Diamonds, apparently, aren't forever

It seems that old age, with apologies to Dr. Ruth, is about as sexy as a Rotary Club poker night.Since yours truly, the ol’ Zekester, checks in at a relatively advanced 56 years of age, I’ve learned a thing or two over the long decades.One of those is in the eternal sinewy showdown matching Youth vs. Age, the callow side always kicks butt.Everybody, even those among of us who are nearing dotage, prefers shiny, new things.You don’t see old folks walking around with a swagger and a snarl like you do those young whippersnappers.Folks older than dirt don’t exactly drip narcissism as they stagger around on their walkers.Women in their 80s and in their right minds don’t wear bikinis to the beach.You don’t find old junk wrapped under the Christmas tree.Yes, we inhabit a disposable society. We want things to burn fast and burn bright and then dump the ashes before they soil our shoes.People and places all go down swinging once they’ve witnessed too many calendar pages dropping off like autumn leaves.Which brings me to 55-year-old FirstEnergy Stadium, a mere one year younger than yours truly.It has served its tenants, the Reading Phillies, quite well. The team draws nearly 500,000 fans a year to its frequently refurbished home on Centre Avenue.But that edifice, despite all the spit, polish and new toys that owner Craig Stein and GM Chuck Stein have adorned it with over the years, is more than two miles from downtown.Which is a bad thing these days.For years, everybody was fleeing Reading for the suburbs.And now the reverse is happening.Yep, life is indeed cyclical.Now everybody was to be down by the river, down by the River Schuylkill. And since FirstEnergy Stadium ain’t getting any younger — because we all know we can’t make a chicken bark and we can’t find that damn Fountain of Youth — the trendy thought is to build a new ballpark by the river.Mike Drago, the Reading Phillies beat writer for the Reading Eagle, eloquently pitched some sound reasons why there should be a new stadium erected by the river.In a nutshell, Drago wrote in his Sunday column that FirstEnergy Stadium isn’t as functional or fan-friendly as newer ballparks and its parking situation is tighter than my pants after a huge meal.And he pointed out that our sister cities are sporting gaudy new diamonds and poised to steal our lunch.And, thanks to the marketing genius of Chuck Domino, we are perpetually branded as Baseballtown. Nothing but the best for us. Consequently, a spanking new facility by the river undoubtedly would make a big splash. I guess our city fathers are now thinking that the Reading Phillies have ridden their hot horse into the ground. So why keep saddling up an ancient plow horse when you can be astride a magnificent stallion?Drago’s message evidently resonated with receptive ears.City officials now want to switch horses because a riverfront ballpark certainly could embellish the downtown entertainment development that has taken root and is sprouting quite nicely.Stein, however, is reluctant to move. No wonder. He has poured millions of his own money into the city-owned stadium, dramatically upgrading the facility from what once was a decaying dump.Now, like a proud homeowner, he’s understandably slow to pull the trigger on its demolition. Of course, if his ballpark is downtown and lots of fans are gulping pregame meals at city restaurants, fewer folks are chowing down at ballpark concession stands.That might give his bottom line more indigestion than gulping three or four ballpark hot dogs during one inning. Plus, Stein is preoccupied with building a $30 million stadium in Lehigh Valley that likely will house Philadelphia’s Triple-A franchise.Allentown and Lancaster, which already has a brand new ballpark, figure to siphon some of Reading’s fan base.So perhaps a gorgeous new ballpark nestled next to the Schuylkill would be a grand thing.But it’s not going to happen overnight. Somebody has to come up with revenue streams to help fund it. The state probably will kick in some of the money, and Mayor Tom McMahon said it could also be funded by bonds that would be repaid by the Phillies’ lease payments.McMahon says a new ballpark could cost up to $60 million and take up to 15 years in planning and construction time.I just hope in 15 years when I’m barely breathing at 71, I have enough energy still bubbling in my antiquated bones to hobble down by the river to root on the Reading Phillies.

