The Calm In the Middle of the Storm

“Adversity doesn’t build character. It reveals it.”

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There was a moment as the Super Bowl 50 halftime show concluded and the players returned to the field when I felt peace fall over me.  I realized in that moment there were 30 minutes remaining.  Not just 30 minutes left in the game.  Not just 30 minutes left in the season. But 30 minutes left on the roller-coaster ride of a lifetime.  So, I took a deep breath and reminded myself to enjoy the journey.  I was determined for that final 30 minutes to relish every snap, every pass, every hand-off, and even every sack and three and out because these were the last of them…at least I think they are. ;) But, let’s back up because if we’re going to enjoy the journey, we have to know how we got to that moment of peace.

Rewind with me to six months ago and the start of the 2015 NFL season.  It was to be Peyton’s 18th season in the league, and from the start, I didn’t feel comfortable.  There was a new head coach with a new system that involved Peyton’s 39 year old body being more mobile than any other time in that 18 year career.  I wanted nothing to do with a QB roll out involving anyone wearing a #18 Broncos jersey.  Those days were over.  Those days were for the 22 year old drafted in 1998.  That player didn’t exist anymore, if it ever did, and for any coaching staff to expect him to was plain crazy talk.  People told me they’d find a way.  He’d get used to it.  All I imagined was seeing a shell of the player I once knew hobbled and limping off the field from more hits than his body could handle.  It wasn’t a lack of faith in Peyton.  It was a lack of faith in the execution of the new system, and truthfully, the bulk of my concern lay with the rag-tag team at offensive line after an off-season of selling and trading off guards and tackles right and left.  Those five men hadn’t worked together for any length of time, and I wasn’t completely sold on their ability to prevent that 39 year old body from breaking into a million pieces.

Despite my concerns, the NFL decided to go ahead with the season anyway, so the Broncos took the field.  It was far from pretty what I saw from a once prolific offense that could strike fear in the hearts of defensive coordinators around the league.  And then something strange started to happen.  This other set of eleven men trudged out on the field, dug their cleats deep into the ground, and stared down every offense that stood on the other side of the line of scrimmage like they were the only people between them and an all you can eat steak dinner buffet.  Sports analysts told me this group of men was called a defense.  I was baffled.  I had heard of such things, but seeing a defense on the same team as a Peyton Manning-led offense was like seeing Big Foot.  After 22 years, I had convinced myself that we couldn’t have nice things like defenses, and yet, here they were in the eleven o’clock hour.  Better late than never, gentlemen.

And so it was that the new offensive system would score just enough points to be on the right side of the scoreboard, while the defense would battle through every play, rack up quarterback sacks like the people on those hoarders shows, and get that last stop at the end of the game to seal a victory that would have me shaking my head wondering how in the world we had rolled into week nine of the season undefeated.  That week and the next would serve as the turning point of the season as the offense could no longer hold up their end of the bargain, and the unimaginable happened.  Peyton took a seat.

That day broke my heart. In some ways, I’ve blocked it out of my memory because that was the unwanted image I had in my head from the beginning of the season, and despite the efforts of all 53 men on the active roster, it was now coming to fruition.  In the days and weeks to come, we would learn the new, more mobile system had caused a partial tear in Peyton’s plantar fascia; an injury I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy and one he had been dealing with since training camp.  For the next six games, I watched backup quarterback, Brock Osweiler, start in a place Peyton had every season since 1994 except one.  It was in that six games when my love for the game was tested; the love Peyton himself had taught me.  I knew two things for sure: there was no way on God’s green earth we were winning the Super Bowl, and I would never get to see Peyton Manning play football, again.

Funny thing though, the football gods have a sense of humor and enjoy proving me wrong.  The Broncos managed a 4-2 record in those six games and stay in playoff contention even if all phases of the game were playing with a bit of lackluster.  One week, they would look unbeatable, and the very next week they’d look like they were just going through the motions.  They were missing their fire, and in some cases, they seemed to forget that football games were a full 60 minutes.  In others, they needed a few more than 60 minutes and showed me heart and determination.   I wasn’t quite sure how the defense had maintained their league leading ranking, but they had, and they limped right into the final game of the season where Peyton took on a role he hadn’t had since he was a freshman in college: backup quarterback.  I was convinced Coach Kubiak was simply letting Peyton dress for the game but had no intention of sending him into it.  I still watched because even the mere sight of seeing Peyton in a football uniform makes me smile.  Then it happened.  Things weren’t going well from the start all the way into the middle of the third quarter, and in order to prevent losing not only the division but the #1 seed in the playoffs, Coach Kubiak was forced to pull out all the stops including inserting Peyton into the lineup.  I think we know what happened next.  Sports Illustrated said he “rode in on a bad foot and led the guys with the white horses on their helmets to a win”…and a 5th straight AFC West Division title, a 3rd #1 playoff seed in 4 years, and a wild card weekend BYE, so we waited.

I’m not gonna lie.  When it comes to the playoffs, I’m always hopeful of the easiest route, but truth be told, the harder road pays off in the end.  The opponents the Broncos faced in the playoffs seemed like destiny.  During the six games Peyton missed, two of those opponents were the Steelers and the Patriots, so when it worked out that those were the two teams the Broncos would face in the playoffs, I thought, “well that makes sense.”  It didn’t make things any easier.  The Steelers match up was difficult to watch because it was tense the entire time with the Steelers being one really great play away from taking the game despite missing a few players due to injury.  Winning that game, though, meant having to play the Patriots…again.  I hate playing that team with the heat of a thousand suns, but it has more to do with the media narrative than it does with the actual game.  And, so it was, that I had to sit through an entire week of every sports reporter, former player, and tom, dick, or harry explain why the Broncos didn’t have a prayer against the Patriots in the AFC Championship game and that this would likely be Peyton Manning’s final game of his career.  By the end of the week, it sounded as if the team shouldn’t even bother dressing out for the game.  I was livid.  I don’t care who you are or how many sports journalism degrees you have or number of years playing professionally in your record, those are 53 men who are NFL professional football players who worked their tails off all season long, against all odds, to earn the #1 seed in the AFC, and they shouldn’t even bother stepping on the field?!  How about we go ahead and play the game anyway?

That narrative had me worked up so much that I was sick as a dog before the game started, and I couldn’t bring myself to watch it live.  I recorded it and watched it after I knew what the outcome was and after I had bawled my eyes out watching the trophy presentation.  I counted at least eight heart attacks I would’ve had had I watched it live, so at least there was some validity to my decision not to watch.  What I saw beyond that was a team just as livid as I was by the media’s rhetoric the previous week.  I saw a defense that didn’t care a single second that the Patriots were undefeated in games when Tom Brady had his full slate of receivers and backs healthy and in the game.  I saw an offense that found ways to score points little by little.  I saw a team that said, ” don’t count us out just, yet.  What you expect of us isn’t always the same as what we expect of ourselves.”  And when those final seconds ticked off the clock, the Broncos had found one more stop, one more play, one more something to send them to Super Bowl 50.

