Thursday, October 12, 2017

Rome and Our Book Pilgrimage

Dome of St. Peter's Basilica, Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.,  Flicker, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
When were working on the Pilgrimage book by Patrick McCaskey, I knew that the book would serve as a survey of holy places for people who might make the trips, as well as a book for people like myself who are pilgrim-wannabes. 

Historically, one of the big shakers and movers in pilgrimage travel was the Emperor Constantine--who was responsible for not only making Christianity  legal, but building great churches in both the Holy Land and Rome.  Constantine made Christianity the church of choice for the Roman Empire. Some churches replaced  Pagan temples and buildings--some people have a problem with that, but replacing one church with something completely different has been done in many places. Of course, we live in a world where people want to reinvent history in ways that are contrary to past renderings, but Rome actually did feed the Christians to the Lions and killing Christians had been a sport for the Romans during many periods before Constantine. 

Constantine started building churches in the 4th century. His mother, Saint Helena, traveled to the Holy Land and visited historic Christian sites and also brought back some relics to Rome. In time, many of Constantine's churches have been replaced by more elaborate buildings, but his presence is still strong. 

At times, a trip to the Holy Land was not safe. The churches in Rome would often get extra attention during these times. Today, pilgrims love the Holy Land, but they love Rome and all it offers as well. The Holy Land remains a special place for three major religions (Jews/Christians/Moslems), but Rome is a special second home to Christians. Because of the multiple cultures in charge of the Holy Land and to some extent its churches, the buildings could never get the extraordinary attention and exacting detail that the Church in Rome applied to its surroundings. 

Many people don't realize it, but a lot of the effort, fund-raising and expense involved in building the new St. Peter's (1506-1614) took place during the Protestant Reformation. The decay of the original St. Peter's took place during the time of the French Popes and the anti-popes--much of the time when Rome was not the center of the Church. The new St. Peter's is called by many "the greatest thing in the universe" and few will argue the point after a first hand view of the Basilica.  

As European kings squabbled among themselves and fought over church property and church control of property in their own kingdoms, church leadership was challenged. Some might suggest that the Church was too active in various national affairs, while others point out that the kings and royal families often exerted influence on the church. Royal families and their progeny sometimes had a role in Church leadership. 

Pilgrimage covers the history of the pilgrimage sites concisely for readers. It also includes stories of athletes who in some cases were influenced by their visits to the sites. Also included are the author's observations and inspired writings on all things McCaskey. Pilgrimage is the Third Book in the popular Sports and Faith Series. It's a great study for those who will appreciate some church history offered concisely and simply.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Ora et Labora

The following passage is from Sports and Faith: More Stories of the Devoted and the Devout by Patrick McCaskey, Copyright 2015, Sporting Chance Press.

The Rule of  Saint Benedict has been a fundamental guide for monastic life for many centuries.   Saint Benedict lived around 500 AD and  Saint Benedict’s Rule has since served as a guide for those who wanted to live in community and in faith.  The term “ora et labora” (prayer and work) describes the Benedictine way in a nutshell.   Saint Benedict’s  Rule encourages community members to avoid idleness and directs them to spend their time in prayer, labor, and sacred reading.  The “Rule” advocates a balance in life that keeps people on task. 

Of course, many Christians keep busy outside of monasteries.  We are not all meant to be monks, ministers, or other Religious, but we can forge a kind of life of prayer and labor.  Many of the best in sport have done just that.

Bob Cousy Wakes Up Boston to Basketball in Sports and Faith II by McCaskey

McCaskey Sports and Faith II
The following passage is from Sports and Faith: More Stories of the Devoted and the Devout by Patrick McCaskey, Copyright 2015, Sporting Chance Press.

The Boston Celtics were not a very good basketball team before Bob Cousy arrived from Holy Cross in 1950.  Cousy became the most beloved athlete in Boston.  The “Houdini of the Hardwood” was a great ball-handler, passer, and shooter.  He was only 6-foot-1, but he had speed and quickness, great peripheral vision, big hands, and long arms.  He played for the Celtics from 1950-1963 and during that time he led the league in assists for eight years in a row and played in 6 championship seasons. His record breaking 28 assists in a single game that he set in 1959 held until 1978 when Kevin Porter got 29.  He scored 16, 960 points in his career—an average of 18.4 per game.  He had 6,959 assists—an average of 7.5 per game.  He averaged 5.2 rebounds per game and he held a .803 foul shooting percentage.

