Sunday, February 11, 2018

Best. Fake. News. Ever. No, Really. Ever.

FAKE NEWS ain't new, but there was a time when it was fun. Good, snarky fun.

Somewhere along the continuum that started with lies, dogma, doctrine, propaganda and spin, such fakery branched off into brilliant parody and satire, the sublime talent of tweaking the real and making it ridiculous.

It hit an artistic peak 40 years ago this week with the National Lampoon Sunday Newspaper Parody, a multi-sectioned send-up of everything right and wrong with the pile of newsprint delivered weekly to doorsteps all over America and a kind of fun house mirror image of the country itself.

Done so rightly, so completely, so perfect to the last block of agate sports section type, that without close inspection, the Sunday, February 12, 1978 edition of the Dacron Republican-Democrat -- One of America's Newspapers can almost pass for the real thing.

Mirth, satire and the comics.

Its heritage can almost certainly be traced back to Mad Magazine, born in comic book form in 1952 and transformed into a news magazine mockery three years later.  

Mad nourished a generation of cynical maladjusted kids who grew up to be cynical maladjusted grown-ups. Coming of age amid the youthquake of the 1960s, Vietnam, Watergate and the irony-ready Bicentennial, they made the world safe for irreverence.

One of them, P.J. O'Rourke, is credited with conceiving the Dacron Republican-Democrat as a kind of sequel to the NL's High School Yearbook parody (which, itself, gave rise to National Lampoon's blockbuster movie Animal House). O'Rourke's wingman in the newspaper project was future Hollywood auteur John Hughes, the man who gave us National Lampoon's VacationSixteen CandlesThe Breakfast Club and Ferris Buehler's Day Off

All for the newsstand price of $4.95
O'Rourke, Hughes and company, in the guise of deranged newspaper creators, writers and editors, skewered fame, parochialism, perversity, insecurity and thriftiness. Nothing was sacred and nobody was safe, not even good ol' Charlie Brown, ridiculed as "Ol' Weepy Whiner" in the full-color comics section. 

Starting from page one and threaded through the paper were repeated references to a fiendish local predator known as "The Powder Room Prowler," with hints the perpetrator may be the paper's publisher and moral crusader, Rutgers Gullet. 

A page one headline blared, "Two Dacron Women Feared Missing in Volcanic Disaster." The subhead: "Japan Destroyed."

Below the fold on the front of section C -- the Living Life section -- a story with the vexing headline, "Is Your Child a Dip?" On and on it went, through the sports second, the weekly magazines and the Swillmart discount store circular. Check the Scoreboard section, pictured here, for the reference to allowing ads to be place on baseball team uniforms and on the outfield grass. It was only funny because it wasn't true. Yet.

The deceptively realistic but entirely fake scoreboard page.
Real estate listings note "the famous Fazullo Murder house is on the market," and a full-page ad for the Food Clown supermarket features a 12-pack of diet Perrier for just $2.19.

Sure other parodies have been published with clever titles like Not the New York Times and the Off The Wall Street Journal and
 The Onion has since institutionalized the ingenious, but for sheer depth of depravity, it's hard to top the Dacron Republican-Democrat.

Don't take my word for it. You can see it for yourself at America's monument to freedom of the press, The Newseum in Washington DC, where the Sunday Newspaper Parody is one of nearly 400 historic newspapers on permanent display. 

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Wayne Gretzky Ruins the Islanders' All Star Affair

ADD TO WAYNE GRETZKY'S long list of accomplishments this: he was a rotten guest.

The occasion was the 35th National Hockey League All Star Game, being held for the first time at Long Island's Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the place the best team in hockey called home.

The National Hockey League's best
 come to Long Island
It turned out to be a rather unhappy affair for the locals, thanks in no small part to number 99.

It's not like he put a lampshade on his head, danced on the buffet table, then barfed in the punch bowl. This was more akin to wearing the same dress as the hostess, but looking way hotter.

It was Feb. 8, 1983 and the old barn was spruced up as much the built-on-a-budget concrete and cinderblock arena could be. Four members of the three-time reigning cup champion New York Islanders and their coach, Al Arbour, were on hand to greet The Great One and his Campbell Conference confreres.

Welcome to our house... May we take your coats?

