Death by football: Remembering a college friend 10 years later

justin Strzelczyk

It is not news to anyone who follows professional sports that the National Football League has some serious problems, including issues with domestic abuse, banned substances and players suffering debilitating and life-shortening injuries with all-too alarming frequency.

While this crisis seems to some a recent phenomenon, it’s not. The light has only been shined on it with greater intensity recently.

I remember when I got my first real inkling that something was wrong – really wrong – with professional football. It was perhaps 18 or 19 years ago, while watching a game involving the Pittsburgh Steelers. I don’t remember who the Steelers were playing, but I do remember a specific play which was run toward the Steelers’ sideline, where Pittsburgh players not in the game were standing.

As one of the opposing players slowed up as he ran out of bounds at the end of the play, a Pittsburgh player standing along the sideline took the opportunity to deliver what in football parlance is known as a “forearm shiver,” clocking his opponent with a forearm to the head. As the opponent, not surprisingly, wasn’t expecting a blow, it had a powerful effect.

I remember the network catching the infraction and showing it again, and highlighting the culprit. It was Justin Strzelczyk, a grizzly bear of an offensive lineman. The incident was shocking not because of what happened – most every NFL game has cheap shots and late hits – but because of who committed the offense.

It stunned me because Strzelczyk, who I’d known in college, had been one of the most easygoing individuals I’d known during my time at the University of Maine. He may have been a 6-foot-6, 250-plus pound football player, but he was a genuinely good-natured guy.

I’d actually met him during his recruiting visit to Maine in 1986, when he was still a senior in high school. My dorm room was across the hall from that of one of the captains of the football team. Recruits are paired up with current team members when they visit campus and Strzelczyk spent the weekend of his recruiting visit across the hall, when he wasn’t out getting his first taste of college life.

That weekend, amid the beer, girls and good times of college, Strzelczyk was in hog heaven. I wasn’t surprised when he opted to attend Maine. We remained friends and would chat whenever we  bumped into each other on campus up until I graduated in 1988.

Strzelczyk continued to improve and was a starter and standout during the latter part of his career at Maine. The last time I saw him, ironically, was in April 1990. I’d gone back to Maine to visit some friends still in school and it happened to be the first day of that year’s NFL draft.

While walking on campus we saw each other and talked briefly; I asked him if he thought he’d be drafted. He replied that he hoped so, but he’d have to wait and see. He still had an easy way about him, despite the fact that he was hours away from learning what the future held for him.

In the end, the Pittsburgh Steelers picked him in the 11th round, No. 293 overall. Normally, 11th round draft choices don’t have much of chance of making it in the NFL, but Strzelczyk, who had size, aptitude and desire going for him, made the team.

Over the next nine seasons, Strzelczyk would play in 173 games for the Steelers, starting 75. He was versatile, starting at every position on the offensive line except center. He even played in Super Bowl XXX.

His career came to a close, as nearly all do in the NFL, because of an injury. He suffered a quadriceps tear during a game in 1998, and then was hurt the following year in bar fight. Finally, he suffered another injury during a celebrity hockey game in 2000 and was shortly afterward released by the Steelers.

Without football, Strzelczyk’s life seemed to come apart at the seams. He and his wife of eight years divorced in 2001; he was arrested for drinking and driving in 2003; and his behavior became increasingly erratic.

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Efforts underway to conserve South Carolina’s oldest book

records of the province 1671-75 inside

The state of South Carolina is seeking funding in order to conserve its oldest book.

Titled Records of the Secretary of the Province and the Register of the Province of South Carolina: 1671-1675, the work contains records dating from just after the founding of the colony by English settlers in 1670.

The earliest record listed is a property deed recorded only months after the first settlers landed at Albemarle Point on the Ashley River, according to the SC Department of Archives and History.

The book is in serious need of restoration and the South Carolina Archives and History Foundation is in the process of raising money for the effort.

“Last conserved in 1944, the record book’s pages are now acidic, dirty, and falling out of their binding,” according to the department.

South Carolina’s concern for preserving its government records dates back to the very beginning of the colony.

“Joseph Dalton, the first secretary of the province, worked hard to get ‘an orderly method’ to record keeping in the fledgling settlement,” according to a 1995 work South Carolina Begins: The Records of a Proprietary Colony, 1663-1721.

records of the province 1671-75Records of the Secretary of the Province contains key documents from the colony’s founding, “including evidence of early support for the colony by Barbadians; wills by Governor William Sayle and Henry Woodward as he was preparing to explore the ‘hazardous and dangerous’ wilderness; and two complete inventories, including the names and terms of indentured servants, for a plantation established as a partnership,” according to the Department of Archives and History.

The goal is to send the record book to the Northeast Document Conservation Center, regarded as one of the best conservation facilities in the country.

There the 54-page volume will be conserved and housed in a period binding and a specially constructed case. In addition Archives and History staff will create digital images of the restored volume to make its information more widely available.

(Top: Pages from Records of the Secretary of the Province and the Register of the Province of South Carolina: 1671-1675, South Carolina’s earliest book.)

