Tag Archives: 911

Another Hall Of Fame

I recently got back home from a trip of a lifetime. My lovely wife surprised me, for my half century birthday, with a planned vacation – ALL ABOUT ME. I had expressed my desire to someday travel to a few cities including Cleveland. Yes, Cleveland. Sound familiar? Anyway, I noticed the missus kept using the phrase bucket list whenever discussing our trip with other people. Her terminology sort of rubbed me the wrong way. Call it what you will – simple semantics, “you say tomato and I say tomahto,” or chalk it up to me being a dope, but eventually I felt compelled to make my thoughts on the subject known to her.

I tend to view a “bucket list” somewhat negatively. I see the popular trend as being just a list of stuff a person assumes will bring true happiness once completed, yet if everything on their list is not crossed off before their demise then tragically the person thinks their life came to an end without ever having known complete fulfillment. I do aspire to travel and experience different things, but I certainly don’t need new adventures to possess contentment. Regardless, “bucket list” or not, I had a wonderful time at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, but that was just a portion of our week-long vacation. My trip of a lifetime included another Hall of Fame (also found in Ohio).

The feeling I got when entering Canton’s Pro Football Hall of Fame was akin to how I felt when going through the doors of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There was that familiar aura of greatness inside the hallowed walls of the National Football League (NFL) enshrinement. Only the elite, the best of the best, the cream of the crop, the crème del a crème are inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Their eminence is rewarded with a bronze bust of their likeness to forever be displayed in Canton. No good players, coaches, or special contributors to the game are allowed in the exclusive club: only exceptional individuals are welcomed.

In the recent past, I was guilty of taking those already enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for granted because it seemed as though each and every year several new inductees were being admitted. I thought surely by now there must be hundreds of bronzed busts occupying The Hall. All that is true. There are now 303 individuals (including the 2016 inductees) honored within Canton’s revered facility. However, there’ve been tens of thousands of people associated with professional football since the game’s inception; therefore, in actuality the number of those who’ve been selected is fairly scant.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame includes an informative, up-to-date timeline showing how today’s NFL as we know it came to be. I learned the first player chosen in the very first NFL Draft was that year’s Heisman Trophy winner, but the talented, most sought after player had absolutely no desire to play professional football. The Hall also boasts endless memorabilia and numerous interactive exhibits. I discovered I throw a football just like Hall of Fame quarterback, Jim Kelly (well, maybe not as far – or as tightly spiraled – but somewhat similar nonetheless). I grip the pigskin in the exact manner as the former Buffalo Bills’ legend probably because our hands are the same size.

I was caught a little off guard when I came across a modest display featuring the most perfect picture. The photo was taken at the first professional football game played after the events of 9/11. (The NFL postponed all games for a week out of respect for the lives lost during the attack on our nation.) The inspirational picture, capturing a burly football player bursting through the stadium’s smoke-filled tunnel while proudly waving a life-sized American flag, was both sobering and uplifting. The way the United States came together during that horrific time in history was a thing of beauty. I wish we could experience that type of unity as a nation again without requiring another tragedy of that magnitude to bring us all to our senses.

By far, my favorite part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame was strolling by the rows of busts. They were arranged in chronological order by the year in which each member was inducted. I took my sweet time as I read each name and studied the inductee’s bronzed likeness before proceeding to the next bust. The first grouping of Hall of Famers I came upon, that I was genuinely interested in, were of a few players I had routinely heard of as a child. I certainly knew about Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas, and Joe Namath, but I was a little too young at the time to recall ever watching them play. My father has been a lifelong Kansas City Chiefs’ fan, so I’m well aware their Hall of Fame quarterback, Len Dawson, massacred opposing defenses throughout the 60’s. Unfortunately, I can only remember rooting for the Chiefs’ subpar quarterbacks, Mike Livingston and Bill Kenney, during my initial years as a football fan during the late 70’s and early 80’s.

I eventually came across some standouts I could actually remember witnessing firsthand their superior play on the football field. My interest in the bronze busts escalated when spotting many of my favorite players from my youth: Roger Staubach, Tony Dorsett, Terry Bradshaw, and Lynn Swann. I guess there was a time when one could be a fan of both the Cowboys and the Steelers. I also admired Hall of Fame running backs, Earl Campbell and O.J Simpson, around that time. Yes, O.J. Simpson. I even had (and still have) an O.J. doll…ahem…I mean an action figure complete with football uniform and jogging suit (knife not included). Sometimes our heroes fall – and sometimes they fall hard. I was a huge fan of Earl Campbell. I fancied the power running back not only because of his bruising-style of running but also because the Houston Oiler dipped Skoal tobacco (my beloved grandpa’s brand).

