Category: Arizona and the Southwest

Stay disciplined: a lesson from Super Bowl XLIX

Stay disciplined: a lesson from Super Bowl XLIX

By Douglas Yeo

Readers of The Last Trombone know that I am a football fan. My wife and I are season ticket holders to Chicago Bears football. When we lived in Arizona from 2012-2018 after my retirement from the Boston Symphony Orchestra, we had season tickets to Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State University football. And during my long career in Boston, we attended many New England Patriots games. Football is a big part of our lives.

The Super Bowl is the culmination of the National Football League season and this Sunday, February 12, 2023, millions of people around the world will tune in to watch Super Bowl LVII between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles. We’ll be watching, too.

Incredibly, I have attended three Super Bowls. In 2002, I attended Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans. The Boston Pops Orchestra was engaged to play the pre-game show and national anthem for the game—this was the first Super Bowl after the 9/11 attacks so the game’s halftime theme was changed from a New Orleans Mardis Gras them to a patriotic theme. Hence the Boston Pops, “America’s Orchestra,” performed at the game. Patriots owner Robert Kraft gave each member of the orchestra a ticket and we were all thrilled to see our team win the game against the St. Louis Rams. I wrote about that unforgettable experience on my website HERE.

In 2020, I attended Super Bowl LIV in Miami. I won a contest sponsored by the Chicago Bears—it was an essay contest and in 100 words, I had to answer the question, “Who would you take to the Super Bowl and why?”—and my son-in-law, Chad, and I had an unforgettable time together at the game, where the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers. I wrote about THAT unforgettable experience on The Last Trombone HERE.

In-between those two memorable Super Bowls was another game, Super Bowl XLIX, held in Glendale, Arizona on February 1, 2015. The game was between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks. Thanks to the kindness of a friend in Boston whose family had a couple of extra tickets to the game, my wife and I got to attend Super Bowl XLIX. Having been Patriots fans for over 30 years, we had a rooting interest. The game was held in the Arizona Cardinals’ stadium and our seats were five rows from the field on the Patriots’ goal line. Little did we know how that goal line would become so important in the game.


My wife, Patricia, and me at our seats before kickoff at Super Bowl XLIX.

In my trombone teaching, I speak frequently about the need to be disciplined and focused in one’s practice and performances. We will be at our best if we focus intently on the tasks at hand. If we make a mistake, we cannot let a mistake distract us from the next thing. Frustration over a mistake only causes more mistakes, so remaining disciplined in the face of challenges is critically important for success. I use football metaphors in my trombone teaching all the time—just ask my students. Here is one of the examples I use when I talk about the need for discipline and maintaining focus. Let’s go back to Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona and pick up the story (with apologies to readers who might not understand American football, but I hope you can stick with me to get to the point of this article at the end). . .

The game went back and forth with the Patriots and Seahawks exchanging the lead several times. You can see a chart with every play from the game on Pro Football Reference by clicking HERE. With 2:06 left in the fourth and final quarter, the Patriots took the lead, 28-24. Then, the Seahawks got the ball and began driving down the field. They needed a touchdown (6 points) to win the game; a field goal (3 points) would not be enough. All of us in the stadium thought the Seahawks would win after Seahawks wide receiver Jermaine Kearse made an acrobatic catch for a 33-yard gain. That was a catch that embodied the ideals of focus and discipline. I still don’t know how he made that catch.


Jermaine Kearse’s acrobatic catch at Super Bowl XLIX. Photo from an article in the Seattle Times.

With the ball on the Patriots 5 yard line with 1:06 left on the game clock, the Seahawks handed off the ball to their star running back, Marshawn Lynch, who gained 4 yards. With the ball at the 1-yard line, we—along with, I expect, every other person in the stadium—assumed that Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson would hand the ball off to Lynch once more and score a touchdown. But with 0:26 seconds left on the game clock, Wilson threw a pass to Ricardo Lockette. And the pass was intercepted by Patriots safety Malcolm Butler at the 1 yard line. Nobody could believe it.


Malcolm Butler intercepting a pass by Russell Wilson, Super Bowl XLIX. Photo from an article by LWOS (Last Word on Sports).

This was, of course, a disaster for the Seahawks and an unexpected reprieve for the Patriots. It was a stunning turn of events. With victory in their grasp, the Seahawks gave the ball back to the Patriots.

But the game wasn’t over.

