Cal Football 2014 – WERE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!!!

VICTORY!

YES!!!  Cal Football 2014 was WILDLY ENTERTAINING!  Let’s put a few things in perspective… Last year our Cal Bears were 1-11.  We were blown out by historic margins in all but 2 games.  But through it all, game after game, blowout after blowout, I stayed through to the end.

Staying til the end against Oregon State

This year that all changed.  Cal quintupled its win total over last year.  The games were competitive. The games were FUN.  So you’ll forgive me for not moping over the loss on Saturday and instead being excited about what happened this year!!

You know, I realize I can be the most annoying positive person on the planet. I just hate wallowing in misery and defeat (and I’ve experience plenty). It’s just how I get through life, seems to work for me but certainly not you have to do it.  So leaving Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon,  like everyone I was disappointed in the loss.  But I certainly wasn’t disappointed in the season.  And I wasn’t upset and I wasn’t disappointed for me.  I was disappointed for the players and the coaches. I’ve seen how much they have embraced the Cal community. So I just want to share my thoughts on why I loved this season so much and why I am so excited for next year.

I’ve seen how incredibly accessible these coaches are (and their families) to the fans. I would find it hard to believe there is another coaching staff in American who is as interactive with the fans and community as this staff is. Heck even their wives – if you go to the game and you’re sitting by her, be prepared for Kate Dykes to come over and high five after every great play!

For instance, Offensive Line Coach Zach Yenser and his awesome wife Beth were nice enough to invite me (a Thanksgiving orphan) over to dinner for Thanksgiving.  Beth and Zach and his folks, sister and brother-in-law provided one of the nicest Thanksgivings possible (and son Graham provided the entertainment!).  And here’s the thing.

They’re all southerners.  And you know what they all said – THEY LOVE CALIFORNIA.  They said that the Student Section for the Big Game was better than any student section in the SEC.

And they’re not alone. Heck several of the coaches live within walking distance of Memorial Stadium including famously Tony Franklin  who has a loft in downtown Berkeley.  They have welcomed back former players.  They have our current players singing the fight song after game – when do you remember that happening?  The classroom performance is on its way up.  We have players who you should be proud are at Cal.

Adcock

Going into the season, after what can only be described as a brutal 2013 campaign,  fans were almost uniformly of the same belief; we wanted to see 3 or 4 wins, a win over a traditional  rival would be nice, and we wanted to see the team be  competitive.  Well you know what, we got two of the three.  Cal was in just about EVERY game.  3 of our losses were one possession losses, including a Hail Mary.  We fought back  HARD against USC.  We held our own against Oregon (look at how other teams not named Arizona did).  We were two awful official calls at the end of the game away from beating UCLA.

We were taken out of the Big Game game by nationally embarrassing officiating.  And through all that we got something else, some wildly entertaining football.

In fact, that  stretch of Arizona, Colorado and Wazzu was quite possible the most amazing stretch of craziness one team has ever had.  Even the national media like the New York Post were taking note:

NY POST Cal crazy

That last point can’t be glossed over.  After last year (with the exception of the Northwestern game), and 2012, and even 2011 (even though we had more wins) and 2010 it had been a while since Cal games were fun.  Honestly,  think back to those years and just how not enjoyable the games were.  Sure we won some games, but even then they never felt fun.  Did ANYBODY have fun at the Holiday Bowl against Texas? Something was wrong. Well this year, almost every game was fun.

This year started off beating beating Northwestern in Chicago with about 5K Cal fans in attendance!

And as the game came to an end the players did something no one expected… they joined the crowd in singing Fight.  Every fan there got goose bumps on that!

Heck I was even in Tucson for the Hail Mary loss, but there’s no denying that was a FUN game and even managed to lead a few cheers without pulling anything or breaking a hip !(hey once a micman always a micman!)

I was up in Corvallis for the win!

I was at SC for the loss, but was so proud  of how we fought back and was great to see old friends and meet new ones!

So I guess I ask, WERE WE NOT ENTERTAINED!!!

Cal football is amazing.  It’s a chance for all of us to come together and reunite with old friends and meet new ones as we support this most amazing of institutions!

Once  again Cal fans  came out in force for the Big Game bonfire rally!  And here’s something cool – Spike Dykes, Coach Dyke’s dad told me “This is as a good as  anything we have in Texas!”

So with all  that’s happened this year, I wondered, why were people so unhappy after Saturday’s loss. And looking at this post it dawned on my, by going to Northwestern and Oregon State, I got to experience two more wins than a lot of people who weren’t able to travel with team.  And by going to Tucson and SC i got two more losses 😉  But they were fun. Sure, there’s the absolutely understandable revised expectations.  We started out 4-1 and  suddenly a bowl seemed not only reasonable, but possible. That of course didn’t take into account our season was incredibly front loaded in terms of winnable games.

But man, this is the time to show our mettle.  Second guessing is totally understandable, and I do it. Coaches don’t care and I’m sure they do it themselves.  And I wouldn’t for a second invalidate your feelings of disappointment.   This is when we get to show the great fans we are – and we are great fans.  So as we get some time to reflect on this season, instead of proverbially stomping our feet and issuing ultimatums , how about doing something else. Spending that time  THANKING THE  TEAM for making football fun again and reminding why we love Cal Football.  #GOBEARS!!!

Don’t forget we’ve got Goff coming back as a junior.  And all those receivers.  And Lasco. And most of the Oline.  And the defense will have another year under its belt.  And so will the coaches!  I am EXCITED about 2015!

As  always if you like this please feel free to share.  And if you don’t like it feel free to share how stupid it is!

GO BEARS!!!

