Coke made Santa the Claus that refreshes

NOTE/SPOILER/WARNING: Today’s post deals with Santa Claus and his existence. If this would be a “sensitive” subject for your family, it might be good to restrict which family members should read it. Thanks for reading this ridiculous disclaimer.


The image I had of Santa Claus as a kid likely came from the same source yours did: the annual Coca-Cola ads in magazines, showing Santa (we were on a first-name basis even then) making his rounds and stopping for a moment to not only eat cookies, but also to drink a bottle of Coke.

Santa Coca-Cola No. 1
The first Santa Claus Coca-Cola ad created by artist Haddon Sundblom was this one in 1931.

It wasn’t so much knowing that Santa drank Coke (which was pretty cool), but more to know what he looked like. It was to see his red suit, the black boots, the enormous belt that went around his enormous belly (you couldn’t call it a stomach or a tummy; it couldn’t be anything but a belly), the white beard, the twinkly eyes, the rosy cheeks.

It was Santa. A kid, seeing those remarkable ads, couldn’t help but think that Santa was real and that everything you’d heard about him was true. He knew who you were and he had your name on the “nice” list (you couldn’t imagine him putting anyone on the “naughty” list).

That image of Santa was so real, your mind blocked out incongruities. You were willing to ignore the fact that the department store Santa didn’t look very much like the Coca-Cola Santa, or that the “Ho-ho-ho” of one Santa didn’t sound very much like that of another. You paid no attention to seeing more than one Santa in the same shopping center, just minutes apart from each other.

Suspending reality is what Santa Claus is all about and kids do that better than anyone. Kids have always known that growing up is something to be avoided. One look at a grown-up tells you that. There’s very little make-believe going on there, way too little joy, way too much seriousness.

Of all the Santas I met in person, my favorite was the one at the place where my dad worked. My dad worked for Pacific Gas & Electric Co., at the big PG&E materials facility on South Higuera Street in San Luis Obispo.

It wasn’t a place I got to visit very often, but every year when I was a kid, all the employees’ kids were invited to come to a Christmas party and get a gift from Santa.

This Santa was very close to the one in the Coca-Cola ads, but he had a kind of Jackie Gleason humor about him. The big PG&E boss would welcome everyone and he would soon (but not soon enough for all us kids) introduce the man of the hour.

Santa would enter to a frenzy of screams and applause. He would stand next to the big boss as the frenzy would die down and the two of them would just awkwardly look at each other, the big boss smiling and looking proud of himself, but Santa peering impatiently, while holding a big sack of toys.

Finally, Santa would say, in a Gleason-like roar, “Where do I SIT?”

Everyone would laugh as the big boss embarrassedly scrambled to find Santa a chair. The idea that Santa could be funny — and have a bit of a temper was endearing to me. The joke was repeated every year and every year I laughed as though I had heard it for the first time.


I don’t remember how old I was when I realized Santa wasn’t real, but it was difficult. (Even typing “Santa wasn’t real” was difficult for me just now.)

Usually at Christmastime, my grandparents would drive up from Los Angeles to visit us. But one year we drove down to visit them instead. I don’t remember why we switched, but it led to me finding out the truth about Santa.

I had started having creeping suspicions. Classmates at school would belittle people who still believed in Santa, so it was smart just to remain quiet about the subject, rather than to open myself up to cruelty.

The tradition at our house back then was that we exchanged presents for each other on Christmas Eve and that gifts from Santa appeared on Christmas morning.

Visiting my grandparents’ house made for some cramped sleeping arrangements. My parents and I had to sleep in the living room, with them in a foldout sofa bed and me on the floor. Normally this wouldn’t have been a problem, but this was Christmas Eve, never a night for sound sleep.

I dozed off for a while, but at some point I became aware of rustling in the living room. It was completely dark, but I started hearing whispering along the lines of “Do you think he’s asleep?”

My first thought was to answer and say, “No, not yet,” but I didn’t. They got up and started moving around and I could hear more rustling, this time in the direction of the Christmas tree.

It suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks. My mom and dad were Santa! They were putting the gifts from him in their place thinking I was asleep! What’s more is that they had always done that.

It had all been a lie. The very foundation of my childhood was being broken to bits, right there in the living room of that tiny house on Division Street in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve.

I wasn’t sure what to do. Should I bounce up and shout, “What are you doing?” Should I accuse them of flat-out lying to their only child? Should I call the police? Child and Family Services?