After the Patriots took a time out, the game resumed with 0:20 to play. However, the Patriots had a problem. With the ball on the 1 yard line, the Patriots had to run a play and advance the ball. The possibility that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady could be sacked in the end zone—thereby giving the Seahawks a safety (2 points) was very real. The Seahawks had a superb defense. If they had gotten a safety, they still would have been behind the Patriots by 2 points, but the Patriots would have to punt (rather than kick off) the ball to the Seahawks, and with one timeout left and what would have probably been a short field, there was a possibility the Seahawks might be able to kick a long field goal and win the game in dramatic fashion. It was a long shot, but it was possible.

What happened next? Patriots quarterback Tom Brady came up to the 1 yard line and started his snap count. And then another unthinkable thing happened: Seahawks player Michael Bennett jumped offsides. That was THE ONE THING the Seahawks could not do on that play. THE ONE THING. But the Seahawks did it. The offsides penalty gave the Patriots 5 yards, and the ball was placed at the 6-yard line. Then, on the next play, the Seahawks were penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct when Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin punched a Patriots player after the play—clearly he was frustrated by the dramatic turn of events of the last few seconds—and the game was over. The Patriots won.

Michael Bennett was not a disciplined player. One can ask the fair question: why was a player (Bennett) who had been called for more offsides penalties in the whole National Football League during the season even on the field for that play? Bennett’s lack of discipline cost the Seahawks a chance to win the game. Sure, it was a long shot. But they had a chance. Until Bennett jumped offsides.

There, in the course of just a few seconds, we saw a remarkable display of focus and discipline from Jermaine Keare. His catch epitomized focus and discipline. Then we saw another remarkable display of focus and discipline by Malcolm Butler when he intercepted Russell Wilson. But then, we saw a terrible lack of discipline by Michael Bennett (offsides) and another lapse of focus and discipline by Bruce Irvin (unsportsmanlike conduct).

The lesson in all of this? It’s not over until it’s over. Staying disciplined in our tasks, whether playing football or performing a concert with a trombone in your hand, will give us the best possibility to have a great result. Even when you think that things are going badly, you still may have a chance at redemption. When you’re taking an audition for a symphony orchestra, never assume your audition is over because you miss a note. Because unbeknownst to you, maybe everyone else at the same audition missed the same note. Stay focused, stay disciplined. Most people who reflect on Super Bowl XLIX remember the decision by Seahawks coach Pete Carroll to have Russell Wilson throw a pass from the 1-yard line rather than hand the ball off to Marshawn Lynch as the defining moment of the game. And, in many respects, it was. But there was more to the story, and the Seahawks missed a chance—a chance—to win the game when Michael Bennett jumped offsides. His lack of discipline was the real story about the Seahawks loss.

Stay disciplined. Keep working until the task is done. Completely done. It’s not over until it’s over. If you want to be there when the confetti falls for you after you win, you have to be disciplined and focused until the very end. That’s a lesson for all of life.


My wife, Patricia, and me as the confetti fell to celebrate the New England Patriots’ victory at the end of Super Bowl XLIX.

On the move

On the move

It is a sign I have seen in front of my house only once before, in 2012, when I retired from the Boston Symphony and my wife and I sold our home in Lexington, Massachusetts. The sign tells a much larger story than its single word. But at the fundamental level, a SOLD sign means we are on the move again.

In 2010, we purchased a beautiful home in the Estrella community of Goodyear, Arizona. We knew that someday we would want to live in the southwest and that someday came in May 2012 when we left Massachusetts and moved into our home. We’ve enjoyed six years in this beautiful place. I have had a music room that I could only dream about, a place to play trombone, read, and write.


But today all of this is going away and we are moving to a new place. United Van Lines pulled up to our home yesterday and our driver, Amerigo, and his assistant, Justin, spent the afternoon taking inventory of our belongings. Today they returned, with three more men, and they are at work right now packing up a huge van with everything we own.


I have great respect for people and the work they do. Everyone does something. I play the trombone. Others pack up houses. To see Americo and his crew at work is to see people who have strength, knowledge, understanding, and creativity. It is not easy to fit 500 boxes, pieces of furniture, and other items into a rectangular truck. And get everything safely to a new destination. But as I watch them carefully wrap furniture and systematically fit things into the truck, I have to smile. These guys know what they are doing. They are, in their own way, artists.


In March, we made the big decision to leave Arizona and move to a western suburb of Chicago. Into a much smaller house. Back to winters of cold and snow. I confess that I never imagined we would leave Arizona, a place that we have loved in so many ways. But there was only one thing that could lead us to make this big decision.

Our grandchildren.


