A Mellow Saturday Visit To Night Train

It is a sign of a coward who says, “This is my bad luck and I will have to accept it.” A positive thinker would say, “I will decide my fate and my own destiny.”–Richard “Night Train” Lane

Sometimes as you get older you learn to not sweat the small stuff, take life day by day, and how to take ‘er easy. All cliches, I know, but getting older is somewhat tricky, so I just follow the social cues and mind my own business and it seems to work out for the most part. Pious life advice aside, a friend and I decided to check out one of those breweries that also sells coffee and pastries over on the bohemian/east side of town. Idyllic domesticity. You can sit outside at a table and stare at people or dogs or even the band on stage as you sip your beverage of choice. It’s nothing special, but it was a fine-by-me-activity on a delightful, breezy, and sunny Saturday.

Before the festivities, however, we decided to stop by football/Rams great Dick “Night Train” Lane’s grave and pay homage. Dick was known as one of football’s most fearsome hitters, and when he wasn’t knocking your block off, he was picking your quarterback’s pocket as he holds the single-season NFL record for interceptions with 14 set in 1952. The cemetery, being predominantly black, was vandalized a few years back with spray paint, but the community came together and scrubbed away all the offensive garbage. The story made me angry and sad, but I was also proud of the community for their tenacity and how it bolstered their dauntless and bountiful sense of pride. You’ll find that most knuckleheads like the “graffiti artist” don’t have much determination or bravery, so eventually, they just give up until their decrepit brain and unfounded hatred devours their flimsy psyche.

Dick himself had a rather rocky upbringing as he was thrust into the world by a prostitute and her pimp, and after roughly three months they were irritated by the child so he was simply placed in a garbage can amongst newspapers. Discarded like trash.

Lane later recalled, “My father was called Texas Slim. I never saw him – I don’t know if he’s the one that told my mother to throw me away. A pimp told my mother I had to go. They put me in a trash can and took off. Some people heard me crying. They thought it was a cat.”

Our lives are impacted by forces we cannot explain, often changed for reasons we will never totally understand. Can you call it kismet? Dick survived the trash bin and was thereafter adopted and raised by a loving woman, eventually going on to play minor league baseball before joining the U.S. Army. After serving four years he worked in an aircraft plant in Los Angeles but found the work tedious and unsatisfying. He would ride the bus to the job every day and observed that he was passing by the L.A. Rams offices. Fate leads the willing and drags along the reluctant: one fine day Lane waltzed in and asked for a tryout and was almost immediately signed. Imagine the cajones on this guy! Night Train, in the course of time, played in the NFL for 14 seasons, and like most old-school players was charming and urbane on the surface with a fierce, smashmouth steeliness below.

Lane was eventually worn down by complications from diabetes and reduced mobility from numerous knee surgeries. He died of a heart attack at an assisted living center in Austin, Texas on January 29, 2002.  He was 74 years old.

RIP ‘Train. 

“Tank” Gets in Trouble While Tanked

Hardly a “bum.”

L.A. Rams fullback Paul “Tank” Younger played before his home team fans in the Jan. 10, 1953, Pro Bowl game. Few of those fans, though, knew that Younger was in the game on something of a “work release” program. Younger earned $600 playing in the game, which his National Conference team won, 27-7.

A Los Angeles judge had earlier sentenced Young to 14 days in jail for assault, plus a year on probation, but stayed the sentence so Younger could participate in the charity game.

Younger had been convicted of giving his mother-in-law, Neatheola Olermo, a “shove” after she had called him a “bum football player,” and threw a Moscow Mule — complete with copper mug — at him in an alleged drunken fracas.

Later that year, Younger’s 19-year-old wife Wylene sued him for divorce for the second time in their year-old marriage, alleging that he had struck her, “on numerous occasions.”

Everything wasn’t all bad for Younger, however, as he was the first African-American to become an NFL front-office administrator, working for the Rams until retiring in 1995. He lived in Los Angeles, California until his death on September 15, 2001, at the age of 73.

Remember the L.A. Rams Ode to “Ramming?”

“I learned long ago that if you Ram It just right, you can Ram It all day and Ram It all night”.

