By Mr.Brutal, Special to Buffalo Sports Page

  Halifax, The Boston Christmas Tree and the True Spirit of Giving.

This week, seventy eight years ago on December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy bombed Pearl Harbour.  The incident put the United States into World War II and expedited its eventual end.  Also this week, only twenty-one years earlier, there was another naval themed disaster that occurred just before the United States entered a major World War.

It is an incident that most Americans are unaware of.  This week marks the 100th anniversary of the great Halifax Explosion.

On December 6, 1917 in Halifax, Nova Scotia the Norwegian SS Imo collided with the French cargo vessel, the SS Mont-Blanc in the large harbour that the port city is famous for.   The French ship was carrying high explosives used to make bombs, shells and mines destined to be used in World War I.  The ship was heading from New York, via Halifax to refuel before the long journey across the Atlantic heading to France.  A fire started on the Mont-Blanc after the collision which couldn’t be contained, within twenty minutes it was out of control and the cargo exploded.

The blast was the equivalent of 3.1 kilotons of TNT.  It flattened all buildings & structures within a half mile radius and over 80% of the ones within two miles around the harbour and throughout the city.  Any that were left standing were severely damaged.

Halifax is the capital of the Province of Nova Scotia, and the Legislature did not survive, a skeleton of the Commons was left standing that had to be razed and eventually rebuilt.

The pressure wave from the blast wiped out 98% of the trees, bent railway tracks, steel girders and threw most of the boats and ships around the extensive cove and harbor complex onto the shore.  This included the large SS Imo itself, which was carried by the tsunami that followed far away onto the shallows by the far shore.

  The same tidal wave also completely obliterated several small communities of Native Canadians who lived at the far end of the harbor over a mile away.

Hundreds of thousands of windows were broken in the outlying communities in the buildings that weren’t flattened.  Pieces of the Mont-Blanc were found as far as five miles away.  The half-ton shank of her anchor was found about two miles away.  Heated flying shards  started fires all over the greater Halifax & Dartmouth area.  The blast was heard 150 miles away.

  The human cost was extensive.  The metropolitan area had a population in 1917 of about 70,000 people.  Of that number, approximately 2,000 were killed ( including those missing who were never found ).  Another 10,000 were seriously injured, hundreds of those died in the ensuing months from their injuries.  Over half of the living population left, 36,000 or so, were essentially homeless or inadequately sheltered.

There was no shortage of heroic rescue efforts, scores of volunteers from everywhere including the New England area came to Halifax to help with medical assistance, the cleanup and accommodating all the victims with a cold winter coming on.  One incredible, true story of real heroism and self sacrifice revolves around a telegraph operator who saved hundreds of lives.

His name was Vincent Coleman (obviously not the same guy who played baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals and was maybe the fastest base stealer we have ever seen ).  From his high perch on Telegraph Hill, he observed the collision in the harbor and subsequent fire.  Privy to the cargo on the Mont-Blanc, he and the entire staff in his office postulated what was to come.  The company’s management forced everybody to evacuate the business immediately.  However Coleman snuck back on his own, realizing more people would likely perish from the coming explosion if they weren’t warned.

There was nothing he could do to warn the entire city, but he could do something.  Immediately he started using Morse Code to alert an oncoming train that he specifically knew was heading for the city.  Communication wasn’t as direct as today, so the message took awhile to get from the operator to the railway station to the engineer via railway light warnings from workers along the tracks telling the engineer to immediately stop the train.  Halifax-Dartmouth was a busy rail hub, so Coleman also sent warnings to all the other surrounding train stations in nearby cities and towns along other rail lines, explaining the situation.

Everybody else in his office evacuated before the explosion and most lived, but this volunteer stayed and kept sending the emergency warning until it was confirmed that it had been received and passed on.  By that point, it had taken over fifteen minutes and it was too late for him to evacuate to safety.

He was one of the 2,000 who died.

