Hope.

Hope.

We are living through an extraordinary crisis. Words fail. Everyone has a story; no one is immune from the implications of COVID-19. Every part of every life is impacted on every level.

As I, like everyone on our planet, work to navigate the challenges before us, I am reminded that there is one thing we cannot do: we cannot give up hope. Everyone hopes in something. My hope is in God. I do not doubt God’s wisdom or rightness; God is Sovereign—God is in, around, above, before, behind, under all things. In this present crisis, as always, I have some questions for God. But I know God  hears my prayers every day. I trust God even in the midst of the storm; God is teaching us something in all of this.

With life now sideways and our feet treading in quicksand, I spent a few hours yesterday cleaning up our basement where I practice trombone and have most of my music, books, recordings, and files. It is there where tomorrow, I will begin teaching remote lessons to my students at Wheaton College (Illinois).

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Sometimes when you go looking for something, you find something else. While filing away some documents yesterday, I came across the Boston Symphony Orchestra program for opening night, September 24, 2008, four years before I retired from the orchestra in 2012. It was the fifth year of James Levine’s tenure as music director of the orchestra, and the program included Pictures at an Exhibition of Modeste Mussorgsky, orchestrated by Maurice Ravel. The concert remains memorable to me, but the reason I saved that program is because of its beautiful cover image. It shows the center of the ceiling of Symphony Hall, Boston, where the middle of three crosses on the ceiling is illuminated by a chandelier. I spent many hours looking at that ceiling and its three crosses, which always reminded me of three crosses on a hill called Golgotha outside Jerusalem 2000 years ago where my Hope, Jesus Christ, lived, died and rose again, and gave me the Hope I hold. And now, looking at this beautiful, artistic photograph, I am reminded again of my Hope. Light in darkness. Good in the midst of evil. The solid rock in the midst of sinking sand.

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In the midst of this storm, the only hope we have is in God. Pray for deliverance from this pestilence. Pray for safety. Pray for wisdom in how we can help others. Pray for others who have greater challenges than we have. Pray that when this ordeal is over, we will act in new ways in light of the lessons we are learning today. This we pray. Amen.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

[Header image: Sunrise over the Sierra Estrella, Goodyear, Arizona, 2012. I took this photo from the front porch of our home where we lived from 2012-2018. Sunrise. A new day. Hope.]

A musical miscellany

A musical miscellany

I was trained as a classical musician although I am very grateful my musical life did not fit narrowly into that single stylistic box. I am a firm believer in the value of the pluralistic musical life, whether as a performer or listener. During my long career as bass trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (1985-2012), I was very fortunate to play much of the important canon of western orchestral music that contained trombones: Beethoven (Symphonies 5 and 9), Mozart (he didn’t score for trombones in his symphonies, but I played his Requiem and several operas), all of the symphonies of Brahms, Schumann, Mahler, Tchaikovsky, and Bruckner, the tone poems of Richard Strauss, and so much more. And this I was blessed to do with some of the finest conductors of the twentieth and twenty first centuries—including Leonard Bernstein, Bernard Haitink, Seiji Ozawa, James Levine, Simon Rattle, Sir Colin Davis, and many others—and great soloists—including Mstislav Rostropovich, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Yo-Yo Ma, Jesseye Norman, Evgeny Kissin, Thomas Quasthoff, Gil Shaham, and many others—who inspired me in countless ways.

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[Above: My final bow at Symphony Hall as a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, May 2012. Behind me, standing, are concertmaster Malcolm Lowe and conductor Bernard Haitink following a performance of Beethoven Symphony No. 9.]

After graduation from Wheaton College (IL) in 1976—where I studied trombone with Edward Kleinhammer (bass trombonist of the Chicago Symphony from 1940-1985) and I have now come full circle as the College’s trombone professor since fall 2019—my wife and I moved to New York City. There I had a remarkably diverse performing life, playing concerts with the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra and American Symphony, Broadway shows (many performance of “The King and I” starring Yul Brynner), studio jingles and record sessions, jazz bands (including the Gerry Mulligan Big Band, the Elgart Band, and the Dave Chesky Band), and the Goldman Band, with which I played many concerts under the batons of Richard Franko Goldman and Ainslee Cox.

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[Photo above: That’s me, warming up before a concert by the Goldman Band, summer of 1977, at the Guggenheim Bandshell next to the Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center. That summer, by the way, was when the New York City blackout of 1977 occurred on June 13, 1977. I was playing a concert with the Goldman Band at Lincoln Center at the moment the blackout struck. Seriously. But that’s another story. In this photo, sitting next to me, which his back to the camera, is trombonist Fred Braverman. Other members of the band at that time included William Arrowsmith, then principal oboist of the Metropolitan Opera, Abraham Perlstein, who had been the second trombonist of the NBC Symphony, and Bill Barber, tuba, who had played with Miles Davis in the seminal “Birth of the Cool” recording sessions and concerts. I learned a lot from my time playing in the Goldman Band. A. Lot.]

In all of this musical activity in New York City I was a free lancer, and a substitute in groups (apart from the Goldman band where I was a full member for four summer seasons, 1977-1980—six concerts a week for six weeks each summer). From day to day, I didn’t know what kind of music I might playing. The phone would ring, I would accept an engagement, gather up my trombone and bag of mutes, and head off to play. This plurality of musical styles served me well when I joined the Baltimore and then the Boston Symphony Orchestras, where “pops” concerts required me to play credibly in a host of styles.

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Some of the richest fruit of my early experience in the jazz and commercial worlds came when I performed the two Bass Trombone Concertos written by my friend, Chris Brubeck, with the Boston Pops Orchestra. Working with Chris was pure joy, as was meeting his father, Dave Brubeck. I played Chris’ first Bass Trombone Concerto several times with the Boston Pops, including a performance of the third movement, “James Brown in the Twilight Zone,” on national television as part of the “Evening at Pops” television show. The photo above shows me performing the Concerto with the Boston Pops in 2011, with Keith Lockhart, conductor (photo by Michael J. Lutch). Susan Stempleski reviewed the concert for classicalsource.com and wrote, in part:

Lockhart introduced Douglas Yeo, bass trombonist of the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops orchestras, who delivered a wonderful and lively rendition of “James Brown in the Twilight Zone”, a movement from Chris Brubeck’s jazz-flavored Concerto for Bass Trombone and Orchestra. Yeo’s virtuosic performance electrified the audience. Brubeck was in the audience.