I didn’t do any of that. I very intensely tried to fake sleep. I wanted to cry, but didn’t dare. I didn’t want to let on that I knew what they were doing. It was kind of like discovering your parents are burglars or something. You didn’t want to launch an intervention against them.

I felt resentment, but not toward my parents. I didn’t blame them. It wasn’t their fault. They were parents and this was something they had to do. It was in the job description.

So I just lay there, my innocence slowly going down the drain.

“Why? Why does the world do that?” I thought. Why do grown-ups come up with this wonderful image of a chubby and plump, right jolly old elf, the best friend a kid could ever have, only to know that idea must eventually be torn to shreds?

That night it was my turn to pretend, to deceive. After this enormous surprise that had been turned to overwhelming sadness, I pretended to be asleep.

Of course, I don’t remember at all what Santa brought that year. At some point I told my parents I didn’t believe in Santa anymore. It was kind of like giving them permission to stop sneaking around on Christmas Eve. I’m not sure I ever told them I had been awake that night.

As parents ourselves, my wife and I downplayed Santa and talked more to our kids about the birth of Jesus, which is what Christmas is all about in the first place. But there’s still a nostalgic feeling I get when I look at the Coca-Cola Santa ads. There’s still a little bit of a kid in me and the smile and wink Santa gives me tells me that’s all right.

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Santa and the Schwinn bike — and my dad

When I was 7 or 8 years old, I really wanted a Schwinn bicycle.

Schwinn ad
Schwinn ads were big in comic books in the 1960s.

I spent a lot of my time reading comic books and back then, the back page of every comic book had ads. A lot of these ads were for things like science kits, toy train sets or army tanks. The more nefarious of these ads were for things like X-ray glasses, hypnosis lessons and realistic toy rifles.

But Christmas was coming and the thing I really wanted was a Schwinn bike. I was an only child, so I’m sure I was very spoiled and very persistent in letting my long-suffering parents know that I really wanted Santa Claus to bring me a Schwinn bicycle. I’m even more sure that I let them know that nothing but a Schwinn bike would do. Schwinns were even endorsed by TV stars like Captain Kangaroo and if you couldn’t trust the Captain, who could you trust?

Schwinn Captain Kangaroo
If you couldn’t trust the Captain, who could you trust?

But even at this age, I had some idea that bicycles were pretty expensive. That’s why I knew that Santa was the only man for the job. I don’t remember specifically writing a letter to Santa about the Schwinn bike, but somehow I knew my parents were the liaisons, the go-betweens. Apparently they knew a guy who knew a guy, you know what I mean? It was all very hush-hush. You didn’t ask questions. It was just how these things were done.

I grew up in San Luis Obispo and in the 1960s, it was pretty much the embodiment of a American hometown. Downtown you had Woolworth’s, Penney’s and especially Sears Roebuck. Back then, people still said “Sears Roebuck.” That Roebuck guy was still important. Nobody really knew who either Sears or Roebuck were — at least F.W. Woolworth and J.C. Penney had their full names on the sign — but at least back then, Roebuck was still on the marquee.

And the sign at Sears said “Sears Roebuck & Co.” And Company. What did that mean? Who were those people? They weren’t even important enough to be named. Roebuck should’ve seen that as an omen. Sears too, for that matter.

Sears catalog
Sears was magical at Christmastime.

But back when I was a kid at Christmastime, the Sears Roebuck store in San Luis Obispo became a magical place. It was a two-story store (which right away gave it a superior status in San Luis Obispo). I have no memory at all of what was normally for sale on the second floor, but I do remember that every Christmas, they took out whatever it was and filled the whole second floor with toys. I don’t think Sears normally even sold toys the rest of the year, but at Christmastime, there was nothing but toys. Walking up the stairs, seeing the “Toyland” sign as we went, was like following the yellow brick road to Oz. It was completely enchanting.

Well, to make a long story even longer, Christmas came that year and I got my Schwinn bike. It was just what I had asked for. It was my favorite color — blue — and it had stingray handlebars, which was the cool thing among 7- or 8-year-olds back then.

Schwinn
This Schwinn bike is a lot like the one I got as a kid: blue with a saddle that had a big “S” on it. My handlebars were the stingray kind, however. I’d also like to point out I had training wheels, but only for a little while.

