High School Football in the Age of Post-Game Praying

A time portal opened and handed me this column from the future, dated November 1, 2022:

Now that high school football season is winding down, it’s time to reflect on the new and unusual action on the field after games ended. This was the first season under the Supreme Court’s blessing of post-game prayer festivals, and our Friday night tradition has inaugurated a wide variety of holy parades.

There was no question that on the first game of the season Christian evangelicals would present an over-the-top display of religious piety. But since all religions are created “equal,” it didn’t take long for other religious traditions to claim their part in the court-sanctioned prayer festival.

It started with a high school on a Wisconsin Indian reservation, where the coach and players play drums and burn herbs in a traditional Native ceremony.

The following week a Muslim coach in Dearborn, Michigan arranged to end games with a Call to Prayer, and many of the coaches and players unfurl their prayer rugs and bow toward Mecca.

A school on a South Dakota reservation now ends games with a pipe circle. Meanwhile in south Florida, a Rastafarian coach has pipe circles of his own. The team doesn’t win many games, since it’s mainly a group of stoners who quickly adopted Rastafarianism once they joined the team.

But when it comes to making a circus out of post-game “ceremonies”, there’s no out-staging California. In Orange County, an assistant coach organized a Satanic ritual, based on having signed up to Satanism as a joke while in college.

In Marin County, a coach legally filed paperwork to create a religion that worships the music of Jerry Garcia. After games, a life-sized “Jerry Bear” is placed at the center of the field. The sound system plays a random Grateful Dead song while coaches, players and cheerleaders spin-dance on the field.

A school in Santa Monica developed a ritual that incorporates elements of Buddhism, Scientology, and New Age spirituality. It mainly involved participants sitting in a circle and humming “Ohm”.

Every case of post-game “praying” seemed to originate from a tiny fraction of the local population: a small but organized group seizing the opportunity to evangelize at a large public event, courtesy of the US Supreme Court.

Everyone else was there to watch local kids play football, and they’re finding the post-game circus tiresome. A cherished community institution has become an extension of somebody’s church. Those who don’t belong to the church feel less of a part of the community, and they are hurt by that.

Attendance at games plummeted. The only remaining spectators are parents of the players, and those who don’t join the post-game ceremony quickly flee the stadium at the closing whistle.

Everybody seems to blame evangelicals and their Republican allies for ruining their Friday night football traditions. The only question is whether their disgust will be expressed at the ballot box in a few days.

The Day I Almost Met Bart Starr

It was sometime in the spring of 1977. I was a recent college drop-out just settling in to what became a year of blue-collar work making candles at a factory in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and I had gone up the road to Appleton to visit my friend Steve, a recent graduate applying his education to work in a paper mill.

On this weekend visit, we were hanging out with couple of Steve’s friends, tooling around in an old topless jeep. One of them had been invited to a wedding reception in Green Bay (another half-hour up the road). Having nothing better to do, we all tagged along.

We found ourselves arriving at a place called (something like) the Green Bay Golf and Polo Club. We drove into a parking lot full of large and shiny cars with an open space right by the door. The surreal nature of the evening was just beginning with the hippies in the jeep getting the best parking space in this swanky lot. We hopped out and went in.

I should note that Steve and I were dressed for a Saturday of drinking and partying with the guys… our t-shirts and jeans stood out in the sea of fine suits and dresses. We found ourselves crashing a party of one-percenters and discreetly helped ourselves to the open bar and tasty finger-food (I remember the breaded mushrooms, a treat that I had not yet experienced).

In the midst of this posh swankiness, I turned to Steve in amazement at the kind of crowd we had found ourselves in. Trying to come up with an example of the pinnacle of the elite, I said, “I’ll bet the mayor of Green Bay is here.”

