I Vow to Never…

What makes the summer Olympics so relatable is the sense that with proper training, dedication, & diet, we too could become a gold medalist. We feel like we could be the best swimmer or diver or speed-walker or marksman.

I get the same feeling every July 4th watching the Nathan’s Hot Dog eating contest. When I look at Joey Chestnut, or any other competitor, I don’t see any God-given talent: he doesn’t have to run fast or jump high. He just has to eat.

And as the title character in Antwone Fisher said, “I could eat”.

And not only can I eat, I love to eat. I enjoy and appreciate food – it is more than sustenance to me.

But eating for the joy of it and eating competitively are two different things.

I know, because a few years ago I got my shot to go “All in” with a large cheese pizza. But for me, there was no championship belt, prize money, or live tv crew. There were no fancy introductions, special costumes, or announcers.

My shot at the world of competitive eating wasn’t the main attraction; it was only another cheap crowd pleaser at a minor league baseball game. And most people weren’t even paying attention; they were trying to convince the sun to set so the main act could begin: fireworks. Apparently it takes 15-20 minutes to get fireworks ready, and there is no better space filler than people stuffing their faces with Papa Johns.

And I was only selected when I asked the head of entertainment a question about a totally different topic. She kept ignoring my questions, never even looking up from her clipboard. When she was fully exasperated, she glanced up. And what she saw turned her mourning into dancing. Just to make sure, she took a second glance. Looked me up and down, smiled, and told me I was contest #5.

Contestant #5 in tonight’s eating challenge. And that I should meet her after the game to go on the field and participate.

They didn’t even know my name – never asked. I was just one of six guys selected from the crowd. Four of the guys were part of a bachelor party and were too libated to know better. One was a high school athlete with a daily caloric intake similar to Michael Phelps. And there was me.

They gave each of us a leftover Papa John’s pizza from the concession stand and a small cup of water. We were to have 10 minutes to eat the entire pizza. First one finishes, wins. Crust must be eaten to count.

The countdown begins and away we go. The high school kid jumps out to an early lead, followed by the most drunk of the soon to be groomsmen. I am somewhere in the middle.

After the first few minutes, the high school kid begins to fade as do two members of the bachelor party. They ate the crust first and it killed their buzz. They began to realize what they were doing. I am holding steady, tied for second with the third member of the bachelor party. We both trail the fourth member of the bachelor party, who has somehow snuck a beer into the competition.

At the halfway point, it’s down to the beer drinkin’ groomsmen and myself. He has the lead, three friends prodding him on, and a continual buzz. It’s not looking good for me.

Entering the fourth quarter, I’m still trailing. My jaw is wearing out and it hurts to chew. I look over and this guy is still going strong. And he’s washing it down with more beer.

I give it my all, but in the end, I am no match for beer and a bachelor party. Neither one of us finishes the pizza, but he ate more than I did. I make a comment about beer, crust, and rules to the event coordinator, but she doesn’t care. The natives want fireworks and she doesn’t have the stomach to watch anyone else eat more food, so she brushes me off and declares him the winner. He smiles and shouts his dominance. His friends feed him another beer and secretly take his photo.

I head back to the crowd and find my party. They pat me on the back and give me well-wishes. The pats hurt. So do the metal seats. The pain of eating begins to set in and it forces me to lay across the bleachers.

I vow to never eat again.

Then I think of all the foods I could never eat again. That won’t work.

I vow to never eat pizza again. Then I think of the wood fire grilled pizzas and Mellow Mushroom and dessert pizza. That won’t work.

I vow to never eat too much again. Then I think of Thanksgiving and Christmas and buffets and homemade desserts. That won’t work.

I vow to never compete in an eating contest again. Then I think of Man vs Food and how awesome some of the challenges would be. That won’t work.

I vow to never compete in an eating contest against a drunk bachelor party again.

Now that will work.

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Ali is NOT the Greatest

When you’re 17, you don’t pay much attention to anything beyond school, money, and the fairer sex. And when the Olympics cruised through Atlanta the summer of my 17th year, nothing else was on the mind, especially during the Opening Ceremonies.

