Terrible twists of fate

Life sometimes takes an exit ramp to tragedy.For instance, the body of a Berks County funeral home operator’s estranged wife was found hanged two days before she was scheduled to testify in an assault case against her husband and then he subsequently was charged with assaulting a deputy coroner and hospital technician.Suffice it to say that sometimes life becomes gnarled and grotesque, manically unraveling and spooling out of control. And not even cosmic forces can cobble things together.Once such a dark genie squirts out of the bottle, there is no hope of rebottling. Alas, there are no mulligans in life.Sadly, there’s hardly a wrap on mourning as well.

Crossing the Alps on elephants would be easier than sitting through this Vin Diesel brainstorm

The Hollywood spotlight must have fried Vin Diesel’s brains.Either that or he’s been using a cheese grater to shave his skull. The muscle-headed actor wants to chronicle the life of Hannibal in a trilogy.Say what? First of all, the movie-going public hasn’t exactly been foaming at the mouth and into their popcorn in anticipation of a three-part biopic on the Alps-crossing, elephant-riding conqueror.Now get this: Diesel, whose best dialogue is merely a visceral gruntiness, wants the dialogue to be all in Punic, the language that Hannibal and his troops spoke to their elephants.Punic is a language deader than Latin. Nobody has spoken it in 2,000 years (although my Uncle Stosh came close sometimes after one too many boilermakers). So what’s the point of the Punic dialogue? Diesel could have his actors simply speak gibberish and pretend it was Punic. Who would know? Granted, Mel Gibson used Aramaic in “The Passion of the Christ.” But at least some film audiences had a working knowledge of Jesus’ death, which put the movie in context.A flilm about Hannibal entirely in Punic will leave the two or three people who buy tickets to see it wailing and gnashing their teeth.If somehow Diesel gets the first Hannibal flick produced, don’t hold your breath waiting for the two sequels. You’ll wind up bluer than a XXX film.Speaking of “XXX,” I’m not sure English was spoken in that Diesel epic.Anyway, Diesel has a better shot at playing Hamlet than he does producing this terrible trinity.

Jerry shows T.O. the money; will T.O. show Jerry the love?

Considering the breadth and tonnage of all my T.O. blogs in the past year, I’ll try to keep it this brief.But I do feel compelled to comment on the three-year, $25 million deal Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has made with the devil –oops, sorry about that — Terrell Owens.First off, T.O. is getting a $5 million signing bonus and a $5 million base salary the first year. That money is guaranteed even if he murders Cowboys quarterback Drew Bledsoe or forces Dallas head coach Bill Parcells to do ab crunches with him on his front lawn (I’d pay good money to see the Tuna do that).Since Owens forfeited roughly $2.5 million in bonus money and game checks last season with Philadelphia, the $10 million he landed from the Cowboys is really worth about $7.5 million. He was scheduled to make $8.3 million from the Eagles this year.Surprisingly, there are no clauses or any penalties in the Dallas contract should T.O. pull any of the puckish and/or destructive stunts he was infamous for in ragdolling the 49ers and Eagles.”I think you have risks in every player that you sign,” Jones said. “I wouldn’t call this a high-risk move. Not at all.”If you say so, Jerry. But you had better respect the dignity of risk. Yep, T.O. was a beaming, handsome action hero posing with you in front of all the flashbulbs yesterday. If I recall, T.O.’s smile was backlit by a 24-karat sun during his introductory press conference with Eagles head coach Andy Reid two years ago.Beware that smile. This is a selfish dude who will dropkick a franchise as nonchalantly as kicking an anthill. He mugs people — sneaks up behind them, knocks them down, and stands on their throats while going through their pockets.Suffice it to say, his outsized personality overwhelms his considerable pass-catching accomplishments. And Owens knows how to be glib and make nice when the mood fancies him and the moon is in its seventh heaven. Or something like that.”I’m a star among stars now,” Owens said gleaming while perched at the right hand of Jones. “I’m going to put (problems of the past) behind me. They can only make a man stronger, wiser. For me, that’s what it’s done. I’ll be a better teammate, a better person, a better man in life. I’m looking forward to this opportunity.””I’m going in with my eyes wide open,” said Bledsoe. “I know there have been some issues. But at the same time, going forward from here, I don’t see how it helps us to dwell on some of the stuff that’s gone on in the past.”What would help Bledsoe if he somehow could see out of the back of his head. And even if he could, he’d have to wear some sort of customized helmet. Because T.O. will be lurking behind his right passing shoulder all season. As for the subsequent two seasons, we shall see. NFL contracts aren’t guaranteed. But if Jones opts to continue their relationship beyond this season, he will have to pay T.O. a $3 million roster bonus in March 2007 and an additional $5 million base salary. Owens’ compensation for a third year would be a $3 million roster bonus in March 2008 and a base salary of $4 million.Let’s see if he ever sees any of that cash. If not, those numbers are merely Monopoly money. But at least for now, T.O. has passed Go!