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In 1996, I began my exploration into early music, first with serpent, then ophicleide, then the early trombone (often referred to as “sackbut”), buccin (dragon bell trombone), and six-valve trombone. This opened another musical world to me, where I have taken part in performances of music that I would not have ever played on bass trombone. I’ve played serpent on a host of pieces with orchestras (both modern orchestras and early music groups) including Hector Berlioz’s Messe solennelle and Symphonie fantastique, Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5 (Reformation) and Meerestille und glückliche Fahrt overture (Calm Seas and Prosperous Voyage), ophicleide on Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust and Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and early trombone on Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 and L’Orfeo. And I’ve given many recitals that feature serpent, ophicleide, six-valve trombone, and buccin, such as when I gave a concert on nine different instruments in 2015 at the Hamamatsu Museum of Musical Instruments in Hamamatsu, Japan, shown in the photo above.

Today, in this season of life since I retired from the Boston Symphony in 2012, I feel exceptionally blessed to continue to explore playing music in a host of styles, genres, and types of ensembles. Recent months have brought a number of rewarding musical experiences into my orbit. I do not take this for granted, and I am grateful that I continue to get invitations to do interesting things with a trombone (or another instrument) in my hand.

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In December 2019, I was in Austin, Texas, taking part in performances of Felix Mendelssohn’s oratorio, Elijah. The concerts were organized by George Dupere, Chief Musician of Redeemeer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Austin. I have played this piece many times, both the bass trombone and ophicleide parts, and I never tire of it. Never. The piece is so masterfully composed, and it contains such tremendous drama. This time, I played ophicleide with a fine orchestra including some of our brass section, above (left to right): Jamey Van Zandt, Nathaniel Brickens, and Owen Homayoun, trombones, and Chris Carol and Shelby Lewis, natural trumpets.

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Just a few days later, I switched musical gears into the jazz world. I was delighted to be asked to be part of an “all star” brass jazz ensemble that was put together by YAMAHA for the Midwest Clinic, an annual convention held in Chicago. The Clinic features classes and performances over several days, and is one of the largest (the largest?) such events in the world. Our concert featured some terrific Christmas music, including carols arranged for trumpets, horns, trombones, tuba, and rhythm section by Stan Kenton, Ralph Carmichael, Sam Pilafian, JD Shaw, Jose Sibaja, and others. Boston Brass made up the core of the group and our trombone section (shown in performance above) consisted of Wycliffe Gordon, Domingo Pagliuca (of Boston Brass) and me. Great guys; great players. John Wittman conducted (shown in the photo on the right).

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The trumpet section? Not a bad lineup, actually. Ha! Actually, this was a remarkable group of some of the greatest trumpet players in the world, shown backstage with me before the concert: Jose Sibaja (Boston Brass), Allen Vizzutti, Wayne Bergeron, (me), Jeff Conner (Boston Brass), Rex Richardson, and Jens Lindeman. Any questions?

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It was such a pleasure to work with Wycliffe Gordon once again. He needs no introduction and it’s no secret to say he is one of the finest jazz trombonists of our time, for a long time member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (I first met him at a joint concert between the LCJO and the Boston Symphony Orchestra), and now leader of his own combo. He has more albums out than I can count, and we are simpatico in so many ways. For years I’ve referred to Wycliffe as “my brother from another mother.”

In 2015, Arizona State University hosted Wycliffe for some masterclasses; this happened  while I was Professor of Trombone at ASU. I included his trombone ensemble piece, Dear Lord, I Love Thee on our April 2015 concert. Have a look and listen, above (to open this video in YouTube, click HERE). It was really, really great to see and work with Wycliffe again at the Midwest Clinic.

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February 2020 brought more fun in a different musical world. My good friend Megumi Kanda—principal trombonist of the Milwaukee Symphony— and I travelled to St. Louis to give a joint recital and masterclass, sponsored by the St. Louis Low Brass Collective (STLLBC). Megumi is a superb player and wonderful person (I often refer to her as “my sister from another mother”), and we have done a number of joint events over the years. We also are authors of books about trombone orchestral excerpts and performance. Published by Encore Music Publishers, the annotated orchestral excerpt books, The One Hundred: Essential Works for the Symphonic Trombonist and The One Hundred: Essential Works for the Symphonic Bass Trombonist. To all of you who are reading this who have made our books part of your library: Thank you! And if you’re interested in the books, just click the links on the titles, above.

We began our masterclass with a duet, a movement of Philipp Telemann’s Canonic Sonata No. 3 that I arranged for inclusion in my book, Trombone Essentials, published by G. Schirmer.

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We continued the class by each speaking to the assembled audience and then working with several young players. As you can see from the photos above, Megumi and I tend to be  similarly demonstrative when we teach. How about a caption contest?! By the way, I should mention that Megumi is the recipient of the International Trombone Association’s 2020 ITA Award, the Association’s highest honor. She is so deserving of this honor, and it’s a pleasure for me—the 2014 recipient of the ITA Award—to welcome her into this special group of trombonists who have been so honored. I am at work on an article about her to be published later this year in the ITA Journal. Stay tuned; she has quite a story to tell!

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Our recital on February 17 featured us playing solos and duets. I even used my six-valve trombone to perform Hector Berlioz’s Orasion funèbre from his Grand symphonie funèbre et triumphale. I want to send a shout out and big thank you to my good friend, Gerry Pagano (bass trombonist of the St. Louis Symphony) and all of those in the STLLBC who made this trip possible.

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From a solo and duet recital in St. Louis I came back home to the Chicago area to play chamber music. On February 21, the Wheaton College Artist Series presented a concert that featured the Chicago-based brass quintet, Gaudete Brass, as well as organist Nicole Simental and the combined Wheaton College choral groups, conducted by Jerry Blackstone. The centerpiece of the concert was a performance of Morton Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna. On the first half of the concert, Gaudete Brass performed Ingolf Dahl’s Music for Brass Instruments; Dahl was Lauridsen’s composition teacher at University of Southern California and the piece requires six players. I joined Gaudete Brass as its second trombonist (selfie of me with Gaudete Brass after a rehearsal in Edman Chapel, above).

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[Photo above: Gaudete Brass in Adams Art Gallery on the campus of Wheaton College after our performance. (Left to right) Bill Baxtresser (trumpet), Joanna Schulz (horn), Charles Russell Roberts (trumpet), me, Paul Von Hoff (trombone), and Scott Tegge (tuba)

I have played Dahl’s piece on numerous occasions with groups in performances around the world. But I have to say that this collaboration was, to me, particularly special. First, Gaudete Brass is a superb group of musicians. They play at the highest level and it was a joy to work with them; I hope we will do more things together. Nice people, too! Also, the concert was held in Edman Memorial Chapel at Wheaton College, where, as a student there from 1974-1976, I took part in many concerts on that stage. Many memories came flooding back as I played in Edman Chapel with Gaudete Brass. And there was this. . .

