Sunday, November 27, 2011

Santa Scores

About ten years ago, beautiful wife Sandy came up with a surprise holiday gift—a large Green Bay Packers flag.  Flagpoles weren’t allowed in yards in the planned community where we lived in Utah.  I often flew Old Glory from a standard attached to the building adjacent to our garage door, which was in keeping with community rules.
What so proudly I once hailed.

The second flag posed a bit of a problem during football season.  So we devised a sharing system that became an amusement for most (but not all) of our neighbors.  A Bears fan down the street definitely was not amused.  Neither was a Cowboys fan across the street, but he launched a counter attack by displaying his own team colors.  The Bears fan merely seethed.

The sharing plan was simple.  If the Packers won their weekly game, their flag was displayed soon after the contest ended.  It flew until Wednesday, when it was displaced by the Stars and Stripes.  The national flag stayed up until the Pack won again.

When we moved three years ago, our new place had a regulation flagpole installed by the previous owners in the lawn beside the house.  There also was a standard beside the garage door, almost exactly like the one in Utah.  No rotation problem here.  But as one who fancies tradition, the Geezer continued to display the Packers banner in the old way—up after a win, down on Wednesday until the next win. 

For almost two years, the rotation worked well.  Toward the end of last year, however, it got a little old.  The Packers ended the season with six consecutive victories.  It became drudgery to take the banner down and reinstall it every week.

Prospects were even better for the team this season, so the Geezer devised a labor-saving strategy—leave the flag up until the Packers lost.  The new plan seemed a stroke of genius as the Packers won 11 straight games.

This week, Sandy devised a new strategy for our annual holiday lighting display.  Lights were strung most of the way around the garage.  The design placed lights perilously close to the Packers flag.  With any sort of breeze, the flapping banner threatened to destroy a key part of Sandy’s display.  Something had to give.  Guess what won out.

Ho, Ho, Ho . . . . Packers, you’re on your own now, you know.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

In Grateful Memory

Pvt. Jackie L. Diener II (U.S. Army), 20, Boyne City, Michigan.  Killed by small arms fire in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, November 21, 2011.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Great Day, Indeed

Today is America’s best celebration.  Thanksgiving truly is for everyone.  It is not part of any specific religious tradition; it is for all to enjoy.  For this one day, we can cast aside worries about the future and focus only on the good things that have happened in our past.

I am thankful that I was born in a prosperous nation and have lived a long and generally pleasant life with the freedom to chart my own course. Through good and bad times, many people have supported and guided me. I appreciate all of them, especially Sandy, my beautiful wife.

I am thankful that my family does not want for food, shelter, or love.  Today we will be together. That is the best thing of all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

How Not to Run a Restaurant

We drove seven miles to one of our favorite little restaurants, anticipating a tasty delight and a bargain.

The special of the day, advertised in the local shopping guide, was a tuna salad sandwich.  We made our journey because of it.  Previous experiences were that the sandwich, when designated the special, was very good and came with choices—soup, salad, or fries and sometimes combinations of two of the three, plus a bottomless drink.

The restaurant owner seated us, took our drink order, and announced as she walked away, “Oh, the special today is a taco salad.”  We knew a taco salad concocted in that restaurant’s kitchen was anything but special.

“Isn’t today’s special tuna salad?” I asked.  “No, they made a mistake.  I don’t know how they got tuna salad into that ad,” said the restaurateur.  I said that was very disappointing, because we had a hankering for tuna salad.  I spoke slowly, giving the lady every opportunity to authorize the advertised special for us.  She did not.

A bit later, our waitress appeared.  I inquired about the tuna salad special.  She laughed, and said, “Isn’t that the darndest thing?”  Again, I described our affection for the sandwich, and added the fact that we had driven miles out of our way for it.  The waitress seemed a little surprised when we asked for more time to study the menu.

We actually discussed walking out.  Instead, we wasted some time perusing the menu believing there was a pretty good chance the waitress would reappear and offer us tuna salad sandwiches as advertised.  She reappeared without any special deal.  I ordered a tuna salad sandwich anyway, and said, “That’s what the special would be if it really was the special, wouldn’t it?”

“Yes,” said the waitress.  That was almost correct; it cost 30 percent more than the price for specials, and included only one optional side dish. The drink was extra.

