February: More than romantic love.

February 1, 2016
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Vince Lombardi Trophy awarded to winner of the Super Bowl. Photo: SB Davis, at Pro Football Hall of Fame, Canton, OH, Sept. 2015

February the month of romantic love. Sorry but in my opinion just another excuse for card companies, florists and chocolatiers to make money. For me February is a month closer to spring and golf season, not only that but it is the shortest month of the year. Hurry up March and spring.

Planet Earth takes 365 and one quarter of our days to make its transit around the sun. How do we reconcile that odd figure? Every fourth orbit around the sun earthlings make an accounting adjustment. The year 2016 is a Leap Year. Normally February has 28 days but in Leap Years (every fourth year) it has 29 days to facilitate this accounting adjustment.

Those who happen to have been born in a leap year on the 29th day of February get to celebrate a birthday only every four years. Nice way to deceive oneself I think.

The big sports event of February is the National Football League’s Super Bowl. This is a major event this month and this year is the 50th time the game has been played. Football makes this a great month, but then the season is over which is sad. The big games is usually played the first Sunday of the month.

The new Canadian flag was introduced in February 1965 which is another reason to celebrate. The red maple leaf gives us a rallying point and has become the symbol of Canada throughout the world.

Here are some other interesting observances for the month of February.

Month-long observances:
American Heart Month – United States
Black History Month- Canada and United States

International Days:
Lunar New Year – Traditional Chinese Calendar
Chinese New Year – Chinese Calendar

Odd or Unusual observances:
National Wear Red Day – Feb 5th United States
First Saturday – Ice Cream for Breakfast Day (I really like the idea of this one)

National, State or Provincial Holidays:
Second Monday – Family Day – British Columbia, Canada
Third Monday – Family Day – Alberta, Canada
(Note: Family Day is now celebrated in other provinces too)
Third Monday – President’s Day – United States
Last Friday – International Stand Up to Bullying Day

February Symbols:
– flower – violet
– birthstone – amethyst
– zodiac signs – Aquarius (until Feb 18th) and Pisces (Feb 19th on)

So enjoy February whatever your perspective.

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Jim Thorpe – Athlete Extraordinaire

January 3, 2016
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Jim Thorpe on US stamps.

On a recent visit to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio I rediscovered the remarkable Jim Thorpe. Thorpe was a Native American who was voted the athlete of the first half of the 20th century. He excelled in football, track and field, baseball and basketball.

The entrance to the Hall of Fame is a tribute to Thorpe. There is a larger-than-life gold statue of him and a special hall dedicated to his accomplishments. Turns out he was one of the founders of the National Football League (NFL).

Although football was his self-admitted favourite sport he also played and excelled in many others. In the 1980s he was voted the Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century receiving more votes than others such as Michael Jordan, Muhammed Ali, Wayne Gretzsky, Jack Nichlous, and Babe Ruth.

James Francis “Jim” Thorpe was born May 22, 1887 in Oklahoma. He was a Sac and Fox Native American whose name Wa-Tho-Huk is translated as “Bright Path”. Thorpe had natural athletic talent and excelled in a variety of sports from an early age. Jim attended Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. There the famous coach Pop Warner developed his talent.

He tried out for and made the American Olympic Team competing in the 1912 Olympic Games held in Stockholm, Sweden. His primary events were the gruelling pentathlon and decathlon. Jim won gold medals in both events setting records that stood for decades.

Six months after the Games it was discovered he had played minor league professional baseball prior to the games. This was a strict no-no at the time. He was paid about $50 for his six games. Most white athletes did the same thing, but they used aliases to prevent their discovery. Jim’s mistake, he didn’t. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) reviewed his case and in the end stripped him of his medals, records and other awards. However the IOC didn’t follow their own rules. The Olympic rules said that any appeals must be filed within 30 days of the closing of the Games. The objections weren’t filed until 6 months after the Games.

In 1982 the Jim Thorpe Foundation with the support of the US Congress petitioned the IOC to reverse their 1913 ruling. They were successful and on January 18, 1983 the IOC presented commemorative medals to two of Jim’s children in a special ceremony. His original medals were stolen from a museum and to this day have never been recovered.

