Category Archives: Video

Screening of “Run Free”

Runners and movie buffs:

Micah True, known as Caballo Blanco (the White Horse) lived and ran with the Tarahumara Indians of northern Mexico after moving to Copper Canyon in the 1990s. And while the Tarahumara are relatively unknown despite being some of the best distance-runners in the world, True became widely recognized.

His story is the focal point of “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen” – a best-selling book in 2009 from Christopher McDougall.

To honor the Tarahumana’s running traditions and aid their ability sustain, True created the Cooper Canyon Ultra-Marathon, a 50-mile test of endurance in its 13th year. True’s desire to honor the essence of the Tarahumana people is being told in a feature-length documentary, “Run Free: The True Story of Caballo Blanco.” The film will screen Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. at Southside Works in Pittsburgh. Fleet Feet Sports Pittsburgh is sponsoring the event. “Run Free” is a recent winner of the 2015 Bud Greenspan Memorial Film and Video Award, which is presented by the Track & Field Writers of America. It also was honored with the Award of Excellence from the IndieFEST Film Awards and was named “Best Documentary” at the 2015 Arizona International Film Festival.

Tickets are $12 in advance at http://www.imathlete.com/events/runfree or $15 at the door. Fleet Feet Sports Pittsburgh is offering discounted tickets for $11 at its 1751 North Highland Road location. For more information, visit http://www.fleetfeetpittsburgh.com. For more info on the film, visit http://www.runfreemovie.com.

Childhood heroes: Dusty Rhodes and Roddy Piper

It was a Saturday morning, 1980-something, and I was posted on the couch at my grandparents’ house on Water Street in West Brownsville. Nobody in the room could look away from the television.

Professional wrestling, as it was called back then, or sports entertainment for those born after 1990, drew us in like a tractor beam.

This wasn’t just some nickel-and-dime program filled with jobbers, ham-and-eggers and scores of larger-than-life characters. Nope, it was a replay of WrestleMania.

The first WrestleMania.

Within 10 minutes, I was hooked.

King Kong Bundy, Ricky Steamboat (who wrestled Matt Borne, a person I’d later write about as a sports writer), The U.S. Express (Barry Windham and Mike Rotunda), Junkyard Dog, The Iron Sheik, Cyndi Lauper, Mr. T, Hulk Hogan and two characters I was quickly drawn to – “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff.

I was 10 years old, but I left my grandparents’ house a new man, transfixed by this blend of athleticism, brawn, violence and entertainment. It blossomed into a boyhood obsession. When forced to go to the grocery or department store with my mother, I immediately hit the magazine rack to scour pages of The Wrestler or Pro Wrestling Illustrated. I’d memorize each magazine’s wrestling rankings for various leagues – WWF, AWA, WCCW and, my favorite, NWA. I bought into characters. I truly believed Nikita Koloff was a Russian war machine incapable of being destroyed by American forces and, someday soon, he’d lead a communist takeover of our country and we’d be forced to live lives of misery, and singing Nikolai Volkoff’s version of the Russian national anthem. I spent Saturday mornings watching three consecutive hours of wrestling. Thumb wrestlers, rubber action figures, wrestling magazines – it all filled my closet and were among my most cherished possessions. I went as far as to figure out how to watch Saturday Night’s Main Event on my tiny 9-inch black-and-white bedroom television without awakening my parents.

We went to every card held at Cambria County War Memorial in Johnstown and Jaffa Mosque in Altoona. When possible, we hit matches in Pittsburgh. We watched wrestlers drive into the arena together. We were there so often, Ric Flair occasionally looked for us in the crowd so we could stand and salute the Four Horsemen. How cool is that?

Wrestling became such a part of my life I wanted to be a professional wrestler, and when I disappointed my parents with a report card, wrestling was taken from me.

Those six-week periods remain some of the worst of my life. At least me and a few friends had an imaginary wrestling company to ease the pain of not being able to watch.

Unlike many of my friends, most of whom developed a similar passion for a “sport” many of us believed to be 100-percent real, I gravitated toward the bad guy, or the heel as they’re called today. Hogan, Tito Santana, Steamboat and the like were of little use to me. I rolled with Flair, Arn Anderson, Curt Hennig, Jake Roberts and Randy Savage.

