Monday, March 30, 2009

The Bergamo Game

Sunday morning wake up call at 0:dark30.  We flew out of Catania to Parma before loading on to a recliner "Pullman" bus for the 90 minute drive to Bergamo.

The northern portion of Italy is the economic hub of the "Boot", partly because of their fashion houses.


I had to go artsy for this shot at Parma's airport, the leopard skin coat caught my eye, but the boots... WOW, like something out of Munchkinland!

The Traditional Autogrill Pre-Game Meal Stop

Andrea Conticello, on the left is our videogapher, while his brother Riccardo, in the middle, is our starting cornerback.  Our nose guard Corrado DiMartino is on the right chowing down.  He actually made it out of the bathroom in time and did not miss the bus this week.  Corrado and Riccardo both played VERY good games for us.

The Gulisanos

Tony, "Call me Pony" #31, started at Falcon for us yesterday and played much better in this game.  His oldest son Eduardo is our team statistician.  Two GREAT reasons to be an Elephant!

When your cash window is closed, just put up a pizza to go box, simple as that!

The Game

First a little historical perspective on our opponents.  The Lions are in their 26th campaign as an organization.  During their first 25 seasons they have won three Euro Bowl Championships and 12 Italian National Championships including the 2007 and 2008 titles.  They are easily the team with which all aspiring franchises, like the Elephants, must be compared.

The weather again today was a factor as it was raining from the moment we got off the plane in Parma until we got back on the plane for the return flight in Milan 12 hours later.  At least this week it was not anywhere near as cold and there was no wind to speak of.

Before the game, we greeted some of the referees as they arrived including Denny Morris from Ohio who is here on another exchange between Mid-American Conference official and their IFL counterparts.  Somebody said they thought Denny is from the Big 10 Conference, I am not 100% sure.

With them was one of the very good Italian officials we had several times last season, Gennaro Brancaccio.  When he saw me we exchanged a handshake, hug and the traditional Italian double cheek kiss, left cheek first but of course.  I have never kissed a referee before or after a game until now.

Our WR Taber LeMarr was introduced to an Italian locker room staple, the toilet that isn't there.  Part squat routine, part aerial bombing from a B-17, it left quite an impact on all of us.

One final pre-game note, Saturday night was the change in Italy to daylight savings time.  Our starting Falcon did not get the word apparently and missed the flight, so it begins...

Catania takes the opening kickoff and is forced to punt.

Bergamo counters with a 15 yards scramble for a TD by their QB Littlejohn Bradshaw out of Morgan State.  Lions lead 7-0.

The Elephants next possesion ends when a pass is deflected and is intercepted by the Lions.

Bergamo is stymied by the Elephant defense and is forced to punt after going "Three and Out".

Catania stalls out again and punts.

The Lion's Bradshaw connects on a 20 yards pass for a TD, Lions up 14-0.

Catania is forced to punt again.

The Elephants' LB Salvo Sicali recovers a Bergamo fumble.

After one period, the Lions lead 14-0.

The Elephants' QB Luke Tracy hits Claudio Mangano, who had a great game, on a 10 yards TD pass.  The extra point is blocked but a great effort by holder Taber LeMarr buys time for Tony "Call me Pony" Gulisano to run down the potential two point return by the Lions at their 10 yard line.  Bergamo leads 14-6.

Bergamo goes "Three and Out" and has to punt.

Catania's Iron Man, Larry Atkinson, returns the Lions' punt about 65 yards for a TD!  Tracy hooks up with LeMarr for the two point play, the game is tied at 14-14.

The Lions answer back with Bradshaw sneaking the ball in from the one yard line. Bergamo regains the lead 21-14.

On the last play of the first half, Taber LeMarr makes a leaping catch of a Luke Tracy pass for a TD.  Andrea Maninno drills the PAT.

The game is tied at halftime 21-21.

