April Soliloquy – 2003

by David Oliver

Winter has drawn to a close. Several circles in my life have finally come full. The War in Iraq is winding down. I am in withdrawal. For the past 20 something days I have been transfixed by the prelims, the actual beginning and waging of the battle and the wind down. I have watched television for 18 to 20 hours a day, but coming down to 15 to 18 this last week. I have listened to the analysts, watched the demonstrations and marveled at the bravery and competence of our 18 year olds, led by a cadre of officers of unbelievable presence and humanity.

Life drew to a narrow band, like looking through the lens of my camera, which I hadn’t touched in 3 months. My wife would just laugh and put up with my rising at 5AM and turning on the TV, to coming home from work at 5PM and finding me staring at the tube, to going to bed without me at 1AM, knowing that I could not leave; knowing that in my heart I wanted to be there; knowing in her heart that I was down there trying to hide the tears as each 18 or 19 year old met a faith that he shouldn’t have.

My reading slacked off to only a couple of books: Bernard Lewis, THE CRISIS OF ISLAM and Dore Gold HATRED’S KINGDOM. If you want a nice compact history of what we are up against, pick them up. As for Lewis, it is far and away his best yet. Gold has done a scholarly examination of the Whahabi strain of Islam – too factual at times, but the real deal if you want to know. If we had not reached this denouement this weekend, my taxes would not have been finished. I simply ceased to function during the 3 week period, except for my forays unto The Corner Forum which at least provided a little oil for the grist of thought. And, if this war hadn’t come to such a state, I would not have given any thought to football. But MIS’ fine work in The Corner Forum, along with bumping into Jessie Armstead last night in Wal-Mart have given me a little incentive. Before I turn to football, let me tell you about a couple of the circles.

Saturday, April 12, 2003 was a special day. My wife, who for most of her life has been totally apolitical, not even publicly expressing her position as a freedom of choice advocate, completed her journey from apolitical to radicalized. It has been in chrysalis since 09/11. She is not from NY; she is from NC. But on that day, and for many days thereafter, she cried – silently, alone upstairs in the bedroom. She started decorating everything with American flags, including her jewelry; her heart hardened towards Radical Islam; she turned on the Hollywood celebrities who protested; and she studied the issues. This is a woman whose skin is so fair that in the Nubian desert, women in their veils would come up and shyly ask if they could touch her skin, which is as pale as any they had ever seen. They could not believe a woman could be so fair, with blonde hair and blue eyes.

Well, on Saturday she said to me, “There is a Rally for the Troops down on the Mall. I want to go.” This is a woman who has never demonstrated, never marched, never really even vocalized a position. This is a woman who has no children in the military, no relatives in the military, no friends in the military. This is an American woman, who so believes in the American Dream that she has had our name put on the monument at the Statue of Liberty – many years ago – and who has been so hurt by what those scumbags did on that day in September, that she has awakened to the perfidy of tyranny, the pusillanimity of Europe, and the hypocrisy of the anti-everything Nihilism in America – that she went out to a public Rally, a Demonstration – for the first time in her life. She put on her “Oliver” designer sweatshirt, her red, white and blue earrings and she carried her flag down to the Mall. She cheered, she cried and she waved that flag with Pride. And I love her all the more for that day. Schnitzie, you asked what were the good reasons to get married – it is the journey, Schnitz – that feeling that you get time after time, year after year; that partnership that fills your heart – and you will know it when you first feel it – no other reason is good enough.

And, yes, yours truly went with her. It has been many, many years since I did anything of the sort. As a young Collegian, I was involved in the second major College “Demonstration.” – the silent Revolution that no one remembers. The first was Mario Savio and the Berkeley “F*** Demonstration – Free Speech by the unruly, the long haired, hippie revolt. There was another at Ohio State, over police harassment of the students in Columbus; mundane but loud. And then there was Seton Hall. A small, private Catholic School in South Orange, all male, jackets and ties, you know, the nerdy type; hell wearing a Perry Como sweater at the time was Collegiate. One afternoon, we erupted. The Dean of Men canceled an issue of the campus paper, for some unremembered infraction. But we, conservative to the core, were not about to have our ‘right of free speech’ abused. Some 700-800 students massed in front of the President’s home, eventually to run out onto South Orange Ave. and block traffic, fighting off the Police. Yours truly made the front page of the STAR LEDGER, a photo seen ‘round the world’ – standing on the steps of the President’s Building, arms outstretched, in the words of the caption, “Trying to calm the angry mob.” The Dean of Men had slipped out the back door and the students, in his honor, had removed their neckties. His name was Father Lynch, so the chant went, with neckties in knots held up “lynch, Lynch”. Oh, yeah, we were bad boys. (grin). I was among the top 5 on the expulsion list, but we worked it out. We shocked everyone so bad; it led to many, many changes.

