Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Can a plague of locusts be far behind?

Here at DeLorenzo's Dugout, we experienced today's earthquake first as a shaking of my desk while I was working on my laptop. At first I thought it was our cat bumping up against the deskleg, but I couldn't see him anywhere (a 20 pound cat is hard to miss). Then I heard my bobble-head dolls on the wall-length bookcases shaking. I got up and walked over to the bookcases and saw them moving towards me, so I grabbed on to them to make sure they didn't fall over (a full room of books falling on you isn't something I need right now). After the shaking stopped, about 45 seconds later, I looked around to see what was going on, went over to the window in my home office, opened it, and saw some of my neighbors on their balconies looking at me. All of us thought a truck had hit the building or something like that, but we quickly realized that it wasn't anything like that. Naturally my first instinct was to call my wife at work across town on my cell phone -- we all know that don't work no more. I've been in LA & SF for small earthquakes in the past but this was truly scary. I am more freaked out than our cat! Hard to believe Philadelphia and this area would be hit with an earthquake like this. My sympathies to anyone injured or otherwise impacted by this. Now everyone is driving out of the city -- reminds me of what Center City was like in September 2001 -- hopefully this is truly an "isolated incident."

Sunday, August 21, 2011

My Top Movies of 2011 So Far

1. The Guard (with Brendan Gleeson & Don Cheadle)
2. Barney's Version (Paul Giamatti)
3. Cedar Rapids (John C. Reilly, Ed Helms)
4. Midnight in Paris
5. Captain America
6. Thor
7. Atlas Shrugged Part I

Saturday, August 20, 2011

BEGINNING: DeLorenzo's Dugout PANTHEON -- My Favorite People -- Part 1: JOHN C. REILLY


One of the most under-rated performers in movies today...From Gangs of New York to Walk Hard, John C. Reilly never fails to enterain me...Hoffa...Performing "Rehab" by Amy Winehouse as Dewey Cox...Cyrus to Cedar Rapids to Talladega Nights to Chicago to Boogie Nights to The Aviator to Magnolia to For Love of the Game (for Pete's sake, if they had just edited out the Kelly Preston stuff it would have been a great baseball movie)...He was nominated for the Academy Award for his performance in Chicago, he should have won it for Walk Hard...John C. Reilly edges out Vincent D'Onofrio and Val Kilmer for my first official DELORENZO'S DUGOUT PANTHEON listing...more to come...Check out another John C. Reilly video for a few laughs, too. By the way, he has an amazing singing voice.

Monday, August 1, 2011

I know I'm an ignoramus but I never heard of this guy


I was excited by the Phillies acquisition of Hunter Pence last week, and had the pleasure of attending two exciting games at Citizens Bank Park last week (both Phillies wins, one over the Giants, the other over the Pirates).  But all anyone wants to talk about is Nnamdi Asomugha joining the Eagles.  Honest to God, I never heard of this guy before.  One host on WIP over the weekend said he was the best player at his position in the history of the NFL.  I honestly thought they were talking about the A.W.E.S.O.M-O robot (with Eric Cartman inside).  Shows you how much I know!  See you in the stands!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

God of Thunder, Demi-God of Film Making

I bought my first comic book when I was five years old (Superman #198), and not long after one of my next comic book purchases was Captain America #100, the first issue of his own book (later I learned that it had been Tales of Suspense up to #99 but that's a story for another day).  So here I am 44 years later, still buying comic books, still jonesing for great comic book movies, and even (for the first time) serving as the local public relations rep for a major comic con in my own backyard (Philly rep for Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con, this coming June 17-19 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, shameless plug dept.)...My first encounter with The Mighty Thor was in that same Cap 100, as he and his fellow Avengers (a very new concept for a five-year-old just starting to read comics) recount how they recovered Cap from the ice...It's a long story...Anyhoo,  while I was never a major fan of Thor's comic book mythology (I knew the basics through the 60s and 70s into the 80s but lost track of him after Walt Simonson's outstanding run), I liked the basic dignity of the character...So when Mrs. DeLorenzo's Dugout and I, both of us choosing our trips to the cineplex carefully, ventured out of the bunker to see "Thor" a few weeks back, we were a little worried that we would only be able to see it in 3-D...Needn't have worried, it was an excellent experience that both of us enjoyed (my first venture into 3-D in an actual theatre, not counting Miss Liptak's showing us the original Vincent Price "House of Wax" in 3-D in high school Honors English during my junior year at Notre Dame)...Chris Hemsworth (Capt. Kirk's dad, oddly enough, in the 2009 Star Trek movie) was very charismatic, Natalie Portman was animated enough that you didn't mistake her for a piece of wood, and the supporting cast overall was very strong, as was the story...It's hard for a lifelong DC Comics loyalist to admit it, but each Marvel movie gets better and better (and I love the teasers at the end for the next in the series -- Cap could be huge for me!)...We even might go see "X-Men First Class," although I hear January Jones gives Natalie Portman a run for her money in the "still waters run deep" department...I remind you that I, along with Mrs. DeLorenzo's Dugout and Quentin Tarantino, comprise the  very lonely "Superman Returns" fan club, but hey, I know what I like, and I know what I don't like...Thor's come along way across the rainbow bridge of Asgard from his Marvel Comics cartoon days of the 1960s! 

