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Add-On posted Wed. a.m.
The Divisional Round is set….
Bengals at Titans…4:30 ET…30s, no precip
49ers at Packers…8:15…teens, maybe a flurry or two
Rams at Bucs…3:00…60s, no precip
Bills at Chiefs…6:30…upper 30s, no precip
All four of these are potentially good games. Certainly lots of story lines.
Aaron Rodgers, by the way, is 0-3 in the playoffs against San Francisco.
And Tom Brady, with a beaten-up offensive line, cannot be thrilled he is now going up against the Rams’ fierce defensive line, led by Aaron Donald and Von Miller.
As for the two games since I last posted, Ben Roethlisberger went off with a whimper as the Steelers fell to Kansas City 42-21 in a game that was not as close as the score.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Steelers broke out on top first on a T.J. Watt fumble recovery of a Darrell Williams carry on a trick play, Watt taking it in 26 yards for the score, and then it was all Kansas City, Patrick Mahomes and Co. on top 35-7 with 9:14 left in the third quarter.
Mahomes had another sterling game, 30/39, 404, 5-1, 138.3. His last six games he’s had two other similar efforts, PRs of 135.1 and 139.2, and has thrown 17 touchdown passes vs. just two interceptions.
Roethlisberger, on the other hand, looked like very mediocre down the stretch. And now, having backed into the playoffs, as the Steelers turn to the future, it’s Mason Rudolph as heir apparent? He’s the only one under contract and hardly the answer. At No. 20 in the first round, there will be a potentially decent quarterback left but there is no sure thing this year at the position, plus the top two, Kenny Pickett and Matt Corrall, will likely be gone by then.
Monday night, Matthew Stafford finally picked up his first playoff win as the Rams trounced the pathetic Arizona Cardinals 34-11. [Sean McVay’s 10th win in 11 meetings against AZ since becoming coach of the Rams.]
It was 21-0 at the half, with the Cards’ Kyler Murray 7/17, 28, 0-2, 9.3 !!! He threw the shortest pick-six in playoff history, 3 yards, as L.A.’s David Long Jr. caught a Murray flip under pressure from the endzone that harkened back to some pickup games at the local field when I was like 10-years-old. It was the single worst play I think I have ever seen at the professional level, certainly in the playoffs, including Garo Yepremian’s Super Bowl play from like 50 years ago.
As for Stafford, he was totally in control, not needing to do a helluva lot, 13/17, 202, 2-0, 154.5, while working Odell Beckham Jr. into the offense, Odell with his first playoff touchdown reception (4-54-1), plus OBJ had a 40-yard pass on a trick play to Cam Akers down the sideline.
Beckham needs to be energized and he is now…and that’s only good for the Rams, who also picked up a solid 140 yards on the ground.
And the L.A. defense obviously dominated, virtually all of Arizona’s 183 yards of offense coming after the score was 28-0 in the third.
“We put up an embarrassing performance,” veteran defensive standout J.J. Watt, who was activated from injured reserve for the contest, said after. “There’s no other way to put it, really.”
The Cardinals started the season 10-2, then lost four of their five final regular season games before this debacle.
Lastly, I saw this tidbit in the Los Angeles Times. Teams that trailed by 21 or more points at halftime since 2015, including the playoffs, are 0-128.
[For those of you worried about Arizona safety Budda Baker’s health after he was taken off the field on a stretcher following a collision with Cam Akers, he was released from the hospital on Tuesday and was able to fly home.]
Meanwhile, back to the Dallas-San Francisco game Sunday afternoon….
Mike Vaccaro / New York Post
“Somehow, against all reason, against all logic, the Cowboys were still breathing. They were walking on buckled knees. They were breathing through bloodied noses. And they had spent most of the past 59-plus minutes trying to invent new levels of self-sabotage.
“Yet here they were. There were 14 seconds left. They were losing by six points. They were at the 49ers’ 41-yard line. If you didn’t have access to a scoreboard you would have thought the Niners were up by six touchdowns, not six points. But this is the playoffs. Stuff happens.
“Now this. Now Dak Prescott took a snap, with the pleas of 90,000 voices ringing in his ears, and surely he would take one or two more shots at the sideline, then try a Hail Mary. Why not? It was the Cowboys, after all, who’d invented the Hail Mary play one playoff afternoon in Bloomington, Minn., in 1975, Roger Staubach to Drew Pearson.
“That segment of America who doesn’t root for America’s Team was bracing for that.
“But then we were reminded: these Cowboys aren’t your father’s Cowboys. They aren’t your grandfather’s Cowboys. When the playoffs roll around they shrivel and shrink. When the money’s on the table they let the other guys grab it.
“With the season still alive, Prescott made a run for it.
“It was jarring. It was stunning. It made zero sense. He gained 17 yards but by the end of the play the final seconds of the clock were bleeding away. The Cowboys tried to line up. They tried to beat the clock. They didn’t. The clock reached 0:00. The cauldron of sound that had been AT&T Stadium a second earlier became morgue still.
“The scoreboard screamed the remarkable news: 49ers 23, Cowboys 17.
“ ‘I thought everything was executed well – until it wasn’t,’ Prescott said later, trying to explain away the inexplicable.
“ ‘It’s the right decision, we shouldn’t have any problem getting the ball spiked,’ said Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy, one final inspiredly insipid observation on a day when he was as thoroughly outcoached by San Francisco’s Kyle Shanahan as the law allows.
“Of course it wasn’t just a poor decision but impossible to defend. For the Cowboys, all across an empty quarter century, it always seems to be about next year. Since they won their last Super Bowl in January 1996 the Cowboys have won four playoff games. This year was going to be different. This year, in various stages of the season, they had the league’s most explosive offense and its most lethal defense.
“For some weeks, Prescott looked like an MVP candidate.
“But Sunday, one more time, with the only stakes that matter piled high on the table, the Cowboys were thrashed by one of their ancient foes….
“ ‘The first one is always the hardest one,’ McCarthy said in a hilarious ode to the obvious. ‘We were a little jittery to start the game. Once we settled in, it was a heck of a contest.’
“That will be little consolation to the members of the Cowboys’ massive fan base, and will be less consolation to owner Jerry Jones.
