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SPORTS GUY: Giving sports a black eye

They say life begins at 40. Maybe that’s why it took four decades for yours truly to be served up his first black eye.

The life moment occurred roughly two hours before the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve when the puck at the Yellowstone Quake hockey game ricocheted into the area where I was standing to photograph the game. It bounced off the boards first, but ultimately wound up bouncing off me as I attempted to evade its flight path.

MY LOUSY WORLD: Top 10 things a-comin’

Before diverting my column topic last week, I was writing my top 10 list of 2010 highs and lows. But since I didn’t get out of the house a whole lot last year, I was really stumped coming up with more than a few. I had that really bad haircut early in the year, that collection agency cleaned out my checking account on 9/11, and then my TV up-and-died last week. Finally, I secured a nice replacement TV on New Year’s Eve, and that was about it for highlights of the year.

AN OPEN BOOK: The cat came back


If you happen to see us out in public these days, you’re bound to hear some meowing — along with some strange, not-quite-intelligible words.

Much to our dismay, the large cat alter-ego of 3-year-old Bliss is back. In full force.

It was probably a year ago, maybe a bit more, that I first wrote about Blissy’s ever-changing alter-egos. First, she was a helicopter, followed by a kitty and the oil-pumper (not Mom’s favorite, to be sure.) Then, miraculously, the small girl just began being, well, herself.

The big issue these days is the national debt.

Pretty much everyone agrees that this is a serious problem for the U.S., and they should. The idea of the nation going bankrupt should give everyone pause. Some even claim our very freedom is at stake if we don’t solve the crisis, and they may be right.

Personally, I think the nation can weather the storm, but I think it will require a change in our thinking about what patriotism really is.

AN OPEN BOOK: Missing my grandparents

My paternal grandfather, known as Papa, died last week.

He was my last living grandparent, and I was surprised to feel such overwhelming feelings of being “orphaned” when he died. Not having any grandparents left is going to take some getting used to — even at the ripe old age of 36.

My mom's dad, Grandpa Stoney, was the first to go, way back when I was a sophomore in high school. The rough, tough, carousing old cowboy left boots no one could hope (or want) to fill. But there was a side of him that others didn't see — the loving, funny, kind and smart man who loved his family and spoiled his grandkids and dogs almost equally.

One of my favorite recollections is of one of our many “covert” trips to Dairy Queen with Grandpa. (Mom didn't approve of sweets, but Grandpa didn't pay her much mind.) He loaded my sister and me into his beat-up pickup truck on a sweltering summer day.
As we neared Cody, we were stopped briefly for construction, but we continued on our way. When we got to the Dairy Queen, Grandpa ordered four chocolate milkshakes.

Hallie and I looked at each other, then asked him why. There were only three of us in the vehicle.

“That poor little flagger back there looked awful hot,” he replied.

Grammy, my mom's mother, was next, in 2003. In her quiet way, she left a legacy even larger than her husband's in many ways — at least for her family. Her grace, patience and non-judgmental nature is something I always strive to live up to. But, best of all, she was more than a grandma to us, she was our dear friend and confidante. I still have the urge to call her when I have news — important or mundane, funny or sad, it didn't matter. Grammy was always the first to know.

When my paternal grandmother died two years ago, we, of course, mourned Nana's loss. Not as warm and approachable as Grammy, she was, nonetheless, a remarkable woman. From her early days of traveling by train with her father's rodeo company, rodeo clowns teaching her how to do a proper headstand in the arena dirt at Madison Square Garden, to her later years as a wife, mother and grandmother, she had many tales to tell. Her four grandchildren were privileged to hear hours and hours of stories over the years.

Nana was also the cook, the entertainer, who inspired my love of both and taught me how to do them right.

And now, her husband, Papa, is gone.

He was a talented singer and musician, and he remained a steadfast supporter of the Wyoming Cowboys right up to the end. Even during this dismal football season, his optimism never wavered.

“They just need some time to get things right,” he'd say, before going on to list the things the Cowboys had done well in the game.
He was also stubborn and opinionated and, as a former fighter pilot, he never lost his need to be in control.

After Nana's funeral in 2008, he remarked off-handedly that he reckoned he had about two years left in him before he went to join her.

