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Oklahoma is the fourth....
***An hour after I posted, we learned Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame as part of the Modern Era Ballot. I meant to add below that I was rooting for Simmons, and of course Marvin Miller should have been enshrined years ago, long before he died. Congrats to Ted and the Miller Family.
[Posted Sunday p.m.]
NFL Quiz: Name the only five to score 25 or more touchdowns in a season, all post-1990. Answer below.
College Football and the final CFP Rankings
[Comments written prior to release of the CFP rankings and the final four.]
--It all started Friday night with 13 Oregon defeating 5 Utah 37-15 to win the Pac-12 Conference championship. Both teams thus finish 11-2 and neither will be in the final four.
What an awful series of events for the Pac-12. You can’t say both the Ducks and Utes didn’t have their opportunities down the stretch to be the conference representative in the CFP. Oregon inexplicably lost to Arizona State, 31-28, when a matchup of 11-1 teams seemed preordained for the Pac-12 title, the winner then advancing.
And then Utah, having moved up to No. 5, just needed to beat Oregon in this one and it would have moved on (with a Georgia loss). The Utes were the nation’s best team against the run, yielding just 56.3 yards per game, holding 11 of 12 opponents to under 100.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the CFP for Utah. Oregon’s CJ Verdell rushed for 208 yards on 18 carries, with three touchdowns, including two crushing ones in the fourth quarter after Utah, once down 20-0, had fought back to cut it to 23-15 at the 1:13 mark of the third quarter. Verdell then ripped off 70- and 31-yard TD runs, ending the Utes’ dreams.
The Ducks now become a most-entertaining Rose Bowl entrant. Utah prays for a New Year’s Six berth.
--So then it was up to 6 Oklahoma in its rematch with 7 Baylor for the Big 12 championship. Assuming a Georgia loss to LSU, the winner was going on to the playoffs. And in the end, the combo of Jalen Hurts (17/24, 287, 1-1) to CeeDee Lamb (8-173) was too much for the Bears (11-2) as Oklahoma moved to 12-1 with a 30-23 overtime victory.
This was a bizarre thriller. Baylor starting quarterback Charlie Brewer knocked himself out of the game early in bowling over a defender on a run. He stayed in for another series, but then after hitting his head on the turf, was eventually removed with a probable concussion.
Baylor then went with backup Gary Bohanon, who engineered two scoring drives before the half. But he was ineffective after, and the Bears and coach Matt Rhule (whose stock continues to soar into the stratosphere...like Knicks fans even want him), brought in third-string QB and freshman Jacob Zeno.
Zeno almost carved out a statue for himself back in Waco with his instant heroics, his first pass going for 81 yards on a catch and run TD, and then his second throw going for 78 yards that set up a field goal to tie it at 23-23 with 3:25 in regulation.
But he misfired after and was under non-stop pressure from the Oklahoma defensive front, and in the end, you had this weird Baylor team passing line of 9/27, 230, 2-0; Bohanon and Zeno going 6/21, 215, 2-0. As President Trump said, “They say it’s never been done before.”
--Well with the Sooners having won, all eyes were then on the SEC title game, 2 LSU and 4 Georgia, everyone in the nation understanding what was at stake.
And Georgia was rolled, 37-10, to fall to 11-2 and out of the conversation, your Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow, “Bayou Joe,” tossing another four touchdown passes, 28/38, 349 yards, the Tigers cruising into the CFP as the favorite, says moi at 13-0.
--Also at 13-0 in an incredible top three for college football, are 1 Ohio State and 3 Clemson. The Buckeyes, after a slow start, down 21-7 at the half to 8 Wisconsin (10-3) in the Big Ten championship game, steamrollered the Badgers in the second half, winning 34-21. J.K. Dobbins rushed for 172 yards and a touchdown for Ohio State, while Justin Fields threw three TD passes.
For Wisconsin, Jonathan Taylor had rumbled for 135 yards on 13 carries in the first half, but the OSU defense stiffened mightily in the second, holding Taylor to just another 13 on seven carries. [Taylor did become the seventh back in NCAA history to rush for 6,000 yards, finishing the night at 6,080.]
Then in the ACC title game, Clemson destroyed 23 Virginia (9-4) 62-17, Trevor Lawrence with another superb effort, four touchdown passes; Lawrence now with 20 scoring strikes and zero interceptions his last six games as the Tigers are playing awesome football on both sides of the line.
--17 Memphis secured its Group of Five, New Year’s Six Cotton Bowl berth with a stirring 29-24 win in its rematch with 20 Cincinnati (10-3) for the AAC championship, the Tigers finishing 12-1. Antonio Gordon rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown, picking up another 32 yards on the receiving end including the deciding TD, while Damonte Coxie caught nine for 165. Memphis QB Brady White struggled at times, 18/40, 253, 1-1, but answered the call when he had to, engineering a 10 play, 75-yard drive to pull it out, the last six on a toss to Gordon.
Memphis also won the regular season finale between the two last weekend, 34-24, leaving no doubt who should be the Group of Five selection.
Before the game we learned that Memphis coach Mike Norvell had landed the head job at Florida State, a nice move up for him, after going 38-15 in four seasons with the Tigers.