Happy Thanksgiving

I posted this last year, but I’d like to share again with you this year, and I’ve added in a few more photos.  I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with love from friends and family and maybe even a few strangers! I’ll put the closing thought up top because I mean it so much

With that I will close and wish all of you the very best this holiday season. Remember, life is precious so take a moment to smile at people, call an old friend, put aside petty differences with family members, make a commitment to make the world a better place, do something nice for a stranger and most importantly, be good to yourself and make life great!

tdinner malawi

A “traditiona'” Thanksgiving feast in Malawi, Central Africa!

 

I love Thanksgiving.  I think it is the ultimate American holiday where for just one day of the year almost everyone in this great big crazy spread out disparate country of ours is doing the same thing.  And while others may do it now, the idea of having a holiday where we simply give thanks for all that we have always strikes me as uniquely American (and something we should do more).

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share with you my most memorable Thanksgiving, which happened in 2001 while I was living in Malawi.  I was volunteering at theMalawi Children’s Village and was teaching, primarily math and English. The event of 9/11 were still, of course fresh.  I sent out the below dispatch and I’ll just let it speak for itself.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

With Biston, who always would grab my goatee

 

December 9, 2001

Hello and happy holidays from Africa.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season. Being literally on the other side of the world I can only imagine what things are like in the U.S. and how special these holidays must be. As I think I have said recently, it’s during these times that I really miss being home with friends and family.

Many of you have asked how I spent my Thanksgiving and I would like to devote most of this dispatch to
that.

Obviously in Malawi they don’t celebrate U.S. Thanksgiving, matter-of-fact they don’t even know what it is. Having lived in Malawi for a while now, maybe I had fooled myself into thinking that I had assimilated into the culture more than I had (well as much as a 6’4, 230 pound red-headed American can). I sometimes forget just how big the cultural divide can be, which was brought home for me in trying to explain Thanksgiving to my students.

At the Christmas party with Jonathan and his mom. Smiles.

 

To digress for just a moment, one of my biggest frustrations for the people here is the utter lack of variety that permeates almost every aspect of their lives, their diet being a perfect metaphor for this. As I have mentioned in past emails, the staple food in Malawi is nsima, which is made from corn meal that is sifted and then boiled until it takes on a consistency of overcooked Cream of Wheat, without the flavor.  You eat it communally, taking a small amount from the shared bowl, rolling it into a ball in your hand, and then dipping it in a relish – usually vegetable or fish, sometimes chicken. This is what the villagers eat for lunch and dinner, without fail, every single day. If you ask Tamanda what she had for lunch yesterday, it was nsima. Ask Mbubakar what he had for dinner last Tuesday? Nsima. Three months ago Friday for Imed? You got it, nsima.

Now, I don’t say this to sound culturally insensitive, but think about that; what if you ate the exact same thing for lunch and dinner every single day of your life? How would you feel about food? Think of the pleasure we take in food and particularly different foods from around the world. Well for the most part, folks in Malawi are never afforded that simple opportunity. A small example: a few weeks ago, I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for some of my students – none of them had ever had one – and it was like they were eating at Le Cirque.

So back to Thanksgiving: I explained how all over the country, families and friends come together to enjoy a great meal, each other’s company, and in our own different ways give thanks for what we have. I started explaining how cool I thought it was that on this one day of the year almost every American shares a common experience as almost every household has a turkey, mashed potatoes, apple or pumpkin pie and so on. And then looking at them I realized they had no idea what a turkey, mashed potatoes or pumpkin pie are.

So right there I decided that we were going to have a Thanksgiving dinner.
In case you’re wondering, making a Thanksgiving dinner in third world Africa can be a bit of a challenge (though I am sure Martha Stewart could make a beautiful centerpiece from the dead bird and hippo dropping she found by the lake). You can bet there are no turkeys, and the chickens are all pretty scrawny.

Alila carrying wood home.

 

So I decided we would have a slightly unconventional Thanksgiving dinner – pasta, mashed potatoes and gravy, garlic bread, green beans and a little cake for dessert.

I was able to get the pasta and canned green beans from the Catholic Bishop’s residence (it comes over from Italy … seriously). The tomatoes, potatoes, and onions and garlic for sauce were bought from the local marketplace. And finally from the store in town I bought some powdered mushroom soup (which by using much less water than directed would serve as the gravy), some sausages for the pasta sauce, and some flower, sugar and canned fruit for the cake.

Not quite traditional, but a Thanksgiving feast none-the-less

 

The attached pictures show the process and results; the first is cooking the pasta over an open fire – gathering the wood, lighting and stoking a fire, and then feeling like you’re in a sauna; the second is the magnificent feast; and finally everyone enjoying their first experience with pasta. We had such a fun time that evening and for me it was just so rewarding watching the expressions on their faces as they tried each of the foods and scrambled for seconds. The big
hit, as you could guess, was the cake – like everything else we had that night, none of the kids had ever had cake. Again, it’s flavors they have never tasted or knew to taste and in just a very small way, that they probably don’t even realize, just opening their eyes to other things life has to offer.

This is after the kitchen remodel!

 

The week before, our Form 4 secondary students returned from school having all graduated. They are
now waiting for the results of the national exams to see who will be afforded a place at the University.  It gets me down a little, because once again these kids have accomplished something pretty big – graduating from the equivalent of high school – and no one really recognizes their achievement. So I decided that just the six of us would have a celebration: we went to one of the local hotels where we swam, had a great lunch and I gave each of them a watch and a solar calculator (so they don’t have to try to find and buy batteries) that I had brought with me from the States. They were so excited! Every time I would see them they would be sure to tell me what time it was…

As it came time for me to leave, all the students came by to say good-bye and to thank me for what I had done. I once again told them that the pleasure has been mine, that I feel so enriched for having met all of these special people. Life is an amazing thing, and as I think about the events of September 11th, and what is going on all over the world, I can think of spending time with people from a culture so foreign to mine, and mine to theirs, and how that didn’t matter.
Although there are so many things that are different about us, we shared a commonality, that of being human beings that care about each other and at least here
with these people, that know right from wrong.

