Thursday, October 30, 2008

Friday Night Lights

Daily Bulletin photo
For a high school football game, last Friday’s Los Osos-Upland contest had all the bells and whistles. This one had two best teams in the Inland Empire, featuring two future NCAA Division I quarterbacks. The pre-game attention was magnified by stories in most Southern California newspapers and blogs (including this one). Fox Sports Net Prime televised it live.

Fans expecting an aerial shootout between Los Osos quarterback Richard Brehaut and Upland QB Josh Nunes might have felt this game fell short of the hype. But football fans who saw the game were reminded again that football shouldn’t be evaluated only by the numbers.

The story lines from this game were obvious: Los Osos dominated both sides of the ball in its 41-28 victory, which wasn’t as close as the score. Running back Arby Fields led a strong running attack and scored four touchdowns. The Grizzly defense shut down the high-powered Upland offense and limited it to two touchdowns (Upland’s two other TDs came directly from turnovers).

But there was so much more, beginning with Los Osos quarterback Richard Brehaut. Despite throwing for (only) 170 yards and two touchdowns, and rushing for another 108 yards and a TD, the thing that is most impressive about Richard is his leadership ability and field presence. He has a definite command of the game. It shows in his body language, but is more evident with his actions. I remember noticing those traits when I watched him play as a sophomore and junior, but now his confidence and physical skills have clearly elevated him to a new level.

Watching him Friday, it’s no surprise he is considered the No. 4 high school quarterback in the United States, and that UCLA offered him a scholarship. They have to love what they see. Even though he threw an interception that was run back for a touchdown Friday, he never lost his head. He responded by moving his team, even though Upland took a 21-20 lead at the half. But he led three Grizzly TD drives in the second half. Brehaut can clearly think on his feet, and if his first option isn’t there, he does a good job of improvising.

Fantasy football fans would have been throwing their sandwiches at the TV when one of the Los Osos receivers was ruled down on the one-yard line. Replays showed the receiver rolled over the defender and didn’t hit the ground until he was in the end zone. Los Osos scored on the next play, but Richard didn’t get credit for the TD pass. Well, that’s not what Rich Neuheisel and Norm Chow care about anyway.

Josh Nunes had a tougher time for Upland. He hadn’t seen that strong of a defense all season, and the Grizzlies held him without a TD pass and he was intercepted twice. The Upland offense was shut out in the second half. I think the reason Los Osos defense was so good was because it was unpredictable. Josh is a very good quarterback within the scripted system. He has a different kind of presence behind the offensive line. He is great at getting rid of the ball quickly and usually doesn’t feel the pressure. He’s able to mix things up to sell the play-action and buy time to throw mid-range and deeper passes, too. Because of that, the Upland offense can be unstoppable at times. But that’s when it is able to follow the game plan. The Los Osos defense threw different looks at Upland, and the Highlanders didn’t know how to respond. Upland had trouble adjusting and improvising, not only in the booth and on the sidelines, but on the field as well. If the play didn’t unfold the way it did in practice or in the playbook, then it didn’t work.

Now that the showdown is out of the way, it will be interesting to see how both Los Osos and Upland respond the rest of the season. While not the high-profile game of last week, the Grizzlies might have their toughest game of the season this week when they play Rancho Cucamonga. The undefeated Cougars may not be as good as Upland, but they have their own talented quarterback and more speed than any team in the league. Their skill position guys are all sprinters on the track team, and Rancho Cucamonga typically sweeps most of the Baseline League sprints.

Like last year, when there was a three-way tie for first place, it will be hard for any team in the Baseline League to go undefeated.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pac-10 Preview

The prep football world turns its eyes to the Inland Empire this weekend for the long-awaited matchup between Los Osos and Upland high schools. The spotlight belongs to their respective quarterbacks, Richard Brehaut from Los Osos, who has verbally committed to a scholarship offer at UCLA, and Upland’s Josh Nunes, who has given a verbal commitment to Stanford.

