John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: June, 2021

Jim Fassel, RIP

I learned on Tuesday morning, June 8th, that Jim Fassel had passed away, a victim of a heart attack in a Las Vegas hospital at age 71. Fassel was head coach of the New York Football Giants from 1997 to 2004 and took the team to Super Bowl XXXV in 2001. He was a good man.

The Giants entered the 2000 season as an also ran in the NFC’s Eastern Division. Despite these negative predictions, Big Blue got off to a great start that continued into the middle of the season. The team achieved a record of 6-2 in their first eight games that included two victories against the Philadelphia Eagles, the team the experts picked to win their division.

But our team hit a crossroad when the Maramen were outclassed by the high-powered Rams, 38 to 24. Okay, the Giants got their butts kicked but, at least the kicking came at the hands of a nationally recognized power-house team already labeled, “The greatest team on turf.”

On November 19, the following Sunday, we had a 1 PM home game against the Detroit Lions on a beautiful autumn afternoon with sunny skies and temperatures in the low 50s. We enjoyed  another excellent tailgate before making our way to Section 107 of Giants Stadium with the highest expectations of enjoying a Giants victory.

Instead, after a scoreless first quarter, the Lions rattled off 21 points during the second quarter and added seven more at the beginning of the second half giving themselves a 28-point lead. While the Giants did manage to score 21 points of their own, the Lions added three more making the final total: Giants 21- Detroit Lions 31.

Expectations for Big Blue to make the playoffs diminished as our team’s record bottomed out at 7-4 and this debacle led to all sorts of abuse; booing, cursing and the worst of all, the team’s hometown crowd deserting them and leaving the stadium early. The joint was almost empty with ten-minutes remaining on the game clock. Radio, television and the Monday morning newspapers all cried doom as they stirred the pot. Radicals demanded Coach Fassel be sacked.

Bill Pennington, then The New York Times beat reporter remembered what happened next. “It was the day before Thanksgiving and Giants Coach Jim Fassel who looked like a librarian and generally behaved like the winsome air-conditioning salesman he once was, had a wild, restless look in his eye.

“His Giants, two weeks earlier a shoo-in for the NFL playoffs, had been booed off the field after two consecutive ugly home losses. Their postseason prospects were now dim, a mutiny was brewing in the locker room and management was agitated.

“Fassel stepped to the rostrum for what was usually a pro forma news conference and barked:”

YOU GOT THE LASER; YOU CAN PUT IT RIGHT HERE, ON MY CHEST. I’LL TAKE THE RESPONSIBILITY. GET OFF MY COACHES. GET OFF THE PLAYERS’ BACKS. I’M RAISING THE STAKES RIGHT NOW. THIS IS A POKER GAME  I’M SHOVING MY CHIPS TO THE MIDDLE OF THE TABLE. I’M RAISING THE ANTE, ANYBODY WANTS IN, GET IN, ANYBODY WANTS OUT, GET OUT.

THIS TEAM IS GOING TO THE PLAYOFFS, OK? 

Pennington recalled what he wrote the next day: “Jim Fassel, the Mister Rogers of football coaches, tore off his cardigan today, tied it around his head and joined the Hells’ Angels.”

This scribe further reported: “Two days later, standing with Fassel in the bowels of old Giants Stadium, I wondered what had gotten into the guy nicknamed Gentleman Jim. ‘If this doesn’t work out, you’re going to get fired.’ I said.”

“I was going to get fired before I did this,”’ he answered, “Now we’ll see what happens.”

Hokey, you bet; nonsensical, yeah, a bit; chock-a-block full of cliques, absolutely…but professional athletes are simple folk who just happen to make an inordinate amount of money for playing little boy’s games. Like little boys, those men in blue we called Maramen,  played their last five games of the season with a vengeance winning victories over all to clinch the NFC East. The final game against the Jacksonville Jaguars was played at Giant Stadium on a Saturday afternoon on December 13, 2000.

The following day’s NYT’s Sports Sunday front page included a photo of yours truly holding up an oaktag sign that demanded: BELIEVE IT, as I celebrated their 30 to 10, victory over the Redskins.

