Thursday, January 17, 2008

This past Sunday (if ESPN Classic is to be believed) was Joe Frazier's birthday. Yes, that Joe Frazier. Happy Birthday, Joe. They say he had the scariest left hook ever. If Ali-Frazier III is any guide, I'd have to agree, and so would "The Greatest." Speaking of that fight, have you ever seen it? (All of you who think boxing's barbarity should be outlawed can surf elsewhere now.) The last time ESPN Classic aired it (that I knew of, anyway) I watched it maybe 12 times over the next couple months. Someone from the modern day commenting on it between rounds made the astute observation that two aging legends declining at the same rate can make for a great fight; some say it was the best boxing match ever. (Not in the down-to-the-wire, "Who'll win?" sense; Ali won in 14, and it was trending his way for a few rounds prior.) But you saw shadows, glimpses of what each guy could do back in his younger days, and it's astounding to me that these two men were still the two best heavyweights on Earth that day in 1975, though both in their mid-30s. Ali would remain champion until 1978, losing the title to Leon Spinks, then regaining it later that year, before ill-fated fights in 1980-81. As it ended up, Ali lost 5 times before retirement, but his fans only count 2 or 3; Once he outpointed Spinks in their second fight, they say, he should've walked away. I sure don't want to see that Larry Holmes fight or the other (was it Berbick?) that showed a too-slow Ali getting mauled. For my part, I just like to remember those fast hands, the fastest I ever saw on a heavyweight, I think. Watch Ali in the 1960s to understand.
Ali won 2 of the 3 bouts with Frazier, but indeed, folks are right to wonder if Ali would have such a place in our cultural imagination had he lost twice to Joe. [Note: I was going off my memory in this post; look dates and records up for yourself to double-check.]

Monday, January 14, 2008

Before I get to something substantive and theological, there are 3 things I am positively amped (that's right, AMPED) about. Tomorrow (or today, in roughly 10 minutes) when I rise, my seminary grades for the last term will be made known to me. (It's about time, boys, with all due respect.) Also tomorrow, the Michigan primaries for both Democrats and Republicans will take place, and we'll be that much closer to knowing who our (main) two parties will nominate for President of the United States. (It inspires me just to type that; I couldn't be cynical about this even if I tried!) Thinking back on it, my mother instilled in us a quiet, yet forceful patriotism and love for this USA. We're not unquestioning apologists, by any means, but we have/had this hope that this country can be what we want it to be, that people can indeed change things for the better. I have grown up simply knowing that:

1. It's un-American to talk loudly/make excessive noise/boo when our president is giving a major speech; (like when a group of folks is viewing it on TV)
2. It only makes sense to vote at least every 2 years;
3. The people/person we didn't vote for is a human being, and it's also un-American to wish them ill even if they really are an immoral, lying liar. (smile)
4. The American people make the right choices in elections (looking back on it) a lot of the time.
5. High elected offices are not the easiest jobs, so we ought to temper even our harshest criticism with the realization that the vast majority of us would assume the fetal position within a week of holding said offices, no matter how smart we think we are.

I applaud whenever the president is introduced for the State of the Union, and I have done so as far back as I can remember. I thought everyone did this, even in their living rooms. Apparently, that's trite and naive. I put my hand over my heart during our national anthem, and sometimes I sing it. Again, I thought everyone did this. I don't recall ever thinking that America was held hostage by any of the occupants of Oval Office. Frankly, I can't really remember hoping for the end of anyone's presidency; even today, it seems profoundly immoral to think that. I'm a sheep, I know. Fine, be bitter and angry; people like that never change anything for the better. In spite of ourselves, Americans have done good in the world. The Republic has endured many things, some challenges so great that, by rights, this nation should have fallen. But we are still here, after some 230 years. Our founders must've been on to something. We'll endure, despite whatever horrific policies certain politicians we dislike will enact. I believe this because not all of us think only of ourselves; not all of us are ignorant of the magnitude of the gift that is our republic. Indeed, a great many know that we must cherish and protect our rights and those of our fellow citizens, even when they exercise them in a way we dislike. So long as we are free--no, so long as God the Just rules and reigns, we have no reason to lose hope. Even if we did not live in so free and blessed a nation as this one, hope would abide; faith abides; love, most certainly, as well. How could we possibly take refuge in a detached cynicism in such a place, though visions of America are as numerous as sand on the seashore? Though politics is a war of sorts, and its contests ought to be marked by profound disagreement (for truth of any kind scarcely becomes known with ease) we Americans are happy warriors, because we have committed ourselves (very successfully, on the whole) to a set of noble processes, to which we will adhere unswervingly, even in the face of political and ideological defeat. That is the very definition of patriotism, to me. So when I speak of unity, I am referring not to a unaminity of thought, but to that unswerving loyalty to our Constitution, which speaks to our common humanity, and our common inheritance in liberty as Americans. This is why I'm excited about our election.

(What a pompous paragraph.) I'm also extremely excited that Brett Favre is so close to the Super Bowl. Some said he was too old. They were wrong. When I think of an athlete I'd want to be, it's often him. He seemingly truly is a regular guy. If I could be the personal chaplain to a famous athlete, he's my first choice. I'm not sure why, exactly; football isn't even my favorite sport. But Favre shows us above all that football (and sports in general) should be fun, even when millions of dollars are at stake. I saw Brett play his best game the night after he suddenly lost his father before Christmas in 2003. I saw him demolish my hometown team on Monday Night Football in his 200th consecutive start at quarterback (a streak still current, roughly four years later). I can recall watching him play his worst game against that same home team (when he threw 6 interceptions) and I knew I had begun to appreciate this man when I wasn't remotely happy about winning that game, a playoff contest in 2001. When Favre's skills were at their height, I don't recall appreciating what I was seeing, understanding its rarity. So if I am too effusive in my praise for an aging legend, please forgive me; I'm making up for lost time. Go Packers!