Monday, December 28, 2009

Weekend Updates

The post-Christmas weekend was a full one that featured a stunning feat, a stunning upset and a great movie experience.


On Saturday morning we had planned on going out to breakfast with Andy, Jenn, Mike and Vanessa before Andy and Jenn drove home to Las Vegas. Unfortunately, Andy was not feeling too well so we opted for the traditional Contreras Pancake Toss and Feast.

It was at this point that Mike decided to attempt what was always believed to be the impossible. . . the feared Double Pancake Flip!

To this point, the Double Pancake Flip was only a dream that even Evel Knieval never attempted. Mike, for some strange reason, felt sure he could pull off this incredibly dangerous stunt. It would require precise, pinpoint accuracy and timing on my part as well as his.

With Laurie, Vanessa, Jenn and Andy esconced at a safe distance, we went for it!

This historic photo will forever simply be known as
"The Flip"



No, not the New Orleans Saints (13-2) losing their second game in a row to the Tampa Bay Bucaneers (3-12) 20-17 in overtime. Although that was definitely not a good sign as the playoffs neared.

No, I'm talking about a monumental game that was played in Somis, California while the Saints were going down in flames.

I challenged Mike to a game of football at his home at halftime of the Saints game.

First, the game's location had to be determined as two Christmas presents stated their case for hosting the titanic struggle!

Choice #1
Vibrating Football

This venue was a Christmas present to Mike from his Brother-in-Law Carlos. Luxury Suites, Fine Dining, Field Turf, it has all the bells and whistles except one, the human element.

Coaches have no control over the players, it is like having Randy Moss, Chad Ochocinco AND Terrell Owens all on your team at he same time, EVERYONE just does their own thing EVERY PLAY!!!

As a coach I just could not accept Vibrating Football, a.k.a., Electric Football's lucrative offer to host the game.

Choice #2
Big Game Football

Now this is more my style and a great Christmas gift from Laurie. Check out the uniforms and the kid's hair who is playing this game, AWESOME!!! Definitely a natural grass field with H-shaped goal posts!

Total control of each play, now we're talking! Big Game Football it is.

The game? In a game of international implications. I was coaching the Hässleholm Hurricanes of the Swedish American Football Federation while Mike opted for the Catania Elephants of the Italian Football League since he was wearing a Fundo Bianco sponsored Elephants T-shirt.

Of course we had a mandatory Passport check before the game started and that's when we found out that Catania had indeed suited up three import players, QB Jason Johnson, WR Matt Epperson and DB/RB Larry Atkinson. The Elephants would be the explosive, high wire act that we thought they would be!

The Hurricanes of course had no imports which is the rule at our level in the SAAF. We would have to use our Double-Wing offense to eat up the clock and keep the Elephants' offense on the bench watching the game in order to win.


The game was being played in Sweden and we were sure that the cold weather would affect the boys from sunny Sicily as the game wore on.

Amazingly, Catania took the opening kickoff and relied mostly on their running game to control the clock with a 16 play drive! Even though Catania ran the ball 12 times (Enrico Lombardo 30 yards) on this drive, the key plays were Jason Johnson passes to Gregorio Barbagallo (15 yds.), Lucki Camarda (15 yds.) and Matt Epperson (20 yds.). Fortunately, the Hurricanes dodged a bullet when the Elephants' drive stalled and they missed a chip shot Field Goal.

The first quarter ended with the game still tied, 0-0.

The Hurricanes first drive was a 6 play affair that saw them turned back when they took a page out of the Bill Belichick playbook and went for it on 4th and 1. The result? A 2 yards loss!

Catania was off on another drive that resulted in an Andrea Mannino 24 yard Field Goal, Catania 3 - Hässleholm 0.

Hässleholm shocked the house with a 20 yard pass play from QB Andreas Nilsson to WR Alexander Lilja on their next possesion, but the drive ended with a punt.

Johnson quickly hit RB Roberto "Sweetness" Paderni with a 35 yard strike to get Catania deep into Hurricane territory. Fortunately for the Hurricane's, DL Jonas Grip recorded his second sack on the last play of the half to keep the Hurricanes close.

