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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Steelers - Gary Glick (The 1950s)

I know it says halfback,
but I didn't find evidence
of him playing there.
Who?  Starting in 1937, each NFL team went into a ‘pool’ to receive one bonus first round pick. In fact, it was the very first pick in the draft, back when it didn’t cost too much to sign that player. There was no free agency and players had jobs during the off season.The first pick in the draft was extremely valuable and practical, unlike today. After being selected, that team would be removed from future pools/drafts until every NFL team had gotten one of these bonus picks.
In 1956, only the Steelers, Chicago Cardinals and Green Bay Packers were left in the current pool. In a public drawing, Commissioner Bert Bell (former Steelers co-owner) put three slips, one marked with an X and B-O-N-U-S on it, into a gray felt fedora (classy, eh?). Then he told Dan Rooney to make the first selection. Rooney, from where he was standing, saw where the X slip was placed. So he snagged it, gaining the bonus pick. Rooney doesn’t think Bell did this intentionally, but…
A few weeks before, the coach of Colorado A&M (later to be Colorado State) sent a letter to Walt Kiesling (this guy was a Hall of Fame offensive lineman but a train wreck as a coach. You may remember the Unitas debacle from The Fifties entry), telling him about this phenomenal defensive back/quarterback named Gary Glick that he had. The defensive-minded Kiesling was determined to snatch this gem out from underneath everyone’s noses. Dan Rooney argued that nobody had scouted Glick: not even the Steelers! He could be taken in the third round: no need to use the bonus pick. 
 Kiesling refused to budge and Art Rooney, again letting his coaches make their own decisions, backed him. So, Pittsburgh took Glick with the bonus pick. They passed on future Hall of Famer Lenny Moore (Colts) and Super Bowl QB Earl Morrall in the first round, as well as Heisman Trophy winner Hop Along Cassady from Ohio State. That draft included future Hall of Famers Sam Huff, Willie Davis and Bart Starr.
A few weeks later, film of Glick came in. It showed a wind-swept stadium with open seats, dogs running onto the field and no benches for players on the side lines. The Glick Era was over before it began. Glick did play seven seasons in the NFL, three for Pittsburgh, as a safety, but didn’t exactly live up to his first pick status. Glick remains the ONLY defensive back ever chosen with the first pick. 
Just another example of the ineptitude that was the Pittsburgh Steelers before the Chuck Noll Era. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Parable of the Rejected Gift

A father wished to give his son a valuable gift. It was a precious gift and he knew that marvelous benefits would accrue to his son from it. With great sacrifice, the father made this gift available to his son. But the son rejected the gift. He did not want it, even though the father told him of the rewards it would bring. The father was grieved because he loved his child. But rather than take the gift back, he left it for his son, to be accepted at any time.
Refusing the offer does not nullify the gift. Jesus died on the cross for our sins, so that we might be saved. Denying Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection does not ‘cancel out’ those events. They occurred, whether or not we choose to accept what he did for us. God's offer for salvation can be claimed upuntil the moment we take our last breath.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How George Raft Made Humphrey Bogart a Star - I

OK, I’ll admit that the title is a bit of an over-simplification. However, in the annals of Hollywood, never has one actor so torpedoed his own career, while pushing another actor upward at the same time. Let’s take a look at this story.

George Raft grew up in Hell’s Kitchen, New York, where he was a childhood friend of Owney Madden, who would become a powerful mobster in the days of Prohibition. Raft toyed with being a boxer and then taught himself to dance. He hit it big in Vaudeville in the early twenties and was a top dancer. At the same time, he hung out with professional gangsters, gaining access to them through his friendship with Downey. He studied how they walked and talked, and mastered the art of imitating their mannerisms.

After appearing in a few films as a dancer, he broke through in 1932. Long before Rod Steiger and Al Pacino played Capone roles, Paul Muni made a classic gangster film: Scarface – Shame of a Nation. Raft had a part as Rinaldo, a coin-flipping gunman. Raft played a great gangster because he knew the real deals and used mobsters such as Arnold Rothstein as models. Raft received strong reviews for his character.

He had the lead in a 1935 version of Dashiell Hammett’s The Glass Key, though it is Alan Ladd’s portrayal in 1942 that is remembered today. Several elements of The Glass Key can be found in the Coen Brothers’ Miller’s Crossing, one of the finest gangster films of the past forty years.

In 1937, Raft turned down the role of Baby Face Martin in Dead End. He felt that Martin wasn’t sympathetic enough, and he didn’t like the way Martin’s mother slapped him in the movie. Dead End was a very successful stage play and MGM was making a big budget adaptation. It would have been a good role for Raft.

Instead, Bogart was cast as Martin and got good reviews. The film was directed by William Wyler, who would tap Bogart late in his career for the lead role in The Desperate Hours. So, Raft rejects a role and Humphrey Bogart takes it. We are on the cusp of a pattern developing.