--Had Memphis stumbled, the Selection Committee would have had a tough job in picking a Group of Five winner as 19 Boise State finished 12-1 with a 31-10 win over Hawaii (9-5) in the Mountain West Conference championship.
--And, oh, how No. 21 Appalachian State is bemoaning its inexplicable midseason loss at home to Georgia Southern, 24-21, because otherwise it would be the Group of Five selection. Instead, in the Sun Belt Conference championship game, the Mountaineers moved to 12-1, not 13-0, in beating Louisiana (10-3) 45-38; a game that was 45-24 with 8:12 left.
--Florida Atlantic (10-3) and coach Lane Kiffin went out in style, 49-6 winners over UAB (9-4) in the Conference USA Championship, Kiffin now taking the head job at Ole Miss.
Kiffin last held a head coaching position in the SEC at Tennessee, where he was 7-6, before jumping to USC, where he then had his moments, 28-15, including 10-2 in 2011, but there were issues that forced an early exit.
Kiffin then rehabilitated his image when he helped Nick Saban and Alabama win a national title as offensive coordinator. At FAU he was 26-13 over three seasons and put himself in position for his return to the big time and Ole Miss. Kiffin is high-profile enough to stop the bleeding in terms of the current underclassmen and the recruits who have either entered the transfer portal or have decommitted.
So we wait for the final CFP rankings and the seeding of LSU, Ohio State, Clemson and Oklahoma. LSU has to be No. 1, Oklahoma obviously 4.
--Meanwhile, USC, and its new athletic director, opted to stay with coach Clay Helton. A lot of folks are not real happy as a result.
Bill Plaschke / Los Angeles Times
“Mike Bohn has been here 10 minutes, and already he’s challenging a philosophy that has thrived for decades.
“Seriously, new guy, what were you thinking?
“By not making a change with Clay Helton, the recently hired USC athletic director just changed everything.
“Fight On has become Trudge On.
“By making a call to retain Helton as the Trojans football coach Wednesday in the wake of the program’s inexorable slide into irrelevance, the new boss has perhaps revealed the fine print on his resume.
“None of it matches the script long ingrained in the USC championship football culture.
“Bohn appears to be accepting of mediocrity. There is no other way you keep a head coach who has gone 13-11 in the last two seasons and hasn’t won a truly big game in three years.
“Bohn seems to think USC fans are also accepting of mediocrity. That is the only reason to ignore the dwindling Coliseum attendance under Helton and the mounting threats from boosters to stay home if Helton sticks around.
“Bohn apparently believes USC football sells itself. There is no other explanation for discounting the many recruiting losses the team has endured under Helton, with the Trojans currently ranked 67th in the country in the 2020 recruiting race.
“Bohn must have the idea that a nice little Trojans football program run by a nice man is enough, that the Holiday Bowl is enough, that giving everyone a neat little extracurricular activity on a Saturday is enough.
“Bohn must have completely forgotten he’s no longer at Cincinnati, Colorado, San Diego State or Idaho.
“USC football still aspires to be USC football, it aspires to national championships and Heisman Trophies and landscape domination, yet the decision to retain Helton aspires to none of that.
“No, you don’t fire Helton because Twitter rips you. You don’t fire him because boosters threaten you. You fire him because you believe the program is capable of greater achievements than those that are possible under him.
“You fire Helton because you believe the obvious truth that USC football can be better with someone else. Yet Bohn made it clear Wednesday that he’s happy with things just the way they are.
“Again, sir, what the heck were you thinking?”
By the way, next season, USC opens in Arlington, Texas, against Alabama. And they are on the road at Oregon and at Utah.
Before the CFP, the new AP Poll....
1. LSU (47) 13-0...1535 points
2. Ohio State (12) 13-0...1488
3. Clemson (3) 13-0...1441
4. Oklahoma 12-1...1364
5. Georgia 11-2...1241
6. Florida 10-2...1167
7. Oregon 11-2...1141
8. Baylor 11-2...1039
T-9. Auburn 9-3...1011
T-9. Alabama 10-2...1011
15. Memphis 12-1
18. Boise State 12-1
20. Appalachian State 12-1
21. Navy 9-2
And now the CFP, the final four revealed a few hours prior to the rest of the standings.
2. Ohio State
3. Clemson...winners of 28 straight
4. Oklahoma...4 out of last 5 years in CFP
And the rest....
10. Penn State
15. Notre Dame
19. Boise State
20. Appalachian State
25. Oklahoma State
LSU-Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl; Clemson-Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Rose: Oregon-Wisconsin...like the matchup
Sugar: Georgia-Baylor...I’ll be asleep by half
Orange: Florida-Virginia...will be rooting mightily for the Cavs
Cotton: Memphis-Penn State...cool game
I’ll get into the other bowl games next time, but as for Wake Forest and the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium against Michigan State, no, my Wake Forest friends, I will not be attending. The timing is awful for various reasons, including family. [Hope no immediate family members read this....cough cough.....] And work, if you know what I do and the day of the week it is.
I can’t believe Boston College got a matchup with Cincinnati. That’s who Wake deserves to play.
