Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Fabled Five Words in Sports: I've Never Seen That Before

As a loyal sports fan, I have come to realize one of my favorite things to say or hear is five words: "I've never seen that before." Yes, we give our time and spend (sometimes inordinate amounts of) money to see our favorite team win. Victory is just so satisfying, but those fabled five words are too. And I was able to say them Friday, January 12 as the St. Ignatius varsity boys' basketball team beat the Serra Padres, 70-61. 
I've never seen the Wildcats defeat the Padres in their house. Known to the San Francisco Bay Area as "The Jungle Game," this contest lives up to its hype. In the past 14 years I have taught at SI, I have attended 13 Jungle Games, and I had never seen a win for the Red and Blue. The one year I did not attend, the Wildcats' got the "W." So, to see this team come back from a 9-point deficit in the third quarter was satisfying and sweet. My new record: 1 for 14. Things are looking up.

With about 20 seconds remaining in the game, and the Cats up by 8, both the players and the fans realized what was about to happen. The pressure was finally off. Those on the courts kept their composure and their focus, while the SI players and coaches on the sidelines smiled and breathed deeply. The student sections yelled cheers and jeers from one side of the gym to the other. I made a point to open my eyes and take it all in. Why? it's not often you see something you've never seen before.

One of the first things that caught my attention was the student section anxious and eager to storm the court. Limited to standing room only seats, they were chomping at the bit; everyone could feel their restless energy. We all knew where they wanted to go. The words of Ron Rolheiser were being revealed before my own eyes. In "What is Spirituality?" he writes,
Sigmund Freud, for example, talks about a fire without a focus that burns at the center of our lives and pushes us out in a relentless and unquenchable pursuit of pleasure. For Freud, everyone is hopelessly overcharged for life. Karl Jung talks about deep, unalterable, archetypal energies, which structure our very souls and imperialistically demand our every attention. Energy, Jung warns, is not friendly. Every time we are too restless to sleep at night we understand something of what he is saying. Doris Lessing speaks of a certain voltage within us, a thousand volts of energy for love, sex, hatred, art, politics. 
Indeed, a thousand volts of joy—of satisfaction on steroids—confined by close quarters was ready to crowd the gym floor. 

I have written about this issue many times in the past; people both agree and disagree with me. I knew that our deans' were emphatic about not taking the hardwood until both teams met in the post-game ritual: lining up, shaking hands and in some cases extending even more. I wondered if our administration would put its money where its mouth is. What did I see? Again, something I had never seen before.

Not only were our deans' present to hold students back, but the head coach—who always stands at the back of the line, turned to the students and made sure they stayed put. His team and their efforts got the win—and he had the vision and the ability to see the bigger picture. No student was going to cross that line. They waited, albeit impatiently for both teams to thank one another. All players and coaches had their moment to do so. #AMDG

Moments later, Coach Marcaletti walked over to the section of parents, teachers, and fans—to look for his wife, He gave her the thumbs up. I know she comes to nearly every home game; I wouldn't be surprised if he acknowledged and reached out to his wife at some point during every game. But this win was special and that moment was too. 

It would be hard for me to argue that the Jungle Game isn't a spiritual experience. That fire isn't friendly—which is an important way to think about spirituality. And, once the contest is over, the energy that had flooded the gym dissipates—finding its face as what Rolheiser describes as "aching pain" and "delicious hope." Pain for the team who couldn't get the win and hope for the victors of what is to be.

I suppose what we love about sports is that we can say those five words every day, or every time we take to the starting blocks, first tee, jump ball and so forth.  But those games that have a spirituality like that of the Jungle Game? Perhaps that's the recipe for seeing things we have never seen before.