As a side note, and something no one ever wants to hear because they like the “Peyton can’t beat the Patriots” storyline more so than the truth, Peyton Manning quarterbacked teams in the NFL actually have a 3-2 playoff record vs. the Patriots.  There is a lot of historical talk out there about Peyton being horrible against the Patriots and even more to the point him being horrible against them in the playoffs.  But consider this truthiness before you fall back on what people want you to think.  The first time during Peyton’s career that they met in the playoffs was in the 2003 season AFC championship game, which the Patriots won by 10 points and went on to win the Super Bowl.  They met the next year but in the divisional round with the Patriots winning and eventually winning the Super Bowl, again.  However, that would be the last time the Patriots would beat a Peyton Manning-led team in the playoffs.  In fact, the next two times the Patriots won the Super Bowl, they didn’t even have to play a Peyton Manning quarterbacked team; however, three of the 4 times Peyton has been to the Super Bowl, it required beating the Patriots in the AFC championship game.  For all the stories about how Peyton is a great regular season quarterback and not great in the playoffs, while I concede his 14-13 playoff record isn’t great, his teams are actually better in the playoffs against his one, media created arch-nemesis than in the regular season. Ok…back to our regularly scheduled programming. 

Two weeks.  That’s what the NFL schedules between the conference championships and the Super Bowl to sit and stew and think about the final 60 minutes of play of the NFL season.  For my psyche, it’s about 13 days too long.  For the media, it was a field day of opportunities to do exactly what they’d done in the week leading up to the AFC Championship Game: trash the Broncos and heap praise upon the Panthers. By the middle of the second week, I was out of fingernails to bite, was nauseous all the time, and wanted to cry every five minutes.  If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought I was pregnant, but 22 years of loving the game because I was watching it through Peyton’s eyes had come to what I believe is its fruitful conclusion, and I was scared.  Not of him getting hurt.  Not of him losing the game. But of what that moment would feel like when I had to watch him walk off the field for quite possibly the last time.  I didn’t want to know that feeling though I’ve always known eventually I’d have to, but just like the regular season, despite my concerns, the NFL decided to go ahead and play the Super Bowl anyway.

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Though it didn’t calm my nerves or stop me from yelling at the TV, from the opening kick, it was clear to me at least that the Broncos were settled.  There were no nerves to shake off, no surprises they weren’t ready for, no set back they couldn’t handle.  This was a team that had spent those two weeks understanding their opponent, honing their already fully developed skills, and building confidence from the adversity they’d faced all season long.  I saw a defense that was so stifling, that even I couldn’t catch my breath before the next play was run.  I’m not old enough to have seen or remember the Steel Curtain or the Orange Crush or really even the 85 Bears, but of the great defenses in NFL history that I have seen and remember, this is by far the best one I know.  They turned the tables.  It was no longer the Panthers offense trying to read the Broncos defense.  The Broncos were reading the Panthers like a book.  And, while some might believe a defensive game is boring, look, again. The skill and determination involved in what the Broncos defense accomplished for those 60 minutes, or 120 minutes when you count the AFC championship, is something so outstanding and remarkable that it deserves admiration and appreciation.

By the time we got to halftime, I was stunned.  Still nervous.  Still scared.  But blissfully stunned.  And then the peace came.  I looked across the room at my TV and realized this is where I was going to be, where I was going to be sitting, when the final seconds ticked off the clock and the roller-coaster ride came to a screeching halt.  I took a deep breath, and I smiled.  In the middle of this intense football game, I found the calm, and suddenly I thought, win or lose, I want to remember every single second of these last 30 minutes.  Someday someone might ask me what it was like to see Peyton Manning pass the ball to Emmanuel Sanders or CJ Anderson work his horse right into the endzone one more time or a much maligned offensive line finally find their footing or the Broncos defense play lights out against the best offense in the league or a kicker and a punter and a kick returner prove that special teams players are people, too.  And I wanted to be able to tell them exactly what it was like. To tell their stories.  To share their memories.  That’s when I saw it.

When I’m watching a game, I can’t always see the strategy in the midst of all the stress and worry, but when I finally allowed myself to breathe and take the game no matter what, I was able to see just exactly what was going on here.  For the entirety of his career, Peyton has finished a drive and gone to the sidelines to review printouts of photos from each play they ran.  He’s looking for what the defense is showing him, so he knows what to do the next time he sees that formation.  He’s looking for what went wrong and what went right, so he can adjust.  I kept saying throughout the game that he needed to see something…that surely he had seen something by now.  Why so many three and outs?!  And then I took that breath.

For all the negative connotation surrounding the title of “game manager,” there is something incredibly cunning about it.  It means he can beat a team with his brain, and playing 18 years in the NFL provides a lot of data to sort through and use during games.  Being a game manager also allowed him to play 18 years in the NFL.  In those final 30 minutes I saw the entirety of Peyton’s career: the young gunslinger who could toss the ball 60 yards down field perfectly, the veteran who could beat a blitz with his eyes closed, and the journeyman who was the smartest person on the field.  He had figured out the Panthers weren’t giving him much.  There were a few holes here and there, but he would have to settle for field goals when he could get them and depend on the defense that had gotten them there.

The three and outs, which appeared as negative drives, were actually eating clock four plays at a time.  It was, in my opinion, genius.  He could’ve forced throws potentially causing more turnovers, but he knew that choice wouldn’t be the best way to help the team. It dawned on me in that moment, that those six games he didn’t play were the best thing that could’ve happened to him.  It forced him to evaluate his role, not on the team, but at this point in his career.  If a player wants to play for any length of time, he has to adjust as time goes by to the game and to his body.  Playing the game at 29 is different than playing it at 39 because abilities have to transform to be successful at each stage.  That time away gave him an opportunity to get his mind and body on the right track, to find the way he could contribute to the success of this team at this moment.

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I could not have been prouder as I watched Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware pour the Gatorade down Coach Kubiak’s back and Peyton find his way over to the fourth coach he’d taken to a Super Bowl while the final seconds disappeared off the clock.  It had taken all 53 of them, a defensive coordinator who was unemployed just last year, and a melding of the minds between a coach and a quarterback with two very different yet successful ways of doing things.  This team had proven me wrong in the best possible way, and they are welcome to do so any time they want.

Nine years ago, another team proved me wrong, and the world champion smile appeared for the first time.  That game required Peyton to be an offensive juggernaut in the pouring rain.  Nine years later, in a very different way in a very different game, the world champion smile appeared, again.  There is a bit of symmetry if it is the end of this wild ride to win a Super Bowl half way through a storied career and then to win one to close it all out.

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Christmas 2015

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Dear Family and Friends,

This year seems to be the year of blink and you missed it. I turned around one day and it was December when it felt like it was just January the day before. I don’t know about y’all, but the years seem to move faster as I get older. Nevertheless, I still try to pack as much into those fast moving years as I can. This year was no exception.