My adopted family, the Mtaulas!

On several occasions people commented to me that they just didn’t understand why Americans, who have so much, would come to a place like Malawi, and live with so little and without all the creature comforts of home, and yet actually be happy. And I would tell them if I hadn’t have done this I would have never had the opportunity to meet all of them, experience a part of their life, make these great new friends and once again I would tell them that I took way more out of it than I could have possibly given them.

As has been my norm, I would like to end this dispatch with a poem that was given to me as a Christmas gift
by one of my students.

The Jolly Maker
Samuel Aristotle Mtaula
Jolly maker, oh!
I remembered then, for a moment,
With your golden voice,
You taught students.
With wisdom of yours
You created a nice future.
Jolly maker, hmm!
I salute you!

Jolly maker,
In time of sorrow
You set them with smiles.
When they fall in trouble,
With your presence,
They were self.
Oh! A source of happiness.

Happy maker,
There you are,
Indeed you’re a jolly maker.
Let nothing trouble you,
Since you are
Jolly maker.

With your kindness they enjoyed
Enjoyed swimming
Swimming in the swimming pool

With love,
They chatted
No need to get a witness.
With your presence
Many of t hem visited
They visited many places indeed
Ho! Jolly maker!

Jolly maker,
May the almighty God,
Shower you with blessings,
Guide you,
Oh! Jolly maker.

With that I will close and wish all of you the very best this holiday season. Remember, life is precious so take a moment to smile at people, call an old friend, put aside petty differences with family members, make a commitment to make the world a better place, do something nice for a stranger and most importantly, be good to yourself and make life great!

It’s Official – @Pac12 Officially Says Officials are Incompetent

 

pac12 refs morons

(Pac12 officials being Pac12 officials.   Big Game, 2011)

Let’s begin with this.   Complaining about referees and umpires is a favorite pastime of fans around the world.  It’s fun.  It really is. And truth be told, there’s something really entertaining about it when bad calls go against a home team and the crowd gets riled up.  That sort of primal booing gets us going.

We normally hear about how “complaining about officials is for losers.”  And I sort of agree with it. But in the case of the Pac12, so often the officiating in a game is so egregious it warrants discussion and gets attention from national media.

This past Saturday in The Big Game between Stanford and Cal at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, we experienced one of the most hideous displays of officiating people can remember.  And here’s the thing… it wasn’t one call, like in Oregon v Oklahoma.  It was ongoing all game. Even rival USC conceded our game was the worst officiated game!

On the very first play of the game, Cal’s Michael Lowe was EJECTED for an alleged targeting play by umpire Rick DiBernardo.  First play of the game.  No one can ever remember seeing that.  Let’s say for the sake of argument the call was correct.  Later in the game Stanford’s Ronnie Harris takes a completely cheap shot on Cal’s Trevor Davis.  Watch the video.  A few things to note. The pass was well overthrown.  The play is done.  Davis is clearly no longer going for the ball.  And yet Stanford’s Harris hits Davis in the neck and head with his forearm.  A play that should lead to a penalty and ejection.  And here’s the kicker, the official (two in fact) ARE RIGHT THERE as the play happened in the wide open field.  No penalty.

and here’s another view.

Again, the best part is the official IS RIGHT THERE, and yet no flag.  BTW, this sort of play isn’t uncommon for Stanford in Big Games under Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football (seriously,  that’s how Stanford refers to their head football coach) David Shaw.

The personification of Stanford Football

Last year, Shane Skov, one of the dirtiest players in the conference (who was also arrested for DUI), delivered this cheap shot, where he launched himself and delivered helmet to helmet to Cal QB Jared Goff, injuring him so he had to leave the game, which prompted the national broadcasters to say he should have been ejected.  But there was no flag,  let alone ejection.

And of course, no discipline from David Shaw, he of the “Stanford way” fame. (apologies to my Stanford friends, I’m still peeved about that dirty hit)

But that was just setting the table so that the national media could join in.

Late in the 3rd quarter, Cal ran a play for an apparent touchdown as it was ruled on the field.  It was reviewed and determined tho to not be a TD.  Inexplicably the ball was placed at the 1 yard line even thought the ball was either across the endzone or inches short.

On the next play, Cal QB Luke Rubenzer ran a QB sneak and scored.  TOUCHDOWN!  But wait a second, once again the booth official wanted to review and, incredulously, said it was not a TD. You have to understand that in order to overrule a call on the field there has to be “clear and irrefutable video evidence.”

Here is what the reply official could see – there was no clear shot looking down the goal line

And then Jared Goff threw a perfect pass to Kenny Lawler, which was caught for a TD.  But once again the booth buzzed the field and overturned the call. The stadium was in an apoplectic fit with chants of “REF! YOU! SUCK!…. REF! YOU! SUCK!” raining down.

The officiating was so egregiously bad, respected former official and Vice President of Officiating for the NFL and current Fox Sports commentator Mike Pereira felt compelled to do a special commentary on just how bad it was – Bandits in the Booth Cost Cal.  Take a couple of minutes to click on that link to see him rip into the officials.  He literally calls them bandits!! When have you ever heard a commentator use such strong language?

You have to ask yourself if it was in fact corrupt?  Because here’s the sad thing, the Pac12 was embarrassed nationally in basketball last year when it was revealed that its officials were instructed to target Sean Miller, head coach of Arizona, with a technical.