After the Olympic Games ended in 1913 he played professional baseball for the National League champion New York Giants and later the Boston Bears and the Cincinnati Reds. He retired from baseball in 1919.

Next he played professional football with the Canton Bulldogs of the fledgling American Professional Football Association (APFA) the forerunner to the NFL. Jim played six seasons from 1920 to 1928. He retired at age 41. Thorpe was First Team All-Pro in 1923, NFL 1920s All-Decade Team, NFL 50th Anniversary All-Time Team, College Football Hall of Fame, and Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee in 1963. He is one of 17 players in the Hall in the charter class. Jim was the first president of the APFA from 1920 to 1921 while at the same time playing. He is considered one of the founders of the NFL.

Books have been written about his life and accomplishments. He faced much racism during his career, but his feats endeared him to the world regardless. In his personal life he struggled with chronic alcoholism. Jim married three times and had 6 children. He died March 28, 1953 at his home in Lomita, California with his wife at his side. He was 64 years of age. He is buried in the town named for him Jim Thorpe, PA.

Thorpe was memorialized in the 1951 Warner Bros. film “Jim Thorpe – All American” starring the great American actor Burt Lancaster as Thorpe. Contrary to rumours he was paid the considerable sum of $15,000 for the story. The United States Postal Service (USPS) has issued a 20c and a 32c commemorative postage stamps honouring him.

Some of the greatest tributes were from his fellow competitors. Future President Dwight Eisenhower who played against him in college recalled of Jim in a 1961 speech,

“Here and there, there are some people who are supremely endowed. My memory goes back to Jim Thorpe. He never practiced in his life, and he could do anything better than any other football player I ever saw.”

Martin Sheridan, a five-time Olympic gold medalist said in 1909 while shaking his hand after watching Thorpe destroy all his previous records,

“Jim, my boy, you’re a great man. I never expect to look upon a finer athlete.”

Jim Thorpe, All-American truly was a remarkable athlete and person.


Darren Clarke – Not just another sports story.

July 20, 2011

Darren savoring victory-photo by Russell Cheyne, Reuters

On Sunday the prestigious British Open was won by Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke. The forty-two years young Clarke was playing in his 20th Open, but golf was not the only story here. The human interest saga behind the beaming face of Darren Clarke far outweighs the golf.

Clarke was probably one of the best golfers never to have won a major tournament. For those non-golfers there are four major tournaments in the world, The Masters, The US Open, The British Open, and the PGA Championship. It is every golfer’s dream to win one of these. In Clarke’s case he won his home country’s Open which made it doubly special.

Darren has had to fight not only the other golfers and the courses over the years, but a terrible tragedy as well.

Five years ago his wife Heather died of breast cancer. Since that time he has struggled on the course and in life. Darren had to raise two young boys on his own while making a living on the golf course. Clarke came through these troubles with strength and dignity. One of the first calls he made after winning the tournament was to his sons. His fiancée stood by him during the tournament. Life is coming together again for Clarke.

British Open champion Darren Clarke is a fine man who deserves to enjoy this win. May good fortune continue to shine on him.

Recommended Reading:
http://www.calgaryherald.com/sports/Clarke+wins+British+Open+under/5115667/story.html


Chicago Black Hawks: 49 year drought ends

June 10, 2010

2010 Stanley Cup Champs photo by John J. Kim/Sun Times

Long suffering Chicago Black Hawks fans can rejoice. Last night they won their first Stanley Cup in 49 years. The last time they hoisted the cup was the 1960-61 NHL season. That year Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Glenn Hall, and Pierre Pilote led them to the championship. 

The Hawks have had many opportunities to win since 1961, but haven’t been able to finish it off. Since the 1961 championship the team has reached the finals 5 times and lost every time. Here is their record in the modern era from 1960 to present. 

1960-61  won over Detroit Red Wings
1961-62  lost to Toronto Maple Leafs
1964-65  lost to Montreal Canadiens
1970-71  lost to Montreal Canadiens
1972-73  lost to Montreal Canadiens
1991-92  lost to Pittsburgh Penguins
2009-10  won over Philadelphia Flyers

Congratulations to the Chicago Black Hawks and their fans for a well played final and a well-deserved victory.


