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.

4s-finale

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!

jly shoes

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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