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Los Angeles Rams: Defense First? Not Any More

November 17th, 2018 · No Comments · NFL, Rams

Those of us who grew up as fans of the Los Angeles Rams, over three decades, from 1960 to 1989 … we expected that if they won — and they tended to — it mostly would be about the team’s defense.

The Rams offense tended to be vanilla, and not a quality vanilla.

No, it generally was up to the 11 guys on defense to move the Rams along, and into the playoffs, thanks to colorful and elite players.

That notion has been turned on its head, here in 2018. The Rams are one of the most potent and aggressive teams on offense but, to our surprise, a bit, they are sub-average across the board on defense.

This is of interest as the Rams prepare for their Monday night home game against the Kansas City Chiefs, who are 9-1 — just like the Rams. In a game some suggest could be a Super Bowl preview.

Which is just weird, for us old-timers, who counted on the Rams defense to help out the often hapless offense.

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Confessions of a Shouting Youth Soccer Coach

November 15th, 2018 · No Comments · soccer

A soccer-related item popped into my email in-box the other day, and in it a Spanish coach with lots of history with youth players made a fairly simple and probably undeniable statement:

It is a waste of time for a coach to shout instructions at kiddie soccer players.

I knew that because I saw the futility of it, week after week.

But I never quite stopped shouting.

The advice I most often relayed to my players, via my big mouth?

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Tyson Chandler, Home at Last

November 12th, 2018 · No Comments · Basketball, Lakers, Sports Journalism

I saw the high school basketball debut of California native Tyson Chandler. Not many people can say that, because among the material I filed on deadline that night, December 2, 1997, is a note about how the Compton College gym was pretty much empty.

Chandler was a 15-year-old freshman and, more importantly, already 6-foot-11. But he did not dominate his first game. He didn’t even start. He came off the Compton Dominguez bench to score five points, two on a “sorta dunk” (as he put it), take three rebounds and block three shots in 13 minutes of a 53-42 victory over Perris.

I was there because the previous season Chandler had played for Arrowview Middle School, in San Bernardino, where I was sports editor, and if he had moved on with his Arrowview teammates he would have been The Biggest Man on Campus in the city, and our newspaper had suggested, as did many officials in the local school district there, that Chandler would be better off going to high school in San Bernardino.

But, one thing we can say without hesitation: Prospective professional athletes should not take career advice from journalists. Or, as it turns out, school officials.

Had Chandler stuck around at, say, San Bernardino High School, he would not have seen the caliber of opposition he typically encountered as a player for Dominguez, at the time one of the leading (and best-supported, by Nike) prep basketball programs in the nation.

After four years at Dominguez, Chandler went directly to the NBA (no one-and-done required, back then), the No. 2 pick in the 2001 draft, behind only the epic underachiever Kwame Brown, and a few weeks later began earning what has, over 18 seasons, amounted to something north of $180 million.

At 36, he is nearing the end of his career, but the Lakers (or LeBron James) decided the team needed another rim protector, to ease the load on the surprisingly effective JaVale McGee, and signed Chandler after the Phoenix Suns released him.

(Conspiracy alert: The general manager of the Suns is James Jones, who won three NBA titles playing with LeBron and, lookie here, the Suns gave up the the veteran channeling Yoda to the club’s rookie center Deandre Ayton, also the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft. And the Lakers snapped up Chandler the next day. Hmm.)

And, so far, after three games, all of them Lakers victories with Chandler’s fingerprints on them, he has come “home”, after all.

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A Celebration 100 Years in the Making

November 11th, 2018 · No Comments · France, Languedoc

At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, in 1918, World War I came to an end.

That is, the long and bloody war ended at 11 a.m. on November 11.

One hundred years later, France celebrated its century-old victory over Germany by instructing all churches to ring their bells for 11 minutes, beginning at 11 a.m.

It was the centieme anniversaire de l’armistice. (The 100th anniversary of the Armistice.)

That marked the start of festivities and remembrances throughout France, including in our village in the south of the country — where a significant fraction of the population gathered in the town square.

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The Great War: France Will Not Forget

November 10th, 2018 · No Comments · France, Germany

In the photo on the left, a young mustachioed French soldier from a century ago is dressed in his parade best as he stares coolly at the camera. His left hand is behind his back and his right rests on a table, near his red kepi and what might be a bayonet. It is the kind of photo young men posed for, ahead of going to war, in 1914.

The photo on the right shows the same soldier, with the same mustache and the same cool regard for the camera, apparently sitting on a bed … a hospital bed, it would seem … and he holds his bare left arm across his chest. The observer cannot help but notice that his arm is horribly swollen.

