Saturday, July 30, 2016

Having Husker Genes

I grew up in a Husker house. Anyone who did knows what I mean by that. My Dad, "Husker Harry" as he was known to his friends, was born and raised in Howells, NE and found his way to Lincoln in the 1954 where he earned degrees in business administration and "Husker Fever". It was a virulent strain of the fever with which attempted to afflict everyone around him!

Harry, Alex and me at Notre Dame vs. Nebraska game in 2001
I think I first realized the consequences of this Husker affliction when I was a young boy and went pheasant hunting with him. South Dakota pheasant hunting is a whole different tradition (which I have discussed before) but my Dad liked to mix them - Husker football and SD ringnecks.

Dad would walk through the corn fields in pursuit of the "wiley ringneck" with headphones on so he could listen to the Husker football game. Now, I'm talking about the early version of radio headphones that were the size of shoe boxes on each side and weighed about 10 pounds. He never hit many pheasants with those on but he never MISSED a Husker touchdown. We'd be walking through the field and, all of a sudden, he would start whooping it up, celebrating the latest Husker venture into the end-zone.

I was ten years old in 1970 when the Huskers made a big trip to the west coast to play the USC Trojans. Dad and Mom invited some friends to our house to listen to the game on the radio. The game started at like 9 pm Central Time and Dad told me I could sit up with them and listen to it. We sat around the kitchen table as the reception faded in and out (needless to say, out at the most inopportune moments!) into the wee hours of the next morning. It was a classic and ended in a 21-21 tie.

Later that season, Dad and Mom took me to the Nebraska-Oklahoma game in Lincoln. We were guests of then Husker head coach, Bob Devaney. We stayed where the Huskers players stayed the night before the game and I remember what a thrill is was to see those guys walking through the lobby. I still have the sweatshirt (though it is closer to pink now than it is "scarlet"!), game program and ticket stubs from that weekend.

The Huskers won a hard-fought battle over the Sooners that day, 28-21. But the outcome wasn't decided until the final play, when Husker defensive back Jim Anderson picked off Jack Mildren's heave aimed for Jon Harrison in the end zone.

Nebraska finished 10-0-1, its first undefeated regular season since 1965, and ranked No. 3 in both wire service polls, behind two unbeaten and untied teams: No. 1 Texas and No. 2 Ohio State. The UPI didn’t conduct a poll after bowl games, so Texas was its national champion for 1970.

Notre Dame upset Texas 24-11, and Stanford staged a fourth-quarter comeback to defeat Ohio State 27-17. Nebraska learned of the latter result during the Orange Bowl’s pregame warmups.

The Huskers took care of business with a fourth quarter rally over the LSU Tigers in the Orange Bowl that night and captured their first national title. My Dad smiled for a month about that.

Then, after running the table on the first 10 games, Nebraska’s 1971 season came down to a single game at Owen Field in Norman, OK on Thanksgiving Day. The #1 Cornhuskers played #2 Oklahoma in what still is regularly regarded as college football’s "Game of the Century".

Both teams entered the game undefeated and untied. Nebraska had the nation’s top-ranked defense. Oklahoma had its most productive offense.

The cover of Sports Illustrated (Nov. 22, 1971) published the week of the game included photographs of Nebraska linebacker Bob Terrio and Oklahoma running back Greg Pruitt, nose-to-nose, beneath the headline: "Irresistible Oklahoma Meets Immovable Nebraska.’’

My family was in Omaha for Thanksgiving that year where we celebrated with my Dad's family. We all gathered at my Uncle Ron (Dad's younger brother) and Aunt Diane's house for Thanksgiving meal and then the football feast. I was impressed with the fact that they had a "Go Big Red" toilet in their basement complete with Husker toilet paper! There must have been 25-30 Knusts packed in to that basement for the game. I took a front row seat with my cousins.

Nebraska's Johnny "The Jet" Rodgers opened the scoring less than four minutes into the first quarter with a 72-yard punt return, As Lyell Bremser shrieked from the radio "Holy Moly! Man, woman and child did that put them in the aisles!", bedlam broke loose in the Knust basement. There were high fives everywhere. I knew it was a big deal when my 70+ year-old grandmother was jumping up and down in the back of the room.