The Elephants use a squib kick to start the second half and it accidently hits the a man in Bergamo's front line.  Salvo Sicali recovers his second fumble of the day.

The Lions defense responded to the challenge and Catania punts.

Lion QB Bradshaw breaks another big play this time from about 40 yards out for a TD, Bergamo now leads 28-21.

The Elephant's drive that started in the third quarter ends when the Lions stop the Catania drive deep in their territory on downs.

Bergamo's offense is again forced to punt.

Bergamo QB Littlejohn Bradshaw is now also playing Free Safety and picks off a pass that he returns 90 yards for a TD, Lions up 35-21.

The Elephants are intercepted again.

Bergamo is forced to punt or the fourth time in the game.

Catania's offense only has time for a couple of desparation plays as the clock expires.

FINAL SCORE: Bergamo 35 - Catania 21

Give credit to two athletes who played with great intensity in this game:

The Elephants' two-way star, Larry Atkinson who led the team in tackles, as well as for his punt return for a TD and several key offensive plays.

The Lions' Littlejohn Bradshaw accounted for all of the Bergamo touchdowns as he ran for three TDs, threw a TD pass and scored a TD on his interception return.

Up next for Catania is the home opener against the Bologna Warriors on Saturday at 2:00 p.m. at the the Catania University Sports Complx (C.U.S.).

The Pecoraro Boys

Gabrielle on the left is a missionary in Madagascar, their dad and our outstanding OLB Gianmarco after the game.

Reunion Time

Jason Johnson and his bride Christie along with Matt Epperson made the trip down to Bergamo with their Swarco Raiders teammate Alex Hoad.  The drive from Innsbruck, Austria took about three hours and it was GREAT to see them.

During our BYE week next week we are planning on traveling through Munich and the Bavarian section of Germany before swinging down to Innsbruck to see them again.  It should be fun

Laurie Says:  When arriving more than two hours before the game, which is appropriate for warm-ups, etc., I found myself in the rain under an awning with the Lion's head coach and a few players, as well as Katherine Bakos, the girlfriend of a new Lions DB #32 Eduardo Baptista. Katherine and I (as the only women) struck up a conversation (imagine that!).  We got out of the rain in a small cafe attached to the stadium, where we passed the next hour and one-half.  Katherine, a delightful person, is from Brazil and has been in Italy for five months.  We had a wonderful time discussing our travels and football, which she is learning.  We then moved to the covered (thank goodness) stadium, where we set up camp.  Not long after the game began Christie, Jason, Matt and Alex, as George described above, joined us. After introductions, the conversation quickly changed to Brazil, as Jason had recently returned from Brazil, as you may know.  Another international co-inky-dink.

All in all a long day, with good football and good friends -- old and new.

IFL Week #4 Results

Bergamo 35 - Catania 21
Bologna Doves 26 - Reggio Emilia 19
Parma 14 - Ancona 0
Bolzano 29 - Milan 6

BYES: Bologna Warriors and Lazio

Bolzano Giants 4-0
Lazio Marines 1-0
Parma Panthers 3-1
Ancona Dolphins 1-1
Bologna Doves 1-1
Bergamo Lions 1-2
Reggio Emilia Hogs 1-2
Bologna Warriors 0-1
Catania Elephants 0-2
Milan Rhinos 0-2

NOTE: The top four teams at the end of the regular season will advance to the 2009 IFL playoffs in June.

Saturday, April 4
Bologna Warriors (0-1) at Catania (0-2)
Bergamo (1-2) at Lazio (1-0)

Sunday, April 5
Milan (0-2) at Ancona (1-1)
Bologna Doves (1-1) at Parma (3-1)

BYES: Bolzano (4-0) and Reggio Emilia (1-2)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

What, No Pictures?

