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Awesome weekend in the NFL
[Posted Sunday p.m.]
NBA Quiz: LeBron James recently became the ninth in NBA history to accumulate 9,000 assists. Name the eight ahead of him. [One is still active, one is an old-timer.] Answer below.
NFL Playoffs...and more....
--Boy, were those two awesome games on Saturday or what? Before we get to Tom Brady et al, we had Buffalo at Houston, the Bills taking the opening kickoff and immediately driving down the field for a touchdown, 40 yards of it on a quarterback Josh Allen run, and then Allen caught an option pass from John Brown for the score, within minutes becoming the first quarterback in a playoff game with a 40-yard run and TD reception in the same game.
But then, while Buffalo’s offense continued to dominate, they were held to three field goals and it was 16-0 with 6:02 left in the third.
That’s when Deshaun Watson of the Texans took over, 20/25, 247, 1-0, 121.2 for the game, along with 55 yards on the ground, including the first Houston TD on a 20-yard scamper, and two-point conversion, to make it 16-8.
But there were so many twists and turns in the final minutes of regulation, and then overtime, but in the end, Watson’s Texans emerged victorious, 22-19.
The key play that will forever be remembered in Houston, though, was Watson in overtime getting hit from two directions by Buffalo defenders and somehow staying upright, then sprinting from another four defenders, while completing a pass for 34 yards to Taiwan Jones that set up the winning field goal.
Yes, not many quarterbacks could have done that. It was a play for the ages. It was also inexcusable that the two Bills couldn’t bring Watson down, while early in the final drive, the Bills allowed Watson to convert a third-and-18 pass to Duke Johnson that barely made the first down. Then came Watson’s amazing escape from a sure sack.
As was the Bills’ epic fail. In the final minutes of regulation, Buffalo was driving for at worst a tying field goal, after having fallen behind 19-16, when inexplicably, Josh Allen committed two deadly sins, allowing himself to get sacked on one play, and then nearly sacked on another whereupon a Buffalo lineman illegally touched the dying duck Allen in desperation threw into no-man's land.
But even after that, the Bills, their three timeouts in hand, managed to get the ball back one more time in regulation and Allen drove them into tying field goal range, sending it to OT. The game was totally crazy.
Houston now plays at 2-seed Kansas City, Saturday night.
So then we had Tennessee at New England, the Patriots and Tom Brady flaming out, 20-13. It was no mystery a lot of people wanted the Pats to go down. Save for New England, the entire country did. I sure as hell was one...I’m a Jets fan, and no fan-base has a deserved loathing of Bill Belichick and Brady like we do. Many a season for us may have been different over the years if we didn’t have to face this crew twice a year.
Giants fans like New England. They beat the a-holes twice in the Super Bowl! Foiled a perfect season, in fact.
At the same time, since my Jets (and closet second team, the Steelers, due to family connections) weren’t in the playoffs, I just want to see great football from here on. And Saturday night was entertaining, no doubt. Derrick Henry, in keeping with his terrific play the last two years, rumbled (bulldozered) for 182 yards on 34 carries and a score to seal it with 0:35 left.
After an 8-0 start this season, Tom Brady was 4-5, including last night, with only one game where his passer rating was 90 or better, vs. a career average of 97.0. I was commenting on this week by week during this putrid stretch. He sucked last night...20/37, 209, 0-1, 59.4.
But he has zero support! There is nothing there, except 33-year-old Julian Edelman, who then choked in a key moment late. Sony Michel? Puh-leeze. [I was wrong at draft time...I thought Michel would be better than Georgia teammate Nick Chugg.]
So what now for Mr. Brady and The Hoodie? In addition to nine Super Bowl appearances together, six wins, the two had made it to eight consecutive AFC championship games. They have combined to win 11 successive AFC East titles. The Pats had played in half of the Super Bowls contested since 2001.
Mark Cannizzaro / New York Post
“Ding dong! The Wicked Witch is dead.
“If you’re a football fan who has grown sick and tired of the sustained success of the Patriots and the smugness of their superstar quarterback Tom Brady, that undoubtedly was your emotion on Saturday night as you watched the underdog Titans end their season – and possibly Brady’s brilliant run in new England – with a gritty, 20-13 win at Gillette Stadium....
“The defending NFL champions have gone from a dynasty trying to reach a fourth consecutive Super Bowl and win a third Lombardi Trophy in the past four years to possibly seeing their remarkable run come to an end....
“Brady’s contract is up after this season. He’s 42 years old, has just closed out his most frustrating season in New England and has had his home on the market. Speculation has been rampant about whether he will remain in New England, retire or play elsewhere in 2020.”
Steve Serby / New York Post
“This was their Ted Williams, their Bill Russell, their football icon and no one here wants it to end.
“No one here wants the clock to strike 12 on Tom Brady.
“No one here wants it to be Tom to say goodbye to the end of the greatest dynasty in NFL history.
“The suspense will be killing all of them if and when Brady decides to test the free-agent waters, and no one is certain whether Bob Kraft will save their Tom Terrific one more time.
“But it sure looked and felt like the dying embers of a dynasty on a foggy Saturday night.
“Tom Brady’s last stand. And the old gunslinger was out of bullets.”
Nancy Armour / USA TODAY
“Tom Brady believed himself to be invincible, as close to immortal as a professional athlete can get.
“With his exacting workout regimen and even more exacting diet, the 42-year-old had found a way to defeat Father Time, the same way he’d defeated everybody else in the NFL. Three of his six Super Bowl rings were won in the last six years, at an age where most quarterbacks are relegated to clipboard duty, if they’re still in the league at all.
“But when the end comes, it comes fast.
“And rarely is it kind.”
[Mets fans nod their head at that...see Willie Mays when he came to New York for his finale, 1972-73.]
“This was an ending, and not just for this season. The Patriots dynasty, the dominance that is unlike anything seen in the modern era of professional sports, is over.”
If this was Brady’s last game with the Patriots, it could hardly have ended in a worse way with a pick-six by former teammate Logan Ryan for the victory-clinching touchdown.
