Archive for November, 2011


Fast Track to Stress

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Do any two consecutive months on the calendar pass as quickly as November and December?
I’ve long said it: once you get past Halloween, it’s a slippery slope to the end of the year.

This is both good and bad.

November is almost done, just like that—as usual. Wasn’t it just the other day when I was passing out candy?

I say it’s good and bad because the holiday season swoops in and that means more expense, more stress and more weight gained.

So it’s good that it all happens so fast.

But it’s also bad, because there doesn’t seem to be enough time for everything, like shopping. More to the point, there doesn’t seem to be enough time to assemble the funds needed for said shopping.

Starting on November 1, Thanksgiving already begins to creep into the minds of our lovely wives, who, whether hosting the holiday feast or not, have arrangements and plans to think about.

Turkey Day came relatively early this year (the earliest it can occur is November 22 and this year it came on November 24), just three weeks and some change after Halloween. That means that while the mini Snickers bars and tiny M&M bags leftover from a lack of kid traffic on Halloween sat in plain sight, begging to be consumed, Thanksgiving’s meal was already being planned.

We go from candy to candied yams, just like that.

How do we go from this…..

…to this, in a matter of days? (or so it seems)


Retailers don’t help, of course. They can’t wait to shove the Halloween displays aside and replace them with wreaths and inflatable Santas. One of the radio stations in town has made it a habit in recent years of starting to play Christmas tunes on November 1. I don’t pity the listeners (they can change the station), I feel for the employees, who have to listen to that for 54 days before Christmas even arrives.

TV ads shouting about Black Friday specials begin on or around November 1. The Internet sprouts stories of impending BF deals like pimples on a teenager’s face just before prom.

It’s all designed, I’m convinced, to throw us into a panicked tizzy.

So far, Mrs. Eno and I have managed to squeeze some Christmas shopping in, before November ends—which for us is unusual. The game plan this year is to chip away at it. Of course, that’s our game plan every year. And every year we scramble in mid-December.

Which is mere days after the ghosts and goblins have left our front porch. Or so it seems.

Categories : culture, Enotes, holidays, society
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Greg Eno on “The Phil Naessens Show”

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For the third time, I was a guest on The Phil Naessens Show, a terrific podcast broadcast from Greece.

Phil is an American transplanted in Greece, and he’s a great baseball fan and guy.

On Tuesday, November 29, we talked about Hot Stove baseball, the Tigers’ off-season moves, and other MLB stuff.

Check it out HERE.



Categories : Baseball
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Lions’ Suh Wears NFL’s Black Hat, and the League Loves It

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Ndamukong Suh was born about 40 years too late.

Suh, the Lions’ defensive tackle with a fuse shorter than Verne Troyer, would have been right at home playing in the NFL of the 1960s and ’70s.

Suh would have been just one of many players back then who had the disposition of a bear awoken during hibernation.

The league some 40-plus years ago was filled with defenders who bent the rules like a double-jointed thumb.

None of them got suspended.

Dick Butkus made no bones about his intentions. The Bears‘ middle linebacker didn’t try to sidestep anything. He didn’t try to vex the media with double talk and sugarcoat his motives. Butkus tried to hurt his opponents—physically and mentally. Usually the fear of the former led to the latter.

Butkus was interviewed by NFL Films early in his career and expressed his fascination with the film “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte.”

Butkus described a scene from the movie, and as he did, his youthful, cherubic face started to display an almost psychotic-looking smile.

“I kind of liked it when that head come rolling down the stairs,” Butkus told Ed Sabol’s camera. “I like to project those things happening on the football field. And not to me.”

Like I said, there was no question about Butkus’ mindset when he stepped onto the gridiron.

Butkus used to verbally taunt Lions center Ed Flanagan. Then Butkus would spit on Flanagan’s hands as the center grabbed hold of the football prior to the snap.

There have been multiple stories told of Butkus’ antics, like the ones they tell of Bonnie and Clyde, or Ivan the Terrible.

There are tales of biting, scratching, stepping onto torsos, eyes being poked; some of Butkus’ opponents recall him literally growling before the snap.

Butkus was like so many of his brethren—the maniacal defender on the field who was soft-spoken and cerebral off it.

Defensive lineman Deacon Jones, another of Butkus’s contemporaries, has been credited with coining the word “sack” in reference to leveling the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage.

