John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: January, 2019

The Quest for the Lombardi Trophy

Each year, thirty-two NFL teams set their sights on winning the Super Bowl and the opportunity to take home the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Thirty-one fail. Worse, success is fleeting and usually deserts the champion team the following year. Last year, the Philadelphia Eagles erased 58 years of misery by winning SB LII. They made the playoffs this season but lost in the second round.

There is one exception, the New England Patriots organization. The Patriots rolled through the playoffs winning their tenth consecutive AFC Championship Game. They established an NFL record – one that will be unmatched for a long time, if ever. Quarterback Tom Brady is the Patriots field general who has led the Patriots to all these appearances. Brady is truly the greatest quarterback of all times.

So too and more important to the Patriots success is their head coach, Bill Belichick. Vince Lombardi, the legendary head coach of the Green Bay Packers and the Super Bowl Trophy’s namesake, once said: “The only thing I want (in a football game) is my unfair advantage.”

Belichick is an evil genius who manipulates the NFL to his own unfair advantage. He finds flaws in the rule book allowing him to design plays here-to-fore untried because everyone else thought they were illegal. His goal is to attack the other team’s strength by doing the unexpected and reducing the opposition’s offense to becoming one dimensional. He even keeps a sharp eye on the other team with an uncanny record of catching them with too many men on the field. His genius is without parallel.

He almost pulled off a new wrinkle in this year’s AFC Championship Game. He had Brady line up the team on a fourth down play, then, run off the field as the Patriot’s punting team ran onto the field. The Chief’s coaches tried to respond, but when the Pats snapped the ball, the Chiefs had 12 or 13 players on the field. This would have given the Pats a first down, but Bill’s machinations took too long resulting in a Pats penalty for delay of game.

A genius, yes, but he crosses the line. If you think Dick Chaney was an evil manipulator, Ole Doctor Death can’t hold a candle to Big Bad Bill. Belichick has been caught time and again as a cheat. He spied on the Rams stealing plays prior to SB XXXVI in 2001. Found guilty in spy-gate, where he filmed Jets practices and deflate-gate where the Pats underinflated game balls, Belichick alone knows the extent of his life of crime. Caught, fined, punished; the beat goes on and on February 3rd, his Patriots will play in their ninth Super Bowl since 2001. His record so far, 5 and 3.

The mere mortals running the other 31 teams have found Super Bowl appearances and victories to be elusive. No wonder, Joe Benigno, a WFAN radio guy and consummate Jets fan refers to the Super Bowl as the “Patriots Invitational.” 

The list of NFL teams frustrated by their ability to take home the Lombardi Trophy is sad and ugly. Worst off, The Detroit Lions and the Cleveland Browns, two historical franchises who have never appeared in a Super Bowl. The Lions last won an NFL Championship in 1957 and the Browns, in 1964. Two expansion teams, the Jacksonville Jaguars (1995) and the Houston Texans (2002) have yet to experience playing in a Super Bowl.

Who deserves greater pity, the three teams that lost their one and only appearance or the five teams who appeared multiple times without claiming a single Lombardi Trophy? I believe it’s the later, particularly the Minnesota Vikings and the Buffalo Bills, each with four appearances and nothing to show for it.

Two Bills fans die and go to hell. Having been cold their entire lives, the devil can’t make it hot enough for them to suffer. Undeterred, Satan turns off the heat and refrigerates hell to break these two. After a week in sub-zero freezing cold, he checks in only to find them celebrating. “Why are you happy?” He asks.

“Because Hell froze over; the Bills must have won the Super Bowl.”

How long does it take for the happiness and joy of winning the Super Bowl to fade away? The New York Football Giants last won the trophy eight years ago. Since then they have fired two head coaches and one general manager.

The New York Jets have waited 50 years and counting. So too, the Kansas City Chiefs (49) now that their dreams for 2019 are broken. The Dallas Cowboys are 24 years from their last trophy, the Miami Dolphins, 35 years and the Washington Redskins, 28 years.

Miami’s been to five winning two. The Redskins, five winning three. The Packers and the Giants have each won four of five, the 49ers, five of six, the Broncos, three of eight, the Cowboys five of eight, the Steelers, six of eight and the Patriots five of ten.

The poor KC Chiefs came so close to returning to Super Bowl LIII before losing to the Evil Empire, aka, the Patriots. The Pats won the coin toss and went the length of the field in overtime to win the AFC Championship Game, 37-31.

