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Wild Chase in NFL for Home-Field Advantage
[Posted Sunday p.m.]
Sportsperson of the Year Quiz: Megan Rapinoe was this year’s Sports Illustrated selection. The award started in 1954. 1) Name the only woman to win it for track and field. 2) Name the only college basketball player to win it. Answers below.
--After a slow start, Navy (10-2) rolled over Army (5-8) 31-7 in Philadelphia, Saturday, snapping a three-game losing streak in this one-of-a-kind rivalry, Navy now leading the series 61-52-7.
Quarterback Malcolm Perry had an astounding 304 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries; the fourth quarterback in FBS history to rush for 300.
Navy, winner of the Commander-in-Chief's trophy for a 16th time, now heads to the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31 for a game against Kansas State.
Separately, President Trump, in attendance, used his appearance to pitch to the players an administration policy change that clears the way for athletes at the nation’s military academies to play professional sports after they graduate and delay their active-duty service.
Trump said he was giving those athletes with pro potential the chance “to make a fortune, and after you’re finished with your professional career, you’ll go and you’ll serve and everybody’s thrilled.”
The Obama administration had put a policy in place allowing some athletes to turn pro and defer their military service.
I’m not sure as to what the real difference is. A memo signed in November by Defense Secretary Mark Esper spelled out the new guidelines, saying athletes must get approval from the Pentagon chief, and it requires them to eventually fulfill their military obligation or repay the costs of their education.
--In the least surprising development of the college football season, LSU’s Joe Burrow captured the Heisman Trophy, setting a record margin for victory.
The Ohio State transfer, who has led the Tigers to the top seed in the upcoming College Football Playoffs, now stands alone as the all-time leader in percentage of first-place votes (90.7%), percentage of possible voter points (93.8), percentage of ballots named on (95.5) and biggest difference of points won (1,846) compared to the runner-up, in this case Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts. Ohio State’s Justin Fields was third, and Buckeyes teammate Chase Young finished fourth. [Giants fans are beginning to salivate over the prospects of selecting Young first in the next draft...though Young dropped a hint he might return to Ohio State for his senior season. No he won’t...rest easy, New York.]
Burrow broke down several times as he thanked everyone who has helped him along the way.
“This is what little kids dream of doing,” Burrow said. “I envisioned myself going out there playing football, I envisioned myself being out on that stage and being the quarterback of the No. 1 team in the country, getting ready to play for a chance to win a national title. So this entire season has been a dream come true for me.”
And a nightmare for the opposition.
--In the FCS (Div. I-AA) playoffs, we had a fun game in Fargo, as No. 1 North Dakota State improved to 14-0 with a hard-fought 9-3 win over Illinois State in the quarterfinals.
The Bison will face 5 Montana State, 24-10 winners over Austin Peay.
The other semi will have 2 James Madison (13-1) and 3 Weber State. JMU totally shut down Northern Iowa, 17-0, yielding just 114 yards of offense, while Weber State defeated Montana 17-10.
I must add, what a terrific atmosphere in Fargo for NDSU. No wonder they keep winning national titles.
--Boston College has hired Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley to be its next head coach, replacing the fired Steve Addazio.
Hafley, 40, had been an NFL assistant for seven seasons, but has never been a head coach. He is reportedly going to stay on with Ohio State during its CFP run.
Boston College athletic director Martin Jarmond was previously an assistant AD at Ohio State until 2017.
--Florida Atlantic hired Willie Taggart, who was fired last month at Florida State after only 21 games as Seminoles coach, to replace Lane Kiffin, who left to take the head coach job at Ole Miss.
What a tremendous opportunity for redemption for Taggart. At age 43, this is already his fifth head-coaching job after previous stops at Western Kentucky, South Florida, Oregon and FSU. He is 56-62 overall with a 10-win season at South Florida in 2016. He was 7-5 in his only season at Oregon and 9-12 at Florida State.
