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The only thing worse than doing something posthumously is doing it because you missed the boat before things got posthumous.

First, let me say that I’m not normally one that’s quick on the trigger when it comes to calling for the retirement of uniform numbers. Frankly I think teams in all sports do too much number-retiring. It’s like the issuing of championship rings, which now extends to the folks who answer the phones, the custodial staff and the parking attendants. Everyone gets a ring!

This practice cheapens the very thing you’re extolling, which is the ring itself.

But I digress. Already.

The Lions have retired only five numbers in franchise history.

There is no. 7, for the old quarterback of the 1930s, Dutch Clark.

There is no. 20, for three players—Lem Barney, Billy Sims and Barry Sanders.

There is no. 22, for that partier and winner, quarterback Bobby Layne.

There is no. 37, for the great runner from Texas, Doak Walker.

And there is no. 56, for the father of middle linebacking, Joe Schmidt.

One more needs to be added to that list, and it’s awful that it now has to be done without the man himself present to see it.

Let’s power up the wayback machine and take it to the fall of 1970.

In the NFL, 1970 was, among other things, the Year of George Blanda.

It was the season where Blanda, 43 years old, rescued the Oakland Raiders time and again with his kicking leg or his passing arm. Sometimes he used both to slay the opponent, often in the game’s waning moments.

Blanda had already authored several come-from-behind victories by the time his Raiders invaded Detroit for the annual Thanksgiving Day game on November 26, 1970.

But on this Turkey Day, it started out as if the Raiders weren’t going to need Blanda’s heroics. Not by a long shot.

The John Madden-coached and Daryle Lamonica-quarterbacked Raiders stormed into Tiger Stadium and before anyone could say “Just Win, Baby!” the Lions were down, 14-0.

This wasn’t one of those years where the Lions showed up on Thanksgiving Day and just hoped to put on a good show on national television. They had serious playoff aspirations. Their record was 6-4 and even though the Central Division was a lost cause thanks to the Minnesota Vikings’ domination, the NFL had instituted something new for the 1970 season—the first after the NFL-AFL merger.

It was called the Wild Card.

No longer did a team have to win its division to play a post-season game. Because the new NFL’s alignment called for three divisions in each conference, in order to even things out, commissioner Pete Rozelle decreed that the second-place team with the best record in each conference would qualify as a Wild Card.

The 1970 Lions had a shot at this new Wild Card.

So falling behind 14-0 to the Raiders on Thanksgiving Day had real implications. More than just pride was on the line.

The Lions wore white jerseys that day, only the second time they had worn white at home in team history. The change was asked for by NBC television, which carried the game. NBC was fearful that the Raiders’ white jerseys and silver numbers weren’t a good made-for-TV combination—especially for those with black and white sets.

So the Raiders wore their menacing black while the Lions played a home game wearing their road duds.

The nerve!

Maybe the white jerseys at home played mind games with the Lions, who were sleepwalking while the Raiders put two quick touchdowns on the board.

My colleague and friend Jerry Green has often recalled that the Raiders were smirking and chuckling at the Lions on the sidelines after Oakland’s 14-0 getaway. In those days, both teams’ benches shared the same side of the field.

But then Charlie Sanders went to work.

Sanders, wearing his blue no. 88 on his still-clean white jersey, was about to get dirty. And the Raiders were about to feel filthy.

Sanders made two unbelievably acrobatic touchdown grabs—both of the diving variety, with his big body outstretched and parallel to the turf. On one of them, he landed tremendously hard on his shoulder.

Sanders’ first TD grab came late in the second quarter and tied the game, 14-14. It came from 20 yards out, from the passing arm of Greg Landry.

Sanders made another incredible grab in the end zone in the fourth quarter, from six yards out. That touchdown gave the Lions a 21-14 lead.

The Lions later added an insurance TD via a Mel Farr 11-yard run, and Detroit beat Oakland, 28-14. George Blanda couldn’t save the Raiders on this day.

The Lions moved to 7-4 and kept their playoff hopes alive. Three weeks later, the fans were tearing down the goal posts at the Stadium after the Lions beat the Green Bay Packers, 20-0, to clinch the NFC’s first-ever Wild Card with a 10-4 record.

It’s true that I’m cherry picking one of Sanders’ finest games, but this game was symptomatic, not an anomaly.

Charlie Sanders didn’t invent the tight end position, as Joe Schmidt has been credited with doing for middle linebacker. Sanders didn’t perfect it, either—as Tony Gonzalez would do some 30 years later.

But what Sanders did do from 1968-77 as one of the greatest Lions of all time, was set the gold standard for tight ends in Detroit.

Tight end wasn’t much of a position in Detroit prior to Sanders’ arrival in 1968 from the University of Minnesota. Before Charlie came, the tight end functioned mainly as a sixth offensive lineman, and not much more.

The tight end certainly wasn’t expected to get 20 yards downfield in less than three seconds and haul in a pass over the middle, as Sanders did with frequency as a Lion.

Such was Sanders’ impact on the football field, that every tight end drafted by and traded for by the Lions since 1977 is compared, no matter how unfavorably, to Charlie.

Usually it goes like this.

“Well, (fill in the blank) is definitely no Charlie Sanders!”

No, but who was? Who has come close in Detroit, Pontiac and now Detroit again?

David Hill? Jimmie Giles? Pete Metzelaars? David Sloan? Brandon Pettigrew?

Sanders didn’t post eye-popping career numbers, at least not by today’s standards. His 336 career grabs can be achieved in about six good years—maybe fewer—by the modern tight end.

Sanders didn’t have big numbers but he had big catches. He never caught a football when he was wide open. Every grab was made in rush hour traffic.