Dan Shaughnessy / Boston Globe
“We have visited this dark doorstep before. A decade ago, the Patriots lost back-to-back home playoff games in successive seasons and it looked like the dynasty was over. Three Super Bowl championships later, the Patriots were still kicking butts and taking names. They started 8-0 in 2019, and we were talking about running the table and watching Tom Brady and friends win an NFL-record seventh Super Bowl next month in Florida.
“But it all fell apart over the last two months, and Saturday night at Gillette, freight train Derrick Henry and the sixth-seeded Tennessee Titans ended the Patriots season with a hard-earned, 20-13, wild-card playoff victory. There was nothing fluky about it. The better team won.
“It gets worse, folks. There’s a distinct possibility that Brady – our football answer to Bill Russell, Ted Williams, and Bobby Orr – is all done as a Patriot....
“So there you go. Quite possibly, we are finally going to find out what Belichick can do without Brady. This is otherwise known as The End Of A Dynasty In Context.”
At the end, New England fans were in a state of shock.
When pressed at a post-game press conference on the possibility of retiring, Brady said: “I would say it’s pretty unlikely.”
“I don’t want to get too much into the future. I don’t know what’s going to happen. No one needs to make choices at this point. I love playing football, love playing for this team. I don’t know what it looks like moving forward.”
But asked whether the 20-13 defeat particularly hurt given his age, Brady philosophized:
“We’re all running out of time and chances every year that goes by. I don’t think I’m the only one in that category.”
But think back to the last three Super Bowls:
2017 – Finishes with a then-record 466 passing yards as the Patriots pull off the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history; trailing the Falcons by 25 points in the third quarter but recovering to win 34-28 in overtime.
2018 – Throws for a record 505 yards but the Patriots are still upset 41-33 by the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII.
2019 – At 41 becomes the oldest player to start, and win, a Super Bowl as the Patriots overcome the L.A. Rams 13-3.
Should Brady stay, go, or retire?
Talk of Brady in a Chargers uniform is absurd. To me that would be bound to end badly. Indianapolis? That’s kind of intriguing, given they’ve been building an offensive line that is OK.
But the guy should stay, sign a flexible contract allowing him to retire after one more season, though he needs guarantees the Pats’ weaknesses will be largely addressed, knowing it’s impossible to address them all.
Then again, as Tom Brady Sr. said to ESPN.com back in September of his son’s decision to put his Brookline, Mass., estate up for sale:
“You don’t want the house sitting on the market two, three, four years if you get cut,” Tom Sr. said. “It’s a two-way street. The Patriots may feel they have the arsenal to continue on for many years after Tommy’s gone, and that makes Tommy disposable. You know as well as I do that Bill (Belichick) is not the least bit sentimental with his ballplayers. If Tommy regresses in Bill’s eyes, then he becomes expendable, and Tommy would have no choice but to go somewhere else.” [Ian O’Connor / ESPN.com]
Ah yes. As the Wall Street Journal’s Jason Gay calls Belichick, in the end it’s probably not up to Brady, or Bob Kraft, but rather the “Grumpy Lobster Boat Captain.”
Meanwhile, Tennessee’s reward is a date with No. 1-seed Baltimore next Saturday night.
--Today, the Vikings had a terrific win in New Orleans, 26-20 in overtime, though not without more controversy for the Saints, as Kirk Cousins tossed a game-winning touchdown to tight end Kyle Rudolph, though Rudolph pushed off in the endzone. It just wasn’t viewed as enough to even warrant a review. I think it should have, at least.
So Saints fans have another offseason to drink heavily and cry...to anyone who will listen...that they were robbed, but Minnesota and Cousins played better for the most part; Cousins 19/31, 242, 1-0, 96.7, getting a major monkey off his back (a lowland gorilla, rather heavy) to quiet the critics.
Dalvin Cook, healthy again, had 130 yards from scrimmage and two TDs.
New Orleans fans have to wonder why do-it-all reserve QB Taysom Hill didn’t play more; Hill with a 50-yard pass on his only throw, 50 yards rushing in four carries, and a touchdown reception. 41-year-old Drew Brees, like Brady in Foxborough, may have played his last in N’Orlins.
The Vikings are at San Francisco next Saturday.
--And in the late game, Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz went out with a head injury 9:00 into it, replaced by 40-year-old Josh McCown, who had thrown all of five passes (Sept. 15), and despite going 15 of his first 18, he was largely overmatched...old and slow.
But....the wily vet hung in there...the Eagles down 17-9 late in the fourth, McCown driving Philly to inside the Seattle 20, only to be easily stopped on fourth and 7.
Russell Wilson was 18/30, 325, 1-0, plus 48 on the ground, including a terrific 3rd and 10 pass to DK Metcalf to clinch it, Metcalf with 160 yards on seven receptions and a touchdown.
Seattle now visits Green Bay Sunday.
Jadeveon Clowney had a big game for the Seahawks. When healthy he’s a beast...he’s just not that healthy most of the time. [An interesting case coming up in free agency.]
--The Cowboys and Jerry Jones finally fired Jason Garrett. OK, I’ve yet to see him officially fired and because his contract doesn’t expire until Jan. 14, the team sees no reason why it has to clarify his status, which is ridiculous. I guess when the clock strikes 12:00 that day, Garrett goes up in a puff of smoke, which would be disturbing to his family, I imagine.
“Mom, what happened to Dad?”
“His contract expired, Bobby.”
“Is this what happens to everyone whose contract expires?”
“In Jerry’s World, yes.”
Or maybe Garrett is about to be visited by three ghosts.
What we do know is that in 9 ½ seasons, Garrett was 85-67, taking the Cowboys to just three playoffs, going 2-3 in those, despite having a ton of talent and all the resources, and support, he needed. Say what you will about Jerry Jones and his meddling in personnel decisions, he supported Jason Garrett, long after he should have.
And tonight word is...Garrett was formally told to think of working on a resume.
Anyway, among those who will be considered is Mike McCarthy, who compiled a 125-77-2 mark over 13 seasons with Green Bay and won a Super Bowl.
