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Watching Football + A Lovely Celebration of Richard Wyands's Music

Pro football's Final Four is now set.  The Green Bay Packers held off a furious Seattle Seahawks second-half rally led by former Wisconsin Badger quarterback Russell Wilson to become the fourth team to make the AFL and NFL championship games next Sunday Jan. 19. 

 

I'm not really a big football fan because the game is increasingly brutal. More and more people are now aware of the chance of permanent injury from lingering concussions and other malaises. Statistics seem to reveal that youth participation is dropping.  

 

Yet I do think "good clean violence" has a place in society. Channeling the innate aggressiveness in human beings through sports and games has a place in my opinion. 

 

The one-sided victories on Saturday were not memorable. The Tennessee Titans did pull a surprise by easily defeating the Baltimore Ravens.  Derrick Henry, a huge swift running back and former Heisman trophy winner, and a top-notch punter Brett Kern will make the Titans a worthy opponent in the march to the Super Bowl on Feb. 2.

 

The San Francisco 49ers handled the Minnesota Vikings easily in the other Saturday game that I did not watch - a good meal with a beloved was far more important.

 

Sunday's matchups were far more exciting. The Kansas City Chiefs overcame a 24-0 early deficit to win going away over the Houston Texans. Quarterback Pat Mahomes, whose father also named Pat used to pitch for the Mets and other MLB teams, excelled.  He has the little boy persona that makes him lovable and already a commercial pitchman. 

 

Green Bay used QB's Aaron Rodgers' clutch passes to Davonte Adams and Jimmy Graham to hold off spunky Seattle. Rodgers has long been a commercial pitchman and now he has another celebrity relationship going on with retired race car driver Danica Patrick. 

 

(One New Year's resolution for yours truly - try not to care about the celebrity lives of our athletes.  All I should care about - and you too! - is: do they play hard and smart and well on the field?  And not act like boors like Rodgers' defensive teammate #55 S. Smith!)

 

Russell Wilson was glorious in defeat.  I'll always remember him fondly for leading my Badgers in his one season in Madison to the Rose Bowl. He still has a lot of football left in him and he will certainly go down in history for pioneering in two important areas:  (a) using an extra year of eligibility after graduating early at NC State, and (b) showing that a NFL QB can run effectively as well as throw.  

 

As the days slowly grow longer, it means that pitchers and catchers will report to spring training in about a month.  An Oriole fan has little to hope for in 2020 with a pitching staff made out of bailing wire. And not much else either on the roster.

 

I feel insulted that they are even talking about two Rule 5 picks from the draft of six-year minor leaguers making the starting rotation.  The offense is not exactly brimming with possibility.  At least they did avoid salary arbitration and sign Trey Mancini, the one proven run producer in their lineup. 

 

I don't think you want to hear and I don't want to write these totally negative thoughts. So let me close with an elegy to a great jazz pianist Richard Wyands who was saluted in word and music before a full house at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in the Citicorp Center on New York's East Side on Monday night Jan. 6. (The so-called Jazz Church east of Lexington Ave on 54th Street.)

 

Wyands lived to be 91 years old, a cause for celebration in itself whenever a jazz musician lives that long. Wyands made the most of his time on this earth.  Born in Berkeley, California, he graduated from San Francisco State U. with a degree in music.

 

He became the house pianist at the Bay Area's legendary Black Hawk jazz club. He played opposite such piano greats as Erroll Garner and Art Tatum and also accompanied jazz singer Dinah Washington.

 

(Richard loved sports and I'd often see him on the subway coming back from Yankee games with another neighbor of mine, the great drummer from Detroit, Eddie Locke.  I never talked to Richard about Dinah Wash's husband Dick "Night Train" Lane, the Detroit Lions's defensive star, but I would guess he must have met him.)

 

Wyands relocated to the Big Apple in 1958 and he made the Upper West Side his base for the rest of his life. He toured with mellow jazz guitar great Kenny Burrell for ten years but decided to choose family life over incessant travel. 

