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NFL: A Few More Questions Before Kickoff

[Are you ready for some football?  East Coast Editor Ezra Troy brings you a final set of questions before kickoff.  Ezra is, once again, exploring all of the right topics before the whistle sounds.]

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1. Aaron Rodgers: Extension and Receivers

Aaron Rodgers has been one of the greatest quarterbacks in recent memory. He has engineered last minute drive after last minute drive and wowed NFL fans across the world. A few weeks ago he made a splash by signing an $134 million dollar extension that keeps him a packer until he is 40 year old. He also made news a few weeks before that by calling out his receivers for playing poorly. Will Rodgers be worth the money? Will he be able to play nice with his receivers?

2. Can the Giants Turn It Around?

The New York Giants were a trendy preseason pick a year ago to win the division. Instead, they were hit by both the injury and regression bug and dropped to 3-13 a season after going 11-5 and earning a wildcard berth. The Giants hope to bounce back this year following the drafting of a much needed running back in Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick and the additions of Nate Solder and Alec Ogletree through free agency and trades to fill two major needs. Can the Giants bounce back and make the playoffs for the second time in three years? Or will they flop behind a 37 year old Eli Manning and regret passing on Sam Darnold in this year’s draft?

3. The Cleveland Browns

The Browns revamped their entire roster this offseason, drafting Baker Mayfield and Denzel Ward with the first and fourth picks respectively and trading for Tyrod Taylor and Jarvis Landry. Will there new players earn the Browns a new record or will they continue their losing ways of the past two years, where they went 1-31?

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4. Andrew Luck

When Andrew Luck was drafted number one overall in 2012, he was hailed as the next Peyton Manning who would continue the Colts run of dominance. For his first three years, it looked like this would be true, as Luck lead the Colts to two division titles and three playoff appearances, including a conference championship game in 2014 in the infamous deflategate game. The past three years haven’t gone as well. He hasn’t made the playoffs and was injured all of last year. Can Luck come back as the All-Pro he was for the first three years of his career? Or will he play poorly like he has the past three years?

5. Will This Year Be the Chargers’ year?

The trendiest pick for improvement every year is the Chargers. And every year the same thing happens. They get unlucky. Whether it is star receiver Keenan Allen tearing his ACL or losing their first four games due to kickers missing field goals before going on a tear and winning six of their last seven games and missing out on a playoff spot due to tiebreaker, they always seem to just miss out on the playoffs. The Chargers already have two injured starters in their secondary, but will this be the year they finally live up to expectations?

6. Jimmy GQ

Last year before the trade deadline the New England Patriots traded backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers for a second round pick. Jimmy G was originally benched, but after the ‘Niners continued to lose and QB C.J. Beathard continued his poor and uneven play, the ‘Niners newest and hottest acquisition was given the reins. San Fran won five straight to close the season, with Jimmy G shining at the helm. Can he continue to win and build on the 49ers’ end-of-season success from last year or will he regress and come back down to earth (and finally lose a game)?

7. Rams: New, Improved Shiny Defense

Last season the Rams surprised many and went 11-5, becoming one of the hottest teams in the league and a fan favorite in Southern California (Sorry, Chargers). Head Coach Sean McVay continued to build on his staunch defense from last year by giving All-Pro DT Aaron Donald a MONSTER extension and acquiring via trade and free agency Pro Bowlers Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib and Ndamukong Suh. Will these new acquisitions help boost the Los Angeles D to the top and help the Rams capture their first Super Bowl in 19 years, or will the explosive personalities newly brought in to the locker room cause the team to implode?

8. The End of the Legion of Boom and Shaquem Griffin

The “Legion of Boom” has been the most feared defensive unit in the NFL since 2013, leading the Seahawks to four consecutive playoff appearances and a Super Bowl XLVIII victory. But that has all fallen apart this offseason. Kam Chancellor retired due to injury, Michael Bennet was traded to Philadelphia, Richard Sherman left to the rival 49ers in free agency and Earl Thomas wants out of Seattle (even is he is still there at the moment). Can Bobby Wagner and Shaquem Griffin, the one handed rookie linebacker, lead a new generation of dominant Seattle defenders or will the Hawks go back to their losing ways of 2017?

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9. NFL’s New Anthem Policy

On September 1st, 2016, Colin Kaepernick kneeled at the singing of the national anthem before the San Francisco 49ers final preseason game. Since then, over the past two seasons, the NFL and its owners have been embroiled in a battle with the players over whether kneeling is ok or not. This summer, the NFL came out with a policy about kneeling, but almost immediately took it back. What is going to happen this year with the players kneeling? Will the NFL and its owners punish the players or leave them alone?

[Editor’s Note: One can’t help but wonder why there wasn’t a tenth (10.) question?  Perhaps the key question in this early NFL season surrounds the Chiefs and whether they can prevail against the Pittsburgh Steelers.  The answer is simple: yes.  We would love to hear your comments as the day unfolds and over the course of the week.  Thank you for reading.]

Ezra Troy

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NFL Questions, Part Deux

[Ezra keeps the questions coming with another set of pivotal topics as we inch our way to the core of Week Two in the NFL.  In my mind, the questions (almost exclusively) surround the match up between Big Ben and the upstart Mahomes. But Ezra makes a nice case that there are some other topics –including second-year RB Kareem Hunt–that merit additional thought this weekend. Go Chiefs!]

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1. New Coaches

This year, seven new coaches were hired for teams throughout the league: Titans, Giants, Lions, Cardinals, Raiders, Bears and Colts. Only one of these teams made the playoffs last year, but three other ones made the playoffs just two years ago. Will these new coaches turn their teams around or just continue the losing ways of this past season?

2. Second Year Players

The 2017 NFL draft class could go down as the greatest of all time. A whopping four rookies from last year made the Pro Bowl (Alvin Kamara, Budda Baker, Marshon Lattimore and Kareem Hunt) in addition to players who had great seasons like Christian McCaffrey, Jamal Adams, Myles Garrett and many more. Can last year’s rookie stars build on their success, or will they fall victim to the infamous “Sophomore Slump”?

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3. NFC South

In past years, the NFC South has been irrelevant, with the only competition being for the highest draft pick. However, we have recently seen a resurgence in the division. The Saints erupted in 2017, led by future Hall of Famer Drew Brees, rookie phenom Alvin Kamara, and dynamic receiver Michael Thomas and look primed for another big year. Meanwhile, the Falcons, armed on both sides of the ball, had the same record as the Saints last year and look to become NFC champs for the second time in three years. The Panthers went 15-1 and lost the Super Bowl only three years ago and are lead by Cam Newton as they look to build off their 11-5 season where they lost in the Wild Card Game to the Saints. Who will win the division this year? Will there be three NFC South representatives in the playoffs this year again?

4. Eagles

Last year the Eagles did the unthinkable: they went from worst-to-first in the NFC East and took home the Lombardi despite most preseason models projecting them to improve by only a game or two. Can they repeat that success this season with a roster that stays largely the same, but begins the season with a rehabbing MVP-caliber QB Carson Wentz and several banged up starters, such as WR Alshon Jeffery and WR Mack Hollins.

5. Travis Frederick

A few weeks ago, it was reported that Cowboys All-Pro Center Travis Frederick has Guillain-Barré syndrome and has no timetable for his return. We wish him the best and hope he returns later this year.

I have one more round of questions before we get to the core of Week Two Kickoffs on Sunday at noon eastern time.  Hopefully readers will come to the site again in the morning (and offer some opinions as they are watching college games today).  You have to love this time of year.  Thank you for reading.

Ezra Troy

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Big NFL Questions as Week Two Arrives

[We sometimes think of him as the best thinker on baseball.  It’s like the star spring athlete that you forget also plays varsity in the fall and winter terms.  This post is the first in a series of articles in the coming days from East Coast Editor Ezra Troy on the biggest questions in the National Football League.  We have one week of smash mouth under the belt, and now the biggest questions facing your favorite teams are coming into view.  As my beloved quotation from the voice of John Facenda intones, “They call it pro football.  It starts with a whistle and it ends with a gun.”] 

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As we approach Week Two of the National Football League (NFL) regular season, it is time to begin to grapple with some of the big questions for the 2018 Season.

1. New Faces, New Places: QB edition

This year in the NFL, ten teams are starting quarterbacks that did not start a game for them last year (Vikings, Colts, Bills, Broncos, Redskins, Dolphins, Browns, Buccaneers, Jets and Cardinals). Additionally, six quarterbacks were taken in this years draft and it is almost certain at least two will start at least one game by the seasons end. One of them, Sam Darnold, whom the Jets drafted at third overall, is projected to start from the beginning of the season.Unknown

2. Can the Patriots Continue Their Dominance?

The New England Patriots have won 16 of the past 17 AFC East titles and gone to seven straight AFC title games. This year may not be such a walk in the park.  The Steelers always compete with the Pats and have arguably the best offense in the game. The Jaguars made the AFC championship last year, almost beat the Patriots, and only got better over the offseason. The Texans are getting JJ Watt back, who may be the greatest defensive player on the planet, to go along with Jadeveon Clowney, a trendy preseason pick for Defensive Player of the Year. Andrew Luck is playing for the Colts once more may make them relevant again. Any way you look at it, the AFC is stacked and the Patriots making the AFC championship again is far from a guarantee. That’s not to mention the Pats, who have virtually no receiving corps (at least for the first four weeks) and whose defense ranked 29th in yards allowed per game last season. Additionally, due to his wife concussion concerns, there is speculation that this may be Tom Brady’s last season. Can he lead his team to a Super Bowl win in what may be his final year?

3. Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings

Two of the surprise teams last year, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Minnesota Vikings, look to build on their success from last year, where they both made their conference championship games. These are two young, exciting teams with dominant defenses and electric second year running backs. Both teams also made splashes in free agency, with the Vikings signing Kirk Cousins and Sheldon Richardson and the Jaguars giving Andrew Norwell the highest contract for a Guard ever and signing receiver Donte Moncrief. But with a group of good teams at the top of both conferences, it won’t be easy for them to make the championship game again.

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4. Khalil Mack-Raiders and Bears

The blockbuster trade of edge rusher Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears was more than we could ask for to cap off the 2018 offseason and preseason. Mack had been in a contract dispute with the Raiders for the better part of a year. He even sat out for the preseason because he couldn’t get the deal he wanted. New coach Jon Gruden’s overhaul of the Oakland roster and his dealing of his best player to the Bears is something to follow this year. The Bears sent their first round picks in 2019 and 2020, plus a 2019 sixth round and a 2020 third round pick in return for Mack and a second round pick in 2020, plus a conditional fifth rounder of the same year. The move signals a change in Oakland as they continue to shift and dismantle their roster. It also signals a shift in the culture in the Bears locker room. He adds a whole new dimension to their defense, and his new 6-year, $141 million extension with $90 million guaranteed ensures that he will stick around for a long time. The addition of Mack signals that the Bears are ready to both win now and build up their team over the next few years while QB Mitch Trubisky remains on his rookie deal.

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5. Injury Returns

There were so many injuries to star players last year that it became a fad throughout the season to create “All-Injured Teams” made up of all the stars who were out for the year. The electric Odell Beckham Jr. went down in Week 4. David Johnson, coming off one of the best running back seasons in NFL history, was injured in Week 1 and didn’t return. Aaron Rodgers, considered by many as one of the best quarterbacks of this generation, broke his collarbone in Week 6, and missed the remainder of the season. JJ Watt, former Defensive Player of the Year and sack master, who was injured and only played a few games for the second straight year, looks to return to old form. How good will these players be upon their return?

These questions loom large.  They are not, however, an exhaustive list.  This article is the first in a series that will pose big NFL questions that require big NFL answers in the days and weeks ahead.  As the autumn leaves turn, it’s football season.  We would love to hear your thoughts in the Comment Section.

Ezra Troy

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Mahomes Has Keys to Kingdom, But Can He Drive Chiefs to Postseason?

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Concern is growing inside the Chiefs Kingdom.  QB prodigy Patrick Mahomes has the keys to the kingdom, but the central question consuming Chiefs fans is: can he be counted on to drive the Chiefs to post-season success?   

As the season inches closer, many questions surround this post-Alex Smith Chiefs team.  Let’s start with some obvious facts that speak to potential headwinds for Kansas City.  For starters, the Chiefs have a very tough schedule including early games against the Chargers, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the 49ers.  In addition, Mahomes performance in the first two preseason games have some fans questioning if he will live up to his full potential.  There have been flashes such as the 70-yard bomb to Hill in the Atlanta game.  It has been, however, mostly a ho-hum start for the Texas Tech alum and 2017 first round pick.  Is Mahomes a bust or still on path to be the one of the best?  As for late August, the answer to the question has less clarity.  Finally, there is a defense that was one of the worst in the league last year in most major categories and appears to have made little progress in the offseason.  It a tough trifecta. 

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However, as I dissect the early preseason performance, I still see a playoff team in the making.  Three core arguments make the case.  First, the Chiefs have significant talent beyond just Patrick Mahomes including Tyreek Hill, Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce and the offseason addition of wideout Sammy Watkins. If Mahomes has solid success this year, it will be in no small part because of the supporting cast on the offense side of the ball. Second, the hometown crowd is a huge upside for this young, talented team.  Arrowhead is  the loudest stadium in the NFL. It gives the Chiefs a big advantage particularly as opponents attempt to execute third-down plays amid a noisy “sea of (hostile) red.” Finally, in order to be successful this season, the Chiefs will need to continue their winning ways within the division. A talented offense, and a huge home field advantage, offers Andy Reid a combination that can deliver ongoing success within the AFC West.

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Consequently, as I review the evidence, the conclusion to be reached is: the Chiefs will make the postseason, but lose in the first or second round.  This 2018 Chiefs team has solid offensive talent, an unmatched home field advantage, and a history of winning games in their division. It is a recipe for making the postseason.  It is not, however, the stuff of which likely Super Bowl contenders are made.  Elite QBs and solid defense drive Super Bowl level success. The Chiefs may be building toward both of those things, but may not have enough defensive strength to prevail in their 2018 campaign.    

Mac Trigg

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U.S Open Preview: New York!  New York!

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The United States Open is coming up.  The dates  for the final tennis major are August 27th through September 9th.  The field has 128 players for the men.  It also has 128 players for the women.  The seeds for those draws will be announced on Friday, August 24th.  Before the USTA weighs in with their thinking on the players, we are offering our own preview of the key questions surrounding both draws along with our predictions for how the $50,400,000 in prize money will get distributed over two weeks of great tennis.     

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On the men’s side of draw, there are a series of big questions as we head into Flushing Meadows.  Can Roger recover from his tough 5-set loss to Anderson at Wimbledon?  Can Djokovic contain his ugly temper and continue his solid 2018 recovery campaign that includes a big win over Federer in Cinncinati?  What about some of the emerging stars with big serves that are well-suited to the hard courts such as Isner and Anderson?  These questions make this U.S. Open one of the most exciting in recent memory. 

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On the women’s side of the draw, Serena is just one of the big storylines.  What can we expect from Kerber, including the learning from her tough 3-set loss to Maddy Keys in Cincinnati?  Will Sloane Stephens mount a strong defense of her 2017 title?  And then of course, there is Serena. At Wimbledon, she did not have her A-game in the final.  Will she be able to perform at her legendary level for two full weeks?  There is going be lots of drama as Kerber, Serena, Keys and a collection of other greats vie for the championship.     

If you are like me, you can’t wait for the end of August and the U.S. Open.  It is the last major and this year brings lots of important questions to be answered.  I like Serena in an amazing two-week march to the championship.  For the men, I like Roger (notwithstanding his loss in the finals in Cincinnati) and am hoping for an epic final against either Nadal or a surging Djokovic. 

It’s a tournament for the ages and it all begins on August 27th

Elliott Glass

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Why NFL Preseason is Problematic

I had a chance to go to the Chiefs game on Thursday night.  It was the first preseason game with new starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes taking the keys to the Kingdom.  Mahomes played two series and then headed for the sidelines.  It was then I realized: preseason football is a boring mess. 

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Arrowhead was barely recognizable —a different place than it is in the regular glory.  Big sections of seats were empty.  There was no sea of red and the thunderous noise on third down was no where to be found. Obviously, I am not alone in question the value of the preseason.     

What is wrong with the preseason?  First, the games are meaningless.  A loss does nothing to impact whether a team makes the playoffs.  For example, teams that do well in the postseason can do poorly in the regular season.  In 2008, the Detroit Lions started off on fire.  They went 4-0 in the preseason, but their scorching start was extinguish abruptly when they went 0-16 in the regular season. 

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Second, fans want to see the best players on the field.  If you go to Arrowhead with excitement about the 2018 season, you don’t want to watch Michigan alum and NFL journeyman Chad Henne.  Henne had one of the most famous loss in Michigan history, was drafted 57th overall by the Dolphins and did little to distinguish himself from there. And yet, he was the featured quarterback for a good portion of the Chiefs-Texan game.    

It leads to the final point. One of the reasons the starters aren’t taking snaps is because of injury risk.  You don’t want to lose your best players before the games that count begin.  Nonetheless, preseason injuries still occur.  Antonio Brown.  Doug Baldwin.  Both suffered injuries in recent weeks.  In some cases, injuries can be season ending (and even career ending) such as Nick Easton’s neck injury.

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Thursday night was a revelation for this writer.  During my research, I was struck by the comments of Commissioner Goodell.  While I am not a fan of Goodell, he has one thing right.  “The NFL should do things to the highest possible standard,” said Commissioner Goodell.  “Preseason games are not that.”  It is time to take the problematic NFL preseason from four games down to two. 

Mac Trigg 

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Tim Green’s Kid Owner

[Here is a look at a classic from Tim Green.  From Football Champ to the co-authored Baseball Genius with Derek Jeter, you have to argue that Tim Green is likely one of the top five authors writing sports fiction for kids today along with Lupica, Feinstien and Gutman.  I would love to see some arguments on both sides of that assertion down in the Comments section.]

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In Tim Green’s Kid Owner, the protagonist Ryan Zinna shows loyalty, bravery and patience through a range of challenges laid out in this gripping piece of sports fiction.

The first principle that Green wants readers to take away is loyalty.  Following the death of his father, Ryan becomes the new owner of the Dallas Cowboys.  It would be easy for him, amid his new found fame, to abandon his old friends Jackson and Izzy.  He doesn’t.  Instead, in a series of events that demonstrate the kind of loyalty we might associate with Pony Boy and Johnny in S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, Ryan stays true to his friends.  Loyalty matter.  Green conveys that effectively through Ryan.

The second virtue that comes across in Green’s book is patience. The book contains a significant point of conflict between Ryan and his mother around playing football.  She requires Ryan to play soccer for two years.  He loathes it.  He knows, however, that over time his patience has the potential to be rewarded if he can just convince his mother to let him play football.  He ultimately prevails.
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The final principle that comes across in Kid Owner is bravery.  Ryan doesn’t just demonstrate patience at the beginning of the book as he looks to make the case to play football.  Success requires him to summons the bravery to stand up to his frustrated mother and convince her to sign him up for the forthcoming football season.  As all of us can absolutely attest, it is hard for a 3rd grader to have the guts to stand up to a parent.  It takes passion.  It takes patience.  Most of all, it takes bravery.  We see it in this early moment in the book and it gives the reader an important lens into Ryan as he becomes the owner of the team.

Kid Owner ranks highly and may well be one of the best books that Tim Green has written to date.  While the plot of the book does have striking similarities to the movie Little Big League (a true classic), there is plenty of original thinking here beyond just a different sport and sports team.  If you are looking for a quick read in the remaining weeks of summer, Kid Owner is worth a look.

Mac Trigg

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Under the Lights in God’s Country, Part Two

[Here is the second (and final) part of the fictional short looking at Texas high school football.  I appreciate all of the positive feedback and glad to know that folks have enjoyed reading these pieces this summer.  We will see what the coming year holds in terms of sports writing.  There certainly are a bunch of storylines (to attempt) to explore.]

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As the single-elimination playoffs progress, the road to Houston and the state finals goes through Carter High School in Dallas.  The Morning News headlined that Carter “had a straightforward route to the championship game.”  They even took at shot at God himself, saying that I “was unproven.”  As I read the story, it barely registered.  It was little more than the mindless musing of non-believers.   

As we sat at lunch on the eve of the Carter game, the offensive line had assembled a set of tables together so that the team could eat as one.  It was like da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper.  I sat at the head of the table and, as the meal came to a close, my lineman pass by my chair and place a hand on my shoulder. 

And now, I am in the locker room and the head coach is holding forth.  His words are as barren as a White Oak oil field.  He attempts a collection of cliches pulled from watching too many episodes of Friday Night Lights.  Slowly, the team turns to me.  I rise, look around the locker room and say, “Gentleman, they call it football.  ‘It starts with a whistle and it ends with a gun.’” 

As the first half draws to a close, my legs have turned to Jello and my cleats are cement blocks.  Breathing is tough.  Amid the tightness in my lungs and the lost mobility, the spirals are still tight and the arm is still D I-caliber strength.  Brandon Belt has found the end zone twice, but it will take more than fourteen points to beat Carter. 

The second half is a blur, filled with hard hits.  The clocks is winding down with just a minute remaining in the game. It is third and long.  I touch my helmet for an audible and Brandon nods back. The ball is snapped.  The pocket collapses.  The silents masses are on cusp of a wailing cry with their hands locked in solemn prayer.

Brandon has a step.  The ball fires from my hand and cuts effortlessly through the evening air.  His hands are pure.  The goal line is crossed. The scoreboard changes.  Time expires.

But even the omnipotence of a God can be challenged.  On the next Monday afternoon, a mostly quiet practice is coming to a close.  The QB’s are practicing deep balls.  My backup is throwing a deep ball to Brandon and suddenly he is down.  “My knee,” he wails.  “My knee.”  Some of the worst injuries in football are non-contact injuries.  He is done for the year.  And the non-believer begin their ascent as we make our way to the weekend and the Texas state finals. 

The championship game is played at NRG Stadium in Houston.  Memorial High School and its booster would fill the papers in the days leading up to the game with the talk of home field advantage.  My advantage is one far greater that preaching in one’s home parish.  And no matter the loss of Brandon to injury, it is soon to be claimed.   I will, as the Psalms preached, “trample down the enemies” and “gain the victory” at hand. 

Memorial was led by a linebacker called Dan Dax.  He was a runaway train, leveling the unsuspecting in his path.  He also was a master of trash talk. During my sophomore campaign, we had fared badly against Memorial and it became the pre-championship talk track of “The Dax.”  On my chances, he would say, “I am going to live in his jersey.”   On our team, he opined, “They are ripe for ridicule.”  And on White Oak the town, he offered some oil from his truck.  “I heard,” The Dax said, “they ran out.” 

But The Dax is not a preacher to the mass.  I am.  And when “the clock is down to its final ticks, I rise up” and deliver the miracles that reaffirm the believers and convert the non-believer to my flock.  White Oak has seen the miracles.  They have witnessed the triumph.  NRG Stadium will see them tonight. 

It is the first series of the game.  I drop back.  The Dax is coming toward me.  I try to check down to my running back.  I never get the chance.  In the next moment, The Dax is dancing in the end zone and I am being gingerly helped to my feet. 

On the sidelines, I ask Brandon what happened.  “When the left tackle whiffs a block, it doesn’t matter if the quarterback is God or not.”  We both kneel down, and watch as the defense gives up a collection of first downs on the way to the collection of touchdowns and then a field foal for Memorial. 

And yet, I am as calm as a quiet sea.  Memorial and The Dax were little more than “obstacles between me and the Lord’s light.”  My followers were looking for another miracle.  Without Brandon, it would require it.

We fought our way back.  And despite a missed extra point, we trailed 20-24.  With timing running down in the fourth and final quarter, my Grandfather would later recall that the announcers bemoaned that “the clock was striking midnight on White Oak.” It was little more than “darkness before the dawn.”

I called a run-pass option to the right.  Dax read it perfectly, containing the play for just three yards and forcing me to use my final timeout.  It was second down, but that matter little as there were only three ticks left on the clock.               

There was one last play to be called.  In the huddle, I said calmly, “Power 7 Dive.” It was a quarterback sneak. 

Years later, they would stop me as I walked down Main Street.  Some of them were from White Oak.  Others were visiting from out of town.  All of them would swear they “witnessed a miracle” that Saturday afternoon in Houston. 

“Yes, Jesus walked on water.”  I went to the big city.  I called my own number.  “I let faith” fuel my leap.  And the prayers of the forgotten in a small town in God’s Country were answered.    

Powers Trigg

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McDaniel’s The Church of Michael Jordan

[I noted that Jeffery McDaniel’s poem entitled, The Church of Michael Jordan, was formative for some fictional writing on Texas high school football that I completed last year.  I am including this amazing poem here for readers that have not seen it.  Perhaps someone from LA will weigh in with some grand literary rumination on Lebron.  We are in the Jordan is the GOAT camp here at MEFK, but certainly are happy to put it up on the site.]   

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The Church of Michael Jordan

The hoop is not metal, but a pair of outstretched arms,
God’s arms, joined at the fingers. And God is saying

throw it to me. It’s not a ball anymore. It’s an orange prayer
I’m offering with all four chambers. And the other players—

the Pollack of limbs, flashing hands and teeth—
are just temptations, obstacles between me and the Lord’s light.

Once during an interview I slipped, I didn’t pray well tonight,
and the reporter looked at me, the same one who’d called me

a baller of destiny, and said you mean play, right? Of course,
I nodded. Don’t misunderstand—I’m no reverend

of the flesh. Priests embarrass me. A real priest
wouldn’t put on that robe, wouldn’t need the public

affirmation. A real priest works in disguise, leads
by example, preaches with his feet. Yes, Jesus walked on water,

but how about a staircase of air? And when the clock
is down to its final ticks, I rise up and over the palms

of a nonbeliever—the whole world watching, thinking
it can’t be done—I let the faith roll off my fingertips, the ball

drunk with backspin, a whole stadium of people holding
the same breath simultaneously, the net flying up like a curtain,

the lord’s truth visible for an instant, converting nonbelievers
by the bushel, who will swear for years they’ve witnessed a miracle.

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Under the Lights in God’s Country, Part One

[As we move slowly toward tw0-a-day practices and the beginning of fall football, we will be publishing a multi-part fictional narrative that I wrote last year on the truly amazing spectacle that is Texas football.  It is a place where every Friday night in the autumn, as H.G. Bissinger so beautifully captured in his book, young athletes look to seize an opportunity for greatness as a wild-eyed sea of fans cheers them on.  There is little like it and I tried (less than successfully) to capture just a small bit of that here.

For a touch of academic context, the piece was an outgrowth of a poem by Jeffery McDaniel’s entitled, The Church of Michael Jordan, and a look at religious imagery in sports.  If you haven’t read McDaniel’s rumination on His Airness, you will like it (and I have reprinted it in a separate post on the site.]     

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They call the state of Texas “God’s Country.”  High school football is its religion.  On Friday evening under the lights, the great multitudes come to watch their Messiah. 

My grandfather was an elder in the congregation.  He preached that “whatever your hands find to do, do it will all your might.”  He made sure my hands found a football as I was laying in the crib.  He hath, my grandfather would extoll as I was starting to walk, come to change the trajectory of Lobos football and resurrect the town of White Oak itself.      

You have my forgiveness if you aren’t acquainted with White Oak.  It is barely a blip on a state map.  It is a small, sleepy town deep in the piney woods of East Texas.  It rode the boom and bust of the oil market.  And now, it is a place so far from boom that it is hard to even fathom the thought.

And yet, amid austerity, White Oak overfloweth with believers.  My grandfather was no lone prophet.  You chatted with them at Skinners when you were buying groceries for your Mom.  You heard the amen chorus at Sonic as you stopped for tater-tots and a slushie after a game.  You felt the laying on of hands at the barbershop on Saturday morning.

It was certainly true that White Oak no longer had the industry or wealth of Dallas or Houston or Austin.  It had, however, something more than all that. It had the game of football.  It had the faith that anything could happen for 48 minutes on Friday night.

The beginnings of my high school football journey were humbling ones.  I was five foot nothing and started out on the junior varsity (JV) squad.  They said I was too short to play big-time Texas football.  It must have been like the skeptics that muttered before Jesus turned water to wine.  Eight touchdown passes in my first JV game caused the non-believers to take note.  I dressed with the varsity squad the next week. 

For the last two years, I have gone onto the gridiron and preached the gospel. I have raised my hands high as my top receiver Brandon Belt galloped into the end zone time and again.  I have brought the cathedral that is Griffin Stadium to its collective feet.  I have listened approvingly as the masses “sing the song of praise.” 

Powers Trigg   

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Lebron Takes Flight (to LA)

[Elliott Glass is back with a great piece about one of the big blockbuster trades of the NBA offseason.  Everyone was waiting to see what Lebron was going to do and, following a late night chat with Magic, he is now heading to Los Angeles.  LA hasn’t been this excited about basketball since Showtime.]

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Lebron James is one of the greatest basketball players of all-time.  And so as the NBA free agent period launched, all eyes were focused on Ohio and what would happen with King James.  Would he stay in Cleveland? What players would have to be added to the roster?  Would he leave Ohio, but only look at teams within the Eastern Conference?  How would the salary cap feature in any approach?  The answers came in fast with Lebron opting out of his Cleveland contract and then, in short order, signing a 4-year deal worth $154 million with the Lakers.


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There are several positives surrounding the decision by James to go to the Lakers.  First, it is one of the iconic franchises in the NBA.  Second, many players may find it attractive to have a chance to play with Lebron and do so with a high visibility franchise like the Lakers.  Finally, once the issue of Kawhi Leonard’s future is settled, they will have salary cap that they can use to surround Lebron with the talent he needs to succeed.

On the downside, the decision to move into the Western Conference makes it very challenging for Lebron to make it to the Finals.  He will have to get past a very talented Houston and, if you can believe it, an improved Golden State. Demarcus Cousins (a.k.a Boogie Cousins) is a very strong offseason addition to an already incredible team.  In addition, Lebron is aging and has a basketball body that is even older than his years.  He can’t backpack a team to the Finals, needs a strong supporting cast and it may take several years to put those roster pieces in place.

Some people argue that the decision really wants about basketball, but had more to do with his family and lifestyle decisions surrounding LA.  It is possible.  However, we don’t think Lebron has given up on winning more championships and is plotting a multi-year strategy with Magic to deliver the 17th championship to this storied Lakers franchise.  It may not happen in 2019, but it may well happen in the next 4 years.

Elliott Glass

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Wimbledon: RF for Nine or Some Other Cup of Tea?

[Ah, the All-England Club.  When the rain lifts, it is nothing less than a sun-dappled cathedral to the great game of tennis.  The question on everyone’s mind, of course, is the resurgent 36-year old Roger Federer and whether he can win his 9th Wimbledon championship.  A crop of young upstarts stand in his way, making for one of the better storylines of the calendar year.]

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As fans across the world are glued to their televisions, captivated by the fabulous display of sport that is the World Cup, the grass courts of Wimbledon beckon.  Strawberries and cream draws closer.  The afternoon tea conversation about Roger Federer and his pursuit of his ninth Wimbledon championship grows loud enough to threaten British decorum.  

Roger Federer is the clear favorite in the Gentleman’s draw. He rolled through the tournament last year, not dropping a single set.  Considering that he has won the tournament a record-breaking eight times, and that his silky-smooth game is perfectly suited for grass, it is easy to slip into the pre-tournament storyline that his success is a foregone conclusion. It is not.  

Thirty-six is ancient in the modern game, with Nadal and Federer standing out as massive historical asterisks –anomalous in both their success in the modern era and, likewise, in their ability to continue to compete at the highest level of the game . RF will undoubtedly face serious opposition from youthful contenders such as Sacha Zverev and the volatile Nick Kyrgios, who played him extremely close in the Stuttgart Open (a major Wimbledon warmup).  And lest we forget about the old blood, Nadal, Djokovic, and Wawrinka are all threats to win the title. 

