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NFL Misery: Patriots a Lock in Super Bowl

January 14th, 2018 · No Comments · Football, NFL

I was sick and bloody tired of the New England Patriots 10 years ago, when the Helmet Catch and Eli Manning saved us from a 19-0 season by Dark Lord Belichick’s minions.

I danced a jig when that one ended 17-14 to the Giants, in Glendale, Ariz., and everyone in the working press room laughed. (I made that up. I maybe did a first pump, then got back to work, in a fine frame of mind.)

Since that close call? The New England Patriots have won two more Super Bowls, taking their total to five, all in this century, leaving them one in arrears only of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and their six championships, at the top of the Super Bowl roll call.

And now? The Patriots seem to me an easy call to win Super Bowl 52 on February 5 — even if they do have a game to win before they get there.

I have no hope for the other three teams still competing; the last glimmers of that were extinguished this weekend.

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Keith Jackson: 1928-2018

January 13th, 2018 · No Comments · College football

Keith Jackson, too?

We are losing the great sports broadcasters from the 20th century and I don’t like it.

Yes, for my own selfish reasons. I know the legends are retired but I can be comforted by the idea that they could, in theory, come back for One More Game. One more chance to hear a great voice providing the lyrics to a great sports experience. Unless, of course, they have gone to their great reward.

Keith Jackson, another enormous figure in sports television, died today in Los Angeles at the age of 89, and there went another man who made sports — and college football, in particular — seem even more dramatic than we knew.

A month ago, we lost Dick Enberg, one of the most versatile and informed of broadcasters, at age 82. A few years before, as my former colleague Chuck Culpepper pointed out, it was Pat Summerall, 82, who departed, and the laconic Summerall did as much as any man in “speaking” the NFL into its position as the nation’s No. 1 sport.

Keith Jackson was the folksy uncle from Down South to a nation’s sports fans. He seemed to know every coach in America and the name of every college football player in America. And he somehow seemed to be rooting for both sides to win.

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Landon’s Second Comeback: Cuz He Can

January 12th, 2018 · No Comments · Football, Galaxy, Landon Donovan

What is Landon Donovan doing?

In short, he has decided, for a second time, to resume his soccer career.

He first retired at the end of the 2014 Major League Soccer season, when he was only 32. He went out with a bang — with his sixth MLS Cup championship, the Galaxy’s fourth during his time with the club.

He retired a second time after returning for nine matches at the end of the Galaxy’s 2016 season, when he was 34.

Today, he revealed he will play again, this time with Club Leon of Mexico’s top-flight Liga MX. Landon will be 36 in seven weeks and has played nine matches since December of 2014.

Why might he have made this semi-curious decision?

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NBA Players and the ‘Secret’ Playground Draft

January 11th, 2018 · 1 Comment · Basketball, NBA

It seemed like perhaps the best of several improvements to the NBA All-Star Game.

A schoolyard pick-em to determine teams!

I loved this idea. NBA all-stars sorted out using the same system that we used back in elementary school.

Two captains, and they take turns picking players until the last unpicked guy, head hung in shame.embarrassment, shuffles over to Team B — and it’s all on live TV!

But, apparently, it turns out that even NBA players are sensitive to the implied rejection of being picked late or … God help us … last.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said today that the schoolyard pick-em is still on … it just will not be televised.

Silver said: “There was a sense from the players that it put them in an impossible position.”

Impossible position? Only for guys picked later than they expected or hoped. An idea I also liked because these guys have been picked first their whole lives. Let them experience what most of the rest of us went through.

But no. The players aren’t ready to deal with televised rejection.

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Hockey and Fighting; an Ongoing Relationship

January 10th, 2018 · No Comments · Uncategorized

When did I last watch ice hockey? Might have been the gold-medal game of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Canada versus the U.S., with the Canucks in the living room of a big Abu Dhabi apartment nervous as hell and the Yanks amused to see it.

Hockey is Canada; Canada is hockey. Forget all that stuff about politeness and kindliness; when Canadians are on the ice, they are ready to drop the gloves and get busy.

I was looking for some live sports at about 5 a.m. the other night, and I found nothing except for one hockey game: Anaheim Ducks at Calgary Flames. And I leaned back on the couch with the remote in my hand and wondered how long it would take for a fight to break out.

It took about 30 seconds. Seriously. No joke. I joined the game late in the second period, and in less than a minute a goalkeeper was cheap-shotted, a big guy rushed over to the cheap-shotter and the gloves came off. Within five seconds, at least 10 guys were milling about in a small space, with two more guys also throwing punches meant to injure.

