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Premier League Tease Turns into Another Blowout

February 7th, 2021 · No Comments · Arsenal, Champions League, English Premier League, Football, soccer

For a month, maybe two, it looked like one of the most competitive Premier League battles in recent history. In the early going, to scan the upper half of the league table was to find several names few would have expected.

West Ham, Everton, Tottenham and Leicester City all had their turn at the top of the standings. Chelsea. Manchester United spent a couple of weeks at the pinnacle, and so did defending champions Liverpool.

The churn continued, for a time. One unlikely team up, another headed down.

It was great fun to see a half-dozen clubs formulating plans for pushing on to the top … and several of those teams above (all, of them, I believe) were at the top for a day or three.

Then it was Liverpool, mostly, but the Reds looked a little soft, a bit vulnerable — a development perhaps to be expected when the club’s best player — centerback Virgil van Dijk — was lost for the season after a brutal challenge from Everton keeper Jordan Pickford.

Then came a spurt by Manchester United, led by the merry elf Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but then his side lost to Sheffield United, the worst team in the division … and now what?

“Now what?” has an easy and perhaps obvious answer — the team that is going to wring out the excitement of this season:

Manchester City, of course.

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Super 55: Brady Won’t Be Able to Keep Pace with Mahomes

February 6th, 2021 · No Comments · Football, NFL

The National Football League’s Super Bowl is not a big deal in France. That may be mostly because the game kicks off at about 12.30 a.m. (technically, Monday morning) in Central European time. For people with jobs that begin before noon, it’s rough because dawn is about to break when the typical SB ends.

(I hope to get a little sleep before kickoff, then join the CBS broadcast, with a goal of sticking it out till the end.)

Which brings us to Super Bowl 55, to be played tomorrow in Tampa, Florida. The Kansas City Chiefs versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

I see only one story line, and that is this:

The best young quarterback (Patrick Mahomes, 25) will defeat the best old quarterback (Tom Brady, 43).

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A Gamble Worth Making: Rams Get Stafford for Goff and Three Picks

February 3rd, 2021 · No Comments · Football, NFL, Rams

I am not going to argue against any reasonable trade the Rams could make to replace Jared Goff at quarterback.

And I certainly will not criticize a deal that brings in clutch quarterback Matthew Stafford from the Detroit Lions in exchange for Goff and three high draft picks.

It was in the middle of this season that I wrote the Rams would never win a Super Bowl with Goff at quarterback. That was after the four-turnover game versus Miami that brought home to fans just how many aspects of quarterback play Goff struggles to master. Even after four years and 69 games as a starter.

From this moment on, Goff’s further development, if possible, is someone else’s problem. Stafford, meanwhile, might be able to fix some of the Rams’ problems. Or general manager Les Snead and coach Sean McVay certainly hope so.

The Rams do not get Stafford for nothing, of course. He costs them their first-round picks in 2022 and 2023, and a third-rounder this year. But he may be exactly what the Rams need to round out a team that already has one of the league’s leading defenses.

What can Stafford do for them?

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In Search of Author’s Resting Place

January 30th, 2021 · No Comments · Books

Grave of Patrick O’Brien, in Collioure, France; a fan has left a copy of a book.

One of my favorite authors is Patrick O’Brian, creator of the “Master and Commander” sailing series. All 20 books of it.

He was a bit of an eccentric who left his family before World War II, seemed to have a government job that perhaps pertained to military intelligence and who legally changed his name after the war — from Richard Patrick Russ, Englishman, to Patrick O’Brian, Irish-Catalan.

And, I found out recently, he lived 40 years in the south of France, only 90 or so miles from where we dwell now.

So, with some kindly weather finally making an appearance, we made the 90-minute drive south to Perpignan, taking the exit for the beach towns from there to the border with Spain.

And there we were, in a handsome little town named Collioure, wedged between the Mediterranean and the vine-covered hills, at the feet of the Pyrenees, a few miles from the Spanish border.

We also planned to find his grave, there in the town he called home for the final 40 years of his life.

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A Blog Post — On Deadline

January 29th, 2021 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Let’s see how this works. I am going to post to my blog in 10 minutes. And one minutes is nearly gone.

People who do blogs in their spare time may not grasp how much time it takes to populate a blog.

The scary part of it is that a blog has no deadline that a newspaper writer would know, and the posts can sprawl, buried under research and what we all hope is some interesting writing.

Now, I will jump forward to the body of this post.

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Five Events I Regret Not Seeing

January 23rd, 2021 · No Comments · Olympics, Uncategorized, World Cup

The other day I was walking around the little French town where we live and thinking about things I covered during 40 years in sports journalism.

I reflected on events I really enjoyed — just sorta free-associating. As often occurs in one of these reveries, eventually I shake my head and concede, “I got to do a lot of stuff. I was extremely lucky.” As were many of the journalists in the 1980s and 1990. Years that covered the zenith of American newspapering.

This time, I seemed to head off into a different direction; I started thinking about events I had not covered and wished I had. Not seen. Not filed on. And felt just a little bit of disappointment. A twinge. And following on that, I compiled a list of five events I would like to have seen — but did not.

