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Florida Gators Come Up Small
***Tuesday p.m. add-on***
College Football Playoff Rankings
1. Alabama 10-0
2. Notre Dame 10-0
3. Clemson 9-1
4. Ohio State 5-0
5. Texas A&M 7-1
6. Iowa State 8-2
7. Florida 8-2…too high
8. Georgia 7-2…beyond absurd
9. Cincinnati 8-0…robbed…should be 7 or 8
10. Oklahoma 7-2
11. Indiana 6-1
12. Coastal Carolina 11-0
13. USC 5-0…need cheerleaders in a New Year’s Six game…masks are sexy…
14. Northwestern 6-1
15. North Carolina 8-3
19. Louisiana 9-1…beat Iowa State 31-14
23. Tulsa 6-1
24. San Jose State 6-0
No Buffalo! This blows…..
So we have the following big matchups on Saturday…
ACC Championship: Note Dame-Clemson
SEC Championship: Alabama-Florida
Big Ten Championship: Ohio State-Northwestern
Big 12 Championship: Iowa State-Oklahoma
Pac-12 Championship (Fri.): USC-Oregon
Sun Belt Championship: Coastal Carolina-Louisiana
AAC Championship: Cincinnati-Tulsa
Seems clear to everyone…Final Four is Notre Dame, Clemson, Alabama and Ohio State, assuming Clemson and Ohio State win. If out of nowhere Florida beats ‘Bama, and Notre Dame beats Clemson, that might open the door for Iowa State, should it beat Oklahoma (thus replacing Clemson).
I don’t see Cincinnati getting into the CFP, even with a few stumbling in front of them, but if Tulsa beat Cincy, that gives Coastal Carolina the Group of Five, New Year’s Six bid, assuming they win their contest.
So while I start out with certainty, Clemson and ‘Bama going down creates total chaos (let alone Ohio State, but zero chance of this), and why not? Check the calendar.
On the other hand, as Ken P. says, a Final Four of ‘Bama, OSU, Clemson and ND is what every football fan should want, only you obviously won’t have a third ND-Clemson matchup in the semis, so you then pit ND against ‘Bama.
As for the Pac-12 title game, it’s a joke, having Oregon replace Washington because the Huskies (3-1) wouldn’t be able to field the 53 scholarship players needed to play because of positive Covid cases and the related contact-tracing protocols, the conference said.
Washington head coach Jimmy Lake said the team’s entire offensive line, including walk-ons, is currently unavailable and the team has not practiced since Wednesday.
--Auburn fired head coach Gus Malzahn, less than 24 hours after the Tigers finished the regular season with a 6-4 record.
Malzahn finished with a record of 68-34. He is owed $21.7 million, 50% of which is due in the first 30 days, which as they say is a good way to start the new year.
Auburn reached the BCS National Championship in his first season in 2013 and competed in two other New Year’s Six bowl games.
Malzahn signed a seven-year extension worth $49 million in Dec. 2017 – a season in which Auburn won 10 games and appeared in the SEC championship game, but then the Tigers went 8-5, 9-4 and this year’s 6-4 and that’s not nearly good enough for the powers that be at Auburn.
It didn’t help his teams were only 8-17 against Alabama, Georgia and LSU. Malzahn was also only 20-24 against teams that entered the game with a winning record.
Among those who might be considered for the vacancy are Indiana’s Tom Allen and Liberty’s Hugh Freeze.
--Yes, what a game Monday night. I watched until the end, as unbelievable, unfathomable, an ending as you’ll find in the sport. Cleveland was down 34-20 at home to Baltimore when Baker Mayfield rallied the team to two long touchdown drives, plus a two-point conversion…the Brown ahead 35-34 with 6:33 left.
And then things got nuts. Lamar Jackson had gone to the locker room with “cramps,” some saying later of the stomach variety, rather than ‘cramping,’ and then backup Trace McSorley got hurt. Jackson said he was getting stretched when he saw McSorley get hurt and told the trainers, “We gotta go out there.”
So Jackson rushed out of the locker room and threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Brown to take a 42-35 lead, J.K. Dobbins running for the two-point conversion, leaving 1:51 to play for Mayfield and the Brownies.
So Baker took the team 75 yards in four plays, Cleveland tying it at 42 with the extra point by Cody Parkey.
But 1:04 remained and the Ravens have the greatest placekicker in NFL history in Justin Tucker and Jackson only needed to take Baltimore 38 yards to get Tucker into position for a game-winning 55-yard field goal and the Ravens pulled it out, 47-42, Baltimore getting a safety on the final desperation kick return by Cleveland.
Jackson was only 11 of 17 passing, but he ran for 124 yards on just nine carries and two touchdowns.
The NFL’s top two rushing teams combined for nine rushing touchdowns, which I was startled to learn tied an NFL record going back to 1922. Good lord.
So Baltimore moved to 8-5 and stayed in the playoff picture, while Cleveland fell to 9-4.
--Sunday night after I last posted, Pittsburgh came up small a second straight game after reeling off 11 straight to start the season, falling 26-15 to Buffalo (10-3) as the Steelers gained only 224 yards of offense, Ben Roethlisberger looking like an aging Clint Eastwood in “Unforgiven.”
--There is a lot of consternation in Giants land after Sunday’s pathetic 26-7 loss at MetLife Stadium against the Cardinals. All the momentum gained from four straight wins that vaulted the Giants to the top of the NFC East, even if it was at just 5-7, went out the window in a flash, Washington then with a big 23-15 win over San Francisco to take over first at 6-7, and with a four-game win streak of their own.
There’s one major issue. What was Daniel Jones doing out there at quarterback for New York? He clearly wasn’t ready, hobbled from his hamstring injury. Head coach Joe Judge, who has done little wrong in his rookie season, insisted he had put Jones “through the ringer” during a hard week of practice to make sure he wouldn’t hurt himself.
