Sunday, October 03, 2021

Tall, Strong Arm

For more than 15 years, 1992-2007, I was a daily commuter in the Boston area, driving up I-95 to my office near Route 128, Boston's version of the Beltway. Trapped in my taupe-colored Camry for 35 minutes each way on a good day and three hours on one really, really bad day, radio was my entertainment. The first few years of that drive I listened to Imus until he turned his show into a constant telethon for his children's ranch scam, so in the mid-90's I turned to WEEI sports radio.

At that time the Red Sox were still tagged as lovable losers and dominated the sports talk. The Patriots were largely ignored because they were utterly inept, but an amazing thing happened on Jan. 21, 1993: Owner James Orthwein, who was not considered a football genius, somehow convinced two-time Super Bowl champ Duane "Bill" Parcells to take the head coaching job. And because the Patriots had a dreadful 2-14 record in 1992, Parcells was able to take quarterback Drew Bledsoe #1 in the 1993 draft. Parcells and Bledsoe coming to town forever transformed the radio buzz surrounding the Patriots. Parcells press conferences were highly entertaining and became appointment listening. More importantly, Bledsoe and the Patriots began to win and they made the Super Bowl after the 1996 season. But just as they neared the pinnacle, it seemed as though they couldn't stand success.

There was chaos leading up to Super Bowl XXXI against the Packers. It was rumored that Parcells was on his way out because he didn't get along with Robert Kraft, who had bought the team from Orthwein in 1994. Indeed, mere seconds (it seemed) after the Packers finished off the Patriots 35-21, Parcells bolted to the hated New York Jets. Despite the tensions between the owner and the now-former HC, Kraft considered promoting Parcells' right-hand man Bill Belichick to be the new HC. Kraft eventually decided to make a clean break with the Parcells era, but he respected Belichick enough that he felt it was necessary explain his decision over dinner with their spouses. Instead of taking over the Patriots in 1997, Belichick went to the Jets to resume his recurring role as Parcells' defensive coordinator, with a deal in place to eventually become HC.

Pete Carroll took over as Patriots HC for three downward-trending seasons, then was fired. (Whatever happened to Pete?) By all accounts Bledsoe is a wonderful person, but I grew increasingly frustrated with his play. He could put up huge passing numbers but was a statue in the pocket, holding the ball too long and taking a lot of sacks. After that brief moment in the sun, the Patriots had slid back into mediocrity.

Parcells decided to move to the Jets front office after the 1999 season, which triggered the promotion of Belichick to head coach, per his contract. What followed was tremendously entertaining during my commutes listening to WEEI. As the story goes, Little Bill decided he didn't want Big Bill looking over his shoulder, he didn't like the Jets' ownership situation after the death of Leon Hess, he probably had a secret agreement with Kraft to finally take the head coaching job in New England. The bizarre events of January 2000 started with Belichick infamously scrawling his resignation as "HC of the NYJ" on a napkin, then stumbling through an explanation of his decision to a stunned audience at what was supposed to be his introductory press conference. Jets president Steve Gutman followed Belichick to the podium and said, "We should have some feelings of sorrow and regret for him and his family. He obviously has some inner turmoil." Big Bill wouldn't release Little Bill from his Jets contract to take the Patriots job, and a 23-day New York-Boston media circus ensued. Untimately, Commissioner Tagliabue got Parcells to settle for a draft pick from the Patriots, allowing Kraft to hire Belichick.

Completely unnoticed a few months later was the signing of the 199th selection in the 2000 NFL draft, Tom Brady, who managed to stick with the Patriots as the fourth-string quarterback. Never mind that NFL teams don't keep four quarterbacks. After Brady's first season in which he only dressed for two games and went 1-3 for six yards, Kraft gave Bledsoe the richest NFL contract to date, $10 million per year, despite an 5-11 team record, a 59% completion percentage (low by today's standards), 45 sacks, and only 17 TDs to 13 interceptions. Sometimes I wished they would put in Michael Bishop, the scrambler from K-State, just to cut down on the sacks. One of WEEI's frequent callers gave voice to my frustrations with Bledsoe: "He's tall, he's got a strong arm, he's tall, he's got a strong arm. And he's tall."