On the women’s side of the tournament, Serena’s presence looms large.  She will factor heavily in this tournament, barring problems with her health. She was forced to retire from the French Open earlier this year as this iconic champion continues to work her way back into the major championship shape.

The odds-on favorite is Petra Kvitova.  Serena arguably is just a click or two behind. Jo Konta is the best British contender for the title. Although she has struggled with her play on the European red clay, she has a solid all-court game well-suited to grass. Notably, she made a semi-final run at last year’s Wimbledon.  She is the current era Tim Henman and it would be a delight to see her make another run.  

The 141st Wimbledon Championships will be a spectacular sporting event.  Like the World Cup, it has great storylines, world-class competitors and global reach that few other events can deliver.  

Powers Trigg

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Stumbling on Wins

[You should write down this citation: Berri, David and Schmidt, Martin. Stumbling on Wins. New Jersey: Pearson Education, 2010.  And if you share the thinking of the writers on this site, you also should read this book.  It is one of a collection of sports analytic reads that we think broaden the aperture of professional sports thinking and reaffirm the case for data-driven analysis being more consistently applied in our greatest games.]    

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Stumbling on Wins is a textbook look at sports statistics. Two esteemed economics professors have given readers a solid view of the opportunity to improve professional sports management through the use of data.  Enjoyably, it takes you beyond just baseball‐focused Moneyball to explore all of the bigs and, in the process, frame “a roadmap of behavioral economics that runs right through your local sports arena.”

Here is a quick tasting plate to give you a sense of the book.  The authors use a salary equals performance model to conclude second round picks consistently come out on top.  They also show that there is no value in icing the kicker. In fact, it actually helps the kicker.  As for coaching, with the possible exception of legendary Phil Jackson, most coaches do not have a significant effect on team performance.  In baseball, it is unwise to steal bases unless you can convert your steals at least 70% of the time.  In basketball, the economic theory of the Pareto Principle holds true: 80% of your wins come from 20% of your players.  You get the idea.

Authors, like Soccernomics author Stefan Szymaski, call it “an important book.” Bloggers, such as Henry Abbott, said the book takes sports decision‐making “and pokes [it] with a sharp stick.”  We agree.  Stumbling on Wins is an exceptional read. Berri and Schmidt don’t speculate. They use data to make their case.  In the process, they leave readers with a far better view of how data can be used to drive better decision-making in professional sports.

Powers Trigg

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“To Indeed Be a God”

[As Walt Whitman once wrote, “To indeed be a God.”  None of us knows what we will do with any certainty in later life.  Yet, I doubt there is a reader of this site that doesn’t love the thought of being a commissioner of the one of the four big sports leagues or the head of the NCAA.  It is the single best opportunity to shape a league and, with that awesome power, perhaps even address a permutation or two. 

Here is some of my rumination about what I would change if I had the keys and was sitting in the driver seat of one of the major professional leagues.] 

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Without evoking the ire of Sister Jean, let me play God for a moment. Every year, myriad suggestions are made from fans around the world pertaining to possible rule changes in sports. Some are absurd.  Some make great sense.  Some are unfortunate, but are necessary and ultimately beneficial (e.g., the NFL kickoff).  So, in the doldrums of summer, I can’t help but ask the question: if I were some universal sports commissioner and could make three changes, what would they be? 

  1. I would eliminate the tie (and the PK shootout) in all professional soccer and replace it with the Golden Goal.

The PK shootout is often treated with derisive scorn by the footballing establishment. Currently, the PK shootout is only used in elimination (knockout) games. PK’s are disliked due to their luck-based determination of many important matches.  I would institute a Golden Goal rule across all professional and international competition. My version, however, would come with a twist. For every 5 minutes of overtime, 1 player from each would be subtracted until only the goalkeeper remained. Can you imagine the drama? Even better, this change would spare England fans (of which I count myself as one when the US isn’t playing) the agony of another lost PK shootout.   

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2. I would eliminate instant replay in Major League Baseball (MLB).  

Pace of play is the single biggest issue in baseball. Fans have gotten tried of stolen bases leading to 10-minute reviews. More broadly, 3-hour games must be eliminated.  The elimination of replay won’t totally solve the problem of total game length, but it will help.  In addition, this change could have the second order impact of increasing relative fan interest. Let’s be honest.  In the heart of hearts, fans want to be angry about poor calls. If we leave them uncorrected, it will stoke the flames of fanhood, and lead to increasing interest in the MLB.  America’s pastime is fading.  This change would go a small way toward bringing it back to life.

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3. Finally, I think it is time to allow players to earn endorsement money in college.

The collegian ideal of amateurism can be saved.  However, in order for us to save it, we need to dilute it.  Players should be allowed to accept endorsement money and to market their brand. This modification to the current NCAA rules would resolve many of the amateurism disputes between the NCCA and parties such as Ed O’ Bannon and countless other teenagers navigating a path from high school to college to professional sports.  It also would have an important impact in sports like basketball, incentivizing players to remain in school and improve their skills before jumping to the professional ranks.    

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Let us know in the comments below what sort of rule change you would like to see implemented.  As I started the exercise of framing this list, there were a bunch of changes across the leagues that felt worthy of consideration.  One of the things that I always loved about the late Lamar Hunt is that he was always advocating for fan-friendly changes to NFL.  It is all about making the best leagues in the world even better.

Powers Trigg

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Malamud’s The Natural

[Sports fiction is a poorly covered and unappreciated craft.  It is a hard slog to bring the drama of the playing field to life on the written page.  Several authors have done it and arguably none of them with greater success than Bernard Malamud in his The Natural.  The New York Times, in its initial review, called it a “brilliant and unusual book.” I wholeheartedly agree.]

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Ah. Let us venture into the land of the oft-neglected field of sports fiction, and offer a recommendation that should be on every summer reading list: Bernard Malamud’s classic The Natural.

The Natural is arguably the finest work of baseball prose (maybe even sports). Malamud wrote The Natural in 1952.  Malamud would go on to pen many fabulous pieces on Jewish life with morality-based themes.  It makes The Natural even more notable in some ways as it was his only piece not to contain Jewish characters, as well as his only baseball piece.

Malamud writes with Fitzgerald-esqe poise and imagery, and imbibes his piece with baseball language that only a true fan could incorporate. It is the trick, I would contend, that so often is the swinging miss of sports fiction. The author either can’t truly capture the subtleties of the game or, alternatively, brings deep understanding, but little ability to weave a compelling narrative.  Malamud has no such challenge.  The characters, from the tragic-hero Roy Hobbs to the snooping reporter, Max Mercy, will captivate you from the first page.

It is indubitably deserving of its “classic” label. It is a perfect summer read, available for a mere six USD on Amazon.com. MEFK couldn’t recommend enough.  Naturally, it is 10/10.

Powers Trigg

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World Cup 2018 and Soccernomics

[There are few books that have had a bigger impact on my thinking about sports than Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski.  With the World Cup heating up, it felt like a timely synopsis for our Book Review section.  You will love it.  5 stars.]

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The United States has been, historically, the most incompetent and ignorant soccer nation in the world. As illustrative, I would wager a significant amount of my admittedly rather meager bank account that less than 10% of Americans understand the offsides rule.

Despite these damning realities, and the outrageously poor performance of USMNT during its qualifying campaign, interest in the sport has never been greater. As the sport gains more mindshare, the chance to do some core thinking on key aspects of the game seems appropriately ripe.

Soccernomics is a superb read for any soccer fan ranging from someone that is new to the game to the grandest aficionados of the sport. It compares favorably to Michael Lewis classic Moneyball, using economics background to postulate insightful theories about the so-called Beautiful Game.  Notably, in light of the events of recent days, its chapter on the mathematics of PK shootouts will feel timely and no doubt continue to feel relevant as the World Cup reaches the knockout round.

Soccernomics was updated just in time for this year’s Cup.  It is an “absolute beauty of a strike”. It is also a bargain at less than $20 USD. We recommend you begin reading: the finals are less than a month away.

Powers Trigg

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Withdrawal for Personal Circumstances, Part Three

[The writing below is the the final installment in Withdrawal for Personal Circumstances.  At some point this summer, I also plan to post a longer format piece of fiction on Texas high school football that I put together during the second term.  Hopefully readers like the idea of some fictional content finding its way onto the website, particularly if you are a fan of Feinstein, Lupica, Tim Green and others in the sports fiction space.  This piece is certainly not of that caliber, but is framed in that same tradition.]

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Charlie had exuded such quiet confidence.  He started every game in life with a 40-Love lead and he knew it.  Now, the New York tournament ushered in defeat.  There may be opportunity in failure, but only if you are willing to find it.   Charlie wasn’t.

It might have been something that my Dad could have helped him navigate.  Their relationship, however, was lost to an age-old pattern.  The father seeks control.  The son seeks independence. Now, Charlie was alone.

Eventually, he would return to the court.  About a year later, he was playing a challenger event in Sarasota.  It was a three-hour drive from our house in Palm Beach and so I decided to make the trip.

Charlie was playing one of the names that had featured in his junior career: Max King.  It was a rivalry largely in name only with Charlie consistently cruising to straight set outcomes time and time again.  It might be just what he needed to return to his winning ways.

Today, however, King was the better player. He easily took the first set, 6-2.  As they made the change at 0-1 in the second set, you had no sense of a reversing tide.  It was striking.  Charlie was countless miles from that grand stage in New York.  He was playing a familiar opponent.  And yet, the downward spiral continued.

Hopelessness is dangerous.  As the second set reached 0-3, Charlie calmly sat his racquet on the court, walked up to the net, shook hands with King and walked off the court.

It is said that elite tennis doesn’t create your personality; it reveals it.  On that day, a version of Charlie that would become his adult persona was revealed.  The effortless All-American now seemed filled with struggle.  The young star that everyone had once looked to befriend was now friendless. The academic standout that learned Spanish in less than two months had no interest in collegiate pursuits. The boy that everyone thought was “Most Likely to Do Whatever He Wants” now had no clue what he wanted.

It is a still early morning.  The persistent whine of the alarm finally rouses me.  I head to the shower, ready for a day on the court.

My tennis career had been an afterthought in the Florida years of my youth.  My practice calendar was set based on Charlie’s schedule.  My tournament play was determined by when and where Charlie needed to be.

While I never thought I could measure up to my brother, tennis was my first love.  After a respectable college career at Virginia Tech, I founded the Legler Tennis Academy in my adopted home of Virginia.

As the Academy developed into one of the top programs in the U.S., it also offered a chance for reconciliation.  My father, for his many faults, had a passion for the analytical side of tennis.  It was a critical part of the modern game and an essential element of any top academy.

He jumped at the opportunity to join me.  I hoped that it would offer him a chance to get past the second guessing and the endless soul-searching about what might have been with Charlie.  On most days, it did.

Several years later, Charlie also would become part of the staff.  My quiet aspiration was that it would help him chart a new path.  It would offer him the chance to shape and impact a gifted junior player.  It would get him beyond his own missed opportunities.

And yet, there was something in the promise of these upcoming juniors that was a trap for Charlie.  It was too much a reminder.  It cut too close to too much.

Charlie had been given every advantage. He would ascend to the highest level of the game.  And there, he would find failure.  His story is an American one less frequently told: defeat followed by decline.

We love the tales of heroic turnarounds.  We love to recount the meaningful counsel that catalyzes them.  Unfortunately, we forget the story of what might have been.  We forget the silence of counsel not given.  We forget the “withdraw for personal circumstance” that was the life of Charlie Legler.

Powers Trigg

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Withdrawal for Personal Circumstances (PC), Part Two

[This piece is the second in a multi-part fictional essay that I wrote last fall.  As I noted in framing the first section of the essay, it is something that I sought to frame out drawing some inspiration from a Fitzgerald short story called, Six of One.  I will look to publish the final installment of this piece in the days ahead.]

“Only it was too bad and very American that there should be all that waste at the top.”  F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Two months later, our father sat on the stairs with a melancholy look.  Charlie was preparing to leave for New York.  My Dad said, “We need to talk.” Charlie offered a brooding look of disinterest, then followed him out to the porch.

The conversation was meant to be private, but my father’s raised voice ensured it wasn’t.  It was there for all ears to hear.  “Charlie, I am incredibly disappointed in your preparations. How many times have I said it is not about the will to win, but the will to prepare to win.”

Now, his voice was rising louder and louder.  “If you can’t hold serve, you can’t compete at this level.  The data is conclusive.  You aren’t even willing to look at it, let alone internalize it.”

Charlie response was short, compact and powerful like a blistering serve that your opponent doesn’t even try to return.  “The problem isn’t the data. The problem is you.”

Charlie slowly got to his feet.  “The problem is you.”

Suddenly, my father’s tone shifted.  “Charlie, I understand the pressure. I understand what you are feeling.  Let me help you.”  It was too late.  And in a few minutes more, without another word, he was gone.

I would have loved to have had just a minute with him.  In the hours that followed, I convinced myself that some important and profound words would have come to me.  I had read a thousand books.  I was a devotee of all the great writers.  And yet, the flash thoughts at that moment were banal.  The default was silence.  The chance to shape the moment slipped away.

The fact that Charlie’s match was televised, and had received some nice pre-tournament commentary, was perhaps the worst possible outcome.  Nothing reinforced our absence like the impersonal distance of a flat screen.

My father watched the first two sets.  He was charting the match and muttering.  I wondered what he was planning to do with the data and quietly hoped that I wasn’t his default for near real-time analysis.  Perhaps it was just the routine of it, I mused.  He didn’t offer his thinking. I didn’t ask.

Charlie’s play on the court was a maddening mixture of momentary genius followed by haphazard stupidity.  It was as if he couldn’t see the court. He would go for incredible shots when he should have stroked the ball and looked to rally.  He would massage the shots he usually put away.

You didn’t need a spreadsheet to see a player that was lost.  The announcers noted his distraction.  They speculated about his nerves as he looked for a first-time success on the professional stage.  They told the story of an Academy standout, coached by his father, and wondered aloud about his missing presence in the players’ box.

After two sets, there was no mystery to the outcome.  All that was left to do was for Charlie to lose.  It came with shocking speed like the blistering forehand that had been such a hallmark of his junior success.

When I talked to him that night, I said hello and then could find nothing more heartfelt to offer than a quiet “Sorry.”  Fortunately, Charlie jumped into the void.  “You understand, brother.  You get it.  I need him there and also need him not to be there.”

Powers Trigg

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Withdrawal for Personal Circumstances (PC)

[Over the course of the summer, I will be posting a series of fictional essays on sports.  This first one is a multi-part fictional essay on tennis that I crafted earlier in the school year.  It is a set of thoughts drawn from the Fitzgerald quote that begins the piece.  It is entitled Withdrawal for Personal Circumstances which is a USTA designation, determined by a tournament referee, when a material event arises.  

It is a wonderful time in the tennis calendar with the French Open then leading into Wimbledon.  For lovers of the game, I am sure you are watching a bunch of long points on the red clay of Roland Garros and, of course, reading everything Jon Wertheim.]   

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“Only it was too bad and very American that there should be all that waste at the top.”  F. Scott Fitzgerald

I bounced the ball four times. Then, with a Herculean grunt, I hit the hardest serve of my life. My feet slapped down on the Har-Tru and I lumbered to the net with the expectation of an easy put-away.

The cupcake return I was expecting was a lob. I scampered back and spiked an overhead.  Against almost any player, it was a winner. My brother, Charlie, wasn’t just any player.

Charlie gilded three steps to his right, set his feet and took a Ruthian cut. The ball was hit with such force that I could hear it whistling. I watched helplessly as it landed just inside the baseline and was left to do little more than shake my head.

It was, as always with Charlie, the extraordinary made ordinary. In everything he did, it seemed effortless. He was the A-student who learned a semester of material the night before the test.  He was the dream date of every girl offering little more than that crooked smile.  He was the Yearbook picture with the caption, “Most Likely to Do Whatever He Wants.”

One summer, Charlie was set on training in Spain.  My father protested.  The language barrier, he contended, would limit his development. Five weeks later, we watched with amazement as Charlie demonstrated his conversational Spanish with the waiter at Mama Tio’s.  Problem solved.

I remember dropping him at the airport. “Charlie, Spain is a long way away,” I said. “Of course, you’re never been scared of anything.  “Brother,” he replied, “everyone is haunted by something.”

Several months later, his comment flashed in my head as I sat on the hotel bed listening to my father berate him.  Charlie had won his semifinal match, but the shouted tone had the air of a first-round exit.

In my eyes, Charlie had played a gritty semifinal and now it was a fast turn into the final.  The last match had not been his best tennis.  Nonetheless, he had prevailed. More importantly, the need now was to focus on what was working.  As Hemingway once said, it was the chance “to think about what you can do with what there is.”

My father couldn’t get past it.  He was mired in the last three hours.  “You had almost 50 unforced errors,” he ranted.  “The drop shot.  The drop shot almost took my life.  You were 3-12 on your drop shots.  You will never beat King hitting those shots.”

My father looked incredulously at him, “Are you even listening to me?”  Yes, Charlie flatly replied.  “3-12 on the drop shots. 50 unforced errors.”  Then, the conversation was over.  Charlie nodded to me, grabbed his racquet bag and headed to the court.

The final was a triumph.  There were just a few unforced errors.  There were no ill-conceived drop shots.  He seemed to know when to attack.  He seemed to know when to defend.

For all of the pre-match drama, the message from my father had been sent and received.  It was something that people always missed about Charlie.  The cool detachment always left them to wonder if he had heard them.  The little secret was that Charlie always listened completely, hearing ever word.  It was his great gift and perhaps his great curse.

The days when tennis admirably fought for mindshare with the Big Four professional sports may have past, but the game still has its loyalists.  The victory earned Charlie a wildcard berth in his first pro tournament and the opinion leaders were abuzz.  Wertheim mentioned him in his tennis blog, Mailbag.  He also offered a brief commentary on Beyond the Baseline, opining that he was an emergent Bjorn Borg.

The recognition was heady stuff.  It seemed reasonable to assume Charlie would show some emotion.  He gave little away.

Finally, when we were back in Florida, we found a few moments.  We were sitting in a set of Nantucket chairs under the half-light of a setting sun.  “How did it feel when you won the final point?  It must have been a rush,” I said.  My brother replied, “Relief, little brother.  Relief.”

I probably knew Charlie as well as anyone in the world.  It was, by his standards, a major reveal.  He was scared of failing and succeeding. He was grappling with the omnipresence of my father.  Dad was ceaselessly pushing and rarely satisfied.  He was a catalyst forward and an intolerable constraint.

I wanted to offer up a thousand thoughts, assure him that I understood, offer some smart quip or wise counsel.  I defaulted to silence.

My brother finally broke through the quiet.  “Nick, I can’t remember who said it, but ‘whenever you feel like criticizing someone, just remember that all the people in the world haven’t had the advantages you have had.’”

“I got it, Charlie.  Understood.”

We looked out at the water.  It was the bluest of blues.  Then, the sun set and a memorable day was done.

Powers Trigg

 

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Derek Jeter: Best-Selling Author

[We have added a new navigation tab to the site, Book Review.  It will give us a chance to begin to showcase some of the great books on sports not only spanning both fiction and non-fiction, but also the full gamut of professional sports.  As part of that push, we have asked one of our writers Elliott Glass to offer his thinking on a range of the best sports books for young readers. He transported himself from his sophomore year in high school back to grade school and middle school for this great piece on Derek Jeter and his best-selling books.]

We often think of Derek Jeter as a Hall-of-Fame baseball player and world-class teammate.  Since he retired from baseball, however, he also has become a best-selling author.

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The case for Derek Jeter on the baseball diamond is a classic extra-base hit.  He played Major League Baseball for twenty seasons, amassing almost every known MLB honor.  When he officially retired in 2014, he ranked sixth in MLB history with 3,465 hits.

Setting him apart from many of the legends of the game, Jeter was more than just an individual baseball superstar.  He also was beloved by his teammates.  They saw him as an incredible leader, a winner and an offensive genius. When the Yankees decided to retire his Number 2 jersey, dozens of former teammates came to the ceremony.  Reggie Jackson was there.  David Cone, the Kansas City native and one-time Yankees ace, attended.  Jorge Posada also was on hand.  The list was a veritable who’s who of Yankees lore.

But what happens to a player like Jeter once the crowds stop cheering?  Often, the greats of the game struggle with their post-playing career.  Jeter, however, has become a best-selling author.  His books focus on an topic that he know and loves: sports.  They are targeted at kids between 8 and 12. They are packed with life lessons that will ensure your parents are happy to see your nose buried in these books.

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The Contract centers on Jeter growing up in Kalamazoo, MI.  You will travel with Jeter as his dreams of being a MLB shortstop and even playing in the World Series; and signs The Contract with his parents about what will be expected of him in order to have privileges outside of the school.  There are important lessons here, including how a young Jeter handles not being able to play shortstop on his little league Tiger team.

In the next book, Hit and Miss, Jeter helps kids recognize that there are ups and downs in a sports season and in life.  Diehard Yankee fans may struggle with the team name than Derek uses in Hit and Miss.  However, you definitely will find this second book in the series to be a hit, not a miss.

The third book in this series is called Change Up.  A young Derek has been hoping that his father will coach his little league team.  He keeps his promise and it sets up this page-turning story.  Derek believes that all of the pieces will fall into place, but the season plays out differently with a lots of important lessons to be learned along the way.

Finally, if you love these three books, then you need to find a few more hours to read Fair Ball.  Derek is looking forward to a great summer, including a trip to his grandparent’s house and a chance to hang out with his friends and play baseball.  Unfortunately, the plot turns in a different direction when his friend Dave starts to rethink their well-laid plans.

Derek Jeter was an incredible baseball player and teammate.  He also has proven to be one of the best authors of children’s book on baseball.  Is he is as good as Mike Lupica, Tim Green, and John Feinstein?  Let the debate begin here at MyESPNforKids.

Elliot Glass

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MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

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The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference began in 2007.  Over the last decade, it has become the premier sports analytics conference in the world.  The event is, quite simply, without peer.

For 2018, the overall theme is, “Talk Data to Me.”  Not surprisingly, some intriguing speakers feature on the early agenda.  Not only will we hear from consistent voices within the category such as 538’s Nate Silver and Rocket’s legendary GM Daryl Morey, we also will have a chance to hear from leaders such as former Microsoft Chief Executive and NBA owner Steve Ballmer. 

In addition to the above notables, there also will be more of everything that makes this conference truly elite in the world of sports analytics.  Most notably, organizers continue to grow their research paper competition and also their Competitive Advantage presentations.  Past topics range from better ticket pricing strategies for the most anticipated games to “Flipping Coins in the War Room: Skill and Chance in the NFL Draft” to correlation analysis around player experience and winning in the NBA. 

While they do have student rates, those tickets are sold out for 2018.  Likewise, the general admission ticket are gone.  Your lone option is to stomach a big number to attend (now $850).

The thinking at MIT Sloan SAC is transformative.  The participants are using data to change professional sports.  We will look to showcase key insights here as we navigate the Dead Zone before the madness of March and then MLB Opening Day arrive to bring us out of the major sports event nadir that is the month of February.  

Powers Trigg

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Super Bowl LII Preview

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The size and scope of the Super Bowl is amazing to consider.  The Super Bowl is the most watched event in U.S. television (both FIFA’s World Cup and, depending on the participants, the Cricket World Cup can be bigger). Americans eat more food on Super Bowl Sunday than any day of the year except Thanksgiving; during the game, there will be over a billion chicken wings consumed.  The average television advertisement costs $4 million for just thirty seconds of time.  These facts are phenomenal. 

It is worthy asking ourselves how did the Super Bowl become a major event in the first place?  It all happened in 1966 when the two major football leagues agreed to combine.  They winners from each conference would, it was decided, play each other in an year end game that legendary Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt would dub the Super Bowl. 

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For the 2018 version, the game will be played at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  It is the recently built home of the Vikings.  It is said to be “the sixth cold weather location to host the game” and the stadium is located further north than any city to ever host.

As for the contest itself, everyone can’t help but wonder if Tom Brady and the New England Patriots will win another Super Bowl ring.  My prediction is a simple one.  The Pats beat the Eagles just as they did in their last Super Bowl match up in February 2005 (24-21). 

Amazingly, this game marks the eighth time Brady has played in the Super Bowl.  No one has played in more.  Experience down the stretch matters.  Belicheck and Brady deliver again.             

Elliot Glass

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An MLB Alternate Universe

[We are starting to get within an outfield throw of Opening Day.  And once we get past the Super Bowl, it will be the only thing to keep us going (at least until March Madness tips off).  And so, it should come as no shock that Ezra and Roey are thinking baseball and fire a strike across the outside of the plate here with a fun piece on the Mets and Giants.]

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The Mets and Giants have combined to win four out of the past eight NL pennants, but last year both missed out on the playoffs with records well under .500. These two teams have been hard at work this offseason trying to get back into the playoffs, with the Giants trading for both 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen and Tampa Bay Rays great Evan Longoria and the Mets signing former Padre, Red Sock and Dodger Adrian Gonzalez and Jay Bruce. These moves signal that both these teams are making a serious push in 2018. but they may have been better suited for teams going all in in 2012, when these four were all bona fide superstars.

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In addition to these four, both teams lineups are filled with players who, despite not being superstars, were still great in 2012, such as David Wright and Jose Reyes of the Mets and Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval of the Giants. These teams lineups are also filled with former top prospects and first-round draft picks who were just getting their start in 2012, like Brandon Belt of the Giants and Brandon Nimmo of the Mets. We are going to go through these teams lineups and tell you not which of these teams will have more wins in 2018, but which of these teams would have had more wins in 2012.

Let’s start by taking a look at the Mets projected lineup for 2018 and where they were in 2012:

  • CF Brandon Nimmo was the Mets first-round pick in 2011 out of Cheyenne East High School and played 10 games in the minor leagues in 2012.
  • 2B Asdrubal Cabrera was coming off of a Silver Slugger award and All-Star game appearance in 2011. Cabrera continued to succeed in 2012, when he was elected to a second consecutive All-Star appearance and hit for .270 with an OBP close to .800.
  • LF Yoenis Cespedes played eight seasons in Cuba before he defected to the US in 2011 and was one of the most highly regarded sluggers coming out of Cuba in recent memory. After signing with the Oakland Athletics, Cespedes posted a .292 batting average to go along with 23 home runs and 82 RBIs in a successful 2012 rookie campaign.
  • RF Jay Bruce was an All-Star in 2011 for the Cincinnati Reds, batting .256 while hitting 32 HRs and 97 RBIs. He followed this up with another All-Star campaign in 2012, winning the Silver Slugger and finishing tenth in the NL MVP voting while posting similar numbers of 34 HRs and 99 RBIs to go along with a .252 batting average.
  • 1B Adrian Gonzalez had a career year in 2011 in his first year as a Red Sox. Gonzalez hit for .338 average and knocked in 117 runs. Gonzalez also proved himself defensively and won a Golden Glove Award in 2011 and finished seventh in the MVP voting. In 2012, he was traded to the Dodgers midseason and finished the season with 100 RBIs and a .299 batting average.
  • 3B David Wright had a down year in 2011, but re-established himself in 2012 as a star. Wright looked liked his former self as he hit .306 and drove in 93 RBIs with an OBP of .883. Wright was selected to the All-Star game for the sixth time and finished just outside the Top-5 in MVP voting.
  • C Travis D’arnaud was drafted in the first round of the 2007 MLB draft and had established himself as an elite prospect in 2012 for the Blue Jays before being traded in the blockbuster trade that sent reigning NL Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey to Toronto for D’arnaud and fellow top prospect Noah Syndergaard.
  • SS Jose Reyes had been known as a guy who hit for average and stole a lot of bases ever since he came up with the Mets in 2003. After making the All-Star game in 2010, Reyes followed it up with a tremendous 2011 where he won the NL batting title by batting .337. It looked like he had finally made the leap to stardom. Instead, after signing a lucrative deal with Miami that offseason, Reyes hasn’t batted over .300 in a season since and bounced around the league before returning to the Mets in 2016.

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Overall, six out of nine players currently in the Mets lineup were All-Stars in 2011 or 2012, D’arnaud and Nimmo were top prospects and Cespedes was one of the most-hyped up foreign sluggers in recent memory. Unfortunately for New York fans, it’s 2018 and none of these players were All-Stars last year. (Note: Michael Conforto was an All-Star in 2017, but is coming off a serious injury and probably won’t be ready to play opening day. Sorry Mets fans.)

Starting Rotation: Although the lineup for the 2012 Mets seemed like an All-Star team, the rotation in 2012 was full of top prospects or high school or college kids that had not yet been drafted. The only player currently in the Mets rotation with any major league experience in 2012 was Matt Harvey, who was a top prospect in 2011 and made his major league debut as a late-season call up in 2012.

San Francisco Giants 

Let’s now take a look at the Giants projected lineup for 2018 and where they were in 2012:

  • 2B Joe Panik was the Giants first round selection in 2011. Panik spent the 2011 season in single-A ball, where he hit .341 and won the league’s MVP award. He was rated as one of the top second base prospects in the MLB prior to the 2012 season.
  • CF Andrew Mccutchen had his first great season in 2011, getting selected to his first All-Star game and hitting 20 home runs. He broke out as a star in 2012, leading the league in hits while hitting for a .327 average and 31 HRs, good for a third place finish in NL MVP voting that year.
  • 3B Evan Longoria had one of his finest seasons as a pro, hitting 31 homers and slugging .495, leading the Rays to their second consecutive playoff appearance. With high expectations coming into 2012, Longoria was injured in April and didn’t come back until August, missing almost 90 games and causing the Rays to miss the playoffs. Despite this, Longoria still managed to hit 17 HRs and have an OPS of almost .900, leaving us to wonder what could have been had he been healthy the whole season.
  • C Buster Posey was one of the league’s up and coming stars coming into 2011, having won Rookie of the Year in 2010. But a collision at home plate in the beginning of the 2011 season that was so devastating it caused the MLB to change its rules about catchers protecting the plate caused Posey to miss most of his sophomore campaign. Many wondered if Posey would be able to return as the same player in 2012 and the answer was a resounding yes. Posey won the NL MVP award in 2012, leading the league in batting with a .336 mark and driving in over 100 runs while hitting in the middle of the order to lead the Giants to their second World Series win in three years.
  • SS Brandon Crawford was called up to the majors in 2011, but was sent back down to the minors after a few weeks when he was only hitting .190. He was called back up in September and was named the team’s opening day starter for 2012. Despite not having an amazing season at the plate for the World Champion Giants, he was one of the best defensive shortstops in the league, finishing third among NL shortstops with +12 defensive runs saved.
  • LF Brandon Belt was the Number 1 prospect in the Giants organization, Belt was called up in the beginning of the 2011 season and played 63 games in the majors while spending the season shuttling between triple-A and the major leagues. He played his first full major league season in 2012, posting a solid .275 batting average while starting at first base for the world champion Giants.
  • RF Hunter Pence started off 2011 as a Houston Astro and batted .321 with 59 RBIs at the All-Star break before being shipped to Philadelphia. Pence finished fourth in the league that year in batting to go along with 97 RBIs. The following year Pence was traded again, this time to the team he still plays for today, the Giants. In less than 60 games for the Giants, Pence had almost 50 RBIs and was an emotional leader during the team’s World Series run. His teammates credit him for his inspirational playoff speeches, notably one that kickstarted a comeback against the Reds with the Giants one game away from elimination.
  • 1B Pablo Sandoval is now often thought of as a below-average third baseman; in 2011 and 2012, Sandoval was one of the top third basemen in the league, batting almost .300 and hitting 35 home runs and 133 RBIs over 225 games in addition to being selected to the NL All-Star team both seasons.  Affectionately nicknamed Kung-Fu Panda, Sandoval turned in one of the greatest World Series performances in recent memory. With his Giants facing the Detroit Tigers in the World Series, Sandoval hit three home runs in the opener, including two off Tigers ace Justin Verlander, to propel the Giants to a Game One victory and an eventual sweep of the Tigers in the World Series.

