Sunday, February 28, 2010

Valentine's Day Dinner XXVIII


Saturday was another big day on the jam-packed Contreras Social Calendar! The day, in order, included a Senior Moment, a.k.a. a Brain Fart, a family lunch and, in the evening, Valentine's Day Dinner XXVIII.

We'll go in reverse, alphabetical order according to height.

VALENTINE'S DAY DINNER XXVIII

For the past 28 years, we have gotten together with three other couples with University of Washington ties that live in Southern California and have been our friends since our 1960's undergraduate days in Seattle.

The concept is simple, each year on a rotating basis, we meet at the home of one of the couples. The designated hosts then prepare the meal and may or may not opt for a theme for the evening. Some years we have even been summoned to the feast in costumes befitting the evening's theme. Thus I have attended as Friar Tuck, a Viking and even as Cuban band leader Ricky Ricardo! Laurie of course was Lucy that last evening, I think you get the idea.

Over the years the make-up of this group has had one major change when original members Jon and Lee Kadletz moved to Seattle about 15 years ago. We've even had a guest when Mark Johnson joined us one year. Last year when I could not attend because I was in Sicily, it was "No Problemo", as Laurie just attended as a solo.

Although it was almost two weeks after the official and date fixed Valentine's Day on February 14th, our dinner is more like Easter, it could happen at any time of the year that the spirit and circumstances dictate. The important thing is that it just keeps happening every year, even if the designated hosts forget that it was their turn to host it which actually happened one year!

This year's theme was "Bavaria" based on our hosts vacation this past year in Germany, Austria, Hungary and Slovakia. We were promised a night of sausage, sauerkraut, pastry, beer and some real toe-tapping polka music.

We were not disappointed.

Peter and Sherlyn Claridge

Peter, a Wide Receiver by trade back in the day, is better known by all who love him as simply "Spear". He and Sherlyn are warm, good-hearted people. Spear's sense of humor and passion for all things Husky make these annual meetings a real treat!

Joanne and Paul Sabolic

I only know two people who claim to be of Croatian descent. They are both named Paul. Coincidence or conspiracy???

But I digress, Paul was an offensive lineman in college who brings Husky pride to a more intense level than anyone I know except Jon Kadletz of course.

They would later win the Bavarian trivia contest based largely on Paul's encyclopedic knowledge of German beer companies.

Watching Paul and Joanne interact is a treat. Again, great people to have as friends.

What the . . .

Did you really think that a "No Costume" clause on this year's invitation would stop Laurie?

I spared no expense on my T-Shirt that disappeared seconds after this photo was taken.

Susan and Mike D'Antuono
Our Hosts

Fun people and good cooks as it turns out. They are the ones who came up with the idea of the Valentine's Day Dinner all those years ago. They continue to be both the historians and driving forces behind our annual soirees.

I could tell you an epic tale about Mike when he was a wrestler at the UW and he went up against eventual Olympic Medalist Rich Sanders of Portland State . . . but that's another story for another time.

Humble and down to earth are phrases that come to mind for this couple.

These two have become an excellent source of reading material for me over the last few years. Last night they gave me two more books to enjoy.

The first title is "The Final Four of Everything". It is a list of 32 "team" NCAA basketball tournament style brackets paring things down to a highly debatable "winner"on some REALLY funny things like movie gunfights (The Wild Bunch over The Lady from Shanghai in the Finals), Jewish Baseball Players (Sandy Koufax over Hank Greenberg, tough fielding 62 other names here I suspect) and sexually inadequate nicknames (Dennis "The Worm" Rodman more inadequate than "Wee" Willie Keeler) amongst many, many others.

The other tome they gave me was "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" by Sweden's Stieg Larsson. A great mystery set in Sweden they claimed, surely a natural for me given my impending trip to Hässleholm. When we got home last night I started reading it.

I'm hooked.

Get these four together let the good times begin!

". . . we stand on guard for thee!"