However, his message did get through, was believed and all trains stopped before they were near enough to be destroyed.  The specific train that he was most worried about, stopped less than half a mile from the blast radius.  The railway tracks where it would have been travelling if it hadn’t stopped were melted and completely ripped from the ground.  The estimates are that the vast majority of the 300 people on that train would have died if not for Vincent Coleman’s prescient thinking.

  There were other acts of heroism that were not quite as dramatic.  Specifically all the other Canadians & Americans who pitched in.  The city of Boston was the largest city in Canada or the United States within reasonable distance with the type of resources to help with the emergency in the crucial first few days.  There was a shortage of able bodied men to help locally, because a majority of the Canadian able-bodied men were fighting against the Kaiser in Europe.

The Massachusetts State Government sent the Boston Red Cross to Halifax immediately and the Massachusetts Public Safety Commission quickly mobilized, sending a large contingent of doctors, labourers and various other professionals along with food, blankets, clothing and medicine.

Nobody knows how many lives this saved or changed for the good, but it obviously made a huge difference.  There were also thousands of children who were now orphans, homeless or both.  Within days, hundreds of these kids were taken to Boston where they were welcomed by generous families.  Those kids got to celebrate Christmas in safety, but Bostonians had a fund & toy drive, donating thousands of Christmas gifts for the children left back in Nova Scotia.  Some of those parent-less children in Boston were permanently adopted and stayed in the United States, but most returned after the winter when things were more livable in Halifax.

The people of Canada were grateful and showed it the very next year.  In 1918, even with World War I raging with both countries now fighting against the Germans in Europe, the people of Halifax wanted to show their thanks.  Still reeling and rebuilding after the explosion, preoccupied with the war with most of its male population still fighting in Belgium and France, they didn’t forget their New England neighbours.

In December, they cut down the biggest Christmas Tree in Nova Scotia and delivered it to the City of Boston.

That tree was put up in Boston Common.  It immediately became the official “City of Boston Christmas Tree,” ….. and the tradition has continued uninterrupted ever since. ….. Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of this modest, but meaningful gesture & tradition between good neighbours.

  The Great Halifax Explosion, until 9/11, was the single biggest immediate catastrophe resulting in loss of life on the North American continent and until the development of nuclear weapons, the largest man-made explosion ever perpetrated in the history of mankind.

The disaster in its aftermath, also became an example of generosity, caring & recognition between two large countries who are still friends and have not had a major conflict in over 200 years, ….. since the war of 1812.

On behalf of all Canadians:  Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and ‘Thank You’ to all our American friends.

…… Sunday, December 10, 2017  ……

…….. 1:00 pm Eastern Standard Time ……………..

Indianapolis @ BUFFALO PK

After a great start, the Bills have been more than a little disappointing and even more inconsistent this year.  We are assuming Tyrod Taylor is going to start over that draft overreach from Pitt, but with freezing rain/snow in the forecast, the Bills should be able to handle this indoor football team that craves the sanctuary of their dome.  The Colts’ record outdoors in bad weather is akin to their owner’s resume success involving hiding large suitcases of cash from traffic cops.

  Brutal:  BILLS PK

  Bob:   Bills Pk

Chicago @ CINCINNATI (-6.5)  38.5 

Last week at home the brilliant Bears lost 15-14 to the Forty Niners.  Chicago’s offense once again could only score seven points, the other touchdown came on a kick return.  San Francisco wasn’t much better, and had to rely on five field goals from ex-longtime Chicago kicker Robbie Gould.

Gould was cheered more and more as the game went on as he hit each successive nail in the Bears’ coffin.  The wisdom of the Bears’ braintrust was to let Gould go last year because he wasn’t worth a new contract despite being their best offensive weapon by far over the last 30 years.

The Bengals come into the game injured, angry, deflated and likely minus linebacker & suicide bomber Vontaze Burfict.  The infamous linebacker was left on the battlefield at Shiloh last week after being concussed by a typical Pittsburgh Steeler wide receiver blindside cheap-shot.