Jones has also been tagged with the label of mad man on the football field. Jones wore the black hat and loved it. Deacon ate up the reputation—and even propagated it—of a dirty player whose intention was to maim.

Conrad Dobler was an eccentric, nasty offensive guard for the St. Louis Cardinals, New Orleans Saints and Buffalo Bills. Dobler, for several seasons, was widely recognized as the dirtiest player in the NFL for most of the 1970s. The things that Dobler did beyond the range of vision of the officials would have him up on charges in all 50 states.

Yet Dobler never got suspended, let alone arrested.

Neither did Butkus, Jones or any of their partners in crime. They didn’t even try the political spin. Suh, had he played in those days, would have been held up as part of the NFL legacy of dirtiness, which is now folklore and winked at.

But Suh plays today and the NFL loves this kid. I believe that the more he transgresses, the more he’s liked by the league.

Don’t be fooled by the veneer of disgust and scorn that the NFL will publicly cast on Suh. Privately, the league can barely contain itself. The NFL, more than any of the four major sports leagues, subscribes to the words of literary giant Oscar Wilde.

“The only thing worse than being talked about,” Wilde once opined, “is NOT being talked about.”

The NFL welcomes all publicity—good, bad and ugly.

The league does a marvelous job of keeping itself in the public consciousness all year round. From the 24/7 NFL Network on TV to the games on Sundays, from January to December the NFL keeps itself on the forefront of its fans’ minds.

It doesn’t matter if the publicity is positive or negative. The NFL loves Ndamukong Suh because, for the first time in decades, the league has a Bad Guy.

Suh’s entry into the NFL is the best-timed debut of any pro player since Magic Johnson and Larry Bird splashed onto the NBA scene in 1979. Before Magic and Bird, the NBA was scrambling for media attention. They were like the NHL has always been.

Prior to Magic and Bird, the NBA used to televise its Finals games on tape delay. No fooling.

The NFL has been desperate for a marquee name on defense for several years. The two guys who most fans think of when it comes to tough defense—Brian Urlacher and Ray Lewis—are on the back end of their careers.

The NFL has wanted a shining light on defense for a long time—and it doesn’t matter if that light has a dirty tinge.

The league is filled with high profile heroes on the offensive side of the ball. There is no shortage of quarterbacks, receivers and running backs who catch the fans’ fancy.

But on defense? Not so much.

Suh is a villain in the eyes of his colleagues, who recently voted him as the dirtiest player in the league. He’s a villain in the eyes of the hypocritical media, who will lambaste Suh out of one side of their mouth, and privately ask their colleague, “Isn’t this great?” out of the other.

Suh is even a villain among the fan base—some of them Detroit Lions supporters, newly on board the “Suh is Dirty” train after his shameful behavior in Thursday’s nationally-televised game against the World Champion Green Bay Packers.

But here’s the rub: it doesn’t matter if the aura surrounding Ndamukong Suh is negative in nature. The league only cares that there is an aura.

Suh has people talking. He has people sneering in disdain. He even has folks who had previously defended him calling for suspensions in the wake of his stomping on Packers offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith, which got him booted from the Thanksgiving Day game.

Suh will likely get suspended for his actions, even though Butkus, Jones, Dobler et al never did and they committed worse atrocities, more often, than Suh has so far in his young career.

The NFL will publicly assail Suh for his lack of anger management. Then the league will retreat to its private bunker and be positively giddy with the realization of what they have.

The NFL has a big name on defense who no one can stop talking about. The fact that the reason no one can stop talking about him is because of his violent, almost criminal behavior, is of no concern to the NFL.

The NFL has its new Dick Butkus.

The difference between Butkus and Suh is that Butkus didn’t offer up delusional, lame excuses for his sadistic ways, as Suh did after Thursday’s game.

If you think the NFL is legitimately outraged by Ndamukong Suh’s out-of-control behavior then you’re almost as delusional as Suh is.

The league loves this stuff. They have a Bad Guy on their hands and no one can stop talking about him. And he plays defense.

Ndamukong Suh, in a twisted way, is good for business.

Don’t you think otherwise.

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If Justin Verlander can ever figure out how to pitch in the month of April, he might flirt with 30 wins every year, not 20.

Verlander, the AL Cy Young and MVP winner for 2011, went to Lakeland last February on a mission.

He wanted very much to slay his personal dragon that is April. His first months of his seasons have been warts on an otherwise brilliant (so far) career.

