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Gehrig,Sullenberger, Adam Cox, and the Cal effect

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By Bob Watkins

While a self-centered jug head, anti-hero returned to baseball to wild cheers, a pair of genuine American heroes rose above the madding crowd last weekend.

Lou Gehrig was honored at ball parks across America July 4, 70th anniversary of the revered Yankee's farewell speech. And, U.S. Airlines pilot Chesley Sullenberger was featured on CBS’s 60 Minutes in a fascinating piece with captain graciously fending off weak journalism from Katy Couric.

Gehrig and Sullenberger, men of parallel grace, immense dignity and reluctance to embrace hero-worship.

We are familiar with Gehrig, how the Iron Horse faced “... the bad break I got.”

Less so, Sullenberger perhaps. Man who captained Flight 1549 onto the Hudson River in January, saving lives of 155 passengers and giving new sweetness to lives of relatives and friends of the survivors. And a reminder to us also.

In his time, Gehrig worried about others suffering incurable amyotrophic lateral sclerosis losing hope. He believed he had a duty to be optimistic for their sake.

Sullenberger? Weeks after the Hudson landing, passengers, relatives and friends gathered in Charlotte, North Carolina to thank him. The scene was reminiscent of Gehrig at the microphone in Yankee Stadium in 1939. Uncomfortable.

Sullenberger let himself be singled out for barely a moment as the adulation filled the room. Like Gehrig's concern for ALS sufferers, the caption was grateful for opportunity to be a symbol for good news in a bad news world gone insane largely because of cable news decision-makers.

Sullenberger took no bows. Instead pulled together his co-pilot and three flight attendants together. They basked in the glow of admirers. A team moment.

For those of us watching it was also a Lou Gehrig moment. A time to see an authentic American hero. The scene somehow balanced against this: In California, thousands of baseball fans cheered madly at the return of anti-hero, jug head Manny Ramirez.

CAPTAIN’S LIST

In honor of American heroes captain Chesley Sullenberger and ship captain Richard Phillips, this space is for Kentuckians who’ve achieved a milestone. An accomplishment worthy of imitation.

Adam Cox in Corbin is Iron Horse-worthy. A University of the Cumberlands graduate, 24-year-old Cox completed his education, kindergarten to college degree, without missing school. Ever.

Gehrig played 2,130 straight games for the Yankees over 14 summers.

Adam Cox went to school 2,450 days through fall-winter-spring weather, 16 years including five years without missing work as an intern at a Corbin church.

Looking for a job in church ministry, Cox told Trent Knuckles of the Corbin News-Journal, he hopes his a sterling record will demonstrate reliability to a prospective employer.

We think Sullenberger and Phillips just snapped off a salute. And Lou Gehrig just winked.

THE CAL EFFECT

SEC men’s basketball coaches took media questions last week. The leagues 12 Under-Apostles (under Urban, Nick, Les, Rich and the rest) were asked about the Cal effect.

It was a kind of colleague welcome for John Calipari to a place he hasn’t worked before, in a power league.

Reactions to Kentucky’s new man ranged from pragmatism (Rick Stansbury) to shrug (Trent Johnson) and included shameless and at times, amusing tribute to make us think - second Coming John the Baptist. One columnist said the Cal effect makes the SEC relevant again.

Please.

Tennessee’s Bruce Pearl was moved to Vitalian grovel: “John raised the bar tremendously for all of us. He is a big thinker.”

A presumption that SEC coaches heretofore were little thinkers. Pearl’s remark won’t digest well in the villes - Gainsville, Nashville, Starkville, Fayetteville as well as Baton Rouge where LSU’s Johnson is SEC coach of the year.

Yet, with Pearl we can assume a bit of Elmer Gantry. His tune was tinny but savvy. Tennessee’s showman sets Cal up to high expectation then knocks him down a notch in Knoxville, then takes bows from a media herd chorus “genius of Rocky Top dispels Cal effect.”

Reality came from the SEC west.

√ Perspective. Stansbury at Mississippi State: “It’s very obvious already, the impact he’s had. He’s got you asking me a question in the middle of June about him. That tells me the impact he’s had on (media herd) already.”

√ Pragmatism. Johnson at LSU: “It doesn’t really matter. Its what you do in late February and March. That’s what’s going to benefit your league.”

√ Reality. John Pelphrey at Arkansas, points out that winning at Kentucky is nothing new. Alas, the Paintsville redhead added this, “With Cal there they’re going to do it very, very quickly.”

Say what? UK has been winning quickly and often since Pelphrey was star stuff.

Never mind. LSU’s coach is nobody’s fool and won’t dance to media herd’s new toy, the Cal effect.

Johnson advises a wait-and-see and I would agree. He might have said, “March. Ask me then about the Cal effect.”

BRAVO, STANSBURY!

Mississippi State’s Rick Stansbury put light on another example power of media spin.

Say something loud enough, long enough, it becomes reality.

The SEC was down last season, they said. “... totally blown out of proportion,” Stansbury said. He’s right.

Down based on what? That three teams were invited to the NCAAs. Wrong criteria.

Reality: A May 13 report from the Southeastern Conference said men's basketball in 2008-09 set a new attendance record. Led by Kentucky, the league surpassed 2.5 million tickets sold for the third season in a row - 2,638,852 fans attended SEC games. More than the ACC, Big East and Big 12, SEC attendance was second to the Big Ten’s average 12,519 per game.

UK led the nation again, 22,239 per game. Tennessee was fourth, 20,483. Kentucky has led in attendance 13 of the last 14 seasons.

Right criteria? Popularity of SEC men’s hoops with fans, the SEC was up last season, waaaay up.

And so it goes.

Sports In Kentucky is syndicated to communities across Kentucky. You can reach bob Watkins at Sprtsinky@aol.com