Unlike today's All Star game, which is a couple of players short of a team and edges ever closer to sneaker-wearing players slapping an orange ball across a gym floor with plastic sticks, this mid-Winter classic was a true showcase for the creme de la creme of la Ligue Nationale de Hockey.

Then as now the LNH was split into two conferences, each consisting of two divisions. All of those groupings were named in honor of figures from the league's illustrious past, leaving all but the most dedicated fans in the dark about geographic points of origin. The eastern conference was named for the Prince of Wales, while the west honored a commoner, long-time league president Clarence Campbell.

Half the 20-man Wales all-stars were future hockey hall of famers: Mike Bossy, Denis Potvin and Bryan Trottier of the Islanders, the Bruins' Ray Bourque, Hartford's Ron Francis, Quebec's Michel Goulet and Peter Stastny, Philly's Mark Howe and Darryl Sittler and Washington's Rod Langway.

Though the Campbell Conference roster had ol' TGO, it actually seemed a bit less imposing. Accompanying the Edmonton Oilers' captain were teammates Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and Paul Coffey, Chicago Blackhawks stars Denis Savard, mustachioed Calgary Flames gunner Lanny McDonald and Los Angeles Kings center Marcel Dionne.

Though augmented by the incumbent Norris Trophy winner, Blackhawks defenseman Doug Wilson, they had an apparent problem in goal.

While Chicago's Murray Bannerman started the game, his intended alternate, the Vancouver Canucks' Richard Brodeur had sustained an ear injury days earlier, leaving the Campbells short of a net minder and the Canucks without a representative (each team got at least one).

So Brodeur's Vancouver backup, John "Cheech" Garrett -- acquired just days earlier from the Nordiques -- became the Canucks' designated star. He'd have stolen the show, but for ostentatious number 99, flaunting his... you know... talents.

Here's how that went down.

Quebec's Goulet opened the scoring early in the first period, with an assist from fellow Nordique Peter Stastny (whose son, Paul, now plays for the St. Louis Blues). Eight minutes later, Winnipeg Jets defenseman David Babych answered back, tying the game with aid from Mustache and the Blue's Brian Sutter. At 19:01, the Bruins Bourque un-tied it and the teams ended the opening segment with the score: Wales 2, Campbell 1.

Polite company. Cocktails and hors d'oeuvres for everyone.

Early in the second, Minnesota North Star Dino Ciccarelli got the equalizer, with help from fellow North Star Neal Broten and the Blackhawk's Al Secord.

For some, a night to remember. For others, to forget... quickly
Midway through, starting goalies Bannerman and Pete Peeters were swapped out. Garrett came on for the Campbells and the Flyers' Swedish net minder Pelle Lindbergh, just 23 and in his first full NHL season, took over for Wales. Then, North Star Tom McCarthy put the west ahead with assists from Ciccarelli and the Blackhawks' Bob Murray.

Campbell 3, Wales 2 after two.

Rumaki anyone? A bite-sized quiche perhaps? What was that noise in the other room?

In the third period, the guests became unruly. Uncouth.

Gretzky, held off the scoresheet for more than 45 minutes, scored with assists from Kurri and Coffey (or perhaps curry and coffee) at 6:20. McDonald added a goal, from Sutter and Dionne, pushing the margin to 5-2 a minute later. Then Gretzky struck again, with help from Messier and Kurri.

"Dude, that was totally awesome!"
Gretzky and Kurri yuk it up.
Guests 6, hosts 2.

New York Rangers forward Don Maloney -- who years later would serve as the Islanders' general manager -- answered back with help from New Jersey Devils delegate Hector Marini. It was a last stab at respectability at 14:04 and it would not last.

The final 5:56 would be pure humiliation on the order of hitting on the host's date in front of everyone and then leaving with her. It was that bad.

Gretzky scored again at 15:32, his third goal in nine minutes, with assists from Wilson and Messier, and he wasn't done. Toronto's Rick Vaive added another tally for the Campbell Conference, beating Lindbergh unassisted. 8-3. Then, with just 42 agonizing seconds remaining, 99 scored yet again with more help from Messier for a 9-3 final before a stunned crowd of 15,230.

The four-goal outburst was an NHL all star game record. Gretzky walked away with Most Valuable Player honors and, while he didn't really get the girl (and if he did, it wasn't reported) he did get a $14,000 sports car.