At the half, Catania 3 - Hässleholm 0.

The Hurricanes started the third period with a 7 play drive but had to punt the ball away.

On Catania's first play, a bone jarring hit by LB Rasmus Grip forced a fumble that DB Kalle Nordström recovered.

Eight plays later, the Hurricanes returned the favor after Catania LB Gianmarco Pecoraro forced a fumble that fellow LB Salvo Sicali recovered.

Catania went for the jugular with some trickeration on first down as Matt Epperson connected with Claudio Mangano on a reverse pass good for 57 yards and a TD! The PAT was no good, Catania extended their lead to 9-0.

Hurricane RB Pär Jönsson broke a 40 yard run to end the third quarter.

After three quarters, Catania was cruising 9-0, but Hässleholm was still hanging around!

On the first play of the 4th quarter, RB Pär Danielson took the double handoff on the Criss-Cross Reverse and scampered 40 yards for a Hurricane TD! The PAT was good as Hässleholm cut Catania's lead to 9-7.

The Elephants then responded with a magnificent 53 yard TD pass from Johnson to TE Peppe Strano to end a 5 play drive. The PAT was good as Catania extended their lead to 16-7.

On the ensuing Catania kickoff, the god Odin intervened. Mannino's kick hit Hässleholm's Frank Hilgers in the Hurricanes' front line and the ball ricocheted to his teammate Olof Sävard. Olof picked up the ball as the Catania kickoff squad over ran the ball. Sävard rumbled 50 yards to paydirt for the craziest kickoff return for a TD I've ever seen. You can't make this stuff up!

The PAT was good, Catania 16 - Hässleholm 13 but time was running out.

Suffering from the combined effects of cold weather, biting wind and too much smoking, the Elephants were "3 and Out" on their next possesion and punted on 4th and 3.

On 2nd and 12, the Hurricanes went back to the Criss-Cross Reverse and this time it was RB Linus Jonsson covering the final 33 yards for the go ahead TD. The PAT was good and the Hurricanes took their first lead of the day 20-16 with less than a minute left in the game!

On the last play of the game, Catania's Johnson hit Strano with a 7 yard Hook and Lateral pass that was about to be lateraled to Epperson with nothing but beautiful green grass between Epperson and a miracle, Boise State-like TD. Fortunately for the Hurricanes, veteran LB Uffe Palmbrink hit Strano just as he was about to lateral to the wide open Epperson forcing a bad pitch that hit the ground where hustling DB Marcus Lundquist fell on the ball thus securing one of the greatest upsets in European American football history!

Final Score: Hässleholm 20 - Catania 16

Mike was depressed to lose his first game as a Head Coach and I had mixed emotions due to my feelings for the players on both squads. I'm sure that the travel and cold, blustery weather plus a bit of overconfidence all helped the Hurricanes but we'll take it!!!

I know that Jason would want to know his passing stats, so here they are:
11 for 13, 175 yards, 1 TD, 0 Interceptions,
2 QB Sacks for -14 yards


Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes

After the big game, we loaded up the Chrysler LHS as Mike and Vanessa joined us as we drove to Thousand Oaks to see this just released movie.

After getting over the shock of paying $11 per ticket, I think they were only $5 each the last time I went to the movies, we settled in to watch the 2 hour, 14 minute opus to our hero in crime detection and deductive reasoning.

It should be noted that I have always been a huge Sherlock Holmes fan. When I first visited London I was sure to take the Tube to the. . .

Baker Street Station

The little "dots" that make up Sherlock's profile are mini-profiles of Sherlock as well.

A Statue of the Great Sleuth
above the Baker Street Station

Getting closer to his digs. . .

221b Baker Street on the left

Sherlock's living quarters

You can even unwind at his Pub!

I highly recommend the Sherlock Holmes Ale and their Shephards Pie!

As for the movie, Robert Downey Jr. portrays Mr. Holmes as a combination of Basil Rathbone and Jackie Chan as he and Dr. Watson (Jude Law) basically battle Mephisto to save the entire English speaking world.

