Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Now that the football season is in high gear, here are some unusual records to consider:

ONLY TWO TEAMS IN NFL HISTORY WITH 2 HARVARD GRADUATES NFL football and a Harvard degree may seem incompatable, but here they are:
The 2006 St. Louis Rams may have outsmarted their opponents, but it didn't get them to the Super Bowl. Harvard Grads included Linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski (pre-med) and Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (economics). The 1924 Chicago Cardinals also had two--Charles Clark and Arnold Horween.

ONLY PLAYER TO BE ENSHRINED IN PRO FOOTBALL AND PRO BASEBALL HALLS OF FAME Cal Hubbard, an outstanding linebacker in the 1920's and 30's with the New York Giants and Washington Redskins later became a baseball umpire and worked 4 World Series' and 3 All-Star Games.

Glen "Turk" Edwards of the Washington Redskins participated in the coin toss prior to a game against the New York Giants in 1940. After the toss, he turned to head back to the sidelines and caught his cleats in the soft turf and injured his knee.

MOST FUMBLES IN ONE SEASON BY A TEAM Yes, it was the Chicago Bears, but no, Rex Grossman was not a part of that team. The 1938 Bears and the 1978 San Francisco 49ers each had 56 fumbles for the season.

ONLY TEAM TO OUTSCORE OPPONENTS WHILE LOSING 7 OF 8 GAMES. The 2005 Green Bay Packers outscored their opponents 168-159 in their first 8 games while winning 1 and losing 7. Obviously they won one game in a blow out while their losses were close games.

ONLY PLAYER TO BE CUT AT HALFTIME OF A REGULAR SEASON GAME This honor goes to Rex Keeling, a punter with the 1968 Cincinnati Bengals. In the first half of the game, he had consecutive punts of 3 yards and 5 yards. Coach Paul Brown was infuriated and fired him on the spot.

That's all for now.



Monday, September 24, 2007


When it comes to defensive backs in football, Dick "Night Train" Lane stood head and shoulders above the others. For one thing, you've gotta love a guy with a name like that. In his rookie season in 1952, playing for the Los Angeles Rams, Night Train intercepted 14 passes, which is still the NFL record, and the teams played only 12 games in those days. Now they play 16 games, but his record is still intact.

Lane played one season of college ball, in 1947 at Scottsbluff Junior College in Nebraska (now Western Nebraska Community College). You can't get more obscure than that.

As far as I can tell only one other "famous" person came from Scottsbluff--Randy Meisner, the former bassist with the Eagles (not the Philadelphia ones).

Be that as it may, Lane had an unusual biography. His mother was a prostitute in Austin, Texas, and his father was a pimp known as Texas Slim, who was apparently not related to Amarillo Slim (KENSUSKINREPORT, April 15, 2007), or, for that matter, Mexican billionaire, Carlos Slim. Lane was abandoned in a dumpster when he was 3 months old. He was found there by Ella Lane, a widow with 2 other children, who raised him as one of her own. With that background, he quickly learned to be tough.

Although his adoptive mother, concerned for his safety, encouraged him to take up other hobbies than football, Lane, a fierce competitor, ignored her pleas. He went to Junior College for one semester (the football semester) and then joined the Army for the next 4 years. His athletic skills in the Army earned him an invitation for a football scholarship at Loyola (L.A.), but the school dropped its football program before he could accept. He had also gotten an invite to "drop by" the Los Angeles Rams.

Lane had recently gotten married and was working in a dead end job at an aircraft plant in Los Angeles, loading sheets of metal into bins. Frustrated, he decided to look for another job. While riding the Beverly Boulevard bus, he noticed the Hollywood offices of the Rams. He decided to "drop by" after work. He took his scrapbook of his high school and college exploits and talked his way into the Rams front office to see Coach Joe Stydahar. The coach was impressed by the scrapbook and signed Lane to a $4,500 contract.