Spear was born in Canada but is now a naturalized U.S. citizen. The dinner talk got around to the Vancouver Winter Olympics that are winding down this weekend. As we discussed how both the USA and Canada were enjoying their best ever medal counts the topic of Sunday's USA vs. Canada Gold Medal Men's Ice Hockey Game came up.

Here Peter starts an impassioned oration that may rank up there with "I had a Dream" and "Ask not what your country". He dazzled us as he told of his love for his new homeland and everything American. He got more emotional as he discussed his pride in our country and its many positive benefits and accomplishments. He built to a deafening crescendo, had us on the edge of our seats and then shocked us all by declaring that he was going to root for Canada on Sunday because he knew how important that Gold Medal was to "The Old Country".

He had us. We spontaneously broke into a rousing chorus of "Oh Canada", the outstanding Canadian National Anthem. We were in a Canadian frenzy, eh?

As we finished probaly the only other National Anthem that any of could sing from start to finish, we gave Peter an "Atta boy!" and then declared our fervent prayer that Team America would win the Gold.

Dinner consisted of all kinds of sausages with a variety of mustards that were out of this world. The food was indeed great but the friendship was even better.

Boob Bib

Each table setting included a bib with a Bavarian theme. The men's bibs were tame while the lady's bibs were of interest.

WHAT A NIGHT!

MID-DAY TOUR STOP

Earlier in the day we drove to South Pasadena for lunch at "Gus's Barbecue" established in 1946. There we met my two sisters, aunt and mother for a "Farewell Tour" stop.

Linda, Laurie and Marilyn

Is that a palm tree in Linda's Bloody Mary?

Our mom, Chuny Contreras

Marilyn, her hat and our aunt
Katie del Cueto

Downpour

As we came out of Gus's, it was POURING rain so we decided to duck into the the Fair Oaks Pharmacy which is more eclectic sales and soda fountain than pharmacy.

That's where we found . . .

". . . I do not know"

Back at Casa Contreras in San Marino

We enjoyed a couple of hours of family talk as we said our goodbyes before leaving for Sweden where I plan to pick up a new accent.

TOUR STOP SENIOR MOMENT

Finally, I need to correct an omission on my comments in Saturday's blog post about the beginning of "The George Contreras Farewell Tour, Year III".

This past Thursday night we had dinner with Rod and Helen Fujita and Brian and Koreen FitzGerald at "Lucerne Northern Italian Ristorante".

INCREDIBLE food and another night of fun.

I think that the food coma that I was coming out of was the reason I "brain farted" in momentarily forgetting to post about another fine night of camaraderie.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Farewell Tour Year Three


Well, it is starting up again, "The George Contreras Farewell Tour, Year III". In these last few days before I fly to Copenhagen and then take the train to Hässleholm, I go out with all of my family and friends to say our goodbyes.

It started last weekend with our visit to Andy and Jenn in Las Vegas.

On Friday, I had breakfast with fellow Rio Mesa H.S. retiree, Dick Bellman, at Eggs and Things in Camarillo, baby sat young Dylan for his mom, Cyndy and grandmom, Debi Murphy and then headed down to Los Angeles for lunch.

I was meeting two of my University of Washington friends who were driving up from Orange County as we decided to meet at a restaurant half way between us.

Where Else Would We Want To Meet!

Backroom Stools

I got their first, about 30 minutes before them, so I sequestered myself in one of their small, empty back rooms. I thought it was better for me to stay out of the mainstream of the hundreds of noontime patrons and the busy main dining area while I waited. The sawdust on the floor just adds to the ambience.

"Table for Three, Please"

Philippe's has been in business since 1908. I sat and wondered how many people have come through their doors and sat at tables like these with family, friends and business partners to have a great meal at an L.A. institution?

Counter Worker Reporting for Duty

All of Philippe's workers wear these tan uniforms, act professionally and, in some cases, appear as if they have been working behind the counters for most of the past 102 years.

Loren Brucker and Clyde Werner

Finally, Loren and Clyde arrived and it was, of course, French Dips for everyone!

Loren was my roommate in college and played DB for the Huskies as well as being an outstanding catcher for the UW baseball team.

