Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Eulogy for my Nana

 My grandmother went by many names. Margaret. Peg. Mom. Aunt Peggy. Mrs B. Nana. Mommy's Nana and  Udder Nana. I’ve never known a single person to say anything negative about her. There was never any reason to. She was filled with nothing but love for her children, her grand children, her five sisters and her dear husband.

When Pop-Pop died Nana stayed true to her Bernie. As a matter of fact I think she started watching sports more and shows that he would have watched because he would have been watching it. With all due respect to the great man on the cross if they made a bracelet that said What Would Bernie Do, I bet Nana would have worn one. If she watched the Phillies because of Pop-Pop she watched Notre Dame Football in spite of Pop Pop. Oh how Nana loved her Irish. I couldn’t watch a game with her without her telling me about the old days of Bill Shakespeare. Now I don’t know my Bill Shakespeare from Bill Shakespeare but it made her so happy to tell me the stories and it made me so happy to hear them even if it was every week.

The most fun you could ever have with that woman was watching a Notre Dame Football game. She would get so excited when the Irish broke off for a big play. OOOOh OOOOh. And she would go crazy when they did it again on the very next play. I never had the heart to tell her that it was a replay so we always let her go on thinking they did it again. I think it’s safe to say that she clearly enjoyed a Notre Dame game twice as much as the average fan, especially when you factor in the replays. On that note, Nana, by now you’ve learned that when we said we gave you a half a beer, yeah, it was actually a full one. And you drank it like a champ.

  I’d like to think that I had a special relationship with Nana. Not any more special than anyone else, but special nonetheless. Growing up 2 doors down from your grandparents will do that. When I was sick I would stay with my Nana. She is the only person to this day that I know who could take a temperature reading just by a hand on the belly. I don’t know if it was accurate but it sure was comforting. Nana and I spent a lot of time together, especially my year of Kindergarten. If I had morning session I would spend the second part of the day with my Nana. If I was in the afternoon, Id spend the morning with her. Either way we were sharing a lunch of hot dogs or PB and J. It was nana who helped out my love for both. And graham crackers dipped in hot tea. And a full sleeve of saltine crackers with butter, jelly, butter and jelly or peanut butter. Man did I love those crackers. And boy did I love that time with my nana. Even if I was forced to watch General Hospital, which for the longest time I was convinced that I would see her  as one of the writers because she always seemed to know what was next. Hot dogs, crackers, GH and Nana. What more could a kid need?

As many of you know, just over a month ago, steps from where she is now, Lynn and I were married. I prayed that she would make it to see that day and I am so blessed and grateful that she was able to do so. In preparation of that day I had one simple request- I was escorting my nana down the aisle. You don’t normally see the groom bringing anyone down the aisle but nana wasn’t just any woman. I had walked her down the aisle at other weddings and I was certainly going to do it for mine as well. It made my day when I walked back and snuck up behind her and told her I was escorting her. She gave me the biggest smile and said “good, I wouldn’t want it any other way.” I’ll never forget that moment and I will cherish it forever. As well as the family dances at the reception when we had her surrounded for what would become our final family picture.

I have a million memories of great times with Nana but there is one moment that is my all-time favorite memory of her and I, one that not many people are aware of. It came on August 14th, 2001, the day we lost pop-pop. He may have been gone for an hour, perhaps 2 but no more than that and my mom and I brought nana back to the house. We were the first ones to arrive and my mom then ran out to the store leaving just me and nana sitting alone on the couch. I had my arm around her and she sat with her head on my shoulder, our other hands together on her lap. We sat in silence just her and I for what seemed like an hour, neither of us needing to say a word. She finally broke the silence with “matt, I miss him already.” I told her I did too and we continued to sit in silence until the rest of the family started to filter in.

I know I speak for everyone here when I say “Nana. We miss you already.”

Monday, January 24, 2011

Don't tell Urlacher

Maurice Jones-Drew and I finally have something in common - Brian Urlacher doesn't like what we have to say about his quarterback. I haven't pretended to be a doctor since I was in college so I don't know for a fact whether or not Jay Cutler was seriously injured during Sunday's NFC title game, but I wanted to see more of him. I wanted to see more out of him.

In the coming days, or so, I assume we'll hear what really went down in the locker room and sidelines of Soldier Field but until that happens, we are left to speculate. I would never wish major injury on anybody but unless an MRI shows significant ligament damage or something similar, I don't know that there would be anything that would satisfy our questioning. It was the NFC Championship game, a trip to Dallas on the line, you need to be out there on the field.