The Saints lost at home to the Los Angeles Rams, 26-23, also in overtime. God bless the Rams who haven’t won a Super Bowl since 2001 when they were domiciled in St. Louis. However, let the record show that their victory came on the heels of one of the worse not-called pass interference penalties, ever.

The Pats are favored to win SB-LIII. So what else is new?

Who Knew?

Author’s note: Between 2011 when I published my last book, “The Big Orange Dog and Other Stories,” and October 13, 2016, when “On the Outside Looking In,” first appeared, I wrote several pieces that never saw the light of day. I would like to share a number of these with you, drear reader in the coming months updated and edited as needed.  This is the first.

Before the internet ruined news in print, The New York Times could rightly proclaim being “The Paper of Record” that carried: All the News That’s Fit to Print.

I was a connoisseur of the Saturday Edition, the slimmest of all their daily newspapers. Not only easy to navigate, but Saturday’s paper tended to be the Gray Lady’s back water; a venue for the odd or offbeat story deemed not significant enough for weekdays or (God forbid) The Sunday New York Times.

Saturday mornings were glorious. Sitting at the kitchen table, hot coffee at the ready, I scanned the paper with an eagle eyes searching for eddies hiding the curious or obscure. One morning in December of 2009, my quest was rewarded when I spotted a story under the category, “Religious Journal” that appeared haphazardly; a gem authored by Eric J. Stern.

I first thought Mr. Stern’s piece concerned the circumstances that led to the only three rabbis residing in Montana to participate in the 2008 annual lighting of the menorah in the state capitol building in Helena.

But the clever Mr. Stern hinted that there was more to the story when he dropped a seemingly minor aside when he noted that a police officer with a bomb sniffing German Shepard was on duty during the service.

Officer John Frosket, the K-9 handler, lingered after the service concluded so he could have a word with one of the rabbis. Stern implied that the officer may have been overly cautious because of the rarity of such an “exotic visitor.” (The rabbi, not the K9.)

Ah, this suggestion was just a dead end in Stern’s shaggy dog story that he stretched for several additional paragraphs before finally revealing the true nature of his piece until he finally explained who Officer Frosket was and that his K-9 was named Miky (pronounced Mikey.)

The Helena police force had a limited budget when they decided to acquire a bomb sniffing guard dog. “Rather than spend the standard $20,000 on a bomb dog, the Helena Police Department shopped around and discovered that they could import a surplus bomb dog from the Israeli forces for the price of the flight from Israel to Helena.”

Miky arrived in good order, but with one little problem, he only understood commands spoken in Hebrew!

Officer Frosket received his new dog and a list of Hebrew commands that he neither understood nor could pronounce. He was confronted by the need to say commands like:” stay” (hi’ sha’ er), “search” (ch’press), or even “good doggy” (kelev tov).

Try as he might, Frosket couldn’t break through to Miky so he had turned to Rabbi, Chaim Bruk in desperation after the lighting was completed.

Picture Rabbi Bruk and Miky listening to Officer Frosket explain his dilemma and frustration and replying in unison: “AH HA!

Rabbi Bruk came through. He worked with Frosket and Miky going so far as to help the officer to make the “haah” or ch sound. Through his efforts, Frosket was able to break the language code so he could communicate with his dog.

As for Miky “(He) has become a new star on the police force.”  

Zippo Lighters

In my youth, I discovered the Zippo lighter. I started smoking in high school experimenting with different brands mostly filtered cigarettes, Kent, Parliament, Tarrytown, L&M and Winston. Winston almost ended this habit when I became violently ill after smoking several of their cancer sticks. Too bad, I just didn’t quit smoking entirely and not just Winston, but old nicotine already had me hooked, I was just 17 and the desire to quit wouldn’t come for almost another 30-years.

In time Marlboro became my brand of record and the Zippo lighter became an intricate part of my smoking paraphernalia. So much so that many years later when I wrote my coming-of-age story, “Through the Heartland,” my Zippo became an important prop:

Ten hours out of Chicago, the sun outraces the train as it sets across the flat, western horizon. Nighttime has come to the Great Plains and Kansas speeds by under the brilliance of countless stars shining across a clear, prairie July sky. Blackened fields, silhouetted by a three-quarter moon, stretch out to meet the stars at the horizon.