George Raft signed with Warner Brothers in 1939 as part of their “Murder’s Row.” Paul Muni, James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson were already at Warners and gave the studio the strongest lineup of tough guy leading men. Muni’s days at Warners were winding down and Raft had every opportunity to supplant Cagney and Robinson to become number one. Meanwhile, a guy named Bogart played supporting roles in which he was usually gunned down by the star (maybe he could have headed up Warner’s “Murdered Row”).

Word is that as soon as Raft signed with Warners, he bumped Bogart out of the “Hood Stacey” role in Each Dawn I Die, with James Cagney.  Each Dawn I Die holds up well today but might have been even better with Bogart instead of Raft. 
Or maybe not.Raft played his part well.

Continued in Part II 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Why I'm a Christian

Really, it all boils down to John 3:16;
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
There is almost NOTHING I would not do for my little boy. My mundane life revolves around him. The idea that God sent his son to the cross to pay for my sins and all the sins of mankind is staggering. I would undergo any torture for my son, but I wouldn’t submit him to a single hurt. So, for God to send Christ to take my place and offer me eternal life with him and his son… Well, I just don’t have the arrogance, the chutzpah, to say “Thanks, but no thanks.”
I can’t summon up the hubris to do anything other than thank him for this unimaginable sacrifice and revel in my blessings. It would be the epitome of ungratefulness to do otherwise.
If you acknowledge John 3:16, then you truly understand John a few verses later in 14:6 when he writes,
“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”
Those two verses are the whole core of human life. God loves us. God sacrificed his Son for our sins. And if we accept that, we gain eternity with God. Everything else is window dressing.
In How Many Kings, Downhere sang:
How many kings, stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
How many Gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that has torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?
Only one did that for me
So, this Easter holiday, celebrate the most important event in the history of the world and acknowledge Jesus as your redeemer.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Steelers - The 1950's (1950-1959)

The decade’s winning percentage crawled towards .500, but no playoff appearances. The game changed to feature more passing, and the defenses responded to this; but not so much in Pittsburgh, where the coaching staffs clung to ‘old style’ football, to predictably poor results.

Tag Line – The best yet: but still not very good.
54-63-3 (.450 pct)
Winning Seasons: 2/10
.500 Seasons: 3/10
Playoffs: 0 seasons

Buddy Parker
A combined 13-9-2 in the final two years of the decade: the only winning seasons in the fifties. On the one hand, a little bit of hope. On the other, eight painful years with a total record of 41-54-1. Quarterback Bobby Layne and head coach Buddy Parker gave the Steelers an identity of tough football, though history largely recalls them as hard drinking good old boys. Things unraveled after Jock Sutherland’s unexpected death and the team couldn’t get on track. Parker is a bit of a legendary Steelers character from the 'old' days. He seemed to fight with everybody from the ball boy up through the NFL Commissioner

THE SIGNAL CALLERS - Regarding Steelers QBs, the 1950s was quite an interesting decade. Jim Finks was at the helm for four seasons and set team records for passing as Pittsburgh grudgingly opened up the offense. Finks went on to a long career as an NFL executive. While in Minnesota, he traded away Fran Tarkenton and then traded back for him. He put together the 1985 (Super Bowl Shuffle) Bears and he was in New Orleans for that team’s first ever winning season.
He was replaced for one season in Pittsburgh by Ted Marchibroda. A successful NFL coach, Marchibroda would lead the Colts during the Bert Jones days. Jones was a really good QB in the late seventies. Marchibroda returned to Baltimore and was at the helm for Jim Harbaugh’s hail mary at the end of the 1996 AFC title game in Pittsburgh.
Next up was Earl Morrall. Morrall took over for an injured Bob Griese in 1972 and actually won more games than Griese did en route to the Dolphins’ perfect season. But he had a bad game in the AFC Championship game (a 21-17 win over the Steelers) and Griese got the nod for the Super Bowl start. Morrall may be best known as the losing QB when Joe Namath led the Jets to the biggest upset in NFL history in Super Bowl III.
Layne in action against the New York Giants
Then, it was Bobby Layne, who would go into the Hall of Fame for his earlier work with the Detroit Lions. For his combination of play and leadership, Layne was probably the greatest Steelers QB until Bradshaw. Lions fans still criticize the team for trading Layne and believe it caused a curse in effect today. There are three more notable quarterbacks I’ll mention below.

THE CHIEF CALLS A PLAY - Pittsburgh refused to shift to a passing mode, at one point starting every game with a run up the middle by Fran Rogel. Bob Drum of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, sitting in the press box, would sing “Hi diddle diddle, Rogel up the middle’ before the Steelers’ opening play of every game.