But Jones limped around and this is a guy who is supposed to be your franchise quarterback? Why did they risk his future like this? Jones ended up being sacked six times before he was pulled.
--I told you how SNL made fun of the Jets the other night, and as Dennis Young of the New York Daily News writes:
“It’s been a rough week for the Jets… ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ creator and Jets fans Larry David said the Henry Ruggs game-winning bomb over Gregg Williams’ all-out blitz was the best memory he had of the team in more than 50 years. ‘My heart sank thinking they had pulled it out and screwed up the draft yet again,’ he told Mike Lupica. ‘Then I saw the play and was so proud of them. That’s my guys! Best I’ve felt about them since Super Bowl III.’
“In March of this year, ‘Curb’ aired an episode in which a friend of Larry’s commits suicide, distraught over the bleak state of New York sports. ‘The Jets killed Carl,’ Larry says. ‘And a little bit of the Knicks.’
“A clip of that episode was recirculating on social media this week. ‘The f—king Jets,’ Carl’s widow says to Larry at the funeral. ‘The Jets ruined our marriage.’ David explains to her that him screaming ‘Watson’ in his sleep is about Gang Green failing to draft Deshaun Watson in 2017. The Texans quarterback tweeted it out laughing on Saturday morning. We’re all having fun here.”
AFC Playoff Standings
1. Kansas City 12-1
2. Pittsburgh 11-2
3. Buffalo 10-3
4. Tennessee 9-4
5. Cleveland 9-4
6. Indianapolis 9-4
7. Miami 8-5
8. Baltimore 8-5
9. Las Vegas 7-6
NFC Playoff Standings
1. Green Bay 10-3
2. New Orleans 10-3
3. Los Angeles Rams 9-4
4. Washington 6-7
5. Seattle 9-4
6. Tampa Bay 8-5
7. Arizona 7-6
8. Minnesota 6-7
9. Chicago 6-7
Washington 6-7…Seahawks, Panthers, Eagles left on schedule
New York 5-8…Browns, Ravens, Cowboys
--New AP Poll (Mon.)
1. Gonzaga (54) 3-0
2. Baylor (7) 4-0
3. Iowa (1) 6-0
4. Michigan State 6-0
5. Kansas 6-1
6. Houston 4-0
7. Villanova 5-1
8. West Virginia 6-1
9. Creighton 4-1
10. Tennessee 2-0
15. Florida State 3-0
18. San Diego State 7-0
19. Rutgers 4-0
24. Clemson 5-0
Monday night, Marquette then beat Creighton 89-84, while Rutgers had a nice road win at Maryland, 74-60, as guard Geo Baker returned from his ankle injury.
--Florida men’s basketball player Keyontae Johnson remained in critical but stable condition Monday after collapsing during a game over the weekend, the school said in a statement. According to the school, he was “following simple commands and undergoing further tests.” Johnson’s grandfather told USA TODAY Sports that his grandson was in a medically induced coma that doctors hoped to bring him out of later in the day.
But then we learned today, Tuesday, that Johnson is talking to his family and doctors, and even FaceTimed his team in a sign of remarkable progress. His family said in a statement that was released through the school that “Keyontae is in stable condition, breathing on his own…”
I’ll talk about the NBA more next time, the season, unbelievably, about to begin, but for now, Milwaukee Bucks fans can breathe a big sigh of relief. Superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo is sticking around, smartly signing a five-year supermax contract extension (starting in 2021-22) that will pay him a gazillion dollars…more than $228 million, to be exact.
With all the uncertainty over the NBA’s losses due to the pandemic, even with vaccines coming, you’d be an idiot not to just grab the money now. And Giannis has showed he wants to be in Milwaukee prior to this.
--The story hit Sunday night that the Cleveland Indians were dropping the name, following years of pressure and protest from Native American groups and others who viewed it as racist and insensitive.
In a statement July 4, amid the nation’s public reckoning over race and social justice issues, the team said: “Our organization fully recognizes our team name is among the most visible ways in which we connect the community… We are committed to engaging our community and appropriate stakeholders to determine the best path forward with regard to our team name.”
Later in July, owner Paul Dolan vowed to meet with leaders of Native American groups to discuss the name.
It was about three years ago the team dropped its “Chief Wahoo” mascot, a change phased in beginning with the 2019 season, with the mascot replaced by a block “C” design, which actually looks great. [Ken P. and I debate all the time which caps are the best, including going back in history. I’m partial to the Twins’ cap, but the Mets’ ‘NY’ (and New York Giants’ old ‘NY’ are the best, along with the Pirates…Ken likes the classic Cardinals look).]
Anyway, this is how we left things Sunday night as we all went to bed…visions of Chief Wahoo dancing in our heads.
But then we learned Monday that while the Indians might be changing their name, it certainly isn’t in 2021.
“We’ll be the Indians in 2021 and then after that, it’s a difficult and complex process to identify a new name and do all the things you do around activating that name,” owner Dolan said. “We are going to work at as quick a pace as we can while dong it right.
“But we’re not going to do something just for the sake of doing it. We’re going to take the time we need to do it right.”
Kind of reminds me of the S.O.S Band’s 1980 hit, “Take Your Time Do It Right,” which wasn’t exactly about sports franchise name changes, but it works.
Dolan said the team will not adopt an interim name until choosing a new one.
“We don’t want to be the Cleveland Baseball Team or some other interim name,” he said. “We will continue to be the Indians until we have identified the next name that will hopefully take us through multiple centuries,” Dolan ignoring the fact the world ends in 10 ½ years, or sooner, in a nuclear holocaust…but I digress.
