John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: January, 2021

“Root, Root, Root for the Home Team”

Someone once asked me: “I understand that you have had a season ticket to the New York Football Giants going on 60 years. What kind of an experience has that been like?’

“I’ve witnessed five runs to the super bowl, four of which the Giants won. But overall, I’d have to say that attending games for 60 years has given me the opportunity to see an awful lot of  lousy football.”

I recently heard a long-suffering New York Knicks’ season subscriber reply to a question of how they will do this season: “We’re two-years from being two-years away from being a contender.”

The last time the NFL’s Detroit Lions won a title was 1957. Ike was president, TV was broadcast in black and white on a maximum of 13 channels. All telephones were leased from Bell and you had to dial them. They had alphabetical prefaces like: WH-2-5000. Operators had to assist with long distance calls to most of the other 48 states. The Dodgers played in Brooklyn and the Giants played in Manhattan .

Two lumberjacks from (take your pick) St Clair, Minnesota / Buffalo, New York died and went to hell. After being there a week, Satan stopped by to check on them. To his displeasure, he found them still wearing their winter snow gear. “Aren’t you two suffering in this heat?”

“Not at all, after so many cold and brutal winters, this is still plenty cold for us.”

Satan cranked up the heat several times only to find them slightly warmer. He finally cranked it up all the way, and to his dismay, he found them in shorts and golf shirts. “Hey, Satan, this is more like it, but when will it be summer?”

Thoroughly angry and upset Satan had his engineers lower the temperature to an insanely cold level. When he entered the room, he found the two of them still in shorts and golf shirts drinking beer, dancing and high fiving each other. “Why are you two acting like fools? Why aren’t you miserable?”

“Why? Because the Bills / Vikings won the super bowl.” 

The New York Titans are the ancestors of today’s NY Jets. The original owner was Harry Wismer, a well-known New York sports announcer who amassed a decent fortune through marriage. Harry bought the rights to American Football League’s New York franchise for the AFL’s 1960 inaugural season. He named his team: Titans because Titans were bigger than Giants.

Things didn’t go well for Harry. His team premiered at a time when the rival Football Giants owned New York. Harry tried every trick he could think of to pump up publicity including inflating the game attendance. He announced the paid attendance for one game to be 10,000, a figure that prompted, Dick Young, then a sports scribe with the Daily News to write: “Ten Thousand, huh? If there were 10,000 fans at the game yesterday, 5,000 were cleverly disguised as empty seats.”

Harry’s dreams and his wife’s money dried up during the 1962 season when the Titans ran out of cash in November. The players began a job action over back pay until Lamar Hunt, the Texas oil man and owner of the Dallas Texans guaranteed the players’ salaries.

In 1963, David A. (Sonny) Werblin, led a syndicate of wealthy New Jersey businessmen known as the Monmouth Park Connection. Horse owners all, Monmouth was their home track. Sonny recruited his pals to be limited partners who included the likes of Phil Iselin, Townsend Martin, Don Lillis and Leon Hess.

The few fans who signed on with the Jets in 1963 were forced to endure a final year of play at the doomed Polo Grounds. The Jets moved to Shea Stadium the following year saw the impossible happen in 1969 when Broadway Joe Namath led them to an era changing victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

The bad news is the Jets have never returned to the big game. Super Bowl III is now 50 plus years ago. Few of their fan base was alive when this happened. Yet they wait and they hope.  

I’ve been thinking about my worst experience being a Giants fan. My best is easy, being with my son in person in Glendale, Arizona when Big Blue did their version of the impossible dream, defeating the 19-0 New England Patriots, 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII.

There are several defeats that I attended that could qualify as the worst. The obvious loss was the Fumble that allowed the Eagles to win a game they were about to lose with seconds on the clock. But the one that stays with me the most was the 19-13 overtime loss to the Rams in the 1989 NFC Division Playoff Game.

The game went into overtime. The Rams reached the Giants 30-yard line. From there, quarterback, Jim Everett threw a pass down the right sideline that reached his fastest receiver, Flipper Anderson, at the two-yard line. Anderson, had a step on Giants corner back, Mark Collins, who was defending him. Everett’s pass hit flipper in stride for the winning touchdown!

Anderson knew the game was over so, instead of stopping, he ran through the end zone and into the tunnel leading to the locker room still carrying the game winning pass. The rest of us, the fans, the coaches, players, security, writers and photographs stood there in absolute silence. It seemed that our collective brains couldn’t comprehend what had just happened.

Slowly, the occupants on the field and in the stands began to file out of Giants Stadium in complete silence.

A cartoonist could have drawn a full football stadium with an imaginary bubble hanging over the scene that read: “Holy shit, what just happened!”          

Of Fish and Fowl

This story was told to me by my friend and customer, Brian, also known by his initials as, BVD.  who passed away about seven years ago. Brian was an insurance man who worked for Exxon in their Houston office. Like most of Exxon’s insurance professionals, Brian made several trips to Alaska  to administer his share of the many claims for damages brought by local businesses and individuals caused by the stranding of the Exxon Valdez.

George, the owner of the sporting goods store handed me my new annual Alaskan fishing license. “Where are you from?”

            “Houston,” I replied. “I got a job with a contractor to settle insurance claims, so I’ll be up here for thirty-days at a time for six to nine months. I don’t read much; hate television and I don’t want to spend my free time in bars, so I figured I’d try fishing.”

            “Well, you picked a good time to start fishing for pink salmon. They start to run in May, and you can fish as late as you like because it doesn’t get dark until about 2 a.m. I’ll help you pick out the kind of equipment and clothing you’re going to need.”

            George selected a rod and reel, a net, tackle box, wading boots, thermal socks, and long johns. “Why do I need thermal socks and long underwear in June?”

            “The water temperature in Prince William Sound does not get out of the thirties. You’ll be happy to be wearing them when you wade out into the sound. If you don’t have a sweater or light gloves, you should buy them too.”

            I figured he knew what he was talking about, so I kept quiet as my pile kept rising on his counter. When he finished counting and totaling my purchases, he reached behind the counter and opened a wooden box and placed an odd-looking fishing lure in the palm of his hand. A big silver spoon with a big red plastic diamond shaped thingy glued to it, it looked like something that your grandmother used to wear on her chest to church on Sunday.

            “This is the best lure for catching pink salmon. It’s called it a pixie. If I were you, I’d guard it with my life. I’m running out of them and I don’t know when I’ll get new ones in stock.”

            I asked him how many I could have, and he agreed to sell me six for six dollars each. I started asking him about places to fish, but he stopped me and called over a Native Alaskan guy hanging around the store. “Hey, Billy, come tell this guy where to fish.”

            Billy and I got to talking and he agreed to meet me at a camp-ground located on the shoreline the next night. We seemed to hit it off and became regular fishing buddies. Also, it didn’t take long for me to realize just how valuable Billy was to me. The first thing I noticed that night was that when I cast my pixie out into the water, it kept going down and down and down. I asked Billy what was going on.

            “After you walk more than ten feet from the shore the bottom drops 500 to 600 feet. If you wander out too far and take the plunge, you’ll have about five minutes left to live.”

I became a good angler catching five to ten fish each night which I cut loose or gave to people staying in the camp-ground who gathered to watch the master fisherman. I usually traded the fish for a cold beer and a relaxing chat with these tourists and retirees in their trailers, campers or RVs. The fishing alleviated my boredom from the seemingly endless task of settling claims. I only regretted losing my pixies which made me feel badly as my supply dwindled.

            One night while fishing with Billy, I cast out my next to last pixie. It didn’t hit the water and my rod started to jerk away from me pulling skyward. “What the hell…,” I shouted as I looked up. To my astonishment, I realized that I had hooked a sea gull on its butt. People on the bank shouted at me to cut the line, but all I could think of was my six- dollar pixie attached to a bird that was maneuvering like an out-of-control kite. Up and down, it flew screeching like all hell as we continued our struggle. I had to let out line fearing that the tension would break it and the gull would make off with my pixie. Finally, it went straight up then came crashing down onto the bank to the oohs and ahs of the crowd who were watching the show.

            I ran out of the water, grabbed onto this pecking and clawing creature who continued to screech for its mother. In desperation, the gull threw up a regurgitated fish onto my boot, but I managed to get a firm grip on its mangy butt to retrieve my pixie. As I stood up, I heard loud and clear, “They’re not very good to eat.”

            Rather embarrassed, I yanked my pixie out of its butt, released the gull who flew away and gave each of my admirers an exceptionally low bow.

An Ordinary Man Facing a Great Challenge

There are no great men, there are only great challenges that ordinary men are forced by circumstance to meet.

Admiral William F. Halsey Jr.

Jonathon Tennant, known as JT, made his way to the “Georgia docks” in Fancy Bluff Creek just outside of port of Brunswick, Georgia late on the night of September 7, 2019. His mission,  to pilot the MV Golden Ray to the open sea. His charge that night was a car carrier, also known as a ro-ro, that featured vast open internal spaces and ramps that allowed for the rapid loading and discharge of vehicles by “car jockeys” who drove them Grand Prix style on and off the ship. (A young man’s dream.) Ugly by design, car carriers resemble upside down bathtubs.

Car carriers are also not inherently seaworthy as the weight of most of those vehicles is above the waterline. To stabilize the ship, the correct amount of water ballast must be carried in tanks below the waterline. While docked in Brunswick, the car jockeys had unloaded and loaded enough vehicles to require new ballast calculations.

But one report I read stated someone in authority decided that the re-calculation could be put off until the Golden Ray reached its next port, Baltimore. 

JT had dreamed of being a harbor pilot since he first saw the big ships negotiating the St. Simons Channel on their passages between Brunswick and the Atlantic Ocean. The port of Brunswick is relatively unknown to outsiders as it is overshadowed by Savannah to the north and Jacksonville, to the south. But because of its excellent rail connections, by 2019, it had become the sixth largest port in the USA for importing and exporting cars, SUVs and light trucks.

JT graduated from the United States Merchant Marine Academy in 1997 and became an apprentice for the Brunswick Bar Pilots Association in 1998.

Over time, his skills and experience let him achieve the rank of a master pilot. He superseded the captain in navigating the ship until reaches the open sea. JT would then leave his position and descend to a waiting pilot boat that would return him to shore.

That morning, he navigated the twists and turns along the St Simon Channel as he had done hundreds of times before as he proceeded on his outbound journey, He remained in contact with fellow pilot and good friend, Jamie Kavanaugh, who was piloting the inbound MV Emerald Ace, another ro-ro, car carrier.

As JT took the Golden Ray through a hard turn to starboard, (right) the ship assumed a serious list to port (left). Tennant adjusted the turn that seemed to correct the Golden Ray, but only momentarily as the list to port became overwhelming. JT advised Jamie not to pass the Golden Ray. “I‘m losing her,”

Time had run out as the pilot’s training and instinct kicked in; the Golden Ray was rolling over. Tennant turned his charge to starboard (right) taking the ship out of the channel and onto a sand bar, grounding the ship as the Golden Ray quickly capsized.

As the ship went over, JT braced his legs around the vertical compass pedestal, braced his upper body against the windshield and managed to grab a life vest skidding off a shelf in his direction. Later, JT would testify that snagging the vest was Divine Providence, not because it saved him, but rather because it had a radio.

His cries of Mayday, Mayday, were immediately picked-up by a Coast Guard monitoring station in Charleston, South Carolina. That call, together with fellow pilot, Jamie’s calls for help, initiated a rapid response.

JT held fast to his perch on the bridge; once horizontal, now vertical.

Captain Skylar Dionne, skipper of the tug Anne Moran, on station in the harbor awaiting the arrival of the Emerald Ace, understood, Jamie’s urgent message and sped out across the sound “at best possible speed” to reach the Golden Ray. On arrival, he braced his tug against the bottom of wreck and applied the tug’s horsepower to prevent the wreck from slipping back into the channel.

If the Golden Ray had slipped into the shipping channel, it would have been blocked for months, but, more importantly, most of the crew would have drowned in that deeper water.

