Farewell, Tommy Nobis
I never saw Tommy Nobis play for the Falcons. Battered and bruised, he'd long retired from the NFL by the time I arrived in Atlanta.
Nobis, who died this week at age 74 from dementia-related illnesses, was an old-school NFL linebacker, rampaging around the field like a mad beast. He deserves a place in the pro football hall of fame alongside Dick Butkus, Sam Huff and Ray Nitschke.
Long before the Georgia Dome and Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Nobis' rag-tag Falcons played at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium on infield dirt and chewed up grass, in early season heat and late season rain and snow.
When I think of Nobis' Falcons, I think of my late AJC colleague Frank Hyland, who covered the Birds, battling with crusty coach Norm Van Brocklin.
My strongest memories of Nobis come from his great college career with Darrell Royal's Texas Longhorns. One of the last two-way stars in college football, Nobis played linebacker and offensive guard for the Longhorns.
Nobis' tackle of Alabama quarterback Joe Namath on the goal line in the 1965 Orange Bowl remains one of the most vivid sports moments from my youth.
Alabama coach Bear Bryant, who called Namath the greatest athlete he ever coached, ran the injured Namath on a quarterback sneak. Namath always insisted that he'd reached the end zone.
Nobis' hit preserved Texas' 21-17 victory over the Crimson Tide, which had already won the national championship. In those days, the national champion was determined before the bowl games.
Sidelined by an injured knee during the first half, Namath came in after intermission to lead the Tide. Namath was named the game's MVP, although Nobis deserved to share the award with his game-saving play.
Foreshadowing today's blanket exposure of college football, that Orange Bowl was the first bowl game played in prime time, and was called by NBC's Curt Gowdy, one of the persistent voices of my childhood. Broadcast in "living color," the game would gain fame for its half-time extravaganzas, which for years starred the homophobic Anita Bryant.
While Nobis was consigned to pro football obscurity with the dismal Falcons, Namath shocked the world by signing a then unbelievable $400,000 contract with the upstart AFL's New York Jets, one of the main events that led to the pro football merger. Plagued by damaged knees, Namath emerged as one of the game's all-time greatest players, leading the Jets to an earth-shaking upset over the Baltimore Colts in the 1969 Superbowl.
Unlike the Bear, Jets coach Webb Eubank would never dare to have Namath run the ball.
Happy Days are Here Again! Doug Jones Takes Alabama
Doug Jones' win in Alabama was one of those amazing moments of joy and wonder, when the stars align and the great dice game of the universe rolls the right numbers.
Here are a few media impressions from the historic night, after bouncing back and forth from MSNBC to CNN as Jones steadily gained on the sour accused child molester Roy Moore, finally bursting ahead.
Although Moore acted like the churlish crackpot who refuses to leave the party, Jones by midnight appeared safe from any recount shenanigans or GOP maneuvers to steal the victory.
The GOP establishment seemed to want Moore to go away, and take his horse with him.
Here are a few media impressions.
Caution by MSNBC
MSNBC trailed CNN in calling the election, showing an excess of caution as its own Steve Kornacki gave solid mathematical evidence that still uncounted votes in Birmingham, Mobile and Selma would swing to Jones. Then MSNBC gave credence to Moore's graceless claim that he still had a chance to win by making Kornacki explain his analysis once more.
Barkley comes up big
Relishing Jones' victory, proud Alabamian Charles Barkley gave the Democratic Party the right prescription for continued success.
Barkley, expressing pride in his native state for ousting Moore, accused the Democratic Party of taking the black vote for granted over the years. A strong turnout of black voters carried Jones to victory.
The engaging pro basketball commentator and former Auburn and NBA star said that the party needs to develop economic and education programs to boost black families, and the white working class.
Showing perceptive political analysis, Barkley said that after Jones' win, Congress must focus on public education, jobs and the infrastructure. These are issues that the GOP under Donald Trump is ignoring, giving tax cuts to the nation's corporations and richest 1 percent while the middle class and poor struggle. Such a Democratic agenda would result in long-term gains.
Barkley, who has aired political ambitions, would be an articulate and charismatic candidate. While his TNT NBA comments are amusing and knowledgeable, Barkley can also be a star in the political arena.