Phillip Rivers played in a title game with a torn ACL. Hell, even Donovan McNabb finished out a game with a fractured leg. Now, I'm not going to say that he should have played on a significant injury but I didn't see that he even wanted to play. And maybe that's where I see the biggest issue. Argue with Mike Martz and Lovie Smith. Tell them that you "need to be in this fucking game!" Throw a water bottle, kick something, I don't care, but show me that YOU do. Show me that you care that you can't be in there. Maybe all of that happened in the locker room. I don't know. But since the majority of the people can only see what's on TV, you need to make sure it plays out on TV. Don't worry, the cameras will find you. If the equipment manager comes to hide your helmet so you can't get back in, the cameras will catch your argument. Troy Aikman would tell a story about when the same things happened to him in Dallas and he'd say that he hopes most of America can't read lips after your profanity-laced argument but we'd all see how much you want to be out there with your team.

Jay Cutler knows his body, he says. He knows when enough is enough. To a certain extent I believe that. He couldn't pinpoint the exact time when his knee started hurting though, he just knew it was some time in the first half. If it was a serious injury, don't you think you'd remember the play. You'd remember who hit you, when it happened and how much it hurt? Your knee hurts, OK. Suck it up and get out there. It comes down to this - was he injured or hurt? If you are injured, then get some ice, get a set of crutches and cheer on your boys. If you are hurt, get some ice, get a set of balls and get out there with your boys.

If he can't go, whether his call or the team doctor's I get that. But I need to see that he wants to be out there and I need to see why he can't be out there. Just saying that he is out with an apparent knee injury doesn't do anything for me. If I'm a Chicago fan, I'm pissed off today. The defense did enough to keep them in the game, and some dude named Caleb lead them on 2 scoring drives. Would Cutler have done better? I don't know. He's good for a few INTs so maybe he throws the decisive pick-six anyway. But despite horrible mechanics that I've never trusted, I still think that Jay Cutler, even at 75% is a better option than the other 2.

I don't have a problem with Brian Urlacher sticking up for his teammate. I respect that a lot. I would expect nothing else from a classy guy like Urlacher. But at the end of the day, when he looks back on yesterday I would expect Brian himself to be thinking that they were 30 minutes away from the Super Bowl, down only 2 scores. I expect him to think about what it would take to get himself out of the game. I don't expect him to ever say it publicly, but deep down Brian Urlacher is thinking the same thing - I can't believe they label a torn vagina as a knee injury in the NFL.

Monday, February 22, 2010

"I didn't expect that" On Ice

Unbelievable? Yes. Unexpected? Yes. Miracle? Not even close.

For everything that last night's hockey game between Team USA and Team Canada was, miraculous was not one of them. So our team of professionals went into their country and beat their team of professionals and we're supposed to call it a miracle? Basically for one night, at least, our millionaires were better than their millionaires.

I understand why everyone wants to hop on the "Miracle" bandwagon. As I sit and type, it is literally the 30th Anniversary of the US over the Soviets in Lake Placid. We all get caught up in the memory so we try to project that upon what we witnessed last night. Back in 1980, Team USA was made up of college amateurs. Team USSR was the Red Army, highly skilled professionals who lived hockey and their dominance over the decades proved that. Just a few weeks before, the Soviets destroyed Team USA on our own turf and were expected to do so again in Lake Placid. Throw in the backdrop of the Cold War and the movie writes itself. Where does last night compare?

Canada is favored to win the Gold. News Flash... they still can. It was in Canada. OK, Canada beat the US in the Gold Medal Game in 2002... in UTAH... and that wasn't seen as a Miracle. But the US hasn't beaten the Canadians in the Olympics in 50-plus years. True... but the Olympics don't happen every year so when you break it down, the US was only 0-5-1 in that span, hardly Notre Dame over Navy.

It was a great game. It was exciting as hell. When the last goal crossed into the empty net, I jumped off the floor and did some sort of tae-bo exercise celebration, but it was far from miraculous. It wasn't even for a medal. If the US comes out and loses in the quarterfinals and leaves Vancouver without a medal how much will last night mean? That's not to take anything away from last night. The United States showed that they can play with Canada and effectively showed that they can play with anyone in the world. It sure made me proud but not once did I think it came close to 1980.

Last time I checked, we played our friends to the North, not the Taliban. And I'm pretty sure that Bin laden hasn't been training his men and dominating the hockey landscape for the better part of a decade only to fall to us on the Olympic Stage. Unless I missed all of that somehow, quit with the Miracle II talk. I realize that 2010's Ryan Suter is the son of Bob Suter from 1980 and that this year's team has a Ryan Callahan and 1980 had a Jack O'Callahan and that Brooks Orpik was named after Herb Brooks, but seriously, the comparisons should end there.

