Category Archives: Uncategorized

Popovich press conference shows cracks in art of interviewing

Much has been made over the years about Gregg Popovich’s surly disposition with the media. His post-game press conference after the Spurs were eliminated from the NBA playoffs was classic Pop.

Yes, Popovich is cantankerous and difficult. But, in many cases, the journalists asking the “questions” earn his cranky – sometimes witty – reactions.

It can be challenging enough to cull insightful information from these “gang-bang” media scrums that dominate pro and major college sports. When journalists approach these occasions lazily and without strategy, they can expect what they get.

Whatever happened to asking a simple question that rouses a meaningful answer?

Popovich’s was most recent post-game presser should be delivered to journalism students as a model of what not to do when interviewing.

The first question starts with a needless statement, and ends with: “Talk about the game in the second half.”

Later, an Associated Press reporter, searching for something – anything – to add to his story, states: “Seemed like the Thunder beat you to the boards tonight as well.”

Popovich: “That’s a correct statement.”

Another reporter: “Obviously, the outcome didn’t go in your favor …”

Popovich: “That’s obvious. You are right on it as usual.”

The exchange between reporter and coach that drew the most ire from media types was this:

Reporter: “Do you have any regrets about not going smaller earlier?

Coach: “No. Are you coaching now? You should try not to do that.”

Legitimate? Maybe.

Granted, Popovich could have reacted with less sensitivity to a question of real interest.

But asking a question that can be answered with “yes” or “no” is something you’re taught not to do during the second semester of journalism school. If there were a 10 commandments of journalism, one would be: “Thou shalt not ask a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question.”

Yet those – and rolling statements masked as questions – are all too commonplace among journalists – specifically sports types in post-game scrums on deadline.

A better question to ask: “Why did you go small when you did?”

It seems the goal of many sports journalists is to simply collect quotes to fill a game story, when the real objective should be to gather valuable information – through thoughtful, straight-forward questioning – that they can’t discover themselves watching a game.

Life’s journey through the Bills’ 16 years of disappointment

The Bills' last playoff appearance, on January 8, 2011, ended in horror. Sixteen years of disappointment has followed.

The Bills’ last playoff appearance, ended in horror. Sixteen years of disappointment have followed. (Buffalo Nes photo)

On January 8, 2000 I was a pimple-faced senior in high school and a part-time employee at a Burger King.

I was also a die-hard Bills fan.

I had grown up on Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith, Marv Levy and plenty of victories. I had witnessed division titles, conference championships and Super Bowl disappointments.

Falls during my formative years meant double-digit victories and playoff appearances.

So on January 8, 2000 the Bills were in familiar territory, playing the Tennessee Titans in an AFC playoff game.

The national media had hyped the matchup as a de facto AFC title game – even though the winner would be required to prevail twice more to reach the Super Bowl. Bills fans, to no surprise, had bought the hype. This was our year to win it all.

Other AFC playoff teams included Dan Marino’s Miami Dolphins, Tom Coughlin-led Jacksonville, and the Seattle Seahawks – yes, the Seahawks.

The game was played at Adelphia Coliseum – named after the cable company headquartered in Coudersport, Pa. and owned by John Rigas, who is reportedly on the doorsteps of death this week in a Pennsylvania prison.

The Bills, of course, didn’t win the game – featuring one of the most memorable endings in NFL history – and the Titans, led by quarterback Steve McNair, who was murdered on Independence Day 2009, eventually finished a yard short of winning the Super Bowl.

The play was called “Homerun Throwback”. Frank Wycheck spun his body to throw the ball across the field to Kevin Dyson, who followed a convoy to the winning touchdown.

I vividly remember Paul Maguire, the former Bill who was on the broadcast that day, adamantly blustering immediately after the play that Wycheck’s toss was not a lateral and that replay review would wipe out the touchdown. I remember praying that he was right.

He wasn’t. There wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the play.

As referee Phil Luckett confirmed the touchdown, I gathered my belongings for a 4 p.m. shift at Burger King. The Titans still had to kickoff.

I listened to the game’s final seconds in the car on the way to work. When Van Miller validated the crushing defeat on the radio broadcast, anger and sadness erupted inside me.

I nearly began to cry. Over a football game. Looking back, it all seems silly and immature.

Much has changed since January 8, 2000, the last time the Bills appeared in a postseason game.

With the Bills being officially eliminated from the playoffs for the 16th year, I selfishly thought about the path of my own life since January 8, 2000. Perhaps you have, too.

Sixteen years is a long time.

I quit the job at Burger King and got another painting dorm rooms at St. Bonaventure.

I graduated from high school, started college and earned a degree.

I got drunk for the first time, and threw up because of it.

I drank legally at a bar for the first time.

I basked in glory as my alma mater, St. Bonaventure, earned an al-large berth in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, survived a horrid scandal, and recovered to make the tournament again.

I got my first real job, held it for four years, and accepted another in a town three hours away where I knew no one.

I moved away from home and I moved back. I’ve lived in nine different houses or apartments.

I met my future wife, broke up with her, got back together, broke up again, and got back together again.

I proposed to her, we bought a house together, got married, and we now have plans to have children someday (almost certainly before the Bills reach the playoffs again).

I became an uncle three times over.

I was a best man, godfather and groomsman.

Both my maternal grandparents passed away.

I went back to school to earn a master’s degree.

My career path has changed several times over.

I have started building a retirement fund (maybe I’ll retire before the Bills make the playoffs again).

I had my wisdom teeth removed.

I’ve made many friends, and a lost a few, too.

I bought my first car, and two more after that.

We celebrated our parents’ 50th birthdays and will celebrate their 60th before the Bills’ next playoff game.

Our family dog, Pepper, passed away in 2004, and our “new” dog, Chloe, will join her in pet heaven soon (perhaps, before the Bills’ next playoff game).

I have grown gray hair on top of my head (a few I attribute to the Bills).

But, for better or worse, I am still a Bills fan. I will be regardless of where life takes me.

Dodging the ‘Knife’ – our journey through the infamous snow storm

Winter Storm Knife blitz Buffalo's southern suburbs and wreaked havoc on the end of our honeymoon.

Her composure was wilting. Her voice quivering. Her will breaking. Fast.

My wife began to cry as she spoke to a 911 dispatcher. She was angry. Frustrated. Losing hope.

We were cold. Tired. Trapped.

The snow was quickly building around us, and there was nothing we could do about it.

I tried to console her. Explain to her that remaining calm was our best plan of action — our only plan of action. But her voice continued to rise.

What an end to a honeymoon. We had spent the last handful of days on the beach, in the sun, under a cloudless sky. Now this!

We had planned to delay our honeymoon from after our wedding in August for this very reason. A short reprieve from the cold winds of November sure would be nice, we thought.

It was.

But we weren’t expecting to return to this. We had never seen so much snow.

Few have.

We began our ascension from Punta Cana International Airport aboard U.S. Airways flight 1966 at 3:50 p.m. on Monday, November 17, 2014. Our expected arrival in Buffalo was 9:54 p.m. following a 1 hour, 49 minute layover in Charlotte.

Our sunny honeymoon in Punta Cana was followed by snow -- lots of it.

Our sunny honeymoon in Punta Cana was followed by snow — lots of it.

We hoped to be at our Olean home and in bed by 1 a.m. at the latest following the 75-mile drive from Buffalo. We were looking forward to being back after a week away.

The flight from Punta Cana to Charlotte was smooth. We arrived around 6:30 p.m. with our next flight expected to depart at 8:15.

We grabbed a quick a dinner and sought to find our boarding gate. We were greeted with ominous news. This is when our trip slowly began to unravel.

A A319, 124-seat Airbus was standing idle at the gate, but a crew to man the plan was nowhere to be found. They were delayed. When they might arrive was unknown. There was a chance our flight might be postponed until the morning.

We were upset. We were exhausted. We were ready to be home.

We quietly stewed at the thought of having to spend the night where we sat. Looking back, we would have gladly accepted a night – or two – sleeping on the carpeted floors of Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

An applause filled the gate area. Weary travelers breathed a sigh of relief. The crew had arrived. We were going home.

We ascended from the runway shortly after 10 p.m. Now, we were only left with one concern: what kind of weather would welcome us in Buffalo.

During a phone conversation with my dad while in Charlotte, he warned that a winter storm was coming. He implored us to be careful.

The warning, the words, were familiar. We were accustomed to living in and maneuvering through and around the snow. We would be fine, I thought.

I had driven in all manners of snow since age 16. We might have to take it slow, but we would make it home intact.

As we descended upon Buffalo after a bumpy flight that caused my wife stomach discomfort, a flight attendant came over the loud speaker to provide a weather update.

All was clear!

By now, Monday, November 17 had turned to Tuesday, November 18.

I couldn’t see where I was going. We were afraid of what was ahead. We were afraid of losing control.

Just five miles into our journey, all hell broke loose. Travelling south on Transit Road, outside Buffalo, we drove into a stiff curtain of giant snowflakes. Illuminated by our headlights, that was all we could see. All around us.

Unable to see even a foot beyond the front bumper, I begrudgingly steered my wife’s Kia Sorento into an empty AutoZone parking lot. Panic had begun to set in.

“What should I do?” I asked in frustration

My wife didn’t have an answer.

Part of me wanted to wait five or 10 minutes for the snow to let up. A bigger part of wanted to continue.