Fassel’s run continued through the playoffs. The Giants beat the Eagles for the third time to advance to the NFC Championship Game where they annihilated the favored Minnesota Vikings 41-0.

Our luck ran out two weeks later as my son and I watched our Giants lose Super Bowl XXXV to the Baltimore Ravens, in Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, 34 to 7… and so it goes.

Please permit me to allow Bill Pennington to conclude this piece.

“Almost ten years ago, I had breakfast with Fassel and asked him if he saved his notes from his now famous Thanksgiving eve speech from 2000. You know, the stuff about the poker chips, raising the stakes and having no fear?”

“I never wrote anything down,” he said, laughing. “I just knew I had to put myself in the crosshairs – and nobody else. I had to cause a kind of distraction, so I just winged it.”

Well played, Coach Jim Fassel and RIP

The Saddle

Drinks in hand, Billy Mize and Leo Whalen stood together at the bar in the hospitality lounge of the Arrowwood Conference Center in Rye Brook, NY. As I entered the premises. Leo waved his green bottle of Heineken in my direction signaling me to join them. “Jonnie, let me buy you a drink.” Leo thundered as he looked to the bartender.

“Thanks, Leo,” I replied and asked the bartender for a Jameson on the rocks in a short glass. Billy was already enjoying his vodka on the rocks, and we toasted each other once my Irish whiskey arrived. “So, Billy, how was your flight from Mexico City?”

“Not bad, John. It seems it was only two or three months ago since we saw each other at last year’s managers meeting at the Breakers down in Boca Raton This place is  a dump in comparison!”

“Damn right, brother Billy,” I replied, “But then again times were considerably better for us and our company last year. That damn bond scandal combined with the melt down in the casualty insurance market has put us on our back foot. But, hell, we’ve survived and here we are. I am glad you had a good flight.”

We talked about Billy’s transfer from our Dallas office and how easily he and his wife assimilated Mexican culture and lifestyle. Billy’s wife is Puerto Rican, and he is a gregarious Texan who is fluent in Spanish. He then returned to the subject of his flight and said, “I did have a bit of problem getting through Customs at JFK.”

Seeing this look on my face, a look Billy understood about US citizens doing business in Mexico, he continued, “No, John, I did not carry drugs or more than $10,000 in cash. My problem was hauling the extraordinary and, in a way, the most ridiculous item I ever tried to check into the baggage compartment on an airplane.”

Leo chuckled, “I bet you did feel a bit foolish.”

I couldn’t ignore the tone of guilt in Leo’s throw out line.

I’ll admit, they had my attention as I had no idea where this story was going.  Billy explained,  “You see, John, the last time Leo visited our office in Mexico City, he remarked on how much he wanted a Mexican saddle for his wife.“

“Yes, ” Leo interrupted, “She was impressed by their craftsmanship and has always wanted one for her horses.”

Continuing, Billy added, “Knowing that Leo lives less than an hour from here, I promised to bring a saddle with me. What I forgot was that I had to claim all my baggage before clearing Customs.

“That meant I had to remove all my stuff from the cart I was using and drag my bags, golf clubs and the saddle through the Customs area. Only when I cleared could I recruit a skycap help me carry them to the limo.”

With that, Jack Shea joined us, and Billy and Leo related the story a second time. Jack was skeptical and wanted to know where the saddle was. Billy replied: “Why, Jack, it’s in Leo’s room where I delivered it.”

“Let’s go see it then,” Jack insisted.

With that, we left the bar, crossed the lobby and walked across a glass-enclosed bridge that connected the hotel’s rooms with the conference center. Leo opened the door and led us into his room. Sure enough, on a chair sat the biggest saddle I have ever seen. Jet-black with silver studs, the seat had a shine that reflected the room. Everything about it was big from the horn to the stirrups. No wonder Billy had such a tough time hauling it  through customs!

However, even a big Mexican saddle is only a saddle and not exactly an object that requires lengthy analysis. As for me, my interest wandered back to getting another drink and I wasn’t alone.

We were just about to leave when a young man opened the door. Startled to see us, he said, “Excuse me, I am here to turn down the bed.”

