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Laugh today. Laugh once. Here, this might help. Once, when Dan Quisenberry won the American League Rolaids Relief Pitcher of the Year, he was asked to accept the National League award for Bruce Sutter. And this is what he said. "If Bruce were here tonight I'm sure he'd say - actually, I don't know Bruce at all - he'd say, 'I make $900 million a year, and I deserve this. Thank you."' Laugh today. Laugh hard. It's OK.
I'm usually turned off by people who wear their faith on their sleeve. Or their T-shirt. Or the bumper of their car. Many of you share my disdain for products that sully the purest part of life - and you didn't even have to lay eyes on the "Air Jesus" T-shirts I spotted at last summer's Christian Booksellers Convention in Atlanta. You haven't seen cheap until you've seen Jesus dunking a basketball like Michael Jordan, Nikes and all. But there's something different about the "What Would Jesus Do?" mania sweeping across the Christian landscape. There's something meaningful going on in people buying and displaying bracelets, shoelaces and pins that inspire them to consider a higher source. Many of you are wearing "What Would Jesus Do?" items today, a Christmas present from a loved one. Every gift is a sign that more people seem to be willing to look deeper for the right answers. "What would Jesus do here?" A stroll through the Baptist Book Store in Charlotte, N.C., confirms that "What Would Jesus Do?" is still the rage in the Christian culture. Competing for space with Bibles and the Billy Graham biography are WWJD bracelets, books, bookmarks, T-shirts, key chains, shoelaces, car window decals, Bible covers. Even diaries. A pack of WWJD golf balls and tees sells for $9.99. If anything pushes this envelope a bit too close to tacky, it's spiritual golf balls. Christian retail, a $3 billion a year industry, is as fickle as secular retail. If you doubt that, consider the angel products languishing in discount bins. But there's no letup with WWJD. About 200,000 WWJD bracelets were sold in 1996. More than 2.5 million are expected to be sold this year. That doesn't include all the other WWJD products spun off from the original bracelets. I spent part of a rainy afternoon watching people pore over WWJD products. They seemed so serious about their shopping, so purposeful about wanting to be reminded of the importance of seeking God's help in their daily lives. Karla Pursley of Belmont, N.C., shopped with her daughter and son. Kristin, 7, already has a wristband, so Benjamin, 13, browsed through the rack of WWJD T-shirts. His mom approved. "It's a subtle way kids can show their belief to others," she told me. "They don't have to wear a neon sign." In another aisle, 9-year-old Ashley Ivey of Fort Mill, S.C., said her WWJD bracelet came in handy the day a friend acted mean to her. Ashley was about to retaliate, maybe even let loose with a slap, when she looked at her bracelet. "OK," she said to herself, "what would Jesus do here?" Ashley decided to turn the other cheek. Moments later, Tracey Chidester of Charlotte came in to look at WWJD items for her children, 9, 11 and 13 years old. What Christian mother wouldn't want their kids consulting Jesus before heading out into a dangerous world? Not far from the WWJD counter, a soft-spoken woman from Gaston County, N.C., shared problems she's having with a teenager. We spoke for a moment about the challenges all parents face. Anguish lined her face. But then her eyes softened as she spoke of her WWJD pin and the changes in attitude it has brought to her life. She's decided to let God get more involved in helping raise the child. It's amazing what a small pendant worn close to the heart can do.
Jean Smart, left, and Nancy McKeon star in "Style & Substance." CBS photo
Are the 49ers just smarter than everyone else? "Sure," quarterback Steve Young said. "Why not?" At eye level across the foyer rest five Lombardi trophies, sleek, shiny, smug. Oddly, only four Halas trophies are arranged above them. This would indicate one fewer NFC title for San Francisco than Super Bowl victories. I ask if one of the Halas trophies has been lost or stolen. "Oh, it's somewhere," my guide says. "We don't keep track of silver medals around here." Game balls, championship rings, team photos - nothing else clutters the trophy case but mementos of the Super Bowl years, as if there were no 49ers before the first one and none after the last one. As if there are no 49ers at all without one. The 49ers have not only endured at the top of pro football for nearly two decades, they have been the single constant of the NFL, the standard against which all the occasional intruders must be measured, Green Bay being only the latest. "Everyone in this locker room is very aware of the tradition," Young said. "I take it very personally. "That's something I've thought a lot about . . . to keep it going, to build on it. There has been a long period of success, and not on my watch is it going to go down. "I think we all feel that way. I mean, we don't talk about it or make secret pledges in blood, none of that stuff. We just live it." It started with the Cowboys, with Dwight Clark's catch in the end zone. It outlasted the Cowboys as America's Team and as America's Most Wanted. The Bears were mere passers-through. One of the Halas trophies offers a reminder, 23-0, the year before the Bears' only Super Bowl. The Redskins flowed and ebbed, the Giants came and went and came again. Thirteen of the last 17 years, the 49ers have won their division. This year was the fourth time they have swept their division. And now the Packers. Few teams got to where they were going without going through the 49ers. And so it will be again. "This goes on year in and year out," Young said. "Each year if there is any sign of demise, there's a loud call to it. Because people have been waiting for it. "Each time there is a real resiliency to fighting back and holding on and building on it. That's what has separated this organization. They've built on prior success rather than just trying to hold on." It's called vision.