“ ‘I’m just disappointed that we were in that spot,’ Jones said later, another wholly unsatisfying season full in the books. ‘The makeup of not only the personnel but our season, I didn’t think I was going to be standing here with you tonight visiting like this, for sure.’….
“And still the Cowboys had a shot. There was a terrible interception by Jimmy Garoppolo. There was an overturned spot, and a brutal 49ers penalty, and the Cowboys got the ball one more time, one more chance. But this wasn’t Roger Staubach in Minnesota in 1975. It was a different quarterback, a different time, a different mojo.
“ ‘Tough to accept,’ Prescott said. ‘Definitely tough to accept.’
“The clock, and the season had run out on the Cowboys, once America’s Team, now perpetually Next Year’s Team.”
The Cowboys committed 14 penalties, simply inexcusable. Jerry Jones could also lose his top coordinators – Dan Quinn and Kellen Moore.
Final comment on the wild card weekend and expanded playoffs, four of the six games sucking wind. Do you really want to expand the college playoffs to 12 teams?
--New AP Top 25 (records as of Sun.)
1. Gonzaga (25) 14-2…1486 points
2. Auburn (36) 16-1…1482
3. Arizona 14-1
4. Purdue 14-2…beat Illinois, Monday, 96-88 in 2OT
5. Baylor 15-2
6. Duke 14-2
7. Kansas 14-2
8. Wisconsin 14-2
9. UCLA 11-2
10. Houston 15-2
11. Villanova 13-4
12. Kentucky 14-3
13. LSU 15-2
14. Michigan State 14-3
15. Iowa State 14-3
16. USC 14-2
17. Illinois 13-3
18. Texas Tech 13-4
19. Ohio State 11-4
20. Xavier 13-3
21. Providence 14-2
22. Loyola Chicago 13-2
23. Texas 13-4
24. Tennessee 11-5
25. UConn 11-4
--So we had a slew of activity Tuesday and 5 Baylor beat West Virginia 77-68, 7 Kansas held off Oklahoma 67-74, and 18 Texas Tech beat 15 Iowa State 72-60.
But 6 Duke lost in overtime to Florida State in Tallahassee, 79-78.
Get this…the Seminoles extended their winning streak in overtime games to 13…the Division I record. That’s amazing. FSU is now 11-5, 5-2, while Duke fell to 14-3, 4-2.
RayQuan Evans was the hero for FSU, hitting two clutch free throws to turn a one-point deficit into a one-point lead.
--Freakin’ St. Bonaventure fell to 10-4, 2-1, in getting drubbed at Dayton (12-6, 4-1) 68-50. For the Bonnies, Holmes, Welch and Lofton shot 1-18 from three, while Dayton as a team was a combined 10 of 18 from beyond the arc.
My enthusiasm for my Feb. 1 trip is waning rapidly.
--I love how the league loads up the schedule on MLK Day and the Knicks have a long-held tradition of hosting a matinee contest at the Garden, which is normally good entertainment on a weekday afternoon.
But the Knicks laid an egg in front of the Garden faithful, 97-87, in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score. The Hornets, in improving to 24-20, were led by Miles Bridges’ career-high 38 points on 14 of 20 shooting from the field (5 of 9 from three).
This is the same Miles Bridges who was the 12th selection in the first round of the 2018 NBA Draft, while the Knicks picked Kevin Knox with the ninth pick. And we know what happened to Knox, while Bridges’ star continues to rise.
The two were very similar coming out of college…it’s called scouting.
The Knicks then lost at home Tuesday night, 112-110, a crusher to the T’Wolves (22-22), the Knicks now back to 22-23.
--The Nets are going to have real problems down the stretch without Kevin Durant, losing Monday at greatly improving Cleveland (27-18) 114-107. Brooklyn had Kyrie Irving for this one, and he responded with 27 points and 9 assists, but James Harden was dinged up and the 27-16 Nets are now behind the Bulls and the Heat in the Eastern Conference, with the Cavs, Bucks and 76ers hot on their tail.
--The Warriors (32-12) won last night, beating the Pistons 102-86, notable only because Klay Thompson continues to round into form…still limited in his minutes, just 20 in this one, but 21 points.
--So I said last time that Novak Djokovic would be welcomed to the French Open with open arms and that was true, before late Sunday when the French parliament approved a vaccine pass law, which will require people to have a certificate of vaccination to enter public places such as sports venues, museums, restaurants, cafes, etc.
The French Sports Ministry said Monday there would be no exemption from the law for the French Open.
“The rule is simple. The vaccine pass will be imposed, as soon as the law is promulgated, in establishments that were already subject to the health pass,” the ministry said.
The French Open is May 22- June 5, so the Covid situation could change by then.
But come March-April, Novak better be ready to get a shot.
Meanwhile, the Australian Open has been underway a few days and on the women’s side, Leylah Fernandez, the U.S. Open finalist who lost to Emma Raducanu last year, lost in the first round to local wild-card entry Maddison Inglis, ranked No. 133 in the world. It was Inglis’ first win in a Grand Slam main draw.
And it was the third straight year that Fernandez, the 19-year-old Canadian, lost in the first round of the Aussie Open!
As for Raducanu, she defeated American Sloane Stephens – the 2017 U.S. Open champion – in her first round match.
Top-ranked Ash Barty and Naomi Osaka have advanced to the third round.
Rafael Nadal is also into the third round. How sweet would it be if Nadal won his 21st Grand Slam title while Novak was back home? But Rafa has had all kinds of injury issues since last June so he’s not expecting much out of this event himself.
--I posted Sunday at the halfway point of the final round of the Sony Open in Hawaii, Russell Henley up five over Hideki Matsuyama. I tuned in about the 13th hole and Matsuyama kept chipping away as Henley had a back nine consisting of eight pars and one bogey, Hideki a 4-under 31, and they went to sudden death.
Whereupon Hideki hit a 3-wood for his second shot on the par-5 18th that was one of the best shots of his career, to three feet for the wining birdie, Henley flaming out by finding the fairway bunker a second straight time.
So win No. 8 on the PGA Tour for Matsuyama, tying him with countryman K.J. Choi for most wins by a Japanese player.