The Rams weren't sure where to play him, and he played end on offense and cornerback on defense. At offensive end (wide receiver), he played behind future Hall of Famers Tom Fears and Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch. Eager to learn, Lane constantly came into teammate Fears' room to ask advice. Fears had a phonograph which played the Buddy Morrow song Night Train over and over again. According to the book Pro Football Hall of Fame All-Time Greats, one day a teammate entered the room, saw Lane and blurted out, "Hey, there's Night Train" and the name stuck.

Lane wasn't sure if he liked the name or not until, in his first exhibition game, he tackled Washington's Charlie Justice, breaking his collar bone. The headline in the newspaper the next day read, "Rookie Dick 'Night Train' Lane derails Charlie 'Choo Choo' Justice." Lane decided to keep the nickname.

Night Train went on to a 14 year NFL career, compiling 68 pass interceptions, including 5 returned for touchdowns. He also blocked many field goals and extra points. After playing for the Rams, he also played 6 years with the Chicago Cardinals and 6 more with the Detroit Lions and was voted to the All-Pro team 5 times. He played in the Pro Bowl 7 times. His interception return yardage ranks second in NFL history. His teammate on the Cardinals, Pat "True Value" Summerall said "I played with him and against him, and he was the best I've ever seen."

One of the hardest hitters in NFL history, he liked to tackle ball carriers by the head and neck, which led the NFL to outlaw that technique which was called a "Night Train Necktie" and was especially feared by NFL receivers. Despite the NFL ban, Night Train continued his ability to dominate games. In the 1999 Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Football Players, Night Train was ranked Number 19, the highest ranked defensive back. He was the Cardinals highest ranked player and the Lions' second ranked player (behind the great running back Barry Sanders).

In his personal life, he was married 3 times, the best known being his marriage to jazz singer Dinah Washington (What a Difference a Day Makes) He was the last of her 7 husbands, when she died in 1963. Lane died of a heart attack in 2002, but the legend of Night Train lives on at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.



Saturday, September 22, 2007


The Congressional Medal of Honor is the highest award given by Congress to a member of the Armed Services for valor in combat. Congress established the award in 1862, during the Civil War to honor those servicemen (and woman) who, while serving in the Armed Forces, distinguish themselves conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of their lives above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against any enemy of the United States.

The deed performed must have been one of personal bravery or self sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his comrades and must have involved risk of life.

Approximately 3400 Medals of Honor have been issued in total (including 1,527 during the Civil War when it was the only medal available), and many were issued posthumously because the recipients were killed in action.

Among the well known recipients are Billy Mitchell (who in the 1930's campaigned for a strong air force, and the Milwaukee airport was named for him); Charles Lindbergh (for his 1927 flight although he was not in combat--the award was given in the euphoria of the moment); William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody (in 1872 for his service in 16 battles in the Indian Wars); Sgt. Alvin York (a movie was made about his World War I exploits); Eddie Rickenbacker (who shot down 26 enemy planes in World War I, which, incidentally, wasn't called that at the time); Senator Daniel K. Inouye (D. Hawaii); and President Theodore Roosevelt (awarded in 2001, for his 1898 exploits at San Juan Hill in Cuba).

Some Medals of Honor were awarded for deeds in obscure wars or military actions, such as the 1871 Korean Campaign; the Philippine Insurrection of the early 1900's; the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 in China; Haiti in 1915, and again in 1919-20; but most were earned in the major wars.

Only one woman has won the Medal of Honor. Dr. Mary Walker, a Civil War surgeon, won the award for her extraordinary care for the sick and wounded at Chickamauga (Tennessee) and the Battle of Atlanta (Georgia). Woman doctors were not accepted by the male troops, or society in general, and she often dressed as a man. She was captured and held in a Confederate prison for 4 months in 1864, and underwent severe hardships. In 1916, Congress decided to revoke many Medals of Honor because of the perception that they were getting too easy to obtain. Dr. Walker refused to return hers, but she was later awarded it again, posthumously.\

Nineteen men were awarded two Medals of Honor. The first was Lt. Thomas Custer, who, with his more famous brother, Gen. George A. Custer, met his fate at Little Big Horn in Montana in 1876. Lt. Custer won both Medals in the Civil War, where, seriously wounded, was personally escorted out of the battle to the aid station by his brother.

