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It's Down to Eight
[Posted Sunday p.m. before 9:00 ET ...sometimes, I just need to move on...as is the case tonight.]
NFL Quiz: 1) Who are the only two with four kickoff returns for a touchdown in a single season? [Both post-1960] 2) Who are the only two with 8 KR for TDs, career? [Different from No. 1] Answers below.
Atlanta at Philadelphia
Tennessee at New England
Jacksonville at Pittsburgh
New Orleans at Minnesota
--Sunday, in the first game, we had a putrid contest, Jacksonville besting Buffalo at home, 10-3, the Bills outgaining the Jags 263-230, but Buffalo with two turnovers, Jacksonville none.
For the Bills, LeSean McCoy amazingly played after suffering what appeared to be a serious ankle injury last week and had 75 yards on the ground, and 44 on six receptions, but it wasn’t enough as quarterback Tyrod Taylor was only 17/37, 134, 0-1, 44.2.
For the Jaguars, QB Blake Bortles had all of 87 yards passing, but 88 rushing on 10 carries, picking up one key first down after another. It wasn’t pretty...far from it...but it was enough.
Basically, the game sucked, except for my friend Steve G., he of the rainbow driveway jumper from my youth and a Jags fan.
But the second contest was a wild one, with New Orleans prevailing 31-26 at the Superdome, a 25-yard missed field goal early by the Panthers’ Graham Gano, after he had hit 17 straight, beyond critical as it turned out...Carolina driving at the end for what could have been a deciding FG, instead of needing a touchdown, which fell short.
Drew Brees was 23/33, 376, 2-1, 115.2, and Cam Newton 24/40, 349, 2-0, 105.1...an outstanding duel, best exemplified by the fact Carolina outgained the Saints overall just 413-410.
--Saturday, we had a most entertaining first wild-card game, Tennessee falling behind Kansas City 21-3 at half, as Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith shredded the Titans’ defense, only to have Tennessee shut K.C. out in the second, with quarterback Marcus Mariota leading the way, 22-21 Titans, the final score a 22-yard scoring strike to Eric Decker with 6:06 to play in the fourth.
Mariota, in a play that will be remembered a long time by Tennessee fans, started things off after the intermission with a touchdown pass to himself; a ball batted by Chiefs cornerback Darrelle Revis into the air that Mariota scooped up and ran in for the TD to make it 21-10. A stunning play. [Including for Fantasy Football players who had him...I didn’t.]
Mariota, who really had an awful year (13 TDs, 15 INTs) after such a promising first two seasons, came through big for the Titans when it mattered most, passing for 205 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for some key first downs among his 46 yards on the ground. His stats are far from spectacular, but most importantly he was a leader...which Alex Smith wasn’t for his team in the second half.
It also helped Tennessee that running back Derrick Henry picked a good time for his best game as a pro, 23 carries for 156 yards and a big fourth-quarter TD that cut the lead to 21-16 (a two-point conversion failing).
For the Chiefs it was their sixth straight home playoff loss, extending an NFL record. Last year, a holding call erased a game-tying two-point conversion. In 2013, the Indianapolis Colts rallied from down 28 down to score a 45-44 win in the second-biggest comeback in NFL playoff history.
Coach Andy Reid said, “The sick part about this is that it’s final. But the guys that are coming back, you have to feel this. Coaches and players, we have to change it around. It’s not good enough and that’s the bottom line.”
But will Reid get the chance? And what of Alex Smith? Reid is 53-28 with K.C., but 1-4 in the playoffs.
In the second game, Los Angeles, 11-5 in the regular season and one of the best stories of the year, proved it wasn’t quite ready for prime time, losing to the battle-tested Falcons (10-6) in L.A., 26-13. Matt Ryan was steady for Atlanta, 21/30, 218, 1-0, 101.8, while L.A.’s Jared Goff’s final numbers look better than they really were, 24/45, 259, 1-0; most of the yards picked up in garbage time. Even star running back Todd Gurley’s 101 yards on just 14 carries was deceiving, most of these coming on three carries (11 for 28 on the others).
The Rams were hurt by two big fumbles.
