Writer’s Digest Story


     A couple months ago, I decided to submit a short story to Writer’s Digest. There was a 750 word limit and a simple premise: “A man who lives alone sees a set of footprints leading away from his house the morning after a heavy snowfall.”

Here is my submission. (I didn’t win, but that’s ok because I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and dog doggone it, people like me!)   

Rick “Gator” Truman waited for his best friend to climb into the cab of his pickup truck before jumping into the driver’s seat. Bud, the four year old bull-mastiff was given to Huron, South Dakota’s new fire chief by the men in his company.

“If the weatherman is right, we’ll get at least a foot of snow tonight.” Rick said.

“Woof!” Bud responded.

Rick purchased a modest house, on a dead-end street, barely within Huron’s city limits. He enjoys the quiet, but the serenity comes with a major disadvantage; the fire chief was left to plow his long driveway. Rick drove through the sleepy town and pulled into his garage. The warmth of his king-sized solid oak bed was calling him, but one task remained.

“C’mon Bud, let’s get the plow onto the front end so we can get an early start in the morning.” Rick said.

The morning sun invaded every corner of the small bedroom, waking Rick from his nightly hibernation. The moment he opened the room door, Bud rushed in and jumped atop the quilt.

“Get down from there!” Rick ordered.

Bud quickly complied and landed on the ground. “Maybe I’ll try jumping on your bed and see if you like it.” Rick teased.

Bud ran and pawed at the exit to the garage as if he knew what was on his owner’s mind.

“Let’s go move some powder.” Rick said.

The garage door opened and God’s baby powder covered the landscape. Rick began to turn towards his pickup when a strange sight caused him to halt.  {I didn’t include the quotation marks when writing the word “god,” because I wasn’t sure how the publication would react to my atheism!}  

Inexplicably, a set of footprints leading away from his house seemed to have appeared from nowhere.

“Where the heck did those come from?”

Rick walked closer to investigate. The first track began in the middle of the driveway and trailed off into the street. Strangely, the print was clearly made with a pair of department issued work boots. The more startling fact was the shoe size; Rick was the only fireman who wore size eighteen, and his pair remained locked in the cab of the pickup.

“I knew we had ghosts. I can’t wait for the guys at the fire house to hear that I finally found proof.”

Endless jokes about the mysterious tracks filled much of the morning hours.

“C’mon Gator, the footprints are obviously not from a ghost.” Chuck Hose said.

“Ok Mr. Know-it-all, please explain where they came from.” Rick responded.

“The times when you have seen only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you…the Lord said.” Chuck teased.

The room erupted with laughter. Countless conspiracy theories were suggested and Rick planned on debunking all of the legitimate hypotheses.

“I’ll find even more proof. You guys can laugh, but I know there is a ghost on my property.” Rick said.

News travels through Huron faster than a tide rolls in Alabama. Two days elapsed before the fire chief earned a new appointment; Chief Paranormal Specialist. True to his word, Rick investigated every possibility for an explanation to the eerie footprints. There remained only one truth; a ghost walked from the driveway to the road. Rick couldn’t wait to reveal his findings.

“Regardless of what Chuck thinks, it sounds to me like you did some great detective work, Gator.” Kenny Manning said.

“Thanks Kenny.” Rick replied.

Chuck stood from his seat and commented. “Don’t thank him yet!”

“What are you talking about?” Rick asked.

“We have to tell you something.” Chuck continued. “Hey Mike, do you want to do the honors since it was your idea?”

Mike nodded his head and began to explain. “The footprints were just a silly prank.”

Visibly disappointed, Rick spoke. “Are you serious?”

“Sorry Gator, but we had to do it.” Mike said.

“It might be me, but that smile on your face says you might not be sorry.” Chuck quipped.

“Nonetheless, we all know how crazy you get about the supernatural, so we couldn’t turn down this opportunity. Once the snow stopped, we jumped into old Ladder 13 and made the extensive excursion to your property. I hopped into the bucket and Chuck extended the ladder out to the middle of your driveway. I’m sure you can piece together the rest of the story, Sherlock.” Mike said.