--The Grammy Awards have been moved to April 3rd, in Las Vegas, not L.A.
Next Bar Chat, Sunday p.m.
[Posted Sun. p.m., prior to Steelers-Chiefs]
Add-On up top by noon on Wed.
Baseball Hall of Fame Quiz: With the announcement on the 2022 class coming up in a week, here’s one that will keep you occupied a while.
In 1982, Hank Aaron (97.8%) and Frank Robinson (89.2%) were first ballot Hall of Famers, a rather strong duo I think you’d agree.
But 14 other players on the ballot that year would also end up getting in the Hall over the ensuing years, many of them through the Veterans Committee process. Back then, players could be on the ballot a full 15 years as long as they continued to receive 5%. So a few of the guys on the ’82 ballot actually played some in the 1940s and/or ‘50s.
How many of the 14 can you name? Answer below.
--The Buffalo Bills destroyed the New England Patriots 47-17 Saturday night, despite the brutal cold, six degrees (-6 wind chill), with the Bills scoring a touchdown on all seven of their possessions outside of a kneel-down at the end of the game, becoming the first team in the Super Bowl era to score a TD on each of its first seven drives of a playoff game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Buffalo also became the first team in NFL history to go an entire playoff game without a punt, field goal or turnover.
Dating back to a 33-21 win in Week 16 against the same Patriots, the Bills’ last 13 drives against them yielded 11 scores (10 touchdowns and a field goal).
It was 27-3 at the half, Josh Allen throwing for 172 and rushing for 63, the Bills racking up 300 yards of offense, and they rolled from there, Allen finishing a rather spectacular 21/25, 308, 5-0, 157.6 (near perfect), plus 66 on the ground. The passing performance was all the more impressive given the bone-chilling temps, the slippery ball, you name it.
For New England, Mac Jones was 24/38, 232, 2-2, 75.8, with one of the picks a spectacular play by safety Micah Hyde in the end zone on the Pats’ first drive of the game that set the tone.
With a Chiefs win on Sunday night, the Bills would travel to Kansas City, the site of Buffalo’s 2021 AFC Championship Game loss.
IF the Steelers win, the Bills would host the Bengals (while Tennessee hosted the Steelers).
Dan Shaughnessy / Boston Globe
“The weather was supposed to play to New England’s advantage.
“It did not.
“The coaching matchup was supposed to play to New England’s advantage.
“It did not.
“What a beating!
“A season in which the Patriots returned to the playoffs expired on the frozen tundra of Orchard Park, N.Y., Saturday night as Bill Belichick’s unprepared team was demolished by the Buffalo Bills, 47-17, in the sub-zero freezer that is Highmark Stadium.
“A surprise season that peaked when the same Patriots beat the same Bills in a crossfire hurricane Dec. 6 collapsed in spectacular fashion over the final five weeks. In a stunning stretch of 42 days, the Patriots went from top seeds in the AFC (with visions of a Tom Brady showdown in Super Bowl 53) to a line of frozen Tomato Cans in a discount freezer.
“You be the judge. After a 2-4 start, the Patriots beat a string of mostly bad teams, then flopped at the finish, losing four of their last five, falling behind by whopping margins in each loss. New England’s only win over the final five weeks was a home blowout of the 3-14 Jacksonville Jaguars. Cam Newton could have won that one….
“Belichick is supposed to be the greatest coach of all time and rarely has he featured a team that played more embarrassingly than what we saw over the last month. Bill kept talking about ‘playing better,’ and ‘coaching better,’ but it only got worse….
“Ordinarily, this is when we would be telling you how many days until pitchers and catchers report. Not this year. Baseball is mired in a ridiculous labor lockout. Meanwhile, most everybody in Boston hates the Celtics.
“Belichick was in vintage, hostage-tape mode after this one.
“ ‘They played well and we didn’t,’ he mumbled a couple of times. ‘They deserved to win.’
“So…Boston sports fans…
“…how ‘bout those Bruins?”
--In the early game Saturday, in relatively balmy Cincinnati (32 degrees, 24 wind chill), the Bengals won their first playoff game in 31 years, holding off a game Raiders team 26-19.
Coach Zac Taylor said game balls were going to team owner Mike Brown and to the city itself.
“Some of them might not understand the significance of what happened today,” he said of his players. “The city can finally enjoy…this team and take the pressure off of the last 31 years. Today was significant for a lot of people.”
The Bengals had to survive a Raiders drive to the 9-yard line, but Derek Carr was intercepted on fourth down by Germaine Pratt.
Thanks to some questionable officiating by Jerome Boger’s crew, the Bengals also extended a lengthy postseason drought for the Raiders, who won their last four games to squeeze into the playoffs, but last won in the postseason in the 2002 AFC championship game.
There were eight field goals in the game, four by each team…rookie Evan McPherson for the Bengals and the great Daniel Carlson for the Raiders were both 4-for-4 under the pressure of the moment.
But, unfortunately, back to the officiating, Joe Burrow (24/34, 244, 2-0, 110.4) threw his second touchdown against the Raiders’ defense to receiver Tyler Boyd in the back of the endzone on a third-and-4 play to give Cincy a 20-6 lead. They would manage only a field goal the rest of the way.
However, as NBC later showed on replays of the touchdown, it was clear that an official had blown his whistle erroneously before the catch was made. Per NFL rules, that should have ended the play, negating the touchdown.
NBC’s rules expert Terry McAulay said during the broadcast, “They can’t have a touchdown on that play, by rule.”
At first the focus was on whether Burrow threw the ball while out of bounds but he was clearly in bounds. But you had the whistle.
After the game, Walt Anderson – the NFL’s senior vice president of officiating – said in a pool report that the referees determined after a conference that the whistle was blown after Boyd had caught the ball – which replays still seem to contradict.
Anderson confirmed that an “erroneous whistle is not a reviewable play.”
Needless to say, this was a critical play.
There was another awful call by Boger in the third quarter, but that benefited Vegas.