If the wrestler could cut a great promo, now that was worth something.

And when it comes to promos, not sure any did it better than Dusty Rhodes, the only true face who I found fascinating,  and Piper.

Rhodes, now there was a face worth following – the best face in the history of the business. Piper may be its best heel. Sadly, both died recently.

I received news of Rhodes’ death while driving to work June 11. It was a big blow. Rhodes was innovative, charismatic and the ultimate underdog. He wasn’t my favorite wrestler –  Flair was and always will be – but the yearslong feuds between the two leave me with lasting memories.  And no one cut a better promo than Rhodes.

Not even Flair.

Piper was the maniacal, kilt-wearing madman whose character was from Glasgow, Scotland. He brought instant heat to everything he did, and Piper’s Pit was often the highlight of WWF’s normally boring weekly programming.

Piper was a genius with the mic, so much so his in-ring work was not appreciated fully. From Portland to the NWA to WWF, Piper put in great work. He put people over. And, as wrestling fans wised up over the years, he became a beloved figure.

News of his July 31 death hit the news three days ago. Another reminder that we’re getting older and that the heroes of our youth can’t last forever, especially when those heroes made sports entertainment a career.

Ripple around the world

“If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine …”

And with that introduction begins the Grateful Dead classic, “Ripple” – a triumphant ode to Americana and one of the many highlights on the group’s best studio album (American Beauty). It’s filled with magic, bliss, power and myth. Its lyrics are a celebration, and the song helped make the Grateful Dead a religion to its fervent following, many of whom remain basking in the glory of the often-powerful Fare Thee Well shows.

Thanks to Facebook (yep, true story), the coolest piece of music I’ve witnessed since the Fare Thee Well shows – I took part in the couch tour – popped up in my time feed. It’s a tribute to Jerry Garcia and part of the charitable group Playing for Change’s Songs Around the World. Artists including David Crosby, Jimmy Buffett and David Hildago lent their talents to a stirring version of “Ripple.” It was released July 5 – the same day the Dead played their final show in Chicago – and honors the band for 50 years of changing the world through music and more. It’s pure magic.

“If I knew the way, I would take you home.”

Paul Stanley’s Inspirational Quote of the Week

It’s Thursday. It’s hot. It’s understandable if a boost is needed to get through the rest of the week.

Thankfully, the eternally optimistic lyrics of KISS frontman Paul Stanley can pull us through. Stanley’s ability to inspire didn’t end when KISS took off the makeup in the early 1980s. If anything, Stanley dug deeper into his reservoir of rock and roll righteousness, penning classics like “Lick It Up,” a beloved tour de force of live shows these days.

KISS also dusted off another 80s classic, “Crazy Nights” on a recent tour. That’s where we look to for Paul Stanley’s Inspirational Quote of the Week.

They try to tell us we don’t belong;
That’s alright, we’re millions strong;
This is my music, it makes me proud;
These are my people and this is my crowd.

That’s right, Starchild. It is your crowd. We are you’re people – the unabashed members of the KISS Army. “And nobody’s gonna change me, cause that’s who I am.”

Paul Stanley’s inspirational quote of the week

Part inspiration, part perspiration and part showman, Paul Stanley is one of rock’s ultimate frontmen, a persona so grand, I’ve dubbed him “The Walt Disney of Rock and Roll.”

Stanley’s lyrics are filled with imagery – visceral and inspirational. It’s the latter that’s inspired a new feature for this blog:

Paul Stanley’s inspirational quote of the week.

Every week, we’ll draw inspiration from Stanley’s often over-the-top lyrics. Apply them in life, and happiness is guaranteed.

“I know life sometimes can get tough!
And I know life sometimes can be a drag!
But people, we have been given a gift,
we have been given a road
And that road’s name is… Rock and Roll!”

There, feeling better?

For heel lovers, Super Bowl is a dream matchup

Sunday’s Super Bowl offers tough choices for the average, American sports fan.

In one corner are the big, bad Seattle Seahawks. They’re brash, led by motormouth cornerback Richard Sherman – a rare athlete who talks the talk but follows up by walking the walk.

In last year’s NFC championship, Sherman offered this post-game gem, arguably the most polarizing moment in recent NFL history:

Love the look on Erin Andrews face there. It’s like she’s saying, “Don’t you realize I’m hot? I don’t know whether I’m offended by what you’re saying or that you’re not fawning over me.”