“That doesn’t explain the size of the footprints.” Rick challenged.

“Oh yeah! We ordered another pair.” Mike informed.

“You can keep them for being such a good sport.” Chuck added.

“I’ll get my revenge!” Rick threatened.




This Actually Happened – August 27th, 2011

During the summer of 2000 I, along with a group of my friends, joined a men’s flag football league. We had several accomplished ex-high school stars on the squad, Kevin, Mizz, Dimes, T.C. among them. We are extremely confident so we expected to win our first game; our goal was to set the tone for the rest of the season! On game day, we sized up the opponent. The game was hilarious! We blew them out. (As expected, we talked-trash the entire time!) We scored on every drive! Our main offense was the triple option. Our game plan was, “Ok, it’s my turn to score!” We switched quarterbacks often, but our backfield was stacked. After one touchdown drive, we even set up for a field goal. (It was a thirty-yarder and my kick fell a few feet short, but it was on target!) The game as a blast, but the story doesn’t end on the field. After the summer, I returned to New Jersey and prepared for another semester at the Hall. I was summoned to the dean’s office and she decided that it would be best for me to prove that I was focused on education by attending a Community College for a semester. I agreed and decided to attend Roxbury Community College. Before I could sign up for classes, I had to meet with an advisor in order to pick classes. Each class had to be an equivalent to a course at SHU. I walked into the advisor’s office and was stunned! The guy was one of the players from the first team that we destroyed. We thoroughly embarrassed them and he couldn’t look me in the face. It was one of the most awkward situations that I have ever experienced! BELIEVE IT OR NOT!


Check back tomorrow for next week’s preview!



Not My Fantasy

Most people are familiar with the typical guy fantasy. I believe the French call it a menage a trois! (Wait! isn’t it lez incompetent? No that’s from Home Alone!) Well, let me use the term threesome to be safe. (Not that threesomes are safe!) I have added a twist to my fantasy threesome; the girls are Gators fans!

I was shocked to learn that a major change has occurred. The typical male fantasy is completely different! The new standard, for “What guys want,” is now fantasy football! (I have come to accept the fact that I am no longer a “typical guy!”)

“What is fantasy football?” It’s pretty simple. A group of individuals (Usually fans of teams that suck!) join a league and compete against each other. (These fans know that their respective teams have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the Super Bowl, so they play fantasy football in hopes of becoming a champion; truly pathetic if you ask me!) Some leagues are free to join and the victor wins the right to brag. Other leagues offer a monetary prize to the winner, who also walks away with bragging rights; there is a fee to join. (This is illegal of course!)

“I get that, but how does it work?” The league starts off with a draft. Prior to the beginning of the NFL season, each group will assemble, either in person or online and hold a draft. Each individual will select players from the different NFL teams. When all of the fantasy quads are filled, the team owners can make trades with their competitors. There is a commissioner who sets all of the rules and regulations. Usually, the commissioner is the person who won the championship during the previous season. (This is the individual who gains the respect of eleven or so other people, but in the grand scheme of life, the person remains a zero!)

Each player accumulates points, by either the number of yards gained during a game, number of catches, touchdowns, etc. The different leagues have their own points systems. There may be a point awarded for every ten yards gained, six points for touchdowns, etc. Each team is comprised of starters and backups. Some leagues select team defenses and some even award points for individual defensive players. Before the real NFL games are played each week, competitors must finalize their rosters. This is where strategy plays a significant role. Team owners must factor in, who the opponents are for each player in order to decide who to activate. Each week, the team owners play against a different opponent and the one’s with the best regular season record, advance to the playoffs.

