Monthly Archives: February 2015

Good News Friday: The longest hockey game ever raises millions for charity. Kenny G and Warren G duet on Kimmel? Sure! And a Lauren Hill update, she’s still alive and fighting cancer.

And a Happy Friday to you all, it’s almost March which means two incredibly exciting things in my world: 1, March Madness is almost here (yay!), and 2, winter is almost over.

Three more stories/videos to brighten your world today, whereever you are:

First, remember the incredible story of Lauren Hill, the women’s college basketball player at Mount St. Joseph’s (Ohio) University? As a high school senior last year she was diagnosed with a diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG, which is a rare tumor that destroys brain cells and squeezes off vital functions.

It is inoperable, there is no known cure, and doctors told Hill last summer that she likely only had months to live.

To help Lauren live out her dream of playing college hoops at least once, Mount St. Josephs and the NCAA allowed the team’s season opener to be moved up to November 2, and the video of Lauren scoring a layup is enough to bring tears to the eyes of the most hardened cynics.

After that wonderful moment, it seemed likely that tragically the next time we’d hear about Lauren is when she passed away.
But here we are in late February and there Lauren was Tuesday night, celebrating the season-ending banquet with the team, and despite, as this news story says, “her face bloated due to steroid treatments and barely able to hold her head up,” she signed autographs and jerseys. (The part with Lauren’s interview starts around 2:15).

What an incredibly brave, wonderful woman. Of course this story will end in tragedy, but how wonderful and uplifting that she’s still fighting, still inspiring, long after medical science believed she could.

**Next up, Jimmy Kimmel puts together wildly different musicians to perform one of their hit songs on “Mashup Mondays,” and this past Monday night was awesome.

Hat tip to my friend Scott for pointing me to this; Warren G and Kenny G (yes, that Kenny G, the saxophone dude) singing the Warren G and Nate Dogg classic “Regulate.”

I mean, do you think these two G’s have ever been in the same room before this? They’re not even in the same musical universe.
And yet, the song still works.

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**Finally today, the longest hockey game ever played happened last week, and it wasn’t the Stanley Cup playoffs or a college game.

No, the longest game ever played lasted 246 consecutive hours, was played in Alberta, Canada, and raised money for the Alberta Cancer Foundation.

Two hundred and forty-six hours of hockey. That’s incredible. That’s more than 10 days’ worth of the greatest sport on ice. You know how many line changes that is, how many icings? How many offsides? Man.

As of early Monday afternoon organizers said $800,000 had been raised. The goal for the charity event is $1 million.

Can’t think of a more fun way to raise money for charity than playing hockey forever.

 

Michael Sam seems to want it both ways, and that disappoints me. A girls basketball game where both teams tried to lose on purpose. And Bill Maher, as right as rain about pot’s continued criminalization

New Orleans Saints v St. Louis Rams

Let me start by saying how much I admire Michael Sam, the first openly gay player drafted by the NFL.

He showed great courage in coming out when he did, he’s handled the media attention with class, and I sincerely hope NFL GM’s get past their squeamishness and give the man a real shot to make a roster this year.

So I’m firmly in Sam’s corner, 100 percent, and think he’s a great role model for young gay athletes.

But I gotta say, I cannot for the life of me understand why, as announced Tuesday, Michael Sam is going to be a castmember on “Dancing With The Stars” this spring.

Since he came out of the closet, Sam has said over and over again that he just wants to be a football player, nothing else. Hell, just last week he wrote this heartfelt essay in Sports Illustrated, talking about his NFL dreams and working out so hard for the chance to be a pro player.

Yet twice now, he’s tried to be something else. First last year before training camp when he’d agreed to let Oprah’s production company do a reality show at Rams training camp (thankfully that was nixed.)

And now, during the NFL offseason when he’s hoping to get signed, he agrees to be on a dancing show that usually stars washed-up TV personalities (Suzanne Somers) or C-list celebrities.

What does that say to an NFL team who wants to sign Sam? To me it says he’s a guy who’s more interested in being famous than making a roster.

I don’t know, maybe Sam has his reasons for doing “Dancing With The Stars.” Maybe they offered him a lot of money, maybe he thinks he can still train for football and practice his samba.

