Super Bowl: A Packer memory

As I watch the Super Bowl preview -- approximately 47 hours, stuffed with enough plugs to jolt even Regis Philbin or Ed McMahon -- I wanted to throw in a personal memory.

Yes, I'll throw in some new comments after the Super Bowl and "Glee." First, however, here's a commentary I sent to papers:

To understand the grip this year's Super Bowl has, you need to take a 
brief trip.
We'll go to the Methodist church in Clintonville, Wis., 50 years ago. 
After the anthem, Rev. Carrico would pause; the men in the choir would 
leave for the one-hour drive to the Green Bay Packer game.
When I tell about that nowadays, some people focus on the negative – 
parishioners leaving before the sermon. I prefer the positive – even on 
Packer Sundays, they stayed to sing the anthem.
Clintonville people are like that, diligent and dependable. They love 
God and the Packers, although not always in that order.
They don't need to be first or famous, although they've had little 
glimpses of it. Clintonville began making four-wheel-drive vehicles, 
generations before that became fashionable. In the city, you'll find 
the desk where Eben Rexford wrote “Silver Threads Among the Gold,” a 
chunk of the Great Wall of China (really) and an abandoned prototype 
for something called a snowmobile.
Louder, pushier places felt compelled to be No. 1. In Wisconsin, the 
Packers did dominate the early  pro-football years – six championships 
between 1929 and '44 – but then faced tough logistics.
Green Bay has one per cent of New York's population, but each had one 
football team. The Packers scrambled; they were owned by community 
investors and played half their home games in Milwaukee.
In 1958, they won one, lost 10 and tied one; I can still remember Billy 
Howton catching the winning pass in the one victory.
Then Vince Lombardi took over as coach. He was a New Yorker who had 
nothing in common with Wisconsin except a love of God – he attended 
Mass every morning – and football.
The Packers had winning records in Lombardi's first two years, then won 
five championships in the next seven. The effect was enormous. There 
were no TV sets in the University of Wisconsin dorms back then, but we 
rented one each Sunday; every guy on the floor crowded in to watch the 
game …. then most spilled outside to play touch football.
During the first three Lombardi championship years, there was no Super 
Bowl. When it did start, the Packers won the first two – 35-10 over 
Kansas City, 33-14 over Oakland.
Life changed, Lombardi moved on, the Packers wobbled, but small-town 
Wisconsin clung to them. Milwaukee was no longer needed. Even after the 
stadium added 10,000 seats, the waiting list for season tickets 
lingers. In Clintonville, one woman was in her 80s when it was finally 
her turn.
The Packers did return to the Super Bowl, winning in 1997 (35-21 over 
New England), inexplicably losing in '98 (31-24 to Denver).
And now they're back, with a new quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, and a 
young team. The Pittsburgh Steelers easily lead them with six Super 
Bowl wins in seven tries; counting the pre-Super Bowl years, the 
Packers still lead everyone in overall championships.
Kick-off isn't until 5:25 p.m. Clintonville (Central) time, so Rev. 
Thomson should have full pews for her sermon. She may include a prayer 
for the Packers to win (appropriately) the Lombardi Trophy.
– Super Bowl kick-off, about 6:25 p.m. ET, Fox.
– Pre-game shows start at noon; on-field coverage at 6. Christina 
Aguilera sings the National Anthem, Lea Michele sings “America the 
Beautiful”; also pre-game: Keith Urban and Maroon 5.
– Black Eyed Peas at halftime
– “Glee” follows the post-game show, at about 10:30 p.m. ET


Time for a smooch

I've known many middle-school children and have been one myself. I've never, however, met one who might think that when she kissed a frog, it turned into a handsome prince (just because she happened to drop the frog near where a mugged prince was lying).

That happens in Saturday's "Smooch," which has approximately the silliest plot ever. Still, I was sort of charmed by the film, partly because I like Kellie Martin and silliness and, maybe, smooches.

Here's a story I sent to papers. As I mentioned in the previous blog, the weather has made this a tricky week for newspaper readers, so I'm also putting some of my stories here:


Television requires a steady supply of
little girls who are capable of deep tragedy.

It currently has Kiernan Shipka, whose
“Mad Men” character (Sally Draper) is rocked by naughty adults.
“I'm not allowed to watch the show,” she said. “I just focus
more on the Sally parts.”

A generation earlier, TV had Kellie
Martin, whose “Life Goes On” character sometimes faced rough
stretches. “I had to cry almost every day,” she said.

Now they're together in –
surprisingly – a quirky comedy.

