≡ Menu

Football PlayerDespite the looming playoff games fraught with supreme import and chances, though long, that this year’s Super Bowl won’t be a snoozer by halftime, this has been a wretched year for professional American football.

League officials were thrown for a big loss after they mistakenly believed that domestic violence among its role model employees is of trifling consequence compared to other moral and legal lapses like smoking marijuana. I do wonder how the League is dealing the fact that two of its stronger post-season teams, the Seahawks and Broncos, play in states where smoking marijuana is now legal.

Then there was the ongoing stupidity of the hapless Washington, D.C., team and its offensive nickname, which many saw as a major karmic factor for the team’s execrable season.

I have a theory that the Newts — my preferred nickname for the D.C. team in homage to the former House Speaker who now inhabits cable news green rooms 24 hours a day living on a diet of pure Obama loathing — would do better if Congressional Republicans hadn’t blocked the marijuana-legalization vote by residents of the District of Columbia.

Check out the Seahawks and Broncos, Mr. Snyder. Really, dude.

Meanwhile, the inherent physical danger of football to players’ brains played a greater role in games during 2014, which were more and more often interrupted to show sideline shots of dazed players being given initial concussion screenings by diminutive members of teams’ training staffs. There were so many of these — love the super-slo camera work on players’ eyes spinning in two directions — that I expected screeners to arrive at my couch to administer exams to determine if I, too, was suffering brain damage.

What day is it?

Sunday, or maybe Monday, or one of those other days they show football, you know, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and other days of the week ending in Y.

What year is it?

Damn these throw-back jerseys. I don’t know. 1954?

What game are you watching?

Don’t remember, been sitting so long my feet and legs have fallen asleep. I think there are too many Rob Lowes out there, though.

Then there were the hideous seasons put together by Northern California’s two American football teams, whose names I withhold to protect the inept

It’s truly the pits when the only news about your local teams after the first playoff round is who is being interviewed for head coach jobs. Thrilling!

The best thing I can say about the Bay Area unmentionables is no one was fatally beaten, knifed or shot before, during or after one of their games. At least I think 2014 was fatality-free, but some stats fanatic or court docket could prove me wrong.

But the capper for a crapper season was the wildcard game between the snake-bit Detroit Lions — why not the Washington Snakes? — and America’s Team, which coincidentally plays in the foreign country of Dallas, Texas.

Not only were the Lions victimized by two egregious calls by the referees — who must have had shock electrodes affixed to their bodies controlled in the league office — that gave the game to America’s Team, but millions of viewers were forced to witness one of the most uncomfortable scenes of male bonding since the days when Richard Nixon and Bebe Rebozo were a hot item on South Beach.

A jubilant America’s Team owner, Jerry Jones, jumped out of his chair, hugged a taller man to his right while, to his left, a jubilant New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie put his hands high above his head in an unrequited effort for what — a high ten? Looked like was trying to play air patty-cake.

Then Christie put his hands on Jones’ shoulders and, with tenderness, leaned his head into the super-rich team owner’s’ back. To make the scene even more shocking, Christie was wearing a sweater than no living man should ever wear, of a color variously described as gutted salmon red, poisonous coral and past-expiration Pepto-Bismol pink.

Within hours, Christie was under fire for rooting for America’s team rather than teams in and around New Jersey, for accepting tickets and private jet rides from Jones to attend America’s Team games, and for steering lucrative New Jersey contracts to one of the businesses in Jones’ America’s Company.

The governor’s brother defended Christie rooting for America’s Team on Facebook because, you know, the local teams suck. And Christie went on a sports talk radio show to try to calm the waters with his usual mix of poetry and calm.

Meanwhile, Jeb Bush formed an exploratory committee to issue a possible sigh of relief the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars are not in the playoffs. And he most likely threw out that flamingo-pink sweater vest he had in his closet.

All in all, it was probably the worst year for the league since the early ’70s when then-president Richard Nixon personally advised the coach of the Washington (Bandits, Burglars, Plumbers?) on sure-fire plays to confuse the opposition. Gerald Ford ended up as the new head coach.


LARRY PARSONS: Nixon knew when to give reality an assist


In the final run-up to Election Day, crazy stuff can happen. Or things can be made to look like crazy stuff happened.

Events often move like quicksilver as campaigns near the wire, while the sorting of facts about what really went down may take years to resolve. Or not.

There’s still plenty of room for conjecture about one of the strangest events in American political history, which took place 44 years ago just a few miles north of Monterey County.

At a noon rally on Halloween Day in 1970, then-President Richard Nixon took the stage at a Phoenix, Ariz., airport as several supporters held a large banner a few feet away that said, “We don’t want to know the way to San Jose.”

The message wasn’t a knock on the catchy 1968 song by Dionne Warwick or the still provincial Santa Clara County capital that would blossom within a decade into the civic center of Silicon Valley.

It referred to something that had happened two nights earlier — Oct. 29, 1970  — just outside the San Jose Civic Auditorium during a furious round of Nixon appearances to bolster the GOP’s flagging support before the 1970 midterm election.

If you think America is polarized today, think again. The turbulence of 1970 makes today’s deep divisions seem like hairline cracks in fairly new concrete. 1970 was the year of the secret war in Cambodia, the killings of four protesters at Kent State and an estimated 1,000 domestic bombings.

Such was the backdrop for what took place in San Jose. In what remains a unique happening in American  presidential history, the president’s departing motorcade, including the car that carried Nixon and then California Gov. Ronald Reagan, was pelted by rocks and eggs thrown from a crowd of about 1,000 there to protest a potpourri of causes, from the Vietnam War and the plight of California farmworkers to the immediate fates of aerospace workers in Mountain View.

A few moments before the rock-and-egg shower, Nixon had climbed onto the hood of his limousine, standing with feet apart and thrusting both arms toward the heavens as he flashed the V for peace sign with both hands. The crowd went crazy, and there ensued a few minutes of disorder that concerned the heck out of hundreds of San Jose cops and Secret Service agents trying to protect the officials.

“That’s what they hate to see,” Nixon was reported to gleefully tell an aide as he got back in the bullet-proof limo.

Both the president and Gov. Reagan, who would win his second term a few nights later, flashed more “peace signs” from their seats as the motorcade parted the angry protesters.

Reactions to accounts of the near-riot, which to the chagrin of San Jose officialdom flew out on the national and international wires, were predictably divided.

Nixon and his attack dog Vice President Spiro Agnew wasted no time in milking the spectacle for political capital. In his Phoenix speech, the president called upon America’s silent majority to stand up “against appeasement of the rock throwers and obscenity shouters.” At an Illinois rally, Agnew declared it was “time to sweep that kind of garbage out of society.”

The president’s political foes viewed the incident with suspicion, seeing it as being overblown or another Nixon dirty trick.

A wire service reporter, years later, called the San Jose confrontation and White House’s political profiteering “a con so crafty it even fooled the Secret Service.”

In the face of immediate criticism and pesky questions from the press, the White House allowed a few reporters to inspect the dings on the presidential limousine on Nov. 3.

Top Nixon aide H.R. Haldeman, in his posthumous 1994 insider account of the White House, allowed how the Rumble at the Civic was blown up as “a huge incident … We worked hard to crank it up.”

A few months later,  a Santa Clara County judge, in dismissing the 1970 grand jury that investigated the mini-riot, offered his perspective, saying the affair was a “tempest in a teapot and was blown all out of proportion.” The judge said “certain people know why that was done.”

But the San Jose fracas, described by Nixon speechwriter William Safire as “the most serious mob attack on a national leader in American history,” may well have had a deeper impact than simply supplying the White House with pungent, 11th-hour rhetoric against its foes in November 1970.

In his 1975 book Before the Fall, Safire said Nixon’s tactics for his 1972 re-election campaign were sealed the weekend after the San Jose confrontation. And everyone knows what happened with that campaign.

The answer to the vexing historical question, Why Watergate? could open with a few bars of that Dionne Warwick tune. It may well have started in San Jose.

There should be a plaque about it all in front of the historic, city-owned auditorium, which was rechristened City National Civic last year after its corporate sponsor.

The events center website tells the tale today drained of all its historic drama. It notes, in passing, the venue has played host to political figures, “such as the 1970 visit from then-President Richard Nixon that made national headlines when he was confronted by Anti-War protesters.”