Somehow, no one who knew him well was terribly surprised when, true to his prediction, he died two years — to the day — after she did.

That's just how Papa was.

At the risk of being called a name-dropper, my friend, Sen. Al Simpson called me yesterday, and he apparently misinterpreted something I casually mentioned as we talked. I said, “It's a coincidence you called since I ran into Sue today.” My friend Al replied, “You ran over my daughter? Was she hurt?”

We exchanged a few more word-play quips, but Al couldn't talk long since he was leaving again for D.C. the next morning. He mentioned that he had “managed to tick off nearly everyone in the country lately,” but I assured him I'd never be among them. For someone so high-profile (He was once a Senator, ya know?) to remain concerned about the welfare of a stumblebum like me speaks volumes of the gangly statesman.

Obviously I hadn't actually run over Sue Simpson Gallagher with my truck, so I should have more carefully worded it as, “I came across Sue today,” or “My and Sue's paths crossed.” But even if my friend, Sen. Al Simpson's confusion was feigned, it highlights what is often a huge obstacle in casual conversation: what I like to call “Inadvertent Simile Snafu.”

So many distinct words are so similar in spelling and/or pronunciation, yet so distant in meaning, that intent can be badly misconstrued. For instance, “incompetent” and “incontinent.” That might not be the best example, since those two words at least aren't diametrically opposed. For instance my dog Trina, since she was rendered incontinent when she was (in this case, literally) run into, it's not entirely inaccurate to confuse the words. Her keester, now being “incontinent,” is in a way, “incompetent.”

But other words separated by only a single letter or two can lead the listener wildly astray. I once heard a pastor delivering a sermon about some Biblical leader who spent so much alone time with his “concubine” that his wife was furious. I sat there in my pew (not to be confused with “P-U; you stink!”) thinking: “But in the husband's defense, when a man works the fields all day, it's easy to become attached to your farm equipment. At least he didn't run off with one of the oxen.”

I later learned that a concubine is, “a woman who is the lover of a wealthy, married man, but with the social status of a subordinate form of wife, often kept in a separate home.” A combine of course, is defined as “a machine that reaps and threshes grain.” I was even more outraged though, to finally realize this Godly man was reaping — and quite possibly threshing – his concubine, or mistress, if you will.

Should someone call me “supercilious,” which means “full of contempt and arrogance,” I might assume they admired my “super-silliness.” I'm not ashamed of my humor, nor should I be. But I am never arrogant and I don't show contempt, except once for the court, which landed me in the klink, or “hooskow.”

These nearly-identical words and phrases can be misconstrued so easily that complimentary can turn caustic in the stink of an eye. I might write to an author, “I just finished reading your book and I was appalled throughout.” She might angrily reply, “Oh yeah, joke boy? Well, I just read your latest column and I too was sickened!” She would never realize I was “enthralled,” but my spell-check was too illiterate to understand context.

Countless word similes can get one into trouble — “onion” and “bunion” for instance, among other food-related requests. While ordering a burger at a fast-food window, if I was asked, “Would you like flies with that?” I might superciliously answer, “Well, what do you think, Stupid?”

Cognizant of this type of misunderstanding, I would never tell an overweight, hard-of-hearing woman, “Well, at least you've got your health,” since “health” and “girth” sound too much alike.

Not to belabor the point, but if I were to offer my opinion on a subject and someone accused me of “vacillating too often,” I'd defensively snap, “How dare you judge me? And what business is it of yours how frequently I do it?!” Obviously “vacillate” can easily be misunderstood for…well, “exacerbate,” or “promulgate,” to name a few.

I'd like to add that no matter how others might judge my friend, Sen. Al Simpson's sometimes-irreverent wit, I happen to find it quite regressing. And I don't just bring that up to name-drip.

SPORTS GUY: Holiday shopping whoas'

It's the holiday season. Perhaps you tried your luck with Cyber Monday deals earlier this week. Maybe you acted like Punxsutawney Phil and poked your head out on Black Friday just long enough to see a crowd before retreating back inside your den for six more weeks of watching football.