Irving Fryar: God is the bass line behind his life

Gerald Veasley is a renowned bassist from Philadelphia who’s conducting his annual Gerald Veasley’s Bass Boot Camp at the Sheraton Reading Hotel in conjunction with the FirstEnergy Berks Jazz Fest.Veasley also is a hardcore Philadelphia Eagles fan.Which is why it wasn’t an exotic stretch that former NFL great and Eagles wide receiver Irving Fryar was a special guest instructor at the camp this afternoon.But Fryar, who fiddles with the bass and told the camp students and instructors that “I can play as well as you all with my invisible bass,” wasn’t there to talk about hitting the low notes, which bassists do.He was there to tell them how they can turn those low notes in life into high notes. “We want to take it to another level, evolve the camp with a special guest,” Veasley said in his introduction of Fryar.Well, to jumble my sports metaphors, Veasley hit a grand slam with Fryar, who eloquently stroked all the right chords. Then again, it was a slam dunk that he would.Irving Fryar, the former All-American from Nebraska; the 17-year NFL star with the Patriots, Dolphins, Eagles and Redskins who played in five Pro Bowls; the kid who never really wanted to be a football player because he wanted to fly jets instead; the troubled and turbulent jock who grew morose and remote while a young drug-addled player only to morph into an eloquent elder statesman in his later NFL years after God touched him on the shoulder; now a pastor and businessman in Jobstown, N.J., is one fascinating individual. Fryar doesn’t adopt an air of religious quiescence. He’s a child of the streets who still has the street cred. He’s equally adroit at having impassioned chats with his deity as well as with his brothers and sisters.

He’s real, not a superficial ex-superstar who slaps on a veneer of worldly sophistication. In his quiet time I’m sure he becomes frozen in an electrified, meditative reverence. But when he’s preaching, he crackles with energy.

“I played 17 years in the NFL, and it’s not really cracked up to be what people think it is,” he told the bassists. “There is money and all that comes with it … a big house, fancy cars, women, but it’s a false scenario of success.”

Fryar, who with God’s grace transformed a life freighted with peril more dramatically (and light-years faster) than coal turns into diamonds, then got to the core of his message.

“The law of life is something you can’t do anything about,” he explained. “What goes up, must come down. The law of gravity is a law of life. Another law of life is a natural law. You’re going to die someday.

“Just apply this law of life: What you do is what you get. You reap what you sow. If you’re doing the right things and making the right choices, eventually you’ll be rewarded.”

Fryar then figuratively knelt in a confessional box.

“I was a product of a dysfunctional family,” he said. “Every night was Fight Night for my parents. Drugs, alcohol, gangs all were a part of my youth. I smoked enough and snorted enough … I should be dead. I smoked dope, snorted coke. I still suffer the consequences of some of my early bad choices.

“I never wanted to be a football player. I played because my buddies did and it was a way to get girls. I thought I was a better baseball player. But life always has been a competition for me. I always want to be the best. I study my brains out now to be a good preacher. That’s the way I worked out as a football player.

“I majored in meteorology at Nebraska because I wanted to fly jets as a Marine officer. But I gave football my best shot at Nebraska and I got drafted No. 1. But I didn’t want to play in the NFL. I was going into the Marines. But I played ball because my mom said we needed the money.”