PS:  Here's a cover shot of my very first comic book, the great Superman #198.  Still a great cover, still a great memory.  There used to be a fabric/sewing accessories store in Trenton called Willett's on Olden Avenue, and just behind it facing Olden Avenue was a small store called "Ianni's" which sold nothing but newspapers, magazines, paperbacks and comic books.  Well into the 1970s Ianni's was like Disneyland for me.  Them was the days!

PPS:  Tonight Mrs. DeLorenzo's Dugout and I watched "Dead Again" on HBO.  Both of us (separately at the time, 1991, only 10 years before we met for the first time) saw the Kenneth Brannagh-directed gem in the movie theatre and loved it then, and tonight it was just as great as both of us remembered it.  Brannagh, who directed "Thor," is someone who, in my small opinion, has always deserved a little bit more attention than he got.  Anyone who can wrangle a subtle performance out of Robin Williams in both "Dead Again" and another one from both Keanu Reeves and Michael  Keaton in  "Much Ado About Nothing" deserves respect.  Take another look at "Dead Again," and see if you don't love the twists and turns in the 2nd hour.  Go ahead,  I triple dog dare you!

Until the Phillies manage to score more than three a game, I'll see you in the stands!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mission: Impossible

I started writing this entry way before the recent events with Osama Bin-Laden (and why do I always hear Gilbert Gotfried's voice saying it like a really bad Jerry Lewis impersonation from an episode of "Son of the Beach" when I say Osama Bin-Laden)...But I digress...I’ve been recording old “Mission:  Impossible” reruns off an Allentown channel on our Comcast DVR for several weeks now, and watching them in bunches…I’ve progressed from the Martin Landau-Barbara Bain period deep into the Leslie Ann Warren-Sam Elliott period…And now we're well into the Linda Day George run...There are two things that are striking in retrospect…How much filming they got away with on the old Desilu, later Paramount, backlot – the exteriors of soundstages and office buildings reappear in supposedly Eastern European capitals, Asian capitals, South American capitals, even a couple Middle Eastern capitals…Second, I never realized they did so much “day-for-night” shooting in those old shows…It’s remarkable, too, to see actors familiar from other shows and movies popping up here and there, beyond the couple  seasons that Leonard Nimoy went right from Mr.  Spock to The Great Paris just by walking across the backlot…There's a run in there where they must have done a Star Trek one week and a Mission:  Impossible the next week, going from one soundstage to the other -- same writers, same actors, same sets in some cases!...There was one the other night where Dean Wormer was the bad guy, another with good old Robert Conrad as the bad guy, and one where Jessica Walter filled in as the female agent…Most of the stories are still pretty good, if far-fetched…Then they went from missions in foreign locales to taking on the underworld, or, as it is always referred to on "Mission:  Impossible" -- "The SYNDICATE."...They had one on the other day with William Shatner -- and it was, indeed, Shatner-ific...What I found fascinating over this past weekend was the similarity between the capsule generic description on the TV Guide/Comcast cable on-screen listing for "Mission:  Impossible" and the more recent favorite of mine, "The Unit," both of which sound a lot like the group that went into Pakistan this past weekend...Ah, the good old days when Jim Phelps, Barney, Willie, Cinnamon Carter, Rollin Hand, and company took on all the bad guys...I'll see you in the stands!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

THE DAY THEY DROPPED FOOTBALL

[ A quick note from Jim DeLorenzo:  At one point I'll probably publish some kind of memoir of my sports experiences behind the scenes.  With the 30th anniversary of this one event rapidly approaching this week, I hope you will enjoy a very early chapter.]


[Villanova Football Equipment Managerial Staff 1980, Kneeling, left to right:  Jim DeLorenzo, Vincent Bedesem; Standing:  Ed Merenda, Paul Cornely, Billy Higgins.  Jules Schick Photography, August 18, 1980.]