But it just seems so counter-productive to his professed true goal. This show is another obstacle in his way, and Lord knows he doesn’t need any more of those.

**Next up, the great Bill Maher took on one of his (and mine) favorite issues on his show Friday night: The sheer ridiculousness of pot use being criminalized to the extent that thousands of non-violent pot users are in prison right now.
Maher’s jumping off point to this was Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz admitting (gasp!) that they may have toked once or twice.

This is a very funny clip, sure, but it’s ridiculous that we’re still criminalizing people for marijuana use in 2015. Maher’s right: Obama has stepped up on a bunch of issues the past few years, let’s see him and the new A.G. (whenever she finally gets approved) step up on this.

**Finally today, here’s something I’m not sure I’ve seen before in high school sports: Two girls basketball teams, in a district tournament game, both trying really hard to lose on purpose.

Tennessee’s Riverdale High and Smyrna High played a District 7-AAA consolation game last Saturday, with the winner having to face powerhouse Blackman High in the semifinals of the Region 4-AAA playoffs.

Neither team wanted to play Blackman, and the losing team would go to the other side of the bracket and not have to play Blackman until the finals, by which point both Blackman and its opponent would have qualified for the state playoffs.

So given those facts, the coaches from both teams instructed their players to lose on purpose. That’s right, intentionally shoot at the wrong basket, desperately try to make turnovers, take intentional backcourt violations… you name it.

It was a farce, a true embarrassment, and after Smyrna “won” the game, the state athletic association disqualified both teams from further postseason play.

I mean, this is HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS, what kind of values and morals and sportsmanship are you teaching your players when you tell them to miss on purpose?
The great David Climer of the Tennessean newspaper (where I interned in the summer of 1996, and absolutely loved the city of Nashville) wrote a terrific column about this mess.

Among the worst Oscar shows ever, but the speeches were great. And a brilliant commercial starring Jesus and his marketing guys

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Wow. Well, that Academy Awards show Sunday night … existed.

Man. I really thought Neil Patrick Harris would be great, fresh, new and different, the quality of movies this year was great, and, well, shouldn’t the Oscars be entertaining every year?

But sheesh, that was not a good show. At all. Thank God for a bunch of fabulous acceptance speeches. Graham Moore, urging kids to “stay weird” and admitting he tried to kill himself at 16. Laura Poitras, winner for the Snowden movie “Citizenfour,” preaching about the incredible importance of truth and transparency in government.

Common and John Legend (sorry, Lonnie Lynn and John Stevens, and how weird was that hearing their real names called?) with a blow-the-doors-off muscial performance, and then a powerful speech about racial inequality.
Julianne Moore on Alzheimers, Eddie Redmayne being so humble and grateful… the speeches were about the only thing memorable about this show. And that so many of them were about issues of the day (I almost forgot Patricia Arquette’s great shout-out for women’s equality) made them even better.

Otherwise … meh. Not a great show. Some more thoughts on what’s usually one of my favorite TV shows of the year:

— When Neil Patrick Harris was announced as host, you just knew the opening would be a lavish musical number, and it was. I thought it was great, and I’m thrilled that one of my biggest Hollywood crushes, Anna Kendrick (it’s OK, the wife loves her too) got to be a part of it. Really creative use of old movies. The rest of NPH’s grade? I’d give him a C. Some of his jokes scored (loved the Jason Bateman joke about child stars, and his appearing onstage practically naked at one point was very funny), other jokes fell really flat (the seat-filler interviews, and the running gag about his Oscar predictions being locked up got old really fast).

–“Boyhood” got screwed. I knew it would going in, and I’m still pissed. I haven’t seen “Birdman” yet, I’m sure it’s very good and all, but come on, “Boyhood” was a revolutionary, ground-breaking type of movie. You have to reward that, don’t you?

–Fashion thoughts, from the wife (mostly): Reese Witherspoon’s dress and hair were great, Jessica Chastain made a very poor choice with her un-form fitting dress, and Nicole Kidman looked too washed-out. Also, on the men’s side, visible swooning was heard from her when Idris Elba and Chris Pratt appeared on stage.

— The LEGO movie musical number, with Tegan and Sara and Questlove and handing out LEGO Oscar statues? Loved it. Very clever and funny.