The coaches broke the rule, or whatever it was. Admittedly, it was an unwritten guideline, but those radicals, those free-thinkers, those bomb throwers, those long-haired anti-establishment types, those anarchists, collectively busted it. The rule said that no team loses its lead for college football's national championship if it wins a major bowl game, but the coaches who vote in the USA Today/ESPN poll defied a half a century of history, if not codified law.
We play 'em, we sing 'em, we love 'em, we wear 'em out. Every year. Christmas carols. Christmas carols are held in unique affection and awe, much like the hearth, the tree, the colored lights and the creche.
Last time we saw Mike Timlin, he pitched two-thirds of an inning in Game 1 of the Division Series against Baltimore, giving up a home run, double, single and four runs. Last time we saw Bobby Ayala, it was Game 2 against the Orioles. In his 1-1/3 innings, he gave up four hits, three walks and six runs. In case nature's defense mechanism of selective memory has blotted out the recollection, their appearances came in the twin 9-3 defeats at the Kingdome that couldn't have been a more ghastly development for Mariner fans had George Argyros stood at home plate with a check to re-purchase the team.
Kinta had that look in his eye, says Steve Kelley, and it took a half for the rookie to see things clearly. Photo by Associated Press
Bledsoe may have been better off with a running play. Photo by Associated Press
Finished all your shopping for the holidays and still feel as though something's missing? Maybe you've forgotten the giving side of the season - and I don't mean the jewelry, electronic equipment or piles of toys you're planning to shower on loved ones.
When we last left Martha Stewart ... but have we ever really left her? It's impossible to get away from the woman. More than ever, Martha is everywhere, especially now, during the holiday season, when we all look to her for guidance in the things that really matter. Such as? Well, such as making a delightful seasonal wreath out of fresh pears (three varieties) and camelia leaves. You know, the sorts of things everybody has lying around the house this time of year. The instructions appear on page 199 in the holiday issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine: "Weave three lengths of chartreuse ribbon between the pears ... the sinuousness of the ribbon contrasts with the strict form of the pears." I can't wait to get started. But first I have to festoon the entire house with mistletoe garlands (page 156). "It's the holidays: Why stop at one stingy little sprig?" Why indeed. Why stop at anything, for that matter. It's the Martha Stewart way.
There is an axiom that warns about the folly of ignoring the lessons of history. Something about being doomed to repeat it. The Seattle Mariners might do well to look it up, because they are flirting with disaster. The Mariners are entertaining offers for left-handed pitching ace Randy Johnson. They apparently are willing to trade The Big Unit to avoid giving him The Big Contract, which should not come as a huge surprise in this era of The Big Money. Atlanta Braves pitcher Greg Maddux recently signed for $11.5 million per year. The going rate to keep Johnson beyond the 1998 season undoubtedly will approach that.
Every time I sling open my closet doors and come face to face with the plastic bags of pine cones that hog the space on the floor where my shoes should be, I swear I'm going to ditch the puppies. But I simply can't do it. Those pine cones have become an important part of my Christmas decorating. Pine cones, I've come to realize, are one of the most versatile of holiday decorating materials. These pine cones, though, go a step further. Each of them has a special meaning. Over the years, on trips or just walking through the neighborhood, I've put together a collection of the spiny little devils that brings warm memories flooding back each early December as I pull them out of their bags and transform them into what I think are fairly crafty decorations.
A new book about JFK is causing a row among historians. File/Associated Press
Disappointment creases the face of Seahawks coach Dennis Erickson, who has seen a season with so much promise deteriorate into a fight for his coaching life in the NFL. Photo by Christopher Anderson/The Spokesman-Review
When I was a kid, it was my favorite holiday of the year. There were no presents, but then there was no potential for disappointment. There was no picnic or barbecue, but the day could never be spoiled by rain. There were no candy bunnies and Easter baskets, but we weren't forced to spend the morning squeezed stiffly into crowded church pews. In my household, and probably in yours, Thanksgiving was about two things - family and food ... and both in abundance.