Quite a departure from the traditional Holmes but we really enjoyed it and gave it four very enthusiastic thumbs up!!!

Now we prepare for New Year's Day. We are just having way too much fun this Holiday Season.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

2009 L.A. Times Editor's Choice Travel Photos

Today the Los Angeles Times Sunday Travel Section published their 2009 Editor's Choice Travel Photos of the Year.

According to the article, over 5,000 reader entries were submitted that had to be whittled down to their Top 100, no easy task I'm sure!

I am more than a little proud to announce that my trusty 7.2 Megapixels Sony Cyber-shot camera struck gold with a picture I submitted of the Mercat St. Josep in Barcelona, Spain.

They ranked this shot at #95 on their 2009 Top 100 Hit Parade! YAHOO!!!

For the full story and a chance to view all 100 Travel Photos click on:

"The Mercat St. Josep"
Barcelona, Spain

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Day 2009

It was just a BEAUTIFUL Christmas Day in Camarillo as the Holidays continued!

Mr. and Mrs. Contreras x 2

This would be the last sighting today of these people in anything resembling normalcy.

Exhibit A:
"A Charlie Brown Christmas"

The boys are now the proud new owners of a
1954 Wilson Franks
Ted Williams Baseball Card

They are only the third person to own each card in the last 55 years!

Miguel Contreras Learning Center
Cobra Pride!

Thanks to Contreras Head Football Coach Pete Carrion for coming through with these great hats and sweatshirts for Christmas!!!

Ruby Red Slippers door stop

Laurie loves The Wizard of Oz so this was a perfect gift!

Swedish Fish?

There seems to be a Swedish theme this year for some reason.

VERY strange indeed

Sweet Potatoes
THE main dish for me at Christmas Dinner

My sisters Linda and Marilyn

They both make the Holidays a little more special for me.

Cuban Cigar Humidor

AWESOME! Thanks Lorenzo!!!

Mike and our niece Lauren

The zaniness of the day turned just a little serious, Lauren is working on becoming an Elementary School teacher and is taking the classes that Mike just finished.

Mike is passing on his notebook to help her through the difficult and, at times, confusing California TPAs that all new teachers must pass in order to earn their teaching credential.

Mike D'Antuono sent this CD via my Mother

There's that Swedish theme again. . .

My Aunt Katica, Vanessa and
my Mother Chuny

Once again a SUPERB day!!!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve 2009

Christmas Eve saw us taking our traditional drive to Orange County for gift exchanging, games, caroling, food and friendship at the home of our In-Laws, David and Gayle Hicks.

It is also an excuse for a group of relatives to act as goofy as they want for an afternoon and still please everyone! Although we all tend to complain about Gayle's annual series of games and singing of Christmas carols before the fact, we seem to leave their home each year a little closer as a family with decidedly warmer hearts.

Two Goofy Souls

Craig McKenzie, cousin Lyndsey's husband, and Mike are kindred spirits.

Thank goodness I only get to wear this shirt once a year!

Our Hosts the Hicks

Gayle, Laurie's sister, and Dr. David

The Hicks Kids
Scott, Amy, Tim and Lyndsey

In January Tim and his Dad are going on a two week medical mission to the northern area on India! It should make for some fascinating stories the next time we get together.

Madonna and Child?

Santa Craig

Craig gladly accepted the role of Santa Claus and did a splendid job handing out the gifts.

My nephew Tim's gift to me

My first ever bottle of Svedka Vodka straight from Sweden! I could get used to this beverage.

Andy with his Star Wars Christmas
Darth Vader bobble head doll!!!

Is it possible to be any happier?

Grandpa Bill with his hand painted
Rotary International plate

Laurie and Gayle found it together for their Dad when we were in Caltagirone, Sicily last Spring!

Christmas Present of the Decade!

Lyndsey had asked all of us to send her pictures of all of Bill's children, grandchildren and spouses to use in this interesting "Family Tree" frame.

I have watched Bill open Christmas presents for the past 45 years and it is safe to say that in his mind this is the best one he has ever received!