The Giants lineup in 2012 would have consisted of the next two NL MVPs, two top five third basemen at the time and a plethora of top prospects. The Giants hope that these players can capture the magic from all those years ago this year and carry them to a playoff berth.

Starting Rotation

  • Madison Bumgarner was called up in July of 2010 and pitching eight shutout innings in his World Series debut against the Rangers, Bumgarner continued his success in 2011, winning 13 games with an ERA of 3.21. His solid play was enough for the Giants to grant him a six-year extension, which turned out to be worth every penny. Bumgarner finished the 2012 season with 16 wins and a 3.37 ERA and threw another seven scoreless innings in Game Two of the World Series, in which the Giants swept the Tigers.
  • Johnny Cueto broke out in the 2011 season, posting a 2.31 ERA that would have qualified for second place in the NL ERA title had he pitched another six innings. In 2012, Cueto won 19 starts with a WHIP of 1.17 and finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting.
  • Jeff Samardzija was a standout two-sport athlete at Notre Dame and decided to pursue a baseball career after college. He was a top prospect in the Cubs organization before playing his first full season as a starter in 2011, posting an 8-4 record with a .297 ERA.
  • Chris Stratton was the Giants first round pick in 2012 and was rated their third best prospect coming into 2013.
  • Tyler Beede was drafted in the first round of the 2011 MLB draft out of high school, but decided not to sign and go to college instead. After playing college ball at Vanderbilt University,  he was drafted by the Giants in the first round of the 2014 MLB draft.

The 2018 Giants rotation in 2012 consisted of a perennial Cy-Young candidate, one of the best up and coming starters in the game and two first round picks. The rotation this year could be good, but depends heavily on Stratton and Beede living up to their potential, Cueto and Smadijiza having bounce back years following lackluster 2017 campaigns and Bumgarner pitching like the ace he is.

In an alternate universe where these two teams made of the current day players were to play a seven game series in 2012, the Giants would have the upper hand. Led by 2012 NL MVP Buster Posey, the Giants lineup consisting of at least three other 30 home run  hitters would have been lethal. Even a Mets lineup anchored by Adrian Gonzalez in his prime wouldn’t be able to keep up with the amount of productive hitters on the Giants. More importantly, contrary to the Mets starting rotation, which was not yet in the majors, the Giants starting rotation already had two stars in addition to all their top prospects.

Even though the 2018 Mets would have been a very good team in 2012, the Giants would have been much better.

Roey Herzfeld and Ezra Troy

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Federer Wins Down Under

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Roger Federer is inarguably the greatest male tennis player of all-time.  He has won an amazing 20 grand slams (four more than Nadal).  And with this win in Australia, the ageless 36-year old became the oldest player to win a major championship since Ken Rosewall.  One also would have to contend that he is very well-positioned, absent injury, to make another run at the All-England Club this summer. Will we see the total count move to 21 (or even 22 with hardware hoisted above his head at Arthur Ashe in September)?

The lone tragedy of the fortnight was that the time differentials didn’t allow the American audience to take in more of the tennis, inclusive of Federer’s 5-set triumph over Cilic (6-1 in the fifth).  Fortunately, we have Mr. Wertheim.  As the best writer on tennis during the modern era, we always can count on the omnipresent Jon Werthiem to capture the highlights.  Of Federer, he rightly said, “We are exhausting the store of adjectives and superlatives.”  https://www.si.com/tennis/2018/01/28/australian-open-2018-jon-wertheim-50-parting-thoughts-federer-wozniacki

While everyone is busy with the demands of school, and no doubt spending some free cycles this week on the lead up to Super Bowl LII, let’s us pause and appreciate greatness in our midst.

Powers Trigg

 

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Daryl Morey, the Resurgent Rockets and Demise of the Mid-Range Jumper

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Sports tend to follow the Darwinian blueprint.  Success is observed, breeds replication and passed on as a generation of talent rises up through the ranks.

Since Ken Sailors introduced the world to the jump shot, basketball has undergone a rapid evolution. Indeed, basketball sans the 3-pointer is almost unfathomable.  It has become a center piece of the game. 

Today, as strategies and player talents continue to advance, we see a new movement taking root on the hard court worldwide: the shunning of the mid-range jump shot.

Enter Daryl Morey.   Morey is the current General Manager of the Houston Rockets. Morey’s background is based heavily in analytics: he is a MBA grad from MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

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Since taking over in 2007, the Rockets have yet to have a losing season, and have reached the playoffs seven times. Morey is known for his innovation, his cunning and, within that framing, his shrewd trades.  James Harden was snatched by Morey for practically nothing and has blossomed into an MVP contender.  Moreover, the acquisition of Chris Paul was a masterclass in rule manipulation.

As Morey has played with this personnel mix, a intriguing reality has emerged.  The mid-range jump shot has all but disappeared from the shot mix analysis of the Rockets.  The Rockets play to maximize the chances of a three-point shot, layup, or free throw. They view the mid-range shot the same way the “Moneyball” A’s teams viewed the bunt and the steal: as a waste of a possession (or in the A’s case, an Out).

The great Billy Beane once said, “There are some really bright people in this business.  You can’t do the same thing the same way and be successful for a long period of time.”  The great front offices understand that basic truth.

Daryl Morey is a use case in the Darwinian evolution of the game of professional basketball.  His success undoubtedly will have an evolutionary impact on how executives and coaches think about the talent and game strategy of the league in seasons to come. 

Powers Trigg

 

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The Grand Daddy (of Rowing) of Them All

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“Rowing is perhaps the toughest of sports,” wrote Daniel James Brown in his classic The Boys in the Boat.  “Once the race starts, there are no time-outs, no substitutions.  It calls upon on the limits of human endurance.”

Held on the penultimate full-weekend in October, the Head of the Charles is “the world’s largest two-day rowing event.”  No time-outs.  No substitutions.  It will be, as Brown captured, a grand test of endurance for more than 11,000 athletes worldwide participating in 55 different races.      

The course itself is known as much for its difficultly as its beauty.  Weeks Bridge is the specific example that makes the general point.  It was built for pedestrian traffic between Harvard Business School (HBS) and the main campus in Cambridge. The difficult turn is complicated further by heavy spectator noise.

This rigorous racecourse that is the Head of the Charles no doubt will make its impositions. It’s length is punitive. As Daniel Brown James wrote, difficulty is a given in rowing.  “It is a question of what you will do, and how well you will do it, while pain has her wanton way with you.”  It is one reason the Head of the Charles has been called the Super Bowl of Rowing. 

If you are in the Boston area, it is an obvious addition to the weekend list.  If you haven’t been to the race, it is worth considering for your sports bucket list in the years to come.

Powers Trigg

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Friday Night Lights (Dimming)?

The fall football landscape has been filled with noise this fall.  Everyone is talking about the Chargers and their stadium filled with fans of their opponents; and the Twittersphere has been filled with pictures of empty seats across the League.

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Beyond the stadium, the television landscape also is trending in the wrong direction.  According to Sports Media Watch, viewership declined year-over-year in 9 of the 13 televisions windows where games were played.

What are the causal factors?  The big flashpoint has been the National Anthem.  It has dominated the headlines.  Polling data (Remington Polling) had 64% saying that they do think “NFL players should stand and be respectful during the national anthem.”  25% said no.  11% were unsure. It may be a part of the story.

In addition to the anthem, ticket prices have continued to increase.  At the same time, the cost of technology and “skinny” cable bundles to deliver the games has plummeted.  In the competition between the stadium and the family room, the cost equation is trendy heavily toward stay-at-home options.  It too may be a piece of the equation.

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The biggest, systemic issue for the NFL as they look out beyond the current noise, however, may be declining youth participation.  The risk of traumatic brain injury has parents opting out of football participation by their kids.  The above graph perfectly tells the story and captures the trend.  If they don’t play, it is fair to ask what that will mean for their future attendance, viewership and even core knowledge of the game.

Football is still without equal among the Big Four professional sports.  The long term question, beyond the current noise, is will they maintain that position in the decades to come?

Powers Trigg

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The Moose Is Loose

On Wednesday, September 20th, Mike Moustakas hit his 37th home run of 2017.  The “Moose” now holds the record for the most home runs in a single season by a Kansas City Royal.

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Moustakas is a free agent at the end of the regular season, along with a collection of the core players that were part of the 2015 World Series team.  He has had an incredible run and a number of Kansas City faithful will be sorry to see him bid adieu to the Royals.  His journey was an up and down one that demonstrated a level of grit and determination that is the hallmark of a player that has success at the MLB level.

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Congratulations, Moose.

Powers Trigg

 

 

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The Final Slam: US Open 2017

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Flushing Meadows incapsulates the best things about tennis. The final tennis slam of the year may not have the whites of the All-England Club or the sun-dappled splendor of the clay at Roland Garros.  The U.S. Open is tennis with an American flavor: big, chaotic and brash. With the draws posted and the first round looming, here are three major storylines to focus on as New York becomes a playground for some of the greats of the game.

I. 20?

Will Federer make history? It is the question on the mind of every tennis fan.  Federer could make history in multiple ways with a victorious U.S. Open performance. A win would give him 20 Grand Slam Titles, cementing his legacy as the Greatest tennis player to ever walk the face of the earth. Nadal is the closest to Federer with 15. However, Nadal’s extremely demanding style of play and age (31) make it unlikely that Federer will be eclipsed. The attractiveness of twenty over nineteen notwithstanding, Federer would also have the most U.S. Open Titles in the modern era with six if he triumphs in New York.

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While Federer has played with aplomb throughout the year, this will not be a march to the title. A Third Round matchup with Verdasco could give him difficulties. And of course, Nadal looms in the semifinals.  They have played just about everywhere, but have not met at Flushing Meadows.  Even if Fed can navigate his side of the draw, one must wonder: what will the great, but aging champion have left in the tank if he reach the finals?

II. Where Did All the Stars Go?

Injury woes have plagued the tour. Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic battled in the finals last year. They both have withdrawn from this year’s Open due to injury. Joining them are Andy Murray (the two seed), Milos Ranoic, and Kei Nishikori. The incredible physical demands of top level tennis have come under immense scrutiny.  The hard court season is particularly demanding.  

Professional Tennis is a 12-month endeavor.  It has led to an injury epidemic that is unprecedented.  Will the ATP make changes?  What will the implications be for warm up tournaments like Cincinnati?  Does more need to be done to ensure that the best players are the major fields and, as possible, playing injury-free tennis.

III. After the Big Four…

Given the injury epidemic, this year’s tournament will be prime for young stars looking to make an impact. Names like Cincinnati, Sock, and Shapovalov will be tossed around as dark horses to watch as the second week begins.  The big name to watch may be: Zervev.  While it is hard to call a number 4 seed a dark horse, he certainly isn’t dominating the pre-tournament storylines.  He brings huge shots to the table. At 6’6, his serve can reach speeds of 135 mph.  His two-handed backhand is his best shot. If he continues to move well, there is no one the 20 year-old should fear in the draw.      

The magic of New York will be on full display this September. Let’s hope for a memorable U.S Open. And of course, for those of us that love Federer, that the great champion has the opportunity to lift the trophy one last time.

Powers Trigg

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Ben Hewitt: The Town That Food Saved

Ben Hewitt’s The Town That Food Saved chronicles the rise of the local foods community in Hardwick, Vermont.  Hewitt makes the compelling case that a collection of agri-preneurs helped “save” this small Northeastern town.

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The Hewitt narrative triggered some deeper thinking about the role that sports play in a community.  The commonalities are striking.  They often are core to a turnaround effort.  They drive economic impact.  Most importantly, they have a material cultural impact, often shaping and strengthening the psyche of a city.

Kansas City, and their multi-decade journey with the Chiefs, are a perfect Hewitt use case.  Consider the facts.

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The arrival of the Chiefs spurred an economic revival. In 1951, flooding destroyed the Kansas City Stockyards, a centerpiece of the city’s economic activities (the total flood caused nearly $935 million dollars in damage).  The City was in shambles.

In 1963, the arrival of the Chiefs signaled a return to prestige for a town that had lost its main source of revenue and its identity (hence Kansas City’s reputation for being a cowtown). Only 30 cities have NFL teams. Kansas City is one of them.  The presence of  an NFL team is a distinct differentiator from Kansas City’s regional neighbors with a major economic impact.

Kansas City has also benefited culturally from the Chiefs. The Chiefs helped build Kansas City’s image as an All-American town. Games were, and still are, family affairs. There is little emphasis on corporate boxes and the other maladies that have plagued organizations in big swing town from New York to Houston and Dallas to Los Angles. The incredible noise that Chiefs fans are able to project is ingrained in the culture. The Chiefs gave the city a purpose.

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Finally, the Chiefs have had a great impact on the community. Despite the large socioeconomic, ethnic and racial divide that shapes Kansas City, everybody loves the Chiefs. The City, it has been said, bleeds Red and Gold. We embrace players like Len Dawson and Eric Berry with equal vigor. Community is built at Arrowhead.

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The power of a sports team is often delegitimized by academics and non-sports journalists. If we are to borrow from the title from Hewitt’s book, however, the arrival of the Chiefs saved Kansas City in the same way that organic food is saving Hardwick, VT.  The Chiefs improved the economy, had immense cultural benefits, and helped the community unite. It is, in a phrase, what they call Arrowhead Pride.

Powers Trigg

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Sports Dead Zone?

Pundits in the traditional media, and on talk radio, love to debate the worst time of year to be a sports fan.  As the thermometer hits triple digits in the Midwest and on the West Coast, it is hard not to take a deeper look at the current window and ask the question: is July/August the top sports dead zone of the calendar year?

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Let’s consider the worst of the worst argument:

  1. The NBA is done and most hockey fans are left to wonder in the offseason about little else than parity and whether Golden State can be stopped in the 2017-2018 season.
  2. The NHL, likewise, is finished with the Penguins hoisting their Stanley Cup and various analysts asking who amongst the 31 teams can win next season.
  3. The teams in the English Premier League aren’t racking up points in the standings.  They are racking up revenues with a collection of international friendlies that offer little more than the chance to see your “favourite” icons.
  4. We are in the opening window the NFL season, but the preseason has never been more loathed by players or the season ticket holders forced to buy tickets as part of their seat packages.
  5. Finally, a level below the Big Four, Wimbledon has concluded and the British Open has a new owner of the Claret Jug.  For tennis fans, it is long wait until the end of August and the U.S. Open.

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Adam Shemesh, Ezra Troy and the lovers of baseball will invariably weigh in on behalf of baseball.  However, there is little to suggest that anything that happens in the month of August will prove decisive in the outcome of the World Series.  We all have our teams; are hoping they perform well after the trade deadline; also understand that the standings offer a decent view of who will thrive in the postseason.

Let’s hear your thoughts.  Is there a worse window in professional sports?

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What do you think?  I tend to argue that the post-Super Bowl season is the low point in the calendar.  However, the current window is less than perfect.  A compelling case can be made.

Powers Trigg

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Sporting KC Owner Neal Patterson

Neal Patterson, businessman and long-time owner of the professional soccer franchise Sporting KC, passed away this last weekend.  He was 67.

On Tuesday night at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Mr. Patterson was recognized during the match against FC Dallas in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

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The Sporting KC leadership painted his name on the field, had orange and black armbands put on the SKC kit (the colors of his alma mater, the Oklahoma State Cowboys) and offered a moment of silence as the flags stood at half-staff.  Then, the rowdies in the Cauldron began to chant, “Thank You Neal Patterson.”  SKC would go on to deliver a 3-o victory in an extra-time thriller.

Neal Patterson reminds us that when a big vision meets execution great things happen in professional sports.  When I interviewed him once for a history project on Lamar Hunt, he remarked that Hunt “enjoyed the power of the big idea and managing the detail.”

Mr. Patterson also told me that “owning a professional sports team was never part of any long-term plan.”  After dinner with Hunt at the Capital Grille on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, he said to Mr. Illig, “We just had dinner with the most successful sports entrepreneur in the world. We should do this.”

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The decision by Mr. Patterson and Mr. Illig to buy Sporting KC not only kept professional soccer in Kansas City.  It spawned a top MLS team.  It helped Kansas City become the Soccer Capital of the U.S.

As the Cauldron chanted Tuesday night, “Thank You Neal Patterson.”

Powers Trigg

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Going, Going, Gone: A Quick Look at the Home Run Derby

[The Midsummer Classic is a great midpoint to the summer.  It is a tradition that dates to 1933 and, in my opinion, is one of the best all-star formats in major professional sports (along with the MLS which, as many readers know, features the best players in North America against a top non-US team (for 2017, they will face Real Madrid).

The All-Star festivities kicks off on Monday night with the casual fan-favorite, the Home Run Derby.  The game itself will be played Tuesday night.  As readers get ready, MyESPNforKids Staff Writer Elliott Glass is here with a nice piece about the beloved long ball competition.] 

Baseball fans love the Home Run Derby.  On Monday, June 10, the 2017 Home Run Derby will be held in Miami at Marlins Stadium. The start time for this annual slugfest will be 8PM ET/7PM CT.  The participants in the Home Run Derby will be:

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  1. Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
  2. Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies
  3. Justin Bour, Miami Marlins
  4. Aaron Judge, New York Yankees
  5. Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals
  6. Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees
  7. Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins
  8. Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

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Some baseball analysts say that after the Derby the players swing gets hurt.  This view is a result of the fact that many of the participants in the Home Derby have under-performed during the second half of the season.  With Miami and New York both having two players in the contest, their fans are hoping that it is not the case.

In looking at the eight player, it seems clear that three players have the best chance to win. First, you have Giancarlo Stanton, the hitting expert for the Marlins.  In addition, there is Aaron Judge, the biggest story for the Yankees during the first half of 2017.   Finally, there is late entrant and 3rd baseman for the red hot Kansas City Royals, Mike Moustakas.

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The Royals have not had a player in the Home Run Derby since 1991.  The player was: Danny “The Bull” Tartabull. He hit two home runs.  Cal Ripken, Jr, the future Hall of Famer and great author of books on baseball for kids (Junior All-Star Series), hit 12 home runs for top honors.  Will Moose do better than the Bull?

The Home Run Derby should be a lot of fun for kids and adults alike.  We would love to hear from readers about their pick for the top home run hitter on Monday night. My pick is Mike Moustakas.

Elliott Glass

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NBA DRAFT: Winners and Losers

[It can be easy to forget that there are actually 30 teams in the National Basketball Association (NBA).  Yes, it is true.  There are more than two teams. You can look it up.  They also haven’t given up on the idea that they can be competitive with the Warriors and the Cavs.  If they are going to make any kind of run at relevance, the Draft has to be an essential part of their approach.  Fortunately, Ezra and Roey give us a great look at the winners and losers as we begin to think aloud about what growing NBA parity might look like in the years ahead.]

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I. Winners:

Minnesota Timberwolves: The Wolves were able to find both a star and a player to mentor their young core, one of the best in the league, by giving up a relatively unremarkable package for Jimmy Butler, easily a top 15 player. He can help the Wolves by vastly improving their weakest point, defense, as well as giving the Wolves a big three (Butler, Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins) and improving on one of the best young rosters on the league. This move will immediately vault the T-Wolves into playoff contention and give them a shot to knock of the Warriors in the coming years as their many young assets continue to grow and mature.

Charlotte Hornets: While the Hornets made a kind of risky move by trading for Dwight Howard pre-draft, they got the biggest steal of the draft when projected top-seven pick Malik Monk fell to them at eleven, giving them one of the most athletic players in the draft to compliment their star point guard, Kemba Walker.

Los Angeles Lakers and Lavar Ball: Of course Lavar Ball and his basketball family stole the show at the draft with their flashy outfits, bold statements and Big Baller Brand merchandise. The Lakers drafted the first of the Ball sons, Lonzo, in a move to try to finish up their rebuilding process.  This move, ostensibly to get them their point guard of the future, comes in addition to the salary dump of Timofey Mozgov designed to open up enough cap room next summer to sign Paul George and another max free agent to finish their rebuilding process and bring back the Lakers glory days.

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Philadelphia 76’ers: Years of “trusting the process” looks like it finally paid off for this Philly organization. Markelle Fultz at number 1 represents the present for this team which could be good for a very long time. Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Fultz look to start the Sixers dynasty to complete the process started by Sam Hinkie all those years ago.

Golden State Warriors: The Warriors entered the draft with no picks but when they saw Jordan Bell had fallen out of the first round and was available, they quickly made a deal with Chicago, sending 3.5 million in cash in exchange for the pick used to select Jordan Bell. Bell, a freakishly athletic player with enormous defensive upside, should find a spot on this already stacked team and contribute right away and attempt to help the Golden State dynasty reach their fourth consecutive finals appearance next season.

Sacramento Kings: Sacramento began their rebuild by trading away Demarcus Cousins this year. The Kings entered the draft hoping to add to their young core of Buddy Hield and Willie Cauley Stein with selections number five and ten in this year’s draft. At number five Sacramento took De’Aaron Fox, who has the potential to be a franchise PG and is being compared to John Wall. Sacramento then traded away the 10th pick for for the 15th and 20th selections, used to take ACC player of the year Justin Jackson and Harry Giles, respectively. Giles, the number one recruit out of high school, never really got a chance to show his skills as his college career was derailed by injuries (look up his high school mixtape and you will see what a steal Sacramento got at 20). If Giles can return to pre-injury form, the Kings may have found the dominant center who can play alongside Cauley-Stein and replace Demarcus Cousins.

II. Losers:

Bulls: The Bulls have been getting offers for Jimmy Butler since last year’s draft, but they finally felt this was the right package – a mediocre frequently injured shooting guard, a former lottery pick whose college talent hasn’t translated into talent in the NBA yet and the seventh overall pick, which was used on sharpshooting power forward, Lauri Menarken, who might have been the best thing they got from this terrible trade. Not only did they give up Jimmy Butler for this underwhelming package, but they also gave up their first round pick this year! Although this was the right move, the Bulls started off their rebuild in the completely wrong way by getting a terrible return for one of the league’s best players.

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Phil Jackson: Since he took over the Knicks four years ago, the Knicks have posted an 80-166 record. Leading up to the draft, there were rumors swirling that he would trade the one good player he has picked up since taking over this franchise – Kristaps Porzingis. Luckily, he didn’t pull the trigger on a trade, but he did pull the trigger on a questionable pick in the draft. With an explosive PG with major upside improbably still on the board (Dennis Smith Jr), Phil passed and instead took the more risky, selection and selected the 18 year old French phenom, point guard Frank Ntilikina . Phil, this may not be a terrible pick, but you are still running this franchise into the ground with your other awful drafts, terrible contracts and obsession with the triangle, and you are heading into Isaiah Thomas territory with your poor GM’ing. As a Knicks fan, I will be overjoyed when you leave.

Jarrett Allen and Aleksandar Vezenkov: Allen, drafted 22nd overall and Vezenkov, drafted 57th, will soon join the laughing stock of the NBA, the Brooklyn Nets. Being drafted to the NBA is a dream come true for these young players who have been working up to this their entire lives. But Allen and Vezenkov come out as losers as they are joining a team who is unlikely to compete for a while, thanks to the worst trade in NBA history, which is still affecting them five years later and will most likely affect them for the next five years as well.

Ezra Troy and Roey Herzfeld

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The QB

The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks

Football seems like the last thing that I should write about as the thermometer moves about 90 F.  At the same time, we are just 45 days removed from the end of the draft. Mandatory mini-camps have kicked off. If you’re not a baseball fan, you need something to do given that the NBA and NHL are now on offseason hiatus.

One of the clear narratives within the NFL at the moment is: the QB role is a determining position for any team hoping for a consistent presence in the postseason.  Recently, I had the chance to read Bruce Feldman book, The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks. With three quarterbacks taken in the first round this year, it is always interesting to consider what makes unheralded college quarterbacks stars (Tom Brady), and unheralded QBs that ended up being unprecedented busts (Ryan Leaf).

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I started reading this book with high expectations due to the entertaining subject matter.  The book exceeded my expectations. Feldman writes in a style that makes some of the issues seem innately complex, but at the same time, easily digestible for a causal football fan. He covers the marquee camps (Elite 11, Manning), the key players (two whole chapters dedicated to college Johnny Football), and the newest developments in the QB-world (brain typing, Axon sports video training).

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The NFL has never been more QB-centric at any time in its half century history.  Bruce Feldman and The QB: The Making of the Modern Quarterbacks is a great read for a football fan wanting to better understand the position and hungry for the gridiron in the heat of summer.   

Powers Trigg

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Tim Howard: The Keeper

Tim Howard: The Keeper

With soccer at its highest level of popularity in American history, it seems only fitting to review a great read about what the Brazilian great Pele called the beautiful game. Tim Howard has been a stalwart in goal his entire career.  Howard became well-known in American popular culture after his performance in the 2014 World Cup.  Most notably, his performance in the Round of 16 against Belgium was breathtaking. Howard finished the game with 15 saves, a World Cup record.  

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Howard’s autobiography is one terrific piece of work in a career that has been full of them. It is rare that we see such a heartfelt memoir from a professional athlete of Howard’s caliber.  One might put The Keeper in the same category as Agassi’s Open. Howard muses on his hardscrabble upbringing, his lifelong struggle with Tourette’s Syndrome and OCD, his decision to forgo college, and his illustrious professional career. Howard manages to show the reader the highs and lows of his career in a way that isn’t watered down. 

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A story about overcoming adversity and conquering all challenges will resonate with readers long after they have put the book down.  Diehard footie fan, or casual observer, you need to read this book.  It is the perfect page turner for the summer offseason.   

Powers Trigg

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Iconic Sportswriter Frank Deford Passes Away

He was, without a doubt, one of the true giants in the field of sports journalism.  Benjamin Franklin “Frank” Deford III passed away at his home in Florida this week.  The American sportswriter and novelist was 78.

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In chronicling his sad departure, his decades-long broadcasting soapbox National Public Radio called him a “longtime philosopher on sports.”  He was just that.

Deford was more than an iconic voice.  He was a prolific writer.  He joined the ranks of Sports Illustrated in 1962 and never looked back.  In addition to generating countless rows of copy for a collection of top national publications like SI, Deford also published more than 20 books including his recent Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter and The Old Ball Game chronicling the rise of modern baseball.  If you haven’t had a chance to read them, you should.

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Deford wasn’t afraid of a rhetorical fistfight on sports topics of the day and he often defended America’s obsession with sports.  He was unequivocal: “it deserves to have as much attention paid to it.”  It is, Deford rightly understood, an “important part of our human culture.”

For those of us that love to play, watch and debate every variant of sport at every level of play, Deford was in an elite fraternity of writers and commentators that helped us see the subtleties of the game and its larger cultural narrative alike.

Benjamin Franklin “Frank” Deford III “hung up his cleats for good” this week.  He will be missed.

Powers Trigg

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Readership Jumps (Again!)

MyESPNforkids.com is a commitment from a small group of students that love sports.   We hail from cities all across the country, giving us different teams that we champion.  We also follow certain games with more intensity than others.  We hope the result is a unique perspective on the sports that you love and the teams that you follow. 

Over the course of 2017, we have continued to set new record for readership.  Our page views are jumping higher that Jordan in his prime. Thank you for your loyalty to this site. 

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In the summer, we will be adding a new social media package that should lead to the next wave of growth.  Until then, we will be winning over readers the old-fashioned way: quality writing for kids generated by kids.    

The storylines are all sitting right there.  Baseball season is in full swing.  The NFL Draft is looming.  NHL playoffs bring exciting intrigue.  The NBA postseason is shifting into high gear.  Chelsea fans would let me have it if I didn’t mention the EPL.

It is a great time to be writing, reading and thinking about sports. Thank you for your support

MyESPNforkids staff

NCAA: Final Four Cancelled!

In an amazing development, the NCAA has cancelled the Final Four tournament in Phoenix, Arizona.  

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Many theories are circulating on the Internet and social media surrounding the cancellation. Among widespread speculation, here are several theories that seem to carry the greatest level of credibility.

One, Jordan Bell may only be 6’9, but he has been an absolute force in the paint during Oregon’s run to the Final Four. Therefore, some are speculating that Roy Williams is afraid of Jordan Bell’s shot-blocking ability.  Bell has blocked 12 shots and committed only three fouls.  Interesting.

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Two, Xavier pulled off one of the greatest bracket busters of March Madness.  The Arizona Wildcats suffered a devastating 2-point loss to the Musketeers in the Sweet 16.  It is a continuation of a tough trend for Arizona Coach Sean Miller.  He has made it to 10 NCAA tournaments, but never navigated his way to the Final Four. He would have had a strong home state advantage in Phoenix.  Are we dealing with a wayward Wildcat fan?

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Three, there is widespread speculation that the beloved mascot for Gonzaga, Spike the Bulldog, had a tragic accident this weekend.  Apparently, he was attempting to jump through a Ring of Fire with this good friend and Phoenix Suns mascot, The Suns Gorilla.

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We will continue to keep MyESPNforkids readers update on this pivotal story in the hours ahead.  April 1 can be a busy day for reporting, but we will do our best to keep you apprised and ensure you aren’t fooled.

Elliott Glass

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March Madness: Coach Cal’s Cats Gone Wild

[Even our baseball expert Adam “Shem” Shemesh has caught the Madness!  You have to love the single-elimination craziness that is March.

Adam weighs in here with a piece on the Cats and their win in Memphis. My position on Calipari is well-established (and documented), consistent with the thinking of the great Robert Montgomery Knight.  Nonetheless, his win totals keep climbing.  Alas, there is no poetic justice in sports.  You can just ask the poor SI Kids reporter who set the Twitter-sphere on fire in the early AM hours.]

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Last night, the Kentucky Wildcats took on the UCLA Bruins in Memphis.  The game was heavily advertised and billed as a top Sweet 16 matchup.

For the first half, most of the headlines remained true. The two teams went at it exchanging lovetaps. Much-hyped Lonzo Ball sunk a three early and assisted on some nice passes, and Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox countered with 15 first half points. The role players also shone. T. J. Leaf was a strong presence inside for UCLA, and he led the team with 17 points on the night. On the other side of the ball, Malik Monk mixed in 7 first half tallies with a pair of steals and rebounds. Overall, the fast pace of play was refreshing, considering this writer was watching NBA basketball prior to turning on CBS for some college hoops. Kentucky led, 36-33, at the break.

In the second half, the Wildcats exploded, outscoring UCLA 50-42. Fox finished with an amazing 39 points, the highest total of any player this March. He did that while missing his only three point attempt, grinding for 13-20 shooting and making 13-15 free throws. UCLA, in their own right, had three double-digit scorers in Leaf (17), Lonzo Ball (10), Isaac Hamilton (13), and Bryce Alford (10). Some of those points came during the last five minutes or so, when Kentucky had built up a steady lead. With the 86-75 win, the Wildcats are moving on to yet another Elite Eight appearance under coach John Calipari’s reign.

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“Coach Cal” has popularized the term “one-and-done”, referring to Kentucky’s basketball program as a machine, annually pumping out NBA-ready talent. One of his one-and-done’s is Devin Booker, who was part of the magical run the Cats had during the 2014-15 season. While the Wildcats were playing on Friday night, Booker, now on the Phoenix Suns, etched his name in the record books by becoming just the sixth player in NBA history to score 70 points in a single game. He achieved the feat against the Boston Celtics, shooting 21/40 from the field, and nailing 25 free throws. When told the news after the game, Calipari exclaimed “He just showed up our whole team. We just had a great win, and everybody’s going to be talking about Devin Booker now.”

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Booker is just one of many NBA superstars that have gone through Lexington. Other notable names include Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins (Pelicans) and reigning NBA ROY Karl-Anthony Towns.

Calipari has turned the concept of one-and-done into an art form. Booker and the former Wildcats are reaping the benefits.