So when Muhammad Ali was tasked with lighting the Olympic Torch, I thought nothing of it. Because that’s not what 17 years old are worried about.

Fast forward four Olympiads and this time I am watching. And somewhere between David Beckham and the actual lighting of the torch, Ali makes another appearance. This time at the behest of the Brits – for his humanitarian work.

And as I saw Ali the question began to brew – at what point did Ali become the face of America? And what exactly did he do to earn that status? And how did I miss the vote?

And am I okay with that?

And what happens to the past?

Some look at Ali and see a hero, a man who fought the regime and stood up for himself and his race. A man who not only talked the talk, but walked the walk. A man who built himself to the highest of highs and captured the hearts of Americans everywhere, black and white.

And some look at Ali and see the humanitarian work he has performed since finishing his boxing career. And others see a tragic figure, slowed now by his mind and Parkinson’s.

And I see those things, for they can’t be missed or ignored. But neither can the remainder of Ali’s past.

You can’t ignore the association with Elijah Muhammad and his radical sect of Islam called the Nation of Islam. If today’s most prominent athlete were to align himself with a radical form of Islam, it would not be lauded, it would be loathed. He would not be celebrated, he would be criticized. And while Ali was criticized for his faith in the 1960’s, it falls far short of the anger he’d face today.

Ali, to his credit, stood up for the black community, especially those in the south. But in actuality, integration was not was he was after. The Nation of Islam taught segregationism, that the races are different, and should not be mixed, just under a different order.

You can’t ignore the defiance of dodging the draft, regardless of your feelings for the war. When your country asks you to go, you go. You may not like it. You may not want to go, but you were asked. And when you’re asked, you respond yes – not no.

And in addition to dodging the draft, his public stance swayed the public opinion of the war, to the tune of those serving being treated with hatred and contempt. It was no longer a civil discourse, but a physical one.

You can’t ignore the infidelity. Ali is currently married to his fourth wife and has nine children: seven to his four wives and two from extra-marital relationships. His third, and potentially fourth wife, were the result of affairs, as were two of his children. And while this has no bearing on his ability to do a job, it doesn’t speak to the image America should be promoting.

You can’t ignore his treatment of his opponents. To be honest, trash talking is a major component of today’s sporting events. You see it at every level and there is little that can, or will, be done to curb it. But during Ali’s time, very little talking was done between teams or opponents.

But Ali’s talking would not be considered trash, but abuse. He vilified his opponents and made statements they were never able to overcome. He characterized Ernie Terrell and Jim Frazier as Uncle Tom’s, monikers they could never chase. In addition to the Uncle Tom comments, he also berated Frazier with racial and physical insults, including rounds of “Ugly” jokes and calling him a gorilla and white man’s champion. He did the same to George Foreman when he implemented the “Rope-a-Dope” as part of the Rumble in the Jungle.

See 2:25 mark:

And most people consider his brash behavior and personality to be what makes him so great, and he did back it up, but the way he carried himself should not be the example we set for ourselves or the world. And just because Parkinson’s has reduced him to a caricature of himself does not make him a hero or deity – and he needs to quit being treated as such.

He should be remembered for his boxing prowess in the ring and controversy out of it. For together they paint the full picture of “The Greatest” boxer of all time. But to forget the controversy and paint him as the symbol of American sports and culture is to gloss over and stuff aside a large part of his past – and the people he hurt along the way.

I, along with many others, am willing to forgive Ali the sins of his past, but I’m not willing to forget them.

And I’m not willing to have him serve as my ambassador to the rest of the world. To me, he is only the greatest boxer, not the greatest American.

Checking in on 40 Before 40

It’s been nearly two months since I’ve mentioned 40 Before 40 and nearly 5 months since I finished the list. And while it may appear not much is happening in the dreams department, nothing could be further from the truth.

