Tuesday, 30 April 2019

JAMES MC CORD: THE GUARDIAN OBITUARY

My obituary of the Watergate burglar James McCord went up on the Guardian online Sunday; you can link to it here. It should be in the paper paper soon. It is pretty much as I wrote it, as I went through it carefully with my editor to try to keep in on point to the Watergate saga and not digress too far into some of the other points of McCord's career. Thus there wasn't room for more detail on the deep background of Watergate, the relationship between Nixon and the CIA, and indeed the formal investigations: what they did and didn't approach and who indeed Deep Throat actually was. I will write more on this later, but after I talk about McCord on BBC Radio4's Last Word later this week.

The link between the Watergate burglary and Dallas is of course the biggest non-Watergate talking point. The placing of McCord in Dallas is double-hearsay, while Howard Hunt of course lost a libel suit when he was publicly named as being there on the 22nd of November 1963.

I should have brought up McCord's first big job with the Special Research Staff, which was cleaning up after the 1953 murder of Frank Olson at the Statler Hotel in Manhattan. Olson had been dosed with LSD a few days earlier in Maryland, as the CIA seemed to be worried he would inform on the 1951 incident in France involving an experiment with drugs--the deaths in the village of Pont Saint Esprit were blamed on rye bread and ergot. This was part of various CIA operations intended to use drugs as instruments of mind control and interrogation, as well as possible weaponisation. McCord helped ensure Church's death would be listed at suicide; the CIA#s MK-ULTRA program would resurface in the alleged brain-washing of Sirhan Sirhan.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

NFL DRAFT: THE CARDINAL CONUNDRUM, or HOW TO MAKE TWO GO INTO PICK ONE

You've been sitting on the first pick in the 2019 draft since the last day of the 2018 season, and with the pick due in the next 24 (or whatever it is as you read this) hours, you haven't figured out what you are going to with it. Or maybe you have.
The Arizona Cardinals appear to me to be hanging on until the last moment, as if waiting for something to come along that will be the classic Offer You Can't Refuse. This could be a viable, indeed successful, strategy. It could also be a classic case of slow-playing a hand and watching everyone fold rather than get sandbagged. Who Blinks First? But be aware I am dusting off my old Channel Five nickname of Crads (half Card, half Crap) for Arizona, just in case.
The point of interest is, of course Kyler Murray, who has been the beneficiary of the classic draft pattern of first building up players based on tape, then down-grading them/going beserk over their Combine measurements/times, then finally spending the last pre-draft month trying to tear them apart once again.Can you remember back to when Dwayne Haskins was the consensus number one and Murray was too small? Before Donald Jones somehow boosted himself by throwing passes in shorts to guys who weren't covered while no one rushed him?
I detailed much of this in my column yesterday, included the way the Cardinals number one pick last year, Josh Rosen, played a season behind a balsa-wood line, with a modest group of receivers and a scheme that thought David Johnson was John Henry Johnson (I changed the reference just to give you something new). That was a big part in getting rookie coach Steve Wilks fired (but not GM Steve Keim, who hired Wilks and made the draft pick and built the team around that pick. Go figure).  Keim then hired Kliff Kingsbury, a noted QB whisperer for probably not much reason. But think about Kingsbury for a moment, and you may realise why his vision might not be as much about whispering in Rosen's ear, as much as rolling out an NFL version of his offense behind Murray.
Kingsbury played QB at Texas Tech in Mike Leach's Air Raid offense, and was good. He was a sixth-round pick by the Pats but spent the Super Bowl 2003 season on IR.  He signed with four other NFL teams, and threw two passes for the J-E-S-T Jets in 2005. The Jets also sent him to NFL Europe, where he sort of split time at QB for Cologne with Shane Boyd. My memory was simply that he lack zip on his throws. He couldn't get any playing time in Canada, with either Montreal or Winnipeg, so he retired and went into coaching.
He was a QB coach at Houston under Kevin Sumlin (Case Keenum). Offensive coordinator under Sumlin at Texas A&M (Johnny Manziel). Head coach (2013-2018) at his alma mater, where his first QB was walk-on freshman Baker Mayfield. When he got hurt, freshman Davis Webb took over. Mayfield transferred to Oklahoma (hello, Heisman) and when he left his replacement was a pro baseball player called Tyler Murray. Hold that thought.
In 2014 Webb gave way to Patrick Mahomes (Vincent Testaverde was their third-stringer)
and after the season transferred to Cal.  Mahomes then had two big seasons before leaving for the NFL, but Tech's overall record in those four years was 23-26. He went 6-7 in 2017 with Nic Shimonek at QB, and 5-7 last year, at which point he was fired. He was hired in December as offensive coordinator at USC, then resigned when NFL teams came calling and was hired by Arizona in January.
Perhaps the Big 12 is tougher to win in than the NFL, but somehow I don't think so. But
looking at that history two things stand out: 1: His most successful QBs were not big pocket passers, although Mahomes could be described as a pocket passer.  Kyler Murray is not a big pocket passer. Josh Rosen pretty much is. And 2: he had Mayfield and went to Webb and had Webb and went to Mahomes. Who does he think he is, Jon Gruden? Keep that thought in mind two.
Finally, one more point about Murray. The best comparison I can think of with Rusell Wilson is that they both played pro baseball while playing college QB. Although Wilson isn't really 5-11; at the Combine he was 5-10 5/8, just enough to round up. But Wilson had four years as a college starter, and I did a few of his Wisconsin games when I did Big 10 for Eurosport. They were a powerful team where NC State wasn't, and he wasn't running for his life. They were a run-first team (Montee Ball and James White, 20 carries for Melvin Gordon) and Wilson was phenomenally efficient (72% completions, 10.3 ypa, 33 TD 4 INT) playing in the pocket.
Yes, small players have some problems with finding passing lanes and seeing over rushers, much worse in the NFL than in college, especially in spread-style college offenses.
Doug Flutie was 5-9, but I think he might be better today than he was in the NFL of the 80s playing for Mike Ditka. Sonny Jurgensen, the evolutionary Philip Rivers, was only 5-11.
Drew Brees (6-0), Michael Vick (6-0) Mayfield (6-1)...need I go on. What's an inch or two between friends?
But Murray will have to adjust like Mayfield did, at least once Freddie Kitchens took over coordinating in Cleveland. Of course, Kingsbury will supposedly design an offense to make things easy for him (do you think Jon Gruden will?)
So Arizona remains on the clock and these are their options.
1. Hold on to the pick and draft Murray. This makes Josh Rosen expendable, unless you've been paying attention and figure Kingsbury will keep both guys until Rosen transfers out to Oklahoma. The problem with the draft poker game, is they have to then figure out how they can maximize Rosen's trade value (which involves waiting) unless it turns out Murray can't beat him out. If he can, Rosen becomes double-damaged goods, and odds are a team craving Rosen won't want to shove him in right away unless they have to—they'd rather groom him and let him decompress after the 2018 debacle. But this scenario means you've spent two straight top picks on QBs, which is like losing two wives to 'accidents'. One is a tragedy.Two looks suspicious. OR
1a. Hold on to the pick and draft the best player out there. In my mind, that would be Quinnen Williams, but D line, especially interior, is not a major need. Their biggest needs can likely be filled lower down the draft, though they might take an edge rusher (with everyone thinking Joey Bosa's going 2 to the Niners, they ought to make some Bosa noises. But they would really be better served by trading down. Since neither the Niners nor Jets are going to take a QB, and there are plenty of edge rushers out there, they may not have any leverage UNLESS they announce don't want Murray. That will start everyone thinking. Can Oakland stay put and still get Murray if Gruden wants him?
So what do they about trading down? Can they do a Bosa feint and swap with the Niners? That probably wouldn't yield as much as they'd like, and the most likely scenario is
2. Trade the pick for someone looking to go up to one for Murray.  Your most likely suspects here would be the Raiders, holding picks 4, 24, 27 and 35. Does Gruden really want Murray? He could bring him along behind David Carr, and Murray on his rookie deal will be cap friendly for a couple of years after that. And he might be able to net a 2 for Carr down the road. It's hard to see the Giants needing Murray, and at 6 they might be able to pick up whoever they do want in the draft, or they could hope Haskins or Jones (if either is the guy, falls to 17). But here's another plan:
3. Trade Rosen now and draft Murray. By now I mean before the pick; not necessarily waiting until they're on the clock and hoping Keim turns into Kevin Kostner. Would the Giants give up 17 for Rosen? Would the Skins give up 15? Or 15 and 46 for Rosen and 65? If Kingsbury likes Murray that much, a one for Rosen would save lots of faces and get them a valuable pick at a need.
4. Draft Murray and trade him: This is really the same scenario as pick 2, except now they know you mean business. Think the Chargers drafting Eli Manning, whose father had told them he wouldn't play in San Diego, then trading him to the Giants for Philip Rivers and a 3rd (PK Nate Kaeding) along with a next year 1st (OLB Shawn Merriman) and 5th (traded to Tampa for OT Roman Oben). That was a pretty good haul for the Chargers, although Kaeding may have been cursed. Maybe Rivers too.
By now my brain is over-heating, and I half expect the Redskins to draft Sonny Jurgensen and the Jest to trade Adam Gase to Arizona. I feel grateful that by Sunday morning this will all be over...
In case you don't subscribe to my Friday Morning Tight End column at Patreon.com, here's a piece I posted (free to public view) last night. You could also check out an analysis from the previous day, of how quarterbacks disrupt the draft...