And the Raiders had their opportunities to overcome the gift to the Bengals in the second quarter, but largely didn’t take advantage of them and had the awful play by kick returner Peyton Barber, who picked up the ball on a kickoff as it appeared to roll toward the end zone for a potential touchback, or, out of bounds, ball placed on the 40. Instead, the Raiders started the drive on their two, quickly punted, and Cincinnati converted for a field goal, making it 13-3 at the time.
--Today, in the first game, Tampa Bay whipped Philadelphia 31-15 in a godawful affair, that was no contest, 31-0 entering the fourth quarter, whereupon the Eagles got some gar-bage time (in Marv Albert’s French accent) touchdowns.
Tom Brady was a cool 29/37, 271, 2-0, 115.2. The Eagles had three turnovers.
And that’s it. Anyone trying to make more of this one is a fool…or a desperate sportswriter thinking, ‘How the f--- do I come up with 8-10 paragraphs?!’
I did do my laundry, and watched some Weather Channel.
--As for the second game, San Francisco took the opening kickoff 75 yards on seven plays for a touchdown, the 49ers then moving to a 16-7 halftime lead, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo off to a fast start.
But then things got complicated in the fourth quarter, Dallas down 23-7 and then pulling to 23-17.
And the Cowboys, through a bizarre series of events, actually got the ball to the 50-yard line with 0:18 seconds left, then the 41 at 0:14, when Dak Prescott ran a quarterback sneak to the 24 but there wasn’t enough time to get another play off, clock runs out (as Phil Simms said after, clearly the Cowboys hadn’t run that scenario in the preseason), and San Francisco moves on to face the Packers in Green Bay.
Monday night’s Cardinals-Rams winner will take on Tom Brady in Tampa.
More in my Add-On.
--The only postseason honor that really matters when it comes to pro and college football and basketball is the Associated Press’ All-Pro, All-NBA or All-America team.
And we had the release of the AP 2021 NFL All-Pro Team this week and it was led by Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, Jonathan Taylor (Indianapolis) running back, and wide receivers Davante Adams (Green Bay) and Cooper Kupp (Rams).
The Rams’ Aaron Donald, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year, made the team for the seventh time in his eight pro season, while Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt made it for a third time after tying the NFL record for sacks with 22.5.
Adams, Kupp, Taylor, Donald and Watt were unanimous choices, receiving votes from all 50 members of a nationwide panel of media members who regularly cover the league.
Rodgers made it for a fourth time, along with Philadelphia center Jason Kelce. Dallas right guard Zack Martin and Baltimore place-kicker Justin Tucker got the nod for a fifth time.
Colts linebacker Darius Leonard, Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey and Steelers defensive tackle Cam Heyward all made it a third time this year.
The only rookie on the first team is linebacker Micah Parsons of Dallas.
Jets kick returner Braxton Berrios got a deserved spot on the esteemed list, just in time for free agency.
Back to Justin Tucker, no other kicker has been named first team more than three times, and there he sits at five.
When you look at past players on profootballreference.com, you can ignore the Pro Bowl nods, which have become a joke to a large extent. You measure true greatness by how many All-Pro teams you made.
--The Texans fired David Culley on Thursday, four days after Houston wrapped up a 4-13 campaign in his first season as head coach.
Texas general manager Nick Caserio said in a statement: “While a change after one season is unusual, we had philosophical differences over the long-term direction and vision of our program moving forward.”
Culley had three years left on his contract and it’s guaranteed.
Culley, a longtime assistant at both the college and NFL level, became the oldest first-time NFL head coach at age 65.
Houston was without quarterback Deshaun Watson this season. Watson had requested a trade last January after the McNair family hired Caserio. And then the first of 23 lawsuits were filed against Watson alleging sexual assault and inappropriate behavior shortly thereafter. He still faces 22 active lawsuits.
Watson was on the active roster all season but a healthy scratch each game.
So with the firing of Brian Flores in Miami, Mike Tomlin is the only Black head coach, though that should be rectified shortly as it would be a shock if Flores isn’t hired to fill one of the existing vacancies.
--In the college game…UCLA decided to give Chip Kelly a four-year extension on a contract that was set to expire after next season, and which had a $9-million buyout. So Kelly is being given a shot to continue the upward trajectory of the program that culminated in UCLA’s best season in six years.
Actually, UCLA could have fired him without having to pay the buyout, or Kelly could have taken another job Sunday without his new employer having to pay the buyout to UCLA.
Kelly, 58, had been entertaining overtures from Oregon, where he went 46-7 from 2009-2012 before the Ducks hired Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning.
The Bruins were 8-4, 6-3 in the Pac-12, this past season before withdrawing from the Holiday Bowl because of Covid-19 issues. But Kelly is still 18-25 in his four seasons. He also has just two wins over teams with a winning record.
Nonetheless he’s gone from 3-9 in 2018 to 4-8 in 2019 to 3-4 in 2020 to 8-4 in 2021. What the hell.
The drama continued as Djokovic, seeking a record 21st Grand Slam singles win at the Australian Open, saw his visa cancelled for a second time on Friday by an Australian court over Covid-19 entry regulations.
Djokovic had been told on arrival on Jan. 5 that his visa, granted on the basis of a medical exemption from a vaccination requirement for visitors, was invalid. He spent several days in immigration detention before that decision was revoked on procedural grounds.
His lawyers said the government had told them Novak would not be taken back into detention on Friday night.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said in a statement that he had “exercised my power under Section 133C(3) of the Migration Act to cancel the visa held by Mr. Novak Djokovic on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so.”
Under Section 133C, Djokovic would not be able to secure a visa to Australia for three years, except in compelling circumstances. The player’s legal team said Hawke had argued that allowing Djokovic to stay would incite anti-vaccination sentiment. His lawyers called Hawke’s decision “patently irrational.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that the decision followed “careful consideration.”
“Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected,” he said in a statement.
Sunday, three Federal Court judges then unanimously upheld Friday’s decision by Hawke to cancel Djokovic’s visa on public interest grounds because he is not vaccinated.
“I am extremely disappointed with the Court ruling to dismiss my application for judicial review of the Minister’s decision to cancel my visa, which means I cannot stay in Australia and participate in the Australian Open,” Djokovic said in a statement.