I currently own a Ford Explorer, which is still in production, although my version is a few body styles removed from the current vehicle. Does this count? Not really what I was expecting when the dream came about, so it currently stands as no.

And with that said, I still can’t lay claim to completing any of my 40B40 list (like my shortened version?), but I can feel myself getting close. The Tiger Swag is slowly making progress. At its current level, I don’t think it counts as being published, but it may lead to other opportunities. Opportunities like going viral (Tiger Swag was called out on a Gamecock message board), being on radio or tv or podcast (I would consider that a win), or even taking a road trip (press passes, right?).

In better news, I expect to accomplish a few goals this fall. October will be our annual Clemson road trip, which will take us to Winston-Salem, home of Krispy Kreme (emails have already been exchanged). Fall break may contain a trip to DC with the fam, which will certainly include a stop by Busch Gardens. And November will be renamed “No Shave November”, which will be followed by a Floyd the Barber shave.

Other work includes multiple offers for road trips – just need to find the time (and money), minor opportunities to cater an event, negotiations of a hot air balloon ride, research into using my engineering skills to solve problems, and inquiries into hosting a concert.

But more importantly, my list must change. Since I joined Facebook in support of The Tiger Swag, I have actually forever denied myself to accomplish one of my goals. So, rather than rename the list 39 Before 40, I’ve decided to replace Facebook with a new dream.

My new dream – invent something.

I don’t need to be a Di Vinci or Edison or Franklin. I don’t even need to be an Otis (elevator), de Mestral (Velcro), or Judson (zipper). I’d be honored to be like another Powell I know.

Terry Powell – aka Dad. He took used clothes hangers from department stores, sawed off the connector pieces to create his own version of chip clips. I’ve also seen solve many a problem without using the proper tools. Just gettin’ it done any way he can.

Honestly, I’d even settle for an idea. An idea like online police scanners (been done), putting all known leaves in an app so you can recognize vegetation (been done), or packaging crayons based on schools and conferences. Would you want your kids coloring with a Crimson crayon for Harvard or Blue for Yale? I know I would. Heck! I’d have seconds and then polish it off (see the 2:15 mark)…

Unfortunately, Home Depot upped the ante by selling official paint colors of the NCAA.

So, it shall still be called 40 Before 40: 40 goals before turning 40.

And I only have 40 more to go…

The Hottest I’ve Ever Been – Part II

August 30, 2003, Clemson, South Carolina

Clemson was opening the 2003 football season by hosting Georgia for a noon game. The previous year, Clemson took UGA down to the wire in Athens, and expectations were high.

The first football game is always the most exciting. We were pumped as we headed from Waterloo to the Promised Land. Everything was going just as planned until we hit Anderson. At that point, 20,000 Clemson fans met 20,000 UGA fans.

Traffic stopped. Temperatures were high. Tempers were higher.

We finally made our parking space 15 minutes before kickoff. We literally ran from the car to the stadium. We were then stuck in the concourse waiting to get to our seat. It’s hot. It’s sticky. It’s smelly.

We finally make our seats just as the Tigers are coming down the hill. They were pumped. We were pumped. The crowd was pumped.

All 80,000+ fans were jumping up and down. It was downright sweltering in there.

But we didn’t care. Football was back and we were playing the silver britches.

Then the second most beautiful play-action pass I’ve ever seen occurred (see Chris Weinke vs Clemson). David Green faked, Justin Miller bit, Fred Gibson scored.

UGA 7 – Clemson 0

Unfortunately, the temperatures continued to climb. So did Georgia’s side of the scoreboard.

The afternoon sun never relented. Neither did Georgia’s defense.

Final score: UGA 30 – Clemson 0

At the end of the day, we were sweat soaked and sun burnt. And humiliated.

That day will not set any temperature records as there were many days as hot or even hotter, but to me, that was the most miserable football game I’ve ever been to. Add in the traffic before the game, the shut out, and the fact that’s it at home to your rival, and it all points to the hottest I’ve ever been.