--Rutgers fans are psyched, and for good reason. The hiring of Greg Schiano has worked wonders for the school’s fans here in New Jersey. Already, Schiano is mining the talent-rich state, getting some commitments, while at least two players who had entered the transfer portal are instead returning. Remember, while Rutgers has sucked for years, they have NFL talent in the program. For example there are currently 18 Rutgers alum in the NFL, vs. 9 from Wake Forest (who is heading to its fourth straight bowl game), and 22 at Michigan State (just to pick a random, middle of the Big Ten example).
But while the fans are fired up, and there will be a terrific buzz in these parts come late August next year, the other side of it is you have a ton of folks wondering how a state school with a lousy program can pay a coach $4 million a year, for eight years, when the average pay for a professor at Rutgers is said to be about $70,000. That’s the counterargument you keep hearing.
It’s a serious debate, held all over the country. What makes it even more so is we are staring at a sport that is on life support, even if we don’t really understand that. Where is football in ten years? Not one of us can answer that.
Anyway, Schiano made an appearance Saturday at the RAC for the annual Rutgers-Seton Hall hoops grudge match and received the wild ovation you’d expect him to get.
--Thursday night, the Ravens had their way with the Jets, who fell to 5-9, 42-21, as Lamar Jackson solidified his MVP credentials, throwing five touchdown passes on just 23 attempts (15/23), along with 86 yards on the ground in eight carries, Jackson passing Michael Vick for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a season, 1,103.
For the Jets, at least Le’Veon Bell had a few good-looking runs, gaining 87 on 21 carries, his best performance of the season.
So Baltimore is 12-2 as it seeks home-field advantage.
--But the Patriots stayed in the home-field chase, now 11-3, after clinching their NFL-record 11th consecutive playoff appearance, 34-13 at Cincinnati (1-13), which will be selecting Ohio native Joe Burrow with the first pick in the NFL draft. Tom Brady was mediocre again, but the Pats rushed for 175 yards.
For Cincy, “Bad Andy” Dalton showed up....four second-half interceptions, two by Stephon Gilmore, one his second pick-6 of the season.
--Kansas City is 10-4 (go Dr. W., a little DraftKings acknowledgement) as Patrick Mahomes and his receivers had no problem in the snow in K.C., the Chiefs beating the Broncos (5-9) 23-3. Mahomes threw for 340 yards and two touchdowns, both to Tyreek Hill, while tight end Travis Kelce had 11 receptions for 142, Kelce with his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season. As Ronald Reagan would have told Nancy while reading the Monday morning sports pages, Nancy making some delicious blueberry muffins, ‘Not bad, not bad at all.’
--Green Bay is 11-3 after a 21-13 win over the Bears (7-7), Chicago and Mitchell Trubisky with three turnovers, the Packers’ offense just so-so.
But I do have to note I caught the sack of Aaron Rodgers by the Bears’ Nick Kwiatkoski late in the fourth and that was as sweet a sack as I’ve ever seen.
--Seattle is 11-3 as well after a 30-24 win at Carolina (5-9), Panthers owner David Tepper ready to riot...I’d join him if I were a fan of his team.
Russell Wilson was back to his efficient self, 20/26, 286, 2-0, 137.7, while Chris Carson rushed for 133 and two TDs.
For the Panthers, Christian McCaffrey had another 175 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns. Boy, did I underestimate this lad coming out of Stanford. One of my worst mistakes on the evaluation front. I apologize to the McCaffrey family.
--But then San Francisco (11-3), looking to take home-field advantage, inexplicably lost 29-22 to the Falcons (5-9) at home, the 49ers blowing a 19-10 fourth-quarter lead. Absolutely pathetic.
So should the Saints defeat the Colts on Monday night, we will have four teams in the NFC at 11-3.
--The Texans took hold of the AFC South with a 24-21 win over the Titans (8-6), Houston 9-5.
--Philadelphia moved to 7-7 in the NFC East with a 37-27 win at Washington (3-11), as Carson Wentz was a solid 30/43, 266, 3-0, 109.3, with a receiver corps picked up at Goodwill, save for Zach Ertz. I mean, personally, I’ve taken a lot of clothing over the years to Goodwill and never knew you could get a receiver there, a smart salary cap move as well.