Leo asked him to come in and as he entered, I noticed that the bathroom door, directly across from the saddle, was closed. As this innocent steward came up to me, I stopped him.

“Do you see that saddle?” He nodded, yes. “Good. Whatever you do, don’t open that door!”

The steward’s eyes popped out and he did a double take, his eyes traveling from me to the saddle to the bathroom door several times.

We left the room closing the door behind us starting to roll with laughter. Leo said, “John, you have one sick sense of humor.”

Perhaps, but one of my best capers of all times!

Note: No horses or stewards were hurt during this caper.    

Canada’s Enduring Problems

God has a plan; the information is not available to the mortal man. This line from “Slip Sliding Away” was written by Paul Simon and I believe it may help us to understand the Canadian / Canadien dilemma. These gentle and kind people inhabit a huge country of infinite beauty and substantial natural resources. Canadians / Canadiens love their land. They appreciate their burden to protect it, conserve it and nurture it. To this end they are vigilant and, …Oh Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

But they suffer dilemmas that neither God nor government can cure. Canadians / Canadiens never had a proper separation from their motherlands be it England, (Canadians,) or France, (Canadiens) or the civil war needed to reconcile this self-made and inordinately vital issue of sovereignty and identity.  

Had Canada struggled through a nasty civil war, the tediousness of Canadian / Canadien would have been eviscerated in the ferocity of cannons and the wanton spilling of blood. Without such carnage, Canada has been unable to achieve domestic national consensus and the English / French debate diverts vital interest and resources from more important issues. Consider the savings in time, money and psyche if they were just Canadian. Fortunately, the very idea of the French separatist movement remains dormant. Obviously, this obsession by a hard core of separatists is insane, but, though it sleeps, it lives on awaiting the day of resurrection.

So too is the ultimate Canadian paranoia, their fear of the monster that sleeps under their collective beds, the monster to the south. Canadians / Canadiens are like Adam and Eve this time given a second chance. “You may remain in the Garden of Eden, but you will be isolated from all others save one. The monster is powerful and is my eyes and ears. Screw up again and I shall cast it upon you.”

Canadians / Canadiens believe that someday, some way, the USA will annex them. I wish I could assure them that this fear is mistaken. The USA does not look at Canada with ambition, jealousy or envy. I believe we do not covet their nation or their wives, but, then again, I’ve been wrong before.

Years ago, on a business trip to Montreal, one of my Canadian colleagues handed me an unremarkable novel with a knowing look. It was political science fiction, that culminated with these United States declaring Canada to be part of the USA while allowing the provinces the opportunity to apply for statehood. It was a best seller in Canada!

Ridiculous, but still…what if?

The COVID-19 pandemic successfully tested our relationship. When the USA was hit hard, our neighbors to the north closed their border to all but essential traffic. Seems to me, neither one of us considered this closure to be an issue, much less a subject for controversy. Today, it’s Canada that has a COVID-19 problem. Borders remain closed, again without controversy.

Logic, logistics and National ambitions should make the case that the big, bad USA enjoys our relationship with the closest international neighbor and only seeks to enhance our strengthen and friendship.

Please notice that I have absolutely refrained throughout this piece from using the terms, America or American. Terry Manning, my Canadian friend, hated that term. Terry declared that we were all Americans. We could call them Canadians, but he would call us, Yanks.  

Still, Terry believed in the paranoia of the beast which he couldn’t always contain. For several years, our Managing Directors  gathered together for five days at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia for a management boondoggle. Late one afternoon, I decided to join Terry and his fellow Canadians on the porch of a cabin they were sharing for our meeting.

Terry decided to call me out in front of his mates: “You know, Delach, the problem with you f***ing Yanks is you think that Canada is the 51st f***ing state!”

“No, Terry,” I replied, “ Israel is the 51st  f***ing state; Canada is the 52nd

F***ing state!” 

Still, I get it. I understand that if our economy catches a cold, Canada faces pneumonia.

Thinking it through, I’ll admit that if I were living in the north country and being constantly forced to look south to see what those Yanks will do next to interfere with my well-being, Je serais avissi nerueux / I too would be nervous.