Ton of Ted’s & Mike’s

Two things I will not be doing this weekend – going to the movies to see “Ted” and going to the movies to see “Magic Mike”. But since they are getting some buzz, it made images of other “Ted’s” and “Mike’s” come to mind. So seeing as this is my place to share my random thoughts and musings, here is a list of Top 10 Ted’s & Mike’s that come to my mind (not necessarily the most famous):

Ted’s:

    1. Ted Dibiase, “The Million Dollar Man” – Cause everybody’s got a price

    2. Ted Kaczynski, Unabomber – More famous than Gerald Lambeau

    3. Ted Bundy, the serial killer

    4. Ted Turner, Cable Mogul, Ex-husband to Jane Fonda, and Jesus Freak spotter

    5. Ted Nugent, Full time Political Activist & reality star & part time musician

    6. Ted Kennedy, Senator, Designated Driver, & Supporter of the Disabled

    7. Ted Williams, aka “The Splendid Splinter”, “Teddy Ballgame”, & “The Kid”

    8. Ted Danson, aka Sam Malone the ladies man

    9. Ted Mosby, from How I Met Your Mother – Architect & great storyteller

    10. TED (Technology, Engineering, Design) – Purveyor of conferences, talks, & warm fuzzies

Mike’s:

Christianity is a Major League Sport

Moonlight Graham’s wish? To have one at bat in the majors. To wink at the pitcher while he’s in his windup, making him think he know something the pitcher didn’t.

The Christian’s wish? To just once, live the way God intends.

The dream of any young boy is to play ball in the majors. Yet, it’s a dream few ever realize.

Only 1 out of 10 players drafted will ever see the big leagues while only 1 out of 100 will be able to turn baseball into a career.

And because of these percentages, one of the rarest of feats is to go from being an amateur to a major leaguer without ever stepping foot in the minors. Since Major League Baseball instituted the amateur player draft in 1965, only 18 players have ever jumped straight from the draft to the bigs.

18. Let that number sink in. 18.

To give perspective, Clemson has produced 38 major leaguers in that same time frame.

And of those 18 players to go straight to the majors, 15 of them ended up back in the minors at some point in their career. And for most of them it was extended time, just like every other ball player.

Result – in the last 47 years, only three players have played in the majors without any kind of foray through the minors. Three.

Playing in the majors means paying your dues. There is no shortcut. There is no secret.

And no one is special. Not Aaron or Pujols or Gwynn. Or Maddux or Smoltz or Halladay.

And the same is true for Christianity. Just because we become a Christian doesn’t mean we are automatically prepared to be the man God calls us to be.

We still need to go through growth and maturity. We still need to learn more about the faith and about ourselves. We need to grow up in our faith and into our bodies. Just like major leaguers.

There are many days I wish I could be were I need to be. There are many days I wish the snap of a finger or the saying of a prayer would get me there. That I could skip the refinement process and just be full version of who I’m supposed to be.

But that’s not the case. Nor will it ever be.

The disciples needed time with Jesus to learn. And they still screwed it up.

Paul himself spent three years in the minors, getting ready for the calling God had for him (Galatians 1). And even after the three years, there were still doubters.

Peter urges us to grow up in our spiritual faith. (1 Peter 2:2) Paul urges us to not become weary (Galatians 6:9), but to press on to win the prize (Philippians 2:12-14)

So in times when I wish there wasn’t a process or times when I wish I were ready, I’m humbled by the fact that even the pillars of Christianity (Galatians 2) needed practice and preparation.

I’m humbled by the fact that no one is good (Romans 3) and we all must work out our salvation (Philippians 2).

So, if even the best of ball players needs a few years in the minors, who am I to think I can get their overnight.

And what fun would that be anyway?