Separately, before the game, I couldn’t help but note that on the Associated Press All-Pro team, among the six Rams, most in the NFL, who made the squad was the kicker (Greg Zuerlein), punter (Johnny Hekker) and kick returner (Pharoh Cooper). Now I’m far from a genius, and couldn’t hold a conversation with the one who is in the White House, but me thinks the Rams had a pretty solid special teams unit this season. [The other three Rams were Todd Gurley, left tackle Andrew Whitworth, and defensive lineman Aaron Donald.]
But then Zuerlein suffered a season-ending back injury with two games to play in the season. And Pharaoh Cooper came up very small on Saturday, fumbling a kickoff that Atlanta then turned into a touchdown to make it 13-0 at the time.
As for Hekker, how freakin’ good is this guy? Three straight seasons with an average over 47 yards per punt, 40%+ of them inside the 20. [30 of 65 this year.] That’s awesome. [And all five of his punts Saturday were inside the 20.]
--The Oakland Raiders have agreed with Jon Gruden on a 10-year, $100 million deal to be their next head coach, the team introducing Gruden this Tuesday. The sum is staggering, for the man who coached the Raiders back from 1998 to 2001. In his first run as a head coach overall, from 1998-2008, Gruden went 95-81 and led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the Super Bowl in 2002.
Gruden’s $100 million is guaranteed but does not include an ownership stake.
Retired head coach Marv Levy said he was looking for the right word to describe his reaction to Gruden’s deal. “Ten million a year with a 10-year commitment is beyond belief.”
Levy, who was head coach of the Bills from 1986-97, recalled his reaction in 1970 when George Allen was hired by the Redskins and Levy was an assistant on the staff.
“When all of us on the staff who joined him learned that his contract was for a whopping $75,000 a year, we just could not believe that anyone would ever get paid that much to coach football,” Levy wrote USA TODAY via email. “I wonder how much Knute Rockne and Amos Alonzo Stagg got paid.”
--Friday, the Giants interviewed Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia for their vacant head coaching job, and also offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. [New York is also supposed to interview the Eagles’ Jim Schwartz and Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.]
But in light of the ESPN expose on the supposedly deteriorating relationship, and power struggle, between Tom Brady, coach Bill Belichick, and owner Robert Kraft, Giants fans, fueled by Gotham’s scribes, are dreaming they might be able to wrest away Belichick.
The Patriots said Friday that the report suggesting a rift involving the three is “flat-out inaccurate,” the three releasing a joint statement after the ESPN report cited undisclosed sources, detailing an array of tensions, particularly surrounding Brady’s personal trainer and friend, Alex Guerrero, as I’ve noted before in this space.
The more important rift, though, is apparently the one between Belichick and Kraft over the decision to trade backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
But Saturday in an interview with The MMQB’s Peter King, Robert Kraft denied he interfered with the team’s decision to trade Garoppolo, as was alleged, while Kraft threw cold water on the Giants’ dream of somehow landing Belichick as their next head coach.
Kraft told King he “absolutely” expects Belichick to be the Patriots’ coach in 2018 and said he would not consider trading Belichick to another team.
“When you’re lucky enough to have someone exceptional,” Kraft said, “you let them do their job and you get out of the way.”
That’s exactly the opposite of what the ESPN report says Kraft did. Author Seth Wickersham, who told The MMQB he stands by his reporting despite Kraft’s denials, wrote that, among other issues, Kraft and Belichick had a lengthy meeting on Garoppolo before Kraft, with Brady playing a role, made Belichick trade the backup to the 49ers.
Belichick didn’t like the idea of Brady hanging on for another three or four seasons, as Brady has said he wants to do, when Belichick had a terrific successor in his back pocket, Garoppolo, who was about to be a free agent. The Pats reportedly offered Jimmy G. a four-year contract at $17-$18 million per, with incentives if he became the starter earlier, but it clearly wasn’t the kind of money the kid could get elsewhere as a potential franchise QB, let alone he wanted to play now. [I am totally on Belichick’s side on this one, but Kraft had his loyalties to Brady.]
