Harsh Lenten Policy Self-Imposed on Big Ern

Pope John Paul II gives US President George W. Bush a lesson on "Sacrifice". (Source: Reuters through U.K.'s "The Telegraph")

Happy Fat Tuesday everyone!  Today is the one day every year when we are supposed to selfishly eat like pigs.  I thought I picked a good picture.  Sorry I couldn’t make it any bigger.
Anyway, tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and Big Ern has imposed some strict guidelines on himself for the upcoming season of Lent.  Here we go:
1) No beer (except for New Orleans trip March 15-18).  In fact, New Orleans will act as a “Safe Harbour” or “Free Parking” for this entire policy. 
2) No dessert (please see attached “New Orleans Provision”).
Examples of “dessert” – cake, more than two cookies in one sitting, donut, pastry, banana bread, apple bread, walnut bread, brownie.
Please note that a “dessert” is NOT a “snack”. 
Examples of “snack” – less than or equal to two cookies in one sitting, candy, fruit snacks

Super Bowl Correction/Note

Correction: Still haven’t quite put Super Bowl XLVI to bed yet.  I do have to correct a point made in my January 26 post “Game On: Super Bowl XLVI the Rematch of All Rematches”.  I wrote that the famous David Tyree catch in February 2008’s Super Bowl XLII was made on fourth down and long for the Giants.  I insinuated that if either Eli Manning was sacked or if Tyree did not make the catch, that New England would have taken possession of the ball and won that Super Bowl.  That, after further review thanks to both NBC Sports and my friend Brian Brickley, is not the case.  That famous Tyree reception in fact occurred on third down.  If that offensive play had been unsuccessful, the Giants would have been granted one more opportunity to convert a first down. 

Note: The 2011 New York Giants are the first team in NFL history to win the world championship while being outscored by their opponents in aggregate over the course of the regular season and postseason.  Will that ever happen again?  I’d like to hear some of your responses to that question.

Old-Time Hockey Alive at Merrimack

Spent an evening of college hockey last night at the J. Thom Lawler Arena at Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts.  The small Catholic college north of Boston has been competing at the Division One hockey level for twenty-seven years after dominating Division Two into the early 1980’s.  Merrimack is named after the river that flows nearby its quaint campus toward the famous textile city of Lowell and further North into New Hampshire.  Last night, the nationally ranked Merrimack Warriors hosted their Hockey East conference rivals and my alma mater – Boston College.

Last night was the twentieth home game of the season at J. Thom Lawler Arena – the nineteenth sellout and my first ever appearance.  When you arrive at Merrimack for hockey, you become immersed within an environment akin to a big high school sports event.  The Merrimack fans file into the arena wearing trademark blue and yellow scarves.  My buddy who accompanied me (a Merrimack alum) remarked that he wanted a scarf.  Instead he settled for a yellow Merrimack tee-shirt for his five-year-old son. 

When you go to a hockey game at Merrimack, you want to get there a little early.  I think we found the last parking spot on campus.  When we walked into Lawler Arena, we discovered that our seats were general admission, which meant basically that anything goes in our section, sort of like Southwest Airlines.  The security guard informed us that there weren’t two seats together anymore.  So we went to the other side of the stadium and stole someone else’s seats.  We’ll get there earlier next time.

Right after the faceoff, it doesn’t take long to realize that you are in a scene reminiscent of those old Canadian amateur hockey movies from the eighties.  You know, the movies with the next young teenage star who is in love with the coach’s daughter?  They even had the eighties musical soundtrack to go along with the whole event.  I think I heard at least four of Bon Jovi’s classics. 

Anyway, at Merrimack you are right on top of the action.  The Eagles and the Warriors displayed some chippiness toward one another early on.  As a spectator, you also quickly observe that the roof is not that high.  I counted five occasions throughout the contest when the puck hit the roof, stopping play immediately.  I didn’t realize this was possible in Division One college hockey.  For some of the minor limitations of Lawler, the arena presents an intimate, old-school setting for New England hockey.  Toward the end of the game, the announcer revealed the sellout attendance of about 2,900.  While Merrimack is the smallest program in all of Division One hockey, their loyal fans are truly passionate.  They deserve major kudos for competing with the big dogs from the likes of BC, BU, Maine, and New Hampshire.  Last season, the Warriors qualified for the NCAA Championship Tournament for the first time since 1988.  They have another winning record this year.

Last night’s game was tied a goal apiece into the final period with the Warriors and Eagles battling toe to toe.  BC broke the draw in the third period, leaving Merrimack with a daunty task in the closing minutes.  A timeout whistle sounded with the Warriors trailing 2-1 with less than a minute remaining.  It was at this point, that their loyal fans rose to their feet to salute their team for a hard night’s work and to provide the squad with one final boost of energy for the closing stanza.  Merrimack had a clean look at the net with three seconds left.  The shot skidded off course and the Eagles escaped North Andover with a narrow victory. 

As my buddy and I left the arena, we could hear the chatter about the Warriors’ upcoming home game – Friday night’s discounted “Family Night” matchup against UMass-Lowell.  As for BC and Merrimack, will these two conference rivals (the perennial national champion with the 900-win coach and the upstart suburban gritty trailblazers) meet again in the Hockey East Tournament or even better – the NCAA Tourney?  I for one would like to see another meeting in 2011-12.  If you want to see some old-time northeast hockey for a reasonable price in a unique family-style atmosphere, take a ride up Route 114 West to Merrimack.  Just remember – get there early!


True Team Player Hangs Up the Cleats


Tim Wakefield (Source: Associated Press)

 My first Tim Wakefield baseball card is from 1992.  It reads: Tim Wakefield – Third Base – Pittsburgh Pirates. Twenty years ago, no one around these parts had any conception that the lanky National League utility infielder would go on to become one of baseball’s most well-known starting pitchers for an entire generation.  We in New England, of course, were the spoiled ones.  I was a sophomore in high school in the spring of 1995 when Tim Wakefield joined a Red Sox pitching staff featuring “Rocket” Roger Clemens and Erik Hansen.

Sure, we all knew who Wakefield was.  He got the call up to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1992 as a third basemen.  Pirates manager Jimmy Leyland; with nowhere to fit the young prospect within a talented infield of Jay Bell, Jeff King, and Orlando Merced; tossed the kid into the bullpen to give his pitching staff some help.  After the All-Star Break, Wakefield emerged within the Pittsburgh starting rotation, with a trademark pitch – the Knuckleball. 

The Knuckleball requires capitalization because while other righthanded hurlers have tossed the pitch throughout the history of Major League Baseball, no one has ever been able to do so with the command and effectiveness of Tim Wakefield.  The Knuckleball began to dominate National League hitters, helping to propel young Barry Bonds and the Pirates to the NL East title. 

Tim Wakefield hit center stage in the 1992 National League Championship Series when the Pirates challenged the defending pennant winners – the Atlanta Braves.   Wakefield took the mound twice in the thrilling seven-game series (once in Game 3 in Pittsburgh and again in a do-or-die Game 6 in Atlanta – home of “The Tomahawk Chop”).  Twice in the series, Tim Wakefield defeated Cy Young Award-winning lefthander Tommy Glavine (from Billerica, Massachusetts).  Twice in the series, Wakefield went the distance, hurling all nine innings to lead the Pirates to victory.  But, the rookie sensation’s postseason heroics vanished into temporary obscurity following Game 7 of the series – a dramatic Atlanta victory, highlighted by Francisco Cabrera’s (the last man on the Braves bench) ninth-inning, two-run, game-winning and pennant-winning single.  Can still hear former Red Sox commentator Sean McDonough on the call for the national CBS telecast as Braves veteran Sid Bream stumbled across home plate just in the nick of time.  

Somehow, Pittsburgh allowed their young Knuckleballer to escape to Boston.  By June of 1995, American League sluggers were falling prey to the wizardry of Wakefield.  I was on a school trip in London and telephone minutes with my parents were hard to come by.  But I do remember my Dad reporting, “No one can touch Wakefield.”  A New England sports legend was born.

Wakefield tore off a summer winning streak in 1995 and, like the Pirates three years earlier, now the Red Sox had won their division.  As the nineties concluded, Wakefield went on to star on other Red Sox playoff teams in 1998 and 1999.  It was well known all throughout the American League that if the Knuckleball was “dancing” (as I once heard Derek Jeter describe it), then Wakefield could be virtually unstoppable. 

During the 2009 season, Wakefield tossed possibly his greatest game ever.  It was a late afternoon game in Oakland.  I was sitting in my office at work when the phone rang.  “Hey, Wakefield’s perfect through seven,” said my buddy.  I think this was the day when I realized just how close the City of Boston had grown to the Knuckleballer.  A large percentage of my company gathered in an office with a TV to watch Wakefield devour Oakland hitters in the eighth inning, allowing I think one baserunner in the process.  By the bottom of the ninth, Athletics fans in Oakland were on their feet cheering for the Red Sox veteran and my colleagues (not all baseball fans) and I were getting pretty loud in anticipation of a potential no-hitter as well.  Wakefield surrendered a hit in the ninth inning, but everyone cheered nonetheless.  They cheered for effort and dedication to a team, sport, and community – all the virtues that Tim Wakefield stood for during his seventeen years in Boston.

The days were not always glorious for Tim Wakefield.  He was the last man left to pitch in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series (ALCS) between the Red Sox and Yankees in the Bronx.  Aaron Boone’s eleventh-inning home run off Wakefield sent the Yankees to the World Series.  New York manager Joe Torre once recalled that in the mass of Yankees celebrating the pennant, he could see a gray uniform out of the corner of his eye – Tim Wakefield standing on the mound trying to figure out what had happened.  Talk about leaving everything out on the field.

Then in 2004, once again engrossed in another Red Sox-Yankees postseason battle for the AL Pennant, Tim Wakefield was called upon by Boston manager Terry Francona to pitch meaningless innings in a Game 3 blowout Red Sox loss so that the other younger pitchers could be more rested for the remainder of the series.  It was a tough pill to swallow, but it worked.  Over several of the previous 86 seasons (ALL ending without a Red Sox world championship) leading up to that point, perhaps the Red Sox didn’t have players willing to make those types of sacrifices.  Tim Wakefield took the mound in relief again in Game 5, this time pitching critical innings in a Red Sox extra-inning victory.  We all know the story – the Red Sox went on to win the pennant in dramatic fashion and then sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.  But let there be no mistake, the Red Sox would not have broken the “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004 without the postseason contributions of Tim Wakefield. 

Wakefield was part of another Red Sox World Championship edition in 2007 and pitched for Boston playoff teams in 2008 and 2009.  In 2011, he won his 200th game in the major leagues.  Tim Wakefield is one of the leading celebrity figures in the New England area when it comes to pitching in for charity.  It has often been told to me within the  financial sector, that if you go to enough charity events, that you will eventually meet a very personable Tim Wakefield.  

Whether or not I can get a ticket to Fenway for the event, I look forward to that home date on the 2012 schedule when Tim Wakefield’s number 49 is raised into Red Sox immortality with Ted Williams, Joe Cronin, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky, Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk, and Jim Rice.  Wakefield would be the first Red Sox pitcher to have his number retired.  While Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Jim Lomborg, and Luis Tiant were all superior Red Sox pitchers in terms of numbers, has there ever been a pitcher more loyal to Red Sox Nation than Tim Wakefield?

A Math Moment – The Perfect Number

All right Math Fans (you know who you are): Who knows what a Perfect Number is? Through all of the calculus, business calculus, statistics, etc, I had never heard of the Perfect Number.  It took me until today’s arrival upon page 30 of the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s novel The Girl Who Played With Fire to discover the Perfect Number.  At that is the introduction to ErnBlog’s premiere edition of:

A Math Moment:

The Perfect Number

A Perfect Number (P) is any positive whole number in which all of that number’s positive whole number divisors can be added up, and then divided by 2 in order to equal itself.

For example, 6 is the first Perfect Number starting from the left on the positive number line.  That is because the positive divisors of 6 are 1, 2, 3, and 6.  If you add those divisors up, you get a sum of 12.  Then, if you divide 12 by 2, the result (or quotient) is 6.  That is why 6 is a Perfect Number.

Pierre de Fermat (source: wikipedia.org)

Pierre de Fermat figured this stuff out in seventeeth century France.  Fermat was an attorney who fluently spoke six languages, but he liked to do math for fun.  He is thought to be the first known person to take the integral of a power function.  Now I don’t want to bore anyone, but without that step, there would have been no way that Sir Isaac Newton (genius born on January 4th), would have ever discovered calculus. 

The Perfect Number concept sounds easy, huh?  So who knows what the next Perfect Number is?

Pats Fans Have Been Spoiled

How good were the 2011 AFC Champion New England Patriots?  Well, let’s put it this way: when a colleague told me this morning that her favorite Patriots player had a good game in Super Bowl XLVI, it took me sixteen guesses before I could identify tight end Aaron Hernandez, who scored a second half TOUCHDOWN for New England on Sunday night.

I guess when your team has been to five Super Bowls over an eleven-year span, you don’t have much to complain about.

Notable Facts from Super Bowl XLVI

– With their victory in Super Bowl XLVI, the New York Giants have won their fourth Vince Lombardi Trophy.  The teams that have won the most Super Bowls are:

         Pittsburgh Steelers      6

         San Francisco 49ers   5

         Dallas Cowboys           5

         Green Bay Packers      4

         New York Giants          4

– Tom Brady completed 16 straight passes in Super Bowl XLVI – a Super Bowl record.  Joe Montana was the previous recordholder with 13 consecutive completions in the 49ers 55-10 decimation of Denver in Super Bowl XXIV.