Fantasy football is basically a great way for fans, who obviously know much more than the real NFL team executives, to experience being general managers. This all sounds wonderful, especially for those who love football, but fantasy football is not for me! There are special fantasy football telecasts which help owners decide who the next big stars will be. There are magazines and websites with more information about individual players; it literally takes some serious preparation to decide who the top draft picks should be! (It seems like the preparation time leading up to a fantasy season could be used for something more productive, like double checking the thread count on each of your bed sheets to ensure that you received exactly what you paid for!)

To me, Fantasy Football is basically an oxymoron. Football involves a bunch of men being physical with one another for sixty minutes of game clock. That is the exact opposite of a fantasy for me. (The name should be changed to General Manager Dreams!) A fantasy should involve one or more vaginas! But I guess, to each his own! (Sorry if I’m being too frank!)

“That’s a silly reason to not participate!” You are absolutely right!

I refuse to participate in fantasy because I hate what it does to fans. Fantasy makes it impossible to figure out where each fan’s loyalty lies. I can remember the good old days when people liked their teams and hated the rivals. Those days are over. Fantasy has changed the way fans watch football. On any given Sunday, you may find a Dallas Cowboys’ fan cheering for their hated rivals the Philadelphia Eagles, because “I need Michael Vick to give me some big points!” (It’s sickening really!) I can’t tell you how many times I sat in front of the television and listened to fans cheer for players who they swore they hated. How can you talk about hating Tom Brady, then turn around and try to justify drafting him in your fantasy league? My grandfather would roll over in his grave if he heard me say, “I need Brady to have a big game!” (The example was used for entertainment purposes only! My grandfather didn’t give two shits about football!)

In my last post, I made it perfectly clear that I am a Denver Broncos fan. I don’t support any other player in the league, and I definitely don’t support any other team. I don’t even support former players from the University of Florida. I love the Gators, but I can’t cheer for a player who attempts to defeat my Broncos! (Once the players go to the NFL, I can give two shits about them!)

I respect everyone’s right to live their lives however they see fit. It doesn’t bother me one bit if your fantasy includes Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Adrian Peterson, and Larry Fitzgerald. I just look at things from a different perspective. When I think fantasy, I’m drafting people who fill different criteria. There are no sub four-second forty yard dash sprinters, no plus twenty five reps of two hundred and twenty-five pounds, no vertical leapers surpassing forty inches, and absolutely no shuttle run champions! My draftees wouldn’t gain me any points in your leagues, but they fulfill all of my needs! My draftees bleed Orange and Blue like me, they are curvaceous, they are women who like women, and I’m not talking about beers when I say they can fill up a cup or two! (Pun shamelessly intended!)

In my opinion, fantasy represents everything that is wrong with football. There is no more loyalty. I waited a decade to finally witness my Denver Broncos win the Super Bowl, but today’s fan is more content to pick players from all the teams and become a supporter. You can attempt to fool me but I know why you play fantasy. Your team sucks and you have a desire to be a winner. I am thankful that the fantasy season ends before the Super Bowl; I wouldn’t be able to take people celebrating false championships. Sit your dumbass down! I don’t care if Aaron Rogers is on your fantasy team, you are a Vikings fan! (Rogers plays for the Green Bay Packers. (The Vikings are the Packers’ biggest rivals!)

Fantasy football ruins the sport and makes Sundays annoying! Dude, I get it—Chris Johnson is in your fantasy! Just be sure and keep your pants on while I try to enjoy the game!

No, I will not join your STUPID fantasy league! My team is the Denver Broncos, and that’s good enough for me!


Sportswriters Can Be Wrong (Why I Watch)

Competing at the highest level is not an easy task. When it comes to soccer, there is no bigger stage than the World Cup. Women from all over the globe fine-tune their skills over a period of four years to prepare for the rigors of the WWC. This painstaking process is similar to the Olympics. When the Games are held, I try my best to follow as many events as possible, and I honestly mean that. I can’t remember how many times in my life, I have cheered on the United States in lesser known sports such as curling and equestrian.