Philly got 122 yards rushing from Miles Sanders and, waddya know, the Eagles remain right there for a playoff spot.
I just have to note that the Redskins’ Adrian Peterson needed 66 yards to pass Curtis Martin for fifth on the all-time rushing list and he got just that....66.
Dwayne Haskins, despite a last-second fumble that was returned for a touchdown by the Eagles, looked much better for Washington. The kid is going to be just fine.
--Well, with Philadelphia’s win, what would Dallas do in their game against the Rams at Jerry’s World? Only take a 28-7 lead at the half, total domination, 285 yards of offense, Dallas going on to win 44-21, as the Cowboys rushed for 263 yards.
So now Dallas (7-7) travels to Philly next Sunday for what will be a titanic struggle for the ages. More on this one next chat.
The Rams, 8-6, need to win out and have the Vikings lose twice, Minnesota (10-4) defeating the Chargers (5-9) 39-10 as L.A. committed six turnovers!
--Cleveland is officially out of the playoff hunt (OK, not ‘officially,’ but they are), 38-24 losers at Arizona (4-9-1), as Kenyan Drake rushed for four touchdowns for the Cards, the Browns now 6-8.
--And the Raiders lost their last home game in Oakland, a sad moment, 20-16 to the Jaguars (5-9).
--Finally, Eli Manning got a start in likely his last home game at MetLife Stadium, and the Giants (3-11) defeated the Dolphins (3-11) 36-20, Eli throwing two touchdown passes (along with three picks), while Saquon Barkley had his first 100-yard rushing game since Week 2, though his long run was all of 12 yards. At least Eli improved his career won-loss record to .500, 117-117-0.
--I’m in the camp of those who believe the announcement this week that the Justice Department had charged 10 former NFL players, including running back Clinton Portis, with defrauding a health care program for retired players of nearly $4 million, is kind of small potatoes. The amount itself is, certainly when compared with the insurance fraud that goes on in the larger community.
I’m not saying any of this is to be condoned, but a lot of folk believe this announcement was mainly about the NFL trying to gin up some positive PR and to take the focus off its far-larger issues, namely CTE.
The players allegedly submitted false claims to the Gene Upshaw NFL Player Health Reimbursement Account Plan for reimbursement for medical equipment – such as hyperbaric chambers, cryotherapy machines and ultrasound machines – costing between $40,000 and $50,000. The players recruited others into their scheme by offering to submit false claims in exchange for “kickbacks” and bribes that ranged up to $10,000, according to the indictments.
According to court documents, the health plan paid the players more than $3.4 million on false claims filed amounting to $3.9 million.
The expensive equipment was never purchased or received by the participants.
Portis emerges as the central figure and the popular former Redskin made $43.1 million in the NFL. But as he told Sports Illustrated in 2017, fraudsters posing as money managers drained his retirement.
--No big upsets since No. 1 Louisville and 4 Maryland fell last Tuesday, the schedule rather light until this weekend due to exams. But what’s this?
17 North Carolina fell to 6-4 (and hopefully out of the top 25), 68-64 losers to Wofford this afternoon at the Dean Dome. What a freakin’ embarrassment.
But we did have a terrific game yesterday in Ann Arbor, No. 10 Oregon (8-2) with a nice road win at 5 Michigan (8-3), 71-70 in overtime. Great entertainment, prior to Army-Navy.
And kind of out of nowhere, my Wake Forest Demon Deacons (6-5) pulled off a little upset at home, 80-78 against 23 Xavier (9-2) in the Skip Prosser Classic, Prosser having coached for both schools.
What made it semi-remarkable is Wake was without center Olivier Sarr, who has been a double-double machine of late, but is in concussion protocol.
--So back to Rutgers-Seton Hall, the battle for supremacy in New Jersey, the Scarlet Knights jumped off to 14-0, 19-3 leads...36-23 at the half...and cruised 68-48 to improve to 8-3. Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell has his team playing terrific defense.