Adam Shemesh

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NCAAB: One Shining Moment

March Madness is the pinnacle of college sports. One only has took look at the annual March Madness video.  It offers the Why. Last-second heroics.  Stunning upsets.  Blinding emotion.  It is quintessential encapsulation of the iconic phrase,  “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”  

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College sports continue to thrive in this era of professionalism and commercialization. It does so because of the joy and passion in the game. We can all remember the greatest moments in NCAA tournament history. There was Christian Laettner’s turnaround.  Who can forget Lorenzo Charles’ dunk at the buzzer in the famed Survive and Advance season?  There was Steph Curry’s improbable tournament run with Davidson. And most recently, we had Kris Jenkins dragger three to win the championship for Villanova.

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People love March Madness because of the history. The tournament you know today really started in 1985, when the tournament expanded to 64 teams. This allowed mid-majors and other small schools to make the tournament consistently. March Madness today is known those high-powered mid-majors, but it wasn’t really until 1989 that it became a focal point. That year, #1 seed Georgetown played #16 Princeton in a back and forth game. At the game drew to a conclusion, Princeton was only down one, 49-50, and had a chance to take the last shot. It was blocked (many will tell you it was a foul), but the game nonetheless captivated America.  Games like these are why CBS signed an 8 year, 8.8 billion (yes, b) deal to exclusively cover the tournament.  

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The #1 seeds have been announced and there really were no surprises: Villanova, UNC, KU and Gonzaga. Villanova is looking to repeat as champions and are led by senior Josh Hart. North Carolina are a strong team, but after being trounced by Duke in the ACC tournament, they need to rebound (excuse the pun). Kansas are perennial under-performers in the tournament, but this talented team has a great chance to break the streak.  I said this evening that it may be KU’s year with a very favorable set of venues in the early rounds [first in Tulsa and then at the Sprint Center in Kansas City (or Allen Fieldhouse East as it is called given that it is just 42 miles from campus)]. Finally, Gonzaga are a strong team, but a weak schedule has led many to believe that they are overrated, similar to the strong Boise State football teams.

A number of players have a solid chance to make a major impact in the tournament.  Lonzo Ball is being touted as the consensus #1 draft pick. He has a silky jump shot coupled with fast-twitch athleticism. The combination makes him extremely hard for anyone to guard. While Greyson Allen has had a rollercoaster and disappointing year, look for him to step up in the tournament Finally, Frank Mason III has one more chance to deliver a championship to the KU faithful. You can expect fireworks for him.

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No matter how much we stress over our brackets, there will be an upset no one sees coming. The clock will strike midnight for a crowd favorite underdog. Tears will flow from Seniors as their last chance at immortality slips away. Diaper Dandies will shine. Prepare for the greatest annual event in American Sports. Prepare for Madness.   

Powers Trigg

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MLB: I Haven’t Seen You in a While

[Hopefully, everyone is enjoying Spring Break, getting ready for the college basketball madness of March and of course looking forward to Opening Day. No one has given it more quality thought than our man on the scene, Adam “Shem” Shemesh.  He is the Billy Beane of baseball writing.  

Adam gives us a third installment here featuring some players like Mike “Moose” Moustakas that are looking to affix the label, Comeback Kid, as they prepare for 2017 Opening Day.  We would love to hear your thoughts on anyone else that should be on this list, but is MIA (and has been MIA).]  

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Every year, countless MLBers go down to season-ending injuries. Here’s a list in case you may have forgotten any of these names.

AJ Pollock, Diamondbacks

2015 Stats: .315/20 HR/76 RBI/39SB

Diamondbacks fans were excited for an encore after Pollock burst onto the scene in 2015, swiping 39 bags with some power as well to earn his first All-Star game appearance and a Gold Glove Award for his defense in centerfield. Unfortunately, A. J. suffered a right elbow

fracture just days before opening day and was sidelined until late September, when he appeared in only 12 games.

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Mike Moustakas, Royals

2015 Stats: .284/22 HR/82 RBI

2015 was a great year for Moustakas. Along with being a World Series Champion, Mike made his first All-Star game and posted career highs in every major statistical category. He got off to a nice start in 2016 before colliding with Alex Gordon in early May, suffering a season-ending knee injury (Gordon missed about a month).

Michael Brantley, Indians

2015 Stats- .310/15 HR/84 RBI

Michael followed up his exceptional 2014 campaign (finished 2nd in MVP voting) by solidifying his status as an above-average outfielder with another good year in 2015. Going into 2016, he was considered the backbone of the Indians’ offense. On May 10, Brantley was pulled from a game due to soreness in his shoulder. This horrific injury sidelined Brantley for the entirety of the season, and he only began to start swinging the bat again in December. If the Indians pushed the Cubs to a 7-game series without Brantley, one can only imagine what they could have done if the star outfielder was healthy.

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David Wright and Matt Harvey, Mets

The Mets were undoubtedly hit the hardest by the injury bug in 2016, as all of their starters (except 41-year old Bartolo Colon) spent time on the disabled list. Wright has not played a full season since 2014. He played 38 games in 2015 and 37 in 2016. The New York captain is suffering from a serious injury called spinal stenosis, and it’s unlikely that Wright will be able to play at a high level ever again. As for Harvey, he enjoyed a great comeback campaign in 2015 after missing all of 2014. 2016 was a train wreck from the beginning for the Mets ace, and Harvey opted to undergo surgery to treat his thoracic outlet syndrome, an injury that affected his right shoulder.

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Greg Bird, Yankees

2015 Stats (46 games)- .261/11 HR/31 RBI

Bird was the first of the “new age” Yankees to hit the bigs after he was called up in late August of 2015. He got the fans chirping in the Bronx, but unfortunately, Greg Bird underwent shoulder surgery during spring training that sidelined him for all of 2016.  With Mark Teixeira firmly in the rearview mirror, the first base job is Bird’s to lose this season.

We are 24 days until MLB Opening Day.  It should be a thrill ride in both leagues.

Adam Shemesh

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MLB: Show Me the Money!

[The Reserve Clause.  It used to be that contracts in Major League Baseball (MLB) contained something called the Reserve Clause.  It meant that once a contract for a player expired, the team continued to control the rights to that player.  So, the only leverage that the player had was to refuse to play and “hold out.”  

Years of litigation in the U.S. court system, initially instigated by player Curt Flood, finally led to the Reserve Clause being eliminated and it in turn brought the rampant free agency that we see throughout baseball today.  

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Our baseball guru Adam “Shem” Shemesh weighs in here with a look at offseason free agency as a number of big name players signed big time contracts.  Interestingly, many players decided to stay with their current teams.]

This offseason, many high-profile free agents elected to remain with their previous clubs- some by choice, others because teams were afraid to waste a first round draft pick on them.  Let’s take a look at the short list that captured big headlines and big dollars:

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Jose Bautista: 1-year/$18,500,000

Bautista is now 35 years old, and after struggling through an injury-prone 2016 campaign, no team was willing to bite the bullet and give Jose a substantial multi-year contract. This contract includes a mutual option, which means both sides will work together next offseason to see if they would like to send Bautista back into the free agent abyss or keep him in the fold for another year.

Mark Trumbo: 3-year deal/$37,500,000

The last three MLB home run champs (Nelson Cruz, Chris Davis, Trumbo) played for the Orioles. Coming off a year in which he posted 47 home runs and 108 RBI, a nine-figure contract seemed possible for the 31-year-old Trumbo. But, he had to settle for this three-year offer at the end of January, returning to the friendly confines of Camden Yards.

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Aroldis Chapman: 5-year deal/$85,000,000

Rarely do you see a player traded by a team during the season return to that team the following season? Especially since the Cubs had won a World Series, it appeared as if Aroldis Chapman would stay in the Windy City. But, the Yankees convinced Chapman otherwise by signing him to a record-high contract for a reliever. New York recognized the necessity of having multiple relief aces after it saw what happened to Dellin Betances at the end of last year.

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Yoenis Cespedes: 3-year deal/$75,000,000

Last offseason, Cespedes did not sign with the Mets until the new year. In 2016, New York made it a priority to lock up their star slugger as soon as possible. The Mets did just that by giving Yoenis the most money per year out of any free agent this offseason. Since arriving in New York at the trade deadline in July 2015, Yoenis has slammed 48 home runs and 130 RBIs.

As the graph suggests, the trajectory of major league salaries has been almost straight up.  With television and content deals increasing the available dollars for possible payroll investment, this list of players certainly cashed in this offseason.  We will have to wait and see how it translate into their performance on the field.

Adam Shemesh

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John Feinstein: A Transformative Author

[Every kid that loves sports and reading has enjoyed the books of the great John Feinstein.  A number of years ago, I did a report on Coach Bobby Knight in lower school.  A Season on the Brink, a Feinstein classic, was a centerpiece source and remains one of the iconic books on The General of all-time.  Knight would later call the decision to participate in the reporting on A Season on the Brink to be one of the dumbest decisions he ever made.    

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One of our younger readers and writers, Mac Trigg, makes the case here that Feinstein is one of the top sports writers for young kids of all-time.  Along with Mike Lupica and Tim Green, there is a strong case to be made that no one has had a bigger impact on sports writing for kids in the last decade.]  

John Feinstein is one of the most prominent authors writing books about sports for kids today.  It can be argued that he is changing how kids view important topics with his writing.  This piece will explore several of my favorite Feinstein books.

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The first Feinstein classic is The DH.  It is one of my favorite books of all-time.  For starters, The DH is suspenseful. Each chapter has a cliff hanger ending that will have you quickly turning to the next page.  In addition, Gordon, Christine and Alex are all back from The Walk On and key to the plot.  Finally, Alex and Matt Gordon make major changes in their personalities.  Matt is not watching the competition for best pitcher from the sidelines.  He is competing and fighting for that distinction.  He also is competing to see if he can win over Christine.  This book proves that Feinstein can put together the kind of page-turning stories that kids want to read.      

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The second book is Vanishing Act. The Vanishing Act focuses on one of my favorite sports: tennis.  Interestingly, it was the first book by John Feinstein that I ever read, in part, because there are very few books written today on this great game. The book itself is riveting as it revolves around a kidnapping.  It also has great character development.  One reason may be that the protagonist is a writer just like Feinstein.   

The third and final book is The 6th Man.  Like all of Feinstein’s books, the character development was very good and includes many of the athletes that you enjoyed from The Walk On and The DH.   In addition, this book focused on another one of my favorite sports: basketball.  You have to love anything that revolves around the game that Dr. James Naismith invented back in 1891.  There is, however, some adult content in this book.  Some parents may not be comfortable with several of the topics raised and it may not be for every young reader.  Like the Walk On and The DH, this book is one that you will have trouble putting down.    

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In conclusion, John Feinstein is a great author that receives my highest level of recommendation.  You should check out his work at at top independent bookstores like Kansas City-based Rainy Day Books or at a location near you. 

Mac Trigg

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MLB: Getting Your Mind Ready for Baseball Season

[When we think of baseball, the insights and analysis of Adam “Shem” Shemesh come to mind.  He is, as we like to say here at myespnforkids.com, the best young writer covering the game.  This article is the first in a series of pieces on what he is thinking as the MLB warms up for what should be another great season of baseball.]  

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As we await the 68-team college basketball pile up that is March Madness, it’s time to turn our attention to a new baseball season. All across Florida and Arizona, big league teams are training for the long season ahead. Here are a few important things to note to get your brain back in baseball mode.

Familiar Faces in New Places

As with every offseason, many notable moves were made this winter, shaking up some teams while others loaded their farm systems.  Let’s take a look at some of the big offseason roster shuffles:

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1. Changing Sox

The Red Sox made the biggest splash of the offseason by acquiring lefty Chris Sale from the White Sox. Sale’s one of the best lefties in baseball and an annual Cy Young candidate, so trading for him hurt Boston’s farm system quite a bit. They parted ways with #1 overall prospect Yoan Moncada, and flamethrower Michael Kopech. This signified the start of a rebuild for the White Sox, while the Red Sox rotation now features Sale, 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello, and fellow CY winner David Price.

2. Rumblings in the Capitol

The White Sox were not done after trading Sale. A few days later, they shipped off highly underrated centerfielder Adam Eaton, who led the MLB in outfield assists while finishing with a 6.2 WAR, to the Nationals. After failing to resign Mark Melancon and missing out on a chance to get Andrew McCutchen, Washington was desperate for a “playmaker” (as Lebron would say), so they paid a hefty price. The White Sox added former #1 overall prospect Lucas Giolito and righty reliever Reynaldo Lopez. Both have experienced abbreviated stints with Washington in the Major Leagues.

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3. Midwest Star Swap

The Cubs and Royals made one of the more balanced 1-for-1 deals that I can remember, as Chicago sent powerful outfielder Jorge Soler in exchange for Royals closer Wade Davis. After seeing Aroldis Chapman return to the Bronx, the Cubs recognized their need for a lockdown closer and immediately went out and got Davis from Kansas City. He was named an All-Star for a second straight season in 2016, converting 27 of 30 save opportunities on the year. As for Soler, he is still a work in progress. The active, powerful Soler saw limited action in 2016, hitting 12 home runs and batting .238 over 86 games.

30 teams.  162 games for each of them.  It gives us a 6-month run of 2,430 games.  And then, we head to the postseason. Play Ball.

Adam Shemesh

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A Knickerbocker Implosion: Dolan Out the Punishment

[We all love a bit of fisticuffs in the seats at an NBA (or any professional) game.  It is even better when it is the owner of the team and a former iconic player getting into it in the largest media market in the US. Let me take off my Oakley glasses and watching this one firsthand.  

Roey Herzfeld, one of our top beat writers on the East Coast, gives us his thinking in what is a timely look at the scuffle at MSG that Roey argues offers a bigger set of insights into what is wrong with this storied franchise.] 

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Last Wednesday night, the Knicks season reached a new low. Charles Oakley’s scuffle with the MSG security guards led to his arrest, followed by a ban on Oakley from attending games at MSG. In addition to that, the Knicks lost their fifth game out of six. Except for the very start of the season, this Knicks team has been a disaster. The Knicks are looking to make the playoffs for the first time in four years, but as of now they are the fourth worst team in a depleted Eastern Conference.

In addition, Phil Jackson’s constant Twitter feud with Carmelo Anthony is only adding to the drama and pressure for this Knicks squad. The front office, the players, the coaching, all seem to be lacking the cohesion of a playoff team. There’s one thing, however, that everyone can agree on: It’s bad. But who is really at fault?

Candidates: Jeff Hornacek, Carmelo Anthony, Phil Jackson, James Dolan

Jeff Hornacek

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When Jeff Hornacek was hired last spring, he was supposed to be the man who was going to change the losing culture of this knicks team. Hornacek nearly led a Phoenix Suns team led by non-superstar plays such as Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic to the playoffs, which led to high expectations. Unfortunately for this franchise, he has not been able to succeed like he did with Phoenix. His defense has been awful as the Knicks rank almost last in opposing points per game and is triangle offense is nothing special.

But is he really the man at fault? A Head Coach can only succeed as much as his players and organization allows for him. Phil Jackson’s max contract for Joakim Noah sure seems a lot worse than Hornacek’s below average coaching. Hornacek doesn’t seem like an elite coach but his post-game press conferences beg the front office and players for more effort and more changes. He is definitely not the man responsible for this terrible season so far.

Carmelo Anthony

Despite the non-stop drama about Phil Jackson, or trade rumors, or building through Porzingis, Carmelo Anthony comes out to play every night. You can
argue that his numbers are down or that he shoots too much, but there’s not a single person who can question his loyalty and desire to win for New York. You can see the expression on his face when they lose close games. “He wants it”. He wants to win badly.

Yet he will not abandon his city and keeps fighting every night. To me as a Knicks fan, this is extremely admirable. We’ve seen players who are begging to get out of New York, but here is Melo fighting through more drama than any player can imagine and putting up 20+ points every night. Argue that they need to trade him and get younger and build through Porzingis. Fine. But to blame him for this Knicks season where night in and night out he gives 100% not only offensively but also on the defensive side (even if he isn’t very good at it) is not fair. It might be time for Melo to go but he is not the man at fault here.

Phil Jackson

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Phil Jackson is arguably one of the best coaches in NBA history. His eleven head coaching rings rank second to none. What he did with those Bulls and Lakers team was absolutely incredible. His President skills for the Knicks have not gone the same way. When he first arrived, the “Zen Master” was set to take Melo to the promise land as he did for MJ and Kobe. What we’ve seen so far does not look so promising for the legacy of either. Not only are his acquisitions of players like Noah, turning out as failures,

Phil Jackson is having personal issues with Melo himself. The twitter war and the comments about Melo holding onto the ball too long are more common right now than knick wins. Phil is supposedly desperately trying to trade Melo ensuring that his first experiment as president of the Knicks has been a failure. So is Phil the man to blame for the Knicks struggles this year? Well Partly. Phil did draft Porzingis and also brought in Derrick Rose who is looking a lot closer to MVP Derrick Rose. His comments have been a problem, but his actual management of the Knicks has seen worse days i.e. Isiah Thomas.

So who is the man at fault? The answer is owner James Dolan.

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On Wednesday night, I saw it on TV and I finally understood why the Knicks are so bad. It all starts at the man at the top. James Dolan. To sum up how bad he’s been: In the 10 years Oakley played in NY, the Knicks won 70 playoff games. In the 17 years Dolan has owned the Knicks, they’ve won 9 playoff gms. James Dolan’s treatment of Charles Oakley Wednesday night was disrespectful and disgusting. The man gave everything to the Knicks organization and is thanked with a ban from returning to MSG.

James Dolan has been a failure as the Knicks owner and it starts with respecting players. In addition, James Dolan has failed to prohibit Phil Jackson from making critical Twitter comments about his best player, Melo. He has failed to make this team legitimate. Similar to what former Knick Jalen Rose said, what star would ever want to come to New York seeing how disrespectfully Melo and Oakley are being treated.

To me, that’s the problem and that’s why the Knicks are sitting on the outside of the playoffs looking in. It’s not a talent problem.  It’s a leadership problem and right now the leadership of the front office is the biggest issue the Knicks have.

Roey Herzfeld

 

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Super Bowl 51: One Central Question

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After several weeks of build up, it is finally here.  One game.  One global stage.  One key question.  Does the experience of the Belichick-Brady team prove determining against Matt Ryan and an amazing, diverse array of offensive weapons?  Can Belichick and Brady do it again?

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Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have been collaborating on the gridiron for seventeen years.  It is an almost unprecedented tenure in any professional sports.  Owner Bob Kraft said Thursday that he would love to see it continue for seasons to come.

Consequently, the early season suspension and Deflate-gate controversy seems to have faded in the lead up to the game.  As David Haugh said in the Chicago Tribune, it feels “odd but right to root for Brady.”  Brady certainly has received the lion’s share of the pre-Super Bowl coverage down in Houston.

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Matt Ryan, for his part, took a little bit of the spotlight back Saturday evening.  He was named the NFL MVP at the NFL Honors award show.  He also won the Associated Press NFL Offensive Player of the Year, finishing off a stellar season (38 TDs, 7 INTs, 117.1 QB Rating) that has the Falcons headed to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1999.  Notably, Tom Brady finished second.

Brady, however, has finished first in the Big Game four times and will be playing his record seventh Super Bowl.  It is an amazing run that brings a level of experience that is massive intangible that is hard to quantify.  Vegas has the Patriots favored by three, betting the Belichick-Brady brain trust will find a way to win.

For those of us that simply love the game (and are still dealing with the disappointment of a tough divisional playoff loss to Pittsburgh), the aspiration is: a competitive, down-to-the-wire game.

We would love to hear your thoughts in the Comments Section as we prepare to watch Lamar Hunt’s Super Bowl commence on Sunday evening.

Powers Trigg

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Lamar Hunt’s Super Bowl

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Lamar Hunt is arguably the greatest sports entrepreneur of all-time. The late Hunt is the only person to be inducted as a member of the hall of fame in three different professional sports: football, soccer and tennis.  He was, as Michael MacCambridge framed in his Lamar Hunt: A Life in Sports, a gentle giant that “gave rise to the modern American sports landscape.”

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Among his storied accomplishments, Hunt is the originator of the term Super Bowl.  In the 1960s, one of the most beloved toys was called a Super Ball. It was the catalyst for the Super component of the naming convention.  Bowl obviously was, and still is, the term used to refer to games played at the end of the collegiate football season.  Super+Bowl=Super Bowl.

Hunt’s Chiefs would play in the first and the fourth contests against the NFC.  He would propose Super Bowl in a league meeting as preparations for the inaugural game were being made.  Several different names, it is said, were in the mix.  World Championship Game.  Championship Game.  NFL Finals.  In the end, NFL leaders would proceed with Hunt’s Super Bowl.

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Lamar Hunt was obsessed with the fan experience.  He was a proud Texan. And of course, Bud Adams and the old Oilers franchise held founding status in the AFL.  We have to assume, then, that Hunt would find much to love about this week down in Houston.  No doubt we will too.

This Sunday evening at 630PM, fans (and non-fans alike) will gather for what should be an epic match up between the Tom Brady-led Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons.  It should be a Super Bowl.

Not bad, Mr Hunt.  Not bad at all.

Powers Trigg

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Baseball is in Mourning this Morning

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[This morning, we all mourned the passing of Yorando Ventura and Andy Matte. Our thoughts go out to their families, friends and teammates. Senior East Coast Correspondent Ezra Troy delivers for all of us with a touching article about both players. Powers Trigg, Editor-in-Chief]

This morning, I got the news that saddened the world in the way I get normal sports news – through an ESPN alert. I looked at my phone in disbelief when I saw that not only Andy Marte, a former major leaguer, had been killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic, but also that Yorando Ventura, the young flamethrower for the Royals, had also been killed in a (separate) car accident in the Dominican Republic.

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Ventura was signed by the Royals as an international free agent in 2008 and came to the majors as a September call up in 2013. He had emerged as a star and was known for his incredible playoff performance in the Royals 2014 World Series run, winning three games. In game six of the World Series, he pitched seven shutout innings to force a game seven (which the Royals won). At that game, on the side of his cap, he wore a patch that said “RIP O.T #18” and dedicated the game to his friend and fellow countryman, Oscar Taveras, who had been killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic just a few days prior.

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Marte played seven season in the majors and was on many teams, primarily the Cleveland Indians. He played a total of 308 games in the majors and was a third baseman. He played a season with Atlanta before he was bounced around in a few trades involving the Red Sox (never playing a game for them), before he landed in Cleveland and playing there for five years until 2010. He didn’t play Major League ball again until he played a few games with the Diamondbacks in 2014. He then played a season in Korea in 2015.

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Both of these players were exceptional people and the entire baseball community is mourning their deaths. Players on all different teams, including All-Stars Miguel Cabrera, Andrew McCutchen and former Royal Johnny Cueto have expressed their sadness and grief at the passing of these two amazing men.

Yorando Ventura was poised to be the next star pitcher in the major leagues and his touching tribute to his close friend, Oscar Taveras, really showed how great of a person he was. At myespnforkids.com, we are all deeply saddened by the tragic news and would like to say that we lost not only a great player, but a great person today with the passing of Yorando Ventura, as well as the passing of Andy Marte. RIP.

Ezra Troy

NFL: Conference Playoff Clashes!

[This article was written and adapted from my school paper.  It should be an incredible weekend of football before we take a one-week break and prepare for the event that the late great Lamar Hunt helped bring to life and gave its name, The Super Bowl.]

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As the cold and wind descend on the lower 48 states, it harkens back to the words of the late John Facenda of NFL Films and what he liked to call the “frozen tundra” that was the earlier era, ice-filled fields where icons of the NFL played the game. And so, it seems only fitting that the NFL season comes to a thrilling conclusion in the weeks ahead. It is football weather (even if one of the two games is being played inside).

Last year, 112.2 million people tuned in to watch the Broncos beat the Panthers 24-10 on the weight of Von Miller’s brilliant MVP performance. With the conference championships approaching, it is ripe moment for a synopsis of each game, a look at the key storylines and a prediction on the outcome.  It is, in short, everything you need to know to sound like a pro.

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NFC Championship

The NFC championship pits the iconic Green Bay Packers against the comparatively upstart Atlanta Falcons. The Packers are one of the storied franchise in League history (with four Super Bowl victories, including the first Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs in 1967). They are led by future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers.  He has been at an MVP-caliber level this year.

He carried the team to a 10-6 regular season. In the Wild Card game, he delivered big with a breathtaking (and signature) Hail Mary. In the Divisional Playoff, he orchestrated two masterful drives in the last four minutes against top-seeded Dallas. The final one was capped by a game-winning Mason Crosby field goal as time expired.

The Falcons, for their part, also had a solid regular season. They finished 11-5. And like Green Bay, they also have a stellar QB, Matt Ryan. He is assisted on the offensive side of the ball by stand out wide receiver, Julio Jones. In addition to Ryan and Jones, you also have two great running backs: Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.

Amazingly, the Falcons scored an average of 33.8 points per game this year. They defeated Seattle 36-20 in the Divisional Playoff, shutting down one of the NFL’s best quarterback Russell Wilson.

Prediction: You should look for this game to be a classic shootout. As the saying goes, “…may the best (quarterback) win.” In the end, Rodgers delivers again for a 45-31 win by the Packers.

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AFC Championship 

The AFC Championship features perennial threat and 4-time Super Bowl champion, the New England Patriots. They will match up against a high-powered Pittsburgh Steelers team that ended the 2016 regular season on a winning streak. The Patriots surprised many pundits early in the season by successfully navigating a 4-game Brady suspension. Instead of starting in a deep hole, they managed to play .500 ball at 2-2.

With Brady back in the saddle, the Patriots went on a tear. They ripped off four straight win and never looked back. Beyond the indomitable Brady, Martellus Bennett is a name to watch. Bennett has played a significant role this year due to an injured Rob Gronkowski. In the Divisional Playoff, the Patriots overcame a slow start against the Texans to end up trouncing them, 34-16.

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The Steelers are a team with a storied franchise history.  The Steelers have won the most Super Bowls of any team at six.  They rely on an astute and hard-hitting defense. However, in 2016, they also bring an offense with major playmakers. “Big Ben”Roethlisberger offers the experience that every Superbowl contender needs. Le’veon Bell and Antonio Brown are incredible playmakers with the ability to change a game with one play. The Steelers waltzed through Miami in the Wild Card round. They needed a favorable holding call and late heroics from Roethlisberger to narrowly escape with an 18-16 win in Kansas City.

Prediction: The Patriots defense will be tested by Bell and Brown, but I predict that the Patriots will come out with a series of halftime adjustments and run away with the game. It is an 28-17 victory for the Patriots in what should be a fun game to watch.

Playoff football is a spectacle like no other and a welcome reprieve from the brutal January weather. It is football weather. And in the words of NFL Films’ John Facenda, “It is Pro Football.  It starts with a whistle and ends with a gun.”  Game on.  

Powers Trigg

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NFL Divisional Playoffs: Down, Set, Hike!

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[This weekend is pivotal.  You must clear the calendar.  It is time for the divisional round of the NFL playoffs.  We have four great games, including a key match up at Kansas City’s iconic, noise-filled Arrowhead Stadium as two of the most storied franchises in professional football take to the field.  

Ezra Troy not only weighs in on the Steelers-Chiefs game, but all of the contests filling the television calendar this weekend.  If you have weekend classes or homework, you need to get it finished, clear the decks and get ready for some great football.  You can start early with a great analysis of the keys to each game from Ezra.]     

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I. Seattle at Atlanta:

In the highly anticipated matchup between the league’s second-best offense and its fifth best defense, Richard Sherman and co. come into the Georgia dome to face MVP candidate Matt Ryan and his star receiver, Julio Jones. Coming off a big home win against the Lions, the Seahawks go into Atlanta having won three of their last four. The Falcons meanwhile, are coming off a surprise 11-5 campaign that gained them the two seed in the NFC. The question is wheather the Earl Thomas-less Seahawks defense can defeat the high powered offense of Atlanta.

Key Matchups:

  • Richard Sherman vs Julio Jones: This one is a no-brainer. Both players are easily top five at their positions, with Jones racking up over 1400 yards this season, including a 300-reciving yard performance vs the Panthers. Sherman on the other hand, has 13 passes defended and 4 interceptions. Sherman also has 2 interceptions in 11 games of playoff experience. Jones has only played in three playoff games, and while his first two games he didn’t play so well, he had 2 touchdowns and 182 receiving yards in his last playoff appearance, a 28-24 loss to the 49ers in 2012.
  • Seahawks D-Line vs Falcons O-line: The Seahawks have one of the best d-lines in the league, led by Cliff Avril and Michael Bennet, but the Falcons O-line is pretty good too. Ranked number four by pro-football focus, this line is one of the reasons for the Falcons great offensive success. If they can stop the Seahawks D-line, they can not only open up the passing game for Matty Ice, they can also open up the running game for star RB Davonte Freeman.
  • Falcon’s Front Seven vs Seahawks O-line and Thomas Rawls: Unlike the Falcons, the Seahawks line is cobbled together and is rated 30th in the league by pro football focus. Running back Thomas Rawls has had an up and down, injury plagued season (I should know, I drafted him in fantasy), but shone against the Lions on Saturday night with 161 yards and a touchdown. They need to repeat that performance against a poor Atlanta defense (ranked 25th), but one ranked in the middle of the pack in rushing yards allowed per game (104.5), in order to open up a passing game ranking tenth in the NFL in yards per game.

Conclusion: The game should be a good one, with a good offense and a good defense meeting on one side, but a bad defense and an average offense meeting on the other. I feel the Legion of Boom, despite missing Earl Thomas, shuts down the Falcons super offense and wins itself an invitation to the NFC Championship game.

Final Score: Seahawks 17, Falcons 10

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II. Houston at New England

Houston, after beating the 12-4 Raiders 27-14 on a strong defensive performance, especially by former number one overall pick Jadeveon Clowney. The Patriots host them with the leagues number eight defense and the number one offense led by MVP candidate Tom Brady. The Texans not only need to shut down Tom Brady, but they also need to have a great performance on offense by the likes of Brock Osweiler, Lamar Miller and Deandre Hopkins.

Key Matchups:

  • Malcolm Butler vs Deandre Hopkins: Hopkins had a very up and down season this year following an incredible 2015 campaign. Butler emerged as an undrafted rookie when he intercepted Russel Wilson at the one yard line to seal the Patriots victory in Super Bowl 49. Since then he has emerged as one of the league’s best ball hawking corners. He has 4 interceptions, including one against Ben Roethlisberger while covering Antonio Brown, the league’s best receiver. The question is wheather Hopkins can return to his 2015 form as one of the league’s best receivers, or whether he will play as he played often this year, mediocrely.
  • Texans Defense vs Tom Brady: The Texans Defense is coming off holding the Raiders offense with their vaunted o-line and star receivers to just 14 points with 3 interceptions and 3 sacks. The problem was the Raiders were starting a rookie in his first NFL game at quarterback and half of their offensive line hurt. Even though they are missing JJ Watt, they still have stars Kareem Jackson, Vince Wilfork and Jadeveon Clowney, among others. Brady has lit up defenses this year and even though he is missing his best target, Rob Gronkowski, he has passed for 28 touchdowns to only two interceptions and over 3500 yards despite playing only 12 games. Can the Texans do what most other defenses haven’t been able to do and shut down Tom Brady?
  • Brock Osweiler vs Brock Osweiler: Brock Osweiler was drafted by the Broncos to play backup quarterback to Peyton Manning. When Manning was injured last year, he played 8 games and led the Broncos to the playoffs. He signed a 17 million dollar contract in the offseason with the Texans to be their quarterback. He threw more touchdowns then interceptions and got benched in weeks 16 and 17. He started this week in the playoffs and played well. Will playoff Osweiler show up, or will benched Osweiler show up?

Conclusion: Can anybody really stop Tom Brady? He has destroyed much better defenses than the Texans and he will destroy them also. Osweiler has played poorly all season and will continue to do so against the stout Patriots defense. Brady throws for four touchdowns and 300 yards while Osweiler is picked off three times and the Patriots continue on the road to another Super Bowl berth.