This is a big deal locally and throughout all of Southern California. The game will be televised live at 7 p.m. on Fox Sport West Prime, which might be the only way most people get to see the game, since reports have been circulating for months that there won’t be an empty seat in the Los Osos campus stadium.

With both QBs headed to the Pac-10, there figures to be plenty of future battles between the two, who played on the same Pony League baseball team several years ago in Upland. This is the third meeting between Brehaut and Nunes, who both started as sophomores and juniors. Both are seniors this year, although Josh is almost a year older than Richard. Los Osos won both previous meetings pretty convincingly. Upland comes into this year’s contest with a perfect 6-0 record (1-0 in the Baseline League), while the Grizzlies are 5-1 (1-0).

I haven’t seen Los Osos in the regular season this year, but I saw Upland last week and watched both teams in passing league tournaments during the summer. Upland runs the spread offense with lots of crossing patterns and short routes. It’s an impressive offense, and especially so against a far inferior opponent last week. Just when it looks like Nunes will dump off another short pass, he sells the play-action and goes up top. From what I have seen in the past, Los Osos runs more of a pro style offense, and Richard will run for big gains just as easily as throwing for them. On both sides, the defenses will definitely be tested.

I just hope both teams keep things clean. Rumors were floating around during the summer that the Upland kids were going to go after Richard. Sure, those kinds of threats have been making the rounds as long as the game itself. They are part of the game of football, but only up to a point. Who wins when those “targets” find themselves in the hospital with a senseless injury? Even last week, the buzz in the Upland-side stands was that the Upland players had targeted one of the Claremont kids, who grew up and lives in Upland. In the second half, that player went down and is now reportedly out for the season with an injury that might keep him from attempting to participate in other sports through the rest of his senior year.

Cheap shots have no place in this or any game, just because a thug-bully high school kid wants to win points with his pals. There is just too much at stake. It goes beyond what happens on Friday nights. Injuries are part of the game, but they also could change a kid’s future. They could destroy his life. Every player on the field should be doing all he can to prevent injuries. Unfortunately, most of the goons doing the dirty work aren’t exactly college material anyway, so they don’t get it. Perhaps they should spend some time at Casa Colina or Project Walk to get some perspective.

Friday’s game at Los Osos could be a classic battle between two outstanding teams and a pair of future NCAA Division I quarterbacks. But it could get ugly in a hurry if the cheap shots start to fly, which is the buzz once again. I’m sure if that happens, the opposing team won’t hesitate to fire back quickly. Former Dodger pitching great Don Drysdale used to say, “If you hit one of our hitters, we’ll hit two of yours.” Seems like during the Cold War when the U.S. and Soviet Union threatened each other with force: “You drop the bomb on us, we’ll drop two on you,” or something along those lines. It’s the same philosophy here. Let’s just hope it never goes that way, and that this game gets the attention it deserves for all the right reasons.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ziggy Socky, Ziggy Socky, Hoy! Hoy! Hoy!

There once was this bar on Wilshire in Santa Monica called “The Fox Inn Rathskeller,” where visitors would stand in line for up to an hour, just to get into the crowded, smoke-filled room. Nothing fancy about the place – just picnic tables and benches, and a piano up front. No TVs along the walls. They only served beer.

Everybody came to drink beer and sing along with the guy playing the piano.

It was the closest thing we had to a German pub, with the beer flowing freely and everybody inside singing choruses of raunchy beer-drinking rugby songs. Beer wasn’t poured by the glass, but by the pitcher.

Of course, that was a different time, and society was a different place. There was no such thing as Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. I can’t imagine a place like that could operate today, which is why it’s no wonder officials closed The Fox Inn in 1989, depriving future generations of the unique exploits of Bill “The Fox” Foster.

I think people have a hard time believing there really was such a guy, but The Fox was a legend. He could drink beer faster than anyone ever. Even the characters portrayed in the film “Beerfest” couldn’t hold a cold one to the Fox.

