Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Then, out of the blue...


Guess who showed up in Camarillo today on his way from San Francisco to Huntington Beach (to hook up with his Canadian photographer buddies Dale and Wei) and eventually to BRAZIL?

What can one say except "BAM!"

Former Catania QB great Jason Johnson that's who!!!

J Twice and yours truly at
Chuy's Mexican Restaurant

Upbeat and positive, as always, it was GREAT to see him and catch up on what is going on in our lives here in North America as well as talking about the upcoming football seasons in Catania and Innsbruck.

Check out his blog soon about his remarkable photo shoot trip to Brazil.  There WILL be stories to be told I'm sure!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Rose Bowl Memories


On the one hour drive home to Camarillo from Pasadena today, I daydreamed about this year's Rose Bowl game and the first two big Rose Bowls for me.

January 1, 1960
Washington 44 - Wisconsin 8

The first Rose Bowl Game I watched on TV.  I was hooked on being a Husky one day because of this game.

The Co-MVP's of the game were Husky QB Bob Schloredt and Husky RB George Fleming.  The Huskies finished the 1959 season with a 10-1 record, while the Wisconsin Badgers dropped to 7-3.

Bob Schloredt would win the MVP award again after leading Washington (10-1) to a 17-7 victory over Minnesota (8-2) in the 1961 Rose Bowl.

This was the first BIG win by a West Coast team vs. a Big Ten team since the two conferences signed the Rose Bowl pact to have their champions square off in the Arroyo Seco each New Year's Day starting in 1947. 

January 1, 1963
#1 Southern California 42 - #2 Wisconsin 37


#19 Hal Bedsole, USC's All-American WR,
catching a pass in the dark jersey above,
caught 4 passes for 101 yards and 2 TDs.

The 1963 Rose Bowl Game was the first one I ever attended and is generally considered the greatest game in Rose Bowl history.  I still have my copy of the program you see above and my ticket to the game.

My mother bought me two tickets and I gave one to one of my childhood friends, John Walsh, who would eventually graduate from USC.  We were sophomores at St. Francis High School at the time and we actually walked to the game, about four miles from John's house, to be among the 98,698 officially in attendance.  It was the 1960's after all!

The main story line of the game was that, amazingly, for the first time in college football bowl game history the #1 and #2 teams in the country were facing off against each other.  USC was the #1 team with a 10-0 record coming into the game while #2 Wisconsin was 8-1.

What made this game so memorable was Wisconsin QB Ron VanderKelen's heroics as he passed the Badgers back from a 42-14 deficit with only 14:54 left in the game to almost pull it out.  Now remember, this was the early 1960's and teams didn't pass very often.  During the regular 9 game season, VanderKelen had only passed for 1,181 yards.  What made it doubly interesting was that the Rose Bowl had VERY poor lighting back then and was not really equipped to deal with the game as the sun was going WAY down.  There was a real feeling in the stadium that day that they may have to call the game because of darkness but they were able to finish in the gloaming.

Co-MVP's of this game were the two QBs, Pete Beatherd for USC and Wisconsin's VanderKelen.

Beatherd was 8 for 12 passing for 190 yards and a Rose Bowl record 4 TDs which has been tied three times since then. 

VanderKelen completed 33 of 48 passes for 401 yards and 2 TDs.  He also ran for a TD.  The 48 pass attempts and 401 yards passing were the Rose Bowl records until Danny O'Neil of Oregon threw for 456 yards on 61 pass attempts in the 1995 Rose Bowl Game vs. Penn State.  VanderKelen's two marks both still rank #2 in the Rose Bowl's history 45 years later.

GOOD TIMES INDEED!!!

Pasadena at New Years


I drove down to San Marino, California today to visit my mother and aunt Katie and to see my sister Linda who was down from Santa Barbara for a few days.

As is my habit, I took a peek at today's Pasadena Star News sports section to see what they had to say about this Thursday's "Grandaddy of Them All", the 95th Rose Bowl game between 11-1 Big Ten Champion Penn State and 11-1 PAC-10 Champion Southern California.