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In December, Gaudete Brass and I had a rehearsal in the Fine Arts Building, on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. That building has very special meaning for me: it was there, on the ninth floor, that I had my weekly trombone lesson with Edward Kleinhammer (bass trombonist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1940-1985) while I was a student at Wheaton College. I had not been in that building since my last lesson with him in May 1976. Walking through the front doors brought back a flood of memories.

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After the rehearsal with Gaudete Brass, I climbed the stairs up to the ninth floor, to once again walk down that long hallway (which has not changed a bit since 1976) and stand in front of room 918 where Mr. Kleinhammer had his studio. As I stood there, I reflected on how those lessons impacted me in so many ways. I could not go in the room this time, but I remember every detail of that small space: two chairs, two music stands, a table for music, and a sink (the bathroom is down the hall). This photo, below, shows the two of us after my last lesson in room 918 in 1976:

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In that room my life was changed.  If you did not see it earlier, click HERE to read the photo essay/tribute I wrote about him last year on what would have been his 100th birthday. He was a remarkable man.

And there is more to come. While my planned trip to Seattle to be guest soloist this weekend at the Northwest Band Festival was cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak in Seattle, my calendar is full of other events in the coming months, including masterclasses at Interlochen Arts Academy and the Csehy Summer School of Music, performances with the Finnish National Radio Orchestra in Helsinki and Japan (unless the coronavirus has something to say about that trip), teaching at the Pokorny Seminar—hosted by Chicago Symphony tubist, Gene Pokorny—and teaching at the Wheaton College Summer Music Camp. Details may be found on the schedule page on my website, yeodoug.com.

[Header photo: Boston Symphony Orchestra, Bernard Haitink, conductor. My final performance in Symphony Hall as a member of the Boston Symphony, May 9, 2012; Beethoven Symphony No. 9. Photo by Stu Rosner; courtesy the Boston Symphony Orchestra.]

Super Bowl LIV – an exceptional fan experience thanks to the Chicago Bears and the NFL

Super Bowl LIV – an exceptional fan experience thanks to the Chicago Bears and the NFL

My wife and I love professional football and are season tickets holders (STH) for the Chicago Bears. Last fall, I entered a contest that the Bears sponsored, and the prize was a pair of tickets to Super Bowl LIV (54), held in Miami on February 2, 2020. Well, not just tickets to the game. A few other things were included as well.  As I wrote about previously on The Last Trombone, I entered the contest—which required entrants to compose a 100 word essay to answer the question, “Who would you take to the Super Bowl, and why?”—and I nominated my son-in-law, Chad. And my essay was selected as the winner out of thousands of entries. Wow.

Ever since Chicago Bears Chairman George McCaskey (son of Bears owner, Virginia Halas McCaskey) called me last November to give me this happy news, Chad and I have been preparing to go to the Super Bowl. We knew the Bears were giving us tickets to the game, three nights of lodging in a Miami hotel, and airfare to Miami. What more could we ask for?! What we didn’t know was exactly what was in store for us during those days apart from going to the game itself. Now that we are back home from what I can only describe as a remarkable experience, I’ve had a little time to reflect on all that happened thanks to the generosity of the Chicago Bears.

Friday, January 31

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It was snowing as I pulled out of our driveway to pick up Chad and drive to Chicago’s O’Hare airport. Fortunately, the flight to Miami was uneventful and after we landed, we navigated Miami’s terminal to rent a car.

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The airport was in full blown Super Bowl host mode, with Super Bowl signage and extra staff that was happy to help the huge invasion of visiting fans. While the Chicago Bears were not in the Super Bowl, we were proud to represent the Bears in Miami on behalf of all Bears season ticket holders. For us, it was all Bears gear, all the time, as you can see in these photos of us from Super Bowl weekend.

We drove to our hotel, the Biltmore Miami/Coral Gables. This is not the kind of hotel where our family usually stays on vacation! But the Bears and the National Football League (NFL),who partnered in this experience, pulled out all the stops in booking us in a 5-star, luxury hotel. Our room’s bathroom was bigger than a lot of hotel rooms I’ve stayed in. I’m serious!

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Immediately upon checking in, Chad and I headed to our first activity of the weekend, a dinner in the Biltmore’s Ahlambra Ballroom. It was a spectacular feast and it was there that we learned more about what we would be doing throughout the weekend.

As we were told, each of the NFL’s 32 teams selected a season ticket holder (along with one guest) to receive a unique Super Bowl experience. Most teams conducted a random drawing; the Bears were the only ones (as far as I could learn) who chose a fan through an essay contest. At dinner, we began to meet the fans from other teams who had been selected to share in this special Super Bowl Experience.

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[NFC North table at the Biltmore. Left to right, fans from the Chicago Bears (Chad and me), Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings, and Green Bay Packers. Photo by Nicole Blake.]

We were all seated at tables according to our NFL division. Our table, representing the NFC North, was in the front of the room, and we sat with fans from the Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings, and Green Bay Packers. We also met Nicole Blake; she works for the NFL and was our exceptionally helpful NFL representative who took great care of our division throughout the weekend.

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We were all given a custom NFL jersey in the style of our team’s jersey, each with the number 54 emblazoned on the front and back (for Super Bowl LIV), and the words “Super Bowl” across the back. These are real really special jerseys, and for us, it’s nice that they bear the number 54 which was worn by Bears Hall of Fame linebacker, Brian Urlacher. We wore the jerseys to all events during the weekend which was a good way for us to visually keep up with our group (and for our NFL reps like Nicole Blake to keep up with us).

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During dinner, we had a private presentation by Al Riveron, the NFL’s Sr. Vice President of Officiating. This was really interesting. Really. Interesting. Every fan is passionate about officiating—especially when calls don’t go the way you want them to go. We all learned a lot about NFL rules and how they are applied—much more than had previously known—and there was an energetic back-and-forth between all of us and Al Riveron as he explained the nuances of rules and officiating. Sorry, Cowboy fans, Dez Bryant didn’t catch the ball (as shown on the photo above). But the rule, “What is a catch?”, was changed the next season and under the current rule, it would have been a catch. It was a terrific presentation, and it made me want to read the NFL rule book, a link to it which was kindly provided to me by Nicole Blake. You can read the rule book for yourself; click HERE to see it on the NFL website as a downloadable PDF file.

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We also received a booklet with information about all of the participants in the STH program, a bit of each of our story, and how we were selected. Here (photo above) is what the Bears submitted about Chad and me.