In two well known cases, both father and son won the Medal of Honor. General Arthur MacArthur and later his son, General Douglas MacArthur were awarded the medal. World War II General Theodore Roosevelt Jr. received the honor, and later, posthumously, his father, President Theodore Roosevelt received the award (see above).

The Medal of Honor is so prestigious that President Truman once said he would rather have earned the medal than be the Commander in Chief. President Bush said, "When you meet a veteran who wears that medal, remember the moment, because you are looking at one of the bravest ever to wear our country's uniform."

At this time, there are 123 living Medal of Honor Recipients, the lowest number in history.

While all of the medal winners have significant stories to relate, I'd like to share a couple with you. Several Medals of Honor were awarded years after the recipient's action when the heroic events were brought to light by the serviceman's family, buddies or other interested parties. Captain Benjamin Lewis Salomon was an example.


Capt. Salomon, a dentist and surgeon in World War II, was killed in action during the Battle of Saipan in 1944. He was recently awarded the Medal of Honor by President Bush, over 60 years later. Capt. Salomon had no living relatives to witness the presentation. Apparently, he had been originally denied the honor, based on a technicality--that medical personnel were deemed exempt from combat thus rendering Capt. Salomon ineligible for battle honors.

His cause was taken up by Dr. Robert West of Calabasas, California, who was a classmate of Capt. Salomon at the University of Southern California (Class of 1937), and a fellow World War II veteran. The two men had never met. Dr. West learned of Capt. Salomon's heroics while doing research for California's centennial celebration. He did years of research, collecting documents and dealing with the bureaucracy at the Pentagon until he persuaded Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials to agree that the military had made an error in denying the award. West said, "They only knew that he had been killed in action...he didn't even get a Purple Heart."

On July 7, 1944, Capt. Salomon was serving in the Marianas Islands in the 27th Infantry Division when his battalion came under ferocious attack by thousands of Japanese soldiers. The Americans sustained massive casualties, and the enemy soldiers were soon descending on Capt. Salomon's aid station. The two machine gunners assigned to defend the aid station were killed, but Capt. Salomon was determined to defend the wounded men in his care. As the enemy approached his position, he ordered comrades to evacuate the tent and carry away the wounded men, shouting, "I'll hold them off until you get them to safety. See you later." Capt. Salomon's patients and medics all made it to safety. He did not.

In the moments that followed, Capt. Salomon single-handedly killed 98 enemy soldiers until he was overcome by the enemy. As best as the Army could determine, he was shot 24 times before he fell and more than 50 times after that. His body was found at his post the next day, with his finger still on the trigger. While it is not my intention to glorify killing, please keep in mind that in the heat of combat, it's either them or us, and we sure as heck don't want it to be us. Salomon's bravery saved the lives of many of his comrades.

A replica of the medal was enshrined at the USC Dental School.


The other, a local hero, was Master Gunnery Sgt. Richard E. Bush, of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, who died in 2004 at his long time home in Waukegan, Illinois, at the age of 79. He was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Truman in 1945 for his actions at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as a squad leader during the final assault against Mt. Yaetake on Okinawa on April 16, 1945.

Under heavy enemy artillery fire, Cpl. Bush led his squad up the face of the rocky precipice and over the ridge and drove the defending enemy troops out from their deeply entrenched position. With his unit, he bacame the first to break through to the inner defense of Mt. Yaetake. He was seriously wounded and evacuated with other Marines to shelter under protecting rocks. While lying prostrate, an enemy grenade was thrown into the midst of his group of men. Despite the certain peril to his own life, Cpl. Bush unhesitatingly pulled the deadly missile to himself and absorbed the violent force of the explosion to his own body. In so doing, he saved the lives of his buddies. The grenade tore several fingers off one hand and cost Bush the sight in one eye. But he miracuously survived and became a longtime employee of the Veterans Administration.