Burfict of course is known as a dirty player himself, kind of the Conrad Dobler, Bryan Cox or Jack Tatum for this century’s list of NFL bad boys.  We worry about him however, because this is the umpteenth time he has been concussed himself.

If people still used pencils, we’d unfortunately expect to see him on a street corner in the near future handing them out to passersby and soliciting donations.  Since fashion, etiquette & technical progress has made that occupation unlikely, his inevitable, reduced intellectual capacity might still allow him employment somewhere.  For example, he would more than qualify to serve as an adviser on Jared Kushner’s crack team assigned to Middle East Peace Talks.

The Bengals got screwed last week when the third touchdown pass from Andy Dalton to A.J. Green was called back on a ridiculous phantom holding call on running back Giovanni Bernard.  That detail got smothered over in the aftermath of Monday Night’s controversies, mock outrage, suspensions & repercussions.

We don’t like Cincy here.  They have the short week, multiple injuries, the aftertaste of a bitter emotional loss that likely knocked them out of the playoffs to contend with.  As well, there is the statistical burden of them being picked as a favourite of over three points, as well as the fact that there offense and coaching staff is allergic to playing well in the second half of games.

The Bengals might get out to a lead in this game, but they will allow the Bears every opportunity to win late or at least cover.

Brutal:  Bears +6.5

   Bob: Bears +6.5

  Green Bay (-3) @ CLEVELAND  40.5

Now this has to be one of the shortest spreads that the Browns have faced in the last decade, so they should? might? win right?   We look at the reasons to consider our pick:

1.)  The Browns are at home (dubious advantage).

2.)  They could still be tanking to draft another overreach or bad pick for quarterback ( If they don’t draft QB Sam Darnold, Jim Brown will attempt a Jerry Jones style coup to reclaim the franchise from Truckstop Godfather Jimmy Haslem.  All of this is murky however, because Darnold has threatened in the past to stay at USC if Cleveland gets the overall #1 pick, which seems likely.

3.)  Green Bay will still have Brett Hundley at quarterback and he is a bad game of chance on a good day ( Superstar Aaron Rodgers is still out, but throwing again and enjoying daily hot yoga co-ed workouts with Packers fans’ worst nemesis.  That would be his older woman, femme fatale girlfriend & Hollywood actress sexpot Olivia Munn who they still see as some sort of elite society jinx, handicap or Kryptonite ).

4.)  Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson is a nice guy, and nice guys finish last ( Even if they don’t want to in Cleveland and it would benefit the team {see #2} if they did).

5.)  The weather is going to be below freezing which means nothing to the Packers, but maybe will affect the throws of their UCLA groomed quarterback.

6.)  Wide Receiver Josh ‘Tommy Chong’ Gordon is back for the Browns.  Last week he played well, catching some nice passes and drawing safeties over on deep routes while passing the post-game drug test.

7.)  Owner Haslem pulled the plug on GM and analytics disciple Sashi Brown this week.  The Truckstop Godfather is still seething over the debacle of the missed trade with the Bengals to acquire quarterback A.J. McCarron.

All of this makes us conclude that this is the week!  maybe? …. that Cleveland pulls out a close game and wins.

  Brutal: BROWNS +3

  Bob: Green Bay -3

Oakland @ KANSAS CITY (-4)  47.5

There was a time when this AFC West rivalry was must-see television.  These contests made last week’s Steelers-Bengals contest look like real flag football.  It isn’t that way anymore, but it should still be interesting.  The Raiders get WR Michael Crabtree back from his reduced one game suspension for his grade school recess fight with Bronco CB Aqib Talib over who had the prettiest necklace.

On the other side of the ball, Kansas City’s best cover corner, Marcus Peters has been suspended by the team for this crucial match-up.  Last week during the loss to the Jets ( in one of the worst games ever played in the modern era! ) ….. Mr. Peters decided to throw the yellow flag of an official into the stands after a crucial call in the end zone that figuratively ended the Chiefs’ chances to beat the Jets.

