by Michael Lombardi
November 08, 02009
QUOTE/STORY OF THE WEEK...
“Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference. The Marines don't have that problem.” – President Ronald Reagan, 1985
Happy birthday to the United States Marines, Nov. 10, 1775
On Nov. 10, 1775, the Continental Congress passed a resolution stating that “two battalions of Marines be raised” for service as landing forces with the fleet. This established the Continental Marines and marked the birth of the U.S. Marine Corps. Serving on land and at sea, early Marines distinguished themselves in a number of important operations, including their first amphibious raid on foreign soil in the Bahamas in March 1776 under the command of the Corps’ first commandant, Capt. Samuel Nicholas. The 1783 Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War, and as the last of the Navy’s ships were sold, the Continental Navy and Marines disbanded.
Following the formal re-establishment of the Marine Corps on July 11, 1798, Marines fought in conflicts with France, landed in Santo Domingo and conducted operations against the Barbary pirates along the “Shores of Tripoli.”
“We are United States Marines, and for two and a quarter centuries we have defined the standards of courage, esprit, and military prowess.” -- Gen. James L. Jones, USMC (CMC), Nov. 10, 2000
“For all those who have sons or daughters at boot camp, let me pass on what I found. Let me give you a little background first. When my son left home, he had no motivation; he was lazy, sloppy, no pride, no self-worth. This is the boy that got off the bus March 18th at Parris Island. The man that I met on Thursday for parents’ day is AWESOME. There is no way I can describe to you all the difference.
“He looks different, he walks different, he talks different, he has such a sense of bearing and pride, all I could do was look at him in awe. Oh, yes, the training is hard. What he went through is unimaginable to anyone that has not been there. They are definitely taught to be Warriors. Let me tell you the surprise of what else they are taught. My Marine son has better values, better morals, better manners than anyone I know. It is so much more than Yes Sir, Yes M’am...so much more. He cares about how he looks, he cares about what he does, and it’s not a boastful, bad ass thing. He is a true gentleman. I saw patience and a calmness in him that I have never seen.
“I could never express my gratitude enough to the Marine Corps for what they have given my son. I know this, I have an 11-year-old Devil pup still at home. When the time comes for his turn, if I had to, I would take him kicking and screaming all the way. Although I'm sure that will not happen. The hero worship I see in my younger son’s eyes for his Marine brother tells me I will have two Marines in the family, and I will be one very proud mother.”
“Cybil,” mother of a Marine, writing to the myMarine Group
“I am convinced that there is no smarter, handier, or more adaptable body of troops in the world.” -- Sir Winston Churchhill
AROUND THE NFL...
“It takes strength to be firm. It takes courage to be gentle. It takes strength to stand guard. It takes courage to let down your guard.” -- Author unknown
1. Talking to people around the NFL last week about the Browns’ firing of George Kokinis for cause, it’s rather perplexing. Everyone I talked to claims George was out of the loop since the summer and all he did every day was watch other NFL games. Maybe the Browns are claiming he did have full authority over the roster (which is how he was able to leave Baltimore) and never used it, so he breached his contract. Not sure, but it’s a thought.
2. Some of the potential candidates (personnel men working in the NFL now) I chatted with who might be interested in placing their names in the hat for the GM position in Cleveland said they viewed Eric “The Secret” Mangini’s proclamation that he’ll be involved in the hiring process as a deal breaker. How can anyone work side by side with him when he wants to have all the authority?
MY VIEW OF THE GAMES, PLUS NOTES AND WEATHER...
“We learn from others. A good leader is always learning. The great leaders start young and continue until their last breathe.” -- Bill Walsh
Washington Redskins (2-5) at Atlanta Falcons (4-3)
The Redskins’ two wins this season have been against the 1-7 Rams and 0-7 Buccaneers, both at home, by a combined margin of five points.
The ‘Skins struggle to score points, and now, with TE Chris Cooley out, their slow offense becomes even slower. They have no playmakers on the field — this team lacks speed. Fred Davis had eight catches last week, but he’s not a vertical threat down the field. Cooley leads team with 29 receptions for 332 yards, two TDs. Cooley has the longest active starting streak among TEs in the NFL.
