Thursday, January 1, 2015

A New Year's Day Memory

The thought of so many renowned players participating in today's semifinals of the College Football Playoffs, the winners qualifying for a chance to play for a national championship, brings back a special New Year's Day memory that occurred 59 years ago.
It was a brisk, cold sunny morning on January 1, 1957. A knock on the door of the track house on Otsego Street in Encino announced the arrival of a package delivered by a weary United Parcel Service driver. The box had a return address of Denver, Colorado.


add delivery: The package was addressed to a certain 8-year old boy whose grandfather, Jack Carberry, was the sports editor of the Denver Post. After thanking the delivery man, the boy quickly opened the box, which was about 18 inches long and 8 inches wide, and wrapped in brown shipping paper. Inside was a light brown leather official Spalding football, which had LOOK 1956 ALL-AMERICA stenciled in white paint on one side.


2nd add delivery: The ball was autographed by the biggest names in college football for the 1956 season, all of whom were honored as All-Americans by Look Magazine. A sheet of paper with the players' names typed in black ink listed the signatures, which included Paul Hornung, Jim Brown, John Brodie, Jim Parker, Johnny Majors, Tommy McDonald, John David Crow, Jack Pardee and Leo Fischer. The ball, which has a few cracks in the leather, still has air in it and the autographs are visible, a reminder of a special New Year's Day a long time ago.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Staubach's 'Hail Mary' Led to Bigger Things

Sam Farmer's timely look back at the history of the "Hail Mary" pass in the L.A. Times this week, which was born when Roger Staubach  connected on a desperation throw to Drew Pearson to give the Dallas Cowboys a 17-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in a divisional playoff game in 1975, brought back memories of Dallas'  game that followed a week later in Los Angeles.
The Cowboys' win over the Vikings qualified them to play the Rams for the NFC championship at the L.A. Coliseum, and the Rams, who had defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in their divisional game, were heavy favorites. In fact, several of the Cowboys players, including All-Pro linebacker D.D. Lewis, expressed their fear of the Rams, who were coached by Chuck Knox.


add Cowboys: Played before a sellout crowd at the Coliseum, it was the Rams who looked like the scared team. Staubach was unstoppable in the first half, leading the Cowboys by throwing four touchdown passes, three to Pearson and one to the Cowboys other receiver, Golden Richards. Dallas outscored Los Angeles, 30-0, in the first half, forcing Knox to make a decision that would lead to a  controversy in the NFL.


last add Cowboys: The Rams' coach lifted starting quarterback James Harris and replaced him with backup Ron Jaworski, who managed to lead the offense to one  meager touchdown, which was scored by running back John Cappelletti, but the game was already long over. Dallas went on to win, 37-7, which entitled them to a berth in the Super Bowl against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Day in the City

For Los Angeles, all is calm and all is bright on this December 25, 2014. Sunny blue skies with sweater temperatures from downtown to the Santa Monica Bay. But in the newsprint business, it takes a holiday effort to put out the sports section for Dec. 26, so here we are with LeBron back in Miami, the Lakers visiting the Chicago Bulls and the Clippers playing host to the Upstate Warriors, complete with a tray of chocolate cupcakes to keep everybody in the Santa Claus spirit.
A snoozy night before Christmas gave way to five exciting NBA matchups, the opening day for Santa Anita race track's winter meeting tomorrow, several college football bowl games on Saturday including the Holiday Bowl in San Diego matching  USC against Nebraska, and the final Sunday of the NFL's regular season.
So, with 2015 right around the corner, here are some late-year and New Year predictions in the leagues of television and football:

The Holiday Bowl, USC vs. Nebraska--the Trojans favored by 7 on ESPN. USC, led by quarterback Cody Kessler, have a holiday in San Diego, easily defeating the Huskers, who will be coached next year by Mike Riley, late of Oregon State.

The Alamo Bowl, UCLA vs. Kansas State--the Bruins favored by 1 in San Antonio. A nearly pick 'em game with the victory nod going to the Wildcats.

The Rose Bowl, Florida State vs. Oregon--the Ducks favored by 9 in the first semifinal playoff game. The Seminoles keep their perfect record intact with an upset over Heisman winner Marcus Mariotta and the Eugenees, which will put  Coach Jimbo Fisher in the National Championship game.

The Sugar Bowl, Ohio State vs. Alabama--the Crimson Tide favored by 9 in the second semifinal playoff game. Nick Saban and Urban Meyer meet again in what will be a high-scoring affair ,with Alabama holding on at the end to qualify for the tournament final.