–Actual conversation between the wife and I during the Steve Carell “Foxcatcher” clip:
Me: “I can’t believe the guy who played Produce Pete on “The Daily Show” is nominated for an Oscar.”
Wife: “I can’t believe Channing Tatum is in a scene with a person nominated for an Oscar.”
Me: “Well-played.”

–The John Travolta/Idina Menzel thing was laugh-out-loud funny. One of the few truly comedic highlights.

— So happy that “Citizenfour” won. Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald did outstanding work on the Edward Snowden revelations, truly important work that exposed the lies and deceit of our government (I wrote about Greenwald’s book on Snowden and his involvement after reading it last  year.)

— JK Simmons was the first big winner and his speech was overshadowed by the later great ones, but it was still sweet. Instead of thanking his agent and a million other people, the career background character actor thanked his wife, and his kids, and told everyone to call their parents. Simple and sweet, perfect.

— Finally, the Dead People Montage: Always a highlights. Was really surprised Robin Williams didn’t get “the hammer” and be the last person remembered, but Mike Nichols was a directing legend and he definitely deserved it.
And great to hear Jennifer Hudson’s pipes again, but whatever happened to her acting career?

**Finally today, I saw this last week and thought it was exceptionally clever. A Canadian company called 1One Productions filmed this spot starring Jesus Christ at his regular marketing meeting, where his “team” created a stunt that would guarantee his immortality.

I loved this. I’m sure some will consider it blasphemy, but I think it’s great.

Good News Friday: A couple married 81 years shares their secret. Wisconsin football shaves heads for pediatric cancer kids. And the 109-year-old man who knits sweaters for penguins

Still buzzing and the heart rate is just getting back to normal after that amazing Duke-Carolina game Wednesday night. Man, if that doesn’t make you love college basketball, nothing will. Also wanted to point you to a story I read Thursday that does the impossible: Makes you feel sympathy for Alex Rodriguez. The great J.R. Moehringer spent six months in A-Rod’s inner circle, and the result is this incredible story for ESPN The Magazine. I urge you to read it.

I’ve been married twice, for a combined total so far of five years. My parents were married for 21 years before divorcing, and my grandparents were both married for more than 50 years each, which blows my mind every time I think about it.

Fifty years? With the same person, every day? Sounds like a miracle. But Dale and Alice Rockey, of Missouri, have the longest marriage I’ve ever heard of, and the longest current one in the United States.

These two lovebirds have been together for 81 years. EIGHTY-ONE! Lee Cowen of “CBS Sunday Morning” had this beautiful short feature on the Rockey’s last week, and it made me smile numerous times, especially when Dale … well, just watch it, I don’t want to give it away. But I about teared up near the end…

Eighty-one years. Amazing.

Badgers

**Next up on Good News Friday,  I love stories like this, stories of athletes doing a simple thing to make kids happy. Nine members of the University of Wisconsin football team have, for the second year in a row, voluntarily shaved their heads to raise money and show support for pediatric cancer patients at American Family Children’s Hospital in the state.

The cancer patients also got a free pizza party and a tour of Camp Randall Stadium (look how cool that photo above is, how much fun is that kid having?)

Very cool. Good job, Badgers.

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**Finally today, loyal reader Sanford sent this to me last week, and I just think it’s pretty adorable.

A 109-year-old Australian man named Alfie Date has been knitting clothes for penguins on Phillip Island to help prevent them from swallowing oil while cleaning themselves (there was recently a big oil spill there). If these little penguins swallowed oil, they could die.

Alfie’s been knitting in his aged-care facility since he arrived, and he and hundreds of others are knitting jumpers to help save the penguins.

Morgan Freeman would be so proud.

Alfie is the oldest man in Australia, in case you were wondering.

 

I go to one last Rangers-Islanders game at the Coliseum, and it’s awesome. A Simon and Garfunkel-themed video to help you deal with snow. And it’s Duke-Carolina day, a glorious day

 

NassauColiseumWhen I was a boy growing up in Commack, N.Y., on Long Island, Nassau Coliseum was a huge deal.
It was “our” arena, where we went to see the circus, or the major concert you really wanted to see (I took in Paula Abdul, New Kids on the Block, and Billy Joel, among others, there), or the indoor soccer game, or basically, any big event.