As snow continued to pile up around us, I maneuvered the small SUV out of the lot and onto the main road again. If it were possible, the snow was now coming down faster and with more fury.

Less than a mile later, I had lost all vision of the road. I had to pull to the side. Now!

I spotted what appeared to be a parking lot and attempted to turn in. Our tires met a mound of snow. The vehicle stopped cold, barely off the road.

Before we could begin to establish a plan B, a snow plow approached from behind and buried us further. We wouldn’t be moving any time soon.

We felt relieved.

A tow truck was on its way to save us. We would get back on the road and find a hotel for the night. We would be home the next morning.

Then the phone call came. It was Triple A. It would be a few hours before they could help us. The snow was heavy, they said. There were others in line ahead of us.

So we hunkered down and tried to stay warm. It was almost 2 a.m.

Snow continued to fall furiously. It built around us. There were no signs of it letting up.

I turned off the engine, wary that tail pipe had already become engulfed in snow. Worried that we’d be trapped in the car by the rising snow, my wife pushed me to venture outside every so often and remove the piles surrounding the four doors.

I was wearing sneakers and a windbreaker. So was my wife. We didn’t have winter hats, gloves or scarves. When we had left Olean for Buffalo on November 10, the weather was mild. The temperatures were in the 40s and 50s. We were expecting similar on our return.

We were unprepared for any snow, never mind feet of it. My socks become cold and wet. My feet were icy. The entire car was chilled.

We bundled ourselves in beach towels from our suitcases. I changed my socks, but my feet were still frozen. I couldn’t feel my toes.

“Just keep moving them!” my wife begged.

When I began to doze off, she pleaded that I stay awake.

It was approaching 4 a.m. We had been stuck for more than three hours.

—-

My wife cried for help that wasn’t coming.

This was our third 911 call, and she was breaking. “We’ll do our best to help you,” the dispatcher told her.

Their best wasn’t good enough. Through tears, my wife explained our situation.

The tow truck wasn’t coming, she said. Our two previous 911 calls for help were not fulfilled, she shrieked. We had no other options, she pleaded.

We were desperate. Cold. Hungry. Dazed by exhaustion. My wife feared for her life. Even I was beginning to lose hope.

Even worse, routine bodily functions finally began to hit us. We teamed to fill bottles and a Cracker Barrel gift shop bag that had luckily been left in the car.

I couldn’t move my toes anymore. They were frosted over. It felt like I would never be able to move them again.

My wife sobbed again after her mother called and left a voicemail on her cellphone. “I hope you’re doing OK,” her mom said. “We love you.”

I hadn’t spoken to my dad since 1 a.m., when I assured him a tow truck was on its way. For all he knew, we were safe and sound in a hotel somewhere.

Dawn was fast approaching. My wife had pleaded over again for me to call my parents, to let them know we were still in the car.

I didn’t want to wake them. Most of all, I didn’t want to scare them.

As the first hint of daylight arrived, I finally gave in.

Off in the distance, a man shoveled. The snow had let up slightly and rays of sun from above the clouds illuminated the surroundings just enough for me to spot him.

I was behind our vehicle, furiously trying to remove snow from around the bumper and tail pipe so we could start the car again.

The snow was piled up above my waist. I could barely push my way out the car door. I struggled to merely trudge around the car.

My dad couldn’t believe we had spent the night stuck, in the car. When I phoned, he directed me to exit the car and clear the tail pipe.

Then, the man came into vision. I could see him shoveling near a large building 50 yards away. I frantically tripped my way through the hills of snow toward him. Hungry, exhausted, freezing, I prayed I would make it to him before he vanished.

“Hi,” I calmly said as I approached. “Do you mind if we come in for a few minutes to get warm? …. We’ve been in the car all night.”

“Sure,” he answered, shocked at our plight. With that I trudged back to retrieve my wife.

It was 7 a.m., and we would be warm soon. For how long, we didn’t know.

We found out that we weren’t the only ones stranded.

The shoveling man, Tony, welcomed us into a building that was buzzing with a dozen overnight workers. The mountains of snow had trapped them there.

My wife comes in from the snow at Mayer Brothers.

My wife comes in from the snow at Mayer Brothers.

An energetic man of Hispanic origin offered us coffee. We basked in the warmth of the building. We were grateful to be safe and out of the cold.

I sipped coffee and nibbled on a pop tart from the vending machine. My toes began to thaw. Slowly, I could move them again.

We sat at a table with a middle-aged woman. She made us feel welcome. We were at the corporate office and factory of Mayer Brothers, she explained, a company that produced juices and apple cider and bottled and packaged spring water.

The other stranded workers were young men of various races and nationalities. They spoke many different languages. There was a giant of a man from Africa. One from the Middle East who every so often lowered to his knees to pray. A small Asian man with a bubbly personality.

What had they gotten themselves into?

Us, we felt lucky. We would soon find out just how fortunate we were.

Morning became afternoon. Snow continued to fall angrily.

The Sorento was now engulfed, barely visible from our view standing at the building’s entrance (depicted in the video below). We weren’t going anywhere.

During the phone call with my dad, he had promised we would be free from the clutches of the heaps of snow soon. He said would put a call into my uncle, who lived 10 miles to the north in the suburb of Williamsville.

At my uncle’s home less than a foot of snow had fallen. Buffalo and its northern suburbs had somehow escaped the brunt of the storm.

Still, my uncle’s attempts at reaching us were continually met with resistance. Transit Road, like many of the main arteries south of Buffalo, had been closed by authorities.

One stranded worker attempted to walk to a nearby supermarket. The whipping winds and heavy snow barely allowed him  to advance to the road before he forfeited to the elements.

A group of workers packed into a mini-van with the idea of making it home. Less than a half mile down the road the vehicle was stopped by the snow. They dug out and returned.

There were no alternatives. We all would spend the night in the factory.

For us, that was far better than spending another night in the car.

When we eventually made it home to Olean, we penned a heartfelt thank you to the Mayer Brothers owner and his son. We signed it, “Honeymooners”. That was the moniker we affectionately become known as to people of Mayer Brothers.

They didn’t have to let us in. They didn’t have to let us stay. They didn’t have to embrace us.

They gave us a warm place out of the cold. They let us sleep there. They even fed us.

The owner’s son, by way of a snowmobile, supplied those stranded at the factory with loaves of bread, peanut butter, jelly, and Hershey’s bars. My wife tried to pay him. He emphatically declined. The outpouring of gratitude brought her to tears.

When night came, the workers helped us lay down cardboard boxes to sleep on. We wrapped ourselves in beach towels and a blanket from the car. I used my windbreaker and another towel as a pillow.

Me ready for bed and trying to stay warm during our night's stay at Mayer Brothers.

Me ready for bed and trying to stay warm during our night’s stay at Mayer Brothers.

We were safe. That was all that mattered.

We will always remember how we were treated with kindness and compassion in our time of distress. We will remember it most when we are given the opportunity to help others in need.

We later learned that the massive snow storm claimed at least a dozen lives, including one man who was buried alive in the snow. Others were trapped in their vehicles for days.

We were the lucky ones.

It was almost midnight and the longest day of our lives was nearly over.

It had stopped snowing. Finally. The sky was clear blue and towering piles of snow glistened brightly in the bright rays of sunshine.

Our vehicle, once almost completely buried, was now visible. Transit Road had been plowed clean.

I borrowed a snow shovel from inside the factory and dug out the remaining snow that surrounded the car. We were ready to go home.

The Mayer Brothers owner tracked down a sheriff to help us find a way home. He directed us on a roundabout escape route to Olean.

At 11 o’clock on a Wednesday morning, normally busy streets, were still barren. Plows and police vehicles roamed slowly over the arctic landscape. Cars everywhere were stranded and buried. A single man carried a case of cheap beer through the shadows of snow banks ascending to 9, 10 feet and higher.

The worst of Winter Storm Knife, as it became known, was over. “Knife,” Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said, because it cut like a knife through “the heart of Erie County.”

The storm dumped 76 inches in a matter of 24 hours – the most recorded in U.S. history over a 24-hour period. To put that amount into perspective, the average snowfall for an entire year in Buffalo is 93.6 inches.

The New York State Thruway, where hundreds of vehicles were trapped, was closed for days. So, too, were routes 400 and 219 – our usual paths home to Olean.

In other words, we hadn’t dodged the effects of the storm yet.

“You can’t go this way,” said a police officer guarding a closed road we needed to travel to Orchard Park and eventually route 219.

“But the sheriff in West Seneca said we could,” we pleaded.

We couldn’t convince the officer to let us pass. The road was closed. We had no way home.

Not knowing where to go, we ventured north to Williamsville and my uncle’s home. There, we showered for the first time in two days and determined an alternate route home with my uncle’s help.

Since we couldn’t take a direct route south through Buffalo’s suburbs, we drove east toward Rochester and then south. It took us two hours, but we were home.

It was 3 p.m. on Wednesday, November 19.

A year later, memories of Winter Storm Knife linger. For us, they will live on forever – a crazy twist to end our honeymoon, a story we can tell our kids and grandkids one day, a cautionary tale.

My wife is anxious about a trip to Baltimore we will be making soon. She keeps extra blankets, winter hats and gloves, and a small bucket – to pee in, of course – in her vehicle at all times.

We had plenty of water to drink during our stay at Mayer Brothers.

We had plenty of water to drink during our stay at Mayer Brothers.

