Saturday, 9 December 2017 – reading pages 135-237 of David Maraniss’ When Pride Still Mattered

Saturday, I had to go to graduation. When you’re on faculty, it’s hard to get much out of still-another speaker and still-another group of graduates. The best thing that you can say about graduation is that it’s a great opportunity to read, which is how I spent the 2+ hours.

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My copy – with markdown stickers 🙂

The pages that I read Saturday took Vince Lombardi from 1951, when he helped West Point’s football program recover from its infamous cheating scandal, to 1960 when he’d established himself as head coach of the Green Bay Packers. So, this phase of Lombardi’s life is critical, because it culminates (after over 20 years of effort) in Lombardi finding the long-sought head coaching job that would make him famous.

Maranniss attribues Lombardi’s eventual success both to luck and skill – “…a thousand flits of fate could have taken him somewhere else…” (p. 190). When Pride Still Matters does a nice job of describing the dire straits into which the Packer franchise had fallen before Lombardi. The book also explains what a strange choice New York City-native Lombardi was for head coach of a team in a small, midwestern city.

“He’s a rough soul” – Army Head Coach Red Blaik on Lombardi (p. 99)

One insight into Lombardi from Saturday’s reading is his total obsession with football, and the extent to which his identification with the game ruled his life. So absorbed was Lombardi that – when both were New York Giants assistants – future Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry “…came to think of Lombardi as a borderline manic-depressive. He gave him the nickname ‘Mr. High-Low’ – because when his offense did well he was sky high; but, boy, whey they didn’t do well, you couldn’t speak to him” (p. 161).

Marannis provides another fascinating insight into Lombardi, in noting that he always told his players that pain didn’t exist, that it was just in their heads. (Lombardi first heard this idea from his father). But, during his own athletic career, injuries constantly plagued Lombardi and he continued to need medical treatments throughout his life. Marannis comments that “It is a characteristic of many leaders that they confront their own weaknesses indirectly, by working to eliminate them in others, strengthened in that effort by their intimate knowledge of frailty” (p. 221).

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Back cover

Predictably, Lombardi’s family life was successful on the surface, but less so behind the scenes. His children suffered his neglect and his wife was never happy. One of Lombardi’s daughter’s Susan’s friends said that the Lombardi’s home was “one of sadness… It was a sad house as soon as you walked in, empty, you could feel the family void” (p. 232). This material interested me, but it wasn’t particularly enlightening, as the first part of When Pride Still Mattered provides the reader with Maranniss’ take on the Lombardis’ home life.

Halftime

So far, I’m really enjoying When Pride Still Mattered. While I have my quibbles, Maranniss has a good sense of what to include and what to leave out. The story moves and the readers is excited to see what comes next. I’ll stick with yesterday’s rating of 8.5 out of 10.

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Friday, 8 December 2017 – Reading pages 1- 134 of When Pride Still Mattered by David Maraniss

“Lombardi, a certain magic still lingers in the very name. It speaks of duels in the snow and the cold November mud” – John Facenda, narrator for NFL Films, sometimes known as The Voice of God (p. 14)

IMG_0608Friday it was cold and snowy here in Mobile. And I had a lot of time to read. Both are unusual. After finishing A.W. Boudreau’s One Cop’s Journey, I still wanted to lounge on the loveseat and lose myself in a book. So, I cast about and found When Pride Still Mattered, which had been sitting on my shelf for four years. I started reading and continued until after 12:30 a.m.

***

In November 2013, my wife, my late sister, and I went over to Atlanta to see South Alabama play Georgia State in football at the Georgia Dome. Before the game, we went to Decatur and visited one of my favorite places in the world – the amazing used book store Book Nook.

While there, I found a $2.99 copy of David Maranniss’ When Pride Still Mattered. I’d seen a copy in a co-worker’s office and – when I asked – he said that it was good. So I bought the book. Then it sat on my shelf. For whatever reason, it just didn’t bubble to the top of the list until Friday.

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Maranniss gets off to a shaky start. He notes that he’s borrowed the title from a Richard Ford novel that uses the phrase in reference to Lombardi and that Ford “intended it with a certain irony” (p. 13). Oh no, I thought, Maranniss is going to waste 500 pages on snark, moving his opinions to the center of the story.

Even worse, as Chapter 1 begins, Maranniss includes an awkward description of Lombardi’s father –

“He had a face that reminded one of a full moon, a round ball that surely would bounce on the sidewalk if it could be yanked off his shoulders. His thin lips, slatted eyes and disjointed nose seemed painted on, or imagined – as if they had been made by looking up at the moon and creating facial features from shadows of gray on a white-lit orb” (p. 15).

Gag. At this point, I was wondering what else was on the bookshelf.

***

Fortunately, Maranniss soon rights the ship. He occassionally shifts back into clunky prose, and – at times – gets in the way, injecting too many of his opinions into the story. But such passages are rare. What emerges instead is a fascinating story of an extraordinary, deeply-American life.