Final Score: Patriots 31, Texans 7

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III. Steelers vs Chiefs

The number three Steelers, fresh off a convincing victory against the Dolphins, come to Arrowhead stadium to visit the Chiefs, who they beat earlier this year by a convincing score of 43-14. Since then, the Chiefs and their league leading point differential of +17 have gone 10-2 and stole the division from right under the Raiders nose. They need to slow the Steelers powerful offensive machine that put up 43 points against them and averaged 25 points per game this season.

Key matchups:

  • Chiefs Defense vs Steelers Big Three: The Steelers triplets, Roethlisberger, Brown and Bell are one of the best, if not the best, QB-RB-WR group in the league. Bell and Brown combined for over 2500 yards 19 touchdowns, while Roethlisberger passed for 3800 yards and 29 touchdowns. The Chiefs on the other hand, have generated 33 takeaways on defense this year, most in the league, but they give up the 25th most yards per game. Not only do they have to generate takeaways, but they also need to limit Bell and Brown and not let them combine for almost 300 yards and 4 touchdowns, like the Dolphins did last week.
  • Steelers Special Teams vs Tyreek Hill: Tyreek Hill, a rookie, exploded onto the scene with 12 total touchdowns, including three on special teams. While the Steelers defense needs to limit his explosiveness, it is imperative the Steelers special teams stops him, because special teams scores can be a tremendous momentum swing and swing the game the Chiefs way.
  • Travis Kelce vs Steelers Coverage: Along with Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs have another matchup nightmare, Travis Kelce. Too big to be covered by a corner and too fast for a linebacker, Kelce had over 1100 yards receiving on 85 receptions this season, good for over 13 yards per catch. The Steelers, not known for their secondary, do have some fine coverage linebackers and have allowed 956 yards receiving and six touchdowns to opposing tight ends, somewhere in the middle of the league.

Conclusion: The Big Three are just too much of a matchup nightmare and Kansas City’s offense just isn’t good enough and relies too much on great field position given to them by the takeaways of their defense (they rank 5th in  average starting field position on offense). The Steelers should pull this one out and move on to face the Patriots.

Final Score: Steelers 20, Chiefs 17

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IV.  Packers vs Cowboys

The Packers come into Dallas having won 7 straight on the back of MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers and his 4400 yards and 40 TD’s, but come into Dallas very banged up (most notably star receiver Jordy Nelson is injured). They played earlier in the year, with the Cowboys winning 30-16. The Cowboys are led by rookies Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliot and the best offensive line in the NFL (three all pros). With two of the best offenses in the league coming into Dallas, this promises to be a shootout.

  • Cowboys Offensive Line and Ezekiel Elliot vs the Packers Front 7: Rookie running back and MVP candidate rushed for over 1600 yards and 15 touchdowns behind the Cowboys offensive line that is the best in the league. The Packers have allowed less than 100 rushing yards a game and are led by Clay Mathews, Julius Peppers, Nick Perry and Mike Daniels. When the two faced off in week 6, Elliot rushed for 157 yards. The game may very well may hinge on the performance of Elliot and wheather he can have a similar performance to what he did in Week 6.
  • Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley vs Packers Secondary:  When the two teams met in week six, Beasley had 58 yards and 2 touchdowns, but Bryant was injured. On the season, the two combined for over 1600 yards and 13 touchdowns. The Packers gave up 269 yards per game in the air on the season and many of their best corners are injured. The Packers need to contain the Cowboys receivers and not let the Cowboys get too many points on offense.
  • Aaron Rodgers and his Band of Receivers (minus Jordy Nelson) vs Cowboys Secondary: Aaron Rodgers is the hottest quarterback in the league and has put up together an MVP campaign. He is going to be missing his number one receiver, Jordy Nelson, due to injury, but that hasn’t stopped him before. Nelson was injured all of last year and Rodgers led the Packers to a playoff berth and a win, before losing to the number two seed Cardinals in OT by no fault of Rodgers. He threw two hail marys to tie the game and send it to overtime at the end of the fourth quarter to Jeff Janis, a no-name receiver. Rodgers has done it all and many times by making no-name receivers stars. He torched a very good Giants secondary for 362 yards and four touchdowns last week and goes into Dallas facing a very bad Cowboys secondary that is allowing 260 yards a game.

Conclusion: This game promises to be a shootout, and Aaron Rodgers will always win those, especially against a rookie quarterback ranked 12th at his position by pro football focus with no playoff experience. Rodgers is ranked fourth and has had 14 games of playoff experience with a QB rating of over 100 in these games. Unless the poor cowboys secondary can do something against the league’s hottest quarterback, Dallas will get outshot by the Packers and lose their 4th game of the year to end their season.

Final Score: Packers 35, Cowboys 24

Four great games.  I am sure not everyone agrees with my selections (including Powers).  Let’s hear your thinking in the Comment Section.

Ezra Troy

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NFL Playoffs: Let’s Play Some Cards

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[The great Adam “Shem” Shemesh gives us the definitive guide to NFL Wildcard Weekend. There are some solid games on paper including what could be a couple of epic match ups between the Lions and Seahawks and then also the Packers and Giants.  

Of course, a set of fans are eagerly awaiting these results as they look out to the divisional games next weekend.  The Chiefs got stomped by the Steelers early in the season, but may well play them if Pittsburgh can get past Matt Moore and the Dolphins.  Fish! Fish!  Fish!

You have to love playoff time in the NFL.  In the voice of NFL Films’ John Facenda, “They call it Pro Football.  It starts with a whistle and ends with a gun.”]

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Another four months of NFL football have come and gone.  Now, the playoffs are set to begin. Here is your guide to NFL Wildcard Weekend:

I. Saturday

A. Houston Texans @ Oakland Raiders (4:40 EST, ESPN). Out of any game this weekend, this contest will feel the most like a preseason game. This is because of the already infamous quarterback matchup featuring Brock Osweiler and Connor Cook. Osweiler was signed to a $72,000,000 contract this offseason, but was benched late in the year as Tom Savage road Houston to AFC South glory. Cook built up a nice career at Michigan State, but he has never made an NFL start. His services are needed following injuries to All-Pro QB Derek Carr and backup Matt McGloin.

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How the Texans Can Win:  I’ll admit it.  Their quarterback situation is dicey. Osweiler threw more picks (16) than TD’s (15), and that’s not exactly a winning formula. However, he does have a 1,000 yard rusher in Lamar Miller. The bright spot on this team is their defense. The Texans led all of football in yards allowed per game with 301.3- that’s just over three lengths of the football field. If the defense continues to play at a high level, Houston can sneak by the Raiders by using a run-based offense that capitalizes on good field position.

How the Raiders Can Win:  Oakland’s situation under center is even more worrisome. Connor Cook spent the majority of his NFL career taking third-string snaps, and now he’ll make his first NFL start under the bright lights of playoff football. Having played with the Spartans, Cook is no stranger to big games. Some of his most notable victories came in the 2014 Big 10 Championship where Cook was named MVP and the 2014 Rose Bowl vs. Stanford. The Raiders have plenty of offensive weapons for Cook including veteran Michael Crabtree and second-year Alabama receiver Amari Cooper. Like the Texans, Oakland also has a serviceable running back in the form of Latavius Murray. According to ProFootballFocus.com, the Raiders have the league’s sixth-best O-Line, and their pass blocking is second-best. As for the Raiders’ defense, they house an MVP-caliber player off the edge in Khalil Mack. Mack totaled 11 sacks this year, and he’s facing a Texans’ line that’s one of the worst in football.

THE PICK: Raiders 31, Texans 17

B. Detroit Lions @ Seattle Seahawks (8:15 PM ET, NBC).  Now, this one will feel more like a playoff game. Two veteran quarterbacks in Matt Stafford and Russell Wilson going at it in primetime. The Seahawks obviously have the most proven postseason record, but the Lions have built up a reputation as fourth quarter mastermind this year, winning eight games via the comeback.

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How the Seahawks Can Win:  After their gut-wrenching loss in Super Bowl 49, many believed Seattle’s dynasty was over. However, they’ve made it as far as the NFC Championship game in each of the past three seasons. While the Legion of Boom is not as formidable as it was in 2014, the Seahawks still boast some of the game’s top talent. Bobby Wagner led the league in tackles with upwards of 140, and Richard Sherman is still a top ten cornerback. On the offensive side of the ball, Russell Wilson has continued to blossom into a superstar. He passed for 4,219 yards and ran for 259. Tight end Jimmy Graham returned to being one of the best in the business in 2016. His 65 receptions, 923 yards, and 6 TDs all ranked in the top five of NFL tight ends. He is also a very good pass blocker and will be a formidable weapon in this game. I didn’t even mentioned that this game will be played in Seattle, where the ‘Hawks were undefeated (8-0) this year. My only concern for the Seahawks is their running game. Seattle tried to use a combo of Thomas Rawls and Christine Michael this year, but Marshawn Lynch’s absence was evident and sorely missed.

How the Lions Can Win:   When Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson were in their primes, Detroit made the playoffs just once, losing in the Wild Card round in a blowout versus the Saints. Now, Calvin’s out and Stafford isn’t getting any younger. The Lions posted an 0-5 record vs playoff teams this year, including an 0-3 stretch to close out the year against the Cowboys, Giants, and Packers. All hope is not lost, though. Those three games were not blowouts. The Giants’ potent offense was held to 17 points, the Cowboys didn’t take the lead until the third quarter, and the Packers game was decided by a touchdown. Detroit posted an NFL-record eight fourth-quarter comebacks this year, so they can never be counted out. Don’t be surprised if this game is closer than you think.

The PICK: Seahawks 34, Lions 23

II. Sunday

A. Dolphins @ Steelers (1:00, CBS).  On Sunday, the game quality really picks up a notch. We’ll see our first afternoon game tomorrow as the Steelers play host to the surprising Dolphins. Miami will be playing without starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill- Matt Moore gets the nod, more on him in just a bit.

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How the Dolphins Can Win:  In their first year under the direction of head coach Adam Gase (former O-Coordinator in Chicago), the Dolphins surprised many by going 10-6, finishing second in the AFC East to arguably the NFL’s best team, the Patriots. So what about Gase transformed the team so much? “I believe it’s about the players, not the scheme,” “Doing what’s best for the players, developing the players, developing the team,” says Gase. Rather than building around a certain scheme a la Chip Kelly, Gase is using the talent he has to create what’s best for the players. The result has been tremendous. Running back Jay Ajayi burst onto the scene with back to back 200 yard games in the middle of the year, one of which came against Pittsburgh in a 30-15 Miami triumph. Wideout Jarvis Landry finished with 593 yards after catch, good for fifth in the NFL. Tannehill also saw improvement (2,995 passing yards, 67.1 comp. pct.), but he won’t be taking snaps on Sunday. That honor will go to Matt Moore, who fit in quite nicely as he clinched a playoff spot for Miami. Moore has completed 55/87 passes, throwing 8 TD’s and posting a great 105.6 QB rating.

How the Steelers Can Win: Pittsburgh got off to a hot start, but they hit a big rough patch in the middle of the year. They were 4-5 following a loss to Dallas (one of the most exciting games of the regular season), and things weren’t looking so good. But, like another QB we’ll get to later, the Steelers “ran the table” to close the season at 11-5. That stretch included six non-playoff teams, but the 7-game streak still gives the Steelers tremendous momentum. As for their talent, it may be unequaled in football. Under center, Ben Roethlisberger is one of the best, and the Super Bowl-winning QB threw for 3,819 yards this year. Near Roethlisberger you’ll find maybe the deadliest running back in the game- Le’Veon Bell. Bell earned player of the month honors by posting 748 yards and averaging 5.2 yards on the ground to close the season. Antonio Brown is the best receiver in the NFL. He caught 106 passes, totaling 12 touchdowns and 411 yards after catch. That big three threat is Super Bowl caliber.

The PICK: Steelers 32, Dolphins 20

B. Giants @ Packers (4:40, FOX).  The final game of the weekend brings the most history. Manning and Rodgers. January and Lambeau. This one definitely has a playoff feel to it. It should be noted that the Packers beat the Giants 23-16 in Lambeau early in the year.

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How the Giants Can Win: While being severe underdogs in this one, the Giants have a few tricks up their sleeve. New York has beat the Packers in Lambeau each of the last two times they won a Super Bowl. The Giants’ defense is led by Damon Harrison, Olivier Vernon, Janoris Jenkins, and Defensive POY candidate Landon Collins. In their first year together, the unit has catapulted the Giants into one of the best defenses in the league, and if they always seem to be coming up with big plays, it’s because New York has allowed the second least points in the red zone. The one area that wasn’t concerning to last year’s 6-10 group was the offense. With former offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo taking over as head coach, expectations were sky-high for a group led by Eli Manning and Odell Beckham, Jr. However, the offense has been a major letdown. The Giants recorded just one 100+ yard game from a running back, and the offense never scored more than 28 points (averaging just 14.8 PPG).

How the Packers Can Win:  The Packers started off 4-6 this year, and talks of Aaron Rodgers’ demise were rapid. The (former) star QB admitted that his team needed to “run the table” if they wanted any chance of playing in the postseason. Since that point, he’s thrown 15 touchdowns to zero interceptions while rushing for 110 yards. It’s safe to say vintage Rodgers is back. He’s also armed with a healthy Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson this year, so nobody will have to worry about spelling Jared Abbrederis’ name (I had to search it up). Suddenly, Green Bay are the favorites and Rodgers is an MVP candidate. Normalcy has returned in Cheesehead Land.

The PICK: Packers 18 @ Giants 15 (as hard as this is coming from a Giants fan)

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It should be a great weekend of football as we kick off 2017. It is single elimination.  Every possession counts.  It all makes for must-see TV.  Happy Watching!    

Adam Shemesh

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2016 Postmortem: Can 2017 Possibly Come Close?

[As we reflect on our website over the course of 2016, one of the standout dimensions has been the work of Ezra Troy and also new correspondent Roey Herzfeld.  The DC duo has made a big impact with some really great writing.  I know all of our readers have enjoyed their stories and are looking forward to hearing their thoughts in the coming year.  Notably, Ezra’s great work also saw him adding the titles Chief East Coast Correspondent and Senior Editor to his duties here at myespnforkids.com during 2016.  Congratulations, Ezra.  

As we all thought about Adam’s piece on the top events of 2016, Ezra and Roey came up with some additions to the 2016 narrative.  You will love these lists.  Happy 2017!] 

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I.  Some Additional Key Sports Dates in 2016

  • Janurary 11: Alabama beats Clemson to win their first College Football Playoff Championship, we don’t need a playoff to stop Alabama from winning every year
  • January 31: John Scott gets voted into All-Star game despite not being in the league; proceeds to win MVP in a game he will never forget.
  • February 27: “Bang, Bang”, Curry sinks shot of the year as the Warriors sink the Thunder in the NBA regular season game of the year
  • April 5: U Conn wins the tournament for only the fourth year. Brianna Stewart’s magical college career finishes with 4/4 tournament wins.
  • April 15: Warriors complete 73 win season.  It is only too bad that they will be another footnote in history just like Marcus Paige.
  • April 15: Kobe finishes his career in a Kobe-esque performance – 22-50 with 60 points.
  • May 8: Steph breaks OT points record with 17 points in a playoff game vs Portland, that’s five less shots than John Starks took in game 7 of the 1994 NBA finals
  • May 9: Harper becomes the first player in 100 years to reach base 7 times without an AB
  • May 17: 76ers win lottery and Philly becomes first city to have all three major sports teams have the 1 or 2 overall draft pick, and yet all the Philly teams are still really bad.
  • May 28: Klay sets playoff record with 11 threes, sets up game 7 with the Thunder, leading to the Thundr blowing a 3-1 series lead.
  • May 28: Real Madrid win Champions League.
  • June 12: Sidney Crosby wins his second NHL Stanley Cup with Penguins, that’s two more than Ovechkin.
  • June 26: Chile defeats Argentina on penalty kicks in the Copa America final, with Messi completely airballing one – must be why he decided to dye his hair.
  • July 10: Portugal wins Euro Cup soccer despite Ronaldo being injured.
  • July: NBA players sign record free agent deals ($43 million per deal, $3.1 BILLION in total spending).
  • July 1: Mets pay Bobby Bonilla more than they paid Syndergaard and Reyes in the 2016 season.
  • July 4: KD and the superteam (gave Warriors three MVP’s), looks like the Warriors, and not KD’s mom, are the real MVP.
  • August: USA’s record performance overshadowed by swimmer being “held up” at gas station.

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  • September 8: Serena falls out of the number one ranking in women’s national ranking for the first time since February 18th, 2013 – a time even before Deflategate.
  • Aug 26: Tony Romo leaves preseason game with back injury setting up Dak Prescotts MVP worthy season (and I thought it was good for the Giants that Romo was injured).
  • September 30: Team Canada once again dominates hockey, sweeps World Cup over team Europe. Looks like Canada is to international hockey as USA is to international basketball.
  • September 25, October 16: OBJ fights a kicking net and later announces his marriage to it.
  • November 26: Ohio State benefits from miscall in overtime to win over Michigan in College Football’s game of the year (sorry OSU fans, he was short).
  • December 24th: Browns get their 1st win, move to 1-14. I guess even in a year of upsets and surprises as Adam’s piece did a great job describing (Leicester, Cavs and Cubs), the Browns still suck.

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II. People who Passed Away in 2016: 

Yogi Berra
Muhammed Ali
Jose Fernandez
Arnold Palmer
Craig Sager
Dennis Byrd
Buddy Ryan
Pat Summitt
Gordie Howe
Will Smith

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III.  Sports Legends that Retired in 2016:

Vin Scully
Peyton Manning
Tim Duncan
Kevin Garnett
Big Papi
Calvin Johnson
Marshawn Lynch
Kobe
A-Rod
Michael Phelps
Usain Bolt
Jared Allen
Justin Tuck
“Peanut” Tillman
Earl Thomas (nevermind)

It was, quite simply, an amazing 2016 year in sports.  Thanks for reading!

Ezra Troy and Roey Herzfeld

 

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2016: An Epic Year in Sports

[2016 was an incredible year –for better and for worse.  We cheered for the Cubs as they broke their 108-year Curse.  We bemoaned Kevin Durant as he said a fair weather goodbye to OKC.  

It was, like every year, what our top senior writer Adam Shemesh rightly calls “unforgettable.”  Adam weighs in here with 9 highlights from the year that was.  As for the 10th, let’s hear from you.  What did Adam miss?  Happy New Year!]

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2016 was an unforgettable year in the wide world of sports. By overcoming curses and tragedies, this year reminded us why we love sports. Here is my take on the nine defining sports moments in chronological order:

I. February 7: Superman Meets His Kryptonite

Broncos 24, Panthers 10.  Nothing could stop the Carolina Panthers. They dominated the regular season, losing only one game. Prior to the Super Bowl, they beat up the Seahawks, outscoring the NFC’s defending champs 31-0 in the first half en route to a 31-24 win. Naturally, Carolina was favored in the Super Bowl, headlined by MVP Cam Newton and a stellar defense. The defense was as advertised, holding Peyton Manning to a pedestrian performance in his final game. However, a few costly turnovers did the Panthers in, and they lost 24-10 (Writer’s Note: Anyone watching the game will assure you it was not as close as the score may suggest.). As the dream season came to a crashing halt, Von Miller, who forced two fumbles off Newton and returned one for a touchdown, was at the heart of the story.

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II. April 4: March Madness and the Shining Moment

Villanova 77, UNC 74.  2016’s edition of March Madness featured little in the form of the upsets. Villanova and North Carolina, two #1 seeds, met in the Finals. ‘Nova was seen as the clear underdog; they hadn’t won a title in 30 years. With the game tied at 74 and a few seconds left, Villanova’s Kris Jenkins nailed a three as the buzzer sounded. Philly fans rejoiced as Roy Williams and UNC walked off the court stunned in one of the best finishes in the history of March Madness.

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III. May 2, 2016: At 5,000 to 1, Leicester City wins the Premier League

Leicester City used to be a small, fairly unknown football club looking to gain a foothold in the Premier League (EPL). By the time they had reached the final, most of the world knew of the team’s improbable story.  They were 5,000 to 1 odds to win the Premier League championship before the season started. The same booking company who offered those odds gave Leicester the same chance as Elvis Presley being found alive (Elvis has been dead since 1977). With strong international fan support, Leicester pulled out a shocking win to cost bookkeepers in the U. K. an estimated 15,000,000 GBP. A movie about the team’s improbable run is in the works. If it hadn’t actually happened, it would be called impossible.

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IV. June 20:  On top of the World and the Backboard

Cavaliers 93, Warriors 89.  As sports fans, we were spoiled with some incredible Game  Seven heroics this year. Warriors-Cavs did not disappoint. For the first time all series, there was a close game. Cleveland pulled it out in the end behind LeBron James’ unhuman block on Andre Iguodala and Kyrie Irving’s dazzling three-pointer over the three-point King, Stephen Curry. It was a great series and watching James cry and kiss the floor after the win was one of my favorite moments of the year.

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V. August 15: Bolting to Cloud Nine

Usain Bolt wins the 100 meter, 200 meter, and 4×100 meter relay.  The world’s fastest man made that claim true in Rio this summer. The aptly named Usain Bolt won three more gold medals to up his count to nine. In the process, he shattered his own record by sprinting 100 meters in 9.58 seconds. He has catapulted his legend to world-class fame; everyone knows who Bolt is.

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VI. August 26: Colin Kaepernick Takes a Knee

Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for the national anthem was one of the most controversial sports moments of 2016. Setting aside your political views, Kaepernick’s protest got everyone talking. Everyone had an opinion and even non-sports fans became aware of the former star QB’s bold act. Soon, he was joined by some of his NFL peers and athletes from other sports such as U. S. women’s soccer player Megan Rapinoe.  The fact that the drama played out during a divisive U.S. election and came amid a significant decline in NFL television ratings only added to the noise on talk radio and Twitter alike.

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VII. October 13: A New Star is Born

Ottawa 5, Maple Leafs 4 (in OT).  When the Maple Leafs drafted Auston Matthews, he fell into the pool of ‘prodigy’ athletes. Only a few of these youngsters labeled with this term have succeeded. Even fewer have paid immediate dividends. Auston didn’t need words to justify the hype.  His performance spoke for itself. In his first NHL game, Matthews scored an amazing four goals. Matthews is the only player in NHL history to score four goals in his debut.  Hockey is known to be a Canadian sport, but the NHL has been dominated by US teams for the last few decades.  This incredible rookie debut gave hockey fans north of the border something to be happy about in 2016.

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VIII. September 26:  Great Tragedy, Great Happiness

Marlins 7, Mets 3.  On September 25, the sports world was struck with news so improbable that it was hard to process even as media outlets around the country confirmed that Jose Fernandez was dead. The Marlins’ star pitcher was only 25-years old, and enjoying an amazing year in his comeback from Tommy John surgery. The Marlins promptly cancelled their game that day vs. the Mets, and teams all across the country set aside an emotional moment of silence for the Cuban star. A day later, Miami went back on the field. Dee Gordon stepped up to the plate and took the first pitch from the right side of the batter’s box as an ode to his beloved friend, Fernandez. Gordon then switched back to his familiar lefty batting box and swatted his first home run of the season. Dee was sobbing as he ran around the bases, and the whole stadium was jolted with energy. It was another example of how sports is sometimes the best medicine in a time of sadness.

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IX. November 2: 108 to 0

Cubs 8, Indians 7 (10 innings).  “The greatest two words in sports: Game Seven.” This is a common cliché, but on November, 2, 2016 it rung true. The game was undoubtedly the greatest baseball contest of the century and one of the best Game Seven contests ever. The Cubs got out to an early 5-1 lead, but flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman allowed 4 runs in the 8th inning and the ballgame went to extra frames following a rain delay –because, of course, there would be a rain delay after 9 innings of the last game of the year. The Cubs struck for two in the 10th and they pulled out victory behind the arm of 21-year old Carl Edwards, Jr. with the winning run at the plate for Cleveland. The Cubs had finally done it, breaking a 108-year spell as only they could. It certainly wasn’t pretty, but anything works after that long a wait. Chicago threw the Cubs a massive homecoming, as 5,000,000 people attended. That’s the seventh largest gathering in human history.

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We can only hope that 2017 delivers the same number of compelling triumphs in the year ahead.  This list will only be complete with a 10th storyline.  Let’s hear your thoughts as we ring in the New Year.

Adam Shemesh

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Should College Football Embrace the Madness?

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March Madness is the pinnacle of sports. 68 teams. Underdogs.  Upsets. Yale beating Baylor. It is a single-elimination thriller that has become one of the greatest events in sports.  

As a result, many fans think it makes sense for college football to follow suit and expand the playoff system established in 2014.  As we watch some great football bowl games and the 4-team playoff kicks off, let’s explore the argument.    

The Proposition Argument: More Madness!

One of the greatest things about March Madness lies in the amount of non-power 5 and mid-major schools. If the playoff was expanded to 8 or 16 teams, we would see teams like Houston and Boise State have a shot of making the playoff almost every year.  The underdog narrative always is one of the most compelling storylines in sports.  

In addition, March Madness is a multi-billion dollar industry. In 2010, CBS payed $10.8 billion for rights to The Madness until 2024. For cash-strapped Division One schools, it makes sense to have more games, creating revenue to support non-profit-generating sports on college campus from field hockey to squash to tennis. The college athlete would be a clear winner.  

Finally, an expanded format would open up some great match-ups. A superb article was written on ESPN exploring what an 8-team playoff would look like: http://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/18210508/what-there-was-8-team-college-football-playoff. Alabama vs OU. A rematch of Michigan vs. Ohio State. USC vs. Clemson. These games would be truly must-watch. 

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The Opposition Argument: Save the Idaho Potato Bowl!

Obviously, there would be challenges.

With a 16-team playoff, and to a lesser extent an 8-team playoff, you are de-legitimizing a number of long-established bowl games.  Like the NIT and its once relevant status within the ranks of college basketball, a 16-team playoff would mark the end of some (arguably many) mid-tier bowls.  

Furthermore, with a longer playoff, it is likely that the quality of play will be diminished. Football isn’t like basketball with regards to recovery time and performance.  You simply can’t play on two days rest without risk of injury.  The scheduling logistics and the length of the season that a safe approach would require is a non-trivial complication.  

Finally, the same argument around revenue extends to the current bowl structure. Every bowl has economics around it.  Corporate sponsors. Ticket sales.  TV revenue.  They all come together to create economic benefit for the schools that play.  And today, there are far more than 16 schools that are benefiting.

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In conclusion, there will continue to be chatter about playoff expansion.  And no matter the decision, there will be anger. We are talking about football fans.  While there are arguments on both sides of the debate, the 8-game playoff makes sense, striking the right balance between the competing interests surrounding fans and the non-New Year’s bowls. 

Let’s hear your thoughts on this polarizing topic. Is the 8-team playoff the right move?

Powers Trigg, Editor-in-Chief

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MNF: Panthers v Skins

[I am still reeling from a disastrous Sunday loss by the Chiefs.  Arrowhead was a frozen tundra, and Kansas City squandered a consistent lead throughout the first three quarters to fall to defeat on a last-second field goal by former Chief Ryan Succop from 53 yards out.  In a word, it was devastating.  

The chance to turn my attention to the Monday Night game is a welcome distraction and we have a blockbuster this evening with the Redskins and the Panthers.  One of our top new writers, NYC-based Andrew Mazza, gives us his thoughts. The kid from Queens brings it here.  Welcome, Andrew.]

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Let’s take a look at what is likely to play out on Monday Night at FedEx Field in Washington, DC:

It is going to be a low-scoring game to start. Each team will have one turnover in the first half. Carolina will take the early lead in the first half. Cousins and his offense will step out of that locker room and throw for 200+ yards in the second half for a pair of touchdowns with another turnover in the second half. While the Panthers are in one of their late game drives, Cam will throw an untimely interception, or someone will fumble, and the Redskins will steal the game as they continue their push to the playoffs.

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Rationale:

The Carolina offense has struggled to start the first quarter strong this season, only averaging a 64.9 passer rating in the 1st quarter and a much better but still mediocre 83.8 passer rating in the second quarter. The Washington defense, however, has also struggled early on in games and that is why I think Carolina will have the lead coming into the half. Carolina has also thrown plenty of interceptions and lost many fumbles (8!) in the first half, so don’t be surprised if Washington gets a momentum changing turnover in the first half, which they have failed to do for the majority of the season of the season. Carolina has forced an incredible amount of fumbles (11) in the first half, and Washington is known for being poor at recovering their own fumbles (75% are lost) even though they rarely fumble in the 1st half (only 4).

Then, the second half will start off like many other halves for the Redskins, they will start with the ball and march down a field to at last put 7 on the board. Washington, especially Kirk Cousins, are known to finish games strong. Kirk Cousins has posted an 119.6 passer rating in the 3rd quarter and a 97.8 passer rating in the 4th quarter of games this season. I predict that Carolina’s defense will start to feel the pressure as Kirk starts to heat up. The Panthers aren’t used to being attacked vertically, and Desean Jackson has been on fire lately stretching the field on passes from Kirk Cousins. However, Carolina is great at getting the game-changing interceptions when opponents are in Panther territory, but not yet in the Redzone. This is not an area of struggle for Kirk. However, he has thrown the most interceptions in this part of the field. The two-minute drill for Redskins’ fans has been nerve-racking. In many games, it is up to the ‘Skins defense to finish the game; in New York and Philly, they ended the games on a turnover, however in Detroit, Stafford was able to pick apart the Redskins like a surgeon.

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In more than six Carolina games, the score was decided by 10 points or less. Suffice to say, this is going to be a very close and exciting back game.

Andrew Mazza

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NCAAF: It’s Time to Go Bowling

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[The College football playoff system has taken a little bit of the luster from the bowl game tradition.  If you love the game of football and like to assess talent striving to play at the next level, however, you are still excited about these games. Period. Penn State v USC.  Of course, you are going to watch that game.    

Frankly, the threshold to watch college football is an appropriately low one and, as Roey details here, we have a collection of gems coming in the days ahead.  I hope you enjoy taking a break from school, watching some football and spending time with family and friends.]

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For college football fans, the most exciting part of the year has finally come: college bowl games.  This list will count down the top 5 non-playoff games which college football fans should be most excited to watch.  (Any games included in the college football playoff are not included, as those are obviously a must watch.)

5. Georgia Tech vs Kentucky

Kentucky made headlines in late November with their shocking win over Louisville.  Now they have everyone’s attention.  Can Kentucky add to this turnaround season or will Georgia Tech add to their strong finish, hoping to win their last four games.

4. Western Michigan vs Wisconsin

This game will be a crucial precedent to all non power-5 conference schools.  Western Michigan was one of the two teams this year to finish the season undefeated (the other school was Alabama).  The Broncos high powered offense led by All- American receiver Corey Davis should be fun to watch against Wisconsin’s super powered defense.

3. Stanford vs North Carolina

This one should be a shootout.  Stanford’s offense led by the explosive and versatile Christian Mccaffrey vs. expected top 5 draft pick Mitch Trubisky.  Trubisky 28 TD passes this year helped North Carolina to an 8-4 record.  This game should be fun and entertaining one to watch.

2. LSU vs Louisville

Heisman trophy winner Lamar Jackson vs. an always pesky LSU defense.  Jackson hasn’t seen a defense like this all year, so it should be interesting to see how he will respond. NFL Scouts will be watching. This will also be one of the last chances for Leonard Fournette to raise his draft stock.  Additionally, this matchup provides a huge chance for the ACC to make a statement win. It should be close.

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1. USC vs Penn State

The number 1 game to watch is USC vs Penn St.  It will be emotional, electrifying, and very exciting.  This game will feature a rematch of the 2009 Rose Bowl where the Trojans defeated the Nittany Lions 38-24.  Both teams are coming into the game without a loss since September and both defeated CFB playoff teams.

Their best wins were USC defeating Washington and Penn State defeating Ohio State.  Additionally, Penn St will have the opportunity to prove to the playoff committee that they were snubbed out of the fourth spot.  It will have the highest viewership of the non-playoff games and should offers some great football.  