But, suddenly, what was once a potential dream season for Seton Hall (6-4) has turned into a true nightmare. I picked them to go all the way, but now they’ll be in a mighty struggle to make the NCAA tournament.
First we had the injury to Sandro Mamukelashvili, their big man and number two scorer, out for up to two months with a broken hand.
And then Saturday, All-American guard Myles Powell went out in the first half with a concussion, and there is concern it’s more serious than something that would keep him out a week and no more.
The Pirates play Maryland on Thursday. Ugh. I feel sorry for the students and alumni because this looked like a special season.
--Georgetown has had quite a stretch. The Hoyas (7-3) won their third consecutive game, 89-79 over Syracuse, despite an incredible amount of turmoil off the court. Since Dec. 2, the team has lost four players, all who said they would transfer after various allegations and complaints against the players arose, including allegations of burglary, threats of bodily harm and verbal threats.
Meanwhile, Syracuse is 5-5, its worst 10-game start in Coach Jim Boeheim’s long and storied career.
--Johnny Mac and I both had never heard of Multnomah University, a small school in Portland, Oregon, and Friday night they played Eastern Washington, whose Mason Peatling had a Big Sky-record 54 points and 13 rebounds in just 23 minutes, Eastern Washington romping 146-89.
Peatling made 24 of 30 shots, surpassing Idaho State’s Willie Humes, who scored 53 points against Montana State in 1971.
But guess who is an alum of Multnomah?
Time’s up...you’d never guess unless you went to their Wiki page. Pin-up girl Bettie Page!
--Milwaukee has now won 18 in a row (24-3 overall), two short of the franchise-best run of 20 in the 1970-71 championship season. Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging 31 points and 12.8 rebounds per game in just 31.1 minutes per. I’d call that rather efficient production.
--The Lakers are 23-3 (heading into tonight’s game at Atlanta), and if you’re an L.A. fan you have to be super-psyched when you hear stuff from LeBron James like we heard Friday night, a 113-110 victory at Miami.
At halftime, James had 11 points, six rebounds and seven turnovers.
“I was reckless,” James said. “I was a quarterback who hadn’t gotten many reps with the first team.”
Teammates Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins weren’t happy with James’ sloppy play and let him have it.
“My teammates got on me,” James said. “Told me to be myself and get my head out of my (expletive).”
James finished with 28 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds, and just one more turnover after intermission.
“We were down (at halftime) because of me,” James said. “In the second half, I got back to playing my game.”
Boy, that is a guy who is re-energized and focused, sports fans. Not the disinterested James of 2018-19, that edition finishing 37-45.
As for Miami, now 19-7 after a nice 122-118 road win at Dallas in OT last night, what an awesome job by coach Erik Spoelstra. I mean the casual fan sees Jimmy Butler and who?
--It was nice to see Kawhi Leonard receive such a tremendous ovation on his return to Toronto, the entire arena standing on its feet and chanting “MVP,” Leonard receiving his championship ring from former teammate Kyle Lowry.
Leonard finished with 23 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals in the Clippers’ 112-91 win.
--What a week for agent Scott Boras, simply the greatest week for any agent in sports history...at least in baseball history. After I posted last time, Boras completed his personal trifecta, the Angels signing third baseman Anthony Rendon to a seven-year, $245 million contract, after Boras clients Stephen Strasburg (7 years, $245m) and Gerrit Cole (9 years, $324m) inked their deals with the Nationals and Yankees.
$814 million worth.
“Players at the winter meetings went from the Big Chill,” Boras told USA TODAY Sports, “to it’s a Wonderful Life.”
Last year, Boras was ridiculed for misreading the market, dragging out negotiations to mid-summer in some cases, to the detriment of those he was representing.
Boras also has Mike Moustakas in his fold, and Moustakas signed a 4-year, $64 million contract with the Reds that really got the whole ball rolling this offseason.
And he still represents free agents Hyun-Jin Ryu, Nick Castellanos and Dallas Keuchel, who should all end up with solid offers.