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After dinner, Chad and I drove to Miami Beach to take in the Super Bowl LIV Experience. The NFL provided us with tickets to the event which mostly had interactive games and activities for fans, as well as a NFL shop of epic proportions full of Super Bowl LIV gear.

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Among the many exhibits at the Super Bowl LIV Experience was a display that featured all 53 Super Bowl Champion rings. Among them was the Chicago Bears Super Bowl XX ring from 1986, when the Bears defeated the New England Patriots, 46-10. The display was really impressive, from the modest rings of early Super Bowls to the outrageously large ring made for the New England Patriots when they won Super Bowl LIII last year, their record (along with the Pittsburgh Steelers) sixth Super Bowl victory.

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There were also displays that included championship trophies, including the George S. Halas Championship Trophy, given each year to the NFC Conference Champion. It was named after George S. Halas, founder, owner, player, and coach of the Bears, and the man who is considered to be the “father of the NFL’ when it was founded in 1920.

And Chad and I had a little fun, climbing up behind a model of a 6’6″ Chicago Bear. Uh, no, those are not really our bodies!

Saturday, February 1

Saturday was devoted to attending the annual NFL Honors event where players and coaches are honored with awards in various categories, including Most Valuable Player, Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, etc. Chad and I had watched the program on television in previous years so we were really interested to get a first hand, up close look at how it all came together.

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After meeting in the lobby of the Biltmore Hotel, we all boarded two busses for the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami. This was one of the great things about the weekend: for both NFL Honors and the Super Bowl, we left the driving to someone else. Traffic around Miami was truly crazy, and we were very happy to just go along for the ride. We walked along the red carpet past dozens of media outlets whose photographers and videographers were busy setting up for the arrival of NFL players, coaches, and celebrities.

9th Annual NFL Honors

Once inside, we were all positioned on risers backstage where we could watch the proceedings on huge television monitors while being up close to many of the attendees and award winners before and after they received their awards. This was, to me, much more interesting than being out in the audience in the theater, since we got to see how photos, videos, and interviews came about. [Photo above by Logan Bowles, courtesy the National Football League.]

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For instance, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and Tenessee Titans running back Derrick Henry were named FedEx Air and Ground Players of the Year. Before the ceremony, they came backstage to be photographed with their trophies. The photo above was taken by me from our vantage point backstage. In the somewhat chaotic scene,  you can see the photographer, a man who is operating a laptop that showed each photo, and another person assisting in the setup.

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The photo above shows the same moment, as the photo was post-produced for the NFL’s  Twitter feed [photo courtesy of the National Football League]. No more chaos; just two happy players with their awards. I love seeing how things work and come together. While it was a long day of sitting and standing, ours was a very special view of the NFL Honors event.

9th Annual NFL Honors

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell came by to greet us, and Chad and I each enjoyed a brief moment of conversation with him. While it’s easy for fans to be critical of the Commissioner when he metes out discipline to a player on your team, I have to say that we have great respect for the Commissioner. He has a Herculean job and all things considered, we feel he does an excellent job of helping to steer the NFL in good directions for fans, players, and owners. It was a privilege to meet him, have a few words with him, and shake his hand. [Photo above by Logan Bowles, courtesy the National Football League.]

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Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh came backstage to be photographed and interviewed after he accepted the NFL Honors award for NFL Coach of the Year. He recognized our Bears jerseys and immediately came up to Chad and me. Harbaugh’s younger brother, Jim, had been a quarterback for the Bears from 1987-1993 (he is now the football coach at University of Michigan). Chad had a nice chat with Coach Harbaugh who was enthusiastic over seeing Bears fans backstage.

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Chad and I also had a brief moment on camera in the NFL Honors telecast, when host Steve Harvey came through the red carpet to interview a few of us. The photo above shows Chad and me on the broadcast as we appeared on the television broadcast. Fun stuff.

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A highlight of the NFL Honors experience was seeing the 2019 Walter Payton Man of the Year, Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell. This annual award, named for Walter Payton, legendary running back of the Chicago Bears, is given to one NFL player each year in recognition of his exceptional volunteer and charity award. Shown above is Calais Campbell with (left to right), Brittney Payton (Walter Payton’s daughter), Connie Payton (Walter Payton’s widow), and Jarrett Payton (Walter Payton’s son). We have a lot of pride in Chicago that this award is named for one of our own Chicago Bears. I had seen Calais Campbell play many times when my wife and I lived in Arizona (for six years before we moved to the Chicago area) and we were season ticket holders with the Arizona Cardinals; Campbell was a member of the Arizona Cardinals from 2008-2016. I was delighted to see Campbell honored as the 2019 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year. He is highly deserving of this, the NFL’s highest honor.

Sunday, February 2

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Super Bowl Sunday began with breakfast at the Biltmore Hotel’s Alhambra Ballroom , where NFL Vice President of Broadcast Planning, Mike North (shown in the photo above), gave a presentation on how the NFL schedule is made up each year. I’ve known it’s complicated, but Mike North let us see just HOW complicated it is. There are so many factors to take into consideration. How is THIS (below) for a list of just SOME of the factors that have to be taken into consideration when the schedule is made each year:

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Mike North, like Ron Riveron on Friday night, was very engaging, and we all enjoyed interacting with him, asking questions and learning so much. Chad and I left the presentation with an even greater appreciation for all the NFL does to put the product we know as the National Football League in front of fans around the world from August into February each year.

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After breakfast, Chad and I took a walk around the impressive Biltmore property and then got ready to go to the game. We all met in the lobby of the Biltmore hotel where we were given our game tickets. Our seats were to be in an end zone, section 330, row 12. While my wife and I are certainly spoiled by our incredible 50 yard line seats as season ticket holders for the Chicago Bears, it’s always interesting to sit in different locations and get a different view of the playing field and stadium. With tickets in hand, we headed for the bus and we were off to Hard Rock Stadium for Super Bowl LIV.

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Once again, we were really happy someone else was doing the driving. Having our own charter bus to get to Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium (the home of the Miami Dolphins) made getting to the stadium a very relaxing experience. We arrived at the stadium at 2:00 pm (kickoff would be at 6:30 pm). Once there, we began to take in the scene. From cold and snowy in Chicago two days ago, Chad and I were standing in Miami’s 70 degree sunshine. Hard Rock Stadium underwent a major renovation in 2015. Among the many changes made at that time was the addition of a canopy that covers all seats and protects fans from rain and sun, leaving a large opening in the middle so the field is exposed to sunlight. The result was a modernistic update to the stadium that was originally built in 1987.