Sadly, at the beginning of the year, two of my heroes from the sports world shuffled off this mortal coil. First, in January, sportscaster Stuart Scott finished his battle with cancer and left behind a legacy of courage and determination as well as a completely different vocabulary of how we talk about sports. Then, in February, the world lost one of the kindest gentlemen it ever knew when Coach Dean Smith passed away. This one hit mom the hardest as a lifelong Tar Heel fan. He changed the way we play the game of basketball far and wide, and his contributions to our country’s civil rights movement remind us we should never be proud of doing the right thing. We should just do it.

In April, Dad’s chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), which he’s had for years but never needed to treat it, decided it wanted some attention. He completed six chemotherapy treatments between April and September, and at the beginning of November, he officially received the remission stamp. He will go back every three months for new scans to make sure he remains in remission, but at this point, it’s safe to say, dad kicked cancer’s butt with the help of mom and his wonderful doctors and nurses.
In May, I traveled to Rochester, Minnesota to visit some college friends, Robert and Erin Jackson and meet their sweet little guy, Beckett, who handled my stockpiled smooches and squeezes like a champ. The weather was beautiful as they showed me around their city where the Mayo Clinic is located, and I tried every form of fried cheese curd I could get my hands on. Also, having been a Twins fan since high school, I managed to talk them into taking me to the Twins game on Memorial Day, which they won because I was there, obviously. Booyah!

After seeing the Broadway cast of Something Rotten! perform on The Tonight Show, I was so entertained that I had to see this show, so I took a trip to NYC in July to see it. The cast is amazing, and over several trips back to NYC this fall for various reasons, I have seen the show a total of six times. The lovely people who work the front of house for Jujamcyn Theaters treated me like family and reminded me just how much I enjoyed being a part of live theatre back in my high school days, so if you find yourself in NYC anytime soon and you can’t get tickets to see Hamilton walk on over to the St. James Theatre on 44th and see Something Rotten! to laugh so hard you’ll cry. While I was there, I caught up with my high school friend John Cosenza. He and I grew up together, and while we have kept in touch with each other through the years, we hadn’t seen each other in far too long. He went to the show with me one night and showed me some of NYC from the perspective of an actual resident. It’s a beautiful thing to fall in love with a city through someone else’s eyes. He tells me that since the congestion in Times Square now drives me batty, I am officially a New Yorker!

In July, we lost my great Aunt Virginia. She was one of my favorite people in the world. She had a sweet smile, a rambunctious personality, and an insatiable hunger for all life had to give her. She was what they used to call a classy broad, and I miss her every day.

In August, I returned to Colorado to spend my birthday with my friends Vanessa and Brad Leonard and Tim and Cristi Schwamb and their kids and to attend Broncos Training Camp, again. There were to be two days of training camp while I was there, but the first day got cancelled due to rain the day before flooding the practice field. At least it wasn’t snow. Never fear, Vanessa and I filled the day with visits to Red Rocks Amphitheatre, the historic town of Morrison, the Broncos training facility team store, and every Walmart, Target, Kohls, and King Soopers between Denver and Colorado Springs that we could find
making sure I had all the Broncos gear I needed for the coming season. Vanessa, Cristi, and I even found time for a girl’s night out. It was refreshing to my soul. My sister-in-law Janet has taken a few of those soul rejuvenating girl’s weekends this year, too. There really is no substitute for them. Also this summer, my brother Andy finished his master’s of education in educational leadership with straight A’s throughout and is working towards a position as an assistant principal hopefully in the next school year.

Lincoln turned 8 in September, and we had an Ant-Man themed birthday party at Hooters after a day at Busch Gardens. Ant-Man was his choice of costume for Halloween, too. He continues to excel in school with his perfect report cards, and he can tell you anything you want to know about Minecraft. Mostly, I just nod my head and say, “uh huh” because I have no clue what he’s talking about. This September marked the start of the 40th season of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which mom, dad, and Andy have thoroughly enjoyed celebrating as inaugural season ticket holders still going strong. God love ‘em.

Also in September, one of my trips to NYC was for a 5K charity walk benefiting the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). My college friend Ti Keshia lost her sweet niece this year to Type 1 Diabetes and asked her friends to contribute to and/or join her on this walk, so I jumped right in and had the wonderful opportunity to meet and walk with her and her NYC friends across the Brooklyn Bridge. The views from up there are spectacular, and it was a beautiful day to celebrate Princess Victoria. Speaking of diabetes, my doctor has reduced my medication to one dose per day instead of two, so I am one step closer to managing the disease on my own without pharmaceuticals. While I was there that time, I managed to squeeze in a trip to see Les Misérables. This was especially exciting because my high school friend Joseph Spieldenner is currently performing in the show as Grantaire and occasionally goes on as Javert or Thénardier. He’s just brilliant in it and was so kind to give me a backstage tour after the show, and I got to stand on a Broadway stage.

In October, I was so excited to get a visit from another high school friend, Adrienne. Her husband was here for a conference, so she tagged along, and spent the better part of one day with me. I got to show her around the Capitol and take her to some fun little places that are not on the tour like lunch in the Senator’s Dining Room. I’ve come to truly understand the importance of keeping in touch with the people in our lives who make us smile and remind us of the dreamers we used to be before the world became jaded and routine.

In November, my sweet friend Annie from Australia came over to the states for what she calls holiday. We call it vacation. While she was here, we went to a John Lloyd Young concert at the Kennedy Center. He’s a Tony winner for originating the role of Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys. She also wanted to see the Washington Monument and the ruby red slippers from The Wizard of Oz, and I took her to the larger Air and Space Museum out by Dulles Airport because she’s a flight attendant. It made perfect sense to me. And I got her to try a fried pickle, which will likely never touch her lips, again. Pickles are apparently not a thing in Australia.

When I was home for Thanksgiving, I got to meet my new four-legged nephew Coco, Lincoln’s new cocker spaniel puppy. He’s adorable and loves to cuddle. We became fast friends, and that has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I kept giving him treats. I swear. Mom and dad have loved spoiling their puppy grandchild, too. Mom and I shopped til we dropped the week of Thanksgiving, and I helped them decorate the house for Christmas before I left.

And, that brings us to December. After fourteen years of living in the DC area, I finally made it to the White House at Christmastime to see the decorations. Everything is breathtakingly beautiful and intricately detailed to fit each room’s theme and purpose. Next weekend, I’m traveling to Pittsburgh to see the Broncos play the Steelers where I may or may not get to see Peyton Manning. I was afraid of this when I saw how late in the season this game was, but hopefully, he’ll at least be there even if he doesn’t play. At the end of the month, my Alabama Crimson Tide will try, again, to add to the National Championship total. They’re #2 in the college football playoff rankings, but they’ve certainly got their work cut out for them vs. Michigan State with a potential championship game vs. either Clemson or Oklahoma on the line. Roll Tide and Go Broncos!