It wasn’t a 10-speed bike, or a 5-speed bike, or even a 3-speed bike. It was more of a no-speed bike. It didn’t have hand brakes either. If you wanted to go, you moved the pedals forward. If you wanted to stop, you moved the pedals backward. It was simplicity itself and perfect in every way.

I rode that bike everywhere. This was back in the day when a 7- or 8-year-old kid could walk or ride a bike to school by himself without his safety being threatened. You could ride to what we used to call “The Little Store” (it’s now High Street Deli) to get an Eskimo Pie.

I always felt so proud of that bike. It was a Schwinn bike. It had a Schwinn emblem on the front and it had a blue Schwinn saddle with a big white “S” on it.

One day, many years later, I was thinking back to my childhood Christmases. I started thinking back to our Christmas trees, the Christmas records we’d play, how from our house’s big front window, I could see the big “SEASON’S GREETINGS” sign strung across Marsh Street.

I started thinking back to that bike. I remembered the saddle, I remembered the blue paint, I remembered the emblem.

Schwinn emblem
This Schwinn emblem has a very precise paint job. Mine didn’t.

For some reason, I remembered that the paint on the emblem had a kind of softness to it. The letters weren’t painted with a sharp outline to them. Somehow I remembered that the paint of the letters kind of blended into the paint of the emblem’s background.

The innocence of my childhood had long since melted away, but it was when I was a 47- or 48-year-old that the truth behind that Schwinn bike finally hit me.

It wasn’t from Santa. My parents didn’t know a guy who knew a guy at all. I’d known that for a long time, of course. But it wasn’t until then that I realized how I had gotten that bike.

Schwinn bikes were expensive and my folks weren’t rich. They wanted to get me what I wanted for Christmas, but a brand-new Schwinn bike was probably a little out of their league.

My dad had a big workshop in our back yard and had lots of power tools. He was a very talented guy when it came to building things (something I would never be). And he was always scrounging around, finding old parts to fix things. My dad really did know a guy who knew a guy; it was just that most of these guys ran junkyards. On top of all this, I’d always heard my dad loved riding bikes when he was younger. He’d even had a job as a messenger boy as a kid.

Dad
Terry Carlisle, my dad.

I never got confirmation on this theory from my parents; they had both passed away when this “revelation” came to me. But I am sure what my dad did was that he found an old bike somewhere, found an old Schwinn emblem and painted it as best he could and painted the bike frame the perfect color. I imagine if anything was new on that bike, it might have been the saddle and the handlebars. Maybe. Was the bike even a Schwinn? Who knows?

I do know this: If I had known back then that he had done this, I would have been disappointed and probably thrown a tantrum. After all, I was just a 7- or 8-year-old. I wanted a new bike. And it had to be a Schwinn.

But knowing it now (at least knowing it as well as I ever will on this earth) makes it an incredibly special thing. My dad was never very good at saying things like “I love you,” but every once in a while he’d do things like this that would let you know. Even if it wasn’t until 40 Christmases later.

Will Chip Kelly work his magic at UCLA?

Get the UCLA visor ready. Chip Kelly is coming to Westwood.

Chip_Kelly_Smile
UCLA hopes Chip Kelly — visor and all — will be able to bring smiles to Bruins fans. (Abdoozy photo)

The Bruins pulled the trigger on perhaps its most exciting and intriguing football coaching move since — well, since Jim Mora, the man they fired before hiring Kelly.

Kelly was just about ready to be plucked out of the college football free-agent coaching zone (that is, he was an ESPN analyst) by Florida when UCLA swooped him up instead.

It was seen as a brilliant if unusual move by UCLA, which is not generally known for making big-name hires. Of course, Mora was also seen as a big name. Big names don’t always work out.

It wasn’t all that kind a move toward Mora, who was fired on his 56th birthday, Nov. 19. Strangely enough, the hiring of Kelly, 54, was announced on his birthday, Nov. 25.

We can talk about whether or not Mora deserved to be fired (my view is he probably didn’t; most coaches don’t), but instead let’s talk about Kelly and his chances of succeeding at UCLA.

Kelly is coming back to college. He was 28-36 in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers and the Philadelphia Eagles (including 0-1 in playoffs) and 46-7 in college at Oregon (including 2-2 in bowl games).

At Oregon, Kelly was 33-3 in Pacific 12 Conference games and won three Pac-12 titles. He won a Rose Bowl, a Fiesta Bowl and was national runner-up in the 2010 season.

UCLA would take that in a heartbeat.