On the way home, beautiful wife Sandy and I decided it will take one helluva special offer to lure us back to that restaurant.  I might even be forced to learn how to make tuna salad.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Taking Stock

My favorite pro sports team, the Green Bay Packers, once again is gearing up to sell stock to the public.  Nothing new about that. The club has held numerous sales of shares since the 1920s when it was organized as a nonprofit corporation with backing from several local business leaders.

In the early years, sales of shares kept the team alive, often just barely.  Recent sales financed major improvements at Lambeau Field, allowing the Pack to pick up considerable extra revenue from home-game crowds and special events. That money has helped the franchise compete with those owned by billionaires in big cities.

Hanging on a wall of my office is one framed share of stock issued in 1997 by Green Bay Packers, Inc.  I bought it for $200.  It has proved to be a horrible or great investment, depending on how you view such things.  The dollar value is zero.  The value of the bragging rights is immense.
Not for profit; for bragging rights
Much has been written and said about Packers history since the big team representing the little city burst upon the national stage back in the 1960s. Championship years arrived just as color television came into millions of American homes and professional football emerged from the shadows of sports to become somewhat of a national mania.

I’m not an expert on Packers' lore, but I’ve read much of what has been written about club history, attended the first game in Lambeau Field in 1957 (we beat "da Bears" 21-17), and have followed the team’s fortunes more or less closely for nearly 65 years. Here are some of my favorite trivia, some factual, some based on rumor and questionable recollections. A few items correct erroneous statements by current news people, mostly television announcers:

