Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Ending of Eras

  I watched almost the entire Super Bowl on Sunday. It was a generally a well played exciting game with the Steelers interceptions and fumbles being matched by the many dropped passes by the Packer receivers. In the end the Steelers couldn’t duplicate their last minute comeback of 2 years ago and the Packers won a close game. Living in Iowa, I know a lot of Packer fans and I’m happy for their team’s victory, especially after the pain of watching Brett Farve lead the rival Vikings to 2 victories over the Packers and the brink of the Super Bowl last year. I remember the sense of loss I felt watching the last pieces of the Yankees championship teams of the 70’s (Willie Randolph and Ron Guidry) leave in the late 80’s, but at least I never had to watch them wearing the uniform of the filthy Boston Red Sox. Now that the Packers have won the Super Bowl without Farve, they can put that era in the past and iconize the group of players who have brought them their most recent championship, while Farve can retire and try to live down the laughingstock the end of his career became with his recorded pleadings for hookups and alleged ‘photo shoots’ of ‘lil brett’ sent to New York Jets breast-implanted sideline reporter Jen Sterger in 2008. Farve’s image as a ‘good-ol’-boy’ didn’t take as much of a hit as Tiger Woods carefully polished image, but it was a costly blow for the man who had all of America rooting for him while he played the day after his father’s death on Monday Night Football and through his wife’s battle with breast cancer. I would have expected him to be on one of the football pre-game shows and selling jeans, trucks, and beer for the next 30 years but that will probably wait while he spends a few years as a pariah until people forget the sad end of his career and remember the young gunslinger with the rocket arm who played every game like it was his last. It worked for Pete Rose, right?

  Last week Yankee great Andy Pettitte announced his retirement from baseball. I remember cursing him out after he got torched by the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of the 1996 World Series in a 11-2 loss to Tom Glavine and then a week later admiring his guts in a 1-0 masterpiece in Atlanta to give the Yankees a 3 games to 2 lead. This seemed a common occurrence in Pettitte’s career that he would pitch better the second time than the first in a big series. The only exception was in game 6 of the 2001 World Series when he lost 16-1 to the hated Randy Johnson and the Diamondbacks. Pettitte went on to win a record 19 playoff games, 18 with the Yankees and 1 with the Astros when he followed the loser Roger Clemens to Houston and ended up getting tainted as an HGH user while hanging with the ‘Rocket’ during Clemens decade of steroid abuse. He was rarely the best pitcher on the staff, but when he took the mound, I was always sure he’d give the Yankees a chance to win. It’s no surprise to me that the Astros got to the World Series when Pettitte showed up and went in the toilet when he left or that he pitched the clinching game of the 2009 World Series for the Yankees because Andy Pettitte, like Jeter, Posada, and Rivera, is one of those guys that winning follows around. I’m hoping that he will stay in shape and come back later in the summer to help the Yankees out in a pinch or maybe be a pitching coach in a few years and show a new generation what winning is all about.

  An era in Iowa scholastic chess closed last month when Matt Anzis won his fourth state High School championship. He tied with Dan Brashaw in 2008 (losing a tiebreak match to determine the state’s representative to the national tournament), and won outright the last 3 years with a record of 13 wins and 2 draws in the 4 championship tournaments. Matt is really smart, but what makes him an exceptional chess player to me is his will to win and inability to accept defeat. When Matt started in chess, he wasn’t the highest rated player for his age in the state but as he got better than the other players, most of them dropped out of chess. In 2006, Matt lost the state 8th Grade championship to Hong Kai Pan of Ames in an upset. Instead of quitting, he only got more determined and 5 months later when he got his chance for a rematch he was the winner. It was the same way when he lost the playoff to Brashaw in 2008. He had never beaten Dan up to that point, but 2 months later he beat him at the high school team championships and then the next year at the high school championships. I’d like to take credit for instilling that kind of toughness, but it really only comes from within. Matt is just the latest in a long line of scholastic excellence in Iowa, following in the footsteps of players like Dan Goffstein, who won 2 state championships while he was in high school and blazing the trail for players like Kushan Tyagi, who is an expert while still an 8th grader, but time marches on. In 2003, my youngest son Ben won the state K-3 championship as a first grader, the youngest at the time. Then in 2008 Nicholas Huerter won the same event while in kindergarten. Ben was helping me with the tournament and when I told him his record was broken, he told me, “Yeah, but it was a lot harder when I had to do it."