--Thursday night, the Bears won their fourth game in five to get to above .500, 7-6, with a 31-24 win over a Cowboys team that is in freefall, having lost 7 of 10 since starting 3-0.
For Chicago, Mitchell Trubisky continued his resurgence with three touchdown passes as the Bears stay in the playoff hunt for at least one more week.
Nancy Armour / USA TODAY
“Jerry Jones deserves to watch the playoffs from his couch. Or his yacht.
“Wherever. Just so long as it’s not his Jerry World suite.
“Jason Garrett isn’t a great coach, and how he’s held onto his job this long will be one of the NFL’s enduring mysteries. But this dumpster fire of a Dallas Cowboys team? The utter and complete dysfunction on display in a 31-24 loss to the Chicago Bears on Thursday night?
“That’s on Jones. Every last bit of it.
“ ‘You may have noticed I’ve been praising them, too,’ Jones said after the game. ‘So much for words. Seriously, so much for words.’
“But in throwing Garrett under the bus after the loss to New England less than two weeks ago, Jones threw a team that still had the inside track to the NFC East title into chaos. Reversing course the next week by saying Garrett would remain for the rest of the season only intensified the disarray.
“Now the Cowboys are in a tailspin, with the loss to the Bears their third in a row and fourth in five games. They still lead the NFC East – barely – but have a tougher remaining schedule than the Philadelphia Eagles....
“One of the many things Jones has said over the last 10 days is that it’s Super Bowl or bust for the Cowboys. Sure, every owner and coach says that, but Jones actually believes it, and Garrett and his team aren’t cutting it.
“They’re 6-7 and are careening out of control. Even if they do make the playoffs, they aren’t likely to be there for long.
“This is not new. The Cowboys have made the playoffs three times under Garrett, going 2-3. They’ve never gotten beyond the divisional round during that time. It’s gotten so bad that questions about Garrett’s future are as much a fixture on the NFL calendar as the Cowboys’ Thanksgiving game, and pretty much nobody believes he is getting another extension when his current contract runs out after the season.
“When Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper fired Ron Rivera earlier this week, he said he did it because he’d already made up his mind and didn’t want to leave his coach – and team – twisting in the wind. He wanted a fresh start, and he wanted it without false pretenses.
“Jones won’t give Garrett that courtesy. He’d rather take potshots at him, knowing Garrett isn’t the type to fire back.
“Jones wasn’t as blatant Thursday night as he was after the New England game, when he pointed out mistakes that he suggested reflected coaching errors. But the message was just as damning.
“ ‘We’ve got to start showing our fans, and more importantly showing ourselves, that we can do the things to win the games,’ Jones said. ‘It’s hard to do it when you extend possessions and make mistakes on third down. It’s hard to do it when you create penalties. It’s hard to do it when you miss field goals.
“ ‘We’re not playing well enough to actually get close enough so at the end of the game we could tie one at the last minute or win it at the last minute,’ he added. ‘You have to be able to do that in the NFL. We’re not doing that right now. We’re not a team that’s capable of doing that.’
“When the owner’s lack of confidence – and really, let’s call it what it is: a lack of respect – in his coach is that obvious, it should come as no surprise the Cowboys can’t pull themselves together....
“By making it clear that Garrett and his staff are dead men walking, Jones is sealing his team’s fate, too....
“Jones is the NFL’s most demanding owner. Most meddlesome one, too. That the Cowboys are falling short of his expectations is as much an indictment of him, given he’s the one who puts the roster together and has kept Garrett around for 10 years.
“But Jones will never fire himself. Or criticize himself. He’ll just keep talking, burying his team one blast at a time.”
--Today, of course I watched my Jets, now 5-8, in a thrilling 22-21 win over Miami (3-10). Miami’s Jason Sanders was 7 of 8 on field goals, but the Jets’ Sam Ficken hit a 44-yarder as time expired, New York taking advantage of a review from the Gotham league offices on a pass interference call against Miami. It was the correct call. Sorry, Dolphins fans, but you’ve abused us enough over the years.
I do have to add that Jets receiver Robby Anderson had his second straight 100-yard game (7-116-1) and while the guy is not exactly of the greatest character, hey, give him an extension. We need the dude.
--What an ending to the San Francisco-New Orleans game at the Superdome, the 49ers pulling it out 48-46 on a Robbie Gould field goal after tight end George Kittle had a heroic 39-yard reception for the ages (if San Fran goes on to win the Super Bowl), Kittle rumbling for about 30 extra yards after the catch from Jimmy Garoppolo that put the Niners in field goal range.
Garoppolo was 26/35, 349, 4-1, 131.7, in his first real signature win, Emmanuel Sanders catching seven for 157 and a touchdown.
Drew Brees was 29/40, 349, 5-0, 138.4; Michael Thomas with another 11-134-1 effort. The guy is automatic.
So San Francisco is 11-2, New Orleans 10-3.
--In another big one, Baltimore is 11-2 after a 24-17 win at Buffalo (9-4), Lamar Jackson with three touchdown passes and 40 yards rushing.
Talk about zero offense, however, the Ravens outgained the Bills 257-209 in a defensive struggle.
But Jackson became the second quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards, the other Michael Vick, as Lamar had 40 on the ground.