You've been sitting on the first pick in the 2019 draft since the last day of the 2018 season, and with the pick due in the next 24 (or whatever it is as you read this) hours, you haven't figured out what you are going to with it. Or maybe you have. Maybe you're the Arizona Cardinals.

The Arizona Cardinals appear to me to be hanging on until the last moment, as if waiting for something to come along that will be the classic Offer You Can't Refuse. This could be a viable, indeed successful, strategy. It could also be a classic case of slow-playing a hand and watching everyone fold rather than get sandbagged. Who Blinks First? But be aware I am dusting off my old Channel Five nickname of Crads (half Card, half Crap) for Arizona, just in case.

The point of interest is, of course Kyler Murray, who has been the beneficiary of the classic draft pattern of first building up players based on tape, then down-grading them/going beserk over their Combine measurements/times, then finally spending the last pre-draft month trying to tear them apart once again.Can you remember back to when Dwayne Haskins was the consensus number one and Murray was too small? Before Donald Jones somehow boosted himself by throwing passes in shorts to guys who weren't covered while no one rushed him?

I detailed much of this in my column yesterday, included the way the Cardinals number one pick last year, Josh Rosen, played a season behind a balsa-wood line, with a modest group of receivers and a scheme that thought David Johnson was John Henry Johnson (I changed the reference just to give you something new). That was a big part in getting rookie coach Steve Wilks fired (but not GM Steve Keim, who hired Wilks and made the draft pick and built the team around that pick. Go figure).  Keim then hired Kliff Kingsbury, a noted QB whisperer for probably not much reason. But think about Kingsbury for a moment, and you may realise why his vision might not be as much about whispering in Rosen's ear, as much as rolling out an NFL version of his offense behind Murray.

Kingsbury played QB at Texas Tech in Mike Leach's Air Raid offense, and was good. He was a sixth-round pick by the Pats but spent the Super Bowl 2003 season on IR.  He signed with four other NFL teams, and threw two passes for the J-E-S-T Jets in 2005. The Jets also sent him to NFL Europe, where he sort of split time at QB for Cologne with Shane Boyd. My memory was simply that he lack zip on his throws. He couldn't get any playing time in Canada, with either Montreal or Winnipeg, so he retired and went into coaching.

He was a QB coach at Houston under Kevin Sumlin (Case Keenum). Offensive coordinator under Sumlin at Texas A&M (Johnny Manziel). Head coach (2013-2018) at his alma mater, where his first QB was walk-on freshman Baker Mayfield. When he got hurt, freshman Davis Webb took over. Mayfield transferred to Oklahoma (hello, Heisman) and when he left his replacement was a pro baseball player called Tyler Murray. Hold that thought.

In 2014 Webb gave way to Patrick Mahomes (Vincent Testaverde was their third-stringer) and after the season transferred to Cal.  Mahomes then had two big seasons before leaving for the NFL, but Tech's overall record in those four years was 23-26. He went 6-7 in 2017 with Nic Shimonek at QB, and 5-7 last year, at which point he was fired. He was hired in December as offensive coordinator at USC, then resigned when NFL teams came calling and was hired by Arizona in January.

Perhaps the Big 12 is tougher to win in than the NFL, but somehow I don't think so. But looking at that history two things stand out: 1: His most successful QBs were not big pocket passers, although Mahomes could be described as a pocket passer.  Kyler Murray is not a big pocket passer. Josh Rosen pretty much is. And 2: he had Mayfield and went to Webb and had Webb and went to Mahomes. Who does he think he is, Jon Gruden? Keep that thought in mind two.

Finally, one more point about Murray. The best comparison I can think of with Rusell Wilson is that they both played pro baseball while playing college QB. Although Wilson isn't really 5-11; at the Combine he was 5-10 5/8, just enough to round up. But Wilson had four years as a college starter, and I did a few of his Wisconsin games when I did Big 10 for Eurosport. They were a powerful team where NC State wasn't, and he wasn't running for his life. They were a run-first team (Montee Ball ran for nearly 2,000 yards at 6.3 per carry, backed up by James White, and with 20 carries for Melvin Gordon) and Wilson was phenomenally efficient (72% completions, 10.3 ypa, 33 TD 4 INT) playing in the pocket.