The host Islanders? They got a measure of revenge that spring, sweeping Edmonton to win their fourth (and to date last) cup on that very same home ice. They held the Oilers to just six goals over four games and kept Gretzky -- he of the 71 regular season goals and 125 assists -- scoreless.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Once the Patriots Were Likeable Underdogs

THEY HAD NO SUPERFANS. They had no song. They had no players named after appliances. Yet there they were, expected to compete on the same field, on the same terms, as the 15-1 Chicago Bears. They were the lovable underdog New England Patriots and they were in the Super Bowl for the very first time.

The twentieth title game of the NFL's modern era
It was 1986 and this was Super Bowl Double X.

Thirty-two seasons later, those Patriots are a barely acknowledged afterthought, eclipsed by the legend of that singular, stupendously successful Bears squad, little more than the answer to a trivia question: Who did the Bears beat?

Who knows? Who cares?

The Patriots have since become such a force, such a fixture on the big stage, that their first championship game forebears are all but forgotten, the franchise equivalent of the lost Roanoke Colony. Who wants to overlook a sickening amount of success to recall the big fail?

Rhetorical question. Don't answer.

Da Bears had da coach, Mike Ditka, who may still be the most popular man in Chicago. Running back Walter Payton, Sweetness, a secular saint struck down by cancer at age 45, keyed the offense. They also had colorful quarterback Jim McMahon, Olympic sprinter Willie Gault, linebacker Mike Singletary and the massive defense linemen Richard Dent and William "The Refrigerator" Perry.

The Fridge: a 23-year-old, 6'-2", 335-pound phenomenon.

The revered logo.
The Patriots' Super Bowl XX roster is somewhat less revered today than Pat the Patriot, the snarling minute man in a three-point stance who adorned their still-white helmets.

Irving Fryar, the first man taken in the 1984 National Football League draft, was their biggest star. His seven touchdowns, scored as a receiver and kick returner, tied for the team lead with running back Craig James. Tony Eason, one of six signal callers taken in the first round of the '83 draft, was their primary quarterback, backed by veteran QB Steve Grogan. Karate blackbelt and future football hall of famer Andre Tippett anchored the defense.

Their coach was Pro Football Hall of Fame member Raymond Berry, once a standout receiver for the Baltimore Colts. He directed them to an 11-3 regular season record and a wild card game match-up with the New York Jets -- and Eason's '83 draft classmate QB Ken O'Brien -- at the Meadowlands.

New England beat New York, 26-14, after a Tippett hit forced O'Brien -- the league's top-rated passer -- from the game. A week later, the Patriots beat the Raiders 27-20 in Los Angeles, setting up a conference championship game with Dolphins in Miami.

Helmed by another class of 1983 draftee, Dan Marino, those same Dolphins had handed the Bears their only regular season loss. Still, it was full speed ahead. The battle cry in Boston: Squish the fish!
New England linebacker Andre Tippett,
from the Super Bowl XX program

And squish 'em they did, 31-14, punching the Patriots' Super Bowl ticket and giving rise to the somewhat faulty fan logic: If the Dolphins could beat the Bears and we could beat the Dolphins, then we must be able to beat the Bears too.

Defrost the Refrigerator! Berry the Bears!

Not so fast. Chicago had rampaged through the NFC post season, beating the New York Giants, 21-0, and then the Los Angeles Rams, 24-0. Eight quarters of football. No points allowed.

Barefoot Patriots kicker Tony Franklin would break that string with a field goal less than two minutes into Super Bowl XX at the Louisiana Superdome, giving New England a 3-0 lead. Kicker Kevin Butler tied it for Chicago about four minutes later, then gave the Bears their first lead near the end of the first quarter, 6-3.

QB Tony Eason and lineman John Hannah,
from the Super Bowl XX program
The game was, for all intents and purposes over. Da Bears dominated on both sides of the ball, piling on the points while keeping New England off the board. Even the massive Refrigerator was allowed to run one in, running up the score to 44-3 (a one-yard plunge denied the beloved Payton, who went scoreless).

Grogan, who replaced Eason in the second quarter with Chicago already ahead 20-3, connected with Fryar in the fourth for a Patriots touchdown, 44-10. A Bears safety made the final tally 46-10.

Bad as that day was for New England, it was the Patriots who were bound for glory, again and again and again ad nauseum, while the fearsome Bears were one-and-done, still searching for that next championship season.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive