Category: Chicago Bears football

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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).

 

 

 

Surprises

Surprises

Life is full of surprises, unexpected things that intersect our lives. Sometimes a surprise is shocking, such as a car accident, or the sudden death of a friend or loved one. Sometimes surprises are joyful, like getting accepted to a college you thought was out of reach. No matter how they come, surprises always get our attention. A recent surprise got me thinking of how interesting this theme of surprises (good ones!) has been in my life recently.

Among my many ongoing projects, I have been doing a study of the Stephanovsky 20 Etudes for Bass Trombone. As my friend, Peter Ellefson (Professor of Trombone at Indiana University) pointed out to me a few weeks ago, Keith Brown’s 1964 edition of the Stephanovsky 20 Etudes contains a great deal of common material with Brown’s edition of Fritz Werner’s 38 Studies for Trombone. What? Two composers whose books contain much music that is identical? Keith Brown died last year so he isn’t here to explain what happened. So I’ve been trying to figure out this little puzzle.

In my research, I learned that the 20 Etudes were first published under Stephanovsky’s name in the Soviet Union, first around 1950 and then again in 1961 (Werner’s book was first published in 1927). I hunted around for copies of Stephanovsky’s Russian editions to obtain via Inter Library Loan and finally located a copy of the 1961 edition (I did locate a copy of the c. 1950 edition but the library that owns it is in Europe and does not participate in ILL) in the library at University of Texas, Austin. In a few days, it was heading to me for examination.

SURPRISE! When I opened it, the title page revealed that this copy had been previously owned by Donald S. Knaub, former professor of trombone at Eastman School of Music and University of Texas. Knaub is one of the most respected trombone teachers of the twentieth century; I was very privileged to meet him a few years ago when I gave a masterclass at University of Houston. A book from his personal library? Nice.

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SURPRISE! Someone (it was probably Knaub since the handwriting looks like his) made some assumptions about the name of the composer of this music. No, it was not Kruschev, nor Ivan. Stephanovsky’s first name was Karl. The University of Texas librarians got the name right when they entered the music into their catalog.

Whenever I hold music that was owned by someone else, I have great anticipation when I open it up since there are often hand-written markings that prove to be as interesting to me as the music itself. Knaub’s music didn’t disappoint.

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SURPRISE! When I turned to Etude 14 I saw Knaub’s handwriting that marked out several bracketed staves where he had written “ONE BREATH” next to them, after having changed the dynamic of mezzoforte to pianissimo. I had to smile. I have made the same indications in many copies of this book when I have assigned that same etude to students over my many decades of teaching. Pushing ourselves to play long phrases is an essential part of learning good breath control. It was nice to see that Knaub asked the same thing of himself – and he probably asked it of his students as well.

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SURPRISE! When I turned to the final page of the book, Knaub had written “SNIFF BREATHING” at the top of Etude 20. Another big smile from me. I have been extolling the virtues of sniff breathing – that is, taking quick breaths through the nose rather than breathing through the mouth while playing – as a way to deal with playing music like this where there just isn’t a good place to take a breath. I was taught this technique by my former Boston Symphony tuba colleague, Chester Schmitz, and it has served me (and my students) well ever since then. To see that Knaub suggested using sniff breathing on this etude was a great verification to me, since this is the very kind of etude I assign to my students to practice this useful breathing technique.

In 2010, I was in Rouen, France, doing some teaching and performing en route to a conference in Paris that was devoted to the musical instrument called the serpent. Whenever I go to Europe, I always seek out cathedrals and large churches. I have a great interest in Gothic-era church architecture. Rouen, of course, has one of the most famous cathedrals in the world, made all the more famous by the more than thirty paintings of its west front by Claude Monet (below).

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My oldest daughter, Linda (who was accompanying me on the trip), and I spent some time inside and outside this magnificent church, but my host and friend, Volny Hostiou, told us of another interesting church in Rouen that is much less known. And it had a surprise.

SURPRISE! Actually, when Volny told me about the Abbey Church of St. Ouen, he was surprised it was not the first time I had heard of it. I’ve been aware of its architecture ever since a set of twelve aquatints by the English artist, Charles Wild, came into my possession many years ago. Wild’s “Twelve Selected Examples of the Ecclesiastical Architecture of the Middle Ages, Chiefly in France.” In 2001, I wrote an article about one of these prints, “The Choir of the Cathedral of Amiens,” where I discussed the serpent players depicted in the print (you can view and download my article about this in the Historic Brass Society Journal by clicking this link). Among the prints in Wild’s set are two of the Abbey Church of St. Ouen in Rouen. One is of the outside of the church:

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And the other is of the church’s transept:

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These are beautiful images, ones that have taught me a great deal about Gothic architecture and cathedral/church life. But now Volny had a surprise for me. “When you go inside,” he said, “look up. You will find a serpent player.” Linda and I made a trip to the Abbey Church to find out what Volny was talking about.

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SURPRISE! We looked all through the church for the serpent player and finally we found him. High up on the ceiling in a side chapel, there it was, a remarkable painting of an angel playing the serpent. Nothing there about harps in heaven!

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The serpent, which had been invented sometime in the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century and then evolved to be an instrument to accompany the singing of chant in the Church in France, would have been well known to every person who had worshipped in St. Ouen in the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries. The painting is heavily damaged but it is still remarkable nonetheless. Who painted it? When? Questions. . .

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SURPRISE! But there was more. As we looked more carefully at the painting, we realized that the serpent player was not alone. Look at the image, above. Just to the right of the serpent-playing angel’s left wing you see another face. It’s very faint and hard to find. (Maybe this will help: look at the chin of the serpent-playing angel, then move your eyes to the right until the stonework of the ceiling appears. The second angel’s face is there, just to the side of the larger angel’s wing.) You can clearly make out the face of another angel who is looking at the serpent-playing angel. An unexpected surprise on top of a surprise. Did this other angel originally have an instrument in hand? What did the rest of the ceiling look like when the paint was all intact? Questions. . .

Some of my biggest surprises come in books. Because of the nature of the research I do, I purchase a lot of used books, and mostly books that are out of print. I get all of my used books through abebooks.com, a website that serves as a massive catalog of the holdings of thousands of bookstores around the world. I can usually find any book I want there, and usually for only a few dollars. And sometimes when I open up a used book, I find a surprise.

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SURPRISE! My wife and I enjoy football and one of the first things we did when we moved to the Chicago area last fall was to become season ticket holders for the Chicago Bears. We’re all in with the Bears and since we want get to know the team better, I’ve been acquiring several books and DVDs about its history. Last week, I ordered a used copy of Halas by Halas (New York: McGraw-Hill Co., 1979), the autobiography of George S. Halas who was not only the first coach, then player, then owner of the Chicago Bears, but was the driving force behind the creation of the National Football League in 1919.

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You can imagine my surprise when I opened this book – which I purchased for under $20 – and I found several autographs inside the front cover. There is Doug Atkins, defensive end for the Chicago Bears from 1955-1966 and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And Mike Pyle, center for the Bears from 1961-1969. And George Connor, another member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who played linebacker/tackle for the Bears from 1948-1955. There is also the signature of Jeanne Morris, a pioneering female television sports broadcaster, and two members of the short-lived Chicago Bears cheerleading squad, the Honey Bears. Also of interest is the book plate that celebrates the event where books were distributed and the autographs were probably inscribed. I wonder who else was there at that Chicago Bears Reunion Dinner? Who was “Charlie,” to whom some of the autographs are signed? Questions. . .

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Among the several books I am writing at the moment is a biography of Homer Rodeheaver, the trombone-playing song leader for evangelist William Ashley “Billy” Sunday in the first third of the twentieth century. Rodeheaver is a fascinating character who was a driving force in the promotion of gospel music in the twentieth century through his publishing company, record company, and evangelistic work. With my friend and co-author, Kevin Mungons, we are moving along in the process of bringing this book to publication with University of Illinois Press.

In the course of our research, both Kevin and I have acquired many (hundreds, for sure, maybe thousands?) of books that inform our understanding of Rodeheaver, his life, times, and work. Among them is Rodeheaver’s own book, 20 Years With Billy Sunday (Winona Lake, Indiana: Rodeheaver Hall-Mack Co., 1936), the story of his years as songleader for evangelist Billy Sunday. While long out of print, copies of the book are not especially rare. But. . .

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SURPRISE! When I opened my used copy of Rodeheaver’s book, I found his inscription inside the front cover, with a reference from the Bible, Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” I’m not an autograph collector, but to hold and own a copy of Rodeheaver’s book in my hands that he had held in his own hands was a very nice surprise. As to Watts Franklin (or Franklin Watts?) of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, a previous owner of this book – his (her?) return address label appears on the page with Rodeheaver’s signature – I have not been able to learn anything. Did Watts meet Rodeheaver and ask him to sign the book? Was it a gift to him/her? Questions. . .

Unlike Homer Rodeheaver whose life has never been chronicled in a biography, Billy Sunday is the subject of many books. Some were written during his lifetime (he died in 1935) and others are more contemporary. Books about Sunday – whether authorized by the evangelist or not – provide a fascinating window into his life and ministry as seen through the lens of the time in which he lived.

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One of these books is by Elijah P. Brown, The Real Billy Sunday (New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1914). My used copy has a stamp in the back that says it was owned by Sarah A. Kemmerer of Allentown, Pennsylvania. Who she was I do not know. More questions. . .

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SURPRISE! When I opened my used copy of Brown’s book, a small, six page pamphlet fluttered to the floor. It was a program for the 1916 convention of the Lehigh (Pennsylvania) County Christian Endeavor Union, November 1916. Held at the Moravian church in Emaus, Pennsylvania (this spelling was used for the borough from 1830-1938; before and after that time it was/is spelled Emmaus), the convention featured sermons, singing, devotionals, and other activities for youth and adults. It provides a fascinating glimpse into the schedule of one of these meetings which were common occurrences at the time.

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SURPRISE! Another among my many biographies of Billy Sunday is “Billy Sunday” The Man and His Message by William T. Ellis (Philadelphia: John C. Winston Co., 1914). This used copy contained a remarkable surprise: an original copy of the brochure that Billy Sunday put into the hands of tens of thousands of people who attended his tabernacle meetings and “walked the sawdust trail” up the aisle to shake hands with the evangelist as they made a public profession to trust Jesus Christ as Savior. The fact that this tract was kept in the book made me wonder if a previous owner bought the book at one of Sunday’s meetings and then put the pamphlet inside that very night for safekeeping. Names of two previous owners of the book are inscribed inside the front cover: a signature of Arthur S. Beale, and a label with the name L. Wilkins of Watertown, Massachusetts. Who were they? When and how did they come to own this book? Questions. . .

The pamphlet is a remarkable historical document and one that is as fresh today as when it was first used by Sunday in the early twentieth century. There are many things I find interesting about this pamphlet, including the fact that it bears the imprint of a union publishing house, Allied Printing of Paterson, New Jersey. Could this brochure have been printed for the 1917 Billy Sunday meetings in New York City? Questions. . .

Sunday asks some important questions and gives some important advice. Have a look.

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Life is full of surprises. Sometimes they cause you to ask questions. Sometimes they can change your life.