NB: 2018 has been ripe for a few of these games! The Rose Bowl and the playoff game, featuring the Vikings vs. the Saints—I don't know a single person who can't say that have seen THAT before!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Andrew McCutchen: "Gift of the Magi"

If you haven't heard someone echo the words of the late American broadcaster Keith Jackson, who died on January 12, 2018, then you haven't been listening. Known for his intelligent yet folksy coverage of college football, Jackson contributed "Whoa! Nellie" and "Hold the phone!" to the cadence of sports talk. His passing, not unlike Stuart Scott's from stomach cancer in 2015, made me pause to consider the language I love to speak: sports. 

I am sure that someone, somewhere has a list of the great terms, cliches, metaphors, and expressions used by athletes, coaches, broadcasters, and fans. I dare say, their words extend beyond hyperbole and alliteration. These expressions add color to the commentary and endear us even more to a certain team or sport. And the signing of Andrew McCutchen, one of my favorite athletes, from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the San Francisco Giants, reminded me of one of my favorite sayings. If I ever make it into the broadcast booth—though I can't take full credit, I hope I will gain some for this ingenious phrase. 

Vince Tringali, a long time football coach at St. Ignatius High School was the first person I heard say "gift of the magi!" in the context of sports. In recent weeks, I have thought him and his words as I prepared my seniors for the second contest in the Bruce Mahoney rivalry, Through an NFL Film about Tringali's tenure of excellence in football, my students came to see that Tringali was a great many things—tough, demanding, and old school, and yet personally he was whimsical and witty. 
Tringali coached the Wildcats to a 19-game winning streak from 1962-1963 seasons, earning a number one national ranking in the 1962 Imperial Sports Syndicate Poll. He captured four league championships, one of which was in no small part because of a student transfer from Marin Catholic High School. This future NFL Hall of Fame player wanted to live with his father, who resided on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. He enrolled at St. Ignatius as a junior and the Wildcats benefitted. After Tringali said his name: Dan Fouts, he added "Gift of the Magi." 

And with that comment, one of my favorite expressions was born.

"The Gift of the Magi" is a wonderful phrase for reasons that resonate with both sports and spirituality. The Feast of the Epiphany, traditionally on January 6, This Christian feast day celebrates the "manifestation" of God in Christ Jesus. In the west, the Epiphany commemorates the visit of the Magi—the wise men—to the Christ child, and thus Jesus' Incarnation to the Gentiles. Now celebrated on the second Sunday after Christmas, I wish this feast day was remembered and revered as it once was. Wise men from the East traveled a great distance...following a star to bring gifts to Emmanuel. We don't know what the Holy Family did with the gifts they were given, but we know what they were: gold, frankincense, and myrrh and we know who gave them: Balthasar of Arabia, Melchior of Persia and Gaspar of India. Their gifts were unexpected. They were gratuitous, They were regal and they were royal. 

Life today isn't always that different. We too receive gifts from near and from far. Some of my favorite gifts have been totally unexpected. They come without a price and have been given freely, They are often given in celebration and others are worth celebrating.
So, it makes sense that those same words: Gift of the Magi would characterize my response when I heard the Giants acquired outfielder Andrew McCutchen in the final year of his contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates. I have written about the Bucks' #22 three times and have always delighted in his success, even though he does not play for "my team." Though I had heard rumors for some time, I wasn't sure that we would land this former NL MVP. Confirmation of this move was unexpected....a true gift from the East. His skill set is varied; it is rich and it is regal. No need to look for a star in the night sky, Cutch offers his own vibrancy and shines brightly. Giants fans welcome him—this gift—with open arms.

So next time you receive a gift from the East....something worth talking about, you know what to say. And while you're at it, keep listening for other expressions. The sports world is full of good ones.

Cutch Postings
Three Things You Might Not Know....

My Social Experiment: Andrew McCutchen, NL MVP
What MLB is Wearing Around Its Neck

Photo Credits

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Celebrate and Remember: The Life of Steve Phelps.