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Super Bowl LIV was to be played by the San Francisco 49ers (representing the NFC) and the Kansas City Chiefs (representing the AFC). The two teams had great seasons and we knew we were in for a terrific matchup and game. Because we didn’t have a rooting interest in either team, we were going to enjoy a game where we could just appreciate the whole experience without the stress of seeing our team losing—or the joy of seeing it winning. Chiefs and 49ers fans were out in full force (such as the funny Kansas City Chiefs fan bus in the photo above) and the fan vibe outside the stadium was raucous, enthusiastic, and fun.

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When we met at the Biltmore lobby and our Super Bowl tickets were distributed, we were also given wristbands (with embedded security chips) that would allow all of us to have access to the field at Hard Rock Stadium before the game. When we passed through security at 2:50 pm and got our first view of the inside of the stadium, the “wow factor” was in full force. We were virtually alone in the stadium, and as we made our way to the field, the full impact of just how special it was to be there began to sink in.

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Our on-field access was to a dedicated area only for us, next to the Kansas City bench, near the Chiefs’ end zone. As time went on, players, coaches, and others began to arrive to get set up for the game.

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Chad loves sports stadiums. He’s been a passionate sports fan since he was a young boy, particularly for the Chicago Bears. He has a prodigious memory for stadium details, even down to particular plays he’s seen in different venues. It was a real joy to see him at Hard Rock Stadium, just taking in the scene.

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Being on the field was a spectacular experience. The panoramic photo above gives you a sense of where we were and what we looked out and saw. It was beautiful and more.

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While our Chicago Bears were not in this year’s Super Bowl, we were keenly aware that the Bears had given us this amazing experience and in a very real sense, we were representing the team at the game. Many fans recognized our jerseys and shouted out “Go Bears!” and gave us high-fives and fist pumps. While on the field, I reached into my bag and pulled out a Bears rally towel, one that was given out at a Bears game this past season at Soldier Field. The Bears, as a founding franchise of the NFL in 1920 (one of only two still in existence, along with the Arizona Cardinals), celebrated their 100th season along with the NFL. Posing with my Bears rally towel was yet another tribute we could make to the team we love, in thanks for all the joy they give to our family and to so many other fans.

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From our vantage point on the field, we saw many players arrive. Shown above is Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (on the left) who, just a few hours later, would be both a Super Bowl champion and also Most Valuable Player (MVP) of Super Bowl LIV. We also saw various media outlets on the sideline conducting interviews and reporting from the scene.

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The time on field was a rich one, as all of us in the STH Experience were together taking photos and taking it all in. A nice moment came when all of us representing teams from the NFC North (Lions, Packers, Vikings, and Bears) got together for a photo with Nicole Blake (center in the photo above). I have to say, Nicole took exceptionally great care of our division. She was always available to help in any way possible and was a fount of information. We could not have asked for a more competent, helpful, poised person to assist us in so many ways. You heard it here first: Don’t be surprised if some day, you hear that Nicole Blake is commissioner  of the National Football League. I’m serious. She’s that good! [Photo above by Logan Bowles, courtesy the National Football League.]

STM On Field Experience

Before we left the field, all of us who had been given this amazing Season Ticket Holder experience gathered for a group photo. Getting to meet and know many of these fans was a highlight of the weekend and something we will keep with us for a very long time. It was great to be with fans who were there to enjoy the game, were passionate about their team, and engaged in friendly, positive, collegial (non-“trash talk”) conversation. I’m glad to have met them. You can see Chad and me kneeling in the middle of the group in the right hand third of the photo. [Photo above by Logan Bowles, courtesy the National Football League.]

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By 4:45, we decided to leave the field and head to our seats. The stadium was slowly filling up and pregame entertainment was beginning to appear on the jumbotrons. We did a little shopping for Super Bowl souvenirs for family members and then walked up the ramp to section 320.

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Then an extraordinary thing happened. We had been in our seats only a few minutes when who should come up to us but George McCaskey, Chairman of the Chicago Bears (center in the photo above). It was George who called me last November to tell me that my essay had been selected as the winning entry in the Bears’ Season Ticket Holder Super Bowl Contest. We have great admiration for the McCaskey family, beginning with George’s mother, Bears owner Virginia Halas McCaskey, who is the daughter of George Halas. From our seats in section 309 at Soldier Field, we can turn around and see Virginia McCaskey and her family in her owner’s box. We are very grateful for the way the McCaskey family runs the team. They are “stand up” people, a family that loves God, loves football, loves the Bears, and is very aware of the legacy that of which they are stewards. That George took the time to come to visit us in our seats was something I never could have expected. I didn’t see any other owners or Chairmen of any other teams making their way to visit winners of their Super Bowl ticket contest. We had a great conversation with George about the Bears, the Super Bowl, and how we all looked forward to the day when we would see the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl once again. Thank you, George, for all the Chicago Bears and McCaskey family means to our family and to Bears fans around the world.

Part of the pregame entertainment was the airing of the NFL’s new commercial titled, “Next 100.” It is a continuation of the story that started at the beginning of this just past season, which was the 100th anniversary season of the NFL. Before the first game of the season (which was between two of the most storied franchises in NFL history, the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers), the NFL aired a commercial that featured dozens of current and former players at a banquet celebrating the NFL’s centennial. What happened as Commissioner Roger Goodell was addressing the players was quite something. Have a look at the NFL’s “100-year Game” commercial (to view the commercial on YouTube, click HERE):

As a follow up, the NFL created a new commercial that aired during the Super Bowl LIV pregame show. “Next 100” features 13 year old Maxwell Bunchie and a cast of current and former NFL players as well as youngsters who are currently playing the game. The commercial ended with Bunchie running onto the field at Hard Rock Stadium with a group of young players to the cheers of the crowd at Super Bowl LIV. The commercial became real. Have a look (to view the commercial on Youtube, click HERE):

I think this commercial is terrific. It brings together the youth football movement and the NFL, and it shows something of the future of the League. Of the many exceptional moments in the film, I was deeply moved by two segments. The first is where Maxwell Bunchie stands in front of the statue of Pat Tillman (who, while a member of the Arizona Cardinals, left the team after the 9/11 attacks and joined the U. S. Army; he was killed in Afghanistan in 2004) at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, home of the Arizona Cardinals. All music and other sounds stop in the commercial for a few seconds as Bunchie considers the sacrifice Tillman made in the service of his country.

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The other special moment is near the end, when Bunchie walks a gauntlet of NFL players to the end of the tunnel to a playing field. There he is met by Chicago Bears owner Virginia Halas McCaskey—now 97 years old—who gives Bunchie the game ball for the kickoff of Super Bowl LIV and says, “You know what to do.” Bunchie accepts the ball, nods his head, and runs onto the field in Hard Rock Stadium. Film to reality without missing a beat.

