DALLAS, Texas - Gal Mekel has never seen the movie "Airplane!" so I had to tell him of one of this film's many memorable lines:
Elaine Dickinson: Would you like something to read? Hanging Lady: Do you have anything light? Elaine Dickinson: How about this leaflet, "Famous Jewish Sports Legends?"
Mekel, a second-year guard with the Dallas Mavericks who is from Israel, actually had a good laugh at this. There are just not a lot of famous celebrity type pro athletes in the history of North American sports who are Jewish, and very few who are from Israel.
I asked Mekel if he knew Sandy Koufax - "Oh yeah," he said. But Mekel was not familiar with baseball players such as Hank Greenberg and Shawn Green. Greenberg was a two-time American League MVP with the Detroit Tigers, and is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Green had a nice 15-year career from 1993 to 2007.
Five years ago, Omri Casspi became the first Israeli to play in the NBA. He and Mekel are the only ones to make it. There have been several prominent American-Jewish players to achieve celebrity status in pro sports - Koufax, Greenberg, swimmer Mark Spitz, etc.
On Saturday, Mekel will not be practicing with the Mavericks, who are in the beginning of training camp. At sundown on Friday to sundown Saturday, Mekel will take a day off to observe the holiest of Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur.
"For me, there is only one day where I don't do anything and that is Yom Kippur," he said. "I won't practice on the fourth. I will fast. Everybody here understands. I think a lot of people in the states respect religions because there are so many cultures in this country. I didn't have any problem with it."
Mekel, 26, averaged 2.4 points in 31 games as a rookie last season with the Mavs. Before coming to the Mavs, he had been one of the best players on the Maccabi Haifa pro team in Israel. The fact that he is here in the NBA, even on the bench, is a major accomplishment.
"There are a lot of good basketball players in Israel. It's a small country. Only eight million," he said. "Isreali basketball is growing and it's good. We have had players who got drafted but didn't make it to the league. Some played in college here, but never made it to the NBA."
Given how few prominent Jewish players there are in any of the four American professional sports leagues, that Mekel is on the Mavs makes him a Famous Jewish Sports Legend.
MELISSA RYCROFT is one of the rare members of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders to "make it big" after her time in those painfully tight outfits is over. She was with the squad for two years, and then turned her shot on The Bachelor into a career.
She is married, has two young children, lives in the Dallas area, and recently was a host of an event in Dallas partnered with Smirnoff Ice. Rycroft was nice enough to answer some Uncomfortable Questions, some of which came from my readers on my Facebook page, that you need to immediately join. Critics say, "It will change your life," Mac Engel said.
Hosting the Making the Team show, did see the squad dramatically differently? Absolutely. The biggest wakeup to all of it is how young the girls are. If I did this show now, when I'm in my 30s with my own confidence, I wouldn't let the process shake me. They are 18 or 19 and trying to figure it out and it's stressful.
Are squad director Kelli McGonagill and choreographer Judy Trammell has hard as they seem? Now that I have gotten to know them outside of the process, they are not nearly as scary. I know they have to have that intimidating Type A personality in front of the girls to get the most out of them. Those two have it set up where the girls are intimidated by them.
The Cowboys cheerleader outfits are notoriously unforgiving; could you pull it off today? Sure, if I wanted people to laugh at me. A 31-year-old, that's not the business for me after two kids.
Would you want your daughter to do this? That's a hard question because what happened to me was so accidental. Would I tell them to go on The Bachelor? Absolutely not. I am not pushing them into any industry. My goal is to let her be she wants to be. I would be honest with her and say it's the hardest thing you've ever done, it will break you down physically and mentally, but it can be one of the greatest times of your life.
You said no to The Bachelor? The Bachelor is for a lot of people not successful. I went on it during a damaged part of my life. You have to do it knowing everybody is watching, your father, grandfather, everyone.
Was it awkward shooting it? It was in one sense. The contestants on the show have never done anything like that. There is no down time. With the Cowboys cheerleader show, the cameras are turned off. On The Bachelor, they are on morning, noon and night. After a few days, it becomes normal.
How much of it is real, and how much of it is the producer's touch? It's both. I don't think people are naive to Reality TV anymore. You have to have a story line, a plot and drama. At the end of the day production can't make you say something you didn’t say. But it does have to be manipulated to be dramatic.
Did you think the concept - meet a guy and then get married so quickly - could really work? My parents had the same view as you. I'm the only person in that show's history whose parents were not involved. They didn't believe in it. At the time, I did. I believed we would get married and sail into the sunset. Once the cameras are off, it doesn't work. We had gone out three dates, I don't know him. I've been married for five years and now I know that.
Do you now see how rare it is to pull off what you have pulled off? Yes. It doesn't make sense. It doesn't add up or believable. A lot of it is timing. I've been lucky.