That damning faint praise was delivered by "Butch from the Cape," a mysterious Yankees fan who took joy in blistering the Boston teams on sports talk radio. WEEI obviously thought it was good for ratings to give Butch a platform as the New York a-hole that everyone in Boston could love to hate. It was rumored that Butch was a retired mobster, a rumor he no doubt reveled in. Although he certainly associated with lots of criminals in his shady life, it turned out that Butch was not a made man, just a small-time gambler and stool pigeon named Thomas Speers. Butch/Thomas actually was from Waterbury, Connecticut, but to the sports fans of Boston he was the prototypical arrogant New Yorker. His wicked laugh was one of WEEI's favorite sound bites. Even a pacifist like me wanted to punch him in the face, even though I largely agreed with him on Bledsoe.

September 2001 is forever defined by national tragedy, but it also was the month that Bledsoe suffered a serious injury against the Jets. When he went down, I expected Bishop to trot onto the field. The backup quarterback situation wasn't a topic the hosts and callers on WEEI bothered to talk about, so I didn't know that Bishop was no longer on the team and Brady had risen from #4 on the depth chart to #2 ahead of Damon Huard. Brady was unable to pull out that first game in relief, and there were rumblings that perhaps Belichick wasn't up to the job as his record was 5-13 to that point. As September turned to October and Boston sports fans were contemplating a lost football season with an inexperienced backup QB, the story spread that the notorious "Butch from the Cape" had cancer. Many WEEI listeners figured it was some weird scam being perpetrated by the degenerate gambler. No, he really was sick and he died October 17, 2001 at age 58, missing Brady's meteoric rise and the Red Sox breaking the Curse of the Bambino, not once but four times. With few exceptions since October 2001, sorrow, regret and inner turmoil has been the domain of hapless Jets fans.

Belichick's decision to stay with Brady after Bledsoe recovered was controversial at the time, even after Brady's storybook first Super Bowl win. I wanted Brady to be the quarterback because Bledsoe was an immobile sack machine. Not that Brady was fleet of foot, but he moved around the pocket well and got rid of the ball quickly. (Still does.) Belichick nipped the controversy in the bud and shipped Bledsoe off to Buffalo before the 2002 season. After three seasons with the Bills and two seasons with the Cowboys (and his old coach Duane Parcells), Bledsoe retired in April 2007. He's still only 49 years old, living the good life as a successful winemaker in his native state of Washington.

Twenty years and a few weeks after that initial 2001 relief appearance, 44-year-old Brady is returning to New England today with Tampa Bay as a 7-time Super Bowl champion and holder of every major career passing record except regular season passing yards. With just 69 yards today, he'll claim that record. Even though it will come as a visitor, I'm certain that 95% of the home crowd will cheer wildly when it happens. There is no dispute he has had the greatest career in NFL history, and most of that came as he lifted the Patriots to a level that could not have been imagined in September 2001. The two Bills, Bledsoe, Kraft, Adam "the Greatest Jackrabbit" Vinatieri and countless others played their roles in the rise of the Patriots. But if Brady had never happened, can anyone claim with a straight face that there still would be six Lombardis on display in Foxborough?

Brady is tall, he's got a strong (enough) arm, and he's the ultimate championship quarterback. Today, for (almost) certainly one last time, Brady leads a team out of the tunnel onto the New England turf. That the color of his uniform is different today than on 166 previous Foxborough gamedays will not matter to a still-adoring and grateful constituency. Decades of frustration with the Patriots ended when Belichick picked Brady over Bledsoe, symbolically coinciding with the death of the fake New York wise guy "Butch from the Cape," now so very long ago.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Opportunity

When I was a youth, Lew Alcindor was the best collegiate freshman basketball player, but didn't play one minute for UCLA. Back then, NCAA member schools had a theory that keeping freshmen on the sidelines gave them time to adjust to college, get their priorities straight and set them up for future success. Alcindor had to be content with three years of varsity ball before turning pro (and changing his name to Kareen Abdul Jabbar). There were allegations that a character named Sam Gilbert showered UCLA players with illegal benefits back then.

How things have changed. The freshman prohibition ended in 1972. Now colleges are lucky to get one year out of the most highly-regarded basketball recruits. The top football players can turn pro three years out of high school. But that's a handful of guys. New rules make it much easier for players to change colleges. They can even get paid something over the table, thanks to a recent court decision.

Of course there was some hand wringing regarding these changes, and no doubt there will be some horror stories that come to light of nomads who go from school to school, squander what little money they make, and end up with a useless degree in exercise management. But there will be some who will take advantage of the changes the correct way, cram two useful college degrees into five years, make a little money along the way, and enter the real world set up for future success. The opportunity is there but equity is not guaranteed, and that's the way it should be.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Sturgis +40

During my newspaper internship in the summer of 1978, back when newspapers were still a thing, I was told that members of the editorial staff all wrote a weekly column. Unlike most college students then and now, I didn't think the world would be all that interested in my opinions and observations, but I dutifully complied.