Stephon Heyer will struggle to block John Abraham, so the ‘Skins will have to slide the protection toward him -- which then will put right tackle Mike Williams on an island having to block Kroy Biermann.
Three-quarters of the Falcons’ defensive line is beat up and on the injury list. If there ever was a game the ‘Skins can run the ball, this is it. Clinton Portis has eight rushes of 10-plus yards this season. He had 19 rushes of 10-plus yards through seven games last season.
Michael Turner looked like his old self last week, but it will take a passing game from Matt Ryan to defeat the tough ‘Skins defense. When Turner has 19 carries or more, the Falcons are 14-2.
Atlanta must do a better job getting off the field on third down; they are 31st in the NFL in that area.
The Falcons usually can protect the passer, but left tackle Sam Baker has a bad ankle and faces the best rusher on the ‘Skins, Andre Carter. The ‘Skins must gain extra possessions for their offense.
Arizona Cardinals (4-3) at Chicago Bears (4-3)
Partly cloudy, 60 degrees.
The Cardinals have a minus-6 turnover differential (26th in theNFL) and have committed at least two turnovers in six of their seven games. Their 18 turnovers are T-4th most in the NFL. They’re 15-0 under coach Ken Whisenhunt when they have a positive turnover differential (18-0 including playoffs) but 1-16 under Whisenhunt when they have a negative turnover differential (1-17 including playoffs).
These turnovers happen when they struggle to protect, and this year those struggles have occurred more at home than on the road, which is a surprise. The Cards have not lost a road game this year.
The Bears have to slow down the Cards’ passing game with their defensive front, not their secondary. With or without Anquan Boldin, the Cards are too talented at receiver for the Bears secondary. They must hurry and disrupt Kurt Warner in the passing game.
Conversely, the Bears’ offensive line must match up well with the Cards’ defensive front, which can be very inconsistent.
This game might be high scoring since both teams have struggled to play consistent pass defense. The Bears have to make a play with their kicking game to be able to gain a possession.
The Bears must win on the outside, with Alex Brown winning his match on former Bear Mike Gandy.
The Cards are a one-dimensional offense — all pass. The Bears must keep their linemen fresh for the fourth quarter and find a way to control the ball.
Baltimore Ravens (4-3) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-2)
Sunny, 65 degrees.
The Ravens must control the run game of Cedric Benson, even if Haloti Ngata isn’t able to play. They must force the Bengals to play from behind, like the Texans did. In their Week 5 meeting, the Bengals outrushed the Ravens 142-82, and Benson had 27 rushes, 120 yards, one TD to end the Ravens’ streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher in 39 straight games.
The Bengals are looking to sweep the Ravens for the third time in five seasons. The Ravens won 34-3 at Cincinnati last season.
The Ravens have lost their last two road games and are 1-2 on road this season but had chances to win each time.
The Ravens must be able to control the game with their offense. They’re a two-dimensional team: They can run and pass well.
The Bengals’ corners can match up well with the Ravens’ wide receivers, which allows the Bengals to take chances with their blitz package. Ray Rice is the one player the Bengals do not have a good match on.
The Bengals must find a way to get the Ravens into negative plays on first down. The Ravens are very effective when they convert third and short. They are not afraid to call a run on manageable third downs.
The Ravens have no turnovers in their last two games and have committed just seven this season (T-5th fewest in NFL).
The Bengals have not won five consecutive divisional games since 2005-06 when they won six in a row. They’ve won eight of their last 10 games and have 10 takeaways in their last four games (two or more takeaways in last four games).
The Bengals have 13 passing TDs (two more than their 2008 total). Carson Palmer is the X factor for the Bengals. When he’s the Palmer of 2005, the Bengals are a very good team. When he’s not effective, they struggle. He needs to make plays in the passing game for them to be successful today.
