Saturday, October 25, 2008


What a country! Here in America, you can name your kid anything you want. You can't do that in Europe. The athlete with the all time greatest name in sports is the young man with the presumptious name God Shammgod. Actually, he is God Shammgod Jr.--his father somehow managed to navigate through life with the same name. This young man, teased about his name, usually silenced his critics on the basketball court. Mr. Shammgod's mother, observing that he was mercilessly teased about his name as a child, enrolled him in kindergarten with her surname, and he was called Shammgod Wells through high school.

When he arrived in college, he was told he had to use his real name or legally change it, which would cost $600.00. He didn't have the $600.00, so Shammgod Wells became God Shammgod again. I'm sure baseballer Jesus Alou would understand.

An extremely quick point guard, Mr. Shammgod starred in high school basketball at LaSalle Academy in New York City where his teammate was future NBA star Ron Artest. In the NBA, Artest was called the Chairman because he was suspended for throwing a chair at a fan, but that's a subject for another day. In his senior year, Shammgod was selected to the 1995 McDonald's All-American Team where he played for the East team in the annual all-star game and scored 9 points.

With a name like God, the logical college to attend was Providence College in Rhode Island. It was a school God would go to if He could afford it. Well, in this case he got a scholarship, and he starred there on the basketball court for 2 seasons. In his first season, he set the Big East Conference freshman assist record. In his Sophomore season, he teamed up with current NBA player Austin Croshere, leading the Friars to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Championship Tournament where they lost to eventual champion Arizona in overtime. In that game Shammgod, matched up against current NBA player Mike Bibby, scored 23 points. In one memorable moment, Shammgod faked Bibby out of his shorts on a crossover dribble and drove to the basket (where he missed the layup).

And that was the knock against Shammgod--he was a great ball handler, but even Divine Providence couldn't improve his shooting ability. He left school early to chase the big bucks in the NBA, but he was chosen in the draft by the Washington Wizards as the 17th player in the second round. He played for the minimum NBA salary (how can anyone live on only $250,000 per year?), and played in only 20 games, averaging 3.1 points per game. The Wizards couldn't win with God or without him.

He was waived by the Wizards and began an international odyssey playing professionally in Poland, Saudi Arabia and several teams in the Chinese Basketball Association including Zhejian Cyclones and Shanxi Yujun. See if your Mapquest can locate those places. Of course, in those countries, they don't speak English, so they assume his name is a normal American name. Currently, he plays for the Portland Chinooks of the International Basketball League, and at age 32, his hopes of returning to the NBA are not good.

But at least, if he doesn't like his name, he can now afford to change it.



Tuesday, October 14, 2008


According to a recent study by the New England Genealogical Society, Sen. Barack Obama is related to both President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Obama and Cheney are 8th cousins, linked through Mareen Duvall, a 17th Century French Huguenot who immigrated to America. Obama and Bush are 10th cousins, once removed. They had a common ancestor, one Samuel Hinckley of Cape Cod, who died in 1662. Hinckley's father Thomas Hinckley, was the governor of the Plymouth colony in Massachusetts. The elder Hinckley's daughter, Anna, married Capt. Ephraim Hunt, and through their son, Thomas, they are ancestors of Sen. John Kerry.

Obama spokesperson Bill Burton, speaking of the Obama-Cheney kinship was quoted as saying, "every family has a black sheep." He was talking about Dick Cheney at the time. Apparently, being a Democrat or a Republican is not genetic, although the Kennedy clan may disagree. As it turns out, genealogist Christopher Child tells us that Sen. Obama is related to six U.S. presidents, including, besides George Bush I and II, Gerald Ford, Lyndon Johnson, Harry S Truman and James Madison. Other Obama cousins include Sir Winston Churchill and Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Obama is even a 9th cousin to movie star Brad Pitt through Edwin Hickman who died in Virginia in 1769.

Both Bush and Kerry are related to Playboy magnate Hugh Hefner through Maj. William Bradford of the Plymouth colony. Hefner is a 9th cousin of both men, although his relationship to Kerry is slightly closer, and indeed, Hefner supported Kerry in the 2004 election.

Sen. John McCain's lineage is somewhat fuzzier, but he is a 6th cousin to First Lady Laura Bush.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, who is of French Canadian descent on her mother's side, is related to singers Celine Dion, Alanis Morissette, and even Madonna. With that lineage, it's not surprising that Clinton snagged a Grammy award, although it was for best spoken word in It Takes a Village. Obama won one of those also, but he was not known to be related to Clinton except, maybe, through the Pitt and Jolie connection below.