There was indeed an article about a Penn State cornerback, Lydell Sargeant, who played his high football at Cabrillo H.S. in Lompoc about 90 minutes north of Rio Mesa H.S. 

SURPRISE!

Who is that reporter in the front row with the striped shirt?  Why none other than one of this blog's faithful readers and resident soccer/calcio/futbol expert, David P. Lassen!

David is seen here gathering valuable information for his employer, The Ventura County Star.

The 120th Pasadena Rose Parade

We went out to lunch in Old Town Pasadena and I saw this banner that reminded me that they do have a rather large parade in Pasadena on New Year's Day as well as playing the football game. 

From The Travel Channel's Food Paradise Website
The Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain
1526 Mission Street at Fair Oaks Blvd.
South Pasadena, California

While driving into Old Town Pasadena on Fair Oaks Blvd., my sister relayed a story about how great the malts are at the Fair Oaks Pharmacy which opened in 1915.  As I began my trek home, I stopped to fill up with gasoline at a station about one block from this wondrous throwback to 1940's Americana.  The obvious decision was to not pass on a treat when I was so close.

The Fair Oaks Pharmacy's Soda Fountain 

As a lad growing up in the Pasadena area we would frequent the Cal Tech Pharmacy on the corner of Lake and California almost daily and it looked a lot like this.  The Cal Tech Pharmacy is long gone but the memory of their non-alcoholic Lime Rickeys on a hot summer afternoon still lingers in my memory.

The Signature Fair Oaks Chocolate Malt

It cost a whopping $6.44 but it was as thicker and richer than you can imagine.

Great call Linda!!!

What a GREAT Venue EVERY January 1st!

The USC Trojans are heavily favored.

Since I picked the Trojans in my Bowl Pool, you might want to get some money down on the Nittany Lions.

My overall Bowl Pool record has improved only slightly to 3-11 as I correctly picked both games today, Rutgers over North Carolina State in the Birmingham, Alabama Papa John's Bowl and Missouri over Northwestern, in overtime, in the San Antonio, Texas Alamo Bowl.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Weekend's Odds and Ends


Calcio - Futbol - Soccer

This Sunday morning, as has become our new family habit, Mike and I get up early to watch some of the best European Calcio / Futbol games on GOL TV.

The World Cup, a.k.a., "The Holy Grail"

Contested every four years, the next World Cup Tournament will be held in 2010.

The Four Stars signify Italia's
1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006 World Cup Championships

We were cruising in the Mediterranean Sea in 2006 when Italia won the World Cup and arrived on the Italian mainland about two days after their intoxicating 5-3 victory over France.  They were still reveling in this national unifying moment long after the last penalty shootout kick. 

Playing for the Azzurri in 2006

Luca Toni is currently a striker for FC Bayern Munich of the German Bundesliga.  He is pictured here proudly wearing the traditional Italian National Team blue uniform before for the 2006 World Cup Tournament, note only three stars on the Italian crest.

Today we watched a game featuring Luca Toni in a Bundesliga game.  He was hilarious to say the least.  In a sport known for players constantly facing near death experiences on the pitch and then miraculously springing back to life, his performance today was worth of an Oscar for 2008 Best Actor in a Leading Role.

He went down every time an opposing player got within three feet of him, begging the referee for a penalty card or at least some sympathy!  He got neither with both the referees and the TV announcers both mocking Luca as the game wore on and his antics went unappreciated.

What can you expect from a player who first earned the Italian national spotlight as a high scoring player for the Palermo team for goodness sakes!

The NFL's Final Regular Season Weekend

QB Drew Brees and the
New Orleans Saints finish at 8-8

The Saints played in the 10:00 a.m. game today at home against the Carolina Panthers so a group of us met at the home of Saint's LB Scott Fujita's aunt and uncle, Mary and Cliff's home to watch the game with Scott's parents, Rod and Helen, and Chris and Katie Nielsen.

It wound up being a 4th quarter barn burner as the Saints rallied from a 30-10 deficit after three periods to take a 31-30 lead with about 3 minutes left in the game.  Unfortunately, the Panthers kicked the game winning field goal with one second left in the game.  The final score was Carolina 33 - New Orleans 31.  The Panthers finish the regular season at 12-4 and earned the #2 seed in the NFC playoffs and a bye in the first round.