Chris Henry is a tough match for the Ravens because they don’t have anyone who can handle his size and speed. They can double Chad Ochocinco, but they can’t double everyone. Henry is the playmaker for them when the doubles go to Ocho.
Ochocinco is eighth in the NFL with 573 receiving yards and has five receiving TDs. He had 540 receiving yards and four TDs last season.
LAST 2 SEASONS
Games 13 7
Receptions 53 39
Rec. Yds. 540 573
Yds. per Rec. 10.2 14.7
TD 4 5
Houston Texans (5-2) at Indy Colts (7-0)
The Colts are missing most of their secondary, but they’re used to not having Bob Sanders on the field. He’s missed, but he can be replaced. Their corner situation is another problem.
With tight ends James Casey and Owens Daniels not playing today, the Texans will have to use another wide receiver in this role. Look for David Anderson to have a larger impact.
Joel Dressen will be the starter at tight end, but he’s more of a blocker, bootleg runner and is not going to get down the field. He’s also nursing a bad ankle.
The Texans last week struggled in their nickel unit, handling the Bills’ nickel runs early in the game. They’ll tempt Peyton Manning of the Colts to run the ball.
Manning did not have his “A” game last week, which is rare. Don’t expect that to happen today.
Eugene Wilson will need to have a great game covering Dallas Clark if the Texans are going to win the game. No matter what the score, neither team will be out of the game.
Four of the last five meetings have been decided by six points or fewer, including both meetings last year and the Texans’ only win in the series, Dec. 24, 2006, a 27-24 victory on a 48-yard field goal by Kris Brown as time expired. In their first meeting last season, Houston blew a 27-10 lead in the fourth quarter as the Colts scored 21 points in the final 4:04 to become the first team in NFL history to come back from a deficit of 17 or more points in the final five minutes and win in regulation.
Duane Brown must get some help on the Colts’ Dwight Freeney; he can’t handle him one on one. To make Matt Schaub ineffective, teams have to force him to move more quickly and hurry his game. He’s not always best when he has to throw the ball on the move or in tight pockets.
Freeney has 11 sacks, three forced fumbles in 13 career games against the Texans. Robert Mathis has nine sacks, seven forced fumbles in 11 career games against the Texans. Both are bad matchups for the Texans’ offensive tackles.
Ryan Moats is the runner; Steve Slaton might be the pass catcher in the game. Moats really struggles to pass protect, and when he’s in the game, alert run.
Most Fumbles by RB
HOU Steve Slaton 7 5
OAK Darren McFadden 4 2
ATL Michael Turner 4 2
Kansas City Chiefs (1-6) at Jacksonville Jaguars (3-4)
Partly sunny, 71 degrees.
The Chiefs rank 21st in rushing offense (101.3 YPG). They are the only team this season without a rushing TD (K.C. had four rush TD through its first seven games last season). KR-RB Jamaal Charles averages 5.0 yards per rush in ’09 (23 attempts, 116 yards).
The Jags can move the ball on offense, but they make too many mistakes, especially when they’re on the road. If they can handle Tamba Hali up front, they’ll have a huge day throwing the ball.
The Chiefs’ secondary is one of the NFL’s worst -- no speed, no tackling ability and no playmaking ability. The Jags’ Mike Sims-Walker will be a problem for them to match up with in man coverage.
The Chiefs offensive line must be able to protect, even though three-fifths of the line is injured. If Brandon Albert doesn’t play, Ike Ndukwe is marginal.
The Jags start fast at home, and if they’re able to make the Chiefs play from behind, it will not be a good outcome for K.C.
Miami Dolphins (3-4) at New England Patriots (5-2)
Sunny, 55 degrees.
The Patriots will have half their team missing from the game, especially at running back, with Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor being out. Big game for Laurence Maroney to show he can carry the load.
The Patriots have to throw the ball as the Dolphins are one of the most penalized teams in the secondary and play too much man to man. The key matchup for the Fins will be on the slot against Wes Welker.
Miami has to double Randy Moss on almost every play. Whenever there has been a jump ball, the Dolphins’ corners have not been able to make a play. Moss had eight catches for 125 yards and three TDs in his last game against the Dolphins.