I will give the Pac12 and Larry Scott credit.  Late tonight, after most deadlines, they publicly acknowledged how bad the officials were:

http://pac-12.com/article/2014/11/24/pac-12-clarifies-replay-reviews-stanford-california-game

SAN FRANCISCO – The Pac-12 Conference acknowledged that its instant replay crew made two errors in the Stanford-California game Saturday, November 22, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott announced today.

During a California possession late in the third quarter, the instant replay crew reviewed three consecutive on-field touchdown calls by the game officials on one California offensive possession.

The NCAA Playing Rules state that to reverse an on-field ruling, the replay official must be convinced beyond all doubt by indisputable video evidence.

Through the Conference’s officiating and game management review process, it was determined that there was not enough evidence through video replay for the instant replay crew to overturn the second and third touchdown calls made by the officials on the field.

The replay crew will be held accountable for the errors through the Conference’s disciplinary process.

But I don’t want to stop there because there’s one more play which absolutely must draw into question the integrity of the officials in Saturday’s game.  Here is a photo sequence of it:

Joined_Image_Onside_Kick_recovery_2

Let me explain what’s happening here. In the first frame you see Cal attempting an onside kick.  In the second frame you see the scrum for the ball and Stephen Anderson coming out with it.  In the third frame you see him running ten yards away – but the officials (unlike every other person in the stadium) don’t seem to see him.  So there is STILL no call by the officials.  Finally, in the 4th frame, you see the back judge Joe Johnston and the field judge Jeffrey Yock, who are still trying to untangle the scrum – not looking downfield to Anderson –  INEXPLICABLY signal Stanford ball.

Think about that for a second.  What is going on?  They CLEARLY cannot see a ball let alone who has possession because THE BALL IS NOT THERE.  Yet with certainty they signal, Stanford ball.  Here’s why that’s important.  Had the ball actually been there, then the call on  the field would have stood under review (I mean come on…).  HOW can the officials make such a blatantly bad call?  It honestly can only be one of two choices – inept or corrupt.  I honestly don’t know  which it is.

So what do you say?  We have official acknowledgement that Pac12 officials in multiple sports are either corrupt or incompetent.  Which do you think it is?

 

GO BEARS! Growing Pains Can Be Fun!!

Cal lost to UDumb, sorry, UDub, on Saturday at Memorial, in Berkeley. I’d rather win but as we know this is going to  be a learning experience for these young Bears.  It’s a process so we’re going to get games like this.

So a few day-after thoughts. My feelings are sort of like after the UoA game… rough loss, but tons of positives to take away for fans.

We knew this was going to happen you guys. We knew at some point this season we were going to get a sort of clunker. So it happened. Walking up to the stadium I told some friends “You know, I think our defense is going to play really well today, I think we can blow them out…” OK the second part didn’t happen, but the first did. Really solid job by the defense.

This is all new for these players. After the last 3 years, I can forgive them for maybe just getting a little heady. And now a great lesson. You’ve to work hard and keep at it. If you want to listen to some great interviews and immediately feel good about the mindset, attitude, fortitude and approach of this team, check out Jared Goff on youtube. When asked “Does this shake your confidence, he says “NEVER!. We know not to get complacent” That is exactly what you want to hear.

Daniel Lasco says “It’s a lesson learner, we’re going to play even more tough next week! It’s just unacceptable as an offense. We got to watch the social side of it… there was a lot about scoring 50 points earlier in the week and people forget how hard it is… at the end we needed this.” I love that approach. One thing about the “social side” of it.  As fans we’re supposed to have fun.  I am a big believer in living in the moment and having fun  with it but this is a new world so some  of that stuff  may just cross a line. It can seem harmless but these are basically kids and can buy into that stuff too easily.

I’ll leave the Xs and Os to other people. Loss aside, what a great day at Memorial. After a few bad years in a row it takes a bit for fans to get back into. But almost 45K filled into Memorial yesterday and they were excited. There was a palpable buzz before the game… the houses around campus had bigger pregame parties… it felt good. Unfortunately with that first bummer fumble / 100 yard TD it made it sort of tough for the crowd but here is the REALLY COOL thing about having an offense that can score. Going into the 4th Q down by 21, almost NO ONE had left. And they didn’t really start leaving until just about the very end.

HUGE HUGE HUGE THANKS to Beth Graham Yenser! I tell you I think Zach Yenser outkicked his coverage with her! She is awesome. Also, I really want you guys to know how much the Cal family is invested in this. Kate Golding Dykes is so cool, and she’s one of us. I know it’s easy to say when her husband is the coach, but she has really become a part of the Cal community.

Kate Golding Dykes putting up with an aging loud alumnus

You know what I love about Cal football (and life) is I can be having a bad week and then I go to a game and see all my old friends and meet new friends like Christian Eric Dean.

And be inside beautiful Memorial Stadium and see the Campanile at Sunset and it reminds me how lucky we’ve got it.

So now the key thing. BEAT THE BRUINS!!!!! Every time you see someone from the satellite campus in LA, the FIFTH of the UC campuses, make sure to tell them

GET YOUR OWN COLORS!
GET A REAL BEAR
GET YOUR OWN DAMN FIGHT SONG!!!!

Why I Fist Bump 9/11 – Mark Bingham

i Am Fiat Lux

Image

YOLO!!!!  You Only Live Once.

Oh do I get grief for that.  And for my obsession with the fist bump – the exploding fist bump!  So I thought I would take a moment to share with you the genesis of that.

Yep, it’s 9/11, so time for my annual homage to my great friend Mark Bingham, who was taken from us entirely too early 12 years ago.  It would almost be impossible for any of you reading this, who likely know me, to not know of Mark Bingham.  Mark was one of the heroes of United 93 who in a selfless last act of courage helped bring down the aircraft which experts believe had the US Capitol Building as its target.