Avalanche

March 15, 2010
Avalanche results. Photo Jeff Bassett/CP/Pool

This past weekend in Revelstoke, British Columbia the “Stupids” were at it again.

A mob of snowmobilers were out on a snowpacked mountain in the Rockies “extreme high marking” . This involves running a high-powered machine up a steep hill turning on the top, or as high as they make it. Then they rocket down the hill to the bottom. This is a prime way to set off an avalance.

In this case a 30 foot wall of snow and ice came barrelling down the hill sweeping away 150 machines and riders.

The final toll of two killed and over 30 injured, some critically, in the end appears fortunate. Fortunate that many more weren’t killed as a result of this foolishness.

The two men killed were in their thirties and left behind wives and young children. All this for an adrenaline rush. These men were intelligent, hard-working individuals. Why would they risk it all for a short-lived thrill. Now their families have to cope without them. Wives have no husbands and children have no father. I rest my case.


Canada 7, Russia 3 – Olympic Hockey

February 25, 2010

Canada goal on the way in

Hockey in Canada is a religion. Last night one of the heated rivalries Canada vs Russia played out, with Canada winning 7-3 to advance to the semi-finals. 

“They came out like gorillas out of a cage,” Russian backup goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov said.

Prior to 1998 pros were not allowed to compete in the Olympics, unless you were Soviet. They fielded a team consisting of their best. The players were all members of the military and paid to train and compete 24/7. This is how they circumvented the rules. 

In 1998 the NHL allowed its players to compete for their respective countries. This leveled the playing field and the Russian monopoly on the Gold Medal ended. 

The top two teams in Vancouver are Canada and the USA. It appears likely they will meet in the Gold Medal game later this week. The USA defeated Canada in the preliminary round, but lately Canada have found their game and are playing much better. It should be a classic game with all the ingredients for the best game to date. Stay tuned. Go Canada Go.


The Thrill of Victory, The Agony of Defeat

April 15, 2008

Bob Goalby, Masters Champion 1968The Masters golf tournament was played this past weekend. Being a golf fan I watched avidly. Some people say golf is boring to watch, but the name of the game is drama. Human interest stories make the players interesting.

(Left: Bob Goalby accepting the green jacket symbolic of The Masters Championship)

This tournament, one of professional golf’s four majors (others are US Open, British Open, and The PGA), are the diamonds of the tour. Ask any player and he will tell you that winning a major is his goal. It isn’t the money alone, but rather the prestige and accompanying endorsements that result from winning the players are after. To top it off the tour rewards winners of the Masters and other majors with exemptions and invitations to events that can relieve the pressure of winning. For example Masters winners get automatic invitations to the other majors for the next five years, a lifetime invitation to The Masters, and PGA Tour card for the following five years.

Back in 1968 when the four rounds of the Masters were completed there was a two-way tie between American Bob Goalby and Argentinian Roberto DeVicenzo. Both players were preparing for an eighteen-hole playoff, but first under PGA Tour rules they had to verify their scorecards and sign them to make it official. Most times this is a formality. Not this time.

There was a mistake on DeVicenzo’s scorecard. His playing partner, fellow professional, Tommy Aaron, marked a 4 on the No. 17 hole, when DeVicenzo had in fact made a 3. DeVicenzo failed to catch the mistake and signed the scorecard as being accurate. Professional Golfers Association rules state the “the higher written score signed by a golfer on his card must stand”. Because DeVicenzo now had a higher score by one stroke, Goalby won The Masters championship.

(Left: Goalby and DeVicenzo going over Roberto’s scorecard in disbelief. Sports Illustrated cover from April 22, 1968)

I still remember the dazed look on both player’s faces. DeVicenzo was in shock for making such an elementary mistake. Goalby being the consumate professional wanted to win, but his joy was tainted by winning this way. DeVicenzo to his great credit went over to Goalby and embraced him and congratulated him. Roberto spoke to the press and told them that Goalby was a deserving winner. Sportsmanship was displayed for all to see, but the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat were never so vivid.

 


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