In the end, the game comes down to one thing: man against man. May the best man win.
~ Sam Huff
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We thought this preseason game between the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Browns was going to be a showdown between two giants of the world of media hype -- Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel -- but new Browns coach Mike Pettine doesn't have a flair for the dramatic.
The two may wind up on the field competing against each other, but Pettine took the ball out of Johnny Football's hands when he said the rookie wouldn't get the start against the Redskins. He declared the whole notion of who would start this game was overblown.
Really? The fact that a preseason game could be overblown by the presence of Johnny Football on the field shows what the coach there is in for, no matter how much he wants to avoid it.
Kyle Shanahan knows what's coming. He has seen it here in Washington.
The Browns new offensive coordinator -- RG III's former offensive guru here in Washington -- has seen the good times when a quarterback with a nickname before he even played a down in an NFL game is successful. He has seen how it can sweep up a team, and take it further than anyone thought.
He's also seen the bad times as well, when it goes wrong, when the nickname gets so big he thinks he knows best. He has seen how it can drag a team down further than anyone thought.
Meanwhile, new Redskins head coach Jay Gruden is in the same place as Mike Pettine. He's learning what it is like to turn the nickname into an NFL quarterback.
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Washington Redskins training camp has opened, and a new page with it in the Redskins organization -- a new coach in Jay Gruden, and Bruce Allen now fully in charge, with Mike Shanahan gone. But it's not exactly a fresh start.
The quarterback -- Robert "SuperBob" Griffin III -- has picked up where he left off last year with his passive-aggressive public shots at Mike and Kyle Shanahan, even though he is the victor of that war. His first public comments included another shot at his former coaches. "It’s really just a good thing to have two coaches that believe in you," he told reporters after the first practice in Richmond.
When Gruden was asked about his relationship with SuperBob, he said, "It is what it is."
I suspect that Gruden -- and Bruce Allen as well, now that he is fully in charge of football operations -- have gotten a look at what the Shanahans dealt with last year with the quarterback -- and his family. And I suspect "it is what it is."
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John Wayne was the great American film hero. He was the cowboy that saved the town, the soldier that fought the evil enemy. There are many things he was not on film -- a dancer, an artist (he once criticized Kirk Douglas for playing Vincent Van Gough), or maybe, a sportswriter.
Not so fast, Grantland Rice.
The Duke did play a sportswriter during his career in an obscure television film – his first dramatic appearance on the small screen. Four-time Oscar winning director John Ford directed Wayne in a 1955 short television film called “Rookie of the Year” – buried for nearly 60 years but unearthered recently by Turner Classic Movies.
For a profession that has been represented in Hollywood by the but sloppy Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau, Jack Klugman) in “The Odd Couple”, woefully henpecked Ray Barone (Ray Romano) in “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and vultures like Max Mercy (Robert Duvall) in “The Natural” – you know that John Wayne is going to deliver a heroic portrayal of the Great American Sportswriter.
He does, sort of, but not without first hitting all the lecherous notes that are part of the Sportswriting 101 syllabus.
The tale centers on baseball’s greatest crime – the 1919 Chicago White Sox World Series gambling “Black Sox” scandal, which has been called upon in fiction like “The Godfather II” (Hyman Roth – “I loved baseball ever since Arnold Rothstein fixed the World Series in 1919) and “The Great Gatsby,” when Gatsby describes Rothstein to narrator Nick Carraway, “That’s the man who fixed the 1919 World Series.”
It has traditionally been a go-to move for storytellers – perhaps to be replaced in future fiction by steroids, though it hardly has the same romantic grip as gambling and gangsters. After all, Brian McNamee is no Arnold Rothstein.
Wayne’s appearance as sportswriter Mike Cronin was part of a dramatic series in those early days of television called the “Screen Directors Playhouse," based on a radio show of the same name. The TV version ran for one season, with 35 half-hour episodes featuring major film stars like Robert Ryan, Errol Flynn, and Wayne.
Turner Classic Movies has begun showing these lost dramatic gems – not seen since their one season in 1955-1956 -- and the second one broadcast starring Wayne is based on a short story by W.R. Burnett, the novelist and screenwriter who wrote such classic gangster movies as “Little Caesar” and “High Sierra.”
The story opens in the newsroom of a small Pennsylvania town – the Henryville Post Gazette – with a copy boy named Willie checking the teletype for details of the starting pitchers for the upcoming World Series, which of course features the New York Yankees.
There is, predictably, a crusty small town newspaper editor.
“Willie, tell Mike Cronin I want to see him right now,” says Mr. Cully (we never learn his full name) played by Willis Bouchey, who was in nearly every TV sitcom in the 1960s (My Mother the Car, The Munsters, Gomer Pyle, McHale’s Navy).