Reader questions ...
Are there 'mean girls' on the squad? There is always that in any organization, especially one as prestigious as this where there is so much competition to make the squad, the calendar. There is no hazing, but these are beautiful girls vying for head spots.
Your ab workout? I'm a traditional crunch girl. I do them watching TV with my feet under the sofa.
Jerry Jones ever give the squad a pep talk? I never met him. I only saw him once during my run as a cheerleader. He walked down the tunnel in front of us and we were starstruck.
Funniest line a man ever dropped on you? Oh, jeez. I don't remember them. I have been in a relationship for so long ... I am sure I heard some stupid ones.
How do you keep your teeth so white? I have to have Crest White Strips.
Favorite places to eat in DFW? Mi Cocina; I love the Mambo Taxi. Fuzzy's Tacos.
IRVING, Texas - By their very nature kickers are weirdos. They also have the memory of an elephant, or a golfer. They remember every kick, and more specifically every miss.
Dan Bailey has been the Cowboys kicker since 2011, and "I'm not sure how many I have missed," Bailey told me in an exclusive interview with The Big Mac Blog. Not every reporter can just an interview a kicker.
Bailey has made 97 of 106 field goals in his career. That’s a 91.5 percent accuracy. Fairly decent, and not many misses to remember. If my math is correct, he has missed nine field goals in his career. He is 8 for 8 this season on field goals, and I wanted to see if he remembers the last time he missed.
“Uhh … San Diego,” he said.
Bingo – give the man a cigar.
On Sept. 9, 2013 in San Diego, Bailey missed a 56-yard attempt in the second quarter. Should have cut him on the spot.
“I remember it was a pretty long one,” he said. “I hit it pretty well; it just went a little left.”
"It is one of those things that you do remember the misses," he said. "I try to remember all of them, especially the long kicks, or end of game situations."
I tried to stump him.
"Oh ... yeah. Hard one to forget," he said.
On Oct. 14, 2012, Bailey missed a 51-yard field goal with a few seconds remaining that would have won the game. It was one of two misses he had that year.
ME: The Giants?
"Yep - my rookie year. (Jason Pierre Paul) got it," he said.
With six seconds remaining, the Cowboys ran Bailey on the field for a potential game-tying kick from 47 yards.
ARLINGTON, Texas - One of the "big benefits" to a trash season is the chance for a young kid to play games and get at bats he otherwise should not have seen at the major league level.
In the case of the 2014 Texas Rangers, there was opportunity and at bats for ... pretty much everybody.
When Jurickson Profar went down with his shoulder injury, it forced the Rangers to promote Rougned Odor from his third-grade little league team to the majors. Odor is actually 20, but the 114 games he played in '14 didn't break him. These games and this experience will give the Rangers the everyday second baseman they thought they had in Profar.
He struggled with plate discipline in the 417 at bats he had, but he showed enough to think he can do this. Odor batted .259 with 14 doubles, seven triples, nine home runs, 48 RB. He also whiffed 71 times and walked 17.
This is not too dissimilar to the beginnings of one Michael Young. In 2001, the Rangers were awful despite a lineup that featured Ivan Rodriguez, Alex "That's Not My Syringe" Rodriguez, Rafael "That's Not My Syringe" Palmeiro, etc.
Young was pushed into the lineup as a 24-year-old rookie. In 106 games and 429 at bats, he batted .249 with 18 doubles, four triples, 11 home runs and 49 RBI. He struckout 91 times.
Eventually, Young figured it out and became one of the top five most important players in this franchise's history.
"The opportunities they got are very similar because of circumstances," Rangers interim manager Tim Bogar told me. "I don't know if Odor is in Michael Young's category yet - you know what I am saying? Back then, I don't think anybody expected Michael Young to do what he did."
No one did. In 2002, new Rangers GM John Hart wanted to deal Young, and reluctantly agreed to keep him there. He liked Young, but he wasn't his guy.
"Odor has a huge upside," Bogar said.
Odor is rated as a far better prospect than Young ever was. Now, like Young, despite less than ideal circumstances behind his promotion he showed he can do it.
DALLAS, Texas - Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle joked Tyson Chandler is the most popular one-year player in the history of any franchise.
Chandler has played for five different teams in 13 NBA seasons, yet that one year he played with the Mavericks - 2010-'11 - is the one that made him a Mav for life.
"I spent one year here and everybody equates my career to being here," he said at Mavs' media day this week. "Even guys around the league (will ask), 'How many years did you play in Dallas?' And I'll say one. And they say, 'What?' Everybody thinks I was here four, five or six years. It was one really long, incredible year. I am definitely tied here and it's a great thing that I am."