It was an “event” to go to the Coliseum; you’d be excited all day, and it seemed huge to me, driving up Hempstead Turnpike and seeing this giant spaceship-looking structure that looked so out of place amid the strip-malls and banks and hardware stores.

You walked in, and you felt something special was going to happen. Never more special than when I went to a Rangers-Islanders hockey game. My Dad took me sometimes, friends took me other times, but it was always fantastic.

The fact that I rooted for the visiting team made it even better; most of the crowd rooted for the Isles back then; in the 1980s they were the biggest sports thing going in New York.
I’d cheer my heart out for the Rangers, endure the horrendous “1940” chants (the last time the Blueshirts had won the Cup, as we were always reminded), and have the time of my life, as the roar of the crowd rang in my ears for days.

Then … I grew up. I started to go to lots of other pro sports venues, including hundreds as a sportswriter. And I realized … the Coliseum was a dump. The hallways are incredibly cramped, the building is dark and dirty, it’s really hard to get to, transportation-wise, and it’s antiseptic-feeling.

Just about every other arena I went to seemed better than the Coliseum, and millions of others agreed. For more than a decade the Islanders owner, Charles Wang, tried to get a new Coliseum built, but for reasons way too complicated to get into here, he failed.

So finally, Wang made a deal to move the Islanders to the beautiful new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, which is great for the team (free agents often cited the crappy Coliseum as a reason not to sign), great for people like me who live in NYC and love hockey, but not as great for LI fans who’ve stuck with the team for decades.

So even as I felt myself being glad the old barn was going to the graveyard, I watched a few Rangers-Isles games on TV this season and felt nostalgic. The crowds are back, they’re loud, and for all its faults, the Coliseum has some of the best sightlines of any hockey arena, anywhere.

I decided I needed to say goodbye to the old place, where so many childhood memories were forged. Monday night one of my oldest friends and the biggest Islander fan I know went with me to the penultimate Rangers-Islanders game at the Coliseum.

It was, in a word … un-freaking-believable. The game was nuts, a 6-5 thriller won by the Rangers. The crowd was as loud as any I’ve heard live, the dueling “Let’s Go Islanders,” and “Let’s Go Rangers” chants still echoing in my head 24 hours later.

We had great seats right behind the net, we saw two great comebacks, lots of highlight-reel goals, and it was a night I didn’t want to end.

The Coliseum is rocking on its way to the grave, and it makes me very happy, even though I hate the damn Islanders.

As my sneakers stuck to the floor on the way out, I smiled and looked around.

I really am going to miss the old barn.

**Next up, the whole East Coast has been struggling through a pretty awful winter, with snow and freezing temperatures.

Well, sometimes the only thing to help you deal with winter is to make a cool video set to a classic song.

That’s what some people in Winnipeg did last year (and believe me, those people know from winter).

My awesome mother-in-law sent me this and it cracked me up; hope it gives you some relief before you put your mittens on and go shovel some more. It’s called “The Grounds for Violence,” a play on “The Sounds of Silence.”

And if you’re reading this in a warm-weather climate… have some empathy for us, will ya?

**Finally today, it’s Duke-Carolina day, which is always cause for celebration in my life. It seems like it’s super-late this year, as they haven’t played yet and it’s February 18, but that just means the anticipation has built up even more than usual.

I say it every year in this space and I’ll go to my grave believing it: It’s the greatest rivalry in sports. You can have Yankees-Red Sox, Ohio State-Michigan, USC-UCLA, Packers-Bears, and Bruins-Canadiens. Give me Jeff Capel with a half-court heave to force double-OT, Jamison and Carter dunking all over my Blue Devils, Laettner and Montross going at it … it’s just the best. And yes, the above video gave me chills watching it, as it does every year.

Tonight should be extra-special as it’s first Duke-Carolina game since Dean died; I’m sure there’ll be a wonderful pre-game tribute to a man who helped make the rivalry so special.

Duke’s the better team on paper this year, but that never matters in this rivalry.
Duke. Carolina. Nothing better.