When we made the decision to purchase our home in Arizona in 2010, these two precious ones were not a part of our lives. But all of that changed a few years ago as first Hannah, and then Caleb, were born. As time has marched on, we have enjoyed many visits with them both here in Arizona and in Illinois where our oldest daughter and her family live. But several visits a year and daily FaceTime calls are not enough. Our hearts wanted more. After they visited us in March of this year for a week of Chicago Cubs baseball spring training, I turned to my wife, Pat, and dropped a big one: let’s leave Arizona and move to Illinois. I never imagined those words would come from my mouth. But it seemed that God was prompting us to do something radical, something completely unexpected but at the same time quite wonderful. At first I thought that we would consider moving near to our grandchildren at some undefined time in the future. That rapidly changed to considering doing “the snowbird thing” – living in Arizona in the winter and in Illinois in the summer. But when we ran the numbers, it just didn’t make good, prudent fiscal sense. And we concluded that if we were in Illinois for half the year, we’d miss so many things that happened there in the other half of the year. So in a short time – just a few weeks – we decided to purchase a home in Illinois just 10 minutes from Linda and her family. Since then we have done an extreme makeover of our new place and it will be ready for us when we arrive there in a few days.

So, here we go. Back to Illinois, near Wheaton, where Pat and I were undergraduates at Wheaton College in the early 1970s. Back to the land where I met my trombone teacher and mentor, Edward Kleinhammer (bass trombonist of the Chicago Symphony, 1940-1985). Most of all, we are heading to a place where we can be a bigger part of the lives of our precious grandchildren. Anyone who has grandchildren will surely appreciate what I am saying here.

Yes, I will miss Arizona. But we will be back. We have much more left to explore in the southwest. But no matter how much we love being here, we know that the old adage “family first” is true. We have no regrets about leaving; we are moving ahead, looking to the future with great anticipation.


This morning I watched the sun rise for the last time from the roof of our home. As it rose over the Estrella Mountains, I felt such gratitude to God for the opportunity to have lived here for the last six years. I have learned so much, and I will share some of that in future articles on The Last Trombone. By the end of the day today, our home in Arizona will be empty. Next Friday, Amerigo and his truck will pull up to our new home in Illinois and a few hours later, it will be full. Soon, the sound of the laughter of children will ring in its rooms. There are no words in the English language that mean more to me than, “I love you, grandpa. I love you, grandma.” That is why we are leaving Arizona. God is good.

The beauty of the saguaro cactus

The beauty of the saguaro cactus

My wife and I live on the southwest side of Phoenix in the foothills of the Estrella Mountains. We love living there. It is quiet and dark at night, and we are surrounded by stunning natural beauty. We live just south of the Gila River, in an area that used to part of Mexico before the Gadsden Purchase transferred 29,670 square miles of Mexico to the United States in 1853 (for a payment of $10 million dollars, roughly $270 million dollars today). Most of that land became part of the Arizona Territory and nearly 60 years later, in 1912, Arizona became the last of the lower 48 states to be admitted to the Union – State 48.

We also live in what is called the Sonoran Desert, a unique ecosystem that covers 100,000 square miles of southern Arizona, a small part of southern California, and Sonora and Baja, Mexico. It is a remarkable place with an iconic, ever changing landscape. Principal among the things that make the Sonoran Desert so interesting is the saguaro cactus.

This cactus — pronounced “soh-WAHR-oh” —along with the American bison, has become the symbol of the American west. They grow slowly and they grow tall. They usually sprout arms, and have beautiful, white, trumpet bell shaped flowers in the spring. They live for many decades. And then they die.

Today, my wife and I enjoyed a very nice four mile hike in the desert just a few minutes from our home where we were surrounded by these great cacti. It occurred to me as we were hiking that we got to see saguaro cacti in nearly their whole life cycle. So I took a few photos to share with readers of The Last Trombone.


Like every plant, the saguaro cactus starts out small. This young saguaro, above, is about three feet high. If it sprouts arms, that won’t happen for many years. The growth cycle of the saguaro cactus isn’t fully understood and some saguaros will bud arms when they are about 60 years old while others stay tall and straight with no arms for their whole lives.


Pictured above is a saguaro cactus with three small buds that have just started to grow.


In time, those buds may grow to be very large, like arms, and create the iconic image (above) of a saguaro cactus. Arizona State University’s Alma Mater sings of this:

Where the bold Saguaros raise their arms on high,

Praying strength for brave tomorrows from the Western sky,

Where eternal mountains kneel at sunset’s gate,

Here we hail thee, Alma Mater, Arizona State.


Eventually a saguaro changes as it nears the end of its life. This process may take many years. At first, the cactus will begin losing its needles and outer pulp, exposing the hard, stiff skeleton that brings water up from the ground to the entire cactus. In the photo above, you can see that water in the wash in the foreground — yes, this would be full of raging water when it rains — has eroded the bottom of the cactus and it is from the bottom that these cacti have begun to rot. Two cacti have already fallen, one remains in good condition, and one is showing the evolution of decay.