Raines comes through
Former New York Times Executive Editor Howell Raines presided over one of the newspaper's historic low points, the Jayson Blair scandal. But the Alabama native capitalized on his deep knowledge of the state in perceptive analysis for MSNBC.
Appearing Tuesday night on Lawrence O'Donnell's show, Raines was one of the few who predicted a Jones win, based on the strength of suburban professional voters turned off by Moore. After Jones' surge to victory, Raines gave strong analysis of Sen. Richard Shelby's devastating turn against Moore, tying it to Shelby's representation of Alabama's business community and the University of Alabama.
Brian Williams on board
Former NBC news anchor Brian Williams was a steady professional presence in his late show on MSNBC, a reassuring turn from the giddy Rachel Maddow and gloating O'Donnell. Williams showed his cool in eliciting in-depth knowledge from Raines and from Washington Post political reporters.
Tapper on a hot streak
While CNN graybeard Wolf Blitzer draws derision for his befuddled reactions to John King's map changes, the network's Jake Tapper has been on a hot streak.
First Tapper took on the White House for its insidious "fake news" propaganda. Then Tapper got Shelby to disclose that he had written in a Senate candidate rather than vote for Moore. In the interview on Tapper's Sunday morning show, Shelby urged Alabamians to write in candidates rather than support Moore.
Tapper was the most perceptive CNN commentator Tuesday night, with pointed interactions with Dana Bash. He also was the catalyst for Barkley's strong comments.
AJC stirs itself
I was surprised that the usually dormant Atlanta Journal-Constitution acted like a real newspaper and ran an article on Jones' victory stripped across the top of the front page. News in my paper delivered to my driveway! What a concept. Alas, the article was by The New York Times, not an AJC reporter on the scene.
Echoing the Journal and Constitution's decision in 1965 to not cover the Selma to Montgomery march, the AJC gave little coverage to the Alabama race, outside of wire stories buried inside. Guess the AJC feared upsetting conservative suburban readers, its fallback editorial policy.
With Democratic gubernatorial candidates Stacey Abrams and Stacey Evans hoping to match the winning Alabama formula in Georgia, the newspaper should have at least sent political columnist Jim Galloway to Alabama for one of his inscrutable pieces.
Roy Reed's legacy will live on no matter how Alabama election turns out
Legendary New York Times reporter Roy Reed, a Southerner who covered his native region's civil rights reckoning, died Sunday at age 87 as Alabama hurtled toward its momentous Senate election Tuesday.
Reed, who witnessed the Bloody Sunday violence at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., in 1965 and other civil rights-era events, was among the newspaper's great writers and reporters.
After leaving the Times, he went home to teach at the University of Arkansas and write acclaimed books, including memoirs that comically contrasted his Southern recalcitrance with the Times' buttoned-up culture.
Reed's reporting in the midst of danger made him an inspirational figure for young Southern journalists who believed that newspapers could make a difference.
Along with his newspaper memoirs, Reed wrote the defining biography of Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus, known for resisting the integration of Little Rock's Central High School.
While Reed prided himself on an independent streak similar to that of Southern resistance, he deeply held liberal values His love for the South was matched by despair at its racism, provincialsm and violence. He relished the South's love of family, storytelling, laughter and the land.
On Tuesday, Alabama will choose between the progressive Doug Jones and the regressive theocratic Roy Moore. Another Timesman, Alabama native Howell Raines, appeared on MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell show Monday night to express his belief that Tuesday's election will mark a new birth for Alabama. I hope Raines' vision of Alabama proves true, but I fear the old Confederate stronghold will remain tied to its past.
I shouldn't have been surprised that the voter turnout is expected to be from 20-25 percent, according to The New York Times. Black voter suppression will keep many from voting, especially in the state's poverty-ravaged rural areas.
If the suburban professionals heralded by Raines turn out substantially, Jones has a chance of taking a victory over Moore, who disappeared from the state during the final days of the campaign. Like Donald Trump, Moore was scared to show his face in Alabama and answer questions from the national media who have camped in the state.
