Sunday, January 30, 2011

Reflections on Rex Ryan, the New York Jets, and Winning in the Larger Sense of the Word

When you watch a lot of sports on TV, and when you have a favorite team that you watch, there are little things that sometimes stick with you long after the game is over.

And when you start counting up all the hours you’ve spent watching your favorite team -- not just during the current season, but over a period of years -- it is really quite striking to recall the particular images that have stuck in your head and your heart, among all those that you’ve experienced.

In the case of my favorite football team, the New York Jets, it has become evident that the era that will ultimately be known for the success or failure of the team’s current coach, Rex Ryan, will be rich in memorable moments and striking images. And even though some of those memories may well be tinged with controversy or even downright silliness -- as the coach has a tendency toward hyperbole, and the New York sports media has an equal tendency toward stretching a point -- there will also be moments imbued with a telling courage and great poignancy.

Now having watched and read and listened to most all things Jets for the entire first two years of Coach Ryan’s time in New York, and having groaned a little at some of the more egregious antics of the coach and some of his players and the media that covers them, I am nonetheless grateful for the joy that all their work has brought to me and my fellow Jets fans. It is fun to watch and read about the Jets again, even if there are times when we wince a little while doing so...

But for all the brass and bluster, the controversy and the cacophony that is an apparently inevitable accompaniment to any successful New York sports team, the end of Ryan’s second season as the leader of the Jets also delivered a compelling insight into the character of the coach, and the quality of the man.

With their loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game, the Jets fell just short of a trip to the Super Bowl for the second straight year. Having insistently and repeatedly set a Super Bowl win as the team’s goal throughout his first two seasons as head coach, Ryan was understandably upset at losing out two years running, as would anyone in his position.

But in the moment when the game in Pittsburgh finally fell out of reach, when the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger completed a 14 yard pass to Antonio Brown to ensure the Jets’ defeat, Ryan demonstrated his frustration with a fury that betrayed the depth of his desire.

Tearing the headset and cap from his head -- the headset symbolic of the coach’s role as the center of control, the cap the marker of his fraternity with the players in his charge -- Coach Ryan slammed the gear to the ground, and expressed his frustration verbally with words that are probably best lost to posterity.

But in that moment of loss, there was also a deep sadness evident in the coach’s facial expression. It was a wrenching, heartbreaking expression -- the look of a man who had given a deep portion of himself to the task of leadership, only to be turned away at the summit.

For that instant, Rex Ryan was the ultimate sports hero: the competitor who suffers his team’s loss as his own, and who understands that in sports, as in life, opportunities are precious, and time is short.

However many championships a team wins or fails to win, and whatever success or failure an individual experiences in a career in sports, there is always above all the quality of the competitor and the dignity of the competition.

And while a championship down the road will certainly be seen -- and celebrated -- as redemption for these first two seasons of near-misses for the new-look Jets and their exuberant coach, that moment of anguish in Pittsburgh has already fixed Rex Ryan as a winner in the larger sense of the word, whatever the ultimate record of this period in the team’s history.

© 2011 Patrick J. Walsh

Play Like You Mean It: Passion, Laughs, and Leadership in the World's Most Beautiful Game

Thursday, January 27, 2011

My own media

In the interest of disclosure (and maybe promotion :) I just wanted to let everyone know about my own recent media contributions. First, there's my latest book, the three volume Spaceflight: A Historical Encyclopedia, which was published in 2010 by ABC-Clio Inc. (under their Greenwood Press imprint).

Most recently, I've been posting a series of very short documentaries about the history of space exploration at my YouTube channel, PatWalshVideo (

I welcome comments on either of these projects, or on any of my work. Thanks for reading!

Spaceflight [3 volumes]: A Historical Encyclopedia

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Jennifer Aniston: Looking At The Right Parts

Jennifer Aniston Poster Sexy Red Teddy

As a writer struggling with my own career choices, I am frequently fascinated by the plight of creative people who seem to veer from invincible success to inscrutable failure, from performances that bring wide recognition and acclaim to a series of bad projects stacked one on top of another.