“I respect the Court’s ruling and I will cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country,” he added. He then flew off to Dubai hours later.
Djokovic said he was “uncomfortable” that the focus had been on him since his visa was first canceled and “I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love.”
Rafael Nadal, seeded sixth, said before Sunday’s ruling that he was tired of the Djokovic saga and that no one player is bigger than the Australian Open.
“I tell you one thing, it’s very clear that Novak Djokovic is one of the best players in history, but there is no one player in history that’s more important than an event.
“The Australian Open is much more important than any player. If he’s playing finally, OK.
“If he’s not playing, the Australian Open will be great, with or without him. That’s my point of view.
“Honestly, I’m a little bit tired of the situation because I just believe that it’s important to talk about our sport, about tennis,” Nadal said.
British tennis star Andy Murray told reporters that the situation was “not great for the tennis, not great for the Australian Open, not great for Novak.”
An online poll by the News Corp. media group found that 83% favored deportation.
Chief Justice James Allsop said the ruling came down to whether Immigration Minister Hawke’s decision was “irrational or legally unreasonable.”
Hawke welcomed the decision.
“Australia’s strong border protection policies have kept us safe during the pandemic, resulting in one of the lowest death rates, strongest economic recoveries, and highest vaccination rates in the world.
“Strong border protection policies are also fundamental to safe-guarding Australia’s social cohesion which continues to strengthen despite the pandemic,” he added.
Australian opposition leader Kristina Keneally said, “This mess isn’t a failure of our laws. It’s a failure of (Prime Minister) Morrison’s competence & leadership.”
Morrison is seeking a fourth three-year term at elections due by May.
Meanwhile, in Serbia, President Aleksandar Vucic said Sunday’s hearing was “a farce with a lot of lies.”
“They think that they humiliated Djokovic with this 10-day harassment, and they actually humiliated themselves. If you said that the one who was not vaccinated has no right to enter, Novak would not come or would be vaccinated,” Vucic told reporters.
He said he told Djokovic after talking to him “that we can’t wait to see him in Serbia, to return to his country, to come where he is always welcome.”
Djokovic will now be gunning for Grand Slam number 21 at the French Open in June, officials there already saying they will welcome him with open arms.
Howard Bryant / ESPN.com…prior to Sunday’s ruling….
“On its face, the story is Djokovic. He has cemented his membership within the pandemic’s most infamous group – the anti-vax multimillionaire athlete who behaves as if his fame, wealth and enormous platform to disseminate misinformation place him above the rest of us. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving are also members of the club – and even Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, long held as the politically conscientious antithesis to his frightened, apolitical generational predecessors, posted Spider-Man memes conflating Covid-19 with the flu. In his own way, Irving has emerged as something of the most principled of the group, unable to play home games at the Barclays Center because of New York City’s vaccine mandate. He first responded to the pandemic with disdain, confidently repeating his conspiracy theories as if he possessed knowledge beyond that of mere lifetime health professionals before quietly choosing to not play – and dealing with the consequences that accompanied his decision.
“Rodgers purposely misled the public with an insulting word dance, calling himself ‘immunized’ when asked whether he was vaccinated. In another appearance, Rodgers then trolled his critics, brandishing a copy of Ayn Rand’s dystopian 1957 novel ‘Atlas Shrugged’ as some form of harbinger that we live in a time of persecuting society’s winners, or as the bible of his invaluable individualism – or both – and that as one of those winners, he is the prime victim of a looming nefariousness. Rodgers is nowhere near as clever or interesting as he thinks he is.
“While the past 10 years will be remembered for the return of the political athlete, the Covid-19 era has produced a less heroic professional citizen-athlete. Athletes lauded for using their voices to benefit the conditions of others have been replaced by the pandemic-era player beholden completely unto himself – unburdened by community or responsibility to others, using vaunted platforms to disseminate pseudoscience, to elevate and separate themselves.
“These superathlete voices now send a different message – that they owe nothing because they create so much: revenue and legacy for the suits; pleasure for the watchers; security for their families. They are the value. They are why we watch. In turn, they carry themselves as though they are exempt from our common struggle. While Australians and citizens around the world sacrifice to resume their lifestyles by suffering through the difficult steps of vaccine mandates ostensibly for the long-term greater good, several high-profile athletes have decided the only name that matters is the one on the back of their jerseys.
“The Atlases have shrugged. Everyone is on their own.
“The easy reflex is to focus on only Djokovic, and scrutiny of him is appropriate. His recklessness has run counter to the leadership example he claims to want beyond possessing the greatest backhand in the world. He is, after all, not a first-time offender when it comes to poor pandemic decision-making. It was Djokovic, after all, who was behind the disastrous maskless charity exhibition tournament in the summer of 2020 held in defiance of medical opinion that turned into a superspreader event. And now, he has apparently broken the isolation protocols of his own country by traveling to Spain and entered Australia with false documents. He has blamed human error, his handlers, but treats each infraction as an unfortunate clerical error and not a pattern of broken trust during a deadly time….
“The United States must always carry its negligent and deadly initial response to the pandemic, denigrating mask use as a tool for the weak, and worse, a symbol of fascism, positioning the pandemic as a hoax, even as the health care system overloaded and Central Park served as a portable morgue.
“So, too, must sports carry its burden. Two years ago, the industry saw the apocalypse – the games shut down but more importantly, of life moving on. In the weeks and months between the initial shutdown in March 2020 and the slow resumption of the Major League Baseball regular season and the NBA/WNBA bubbles, America seemed hungry for sports because it provided a pathway to give people hope that normalcy was possible. But Americans also were quickly adjusting to life without the games. When people couldn’t find hand sanitizer or toilet paper, hitting a ball with a stick wasn’t that important, after all….
“While borders were being locked down and citizens were being asked – and told – to take on increased safety measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, the business of sports was given a special exemption. Sports was positioned as an ally to getting the world back to normal. Borders opened – not for you, but for sports. Tennis players still traveled the world when few others could. When Covid-19 tests were first rolled out, athletes often had first access to them.