But more than likely, if you're reading this column, you've been too busy with college football, the NFL and the start of the NHL, NBA and college basketball seasons to really have noticed. You're just now recognizing the calendar has flipped to December. You find yourself frantically staring at a countdown to Christmas and desperately in need of gift ideas to jump-start your holiday shopping.

Or maybe you're staring at this page because the sports fans in your life have been too busy watching their fifth basketball game of the week on ESPN to read the newspaper. That means they've probably been too busy to fill out holiday shopping lists telling you what they want.

Fret not, faithful reader. The Sports Guy is here and he's got your back covered.

Yours truly scoured the Internet in search of gift ideas for sports fans of all sizes and ages. Here's a smattering of the more peculiar recommendations:

•‘The Enlightened Bracketologist: The Final Four of Everything' — Even couch potatoes need reading material during commercial breaks and between kitchen runs for more chips and salsa. This book purportedly takes the Mother Lode of all sporting events —the NCAA basketball tournament — and applies the same concept to various cultural questions. See how a bracket of the top 64 movies of all time fared in head-to-head competition and argue about the Final Four. Pick the right topic and you might even find conversation steered away from sports for a few minutes.

Incidentally, people who liked this book also apparently like the title “101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die.” Apparently there were too many to fit on a 64-slot bracket?

• We all know golfers who are a tad, shall we say, overzealous when it comes to the game. Share your addiction fears by writing them a “parscription.” For a modest fee, your golfaholic will receive an orange-brown oversized medicine bottle filled with six golf balls and a personalized prescription label for whatever ails them — chronic bogeys, perhaps? — signed by Dr. Myrtle Beach.

• Customized M&Ms —Those delicious candy coated chocolates that you've gone crazy over since childhood? They apparently now come customized with the logo of your favorite sports team on them. I'm not quite clear if the idea here is to order your favorite team or if you're supposed to order ones bearing the logo of your hated rival so that you can, as cheerleaders have urged for decades, “eat ‘em up, eat ‘em up, rah, rah, rah!”

• The Lebron James Transformer — Kids love action figures. Kids love robots. Kids love things you can change. Presumably, this toy does all three. Then again, it might just have a button that changes the jersey from Cleveland to Miami.

• The Soccer Guys set —Advertised with a price of $25, this one appears to be a bargain. For your money you get “two soccer teams, referee, field, soccer ball and goals.” Where was this a year ago when Northwest College was trying to add a sports program on the cheap?

Then again, you could always just fall back on the tried and true sports apparel, a larger television set for us to watch the game on, or a nice comfy recliner to view the action from.

MY LOUSY WORLD: The name of the game

The No. 1 passer in the NFL is named Drew Brees. The two lowest-rated passers are Alex Smith and Derek Anderson.

You might think the disparity lies in natural ability or work ethic, but I insist it's all in the name. Drew “Cool” Brees was destined for greatness; the commonality of Smith and Anderson, mediocrity. Like any theory though, it can't be proven.

I recently opined about car names — my assertion being that a car named with passion and pride, like Dodge “Stealth” or Mustang “Cobra” will always be more in demand than something named Plymouth “Reliant.” Girls like bad boys and powerful — not reliable — cars.

The same holds true for athletes, and much of my wagering success over the past 30 years has been contingent on cool, descriptive player names. I won a lot of moola on the Mississippi Rebels in 2000 when they had a one-two running punch of Joe Gunn and “Deuce” McCallister.

A few years ago, I was successful betting against the South Carolina “Gamecocks” led by quarterback “Chris Smelly.” That's no field general! Deuce became a top NFL running back for the Saints, while Smelly of course, never went pro. Who would want to draft Smelly? If his first game was predictably bad, every sports headline in the country would read, “Smelly stinks it up in NFL debut.”

Earlier this season, I noticed an article “Jets sign Clowney, cut Woodhead.” I thought, “You get rid of a Woodhead, yet sign a Clowney? Why bother?” What a debacle it would have been if they'd all ended up on the same team — a Smelly quarterback handing off to Woodhead and passing to Clowney. The only way I'd ever bet them is if the opposition had a QB named Ben Barfbag passing to Moses Snailsby.