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With the showing of the “Next 100” commercial, the pregame activities moved ahead quickly. There was the introduction of many members of the NFL 100 All-Time Team, the 100 best players and 10 best coaches in NFL history. And then here was the singing of America the Beautiful by Yolanda Adams, and the National Anthem by Demi Lovato, both done very well and respectfully. Here is the video of Lovato singing the National Anthem (to view this video on YouTube, click HERE):

The coin toss was won by the 49ers who deferred to the second half, meaning the Chiefs got the ball first.

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When the 49ers kicked off (photo above), Super Bowl LIV was underway. The first half seemed evenly matched which seemed a bit of a surprise. Many fans were expecting a high scoring game, but when halftime came and the score was tied at 10-10, it seemed like the game was wide open. But before the second half began, we had the Super Bowl halftime show ahead of us.

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When we arrived at our seats before the game, we found a bracelet taped to the back of the seat. As we learned, every fan in the stadium was issued a bracelet with instructions to put it on before the halftime show and hold our hand up. The halftime show, which featured singers Shakira Ripoli and Jenifer Lopez, turned out to be much more than a musical event.

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The show was a technological tour de force, where each of the 62,000 bracelet lights were remotely controlled to give the audience a spectacular, ever-changing light show. In addition to the bracelet lights, fireworks were fired skyward throughout the show. While I confess the musical aspect of the halftime show was not especially interesting to me and I was disappointed in the not-exactly-family-friendly, hyper-sexualized dress and movements of the star singers, I was fascinated by the innovative use of technology that kept the audience aware of the always changing environment. When I got home and saw the halftime show on television, I realized just how unique our view of the action was.

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After halftime, the game resumed. The 49ers seemed to be in control of the game, scoring 10 unanswered points after halftime, but in the middle of the fourth quarter, the Chiefs became a different team. They quickly scored 21 unanswered points and won Super Bowl LIV handily, 31-20. The game was exciting and very interesting, and kudos to the Chiefs for continuing to fight even when it looked like they were poised to lose. As soon as the game was over, confetti in Kansas City Chiefs colors was shot over the field from confetti cannons. Look in the bottom left/center of the photo above to see the moment the confetti began.

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Then followed the presentation of the Vince Lombardi trophy to the Chiefs (photo above), and the Most Valuable Player trophy to Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Super Bowl LIV was history, a game that was more than worthy of concluding the year-long celebration of the 100th season of the National Football League.

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As we left Hard Rock Stadium to return to our bus to take us back to the Biltmore Hotel, Chad and I turned around for one more look at the Stadium. It was beautifully lit on a beautiful night, palm trees moving in a gentle breeze. It seemed like the ideal end to a weekend to remember. Given all that we received from the Chicago Bears and the NFL, it’s difficult to find words that are adequate to express our gratitude. What started with writing a 100 word essay and entering a contest culminated in a trip of a lifetime. Thank you, Chicago Bears. Thank you, McCaskey family. And thank you, National Football League. Because of all of you, Chad and I were a part of football history last weekend, and that is something for which we are very, very grateful.

Oh, and. . .

Go_Bears

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A great commercial – Super Bowl LIV

A great commercial – Super Bowl LIV

The annual National Football League Super Bowl has a world-wide television audience of millions of people. Over the years, its commercials have been highly anticipated. Some have been memorable, most are just silly or worse. A 60 second commercial during the broadcast of this year’s Super Bowl (on February 2) will cost about $10 million dollars. Ten. Million. Dollars. That’s a lot of money, no matter who’s paying it.

In recent years, some companies have been leaking their Super Bowl commercial a few days before the big game, to heighten anticipation. Already I have seen a great commercial, one that made me smile and laugh out loud. I’ve watched it a dozen times and I’m not done with it. It’s a commercial for the new Hyundai Sonata, with its “smart park” feature. Although in the ad, which is shot in New England with actors who feature a distinctive Boston accent, it’s called, “Smaht pahk.”

The ad is clever, and uses a number of celebrity actors, including Rachel Dratch (who graduated from Lexington High School where my daughters also graduated; she was the graduation speaker for our youngest daughter’s’ graduation ceremony), Chris Evans, and John Krasinski. And beloved former Red Sox slugger, David “Big Papi” Ortiz. It really brings back memories of our three decades living in Boston, when I was a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

I have to say, this ad really tickles my funny bone. I know people who talk like this. People really do talk like this. They really do! And the ad is so full of inside Boston/New England lingo and references (like “Wicked car, is that new?”). And unlike so many Super Bowl ads, this ad actually features the product—not a foregone conclusion when ad makers often try to be so clever that the viewer has difficulty remembering what actually was being pitched in the ad. Have a look.

There’s also a great article on boston.com that gives more inside information about the ad and its actors. Click here to read it.

And if you want more, here’s a terrific short video of Rachel Dratch giving David Ortiz a dialect lesson so he can say his lines with the Boston accent. It’s hilarious. No, Ortiz, who is from the Dominican Republic, does NOT have a hard Boston accent. But he tried. Check out this sort video of Dratch as Ortiz’s dialect coach.

As I’ve written about earlier on The Last Trombone, I will be attending Super Bowl LIV in Miami this weekend with my son-in-law, Chad, courtesy of the Chicago Bears. So I won’t get to see the Super Bowl commercials as they air during the game (no complaints!). But I’ll be watching the game again on TV when I get home, and I hope the commercials are better than they were last year (my wife and I thought that most of them were really terrible—many others agreed). But I have to say, I’d be very surprised if there’s a better ad this year than “Smaht pahk” for the Hyundai Sonata. Well done Hyundai!

Do good. Help a widow.

Do good. Help a widow.

As the page is turned to a new year, from 2019 to 2020, we all do well to reflect upon and remember those who helped us in the past. Sometimes that reflection leads to action, and I hope this blog post might encourage others to follow in the steps of many others who are working today to help a person in need.

Most trombonists are aware of the pioneering work of Orla Edward Thayer, who, in 1977, invented the Thayer axial-flow valve. Ed’s invention was hugely influential in the trombone marketplace and it set off a rush of innovative design of valves by a host of manufacturers which resulted in significant improvements to trombones.

Ed’s valve was first patented in 1978 with a cylindrical valve design. In 1985, he was issued another patent with the well-known cone valve design that is still in use today.

[Above: drawings from Ed Thayer’s 1978 and 1985 patents for his axial-flow valve.]

I was an early adopter of Ed Thayer’s valve. When I was a member of the Baltimore Symphony (1981-1985), I contacted Ed and asked him to add his valve to my Bach bass trombone. This he did, with bass trombone valve number B-6, from the very first group of bass trombone valves he ever made. I endorsed his valve for several years and it was on that single valve trombone with Ed Thayer’s valve that I won the bass trombone position in the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1985.