“And what did sports do with that special exemption? It did everything it could to not set the example, to not be essential, but to stay in business on its terms. The industry refused to act on its responsibility in fighting a global health crisis. Sports adopted the divisive political rhetoric of vaccine efficacy over health, of the personal over the collective, guided by the specter of the existential moment – any possibility of a second mass shutdown. The NBA players, led by LeBron James, refused a second bubble. Players’ associations across each sport rejected the suggestion of vaccine mandates. That was a nonstarter. Desperate to win, Kyrie Irving was back on the court. Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians put Antonio Brown back on the roster after the receiver’s three-game suspension for using a fake vaccine card. Colleges exempted athletes from rules that applied to student bodies. Instead of leading, several highly prominent players, as well as their counterparts in the celebrity class, immediately questioned the value of vaccines. Sports was in for itself. Atlas shrugged….
“Tomorrow, there will be another (Djokovic). And while he, Rodgers and many of sports’ most prominent performers shrug along, masters of their universe, the behavior may be theirs, but it should not be forgotten that reckless populism is largely responsible for creating the global disaster from which we cannot emerge.”
Less intellectual was the response by radio shock-jock and vehement pro-vaxxer Howard Stern, who the other day ripped Djokovic, fuming, “What a f---ing asshole.”
In a lengthy rant, Stern blasted the tennis champ’s stance that getting vaccinated should be a private decision.
“That’s like saying smoking is a private decision. Well, that’s true,” Stern argued. “But don’t smoke in my face, f---nut. What a dummy. Just a big, dumb tennis player.”
--Wednesday, 8 Duke beat my Wake Forest boys in Winston-Salem, 76-64; a poor effort by the Deacs.
But Wake (14-4, 4-3) rebounded with a terrific road win at Virginia (10-7, 4-3) yesterday, 63-55. The Deacs were down 47-40 in the second half, went on a 13-0 run and held the lead down the stretch.
Wake hadn’t won in Charlottesville since 2010 and the Cavaliers had beaten us nine straight times overall.
Duke (14-2, 4-1) will be moving up a spot or two after Saturday’s 88-73 win over N.C. State (9-9, 2-5). Not that beating Wake and the Wolfpack is that great, but rather other teams ahead of them went down this week.
--Thursday, 3 UCLA inexplicably fell to Oregon (10-6, 3-2) at home, the Bruins falling to 10-2, 2-1. UCLA then rebounded rather decisively Saturday in having their way with the Beavers of Oregon State (3-13, 1-5), 81-65.
--20 Seton Hall (11-5, 2-4) will be out of the top 25 after losses to DePaul, a particularly bad one, on Thursday, 96-92, and a heartbreaking defeat at Marquette (12-6, 4-3) yesterday, 73-72.
--Also Saturday, 10 Michigan State (14-3, 5-1) suffered a brutal loss at home to Northwestern (9-6, 2-4) 64-62.
--And No. 1 Baylor won’t be No. 1 any longer when the new AP poll comes out Monday afternoon, the Bears losing their second straight, both at home, this time to Oklahoma State (9-7, 2-3) 61-54.
Baylor (15-2, 3-2) had lost earlier in the week to Texas Tech.
19 Texas Tech (13-4, 3-2) had beaten then-6 Kansas prior to the big Baylor upset, but then lost Saturday to lowly Kansas State (9-7, 1-4) 62-51.
So the Big 12 has been a mess, though arguably the best conference thus far.
--Friday night, St. Bonaventure (10-3, 2-0) finally put things back together with a fine 73-53 whipping of VCU (10-5, 3-1) at the Reilly Center in beautiful Saint Bonaventure.
Here’s what is confusing. St. Bonaventure is really listed as being in Allegany, N.Y., in the Allegheny foothills.
But the Reilly Center’s address is Saint Bonaventure.
Bottom line, will your editor make it there for the Feb. 1 contest against Davidson?
All about the weather, sports fans. It is one long drive…5 hours…and into the snowbelt. [12-18 inches there out of the storm hitting tonight and tomorrow.]
--We note the passing of Joe B. Hall, the longtime Kentucky men’s basketball coach. He was 93.
Hall took over in 1972 for legendary Adolph Rupp and in his 13 seasons (297-100), Hall coached Kentucky to an NCAA championship in 1978, defeating Duke, and took the Wildcats overall to three Final Fours. But that was never enough for the fanbase.
--The Knicks have suddenly won 5 of 6 to move to 22-21 after a 117-108 road win Saturday night in Atlanta, the puzzling Hawks 17-25. What’s more, Atlanta has lost 10 straight at home, after winning 8 of its first 9 at State Farm Arena to start the season.
This is the same Atlanta team that was 41-31 last season and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.
Meanwhile, the Knicks and Hawks engineered a surprising trade the other day, the Knicks obtaining 2019 first-round pick Cam Reddish for a conditional 2022 first-round pick and Kevin Knox, a 2018 first-round bust.
Reddish has ability, but the Knicks have a crowded rotation and folks are scratching their heads as to how he’s going to get minutes.
--The Nets moved to 27-15 with a 120-105 win Saturday over New Orleans (16-27) in Brooklyn, meaning no Kyrie, but Nets fans were on pins and needles as Kevin Durant left the game in the second quarter with a sprained left knee, the Nets announcing he would undergo an MRI exam on Sunday.
Durant entered the game leading the league at 29.7 points per game, to go with 7.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists (now 29.3, 7.4, 5.8 after his partial effort last night). He is a sure-fire top three for MVP.
And word today is that Durant will miss 4-6 weeks with a sprained MCL.
Wednesday, Brooklyn defeated Chicago, 138-112, on the road, and it was the first time in nine contests that they had beaten a top-4 seed in the East and West.
The Bulls dodged a bullet when they lost star Zach LaVine to a knee injury, though there was no structural damage. That said, he’ll be out a while.
In both the case of LaVine and Durant, it’s about returning to full health in time for the playoffs and both should be OK.
--The Lakers are all out of sorts, 21-22 after a 133-96 drubbing Saturday at the hands of the Nuggets (22-19). L.A., in losing its last three, has yielded 127, 125 and 133 points.
I’m on record as saying training camps would open up on time, mid-February, and that by mid-January the two sides in the labor clash would begin to negotiate in earnest, and, well, looks like I may be a little off.