P.S. – Jesus would’ve been the first to go straight to the majors because he can hit a major league curveball

List of Players who went directly from amateur baseball to the major leagues (18 total):

  • 2010 – Mike Leake – Starting Pitcher, Cincinnati Reds (College)
    Currently in majors, was optioned to AAA in 2011 for two games

  • 2000 – Xavier Nady – Outfielder, San Diego Padres (College)
    Played 1 game then sent to minors. Promoted back to majors in 2003

  • 1995 – Ariel Prieto – Starting Pitcher, Oakland Athletics (Cuba/Puerto Rico)
    Pitched in 70 total games over 6 years, finishing 15-24 with 4.85 ERA
    Spent portions of nine seasons in minors at end of career

  • 1994 – Chan Ho Park – Relief Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers (South Korea)
    Pitched two games, then sent to AA. Promoted to majors again in 1995
    All-Star selection

  • 1994 – Darren Driefort – Starting Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers (College)
    Went 0-5 first season & 48-60 for his career & retired early due to health issues
    Spent portions of three years in minors

  • 1989 – John Olerud – First Base, Toronto Blue Jays (College)
    Recorded over 2,200 hits, 250 homeruns, 1,200 RBI, and batted .295
    2-Time All-Star Selection
    AL Batting Champ

  • 1989 – Jim Abbot – Starting Pitcher, California Angels (College)
    Few solid seasons (18-11, 2.89) & threw no-hitter
    Career record: 87-108, 4.25
    Spent last few years in minors trying to make it back

  • 1986 – Pete Incaviglia – Outfielder, Montreal Expos/Texas Rangers (College)
    Drafted by Expos, but refused to play in minors. Traded to Rangers who granted request
    Trade immdiately after draft necessitated MLB changing the rules to force players be under contract one season before being traded. Now known as Pete Incaviglia Rule
    Best season was rookie season when he hit 30 homeruns
    Career: over 1,000 hits, 200 homeruns, 650 RBI, and batted .246
    Spent portions of last 5 years in minors

  • 1978 – Mike Morgan – Starting Pitcher, Oakland Athletics (High School)
    Made 3 starts before being sent to AAA. Recalled following season
    Sent back down for three seasons

  • 1978 – Bob Horner – Third Base, Atlanta Braves (College)
    Never played in minors
    All-Star Selection, NL Rookie of the Year (over Ozzie Smith), & hit 4 homeruns in one game
    Career: over 1,000 hits, 200 homeruns, 675 RBI, and batted .276

  • 1978 – Tim Conroy – Pitcher, Oakland Athletics (High School)
    Pitched in two games before being sent to minors
    Recalled four years later
    Career record: 18-32, 4.71

  • 1978 – Brian Milner – Catcher, Toronto Blue Jays (High School)
    Played two games as a catcher, then sent to minors
    Never returned to majors

  • 1973 – Dave Winfield – Outfielder, San Diego Padres (College)
    12 Time All-Star, First Ballot Hall of Famer
    Career: 3,110 hits, 465 homeruns, 1,833 RBI, .283
    Only player on list with more than 2 all-star selections
    Only player on list in Hall of Fame
    Highest paid player at one time
    Won World Series with game-winning hit

  • 1973 – Dick Ruthven – Starting Pitcher, Philadelphia Phillies (College)
    Spent most of 1975 in minors
    Career record: 123-127, 4.14
    2-Time All-Star

  • 1973 – David Clyde – Starting Pitcher, Texas Rangers (High School)
    Originally agreed to make two major league starts, but pitched effectively enough to remain with the club
    Ended up spending portions of 4 years in the minors, totaling more games there than in the bigs
    Career record: 18-33, 4.63

  • 1973 – Eddie Bane – Pitcher, Minnesota Twins (College)
    Pitched in 44 total games in majors, spent six seasons in minors
    Career record: 7-13, 4.66

  • 1972 – Dave Roberts – Third Base, San Diego (College)
    Sent to minors early in second year
    Spent portions of 10 seasons in majors and five in minors
    Career: over 475 hits, 49 homeruns, 208 RBI, .239

  • 1971 – Pete Broberg – Starting Pitcher, Washington Senators (College)
    Maybe smartest player on list – Dartmouth
    Played two years in majors before being sent down
    Career record: 41-71, 4.56