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My colleagues in the Baltimore Symphony, Jim Olin (co-principal), Eric Carlson (second) and I all used axial-flow valve equipped trombones—we became one of the first trombone sections to use trombones with Ed’s valve. The photo above shows Jim, Eric, and me in March, 1985.

Ed Thayer was a superb inventor. More than that, he was a decent, honorable, kind person, and I and many others have always said the same about his wife, Barbara. I count it a privilege to have called them friends. Ed died in 2009, and while the valve he invented changed the face of trombone design, he was not the most savvy businessman. Several unfortunate circumstances surrounding the patent and production of the axial-flow valve drained Ed and Barbara of their financial resources and they were forced to live on Social Security alone. Barbara, now 94 years old, is living month to month.

Ken Novotny has established a gofundme page to help Barbara Thayer pay down her existing debt and help her with a long-term housing solution. This is an admirable project that has already generated many donations from generous donors. But there is a long way to go to the goal of $11,945.

As I was reading my Bible this morning, the following words jumped off the page:

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.

These words are from Isaiah 1:16-17. It was shortly after reading these words that I received an email from my friend, Marcel Schot, a trombonist in The Netherlands, letting me know about Barbara Thayer’s plight and this effort to help her. As a result, my wife and I have just made a donation to the Help Barbara Thayer gofundme page.

Would you consider doing the same? I don’t think there is any better way to start the new year than to help a widow. Barbara Thayer is deserving of our help, and doing so also honors the legacy of her late husband, Ed. Click the gofundme icon below to be directed to the “Help Barbara Thayer, Widow of Edward Thayer” page. Do a good thing, and “plead the widow’s cause.” Thank you for your consideration.

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Don’t boo your team.

Don’t boo your team.

Recently, the subject of booing at sporting events — National Football League games in particular — has been in the news. Last weekend, fans of the new England Patriots — a team that has won SIX SUPER BOWL TROPHIES since 2002, is currently in first place in its division, and currently has the second best record in its conference — booed during and after the team’s loss against the Kansas City Chiefs. The headline in the New York Post read:

Tom Brady, New England Patriots,

booed off field by their own fans

during Chiefs game

Patriots linebacker Klye Van Noy told NBCSportsBoston.com that booing the team was “disrespectful.”

In October, Deadspin featured this headline about the Chicago Bears:

Bears Fans Boo Team Off the Field 

After Offense Freezes at the Goal Line

Bears safety Eddie Jackson called booing by fans “unacceptable.” 

So which is it? To boo, or not to boo.

My wife and I have season tickets to Chicago Bears football. We don’t boo our team if it isn’t playing well. Here’s why.

Sports fans are passionate. I get that. I’m passionate about the Bears. Fans invest a lot in supporting a team, especially if one is a season ticket holder. Game tickets, parking, food, team gear, to say nothing about the time spent — it’s a real commitment. There’s real money involved. We all want our team to win. It’s easy to cheer when the team wins. When the team wins, we stand around the water cooler at work and talk about the game, saying, “We won!”

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Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka being carried off the field after the Bears won Super Bowl XX (January 1986).

But when the team loses? It’s always, “They lost.”

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Chicago Bears kicker Cody Parkey after missing what would have been the game winning field goal in the first round of the NFL playoffs (January 2019).

Winning feels good. Losing doesn’t feel good. But when your team is having a rough time — some poorly executed plays, a losing streak of a few games, or even a few years — I don’t think booing is the right response.

Think about it: When you‘re having a rough patch, when things aren’t going well for you, what kind of response do you like to get from your boss, your family, your friends? It’s easy for them to pat you on the back and say “attaboy!” or “attagirl!” when everything’s coming up roses. But when you’re going through a rough patch? You’d appreciate some encouragement. You’d appreciate people coming alongside you and letting you know that they are still with you. That they’ll keep supporting you. That they’ll pray for you. That they’ll be there for you. That’s sure what I’d like from friends when I’m in trouble. Those that beat up on me when I’m down —or just disappear — show that they were never really friends in the first place.

The Bible reminds us of this. Proverbs 17:17 says:

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.

Friends should love you at all times. But a brother (or a sister)? He’s/She’s there for you especially when things are not going well. I think that’s what real fans are — people who cheer for a team when things are going well and those who stand by it when it’s going through tough times. Don’t support the team when it’s down (like when the Bears had a four game losing streak earlier this season)? Then don’t jump back on the bandwagon when things go well (the Bears have won their last three games). We go through this together. We won. We lost. Boo the team when it’s down? Nope. You’ve probably heard the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12):

Do to others as you want them to do to you.

I love it when my team wins. But when they don’t win, or don’t play well, I’m also aware that the players feel it even more deeply than I do. They want to win ever more than I want them to win. They know when they didn’t perform well before I even noticed. Their livelihood is on the line. If they don’t perform well, they could get cut from the team. Theirs is a far greater investment in the team than what I put into the team.

So, I don’t boo my team. I may throw up my hands in frustration, put my head in my hands and shake it back and forth. But instead of booing, I’ll shout words of encouragement. Exhort the players to make a play, to make a stand, to do better. Pray for them. I never leave the stadium before the last play, win or lose. I want the team to know I’m a fan, a friend, a brother.

Don’t boo your team. Unless you love to be booed when you’re not doing well. Live the Golden Rule.

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100 words – Super Bowl LIV

100 words – Super Bowl LIV

During my lifetime, I have penned hundreds of thousands of words. Books, book chapters, articles, dictionary entries, reviews—these have all been a part of my creative activity for five decades. I love words; I love putting them together, crafting sentences full of evocative meaning. Sometimes this means I use a lot of them. My wife, Patricia, when I begin a conversation with an extensive backstory, often (but lovingly) invokes the words Abigail Adams apparently said to her husband, “John. Do you always have to start at Genesis?”

So, when I recently entered a contest that required a 100 (or fewer) word  essay and those 100 words won the contest, I shook my head in amazement. 100 words? For the biggest contest prize I have ever received? I often say that I have trouble saying “hello” in fewer than five thousand words. But 100 words? And I won? How did this happen? Well, to start at Genesis. . .

Pat and I love football. We had season tickets to Arizona State University Sun Devil Football when I was ASU’s trombone professor from 2012-2016. School spirit was a big thing and we loved those years when we followed college football. But our primary football interest is the National Football League. From our years living in Boston where we attended many New England Patriots games (although we were not season ticket holders—I attended many games when the Boston Symphony brass section played the national anthem) to our six years in Arizona where we had season tickets to see the Arizona Cardinals, we have always felt that we should be “all in” with the teams that play near where we live.