Eight months after the storm – in the middle of summer – remnants of it had still yet to melt. Nine months following the storm, area hospitals reported a significant uptick in births — many of trapped mothers and fathers.

We’ve told our storm story many times over. Each time our audience has been left bewildered, jaws agape.

One of the last times I shared it was over the summer, while visiting a friend and his wife in suburban Cleveland. When I told them about the kindness of the factory owner and workers, my friend said he would make sure to buy their products if he ever saw Mayer Brothers packaging in the supermarket.

Before departing for home, my friend handed me a bottled water for the trip. I sipped it slowly as I drove. After stopping for gas, I glanced half-knowingly at the packaging on the bottle.

There it was, in simple white text across a blue background:

Bottled at Mayer Bros., Inc.
3300 Transit Road
West Seneca, NY 14224

Suddenly, memories of three days trapped in the snow came rushing back: Our 911 calls for help left unanswered. My bitter cold toes. The warm coffee. A blissful sleep on cardboard. Finally making it out.

Today, a year later, we are thankful to be home.

St. Bonaventure: Instead of eroding Division I athletics, use it as a tool to increase enrollment

sbu-basketball-banner
 

The divide between academia and athletics at St. Bonaventure University isn’t unique to the institution. The fight for dollars is happening at schools across the country.

The scholars argue that their schools spend way too much on sports. The athletic types answer by saying the spending is necessary to compete. Meanwhile, it’s up to the university leaders and board members to decide what is best for their school.

St. Bonaventure is unique in that it is a small private university that supports Division I athletics – most notably a men’s basketball program that is a member of a multiple-bid NCAA tournament conference. In many ways the university is a square peg in a round hole that is mega athletics.

In a strong, three-part series, recent university graduate Shawn Campbell outlined the implications of spending on athletics at St. Bonaventure. The school – like most – is facing dwindling enrollment amidst a backdrop of increased spending on sports. One long-time professor guessed that no school in the country spends a greater percentage of its budget on athletics than does St. Bonaventure.

Campbell’s series: PART 1  |  PART 2  |  PART 3

Campbell’s academic sources indicated discontentment over lack of pay raises in recent years. They have directed their anger at athletics and the millions spent annually to support the school’s 14 Division I programs. More than one professor implied that St. Bonaventure would be wise to abandon its Division I membership.

To be certain, the university must tap more into donors and fundraisers to continue to successfully operate its athletics programs in the Atlantic 10.  Division I athletics at the school can’t survive otherwise.

But the bigger financial problem at St. Bonaventure and other institutions of higher education across the country is declining enrollment – not athletic spending. Throwing the baby out with the bath water isn’t the answer.

Instead of seeking ways to erode the Division I sports tradition at the school in effort to save a few dollars, the powers that be at St. Bonaventure would be much the wiser to join together to nurture athletics.

“I think the university needs to really protect its asset. I think our position in Division I and our position in the Atlantic 10 is an asset,” a university alum and big money donor told Campbell. “It’s part of our balance sheet, and we need to protect it.”

Similarly, a member of the university’s board of trustees and St. Bonaventure alum told Campbell: “We recognize (Division I athletics) importance as a recruiting tool, we recognize its importance as a fundraising opportunity at the university, we recognize its importance as far as reputational concerns go at a university.”

At least somebody gets it.

Right or wrong, St. Bonaventure is known nationally because of its athletics, particularly men’s basketball. The team plays a number of games on national television every year. It garnered media attention from USA Today and the New York Times, among others, after winning the Atlantic 10 and advancing to the NCAA tournament in 2012.

Athletics puts the school in front of people who otherwise would never have heard or learned of St. Bonaventure. No academic aspect of the university can provide the university such wide-spread visibility and marketing prowess.

Declining enrollment isn’t the fault of athletics. But athletics can help but put more bodies in dorm rooms and classrooms on campus.

It is unfortunate and frustrating that the school’s president doesn’t completely understand the impact popular sports can have on student recruitment.

“We’ve asked that question,” president Sister Margaret Carney told Campbell. “Unless you are a student-athlete coming to play, for the rest of the students, it’s not the characteristic that makes them want to be here.”

Clearly, Sr. Carney isn’t an expert in marketing. A better question to ask might be: “How did you hear about us?” or “What piqued your interest in St. Bonaventure?”

Division I athletics might not be driving factor – or even a factor at all – in attracting students to attend St. Bonaventure. But sports unquestionably increase the school’s reach to potential students and their families, as well as its  brand recognition.

It also ramps up morale and financial support among alumni, who take special pride in sporting the brown and white colors of their university.

A men’s basketball game in the dead of winter brought hundreds of ’80s grads back to campus for a weekend this past season. Alumni weekend annually draws thousands more back for games.  And Bonnies fans always travel well to support their team on the road. Athletics gives them a reason to walk tall.

That morale and support would crumble significantly if the university wavered on its commitment to Division I and the Atlantic 10.

As one alum told Campbell: “Bonaventure is steeped in tradition, both academically and athletically, and I think that both feed off each other.”

Believe in the power of hospice care

hospiceThe other day I was fortunate to encounter a chance meeting with a woman whose mother had passed away under hospice care. She shared a story similar to many that have been told over the years about the virtues of hospice.
 
The woman praised the social worker and nurse who oversaw care for her mother. The nurse, especially, who lived  some 30 miles away, but “just happened to be in the neighborhood” of the family’s sleepy burg on the Saturday the patient’s life expired.
 
“As I get older,” the woman told me, “I don’t believe in coincidences anymore.”
 
In this case, she believes in the power of hospice.
 
The nurse stopped in for a visit that day. She asked if the patient and family needed anything. She consoled them. She was there for them at the time of death, to provide comfort and compassion.
 
That’s what hospice does.
 
I am the Agency Relations Coordinator for a not-for-profit that provides hospice care called HomeCare & Hospice. Among my responsibilities is to raise awareness and educate the community about our hospice care services, and to illustrate that hospice is an option – and a pretty good one – when end of life is near.
 
A recent Time/CNN poll revealed that 7 in 10 Americans would prefer to die in the safety and comfort of their own homes. The reality is that only 1 of 4 actually do.
 
Instead, patients and families often fight for life by way of painful medical treatments and procedures that may or may not work. Hospice, on the other hand, allows individuals to die in their home, around family and friends, without suffering.
 
To build awareness and raise money to provide the best care to patients and families in four counties, HomeCare & Hospice puts on various fundraising events throughout the year. One of our more notable events is the annual Hospice Walk.
 
This year’s Walk steps off on May 30. In advance of the big day, I ask that you please help me help hospice.
 
  • You can give a donation on my behalf. It can be as little as a few dollars. Every cent counts.
  • You can participate in the event. The Walk steps off at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 30 at the Allegheny River Trail at St. Bonaventure University. All participants will receive a gift and post-walk refreshments, compliment of HomeCare & Hospice and our sponsors.
  • You can talk about death and dying with your loved ones and become comfortable with it. How do you want to die? Where do you want to die?
Our agency helps individuals face and embrace death. Please support us. 

Use Ice Bucket Challenge To Support Your Cause

I opened my Facebook timeline Friday morning to many more ice buckets and many more cold and wet souls.

I also had a message – a scarcity for a Facebooker who creeps quite a bit but whom is rarely active on the social network. To my surprise, I had been nominated for the #ALSIceBucketChallenge.

I didn’t expect to be nominated. I don’t have many friends on Facebook. I have fewer in the real world.

My Ice Bucket Challenge:

My nomination speaks to the vast reach of the Ice Bucket phenomenon. By Saturday afternoon, recipients of my nominations had completed the challenge as had a few of their recipients.

I wonder, is there anybody out there who hasn’t been challenged? Even those who don’t know the difference between a hashtag and an avatar have been taken to task in round about ways.

As one might expect, the ALS Association has made millions in donations since the Challenge commenced – $15.6 million since July 29. The Challenge has also educated us and brought tremendous awareness to the disease.

At last count, more than 11 million had viewed this touching video on YouTube.

The Challenge has also been met with a fair share of criticism.

For one, Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times wrote: “The first issue raised by the ice bucket challenge is whether this money is being put to its best use … It’s whether ALS warrants the attention, compared with other possible charitable causes.”

The argument is valid. There are thousands of other causes that deserve just as much of our attention, time and money.

That is one of the lessons to be culled from the Challenge: our generosity, sacrifice and goodwill are needed in many areas throughout the world. ALS is one. Let’s not forget about it. But let’s also learn about and develop compassion for many other worthy causes.

The next time you dump a bucket of ice cold water over your head, use the opportunity to tell the story of a charity or cause close to your heart. It may be orphaned children, endangered species or wounded veterans.

No matter what it is, challenge others to support you and your cause.

Penn State fills AD position with …. a female

628x471I’ll admit that I didn’t follow Penn State’s search for a new athletic director particularly closely. So I won’t pretend to know the qualifications of the candidates Sandy Barbour (right) beat out for the job.

Barbour has been the AD at Cal and Tulane. On the surface, she seems to have an admirable track record as an athletic administrator.

She must. With Penn State’s academic and athletic prestige, one would expect the institution to have the pick of any number of worthy candidates.

Barbour is female, of course. That is important to note, because it’s very possible that her gender – in addition to her resume – helped set her apart from the pack.

It’s also very possible that Penn State president Eric Barron and the hiring committee that picked Barbour felt varying amounts of pressure to select a woman.