My exposure to the wild and wooly world of Villanova University Wildcat Football came early, earlier than most students on the Main Line campus.  Not only did that early exposure open my eyes to things I had never considered before, it foretold lots of things that would be evident in the coming years of my professional career.  

But I digress; let’s pick this up at the beginning.  As a young, impressionable high school student at the suburban Trenton wonderland of Notre Dame High School in the late 1970s and the first year of the ‘80s, I had found a niche – the behind-the-scenes guy for the football, basketball and baseball teams (with an occasional assist for wrestling or track or soccer) that were the lifeblood of the Irish sports program.  I had a dynamic and indulgent team of coaches, including athletic director and baseball coach Vince Ardery, boys’ basketball coaches Don Hess and Dave Milinowicz, girls’ hoops coach and baseball pitching coach John Simone, and gridiron coach Charles “Chappy” Moore watching out for me every day of my four years in high school.  By the time I was a junior, I had privileges beyond my years – my own locker in the coaches’ only locker room, keys to the sports equipment room, the training room, the field maintenance shed, the football stadium lights, the concessions stands.  And as good old Sister Athanasius my science teacher noted, “You keep your nose clean.”  Which I did, because she had told me I had the kind of Catholic face that would never let me get away with anything.

So when Coach Moore suggested I go to Villanova University, because he had gone there, played there,  coached there, he could get me the job as football manager, what else to say but,  yes!  By the time I graduated with a partial scholarship to Villanova University in May 1980, I was excited and scared.

My first campus visit that spring made it even scarier.  Not realizing that it was summer break already, my mom, my dad and I wandered a relatively barren campus.  No coaches.  No students.  No classrooms to see or teachers to meet.  Just the three of us, wandering.  Now to get there we had to follow directions from Trenton gathered from people who had no idea where the campus was.  All we knew was we had to turn at Gulf Road or something that sounded like it.  Now we’re stranded at the corner of Lancaster & Ithan. 

My father, god bless his soul, never had much of a filter, nor much fear.  He was small of stature but brave of heart.  He found the Villanova Field House.  We trooped in, slightly in awe of its size.  Dad saw a sign that indicated the Athletic Director was upstairs.  With his singular clarity of vision, he marched unannounced into the Villanova University Athletic Director's office, and came back out about five minutes later with a big man who shook my hand and said, why don’t you all come on in? 

We sat in Ted Aceto’s office on two chairs directly in front of his desk (me and my mom), while Dad sat on the coach off the side.  Dad did most of the talking, about my high school achievements, my varsity letters as student manager, my grades, and my connection with Chappy Moore.  Somewhere in there, Ted Aceto must have seen something he liked, because he said, “You’ll like it here.  Camp starts in August.  Be sure to come up and say hello when you get here.”

The rest of that summer was a blur of preparation.  There was a staged signing of a letter of intent for me to attend Villanova with an assistant coach named Bob Kaupf (I wish I knew where that photo went).  I had to start buying clothes for college.  Buying books for college.  And get ready to be the student-manager of an NCAA Division I football team.  And then I broke my left ankle in early July, and never left the living room of my parents’ house for the rest of the summer, worried about maybe I should have just gone to Trenton State.

August 10, I believe, was the start of pre-season camp.  I came in to the Football office at the back of the Villanova Field House, looking to meet the equipment manager, a young man named Paul Cornely.  We had talked on the phone a couple times during the summer, he seemed nice but abrupt.  Paul wasn’t there that day.  The football offices were in the same room as the basketball offices and the track offices and the baseball offices, all in one jumble.  Two secretaries were the gatekeepers – Mary Anne Gabuzda handled basketball, Joan McGuckin handled football.  She took me back to meet a couple of the coaches.  There sat on the far side of the room, behind a pair of swinging doors like some Western movie bar, a giant who looked like some kind of movie extra who played the big Indian in a Western, barrel chested with an impressive hawk nose, Lou Ferry.  Closest to me was an older gent, Walt Techtman.  Between them sat the first working spittoon I had ever encountered and they were both practiced marksmen.

I limped off in my walking cast and one crutch, headed to the equipment room, deep in the bowels of the 1932-built Field House.  Long travel trunks lined the narrow hallways, while tall, ancient clothes lockers lined the walls.  Naked men walked up and down the hallway, clearly demarking that this was a no-women zone.  These guys were either Villanova swimmers getting in early to work out, or legendary runners for Coach Jumbo Elliott just coming back from that day’s run. 