But for those who forgot, the big reason why Giants fans, and longtime followers from this area are talking so much about the dreamed of availability of Belichick is because he was an assistant with the team from 1979-90, and served as defensive coordinator for the Super Bowl XXI- and XXV-winning teams under Bill Parcells. He is also known to be close to the Mara family, as well as former Giants GM Ernie Acorsi, who remains a key figure behind the scenes.
As for the potential of a trade for Belichick, the New York Post’s Steve Serby points out that Jon Gruden was traded in 2002 by the Raiders to the Bucs for a No. 1 draft pick and a No. 2 in 2002, a No. 1 in 2003 and a No. 2 in 2004, plus $8 million.
The Jets sent four draft picks, including a 1999 No. 1, to Kraft for Bill Parcells.
Kraft then sent the Jets the 16th pick of the 2000 draft and fourth- and seventh-rounders in 2001 for a 2001 fifth-rounder, and a 2002 seventh-rounder for Belichick, when the hooded one was briefly the Jets head man, at least on paper.
--Following is the pay for NFL players in the playoffs:
$28,000 for the wild-card round.
$28,000 for the divisional round.
$51,000 for the conference championship game.
$56,000 for the Super Bowl...$112,000 if you win.
--For the record, the NFL’s regular season television ratings fell nearly 10% below the previous season, which were 8% below 2015’s. But as I noted in that other column I do, the NFL does still account for 37 of the 50 most-watched programs of the year, according to Nielsen.
But the most-watched program in prime time, “NFL Sunday Night Football,” had 18.2 million viewers this past season, which compares with 20.3 million in 2016 and 22.5 million in 2015.
To be fair, much of this decline is simply due to changing viewer habits across the spectrum, and the NFL is as vulnerable to this as every other program alternative.
But, yes, a significant number of fans, especially older ones, were turned off by the anthem protests.
College Basketball Review
I’m telling ya, this has already been one helluva college hoops season and we’re only about halfway through. Saturday had more big upsets, and another shakeup looms in the AP poll released Monday.
Going back to Wednesday, 24 Florida State (12-2) edged overrated 12 North Carolina (12-3) 81-80 in Tallahassee, and then 15 Miami (12-2) was upset by Georgia Tech (7-7) 64-54.
Thursday then saw a biggie...Colorado (9-6) beating 4 Arizona State (12-2) 90-81 in Boulder.
These games led up to another super Saturday.
2 Duke fell to North Carolina State (11-5)* in Raleigh, 96-85, as the Blue Devils dropped to 13-2 despite another monster game from Marvin Bagley III, 31 points, 10 rebounds. The key for Duke, though, is Grayson Allen, who was just 3 of 9 from the field, 8 points, and has sucked in Duke’s two losses. It’s clear what looms come tourney time. Duke will cruise to a certain point, like the Elite Eight, and then from there it will come down to whether Allen can come up with some final clutch moments. One bad shooting effort and it’s bye-bye Blue Devils...as Bagley begins to count his money from being the next overall No. 1 draft pick.
*Earlier this season, the Wolfpack beat then-No. 2 Arizona as well.
I watched much of the Providence (11-6) upset of 5 Xavier (15-2) in Providence, 81-72, as the Musketeers were caught looking ahead to Villanova this week, 3 Nova (14-1) a 100-90 winner over Marquette (11-5). I didn’t watch any of this one, but Johnny Mac tells me Markus Howard (37 points) was spectacular in defeat for the Warriors. [He’s seventh in the NCAA in scoring this season at 23.5 ppg., while his brother, Jordan, who plays for Central Arkansas, is fifth at 23.9 ppg., as J. Mac alerted me to. Yes, as Ronald Reagan would have said in a tender moment with Nancy, ‘Not bad, not bad at all.’]
[While I’m talking of stats, I just noticed that SMU senior Ben Emelogu II is 38 of 63 from three-point land, an astounding .603! I mean this is a guy who was 26 of 89 from downtown last year, .292.]
In a huge contest in Morgantown, 6 West Virginia (14-1) beat 7 Oklahoma (12-2) as Bob Huggins’ boys held the Sooners’ super point guard, Trae Young, in check. Yeah, the probable top-3 draft pick had 29 points, but it was on 8 of 22 shooting from the field, 3 of 12 from three.