Standing behind an upright piano holding two mugs of beer, and with a cry of “Ziggy socky ziggy socky, hoy! Hoy! Hoy!” he would dump both mugs down his throat in less than two seconds. Not surprisingly, he held the title of “World’s Fastest Beer Drinker” for 25 consecutive years. Really.

Anytime he was met with an “automatic challenge,” he’d drink two beers faster than the challenger could drink even one. He’d turn a beer glass upside-down and fill the crown with beer and offer it to his opponent, then drink his full glass before the other person could drink the one-ounce shot of beer. He rarely lost a challenge, if ever.

The best part, of course, was watching him stand on his head and chug a glass. He’d still win. He’d probably drink close to 40 glasses of beer a night, and then come back the next night and do it again.

Between chugs, The Fox led the room in song. He’d play piano, calling out sing-along-style parodies of popular standards with raunchy lyrics and crass choruses. It was pub entertainment at its best – a room full of drunks belting out what he called "songs your mother wouldn't sing." I taught my sons The Fox version of “Take it out at the Ballgame,” which we routinely still sing every time during the seventh-inning stretch. I don’t think they know the real words to the song anymore. The Fox’s “censored” version is much more fun.

I found a bunch of short clips that were recorded at the Fox Inn. Go to this link to listen to them one at a time.

The Fox Inn was filled with picnic tables, and more wooden benches were lined end-to-end along the walls. It was standing room only on Saturday nights, and people stood on the benches just to get a better view. The line outside was 25 feet long. I first heard about the place in college, and my friend Nick Salata first took us there. Nick seemed to know everywhere to go in Los Angeles, and this was one of his favorites. It was one of mine, too.

Foster performed nightly at The Fox Inn from 1961 until it was closed in 1989. It was a mandatory stop after going to a Lakers or Kings game at the Forum, or on a visit to our friend Trip Oates’ place in Santa Monica.

My favorite memory is running into the Fox at a UCLA-Stanford football game at the Rose Bowl on a November afternoon in 1982 (UCLA won, 38-35 in a shootout between quarterbacks Tom Ramsey and John Elway). Back then they still sold beer at college games, so when Greg Setlich, Robert Villanueva, Grant Warhurst and I saw the Fox roaming the concourse area, we offered up an automatic challenge. He refused because he had to work that night. Naturally, the four of us figured we needed to go see him at work. We had a generous head start, having several large beers at the game. Add a few more at some other watering holes around town, and we eventually found our way to Santa Monica. The Fox recognized us from our meeting at the Rose Bowl earlier in the day, and called us out for an automatic challenge. We were already pretty saturated, but none of us stood a chance anyway By that time we truly looked foolish.

The songs made it especially fun. Anyone could chime in with their own limerick or rhyme, but they better be good, or else they’d be met with a chorus of “F--- You,” sung to the tune of the “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” Christmas song. And if the Fox spotted you heading toward the restroom while he was at the piano, he’d likely stop in mid song and start repeating, “We know where you’re going, we know where you’re going…”

And if you dared spill your beer, he’d call you out with another “F—You” song in your honor.

After the sale of the Fox Inn, Foster continued to perform in and around Los Angeles and at college campuses and special events. He later gained notoriety as a cast member of “The Man Show” on cable TV, where he chugged beers and sang songs with the audience. We saw him perform at Irrelevant Week at the Balboa Bay Club and at a bar in Pasadena, but it never was the same as the Santa Monica pub. It was always fun, but the last time we saw him in Pasadena, one of the guys in our group got us kicked out of the restaurant early that night, so we never got to enjoy him again at his best.

Here is a video tribute to the Fox that aired on "The Man Show." Definitely worth watching, but it doesn't come close to capturing the atmosphere that filled "The Fox Inn Rathskeller" on Wilshire.

On May 10, 2000, Foster died at his home in Santa Monica after a long battle with prostate cancer. Gone, but long remembered.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Back to the Blog

I'm sorry I haven't written on my blog for more than a month. There's always plenty to write about, but the hard part is getting the time to do it. When I started this thing in early summer, it was a lot easier to make time. But fall is the busiest time at a university (along with spring), and that spare time went away pretty quickly.