Cousy was an NBA All-Star every season he played and was named the All-Star Game Most Valuable Player in 1954 and 1957. He was named the NBA Most Valuable Player in 1957.
His play excited the Boston fans and the city developed a taste for the game.  His 50 point performance in a playoff win against Syracuse in 1953 made an impression on fans that they simply never forgot.  He went 30-32 at the free throw line and scored 12 points in the game’s fourth overtime period.[1]  Playing for the great coach Red Auerbach, Cousy was always passionate and driven to succeed.  His behind-the-back dribbling and passing punctuated his approach that was part showman, part street ball, but all explosive.  His passes were so quick and disguised that in the early days they bounced off his teammates’ bodies and heads.  When Cousy had the ball, everyone on the court was challenged to “stay in” the game every second.  When Bill Russell came to Boston in the 1956 draft, the Celtics’ championships seasons began.  They won 6 out of 7 championships with Cousy and Russell. Then Russell and the Celtics won 5 out of 6 championships after Cousy’s retirement.

In the “Vision Books” series for children, Bob Cousy is portrayed in the first book called Champions in Sports and Spirit by Ed Fitzgerald.  Cousy came from a French immigrant family of limited means and he never forgot those who struggled around him.  His faith was fundamental.  In Champions in Sports and Spirit, Cousy is quoted:
“While I was at Holy Cross, I received Holy Communion on an average of three times a week for the whole four years, and I feel that any success I may have had at school and since my graduation can be attributed to the religious foundation I was able to build there.”

Cousy’s family home is in Worchester, Massachusetts, where he and his wife Marie raised their two daughters, Marie Colette and Mary Patricia.  Bob and Marie brought their daughters up with a strong sense of social justice that included attending civil rights rallies.  Cousy called his wife “Missy,” and while he was frequently away due to his demanding playing and coaching career, he was absolutely devoted to her. Missy began suffering from dementia about the year 2000 after 50 years of marriage.  Cousy put his husband skills in overdrive and did everything he could to care for his wife and see that her remaining years were comfortable—helping her maintain a healthy routine, fixing her medication, reading the newspaper with her, and taking care of her needs for over 12 years of decline.  She passed away in 2013.      

Boston fans who were around during Cousy’s playing career will remember Cousy’s Celtics farewell ceremony on  Saint Patrick’s Day of 1963 his final regular-season game at home in Boston on the way to another championship.  As Cousy was choking back tears during his goodbye speech, a fan shouted out, “We love ya, Cooz.” Tears flowed and applause followed for one of Boston most beloved athletes. 

Cousy received an honorary doctorate of human letters from Boston College in 2014.  In honor of the great guard, the Bob Cousy Award is given to the top collegiate male basketball point guard annually by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

[1] Jeff Greenfield, The World’s Greatest Team: A Portrait of the Boston Celtics from 1957-1969. 

A Little on Notre Dame and Catholic History

McCaskey's Sports and Faith II
The following passage is from Sports and Faith: More Stories of the Devoted and the Devout by Patrick McCaskey, Copyright 2015, Sporting Chance Press.

Catholics were once thought of as scruffy superstitious people by many other Americans and at many schools they were not welcome.  Benjamin Franklin and others of the colonial period referred to Catholics as “Romans.”  Franklin would sometimes attend mass and sit in the back of church as if he was studying a primitive culture and its practices. 

A little college in South Bend, Indiana, grew into a great source of Catholic pride on the football field in the 1920s.  The school was actually quite ecumenical with its players and coaches—you didn’t have to be Catholic to play or coach the Irish.  The great Knute Rockne did not become a Catholic until just before his son was to receive his First Communion when the coach had been at the school for several years.  Rockne himself was impressed by his players who he saw wake up very early on game day to attend Mass.  On the road one day, Rockne could not sleep and went down to the hotel lobby where he saw player after player head out to church.  He followed and he was impressed by his players’ piety when he saw them receiving Communion.  The players also seemed stronger and Rockne sought the same experience.[1] Many of the fighting Irish are not Irish or Catholic, but it is wonderful to watch the singing of the “Alma Mater” after home games.  Addressed to Our Lady, the patroness of the school, the song was composed by ND graduate Joseph Casasanta with lyrics written by ND President Father Charles O’Donnell.  It was first performed at Knute Rockne’s funeral in 1931. When singing the alma mater, students of all nationalities and faiths put their arms over each other's shoulders and sway as they sing.  Some smile and think nothing of the song’s lyrics while others are obviously in prayer. 

