Thursday, August 27, 2009

Favre Fumbles Finale

Sports, after all, are forms of entertainment. For youngsters, the activities provide fun and promote health. At college and professional levels, sports generate diversions from the trials of the real world for millions of fans. For some, that probably is healthy, too.

No athlete over the past two decades has been more entertaining than Brett Favre. Whether you loved or hated the “kid” with the mighty arm and faulty judgment, he made some amazing plays on the gridiron. His daredevil approach sold a lot of tickets and piles of merchandise for the Packers, and also for their competitors in the National Football League. His country boy demeanor off the field, which now appears to have been faked, endeared him to young and old.

As a Packer fan since 1947, I had to love a guy who ended a 25-year string of mostly mediocre seasons and made Green Bay a proud football place once again. Favre was the biggest factor in a Super Bowl victory and a string of winning records. Nevertheless, I don’t have to love him anymore, and I don’t.

Most Packer fans forgave their idol when he started making an annual event out of hogging headlines as he agonized (his word) over leaving the game he claimed to love. We so appreciated his earlier positive contributions that we could overlook the juvenile negative situations he created in his final years of “will he, or won’t he, play next season.”

It was even OK with me when Favre came out of what looked like a real retirement for a try at one more championship with the New York Jets. Pro football is a business, and the quarterback had a right to seek a new employer in the twilight of his career. The problem is how he went about it. After double-dealing the Packers with a phony retirement announcement, he double-crossed the Jets with a “retirement” designed to get him a release so he could head to Minnesota, where prospects of a championship were better. Then he even cheated his new Viking teammates by coyly stalling the deal until the rigors of summer practice sessions no longer could affect him.

For a Packer fan, an aging local hero going to a team outside the “black and blue division” wasn’t much of a problem. But going to the Vikings is something like ex-Yankee great Yogi Berra coming out of retirement to signal pitches for the Boston Red Sox.

To the many records Favre holds he now can lay claim to the title of biggest liar, manipulator, and sell-out artist in the history of pro football. Oh sure, he’ll get into the NFL Hall of Fame fairly soon. He earned that with his achievements on the field. With his recent failures off the field, however, he is pretty well assured of a spot in the Hall of Shame. There he can join Pete Rose (I really didn’t bet that much), Michael Vick (Hide Your Beagle, Vick’s An Eagle), and other “heroes” who leave a lot to be desired as role models for our youngsters

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Thrill Is Gone

About once a month for the past eight years Sandy and I hopped into her car, put on some jumpy music, set the cruise control on 70, and enjoyed the mountain scenery on the 45-minute trip from our home near Ogden, Utah, to Malad, Idaho. There we had lunch and bet one dollar on each of the next ten Powerball drawings.

Playing the numbers is a bad bet, and we knew it. The odds of a win are very long. So our little trips were more in the nature of enjoyable outings than ventures into serious gambling. We won ten dollars once. We won three or four dollars a couple of times. One time, we bought a ticket for a friend and his numbers hit for $100. When I gave him his winnings, he bought me a beer. Not much of a payoff for our work as bookies.

But, as for other players, the prospect of instant riches for a small investment kept us going back. Because gambling was considered sinful as well as being illegal in Utah, we had the added incentive of experiencing the minor thrill of sneaking away from home to do something naughty.

We’ve now been Michigan residents for seven months. Betting on numbers, ponies, and all sorts of other things is perfectly legal. We haven’t placed a bet yet. Crossing the Otsego Township line to buy a lotto ticket in our favorite grocery store just doesn’t seem like a glamorous sampling of forbidden fruit.

However, a glitzy new casino recently opened about 20 miles in the other direction. Now, that is just a little bit more tempting . . .

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Gift of (Face) Value

In the early 1960s, our small Sales Promotion Department at The West Bend Company devoted considerable time to analyzing the desirability of various types of prizes. We usually had two or three national sales contests running simultaneously, and district managers and distributors sponsored many additional smaller contests.

There were two “golden rules” in the award selection arena. First, as with a gift item, a good prize was something desirable that the recipient wasn’t able or likely to get for themselves. Second, good prizes should appear to be worth more than they actually cost. Trophies and brief vacations at resorts were good. Clothing was not. One time, we gave away lots of Green Stamps, bought at a steep discount, of course.