Of interest was Saint's QB, Drew Brees, finishing the season with over 5,000 yards passing, only the second time this has happened in NFL history.  Hall-of-Famer Dan Marino passed for 5,084 yards in 1984.  Brees fell 16 yards short of breaking his record.

The College Football Bowl Season

As many people in America do this time of year, I have joined a college football pool to maintain interest in the 34 college bowl games that stretch from the Eagle Bank Bowl (Wake Forest 29 - Navy 19) on December 20, 2008 to the BCS National Championship Game (Florida 12-1 vs. Oklahoma 12-1 in Miami) on January 8, 2009.

This pool is simple, just pick the winner of each bowl game, no point spread to worry about, just pick out a winner.  As I write this blog post, 11 bowl games have been played.  My record you ask?  I am a ridiculously poor 1-10???  A baboon at the Los Angeles Zoo could have picked better than this!

The Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Loisiana
 Tonight's Game at 5:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time

If you click on their website you can access a short video message about the game that touts its classic Southeast Conference vs. Big 12 Conference roots just like advertised in their website header above.  This figures to make for a very interesting game between teams from arguably the two best conferences in college football this year.

Small problem... the two teams playing tonight are 7-5 Louisiana Tech from the Western Athletic Conference and 6-6 Northern illinois from the Mid-American Conference.  So much for truth in advertising!

In case you are wondering, I picked Northern Illinois.  If you can still get a bet down on Louisiana Tech, you might want to bet the farm! 

Dinner at The Claim Jumper Restaurant
in Thousand Oaks

With Laurie, Vanessa and Mike

They are known for their rather large portions.

Do you ever feel that life might be passing you by?

Or, perhaps, I am seen here proving Einstein's "Theory of Relativity."

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Great Cannoli Heresy of 2008


Aren't those cannoli in the lower left?

Established in 1897, the Savia Bakery is generally considered to make the best cannoli in all of Catania.

Exhibit A...
A delicious Savia pistacchio cannolo.
The main ingredient is, of course,
ricotta cheese.

Jason Johnson moments before
gastronomic bliss. 

Why do I bring all of this up today you are wondering? Easy.

Below is today's edition of the cartoon series
"F Minus" that appeared in the Ventura County Star newspaper.

The creator of this cartoon, one Tony Carrillo, has obviously never traveled to Sicily and savored a cannolo from  the Savia Bakery on Via Etnea in Catania!

Move over Salman Rushdie, you may have company!

Obi Wan Cannoli...
Where are you now that we need you?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Day 2008


To all of you who read and support this blog and me...

Buon Natale
Feliz Navidad
Merry Christmas

For my side of the family, Christmas Day is held at Casa Contreras in beautiful Camarillo, California.

Our Newest Christmas Tree Ornament

Yes, that IS Superman lurking in the background.

Grandpa Bill Gardner and Mike Contreras

Here they are seen discussing the great hope and promise for the future that the USA's president-elect Barack Obama inspires in us.

Bill felt and sounded much better today and rallied to make it to dinner.

The Traditional Turkey and
Honey Baked Ham Christmas Dinner

It was pretty darn delicious if you ask me!

A Christmas Toast

Florene and Bill Gardner on the left, Laurie Contreras in the middle and my aunt Katie and mother Chuny on the right.

Happy, Satisfied Revelers

From the left to the right, my sister Linda, niece Lauren and her beau Lorenzo, sister Marilyn, soon to be daughter-in-law Vanessa and youngest son Mike.

Now that's what I call a close shave!!!

An ARSENAL pre-game warm-up jersey!!!

And I thought the Rick Steves travel books were cool...

Laurie was in awe when she opened this present.

Mike and Vanessa with their Wedding Champagne Flutes

"Il Gato" in Hog Heaven!

For people it is trash, for a cat it is playground.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve 2008


We drove to the city of Tustin in Orange County for Christmas Eve Day to get together with Laurie's side of the family at the home of David and Gayle Hicks.  Gayle is Laurie's sister.