ESPN’s new movie about the Soviet hockey powerhouse is awesome. Gatorade turns 50 and re-releases famous ad. And the most creative and brilliant fan protest ever

Toward the end of the fantastic and illuminating new ESPN 30 for 30 movie “Of Miracles and Men,” a Soviet journalist covering the epic USA-U.S.S.R. 1980 Olympic hockey game was asked what kind of a story he wrote on the event.

“Nothing special,” he replied. “Just that they lost.”

Elaborating, he comes up with a perfect metaphor: If a young boys grows up dreaming of kissing Sophia Loren, then one day finally does it, he runs around telling everyone for the rest of his life that he kissed Sophia Loren. But does Sophia Loren remember kissing that boy? Of course not. It was no big deal.”

This is part of the genius of Jonathan Hock’s movie, which traces the rise of Soviet hockey from the 1940s until the classic 1980 “Miracle on Ice.” To Americans, that game will live forever as a wonderful underdog story. To Russians, it’s just an unfathomable loss that’s painful to speak out, even three decades later.

And that’s one of the many takeaways of the film: In interviewing all the key Russian players from that era (Slava Fetisov, Boris Mikhailov, Vladislav Tretiak, etc.) you can tell how much the loss still hurts. These guys trained 11 months a year, year after year, to become a robotic, unstoppable machine on ice, to never, ever lose. And for many years they didn’t lose, embarrassing everyone they played.

They were a machine, but they had zero fun, which is why watching the Americans play with such joy and freedom at Lake Placid was jarring to them.

The best parts of the movie come when stars like Tretiak (the goalie who was inexplicably pulled after one period in the Miracle on Ice game) talk about the final moments of the shocking Lake Placid loss, and when Mikhailov, the best and most heartfelt interview subject, reflects on what life was like when they got back to Moscow.

Fetisov, who later became a trailblazer by leaving the Soviet team and joining the NHL, is the emotional center of the film, literally going back to Lake Placid 30 years later to try to recapture memories of the loss.

It’s funny, there suddenly are two new movies from the Soviet hockey perspective of Lake Placid; a documentary called “Red Army” has just been released, too.

I haven’t seen that one, but “Of Miracles and Men” is well worth seeing, showing us that the Russian players were far from the “Evil Empire” we have in our popular imagination.

“Of Miracles and Men” will air again on ESPN2 tonight (Monday) at 11:30 p.m., and Saturday morning at 8. It’s well worth going out of your way to see.

Much like “The Americans” does, “Of Miracles and Men” has me sympathizing with Russia during the Cold War, not an easy task.

 

**Next up, I’ve never been a big Gatorade fan, but I am a fan, as you know, of awesome, iconic commercials that you remember decades later.

The “Be Like Mike” ad certainly fits the bill; for their 50th anniversary Gatorade has “digitally re-mastered” the spot that made Michael Jordan even more famous than he already was.

It’s OK, you’re now going to be humming “Sometimes I dream …” for the rest of the day like I am.

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**Finally today, this story is a couple weeks old but it’s so obscure that I feel confident you will not have seen it. It’s possibly the greatest and most clever fan protest I’ve ever seen. (I first heard about it on NPR’s “Only a Game.”)

A first-division Polish soccer team named Zawisza Bydgoszcz is having a rough season; they’re in last place and at one stretch lost 10 consecutive matches.

Their fans were pissed, but they didn’t just put bags over their heads or write angry letters to the local newspaper.

No, they did something so much better: After a recent loss they broke into the team’s home stadium and left 15 wooden coffins on the field. Each coffin featured the intials of one of the team’s players (drawn, of course, onto genitals stenciled into the wood) and the team’s owner.

I mean … American fans would never be this awesome. Bravo, Polish fans, bravo.

Good News Friday: A “Lost Boy of Sudan” pays America back with love. An autistic runner from Long Island amazes. And a grandson invents a device to help Alzheimers patients

It’s freezing outside and there’s more snow coming,  and it’s been a truly shitty week for those of us who love old-school, kick-ass news reporting and writing, as CBS legend Bob Simon, and NYT media writer/author David Carr, died within 48 hours of each other. Carr, especially, had an impact on me: The way he wrote was truly unique. (Check out this great clip of Carr slapping down editors at VICE magazine who insult the New York Times.)

So, yeah, I’m ready for some good news.