The game was one great play after another. The highlights can be seen below and the entire game can be seen here. (The old ads are worth a look!) Nebraska won 35-31 as Jeff Kinney scored the winning touchdown on a 2-yard plunge, the 12th play of the championship drive, with 1:38 remaining. 

The two teams went on to crush the state of Alabama in their bowl games. Nebraska won its second consecutive national championship by beating Alabama, 38-6, in the Orange Bowl. The Sooners crushed Auburn, 42-22, in the Sugar Bowl.

Those fifteen months, starting with the Huskers tie with USC on September 19, 1970 and culminating with that win over Oklahoma on Thanksgiving Day, 1971 pretty much cemented my life -long affinity for Nebraska football. 

Like everything else he did, my Dad rooted for the Huskers with passion and enthusiasm. The quickest way to have him befriend you was to pledge loyalty to the Cornhuskers. I have said many times that if we didn't watch the Huskers on Saturday, we didn't get to eat dinner. If they lost, it wasn't served!!

Harry's last Husker Game with daughter Sarah

Over the years, Dad and I made many pilgrimages to Memorial Stadium together. Often we would introduce someone new to the pageantry of Nebraska football. Our last trip together came in October of 2010 to see the Huskers beat Missouri 31-17. He made Husker fans out of my wife, Judy, and all three of our kids.

Husker football is certainly one of "Husker Harry's"legacies. I'm happy to have his Husker genes!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Going Deep

It was the bottom of the 17th inning, scored tied at 31-31, bases loaded and two men out. Suddenly, in deep left center field, a light began flashing. It was completely dark in the backyard field except for the light mounted on the house behind home plate. The flashing light in the outfield was a distraction to the hitter who was digging in for the critical at bat. At first no one noticed, but eventually, that light (in combination with my mother's calls) drew everyone's attention.

I don't remember how that game turned out. I don't even remember if I got to play until "the end" - perhaps because it is scrambled with so many other memories of summer evening neighborhood wiffle ball games, which were a nightly ritual in my neighborhood growing up.

I was reminded of such summer activities as I recently read Harper Lee's classic "To Kill a Mockingbird". While there are many complex and serious themes in that book, the tales of summer antics and playing outdoors until dark reminded me of my favorite childhood games.

Though my neighborhood had a vacant lot suitable for ball games, it was not mowed sufficiently most of the time and it did not have any (yard) lights (for those late night, extra inning classic that occurred at least six nights each week!). So we played most of our games at "Hutmacher Field", which was the largest backyard in the neighborhood.

Shaped a little like old Polo Grounds in New York (very short distances to the left and right field walls, and an unusually deep center field), it was a classic ball park. Just like every classic old ball park, it had its own characteristics.

Polo Grounds

There was a five foot drop off a retaining wall behind first base (which led to more slides into first), a cottonwood tree belt line created the boundary behind third base (sometimes a high fly to right field didn't come down!) and "the wall" in center field was a drainage ditch (leaving us to trust the outfielder's call as it got dark!). Visiting players were consistently flummoxed by the grounds rules!

Of course when I look at "Hutmacher Field" now, it's not nearly as big as I remember it when I was 10 years old.  The entire area between second base and the center field "wall" is now occupied by a blue spruce tree that no 10 year-old could ever appreciate then but that every South Dakota adult marvels at now! In its day, though, "Hutmacher Field" was a very spacious ball park. Like Polo Grounds, it served double duty as a football field in the fall.

Our neighborhood was full of ball players - both boys and girls. Some were regulars, other played only when there was nothing else to do. But the core of both teams remained pretty consistent.

Just like Major League Baseball teams, we played virtually every night. Our games, however, rarely went just nine innings. Often we would play a doubleheader and sometimes, as more players joined, we would play tripleheaders! I am certain that we played as many games in June-August as those big leaguers played in April-September.

There were no umpires. Get in the box and swing the bat. Swing and miss three times and go sit down. Breaks evened themselves out over the course of the summer. There were no adults to interfere or hand out participation trophies. We learned how to work it out and get along or the game would disintegrate.