Willie finds Cronin (Wayne) typing away at his desk. He tells him Mr. Cully wants to see him
Cronin: “Hey, quit reading over my shoulder. It’s bad manners.”
Willie: “What is it a novel? Cowboys and Indians?”
Cronin: “No. Call it a passport, a ticket from here to there. Maybe a stay of execution. But whatever you call it, it’s manna from heaven.”
Willie: “Gee, well, old iron lungs wants to see you right away.”
Cronin: “Well, he’ll have to wait.”
“Old iron lungs” has to wait because Cronin has a call into the press box at Yankee Stadium to Ed Shafer (played by veteran actor James Gleason, (who was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor for his role as a boxing manager in “Here Comes Mr. Jordan” in 1941), a reporter buddy of his working for the big city New York Globe.
Cronin reaches Shafer, who is covering the game, and tells Shafer that he’s got a big story that will get him a job there on the big city paper. “The biggest sports yarn since David kayoed Goliath,” Cronin says.
Shafer says he will call Cronin back in between innings at the hotel where Cronin lives in Henryville, Pa. As soon as Cronin hangs up, “old iron lungs” does what newspaper editors do. He yells at Cronin for taking too many days off, then he yells at him for making personal phone calls.
Too which Cronin responds, “I’ve been taking it here for 10 years. Stuck. Trapped. I’ve got just three words for you Mr. Cully -- Drop dead.” (Two words, just to mess with his editor – the best part of the film).
Wayne, as Cronin, become the narrator, going back in time three days before, when he had visited Shafer in New York and saw “the kid” in person for the first time – Lynn Goodhue, played by Wayne’s son, Patrick Wayne.
Cronin: “It was just another ball game. The Yanks had sown up the pennant two days before. But I couldn’t take my eyes off that kid Lynn Goodhue? I couldn’t get over the feeling I had seen him before. And then he came to bat in the sixth.
“Then I knew why that kid looked so familiar – he was Buck Garrison all over again. Buck Garrison, probably the greatest natural ball player except for the Babe in the history of the game. He ran like Garrison, hit like Garrison, and when he struck out he did what Garrison never failed to do – that little trick of reversing his bat and bouncing the handle on home plate.
“It was crazy. It couldn’t be. Someone besides me must have spotted the same thing, had to. You don’t forget a player like Buck Garrison. And you don’t forget the Black Sox. And you don’t forget that news kid who waited out the clubhouse with tears running down his face, to choke out, “Buck, it ain’t true, is it?”
One of the White Sox players implicated in the 1919 Black Sox scandal was Buck Weaver. And the story goes that a young boy stood outside the courthouse during the players’ trial and said to Shoeless Joe Jackson, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”
Cronin goes with Shafer into the Yankees clubhouse after the game and meets Lynn Goodhue (Patrick Wayne).
Cronin: “I just wanted to say hello and congratulate you. But I wouldn’t have picked you for Rookie of the Year.”
Shafer: “Is that so?”
Cronin: “You’re out of the rookie class, kid. You’re a regular on any man’s team.”
During the conversation, Cronin asks Goodhue how he learned to play ball, and he says from his father. Cronin asks if he ever heard of Buck Garrison, and Goodhue said he remembers hearing about him from the Black Sox scandal. Wayne gets an autographed baseball from Goodhue. He leaves New York and heads for Goodhue’s home town of Coaltown, West Virginia – yes Coaltown.
The film comes back to the present, with Cronin in his hotel room, waiting to give tell his big city newspaper pal about his big scoop about Buck Garrison’s kid. But when Cronin answers his door expecting his cleaned suit delivered, it is a woman with a gun – Ruth Dahlberg (played by Vera Miles), the young woman who we find out is Lynn Goodhue’s fiancée and who had helped Cronin find Buck Garrison during his visit to Coaltown.
She begs Cronin not to print the story – that it would ruin Lynn Goodhue.
Dahlberg: “How can a man be so evil? How can you honestly be so evil?”
Cronin: I’m a newspaperman. I don’t make the facts – just report them.” (Who among us in the newspaper business hasn’t said this when described as evil?)
The story shifts back to Cronin arriving in Coaltown. He meets Dahlberg, who tells him where to find Larry Goodhue – Lynn Goodhue’s father, who is, as we know now, Buck Garrison – played by Ward Bond, who was in 22 movies with Wayne, including “The Searchers” and “Rio Bravo.”
He is at McKinley Park, teaching kids baseball.
Cronin approaches him: “Hello Buck. Your boy gave me this Sunday (the autographed ball). He’s good Buck, but he will never be as good as you were."
Garrison: “That’s where your wrong, mister. He’s already better now than I ever was.”
Cronin: “I’d like to quote you saying that.”
Garrison: “A newspaperman. No newspaperman ever did me any good, before or after the trouble.”