You know how much I like Huggins. But normally he has a team that is capable of just advancing to the Sweet Sixteen, if that, only this club seems special. A different star each night.
8 Virginia proved it is definitely for real, the Cavaliers now 14-1 after a 61-49 win in Charlottesville against 12 North Carolina (12-4), the Tar Heels steeling themselves for a major fall in the next AP Top 25...at least they better be. The vaunted Tony Bennett defense for the Cavaliers held Carolina to 29.6% from the field, 16 of 54.
10 Kansas (12-3) held off 16 TCU (13-2) in Fort Worth, 88-84.
LSU’s Tremont Waters had a spectacular off-balance 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat 11 Texas A&M (11-4) 69-68; LSU now 10-4.
Colorado pulled off a second upset on the week, defeating 14 Arizona (12-4) 80-77, again in Boulder, to move to 10-6.
23 Tennessee had a huge win, 76-65 in Knoxville over 17 Kentucky (12-3), the Vols now 10-4.
And in another game I watched all of, your “Pick to Click” for the Final Four, No. 21 Seton Hall Pirates, had a clutch road win at Butler (12-5), 90-87, as the Big Three Seniors, Angel Delgado (28 points, 15 rebounds), Khadeen Carrington (29 points, 7 of 11 from three), and Desi Rodriguez (19 points) combined for 76 of the 90...though it was Myles Powell’s clutch 6 for 6 from the foul line down the stretch that sealed it.
Seton Hall is one interesting team. Yes, it’s basically a three-man effort. Understand the Big Three played 39, 39, and 38 minutes of the 40 each on Saturday. If they aren’t on the court, the Hall doesn’t have a chance. They are Final Four bound, or a flameout in the Round of 32.
And then Sunday....
Out of nowhere, Ohio State (13-4) upset No. 1 Michigan State, now 15-2, 80-64 in Columbus, behind Keita Bates-Diop’s 32 points. I watched a little of this one in the second half...total domination by the Buckeyes.
It’s not as if OSU’s four defeats were to chumps...far from it...Gonzaga, Butler, Clemson, and UNC.
Meanwhile, my Bar Chat “Pick to Click” for the national title, YOUR No. 9 Wichita State Shockers, ae now 13-2 after a rather dominating 95-57 win over South Florida (7-10) today.
Lastly, my Wake Forest Demon Deacons fell to Boston College (11-5) in Chestnut Hill on Saturday, 77-71 as the Deacs fell to 8-7; your editor losing his Ferraro’s of Westfield (N.J.) lunch bet with B.C. alum Steve D., snapping my 3-game winning streak that included baseball and football.
It was truly brick city in the second half for Wake, playing without their No. 2 scorer, Keyshaun Woods (14.8 avg.), out with a knee injury. In response Bryant Crawford was 8 of 24 from the field, and Brandon Childress was 1 of 10! Eegads.
Wednesday, Wake had had a nice home win over Syracuse, 73-67.
But as us Deacon fans have learned to say these days, ‘Hey, we’re a football school.’
Speaking of college football....
As the nation waits for tomorrow night’s national championship game between Georgia and Alabama (Go Bulldogs!), we had the FCS (Div. I-AA) title game Saturday and it was a good one, though I forgot it was on until there were about six minutes to play...2-seed North Dakota State defeating 1-seed James Madison 17-13, as the Bison finished 14-1, handing JMU its first loss (14-1). It was the first time the top two seeds hooked up in the title contest.
And it marked the sixth time in seven seasons that North Dakota State took home the championship, last season losing in the semis to eventual winner JMU.
It was a true defensive tussle, NDSU outgaining JMU 264-241, but the Dukes had a chance at the end, after a brilliant fake punt for a first down, taking the ball to the Bison 18, only to be thwarted on a fourth-down heave into the end zone that was batted down.
So congrats North Dakota State.
Meanwhile, back to Wake Forest, it’s time for the underclassmen to announce for the draft, guys like quarterbacks Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold and the like having done so, but Wake’s highly-talented defensive back, Jesse Bates III, kind of stunned the Deacon faithful by announcing he was heading out.