A few minutes later, I noticed an excited conversation among the other three guys in my group, and Steve turned to me and said, “Bart Starr is here.” This was less than ten years after the Ice Bowl, and the fond memories of his playing days were fresh in everyone’s minds. In fact, this was at the dawn of his time as Packers coach. So forget about the “mayor of Green Bay” being there. There was no bigger name in Green Bay (and arguably in the entire state of Wisconsin) than Bart Starr.

We slithered out of our discreet corner to see if we could spot him. While wandering about, we saw the bride and groom in another room. They looked over and noticed us before the bride turned to her new husband (Steve later said, “I could read her lips”) and asked, “Who ARE those two guys?” We retreated to our corner.

It didn’t take long for a bouncer to show up. He could’ve been one of Bart’s linemen. He was an “older” guy who towered over both of us as he politely explained that this was a private party and that we would have to leave. We huddled with our other friends (who WERE invited) to arrange to meet up later.

We ended up spending the rest of the night nursing beers in a nearby working-class bar, processing our glimpse into a world that had been unknown to us, and the lost opportunity to stand close to one of our heroes.

The Limo – Bikepacking on a Tandem Recumbent

bikepacking: backpacking by bicycle; traveling long distances by carrying overnight gear and camping along the way.

As long as RoZ and I have known each other, we’ve wanted to go bikepacking. Since we moved to La Crosse, Wisconsin in the mid-90’s, we’ve had easy access to a premier network of bike trails. Most are part of the “rails to trails” movement: reclaimed rail beds with gentle grades far from highways and traffic. With plenty of places to camp, our part of the world is made for bikepacking. Read on

NCAA – The Farm System for the NBA and NFL

While we’re in the season of watching college students play basketball, it’s time to consider how much of this multi-billion-dollar business is shared with the players themselves.

Major universities each collect millions of dollars from their football and men’s basketball teams (at some schools, hockey and/or women’s basketball are also big money-makers). The cash comes not only from ticket sales, but from lucrative TV broadcast deals and merchandising. Jerseys are sold with players’ names on them, promotional materials with players’ likenesses are published, yet these players aren’t paid a cent.

The NCAA gets rich off the myth of the “student athlete.” But a serious student who happens to be on The Team is likely to graduate with lower grades than a similar student who’s not on The Team. Many other “students” are shepherded thru a program of easy courses designed to keep star athletes “eligible.” Some drop out of school early to grab lucrative contracts in the NBA or the NFL. It’s all a charade.

I have a better idea: Let the college conferences function like the minor leagues in baseball. Let the players put their full concentration into being elite players by not forcing them to go to school at the same time. Pay the players a modest salary and let them make money from merchandising their names and likenesses. Set up a system to keep the pay rates fair and equitable, and have it subsidized by the professional leagues who benefit from this player development system.

Then, for each year a player participates in this manner, he or she is guaranteed a year of full scholarship at the host university, to be redeemed at the time of the athlete’s choosing. So after the athletic career is over, an athlete can focus on getting the education needed to set up the next phase of his/her life.

The recruiter’s big promise to a star high-school athlete: play for our school and you’ll get a world-class education. It doesn’t work that way when the kid is asked to do both at once. Let them make a modest living focussing on their athletics, so they can concentrate on being the best students they can be when their lives in sports wind down.

Windstorm Closes Bike Trail

We had plans to spend the weekend bikepacking overnight from La Crosse to Sparta and back (30 miles each way, camping in Sparta). The weather forecast looked good… the muggy upper 90’s would give way to dry air in the mid 80’s, with little wind. But it’s always the transition from hot to not-so-hot that creates trouble.

Friday night (July 1) a strong wind blew through the house before we could get windows closed. Fridge magnets and the stuff under them were blown all over the kitchen. A large crystal was blown off a window sill. We later learned our area had experienced winds up to 80 mph. It started hard and suddenly, then died down after a few minutes. It started to feel like deja vu from the tornado we had in May, and it lasted about the same amount of time.

We finished packing for our ride, and early Saturday afternoon we set out for the edge of town and the state bike trail, oblivious to the situation left behind by the storm. We went about 5 miles and found this…

A downed tree blocks the city bike trail on the north side of La Crosse.