Now nobody in the crowd was injured.  His throw did not blind anybody, like the late Orlando Brown was temporarily in 1999 by referee Jeff Triplette.  However, Peters decided to either quit or eject himself from the game and walked down the tunnel to the locker room even though he was only penalized for the infraction.

He was summoned back, but missed the successful, crucial two point conversion by the Jets that followed.  Normally, he would be there to defend on that special team.  Coach Andy Reid was not amused and maybe in a last gasp to right the sinking Kansas City ship and/or reassert his authority over his foundering Chiefs suspended Peters for this game.

If Michael ‘Magpie’ Crabtree can avoid being distracted by taunts and new, shiny objects being reflected towards him from clever Kansas City fans in the stands, …. and with no Marcus Peters out there to counter him, …. he just could be the crucial factor in the Raiders winning this game and taking back the AFC West.

Brutal:  Raiders +4 

  Bob:  Raiders +4

Dallas (-4) @ NEW YORK FOOTBALL GIANTS  41.5

NFL Chairman Roger Goodell has finally signed his new, loaded contract that should elevate him into the top 10% of the top 1% ( Thank goodness that new Republican Tax Bill is going through too, so Roger’s kids won’t be shucking clams on the Bowery waterfront thanks to that unfair Estate Tax!).

This is a major defeat & bad news for his biggest critic, Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones.  As time goes on, he looks more and more like “The Old Man who cried Wolf” starring in his own bad recurring dream.

How many nights he must agonize when he shuts his eyes.  In the third person he sees himself as a miserable, constipated Muppet who is emotionally chained in the loge that is elevated twelve feet high along the right side of the theatre wall.  Jerry is yelling, waving his hands at the audience and Roger Goodell who is standing at centre stage, in control, giving a speech as he accepts his lottery contract, …. but nobody seems to be able to hear Jerry anymore, ….. and he’s too old to risk a broken hip making the leap from the balcony to the floor.

Eli is back at the helm after the firings in the New York front office, so The Giants win one for posterity, old times sake and their fans.

  Brutal:  GIANTS +4

   Bob: Dallas -4


Detroit @ TAMPA BAY NL

Last week, singers Jim Nabors & Johnny Hallyday (The French Elvis ) both died after long careers.  So did the Detroit Lions’ season with their pathetic 24 point loss in Baltimore.  The Lions have over a dozen people on the injured list including QB Drew Stafford who might not be able to play with his injured finger.

  Brutal: BUCCANEERS ( whatever the spread!)

   Bob: Bucs

Minnesota (-2.5) @ CAROLINA  41 

A dangerous game for the Norsemen who have to lose eventually.  Carolina’s season hinges on this game.  We have no faith in Cam Newton’s leadership abilities and even less in his haberdasher, but his team usually hangs around in these type of low scoring games that come down to a field goal.

This is the week that the Vikings have a letdown.

Brutal:  PANTHERS +2.5

  Bob: Minnesota -2.5

  San Francisco @ HOUSTON (-3)  43.5

The Forty Niners had their day in the sun last week, winning in Chicago behind their kicker delivering payback to the Bears who let him go.  Statistically they aren’t very good.  Either are the Texans, but since this spread is only three, they should be able to handle this.

Brutal:  TEXANS -3

  Bob: Texans -3

……….. 4:05 pm – 4:25 pm Eastern Standard Time …

 New York Jets (-1) @ DENVER  41.5

How low have the Broncos fallen that they are a one point dog to the Jets at Mile High?  Pretty low, but after watching the Jets stumble through there victory with the Chiefs last week, this spread is an overreaction

  Brutal: BRONCOS +1

  Bob: Broncos +1

 Tennessee (-3) @ ARIZONA  43.5

Arizona’s monument, QB Carson Palmer is still out and probably should consider hanging up his cleats.  In a modern NFL where the game moves at the speed of light, the Trojan Statue’s pocket drop-back could be timed off a sundial.