Bates, a 6-2, 195-safety, was a consensus Freshman All-American and a second team All-ACC selection in 2016, but wasn’t as good this past campaign, partially due to injuries, earning just honorable mention All-ACC honors.
The guy is talented, and potential NFL material, but not now! It’s a dumb move on his part, and a big loss for the Deacs for 2018.
But back to the National Championship game, there has been some talk of expanding the playoffs to eight teams from four, as there always is this time of year, and I think that is flat-out stupid. The playoffs work as they are, and the usual controversy over No. 5 and 6 not making the field is good for the sport.
So I asked a few of my college football followers for their own takes.
Mark R. said: “Fact: The two best teams will be playing on Monday. Enough is enough and just remember that the players are students too. Let them get back to the books!
“When I went to college [Mark R. went to Notre Dame during the last Ice Age], college teams played at most 9 games and maybe one bowl contest. The season started in mid-Sept. and was done on Jan. 1. In most years the best team was awarded the national title, though not always.
“The system today provides a model that will crown a worthy national champion. Let it be.
“Ohio State did give up over 50 points to Iowa in a loss, so just shut up! USC gave up 49 to the Irish. If UCF (13-0 Central Florida) played the Notre Dame schedule they would have been 9 and 3.”
Dr. W.: “Leave the playoff at four teams. The resulting fact that some ‘more deserving’ team misses out is part of the intrigue of the current system. If you want, just clarify the eligibility rules a little further (you have to play in a conference with a title game and you have to then win that, and you have to have at least 8 games against other foes within your own conference, and play at least two other non-conference games against other Power-5 conference schools or schools who have finished within the end of the season Top 25 in the past two years, etc.) The only way I would support an expansion to eight teams is if the schools/NCAA start paying the players.”
Johnny Mac: “As we see with March Madness, no matter how you expand the field, there is always a bitch – how about we solicit the conferences to do away with the dopey arbitrary ‘division’ ...then have the actual top 2 teams play for the conference title (as the Big 12 did) that would in effect set up a playoff round as no one could then intelligently argue for a team that didn’t win the conference...and, it wouldn’t add any games or layers to the schedule.”
Ken P.: “I love the committee selection and controversy between the top teams. Makes for a tremendous regular season. The eight team proposals carry with them something I loathe: 5 automatic bids to the conference champs. I have always hated the championship games due to the fact that the divisions are arbitrary (doesn’t guarantee that the top two teams play) and they totally exclude non-conference games. The selection committee is the only way to go.”
So there you have it....a consensus. Stick with the current four-team playoff, though it can always be tweaked, especially with regards to the conferences and their title game formats. Everyone else, as Mark R. said, can just shut up.
--One more...with the aforementioned Josh Rosen of UCLA announcing he was coming out for the draft, there is of course increased talk of just who is this guy and is he a No. 1 or 2 overall pick as most have him?
Joe Giglio of the Star-Ledger had this over the weekend:
“Already, scouts have begun to question Rosen’s motivation for playing the game and his personality.
“According to sources who have spoken with people close to Rosen, he has been focused since high school on using football to make money and support the type of lifestyle he wants. He’s OK with challenging the system and even being divisive because he appreciates the attention it draws.
“His talent might overrule his non-football concerns, and he’ll likely still be highly valued, but NFL teams will certainly care about this. They don’t want another Robert Griffin III-type personality. Two teams to watch in a possible Rosen trade-up are the Bills and Chargers.
“To be clear, Rosen’s personality wasn’t compared to RG III. It was more about teams wanting to avoid the next Griffin – an immense talent that had his career cut short due to injuries and clashes with management in Washington.”
I’ve told you I’m not sure about Rosen and concussions.
Jason Gay / Wall Street Journal
“The President of the United States plans to attend the college football national championship on Monday, and as a sports columnist, and a citizen of this country, I feel compelled to warn him:
“Mr. President, it could be a very long night.
“I’m not saying President Trump has to stay for the whole game – he has other stuff happening – but does he know how long a college football contest drags on these days? His aides are going to need to stockpile caffeine – a 12-pack of the President’s prized Coca-Cola, at the very least. And bring him some White House sweatpants, so he can take off his slacks and get comfortable. He might want to plan on a Presidential nap during halftime....