  • Television talking heads frequently state the Packers are the “only professional sports franchise owned by the community.”  Wikipedia makes the same statement. The statement is incorrect.  I am one of 112,158 shareholders, living all over the world, who own the team.  Obviously, all the owners do not live in Green Bay.  This relatively unimportant error may be caused by confusion between team and home field ownership. The City of Green Bay, not the Packers, owns Lambeau Field, which has become somewhat famous in its own right.
  • Accounts of the dire financial straits faced often by the team in early days are not exaggerations.  Perhaps the most desperate situation occurred when a section of the wooden grandstand in old City Stadium collapsed during a game. (at its largest, old City Stadium seated 25,000 when all stands were upright). The collapse caused many injuries.  The Packers’ insurance company couldn’t handle the volume, went bankrupt, and thus defaulted on many claim payments.  A stock issue raised enough money to pay the claims and save the franchise.
  • It often has been said that if the corporation was to be liquidated, an unlikely event, all proceeds would go to an American Legion Post in Green Bay, because the post bought a block of preferred stock many years ago that gave it special ownership rights. The legality of that assertion never will be tested, because Packers’ management a few years ago changed the charter to clarify things.  If the Packers went out of business, all assets remaining after creditors were paid would go to a charitable foundation.  That would be a rather nice deal for charitable causes, because the franchise today is valued at a bit more than $1 billion, and debt is minimal.
  • My $200 investment in reality was a donation. The share has no cash value and cannot be sold.  It can only be transferred to members of my immediate family.  I can attend the annual stockholders’ meeting with about 30,000 other fans, listen to the head coach, general manager, and finance officer field questions, and vote for the board of directors.  The board mostly is a figurehead body that includes Wisconsin business leaders and heads of sports organizations, plus a few former Packers players. They select an executive committee. The committee appoints a club president and approves the president’s choice of a general manager who runs the show. Because of the large number of interested shareholders, the annual meeting is held in Lambeau Field.
  • When a hands-on billionaire owner such as  Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys jumps up from his front-row perch in a luxury box and yells, “Run a damn screen,” an attempt at a screen pass is likely to occur soon on the field.  When I leap from my stool at Rhino’s Sports Bar with a similar demand, the message goes no further.  We little Packers owners have no power to influence policy or play.  A provision in stock offerings limits the number of shares a single entity can own; assuring the present limits on stockholder power will be permanent.
  • Many current histories state or at least imply that E. L. (Curly) Lambeau, Packers co-founder and coach and general manager for 32 years, was a wonderful guy revered by all who knew him, and area residents rushed to name their new stadium for him in 1957. The facts, and the rumor mill when I lived in the Green Bay area, say otherwise.
  • Lambeau, without question, was an important       figure in the early development of what now is the National Football League.  His teams pioneered the passing attack. He led the Packers into post-season exhibition games in the South and on the West Coast, often against the arch-rival Chicago Bears. The teams often traveled together. These contests created interest in pro football and helped pave the way for expansion teams some years later.  The rumor mill said a side benefit of the excursions to the coast were close encounters between Lambeau and several Hollywood starlets.  Giving credence to that story is the fact that one of Lambeau’s three wives was a former Miss California.  A personal history that included a couple of divorces probably was not exactly endearing to many football fans in Green Bay, most of whom were Roman Catholics who at that time considered divorce a serious no-no.
  • Rumors abounded that Lambeau was notorious for late or no repayments of debts. Several times when I asked older De Pere residents (I edited the weekly newspaper there) if they knew Curly Lambeau, they smiled and pulled from their wallets scraps of paper that said, “IOU $10” (or $15 or $20).  Each was signed, “Earl Lambeau, or simply, "Curly.” None was marked paid.
  • The famous founder-coach became somewhat of a traitor in local eyes when he abruptly left Green Bay in 1949 to coach the rival Chicago Cardinals.   The rumor mill maintained that whatever was in a depleted Packers treasury left town at about the same time.  Whether that is true or not, the Green Bay club was forced to make a major stock sale in 1950 to continue operations.
  • What is now called an “historic playing field” was not named for Lambeau at the start.  When I attended the 1957 opener I was seated in City Stadium.  Some locals called it “new City Stadium” to make the distinction between it and the old arena near Green Bay East High School where the Packers played for years.  I heard of no one campaigning to name the new field for Lambeau. That did not happen for eight years, until after Lambeau died in 1965. 
  • Both Lambeau and the other legendary Packers coach/general manager, Vince Lombardi, were known as stern taskmasters who often emphasized their instructions with profanity.  There the resemblance pretty much ended.  Lombardi did not earn the nickname “Saint Vincent” entirely because his teams won a lot of games. Unlike Lambeau who enjoyed lavish living in his spare time, Lombardi was known to be a workaholic and a devoted family man in what off-duty time he allowed himself. He attended a Catholic Mass every working day before heading to the office or the practice field, a ritual that considerably enhanced his standing with many Green Bay residents.
  • When Lombardi came out of retirement to lead the Washington Redskins, there was none of the animosity among Packers fans that was kindled by Lambeau’s defection to Chicago.  The Green Bay fans were only disappointed that “Saint Vincent” chose did not return to the Packers.
  • Lombardi often is portrayed as a ruthless bad guy by fans of rival teams, and other critics have contributed to that notion.  However, in memoirs published by former players, all speak of a healthy respect for the coach’s work ethic and demands that they follow suit.  Few disliked him.  Perhaps the most famous quote attributed to him, often by critics, was “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”  Historians now doubt Lombardi ever said that.
  • It is often said that the club shareholders and citizens of Green Bay are hidebound traditionalists who have prevented Packers management from selling naming rights to the stadium to a commercial enterprise, as other pro clubs have done. The truth is that Green Bay area voters approved a name sale in a referendum on the question.  Packers’ executives are the traditionalists. They have ignored the will of the voters, preferring to give up millions of dollars of income in favor of maintaining the Lambeau Field name.
  • The bitterness of the Packers-Chicago Bears rivalry is real, but historically there has been perhaps more of a love-hate relationship between the organizations' leaders than we are led to believe.  Many old Packers fans think that Bears’ long-time owner-coach George Halas actually was an ally who stood firmly against other big-city owners when frequent calls were made to move the Packers franchise to Milwaukee or some other more-lucrative market than the small city (population 50,000 in 1957, about 100,000 now) on the bay (others say Halas backed a move to Milwaukee, at least once).
  • My rumor mill said that when Halas retired, Packers fans threw a bigger party for him in Green Bay than his friends did in Chicago.  It is a fact that Halas served as a pall bearer at Lambeau’s funeral. Some Packers fans were said to be offended, which seems silly indeed.
  • Apparently, it is true that Lambeau and Halas refused to engage in the traditional post-game handshake during all or most of the 30 years when they were opposing coaches. One observer reports seeing “Papa Bear” shake his fist at Lambeau after a particularly hard-fought contest. Nevertheless, when the Bears faced serious financial difficulties in 1933, Lambeau loaned Halas half the Packers’ share of gate receipts ($1,500) from a game in Chicago. The act is said to have been a big factor in keeping Halas and the Bears solvent during that Depression time.
  • Was some of the public inter-coach dislike displayed as part of a shrewd show by two skilled promoters seeking to increase interest in their struggling sport?  I think so.  If that is true, Halas and Lambeau were successful.  Packers-Bears games continue to draw big crowds and lots of attention from national television viewers.
  • The cost of the coming Packers’ stock sale is rumored to be $250 per share.  The goal is to raise millions to pay for 7,000 additional seats at Lambeau Field, plus a new scoreboard and complete new electronic communication system.  Buyers will be making a donation just as I did in 1997.  Will the “worthless” shares sell? No doubt they will.  Some current stockholders already have said they’ll buy shares as gifts to their grandchildren.  They can’t very well buy their descendents a couple of season tickets, because the waiting list for tickets now stands at 81,000. Although Packers fans suffered through 27 years of mediocre play between the Lambeau and Lombardi eras, every game since the present stadium was built has been a sellout.
  • Some fans have been waiting for years to become “owners” for the first time. Why?  That’s the “bragging rights” part of it, I guess. There is a certain family feeling about the whole thing. The letter signed by the  club president that arrived with my share of stock didn’t end with a standard line such as, “Thanks for your contribution.”  It said, Thank you for joining the Green Bay Packers.”
  • Of course, any pro football fan with even a touch of rationality realizes the games are between one group of hired athletes and another. Nevertheless, Packers fans are notorious for saying, “We scored twice in the second quarter,” or, ”We blew the coverage on that play.”  There seems to be a personal feeling that “we” always  are part of the team of little guys going up against the big city slickers, even though that attitude is unrealistic.
  • Packers fans seem to have a little special streak of dedication that sometimes borders on craziness.  After I had shown off my share of stock as much as possible, I told my son I was going to transfer the certificate to him so he could take a turn at bragging about being a pro team owner.  He said, “Don’t bother, Dad.  I bought one for myself.”
  • Myths and facts pertaining to the career of Packers’ old-time pass catcher Don Hutson deserve mention in any discussion of Green Bay history, but this treatise is getting too lengthy for that. Television reporters who would know better if they did their homework, and show business personalities who can’t be expected to have a clue, routinely state that San Francisco 49ers’ receiver Jerry Rice was the greatest pass receiver of all time.  As sometimes is said in locker-room comparisons of talented players, “Rice was a great receiver, but he couldn’t carry Hutson’s jock.”
  • Don Hutson not only was the greatest receiver ever to play the game, but he probably was the greatest player in pro football history.  I’ll try to prove that point with a post later in this season when the stars are right.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Penn State Report Card

