Five Southwest Florida natives have a chance to reach Super Bowl LII on Sunday

For Jevon Kearse, the memories of playing in NFL conference championship games are vivid.The North Fort Myers High graduate recalled Philadelphia Eagles coaches moving him from left to right defensive end so he could stymie Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. It worked. The Eagles won the 2005 NFC Championship Game 27-10 to go to Super Bowl XXXIX, where they lost to the New England Patriots.Five years earlier, the Tennessee Titans team he played on met the Jacksonville Jaguars for the AFC title. Before the game, the Titans found out the Jaguars players made a song about going to the Super Bowl.The song flopped when the Titans won 33-14 to go to Super Bowl XXXIV, where they lost to the St. Louis Rams.“The margin for error is very small,” said Kearse, who played 11 seasons in the NFL ending in 2009. “These types of football games, a simple mistake is why you go home and sit and watch.”Four players and one coach from Southwest Florida have a chance to join Kearse as a local to appear in the big game when the New England Patriots meet the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game and the Philadelphia Eagles will play host to the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.Jacksonville is represented by North Fort Myers High’s Tommy Bohanon, a fullback, and Fort Myers High’s Mark Collins, a linebacker coach. Minnesota has Immokalee cornerback Mackensie Alexander and South Fort Myers’ Jayron Kearse, who were drafted in the same year, 2016. Philadelphia has cornerback Jaylen Watkins from Cape Coral.Besides being from the 239, the quintet share something else: Their organizations have never won a Super Bowl.But first things first. They must get there.“You know, we’re still focusing on this AFC Championship game," Bohanon said. "We have to make sure that we win this game or the next game won’t happen. That’s our mindset.” The JaguarsFort Continue Reading

Songs about generators and Spam? New Puerto Rican music reflects the island’s resilience.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- On Christmas Eve, receptionist Kala Ronda planned to cook rice and beans for her husband and three kids. "But when I came home, we didn't have water running," said Ronda, 36, who lives in San Juan's Las Lomas neighborhood. This was after suffering through three months without power before it finally returned in early December. There's a song for that. In "Mi Navidad No Se Apaga," which in English means "My Christmas Won't Go Out," written by Grammy-nominated salsa singer Victor Manuelle, the Spanish lyrics translate to: "This Christmas in my Puerto Rico is going to be great. "And if we don't get electricity, we'll light a candle. "And if there's no 'pasteles' [meat pies] or rice and beans for dinner "We'll eat Spam on Christmas Eve." Ronda said she didn't serve Spam; she bought fried chicken. Hurricane Maria hit in late September, and its devastating effects have permeated the holiday season in Puerto Rico. The storm leveled thousands of homes, felled trees, blocked roads, knocked out communications and wrecked the electrical grid. Now, as recovery plods along, famous and amateur musicians have used the unique circumstances as inspiration, creating songs that resonate with the island's weary citizens. Turn on the radio, and you might hear Joseph Fonseca's rollicking merengue song asking the Three Kings for a new power generator. In Puerto Rico, Jan. 6 was Three Kings Day, or Epiphany, celebrated with parades and presents. "And when I turn it on, it shouldn't sound like this: Trrrrrrrrrr," he sings in "La Planta Nueva," or "The New Generator," which has gotten more than 300,000 views on YouTube. "When I'm deep in sleep to rest for work, I jump, and I get up, and I think I'm dreaming, but nothing has happened," he adds. "It's just that the fuel is finished." Fonseca said he was inspired by the loud throttle of the three generators he used to power through a 45-day blackout at home in Caguas, south of San Juan. He had solar panels, too, but Continue Reading