So it got me thinking about the old days and Bears quarterback Bobby Douglass, who was a godawful passer but in 1972 had 968 yards rushing (14-game schedule) for a 4-9-1 team. Douglass completed just 37.9% of his throws that year.
--Green Bay is 10-3 after a 20-15 win over the Redskins (3-10), Aaron Jones, not Aaron Rodgers, the star of this one...134 yards rushing on 16 carries, with a touchdown, and another 58 yards on six receptions.
--Minnesota is 9-4 and an almost playoff lock after a 20-7 win over Detroit (3-9-1), Kirk Cousins with another efficient effort, 24/30, 242, 1-0, 111.4.
--Houston (8-5) was dealt a blow at home in falling to Denver (5-8) as Broncos quarterback Drew Lock, the second-round rookie out of Missouri, was superb, 22/27, 309, 3-1, 136.0; totally outplaying Deshaun Watson, who was abysmal, 26/50, 292, 1-2, 63.1, though Watson did rush for two TDs.
--The Colts are out of the playoff picture, basically, at 6-7 after a 38-35 loss to the Bucs (6-7), Jameis Winston with one of his Jameis Winston games...33/45, 456, 4-3. Geezuz. This guy is a John Hadl-esque 26-23, TD-INT ratio. I mean we just don’t see that these days.
--Cleveland (6-7) stayed relevant, kind of, with a 27-19 win over the Bungles (1-12).
--The aforementioned Carolina owner David Tepper broke some furniture as his Panthers (5-8) lost another, embarrassingly, 40-20 to the woeful Falcons (4-9).
--In late games, Kansas City (9-4) had a huge win at New England (10-3) 23-16, the Pats hit big time on two calls that would have gone their way...except they didn’t have any challenge flags left.
--Tennessee is 8-5 after a 42-21 win over the now irrelevant Raiders (6-7); Ryan Tannehill with another outstanding game...21/27, 391, 3-1, 140.4...A.J. Brown with five receptions for 153 yards and two touchdowns, Derrick Henry rumbling for 103 yards and two scores on the ground.
--Pittsburgh remained right in the hunt, 8-5, after a 23-17 win in Arizona (3-9-1); Devlin Hodges a rather tidy 16/19, 152, 1-0, 117.5, while the Cardinals’ Kyler Murray threw three interceptions.
--And Summit’s Michael Badgley was perfect on a field goal, six extra-points, the Chargers improving to 5-8, 45-10 over the woeful Jags (4-9). Steve G., there’s always next year.
--What an awful Big Ten/ACC Challenge Week for my boys of the ACC. It wasn’t just that we went 5-8 against the Big Ten, it was that we got our butts kicked, save for Duke over Michigan State.
Between Monday and Wednesday....
11 Michigan State...75
17 Florida State...64
6 Ohio State...74
7 North Carolina...49**
North Carolina State...69
*In the Virginia game, Purdue was 13 of 25 from three, with just seven turnovers, while the defending champion Cavaliers were 4 of 24 from downtown, with 16 TOs.
This was also the fewest points scored by a top-5 ranked team against an unranked opponent in the shot clock era (since 1985-86), per basketballreference.
**In the Ohio State-UNC game, the Tar Heels shot 17 of 62 from the field, 27.4%! At home!
Well, the ACC has eight NCAA championships since the Big Ten won its last in 2000 (Michigan State), and at the end of the day, boys and girls.....
--Saturday, 3 Maryland had to rally to stay perfect at 10-0, 59-58 over Illinois (6-3).
And my team to “make noise come March,” meaning Elite Eight or better, No. 20 Colorado, had a miserable shooting night at 2 Kansas, 72-58, the Buffaloes suffering their first loss of the season (7-1) after going 18 of 60 from the field, 7 of 34 from three.
--The Knicks put David Fizdale out of his misery, firing him Friday afternoon after just 21 wins in 104 games...17-65 last season, 4-18 this campaign...an historically awful stretch for both him and the franchise.
The final straw was back-to-back dreadful, “sickening” (in Fizdale’s own words) performances this week; 132-88 at Milwaukee, and then 129-92 against Denver at home.
But as all Knicks fans know, it’s management that needs to be fired as well, and it all starts with this past season’s free agent window. The Knicks lost out to Brooklyn, of all people, for the services of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant; Bronx native Kemba Walker signed with Boston; Jimmy Butler went to Miami; and the team didn’t even pursue a meeting with Kawhi Leonard.
So instead Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry went out and signed a few decent, but far from star, players to one- and two-year contracts, explaining that they would nonetheless be respectable because of the moves.
Unsolicited, Gregg Popovich offered a critique of the Knicks’ move.
“I don’t know where the decision was made to fire coach Fizdale, but if it came from the top, it’s a case of mistaken identity,” Popovich told reporters. “He’s a fine, talented young coach with a great pedigree and it’s ridiculous to think you’re gonna bring in a young guy and after being there a minute-and-a-half, you expect him to fix everything that’s been wrong there for a long time. That’s pretty unfair. It’s an old analogy. He got thrown under the bus. He’ll come out of it because he’s a great coach.”