Whew! Are you still with me? I would understand if you weren’t. I’m exhausted myself. I hope y’all managed to pack just as much into your fast moving 2015s as I did. Here’s to a slower 2016 with a little more peace and love around the world. Let’s never forget that “hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Leann

Please Stand By…

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Coming this fall to a television, computer, tablet, smartphone, etc. near you…

Fall 2015-16 TV Schedule (PDF)*

Fall 2015-16 TV Schedule

*Inside the PDF, each network’s call letters will link you to show descriptions and each new show will link you to a video trailer.

The Greatest Man I Never Met

There’s two dates in time that they’ll carve on your stone And everyone knows what they mean, what’s more important Is the time that is known in that little dash there in between

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I learned many lessons from my mother that informed the person I am today. Compassion and love should be offered unconditionally. Thank you notes should be handwritten and prompt. There is no substitute for proper grammar. Willie Mays is the greatest baseball player to ever play the game. Elvis Presley will always be the king of rock and roll.

And Dean Smith might very well be the greatest man who ever lived.

So, it was Sunday morning that I found myself looking at my phone to find a breaking news text from ESPN reporting the passing of the greatest man in the world. My heart fell to my stomach. The blood drained from my face. I felt my blood pressure skyrocket. Yet, my first thought was “call mom,” which I did. I made a call I never wanted to make…EVER.  Then, my own sadness bubbled to the surface because there isn’t a single second of my life when Coach Smith wasn’t a part of it. As I watched and read the stories flood in over the last several days, I found myself nodding my head. Some stories I hadn’t ever heard, but none surprised me because I’d heard a million other ones just like it. Stories that are unfathomable but nevertheless completely true because Coach Smith was one of a kind.

I could tell you all about the 879 wins, the 27 straight 20 win seasons, the one losing season in all 36 years of his head coaching career, the four national players of the year he coached, the Olympic gold medal, the four national coach of the year awards, the ACC regular season titles and tournament championships, the Final Four appearances, and the four college basketball national championships. Wait…what? Yep, I said four. Sure you’ve heard about 1982 and 1993, but maybe you missed that he won a national championship as a player at Kansas in 1952 and coached the Tar Heels to the 1971 NIT championship.

I could tell you the story about how his teams executed the four corners offense so consistently and with such suffocating perfection that the shot clock was implemented in college basketball to level the playing field.

I could tell you about the time he managed to win a game down 8 points with 17 seconds left and no three-point line.

Or maybe you’ve noticed players who just made a basket point to the teammate who passed them the ball. It’s called “thank the passer,” and it belongs to Coach Smith, but you’ll see it everywhere from AAU to high school to college to the pros. He believed no one player was more important than the whole. The name on the front of the jersey was what you played for, not the name on the back. He believed in teams, not stars even though he coached the biggest one of them all.

Oh sure, I could tell you all about how Michael Jordan had to do the same menial tasks every freshman who ever played at Carolina had to do, but through it all, Coach Smith taught him to respect the game.  Coach Smith taught His Airness to be a leader in the 1982 National Championship game with 17 seconds to go.  I could tell you how Michael, as Coach Smith simply called him, wore Carolina shorts under his NBA uniform every.single.game of his career because he was so dedicated to the Carolina Family.  These two men became the state of North Carolina’s favorite sons: one adopted, one native.

You see, Coach Smith didn’t just coach basketball. He changed the way we play it, and he didn’t just coach his players in basketball. He coached them in life.

I can’t name every man who ever played Carolina Basketball, but Coach Smith could. Not only could he name them all, he could tell you the names of their family members, too because he kept in touch with them even after their sons finished their college careers. His secretary could walk into his office and say, “Michael is on the phone,” and he’d know instantly who it was just as instantly as if she’d said Larry or George or James or Phil or Antawn. These men…his men…counted on him for advice, for friendship, for guidance, and he never hesitated to help every one of them in any way he could.

The respect Coach Smith garnered throughout his life is evident in every player he taught. I’ve heard it multiple times over the last several days. Not once have I heard one of his former players refer to him as Dean or even Dean Smith. Every single time, they have called him Coach Smith or Coach. Even if the person asking the question refers to him as Dean Smith, the former player would respond with “Coach Smith…” every…time.

More than 96% of his players graduated even if it meant they had to come back to school during the NBA off season because they’d left school early for the pros. That’s practically unheard of in today’s world where student athletes jump to the NBA after their required one year of college is completed and never look back, but Coach Smith created a family that is recognized the world over not just because of its rich history and influence on the game, but because of the men it produced and the camaraderie they shared.

Yet, for as great a coach he was, Coach Smith was an even better person.

You may have heard that this man…this white man…walked into a well-known Chapel Hill restaurant with a local pastor and a black North Carolina theology student at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. It was 1964. Coach Smith had been the Carolina head coach for just three years. He was not yet revered the way he is now, but he walked into that restaurant and quietly sat down. They were asked to leave, and he said, “no,” thus integrating that restaurant and eventually Chapel Hill.

Maybe you’ve even heard about the time he helped a black UNC grad student purchase a home in an all-white neighborhood, but did you know the grad student, Howard Lee, later became the mayor of Chapel Hill, a North Carolina state Senator, and chairman of the state Board of Education? Was Coach Smith responsible for those accomplishments? Probably not, but perhaps knowing Coach Smith was behind him, gave Howard Lee just a little more courage than he already had.

In 1966, Coach Smith signed Charlie Scott as the first black scholarship athlete at UNC helping to spearhead the integration of the ACC. All my life, I thought Charlie Scott’s name was “Charlie Scott First Black Player in the ACC” because the action was so significant in the south that it became his legacy. But, he’s also a high school valedictorian, an Olympic gold medalist, a NBA champion, and a successful businessman, and whether you want to believe it or not, when he and Coach Smith took that step together they paved the way for Bob McAdoo, Walter Davis, Phil Ford, James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Michael Jordan, and every African-American basketball player who has played at Carolina or in the ACC after Charlie.

But understand, Coach Smith didn’t do these things with great fanfare. He wanted no recognition. He didn’t spend his time at post game press conferences telling the media what social injustice he was angered about that day. Coach Smith simply believed in decency and fairness and humanity, and he treated people as such because he believed “you should never be proud of doing the right thing. You should just do the right thing.” I saw multiple former Duke players say Coach Smith was the greatest man they ever met, but that sentiment didn’t stop with them. Members of the media, former players of other schools, NBA stars, and the President of the United States, who awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, all had the same thoughts. Absolutely anyone whoever came into contact with him came away with a story they’ll never forget.

Now, Coach Smith wasn’t perfect, and he’d have been the first person to tell you that. In fact, he’d have hated all the commotion over him this week. But in the simple act of being himself and standing up for what he believed in, he became extraordinary while never compromising his convictions. And so I found myself in the last few days trying to figure out how to honor Coach Smith appropriately. What could I do? What could we all do? How could we make sure he’s never forgotten?