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Savage ferocity washes away the ramparts

Yes, I’ve read the news reports and I’ve seen the TV coverage.Still, I know I can’t really comprehend the sheer magnitude of the situation in New Orleans.Unless you’re actually there and stuck in the bowels of this epic disaster, nobody can.The enormity of loss caused by Hurricane Katrina boggles the imagination.I was most fortunate to have visited New Orleans a few years ago, and I became enchanted with the city.The French Quarter had an ambience like perhaps no other place on earth.Notice the use of the past tense in the preceding sentence.Now, everybody must leave New Orleans because of immense flooding caused by breached levees.In fact, New Orleans is drowning. Matters are so utterly dire right now that Louisiana has put aside counting the dead to concentrate on rescuing the living. Still, the mayor estimates that thousands likely have died in New Orleans.Let that staggering figure resonate in the recesses of your mind. Indeed, surviving residents will need deep reservoirs of resolve and resiliency to salvage themselves and their possessions from this colossal nightmare.Who could blame them if Katrina’s wicked wrath has left them shattered and dispirited?When a torrential force washes away your heart, it’s difficult to keep your chin up.I imagine there are a lot of folks there who are having impassioned chats with their deity as they peer into the gargantuan void of despair — in their city and in their souls.Of course, they are not alone in their torment.The poor folks in Mississippi also find themselves swamped with destruction, their emotions undoubtedly swimming in raw adrenaline as they cling to any and all lifelines.Indeed, the entire Gulf Coast is redolent with the musk of soul-numbing loss.I’m sure plenty of people are wondering if there possibly can be enough glue and duct tape in the world to put everything back the way it once was.The blunt answer is no.Harsh but true.Still, Americans are blessed with an inordinate bounce-back capacity. It will take billions of dollars and billions of ounces — blood, sweat and tears — to rebuild.But rebuild they will — eventually. But it will never be the same.But it hopefully it will be rebuilt smarter, better equipped to provide shelter from the storm. There is a splendid side to living in a coastal area. But a dark side as well.Mother Nature is a true Gemini. She can be a warm friend and a terrorizing foe.To be blunt, Mother Nature has declared war on the Gulf Coast. It’s up to all of us to fight back.And get ready for the next round.Make no mistake.Mother Nature’s vicious backhand will be back, dealing destruction more adroitly than a blackjack dealer.Playing the hand we’re dealt is terribly hard to swallow at times.This is one of those sad, sad times.

“Rome” wasn’t built in a day

There’s something about sand-and-sandal epics that mesmerizes me like a light bulb attracts a moth.It must have been watching all those Steve Reeves’ Hercules movies as a kid.So that’s why I just had to scope out the premiere of HBO’s “Rome” Sunday night.The epic is set in 52 B.C. Julius Caesar is just wrapping up his little dogfight in Gaul and is returning to Rome to get down and dirty with his co-consul, the flaccid Pompey Magnus.In a nutshell, this was the period in which the Republic of Rome was evolving into the Roman Empire. The Good Guys Morph into the Evil Empire should be the subtitle. So, my take?HBO spent $100 million in producing the series, so it does have lush sets and authentic wardrobes.I expected a dazzling spectacle, but found it less than incandescent.It’s probably just me. I’m sure the series is exquisitely conceived and a historical tour de force.But to my untutored mind, the script didn’t bullet me through the narrative fast enough. I found it too slow and encumbered with too many characters.Perhaps once I figure out who’s who and sort out the huge cast, I will better connect with the narrative. Still, the premiere seemed to move at times as if underwater. Thus, it failed to engage me.I thought Caesar would come across as more of a galvanic personality. After all, he was the mirror and lighting rod for a tumultuous era. I thought he would project an icier blade of arrogance.In fact, I found most of the characters to be rather bland. Perhaps it’s the pallor of the British accents.However, there was one notable exception. Atia, the conniving niece of Caesar, is a vicious powerbroker whose raw sexuality is every bit as powerful as a sharp broadsword.She seems to love wrestling with the jungle animal that is lust. She’s soft on the outside; hard on the inside. The storyline is filtered through the eyes of two soldiers serving in Caesar’s 13th Legion, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo. In my opinion, their presence in the premiere just seemed to muddle the narrative. I do believe the series will grow on me.A series that features pools of blood, prime physiques, nasty nerve, flashing steel, graphic sex and full-frontal nudity all integrated into an eye-popping visual effect can’t be all bad.Plus, there is a lot of mineral product from which the producers can mine dramatic stories. Rome is a period of history forever frozen in time. No wonder the power and glory that was Rome has fascinated generations.I just hope HBO does the Eternal City proud. After all, the network does have successful experience portraying Italians with a penchant for murder, food and sex.“The Sopranos”, however, sports more vividly rich characters than an Italian eatery has types of pasta. So far, “Rome” can’t say the same.But I will stay tuned to find out how it all works out. As I said, I’m a sucker for sand and sandals.

