Thursday, January 20, 2011

JFK, SU hoops and my NFL Super Bowl picks

I listened to it live in my first-grade class at Bell Road Elementary School in Rome, N.Y. on this day in 1961. And a half-century later, John F. Kennedy’s inauguration speech still resonates with me. The oratory was beautifully written and beautifully delivered. And I believe the messages, particularly the famous and oft-repeated “Ask not what your country can do for you’’ line continue to be relevant. If you get a chance, call it up on YouTube. It’s worth listening to again.
JFK’s speech got me to thinking about great sports speeches I’ve heard through the years. I guess it’s no different than politics in that I’ve heard a lot more long-winded, sleep-inducing bad ones than inspiring good ones. Here are a few of the more memorable ones I’ve was privileged to be on hand for:

Buck O’Neil, the former Negro League star who became famous for the tales he spun on Ken Burns’ Baseball series, was spell-binding and funny during a 20-minute speech he delivered during one of the Rochester Press-Radio Club dinners back in the 1990s. Despite being denied an opportunity to play in the segregated Major Leagues because of his skin color, he spoke about the gratitude he felt for all the opportunities he did have. He also spun wonderful yarns about fellow Negro Leaguers such as Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige. Great stuff.

Great, too, was the speech Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy delivered in Canton when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He had us laughing and crying and feeling the gratitude he felt for a life well-lived.

One other sports speech that sticks out was given by boxer Ruben Hurricane Carter, who was unjustly imprisoned for nearly two decades for a double-murder he didn’t commit. Longtime boxing promoter and all-around good guy Jim Cassidy and I saw Carter speak to a high school assembly outside of Toronto. He talked about not allowing himself to feel bitter about the time he lost because to do so would be tantamount to still being jailed.

And, one I didn’t hear live (no, I’m not that old) was Lou Gehrig’s famous “Luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech. It’s been correctly called baseball’s “Gettysburg Address.”
A week after his head thumped against the hardwood, SU leading scorer Kris Joseph is hoping to return to action Saturday against Villanova in the Carrier Dome. The junior forward is anxious to get back because his absence clearly was felt in the Orange men’s first loss of the season, Monday night at Pitt. Plus, he wants to be on the floor Saturday because it appears the Orange faithful are going to break the on-campus basketball record established at the Dome last year when 34,616 fans showed up for these same two teams. The game tips off at noon, and Syracuse officials are urging fans to arrive early because there could be one, humdinger of a traffic jam. (For more on SU hoops, check out my weekly column at ***

Thanks to my friend, Erik Brady of USA Today, for the great print and web story and Q-and-A about my latest book, “Jewel of the Sports World: The Story of the Hickok Belt Award.” Here’s the link if you want to check it out:

There is no truth to the rumor that I have applied for the Mayor of Rochester vacancy. But after seeing three different people hold the office in the past three weeks, I seriously considered it. I heard it pays a lot more than freelance writing does, and the benefits can't be beat.

This tidbit, courtesy of one of the most respected journalists I know (my wife, Beth): Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords will undergo therapy at the same Houston hospital where Kevin Everett rehabbed. Here’s praying she has as miraculous a recovery as the former Buffalo Bills tight end had after suffering temporary paralysis.
Now that the Russian owner of the New Jersey Nets has said nyet to the Carmelo Anthony trade will the Melo-drama finally see the former Syracuse star wind up with the New York Knicks? I think so, even though Knick management has played coy throughout this never-ending soap opera. Let’s just hope for everybody’s sake that this doesn’t drag on for the 35 days still remaining before the NBA trading deadline.
Good to see my friend and former colleague, Bob Matthews, back in the newspaper and on the air. He graciously asked me to be his guest tonight from 7-8 on WHAM 1180-AM. Give us a buzz at 585-222-1180 to talk sports of all sorts.
My picks for this week’s NFL Final Four (6-2 past two weeks, but I didn’t pick the Jets over New England): Pittsburgh over the Jets, 23-16 and Green Bay over Da Bears, 31-24.
One final shameless plug (hey, it’s my cyberspace ;-): Check out Sunday’s Canandaigua Messenger-Post for my second of three installments looking back on the 20th anniversary of the Bills first trip to the Super Bowl. It’s been fun, especially given the last 10 years of mediocrity, to relive those special times.

1 comment:

ron mack said...

The different speeches is a very nice thought provoking article. It helps dust off the cobwebs.