Ergo, if Scott Boras gets the standard 5% commission, ah, that’s a nice haul for one year.
Two other big free agents, non-Boras clients, are still out there...Josh Donaldson and Madison Bumgarner. Donaldson is in huge demand, with the Nationals, Rangers, Braves, Twins and Dodgers all in the mix. Maybe the Phillies.
But this just in...Shu was the first to alert me the Diamondbacks had signed Bumgarner to a five-year, $85 million contract.
And then the Rangers pulled off a trade with Cleveland, acquiring two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber for outfielder Delino DeShields and a major pitching prospect, Emmanuel Chase.
Kluber went 98-58 with a 3.16 ERA in his nine seasons with the Indians.
The Rangers are moving into a new $1.2 billion stadium next season and are going for it.
The Dodgers are under tremendous pressure to do something this offseason, having been beaten out for Strasburg, Cole and Rendon. They are trying to make a deal with Cleveland for shortstop Francisco Lindor, and supposedly offering the Indians a sweet package that would include Dustin May and Gavin Lux.
And the Cubs need to shed payroll and the likely candidate to be jettisoned is former MVP Kris Bryant. Chicago is waiting to see what happens with Josh Donaldson and then they can go after those who lost out on him and still need a third baseman, i.e., Bryant.
And there’s Milwaukee reliever Josh Hader, who the Brewers have been saying is available for the right price.
But back to the central issue, yes, some may say the $dollars involved this offseason are absurd, but I’m kind of psyched. No real fan wanted to see the dynamics we were dealing with last offseason, and we have this big negotiation ahead between Major League Baseball and the Players Association that promises to be messy, with a strike looming after the 2021 season, or more like a lockout for spring training, 2022. Negotiations need to be running at full tilt this year, not next. At least now Commissioner Rob Manfred can tell his counterpart, Tony Clark, head of the Players Association, ‘See, the players are being rewarded.’
--Back to the Angels, they are the first team in history to have three players with contracts exceeding $240 million with the signing of Rendon; the others being Albert Pujols (10 years, $240 million in 2011), and Mike Trout (10-year, $360 million extension last spring).
With the Rendon signing, Angels fans have an exciting offense, coupling him with Trout and Shohei Ohtani, especially now that Ohtani’s injury issues should finally be behind him for a full season. Plus top prospect outfielder Jo Adell is on the way.
But, all together now, they need pitching!!! A lot of it.
--The Yankees made a move they had to, re-signing outfielder Brett Gardner for one year, with a club option for 2021. Gardner, 36, is coming off his best season on the power front, 28 home runs, 74 RBIs. He’s also a key leader in the clubhouse.
--Yoenis Cespedes hasn’t played for the Mets since mid-2018, having signed a four-year, $110 million contract after the 2016 season.
Last year, recovering from double heel surgery, he then broke his ankle at his ranch when it was expected he’d be back in the lineup by May or June.
So the Mets, owing him $29.5 million for 2020, launched an investigation into his injury, and if he was found to be reckless, hoping to be able to void the contract. But the two sides suddenly reached an agreement the other day, the Mets saving $10 million to $13 million, depending on the source, Cespedes given a new incentive-laden deal as it now looks like he’ll be at spring training and potentially ready to play, if not April, soon thereafter.
--The war between MLB and Minor League Baseball has reached a boiling point, with MLB issuing a statement, responding to MILB’s memo blaming MLB for “repeatedly and inaccurately” describing the MILB stance on a variety of critical issues in negotiations, by saying it would end minor league baseball as we know it.
“If the National Association [of Minor League Clubs] has an interest in an agreement with Major League Baseball, it must address the very significant issues with the current system at the bargaining table,” MLB’s statement read.
“Otherwise, MLB clubs will be free to affiliate with any minor league team or potential team in the United States, including independent league teams and cities which are not permitted to compete for an affiliate under the current agreement.”
That agreement expires after the 2020 season, and MLB has proposed to cut 42 teams from the minor league lineup.
