Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Panthers' Super Bowl

After watching them this season it seems like 10,000 years ago that the Carolina Panthers were in the Super Bowl. But I went back and checked the calendar and, yep, it was just four years ago that the Panthers lost to the New England Patriots 32-29 in the most exciting Super Bowl ever played.

How good was that game?

-- The two teams combined for five touchdowns and 37 total points in the fourth quarter. (The Panthers scored 19 points in the quarter; this past season they averaged just under 17 points a game.)

-- Jake Delhomme's 85-yard touchdown pass to Muhsin Muhammad was the longest play from scrimmage in Super Bowl history.

-- The Patriots' Adam Vinatieri kicked a field goal with 4 seconds left for the win.

-- Oh yeah, and Janet Jackson flashed her breast to the entire civilized world.

That was also the first and only Super Bowl I've been to -- the Observer sent, I'm making a rough guess here, 175 people to Houston to cover the game.

Three quick stories.

Story #1: I think I might have told this one in the paper before... So many media people come to the Super Bowl that there's no way to fit them all in the press box, so they turn a couple sections of stands in the upper level to media overflow. That's where my seat was. So I'm there an hour or so before the game, and another media guy scoots by me on the way to his seat, and a couple of minutes later I look down the row and notice that the guy is standing and gesturing. Apparently somebody is sitting in his seat.

They argue about it for a little while, pulling out their credentials and checking section numbers and so forth, and finally this bent-over old man gets up out of the seat and heads away from me and down the aisle. He totters down the steps -- his seat is God knows where -- and I can't help but feel sorry for the poor guy just trying to find his seat and cover the game. Then he turns his head and I can see his face.

It's Andy Rooney.

Did you ever notice that people don't like it when you sit in their seat at the Super Bowl?

Story #2: The great untold story of the Janet Jackson Wardrobe Malfunction is this: Most of us inside the stadium had no clue.

A lot of the fans were at the concession stands. A lot of the media people had their heads in their laptops. And a lot of the people watching the halftime show were looking at the field from hundreds of yards away; from there, Janet J. and Justin Timberlake were about the size of beetles. Nobody in my section had any idea that a live nude breast had appeared right in front of us.

Then, about 10 seconds after it happened, everybody's cell phone started ringing. And you could hear 70,000 people having the same conversation:

"Hello? See what? Her WHAT?"

Story #3: I wrote from Houston that whole week but had one last story that never got published.

You know how, seconds after every big sporting event, people at the scene are walking around with newspapers that say "RED SOX WIN" or something like that? Those pages are made up in advance -- they're not entire newspapers, just a front page -- and the hometown papers of both teams have them ready to go in case their team wins. It's great publicity for the paper and a cool souvenir for the fans.

The Observer had done up a front page that had a giant headline, a big photo and what we call a copy block -- just a few paragraphs under the photo. I had written the copy block -- which had to celebrate the Panthers' win without being able to describe any actual details of the game.

If I remember right, we had 10,000 of those ready to pass around the stadium if the Panthers won. I guess they got mulched. I still have one somewhere -- the front page that never got published. If I can dig it out I'll post it here sometime.

I don't know if this year's Patriots are the best team of all time, but they're going to win the Super Bowl -- they have the best players AND the best coach, and that's a rare combination. I can guarantee only one thing. It won't be as exciting as the Pats-Panthers Super Bowl. Not even if Tom Petty flashes a breast.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A Kays Gary moment

(FYI: I'll have a bonus post or two on the S.C. primaries today on the Primary Source blog... a little something on yard signs and maybe an early take on the pre-debate prep at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.)

On Wednesday I stopped in the fishing village of Little River, S.C., to talk to folks about the South Carolina primaries. I got out of my car and walked down to the docks and an older guy waved me over. His name is Tommy Long and he's the unofficial mayor of Little River (there's a little more about that in my column today).

I told Tommy that I work for the Charlotte newspaper and his eyes lit up. "I know a man from the Charlotte newspaper!" he said. "You ever hear of Kays Gary?"

Have I ever.

So many people in Charlotte are newcomers that most of you probably haven't heard of Kays. He was simply the best columnist in the history of the Charlotte Observer.

Kays wrote columns for the Observer from 1956 until he retired in 1986. Along the way he quit three times but he couldn't stay away -- he even wrote occasional columns from his place on the coast for years after he retired. He was so popular and so generous that people literally lined up in front of his desk every morning to talk to him. He died in 1997, leaving a connection with readers that none of us who have done the job since him could match.

The best compliment I get is "You remind me of Kays Gary." The comment that stings the most is "You'll never be as good as Kays Gary."

It turned out that Kays had come to Little River some 50 years ago to do a story and ran into Tommy Long. Tommy never forgot.

I wish I could link to a bunch of Kays' columns but there's not much on the Web. Last year, though, we reprinted his column on Dorothy Counts, the girl who helped integrate the Charlotte schools in 1957. It's his best-known column and an amazing piece of deadline poetry. Check it out.

Because of the Web I guess you could say all newspapers are global now -- who knows, you might be reading this in Beijing. But in print we (and most other large newspapers) have cut back our reach. I'm sure this makes business sense. But it used to be nice to know that you could find an Observer box in every mountain holler and every outpost on the Outer Banks. And over the years, Kays traveled to just about all those places chasing down stories.

Which is all a way of saying I wasn't surprised that a random guy in a tiny fishing village on the S.C. coast would say he used to know Kays Gary.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Resolutions the Seinfeld way

I've never been good at New Year's resolutions. Every year in my teens and 20s I made a resolution to dunk a basketball. Even back then I had the hops of a Galapagos turtle. And I didn't exactly acquire more hang time as I got older. So that resolution is pretty much dead unless I buy one of those Fisher-Price goals.

This year I approached the resolution thing a different way. Here are my three resolutions for 2008:

1. Exercise 30 minutes every day.
2. Eat healthy every day.
3. Write at least 500 words every day.

You notice the common thread of "every day." I used to have resolutions like "write a novel" or "run a 10K," but those are long-term goals and easy (at least for me) to give up on somewhere around, let's say, the second day of January. This year I'm going to try to accumulate small changes over time and hope they turn into something big. Sort of like throwing a few bucks every week into an IRA.

The way I'm keeping track is through a Seinfeld chain, which (if the story's true) comes from the way Jerry Seinfeld puts together his material. Every day that he writes something, he marks it on a calendar. Eventually the marks make a chain. And then the goal is not to break the chain.

This isn't an original idea, of course, but it's simple and effective -- if you don't break the chain, you're almost guaranteed to succeed at your larger goals. (A free printable Seinfeld chain is here -- make sure to get the leap-year version for '08.)

So what are your resolutions? And if you've actually kept any over the years, how'd you do it? Educate us in the comments.