“(You’ve) got to hunker down to watch a college football game, whether you’re in the stadium or watching on TV. College football now lasts longer than college itself. The average contest has inched over 3 hours, 20 minutes, so if the kickoff happens at 8:17 p.m. ET as planned, you’re looking at a regulation finish close to midnight.
“That is not Fake News! Near midnight! On a Monday!”
I’d add...on a school night!
“(This is the time when those West Coast weasels pop up and say, ‘Hey, that’s only 9 p.m. where we live, bro.’ Whatever, West Coast weasels. Your lives are warmer, tanner and better than ours – you win. Now go climb a redwood.)”
The PGA Tour is back! And boy did some of us in the northeast, for one, enjoy seeing some good old Hawaiian sunshine from Kapalua this weekend during the Tournament of Champions.
But I need to post before this event is officially over, however, Dustin Johnson is up 7 strokes after 13, and I’m officially declaring him the winner, his 17th Tour title and an important one given his troubled 2017 after his tumble at Augusta. It marks 8 wins since the beginning of the 2016 season. And his win is good for the sport. Ditto, we hope, the next story.
--Tiger Woods confirmed his first two tournaments in his latest comeback bid will be at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines later this month, and then the Genesis Open at Riviera next month.
If Woods just makes the cut at Torrey Pines and seems healthy after four rounds, the golf world will be psyched. If he somehow puts himself in contention after the first two rounds, it will be a ratings bonanza that Saturday and Sunday.
So the Knicks are now in the midst of their big road trip, the long-feared 16 of 20 stretch away from the friendlier confines of Madison Square Garden, and supposed superstar Kristaps Porzingis is coming up very small.
After Wednesday’s 121-103 loss to the Wizards in Washington, Porzingis said, “I’m tired, I’m tired, I’m so tired right now. I have one day to rest my legs and get back and play better and have more energy and try to bring the team’s energy up. We’re in a tough stretch. The mental part doesn’t help at all. When it’s mentally tough you don’t have it in you.”
Not exactly what fans want to hear.
Porzingis is 15 of 46 from the field his last three games (all losses), heading into tonight’s game at Dallas. For the season, his shooting percentage is .438, which is very poor for a guy 7’ 3”. He’s hardly been stepping it up in the absence of No. 2 scorer, Tim Hardaway Jr., out for weeks with an injury.
--Giannis Antetokounmpo, the “Greek Freak,” is the surprise overall leader in the fan voting for the 2018 NBA All-Star Game, according to the first tally released Thursday. Kind of surprising considering the guy plays in Milwaukee and has been to the playoffs just twice in his five seasons as a Buck, and was just selected for his first All-Star Game last season, let alone the difficulty with his last name.
But what the 23-year-old Athens native does have is a 29.1 points per game average (2nd to James Harden), 10.2 rebounds (9th) and 4.8 assists’ slash line.
Fans have until Jan. 15 to vote, with their votes accounting for 50 percent toward each player’s weighted total alongside 25 percent apiece coming from votes by NBA players and media members; the game being Feb. 18 in Los Angeles.
LeBron James is second in the vote, followed by Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
The reserves will be selected by NBA head coaches and announced on Jan. 23.
It’s been all FA Cup play this weekend, the Premier League wrapping up its holiday schedule last Thursday, with Tottenham having a disappointing 1-1 draw with West Ham, and needing a late goal by Son to do that at their temporary home of Wembley Stadium. Big opportunity lost.
So after 22 of 38 matches, the standings....
1. Manchester City 62 points... 20 wins, 2 draws, 0 losses
2. Manchester United 47
3. Chelsea 46
4. Liverpool 44...Champions League line
5. Tottenham 41...ugh
6. Arsenal 39
7. Burnley 34
16. Bournemouth 21
17. Southampton 20
18. Stoke City 20
19. West Brom 16
20. Swansea 16
But we had some big transfers during the signing period, with Liverpool losing star Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona in a 160m euro ($192 million transfer). You’re reading that right; the biggest fee received by a British club and the biggest paid by a Spanish one. Yes, there is big money involved in this sport, and you can thank the massive television contracts for much of that.