Clyde Werner
#54, Kansas City Chiefs LB pressuring
San Francisco 49ers QB Jim Plunkett

Clyde was a tremendous athelete! Besides his obvious skills in football, Clyde was a great track athlete as well. Throwing for Tacoma's Wilson H.S., he won the 1966 Washington State Championship in the Shot Put with a heave of 62 feet, 9 inches.

In the fall of 1966 when Clyde arrived at the UW for his Freshman year, I was a Sophomore. In those days Freshmen could not play varsity sports. As a result, they played only a short 4 or 5 game schedule against other Freshman or J.C. squads. This also meant that they did not report to school until school started which was about a month after the rest of had started the grueling two-a-days in August.

I had heard about Clyde as was the cornerstone of the 1966 recruiting class for the Huskies. The first time I saw him was when he was pointed out to me in the lobby of the Neptune Theater on 45th Street just off of University Avenue.

Honest to God, I took a quick glance outside to see where his blue ox Babe was tied up! Clyde was wearing jeans and a plaid flannel Pendelton shirt and I thought for sure that my friend had mistakenly pointed out Paul Bunyan, not some UW Freshman named Clyde Werner.

It turned out that Clyde was indeed a great UW football player (2nd Round pick by the Chiefs in the 1970 Draft) and track athlete but more importantly, he was a great teammate and a better person.

We had a really good time as our lunch lasted for about two hours as we swapped stories and discussed all of our current maladies.

Actually, Clyde was down from Washington to take part in a three day research study funded by the NFL to see how over 100 ex-NFL players are progressing as they hit their 50's and 60's from both a physical and a mental health aspect.

Fortunately, he seems to be in just as good health as Loren and I were, i.e., creaking but working.

The only thing missing was Mark Johnson, but he refuses to go to Philippe's anyway so what the hell . . .

GOOD TIMES INDEED!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hässleholm Hurricanes Pursue Impact Linebacker


The Hässleholm Hurricanes' Uffe Palmbrink has made it official.

The 'Canes will spare no effort or expense to sign Sweden's 2010 Olympic Biathlon Gold Medalist, Björn Ferry, to be the cornerstone of an improved defense in the upcoming SAFF campaign.

Björn Ferry

No one is sure if Ferry has ever seen an American football game, much less played in one.

All of the coaches and front office personnel for the Hässleholm eleven believe that this is the right path for the team to take at this time based on the "THEY SAID IT" piece in the just released March 1, 2010 edition of Sports Illustrated.

When asked about his preferred disposition for athletes caught using performance enhancing drugs, Björn Ferry responded:

"I would dish out the death penalty in doping cases. Or at least lots of kicks in the balls."

With this mind set, Björn Ferry will soon be known as the "Swedish Dick Butkus" if you ask me!

It is not known yet if the Swedish American Football Federation rules will allow Björn to wear a rifle strapped to his back during games as he is accustomed to in the biathlon.

Hope so, it would certainly add to his mystique!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Las Vegas Weekend


Saturday morning, Laurie and I drove out to Las Vegas to see Andy and Jenn and their two English bulldogs, Blitz and Dooley, one last time before I fly off to Hässleholm.

Our trips to Nevada are not the usual "What Happens in Las Vegas Stays in Las Vegas" vacations. Our weekends are definitely more family and food oriented.

With this in mind, the visit started off with Andy dropping a bombshell on me . . .

DIET Ironbeer

Now it needs to be noted that Ironbeer is the "National Soft Drink of Cuba", a.k.a., the old country to the Contreras family.

Along with Communism, revolutions and cigars, Cuba is known for its cane sugar. Now I always thought that the cane sugar was always grown specifically for the Ironbeer company. Lots of sugar in Ironbeer, kind of like Jolt Cola on steroids.

The Diet version of Ironbeer tasted OK for a diet drink but, come on, it is just not right in the face of years and years high octane Ironbeer history and tradition. I finished my one can and swore on my Father's grave to NEVER, EVER do it again!!!

I'm a purist at heart.

On Saturday night, Jenn and Andy combined to make a delicious breaded pork loin dinner. The weekend's caloric in-take was off to a splendid start.