The sad story of allegations of child sexual abuse by a coach who had a 26-year career at football power Pennsylvania State University has brought forth a variety of comments on the educational institution and college athletics in general.  The players in the sordid drama deserve one of two grades—A or F—nothing else seems a good fit. 

Here’s the Geezer report card:

A—Mike McQueary, an assistant coach who as a graduate assistant  says he saw Coach Jerry Sandusky performing a sex act on a 10-year-old boy in the showers in a Penn State football building.  McQueary says he reported the incident to Joe Paterno, Sandusky’s boss, as he should have.

McQueary might have earned an A-plus had he called the cops himself back in 2002 when the incident occurred, but that would have been a lot to expect from one who was a low-level participant in the athletic program at the time and who had coaching aspirations. McQueary has been placed on indefinite leave with pay.  Penn State officials state he may have special legal status as a whistleblower.

F—Sandusky.  A grand jury indictment includes allegations that he sexually harassed or assaulted at least seven other minor boys over a 15-year period. Sandusky is free on bail after his arrest when the youth in the Penn State incident came forward recently and McQueary corroborated the story.

F—Head Coach Paterno. As an experienced administrator in charge of the program within which the alleged crime took place, Paterno should have ensured that police were notified.  Instead, the iconic head coach merely informed his immediate superior, Athletic Director Tim Curley, and a vice president, Gary Schultz, and did not follow up.