Simon says … goodbye; T.O. gets a shaky pass … from Reid

No question that Corey Simon is a big, big bundle of talent.When in shape, he’s a charging rhino of a defensive tackle. Plus, to mix metaphors from the animal kingdom, he also has that extra special hiss of an alligator.Now, he’s also living with a question mark hanging from his neck. A $5.13 million question mark.Simon wanted a long-term, big-money deal from the Philadelphia Eagles. But the Birds had lost interest in such a contract essentially because Simon apparently turned down a 5-year, $34 million contract in 2003.So the Eagles put the franchise-tag designation on him this year. But instead of signing the $5.13 million tender sheet and reporting to camp, Simon stayed home, biting his bottom lip as he brooded.Now the bottom line is Simon — for now — gets nothing.The Eagles surprisingly on Sunday evening withdrew their franchise-tag designation on Simon, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent and saving themselves more than $5 million.A robust defensive line rotation enabled the Birds to jettison Simon like so much flotsam.The Birds were caught in a perplexing position. Nobody wants to give away something for nothing unless they’re benevolent benefactors or saints. But the Eagles couldn’t make a deal for Simon because of his greedy demands. In the spring, the Birds worked out trades with Baltimore and Cincinnati, but neither the Ravens nor the Bengals could work out contract terms with the sixth overall pick in the 2000 draft.The timing of Simon’s release did the former Pro Bowler no favors. By waiting until now, the Eagles have made it less likely Simon will get a big-money, long-term deal right away.Undoubtedly there will be some teams who covet Simon. But not a lot of teams have much elbow room in their salary caps these days.Simon may get a multiyear deal with a fat signing bonus eventually from somebody, but he may be forced to sign a short-term deal for short money in the interim.I don’t know about you, but I sort of think that $5 million is hardly chump change. Only time will tell if Simon was a chump for walking away from it.By the way, while the Birds were once again flexing their considerable muscles when they played economic hardball with Simon, they once again showed there is a double standard in their treatment of Terrell Owens.Using his groin injury, which by now must be considered borderline terminal, as a contrived excuse, Andy Reid allowed Owens to skip out on the Eagles Youth Partnership Carnival fund-raiser Sunday at the Linc.The event is supposed to be mandatory for players, who sign autographs and chat with fans. It’s a feel-good marketing event for charity and should be hardly confused with manual labor in a Roman salt mine. Nevertheless, I imagine the strain of scrawling his name and moving his lips in conversation would have snapped T.O.’s groin like a busted guitar string.And we couldn’t have that now, could we?Obviously the Birds wanted to avoid any T.O. flare-up at a charity event.They obviously are trying to mute any volatile fan eruption towards T.O., which is why they didn’t do their customary individual player introductions at Friday night’s preseason game. Nor did they show any pregame clips of Owens on their gigantic video boards.I guess the plan is to keep T.O. as far from the maddening crowd as possible. Except, of course, when he’s playing to the crowd after his lyrical grace explodes into a tremendous burst to the end zone.Granted, Reid also gave Tra Thomas a pass from the carnival because he is suffering from back spasms. Still, that smacked of mere camouflage to cover up their special treatment of their game-breaking but temperamental wide receiver.No doubt the Eagles have encountered some heavy congestion in their drive for another Super Bowl. And it’s still only August.And with their window of opportunity inching towards the sill of past tense, the Eagles are resorting to desperate measures.I guess you can’t blame them for rolling the dice with T.O. and making a what-the-hell heave at an NFL title.All I can say is I hope Owens is worth it. I don’t give a damn if he’s not talking to Donovan McNabb or his offensive coordinator. But he’d better run each and every pass pattern as if the hounds of hell are nipping at his heels.