  • 1971 – Burt Hooten – Starting Pitcher, Chicago Cubs (College)
    Played in three games before being sent down
    Returned following year and never went back to minors
    No-hitter, All-Star Selection, & NLCS MVP
    Career record: 151-136, 3.38
    Best pitcher of list

  • 1971 – Rob Ellis – Outfielder, Milwaukee Brewers (College)
    Played 36 games in majors before being sent down
    Returned three years later, but only played in 28 additional games
    Career: 38 hits, 0 homeruns, 10 RBI, .229

  • 1970 – Steve Dunning
    Played two seasons in majors before being sent to minors
    Played 7 total years in majors & 6 in minors
    Career: 23-41, 4.56
    Probably most famously known as the only pitcher to hit a grand slam (until 2008)

  • 1967 – Mike Adamson – Relief Pitcher, Baltimore Orioles (College)
    Pitched three games in majors before being sent down
    Pitched 11 total games in majors
    Career: 0-4, 7.46

Has Golf Gone Country?

While the South is known for its golf courses (Augusta, Pinehurst, Sawgrass), the game of golf hasn’t been focused here since Bobby Jones.

Jones pulled the spotlight from Hagan and New York and was able to keep it through most of the 20’s and 30’s. But following his health issues, it went back to New York with Gene Sarazan.

And then to Texas with Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan.

It could be argued golf should have taken root in Virginia with Sam Sneed, but he had the misfortune of being a contemporary of Hogan, and Sneed never seemed to be able to wrangle it away from Hogan and take it home to Virginia.

Following Hogan, it could be said Arnie’s Army marched the game back to North Carolina. But Arnie had the pleasure of being the first mainstream marketable face in golf. And rather than take the game to North Carolina, it ended up in Times Square.

Throw in Gary Player and a young Jack Nicklaus and the south never had a chance.

The game rested in the hands of the Big Three and corporate America through the remainder of the 60’s, & 70’s until their careers wound down.

But following their run, golf seemed to struggle (minus one incredible run old man Jack had in ’86 at Augusta). It produced great golf, but it could never find its star – someone who could elevate the game the way the earlier greats did.

And then came Tiger Woods. With him, the game refocused itself in places like Palo Alto, California (Stanford) and Eugene, Oregon (Nike).

And it stayed there until one unforgettable November night in 2009.

When Woods crashed into the fire hydrant and was taken to the hospital, the game of golf went south. Literally and figuratively.

But when the south finally had its grip on the game again, it didn’t let go. This time it held on, like a Gator with dinner.

During Tiger’s run, starting with his win at Augusta in 1997 and ending that fateful night, Americans won 32 major championships (Tiger 14). Of those 32 wins, only 6 were by southerners. The numbers were even worse until Glover (Clemson) and Cink (Georgia Tech) went back to back in the summer of 2009.

That 12+ year run saw Tiger and Phil go head-to-head and the rise of Jim Furyk. It was so bad, even the one-hit wonders were Yankees (Beem, Micheel, and Hamilton).

But since that night, the South has risen. The majors don’t show it (2 to 2, with the last two going to the south), but the regular tour stops do.

Using the start of 2010 as the barometer, American’s won 72 PGA Tour events (not counting alternate or non-official events). Southerners won 35.

Since 2011, Southerners won 23 of 44 tournaments with American winners. This year, 11 of 21 (and both majors).

And while these numbers only show Southerners winning half the tournaments, the south gets no credit for the vast areas of Texas and Oklahoma. These areas aren’t really south, but they ain’t north either.

If you leave Texas and Oklahoma out, then the South has won nearly twice as many events as the other regions.

And it’s a different breed of golfer. They’re young, brash, and, most importantly, themselves.

You’ve got Watson’s power and quirkiness, Dufner’s chill, Dustin Johnson’s length, Kuchar’s smile, and Haas’ lineage.

But will it last? Not sure, only one of the Golf Boys is from the south. And he has a Green Jacket.