Tag Archives: John Feinstein

Memorial Day Weekend 2009

But first, read my review of Lymelife (Derick Martini, 200eight) here.

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May 29th, Memorial Day three years ago, I gazed into Brandon Boyd’s eyes and nearly walked into Wes Moss, a fellow Emory alum and a contestant on second season of The Apprentice.  It was such a surreal and thrilling day–so very popcultural.  Due to a recent  (incidental), revitalized interest in military history, I’ve decided that Memorial Day weekend 2009 will be devoted to reading more and contemplating about the armed forces–not necessarily limited to America’s–and in a more substantial manner (compared to something like this).

Learning history–any kind of history–is about as exciting as counting backwards from 100 for some people.  For other people, though, history is fascinating.  If we don’t know where we are until we know where we’ve been, if we can’t know what we will do if we don’t know what we’ve done, internalizing every kind of history should be a given.

I’ve always enjoyed reading (about) history.  I’m more language arts-minded, but the scientist and pattern-seeker stands strong and curious.  My present interest in military history was sparked by watching Black Hawk Down a few days ago.  A day or so later, I bought the 3-disc special edition as well as the HBO series Generation Kill, which I’ve been enjoying immensely.

I’ve also purchased BHD’s source material, the book by Mark Bowden, SAS Heroes by Peter Scholey, and Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides.

Ghost Soldiers was actually adapted into a film called The Great Raid (John Dahl, 2005), which was the subject of a term paper I wrote for my Masculinity & Violence seminar in grad school.  Here is an excerpt:

Based on William B. Breuer’s book The Great Raid of Cabanatuan and Hampton Sides’s book Ghost Soldiers, The Great Raid takes place in the Philippines and charts five days from January 27 to 31 of 1945 in the lives of prisoners-of-war at Cabanatuan, the Rangers that rescue them, and the members of the Underground that risked their lives to make sure the POWs got medicine.  Rather than tell the story of the rescue mission exclusively from the perspective of the Rangers, the film divides the goal-oriented narrative among three groups of characters, which results in competing narratives.

Firstly, the film follows the conception through to the execution of the rescue led by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Mucci (Benjamin Bratt), Captain Robert Prince (James Franco), and Captain Juan Pajota (Cesar Montano).  Secondly, the film spends a considerable amount of time inside Cabanatuan with POWs Major Gibson (Joseph Fiennes), Captain Redding (Marton Csokas), Duke (Nicholas Bell) and Lieutenant Paul Colvin (Logan Marshall-Green).  Thirdly, the film includes sequences detailing the kinds of risks the POWs and the members of the Underground—specifically Margaret Utinsky (Connie Nielsen) and Mina (Natalie Mendoza)—had to take in order for the former to help the latter…

As a combat film,* The Great Raid is doing too much.  Three narratives compete for screen time and the viewer’s attention.  In terms of scenes, the film alternates between the storylines, but because there is so much drama that occurs in the Prisoner and Underground scenes (Major Gibson’s malaria worsens, Captain Redding’s unsuccessful escape attempt leads to the deaths of nine other POWs; Margaret becomes the only survivor of this Underground group), one nearly forgets that there is going to be a rescue.

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The reason that I felt compelled to articulate my thoughts on my rekindled interest in this subject is due to the concept of respect.  Mrs. Aretha Franklin sang on those seven letters: R. E. S. P. E. C. T.  Among my group of close friends, the words, “respect,” “integrity,” and “honesty” are dearly held beliefs.  Integrity and honesty, yes, I hold them close as well.  In terms of “respect,” though, I never thought about it.  When most people would say, “I respect him very much,” I would say, “I’m in awe of him” or “I admire him very much.”

The Free Dictionary defines the word primarily as “to feel or show deferential regard for; esteem” and “Willingness to show consideration or appreciation.”