Australian searchers may have located long-lost submarine

ae1-submarine

The latest effort to locate the Australian submarine HMAS AE1, lost 100 years ago this month, have proved tantalizing but inconclusive so far.

Earlier this month an Australian navy vessel searching for the submarine, which went missing Sept. 14, 1914, with 35 men on board, reported “a contact of interest” in the Papua New Guinea search area.

The loss of the AE1 in the opening weeks of World War I took place after the Australian fleet sailed to New Guinea to capture the Germany colony on Britain’s behalf. The objective was to take out telegraph stations providing key communications for the German Pacific Fleet, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

“We need to get more detailed analysis. That is what we are doing at the moment,” according to a source with the Australian defense department. “Different sources, not only military, need to see if it fits the submarine’s profile. We have found items here before.

“If you look on the chart it is one of the most wreck-strewn areas in the region.”

The AE1 was the first submarine to serve in the Royal Australian Navy and was lost after less than seven months in service.

The disappearance was Australia’s first major loss of World War I.

Military historian and author Dr. Kathryn Spurling told Fairfax Media she believed the submarine stumbled across a hidden German boat.

“It didn’t even have to be an armed German boat,” she said. “The submarine was so small it would only have to be rammed by the German boat to go over topsy-turvy and it would go straight down.

“The only way the submarine could protect itself or attack the German boat was to submerge and as a submarine just goes beneath the water it is incredibly vulnerable and unstable, especially if you have a bad engine, which they did,” Spurling added. “I think that is the most logical way it was lost.”

(Top: Image showing HMAS AE1 in 1914, shortly before it set out on its final voyage.)

Researchers claim volcanoes can become active in short time

Mount_Hood

Researchers at a pair of Western US universities report they have uncovered a key factor in predicting volcanic eruptions.

Geologists from the University of California-Davis and Oregon State University have found that in order for a volcanic eruption to occur, molten rock under the volcano must be sufficiently mobile. This occurs when the temperature of rock below the volcano rises to more than 1,328 degrees Fahrenheit.

The researchers developed their findings by studying Oregon’s Mount Hood, located in Cascade Range, about 50 miles east of Portland.

“The team found that the magma located roughly three miles beneath the surface of Mount Hood has been stored in near-solid conditions for thousands of years,” according to RedOrbit. “However, they say that it takes just a significantly short period – perhaps as little as a few months – for said magma to liquefy and potentially lead to an eruption.”

The belief that there is a big reservoir of liquid magma under an active volcano is not always true, said Kari Cooper, lead author and an associate professor at UC Davis.

“The study team said that mobility of the magma depends on the amount of crystallization,” according to RedOrbit. “When it is more than about 50 percent crystalline, it becomes immobile. Crystallization, in turn, depends on the temperature of the rock.

“If the temperature of the solid rock rises to more than 1,328 degrees F, which can happen when hot magma rises up from deeper within the Earth’s crust, an eruption may be imminent,” the online publication added.

“If the temperature of the rock is too cold, the magma is like peanut butter in a refrigerator,” Oregon State University professor Adam Kent said in a statement. “It just isn’t very mobile. For Mount Hood, the threshold seems to be about 750 degrees (C) [1,328 Fahrenheit] – if it warms up just 50 to 75 degrees above that, it greatly increases the viscosity of the magma and makes it easier to mobilize.”

Mount Hood has had at least four major eruptive periods during the past 15,000 years. The last three occurred within the past 1,800 years. The last of these took place around 170-220 years ago, shortly before the arrival of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1805, according to the website www.mounthoodhistory.com.

For the study, researchers studied rocks ejected from Mount Hood’s previous eruptions. By analyzing the radioactive isotopes and the distribution of trace elements, the team was able to reconstruct the history of the rocks and the conditions they were exposed to before the volcano erupted, according to RedOrbit.

The results of their findings could make it much easier for volcanologists to assess when a volcano is ready to explode. If eruptible magma is indeed relatively rare, then when it does appear, the risks of an eruption are much higher, Cooper noted.

(Top: Oregon’s Mount Hood, part of the Cascade Range.)

Investigating the rich history of Lowcountry rice farming

rice barge

When one thinks of antebellum agriculture, one typically thinks of cotton. Indeed, by 1860 Southern farms and plantations supplied 75 percent of the world’s cotton, and Gossypium hirsutum was the dominant agricultural crop from the Carolinas to Texas.

Cotton was such an important part of the pre-war South that the Confederacy believed it would be the ultimate instrument of its independence.

Much less well known today is the princely standing held by another Deep South crop during the days before the War Between the States – that of rice.

Rice was introduced to the United States in the 17th century and is reported to have been cultivated in Virginia almost as soon as the first settlers landed at Jamestown, but it was in the marshy, humid regions of Lowcountry South Carolina and Georgia that the crop flourished.

Rice planters couldn’t have succeeded without the forced labor of slaves, particularly those from the Senegambia area of West Africa and coastal Sierra Leone.