Cronin: “It’s our job to print the news.”
Garrison: “It had to come out sooner or later.”
Cronin: “It’s a great story, Buck. Only one question – does the kid know?”
Garrison: No, he don’t. You better go write your story mister. Go ahead. Print it. You don’t think I’d beg now, do you?”
Cronin: I gotta print it Buck.”
Garrison: “Sure, who wouldn’t? It’ll be a great break for you.
Cronin: “One I’ve been waiting for, for a long time.”
Garrison: “I’m glad somebody gets some good out of it.”
But while newspapermen may be evil, John Wayne is not. Dahlberg convinces Cronin (without the gun) not to print the story.
Cronin: "No story, Ed. Oh, I thought I had a good one on the Rookie of the Year, but no dice.”
Shafer: “Mike did you say you had an angle on Lynn Goodhue? Oh, you silly jug head you. Mike, that angle wouldn’t be that he was really Buck Garrison’s boy, would it now? My pal, you need a change. I didn’t know you could get jungle fever in the sticks, but brother. Of course, we all know it. Anybody who would print a story like that and tell that kid….”
So it turns out the entire Yankees press corps knew Lynn Goodhue was Buck Garrison’s kid – and nobody reported it.
Still, Shafer sets Cronin up with a story for the Globe, and good triumphs over evil.
As Cronin leaves his hotel, he walks by the offices of the Henryville Post-Gazette and throws the autographed Lynn Goodhue ball through the second floor window, where it hits his editor on the head, and the story ends.
It’s not Citizen Kane, but it’s John Wayne as a sportswriter, and we should all be walking a little taller today.
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George Allen’s birthday was April 29. He was born in Nelson County, Va., in 1918, and died on New Year’s Eve 1990. He is one of the most important sports figures in the history of Washington, D.C., and his presence is felt today with his son, Bruce, the general manager of the Washington Redskins.
If Bruce Allen can find men to play football like his father did, the future of the Redskins would be an interesting and successful one. That remains to be seen if he can.
George Allen coached the Redskins from 1971 to 1977, and made football the dominant presence it is in this town still to this day. The Redskins have always been popular since they moved from Boston in 1937 and won their first NFL championship with rookie quarterback sensation Sammy Baugh. They were popular during those 1960s teams with Sonny Jurgensen and Bobby Mitchell – entertaining offensive teams, even if they were not winners.
But Allen made this team iconic – as much of the fabric of this city as any political presence – and he did so in large part through the men he sought out to play for him. I say men, because these were unique, courageous, independent, thoughtful, talented players – known as the “Over the Hill Gang” – that Redskins fans fell in love with and treasure to this this day.
Allen came to coach the Redskins in 1971, after one forgettable season with Bill Austin as the coach in 1970, when they went 6-8. It was a lost season in part because of the sad and unexpected death of Vince Lombardi from cancer, who had turned the Redskins around in 1969, after 15 losing seasons, with a 8-5-1 record. There was so much promise with the presence of Lombardi, and so much disappointment and sadness with his loss, that it took a special figure to bring this franchise out of it and put them back in the right direction.
That special figure was George Allen.
What most people don’t know is that Allen might have been in Washington three years earlier, if circumstances were different.
Jack Kent Cooke – still a minority owner at the time of the Redskins, and also the owner of the Los Angeles Lakers and The Forum arena, wanted to hire Allen to coach the Redskins after Los Angeles Rams owner Dan Reeves first Allen for the first time after the 1968 season. But controlling partner and famed Washington lawyer Edward Bennett Williams was determined to convince Lombardi, who had retired from coaching the Green Bay Packers after leading them to five NFL championships, including the first two Super Bowl, to come coach in Washington. So they passed on Allen.
Allen wound up getting hired again by Reeves in Los Angeles shortly after being fired, after the Rams players threatened to revolt if Allen was let go. But he was fired again by Reeves after the 1970 season, and this time Williams jumped at the chance to hire Allen.
“I regard him (Allen) as the best football coach in the world,” Williams said when they announced the Allen hiring.
Williams gave Allen complete control on player personnel and a long-term contract, and, as has been repeated many times, would later say, “I gave George an unlimited budget and he exceeded it.”
But he exceeded expectations as well, turning this franchise around quickly, assembling his “Over the Hill Gang.” We’ll examine that team and those unique individuals and the changing atmosphere of the political climate in Washington and those connections to the football team in the coming weeks.
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If boxing is on the ropes, you couldn’t prove it by the Washington, D.C. area. Legendary light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins is fighting Beibut Shumenov as part of a three-title fight Showtime boxing card at the D.C. Armory Saturday night.
Friday night there is live boxing at Rosecroft Raceway in a Keystone Boxing show featuring rising star and undefeated junior welterweight Mike Reed. Keystone Boxing does some of the best local boxing shows in the business.
