Giving out nicknames is my claim to fame

David Anthony Gant was my best friend growing up on Detroit’s near west side.

However, nobody in our neighborhood knew his real name. His was Big Mac.

I give out nicknames like candy to people that I like. Big Mac used to be called Tony until I came along. He earned his nickname Big Mac because he was a big boy. And on Saturday’s we used to walk three miles to our nearest McDonald’s for lunch. One week he paid for our meals. I grabbed the tab the following week. On one of my weeks to pay he went all out ordering two large orders of fries, a chocolate shake and a Coke to go along with his three Big Macs.

He downed his meal with ease, thus earning the name Big Mac.

Over the years I’ve married, dated or liked Abs, Lil Scoop, Stinky, Cake, Blue, Thick and Juicy and Momma Cocoa.

My current wife is Abs. Her maiden name was Adrienne Bonner. And I made a little tune that carried the lyrics Adrienne Bonner is Sweet. Abs. I also call her Abby, Momma Cocoa, Coke and Mon Quinn, which is silly talk for My queen.

I grew up next to The Magical Strombini. My cousin Miss Boots married Zero Ziccerelli and I once did a radio show with Fibber McNasty.

My children are Stooler and Buddy Monroe. Sometimes they are X and Slats.

Everybody calls Detroit News sports columnist Bob Wojnowski, Wojo. I call him Bibs because I read that the Michelin Tire Man’s name was Bibendum or Bibelubis. I live next to a woman named Nurse who has three daughter’s named Dannie Duke, Molly Mole Tree and Julie McGillicutty.

There is Lippy the Party Girl. Jack of all trades radio personality Marti Martin is The Matrix and Detroit News Tigers beat writer Chris McCoskey is Chopper.

After making love to a woman as a youth I woke up to find her holding a baseball bat, saying if I ever got out of hand she was going to used that bat on me. I quickly broke up, named her Bat Shit and got the hell out of Dodge before I became Bat Man.

I’m even responsible for Robert “Tractor” Traylor, a name I gave the late University of Michigan and NBA star when he was a prep player at Detroit Murray Wright.

Sometimes I venture up to Central Michigan University and hang with my CM Life pals Gibby, Mickey Finn, Hannibal Hayes and Flame Thrower.

My nickname growing up was Cookie because my face looked like one of those giant sugar cookies people enjoyed in the mall.

One of my best friend in the media was Boodini, AKA as Drew Sharp. When we worked at the Free Press together we used to argue. And he was always wrong. But he had a magical run where every Drew prediction came true. For instance he would say the Tigers were going to win five games that week and three of the games would be by 3-1 scores.

Lo and behold, the Tigers would win five games that week and three of them were by 3-1 scores.

I combined the names of famed magician Harry Houdini and Muhammad Ali corner man Drew Bundini Brown and came up with Boodini. It stuck and he even referred to himself as Boodini in his football picks column.

Do not be offended if I forget your name should we meet. It means I am trying to think of a better name for you on the fly.

Spartan basketball shall rise from the ashes again

Even when things were going well for Michigan State’s basketball team there were major pits and pratfalls that threatened to sink the entire ship.

Magically, the blemishes were covered with makeup or pixie dust. Or often it was a senior giving a fire and brimstone speech during half time of a game or following a discouraging practice. Instead of sinking into a prolonged slump, MSU players were reminded of what it takes to be a Spartan.

Outsiders would venture into their dressing room or practice facility and notice paint peeling from the walls because Mateen Cleaves, Andre Hutson or Gary Harris gave a coming to Jesus speech filled with passion and profanity.

Everybody stepped up and filled holes because they didn’t want to be the one who let a prideful and championship caliber program fall by the wayside.

Coach Tom Izzo often got full credit for figuring out the problems and fixing them. But in actuality it was normally level headed players who went off the deep end who figured it out and fixed it because they knew a different voice was needed.

Players believed because they were filled with experiences of hotly contested workouts from May, June and August when the base of Spartan mentality was built. They believed because to be a Spartan basketball player means to overachieve and reach heights beyond their capability.

My guess is that voice is missing on the 2020-2021 MSU basketball roster. And that base of strong and aggressive off-season workouts is missing too. Now what you are left with is a team that is a little bit softer than usual and a coach in Izzo who is reluctant to put on the boxing gloves for fear of really losing this fragile team.

Yes, we know the team is not getting quality point guard play. Yes, we know the team cannot score. Most disturbing though is this team cannot defend the interior. It does not block out and muscle people out the paint. MSU could always count on doing the little things when the big picture did not look so rosy.