The Cage.  That was to be my home for most of my freshman year.  A steel cage carved into huge cinderblock walls, with a gate that swung open at approximately neck level.  That’s where you handed out jock straps, towels, socks, uniforms, practice pants, game pants, chin straps, spikes, and helmets – the tools of the trade.  The actual entrance to The Cage was a little further down, also behind steel mesh.  That room was filled with the largest clothes washers and driers I had ever seen.  This Cage would be where I would learn how to do football laundry, picking up the sweaty, dirty used clothing and items, putting them into one machine, running them through, into the dryer, and then folding each item a very precise way.  This was my entrĂ©e into the world of big-time college sports. 

As the first days progressed, and I began to get used to the quirky characters on both sides of the cages, I started to enjoy myself.  And with two-a-days now in progress under a hot August sun on their brand-new Astroturf practice field, I had the chance to be outside, throwing footballs, catching passes, learning the ropes. 

The 1970s had not been kind to Villanova Football.  Many seasons either just at or just below .500.   I liked head coach Dick Bedesem a great deal – he was kind to me, and gave me some responsibilities in practice, like timing drills and hitting the air horn at the right time, that I later learned where usually given to a more experienced hand.  One day he told me it was a closed practice, to make sure I kept anyone not with the team out of the stadium, so when I tried to throw out Villanova’s Sports Information Director, a gentleman who looked like he could have been Jimmy Olsen in the old Superman comics named Ted Wolff, I gained a friend for life and one of my first professional mentors.  And the one day I made the mistake of putting the ancient wooden table with the large Gatorade coolers filled with ice water on the newly installed Villanova track just off the edge of the football field, that was the day I had my one and only up close and personal encounter with legendary track Coach Jumbo Elliott, who told me in no uncertain (profane) terms how I was damaging his track.  I moved it quickly and quietly, never to make that mistake again.  

Coach Bedesem had high hopes for the ’80 squad – we’d open the season at Maryland, be on the road at VMI and Navy, host Temple, Richmond, play Penn at Franklin Field.  I remember the Navy game ended with a tremendous fourth-quarter downpour, and I rode home in the equipment truck soaked to the skin on top of a five-foot stack of wet football equipment.  I remember the Maryland opener was so hot that fans were being carried out on stretchers while the rookie student manager gamely tried to give cups of ice water to Maryland fans closest to our sideline – even had my picture in the paper.  Took some ribbing for aiding and abetting the enemy.  (Click here for a capsule summary of that 1980 season re: Wins & losses & stats & stuff.)

We had great players on  the squad that year, led by senior defensive star Howie Long, Jim McCarthy, Paul  Phillippe, quarterback Pat O’Brien, freshman quarterback Kevin Ingram, and a few other outstanding players.  All of us hung around together on the road, on campus, and they all hung around off campus.  I was still too scared to go off campus except for games.  Howie Long introduced me to his girlfriend, Diane, who sat across from me in my Latin class and kept me in the loop about stuff off the field.  We went as a group to see movies in the new Villanova student center, with highlights including seeing Caddyshack, Animal House and The Blues Brothers in the company of these amazing men.

Ted Wolf, the Sports Information Director, got me involved off the gridiron, first getting me involved with his assistant, Craig Miller, in keeping stats for the women’s volleyball team, then the privilege of keeping TV talent stats for ESPN’s first-ever broadcasts of Villanova basketball in their debut season in the Big East Conference.  He also got me interested in keeping stats for this women’s basketball program, with a young coach named Harry Perretta, a role I enjoyed for the next 15 years or so.  

But I am getting ahead of this particular tale I wanted to tell.  All of this serves as a backdrop for my freshman year overall.  The Football squad finished 6-5; a bowl game seemed like a “maybe,” certainly next year.  We were independent but getting better.  Word was we had good recruits coming in.  Spring practice was just around the corner.

We got dragged into a student lounge in the dormitory, Stanford Hall, one night just before the 1980 season started.  A particularly “cranky” looking priest – where I came from they were either fat cherubs or lean disciplinarians with a heart of gold, but this guy had none of that charm – by the name of Father John Deegan had the whole football team in the room.  (The room was done in all oranges and yellows – a 70s standard, it made it look like the recreation deck from Star Trek the Motion Picture.)  Deegan told the team in no uncertain terms that if we screwed up, just once, we were all done.  

None of us knew what that could have meant, especially me.  Screw up?  You mean in a game? 