Mark was one of my best friends.  Now the great thing about Mark is you could probably ask 20 people and each of them would also say “Mark was…

View original post 872 more words

My Thanksgiving In Africa

I love Thanksgiving.  I think it is the ultimate American holiday where for just one day of the year almost everyone in this great big crazy spread out disparate country of ours is doing the same thing.  And while others may do it now, the idea of having a holiday where we simply give thanks for all that we have always strikes me as uniquely American (and something we should do more).

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share with you my most memorable Thanksgiving, which happened in 2001 while I was living in Malawi.  I was volunteering at the Malawi Children’s Village and was teaching, primarily math and English. The event of 9/11 were still, of course fresh.  I sent out the below dispatch and I’ll just let it speak for itself.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

 

December 9, 2001

Hello and happy holidays from Africa.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season. Being literally on the other side of the world I can only imagine what things are like in the U.S. and how special these holidays must be. As I think I have said recently, it’s during these times that I really miss being home with friends and family.

Many of you have asked how I spent my Thanksgiving and I would like to devote most of this dispatch to
that.

Obviously in Malawi they don’t celebrate U.S. Thanksgiving, matter-of-fact they don’t even know what it is. Having lived in Malawi for a while now, maybe I had fooled myself into thinking that I had assimilated into the culture more than I had (well as much as a 6’4, 230 pound red-headed American can). I sometimes forget just how big the cultural divide can be, which was brought home for me in trying to explain Thanksgiving to my students.

To digress for just a moment, one of my biggest frustrations for the people here is the utter lack of variety that permeates almost every aspect of their lives, their diet being a perfect metaphor for this. As I have mentioned in past emails, the staple food in Malawi is nsima, which is made from corn meal that is sifted and then boiled until it takes on a consistency of overcooked Cream of Wheat, without the flavor.  You eat it communally, taking a small amount from the shared bowl, rolling it into a ball in your hand, and then dipping it in a relish – usually vegetable or fish, sometimes chicken. This is what the villagers eat for lunch and dinner, without fail, every single day. If you ask Tamanda what she had for lunch yesterday, it was nsima. Ask Mbubakar what he had for dinner last Tuesday? Nsima. Three months ago Friday for Imed? You got it, nsima.

Now, I don’t say this to sound culturally insensitive, but think about that; what if you ate the exact same thing for lunch and dinner every single day of your life? How would you feel about food? Think of the pleasure we take in food and particularly different foods from around the world. Well for the most part, folks in Malawi are never afforded that simple opportunity. A small example: a few weeks ago, I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for some of my students – none of them had ever had one – and it was like they were eating at Le Cirque.

So back to Thanksgiving: I explained how all over the country, families and friends come together to enjoy a great meal, each other’s company, and in our own different ways give thanks for what we have. I started explaining how cool I thought it was that on this one day of the year almost every American shares a common experience as almost every household has a turkey, mashed potatoes, apple or pumpkin pie and so on. And then looking at them I realized they had no idea what a turkey, mashed potatoes or pumpkin pie are.

So right there I decided that we were going to have a Thanksgiving dinner.
In case you’re wondering, making a Thanksgiving dinner in third world Africa can be a bit of a challenge (though I am sure Martha Stewart could make a beautiful centerpiece from the dead bird and hippo dropping she found by the lake). You can bet there are no turkeys, and the chickens are all pretty scrawny.

So I decided we would have a slightly unconventional Thanksgiving dinner – pasta, mashed potatoes and gravy, garlic bread, green beans and a little cake for dessert.

I was able to get the pasta and canned green beans from the Catholic Bishop’s residence (it comes over from Italy … seriously). The tomatoes, potatoes, and onions and garlic for sauce were bought from the local marketplace. And finally from the store in town I bought some powdered mushroom soup (which by using much less water than directed would serve as the gravy), some sausages for the pasta sauce, and some flower, sugar and canned fruit for the cake.

The attached pictures show the process and results; the first is cooking the pasta over an open fire – gathering the wood, lighting and stoking a fire, and then feeling like you’re in a sauna; the second is the magnificent feast; and finally everyone enjoying their first experience with pasta. We had such a fun time that evening and for me it was just so rewarding watching the expressions on their faces as they tried each of the foods and scrambled for seconds. The big
hit, as you could guess, was the cake – like everything else we had that night, none of the kids had ever had cake. Again, it’s flavors they have never tasted or knew to taste and in just a very small way, that they probably don’t even realize, just opening their eyes to other things life has to offer.

The week before, our Form 4 secondary students returned from school having all graduated. They are
now waiting for the results of the national exams to see who will be afforded a place at the University.  It gets me down a little, because once again these kids have accomplished something pretty big – graduating from the equivalent of high school – and no one really recognizes their achievement. So I decided that just the six of us would have a celebration: we went to one of the local hotels where we swam, had a great lunch and I gave each of them a watch and a solar calculator (so they don’t have to try to find and buy batteries) that I had brought with me from the States. They were so excited! Every time I would see them they would be sure to tell me what time it was…

As it came time for me to leave, all the students came by to say good-bye and to thank me for what I had done. I once again told them that the pleasure has been mine, that I feel so enriched for having met all of these special people. Life is an amazing thing, and as I think about the events of September 11th, and what is going on all over the world, I can think of spending time with people from a culture so foreign to mine, and mine to theirs, and how that didn’t matter.
Although there are so many things that are different about us, we shared a commonality, that of being human beings that care about each other and at least here
with these people, that know right from wrong.

On several occasions people commented to me that they just didn’t understand why Americans, who have so much, would come to a place like Malawi, and live with so little and without all the creature comforts of home, and yet actually be happy. And I would tell them if I hadn’t have done this I would have never had the opportunity to meet all of them, experience a part of their life, make these great new friends and once again I would tell them that I took way more out of it than I could have possibly given them.