And you get outsiders predicting that the Spartan run is over forever, the same as they have predicted before when Izzo didn’t have things humming the way he wanted or had a public battle with a star player.

Are they saying the same thing at Duke (9-8) or Kentucky (7-13)? These are blue bloods that, like the Spartans, may not make the NCAA tournament. Are they done for eternity?

How many times has Izzo been told he has forever lost his team and he gets it back before the ink is dry?

Shit happens. You can’t explain it. You can’t predict when it will happen. You cannot predict how long it will last.

But the Spartan program is strong enough to overcome what ails it. This program shall rise again. It might not be this year. It might not be next season.

At some point the Spartans will have a brutal off season filled with shoulder pads and black eyes under their belt and they will have a senior or junior stand before the team who is unafraid to bruise egos and hurt feelings tell his followers what Spartan basketball is all about.

That is when this team shall rise again.

And when that all happens Izzo will rediscover the balance of being father figure and tough guy as he leads his team to another Big Ten championship or Final Four appearance.

Good bartenders need classes in Sports viewing 101

We are beginning to peak out from our shelters of home steading as the bars and restaurants in Michigan open up after weeks of shutdown because of our governor’s orders.

If you own a sports bar it is time to give classes to bartenders called Sports Viewing 101. There is nothing more annoying than having a beer and a burger on a college football Saturday in a sports bar when Michigan is battling Ohio State in Ann Arbor or the Spartans are taking on Purdue in West Layfayette.

You look up at the big screen in front of you and Bucknell is taking on Colgate. Or David Goffin is battling Fabio Fognini in a men’s tennis semifinal far, far away.

A woman once turned off the Detroit Lions on football Sunday because she said people bitch about the team all the time.

“Yeah, but they still watch,” I said.

Who wants to see Miami vs. Jacksonville when you can enjoy the comedy of the Lions?

I want my money damnit

Let me confess to my ignorance to online sports betting. I did not understand how casinos could give you 13-1 odds to bet on a team without a point spread. You could actually bet on both teams during a game and come out ahead.

I did not understand how a casino could give you 5-1 odds on betting if an NBA team will make a three-point shot during a game. Don’t they all make at least one three pointer?

How can a casino make money when it is giving away $300 to $700 to everybody that bets?

Well someone explain that on many casino apps that you cannot collect any money until you place at least $1,000 of your own money in the betting pool. In other words they will gladly take your money but are reluctant to give it back until you are scrambling to make rent.

I feel the same way in my failed attempt to collect pension money that is owed to me. It’s my money. I worked hard for it. Why can’t I get paid?

I never knew getting pension money was so difficult. I’ve been trying for six weeks to get pension payments rolling that I became eligible for when I turned 62 a week ago.

I’m told Covid is to blame.

I worked for 32 years for the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press. They had no problem taking money out of my pay check. That was nice and easy.

Now trying to get paid is another issue. My journey actually began in the fall when I talked to a nice lady who told me to apply for my pension money the first week of January so I’d receive my first pension check in March.

I called her back in January and was told she is on vacation. For six weeks? Is this woman on trip to Mars? I gave up calling her because I got the same message. She is out of the office but is expected back soon.

Then I was given names and numbers on the pension team to talk to. They cannot help. I was given names and numbers of people in the newspaper union. They cannot help.

I was even passed along to the City of Detroit pension plan. One problem. I never worked for the city of Detroit. They of course could not help.

Here is where I stand today. I was given an application to apply for the application to apply for my pension. That was three weeks ago. No word. Why must you apply for an application?

It’s my money. I worked hard for it.

I’ve been told that it takes more time for things to get rolling because of Covid-19. That’s funny. Whenever there is a transaction to take money out of your bank account Covid-19 does not become a factor. It only affects companies when you are trying to get money.

Funny how that works.

I talked to a person for an hour who promised to send me a form that would explain how a pension works and would tell me how much per month I’d be getting. I asked for an email since he was sitting in front of his computer and I was sitting in front of mine. Of course he said it was against company policy to do so. That was a month ago. Covid must have gotten in the way again.

Here is my frustration. If somebody wants to sell me a car or a boat, a trip to the moon, ribs or a bucket of chicken, all I have to do is push one button. Done.

Since retirement I’ve been offered hearing aids, weed, opioids, Ukraine brides, vacations to places I’ve never heard of and season tickets to every sports team in the state of Michigan. All I have to do is push one button to make my dreams come true.

But if you want to receive payments you need to call Geoffrey Fieger or 1-800-Mikewins.