Eventually the saguaro falls. They usually break near their base and fall to the ground in the same shape in which they were standing, as seen in the photo above.


When the saguaro falls in an orderly way, its “bones” eventually are left exposed on the ground in a straight line.


Sometimes, the saguaro falls in a chaotic way, uprooted by violent wind, with parts scattered around.


Other times, the cactus begins to die from its top and as it sheds its pulp, the bones begin to form beautiful shapes as they are pushed by the wind and their own weight.


On rare occasions, the saguaro falls from its top into an elegant arch. This always reminds me of the St. Louis Gateway Arch, the gateway to the west. The beauty of these fallen saguaro arches is really something to behold.


Not all saguaros that fall in the desert decompose and go back to the earth. A few years ago, we purchased these saguaro bones (pictured above) that had been collected by a talented artist who did little more to them than saw the base so they could stand up. These bones — I think they look like organ pipes — stand in our living room. They remind us every day of the beauty and ever changing nature of God’s creation that is around us in this special place, the Sonoran Desert.


Photo in the header of this article: Estrella Mountains, Arizona.

Photo at the end of this article: Sign at Hermit’s Rest, Grand Canyon National Park:

O Lord, how manifold are thy works!

In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of Thy riches.

  • Psalm 104:24

And below, a prayer:

Father almighty, wonderful Lord, Wondrous Creator, be ever adored;

Wonders of nature sing praises to You, Wonder of wonders –

I may praise, too!


When classical music meets sports

When classical music meets sports

Last night’s American football AFC Championship game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the New England Patriots was full of high drama. Full disclosure: I lived in Boston for nearly 30 years and attended more Patriots games than I can count. Before their astounding period of success began in 2001, I went to plenty of games when the team was, frankly, terrible. Today, the Patriots are heading to another Super Bowl. Their eighth since 2002. This is remarkable. My wife and I now live in Arizona, and we hold season tickets to Arizona Cardinals football. We love the Cardinals. But we still love the Patriots. There you have it.

I’ve written about the Patriots before on The Last Trombone, particularly about quarterback Tom Brady and how he was the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL draft. Brady has used that fact – that teams passed him over repeatedly until the Patriots drafted him in the sixth round – to fuel his engine of excellence. The result: he has gone on to be what most football observers consider to be the greatest football player of all time – the G.O.A. T.

We spent yesterday afternoon with some friends who had invited us to their home to watch the AFC and NFC Championship games. When I watch TV, I rarely watch commercials. And I’m not particularly interested in pre-game commentary from talking heads. I like to watch the game. So when, before the game started, there was a segment with an actor I had never seen before, I didn’t pay much attention. Until I realized the piece was filmed in Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory of Music. STOP. Rewind the DVR. I taught at New England Conservatory for 27 years. I played countless concerts and recitals in Jordan Hall. What is this?

“This” was a “teaser” for the game featuring actor John Malkovich. It is long by television standards, three and one-half minutes long. Have a look (if you can’t see the video below, click HERE to see it on YouTube):

The story about how this video came about is terrific. Recorded just a few days before yesterday’s game, students at NEC were featured in this short film. You can read how this all came together in a story in Sports Illustrated by Richard Deitsch. Click HERE to read his story.

I think the video is brilliant. It takes a little time to get going but it’s very, very clever. And bravo to the NEC students who were a part of it. I’m sure it was a thrill for them. Seeing this teaser for the game on TV reminded me of the thrill I had playing the National Anthem at Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002 as a member of the Boston Pops Orchestra, something I wrote about on my website, in my article: The New England Patriots and the Boston Pops: A Super Bowl XXXVI Diary (click here to read it). Because of that experience – and many more like it where I played the National Anthem before sporting events as a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra – I wanted to bring that opportunity to my students at Arizona State University. On two occasions, we played the Star Spangled Banner at an Arizona Diamondbacks baseball game. To see my students on the big stage and catch their excitement and sense of wonder as it unfolded was one of the most satisfying things I did during my years as ASU’s Professor of Trombone. Have a look at this video (below) of their performance at Chase Field in Phoenix in 2014 (if you can’t see the video below, click HERE to see it on YouTube):

Sports and music. Sometimes they come together in a way that adds something to our joy of living, and when I see students benefitting from this, as the students at New England Conservatory of Music did when they were part of an exciting football game yesterday, I smile and remember the thrills I’ve had doing the same kind of thing. It’s amazing where life can lead when you have a trombone – or any musical instrument – in your hand.