The Lion in winter is hardly a passing fancy

I know you all know that yours truly, the ol’ Zekester, usually huddles up with the NFL when this blogosphere decides to snap its chinstrap and do some gridiron grunting.But, truth be told, I also follow college football with a degree of devotion.For instance, just to prove to you that I can appear enlightened enough to dissect Saturday’s heroes as well, I can write with gruesome clarity that Penn State football ain’t what it used to be. OK, OK, everybody knows that. And just so all those Happy Valley tailgating zealots don’t think I’m about to pile on Joe Paterno in his dotage, I fully suspect the Nittany Lions to be actually competitive in the Big Ten this season.For a welcome change.Which still is a long cry from the hallowed days when Penn State was one of the big boys on the college football landscape — even if the Lions had to stake their claim by sacking the Temples of this secular world. Even with a dramatic bounce back this year, the Lions still will be a good city block or two behind the likes of Southern Cal, Texas, Florida, Michigan, Tennessee and all those other football factories where smokestacks spew out studs bigger than Macy’s floats and faster than baked beans through a goose.Still, I do see some trouble on the horizon for Penn State this fall. And it all revolves around the quarterback position.As you likely suspect, the QB is the most important swan in the ballet.Without a guy who can fire test missiles while hitting a gnat between its eyes at 40 yards, a football team might as well sign up for latrine duty because it’s gonna spend lots of time in the trenches anyway.For what’s it’s worth (I am entitled to my two cents, I do believe), I think JoePa — not such an endearing moniker these days now that he’s turned into a Grumpy Old Man — is starting the wrong quarterback.Michael Robinson is the No. 1 QB and Joe swears that this incredibly versatile athlete will be a quarterback forever more — at least at Penn State.If you recall, Robinson has spent his PSU career doing more multi-tasking than a one-man band.Besides quarterback, he’s been a tailback, flanker, split end, punt returner and Paterno’s personal sideline geriatric optometrist when those cold November winds crack his thick geezer glasses.Robinson has more fast-twitch fibers than super heroes. And that’s without the benefit of a costume change. Poor Michael has to perform his dynamic deeds while wearing the blandest uniform in the history of athletics. He can burst out of nowhere like a hormone surge. He can pinball off, through and by defenders on a routine basis — marvelous heroics that trigger tales to be told in the flickering darkness of post-game tailgate parties.Yep, tall tales that are both shouted with unabated shock and whispered with reverent silky murmurs of utter awe.This is not hyperbole. Robinson can do things with his feet that can buckle the earth and break defenders’ ankles and hearts.Indeed, he can do it all — except pass. Accuracy always helps when you’re a gunslinger.If Robinson were a gunfighter, he’d be resting on Boot Hill. He couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat.Now, I’m not knocking the guy. He hasn’t spent enough time at quarterback to nurture proper passing mechanics.Although Paterno and his staff have tried to retool Robinson’s fundamentals, it’s a little late in the game for that now.When the molten heat of game intensity is melting a QB’s facemask, freshly minted fundamentals frequently become unglued.Besides, even though Robinson prefers to play quarterback, his NFL future projects him playing somewhere else –probably at wide receiver.A year of concentration honing and refining his receiving skills undoubtedly would raise his stock in next spring’s NFL draft.Speaking of the future, Paterno also isn’t doing his program any favors by not starting sophomore Anthony Morelli at quarterback this year.This kid has a pedigree that screams marquee QB. His arm is so strong, mere footballs suddenly morph into Superballs with a flick of his powerful wrist.And now that he has grasped the Penn State offense and no longer has a bleached look to his eyes when reading defenses, the time has come to put him in the pocket.Speaking of time, Paterno, who obviously is running out of time, has blatantly mistimed Morelli’s Penn State career.Joe admittedly blew a year of Morelli’s eligibility last season when he burned his redshirt. And although Paterno has said he will find time for Morelli to play this season, he still will be Robinson’s caddy.Of course, Paterno does have a penchant for playing musical quarterbacks because he is notoriously indecisive when it comes to his field generals.He has a history of going through more generals than Lincoln did in the Civil War.Playing two quarterbacks is a disservice to both. And a bigger disservice to the team.What a waste of talent if Morelli languishes on the bench again this season. All he needs is game experience to blossom.Nothing sprouts unless you stick it in dirt. It’s time for the kid to get his uniform dirty on a regular basis.After all, he was more heralded than the Angel Gabriel coming out of high school. He threw for more than 5,200 yards and 57 touchdowns at Penn Hills High School in Pittsburgh.In fact, some folks thought Morelli was better than Wilson’s Chad Henne coming out of high school — and all Henne did last season as a true freshman was to be downright dandy in leading Michigan to the Rose Bowl.By the way, Morelli outplayed Henne in the Big 33 Game. You can look it up.And by not starting Morelli this season, Paterno certainly is retarding his development for the next two years.Right now, it appears that Morelli will only be a two-year starter at Penn State. When you’ve got a diamond, why keep it buried? Diamonds only glitter on the shelf in jewelry stores.Plus, can you imagine how lethal of a pass-catch combo Miorelli to Robinson would be?In the winter of his life, Joe Paterno has become a guy who somehow specializes in turning the once radiant smiles of the Happy Nation faithful upside down.Sadly, his quarterback choice seems to be another written invitation to eliciting more jeers than cheers.