First, there has been  a push for years for women to land more of these big jobs at all levels of college athletics. Barbour is one of only four women leading athletic departments in the power five conferences.

There should be more.

Second, Penn State is still recovering from the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Four leading men allegedly conspired to hide the report of Sandusky molesting a young boy in PSU’s football showers to protect the school and its most notable athletic program.

What if a woman was athletic director at the time of Sandusky’s reported transgressions? How would she have reacted? Would she have been more sympathetic to Sandusky’s young victim?

How would things have been different?

In the aftermath of the Sandusky saga, Jason Whitlock wrote: “One of the lessons to be taken from this Penn State mess is that universities need to empower women in their athletic departments.”

Give Penn State credit. The school also hired a black coach to lead its football program earlier this year. A black female coaches Penn State’s successful women’s basketball program. The institution and athletic department are striving for diversity.

Barbour, meanwhile, will make a base salary of $700,000 annually. She will be entrusted to balance a millions-dollar budget. Penn State student-athletes will be expected to be successful in sport and in academics under her watch.

Of course, she also will be expected to make strong decisions rooted in morality and ethics – and, of course, dollars and cents and wins and losses– in a college athletic landscape still dominated by men.

NBA Nickname Jerseys Offer Shrewd Lesson in Creative and Fearless Marketing

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Miami Heat

The “Birdman” flew during the Heat-Nets jersey nickname game in Brooklyn.

If ‘Jesus Shuttlesworth’ can fit across the back of a basketball jersey, surely ‘The Hick From French Lick’ and ‘Round Mound of Rebound’ can, too.

The NBA is on to something again, just as one of its saviors, commissioner David Stern, is on the way out. I don’t know if Stern, who is set to retire Feb. 1, had anything to do with the nickname jerseys that were unveiled during the Heat-Nets matchup last night in Brooklyn. But, no matter the brains behind it, the creation will only continue to line the NBA’s pockets with cold hard cash and further enhance the visibility of the league and its players.

I don’t watch a lot of regular season NBA, but the nickname game hooked me – at least for a few minutes. Certainly, I wasn’t the only one.

‘Jesus Shuttlesworth’ rained jumpers (though not many connected), ‘Birdman’ flew through the air, ‘King James’ ruled the court, but the ‘Truth’ was all that mattered in the end of the Nets’ 104-95 victory.

Some will argue that planting a nickname on the back of a jersey is a cash grab aimed only at increasing jersey sales. That may true. Traditionalists will argue that such jersey shenanigans are disrespectful to the game. That may be true, too.

But it was Stern’s shrewd marketing sense and similarly-aimed outside-the-box thinking –combined with the otherworldly talents of Bird, Magic and Jordan – that built the NBA through the 1980s and 90s – from the Dream Team, to globalization to All-Star weekend and diversity among the league’s most visible employees.

The NBA, under Stern, has been willing to take chances and risk bad PR for the potential big payoff. The nickname jerseys have been met with criticism by some, to be sure. But the positive publicity will far outweigh any backlash.

For business owners, marketers and public relations people, the takeaway is evident: First, be creative and innovative, and then be fearless with your creations, ideas and pitches. Don’t be afraid to stand out from the crowd.

While watching the game last night, I thought it would be neat to sell ‘Hick From French Lick’ jerseys, or ones with’ Dr. J’ or ‘Air Jordan’ or ‘Pistol’ or ‘Mailman’.

As I write this, they’re probably already coming off a conveyor belt in a Taiwan factory. And maybe even a traditionalist or two will purchase one.

The Bachelor and Racism: Together Forever

A rare sight: Chantel, a 27-year-old accounting manager — and black woman — is vying for the Bachelor’s heart.

I have watched more than a few episodes of ABC’s “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” over the years. It isn’t a guilty pleasure. It’s the cost of having a fiancé who enjoys the program.

Tonight – the second of the show’s two-night premiere – bachelor Juan Pablo is scheduled to meet 25 beautiful women.

Get this: Juan Pablo is Hispanic, a native of Venezuela. One of his bachelorettes is African-American.

The rest of the cast looks awfully pale, which is par for the course for “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” franchise.

Still, after all these years and episodes, racism and “The Bachelor” somehow never crossed my mind until Sunday night, when we met Juan Pablo and his extended family and were also given a sneak preview of the season – including one or two scenes featuring Chantel, a 27-year-old account manager from Miami who happens to be black.

A quick internet search reveals that “The Bachelor” doesn’t exactly boast a strong record of racial equality. In fact, two black men filed a lawsuit against “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” in 2012, claiming that the shows’ producers discriminated against casting participants of color. (The case was later dismissed.)

Thus, a leading Hispanic bachelor and a black “contestant” could be viewed as racial progress for the series. (We shouldn’t expect Chantel to hang around for too long, though, as African-American women are typically the first to be booted off the show.)

Of course, if the program truly represented the fabric of America, it would include many more blacks, Hispanics and Asians. But don’t expect the white supremacy of “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette” to wane anytime soon.

First and most importantly, the discrimination case in 2012 was dismissed because casting decisions by the shows’ producers are protected by the First Amendment, and much of what we see on network television is still largely influenced by middle-aged white men. Only when the population of network television movers and shakers grows more diverse will our television programs follow suit.

Second, much of what we see on network television is largely influenced by ratings and demographics. It’s not venturing too far out on a limb to assume that the vast majority of The Bachelor/Bachelorette following is made up of middle class and rich white women who enjoy watching romance sprout between white men and women with whom they can relate.

Therefore, we can also reasonably assume the opposite, that over the dozen or so years of “The Bachelor”, black, Hispanic and Asian viewers lost interest in the series at some point – or never gained it to begin with – because of the limited casting of black, Hispanic and Asian men and women.

Ah-hah.

So if blacks, Hispanics and Asians aren’t even watching, we can also reasonably assume that they’re not jumping at opportunities to be casted on the shows either.

The Bachelor’s executive producer Mike Fleiss said this in April 2012: “We always want to cast for ethnic diversity, it’s just that for whatever reason, they don’t come forward. I wish they would.”

The solution to Mr. Fleiss’ conundrum is simple, of course: Make a concerted effort to recruit and cast minorities, attempt to give them more prominent roles and then sit back and watch as more diverse viewership and casting pools build.

But why tinker with a franchise when it is so popular and rakes in millions of dollars? And why risk alienating such a loyal army of white Bachelor followers?

If Fleiss was being honest, he would have said: “We don’t care about casting for ethnic diversity. All we care about is making money. And if that means utilizing a cast of white bachelors and bachelorettes, then that’s what we’ll continue to do.”

Here’s hoping for a Juan Pablo-Chantel love match. Stay tuned (well, only if you’re white, of course).

NFL Free Agency: Player Value vs. PR Value

Arthur Moats, the Buffalo Bills’ Walter Payton Man of the Year, will become an unrestricted free agent in March.

With the season complete for most NFL teams, their attention has turned to free agency. The Buffalo Bills have nine players set to become unrestricted free agents in March, none more important than All-Pro safety Jairus Byrd.

But, perhaps, none is more interesting than Arthur Moats.

Yes, Arthur Moats, the outside linebacker that started the first 12 games of the 2013 season but only played three defensive snaps in the last four games of the season, according to the Buffalo News.

In a season wrap-up, ESPN.com Bills reporter Mike Rodak wrote that the Bills “must upgrade” from Moats and fellow outside backer Nigel Bradham.

In another season review article, the author suggested that Moats — with his $1.35 million annual contract — was one of the worst roster values for the Bills.

The decision appears to be an easy one for Buffalo’s front office: let Moats hit the free agency market. The decision would be a lot easier if the Bills brass was playing a video game, and Moats was a digitally created image void of a heart and soul.

But, Moats, of course, has heart and soul … and plenty of it.

An article with the headline Moats ties to the community could impact future appeared on the Buffalo Bills team website yesterday.

In it the author wrote: “the decision (to re-sign) Moats will be different than most other Bills player(s). Over the past couple of years he’s ingrained himself into the Buffalo community.”

The article outlines Moats’ many philanthropic efforts in the community and his distinction as the Bills’ 2013 Walter Payton Man of the Year.

Moats said he has grown attached to Buffalo and would like to re-sign with the Bills.

“My family and I understand the spot we’re in and want to help people out and let everyone know that we’re in Buffalo to be a part of the community,” he said.

Moats is scheduled to speak to students at St. Bonaventure University sometime during the spring semester about the importance of volunteering. As of Nov. 25, no date had been set for Moats’ visit to campus. You have to wonder how many other off-season community engagements Moats has made throughout the western New York region that are pending and might not be met because of the player’s unknown future.

The Bills will have to decide if the goodwill and positive public relations Moats creates for the franchise is worth more than his marginal play on the field. It isn’t an easy decision.

Fans like to root for players for whom they can relate, players they can see, touch and communicate with on a personal level.

That is Moats.

But fans also like to root for players that help their teams win.

That may not be Moats.

Pro sports are a bottom-line business, and in the NFL the bottom line is winning. The Bills should strive to re-sign Moats, but only if he is capable of helping them win on the field.

The franchise’s PR flaks may give two thumbs up to bringing Moats back, but the coach and general manager should ultimately make the call.

farrar-you

In A World Full of Clutter, Sometimes Less Can Be More

An aspiring college football player, this week, Tweeted a photo of a recruiting letter he received from Virginia coach Mike London.

The letter can be seen below. The message is simple, different, maybe even powerful. Others have described it as “cryptic.”