Spread formations give the Miami defense trouble. The last few weeks, teams have been able to throw the ball effectively on them.
Miami must make plays in the passing game; it can’t expect to get big plays from the wildcat. Chad Henne will have to prove he can be effective in the passing game.
The last two weeks combined, the wildcat produced 36 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns. The Fins must figure out another way to move the ball.
Adjustment football is what the Patriots are good at. They’ve worked hard at handling the Fins’ run game from their first meeting last year.
Dolphins Wildcat Offense
LAST SEASON VS PATRIOTS
Week 3 Week 12
Plays 6 8
Yards 119 25
Yds per Play 19.8 3.1
TD 4 0
Result Won by 25 Lost by 20
New England’s corners are better than the Dolphins’ wide receivers. They can play man to man and win on the outside.
Both teams can win the time of possession battle, but which team can make a big play down the field? This favors the Patriots.
Green Bay Packers (4-3) at Tampa Bay Bucs (0-7)
Partly cloudy, 85 degrees.
The Bucs might not have both starting wide receivers because of injuries. This won’t help rookie Josh Freeman, starting his first game.
The Packers’ offensive line is not very good, but it can beat up on some of the bad teams in the NFL -- and the Bucs are bad. The Packers have scored at least 23 points in their last six games, and the Buccaneers have not scored more than 21 points in a game this season. How can they win this game? They must gain extra possessions through turnovers.
The Packers have to find a way to get Aaron Kampman more involved rushing on first and second downs. They’re not going to be able to cover or play well in the secondary with their limited rush.
The Buccaneers will be wearing their 1976 orange throwback jerseys -- ironic since the ‘76 Buccaneers were 0-14 in their first season. It’s the winless commemorating the winless.
The Bucs are last in the NFL allowing 8.7 yards per pass attempt. Aaron Rodgers is second in the NFL with 8.8 yards per pass attempt.
Aqib Talib has four INTs in his last four games, and Tanard Jackson has an INT in each of his past two games. Both are very good players playing on a very bad team. Talib is a Pro Bowl corner.
Carolina Panthers (3-4) at New Orleans Saints (7-0)
The Panthers have won three of their last four games following an 0-3 start. John Fox is 10-4 career vs. the Saints.
Jake Delhomme, a Louisiana native, is 8-2 career vs. the Saints as a starter and has won his last five starts vs. the Saints. Delhomme has seven TDs, 0 INTs and a 120.3 passer rating in his last four games vs. the Saints including a 100-plus passer rating in each game.
The Saints are missing two starting defensive tackles, which might allow the Panthers to run the ball well. Tony Hargrove, the back-up tackle, is playing well. I suspect a ton of eight man fronts from the Saints today.
If the Saints can up-tempo the game and get ahead, this will help slow down the Panthers’ run game.
The Panthers have rushed for 653 yards in their last three games (217.7 YPG) after having 389 rush yards in their first four games (97.3 YPG) and have improved from 23rd in rush offense through Week 5 to fifth in rush offense through Week 8.
Steve Smith has 11 receptions, 256 yards, one TD in his last two games against the Saints. Smith has 100-plus yards in six of his last seven divisional games. With Mushin Muhammad having a bad knee, who do the Panthers throw the ball to when Smith is doubled?
The Saints have to be ready for the physical play of the Panthers -- key for the Panthers to play well in the red zone since as they can’t allow the game to get away from them.
The Saints are T-1st in the NFL with 21 takeaways (tied with the Eagles) and lead the NFL with 86 points off turnovers (the Raiders, Browns and Rams each have fewer than 86 total points).
The Saints lead the NFL in third-down defense (30.5 percent), and their defense has allowed the lowest completion percentage (51.3 percent) and lowest passer rating this season (53.3).
Detroit Lions (1-6) at Seattle Seahawks (2-5)
Showers, 45 degrees.
For the first time in over a year, the Seahawks had their full roster on the field for a practice. Not sure how long that will last, but this is their healthiest week. And they’re playing home with Matt Hasselbeck.