Friday was a beautiful day to hangout at Malibu with your sweetheart, so we did.  Both the upper and lower patios were sun drenched so Laurie decided to work on weeding and trimming the various planter boxes while I got on-line to purchase airline tickets and make hotel and rental car reservations for our trip to Munich and Germany's "Romantic Road" between Rothenburg and Fussen in Bavaria.  We will spend five and one-half days in Germany during our first BYE week starting on April 5th.

We had a good staff meeting in the late afternoon to clean up some of our first game Special Teams personnel issues for this Sunday's game at Bergamo.

In the evening we met Peppe and Valeria for dinner downtown at "Ristorante Pagano" which is a great little seafood restaurant near the Judicial Building where Valeria works as a lawyer.  I am not sure what kind of law she practices but I hope it has something to do with prosecuting parking regulation violators and thus supporting the fine men and women of SOStare.

We discussed many things over the delicious fish, pasta and involtini dishes that we shared but their memories of last fall's trip to the west coast of the United States held center stage.  They wanted to again thank Mike and Sue D'Antuono in Altadena, CA and Mark and Susie Johnson in Seattle for their incredible hospitality.

On an "Epicurian Adventure" note, each table had about an eight plate Misto Bar sitting on it waiting for us to dig in.  It was almost a meal in itself.  The highlight for Laurie and I was our first forray into the world of tripe Italian style... we survived it and then attacked every other dish with joy in our hearts!

We had such a great time with them that I completely forgot to take the camera out of my pocket and take any photos.  Now that is something VERY rare for this blog, a post without pictures!  Thank you Valeria and Peppe for a GREAT dining experience with good friends!

We have our last practice before the Bergamo game today at 3:00 p.m., then it will be a VERY early wake-up call Sunday morning to fly to the game.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Of Cefalu', Santa Elia and Palermo

It's Thursday so we left Malibu at 9:00 a.m. to drive to Palermo for our 6:00 p.m. practice with the "West Coast" Elephants.  When we make these weekly trips, we make it a rule to try and visit something of interest on our way to the practice field.

First up today was the beautiful Tyrrhenian Sea coast town of Cefalu'.

Cefalu's Parking Lot "A"
Only 3 Euros for 12 Hours

My last trip to Cefalu' in June netted me a 36 Euro parking ticket for illegally parking on Piazza Garibaldi about 200 meters from Cefalu's brand spanking new, state-of-the-art, Uni-Story Overground Parking Structure that you see here.  We started the day with what I thought to be a wise economic choice!

Is it just me or does EVERY city in Italy have a Murphy's Pub?

Strong winds made waves explode into Cefalu's sea wall.

She guards the entrance to Cefalu's Duomo

The Golden Mosaic behind the Duomo's altar

Storm Surf

It was VERY windy indeed!

The Breakers got very close to us

Cefalu' can be a magical, romantic place

"Then our VW bus was attacked by a giant Vespa..."

From Cefalu' we proceeded west to the small fishing village of Santa Elia near Palermo.  Santa Elia is the ancestral home of our Sicilian-American friend Chris Pagliaro who will be visiting us in May with his friend Linda.  We thought that we would do a little advanced scouting for his trip.

Chris' stories about coaching in Italy years ago were one of the main reasons that I explored coming to Catania in the first place.  As stated in earlier blog posts, Chris was the Head Football Coach at Newbury Park H.S. in the 1960's and 70's and was an Assistant Football Coach at Santa Barabara City College for several years.

Chris Pagliaro

Italian football stories are not the only stories Chris likes to tell.  Back in California a bunch of us "Old Timers" meet about four times a year for pizza and adult refreshments to talk about anything and everything.  One of the younger coaches we invited a few years ago said it was a "Dinner with the Legends", so we now call it that.

Beyond a doubt, Chris is THE main story teller of the group.

Did I ever tell you about how Chris almost single handedly led Chicago's Austin High School Tigers to the 1952 Public League Championship?  At that time, Austin's 4,000 member student body made it the largest high school in the United States.  The highlight game of the 1952 season was the stirring 7-0 victory over arch-rival Lane Tech.