I returned to that newspaper the following year for my first real job after graduation. The location was Sturgis, SD, which at the time had 5,000 residents, two competing weekly papers, and (as it still does) a huge annual motorcycle rally. I was working for the upstart weekly, which eventually bought out its older competitor and started publishing twice a week. From 1979-84, in addition to my newswriting and photography duties, I wrote a weekend sports column for the Black Hills Press and a mid-week general-interest column for the Meade County Times-Tribune. (The highlight of my column-writing career was getting yelled at on the phone by the governor of South Dakota, "Wild Bill" Janklow, for expressing my dismay when he abruptly withdrew without explanation the State Board of Regents nomination of a local man.) Both of my columns were topped by a head-shot sketch by the newspaper's artist, Penny Green.

At this time of year when the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally gains the attention of the world for a couple weeks, I scan the Sturgis news to see if anything I'm familiar with has burned down or blown up. That's how I came across the obituary of Penny Harvey Green. She was age 78, survived by a large extended family, founded the Sturgis Art Show and Sturgis Cleanup, was a member of many community organizations, has her art displayed in countless places throughout the world, and was on the Sturgis City Council for 16 years. She was the type of person who makes a real contribution to the world and her community, unlike most who make it into what passes for the news these days.

We weren't close and my memory doesn't contain specific anecdotes about Penny, just the recollection that she did her job with great skill under deadline pressure. Whenever we needed any type of artwork, she could do it. And she provided this sketch for the big-shot junior columnist in the small-town pond. Skinny Tom, age 22 with an 80's porn stash, someone not sure the world was interested in his opinions, but he had his own sketch so he was sharing them anyway.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Fool me once

The bluebirds fooled me once this summer. There were three fledglings around my nest box, so I assumed they were hatched in that box. Not true; when I opened the box to clean it, it was completely empty.

There has been a lot of activity around the box the past few days. I'm not assuming anything, but the hope is these younger birds will produce their own batch before the season ends. I have literally hundreds of trailcam images from the past few days, and these are some of the better ones. The sixth and seventh image show that the birds are going inside the box.

If I did this the way I usually do it, my website would be overflowing with trailcam images. Instead I'm using the capability of Blogger to put them all in a slide show. Click on an image to see the larger version, then use the arrow keys to go forward and backward.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

New visitors, old photos

Our new house in Montana is near the forest, but there aren't many trees in the immediate vicinity. As I've been documenting here and in my trailcam blog, there has been a parade of bluebirds and hummingbirds going through the yard at the places I have set up for them, but we don't get the variety of birds that I got at my house in Massachusetts, for example. This morning I saw a woodpecker and a goldfinch pair, first time here for both species.

The woodpecker was a flicker, which is a relatively big bird that often forages on the ground. The goldfinch pair was the bright yellow male and the less colorful female. I didn't get photos today of either species, but I have some in my galleries from days gone by. The flicker is from Massachusetts 2004, and the goldfinch is from South Dakota 2010.


Massachusetts flicker 2004


South Dakota goldfinch 2010

Update: Not one but three flickers came to my improvised bird bath on July 26 and were captured on trailcam. A goldfinch has also been caught on trailcam but those images really aren't worth posting.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Bluebird hoax

Thirty-four days ago, I drilled out the hole of my bluebird box to accomodate the slightly larger size of mountain bluebirds. In the days since, I saw a bluebird pair going about their business around the box. Yesterday I saw three fledgling bluebirds within a few feet of the nest box, poking around the rocks and grass for insects. The timeline seemed tight but possible. A successful nestbox installation, yes?

Today I opened the box, intending to clean it for perhaps another brood yet this year. There was absolutely nothing inside, not a single blade of grass or pine needle. No nest, so where did the fledglings come from? They must have come from a box across the road, maybe 100 yards away. Why the parents hung around this box but didn't actually use it, I don't know. I do provide water, so maybe that's enough to attract them for day trips.

Wherever they are from, here they are.


Mountain Bluebird fledglings


Mountain Bluebird with a grasshopper


Mountain Bluebird fledgling


Mountain Bluebird fledgling


Mountain Bluebird adult male coming to empty nest box

Thursday, July 08, 2021

What's old

I've been using a Canon 5D Mark III as my flagship camera for the past nine years. It replaced a 1D Mark II, which I bought in 2004. I recently acquired a motion trigger that I can use with my Canon cameras, a Camtraptions Wireless Motion Sensor PIR v3. Its first mission was monitoring a bluebird nest box, and you can see the early results on my trailcam blog. In order to save wear and tear on the 5D shutter, I decided to get the 1D out of storage, where it has been since 2012.

