Dickens, Shakespeare, and the S.S. Max McGee
By Locke Peterseim, Britannica.com
Special to ABC Sports Online

C’mon, Dennis, 80 minutes, from the late second quarter to the early fourth, without a usable reference. We were almost left grasping at "doily" and "veneer," for Pete's sake ...

Pregame
The set-up: Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre, upon being told that he had never been sacked by Washington defensive end Bruce Smith, said, "Really? Maybe I'll let him get me up front, break the ice, get it out of the way."

The quip: "You know there's no five-year waiting period for the Mensch Hall of Fame, and that's where Brett Favre's going the day he hangs them up."

The read: "Mensch" (or "mentsh") is the Yiddish word for a good person, a nice guy or gal, someone of "integrity and honor" according to Webster's. The language of central European Jews, Yiddish is a Germanic dialect that formed in the Middle Ages; in German mensch means "human being," with the Yiddish variant implying the best of being human. Mensch's first-known appearance in an English-language work was in Saul Bellow's 1953 book The Adventures of Augie March.

Throughout the rest of the century, other Yiddish vocabulary worked its way into the American idiom, often popularized by Jewish-American comedians such as Jerry Lewis, Lenny Bruce, Mel Brooks, and Woody Allen, as well as writers like Philip Roth. Today, even non-Jewish comedians like Mike Myers (through his farklempt "Coffee Talk" hostess Linda Richman) work Yiddish into their acts.

First quarter
The set-up: Favre and Washington quarterback Jeff George both throw off their back foot, but Favre shows better judgment and skill at finding his targets.

The quip: "It's A Tale of Two Cities as far as the quarterbacks go."

Charles Dickens
What the Dickens is he doing with his left hand?
The read: Nearing the end of his writing career in 1859, Charles Dickens set his 12th novel, A Tale of Two Cities, amidst the turmoil of the French Revolution, with his characters moving back and forth between London and Paris. The book opened with the line "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…" and closes with its unlikely hero, the roguish Sydney Carton, sacrificing himself during the Reign of Terror to save his double, Charles Darnay. "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done;" says Carton on his way to the guillotine. "It is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."

In early drafts of the novel, Dickens followed that speech with a scene in which Carton, upon seeing the large instrument of decapitation, cried out "Whoa, whoa, whoa, Pierre! That's a 'guillotine?!' I thought it had something to do with a brothel! Let's talk about this, guys." Dickens removed the closing passage after friends suggested it lessened the ending's noble tone.


The set-up: The only time Jeff George had a winning season was under Vikings coach Dennis Green in 1999.

William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare sporting a lineman's neck collar.
The quip: "I remember that he was thrown into the breach that year with Minnesota -- he had a good team."

The read: In Act 3, Scene 1 of William Shakespeare's Henry V, the young English king has begun his invasion of France with an attempt to take the city of Harfleur. As the scene opens, Henry is rallying his men for a final push against the city's walls. "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; / Or close the wall up with our English dead." It works, and Harfleur falls to the English.

Later in the play, Henry will again seek to inspire his men, this time before their final battle at Agincourt where they face even greater odds. This is the occasion of the famous "Saint Crispin's Day Speech," as Henry tells his men not to worry about being outnumbered by the French, but rather to revel in "the greater share of honor" afforded to "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers."

Second quarter
The set-up: Washington cornerback Darrell Green plans to retire after this season after 19 years in the NFL, all of them with the Redskins.

The quip: "The guy's been around so long, he's their Indian-Head nickel-back."

The read: The "Indian-Head," or "Buffalo," nickel was minted in the United States between 1913 and 1938 (it replaced the Liberty Head nickel and was succeeded by the current Jefferson nickel). The coin's design by artist James E. Fraser featured a Native American man on the front and a buffalo on the back.

There has been some confusion over the years as to the identity of Fraser's model(s) for the Indian's profile. Native American silent film actor Isaac Johnny "Big Tree" Johns claimed he was the model, but Fraser said he drew his inspiration from images of Iron Tail, a Oglala Sioux chief who toured with Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, and Two Moons, a Cheyenne chief who fought Custer at the Battle of Big Horn.

There is no such confusion over the identity of the buffalo on the flip side: it was Black Diamond, a denizen of New York's Central Park Zoological Garden. A few years later Black Diamond was sent to a meat-packing company; his fleeting fame encouraging the company to sell "Black Diamond Steaks."

In 1937 a damaged die flawed the minting of the nickels, neatly amputating one of the buffalo's front legs, making the coins highly valuable to collectors. In 1981 a similar mishap in the minting of dollar coins removed Susan B. Anthony's corset. Horrified treasury officials stopped making the Anthony dollars altogether.


The set-up: The camera followed a large yacht full of revelers cruising up the Fox River.

The quip: "That's the party boat, the S.S. Max McGee."

The read: On January 14, 1967, Packers wide receiver Max McGee not only scored the first-ever Super Bowl touchdown on a pass reception from Bart Starr, but he did so while hung over and wearing someone else's helmet.

The night before the first Super Bowl, McGee, who prided himself on holding the NFL record for breaking curfew the most nights in a row (11), had once again defied Coach Lombardi's draconian rules and snuck out. He partied hard into the California night, assuming that as a second-stringer there was no chance he'd see any play in the next day's big game.

Max McGee
Former Packers receiver Max McGee (center) holds the NFL record for breaking curfew the most nights in a row (11).
After wobbling into L.A.'s Memorial Coliseum the following morning and barely staying upright during the kickoff, McGee suddenly found himself in the game when first-string receiver Boyd Dowler got hurt early. McGee shook off his debilitation and went on to score two touchdowns, helping Green Bay to a 35-10 win over Kansas City.

To this day, he's still not sure whose helmet he was wearing.

Fourth quarter
The set-up: Miller opined that Washington was wallowing in limbo because Jeff George wasn't throwing long and Stephen Davis hadn't had any breakout runs.

The quip: "The Skins are almost like a team without a country."

The read: In 1863 Edward Everett Hale, a Boston minister and great grand-nephew of Revolutionary hero Nathan "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country" Hale, published the novella "The Man Without a Country."

Intended as a commentary on patriotism as the War Between the States raged, the short book told the fictional story of Philip Nolan, who in 1805 had helped plot a new government in some of the southern states. Captured and put on trial, Nolan declared to the court, "I wish I may never hear of the United States again!" The judge granted Nolan's wish, ordering him to live out his days on board a Navy ship, kept at sea and forbidden any news or even the mention of his former country. The story's cautionary tale of lost loyalty and life-long regret was hugely popular in the North during the Civil War.

So compelling was Hale's sad saga of Nolan's lonely maritime wanderings that many believed "The Man Without a Country" to be nonfiction and Philip Nolan to be a genuine historic figure. Hale himself went on to become the chaplain of the United States Senate in 1903.

Locke Peterseim is a senior editor at Britannica.com.

Research assistant: Dave Ihlenfeld



 
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