In addition to brash, the Seahawks are big and bad. They bludgeon opponents.

And they boast a crouch-grabbing, interview-hating, Skittles-eating force.

In the other corner are the New England Patriots.

They’re cerebral, always around late in the postseason. Oh, and they’ve been accused of cheating a time or two.

Take away the Deflategate and Spygate scandals, and NFL teams don’t get more boring than New England, even if the Patriots have a history of taking on at-risk players like LeGarrette Blount (anyone else believe Blount orchestrated his exit from the Steelers?), Aaron Hernandez, Randy Moss and that Molly-poppin’ Wes Welker.

Yep, for many, there’s not much to root for this Sunday – take up sides with a bandwagon fan base from the Northwest with a coach who derailed USC football or a cheating franchise with a decades worth of bad sound clips.

But …

For those of us who grew up cheering for the heel, who booed Tito Santana with every ounce of energy when his whack in-ring skills were on public display or proudly displayed the Four Horsemen sign as yinzers at the War Memorial Arena in Johnstown threw garbage, it’s a dream matchup.

In this corner, we have the Seattle Seahawks, the Arn Andersons of the NFL.

Arn Anderson was mean, nasty and did anything to win. HIs four fingers extended are like Lynch’s crouch grab.

In this corner, we have the New England Patriots, the Curt Hennigs of the NFL.

Like Hennig, the Patriots pride themselves on execution, perfection and technical ability. Hennig provided far better sound clips than Tom Brady or Belichick ever could, but there;s no denying the orchestration both display.

Really, it’s a dream matchup. Imagine Arn vs. Mr. Perfect in their primes. We’re talking 60-minute, falls count anywhere, tons of outside interference and a title change.

Speaking of title changes, the Patriots have too much to prove after Deflategate.

Patriots 37, Seahawks 19.

Ode to Hugh Green

The saying goes, “You never forget your first love.”

That means I’ll always remember a 6-foot-2, 225-pound black man from Natchez, Miss., with the perfect combination of speed, strength and athleticism.

His name is Hugh Green, but you can call him the greatest defensive player in the history of college football. Sorry Manti Te’o, Charles Woodson, Deion Sanders and Steve Emtman fans, those guys were nowhere near as devastating, game-altering and menacing as Green, an unheralded recruit as an undersized defensive end whom Pitt coach Jackie Sherill convinced to come to Oakland.

College defensive players rarely graced the cover of Sports Illustrated before Hugh Green did.

College defensive players rarely graced the cover of Sports Illustrated before Hugh Green did.

From 1977 to 1980, Green destroyed offensive lineman. The greatest player in Pitt history – with all apologies to Tony Dorsett, Larry Fitzgerald, Bill Fralic, Mike Ditka and Dan Marino – started immediately, and instantly made an impact. In his first game, which just happened to be against Notre Dame, Green finished with 11 tackles, two quarterback sacks and a blocked punt. Not bad for a freshman who Pitt noticed while recruiting running back Rooster Jones.

Green’s reign of defensive terror was only getting started with that Notre Dame game..

As a sophomore, he was a first-team All-American and made Pitt’s all-time team. And let’s not forget that, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Pitt was what Miami (Fla.) would become in the late 80s and early 2000s – a football factory rife with future first-round picks and hall of famers.

His All-American ways continued in 1979 and 1980, and Pitt retired Green’s number during his last home game.

Hugh

His final numbers are eye-popping and awe-inspiring – 460 tackles, 52 tackles for loss, 53 sacks, 24 forced fumbles, 13 fumble recoveries and 76 quarterback hurries. Green finished second in the 1980 Heisman balloting, losing the award to an inferior player in South Carolina running back George Rogers. He won the Walter Camp Award, Maxwell Award and the Lombardi Award and was named everybody’s player of the year. He’s made every all-time college football team worth mentioning.

Folks, let’s remember all these stats and awards were compiled despite coaches constantly game-planned against Green and stayed away from him as often as possible.

I’ll know I’ll never forget.