Yes, small players have some problems with finding passing lanes and seeing over rushers, much worse in the NFL than in college, especially in spread-style college offenses. Doug Flutie was 5-9, but I think he might be better today than he was in the NFL of the 80s playing for Mike Ditka. Sonny Jurgensen, the evolutionary Philip Rivers, was only 5-11. Drew Brees (6-0), Michael Vick (6-0) Mayfield (6-1)...need I go on. What's an inch or two between friends?

But Murray will have to adjust like Mayfield did, at least once Freddie Kitchens took over coordinating in Cleveland. Of course, Kingsbury will supposedly design an offense to make things easy for him (do you think Jon Gruden will?)

So Arizona remains on the clock and these are their options:

1. Hold on to the pick and draft Murray. This makes Josh Rosen expendable, unless you've been paying attention and figure Kingsbury will keep both guys until Rosen transfers out to Oklahoma. The problem with the draft poker game, is they have to then figure out how they can maximize Rosen's trade value (which involves waiting) unless it turns out Murray can't beat him out. If he can, Rosen becomes double-damaged goods, and odds are a team craving Rosen won't want to shove him in right away unless they have to—they'd rather groom him and let him decompress after the 2018 debacle. But this scenario means you've spent two straight top picks on QBs, which is like losing two wives to 'accidents'. One is a tragedy.Two looks suspicious. OR

1a. Hold on to the pick and draft the best player out there. In my mind, that would be Quinnen Williams, but D line, especially interior, is not a major need. Their biggest needs can likely be filled lower down the draft, though they might take an edge rusher (with everyone thinking Joey Bosa's going 2 to the Niners, they ought to make some Bosa noises. But they would really be better served by trading down. Since neither the Niners nor Jets are going to take a QB, and there are plenty of edge rushers out there, they may not have any leverage UNLESS they announce they don't want Murray. That will start everyone thinking. Can Oakland stay put and still get Murray if Gruden wants him?

So what do they about trading down? Can they do a Bosa feint and swap with the Niners? That probably wouldn't yield as much as they'd like, and the most likely scenario is:

2. Trade the pick for someone looking to go up to one for Murray.  Your most likely suspects here would be the Raiders, holding picks 4, 24, 27 and 35. Does Gruden really want Murray? He could bring him along behind David Carr, and Murray on his rookie deal will be cap friendly for a couple of years after that. And he might be able to net a 2 for Carr down the road. It's hard to see the Giants needing Murray, and at 6 they might be able to pick up whoever they do want in the draft, or they could hope Haskins or Jones (if either is the guy, falls to 17). But here's another plan:

3. Trade Rosen now and draft Murray. By now I mean before the pick; not necessarily waiting until they're on the clock and hoping Keim turns into Kevin Kostner. Would the Giants give up 17 for Rosen? Would the Skins give up 15? Or 15 and 46 for Rosen and 65? If Kingsbury likes Murray that much, a one for Rosen would save lots of faces and get them a valuable pick at a need. If they wait until after they draft Murray, most of their leverage is lost, at least until some team loses a QB to injury in August or September. OR:

4. Draft Murray and trade him: This is really the same scenario as pick 2, except now they know you mean business. Think the Chargers drafting Eli Manning, whose father had told them he wouldn't play in San Diego, then trading him to the Giants for Philip Rivers and a 3rd (PK Nate Kaeding) along with a next year 1st (OLB Shawn Merriman) and 5th (traded to Tampa for OT Roman Oben). That was a pretty good haul for the Chargers, although Kaeding may have been cursed. Maybe Rivers too.

By now my brain is over-heating, and I half expect the Redskins to draft Sonny Jurgensen and the Jest to trade Adam Gase to Arizona. I feel grateful that by Sunday morning this will all be over...

Friday, 19 April 2019

CHARLES VAN DOREN: BEHIND MY GUARDIAN OBITUARY

My obituary of Charles Van Doren, whose victories in the TV quiz show Twenty-One were the centre piece of the Fifties scandal that shocked America, and formed the basis of the movie Quiz Show, is up at the Guardian online; you can link to it here. It should appear in the paper paper sometime soon.

It is pretty much as was written, though one major part is missing: I over-wrote my word limit giving a bit of background about the quiz shows and American TV in the 1950s, and for want of space, most of that was excised. So too was Van Doren's own best line, but read to end, where it belongs, for that.

I should explain a couple of other things first. My reference to Americans (and it applies to British audiences too) not understanding that reality television is not reality was not, at first thought a reference to Donald J Trump, although I'm sure subconsciously it was. But the late 1990s wave of game-shows and so-called 'reality' programmes which began in Britain or Holland (for example, Millionaire or Big Brother) were tributes to our short memories and producers' lack of imagination. Not having to pay writers or actors is a big thing, and producers can put into the 'real' people whatever words they think the audience most wants or expects to hear.

The words 'false pretences' never appeared in what I wrote, and I am not sure if that is supposed to mean Van Doren appeared under false pretences because he wasn't as smart as they made him seem (which he was) or because he was being coached (which he knew) or whether it's just a reference to the game-show being fixed. There's also a reference to his 'hitting the canvas' which would make more sense had the original comparison to fixed pro wrestling matches (a staple of the early 1950s on American TV) been left in. It was Alan King who famously cracked on The Ed Sullivan Show, "who would've thought the most honest thing on TV was wrestling".

There is also a line about it 'not being hard to understand' why Freedman thought Van Doren would be the perfect challenger, which originally was the lead-in to his biography. Van Doren came from one of America's leading intellectual families, the kind that were called 'egg-heads' by average Americans, and they were not uncommon on TV. In those days, when most of American TV was produced by the three networks a few blocks from each other in Manhattan, there were game shows like What's My Line or To Tell The Truth which featured egg-heads (identifiable by their bow ties), New York newspaper columnists and other intellectual celebrities. It's surprising one of the Van Doren's hadn't got there. Charles father Mark, and his uncle Carl, who also taught at Columbia, won Pulitzer Prizes in back to back years, Mark for poetry, Carl for a biography of Benjamin Franklin. Carl's wife Irita, Charles' aunt, was the books editor of the Herald Tribune, just behind the Times as New York's best books section. They were part of that 'long-hair' cultural world which dominated radio and that niche of TV, much the way a similar group do British media nowadays.