Chandler, whom the Mavs acquired in the offseason in a trade with the New York Knicks, is back for the final year of his contract.
The first time he came here little was expected of Chandler. He was coming off another injury plagued season, then with the Charlotte Bobcats.
"I don't think anybody knew what to expect the first time around," he said. "Clearly this time around, having success and winning a championship, expectations are a little bit different."
His length, energy, activity and ability to change shots should improve the Mavs' defense immediately. This team has not been strong defensively on the perimeter, or at the rim, since he left. Chandler changes that, when he plays.
If there is any drawback to Chandler, or concern, is that he remains a guy who simply can't stay healthy. He has never played a full 82-game season, in the past two years he has been limited to 66 and 55 games, respectively.
In his one year with the Mavs, he played 74 games but did not miss a playoff game. I asked him if the "injury prone" label was fair.
"Uhh ... you know, I don't know. I've had injuries in my career. I guess you could throw that out there," he said. "Whether it's fair or not, it's not for me to honestly care about. I go day by day trying to perform to the best of my capabilities. And from there you never know what happens."
Carlisle has said managing Chandler's minutes - somewhere under 30 a night - is a priority. The Mavs do not expect him to play 82 games - they hope in the 70s - but a full playoff run will makeup for any regular season game he misses.
As a rule of thumb, I am not a fan of people losing their jobs but there are exceptions, especially when the person who lost their job has millions of dollars in the bank, is 58 years old, and will be receiving six figure checks for years.
In the case of the University of Kansas, its decision to fire head football coach Charlie Weis warrants a parade. FYI - he will be paid more than $5 million to go away. This man should never, ever have been hired. Ever. Never. Ever. The thinking in hiring this man to coach one of the single hardest Power Five conference jobs defies any rational explanation.
It likely won't happen, but no man would want to coach Kansas more than Texas State head coach Dennis Franchione. Fran is in his fourth season at Texas State, which is in its third year as an FBS school. The Bobcats are 2-2, and 31-31 in his second tour at that school.
In the late '90s, Fran was the head coach at New Mexico when he was offered the job at Kansas with the stipulation that he could not leave Lawrence, Kansas without an answer. Fran wanted to return to UNM to tell his players before he accepted the KU job, which never happened.
Fran would eventually go on to be the head coach at TCU, Alabama and Texas A&M. His departure from Alabama damaged his reputation - he left after two seasons where he had repeatedly told people he would stay with the program through NCAA sanctions for infractions committed by the previous regime.
That reputation was pretty much crushed when his five-year tenure with Texas A&M never yielded much in the way of results.
Fran' went away, and now he is at Texas State, which is in the midst of trying to go big. It had been an FCS program before making the difficult jump to the FBS.
Few people would grasp the inherent challenges at KU better than Fran, who grew up in Kansas and had a successful tenure at Pittsburg State. Kansas is a power conference job in name only, and trails Kansas State as the football program in a sparsely populated state. "Hot" coordinators are not going to want this job.
Few people would appreciate the "second chance" of returning to a power conference more than Fran.
The drawback of hiring Fran is that he is 63, and may no longer have the energy a Kansas-job requires. He may be a point in his life where he no longer needs the money, or the ego-stroke of a high-profile job.
Weis' replacement will not be named any time soon, and if history is any indication KU will miss on this one, too. This is a hard job and will require a special personality who "gets it" - Fran is worth considering.
DALLAS, Texas - The pause was a few seconds, but the way it stretched Dirk Nowitzki sounded like he had never thought about it even though he has pondered age repeatedly.
At the Dallas Mavericks media day on Monday, I asked the best player in the history of the Dallas Mavericks if he felt old. He needed about five seconds to answer a basic question.
"Uhhh ... in my head, probably not; I'm probably in my early 20s," he said. "Body wise, yeah - I am probably up there. Year 17. I still feel good. I had the knee thing a couple of years ago. Last year showed me I could play at a high level and compete and it was fun again."
Despite the additions of Tyson Chandler and Chandler Parsons, or even Monta Ellis last season, Mark Cuban's toy remains Dirk, Dirk, Dirk.
He is 36, and is coming off a season where he played 80 games and averaged 21.7 points and 6.2 rebounds. He also averaged 32.9 minutes per game. That figure has to come down.
Last season, Dirk showed he can still do it. The concern for the Mavericks regarding Dirk is not whether he can still do it, but how to ask less of him and still expect to win games. I asked Mavs coach Rick Carlisle how they can ask less of their franchise player.
"That's a good question," he said.
That's right - it was a good question. Please continue...
