Sunday, January 31, 2010

Big day at Big Boy Toy Show

Iowa Hawkeyes (from left) Rafael Eubanks, Pat Angerer and Tony Moeaki.

Wisconsin Badgers Mickey Turner (left) and Chris Maragos.

Today I volunteered at the Telegraph Herald's Tri-State Big Boy Toy Show, the two-day annual trade show and event geared for the guys, at Dubuque's Grand River Center.

A feature of the concluding day of the event is an autograph session with college football stars. My job was "crowd control" at the autograph table line. There was a crowd all right, but they stayed under control throughout.

The Iowa Hawkeyes have been represented a half-dozen years, while this is the second year we have hosted Wisconsin Badgers.

The Iowa players were Rafael Eubanks, Pat Angerer and (filling in for A.J. Edds) Tony Moeaki. They signed autographs for hundreds of fans -- some of whom lined up nearly two hours before the signing session began -- with grace and friendliness throughout.

The Wisconsin table was capably handed by Badgers co-captain Mickey Turner and Chris Maragos, who likewise thrilled the visitors dressed in red and black.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

How long would you wait?

How long would you wait for a table at a popular restaurant?

I set a personal record on Saturday -- and those who know my patience level might find this amazing: Three hours.

It was not just any restaurant. It was Frontera Grill in Chicago, rated one of the best restaurants -- not only in the Windy City but anywhere. It is owned by Rick Bayless, who has his own cooking show on public TV.

But three hours?

Why not get a reservation? Easier said than done. The restaurant takes a limited number -- and for Saturday nights they are gone three months in advance. Those without reservations are lined up when the doors open at 5 to get their names on the waiting list.

On several previous trips to Chicago, we decided not to wait hours. We succeeded in having dinner there one September five years ago -- and that was with sidewalk seating. A year ago, we squeezed in for lunch at the bar on a Saturday.

This time, Madame X and I arrived at 5:30, mentally committed to a long wait. Still, just a half-hour after the doors opened, we were told the wait would be 2-2½ hours. OK, we told ourselves, we can handle that. We were instructed to check back in an hour and pick up a pager device.

That hour was spent in a nearby Irish pub, where I sipped a Harp and watched rugby on TV. (One team wore pink uniforms.)

The next two hours we spent standing at the edge of the packed bar area, sipping wine and getting to know some folks also in the for the long haul. We met a couple from Seattle and another from Milwaukee.

After three hours, the Milwaukee couple and we agreed to the manager's offer of seats at the cooks' counter -- a bar-like arrangement overlooking the cappuccino machine and next to the cooks' area. Any port in a storm.

The food was excellent. (I had steak strips with a delicious salsa.) Service was fine.

But was it worth three hours? I don't think any restaurant is worth that long a wait. But we were determined to eat at Frontera Grill that evening. Plus, I got a blog item out of it.

How long would you wait?

Schalk and the Super Bowl

I set Google Alerts for various topics of personal interest, including the name Ray Schalk. Usually, it hits listings for memorabilia sales and blogs by guys who look at Schalk's low batting average (.253) and decree that he should not be in the Hall of Fame, no matter how great he was at defense. (As if the Hall has no offensive stars whose defensive liabilities were overlooked by electors...)

However, about the last place I expected to see Schalk's name pop up was in a story related to the Super Bowl. Yet, there he is, mentioned in a Major League Baseball feature about ex-Major Leaguers who once played in this season's Super Bowl cities.

Schalk managed Indianapolis of the American Association in 1938 and the first half of 1939, when he "resigned." Schalk also has a link to the home state of the other Super Bowl city, New Orleans. When he was player-coach of the Chicago White Sox (1927-28), the team trained in Shreveport, La., in the extreme northwest corner of the state, some 340 miles from New Orleans.

Friday, January 15, 2010

We lose a link to Iowa sports history

Don Crawford with another Cascade native, Gary Dolphin, "Voice of the Iowa Hawkeyes," July 4, 2007.

I received a sad bit of news today, when Paul Crawford reported the passing of his Dad, Don Crawford. He was 95. I met Don in mid-2007, after he contacted me about my Red Faber biography. I visited him in his apartment in Des Moines.

Unfortunately, my book was already out; otherwise, Don could have helped round out my project. That's because Don had the distinction of likely being the last living person to have batted against Faber. It was in a 1933 exhibition in Dubuque, just a week or two after what turned out to be Faber's last major league game. Don was 18 at the time; Faber was 45.

Don, who grew up in Cascade, might be the only person to have ever batted against both Faber and another Hall of Famer with Iowa roots, Bob Feller. That contest occurred in an amateur tournament a few years later, when Feller was still a teen but soon to enter the majors.

On Independence Day 2007, when the Tri-County Historical Society unveiled its newly remodeled museum wing dedicated to Faber, officials asked Don to snip the ribbon. He was thrilled.

On the occasion of our visit in Des Moines, I wrote a blog post that ended: One of the great pleasures of writing the Faber biography is getting the opportunity to become acquainted with people I otherwise would never had occasion to meet. Don Crawford, a real gentleman, certainly is at the top of the list.

Some 2½ years later, I still feel that way. Peace, Don.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Everything's relative

This morning, I awoke to a temperature of minus-4. But it is a calm, sunny day in Dubuque, and life moves on.

Meanwhile, in Florida, officials are opening emergency shelters to help people endangered by the cold. The temperature might dip into the 20s.

Granted, folks in Florida don't have the insulated homes, winter coats and boots to cope with those temperatures. Still -- emergency shelters?

Photo: Charlotte (Fla.) Sun

Friday, January 01, 2010

Berwanger's link to Northwestern history

Much was made of Northwestern's bid today to win its first football bowl game in more than 60 years. Despite a remarkable comeback (helped incredibly by a series of Auburn penalties), the Wildcats lost in overtime.

The close call extended the Wildcats' decades-long streak without a bowl victory. Their last win was a 20-14 victory over California came in the 1949 Rose Bowl -- a game marked by controversy.

On a play from the Cal 1 yard line, Northwestern running back Art Murakowski fumbled at the goal line. California's Will Lotter fell on the ball. The question became whether the ball crossed the plane of the goal line before Murakowski lost control.

The side judge made the signal -- touchdown. His decision brought lots of criticism for the official, especially from West Coast sportswriters.

Today, the officials would have used video review of the play to confirm the result. That was not possible 61 years ago, and the call stood.

The official's name: Jay Berwanger.

Berwanger, the winner of the first Heisman Trophy, who had officiated the college game several seasons, simply said he called it "as I saw it."

Eventually, the controversy passed, especially with the public support of the Big Ten supervisor of officials.

Berwanger started officiating in 1941, took time off while he was in the military, then resumed through the 1952 season. The 1949 Rose Bowl was his only bowl assignment.