Mrs. Clinton and Angelina Jolie are 9th cousins, twice removed, both related to Jean Cusson, who died in Quebec in 1718. Thus, Clinton and Obama are related through marriage. Jolie and Pitt are married, aren't they? If not, they're related through Jolie and Pitt's kids. Mrs. Clinton's other relatives include beat author Jack Kerouac and Camilia Parker-Bowles, wife of England's Prince Charles. I suppose that makes Obama and Prince Charles related through marriage also. So that would make his kinship closer to Queen Elizabeth than to Queen Latifah.

President Bush, like Sen. Obama, is related to a host of famous people. Besides his cousin Barack, or Barry, as they used to call him while growing up, Bush's mother, Barbara is descended from a second cousin of Franklin Pierce, one of our least distinguished presidents. (Don't even go there!) Pres. Bush is related to other presidents on his father's side such as Lincoln, Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Cleveland, T. Roosevelt, F. Roosevelt, Taft, Coolidge, Hoover, Nixon and Ford. Bush is also related to Sir Winston Churchill in three ways--through the Coes of NY, the Sumners of MA. and the Shermans of RI. Bush was even descended from French Emperor Charlemagne in 8 or 9 different ways. Bush's namesake George Bush (1796-1859) was a noted biblical scholar who wrote a book, Life of Mohammed, which he would have difficulty getting published today.

America is described as a vast melting pot, but most people didn't realize to what extent. The next Bush-Obama family reunion might have to be held in the Superdome.



Thursday, October 9, 2008


One of the most closely followed events in sports is the pro football draft which is held annually to determine which newly eligible players will play for which NFL teams. It was created in 1936 to create a competitive balance among the teams. Today the NFL Scouting Combine tests and rates college players' talent on everything from the obvious drills like the 40 year dash and broad jump to an intelligence test and something called the three-cone drill, which appears to test the player's ability to negotiate a gauntlet of the three avaricious agents--Sam Cone and his brothers, Morrie and Irv.

As we all know, some general managers are better evaluators of talent than others. The best example is the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970's who were notable for their prowess in selecting the best players in the draft.

Their initial 1936 draft was a Comedy of Errors when they selected, in the first round, All-American halfback William Shakespeare (his real name) from Notre Dame. That became more of a Midsummer Night's Dream because he never played in the NFL. However, it became Much Ado About Nothing when the Steelers chose superior players in subsequent drafts. Instead of becoming the next William Shakespeare, he became a war hero and later the president of a rubber manufacturer in Cincinnati. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983.

The Steelers hit the jackpot in the 1974 draft when they selected receiver Lynn Swann in Round 1, linebacker Jack Lambert in Round 2, receiver John Stallworth in Round 4 and center Mike Webster in Round 5. All were later elected to the Hall of Fame. No other team ever selected more than 2 Hall of Famers in a single draft. The 1970 Steelers (who won 1 and lost 13 the previous season) chose future Hall of Famers in quarterback Terry Bradshaw in Round 1 and defensive back Mel Blount in Round 3. Other Hall of Fame draft choices by the Men of Steel included tackle Mean Joe Greene in
1969, linebacker Jack Ham in 1971 and running back Franco Harris in 1972. Not surprisingly, the Steelers won 4 Super Bowls in the 1970's. All's Well That Ends Well.

The Chicago Bears' best draft came in 1965 when they selected superstars Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers with the third and fourth picks in the first round. With those guys picked third and fourth, one must wonder who was considered better and selected ahead of them. The NY Giants selected the forgettable, often injured running back Tucker Fredrickson first, and the SF 49ers picked journeyman running back Ken Willard second. Even with legends like Butkus and Sayers on the field, the Bears never had much of a supporting cast playing alongside them, and suffered several losing seasons in the late 1960's and 1970's.

You might like to know which Hall of Fame players were not rated high out of college and were chosen in the late rounds of the draft or not drafted at all.

Undrafted Hall of Famers included Oakland defensive back Willie Brown from Grambling; defensive back Dick "Night Train" Lane from Scottsbluff Junior College by way of the U.S. Army (see KENSUSKINREPORT, Sept. 24, 2007); the great Miami Dolphins guard Larry Little from Bethune Cookman College; quarterback Warren Moon from Washington; Browns' running back Marion Motley from South Carolina State; the great Giants' safety Emlen Tunnell from Toledo University; and Green Bay Packers safety Willie Wood from USC. What they all have in common is they are African-American, and received little recognition in college, perhaps because of that. Several came from historically black colleges. Once major colleges began recruiting black players, it became much more difficult to discover overlooked, but talented players.

Some other Hall of Famers selected late in the draft include: Dallas Cowboys' tackle Rayfield Wright from Fort Valley State was selected in Round 7 in 1967; Houston Oilers defensive back Ken Houston from Prairie View A & M was selected in Round 9 the same year. The Cleveland Browns running back Leroy Kelly, from Morgan State was selected in Round 8 in 1964. The Cardinals tight end Jackie Smith from Northwestern (LA) State, was selected in Round 10 in 1963. The 1961 draft featured Rams defensive end David "Deacon" Jones of South Carolina State in the 14th round.