McCarthy is also being interviewed by the Giants, Panthers and Browns.
Let’s face it...Mike McCarthy just seems like a Giants head coach.
Speaking of the Giants, there is a little less talk of Baylor’s Matt Rhule. Why?
Well since I last posted, we learned the next morning that Mr. Rhule has a rather hefty buyout at Baylor...up to $17 million by some reports ($10 million in another). As my grandfather would have said, “Gee willickers!” [He was very old-fashioned.] The Giants like Rhule but I’m not sure how the buyout issue plays out.
--Meanwhile, the Redskins introduced their new head coach, Ron Rivera, on Thursday and owner Daniel Snyder said he was changing the way the team has been run. Power, he said, would no longer come from the team owner, president or general manager.
“We’re going to have one voice and one voice alone, and that’s going to be the coach’s,” Snyder said.
Rivera said Snyder told him in meetings over the past few weeks that he wanted the Redskins to be more like the New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks, franchises where the coach has the final say about which players to sign, draft, cut and play.
We knew the only way Rivera would take over this s—show was to get some guarantee he is the one in control and you have to take the much-maligned (rightfully so) Snyder at his word, for once.
So Redskins fans finally have an authentic coach. Good for them.
--The only All-Pro team that matters, the AP’s, was announced:
QB – Lamar Jackson, Balt
RB – Christian McCaffrey, Carolina
Flex – Christian McCaffrey
TE – George Kittle, San Fran
WR – Michael Thomas, New Orleans; DeAndre Hopkins, Houston
LT – Ronnie Stanley, Balt
RT – Ryan Ramczyk, N.O.
LG – Quenton Nelson, Indy
RG – Zack Martin, Dallas
C – Jason Kelce, Philly
Edge Rushers – Chandler Jones, Ariz; T.J. Watt, Pitt
Interior Linemen – Aaron Donald, LA Rams; Cam Heyward, Pitt
LB – Bobby Wagner, Seattle; Demario Davis, N.O.; Eric Kendricks, Minn
CB – Stephon Gilmore, NE; Tre’Davious White, Buffalo
S – Jamal Adams, NY Jets; Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pitt
DB – Marcus Peters, Balt; Tyrann Mathieu, KC; Marlon Humphrey, Balt
PK – Justin Tucker, Balt
P – Brett Kern, Tenn
KR – Cordarrelle Patterson, Chicago
PR – Deonte Harris, N.O.
Special Teamer – Matthew Slater, NE
QB – Russell Wilson, Seattle
RB – Derrick Henry, Tenn
Flex – Derrick Henry, Tenn
TE – Travis Kelce, KC
WR – Julio Jones, Atlanta; Chris Godwin, TB
LT – David Bakhtiari, GB
RT – Mitchell Schwartz, KC
LG – Joe Bitonio, Cleve; Joe Thuney, NE
RG – Marshal Yanda, Balt
C – Rodney Hudson, Oak
Edge Rushers – Shaq Barrett, TB; Cameron Jorden, NO
Interior Linemen – Grady Jarrett, Atlanta; DeForest Buckner, San Fran
LB – Luke Kuechly, Carolina; Darius Leonard, Indy; T.J. Watt, Pitt
CB – Richard Sherman, San Fran; Marcus Peters, Balt
S – Justin Simmons, Den; Tyrann Mathieu, KC
PK – Josh Lambo, Jacksonville
P – Tress Way, Wash
KR – Mecole Hardman, KC
PR – Diontae Johnson, Pitt
Aaron Donald and Bobby Wagner both made first-team All-Pro for a fifth time, which is darn good.
Baltimore led with five selections, while New Orleans had four. There were 16 AFC players and 13 from the NFC.
Jamal Adams was the first Jets offensive or defensive player to be named to the first team since 2011 and Darrelle Revis. With Adams eligible for a contract extension this offseason, no doubt this honor helps his cause immensely. Also helping was that on Friday, Bears safety Eddie Jackson received a four-year extension worth $58.4 million with a guaranteed $22 million, making him the highest-paid safety in the sport.
--We note the passing of Sam Wyche, 74. Wyche had a history of blood clots in his lungs and had a heart transplant in 2016, though he died of melanoma.
Wyche was known for his offensive innovations as a coach, leading the Bengals to their second Super Bowl during the 1988 season by using a no-huddle offense that forced the league to change its substitution rules.
As his obit in the AP read: “And that wasn’t the only way he made waves throughout the NFL. A nonconformist in a button-down league, Wyche refused to comply with the NFL’s locker room policy for media, ran up the score to settle a personal grudge, and belittled the city of rival Cleveland during his eight seasons in Cincinnati. He later coached Tampa Bay for four seasons.”
He was 84-107 overall, two playoffs. Wyche also played parts of three seasons for the Bengals, a Cincy original in 1968.
Wyche famously took a jab at Cleveland during a game against the Seahawks at Riverfront Stadium in 1989. When fans started pelting players with snowballs, Wyche grabbed the public address announcer’s microphone and told fans, “You don’t live in Cleveland, you live in Cincinnati.”
He also feuded with Houston Oilers coach Jerry Glanville, whom he called a phony (he was). Wyche had the Bengals make an onside kick when they led Glanville’s team by 45 points, and Wyche waved derisively at Glanville as he ran off the field following a 61-7 win near the end of the 1989 season.
--Ratings for the NFL were up 5% in the regular season in 2019, making it the most-watched season since 2016, according to the league and Nielsen data. It’s the second straight season of viewership growth after it lost a chunk of viewers in 2017, owing in part to the protests during the national anthem, overexposure of NFL programming and challenges in the TV business as consumers shift from traditional pay-TV packages to digital services.
[Ratings had to be huge Saturday.]
College Football...since last chat....
--The aforementioned Matt Rhule’s No. 7 Baylor boys did not acquit themselves well in the Sugar Bowl, losing to 5 Georgia 26-14, the Bears committing three turnovers, Georgia freshman receiver George Pickens making a statement on a national stage with 12 receptions for 175 yards and a score.