After a while I found myself amongst the gleaming heads of the more recent Hall of Fame inductees. Two of my favorite players from the 90’s were Deion Sanders and John Elway although I liked them for entirely different reasons. I was enamored with Sanders’ athleticism as an All-Pro cornerback and gifted return specialist. Watching “Prime Time” return a kick or an interception was anything but boring. The way Deion pursued the end zone with reckless abandon brought everyone to their feet and made opposing teams’ fans cringe. Many times the versatile athlete’s improvised returns would result in choreographed touchdown celebrations. I used to thoroughly enjoy Sanders’ showboating and his high-stepping into the end zone, but with age I’ve come to despise excessive celebrations of any kind on the football field.

John Elway, on the other hand, brought a controlled passion to the game. I can’t say as I cared too much for the lifelong Denver Bronco quarterback at the beginning of his career, but his obvious heart and vigor for the game converted me into one of his fans by the time he retired. (I felt the same way about Hall of Famers, Joe Montana and Brett Favre, and future Hall of Famer, Peyton Manning, at the end of their storied careers. I admit to having a soft spot when it comes to most NFL quarterbacks’ last hurrah. Of course, Tom Brady is the exception.)

John Elway led his team to back-to-back Super Bowl victories, during his final two years in the League, with sheer determination. I was reminded of his tenacity while watching footage of Super Bowl 32 inside the sacred walls of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The highlights showed Elway willing his aged body to perform as though he was a robust rookie. The scrambling quarterback can be seen sacrificing said body, for the slightest extra yardage, in pursuit of a much needed first down. His tremendous effort led to a touchdown – and his 1st Super Bowl ring. The next year Elway was even better, winning Super Bowl 33 and being named the game’s MVP, as the gritty quarterback undeniably went out on top.

Spending a day at the Pro Football Hall of Fame was definitely a dream come true. I wonder what’s next on my “bucket list.” Boston? Washington, D.C.? Paris? Ireland? Perhaps another Hall of Fame?


NYC (2014)

The Manhattan skyline is unmistakable when heading into New York City. The Chrysler Building is easily recognizable, with its unique architectural design, and the Empire State Building is surely familiar to those who’ve seen the classic movie, King Kong. Noticeably missing from the skyline are the Twin Towers, but just as discernible is the recently constructed Freedom Tower that has replaced the former national landmark. I suppose the array of prominent buildings, both old and new, is what distinguishes “The Big Apple’s” impressive skyline from all others in the United States. The old Chrysler Building and the new Freedom Tower were born of different generations (84 years apart), yet both have a storied past although the Freedom Tower undoubtedly conveys a more significant meaning not only to the citizens of New York but to the rest of the world as well.

It is almost impossible for me to fathom New York City coming together as a community and supporting one another during difficult times or when tragedy strikes. However, I witnessed precisely that from afar on Sept. 11th, 2001, and for many months thereafter, in wake of that tragic period in our country’s history. Our nation’s newspapers and television stations portrayed New York as a caring place whose residents were genuinely concerned with the well-being of their fellow man. That admirable quality seemingly has disappeared, or at the very least has been placed on hiatus, probably until another disaster arises. I know this because my family and I just got back from New York. “The City That Never Sleeps” has reverted to an “every man for himself” mentality. Apparently, everyone is very important and has somewhere they need to be, and if you’re a tourist you had better keep up with the fast paced crowds or move clear over to one side.

Shoulder bumping, hip checking, and unfriendly games of “chicken” are not an uncommon sight, and if it’s raining then you just might as well “fa-get-about-it.” The sea of umbrellas only makes the city’s sidewalks that much harder to navigate, and if you don’t lose an eye in the process then you should consider yourself lucky. I’m not so sure a New Yorker wouldn’t be willing to trample a visitor, to their fair city, if given the opportunity. I wasn’t willing to find out, so I purposely was highly aware of my surroundings at all times whilst out among them. I reckon I could give the citizens of New York City the benefit of the doubt and assume not all of them are impolite and self-absorbed. Maybe they were all simply trying to get out of the dreary weather and back to the comforts of their homes and to their awaiting families. Maybe. The only thing possibly more irritating than the rude people occupying the sidewalks was the relentless sound of blaring car horns all day and all night long. Here a beep, there a beep, everywhere a beep beep.

I’ve never seen the kind of hustle and bustle of a big city quite like what I saw on display in New York. I had a nice time in “The Big Apple” nonetheless. I certainly can’t complain about time spent with family. The 9/11 Memorial and Museum was a tasteful tribute to those who perished. The exhibit was educational but mostly sobering. Even now, 13 years later, the entire situation is still so surreal when reflecting on 9/11. The Statue of Liberty is a magnificent sight to behold. My sometimes blasé attitude towards our nation’s freedom was replaced with heartfelt gratitude while standing in her presence. The Rockettes’ Radio City Christmas Spectacular was in a word…spectacular! Five days in New York City was probably the ideal amount of time because on the last day of our vacation the thought of home had never been so enticing.