If you’re just listening to this song in a strictly audio context, (see sidebar to listen) it might vaguely register in the adolescent portion of your brain that there are some lyrics in “Ram It” that could be considered references to, like, fucking. The question as to whether these references are naive and accidental or wink-and-nudge purposeful eventually evaporates into a damp cloud of mortified discomfort when the visuals are added in. It is one thing to hear Gary Jeter describe his defensive prowess in terms like “I come from the end, lookin’ for the sack/I don’t stop comin’ ’til I put ’em on their back.” It is another, far more bewildering situation to actually see it with his accompanying shimmies and wiggles and scowls.

There are other bits that scan as embarrassing in more bad-showbiz ways. Jim Collins, already dealing with the disappointment of being sidelined with a season-long shoulder injury, delivers his lines with a dissociative, middle-distance stare and a half-hearted shoulder shake. Carl Ekern both looks and sounds like he’s rapping through gritted teeth as he hunch-straddles over a motorcycle. But let’s face it: there are a lot of verses in this song that juxtapose a fondness for Ladies and an enthusiasm for Rammin’ It in a pretty suggestive way. And that’s where the comments section comes in.

Trying to track real-world sentiment through YouTube comments is like trying to follow the news from bathroom graffiti. Suffice it to say that a lot of them are along the lines of “this is gay”—not merely in the teenage “synonym for unmacho corniness” sense but in the belief that “Let’s Ram It,” despite being an actual NFL Officially Licensed Product created in the nauseatingly normative heart of 80s Reagan America, is literally an expression of homosexual desire. I’m not at the proper Kinsey scale point to confirm this in the positive, and I’m not struck with the kind of anxious-hetero Penis Panic that immediately jumps to the negative interpretation. But something seems to be at work here, even with the full assumption that this video was intended as “a little something for the ladies.”

This is because there’s no camp in football. Nope. No thanks. Save your comedic irony or your Tim & Eric weirdness for lower-stakes sports like baseball or basketball, the ones with a modicum of tolerance for absurdists and eccentrics like Bill Lee or Shaq or Ichiro. Under the imperium of The Shield, where punk meant Jim McMahon writing passive-aggressive Pete Rozelle callouts on his unauthorized headband, there is only Pride and Honor and Battle; humor and irreverence seem to be abandoned unless it is somehow accidentally buttfumbled into existence.

The NFL, as it exists at this moment, is an anti-nonconformity machine constructed to make examples out of the Cam Newtons and Ricky Williamses of the world, and the one game that’s least aware of its status as a game. It has leveraged that self-serious attitude to become the single most omnipresent entertainment institution in the entire United States. Our valiant gridiron heroes must never look like anything less than the most constricting, conservative version of True Manhood; if they fuck that up somehow, then that facade has crumbled. One must never let that mask slip, ever.

For some Rams players, participation in the “Let’s Ram It” video wound up defining them more substantially than their actual playing careers. Norwood Vann, who caps off his verse with a hip thrust that would make “Ravishing” Rick Rude stammer, has more Wikipedia verbiage on his “energetic appearance” in the video than on his actual pro career. For others, it’s a goofy footnote, the kind of thing that might get dragged out as a clip if the Hall of Fame induction ceremony ever doubled as a roast. (“Hey Slater, are you actually playing that saxophone?”)

They are all worth saluting: grown men unafraid to look like total goofy ding-dongs, many of them not far removed from historic athletic landmarks or careers that would enshrine them in Canton. This song is silly, yeah. It’s definitely easy to laugh at, even if it means inadvertently laughing with it, too.

And if you’ve sincerely believe there’s no place for this kind of ridiculousness in professional sports? Well, these dudes have a suggestion as to what you can do with it.

Written by: Nate Patrin, Vice Magazine, Feb. 2016

Rams make Bangles feel a “Manic Sunday”

Poor girls never stood a chance.

I decided to try something different and be a bit more social, so I attended a SB party at the behest and invite by my equally anti-social “lady friend.” This was the type of party where everyone would listen in rapt attention as someone recounted a plot in a movie they had seen recently or a trivial disagreement with a co-worker: a mishmash of nightmarish, repetitive, anti-narrative while the most mundane modern pop and Axe Body Spray wafted and commingled in the background.