In the Know: Naples-area restaurants that opened in 2017

Although scores of new restaurants in the Naples area this year surpassed the annual average number of eating places that opened in recent years, even more would have launched if Hurricane Irma had not delayed local development.We’ll outline those in the pipeline when we look ahead next week to the many restaurants planning to debut in the new year. This week, we salute the local eateries we welcomed in 2017.Restaurants with “Kitchen” in the name were all the rage this year. It’s even the sole name of one dining spot in downtown Naples.Kitchen — yes, just Kitchen — opened on Fifth Avenue South in the former longtime space of Mangrove Café.True Food Kitchen came to Waterside Shops early in the year and was an immediate success. The chain created by celebrity Dr. Andrew Weil also makes the list for another local dining trend of healthier menus.Likewise for Vegan Kitchen, an original Naples spinoff of the recently shuttered Loving Hut. The new-to-here chain of Zoës Kitchen also brought its Mediterranean-inspired cuisine to fast-casual locations in Estero and North Naples.Another chain, Villa Italian Kitchen, replaced longtime Sbarro in Coastland Center mall in Naples. Jeri Lu’s Kitchen is the new name of the former East Naples eatery The Coupe.WOW Asian Fusion Kitchen in Golden Gate was a kitchen that sadly closed before a dining review could be published. Irma undoubtedly played a role in WOW living up to its exclamatory name when it both opened and closed this fall.Other open-and-shut cases this year included Charlie’s Seafood in North Naples, Bon Appetit Mediterranean Bistro at Miromar Outlets in Estero and the Le Manchot Crème Glacèe kiosk in Coastland Center.Many local restaurants opened during the final month of the year.Bistro La Baguette in East Naples is Chef Sebastien Maillard’s reincarnation of Le Lafayette French restaurant, whose longtime Naples home was damaged by Irma this Continue Reading

‘Humble friar’ Casey on road to sainthood

Correction: This story has been updated to say that beatification is the final step before canonization, or sainthood, in the Catholic Church.In his 86 years, the Rev. Solanus Casey earned various titles en route to becoming a Detroit legend: porter, priest, prophet, spiritual counselor.On Saturday, 60 years and three months after his death, the renowned friar known as “The Doorman” and founder of Detroit’s Capuchin Soup Kitchen gains a more prominent distinction: “Blessed.”In front of an anticipated 70,000 visitors from around the world at Ford Field, Casey is being beatified — the final step before canonization, or sainthood, in the Catholic Church.the final step before canonization, or sainthood, in the Catholic Church.“It’s interesting ... that here’s this humble friar who spent his life answering the door having this grand legacy,” said Archbishop Allen Vigneron, who leads the region’s Catholics. “It’s the legacy of everybody recognizing we can all be heroes in the work of building up God’s kingdom.”Church officials and experts say the icon is only the second American-born male to earn this distinction, following the September beatification of Stanley Rother, a priest who died in 1981.The milestone is sparking excitement among the faithful as well as followers who are reflecting on his story and selfless service.“I know that this will probably never come again in my lifetime,” said Karen Griffin, who attends St. Moses the Black in Detroit and plans to sing in a large choir at the ceremony. “This is history. This man was a phenomenon. He practiced what he preached.”From the time Casey warmly welcomed visitors to an east Detroit monastery nearly a century ago to the steady stream of worshipers praying at his tomb to this day, Casey’s name has long been synonymous with miraculous marvelous recoveries, blessings and successes others believed Continue Reading

Jenny McCarthy’s next move after ‘View’ is a satellite radio show, with fiancé Donnie Wahlberg among the guests

Mystery solved! After Jenny McCarthy was unceremoniously dumped from “The View” on June 26, the host enigmatically teased that she had a new gig lined up that would “compete with ‘The View.’ ” It turns out she’s going to talk dirty to us. On Monday, McCarthy revealed she’s signed with SiriusXM radio to host a live, one-hour weekly show, “Dirty, Sexy, Funny With Jenny McCarthy.” The former Playmate promises no-holds-barred chat about “parenting, sex, dating and marriage,” as well as celebrity guests. One star who’s set for a guest spot is her fiancé, New Kids on the Block member Donnie Wahlberg, as well as her fellow foul-mouthed blond Chelsea Handler, who is leaving her show, “Chelsea Lately.” In a statement from the satellite radio network, McCarthy seemed to hint at frustrations with “The View,” such as sharing a stage and making family-friendly content. “It's no secret that I love to talk,” said the star. “I’m excited to do it on SiriusXM without having to interrupt anyone or keep things clean.” The show, described as a “limited run,” will begin Wednesday at 6 p.m. A WIIG AND NOTHING ELSE Fans of Kristen Wiig will soon get to see her never before. As Elle magazine’s August cover girl, the former “Saturday Night Live” star chats about her upcoming role in the feature film “Welcome to Me.” “I got to a scene where it read, ‘She’s fully naked,’ and I remember thinking: If I do this movie, I have to do this scene, because it’s really important to this script.’ ” No doubt the 40-year-old comedian looks fab. THEY’RE ALWAYS PAWING FRANCO Awww. James Franco cuddles with a kitten at the animal adoption event Broadway Barks 16, held at Shubert Alley in New York City last weekend. Franco, who arrived Continue Reading

