments that are so far beyond those found in the SEC & Big 10 & Big 12 & Pac 10 & the like that it hardly bears comparing.

I'm speaking, of course, of the Army-Navy game. West Point v. the Naval Academy.

(Along w/ players from the Air Force Academy) These are the last true student-athletes playing Division 1 football. Yeah, I know...all of the others games feature a "student athlete of the game" with guys like Greg McElroy of Alabama. Greg made it to the final 12 of Rhodes Scholar candidates, graduated last Spring, and is now in graduate school while playing major college football & starting at QB. Barrett Jones--Bama's starting guard who was out injured yesterday--4.0 gpa in accounting; will graduate a year early from one of the top accounting programs in the country. (And so forth from other schools) But here's the thing: every student @ Army & @ Navy carries an academic workload that would bury the average student at a major football power. And then to add the rigors & demands of D1 football to that boggles the mind.

One former coach at Army said that Army & Navy are the only teams in the country for which the players view football as a break from their daily schedule. Let that sentence sink in. Football practice as a break from the daily schedule...

And that's just one of the reasons this is my favorite game every year.

Intensity & pressure that matches anything Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State, Florida, Texas, Southern Cal, or any of the others see. Like the big powerhouses, Army & Navy have fired coaches for losing repeatedly to the rivals. The players want this game more than any other. Student body pranks & wildness that are unrivaled. Slobber-knocking hits.

I love the pagentry of the game. Flyovers...the marching into the stadium by both student bodies in full uniform (yeah; let *that* sink in...) clips from former players located around the world at various military duty posts. Goosebumps & "allergy attack moments" abound.

One of which occurs at the end of the game. Sure, every game everywhere ends with teams meeting at midfield & shaking hands. That's not what I'm talking about. A number of teams stand in front of their student section while the alma mater is played. That's not what I'm talking about either. After the Army-Navy game ends every year, both teams stand first in front of the losing team's student section for that alma mater; then, both teams walk over & stand in front of the winning team's student section for that alma mater.

Picture with me the following teams standing respectfully for the other team's alma mater: Bama-Auburn...UF-FSU...UM-MSU...OU-OSU...OSU-Michigan...LSU-Arkansas...yeah, I can't imagine it either. Would never happen. And yet it happens every year @ the end of the Army-Navy game.

Seniors winding up their careers at the bigger programs will get jobs playing football in the NFL or will pursue coaching careers or jobs in the workplace. Seniors winding up their careers at Army & Navy will shortly take an oath and will then take up arms & ship out to places like Iraq & Afghanistan & South Korea, putting themselves in harm's way to protect American interests abroad. And they knew this awaited them the moment they arrived on campus the summer before their first semester of college.

I didn't cry yesterday when Auburn completed their comeback over my Crimson Tide. (note: I didn't *like* it of course...*smile*). It is a lock that I will have an allergy again today--as I do every year at this time--before, during, & after today's Army-Navy game. (Of course, I'm the guy who chokes up @ every USM game when the band plays that beautiful & haunting rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" as the flag is presented.)

I've been to multiple Iron Bowls between Bama & Auburn...Cocktail parties between Florida & Georgia...UF-FSU games...Egg Bowls between Ole Miss & Miss. St....Bowl games...National championship games... Every one of which will fade into a distant 2nd place in terms of favorite games I've ever seen once my dream is fulfilled & I get to attend an Army-Navy game.

Go Army! Go Navy! I can't wait! And, as trivial as it sounds, THANKS!

"I want an officer for a secret & dangerous mission. I want a West Point football player."
Gen. George Marshall shortly after WW2 ended.

p.s. - Want to catch a glimpse of why I love this game? Read >>this<<, by Lt. Alex Moore, who played in the game for Army.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Voices on the Wind

A song I absolutely love! And that I sing every time I head down to the Bay behind Mom's at night to look, listen, enjoy, & remember. Like I just did a few minutes ago.

One of those songs that nailed me with a few of its lines the first time I heard it, and has not released me from itself yet.

When I first heard it, people & places came to mind instantly. Mostly, the people and the places are down here around Ft. Walton Beach from where I'm writing this.