Art Rooney got so frustrated that he ordered Walt Kiesling to call a pass play to start one game. This was the only time he sent in a play. Grudgingly, the coach followed suit. It was an 80 yard TD! But the Steelers were called for off sides, the ball came back, and Rogel ran up the middle for one yard on the next play. Kiesling said to Rooney, “I told you it wouldn’t work.” That’s typical of how the Steelers crawled through the fifties, conceding progress in the game inch by inch.
TWO STARS ON D - The best player of the decade was defensive tackle Ernie Stautner, who spent his entire 13 year career as a Steeler. He was a nine time pro bowler, missed only six games and entered the Hall of Fame as a 100% Steeler. Stautner went on to a long coaching career, including serving as the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator for sixteen years.

Jack Butler was a pro bowler every year from 1951 through 1959 and intercepted fifty-two passes in his career, including four in one game. Butler and Stautner would have fit right in on the great Steelers defenses of the seventies.
SUMMARY – Record-wise, Steeler fans didn’t have much to cheer for, but that shouldn’t have been a surprise. Layne (who did not wear a facemask) is remembered as one of the toughest, hardest playing QBs of all time. And stars like receiver Elbie Nickel, all around offensive threat Lynn Chandnois and defensive lineman Big Daddy Lipscomb were top flight NFL players. But the team just couldn’t put it all together for an entire season. 

TRIVIA – Man. It’s not too tough to single out the WORST personnel move in team history. Johnny Unitas was a high school legend in Pittsburgh before going on to play his college ball at Louisville, having a rather undistinguished career there. The Steelers took him in the ninth round of the 1955 draft. And they CUT him in camp. Walt Kiesling (remember him?) didn’t like Unitas, saying he was ‘too dumb.’ The entire summer and training camp, Kiesling didn’t let Unitas take a single snap in practice. JOHNNY UNITAS!!! The Rooney siblings all liked Unitas, but Art’s standard practice was to let his coaches make their own decisions. So even though Art Rooney thought that Unitas had potential, he backed Keisling.

Johnny U. took a construction job, then worked in a steel mill to feed his family and played semi-pro ball on weekends. In Pittsburgh. Not far from Forbes Field, where the Steelers were struggling. Seriously. Unitas got a last minute offer to try out for the Colts in 1956 and went on to become arguably the greatest QB in NFL history. The losing Steelers certainly couldn’t have used a guy like that now, could they?
The fledgling AFL gave NFL
backups like Len Dawson a
chance to shine
In 1957, they snagged Len Dawson, from Purdue with a first round pick. In three seasons he threw 17 passes, they cut him and he went on to the Hall of Fame as a Kansas City Chief. The Steelers drafted and cut TWO Hall of Fame QBs in an era when they stank. Lovely. And the very next pick after Dawson: some fellow named Jim Brown.

Ditto for Jack Kemp

And as if that weren't enough, in 1957, future Hall of Famer and presidential candidate Jack Kemp rode the bench in Pittsburgh. Yeesh!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Harold Camping - Just Guessing about the Rapture

So, what are we to make of Harold Camping and his prediction that the Rapture will occur in less than two months? On May 21, 2011, to be exact. Having determined the year of Noah’s Flood (that’s probably worth a discussion in itself) to get us to 2011, he then used the biblically ‘significant’ numbers of 5, 10 and 17 to come up with May 21.

Now, the specifics of the Rapture and the Second Coming of Jesus are contested issues among various camps of Christianity. But the basic premise of the Rapture comes from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. He writes in 4:17 – “Then, together with them” (referring to the dead in Christ, who will have risen first), ”we who are still alive and remain on the earth, will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”

So, it is when we who are saved through Christ will be taken up from earth and  meet Jesus, who will have descended from Heaven. The best-selling ‘Left Behind’ novels open with the Rapture and probably represent the most commonly held view of the Rapture.

Can we look in the Bible and find any comment on Camping’s date? Yes, the Bible tells us Camping is making a guess. We can determine for ourselves whether it’s a good one or a wild one. But it’s just a guess.

In Mathew 24:36, Jesus tells his disciples, “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son of Man himself. Only the Father knows.”

With the exception of dropping the words “of Man,” this is repeated verbatim in Mark 13:32.

Further passages reveal that Jesus is making the point that since no one knows he will return, we must all be prepared and live our lives appropriately. Various books of the Bible contain information that lets us look for signs of the coming events, and tells us what will happen during them. But Jesus clearly states that no one, not even God in his human guise, can know when. So Harold Camping can predict away, but he’s just guessing. Hopefully he’ll guess better than his first end of times prediction.

Personally, I hope he’s right. I’m ready for Heaven and an end to sin on earth. I remember seeing bumper stickers that say "After the Rapture, I'll be driving your car." You can have it, buddy. Good luck with the end of times.