Thursday, as I thought would be the case, the players and owners held their first substantive meeting since the management lockout of six weeks ago, but the players were not happy with the presentation by deputy commissioner Dan Halem, because, as I wrote a few weeks ago in relaying the comments of player rep Max Scherzer, the main issue, alterations that would allow all players to earn more money and freedom earlier in their careers, like when players qualify for free agency and salary arbitration, weren’t on the table.
Bottom line, the two sides remain far apart. As the Wall Street Journal’s Jared Diamond put it:
“None of this is a surprise. Players won’t start losing paychecks until the regular season starts on March 31. Owners won’t start losing gate revenue until spring training games start near the end of February. In bargaining, deadlines have a way of inspiring movement, and spring training doesn’t have to begin exactly on time for opening day to proceed as planned.”
But, don’t expect a lot of movement in the coming two weeks. When the calendar turns to February, I still expect some.
--Jon Lester, 38, announced his retirement after a sterling 16-year career. A lifetime 200-117 record, 3.66 ERA, 5-time All-Star, 3 Cy Young top 5s, 8 seasons with 15+ wins, 3 World Series titles.
Pretty, pretty good.
Lester, in winning two rings with the Red Sox in 2007 and 2013, picked up a third with the Cubs in 2016, helping break a 108-year title drought.
He shined in the postseason like few others. In 154 innings, a 9-7 record, 2.51 ERA. Lester was even better in the World Series, 4-1, 1.77.
Bottom line, Jon Lester is one of only nine modern left-handers with 200 wins, a .600 winning percentage and a career ERA under 4.00. Six of the other eight are in the Hall of Fame, while one, CC Sabathia, isn’t eligible yet.
Lester may not get into the Hall of Fame in his eventual ten years of formal eligibility, but he will be a prime candidate for admission through the Veterans Committee process.
--As we headed into the final round of the Sony Open in Honolulu (Waialae CC)….
Russell Henley -18…seeking his fourth PGA Tour win
Hideki Matsuyama -16…looking for win number eight
And four tied at -14.
As I go to print, it being late, Henley is up five after nine holes.
--51-year-old Jim Furyk turned back the clock with a first-round 62, 8-under, including an ace on the par-3 17th, but he then followed that up with back-to-back 72s and finished T42.
--I was shocked to see the passing of a terrific golf writer and reporter, Tim Rosaforte, who died the other day at the age of 66 due to complications from Alzheimer’s. This guy was beloved by players, reporters and golf fans.
Rosaforte was a senior writer at Golf Digest and Golf World for more than 20 years. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and many friends.
With Manchester City’s 1-0 win over Chelsea on Saturday, and Liverpool’s 3-0 beatdown of Brentford today, it’s really just a two-team race for the title…and not much of one at that.
Of more interest is the bottom, with Norwich beating Everton 2-1, which cost Everton manager Rafael Benitez his job after just seven months.
Newcastle and Watford tied 1-1.
Standings…Played (of 38) – Points…still lots of Covid issues…
1. Man City…22 – 56
2. Liverpool…21 – 45
3. Chelsea…22 – 43
4. West Ham…22 – 37…bad loss to Leeds, 3-2
5. Arsenal…20 – 35
6. Tottenham…18 – 33…game with Arsenal today postponed due to Covid
7. Man U…20 – 32…costly 2-2 draw with Aston Villa
Meanwhile…in the fight to avoid relegation…
16. Everton…19 – 19
17. Watford…19 – 14
18. Norwich…21 – 13
19. Newcastle…20 – 12
20. Burnley…17 – 11…geezuz, mask up, guys!!!!
--New York launched mobile sports betting last week, with bettors in Ohio able to start placing wagers this year, joining 29 states where sports betting is already legal. California could finally get it by end of the year.
Since the Supreme Court struck down the federal ban on sports wagering in 2018, more than $87 billion has been legally wagered on sports, and some 40 million Americans were estimated to have placed bets on the NFL regular season.
New Jersey fielded $1.26 billion in sports wagers in November alone, up more than 25 percent from the previous year.
But as Rick Maese writes in the Washington Post, there are troubling signs on gambling addiction. And in the case of the NFL, it wanted to make sure it was able to reach potential gamblers without offending fans who have no interest in wagering.
Here in the New York media market, we have been inundated by ads for Caesar’s, Sugarhouse and MGM ahead of the launch of mobile betting in New York (along with countless ads for DraftKings and Fan Duel, the two being first in New Jersey). I don’t mind them, but I can easily see how many would be offended.
Rick Maese writes of how viewers have been inundating the Federal Communications Commission with complaints related to sports gambling advertisements.
“I am sick and tired of seeing Sports Betting commercials while watching sporting events!” a TV viewer from Westminster, Colo., complained last year.
“This is a potentially dangerous situation,” wrote someone from Waynesboro, Va.
“When are you going to ban the sports gambling ads as you did cigarettes? Addiction is real and these ads are fueling gambling addiction,” another viewer said. “The ads are worse than irresponsible.”
The major American sports leagues limit the number of commercials permitted during a game broadcast. I didn’t realize, for example, that the NFL only allows one ad per quarter, in addition to one pregame and one at halftime.
Of course the sports media companies are into the gambling business in a big way and the Wall Street Journal reports that ESPN is exploring licensing deals with gambling operators that could net the company $3 billion.
The NFL’s research found that while 42 percent of its fan base comprised at least casual bettors, 1 in 5 actively objects to sports gambling. So the league encourages its television partners not to tailor game broadcasts to gamblers.
Regulations and resources vary from state to state. Bettors must be 21 to register with an online sportsbook in Virginia, for example, but they need to be only 18 in the District of Columbia.
--Harold “Hal” Prince died. He was 91. Prince was the towering Broadway director and producer who won a staggering 21 Tony Awards (a record), directing such hits as “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Cabaret,” “Company” and “Sweeney Todd.”
Prince also produced some of Broadway’s most enduring musical hits such as “The Pajama Game,” “Damn Yankees,” “West Side Story,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Prince worked with some of the best-known composers and lyricists, including Leonard Bernstein, Andrew Lloyd Weber and, most notably, Stephen Sondheim.