I was just down sitting on the pier behind Mom & Leo's place listening to the wind. Watching the moon. Hearing the waves. Listening to the voices. Singing. Remembering. And being thankful.

"Voices on the Wind"
Written by Craig Fuller, Paul Barrere, Bill Payne, Fred Tackett
Performed by Little Feat

Standing by the ocean watch it tear away the shore
Glide out upon the desert, the horizon is the door
And though your voice is shouting above the wind it can't be heard
Drop all sense of reason, it's there you'll find your worth
And though you are surrounded, feeling quite alone
There's a light to guide you home

If you stand with your face to the wind off the water
At the point of land's end where the ocean begins
Look to the memory of the ones gone before
The light and meaning of the voices on the wind

Searching for safe passage as you knock on every door
You still can hear the howling of the mongrel dogs of war
You call out for some comfort seeking shelter from the night
A raging rain's upon you feeling tired of the fight
And though you are surrounded, feeling quite alone
There's a light to guide you home

If you stand with your face to the wind off the water
At the point of lands end where the ocean begins
Look to the memory of the ones gone before
The light and meaning of the voices on the wind

Their words carry over water, and fall back down to earth
What follows is the silence as you contemplate their worth
A vision comes before you, but the meaning's still unclear
Standing at the threshold as you watch it disappear
And though you are surrounded, feeling quite alone
There's a light to guide you home

If you stand with your face to the wind off the water
At the point of lands end where the ocean begins
Look to the memory of the ones gone before
The light and meaning of the voices on the wind

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thanks, Charlie...and all the rest

(Wrote this on Nov. 9, 2009; as I re-read it, I realized that I pretty much don't have anything to add this year. So, once again...)

A funeral for some of the first American casualties after our troops arrived in Europe in 1917.

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the big guns finally went silent. After over 4 years...10 million soldiers killed...20 million soldiers wounded...7.5 million soldiers missing...the "war to end all wars" was over. It would be several months into the next year before the final treaty was signed, but the guns went silent on 11/11/18.

And the doughboys started coming home. One of them, a guy named Charlie, came home to south Alabama. Married his sweetie and went into the sawmill business. They had 8 children that reached adulthood, and 1 that didn't. They never had much money. Charlie sent two sons and two sons-in-law overseas into the next great war. Three crossed the Pacific; one crossed the Atlantic. All four made it home.

The two sons also went overseas in the next conflict in a far-off place called Korea. Shortly after, the younger of the two married his sweetie. Years later, their older son would chase Soviet submarines around the north Atlantic in the 1990s in a P-3 aircraft.

Quite a legacy of military service from one ordinary young man who went across the sea to fight in a war because his country asked him to do so. He knew very little of geopolitical subleties, and of arch-dukes who were assassinated. So it has been through our nation's history. Mostly they took up arms just because they thought they owed it to their country.

They have courage I can only imagine. Many of them experienced horrors that I cannot even imagine. They went from "boy" to "man" in a very quick hurry. The ones that I have known are forever marked by their military experiences. They are men before whom I stand grateful and silent. Politicians and professors come and go. And can be done without, frankly. Soldiers, however, are vital to us as a nation.

So, today, Veterans Day, amidst all of the others I honor, it is that one particular doughboy that I remember. Even though he died when I was not quite one year old. I wish I had known him for longer. His name was Charles, but everyone called him Charlie. Charlie Madaris. My grandpa.

One day we will have no more need for war. And for soldiers. Try to imagine that day, when the swords will be hammered into plowshares....What a glorious day that will be! But until then, join me in praying for and celebrating the men and women who put on the uniform and travel to distant, dangerous places on behalf of the rest of us.

Veterans' Day? Every day is Veterans' Day.

I thank God for them.

He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.
Isaiah 2:4

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

An Evening in the Rain

Behind me as I pulled into the motel is the Reliant Center, where the Houston Texans play football, NFL style. Last summer when we drove by on the way to our destination, they were coming in from a practice; the guys looked big even across the parking lot from a car at road speed driving past.

