Call Your Mama Saturday, May 13 2017 

Mother’s Day and what better way to celebrate it than by making this blog post a T—–free zone, filling in with a memorable Mother’s Day story starring legendary Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. You may have heard it before but it’s worth hearing again….

Bryant was famous for telling his young players to stay in touch with their mothers, a sincere note since the coach, as noted in his autobiography, “Bear,” had been especially close to his own mother back in rural Fordyce, Arkansas.

That in mind, Luckie & Forney, the Birmingham advertising agency that represented South Central Bell, came up with the idea of featuring the coach in a TV commercial urging viewers to phone their mothers on the holiday. Frank Lee, the agency executive in charge of the production, handed Bryant the script, the coach looked it over, a quick rehearsal and the camera rolled.

All went well — Bryant was a natural-born performer — right up to the concluding script line, “Have you called your mama today?” Then, camera still rolling, the coach, on his own, added, “I sure wish I could call mine.”

Check it out on YouTube. It’s why those of us who were around in those years say there may be other coaches with winning records but there’ll never be another “Bear.”

Oh, one more thing. Have you called your mama today? I sure wish I could call mine.

Sound Bite to Remember

“We have our fun on Saturdays.”

–Bear Bryant’s response to a rival coach’s comment that, unlike Alabama’s hard-driven players, his “have fun” during practice.

UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE: The Wayward Lemming Is Closed for Repairs Thursday, May 5 2016 

Alexander Hamilton, the genius of the Federalist Papers, will remain on the face of the ten dollar bill only because of a Broadway musical in which he is portrayed as a hip-hop-singing Latino.

George Mason School of Law, named after the father of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, is being renamed the Antonin Scalia Law School as a matter of principal ($30 million, to be exact).

A transplanted 74-year-old Brooklyn Marxist who went to Moscow for his honeymoon has built a cult following of college-educated Democrats in search of an alternative to Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump, who thinks Barack Obama wasn’t born in Hawaii and Ted Cruz’s father had a hand in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, will be the presidential nominee of the party of Abraham Lincoln (who he thinks was a loser for not hiring a better bodyguard), Theodore Roosevelt (who he thinks should have made the Panamanians pay for the building of the Canal), Dwight Eisenhower (who he thinks should have finished off the Germans quicker), and Ronald Reagan (who he thinks was a fair president but a low-energy actor).

The Chicago Cubs now have the best record in baseball. Repeat: The Cubs, who haven’t won a World Series in 108 years.

Who am I to pretend to know what’s going on? I haven’t the slightest idea. Neither do George Will, David Brooks or any of the other cultural / political sages of the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Fox, and MSNBC. Like the polar bears in the upper Arctic swimming for their lives because the ice floes have melted, they don’t know what the hell is going on. But given the income they earn by pretending to, they can’t afford to admit it.

I can. Time to settle in for a while and try to separate the wheat of reality from the media-internet chaff. Maybe, as with those ice floes, the whole cycle can be chalked up to climate change. That at least makes sense. The Cubs being in first place doesn’t.

Sound bite to remember

“Whenever you see the crowd run one way, go the other.”

–My father’s sage advice (circa 1935)

Citizen Frank Monday, Oct 27 2014 

Other than speaking the same language and observing the same national holidays Frank Mankiewicz and I had little in common other than a passion for politics and sports.

In politics we couldn’t have disagreed more. While he was working for Bobby Kennedy and George McGovern, I was working for Barry Goldwater and Spiro Agnew. But in sports we were blood brothers, lifelong followers of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Frank, who had grown up in Los Angeles, recalled rooting for the Cardinals as the westernmost major league team in the days when there were only 16 teams in both leagues. Growing up in New Orleans I recalled going to Pelican Stadium with my father on weekend afternoons, when the local AA team was a Cardinal farm club.

Together, recognizing the relative unimportance of politics next to the tribal pull of childhood fantasy, Frank and I organized the Stan Musial Society, an informal luncheon group that brought together the wide and equally passionate Cardinal fan base in the National Capital area.

With Frank’s passing last week the country and the capital lost one of the most perceptive, not to mention witty, observers of our political and cultural scene. Like his legendary father, Herman, whose gift for screenwriting gave us “Citizen Kane,” Frank was a treasure trove of incisive one-liners that spoke truth to pomposity in ways few in the world of entertainment and politics dared.

My favorite Frank one-liner came during the 1972 presidential campaign, when his beleaguered candidate George McGovern, accosted by an abrasive heckler, told the man to “kiss my ass.” In a dull campaign, comments like that are seized on by a gotcha press as candidate gaffes and the question was how McGovern’s intemperate (if justified) remark could be explained away.