--We lost a number of figures in the rock music world in the past few days.
Rosa Lee Hawkins, the youngest member of the Dixie Cups, died at the age of 76. The cause was complications from surgery in Tampa, Fla., according to her sister Barbara Ann Hawkins, who was also a member of the group, along with Joan Marie Johnson, who died in 2016 at 72.
The Dixie Cups will forever be known for the No. 1 Billboard hit “Chapel of Love,” which epitomized the harmonizing sound of the 1960s girl group. The song actually replaced the Beatles’ “Love Me Do” at No. 1 on June 6, 1964, and held the top spot for three weeks, before it was replaced by Peter and Gordon “A World Without Love.”
“Chapel of Love” was followed by the No. 12 “People Say,” another excellent tune.
Fred Parris died, age 85. He’s the man who penned the iconic doo-wop hit “In the Still of the Night” as part of the Five Satins.
Recorded in a church basement in New Haven, Conn., “In the Still of the Night” rose to No. 3 on the Billboard R&B charts and No. 24 on the pop charts in 1956.
But those numbers bely just how big this song was. It was covered by the Beach Boys, Boyz II Men, Ronnie Milsap and many others, and appeared on the soundtracks of “Dirty Dancing” in 1987 and “The Irishman” in 2019, among other films.
“I never expected it to have so much of an impact that people would embrace the song 50 years later,” Parris told the New Haven Register in 2014. “I had no idea it was going to be that successful…I didn’t know if they were going to listen to it 15 minutes later, let alone 50 years.”
Born March 26, 1936, in New Haven, Parris started singing with other local kids in hallways and street corners.
Parris and three (not four) of his friends, Al Denby, Jim Freeman and Ed Martin, met in the basement of St. Bernadette’s Catholic Church on Feb. 19, 1956, and recorded two songs: “The Jones Girl” and “In the Still of the Night.”
Parris liked what he heard that night.
“When we heard it back, we knew we liked it,” he said in 2014. “As soon as we got the test record and took it home and listened to it, then we really knew.”
But it was bad timing for Parris and his singing pals. Days later, Denby shipped off to the Army, and weeks later, Parris followed him.
After his tour with the Army, Parris went on tour with the Five Satins. “In the Still of the Night” charted in 1960 and 1961, years after its release.
Here’s the thing. Those of us of a certain age smile when we see any mention of this song because for years, the classic Oldies radio station, WCBS-FM, 101.1 in New York, which inherited all the great rock and roll DJs from WABC-AM, had an annual Top 500 songs from the 50s and 60s, where listeners submitted their lists…the Top 500 usually played over a long holiday weekend, like Thanksgiving.
And Freddie Parris and the boys must have had a loyal group of fans because for some reason, this tune was No. 1 on the Top 500…we’re talking year after year. Us loyal listeners would be waiting for No. 1 to come on and we would just shake our heads. I mean the song was good, a classic, but No. 1 over anything Elvis, the Beatles, Supremes, or Stones did?
Rolling Stone did have it at No. 90 in its original 500 greatest songs of all-time survey.
So to Fred Parris, job well done. RIP.
And we lost the great Ronnie Spector, the trail-blazing lead singer of the Ronettes. She was 78.
Born in 1943 in Manhattan as Veronica Yvette Bennett, she shot to fame aged just 18 while performing with her older sister and cousin.
With their beehive hairstyles and liberal use of mascara, the multi-racial group caught the attention of record producers while performing in New York Clubs.
One of them was Phil Spector, who was taken with Ronnie’s exotic beauty and the two wed in 1968. They were married for six years and adopted three children together before their divorce.
Spector was violent and abusive (dying in prison in 2021 while serving a murder sentence). In her memoir, Ronnie wrote that Phil kept a coffin in the basement of their house to let the singer know that he would kill her if she left him. In 1972, she escaped their house barefoot.
As for the music, the Ronettes were best known for the No. 2 “Be My Baby” in 1963, which none other than Brian Wilson has long called the single best rock & roll tune of all time, aided greatly by Phil Spector’s swelling “wall of sound.” And it’s tough to argue with that. They also charted in the top 40 the following year with “Baby I Love You” (No. 24) and “Walking in the Rain” (No. 23).
But that was basically it. They did have two other claims to fame. They were the only girl group to tour with the Beatles (and also toured with the Rolling Stones), and of course they are featured on Phil Spector’s all-time great album, “A Christmas Gift for You,” where they sing “Frosty the Snowman,” “Sleigh Ride” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”
Ronnie Spector once wrote that when it came to the Ronettes and their act and look, “We weren’t afraid to be hot. That was our gimmick.”
“When we saw the Shirelles walk onstage with their wide party dresses,” she wrote in her memoir, “we went in the opposite direction and squeezed our bodies into the tightest skirts we could find. Then we’d get out onstage and hike them up to show our legs even more.”
Keith Richards gave the speech inducting the Ronettes into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, saying of the experience of hearing them warmup backstage when they were touring together, “They could sing all their way right through a wall of sound. They didn’t need anything.”
Top 3 songs for the week of 1/13/79: #1 “Too Much Heaven” (Bee Gees) #2 “Le Freak” (Chic) #3 “My Life” (Billy Joel)…and…#4 “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” (Barbra & Neil) #5 “Hold The Line” (Toto) #6 “Sharing The Night Together” (Dr. Hook) #7 “Y.M.C.A.” (Village People) #8 “Ooh Baby Baby” (Linda Ronstadt) #9 “(Our Love) Don’t Throw It All Away” (Andy Gibb) #10 “Promises” (Eric Clapton & His Band…C week….back to the 60s….)
Baseball Hall of Fame Quiz Answer: The other 14, aside from Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson, who appeared on the 1982 Hall of Fame ballot and eventually made it to Cooperstown….
Juan Marichal, Harmon Killebrew, Hoyt Wilhelm, Don Drysdale, Gil Hodges, Luis Aparicio, Jim Bunning, Red Schoendienst, Nellie Fox, Richie Ashburn, Billy Williams, Orlando Cepeda, Bill Mazeroski and Tony Oliva.
I’ll have an Add-On up top by Wed. noon.