Live in New York: Indie pop chanteuse Neko Case and Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca

Most pop songs speak of love, chronicling its triumphs and tears. But not the songs of Neko Case. On her last CD, 2009’s “Middle Cyclone,” she wrote from the point of view of vultures, magpies and tornadoes. In “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth,” she sternly warned humans not to be lulled by Mother Nature “when she’s on her best behavior.” In “People Got a Lotta Nerve,” she identified with a killer whale who slaughtered its trainer, while in “This Tornado Loves You” she relished a wind that leaves people “motherless, fatherless, [with] their souls dancing inside out from the mouths.” The new disc proves just as daunting and odd, even in its title — “The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You.” In “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu,” Case recounts a scene she saw of a mother assaulting her small child with lines like “get the f--- away from me” and “don’t you ever shut up?” In “Where Did I Leave That Fire?” she turns wryly surreal, likening her soul to some small item that got away from her when she wasn’t looking, while in “Man,” Case claims she’s more male than anyone lumbering around with a Y chromosome. As aggressive, and even antisocial, as her perspective may be, it has hardly turned off fans. Case’s 2009 disc debuted at No. 3 on Billboard’s Top 200 album chart, the highest position for an indie record that year. The new album has done well enough to earn Case a headlining gig this Thursday at Radio City Music Hall. Case’s voice, and her way with a melody, has a lot to do with it. She sings with special richness and clarity, suggesting a nexus of Patsy Cline’s high arcs and Petula Clark’s golden tone. Case’s music has borrowed from both star’s genres. Early in the Northwest-reared Continue Reading

As family says goodbye to Bronx marine who fell in Afghanistan, brother blames himself for loss

The grief-stricken older brother of fallen Marine Lance Cpl. Alberto Francesconi told a packed Bronx church Friday he blames himself for the battlefield death. "This is especially hard for me, losing Albert, because he pretty much followed in my footsteps," said Robert Rivera, a 31-year-old Navy reservist. "We did everything together." Francesconi, 21, was killed by a land mine in Afghanistan on New Year's Day - the first U.S. casualty there this year. Rivera told the crowd at Our Lady of Mercy that when Francesconi deployed to Iraq in 2007 as a scout sniper, they tried to ship out together. "When he came out of boot camp and told me he was going to Iraq, he actually talked to my commanding officer to see if we could go together," Rivera said. "I spoke to his unit and they told me he was the only rookie and that everyone else was a veteran, so he was in good hands." Francesconi came home safe from Iraq, only to be deployed to the increasingly violent battlefields of Afghanistan. "I'll be honest with you, I was afraid of this one," Rivera said. "He was afraid of this one. "There's a part of me that says as his older brother, I think I failed him because I wasn't there," he said, pausing to hold back his tears. Francesconi's parents and his 23-year-old wife, Cynthia, sat quietly in the front pew in front of the flag-draped coffin as Rene Martinez, a Navy medic who served with Francesconi, sang "Ave Maria" and "Amazing Grace." "My heart hurts," said Martinez, 25, of Union City, N.J. Edward Cardinal Egan presided over the services and told the family, "We promise to keep him in our prayers." Mayor Bloomberg did not attend but sent his condolences on behalf of the city. "When it hits your community, it somehow or other is not just something you read about," he said in his weekly radio show Friday. "I don't know why we pay more attention when it's our community ... because they're all tragic." Francesconi was buried at St. Continue Reading