The soldier’s name is Marcel Poujol, and he would lose his burned arm to amputation. But he may have considered himself lucky, three times over.

He survived a shell that killed most of his comrades. He would not be going back to the trenches of what the French call La Grande Guerrethe Great War — to become one of the 1.4 million French war dead. And he would be able to live and work in his hometown of Nizas, in the Languedoc region of southern France, raising a family that includes his living granddaughter, our friend Marie-Claire.

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The Willie Mays Ball: Baseball History Down the Drain?

November 7th, 2018 · No Comments · Baseball, Dodgers

I was perhaps 9 or 10 when we visited some relatives of my mother’s in the Bay Area city of Richmond. Just across the water from San Francisco.

We went there every few years, and I was always a little agitated by it, because I didn’t really know these people, not like my aunts, uncles and cousins down in Long Beach.

They were a childless husband and wife, as I recall, and the woman was a fairly near relative of my mother. They seemed old to me, so maybe they were in their 40s?

And I remember all this because of one salient factor:

The Willie Mays Ball they gave us.

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Ranking Ten Pro Sports Teams I Loathe

November 4th, 2018 · No Comments · Barcelona, Basketball, Champions League, Dodgers, Football, Lakers, Lists, NBA, NFL, soccer

Have I done this before? After 10-plus years I must have. But know what? I’m not going to check because the 10 teams I love to hate changes a bit, from year to year. This list would probably be unlike any other I might have done.

For instance, most of my life I have wished bad things on the San Francisco Giants, and many Los Angeles sports fans would suggest I still should. But I was impressed that the Giants reached the World Series three times in five years (2010, 2012, 2014), and won all three. Those teams were cleverly constructed, the players were likable.

Sorry. They don’t make the list.

It’s difficult, actually, to hate 10 teams. Hate is a strong word. Perhaps we should go with “strongly dislike”.

So, yes, this is a list, and as usual we’re going to start with the less repellent and work up to “most strongly dislike”.

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Taking French Halloween Inside

November 1st, 2018 · No Comments · France

This is Year 3 of living in a small town in the south of France.

Our first October here, a local resident assured us that Halloween is not a “thing” in this part of the country. Further north in France, but not here. Not really. “Not part of our culture.”

And then at least 20 kids found our front door and rang our bell, and we scrounged up enough stuff to take care of them all.

A year ago, we were in Seville, Spain … and they seemed to celebrate Halloween there.

So, Halloween, not so weird, here in western Europe, and we bought candy this time, to be ready.

And then we found out the town had decided to regularize Halloween and the trick-or-treating, which features demands/threats just like in the States, except tweaked a little. Instead of “trick or treat” it is “des bonbons ou des Sorts!” — Candy or a spell!”).

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Next Up for Los Angeles: The Rams

October 30th, 2018 · No Comments · NFL, Rams

So much for the Dodgers. Realists had no hope for them, once they coughed up Game 4 and, truth be told, even if they had tied the series at 2-2 … them winning two of three from Boston, with two of those games played at Fenway … well, it just seemed really unlikely. The Red Sox were clearly the better team

Luckily, generic fans of Los Angeles sports have another team upon which they can place their hopes.

That would be a certain team that plays in the Coliseum. And we are not talking about the USC Trojans.

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From Up 4-0 to Down 9-4: Let’s Play the Blame Game

October 28th, 2018 · No Comments · Baseball, Dodgers

Do you do this? Something goes badly wrong for your team, and you spend a minute or five replaying the events in your head, and settle on what you believe led to your team’s destruction.

I do that. Especially in regard to baseball, which is a start-and-stop game chock-full of decisions, choices, options.

And the Dodgers’ crushing, 9-6 defeat in Game 4 of the World Series, after holding a 4-0 lead through six innings, is ripe for a session of “whom to blame”?

We start with the least blameworthy events, and end with the most.

–Rich Hill’s walk of Xander Bogaerts to open the seventh inning. With the Dodgers giddy after Yasiel Puig’s homer capped the bottom-of-the-sixth eruption. Hill was, of course, a huge plus for the club, throwing six scoreless, but whatever chance he had of going another inning or two may have ended when he put the leadoff man on. Not even striking out the next batter, Eduardo Nunez, taking Hill to 91 pitches, kept him in the game. If he opens the inning with two outs, maybe manager Dave Roberts lets him finish the seventh and two guys mentioned below never enter the game.

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