There was a sense that everyone was desperately trying to be charming and urbane. Of course, I was made to feel like a caveman for drinking beer instead of margaritas, unapologetically tearing into the hors d’oeuvres, (kudos to the hired old lady that created them–and who was obviously unimpressed by the soul-crushing atmosphere) and actually being concerned about the outcome–but with both parties enjoying the consummate pinnacle of self-congratulatory, late capitalistic, trashy, commercialized absurdity…who can judge?

What can I say that hasn’t been blathered ad nauseam about this game? (even I’m tired of hearing about the X’s and O’s) I certainly didn’t start writing to become redundant, and that seems to be the MO of any sports writing hack with a laptop and limited knowledge of sports history and even more limited writing skills. These Bangles weren’t the mustache-twirling villains like the Patriots. No, my friends, these were the dumb-luck, up-and-comers who gave Cincinnati fans the delusional fantasy for about 2 weeks that they had the greatest QB of all time! Perhaps a fool’s paradise is a better option than a loser’s purgatory–and don’t most of these nitwits live in (shudder) Ohio? I seriously want to imbibe on whatever psychedelic substance they were collectively smoking, (I’m envisioning a Jefferson Airplane video with Grace Slick twirling around in a Ja’Marr Chase jersey, bathed in a spinning, multicolored strobe light with a couple guys off camera whipping bath towels to spread the dry ice smoke.) but as I like to often say, “sports does weird shit to people.” 

A random idiot had the gall to say L.A. was “Raiders Country” until I finally spoke up, no doubt miffed by the Radiohead/PM Dawn remix in the background. 

“I have lived in Los Angeles for the better part of a decade, good sir, and not ONCE have I seen a single piece of Raiders gear being worn by an actual human.” 

Another ham-fisted narrative, spoken for the sake of narrative, burned to the ground. Tinseltown is a city where you can’t even walk to the corner store without seeing a Dodgers cap, so the unadulterated fandom is there–just not on the side of the one-eyed pirate and their billionaire owner whose hair is occasionally cut by a blind 8-year-old with a salad bowl and pruning shears. 

We all know what happens. Cooper Kupp on a jet sweep on 4th down. Matty Stafford with the no-look pass to Kupp for a 22-yard-gain that destroyed the hearts, minds, and delusions of many Cincinnatians, (Perhaps the death of WKRP’s fictional Johnny Fever was a close second?) as Aaron Donald impersonated Lawrence Taylor in Tecmo Bowl “beast mode” to end the game. Grown men crying, formulating excuses and conspiracy theories, essentially making Cowboys fans look like the apex of masculinity and good sportsmanship. The good guys get the trophy and I’m elated because I waited 20-plus years to see this again, and all the B.S. seems to drift into the background. I stumble home knowing my cats were going to be troubled that I wasn’t there to give them dinner. It’s hard to believe, but they really don’t give a toss about the Rams or the Super Bowl…the hungry little bastards. 

This Movie Is Watchable When Drunk

Oh, boy. Another gratuitous movie review that will undoubtedly float unread in the ether, and I’m going to keep it short and sweet. Before I get into this flick–I feel the need to add that I admire Kurt Warner as a person. I always thought he was kind of humdrum–but overall he’s a likable guy, a funny prognosticator, a snazzy dresser, and someone who brought this once-proud franchise a bit of respect after being a laughingstock for a decade. 

The Kurt Warner movie American Underdog can be summed up by, “You don’t have what it takes.” 

And then he, indeed, has what it takes–the ultimate football movie trope. 

This is a very simple movie.  I expected a down and dirty, gritty football film, ( à la Burt Reynolds in The Longest Yard) but what I got was The Notebook with a sprinkling of working-class “don’t have a pot to piss in” schmaltz and vague spirituality around the edges. The football scenes feel artificial, with players moving in slow motion and the QB having the follow-through of a 12-year old who has never thrown a football in his/her life. The green screen effect makes you feel as if you’re in some sort of ethereal dimension (Shazam in the Multiverse?) rather than a football stadium, and that’s once you get past the multitude of quick-cut-edits that give you a vague sense that you’re having a stroke. 