They played the Catholic League Champions, Mt. Carmel coached by future Notre Dame University Head Coach Terry Brennan, in the season ending Chicago Prep Bowl.  Unfortunately the Maroon and White came up a little short losing 27-14.

"Pags" freely admits that he had just a little help during this magical season from...

Abe Woodson
Chicago Austin H.S., Class of 1953

Seen here in his 1962 Topps NFL trading card, Chris' teammate at Austin earned a football scholarship to the University of Illinois, was the 15th overall pick in the 1957 NFL Draft and would go on to a nine year NFL career, seven seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and two with the St. Louis Cardinals.  Abe Woodson made five Pro Bowls and was twice named First Team All-Pro.

Santa Elia City Limits

When Chris told us that his family came from a small fishing village he did not say how small, the word "dinky" comes to mind.

The view down to the sea from the City Limits Sign.

The view of Santa Elia from Santa Flavia

I would categorize Santa Elia as the town where the local fishermen live and the harbor of the town of Santa Flavia, about 300 meters east of the Santa Elia City Limits Sign, where they ply their trade.

The Harbor at Santa Flavia

Santa Elia's Tyrrhenian Sea Coast

Santa Elia has plenty of satellite dishes to go around! 

Santa Elia's main Piazza

Santa Elia's favorite sons hanging out in the Piazza.

Hey, is that guy looking at us wearing an Austin H.S. vest?

The View from Santa Elia's Piazza

Going over our adjustments for the Bergamo game.

We only had five of the "West Coast" Elephants with us tonight as one has moved to Catania and another one was home with a fever.  We got some good work in that made the trip worth while.  The only bad note was that my passing arm was at it's all-time worst!

Another GREAT day in Sicily!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wednesday was the official start of the George and Laurie Contreras walks throughout Sicily.  We started our physical fitness craze with the gruelling 2 mile Malibu-Aci Trezza-Aci Castello-Malibu loop.  Oh the things we saw!

Painting the Boat

In Aci Trezza, as springtime nears, the sea coast is buzzing with workers painting their boats as seen here, as well as building Lidos for future sun worshippers.

Some used this glorious day to mend their nets.

The Luigi Rizzo

This noble sea craft has been in drydock since I first got here in January of 2008.  Not one thing on its charismatic hull has changed for the better in that timespan!

Check out the bracing underneath the middle of the hull.  Can't see it well?

No problem, here it is up close!  Sturdy, eh?

Laurie by Aci Castello's Castle

The Ionian Sea, once...

The weirdly shaped, natural base of the Aci Castello castle.

The Ionian Sea, twice...

The Ionian Sea, a third and final time!

Elefanti Mai Stanchi!

I felt as tired as this young fellow but at least I finished the loop without taking a nap!

Our Wednesday practice was again solid, I think we've bounced back well mentally from the Ancona game but Bergamo still looms on the very near horizon.

Easter Customs

Italy has its own version of the Easter Egg.

In the USA, we decorate hard boiled eggs and also purchase chocolate Easter Eggs the size of a real hen's egg.  In Italy the chocolate Easter Eggs range in size from a small football, in the 10 Euros range, to the top of the line ones the size of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome for about 60 Euros.

These Easter Eggs are hollow chocolate affairs with a small toy surprise inside that is related to the character on its wrapping paper.  Of course, this toy surprise is just small enough for the bambini to swallow whole.

They got them for the little girls.

They got them for the little boys.

Calcio Catania fans get one too.

Even Laurie's cat "Gattuso" (a.k.a., Bridgit) back home in Camarillo gets one!

On the Elephants' front, we had a VERY intense practice Monday night as we try to get our season back on course.  The competition in practice was at a fever pitch and that is what any team in any sport needs to improve.

Tuesday night's DVD study meeting of the Ancona game lasted for 2 1/2 hours and proved very beneficial on many levels.