The older camera is both amazing and frustrating. The amazing thing is it shoots bursts at a rate of 8.5 frames per second, which doesn't compare to what some modern top-end cameras can do but is faster than the 5D's 6 frames per second. That doesn't sound like a big difference, but I scared myself when I fired off a burst. The frustrating things about the 1D is it is terribly heavy and the sensor gets dirty. The 5D is much lighter and the vibrating sensor cleaner has been very effective. And of course the 1D has a low pixel count compared to later cameras, 8.2mp versus 22.3 for the 5D and 50+ for later cameras.

Still, the old camera took some good images. Here are three. The first is the very first I triggered in my back yard in Massachusetts on August 12, 2004. The second is one of my all-time favorites, a female cardinal, taken two days later. The third is another all-time favorite, perhaps my favorite image ever, Florida owls in 2008. The 1D Mark II was/is a capable camera and I hope to get some decent bluebird shots in my new back yard in Montana as I finally wear out its shutter.

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Red Lodge Summer 2021

I haven't bought a new cowboy hat or shot a rodeo since the early 1980's. This week I bought a new cowboy hat and took some shots at the Home of Champions Rodeo on the 4th of July in Red Lodge, MT. Helpful hint: A rodeo in Montana would not be a good venue to disrepect the United States of America flag or pass around a petition to defund the police.

In addition to the rodeo, I have photo groups set up for backyard wildlife, rodeo parade July 2-4, and the fireworks July 4. I will be adding to the backyard photos for the remainder of the summer, but for now this is what I have.


Mountain Bluebird


Parade


Rodeo


Fireworks

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Fire

What is officially known as the Robertson Draw Fire has caused a great deal of consternation in and around Red Lodge, MT, our new home. It actually started on Sunday but didn't become spectacular until Tuesday when rough terrain, 95-degree temperatures and high winds made it impossible to keep the flames from consuming the trees on most of Mount Maurice. A helicopter battling a blaze elsewhere in Montana crashed Tuesday due to the high winds (thankfully no fatalities), and everything was grounded here in the afternoon.

By Wednesday morning, conditions were more favorable for a string of airplanes and helicopters to dump water and fire retardant on the flames. The fire is still not under control, but it is not threatening the town at the moment. I thought for a while we might have to evacuate Tuesday, not in fear of the flames, but the thick smoke driven by the wind. Fortunately we were never hit by the smoke, and the forecast seems to indicate favorable winds (at least for us) for the next few days. Here are a few images and a video from Tuesday and Wednesday.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Bluebirds and Seattle

This spring has featured only one trip, to Washington State in May. Around home, the bluebirds, meadowlarks and deer make frequent appearances in the back yard. I used a trailcam to keep track of a bluebird couple scoping out my new birdhouse.

These images are of varying quality. The best ones are when I was able to bust out my DSLR and big 500mm lens. The Browning trailcams do a hideous job of image processing, but I got images I couldn't get without spending every daylight moment in the yard with the DSLR. The Reconyx trailcams have better image quality than the Brownings, but didn't seem sensitive enough to get the little birds so for now they are just tracking the deer and fox that traverse the yard. Click on one of the images to start the slide show at that point.


Mountain Bluebird


Mountain Bluebird on trailcam


Seattle

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

More Yellowstone

In January we did a snowcoach tour to Old Faithful, and this month we followed up with a drive through the Lamar Valley, the only road open to private vehicles in Yellowstone during the winter. We saw lots of bison, a few elk, and a couple groups of bighorn rams. We also toured the terraces in Mammoth Hot Springs, sharing the boardwalks with just a few others. I so much prefer Yellowstone in winter because the mobs of tourists are not there clogging up the parking lots. Click on an image to start the slide show at that point.


Mammoth Hot Springs Upper Terrace


Bison taking a snow nap


Bighorn

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Yellowstone in Winter

We live near Yellowstone National Park now so it is an easy mini-vacation during the pandemic. Winter is the best time to do Yellowstone because the crowds are gone and you can actually get to the thermal features that have jam-packed parking lots during the summer. We did a snow coach tour to the waterfalls a couple years ago, and this time we did the Old Faithful tour. Along the way we saw plenty of bison, a few coyotes, and a fox off in the distance.

Sometime this winter we want to do the Lamar Valley, which unlike most of the park is driveable in winter. We would hope to see elk and bighorns in that part of the park, as we did two years ago. Click on the image to start the slide show.


Bison in a geyser field