Baylor QB Charlie Brewer, who was coming back from a concussion suffered in the Big 12 title game, hit his head hard on the turf in the fourth quarter and Brewer was removed, which really sucks. I hope the kid is OK.
--Boston College looked beyond dreadful, finishing 6-7 on the season, 38-6 losers to No. 21 Cincinnati (11-3) in the TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl. From the size of the crowd, it seems like a lot of folks in Birmingham, let alone Boston and Cincinnati, opted to buy smarter tickets to another event, maybe an art show, because the announced crowd of 27,193 was easily more like 895. It didn’t help that there was an extensive weather delay, which was hardly good for ESPN’s ratings, the game having the stage all to itself Thursday afternoon.
Anyway, B.C. was outgained 459-164 (33-8 in first downs!) with an interim coach and no A.J. Dillon, who held himself out of the contest to prepare for the NFL draft.
By the way, I contemplated sitting out a column for Draft preparation, but then realized that wouldn’t be real credible.
--Speaking of running backs who are coming out early for the draft, Georgia RB D’Andre Swift said he is, skipping his senior year, with ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. listing him as the No. 1 draft-eligible running back. What helps Swift’s case is he is a terrific receiver as well.
And Wisconsin’s All-American tailback, Jonathan Taylor, announced for the draft.
Some of the FBS records set by the lad:
Rushing yards by a freshman: 1,977.
Rushing yards by a sophomore: 2,194.
Rushing yards by a player through his junior season: 6,174.
--As expected, Ohio State star defensive end Chase Young declared he was coming out, where he will be selected No. 2 by the Redskins, after Cincinnati, who owns the first pick, takes Ohio native and Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow.
Another top OSU player, All-American cornerback Jeff Okudah, easily a top ten pick, is coming out as well, having made his intentions known Wednesday.
And today, Alabama superstar receiver, Jerry Jeudy, a probable top-five selection, said, ‘Count me in for the riches, I be headin’ out.’ I wish my Jets had lost a few more to be able to select him.
--So we’ve been told that Tua Tagovailoa is going to make his big decision Monday, on whether to stay at Alabama one more season or hit the NFL draft.
I get a kick out of the draft experts saying Tua is still a top ten selection. I’m sorry, you’d have to be nuts as a GM to take him with such a high pick. His hip injury is incredibly serious and by draft day (April 23-25), you aren’t going to know much at all about his condition.
But no doubt some team will roll the dice, so why would he then contemplate staying in school?
Well if he comes back, even, say, in October, and proves to be 100%, and then plays injury-free for six or seven weeks, he’s back to being a top-3 pick in 2021. The difference is a lot of money.
This is far from cut and dry.
--Going back to Michigan’s loss to Alabama, 35-16, in the Citrus Bowl, the Wolverines have now dropped 16 straight road or neutral-site games against teams ranked No. 15 or higher in the AP poll, including all 10 under Jim Harbaugh; 6-14 against AP top 15 teams overall under him.
--After Oregon’s thrilling 28-27 win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Plaschke noted that Oregon’s squad was peopled with 30 players who grew up within 70 miles of the Rose Bowl.
As in Oregon had 30 players that rightfully should be playing for USC and UCLA, and would have been back in those two programs’ better days.
--Dan Wolken of USA TODAY voiced his disgust with a recent hiring by new Ole Miss football coach, Lane Kiffin, the addition of former Maryland head coach D.J. Durkin. Ole Miss athletics director Keith Carter “even tossed in a reference to (Durkin) being a ‘proud and committed family man,’ in announcing the hiring as assistant coach.”
“Carter’s statement Thursday attempting to diffuse criticism of Ole Miss adding Durkin, who was fired from Maryland in 2018 amid dual investigations into the death of a player [Ed. Jordan McNair] during a workout and accusations of a toxic culture in the program, is loaded with so many laudatory cliches that by the end of it you might halfway believe Durkin would be more suited to sainthood than coaching football....
“Kiffin and Carter are saved by the insular nature of a fan base that is so starved for relevance that it would find a way to justify hiring anyone short of Art Briles on the scale of coaching miscreants (and maybe even him, too).”
--Since last chat, the two teams I specially handpicked for you this season, Seton Hall and Colorado, have acquitted themselves well.
My “Pick to Surprise” come March (as in Elite Eight), Colorado, pulled off a sweet upset at home Thursday, 74-65 over 4 Oregon (11-3), the Buffaloes 12-2 and headed back into the top 25 on Monday.
And Seton Hall, your “Pick to Click” to win it all (cough cough) has suddenly won four in a row, including a nice 78-62 win Friday against Georgetown, the injury-riddled Hall improving to 10-4. We’re back on track with this selection, boys and girls, I swear.
--Meanwhile, No. 5 Ohio State will be No. 5 no longer after losing its second straight to Wisconsin (9-5) on Friday 61-57 in Columbus, the Buckeyes dropping to 11-3, 1-2. To be fair, though, Ohio State missed key power forward Kyle Young, who is recovering from appendix surgery.
--So yesterday we had some teams go down in the top 10/25 of note.
7 Louisville lost at home to 18 Florida State (13-2), 78-65, the Cardinals falling to 11-3 despite star Jordan Nwora’s 32 points and 10 rebounds. M.J. Walker had 23 off the bench for the Seminoles.
9 Memphis (12-2) lost to Georgia (10-3) 65-62 in Memphis.
10 Villanova (10-3) lost to Marquette (11-3) 71-60, the victim of Markus Howard’s 29.
I watched the entire Virginia-Virginia Tech affair, the No. 19 Cavaliers (11-2) prevailing easily 65-39, as UVA put on one of its defensive clinics, limiting Va Tech (10-4) to 13 of 48 from the field, 27.1%.
The shocking 13 San Diego State Aztecs stayed undefeated (15-0) with a very good road win at Utah State (13-4), 77-68. SDSU is doing it with smoke and mirrors, and obviously good coaching from Brian Dutcher, who sat all those seasons next to long-time coaching legend Steve Fisher.
No. 8 Auburn (13-0) remains the only other undefeated team, 80-68 winners at Mississippi State (9-4).