As has been my norm, I would like to end this dispatch with a poem that was given to me as a Christmas gift
by one of my students.

The Jolly Maker
Samuel Aristotle Mtaula
Jolly maker, oh!
I remembered then, for a moment,
With your golden voice,
You taught students.
With wisdom of yours
You created a nice future.
Jolly maker, hmm!
I salute you!

Jolly maker,
In time of sorrow
You set them with smiles.
When they fall in trouble,
With your presence,
They were self.
Oh! A source of happiness.

Happy maker,
There you are,
Indeed you’re a jolly maker.
Let nothing trouble you,
Since you are
Jolly maker.

With your kindness they enjoyed
Enjoyed swimming
Swimming in the swimming pool

With love,
They chatted
No need to get a witness.
With your presence
Many of t hem visited
They visited many places indeed
Ho! Jolly maker!

Jolly maker,
May the almighty God,
Shower you with blessings,
Guide you,
Oh! Jolly maker.

With that I will close and wish all of you the very best this holiday season. Remember, life is precious so take a moment to smile at people, call an old friend, put aside petty differences with family members, make a commitment to make the world a better place, do something nice for a stranger and most importantly, be good to yourself and make life great!

Good Night Bryan and Thank You

bryan jess and me

This morning I received the awful news that a wonderful friend of mine died last night.  He wasn’t killed.  He didn’t suffer in a terrible car accident.  He didn’t die from a long battle with a fatal condition.  From what I understand, he got home from work last night, while watching TV with his fiance he fell asleep… and never woke up.  Just quietly, peacefully and uneventfully like that.

It’s so tragic it’s almost poetic.  Bryan was such a kind soul and paradoxical to his rally-the-troops way of getting friends together for drinks or a game, he was in fact a quiet man.  He was intelligent and thoughtful, he was sensitive to other people’s condition and feelings.  There was an interesting hard-to-explain calming quality about Bryan.

The photo above was taken earlier this year.  That’s Bryan, his fiance Jessica and me enjoying dinner with other friends Rico and his wife Cat, after an A’s game.  That was pretty much a perfect day for Bryan.  A ballgame, a good meal and drinks over a great conversation with good friends. My heart breaks for Jessica. Her pain is 1000 times more intense than mine.

No conversation about Bryan would be complete without mentioning his love of Cal sports and for his love of bringing people together to enjoy them.  His tailgates were legendary.  Here is one from earlier this year and that’s Bryan right there enjoying the hell out of bringing so many friends together. Tomorrow’s game is going to be hard.

OSU tailgate

The funny thing is it’s not like Bryan and I were lifetime friends… we’ve only really known each other for a few years. But in that brief time a bond was created, the sort of connection that makes life so special.  We’d have late night discussions on Facebook about sports and work and life.. we had the same profession so we’d talk about that and Bryan would say to me “When you start your own company I want to be the first employee…”  We’d agree that Cheers was better than Seinfeld.  That this would be the year the A’s would win the World Series or that Cal would go to the Rose Bowl. We’d talk about how great Jessica is…

Bryan’s passing, in such an non-eventful way and far, far too prematurely reinforces in me the philosophy I hold so dear and share with others.  Carpe Diem.  You have to seize the day.  As I say over and over, life is meant to be lived and for you to have an impact on it.  There’s a great speech by Robert Gordon Sproul, UC Class of 1913 and President of the University from 1930 – 1958, an excerpt of which I’d like to share with you:

If man’s brief stay on Earth may be compared to a splash on the sea of life, his circle of friends and associates is the ripple therewith set in motion.  The larger the splash, the stronger the ripple tends to be and the farther and wider it will extend.

Some men profess indifference to the ripple they create, but modesty or blindness may be suspected in that.  Few of us can turn existence into living without the inspiration and the help that comes from others. The more actively we live, the more important others become – for they are both audience and fellow actors. Among them must be sought a supporting cast for the role we dream of playing and the critics who will help us play it well.  One cannot light a torch in a vacuum.

That was Bryan to a T.  So tomorrow as I know Bryan would want I’ll get together with friends at the Cal game and cheer GO BEARS and, as much as I hate the stuff, I’ll raise a shot of Jameson to him.

The very last thing Bryan posted on his Facebook is below, and I can’t think of a more fitting last thought from Bryan.  Fiat Lux Bryan, keep that torch burning bright.

Bryan facebook post

Thanks for reading and if you have thoughts and memories of Bryan you’d like to share, please feel free to leave a reply.

HEY UCLA! GET YOUR OWN COLORS! GET YOUR OWN DAMN SONG! AND GET A REAL BEAR!

ucla_shirt_back

OK, it’s been a tough year and it’s not going to get any easier.  Did you hear Cal has a few players hurt on defense? So listen, you can either hang  your head and give up or embrace the season for what it is (I’ll have a post regarding that later).  So you know me… annoyingly positive.  Yes, a proud member of the Loyal Order of Sunshine Pumpers.

pumping sunshine!

But UCLA is UCLA.  They stole Cal’s fight song. They stole Cal’s colors.  And they made a phony bear mascot!  So so apropos for LA.  You can book this – when the UCLA band strikes up the Mickey Mouse version of BIg C, inevitably you’ll hear a UCLA student say “Why does Cal has the same fight song as us…”

So with all that in mind, as we head into our game with UCLA, I want to update a post I did for the good folks at California Golden Blogs a couple of years ago.  As you remember Cal crushed UCLA last year in Berkeley.

That has become par for the course in both football AND basketball!

