Mike Kueber's Blog

December 30, 2013

Sunday Book Review #118 – The Kids Got It Right by Jim Dent

Filed under: Book reviews,Culture,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 11:15 pm
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The Kids Got It Right is a story about the friendship formed between two high school football stars – a black Jerry LeVias and a white Bill Bradley – and how that friendship jump-started the move toward athletic desegregation in Texas.

The backdrop for the book, as suggested by its subtitle “How the Texas All-Stars Kicked Down Racial Walls,” was an all-star football game called the Big 33 Football Classic between 33 Texas and 33 Pennsylvania high schoolers in 1965.  Pennsylvania won the first match in 1964 by a score of 12-6 because most of Texas’s best players were playing on that same day in a more important intra-state North South game.  To avoid a similar debacle in 1965, the Texas governor John Connally intervened to move the intra-state game to a week earlier.  For additional insurance against a humiliating repeat, the Texas coach Bobby Layne decided to include three black players, including speedster receiver/return-man Jerry LeVias.

The story reads a lot like Jackie Robinson in baseball, with Bobby Layne playing the role of Branch Rickey.  Bill Bradley is key because he helps incorporate LeVias into the team by being the only player willing to room with him.  (The other two blacks roomed together.)

The result – LeVias plays a strong supporting role to Bradley’s starring role in leading the Texans to a 26-10 victory.  Texas stomped Pennsylvania again in 1966 (34-2) and 1967 (45-14), after which Pennsylvania declared “no mas,” and started playing either Ohio or Maryland kids.  The current PA record is 1-3 against Texas, 12-13 against Ohio, and 7-2 against Maryland.  So much for a PA juggernaut!

Bill Bradley went on to play QB for the Texas Longhorns before being supplanted by James Street when Texas developed the Wishbone offense.  Instead of sulking in ignominy, Bradley moved to defense and became an All-American defensive back at Texas and an All-Pro safety for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Jerry LeVias went on to become the second black to play in the Southwest Conference and earned All-American honors at SMU and All-Pro honors for the Houston Oilers.

Bobby Layne was one of the greatest QBs in history (his number has been retired by UT and the Detroit Lions), but he had a problem with drinking too much and was unable to get a job coaching outside of this volunteer gig.  One of his best partying friends was Dallas neighbor Mickey Mantle, who stole Layne’s line, “If I’d known I was gonna live this long, I’d have taken a lot better care of myself.”  Layne died at 59; Mantle at 63.

The aspect of this story that struck me most was not the personal relationship between Bradley and LeVias but rather the so-called gentlemen’s agreement amongst SWC coaches, including my hero Darrel Royal, to not recruit blacks.  I guess it’s like Michael Jordan saying that he was trying to be a winner, not lead a social movement.  In fact, the Longhorns remained all-white until 1970, when black Julius Whittier joined the team.   Years later, Whittier told the NY Times, “I was a jock, plain and simple.  I didn’t care about civil rights or making a mark. I just wanted to play big-time football.”  Although some might argue that the Longhorns eventually had to integrate to keep up with other teams, it is worth noting that they won the football national championship in 1969, with the famous anointment by President Nixon after their game with Arkansas.

Incidentally, the Wikipedia write-ups on Jerry LeVias, Bobby Layne, Bill Bradley, and the Big 33 Football Classic failed to say anything about the specialness of the 1965 game.

November 24, 2011

Sports and politics

Filed under: Issues,Politics,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 3:23 pm
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As I prepare to spend a large portion of Thanksgiving at my son’s home watching professional and college football, including the Thanksgiving Classic between Texas and A&M, I noticed an article in the Texas Tribune reporting that a state legislator from San Antonio (A&M alum Lyle Larson) is lobbying to ensure that this century-old traditional game doesn’t end.  You see, A&M is moving to another conference next year, and Texas has decided against including A&M on its non-conference schedule.

Unfortunately, politics and sports usually don’t mix.  We had that experience a few months ago in North Dakota.  The heavy-handed, politically-correct NCAA insisted that my alma mater, the University of North Dakota (UND), drop the Fighting Sioux as our mascot, and the University administration caved; but not so, our politicians.  The North Dakota legislature passed a law that required UND to keep its mascot, but even the legislature had to recently capitulate when they learned the effect of NCAA-imposed sanctions.

I also remember more than three years ago when a refreshing, energetic, sports-minded presidential candidate, Barack Obama, told us that he would use his presidential power to solve the single greatest, intractable sports problem in America – i.e., the Bowl Championship Series (BCS).  Virtually all American college football fans want a playoff instead of the single-game BCS, but the Establishment (college presidents) isn’t listening.  As with many of candidate Obama’s promises, it met with reality and things haven’t changed that much from the Bush-43 administration.

As a Texas fan, I would vote to see the Texas/A&M tradition continue.  Furthermore, this sports vs. politics dispute is exceptional because we are dealing with two state schools.  Therefore, I think the state legislature has the right to intervene and do what’s right for Texas voters.

Go Lyle Larson, and hopefully we will see you next Thanksgiving, too.