To me, an old Cleveland baseball name, the Spiders, is a natural, but so is Cleveland Rockers. When you’re branding and thinking of logos, Richmond University proved Spiders works. And you could figure out a decent ‘Rockers’ logo, though not as easily. [I’m thinking caps…uniform would be a guitar, which is fine, but this would look incredibly goofy on a cap. So just stick with the ‘C’.]
However, with the Rockers, coming up with a mascot is a layup…an Elvis impersonator. Everyone would want a picture with the guy. Then again, everyone might dress up as Elvis, but now I’m rambling….
--Mikaela Shiffrin claimed her first World Cup ski race since the death of her father, Jeff, 10 months ago, winning Monday’s giant slalom in Courchevel, France. It was Shiffrin’s first victory since January – one week before Jeff’s death.
Shiffrin was understandably very emotional after the race.
“It’s pretty hard to explain. Ninety-five percent of me felt that I couldn’t do it and then just a small bit of me at the right time and I was…,” Shiffrin said, her words trailing away. “It’s crazy to be back here.”
The win was No. 67 of Mikaela’s spectacular career, but never has a superstar suffered with their confidence like she has throughout, which makes me want to pull for her even more.
--A-Lim Kim*, known only to her friends and family, won her first LPGA title and for the 25-year-old it was a biggie…the U.S. Women’s Open, which had a Monday finish at Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas.
The South Korean Kim’s reactions afterward were priceless. The USGA set up a video call with Annika Sorenstam and a giddy Kim exclaimed, “Thank you so much! I love you!”
Then Champions founder Jack Burke Jr., the oldest living Masters champion, offered Kim a membership and she let out a scream.
Heroically, Amy Olson finished one stroke back after learning her father-in-law had unexpectedly passed away Saturday night, shooting a 72 in the final round despite the tragic circumstances.
*No one seems to know definitively how to spell her name. “A Lim Kim” or “A-Lim Kim”? Many see the former and go, “what’s an A Lim Kim?”
--Jack Harris / Los Angeles Times
“At the old O-Pee-Chee’s bubblegum and trading card factory in the Canadian city of London, Ontario, the month of December was most employees’ favorite time of the year.
“During most of the company’s history, that was when its eagerly anticipated packs of NHL player cards were manufactured – the crown jewel of its multi-sport product line.
“The process was largely manual. Once each player’s card was designed, films were used to print the image onto rectangular sheets of recycled cardboard large enough to fit 132 copies on each. From there, the sheets were fed by hand through two different industrial slicing machines in the basement of O-Pee-Chee’s old brick four-story factory, where sets of rotation knives slice them first into rows, the into individual cutouts.
“After that, they were packaged with a stick of bubblegum, loaded up on a delivery truck, and sold across the continent to wide-eyed kids and hard-core collectors alike. In 1979, the year Wayne Gretzky’s rookie card was manufactured, an entire box cost only 20 cents.
“On Thursday, a single copy of that very same Gretzky rookie card went to auction.
“It sold for $1.29 million.”
The specific card, one of hundreds of thousands of copies produced, is one of only two to have received “gem mint” status from assessment firm Professional Sports Authenticator, the gold-standard condition in card trading.
This is only the sixth known million-dollar sale of a sports card at auction.
--Finally, the potentially huge snowstorm approaching my area could be a big godsend to New Jersey’s long-suffering ski areas, ditto Pennsylvania’s Poconos and New York’s Catskills. Just keep my power on…weather Gods! [Temps will stay cold after for lots of snowmaking on top of a substantial base…mused the amateur meteorologist / economist…]
***Next Bar Chat, Sunday, the final CFP Rankings.***
[Posted Sun. p.m., prior to Steelers-Bills]
***Another late Tuesday add-on following the latest College Football Playoff Rankings***
Sports Illustrated “Sportsman” / “Sportsperson” of the Year Quiz: 1) Who was the first (1954)? 2) Who was the first boxer (1959)? 3) Who was the first college football recipient (1962)? 4) The first college basketball player (1961)? 5) Who are the only two with multiple selections? Answers below.
College Football Review
[Comments written prior to release of new AP poll.]
Ah yes, another week, another slew of canceled and postponed games due to ye olde pandemic, among them 4 Ohio State-Michigan, 5 Texas A&M-Ole Miss, 8 Cincinnati-24 Tulsa, 11 Oklahoma-West Virginia, 12 Indiana-Purdue, 20 Texas-Kansas, and Washington-Oregon.
But the season, if that’s what you can call it, is mercifully winding down to a precious few weekends and bowl games, and come hell or high water, we are going to have a final four and for this we are eternally grateful. At least we hope we do.
And towards that end…a few teams Saturday were caught looking ahead to their conference championship tilts next weekend.
But not 1 Alabama (10-0), which blasted Arkansas (3-7) 52-3. Now you’d think Mac Jones, DeVonta Smith and Najee Harris would have racked up some gaudy stats with a score like this, but ‘Bama ‘only’ had 443 yards of offense, the three held in check, save for Smith’s 84-yard punt return for a score.
But gearing up for its showdown in the SEC Championship with ‘Bama, 6 Florida got caught looking ahead and lost a thriller to LSU (4-5) 37-34, as the Tigers’ Cade York nailed a 57-yard field goal to put LSU ahead with about 23 seconds left, and then the Gators’ Evan McPherson saw his 51-yarder as time expired swerve just left, Ed Orgeron’s boys with the big upset.
I’m leaving something important out, though. Florida (8-2) had stopped LSU with the score knotted at 34, only to have defensive back Marco Wilson receive an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after he threw an LSU player’s shoe 20 yards and what would have been fourth down and a punt kept the Tigers’ drive alive, enough to move into Cade York’s range. A play that will live in infamy down in Gainesville.
Every college football fan, however, should bemoan this result. A Florida-Alabama matchup was looking juicy, but now it’s clear the Gators aren’t ready for prime time, ditto Kyle Trask.