I’ve been pushing buttons for six weeks,

I’m tired, frustrated and want to give up.

Oh wait a minute. That’s what they want you to do.

NFL defenses played the Detroit Lions differently after Barry Sanders retired

Another season was unraveling for the Detroit Lions.

This time the year was 1999, a few months after super star running back Barry Sanders unexpectedly retired. After an 8-4 start the Lions could no longer run the football. We in the media became critical of offensive coordinator Sylvester Croom, the offensive line and head coach Bobby Ross.

Everybody knew the rushing attack would suffer after Sanders retired. But 31 yards against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? Thirty two yards against the Washington Redskins?

The Lions had lost three consecutive games heading into the season finale against the Minnesota Vikings. I ran into Croom in the demilitarized zone known as the Pontiac Silverdome kitchen. It’s where coaches ate lunch. And the media gathered there too to wolf down meals provided by Outback Steakhouse and other nearby restaurants.

Players and coaches always deny they read your stories. But they do.

“Hey young man,” Croom said. “I want you to come with me. I want to show you something.”

For the second time I was taken into a coaches office where a frozen image lay on a giant white screen. It was the Lions offense on one side and the Green Bay Packers defense on the other.

The Lion loved using play action when Sanders played. But they rarely ran it the following year.

Quarterback Gus Frerotte dropped back on a first and 10 play, planted the ball into the mid section of running back Sedrick Irving.

“Watch the linebackers,” Croom said firmly.

The linebackers neither moved in or dropped deeper. They stood their ground, barely flinching. He showed more film against the Bears, the Bucs and other teams. Same response. No one feared Ron Rivers or Irving.

“Now check this out,” Croom said.

He changed to game film from the previous season against the Packers. Same Green Bay linebackers. Same game situation. This time quarterback Charlie Batch dropped back, planted the ball into Sanders mid section, before pulling it out to drop back and pass.

The Packer linebackers took two or three aggressive jab steps toward the Lions back field. Batch easily tossed a pass over their heads. He showed more clips from 1998 against other teams. Same response. The hard jab steps toward the line of scrimmage was very noticeable.

“Things are a lot different without Barry,” Crooms said. “Play action no longer works.”

This explained why the Lions offense stalled in 1999.

In 1998 Sanders rushed for 1,491 yards. In 1999 leading rusher Greg Hill ran for 542 yards.

The Lions would go on to lose that final game to Minnesota 24-17, but still qualified for the playoffs with an 8-8 record. Football Outsiders Mike Tanier would call them one of the worst playoff teams in history.

Washington stormed to a 27-0 halftime lead in route to a 27-13 playoff victory.

The Lions ran the ball 10 times for 45 yards in that game.

The world needs a Detroit Lions 30 for 30 documentary

Hey ESPN we need you. NFL Films! We need you.

There have been a number of entertaining and informative 30 for 30 documentaries that chronicle the good and bad of sports. It is time now for a 30 for 30 on the Detroit Lions and their fans entitled: “Why we still love them.”

If they can do a documentary on frustrated Chicago Cubs fans and one on the Curse of the Bambino, then the frustrations of Lions fans and the futility of the team they love should be next.

Even Chris Webber is working on a second Fab Five documentary.

One playoff win from 1957 to the present. Three super stars walk away, but fans still stand by them. The only NFC team never to have played in the Super Bowl. New coaches with new promises. The screams of “Same Ol’ Lions.”

There is enough material to fill a 90-minute documentary. But let’s not get greedy. We don’t want to bore America with all our problems, just enough to let the country know that Lions fans are the most angry and loyal in all of sports.

Why do we still love them?

A 30 for 30 could go something like this.

SCENE ONE: ROLL TAPE: Running back Barry Sanders makes a series of spectacular runs, stopping and darting on the Silverdome turf, making opponents look foolish. He runs into a pile of Green Bay Packers defenders, disappears and emerges on the other side to continue his dash for an 80-yard touchdown.

Fade out as Lions fans scream “Barry! Barry! Barry!”

SCENE TWO: Chicago Bears place kicker Paul Edinger lines up for a 54 yard field goal. If he misses the Lions and Bears go into overtime in this pivotal season finale. If he makes it the Lions are booted from the playoffs at 9-7. He makes it.

Down go the Lions. In comes Matt Millen.

Fade to a press conference a the Pontiac Marriott when Millen is introduced as General Manager. Show a cross section of fans who either believe this is a winning move or talk about the desperation of a desperate team.