September 25, 2010

Lists from a 57-year-old man

Yesterday was my 57th birthday, but, no, I have not decided to create a bucket list.  Instead the following is more like The Book of Lists, which was a popular book first published in 1977 when I was attending law school.  The Book of Lists was written by David Wallechinsky, his father Irving Wallace (author of porn classic The Fan Club), and his sister Amy Wallace, and it contained hundreds of interesting lists.  I hope you find these lists interesting. 

My favorite sports teams

Having grown up as a provincial, parochial rube in North Dakota, I had five predictable favorite teams as a kid:

  1. Milwaukee Braves (with Hank Aaron) – the Braves were the MLB team closest to North Dakota until the Washington team moved to Minneapolis/St. Paul in 1961.  I stuck with the Braves while my brother Greg switched to the Twins.
  2. The Green Bay Packers (with Paul Horning and Bart Starr) – the Packers were the NFL team closest to North Dakota until Minneapolis/St. Paul was awarded a franchise in 1961.  I would rather fight than switch (an old cigarette commercial), but my brother Greg switched to the Vikings.
  3. Los Angeles Lakers (with Jerry West) – the Lakers were the NBA team closest to North Dakota until they moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles in 1960.
  4. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish (with Ara Parseghian, John Huarte, and Terry Hanratty) – although the school’s Catholicism probably had something to do with my fandom, it probably was due to their Midwestern base and nationwide network and prominence.
  5. The University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux (with Dave Osborn and Phil Jackson) – I only knew one other area team (North Dakota State Bison).  UND was a liberal-arts school while NDSU was a science/agriculture school.  I was a liberal-arts guy who planned to go to law school.

Forty years later, I have evolved into a sophisticated, cosmopolitan, worldly guy and my favorite teams reflect that evolution:

  1. Minnesota Vikings.  If only one of my teams could win its championship, I would want it to be the Vikings, and Brett Favre is the reason.  Two years ago, when he was at the Jets, they were my favorite team.  And before that, the Packers.
  2. San Antonio Spurs.  Although they are the only MLB team in San Antonio, I suspect they would be one of my favorites even if I lived elsewhere.  Pop is my kind of coach (reminds me of Tom Laughlin of the NY football Giants), and Duncan, Ginobli, Parker, and owner Holt are great.  What’s not to love?
  3. Texas Longhorns.  I fell hard for the Longhorns during my law-school years, during which I experienced first-hand Darrell Royal’s last year of coaching and Earl Campbell’s Heisman victory.  My love for the Horns ensured that I had no mixed emotions when the Horns played and lost to Notre Dame for the national title in the 1978 Cotton Bowl, and I’ve never rooted the Irish since, except when I felt sorry for their coach Jerry Faust.
  4. Dallas Cowboys.  I have almost forgiven Jerry Jones for firing Barry Switzer.  Although Switzer was a mortal enemy of my all-time favorite coach Darrell Royal, I took a shine to Switzer and rooted against the Cowboys for several years after his firing, but Wade Phillips and Tony Romo are winning me back.
  5. Los Angeles Dodgers.  My love for New York City caused me to switch from the Braves to the Yankees many years ago, and their Torre years were the best.  But when the Steinbrenners rudely showed Torre the door, I went with him to LA.

My five least favorite teams: 

  1. New Orleans Saints.  If I could only one team to lose its championship, it would be the Saints because they are the only team that can threaten my most cherished record in sports – the Green Bay Packers under Vince Lombardi won three NFL titles in a row (1966-68).  The Saints have only won one, but any streak that reaches two is too close for comfort.  (I know this sounds like the small-minded Dolphins rooting against any unbeaten team.)
  2. Miami Heat.  It’s natural to hate a team that is loaded with dominating talent.  Thus, the Heat should be the most hated team of all time.
  3. USC Trojans.  I hate coaches who show no loyalty to their school.  Lane Kiffen appears to be the quintessential opportunist.
  4. San Diego Chargers.  Ever since they discarded Drew Brees for Phillip Rivers, I’ve been rooting for Rivers to fail.
  5. St. Louis baseball Cardinals.  I’m tired of hearing that LaRussa is a genius, and I don’t want Puhols to replace Aaron as the greatest home-run hitter of all time.

My favorite politicians

Although not nearly as important as sport teams, politicians are one of my fascinations.  My favorites are the following:

  1. Richard Nixon.  I like to describe Nixon as a junkyard dog.  By that, I mean that he grew up having to scrap for everything he got; kind of like a kid in a big family with not enough money.  That’s why some characterize him as having a chip on his shoulder and not fully refined or civilized.  I have some of those same traits, and I attribute some of it as due to affirmative action, which became popular in government and large corporations just as I was looking to get ahead in the world.  All of a sudden, these employers that were traditionally a route for all disadvantaged people to get ahead were reserved primarily for women and minorities.  Disadvantaged white males were supposed to “take one for the team.”  
  2. Dwight Eisenhower.  Although Nixon and Eisenhower grew up in similar circumstances, Eisenhower’s personality was diametrically different in that he was always a graceful winner and comfortable in his own skin.  His biographers describe him as not particularly creative or brilliant, but someone with integrity, intelligence, personal skills, and an abundance of judgment and common sense.  I wanted to be like him, and when Debbie wouldn’t let me name our third son after Nixon (she hated the nickname Dick), I compromised with Thomas Dwight.
  3. George W. Bush.  W. is a Texan, a sports guy, a patriot, and a right-center politician who transformed education policy and tried to fix immigration.  And he was just what America needed after 9/11.  His big mistake was to cut taxes instead of raising them to pay for our wars.
  4. Ronald Reagan.  I was a huge Reagan fan during his administration and was so happy when Bush-41’s election provided the ultimate popular ratification of Reagan’s tenure.  But I grew tired of the Reagan revolution by the end of Bush’s term and voted for Perot.  By that time I had become a deficit hawk, and although Reagan made fundamental changes to America’s direction by cutting taxes and increasing defense spending, he sacrificed fiscal responsibility by failing to cut domestic spending.  
  5. Mitt Romney.  While looking for a presidential candidate for 2012, I read Romney’s No Apologies and found his positions to be a perfect match for right-of-center me and America.  Just as importantly, his positions were based on a sound analysis.  My only concern is that, although his book stayed away from social issues like abortion because they are not as amenable to analysis, he revealed some intolerant righteousness when he discussed legalization of marijuana.

My top-ten BFFs (girls and family excluded)

  1. Landis Tande
  2. David Odegaard
  3. Mike Crocker
  4. Marv Leibowitz
  5. Tom Wynne
  6. Mike Vigus
  7. Robert Icenhauer-Ramirez
  8. Kevin Brown
  9. Don Iverson
  10. Mike Callen
  11. George Joy – not
  12. Michael Foley – not

My top-ten favorite books of fiction

  1. Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
  2. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  3. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
  4. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  5. The Fan Club by Irving Wallace
  6. Sayonara by James Michener
  7. Wheels by Arthur Hailey
  8. Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig
  9. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
  10. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

My top-ten favorite books of non-fiction

  1. The Great Bridge by David McCullough
  2. The Power Broker by Robert Caro
  3. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
  4. A Patriot’s History of the United States by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen
  5. The Next 100 Years by George Friedman
  6. Free to Choose by Milton Friedman
  7. Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose
  8. The Dilbert Principle by Scott Adams
  9. The Autobiography of Malcolm X
  10. The Death and Life of the Great American School System by Diane Ravitch

My top-ten favorite movies

  1. Lonesome Dove
  2. Hud
  3. Casablanca
  4. Gone With The Wind
  5. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence
  6. Shane
  7. Centennial
  8. Patton
  9. Pretty Woman
  10. American President

My top-ten movie stars

  1. John Wayne
  2. Clint Eastwood
  3. Paul Newman
  4. Robert Redford
  5. Marilyn Monroe
  6. Mel Gibson
  7. Clark Gable
  8. Humphrey Bogart
  9. Robert Duvall
  10. Angelina Jolie

My top-twenty favorite songs

  1. Universal Soldier by Donovan
  2. Father & Son by Cat Stevens
  3. Amarillo by Morning by Terry Stafford
  4. Wrapped by George Strait
  5. Ringo by Lorne Greene
  6. It Must Have Been Love by Roxette
  7. Wild Geese by Joan Armatrading
  8. Austin by Blake Shelton
  9. I’m Gonna Be Strong by Gene Pitney
  10. Angie by The Rolling Stones
  11. No Place That Far by Sara Evans w/ Vince Gill
  12. Burn by Johnny Cash
  13. The Poor Side of Town by Johnny Rivers
  14. The Lady in Red by Chris de Burgh
  15. I Will Always Love You by Vince Gill and Dolly Parton
  16. I Want to Love You Forever by Jessica Simpson
  17. Unchained Melody by The Righteous Brothers
  18. Something in Red by Lorrie Morgan
  19. El Paso by Marty Robbins
  20. Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler and Meatloaf

My top-ten evocative songs

  1. Rumors by Fleetwood Mac – Valerie Lebeaux and Tom Wynne
  2. Fire & Rain by James Taylor – Katie Taylor and Julie Ophaug
  3. Kind of a Drag by the Buckinghams – Debbie Lee
  4. Tiny Dancer by Elton John – Larry Honnel, West Hall, UND
  5. Billy & Sue by B.J. Thomas – Mark Kueber in Korea
  6. Mr. Lonely by Bobby Vinton – Winter chores in ND
  7. He’ll Have to Go by Jim Reeves – Dad
  8. Foolish Games by Jewel – Sakina Hassonjee
  9. Should’ve Never by JLo – Tejana Temptress
  10. Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground and anything else by Willie Nelson or John Denver – Debbie Kueber
  11. She’s in Love with the Boy by Trisha Yearwood – Stephanie Melain
  12. I Wanna Talk About Me – Tina Spencer

Upon further reflection, maybe I haven’t evolved into a wordly, cosmopolitan, sophisticated person after all.