Many sports historians believe that it was Notre Dame under the great Knute Rockne that became the first “national team” in the college ranks.  Rockne himself was so beloved and respected that when he died in a tragic plane crash in 1931, the entire nation mourned.  Condolences came in to his widow from all over the world.  Movies followed the Rockne legend and then more movies were made after more legends took shape.  Notre Dame Football won national acclaim.

[1] Severin and Stephen Lamping (translation, arrangement, and foreword), Through Hundred Gates: By Noted Converts from Twenty-Two Lands (Milwaukee:  Bruce Publishing Company, 1939) 41-42. 

Catholic Grade School Football and Seasons of Faith

The following passage is from Sports and Faith: More Stories of the Devoted and the Devout by Patrick McCaskey, Copyright 2015, Sporting Chance Press.

The McCaskey family is tied to several Christian Churches over the generations—Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Lutheran, and Catholic.  Many of my friends have similar backgrounds.  The influence of an Irish Catholic Grandmother on my dad’s Scotch Irish side and a Bohemian Catholic Coach on my mom’s side helped bring the McCaskeys of my generation into the Catholic school system.  Catholic schools in many areas made grade school football teams popular.  Football continues with many Catholics into high school and college.  I had to quit football after high school, but I would have loved to have played at Notre Dame.  Serious eye disease cut my play short.  My time had come to seek something else.  So over the decades I have been running in the Senior Track Circuit. 

As my family and friends head into each new football season in the fall, we are reminded of the special affection we have for football.  For those who played on or cheered for  Catholic Grammar School teams, who can forget the glorious Sunday games after church when  the entire parish stood over at the park hugging the sidelines.  The cheerleaders’ sharp chant of “push ‘em back, push ‘em back, waaaay back” still echoes today.  On the field there was the knocking of helmets, blocking, tackling, and running like the wind amidst the cheers of what seemed like thousands.

The cheerleaders often got a better workout than the football players as homemade pompoms were thrust out in millions of quick moves, leaving thousands of tiny crape paper streamers all over the field!  And back when smoking was acceptable in public places, there was the strong smell of cigar smoke as Dads and Grandpas lit up just before the kickoff.  Priests in their long cassocks and birettas would often find a good spot to watch the action and sometimes the Sisters would come over to the field as well.

In many places, Catholic Grammar schools were the only grade schools to offer football --it was a truly Catholic School experience.  Prayer was often a part of a team’s “preparation” and if any player was injured, quiet prayer could be felt throughout the crowd.  Grammar school football still goes on at many parishes and most everyone has an opportunity to play or cheer.  School colors are always present and school emblems with religious significance are seen in great number in these public places.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Lombardi and Noll: Two of the Toughest Coaches in the NFL

On the surface, Chuck Noll and Vince Lombardi were very different coaches.  Lombardi was hard as nails on his players and he motivated his team with emotional talks and take your breath away rants and raves on the practice field.  Noll was direct and a man of few words.  When Noll did elaborate, sometimes he lost the thread of his message and his players lost the meaning.  Mostly, he kept it simple.

But both coaches spent endless amounts of time to reach the same two objectives: 1. Creating the toughest team in  the NFL.  2. Creating the most fundamentally sound team in the NFL. 

Who could argue that Noll's Steelers and Lombardi's Packers were not both tough and fundamentally sound.  

Vince Lombardi Hall of Fame
Lombardi's catch phrase, "winning is everything,"  has often been misunderstood to mean that winning by any means is acceptable.  But his players would likely tell us that the "any means" had more to do with their training than things they would do to opposing teams.  By sacrificing their bodies and routinely using every ounce of energy in practice, they became a formidable team on the field.  Lombardi sought to have his players better prepared than any other team.

Noll's catchphrase was "whatever it takes." Again, it's easily misunderstood.  Noll expanded on the notion to say that "whatever it takes"  to become the best team   was his meaning.  For Noll, like Lombardi, it was all about sacrifice for the team, work for the team, playing your role for the team.  

For both Lombardi and Noll, their objectives of toughness and fundamentals was demonstrated and forever remembered in two of pro football's greatest highlights.  