It's sad to realize that Reed will miss this election, a gauge for the South and the nation as well as Alabama. While a Moore win will show the persistence of Alabama and the South's virulent past, I will still believe in a different, happier future. Roy Reed's legacy will live on after all that Moore represents has gone away.
Premier League soccer a break from NFL carnage
After avoiding the NFL during the first part of the season, I've relapsed into watching the appalling/enthralling league.
The Saints' unexpected rise to the top of the NFC South standings knocked me off the wagon. Now, as more and more Saints fall to injury, they look poised for a late season collapse, with the Falcons and Panthers gaining.
Ah, the life of the NFL fan, as sick as a crack addict. You just get excited about a young player, when he's knocked out for the season. I was watching Eagles QB Carson Wentz for the first time, against the Rams in the legendary LA Coliseum, when the burly young Wentz was felled by a torn ACL. Foles rushed in to secure the Eagles' win over the anxious young Rams.
The Premier League sedative
Earlier Sunday morning, waiting for the NFL's slaughterhouse to begin anew, I watched Manchester City smother cross-town rival Manchester United in a lackluster game in the English Premier Soccer League. Or football league, as they call it in old England. Little did I know that the "derby" win gave Man City an imposing 11-point lead in the league standings.
Aside from the usual dives and pretend injuries, no one was carted off the field with paralyzing spine injures, concussions, or torn ligaments. The Man City goalie did take a hard shot in the Adam's apple, a la old Yankees shortstop Tony Kubek in a World Series game long ago, but kept on playing. Maybe his neck tattoo gave him all the protection he needed.
Stanton-Judge, Jackson-Munson, Maris-Mantle, Ruth-Gehrig
Speaking of the Yankees, guess we can start hating them again after the Giancarlo Stanton deal. First the NBA has 6-9 guys playing point guard. Now baseball has guys that tall in the outfield.
With the the 6-6 Stanton joining the 6-7 Judge, the Yanks will have size rivaling that of the Knicks or the New York (football) Giants.
Two big and burly right fielders who hit home runs and strike out a lot. Makes sense.
Rookie manager Aaron Boone will have fun figuring out which guy to DH. Filling out the pitching rotation looks daunting for now, but I'm sure the Yanks will add a couple of arms before spring training.
Wonder what the Yankees marketing department will come up with to match the charming PR stunt in which Judge's fans wore judge's wigs and robes and shouted "all rise" when the big rookie came to bat in Yankee Stadium? Perhaps the Giancarlo Stanton station, with a rail motif and fans wearing conductor's hats.
Angels take wing with pitcher-hitter
Meanwhile, the Angels are figuring out how to schedule Japanese sensation Shohel Ohtani to pitch and hit. Wonder if the Angels won't even use a DH on the days when Ohtani takes the mound. When his six innings or so of pitching are done, perhaps the Angels will move him to another position for the rest of the game.
The Angels experiment likely won't work, but at least baseball is trying out some new concepts.
Young novelists no longer tell stories
New York Times books critics Dwight Garner, Jennifer Senior, Parul Sehgal and Janet Maslin listed their favorite books of the year in Friday's paper, and I was shocked at how many of them I'd found unreadable.
Novels especially left me cold this year. Many young novelists, especially women, don't draw me into their imaginary worlds. Their techniques remain too obvious; I see their fingerprints and tricks learned in MFA workshops. Their characters seem hollow and insubstantial, their plots bereft of the drama and adventure of classic storytelling.
William Gass, the literary curmudgeon who died this week at age 93, railed against modern fiction and creative writing programs. One of metafiction's high priests, Gass advocated the primacy of language over traditional narrative elements such as plot and dialogue that sounded as if it belonged on the stage or screen.
A theoretical philosopher, Gass represents a dead end in fiction. Over the years, I grappled with his essays, novels and stories. Much of his work seemed difficult, although I liked his late novel "Middle C," in which his elderly character and depiction of setting showed more attention to traditional narrative techniques than his theories admitted.
Today's idea-depleted novels show the validity of Gass' condemnations of today's programmed fiction.
Even so-called literary novels that receive critical praise display the lack of imagination and ideas, as Gass said. Gass' work often refused to pander to readers' sensibilities. Today's novels fail to engage the reader with an over-reliance on technique, and well-worn themes and characters.