MLB says that minor league teams have refused to address inadequate facilities, that major league owners subsidize too much of the cost of minor league operations, and that additional independent leagues could fill the void left in towns where the minor league team is cut.
MILB says that it is willing to discuss facility improvements, that the major league owners simply want to pass the cost of higher minor league player salaries onto minor league owners, and that independent leagues have not succeeded in the small markets that would largely be abandoned.
But the proposal to kill one-fourth of the minor league teams has made Congress take notice, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has blasted MLB.
To be continued....
--MLB and the players’ union did reach an important agreement that adds opioid testing for major leaguers and would not punish marijuana use in the major or minor leagues.
The policy, which would be implemented next season, calls for treatment, rather than suspension, for players testing positive for opioids.
The change comes about after the death five months ago of Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, who died in a hotel room with two opioids in his bloodstream.
--Lastly, a few weeks ago I mentioned a Babe Ruth bat that was up for auction with SCP. It was the bat he used to hit home run No. 500 in 1929.
The final price was $1,000,800, which was short of the record for any bat...the bat Ruth used to hit the first home run at Yankee Stadium in 1923, which sold for $1.265 million in 2004, also by SCP Auctions.
Brad K., I assume you haven’t found a Ruth bat in your basement yet.
Golf Balls / The Presidents Cup
--With Patrick Reed’s cheating episode at the Hero World Challenge fresh in everyone’s minds this week at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia, we all knew Reed was going to be in for a tough time in dealing with hecklers, and that some of them would take it too far.
And Saturday, his caddie, Keddler Karain (Reed’s brother-in-law) got into an “altercation” with a spectator, which, according to ESPN, led to Karain punching the fan.
According to Golf Channel’s Steve Sands, the incident came after the golfer’s morning match loss alongside Webb Simpson. The home crowd was jeering Reed over his cheating incident, as well as his 0-3 record at the event so far.
But in a statement to ESPN, Karain defended his actions, saying the fans crossed a line and it was his job to protect his sister’s husband. Karain didn’t say he punched the guy, but called it a shove. The fan, Karain said, was a just a few feet away from Reed and him as they were riding in a cart and told the U.S. player, “You f----- suck.”
“As a caddy one of your jobs is to protect your player. And unlike several other sports, in golf fans can get pretty close to athletes,” Karain said as part of his statement. “We have been known for having fun with some good banter, but after hearing several fans in Australia for 3 days some had taken it too far, I had enough. And this gentleman was one of them.
“I got off the cart and shoved him, said a couple things, probably a few expletives. Security came and I got back in (the) cart and left. I don’t think there’s one caddy I know that could blame me.”
The PGA Tour announced Karain was not caddying for Reed’s Sunday singles match, with Reed saying “I respect the Tour’s decision.”
--Meanwhile, the United States had gotten off to a miserable start in the Presidents Cup, down 6-1 early, and heading into Saturday afternoon’s foursomes trailing 9-5.
But despite Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas blowing a 5-up lead with eight holes to play, having to settle for a half point, we entered Sundays singles at 10-8 Internationals.
Curiously, Tiger sat himself for all of Saturday’s play, saying, “I’m getting ready for the singles.” [The weather wasn’t good for his back, either.]
I must say, I had watched very little of the action this week, prior to some play late Friday night (Saturday, Aussie time), but was fired up to watch Saturday night.
And captain Woods sent himself off first against Abraham Ancer, hoping to wrap up a point early so he could focus on the rest of the team down the stretch, and Tiger got the job done, 3&2. It was now 10-9.
Patrick Reed and Dustin Johnson then won their matches, 4&2, 4&3, and it was 11-10 U.S.
A few matches later it was 13-12 U.S., the Americans up in two, the Internationals ahead in three. It looked like we were headed to a 15-15 tie, both sharing the Cup (unlike what happens with a tie in the Ryder Cup).
But Matt Kuchar, who had played miserably in the event, and was down three holes to South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen, sank a five-foot putt on the 17th to go 1 up, securing the ½-point (at worst) that put the U.S. over the top and in the end it was 16-14, the Americans capturing 8 of the 12 points in singles, with the Internationals winning just two, by rookies Sungjae Im of Korea and Australia’s Cameron Smith.