Trask had one of the more deceiving 474 yard passing efforts of all time, with three turnovers (2 interceptions, including a pick six, and one fumble) and, yes, I fell off the Kyle Trask bandwagon, suffering a concussion in the process (never fall off a moving bandwagon). The dude will play in the NFL, he’s just not a top ten draft pick.
One guy who will shine, however, on Sundays is Florida’s all-purpose superstar, Kadarius Toney, who rushed it three times for 56 yards and caught nine passes for 182.
9 Georgia (7-2) most likely clinched a New Year’s Six Bowl berth with a 49-14 win over Missouri (5-4) as the Bulldogs’ offense has shined under USC transfer JT Daniels, who has thrown nine touchdown passes in his three games.
I don’t know what happened to 10 Miami (8-2), who simply didn’t show up, a New Year’s Six berth on the line, plus 17 North Carolina (8-3) is better than its record, but the Tar Heels had an astounding 778 yards of offense and little of it was due to quarterback Sam Howell.
In the greatest performance by a rushing duo in the history of the game, Michael Carter carried it 24 times for 308 yards and two touchdowns, while backfield mate Javonte Williams was 23-236-3, North Carolina rolling 62-26. The two also became the third tandem to run for 200 yards apiece against an AP-ranked opponent.
On the other side, it was the worst performance by a Miami defense in school history in terms of yards allowed.
13 Coastal Carolina was also caught looking ahead and had to struggle mightily to stay undefeated (11-0), a last-minute 75-yard, five-play drive to prevail over Troy (5-6) 42-38, thus preserving their Group of Five, New Year’s Six hopes. Johnny Mac’s Chanticleers now play 19 Louisiana for the Sun Belt Conference Championship in what should be an entertaining contest.
14 Northwestern (6-1) geared up for its Big Ten title game against Ohio State with a 28-10 win over Illinois (2-5), the Wildcats with 411 yards rushing.
15 USC moved to 5-0 with another thrilling come-from-behind win (three of their five in such fashion), overcoming a 35-23 deficit to UCLA (2-3) after three quarters and prevailing 43-38.
So the Trojans finish the year as the Pac-12’s only undefeated team and it would appear they will be playing Washington (3-1) in the conference championship game Friday night for a spot in the Fiesta Bowl.
But Washington’s game against Oregon (3-2) was canceled because of the Huskies’ Covid outbreak and if those issues linger into next week, USC might play Oregon.
As in, this is a joke. Just give USC the conference title and don’t play the game.
[Colorado, which entered the day 4-0, lost at home to Utah, 38-21.]
And in the only other games I cared about, Army (8-2) beat Navy (3-7) in heavy fog at Michie Stadium, the first time the contest had been held there since 1943, owing to the coronavirus, while my Wake Forest Demon Deacons played their first game since July, at least it seemed like that (Nov. 14), and it showed, Wake falling to 4-4, 45-21 losers at Louisville (4-7).
I can make all kinds of legitimate excuses. The Deacs learned minutes before the start that future NFLer Boogie Basham was unavailable, as well as future star receiver Donavon Greene, and this after top running back Kenneth Walker III (13 touchdowns in seven games) opted out for the remainder of the season. Plus Wake had an awful trip to Louisville, not checking into their hotel for the noon start until late Friday night.
Wake came into the game having turned the ball over just once…once…in its first seven contests…and then turned it over twice, including quarterback Sam Hartman’s first interception.
Oh well. For the Cardinals Jalen Mitchell rushed for 168 yards and as Tony Soprano would have said, ‘Whaddya gonna do?’
New Jersey’s state university, Rutgers, had a nice win for coach Greg Schiano and his quest to put together a solid program, 27-24 in overtime at Maryland (2-3), as Valentino Ambrosio kicked a 39-yard field goal as time expired to send it to OT, and then booted a 42-yarder for the win, the Scarlet Knights 3-5, which, trust me, is outstanding for RU and could easily be 5-3. Things will only get better in New Brunswick.
One side bar…if you were watching and don’t live in the New Jersey area and were wondering why Greg Schiano seemed so emotional at the end, it turns out three players on the team lost loved ones during the week, two to Covid-19. For good reason, it was a tough time for the kids.
Thursday, Pitt moved to 6-5 with a 34-20 win over Georgia Tech (3-7) and then made the decision to shut the season down rather than play in a bowl game, leaving one to wonder how many other teams will do the same.
In the MAC, Buffalo is 5-0 and will play Ball State for the conference title after a 56-7 win over Akron (1-5). Jarret Patterson followed up his 710 yards rushing his previous two games with another 105 on 16 carries and two touchdowns, while teammate Kevin Marks Jr. carried it 15 times for 182 and two scores. The Bison will be a fun watch in a bowl contest.
--Congratulations to Vanderbilt soccer player Sarah Fuller, who became the first woman to score in a Power Five football game, Fuller with two extra points in Vandy’s 42-17 loss to Tennessee.
The Commodores’ two kickers, Pierson Cooke and Wes Farley, had been out with Covid issues which gave Fuller the opportunity a few weeks ago to get placed on the team. Then when the two returned this week, Vandy’s special teams coordinator said in practice, Fuller was the best option for extra points. She earned her spot.
--Arizona fired Kevin Sumlin after an atrocious 70-7 loss to rival Arizona State, capping an 0-5 season. Sumlin was 9-20 in his brief tenure.
--How important is college football to the schools…and why has everyone forced a season despite a pandemic? Look at the SEC, which just reached a $3 billion deal with Disney to have league games appear on its networks, including ABC and ESPN, for 10 years starting in 2024.
The agreement will end the SEC’s nearly three-decade association with CBS, and give Disney ownership of all of the SEC’s lucrative media rights.
ESPN will pay the SEC around $300 million annually; nearly a sixfold increase from the $55 million annually CBS currently pays.