Need the money? They desperately needed the money. Hard times had descended upon the Fryars with all the restraint of seven-year locusts.

“When I got back home to Mount Holly, New Jersey, there was no family home,” Fryar said. “We had lost it.”

So a Patriot he became. And a bad man. In his early NFL years, trouble and good times stalked him like a timber wolf. He, and his life, had about as much charm as a strangler’s chord.

But he found faith. And his relentless, remarkable work ethic made him excel inside the concrete-saucer stadiums that populated the NFL of that era.

“People said I underachieved my first two years in the NFL,” he explained, “so I spent the next 15 years proving them wrong.”

Whether it’s starring in a sport you really don’t want to play or trying to cease turning your life into an engine of destruction, there is a common thread in the fabric.

“The challenge is to overcome yourself,” Fryar said. “The ability to overcome your doubts, your fear, and persevere. Then you can accomplish what you want. I become a professional football player by accident but I excelled because I worked hard.”

And now he excels as a man of God and a businessman involved in real estate and credit enhancement. He also owns a salon. In his spare time, he does some sports commentary for WPVI Channel 6 in Philadelphia.

“All I have now is based on faith,” he said.

For fun, he stomps on the accelerator on his motorcycle.

“I wanted to fly jets; now I just ride my motorcycle fast to experience some of that thrill,” he said, a quick giggle and a flashing smile punctuating his sentence.

As a former NFL bad boy who has seen the light, he feels sorry for mercurial NFL stars who become arch-villains.

Terrell Owens, for instance.

Fryar conceded he’d love to pinch T.O. and wake him up to reality. Sadly, like many players who somewhat squandered their talents, Fryar believes Owens someday will be cradled in regret.

“We all grow up,” Fryar said. “But there are growing pains. It took me a long time. I pray that things will get better for T.O. Do I think he will regret a lot of things as he looks back on his career someday? Sure. I thought about giving him advice, but he’s not the type of guy who I believe would be receptive. He has a tight inner circle.”

There was a day when nobody would have believed what Irving Fryar has become. Perhaps there is similar hope for T.O. And you and me.

By the way, Fryar expects to have an encore appearance at Gerald Veasley’s Boot Bass Camp. But he won’t be wearing the robes of a preacher man.

“I want to come back here next year with a bass and learn something,” he said.” It’s my dream to someday be an adequate bass player.”

After all, a good bass line can have a celestial magnitude.

The word is T.O. is about to have a big star on his helmet – may the Lord have mercy on the Cowboys

Despite all the enormous emotional baggage weighing him down, Terrell Owens somehow can ignore the earth’s gravitational pull and mimic a raptor soaring into the clouds.Now it appears that T.O., late of NFL purgatory, the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers, is about to take flight to the Dallas Cowboys.He reportedly has reached an agreement in principle with the Cowboys. A formal announcement, with trumpets blaring and cymbals clashing, is expected in the new few days. Well, who’s surprised? I’m certainly not. The Cowboys need a wideout more desperately than Paris Hilton needs attention.And owner Jerry Jones craves a bigger profile than the man in the moon. Jones frequently transcends the usual logical boundaries. He considers himself to be a thinking man’s owner, and he has a voracious appetite for public acclaim.Plus, he and coach Bill Parcells rank winning right up there with breathing. They apparently are hopeful that T.O. will be an altar boy for at least a season, as bouncy and breezy as a young calf. They evidently realize T.O. never will be as quiet as a convent cat, but are probably praying that the loquacious and luminous receiver is merely content to catch passes, score touchdowns and flash that high-wattage smile.Who knows? For a year it might work. Even though the self-focused T.O. is a different kind of beast, even he must realize that he has swaggered into the Last Chance Saloon.So expect him to be a picture of smiling nonchalance, a dude of beguiling innocence, a teammate of casual ease.But, lo and behold, God protect the Cowboys once quarterback Drew Bledsoe overthrows or overlooks T.O. once too often. Then Terrible T.O. the Human Vanity Plate will accelerate full throttle into the cancer he has morphed into elsewhere. When the lamb lies down with the lion, the lamb shouldn’t expect to get much sleep. History is replete with horror stories about foolish men who tried to ride in tandem with their assailants.The Good Lord has sprinkled Terrell Owens with greatness, but the man is a saboteur.Eagles fans can take solace in the fact that if T.O. does indeed sign with the Cowboys, past history strongly suggests a holocaust ultimately will be a plague upon their house. So check out to see if Jerry Jones’ hand is twitching when he hands T.O. the pen to sign his contract. After all, T.O., in his Niner heyday, once stomped on the Cowboys star at midfield at Texas Stadium. Now he gets a chance to stomp on the entire franchise. I guess you would call that the Texas two-step!