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Photo above: Chad and Doug at Soldier Field, Chicago Bears vs. New York Jets, October 28, 2018.

When we moved to Illinois in 2018 (to live closer to our two grandchildren), I knew I wanted to take my son-in-law, Chad, to a Chicago Bears game. The NFL season had already started by the time we moved to Illinois and we were immersed in unpacking and getting our life together. Season tickets to the Chicago Bears were not in the front of my mind at that moment in time. But I knew that Chad had loved the Bears since he was a young boy and I wanted to go to a game with him. So I purchased tickets to a Chicago Bears/New York Jets game last October at Soldier Field in Chicago and as you can see from the look on Chad’s face above, we had a great time.

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Photo above: Doug and Pat at Soldier Field, Chicago Bears vs. Minnesota Vikings, September 29, 2019.

Actually, we had a REALLY great time. So much so that the next week, Pat and I decided to  purchase Chicago Bears football season tickets. We have great seats on the 50 yard line, and going to Bears games (we share the tickets with Chad and our daughter Linda—grandma and grandpa stay at home to watch the game with our grandkids) has become a big part of the life of the part of our family that lives in the Chicago area. Doug and Pat; Linda and Chad; Doug and Chad all going to games—fun times.

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Photo above: Chad and Doug at Soldier Field, Chicago Bears vs. Los Angeles Rams, December 9, 2018.

When Chad and I go to a Chicago Bears game, we want to experience everything. Every moment of our time there is meaningful. Watching pregame warmups, having food in the United Club, walking through Soldier Field’s historic colonnade, singing the national anthem, singing “Bear Down, Chicago Bears” when the team scores, watching the players congratulate each other at midfield after the game. We are never in a hurry to leave Soldier Field. It’s a special place where special things happen for our family.

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Photo above: Doug and Pat in front of the newly unveiled statue of Bears founder George S. Halas at Soldier Field, October 27, 2019.

Flowing from going to Chicago Bears games are all manner of other activities that bring us closer to what the team is all about. The Bears are a founding franchise of the NFL; the team’s first coach and owner, George Halas, is considered to be the driving force in the founding of the league in 1920.

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Photo above: Chad (in orange # 23 Devin Hester Jersey) and Doug (in blue #50 Mike Singletary jersey) at the orange carpet at the Bears100 celebration, June 7, 2019. 

This year, the NFL and the Bears are both celebrating their 100th anniversary, and Chad and I went to the Bears100 celebration in June of this year. What a weekend it was! We even were able to be part of a select group of fans to be there when team members past and present—including many Hall of Fame Players—”walked the orange carpet” before the Bears100 opening ceremony. Yup, we’re Superfans.

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As a season ticket holder, I receive emails with team news from the Bears every week. This fall, I received an email from the Bears announcing a contest. The Bears would send two people to Super Bowl LIV in Miami all expenses paid. Two tickets to the game on February 2, 2020, round trip plane fare, three nights in a Miami area hotel, and more. How to win? You had to write a 100 word essay.

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Photo above: Chad repping the Bears in 1989, age 9.

If you don’t enter you can’t win. But of course, when you enter a contest with a big prize, you know the odds of winning are very, very slim. However, this contest was more than just a random drawing for a winner. There was a task to do, an essay to write. There was no question that I would write the essay about Chad. His love for the Bears and football is passionate. And I thought that HIS story might be interesting to the Bears. Here’s what I wrote; who I would like to take to Super Bowl LIV:

My son-in-law, Chad, a Chaplain for Seasons Hospice, Pastor of Care Ministries at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lisle, and a passionate Bears fan since childhood. Chad could not play sports as a child; a rare medical condition kept him off playing fields. But he loved the game, and the Bears were a lifeline for him when life threw hard knocks his way. For Chad, the NFL exemplifies perseverance, excellence, the ability to pick oneself up when down, sportsmanship, teamwork. To go to Miami wearing Bears jerseys to celebrate the best of the NFL with Chad would be an unmeasurable joy.

And I sent in my entry. 100 words.

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Photo above: Doug and Chad at Soldier Field, Chicago Bears vs. Detroit Lions, November 10, 2019.

In the meantime, the Bears season rolled on. Football parties with family and friends when the Bears were playing teams away from home. More games at Soldier Field. Then, last week, my phone rang. On the other end of the line was George McCaskey, Chairman of the Bears. He’s a son of Bears owner Virginia Halas McCaskey—she is the daughter of George Halas—and the McCaskey family are spectacular stewards of the Chicago Bears. After a little small talk, Mr. McCaskey asked me what I was doing on February 2. I went to my calendar on my phone and it showed two events. Groundhog Day. And Super Bowl LIV. And then he said words I would never forget, “The Bears would like to send you and Chad to the Super Bowl.”

What!?

I wrote 100 words and Chad and I were going to the Super Bowl. The Bears liked my entry and Mr. McCaskey told me that they noted that my essay was exactly 100 words long. Gotta follow the rules! The Bears received thousands of entries to the contest. The odds of winning were very small. But here we are, going to the Super Bowl thanks to the Chicago Bears. Wow.

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So, we got together at Linda and Chad’s house to tell them the good news. Standing in front of a wall in Chad’s office which is decked out in Bears colors (photo above), we surprised him. When I handed Chad the Super Bowl LIV ticket invitations the Bears had sent to me, well, it was a very special moment for all of us.

I don’t have adequate words to express our thanks to the Chicago Bears organization, to the McCaskey family, and to all of those at the Bears who do so much to make our game day and year-round Chicago Bears experience so meaningful (including our season ticket representative, Dillon Knight, who has helped us in ways large and small and who is always attentive to our thoughts, suggestions, and so much more). Here in the 100th anniversary season of the National Football League, Chad and I will be going to the big game. While we would love to see our Bears on the field in Miami (the Bears have had a challenging season this year but there is still hope!), we look forward to celebrating this game that will feature the very best teams in the NFL in what will be an unforgettable experience.

100 words. Sometimes you don’t have to start at Genesis.

Thank you, Chicago Bears! And, Go Bears!

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Photo above: Limited edition bobbleheads given away free to fans who attend Chicago Bears home games at Soldier Field during the 2019 season, to celebrate the Bears’ 100th anniversary season. Left to right: George S. Halas (only given to season ticket holders), Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski, Sid Luckman, Bill George, Gale Sayers and Dick Butkas, Walter Payton, Mike Ditka, Brian Urlacher, Khalil Mack (only given to season ticket holders). Mike Singletary and Devin Hester will be given to fans at the last two home games later this month).