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."