Our opponent this week is the Bergamo Lions, who are the defending IFL Champions, so we are going to have to play MUCH better in order to keep up with the IFL's traditional powerhouse franchise.

We practice again tonight here in Catania and then we have a Thursday night practice in Palermo to get our teammates from western Sicily up to speed.

In our continuing search for the family roots of our Sicilian-American friends back in the USA, we plan to take a side trip on Thursday to Santa Elia, a small fishing village near Palermo and the ancestral home of our friend Chris Pagliaro who will visit Sicily in May.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

IFL Week #3 Results

Ancona 14 - Catania 12
Bolzano 40 - Bologna Warriors 20
Lazio 33 - Parma 26
Reggio Emilia 28 - Milan 7

BYES: Bergamo and Bologna Doves

Bolzano Giants 3-0
Ancona Dolphins 1-0
Lazio Marines 1-0
Parma Panthers 2-1
Reggio Emilia Hogs 1-1
Bologna Doves 0-1
Bologna Warriors 0-1
Catania Elephants 0-1
Milan Rhinos 0-1
Bergamo Lions 0-2

NOTE: The top four teams at the end of the regular season will advance to the 2009 IFL playoffs in June.

Saturday, March 28
Bologna Doves (0-1) at Reggio Emilia (1-1)

Sunday, March 29
Catania (0-1) at Bergamo (0-2)
Milan (0-1) at Bolzano (3-0)
Ancona (1-0) at Parma (2-1)

BYES: Bologna Warriors (0-1) and Lazio (1-0)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Assisi and Perugia

After a poor night's sleep due to anxiety over our loss to Ancona, we awoke to a beautiful sunny, but still very crisp, windless Sunday morning in Assisi.  I highly recommend the Hotel San Rufino-Il Duomo if you ever pass through Umbria, cozy, quaint, great location are a few of it's attributes.

How to start the day?  Why with a cappuccino and a marmalade cornetto of course but where?

Caffe' Duomo

We saw this nice little Caffe' on our walk Saturday night.  It was only 30 meters from our Hotel so we gave it a shot.

Partially Hidden Sign

When we saw this sign hiding behind a trash can by the front door, we knew we came to the right place.

A MUCH happier Laurie!

She is much sassier after her morning cappuccino!  We were now ready for a day of adventure and started our Rick Steves' "Walking Tour of Assisi".

Fascinating Wall

They just don't make them like this anymore.  The first thing you notice about Assisi is the typical medieval architecture, some as old as the 12th century, which adds to the romance of the city on a walk with your honey.

A Little Color, If You Please.

Many of these old homes have been spruced up with the addition of these colorful flower pots and in a few weeks this spring with the lively hues of their blooms.

Laurie taking a break.

The grass area on the left is the remnants of the Roman Amphitheater.  Many of the stones from this structure were recycled in medieval times into some of Assisi's buildings.

On the hill top to the right sits Rocca Minore, a small private castle... a PRIVATE castle?

Sometimes moss growing on your roof is a good thing!

It definitely makes you more photogenic on this typical Assisi street.

A View of the Backside of the Cathedral San Rufino

Rufino was Assisi's first bishop who was martyred and buried here in the third century.  Rufino, not Francis, is the patron saint of Assisi.

Francis is Italy's patron saint for now, Padre Pio is coming on strong and could take the honor away from Francis much like Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego eventually was changed to Qualcomm Stadium.

Entering the Cathedral San Rufino

Rufino was martyred for his faith by having a huge stone hung around his neck and then drowning as it pulled him into a hearby Chiascio River.

Before you enter the Cathedral, built in 12th century Romanesque style with a Neoclassical interior, you get to see this statue of a lion about to bite off the head of this tasty Christian.  If that didn't want to make someone join the Catholic Church what would?