We made dinner at home Sunday night, Italian of course, as we watched the U.S. Men's Olympic Hockey team's stirring 5-3 victory over highly favored Team Canada. What an upset, eh?

Snow on the mountains surrounding
Las Vegas

Monday morning we all went out to breakfast at Freudenberger's Original Pancake House in the Aliante Station Casino. It was a beautiful day but it was only 47º F. (8º C.) with a brutal wind chill factor that must have dropped the temperature down into 30's!

Meanwhile, Uffe Palmbrink, the Hurricanes' President informed me that southern Sweden is going through the worst Winter in over 30 years! It has snowed for the last 24 hours and the temperature there as I write is 26ºF with a wind chill of 17ºF.

I'm definitely packing a sweater for the trip.

Three hugry people waiting to chow down
at the Aliante Station Casino

After a great breakfast and goodbyes, Laurie and I decided to endure the extreme weather conditions and stop on The Las Vegas Strip to visit a couple of the major casinos.

Chinese New Years celebration at the Bellagio

This is the Year of the Tiger in the Chinese calendar and we are smack dab in the middle of their two week New Years celebration so the Las Vegas casinos on the Strip are making the most of it.

Very colorful indeed.

Cool Bellagio Lobby Horse

Maybe not up to Leonardo's Horse in Milan but impressive nonetheless.

The Bellagio has an unlimited budget for
Dale Chihuly's fantastic glass art.

The Las Vegas Strip

Can you guess which one is the Paris Casino?

Laurie with the northern part of The Strip behind her

Interesting but we decided not to go in

Caesar's Palace

The Caesar's Palace Forum Shops

I've just spent the better part of the last two years living in Italy, why am I taking pictures of these knock-offs?

We escaped with Laurie only spending $10 on a shawl . . . WHEW!

Chocolate covered Bacon

Two of my favorite food groups together at last!

It was for sale in the Bellagio, I should have but I fought off the temptation somehow.

Why did I do that???

The Temple at Segesta, Sicily

The February 21, 2010 Los Angeles Times
Sunday Travel Section's lead article
"Sicily Then & Now"

When we arrived back home in Camarillo, we found this great article on Western Sicily. It brought back some very fond memories but I wish they would have focused at least a little on Catania and the East Coast of this great island.

Click here for the entire article:


The Frank Glazier Football Clinic


In January of 1988, Laurie and I flew out to Atlanta, Georgia to attend the American Football Coaches Association's Annual Convention.

I only remember two things about our week in the Peach State without looking at my notes. The first was getting snowed in at the Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport when we were trying to return home to California. We just got our car turned in to the Hertz people after driving from downtown at about 5 mph on Interstate 85. As we deposited our bags and checked-in, they closed down the airport due to the coldest, snowiest weather to hit Atlanta in 25+ years. Nothing beats sleeping on the floor of an airport with a few thousand new friends!!!

More importantly, I remember picking up a flyer at the Convention about something called a Frank Glazier Football Clinic. Apparently they were big on the East Coast but I had never heard of it before. Their clinic in Pittsburgh in February of 1988 intriqued me.

Now at this time, most clinics limited a speaker to about one hour, just enough time to whet your appetite for his subject but never enough to fully develop the topic. What caught my eye about the Glazier Clinic flyer was that each speaker had THREE hours to get his points across. Also, George DeLeone of Syracuse University was going to talk about "Defending the Wing-T". This was a topic that was important to us and one that I had never heard anyone discuss on the West Coast.

I asked the Westlake H.S. Booster Club for money to send Dan Murphy, my Defensive Coordinator, and me to Pittsburgh for five days and they said yes.

Once in Pittsburgh and after getting on the Pennsylvania Turnpike by mistake, about a 30 mile mistake that is, we finally checked into our hotel and the clinic. It was there that I first met this jovial, rotund man with a mighty coach's whistle and voice to match named Frank Glazier. He was just a wonderful ambassador for the game who had been putting on great clinics for several years.