Chip Kelly, Sam Bradford
Chip Kelly, shown with Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford, had little success in the NFL. (Keith Allison photo)

He decided, in 2013, to try his hand in the pros and it didn’t go well. Of course, a coach is not as much in complete control of his success in the NFL as it is in college. The 49ers and Eagles were not very good franchises during that time and that didn’t help Kelly. His reputation was damaged by his NFL experience and it remains to be seen whether he can repair it by going back to the college ranks at UCLA.

For UCLA, it is thrilled it was able to not only land the biggest name available to fill its coaching vacancy, but also thrilled to get people to talk about the Bruins in ways that do not include either Mora or the three UCLA basketball players who were shoplifting in China.

The immediate uptick for UCLA is in recruiting. At Oregon, Kelly was able to nab several Los Angeles area stars away from either UCLA or USC. According to ESPN.com, 41 of Oregon’s 93 recruits under Kelly were from California. We’ll see if he is able to keep future standouts at home — or at least from going to USC.

It should also be pointed out that Kelly was offensive coordinator under previous Oregon coach Mike Bellotti, Kelly benefited from inheriting Bellotti’s players. It should also be pointed out that Oregon was put on NCAA probation for three years in regard to the school’s use of recruiting services. The hammer — which included a show-cause restriction against Kelly’s being immediately hired by another college difficult — came down on the Ducks right as Kelly was going to the NFL.

Kelly’s up-tempo offensive system at Oregon was revolutionary. It spread the offense while making the quarterback a running threat and defenses had no idea how to stop it.

Now they do. So Kelly will either have to come up with some other kind of eye-popping, jaw-dropping kind of offense or the Bruins will have to recruit players who can succeed in a more typical style.

THE WEEK JUST PAST

Now, while wondering if Kelly can coach a team (UCLA) wearing Under Armour uniforms as well as he can a team (Oregon) wearing Nike, here’s a look at the week just past:

  • At least UCLA’s coaching hire wasn’t anything like Tennessee’s, which had to withdraw its offer to Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano after a public backlash in regard to Schiano’s connection to the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State.
  • The Los Angeles Rams showed they will be a postseason force to be reckoned with in their win Sunday over the New Orleans Saints.
  • In fact, so did the Los Angeles Chargers, in their win Thursday over the Dallas Cowboys.
  • The Anaheim Ducks had to apologize and take down a video of center Ryan Kesler walking around the office naked. The video, which showed Kesler walking past several cubicles of female office workers, culminates with Kesler explaining that he was celebrating the NHL’s 100th birthday in his birthday suit. Given the many instances of sexual harassment in the country recently, it was a bad idea all around.

  • The Golden State Warriors wore their new Nike “statement” uniforms Saturday. You may have seen alternate jerseys they wear that say “The City,” in reference to San Francisco. These were a nod to Oakland that say “The Town.” It’s not necessarily a knock. According to ESPN, “the area was originally called ‘The Town’ when incorporated [in] 1852, before being reincorporated into the city of Oakland two years later.”
  • Of course, it’s a little strange given that the Warriors plan to move into a new arena in San Francisco in 2019.
  • The Warriors, even though they were called the San Francisco Warriors from 1962 to 1971, have played in “The City” only from 1964 to 1966, at San Francisco Civic Auditorium and at the University of San Francisco War Memorial Gymnasium. Since moving to the Bay Area, the Warriors have played in the Cow Palace in Daly City, San Jose Arena and their current home, now called Oracle Arena, in Oakland. They also played six games at San Diego Sports Arena in 1971-72 because they had just become the Golden State Warriors and took it seriously.
  • Speaking of uniforms, the Orange County Register points out the Lakers haven’t worn their traditional purple road uniforms once this season. That’ll change Monday night in a “road” game against the Clippers. The Lakers have worn their gold uniforms — for generations, worn only at home — for 11 of their 19 games this season, even including at Boston.

On Thanksgiving, to whom are you giving thanks?

You can’t help but pause on Thanksgiving, at least sometime during the weekend. The whole thing is built with pauses.

Waiting to get on an airplane, driving on a slow freeway, in between conversations with relatives and friends, maybe lining up to fill your plate, halftimes of football games, tryptophan-induced stupors, standing in line at Black Friday sales. You can’t help but pause during Thanksgiving.

Some people can’t stand pauses; they have to keep moving, thinking, planning, working, doing.

prayerWhat’s the best thing to do during a Thanksgiving pause? This is not a trick question. The answer is built right into the title of the holiday. Give thanks.