Roey Herzfeld

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Best Books on Sports: The Blindside

The Blindside: The Evolution of the Game

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You probably have seen the movie. Everyone seems to have watched it. And while movies almost never are better than the book, I don’t subscribe to the notion that you can’t enjoy them both.  

The key, no matter the medium, is a great narrative.  In The Blindside, Michael Lewis takes an incredible story, and turns it into so much more. Lewis first looks at the emergence of the offensive Left Tackle becoming a high-paid position in the NFL starting with the famous game between the Redskins and the Giants where LT takes out Theismann.  From there, Lewis takes us through inner-city Memphis, the West Coast offense and the rise of the 5-star recruit.

The breadth of The Blindside narrative might run the risk of leaving the reader lost.  But in the able hands of the world-class Lewis there is no such concern.  Lewis uses the breathtaking story of Michial Oher to not simply hold together the overarching story, but keep the reader engrossed from start to finish.  Oher’s transcendent rise to glory will not only make you stand up and cheer, but also make you think.

Longtime readers of this site know my love for sports analytics, Moneyball and Michael Lewis.  I have written less frequently about The Blindside.  It deserves a look over the holiday break for anyone that either loved the movie or simply has a passion for the individual stories that make up the great game of football.

Powers Trigg

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The Walk On

The Walk On by John Feinstein 

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The Walk On is the first book in the Triple Threat Series by John Feinstein (Walk On, The Sixth Man and The DH).  It is a gripping book that merits 4.5 stars and should be considered a great gift for teenagers this Christmas season.  

The Walk On is about a Freshman, Alex Meyers, who moves to a new school. He does not have the same struggles as most kids due to a early friendship with a great guy named Jonas.  Jonas is also a Freshman and later in the book becomes a star receiver on the football team.

Alex also develops a friendship with Matt Gordon, the captain of the football team and son of the head coach. Alex is hoping to make the Varsity as the back up QB.  However, he is surprised when Jake Binley becomes second-string QB, beating Alex out for the spot. As the season progresses, Alex gets a chance to play following injuries to both Matt and Jake.  In the game, Alex throws for a game-winning touchdown with just one second left on the clock.

His shining moment quickly turns sour when he is accused of using performance-enhancing drugs (steroids).  The climax of the book surrounds these accusations.  Did Alex use steroids?  Is Alex being framed by someone else on the squad?  What will be the implications for the kids and coaches involved in this very serious set of issues?

As noted, this book is the first in the series giving you a potential Christmas gift for each of the next three years.  It is important to note that while this piece of fiction is compelling, it also has adult content.  In addition, it is also over 300 pages in total.  If you have someone that likes to read, loves sports and is between ages 10-15, then you should walk on over to the bookstore and buy The Walk On today.   

Mac Trigg

 

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Best Books on Sports: Ballpark Mysteries

Ballpark Mysteries by David A. Kelly 

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The Ballpark Mysteries is a fantastic series written by David A. Kelly.  Two young kids, Kate and Mike, are the main characters.  They solve exciting mysteries while teaching you a lot about baseball.  There are 13 books in the series with another one on the way (#13: Capital Catch will be released in March).  My favorite book is Super Special #1: World Series Curse.  I like it because it explores two important baseball curses: The Curse of the Bambino (Red Sox) and The Curse of the Billy Goat (Cubs).  If you like mysteries, excitement, baseball and are at a reading level for chapter books, you are the kind of person that should buy this series.  This series is superb and worthy of five stars!

Elliott Glass

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Fourth and Long

Fourth and Long: The Fight for the Soul of College Football 

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College Football captures our hearts and minds. When we think about rivalry, we think Ohio State and Michigan.  In this superb book, John U. Bacon takes us deep into the game for a multi-faceted page turner.  Readers will get a rollicking look at a 2012 season filled with emotion. Bacon uses first-hand access to describe conquests and catastrophes alike at Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Northwestern. The author clearly loves Division One football and asks tough questions as he struggled to answer if it is still the same great game.  This book is more than a fun read. It is a thought provoking look “at the fight for the soul of college football.”

Powers Trigg

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Our Boys

Our Boys: A Perfect Season on the Plains with the Smith Center Redmen

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Heart. Commitment. Character. That is what Roger Barta had always preached to his high school football teams in Smith Center, Kansas (pop. 1,610). Coach Barta always says that when you take care of the little things, winning takes care of itself. For four consecutive years, the Smith Center Redmen had not lost a game. Winning, it seemed, had taken care of itself. But a 5th year of loss-free football would bring challenges that the Redmen had never faced. Joe Drape follows the trials and tribulations of the Redmen as they pursue a “Perfect Season on the Plains”.

Powers Trigg

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A-Disgrace? A-Rod and His Path Back to MLB Respect

[MyESPNforkids is lucky to have our own Peter Gammons: Adam “Shem” Shemesh.  When you contemplate the biggest names in baseball during our time as young fans, you have to think about Alex Rodriguez.  At the same time, the word steroids or even Biogenesis is amazingly top-of-mind for kids.  Say it ain’t so, Joe.

In this solid article, Adam not only gives us some great history on the improbable resurrection of A-Rod, he makes us think about what we as sports fans are willing to tolerate both in baseball and professional sports as a whole.  What does it say about us that we are willing to so quickly embrace someone that so readily broke the rules?]  

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In August of 2013, Alex Rodriguez was issued a 211-game suspension for involvement in the infamous Biogenesis scandal. He responded by suing the Yankees and their team physician along with a suit against Major League Baseball (MLB). Rodriguez became the face of everything wrong with baseball.  Bud Selig wanted nothing to do with him.

Never in his wildest dreams would Alex have imagined that around three years later, he’d be sitting front and center for Fox’s pregame coverage of the 2016 World Series. But that’s exactly what happened.

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After missing all of 2014, Rodriguez came back for Spring Training 2015 and Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman always said that Alex was by no means guaranteed the roster spot. Rodriguez responded by putting up vintage A-Rod numbers: 33 homers and 86 RBIs. This performance left many fans wondering why and how Rodriguez put together such a tremendous season at age 37. Some pointed to the absence of Derek Jeter.  Others opined that he just needed a little rest.  And of course, many people pointed to steroids.

That performance gained Rodriguez newfound respect among Yankee fans, and he was able to leave on his own terms in the middle of the 2016 season with a farewell sendoff out reminiscent of a Hollywood movie.

Rodriguez made his first appearance with FOX in their NLCS Pregame coverage last year. This year, he was a member of FOX’s ‘America’s Game of the Week’ pregame on Saturdays and their All-Star Game coverage, which included an awkward interview with ex-teammate Andrew Miller that aired around a month after Rodriguez retired. He then appeared in Fox’s ALCS and World Series coverage, offering poignant insights as he did so.

Somehow, someway, Alex Rodriguez has regained the respect of so many in so little time.

Adam Shemesh

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Gobble, Gobble: A Postmortem on Thanksgiving Football

[As you watched the games on Thanksgiving in Detroit, Dallas and Indianapolis, did you wonder how those three games stacked up against the NFL contests that have been played on holiday’s past?  Washington, D.C.-based Ezra Troy did.

His rumination led to this fun piece on the top five “big” events that have defined the NFL during their great Thanksgiving games.  As we look out to Christmas (which includes an incredibly important Chiefs-Broncos game at Arrowhead on Christmas night), here is some great writing on the holiday that just was as you head back to school.]

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  1. THE BUTT FUMBLE

In a failed season for the Jets, (they went 6-10 and failed to reach the playoffs) on November 22, 2012, they were 4-6 with a chance at the playoffs when they hosted the New England Patriots on Thanksgiving Day. After the first quarter, with the score tied 0-0, the Patriots scored following a Jets fumble. Then came the play that will be remembered for a long, long time. The butt fumble. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez ran into offensive lineman Brandon Moore and the fumble was returned for a touchdown. The Patriots scored three more touchdowns that quarter and ended up beating the Jets 49-19. This was the beginning of the end for Sanchez on the Jets, as he was benched a few games later and then left the Jets the following year.

  1. LT PUTS ON A SHOW FOR THANKSGIVING 1982

In 1982, there was a strike that cost the NFL 7 weeks of the season. The Giants came into the Thanksgiving game in Detroit 0-3 and looking to turn their season around. Unfortunately, their star linebacker Lawrence Taylor had been injured the game before against the Redskins. After being named the Defensive Player of the Year the previous year as a rookie, his performance in 1982 was somewhat lacking. For the first quarter he stayed on the sideline and came in early in the second quarter. At halftime, the Giants were down 6-0.; however, they came back in the third quarter and going into the fourth quarter, the score was tied at 6-6. The Lions drove deep into Giants territoey to set up a third and goal from the four. Taylor intercepted a pass intended for the Lions tight end and turned up field for a 97-yard pick six. The Giants won the game 13-7 and LT turned his season around with one of the greatest Thanksgiving performances in recent memory.

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  1. 1980 BEARS BEAT THE LIONS

In 1980, the Bears traveled to Detroit to face division rival Lions. With the Lions up 17-3, the Bears began one of the greatest comebacks in Thanksgiving history. After scoring a touchdown, the Bears forced a Lions punt and got the ball back at their own six yard line with three and a half minutes left to play. The Bears drove downfield for a game-tying score and forced overtime. The Bears chose to receive the kick in and Otis Wilson took it back for a touchdown to win the game for the Bears, as well as setting the record for shortest OT in a regular season game (since broken).

  1. THE LEON LETT GAME

In 1993, the Dolphins traveled to Dallas on Thanksgiving the field was covered in snow. Though everyone remembers this game for Leon Lett’s blunder, it wasn’t just that which made this game a classic. Firstly, Dan Marino didn’t even play, he was injured. Miami also came into that game 8-2, and after winning this game to move to 9-2, they lost all their remaining games to finish 9-7 and out of the playoffs. Meanwhile, Dallas didn’t lose a game the rest of the year and went on to be super bowl champs. At the end of the game, Dallas led 14-13, but the Dolphins were in field goal range with a few seconds left and attempted a game winning 41-yard field goal. After the kick was blocked, the game was all but over. Miami couldn’t touch the ball unless Dallas touched it first and nobody on Dallas would touch it because they all knew that rule. Not Leon Lett. Lett, who thought the ball was live, tried to jump on it as Miami players stood around. He touched the ball, making it became live, and the Dolphins recovered, giving their kicker a second chance with a 19-yard chip shot. The kicker converted and Miami shocked Dallas 16-14.

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  1. CLINT LONGLEY SAVES THE DAY

On Thanksgiving Day, 1974, Dallas played Washington. Down 16-3 in the third quarter, Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach was knocked out of the game and Dallas brought in backup Clint Longley. Longley then had the greatest game of his career, going 11-20 with two TD passes and leading Dallas to a 17-16 win. Two years later, Longley punched Roger Staubach and was immediately traded to San Diego, where he played one more year before retiring.

Ezra Troy

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NCAAF: Longhorns Give Tom a Cruise to Austin!

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The Charlie Strong era comes to a close.  And within one hour, a new era begins with Tom Herman as the new coach of the Texas Longhorns!

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According to various media reports, Herman will make between $5 and $6 million per year.  His deal is expected to run five years.

Herman arrives in Austin with a solid roster that has good young talent on both sides of the ball.  The 2016 recruiting class was ranked in the Top 10.  And at key skill positions, he has Shane Buechele at QB and (if decides to come back) D’Onta Foreman at RB.

The sky is the limit for Tom Herman and UT football as they look out to 2017.  Hook’em Horns!

Powers Trigg

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Houston, There Is No Problem: The Case for Tom Herman Staying Put

Before KU kicker Matthew Wyman made the 25-yard field goal that effectively ended Charlie Strong’s coaching tenure with the University of Texas (UT), there had already been heavy chatter that the Longhorns were pursuing the head coach of the University of Houston, Tom Herman. The Herman rumors caused a wave of burnt orange euphoria and, as a diehard UT fan, were music to my ears.

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At the same time, there is a case to be made that Herman should not make the jump to one of the top three Division One coaching jobs.  it can be argued, instead, that he should remain at the University of Houston.  

  • 1) Forget the Bidding War.  Money Is Apparently “No Object.”

On Monday, a top school official at Houston was publicly quoted as saying, “”I do not fear a bidding war for Tom.”  And even more bluntly, he went on to comment, ”We’re not going to lose him over money.”

In general, the taxpayer money shelled out to college coaches is absurd. The highest paid employee in the state of Florida is Jimbo Fisher, coach of Florida State.  He makes $5.15 million per year.  In addition, most coaches have buyout clauses built into their contracts. These clauses stipulate that if said coach is fired, he will receive a lump sum payment. For example, if (more likely when) Charlie Strong is fired, he will receive a $10 million dollar lump sum payment.  For some perspective, in-state tuition (including room and board) is $26k per student.

Herman has a chance to not only cash in, but also sign a very long term contract with a buyout clause.  It gives him the stability that anyone with a passion for coaching wants. Luckily for him, he doesn’t have to leave the place that has made him a shining star.  He can simply sign on the bottom line and stay put.

  • 2) How Does Being a Legend Sound?

This line of argument follows the path of thinking that Texas already has had a God-like coach: Daryl Royal. Houston has not. If Herman signs a long-term deal, and brings a national title to a non-power 5 conference team like Houston, it would be equivalent to Leicester City’s historic EPL title run. Even if Herman goes to Texas and has success, he will never surpass the man who has his name on the stadium.  You can just ask Mack Brown.     

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  • 3) If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It.

While an immensely talented team, Texas hasn’t been able to put it all together. On the other hand, Houston has emerged as a team that can play at the highest levels of the collegiate game.  Momentum matters –in everything from sports to politics to life.  Herman can use this leverage to recruit at top-dog levels and really go after 5-star talent. It is an increasingly feasible plan.

In the coming years, Houston could have a new state-of-the-art facility and join the Big XII.  It would bring added exposure and revenue.  More than that, it would establish and solidify the Herman as Houston icon narrative.  Gary Patterson at TCU offers an interesting parallel.     

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It is great to have options.  Tom Herman has them, likely from Texas and LSU.  However, he should think hard before he makes a jump from the place where he built an emerging national reputation.  As a UT fan, I would love to see him walking the sidelienes in Austin next fall.  An objective analysis, however, suggests there are solid arguments to be found on both sides of the coaching caroussel debate.

Powers Trigg

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NFL Jersey Rules: Here is the 101

The NFL has not been without controversy this year.  National Anthem Boycotts.  Concussion Protocol.  Declining TV Ratings.  Amid the journalist and social media noise, let me add another topic: fan jerseys.

In my family, there are a set of longstanding rules surrounding NFL jerseys on Game Day (the only day that they should be worn).  These principles are, at least in the mind of my father, ironclad.  They are timeworn, dating to the 1990s and the Marty Schottenheimer era.  They have been handed down to me during drives to our Sunday tailgate or walks to the stadium.

With the chance for a bit of rest and reflection this Thanksgiving week, I have found a window to put fingers to keyboard to share them with you.

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  • 1) No Jerseys from Former Players not in the Team Hall of Fame (and/or the actual Hall of Fame).  We all get caught up in the hype of the moment.  There is the special teams star that runs back punts and kickoffs for touchdowns.  There is the killer first round draft pick that is going to transform the franchise.  I understand the emotion.  But if you have a Manziel jersey in Cleveland, you know what needs to be on your Christmas wish list.  If you thought Brody Croyle was the QB of the future in Kansas City, here is a quick update: he isn’t on the 53-man roster.

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  • 2) No Jerseys from Teams Not Playing in the Game.  This one seems so self-evident and simple.  Does it even need to be a rule?  Why would some show up at Arrowhead for the Kansas City-Tampa Bay game on Sunday wearing a Dallas Cowboys jersey? Unfortunately, I see it time and time again –an NFL jersey from a team not on the field of play.  The lone caveat here is that I not only will tolerate, but give high style points for the college jersey of a standout NFL player on the field. If you have a Derrick Johnson jersey from his days at Texas, you are delivering Super Fan class stuff.  Beyond that exception, I assume you know who is playing and it is reflected in your attire.
  • 3) Defense Beats Offense.  While Freaknomics and others in the behavioral economics space have proven that the cliche “defense wins championships” is not nearly as definitive as pundits believe, we aren’t talking about Xs and Os. We are talking about the message you are sending to other fans as you pound the seats trying to cause a false start.  If you are going to invest in a high-cost jersey, you buy defense.

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  • 4) No Away Jerseys.  Unless you are actually at an away game, you should never wear the away jersey.  How can Arrowhead be described as a “sea of red” if you are wearing white?  I will concede that this fact may be colored significantly by the fact the Chiefs’ kit for away games is very weak (particularly during the 1990s when it was white-on-white and my Dad created this rule).  Having said that, I am hard pressed to think of any of the 32 teams in the league with a superior away jersey.  You are watching games at home.  You wear the home jersey.

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  • 5) No Jerseys with Your Name on It.  I know that many NFL teams offer the chance for the custom jersey with your name on the back.  STMs (season ticket members), in Arrowhead parlance, seem to like this option.  As you navigate the stadium, you see this jersey profile growing like a vine in August.  However, unless you actually are a former member of the team, then you don’t put your name on the back.  Period.

The NFL remains the top sports league by revenue with over $13 billion.   A big part of that spending is the connection between fan and team captured most significantly by the jersey itself.  It is, as the 45th president-elect might say, a beautiful thing.

The real fan, however, has to play it smart.  Your style, as the saying goes, introduces you before you even speak.  And in NFL stadiums, the jersey is an ear-numbing, deafening shout.

Happy Thanksgiving (particularly for fans hosting in Detroit, Indianapolis and Dallas).

Powers Trigg

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Let’s Spur Some Debate: How Would Golden State Do Against San Antonio in the David Robinson Era?

[The NBA season began on October 25th.  It seems amazing to think that a new season has commenced.   With Kevin Durant joining the already stacked Golden State Warriors, most pundits are assuming that Curry and Co are poised for a World Championship run.  

Their dominance has DC-based Ezra Troy thinking about how the team stacks up against some of the other great franchise of the modern NBA era. He has ANOTHER great piece here looking at a head-to-head comparison with the Spurs during the late 90s and early 2000s.]    

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The Spurs of the late 90’s and early 2000’s were a dynasty. They, along with the Lakers, made every single championship from 1999-2005. The Spurs best year was 2003, when they went 60-22. Lead by Tim Duncan averaging a double-double and Tony Parker, the Spurs cruised to a championship and won for the second time in four years and would later go on to win again two years later.

Given all of that, it is interesting to consider how the Spurs team of old would match up against the new darling of the NBA, Golden State.

PG:

Steph Curry vs. Tony Parker

Curry is having one of the greatest three year stretches by a point guard in history and has averaged 27 points and almost 7.5 assists per game over that span, leading Golden State to a title, two championship appearances and the greatest regular season record in NBA history. Parker, leading San Antonio to five championship appearances in his career, has averaged 16.5 points and six assists over the course of his career, but was still in his second year in 2003. Curry has a definite advantage over the Argentinian guard.

Advantage: Warriors

SG:

Klay Thompson vs. Manu Ginobili

Thompson, one of the league’s premier shooting guards and three point shooters, has paired up with Curry to create the famed “splash bros” and lead Golden State to its first championship in almost 40 years. Ginobili, a star shooting guard who teamed up with Parker and Tim Duncan to create “the big three” and lead San Antonio to five championships and create a dynasty. Ginobili was in his rookie year in ’03 and didn’t have much of a role, but has had a solid career since then. Ginobili has never been considered a superstar though and has never averaged 20 points a game in his career, like Thompson has already done twice in his career. He has never been considered a top twenty player (like Thompson) and has only been to two all-star games, like Thompson, while having a career almost three times as long.

Advantage: Warriors

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SF:

Kevin Durant vs. Bruce Bowen

Considered a top five player of our generation and a sure hall of famer, Durant moved to the Warriors in hopes of creating a “super-team”. He has won MVP, four scoring titles and a rookie of the year award. Bowen had a mediocre career and bounced around on four different teams. This one is obvious.

Advantage: Warriors

PF:

Draymond Green vs. Dennis Rodman

Green has had a couple of recent all-star seasons, but he doesn’t even hold a candle to Tim Duncan, one of the greatest PF’s of all time.

Advantage: Spurs

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C:

Zaza Pachulia vs David Robinson

Robinson and Pachulia are both players at the end of their careers. The difference is Pachulia is a pretty run of the mill player, as opposed to Robinson, a hall of fame center and ten time all-star who had led the Spurs to an NBA title in 1999.

Advantage: Spurs

Bench:

Andre Igoudala and Shaun Livingston vs. Steven Jackson and Malik Rose

Andre Igoudala could start for many NBA teams right now and Livingston is one of the best backup point guard’s in the game today. Jackson averaged 12 points off the bench while Rose chipped in 10.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.

Advantage: Spurs

Prediction: Golden State in Seven

The Warriors have an advantage in the front court, while the Spurs have it in the backcourt and the bench. The key matchup is at the Small Forward position, where the Warriors have a clear advantage. That being said, Durant would absolutely dominate Bowen and lead Golden state to a seven game victory.

Ezra Troy

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A Puzzling Pat: The Curious Trades of Bill Belichick

[I have had the chance to read a couple of great books on the enigmatic Bill Belichick, including The War Room and also the awesome The Education of a Coach by David Halberstam.  ESPN once called him the greatest enigma in sports.  Some of the best sports writers around have tried to crack the code.  

In this piece, Ezra and Roey pair together for an interesting look at some of the trades that have played a critical role in making the Pats one of the most consistently successful football teams of all-time.  We will leave it to the Comment Section to tell us if they have selected the right list and offered readers a window into the great Bill Belichick.] 

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The Patriots traded their star linebacker, Jamie Collins, to the Cleveland Browns for, wait for it… a third round pick. Why would they do this? He was to be a free agent after this year, which makes the trade even more puzzling considering they would have received a compensatory third round selection even if they hadn’t re-signed him. The answer is simple: Bill Belichick.

Belichick has a history of making what seemed to be questionable trades at the time, but ended up paying big dividends. We take a look back at some of these trades

I. Randy Moss

Number One: The Randy Moss Trades

In 2007, the Raiders traded WR Randy Moss to the Patriots for a fourth round pick.  In 2010, the Patriots traded Moss and a seventh round pick to the Vikings for a third round pick.  Moss, a former first round pick, had an off-year in 2006 with the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders then traded him to the Patriot for a fourth round pick. Over the next three years, Moss showed why he was a first rounder despite all of his off the field problems. 50 TDs, 75 yds/game and almost 4000 yards in just three years (including setting the all-time records for touchdown receptions in a year). Just three years later, they traded him and a seventh rounder for a third rounder in a typical Belichickian move – trading away vets who have had recent successful years, but after they are traded they don’t have much of a career. The same happened to Moss, who played just two more unsuccessful years in the league

II.  Wes Welker

Number Two: Reception Machine

In 2007, the Patriots acquired WR Wes Welker from the Dolphins for a second-round draft pick and a seventh-round draft pick.  The same year the Patriots traded for Moss, they traded for another receiver Wes Welker. At the time, the trade was questionable because Welker was putting up mediocre numbers; however, Belichick clearly recognized his potential and traded for him. Welker went on to finish first or second in receptions in 5 out of the next 6 years. Just like Moss, however, after leaving the Patriots, Welker didn’t have much of a career and retired soon after.

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III.  Drew Bledsoe

Number Three: Handing the Reigns to Brady for Good

In 2002, the Patriots traded QB Drew Bledsoe to the Bills for a first round pick.  After the Patriots shocking win in the 2001 Super Bowl, Belichick had a QB controversy at his hands; he had two great quarterbacks in Brady and Bledsoe. Belichick showed his trust in Brady and traded the veteran Bledsoe for a first round pick from the Bills. As we know now the trade was the right move, with Brady going on to win three more Super Bowls (and counting), whereas Bledsoe was out of the league by 2006.

IV.  Corey Dillon

Number Four: Turning Washups into Stars

In 2004, the Patriots acquired RB Corey Dillon from the Cincinnati Bengals for a fourth round draft selection.  Corey Dillon rushed for 541 yards in 2003 when he was nearly 30 years old. He seemed like a washed up running back. In 2004, the Patriots acquired Dillon for a fourth round pick. Dillon produced, rushing for a career high 1635 yards and was the starting running back in fourteen regular season games. Dillon rushed for almost 100 yards per game during the playoffs and was a key part of the Patriots’ Super Bowl run that year.

V. LeGarrette Blount

Number Five: Turning Washups into Stars, Part II

In 2013, the Patriots acquired RB LeGarrette Blount from Tampa Bay in exchange for RB Jeff Demps and a 2013 seventh round pick.  After an unsuccessful year following this trade, Blount was not re-signed by the Patriots and instead signed by the Steelers. The Stealers let him go midway through 2014 and the Patriots re-signed him. He was a key part of the Patriots super bowl run that year.After a solid 2015, Blount has exploded this year, and is currently ranked number five in rushing yards and leads the league in rushing touchdowns with nine.

VI.  Martellus Bennett

Number Six: A Security Blanket

In 2016, The Patriots acquired TE Martellus Bennett and a sixth-round draft pick from the Chicago Bears in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick.  In one of his more recent trades, Belichick acquired Martellus Bennett, a well needed security blanket for star tight end Rob Gronkowski, in exchange for a fourth round draft pick. Bennett has produced huge numbers this year and even leads the league in touchdowns for tight ends.

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VII.  Aqib Talib

Number Seven: Resurrection

In 2012, the Patriots acquired CB Aqib Talib and a seventh-round pick from Tampa Bay for a fourth round draft choice. Talib, after a solid start to his career, had an off year in 2011, so the Bucs traded him to the Patriots midway through 2012. Though Talib didn’t have a great year that year, he exploded the next year and was awarded a huge contract by Denver that offseason. He is now an integral part of the Broncos defense which won them a super bowl last year.

VIII.  Deion Branch

Number Eight: Star Receiver?

In 2006, the Patriots traded WR Deion Branch to the Seahawks in exchange for a first-round selection. In 2006, the Patriots got rid of a solid receiver in Deion Branch. The super bowl MVP just two years prior, Branch looked like one of the league’s up and coming receivers. The Patriots traded him for a first round pick to the Seahawks and he was never the star receiver he looked like he was going to become.

IX. Chandler Jones

Number Nine: Off the Field Issues

In 2016, the patriots acquired G Jonathan Cooper and a 2016 second-round draft pick from the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for DE/LB Chandler Jones.  Just last year, Belichick traded away a player who finished in the top 5 in sacks the year before. Jones was one of the leaders of Belichick’s stingy defense and the trade puzzled many. Belichick was able to overlook his skill and realized he would be detrimental to the team because of his off the field issues, so he traded him away. The Patriots defense hasn’t suffered though, ranking 3rd in points allowed per game (16.5) as opposed to 10th last year (19.7) .

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X. Logan Mankins

Number Ten: I Don’t Care How Many Pro Bowls You Made

In 2014, the New England Patriots G Logan Mankins to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for tight end Tim Wright and a fourth-round draft pick.  Due to Mankins unwillingness to take a paycut, Belichick shipped him to Tampa for Tim Wright and a fourth rounder. While Wright never developed to his full potential in New England, Mankins was never the same and retired the following year after the trade. Mankins was a seven time pro bowler with New England, but Belichick’s genius led to a major money saver for the Patriots.

Ezra Troy and Roey Herzfeld

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NBA Greats: Bulls v Warriors

[Everyone is chatting about the Cubs.  But as the NBA season kicks off, it is time to look back at the 1996 Bulls. How would the best team in NBA history perform against the much ballyhooed Golden State Warriors?  DC-based Ezra Troy gives a fun comparative analysis of the two teams with his prediction about who would win a conceptual head-to-head.]

The 1996 Bulls, widely considered the greatest NBA team of all time (they had the best regular season record at 72-10 until the Warriors went 73-9 last season) were in the midst of six NBA titles in eight seasons. Lead by Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time, the Bulls stormed through the regular season and playoffs, beating the Seattle Supersonics (now OKC Thunder) in six games in the NBA finals to start a three year streak of NBA championships.

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PG: Steph Curry vs. Ron Harper

Harper a vet in his ninth year, started 80 games at PG for the Bulls, but it isn’t even a question. Stephen Curry is setting records and is having one of the best three season stretches for a basketball player in recent memory. Advantage: Warriors

SG: Klay Thompson vs. Michael Jordan

A high scoring threat is how to describe Thompson. One of the “splash bros”, he and Curry… wait MICHAEL JORDAN. The greatest basketball player ever. It isn’t even close: Advantage: Bulls

SF: Kevin Durant vs. Scottie Pippen

Another one of the greats of our generation, Durant decided to go to the Warriors and form a super-team. His resume includes an MVP, four scoring titles, a rookie of the year award and two Olympic gold Medals. Pippen is a seven time all-star and Hall of Famer, but his stats and chances for recognition were diminished by the fact he played second fiddle to MJ. I have to give KD a slight advantage here, but it is really close. Advantage: Warriors

PF: Dennis Rodman vs. Draymond Green

Rodman, after a successful run with the bad boy Pistons, landed on this Bulls team and was immediately a star, leading the league with almost 15 total rebounds and was a monster in the paint and on defense. He is in the Hall of Fame and averaged 7 points and 13 rebounds a game. Green, in his second full year last year, was a stat machine, averaging 1.5 blocks, 1.5 steals, 9.5 rebounds, 14 points and 7.5 assists per game last year. Still, by having teams worried about the splash brothers, Green’s stats are inflated and show him to be a much better player than he actually is. Advantage: Bulls

C: Zaza Pachulia vs Luc Longley

Both pretty run of the mill players, Pachulia and Longley both never made an all-star game, but Pachulia averages one more rebound per game over the course of his career and had a couple of decent seasons, while Longley never amounted to much. Advantage: Warriors

Bench: Andre Igoudala and Shaun Livingston vs. Steve Kerr and Toni Kukoc

Andre Igoudala could start for many NBA teams right now and Livingston is one of the best backup point guard’s in the game today. Kerr came off the bench and shot three’s (just like everyone on Golden State can do today), while Kukoc had a very solid career. Advantage: Warriors

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Prediction: Golden State in Seven

The addition of Durant, a top five NBA player to go along with another top fiver (Curry) and two more in  the top twenty (Green, Thompson), pushes Golden State over the hump. Though they lost much bench depth, this team is better than last year’s (who I think would have lost in seven) and can be considered better than the 1996 Bulls.

Ezra Troy

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Big Controversy in the Big D: Tony Romo or Dak Prescott?

[Here is another solid piece from Adam Shemesh, looking at the drama playing out in Jerry Land. Jones has a big stadium in a big state with a big appetite for football.  He also has a big QB controversy.  

Adam gives us a fresh, timely set of thoughts from past QB controversies.  We believe the past offers real insights into the future here at myespnforkids.com.  Adam ends the article asking for your input.  Let’s hear what you have to say!]

A little over a week before NFL kickoff, the Cowboys received some devastating news. To their dismay (and Internet pranksters’ delight), Tony Romo suffered a spinal fracture and was expected to miss a good chunk of the 2016-17 season.

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Fans of “America’s Team” grumbled and viewed this diagnosis as another season flushed down the toilet. Who was Romo’s replacement?  Enter Dak Prescott. After taking most of the second-team snaps during the preseason, the rookie out of Mississippi State made his NFL debut for Dallas to start the season. Dak- and the Cowboys- haven’t looked back.

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Prescott’s numbers are dazzling. He broke the record for most passes thrown without an INT to start a career (163) and has thrown for four touchdowns, while rushing for three. Most importantly, Dallas is 5-1, which puts them atop the NFC East. Presently, with Romo ready to get back on the field, the ‘Boys have opted to start Dak for their Week 8 contest against the Eagles. Given this tricky QB situation, I thought it would be a good time to look back at a few other QBs to lose their starting job thanks to an injury.