A downed tree blocks the city bike trail on the north side of La Crosse.

We spoke with some people coming from the other direction, they told us that there were lots of trees down blocking the trail, all the way to Sparta. Some were large and others were small. “Too many to count.”

Just to get across that first large tree, we would have had to take the bike trailer off the bike and then find a way to finagle everything over the tree. That’s not so hard on a regular bike, but it’s nearly impossible with a loaded 10-foot bike, plus a loaded 3-foot trailer. If there were just one tree we could probably deal with it, but knowing there were a lot more of them down, we decided to turn around and go home.

Weirdly enough, we didn’t get any rain, just lots of wind and lightning. It did cool everything off though, and that’s a good thing.

RoZ adjusts gear on The Limo after we turned it around at the down tree blocking the city trail on the north side of La Crosse.

RoZ adjusts gear on The Limo after we turned it around at the down tree blocking the city trail on the north side of La Crosse.

Obbie adds: This bike trail is a major connection to La Crosse for users of the state bike trail system. I wonder how long a local highway – or even a minor street – would be allowed to remain impassible due to a downed tree.

Harmon Killebrew – When Baseball Players were Heroes

I grew up about 80 miles from Metropolitan Stadium, which is where the Minnesota Twins played during the 1960s. Our local TV and radio stations played Twins games, so they got more of our attention than the Braves, who played in Milwaukee at the time.

One day we were watching the highlight reel on the six-o’clock sports report, and I saw a grainy film of Harmon Killebrew hitting a home run. But this wasn’t just another home run floating over the fence; it was a line drive that rocketed into the nosebleed seats high above left field. At over 500 feet, it was one of the longest home runs ever hit.

A summer or two later, my mother bought a pack of baseball cards for each of her five kids. My sister’s pack included a Harmon Killebrew card like this one. I don’t remember how I got it from her. I probably stole it. I don’t know where it is any more. I wish I did.

My life as a young baseball fan was all about rooting for Harmon Killebrew to hit home runs, and he did so often enough to hold my interest for several years. Even though a lot of people have hit more home runs than he did, only Babe Ruth exceeds Killebrew in consistency. When he wasn’t hitting home runs, he was hitting doubles off the outfield walls. He didn’t hit many triples… he couldn’t run fast enough. Like Ruth, he struck out a lot, but that’s what happens when you’re swinging for the fences all the time.

In my early teens, a group of friends and I were brought to a Twins’ game by our fathers. There was a chance we’d see Killebrew hit his 500th home run, but we had to settle for a line-drive single. The only home run we saw was a game-winner by Tony Oliva, which barely snuck into the bleachers as it hooked into the right-field corner.

But the highlight of the trip was sitting in the cheap seats on the third-base side, looking to my right to see home plate, and then looking to my left and high up to the vast pavilion in the sky above the left field wall, where all the seats were painted green except for a small cluster in the middle that were painted red. The red seats marked the landing spot of that massive home run, and I could not fathom a ball getting hit that far. The distance looks a lot different when you’re standing there than it does on TV.

The best thing to remember about Harmon Killebrew is that he had massive upper body strength without the need for steroids, and that he played at the top of his game year after year without getting full of himself, trash-talking or taunting. Even when he developed into the older player that Jim Bouton called “the fat kid,” he was a fat kid that pitchers had to take VERY seriously.

It’s too bad that baseball no longer produces the kind of players that kids can revere the way that some of us revered Harmon Killebrew, who became the model for the silhouette of Major League Baseball’s logo, and who was rumored (not true) to be the model for the “Arm and Hammer” logo. Harmon Killebrew represents a baseball era that – sadly – is long gone.

The Green Bay Packers Are Good For America

There’s a viral email going around (at least around Wisconsin) with the same title as this post. It says that the Packers are great because they beat the Bears, so now President Obama won’t be going to the Super Bowl to root for the Bears, thereby saving taxpayers millions of dollars in presidential travel expenses, yadda yadda yadda.