You’ve been given a lot: life, liberty, friends, family, health, happiness. And even if some of those things are missing or lacking, I’m sure there are still things you can think of that deserve gratefulness.

So give thanks. That part is easy. But then there’s the next part: To whom do we give thanks? You can’t just whisper a “thank you” out into the atmosphere. You can’t just say it under your breath to make sure the guy standing next to you in the Black Friday line doesn’t hear you.

Are you giving thanks to the people who cooked your Thanksgiving dinner? To the teams playing football on TV? To the porter who handled your luggage at the airport? To the people who built the freeways you were backed up on?

If you have a job, are you giving thanks to your boss? If you’re married, are you giving thanks to your spouse? Most of those people do deserve our thanks. We know we have been given a good life, even in spite of the obstacles and trials that pop up. But to whom are we really giving thanks on Thanksgiving?

OK, OK, by now you probably know the answer I’m trying to steer you toward:

God.

It seems like such a no-brainer, so obvious. And yet I know of so many people this week who will gather for Thanksgiving meals and festivities and who will even bow their heads to a God they don’t believe in, or toward whom they are hostile or apathetic.

Why? Well, bowing your head is just kind of the thing to do on Thanksgiving.

But let me ask this question: If you are not giving thanks to God, then to whom?

And this one: If you are not giving thanks to God, then why are you giving thanks?

The idea of setting aside a national day of thankfulness is a quintessentially American thing. And it has always been with the idea of thanking God.

Thanksgiving has been nationally celebrated in the United States since before it was a nation. Of course, we know about the Pilgrims; they celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1621. The Continental Congress declared the first official national Thanksgiving in 1777. From the very beginning, the day was designed to thank God, described in George Washington’s 1789 proclamation, as “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Thanksgiving became an annual celebration in 1863, during the Civil War, in a proclamation by Abraham Lincoln (written by Secretary of State William Seward):

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

“… No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”

I’m not trying to put a damper on Thanksgiving or make anyone feel guilty. Don’t go canceling the turkey and the cranberry sauce on my account. I’m just saying we should consider our motives as we enter Thanksgiving and celebrate it for the right reasons.

While we’re at it, we should also consider the blessings God has given us, especially how He has forgiven us of our sins through the sacrifice and resurrection of His son Jesus Christ.

Now that’s worth celebrating! Happy Thanksgiving!

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth.

Serve the Lord with gladness;

Come before Him with joyful singing.

Know that the Lord Himself is God;

It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;

We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.

Enter His gates with thanksgiving

And His courts with praise.

Give thanks to Him, bless His name.

For the Lord is good;

His lovingkindness is everlasting

And His faithfulness to all generations.

— Psalm 100

Knowing how Jesus ends the story gives us hope

Sutherland SpringsHearts are broken over the mass shooting Sunday in Texas and mine is among them. Frankly, there have been so many such incidents in recent years, there is a tendency to become numb from them.

But the pain from this violent act, much like the shooting of innocent concertgoers in Las Vegas, was even more excruciating than the others. I’m not completely sure why; the truck attack in New York was just a few days earlier and, to my discredit, it barely shook me. Perhaps it was because the shooting victims in the tiny town of Sutherland Springs, Texas, were people I could identify with.

The Christians who were in that small church in that tiny town were just like me. At that moment, they were doing the same innocent things I was doing. We were singing the same songs, reading the same Bible, worshipping the same Savior.

Except that 20 minutes into their service, a disturbed man who had been court-martialed from the Air Force and who had a history of domestic violence entered the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, wearing black tactical gear and a ballistic vest, and started shooting.

At least 26 people were killed and 24 more injured. Eight members of one family were killed. The number of dead represents 7% of Sutherland Springs’ population of 362.

Sutherland Springs is barely a blip on the map of Texas. It’s located a half-hour southeast of San Antonio on U.S. 87 and doesn’t have much more than a post office and a blinking traffic light to its name.

To be blunt, shootings in big cities don’t surprise us. The bigger the city, the more likely you’ll find unhinged people who would pull off something like that.

But Sutherland Springs? More than one person quoted called it a town where “everybody knows everybody else.” Just about everyone in town had some connection of some kind with the First Baptist Church.

For someone to come in and murder more than two dozen people during a worship service? Unthinkable.

I confess that incidents like the one in Sutherland Springs and the one in 2015 in Charleston, S.C., in which nine people were killed by a white supremacist during a Bible study shake me to my core. They’re terrifying because — well, because they could happen to me.