Presiden Truman said "By his valiant leadership and aggressive tactics in the face of savage opposition, Cpl. Bush was a major factor in the success of the sustained drive toward the conquest of this heavily defended outpost of the Japanese Empire. His concern for the welfare of his men, spirit of self sacrifice and devotion to duty through this conflict enhance and sustain the proud traditions of the U.S. Naval Service."

Today, on the South side of Waukegan, in a rough part of town, you'll find a street called Richard Bush Court. Most people pass by there every day without a clue to the story behind the name. This man was one of the bravest of the brave.



Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Mention Nick the Greek to a Las Vegas oldtimer, and you'll get instant recognition and probably a story or two. Not related to Jimmy the Greek, although they share a common heritage, Nick "the Greek" Dandalos was a Las Vegas legend known for his high stakes gambling. Born in Crete, he came to the U.S. in 1911, at age 18. He learned manners and dressed impeccably. He claimed to have a degree from an "unnamed English university".

Shortly after arriving in the U.S., he developed a penchant for gambling. He was drawn to the action and loved it. He won $500,000 in 6 months playing the horses after befriending jockey Phil Musgrave. He then moved to Chicago where he lost it all playing cards and craps. He decided to concentrate on poker and he tore through the East Coast, cleaning out rich gamblers. He once challenged someone to draw a card for a half million dollars but was turned down. He boasted of breaking gambling czar Arnold Rothstein who had allegedly fixed the 1919 World Series (remember Shoeless Joe and the Black Sox!).

The Greek's legend really took hold when, in 1949, he approached Benny Binion (see KENSUSKINREPORT, June 27, 2007) and requested a no-limit poker game head to head with a single player. Binion set him up with an old buddy from Texas, Johnny Moss, 15 years younger than the Greek. The game became the Clash of the Titans. Moss, a good ol' boy with a second grade education against the erudite Nick the Greek--two different styles. The two gamblers played poker day after day for 5 months--5 card stud, 7 card stud, lowball, Omaha, Texas hold-em, whatever--stopping only to sleep, and only a couple of times a week at that.

Moss would take his time away from the game to rest, while the impatient Greek would simply go over to the craps table (he always bet "don't pass"). Tourists and fellow gamblers watched breathlessly as huge pots went back and forth. Eventually, the patient cool hand Moss outlasted the Greek, winning the last pot, and Nick the Greek stood up and simply said, "Mr. Moss, I have to let you go," and he went upstairs to bed. He had lost over $2 million over the 5 month period.

Over the years, the Greek befriended many prominent people on both sides of the law. For example, he once took the famed physicist Albert Einstein on a tour of Vegas. Of course, he had to introduce Einstein to his friends, many of whom wouldn't know Albert Einstein from Albert Brooks. To get respect for his genius friend, he reputedly introduced him, "Meet Little Al from Princeton; he controls a lot of the action around Jersey."

Over the years, the Greek was said to have won and lost $800 million, although he ultimately died, in 1966, broke, playing out his last years in low stakes (legal) poker rooms in California.



Sunday, September 9, 2007


We planned a romantic trip for Dianne's birthday (September 1st) to beautiful Boise, Idaho. We enjoy road trips, and Boise was chosen because neither of us had ever been there or spent any time in Idaho. We loaded up the CD player in our rental car with 2 Kenny G albums, a Beatles, and an easy listening instrumental CD. We started driving past the State Capitol and took the required picture.

The plan was to drive around Idaho like maniacs and then head for Las Vegas where I was scheduled to play in a Video Poker Tournament (with no entry fee). We knew little about Idaho except that they grow potatoes there. In fact, the fries for the McDonald's restaurants come from Idaho.

Boise State University became well known last year for its outstanding football team, which beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. We drove by the stadium. We arrived there the day Senator Larry Craig (R. Idaho) resigned after pleading guilty to lewd behavior in a public rest room in Minneapolis. In some states (you know who you are), that behavior would get him re-elected for sure, but Idaho isn't one of them. In any event, I saw on one rest room wall a sticker with a picture of Sen. Craig with a line drawn through the circle saying "Craig free zone".