Packers' 1967 NFL Championship Game

Ice Bowl Program
The Packers played the Dallas Cowboys for the NFL Championship on the last day of the year in 1967.  The Packers had a secret weapon—Mother Nature.  Few NFL games have been so well celebrated and memorialized.  The Packers had seen plenty of cold weather before this game, but the so-called “Ice Bowl” was the start of much of the lore and legend surrounding Lambeau Field.  From this game forward, Green Bay fans would not just tolerate the cold at Lambeau, they would relish their “frozen tundra.”

The Cowboys were leading, 17–14, on the Packers’ frigid home field in the fourth quarter.  With only 4:50 on the clock, Lombardi’s offense looked 68 yards downfield to the goal and began a 12-play drive for the win.  They would need almost every second.   

A determined Starr completed a pass out in the flat to Donny Anderson for a 6-yard gain.  Chuck Mercein found enough running room outside for a first down.  Starr tossed one down the middle to Dowler over the 50-yard line and Cornell Green who was struggling with his footing was able to grab and throw Dowler down hard on the tackle to the frozen ground.  It was nip and tuck all the way.  Anderson received a handoff from Starr, but was tackled in the backfield.  It was second down and 19 yards to go for a first on a field that was quickly becoming an ice skating rink.  Starr looked around and tossed Anderson an outlet pass that the halfback turned into another 12-yard gain.  Starr followed with another short pass to Anderson who gained the first down.  Chuck Mercein was targeted next and after the catch he ran the ball down to the Dallas 11-yard line.  Mercein had the hot hand and took a handoff from Starr and ran it up the middle to the 2-yard line.  Anderson rushed to within inches of the goal and a first down.  The tough, determined Cowboys’ defense stuffed two Donny Anderson drives.  Starr went to the sideline and told Lombardi since the backs were slipping, he would take the ball himself on a wedge play, which normally goes to the fullback.  Lombardi famously responded, “Then do it and let’s get the hell out of here.”  As Starr jogged back on the field, the tension in the stands was almost unbearable.

Starr stood behind center with 13 seconds remaining at the 1-yard line with no time outs.  He raised his hands to quiet the crowd and the ball was snapped on a quick count.  Jerry Kramer jumped out at Jethro Pugh, hitting him low, followed by Packer center Ken Bowman hitting Pugh high.  Cleats scratched on ice and Pugh was driven backwards.  Starr shadowed Kramer and plunged into the end zone for the score.  Mercein, who thought Starr was going to hand off to him, trailed the play and raised his arms in the air so the officials knew he was not pushing Starr into the end zone—an infraction that might have caused the Packers the game.  Millions watching thought Mercein was signaling a score! The fans realized that Starr had scored and in the midst of an arctic field of dreams came the deafening roar of the crowd.  Chandler kicked the extra point. 

Defining Moment for Noll’s Steelers

Immaculate Reception Commemorative Football
The defining moment that ended the string of frustration and put the Steelers into a new winning way came at the very end of the divisional playoff game on December 23, 1972.  Pittsburgh had the ball on its own 20-yard line with just 1 minute 20 seconds to go trailing the Oakland Raiders 76.  Bradshaw was no miracle worker in those days and five plays later, the Steelers were still 60 yards from pay dirt with only 22 seconds remaining.  Bradshaw threw over the middle to “Frenchy” Fuqua, but Raiders’ defensive back Jack Tatum crashed into Fuqua and the ball with such force that the ball flew backward like it had been redirected by some unknown hand.  Franco Harris grabbed the ball off his shoelaces in stride and eluded tacklers on his way to the end zone for the score and the win.  The play was called the “Immaculate Reception.”  Although the Steelers went on to lose the AFC Championship to the Dolphins, they made an impression with football fans, their competitors, and most importantly, themselves.  They had arrived.  Noll’s Steelers were winners and now with the Immaculate Reception, it seemed like they had fans in high places.

Harris personified what it meant to play fundamentally sound and give it everything he had.  Although he was apparently out of the play, he kept his head in it and when the ball bounced off Tatum  he was able to pick it up and run for the score.  The extra point gave the Steelers a 137 victory.

In the waning moments of both games, the players took stock of themselves and played solid fundamental football as a team.

Chuck Noll, the great Steelers' coach and one of the greatest coaches in NFL history died this past week. 

Copyright Sporting Chance Press

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships that is available at select bookstores, Amazon, and the publisher's web site.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Our Football Lovers Bible: Pillars of the NFL

Whether you are a football coach, journalist, or fan, Pillars of the NFL: Coaches WhoHave Won Three or More Championships is a football lovers bible that offers biographies that examine the football lives of the greatest coaches in NFL history. 

