Two steps away, but those two steps are like light years

I look forward to Sunday with cautious optimism. I’ve been a Minnesota Vikings fan for almost 50 years now, and again they are but a couple victories away from the Super Bowl, something they haven’t visited since SB XI. Yes, that’s eleven in Roman numerals.

If things break right for the team, they could avenge two overtime NFC Championship Game losses on its way to a home game in Super Bowl LII. No team has ever played in its home stadium in a Super Bowl, so already there’s reason for my caution. Other Vikings fans can feel the pain before the game even starts. Forget about how it ends, usually painfully and memorably.

Minnesota lost three Super Bowls in four years in the mid-’70s, and they had lost Super Bowl IV to the Chiefs in the last season before the NFL and AFL merged. They were nearly two-touchdown favorites in that game, though I was too young to remember it. The other three? They lost to a Dolphins team one year after its perfect season; they lost to the Steelers at the beginning of their dynasty; and they lost to a Raiders team that had lost three straight AFC championship games before finally knocking off their hated Steelers.

To you Boston Red Sox fans who kept crying about not winning a World Series: Consider that the Sox won in 1918 then experienced its long “Curse of the Bambino” stretch for 86 years. They lost four times in the Series during that span — 1946, 1967, 1975 and 1986 — and lost the American League Championship Series four times — 1988, 1990, 1999 and 2003 — before winning the World Series three times in 10 years between 2004 to 2013. Pencils down and calculators out … that’s eight losses in the final or penultimate step over a span of 86 years — or 9% of the seasons.

The Vikings have lost nine times in the final or penultimate step over a span of 41 seasons — or 22% of the seasons.

So what about those five NFC Championship Game losses, all since the Vikings’ last SB appearance? With a chance to go to its fourth Super Bowl in five years, the Vikings lost 23-6 to Dallas after the 1977 season. They were never in the game, but it stunk because it was the the Cowboys, who beat what was probably the best Vikings team two years earlier on the “Hail Mary” pass. (Drew Pearson – pass interference; just sayin’.) If not for the Cowboys, Minnesota could have visited (and probably lost) FIVE Super Bowls in a row!

After the 1987 season, they lost to the Redskins 17-10 when Darrin Nelson dropped a potential touchdown catch that might have tied the game, but that was a strike season, so it doesn’t count as much.

After the 2000 season, they were blown out by the Giants. I gave up at halftime.

It’s those other two games — the overtime games — that sting.

The 1998 Vikings team was explosive, with Randall Cunningham, running back Robert Smith and receivers Cris Carter and Randy Moss. They set an NFL record with 556 points and won their nine previous home games by an average of 23 points. I was doing touchdown dances in bars, in my living room and with my young sons. The Vikings were favored by 11 points at home against the Atlanta Falcons and held a 13-point lead late in the first half. Then a series of mistakes and bad decisions doomed the team. First, they fumbled the ball deep in their own territory rather than running out the clock to close out the first half, so they saw a 20-7 lead turn into a 20-14 halftime edge. With a 27-20 lead, Smith carried the load and Minnesota drained the clock in the fourth quarter on its way to setting up a field goal by Gary Anderson. The veteran kicker had converted all of his extra points and field goals that season, but he pulled the kick wide left, and the Falcons drove down the field. Defensive back Robert Griffith dropped what would have been a game-ending interception in the end zone, then Atlanta scored a touchdown on the next play to tie the game. The inevitable bad ending came in overtime when Morten Andersen, Atlanta’s veteran kicker, nailed the game-winner from the same spot on the field where Gary Anderson had missed his kick a few minutes earlier.

After the 2009 season, the Vikings again lost in overtime in what turned out to be Brett Favre’s last game. Favre threw an interception that ended regulation when the Vikings were in (long) field goal range, and the New Orleans Saints took the overtime kickoff down the field to win on a field goal. Minnesota never touched the ball in OT. As a result, NFL rules have been changed to allow both teams to have a possession in overtime.

Fittingly, the Vikings face the Saints on Sunday. If they win and the Falcons defeat the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday, Minnesota would host the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game next weekend. Two home games against the Saints and Falcons — teams that beat them in OT.

Excited? Of course, but it’s reserved. Remember, no team has played at home in the Super Bowl. Do I really think the Vikings will be playing at home on the first Sunday in February?

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Trying to make sense of something

Today’s quote is a spin off something I have been telling myself for the past year-plus. From Vaclav Havel: Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.

As I’ve been searching for new career opportunities since 2016, I’ve been telling myself not to hope for any specific thing to happen but rather hope that things will turn out well. It seems that perhaps I should take that thought two more steps. First step — be confident that things will turn out well. Second step — be certain that something makes sense. The rest will take care of itself.

As I re-read this, I wonder what that “something” is. What needs to make sense? Does anything make sense? I know that my skills and experience make sense. I know that my love for my family, including myself, makes sense. My appreciation of others makes sense. I heard yesterday someone say that you need to treat yourself and others with respect, and that’s all that really matters. That makes sense. The Patriots lost to the Dolphins last night. Now, that doesn’t make sense.