Our adventures started in Idaho City, 30 miles from Boise. Idaho City is a touristy frontier town with 2 ice cream shops and a few other ramshackle stores selling junk (antiques?) and not much else. The ice cream and hot fudge were very good.

From there, we continued on the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway, a winding mountain road with many 20 mph hairpin turns, to Lowman, which wasn't worth the drive. The scenery was beautiful, but Dianne was getting seasick because our Chevy Impala had bench seats and there was nothing to hold onto as the car was winding up and down and back and forth through the mountains. At Lowman, we headed West to Garden Valley, Horseshoe Bend, and Eagle, and fortunately for our health, the road, although scenic, was not over a mountain. We saw wild, rushing rivers like the turbulent South Fork of the Payette River. Most people who visit Idaho in the summer go rafting, fishing and mountain biking, along with camping. We do none of these, although we'll go rafting on a slow river.

We stayed Saturday night in a nice Hampton Inn in Mountain Home, ID. We like Hampton Inns because they serve a hearty free breakfast. Also, by seeking one out, we were able to get extra points in our Hilton Honors account by having 3 hotel stays in a certain time period. We can then use the points to stay for free in really nice Hiltons like the Palmer House in Chicago or the Waldorf in New York.

By this time we were getting tired of Kenny G, and we spotted a Walmart near our hotel where we could buy another CD. We chose Carly Simon's Greatest Hits for $6.98,
and listened to that for a few hundred miles.

On Sunday, we drove to Sun Velley a faux rustic ski resort town. The resort was created in the 1930's by Averill Harriman who was Chairman of the Union Pacific Railroad (and later Governor of New York). He discovered the railroad was obligated to maintain a passenger service, so he decided that an alpine ski resort would stimulate tourism. He sent Austrian ski champion Court Schaffgotsch to scout out the best ski area, and he turned down Aspen, but picked Sun Valley, near Ketchum, ID, an old sheep ranching town. They built the world's first chairlift there in 1936.

Ernest Hemingway lived (and died) there, and there's a memorial to him. He wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls in Ketchum. Hemingway became despondent when the Castro regime confiscated his considerable holdings in Cuba, and he committed suicide in 1961. He was buried in Ketchum. There are beaucoup bucks in this town, with many expensive cars and upscale shopping--Palm springs without the palm trees.

Our next stop was Craters of the Moon National Monument, about 70 miles Southeast. Every couple thousand years or so, a volcano erupts and strews lava all over the countryside, creating a surreal landscape--well--like on the moon. The last eruption was about 2,000 years ago, so we're overdue. We went to the Visitor's Center and watched the video and then drove the loop and hiked around the paved paths, marveling at the volcanic cinder cones and black lava rocks strewn all around the area. Each type of lava has a name--all with Hawaiian names, like pahoehoe and aa, a rough cindery type lava. If you play Scrabble, that's a good word to know.

We had to hightail it out of there about 1:30 in the afternoon because we had a hotel reservation in Ely, Nevada, over 300 miles away, and I don't like driving unfamiliar roads at night.

On the way we stopped in Twin Falls, ID., which, for me, was the best thing I saw in the whole state. Coming into town from the North, one must cross the Perrine Bridge, a huge bridge spanning the Snake River Canyon, which snakes through the town. While not as spectacular as the Grand Canyon in Arizona, it is pretty impressive, nevertheless. The bridge attracts thrill seekers who are allowed to base jump (parachute) off the bridge into the canyon.

This canyon was made famous a few years ago when Evel Knievel attempted to jump across it on a rocket powered motorcycle. He missed. The jump was no easy feat, however, as the canyon is at least 1500 feet wide and about 500 feet deep. The lady at the Visitor's Center told me that Mr. Kneivel expected to die in the attempt. He didn't do that either. What happened was that he activated his chute too soon and hit the side of the canyon, Wile E. Coyote style, and broke a few arms and legs.