To Jeffery Farrar, the recipient of the letter, its intentions were clear. This is what the UVA commit posted on Twitter:

In the world of recruiting – and advertising – sometimes less can be more, particularly as it relates to young people. As it is, the next Tweet, Facebook post or Kardashian/Jenner/Miley/Bieber selfie is only click or scroll away. Everything after 140 characters is #overkill. LOL

As our attention spans become shorter, advertising – and recruiting – clutter grows larger. Those responsible for sculpting messages, ads, recruiting letters, etc. must be innovative if the goal is to have the message successfully consumed. They must also be different. And they must think outside the box.

And, perhaps most important, they must be cognizant of brevity. After all, a fantastic minute-long commercial loses its fantastic qualities if the viewer flips the channel after 15 seconds.

London’s message was different and to the point. It was also successful (Farrar understood and embraced it). And it was attention grabbing (all the major sports websites expounded on it). The exposure should aid London’s future recruiting efforts.

The simplicity of London’s message reminded me of the “This is your brain on drugs” PSA from the late 1980s. Some 25 years later, I still remember the commercial vividly. I can recall the profound effect its message had on me. Even as a 6- or 7-year old, the message was clear and to the point: drugs are bad for you.

The image of the egg in a frying pan coupled with the firm proclamation: “This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?” added up to a powerful message. That, and a huge budget and various bells and whistles were not needed to produce it.

Indeed, sometimes less can be more. A lot more.

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The Problem With Kids These Days is Adults These Days

Kids these days …

These three words together usually are accompanied by a sigh and shaking of the head – side to side – in disbelief. They usually are uttered by an older soul, perhaps one, who as a youth, walked 15 miles to school every day, barefoot through a raging blizzard.

Fortunately for kids these days, they don’t often have to – if at all – travel by their shoeless feet through seemingly unnavigable terrains. We are lucky to live in a world blessed with many more planes, trains, automobiles, subways and Segways.

But are kids these days really better off than the kids who had to trek 15 miles to school everyday barefoot through a raging blizzard? Is our world really better off?

I ask because I don’t know. I tend to think technological advancement is a good thing. I also acknowledge the benefits that can be accrued within one from having to walk 15 miles to school – or performing some similarly strenuous task that isn’t necessary today.

I struggle to form an opinion either way.

What I am certain of, however, is my frustrated disposition when one utters those three words:

Kids these days …

Well, kids these days are exactly the same as the kids from days past.

Jay Paterno, in a column posted today on StateCollege.com, wrote it better than I could:

The truth of the matter is that as a person gets older it is human nature for the memory to get hazy at the edges – particularly the less-flattering edges of youthful indiscretion. They tend to look at the successive generations as being ever less virtuous in their behavior than their generation.

Paterno concluded:

No generation ever held a monopoly on virtue – nor has any generation cornered the market on debauchery.

Kids these days …

The only thing that has changed is the world which surrounds kids these days.

Kids these days have greater access to consume violence, sex, drugs, unhealthy foods and poor influences. Many have grown up in single-parent households or parent-less. Many have been left to their own devices. Proper guidance is what’s missing.

Instead of sighing and handing the blame to kids these days, the sigh and shaking of the head – side to side – in disbelief should be directed at the adults these days that allowed it to happen.

Christian Laettner was a two-time national champion at Duke and the easy choice to fill the Dream Team roster spot reserved for a college player.

Dream Team: Laettner over Shaq was an Easy Decision

Christian Laettner was a two-time national champion at Duke and the easy choice to fill the Dream Team roster spot reserved for a college player.

I’m in the midst of reading Jack McCallum’s book on the original Dream Team that was released last summer. Sometimes it’s hard to put down. No stone is left unturned.

How about this one? The team’s lone collegian, Duke’s Christian Laettner, was an arrogant jerk – at least back then – McCallum wrote.

Or this? McCallum was definitive in his stance that, among college players, Laettner belonged on the roster ahead of LSU’s Shaquille O’Neal.

Upon the presentation of The Dream Team documentary on NBA TV this past June, there seemed to be many – 20 years later – still outraged and/or befuddled by Laettner over Shaq. I noticed that the majority of such opinions came from folks too young to remember or too forgetful or ignorant to be taken seriously.

The 25-and-under crowd cannot possibly fully appreciate Laettner’s glowing achievements as a collegian. The same group grew up with O’Neal’s championship exploits with the Lakers and Heat – never mind his overgrown personality away from the game.

Laettner over Shaq? OMG.

Then you have the case made by Jason Whitlock, who classifies Laettner’s selection to the Dream Team – as well as those of John Stockton and Chris Mullin – as an “intentional, calculated, whitening of the roster.”

Whitlock may very well be correct in his assessment as it relates to Stockton and Mullin, but it does not apply to Laettner. Even Whitlock admitted as much without admitting as much.

He wrote last summer:

(Laettner) is one of the greatest college players of all time. Given there was one position set aside for a collegian, his inclusion on the Dream Team is more defensible than Stockton’s or Mullin’s.

Yet, Whitlock quickly backtracked:

Laettner didn’t belong for two reasons: 1. Shaq was a once-in-a-generation force of nature destined for hoop immortality. He was then, and certainly proved to be later, a far superior player to Laettner. 2. Holding one collegiate spot was a ploy to leave the door open for one more white player.

Where Whitlock swings and misses is in the presentation of his first reason for Laettner not belonging. Why would any player be selected to an all-star squad or Olympic team based on possible future success? The Dream Team was selected based on existing body of work, as well it should.

As McCallum wrote in the book, there was never even a Laettner-O’Neal debate among those selecting the Dream Team.

It was Laettner all the way. It was the forward from Duke who had won back-to-back national titles, who played in four Final Fours, who connected on perhaps the greatest shot to win perhaps the greatest college basketball game ever played, who was a near consensus selection as national player of the year in 1992, who was considered one of the best college players ever.

Even O’Neal, who led the Tigers to just one NCAA Tournament victory in three years at LSU, understood why Laettner was on the squad ahead of him. This is what he told Mike Wise of 106.7 The Fan in Washington D.C. during an interview last summer:

“I was pissed off. I was jealous. But then I had to come to the realization that I was a more explosive, more powerful player, but Christian Laettner was a little bit more fundamentally sound than I was. Plus he stayed all four years and graduated. … I just think it helped me grow as a player.”

Of course, it seems ludicrous now that Laettner would come before O’Neal in anything basketball-related.

Laettner had an average NBA career after being selected third overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves. He made one All-Star team and saw action in 45 playoff games. He never scored more than 18.2 points per game in a season. As McCallum wrote in the book, Laettner’s game wasn’t the the same after he ruptured his Achilles’ tendon in a pickup game prior to the 1998-99 season.

Yet, anyone who questions Laettner’s place on the Dream Team need only a quick lesson in hardwood history.

gresh-amp-zo-kickoff-first-football-friday

Time to Give the Boot to Kickoffs

An info graphic I read as a young man some 15 years ago in Reader’s Digest remains vivid. The brief overview provided insight (and prognostication) into what of our popular sporting games  would thrive or fail deep into the future.

What I read made it seem like the game of tackle football would someday soon be on life support, fighting for its last breaths.

This, of course, was before we knew exactly the toll gridiron combat was taking on more than a few of its gladiators. Today, CTE has become as much a part of football lingo as PAT.

CTE – Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy – is a progressive degenerative brain disease in individuals with a history of repetitive brain trauma. It is thought to have contributed to the death of Junior Seau, among other former NFL players.

The position of the Reader’s Digest piece was that football wouldn’t survive because the players would become too big,  too fast and too dangerous for their own good. A lengthy piece from The New Yorker  touches on similar points. Citing bigger, stronger, faster, fiercer, Baltimore Ravens safety Bernard Pollard recently made this dire prediction:

“I hope I’m wrong, but I just believe one day there’s going to be a death that takes place on the field because of the direction we’re going.”

Gridiron casualties were commonplace in football’s early days, when rules were lenient and players often used their helmetless heads as battering rams. In 1904, 18 football deaths and many more serious injuries were reported – pushing president Theodore Roosevelt into action. Roosevelt’s reform ultimately saved the game of football.

In many ways, it feels like the turn of the 20th century all over again. In reaction to the growing cases of brain injuries to former players and subsequent lawsuits against the NFL, commissioner Roger Goodell has made player safety a priority.

It is a fluid process. The next piece of legislation enacted by the league won’t likely banish kickoffs from the game, but it should.

Jacoby Jones’ electrifying 108-yard kickoff return in the Super Bowl has only served to reignite the kickoff debate. Perhaps no act of sport is more exciting than the kickoff return, yet no act of sport is quite as dangerous. The play consists of 250-pound-or-more armored men flying around like missiles, seeking explosive conclusions.

Former NFL executive Andrew Brandt said on ESPN’s Outside the Lines the other day that more injuries occur on kickoffs than on any other play in professional football.

Jason Lisk of Big Lead Sports presented these galling figures related to high school football injuries:

  • 32.7 percent of injuries on kickoffs and punts were “severe” (defined as 21 or more missed days), compared to 19.3 percent on other plays.
  • 20.3 percent of injuries on kickoffs and punts were concussions, compared to 10.9 percent on other plays.

It is also important to note that the two most high-profile football paralysis victims in recent memory – Kevin Everett and Eric LeGrand – fell victim while covering kickoffs.