Cathedral San Rufino's Baptismal Font

In 1182 this exact old baptism font was used to welcome a baby boy into the flock, one Francesco Bernardone.  Francesco was the son of a wealthy local cloth merchant who today we know as St. Francis of Assisi.

As a youth, Francis was handsome, intelligent and well dressed.  A natural born charmer, as a teenager he used his powers to their maximum in nights of wine, women and song.  Things would change soon...

The Flying Buttresses of the Basilica di Santa Chiara 

This Basilica, Umbrian Gothic in style, is dedicated to St. Clare or Santa Clara in Oxnard, California where Mike and Vanessa will wed this summer.  St. Clare founded the Order of the Poor Clares.  St. Clare was a follower of St. Francis' message of a simple, pious life style.  St. Francis himself welcomed her at age 18 into a life of poverty by cutting her hair and giving her a simple brown tunic to wear. 

A Wax Figure of St. Clare

In the Basilica, St. Clare's remains lay under this wax figure.

The View of Umbria from outside Basilica Santa Chiara

At the bottom of this picture you can see the olive trees that the Poor Clares have tended since the 1200's.

To the right is the Basilica di San Francesco.

Gorgeous Umbria serves as a background.

A little time to let our weary legs rest

Here with Laurie as she tries to imitate St. Clare's basic look of the saints last 40 years of life.

The Piazza Comune

Assisi's main square, the church in the background was in Roman times the Temple of Minerva.

Wait is that the face of Chuck Conners, "The Rifleman", miraculously oozing out of this wall on Piazza Comune?

Getting ready for spring

St. Francis
Continuing on the life of St. Francis, this statue in front of his Basilica, depicts our hero as he returns to Assisi in a very depressed state from the Crusades because of a dream in which Christ tells him to leave the army and go home to await another dream.

The view from the front of the Basilica di San Francesco

The Basilica di San Francesco

I graduated from St. Francis High School in La Canada-Flintridge, California in 1965.  I thought it best NOT to go for the illegal trifecta today in here.

The Giotto frescoes were fantastic but the religious highlight was the underground tomb of St. Francis.  We bought two candles at the tomb, one for each of our two sons.

Having finished our tour of Assisi, we decided to drive about 25 minutes to the nearby town of Perugia famed for its vibrant college town atmosphere and CHOCOLATE!
SURPRISE!  When we got there we found a huge festival occurring in the old hill top town complete with bell ringers from all over Italy with portable bells of all sizes.

BIG Bells

Note the wooden brace on each man's shoulder to keep him from losing his balance and getting hit, and probably killed, by a bell.

Medium Bells
The man sitting down is ringing all of these bells except for the bigger one in the middle.

Hammer Time!

The Bell Ringer's Union hard at work!

The guy on the left is working solo on this "keyboard" attached by ropes to the bells while his Union brothers critique him.

I wonder if they have a Project Labor Agreement?

Will she someday be the first to cross what appears to be the strict male only code of the Bell Ringers?

Laurie couldn't resist a shot at the bells!

To hear these Bell Ringers at work go to the three vlogs at the bottom of this post.

The view from Perugia, that is Assisi on the hillside in the distance.

Assisi at Sunset

Outside of the Taverna dei Consoli

I had the Tagliatelle al Tartufo Nero di Norica (pasta with black truffles) while Laurie opted for the Stringozzi Umbri al Carciofi.  Her dish is named after the style of pasta that resmbles the cords poor people used to strangle priests who extorted sky-high tithes!

Both dishes were outstanding!

The countryside on the drive back to the Adriatic Sea coast.

As I said, it snowed Saturday night in the Apennine Mountains

Small Sized Bells

Medium Sized Bells

Quasimodo Sized Bells

Laurie says:  Assisi was a delightful little town in every way, but as many of you know, it's hard to keep up with George.  He did let me have breaks while we walked the steep hill streets and I have found muscles I hadn't felt in years.  I am sure I will  be sore for days, but it was worth it!