But today we had one of those “emergency situations” on campus, which ended up giving me some time to write. The Santa Ana winds caused Cal State San Bernardino to close today. The winds sparked a fire south of campus in San Bernardino, which closed Interstate 215, the primary access route to the university. The location of the fire led to evacuations, and CSUSB was designated as an evacuation site. Fortunately, the fire was controlled early and families were allowed to move home, which meant the evacuation site wasn’t necessary after all. But by that time, the decision had been made and the word was out that classes were cancelled. The CSUSB community seems to anticipate a closure every time the winds kick up. I’ve worked there since 2002, and every October we have had some kind of event in which our office had to respond. It hasn’t always been wind-related, but it’s always something in October. So when the phone rang at 5 a.m., I wasn’t surprised. We got the word out quickly, and I got a lot of work done in the quiet offices before my day at work ended early.


So, that’s a long-winded way to say that I had a little time to write today. For now, I’ll focus on more odds and ends. Soon I have a couple of longer pieces that I’ll post, but they still aren’t finished. One of those is already broken into three parts, and it could easily go twice as long as that. Good stuff, too. In the meantime, this one is mainly just to let you know my blog is still alive.


This is a great time for sports fans, with the NFL and college football seasons in full swing, and baseball nearing the World Series. I’m heartbroken over the Dodgers’ performance last night – mainly the inability of the pitching staff to hold the lead in the eighth inning. That was frustrating. I said at the outset of the series that I was just glad that the Dodgers made it this far, but once they get there, it’s impossible not to want or expect more. I’m not giving up on them yet, but the odds are against them. But, this is baseball, and I’ve certainly seen stranger things happen.


As for the Angels, I’m disappointed, too. They just didn’t play well in the AL Division Series. I can’t blame Mike Scioscia, and I agree with his call to try to squeeze in the go-ahead run in the final game of the Boston series. Think about it—that was probably a higher percentage move than letting Aybar swing away. He’s a good bunter, and all he had to do is get it down. If anyone is to blame, it’s the Angels’ middle infielders Aybar and Kendrick, who both melted down in the post season.


Fantasy football is well underway, too. I decided I’m never really happy with my team – no matter what year it is. I always have to add and drop guys, and I would love to make more trades, but nobody ever seems interested in dealing anymore. I get so I like or hate NFL guys, based on how they perform for my fantasy team (but I’ve never broken a bone because of one). I’m having a decent year, but I’d easily swap most of my starters. In the meantime, my sons Sid and Sam are taking the minimal management technique and have had the top score in the league in three of the season’s six weeks. Not bad, considering their top pick was Tom Brady, who’s out for the season with an injury.


Congratulations to nephew Brian Bosson, who was promoted to vice president of merchandising operations at Rip Curl. Pretty big deal. Here’s a link to the story. Also, happy anniversary to Brian and Felissa, who celebrate two years of marriage today. And while we’re in the family, belated public acknowledgement to Brian’s brother Jeff and fiancĂ© Jackie, who are engaged to be married next Sept. 18. And good luck to another nephew, Kevin Bosson, who started college a couple of weeks ago at Cal Poly Pomona.


Best wishes to Tim Dickinson, who thinks he is Bo Jackson. I hope his hip surgery went well and he’s back running the ball for the Raiders soon… They need somebody. On second thought, I think Tim would be a lot better off without the Raiders. Los Angeles certainly is. Hope you’re doing well Tim.


Son Sid seems to be really enjoying his second year at Cal State San Marcos, but the load is a lot harder, too. He’s not running track this year, but he’s very involved in his fraternity and he’s working at Project Walk, the spinal cord injury and recovery center in Carlsbad. All the more reason for him to crack down at school, especially since he plans to earn that degree in kinesiology and put his education to work in that field…Sid recently returned from a trip to Tennessee to visit Lauren DesCombes at Vanderbilt. Poor guy. He said he was surrounded by 10 beautiful girls the whole time. And he got to go to a football game while he was there.