Verlander, prior to 2011, had been a tortoise in April. The fact that he’s turned hare the rest of the season has been comforting, but you were always left to wonder: how good of a season might he have had, if he didn’t wait till May to get going?

Even 2011, his year of years, had some of that slow startness to it, albeit not tortoise-like. More like Victor Martinez type slow.

Verlander’s ERA in April was 3.64. On most teams that would make you the no. 2 starter—at least.

But this is Justin Verlander we’re talking about. The kid who can bring you to your feet in the first inning and keep you there, as you look over at the left field scoreboard and see a string of zeroes to the right of the team the Tigers are playing that day.

And I mean ALL the way to the right, if you get my drift.

Baseball and numbers are like peanut butter and jelly; separate, they’re good, but combined they create a tasty treat.

So here are some more numbers.

Verlander’s season ERA was 2.40, which means that his April mark of 3.64 was a full 1.24 run higher, or about 50%.

His record in April was 2-3. After that, he went on a 22-2 run. His ERA from May on was 2.15.

Verlander made six starts in April, gaining a decision in five of them. Had he won all six, he would have been just two wins away from becoming the first 30-game winner since Denny McLain in 1968.

Crazy talk? How do you figure?

Verlander had winning streaks of seven and 12 games in 2011. JV winning six in a row isn’t exactly a pie-in-the-sky type of thought.

That’s the bottom line: if Verlander went 6-0 in April, he’d have won 28 games. Math is till math.

And this is the era of the five-man rotation, by the way. McLain won his 31 games pitching every fourth day for the ’68 Tigers. On a couple occasions, Denny took the hill on just two days’ rest.

The five-man rotation inevitably will provide an extra day’s rest, due to off days. In 2011, Verlander pitched on five days’ rest on 11 occasions, instead of his usual four. That’s about a third of his 34 starts.

Could Verlander ever win 30 games in a season?

It’s not likely—but it is possible.

Yes, 34 or 35 starts (the average for a no. 1 starter) doesn’t leave much margin for error—or for no decisions. The good news is that Verlander doesn’t really need a margin for error.

His 22-2 mark after April proves that.

Verlander’s 29 decisions in 2011 were the most in his still young career. His 251 innings eclipsed his previous high by 11 innings.

The numbers continue to be staggering, the more you look at them.

Aside from a 2008 season (17 losses) that is looking more and more like an anomaly, Verlander has never lost more than nine games in a season. In 2007 he lost six; in 2011, he lost five.

In six big league seasons, Verlander has: won the Rookie of the Year Award; pitched in a World Series; pitched in two LDS series and two LCS series; thrown two no-hitters; come close to at least two more; won a Cy Young Award; and won an MVP Award.

He’s 28 years old.

Could Justin Verlander end up being the greatest pitcher in Detroit Tigers history?

Hey, is he already?

I’m a grizzled, cranky old coot most of the time. I’m not one to anoint anyone after six paltry seasons. I still think Oscar Robertson was better than Michael Jordan, to show you.

But sometimes a player comes along who just gives off a vibe that he’s only going to get better—or at the very least, not let up.

Justin Verlander strikes me as that kind of player.

It’s almost mind-numbing to look at Verlander’s numbers so far and then imagine the damage he can do by the time he’s 35 years old.

He has 107 wins now. By 35 he could have nearly 250.

He has 1,215 strikeouts now. By 35 he could have over 2,800.

He has two no-hitters now. By 35 he could threaten Nolan Ryan’s record of seven no-nos.

How many more Cy Youngs will he win? And now that he’s captured the MVP, who’s to say that he can’t do it again in the near future?

Barring the unthinkable—a major health issue—I’d say that Justin Verlander is on track to a place in Cooperstown.

Kind of makes all the debate about whether a pitcher should win an MVP Award rather silly, doesn’t it?

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Yes, He Did

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He’d be up for parole every few years, always denied. Then he’d return to his private cell and bob back below the surface again.

Perhaps Geraldo Rivera or Barbara Walters would have interviewed him. His look would be older and gaunter as time went by. Maybe he’d be propped up by some oddballs as a sort of anti-hero, like they do with Charlie Manson et al.

Regardless, he’d have been held up as the assassin of President John F. Kennedy. He would have been the first celebrity “lone nut,” as his crime happened just as TV was really beginning to take off as a medium. Maybe you’d see his likeness on t-shirts sold in mall shops such as Hot Topic.