In multitude were the scenes with Kurt’s wife trying to inspire #13 and giving him advice “a man can really stand by,” which are obviously supposed to be the tear-jerking, moral fabric, meat of the movie, but I was constantly distracted by Anna Paquin’s bad wig–a haircut never seen on a woman in my general stratosphere, which can only be described as “Star Wars Cantina” or “Canadian Chic.” There was also enough 90’s denim in this movie to throw Japanese hipsters into a collective murder frenzy. (but that could be a good thing?) All of the aforementioned coagulates into giving this movie a tinge of “it’s so bad it’s good” but never quite getting there because it takes itself way too seriously even though it teeters dangerously on being a Lifetime throwaway “chick flick.”

Coping mechanism

Actor Zachary Levi is the only thing that makes this movie somewhat watchable. I loved him in Shazam! and his character is just as likable here, but his sense of humor and comedic timing–which made the DC movie so enjoyable–is sorely missing. It’s almost a joyless slog. By the hour and a half mark of the film I was screaming, “Can you please just become a great player and win the goddamn Super Bowl already!”  

What it boils down to is that this is essentially a Christian propaganda film made to appeal to the pious, family-oriented, megachurch crowd…or a Rams fan. (but juuuust barely) Otherwise, I’d pass. Call me cynical, but all this over-the-top “inspiration” can sometimes prove to be exhausting, and also demonstrates that NFL scouts either have to embrace better analytics or that players can greatly improve by playing in inferior leagues rather than standing around and carrying a clipboard with their thumbs up their butt. 

** out of 5

Vintage Cardboard Gems

I recently received these awesome vintage cards in the mail from Mark over at RetroSimba, (Check it out, it’s one of the most important baseball publications out there) and I was curious about the history of these cardboard gems. Here’s a wonderful vignette Mark wrote about those origins:

My boyhood world in the 1960s was Bayonne, N.J., a working-class city of ethnic neighborhoods across the bay from New York City. Depending on what part of town the Catholic church was in, you could hear Masses conducted in Polish, Italian, German, Spanish, English, and, of course, Latin.

Chuck Wepner, the heavyweight prizefighter, operated a liquor store on Broadway. They called him “The Bayonne Bleeder,” because of the pounding he took in the ring. Sylvester Stallone acknowledged Wepner was the model for the “Rocky” movie character. Like the city he came from, “The Bayonne Bleeder” was tough and streetwise. He went 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali. When he worked the champ into a corner, Wepner stepped on his foot so he couldn’t shuffle, then knocked him on his ass.

Around the block from where I lived on 31st Street was Sam Pope’s candy store. Sam and his wife ran the place. She always was nice. Sam always was all business. He wore a wide, white apron and would pass for the twin of actor Vincent Gardenia.

The store was stuffed with stuff, but my attention was on the same items: Comic books, Spaldeens, popsicles, Chuckles candy, gum, and baseball cards.

A pack of baseball cards cost a nickel. I’d dig out a pack near the bottom of the shelf, the theory being that’s where Sam Pope was stashing the ones containing my favorite players. Nothing quite matched the exhilaration of spilling out onto the sidewalk, tearing open the pack, and examining each card, hoping that behind every Washington Senators player or checklist was a Hank Aaron or Roger Maris.

The start of the school year meant the end of the baseball card supply at Sam Pope’s. It felt like another lifetime or two would have to pass before the new sets arrived in spring.

Bring back these uni’s, please.

Then, on a visit to the store one autumn day, a batch of cards appeared on the shelf. What’s this? Football cards? Sweet Jesus. What genius thought of this?

On TV, football players were faceless people in helmets with big numbers on their backs. The football cards brought them to life. So, that’s what Merlin Olsen looks like.

The names and faces captivated the imagination. Is there a more perfect name for an offensive lineman than Tom Mack? On his football card, he looked as solid as the truck, too. A quarterback with the name of both a gladiator and an archangel? There he is–Roman Gabriel, looking the part.

I saved my baseball and football cards, adding more over the years. They accompanied me on every journey from childhood to adulthood.