Aside from Woods, Reed and DJ, the other Americans to win in singles were Patrick Cantlay, Webb Simpson (Go Deacs!), and Xander Schauffele.
As I say, both the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup are critical in a player’s Q-score (Q-rating). It’s an opportunity for tremendous visibility, good and bad, and a chance to show off their personalities.
Big winners in the Q-game were Sungjae Im, Cameron Smith, Cantlay and Schauffele, in my estimation. Tony Finau also helped himself, though he has been rising rapidly on this score, while for the Internationals, Abraham Ancer and Adam Hadwin also helped themselves.
And once again we got to see the total class of International captain Ernie Els. Cool new logo, too, Ernie.
But, boy, did Tiger Woods embrace this or what? He helped his image even further. Good for him. Good for the sport.
Lastly, though, what a year Patrick Reed has ahead of him. No doubt there will be more than a few ugly incidents along the way.
--The holiday schedule crush continued this weekend. Liverpool won again, 2-0 against Watford; Chelsea was shocked at home by Bournemouth 1-0, the Blues’ fourth loss in five PL games; Leicester City had a bad draw at home, 1-1, with 19 Norwich, Jamie Vardy held without a goal for the first time in nine league games; and surprising Sheffield shutout Aston Villa 2-0.
Then today, my Tottenham Spurs had a clutch 2-1 win on the road at Wolverhampton, Jan Vertonghen heading in a corner kick in extra time, thus ending the Wolves’ 11-game unbeaten streak in the PL. Huge one for us.
Everton and Manchester United played to a 1-1 draw, an important point for 16 Everton as they are now unbeaten in two matches under caretaker manager Duncan Ferguson.
And Man City blew out Arsenal on the road, 3-0, another dreadful performance for the Gunners. The great Kevin de Bruyne with a first-half “masterclass,” scoring twice.
I do have to note a geopolitical development from this last contest. China’s state broadcaster CCTV removed the game from their schedule after comments by Gunners midfielder Mesut Ozil. Ozil, who is Muslim, posted on social media about the treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province.
Arsenal distanced the club from the German’s views, saying it was “always apolitical as an organization.”
The Global Times, a mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party, described Ozil’s comments as “false.”
The Chinese Football Association said Ozil’s comments were “unacceptable” and had “hurt the feelings” of Chinese fans.
So CCTV instead showed the game between Tottenham and the Wolves.
Ozil, in a post, called Uighurs “warriors who resist persecution” and criticized both China and the silence of Muslims in response.
I support Mesut Ozil.
Standings after 17 of 38 matches....
1. Liverpool 17 – 49 points
2. Leicester City 17 – 39...that’s an insurmountable margin for the Foxes
3. Man City 17 – 35
4. Chelsea 17 – 29 ...CL line
5. Tottenham 17 – 26 ...just finish fourth baby
6. Man U 17 – 25
7. Sheffield 17 – 25
8. Wolves 17 – 24
9. Arsenal 17 – 22
18 Southampton 17 – 15
19. Norwich 17 – 12
20. Watford 17 - 9
--Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp signed a new deal this week that will keep him with the club until 2024. Liverpool won the Champions League under the German last season and finished second in the Premier League.
And now they are surging to their first PL title since 1990.
“This club is in such a good place, I couldn’t contemplate leaving,” Klopp, 52, told Liverpool’s website.
Liverpool lost one of 38 games in the PL last season, and has yet to lose in 17 this year. I’d call that being in a pretty good place.
--I incorrectly said the Champions League ‘last 16’ draw was Thursday. It’s tomorrow, Monday. Liverpool, Man City, Chelsea and Tottenham await their matchups.
Men’s NCAA Soccer Championship
Wake Forest’s run ended Friday night in the semifinals, losing 2-1 to No. 1 Virginia in a driving rain in Cary, North Carolina. Daryl Dike scored twice for UVA, who play Georgetown in the championship, the Hoyas defeating Stanford 2-0.