--We had an important game in the Big Ten, as 21 Penn State (12-2) defeated 23 Iowa State (10-4) 89-86. Yes, you have to take the Nittany Lions seriously. I just don’t like them, after watching them whip Wake Forest earlier in the season. Not a likable group of kids.
--I watched the Wake Forest-Pitt game and nice road win for us, 69-65, the Deacs now 8-5, 1-2, coming from behind after being down 22-6 at the start. Great ending as Pitt was driving for the winning basket, only to have our 7-foot center Olivier Sarr swat it away with a second left, Wake then fouled for the winning margin.
But after back-to-back 4-14 conference records, if Danny Manning is to show any progress whatsoever with the program, in the new 20-game conference format, we’re talking Wake must go 7-13, and that’s going to be exceedingly tough to do. I will say, however, that this Demon Deacon squad is gritty, but it just has limited talent.
--Today, 14 Michigan State (12-3) defeated 12 Michigan (10-4) 87-69 behind Cassius Winston’s 32.
--As in the case of Don Larsen (more on him in a bit), we learned of the passing of David Stern just as I was going to post last time, so while everything has already been said about Stern and his impact on the NBA and the business of sports overall in the last few days, I need to get some things down for the archives.
Stern, 77, died of complications from a brain hemorrhage suffered three weeks earlier. He was commissioner from 1984 until his retirement in 2014.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who replaced Stern, said in a statement: “For 22 years, I had a courtside seat to watch David in action. He was a mentor and one of my dearest friends. We spent countless hours in the office, at arenas and on planes wherever the game would take us. Like every NBA legend, David had extraordinary talents, but with him it was always about the fundamentals – preparation, attention to detail, and hard work.
“David took over the NBA in 1984 with the league at a crossroads. But over the course of 30 years as Commissioner, he ushered in the modern global NBA. He launched groundbreaking media and marketing partnerships, digital assets and social responsibility programs that have brought the game to billions of people around the world. Because of David, the NBA is a truly global brand, making him not only one of the greatest sports commissioners of all time but also one of the most influential business leaders of his generation.
“Every member of the NBA family is the beneficiary of David’s vision, generosity and inspiration.”
Oh, so true. And don’t you know the players know it.
Seven teams jointed the league under Stern’s watch, and six relocated. He helped in the creation of the WNBA, and the NBA Developmental League, now known as the G League.
He turned the NBA into a league with global reach. He helped expand the game on the backbone of the NBA’s star players, highlighted by the Dream Team’s impact at the 1992 Olympics.
LeBron James wrote in part on Instagram: “Thank you for your commitment to the beautiful game of basketball that has changed so many young adult/kids lives and more importantly your vision to make our game become WORLDWIDE was a vision only you could make happen! You did just that. Making our game the greatest sport in the world!”
Michael Jordan, owner of the Charlotte Hornets, echoed those sentiments.
“Without David Stern, the NBA would not be what it is today. He guided the league through turbulent times and grew the league into an international phenomenon, creating opportunities that few could have imagined before,” Jordan said in a statement. “His vision and leadership provided me with the global stage that allowed me to succeed. David had a deep love for the game of basketball and demanded excellence from those around him – and I admired him for that. I wouldn’t be where I am without him.”
Magic Johnson praised Stern in a series of tweets for how he responded after Johnson announced his retirement in 1991 after revealing he had HIV.
“David Stern was such a history maker. When I announced in 1991 I had HIV, people thought they could get the virus from shaking my hand. When David allowed me to play in the 1992 All Star Game in Orlando and then play for the Olympic Dream Team, we were able to change the world.”
Stern’s initial reaction to Magic’s announcement, however, was that he thought Johnson was dying.
“Everyone did,” Stern said later in a 2016 interview. “That was the nature of HIV/AIDS in this country at the time.” But Stern hired Dr. David Rogers, one of the leaders in AIDS research and education, so he and the league could learn more, and then embraced Johnson, figuratively and literally.
Larry Bird said in a statement: “There are no words that can really describe the far-reaching impact of Commissioner Stern’s brilliance, vision, fairness and hard work over so many years. When you think of all that he accomplished worldwide on behalf of thousands of players, so many fans, all of the jobs he created for team and arena employees and all of the people that benefited from the many layers of growth in the sport and industry that David spearheaded and then passed on to others, there is no doubt Commissioner Stern lifted the NBA to new heights and he will be greatly missed by all of us.”
Stern also endured labor strife in the NBA over the years. The first four lockouts in NBA history occurred with Stern as commissioner. The 1995 and 1996 lockouts did not result in lost games, but lockouts in 1998 and 2011 led to regular seasons that were shortened to 50 and 66 games, respectively.
Stern would say that one of his greatest achievements was guiding a league of mostly black players that was plagued by drug problems in the 1970s to popularity with mainstream America. He had a hand in nearly every initiative to do that, from the drug-testing program to the implementation of the salary cap to the creation of a dress code. Players balked at first over this last one, but then they turned it into their opportunity to conduct their own pregame fashion runways.
During Stern’s tenure, the NBA become one of the most popular leagues in the world and increased television revenue from $10 million per year to approximately $900 million per.
One example of the explosive growth is the Portland Trail Blazers, which were sold for $70 million in 1988 and are now valued at $1.6 billion.
Ben Golliver / Washington Post
“Yet talk of Stern’s legacy must include the bumps and bruises, the pugnacious spirit that led critics to label him as a ‘bully’ and a ‘dictator.’
“Stern fought and fought and fought, delivering wrath with piercing media comments and expensive sanctions. Fame was no inoculant. He fined Jordan for wearing shoes that violated the league’s dress code. He fined legendary San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich for daring to rest his players for a nationally televised game. He fined Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban at least 20 times, including six-figure punishments for blogging about officials and sitting on the baseline during a game....
“If Stern didn’t mind conflicts with valued partners, he had no problem whatsoever eviscerating foes. Stern labeled Tim Donaghy, the disgraced referee, a ‘rogue, isolated criminal.’ When Gilbert Arenas brought a gun to the locker room, Stern banned him for the season and said bluntly that the Washington Wizards guard ‘is not currently fit to take the court.’”