ABC will show Saturday afternoon SEC games, and selected Saturday primetime games, while other games will appear across ESPN cable channels and the ESPN+ streaming service (which I couldn’t live without).
If you were wondering, ESPN created the SEC Network in 2013.
--And now the new AP Poll, which I hasten to add is not as important at this point in the season as the CFP rankings (Tuesday night).
1. Alabama (62) 10-0
2. Notre Dame 10-0
3. Ohio State 5-0
4. Clemson 9-1
5. Texas A&M 7-1
6. Cincinnati 8-0
7. Indiana 6-1
8. Iowa State 8-2
9. Coastal Carolina 11-0
10. Georgia 7-2
11. Florida 8-2
12. Oklahoma 7-2
13. USC 5-0
16. North Carolina 8-3
20. Tulsa 6-1
23. Buffalo 5-0
25. San Jose State 6-0
I’ll comment on the upcoming conference championship games after the release of Tuesday’s CFP Rankings.
But for now, following up, Ohio State will play for the Big Ten championship, having received a waiver from the rule requiring teams to play a minimum of six games to qualify for it.
--The Giants had a potentially devastating loss to the Cardinals (7-6) at home, New York falling to 5-8 as they totally sucked in a 26-7 smackdown at MetLife Stadium. Quarterback Daniel Jones returned for the Giants and was abysmal, sacked six times, fumbling three times (losing one) and all the positive momentum generated from four straight wins that vaulted them to the top of the NFC East went out the window.
The Cardinals overall sacked the Giants eight times, including a franchise-record five by Haason Reddick, in an amazing performance. He had five sacks coming into the game for the season.
Arizona vaulted back into the final wildcard slot as the Vikings (6-7) lost to the Buccaneers (8-5) 26-14, Tampa Bay with the sixth spot in the NFC, now two games ahead of the Vikings and the Bears (6-7).
--Washington (6-7) then took over the lead in the NFC East, 23-15 over San Francisco ((5-8) as the 49ers turned it over three times, Washington with both a fumble and interception return for touchdowns.
--In other action in the division, Dallas, after losing to Baltimore on Tuesday 34-17, beat the Bengals today 30-7 to get to 4-9 and remain in the hunt…incredibly. The Bungles (2-10-1) lost three fumbles, one of which Aldon Smith returned 78 yards for a score.
Kind of reminds me of a Jethro Tull song… “Let’s fum-ble, we’re the Bun-gles…well, that’s alright by me…”
--And Philadelphia improved to 4-8-1 with a 24-21 upset of New Orleans (10-3). The Eagles benched Carson Wentz for Jalen Hurts and it paid off, Hurts with 106 yards rushing (167 passing), though he did lose a fumble. For the Saints, Drew Brees might return next week, shockingly, and none too soon.
So in the NFC East….
New York 5-8
Again, a terrible day for the Giants.
--The Chiefs moved to 12-1 but it wasn’t easy, a 33-27 win down in Miami (8-5), as Patrick Mahomes, who had 31 touchdown passes and just two interceptions coming into the contest was picked off three times.
But he did still throw for 393 and two touchdowns, Travis Kelce with another monster game, 8-136-1, while Tyreek Hill had a TD receiving and rushing.
--Tennessee is 9-4 after an easy 31-10 win over the 1-12 Jaguars. Pretty simple formula; unleash Derrick Henry, 26 carries for 215 yards and a score, while Ryan Tannehill had another efficient game at quarterback, 19/24, 212, 2-0, 131.2.
--Indianapolis (9-4) dealt Las Vegas (7-6) a potentially fatal blow in terms of its wildcard hopes, 44-27, as Wisconsin rookie Jonathan Taylor rumbled for 150 yards on the ground.
--My Jets are 0-13…as we should be…blown out by Seattle (9-4) 40-3, outgained 410-185, Russell Wilson with four touchdown passes. I am picking up more endorsements for Trevor Lawrence…including my favorite pizzeria. [Italian Village in Summit…I recommend the veal parm.]
--Yes…the Chargers finally won one, now 4-9, and Summit’s Michael Badgley, job potentially on the line, nailed a 43-yarder for the win with seconds left, L.A. beating the Falcons (4-9) 20-17. Huge…Badgley perfect on his other kicks. He can sleep this week. Ditto coach Anthony Lynn, whose own job is on the line these final few games and likes Badgley…wants, and needs, him to succeed.
--Green Bay is 10-3 after a 31-24 win in Detroit (5-8), Aaron Rodgers 26/33, 290, 3-0, 133.6, playing with a chip on his shoulder because he’s not getting “Rodgers Rates.” As you know, everyone gets them. #StateFarm
--Thursday, the Rams moved to 9-4 with a 24-3 win over the Patriots (6-7), Florida State rookie Cam Akers rushing for 171 yards on 29 carries.
--Finally, former University of Alabama and NFL coach Ray Perkins died. He was 79.
After starring at wide receiver for the Crimson Tide, Perkins was drafted by the Baltimore Colts and played there for five seasons, 1967-71…93 career receptions, good for 11 touchdowns. He was a member of the Colts’ 1970 Super Bowl winning team (and the 1968 edition that lost to the Jets).
Perkins then coached in the NFL, four seasons (1979-82) with the Giants, where he was 23-34, and four campaigns in Tampa Bay, 1987-90, going 19-41.
In between his two NFL stints, Perkins went back to his alma mater, 1983-86, and was 32-15-1, replacing his former coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant, following the 1982 season.
--The s---show continues…endless cancellations and postponements of games. Duke canceled its remaining nonconference regular-season games out of an abundance of caution due to the pandemic and to allow the Blue Devils’ players time over the holidays to spend with their families, according to a release from the university.
After Tuesday’s home loss to Illinois, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski raised questions about why games were even being played.