That's “Smooch,” part of the
Valentine's Day rush on the Hallmark Channel. Shipka, 11, plays a
girl who believes that when she kissed a frog, it turned into a
handsome prince (Simon Kassianides); it's a simple mistake, but the
prince happens to be amnesiac and she sets him up with her mom.

Martin, 35, plays the mom, a pleasant
duty. “I have the greatest job in the world,” she said. “I'm
married for 11 years, but I get to go kiss this guy for two full

This isn't the life she might have
expected. “I'm an old soul …. I wasn't a happy-go-lucky kid.”

It wasn't sadness, Martin said, just
seriousness. “I liked reading Edith Wharton at 13.”

That's how old she was when she
auditioned for “Life Goes On,” wearing bright red glasses. “I
think those glasses got me the part,” she said.

Becca Thatcher, her character,
continued to wear glasses (Martin eventually got contacts and then
surgery), becoming the prototype of a smart, caring kid. That peaked
when she fell for Jessie (Chad Lowe), who was HIV-positive. In the
final season, Lowe won an Emmy and Martin was nominated.

Childhood is a pleasant time to be an
actress, Martin insists. “At that age, it was just fun and the
world was your oyster and you just had a great time on the set.”

Then it was on to Yale, where she met
her husband, Keith Christian. “The second I saw him, it was like
crazy chemistry,” she said.

She liked him even more when she
mentioned acting and he said he'd never seen her.

“I went, 'Really? Really? You've
never seen any of my shows? Okay.'

“And he went, 'No, we didn't have the
ABC channel.' He's from Montana.”

Her Yale education kept being suspended
for jobs. Once, her mother booked Martin for a full movie –
three-plus weeks of work – wedged around a two-week school break;
at other times, Martin delayed her education. “You can't say no to
'ER,'” she said.

TV-movie roles seemed worth the
trouble, especially “Hidden in Silence,” a true story. “That
was such a great part; I played a girl who saved 13 Jews.”

Martin finally graduated (in art
history) in 2001. She her husband, who has a law degree, live with
their daughter in California and on his family land in Montana.

“Smooch” lured her away, with a
chance for comedy, romance and a sharp co-star. “Can you see how
difficult it was,” director Ron Oliver said, “when the smartest
person in the room is 11?”

That's Shipka, on a break from any “Mad
Men” angst. “I enjoyed being such a different character (who) has
a very cheery personality,” she said.

Other 11-year-olds may obsess on Justin
Bieber. “I do like him,” Shipka said, “but I don't think I'm
crazy over him. I'm more of a 'Twilight' person.” At least, she
didn't say Edith Wharton.

– “Smooch,” 9 p.m. Saturday;
repeats at 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., then 6 p.m. Sunday, 9 p.m. Feb. 11

– Hallmark Channel has a romantic
comedy at 9 p.m. daily, through Valentine's Day

– The other new films are “A
Valentine's Date” (debuting Feb. 4) and “Accidentally in Love”
(Feb. 12)


Snow is bad; Vanessa Williams is good

Will you think less of me if I admit I'm starting to dislike snow?

I understand it's importance for snowmen, snowballs, snow forts, snowmobiles and Sarah Palin. Still, there's just too much of it.

Scientists tell us that 12.2 inches of it fell in Lansing, Mich., where I live. Scientists, however, often confuse inches and meters and such. All I know is that there were several feet of it that I've been shoveling during the last two days.

Meanwhile, I've been writing stories, sending them to papers and worrying about the rest: In the midst of snowstorms, can people put out a full newspaper and get it to readers? Just in case, I've decided to also put some of the stories here. I'll start with this one about Vanessa Williams and "Who Do You Think You Are?" -- an excellent show that starts its second season at 8 p.m. Friday on NBC, then has reruns at 7 and 8 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday:



Vanessa Williams had always thought she
had a strong grasp of black history.

She became part of that history
herself, as the first black Miss America. Earlier, her parents –
both educators – told her about the classic struggles; it turns
out, there was much more to learn.

“I thought … the '60s, that's when
all the change came,” Williams said. “But I was fascinated (to
learn) it came 100 years before then.”

It came – and vanished. For a
post-Civil War moment, Southern blacks had equality and elective

Williams learned that while digging
into her family roots for “Who Do You Think You Are?” The result
airs Friday, to launch the NBC show's second season, then reruns Sunday.

With access to experts in history and
genealogy, Williams visited Memphis. “There were 14 black
legislators (in Tennessee) after the emancipation, in the 1800s,”
she said. “I had no idea.”

One of them was William A. Fields, a
grandfather of her father's father. A teacher, he was elected to an
1885-86 term in the legislature. Two years later, new laws –
literacy tests, poll taxes and more – would end that era; from 1888
to 1965, Williams learned, Tennessee had no black legislators.