Son Sam is headed to his first semi-formal dance at Claremont High. The annual Homecoming Dance is a couple weeks ahead. I’m not sure how that will compare with what he and his pal Kyle Jackson have planned for their combined birthday party – a toga party at our house. Otis Day and the Nights have a previous engagement at the Dexter Lake Club that night and won’t be able to perform, so they’ll rely on the soundtrack instead. Any parents who decide to crash the gathering should dress appropriately. And please wear something under that toga.


Steve Jackson is already making a positive impact on the baseball program at Claremont High. I stopped by practice recently and watched a few minutes and it just confirmed to me that these kids are getting remarkable fundamental instruction. Because of their fall sports and other commitments, many players who were on the team last year aren’t yet working with the team. I think they’ll be surprised just how much they’ll learn about the game.


It appears Richard Brehaut may graduate early from Los Osos High and enroll at UCLA for the spring quarter. Clearly, the Bruins can use help, and it makes sense for Richard to start learning Norm Chow’s offensive system as soon as possible. It’s certainly not a given that he’ll get the chance to play as a freshman, but coach Rick Neuheisel and staff will get a long look at him before next fall. The downside, of course, is that Richard won’t be able to play his senior season of baseball, after ranking among the Baseline League leaders in hitting as a sophomore and a junior. In fact, there’s a good chance he’d be drafted by a Major League team in June, or at least receive a college baseball scholarship offer. Who knows—maybe he’ll get a chance to be a two-sport athlete at UCLA.


The Los Osos game against Upland on Friday, Oct. 24, will be telecast by Fox Sports Prime Ticket. The word is that tickets will be hard to find, so it looks as if there will be a tailgate party at the Robinson garage instead, which has yet to reach capacity. That’s the game in which Brehaut will face off against Upland’s Josh Nunes, who recently de-committed from Tennessee and switched his verbal commitment to Stanford. That seems like a much better fit for a number of reasons, and it simply makes more sense. I claimed all along that he wouldn’t go to Tennessee. That wasn’t a malicious comment – just a common sense observation. I can’t imagine anyone going across country to a school they’ve never seen (until after he committed) to a program with a head coach that will probably be fired. He’s a smart kid, and I understand Stanford was one of his top picks anyway. Still, it took some good fortune for the pieces to fit right, since Stanford didn’t offer him a scholarship earlier.  The Cardinal’s first choice is reportedly going on a Mormon mission instead, which opened the door for Josh.  I guess it doesn’t matter how he gets there. Who wouldn’t want to go to Stanford or UCLA, even without football?


The Los Angeles County Fair kind of came and went quietly this year. The attendance numbers seemed on par with most years (it doesn’t fluctuate much anyway). Nothing really got my attention this year, but I always enjoy being there and being a part of it. That will never change. For so many years, I lived and breathed that place, and it will always be part of me. But now, it seems, I rarely have reason or opportunity to go over there after the Fair ends. Too bad. Maybe one of these days I can get involved with something else over there.


And speaking of the Fair, the word is that it will open over Labor Day weekend next year (although I haven’t read anything in the newspapers). I assume that means it will extend to five weekends. That’s a long time, but there’s definitely an opportunity there. I’d be concerned that a Labor Day weekend opening would dilute the traditional opening day. I mean, people generally have their routine for Labor Day weekend, since is the final weekend of summer before school starts. Barbecues, the beach and the annual fantasy football drafts are etched in calendars. And there is huge competition from the California Speedway, which holds one of its major events that weekend. There is already a lot happening that weekend, and the opening of the Fair in Pomona might get lost. And then what becomes of the following weekend, which was the usual opening. That will likely lose its luster, too. Getting vendors moved from the State Fair in Sacramento to Pomona is also a challenge, and I hope the employees can last that long. But opening the Fair over Labor Day could just work, and it could be the start of a new tradition – but only if they give it enough years to take hold.