When Detroit doesn’t have Calvin Johnson on the field, there’s no one who can make plays or scare their opponent. Johnson has five receiving TDs in his past seven November games. Since 2008, he’s tied for third in the NFL with 13 TD catches.
Kevin Smith is a good back, but if it’s blocked for eight yards, he gets eight yards. He’s not an explosive player.
The Lions don’t rank higher than 20th in any of the major team categories. Their scoring defense ranks 31st in the NFL (29.3 PPG), and their pass defense ranks 27th (251.9 YPG). On offense, they rank 25th in scoring (16.1 PPG) and 25th in total offense (292.6 YPG). Detroit’s minus-4 turnover differential is 25th in the NFL. They just do not have the talent.
QB Matt Hasselbeck is 2-0 in his career vs. Lions and has 102.4 rating in those two meetings. Hasselbeck needs 12 completions to pass Dave Krieg for the franchise record. He’s been sacked eight times in his past two games. If the Seahawks can pass protect, this is his kind of game to make plays.
The Lions have to play their best game in the defensive front. If they can win in the trenches, they can force mistakes from this mistake-prone Seattle offense. This is one of a handful of games in which the Lions will not be overmatched up front.
San Diego Chargers (4-3) at New York Giants (5-3)
Sunny, 62 degrees.
Without Jamal Williams at nose, the Chargers struggle to play the run. But now they might not have backup Ogemdi Nwagbuo at nose, and this will allow the Giants to run the ball effectively. Look for the G-Men to get their run game going.
The Chargers are no longer a physical front. They get pushed around, and with linebacker Kevin Burnett also expected to miss the game, this could create more problems.
The Chargers have won two in a row but have yet to defeat a team with a winning record (Chargers are 0-3 against teams currently with winning records and 4-0 vs. teams currently with losing records).
The Giants must get faster at linebacker to handle the width of the field and all the space/screen plays the Chargers run. If linebacker Michael Boley is back, this will help the Giants. Boley (knee) and DL Chris Canty (calf) are expected to return to the lineup. Boley has played three games (he was suspended for the season opener), and Giants won all three. Canty has not played since their season-opening win against the Redskins.
Philip Rivers is fourth in the NFL with 2,036 pass yards. Rivers has been sacked once in his last two games after being sacked 15 times in his first five games.
Vincent Jackson is third in the NFL with 664 receiving yards and has four 100-yard games. Jackson has a TD in three straight games and is coming off back-to-back 100-yard games.
The Giants have to press cover the Chargers’ wideouts, and this will disrupt the timing of the passing game.
Malcom Floyd does not always escape press very well. Floyd will replace Chambers as a starter and has 22.8 yards per reception this season. He has 17.0 yards per reception in his career, and at 6-5, he joins a list of tall targets for Rivers to throw to (6-5 Jackson, 6-4 Antonio Gates, 6-2 Legedu Naanee). The Giants have size at corner.
The Giants allow big plays down the field, and the Chargers attempt to make big plays all the time. The Chargers lead the NFL with 14.3 yards per reception. The Giants’ defense has been torched through the air in the last three games:
Giants Pass Defense
First 5 Gms Last 3 Gms
Comp. Pct. 52.4 67.4
Pass YPG 124.6 280.0
TD-INT 4-5 8-1
Passer Rating 60.4 122.9
Sacks 14 4
The Giants are the third team in NFL history to lose three games in a row after a 5-0 start. Their losing streak is their longest since 2006 when they lost four straight.
The Giants have committed 12 turnovers in their last five games after having just two in their first three games. Eli Manning’s struggles have coincided with the Giants’ skid:
First 5 Gms Last 3 Gms
W-L 5-0 0-3
Comp. Pct. 64.4 49.5
Pass YPG 242.4 214.3
TD-INT 10-2 3-6
Passer Rating 111.7 54.4
Sacks 2 6
Tennessee Titans (1-6) at San Francisco 49ers (3-4)
Sunny, 64 degrees.