Last night was a great win and hopefully another step on the return to the medal stand. But 1980 was a moment in time that should stand alone. Not even Tiger Woods transcended the game like that group of kids that shocked the world. To even try to compare anything to that diminishes what they did.

I will say this, though. There is a comparison to make from last night to 1980. Some people will look back to 1980 as the birth of the USA USA chant that echoed through that arena. Last night it echoed again, on Canadian soil, on Facebook and in bars and living rooms all throughout the country. None of the talk was about brakes or healthcare or affairs. There weren't red states and blue states. There was only red, white and blue states. For the first time in a long time, the country came together.

Do you believe in miracles?

Monday, January 18, 2010

10 Years later: A Remembrance

As I sit down to write, I try in vain to remember what I did just 10 days ago. It was a Friday, so I assume I went to the office, did the radio show at the smoke shop and saw Lynn, but even though it was only 10 days ago, the details are just not there in my mind. And yet at the same time, I can recall vivid details of a night 10 years ago. I guess it's pretty easy when it is a night that changed my life forever.

Ten years ago tonight into the wee hours of the morning, I slept through and escaped the fire at Seton Hall University. It was my school. It was my building. And it was my floor: the Third Floor of Boland Hall. It was a night of firsts for me and sadly a night of lasts, including the last breaths for three of my classmates.

The night before was one of the first big basketball wins of my college life. I couldn't make it because of a night class but I followed along as Sammy Dalembert and company defeated a tough St John's team in a pivotal game en route to an NCAA berth. Later in the evening, I had one of the best talks ever with my roommate. Brendan and I had lived together for four months or so but that night for some reason we ended up having a great conversation. I remember staying up until 3AM talking about anything and everything in a great "getting to know you" moment. An hour and a half later we were awake again.

The fire alarms started going off sometime around 4:30 or so. Brendan and I both acknowledged the noise with the obligatory swear word and pulled the pillows over our heads. It was a cold January morning and there was no way we were going outside. You see, a month earlier during final exam week, we had close to 50 false alarms as pranksters put in the finishing touches of their frat pledging. We slept through the alarms in the past, we would do it again. Or so we thought. When the sounds of the alarm became drowned out by the sounds of running and screaming, we knew it was time to leave. When I opened the door to a wave of smoke, we knew it was time to leave NOW. After a few hours of being bounced around from building to building, I finally settled in to my home away from home. Being a work study in the Communication Department gave me a set of keys so while the entire freshman class sat in the cold cafeteria, Brendan and I set off for the TV Studio. It was surreal to turn on the News and see a live chopper shot of the building that I was sleeping in only a few hours before. It was alone in this room, while Brendan slept on a couch nearby, that I learned that this fire was fatal. This nightmare was real.

I was fortunate, though. All of my friends were accounted for and with the exception of a little smoke inhalation, I was fine. We were allowed back into the building after a week and after a few loads of laundry you could barely make out the smell of smoke. Let me correct that statement. Physically I was fine. Emotionally, I would never be the same.

It was sometime during the week that I was home, I found myself in my grandparents' kitchen reading the newspaper. It was in this particular edition that I saw a detailed map of the third floor and where the fire took place. It wasn't until this moment that I realized that I very possibly had been saved by a door. Boland Hall was made up of two wings that were connected by the Bridge, a short hallway and dorm rooms. At one end of the Bridge was the lounge, where three couches were engulfed in flames that measured close to 1500 degrees within five minutes. At the other end of the bridge was a door, and just outside of that door was the door to my room - 323 South Boland Hall. I don't consider myself having a near death experience. I never thought of myself in grave danger, even as I exited the building in a thick fog of smoke. But as I looked at the map, and realized our close proximity, it definitely made me think, especially when I saw that at least one of the young men who died was actually further away then I was. What if my room was on the other side of the door? What if that door wasn't there? Not a day has gone by that I haven't thanked God for something as simple as a door.

At the end of the day, I am just one of the hundreds of people who made it out all right. Sure, within a day I was in the hometown paper and on the Evening news but my story is not a special one. But my story allows me to tell the tale of Frank and Aaron and John, who weren't fortunate enough to tell their own story. My story allows me to honor the countless heroes that night, from emergency personnel to school staff to fellow students who did their part to help.

I think about the events of that night on a daily basis. I think about the hell my parents went through when they couldn't get in touch with me for hours. I think about the hours I spent in the police station reliving every detail. My story was so accurate that years later I was scheduled to be a key witness in the trial. Luckily the 2 accused copped a plea before it went to trial, so I was spared the anguish of reliving it yet again in court. They were given a maximum of 5 years in prison for their crimes. You would think that 3 dead, 58 injured and hundreds of lives changed forever would be worth more than that but this blog isn't long enough to dissect the workings of the judicial system.