He sits alone in the dome car of a westbound Santa Fe Chief, staggered by the scenery unable to sleep. At 17 it is all too much, too grand to miss. Reaching into his shirt pocket for his cigarettes and lighter he launches one out of the box and into his mouth with a practiced skill. Clicking open the Zippo with one hand, he rotates the wheel and lights his Marlboro and closes the cover with a satisfying thud extinguishing the flame. Less than a minute later his eyes adjust to the darkness of the of the dome car lighted only by muted bulbs outlining the aisle and the glow of his cigarette…

How many movies and television shows have duplicated that moment? A Zippo Spokesman, Pat Grandy, proudly told NPR in 2009: “In 1996, there was a Zippo in every film nominated for Best Picture.” If you are curious enough to verify Mr. Grandy’s boast, those movies were Apollo 13, Babe, Brave Heart, Il Postino (The Postman) and Sense and Sensibility.

George G. Blaisdell, who invented the Zippo lighter in 1932, chose its name and patented it in 1934. A resident of Bradford, Pennsylvania and a member of the Bradford Country Club, supposedly, “Blaisdell got the idea one day while having a smoke with a friend out on the porch of the country club. His friend’s European lighter seemed to work in the wind. (But it required both hands to operate.) Blaisdell saw the opportunity to adapt that design…”

Blaisdell admired the lighter’s use of a chimney to steady the flame and a cover that, if turned into the wind, protected that flame. George had trained in metalworking as a young man in his father’s Blaisdell Machinery Company in Bradford, so that he understood how to create a strong, well-built lighter that could be operated with only one hand.

Coincidentally, around the same time, the Talon Company, another Pennsylvania manufacturer had developed the fastener we now know as the Zipper. George loved the way the word sounded and called his lighter Zippo. To boost sales, he proclaimed that every lighter came with a life time guarantee.

The Zippo manufactured today is almost identical to the one first produced in 1934. The lighters have carried the logos for many organizations with the two most popular being the Playboy Bunny and Elvis.

For those of you who never owned a Zippo, permit me to explain its significance. Like other mechanical marvels from the past, it requires attention and care. Since it is not disposable, your Zippo must be tendered to. You must have on hand flints and lighter fluid which, I suspect today, you can only buy on line.

The outer case is made of brass covered by a coating of stainless-steel. (If you keep your Zippo long enough, the steel will wear away revealing the brass surface.

The inner case prevents the outer case from overheating and contains the cotton wading that must be filled with lighter fluid to produce the flame. It also houses a separate chamber for the flint which is held taunt by a spring and an exterior screw that keeps the flint in constant contact with the exterior flint wheel. Each light reduces the size of the flint that also must be regularly replaced. Turning the wheel produces sparks that ignite the wick.

My father was stationed at March AFB in Riverside, California in 1961 where I spent a month with his family. He was assigned to the Strategic Air Command, (SAC), our bomber force whose sole mission was to attack and destroy the Soviet Union in time of war. SAC’s logo was a cubit arm in armor rising from the bottom of the shield thrusting into the heavens. The hand is grasping a green olive branch and three red lightning bolts, a visual representation of SAC’s motto: “Power For Peace.”

I was able to purchase a Zippo lighter bearing this emblem from the local PX that I carried everywhere I went. Over time the colors all disappeared, and the brass became visible as the stainless-steel coating wore away.

Despite general disapproval of smoking, Zippo continues to prosper. They have sold over 550 million lighters in the company’s lifetime in 180 countries and employ 520 workers in their Bradford factory where more than 70,000 lighters a day are manufactured.

Once again, privately owned by George Blaisdell, it would appear Zippo will persevere and prosper into this new era long after I’m gone and my ashes spread upon the land in Marlow, NH.

Tessy’s Christmas Vacation

To refer to what happened to Tess, our newly adopted Yellow Lab, as a vacation is a stretch. Trial by fire, being hazed or being introduced to an alternate universe are more appropriate analogies to describe what she endured from December 24 to January 6.

Tess only had nineteen days to adjust to living with Mary Ann, Max and me before she experienced several versions of a three-ring circus – lots of chaos and confusion. Fortunately, we came to understand that Tessy is an amazing adaptable dog who quickly analyzes the new circumstances that confront her and adjusts her behavior accordingly. Tessy’s training as a seeing eye dog enables her to recognize and deal with problems and unusual developments.