I grew up in a place where church was the place to be on Sunday mornings. It was a time when being a Christian, being a churchgoer, was the norm. Now the era we live in is described as post-Christian, where believers in Jesus Christ are seen as a minority with radical views.

The world is dangerous. Not to say that what happened in Texas was necessarily an attack upon the church itself, but the shooter was said to be an atheist whose social media posts called Christians “stupid.” The disputes between Christians and atheists that were once merely philosophical are now physical.

For Christians, however, there is comfort and hope in this dangerous world. More than one person in Sutherland Springs said, “We know they are in heaven now.” They can say that because of our accepting of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we know how this all ends. We know that one day we will be with Him in heaven and that the things that seem so senseless now will all make sense then.

It’s not like we’re blindly optimistic about what dangers this world has. We don’t drive into oncoming traffic, blissfully believing God will keep the impact from harming us.

Max Lucado, one of my all-time favorite Christian authors, reminds us what Jesus had to say in Matthew 10:28: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” Lucado had this to say in summing up his thoughts about the Texas shootings:

Evildoers have less a chance of hurting you, if you aren’t already a victim. “Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but to trust the Lord means safety (Proverbs 29:25 NLT).

“Real courage embraces the twin realities of current difficulty and ultimate triumph.

“Avoid Pollyanna optimism. We gain nothing by glossing over the brutality of human existence. This is a toxic world. But nor do we join the Chicken Little Chorus of gloom and doom. ‘The sky is falling! The sky is falling!’ Somewhere between Pollyanna and Chicken Little, between blind denial and blatant panic, stands the level-headed, clear-thinking, still-believing person of faith. Wide-eyed, yet unafraid. Unterrified by the terrifying. The calmest kid on the block, not for lack of bullies, but for faith in our heavenly Father. The old people of God knew this peace: ‘Though a host encamps against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident’ (Psalms 27:3 RSV).

“Do not give in to your fears. Resist the temptation to retreat and hunker down. This is the time for faith; the season for God-based hope. ‘Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act. Don’t worry about the evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes’ (Psalms 37:7 NLT).

“Courage is a choice. Let it be yours.”

USC, UCLA come away as winners with work to do

USC and UCLA left the football field last weekend feeling good about themselves. Makes sense: They both came away with come-from-behind victories at home.

They were both very fortunate to do so as both teams showed they still have a lot of work to do.

Pac-12 logoUCLA’s 45-44 win at the Rose Bowl over Texas A&M on Sunday night was remarkable. Quarterback Josh Rosen threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Lasley with 43 seconds remaining after faking a spike to help the Bruins overcome a 34-point deficit and stun the Aggies. That was the good news. The bad news was that UCLA had to score on five straight possessions after trailing 44-10 with 4:08 to play in the third quarter.

USC’s 49-31 triumph at the Coliseum over Western Michigan on a sweltering Saturday afternoon ended on a happy ending. The Trojans finally broke open ties of 21-21 and 28-28 by outscoring the Broncos 21-3 in the last 6:57. But it was all USC could do to stop Western Michigan’s rushing game in the first half.

Both Los Angeles schools have big-time QBs who can take their teams a long way and both could receive serious Heisman Trophy talk. Sam Darnold at USC should compete with Rosen for crosstown attention.

It was Rosen who had the more spectacular game last weekend. He was 35 of 59 for 491 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. Darnold completed 23 of 33 for 289 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns.         USC was saved by running back Ronald Jones II, who ran for 159 yards on 18 carries for three touchdowns. But the offenses won’t mean much if the defenses don’t tighten up quickly.

It was the ground game that nearly spelled doom for both the Trojans and the Bruins. Western Michigan rushed for 263 yards at USC and Texas A&M put up 382 against UCLA’s 70.

USC, ranked No. 4 before its opener, hosts No. 14 Stanford next Saturday night and the Trojans know what’s coming.

“I’ve been playing Stanford for going on four years now,” safety Chris Hawkins told The Associated Press. “I know what they are going to come do. We all know what they are going to do. They are going to run the football.”

UCLA, meanwhile, can afford to be sky-high all week after topping A&M. The Bruins host Hawaii next Saturday. While the Rainbow Warriors will be looking for their first 3-0 start since 2007, their wins so far are against the likes of Massachusetts and Western Carolina.