We were supposed to bring Laurie's dad, Bill, and his wife, Florene, with us but unfortunately they couldn't make it due to illness.

Rice Krispy Treat Man

Rice Krispy Treats might be the BEST reason to live in America.  When we walked into Casa Hicks this was the first thing I saw.  I knew it would be a good day indeed! 

This is our son Andy's favorite dessert but unfortunately he and Jenn could not make the trip out from Las Vegas... MORE FOR ME!

Our nieces, Amy Hicks and Lyndsey McKenzie, flank our future daughter-in-law Vanessa Perez

Vanessa asked them to be in their wedding this coming August and they said yes!

Most of the Guys

Me, Tim Hicks, Mike Contreras, Craig McKenzie, Scott Hicks, Brian (Amy's beau whose last name I did not catch), and David, the patriarch of the Hicks clan.

Laurie, Vanessa, Lyndsey, Amy and Gayle

The PERFECT Christmas Gift?

Could there possibly be anything better than not one but two Rick Steves travel books under the Christmas tree?  Well, maybe a Red Ryder BB gun.

A Gingerbread Man in about to disappear from the face of the earth.

One Last Group Photo

The fourth and fifth people from the left are John and Sarah.  Sarah is one of the cousins and John has been her main squeeze for quite a while now.  They arrived a little late from their long drive this morning from "The Garlic Capitol of the World", Gilroy, California.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Legends Dinner


About seven or eight years ago a group of old time Ventura County coaches got together at Santino's Pizza and Pasta Restaurant next to Ventura College to renew friendships and tell retell funny stories about coaching kids and coaching against each other.  It started out with about five of us and over the years has been as large as ten people as different people both old and somewhat younger joined us in these twice a year reunions.

It was at one of these dinners about four years ago that a young coach in attendance looked around the table and decreed that he was having "dinner with the legends."  So, since that night, we have officially dubbed these fun nights as "Legends Dinners."

Last night was our first "Legends Dinner" since I returned from Sicily.  It was a small group this time as many of our usual suspects were out of town due to the holidays but we still had a GREAT time as we swapped tales, ate pizza and watched the Chicago Bears beat the Green Bay Packers 20-17 in overtime on Monday Night Football.

Three of the Legends...
Jack Loritz, Mike Sanders and
Chris Pagliaro

Jack has always been the spearhead of these meetings and is a retired high school counselor.  He was the longtime, highly successful track coach at Newbury Park H.S.  Last night he was on a roll describing his experiences at his recent Canoga Park High School 55th reunion.  Since none of us believe for a minute that he graduated in only four years, I would hazard to guess that he is probably 85 years old!

Mike coached for many years at the college Division III level as well as at the high school level. Locally, he was a very successful head coach at Thousand Oaks H.S. and is currently an assistant coach and the Counselor for Athletes at College of the Canyons.  The Cougars spent most of the year as California's #1 ranked Junior College football team.

Chris, who proudly admits that he grew up in Chicago, was the first head coach in Newbury Park H.S. history.  Now retired but still moonlighting as a blues singer, he spent the last 20+ years at Santa Barbara City College as an assistant coach and Counselor for Athletes.  His family's roots are in a small town near Palermo in Sicily and he plans to visit us in Catania this spring.  The stories he would relate to us about his experiences coaching football in Italy years ago were a huge influence on my decision to go to Catania last season.

GOOD TIMES INDEED!

Monday, December 22, 2008

'Twas the Sunday Before Christmas


CONGRATULATIONS
to Jason Johnson's
University of Arizona Wildcats!

"J Twice's" alma mater not only was in their first bowl game Saturday night since 1998 when he was a freshman, they won it!

His 8-5 Wildcats defeated the 10-3 BYU Cougars by a score of 31-21 in the 2008 Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl.

Post game celebration as the U of A receives their bowl championship trophy!

Arizona's QB, Willie Tuitama, was named the 2008 Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl MVP for his 325 passing yards, 2 TD passes and 1 TD run.


