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Shocking and Delightful End to Liverpool streak

March 1st, 2020 · No Comments · Arsenal, Champions League, English Premier League, Football, soccer

The biggest story in world football since the most recent Champions League final (May, 2019) … was Liverpool’s dominance of European soccer.

Before their game at Watford last night, Liverpool not only was being called “the best club football team in the world”, and they had some staggering numbers to back up that assessment.

Unbeaten in 44 Premier League matches reaching back to the first week of January. Last January.

Victors in 18 consecutive Premier League matches, leaving them tied with last year’s Manchester City side for the longest streak in a century-plus of top-flight history.

And, of course, the Champions League victory over Tottenham last May, with Barcelona and Messi having been beaten, en route.

Liverpool matches became must-see TV all over the world. How far would the Reds take this.

The notion that they would have any trouble last night was really hard to get behind, given their opponent:

Struggling Watford, 19th in the 20-team PL standings, at dire risk for demotion to the second tier.

All of which led to a shocking result:

Watford 3, Liverpool 0 — the first Premier League defeat for Liverpool since January 3 — 423 days previous.

You could knock over the world football cognoscenti with a feather, and it wouldn’t need to be a big one.

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When ‘M-V-P’ Chants Went from Hope to Prediction

February 22nd, 2020 · No Comments · Back in the Day, Basketball, Kobe, Lakers, NBA

“Blasts from the Past” is the idea. On days when I feel like writing but don’t feel like doing much research, I am going to revisit topics from my 40 years in journalism.

This will be one of those. It is my take, from January of 2008, on Kobe Bryant’s chances of winning his first MVP award.

Kobe’s memorial/celebration of life is in two days, on Monday. It certainly will generate a lot of emotion as the league and his fans say goodbye to Bryant, who died at age 41 last month, when a helicopter crash killed him and eight others, including his daughter Gianna, 13.

A spoiler: I could only speculate, in 2008, if Bryant could win an MVP trophy. Turns out, yes, he could, and 2007-08 was the one time he did it.

So, here is a column that appeared on January 23, 2008.

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Cheating Bastards

February 17th, 2020 · No Comments · Baseball, Dodgers

I have been off the air most of this month, and have not weighed in on how the Houston Astros stole the 2017 World Series* from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Though the headline and first paragraph can be considered a spoiler alert on where this is going. That, and the asterisk (forever) after any reference to the 2017 World Series*

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Super Bowl 29, the 49ers, Chargers and Mark Seay

February 1st, 2020 · No Comments · Back in the Day, Chargers, Football, NFL

When the San Francisco 49ers secured a place in Super Bowl 54, to be played tomorrow in Miami, my brain banged out several memories of my two visits to Joe Robbie Stadium.

The most recent was to see USC and Oklahoma in the college football national championship game in 2007. (USC 55, Oklahoma 10; later forfeited because of NCAA rules-breaking). Away from the game, I remember running into the side of a moving bus while jogging in the streets of downtown Miami. (I miscalculated.)

The first game at Joe Robbie came a decade earlier, when the 49ers defeated the San Diego Chargers 49-26 in Super Bowl 29.

And then a couple of images of players and coaches pushed my brain for attention.

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Back in the Day: A Miserable Sunday in January

January 31st, 2020 · No Comments · Football, Journalism, NFL, Sports Journalism

The last time the Kansas City Chiefs appeared in the Super Bowl?

It was 50 years ago, on January 11, 1970. And I saw that game — because I have never missed a Super Bowl. Seen ’em all, if not in person (about a dozen of those as a sports journalist), then on TV.

So, the Chiefs. They had reached the first Super Bowl and got rolled by the Green Bay Packers, and they got back to the big game three years later.

It seems like the Chiefs have had a lot of pretty good teams in the half-century since Hank Stram’s men defeated the Minnesota Vikings, but they have never gotten back to the Big Game. Till now.

I remember their 23-7 victory over the Vikings fairly well, in part because I was an NFL fan (and the Chiefs were an AFL team) … and in greater part because I was miserably sick that day.

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Kobe Bryant: 1978-2020

January 26th, 2020 · 1 Comment · Basketball, Kobe, Lakers, NBA

I heard about Kobe Bryant while leaving church, around 11:15 a.m. today. “Killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas,” someone said.

It took me a few seconds to process. “Kobe, dead? That can’t be right.” Pause. “A helicopter? That’s possible; how many celebrities have died in private planes and copters?” Pause. “Wow. Kobe dead.” At 41.

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Going Out with a Bang: Thanks, Eli!

January 24th, 2020 · No Comments · Back in the Day, NFL, Sports Journalism

February 3, 2008. Super Bowl 42.

New York Giants 17, New England Patriots 14.

That would be the 12-point underdog Giants taking down the 18-0 Patriots, who were out to become the first 19-0 champs in NFL history.