I can certainly apply those uses to external and objective conversations, but it wasn’t until I watched the documentaries and featurettes of both Black Hawk Down DVDs that I finally understood or figured out what “R. E. S. P. E. C. T. means to me.”

A year ago in January, I wrote an entry after I finished reading John Feinstein’s book about the Army-Navy football rivalry.  Specifically, I had written, “I’ve never regarded the military with anything but deference, framed around a cognitive (historical) understanding of what they do and what they represent.  Vietnam and the 21st Century haven’t been so kind to them in terms of PR, but I don’t hold them responsible for the way Middle Eastern relations have or haven’t gone.  After reviewing a documentary called Occupation: Dreamland three years ago and recently watching a documentary called Combat Diary: The Marines of Lima Company, I felt more respect and gratitude, which were magnified after finishing Feinstein’s book.

My use of the word “respect” there is denotatively, linguistically correct.  But, it only truly, truly registered yesterday when I was walking to my desk at work that the only people with/to/for whom I can genuinely say I respect…would be the military and firemen.

I Respect the military and firemen.  It occurred to me this afternoon when I was driving home, after I had related this epiphany to a coworker, that the reason I would or could describe my thoughts/feelings about these groups of individuals with the R word is because…   I cannot begin to imagine what it feels like to have seen, heard, smelled, and felt the things that they have.   Thus, to be in awe of what they do and even to admire them for saving lives and defending the values of our nation and communities simply isn’t enough.

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*And what do I mean by “combat film”?

In her book The World War II Combat Film: Anatomy of a Genre, Jeanine Basinger meticulously sets up the parameters for what she does and does not consider to be a combat film.   Military Biographies is one of four kinds of films that feature war in a visual or tangentially narrative way but are not combat films.  Basinger excludes them because while “many true combat films are based on the…experiences of real-life war heroes…, the biographical war film about events from War World II tends not to be about combat, but about a personal sacrifice…or a human crisis of some sort..;” and when there is combat, it is “used as a remembered event…or is presented as the basis of the problem, one section of a larger, noncombatant story” (12).

NFL 08: Chargers grill up the Patriots

The New England Patriots and the San Diego Chargers square off on NBC’s Sunday Night Football.  Unfolding on the Chargers’ turf, the first quarter started with a San Diego field goal.  Patriots kicker Stephen Gostowski’s field goal was no good.  On the Chargers’ next possession, wide receiver Malcolm Floyd made a touchdown.  San Diego 10 and New England 0.  Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding attempted but missed his second field goal at the bottom of the first quarter. The second quarter put the Patriots on the board with a field goal.  San Diego 10 and New England 3.  With about two minutes left in the quarter, Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson made a TD.  Going into halftime, San Diego 17 and New England 3.

San Diego defended their goal line very effectively against the Patriots in the top of third quarter (through the nine minute mark).  New England quarterback Matt Cassel got his team down to the red zone but was unable to complete any passes for a touchdown.  He even tried to get into the end zone himself on fourth and goal but to no avail.  On the Chargers’ next possession, tight end Antonio Gates made a TD catch.  San Diego 24 and New England 3.  Chargers corner back Quentin Jammer intercepted Matt Cassel on the Patriots’ next turn
“at bat.”  One play later, the camera went into a close-up of New England head coach Bill Belichick mouthing what looks like “hey Finch!” to an off-screen person.  That Chargers drive ended with a field goal.  San Diego 27 and New England 3.

The fourth quarter took off with a field goal for San Diego and ambled towards the bottom with a Patriots TD by running back Sammy Morris.  San Diego 30 and New England 10.  Final score.

Observations & Miscellania:

1. Tonight’s halftime Toyota Line of Scrimmage spotlight: Maryland School for the Deaf.

2. Towards the bottom of the third quarter, Al Michaels informed John Madden that Matt Cassel, at age twelve, played in the 1994 Little League World Series.  There was a video clip too.  Earlier in the game, Michaels and Madden discussed Cassel’s minimum football experience, getting more time on the sidelines than on the field.  I think Cassel could be the subject of an interesting football film (and or book but only if John Feinstein writes it).