Charlie Sanders might have been the most punished—and punishing—tight end in pro football history.

Charlie, as you know by now, is gone—passed away last week at age 68. That indomitable foe—cancer—did Charlie in, moving through his body with insidious speed.

The Lions fumbled the ball on this one. They let the clock run out with time outs left on the board.

They should have retired Charlie Sanders’ no. 88 not long after Charlie made it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, way back in 2007.

Without question, 88 should have joined 7, 20, 22, 37 and 56 in Lions eternal glory, sometime during that 2007 season.

That Charlie only played in one playoff game in his 10-year career should hardly be a referendum on his greatness.

There were years when Sanders was the best offensive player on the Lions—including quarterback.

Sanders’ impact on the Lions organization was felt long after his retirement as a player.

Charlie coached. Charlie broadcasted. Charlie worked in the personnel department. Charlie mentored many Lions players, and not just tight ends. Charlie was one of the Lions’ best-ever ambassadors.

Of course, no. 88 can still be retired but now it has to be done after Charlie’s death.

The Lions blew this one. Shame on them.

 

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Jun
24

The Many Degrees of DVP

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Which Dick Van Patten would you like to remember and mourn today?

Is it the actor Van Patten, who most famously seeped into our consciousness as Tom Bradford, the patriarch of the TV family on ABC’s “Eight is Enough” from 1977-81?

Is it the tennis player Van Patten, whose sons got some of the old man’s genes and did pretty good on the court as well?

Is it the animal activist Van Patten, who worked tirelessly for our furried and feathered friends, including founding National Guide Dog Month in 2008?

Is it the entrepreneur Van Patten, who co-founded Natural Balance Pet Foods in 1989?

Take your pick—or take them all, if you’d like.

Van Patten passed away on Tuesday at age 86. Some reports blame the cause of death on complications related to diabetes.

There was some juice to the Van Patten name in the entertainment industry. There was Dick, of course, and there was his younger sister Joyce, a fellow actor. There were the Van Patten boys—Vincent, Nels and Jimmy—who were all actors.

It’s so fitting that Dick Van Patten made his most pop culture hay as family man Tom Bradford on “Eight is Enough” because his own family tree is pretty interesting and runs like an artery through show business.

In addition to the aforementioned, check this out.

Van Patten’s sister Joyce married actor Martin Balsam, and the couple had a child—actress Talia Balsam.

Talia Balsam’s first husband was George Clooney. You may have heard of him.

Talia Balsam is now married to “Mad Men” actor John Slattery.

Van Patten’s son Vince is married to soap star and current reality TV personality Eileen Davidson.

Dick’s other son Nels is married to former “Baywatch” regular Nancy Valen.

For some, it may seem like “Eight is Enough” lasted longer than just four seasons, but that’s a testament to the show’s impact. It hit the small screen four years after “The Brady Bunch” filmed its last episode, and American TV viewers were ready for a family show featuring a large brood that was a little more grown up.

With “EiE,” entire episodes weren’t spent on trying to find the family dog or teaching kids lessons about humility. The show was about (mostly) grown-up kids who had more convoluted issues.

Of course, by the end of the hour, all the loose ends were tied up, but not before some laughter, some crying and some reflection.

Real-life tragedy was dealt with, as well.

Actress Diana Hyland was originally cast as Tom Bradford’s wife but she succumbed to cancer four episodes into season two. Her untimely death wasn’t ignored, like the shows from the 1950s and 1960s would have done—replacing the passed away actor with someone else playing the same character.

Instead, the producers of “EiE” dealt with Hyland’s death head on, writing it into the show, and the cast’s mourning on the screen was real.

Betty Buckley was brought in to play Tom’s new love interest (and eventual second wife), Abby, for seasons two through four.

Leading it all was Dick Van Patten, whose character was based on real-life newspaper columnist Tom Braden, who chronicled his large family with an autobiographical book also titled Eight is Enough—a reference to Braden’s (and Bradford’s) eight children.

Dick Van Patten was hardly the leading man type—thin-haired, slightly paunchy and with a round face. He looked more like your neighbor—which was likely why Tom Bradford resonated on the screen. Van Pattenlooked like a guy who had eight kids and who worked for a newspaper.

Van Patten’s Tom Bradford was also unlike other TV dads in the sense that he wasn’t written as a buffoon who somehow got a pretty, smart girl to marry him. The kids didn’t zing witty one-liners at dad’s expense; rather, Tom Bradford was a true patriarch who had his kids’ respect.

Van Patten was acting on stage and screen for some 28 years before he got the “EiE” gig, but he was treated by many viewers as a virtual unknown until 1977. Such is the power of being a lead actor on a successful TV show.

Van Patten was also a favorite of comedian/director Mel Brooks, who cast Dick in a number of films.

Such was Dick Van Patten’s varied interests that he even served as a TV commentator for the World Series of Poker from 1993-95.

Trivia: Van Patten named his son Nels after the character that Dick played in his first TV job, a series called “Mama” (1949-57).

Dick Van Patten didn’t light up the screen. He wasn’t that type of actor. But you were always aware of his presence.

Unlike some of his brethren who felt typecast and button-holed by roles they played on television, Dick Van Patten embraced Tom Bradford.

“I appreciate ‘Eight is Enough’,” he once said. “It made me recognizable.”

But he was influential in so many other ways, and for that so many are grateful.

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Jun
19

Spock Would Be Proud

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In the interest of full disclosure, I’m 51 years old.

I only tell you this because, when she was my age, Jeralean Talley was living in the year 1950.