Like this story that just about made me cry. Peter Kuch is a 36-year-old sergeant in the U.S. Army stationed in Fort Bragg, N.C. By all accounts he’s a fantastic soldier, but that’s not what makes his story remarkable.

Kuch was one of the thousands of “Lost Boys of Sudan”, who 15 years ago, in the midst of an awful war in that country, was taken safely to a refugee camp and then “re-settled” in America.

This short piece from the always-great Steve Hartman on “CBS Sunday Morning” is 150 seconds of pure joy and gratefulness. Watch and see how much this country can mean to one man, and how a reunion with one special person came about.

So great.

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**Next up, a story near and dear to my heart since this wonderful young man is from Northport, N.Y., about 5 miles fro my Long Island hometown of Commack.

Mikey Brannigan is one of the top high school middle distance runners in America, and is the defending national champion in the outdoor 2-mile, (8:53.59).
He’s remarkable for more than just that, though. At 18 months old Mikey was diagnosed with autism, and doctors told his parents he could end up in a group home.

At age 7 he found running, and the rest is told in this beautiful story from Ali Fenwick of Sports Illustrated, after the magazine named Brannigan their athlete of the month.

Truly limitless, what human beings who find their passion can achieve.

**Finally today, as someone who has personal experience watching a grandparent suffer with Alzheimer’s, this story gave me a smile.

It was on Upworthy.com recently, and it’s about a 15-year-old boy named Kenneth Shinozuka, whose grandfather, Deming, was an Alzheimer’s patient who had the tendency to wander off and away from his caregiver without warning, and into potentially dangerous situations.

So Kenneth invented a sensor that attaches to a patient’s sock and alerts caregivers via a wireless signal when the patient has wandered off.

Brilliant. And possibly life-saving. You go, Kenneth.

Jon Stewart is leaving “The Daily Show,” a huge loss but it’s for the best. John Oliver’s back, and hilarious again. And the amazing Venezuela tourist ad featuring an imprisoned American

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Just about everyone on television stays too long at the party.  Popular sitcoms that were once fabulous go on years past their expiration date (I’m looking at you, “Mad About You” and “Seinfeld,”) broadcasters hang around until they’re a parody of themselves (I’m looking at you, Chris Berman and Dan Rather), and basically the majority of people on TV have to be dragged kicking and screaming away from the red light.

Which is why I was at first sad, but then happy to hear Tuesday night that the great Jon Stewart, who for 15 years has been the funniest, most incisive commentator on television, announced he’d be leaving “The Daily Show” sometime in 2015.

There has been no more consistent source of humor in the 21st century than Stewart. Whether he’s mocking politicians, other celebrities, or most hilariously, CNN and Fox News, he’s always been brilliantly clever, cutting-edge funny, and just plain joyous to watch.I went back through my blog archives tonight to find the quintessential Stewart clip I’ve shared on here the last 5 1/2 years, and each time I watched a few seconds of one I remembered how great it was, and truly, I could’ve spent hours watching his old bits.

I picked the one I’m linking here because it’s one near and dear to my heart (about education), and because it illustrates just how smart and funny Stewart and his team are. But honestly, there have been hundreds of brilliant clips over the years.

“The Daily Show” has been about more than just laughs; it’s had a legitimate impact on our culture.

It was “The Daily Show” that kept Congress’ feet to the fire on the issue of giving 9/11 responders compensation for their illnesses, and Stewart’s rage against CNBC, Jim Cramer and the yahoos who helped cause the economic meltdown of 2008 educated millions of Americans who didn’t understand the complex financial jargon.

It has, of course, also given us Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Steve Carell, and a million laughs. And it’s still going strong; his stuff on Ferguson last summer was as good as anyone else covered the tragedy.

Which is why I’m glad Stewart is leaving now, while he’s still got his fastball. He can do so many other things with his career, and he’s smart enough to leave before he gets stale.

I’ll certainly watch whatever he does next.

**Speaking of John Oliver, the brilliant HBO show he stars in “Last Week Tonight” is back from a three-month break, and he kicked some serious butt in the premiere Sunday night.

His bit on the scam of Big Pharma being in bed with doctors was great, but I loved this salute to the soon-to-be-toe-tagged Radio Shack even better.