Blackout in L.A.: The Dodgers may have made wholesale changes in their roster for 2015, at least improving their defense, but one problem area that hasn't been resolved, so far,  is the TV dispute between the team's cable distributor Time Warner and Direct TV. The general feeling from L.A. fans is that they expect another season to start and play through to the end without the games being shown on other outlets besides Time Warner.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Remembering Don Paul and the Rams Horn

There it was this morning on the obituary page, a paid announcement for a football player who was a star  at UCLA and later with the Los Angeles Rams. A quick check of the Internet showed  that no newspaper obits had been written on Don Paul, who died on November 8 in Woodland Hills at age 89 of what appears to be complications from Alzheimer's,  but he certainly would have deserved a write-up.
Paul was an All-Pro linebacker for the Rams, a third-round draft choice in 1947 who had a stellar eight-year career in the NFL. At UCLA, he is the only player in Bruins football history to be elected team captain as a freshman.
He was a prominent member of the Rams' 1951 championship team that beat Otto Graham's Cleveland Browns, a stalwart on defense that earned him the reputation as one of the fiercest players in the league.


add Paul: After his football career was over Paul became a football broadcaster for CBS,  and also the owner of two restaurants in Los Angeles. The most well-known was the Rams Horn in Encino on Ventura Boulevard  in the San Fernando Valley. The Rams Horn's marquee was the figure of a noble Ram that at night shown over the sidewalk in gold light along with such other well-known eateries as the Smoke House, Monty's and Pucci's, the latter owned by Len and Mike Pucci, who also played in the NFL.  The Rams Horn was well supported by Valley patrons and Paul's Rams teammates.


add Encino restaurants: A visit this past Saturday morning to DuPar's, the new arrival next to Walgreen's drugstore, was a treat, especially for a lover of pancakes. The menu's No. 2 Blue Plate Special, which includes two pancakes and one egg with bacon or sausage links, was a hit. DuPar's had returned to a Ventura boulevard location a couple weeks ago, taking over the old space that was vacated by John O'Groat's. The menu features ample breakfast and luncheon selections and almost all the tables were filled at 9:30 a.m. A survey of the dining room also showed a remodeling of the restaurant's bar and spacious banquet room.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Familiar Name Returns to Encino

The old space on Ventura Blvd. that was occupied by John O'Groat's for the last few years until the restaurant went out of business this summer will be replaced by DuPar's beginning the first week of November. John O'Groat's, which was rumored to close its doors because of a steep hike in its lease, was mostly known for breakfast and lunch menus, plus its outdoor seating under some splendid Oak trees.
O'Groat's also had a cozy bar that included two large televisions and a banquet room.


add Du Par's: The coffee shop's original location in Encino was at the corner of Petit and Ventura, now the home of Jerry's Deli. It will be interesting to see if it employs the bar in its home or sticks with the comfort food menu that was O'Groat's main attraction.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Utah Takes Big Step in Pac-12

Utah's three-game losing streak to USC ended Saturday night  when the Utes pulled off a 24-21 win in the final seconds in Salt Lake City. It was the Trojans' third loss of the season and their second defeat in Pac-12 play under first-year coach Steve Sarkisian. Utah, which had beaten UCLA at the Rose Bowl earlier this season, used its rough-and-tumble defense to slow down USC's stellar tailback Buck Allen, and pressure quarterback Cody Kessler, who earlier in the week had basked in the attention of fans and media after throwing seven touchdown passes against Colorado.


add Utah: The Utes have a Pac-12 South Division showdown this weekend when they travel to Tempe, Ariz., to play the Arizona State Sun Devils. USC, which has now lost to both Arizona State and Utah, coincidentally on plays at the end of the game, would appear to be out of the race for the conference's South Division championship. With games still to be played against UCLA and Notre Dame, and a road game at Pullman, Wash., against Washington State, the Trojans appear to be set to return to a second-tier bowl game again, such as the Las Vegas Bowl, where they won last season against Fresno State.


add USC: The post-mordem commentary on the radio after the Trojans loss to Utah centered around the offensive play calling, a familiar discussion when Lane Kiffin coached at USC. Both Kiffin and Sarkisian were assistants under Pete Carroll as offensive coordinators. At Washington, Sarkisian's record was barely above .500 while Kiffin's tenure as a head coach with the Oakland Raiders, at Tennessee and USC, is checkered at best.

Bumgarner Stealing Kershaw's Cy Spotlight

After watching Madison Bumgarner dominate the Kansas City Royals in Game 5 of the World Series Sunday night, the talk of who should win the National League's Cy Young award should shift  dramatically from Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers to the San Francisco Giants' ace left-hander.
Even when Kershaw had lost two games to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL's Division Series earlier this month, the 20-game winner nearly had the prestigious award locked up.
But now that Bumgarner is 4-0 in the postseason and on a team that is one win away from its third world championship in five years, many in baseball  are calling  his performance Sunday one of the best in World Series history.


add World Series: Of the four California teams that had a chance  of making it to the World Series this season, the Giants were probably the least likely team to make the Fall Classic,  behind the Dodgers, the Angels and the Athletics, given the fact that they lost six straight games at the end of the regular season and had to play at Pittsburgh to qualify as the league's Wild Card entry. But Bumgarner beat the Pirates to put the Giants in the NLDS against Washington.


last add World Series: It wouldn't be out of line to think about the Giants as starting a dynasty, at least in the National League. If they win one of the next two games in Kansas City, the championship will be their third in five years. No team has done that since the mid-1940s when it was accomplished by the St. Louis Cardinals. And the splashy debut of second baseman Joe Panik on baseball's biggest stage shows how well-developed San Francisco's minor league system is.