I love a good story, to the point where I want it retold every so often – the funnier, the better. And most of them get better with the retelling. Are there some embellishments? Sure, but the humor…and the truth is in the telling. Many of these stories that I am fond of deal with the sheer audacity of someone trying to accomplish the implausible if not impossible. We laugh, but by somehow overcoming the odds, they get the last laugh.
One such story I have a friend of mine recite on a yearly basis is about football, more specifically a historic field goal. The game was played on November 8th, 1970 at Tulane Stadium between the Detroit Lions and the New Orleans Saints. The Saints, who were perennial doormats, made a game of it against the highly favored and playoff bound Lions. So much so, that with time nearly expired, they still had a chance to pull out a win…or did they? The seemingly insurmountable problem was that the Saints had the ball at their own 37-yard line. They would have to travel 63 yards for a winning score. With time for one more play before time expired, the only logical move would be to throw a Hail Mary pass. Throw it up, say a prayer and hope for at least a defensive interference call by the refs (the game can’t end on a penalty). When the decision was made…it would be a
field goal attempt by kicker Tom Dempsey. As it turns out, it would be a kick for the ages. The previous longest successful field goal attempt was back in 1953 – 56 yards. And here is where it gets funny because my friend relates the story as he heard Alex Karras tell it. Karras was a defensive tackle for the Lions who was on the field that day. Known just as much for his wit and pithy one-liners as he was for his playing ability (he provided George Plimpton with a lot of material he used in his book Paper Lion andwould play himself in the film version) couldn’t help relishing the ridiculousness of the situation. According to lore, the guffaws started as the Lions lined up opposite the Saints for the field goal attempt. The ball was snapped. Dempsey kicked straight ahead (this was an era before the more accurate soccer style kickers). Karras and crew barely made an attempt to rush or try blocking the kick; they couldn’t, they were laughing too hard. And as the inimitable Karras put it, “we laughed and laughed for 63 long yards”. The kick was good. It sailed through the goal post with a couple of feet to spare. What was even more remarkable was the fact that Dempsey kicked the field goal with half a foot due to a birth defect. He was also born without a right hand. Dempsey would play in the NFL for 11 seasons, never matching his previous record. But you can rest assured he earned some respect…and had the last laugh.
Another story with the gravitas befitting the selection of the leader of the free world comes from CNN. The network has put together a series exploring the Bush dynasty, focusing primarily on the careers and presidencies of George H.W. Bush (41) and son George W. Bush (43). The series excels in part by examining the different personalities and emotional attachment or lack thereof of these two men. While Bush the senior was more introverted, contemplative, wonkish, and often in public anyway seen as emotionally detached; George W. was just the opposite – outgoing, engaging, and more impulsive. In fact, there is a dichotomy in the Bush family with former first lady Barbara Bush and George W. being of similar temperaments. Bush 41 and former governor of Florida and former presidential candidate Jeb Bush (described as low energy by President Trump) share similar dispositions.
Bush 43 often came across as disengaged and unfocused especially late in his presidency. And as his reelection bid began to take shape in 1992, these traits became more noticeable. He never fully articulated why he should be running for a second term. The economy dipped and his popularity began to plummet but even at that…he was running against the self-destructing billionaire Ross Perot and a former governor of Arkansas who was known to be a draft dodger and womanizer. While Clinton felt everyone’s’ pain and played a mean saxophone, according to the CNN documentary, Bush and his staff would meet in the oval office…and laugh. They couldn’t believe their good fortune in running against a perceived weak candidate. In fact, at some point of the campaign, Bush began calling Clinton and his running mate Al Gore “bozos”. Well we all know what
happened. When the final votes were counted, the “clown’ from Hope, Arkansas defeated perhaps the most qualified man to ever hold the office of presidency. The laughter as in the Tom Dempsey story was symptomatic of not taking your opponent seriously. Football is one thing; the presidency is quite another with far reaching consequences. In my opinion, the Clinton era will not be looked at with great affection by historians and former supporters like me. What would have happened if the laughter was squelched?
Then there is the maniacal strongman of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte. He has managed to turn his entire country into a laughingstock. Each new day brings another asinine, scurrilous, malicious statement from a man who makes former dictator Ferdinand Marcos quite sane by comparison. Duterte’s latest rhetoric is quite funny. He said he will declare war on Canada if they don’t take barges full of trash back to their country. This is one situation in which the Canadians should have resolved by now but instead they play into the hands of a madman. Despite all the “trash talking”, I won’t be laughing. I’ve been to the Philippines.
My dad would tell a story from time to time about this red headed kid back in the day who had a nasal twang, carried a guitar around, and constantly talked about making it big in Nashville. And if you're following my thread, you can imagine that there were naysayers in Hill County, Texas who thought the notion of this ever coming to pass was meant with hilarity. But as it turns out, that red headed kid my dad would chuckle about was none other than Willie Nelson. It wasn't a chuckle of derision, but one of admiration. My dad knew better than anyone else the long odds of anyone from the tiny farming community of Abbott, Texas achieving national, much less international celebrity were astronomical.
There are many more stories, many more tales to tell. But I see my son in his bathrobe during the middle of the day sipping on a soft drink. He is autistic and artistic. His dream is to be a cartoon artist. But I’m a little concerned about his inactivity. He tells me he’s waiting on the muse to strike, for the ideas to come. Patience he says, patience. But before I laugh, I catch myself. You just never know. At least he’s not smoking a pipe and wearing a smoking jacket.