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**And finally, this story is fantastic in oh so many ways. The tourism department for the government of Venezuela has been running a new ad campaign to boost the nation’s morale. One of the ads they’ve run features a Caucasian man hugging someone lovingly, with a big smile on his face.

The tagline reads: “We love Venezuela … for receiving foreigners like one of our own.”

Except there’s just one problem. The photo they used is of American reporter Jim Wyss, who in the photo has just been released after being wrongfully detained for two days in a Venezuelan prison.

Yes, that’s right folks: To highlight how friendly Venezuela is to foreigners, they showed us a man who they illegally threw in jail!

Too damn funny. I can’t wait until Russia’s tourism ad with Edward Snowden.

R.I.P. Dean Smith, a giant on and off the court. Animals frolicking happily in great new commercial. And some thoughts on the Grammys.

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During my years as a sports journalist, I had the opportunity to meet hundreds of athletes, coaches and administrators, as well as many non-sports celebrities.

Most of them were perfectly nice, decent people. A few were Grade-A jerks.

Not one of them ever had the class, grace, and humility of Dean E. Smith, the legendary coach of the University of North Carolina basketball team.

Dean died Saturday night at age 83, after a long decline due to dementia. I’ve written about Dean, a man I admired as much as anyone I’ve ever met, before on this blog, here and here., and there were a ton of fantastic tributes to him published Sunday (I highly recommend Alexander Wolff’s on SI.com, and this great Tommy Tomlinson story from last year.)

Many of those tributes talk about Smith’s incredible coaching acumen, his invention of the Four Corners offense, the trips to the Final Four, and his two national championships.
But what’s so more important about the life he lived was what he did off the court. He fought tirelessly for civil rights in North Carolina, long before he was famous and successful and people had to pay attention to him. He battled and spoke out against the death penalty and segregation; battled for women’s rights, and myriad other causes he believed in.

He had an incredible memory for names and facts, he was a master motivator (he’d tell nervous players in the huddle late in close games, “Hey, a billion people in China don’t care who wins”)

There were so many great Dean anecdotes about who he was, but this one, from the NBA’s Reddit page from an unattributed source, might be my favorite.

Way back in 1958, when Dean Smith was just an assistant coach at UNC, he was angry that restaurants in Chapel Hill were still segregated. He decided to make a statement by walking in to a eatery he knew, sat down with an African-American player, and ate a meal. And a blow for desegregation had been struck.

When it was brought to Dean years later that he should be proud of what he did, this was his response.”

“You should never be proud of doing what’s right,” Smith said. “You should just do what’s right.”

Dean Smith’s death is not a loss for college basketball. It’s a loss for humanity.

Rest in peace.

**Next, this ought to put a smile on your face. The Android company has put out a new ad that has gone viral very fast, with more than 4 million hits already. It’s just footage of different animals from the kingdom, frolicking and, well, getting into some interesting situations.

Adorable.

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**Finally, a couple quick thoughts on Sunday night’s Grammy Awards, my annual attempt to reconnect to today’s music and extricate myself from my 1980s and early ’90s musical dungeon I happily reside in the rest of the year:

— I’m just asking: When did LL Cool J become to the Grammys what Billy Crystal and Bob Hope were to the Oscars? I mean, is he just the permanent host now?

— Sam Smith and Adele both say “Fank You” and it’s kind of adorable.

— Madonna is 56. And damn, she’s still got it. What an amazing performer she still is.

— I’m not a Katy Perry fan, but her performance, preceded by a domestic violence survivor telling her story, was powerful.

— The Grammys always have some bizarre-looking celebrity outfits, but Jesse J’s dress looked like it was pasted together by a drunk 3rd-grader in art class.

— Kanye West: Could he be a bigger tool? He tried to interrupt Beck like he did Taylor Swift at the VMAs all those years ago. His ego knows no bounds.

– I hate the Bee Gees more than I’ve ever disliked any other musical act, ever. But hey, give ’em a lifetime achievement award, lots of other people liked them.

— A week ago, New England Patriots defensive back Malcolm Butler was a rookie from West Alabama, playing in his first Super Bowl and completely anonymous to 99 percent of the world. Seven days later he’s a Super Bowl champ and on stage presenting a Grammy.
America, what a country,

— Last year’s Grammys, with the incredible Ryan Lewis/Macklemore/Queen Latifah same-sex wedding ceremony at the end, was pretty impossible to top. But I thought Sunday night’s were pretty good.