The following Saturday, the flourishing amateur boxing in the area is on display when the Washington Regional Golden Gloves take place on April 26 at the Waldorf Jaycees Community Center in southern Maryland.
These fighters have to come from somewhere, and many of them come from local legendary gyms like Old School Boxing (where Buddy Harrison, at Rosecroft, runs a gym right out of central casting), and other locations, such as the Sugar Ray Leonard Boxing Center.
But gyms take on all different kinds of forms these days, and many have become hybrids – workout centers where average citizens can get in their kettle bell training alongside young kids fighting to be boxing prospects.
I found one right in my own Howard County backyard with Elite SFN in Columbia, Md, run by a former local fighter.
It’s a gym that promotes fitness for all, with different fitness classes and mixed martial arts training going on in the Red Branch Road gym. But there’s plenty of boxing as well, thanks to owner Kwame Ritter, 23, a former fighter.
“We started off small, but we’ve been expanding,” Ritter said. “We’ve doubled the size in the last six months.”
One of the programs he operates there is boxing for inner city kids from Baltimore. “I have a group from Baltimore to give kids a chance to get out of the city and come here to work out in Howard County,” Ritter said. “We talk about life and mentorship as well as teaching boxing.”
You can find good boxing and great gyms in all kinds of places in and around Washington, D.C. – as well as good fights like you’ll have this weekend.
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I’ve become a baseball owner – sort of, but not really. But I am part of the management of a baseball team, so it may be the closest I will ever get to owning a baseball team.
It’s an association I am very proud of. I am on the board of directors of the DC Grays, the Washington baseball team in the Cal Ripken Summer Collegiate Baseball League.
The DC Grays are as much about opportunities in life as they are about baseball. It’s a non-profit organization devoted to creating opportunities for inner-city youths and their families through baseball, by bringing in talented college ballplayers from around the country to play in a top-tier collegiate summer league and to conduct summer camps and clinics for inner city youths.
That calling is more valuable than ever today, because the opportunities that do exist in the game for inner city youths have dwindled, and in some cases, disappeared. Budget cuts and changing priorities have made places to play harder to find, and with it the people committed to teach the game. The DC Grays try to fill that void, by raising money to field a team of players from a variety of college baseball programs and then serve as mentors to inner city youths teaching them about baseball and “making the most of their opportunities.
This season, the Grays will help District youngsters in camps, and playing their home games, at the new Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, a $15 million complex that will open this spring.
This effort — a calling, if you will — relies on volunteers with a commitment to baseball and opportunities for youths in Washington, and raising money to continue the calling.
Baseball is part of the fabric of life in Washington, D.C., and it won’t go away, no matter how many times they try to kill it. Major League Baseball has come to town not once, but three different times, the latest incarnation being Montreal Expos franchise that relocated in 2005 and became the Washington Nationals.
When baseball returned in 2005, 34 years after the Senators left for Arlington, Texas — it came back to a different city — one where the game had not been grown among the city’s powerful and influential African-American population, a city where the game was foreign to inner city youth.
It took several men — Antonio Scott and Brad Burris, former baseball players at Howard University — devoted to grow the game again in the neighborhoods in this city, to build the D.C. Grays in 2006.
It was only right and appropriate to name the team the DC “Grays” — honoring the memory of the Homestead Grays, the great Negro League baseball team that played in Washington from 1939 to 1948 and featured such legendary baseball players as Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard and Cool Papa Bell.
When the Expos moved to Washington in 2005, one of the names that was a finalist for the relocated team was the “Grays.”
The “Nationals” was the name selected, and the DC “Grays” picked up the banner of those legendary Negro League teams.
The mission of the Grays was to create and develop a team that would become “ambassadors for baseball” in Washington. The main goal is to engage more inner-city youth and their families in the sport of baseball through the collegiate summer league team and the camps and clinics that spring from it.
The Grays played in the Clark Griffith League from 2006-2009. When the league folded in 2010, the Grays came back strong in the new Cal Ripken Collegiate Summer Baseball League, led by Washington lobbyist and former college baseball player Mike Barbera as team president, along with Antonio Scott and a new board of directors.
The Grays are a 501 c (3) not-for-profit organization — DC Grays Baseball. This calling to bringing baseball to inner city youths relies on donations from individuals and corporations, through sponsorships, gifts and partnerships.
Different levels of sponsorships will identify the commitment to the DC Grays, from advertisements in the game programs to in-game sponsor “Thank You” announcements, your logo on the homepage of the web site and free season passes and parking for all home games at the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy.
I will be hosting a cigar fundraiser in the coming weeks at Shelly’s Back Room in the District to help raise money for the Grays. Details will follow shortly, and I hope you can be part of it.
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