Stern even eviscerated President Trump in 2018 for “[ripping] the fabric of the republic asunder for narrow partisan gains.”
But during one of the NBA’s labor wars, he accused player agents of being “greedy” and “trying to scuttle the deal.” That lockout, 1999, cost the NBA 32 games. Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade reportedly told Stern: “You’re not pointing your finger at me. I’m not your child.”
HBO’s Bryant Gumbel called Stern a “plantation overseer,” a nod to the obvious divide between the NBA’s largely white owners and largely black players.
But through it all, as Ben Golliver wrote: “Stern pushed, prodded, punished, insulted, chafed and charmed those who crossed or challenged him. He believed in the fight, and the fight was the point.”
The NBA and its players all benefited. Just look at this week’s tributes from its superstars. He was the father who knew best.
--I just have to congratulate a Wake Forest alum, Washington Wizards reserve point guard Ish Smith. No one has done better with less (talent) than this guy, hanging in the NBA for years despite the fact few of us ever saw him playing a single game in the league.
So Saturday night, in the Wizards’ 128-114 win over the Nuggets in Landover, Ish went off for a career-high 32 points that had the rest of his teammates just giddy, as well as coach Scott Brooks.
“Can we just talk about Ish?” asked Brooks after. “Ish was on fire.”
The Washington Post reported:
“Jordan McRae bobbed in place. Bradley Beal danced like a Fortnite character. Thomas Bryant skipped along the sideline. The Wizards, taking in the action like enthusiastic spectators, could not contain their joy while Ish was happening.”
--The Brooklyn Nets for obvious reasons play under the shadow of the Knicks, but it is atrocious the way Nets’ management hides injuries, namely the one to Kyree Irving, who went down on Nov. 14 in Denver with a shoulder injury, thought at the time to be minor, and hasn’t played since! Nothing from the Nets throughout of any substance, week after week going by. No Kyree, who they spent a $gazillion on in free agency.
So Irving for the first time addressed the media on Saturday and said, “I’m in a better place now that it’s been some significant time. I tried to go without any anti-inflammatories, which is why it took so long.
“Now I’m at a place where the next step was to either get a cortisone shot or get surgery. So that was the ultimatum I was fixed with. So now I’m just doing the best I can to live off this cortisone and move forward if I need surgery in the future.
“It just sucks, man,” said Irving. “It really is disheartening when you’re working your tail off to be at a certain level and your shooting shoulder just starts to give out on you a little bit. You’re looking at it like ‘Hey, it’s just a shoulder. Let me ice this thing and get back out there.’
“But you keep feeling something...and you’re trying to explain it to the medical staff. ...I’m doing all these exercises and still nothing’s happening to get me back on the court.”
So who knows when he’s coming back. At first the Nets thrived without Irving but they have come crashing back to earth, in free-fall, losers of five straight, 16-18 overall.
--My Knicks (10-26) lost a tough one today in Los Angeles against the Clippers (26-12), who were playing without Kawhi, 135-132, despite the Knicks tying a franchise-record with 45 points in the first quarter. The Clippers then scored 47 in the second. What happened to this league? The ABA has broken out. It’s not necessarily a good thing.
--The World Series-winning Washington Nationals may have lost star Anthony Rendon to free agency and the Angels, but they retained Stephen Strasburg, re-signed Howie Kendrick, and the other day, infielder Asdrubal Cabrera, and also signed Starlin Castro, so, coupled with Trea Turner at short, they have the infield covered, especially if they re-sign Ryan Zimmerman to a one-year deal as rumored. That’s a great job of maintaining continuity, while at least filling one-half or more of Rendon’s production.
And...there is still a chance they’ll sign free agent Josh Donaldson, but at least they now have insurance if they don’t. [The Nats also have a star infield prospect whose name escapes me but who may have been forced into action a little before he’s ready and now they can give the kid a little more seasoning if they want.]
--In an exclusive from the New York Post, we finally learned what happened to Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes at his Port St. Lucie ranch last May. Cespedes was rehabbing after double-heel surgery over the previous 6 to 7 months, the Mets thinking they might get him back before September last year, if not earlier, when he suffered a “violent” fall and fractured his right ankle.
Everyone in New York thought he fell off his horse, but now it’s been revealed why Cespedes and the Mets suddenly drastically reworked his contract for his final 2020 season, that is costing Yoenis a minimum of $15.7 million.
Hard as it is to believe, with the contract issue settled, the parties involved have come clean and all are in agreement that Cespedes was injured on the ranch stepping into a hole after an altercation (“interaction”) with a wild boar.
The Post reported: “According to multiple people who were informed of the incident, Cespedes has traps on his ranch for a variety of reasons, including to keep boars away from people. But one boar was removed from a trap – perhaps by Cespedes – and either charged toward Cespedes or startled him, causing Cespedes to step into a hole....
“Cespedes reported the injury to the Mets, including immediately that he was trying to sidestep a boar. Mets officials and representatives for Cespedes went to the ranch the following day and came away believing essentially that is what occurred. Officials from both the Commissioners Office and the Players Association visited the ranch at a later date and also confirmed that version of how Cespedes was injured.
“The Commissioners’ Office and Players Association became involved once it became clear the Mets were withholding Cespedes’ 2019 pay and were considering an attempt to make the remainder of his pact a non-guaranteed contract.
“The standard language in a player’s contract prohibits the player from participating in a wide range of athletic activities. Guaranteed contracts like Cespedes’ forbid additional activities to mitigate risk. While it is not publicly known if the Mets and Cespedes agreed to specific language that would have made potentially dangerous activities on his ranch a violation of his contract, language in a second Mets player’s contract of recent vintage prohibited ‘any acts, activities, or sports involving a substantial risk of personal injury.’ Engaging with a wild boar at close range would potentially qualify as such an act.”