Good News Friday: Some more tales from the stay-at-home Dad files. A real NFL hero, the Panthers’ Thomas Davis. And every Billy Joel song ever, ranked.

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My son will be five months old on Tuesday, and I swear every day in my mind I ping-pong between “I don’t know where the time has gone” and “Wow, it’s only been five months?”

One of the joys of being a stay-at-home father is that every day, I seem to notice something new about how he’s growing, changing, and making my life so much better.

But you don’t want to hear about the mushy stuff. So here are some of the stranger thoughts and occurrences, as I present my latest installment of “The Daddy Files.”

— So I’m not sure if this is a typical baby thing or not, but it’s uncanny: Every night we put him down smack in the center of his crib, and within seconds my son scoots his way up to the top right corner, and sleeps with his head practically up against the edge of the crib. Whenever I go in and move him back to the center, he still gets back to the top corner within a few minutes.

I mean, is that particular spot the most comfy?

— The single most important item in your home when you have a baby? The Oxy-Clean spray that gets stains out. God, the number of outfits that have been saved by a quick Oxy treatment. Seriously, they could charge 50 bucks a bottle for it and I’d still pay it.

–I truly had no idea poop came in so many colors. Every time I change a diaper it’s like opening a bag of Skittles.

— He giggles now, often uncontrollably. Best sound in the world.

— Is it OK that I, as a perennially and permanently short person, am beyond excited that at his last checkup my son was found to be in the 75th percentile for height? I know, I know, it doesn’t really mean anything yet. But damn, as a 5-foot-5 1/2 inch person, I would so love for my spawn to hit, I don’t know, 5-9?

— People warned me that as a stay-at-home parent I’d be desperate for adult contact during the day. But honestly, between reporting for my freelance writing gigs and the fact that the grandparents are always checking in, it hasn’t been that bad.

— He’s a fantastic night sleeper, going 10-11 hours a night. But he’s not a great napper. Still, that’s a much better problem to have than the other way around, I know.

— I have conquered my previous, all-encompassing fear that I’m going to drop him.
Now I’m always worried that when he rolls over he’ll conk his head into a table and give himself a concussion.

Is that progress for my mental state?

**Next up, I consider myself a pretty big Billy Joel fan, but I’m nowhere near at the level  of Christopher Bonanos, a writer for vulture.com. The other day Bonanos compiled an exhaustive list of all 121 recorded original songs by the Piano Man, and then ranked them.

It’s pretty much guaranteed to annoy most fans like me because he has some of my favorites ranked way too low (“Goodnight Saigon” is only No. 38, but”Say Goodbye to Hollywood” is No. 14? And “She’s Always a Woman” is way too lowly ranked), but it’s also fascinating to read why he rates certain songs higher.

Go ahead and lose yourself in the list for 10 minutes. And No. 1 is an inspired choice.

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**Are you as sick of the braggart Seattle Seahawks, the (possibly) cheating New England Patriots, and the squirrelly, morals and facts-challenged NFL commissioner Roger Goodell as I am?

This week, with all the fallout from the Super Bowl, the story of a wonderful NFL player got lost in the shuffle a bit. Thomas Davis of the Carolina Panthers won the league’s Man of the Year award, and man, is this guy deserving.
Let me just tell you about some of the wonderful things Davis does: His hometown of Shellman, Ga., never had a playground when Thomas was a kid. So once he made the NFL, he built one. He sends two needy students from the Carolina area to college every year, on him. He buys Christmas presents for 300 kids who might not otherwise get any, and his Thomas Davis Defending Dreams Foundation established an after-school leadership and mentoring program.

He also throws a lavish Thanksgiving dinner every year for victims of domestic abuse living in a women’s shelter.

In short, Thomas Davis is a wonderful human being, who deserves to be celebrated just as much as the arrogant Marshawn Lynches and Rob Gronkowskis of the world.

“I do things like that because I love to see kids have smiles on their faces,” Davis has said. “As a young kid, I knew my circumstances, I didn’t have the opportunity. I know as a leader of the community, I can give back. I want to be part of the solution.”