An opening act too marvelous for words

Go on, admit it. Come on, you don’t need a priest around to make your confession.Yep, you and I and everyone else — except for maybe the folks in India and China who simply don’t give a damn about the NFL — have to spill our guts and concede that the universe does indeed hold its breath over Terrell Owens.The Philadelphia Eagles’ rebellious man-child simply revels in the joy of being T.O.And all the fans who populated the Linc Friday night as the Birds clipped the Bengals 27-17 in a preseason tussle vicariously reveled in the power, glory and majesty of this spectacular receiver.Folks have accused T.O. of many things, but never have called him frugal and simple -– like a tuna fish casserole.Owens has this remarkable ability to become even better when challenges tug mightily on his No. 81 Superman’s cape.There truly is something special about a guy who draws fire and strength from adversity as easily as the rest of us tie our shoes.He and the quarterback don’t speak. And they did not Friday night.But no matter. No matter at all. Action does speak dramatically louder than words.On the Eagles’ first offensive snap, Owens caught a 64-yard touchdown pass from Donovan McNabb -– the QB he has branded a hypocrite.On the Birds’ second play, he snagged a 31-yard pass. And on the third he narrowly missed a 28-yard TD when he was ruled out of bounds in the end zone.By then, the fans who had crucified him for his absurd contract quarrel now absolutely worshiped him again. You could even smell the incense in the air. When his brief stay with the Eagles concludes after this season, T.O. will remain a mythic figure in Philly for ever and a day.Who knows? He may someday be bigger in Philly history books than Billy Penn, Ben Franklin or cheesesteaksWhen the first half had concluded, Owens had a game-high five catches for 131 yards and the Eagles had a 27-3 lead.His opening touchdown catch was the stuff of legend. Considering the context of all the summer angst between T.O. and management, McNabb, his head coach and his offensive coordinator, it was incredibly, deliciously surreal.Even Hollywood would have thought it to be too over the top.Owens rocketed into the open on a streak pattern, the fountain of flow from his thoroughbred legs eating up real estate like a greedy developer.He grabbed the McNabb parabola around the 20, stumbled for a fleeting, tantalizing second, then quickly regained his footing and accelerated into the end zone.It was as if the chain had never been broken between Owens and McNabb.After the touchdown, Owens basked in the end zone, seemingly strutting even as he stood relatively still. Julius Caesar couldn’t have looked more majestically triumphant after he waltzed through Gaul.With hands on hips and head nodding like he was listening to the music in his infamous headphones, Owens was the epitome of cocksure arrogance.T.O. can take all the tension in the stadium, all the emotion and feeling, and make it his. He becomes all he can be.As a receiver, with all his wondrous skill and insatiable will responding to every challenge, he is whole.Nobody can confine his spirit