3. Sometime in the third quarter, Al Michaels made a comment about Chargers head coach Norv Turner’s IQ going up 15 to 20 points after running back Michael Turner was traded to Atlanta.

4. Have the Chargers’ colored jerseys always been light blue? No, but they were in th 60s.

Get game summary, stats, and play-by-play here.

By the way, the Dallas Cowboys and the Arizona Cardinals played quite an exciting overtime game.  Click here to find out how the Cardinals beat the Cowboys 30 to 24.

The Philadelphia Eagles beat the San Francisco 49ers 40 to 26.  Click here for details.

And the Jone-Us Brothers will be performing during halftime of the Thanksgiving game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Seattle Seahawks.

Army-Navy 1995: Wonder through the Stars

I finished reading John Feinstein’s book Civil War: Army vs. Navy yesterday.

I think a good film–documentary or fiction–exists in it, but I’m not sure a film should be made.  It’s such an amazing feeling when reading the last few pages–acknowledgments too–and finding out that Bob Sutton’s contract at Army was renewed as well as how the Army and Navy football players experienced the rest of their school year.  Nearly every time I read more than five pages, I would become misty eyed.  Feinstein’s writing is just that moving.

I’ve never regarded the military with anything but deference, framed around a cognitive (historical) understanding of what they do and what they represent.  Vietnam and the 21st Century haven’t been so kind to them in terms of PR, but I don’t hold them responsible for the way Middle Eastern relations have or haven’t gone.  After reviewing a documentary called Occupation: Dreamland three years ago and recently watching a documentary called Combat Diary: The Marines of Lima Company, I felt more respect and gratitude, which were magnified after finishing Civil War.

Reading Feinstein’s book humanizes the Cadets and the Midshipmen in a way that not even a good Hollywood drama could hope to achieve.  The reason?  The football context is key–it functions as an agent of psychological identification for the reader.  Attending West Point or the Naval Academy is the exotic factor–the element of curiosity possessing the potential to educate the reader on the life at service academies.  To me at least, the football is the familiar half.  There’s already some understanding of what it entails on general grounds: time management, physical and mental exhaustion from practice and game-play (or in some cases, the struggle to participate in any amount of game-play), and the pressure and desire to win.  Put the two together and one has an incredibly engrossing story.  Add Feinstein’s remarkable prose and the result is thought-provoking, humorous, insightful, informative, and awe-inspiring.

In Next Man Up, Feinstein explicitly states in the Introduction that the ostensibly unprecedented degree of access to players, the coaching staff, and other personnel of the 2004 Baltimore Ravens took the form of first-person, real-time presence.  In other words, he was allowed to witness meetings, locker room speeches, practices, and an assortment of conversations as they happened…in addition to the inevitable phone calls and emails placed and returned.

Feinstein puts it like so:  “My access, as you will read, was pretty much complete.  [Brian] Billick never once asked me to leave a room, and the players, who weren’t quite sure who I was or why I was there–many referred to me early on as ‘the book guy’–became, I believe, comfortable with my presence.  Deion Sanders even took the trouble to pull my jacket collar up while we were standing in the tunnel in Pittsburgh, saying, ‘Man, you have to at least try to look good on the sideline‘” (11).

Feinstein also thanks Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti for getting the machine rolling that would eventually produce the material for the book.

While the acknowledgments in Civil War spotlights the persons who were instrumental in helping to secure the permission and support necessary to make the research process possible, there’s only a slight suggestion or implication that Feinstein was present as conversations took place.  Now, we’re not talking about voice-over in a film, where logically a character usually needs to have firsthand knowledge of an event to speak of it.  Feinstein can write about an incident, a conversation, or report the progression of events without necessarily being there as it happened.  For credibility, though, it helps.