At the port of Charleston, slaves with knowledge of rice culture brought the highest price and were put to use on rice plantations around Charleston, Georgetown, S.C., and Savannah, Ga.

A new book by Richard Dwight Porcher Jr. and William Robert Judd detailing the once-great Lowcountry rice industry states that nowhere else was an agricultural crop so intimately tied to status and its associated wealth and influence as rice was to the Lowcountry.

The Market Preparation of Carolina Rice: An Illustrated History of Innovations in the Lowcountry Rice Kingdom is an extensive account of the rice industry in Lowcountry South Carolina and Georgia.

market preparation“… the real strength of this book is the author’s documentation based on extensive field research of fifty rice plantations, mill sites, museum and archival collections and travels to investigate foreign connections to the Lowcountry rice industry,” according to a review by the Charleston Post and Courier.

The work, published by University of South Carolina Press, which contains “meticulously rendered line drawings depicting the mechanical devices of the rice industry, lend a startling clarity to the written explanations of how they actually functioned and what part each played in the crop’s journey from the field to the consumer,” the publication adds.

The Market Preparation of Carolina Rice identifies the inventiveness of Deep South planters, recognizing that the U.S. Patent Office granted substantial numbers of antebellum patents to South Carolinians for inventions or improvement for rice harvesting and milling equipment alone.

It also recognizes the contributions of slaves “whose blood and sweat transformed inland swamps and riverine marshes into the remarkably dynamic hydraulic systems that composed the sweeping rice fields of the Lowcountry,” according to the Post and Courier.

The book doesn’t gloss over the fact that slaves worked in brutal conditions, explaining “that tidal river marshes were an extremely harsh environment just to exist in, let alone to work in. As it proved, an enslaved work force was the essential element in the survival of the Rice Kingdom, for without them the days of glory were over.”

(Top: Image showing the unloading of rice barges on a 19th century South Carolina rice plantation.)

California sunflowers take root in Carolina

sunflowers 010

The staple crop of the family ranch in California has long been canning tomatoes but to keep the soil from being depleted, other crops are rotated in on a regular basis, including wheat, lima beans, alfalfa and sunflowers.

The above example of Helianthus annuus was grown from seeds raised at the family ranch, but planted by yours truly in South Carolina.

It’s only about half the size of the sunflowers raised at the California reach, partly because I didn’t plant it until early July, and partly because the soil at my home has too much clay and isn’t nearly as good as that found in the Sacramento Valley.

Still, I figured I had a pretty good chance of getting plants to come up no matter the quality of the soil given that the sunflowers raised in California are grown for seed, to be sold and planted in Europe.

Note the bumblebee on the lower part of the flower. I’ve seen hundreds of sunflowers up close and most all, at least before they darken and die, will have a bumblebee or three on or around them. I can’t remember ever seeing a honeybee on or near a sunflower, however.

Researchers unlock mystery behind Terracotta Army

 

terracotta army

China’s Terracotta Army has fascinated millions since its discovery 40 years ago, near present-day Xi’an. Built by Qin Shihuang, China’s first emperor, the Terracotta Army was massed below ground, to protect a spectacular underground palace complex that was based on Qin’s imperial capital.

To create his Terracotta Army, Qin “issued instructions that his imperial guard be replicated, down to the finest details, in red-brown terracotta clay, poised to do battle,” according to Science China Press.

When the army was uncovered in 1974, thousands of these imperial guards were initially discovered, with some containing patches of pigment that had survived 22 centuries buried underground, along with minute remnants of binding media that had aided in the creation of this polychrome Terracotta Army, the publication added.

Since then, efforts to conserve these figures from China’s First Empire have been hindered by scientists’ inability to discover the binding material used in applying pigments to Qin Shihuang’s underground army.

However, recent research has revealed “the surfaces of the terracotta warriors were initially covered with one or two layers of an East Asian lacquer … obtained from lacquer trees,” according to Hongtao Yan and Jingjing An, scientists at the College of Chemistry and Materials Science, Northwest University, in Xi’an.

“This lacquer was used as a base-coat for the polychrome layers, with one layer of polychrome being placed on top of the lacquer in the majority of cases,” according to an article co-authored by Tie Zhou, Yin Xia and Bo Rong, scholars at the Key Scientific Research Base of Ancient Polychrome Pottery Conservation, the State Administration for Cultural Heritage, which is connected with the Museum of Emperor Qin Shihuang‘s Terracotta Army.

Qin (260-210 BC) united China in 221 BC and ruled as the First Emperor of the Qin dynasty from 220 to 210 BC. The approximately 8,000 terracotta warriors found in Qin’s underground palace were to protect the emperor in the afterlife.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization described the site in glowing terms more than a quarter century ago: “Qin … is buried, surrounded by the famous terracotta warriors, at the center of a complex designed to mirror the urban plan of the capital, Xianyang. The small figures are all different; with their horses, chariots and weapons, they are masterpieces of realism and also of great historical interest.”

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