Yoh, Pops...you can’t call a guy who went 21-83 a “great coach.”
But Steve Kerr weighed in. “I’m a big fan of David – he's a helluva coach. As we know in this business, it’s fragile. Your job is dependent on a lot of things. The talent you coach, but just as important, the strength of the organization and group around you. It takes a really strong organization to help coaches and players get through difficult times.”
Stan Van Gundy perhaps summed it up best in piling on.
“I’d like to pass on my condolences to Mike Miller [Ed. the interim coach],” Van Gundy said on NBATV. “I’m happy for David Fizdale. I really am. To be out of that cesspool is good for him and his mental health. I feel bad for Mike Miller that this is where he has to start his head-coaching career at such a dysfunctional place.”
The Knicks issued a tersely worded press release announcing the firing of Fizdale, as well as assistant Keith Smart, and the promotion of Miller.
Saturday night, in Miller’s first game, the Knicks played hard but lost 104-103 to Indiana, Julius Randle clanging a free throw that would have tied it with 0.1 seconds left. Randle had been fouled while trying to put back the rebound off a scramble, made the first, then was well long with his second attempt, sending the Knicks to their ninth straight loss, now 4-19.
Pathetically, both Steve Mills and Scott Perry failed to address the press both before the game and after. And now the Knicks head to the west coast for four, though they miss the Lakers and Clippers.
Mike Vaccaro / New York Post
“Since the 1999-2000 season – that would be 20 years, if you’re keeping track at home – the Knicks have won one playoff series. One. They have four – four! - winning seasons. They have had 10 head coaches, not including interims. They have 626 wins against 938 losses. Look at both sides of that hyphen again: 626-938.
“And (owner James) Dolan has been in charge for most of that.
“He has been his own worst enemy some times, but he has also been helped by a coterie of co-conspirators who have helped plunder a once-proud basketball kingdom: Isiah Thomas. Phil Jackson. Steve Mills. Scott Perry. Once upon a time, it was believed that every basketball misdemeanor was the work of poor Scott Layden. Remember him?
“You could argue, if you like: That’s a hell of a run of bad luck.
“Except Dolan also hired Donnie Walsh and Glen Grunwald, too, and both men tried to reverse the tide, and both men were on their way to doing just that when Dolan cast them out. Even when he has picked right, he has gone wrong. And here we are, 20 years down the path, the Knicks somehow an irrelevant afterthought in their own town, their building filled with tourists night after night, so many pure basketball fans driven away long ago.
“That’s a bad track record. That’s the kind of track record that gets a man fired from just about any job in creation, unless he happens to own the company. Dolan isn’t firing himself. And unless Steve Cohen has an extra billion or three that’s burning a hole in his pocket and he wants to present himself as guardian angel to another precinct of distraught New York sports fans, it’s still Dolan’s call to make.
“This is the first mandatory call:
“Fire team president Steve Mills, who has shown, with utmost clarity, in two separate tours of duty, that he doesn’t have the goods to run a pro basketball team.
“General manager Scott Perry is next. His sins are less egregious because he hasn’t been here as long. But he was right there, along with Mills, when the plot was hatched to send the Knicks in this direction. It might make people feel good to think that Kristaps Porzingis is the devil for the way he behaved last year, but it is worth remembering how successful managers react to such situations.
“It’s important to remember how Pat Riley visited Patrick Ewing in his earliest hours as Knicks’ coach and basically re-recruited him to New York. You think Porzingis was unhappy? Ewing, in the spring of 1991, had already mentally checked out of town, eager to find a way elsewhere, anywhere. Riley had a vision, sold that vision. Ewing stayed.
“Porzingis was exiled.
“In its own way, what Mills and Perry did that day was treat Knicks fans to the kind of con job Bernie Madoff reserved for his best customers – a slick sell, the two of them writing poetry about cap space and lottery picks, waving a pile of gold in one hand so as to obscure the pile of manure in the other.
“Knicks fans are desperate to believe. They believed. They bought in. Then watched Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the two jewels of free agency – two players the Knicks earmarked for themselves quite clearly, even if they never said so directly – land on the other side of the Manhattan Bridge.
“The reward is a mish-mash roster with which no one – not David Fizdale, not David Copperfield – could win. Fans pay top dollar to watch Julius Randle dribble a lot and turn the ball over at a preposterous rate. Everyone seems to have already fallen out of love with Kevin Knox, last year’s lottery pick, which has to be at least a little unsettling to RJ Barrett, this year’s lottery pick.
“At the end, there was so little effort. Go to any YMCA in the city and you’ll see 50-year-old bankers eager to dive on loose balls and guard the occasional shooter. Just not the big Y at 33rd and Eighth....
“Of course, the one nagging question will always be this:
“Who would ever possibly want this job?
--Meanwhile, there is some real basketball being played in the NBA, and on Friday, the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers both improved to league-leading 20-3 records; the Bucks whipping the Clippers 119-91 to capture their 14th straight victory, as Giannis Antetokounmpo had 27 points and 11 rebounds on his 25th birthday.
And Anthony Davis (39) and LeBron James (31) combined for 70 points in the Lakers’ rout of the Blazers, 136-113.