A new year, a new semester. I came to class eager to see my students rested and yet reluctant to start again. Updates and (better) expectations, reminders and recommendations, our first day together in 2018, started with a prayer for someone they never knew—but whose legacy still looms large. The beat of his heart—and its complications that led his death—can still be heard and felt throughout the communities he served. Steve Phelps was a husband, father, brother, friend, educator and the President of Bishop O'Dowd High School (since 2004). He died on December 26, the Feast of his patron, St. Stephen. 
There are many graces to the profession of teaching and one of those is to teach young people about extraordinary people. Steve left SI long before any of my students arrived and yet he left an indelible mark—one that has a greater impact on their lives than they might ever know. His obituary states,
From 1972 -2004 Steve was a teacher, coach, and director of professional development at St. Ignatius College Prep in San Francisco. He labored to improve the diversity of the school by creating programs that attracted students from every area of the city and the surrounding areas. Everything Dr.Phelps approached was aimed at building excellence in school programs, staff, and students. He was the recipient of numerous awards, both local and national for excellence and innovation in Catholic education and for service to youth.
Truly he is a life worth celebrating and remembering

With those two words in mind—celebrating and remembering—I realized how I ought to be teaching my students to pray. 
  • What are we celebrating today? Bring those events to God.
  • Wh0 do we want to remember in prayer today? What do we want to remember? Offer their names to the Lord. Give thanks to God for those events.
I shared with these kids the video created for his induction into the CYO Hall of Fame. Always an educator, Steve sought to leave the audience with truths he had discovered through athletic ministry. Amused by his nickname, "the White Shadow" I invited my classes to listen to his message and respond. 

He believed: 
  1. When we give freely of ourselves to other people we gain more than we give. 
  2. I think one of the biggest problems today, is a lack of physical fitness—and I see that, refereeing.
  3. Learning how to coach and relate to students takes time and experience in a way that is positive, doesn't belittle them, and doesn't involve negative interactions.
Steve had a great mind and a great heart—both are evident in this tribute. I'm confident that anyone who knew Steve as a coach or referee would not be surprised that he said, "to honor me is really honoring all the students, the boys, and girls who played CYO."

I'm so grateful Catholic Charities—CYO has made this video available. Those who knew Steve have been given a visual testimony that he is a man to remember and celebrate. And, for my students who never met him, they can now pray in this special way for him and for those grieving this loss.

Monday, January 1, 2018

God Doesn't Care Who Wins, But His Mother Does....

January 1 is not only New Year's Day, it is the Feast of the Solemnity of Mary. Without a doubt, today is the toughest of all Holy Days of Obligation to attend. Staying up well past midnight to ring in another year, celebrations of bubbly and booze, as well as holiday hangovers, makes it tough to get into Church for morning mass. But for those who do...or as of now, who did, it's a worthy one, for the universal Church honors our Mother Mary. And on a personal note, I would like to honor her because, in spite of what anyone says or believes, the Blessed Mother plays favorites. That's right, Our Lady—Notre Dame—like me and many others love the Fightin' Irish. 
Lou Holtz once said, 
Now I know you're going to say God doesn't care who wins. I say that's true, but I believe His Mother does. I firmly believe this school has been blessed. When men ask why this school is great, they'll need only to look at the Lady on the Dome.
This Dome is the center of campus. It sits as the crown jewel on God Quad. An aerial view of this space reveals a heart, to signify the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The University makes it known that it aims to be an institution dedicated to serving Our Lady. Is it fair to say that devotion is mutual? Can we all have some fun with this and think that Our Lady pulled for the 14th ranked Irish in the Citrus Bowl? Is it too much to believe they made her proud with an exciting game and big win over 17th ranked LSU? And might she have more sway on a day dedicated to her role in Salvation history? It totally is...but I'm still going to roll with it.
According to Busted Halo,
The use of the word “Solemnity” here is not a statement about Mary’s personality. It is a designation used for certain days within the liturgical (church-based) calendar of the Church. Solemnities are the highest rank of liturgical celebration, higher than feast days or memorials. By celebrating a solemnity dedicated to Mary’s motherhood, the Church highlights the significance of her part in the life of Jesus, and emphasizes that he is both human and divine.
Jesus' dual nature is art is quite evocative. My favorite image of Christ, the mosaic you see here depicts two different eyes to demonstrate the binary way Jesus sees us. Some might take solace in the fact that God sees us, period. However, I am comforted in knowing the Lord sees me as God and a fellow human being. Images of Christ the Teacher show an all-knowing God in a role that is familiar to us. I recently learned the symbolism behind the two fingers he holds upright beside a book. I should have known...or, not that is is a playbook but that this simple gesture reminds the viewers 1). of his humanity and 2). of his divinity.