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I wonder …

I experienced a quick but strange pondering over the weekend. I saw a Yankee Candle on a shelf and thought, I wonder how well Yankee Candle sells in the south?

According to yankeecandle.com, there is one Yankee Candle store in all of Louisiana, one in Arkansas, two in Mississippi and four in Alabama. There are 12 in Georgia, 11 in South Carolina and 15 in Tennessee.

Meanwhile, there are 41 stores in New York and 66 in New England, including 34 in its home state of Massachusetts.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s stats show that those seven southern states have a population of 37,444,624. That’s one Yankee Candle store for every 814,000 people or so. Meanwhile, those seven northeast states have a population of 34,480,814, or one store for every 322,000 people.

Yankee Candle’s latest publicly reported revenue was $844 million in 2013. While I may never know the exact financial number to what I wondered, I know more today and can likely conclude that Yankee Candle sells at least twice as well in the northeast than it does in the south. Not really a surprise, but I feel better having done some research.

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What Trump could learn by visiting a YMCA

Like the rest of the world, I was pondering the results of the presidential election last week. I was at the YMCA where I saw posters proclaiming their core values.

Caring: To demonstrate a sincere concern for others, for their needs and well-being.

Is Donald Trump a caring individual? Well, he did propose federal subsidies for child care that include tax deductions, rebates, savings accounts and paid maternity leave. However, a closer look shows that families earning $60,000 or less get $15 for every $100 they pay for childcare. Those making a half million or more would get $39.60 for every $100.

Honesty: To tell the truth, to demonstrate reliability and trustworthiness through actions that are in keeping with my stated positions and beliefs.

Just two months before the election, a CNN/ORC poll showed that 50% of registered voters considered Trump “more honest and trustworthy” compared to just 35% who said the same about Hillary Clinton. An ABC News/Washington Post poll had similar numbers at the end of October — 46% for Trump, 38% for Clinton.

These polls, perhaps, explain why Trump won. He sold the narrative better. His message — A Mexican-paid wall, blocking immigrants, bringing back all those overseas jobs and busting the corruption in Washington — was believed more than Clinton’s “better together” message.

Meanwhile, Politifact, the fact-checking group, rated 70% percent of Trump’s 331 statements they checked to be mostly false, false, or “pants on fire,” while 26% of Clinton’s 293 statements were in the same false range. Somehow telling half-truths or better 30% of the time convinced enough people to vote for him. I think we need to aim a higher next time, folks.

Respect: To treat others as I would want them to treat me, to value the worth of every person, including myself.

“Nobody has more respect for women than I do. Nobody.” That was Donald Trump during the third and final presidential debate at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas in October. That comment prompted guffaws from the audience that Chris Wallace had to quiet.

Despite the Access Hollywood bus open mic fiasco that allowed us all to hear that Trump wants to grab women by the, um, p-word, and get away with it … despite dozens of sexual-assault allegations and claims of him groping beauty pageant contestants … despite his insinuating during a Republican primary debate that Fox News host Megyn Kelly was menstruating (she had “blood coming out of her wherever”) and complaining on stage about Carly Fiorina’s face … despite saying that he’d like to date his own daughterhe won the vote among white women in this country by a 53-45 percentage score.

Responsibility: To do what is right — what I ought to do, to be accountable for my choices of behavior and actions and my promises.

I can’t create something out of nothing here. I find no evidence on the positive this time.

Trump and his businesses face thousands of lawsuits, ranging from defamation to people who claim Trump didn’t pay them for services rendered. He used hundreds of thousands of dollars from his own charity to settle his many legal problems. His third wife, Melania Trump, broke immigration laws by modeling before she had obtained a work visa, and he reportedly had an affair while married to Melania.

Since the election, we’ve seen and heard a different Donald Trump. He appeared to be humbled during his visits to the White House and the Capitol. He was calm and thoughtful during a “60 Minutes” interview. He has to balance the boisterous, entertaining and bigoted candidate who won almost half of the country’s votes with a more gracious, humble and serious president-elect to calm the other 49% or so. It starts with his staff selection … and perhaps visiting his local YMCA to ponder the meaning of its core values.

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Presidential election proves we need to fix a broken system

What kind of country do I live in? It’s not the same one that I thought as recently as a year ago, but I’m forced to face — and accept — a new reality.

For more than a year, I thought Donald Trump was playing out a joke. Surely he couldn’t be taken seriously during the Republican primaries. After all, he referenced his own genitals, insinuated that Fox News host Megyn Kelly was menstruating during a debate (she had “blood coming out of her wherever”) and complained about Carly Fiorina’s face. All of this live on stage. On national television! He must be crazy, I thought. He won’t win any primary with language like that. He insulted John McCain, Rosie O’Donnell, Mexicans, Muslims, Chinese, President Obama, handicapped people. All of this several months before the open mic on the Access Hollywood bus.