"I'd like to keep to continue to work his minutes gradually down if I could," Carlisle said. "We are going to have to find a high energy level with our guys and play with a lot of pace. If we can do that, I think we can find a way to get 32 minutes maybe down to 29 - who knows? A lot of it is spacing and how you rest him. He played bigger minutes late in the year. The important thing was when we got to that he was fresh enough he could do it. We are looking big picture with him."
This is not the first time Carlisle has tried to massage and manage a Hall of Fame player near the end of his career, and monitored minutes closely to save aging legs.
In 2003-'04 and '04-'05, Carlisle coached Indiana Pacers guard Reggie Miller when he was 38 and 39.
"There are similarities. We were vigilant how we played Reggie his last couple of years," Carlisle said. "But he was a different position and a different style of player. There are some similarities, but many, many differences."
In his last two seasons, Reggie averaged 28.2 and 21.9 minutes, respectively, and 10 and 14.8 points in each of his final two years.
Having signed a three-year contract over the summer, Dirk is not expecting to retire any time soon. He said he expects to fulfill this deal, and for the time being he should remain the Dirk we have all come to completely take for granted.
The question for the Mavs is how to ask less of their Hall of Famer, while still expecting to win games.
Howard Cosell: I think we should leave the happy couple on that note. It's hard to tell what may happen in the future. But they may live happily ever after. Again, they may not. Be assured of this, though. Wherever the action is, we will be there with ABC's Wide World of Sports to cover it.
ARLINGTON, Texas - Anthony Spencer was credited with three tackles, and one hit on the quarterback but the mere fact he played is the accomplishment.
The veteran linebacker/defensive end from Purdue likely should not be playing football any more after he had microfracture surgery on his knee last season. Before the Cowboys' 38-17 win against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday night, the last time Spencer played was Sept. 15, 2013 in Kansas City.
"It feels good to be back out there," Spencer said on Sunday night. "It was a lot of hard work to get out there and it feels good. Now I have to put the work on the football field."
If, somehow, Spencer is able to return to being close to the player he was in 2011 and 2012 when he was a reliable defender against the run and good in pass situations, this would be a major coup for the Cowboys. They were hopeful he may be able to return from his knee surgery, but now that he is actually playing their expectations change. Maybe they shouldn't, but they will.
Spencer, 30, will never be a three-down player again but he can be a part of a rotation that makes plays, and then gets a rest.
"I don't think I played over 25 snaps," Spencer said. "I didn't get too gassed out there. I got action."
That Spencer played at all is a major achievement. Now we will see if he can do anything from here.
OTHER WEEK 4 OBSERVATIONS
Quarterback Tony Romo attempted 29 passes against the Saints. That is the third consecutive game he has attempted fewer than 30 passes:
9/14/14: 29 passes at Titans. Cowboys win 26-10 9/21/14: 23 passes at Rams. Cowboys win 34-31 9/28/14: 29 passes vs. Saints. Cowboys win 38-17
The last time Romo had three consecutive games attempting 30 or fewer passes was 2006, when he was made the starter on Oct. 29.
11/12/06: 20 passes at Arizona. Cowboys win, 27-10 11/19/06: 23 passes v. Colts. Cowboys win, 21-14 11/23/06: 29 passes v. Bucs. Cowboys win, 38-10
In his first game since his demotion, Morris Claiborne had to leave the game with what Cowboys owner Jerry Jones called a tear. That means more Sterling Moore. Good. Moore keeps making plays. He had three tackles and two passes defended against the Saints, including an impressive stop of Saints tight end Jimmy Graham.
Moore is an undrafted player out of SMU, but he makes plays. He had a fourth quarter fumble recovery that he likely would have returned for a touchdown had the officials not blown the call.
Cornerback Orlando Scandrick plays with an edge and is clearly better than every other corner. He had seven tackles against the Saints with two passes defended. The Cowboys had no choice but to bench Claiborne for Scandrick and it paid off.
One Cowboys insider said he thought the team would win once he saw that linebacker Rolando McClain (groin) would play. McClain was credited with two tackles, but he is active and visible. He told me he did not feel as good as he did against the Titans two weeks ago.
I asked him if he was aware that his team needs him.
"Yeah," he said. "And I need them."
Before he suffered a quad injury, linebacker Bruce Carter was again having another impactful game. He had six tackles with a pair of passes defended, including one tipped pass that Justin Durant intercepted off of Drew Brees.
Saints coach Sean Payton blew it in the fourth quarter when he had his punter attempt a pass on a trick fourth down play when his team trailed by two touchdowns but had some momentum. Payton has a Hall of Fame quarterback to throw it, but preferred his punter throwing a pass over Drew Brees.
Up Next: The Houston Texans are frauds, but somehow a team with Ryan Fitzpatrick as its starting quarterback is 3-1. They will be 3-2 next week after the visit AT&T Stadium to play the Cowboys in the battle for Rick Perry's Cup.