But it wasn’t always that way.  Not all that long ago, beating UCLA in any sport was considered a season making achievement for CAL.  Ask some Old Blues they’ll tell you the horror of 25+ straight years without a victory against the Southern Branch in hoops… or 18 straight years of losses on the gridiron…  This run of futility helped define the two program’s fan bases…  strike that.  All it did was instill in Bruins fans the obnoxiousness that still inexplicably exists today… You see, to them, beating CAL was a birthright, like having blond hair, or making deep and penetrating social commentary on achieving racial harmony!

But enough of that. For a Throwback Thursday post let me tell you about the 1991 game.

bearmania!!

In 1990, after 18 years of futility in football against the Bruins, the California Golden Bears finally put the world right by beating UCLA 38 – 31 in a thrilling game at Memorial Stadium.  The night before, after the bonfire rally, Coach Snyder let me in on a little secret; the team would be entering through the student section!  He told me to keep it quiet and just make sure people were ready… So sure enough, with no fanfare, suddenly a river of big, burly blue started cascading down each side of the student section… as people realized what was happening the student section absolutely exploded as did the rest of the stadium!  The entrance worked as the Bears raced out to a 27-10 halftime lead and would eventually hold on for the great win.  In the closing seconds the crowd let out with a Bear Territory chant that reverberated through Old Memorial Stadium and was repeated in the victorious locker room!.  As the game ended a delirious student section rushed the field to celebrate.  That part’s important because the perpetually uptight head coach of the Bruins, Terry Donahue, took offense at this show of joy and promised to not have to witness a CAL victory again!

Entering the 1991 season there were great expectations in Berkeley.  After starting off 3-0 with a last second victory in Tucson over the Wildcats, The LA Times summed up the feeling in Berkeley perfectly when it wrote in its preview:

It’s early October, and the Pacific 10 football season is barely under way. However, unusual significance has been attached to today’s game between UCLA and California at the Rose Bowl.

There is a sort of crusading fervor in much of the Bay Area, where the Bears, after years of residency in the lower echelon of the conference, are regarded as a championship-contending team.

What you need to know about that early October day at the Rose Bowl is that it was hot.  I mean it was HOT!  And humid… and smoggy… oh was it smoggy…  look, you can barely see the other end of the stadium through that smog.  (now remember, these are OLD photos that were taken with one of those disposal cameras – which were cutting edge in 1991 – and then stored in some shoe box, then scanned, then converted from tiff to jpeg… then uploaded, you get the idea)

cal band ucla 1991 smoggy

This would have an impact because our star running back, Russell White would have an upper respiratory infection, which made it hard for him to breath…  additionally he would need intravenous fluids at halftime!  Here’s a great shot of the end zone pylon!! Oh, if you look closely you can all see Russell White fielding the opening kickoff too!  Good work by the groundskeepers at the Rose Bowl that year….

russell white cal ucla 1991

Cal fans showed up 15,000 strong at the Rose Bowl that day.

Did I mention it was hot?

cal ucla 1991 me

Yes, that’s an incredibly geeky looking FiatLux…  And that box I’m standing on… that black box…. was INSANELY hot. I had to keep pouring water on it and my shoes!  But man did the CAL section rock the Rose Bowl that day!

By the way, here’s a good way to make me feel old.  Take someone with whom I was in college, say, Brian Treggs.   That’s him in the picture there   313623_10150436044782835_612382834_10348303_988853621_a_medium

then tell me his kid is going CAL and we follow each other on twitter… BRB, going to take a glucosamine tablet…

The game was tied 14 at the half… the CAL band put on a great show… but what’s that in  the background?

calband ucla 1991b

Those poor UCLA students can’t even get their card stunts straight….  Little did they know how prescient they were being as CAL was about to turn their whole world upside down!

Let’s fast forward to the 4th quarter… CAL was down 24-14 with about 6 minutes left and UCLA had the ball… This was not going like it was supposed to… it was going to be a looooonnnng drive back up 5.  But that CAL team was special… and before you knew it, Jerrott Willard forced a fumble, Mike Pawlawski hit Brian Treggs for 24 yards down to the 3 and Russell White would then carry two hapless UCLA defenders with him into the end zone to tie the game.  The CAL defense would hold again and Doug Brien would kick a 47 yard field goal to win the game for CAL!!!

There was joy all around!!!

cal ucla 1991 HAPPY

And poor Terry Donahue had to go midfield a loser again.

This game gave me one of my all time favorite quotes from Mike Pawlawski…UCLA players had said after  the previous year’s game that is there had been a 5th quarter they would have won.  I told you they were obnoxious and delusional… to that Pawlawski had this:

“When we beat them last year,” he said, “they started wearing T-shirts about a fifth quarter, like they would have beaten us if we could have kept playing. Well, looks like today they should have been thinking about the fourth quarter, instead of the fifth, because that’s when they needed to play.”

They just don’t make ’em like that anymore!

One last thing.  At half time of the game, Jerrott WIllard came over to me and said “Ken, you got to keep the crowd going… they’re making so much noise and we get totally fired up and feed off it!”

So listen, I’m no fool… I know it’s a long shot.  We’re going to be using some offensive players on defense.  But man, you can’t call yourself a fan if you’re just in it in the good times. This isn’t a pro team.  This is YOUR team.  You went to school at Cal, or grew up with Cal… these guys are students, classmates, friends, dates… they represent the greatest university in the country in a way in which we can all take pride.  So if you’re a student, get the RVs ready for the drive.  If you’re in Southern California, head out to the Rose Bowl on Saturday.  Because while the odds are long, you never know… we could see a repeat of this from 2009!

cal beats ucla at rose bowl

Why a Baseball Game in Oakland Should be on Every Sports Fan’s Bucket List!