And she continued to live, some 65 more years, until passing peacefully the other day in her home in Inkster.

Jeralean was 116 years, 25 days old when she slipped away, ending her two-month reign as the world’s oldest living person.

I wonder what it would have been like to be my age now, in 1950.

Harry S. Truman was president. Television was still a relatively new thing and lots of folks didn’t even own one. And if they did. it broadcast everything in beautiful, gorgeous, vivid…black and white.

The NHL had six teams. Major League Baseball had all of 16. The NFL was still finding its audience as teams were experimenting with something called the forward pass. The NBA was four years old.

The only phones we had were mounted on our kitchen walls. You had to actually read the hands of a clock or wristwatch to tell time. Shoes had laces, not Velcro.

If you wanted to know what was going on, you bought a newspaper. If you needed more, you bought a Late edition on the street.

Cars were as big as tanks and the only things that weren’t metal were the seats and the dashboard.

If you wanted to know how to get where you were going, you bought a map.

You didn’t send e-mails, you wrote letters. If you wanted to pay a bill, you licked a stamp.

We were just five years removed from the second World War and on our way into another conflict in Korea.

That’s just when Jeralean Talley was 51.

She graduated from high school during World War I. When she was old enough to vote, she couldn’t.

She saw the invention of the telephone, the airplane, radio, air conditioning, modern refrigeration and instant coffee.

For starters.


Jeralean Talley (1899-2015)


But Jeralean is gone now, and according to daughter Thelma Holloway, who’s a youngster at age 77, her mother “was ready to go home and rest.”

“She asked the Lord to take her peacefully, and he did,” Holloway told theDetroit News.


According to the News story, the California-based Gerontology Research Group, which keeps track of the world’s oldest people, declared Talley in early April to be the oldest human on the planet.

The previous record-holder, Arkansas resident Gertrude Weaver, died April 6 at 116 years old, according to the group.

Mrs. Talley is succeeded as the world’s oldest person by New Yorker Susannah Mushatt Jones, who turns 116 on July 6.

Jeralean Talley moved to Detroit from Georgia in 1935, right smack in the middle of the Great Depression. Her husband, Alfred, has been gone since 1988 after 52 years of marriage to Jeralean.

Jeralean was an avid bowler, continuing to roll games until she was 104. Her last game rolled produced an astounding score of 200.

Despite the number of people around the world who have lived well past their 100th birthday, there continues to not be any succinct reason why they were able to eclipse normal life expectancy by such a wide margin.

They all had their “secrets” to longevity, and some of those secrets wouldn’t necessarily lead you to believe that they would have anything to do with living past 50, let alone 100.

So maybe it’s just a crapshoot.

Regardless, it won’t be long before these centenarians no longer have 19th century dates on their birth certificates. To be born in 1899 and still be alive today is a marvel.

Jeralean Talley’s longtime friend and fellow churchgoer, Christonna Campbell, spoke for so many of those who knew Mrs. Talley.

“We just thought she was going to live forever,” Campbell said.

But didn’t she, in a way?

Categories : Health, society
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Jun
07

American Pharoah Creates Dramatic Moment in Non-Dramatic Way

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Conventional wisdom says that if something in sport has only been done 12 times in over 120 years and never since 1978, it must not be easy to do.

American Pharoah ran his eighth career start Saturday. When he finished it, he won horse racing’s first Triple Crown since Affirmed accomplished the feat in 1978.

Eight starts? Then a Triple Crown?

I thought this was supposed to be hard.

Affirmed, the Triple Crown winner of 1978, ran nine races in 1977 alone.

But now here comes American Pharoah, the 3-year-old colt with the chewed off tail, and he ran the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, history waiting at the finish line—and the horse with seven starts under his mane glided to victory by 5-1/2 lengths.

This, after a one-length win at Churchill Downs and a seven-length cruise in the rain and muck in the Preakness.

Just like that, the Triple Crown.

At the Preakness, American Pharoah became the first horse since 1994 to win the race while starting on the rail in the usually unfavorable no. 1 post position. The torrential downpour on race day didn’t matter, either. Jockey Victor Espinoza used American Pharoah’s long stride to its fullest.

American Pharoah has been called, by various horse experts, a “superhorse” that’s “nice and light on his feet.” Espinoza has called him “an amazing horse,” and the Mexican jockey has had two other cracks at a Triple Crown, so it’s not like he’s never been around the block.

Baseball hitters will tell you that when they swat the ball on the sweet spot of the bat and drive it out of the park, the impact is so perfect that they can barely feel it in their hands.

Espinoza said something similar when interviewed on camera immediately after Saturday’s Belmont.

“The way he moves, the way he travels, the way he stretches his legs, the way he hits the ground” Espinoza told NBC about American Pharoah, “you don’t even feel it when he’s going that fast. You feel like you’re going in slow motion.”

Except that the colt was hardly going in slow motion. He was, however, gliding into the history books on Saturday.

There was a slight stumble out of the gate, but American Pharoah quickly recovered and he basically led, wire-to-wire.

There was little drama to what should have been a dramatic moment. Instead, there was a feeling of fait accomplit as you watched Espinoza guide the three-year-old around the track, not truly challenged by the rest of the field.

It wasn’t Secretariat stuff (he won the Belmont by 31 lengths in 1973) but nor was the outcome really in doubt. The lead was never eye-opening, but nor was it in any danger.

Espinoza said that after the first turn, it was the best he’s ever felt on a horse. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said he knew the Triple Crown was his long before the home stretch.

As if to punctuate his place in history, American Pharoah poured it on at the end, turning a two-length lead into a 5-1/2 length romp in the official order of finish.