A bigger Berks doesn't necessarily mean a better Berks

Berks County, like many of our waistlines, is growing. We ranked sixth among the state’s counties in growth by population between 2000 and 2005, attracting 22,676 additional folks.Affordable housing is quite a powerful magnet.Growth, of course, doesn’t always usher in a sublime sunbeam of satisfaction. There is no question that the winds of tomorrow start slinging carving knives at life as we know it.School districts and infrastructure biggies such as road and utilities always experience growing pains. People who crave silence and stillness suddenly find themselves confronting noise and blurring motion as they fight for elbow room in their once spacious neighborhoods. They then feel impotent about the ruckus, mere marionettes in the hands of strangers.Home is where the heart is, which is why issues of social comfort run deep into wherever it is a man or woman lives.There is another element to the growth spurt in Berks. Most of the newcomers are flocking either to the outer suburbs perched on the growth corridors linking us to the Lehigh Valley, Lancaster and Philadelphia, or to our inner city.The suburban newbies spawn bedroom communities of commuters who work elsewhere. An influx of Latinos is ballooning the city’s population spike.The trick is to somehow engage these suburban bedroom communities and an inner city core of a different culture in their new neighborhoods. And getting them stitched into the fabric of local society may be the biggest growing pain of all.

When you get down to the meat of it, the Irish are a lucky — and blessed — lot!

There’s not a drop of Irish blood in me.I think leprechauns are goofy, annoying midgets.I think shamrocks look like weeds.I root against Notre Dame.I find green beer to be repulsive. I’d rather drink rat poison than swallow Irish whisky. I think potatoes are awful unless they convert them into French fries.And I absolutely abhor corned beef and cabbage. Hell, I’d rather eat fish on Friday. And that’s no blarney.Of course, being Catholic, I often dine on seafood on Lenten Fridays because of the edict to abstain from meat. But not tomorrow. Not on St. Patrick’s Day.Thanks to those lovable Irish and their unquenchable thirst to party hardy, to strut and preen, to gloat and chortle, all with a green twinkle in their eyes, Catholics around here are free to inhale all the meat they can ingest and not risk having their souls burn down to ash in hell.Man, I love the Irish — especially when March 17th lands on a Friday.Ah, yes. To be Irish (or an Irish wannabe) on St. Paddy’s Day is to live in a state of bliss.The luck of the Irish even rubs off on God. Or at least on some of his clergy.To those who think the Roman Catholic Church is about as flexible as an arthritic spine, think again. A lot of bishops, caught in a tug of war between the strict Lenten regulations and the rowdy Irish, have granted dispositions from the no-meat rule tomorrow.Of course, there’s always those stick-in-the-mud bishops who stomp on toes until they turn into so much tilapia.While Catholics throughout Pennsylvania, including we lucky souls in the Allentown Diocese, can chomp on raw hamburger with a clear conscience, our brethren in the Harrisburg and Pittsburgh dioceses don’t have the same freedom. Their bishops must not be fans of corned beef. Or either just meanies. Puh-leeze. Where’s the theological consistency here? Are you listening, St. Augustine?Let me get this straight.If I eat filet mignon for dinner tomorrow in a Berks County steakhouse and then get whacked by a truck on the way home, I’ll wake up — all things being kosher with my state of grace, mind you — at heaven’s pearly gates. And good evening to you, St. Peter.But if I drive to a Harrisburg restaurant tomorrow for pork chops and then get steamrolled by a tractor-trailer on the way home, I’ll wake up to a hot game of poker with Lucifer in the bowels of hell.Apparently the line separating eternal salvation from eternal damnation is as thin as a quivering aerialist’s wire: It’s not just what you eat, but where you eat it. As the Realtors tell us, it’s all about location, location, location.