After the NFL moved kickoffs up from the 30 to the 35-yard line before the 2011 season – thus leading to a drastic decline in returned kicks – the league found that players suffered 40 percent fewer concussions on kickoffs that season.

Great. But not good enough.

Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano, who coached LeGrand at Rutgers, proposed a reasonable alternative to the kickoff: The kicking team is given the ball at its own 30-yard line with the option to punt or try to convert a 4th-and-15 to maintain possession.

Goodell appears to be an advocate of the proposal. It could work.

Yet, the idea of eliminating kickoffs has led to plenty of dissention among pundits, analysts, commentators and former players. Mike Ditka and Mike Pereira, to name a couple, are adamantly against it. ESPN polled seven of its NFL analysts (all former players) about doing away with kickoffs. All were against it.

Why?

Among other reasons, the play is exciting, they said. It’s an essential and integral part of the game. Kickoffs provide fringe NFL players a job and paycheck.

Here is a sampling of what Hugh Douglas said:

“It’s fun running downfield and getting a chance to blow somebody up.”

And Marcellus Wiley:

“I know injuries can occur on this play, but that’s the nature of the beast, which is the NFL.”

Sorry guys, that kind of macho thinking might have been acceptable 20 years ago. Now it comes off as ignorant and careless.

What is also bothersome is the argument that the kickoff is such a staple of the game that the NFL cannot possibly survive and prosper without it. But hasn’t pro football undergone several major alterations over the years and only gain in popularity?

To review:

  • The field goal post used to be positioned at the goal line.
  • Taking a ball carrier down by his facemask was once legal.
  • Throwing a forward pass was once illegal.
  • NFL teams used to play 14 regular season games.
  • Playoff games and overtime periods weren’t part of the game for many years.
  • Players used to play both offense and defense.
  • A touchdown used to be worth four points, then five points and now six.
  • Kickoffs have been moved from the 40 to the 35 to the 30 and back again.
  • The two-point conversion wasn’t introduced until 1994.
  • Offensive lineman couldn’t use their hands to halt defenders years ago.
  • Helmet-to-helmet contact was once acceptable.
  • The extent of downfield contact a defender can have with a receiver has been restricted many times over.
  • Instant replay reviews were instituted, then banished and now are seemingly back for good.

Certainly, removing kickoffs from the game would drastically alter the fan and player experience. But it is a needed change. Player safety is more essential to the game than the kickoff. Period.

If it isn’t that way, then the NFL – like Reader’s Digest predicted – will one day be MIA.

Dunkirk Dave has been 93 percent accurate about the weather over the years, according to his handler.

When it Comes to Groundhogs, in Dave we Trust

Dunkirk Observer Photo of Dunkirk Dave

In case you missed it, yesterday was Groundhog Day. By all accounts, Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow. That means spring is coming early this year.

Or so we’re to believe.

Hard evidence, however, shows us to be careful what we believe in. According to noted forecaster Matt Daniel, our old reliable furry friend Phil doesn’t exactly boast a strong track record, having only accurately predicted the arrival of spring at an unreliable 39 percent rate.

If you wondered, Phil has spotted his shadow 100 times out of 117 (87 percent) dating back to the late 1880s, when someone thought it would be neat to employ a groundhog in forecasting the weather.

At any rate, Daniel recently concluded: “No one should rely on a groundhog to predict the remainder of this winter.”

Fair enough. But who are we to believe in this world filled with hapless weathermen, steroid-using athletes, “online partners”, shady politicians, fraudulent telemarketers and erratic woodchucks?

The answer to our trust issues may lie in the shadows of one Dunkirk Dave.

Dave, according to his website, is the second-longest prognosticating groundhog, with 58 years of weather prediction experience.

Aside from their woodchuck identities, plenty separates Phil from Dave and Dave from Phil – not the least which is the pomp and circumstance surrounding the two animals.

Phil is clearly the most popular of all the groundhogs roaming our fertile grounds. He’s appeared on the Oprah show. He’s co-starred with Bill Murray in a motion picture. He heads the Weather Channel’s rankings of the top 11 groundhogs.

And he is who we direct our gaze each and every Feb. 2.

On the Groundhog Day website, one can sign up for a Groundog E-newsletter, apply for official membership into Phil’s club or you can even start your own club chapter.

According to the site, a groundhog’s life is normally six to eight years. But Phil is different. He receives a drink of a magical punch every summer during the Annual Groundhog Picnic, which allegedly gives him seven more years of life.

Sound corny?

Also consider this: You might have noticed that each Feb. 2, Phil is surrounded by group of men wearing black top hats and bow ties. The group calls itself the “Inner Circle.” The president of the group consults with Phil before the woodchuck is unveiled to the tens of thousands who descend upon the western Pennsylvania outpost for the occasion.

Sound really corny?

Dunkirk Dave has been 93 percent accurate about the weather over the years, according to his handler.

Dave, on the other hand, goes about his business with far less fanfare. While Phil’s exploits are covered each year by national media outlets such as USA Today and The Associated Press, this short story about Dave is what appeared on the Dunkirk Observer newspaper website on Saturday night.

The birth of Dunkirk Dave seemingly was just as uneventful. Dave, more or less, came from a young man’s passion to care for animals, most notably woodchucks. Bob Will, Dave’s handler, claims he’s nursed thousands of the animals back to health.

Will wrote on the Dunkirk Dave website that “one Groundhog day” editors from the local newspaper “scheduled pictures, wrote the article, and named the groundhog, ‘Dunkirk Dave’.

“After the original story was published,” Will added, “our local Dunkirk Dave groundhog became more well known.”

Certainly not as well known as Phil. But maybe more accurate. Will told Buffalo Business First that Dave has been right about the weather 93 percent of the time over the years.

But how can Phil fail so much and Dave be so precise?

“Ours is on the ground and Punxsutawney Phil is not,” Will explained. “Our method is more authentic.”

Look no further than last year for proof. While Phil saw his shadow – an indicator of six more weeks of winter – Dave did not. What transpired was one of the warmest Februarys ever recorded in the United States.

For what it’s worth, Dave didn’t see his shadow this year either. That must mean spring is coming early.

Follow Dave

Official Website: Dunkirk Dave

On Facebook: Dunkirk Dave

superbowl5

The Not Top-5 Super Bowl Storylines

You will hear, watch or read about the Harbaugh family, Ray’s last ride and Colin Kaepernick’s arrival so much over the next few days that you’ll be rushing to barricade yourself in a phone booth in Iran by the time the football is kicked off on Super Bowl Sunday.

But have no fear. I bring to you the top five Super Bowl storylines you won’t be inundated with this week.

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5. Watch out for Tandon Doss. Yes, Tandon Doss.

He is a reserve wide receiver and special teamer for the Ravens. And he played his college ball at Indiana. While Indiana isn’t exactly a football power, you might be surprised to know that Doss’ appearance in the big game marks the fourth straight a year a Hoosier has played in the Super Bowl.

In fact, a pair of former Hoosiers have produced two of the more noted plays in recent Super Bowl history: Tracy Porter’s interception return for a score clinched the Saints’ Super Bowl XLIV triumph, while Antwaan Rande El’s gadget touchdown pass to Hines Ward propelled the Steelers to victory in Super Bowl XL.

What might Doss have up his sleeve Sunday?

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Garrett Celek and his model girlfriend, Sarah Hinton

4. San Francisco’s Garrett Celek has overachieved in the NFL and in life … mostly in life. As a tight end for four seasons at Michigan State, he caught a mere 14 passes and wasn’t selected in the 2012 draft. But Celek caught on with the 49ers and made four catches for 51 yards in 13 games this season. He is listed as San Francisco’s third tight end heading into the big game.

As an aside, Celek dates Hooters Dream Girl Sarah Hinton. That’s some catch for a guy who has made just 18 of them on the field over the past five years. By the way, Garrett is the lesser known of the Celek brothers (Brent is Philadelphia’s starting tight end).

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3. Talk about bad karma. The Ravens should be the underdog for the simple fact that they employ James Ihedigbo.

As a backup safety with the Jets in 2009 and 2010, Ihedigbo was part of New York teams that faltered in AFC championship game losses. As a starter with New England last season, Ihedigbo and the Patriots lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl.

Is Ihedigo due or is he just doomed?

To note, Ihedigbo was a walk-on in college at the University of Massachusetts and hooked on with the Jets as an undrafted free agent in 2007. He was cut by the Patriots during the 2012 preseason. If you plan on rooting for anyone Sunday, Ihedigbo is a good player to start with.

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2. The 49ers signed linebacker Nathan Stupar to their practice squad on Jan. 8. What does that have to do with anything? Nothing much – except for those choosing to compare Kaepernick to former Giants quarterback Jeff Hostetler.

Hostetler won Super Bowl XXV in his seventh career start, the fewest for a Super Bowl-winning QB. Kaepernick will be making his 10th start on Sunday. Both players took over as starters during the regular season.

They’re connected by Stupar, who is Kaepernick’s teammate and Hostetler’s nephew.

Like Jim, John, Garrett, Brent, Peyton and Eli, Stupar had a brother whom was employed by an NFL team. Like Garrett, and Brent, Jonathan Stupar made his living as a tight end. The elder Stupar appeared in 30 games, made five starts and caught 18 passes during the 2009 and 2010 seasons for Buffalo.

For the sappy types, Nathan Stupar is also known for a romantic Valentine’s Day engagement proposal.