He slung his scariest insults at the media. RightWingWatch.org reported in April that he said, “I think the press really, really misrepresents and it’s extremely dishonest. I think that’s the biggest problem with the campaign, is the dishonesty of the press, honestly.”

He and I disagree on policies about climate change, immigration and energy, but I confess that I agree with our new president-elect about one thing — the system is broken. Our two-party system is broken. A dysfunctional Republican Party featured veteran leaders who wouldn’t endorse Trump but put him on the ballot for the rest of us to consider as a finalist. A disillusioned and probably corrupt Democratic Party weaseled its way around Bernie Sanders to make sure Hillary Clinton landed on the ballot. We’re a country of more than 300 million people, and we were left to decide between two people who each had higher than 50% dissatisfaction ratings. We faced a lose-lose situation on this historic election day.

Thanks to a two-party system that’s fueled by a human growth hormone known as Citizens United, we may never again see two final candidates that can be respected by the majority of our country.

Trump doesn’t much believe in the two-party system either. According to The Washington Times, he changed political party affiliations at least five times. He started as a Republican in 1987, switched to the Independence Party in 1999, became a Democrat in 2001, went back to the GOP in 2009, then marked the “I do not wish to enroll in a party.” box in 2011. He ultimately flipped to Republican for a third time in April 2012. Of course, in New York state, that was too late to vote in the 2012 primary but not too late to complain on Twitter.

Trump and his supporters are spot-on about one thing — we need to change our system.

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Here’s to you, Harvey Haddix

When the final out was anticlimatically recorded Wednesday night, Armando Galarraga was not alone in posting an imperfect perfect game. Sure, he had his legendary and compassionate manager, Jim Leyland. His Detroit Tigers teammates shared in his disbelief and disappointment. Somewhere in Ohio, where Harvey Haddix was born in 1925 and died in 1994, the Haddix family understands.

Far too much focus has been on the umpire, Jim Joyce, who incorrectly called safe the Cleveland Indians runner, Jason Donald. SportsCenter focused on highlights of the 1985 World Series, when a similar close play at first base with a pitcher covering was missed by the umpire in the ninth inning. The Kansas City Royals rallied for a Game 6 victory, then won the championship the next day.

Far too little focus was shown to the young pitcher and to any comparison the Haddix gem, which was even more impressive and more unjust. Galarraga is a 28-year-old right-hander from Venezuela. Wednesday’s start was his third this season and 57th of his journeyman career. His previous start was 11 days prior. He threw a 28-out perfect game, as we all know by now, but the official record books show that he crafted a complete-game, one-hit masterpiece.

Haddix was a 33-year-old left-hander with the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 26, 1959, when he faced the Braves in Atlanta. This was a Braves team that had gone to the previous two World Series and boasted a lineup that included future Hall of Famers Eddie Mathews and Hank Aaron. They went a combined 0-for-8 in that game.

Haddix retired 27 consecutive batters over the first nine innings. Ordinarily, that would be a perfect game. But the Braves Lew Burdette matched Haddix with zeros on the scoreboard.  They continued to shut down the batters in innings 10, 11 and 12. When Haddix went to the mound in the bottom of the 13th, he had set down 36 straight Braves, but it was still 0-0. First, the perfect game went when Felix Mantilla, a substitute second baseman, reached safely on an error. After a sacrifice bunt, Haddix intentionally walked Aaron. Haddix still had a no-hitter going when Joe Adcock smashed a home run. Adcock never scored because he passed Aaron on the base paths. He was credited with a double, and the Braves won 1-0. (See the box score.)

Haddix had other highlights in his 14-year career, which was spent with five teams. He had a 136-113 record with 1,575 strikeouts, a 3.63 ERA, 99 complete games and 21 shutouts. He started and won Game 5 of the 1960 World Series against the Yankees, then helped the Pirates upset the Bronx Bombers in Game 7 as a reliever.

So when you’re feeling sorry for Galarraga and Joyce, think not of blown calls but remember and honor Harvey Haddix. He and Galarraga share imperfect perfection.

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Stop it with two thousand and ten already

I heard it on the radio again the other day. Two thousand and ten. As in the year, 2010. When will we all convert to twenty-ten? And twenty-eleven next year? Trying to make Americans change gears is next to impossible. Look how quickly we respond to natural disasters in the Gulf and how we could never adopt fully the metric system.

It’s time we transition to twenty-ten. It’s only been a full decade now. OK, “the year two thousand” was cute and dramatic at the same time. But the year before that was nineteen ninety-nine. I suppose that in 89 years we’ll be saying “two thousand and ninety-nine”. Come on. It’ll be twenty-ninety-nine. If we’re lucky.

Then name 2001 and Sept. 11. 9-11-01. Two thousand and one. Have to leave that one alone.

So by 2002, we should have removed ourselves from two thousand and two, but no. Eight years later, we’re still at it.

Look at history. Do we say that WWI started in nineteen hundred and fourteen or one thousand nine hundred and fourteen? No, we say nineteen-fourteen. So in three years, should we say two thousand fourteen or twenty-fourteen. I think you know the answer.

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