Some of my first memories – I was born in 1974 – are of Green playing for Pitt. At the time, I was a youthful sports sponge, soaking in all the college and pro football I possibly could. I loved Pitt football, and I loved Penn State football. The family loved the Nittany Lions, one reason being my dad’s cousin – Chuck Fusina – once finished second in the Heisman balloting as a PSU quarterback. And I liked watching Curt Warner run almost as much as watching Green wreak havoc.

Then, one day, my dad told me, “Son, you can’t like Pitt and Penn State. It’s just not natural.”

My response was quick. “Dad, Penn State doesn’t have Hugh Green.”

And a lifelong Pitt football fan was born.

I got to thinking about Green recently as talk of recruiting season and Signing Day increase in front of Feb. 4. Green wasn’t a heralded recruit, much like Panthers running back James Conner, but he quickly evolved into an all-time great.

And the current Pitt coaching staff is working hard on the recruiting trail, with a renewed focus in Florida. Finding players like Green, Conner and Antonio Bryant will be as vital to Pitt’s success as landing the next four-star recruit from a WPIAL high school or eastern Ohio powerhouse.

Pitt can only land so many elite prospects. Grabbing steals will determine this new staff’s success.

Two years of Russell Martin memories

For two decades, Pirates fans watched as scrap-heap guys like Warren Morris, Pat Meares, Bobby Hill, Jimmy Anderson, Pokey Reese, John Van Benschoten and Mr. Operation Shutdown (Derek Bell) were passed off as legitimate major leagues, while talents like Aramis Ramirez and Jose Bautista were either traded in salary dumps or given up on too early.

Few fans knew misery like Pirates fans from 1992 until 2013.

What happened in 2013?

Russell Martin arrived.

And everything changed just like that.

Pitcher A.J. Burnett came to Pittsburgh a year before Martin, and Burnett brought a toughness and attitude that not only proved valuable in the clubhouse, it captivated Yinzer Nation. But when Martin came after a stint with the New York Yankees, the Pirates went from a team that was missing something to a team that knew how to win.

Martin deserves as much credit for that as anyone else in the Pirates organization – Neal Huntingdon, Clint Hurdle, Andrew McCutchen, Burnett, etc. Martin’s a winner. Always has been, and his winning ways quickly became contagious.

Martin gave the Pirates something they lacked since Jason Kendell pre-gruesome injury – a backstop who can hit and, most importantly, keep baserunners honest. Martin started throwing out runners. The clutch hits kept coming.

Twenty years of losing, gone. A playoff team was born.

Then, in the Pirates wild card game against Cincinnati (scene to the best single-game home crowd in North American sports history), Martin provided a lasting moment.

That’s magic. Twenty years of misery. Poof. Gone. That’s what Russell Martin did.

There were other special moments, too.

Like this:

And, this one, made more special because it came against those arrogant Brewers, you know the team with the drug cheat Ryan Braun.

Martin did more for Pirates baseball in two years than Dave Littlefield did undoing Pirates baseball during his way-too-long tenure with the club. He provided magic moments, steady defense, leadership, chill-inducing clutch hits and class.

And Martin will be greatly missed.

He signed an insane 5-year, $82-million contract with Toronto Monday. That price tag is more than the Pirates can afford. Can’t blame Martin for heading home to Canada. Can;t blame the Pirates for not resigning him. That type of contract could cause more harm than good for an organization that still needs to spend money wisely.

But we’ll always have 2013 and 2014.

Thanks Russ.

Throwback Thursday: Anna tackles bluegrass

My daughter, Anna, isn’t particularly shy, especially around adults. One of the more grand displays of her outgoing nature happened late July 2012 at the annual Coleman Station Bluegrass Festival.

If you’re unfamiliar with the festival, that’s OK, just know it’s easily one of the better bluegrass events thrown in Western Pennsylvania. It happens every July in rural Somerset County, and it’s thrown and organized by my brother-in-laws father, Tim Custer, who is an extraordinary banjo player. The festival attracts nationally recognized bluegrass acts in addition to local musicians. It’s an excellent time for family and bluegrass fans.

Two years ago, we were lucky enough to attend, and it coincided with my mother’s birthday. Tim, with the help of my brother-in-law, Tim, and nieces, Teresa and Abby, planned to sing her Happy Birthday. Anna was coaxed into going on stage with her cousins, and it didn’t take long for her to command the attention of the few hundred people in attendance.