With all great race horses, there’s a moment when jockey, owner and trainer all realize that something special is going on.

Owner Ahmed Zayat bought American Pharoah as a yearling for $300,000.

Why?

“We felt that he had brilliance in him,” Zayat said. “His demeanor, his aura, his conformation, the way he moved.”

Baffert, who took over the training of American Pharoah in the spring of 2014, said, “I’ve never had a horse that moves or travels over the ground like he does.”

As for the chewed off tail, Baffert has his own theory of how that happened.

“I think he was in the pasture one day and there was a mountain lion chasing him—that was the closest he could get.”

Now when Bob Baffert is that effusive in his praise over a horse, it’s like Scotty Bowman glowing over a young hockey player. Both have seen lots of colts and skaters come and go, and when both say that a particular one is special, well, you should listen.

Espinoza was a history maker as well on Saturday. He became the oldest jockey (43) to win the Triple Crown, and the first Latino to do it.

Twice before, Espinoza had a shot at the Crown but, in his words on Saturday, “the third time was the charm.”

Baffert bemoaned to NBC in the winner’s circle that the elusive Triple Crown Trophy was something that had caused him to hate the damn thing. Espinoza said the trophy has “caused me a lot of stress.”

Not anymore.

American Pharoah made it look easy on Saturday. He made it look easy in the mud at the Preakness. He needed a late charge to win the Kentucky Derby (the Crown’s first leg) but to use an analogy from that other sport that reveres Triple Crowns, it’s like an ace pitcher: if you don’t get to him early, forget it.

The thing about racing horses, however, is the short shelf life of their careers. In that regard, the era of a Secretariat or a Man ‘O War pack a lot of punch. The bang for the buck is amazing, because we can talk for decades about a two or three-year career.

After the Crown was won, Espinoza said that American Pharoah’s future would be determined by Baffert, and that the horse’s best interests would be of primary concern. But the jockey also acknowledged, correctly, that the sport “needs our stars,” too—i.e., racing the greats for as long as is possible and safe to do so.

Zayat said he hopes American Pharoah races for as long as he was healthy and “has it in him.”

But even if the colt was retired tomorrow, his place in history is secure.

Baffert said it best.

“This little horse deserves it,” the trainer told Forbes magazine. “There’s something about this horse that he just brought it every time. He’s a joy to be around.”

 

 

Categories : Horse racing
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Dave Lewis finally got his opportunity. But he never had a chance.

Scotty Bowman skated the Stanley Cup around the Joe Louis Arena ice. It was a June evening in 2002.

Bowman had just won his ninth Cup as coach, and third with the Red Wings. He was 68 years old.

During the on-ice celebration, Bowman—arguably the greatest coach in professional sports history—whispered into captain Steve Yzerman’s ear that this was it. Scotty was retiring.

Bowman had been the Red Wings coach for nine seasons. After a rough first season (first round playoff KO at the hands of the upstart San Jose Sharks), there was much success. Three Stanley Cups speak for themselves.

With Scotty’s self-ziggy, the Red Wings needed a new coach, and there wasn’t any real competition for the plum job.

Lewis, ex-Red Wings player and longtime assistant coach who’d worked for three head coaches in Detroit, was tabbed as Bowman’s replacement.

It was hailed as the proper comeuppance for a loyal employee.

This was Dave Lewis’ big chance, but truth be told, Lewis didn’t have a prayer as Scotty Bowman’s successor.

Lewis was too close to the players as an assistant, especially given Bowman’s sometimes prickly relationship with his players. When the players in pro sports have a beef with the boss, they take those beefs to the assistants.

Lewis had been that assistant, for some 14 years, working for Jacques Demers, Bryan Murray and Bowman. For 14 years, Dave Lewis played the role of confidante and sounding board for the players.

That role evaporates when you move into the big office.

Lewis had two good regular seasons in Detroit as head coach, but he failed to get past the second round of the playoffs. In his first year, Lewis’ Red Wings were swept in the first round by a surprising Anaheim team that would make it to the Cup Finals.

The Mighty Ducks were coached by some guy named Mike Babcock.

In year two, Lewis managed to make it past Nashville before being blasted out by Calgary in another playoff upset.

Then the lockout happened, wiping out the 2004-05 season.

When play resumed in 2005, Lewis was out as coach of the Red Wings.

Babcock replaced him, and three years later the Red Wings won another Stanley Cup.

Dave Lewis is the cautionary tale among Red Wings coaches.

He was Exhibit A in the argument that longtime assistants shouldn’t necessarily be rewarded with promotions.

Lewis didn’t get along with some of the veterans as head coach, notably Brett Hull, who in Lewis’ defense could be a handful.

Things change when you go from assistant to head man.

The Red Wings, as I write this, are homing in on their new coach, to replace Babcock, who signed with Toronto.

He is Jeff Blashill, a loyal, longtime employee of the Red Wings organization and current coach of the team’s AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids.

Blashill appears to be on the verge of being hired with virtually  no competition.

Kind of like Dave Lewis was in 2002.

But Blashill has an advantage over Lewis: Blashill only stood behind the Red Wings bench as an assistant for one year. Several players at the NHL level know Blashill from their days at Grand Rapids.

But there’s a distinct difference between being a former Babcock assistant and an AHL coach, and being head coach of the Detroit Red Wings.

Blashill is, apparently, about to find out. He is expected to be named Red Wings head coach any day now.

The Red Wings, unlike with the Dave Lewis hire in 2002, are doing the right thing. My opinion.

There’s no real reason to interview anyone outside of the organ-eye-ZAY-shun to replace Babcock.