“I know the NCAA is worried about the end game,” he said, referring to March Madness. “They’re not as worried about the game we’re playing right now.”
In an interview Wednesday with USA TODAY’s Christine Brennan, Dick Vitale said:
“It’s chaos. We need a czar for college basketball. We need it badly. We need it in recruiting. We need it in situations like this. Right now, there’s no uniformity. People don’t realize the mental frustration for the players, the coaches, everyone. It’s just chaos, but I want to make it clear that what we’re dealing with in basketball has absolutely no comparison to those suffering from Covid, to the people on ventilators, to the people dying.”
“The solution is simple. Stop the season. Stop the games, men’s and women’s, right now. There’s no shame in this. It’s the smart thing to do. Every college and pro league in every sport has had to adjust their plans, not only for 2020, but also for 2021. And while the college basketball season officially began in late November, 33 men’s teams still have not played one game because of Covid-19 interruptions, so the season hasn’t even begun for them.
“ ‘Why can’t we move this season to March 1 and play the tournament in May?’ Vitale said. ‘I think they should sit back and reevaluate everything because, with the pandemic, it’s just going to get worse.’
“March Madness? May Madness? Right now, it’s just plain old madness.”
--Meanwhile, the story of the year could be Iowa, assuming we do get a full season in. Led by all-American center Luka Garza, the No. 3 Hawkeyes beat 14 North Carolina last Tuesday, 93-80, and what was great for Iowa fans is that Garza was not a factor, scoring 16 on 6 of 20 from the field, but three others in the starting five were 17 of 30 from three-point range. As in the team has depth.
And then on Friday, Garza showed why he is a surefire top-five NBA draft pick, scoring 34 points in only 17 minutes (6 of 7 from downtown, 13 of 14 from the field) as the Hawkeyes whipped Iowa State 105-77. At one point, Garza scored 21 straight Iowa points; a one-man wrecking crew.
But wait…there’s more…Garza had 23 in 20 minutes today as the now 6-0 Hawkeyes demolished Northern Illinois (0-5) 106-53.
--Tuesday, Division II Fort Hays State stunned Kansas State 81-68.
“This was very, very disappointing and sad for our program,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said.
--19 Richmond lost its first (4-1) to 11 West Virginia (6-1) 87-71 today.
--Seton Hall is off to a 4-3 start, including a 77-68 win Friday over St. John’s (5-2). I still expect the Pirates to be a factor in the Big East as they have one of the better players in the country in Sandro Mamukelashvili.
The 6’11” ‘Mamu’ began to come into his own last season and while he may have been a second-round draft pick had he gone out after his junior year, he came back to improve his position and it’s clearly going to be the right move. Mamu’s NBA game was on full display against the Johnnies, 32 points on 12 of 18 shooting, nine rebounds and two assists. Definitely one to watch the rest of the way. He’ll be a terrific ‘sixth’ man at the next level.
--And yesterday we had a very scary situation. Florida star Keyontae Johnson, who tested positive for Covid-19 during the summer, suddenly collapsed early in a game at Tallahassee against 20 Florida State, shortly after finishing an alley-oop on a pass from Tyree Appleby. Johnson celebrated with teammates and walked toward the sideline. As the team broke its huddle, he collapsed on the court and players screamed toward the sideline for help.
As of tonight, last I saw he remained in critical but stable condition in a Tallahassee hospital.
I was kind of shocked they went on with the game, the Seminoles prevailing over the obviously despondent Gators, 83-71.
Yes, this is an important story aside from the obvious…we hope Keyontae has a full recovery. It’s the Covid angle…and what did the Florida staff know about Johnson’s heart condition. The guy is a definite NBA prospect.
--Our dear Uncle Stevie (Mets owner Steve Cohen) is getting it done, the Mets signing the catcher I told you we should for weeks, James McCann, to a four-year, $40 million deal. Just a smart move, rather than load up the truck for J.T. Realmuto. On so many metrics, McCann is basically just as good, and he gets high marks for handling a pitching staff.
And we have a new GM, Jared Porter (according to reports), a longtime executive in Boston, Chicago and Arizona, who won three World Series in the front office for the Red Sox and another with the Cubs. His primary focus has been scouting, but now he will work under team president Sandy Alderson.
Coupled with the recent signing of quality reliever Trevor May and Uncle Stevie is off to a very solid start. Now we sit back and wait to see if he brings in George Springer and/or Trevor Bauer.
--The Phillies landed Dave Dombrowski as their president of baseball operations, a year after he was fired by the Red Sox after leading them to the 2018 title.
--Major League Baseball has completed its extreme revamp of the minor leagues, winnowing down 162 clubs to four affiliates for all 30 clubs, a process MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has championed to create a more cost-effective and efficient mode of player development.
All 30 MLB franchises will have a Class AAA team, a AA team, a high-Class A and low-Class A team, along with developmental teams and personnel at complexes in Arizona, Florida and the Dominican Republic. The annual amateur draft, once 40 rounds, will now be 20 rounds, depressing the need for additional affiliates.
Gone are affiliated short-season and rookie leagues in the Northeast, the Rockies and the Appalachians, with a majority of those franchises absorbed into collegiate and draft-showcase leagues.
Needless to say, there are a lot of sad stories with this move, which in terms of the future of the sport totally makes sense, by the way. In New York, for example, clubs in Troy, Staten Island, Batavia and Auburn are gone, or will try to participate in unaffiliated leagues.
And not all of the 120 selected franchises may end up agreeing to MLB’s terms, thus opening a door to the likes of the above.
As I mentioned the plight of the formerly Double-A Trenton Thunder, they are now in a MLB Draft League. Not sure how this is going to work.
--We note the passing of Phil Linz, a former Yankee from the 1960s. He was 81. For those of us of a certain age, we knew this guy didn’t play much, though he was on three World Series teams, but he was remembered for one thing. Playing his harmonica.