Evenings in late June and early July were particularly busy as the summer solstice offered us daylight until almost 10 pm. Games lasting 25-30 innings were common then. BONUS BASEBALL! I still think of the wiffle ball season starting to wind down when I hear the dry, undulating buzz of the cicadas in late July and August.

It seemed like my Mom broke up every game. Though I know this wasn't true, her beckoning from the back door of our house in left center field was pretty hard to ignore - though I did my best!. I had determined that I could get in at least 2 innings from the first call to the "there's gonna be hell to pay" final summoning.

As I look back fondly at these summer games, I realize how lucky we were back then that there was no X-Box, Facebook or Snapchat. We had sweat, grass stains and mosquitoes instead! How lucky we were!

Friday, July 15, 2016

July 2016 SDADA Column

In late June, I attended the seventh annual year executive forum sponsored by NADA and the
American Financial Services Association (AFSA) where we discussed legislative, regulatory and operational challenges facing auto dealers and finance sources.

Executives from virtually every major finance company and major bank in the nation engaged in indirect auto financing attended the forum along with a dozen or so dealers from the NADA board. There were representatives from the American International Automobile Dealers Association, National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers, and Automotive Trade Association Executives in attendance as well.

While there were several presentations and discussions during the event, it was Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director Richard Cordray's comments to the group that stuck me.

As he reviewed the bureau’s activities in the area of vehicle financing, he insisted on calling our retail discounting of interest rates a "dealer markup" and suggested several times that some type of "flat rate" compensation to dealers was a preferred model. While it was not a surprise to hear this, it was frustrating to see and hear how narrow-minded he still was on this issue.

A survey of those in attendance revealed that top concerns for finance sources include exams and enforcement actions, cybersecurity, compliance, changes in vehicle values and hiring, training and retaining employees.

Dealers are most concerned with new regulations from the FTC and CFPB, existing regulations and compliance, and hiring, training and retaining employees. New opportunities focused on technology improvements and mobile financing options for lenders, and leasing and e-contracting for dealers.

House Again Rebukes CFPB Over Its Flawed Auto Finance Guidance 

By a bipartisan vote of 260-162, the House of Representatives passed an amendment offered by Rep. Frank Guinta (R-N.H.) that would nullify the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) flawed auto finance guidance by preventing the CFPB from spending any funds to enforce the guidance. The amendment was added to the fiscal year 2017 Financial Services appropriations bill (H.R. 5485) on the House floor. This House action is another rebuke of the CFPB's auto finance guidance, which threatens a consumer's ability to receive a discounted auto loan from a dealer. This is the first time Congress has used the appropriations process to rein in the CFPB. Nineteen Democrats and 241 Republicans voted for the amendment.

Last November, the House passed Rep. Guinta's bill, H.R. 1737, by a bipartisan vote of 332-96. This bill would nullify the CFPB's 2013 auto finance guidance and establish a transparent process with public participation to determine future auto finance guidance. In contrast, the CFPB issued the flawed 2013 guidance without any public comment or transparency, and the agency admitted it has failed to study the impact of its guidance on consumers.

Economic Analysis Reaffirms That State Franchise Laws Lower Prices, Benefit Consumers 

Retail prices for new cars are lower for consumers because of state franchise laws, according to a new economic analysis from the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal and Economic Public Policy Studies.

The analysis, “State Automobile Franchise Laws: Public or Private Interests?” found that state franchise laws serve to foster intense competition among franchised new-car dealers, which “demonstrably lowers prices for consumers” and “alter[s] the way consumers buy cars and service in a positive way.”

“Franchise laws do not limit competition or lead to higher prices,” said study co-author and Phoenix Center Senior Fellow Professor T. Randolph Beard. “In fact, all the evidence suggests that there is intense competition leading to very low margins on new car sales.”

The Phoenix Center study came in response to recent scrutiny of state franchise laws by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and others, and the suggestion that these laws are outdated. The study concluded, however, that state franchise laws are indeed still very beneficial to consumers.

“When selling an automobile-service bundle, our analysis indicates that franchised auto dealers have a better incentive with respect to consumer desires than car manufacturers,” said study co-author and Phoenix Center Chief Economist Dr. George S. Ford. “As such, it is not unreasonable for state legislatures to choose a market design that best serves their constituents in the form of local auto franchise laws.”