The Red Wings, if they’re anything, are prepared.

As early as last summer, the Red Wings had a hunch that Babcock might bolt when his contract expired come July 1, 2015. So they locked up Blashill, doubling his salary at Grand Rapids with the provision that he not entertain any offers (he would have gotten some) from NHL teams throughout the 2014-15 season.

Now Babcock is gone, as feared, and the Red Wings have their next coach all lined up.

Preparation.

There’s no real reason to interview anyone other than Blashill because the Red Wings have groomed him for this moment. Now that it’s here, why look elsewhere?

 

The eggs are all in the Blashill basket, but that’s OK, because if there was ever a “good” time for arguably the best coach in the NHL to flee Detroit, it’s now.

Mike Babcock—with some definite help from GM Ken Holland—has left the team in good shape for a young, inexperienced (NHL-wise) coach such as Jeff Blashill to commandeer.

Babcock has coached up the Grand Rapids Griffins-turned-Red Wings who’ve turned up on the NHL roster over the past three years. Players that Blashill had first crack at.

Blashill coaches in the same manner, it’s said, as Babcock. Certainly Blashill, in Grand Rapids, believes in the same system that they use in Detroit.

The next couple of years should be fascinating to watch when it comes to Red Wings hockey.

There’s going to be a referendum, one way or the other.

The question to be answered will be, “How much will the Red Wings miss Mike Babcock?”

That’s where Jeff Blashill comes in, because if he’s able to lift the Red Wings to the next level, i.e. past the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2009, it won’t be about Babcock anymore.

With Dave Lewis, the shadow of Scotty Bowman always loomed. Lewis took over the defending Stanley Cup champs and a team that won three Cups in six years.

There was nowhere to go but down for Lewie.

Blashill is succeeding a high profile guy behind the Red Wings bench, but at the same time, it’s not a terribly tough act to follow.

Babcock has a great resume and the hardware to support it, but the hard fact remains that the Red Wings haven’t advanced to round three of the playoffs in six years.

In the six years prior to Lewis taking over the Red Wings in 2002, the team had won three Cups.

Dave Lewis, in retrospect, never really had a chance as Red Wings coach.

Jeff Blashill seems to have a great chance.

We’ll see.

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May
26

Meara, Meara

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Comedians/actors Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara were married for 61 years, but had they not heeded warning signs, the marriage might have ended some 44 years ago.

The comedy team of Stiller & Meara was seemingly cruising along in 1970, having just enjoyed a nice run of 36 appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in the 1960s, when both members of the team/marriage sensed that something was amiss.

With an act based largely on their real-life domestic trials and tribulations, Stiller and Meara found that despite their success—or maybe because of it—the line between life at home and life on stage was getting further blurred as the years went on.

“I didn’t know where the act ended and our marriage began,” Meara toldPeople magazine in 1977.

“We were like two guys,” Stiller said in the same article.

With Meara questioning things and Stiller worried that he might lose his wife, the act was disbanded in 1970.

But they never stopped working together for very long at any given time; they just didn’t do so as the stage act Stiller & Meara.

The couple had been teaming up on a web series in recent years before Anne Meara passed away over the weekend. She was 85.

On television, Stiller and Meara were most recently seen sharing some scenes together on “The King of Queens,” with Stiller playing Carrie Heffernan’s widowed father Arthur Spooner and Meara playing the part of Veronica Olchin, the widowed mother of Doug Heffernan’s friend Spence Olchin.

Ironically, that series ended with Stiller and Meara’s characters getting married.

Stiller and Meara’s actor/producer/director son, Ben Stiller, produced the web series for Red Hour Digital, which Ben owns.

Anne Meara met Jerry Stiller in New York after a failed audition in 1953, and the couple was married a year later. But it took much prodding and several years of convincing before Meara agreed to join her husband on stage as a comedy team, whose only rival at the time in the male/female duo category was the team of Elaine May and Mike Nichols, who weren’t married.

Thus, Stiller & Meara would eventually become the entertainment industry’s longest-running, most successful husband and wife comedy duo, surpassing that of George Burns and Gracie Allen.

After the stage “breakup” in 1970, Stiller and Meara hardly disappeared from view or from listeners’ ears.

They did radio ads for Blue Nun wine, and appeared in television commercials together. They also teamed up in 1977-78 for “Take Five with Stiller & Meara,” which was a series consisting of humorous blackouts about everyday life.

Meara was no Gracie Allen, and that’s hardly a knock. Where Allen was George Burns’ ditzy foil, Anne Meara was Jerry Stiller’s equal, and then some—both physically and in terms of material. She was a tall, Irish, Brooklyn redhead whose height caused her to loom large on stage next to her husband, literally and figuratively.

Meara was a four-time Emmy Award nominee and she was nominated for a Tony Award once.

There was so much more to Anne Meara than being Jerry Stiller’s comedy partner—and Ben Stiller’s mother. There was the acting and the writing and the teaching and the trailblazing aspect to her career for other female comics.

Not bad for a woman whose own mother committed suicide when she was 11 years old.

Meara once gave a glimpse into what the secret was to staying married to a co-worker for over six decades, practically unheard of in show business.

“Was it love at first sight? It wasn’t then—but it sure is now.”

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Twenty-five years ago, Mike Ilitch sent a car to pick up his hockey coach.

Jacques Demers was about to go for a ride.

Inside Ilitch’s home, the Red Wings owner sat down with Demers and the two men had a good cry.

Ilitch gave Demers the ziggy, after four years in which Jacques won back-to-back Jack Adams Trophies and led the Red Wings to two Final Four appearances. All this, after Ilitch hired Demers away from St. Louis on the heels of a season in which the Red Wings won 17 games and allowed over 400 goals.