We have our reservations about the Titans as a road favorite anywhere, but we’ll grit our teeth and believe that Mike Mularkey won’t mess this game up with his predictable and conservative play calling even though he has the massive talent edge.

  Brutal:  Titans -3

  Bob: Titans -3

  Washington @ LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (-6)  46

The City of Angels has two competitive teams playing at home this week. If the Mad Max caliber post apocalyptic fires die down or get these games cancelled, there is a good chance that the Orange County Chargers will even have the majority of fans in their home stadium.

We are a little concerned about this spread.  It seems a couple points too high, but we’ll reluctantly take “Eight is Enough,” father of the year Phillip Rivers and the Chargers because even after ten days rest, we have zero faith in the Little Danny Snyders after their cowardly roll over and die effort against the Cowboys last Thursday in a game they needed against their NFC East Division rival Cowboys.

  Brutal:  CHARGERS -6

  Bob: Chargers -6

Philadelphia @ LOS ANGELES RAMS (-2)  48.5

Game of the day.  We predicted the Eagles might be looking ahead last week and they were, when for the first time this year, they kind of capitulated in a football game, losing convincingly in Seattle.  The Eagles stayed on the west coast to reduce travel and prepare for this game.  However, with Dante’s Inferno raging around them, we have to believe this measure has been of minimal benefit.

  Brutal:  RAMS -2

  Bob: Rams -2

Seattle @ JACKSONVILLE (-2.5)  40 

We don’t like the Seahawks here.  Yes we predicted they would win last week over the Eagles in the rain in the Northwest, but this is the land of Ponce de Leon, malaria, suffocating defense and drum-roll please: Blake Bortles!

This is a small spread, so we expect the Jaguars to cover once again and win ( despite Blake Bortles ).

  Brutal:  JAGUARS -2.5

  Bob: Seattle +2.5

………. 8:30 pm Eastern Standard Time ……..

   Baltimore @ PITTSBURGH (-5)  44

Second week in a row that the Pittsburgh Steelers will be in a tight AFC Central war.  The Baltimore offense finally awoke and has played effectively over the last two weeks

Another tight game, so with five points in our favour we’ll back The Human ATM Joe Flacco and the Ravens over the dirty, banged up Steelers.

Brutal:  Ravens +5

  Bob: Ravens +5

            …….. Monday, December 11, 2017 ……………….

….. 8:30 pm Eastern Standard Time ……

New England (-11.5) @ MIAMI  47.5

Jay Cutler is a far better quarterback than Tom Brady

Dolphin fans are the most loyal in the NFL and will never show up late and leave early merely on a whim depending on post game restaurant reservations, the quality of opponent or if their team is losing by more than three points.

The Polish Godzilla, Rob Gronkowski is not given special treatment by the NFL.  His one game suspension for attempting to Greg Valentine elbow smash Buffalo cornerback Tre’Davious White into the turf was an overreaction by the League.  The entire play was just normal football and the film was an optical illusion.

Judge Roy Moore is not a pedophile.  He is a victim of a vast political conspiracy campaign composed of Democrats, establishment Republicans, gold digging hussies, finicky mall owners, conniving jail-bait temptresses, jealous heterosexual Papists and vindictive Alabama State Troopers.

After reviewing these statements we have to make a conclusion.  Just because you can write something down, read & repeat it out loud and then convince yourself that it is true, …… does not make it so Captain Picard.

We are forced through logic to take QB Dorian Gray Brady, HC Beelzebub Belichik & the rest of the stinking Patriots for the second week in a row.

  Brutal:  Patriots -11.5
  Bob: Pats -11.5

Bob Gaughan

Bob Gaughan has worked in Buffalo media for over 25 years. He spent 15 of those years as a staple on WGR radio as a talk show host and sports director. Currently, Bob works for UB Athletics on the radio broadcast of football and women’s basketball. Off the air, he has been an adjunct professor for over 20 years at Buffalo State College where he developed and has taught a class on how to be a talk show host.

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