With Rosen commanding the offense, UCLA’s defense may have an easier task than USC’s.

THE WEEK JUST PAST

Coliseum thermometer
The Coliseum thermometer started at 100 degrees before USC’s football game, stayed there throughout it and will probably remain there until next Saturday’s game.
Now, while still trying to rehydrate after seeing Saturday’s USC game at the 99-degree Coliseum, here’s a look at the week just past:

  • I really don’t think the Coliseum thermometer has worked in decades. I think someone just manually puts the needle where it’s supposed to be at the start of the game. It never seems to move from that spot.
  • According to ESPN Sports & Information, the last team before UCLA to overcome a 34-point deficit was Michigan State on Oct. 21, 2006, defeating Northwestern.
  • ESPN pays a lot attention — probably too much —to win probability. Texas A&M’s win probability was 99.5% as late as 4:21 left in the game.
  • Also from ESPN S&I: Rosen’s 491 passing yards is No. 3 in UCLA history, behind Cade McNown (513, 1998) and Drew Olson (510, 2005). Rosen tied McNown with his 11th career 300-yard passing game.
  • The Pacific-12 Conference went 12-0 for the weekend, which is no mean accomplishment for any conference. The only blemish the Pac-12 has so far is Oregon State’s 58-27 loss to Colorado State on Aug. 26. The Beavers defeated Portland State (barely) on Saturday. Everybody else is 1-0.
  • Just as good as UCLA’s win Sunday was No. 21 Virginia Tech’s over No. 22 West Virginia. The Hokies won 31-24 for their first season-opening win in 11 games against an AP-ranked team.
  • The feel-good moment of USC’s win without question was the Trojans having Jake Olson snap the ball for the point after their final touchdown. Olson was adopted by former coach Pete Carroll eight years ago after he lost both of his eyes to a rare form of cancer. He joined the team as a walk-on long snapper three years ago. He had previously snapped at Orange Lutheran High.
  • One hero of Olson’s snap was umpire Mike Stephens, who steadied Olson beforehand and made sure he knew when the ball was about to be whistled ready for play. Another was Western Michigan coach Tim Lester, who had agreed not to rush a PAT attempt snapped by Olson.
  • The Dodgers seem to be an entirely different team right now than they have in the last 4½ months. And not in a good way. That 2017 World Series may not be as much of a shoo-in as you thought.
  • It’s likely the Dodgers would play the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League Division Series, the same Diamondbacks who swept them last week and the same Diamondbacks who come to Dodger Stadium for a three-game series starting Monday.
  • The only good things about the Dodgers’ weekend series in San Diego, in which they lost three of four, were 1.) Clayton Kershaw’s win Friday night (even though the Dodgers managed only one run) and 2.) Cody Bellinger homering on both Saturday and Sunday to break Mike Piazza’s club record for home runs by a rookie. Outside of that, the series was a stinkeroo.
  • What do you suppose will ever happen to Joc Pederson? Sent down to Triple-A Oklahoma City on Aug. 19, Pederson has hit only .125 in 12 games with one extra-base hit. He hasn’t been brought back up with other roster expansion players and now that Oklahoma City’s season is over, the word is Pederson may go to Double-A Tulsa or Class-A Rancho Cucamonga. Pederson has hit only .215 for the Dodgers this season with 11 home runs and 33 RBIs and .156 with two home runs since the All-Star break.
  • Dia de los DodgersCreepiest-sounding promotion of the year: The Dodgers are calling Tuesday night “Dia de los Dodgers.” It’s sort of like the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), in which people gather to pray and remember family and friends who have died. The Dodgers promotional blurb — which comes with a skeleton-looking batter drawing — says, “Honor the spirit and memories of those loved ones who shared your love for Dodger baseball.” The skeleton looks like the Dodgers offense these days.
  • Meanwhile, the Angels continue to battle for an American League wild-card spot. They are 1½ games behind Minnesota for the second spot, tied with Baltimore. The Angels’ relief pitchers were named AL Bullpen of the Week after allowing seven earned runs and 21 hits in 30⅓ innings with 30 strikeouts and 15 walks. Closer Blake Parker had three saves.
  • Stacy Lewis played in Portland, but won for Houston. Lewis won her first LPGA tournament since 2014 at the Cambia Portland Classic in Oregon and the Houston area native donated her entire $195,000 in winnings to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. Her two biggest sponsors also helped out with Marathon Oil donating $1 million and KPMG matching Lewis’ donation.