But after three straight playoff appearances under Demers, the Red Wings slid, and missed the post-season in the 1989-90 season.

Jacques wasn’t shocked by the ziggy, but ever emotional, Demers began weeping and so did Ilitch.

Bryan Murray, the Red Wings coach-in-waiting, was brought over from Washington for the 1990-91 season and beyond.

The Red Wings made the playoffs again in Murray’s first season and they haven’t missed spring hockey since.

The coach for the past 10 years of that post-season streak called his boss, GM Ken Holland, on Wednesday morning.

There was a message to be relayed to Ilitch, the ziggy-renderer of Jacques Demers 25 years ago.

Mike Babcock, Holland told the octogenarian owner, was leaving the Red Wings. This time, the coach was giving the team the ziggy.

Such is the change in the landscape these days.

Babcock was the tail wagging the dog with the Red Wings. He had all the leverage. It was quite a role reversal from the status of most coaches in professional sports.

It was the old Pistons and NBA legend Earl Lloyd, who we lost earlier this year, who put it best.

In 1971, Earl was just hired as the coach of the Pistons and he made an astute observation.

“When you’re hired as a coach,” Lloyd said, “you’re signing your own termination papers.”

But Mike Babcock wasn’t in the boat of so many of his brethren. He was the rare pro coach who could call his own shots. His question wasn’t whether he’d have a job—it was where that job would be.

Ilitch, who values loyalty as much as winning, and probably more so, couldn’t possibly have enjoyed seeing his coach, who was still under contract, flitting around North America, playing the field.

It’s been suggested that Max Scherzer’s refusal to take the Tigers’ contract offer made before the 2014 season turned Ilitch sour on the Tigers star pitcher. From that point on, those folks suggest, Ilitch wasn’t going to sign Scherzer. No way, no how.

Yet Ilitch let the Mike Babcock Road Show go on, with the apparent provision that the Red Wings and their contract offer (reportedly five years at $4 million per) would be waiting for Babcock should he determine that the ice wasn’t smoother elsewhere.

Then again, Scherzer was only a Tiger for five years; Babcock coached the Red Wings for ten.

The Babcock spectacle was unlike anything we’ve ever seen in Detroit, involving player or coach.

Players certainly can’t shop their services before their current contract expires, so why should coaches?

It’s a question that nobody seemed bothered enough to ask while Babcock jetted from city to city, entertaining offers.

As usual, the so-called insiders on social media made their sure-fire declarations of what was going to happen before it actually happened.

Bob McKenzie of TSN boldly stated on Monday that Babcock was definitely NOT going to Toronto. McKenzie didn’t know where Babcock would end up, except that it wouldn’t be in Toronto.

A day later, rumors heated up, led by more “insiders,” that Buffalo had become the front runner for Babcock’s services. A contract with the Sabres was being negotiated, the insiders said.

The San Jose Sharks were longshots.

The Red Wings were still in the mix as late as Tuesday, other insiders maintained.

In the end, on Wednesday morning, the Sharks had been eliminated. The Sabres had dropped out of contention on their own volition.

And Babcock made his phone call to Holland, informing the GM that Detroit was out, as well.

That left the Toronto Maple Leafs, widely dismissed as a poor destination for a coach of Babcock’s stature and desire to win, as the last team standing.

Go figure.

Holland told the media on May 1 that money wouldn’t be an issue for the Red Wings when it came to retaining Babcock as coach.

But money was even less of an issue for the Maple Leafs, who ponied up $50 million, spread over eight years.

That offer dwarfed that of Detroit’s, which was five years at $4 million per.

Babcock told us that he was all about winning. His hesitation at re-signing with the Red Wings was supposedly tied to his concerns about the future of hockey in Detroit, i.e. would the Red Wings be Cup contenders again soon?

The Maple Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967. They have made the playoffs once in the ten consecutive years that Babcock has guided the Red Wings to the post-season.

Their locker room has been dysfunctional. One of their best players, Phil Kessel, has a reputation for being difficult to coach and he’s sparred with reporters along the way.

The team isn’t close to winning and their farm system doesn’t have very many people talking.

Yet Babcock, who is all about winning and who had grave concerns about the hockey future in Detroit, signed with Toronto.

It would be easy to call this a money grab and nothing else, but who among us wouldn’t have taken an offer that was, essentially, $30 million more than what you were being offered by your current team?

All things being equal, yes, it’s about winning. If the Leafs offered roughly what the Red Wings were offering or slightly more, then Babcock probably stays.

But $30 million is a lot to leave on the table.

So Babcock is gone, and another Detroit sports team has to pick up the pieces.

First it was the Tigers, with the departure of Scherzer to the Washington Nationals.

Then it was the Lions, who lost Ndamukong Suh to Miami.

Now it’s the Red Wings, who’ve lost their coach to another Original Six franchise.

But at least the Red Wings appear to have a capable replacement for their loss, unlike the Tigers and Lions with Scherzer and Suh, respectively.

Jeff Blashill is the coach-in-waiting, just like Bryan Murray was 25 years ago, when Jacques Demers got the ziggy.

Blashill is 41 years old and all he’s done is win at the college level and in the high minors. His Grand Rapids Griffins are still in the AHL playoffs.

Blashill has coached many of the current Red Wings and he has one year as a Babcock assistant on his resume as well.

It says here that Blashill will be named the next coach of the Red Wings as soon as it can possibly happen.

The Red Wings are ripe for a coach like Blashill. The NHL has been moving more toward younger head coaches for several years now, and with some success.