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San Francisco long snapper Brian Jennings is a certified yoga instructor.

1. At age 36, Brian Jennings will be one of the oldest players on the field Sunday. If he does his job well, you probably won’t hear Jim Nantz or Phil Simms utter his name.

Jennings is the 49ers’ long snapper and he is in his 13th year with the team. He played on the 2002 NFC West champion 49ers club that included Jeff Garcia, Garrison Hearst and Terrell Owens and was coached by Steve Mariucci. He has also survived the putrid coaching stints of Dennis Erickson, Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary in San Francisco.

Jennings played tight end at Arizona State and caught four passes … not too bad when compared to Garrett Celek’s contributions at Michigan State. He also enjoys yoga.

Phil Hansen brought his lunch pail to work every day for the Bills for 11 seasons.

Remembering An Unmemorable Sports Figure: Phil Hansen

Phil Hansen brought his lunch pail to work every day for the Bills for 11 seasons.

Something got me thinking about Phil Hansen the other day. It was when I was packing my peanut butter and jelly sandwich into my lunch pail.

Year after year, game after game, his contributions to the NFL and the Buffalo Bills were described in the same clichéd way by football broadcasters and their sidekick analysts: “Hansen is the best defensive end you’ve never heard” or “Hansen is the most underrated defensive end in the game,” they’d say.

But how can a player be unheard of or under-appreciated when, week-after-week, millions of viewers are being informed of his undervalued, yet virtuous deeds on the gridiron? Yet, that was Hansen. Despite racking up 61.5 career sacks – second in Bills history when he retired – and anchoring the left side of the Bills defensive line for more than a decade, the North Dakota State product continuously flew under the radar.

Hansen was one of those players that occupied the territory of better than average at his position, but not good enough to reach the level of top tier defensive end during his 11-year career from 1991-2001. The second-round pick never played in a Pro Bowl and only once recorded double digit sacks in a season (10 in 1995).

Hansen was solid and dependable. He wasn’t a star. He wasn’t flashy. He wasn’t flamboyant. He wasn’t Bruce Smith.

On a team lined with Hall of Fame talent and Hall of Fame showmen, recognizing the contributions of Hansen was similar to the challenge of spotting Waldo in one of those books. You had to squint your eyes for a few minutes and look closely.

As a young football fan, I was too wrapped up in the Bills’ high-powered offense and the exciting defensive play of Smith, Cornelius Bennett and Darryl Talley to see Hansen’s worth to the Bills’ success throughout the ’90s. To me, Hansen was just another player, a piece of the puzzle. Maybe even expendable.

It’s interesting how our outlook on life and what we value changes as our lives undergo alterations. I wouldn’t overlook Hansen and his blue collar work ethic and never-ending motor today. If he was playing now for the Bills, he would be among my favorite players.

Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly summed up Hansen this way: “He was a guy you’d want your child to emulate, on the field and off the field. Always gave 100 percent. Never took a down or a practice off. You knew you’d get it all from him. He deserves to be among all of us.”

It says a lot about Hansen’s seemingly indistinguishable career that he was inducted into the Bills’ Wall of Fame in 2011 (video). To be certain, mention of his name may have been met with quizzical expressions in other NFL cities throughout the ’90s, but Hansen’s impact in Buffalo will never be forgotten.

The Phil Hansen File

Jersey Number: 90

Playing Height: 6-foot-5

Playing Weight: 275 pounds

Date of Birth: May 20, 1968

Place of Birth: Ellendale, N.D.

College: North Dakota State

Drafted: 1991, Second Round, 54th overall

After Football: Owns a small landscaping and snow plowing company, works as a color commentator on North Dakota State football radio broadcasts, and runs youth fitness camps.

Did You Know?: Hansen ran as a Republican for election in Minnesota’s state senate in 2012 but lost a close race.

The "real" Lennay Kekua, according to GlobalGrind.com.

The “Tricky” World of Sports

The “real” Lennay Kekua, according to GlobalGrind.com.

Each of us who follow sports closely enough has felt like Manti Te’o does now.

Duped.

Fooled.

Deceived.

Conned.

Cheated.

Each and every word applies. So don’t many others.

I was hoodwinked in November 2011. In a journal entry for my sports ethics class, I argued that – despite the growing number of scandals and instances of cheating in big-time college athletics – such occurrences were isolated, rare and overly populated the news cycle in a way that shed the rest of college sports in a bad light. I, ultimately, wrote that the rewards resulting from college sports far outweighed any negative consequences.

As an aside, I still hold onto this belief, though it is fleeting. I tend to believe that more damning evidence of cheating, scandal and hypocrisy in college athletics is swept neatly under the rug than what is actually revealed. As the old saying goes: If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying. We shouldn’t be so naïve to believe that corners aren’t being cut – to varying degrees – in every sport at every level of the NCAA.

Back to the journal entry, which was dated Nov. 1, 2011. To help support my theory that college athletics – for the most part – were righteous in their ways, I cited the successful on-and-off-the-field tenure of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno.

This is what I wrote:

Since 1966, coach Joe Paterno has been able to run a clean program while also competing on the field at the highest level.  Paterno is well known for conducting what he calls, the “Grand Experiment,” which closely melds academics and athletics in the college environment.  As a result, Paterno’s players have continually graduated at a high rate and have often benefited greatly from Paterno’s guidance in their post-athletic careers.

I went on to conclude:

When it comes to college athletics as a whole, I’m more apt to believe Paterno is the rule rather than the exception, even at the highest levels.

Only four days after I handed in this masterpiece, former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was arrested on 40 counts of sexual abuse. Three days after that, Paterno was fired for his perceived role in the Sandusky cover-up.

In the midst of it all, the professor had to be laughing his ass off as he read and graded my assignment the week the Penn State scandal played out.

Paterno? Virtuous? Yeah, not quite.

I learned my lesson. We all have. Sports are filled with more villains and crooks and con men than our most dangerous alleyways.

We may as well put greater trust in Lennay Kekua than our noted sports figures.

The 69-cent dinner: Beef & Bean Burrito, Corn, Ramen Noodles and Water.

Dinner For 69 Cents

The 69-cent dinner: Beef & Bean Burrito, Corn, Ramen Noodles and Water.

Running out of cash? Living on a tight budget? Saving for a trip to Cancun?

The answer to the money question often comes through cutting back and making sacrifices … downgrading the cable/satellite package, renting a movie instead of going to the cinema, vacationing at the nearby lake instead of Lake Tahoe, consuming generic products instead of brand names …

And the list goes on.

For me, I tend to resist putting my money where my mouth is. In other words, I eat nickels and dimes instead of ones and fives. In other, other words, I usually don’t spend a lot of money on food.

Cutting back this way is easy for me. First, I don’t appreciate a good steak much more than I do a good burger. Second, I view food as simply a means of survival. I eat to live, not for enjoyment or pleasure.

That isn’t to say I don’t enjoy eating. I do, even in spite of the fact I often indulge in food most wouldn’t necessarily find indulging.

In fact, I enjoyed quite a pleasurable dinner tonight, and all it cost was 69 cents. Here’s how I did it.

Ramen Noodles

Ramen Noodles are often at the heart of many meals constrained by budget. I frequently eat them as a main course, though they also can be utilized quite effectively as a side. I frequently eat them plain, though there are any number of recipes out there for the creative types who may desire to add meats, cheeses, sauces, pastes, spices, chives, etc. to their noodles. I frequently eat chicken and beef flavored Ramen, though a trio of shrimp flavors also are available – plain shrimp, lime shrimp and lime chili shrimp, Bubba said.

Ramen Noodles produced by Maruchan can be purchased individually or in packages. Recently, I found a package of a dozen going for $2.19. Thus, an individual serving represented 18 cents of tonight’s 69-cent dinner.

Beef & Bean Burrito

This was my main course, and a fine main course it was. Toss one in the microwave after a long day, and a minute-and-a-half later, a Mexican delicacy is served. Muy bueno.

These can be found in your supermarket’s freezer section. The brand I purchase – Casa Mamita – also offers a bean and cheese burrito. They are sold individually and go for 35 cents. Now, that’s really thinking outside the bun.

Corn

Nothing goes better with a burrito and Ramen, than a mound of Maize. Can you imagine a world without corn? According to a website containing corn quick facts, “Your bacon and egg breakfast, glass of milk at lunch, or hamburger for supper were all produced with U.S. corn.” So was my burrito, of course.

My corn preference is Season’s Choice Super Sweet Whole Kernel Corn (it does indeed live up to its billing of being “Super Sweet” but only after a few spoons of butter and salt are added). I’ve seen this retail anywhere from a dollar to a buck-fifty for 16 oz. One can achieve 10 solid servings from one bag. Adding a few extra cents for butter, salt and pepper, corn made up approximately 15 cents of tonight’s dinner.

Water

The Mayo Clinic recommends that men consume 13 cups and women nine cups of H2O per day. What better time to check one cup off the list than at dinner. It’s cheap, refreshing and doesn’t suck. And, as Momma said, Gatorade isn’t better.

For the sake of this blog post, I’ll say my eight ounces of water at tonight’s dinner cost approximately one cent.

And there you have it, the 69-cent dinner: 

Burrito

Ramen

Corn

Water

Total

$0.35

$0.18

$0.15

$0.01

$0.69

Andre Reed has been a Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist since 2007.