A few years after the fire, I heard a student complain about a fire drill the night before. It kept her outside for a good hour, she said. I really had no patience for that and I told her as bluntly as possible that I didn't want to hear it. I once had a fire drill that kept me outside for a week, and three of my classmates never made it back inside.

So on the 10th Anniversary of that fateful night, I will do my three shots, as I have done every year since. And I will think about Frank and Aaron and John and all those affected by the events of that night. And I will do the only thing that I can do - I will REMEMBER.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fall from grace

"I'm not a role model. Just because I can dunk a basketball doesn't mean I should raise your kids." ~ Charles Barkley

Perhaps the Round Mound of Rebound was right all along. It's not up to him or other athletes to set the tone for the youth of America. If there is anything we have learned in 2009, why would be want them to?

Just a few weeks into this past year, the news broke about the prior steroid use of Alex Rodriguez. While the last few years taught us to never be surprised about a baseball player and his indiscretions, we, as fans, always held out hope that the heir apparent to the Human Asterisk was clean. Now A-Rod and Barry Bonds are forever linked for more than just home runs. At the end of the year, Rodriguez and his teammates were enjoying another champagne shower and the press conference of February seemed so far away. What does that teach the kids?

You could say that A-Rod's "fall" came only from the top of the new Yankee Stadium facade. If that's the case, Tiger Woods fell from the top of the Empire State Building, if someone happened to move the famous skyscraper to the top of Mount Everest. The divorce proceedings have just begun and the endorsement losses are still mounting up, but it is already clear that the biggest star in the world will never be the same. The biggest lesson we learned in 2009 is that as much as we think we know these athletes and entertainers, we don't know them at all.

Just because we can watch a guy can hit a 500 ft home run or land a 178 yard shot softly on the green does not mean we know them. No matter what they say when the red light is on, does not mean we have any idea of the person when the cameras are put away. We think we know them and yet we have no idea. We drink Pepsi because A-Rod does and we use the Gillette Fusion because Tiger told us to. These two, and hundreds of athletes like them, do their job and they do it well. But that does not mean they should be raising our kids.

The guys want to be them. The girls want to be with them. They are strong and powerful and can do their jobs better than most people can ever dream of. They are rich and have their pick of the hottest girls out there. And if you're Tiger Woods, you don't even have to pick, you can just have them all. We buy their jerseys and their products and we strive to be like them. Growing up, our parents want us to be like them too.

Why can't we just enjoy them for what they are as athletes instead of anointing them the savior of the world? The guy who waited on me from Chik-Fil-A this morning did a great job but I don't know what kind of person he is when he is off the clock. It's the same thing with athletes. When they are away from the field, ice, court, or course, we really have no idea who they are. I'll be honest, I'm fine with that. As long as they entertain me while they are working, I don't care what they do off the clock, within reason, of course.

Instead of trying to raise the next Alex Rodriguez or the next Tiger Woods, why don't we strive to raise the first (insert name here)? And even if he or she can't hit the curveball or nail the 45 ft putt, maybe they will be raised with some values that we can all be proud of. Remember, just because he can bare hand the bunt attempt or effortlessly get out of the sand, it doesn't mean he should raise your kids.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Not so Golden Dome

Charlie Weis thinks he is bigger then the Golden Dome. Even though from the right angle he may LOOK this way, he is in no way, shape or form bigger then the Golden Dome. Charlie Weis is not bigger then the University of Notre Dame. He may finally realize this when he is packing his things in the not so distant future.

Count me among the many Domers who applauded the hiring of Charlie Weis and the great pedigree he brought with him. When the news broke, we opened up the Rudy DVD and brought out the ties that play the Victory March when you press the button. When Charlie appeared on Quite Frankly with Stephen A. Smith and looked into the camera and said "we don't care about Urban Meyer at the University of Notre Dame", we put on the Irish gear and I think we actually felt a little taller, even as Meyer and the Gators were winning National Titles.

Looks like we fell for the Great Weis Hype. Sure, the Irish got to the BCS in his first two seasons but did they actually show up for the games? I thought an extra month of preperation was supposed to be the huge advantage for Charlie. There is still a great debate of whether it was Brady Quinn who made Charlie Weis a success early or the other way around. That debate is on hold as Quinn is hardly helping his case in the NFL but neither side has shown much without the other.

When your best "win" is a close loss to USC, that is not Notre Dame. When Service Academies have left South Bend victorious on their last THREE trips into town, that is not Notre Dame. And when the coach makes decisions based on his own arrogance and fails to gain first downs and victories, that is not Notre Dame.