Maranniss sees Lombardi as an outstanding person, but he also tries to strip away the myth. He constantly refers to two sets of myths 1) those surrounding the man and 2) those surrounding the supposedly-simpler era in which Lombardi lived.

Maranniss recounts Lombardi’s early life and the sometimes-lucky breaks that resulted in Vince becoming one of Fordham University football’s famed “Seven Blocks of Granite” in 1936. Surprisingly, after graduating, Lombardi wasn’t so different from many young people in that he floundered for a couple of years. Then, a Fordham teammate called and asked Vince if he’d like to be an assistant coach and teacher at a New Jersey high school. Vince was on his way.

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Lombardi at Fordham

***

Lombardi’s life was not all that it seemed. His marriage was often rancorous and marked by Vince’s obsession with football and long absences from home. (“I wasn’t married to him one week, when I said to myself, Marie Planitz, you’ve made the greatest mistake of your life,” (p. 74), Mrs. Lombardi once said). Sadly, Marie lost two baby daughters and had a drinking problem. Maranniss does a decent job of exploring Lombardi’s home life, though I wish it got more attention.

Even more frustrating is Maranniss’ very-short account of Lombardi’s lack of service in World War II. Vince received three draft deferments for three different reasons (for teaching (1941), for dependents (1943), and for age (1944)). Maranniss states that many men in similar circumstances still served. The reader wants to know why a man who often stressed duty (and who later coached at West Point) was not in the service. But perhaps that story has been lost to time.

***

In the late 1940s, Lombardi began to move up the coaching ranks. First, he returned to Fordham as an assistant coach and then he began coaching West Point’s offensive line, at a time when West Point was the U.S.’ premier college football program. Lombardi’s association with West Point head coach Red Blaik was crucial to Lombardi’s development as a coach.

***

My reading ended early Saturday morning with a section on the infamous 1951 West Point cheating scandal, in which 43 of the 45 varsity football players were expelled. Maranniss does a great job on this section and I could not go to bed before West Point’s investigation concluded. The next chapter (#8) is going to be about how West Point’s football coaches managed after the scandal.

Obviously, I was not thrilled with When Pride Still Mattered’s first few pages. But I stuck with the book, and I’m glad that I did. Maranniss redeems himself and his book. So far, I’d rate When Pride Still Mattered as 8.5 out of 10.

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Friday, 8 December 2017 – Finishing A.W. Boudreau’s One Cop’s Journey

Friday I had some time away from the work grind, and I got a chance to finish A.W. Boudreau’s One Cop’s Journey. My Friday reading took me from page 265 to the book’s end on page 329. I thoroughly enjoyed One Cop’s Journey & think that it was a good deal for the $6.99 I paid for the digital version @ Amazon.IMG_0603

Having said that, I’ll contradict myself a little and say that I’d give the book only a middling rating – 6.5 out of 10. If you want to read a great collection of cop war stories, Boudreau’s book is hard to beat. But I have to be a little critical and say that One Cop’s Journey could have been so much better with some editing. As is, the book is a grammatical and spelling free for all. More seriously, as I’ve noted in my previous blog entries, One Cop’s Journey is a bunch of vignettes – short, exciting stories about life on the Detroit’s meanest streets. But the reader has to decide for him- or herself what all of this means.

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As the book lurched to a close, I had a chance to try to make sense of what I was reading. At the time Boudreau was a Detroit police officer (1970-81), the City required police to live within the city limits. Toward the end of the book (p. 308), Boudreau recounts how he moved from neighborhood to neighborhood, trying to find a decent place ot live. This passage provides a neat summary of the book’s tone –

When I transferred into #11 in 1973, it was a busy Precinct vice-wise with Woodward Ave. hookers and a lot of bars and clubs throughout the Precinct, but the neighborhoods were safe and clean, unlike the inner city neighborhoods. It was mostly Polish and full of successful small businesses.

In 1980, I moved into a quiet, little neighborhood with manicured lawns where my older, Polish widowed neighbors would bring me fresh vegetables from their backyard gardens. They happily welcomed a cop in their neighborhood at 8-mile and Van Dyke. Sadly, in just a few years, it had changed and the local parks were garbage dumps full of drug users with used needless and empty, broken bottles. The Van Dyke businesses had been harassed and robbed out of business. The hookers had spread all of the way from Woodward Ave. to 8 Mile and Van Dyke and the Big Imperial burger restaurant on the corner was full of pimps watching out for their girls. My neighbors eventually moved out and the homes and lawns weren’t kept up anymore. We could hear gun fire at night and smell the garbage rotting in the alley. Next door to me, the yard was full of dog shit as my new neighbor was raising mean, inbred Bouvier dogs and usually had about 6 pups at any one time. The new neighbor who moved across the alley from me had a bunch of unsupervised kids who liked to throw rocks against the back of our houses, denting the siding. Cars and garages started getting broken into and it wasn’t safe to bank, shop, or even go around the corner to Van Dyke Ave. anymore. I knew the next step would be home burglaries, robberies, dope houses and shootings as this was the 4th neighborhood that I’d lived in that changed over my short career and that’s exactly what happened. I lost money on every house that I bought while watching the suburban home prices go up.