Dan and I were so excited about the clinic and the incredible format that on the last day of the clinic we looked Coach Glazier up to tell him what a great clinic experience we had had. We also talked to him about coming to Southern California because we thought his format would be greatly received.

In February of 1989, Coach Glazier did indeed bring his clinic out to Irvine, California and the rest, as they say is history! The Glazier Clinic has been held in the Irvine, Costa Mesa, Long Beach area every year since.

A great memory for me was Coach Glazier seeing Dan and I at that first SoCal clinic. He gave us a warm welcome and thanked us for the idea of expanding his clinics to the West Coast. Unfortunately, Coach Glazier passed away a year or two after this . . . GREAT GUY!!!

I talked to one of the young men running the Glazier Clinic in Costa Mesa this past weekend about expanding the clinic one more time, this time to Europe. He seemed receptive, we'll see.

2010 Frank Glazier Football Clinic
Costa Mesa, California

I arrived at the clinic early and had a chance to talk with some people before the crush of 2,000+ coaches hit the scene.

It was great to see some old friends and some newer ones since I have not been able to attend a clinic the last two years because of the much earlier departure date for Sicily.

Among the acquaintances I renewed were Tim Hartnet of Bakersfield Highland H.S., Pete Carrion of Contreras H.S., Ron Hamamoto of San Diego Lincoln H.S., Jack Fogarty of Vally View H.S., Cliff Farrar of Buena H.S., George Pascoe of Marina H.S. and Ray Medina of Bonita H.S. amongst others. GREAT TIME!!!

Gary Tabke on the left

Gary is the President of LinemenInc Camps. They put on skills camps for high school linemen. We had a nice talk about having them also come to Europe for a camp, I think it would go over big.

Sales Booth

Part of every clinic is salesmen trying to sell you every conceivable piece of football related equipment to make your program even better in 2010.

In about another hour this hall will be packed with knowledge hungry coaches!

The clinic started Friday afternoon and would finish at mid-day Sunday morning. I could only be there on Friday because Laurie and I were driving out Saturday morning to Las Vegas to see Andy and Jenn.

The Glazier Clinic did not disappoint me.

I started my day by listening to UCLA's Tim Hundley speak on
"UCLA's Tackling and Turnover Techniques".

Next up was Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo's Bryan Cook speaking first about
"Base Run and Play Action Schemes in the Spread Option"
and then on
"Creating Balance and Explosive Plays".

The big deal of the day for me though was the evening sessions with Gordon Elliott of Auburn H.S. in Washington. He talked for three hours on
"The Jet Sweep from Multiple Double Wing Formations",
"Complementary Running Game for the Double Wing Jet Offense" and
"Play Action Pass from the Double Wing Jet Sweep".

Coach Elliott was most illuminating and has really made me re-think my plans for our offense in Sweden. The things he is doing could be a great addition to the Hurricanes' attack this season.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Small World of Swedish Football and My First Trip to IKEA


I LEAVE FOR SWEDEN
TWO WEEKS FROM TODAY!

The process for this adventure officially started yesterday as I made the decision to travel to Europe a little lighter this year by shipping the majority of my belongings to Hässleholm by boat. This is an old Paul Petrich trick that The Travel Channel also recommended, so I decided to give it a shot.

Uffe Palmbrink, the Hässleholm Hurricanes President, got me in contact with California Shipping located in beautiful Stanton, California. They work primarily shipping cars, motorcycles and small boats to Scandanavia and Australia. For a fee, they will ship my gear as well.

Magnus Karlsson
Göteborg Marvels, Giants and Mustangs

Magnus, a Swede, runs the yard at California Shipping. We struck up a conversation and he asked why I was shipping things via boat to Göteborg, Sweden. When he found out that I was coaching an American football team in Hässleholm his eyes lit up and away he went.

Magnus, it turns out, played American football in Göteborg for three teams over the years, the Marvels, the Giants and the Mustangs.

Marvels . . . cool nickname!

When I went in to speak with the very charming Emelie, also Swedish and the secretary in charge of the office, she informed me that Magnus had given me a substantial discount on the shipping price that Emelie had quoted me over the phone.

The small world of Swedish American football is a good thing indeed!!!