In the 1958 draft, one finds John "Ace Hardware" Madden, a tackle from Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, going in the 21st round, the 244th player picked. Its questionable whether he would have made the all-Madden team. The 1956 draft featured the great Packers' duo--defensive end Willie Davis of Grambling in the 15th round and the great quarterback Bart Starr in the 17th. Starr's Alabama Crimson Tide team lost all 10 games his senior year.

One year earlier saw the legendary quarterback Johnny Unitas of Louisville drafted by the Steelers in the 9th round. He was traded to Baltimore where he teamed up with receiver Raymond Berry who was drafted in the 20th round in 1954.

Among non-Hall of Fame players in the drafts, my personal favorite was wide receiver Fair Hooker (actually Fair A. Hooker Jr.) from Arizona State, drafted by the Cleveland Browns in Round 5 in 1969. A dangerous wide receiver, he played 6 seasons for the Browns, catching 129 passes for 8 touchdowns and no fumbles. Hooker's other claim to fame was being traded to New Orleans for someone named Jubilee Dunbar
in 1974. Hooker later became a bank Vice President in Los Angeles, and I'm sure he had good name recognition. When Fair Hooker calls, most people return the call.

Another favorite of mine was Jack "Mad Dog" O'Billovich, a fearsome linebacker from Oregon State who was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the 11th round in 1966. Despite his awesome nickname, the only ones "Mad" were the angry fans, as he played only briefly for the Lions and for the Hamilton Tiger Cats in Canada. His career was cut short by injuries, and he died young, at age 53.

There are many other great names of players drafted, but our space is limited. As all football fans know, hope springs eternal every year in the draft as your favorite team dreams of picking the next Johnny Unitas or Bart Starr, or even Tom Brady (6th round from Michigan) in the late rounds.



Sunday, October 5, 2008


I was dismayed to hear of the recent death of George "Wydell" Jones Jr., not to be confused with country music legend George Jones. Today, October 5th, would have been his 72nd birthday. George "Wydell" Jones was a songwriter in the 1950's who penned the famous doo wop song hit Rama Lama Ding Dong and performed it as the lead singer of The Edsels (originally they were "The Essos" as in the oil company, but they would have had to change it to the Exxons).

Unfortunately for the group, it wasn't any more successful than its namesake automobile. Its other 25 or so recordings remain largely unknown to most Americans. Jones, who died from cancer, was survived by his wife, 6 children, 16 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren. Jones, a native of Youngstown, Ohio, where his father worked in a steel mill, formed the group while serving in the Air Force, where he wrote its signature song, Rama Lama Ding Dong.

The Edsels also featured Larry and Harry Green, James Reynolds and Marshall Sewell. To capitalize on their sole hit recording, they performed several times on Dick Clark's American Bandstand, and also at the famous Apollo Theater in New York. They split up in 1963, but continued to perform separately.

The song, Rama Lama Ding Dong was originally recorded in 1957 and released under the erroneous title "Lama Rama Ding Dong" in 1958. The song didn't hit the charts until 1961 when a New York disk jockey began playing it in conjunction with the Marcels' doo wop version of Blue Moon. Rama Lama became popular and eventually rose to Number 21 on the Billboard charts.

Although it's one of the most ridiculous songs I've ever heard, after hearing it played repeatedly, it grows on you. The lyrics are as follows:

Oh, oh, oh, oh
I got a girl named Rama Lama, Rama Lama Ding Dong
She's everything to me,
Rama Lama, Rama Lama Ding Dong
I'll never set her free
For she's mine, all mine
Oh, oh, oh, oh
I got a girl named Rama Lama, Rama Lama Ding Dong
She's fine to me
Rama Lama, Rama Lama Ding Dong,
You won't believe that she's mine, all mine
I love her
Love her, love her so
That I'll never, never let her go
You may be certain she's mine, all mine
She's mine all of the time.

(and so on and so forth!)

We can laugh all we want, but the song has had an impact on American culture.

According to Wikipedia:

A cover version of the song was performed on The Muppet Show once (in Episode 89).

A cover was made by Serbian doo wop band Vampiri in 1991. (How do you say Rama Lama Ding Dong in Serbo-Croatian?)

In 1961, Barry Mann wrote and performed a song called Who Put the Bomp which contained the lyric, "who put the ram in the Rama Lama Ding Dong" when describing his girl falling in love with him after listening to the "romantic" lyrics.

The song is heard in the movie Children of a Lesser God and is used by the William Hurt character "James Leeds" to teach his class of hearing impaired teenagers.

Somehow I can imagine using this song to teach English to foreigners.

It's not known if the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame dimmed its lights in tribute, but George "Wydell" Jones Jr. did contribute uniquely to American culture.