So, what is called for?

A list!

It needs a list!

So, here we go: Five sports events I regret not covering, starting with No. 5 and working my way down to No. 1. (Most rued; sad face.)

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Rams Left Out in the Cold?

January 16th, 2021 · No Comments · Football, Los Angeles Rams, Rams

I wish I had the time and energy to look this up, or call some agency that would look it up for me, and pay them to do it, but …

… I don’t and I don’t.

So, I will own up to cherry-picking these NFL stats from The Athletic pertaining to the Rams playoff game in Green Bay tonight.

(Warning: You may not want to see these. One of those “abandon all hope, ye who enter here” kinda things.

Does cold weather give the Rams troubles, especially in the playoffs?

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L.A. Still Alive in Tri-Championship Chase

January 12th, 2021 · No Comments · Baseball, Basketball, Dodgers, Football, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Rams, NBA, NFL, Rams

The Lakers, kingpins of the National Basketball Association.

The Dodgers, top of the heap in Major League baseball.

The Rams, still in competition for the Super Bowl.

Thus, it is possible, if still improbable, that the champs of the three most popular American professional sports leagues could all be found in Los Angeles.

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Tommy Lasorda: 1927-2021

January 8th, 2021 · 1 Comment · Baseball, Dodgers, Olympics

Everyone who covered the Los Angeles Dodgers for any amount of time during Tommy Lasorda’s 20 years as the club’s manager has a Lasorda story. Probably dozens and dozens of them.

My Lasorda moment happens to rank as one of the best-known.

I was one of a couple of dozen people in his office, post-game, for the “Kingman’s performance” rant in 1978. I was not the Dodgers reporter for my newspaper, but I was in Chavez Ravine that day, giving a colleague a day off. Dumb luck.

Dave Kingman, the Chicago Cubs slugger, had hit three monstrous, towering homers and driven in eight runs as the Cubs beat the Dodgers in extra innings.

Tommy was sitting at his desk when a radio reporter named Paul Olden asked Lasorda for “a few words” about “Kingman’s performance.”

What followed was several minutes of obscenity-laced response, with Lasorda getting louder and seemingly more angry, as he considered Kingman’s performance.

Which, happily, was tape-recorded for posterity, and is now posted online and should be easy to find. (If you don’t mind the &*#$@% language, that is.)

Lasorda died Thursday night, at the age of 93. He was the oldest living Hall of Famer.

Tommy Lasorda did many things well. He was a savvy manager who won two World Series, a man who had the pulse of the clubhouse and a colorful figure who loved the attention he received for the club — and himself. He was a man who “bled Dodger blue.” He told us so with regularity.

He also was one of the most profane men I encountered during 40 years in journalism. He was an artist, really. Inflection, variety, anger, all calculated to end with a foaming-at-the-mouth crescendo. Sailors couldn’t keep up with him.

Most of the time it was for show. Sometimes it was meant to bruise. Whichever worked better for the Dodgers.

One other moment with Tommy. Sydney 2000, the Summer Olympics.

Lasorda by now had been moved to the Dodgers front office, and he was not the same overpowering presence he had been while Dodgers manager.

Then he was named manager of the U.S. Olympic team, which was not allowed to use big-league players, and Tommy was back, at age 73.

Tommy and his staff rounded up some pretty sharp minor-league players, and their Olympics ended with Tommy’s team winning gold by defeating the powerful Cuban team. He was so happy and so proud, and he was the perfect man to make it all possible.

I watched the end of the game, after covering the track meet, and Tommy talked about American spirit and pride, and he was as serious as he could ever be. I wrote a comment piece on it.

If readers want to be reminded about Tommy Lasorda, and what he meant to baseball, and vice versa … just check the usual sports sites. There ought to be some fine obituaries.

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More Wolford, Please

January 5th, 2021 · No Comments · Football, NFL, Rams

I might have suggested the Los Angeles Rams would take a page from the “psyching ourselves up” playbook and lecture fans and the media about “how nobody believes in us,” ahead of their game against Arizona on Sunday.

But we couldn’t go there because Rams fans, perhaps more enthusiastic than informed, apparently helped bet a team without its leading passer or receiver … into the role of 4.5-point favorites over the Cardinals of Kyler Murray — though Murray hardly played, after tweaking an ankle.

I did not see how the Rams could score enough points to beat a middling opponent, given that QB Jared Goff was out with a broken thumb and Cooper Kupp, the team’s top receiver, was sidelined by Covid-19 protocols.

But they pulled off an 18-7 victory, thanks to their league-leading defense, which scored nine points, and an unknown quarterback named John Wolford; a guy making his first appearance in an NFL game turned in an unexpectedly competent performance.

Competent to the point that I would like to see Rams coach Sean McVay have Wolford taking snaps against the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL wild-card playoffs round Saturday.

To explain:

–Goff has struggled for a month, and his performance is unlikely to improve with that broken thumb — on which surgery was performed a week ago Monday. (Take a moment and consider what sort of jury-rigged cast he would have on his thumb. And he would throw accurately with that?)

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