Quiz shows became big business when in 1954 the courts overturned a ban by the Federal Communications Commission which had banned them as 'gambling', ruling the money was legitimate prize winning. As you could tell by the titles of the shows, which Millionaire would echo in our own inflationary times, The $64,000 Question or Tic Tac Dough (which, like Twenty-One was produced by Dan Enright and Jack Barry, though Barry did not host Tic Tac Dough). The gimmick of Twenty-One was that it was played like blackjack, with the questions being more difficult the higher the 'card' number.

When I was a kid, there was a popular newspaper advice column by Dr Joyce Brothers, who also appeared frequently on TV. She had been the first woman winner on the $64,000 Question, but after the scandals broke, it emerged that the producers had tried to stop her winning by stacking the questions against her (something I've often believed was done on the GE College Bowl and its British copy, University Challenge) but she was too good, and answered them anyway.

By 1955, $64,000 Question was the year's top rated programme, at 47.5, which was almost half the country, not just those watching TV. In 1956 it had dropped to fourth (at 36.4) with I Love Lucy at Number One. Although Lucy was a 'celebrity' sit-com (like Burns & Allen or later Ozzie & Harriet) it was also a working-class one (as evidenced by the neighbours, Fred and Ethel Mertz), but working class sitcoms (of which The Honeymooners would be the best example) were about to be phased out in the late Fifties by more middle-class, consumer-aspirational shows like Donna Reed, Leave It To Beaver, or Father Knows Best: set in comfortable suburbs with fathers who seemed to work invisible professional jobs and mothers who kept house in fancy dresses and strings of pearls.

This was the transition foreshadowed by Van Doren's triumph over Herb Stempel. In 1957 Twenty-One broke the year's top 30 for the first time, at number 26 (a 27.6 rating) while $64,000 had falled to 19 (28.1). Gunsmoke had taken over the top, with a 43.1 mark, and four more of the top ten programmes were westerns. By 1961, quiz shows had disappeared from prime time -- the nest big one would be the syndicated Jeopardy, but that generally aired at 7pm just before network prime.

Stempel went public in the Journal-American with his story of fixing (he had deliberately missed an easy question about the Oscar-winning film Marty) and a frustrated contestant from the show Dotto turned over the notebook of Marie Winn, a winner on the show, which contained her questions and answers. In the Congressional Hearings, another Twenty-One contestant, James Snodgrass, produced a similar cheat-sheer which had been sent to him by the show's producers by registered mail.

The show's sponsors, who wanted more drama, were of course unpunished. Barry and Enright both eventually came back into TV. Van Doren, of course, landed on his feet with the help of family connections. His 2008 New Yorker article is worth reading; his account of dealings with TV and movie producers was contested, but it rang true in my experience with the former. It also included a line which I used in my last graf, before the quote about his self-delusions having 'something to do with my family, I suppose'. It seemed to me he wanted to be something different from what he was expected to be (perhaps he should have stuck with astro-physics?). But he said "I was foolish, prideful and avaricious". To me that was the money quote, and I don't understand why it was excised from the story.





Wednesday, 17 April 2019

BOSCH: MICHAEL CONNELLY'S TV SERIES, HIS NOVELS, HIS PODCAST

I've done another feature for Arc Digital, 'Obsessive Justice: Harry Bosch, American Crime, and Michael Connelly'. You can link to it here. It was based on an interview I did with Michael back in October, when he was in London to promote his novel Dark Sacred Night. We talked a bit about Bosch and a bit about his then-upcoming Murder Book podcast. When it came time to publishing the interview, the Bosch TV show was the hook that had the most biting power, but it also proved a good entry point for the kind of piece Arc wanted, one that would draw in new viewers/readers/listeners to Bosch.

That fit in well with the relatively general nature of our interview, now almost six months old, but because we were also into true crime territory, I could also draw on what I wrote in my afterword to Crime Beat, which I had originally 'full disclosured' right at the top of the story.

One of the things Michael and I discussed in October was the fact that I first reviewed Trunk Music (1997) in The Spectator; I believe it was his first mainstream UK review. I met him right after that appeared, by almost accident; I just happened to see that he was doing a reading in a bookshop in Melbourne, Florida, where I was visiting my parents when covering WLAF preseason practices in Orlando. He has been not only the best of interviews, but a very generous, not least commissioning me to write that afterword. There are few writers I've met whom I admire more, and if this piece does him justice and helps spread the word, I will be pleased.

GRAHAM HURLEY'S FINISTERRE


It's September 1944.The writing is on the wall for the Nazis, and the French port of Brest, has fallen to the allies. Kapitan Stefan Portisch is taking U-2553, one of the new, shoddy, prefabricated submarines created out of wartime shortages, through the Bay of Biscay on a special mission. He's got no torpedos, but instead five SS officers and a cargo of crates which he's carrying to Lisbon. Until they hit a storm, the ship gets damaged, and Portisch, the only survivor, is washed up in a small town in Spain.

Meanwhile in New Mexico, as the Manhattan Project proceeds feverishly, one of the scientists, Sol Fielder, has been found dead in his house, an apparent suicide. Hector Gomez, ex-FBI and now with Army Intelligence, begins his investigation, and discovers that the Army wants it put to bed quickly, so the project can move on. But of course it goes deeper than they want to know, and in the end very deep indeed.

How these two stories merge together is the dual spine of this intriguing novel, which was the first in Hurley's 'Wars Within' series. How he pulls off the melding of a murder mystery on one continent and a spy thriller with overtones of For Whom The Bell Tolls on the other is revealing. Hurley switches back and forth, doing a subtle but effective change of tone between those stories. The two protagonists are very different characters, and to some extent they are both outsiders in situations where they cannot fit comfortably. But Gomez has an immediate aim, while Portisch, looking simply to leave the pain of war, needs to find his. It's also interesting that their immediate link is romance, as both Portisch and Gomez encounter women whose help they need, but whom they have to risk trusting. To anyone familiar with Hurley's crime novels, featuring Joe Faraday or Jimmy Suttle, that intimate trust is often a metaphor for the bigger stories, one which must be resolved just as the key plot must be.

Finisterre means 'end of the earth'. As with Hurley's Estocada, third and latest of the Wars Within series (see my review here), the title carries its deeper meaning. That novel also was set-up with two converging plot lines. I actually like this one better, mostly for its combination of pace and depth, and for the way the stories are brought together in a way that makes this a superb espionage story as well as a fine thriller.

Just two queries: Gomez had been an FBI agent before joining Army Intelligence, and his FBI contacts are essential to the story. But my belief was that, although minorities had served in the Bureau of Investigation, after J. Edgar Hoover took over they were blacklisted, though it is true that during World War II, needing more agents and some who could speak Spanish to deal with the fear of Germans using Mexico, Hispanics were brought in. And oddly enough, the soda pop Mountain Dew appears in both New Mexico and Mexico proper. But Mountain Dew, like most pops at the time, was a regional thing around Tennessee (I know, I am sad for even knowing this) and didn't go national until the 1960s. Let me point out neither point really matters to the story (the soda pop not at all!) and few readers are as sad as I am not notice or care. And by the way, Portisch is a whole lot better looking than the UBoat captain on the cover.