We set off for Michael and Jodie’s family home in Fairfield, Connecticut on Christmas Eve afternoon for dinner and the opening of gifts on Christmas morning. I drive a 2014 GMC Arcadia loaded with our luggage and the gifts going to New Hampshire. We wanted Tess to ride with Max in my truck’s way-back but, previously, whenever I drove Ria to various destinations Ria would sit “shotgun,” and Tess would jump into the free space at her feet.

We trained Max to ride in the way-back forcing us to face a dilemma, would Tess join him? I tested her one evening, opened the hatch, held out a treat, patted the floor and asked her to jump in. Without hesitation, this ten-year old girl leapt into the Arcadia with an incredible spring in her rear legs.

The dogs had plenty of room as I had already delivered the gifts including their biggest items size wise; three light-weight rolling Samsonite suitcases for Drew, Matt and Samantha for their upcoming cruise.

Jodie’s parents, Tom and Dale are taking the immediate family on a Caribbean cruise to celebrate their 50th Wedding Anniversary. You may ask, why is this relevant to this story? Because we will be boarding their two dogs, Max’s sister, Ruby and their two-year-old, miniature Golden-doodle with the incongruous name, Jumbo for ten-days beginning December 27.

We knew chaos would prevail once we arrived. Any plans to restrain or impede Max from tearing loose once we opened the hatch were useless as our grandkids took it upon themselves to release him to join Ruby and Jumbo. Tess didn’t hesitate and joined the stampede.

Rock and Roll, we’re all dog people and little Jumbo, the only youngster, initiated play fights and got the party started. Ruby, Max and Tess all joined in and, at times, Tess led the crazy play.  Our girl fit right in. At one point that night, Matt, the consummate dog lover coxed Tess onto his lap and declared that she was his. I woke just after Jodie on Christmas morning allowing me to witness each arrival, dog and person; the perfect Christmas greeting!

Back in the Arcadia, we four headed north on wide open roads through Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont on the Merritt Parkway and I-91 – then into New Hampshire, destination, Little House in the town of Marlow.

The Brooklyn Briggs greeted us – our daughter, Beth, son-in-law, Tom and grandchildren, Marlowe and Cace. Tom’s brother, Michael and his two sisters Linda and Debbie also preceded us having driven up from just outside of Springfield, Mass.

Dog wise, Max and Tess had to meet and greet Sampson their young, lively but unpredictable boy.  They had rescued him from the streets, so nobody is certain of his breed, but he is most likely a Shih Tzu in whole or in part.

Once again, all went well demonstrating how adaptable Tess is. The dogs enjoyed the freedom of being in open the country without roaming or becoming lost. The retrievers get it and stay close to home. Once again, Tess understood the order of march and jumped right in. She took long walks and romped around our cleared property with the others as if she did this all her life. (Everything but swimming that will have to wait for next summer.)  

The last chapter of our NH stay involved Beth’s best friend, Rachelle and her husband to be, Paul. They arrived with two seven-month old sibling Portuguese Water Dogs, Allie and Denali, more like teenagers than pups, Denali’s male sex drive became apparent when he decided to take an interest in Tess. Our girl cut this behavior at the quick deciding enough was enough!

Silent all her life, she turned on this interloper with a sound that began as a rumble, progressed into her first bark ever! Case closed, he got her message.  

After NH, we had one last chapter remaining in this saga, return to Connecticut and bring Ruby and Jumbo back to Port Washington the next ten days, the duration of their trip and cruise. The ride down was “interesting.” Four dogs, lots of traffic but we managed to make it still in relatively good humor.  

Ten days – four dogs. OMG. Again, we all adjusted and survived although feeding, exercising and cleaning up forced us to admit we were operating a de facto kennel.

Finally, Sunday, January 6 arrived, and we returned Ruby and Jumbo to Fairfield while Tess and Max rested at home.

Dear reader, please don’t express the obvious. We did what we agreed to do, and we survived. Just don’t ask us to do it again any time soon.

Welcome Tessy

Mary Ann returned home last August after an outing with our friend, Ria Mead. “John, Ria confessed that she fell last night while out with Tess. Thankfully, it was a gentle fall onto the grass and she wasn’t hurt. The problem was, Tess didn’t lead her as directed and that’s why Ria  lost her balance. She’s quite upset and knows it’s time to call the school to decide what’s next.”

“Okay, what’s next?”