Christmas Charades

Gayle's Yule Time Game of the Year this day was charades with an obvious Christmas flavor.

The group was divided at random into two competing teams and soon were doing friendly battle.

Unfortunately for our side, Laurie was one of our teammates. She of course could not keep quiet and blurted out the correct answer for our opponents on not one or two but THREE occasions!

This morning before leaving Camarillo we happened to talk about Laurie's only foray into the world of theater, her junior high role as Christmas Future in The Christmas Carol. This role is a non-speaking one that requires only the ability to make a long sweeping motion of you arm to show Ebeneezer Scrooge another glimpse into what the future has in store for him if he doesn't change his ways.

If you know Laurie at all, you realize what a stretch of her artistic talents this role calls. . . playing a mute character for about five minutes! IMPRESSIVE

When it came time for me to pull a a charade prompt from the basket, wouldn't you know I drew the book/movie title The Christmas Carol!

Easy, right? I just pointed at Laurie and made the necessary long sweeping motion with my right arm to which Laurie promptly yelled out "HORIZON!" and then "LANDSCAPE!". . . now there are two words that always pop up in any Christmas discussion. Finally, after switching to a Tiny Tim charade our team correctly surmised my clues.

The relationship between Laurie and I will never be quite the same again.

Tim and Amy caroling to their hearts delight

Amy's beau Brian is left to wonder.

All in all,

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dinner at Pascucci

I have come to the realization that one of the great pleasures in life is helping people who can't help me.

If you are a regular follower of this blog, then you are aware that I absolutely love the cherished memories of our time coaching football in Sicily and look forward with great anticipation to our upcoming adventures in Sweden.

Because of these feelings, I get a big kick out of helping players and coaches find out about what great times await them overseas and giving them a leg up on how to find employment on a European team.

Usually this happens by phone or e-mail but I really enjoy meeting with the Seniors at local colleges and the occasional one on one meetings like the one we had last night.

Ed and Ginny Barnett on the left

Last night Laurie and I met with Ed and Ginny Barnett in Santa Barbara for dinner at Pascucci, an Italian restaurant on upscale State Street. They are very interested in coaching football in Europe in the near future after Ed retires and they had lots of questions.

We had a great three hour (how very Italian of us) meal as expected and were able to discuss the fine points, both positive and negative, about spending six or seven months living abroad.

Ginny and Laurie exchanged many ideas about a wife's role in the experience while Ed and I talked about the football side of things. Together the four of us explored the non-football cultural, travel and housing side of things. While I believe that we answered all of their first round of questions, we have already agreed to meet again soon once they digest all of the information they received last night.

I think some wine tasting in the Santa Maria area will be included as well. . . AWESOME!!!

Ed has been an outstanding football coach at both the high school and now junior college level. He is currently the Defensive Coordinator at Hancock College in Santa Maria.

NOTE TO ALL EUROPEAN TEAMS: When you get the chance a year from now, hire this guy! His passion for the game and ability to teach are just what every team is looking for in an import coach.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Cooking Italian

Sunday night we had Mike and Vanessa, as well as our niece Lyndsey and her husband Craig, over for our favorite, a homemade Italian dinner!

Craig and Lyndsey live in San Jose, a five hour drive from Camarillo, and were spending the night at Mike and Vanessa's home before driving another 90 minutes south to be with their families for the Holidays.

The main dish would be Mostaccioli pasta this evening!

Here I'm cutting tomatoes as I prepare the sauce that will elevate the Mostaccioli to the culinary bliss that I learned in Catania from the many Master Chefs who masquerade as the parents, wives or girlfriends of Elephants' players.

Sweet Italian Sausage, a MUST, on the right

Sauteed vegetables simmering on the left.

Group Shot

Craig and Lyndsey are between me and Laurie.

Laurie sets a MEAN table!

Mostaccioli ala Aci Castello

Here's to you Al Tubo!!!

Alert Guard Cat

Taking no chances with visitors in the house, Bridget stood watch over the Christmas presents!

Final High School Football Weekend

This past weekend marked the final games of the year for high school football.