Finisterre by Graham Hurley
Head Of Zeus, £18.99 ISBN 9781784977818

Thursday, 11 April 2019

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI AT 100: MY FT INTERVIEW AT 79

Lawrence Felinghetti's 100th birthday reminded me that twenty years ago I did an interview with him which was published in the Financial Times. I was in Los Angeles, and wrote another piece for them on the OJ Simpson auction, forced by his losing the civil suit brought by the Brown family over the murder of Nicole Brown. I talked the editor of the FT Weekend, Julia Cuthbertson, into taking a talk with Ferlinghetti, about to turn 80 and poet laureate of San Francisco, with the hook being the as-yet unsettled Poet Laureate of Great Britain.  What follows is basically the version I filed, but considerably different from the version as printed, for reasons I will explain in a long footnote.  In the meantime, here it is as titled by the FT:

CROWNING THE LAUREATE, AN EXERCISE IN BRITISH EPIC FORM 
Financial Times Weekend, 25-26 March 1999

In Britain, the chase for the Poet Laureate's job resembles a literary Grand National. Bookies quote odds, possibilities range from Pam Ayers to Benjamin Zepheniah. Vitriol follows verse as literary gossip columns study the form and rate the runners in ways that would make the Racing Post blush. Who's lobbying whom? Is Andrew Motion really twisting well-connected arms like a literary Lyndon Johnson? Who's Irish? Seamus Heaney said if nominated, he will not serve. Is it time for the first woman laureate, or is Carol Ann Duffy just a sop to women, the North,the working class, and/or lesbians? Do you even have to be British? Derek Walcott was born in St Lucia and has lived for decades in the USA.What skeletons are buried in which poetic closets?

The only thing that seems beyond the bounds of the discussion of who will be chosen by the 'great and the good' is the verse itself. Given that the job's main responsibility, traditionally, is to sing royal praises, how could literary criticism be a crucial factor in deciding who will get the chance to become this generation's John Betjeman?

It has been a long, drawn-out process. Way after the official shortlist has come and gone, and the bookies have frozen the odds, and long after most of the running has been made, a winner, inevitably the short-odds Motion, will at last be announced.

It's all so much easier in San Francisco. Just ask poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. “I was walking past a fancy restaurant in North Beach when a limousine stopped. Mayor Brown jumped out and told me he wanted me to be his poet laureate. He made me an offer I couldn't refuse.”

Willie Brown had been asked by businessmen in Seoul, South Korea, if his city had a cultural ambassador. He had promised on the spot to appoint a poet laureate. “Six months later, reporters began to remind him of his promise,” says Ferlinghetti. “Then, when he asked me, I told him I didn't trust the corporate structure of the city, and he said, 'that's no problem'”.

At 79, Ferlinghetti has been central to San Franciscan culture for almost 50 years. His City Lights bookstore is a Beat Generation shrine. It was the heart of North Beach's artistic community, headquarters for writers such as Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, Kenneth Rexroth. Ferlinghetti's own 1958 collection of poems, A Coney Island Of The Mind, is still in print and has sold more than a million copies. At the height of 1950s conformity, City Lights published Allen Ginsberg's Howl, defended it in court, and helped create an underground which came to define the counter-culture before it became the over-the-counter culture.

This things change. “North Beach was solid Italian in those days, working people,” he recalls. “Now it's yuppified, and poets can't afford to live there. It's become a theme park overrun with tourists.”

Ferlinghetti never sought this respectability, but inevitably it has found him. In fact, back in the Fifties, he returned a questionnaire from Who's Who with an uncompromising rejection. “It seems now like some other guy fdid that,” he laughs. “But they put me in the book anyway. They include you whether you cooperate or not.”

Now he spends most of his time painting, but he recently released his 14th book of poetry, A Far Rockaway Of The Heart, whose New York beach title recalls and reflects on his first book. In an effort to keep the Beat spirit alive, he is setting up a non-profit City Lights Foundation, to serve as a cultural centre, give grants and encourage the arts. It's part of what he sees as San Francisco's purpose.

“We dangle off the edge of the world out here. San Francisco is an island republic with an island mentality. It's not really part of California, or America. In fact, I'm reading in LA soon and I think I'll need a visa.” He ponders that for a minute. “Or maybe as poet laureate I'll have diplomatic immunity.”

Ferlinghetti sees the laureate's job as simple. “We need to be reminded that democracy is not defined simply as successful capitalism. I get to say publicly the things ordinatry people think, but no one ever reports in newspapers.” In his inaugural speech, Ferlinghetti blasted the city for squeezing out working people and creating an “urban hell” for the convience of the wealthy. Did this upset Mayor Brown? “No, I think he liked the publicity.”

Where Britain's laureates serve for their lifetime ((note: since this piece was written it is now a fixed ten-year term)), San Francisco's post is an appointment for only one year. Ferlinghetti will probably wind up serving 18 months, until the end of 1999. “I haven't gotten ossified yet,” he says, “but they'll want new blood for the millennium.” Asked to pick his likely successor, he opts for the expatriate Englishman Thom Gunn. “He's a fine poet, and he brings both cultures to bear on his work.”

Ferlinghetti hasn't kept up with the race to name Ted Hughes' successor. “They've been doing it so long in Britain, for centuries, the process has congealed by now.” He's unfamiliar with most of the candidates. “I do know some people who went across to Berkeley to hear Seamus Heaney read,” he says. “They fell asleep.”

So whom would he choose? He suggests “younger” poets like Tom Pickard or Adrian Mitchell. “Though I guess they're not so young any more.” Then he has an inspired idea. “Why not Thom Gunn? He could do both jobs at once!”.

Whoever becomes Britain's next laureate is somewhat less likely than Felinghetti to consider making political waves part of the job description. In 1958, San Francisco's laureate wrote: “I am waiting for/the final withering away/of all governments/and I am perpetually awaiting/a rebirth of wonder.” More than 40 years later, he now a part of the government, however nebulously, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti is still waiting.
-30-

NOTE: I should point out too that this is a piece of journalism: I've never been a fan of Ferlinghetti's poetry, but this is a story about his position as a public poet and one of the faces of the Beat movement, and it was sold as a contrast to the British Laureate election.

Julia Cuthbertson, the FT Weekend editor, for some reason liked my writing, though much of what she liked about it never seemed to survive the sub-editors (an ex-FT staffer for whom I wrote at the Herald-Tribune used to remind me to 'keep it boring' for them) excising what I (and I assumed she) thought was entertaining. Sometimes, if the edits were run by me, I could restore some on appeal. The piece that ran was somewhat different from what you read above, but not for that reason, which makes it a more interesting story. What I had filed was, in the opening three paragraphs, setting the scene for the British Laureate battle, much like what I have restored here.