The Kool-Aid has run dry. The landscape of college football has shifted. Gone are the days when you needed to play at Notre Dame to be seen on TV. Gone are the days when the Victory March and the Golden Dome are enough to get the kids to sign on the dotted line. None of this is Charlie's fault but he has done nothing to help the situation. Notre Dame should suck it up and join a conference. No longer can you handle a schedule such as theirs and expect to compete for BCS berths and National Championships. Join a league, win it from time to time and play in some BCS games. Another idea would be to actually win one of those, too.

Charlie Weis was not the savior we all thought he would be. He is no different from Bob Davies and Tyrone Willingham. Perhaps history will be a little kinder to Bob and Ty seeing as the great Charlie Weis and his fist-full of Super Bowl Rings couldn't get the job done either.

I have nothing against Charlie Weis. I wish him the best of luck as he goes back to the NFL as an Offensive Coordinator where he belongs.

For a long time now, Jesus is no longer signaling for the touchdown on the side of the library. Lately he is telling the campus that he has "had it up to here with Charlie Weis."

I think it's time to listen.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Fear not Red Sox Nation

When the news of Manny Ramirez and his failed drug test started to come out there were two people I wanted to hear from - Bill Simmons and Chris Kindred.

Bill Simmons is better known as the Sports Guy, from, the Magazine and everything else the World Wide Leader wants to use him in. He's a Red Sox fan through and through and after reading his book following the '04 World Series, I was curious as to how he was taking the news. To be honest, even after reading his initial column, I'm still not sure how he is taking it. Chance are, he isn't either. The news of Manny Ramirez testing positive for a banned substance in 2009 makes you wonder what was going on in 2004. And when you start looking at the roster and the previous history of the players, coupled with what has transpired since, lets just say it makes you wonder. As an outsider looking in, I'm not sure how it feels to be a Red Sox fan today.

Which is where Chris Kindred comes in. Chris is my cousin by blood but he might as well be my brother and is a card-carrying curse-cursing member of Red Sox Nation. We spoke briefly as the news was coming out but it wasnt until much later that we had a chance to speak at length on the subject. I'm sure the thoughts were there of "was he?" and "do you think?" but it wasn't until he read Bill Simmons' column that it actually sunk in? Chris was 21 years old when the Sox won the title in 2004. While he could literally say that his beloved Sox had not won the World Series in his lifetime, he was well aware that his complaints did not hold the same weight as the grandfathers in Boston who had seen generations of players come through the gates of Fenway without a parade. But he felt it. He knew what it was all about and he knew what 2004 meant to every man, woman and child of Red Sox Nation. He knew what it meant to him. Less than five years later, he now questioned whether it meant anything at all.

I asked him how he felt when he saw Jason Varitek jump into the arms of Keith Foulke. He used terms like euphoric and amazing, knowing that he didn't wait a long time, but he felt he waited long enough. He thought back to the near misses. There was Grady Little leaving Pedro in a little too long and Aaron bleeping Boone sending one high and far and gone. All of that changed in one magical October ride. Gone were the chants of nineteen-eighteen. As Bill Simmons wrote, now he could die in peace. Five years and another World Championship later, does that all change?

My answer was simple - not at all. You may have doubts about the players and maybe you wont look back on certain teams the same way but it doesnt change how you felt that day and that month and that season. A 21-year-old kid was able to see something that hadn't happened in 86 years and it made his year. You can never take that away and you should never want to.

And think about it. The Red Sox had to get through the Yankees during the 2004 playoffs and as we know Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte were all in pinstripes. Lets just say that even if Manny and the boys had a little help, it was quite possibly an even playing field anyway.

The Summer of '98 was a big part of my life as a baseball fan. Every chance I got to watch my hero chase a record that had stood for 37 years, I was glued to the TV. As Fox cut in to Cardinals games, so did I. When a loveable guy from Chicago joined the race it was must see TV as these two superheroes traded homers and hugs. Looking back on it, maybe superhero was the proper term as it appears these men, and countless others, were doing things that humans just shouldn't be able to do. I look back on that summer a little differently now, but I still look back in fondness. My love for baseball grew and I will never forget where I was when I heard Joe Buck's call - "Down the left field line. Is it enough? GONE!"

Maybe we look back on things a little differently these days. But baseball gives us wonderful moments and nothing can take those memories away. Nothing can take away the joy that I felt, that my cousin felt and that baseball fans all across the world have felt when watching the sport. My cousin loved baseball in October of 2004. I loved baseball in September of 1998 and I love baseball today. That doesnt change. Not now, and not ever.