Blashill will also come much cheaper than Babcock.

Not that money is an issue.

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May
08

Who Among Us?

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The only thing that is certain in the road rage trial of Martin Zale is that it was tragic.

A wife widowed. Children growing up father-less.

After that, it gets tricky.

Zale is the motorist who is accused of murder in the fatal shooting of Derek Flemming last September 2 in Genoa Township, at Grand River Avenue and Chilson Road.

Zale was allegedly driving recklessly and Flemming, on a beautiful afternoon after having lunch with his wife, didn’t appreciate it.

The vehicles stopped at a red light—Zale’s in front of Flemming’s—and Flemming got out of his vehicle to confront Zale. Witnesses say that Flemming looked very angry and had both fists clenched as he approached Zale’s truck.

Moments later, Flemming was dead—shot once in the face. He died instantly.

Zale didn’t flee; rather, he pulled off to the side of the road and called his lawyer.

Those are the basic facts. Zale’s trial is happening now, and I think it’s going to be fascinating to follow.

Of course, there’s a lot more to it than what I have chronicled. But that’s what makes it so fascinating.

Who among us has never been enraged by another motorist?

635666718283062463-Martin-Zale
Martin Zale at his trial


That’s what enthralls me about the Zale trial. So many criminal trials are difficult to relate to, because they involve actions or circumstances in which a vast majority of us would never find ourselves.

But Martin Zale and Derek Flemming? We’ve all been the latter and some of us, whether we choose to admit it or not, have been the former.

It’s just that in this case, Flemming took that extra step that many of us have fantasized about but have still managed to avoid actually doing—probably because of the fear of the fate that befell Flemming.

It’s a trial that so many of can relate to. And I believe that its verdict could have a ripple effect in several ways.

It’s also a trial where there will be no shortage of opinion or water cooler talk at the office.

As I said, the only non-debatable aspect here is that what happened was a tragedy. It always is, when something bad happens that was avoidable.

But there’s that word: avoidable.

It’s a sort of chicken and egg thing going on here.

You can say that Flemming initiated, in essence, his own death by climbing out of his vehicle to confront Zale.

You can also say that Zale initiated everything because of his allegedly reckless driving to begin with.

Then there are the backgrounds of the two men.

Zale, according to co-workers at least, was notorious for crazy driving. He also has another documented road rage confrontation from his past in which police were called.

Flemming, for his part, also–according to those who knew him—had exhibited behavior in the past that aligns with possible anger issues.

So there we have it—two known hotheads coming together to form a perfect storm of rage and reaction.

The easy thing to do—and I am among those who have done it—is to wag a finger and hold up Flemming as the poster boy for why you should never confront, and why you should call 911 instead.

But that doesn’t let Zale off the hook, of course. Flemming’s actions may have been ill-advised, but did they deserve the death penalty?

Maybe something like this was bound to happen, involving Martin Zale.

Perhaps the same could be said of Derek Flemming.

Still, tragic.

They’ll be talking about this one for years.

Categories : crime, Enotes, society
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Ever since Jim Harbaugh was named Michigan’s football coach in December, he’s been on tour.

You can hardly pick up the Internet these days and not read Harbaugh’s name in a headline on some website somewhere.

First he’s helping distressed motorists. Then he’s being passive/aggressive with fellow coaches. Then he’s posing for a selfie with the First Lady of the land. And pretty much everything in between.

Harbaugh will talk about anything, to anyone.

You wanna talk khakis? Harbaugh will bend your ear.

It’s as if Harbaugh has been charged with selling Michigan football—barnstorming the land, espousing the Michigan Way. You keep looking for the back of a truck and the bottle of Love Potion no. 10.

Harbaugh, after just four months on the job, has already gotten more positive press as Michigan’s football coach than Brady Hoke got in four years.

Looking back, it’s hard to believe that there was ever a time when Harbaugh was even remotely undecided about his future beyond the San Francisco 49ers.

There hasn’t been this much buzz about Michigan football since the man who coached Harbaugh roamed the sidelines on Ann Arbor Saturdays.

With all apologies to Lloyd Carr, a fine man and coach, Harbaugh has the state and the nation on pins and needles about the block M in a way that reminds the old-timers (like yours truly) of when Bo Schembechler donned the headset, sunglasses and ball cap.

College football was never boring in these parts when Bo coached Michigan.

Whether he was turning red with anger at yet another question about his kicking game, or working the officials on the sidelines, or getting into the face of one of his players, Schembechler WAS Michigan football.

Bo never would have conceded that fact, but it was 100 percent true.

Now, with Harbaugh, the Wolverines finally have a coach that is the face of the program, and right from the jump.

There is deliciousness in the connection between Harbaugh and Schembechler—a direct link that can never be broken.

Camaraderie among the brotherhood of coaches is nice and all, but it doesn’t come close to the relationship between player and coach—especially when that player is a quarterback.

It’s one thing to say that you are returning to be the head coach at a place where you were once an assistant. That’s a nice little story.

It’s quite another to have once been the BMOC and then return to campus to take the head coaching job—a job once held so grandly by your mentor and practically second father.

We’ve all seen the photos and the videos of quarterback Jim Harbaugh, no. 4, being given a talking to by Schembechler on a fall Saturday in the mid-1980s. Their relationship was not atypical when it comes to that of QB and coach. Tough love comes to mind.

Now Harbaugh is the coach, and unlike when Bo arrived in Ann Arbor as a virtual unknown in 1969, Harbaugh bounces into town with a nifty resume and a cult following.

You’d never catch Bo making the rounds as publicly as Harbaugh has this year, but that’s more of a sign of the times than anything else.