SCENE THREE: Snippets of Lions coaches begin. Bobby Ross screams “I don’t coach that stuff.” Darryl Rogers proclaims: “What does a guy have to do to get fired around here?” Monte Clark prays on the sidelines for a field goal to be good. Marty Mornhinweg storms off on a motor cycle during practice.

SCENE FOUR: Bumbling and stumbling plays from the 2008 season are strung together. The scores of each loss during a 0-16 season are shown.

SCENE FIVE: Angry Lions fans in orange T-shirts spill into downtown during the infamous Millen Man march because they are upset with the decline of an already terrible franchise as they demand owner William Clay Ford to make changes. Instead Millen is given a five-year contract extension.

Roll tape on the antics of former GM Russ Thomas and his cheap ways which prevented the franchise from taking off.

SCENE SIX: A hot press prints newspapers at a rapid press. Headlines spin and roll off to reveal that Barry Sanders walks away in his prime. Calvin Johnson walks away in his prime. Matthew Stafford said he’s had enough here and gives the team permission to trade him.

Include scenes of Don Shula in a Lions shirts who was allowed to get away and enjoy a Hall of Fame coaching career with the Miami Dolphins.

There is plenty of bonus footage that can be shown along with angry bellows from Lions fans. There is the catch by Calvin Johnson that was ruled a non catch. The Lions finally make the playoffs only to lose 5-0 to the Dallas Cowboys. Frustrating runs by Sanders who runs for -1 yards on 13 carries in a playoff game against the Green Bay Packers.

It should be noted that in four outdoor post season games Sanders only averaged 2.8 yard per carry and never rushed for more than 65 yards.

Sterling Sharp all alone in the secondary for a game-winning touchdown. Aaron Rodgers nails a hail Mary touchdown pass while Lions coach Jim Caldwell looks for that “back and forth kind of thing.”

I’m certain your minds are filled with many more Lions moments. Let’s get this thing rolling. ESPN we need you. And I’m willing to bet you’d get high ratings and win awards with a Lions 30 for 30.

Free pizza and the fearful roommate

Sunday nights were stromboli nights my freshman year at Central Michigan University.

Pizza King sold them for $1.25 and it was a favorite of the freshmen in Saxe Hall who were usually starving by 8 pm because the cafeteria closed at 4 pm.

Roommate William often had a little bit more money than us because his parents lived in nearby Remus and they often dropped off a little cash for him Saturday afternoon. So William bought an entire medium pizza.

And he always insisted that I got the first piece even before he took the first bite out of his own pizza. I thought it was odd until one of my roommates told me the reason behind getting the first piece.

“You don’t know what’s going on?” roommate Warren from Okemos said. “He is afraid of you. He’s never seen a black guy before coming to Central and he does not want you to beat him up or rob him.”

This confused me. I thought I was one of the nicer kids on the floor who loved to laugh and pull pranks. So I consulted with my friend Kirk.

“So what’s the problem?” he asked. “Just get the free pizza and move on. It’s not your fault he is afraid of you.”

There was a problem. I did not want a kid living in fear because of me.

William was a tall skinny kid with a scraggly beard and a puff of hair that was parted down the middle. He sort of looked like a goat. I called for a private meeting with William and I could finally see his nervousness, something that had escaped me the first several weeks we lived together in Room 4 Saxe.

William said he was not scared because I was black, but confessed that I made him nervous. All indications were I was a good guy, but he needed to be assured that was the case because of the way he saw black people portrayed on television.

I told William I was not out to harm him. I appreciated the pizza, but did not want the slices to be used as protection money. I was a kid just like him and that sometimes I cried at night because I miss my family.

My goal was to graduate from CMU and become a sports writer. Over the next four years I wanted no fights, no confrontations and no robberies. I wanted to live in peace.

After our meeting I still ate his pizza, but our relationship changed for the better. He joked with me more. He picked on me more and I could tell he was at ease around me.

I even gave him his new name — Fart Goat. He once broke wind in front of all of us in the room. Thus the nickname, which he loved.

I turn 62 today. Thank God I made it

Forgive me. Whenever I write about my birthday from now on it will be a little big creepy and weepy, filled with a new appreciation for life.

These days were not promised to me. It’s been four and a half years since suffering a stroke that partially and temporarily robbed me of speech and movement. It was a shock to the system and a sign that I wasn’t taking good care of myself.

It also changed my outlook on life.

God placed a ticking time bomb inside my head that would some day explode. Thankfully it woke me up and did not take me out.

Today, I turn 62 years old and if there is anyone more grateful to see the sun rise I’d like to meet that person. Today isn’t promised to anybody. No one knows that better than me. The last 1,200 days were not promised.