Per chance I tuned in to live coverage on Friday afternoon of the Florida State AAA Championship Game in Orlando's Citrus Bowl Stadium between the 13-1 Pensacola Tigers and the 11-3 Belen Jesuit Wolverines out of Miami.

This game, that I completely stumbled upon, had a little bit more special meaning than most for two reasons. First, Belen Jesuit ran my beloved Delaware Wing-T offense and secondly, my Father, Jorge, graduated from Belen Jesuit!

Their logo says ". . .since 1854 . . ."

But the City of Miami had only been chartered in 1896 and my Father was born and raised in Cuba, how could this be his Alma Mater?

The Wolverines

Let's face it, Wolverines would really not cut it as a team nickname in Havana where my Dad went to high school.

So what is the story?

Belen Jesuit's Havana Campus

Like all things Cuban, the answer was simple . . .
Fidel Castro of course!

In 1961 due to Castro's revolution, Belen Jesuit picked up stakes and moved to Miami to further their goal of educating Cubans who were now gathering in their new homes in Miami!

In 1960, the last time my Dad took the family to Cuba, he took me to Belen to see this awesome campus, I was really impressed at the time to say the least. Today his old campus is the Cuban equivalent to our West Point Military Academy.

In an ironic twist to this story of Catholic education in exhile, it should be noted that Fidel is himself a Belen Jesuit graduate! Fidel was born eight years after my Father, so they did not know each other in their youth. They both are also alumni of the University of Habana.

The University of Habana Indians, now there is a nickname!

Oh, by the way, despite my cheering, Pensacola won a very hard fought game game 28-7.

Meanwhile back in California. . .

California was also hosting its version of "State Championship Games" somewhat akin to the NCAA's BCS madness.

Why the quotation marks you ask? Simple, unlike Florida that holds a Championship Tournament, California has opted for four years now to hold season ending Bowl Games.

Some background on our state's situation is needed at this point. California has a total of 1,475 high schools who are members of the California Interscholastic Federation (C.I.F.), the governing body for high school athletics in the Golden State.

As the term Federation implies, the state is broken down into ten autonomous geographic Sections that are definitely not equal in size. The two smallest Sections are Oakland with six schools and San Francisco with 12 schools fielding athletic teams.

The Southern Section, of which Rio Mesa H.S. is a member, is the largest Section by far with a whopping 576 schools.

It is up to each Section to hold its own playoffs to determine its champions. In Oakland and San Francisco it is basically determing a league winner, while the Southern Section holds football playoffs in 15 divisions including two 8-man divisions.

When all of these Sectional playoffs are concluded, over 50 Section champions have been crowned.

Then, on a Sunday morning after the last playoff game is played, the ten Section Commisioners lock themselves into a room to decide which of these 50+ champions will be selected to play in the four enrollment based Bowl Games plus the one Open Bowl between the perceived two best teams in California regardless of enrollment. The Commissiners will decide who earns the chance to call themselves "STATE CHAMPION" if they can win one more game!

These Bowl games to be played at the Home Depot Center in Carson, pit a Southern California team against a Northern California team in each case. If the two best teams are both in the same half of the state, it is just too bad.

Talk about the potential for politics and hair splitting.

New Catania Elephants coach Mel Galli's Mission Bay squad went 13-0 in the San Diego Section playoffs but did not get chosen. Locally, Westlake H.S. was also not able to parlay their 14-0 Championship season into state gold.

Who made it to Carson and how did they do?

Small Schools
Modesto Christian (15-0) 44 - Francis Parker (12-2) 40

Divison III
Gardena Serra (15-0) 24 - Marin Catholic (13-2) 20

Division II
Servite (14-1) 33 - Rocklin (14-1) 30

Division I
Oceanside (14-0) 24 - Bellarmine Prep (11-2-1) 19

Open Division
De La Salle (13-2) 28 - Crenshaw (14-1) 14

Two games live on TV Friday and the other three on Saturday. All five were GREAT games to watch featuring very evenly matched teams and high drama but I still would like to see a true playoff instead of annointing State Champions by committee to a large extent.

Kind of like my stance on the BCS isn't it.