JT held onto his perch until nearly daylight when the rescue flotilla confirmed that they had picked up 19 of the 23 members of the crew. ( The last four were trapped below deck in an engine room. They were rescued a day and a half later after a hole was bored into the overturned hull.)

Finally, JT made his way to one of the fire hoses the crew had previously lowered to escape and  slid down to safety.

Like most ordinary men, Jonathan Tennant was reluctant to accept the credit he deserved for having the instinct and training to make a split-second decision that carried the day. A religious man, JT summed up that night’s experience:

“Above all, I would like to recognize that each of these individuals, the weather, the capsizing location, the capsizing direction that skid my survival vest with the radio to me (not away); and the successful rescue of every crew member comes down to our merciful God, our Creator.”

And this I know to be true: Captain Jonathon Tennant, Brunswick Bar Pilot No. 6 crossed over that line in the early morning of September 8, 2019 and achieved that thing we call greatness!    

The Snowball Game

Written: May2016, re-edited: January 2021

Mary Ann and I traveled to Connecticut on Christmas Eve morning to spend a COVID 19 socially distanced gathering to exchange Christmas gifts with our son’s family. At one point, Michael asked me: “Hey Dad, do you know what this coming Sunday is?’

“No, I don’t.”

“It’s the 25th anniversary of the snowball game played on December 27, 1995.”

Being a writer of a weekly blog, I am always searching for my next piece and, thanks to Mike, here’s this week’s piece.     

The NFL decided to award the 2014 edition of the Super Bowl to East Rutherford, NJ to be played at Met Life Stadium, the new home of the Giants and Jets, then called New Meadowlands Stadium. To be sure, there is considerable speculation about the wisdom of such a decision given that the game will be subjected to the North East’s winter weather conditions.

Among the cries of doom and gloom, the May 27, 2010 Sports Section of The New York Times carried a tongue-in-cheek article by N.R. Kleinfield entitled: “Meadowlands in February? It’s Not the Cold, It’s the Snowballs.”

Mr. Kleinfield’s piece resurrected my memories from the last game of the 1995 season against the San Diego Chargers. We Giants fans inundated the field with snowballs, ice balls and chunks of ice.

 Now that the statute of limitations has run out on this incident, I feel that I no longer am compelled to reply to any questions like: “Were you involved in throwing snowballs?”

With: “On the advice of counsel, I cannot either confirm or deny that allegation.”

As usual, the NY Times got it wrong. While I have no evidence to prove exactly what precipitated the snowball assault, I am quite certain I know how it began. My son and I sat side by side in our Row 3 seats at old Giants Stadium, our home from 1976 to 2009. Those seats gave us great sight lines, especially when the teams were inside the 30 yard-line at our end of the field. Unfortunately, certain television networks insisted on using a side-line camera that traveled along the sidelines just off the field that was re-positioned as needed to be close to the line-of-scrimmage. If the offense reached the five-yard-line, the camera stopped so that the camera man or woman literally blocked our line-of-sight   reducing our view of the field from spectacular to having an obstructed view of the action.

This had bugged me for a long time, but letters to the Giants and the NFL all went unanswered.

When we arrived inside the stadium on that Sunday afternoon, we encountered several inches of snow beneath our seats as the team or the stadium authority didn’t have the where-with-all to dispatch crews to shovel the snow out of the stands prior to game time.

The Times reported that the Giants took a 17-0 lead in the first half. I am confident that at least one touchdown was scored at our end because it was at that point that my frustration with the obstructed view reached the breaking point. I directed my son, then twenty-four, to throw a snowball at the cameraman. Now Michael had been a fairly good pitcher in his younger days, and he complied, putting a snowball so close to that chap’s ear that it must have sounded like a jet going past.

That was enough for Mister Cameraman who directed his crew to lower him as he declared a personal force majeur and abandoned his post. A cheer arose from the faithful. After that, the Giants game went to hell and, as San Diego overwhelmed the home team. The disgruntled fans took out their boredom and frustration on the field, the teams, officials and other fans.

But that all came later. Let the record show, General Pershing had Sergeant York; I had Michael