I attended a writing seminar recently, trying to make up for lost time spent in a University of Minnesota classroom sixty years ago where a writing instructor attempted to fill my mind with knowledge of similes, metaphors, and other literary devices.
I take full responsibility for my lack of attention back then. As a quarterback, I was more interested in blocking schemes and blitzing linebackers than I was in run-on sentences or correct uses of the pluperfect subjunctive.
Back in those days, I recall viewing legendary coach Vince Lombardi at a chalkboard drawing up the Green Bay Power Sweep, the penultimate play that made the Packers winners of the first two Super Bowls, and every other championship game they ever played. All his players’ eyes were riveted on him at his chalkboard.
Lombardi’s method of correctly running the play by double teaming at the point of attack, kicking out the defensive end, and “running to daylight,” was drilled into the Packers until they knew the rules as well as they knew the lyrics of the latest Tony Bennett or Frank Sinatra recording.
I am trying to make up for time lost because I want to be a better writer, the best I can be. I think I might have found my own Vince Lombardi.
At the Tampa Oxford Exchange seminar, author Roy Peter Clark unwittingly played Vince in trying to get all present better at writing, using a piano rather than chalk and a blackboard. A showman as well as a writing teacher of national renown, he played requests from the audience.
Both informative as well as entertaining, he used the piano (often he’ll substitute an accordion) to interpret how words and notes in a ballad combine through the use of a musical bridge to make a phrase in a song, or a sentence in a book, better, just as Lombardi’s pushing and prodding with his chalk clarified direction and action for his masterpiece.
His most influential book, “Writing Tools,” is full of tips to make fledgling writers better informed. For instance, Tip # 29 references “Foreshadowing powerful conclusions.” When Mr. Clark ended his playing of “McNamara’s Band,” the piano’s cacophonous chorus matched, in my mind note for note, Lombardi’s intensity in nearly crushing his blackboard with that piece of chalk in that video detailing his Power Sweep.
Another of his tools, # 7, “Fear not the long sentence,” emboldens me to recount in story form what I consider to be the greatest play in football history:
“In the Packer Power Sweep, guards Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston pulled right to kick out and then lead upfield through the hole created by the double team block of the tackle and end, while fullback Jim Taylor securely nailed the nose guard directly over the center, Paul Hornung, all the while, carrying the ball, moving right, following the action, waiting to turn upfield, and then running to daylight.”
It was the most interesting ninety minutes I’ve ever spent in a classroom. The hundred people there would all agree, based upon their applause at the end.
As an example of how he could lead a group to learn, I had heard how the power went out once in a darkened venue while he was lecturing 2,000 Tampa school teachers, and he got them to sing-along in the dark to his playing of their requests until power was restored.
Lombardi, a former high school chemistry teacher, would’ve loved that.