And then, it occurred to me. I never met this gracious man, but not a day of my life has gone by when I felt like I didn’t know him. Then, I realized the only reason for that is because his legacy lives in my mother. I heard it in Antawn Jamison. I heard it in King Rice. I heard it in Charlie Scott, and I read it from Charlie Scott’s children. His legacy lives in all of us, and it is our responsibility to carry it forward and share it. So, tell Coach Smith’s story. He certainly left us with enough material. Tell your Coach Smith story.  Shout it from the rooftops. Tell it every day if you have to because Coach Dean Edwards Smith, born in Kansas to public school teachers, died in Chapel Hill Saturday night surrounded by his wife of almost 39 years, his five children, his seven grandchildren, and his great-granddaughter, changed basketball, changed lives, changed the world, and left it a better place than how he found it. He has tossed the ball to us, now. We have to make the shot and thank the passer.

Rest in peace, Coach. 

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Stuart Scott: Teacher

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This morning I was sitting at the nursery check-in desk at church about to start the change over from worship time to Bible class when I decided to do a quick check of Facebook.  That’s when the sound went out of the room.  There were plenty of people around me as the church was bustling with people moving to their own Bible classes, but my little piece of the world just stopped.  It stopped because I saw these words: “Longtime ESPN anchor Stuart Scott dies at 49.”  I wanted to look down and see some indication that it was not confirmed.  That it was just a sick rumor, but unfortunately, the link to the article was from ESPN itself.  They wouldn’t report something like that without it being true.  And then I just felt empty.  The whole world did.

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I never met Stuart Scott, but he taught me more than he could ever possibly know.  I started watching SportsCenter religiously when I went to college.  It was the one constant program I could guarantee would be on when I woke up and when I went to bed.  It got me ready for the day every morning, and told me everything I needed to know before I fell asleep every night.  Stuart Scott was my anchor of choice.  I didn’t know much about him when I first started watching SportsCenter.  What I did know is I liked his style: his reporting, his fashion, his demeanor.  He taught me so much about sports.  If Michael Jordan taught me basketball and Wayne Gretzky taught me hockey and Cal Ripken, Jr. taught me baseball and Peyton Manning taught me football, Stuart Scott taught me how to watch them all.  He taught me how to see sports.  He became a part of me, a part of my life, a trusted friend from the TV screen.

I felt a little kinship to him, but I didn’t know why until my brother eventually told me he was a Carolina graduate, and that explained it all.  We lovers of the Carolina Blue just know each other without even asking.  I remember his love for his family.  When talking about your personal life as part of a news broadcast was unheard of, Stuart didn’t care.  He wanted to share all of himself with us viewers.  Not just his love of sports, not just his love of the athletes, not just his love of catch phrases and hip hop prose, but his love of life and his love of the people in his life.  He changed the rules and created a few all the while entertaining and informing us.

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Late Night With Roy, Chapel Hill, NC, October 2008

And then the man who had made us laugh and lifted us up needed us to make him laugh and lift him up.  He was diagnosed with cancer in 2007 by accident through an emergency appendectomy, and thus began a seven-year daily fight for his life.  I remember being devastated when I heard of his diagnosis, but so happy to hear it was a good prognosis.  I felt like screaming “BOOYAH!” when he beat it the first time.  I wanted to laugh when he was diagnosed a second…to laugh in the face of cancer and say, “Oh you didn’t get enough of a beat down from Stuart the first time around, you came back for more.”  And I watched like all of us did.  I watched him take treatment after treatment and then go workout the same day.  Cancer would not get the best of him, he decreed.  He would win the day.  He fought for all of us, but most especially for his daughters…to be there for them…to show them the importance of their lives to him.

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As the days and weeks and months came and went over the course of this 3rd and final bout with that atrocious, disgusting disease, he appeared on camera less and less.  And I just thought he must have to fight harder this time.  It’s taking up more of his time.  He’s still going to beat it.  He’s Stuart Scott.  Cancer messed with the wrong guy!  And even as his once broad frame had diminished to a gaunt figure by the time he accepted the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at last year’s ESPYs, I still believed if anyone was going to beat this, Stuart would.

Until today…

Today…when the sound went out of my little corner of the world.  When the world became empty.  When I felt so deeply for his beautiful daughters.  When life was so obviously unfair.  When trivial problems seemed pointless.  When my heart weighed a thousand pounds.

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No, Stuart is not the first person to ever have cancer, and no, Stuart will unfortunately not be the last taken from this world by it.  But he used his public platform to show us what all cancer patients do daily: FIGHT!  He was a face for them.  He was a voice for them.  He was a teacher for all of us.  Rest in Peace, Stuart.

“Success is not measured by what you accomplish, but by the opposition you have encountered, and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds.” ~ Orison Swett Marden

Stuart Scott’s Legacy

Stuart Scott, The Colleague

Rich Eisen Remembers Stuart Scott

Christmas 2014

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Dear Friends and Family,

I don’t know about all of you, but as the year progressed, I found myself feeling as though I was on a runaway train because it was moving so fast.  Yet, here we are as the 2014 train is pulling into the station for us all to transfer to the 2015 locomotive.  All aboard as we take a look back at how far we’ve come this year.

Let’s start with the bad news that I’m hoping will be avenged early next year.  My Denver Broncos made me proud by sailing straight through the NFL playoffs right into the Super Bowl, but things took a bit of a turn for the worse right around the Joe Namath botched coin toss.  The rest of the game, which we Broncos fans affectionately refer to as “The Bruno Mars Concert,” is a bit of a blur.  While this season has had its ups and downs, I remain hopeful we’ll get another chance at that ring come February.

Having enjoyed our cruise last year so much, Andy, Janet, and Lincoln embarked on a Disney Cruise at the beginning of the year.  Mom and Dad came to visit me in March when it was still snowing here.  I think the snow lasted into April.  I lost track.  It started to get easier to count the days when it didn’t snow.  We did visit the zoo in an attempt to see our new panda bear, Bao Bao.  She was sleeping, of course.

Sadly, during Mom and Dad’s visit in March, we lost my great uncle, Charlie Peacock.  He had been a surrogate grandparent to my brother and me and all the cousins on mom’s side of the family treating us like we were his own kids and being proud of all our accomplishments.  The world lost one of its most loving and gentle souls.  I miss his laugh and his “how you?” every day, but his legacy reminds me to linger a little longer with the people I love, to follow my dreams, and to never take anyone for granted.

In April, Andy turned the BIG 4-0, and mom and dad celebrated by taking a cruise, just the two of them, to Cozumel, Mexico.  Ok, so maybe that’s not why they went on the cruise, but it just happened to coincide.

In May, my friend Jessica and I had the incredible privilege of attending the NFL Draft in New York City.  It was on my bucket list, and a very dear friend of mine was able to secure tickets for us to all three days.  Not just any tickets though.  Practically Radio City Music Hall orchestra pit tickets.  Being one of those few people who watches every second of the Draft every year, getting to attend it in person with nearly front row seats was amazing.  I looked around the theatre when we got to the last pick on the third day just to take in the small crowd of us who were still there, and I thought, “these are my people,” but the one thing that I took away from it was that those of us who were there weren’t there just because we were fans of any specific team.  We were there because we love football, every aspect of it.

