Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Grand Old Blanda Makes Final Pass

I collected primarily baseball cards as an adolescent. They were, in some respect, my closest friends during those unsure and impressionable years. But a pack of football cards regularly found its way into my shoeboxes. Along with my bubble gum–scented diamond heroes, I equally cherished gridiron icons such as Bob Griese, my pitiful pre-Vermeil Eagles, and, heretically for a Philadelphia-area boy, my favorite player, Roger Staubach—most of them holding ridiculous poses for the lazy and unimaginative photographer. But one player in my football-card collection filled me with wonder: George Blanda. He sat in profile, head somberly in hands, a river delta of creases flanking his eye, and, most curiously, more silver in his hair than on his vaunted Oakland Raiders jersey. How could a man that old still be playing professional football? I had probably seen him kick field goals or extra points during a televised playoff game, but his helmet obscured that aged coif, so Blanda never achieved memorability on screen as he did from my football card.

In those days before the Internet, and even easily accessible sports encyclopedias, I gleaned virtually all of my sports knowledge from the reverse side of trading cards, where the statistics were listed and proved each player’s greatness or mediocrity. George Blanda’s fascinated me. His statistics went all the way back to 1949! How was that possible? Wasn’t that, like, right around World War II? I’d never seen so many rows on the back of a trading card. There was no room for the player’s standard capsule description. So many rows, in fact, that Topps didn’t even have space for his biographical information. This Blanda had no equal—not even the Kansas City Royals Lindy McDaniel, whose reduced-sized print went all the way back to a medieval 1955. But the Forties! Ancient Blanda surely must have played against Red Grange, the only black-and-white football legend of whom I was aware.

But wait—the front of Blanda’s card surreally denoted that he was not only Oakland’s kicker, but its quarterback as well! I knew he wasn’t the Raiders’ starter, because I counted my fellow southpaw, Ken Stabler, among my favorite players, but this silver-haired geezer played quarterback and kicked? Blanda was some kind of superman, even if I couldn’t ascertain his passing statistics from the back of his card, which only displayed his ungodly kicking totals. In actuality, not a superman—Blanda had merely been “elected King of the World” by Raiders radio voice, Bill King, a few seasons earlier, after a remarkable five-week run of second-string heroics achieved with both arm and leg. Several years elapsed before I realized that the multi-positional Blanda was the last of a dying breed—even spending part of his early career as a linebacker. It took a few more years until I learned the history of the AFL and that Blanda had led the Houston Oilers to its first two championships in the upstart league.

Despite his success in the AFL and his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Blanda never won a Super Bowl, set the all-time record for interceptions thrown, and was quickly being pushed down prestigious career lists by beneficiaries of an increasingly pass-oriented NFL. Yet, for me, the silver-haired man with his head in his hands and stats that almost ran off the bottom of his football card retains a powerful aura as a player of unique toughness and resiliency.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Dub Didn't Sound Like the Hub...and There's the Rub

Earlier today, I stumbled across Los Infiltrados (The Departed) on my local Spanish channel. Virtually any film is going to lose punch when it's dubbed in a different language, even this high-octane Martin Scorsese nail-biter. Unavoidably out-of-sync dialogue is distracting, and, more importantly, the dubbers are merely reading words off a page, which sterilizes the characters' emotional nuances.

But these are inevitable drawbacks in bringing programming to those who can't speak English.

What really irked me about Los Infiltrados was that the dubbers made absolutely no attempt to record their Spanish dialogue in a Southie accent. The essence of the film lay in its working-class South Boston setting and overtones—Irish cops versus the Irish mafia, both of whom came out of the hardscrabble section of town. Yet all of that is lost for Spanish-speaking viewers who can only understand the Los Infiltrados version.

For example: when Costigan defends himself to Costello in the pub: "Frank, look at me. Look at me. I am not the fuckin' rat. Okay? I am not the fuckin' rat..." all you hear is the dubber's Spanish-accented Frank, mirada en mí. Míreme. No soy el fuckin' rata. ¿Autorización? No soy el fuckin' rata...

Had the dubber understood the craft of dubbing, he would have read Costigan's line as Frahnk, mirahdah ahn mí. Mírahme. No soy ahl fuckin' ratah. ¿Autahizaciahn? No soy ahl fuckin' ratah.

That would have captured the flavor of a Southie cop. Instead Costigan sounds like Zorro arguing over the check...

Admittedly, I watched very little of the Spanish channel's version of The Departed, but they did a such a poor job of capturing it's all-important Southie sentiment that I can only assume its non–English-speaking viewers thought the film was a Weekend at Bernie's–type resort flick set in Cancún. Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if the film's main musical theme, the Dropkick Murphys' "I'm Shipping Up to Boston," had been re-cut by a mariachi band.

I can only shudder at the thought of how the film came off over Norwegian television...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Eagles Golden Anniversary Missed Golden Opportunity

Honoring the 1960 Eagles during halftime of the season opener against the Green Bay Packers—the very franchise it defeated a half-century ago for the NFL championship—was a classy tribute to the last Philadelphia squad to win an NFL title. For many older Eagles fans, saluting the surviving members of the only team to vanquish Vince Lombardi’s juggernaut of the 1960s likely eased the frustration of fifty years that have seen more agony than ecstasy. And to cheer such storied legends as Tommy McDonald, Pete Retzlaff, Norm van Brocklin, and Chuck Bednarik afforded an awed thrill for those too young to have enjoyed an Eagles championship first-hand. Yet although the fiftieth-anniversary celebration oozed style right down to the 1960 old-timers’ kelly-green blazers, it was missing something: Like the Philadelphia Phillies had the late Tug McGraw and Mike Schmidt re-play their victorious leap of 1980, why didn’t Eagles management bring out Chuck Bednarik and ex–New York Giant Frank Gifford to midfield at halftime and reenact the infamous hit that became the iconic image of that championship season? That moment encapsulated the toughness and mettle of the 1960 Birds, and Bednarik fist-pumping over a concussed Gifford is what everyone remembers. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie couldn’t cough up some wallet-sized kelly green to coax Frank Gifford down the New Jersey Turnpike and take one more clothesline from an 85-year-old Concrete Charlie? What better way to recall the glory of 1960?

(Photo of current Eagles at midfield copyright Philadelphia Eagles.)