“I asked her, ‘where will Tess go?’ but added, “What if we adopt her?”

“You did! ‘Works for me. What did Ria say?”

“That would be great.”

“So be it.”  

Tessy, aka, Tess was born on November 29, 2008 at Seeing Eyes for the Blind’s Kennel in Morristown, New Jersey. A medium-size Yellow Labrador Retriever, she became Ria’s sixth guide dog succeeding in reverse order, Spenser, Olympia, Amir, Henry and Rusty.

Ria lost her sight at twenty-seven years old due to juvenile diabetes and was accepted into the Seeing Eye program three years later.

Ria and Tess bonded during a one-month training program of long hours of basic and advanced courses at the Seeing Eyes Training Campus to pair the person into effective partners through mutual love, respect, understanding, intelligence and hard work.

Ria explained, “Compare us to dance partners. We have to learn each other’s moves and tendencies to complement each other.” Ria also noted, “Seeing Eyes is a wonderful place to be. The staff is totally attentive, the trainers are superb as are the facilities. Best yet, I don’t have to think about anything else except training and lively discussions with my fellow students. It was like an upscale working vacation with like participants seeking the same goal.” 

After graduation, Ria and Tess returned to Long Island to begin their life together. For eight years they maintained their partnership through good times and bad.

This past summer Ria noticed subtle differences in Tess’s performance, not so much Tess behaving differently so much as how she performed her tasks. Ria noted to me, “Something is off. It is hard to explain but I can sense it.”

After her fall, Ria knew to contact Seeing Eyes for an evaluation. A trainer confirmed Ria’s troubling belief, Tess was nearing the end of her working life. He estimated that it would be best if Ria joined a class early in 2019 to be assigned a new dog.

Saddened, no heartbroken, Ria made her wishes known to Mary Ann that we adopt Tess once the training class began. “Most of my previous dogs lived with me in retirement but then I had a house with lots of room. I don’t think it could work in my small apartment.” Ria also confessed, “As much as it will pain me to let her go, I want her to enjoy a retirement life of play that she will find in your home.”

Tess coming to live with us wouldn’t completely isolate her from Ria as we live close to each other and Ria could see Tess whenever she wished.

Ria knew about Max, our eight-year-old Golden Retriever who we described as being mellow. We agreed to have them meet when the time grew shorter and arranged to take them to a park where they could interact without it being territorial. As we expected, these two mature and laid-back dogs, engaged in some sniffing, a little play followed by their natural pastime, sniffing the grass, trees and shrubs.

A couple of successful sleep-overs followed. Tess discovered Max’s toy box and her favorite turned out to be an antler that must feel wonderful on her teeth. She also loved going out in our fenced-in back yard and the joy of being free to sniff and meander on her own. Max readily accepted her getting along handsomely.

In mid-November Ria learned that she had been accepted into a class beginning on January 7, 2019. We began to plan for an exchange just before that date, but these plans were cut short when Ria developed pain in her left shoulder, an inflamed rotor cuff. Ria guided Tess’s harness with her left arm and those changes in Tessy’s gait were causing Ria’s pain.

We agreed that it would be best for us to take Tess sooner to enable Ria to have enough time to rehabilitate her arm before the training began. However, it was important to Ria to keep Tess and celebrate her tenth birthday on November 29th.. Ria’s wish was easy to fulfill as circumstances postponed our adoption until the following week. Mary Ann and Ria made the switch on Wednesday December 5th, a traumatic and difficult experience for Ria and Tess.

As for Max, his food regime suddenly improved as we changed his diet to Tess’s. He now enjoys yogurt, string beans and apple slices, although he rejects another of her favorites, carrots.

Tess is coming along but she is obviously confused by this rather late-in-life disruption. Her eight-year career suddenly ended and where did her partner go? Fortunately, she likes Max, Mary Ann and me in that order. The other day, she and Max found themselves in a tug of war over a toy that led to a play wrestling match. Some mornings the two jump into our bed and tussle with each other. (Memo to file: Not a bad way to awaken.)

Ria is happy to receive our reports about her partner’s new doggie experiences. Tess never climbed onto her furniture; check that one off –  never slept with Ria; ditto that and never barked. I will save that for Part Two: “Tessy’s Christmas Vacation.”

I will also report further on Ria’s experiences at Seeing Eye and a reunion planned in February for Tess, Ria and Ria’s new partner.