Why is it that, when the president is a Democrat, it’s a big deal whenever he decides to go (or not to go) someplace?

Funny thing, when Bush was emperor, we didn’t see any viral emails rejoicing that the Cowboys weren’t in the Super Bowl (though many of us WOULD find that to be something worthy of rejoicing), and how we’d save millions of dollars by not bringing Bush and his entourage to the Big Game.

That said, here’s the REAL reason the Green Bay Packers Are Good For America:


They are owned by the community as a non-profit. Any money they make goes back to building the team, NOT to stockholders nor to a greedy billionaire owner. They are the only major sports franchise in the country that’s like that.

Now, send THIS to everybody in your address book. 🙂

The Shoddy Stadium Rant

For the second time in its brief history, the roof of the Metrodome collapsed last weekend. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

When designing an indoor football stadium for Minneapolis, one would think the roof should be designed to withstand the weight of a whole bunch of snow. After all, this part of the world is no stranger to big snowstorms, so it’s not hard to anticipate a really huge snowstorm sometime during the life of such an expensive building.

Yes, 16-20 inches (40-50 cm) is a lot of snow, but this is Minneapolis for crying out loud. Whose the engineer that thought it was OK to build a roof in Minneapolis that can’t handle 20 inches of snow? Did they really think it would never happen in the next 50 years? In MINNEAPOLIS?

That’s like assuming it’ll never get to 120 degrees in Phoenix, or that there’ll never be a big hurricane in Miami, or that there’ll never be a tornado in Topeka, or that you can skip the earthquake-proofing in San Francisco. Somebody wasn’t thinking ahead. Or somebody wasn’t thinking, period.

I heard somebody on the radio today call the stadium “old.” I’m sorry, Wrigley Field and Fenway Park are “old”. A stadium that was built 30 years ago is relatively new. There’s something wrong with having kids grow up watching games in a new stadium and not be able to bring their kids to watch games in the same stadium. There is no history or heritage in a crappy stadium built to last only 30 years.

If there is a God, I think It’s telling the Minnesota Vikings that they should play their games outside… y’know, like Real Men. In Wisconsin, we play football outdoors in January, and there’s not a single empty seat at Lambeau Field even though it might be cold enough to freeze hard liquor. Are Minnesota people really a bunch of softies that can’t watch a football game outside if it gets a little cold?

A couple of years ago, we were hanging out with some friends in Minneapolis, having drinks at a bar looking out at the Metrodome. I asked them if  Viking fans hold the same kind of reverence for the Metrodome that we Packer fans hold for Lambeau Field. The emphatic “no” came with no hesitation whatsoever.

Ironically, it’s now called “Mall of America” stadium. It’s named after the monstrosity that now stands on the site of the stadium this one replaced. The “old” stadium, built in the late 50’s.

Am I the only one who thinks it’s insane to build a new stadium every thirty years?

Snowboarding on Ice Shavings

The weather prophets told us that today was going to be the warmest day we’ll see for a while, so we took a walk to check out a new bike/ped bridge in our neighborhood.

Crossing a new bridge for the first time is an odd sensation. It’s like going through a wormhole to a place that previously was very far away.

It also reveals parts of our world that have always been there hidden from view, such as this Mississippi River backwater…

This treehouse was hidden from the street, but it’s now a prominent landmark from the bridge…

At the base of the bridge, we saw pink paint on the pavement with arrows pointing the way to the “rec trail.” We could see a line of pink flags marking the future bike trail, which will go around the back of a local ice arena to connect to an existing trail on the other side.

As we followed the trail, we noticed a snow bank behind the ice arena. It was left there by the zamboni, and it consisted of the ice shavings removed during the latest smoothing of the ice. A couple of resourceful kids from the neighborhood decided to make use of this very early “snow” to build a very short run for their snowboards.

It’s good to see people that age finding creative ways to have fun.