Initially, I don’t understand the rules, but the commentators are able to get me up to speed. The most important factor, to me, is the preparation and desire to win. There has never been a sport which doesn’t intrigue me. Even competitions that are not athletic events are interesting to me. Whether it is the national spelling bee, America’s Best Dance Crew, or log cutting during ESPN’s Great Outdoor Games. (Yeah, I said it; I’ve watched ABDC—Mario Lopez is the man. How can you not support A.C. SLATER!) The dedication and commitment required to succeed at the Olympic Games is unmatched. The heart-break is also unparalleled, one can lose by less than a tenth of a second. I could never imagine devoting years of mental and physical preparation, only to earn a silver medal by a fraction of a second; it doesn’t seem fair. Why do I watch? How can I not watch!

The consensus among sportswriters seems to be, “the U.S. women’s soccer team choked.” Bleacher Report columnist Kyle Vassalo wrote, ‘Huge Choke Job Sets Back Women’s American Soccer.’ (This is not a personal attack on Vassalo, I simply read the Bleacher Report because I am a follower of the Florida Gators, and I happened to come across his article.) ESPN’s Jemele Hill also got it wrong in her column, ‘The World Cup ‘C’ Word: Choke.’ Just because people called the US Men’s loss in the Gold Cup Final a choke, doesn’t mean they got it right! (Again, not an attack on Hill, I follow her on twitter because I have always respected her as a journalist, but she was inaccurate on this one.)

The term “Choke” is used far to often, but we need to examine all of the factors before forcing the title on an individual or team. We must be careful not to disregard the competitive nature of the opponent. Sometimes, the other side has a will to win that cannot be matched or understood by the prognosticators, or so called “experts.”

I can appreciate how someone could mistakenly categorize Sunday’s Women’s World Cup loss as a choke which sets back US women’s soccer, but nothing can be further from the truth. In fact, the final match between the US and Japan was one of the most inspiring sporting events of our time. There are millions of women around the world who will turn to soccer as a means to improve their lives. The Japanese victory, not only uplifted earthquake ravaged Japan but was an example of what hard work and a strong will can accomplish. If you understand the nature of competition, you will be hard-pressed to call the US loss a choke. There are always two sides in every competition. Understanding each story is paramount to evaluating the outcome.

The US team was not the overwhelming favorite coming into the WWC, regardless of the number one ranking. The distinction of most probable victor was reserved for two-time defending champion and host nation, Germany. Also, Brazil, Sweden and France were all capable challengers. The US team actually struggled to qualify. Furthermore, most of the commentary leading up to the tournament was about, IF the United States would be able to sneak by Brazil and, IF they did, how would they beat powerhouse Germany. Yes, the number one ranking has some merit, but coach Pia Sundhage’s talented squad was not playing like the best in the world prior to the tournament. The experts were discussing, how the rest of the world had closed the gap on the US women. Not to mention, the American team last won the title in 1999.

The Japanese victory, in the quarter finals over host Germany, was labeled one of the biggest upsets in sports history. Prior to the game, no one gave Japan a chance. Even during the match, it seemed as if the commentators were simply waiting for Germany to turn it on and win. The experts often predetermine a champion based on talent, usually failing to consider HEART. The German loss was branded a choke initially but, upon further review, we now understand that the Japanese team was just better than every other nation in the WWC. The word choke is used because people often underestimate the “underdog.” There are too many instances in which a ranking turns out to be completely meaningless; it happens every year during March Madness.

The pre-season polls in college football are arguably the most erroneous rankings. Let me remind everyone that my Gators were ranked #4 in US Today and #3 in the AP polls; that didn’t quite work out for the team, which ended up in turmoil and unranked at season’s end. Why was Japan such an underdog? Because the prognosticators, who almost never know what they are talking about, said they were! What the perception of Japan was before the tournament didn’t matter. No one would be calling a US loss a choke if it came at the hands of the mighty Germans.