Well, as I go to post, the College Cup final is being played and I just saw the same Daryl Dike (pronounced Dee-kay) tie it up in dramatic fashion, so we are moving on to extra time, it seems, but I need to move on as well.
--Actor Danny Aiello passed away at the age of 86. Aiello appeared in more than 100 films, including “Bang the Drum Slowly,” “The Godfather: Part II,” and Spike Lee’s 1989 drama “Do the Right Thing,” for which he received a Best Supporting Actor nomination. [I saw he was being treated for an infection related to an injection, which would suck, if true.]
Manhattan-born Aiello first rose to prominence playing Horse in the 1973 movie “Bang the Drum Slowly,” which had a cast including Robert De Niro, and then the next year, he played mobster Tony Rosato in “The Godfather: Part II,” in which he uttered the infamous line, “Michael Corleone says hello!” before putting Frankie Pentangeli (Micahel V. Gazzo) in a chokehold. Aiello later told Charlie Rose in an interview that the line was improvised.
Spike Lee posted on Instagram he was heart-broken. “Danny, We Made Cinema History Together With DO THE RIGHT THING. May You Rest In PARADISE.”
Aiello said it took Spike Lee a long time to convince him to do the movie. “He took me everywhere. He took me to the Knicks game, and I wasn’t a Knicks fan. He took me to Junior’s. And then, he finally took me to Yankee Stadium,” he said. “It was at Yankee Stadium that I finally said, ‘All right, for God’s sake, I’m gonna do the picture.’”
--Finally, Dec. 16 marks the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge, Dec. 16, 1944, the largest battle fought on the Western Front in Europe during World War II. I’ll have some bits on it over the coming weeks.
For now, from the book, “Company Commander,” by Charles B. MacDonald (1947).
MacDonald, a commander of the 23rd Infantry Regiment, writes that his unit had been sheltering in foxholes that “amounted to little more than the snow scraped from the ground and a few inches of frozen earth removed” when the German assault began Dec. 16. MacDonald recalls the noise as the enemy approached: “I lay on my back in the slit trench, the platoon phone in one ear, the receiver of the battalion radio to the other. The chill from the frozen earth seeped through my clothes and I shivered, but I was surprised at my own calmness. The small-arms fire reached another crackling crescendo. Wave after wave of fanatically screaming German infantry stormed the slight tree-rise held by three platoons. There was no doubt now. My men could see the billed caps of the approaching troops.”
As the Wall Street Journal’s Peter Caddick-Adams writes:
“Eventually forced to give ground, MacDonald leap-frogged his shattered company back to the village of Rocherath. He arrived at his battalion command post, distraught at having lost much of his unit and at having, in his eyes, failed in his first combat. He was amazed by the words of praise from his commanding officer: ‘Nice work...You held out much longer than I expected.’”
Top 3 songs for the week 12/16/72: #1 “Me And Mrs. Jones” (Billy Paul...great tune...cuz we got a thinggggg...goin’ onnn...) #2 “I Am Woman” (Helen Reddy...for you younger folk, you can’t imagine what a revolutionary song this was for the time...) #3 “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” (Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes...the great Teddy Pendergrass lead vocal...)...and...#4 “You Ought To Be With Me” (Al Green) #5 “It Never Rains In Southern California” (Albert Hammond...and these days that ain’t good....) #6 “Papa Was A Rolin’ Stone” (The Temptations) #7 “Clair” (Gilbert O’Sullivan) #8 “Ventura Highway” (America) #9 “I Can See Clearly Now” (Johnny Nash) #10 “I’m Stone In Love With You” (The Stylistics...very solid week, A-…)
Sportsperson of the Year Quiz Answers: 1) Only woman to win it for track and field was Mary Decker, U.S., 1983. 2) Only college basketball player to win the award was Ohio State’s Jerry Lucas, 1961. Kind of shocking.
Next Bar Chat, Thursday.
Thank you, Mark R., for your ongoing support.