The above passage provides a good idea of the despair and sense of loss that is in back of Boudreau’s story. On one level, the book is a great series of war stories, but on the other Boudreau is mad about what happened to his city. He closes the book on an even more-somber note, with a list of a Detroit police officers who were killed in the line of duty while he was on the force.

***

At the end of One Cop’s Journey, Boudreau briefly discusses his abrupt, disability-related retirement from the Detroit PD. As usual, the story is very interesting. But Boudreau provides very little detail and the reader wants to know more about what happened to Boudreau after his police days ended.

***

Despite its shortcomings, One Cop’s Journey is well worth reading. It exposes readers to a world that they never knew existed.

 

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Thursday, 7 December 2017 – More from A.W. Boudreau’s One Cop’s Journey

Thursday I continued reading the A.W. Boudreau book One Cop’s Journey. I have made it through page 265. The book’s strength is Beauchamp’s collection of war stories. He presents Detroit’s 1970s street life in all its gory detail.

IMG_0603Unfortunately, the book’s limits have become more apparent as I’ve read. Reading the book is like sitting in a cop bar and listening to the veterans’ war stories. The stories are amazing, but you have to make sense of what it means as best you can.

Boudreau offers the reader two ideas of what 1970s Detroit has to teach us –

1) Coleman Young – Detroit’s mayor from 1974-1993 was horrible racist who ruined Detroit and its Police Department. Beauchamp sees Young a cunning, corrupt politician who cared only for his political career.

2) The press was complicit in deliberately refusing to report the true story of Detroit’s decline. Boudreau believes that Detroit’s media had decided in advance on the stories that it wanted to report and that it deliberately ignored anything that didn’t fit its preconceptions.IMG_0605

Whether either of these points is true will be up for the reader to decide. For me, this alternative history provided a thrill because it was so politically incorrect, so against the official history. But, in the end, I think that it’s probably just part of the truth.

So far, despite the book’s limitations, I’d give One Cop’s Journey 7 out of 10.

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Wednesday, 6 December 2017 – Reading Politics Online

Wednesday I had a lot of stuff to do at work. And it was my wedding anniversary. So, I didn’t do much reading at all.

What reading I did was online. I keep following the soap opera in Washington, D.C. & here in Alabama. Wednesday I read quite a few online articles about Al Franken’s presumed resignation. I also read a few things about the Roy Moore – Doug Jones U.S. Senate race that we vote on next Tuesday.

What will happen next? The more I pay attention to politics, the less convinced I am that anyone knows.

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Tuesday, 5 December 2017 – More from A.W. Boudreau, Wall Street Journal on Venezuelans in Florida

Tuesday I continued reading One Officer’s Journey by A.W. Boudreau. I wasn’t in a reading mood and covered just pages 177-204. In these pages, author Boudreau goes into his disdain for Detroit Mayor Coleman Young’s administration. Boudreau sees Young – and his affirmative action policies – as being responsible for the decline of Detroit.IMG_0603

Despite that serious topic, much of the book is devoted to stories of pranks that police officers used to play on each other. Boudreau’s partner told one man they arrested that if the man didn’t tell those who processed him that he “didn’t have any scruples” he’d be given a terrible treatment. Predictably, the man ended up shouting that he had no scruples.

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A.W. Boudreau

One Cop’s Journey is funny and enlightening for someone who’s never been in the mean streets. It’s a bit unfocused, but very enjoyable. So far, I’d give it 7/10.

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During the a.m., I got a chance to look @ Monday’s Wall Street Journal. It had a good article on how an influx of Venezuelans is changing the face – and perhaps the politics of Florida. The only constant is change.

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Monday, 4 December 2017 – reading One Cop’s Journey by A.W. Boudreau

IMG_0603At night, I read my Detroit cop book – One Cop’s Journey by A.W. Boudreau. It’s pretty good and I managed to read from page 80 to page 177. Clearly, A.W. Boudreau is an adrenaline junkie. He always sought the most-dangerous tasks that the Detroit Police Department had to offer.

Boudreau mentions Joseph Wambaugh’s novel The Choir Boys. He even mentions that – after reading Wambaugh’s book – his colleagues and he began to call their after-work drinking sessions choir practice. One Cop’s Journey reminds me a bit of The Choir Boys. It’s not as funny, but it’s even seedier. Boudreau lived in Detroit’s underbelly of hustlers, pimps, drug dealers, prostitutes, etc. And he admits that he liked living “the street life.”

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A.W. Boudreau

One Cop’s Journey is good. The only drawback is that it’s a series of vignettes that doesn’t always cohere into a simple narrative. It’d give it 7/10 so far.

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