But this isn’t about football. It’s about rain. (Well sort of…)

There’s a very soft rain that’s been falling tonight. It covers everything, but is at the same time subtle & understated, providing a nonstop backdrop to everything from the gas station across the street to I-610 just down the road to the McDonald’s nearby. It actually started some miles back before I arrived here.

When I checked in, the manager of the motel asked if I needed the shuttle in the morning. I said yes, & he asked where I was going. “M.D. Anderson,” I said. “Oh yes sir," he said, "but which clinic? Main building? Clark?” “Clark,” I said, surprised—and then not surprised—that he knew those sorts of details. When one’s motel is on the list M.D. Anderson distributes to patients, one pretty quickly gets up to speed on the details I guess. He seemed to know a lot about the rain.

And the rain continued to fall.

As I was checking in, two ladies hugged & nailed down their plans for tomorrow. Based on what I heard in their brief conversation, one apparently lives in Houston, whereas the other is here for the same reason many of us are here in this part of town. “So, I’ll pick you up at 8, then? What time’s your appointment?” “Oh, 8’s fine.” And they walked outside.

To face the rain that was still there.

Moving my stuff into the room, I saw two other cars being unloaded. In one, a lady pulled out her schedule & reminded her party of the appointment times. In the other, a lady walked to her room with some effort & sat on the bed while a guy did all the unloading. He asked her “So, what time tomorrow?”

The rain continued.

Denny’s for supper. (Well, breakfast served late, in my case) Most drove through the rain to get there; I just walked, since it was close by. But we all had to deal with the rain.

There was a group of 20-somethings laughing & enjoying each other’s company. One of them—apparently the cause of the gathering—was not as demonstrative in his enjoyment. He had “the look”…no hair on his head, worn-out eyes, very thin, looked like he could lie down in the booth & be instantly asleep. It didn’t seem that he wanted to have to face the rain again. But we all had to.

There was a group of three adults with three little ones that very busily coloring the kids menu with the crayon they were issued to their great delight. One of the ladies was wearing the scarf on her head that so many around this part of town wear. She smiled & such, but was clearly pre-occupied. Understandable, what with the rain & all…

Then there was another young lady—again, with the scarf—excitedly sharing with our server about the new comfy shoe inserts she had discovered that lessened the pain the rain caused just a bit.

I ate my old-guy, night-before-the-P.E.T. scan-approved meal, read a bit to divert my mind (from the rain, of course), chuckled at the odd mix of music, “tweeted” about it, reviewed my own schedule for tomorrow’s festivities, and headed back to this room.

And still, the soft rain fell. Like it always does the night before entering M.D. Anderson.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Once more into the breach...(me & M.D. Anderson this week)

Just a quick note about this week's return trip to MDA for followup. It's just me this time (well, me & several pastors & teachers & musicians via my ipod...*grin*)

Wed. 11/3 - drive from H'burg to Houston; check into hotel near MDA
(about 8 hours, tho Baton Rouge can add significantly to the travel time)
Thurs. 11/4 - bloodwork (just a quick stick) & P.E.T. scan
The P.E.T. scan is scheduled for noon, and there's no food--not even coffee!--until after the scan. The scan time is normally around an hour & a half, which includes a mandatory 1-hour nap while the nuke solution circulates. I like the nap part...*another grin*
Serious gluttony will occur shortly after the scan is over...
Fri. 11/5 - appt. w/ Dr. Homsi to get scan results (reminder: he's my main medical guy there)
Appt. scheduled for 1:30; drive home after.

Baton Rouge traffic will almost surely be...special...Friday night, as many of my fellow Crimson Tide fans will descend on B.R. along with tens of thousands of LSU fans for the big game on Saturday.

This trip is routine every three-month followup...but then, such trips will never be really "routine" again...

If you're a praying type, I'd appreciate a few. My own main requests are these:
--accurate P.E.T. scans that are totally boring, showing nothing at all.
--safe travel
--peace for Lisa; my part here is, as usual, the easy part...she has to just wait...

Thanks much! The quickest update will be via Twitter, which will also show up on my facebook page.

Thanks again!