The NYC fun didn’t stop there.  We also attended the monologue rehearsal for The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.  Every day, a couple hours before the show taping, Jimmy Fallon brings in a small group of people to run through all the potential jokes for that night’s monologue.  He’s tests them on us to see what works.  Since we were there on a Friday, he also tested the thank you notes on us.  It was a highlight of the trip, and it was clear to me that Jimmy Fallon is as advertised: kind, funny, and genuine.

In late spring and early summer, Alabama added to their national championships with wins in Women’s Tennis and a repeat in Men’s Golf.  Also, Mom and Dad returned for a summer visit right before I took off for another bucket list item.

In early August, I flew to Colorado to attend…wait for it…Denver Broncos Training Camp.  I have always promised myself I would go to training camp before Peyton Manning retires, and with that probably coming sooner rather than later, it was now or never.  I got to stay with and visit my friends Brad and Vanessa Leonard and their kids.  I was their youngest son’s first Bible class teacher at our church when they lived in Virginia.  It was so great to have that time with them.  We all went to training camp at the stadium and had such a blast.  I’ve even recognized some of the plays this season as ones I saw that day.  Vanessa took me on a world wind tour of Denver and Colorado Springs to include stops at Garden of the Gods, the Air Force Academy Chapel, and the Olympic Training Facility.  The whole family and I made the trek up to Pike’s Peak on my last day there.  I’m hoping to make another trip out there for training camp next summer.

When I returned, my college roommate, Stefanie, came to visit for a girls weekend (sans husband and kiddos).  We took a tour of the White House, had lunch at the Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives approved restaurant Tune Inn, went shopping til we dropped, laughed until it hurt, and went to dinner with some of my friends here who have heard me talk about Stef just as much as she’s listened to me talk about them.  Everyone loved each other as I expected they would.  It was so much fun.  I’m still surprised either one of us let her get on that return flight.

This school year, Janet started a new position as a teacher evaluator for the Hillsborough County Schools.  Lincoln is now in first grade and turned seven in September.  He has already earned a perfect report card as well as the Super Reader Award.  He loves hockey of all things for a kid growing up in Florida.  Go Bolts?

In October, my friends Dianne, Darlene, and I spent a week at the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  We relaxed, walked the beach, got massages and mani/pedis, searched for open ice cream parlors, shopped, tried every hushpuppy any restaurant would offer us, and toured lighthouses.  I climbed to the top of both the Cape Hatteras and the Bodie Island Lighthouses to see some spectacular views of the edge of the world.  We wonder daily why we’re not still there.

In November, Janet turned the BIG 4-0, and for Thanksgiving, she, her mom, Andy, and Lincoln went to New York City to take in the sights of the holiday week.  They saw the Rockettes, Toys R Us in Times Square, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade before coming home in time for the Sunday Buccaneers game, of course, which I attended with them.  Everyone has to make sacrifices from time to time.  :)  I’m just sorry I couldn’t bring the Bucs any luck.

As the year comes to a close, Alabama finds itself the #1 seed in the new College Football Playoffs with a chance at our 16th National Championship if we win the next two games.  My diabetes is stabilized to the point that I’ve been able to reduce the dosage on some of my medication and my doctor has stretched my check-ups to annually instead of every six months.  The coming year has much to live up to since 2014 set the bar so high, but I think it’s up to the challenge.  I hope all of you have had a year full of love, adventure, and laughter.

 

Until next time…Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,

 

Leann

Tough People Do

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For 36 years, the Alabama gymnastics team has looked towards one leader.  Coach Sarah Patterson.  She is one of the last great decisions Coach Bryant ever made when he hired her.  She was a very green, recent graduate from Slippery Rock State College, but he took a chance on her.  I like to think he saw a little part of himself in her, and that was his key to know she’d be successful.  If we’re being honest, “successful” is a bit of an understatement here.

Last week, Coach Sarah resigned as head coach in this amazing letter to focus on her health.  It’s one of those things that you know will happen eventually, but you’re still never prepared enough when it does.  It took me until today to be able to watch her resignation announcement (below) because I couldn’t go there, yet, mentally.  She’s the kind of person you hope lives forever and coaches just as long.  But reality exists for a reason: to make us face our fears, to make us grow, to make us adapt to change.  And interestingly enough, Coach Sarah’s dedication, toughness, and inspiration that have helped her athletes and colleagues face fears, grow, and adapt over the years will now help all of us fans do the same.

Since the NCAA began awarding a national championship in women’s gymnastics in 1982, only 6 universities have ever won it.  Alabama is responsible for 6 of them including back to back championships in 2011 and 2012, the latter of which tied Coach Sarah with Coach Bryant for most national championships by an Alabama coach.  But that’s not what makes her a champion.  Certainly the rings and trophies are great and the long overdue champions plaza named for her is a good start to honor her legacy, but it’s the impact she’s had on the athletes she coached that makes her a champion.

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The best kind of coaches do not simply coach you to win the competition.  The very best coaches teach you to win the game of life.  They stress the importance of your education in the classroom as evidenced by entire teams being named Academic All-Americans, many of them with 4.0 GPAs.  They instill a compassion for giving back to those less fortunate.  They provide an environment ripe with opportunities to grow physically, mentally, and spiritually.  They prepare you to face every challenge in life head on.  They don’t make you a better athlete.  They make you a better person.  And Coach Sarah is the very definition of the best kind of coach.  To that end, I am certain our new head coach, Dana Duckworth, will be phenomenal in the role, and that certainty is for only one reason.  She is a Coach Sarah athlete.  When you learn from the best, you know how to teach like the best.

For 36 years, Coach Sarah gave us everything she had every day.  She exemplified what it means to be a member of the Alabama Family in every thing she did.  She beat the odds by building one of the premiere college gymnastics programs in the country.  She fought for our girls every step of the way and taught them to be leaders in their jobs, their communities, and their families.  She has improved the world in ways that can’t be quantified.  I will miss seeing her, dressed to the nines, excitedly cheering on our girls, but the great thing about legends is that their heart and spirit remain with the program even after they depart.

For now though, she remains a member of the Athletic Department and takes on an exciting role with the NCAA Gymnastics Committee while she faces this new set of challenges with her health.  Coach Sarah has never shied away from the trials she’s faced throughout her career, and I expect this to be no different nor do I expect the outcome to be anything other than a triumph.  Tough times don’t last.  Tough people do, and Coach Sarah is tough people.

Roll Tide, Coach Sarah!  

Roll GymTide, Roll!

Who Loves You ~ Jersey Boys Movie Review

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I am not a professional movie critic, and thank God for that because I do know a good thing when I see it.  Jersey Boys isn’t just a good thing.  It’s a great thing, but we’ll get to that.

I was lucky enough to see the stage production on the National Tour in December 2011.  It was phenomenal.  It was a funny, heartbreaking, exciting two and a half hour rock concert.  I was singing Four Seasons songs for days afterwards, and I wanted to go back, again and again.  Then, a few months ago, I saw this movie trailer online.