The Titans have to play well up front because the 49ers will be without their best lineman, Joe Staley. The Titans’ Jason Jones has three sacks in his last two games.
With Patrick Willis, the 49ers have someone who can spy on Vince Young and make sure he doesn’t run around making loose plays.
This game is a good matchup in the trenches. The Titans’ offensive line is physical as is the 49ers defensive line. Niners Isaac Sopoaga, their starting tackle, is having a Pro Bowl year.
Pressure and the speed of the game bother 49ers QB Alex Smith. The Titans have to make him feel rushed.
No mistakes, not getting behind, is how the Titans have to play in every game, with or without Kerry Collins. Young needs to fit into the offense, not make the offense different. Last week vs. the Jaguars, the Titans did not have a turnover for the first time this season (18 turnovers in their first six games).
Chris Johnson leads the NFL in both rushing yards (824) and yards per rush (6.9). He also leads with 10 rushes of 20-plus yards and four rushes of 50 or more yards.
The 49ers are second in the NFL in rushing defense (84.9 YPG) and allow a league-low 3.2 yards per rush. They face the Titans’ second-ranked rushing offense (162.3 YPG). The Titans also lead the NFL with 5.5 yards per rush.
Dallas Cowboys (5-2) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-2)
Sunny, 60 degrees.
Jay Ratliff is one of the Cowboys’ best players, and when he’s not 100 percent, he is not as effective. They need him to dominate and apply inside pressure on Donovan McNabb.
The Cowboys won their first meeting last year 41-37 at Dallas, but with the playoffs on the line in Week 17 at Philadelphia, the Eagles won 44-6 and scored 27 points off five Cowboys turnovers (four fumbles lost, including two by Tony Romo, and an interception). The Eagles averaged 41 points in the two games last year — this year they’re better on offense.
DeMarcus Ware must play big, and Jason Peters has to be able to handle him when he’s one on one. Peters has a bad ankle but will play.
Chris Gocong will not start at backer, and this will be the first game the Eagles backers will be challenged with a power running game. The Cowboys have three running backs with at least 4.6 yards per rush: Marion Barber (4.6), Felix Jones (7.8) and Tashard Choice (4.9).
The Cowboys have scored 30-plus points in four of seven games (scored 30-plus points in four games all of last season). Romo is 12-1 career in November as a starter and has won his last 12 starts in November.
Tony Romo in November
CAREER AS STARTER
Comp. Pct: 68.7
Pass YPG: 278.3
Passer Rating: 118.2
The Cowboys are second in the NFL in total offense (411.1 YPG) and lead the NFL with 6.6 yards per play. They also lead with 36 runs of 10 or more yards and are sixth in rushing offense (147.6 YPG).
The Eagles are 3-1 at home and have won six of their last seven home games. All five wins for the Eagles have been by 10-plus points.
All six of DeSean Jackson’s TDs this season have been for 50 or more yards (ties Timmy Brown’s franchise record in 1962 for the most TDs of 50 or more yards in a season). Jackson is second in the NFL with 20.9 yards per reception (first is Miles Austin with 21.7 yards). Whichever team’s secondary can tackle the best will win.
Eagles are 2-0 this season without Brian Westbrook and 3-2 with him. Westbrook has had six rushing attempts or fewer in three of his five games. He will play today and can help in protection.
“I do not pass five minutes of my life in which I do not acquire some new knowledge.” -- Thomas Paine
From author Steve Jamison: three common traits of both 49ers football coach Bill Walsh and UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. Jamison has written books on both subjects:
1. They knew their stuff, they knew the whole game.
2. They placed a great priority on the environment they taught in and wanted it to be the best. They were demanding of their students but always fair.
3. They were creative in what they did and ALWAYS looked for new ideas.
ARTICLES YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED THAT AREN’T WORTH MISSING...
“Words are the only thing that last forever.” -- Winston Churchill
A play on Vince Lombardi is coming based on the book by David Maraniss “When Pride Still Mattered.”
America’s hot jobs and not-so-hot jobs in the future.