A few days after I filed I was awakened in LA by a call from Jan Dalley, who I think had just replaced my editor on the books pages, Annalena McAfee. I don't think I had ever met Jan at that point, and with my usual aplomb in journalistic career politics and log-rolling, I was completely unaware of the fact that she was Mrs. Andrew Motion, and she was livid about my 'literary Lyndon Johnson' line, with which I had been inordinately pleased. 'How can you say that? what were your sources?' she asked. I mentioned Private Eye and a couple of literary gossip columns. 'It is completely untrue Andrew is lobbying for the job. In fact, we had dinner with Chris Smith ((then the culture secretary, and thus the man in charge of the whole process)) two weeks ago and the poet laureateship was never even mentioned'. I laughed and when Jan asked why, I said I thought she had just proved my point. I'm not sure she agreed, but I agreed to rewrite the opening and remove the reference. When it turned out I had caught the short-list perfectly, and would have added a bit on how it was a four-person list designed to provide an easy winner, who was Motion, but I didn't bother to ever write that point.

In fairness, Motion proved a conscientious poet-laureate, who worked at widening the base for poetry, and Carol Ann Duffy, who succeed him due to the ten-year term limit, has been the same. I wouldn't say much about the poetry, though. My 'skeletons in closets' line, while not intended to refer to Derek Wolcott, proved prophetic ten years later, when, it was revealed that in the race for the Oxford Poetry Professorship, my former Belsize neighbour Ruth Padel had anonymous leaked smears to Oxford professors, about Wolcott's facing harassment allegationsyears earlier at Harvard. As I pointed out in a letter to the Observer which defended her, far from being a victim of the press, she had been hoist by her own petard. Julia soon left the FT, and my feature writing assignments dried up, while Jan did continue to assign me book reviews, our problem being that she didn't want to print any negative ones, and I, unburdened by log-rolling, couldn't guarantee positivity in advance. So it goes.

One thing I could hardly have expected, twenty years after all this, would be that Lawrence Ferlinghetti would still be going strong. Happy 100th!

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

LOU BERNEY'S NOVEMBER ROAD

It's November 1963, and in Dallas President Kennedy has just been shot. In New Orleans, Frank Guidry is thinking about a trip he made the other day, dropping off a clean Cadillac to a garage just a couple of blocks from Dealey Plaza. Guidry works for Carlos Marcello, the Godfather of the New Orleans mafia, and a confirmed Kennedy-hater. He's Rat Pack sharp and Sinatra smooth. And now Marcello's assistant, Seraphine, wants him to deliver another car, this time to Houston. It's not the kind of job Guidry, a smooth-talker who can get things done, would usually do, and he wonders if the boss isn't starting to take care of loose ends. Because it doesn't take a wise guy to figure out what has just gone down in Dallas, and who was involved. So what he fears is just what happens at the Rice hotel in Houston, but Guidry, sharp as ever, is just a step ahead, and now he's on the run, headed for Las Vegas, where his only possible help might be found.

In a small town in Oklahoma, Charlotte Dooley has a boring Sixties American life, which would be alright were she not married to a drunk. She works for the local photographer, and would like to do more, but she has two kids and a dog, and though her husband doesn't mistreat her or the kids, their common ground has disappeared, and on the Sunday Jack Ruby kills Lee Oswald, when her husband goes off on the kind of errand that lasts until he's drunk his fill, Charlotte puts her daughters and dog into the car, and heads west, aiming for the Los Angeles home of an aunt she hasn't seen in years.

And after another killer botched the hit on Guidry, Marcello has put his top button, Paul Barone, onto Guidry's trail, once he's eliminated the assassin who failed. 

Three people headed West, and their inevitable convergence, is the core of November Road, and its a core which Lou Berney orchestrates well and writes even better. Berney gets the pace and the feel of Sixties paperback originals, those raw, well-written Gold Medal novels by the likes of John D MacDonald, except there's a kind of balance between the characters, and an awareness that our contemporary perspective can provide. Thus we see that, although Guidry lives within the strict rules of his business, where everyone is out to protect themselves and will always act in their own best interest, but where you have to be sharp enough to know the angles and what that best interest is, Charlotte is in a similar world, where most of the decisions have been made for her, and although the payback is not so severe, straying from them is not easy.

Berney writes this with a flow that keeps you entrenched in the drama, in the choices, in the forks in the road, the way the best road fiction works. He also writes with beautiful touch. “Why,' Ed said, 'what have we here' seems a simple line, but ending a chapter as it does it is so full of portent I sat and stared at it for a while. As I did at the end of the story, which is moving and sad, but not sentimental. I had added three words, in my mind, to the penultimate line, then realised I was being too literal, and the words were already there, unsaid. It doesn't really matter what those words are (I don't want to drop a spoiler in) but the fact that the scene had been written with such accuracy and grace that those words were unncessary. You'll see when you read it, as you really ought to.

November Road by Lou Berney
Harper Collins, £8.99, ISBN 9780008309336

note: this review will also appear at Crime Time (www.crimetime.co.uk)

Sunday, 7 April 2019

MAVIS STAPLES, BOB DYLAN AND THE NEW/TANGLED UP IN BLUE

My Saturday evening was made this week by hearing the great Mavis Staples interviewed by a suitably respectful Clive Anderson on BBC Radio 4’s Loose Ends. Among the stories Mavis told was one about the time Bob Dylan proposed marriage to her, back in 1965. She talked about how cute Bob was, with his curly hair and blue eyes, and how she rejected the proposal.

I mentioned this on facebook (getting informed by the usual know-it-alls that the story of Bob's proposal was by now common knowledge, mea maxima culpa for missing that one) and I wrote that Mavis told Bob she was too young (she was 25 or 6), and didn’t know how to cook. You won’t have to cook, Bob said. Then I noted how that sounded like the lyrics to a Dylan song.

My friend Michael Goldfarb said ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ and I said ‘you got that right’, and proceeded to write a couple of verses for a revised version. So here, if Bob (or Mavis) wants it, is a newer version of the song:

Tangled Up In Blue (With Mavis

Mavis told Bob she was too young, that she didn’t know how to cook

You won’t have to cook at all said Bob, I just wanna sit and look

Up at you

Tangled Up In Blue



Mavis said Bobby you’re awfully sweet, and she looked into his blue eyes,

Bobby said girl please marry me, and I’ll win the Nobel Prize

Just for you

Tangled up in blue



Bobby oh Bobby you gotta relax, ever try taking it slow?