From that time to Saturday I had not participated in any Demonstration, rally or gathering, except for photographing the Million Man March. So we were on the Mall, along with G. Gordon Liddy, Bill Kristol, Ron Silver, Nancy Chavez, the Senator, Aaron Tippett and other patriotic country singers, and thousands of men women and children; average Americans, many families of serving GIs, many veterans of Viet Nam, Korea, WW2 and Gulf 1. There were thousands of flags, American flags, Marine Flags, Airborne flags, POW-MIA flags. And when they waved, they waved with pride. There were “victory” salutes, a little fun-poking at the other Demonstrators, on the other side of the Mall, and absolute, still silence, well, except for the occasional sob heard during the roll call of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. I stood humbled as the names, and ages, were read. So many 18, 19 and 20; most in their 20s, a few older. The images of their faces ran through my mind; the images of my friends on the Wall at the opposite side of the Mall went through my mind. Images of me, and them, in ROTC, on a drill team, The Triphibian Guard, with our shoulder sashes and morning drills, polished shoes, hats and brass, like the unit in the Bill Murray movie STRIPES. We were 18 and 19 then. They didn’t get home. And I am left to give testimony to their heroism; left because I am probably the only man in America who enlisted in the Air Force, was drafted into the Army, requested a direct Commission into the Military from a President of the United States, with an assignment in Nam – and never served a day in uniform. No, I spent 27 years working for the Government, giving up every opportunity to make a great deal of money, giving up doing what I thought I might like to do, working with men who wore uniforms, in a variety of places, doing a variety of tasks and trying to ensure that never again would there be a need for a Wall with so many names.

On Saturday, surrounded by those waving flags, surrounded by people with whom I felt comfortable, I said to my wife, “I feel so comfortable here.” She laughed, as she usually does, when I make a statement like that, and her eyes had a twinkle, as she said, “You know, I was standing here thinking just that, that I have never been anywhere where everyone sounds just like David.” She never really believed that I could be part of a “thing”. These were military families, Young Republicans, the Young American Foundation, which if I am correct is the evolution of the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), which were a little too yappy for me in my youth. I was a Young Republican, and true, I was a Young Citizen for Goldwater, but I was more an ISI type than a YAF type. ISI had a singular distinction in the leftist tome DANGER ON THE RIGHT, as being truly people to watch out for because we had some intelligence. Through ISI, I met Ludwig von Mises, Fritz Wilhemsen, David Nelson Rowe and a whole group of both NATIONAL REVIEW contributors and ex-Communists who had found religion. Many of these people were from small Texas, private and Catholic schools like Trinity and St. Mary’s College; some were Ivy League sophisticates, some from California schools like Santa Clara. All were freedom lovers. So on Saturday, a circle was completed. From Student Demonstrator to Retired Citizen Demonstrator; strangely enough, the issues were the same and my positions were the same.

On Saturday, I remembered as a kid, visiting with my mother and father to a little town in Pennsylvania, their home, how we would return every Memorial Day, which they called Decoration Day. There was a Parade, led by a Military Honor Guard, ending at the local Cemetery, where everyone would place flowers, not only on the grave sites of mothers and fathers, but even more on the graves of those who did not survive the battles in WW 2, or who came home from Europe, changed forever by their experience and who were now passing away, too young. It is the Flags of the Honor Guard that I remember.

I’ll finish by telling you a little story about the Flag. I was in Mexico City, during the 90s, at a Conference with Secretary Baker. I had some time free, so a buddy and I went to the The Castillo, Maximilian’s Palace, now a Museum of Mexican history. We were walking through and we heard some young girls in another room, giggling and chattering. We turned the corner into the room and faced a glass case. In that case was a faded, somewhat worn American Flag. I believe it may have been the flag from the Alamo. Standing there, in that room in another country, viewing that Flag with the children of another country, I was a little taken aback; actually I was a little shocked. It was a sensory experience. Sometime later, at another gathering of government officials from Mexico, Canada and the U.S., I had an opportunity to make some concluding remarks. I told the group about the experience with that Flag. Then I told them that on that day I understood what the historians meant when they wrote about how the Roman Legions cried upon hearing of the capture of Varus’ Eagle. I told them that Eagles and Flags were not meant to be taken or lost in combat, but were meant to be given in friendship. That day I presented our Mexican host with an American Flag that had been flown over the Capitol. I told him that it was my hope that he would pass that flag down to his children and they to their children with the message that here was an American Flag given in friendship. A Flag is just a piece of colored cloth; but it is also the embodiment of the feelings of a people who have forged a great democratic Republic, dedicated to Liberty. Those who spit on that flag, or burn it, or otherwise desecrate it are doing so to the feelings and beliefs of those of us who stand for these principles. When they are our fellow citizens, we will, sadly, tolerate them, but it won’t stop us from despising them. When someone outside of citizenship does so, well, they may feel the emotions we have, in a way that they might not like. And that’s just the way I will always feel.