So he didn't exactly walk away either, but he lived to try something else stupid later on.

The canyon leads up to Shoshone Falls, about 2 miles upriver from the bridge. The falls are 212 feet high and are an awesome sight. The falls are described as the Niagara of the West and are certainly worth seeing. I heard that in the Spring, the falls are even more spectacular because the water level is much higher, but we weren't disappointed.

At the falls, peddlers were hawking pictures of Marilyn Monroe. Before she became a famous movie star, she was a top fashion model, and she posed there, wearing an Idaho potato sack. She looked good in it, by the way. If it had been an autographed picture, I might have purchased one.

We had a wonderful steak dinner with Idaho baked potatoes, at the Outback Steakhouse, overlooking the canyon. There's a beautiful golf course at the bottom of the canyon, down river from the bridge. Plus there's a shopping mall overlooking the canyon. Apparently, the environmentalists haven't discovered Idaho yet, or they were driven off by the locals.

By 3:30, we really had to get on our way, and we headed down U.S. 93 toward Nevada. You can always tell when you're entering Nevada. From miles away one sees tall buildings, flashing neon lights, billboards promoting casinos. Entering Jackpot, Nevada was no exception. To my knowledge, that's the only town called Jackpot in the whole country. We didn't stop there.

Nevada is a sparsely populated state with long lonely stretches of road and over 100 miles between gas stations. The infrequent rest areas on the road are little more than outhouses with no plumbing. Even the space aliens the government allegedly keeps in Nevada are bored with the place, and they wouldn't draw much attention anyway when you see some of the characters you encounter along the way.

We had reservations to stay at the famous Hotel Nevada in Ely, and we saw billboards for it for 100 miles around. According to the description on the Internet, it was a favorite hotel for many Hollywood stars who were traveling between California and Sun Valley, ID. There are rooms dedicated to Wayne Newton, Jimmy Stewart, Ingrid Bergman and Tennessee Ernie Ford, who all stayed there, but evidently, not in the last 50 years. Unfortunately, those particular rooms were all booked, and we had to stay in a normal room. When we saw our room, we really had reservations--about staying there. But since it was nightfall, and anoather 250 miles to Las Vegas, we decided to stay. The room cost $38 for the night, but then, the Motel 6 which costs more has nicer rooms.

When we entered the room, I thought the closet was huge. It turned out--no--that was the whole room. It did have a closet, but that was too small to store our suitcase. There was a sign on the bathroom door that because the plumbing was installed when the hotel was built in 1929, the hot water in the shower sometimes turns cold. But at least they warned us. There was no tub. The vanity was tiny, approx. 18 inches square, so everything had to be stored on the floor. The double bed covered a large portion of the room and we had to climb over each other to get to the bathroom. The lightbulbs were probably 20 watts, as it was too dim to read in the room. To their credit, the room did have a window air conditioner and it worked.

Despite all this, the hotel was quite interesting. There were numerous old pictures of the area on the walls, along with Western art, vintage signs, mounted stuffed animals and mining tools. In their restaurant (where breakfast was good), there was a large python skin probably 20 feet long, mounted on the wall. On the front sidewalk, there were stars similar to those on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, honoring stars like Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart, Wallace Beery, and several other entertainers who were before my time. The other good thing was that I managed to win over $200 in the casino although Dianne lost), so I was able to better tolerate the rough accommodations.

The next morning, we drove through the desert to Las Vegas, where we spent the last 2 days of our trip in luxury at the Paris Hotel. We found some good crap games (my granddaughters call them "craft games"), and we had a good time. I participated in the previously mentioned Video Poker tournament along with about 2000 other contestants and, although I played the correct strategy, had no luck and won no money. In my 2 previous tournaments I had won money (remember, there's no entry fee). So it didn't cost anything either, and we'll be invited back in a few months.

In summary, Dianne told me, for her next birthday, she wants to go "somewhere besides Idaho", although she did enjoy the Craters of the Moon National Monument and the falls.