And Amazon has it on sale now!

These are the game's 10 greatest legends who outsmarted the field, time and time again. It is not a book of strategies and drills, it's a book about the greatest coaches and their players. It a priceless book for those closest to the game.

Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships is published by Sporting Chance Press and written by Chicago Bears Senior Director Patrick McCaskey.  The Pillars themselves are the greatest coaches in NFL history--determined strictly by the number of championships.  Ten coaches have won three or more championships: George Halas, Guy Chamberlin, Curly Lambeau, Paul Brown, Weeb Ewbank, Vince Lombardi, Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh, Joe Gibbs, and Bill Belichick.

1. George Halas was a great man and great coach, but every once in a while he recharged his batteries and stepped back and watched others coach. He was a master at so many things, but he never felt like he knew everything and was always learning. He would bring college coaches into his camp and would pay attention to their ideas. He was very competitive and made it through some very tough times by tightening his belt. 

2. Curly Lambeau was a fine judge of character and he was able to recruit players to his club. His training and demands were tough. He saw  the passing game as something to be developed even before the rules were created that would allow for much of it in the league. He kept in touch with his former coach at Notre Dame, Knute Rockne, and they shared ideas and discussed players. 

3. Guy Chamberlin was a Nebraska farmer, but he knew the way the game was played. He played both defense and offense.  He saw football as great escape for a few years from the farm and the dry spells that happened. He loved the game and he would have expected his players to show the same passion. 

4. Paul Brown father was a railroad man with a watch--he learned to use his time wisely. Brown scripted his practices and made the most of the time he spent on the field. His players were skilled and he had classroom sessions and playbooks. He wanted smart players who were focused on learning and bringing discipline to the game. The color of a man's skin was irrelevant.

5. Weeb Ewbank was a small man who loved working with men. He never let his ego get in the way of creating a winning environment. Whether teaching players, handling salary relations, or negotiating a player's return, he kept his wits and his sense of humor. He succeeded in different played with different teams and he was at his best building a team. 

6. Vince Lombardi has been hailed as a disciplinarian. His methods were considered old fashioned and not workable for the modern player until he made them work for championship after championship. He learned high school and college coaching before the pro game. He was middle aged before he led the Packers. He grilled his players on plays until they became perfect at executing them.  He came very close to pushing them too hard and having a revolt, but he learned to back off at just the right time.  Once his methods were successful on the football field his team was practically invincible. 

7. Chuck Noll brought in critical players who would act as change-makers on his Steelers. These players would not accept poor play from their teammates. He started with Mean Joe Greene and was often working with black schools recruiting players that most teams would  have over looked. He created a mindset with his team that only exceptional hard-nosed play would be present. They all worked to win championships and to make their teammates Hall of Fame players. 

8. Bill Walsh was primed to be a head coach, but didn't get his chance until long after he thought it was due. And Walsh perhaps more than any other of the greatest coaches, had times where he suffered from a personal humiliation because of failure. Other times where he could walk out on a field and the opposing coach would worry so much about what Walsh's moves were going to be, he could not execute his own. Walsh seemed like he was a couple steps away from the abyss and a short leap to glory. He was hard to please and spend endless hour in preparation.  While he looked like a Physics teacher or a golf pro, he was a pugilist at heart--a former boxer with a passion for social justice. 

9. Joe Gibbs learned from every coach he worked with in football. He had a tough life as a child and then achieved a level of financial success that was almost unheard in both coaching and owning Joe Gibbs Racing. Gibbs was also a coach who played his hand as it came. He had certain ambitions when he started his NFL career, but he decided to create game plans to match his personnel not his own wishes.  He relied on a core group of coaches who he retained and he was considered especially brilliant at making half time adjustments. Like facing Bill Walsh, opposing coaches knew they had to be at their best to win against Gibbs. 

10. Today's football fans know Bill Belichick's mantra: "just do your job." And that goes for everyone connected to the team. Players are better prepared, they are trained in multiple positions, teammates and coaches are constantly reviewing their performance, everyone is expected to "man-up" and accept criticism. Players on the practice field get coached on their play under a myriad of game situations. The Patriots are a proud organization and each year the rest of the NFL can never take them for granted. Rarely are they not at the best at season end. Rarely does Bill Belichick get out-coached. 

Pillars of the NFL is a coaching tool, a football researchers handbook, and an NFL fan's guide to the history of the game