Meanwhile, back in sleepy Ventura County, California...

All of my friends who still teach, as well as our son Mike and his fiancee Vanessa who are both doing graduate work at California Lutheran University, are officially on Winter or Christmas Break depending on your degree of political correctness

A Contreras Family Tradition,
"The Sunday Morning Pancake Flip and Catch"

One Sunday morning several years ago when our two sons were quite little, I was making them pancakes for breakfast and decided to test their skills by positioning them by our refrigerator with an empty plate to see if they could each catch a pancake that I flipped to them out of the pan.

Here you see Michael extending his personal record of 27 straight years without dropping a single pancake.

WARNING:  Mike is a trained professional and this dangerous stunt should NOT be tried in your homes!  

A Small Holiday Get Together
From left to right: Laurie Contreras, Helen Fujita, Katie Nielsen and Koreen FitzGerald

As is happening all over the world at this time, families and friends are joining to share friendship and cheer during the holidays.

Tonight we had a reunion dinner of the four couples who took a three week trip in 2006 to Europe by first visiting Venice, then cruising the Mediterranean Sea before finishing with a few days in Rome.

I failed to get a picture of the four husbands, but really, we are not much to look at when you get right down to it! The missing besides myself are Rod Fujita, Chris Nielsen and Brian FitzGerald.

Rod made the delicious fish you see here. 

Chris made the outstanding BBQ Tri-Tip Beef you see here.

The FitzGeralds were in charge of the salads and we brought dessert... Good Times INDEED!
 

Friday, December 19, 2008

Rio Mesa H.S. Christmas Party


Thursday night was the annual Rio Mesa H.S. Christmas party that this year was held at Ric's Restaurant in Camarillo.  The format is simple, cocktails at 5:00, sit down dinner (I opted for the the INCREDIBLE salmon) at 6:30 and dancing until midnight.  All of the above was great but the real joy of this event is always the comraderie that the Spartan family, both present and thankfully past, share on this special evening.   

Margie Compton and Regina Voshell

Margie is retired now after several years as the R.M. ASB Bookkeeper while Regina is still active in the Spartan's secretarial pool. 

Brian FitzGerald and Dick Bellman

Brian, on the left, is Rio Mesa's Athletic Director, Head Track Coach, Assistant Freshman Football Coach and, most importantly, an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher.

Dick is retired after spending his entire distinguished teaching career at Rio Mesa.  Besides teaching Science classes and coaching football, Richard was a highly respected Activities Director for several years.

Koreen and Brian FitzGerald

Every mature couple needs a younger couple to energize them regularly.  For Laurie and I, these two DEFINITELY fit the bill!

Koreen FitzGerald, Laurie Contreras and
Shi Young Kim

Koreen is now Rio Mesa's ASB Bookkeeper, having replaced Marge Compton when she retired. Shi Young is an Art teacher at Rio Mesa and our "adopted daughter."

With these three on the scene, LET THE FUN BEGIN!

2009 Elephants Catania Coaches

With me is Paul Petrich Jr.  We will be coaching American football together this spring in Sicily.  Paul will share our "Malibu" apartment with Laurie and I in Aci Castello.  

Vanessa Perez and Mike Contreras

Vanessa and Mike first met at the Rio Mesa Christmas party in 2005 held at the FitzGerald's home that holiday season.  They hit it off right away and will be getting married in August of 2009.

Joe Molica

Joe is the Oxnard Union High School District's "utility player to be named later" in trades.  A Social Science teacher and a Rio Mesa Girls Basketball coach, he is currently working in the Puente Program on Rio Mesa's campus teaching pregnant girls and girls who recently gave birth. 

As it turns out, by night, Joe Molica becomes John Travolta!

Here, he puts on a slow dancing clinic with Social Science teacher Laurena Guizar. 

Joe groovin' with Chemistry teacher Annie Marostica

Joe really becomes a player when the disco beat starts pounding away!

On the other hand, Brian FitzGerald's last trip to the dance floor was on his wedding day oh those many years ago! 

Other than this one major flaw, Brian still flourishes in most social settings.