Richard Goldstein / New York Times
“Linz was usually a fill-in at shortstop, third base or second base, and occasionally in the outfield, bringing him the nickname Supersub. But in the summer of 1964 he briefly became a celebrity of sorts.
“On the afternoon of Aug. 20, the Yankees were on the team bus heading to O’Hare Airport in Chicago for a flight to Boston to play the Red Sox after losing four straight games to the White Sox while in a tight pennant race.
“Linz was sitting at the rear of the bus practicing on a harmonica he had bought earlier in the road trip.
“It came with a learner’s sheet, and the first tune was ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb.’
“Manager Yogi Berra, seated up front, was hardly in the mood for frivolity in view of the Yankees’ slump and shouted toward the back of the bus, ‘Shove that harmonica up!’
“ ‘I wasn’t sure what he said,’ Linz told USA TODAY in 2013.
“So he sought help from Mickey Mantle, who was sitting across from him. ‘I asked, ‘What did he say, Mickey?’’
“Mantle, quick to seize an opportunity for a practical joke, told him that Berra had said, ‘Play it louder.’
“So Linz played on.
“Berra charged toward Linz, who either flipped his harmonica toward him or had it swatted away by Berra; accounts differ.
“ ‘I went in and apologized to Yogi the next day, told him it was disrespectful, shook hands and promised it would never happen again,’ Linz remembered. ‘Yogi said, ‘I still got to fine you.’ He fined me $250. It was all right. I was making $14,000.’
“By then, the New York sportswriters who were on the Yankee bus had filed stories describing the episode, and the Associated Press had spread its account to newspapers throughout the country.
“Two weeks later, Hohner, the company that had manufactured the offending harmonica, offered Linz $10,000 to endorse its brand. Linz gladly accepted.”
The Yankees went on to go 22-6 in September and won the A.L. pennant by a game over the White Sox. Linz, subbing for an injured Tony Kubek, hit two home runs in the World Series, but the Yankees lost to the Cards in seven games. Berra was fired the day after the Series ended.
--Going back to the death of Dick Allen the other day, Shu passed along a piece by Frank Fitzpatrick of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Fitzpatrick described a time, July 17, 1966, “when, after working a doubleheader as a Connie Mack vendor, I waited for Allen with a pen and a sheet of notepaper in a dank ballpark corridor that smelled of popcorn and beer. I’d kept my vendor’s uniform on, thinking that cheap and cheesy outfit might help me establish some sort of comradeship with the baseball superstar.
“Since I’d been employed there throughout the spring and summer, I’m not sure why I chose that day to approach Allen. In the midst of his best season (40 HR, 110 RBI, a 1.027 OPS), he’d gone a mundane 2-for-7 with a pair of singles as the Phils and Dodgers split the two games.
“One Phillie after another passed by – Bobby Wine, Johnny Briggs, Roger Craig, Tony Taylor. My resolve weakened as my father, who sold programs at a front-entrance kiosk and was eager to get home, grew increasingly impatient.
“Finally, gliding alongside first baseman and future National League president Bill White, Allen emerged, as cool off the field as on it. A filtered cigarette dangled from his lips. And in each of his massive hands, he clutched a giant cup of beer.
“ ‘Mr. Allen,’ I said, stepping into their path, ‘can I have your autograph?’
“He glanced at me, then at the beers. After finding a spot to rest the cups, he took the pen and paper from my hands and, using a steel pillar for support, quickly signed his name.
“ ‘There you go, son,’ he said, scooping up the beers as he moved toward the distant shadows.
“I folded that precious paper and placed it into a wallet that had not been substantially fattened by 18 innings of hawking Cokes and 7Ups. It stayed there for decades, blue-inked proof of my encounter with a god.
“Twenty-six years later, I was The Inquirer’s Phillies beat writer. One morning in Clearwater I spotted Allen alone in a dugout. Dressed in an old sweatshirt and sneakers, with a tarnished gold chain around his neck, he looked forlorn, mortal. I moved alongside him, put my notebook away, introduced myself, and recounted our first meeting.
“He probably heard a dozen similar stories from a dozen other middle-aged men that day, but he smiled politely at mine.
“Then I reached for my wallet and showed him the badly deteriorated autograph. Surprisingly, he perked up. He grabbed that old sheet of paper, held it up in the Florida sunlight, and, as if searching for something he’d lost, examined it closely. After a few seconds, he carefully returned it.
“ ‘Long time ago, son,’ my idol said as he rose from the bench. ‘Long time ago.’”
This is a great time of year for Premier League fans, and the worst of times for the players. A ton of games in a three-week period, festive holiday spirit in the stands (albeit Covid-limited these days), some very tired players at times on the pitch, especially those who’ve been playing in Champions and Europa League competition, as well as the FA Cup.
I have to admit, as a Tottenham fan I keep waiting for Harry Kane’s annual injury that takes him out of action for 6-8 weeks.
Alas, today Kane scored again but the Spurs only managed a 1-1 draw at Crystal Palace. It wasn’t a good weekend for the top three, Liverpool with a highly disappointing 1-1 draw at Fulham, and Chelsea losing yesterday to Everton 1-0.
Also yesterday, Manchester City and Man United played to a scoreless draw.
So the standings are outrageously close after 11/12 of 38…Games / Points
1. Tottenham…12 – 25 (ahead on goal differential)
2. Liverpool…12 – 25
3. Leicester City…12 – 24…3-0 today over Brighton
4. Southampton…12 – 23
5. Chelsea…12 – 22
6. West Ham…12 – 20
7. Everton…12 – 20
8. Man U…11 – 20
9. Man City…11 – 19
15. Arsenal…12 – 13…wow, three straight losses, including 1-0 today to Burnley
--47-year-old Lee Westwood clinched the Race to Dubai title to end a season as the European Tour’s No. 1 player for the third time (formerly the Order of Merit title, Westwood winning in 2000 and 2009). Pretty amazing.