Lee Harvey Oswald, 48 years ago today, squeezed the trigger of his Italian-German rifle and cut down JFK as the president’s motorcade rode perilously slowly and past the Texas School Book Depository.

Save the conspiracy nonsense. You’ll only get me started.

Oswald did it, the lone nut theory as strong as garlic, in my book.

Besides, you can thank Jack Ruby for all the conspiracy quacks.

Had Ruby—he wasn’t part of a conspiracy, either—not killed Oswald during the latter’s transfer from the Dallas City Jail to the County Jail, then most of the conspiracy quacks wouldn’t have anything to quack about.

It was Oswald’s death that opened the door to the creative genius of conspiracy “theory”.

Manson, mass murder mastermind, is still alive. So is Sirhan Sirhan, the killer of Bobby Kennedy. James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr., was still kicking it some 30 years after his crime before he passed away in 1998.

None have been seriously tied to any conspiracy by the quacks.

Why? Because their existence on this planet acted as a sort of prophylactic against conspiracy talk.

It’s easy to conjure up scandalous and taste-tempting tales of conspiracy when the perpetrator of the crime is six feet under.

Ruby killed Oswald but gave life to the conspiracy quacks, who, with Oswald silenced, were able to run rampant with their theories.

Think of it. Oswald, had he lived, would almost certainly have been convicted of JFK’s murder. The evidence may have been partially circumstantial, but it was also substantial.

Then he would have gone to prison, perhaps still professing his innocence. But he’d have been behind bars and the trial would have happened and the conspiracy quacks would have looked even sillier than they do now.

Oswald killed Kennedy, just as he killed Dallas policeman J.D. Tippit, and Oswald’s actions immediately after the president’s death suggest that he committed the crimes alone and without aid.

Oswald acted instinctively, perhaps not even thinking of killing Kennedy until finding out that the president was to visit his town. Imagine Lee’s heart racing once he found out that Kennedy’s motorcade route placed him right beneath the building in which Oswald worked.

Opportunity knocks!!

I believe that Oswald acted impetuously when he killed the president—maybe not even thinking he’d actually succeed. Then, Lee didn’t know what the hell to do, or where the hell to go.

His actions confirm that.

After the assassination, Oswald took a bus home, grabbed a pistol and a jacket, and marched out of his boarding house in suburban Dallas.

Where was he going? What was his intent? Oswald couldn’t even get out of the city. He was a frantic, panicking man, probably in disbelief that he pulled off the crime of the century.

The pistol was clearly there in case he needed it, i.e. in the case of a policeman who might try to apprehend him. Poor J.D. Tippit, who never had a chance.

If Oswald had the help that a conspiracy would have provided, then he, as the hired gunman, certainly would have been given an exit strategy, some money, and other instructions.

If I took on such a job, I’d sure as heck would want to know what was to happen to me after the fact.

Thanks to this act, the conspiracy quacks were able to run roughshod over common sense and facts

You think Oswald would consent to kill the President of the United States (wouldn’t he have been paid, by the way?), then not bother to ask what the game plan was after the killing?

Flipping it, do you think his employers would hire him for the job then leave him out there to dry, potentially singing like a canary after his possible arrest?

Wouldn’t they be afraid that he’d name names like he was rattling off a shopping list?

Instead, for nearly 48 hours, Oswald merely insisted he was innocent and never hinted of a conspiracy, save for his “I’m just a patsy” remark, made to reporters.

Now, either he was incredibly loyal to people in the shadows who never paid him (Oswald was barely above poverty level), or he simply didn’t name names because there were no names to name.

I’m betting on the latter.

Ruby started all this nonsense. His erasure of Oswald, while good intentioned in Jack’s book (he wanted to save Jackie Kennedy from the emotional stress of a trial), was the match that lit the conspiracy fuse.

Oswald would be 72 years old today. Certainly it’s conceivable that he’d still be alive. Manson is over 70. Sirhan is 67. Ray lived into his mid-70s.

And by the way, Ruby did hint of conspiracy, but not until he was ravaged by cancer and wasn’t in his right mind.

Ruby died in 1966.

An alive Lee Harvey Oswald, wiling away his time in a penitentiary somewhere, would have cut down a lot of this conspiracy talk just by his very existence as a living person.