Since Civil War was completed before Next Man Up, it makes sense that there’s some ambiguity as to the proportion of witnessed and non-witnessed exchanges.  Moreover, the former focuses more on capturing an essence of the rivalry via the players and coaches of the 1995 season.  Thus, first-person, real-time presence isn’t necessarily mandatory.  On the other hand, Next Man Up is an inside-out, behind-the-playing-field book.  The expectation for first-person, real-time presence is very much there.

Furthermore, because the NFL monitors and limits the media’s access to players in ways the NBA and the MLB do not, it’s important that Feinstein is explicit in pointing out how he conducted primary research.*  It not only speaks to methodology and bolsters his credibility, but it also invites the reader to take part in a journey through him.

Trailer of from Occupation: Dreamland:

A short clip from Combat Diary:

*Feinstein notes in the Introduction of Next Man Up that “most professional sports make their players available to the press often.  Almost every NFL team severely limits access to its players.  There are limited times each week when the locker room is open to journalists, but most players simply stay out of the locker room during that time.  Most practices are off-limits, except perhaps for a few minutes of stretching at the start of the day.  Coaches are paranoid and secretive about everything” (6).

Click  here, here, and here for more excerpts from Next Man Up.

Click here, here, here, here, and here, for more from Civil War.

Reveling in Rivalry: More on Army-Navy

I’ve read 75% of John Feinstein’s book on the Army-Navy rivalry. I found these passages particularly intriguing:

Feinstein recounts the 1995 Army-Air Force game in chapter 16 and observes thatemotional rhetoric is a big part of football. The reason for that is simple: going out to play a football game–even going out to practice–isn’t like other sports. To play well, you almost certainly must endure pain. You are going to be hit and you must hit back–harder. You are going to feel tired, probably exhausted, but you have to keep going. You are going to endure aches and pains throughout the season, the kind that won’t go away–if they ever do–until after you stop playing the game (276).

That makes it important to emphasize and reemphasize the commitment individuals have to a team. If you are determined not to let your friends, your buddies, your comrades down, you will push forward even when your body is telling your mind it has had enough” (277).

Feinstein then articulates, “What bothered the Army players most about the losing streak to Air Force was that they couldn’t figure out a reason for it. If they had lost six straight times to Notre Dame they wouldn’t like it, but they would understand it. But being dominated by Air Force made no sense because the schools were similar, even if the dorms at Air Force were a little plusher and there were more TVs–and the gap between Army and Navy each year was usually about the width of a thumbnail.

The losing streak had fallen into a distressing pattern: at home, the Cadets would keep the game close–losing 15-3, 7-3, and 10-6. On the road, they would get blown out: 29-3, 25-0, 25-6. In fact, Army hadn’t scored a touchdown at Air Force since 1987. That was a long time to go between extra-point attempts” (277-278).

Contributing factors to the Air Force might? Altitude (thin air, less oxygen) was considered, but attempts to address that issue didn’t resolve the matter of losses. Consistent coaching staff wasn’t it either (278). Feinstein suggests, “a large part of it was recruiting. For geographic reasons, Air Force had an advantage in recruiting anyone west of the Mississippi, and it had a large edge in California, which was one of the most football-rich states in the country” (278-279).

In terms of attracting future players, I really like the inclusion of this point:

Finally, there was image. Army and Navy certainly had the edge in tradition, and no game Air Force was going to play in was going to equal Army-Navy in national appeal or or attention. But, that was one game. Air Force sold, to put it bluntly, the Wild Blue Yonder. Tom Cruise in Top Gun was the best recruiter Air Force had. Come to Air Force, fly superfast jets for a living,and hang out with Kelly McGillis when you’re on the ground. Even General Graves admitted that the more glamorous image of the Air Force worked in its favor.

‘There is such a thing as Army Aviation…but let’s face it, when you think of Air Force, you think of flying, blue skies, sunglasses and all. When you think of Army, you then to think about activities that usually are associated with mud.’