USC fans, however, contend that these artists got it wrong. There should not be a separation between either finger; they should stand together. He's holding these fingers like Trojan fans do to signify FIGHT ON. Why? Jesus was clearly a USC fan. I have to admit, that's pretty good. AND This makes for an exciting debate come football season.

Ginny Kibutz Moyer of Busted Halo concludes by adding
Though New Year’s Day may seem more like a day for football than for Mary, there’s a beautiful spiritual significance in celebrating her during the heart of the Christmas season. Pope Paul VI, in his apostolic exhortation Marialis Cultus (1974), called the Solemnity of Mary “a fitting occasion for renewing adoration of the newborn Prince of Peace, for listening once more to the glad tidings of the angels (cf.Lk 2:14), and for imploring from God, through the Queen of Peace, the supreme gift of peace.”
Christ the Teacher/Fight On!
When I really stop to think about the significance of Mary—who she was, what she did, how she lived and who she loved, I can't help but think how fitting it is that the first day of a new year is dedicated to her. I appreciate that the Church makes this day—when hope has fresh feet and resolutions run strong—a feast day for her. We ought to name churches and schools, universities and institutions in her honor. We should sing songs of praise and offer prayers for her intercession. I want to know her better, live more like she did and ponder the same things she held in her heart. I might be a little more inclined to do that if I could get some confirmation we share a certain bias...but I think I got that in a great start to 2018. Way to Go Irish. You did Our Lady's University Proud.

Photo Credits
Christ the Teacher
Christ Mosaic
ND Football Pix

Thursday, December 28, 2017

In All Things, Finding God

A fellow teacher and coach posted a holiday goal to guide our beloved two-week Christmas break: read three books. They say when you change an ingredient in a recipe, it becomes your own, right? With that philosophy in mind, her S.M.A.R.T. goal became mine when I decided I wanted to read three books, two of which I have already started. My nightstand is filled with these perpetraitors...each one has a bookmark ten, twenty or a hundred pages in. If convicted of starting and not finishing books, I'm guilty. However, I'm happy to report progress toward attaining my goal is underway. #FeelsGood
  1. "The Mistletoe Inn" by Richard Paul Evans was a fun and fast read. The fact that this book was made into a Hallmark Channel holiday film, was no surprise whatsoever. Love it. Furthermore, I was reminded that there's no harm in reading for pleasure. Starting and FINISHING a Christmas romance has become one of my favorite holiday traditions. Enjoy! 
  2. I started Richard Ben Kramer's decisive and exhaustive biography on Joe DiMaggio: "The Hero's Life"  ten years ago. No, I'm not joking. The Yankee Clipper was raised in San Francisco and lived a storied life in New York. His love and affection for Marilyn Monroe characterize a good percentage of the book's 525 pages.
  3. This summer while traveling in Israel, I began to read Chaim Potok's "The Chosen." Set in Brooklyn in 1944, "The Chosen" is a story—a coming of age and of friendship—between two young Jews. One is from a conservative family and the other's is more liberal, or by today's standards, Reform. 
Their views on faith, tradition, and family also reveal the spirituality of Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, the Ba'al Shem Tov, who gave birth to Hasidism.  
He taught them that the purpose of man is to make his life holy—every aspect of his life: eating, drinking, praying, sleeping. God is everywhere, he told them, and if it seems at times that He is hidden from us, it is only because we have not yet learned to seek Him correctly.
This spirituality resonates with Ignatian Spirituality. Ignatius of Loyola preached of "Finding God in all things." This principle underscores the curriculum for Sports and Spirituality. 