And I got really nervous and really excited all at the same time.  It’s similar to making a book into a movie.  It’s a nerve-wracking thing.  You want those words in that book to come alive before you on screen, but you’re nervous that all the things you love and adore about that book won’t be portrayed the way you imagined them as you read.  Everything about the stage production of Jersey Boys from start to finish is incredible and amazing, and the opportunity to have all that energy and delightful fun in a permanent form for which I could someday own a DVD was a thrilling prospect.  At the same time, I wondered what on earth would Hollywood do to my memories of the stage production, i.e., how would they ruin it?

My mother has seen the stage production multiple times because she loves it so much, and the movie was released the weekend of her birthday.  I mean, how perfect is that?!  I was cautiously optimistic for her because I didn’t want it ruined for her, either.  I waited with bated breath that Friday knowing she and dad were going to the first matinée showing.  I couldn’t wait to hear her review because honestly I know no other more qualified expert on this particular show than my mother.  She came home, typed me a quick email about how fabulous (her word) it was and how they had added a few scenes which worked perfectly but beyond that the movie was the stage production just on the big screen.  Ok…sold.  I saw it the next day, and then went again the following Saturday.  My parents are coming for a visit next week, and we already have plans to see it then.  I read a post from one person today that said they’d seen it 15 times.  It’s that good.

When I saw the stage production, we sat in the balcony.  It wasn’t a bad seat because the theatre wasn’t large, but I still believe there’s a certain intimacy you get from a movie vs. a stage production.  The actors on stage are trying to reach every person in the theatre through their performance and projection.  On film, it’s just the camera.  After I saw the movie the first time, I had this overwhelming feeling that I was getting my very own private stage production viewing, like these four guys were telling their story just to me.

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One thing I was thrilled about was the casting of John Lloyd Young along with many of the other actors from the various companies of the stage show.  I thought it gave authenticity and strength to the movie because these actors have mastered their roles.  They knew these characters in some ways better than they knew themselves.  It felt like we were getting the hybrid of each character from the lot.  The best of the best.  John Lloyd Young won the Tony Award (and every other award possible) for originating the Frankie Valli role on Broadway, a performance I never got the opportunity to see.  If his performance on Broadway was even half that of what he does in the movie, I will regret not seeing that til the day I die, but the beauty of this movie is that I get to catch a glimpse of what I missed.  His performance is intoxicating, and I’m not even talking about his singing.  The dramatic story of the Four Seasons is written all over his face.  The hardships they overcame, the devastating losses, and the fight to make it all happen, it’s all there in every word he speaks.  Add to that his perfection in voice, and by the time we get to the top of hour two, I’m in love, and I’ve officially forgotten what the real Frankie Valli even looks and sounds like because John Lloyd Young simply is him.  I’ve learned that his preparation for the role on Broadway was maniacal.  I haven’t read this about any other actor who has played Frankie.  John Lloyd Young wanted to be certain his performance was as genuine and reverent as possible, and he achieved that over and over.  It’s that dedication to his craft that comes through in every scene.   It moved me to tears for the final 20 minutes of the movie.  His reaction to the crowd after singing Can’t Take My Eyes Off You makes me bawl like a baby.

Michael Lomenda plays bass player Nick Massi, and when I pulled my Playbill out from the stage production, I discovered he was the Nick Massi in that company, too.  So, I like to tell people he’s the only Nick Massi I’ve ever known.  I’ve refrained from stopping complete strangers on the street to say this though.  I love that he’s Canadian, and has a flawless Jersey accent.  He also gets to deliver the greatest comedic lines of the entire show.  All you need to know is a pile of towels, a sink, and tiny bars of soap.  I laugh so hard I cry, and at the end of those lines, Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken) just says, “thank you for sharing,” and I’m done for.  Truthfully, of the Four Seasons, Nick Massi’s story is the most heartbreaking to me.  Maybe it has something to do with him being the only one of the Four Seasons who is no longer with us, or maybe it’s how brilliant he was only to have to put up with so much and end up leading such a sad life.  His story just hits me hard every time, and I just want to give Michael Lomenda a great big hug by the end of it.

Bob Gaudio.  Go ahead.  Try to say that name without sounding like you’re from Jersey.  I guarantee you can’t do it.  I know.  I’ve tried.  Erich Bergen who opened the first National Tour and then performed in the role for the first two years in the Vegas company, is nothing short of brilliant.  Bob is the kid from the right side of the tracks with more musical genius in his little finger than most of us could ever hope to have.  I have the soundtrack in my car, and I listen to it every day on my way home from work.  I cannot even begin to measure the size of my smile when “Cry For Me” starts.  It’s the first song Bob sings for Frankie, Tommy, and Nick before he joins the group, and it’s exemplary.  The casting story for Erich goes that Clint Eastwood asked the real Bob Gaudio (see you can’t say it without sounding like you’re from Jersey) which one of all the Bob’s was the closest to being the real him, and Bob said Erich.  The rest is history.  The way Erich portrays the friendship and partnership he and Frankie have leaps off the screen.  I feel like part of Bob’s character represents us, the audience, because to understand this story means to want to fight for these guys.  Wanting to fix things for them.  Wanting to just make everything better.  They’re all so talented that you just want to strip away all the “old neighborhood” strings attached.  Bob manages to pull a boatload of #1 hits out of his hat that are songs which have underscored nearly all our lives at one point, and in doing so, he gives Frankie Valli an avenue, an outlet for his angelic voice.  And through the movie, I feel like Erich’s portrayal of Bob really takes us on this journey through their friendship.

Tommy DeVito is a schmuck, and that’s putting it nicely, but I kid you not, you will love and hate Vincent Piazza in this role.  You’ll want to smack him one minute and hug him the next.  Shoot, I even have Tommy’s opening line of the movie stuck in my head.  Tommy wanted all the fame and the money and the girls, but had no clue how to actually manage it all on the right side of the law (and loan sharks).  He was given an incredible gift in the form of his friendship with Frankie Valli because Frankie was going to be loyal to him no matter what.  It’s what you do when you’re from Jersey, right, Michael Lomenda?!  Vincent Piazza is the only one of the four who never did the stage production, but there’s not a single, solitary moment in the film where you can tell that.  Everything you’re supposed to think and feel about Tommy, Vincent embodies.  He’s the charmer who will break your heart and your dining room chairs.  One thing I really noticed during the band’s performance of Who Loves You is Vincent watching John Lloyd Young.  Maybe Tommy’s supposed to do this.  I don’t know.  But there’s a certain awe in the look in his eye when they’re singing and he’s catching a glimpse of John Lloyd Young.  It’s as if he’s just enamored with John Lloyd’s talent, and I, for one, can’t blame him.

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I could speak for days about the hysterical Joey Russo’s portrayal of Joey (first name only, so I don’t give that part away for anyone who doesn’t know the story).  I mean the kid really did kind of put the group together, but he always seems like a pipsqueak to me, and Joey Russo does not disappoint.  I could wax poetic about Renée Marino’s dark, harrowing portrayal of Frankie Valli’s first wife Mary Delgado.  She’s a ball buster, and you kind of want to hate her most of the show, but in this one pivotal scene when she’s inconsolable while clutching the hands of her family members…lordy…you know in that one moment exactly why Clint Eastwood cast her.  I’m actually really looking forward to seeing more of Renée in other projects.