Westwood finished second in the DP World Tour Championship today in Dubai, won by Matthew Fitzpatrick.
Patrick Reed was seeking to become the first American to be Europe’s top player, but bogeyed Nos. 16 and 17 to drop out of contention.
Westwood, one of the two or three greatest never to win a major (along with Colin Montgomerie), is now a cinch to make the European Ryder Cup team for next year’s rescheduled event at Whistling Straits.
--After the LSU-Florida game Saturday night, I kept it on ESPN for the beginning of boxing from the MGM Grand and wow am I glad I did.
New York’s Edgar Berlanga, 23, continued his meteoric rise with his 16th first-round knockout in 16 bouts, five shy of the all-time boxing record, with a first-round super middleweight TKO of a solid opponent, Ulises Sierra.
16 of 16…it was fun to watch. Afterwards, legendary promoter Bob Arum called Berlanga the “greatest power-punching phenom since a young Mike Tyson.”
Don’t have to convince me.
Meanwhile, heavyweight Anthony Joshua retained his IBF, WBA and WBO titles with a comfortable win over Kubrat Pulev (a devastating knockout in the ninth round) at London’s Wembley Stadium (1,000 fans allowed in).
So the boxing world hopes a unification title bout with WBC champ Tyson Fury is finally going to come off in 2021. It seems both parties are ready to make it happen. I’d be tempted to shell out some coin for it….get those vaccines distributed! I need to bring some folks over to cut the costs for what would no doubt be a substantial pay-per-view ticket. $200? Just guessing.
--We note the passing of Charley Pride, 86, a son of sharecroppers who rose to become country music’s first black superstar on the strength of hits including “Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’” and “Is Anybody Goin’ To San Antone.” A publicist said the cause of death was complications from Covid-19.
Pride wasn’t the first black artist to record country music, but none of his predecessors had anywhere near the degree of success he enjoyed. In 1971, just four years after his first hit record, he won the Country Music Association’s entertainer of the year award.
Pride was born on March 18, 1934, in Sledge, Mississippi. He served in the army before moving to Montana to try to make it as a baseball player. He worked at a smelting plant and played semiprofessional ball.
Pride, who grew up listening to Grand Ole Opry concerts on the radio, was discovered in a bar in Montana, singing Hank Williams’ “Lovesick Blues.” He began his recording career in 1963, and two years later signed a contract with RCA Records, shuffling between Montana and Nashville. In 1967, his recording of “Just Between You And Me” became a Top 10 hit on Billboard’s country music charts and only then did he quit his smelting job.
Just last month in Nashville, Pride received the CMA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. It was his last public performance. Organizers of the event said they were “following all protocols” for dealing with Covid-19, but some in attendance were not wearing masks.
In the 20 years after his 1967 breakout hit, 51 more of Pride’s records reached the country Top 10 – 29 of them hitting number one, the last in 1983, opening doors for other black country music stars. “No person of color had ever done what he has done,” Darius Rucker said in a 2019 PBS documentary about Pride.
Pride wrote in his memoir, Pride: The Charley Pride Story (1984): “We’re not colorblind yet, but we’ve advanced a few paces along the path and I like to think I’ve contributed something to that process.”
--I watched the entire SNL last night, hosted by Timothee Chalamet, with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Frankly, it was the best SNL in years; Chalamet a total natural who I imagine will be hosting at least once every two years from here on.
Of course it helped that Springsteen did two terrific songs from his new album, but if you are a New York Jets fan in particular, Chalamet and Pete Davidson did a terrific sketch in the final segment, “Sportsmax,” debunking conspiracy theories that have the Jets at 0-12. No, they are 11-1.
--From the New York Daily News’ Larry McShane: “A macabre piece of John Lennon memorabilia remained on the auction block Tuesday: The copy of ‘Double Fantasy’ autographed by the ex-Beatle for his assassin just five hours before his 1980 murder.”
Bidding was closing in on $600,000, with the online sale closing Sunday via the Goldin Auctions website.
Lennon and Yoko Ono left their Upper West Side home around 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 8, 1980, headed to the Record Plant recording studio. On their way out, Lennon stopped to sign killer Mark David Chapman’s copy of the recently released album.
Chapman was then waiting outside Lennon’s apartment shortly before 11 p.m. when John returned with Yoko at his side. Before his arrest, Chapman placed the signed LP in a flower planter outside the Dakota.
The album was actually introduced as evidence in Chapman’s murder trial.
Top 3 songs for the week 12/13/75: #1 “Fly, Robin, Fly” (Silver Convention…uh oh…the 60s are over…) #2 “Let’s Do It Again” (The Staple Singers) #3 “Sky High” (Jigsaw)…and…#4 “That’s The Way (I Like It)” (KC & The Sunshine Band) #5 “Saturday Night” (Bay City Rollers…I’ll never forget when Howard Cosell introduced them on his short-lived variety show) #6 “Love Rollercoaster” (Ohio Players) #7 “Nights On Broadway” (Bee Gees) #8 “Theme From Mahogany” (Diana Ross) #9 “My Little Town” (Simon & Garfunkel) #10 “Fox On The Run” (Sweet…C- week…)
Sports Illustrated “Sportsman” / Sportsperson” of the Year Quiz Answers: 1) Roger Bannister was the first in 1954. 2) Ingemar Johansson was the first boxer, 1959. 3) Terry Baker was the first college football player, 1962. 4) First college hoops winner was Jerry Lucas. 5) Tiger Woods (2) and LeBron James (3) are the only multiple winners.
***I’ll have another Tuesday add-on following the College Football Playoff Rankings.***