The Sound Investment

Picking out your favorite tunes is easy, but finding the right digital music player can be as hard as listening to Ozzy Osbourne sing Ave Maria. Your Money spoke with Matt Buchanan, associate editor for gadget blog, about what to look for and how much to expect to pay for an MP3 player. We also asked whether music lovers are better served by an Apple iPod or a Microsoft Zune. There are options beyond the Big Two, such as SanDisk, but Buchanan likes the iPod and the Zune for their style and intuitive interfaces. “They’re really easy to use,” Buchanan said. “And the Zune is really beautiful.” If you’re choosing, practicality should play a big part in your decision. “First and foremost, having one that works with your setup is important,” Buchanan said. That means a Zune isn’t a smart choice for a Mac owner, since it only works with Microsoft’s own software. Likewise, if you’re not a big fan of Apple’s iTunes, you may want to stay away from an iPod, since no other program will let you copy music onto it. The tricky area is guiding the huge group of people who have a Windows-based computer and buy songs from iTunes. For them, it comes down to personal preference. “Zune has this touchpad, iPod has the clickwheel. Both are good,” Buchanan said. “Some will prefer one to the other.” For real digital audiophiles, the iPod Classic (160 gigabytes of storage, $335) boasts the highest capacity of any current iPod model, but it’s larger and less flashy than the rest. Microsoft offers the Zune 120 for $250. Like all Zune models, the 120 has an FM radio tuner in addition to its music and video capabilities. “If you’re not on a Mac, I might just recommend a Zune over the iPod,” Buchanan said. If you want a sleeker music player to take to the gym or out for a run, both companies have you covered. On the Apple side, the iPod Continue Reading

Maria Baez ‘goes ghetto’ on election power lawyer Stanley Schlein

Everyone's talking about Councilwoman Maria Baez losing it and "going ghetto" on former Bronx Dem Party consigliere and power lawyer Stanley Schlein at the Bronx Board of Elections last week. Maria, repping the party on petition challenges, angrily got in Stanley's face as they were leaving Tuesday, then forearmed him as she turned to walk away, our sources said. "She acted super ghetto," said one witness. The next day, court officers had to intervene as Maria, cursing a blue streak, lunged across the table at Stanley. "She used words you wouldn't want to print," said an eyewitness in the room. And while no one's pointing any fingers, when Stanley later walked out of the board onto the Grand Concourse, he found two tires on his Mercedes slashed. A source close to Party Boss Jose Rivera said he's verrrry upset about the party being made to look like a bunch of lowlife street thugs. A longtime city power, Stanley was the Party's consigliere until a falling-out. Not good, since he joined the insurgents, taking party secrets and legal maneuvers with him. Maybe the pressure's getting to term-limited Maria. Her job prospects grow dimmer by the day, and Jose's not likely to back her daughter Carmen, a disaster running the Bronx marriage license bureau, for her Council seat. Folks are wondering why Jose keeps Maria running party affairs, alienating just about everyone and fomenting that revolt by six assembly members - and a lotta silent supporters. Fraud watch Speaking of the Board of Elections, three pending cases to watch: - State Sen. Efrain Gonzalez's residency challenge against Pedro Espada of Bedford Park(?)/Mamaroneck. - Petition fraud by Nelson Castro, replacing ex-west Bronx Assemblyman Luis Diaz in the September primary. - Petition fraud by Morrisania Assemblyman Michael Benjamin. Courthouse shake-up Look for a major shake-up shortly at the Bronx County Courthouse as a result of an ongoing investigation we Continue Reading

GOOD BOOK AS GUIDE. Investing based on faith

EVEN WITH ALL THE NEW BOOKS on personal finance coming out every year, some New Yorkers are turning to a very old tome for guidance in their money matters: The Bible. Using religious faith to make finance and investing decisions, while around for ages, has gained renewed importance in recent years. Investors looking to buy stock in companies whose practices match their values have boosted the popularity of mutual funds with religious themes, and some financial advisors are putting a biblical spin on concepts like getting out of debt and budgeting. "For the person who respects the Bible, they want to live their entire life in a way that pleases God, and money is a big part of people's lives," said Howard Dayton, CEO of Crown Financial Ministries, a group that uses Christian beliefs to teach financial planning. About $12 billion is currently managed in 55 funds that use faith-based criteria to address the concerns of investors from a wide range of religious backgrounds, according to a 2005 report by the Social Investment Forum. Assets in the 30 religion-based funds tracked by mutual fund research company Morningstar now total $3. 6 billion, up from $176 million 10 years ago. Still, that's a tiny portion of the $6. 8 trillion invested in U. S. mutual funds. The Amana Funds, for example, follow Islamic principles, shunning companies involved in pork or alcohol production or those, like banks, that charge interest. The Ave Maria Funds, aimed at Catholics, rule out companies that donate money to pro-choice groups, while a fund for Christian Scientists, the American Trust Allegiance Fund, avoids companies involved in the medical field. The Ave Marie Growth Fund has returned 20. 5% in the last year, according to Lipper. Financial planner George Kinder said it's important for people to consider their core values and life purpose when it comes to their finances. "The point is to get at what is the nub of what we long for most and to make sure we Continue Reading