RIP Vic Ziegel

Good-bye to one of my favorites from my formative sports-reading and sportswriting years, Vic Ziegel of the New York Daily News.

“The Long Island Press no longer exists. (So what else is new?) When I was still in college, I showed up at the Press several nights a week – eight splendid bucks a night – to take high school basketball results over the phone and write a few paragraphs of roundup, nothing too fancy.

“There were about a half-dozen of us living in this fast lane. One night, much like all the other nights, the scores starting running together. And to keep awake, and because I’m a cunning, vicious SOB, I urged my fellow eight-buckers to repeat the same phrase in the lead of our basketball roundups. The next day, on the high school page of the Long Island Press, in a half-dozen league stories, and another on non-conference games, it was reported that Chuck Lastname or Danny Lastname or Gerry Lastname led his team to victory by ‘performing yeoman work under the boards.’

“Seven times, yeoman work under the boards. And I was back the next night, accepting congratulations, another eight bucks heading my way. What did I learn? That you can get away with a few things in this world. That nobody cares what kind of work you do if you work cheap. That if I ever fell off a roof and landed on my head I could still edit stories about high school sports for the Long Island Press. That people would laugh when I repeated the story.

“Very seductive, the sound of laughter. And so I discovered, in my yeoman period, that if I wanted to continue hearing the pleasing sound of laughter, I could keep writing sports. At least until I discovered what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Nothing seems to have changed. I can still be found in the sports section, still trying to earn a smile. Makes me think, nights in Pittsburgh, Louisville, the Iona-Siena game, that maybe I did fall off that roof.”

—Introduction to Ziegel’s Sunday Punch: Strawberries, Raspberries, Steinbrenners and Tysons – A Famed Sports Columnist Takes His Best Shot at Sports’ Big Shots, 1991

(h/t to evesmag.com; I have this book buried somewhere in my attic, and damned it I can’t find it, though I can recall the “yeoman work under the boards” line as if I read it yesterday. I never had the gumption to try that prank when I was writing high school wrap-ups. Thanks to evesmag for saving the story online.

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Arturo Gatti defined ‘tough’

Not much to add about Arturo Gatti’s death, except to say how sad it is, made even sadder as more details come to light.

Gatti’s final fight in his triology with Mickey Ward in 2003 got me back into following boxing for a while. Their fights were fierce, their friendship touching. I remember watching them share a water bottle immediately after the fight while they were both being interviewed by HBO’s Larry Merchant. You couldn’t look away from that fight. Jerry Izenberg of the Newark Star-Ledger wrote of their battles that they were “so brutal and so passionate that they could have fought inside a pay telephone booth.”

Gatti fought two of those bouts with a broken hand. That only underscored how tough this guy was, and how entertaining. For anyone with a blue-collar work ethic, whether real or inflated, Gatti showed you the real deal. For anyone trying to overcome adversity, Gatti’s actions in the ring provide a great inspiration. He fought through a painful blow to the liver, through broken hands, through swollen eyes.

More from Izenberg, who sums it up perfectly in his piece from Monday:

… New Jersey was, is and always will be the state of long-shot dreams, of hard knocks, high hopes and getting off the deck for one more shot. … It has always been this way. In urban enclaves, no matter how they change, no matter the ethnicity or the skin color or the economic status. …

In other slices of geography they succumb to the awful dirge of the Rust Belt Blues. Here we respond with the code of The Puncher’s Chance. And the fire in that determination explains who we are and why we do not store our dreams away in the closet. …

Listen to coach Bob Hurley, who was born and raised in one of those enclaves. The sound of his voice could pass for the music of North Jersey’s cities. He can explain the legend of Arturo Gatti:

”People have dreams. So do neighborhoods. They were his people. You look back when you grow up and you remember the toughest kid on the block and years later you think, ‘Well, he made it. Why not me?’ So you keep on trying. In so many ways, he is what we are sometimes, back on his heels, bleeding, hurt and then coming back again because he would not yield his Puncher’s Chance.”

Gatti was born in 1972, the same year I was, and now he’s dead at 37. Rest in peace.


Generation Kill: Not Your Father’s Warriors

There’s a throwaway shot in the opening episode of Generation Kill, which premiered on Sunday night on HBO, that establishes that These Are Not Your Father’s Marines. With the sun setting on their encampment, two silhouetted Marines wearing boxing gloves throw some wild, leaping kicks at each other without ever throwing a punch.

The wide shot lasts for a mere few seconds as we transition from one scene to the next, but it’s a telling few seconds — previous generation’s warriors might climb into the base ring and go at it for a few rounds as a physical way of blowing off steam. Today’s soldiers and Marines (and by extension, today’s civilian 20-somethings) are bred on MMA and video games (and as we see in this episode too, irony and satire) and are more likely to engage in driveway boxing or backyard wrestling as they are a game of baseball on the base. As Mark Kriegel once wrote of this generation (he was talking about civilians), “These are the guys who made 300 a huge hit.”

I don’t know if it is too early to call it a profane version of Band of Brothers or merely the Marines version of The Wire, but after watching that premier episode for the third time, I am ready to be hooked again on another David Simon show, if only for the seven-episode arc of this miniseries adaption of Evan Wright’s book.

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Da Mystery of Chessboxin’ revealed

A game of chess, is like a swordfight. You must think first, before you move.

—Enter the Wu-Tang

I told Lord Jim I owe him a finder’s fee for this (and all full credit for the Wu-inspired headline above).

    Knights in the ring as chess boxers slug it out

To me, this merely deepens our unanimous decision.

I might even watch this summer’s Olympics if they added chess boxing, but only if Girthy lifts their protest.

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Hi, Mom? I’m on HBO

Was not terribly impressed with Joe Calzaghe’s victorious performance over Bernard Hopkins last Saturday in the light heavyweight fight. I guess when they said he wasn’t showing much punching power, you could actually see it. Still, he remained undefeated with a split decision over the aging Hopkins.

What I want to know is why was Sylvester Stallone, clearly sitting in like, the fourth row and in view of the camera, wildly gesturing as if he were commenting on the fight to the guy sitting next to him. He looked like one of those crazy tourists that wave behind the Today Show talkers.