 

He was beloved for his able and gentle musicianship. When a young bassist once asked him that he would like to try a solo on a tune, Wyands responded, "Are you going to TRY it or are you going to PLAY it?"  His daughter-in-law summed up his essence in a poem with a recurring litany - "He was cool - so cool." 

 

Fortunately, Richard Wyands lives on in our memories and in several trio recordings he made in his last decades.  They include "The Arrival" (1982), "Get Out of Town" (1996), and the best named of all, "As Long As There's Music" (2002)

 

That's all for now.  As the last of the Christmas trees are ready for compacting on many a street corner in my neighborhood but the light in days is increasing, do remember:

"Take it easy but take it."

 

 

 

  

 

 

  

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My Awards for 2015: Coping with the No-Baseball Blues #5

Winter has arrived though New Yorkers are disbelieving. Christmas Eve and
Christmas Day will set record highs in the high 60s-even low 70s.
Unfortunately, it is rainy and we may miss out on both a white Christmas and
a sunny golden Christmas.

But be of good cheer – the days will slowly get longer and longer. Come mid-February “pitchers and catchers will be reporting to spring training,” still the greatest sentence in the English language. Even with the insane amount of money being thrown at players of fair-to-middling talent.

The Orioles are getting resigned to lose streaky slugger/good athlete Chris Davis to free agency. The team took off the table a reported offer of over $150 million for six or seven years. No other team has stepped forward in the bidding, but agent Scott Boras is rightly convinced that some panicked owner will step forward to up the ante for Davis. Without a salary cap or some kind of legal collusion, the salaries will keep going up in the off-season paradise (for players and agents) of free agency.

I was recently asked by Robin Valetutto, personable host of the Saturday noontime “Sports Angel” talk show on KVCE 1160 AM Radio in Dallas, Texas, for my sports highs and lows of calendar 2015.

Let me begin by disagreeing with Sports Illustrated’s choice of Serena Williams as Sports Person of the Year. Not that the tennis star didn’t have a fine year but it ended with a loss in the U.S. Open semi-finals. That would blemish her year for me.

If I had a vote on the matter, I would have given the nod to Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors. Not only did the Oakland-based basketball juggernaut win the NBA title in June over Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the Warriors started this 2015-16 season with an unprecedented 24 game winning streak.

My close second would have been golfer Jordan Spieth, who at age 23 won the Masters and the U.S. Open in sequence in 2015. He also came very close to winning the British Open. He is from an athletic and so far happily grounded family that includes his younger brother Steven, a guard-forward starter for Brown University’s basketball team in Providence, Rhode Island.

I also tip my cap to the Kansas City Royals for their aggressive style of baseball that resulted in their first World Series title since 1985 and the second overall in their history dating back only to 1969.

I don’t think many teams can duplicate their combination of speed and opportunism – honed by a patient intelligent farm system - but it is fun to watch a team hustling all the time and ready to pounce on an opponent’s weakness.

As for lows, I think Seattle's Russell Wilson trying a pass on second down near New England's goal line at the end of February's Super Bowl has to be the biggest boner.

I am happy though that Wilson, the former college QB for North Carolina State's Wolfpack and the Wisconsin Badgers, has the Seahawks ready to make it a run at a third straight Super Bowl appearance.

A runner-up for gaffe has to be Michigan's punting rugby-style when even a no-gain run would have virtually assured a Wolverines victory over arch-rival Michigan State.

But kudos to the Spartans who are enjoying great years in football and basketball and former Spartan QB Kirk Cousins has the Redskins on the verge of the NFL playoffs.

Meanwhile Bo Ryan's abrupt resignation as Badger basketball coach has left Wisconsin faithful wondering about the future of the program. More on this subject next month as we'll see if under Ryan's desired successor Greg Gard the Badgers can remain respectable in the Big Ten race.

That’s all for now – Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all, and back to you by the second week of January.

Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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