#3). Drew Brees and Philip Rivers (Chargers)

The Chargers had possession of Eli Manning, Drew Brees, and Philip Rivers at one point. Oh, what could have been for a franchise that is now searching for a new home. After two good seasons in San Diego that saw Drew make his first Pro Bowl appearance and lead the Chargers to a 20-11 record, the Chargers let Brees walk after the young QB injured his shoulder during the final week of the 2004-05 season. Rivers has done well in his own right, having made four Pro Bowls over his career. However, San Diego is mired in mediocrity, as they haven’t had more than nine wins in a season since the 2009-10 campaign. As for Brees, he was signed by the Saints in 2006 and took home the franchise’s first and only Super Bowl trophy in 2010, and continues to play at an extremely high level for New Orleans.

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#2). Tom Brady and Drew Bledsoe (Patriots)

These two are perhaps the most memorable duo of the bunch. After a solid career in New England in which Bledsoe was named to three Pro Bowls and made one Super Bowl appearance, everything came to a crashing halt after Drew suffered a huge blow (literally) thanks to the Jets’ Mo Lewis in 2001. Tom Brady stepped in for him and proceeded to win the first of his four Super Bowl titles that season. Meanwhile, Bledsoe was shipped off to Buffalo the next year. Tom is arguably the greatest NFL player ever, and things could have turned out much differently for him had Bledsoe not been injured.

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#1). Joe Montana and Steve Young (49ers)

Having to choose between these two is a good problem to have. Hardly do you ever see two Hall of Fame quarterbacks on the same team. After Montana had etched his name into the record books by winning a then-record four Super Bowls in San Fran, he was replaced by Steve Young to start the 1991 campaign. Young went on to win his second Super Bowl in 1994, putting up 49 points in the Niners’ dominant win over the Chargers. Montana was traded to the Chiefs and finished his career respectably by posting a 17-8 record over his two seasons in Kansas City.

Do you agree with this list? What are some quarterback swaps you remember? Let us know in the comment section!

Adam Shemesh

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NFL: “So, You Are Saying There’s a Chance.”

[Donald Trump isn’t the only one worried about a free fall.   As Washington, DC-based Roey Herzfeld shares in his latest piece, fan in several NFL cities are also struggling to map a path to the postseason.  

As someone that was at a dreadful home loss to Denver in Week One, and an even more tragic loss to the Bears 17-18 in Week Four, I can tell you that I didn’t see anyway that the Chiefs could make the playoffs after Week 6.  They did.  And as Roey frames here, my beloved Chiefs are not alone.]  

For fans of the Jets, Dolphins, Chargers, 49ers, Bears and Panthers, the start of this NFL season has been disappointing to say the least. The high expectations of Panthers, Jets, and Chargers have been crushed and if not for a quick turnaround those teams will not be playing in the playoffs.

Fortunately for this group of teams there have been cases where teams that have started 1-4 made it into the playoffs. Let’s take a look at the six teams who have done it.

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1992 Chargers

This Charger team began their season with four straight losses before turning it around and winning their next four games. They eventually won the division and beat the Chiefs in the first round of the playoffs before being defeated by the Dolphins.

1993 Oilers

In the following year, the Houston Oilers began their season 1-4. Led by Hall of fame quarterback Warren Moon, the Oilers then went on to win their next 11 games before eventually falling to the Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

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2002 Jets

After heading into their bye week with a record of 1-4, Coach Herm Edwards managed to take his team to the “playoffs” by winning the division with a 9-7 record. The Jets blew out the colts 41-0 in the first round but fell to the Raiders in the Divisional Round.

2002 Titans

In the same year, the Titans dropped to 1-4 before winning 10 out of their next 11 games to win the division. The Titans defeated the Steelers in Overtime in the divisional round but like the Jets fell to that same Oakland Raiders team in the Conference Finals.

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2015 Chiefs

The most recent team to accomplish this feat was last year’s Chiefs. The Chiefs began their season 1-5 and then won their next ten games winning a wild card spot. The Chiefs were defeated by the Patriots in the Divisional Round.

Roey Herzfeld

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Bridge Dedication Brings Further Recognition to “Buck” O’Neill

As I have written in the past, the Negro Leagues are one of the great, and too frequently untold, stories of modern American History. The League didn’t just change baseball, but shaped the country itself.

The Negro Leagues had some wonderful stars from Rube Foster to Josh Gibson to Satchel Paige to Buck O’Neil. You can see them all at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City (which I have written about in the past http://myespnforkids.com/?p=525) including their moving Field of Legends.

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As Ken Burns’ wonderful film on baseball brought to life, Buck O’Neil was a standout first baseman and manager for the Kansas City Monarchs. He would go on to be a Major League (MLB) scout helping “discover” both Lou Brock and Ernie Banks.  O’Neil would later become the first black coach in the MLB. Then, late in life, Buck would spend his time as what former Senator Al Simpson rightly called an amazing ambassador for both the Negro Leagues and the NLB museum (NLBM) that he helped found. At every stage of life, he was quick with a story and smile.

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In 2006, a special 12-person committee was created to include Negro League baseball players and managers in Cooperstown. As author and sports columnist Joe Posnaski and others have written, Buck was considered a lock. Unfortunately, as word emerged from the deliberations, fans were disappointed to learn that he fell one vote shy.

Hundreds of people were gathered at the NLB museum for what they assumed would be a great celebration. It was not to be. However, as I learned in my research for National History Day last year, there was no bitterness or disappointment from Buck. As Kansas City businessman Jim Nutter recalled, he was all smiles and even consoling others. News accounts would recall Buck saying, “Shed no tears for Buck.” It was a true testament to the man.

On Thursday, the state of Missouri dedicated and renamed the Broadway Bridge that runs right into the heart of downtown Kansas City as the Buck O’Neil Bridge. The dedication was timed to coincide with the 10th anniversary of his death.

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At the NLBM gathering where Buck learned he had not made the Hall, he said, “Just keep loving old Buck.” The FL native became one of Kansas City’s favorite sons. This latest tribute is another example of his powerful impact on the city and on the game of baseball. We just keep loving old Buck.

Powers Trigg

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MLB: As October Arrives, Questions Loom

[Many purists hated (and perhaps still hate) the expanded number of playoff series and games. As a Royals fan, I can tell you that it was an absolute joy to follow the ups and downs of the postseason the last two years.  And so, October and postseason baseball are finally upon on us.  

As I have consistently noted on the site, NYC-based Adam Shemesh is one of the best junior writers on baseball today.  Some readers will recall my earlier article on the great Peter Gammons.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Adam follow in his footsteps.  Shemesh delivers once again here with three key questions that loom large in the postseason for each of the teams still lacing it up in October.]  

Let’s ask the big questions for each of the American League and National League teams that made it to the  2016 postseason:

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I. AMERICAN LEAGUE

A. Baltimore Orioles

1- How will the starting pitching perform?

The Orioles have been heralded for their vaunted offense all year, but you can’t slug your way to a World Series. Baltimore’s starting staff posted an ERA of 4.74 during the regular season, by far the worst of any playoff contender. They also tossed just one complete game all year and issued 336 walks (6th worst in MLB). While the O’s offense is the main attraction, their pitching will ultimately decide their fate.

2- Will overuse of the bullpen catch up to the O’s?

Because of their poor starting staff, Buck Showalter has been forced to heavily lean on Brad Brach, Darren O’Day, and Zach Britton- or ‘BOB’ as the trio of former starters is known in Baltimore. Brach has been leaned on the heaviest- his 78 IP put him at 8th most amongst relievers. And the wear showed, as Brad pitched to a bloated 5.06 ERA in August and allowed 4 runs over .1.  IP in his final outing of the season. While Britain has done just fine (.75 second half ERA), O’Day posted a 4.91 second-half ERA. If Baltimore’s starters only give them 5 innings in the playoffs, it will be tough to bridge the gap to Britton without any hiccups.

3- How will rough home crowds affect Baltimore’s players?

This might seem like a weird question, but it could come into play should the Orioles make it past the one game playoff with the Jays. This year, they drew just 26,000 fans per game, or 5th worst in the American League. Superstar center fielder Adam Jones called the scene “eerie” and even “pathetic”. If the Orioles are playing a playoff game and half the ballpark is empty that might start to get in the back of a player’s mind.

B. Toronto Blue Jays

1- Will the Jays be able to find momentum after stumbling into the playoffs?

For most of the year, Toronto were favorites to repeat in the AL east. They have great hitting and the best starting staff of any AL squad, at least on paper. However, they nearly missed the playoffs altogether thanks to a 11-16 September slide. While they are coming off a nice series win in Fenway, the Jays need a big win to get themselves going again.

2- How will the Jays’ complementary pieces fare on offense?

The Jays lineup is headed by a three-headed monster that’s the best in the game- Donaldson, Bautista, and Encarnacion. The trio combined for 101 homers and 295 RBI this season. However, things get a bit murky after there. The real key to the Blue Jays’ playoff hopes is how well players like Kevin Pillar, Russell Martin, and Michael Saunders (along with the oft-injured Troy Tulowitzki) will be able to contribute in October.

3- Will the Jays be able to keep their emotions in check should they reach an ALDS matchup with Texas?

Last year, Jose Bautista’s epic bat flip in game 5 of the ALDS capped of an incredible comeback for the Jays and ignited a feud with the Rangers that still hasn’t calmed down, a statement that is backed up by the fact that Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor punched Bautista earlier this year. Unlike in 2015, the Rangers are the top dog this time around with the Blue Jays being a WC team. Will Toronto be able to (literally) roll with the punches and stay focused against a Ranger team that’s out for revenge?

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C. Texas Rangers

#1- How will Texas manage its pitching staff in October?

The Rangers’ ace Cole Hamels was in the running for the AL CY Young as recently as a month ago. However, he finished the season by posting a horrendous 5.86 September ERA, allowing 6 or more runs twice. However, Cole has a wealth of playoff experience and the real question comes after his turn in the rotation. Yu Darvish is surely the Rangers’ #2 option, but how long of a leash will GM Jon Daniels allow manager Jeff Banister to give Darvish following his Tommy John surgery? After You, Banister will most likely call on lefty Martin Perez, who brings in a host of problems as well. His 5.87 road ERA ranks among the worst in the league.  After those three, the Rangers will be forced to put together a combo of Colby Lewis/ Derek Holland, two hurlers that missed significant time this year, in the 4th spot.

#2- How will Texas’ bullpen fare?

The Rangers’ pen posted the worst ERA of any playoff team at 4.40 and struck out the least amount of batters of any Open.  They’ve been through multiple closing changes this year- from Shawn Tolleson to Sam Dyson to the embattled former #1 overall pick Matt Bush. Everyone knows that you can’t win in October without a strong pen, and the Rangers may be in serious trouble after they refused to address their bullpen needs at the deadline in favor of acquiring more hitters.

#3- How will the Rangers be affected by last year’s shenanigans with the Jays?

Texas was up 2-0 in last year’s ALDS before imploding by losing the last three games of that series en route to a crushing defeat. This year, they are on a mission and I think this club will channel its fiery energy and use it for good as they try to finish what they started against last year’s Toronto squad.

D. Boston Red Sox

#1- Will David Price alleviate his playoff woes?

I have not singled out a player yet in this article, but David Price is worthy- albeit for all the wrong reasons. The Sox $200,000,000 man suffered an up-and-down season in 2016 and is now thrust back into the playoffs, a scene where he has been notoriously bad as a starter. Last year, Price allowed 5 runs on two separate occasions, including blowing a lead in the Royals’ game 6 clincher in the ALCS. If Price can pitch well this October, Sox fans will certainly forgive him for this year’s poor campaign.

#2- How will the Sox young superstars react to the big stage?

There are not many players left from the Sox 2013 World Series Championship squad. In fact, only four players remain from that roster (I’m including Clay Buchholz, who may not even crack the playoff squad). Since that year, Jackie Bradley, Mookie Betts, Hanley Ramirez and Rick Porcello have burst onto the scene. While those guys are all stars, we’ve seen how the bright lights of October can humble even the best players (See: Price, David).

#3- Will Craig Kimbrel’s September struggles continue in October?

Craig Kimbrel has been excellent for the most part of 2016. However, he posted a 6 ERA and 0-3 record in September. He also holds a suspiciously high 3.38 ERA in save situations. As we noted before, you can’t go far in the playoffs without a good bullpen, and the Sox will need Kimbrel to turn the page on maybe his worst Major League month if they want to hoist the WS trophy again.

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E. Cleveland Indians

#1- How will the Indians makeshift rotation do in the playoffs?

Going into the year, the Indians had a very underrated starting corps led by Danny Salazar, Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco.  After injuries to Carrasco and Salazar, all that remains is Kluber. After him is Trevor Bauer, a starter who has shown flashes of dominance in the past but posted a poor 4.26 ERA this year and has literally no postseason experience. After him is the up-and-down
Josh Tomlin and then Zach McAllister to round out a suddenly hittable rotation.

#2- How will Terry Francona manage a team with little to no playoff experience?

For most of the Indians squad, a 2013 WC game loss to the Rays is all they know about the postseason. Terry Francona is obviously a seasoned manager, but it may be hard to keep a bunch of 20-something’s focused in October.

#3- Who will close games for the Indians?

While this is not necessarily a vital question, I’d be interested to see how Francona manages his bullpen in the playoffs. Earlier in the year, he did not shy away from putting in prized acquisition Andrew Miller in as early as the 7th inning, but I wonder if Francona will use Miller as a full-time closer in the playoffs.

II. NATIONAL LEAGUE

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A. New York Mets

#1- Will the team figure out how to hit with runners in scoring position?

Just like there are no World Series winners with bad bullpens, there are also no World Series winners who can’t hit with men on base. This year, the Mets’ .225 RISP average put them at dead last in that category. They also finished last with runs scored with a man in scoring position and on-base percentage in that scenario. If they want to make another deep playoff run, the Mets’ will have to transform into more than just a one-dimensional team.

#2- Will the makeshift rotation be able to keep up the good work?

Going into the year, the Mets’ pitching staff composed of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Noah Syndergaard, and Bartolo Colon with Zach Wheeler set to make a return to the hill sometime in July. Since Opening Day, Harvey, Matz, and deGrom have been sidelined for the entire year and Syndergaard has dealt with bone spurs, leaving Colon as the only man who has not missed a start this year. After it was announced that Matz and deGrom would be missing the rest of the year in late August, the Mets called up starters Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo. The two rookie hurlers have combined for 15 starts and a sub-3 ERA over 108.2 innings.  However, these young Mets had the benefit of playing only sub-.500 teams in September and will now be forced to compete with the best of the best for the first time in their careers, bringing us to my final point on the Mets.

#3- Is this team ready to face playoff teams?

Over the final month of the season, the Mets’ played only one team above .500 (the Nationals). Outside of that series, New York only played the Braves, Phillies, Reds and Twins the rest of the way- those 4 teams are probably the worst baseball has to offer. As we know, any team that makes the postseason is extremely tough to beat. The Giants are coming off a sweep of the Dodgers, while the Mets haven’t played a good team in over a month.

B. San Francisco Giants

#1- Will Madison Bumgarner be able to turn the page on his second half struggles?

After Clayton Kershaw’s injury, MadBum looked like the clear CY Young favorite going into the All-Star Break. After the Midsummer Classic, he posted a very pedestrian 3.80 ERA to go along with 50 less strikeouts than he had in the first half. While I acknowledge that he is a totally different player in the postseason, you cannot totally ignore his most recent two months and a half.

#2- Is the bullpen capable of closing games?

You’ll hear many a Giant fan brag about their “even year” success. None of that would have happened without a sturdy bullpen.  In 2010, Brian Wilson wowed us with his amazing beard. In 2012, it was Sergio Romo’s turn. In 2014, Santiago Casilla shut the door on many crucial victories. This might seem like a silly question, but it is totally applicable to these Giants. They blew a remarkable 30 saves in 2016- that means a blown save once per week. Those 30 games could have gave the Giants an easy ride to NL West glory, but instead they’ve had to go the hard way. Santiago Casilla is certainly not the answer- his 9 blown saves were the most in the majors. Nor is deadline acquisition Will Smith- he ranks in the top 10 with 5 blown saves. It will be very hard for the Giants to navigate through the playoffs without a solidified closer role.

#3- Will Buster Posey return to being… Buster Posey?

Buster Posey was on his way to becoming an All-Time great- he already has three World Series rings, an MVP award, and three Silver Sluggers. However, Posey has hit a brick wall in 2016. In his 8th year in the bigs, the Georgia native posted season-lows in batting average (.288), homers (14), and OPS (.796- David Ortiz posted a 1.021 mark to lead the Majors in that category). While still maintaining his status as a solid receiver (three errors all season), Posey will need to rediscover his middle-of-the order bat or the Giants will be doomed.

C. Chicago Cubs

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#1- How will the Cubs handle playing meaningful baseball? 

After winning the WC game last year, Chicago held the top spot in the NL central for all but 7 days in 2016. It’s fair to say they’ve coasted throughout the entire season. While Joe Maddon is heralded as one of baseball’s brightest minds, it will be a tough task for him to motivate this Cubs team due to the fact that they have not played in anywhere near a playoff-type atmosphere this season. Additionally, Maddon and the Cubs will experience a long layoff (about a week). That week can help teams (See- ‘15 Royals) or hurt them (See- ‘15 Cardinals). While I’ll still give the Cubs a good chance to hoist the WS trophy, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

#2- Will the rotation perform as advertised?

The Cubs have been said to have the best playoff rotation- Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, John Lackey. Lackey and Lester have had a wealth of playoff experience, so I’m not worried about them. However, it’s a different story with Hendricks and Arrieta. Let’s start with Jake. After winning the 2015 NL CY Young, he has regressed mightily this year. Arrieta issued a whopping 78 free passes (46 last year), and his 3.10 ERA ranked a good run and a half higher than 2015’s 1.77 mark. Cubs fans may remember that after Arrieta tossed a shutout in the NL WC game, Jake surrendered 4 runs in his NLDS and NLCS starts last season, two games that the Cubs lost. As for Hendricks, he enjoyed his breakout year in 2016, posting a miniscule 2.13 ERA while quietly emerging as the Cubs’ regular season case. Like Arrieta, Hendricks faltered in last year’s playoffs- lasting no more than 4.2 innings over his two starts (One vs. STL, One vs. Mets).

#3- How will the Cubs handle Jason Heyward in October?

Baseball’s newest $200,000,000 position player recorded an awful .230 AVG and .309 OBP while only hitting 7 homers in 2016, by far his worst season statistically. However, both GM Theo Epstein and MANAGER Joe Maddon have lauded Heyward’s defensive prowess- he posted a career-high 28 defensive runs saved (A new stat started by Baseball Reference, consider it like WAR but fielding-exclusive).  However, can you really be playing a .230 hitter in the playoffs? I’ll be interested to see if the Cubbies have the guts to start Jorge Soler or Willson Contreras in right while only using Heyward as a late-inning defensive replacement.

D. Washington Nationals

#1- How will injuries to the team’s best players affect their playoff chances?

After not being hit hard by the injury bug all year, the Nationals superstars have gone down in droves during September. Daniel Murphy, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, and backstop Wilson Ramos were all sidelined for significant amounts of time in September. Murphy just enjoyed his best year at the plate, falling just one point shy of winning the batting title. Harper has had a down year, but he can still make a valuable difference in the field and in the clubhouse. Strasburg didn’t lose his first game until July, but has now announced that it’s unlikely he will pitch in the playoffs, furthering the stereotype that he’s not a big-game pitcher. As for Ramos, he was arguably the best hitting catcher in the Majors in 2016 and held the pitching staff together. With no Strasburg, no Ramos and limited availability of Harper and Murphy, I don’t think a championship is in the cards for these Nats.

#2- How will the rotation be affected by the loss of Ramos?

A catcher will tell you that his number one priority on any given night is to be on the same page with the starting pitcher.  Over the course of 2016, Nats starters grew to be comfortable with Wilson Ramos behind the plate. All of a sudden, Ramos’ season-ending injury has forced backup catcher Jose Lobaton into a starting role- Lobaton caught only 39 games this year, or around 100 less than Ramos.

#3- Will Dusty Baker be able to avoid more bad playoff luck?

Dusty Baker has been the victim of unlucky breaks and bounces for around a decade now. Baker was at the helm in 2003, when Steve Bartman infamously reached over the stands and probably cost the Cubs a world series birth. A few years later, he was in the dugout as Roy Halladay threw just the second no-hitter in playoff history against Dusty’s Reds. Will Baker finally be able to receive a stroke of October luck or will it be more of the same for the loose, outgoing skipper?

E. Los Angeles Dodgers

#1- Will the Dodgers be able to avoid another early playoff exits?

After years of winning the division only to be knocked out in the playoffs, the Dodgers decided to get rid of Don Mattingly after the 2015 season. They hired the soft spoken Dave Roberts to take the helm. Under Roberts’ leadership, this short-handed Dodger team has somehow found its way to the NLDS yet again. Being a Yankee fan, I know of Roberts’ 2004 ALCS Heroics. Will his playoff experience allow for a deep October run?

#2- How will the Dodgers handle Clayton Kershaw?

Ever since signing their star ace to a $300,000,000 deal a few years ago, Dodgers management has coddled their prized possession.  This year, they eased him back from a mild back injury that ended up costing the Dodger ace over two months. It will be intriguing to see how the front office directs Roberts to manage Clayton in October, or if they will give him free reign to go for a championship.

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#3- Will Clayton Kershaw dispel of the myth that he can’t pitch in October?

Clayton Kershaw has a bad reputation in the playoffs. However, I looked up his postseason stats and realized that all of his postseason starts have been Kershaw-like save for a poor performance in the 2013 NLCS, when he allowed 7 runs to the Cardinals. In last year’s postseason, Kershaw shut down the Mets on the road in an elimination game, striking out 10 over 7 frames. With a few more good starts, he can buy himself a new playoff reputation.

Adam Shemesh

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NFL: Color Rush Match Ups

[MyESPNforkids regular Ezra Troy joins together with his DC-based friend Rami Sloan for a fun look at the top color rush match ups in the National Football League.]

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  • Dolphins vs. Bengals (Week Four) Dolphins – The all-out orange is straight-up stupendous. They were lucky to have great colors for color rush, and used it well. Bengals- At first look, I didn’t like it. Then I saw the black stripes. The dark orange helmets against the white jerseys and pants are very nice.
  • Broncos vs. Chargers (Week Six) Broncos – Similar to the Dolphins all out orange, the Broncos all out orange is great. Combined with the great Navy helmets, the Broncos have a great color rush uniform, not to mention the bringing back of their old helmets. Chargers – The horrible powder blue normally used by the Chargers is gone, replaced by a light navy. That, combined with the gold lightning streaks, is why the chargers have an amazing color rush uniform.
  • Raiders vs. Chiefs (Week Fourteen) Chiefs – The Bills’ red is cool. The Chiefs red is even cooler with the red helmets, giving them a complete color rush look. The red-on-red-on-red look on-field is going to be astonishing. Raiders – The Raiders is simple and sweet. Their signature silver on a white background gives a nice, classy look.
  • Rams vs. Seahawks (Week Fifteen) Seahawks: Considered a top color rush uniform by many, it is hard to disagree. The neon green has been an alternate jersey in the past, and this time, in a cleaner look combined with the same color pants make and awesome uniform combination. Rams: The yellow, much better than the Jags mustard, seamlessly combines with the navy to form a beautiful combination and make this one of the best color rush matchups of the season.

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  • Giants vs. Eagles (Week Sixteen) Giants- similar to the Raiders, the simple jerseys work again. Their red-blue outline on the white background gives them a clean and fresh look that will sparkle on the final Thursday Night Football of the year. Eagles- my Eagles have worn this jersey before, but it’s sick every time. Even though I think that all-midnight green jerseys would have been even cooler, this black-on-black jerseys are a dynamic duo that are timelessly stunning.

Rami Sloan and Ezra Troy

Cooperstown Contemplations

[This one is genius. If you have ever wondered about what current MLB players will make it to Cooperstown, Ezra Troy weighs in here with a brilliant piece. An informed view has to start with a deep look at the history of the Hall. Troy delivers it and then goes on the line with his picks from the current crop of MLB greats.]

The Hall of Fame. The biggest honor for an MLB player is to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. On average, there are about 31 MLB players playing that will make the Hall of Fame. Every sixth year since the Hall of Fame was established (1946, 1956…), an average of 33 players playing make the Hall of Fame1, 2, 3. I included those players as well as 32 players who would make the Hall of Fame if 32 players playing today had to make the Hall4.

1946: Ted Lyons, Red Ruffing, Mel Ott, Bill Dickey, Hank Greenberg, Luke Appling, Billy Herman, Ernie Lombardi, Arky Vaughn, Joe Medwick, Bob feller, Joe Dimaggio, Johnny Mize, Bobby Doer, Joe Gordon, Lou Bordereu, Enos Slaughter, Ted Williams, Early Winn, Hal Newhouser, Pee Wee Reese, Phil Rizzuto, Bob Lemon, Stan Musial, Warren Spahn, Larry Doby, George Kell, Red Schoendienst, Ralph Kiner, Yogi Berra: 30

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1956: Bob Feller, Enos Slaughter, Ted Williams, Early Winn, Pee Wee Reese, Phil Rizzuto, Bob Lemon, Stan Musial, Warren Spahn, Larry Doby, George Kell, Red Schoendienst, Yogi Berra, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Nelly Fox, Roy Campenella, Richie Ashburn, Robin Roberts, Whitey Ford, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Eddie Mathews, Hoyt Wilhelm, Ernie Banks, Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew, Sandy Koufax, Jim Bunning, Roberto Clemente, Brooks Robinson, Don Drysdale, Bill Mazeroski, Luis Apparicio, Frank Robinson: 35

1966: Yogi Berra, Robin Roberts, Whitey Ford, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Eddie Mathews, Hoyt Wilhelm, Ernie Banks, Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew, Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, Jim Bunning, Roberto Clemente, Brooks Robinson, Don Drysdale, Bill Mazeroski, Luis Apparicio, Frank Robinson, Orlando Cepeda, Bob Gipson, Billy Williams, Willlie McCovey, Ron Santo, Juan Marichal, Lou Brock, Carl Yastrezemski, Willie Stargel, Gaylord Perry, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Phil Niekro, Catfish Hunter, Ferguson Jenkins, Jim Palmer, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, Don Sutton: 38

1976: Hank Aaron, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Billy Williams, Willlie McCovey, Lou Brock, Carl Yastrezemski, Willie Stargel, Gaylord Perry, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Phil Niekro, Catfish Hunter, Ferguson Jenkins, Jim Palmer, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, Don Sutton, Johnny Bench, Rod Carew, Tom Seaver, Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, Carlton Fisk, Bert Blyleven, Mike Schmidt, Goose Gosage, George Brett, Dave Winfield, Jim Rice, Gary Carter, Robin Yount, Dennis Eckersley, Bruce Sutter: 34

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1986: Tony Perez, Phil Niekro, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, Don Sutton, Tom Seaver, Reggie Jackson, Carlton Fisk, Bert Blyleven, Mike Schmidt, Goose Gosage, George Brett, Dave Winfield, Jim Rice, Gary Carter, Robin Yount, Dennis Eckersley, Bruce Sutter, Andre Dawson, Eddie Murray, Ozzie Smith, Paul Molitor, Ricky Henderson, Ryan Sandberg, Cal Ripken Jr, Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn, Kirby Pucket, Barry Larkin, Greg Maddux: 30

1996: Dennis Eckersley, Andre Dawson, Eddie Murray, Ozzie Smith, Paul Molitor, Ricky Henderson, Ryan Sandberg, Cal Ripken Jr, Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn, Barry Larkin, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Roberto Alomar, Craig Biggio, Randy Johnsohn, John Smoltz, Ken Griffey Jr, Frank Thomas, Mike Piazza, Pedro Marinez, Jim Thome*, Jeff Bagwell*, Ivan Rodriguez*, Trevor Hoffman*, Chipper Jones*, Manny Ramirez*, Mariano Rivera*, Derek Jeter* Vladamir Gurrero*, Andruw Jones*: 31*

20062: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Roberto Alomar, Craig Biggio, Randy Johnsohn, John Smoltz, Ken Griffey Jr, Frank Thomas, Mike Piazza, Pedro Marinez, Jim Thome*, Ivan Rodriguez*, Trevor Hoffman*, Manny Ramirez*, Chipper Jones*, Marino Rivera*, Derek Jeter* Vladamir Gurrero*, Andruw Jones*, Roy Halladay*, Cliff Lee*: 20*

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Current Players who will make the Hall of Fame4

  1. David Ortiz
  2. Albert Pujols
  3. Ichiro Suzuki
  4. Mike Trout
  5. Clayton Kershaw
  6. Adrian Beltre
  7. Robinson Cano
  8. Yadier Molina
  9. Buster Posey
  10. Bryce Harper
  11. Manny Machado
  12. Paul Goldschmidt
  13. Kris Bryant
  14. Mookie Betts
  15. Noah Syndergaard
  16. Chris Sale
  17. Madison Bumgardener
  18. Evan Longoria
  19. Felix Hernandez
  20. Giancarlo Stanton
  21. Miguel Cabrera
  22. Carlos Beltran
  23. Victor Martinez
  24. CC Sabathia
  25. Andrew Mccutchen
  26. Joe Mauer
  27. Mark Texiera
  28. Justin Verlander
  29. Adrian Gonzalez
  30. Dustin Pedroia
  31. Ryan Howard
  32. Matt Holliday

Ezra Troy

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NFL: Upside Surprise

[There is a new voice shaping the narrative at myespnforkids.com.  It’s Roey Herzfeld.  The Washington, DC-based Herzfeld has a passion for sports, a keen eye for the top storylines and weighs in with his second piece in as many a days on something that is on everyone’s mind.  What are the big early stories in the NFL?  If you are on his list, congratulations.  If you are still living with the uncertainty that often surrounds the early weeks of the NFL season (and certainly surrounds my 2-1 Chiefs facing a tough game Sunday at Pittsburgh), you can take solace in the fact that no one (maybe with the exception of the Jags and Browns) is out of it yet. Well done, Roey.]   

Fall football is in the air.  And as we await some important Week Four action, let’s pause at midweek and take a look at the five biggest surprises so far early in this NFL season.

  • 5. Broncos
    • Following their super bowl win, questions surrounded the quarterback position. The summer was filled with controversy and competition leaving Broncos fans wondering who would take over after Peyton Manning. Gary Kubiak named Trevor Siemian as his starter and Semian has not looked back. The Broncos are 3-0. We knew their defense was going to be good, but their offense has been surprisingly decent due to Trevor Siemian’s play at quarterback.

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  • 4. Vikings
    • Minnesota’s sharp defense has led them to a 3-0 start, defeating two very good teams in the Packers and the Panthers.  Many expected this from Minnesota…until Teddy Bridgewater, their quarterback of the future tore his ACL.  Questions surrounded Minnesota’s front office to see how they would respond. Rick Spielman responded with a head-scratching trade. Sam Bradford was headed to Minnesota for a first rounder. But now it’s Spielman who looks like the genius as the Vikings defense, along with Bradford, have carried Minnesota to a 3-0 start.
  • 3. Cardinals
    • Coming into the season the Cardinals were one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl. Now they are 1-2 and have lost to a Tom Brady-less Patriots and what was a winless Bills team that looked abysmal in their losses to the Jets and Ravens. Arizona’s unfortunate start is really a head scratcher. There’s not one issue that can be pinpointed, the Cardinals are just simply not executing.  On a side note, the Panthers are also off to 1-2 start, but it’s less surprising considering the quality of their losses, as they have lost to the Broncos and Vikings.
  • 2. Patriots
    • After the news of Tom Brady’s 4 game suspension came out, experts suggested that a Patriots 2-2 or 1-3 would be a successful start due to conditions of the team.  However, Bill Belichick, in some of his best coaching efforts of his career, has taken two young quarterbacks and has led this team to a 3-0 start. The most impressive part of this fast start is the teams they are beating. Arizona, Houston, and Miami. All teams who had big expectations for this year, which makes their start all the more impressive.