It is the second-highest fee ever – last year’s 222m euro ($266m) fee for Neymar by Paris St-Germain being first.
Coutinho had cost Liverpool just about $9 million to get him from Inter Milan in 2013. The way these things work, it seems Liverpool receives 120m initially and then another 40m in staged payments.
Liverpool is confident it has more than enough firepower to compensate for the loss of the 25-year-old star, especially with Mohamed Salah, the second-leading scorer in the PL next to Tottenham’s Harry Kane, though Liverpool was hoping Coutinho would stay until season end. He is ineligible to play for Barcelona in the Champions League.
Liverpool had just signed Holland international Virgil van Dijk in a world-record fee for a defender, van Dijk then scoring the winner in a FA Cup match Friday over Everton, 2-1. In this one, Liverpool star Roberto Firmino was charged with racism by Everton defender Mason Holgate; these things taken most seriously these days by league officials.
Back to Barcelona, it’s superstar Lionel Messi has written a clause into his contract with FC Barcelona allowing him to leave the team if Catalan independence means he can’t play top-league soccer, as reported by El Mundo.
With its slogan “More Than a Club,” Barcelona sees itself as a guardian of Catalan values and identity. Soccer teams rarely play in a league outside their own country, although there are exceptions, such as AS Monaco FC which competes in France’s Ligue 1.
Messi signed his contract on Nov. 25, linking him to the club through 2021. He is Barcelona’s all-time leading scorer.
--After a controversial finish in the ‘long program’ Friday night, the U.S. Women’s Figure Skating team for Pyeongchang was announced Saturday – Bradie Tennell, Mirai Nagasu and Karen Chen. Ashley Wagner, three-time U.S. champ, was left off...just first alternate after finishing fourth.
Wagner said she is “deservedly” furious at the judges and their scoring of her free skate. Four years ago, Wagner was also fourth but placed ahead of Nagasu for the Olympics and ended up with a bronze in the team event.
The 19-year-old Tennell and Chen, 18, make their first Olympics, while Nagasu, now 24, was fourth at the 2010 Games.
Tennell won the championship Friday, her first national crown.
But back to Wagner, 26, picture how her very public criticism on Friday night was in the face of the selection committee deciding on the team the next morning. Probably not the brightest thing to do.
As for the men, as expected, Nathan Chen kicked ass in winning the U.S. men’s title on Saturday night. Chen is a definite threat in Pyeongchang.
--Serena Williams announced she wasn’t quite ready for the Australian Open and dropped out, the Grand Slam event beginning Jan. 15. Williams, the defending champ in Melbourne, said she was “super close” to returning to championship form following the birth of her first child, but not quite.
Unfortunately for the tournament, Andy Murray was also forced to drop out due to his hip issues.
--Actor and comedian Jerry Van Dyke died. He was 86. Van Dyke won four Emmy nominations for his role in the sitcom “Coach.” He was the younger brother of actor Dick Van Dyke. Jerry appeared on his brother’s show in 1962 as the sibling of his real-life brother.
But Jerry Van Dyke appeared in some real clunkers, like “My Mother the Car,” before he landed his best-loved role in 1989, as Luther Van Dam in the football comedy “Coach,” Van Dyke appearing as the assistant coach to Craig T. Nelson’s head coach for fictional Minnesota State University’s Screaming Eagles, earing four back-to-back Emmy nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series from 1990-1993; the series overall running to 1997.
--And we note the passing of astronaut John Young, who died at the age of 87, NASA reported.
“Today, NASA and the world have lost a pioneer,” agency chief Robert Lightfoot said in a statement.
Young was the only person to have flown missions on the Gemini, Apollo and space shuttle programs.
He also once famously smuggled a corned beef sandwich on to a space flight as a gift to a fellow astronaut.
Young flew twice to the Moon, walked on its surface, and flew the first Space Shuttle mission. He went to space six times in all.
Born in San Francisco in 1930, Young gained a degree in aeronautical engineering at Georgia Tech and then served in the U.S. Navy as a test pilot.
He was selected to be an astronaut in 1962 and first went into space in 1965 on the Gemini 3 mission.