Stage or screen, television or film, an actor or actress is after all only as good as the choices he or she makes. Which script? Which project? What priority for personnel, money, prestige, ‘buzz’, art?

While some poor choices lead pretty immediately to a lack of subsequent offers, there are those stars whose past success allows them to absorb a string of poor roles and failed projects and still be able to enjoy the promise of new opportunities. And in some cases, of course, the bell eventually rings right, and a star is reborn...

Which all leads me to the most recent example of thespian career-lag to gain my attention: the singularly odd case of Jennifer Aniston. A look at some of her recent films might easily lead an uninformed observer -- like me -- to conclude that the former “Friends” star is adrift in a sea of mediocre films punctuated only by occasional islands of lousy tabloid publicity.

But a simple search for info about her recent films led me to an interesting experience that, I think, may well be instructive for anyone trying to figure out her recent career trajectory.

My search returned scant information about her films, but instead produced some lovely images -- the first of which was a thumbnail image of the star in a gorgeous sequined red negligee that amply displayed her sensual side. The full image, meanwhile, was a hi-res photo so large, it couldn’t be contained on my computer’s monitor.

So the logical next step, of course, would have been to zoom out, in order to see the entire hi-resolution image. But in keeping with my usual contrariness, I instead zoomed in (and upward, to be entirely candid) until the dominant portion of the image that filled my screen was essentially the headshot that every actor or actress brandishes as a calling card from the very start of his or her career.

And there it was: those incredible soft eyes, the expressiveness that speaks of vulnerability so deep that it can inform the depth of any character well-enough written to break our hearts or lift our spirits... and there too the strength of a strong woman who can see beyond the moment to convey the history of a character that she alone can know, as the one perfect person to play that given role...

I’m guessing that everyone who has ever cast Jennifer Aniston in her best roles -- or cast any great actor or actress in a great role -- probably had a moment just like that, where the innate qualities of the performer have outshone even the glamour of the larger picture.

May we all shine outward, even as others look at us however they choose...

© 2011 Patrick J. Walsh

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Spirit of Baseball Past

Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero

Sometimes the holiday season brings the most unusual gifts...

I want to start off this blog with a few reflections about watching a baseball game... a game that was played years before I was born, of which a copy was made at the time and then forgotten for decades, only to be found and aired some five decades later, in a whole new era...

In mid-December, I was lucky enough to catch Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, which was aired for the first time since the game was originally played, a little more than 50 years ago.

The very fact that a copy of the game was found after so many years is remarkable, and the story of how it came to be preserved, forgotten, and then rediscovered last summer in Bing Crosby’s personal film collection is a wonderful tale in and of itself.

But the joy of actually seeing the entire see-saw battle for the championship between the Yankees and the Pirates -- and watching players like Roberto Clemente, Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle playing in a complete game, as opposed to glimpsing brief highlights, was a truly thrilling experience.

Although many of the great Yankees who played in that era were retired or at the end of their career when I was growing up, I have intensely visceral memories of the great Roberto Clemente. At the latter part of his career he was still a formidable nemesis for the early 1970s Mets, who I adored as a child; but his sheer grace and skill taught me an early lesson about admiring people and their talents regardless of their uniform. As a result, although I’ve remained a Mets fan all my life, I can also honestly say that I am a fan of all baseball as well, and of great effort, great skill, and great spirit in all sports.

And of course, the tragic death of Roberto Clemente on New Year’s Eve 1972, while he was engaged in a relief mission for Nicaraguan earthquake victims, taught me many other things, too -- particularly about the true nature of heroism.

Seeing him play in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, though, brought this larger-than-life figure from my childhood somehow closer, as I realized anew the fact that he was a consummate athlete who overcame the circumstances of his time to play the game he loved, every summer day, for many years...

As I watched the game, he was again Roberto Clemente the ballplayer, as well as the tragic hero, the historic icon, and the man whose great play against my hometown favorite team challenged me to applaud greatness wherever I might be lucky enough to find it.

What a wonderful gift: a game, a man, a baseball legend, and the little boy within me, thrilled as much as I was on every long-ago childhood Christmas Eve...

© 2010 Patrick J. Walsh