F—Curley and Schultz. They apparently did not advise Paterno to report the alleged crime, nor did they contact law enforcement authorities.  Both have been charged with failing to report the incident. Whether or not the 84-year-old Paterno will be similarly charged remains in doubt.

F—University President Graham Spanier. Investigations now under way probably will reveal whether he did or did not know of the incident.  Even if he did not, he deserves a failing grade for maintaining incredibly poor communications with his top assistants.

A—The Penn State Board of Trustees.  They promptly fired Coach Paterno and President Spanier, even though Paterno had offered to make this season his last after leading the football program for 46 years. Curley and Schultz earlier had removed themselves from the Penn State staff.

F—The Penn State students who demonstrated in favor of restoring Paterno to his coaching job.  More reprehensible are individual demonstrators who turned violent and significantly damaged property.  The latter should be arrested and expelled if they can be identified.  The remainder should, at the very least, be required to receive some special instruction on the relative values of greed (win at all costs) and integrity (do the right things).

A—The Penn State students who organized vigils as statements of sympathy for any boys who were victimized, and their families, and for all victims of sexual abuse.  They showed they understood and supported the values that Penn State long has proclaimed it teaches and practices.

F—A few commentators who implied or flatly stated that the incident unmasked widespread corruption in college sports.  The headlines accompanying these stories, and some of the sensational language in the tales, suggested that sexual abuse is rampant in university athletic programs, particularly football.

In more than five decades of closely following sports, including a few years as a sports editor, the Penn State affair is the only instance of sexual abuse of a minor by a coach that has come to my attention. Anyone who knows anything about sports writers knows that given even an inkling of such conduct, many of them would doggedly pursue the story. Child sexual abuse may be common in other institutions, including some well-publicized activities in religious organizations, but it most likely rarely has any association with college athletics.

A—The many critics who cast this incident as a classic case of greed versus integrity.  University officials should be the epitome of men and women who place honor and open and honest dealings above all else. They are among the ultimate role models in our society.  But too often, stadiums seating 80,000 to 100,000 fans and financial supporters and $100-million-dollar athletic budgets seem to be the motivating forces in these officials’ lives. 

At Penn State, a whole series of officials, going right to the top, appear to have participated in a cover up, and if they did so they endangered many children.  Obviously, all believed the straightforward action of reporting an alleged crime would somehow endanger the programs they so love.  Actually, doing the right thing probably would have enhanced the reputations of all concerned, except of course, for Sandusky. 

The bedrock issue in collegiate athletics, as it is today in the United States, is the power of the dollar in influencing decisions that should be made on the basis of ethical, not economic, factors.  Rewarding successful college football and basketball coaches (and athletic directors) with multi-million-dollar contracts is ridiculous.  University presidents could put a stop to the practice, but doing so would risk the wrath of enraged alums and might threaten their own bloated compensation packages.

Some like to draw a parallel between recruiting big-time football coaches and CEOs of major corporations.  “You have to pay top dollar to get a top performer,” that logic goes.  It may have some truth in the business world, but this tenet is ridiculous in the world of what is supposed to be amateur sport. 

It is difficult to find business execs with proven abilities to turn moribund enterprises around or to maintain other huge organizations at a highly profitable level.  It is not at all difficult to find football coaches who have come up through the high school and assistant coaching ranks with winning programs.  A whole lot of them are more than willing to head a major university program for a salary of a few hundred thousand dollars.  The trick should be to carefully examine the integrity of the candidates.  Those who pass that test might be worth a half million or so a year.  Six or seven million is outrageously unnecessary.

The Geezer often has laid the blame on college and university presidents for allowing greed to direct the athletic programs at their schools.  Perhaps the Penn State experience shows that position has been wrong.  The blame might be better placed on members of Boards of Trustees and Boards of Regents. They are where the buck stops, since presidents, unfortunately, are too often complicit in the abuses.

Come to think of it, the Penn State Board of Trustees deserves a bit more that an A for their resolute actions in the football program affair.  Let’s hear it for them:

Hip, Hip, Hooray. . . Siss Boom Bah . . . PENN STATE  TRUSTEES . . . Rah, Rah, Rah!  