Another circle closed on Sunday. I have been scanning photos from the 80s and early 90s, so I will have them digitized. I came across a bunch from Giants training camp at Fairleigh. Phil Simms, LT, Harry and Pepper. Then came Dave Brown, Ray Handley, and in the background of a couple, an assistant coach, Jim Fassel. I haven’t come across any of Rod Rust, yet, but I suppose I might have one. I thought of that draft that brought Dave Brown and I remember thinking to myself, “Wwhat the f***”? I remember seeing him on his first day in camp, noticing a hitch in his delivery, thinking to myself, “What the f***”? I’m still thinking that. I remember the open warfare of the linebackers, my beloved linebackers, in open revolt against the philosophical teachings of Coach Rust. I remember the demise of that illustrious unit, with the final defenestration (how’s that) with the release by the next Coach of Pepper Johnson. And I’m sitting here now thinking about the return of Coach Rust and the renewed defenestrating of the linebacking unit. Just as every Giants fan, I like a little offense. But throughout my love of the Giants, it was a defense led by the linebackers that thrilled me. From Harlan Svare and Bill Svaboda, to Sam Huff, to Kelly, Hughes and Van Pelt to Harry Carson and then LT, Reasons, Carson and Banks, and on to Jessie Armstead, I have always thought that Giants and linebacker were synonymous. Bumping into Jessie and talking to him for a few minutes made me realize that no matter how good this team might be, it is, right now, a team without a strong linebacker unit, a team without the soul of Giants history. I sit here looking at this draft thinking that there are two out there, E.J. Henderson and Boss Bailey, who offer the hope of renewal. Then I think, does RR have any influence; does EA truly understand the game of football? Does EA understand the depths of Giants fans and their love of a line backing unit that hits like Gary Reasons did on that cold day, on the goal line, at Denver; or like the “mad dogs” unit of LT; or like the finger pointing of Sam Huff, “hey you, #“? Or am I closing another circle in my lifelong love of the Giants, happy to just get a Super Bowl win, even by a team in Blue, even if it lacks the soul of Giants’ history?

Sometimes it’s easy to forecast what the Giants will do on draft day. Picking Ron Dayne and Jeremy Shockey was easy. Ike was a mild surprise. Luke was a major surprise. Shaun Williams was a shock. Will Allen was a surprise but only because they couldn’t move up and get the best corner in the draft that year. But all of them are evidence of one thing – it is a lot harder to predict who will be there between 20 and 30 than it is between 1 and 15. And Williams is proof that picking in the 20s will give you exactly what you would expect, a starter, a solid player, but a player who is just about as good, or bad as any player chosen between 20 and 35. Free Agency is also forcing a change in putting together a draft board because it is no longer an unbroken maxim that you choose the best player available. If you have a need today, you must get immediate performance, so you have to take into account that need, sometimes over best available. Having said that, I don’t believe there is a must have player on the Giants’ board; I believe that there are sets of scenarios. Some have been driven by play last year, some by the off-season.

Last season, the offense played well. Towards the stretch, it seemed to explode at times, particularly after Coach Fassel took over the play calling. This has created a dangerous belief that the Giants now have the Third ID, an unstoppable force that can slice through any defense. I would caution that this juggernaut of last year was fashioned by Coach Payton, who might not have been able to select the right plays, but who was instrumental in their design. He had some beliefs, tactical surprise, motion, speed that set the stage for the firepower of the Giants. He is gone. That campaign is over. My fear is that the “pounders” are back in control. EA’s philosophy appears to be quantity, masses of men, not necessarily quality. Loading up on special teams is nice, particularly in now having a punter and hopefully a snapper; but leaving a Takeo Spikes out there without even a nibble, shows a distinct lack of vision. Taking the Patriots’ approach is fine, if you have Belichick and Charlie Weiss, et al. And it is actually the approach taken first by the Giants when they picked up Parker and Brown and a HOF left footed kicker.

Allowing three of your blocking unit to walk is questionable. True, none were Pro Bowlers. But they worked well as a unit, and they kept Kerry Collins from getting his britches soiled. Losing one would not be an eyebrow raiser, but losing three is certainly questionable. Then back filling with more question marks is, well more questionable. Philosophically, this appears to be hopeful planning, precatory behavior, expressing a sense of confidence without any real clout. It could be really interesting. Bottom fishing is like roulette; sometimes the ball lands on the right number; mostly, you just fork over the money. The real bright spot of the off season is the signing of Dorsey Levens, a proven, productive back, who will make the departure of Ron Dayne easier to digest, and allow a nice 4th or 5th round RB pickup.