As hard as it may be to believe, Mets fans know Cespedes and there is no doubt this is how it went down. He had zero reason to lie about it. And now the whole compromise on the contract, rather than the Mets trying to go after every penny, makes total sense. The guy says he’ll be ready for spring training. Anything we get out of him will be a bonus. If you tell me we are getting 400 at-bats from Cespedes, I’ll tell you we are playoff bound.
--Yankees pitcher Domingo German will miss the first 63 games of the 2020 season as part of an 81-game ban for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy. German agreed not to appeal.
German was put on administrative leave on Sept. 19 while MLB investigated an alleged domestic violence incident involving his girlfriend, with whom he has at least one child. He missed the final nine games of the 2019 regular season and all nine of New York’s postseason games. Those missed games will count toward his ban.
This is important because German was a sterling 18-4 last season, though with a 4.03 ERA in 24 starts and relief appearances. He’ll be eligible to return June 5, barring any postponements.
German’s ban is the longest levied by MLB under its domestic violence policy for a player who was not formally charged.
While the Yankees have been preparing for 2020 without having his services, they now have Gerrit Cole, Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino, James Paxton, J.A. Happ and Jordan Montgomery. German just adds more depth to what should be a formidable rotation. You always have injuries...it’s important.
--Finally, we note the passing of Yankees legend Don Larsen.
Tyler Kepner / New York Times
“The ultimate pitching achievement comes with no warning. For a while, even as a perfect game unfolds, nobody suspects a thing. On Oct. 8, 1956, the fifth game of the World Series was halfway over before the visiting team at Yankee Stadium realized that Don Larsen, of all people, had a chance.
“ ‘It was a probably the end of the fifth inning that somebody on the bench said, ‘Do you know we haven’t had a base runner yet?’’ said Carl Erskine, a Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher, over the phone this summer. ‘And everybody kind of woke up and said, ‘No, really?’
“ ‘So everybody started watching close, but we didn’t expect Larsen to beat us – and we never went into the game thinking, ‘This is the greatest pitcher that ever put on the uniform.’’
“Larsen, who died on Wednesday at age 90, was hardly the greatest pitcher ever. He played for seven teams in 14 seasons, with 81 victories and 91 defeats. A year after his perfect game, he lost Game 7 of the World Series to the Milwaukee Braves.
“Yet all these years later, Larsen’s 2-0 masterpiece for the Yankees in 1956 remains a singular phenomenon in baseball history. No pitcher has carried even a no-hitter into the ninth inning of a World Series game since; the closest, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, was Boston’s Jim Lonborg, who no-hit the St. Louis Cardinals for seven and two-thirds innings in Game 2 in 1967.
“Larsen lived the rest of his life as a baseball legend, his name among the most hallowed in the history of the sport.
“ ‘I mean, it was ‘perfect game’ - you never even looked at his stats over his career,’ Joe Torre, the Hall of Fame manager, said by phone on Thursday. ‘And a perfect game is one thing, but to do it in the World Series is certainly another level of excellence. It’s like, when you think of Ron Swoboda, you think of his catch in right-center field in 1969, diving with no chance to catch the ball – and he did. You look at his numbers and say, ‘O.K., nothing that’s startling.’ but when something happens in the World Series, you’re always going to hold it in high regard.’”
That pretty much nails it.
Don Larsen was known for being a pretty good partier...like a legendary drinker, in the words of none other than Mickey Mantle. Tyler Kepner describes how the Daily Mirror’s Arthur Richman – later a Yankees club executive who encouraged the Yankees to hire Joe Torre – was friends with Larsen and went out with him the night before the perfect game. For years, Richman told the story of how he urged Larsen to take it easy, just in case he pitched the next day.
As the legendary (loathsome) sportswriter in New York City, Dick Young, told a colleague to lead with his piece on the game, “The unperfect man pitched a perfect game yesterday,” later changed to the more famous: “The imperfect man pitched a perfect game yesterday.”
Don Larsen finished up his career 81-91, 3.78 ERA, though in five seasons as a spot starter with the Yanks, he was 45-24, 3.50, and 4-2 in the World Series. Larsen’s career mark is hurt bigly by a 3-21 season while hurling for the Orioles in 1954, the only season he threw 200 innings.
Larsen was a terrific hitter, with 14 home runs and a .242 batting average.
At the end of his career, he found his way back to Baltimore, where he mentored a young Jim Palmer.
“He was a huge guy, very soft-spoken, a really nice man,” Palmer, the Hall of Famer, told Kepner on Thursday.
Don Larsen’s perfect game, by the way, was the only one in baseball between Charlie Robertson in 1922, and Jim Bunning’s feat in 1964 against the Mets on Father’s Day.
“If somebody’s a baseball fan, you can explain to your child that on one autumn afternoon in Yankee Stadium, in under two and a half hours, Don Larsen, who would be 10 games under .500, would pitch the most memorable game in the history of the World Series,” Palmer said. “That’s what baseball’s all about.”
The Dodgers lineup that Larsen faced that memorable day included four Hall of Famers – Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella and Duke Snider, plus star first baseman Gil Hodges.
Larsen earned just $13,000 in 1956. The Yankees initially offered only a $1,000 raise for the next season before bumping up his 1957 salary to $18,000.
Larsen did cash in during the ‘56 offseason though by bringing in about $35,000 via appearances and endorsements, $6,000 of it coming from a cameo on a Bob Hope television special.
He also picked up a new Corvette for being named the 1956 World Series MVP. [Randy Miller / NJ.com]
Larsen sold his uniform from the perfect game – the pinstriped jersey bearing No. 18 and his pants – to a memorabilia dealer at auction for $765,000 in December 2012 to provide for the education of his grandsons.
Larsen often said that a day didn’t go by when he did not think about his feat, and he drove a car with the license plate DL000, for his initials and the box score reading no runs, no hits and no errors. [Richard Goldstein / New York Times]
Mark R. noted that for his tenth birthday, growing up in Buffalo, his father promised him that if the Yankees won the American League pennant, he would take Mark to the World Series. So off they went, flying in and staying at a hotel in Manhattan. But on the day they arrived there was a rainout, and as the tickets were for Yankee Stadium only, they watched Game 2 in the hotel room since it was in Brooklyn. Then they went to Yankee Stadium Saturday and Sunday for Games 3 and 4. All good.
