A Christmas Card

This year, I’ve been looking back at  the year 1980. There’s one more story before the year winds down.


North Central College is laid out predominantly in a narrow north-south strip, with the athletic facilities at the south end, and the library and a couple of the dorms at the far north end. My first term there, I lived on the third floor of Seager Hall, which was fairly close to the south end, and near the all-campus Kaufman Dining Hall. My room was on the north side of the building, so in the evenings from my window, I could see all of the students walking back from dinner to their night classes, the library or their dorms up campus.

It sure beat looking across at my assigned roommate’s wall, which was adorned with a large Confederate flag.

Studying in my room was not possible, partly since the same roommate who hung the rebel flag also had a big television set, which he used a lot. I found early on that the best place to study was at the library, so it became a regular trek for me up to the north end of campus. It was kind of a lonely, dark, walk, though, and it was always nice to have someone to talk to along the way. Sometimes, from my northside perch, I would watch for people I knew, and then hustle down the stairs and catch up with them and share the walk.

For me, that first semester, most of the “people I knew” were swimmers. Once training begins, swimming pretty much takes over your life, and your circle of acquaintances becomes smaller and tighter. Almost all of the early friends I made there were swimmers, from both the men’s and women’s teams, since the two teams naturally tended to hang out a lot together.

A few of those evenings, I found myself walking up campus with Jean, a junior on the women’s team. She lived in Kimmel Hall at the far north end, and always seemed receptive to a little friendly conversation along the way. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not a terribly long walk to the library, so we didn’t exchange life histories or anything, but we did begin to develop a friendship.

The fall trimester played out. We had a swimming meet or two, then finals, and then the swimming teams headed for Florida. Jean didn’t go to Fort Lauderdale that year, for one reason or another; I think they had a family ski vacation planned later in December. After our Florida trip, the men’s team went back to Naperville for a week of training, and then one meet — the Rockford Relays — before I went back home to St. Louis for winter break.

NCC did pretty well at the meet. I’m not sure if we won the overall meet, but I was on one winning relay; I know this because I still have the award: a engraved mug. For the last 20 years, it has held pens and pencils on my desk at work. (OK, I see the official name of the meet was the “Regent Invitational.” Trust me, everyone called it the Rockford Relays.)

Rockford, Ill., is not far from Woodstock, Ill., which is where Jean lived, and she came to the meet to watch. I got a chance to chat with her a little, during those long breaks between races that characterize swimming meets. We compared Florida stories: mine from the trip just completed, hers from previous years. When the meet was over, we wished each other merry Christmas and happy travels, and said we’d see each other after the break.

I went back home to St. Louis to get ready for Christmas. By now it was just mid-December, so I was able to get an early start on my shopping.

A few days before Christmas, a card arrived for me in the mail. It was a Christmas card, from Jean. Nothing fancy, just a nice little card, with a short note to wish me a merry Christmas. Now, I was a guy in college;  nobody sent me cards, so it made quite an impression. I’m not going to say that Christmas card changed the course of history — I’m guessing Jean and I would have ended up together that next trimester anyway — but I will say it definitely made my holiday, and gave me a reason to look forward to getting back to NCC after the break.

The rest of the story, you probably know: before the end of January, we were together as boyfriend/girlfriend. After we graduated in 1982, we had a long-distance relationship for several years — lots of mail back and forth between us during that period, as you might imagine — until we finally got married in 1986. This coming summer, we’ll celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.

Merry Christmas from Shoulblog!

Bracket For The NCAA Football Championship

(Note: This is the Who, What, Where and When. The Why can be found here)

Honestly, this is so easy those NCAA guys could do it in their sleep. Take the top 12 teams, rank ’em, and pit ’em against each other, giving the top four a first-week bye. The second week, No. 1 plays the winner of 5 vs. 12, No. 2 plays the winner of 6 vs. 11, etc.

Hey, if you want to, you can expand it to 16 teams. Or 24 teams, giving eight teams a first-round bye. But by then your post-season is getting pretty long — this isn’t the NBA, after all — so I would keep it at four rounds.

But what about poor Virginia Tech, you ask? They finished 13 in the rankings, with only two losses on the season. Haven’t we arbitrarily eliminated a team that had a legitimate right to consider itself one of the top 12 teams in the country? Aren’t they cheated by this system?

Yes, that case could be made. I will concede that there will always be arguments about teams in the ‘teens under this system. For this bracket, I’ve used the final BCS rankings. The NCAA can use whatever ranking system it wants; it doesn’t matter a whole lot, because if a team ends the regular season ranked 13th and gets eliminated from the championship playoffs, it’s not like anyone could say they were a legitimate contender to be No. 1. They were a legitimate contender to be No. 5, perhaps, but who really cares about No. 5?

The teams who are legit contenders, though, will have the chance to prove themselves, on the field, where it matters. Every year there are a handful of them, and only two get to actually play for the “championship.” Under this easy-to-implement system, 12 teams will.