Yes, LeBron is reenergized with his new running mate, Davis. It was L.A.’s 11th straight road win, Portland (9-14) suffering a big loss...small forward Rodney Hood tearing his left Achilles tendon.
--There’s a lot of talk about the NBA’s ratings, down 20 percent from the 2014-15 season, in terms of prime-time broadcasts, compared with 2018-19, with that number swelling to 35 percent for the 18-to-49-year-old demographic.
It doesn’t help when you have high-profile teams like the Lakers and Clippers on the west coast. And Giannis is in Milwaukee, not in a major market.
But it also doesn’t help to have the New York Knickerbockers suck beyond belief in the biggest market, while the popular Golden State Warriors are heading towards a shot at the No. 1 draft pick with the loss of Kevin Durant to free agency, and then Steph Curry and Klay Thompson to injury.
But before some folks panic, let’s see where the ratings are next spring because the coming playoffs promise to be hellacious, once we get past the first round.
--Action in the Hot Stove League has picked up nicely as the Winter Meetings begin tonight in San Diego.
The Nationals made a smart move in bringing back postseason hero Howie Kendrick for one year, $6.25 million. Kendrick had a terrific age 36 season, batting .344 with 17 home runs and 62 RBIs in just 334 ABs, and then one clutch hit after another in the Nats’ terrific playoff run.
Earlier, Zack Wheeler and the Phillies reached agreement on a 5-year, $118 million contract. Wheeler will now be a potential nightmare for Mets fans, as he’ll face his old team as many as five times a year. He was always viewed as a poor-man's Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg, and for him to receive this kind of deal shows you two things...this is a very different free agent market than last season, and, two, Cole and Strasburg are easily looking at $200 million deals for their services. [Word tonight has the market for Cole at 7, $245m.]
The Braves also showed it’s a different market, giving Cole Hamels $18 million for one year; another smart move by Atlanta.
And Tampa Bay and San Diego pulled off a significant trade; San Diego acquiring solid outfielder Tommy Pham and a prospect for slugging outfielder Hunter Renfroe and a prized second base prospect, Xavier Edwards.
Before this past week, we had significant free agent deals for Mike Moustakas (four years, $64 million, Cincinnati), Yasmani Grandal (four years, $73 million, White Sox), Will Smith (three years, $39 million, Atlanta), and Drew Pomeranz (four years, $34 million, Padres), among others.
But now it’s about Cole, Strasburg and Anthony Rendon. The three may not be signing with their future employers this week, but they are front and center.
The Yankees, Dodgers and Angels appear to be the frontrunners in the Cole sweepstakes, with the Dodgers under major pressure to spend some bucks. They would appear to be in the lead for Rendon as well. Yankees management knows it too is under the gun to do something big.
--Meanwhile, Mets fans received some amazing news this week. Billionaire hedge-fund king Steve Cohen is in the process of acquiring a majority interest in the team. As the New York Post’s Mike Vaccaro put it, “Mets fans ran around New York like hostages freed from a bunker.”
Ken Davidoff / New York Post
“How about Mookie Betts, J.T. Realmuto and a retained Marcus Stroman wearing Mets uniforms on Opening Day of 2021?
“Dare to dream, Mets fans.
“Now, ‘dare’ implies risk. Yet this dream holds a substantive chance of coming true.
“Only Steve Cohen can say with certainty how quickly and aggressively he’ll infuse his riches into the mom-and-pop store that is the Mets, and the real-life inspiration for ‘Billions’ hedge-fund maverick Bobby Axelrod comes off as far less loquacious than his fictional counterpart. Nevertheless, conversations with folks who know Cohen, the Mets or both lead one to believe Cohen will make his imprint on this franchise, as one experienced baseball executive put it, ‘sooner than later.’
“Probably not soon enough to get, say, Gerrit Cole or Anthony Rendon. The agreement for Cohen to take over the Mets from the Wilpons and Saul Katz by 2025 hasn’t been completed yet, as the two sides announced Wednesday – remember the Mets spent many months in 2011 negotiating with another hedge-fund star, David Einhorn, before the arrangement fell apart short of the finish line – and you might have noticed the Hot Stove campaign has moved at a brisker pace than recent predecessors.
“For the 2021 season, though? As long as the deal actually gets done, why wouldn’t Cohen start spending some of those billions?
“ ‘There’s that bad-ass trader element with him,’ a person who worked with Cohen said of him, on the condition of anonymity. ‘He’s still on the job making dough, so why not spend it?’”
The problem, as some of us see it, is both Fred and Jeff Wilpon will hold onto their job titles through the 2024 season (CEO and COO, respectively), but you’d think that if Cohen’s ownership position, eventually 80%, is accurate, he has the final say on things.
But one thing we do know for now, Steve Cohen is the Yankees’ worst nightmare.
[Cohen has an interesting past, to say the least, and his firm, SAC Capital Advisors, faced various SEC charges for insider trading, SAC paying a whopping $1.8 billion in fines. But Cohen himself was virtually untouched and never personally charged; some of his employees instead went down. Three-quarters of baseball’s N.L. owners must approve of the sale to him, 50% of the A.L. owners, or 2/3s overall. SAC was relaunched as Point72 in late 2016 once a ban on him managing outside money expired. Cohen told employees his role at Point72 will not change.]