It was while orbiting the Earth that he handed the smuggled sandwich to his colleague, Gus Grissom. NASA later rebuked him for the stunt. [Grissom later died in the tragic launching pad fire for an Apollo 1 test, along with Ed White and Roger Chaffee, Jan. 27, 1967, which I vividly remember watching on the news that evening. It was so sad and tragic.]
Young walked on the moon in 1972 as commander of Apollo 16 – the ninth of 12 people to have ever set foot on the lunar surface.
In an interview with the Houston Chronicle in 2004, he recalled: “One-sixth gravity on the surface of the moon is just delightful. It’s not like being in zero gravity, you know. You can drop a pencil in zero gravity and look for it for three days. In one-sixth gravity, you just look down and there it is.”
In 1981, Young commanded the first space shuttle, Columbia. He then became the first person to fly six space missions when he led the Columbia team on the first Spacelab mission. He had been due to command a space shuttle flight in 1986 but it was cancelled after the Challenger explosion earlier that year.
--How cold was it on Mount Washington, N.H., Saturday morning? It was minus 36, with a wind chill of minus 94, tying for the second-coldest place in the world. Only a research station at Eureka, Nunavut in far northeast Canada was colder at minus 40, though its wind chill was minus 50.
--It was so cold in Florida the past few days that iguanas were falling from the trees, as temperatures dipped below 40 degrees in parts of South Florida on Thursday and in succeeding days. That’s chilly enough to immobilize the green creatures that are all-too-common in Miami’s suburbs, for one.
The iguanas, native to Central and South America, start to get sluggish below 50 degrees, and much below that, they freeze up. Sea turtles do the same, by the way.
The iguanas do spring back to life once they warm up.
I’ve written of this before in these pages, during a big cold snap in 2010 that killed off many of them, and the invasive species present a real problem in Florida, as for one, their droppings can be a potential source of salmonella bacteria. Yuck.
I haven’t seen yet how many Burmese pythons may have died in this week’s cold, with many of them succumbing in 2010, too, only the population quickly bounced back, which sucks.
--George R. told me he saw a beautiful Red Fox on his local hiking trail the other day and thought I needed to consider it for All-Species List top ten consideration, George noting they mated for life, as opposed to ‘Man,’ who is less reliable in this regard.
Actually, George, some of the red fox males have multiple females as part of the “family,” according to Wiki, but the male is providing for them, buying them nice clothes and such.
Bottom line, in an emergency session of the ASL board (not the Supreme Council in Kazakhstan), we are slotting ‘Red Fox’ in the No. 19 position, below ‘Yak.’ [I also can’t help but add that my Aussie readers aren’t real high on ‘Red Fox,’ as it’s said to be an invasive species there, killing native mammals and birds.]
--Drat! HBO confirmed the final season of “Game of Thrones” won’t be until 2019, most likely that spring. HBO also confirmed it will be six episodes, though some of them are expected to be feature-length.
Top 3 songs for the week 1/12/74: #1 “The Joker” (Steve Miller Band) #2 “Time In A Bottle” (Jim Croce) #3 “Show And Tell” (Al Wilson)...and...#4 “Smokin’ In The Boy’s Room” (Brownsville Station) #5 “I’ve Got To Use My Imagination” (Gladys Knight & The Pips) #6 “You’re Sixteen” (Ringo Starr) #7 “Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up” (Barry White) #8 “Living For The City” (Stevie Wonder) #9 “Let Me Be There” (Olivia Newton-John) #10 “Helen Wheels” (Paul McCartney & Wings)
NFL Quiz Answers: 1) 4 KR returns for TDs in a single season: Cecil Turner, Chicago, 1970; 4 of 23, 32.7 avg. Travis Williams, Green Bay, 1967; 4 of 18, 41.1 avg. [Williams would go on to star in my electric football games. But the poor guy died at the age of 45.] 2) Career KR for TDs with 8: Josh Cribbs, 2005-14, with all 8 with Cleveland, 2005-09. Leon Washington, 2006-14, both Washington and Cribbs solid all-around players as well.
Next Bar Chat, Thursday. Start thinking of your personal Top 40 song lists for the 1960s and ‘70s, as Dr. W. and I have been doing. I’ll reveal the two of ours next time.