Except one thing. Game 5 was Monday and Mr. R. couldn’t change the airline tickets to the next day. “I remember with a tear in my eye watching my Dad handing the tickets to the guy at the front desk of the hotel.”
Yes, the tickets to Larsen’s perfect game...the worst day of Mark R.’s life.
The holiday crush is over, but this weekend we had FA Cup action and it proved costly to Wolverhampton and Manchester United, who played to a 0-0 draw in the third round, precipitating a return match, which is the last thing these two need as they go for the fourth spot, Champions League berth in the PL. Then Tottenham did the same thing today, a return match precipitated by a draw with Championship side Middlesbrough, 1-1.
These guys get tired over the course of a long season, and they get hurt.
But the Premier League standings...(20/21 played of 38)
1. Liverpool 20 – 58 pts
2. Leicester City 21 – 45
3. Man City 21 – 44
4. Chelsea 21 – 36...CL line
5. Man U 21 – 31
6. Tottenham 21 – 30
7. Wolves 21 – 30
10. Arsenal 21 – 27
17. Aston Villa 21 – 21....relegation line
18. Bournemouth 21 – 20
19. Watford 21 – 19
20. Norwich 21 – 14...bye-bye
Liverpool officially went a full year without losing in the PL, with a 2-0 win over Sheffield on Thursday. Its 19-1-0 (W-D-L) this season.
Next Saturday, Tottenham hosts Liverpool. My Spurs desperately need a draw, but playing without Harry Kane, out with a torn hamstring until March, it’s looking bleak (ditto our Champions League prospects in the ‘Round of 16.’)
By the way, in the Championship League, from which teams will be promoted to the PL this spring, it’s clear at this point that Leeds United and West Brom will be moving up to join the big boys.
--I was watching football and missed it Saturday, but Patrick Cantlay just picked up a ton of new fans, even if he is going to get a stern lecture from PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan and a fine, no doubt.
You see, Cantlay was on the 17th tee at Kapalua’s Plantation Course (season-opening Tournament of Champions), when the Golf Channel coverage broke out of a commercial and Cantlay didn’t know he was about to be caught by a hot mic.
Cantlay was telling a story to fellow competitor Jon Rahm and caddie Adam Hayes. It was unclear what Patrick was referring to, but it had something to do with the wildly erratic weather conditions at Kapalua yesterday that made the course a handful: “I’ve been waiting for this weather for 40 years. These pampered (expletives) need to play,” Cantlay can be heard saying.
Cantlay was prepping to tee off and speaking aloud when he dropped his F-bomb, and then, as Golfweek’s Adam Schupak notes, “in what will be a new one-liner repeated on golf courses for years to come, he said to his caddie, ‘Two more holes and we can get a Mai Tai.’
“ ‘I’ll get my Mai Tai; you can get your water,’ his caddie replied.
“ ‘Don’t spoil it for me,’ Cantlay said.
“ ‘Gosh,’ Golf Channel commentator Paul Azinger said, ‘He’s not really staying in the moment. He’s already in the 19th hole in his head.’
“ ‘Talk about unfiltered,’ host Dan Hicks added. ‘They do have to realize that there are live mics around, especially when you’re turning into a star player like Cantlay is.’”
But Patrick Cantlay was immediately trending, positively, last I heard. The guy with the permanently stern visage showed some real personality, even if it wasn’t meant to be heard.
--I’m posting before the conclusion of the Tournament of Champions because I need to move on...Xander Schauffele, Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed battling it out...nice way to start the calendar year.
--Mikaela Shiffrin finished second to rival Petra Vlhova in a World Cup slalom race Saturday in Zagreb. Shiffrin still has an overwhelming lead in the Cup standings.
Vlhova reminds me of the race horse, Sham, who had the misfortune of being a 3-year-old at the same time as Secretariat.
--Bindi Irwin goes into our ‘Good Guy’ file for yearend consideration. Ms. Irwin and her family are working around the clock to help thousands of animals affected by the devastating wildfires ravaging Australia.
Irwin is the daughter of famed wildlife conservationist Steve Irwin. Bindi assured her followers on Instagram her family’s zoo is not in harm’s way.
--Three mountain lions found feeding on human remains near a popular Tucson hiking trail were taken out, Arizona authorities said Wednesday.
They were not suspected of killing the person, but were determined to be a danger to the public because they showed no fear of officers trying to remove the remains, the Arizona Game and Fish Department said in a statement, according to the Arizona Daily Star.
Authorities sought unsuccessfully to trap the mountain lions. The remains were near the trail at the base of Mount Lemmon.
Bar Chat is in the midst of a three-day period of mourning for the cougars and their families.
Top 3 songs for the week 1/7/78: #1 “How Deep Is Your Love” (Bee Gees) #2 “Baby Come Back” (Player) #3 “Blue Bayou” (Linda Ronstadt)...and...#4 “(Every Time I Turn Around) Back In Love Again” (L.T.D.) #5 “Here You Come Again” (Dolly Parton) #6 “You Light Up My Life” (Debby Boone) #7 “Slip Slidin’ Away” (Paul Simon) #8 “Sentimental Lady” (Bob Welch) #9 “You’re In My Heart” (Rod Stewart) #10 “Hey Deanie” (Shaun Cassidy... ‘C+’ week....spring semester, sophomore year. Let’s just say your editor, after the worst semester in the history of academia for a myriad of reasons, was under the gun to stay in school....Could he keep the grade average above the Mendoza line, while still partying?....)
NBA Quiz Answer: All-time assists list.....
1. John Stockton 15806
2. Jason Kidd 12091
3. Steve Nash 10335
4. Mark Jackson 10334
5. Magic Johnson 10141
6. Oscar Robertson 9887
7. Chris Paul 9401
8. Isiah Thomas 9061
9. LeBron 9036
10. Gary Payton 8966
11. Andre Miller 8524
12. Rod Strickland 7987...shocked he’s this high
Next Bar Chat, Thursday.