Ah. It was like hockey was welcoming me back!

First, some video:

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French Producers: Who Moved My Cheese?

January 9th, 2018 · 1 Comment · France

A very French story.

A crime involving cheese.

A heinous crime, then.

Nearly 700 wheels of soft, pungent Saint-Nectaire cheese, a favorite of King Louis XIV and worth about $12,000, were stolen in the dead of night from a village in the Auvergne, a mostly rural region of south-central France.

The heist is the latest to hit France’s huge cheese industry.

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Saban, Alabama and a Deserved Championship

January 8th, 2018 · No Comments · College football, Football

So, that’s why Nick Saban is such a big deal. A big enough deal to be getting paid more than $11 million by the University of Alabama in 2017.

His Alabama team was down 13-0 to Georgia at halftime of the College Football Playoff championship game tonight, and instead of persevering with sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts, who started all but one game over two seasons but had been erratic, Saban made the bold decision to turn to freshman QB Tua Tagovailoa.

Alabama rallied from the 13-0 hole, and also a 20-10 deficit going into the fourth quarter to win 26-23 in overtime on a 41-yard touchdown strike by Tagovailoa.

The chatter around Saban is that, sure, he annually recruits several of the best players in the nation — but watch his teams play and the impartial observer must concede he also is out-coaching most  everyone he encounters.

Which is how the man has led college teams to six national championships — five of them (in nine seasons) at Alabama.

Among his other key decisions made during a frenetic game late Monday night in Atlanta:

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Wonderfully Bad Football in the NFL Playoffs

January 7th, 2018 · 1 Comment · Football, NFL

The Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Two generically hapless NFL teams meeting, astonishingly enough, in the NFL playoffs.

For the Jaguars, it was a first playoffs game since 2007, a streak of futility “bettered” by only one team: Their opponents, the Bills, in the playoffs for the first time since 1999 — the longest no-playoffs streak among any of North America’s Big Four sports.

It was the early NFL game today, meaning a 7 p.m. start in France, which made it easy to watch.

And potentially attractive in an unconventional way.

The Bills and Jaguars brought with them the real possibility of lots of inept football.

The Bills sneaked into the playoffs despite having, statistically, one of the worst teams in the league — 29th in yards gained, 26th in yards allowed.

And the Jaguars are led by Football’s Punchline — quarterback Blake Bortles, he of the faux Twitter account “Blake Bortles Facts” and its 60,000 followers.

I was not disappointed.

The game was so dreadful it made for compelling viewing.

Which inept club would be able to score? Could one of them get into the end zone? OK, to bring the bar a bit lower … could one of them string together a few first downs and cross midfield under their own power?

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Clock Runs Out on Rams’ Breakthrough Season

January 6th, 2018 · No Comments · Football, NFL, Rams

So, there we were, feeling … well, not fat and sassy about the Los Angeles Rams’ chances in the first round of the playoffs … but reasonably confident.

Worried about the placekicker, a little concerned about the defensive secondary, but in all pretty optimistic about their chances of defeating the Atlanta Falcons at the Coliseum.

Meanwhile, overlooking a couple of key statistics.

To wit:

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Might the Rams Go Down Kicking?

January 5th, 2018 · No Comments · Football, NFL, Rams

The Los Angeles Rams should be well-prepared for their first home playoff game since 1985.

–As winners of the NFC West, they get to play at home, presumably before a capacity crowd at the Coliseum, just like the old days, before the Anaheim interlude and the stint as that St. Louis Club.

–Having clinched a home game in the wild-card round, key players are rested, having been spared the physical insult of playing a 16th regular-season game last weekend.

–Running back Todd Gurley, a long-shot MVP candidate, was going full blast, when last we saw him, both on handoffs and receptions. Quarterback Jared Goff was a zillion times more accurate and calm in the pocket that he was as a rookie. The receivers, including Richard Woods, were back to full speed. And the five interior linemen were set to start their 16th game tomorrow night for the NFL’s highest-scoring team (29.6 per game), more “togetherness” than any other quintet in the NFL.

–The defense, though perhaps not as sharp as it has been at times over the previous two seasons, allowed the 12th-fewest points (20.6, on average) in the league and looked impressive in the front seven, especially in the form of tackle Aaron Donald.

–On special teams, the Rams have one of the most dangerous return men, in Pharoh Cooper, and perhaps the league’s best punter, in Johnny Hecker.

So, your Los Angeles Rams, all ready to go, against the Atlanta Falcons, yes?

Well, no.

The Rams appear to have an Achilles heel. By the name of Sam Ficken, replacement place kicker.

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