COMMENT OF THE WEEK FROM THE POST...
“The more you know the higher you go. Only expertise makes you an expert.” -- Bill Walsh
"Nice. Cougars are always a winner."
-From "Men of Troy" posted on Matt Bowen's "Eight in the box: Hollywood Cougars"
STORIES TO SHARE...
The Pickle Jar... Author unknown
“There is a wonderful mythical law of nature that the three things we crave most in life -- happiness, freedom and peace of mind -- are always attained by giving them to someone else.” -- Peyton Conway March
The pickle jar as far back as I can remember sat on the floor beside the dresser in my parents’ bedroom. When he got ready for bed, Dad would empty his pockets and toss his coins into the jar.
As a small boy I was always fascinated at the sounds the coins made as they were dropped into the jar. They ended with a merry jingle when the jar was almost empty. Then the tones gradually muted to a dull thud as the jar was filled. I used to squat on the floor in front of the jar and admire the copper and silver circles that glinted like a pirate’s treasure when the sun poured through the bedroom window.
When the jar was filled, Dad would sit at the kitchen table and roll the coins before taking them to the bank. Taking the coins to the bank was always a big production. Stacked neatly in a small cardboard box, the coins were placed between Dad and me on the seat of his old truck. Each and every time, as we drove to the bank, Dad would look at me hopefully. “Those coins are going to keep you out of the textile mill, son. You're going to do better than me. This old mill town's not going to hold you back.” Also, each and every time, as he slid the box of rolled coins across the counter at the bank toward the cashier, he would grin proudly.
“These are for my son's college fund. He'll never work at the mill all his life like me.” We would always celebrate each deposit by stopping for an ice cream cone. I always got chocolate. Dad always got vanilla. When the clerk at the ice cream parlor handed Dad his change, he would show me the few coins nestled in his palm. “When we get home, we'll start filling the jar again.”
He always let me drop the first coins into the empty jar. As they rattled around with a brief, happy jingle, we grinned at each other. “You'll get to college on pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters,” he said. “But you'll get there. I'll see to that.”
The years passed, and I finished college and took a job in another town. Once, while visiting my parents, I used the phone in their bedroom and noticed that the pickle jar was gone. It had served its purpose and had been removed. A lump rose in my throat as I stared at the spot beside the dresser where the jar had always stood. My dad was a man of few words and never lectured me on the values of determination, perseverance and faith. The pickle jar had taught me all these virtues far more eloquently than the most flowery of words could have done.
When I married, I told my wife Susan about the significant part the lowly pickle jar had played in my life as a boy. In my mind, it defined, more than anything else, how much my dad had loved me. No matter how rough things got at home, Dad continued to doggedly drop his coins into the jar. Even the summer when Dad got laid off from the mill and Mama had to serve dried beans several times a week, not a single dime was taken from the jar.
To the contrary, as Dad looked across the table at me, pouring catsup over my beans to make them more palatable, he became more determined than ever to make a way out for me. “When you finish college, son,” he told me, his eyes glistening, “you'll never have to eat beans again...unless you want to.”
The first Christmas after our daughter Jessica was born, we spent the holiday with my parents. After dinner, Mom and Dad sat next to each other on the sofa, taking turns cuddling their first grandchild. Jessica began to whimper softly, and Susan took her from Dad's arms. “She probably needs to be changed,” she said, carrying the baby into my parents' bedroom to diaper her. When Susan came back into the living room, there was a strange mist in her eyes. She handed Jessica back to Dad before taking my hand and leading me into the room.
“Look,” she said softly, her eyes directing me to a spot on the floor beside the dresser. To my amazement, there, as if it had never been removed, stood the old pickle jar, the bottom already covered with coins. I walked over to the pickle jar, dug down into my pocket and pulled out a fistful of coins.
With a gamut of emotions choking me, I dropped the coins into the jar. I looked up and saw that Dad, carrying Jessica, had slipped quietly into the room. Our eyes locked, and I knew he was feeling the same emotions I felt.
Neither one of us could speak.