We believe God can be found in all things, the question is in all things can we find God? As a coach and a teacher, I wonder—Have I equipped my students and my athletes with the eyes to see? Do I point the way? Surely if they seek, they will find.

My seniors' final project, asks my students this very question. Here are their answers. Their images of where they have found God in the sports that they play. Now that I have graded all of their work, I hope to get back to reading....
“I feel the presence of God with and through the presence of my teammates.”
-Natalie Doyle, “Finding God on the Volleyball Court

“The displays of love in sports, by athletes, coaches, parents, and even spectators speak of yet another spiritual dimension present in athletics and thus challenges those who experience love-which is to say Christ-to act in certain ways correlative to proper morality.”
—Anthony M.J. Maranise, OSB

Awards become corroded. Friends gather no dust.
—Jim Yergovich

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.
Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
 —Hebrews 12:11-12

Faith isn’t something we do, it is who we are.
—Dr. Lucy Russell

“Athletes exercise self-control in every way;
they do so in order to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.”
1 Cor 9:24-25

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

I'd Rather Be Lucky AND Good

The New York Yankee, Lefty Gomez once remarked "I'd rather be lucky than good." His words became a popular adage I think about quite often. Would you rather be lucky? or good? I hate to disagree with the five-time World Series champion, but I'd rather be good. And, I'm pretty sure I'm in the minority with this choice. Why? Luck is just so appealing. Good luck makes everything look and feel easy—it's nice to have your shots fall, your putt go both up and in, and with lady luck the numbers, cards and stars align. A lucky person wins the lottery and the lotto. They never walk away from a raffle empty handed, their flights are always on time, their drinks are comped and the upgrade is perennially underway. 

Frank Sinatra once sand "Luck be a lady, tonight!" If luck is so lovely, why choose the good? I choose the good because of what my mom has always told me: "you make your luck." I love her charge. Her wise words imply that if you work hard and do what's right, things will fall into place. Luck may have something to do with winning, but really, a team does what it takes to make the W happen. Hard work, perseverance commitment, leadership, teamwork—those attributes have nothing to do with luck. They do, however, have everything to do with what makes championships possible. 

But something happened this past semester that has led me to consider a third way—a hybrid option, if you will. Is it possible to choose not just luck or goodness—but both? I ask because that is the only way I can describe my good fortune when I inherited a group of 26 students in this year's Sports and Spirituality class. 
This group consisted of three football players, two baseball and one softball player, a sailor, a rower, and one robotics champion. I had a golfer, a gymnast and a water polo captain. There were three lacrosse players, ardent sports fans and a Kobe aficionado. I always appreciate having a tennis player and Notre Dame fans in there—I had both. This group had both male and female basketball players, a dancer, track athlete, volleyball star and the only female who has played on the SI football team to date. They were faith-filled and fun. They listened and laughed not at one another (ok they did that too) but more often they laughed with each other. We debated the decision of NFL players to stand, sit or kneel during the National Anthem, not once, but many times. Some of my favorite lessons from them were
I've worked hard to make Sports and Spirituality into the class it is today. An elective course since 2010, no single semester is exactly the same because the wide world of sports is ever changing. I have taught this course during World Series and NBA championships. Our local team has made a run for the Super Bowl and our school to keep the Bruce Mahoney trophy. But it's never just the content—the articles, the videos, the Sports in the News that makes the curriculum what it is....without a doubt, it's the students themselves. Their hearts and their minds, their experiences and stories, their loyalties, passions and their prayers  make it memorable. I've had good classes before and I've had challenging ones too. I do not take for granted who comes into the classroom each day. This year, I had not good students—I had great ones. I'd say that for my luck too.