Peanuts and Squirt for communion? Yes, and bread all over the floor

Our best intentions of honoring Jesus don’t always go as planned. Fortunately, He cares much more about our intentions than our execution.

This is about the time I was in a group of people who celebrated communion using peanuts and Squirt. It’s also about another time at church when much of the communion bread wound up on the floor.

Communion is a very special time that most Christians observe at least once a month. It started when Jesus had what is called the Last Supper with his disciples. It was the only time when Jesus instructed them — and us — to remember Him.

And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood …”

— Luke 22:19-20

Like I said, most Christians observe communion at least once a month (at our church they do it on the fourth Sunday; at other churches I’ve attended, they’ve done it on the first Sunday); there really is no schedule laid out as to how often communion should be observed. Nor is there really any prescribed way on exactly how to do it. It’s likely that Jesus broke a loaf of bread in two and distributed the two halves around the table. It’s also likely that they had one cup of wine that was passed to each of them.

Many churches use special plates to pass the bread and cups around the congregation. The bread is usually a kind of unleavened cracker which can be either hard or soft. Catholics usually use a communion “wafer.” Instead of wine, most churches use grape juice. There are even prefilled juice cups you can buy with a top that can be peeled off.

Sometimes, however, you have to improvise.

Planters peanutsFor years, I attended and later served as a counselor at a college/career conference in the San Bernardino mountains near Crestline on Labor Day weekend. I loved that conference; it made me feel special in a way that few other things have.

It was the first place I experienced the blessing of small groups. Even though they took me out of my comfort zone, I always came away feeling better and closer to God.

We always had communion the evening before the conference ended. It was the big climax to the weekend. But somehow one year, our small-group leader didn’t get us back to the dining hall in time for squirtcommunion. As someone who was a regular to the conference, I was disappointed to miss that special time.

But we had one more small-group gathering on the last day and our leader had a surprise for us. We were going to have our own communion, he said, but the only things he could find for us to use were a jar of peanuts he had bought at the camp store and a can of Squirt he had gotten from the soda machine.

It wasn’t the same, but it’s an experience I haven’t forgotten.

 

CB064066It wasn’t the first unusual communion I’d experienced. I was a deacon at the church I grew up at in San Luis Obispo and one of our jobs was to distribute communion each month. Five of us would line up on each side of the two pastors at the communion table. The pastors would pass each plate to the deacon next to them and the deacons would pass them down the line until everybody had one.

CB064070Our church had always used the boxed cracker-type communion bread. But one of the deaconesses (yes, there were such people: a remarkable group of women who did some great ministries, including preparing the elements for communion) thought it would be a great idea if she baked some bread and cut it into little bite-size cubes.

It seemed like such a great idea at the time.

The deacons were all in place on each side of the table. I was in college at the time and a lot of my friends from the church college group were sitting in the front. They were already trying to get me to crack up while standing in my very solemn position.

Then the pastor — usually a pretty solemn guy himself — took the lid off the stack of bread plates and began passing them down. It didn’t take long to notice a little trickle of white fluttering down to the floor. Another look and you could also see little cubes of bread from each plate stuck to the bottoms of the plates above them.

Nobody had thought that real bread might stick to the plates when they were stacked. That was certainly never a problem with the hard crackers.

Deacons were trying to take the plates that were being handed to them and at the same time scoop the bread off the plate they had just passed down.

As the organ continued to play When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, my eyes grew big when I saw the pastor grab some of the bread and just stuff it into his pocket. He was no longer in rescue mode. He had gone fully into recovery mode.

The college kids lost it. They were on the floor.

Only the people in the first few rows could see what was going on. All the others, including my parents, were oblivious to the whole thing.

But this was quickly becoming an ecclesiastical nightmare. I mean, this was communion, literally for heaven’s sake! We obviously couldn’t pick up the bread that had fallen onto the floor. We were all beginning to wonder if we’d even have enough bread left to serve everyone, but we couldn’t even huddle for a moment to formulate a plan.

But somehow, we had enough bread to serve everyone. This is a miracle I consider to be just as amazing as the five loaves and the two fish feeding the 5,000.

We stacked all the plates in the lobby and came back down to the front, ready to serve the cup. I had always been concerned about dropping a plateful of full communion cups. The idea of having a problem with the bread had never occurred to me.

That was the first and only month the deaconesses baked bread and cut them into small cubes for communion. Itt was boxed, unleavened crackers from then on.