Dead, he became the key figure in so many people’s criminal fantasies.

Thanks, Jack.

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Lions’ Smith A Story Too Good To Be True?

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The Lions have a shiny 7-3 record because of a quarterback who came to Detroit after 0-16 and a defensive tackle who came a year after that.

The Lions are 7-3 because of a GM who followed the abysmal Matt Millen and began cleaning up almost as soon as Millen was fired.

The Lions are 7-3 because of a head coach who came from Tennessee, where he learned under the consistent and tenured Jeff Fisher.

The Lions are 7-3 because of three successful drafts and some deft personnel moves by the aforementioned GM.

The Lions are 7-3 because they have infused their roster with talent not seen in Detroit since the jolly Wayne Fontes coached here.

The Lions, though, are not 7-3 because they make it a habit of signing re-treads and bringing back reminders of that ghoulish 0-16 record.

Kevin Smith, you could say, is both of those things—a re-tread and a sour reminder of that dreadful 2008 season.

Smith, the running back who ran wild over, around and through the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, was a Lions rookie in 2008—the season of OH! and 16.

A couple weeks ago, Smith was a running back in training, and a doting father. He was watching the Lions from his sofa, like so many of us.

On Sunday, Smith was exactly what the doctor ordered for the Lions.

You could practically hear the Lions fans weeping in thanks.

A running game!

Smith gashed the Panthers for 140 yards on 16 carries. That’s an 8.8 yards per carry average. The last time a Lions running back had numbers like that, he was wearing no. 20 and taking our breath away.

Smith scored two TDs on the ground and a third via pass. He was heaven sent, really. It’s an old joke: the Lions have wanted to run the football in the worst way—and that’s exactly how they’d been running it (cue rim shot).

I’ve had my eye on Stephen Jackson, the bruising runner for the pathetic St. Louis Rams, a team beneath his talents. Jackson is someone who would look delectable in Honolulu Blue and Silver.

But that’s food for thought sometime in the future. Next year, maybe. For now, Kevin Smith looks to be the man lugging the football for the Lions the rest of the season, with Best apparently nowhere near ready for clearance.

If Sunday was any indication, the Lions may not miss Best at all.

Smith isn’t as quick or explosive as Best, but he can run between the tackles better and the man looks energized and fresh—which you would expect of someone who has been playing with his kid, not with a football.

“Get up at 7 a.m., train till noon, play with my son,” Smith told the media afterward about his daily regimen this autumn, before the Lions brought him in for a workout during the bye week.

Unless that kid of his hits like a 265-pound linebacker, you had to be surprised to see what Smith did on the gridiron on Sunday.

“I think the NFL would be hard-pressed to come up with a better storyline than Kevin Smith,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz told the press after Sunday’s game, in what surely must be considered a candidate for Understatement of the Year.

This performance of Smith’s was about as unexpected as Clam Chowder served on a Tuesday.

But this is the NFL, which has a shelf life of seven days. The league is as crazily unpredictable as it’s ever been. A team can look wretched one week and then look like Super Bowl contenders the next.

The NFL might not hear of Kevin Smith the rest of the season. In the Lions’ remaining six games, Smith’s production may turn pedestrian and insignificant.

Sunday’s game might be it for Smith as far as productivity. Who knows?

But if it’s not, and if the Lions have stumbled upon a Godsend here, then all of a sudden the team’s one-dimensional offense in Jahvid Best’s absence isn’t so one-dimensional anymore.

If the Lions can somehow turn Kevin Smith from Flavor of the Week to the Special of the Month, then the running game may be solved—or at least just good enough to make Matthew Stafford and his receiving crew dangerous enough to be playoff-ready.

Which means that despite all the Lions’ offensive weapons, their playoff fortunes might be resting on a player who was running Daddy Day Care just two weeks ago.

The NFL is a funny, funny league.

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I don’t know if it’s in the front of the NFL player’s mind, the middle, or the back, but it’s in there somewhere. The idea that when you run onto the field, you might not run off is in there somewhere. It has to be.

The NFL is 60 minutes each week of locomotives running into each other at breakneck speed—sometimes literally.

But it wasn’t a high-speed collision that changed Mike Utley’s life. It was just another play in just another game, on just another Sunday.

It happened 20 years ago this past Thursday.