Not surprisingly, Clowney now has a total of one catch for the Jets. I must admit though, Woodhead — a former Chadron State player — has shocked me by averaging 5.4 yards a carry for the Patriots. I contend that's an aberration though. Normally, any last name with the suffix “-head” won't be landing on top. It's always gonna sound like a juvenile putdown, thus I'd never bet on a team led by a QB named Ron Rubbberhead or Pete Poopyhead.

Nicknames are a different animal altogether. When Craig “Ironhead” Heyward ran for the Pitt Panthers, I was all over it. A good “head” nickname while growing up nearly always denotes coolness. In school, we feared an upper-class bully named “Pearhead” Sample, and no one's girlfriend was safe from smooth-talking “Jughead” Marone.

My old Cody Legion teammate was nicknamed “Bullethead” after he intentionally broke the windshield of a parked car with his head at an out-of-town game. I withhold his last name in case there's still a price on his head.

The aforementioned Alex Smith wouldn't have necessarily been cursed had his parents given him a more awe-inspiring first name.

Currently, the Memphis Tigers have a freshman QB named “Cannon” Smith.” Give it a few years, and he'll be guiding an NFL team to the big game. Northwestern's running back “Adonis” Smith is gaining nearly 5 yards a run.

West Virginia put a smackdown on rival Pitt last week, led by QB Geno Smith, but then again, he's passing to a receiver named “Jock” Sanders with running back Noel “Devine” tearing up the turf. No Clowneys or Dunderheads on that team.

I loved the Oakland Raiders of old when they had running backs with names like Napoleon Kaufman and Zach Crockett and wide receivers Willie Gault and James Jett. Jett was fast, my friends.

And now it's time to start winning some Raider money again, all because of a little-known running back with the perfect name, “Rock Cartwright.” With a combined Flintstones/Bonanza handle, it's a can't-miss career on the horizon.

“Willie” will always be more successful than “Bill.” Bill Mays would never have made that famous over-the-head catch for the Giants, and Bill Stargell would have been a career .250 hitter with few home runs. Bill Joe Namath wouldn't have dared guarantee a Jets Super Bowl victory. Pro sports smiles on its Willies.

Looking for a dark horse to bet on next college football season? Might I suggest the obscure Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders? They have a QB named Dwight Dasher who will finally have his record-breaking season. Bet on it!

My name is Blough. As one might have predicted, I am a roofer.

Give me the benefit of your convictions if you have any, but keep your doubts to yourself, for I have enough of my own.”

That's what Christian author Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe admitted in Neil T. Anderson's book, “Overcoming Doubt.”

If a Christian giant with a name that long can admit a fragile faith, I won't keep my doubts to myself.

So over this Thanksgiving holiday, while giving thanks for what I have, I'll ask forgiveness for what I don't have: unshakeable faith. I realize faith means believing in advance what only makes sense in reverse, but sometimes that child-like faith God seeks is nearly impossible within the weary, savaged adult mind.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy — so happy that you have no sense of needing him — if you turn to him then with praise, you will be welcomed with open arms. But go to him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away.”

I suspect any Christian that has never felt that way, hasn't yet experienced true depression or family tragedy. About a month ago when a new friend I'd met in “Celebrate Recovery” a couple years ago — a beautiful, always-smiling, 31-year-old Christian girl who fought depression/insomnia for years — died suddenly, I talked to a relative about it.

There was a distant time when he had all the God answers and didn't welcome disagreement, but since he's had devastating, personal misfortune befall him, I find him much easier to talk to … much more “real.”

I mentioned those born into atheist or Muslim families and he suggested that everyone will at some time in their life recognize the “voice of God” beckoning.

I told him a schizophrenic constantly hears dozens of voices. “How would they even know which voice is God's?”

His answer meant more to me than any self-righteous, scripture quote that many will leave you with (those so heavenly-minded they're of no earthly good) before smugly walking away. He said humbly, “I don't understand it either. I think anyone who says they truly know God's ways and have all the answers are in for a huge surprise one day.”

Exactly! I not only don't have all the answers, I barely have any. I prayed unceasingly for my Godly sister Wanda's healing from ovarian cancer. I gave up alcohol for 18 months, I prayed, I fasted, I believed ... and she finally died a painfully prolonged death. How could I, or C.S. Lewis, have misinterpreted John 15:7: “If you remain in me and my words in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given to you?”