My next posting will feature the annual classic: images of Sports and Spirituality, taken from the students themselves.  Thank you class of 2018—I miss you already! 

Friday, December 22, 2017

Will Clark: The Thrill is Never Gone

It's not uncommon for Christmas to come early. For some folks, the joy of Christmas arrives in a new job, the birth of a child, deployment, a healthy diagnosis and so on. For me, Christmas came on Friday, December 8 at the downtown business lunch hosted by Archbishop Riordan High School. The gift was the opportunity to meet and hear a talk given by my favorite ballplayer and male athlete of all time: William Nuschler Clark, Jr. known to most San Francisco Giants fans at Will "The Thrill."

The 1986 Sports Illustrated cover story "Double Trouble," featuring Mark McGwire and Will Clark reported the difference these two first baseman brought to Bay Area baseball. I'll never forget reading some of the color commentary about his impact. For example, rather than a rote message "Hi, this is Will. I'm not here right now. Please leave a message" it played the B.B. King song "The Thrill is Gone." This lunch hour affirmed what Giants' fan have always known—the Thrill is never gone.
The number of fans who wear #22 at every Giants game is remarkable.
Will Clark played first base for the Giants from 1986 to 1993. During his tenure, the New Orleans native helped a struggling squad with(100 losses in 1985 turn things around. In just two years time, the Giants won the NL West eventually make a run for what was known as the "Bay Bridge Series" in 1989 (by way of winning the NL Championship Series). His contract with the Giants expired in 1993 and he left us for the Texas Rangers. No Humm Baby.....Bum Baby.

A friend said she was surprised I had not met the six-time All Star before. On one hand, I agree. Given my loyalty to the orange and black and the legacy of this leftie, perhaps it shouldn't have taken 30 years of fandom to connect. However, in the past, I wasn't so sure I actually wanted to meet him. Sometimes, it's easier to keep our heroes and our favorite athletes, musicians or artists at arm's length. Often, their public persona doesn't match up with a personal encounter. Other times, we might not know what to say. I know these folks put their pants on just like everyone else, one leg at a time, and yet the reason we even know who they are is because of what they do. And in the case of Will Clark, it's not just what he did, but how he did it.
given the nickname "The Natural" because of this beautiful left-handed swing. #art
Will Clark played with a remarkable intensity that was as sharp as his vision (I once read he had 20 x 12 eyesight—a necessary good for a baseball player!). With "The Thrill" in the line-up, one would ever question who was the hardest working man on the team. He shared that he took about 200 swings before each game. "Nothing supplants hard work," he said. "Today's players only take about 20-30 swings before the game." Hearing his words reminded me that Clark was going to talk the talk; he could. This crowd knows exactly how he walked, and much to our delight, his accomplishments were captured in  highlight reel to kickstart the event.

Set to AC/DC's "TNT" the collective audience watched some of my favorite baseball memories and Will's best: his first hit as a Giant—a home run off of Nolan Ryan in that vapid ballpark: the Astrodome, the grand slam off of Greg Maddux in Game 1 of the NLCS against the Cubs in Chicago, the two-run single against Mitch "Wild Thing Williams" in Candlestick to break the 1-1 tie in the game/secure the series and the slide into second base in St. Louis launching an epic baseball fight that cleared both benches. These feats and more brought AC/DC's lyrics to life: 
Cause I'm T.N.T., I'm dynamite
(T.N.T.) and I'll win the fight
(T.N.T.) I'm a power load
(T.N.T.) watch me explode
Oh, hell yeah.
And as much as these highlights had me sitting on the edge of my seat in near rapture, I looked at Will Clark and wondered who was enjoying this more. When the video came to a close with a 23- year old Will Clark celebrating the 1987 NL West title, he turned to the audience and shouted "Are you fired up? Because I'm so fired up right now!" The cheering. clapping and whistling was so enthusiastic, one might wonder if they were at AT&T Park in October.