Now, I like to give them to others to enjoy. Some go to a school in Indiantown. Others delight sons of friends or kids in my Florida neighborhood. And a few have found their way to a Rams blogger, a young talent with an old soul.

Horns Move On to the Bowliest of All Bowls

Not a good day for Jim Everett and company.

I needed to quell my pre-game anxiety on Sunday by self-induced psychosis, so I smoked a doobie and went on a long bike ride while listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Yes, I know it’s glorified stoner music with the lyrical content on par intellectually with the conversations I had last Saturday at 3 AM after drinking about 28 beers, but goddamn if it wasn’t working on this melancholic day. I actually saw a dog in a park running in slow motion over a large swath of grass and it made me feel quite peaceful. This 1973 album was subversive capitalism at its finest, (are those Jewish space lasers on the cover?) quite the opposite of the NFL, who punches you in the face with over-the-top commercialism while singing God Bless ‘Merica and skull-fucking logic, debate, and artistic sensitivity. I know what you’re thinking…have a beer and don’t overthink it, dummy.

These two teams had met in the playoffs only once before the current contest–the 1989 NFC Championship in which a Joe Montana-led 49ers group destroyed the Rams 30-3. I watched the game with a friend at my house, (on my mom’s forever 80’s couch that had vomited pastel flowers) and we were pre-teens so we drank sodas, ate popcorn, and talked about girls, heavy metal videos, and the new Batman movie. I quickly lost interest in the game as the boot-stomping commenced, and Montana further cemented his “Joe Cool” legacy, but the malady still lingered. I had experienced the highest of highs the week before when “Flipper” Anderson ran into the tunnel after a game-winning TD catch against the Giants in the frigid Meadowlands, and now I was going to receive piles of somewhat good-natured tauntings when I returned to school on Monday. That’s cool though, it’s all part of what it means to be a fan, and kids back then didn’t sweat the small stuff before youths became ketamine-snorting trauma-vultures and perceived slights had been raised as an art form.

This 1970 Billy Truax card was used as a sort of “good luck totem,” and it worked like a charm.

Sunday’s contest was a knock ’em down, gritty game, and I was feeling more uncomfortable as it unfolded because it seemed as if we were playing into their hands by mimicking their game. It took a brilliant 4th quarter by Matty Stafford and Cooper “YAC” Kupp to come out victorious by the smallest of margins, 20-17. I’m not going to bore you with statistics here, because that’s not what I do, but in the end, we served up revenge as it was meant to be served–cold. I can consequently let that game from 1989 be lifted from the recesses of my mind, but not before my 14-year old self dusted off a few cobwebs, climbed out from under a heavy load of memories, self-esteem issues, worthless knowledge, and mental psychosis to gift that team from San Francisco the middle finger. And I can assure you, that boy had been lying in wait for a very long time to do just that.

Rams Bloody and Beat Brady’s pirates

The last time the Rams and Bucs played in the playoffs was the NFC Championship in January of 2000, and I feel like I’ve lived ten hardscrabble lives since then. I was working at a bakery/cafe and unfortunately had to work that day, (yours truly was fired soon thereafter for calling in sick and was caught red-handed by one of his co-workers at a party later that night having a good time) but watched the second half at a little Irish tavern across the street where Christina Aguilera’s awful “What a Girl Wants” was playing on the juke–the number one hit at the time.

Ricky Proehl caught a TD pass from Mr. Hollywood with 4 minutes and change on the clock to squeak out an 11-6 win and metamorphosed into a Rams legend in the process. I remember feeling elated, but the bar was completely dead, (on a Sunday?) and there wasn’t a soul to celebrate with. In the end, I’m glad it played out the way it did, and I’m glad I was alone as I needed pause to process the culmination of elation, foregone heartbreak, time, and their relation to each other. Sports does weird shit to people, and apparently existential dread is one of them.

My cousin sent me a DM on the day of the modern game. He’s a Raiders fan, so of course, the message was cocky and demanding even though the “bad boys” in black haven’t done jack shit since Rich Gannon was throttled by his recently slandered ex-coach, Chucky Cheese in the SB. They have so much misguided pride–it’s actually kind of endearing once you get past the pathetic part.