When my family and I walked out of The Hotel @ Times Square, for the last time, an obvious commotion of some sort was transpiring around us. As we placed our luggage into the vehicle of a local car service, our hotel had arranged to transport us to LaGuardia Airport, the source of the ruckus became crystal clear. Our hired driver was arguing with our hotel manager. Aawkwaard! I’m not entirely sure what the heated discussion was about since I had some trouble dissecting the pair’s Jamaican accents. I understood enough though to know they were threatening physical harm upon one another. Our driver finally got into the vehicle, with his now stunned passengers aboard, but he continued bickering with our hotel manager, who would not retreat from the nearby sidewalk, for what seemed like a lifetime. I was pleasantly shocked when the uncomfortable incident did not end in fisticuffs; however, it did sound as though they scheduled a time for later in the day to finish what was started. What a fittingly perfect ending to our time spent in New York City.


Sept. 11th, 2014

My father-in-law was murdered, on this very day, 13 years ago. James D. Cleere was in New York on business the day of the terrorist attacks. He was staying at the Marriott Hotel, located between the Twin Towers, when two airplanes struck the nation’s landmark. The Towers ultimately collapsed before Jim was able to get out of the hotel. His remains have yet to be recovered which for some of us I imagine does not allow for complete closure. Our family was able to get through the tragic event by our faith in the one and only God. Jim will be remembered as many different things to many different people. That’s all we really have: our own perception of an individual until we truly get to know them.

To me, my father-in-law was a big, friendly guy who fancied the performing arts. He was in charge of the lighting at the local community theater, and at one time he was a member of a Praise and Worship vocal group. He frequently sang at weddings although not at ours because he thought he might become too emotional (I can’t say as I blame him considering who his daughter was marrying). Jim enjoyed reading, and I believe he may of had a sweet tooth. He traditionally received a Barnes & Noble gift certificate from us at Christmas, and my wife always made rice krispie treats for him on his birthday. During the weekdays Jim wore a seemingly endless supply of dress shirts and neckties, since he was a thriving businessman, but on the weekends he typically wore a pair of overalls, resembling a Midwest farmer, when doing yard work or just putzing around the house.

My father-in-law had a fondness for music even though he didn’t play an instrument, and he placed a great emphasis on education even though he never earned a college degree. Jim adored his grandson (my son) and was so delighted he could play the piano and that he excelled academically in school. I remember once, several years ago, when I was home alone, and out of the blue I had a tearful moment regarding Jim. I had been thinking about my son’s upcoming high school graduation and basking in knowing he was a class valedictorian and that he’d be graduating with several honors. As proud as I was of my son it dawned on me that Jim would have been ecstatic and in awe of his grandson’s many accomplishments, but he was no longer here to share in the excitement.

It’s kind of strange, but nice, when the past meets the present to form a new memory of a loved one. I was well aware my father-in-law was fascinated with technology, but I recently learned, or else I had forgotten, he enjoyed writing as well. Jim has been gone for 13 years, but I can’t help but think he’d be pleased to know his son-in-law is now a blogger. I still feel somewhat cheated, after all these years, because even though I had known Jim, for 18 years, I didn’t know him well. I think we were just beginning to feel comfortable with one another on a different level. We were starting to relate more as two adults instead of one adult and one punk kid. I think we know who the punk kid was.

The following is one of only a handful of poems I have ever written. I wrote it in 2009, as an assignment for a college class. The piece conveys my deepest thoughts about that horrific day and imparts the isolation I was feeling, as Jim’s only son-in-law, shortly after Sept. 11th, 2001. I have not forgotten you, James D. Cleere.

An Insignificant View

Some memories now faded, while others so vividly clear
That devastating day in September, my own personal hell
The silence, panic, and concern, then relief from the call
Silenced again, this time extinguishing all remaining hope
Entrapped in a supporting role, staying strong for wife and child
What about me?
Surrounded by the media, but off to one side I stand
Observing the crowds of well-wishers, gathered to support
There are neighbors, co-workers, clergy, some family, and friends
Receiving numerous letters, cards, e-mails, and calls
but What about me?
We mourn in different ways, I’m isolated once again
I attend the funeral, they’ve deemed “A Celebration of Life”
I’m in my grieving process, they’re professing their faith
There are many tributes, memorials, and speaking engagements
They’re wanting to remember, I’m doing my best to forget
What about me?
I’m part of the picture, but on the outside looking in
A marriage almost ruined, by the consumption of the events
No peace of mind in sight, until the killer is caught
Loss of a husband, father, grandpa, son, brother, and friend
but What about me?
I lost my father-in-law when the towers came down