Will's address to this crowd was one part advice to today's baseball players, two parts storytelling, and all parts unabashedly, uncompromisingly Will. Once called "Will the Shrill" before he had his tonsils removed, Will talked fast, his words were gracious and yet politically unapologetic. When he said "my world is very black and white." ever last part of me thought "we know, Will. We always have." In a city like San Francisco that claims to be liberal and tolerant but often times falls short, his words were actually a welcome respite. Clark has only ever been who he is—and that's why this city loved him so. We still do.
Will, as he always was...always will be.
His message?
1. "Common sense is a lost art. If something is telling you don't do it. DON'T DO IT." Clark returned to this point when he told the story of Kevin Mitchell making a one-handed catch—with his bare hand—against the fence in left field at Busch Stadium. "Common sense says you have a glove in your hand for a reason." Good one, Will. Great one, Boogie Bear (Kevin Mitchell's nickname).
2. Trust your gut. So many times, my gut would tell me he's going to throw a slider. I'd talk myself out of it and guess what? He threw a slider. This is true in life, like common sense, listen to that inner-voice.
3. Family is first. Will Clark retired from MLB in 2000 to spend more time with his wife Lisa and their two children. His son, Trey (Will Clark, III) has Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), a diagnosis which puts him on the autism spectrum. Will left the game after helping the St. Louis Cardinals in their play-off run, leaving the game with an impressive .650 post-season batting average. #baller.
4. Respect. Will said "it is so important to respect your elders. Where I come from it's yes sir, or no ma'am. I was taught that you respect the military and law enforcement." He praised two of the games greatest, Willie Mays and Willie McCovey. Clark said, "being around these greats and listening to what they said about hitting advanced my game. Pure and simple. They had more influence on me than anyone will ever know."
Prior to this event, I thought long and hard about what I wanted to ask Will. I decided that I would build rapport by telling him that I lived in Napoleonville, LA. He immediately turned about and said "what were you doing down in Napoelonville?!" I knew this would get a reaction—it always does. Napoleonville's notoriety must be in name only, because this itty-bitty bayou town is home to but all of 2,000 people. They too are great outdoorsmen like the Thrill. It's the Louisiana way.

As a teacher at another Jesuit high school I asked him about his experience at Jesuit High in New Orleans. I even snuck in a reference to Endymion, my favorite Mardi Gras parade that passes in front of his alma mater. And, more importantly I wanted to know why HE thought San Francisco loved him in the way we do.

My friend Matt, a San Francisco native couldn't believe Will Clark was my favorite male athlete of all time. "How is it not Joe Montana?" Great question, Mateo. Montana, the "Comeback Kid" did great things at Notre Dame and for the San Francisco 49ers. Guiding the Irish to  the 1977 National Championship and the Niners to four Super Bowl titles, one would think "Joe Cool" is number one for those reasons alone. But that nickname says it all. Under pressure, #16 was calm, cool and collected. He had to be. But what I've always loved about #22 is the fire, intensity and passion that he brought day in and day out to Candlestick. to MLB and to Riordan's downtown business lunch.

Christmas involves a lot of talk about presents—making our list and checking it twice. We join in the relentless pursuit for that "perfect gift" or maybe this year you've limited your shopping to four of them (see the Four Gift Christmas Challenge). And yet, quite often the best present is a person's presence. In theory, we proclaim this as true, until you really do get that magical gift. However, my first formal chance to talk t0 and be with Will "The Thrill" left me thinking, other than a Clark 22 jersey, I really don't need a single thing with my name on it under the tree. Thank you Sea and John for making this happen. Thank you ARHS!
Those were great years, Will and unforgettable memories. Thank you. In the giving, we received. Merry Christmas....thanks for playing ball.

Photo Credits
Hall of Fame ballot
Getty Images