Of course, mid-way through the fall of 1980 there was a big brawl at an off-campus apartment complex, naturally it involved most of the football It was a Saturday night and I was sitting in my little dorm room watching Saturday Night Live on the Sony portable I borrowed from my dad for the year.  Big knocking on the door.  Howie Long standing there.  “There’s been a big fight…Bryn Mawr Courts…we need you.”  My response, “You…need…me?”  Scrawny, paunchy, four-eyed, flat-footed water boy me being recruited by a future NFL Hall of Famer for help in a fight?  “Hey Howie, I don’t think I’m going to be that much help in a fight.”  “Yeah, maybe you’re right.  Forget about it – see you later.”

Suspensions followed.  Many suspensions followed.  My God – could this have been the one screw up?

By the time spring practice started in March, that October surprise had been forgotten.  We were all in the cage, my “Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers” brothers in chud, watching the black and white TV coverage of President Reagan getting shot.  War with Russia, or Iran, or somebody, seemed imminent, especially with two of the Chuds being die-hard ROTC guys and rabble-rousing in our little cage.  Rain claimed most of those early spring days, with little getting down.  Howie was getting ready for the NFL draft, as were many of his senior classmates.  Some of our guys were on the Wildcat baseball team so they weren’t busy with spring football practice.

April 14, 1981 was a beautiful day.  Two days away from my birthday.  Easter coming up that weekend.  Spring practice went well that day.  We got the laundry done quickly, ran back to our dorm rooms, trying to catch a Phillies game on TV, or a Rockford Files rerun, something we could do with the windows open and our boys wandering the halls and Rosemont take-out pizza on the way.  And then the first call, the first signal.  Something had happened.

What we did not know, could not have known, was that Villanova’s Board of Trustees, led in no small part by Father Deegan, had voted that afternoon to drop football.  No questions.  An over 80-year tradition at this small Catholic college, a team that had some bowl game success in the 50s and 60s, a team that looked like it was on the upswing, a team that is mentioned prominently in the end credits of “Knute Rockne All-American” starting Pat O’Brian and our President, Ronald Reagan, for Pete’s Sake, done, over, finished.

Of course, my parents had bought me some lovely luggage for  me to use on my upcoming trips to the 1981 season of away games, for my birthday.  Of course, everyone I knew was depressed or confused.  The day after Easter, the field house was transformed into a “meat market,” as the NCAA gave all Villanova football players “special dispensation” to transfer out to any school in the country, no ambulance, no foul.  Men I had spent my freshman year with were going to schools I had never heard of (never mind that two years ago I had no idea where Villanova was), schools like East Carolina or Texas Tech.  I actually stopped at a couple tables almost in jest, asking them if they needed a manager. 

I wandered back to the coaches offices in the back of the field house and knocked on Rollie Massimino’s door, asking him if he needed a manager for next year.  He gave me, as could best be described, the bum’s rush.  Larry Shane, the baseball coach, saw this and said, come on, I could use you.  By that weekend I was student-manager and scorekeeper for the Wildcat baseball team, a role I took great pride in through my senior year (and beyond). 

And Ted Wolff and Craig Miller found some things for me to do in the Sports Information Office.  And I got a position as an editor for The Villanovan, the weekly student newspaper.  And I became the “football” beat writer in those Wilderness years between 1981 and 1983, and partnered with the great Len LaBarth to put out a special four-page “Football is Back” supplement in December 1983 when the board (sans Deegan) voted to bring back football right during the middle of final exams. 

Got to cover the press conference introducing Andy Talley as the new head coach in April 1984, just before graduating.  And got to be in the press box and on the sidelines for that first “blue/white” scrimmage in the fall of 1984, and the short 1985 season, until I left Villanova’s athletic department in May 1995.  Football was my favorite – Coach Massimino was not happy with me – but it was what got me to Villanova in the first place.  How could I turn down a chance to see those first games back, those first games as a member of the Yankee Conference, those first three post-season games with trips to Georgia Southern (once) and Youngstown (twice)? 

Hoisting the Lambert Trophy with Coach Talley at the Meadowlands.  Keeping the Bean Pot Trophy in my office for a couple weeks. 

The day they dropped football is 30 years ago this week, and is always fresh in my memory.  For years, I’ve asked people who work for me, if I have to leave for a period of days, to “don’t drop football while I’m gone.”  I always get a quizzical look, sometimes a person who knows me particularly well will smile at my caution.  Some scars heal but aren’t forgotten.  Somehow, it all worked out.  Can't wait to see what happens next!