Sunday’s game was a sphincter punch as well but just not in the same way the 2000 game was:

–Blowing a  27-3 lead by allowing 24 consecutive points caused by 3 (!) second-half turnovers and a missed field goal. 

–A Tom Brady split lip 

– Cam Akers with 2 HUGE fumbles, the second of which caused a mini-stroke and histrionic fits

–Cooper ” Mr. YAC” Kupp being otherworldly. 

I woke up this morning only to listen to the talking heads make every excuse for Tom Brady that could possibly be incorporated into an argument, (never once mentioning that his entire career was bad optics for a sport often whispered to be fabricated) and it seems the gratuitous worship is getting ridiculous to the point that it borders on the homoerotic. C’mon guys, my only request is that we stick strictly to sports and logical analytics and leave your closeted sexuality for your unsatisfied wives and uninterested therapist to deal with. I’m not trying to be hyperbolic either. Now…onward to the NFC Championship against our arch-rivals and nemesis–The San Francisco Whiners–and we will take with us an open mind, an open heart, and a love for people who embrace their true sexuality without hindrance. Now didn’t we all learn a lesson here?

Rams Advance to Play the Bucs in the “Land of Strip Clubs” on Sunday

The “Bye Bye St. Louis” Bowl

What kind of idiot decides to do a weekly gridiron vignette when the season is almost over? Well, I suppose it takes a special kind of stupid but you can’t decide when inspiration strikes and that’s what ostensibly happened.

As the devil himself said via the Rolling Stones, “Please allow me to introduce myself.” I have been a Rams fan since 1986, and not once have I cried when my squad was eliminated from the playoffs. (ok, well maybe I shattered a few random things against the wall) The question is– will Cowboys fans ever shed their reputation as (literal) crybabies after being outed on national television sobbing en masse like toddlers? Redemption isn’t foreseeable anytime soon, as the memes were flying and people actually stopped watching porn or trolling political forums for a few hours Sunday evening in order to join the melee. Kick ‘em while they’re down I say–particularly those smug asswipes from Texas. Give the song “The Crying Game” a spin if you get the chance, it’s a 1964 classic crooned by Dave Berry and it’s frightfully fitting for the dystopian shit show that occurred in Arlington that day. I think we can all agree that it’s a favorable time to be a therapist in the greater Dallas area.

Tonight’s game in LaLa Land brought back memories of an ex-girlfriend whose father would play bocce ball in the park with his friends while ingesting copious amounts of red wine, prosciutto, and smoked meats. We would lay in the grass while the old men smoked cigars, and she’d read my horoscope–which I thought was a sham–but she was a beautiful Italian girl, and I let her read to me so I could listen to her voice and watch her flip her hair while the sweat would bead above her lips. Her family had transplanted to Phoenix (a desolate, hot as balls, facsimile of hell) and her dad would tell me almost gleefully, “The Rams aren’t worth a shit!” in the New York City linguistic tradition of being biased against pronouncing an “r.” How could I be offended? I’d been hearing that for over 20 years in multiple linguistics to the point of exhaustion, and I was also respectfully shagging his daughter, my fidanzata.

Well, it was a fun game for about 2 quarters, but the contest was in the barf bag pretty early helping Matty Stafford finally get the malicious playoff monkey off his back. I ran out of beer in the 3rd quarter, so I stumbled to the corner store without fear of missing anything. The Rams now advance to play Old Man “Tuck Rule” Brady and the Buccaneers next week in the tropical, and full-on batshit crazy “Land of a Million Strip Clubs.” Brady is 44 years old and apparently still playing because of his vegan diet, a nightly cold cream made from the blood of virgins, and a softer, more humane NFL. Will he be gently touched on the shoulder garnering a “roughing the passer” penalty? Tune in to find out! Earlier in the day, I was aimlessly checking out LA Rams sites where I stumbled upon an (inspirational?) poem written by an 8-year-old called “Keep on Ramming It,” and for some reason, football wasn’t the conjured imagery. Thanks for keeping pigskin innuendo alive, kid–let’s keep the spirit of John Madden in our hearts and in our dirty minds.