The Lions were hosting the Los Angeles Rams, and moving the football down the field. Utley, a guard, was doing his thing as part of the five-man chain gang that is an NFL offensive line.

Blocking, driving, lowering himself for leverage. Whatever it took to gain an advantage over his defensive counterpart.

The chain gang was succeeding. The Lions were moving the ball. They were nearing the so-called red zone—that prime real estate that lies 20 yards and closer to the goal line.

Then it happened—on just another play on just another drive in just another game.


Utley, a mountain of a man listed as 6’6” and 288 pounds, was pass blocking when he lost balance. His pass rushing opponent, David Rocker, was winning this particular down, and Rocker kept driving in his effort to reach the quarterback.

Utley fell awkwardly and onto his head, breaking his fifth, sixth and seventh cervical vertebrae.

If you ever want to hear how quiet a sports venue can be, try a pro football game with a player lying on the field, unmoving.

It’s a horrible, intestine-twisting silence.

Utley, after many pained minutes, was finally loaded onto a stretcher. Only when it was wheeled away did anyone in the Silverdome exhale, let alone make a sound.

But the Lions fans did indeed make a sound. It started as nervous applause, then as the stretcher made its way to the players’ tunnel, the applause turned into a small cheer, then eventually into a roar.

Utley then made one of the most famous gestures in Detroit sports history.

His life certainly flashing before his eyes, his fear of his own well-being no doubt palpable, Utley nonetheless thought about the fans and his teammates.


He managed to work his right hand into a position of hope.

Thumbs up!

The gesture just about brought the Silverdome down. The image was beamed onto the big JumboTron screen above the end zone scoreboard, so that the fans could see it, just as those watching at home on television could.

Thumbs up!

Utley’s message of hope became the rallying cry for the Lions, who didn’t lose another game the rest of the year until they succumbed to Washington in the NFC Championship game in January.

November 17, 1991 is a date forever etched onto Mike Utley’s brain.

It’s been 20 years, and still there is some unresolved business.

Utley intends to, once again, walk off an NFL field.

“A man walks on the field of battle, and he walks off the field of battle,” Utley explained last month to


Utley has to do the walking off part yet—and without the benefit of braces, a walker, or anything else.

“I can walk with ankle braces, I can walk with crutches or a walker,” Utley says. “The problem is, it’s not really functional, as in to be independent, to be able to go to the grocery store. It’s still more feasible and—safety-wise—it’s more productive for me to be able to transfer into my chair and go to the mall, go shopping, get groceries, clean up around the house.”

Utley has no doubt in his mind that one day he will walk again, sans accessories.

It’s one reason why Utley, along with his wife Dani, started the Mike Utley Foundation—to find out more about spinal cord injuries and to help others battling paralysis. And, of course, to ultimately find a cure for such horrendous injuries.

Utley has the will, but he needs the science…and the dollars.

It’s among the biggest of moral victories, that Mike Utley can do as much as he can, considering from where he came on November 17, 1991.

But Utley is an NFL guy at heart and in the NFL there are no moral victories. You either win, or you lose.

You either walk…or you don’t.


So it’s up at 5 a.m. on most mornings in suburban Seattle (he attended Washington State University), pushing himself in physical therapy twice a week and lifting four times a week.

Normally, I don’t care for the athlete or the celebrity who talks about himself in the third person, but Utley is an exception.

“Mike Utley will walk off Ford Field, his game plan is today,” Utley says. “If it’s not today, it will be tomorrow.”

Since Utley’s injury, which was preceded and then followed shortly thereafter by other horrifying incidents, the NFL has become much more conscious of protecting players—especially when it comes to anything in the head or neck areas.

So you’d think that Utley, through his Foundation, would be totally on board with the rules changes the league has implemented.

“No,” Utley immediately says when prodded about potential drastic rule changes such as linemen beginning every play in a standing position. “Listen, let the fellas play. You want the best players in the world to get on that gridiron. You want the fastest and the best athletes. Let them play.”


OK then.

Meanwhile, between pushing himself to the limit physically in the pursuit of walking, Utley tirelessly raises money for the Foundation, speaks and encourages. It’s not uncommon for the NFL to bring Utley in to talk to players facing the ends of their careers due to injury, though they didn’t suffer the same horrific end that Utley suffered.

Utley, after all, was once read his last rites, when blood clots that formed after the injury almost killed him.

But slowly he made progress. In 1999, Utley stood up and moved his feet for the first time with the assistance of braces on his legs.