And I was there.

How lucky was I? I covered what still is the most dramatic and memorable Super Bowl ever played.

Four days later, I was laid off by the L.A. News Group, after 32 years.

Cut it pretty close, for sure, but no one could take that Super Bowl from me. I have the online version of the column I wrote on deadline to prove it.

And I have Eli Manning to thank for it.

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Headline News: ‘Arrivederci Aroma’

December 30th, 2019 · No Comments · Back in the Day, Football, Italy, Journalism, Los Angeles Rams, NFL, Rome

A clever headline tells a story … with a twist.

I prefer to think everyone likes a clever headline, but I fear only people in the publishing business really appreciate a good “hed”.

Like this one, from the Los Angeles Times 40 years ago.

“Arrivederci Aroma: Rams Stink Up the Coliseum”

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Back in the Day: Joe Namath, Rams, Mystery Woman,Wrong Room

December 26th, 2019 · No Comments · Back in the Day, Football, NFL, Rams, Sports Journalism

Joe Namath has a new biography out, and in it the former New York Jets hero and leader of the great upset victory in Super Bowl III relates his spending Christmas alone, in December of 1979.

The episode is outlined in this excerpt from “All the Way: My Life in Four Quarters.”

And nearly any time I read about “Broadway Joe” I am reminded of some odd events the evening before the last football game the quarterback played in — as the Rams starter in a Monday night game in Chicago.

I was in the ancient Soldier Field press box, which I recall as having weather-beaten, splinter-throwing tables and no heating.

I also recall a queer event the night before, when a well-dressed woman knocked at my hotel-room door — and I always wonder if lady-magnet Namath might have been involved in the confusing (for me) episode.

It was the fourth game of the Rams’ season, and the team was struggling. Namath had been signed and handed the starter’s job, but he clearly was near the end of his career — he was immobile and his accuracy was gone.

Back then, I was the home-and-road Rams writer for The San Bernardino Sun, so I had traveled to Chicago and was put up in the same five-star, downtown hotel the team was staying in.

It was the middle of the evening, the night before the game, and I was writing a preview for the next day’s paper, when I heard a knock at the door. I had no idea whom it might be. I wouldn’t be spending the night in the bar, as some of my colleagues did, and there is no access to players, the night before the game. In theory.

So, I open the door … and there standing in the hall was a very attractive, well-dressed woman, perhaps 30 years old.

I was flummoxed. I would guess I just looked at her for a moment and wondered where she intended to be … which most certainly was not my room.

She may have said something like, “You called?” And I said, finally able to speak, “No, that wasn’t me.”

I have a vague recollection of the “conversation” going on another question or two, but I was relieved when she said, “There must be some mistake” and I closed my door.

I may have thought this within the first few minutes … or perhaps it came an hour later … but Joe Namath was in that hotel on that Sunday night, and maybe my visitor had arranged a date with him. Or vice versa. Maybe Joe was a floor above me, or down the hall. And, of course, he might not have been the only Rams player looking for companionship the night before a game.

The next day, Namath got his fourth — and final — start with the Chuck Knox-coached Rams.

Joe was terrible. He threw four interceptions on 16-for-40 passing, 203 yards and two sacks. The Rams were losing a game they had been expected to win, and in the fourth quarter Knox called for backup quarterback Pat Haden, who threw for a late touchdown that made the final score: Chicago 24, Rams 23.

The story of the game was Namath being yanked and replaced by a quicker, faster kid.

As mentioned, Namath never played again. He suited up a few times, but his knees were shot and everyone could see it. Adding him to the team was not the answer.

Haden was the QB choice the rest of the season, and after the club had started 2-2 with Namath at quarterback, the Rams went 8-2 with Haden and reached the playoffs.

It was at the end of that season that Namath was sitting in his duplex in the trendy Belmont Shore area of Long Beach and found himself alone. The excerpt of his book (linked above) describes him walking on the beach and thinking deep thoughts.

I grew up in Belmont Shore, and as a kid had played in the water on the Peninsula, only a few blocks from where Namath would spend his last season.

It seems a weird confluence of events. Joe Namath, the Rams, Long Beach, Belmont Shore, Chicago, the mystery woman (a fan, a pro, just someone lost?) … a befuddled 24-year-old sportswriter.

I have no idea what went on in that hotel, the night before the Chicago game, but I think about it from time to time when the subject of Joe Willie Namath comes up.

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Back in the Day

December 25th, 2019 · No Comments · Back in the Day

It may be time to change the name of this blog.

To … Back in the Day.

Maybe it’s just 60 years of Christmas Memories banging around in my head that puts me in mind of days gone by.

But … I saw a lot of stuff. Not so much lately, in retirement, but while wearing a game credential.

You want an opinion on a sports-related topic that happened 25 or 35 or 40 years ago? … I’m your guy.

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