I think my initial nervousness about the stage production being made into a movie was because of Clint Eastwood.  While I know his remarkable and vast talent as a director, I was still a bit like, really?!  Then you go see it, and you see the way he makes everything you love about the show that much deeper…that much more involved.  He makes you feel these characters in your bones.  The coloring of the film is perfect.  The cinematography is out of this world.  But the single greatest thing he did for this movie besides the impeccable casting was to have the guys sing live.  No prerecorded music.  No lip syncing.  That’s part of why this movie comes alive.  That is what makes you feel like you’re sitting in a theatre alone getting a private performance.  It’s what makes you sing along and dance in your seat.  It’s what makes you feel like you’re a part of the action…like you’re in a time machine at an actual Four Seasons concert for two hours.  But the finale…OH MY WORD…the finale.  It is worth the price of admission alone.  When it’s over, I want to run up to the projection room and rewind just to watch that last bit, again and again and again.  It is his nod to all us lovers of the stage production.  It’s as if he’s saying to the audience, “thanks for trusting me with your beloved musical.  Here’s a little gift for you.”  And if you haven’t fallen in love with John Lloyd Young by the time the finale rolls around, you will in that moment.  Whenever the DVD is released, I’m certain I will watch that finale first before I go back and watch the whole movie from start to finish.

As I said, I’m not a professional critic, but I wanted to put my thoughts out there for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, yet.  I’m on a personal mission to increase the box office receipts.  If you happen to live in a place the National Tour never reached, go see this movie.  You’ll see what you missed.  If you’ve seen the stage production and love it, go see this movie.  You’ll love it, too.  Oh hell…just go see the movie, already.  And if I haven’t given you enough reasons here to see it, might I add one quasi related reason.  These are the shoes John Lloyd Young wore to the premiere of the movie at the LA Film Festival.  If you can’t go to a movie out of respect for a man with this much style, I just…I don’t know what to do with you.  Smokin’ Hot!

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Make Dessert and Eat It, Too: Pudding Mousse

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In my undying quest to find desserts that fit my healthy diabetic lifestyle, I decided to take one of the recipes my mother gave me for Pistachio Pudding Mousse and experiment with it for other flavors.  Particularly, I was looking to make the pudding mousse variations taste like other desserts because sometimes you’re just craving that flavor.  And because I’ve had some genuine success with re-creating those flavors in a different form, I thought I’d share those with you all.

Keep in mind, if you’re one of those “I can eat all the sugar I want and not die” people you can replace any of the sugar-free pudding mixes with their fully loaded versions…or you can just have the actual dessert I’m trying to re-create the flavor of here…lucky ducks.  I’m also certain you could pour any of these into a no-bake pie crust and make yourself a mousse pie.

You can use any variety of cream cheese (regular, fat-free, neufchatel), milk (skim, 1%, 2%, whole), and/or Cool Whip (original, sugar-free, fat-free, extra creamy) you want.

Mom’s Pistachio Pudding Mousse (the original and basic):

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup cool whip (not an 8 oz tub…an actual measured cup…I usually do a heaping cup)
Sugar-Free Pistachio Jello Pudding Mix
2 cups milk

Place the cream cheese in the bowl of your mixer and beat on medium speed until smooth. I usually turn this on while I’m making the pudding. Set a timer for 5 minutes. In a separate bowl, whisk pudding mix with 2 cups of milk for first 2 minutes of the 5. I know it sounds long, but consider the muscles you’re building in your arm. Place bowl in the fridge for the remaining 3 minutes.  You want the pudding to be almost set, but not be actual pudding completely. Scrape the sides of the mixer bowl and continue beating cream cheese until the 3 minutes in the fridge are up. Add the pudding to the cream cheese and beat on medium until combined, scraping sides of bowl as needed. Add the cup of cool whip to the bowl and beat until combined. Pour into plastic container with a lid and refrigerate until ready to serve (at least an hour). Enjoy.

Lemon Blueberry Pudding Mousse (so far my favorite):

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup cool whip
Sugar-Free Lemon Jello Pudding Mix
2 cups milk
1 tsp lemon extract, optional
Frozen blueberries

Prepare pudding mousse as directed above excluding the blueberries. Stir in the lemon extract, if using, right before you pour it into the container to refrigerate. You could use fresh lemon juice but keep in mind the more liquid you add to the recipe, the less mousse consistency it will have, which is why I went with extract instead. You could also probably add lemon zest. Add the blueberries to the top of each dessert dish when you are ready to serve.

Orange Creamsicle Pudding Mousse (seriously tastes exactly like one):

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup cool whip
Sugar-Free Vanilla Jello Pudding Mix
Sugar-Free Orange Jello Gelatin Mix
2 cups milk

Prepare pudding mousse as directed above except whisk both the pudding mix and gelatin mix together with the 2 cups of milk. You’re not actually making the gelatin like you do the pudding. You’re just trying to get the orange flavoring into the mousse. I know it sounds weird, but trust me, it’s delicious, and it works.

Strawberry Cheesecake Pudding Mousse (first variation I tried which sparked the other ideas):

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup cool whip
Sugar-Free Cheesecake Jello Pudding Mix
Sugar-Free Strawberry Jello Gelatin Mix
2 cups milk

Prepare pudding mousse as directed above in Pistachio variation and Orange Creamsicle recipe.

Tiramisu Pudding Mousse (this one took a couple experiments to get right):

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup cool whip
Sugar-Free Chocolate Jello Pudding Mix
2 cups milk
2 tsp coffee extract

Prepare pudding mousse as directed above adding the extract as the last step like in the lemon blueberry variation. I tried this variation first by replacing the cream cheese with 8 oz mascarpone cheese, but the consistency and flavor wasn’t right. I also tried it using cold strongly brewed coffee, but the liquid also changed the consistency and didn’t give enough of a coffee/espresso flavor to it. So, cream cheese and coffee extract it is, and it worked like a charm.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pudding Mousse (this one’s in the fridge right now chilling):

4 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup cool whip
Sugar-Free Chocolate Jello Pudding Mix
2 cups milk

Prepare pudding mousse as directed above in Pistachio variation except you need to beat the cream cheese and peanut butter together while you whisk the pudding mix with the milk. The 5 minutes will make the cream cheese and peanut butter light and fluffy. This is perfection on a spoon.  I almost licked the bowl.  If you’re feeling extra crazy chop up some sugar-free peanut butter cups and stir them in before serving.

Remote Control

The slate of new and returning shows from network television coming this fall following their announcements at their upfront events this week.

Fall 2014-15 TV Schedule

Fall 2014-15 TV Schedule (PDF)

Links to show descriptions can be found in the PDF link above by clicking on the Network call letters at the top of each column.

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