For this exercise, I’ve tried to locate the games in warm-weather cities, preferably in cities that already have bowl games, and avoiding domes as much as possible. The top-ranked teams get the location that’s the closest to their campus. For some of the early games, we can even call them “bowls” if the NCAA thinks it will generate more revenue, but I think the fact that they’re mileposts along the road to a true college championship will make them important enough. The championship game is on January 1, the traditional final day of the college football season.

So here’s the prospective lineup:

WEEK 1 (December 11)
Game 1, Memphis, Tenn. (We’ll call it the Liberty Bowl): Wisconsin (5) vs. Missouri (12)
Game 2, Tampa, Fla.  (Tampa Bowl): Ohio State (6) vs. LSU (11)
Game 3, San Antonio, Texas (Alamo Bowl): Oklahoma (7) vs. Boise State (10)
Game 4, San Francisco, Calif. (California Bowl): Arkansas (8) vs. Michigan State (9)
First round Bye: Auburn (1), Oregon (2), TCU (3) and Stanford (4)

Week 2 (December 18)
Game 5, Jacksonville, Fla. (Gator Bowl): Auburn (1) vs. Game 4 winner
Game 6, San Diego, Calif. (Holiday Bowl) Oregon (2) vs. Game 3 winner
Game 7,  Dallas, Texas. (Cotton Bowl): TCU vs. Game 2 winner
Game 8, New Orleans, La. (Sugar Bowl): Stanford vs. Game 1 winner

Week 3 (December 24)
Game 9, Miami, Fla: Game 5 winner vs. Game 8 winner
Game 10, Pasadena, Calif.: Game 6 winner vs. Game 7 winner

Week 4 (January 1)
National Championship, Glendale Ariz.

Get your office pools ready!

An Odd Note During The Game

Our romp through the year 1980 continues. Previous posts are here, here, here, here, here, here and here.


The NCC swim teams spent more than a week at the Horizon Motor Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, waking up early to do grueling three-hour workouts in the mornings, and then spending the afternoons recovering. That involved a lot of lying on the beach and some swimming in the ocean. It was my first time to see an ocean, and I actually figured out the body-surfing thing over the course of the week; the key, someone told me, is to keep your body stiff, as stiff as, well, a surfboard.

In the evenings, we’d hang out. Sometimes we’d walk down and find a nightclub, but a lot of nights we just stayed in the hotel room, watching TV. We were all college kids; there might have been some alcohol involved, I can’t remember. 😉 Actually, one of the features of the Horizon was that they would have a “rum punch” party by the pool on Monday afternoons for all of the guests. As I remember, it tasted awful. But, true to its name,  it did pack a punch.

After a week, we were all pretty much exhausted. On the last Monday, the folks who had driven to Florida left to drive back to Chicago; they probably took off after that morning’s workout, but before the rum punch party. The lucky ones, myself included, were flying back, so we got to spend an extra day or so. Maybe it was the cumulative effect of a week-plus of intense swim workouts, or maybe we had a little extra punch that afternoon to make up for those who had left. But we were all pretty wiped out as we settled into our suite to watch whoever was playing Monday Night Football. Even our coach, who—that day, had uncharacteristically partaken of some of the punch—was looking groggy when he staggered in to hang out with us for a while.

So we were watching the game, probably trying to keep a conversation going without much success, when ABC broke into the football broadcast with an odd news bulletin; a man had been shot in New York, and they thought it might have been John Lennon.

And then back to football. We weren’t quite sure what we’d heard; it was one of those nights when you weren’t certain of anything five minutes after it happened. It wasn’t like TV news today: you couldn’t instantly switch over and check out what the three news networks were reporting—you pretty much got what they gave you.  As the game went on, more news bulletins, with increasing levels of certainty: yes, there was a shooting at the Dakota in New York, and John Lennon was there; then news that Lennon was taken to the hospital, and then, ultimately, confirmation that the former Beatle had in fact been killed outside of his apartment.

Stunning news, to be sure. We probably called it a night long after that, with another workout coming up early the next morning.

We flew back to Chicago the next afternoon or the day after, then had a week of workouts at school before the Rockford Relays, and I went back home to St. Louis for the rest of our “interim” break. All you heard on the radio for a few weeks was Beatles music. I can’t remember if I had bought Lennon’s and Yoko Ono’s new album, Double Fantasy before that trip or after he was murdered, but I did buy it, and loved exactly half of it — it featured alternating John and Yoko songs and, well, hers never really did it for me. His songs, though, were great, and of course were hugely poignant following his death. After reinventing music and culture in the 1960s, and rebelling against the world in the 1970s, Lennon had seemed to be settling down with a family in the 1980s, and now he’d been cut down by a lunatic with a handgun.

The Horizon Motor Hotel is long gone now, undoubtedly replaced by something way out of the price range of a college swimming team. But I’ll always remember the scene in that hotel suite, watching through bleary eyes the news that a Beatle had died.