But it’s not enough. Just another moral victory.

Utley, to hear him tell it, will walk off Ford Field someday, finally finishing his unfinished business. And then?

“(I’d like) to be able to walk with the wife on the beach. Something as small as that,” he says.

Thumbs up!

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What Happened to Natalie?

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I had a crush on Natalie Wood. Still do, truth be told.

She was beautiful and dark haired. In fact, I liked her type so much that I married one.

But I was just 18 when Wood, the actress, died tragically on a night clouded with mystery back on November 29, 1981. She had been enjoying a night on a yacht with husband Robert Wagner and actor Christopher Walken, with whom she had just wrapped filming of the movie “Brainstorm.”

The official cause of death was drowning, which would have made sense normally, as Wood had clearly fallen overboard. But friends—and Wagner—noted that Wood was afraid of water and it was out of character for her to put herself in a situation where drowning was even a possibility.

Even after it was determined that Wood had been drinking prior to the accident, rumors and innuendo swirled.

The presence of a second man, Walken, only added to the whispers. Wood and Walken had been acting cozy, according to some, and speculation arose that he and Wagner may have gotten into a lively discussion sometime the night of the accident.

Yet how that supposed argument played a role in what happened to Wood was never fully explained, of course.

Natalie Wood was just 43 when she perished.

Maybe we’ll get some more answers about her death, maybe we won’t—but the Los Angeles homicide detectives have re-opened their investigation into what happened that fateful night, regardless.

The news of the LA police department taking another look at Wood’s death happens to come on the same week that the film version of “West Side Story,” in which Wood starred, was released on Blu-ray Disc to mark its 50th anniversary.

So why the re-opening of the investigation?

According to the Associated Press, it’s “because of new information detectives received about the case, Los Angeles County sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said Thursday.”

No additional details were provided, but a detective planned to hold a news conference Friday, and anyone with information about the case was being asked to contact sheriff’s officials, the AP reported.

The AP also said that a spokesperson for Wagner said that the actor has yet to be contacted by police, but that he has faith that the department will take “appropriate action.”

The police news conference should be interesting.

I was never one to be infatuated with Wood’s death, as mysterious as it may have been. I don’t think anything malicious happened to her. But it wouldn’t shock me if Wagner, who blamed himself for his wife’s death in a 2009 book, or Walken know more than they’ve been letting on.

Regardless, Natalie Wood was a beautiful woman and at 43 died way too young.

Natalie Wood

“Brainstorm,” by the way, is a good movie. The concept is that Walken, a scientist, invents a machine that can record your thoughts and even physical feelings (including pain) by placing a device on the head, which lays everything down onto this wide, shiny gold recording “tape.”

Wood plays Walken’s girlfriend in the movie, released after her death.

Wood and Wagner were married twice: from 1957 to 1963, then again in 1972.

Maybe Lana Wood, Natalie’s sister, has it pegged right, after all.

“What happened is that Natalie drank too much that night,” Lana Wood wrote in her biography.


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Lovely Rita

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As time marches on, the pioneers among us become fewer and fewer.

No one lives forever, so the trailblazers become endangered species.

“West Side Story,” the film version, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, marking the occasion with its release today on Blu-ray Disc.

So appropriate, as one of its stars, Rita Moreno, closes in on becoming an octogenarian.

It was Moreno’s portrayal of Anita that did a couple of things, neither of them insignificant.

First, it garnered Moreno an Oscar.

Then, it eventually opened doors for other Latino performers to get work in Hollywood.

This was not insignificant, because Natalie Wood played the lead Maria in “West Side Story” and another white actor, George Chakiris, played Puerto Rican gang leader Bernardo.

Moreno was a pioneer, and typical of such folks, she didn’t realize it at the time.

But she knows it now.

She allows, in an interview with the Associated Press, that she’s “happy” that her portrayal of Anita did a lot for Latino actors.

But, half a century later, “I love what Ricardo Montalban once said, because it was very precise,” Moreno says, quoting the late Mexican actor. “He said one day that the door was ajar, but not completely open. And that still exists. … We have known artists in the English-speaking world that are Latin artists, but not enough.”

Also lacking, according to Moreno, who will be 80 on December 11, are musicals themselves.

“I’d love to see more musicals because today they’re very rare — you barely find them,” she says.

