A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Saturday, November 15, 2008

"The Play" Revisited

Kevin Moen to Richard Rodgers to Dwight Garner to Rogers to Mariet Ford to Moen, who ran over Stanford trombone player Gary Tyrell.
If you're a Cal fan, these are the sweetest words in the English language. If you're a Stanford fan, they're the bitterest.
I'm talking, of course, about The Play, which Joe Starkey, who was calling the game on radio that day, described as "the most amazing, sensational, dramatic, heart-rending, exciting, thrilling finish in the history of college football."
And that was an understatement.
It was the climax of the 1982 Big Game, which was a terrific game even before The Play. John Elway had just made one of his patented last-minute drives, putting his team in position to kick the field goal that put Stanford ahead, 20-19, with only four seconds left on the clock.
But we all know what happened on the ensuing kickoff. The Cal players kept lateraling the ball back and forth until Moen was in the Stanford end zone, along with most of the Stanford band. Final score: Cal 25, Stanford 19.
That is, if you're a Cal fan. Whenever Stanford wins the Axe, they change the 1982 score on the trophy from "California 25, Stanford 20" to "California 19, Stanford 20." (The Cal rally committee changes it back again when Cal wins the trophy.)
After the game, the Cal players explained that they had used a drill their coach, Joe Kapp, had taught them called grabasse (pronounced "gruh-BOSS," in the French manner), which is essentially a game of keep-away.
Twenty-six years later, Stanford fans are still bitter. I saw Elway being interviewed on ESPN last week, and he said, "I don't think a touchdown can be scored when you have the whole band on the field."
Speaking for Cal fans everywhere, I can only reply: Whose band was it, anyway?
It's nice to know it still hurts. The Germans have a word, "schadenfreude," which means delight in the suffering of others.
Every time I think of The Play, I wallow in schadenfreude.
And it's the gift that keeps on giving. Only a few weeks ago I found out who actually invented "grabasse," and my source is none other than Coach Joe Kapp himself.
It turns out that The Play had its origins in a drill created 30 years earlier, but not by a football coach.
The inventor was Cal's legendary basketball coach, Pete Newell, the man who took the Bears to their only NCAA championship in 1959.
"He ran very tight practices," said Kapp, who played both football and basketball when he was an undergrad. (He was the quarterback of the 1958 football team, the last Bears squad to go to the Rose Bowl.)
"So every once in a while, to give us a break, he'd blow his whistle and say, 'Grab ass!' And we'd start passing the ball back and forth as quickly as we could without letting it touch the ground.
"One day, a couple of faculty members were sitting in the stands at Harmon Gym during a practice, and they called the coach over and said, 'Coach Newell, can't you find a more dignified term than 'grab ass?'
"Coach Newell thought for a moment and then said, 'OK, from now on it's 'grabasse!'"
And the rest is history.
Footnote: I need to make a correction to the column I wrote a few weeks ago about the 50th reunion of the 1958 football team, when I speculated that they secretly might be happy to be Cal's last Rose Bowl team.
"Not true, and I can prove it," said Kapp, "In 1981 I swore never to drink tequila again until Cal goes back to the Rose Bowl, and not a drop has touched my lips since then."
Memo to Jeff Tedford: Let's pull out all the stops to get to the Rose Bowl next year, OK? This man has suffered long enough.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hail to the pup!

(Above: Fido)

With two wars and a deepening recession, what is everyone talking about?
A dog. Specifically, the Obama girls' new puppy.
But fascination with presidential pooches is nothing new. The White House has been going to the dogs even before there was a White House.
George Washington, who built the Executive Mansion, took his two favorite canines, Truelove and Sweetlips, with him on his inspection trips to see how construction was progressing.
Abraham Lincoln loved his little yellow mutt, Fido, so much that when he left Springfield to assume the reins of power in Washington, he wrote explicit instructions for the two neighbor boys who were to take care of Fido until he returned (which he never did).
They had to promise never to leave Fido tied up in the back yard alone and never to scold him for wet or muddy or dusty paws. Fido was also to be allowed inside whenever he scratched on the door, and he was to be allowed in the dining room at dinnertime because he was used to getting tastes from everyone around the table.
One of Ulysses S. Grant's first acts after moving into the White House was to give his youngest son, Jesse, a dog. But it quickly died under suspicious circumstances. He gave Jesse another dog, and it died, too.
Finally, Grant solved the problem by announcing that if another dog died, the entire White House staff would be fired. Needless to say, the next Grant dog lived to a ripe old age.
Franklin D. Roosevelt's Scottie, Fala, became the big issue in the 1944 campaign when the Republicans accused FDR of sending a destroyer to pick up the pooch, whom, they claimed, had been left behind in Alaska.
Roosevelt struck back in a now-famous speech: "These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on myself, or on my wife, or on my sons. Now they include my little dog, Fala. Well, I don't mind, and my wife doesn't mind, and my sons don't mind. But Fala - he does mind!" And the Republicans were swamped in a sea of laughter.
Today, a statue of Fala sits beside the statue of his master at the FDR Memorial in Washington. Fala's head has been rubbed to a mirror-like shine by all the tourists who pat it for good luck. And Fala mementos outsell both FDR's and Eleanor's at the Memorial gift shop.
Everyone remembers Richard Nixon's cocker spaniel, Checkers, who bailed his boss out of a bribery scandal when he ran for Vice President in 1952. Nixon was in danger of being dumped from the ticket until he went on TV and claimed the only gift he'd ever received was Checkers.
"The kids love the dog," he added, "and regardless of what they say, we're going to keep it!"
Who wants to argue with 50 million dog lovers? Nixon was kept on the ticket.
Lyndon Johnson raised howls of outrage when he was photographed lifting his beagles, Him and Her, by their ears. But his true love was a bedraggled little yellow terrier mix named Yuki, whom his daughter Luci found abandoned at a gas station outside El Paso.
LBJ and Yuki became inseparable. During the darkest days of the Vietnam War, he would unwind by closeting himself in the Oval Office with Yuki on his lap. The two of them would throw back their heads and howl in unison, while the Secret Service agents standing outside scratched their heads and wondered what in the world was going on in there.
JFK - actually, Caroline - had a Yorkie named Charlie. Gerald Ford had a golden retriever named Liberty. Ronald Reagan had a Cavalier King Charles spaniel named Rex. And Bush 41's springer spaniel, Millie, made the best-seller lists with her autobiography (ghost written by First Lady Barbara Bush).
They all agreed with Harry Truman, who said, "If you want a friend in this town, get a dog."