Making a Hall of Fame Case for Andre Reed

Former Buffalo Bills wide receiver Andre Reed has been a Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist since 2007.

Andre Reed belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Cris Carter and Tim Brown probably do too.

Each of the three is again finalists for selection on Feb. 2. Reed has been a finalist since 2007, Carter since 2008 and Brown since 2010. Each again will cause divisive debate among the voters.

Each deserves to be enshrined. With Terrell Owens, Marvin Harrison and Randy Moss coming to the ballot soon, the time is now – or it may never come.

Since Reed is a personal favorite, he will be the main focus of this post.

Let’s start with the bare bones numbers. When Reed retired in 2000 – with the NFL still transitioning to a passing-driven game – he ranked third in career receptions (951), fifth in receiving yards (13,198) and sixth in receiving touchdowns (87).  Currently, Reed ranks 11th in receptions and 12th in yards and touchdowns. Each of the 10 players with more receptions than Reed retired after him.

Reed was a seven-time Prow Bowl selection and was voted a Pro Bowl starter four times. He also played in four Super Bowls and was part of 11 playoff teams over a 16-year NFL career (1985-2000) that finished with a nondescript season in Washington.

Now let’s compare Reed to two wide receiver contemporaries who are enshrined in Canton. The careers of Reed and Art Monk overlapped for 11 seasons. The careers of James Lofton and Reed overlapped for nine seasons. By all major statistical measures, Reed had a better career than Monk, who played from 1980-95. Compared to Lofton, Reed finished with more catches and touchdowns, while Lofton, who played from 1978-1993, had more receiving yards and a better yards per catch average. Monk made three Pro Bowls, Lofton made nine.

Player

Games

Catches

Yards

YPC

TDs

Reed

234

951

13,198

13.9

87

Monk

224

940

12,721

13.5

68

Lofton

233

764

14,004

18.3

75

One can reason that Monk’s edge over Reed is in Super Bowl titles – two more than Reed. Lofton, meanwhile, stands as one of the great deep threats of the modern era, in addition to playing on three Super Bowl teams while a teammate of Reed’s in Buffalo. Lofton was also fortunate to hit the ballot in the early 2000’s, before receiving numbers really began to pop in the NFL.

As for Reed, he was a key cog for one of football’s most productive offenses ever and fearlessly worked the middle of the field – perhaps with more savvy and guile than any receiver in NFL history – at a time when defensive backs were given much more freedom to harass wideouts. Yet, Reed was not merely a possession receiver. Evidenced by his nearly 14 yards per reception, he always posed the threat of turning a short pass into a long touchdown.

So what exactly distinguishes Monk and Lofton from Reed in the minds of the hall voters?

The Pro Football Hall of Fame includes 21 receivers from the modern NFL (since 1950). Broken into eras, seven of those receivers played in the ’50s and/or ’60s, six had careers that bridged the ’60s and ’70s, five had careers that bridged the ’70s and ’80s and the last three played in the ’80s and ’90s.

Reed fearlessly worked the middle of the field for 16 NFL seasons.

In other words, the ’80s and ’90s group – which includes Monk, Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin –  is underrepresented compared to those from the ’50s to ’70s-’80s. But why?

I have two theories.

First, the numbers of Reed, Carter and Brown have been cheapened by today’s NFL. Teams now use short passes as an extension and substitute for running the ball. Additionally, rules are geared toward aerial football. Quarterbacks are throwing more and completing a greater percentage of their passes. And receivers are catching more balls, gaining more yards and scoring more touchdowns.

Over the course of Reed’s career, the game changed from one dominated by three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offenses to those that found greater success employing five-yard-outs, swing passes, wide receiver screens and the like. For example, Reed caught 57 passes in 1987, which ranked eighth in the NFL that season. By 1994, when Reed registered a career-best 90 receptions, that amount was only good for sixth in the league. Fifty-seven receptions in 2012 would have tied Reed for 51st in the NFL with Philadelphia tight end Brent Celek.

When comparing the last four NFL seasons (2009-2012) to Buffalo’s four Super Bowl seasons (1990-1993), it was found that today’s teams complete about three more passes a game than those of 20 years ago (20.6 to 17.7). While that may not seem like a big difference, think of how many more catches, yards and touchdowns Reed – over a 234-game career – might have achieved with the opportunity for three more receptions a game.

Still, I’m under the impression that hall voters get caught up in comparing the stats of Reed, Carter and Brown to those of Moss, Owens and Harrison – when they instead should be assessing their accomplishments relative to era.

I also wonder if hall voters hold a false perception of the Bills’ no-huddle K-Gun offense of the Super Bowl years as one that tossed the ball all over the stadium. Even though the Bills moved up and down the field quickly, they ran the ball more than passed it, and Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas was the offense’s primary weapon as both a runner and receiver. During the Bills’ four Super Bowl seasons, they averaged 486.8 passing attempts compared to 509.5 rushes per season.

My second theory is that Reed, Carter and Brown are taking votes from one another. Just as it is difficult to differentiate the career accomplishments of Reed, Monk and Lofton, it is the same for Reed, Carter and Brown. It’s unfortunate that the three have been on the ballot together.

Player

Games

Catches

Yards

YPC

TDs

Reed

234

951

13,198

13.9

87

Carter

234

1,101

13,899

12.6

130

Brown

255

1,094

14,934

13.7

100

Both Carter and Brown – whose NFL careers began two and three years after Reed’s and benefited from playing deeper into the 2000’s –   have more receptions, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns and Pro Bowls than Reed, but Reed’s postseason numbers are by far superior. Among all-time playoff leaders, Reed ranks fifth in receptions (85) and receiving yards (1,229), is tied for seventh in receiving touchdowns (9) and is eighth in games started (21). Carter and Brown fail to crack the top 10 in any of those categories.

In Super Bowl history, Reed ranks second to Jerry Rice in receptions (27) and third to Rice and Lynn Swann in receiving yards (323). Carter never played in a Super Bowl. Brown played in one during the twilight of his career.

But the debate isn’t between Reed and/or Carter and Brown. They all deserve to be fitted for one of those snazzy yellow Hall of Fame jackets soon. Unfortunately, circumstances my dictate otherwise.

Andre Reed At a Glance

Playing Height: 6-foot-2

Playing Weight: 190 pounds

Born: Jan. 29, 1964 in Allentown, Pa.

College: Kutztown University (Pa.)

Drafted: Fourth Round (86th overall) in 1985 by the Buffalo Bills.

Interesting Fact: Reed was a high school quarterback at Allentown’s Dieruff High.

On Twitter: @Andre_Reed83 

gradSchool

The Question of Graduate School

Attend graduate school or not? That seems to be a question many are pondering these days, from recent college grads to professionals facing the grim reality of our latest recession.

Individuals choose to pursue graduate schooling for any number of reasons. It may be required to maintain employment. It may be used as a means to enhance marketability and earning power in our dog-eat-dog job market. It may be needed to advance in a given field.

And, it may be that one has no other legitimate options. The job market is rough and can be depressing. Breaking into worthwhile employment can seem impossible and daunting. Grad school offers a glimmer of hope.

Of course, it doesn’t guarantee anything.

I recently earned a Master’s degree and throughout the process I often questioned my decision to jump head first into graduate school. I left behind a full-time job with benefits for a return to the classroom and the late-night cramming sessions, exhaustive projects and stresses over exams and presentations that go with it. It was a risk with which I was comfortable. I felt I had nothing to lose.

Two years after leaving a job that I enjoyed – for the most part – I find myself searching for what’s next. At age 31, I don’t have a full-time job. I don’t have a lot of money. But I feel as if I have a bright future.

If I knew two years ago what I know now about grad school, I never would have pursued a Master’s degree. Doing so requires sacrifices I wasn’t initially ready to make and, quite frankly, would not want to make again. I spent too many weekends with my head buried in books. My social life – not extravagant to begin with – disintegrated. I lived in my parents’ basement. I worked a job I despised. I pored over assignments for hours that I otherwise wouldn’t deem worthy of my time. I paid thousands of dollars – and will have to repay thousands more in the future – for the experience and diploma.

I clenched my jaw in anxiety and with determination through it all. I pushed through. I’m thankful for the last two years.

While I’m not certain just yet the effect a Master’s degree will have on my job marketability and earning potential, I am far better for having experienced the demands of graduate school. I now possess many vital professional skills and competencies that I was either short on or lacking altogether. I’ve found that my writing and communication skills have greatly improved. I manage my time better. I’m more organized. I feel more innovative. I think and analyze critically. I give into instant gratification much less. I am far more dedicated and persistent.

Even though I currently lack full-time employment and have no clear vision of the future, going back to school was worth it. When the next job does come around, I will now be equipped to prosper and advance.

The following are resources for those considering graduate school:

A Guide for Potential Grad Students: Should You Go To Graduate School?

How is Graduate School Different From College?

Welcome Aboard

Thank you for visiting VinnyPezzimenti.com.

As you may have already discovered, this piece of web real estate features my resume, short bio, writing, editing and design samples and contact information. I set out to build this site with one goal in mind: to create an easily accessible portfolio that encompasses my qualifications, skills and talents to colleagues and prospective employers. The ultimate aim is to gain full-time employment that is both challenging and rewarding, and I see this site as a platform to “toot my professional horn.”

I invite you to explore the site and encourage you to stop back as much as possible as I update and add to the existing content. I also welcome questions, criticisms and suggestions. Please email me at vinnyp45@yahoo.com.