You say that you wanna just sit and look, but you know and I sure know

What you want to do

Tangled up in blue



Then they heard Pops play a guitar riff, comin’ out of studio two

Mavis walked out and she started to sing, Bob found his missing shoe,

As you do

Tangled up in blue

Thursday, 4 April 2019

RAGNAR JONASSON'S ISLAND

It is 1987. Benedikt thinks he is in love, and has driven up with Katla to her parents' cottage up in Iceland's Westfjords. Everything is going perfect for the young couple, but days later Katla is found dead, and eventually her father is arrested, charged and convicted of her murder. At the same time, CID detective Hulda Hermansdottir is expecting a promotion, but realises quickly although she is the most experienced detective on the force, the job is going to go to Lydur, with less experience but crucially, a man. And it is Lydur who breaks the Westfjords killing.

Ten years later, Benedikt agrees to a reunion with his three best friends from that time, to mark the anniversary of Katla's death. They travel to Ellidaey, one of the uninhabited Westman Islands, with a single holiday cottage atop the high cliffs. Over the weekend, one of the four falls to her death. Hulda is sent to investigate, but it's not until she's back in Reykjavik and the body has been examined that it becomes evident she has been pushed off the cliffs, and murdered. And when the connection between the killings is recognised, Lydur, now her boss, insists on keeping his hands on her investigation. Meanwhile, Hulda is coping with the loss of her daughter, to suicide, and her husband, to a heart attack. She has travelled to the United States, trying to find the father she never knew, an American soldier who never knew he had left a pregnant woman behind in Iceland.

The Island is the second of Ragnar Jonasson's novels featuring Hulda; his 'Hidden Island' series. The first, The Darkness, was a tour de force, with one of the most audacious and moving endings I can recall. This one is a prequel, set some 25 years earlier. It is not necessary to have read the first novel to appreciate this one, and there are no spoilers that would affect your enjoyment of The Darkness. But it is interesting, that having read the first adds a certain depth to Hulda's character, which is useful because, despite the new twists to Hulda's tale, she is not as central to the crime stories as she was in the previous book.

This is not like other Scandinavian crime writers who've gone back to series characters in their earlier days—Mankell with Wallander, Jonasson's fellow Icelander Idridason with Erlendur are good examples—in an effort to write about someone who is, in effect, a new character. Jonasson is, in effect, building his protagonist in reverse; Hulda is a sympathetic character whose virtues as a cop are also her problems as a person, and who has had to battle simply to establish herself as both person and police.

Another of the fascinating angles to Jonasson's writing has been the way his 'Dark Island' series, which preceded the first Hulda novel, reflect his love of the classic whodunit form; he was a translator of Agatha Christie while still a teenager. This book could be looked at as Jonasson's version of And Then There Were None, a murder on an island with a finite number of suspects, and as in Christie its less a police procedural than a character study, though when the policeman realises something about the character, the unknown truth comes out in testimony. He doesn't cheat on the mystery; though the solution becomes fairly evident about two-thirds of the way through. But he brings in secondary plot lines that keep Hulda's investigations intriguing, and, as in the first book, he ends with multiple ironies that strike a note of sadness.

While I tore through the novel, the way I did whodunits when I was younger, I admired the writing, but wondered a bit about the translation, something I hadn't done in the earlier books. When you get cliches, especially if repeated, you wonder if phrases like 'avoided like the plague' or 'trusty car' are equally cliched in their Icelandic versions, or if the easy English equivalent is being used. Since I don't know the answer to that in Icelandic, I can't make a judgement, but it is a question. It is not something that slowed me down as I read this excellent novel, and, knowing Jonasson is moving back even earlier in Hulda's career for the next book (see my Shots interview with him here) I look forward to that one with great anticipation.

THE ISLAND by Ragnar Jonasson
Michael Joseph, £14.99, ISBN 9780718187255

Note: this review will also appear at Crime Time (www.crimetime.co.uk)

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

IN MEMORIAM: JOE BELLINO & FOOTBALL MEMORIES

When I was a kid I had a book about Joe Bellino, who died a few days ago aged 81. The star of Navy's 1960 football team, which went 9-1 and lost to Missouri in the Orange Bowl, Bellino won the Heisman Trophy overwhelmingly that year; the first Midshipman to win it, and what turned out the first of two Navy players in four seasons, as Roger Staubach followed him in 1963.

The book must've been published after he won the Heisman, so I might have got it for my birthday (which was the day before Joe's on the calendar) or it might have been the following Christmas. I suspect the latter, because although my dad was a Navy fan, having enlisted at 17 during World War II, I think we may have spent Christmas in Boston that year, and my Uncle Jack might have picked it up for me. Which is also a sign of how much I loved football in my youth.

In any case, I remember some of the book very well, especially about Bellino's exploits at Winchester High in Massachusetts. He was, apparently, known as 'The Wnchester Rifle' but honestly I didn't remember that at all. Besides football, he was a baseball star good enough to get drafted by the Pirates, and as a basketball player led Winchester to two championships before the school was moved up a division and they lost a third. In those days we paid attention to the Massachusetts' large school champs, because the two (from Eastern and Western Mass) would join two Connecticut schools and one each from the other four New England states in an annual high school tournament at the Boston Garden, an even dominated by Connecticut teams.

Doing some research, I also recalled Bellino did a post-grad year, at Columbian Academy,
where he scored three touchdowns against the Navy plebes (freshman) team in an upset win. This was ironic, since I would go to a prep school where we took in post-grads; my junior and senior years I would be the only one from my class not a PG who played. He would have done that to get his grade point average or his SAT scores up to the required level for admission, and interestingly Staubach did the same, at New Mexico Military Academy, in the alien-visit town of Roswell.

Of course that made both of them a year more mature when they started college, and each would have played on freshman teams before becoming eligible for the varsity. You can find some film on Bellino on you tube. He was listed at 5-9 185, and he is built low to the ground and strong-legged. You can see him break tackles easily; he has good vision and most of all surprising speed (he led the Navy baseball team in stolen bases).

Navy was never as much of a power as Army—West Point's greatest teams, of course, came toward the end of World War II, when they had older players like Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis who were grabbed by the army from other colleges. Navy had a great team coached by Paul Brown at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station near Chicago, but they weren't at the Academy. But under coach Wayne Hardin (with Steve Belichick, Bills father as a scout/assistant) Navy had a brief flowering in the early Sixties. The service academies were beginning to shrink: Yale had beaten Army in 1956, and Air Force had come into being and taken some glamour away. But as the lure of professional football grew (and the money) the four year commitment required in the service in return for your college education became a negative selling point. Nowadays the academies often waive the requirement to allow players into the NFL, and cash in on the patriotic publicity: back in the day Gen. Maxwell Taylor backed down from allowing Davis and Blanchard to go to the NFL, and neither Bellino or Staubach seemed to hesitate with their commitments. I can't begin to tell you how inspirational the book made Joe Bellino appear; I recall seeing picture of young Bill throwing a ball with Bellino and reading something about how he idolized him, and I could understand why. For a brief while, until Vietnam War protest radicalized me at age 15 or 16, I had a thought of going to Navy as well.