--It’s really too bad that Liverpool is running away with things (unless you are a Liverpool fan, of which my brother is a big one), because otherwise this has been a gloriously strange season thus far.
With the seasonal crush of a schedule....
Tuesday...we had Man City whip Burnley 4-1.
Wednesday...Chelsea beat Aston Villa 2-1; Leicester City shutout Watford 2-0; Liverpool blasted Everton 5-2; and Manchester United held off Tottenham 2-1 at Old Trafford, a huge win for United manager Ole Gunnar Solksjaer.
On to Saturday...
Struggling Everton upset Chelsea 3-1 at home; Liverpool continued to roll, 3-0 over Bournemouth; my Tottenham Spurs rebounded from the loss at Man U with a master-class performance, 5-0 over Burnley, including as spectacular an individual effort as you’ll ever see from the Spurs’ Son Heung-min; and in a biggie, Man U and beleaguered Ole Gunnar Solksjaer picked up another huge ‘W’, 2-1 at Manchester City, City suddenly 14 points behind Liverpool.
Today, the surprising Leicester City Foxes solidified their position in second place of the standings, winning their club-record eighth straight Premier League game, with the great Jamie Vardy scoring twice in Leicester’s 4-1 win over Aston Villa, making it eight straight games in which Vardy has scored. He thus becomes only the second player in PL history with two streaks of scoring in eight successive games, the other being Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2002 and 2003.
Standings after 16 of 38...W-D-L...points
1. Liverpool 15-1-0...46
2. Leicester City 12-2-2...38
3. Man City 10-2-4...32
4. Chelsea 9-2-5...29...Champions League line
5. Man U 6-6-4...24
6. Wolves 5-9-2...24....9 draws already!
7. Tottenham 6-5-5...23
NCAA Men’s Soccer Championship
We’re down to the Final Four for the College Cup and Wake Forest made it to the semis with a 1-0 win over UC Santa Barbara.
So Friday night we have No. 1 Virginia vs. 4 Wake...3 Georgetown vs. 7 Stanford, the final on Sunday, all the action in Cary, North Carolina.
This is the Deacs’ sixth time reaching the College Cup, winning the national title in 2007.
--In the Women’s championship, Stanford beat UCLA in one semi, 4-1, while perennial champ North Carolina defeated Washington State, 2-1, in the other.
The final is being held tonight after I post.
--Henrik Stenson won the Hero World Challenge, an unofficial event that benefits Tiger Woods’ foundation. But with an elite field of 18, it can provide some entertainment, and in the past has given us glimpses into Tiger’s various comeback attempts, for one...Tiger finishing fourth this week, four back.
But the event will be remembered, at least among golf fanatics for a while, because of a blatant attempt to cheat by Patrick Reed, who finished third, two back.
Reed incurred a two-shot penalty in the third round for a pair of practice swings taken in a waste bunker on the 11th hole at Albany Golf Club in the Bahamas. Reed was deemed to have illegally improved his line of play.
If you haven’t seen the video it is easy to find on YouTube. The NBC golf broadcast revisited the hole and it was clear Reed had committed a rules violation...and it wasn’t even close, as announcer Dan Hicks said on air.
Reed brushed the sand away with his practice swings, an attempt to improve his line of play. Under Rule 8, a player is prohibited from improving conditions affecting a stroke.
Under Rule 8-1a, actions that are not allowed include the removal or pressing down of sand or loose soil. Reed did it twice, though the second movement is irrelevant.
Well, every good golf fan knows Reed’s history, going back to his college days. It’s not good for the Q-score, as they say, and Madison Ave.
Reed tried to explain his actions by saying, “I wish [the cameras] were actually directly on the side of me, because it was in a pretty good footprint...and I felt like my club was that far behind the ball when I was actually taking the practice stroke, which I felt like I was taking it up. And it was...obviously, it was hitting a little sand. I didn’t feel it drag. But...whenever you do that, if it does hit the sand, just like if you’re in a hazard area and you take a practice swing and it brushes grass and the grass breaks, it’s a penalty. Whenever they brought it up to me and I saw it, it definitely did drag some of the sand. Because of that, it’s considered a two-stroke penalty.”
Indeed it is, lad.
Reed added: “At the end of the day, you’ve got to let things kind of roll off your shoulders,” he said. “If I stew over something that I felt like I didn’t intentionally do – at the end of the day, it’s my word versus their word, and they weren’t standing there, they had a camera angle.”
--Going into Saturday night’s fight in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, George Foreman said Andy Ruiz Jr. has “blown it” after weighing in at a staggering 283 pounds for his rematch against Anthony Joshua.
Ruiz fought at a flabby 268 pounds June 1 at Madison Square Garden when he scored a shocking TKO victory over the previously undefeated Joshua. Joshua for this one weighed in at 237.
“He’s blown it, really,” Foreman told USA TODAY Sports. “He’s blown his opportunity...because now he can be outboxed.”
Foreman thinks Ruiz was the victim of “celebrity bombardment.”
“You are a celebrity and everybody wants you to taste some food,” Foreman said. “And you think you have enough time, six weeks come up, and you don’t have enough time to get in shape and lose weight (before the fight).”