She visited both sides of her father's
family tree, seeing opposite Civil War regions.

David Carl – a grandfather of her
father's mother – joined New York's first black infantry unit, at a
time when the South said any captured blacks would become slaves. “He
was born a free man,” Williams said. “The fact that he took that
risk to be killed in battle (or) to be enslaved … was

The move paid off financially: With his
bonus money for enlisting, Carl bought land in Oyster Bay, on Long
Island Sound; it became a key part of family history. “My dad was
born there,” Williams said. “My grandmother was born there. So we
knew that was our home base.”

And the enlistment may have paid off
emotionally. After the war, his unit went from plantation to
plantation, making sure the slaves knew they were free.

One of the people freed by the war was
William Fields. He had been owned by a Princeton-educated family that
apparently made sure (despite laws against it) their slaves learned
to read. He went on to be a teacher, legislator and general pillar.

Such stories are at the heart of the
series. Lisa Kudrow, the show's producer, points to a strong moment
in the first season: “Spike Lee found out that his ancestor was
made to work in a munitions factory, to make guns for the
Confederates to kill the people who were coming to enforce

Kudrow, the former “Friends” star,
also had a strong moment last season. (That episode is scheduled to
rerun Sunday.) She walked the path her great-grandmother took to her
death in the Holocaust.

For Williams, the emotions were more
positive. She was struck by a written description of her
great-great-grandfather's devotion “to education, to making a
difference in his community, to being a solid man. And that one
sentence that says: 'He left a spotless name.' That was eerily
reflective of my father.”

He was a music teacher, married to
another music teacher. Vanessa grew up in New York's Westchester
County, then went on to get a Tony nomination, three Emmy nominations
and 16 Grammy nominations. And now she's learned of the impressive
history that preceded her.

– “Who Do You Think You Are?”

– 8 p.m. Fridays, NBC; Vanessa
Williams in the opener, Tim McGraw a week later on Feb. 11

– Six others scheduled for this
second season – Rosie O'Donnell, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, Kim
Cattrall, Steve Buscemi and Lionel Richie

– Also, on Super Bowl Sunday (Feb.6),
NBC plans to rerun the Williams episode at 7 p.m. and last season's
Lisa Kudrow episode at 8



Quick thoughts: "Black Swan," "SNL," "Friday Night Lights"

Some quick thoughts on three things:

1) I finally saw "Black Swan" today and mostly liked it; had the last minute been cut, I could have liked it a lot more. This is a dark and disturbing ride, but Natalie Portman is brilliant; I have to admit that she deserves the Oscar she's about to get .... even Jennifer Lawrence's perfect performance in the superb "Winter's Bone" can't compete.

2) Tonight's "Saturday Night Live" was one of the best in a long time. Particularly good was the sketch in which Dr. Frankenstein created a black woman who had a voice ("now, that's a mistake") and an attitude.

3) "Friday Night Lights" started as a good show and keeps getting better. The final show's two hours -- 9 p.m. the next two Wednesdays on DirecTV -- establish this as one of the best series so far in the 21st century. If you don't have satellite, wait and catch "Lights" this summer on NBC.

Good Oscar news: "Winter's Bone" gets its due

As the Academy Award nominations came out this morning, there was some extra-good news: "Winter's Bone" got nominations for best picture, actress (Jennifer Lawrence), supporting actor and adapted script.

"Winter's Bone" is a tiny movie, filmed in the Ozarks with a rich sense of realism. Lawrence -- last seen as a teen-ager in the bland sitcom "The Bill Engvall Show" -- is engrossing as a teen who must find her father (dead or alive) to save the family home. We get wonderfully textured portraits of people who -- like Tony Soprano, perhaps -- have their own decency and moral code, in a brutal setting.

It didn't land a Golden Globe nomination, because those are split between five dramas and five comedies. By comparison, the Oscar nominations include only two comedies (the Globe-winning "The Kids Are Alright" and the cartoon "Toy Story").

That left room for eight dramas, including front-runners "The Social Network," "The King's Speech" and "Black Swan," plus "Winter's Bone," "Inception," "127 Hours," "The Fighter" and "True Grit."

Like many people, I'm behind on seeing these. So far, I've seen "Social Network" and "King's Speech" -- either would be worthy of best picture, best actor (Jesse Eisenberg or Colin Firth), script (Aaron Sorkin for "Social Network") and supporting actor (Geoffrey Rush for "King's Speech"). I've also seen "True Grit" -- an excellent film, but not quite Oscar-worthy -- and "Winter's Bone" ... a terrific little film, now alongside the big guys, where it belongs.