Of more significance was the collapse of the defensive unit on too many occasions last year. Everyone is now focused on defensive tackles. Moreso, the focus should be on linebackers and cornerbacks. I don’t think the Giants have a prayer of signing Will Allen when his contract comes up. The jewelry is just too damn expensive these days and someone with a pocket full of money will outbid the Giants. EA will get his Italian up and let Will walk. So I look for a CB up high. There will be a defensive tackle taken early, but which one and where are not decided. The other teams have a vote.

So, I’m not thrilled at the off-season work, although it hasn’t been bad, particularly with the signing of Levens. I like the focus on defense, but I don’t like looking at the line and the corners, while overlooking the backers. I also think the Giants need significant help along the O-Line, and I don’t see Hatch as ready yet, if he ever will be.

What, then, are the scenarios? I firmly believe if the players are there, EA goes for the big one this year. I hate to disappoint MIS, again, kudos for a sensational pre draft analysis, but I think #1 on the Giants’ board is DT Jimmy Kennedy. He is massive, solid and a player on whom EA can get the real skinny. If Kennedy makes it past the Bears, look for a blockbuster; something like a swap of #1s, a #3, Dayne, and a pick next year depending on how Dayne plays – say a #3 if he plays well, a #2 if he doesn’t. If Kennedy goes, a very similar offer will be made to move into the 7-10 range for either QB Kyle Boller or CB Terrance Newman. The Giants would be looking at Boller three years out. He has the arm, some mobility, and the guru could make him the finished product. Newman is a definite consideration because the Giants need a nickel right now and they will have trouble with Will Allen at contract time.

The clock is running and the Giants haven’t landed any of these three by #11. The next scenario is a slightly less attractive trade, depending on how the tackles are running, to pick up DT Johnathan Sullivan, DT William Joseph or DE Jerome McDougle. Not much being said about McDougle but don’t let that sway you. He is a definite 11-to-18 player. This would be a #1, a #3, and maybe Dayne flat out with no futures.

If the Giants can’t make a move up into the top 20, and if the tackles are gone, as well as Newman, they may sit for their turn. If any of the top 5 tackles are still on the board, they may try to move a position or two to make the grab. If they wait their turn and WR Kelly Washington is still on the board, well stranger things have happened.

If the Giants give up a #2 or a #3 we are in for a long first day. FB Ovie Mughelli looks like a definite unless grabbed by someone else. Also, if Boller is not a Giant, look for QB Brad Banks in the 4th. I like QB Seneca Wallace better; the Giants like Banks. Who listens to me anyway? The scary thought is that Banks get grabbed and the Giants go for QB Brian St Pierre in the 6th.

If the Giants keep the #2 or #3, there are a couple of O linemen I like. I like Brett Romberg, the center from Miami. He has a Shockey like approach, is a good bench man, tough. A nice future center. The way the Giants are low-balling most of the O-Line, the rest may well walk at next contract, except for Luke who is in the pocket. So I really like Romberg. I also like OT Steve Sciullo in a middle round, if he’s there. He’s big, he’s proven; he’s a little nasty and he can be molded. Then I like the two guys from Hawaii (OT Wayne Hunter and OG Vince Manuwai).

Depending on how the board is running, look for a corner at #2 or #3, if Newman is not the man in the first round. The wild card would be a trade up in the second to get the Penn State defensive end (Michael Haynes). I’m not sure the Giants care if they get a tackle or an end. Certainly a tackle is preferable, but if the top guys go, the Giants will have three or four on their board for later rounds.

I have never met a player who had anything bad to say about Jerry Reese. He is a great recruiter. Having come from a small school program, I believe he looks at the small school players closely. He will have a few unknown gems in the sixth and seventh rounds, and a strong free agent group.

In conclusion, Round 1 could be a nail biter, or a real quick move. Key on Kennedy. If he goes before the Giants can move for him, it’s a wide open game and we won’t be able to go out for dinner because EA will be trying to move into certain pockets for certain players, something the Giants have not historically done. I look for Kennedy, Boller, Newman quick; Sullivan next; one of the other tackles next or the surprise of Kelly Washington. Definitely a FB, definitely a QB, definitely an OL pick. I haven’t got a clue on the rest. I would be ecstatic if the Giants went for E.J. Henderson, or Boss Bailey in the 20s, but I don’t think that’s in the works.

I may have more to add in the next week, as this is the time when the game gets hot.