When her death appeared imminent, someone reminded me that it might be God's will for her to suffer and die. That made me angry!

I thought, “I'm supposed to pray how my Mom always taught me to pray — with the faith of a child my prayer will be answered, while bearing in mind the “not his will clause?”

If it's already been determined by an omnipotent God, why am I bothering to plead?

Even among Protestants who read the exact same Bible, one might suggest maybe she wasn't holy enough, or didn't believe strongly enough. When she visited Cody for the last time in 2005, a Pentecostal preacher who laid hands on her added to her mental anguish by asking if there might be some unforgiveness she might be holding onto without realizing it.

Some assured me her suffering was for some ultimate purpose that couldn't otherwise be fulfilled. C.S. Lewis for a time became a “Deist” — someone who believes in God but believes He doesn't intervene.

From what I've observed in my adult life, a fervent, prayerful Christian is in no way insulated from the same sudden, inexplicable pain a non-believer is subject to. Physical pain, clinical depression leading to suicidal thoughts ... even questioning one's faith, which leads to guilt, which leads to more questioning.

Rather than asking why a Christian would entertain doubts, a thoughtful, truthful person should ask, “Why wouldn't they?” C.S. Lewis did. Mother Theresa did in her last years. And inconsequential, weak Christians like myself do.

I felt some relief though with last Tuesday's Daily Bread study quoting Timothy, 2:13: “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.”

So I guess even if you don't understand my doubts, He does.

This is the moment of truth.

Well, actually, its much longer than a moment, like about six weeks, and during those six weeks, my self-discipline and willpower will be sorely tested.

I have known this test was coming ever since April. That's when I finally decided I had to keep the New Year's resolution I made in 1985 and lose some weight. To that end, I, along with my good wife, began paying closer attention to just exactly what we were eating and how much of it we were putting away.

Now this isn't the first time I've ever done this sort of thing. I've managed to diet for as long as two weeks on several occasions.

Those campaigns usually came to abject losses about five pounds later as soon as my brain began complaining about a chocolate shortage. Three or four Hershey bars or a large hot fudge sundae later, and I'd be on my way back to the original state of fatness.

But this time, to my surprise, I was successful beyond my wildest dreams. About 15 percent of myself has disappeared and I'm down to a weight I last saw in 1968. In wrestling terms, I've dropped more than three weight classes since April and have been forced to spend more money on clothes. Xantac and Prilosec, however, are no longer on my shopping list.

Now, though, I'm faced with Thanksgiving dinner, and I'm afraid my will power is getting a bit shaky. I can already smell the turkey roasting. I'm beginning to crave mashed potatoes and gravy, dreaming of sweet potatoes and imagining the whipped cream on a piece of pumpkin pie.

Even worse, the temptation doesn't end with the pumpkin pie. My imagination already has me spreading mustard on a cold turkey sandwich on Friday, if not sooner.

But, while Thanksgiving dinner does present a pitfall, I think I am prepared to handle it. I have not, after all, been a fundamentalist dieter. I've cut way back on pasta, but not completely avoided it, and, when the time is right, have indulged in a scone or nibbled a bit of cheesecake. I've even stopped at the Dairy Queen—only once, and for a small sundae — and eaten a Hershey bar, which took more than a week, since I only ate one square a day. In short, I've developed a modicum of self-discipline with regard to food.

So I think I'm fully armed to deal with Thanksgiving. I will, no doubt, eat too much, especially the potatoes and gravy, a dish I haven't eaten since last Thanksgiving, but I am prepared to compensate for it. After all, I managed to get through my birthday on only one small slice of carrot cake and went all summer without purchasing a large Blizzard at that place in Cody. If I can do that, I can handle Thanksgiving.

Unfortunately, Thanks-giving is followed by the cookie season, also known as December, which coincides with the candy season and the party mix season as well. Tis the season to be nibbling, to paraphrase an old Yuletide carol.

But though temptation will be everywhere, I am fully armed to resist it, and will triumph in the end.

At least I hope so, because, after 25 years, I'm pretty tired of making that New Year's resolution.

Page 59 of 66


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