It’s the worst stadium in professional sports.  It’s literally craptastic! It’s not located downtown or in an up and coming warehouse district where fans can distract themselves from, you know,  the actual game. There are no views.  There’s no faux retro charm.  They have to share the stadium with a football team so the field gets beat up at the end of the year, just when the A’s are hoping to be on the national stage.

There are no micro-breweries or Japanese – Scandinavian fusions restaurants where you can grab a bite before or after the game. Nope, it’s located between a freeway, an industrial complex, recycling yards, train tracks and some pretty dicey public housing.  Yep, that’s what you get when you come to a baseball game in Oakland. And that is EXACTLY why a game in Oakland should be on your bucket list!

Because, see, what you get is the best crowd in professional sports.  Not the biggest mind you, but the best.  Last night in Oakland the A’s and Tigers played the first game of their 5 game playoff series.  And this is what the crowd was like – WITH THE A’S LOSING – going into the bottom of the 9th inning!!!

And here is the reaction in the 7th inning when Yoenis Céspedes of the Oakland Athletics blasts a two-run homer to pull the A’s within 3-2, sending 48,000 fans into delirium.

Games at the o.co Coliseum are a mixture of college football, European futbol game and minor league baseball all in one.  The fans – by far the most diverse group in pro sports – non-stop chant, bang drums, honk horns, sing and wave towels and banners.  It’s one of few stadiums left where handmade signs are draped around the railings throughout the stadium.  And it’s all just so sort of ironic given the fans are the farthest away from the field, there’s no roof or baffling to keep the sound it.  But don’t just take my word for it, Detroit manager Jim Leyland talks about it here:

And the players interact with the fans in way no other players in any professional sport in America do.  That last point is due in large part because with the A’s small payroll,  the vast majority of the players are making not insanely  more than the fans who fill the stadium do.  They can relate with the fans and the fans with them. And even the few players who make in the millions for the A’s get caught up in that.  There is a camaraderie between player and fan you see nowhere else (with maybe the exception of Green Bay and the Packers).

So if you’re sports fan, and you long for what you think professional sports should be all about, do yourself a favor and head to a game at the o.co Coliseum in Oakland.  And just for that night, no matter who you normally root for, go ahead and let out a few hearty “LET’S GO OAKLAND” chants with the rest of the crowd!

Cal 2013 Football Season 2.0 Starts Saturday! Hop on Board and Enjoy!

Memorial Stadium Sunset

To paraphrase the immortal words of former Arizona Cardinals coach Denny Green, the California Golden Bears are who we knew we would be!  The second youngest team in America playing the toughest schedule in college football, front loaded with three of their first four games against ranked opponents, 2 of those against opponents in the top 5.  Throw in a new coaching staff, new scheme and a bunch of injuries to an already young and thin defense and… well while all of us hoped for great things, most of us thought the team would be 1-3 at this point.  

I’ve been saying since game 1, this is going to be a great year.  Not necessarily for the results on the field but because of what we’re witnessing.  I honestly believe we’re at the start of something big.  There are times in life when you know what you’re experiencing now is the set up for something greater that will be made ever more sweeter because of what you went through to get there.  I think back to Oakland A’s in 1980.  Not far removed from winning three straight World Series, they had become the laughing stock of baseball.  In 1979 drawing fewer than 300,000 fans… FOR THE ENTIRE SEASON.  But then the Haas family – Cal’s very own – bought them and in 1980 the start of something great happened.  My best friends and I went to probably 70 games that year and even tho the A’s barely finished .500 it was as exciting a year as I can remember.  And we even got to see Ricky Henderson excel in his rookie year – honest that’s Rickey’s smile!!!  And the following year the A’s would roar to success!

Ricky Henderson 1980

But back to this Cal team… I love these players on the team.  Nick Forbes has been selected to the AllState AFCA Good Works Team.  You can go that link and vote for him EVERY DAY!

As this video shows, Mark Brazinksi defines brawn and brain and has already graduated with a double degree or something that I didn’t even know existed…

You go up and down the roster and these are players you can be proud of to be Cal student athletes.  Get out there and meet them, you’ll love them.

We have, for what seems the first time in a few years, a fun offense to watch!

We have coaches that not only want to be coaching at Cal, they want to be part of the community in Berkeley!  Tony Franklin embraces the diversity of Berkeley and lives downtown in a loft!  Head Coach Sonny Dykes lives in Oakland and has embraced the history of Cal football, the fans and has opened practices to anyone who wants to come!

Yeah yeah yeah you say, but we’re 1-3.  And I say who cares.  Seriously, who frickin’ care.  Yeah, winning is more fun than losing, but this year is about the journey.  Are you having fun at the games?  Are you liking – flaws and all – what you’re seeing?  Do you like the trick plays?  The dramatically improved special teams?  Witnessing a young quarterback develop right in front of you? Do you feel good about the development of the young players (which is to basically say all of the players)?  You just have to.  If you don’t, folks, you’re wasting your time.  Go follow the pros.

Wazzu is the start of Season 2.0.  So here’s what I propose.  Fill the place for Washington State.  I want to see the student section filled early.  That really is a challenge.  Do you believe in college athletics? Do you believe that these guys are your fellow students, classmates, dormmates, friends, etc.  They represent Cal great and deserve your support through thick and through thin.  And yep, right now it’s a little thin.  But this is going to be a great game.  It will be fun. Watch these young guys develop before your eyes.  Wazzu is the start of the season 2.0.  Not only will you watch these young guys develop, but when we’re challenging for a title in the coming years you’ll be able to say “I was there when…”

So this post ends with a simple question.  Are you a Golden Bear through and through?  Will you be there Saturday?  Will you be like 60,000 Nams???  Let’s make it happen.  GO BEARS!!!