Someone text me the other day asking if being in sports media is stressful and hazardous to your life. I never thought that way. However, giants in the industry all died too soon and died too young.

ESPN baseball writer Pedro Gomez died at age 58. Basketball writer Sekou Smith died of Covid at age 48 and Yahoo NFL writer Terez Paylor at age 37. My God. He was just a baby.

Shortly after I got sick I was devastated by the death of Detroit Free Press columnist Drew “Boodini” Sharp, 56, a man who I’d know for about 30 years.

I never viewed sports journalism as stressful while I was in the game. But as I think back on it my views have changed. We face a hard unforgiving deadline every day and many journalists are juggling writing careers with broadcast careers. Days are packed and there remains little time for relaxing and giving your mind the day off.

There is the daily stress of interviewing athletes and coaches who may or may not be in the mood, performing in front a public that grows more critical and trying to figure out how to squeeze two full time jobs within a 24 hour period.

Add being on the road where we often get to bed at 2 in the morning to sneak in a few hours of sleep before boarding a plane for an 8 a.m. flight. And we ate and drank while enjoying merry time with associates in the field and taking advantage of expense accounts. For the most part sports writers are not eating healthy salads and drinking bottled water.

It is that night’s special in a restaurant that is more likely to appear on Diners, Drive Ins and Dives than Men’s Health. That’s the life I lived. That’s the life I enjoyed and would not trade for anything in the world.

However, it lit the match of my ticking time bomb. An MRI or Cat Scan of my brain shows a network of big and healthy blood veins. However, there is one on the back side of the left side of my brain that is feeble and narrow.

Blood flow through this area became sluggish landing me in the hospital. Doctors said if it became clogged I’d be dead now or severely limited. That trouble spot will never go away. But I keep it as clean as possible with medication and a new diet.

What is left behind?

A 62 year old man that appreciates every conversation and every interaction — whether it is good or bad. Some of my most rewarding times are mentoring middle school and high school students at Detroit PAL. I am in talks with administrators at my alma mater, Central Michigan University, to give weekly talks virtually until the pandemic passes so we can meet in person.

My life has been enhanced recently by appearing twice a week on the Woodward Sports Network. The people are nice and they allow me to let it rip and act like a goofball. It has helped me.

One of my doctors wants me to do what I used to do in moderation because writing and talking make me happy. The problem is when I do too much my blood pressure spikes. I get tired and broken down. My head pounds.

I am a year older today and one step closer to dancing with my daughter Celine at her wedding. One step closer to helping her move into her first real apartment in Chicago next fall and one step closer to guiding my son Brandon during his first baby steps after he navigates Michigan State University.

And this empty nester thing with wife Abs is working out, even when she turns into Dr. Fauci and yells at me for sneaking out the house.

And I am one step closer to fedora night at Comerica Park this summer. That’s if we are allowed in the ball park.

I love you. I cherish you and I need you.

Thank you.

The NBA and Mark Cuban fumble national anthem ban

The National Anthem does not offend me.

It is not meant to harm black people or anybody else in America. That’s why I disagree with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban in his decision not to play it before Mavs home games for much of the season.

The NBA finally stepped in requiring teams to play the anthem. The Mavs complied by playing it prior to Wednesday’s 118-117 victory over the Atlanta Hawks. If this was something Cuban felt passionate about why have the no anthem policy under the cloak of darkness.

And the NBA only got involved after a reporter noticed the new policy and reported it to the world. The result is another black eye to the league. Right leaning folks are angry because Cuban took away baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet. The left leaning folks are angry because this “woke” owner caved in to the right.

Now let’s add one more ember to America’s burning fire where we had protesters take to the street to bring awareness to social justice and others stormed the nation’s Capitol to protest a Donald Trump election he claims was stolen.

I do not know why the national anthem is played before every sporting event, just as I don’t know why we said the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag as a grade schooler, just as I don’t know why everybody greets each other by saying “how are you doing?”

It just sort of happens.

Actually the anthem was first played during a sporting event for a dedication of a baseball field in Brooklyn, NY. It played periodically until the 1918 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs during World War I.

In Game 1, played at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, the band struck up The Star Spangled Banner during the seventh inning stretch because the country was at war and it wanted to pick up the spirits of Cubs fans who sat under the gloom of a cloudy sky.

It was played prior to each game of the Series and became a staple of sporting events afterwards. It is just part of our culture that I’ve grown accustomed to and accept.

Yes, it included racist lyrics. But they were removed and are never sung when the anthem is played.