Schembechler was larger than life and he didn’t have social media to help him—not that he needed it.

Harbaugh has all the trappings of being the next great Michigan football coach (again with apologies to Carr, who did a very good but not great job), but no matter his win/loss record, one thing is for certain: there’s a lot more juice in the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry now.

Remember Michigan-Ohio State?

The rivalry hasn’t been the same since Woody Hayes was forced out of Columbus after the 1978 season.

Bo coached Michigan for 11 more years, but nine years of Earle Bruce and two of John Cooper at OSU didn’t move the meter nearly the way Bo and Woody did between 1969 and 1978.

In fairness to their successors, Bo and Woody coached their teams partly during an era where you didn’t go to a bowl game unless you went to the Rose Bowl for winning the Big Ten—otherwise known as the Big Two and Little Eight in the 1970s. So there was a lot riding on that final game of the year in Columbus or Ann Arbor.

But the fact remains that Michigan-Ohio State hasn’t had the star power at the head coaching position—on both teams—since Bo and Woody cast their large shadows.

Until now.

Jim Harbaugh at Michigan and Urban Meyer at Ohio State form arguably the most intriguing coaching matchup in college football today.

Finally, both schools have star power under the headsets.

This Michigan-Ohio State thing has some juice again. Meyer’s program has the leg up on Michigan’s, but for how long?

The recruiting battle will be fierce. The gamesmanship will be fascinating to watch.

More importantly, the football played on the field will be exquisite, once Harbaugh fully sinks his meat hooks into the job.

The coaches don’t have catchy names like Bo and Woody. “Jim and Urban” lacks in that department.

But the coaches could be named Frick and Frack for all anyone cares. What will matter, and what is finally back in this rivalry, is the intensity. For too many years since Woody left OSU, either Michigan or Ohio State have gone on streaks of dominance that have relegated the rivalry to second class status.

It’s not a true rivalry if one team is constantly beating the brains out of the other.

As long as Harbaugh and Meyer are at U-M and OSU, respectively, there shouldn’t be dominance by one school over the other.

Bo’s record vs. Woody was 5-4-1, to show you.

Remember Michigan-Michigan State?

That just got a lot better, too.

Harbaugh-Mark Dantonio won’t be chopped liver, either.

Jim Harbaugh is the rock star college coach. He tours and he has a following and he hangs with celebrities.

He brings a je ne sais quoi to the table.

He also wins.

Life has been breathed back into Michigan football.

Finally.

Categories : football, Out of Bounds
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Apr
24

Another Untimely, Tragic Wrap

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As if suicide isn’t rotten enough, it invariably raises more questions than it answers. That’s because suicide often doesn’t answer any questions at all.

Even a note left behind won’t necessarily satisfy all the curiosity. In fact, suicide notes are likely to create more questions than they answer, as well.

A suicide note is like a press conference where a statement is issued and the issuer scrambles away, without taking any queries.

Sawyer Sweeten is dead. Apparently it’s suicide.

Sawyer, on the verge of turning 20, was one-half of the identical twin actors who played Ray and Debra Barone’s twin boys on “Everybody Loves Raymond” (1996-2005). Sawyer played Geoffrey and Sullivan Sweeten played Michael. The twins’ older sister Madylin played older sister Ally on the TV show.

According to reports, Sawyer was visiting family in Texas when he apparently shot himself on the front porch of the house where he was staying.

In the early years of “Raymond,” star Ray Romano would say in the open that the show “is not really about the kids,” and he was right. The Barone children were often not seen at all in episodes. Not making kids foils or smart alecks was one of many ways in which “Raymond” was refreshing.

The Sweeten kids weren’t fed rapid fire one-liners by the writers. Their characters rarely acted out, and only on occasion was a “Raymond” storyline built around the children.

But today, it IS about the kids. One, in particular.

No word yet if Sawyer left a note. Not that it helps if he did.

Throughout entertainment history, the travails of the child actor after he/she is no longer an adolescent have been widely documented. I don’t know if studies have been made, so it’s anyone’s guess as to whether former child stars are, statistically, prone to big people-type problems more than “normal” kids. But certainly their issues are higher in profile.

I would imagine that some of the emotional/psychological problems that child actors face start with a question that we have all asked about said stars, either to ourselves or of others.

“Whatever happened to…?”

That may be the crux of a lot of this stuff.

Whatever happened to the kid actors after they grew up and their shows ended up in syndication?

But maybe the kid actors are asking themselves, “What do I do now, now that the spotlights have been turned off and the acting jobs have dried up?”


The Sweeten kids: Sawyer (left), Madylin  and Sullivan


Some of the kid stars turned to drugs. Some turned to alcohol. Some turned to both. Others followed their lives on set with a life of crime, almost immediately.

With or without a suicide note, the questions surrounding Sawyer Sweeten’s apparent suicide will never truly be answered, because the only person who possesses the answers and who can expound is gone.

And it might be that Sawyer’s demise had absolutely nothing to do with his having been a child actor.

Romano, who reminded us back in the day that his show wasn’t about the kids, reversed that course upon learning of Sawyer’s tragic death.

“I’m shocked, and terribly saddened, by the news about Sawyer,” Romano said in a statement.
“(Sawyer) was a wonderful and sweet kid to be around. Just a great energy whenever he was there. My heart breaks for him, his family, and his friends during this very difficult time.”

Big sister Madylin Sweeten told us to do something that shouldn’t take an untimely death to get us to do.

“At this time I would like to encourage everyone to reach out to the ones you love,” she wrote on her Facebook page. “Let them have no doubt of what they mean to you.”

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