Other, less resourceful campaign managers would have tried to squirm out with a trite and tired explanation to the effect that the remark was “taken out of context,” but not Frank. Easy to explain, he told the inquiring press the next morning. After all, “George is a Democrat. What would you expect him to say, ‘Kiss my elephant’?”

End of story. No, they don’t make them like that anymore. And even when they did, they made only one.

Sound bite to remember

“Imagine that, the whole world wired to Harry Cohn’s ass.”

— Herman Mankiewicz at the Columbia studio lunch table, on being told by Columbia president Harry Cohn that any movie that made him squirm in his seat was bad (circa 1935). It was the one-liner that got Herman fired at Columbia.

Hail to the… Monday, Oct 14 2013 

About the pressing issue of what to call the National Football League team situated in the nation’s capital, brought to the top-of-the-news by the Celebrity in Chief: Why not change the name from the Washington Redskins to the Washington Native Americans, to be otherwise known (like the baseball team) as the Nats?*

*This is not to be taken seriously, though in today’s pc world, it may very well be.

Soundbite to remember

The squeaking wheel doesn’t always get the grease. Sometimes it gets replaced.

                        — Dale Gold

Sports heroes (and more) Saturday, Jan 26 2013 

(Reader advisory: What follows is not about Lance Armstrong or Manti Te’o.)

Though we live to become old-timers, we still see our sports heroes, as my college friend Roland Swardson once mused, through pre-adolescent eyes; which, I guess, is why some sportswriter with a sociological bent (or a sociologist with a sports bent) came up with the term Role Model.

A Role Model, by definition, is an athlete who in his conduct both on and off the field sets a standard for young people to emulate. The standard in my antediluvian youth was exemplified by those athletes who were game-centered rather than self-centered. They didn’t boast, didn’t taunt, and let their on-field (or in the case of Joe Louis, in-ring) performance do the talking for them.

All of which, for many athletes who came of age after what Tom Wolfe called “the Me Generation,” made for a standard of conduct best ignored or in some cases scorned. NBA star Charles Barkley, for example, let it be known that he had enough on his plate in terms of salary caps and product endorsements without being burdened as a role model for other people’s kids.

Fortunately there are others – even in an age when ESPN exalts a new generation of swaggering I-Am-the-Greatest athletes – who don’t share Prince Charles’ (as Barkley calls himself) view.

In my time I’ve come to personally know two Role Models who fill the bill on standards you’d want your kids to emulate. One is Larry Brown, the Washington Redskins’ great running back, who won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award in 1972 – a player remembered not only for his hell-for-leather running style but the fact that after crossing the goal line he didn’t spike, didn’t dance, didn’t point to himself or the heavens (as if he were God’s Chosen Halfback). He simply handed the ball to the referee.

The other gifted Role Model I’ve been privileged to know was Stan Musial, the nonpareil St. Louis Cardinal outfielder/first baseman of the 1940s and ’50s who died last week at the age of 92. All I might say in praise of Stan – his gift, his modesty, his humanity – was summed up in the headlines run by the New York Times on Jan. 20, reporting his death. The first read, “Stan Musial, Gentlemanly Slugger and Cardinals’ Stan the Man, Dies at 92”; the second, above an obituary by George Vecsey: “The Star Who Stood Out by Not Standing Out.”

A cherished memory of Stan: Some years ago, after Frank Mankiewicz and I organized the Stan Musial Society, a Cardinals fan club in the national capital area, we traveled to St. Louis for dinner and a baseball game with The Man. All went smoothly until we approached the entrance to Busch Stadium where a crowd of youngsters – my estimate was between 30 and 50 kids, both boys and girls – swarmed in, asking for autographs.

We live in a time, understand, when celebrity signatures go for $25 a shot at autograph sessions organized and promoted by sports stars and their agents. That thought ran through my mind as Frank and I stood by and watched – for 15, 20 minutes – until every kid in that crowd went away happy.

Stan the Man. He remembered, he said, being a kid like that himself, back in Donora, Pennsylvania. Allow a nostalgic old-timer this well-worn cliché: They don’t make them like that anymore.

March Madness Anyone? Friday, Mar 25 2011 

“Son, it looks to me like you’re spending too much time on one subject.”

— Former Texas A&M basketball coach Shelby Metcalf to a “student-athlete” who received four F’s and a D.

Folk Wisdom of the Week Tuesday, Nov 23 2010 

“Never play checkers with a man who carries his own board.”

— Branch Rickey

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