There are those who may say, “Japan’s win was a fluke.” Those are the idiots! The Japanese equalizing goal in the game’s final minutes defines competition; if they weren’t supposed to score, the referee should have ended the game once the US regained the lead. The WWC is just another example of the experts being completely wrong, which is why the games are never played on paper.

How can you call a team working hard and persevering, a choke by the other team. No, the Miami Heat didn’t choke—the Mavericks were just a better team. Lebron James didn’t choke in the NBA Finals, he merely has yet to figure out the secrets to winning. Making it over the hump and finally becoming a champion is a skill that must be acquired. I am one of the most die-hard Red Sox fans and, in the past, I have called the 2004 comeback against the Yankees the biggest choke in History. I was mistaken; we all were. The Yankees didn’t choke. The Sox laid down during the first three games, before refocusing and playing like champions. The Yankees didn’t collapse—Boston barely won games four through six. The Yankees were simply out-competed. Going into the series, everyone believed the Sox had a chance, and every single Red Sox fan knew we were going to win, until the 0-3 deficit. As a matter of fact, we felt the Sox were the ones who choked when they were down three games to none.

I’m not suggesting the word choke can never apply. There are many instances in which players or teams succumb to the pressures of winning. Rory McIlroy’s performance at the 2011 Master’s comes to mind. In that instance, there were no rankings which predicted Rory as the expected champion. He performed amazingly, then fell apart in the end. You can categorize his loss as choking if you wish, but the WWC is completely different. Two teams earned the opportunity to play in the final game and one team prevailed in the end. The Japanese played the exact same game as they did against the Germans; they earned the victory!

As far as Mr. Vassalo calling the game a set back, he is dead wrong. The Associated Press has reported that the WWC set the new record for tweets-per-second, eclipsing the (British) Royal Wedding and the death of Osama Bin Laden. I watched the game in the living room with several male family members and we watched every minute, cheering on each scoring chance. The game did everything to legitimize women’s soccer as an exciting sport. There were three Brazil soccer fans in the room, and we only changed the channel, to watch the Brazil vs. Paraguay game, during halftime of the WWC. The level of competition rivaled any major men’s sporting event, and the American loss was equally frustrating. Anyone who chooses the term “choked” to describe a loss in the Championship game of a World Tournament, which only occurs every four years, must not appreciate how difficult it is to win in sports. Did Roberto Baggio choke in the 1998 World Cup Final against Brazil? No! The Brazilian team was great. Baggio over-kicked the ball; these instances happen in sports. Winning is never easy!

As much as I hoped to see the US bring home the gold, watching the Japanese players perform with the true hearts-of-champions was amazing. They stepped up in the clutch and did what was necessary to attain victory. The US did not choke; there were many missed first half opportunities, but Japan also had missed chances. A game-changing infraction happened in the first half when the referee mistakenly called Shinobu Ohno, who was onside with a full head of steam, offside. Hope Solo is a great goalie, but I doubt she could have prevented a goal. Women’s soccer in America is in good hands. Abby Wambach is the world’s premier scorer, and a new star has emerged, Alex Morgan.

I believe the WWC’s following will continue to grow, and the Olympics will be a great sporting event for women’s soccer. No Jemele, I am not lowering the expectations for the US team because they are women. I’m simply pointing out that they stepped on the field, played at a high level, and lost to a better team. As far as the penalty kicks are concerned, did anyone actually expect the US to win? I have always been under the impression that the team which fights to earn a tie, will usually out-perform the team who has to deal with the disappointment of losing a lead. Not to mention, Hope Solo didn’t have the luxury of studying previous Japanese PKs; this was Japan’s first ever. Advantage Blue Team. I didn’t witness any “choke,” Japan out-performed the US.

Hopefully the United States players forget about the accolades which come with being ranked number one, and prepare like champions. The reason I watch sports is because I know the outcome is never predetermined; no team or individual is supposed to win. Being a champion is something that is earned, not handed out by experts. Set Back? No, US women’s soccer has a new fan. Great job ladies…bring home Olympic Gold!