Well, with this all as background, Anthony Joshua then completely dominated Ruiz in what was described as a “tactical masterpiece” to easily regain his three heavyweight world title belts with a lopsided unanimous decision.
British judge Steve Gray scored it 119-109 and Glen Feldman of the U.S. and Benoit Russell of Canada each had it 118-110 for Joshua for the 12 rounds.
Ruiz said after: “It was his night. I don’t think I prepared as good as I should have. I gained too much weight but I don’t want to give no excuses.”
Ruiz vowed if there was ever a third bout between the two, “I will come in the best shape of my life.”
It is too early to tell if we’ll get a reunification bout now between Joshua and Deontay Wilder, which would be the ‘fight of the century’ if they could pull it off. The sport needs it badly. I’d pay to watch it.
--In this week’s FIS Alpine World Cup races, the women held two downhills and a super G at Lake Louise, Canada, which used to be the site that launched each of Lindsey Vonn’s seasons, picking up a few wins here.
The downhill is not, however, Mikaela Shiffrin’s best event, though she wants to master all the disciplines, and she had a 10th and 2nd, with a 10th in the super G.
Meanwhile, last I saw (with one event to be completed), the men were at Beaver Creek, Colorado, and with the great Marcel Hirscher having retired after eight consecutive overall World Cup titles, we had six different winners in the first six events of the World Cup schedule.
But what’s this? [Cue Charlie Brown looking up at his souped up Christmas tree.] America’s Tommy Ford, 30, won the giant slalom this afternoon! We hadn’t had a podium finish in any event in the WC in seemingly years! [Ted Ligety, Jan. 2018...Travis Ganong the last to win an event, a downhill in 2017.]
Do we have a new hero? Go Tommy!
--WFAN’s Mike Francesa is finally history, signing off Friday, with zero thoughts of a second comeback this time...except, what’s this? He’s getting a half-hour spot at 6 p.m. next year? [I couldn’t care less about his talking sports and politics gig on Radio.com. Won’t be tuning in for that...or anything he does at 6:00 p.m., as that is local news time for the kid, you understand, making dinner, quaffing an adult beverage or two.]
“I first did an afternoon drive show in November of 1987,” he said on his final show. “That was the first one that I did an afternoon drive show by myself. I sat in on Thanksgiving Day and the day after for Pete Franklin.”
Francesa, who famously went on to team up with Chris Russo for a 19-year run on “Mike and the Mad Dog,” has been solo for the past 12 after their split in August 2008.
At least Mike had the Fizdale firing to talk about on his last show.
“Fizdale walks the plank...Who cares? It didn’t work out, he didn’t do the job. It isn’t about him, it’s about the team. They have to clean house and start over. That’s all there is to it. And they gotta get somebody in there who can run the franchise. They are 4-18, they are utterly dreadful...they are putrid.”
Yes, Big Mike, aka The Pope, had a long run. He was one of a kind. Hardly likeable, but when there was a big New York sports moment, you had to tune in.
--What a nightmare...the poor passenger on a United Airlines flight from San Francisco to Atlanta that didn’t realize for a while she was being bitten by a scorpion, until the offender fell from the flier’s pant leg after stinging her repeatedly, as reported by multiple outlets.
The woman was in sheer pain. She had been experiencing a burning sensation before discovering the scorpion. It scurried across the floor before it was caught by flight attendants.
The victim was transported immediately to the hospital after landing in Atlanta and there has been no word on her condition.
Top 3 songs for the week 12/5/70: #1 “I Think I Love You” (The Partridge Family) #2 “The Tears Of A Clown” (Smoky Robinson & The Miracles) #3 “Gypsy Woman” (Brian Hyland)...and...#4 “I’ll Be There” (The Jackson 5) #5 “We’ve Only Just Begun” (Carpenters) #6 “Fire And Rain” (James Taylor) #7 “One Less Bell To Answer” (The 5th Dimension) #8 “No Matter What” (Badfinger) #9 “Heaven Help Us All” (Stevie Wonder) #10 “Share The Land” (The Guess Who... ‘B+’ week....your editor was placed on probation for last Chat’s ‘A-’ grading of the week 12/6/69...the allegation of “grade inflation” leveled in Federal District Court in New York...it’s a serious charge, but Judge Kimba Wood had more important matters to deal with and gave me probation rather than go through a prolonged trial and a feared 2-3 years in prison...which would have sucked, given it’s the holiday season and all...).
NFL Quiz Answer: Five with 25 or more touchdowns in a season.
Emmitt Smith, 25, 1995, DAL
Marshall Faulk, 26, 2000, STL
Priest Holmes, 27, 2003, KAN
Shaun Alexander, 28, 2005, SEA
LaDainian Tomlinson, 31, 2006, SDG
Gale Sayers had the record at 22, 1965 (14 rushing, 6 receiving, one kickoff return, one punt return), his rookie year. Man, this guy was so spectacular. If only he had had modern sports medicine in his day.
Sayers’ 22 TDs wasn’t exceeded until O.J. Simpson’s 23 in 1975.
Next Bar Chat, Thursday.