Rusty the Car

California Shipping sends hulks like this 1930's Coupe and the 1940's Hudson across the way to collectors and fixer-uppers.

On the way home, I drove north on the 405 San Diego Freeway. As I approached the City of Carson, to my right a gigantic Blue and Yellow beacon caught my eye and I just had to pull off the Freeway to, for the first time in my life, visit an . . .

IKEA!

HUGE!

I took a tour of this three story home furnishing palace and have decided to go crazy here when I come back from Sweden. Great looking, comfortable furnishings at very reasonable prices.

I had been told that in their cafes they sell Swedish food like meatballs and I was hungry, shocking I know. I approached the cafe ready to try some delicious delicacies only to find that they sold only two Scandanavian favorites . . . hot dogs and pizza?

I passed.

Salvation!

Next to the Hot Dog Stand they did have a nice variety of Swedish foods and drinks.

Take Home

After checking out their wares, I settled on just a few simple things.

Sweet, delicious, Svensk Hällakaka which is soft Arctic bread.

A jar of awesome Sylt Fläder & Apelsin which is orange and elderflower marmalade.

Knäckebröd Flerkorn is a multigrain crispbread that goes great with the marmalade.

I opted for a box Kakor Havreflarn, sweet oat cookie crisps. You have to have dessert after all.

The lady at the counter asked if I wanted a bag to carry my new goodies, I said yes and for only 59 cents I had my very own IKEA bag!

WHAT A DAY!

"Plötsligt i Vinslöv"???

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Hail the Conquering Hero!


On Friday night at Ric's, a restaurant in Camarillo, Scott Fujita hosted a party upon his return from the Super Bowl XLIV in Miami.

Have I mentioned that his New Orleans Saints won the game?

Many would like to raise Scott
to heroic levels

But he is really still just a down to earth,
fun loving fellow.

Scott had to greet a lot of people at the door!

Joe Vitt, Saints Linebacker Coach

About 150 people were invited in part because of Joe Vitt.

Joe has been Scott's LB Coach for most of Scott's NFL career, first with the Kansas City Chiefs and now with the Saints.

When Scott took the microphone to say a few words he relayed something that Joe Vitt had told the team one day. His words of wisdom were simple but unique, he told them to play for the name on the BACK of their jerseys, i.e., their family and friends back home who loved them when nobody else would.

In his words, Scott tonight was saying a BIG THANK YOU to the people from his hometown that have indeed supported him for the past 30 years in good times and in bad!

I used to be 100% against names on the back of jerseys, too much about the individual. Now, with this new perspective, I'm not so sure anymore.

Laurie, Helen and Isabell

Michael Ornstein

Michael is a marketing agent who works closely with the NFL and Sean Payton, the Saints Head Coach.

We struck up the typical dinner party chit-chat and he eventually asked me what I did. After responding with the coaching American fooball in Italy and Sweden answer he said that at the Super Bowl he had been asked by the NFL office to find a pair of tickets for two Italians, none other it turns out than Catania's Peppe and Nino Strano!

SMALL WORLD INDEED!!!

Mike, Scott and Vanessa

Friends for 30 years now

A slew of great guys who Scott grew up and/or played football with in high school.

It was good to see some of these people who I had not seen in a few years.

Mike and Laurie

Laurie sporting Mike's replica Super Bowl XLIV jersey.

Vanessa talking with Jerry Springer

At least I think it was Jerry . . .

Everyone appears to be having a good time!

Laurie scores an autograph!

Scott was excited to add the "SB XLIV CHAMPS!"

It seems odd to have Laurie ask for an autograph from someone whose diapers she used to change . . .

JUST FLAT OUT PROUD OF
AND HAPPY FOR HIM!!!

Katie and Chris Nielsen

Two great people!

Scott's Dad, Rod, and I both coached Chris at Thousand Oaks H.S. in the early 1970's and Chris coached with us when I was at Westlake H.S.

Brian Ford, Rod, Jess "Take a Knee" Ortiz,
Helen and Laurie

LE BON TEMPS ROULE!!!