Consider the savings bond. At the time, a $25 or $50 bond represented a fairly significant amount of extra cash for a salesperson. The grateful recipients seldom noted that our company paid only $18.75 or $37.50 for those bonds, and they would have to wait years to collect the advertised value.

Sandy and I recently qualified for a “face value” award, proving that the marketing maneuver remains in use. We wanted to get a Discover credit card to facilitate trading at a favorite discount store near our new home. Out of the blue came an ad displaying “$100” in big type as an incentive for new card owners. The small type said the $100 was a savings bond. Of course, the ad did not say that Discover would buy that wonderful $100 gift for $50.

I chuckled and ordered the card, citing the offer number. After all, $50 was a nice little bonus, and we wanted a card anyway. The very next day a new Discover ad came in the mail. This time the bonus was $100 in cash. I quickly got on the phone and asked if I could switch to the new offer, since our card order had only been approved a few hours earlier. The agent seemed surprised by my request. She said, “You mean cash is better than a bond?”

“Oh, yeah,” I said. She excused herself for a huddle with her boss. The verdict, delivered with several apologies, was that the savings bond was the only reward available to me.

Maybe there should be a golden rule for prize receiving--Don’t be too hasty about applying.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Finding a Genius

(Ed. note: This story appeared in Days with the Dads last December. Al Groncki, who was the contract supervisor at the McCoy Job Corps Center, read it and sent an e-mail saying the story essentially was correct, but some details were wrong. He was acquainted with the young man, and arranged his further education in Washington, DC. This version has the revisions Al suggested.)

I worked for nearly two years as public relations coordinator for the McCoy Job Corps Center located at Camp McCoy in western Wisconsin. In Job Corps, we had good kids, great kids, and some bad kids that may have been beyond redemption.

A few were brilliant. I carefully researched the background of one of these, and wrote a feature article about him that was printed in regional newspapers in Milwaukee and Minneapolis-St. Paul as well as local media, after they checked out the facts.

The 17-year-old Corpsman scored in the 99 percent level of the Stanford Achievement Tests. Math, science, language, history—name the subject, and he was outstanding. What made this amazing is that he never spent a single day in a school, nor was he home schooled in the usual sense.

Like many Job Corps enrollees (by the way, George Foreman was a Jobs Corps enrollee), our prodigy came from a troubled family. His parents both died when he was about 5 years old and he went to live with an aunt and uncle. A year or so later, his aunt died and he was left with the uncle. The uncle had been a teacher, but became a traveling salesman and sometime gambler. When the uncle went off to work or play, he dropped the boy off at a local library with some direction on what to read. However, the young man was pretty much on his own with freedom to explore all subject matter. He and the uncle discussed the day’s learning events most evenings.

For unknown reasons, the boy and his uncle had a falling out. The lad was abandoned in Milwaukee. By chance, he went to Catholic Charities (I phoned people there while verifying the story). They initially put him to work as a janitor. The people in charge soon realized he had extreme intelligence, but no job skills or formal education, and suggested he enroll in Job Corps.

This guy was no nerd. He was a handsome lad, who starred as a pitcher for his dormitory softball team and also played on a basketball team at the Center.

He completed the six-week drafting course, one of the toughest the McCoy Center offered, in two weeks. At the time I learned about him, he had been awarded a high school equivalency certificate, and finished so many Job Corps courses that the counselors had run out of places to send him. He was placed in a center in Washington, DC, where especially talented Corpsmen could attend George Washington University. He intended to study medicine. I have no idea where he is now, but will wager that "Dr." precedes his name.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Old and the New

It’s trite in the extreme to comment on the many contrasts in Europe between the very old and the very new, yet they continue to be intriguing.

On April 10, I walked out of Munich’s Hofbrauhaus, where brewing operations began in 1607, went a few doors down the street to an internet cafe, and with the help of our resident electronic guru Karen, posted a blog story that could be viewed by millions around the world (of course, only a few actually wanted to read it).

The cost of sending the international message was less than one Euro ($1.30), or about half the price of a beer at the Hofbrauhaus.