Gaffney, Garcia pump some air into deflated Eagles

It’s irresistible for armchair quarterbacks such as myself during the free agency binge to dredge players’ careers for fragments to explain whether they were a good signing for a club.Well, it seems that the Eagles have done themselves well with the acquisition of wideout Jabar Gaffney, a starter for most of his four seasons with the Houston Texans.Ditto for backup quarterback Jeff Garcia, who is expected to be officially in the Eagles’ nest by today.Of course, neither should be heralded as the second coming. But both should amply fill some critical needs for the Eagles.Gaffney somewhat underachieved with the Texans, but there were circumstances beyond his control.With no O-line and QB David Carr getting sacked seemingly on every snap, Gaffney was at the center of a vortex of hilarity. Consequently, Houston was no passing fancy. In fact, its offense was so astonishingly bad that it seemed fictional.Gaffney is a solid receiver and certainly upgrades the wideout corps. Reggie Brown, Todd Pinkston, Greg Lewis, Billy McMullen and Darnerien McCants aren’t exactly a who’s who of stud pass catchers. In his prime with the 49ers, Garcia was a hell-for-leather daredevil quarterback whose feisty demeanor helped transcend his game beyond his limited physical resources. His right arm never will be confused with a Winchester, so he can’t shoot holes in a secondary. But he is adroit at running the West Coast offense, which the Birds employ, and has moxie as a playmaker. Which is why he went to three Pro Bowls in his prime.Granted, helping elevate his game in San Francisco was a wideout named Terrell Owens, who later threw Garcia under a bus.As you may recall, T.O. did the same to Donovan McNabb last season. So Garcia and McNabb will be able to compare their respective tire tracks while rejoicing that Owens no longer is an Eagle.For those of us who endured the nightmare of watching Mike McMahon and Koy Detmer nervously bobble the offense as if it were a live hand grenade last season, we cling fondly to the memory of what a capable backup QB should be.With McNabb still healing from his sports hernia surgery, it’s comfortable to know that the club now has an insurance policy worth the paper it’s printed on.With Eagles fans hungry for an abrupt change in fortune, the signings of Gaffney and Garcia — when piggybacked with the earlier free agents acquistions of defensive Darren Howard and tight end Matt Schobel — should give them something to chew on.

Memo to the Eagles: Sign Keyshawn Johnson (by the way, I'm not out of my mind)

OK, T.O. is totally over for the Eagles.But I still think Terrell Owens still will be in the Birds’ collective faces this autumn.Like twice when he lines up against them as a Dallas Cowboy.I know other teams might covet the turbulent wideout, lured by his luminescent skill set. But I suspect that only Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will be willing to cough up enough bucks to satisfy T.O.’s ego.As we all know, Owens is downright resplendent in his star shine. And if he signed a contract for chump change, he’d lose considerable face and street cred.So put a star on T.O.’s helmet.By the way, the Cowboys paved the way for T.O.’s arrival by kissing Keyshawn Johnson goodbye yesterday. Key, of course, is another free-spirited wideout who can be irrepressible and repugnant all in the same bewitching moment.Johnson, who will be 34 this summer, certainly doesn’t have the pistons any more to be much of a vertical threat. But the guy is a real warrior going across the middle as a possession receiver. He caught 71 balls for 839 yards and six touchdowns last season.I say the Eagles ought to take a run at him.For one, their wideout group certainly won’t make any secondary spoil its uniform pants.For two, the Birds could use some entertainment now that the T.O. soap opera has bubbled out of town.I’m told Joe Banner and Andy Reid are regular visitors to the Zeke blogosphere. So hopefully they’ll follow my expert advice.

It's official, Eagles fans: T.O. is free at last!

The denouement was a mere formality.The Eagles released Terrell Owens today. They didn’t bring a lot of pomp and ceremony to the announcement. They did it with a pithy one-sentence statement. After all, what else is there to be said?No word yet on whether the Reading Express are serious suitors for T.O.