– Tom Brady engineered a 96-yard drive (98 yards if you include a false start at the New England 4-yard line) in Super Bowl XLVI, resulting in a touchdown pass to running back Danny Woodhead.  The 96-yard drive ties a Super Bowl record with Peyton Manning in Super Bowl XLIV (also a loss) and Jim McMahon of the 1985 Chicago Bears, who routed the Patriots in Super Bowl XX.

– I’m still waiting for Madonna to sing “Material Girl”.  Might have to go to the concert for that.


Big Ern Salutes Tom Coughlin

Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick (source: cnnsi.com)

Congratulations to Tom Coughlin for winning his second Super Bowl on Sunday night.  Coughlin, during his career with the Giants, has endured perhaps the toughest media spotlight in sports history.  In 2007, the New York media was calling for his head mid-season, shortly before his Giants rallied to qualify for the postseason and eventually win Super Bowl XLII.  Surely enough, similar squaking began early this season after New York lost its first game to the Redskins and continued throughout much of the campaign.

Tom Coughlin is a great coach.  His legacy began in 1986 when he was part of the offensive coaching staff of Bill Parcells’ World Champion Giants with QB Phil Simms (who sucks as a commentator) and tight end Mark Bavaro (from St. John’s Prep in Danvers, MA).

By the early 1990’s, Coughlin made his way to the head coaching ranks in Chestnut Hill, MA at my alma mater – Boston College.  The penultimate regular season game of the 1993 BC season still remains one of the most memorable events in the history of college football.  The Eagles visited rival Notre Dame in late November.  The Irish were undefeated and had just earned the top ranking in the nation with their previous week’s home victory over then top-ranked Florida State.

I will never forget where I was and what I was doing that late-November afternoon in 1993.  I was a freshman at Peabody High School – a football program with its own storied tradition.  In fact, the Tanners (our nickname) were ranked near the very top of The Boston Globe standings and were awaiting their own Super Bowl to be played at Boston University against St. John’s Prep. On this autumn Saturday afternoon, I was playing flag football at the park near my house with my brother Eric and the four famous neighorhood LeFave Brothers.

We showed up at my parents’ house during the second quarter of the BC-Notre Dame game with the Eagles surprisingly leading the nation’s number one program.  These 1993 Eagles were a very good edition, featuring QB Glenn Foley, tight end Pete Mitchell, and linebacker Mike Mamula (all of which had successful NFL careers). In the fourth quarter in South Bend, the Irish rallied back and eventually took the lead in the closing minutes of the game.

That is when Foley (who it turns out had one of the same finance professors as me) led the Eagles, who were trailing by 2, down the field on one last miracle drive. The drive stalled at around the Irish 30-yard line, when Eagles placekicker David Gordon was called upon to attempt the longest field goal of his career. The memory for any BC fan is of slow-motion variety.  Upon leaving Gordon’s foot, the ball never got very high and seemed to float.  I remember hearing my Dad say, “That’s not going to make it.” But the fall seemed to freeze on our television screen.  I still have this game on VHS tape.  The pigskin had just enough float to sail over between the uprights and over the goalpost as time expired.  Gordon, in his white jersey and gold pants, jumped for joy among the exalted mass of celebrating Eagles, including their coach – Tom Coughlin. BC won the game, 41-39 and basically ruined Notre Dame’s season. The Irish were awarded a national title rematch with Florida State, which Notre Dame lost on New Year’s Day.

In his NFL head coaching career, Coughlin led the Jacksonville Jaguars to the playoffs in only that franchise’s second year of existence.  In that 1996 postseason, the Jaguars upset the top-seeded Denver Broncos at Mile High in the divisional round.  Then the Jaguars played the Patriots tough in an AFC Championship Game loss at Foxboro.  Three years later, Coughlin guided the Jaguars (behind QB Mark Brunell – a star from the University of Washington) to a 14-2 record and the top AFC playoff seed.  Those Jaguars ran into the Steve McNair miracle Tennessee Titans, who defeated Jacksonville for the AFC title.

Coughlin’s career in The Big Apple has actually been mostly rocky.  However, like the Marine that he is, he has persevered in difficult moments. It is unfortunate that the memory of a player or coach is so often determined by his (or her) performance on the biggest stage. However, in this case, Tom Coughlin’s second Lombardi Trophy should refocus his critics on the 25-plus years of his coaching excellence and cement his enshinement in the Hall of Fame.