The incomparable Rita Moreno

If you want to check out Moreno at some of her finest, rent or download “The Four Seasons,” an Alan Alda written and directed comedy vehicle where she plays the Italian wife of Jack Weston’s character, Danny.

The role was part of what Moreno told the AP is her belief that she’s “a character actress, more than anything, and I think that is one of the reasons I get other parts that don’t have anything to do with being Latina necessarily.”

Moreno can be seen now as Fran Drescher’s mother in the TV series, “Happily Divorced.”

Still working, even as 80 beckons.

“Because I’ve been around so long … I’ve gotten to do a lot of things that a lot of Latinos have not been able to do,” Moreno says.

Correction. A lot of Latinos have been able to do things that they wouldn’t, had it not been for Rita Moreno.

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Maybe Matthew Stafford wore gloves so as not to leave any fingerprints as he committed crimes against football humanity.

If so, that idea backfired—as did the entire Detroit Lions offense—as Stafford and his offensive teammates (you can pronounce “offensive” with the emphasis on the second syllable if you’d like) laid an ostrich egg on the Soldier Field turf on Sunday.

This was an homage to Lions teams of the past. And when I say past, I mean the first eight years of the 21st century.

Watching the Lions’ 37-13 dismantling at the hands of the Chicago Bears was like watching a twisted compilation reel of the Marty Mornhinweg and Rod Marinelli years.

All of your old “favorites” were back: pick-sixes; fumbles; bad special teams coverage/strategy; inopportune personal fouls.

They all came roaring back—no pun intended—in one game, and after a bye week, no less, when teams are supposed to be fresh and re-focused.

Stafford was a mystery, yet again.

The Lions’ franchise QB was a ghoulish mix of Joey Harrington and Ty Detmer. He was far from the confident young gun that led the Lions to a 5-0 start. In the current 1-3 slide, Stafford has too often looked confused, beaten and devoid of confidence.

The 45-10 pummeling of the Denver Broncos propelled the Lions to 6-2 going into their week off, and they had set themselves up nicely for a second half playoff run. Stafford looked like he had solved whatever had troubled him in consecutive losses to the 49ers and the Falcons.

But the bye week wasn’t refreshing at all. Instead, it set football back three years in Detroit.

The defense played OK. Ndamukong Suh and Company only surrendered 16 of the 37 points, and no back breaking big plays, either.

The Lions still would have lost, though, even without all those returns for TDs, because the offense with Stafford at the helm was a frightful blend of slapstick and masochism.

Please, sir, may I have another turnover?

You almost hope that something is wrong with Stafford physically, because the alternative is too disturbing to consider.

It’s only one game, but is it?

Is it a one-game clunker, or is it part and parcel of a four-game rut?

The Lions beat who they should have in the past four games, and lost to three teams who are in the upper echelon of a suspect conference.

That, also, smacks of Lions teams of the past—even in the Wayne Fontes years when the Lions would fatten their record against the NFL’s dregs then play brutal games against “real” teams.

A bottom feeder comes to town next week—the Carolina Panthers. The Lions should handle the Panthers, with their rookie QB, at Ford Field.

And unless they lose to the Panthers, I suggest that you look at it this way.

Did you truly have the Lions winning yesterday, in Chicago? With the Bears thirsting for revenge for what happened on Monday Night Football? And with the Bears desperate to stay in the playoff race?

I didn’t.

So if the Lions win Sunday against Carolina and go into the Thanksgiving tilt with Green Bay at 7-3, that’s OK with me. It will just be the Lions following suit—you know, when you play that schedule game of “WIN” and “LOSE” before the season as you tick down the list of opponents and where the game is being played.

There’s no question that the way the Lions lost to the Bears far overshadows that they lost.

As Sparky Anderson said about a particularly bad Tigers loss back in the day, “There’s not enough perfume in the world to make that one smell good.”

But it was just one loss—and the first egg they’ve laid, and we’re in mid-November.

That in of itself is an improvement. Usually we’ve had four or five of these abominations by now.

But someone has to get Matthew Stafford right. And fast. There’s no Dave Krieg 1994 or Eric Hipple 1981 standing by. The only way backup Shaun Hill starts is if Stafford is hurt—there’s no QB controversy here.

Stafford isn’t right. His sluggishness extends back to the 49ers game on October 16.

The Lions have to fix him, or none of this playoff talk will mean a Hill of beans.

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