on a football field.And he manages a crowd better than anyone else on earth. He’s the sort of person who always is in the center of things.After reestablishing his eminent domain in the end zone, he galloped off the field with a fist pump to his chest and pointed into the stands.The fickle fan lovefest was at its most passionate at that precise moment.McNabb’s and Owen’s paths never intersected on the crowded Eagle sideline. The contrast was poignant. On the field, their dynamic passing combination tethered them together. Off the field, they inhabited different dimensions.Can they inhabit parallel universes and still function as magnificently throughout the season?That, Eagles fans, is the crux of the matter. All I know is that T.O. substantially lifts the entire offense’s game by his mere presence. And he transforms McNabb into a true gunslinger. In the first half Friday night, he threw for 256 yards and three touchdowns.The witch’s brew of talent and passion in T.O.’s genes concocts a bubbling cauldron.Only time will tell whether the Eagles find that cauldron’s contents to be elixir or poison.

A night at the soap opera worthy of Marx Brothers proportions

Well, sports fans, tonight’s the night.One Terrell Owens, the media maven and mayhem magnet, is expected to make his preseason debut for the Philadelphia Eagles.Spiking the melodrama to insane proportions is that this exhibition just happens to be a home game at the Linc.Suddenly, the Bengals vs. the Eagles is a secondary consideration, as if it were a mere scrimmage between Burger King counter jockeys and Denny’s fry cooks.Indeed, the focal point undoubtedly will be T.O. and to what degree the bombastic Eagles faithful greet him with an intoxicating mixed climate of loathing and adoration.We know three things about Iggles Nation:1. Its populace never develops lumbago of the vocal cords.2. Its residents know how to spell E-A-G-L-E-S if you spot them the E and the A. 3. Its citizens are frontrunners.So I suspect that T.O. will receive a boisterous greeting of boos but the instant he makes a big play, his ears will be basking in applause.Of course, which T.O. will show up tonight also is the subject of fierce debate.Will he be the sullen, silent warrior just doing his job?Or will play to the crowd, conducting the fans as if he were orchestrating a symphony? After all, we all know that the dude excels as a raconteur and producer of impromptu dramatics.Will he have headphones stuck on his helmet?Will he move his lips in the direction of Donovan McNabb?Will he do the Bristol stomp on McNabb in the huddle after the QB fires an errant pass at his piggy toes or hangs him up to dry over the middle so a defender can play T.O.’s ribs like a xylophone?Or will T.O. risk the wrath of everyone by becoming a game-time scratch after straining his groan by squeezing in a few last-minute crunches in the parking lot? Whatever transpires, it figures to be an evening that could be as abstract, absurd and surreal as George W. Bush debating Larry, Moe and Curly in Latin.After all, we simply can’t ignore T.O because it’s impossible to ignore a terrier constantly gnawing on our ribs.