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Get on Down There

This is an unqualified endorsement of Applebee’s Veterans Day offer.  The national restaurant chain once again will provide free meals on November 11 to all who have served or are now serving our nation in the U.S. military.

If you’re a veteran of any kind, with an honorable discharge, go to Applebee’s on Friday for your choice of a free dinner from a very good menu.  If you’re on active duty, ditto.  If you’re not a veteran or on active duty, but know someone who is, grab him or her and take them to Applebee’s. That will show, in a very personal way, your appreciation of the sacrifices service people have made and continue to make.

The Veterans Day offer should apply throughout the U.S. and may include Canada.  It would be a good idea to check at a location near you to be sure the free meals are available there and learn what type of identification is needed to qualify.

In the future, you may want to introduce your favorite dinner companions to Applebee’s.  This company deserves your business.
This commercial message was written, authorized, and posted by the Gabby Geezer, who may be found about noon on Nov. 11 enjoying a steak dinner at Applebee’s in Plainwell, Michigan, USA.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Ahead of the Game

(Lately, many notices have appeared urging us to protest the behavior of megabanks by transferring our accounts to local financial institutions.  The Geezer was ahead of that game. Following is an abridged version of his Jan. 26, 2010 comments—the original appeared here a full 21 months ago. As predicted, the big bank that lost Sandy’s account has not collapsed, but perhaps now with millions joining the movement the bankers will get the message.)

Take It from the Bank

Of course, the bank president will just laugh at the loss of our business, if by some strange quirk of fate it comes to his attention.  But our action will be symbolic.  We are going to transfer Sandy’s checking account from a big bank to join mine at a little credit union.

We little guys aren’t moving our business out of greed, although often we can get better rates locally.  We’re doing it because we’re mad as hell at greedy big bankers.

We ought to be. In 2008, the median U.S. household income was $50,303.  It no doubt will be lower when the numbers are in for 2009 (Ed note: it was).  The average professional employee (broker, sales staffer, trader) compensation at JP Morgan Chase was $279,000 in 2008.  The bankers gave themselves a raise in 2009, upping average compensation to $379,000.  Wow!  The average Morgan staffer got an income increase double what the average American family must subsist on.

JP Morgan Chase was given $25 billion dollars of taxpayer money in the fall of 2008 to ensure the firm would be healthy.  Wouldn’t it follow that the guys who were making a quarter million or more a year were the same bozos who were making the firm unhealthy? They should have been disciplined, not rewarded with big bonuses.

The medicine worked.  Morgan paid back the $25 billion.  The taxpayers even earned some profit on the deal.  Unfortunately, although the patient survived, it didn’t start doing what the doctors envisioned.  The idea was that the propped-up big banks would lend cash to stimulate business, which in turn would save or create jobs.

The bankers quickly engineered a payback to avoid government control of their compensation packages.  They made the money to do that in investment banking, and continued a lot of the risky stuff that got us into a financial crisis in the first place.  Instead of ramping up typical business lending they tightened things up in that area. They gave the surplus funds to each other, rather than helping their country out of recession.

Was Morgan an isolated case?  Goldman Sachs got $10 billion from Uncle Sam to stay in business.  It was one of the first to make a full repayment.  It should be better managed than some competitors, because at Goldman average professional compensation was a mind-boggling $317,000 in 2008.  It increased to $498,000 in 2009.  Meanwhile, nationwide unemployment moved above 10 percent.

The big bankers deserve our ire.  Some even admit it.  At a hearing before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, Brian Moynihan, Bank of America chief executive officer and president, said, “Over the course of the crisis, we as an industry caused a lot of damage.”

That’s right on.  Politicians, Republicans and Democrats, over the past twenty years stripped away needed regulations or looked away as questionable activities were taking place.  But, just because politicians gave financiers a license to steal doesn’t mean the liberated bankers were forced to plunder.  They could have applied their own ethical standards—if they had any-- to daily practices.

We need Congress to clamp down hard on the bad guys who betrayed us.  Democrats will lose the support of a lot of voters if they simply continue running around yelling “yes, we can” make financial institutions work for all Americans. They need to do it. And Republicans need to identify some common-sense reforms they can support and get with the program.