“Ouch. The Army coaches would no doubt wince at that description, but there was little doubt that just as Navy pitched the romance of the sea, Air Force talked often about the glamour of the sky. Army had to sell tradition and leadership. Sometimes that worked. In recent years, it had not been enough to beat Air Force” (279).

Army did lose to Air Force that year and not only did it take them an extra long time to get home (plane and weather issues), but just getting away from the vicinity of Air Force’s stadium was taxing because “traffic is always slow getting out of Air Force because there is only one main road leading out of the stadium. Unlike other schools, Air Force refuses to clear a path for the visiting team’s bus to get them through the traffic” (288).

Chapter 18 covers the period of time leading up to the Army-Navy game of 1995. Feinstein notes that Charlie Weatherbie of Navy and Bob Sutton of Army view the rivalry between the academies differently. Weatherbie “had thought the people on the Yard made too much of the rivalry with Army… ‘I’m not saying it isn’t a great rivalry or a big deal, but I don’t see it as being any different from Oklahoma-Oklahoma State or Alabama-Auburn or Florida-Florida State. Those are all big rivalries. They all come at the end of the season, so that makes them seem bigger. Navy-Army…is right up there with games like that. But I don’t see it being something beyond that‘” (310-311).

Clearly, Bob Sutton “felt differently. He had coached in twelve Army-Navy games, eight as an assistant, four as a head coach. He had been involved in other rivalry games before arriving at Army, including Michigan-Ohio State and North Carolina State-North Carolina. In his mind, nothing came close to Army-Navy. If someone had told him be could coach only one more game in his life, it would be Army-Navy.

‘It’s not something you can understand until you’ve been through it…The seniors all know it’s the last game they’ll ever play, with maybe on exception every three or four years. They all want that last memory of football to be a good one, and they’ll do anything to win‘” (311).

I’m wondering the following:

1. Does Air Force still choose not to provide an open path for the visiting team after the game is over?

2. Is the Army-Navy rivalry different from those between non-service schools? If so, how?

I liked that Feinstein brought up Air Force’s benefiting from Top Gun in PR and branding. Released in American theatres in May of 1986, Tony Scott’s film came into a country led by Ronald Reagan. According to IMDB, Scott’s film had a budget of around $15,000,000 and more than made its money back.

If the visual presentation of Air Force incited desire to matriculate, the music sealed the deal. Can you “Take My Breath Away” ?

For more Army-Navy excerpts, click here.

I was five years old when Top Gun played in theatres. We had the soundtrack on vinyl–I wonder if we still do. Bob Sutton was born one day and thirty years before I was; I am also exactly two days older than Justin Timberlake.

Rules and Regulations: Army, Navy, and Air Force

In addition to providing biographical information about the various players and personnel that composed the 1995 teams for Army and Navy and mentioning other factoids about the places and people visited or met, John Feinstein’s Army vs. Navy book necessarily includes information about the schools.

Here’s something that I learned today about the three service academies:

Generally speaking, Navy is considered the most difficult academically because more engineering courses are required and because so many of the classes are extremely technical in their orientation.  Army is considered to be the most difficult militarily: it has the most rules and the less tolerance for breakdowns in military discipline.  At Army they wake up the earliest–formation at 6:25 AM; first class at 7:15–and morning formation is always outside, regardless of the weather.  At Navy, they move inside when the weather turns cold, and formation isn’t until 7 A.M., first class at 7:55.

Air Force’s upperclassmen have carpeting in their rooms and some of them have TV sets.  At Army, no one is allowed to watch television anywhere on the base until they are cows (juniors).  Air Force’s rooms are the most spacious, although Navy’s–which are the smallest of the three–do have small showers. The West Point cadets consider this an extraordinary luxury” (Feinstein 198-199).

Does anyone know if any of those conditions have changed in the decade that Feinstein was researching and publishing this book?