Ironically, when I was a sophomore at Wesleyan, we scrimmaged Army (well, mostly their second-string) at West Point, and at lunch in the huge mess hall, as cadets leapt onto our table screaming at us (the word 'hippie' might have sounded) I didn't regret my decision. We won that scrimmage, and went undefeated that season back at Division III, winning the Lambert Cup, the small version of the Lambert Trophy Navy won in 1960, as the top team in the East.

That Navy team was good. They had beaten Army the year before; Bellino scored three touchdowns in that game, no one had ever done that in an Army-Nevy game before. They were still lightly-regarded, but early in the season they beat Washington, with Bob Schloredt at QB, in Seattle; Washington would beat number one Minnesota in the Rose Bowl (the polls closed well before the New Year's Bowl Games in those days). Washington coach Jim Owens said 'he made us look like we hadn't practised tackling'. They beat Notre Dame, and took their only loss at Duke 19-10; Duke wound up rated number 10 and beat no.7 Arkansas (with Lance Alworth) in the Cotton Bowl. Goes to show you what the pollsters know. Navy was ranked number 4 (no. 2 Mississippi beat Rice in the Sugar Bowl; no.3 Iowa was second in the Big Ten and thus couldn't go to any bowl game). Missouri was ranked 5, and unbeaten, but with an asterisk, and looking that up I remembered the scandal vividly.

Kansas beat Missouri but had to forfeit that game (and one to Colorado) for playing Bert Coan at halftime, because TCU had violated rules recruiting Coan, who then transferred to Kansas. This was the Kansas team that had John Hadl still playing halfback, but with Coan joining Curtis McClinton, they moved him to quarterback in 1961. Coan, like McClinton, was big (6-4 215) but ran a 9.4 100 yards. His pro career never panned out, while McClinton had a good one with the Chiefs. 

Bellino's senior season was pretty spectacular. He ran for 834 yards at 5.0 per carry, caught 15 passes for 264 yards and 3 TDs. He threw two TD passes (though he was only 5/14 passing), quick-kicked (!) 11 times for a 47 yard average (a lot of rolling involved there) returned kicks , kicked a couple of extra points and like most of the players in the game, played defense too.

He won the Heisman in a runaway. Check out the photo at the top and compare with the Heisman pose! With points allotted 3-2-1 for first, second and third place votes he had 1,793 points; second place went to Minnesota guard Tom Brown, with 731. Yes, guard. Yes, he did play both ways, but still, football was a different game then. Third was Ol' Miss quarterback Jake Gibbs, who became a catcher for the Yankees and Senators. Gibbs was second in the South and Southwest; Brown in the mid-west, and UCLA tailback Billy Kilmer second in the west (he finished fifth. Mike Ditka was sixth; Ohio State quarterback Tom Matte (a halfback in the NFL with the Colts) was seventh, and center/linebacker EJ Holub of Texas Tech was 10th: Holub would be the only player to start Super Bowls on both sides of the ball, center in one, linebacker in another, for the Chiefs. One name that I hadn't thought of in years was Pervis Atkins of New Mexico State, who was ninth in the voting but had an unsuccessful career in the NFL/AFL (but acted in the The Longest Yard).

1960 was an interesting year; I watched undefeated Yale play that year; they wound up ranked no14 in the country. Yale's Ben Balme was the other starting guard on the AP All-America team, but center Mike Pyle had a long career with the Chicago Bears. The quarterback Tom Singleton got written up in Sports Illustrated; he threw 70 passes all year, while the fullback Bob Blanchard was the running threat; he was a local hero from Hamden just outside New Haven.

In the rest of the country outside Connecticut, Norman Snead and Roman Gabriel were the 'best' NFL QBs, while Ernie Davis was just starting at 7-3 Syracuse and Bob Lilly was at TCU.

In the Orange Bowl, Missouri beat Navy 21-14, ending Joe's career with a loss. He was shut down completely as a runner, though he caught a touchdown pass. And it was the end of his football glory too. Because of the four-year commitment, he wasn't drafted until the 17th round by Washington (pick 227); in the AFL draft he lasted until the Pats took him in the 19th round (pick 146). He graduated in 1961; he joined Boston in 1965. He didn't play much, and mostly as a kick returner; he seems to have been effective as a pass catcher, but not as a runner. The years off obviously hurt. Although, in 1963 he was stationed in Newport Rhode Island, and he played for the Providence Steamroller of the Atlantic Coast Football League.

I knew the ACFL well too: those were the years when the Ansonia Black Knights played in the league, but it was a semi-pro operation. Later some teams would join the Continental League, then a couple return to the ACFL for a couple of pretty good years when teams were actual feeders to NFL teams. Oddly enough, Wayne Hardin's college coaching career would come to a screeching halt in 1966 when he went to the Continental League and coached the Philadelphia Bulldogs to the title. Why, I do not know, but Bill Walsh came out of the CFL too.

I couldn't find any stat line for Bellino, but he scored three TDs, and I believe played only three games for Providence. The Steamroller went 6-6 in the league (and won three exhibition games, two against non-league teams). They played the Boston Nu-Way Sweepers three times (one an exhibition) which I mention only because I love the name.

They beat the Black Knights in Ansonia, and beat the Harrisburg Capitols in the third-place (runner-up) in the post-season. While he was playing before small crowds, Staubach was winning the Heisman for the 1963 season; leading Navy to another 9-1 season. They were ranked number 2 in the country, despite losing 24-22 to SMU in the Cotton Bowl stadium in Dallas; they handed number four Pittsburgh their only loss of the year. They suffered another post-season loss, to top-ranked Texas in the Cotton Bowl game, meaning they were unbeaten outside the Cotton Bowl that year.

Writing this I feel a lot like the ten-year old kid who loved playing touch football (the Kennedys had turned us on to that), wanted to follow in my father's football-playing footsteps, read coaching guides from the 1930s that advised punting on first down inside your ten, and made football cards from magazine pictures and created a probability game, APBA-style, after sending for their free sample then making my own charts. It was so much fun, and so much simpler then.

Joe Bellino didn't leave the Navy after four years just to try pro football. His son was stillborn when he was on a ship in the Atlantic; his mother-in-law died while he was in Japan. As it was, he served 24 years in the naval reserve after his pro career ended (he was taken by the Bengals in the AFL expansion draft but retired rather than move to Cincinnati) and retired a captain. He was a successful businessman in Massachusetts, and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. RIP.