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  • 1. Eagles
    • The biggest surprise so far of the NFL season is the hot start of the Eagles. Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz are only the second rookie quarterback and rookie coach to start their careers at 3-0. The Eagles have been phenomenal allowing an average of 9 points a game. Carson Wentz is off to an unbelievable start with 5 TD’s no interceptions and a passer rating of 103.8! The Eagles unexpectedly look like one of the top teams so far and they have a shot at going far this year.

Roey Herzfeld

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In Memoriam: Jose Fernandez

This morning, I was sitting with my friend and he showed me his phone. It was an ESPN alert “Breaking.”  It said, “Marlins Pitcher Jose Fernandez has been killed in a boating accident”.

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No way! I thought. It must be a mistake, just like when reports were out that Mike Trout had been killed in a car accident, but he didn’t actually die. As the day went on, however, it became clear that this was no mistake. Jose Fernandez (1992-2016), along with two other people, had been killed when their boat crashed into rocks at around three in the morning.

I could not believe it (and still, as I am writing this article, am overcome with sadness, shock and disbelief). Fernandez, 24, had been one of the best pitchers in the game. He was a Cuban defect (it took him four tries), Rookie of the Year, recovered from Tommy John injury in 13 months and was in the race for Cy Young this year (16-8, 2.86, 253).  Now we learned that he had been killed.

The whole day, my ESPN app and Sports Center were flooded with Jose Fernandez stories. They told of his happiness, charisma and his never give up attitude. They told of his pitching mastery, how he was going to be a Hall of Famer and was all-time great. They told of his mother and grandmother, his two biggest supporters, that he left behind. They told me that the world missed out on an incredible hurler and, more importantly, an incredible person. We will miss you Jose Fernandez.

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I would like to dedicate this article in memory of Jose Fernandez, an all-world hurler and an even better person.

Ezra Troy

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2016 World Series: Chicago vs. Cleveland

The tale of two cities. Cleveland and Chicago. With the baseball season coming to an end, the remarkable seasons of both the Cubs and the Indians led me to wonder which team is more destined to win it all this year. Of course, there are plenty of other teams in contention for the World Series, but none would mean more to its city than a Cubs or Indians victory.

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For most people, the answer seems obvious. The Cubs are more destined. This is finally the year the suffering ends and Theo Epstein’s genius takes Chicago to the promised land. Cubs fans have been waiting for awhile now. It’s been 108 years since the Cubs won it all, the longest active drought in the sports world. But this really seems like the year they will do it. After last seasons run came to a heartbreaking sweep courtesy of Daniel Murphy’s heroics, the Cubs have not missed a beat and have been the best team in baseball for the whole season. The Cubs are looking for their first 100 win season since 1935 and fans have many reasons to believe this is the year.

However, a Cleveland World Series win would be just as special. Prior to Lebron James’ heroic performance in this year’s NBA Finals, Cleveland sports hadn’t won a title in over 50 years. But in 2016 they broke that curse with a Cavaliers championship. Now the Indians are looking to add to the 2016 legacy and make it a year Cleveland will remember forever. The year not only Lebron took us to the promised land but a year where Terry Francona surprised the sports world with an Indians World Series.

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The Indians seem even more destined than the Cubs to win it. This is the year of Cleveland. 2016. And every night Jose Ramirez seems to be hitting a walk off pushing his team to the top spot in the division. The Indians are a miracle team and Cleveland would rejoice with another championship.

Roey Herzfeld

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Great Eight: Troy’s Top NFL Performers in Week Two

[Here are Ezra’s top performers in Week Two.  I am calling this list the “Great Eight.”  It is a QB-heavy catalog with some marquee running backs and wideouts rounding out the second half of his short list.  Every time you read his post, you think: thank God he is not in my Fantasy League.  Well done, Ezra.]

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  • Matt Ryan, QB, ATL: In a win over Oakland, Ryan threw for 396 yards and 3 TD’s on 34 of 48 passing
  • Ryan Tannehill, QB, MIA: In a loss to the Patriots, Tannehill threw for 389 yard and 2 TD’s on 32 of 45 passing.
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, NYJ: Fitzpatrick threw for 374 yards in a Thursday night win against the division rival Bills
  • Eli Manning, QB, NYG: In a win over the Saints Eli threw for 368 yards in his 40th career game with over 300 yards passing.

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  • Isiah Crowell, RB, CLE: In a loss to Baltimore, Crowell averaged over 7 yards a carry with 133 yards and a touchdown.
  • Matt Forte, RB, NYJ: In a win against the Bills, Forte had his 25th career game with over 100 yards to go with 3 TD’S
  • Stefon Diggs, WR, MIN: In a win against the division rival Packers Sunday night, Diggs went off, with 9 receptions, a touchdown and 182 yards.
  • Corey Coleman, WR, CLE: In his second career game, Coleman had 2 TD’s, 5 receptions and 104 yards.

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There were also some notable injuries, including seven RB’s that went down including Adrian Peterson (torn Meniscus, no timetable to return), Doug Martin (hamstring, three weeks), Arian Foster (groin, one-two weeks), Jonathan Stewart (leg, up to two weeks) and Danny Woodhead (Torn ACL, season).  And of course, the Pats are in a major pinch at the QB spot as backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo sprained his AC against the Dolphins.

It should make for an interesting Week Three.

Ezra Troy

 

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NFL Look Back: Top Games of Week Two

[It was a tough week to be a Chiefs fan.  Len Dawson, the legendary Chiefs quarterback turned announcer, likes to say that two things kill football teams: turnovers and penalties.  The Chiefs had a bunch of both in an ugly loss to the Texans.  Ezra Troy gives his quick take on the Top Five games of the week, including the Chiefs making the list at number four.]

Let’s take a look back at the Top Five games of Week Two:

5. Rams 9, Seahawks 3

In the Rams return to Los Angeles, they faced a very tough opponent, one of the premiere NFC teams, the Seattle Seahawks. Improbably, the Rams led the Seahawks 9-3 in the fourth quarter behind Greg Zurelein’s 3 field goals. With the Seahawks driving, it looked like Russel Wilson would complete his second straight game-winning drive. After a five yard catch at the Rams 25 by Seattle running back Christine Michael, Rams safety Mark Barron forced a fumble that Alec Ogletree recovered and the Rams were able to hang on.

4. Texans 19, Chiefs 12

In a rematch of a playoff game last year, two of the top up and coming teams squared off. Led by Deandre Hopkins’ 113 receiving yards and a touchdown, the Texans were able to beat the Chiefs in a rematch of a game they lost in last year’s playoffs 30-0. Though the Chiefs were able to get 3 field goals to pull within seven in the fourth quarter, but the Texans were able to recover the Chiefs onside kick with less than a minute left to secure the win.

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3. Steelers 24, Bengals 16

In a rematch of last years most heated playoff game, the Steelers, led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s 259 yards and three touchdowns were able to pull out a victory. Though only down eight in the final minutes, the Bengals committed two turnovers and cost themselves a chance at overtime against their heated rival.

2. Cowboys 27, Redskins 23

Alfred Morris scored the go-ahead touchdown against his former team, giving the Cowboys just their second win without Tony Romo in the past 16 games (both against the Redskins). With the Redskins up 23-20 and at the Cowboys 6, Kirk Cousins threw an interception and it all went downhill from there as the Redskins fell to 0-2 on the season.

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1. Vikings 17, Packers 14

In a highly anticipated matchup between two division rivals the Teddy Bridgewater-less Vikings were able to pull out an upset victory thanks to incredible play by Sam Bradford and an interception by Cornerback Trae Waynes with under two minutes remaining. The Vikings defense also led the way, forcing two turnovers in the fourth quarter and sacking Aaron Rodgers five times.

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Ezra Troy

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Readership Growth Continues!

It is a great time of year for sports as the MLB pennant race heats up, the NFL kicks off and CFB ramps into high gear.  There are lots of storylines to cover.  We have had some solid new articles from writers Adam Shemesh and Ezra Troy.

It is incredibly gratifying, as we post new content on the website, that readers continue to seek out our site.  We have had over 2,000 new readers this year alone. While we don’t have location data on all of our readers, our top cities are New York, Chicago and Kansas City.  We also have seen impressive year-over-year growth from Washington, D.C., Maryland and Massachusetts.

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We look forward to continuing to write pieces this fall, even as we juggle the demands of the school year and fall sports.  We appreciate the support.  Ben Franklin once said, “Either do something worth writing about or write something worth reading.”  This website hopefully is a little bit of both.  Thank you for keeping us in mind as you seek knowledge and insight on the great games that we all love.

Powers Trigg and the myESPNforkids.com Team

 

Ole Miss and a Small Winning Tide: A Look Back at Ole Miss and Alabama

[It was a great weekend of college football.  Unfortunately, it included a devastating loss for my Texas Longhorns to the California Golden Bears.  Among the other big games, Ole Miss and Bama was one of the better match ups.  Ole Miss fans are licking their wounds after a tragic 43-48 loss.  

As we wait for Saturday to arrive, Ezra gives a really interesting piece of history on the Alabama-Ole Miss rivalry.  Ole Miss fans, this one will give you some happy memories to get through the week.  You don’t have long to sulk as Georgia looms this weekend.]

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With its loss to Alabama, Ole Miss falls to 10-49-2 against the Crimson Tide (with Alabama forced to vacate or forfeit three other victories due to NCAA penalties). Let’s look at Mississippi’s ten wins against the Tide.

October 27, 1894 – Ole Miss 6, Alabama 0

In what was the first ever game between the two longtime rivals, defenses dominated in Jackson, Mississippi. The game’s only touchdown was scored on a run by back William Cook. Alabama won the next four games by a combined score of 80-10, followed by a 0-0 tie and then Ole Miss’s second win of the rivalry, 16 years later.

November 5, 1910 – Ole Miss 16, Alabama 0

In Greenville, Mississippi, Fran Shields, Alonzo Lee and Steve Mitchell all scored on touchdown runs to give Ole Miss a 2-4-1 record against Alabama. After this, Mississippi wouldn’t win again until 1968, losing 12 in a row (including seven straight shutouts with Alabama scoring at least 50 points in four of them), before finally managing a tie in 1933, followed by another five losses.

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October 5, 1968 – Ole Miss 10, Alabama 8

Led by Archie Manning, Ole Miss won its first game against ‘Bama in 58 years. A blocked punt recovered for a touchdown by Alabama was all the Crimson Tide could do to stave off its first shutout in nine years. After a famous loss in ’69 by one point in one of the first prime-time televised games by a major network (ABC), Ole Miss won again in 1970, once again led by Archie Manning.

October 3, 1970 – Ole Miss 48, Alabama 23

Led by Archie Manning’s three passing and two rushing touchdowns, Ole Miss won by its largest margin in the rivalry, winning their second game against Alabama in three years. Ole Miss dropped its next three against Alabama, then won again in 1976 in Jackson.

September 10, 1976 – Ole Miss 10, Alabama 7

In a 10-7 upset win, Ole Miss came out on top in this defensive battle, its third win against Alabama in its past 7 tries. Alabama’s potent offensive attack, led by future NFL Hall-of-Famer Ozzie Newsome, was limited to just 249 yards. After losing its next five against Alabama, Ole Miss finally won again, 12 years later, in its first away win in this rivalry.

October 8, 1988 – Ole Miss 22, Alabama 12

With Ole Miss coming in as 18-point underdogs on the day the Bear Bryant museum was being dedicated, the Rebs upset Alabama for its first win ever in Tuscaloosa. With just 26 minutes left in the game, Ole Miss was down 12-0. Two touchdowns by running back Shawn Sykes, followed by another by fullback Joe Mickles, and 26 minutes later, Ole Miss won its first game ever at Alabama. Losing its next 10, Ole Miss finally beat Alabama again, 13 years later, barely a month after the 9/11 attacks.

October 13, 2001 – Ole Miss 27, Alabama 24

Led by quarterback Eli Manning, son of alum Archie Manning (who led Ole Miss to 2 wins against Alabama more than 30 years prior), Ole Miss won its first game against Alabama in almost 15 years on a rainy day in Oxford, Mississippi. Down 24-14 going into the fourth quarter, the Rebels scored 13 unanswered points in the fourth, including the winning touchdown with less than a minute left, as Ole Miss snapped the Tide’s 10 game winning streak against them.

October 18, 2003 – Ole Miss 43, Alabama 28

Led again by senior Eli Manning, Ole Miss scored the first 24 points of the game and never looked back. Manning threw for 230 yards and three touchdowns to give the Ole Miss Mannings a 4-3 record against Alabama.  Ole Miss has a 6-46-2 record against Alabama without a Manning at quarterback.  Peyton, for his part, went to Tennessee, where he went 3-1 against Alabama.  Tide fans should be very concerned when the next generation of Manning boys — Cooper’s son Arch, and Peyton’s son Marshall Williams – reach college age.

October 4, 2014 – Ole Miss 23, Alabama 17

On the 45th anniversary of the first nationally televised college football game between Ole Miss and Alabama, Mississippi got its ninth win of the rivalry. Down 17-10 midway through the fourth quarter, quarterback Bo Wallace led the Rebels downfield for two touchdowns to complete the comeback and earn Mississippi’s ninth win of the rivalry.

September 19, 2015 – Ole Miss 43, Alabama 37

After a Laquan Treadwell touchdown catch with 10 min remaining gave Mississippi a 43-24 lead, Alabama fans began to leave the stadium. Two touchdowns and nine and a half minutes later, Alabama had the ball around midfield, down 43-37, but they could not score and Ole Miss won back-to-back games against Alabama for the first time ever, giving Alabama, the eventual national champion, its only loss on the season.

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Ezra Troy

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NFL: Week Two Picks

[Ezra gives us one more installment of his thinking before the whistle sounds on NFL game day.  You will quickly see that he has my Chiefs as one of the top three games of the week.  We not only won our first playoff game against them last season since the Joe Montana era, we also won our regular season match up.  I am sure Houston is hungry for a victory and they looked good in Week One.  I like the Chiefs in a game that I agree with Ezra will be “a close one.”]  

Let’s take a deep look at three key match ups this weekend.  Then, I will give readers my full list of picks for Week Two.

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3. Sun @ 1:00 – Chiefs at Texans                                                Pick – Texans                                                                 

In a rematch of last year’s AFC wild card matchup (which the Chiefs won 30-0), the Texans and their new QB and RB, Brock Osweiler and Lamar Miller, host one of the NFL’s top defenses and their quarterback, Alex Smith, who are coming off the biggest comeback in team history. This promises to be a close one, but ultimately, the Texans offense has too many weapons and their defense, led by three time Defensive Player of the year JJ Watt will be too much for the Chiefs to handle.

2.  Sun @ 8:30 – Packers at Vikings                                           Pick – Packers

Everyone loves division games, especially when they are on prime time and pit one of the league’s best offenses (the Packers), against one of the league’s best defenses (the Vikings). In a matchup between two playoff teams from last year, Aaron Rodgers and an offense without their starting QB (Teddy Bridgewater – lost for the season on a torn ACL) will be too much for the Vikings to handle. 

1. Sun @ 1:00 – Bengals at Steelers                                           Pick – Bengals

In a rematch of the most heated playoff game last year, two division rivals square off. This will be a shootout, as two of the league’s best offenses square off. In the end, the Steelers lack of a talented secondary will lead to their demise, as the Bengals take this heated rematch.

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My longer list looks as follows:

  • Sun @ 1:00 – 49ers at Panthers Pick – Panthers
  • Sun @ 1:00 – Cowboys at Redskins Pick – Redskins
  • Sun @ 1:00 – 49ers at Panthers Pick – Panthers
  • Sun @ 1:00 – Saints at Giants Pick – Giants
  • Sun @ 1:00 – Dolphins at Patriots Pick – Patriots
  • Sun @ 1:00 – Titans at Lions Pick – Lions
  • Sun @ 1:00 – Ravens at Browns Pick – Ravens
  • Sun @ 4:05 – Seahawks at Rams Pick – Seahawks 
  • Sun @ 4:05 – Buccaneers at Cardinals Pick – Cardinals
  • Sun @ 4:25 – Jaguars @ Chargers Pick – Jaguars
  • Sun @ 4:25 – Falcons @ Raiders Pick – Raiders
  • Sun @ 4:25 – Colts @ Broncos Pick – Broncos
  • Mon @ 8:30 Pick – Bears

Ezra Troy

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A Hat Tip to the Major Sports Leagues for Getting 9/11 Right

There has been controversy in recent weeks surrounding the National Anthem prior to the start of NFL games.   It has dominated Talk Radio and Social Media alike.  As 9/11 approached, the NFL again “braced for possible widespread player demonstrations…at Sunday’s opening games.”

Unlike the websites that stoke the flames of controversy to drive website traffic, we don’t have a payroll to make.  We write for “the love of the game.”  It means that on a week that saw the 15th anniversary of 9/11, we didn’t need to take irate listener calls, promote a shouting match between two analysts or push out provocative hashtags on Twitter.

Because when you get past all of the manufactured noise over the last couple of weeks, the sports world did some great things last weekend to remember the fallen victims of 9/11.  Here are several favorites:

  • Football (Field) Size American Flag.  I loved the giant flag at Arrowhead.  For 9/11, it was held by first responders –the men and women that are the first-line of response.  It is America’s heartland and as Adkins sang in his debut album, “Every light in the house is on!”  It was the perfect start to a thrilling OT victory by the Chiefs.

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  • Bases at Multiple MLB Ballparks: It is fine to like the big tribute and, at the same time, also enjoy the smaller, subtle tribute.  The bases at several of the MLB ballparks carried physical recognition on 1st, 2nd and 3rd base with the designation “We Shall Not Forget.”  It was a nice touch particularly because many young people watching the games were not alive when the events of September 11th transpired.

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  • Cubs Hat with American Flag Patch:  Again, the small tribute can still have a big impact.  On that score, I loved the American flag patch on the MLB hats. And of course, as the PA announcer notes its presence, it brought deafening shouts of “USA!”
  • Mets: “Never Forget” Chalk Drawing.  New York City lost the most lives in the coordinated terror attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.  The heroism demonstrated by first responders was simply amazing.  This tribute was a nice one from a City that was majorly impacted and loves the Mets (a team that some will recall came up just short against the reigning World Champion Royals last fall).

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  • B-2 Flyover over Arrowhead.  Whiteman Air Force Base is home to the B-2 Stealth Bomber that was a core part of the nuclear triad.  The 509th Bomb Wing occupied the skies over Arrowhead Stadium with a flyover that is as good as anything you will see in so-called Flyover Country.

President Kennedy once said that a country not only distinguishes itself by the men it produces, but also by the men it remembers.  The men and women that were a part of the heroism of September 11th deserve our respect and our admiration. The writers here at myespnforkids.com tip our collective hats to professional sports leagues and teams that made the 15th anniversary a fitting tribute to those fallen heroes last weekend.  It will be recalled as one of the top 2016 moments in sports.

Powers Trigg

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NFL: Top Week One Performers

[Here is the second in a series of pieces from the great Ezra Troy.  If you are playing Fantasy, you need to be reading his stuff. You also can be glad that he isn’t playing with you –and winning your league.]  

We looked at the top games from Week One.  Now, let’s survey the top performers:

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  • Drew Brees, QB, NO: Brees had 4 touchdowns and 424 yards passing with 28 completions in 42 attempts.
  • Andrew Luck, QB, IND: Luck had 4 touchdowns and 385 yards passing with 31 completions on 47 attempts.
  • A.J. Green, WR, CIN: Green had 12 receptions for 180 yards and a TD
  • Willie Snead, WR, NO: Snead had 9 receptions for 172 yards and a TD
  • Brandin Cooks, WR, NO: Cooks had 6 receptions for 143 yards and two TD’s
  • Antonio Brown, WR, PIT: Brown had 8 receptions for 126 yards and 2 TD’s
  • Deangelo Williams, RB, PIT: Williams had 143 yards and 2 TD’s on the ground
  • C.J. Anderson, RB, DEN: Anderson had 92 yards and a TD rushing while also having a touchdown and 47 yards through the air
  • Carlos Hyde, RB, SF: Hyde had 88 yards and two rushing touchdowns.

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It is an amazing list of athletes that left a meaningful mark on Week One.

Ezra Troy

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Are You Ready for Some Football? A Smart Look at Week One

[It was an amazing week of NFL games.  Ezra Troy gives us his take on the week that was, including five great games.  You will note that my beloved Chiefs made the list with a thrilling OT victory over division foe Chargers. Troy will be back this weekend with his take on the best games of Week Two and his across-the-board picks for Sunday.  As I am fond of saying this time of years,”It starts with a whistle and ends with a gun.”]

Week One was incredible.  Let’s start with a deep dive look at the five best games this last Sunday:

5. Seahawks 12, Dolphins 10

Ryan Tannehill threw a go-ahead touchdown to give the Dolphins a 10-6 lead in the fourth quarter with 4:08 remaining. Then Russell Wilson went to work. Playing on an injured ankle, Wilson found Doug Baldwin for a touchdown with 31 seconds left to give Seattle the comeback win. This was Wilson’s 19th career fourth quarter or overtime game winning drive.

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4. Giants 20, Cowboys 19

Eli Manning hit Victor Cruz with 6 minutes left for Cruz’s first touchdown in almost two years to give the Giants the lead. Then Dak Prescott found Terrance Williams with six seconds left, but Williams failed out get out of bounds to give Dan Bailey a shot at a game-winning 57-yard field goal. The Giants were able to get a win against the Cowboys in a season opener for the first time in nine tries.

3. Chiefs 33, Chargers 27

Down 17 in the fourth quarter, Alex Smith engineered the largest comeback in Chiefs history, tying the game at 27 with a Spencer Ware touchdown. In overtime, Alex Smith scored on a QB keeper with nine minutes remaining to cap off a 363 yard, two touchdown performance and a big divisional win.

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2. Broncos 21, Panthers 20

Many expected the defending champions, with their rookie quarterback Trevor Siemian, to get blown-out by the Panthers in this season-opener. Instead, Siemian passed for 178 yards and a TD in a Bronco victory. Cam Newton, the NFL’s reigning MVP, had a poor performance, going 18-33 with one touchdown and one interception. Bronco running back C.J. Anderson had 2 touchdowns on 92 yards rushing and 47 yards receiving. Graham Gano missed a late go-ahead field goal, letting the Broncos were able to win this Super Bowl 50 rematch.

1. Raiders 35, Saints 34

Drew Brees had over 400 yards passing for the 14th time in his career, tying Peyton Manning for the most such performances in a career. The Raiders overcame this and a 14 point deficit at halftime to tie the game at 27 in the fourth quarter. Brees marched right back down the field and found Willy Snead for his fourth passing touchdown of the game, giving the Saints a 34-27 lead. Then, with 47 seconds left, Derek Carr hit Seth Roberts to make it 34-33. Jack Del Rio eschewed an extra point and instead opted to go for two, which Carr converted to Michael Crabtree to win the game 35-34.

It was an exceptional week.  I will be back with a preview of Sunday and my thoughts on the winners and losers in Week Two.

Ezra Troy

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Will “Tebow-ing” Make It to a Ballpark Near You?

[Adam Shemesh, one of the best writers on the great game of baseball, weighs in with a pitch perfect piece on Tim Tebow and his foray into baseball.  September is a great month where we have both baseball at its highest point of regular season drama and football (both CFB and NFL) kicking off.  Adam gives us not just football and baseball, but even a little bit of b-ball too with a look at Michael Jordan’s unsuccessful efforts at a second bite at the professional sports apple.] 

Earlier this week, Tim Tebow held a tryout for Major League clubs as he attempts to comeback to a sport that he has not played since high school. While he probably cannot contribute to any MLB club, Tebow will certainly provide at least a boost in minor league ticket sales. In honor of Tebow’s attempt, we look back at Michael Jordan’s futile try to swing the stick.

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It is the fall of 1993. Michael Jordan is a young player, sporting #45, at the top of his sport. He has already won three NBA titles and has been named MVP three times. Shockingly, he calls it quits on October 3, citing a lack of interest in the game and his father’s death as reasons for stepping down from the game it seemed he was ready to take over.

In January of the next year, Michael decides that he will be playing baseball in ‘94. He insists that he is for real, not just a publicity stunt. Looking back at this infamous moment in his career, Jordan remembers, “All of a sudden I felt like a kid again.” Jerry Reinsdorf, who owned the Bulls and White Sox at the time, convinces Michael to come to the south side and gives him an invite to spring training.This is quite the courageous move by His Airness- remember, Jordan retired at the top of basketball and is now fighting for a roster spot with the Sox.

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Current big league stars are appalled. Randy Johnson snickers, “”I’d like to see how much air time he’d get on one of my inside pitches.” Michael feels very humbled and replies, “I’m really trying to learn this game.” Fans come out in droves for his contests in the Spring. Michael first reaches base in the 6th game of his career and is mobbed by teammates after scoring. Alas, he eats another piece of humble pie by being optioned to Double-A Birmingham following spring training.

Jordan’s baseball career was short-lived. After one year at Double-A, he went back to basketball- this time cementing his legacy as #23. While I’m not trying to take anything away from Jordan, this piece goes to show that being simply an athlete does not cut it in baseball. The next time anyone claims how easy baseball seems, let them know that the greatest athlete of the 80s couldn’t make it out of the minors.

Adam Shemesh

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Crisp Autumn Air, Smash-Mouth Football and Storied Rivalries

When former Ohio State Coach Jim Tressell spoke at his opening news conference, he said, “You will be proud of our young people in the classroom, in the community and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan.”  Setting aside an irony or two, Ohio State versus Michigan is a classic rivalry game.  A new coach understands it will define his career.

Rivalries always loom large on the schedule.  The stakes are high.  Passions run deep.  As Jimmy Connors once said about his battles with John McEnroe, “There are no hugs and kisses.” 

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With the fall sports schedules now set, everyone is looking to a date in November.  For Groton, the battle against St Mark’s falls on November 11th and will, at some level, define the season.  It will be the 127th time that the football teams have met, playing for the famous Raccoon Coat and overall pursuit of the Burnett-Peabody Bowl.      

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The durability of this rivalry that dates to 1889 begs a critical question, “What makes for a great rivalry?”

Rivalries that endure have three attributes. 

History.  History is the first criteria.  The longer a rivalry has been around, the better it is. Michigan versus Ohio State started in 1897.  Texas versus OU began in 1900. Williams versus Amherst commenced in 1884.  These games have an amazing history that spans generations.  Key moments are passed on and embellished. Traditions are established.  Like Gladwell said in Outliers, greatness takes practice.   

Parity.  There isn’t a rivalry between a hammer and a nail.”  No one likes the runaway, lopsided outcome.  There must be some modicum of parity.  Is Norte Dame versus Navy a great rivalry game (or a scheduling exercise to keep the Fighting Irish in perennial contention for the national championship)?  Fans have to feel that they have a chance to win in most years.   

Controversy.  We love the acts of sportsmanship like the stoic handshake of Roger Federer at Wimbledon. It is, however, controversy that is the fuel on which true rivalries thrive. The AP story on Florida versus LSU in 2007 tells the story:

“Quarterback Tim Tebow said Tuesday he received hundreds of threatening messages on his cell phone leading up to Florida’s game at top-ranked LSU.  They were the reason Tebow pretended to dial a cell phone after his first touchdown pass.  Tebow said [after the game that] many of the messages contained physical threats and most included foul language.”  It was an SEC rivalry at its best (or, depending on your perspective, worse).

In recent years, the famed Auburn oak trees were poisoned by Alabama fan. We saw the fire alarm escapades when the U.S. and Mexico squared off –with the fire alarms going off at 3 a.m, then again at 6 a.m.  And of course, everyone will recall the time when Harvard fans were inadvertently tricked into making a “We Suck” sign at the Yale-Harvard game.    

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Crisp autumn air.  Smash-mouth football.  Rivalry weekend.  It should be enough to convince even the skeptic that football is “more than just a game in which boys push each other back in forth for no reason.”  On November 11th, Groton will look to avenge a 22-19 loss to St. Mark’s in their storied 127th meeting. And just like like all football games, “It will start with a whistle, and end with a gun.”

Powers Trigg

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Troy Talks Fantasy Football

[Washington, DC-based Ezra Troy delivers again with a fantastic tour of the fantasy football landscape.  If you are busy with the start of school, Troy gives you the “cheat sheet” for Draft Day success.  NFL Films calls it the golden game and we are just a 20-yard out away from Week One play.  “It starts with a whistle and ends with a gun.”  Game on.]  

It is almost football season again; that means it’s also time for fantasy football!

As everyone knows, the most important thing in fantasy is drafting guys in later rounds that will play better than their ADP (average draft position). These players are known as sleepers. Some examples last year were Devonta Freeman and Allen Robinson. The question is who will it be this year?

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QB’S

Tom Brady – Brady’s ADP this year is 62nd, behind other quarterbacks Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, Russel Wilson, Andrew Luck, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger. He is going that low only because he is missing the first four games of the season (suspension). He was the number two scoring quarterback last year with 335 points in all 16 games. That was behind only Cam Newton and his superhuman season. He has shown no signs of slowing down in his old age. Even though he is missing the first quarter of the season, you will have a top 3 fantasy quarterback for most of the season and in the time it really matters, the playoffs.

Teddy Bridgewater – Bridgewater is the number 26th QB going, at 170 overall. He is a young player with a lot of potential. He had over 3200 passing yards last season and some solid rushing numbers, but only had 187 points because he threw only 14 touchdowns. His real problem was his lack of a steady number one receiver, but rookie Laquan Treadwell, who some consider the top rookie wide receiver, is sure to fix that problem. Bridgewater will not only pass for more touchdowns, but his rushing numbers (3 tds, 200 yds.) should go up with defenses having to play the pass as well as the run and the new Vikings offensive line, led by top offseason offensive line free agent, Andre Smith.

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RB’S

Matt Jones – With the departure of Alfred Morris, second year running back Matt Jones is thrust into the role of the Redskins’ starting running back. With his ADP at 76.5, he is one of the latest starting running backs being drafted. Last year he had 84 fantasy points on only 144 carries. One of the main reasons for his high production was his great pass catching skills, averaging 16 yards a reception! While he may not be able to repeat this insane performance, he will get more receptions and carries with the departure of Alfred Morris. The one thing he needs is to get the fumbles under control (he had 4 on 144 carries). He is being drafted at a flex/RB2 slot, but if he plays a full season with similar play than he did last year, he could end up being a high end RB2.

WR’S

Jarvis Landry – “Juice” has an ADP of 43.8 and is the 19th receiver being taken – a low end WR2. He was the 14th best receiver last year with 154 points.  By contrast, last year Doug Baldwin, the seventh best receiver and the best not named Brown, Beckham, Hopkins, Jones, Marshall or Robinson, had only 30 points more, but only because he had 14 TD’s as compared to Landry’s four. With 5 more touchdowns, Jarvis would have been the eight best receiver last year, easily a WR1; now he is being drafted as a WR2/FLEX. He should be able to repeat or come close to his previous yardage, especially with the Dolphins having to pass more now that they don’t have a clear number one running back and Jarvis continuing to grow and strengthen his bond with Ryan Tanehill. Landry should also have more than 4 touchdowns, especially with a lack of much of a running game. Even if Landry only has a couple of touchdowns, he should finish the year a top 12 receiver a high end WR2/low end WR1, not the low end WR2/FLEX he is being drafted as.

Kevin White is like a rookie. Injured in training camp last year, he hasn’t played a snap in the NFL, but there was a reason he was picked 7 overall: He was a great college receiver. Granted, no one knows how he will do in the pros, but he should get a lot of targets, considering teams will probably double Alshon Jeffery and the Bears do not have much of a running game. If White is as good as he was made out to be, he should be a top 25 receiver, much higher than the number 38th receiver he is being drafted as.

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TE’S

Jimmy Graham – Graham was a top tight end just two years ago, but with a trade to Seattle and a terrible year that ended in injury last year, Graham is now being drafted at and ADP of 116. While he is still injured and may not be ready for week one, he was still a premiere tight end just two years ago. He will show how he is really a great player and should turn it around this year.

Ladarius Green – At 6-6, 240, Green is one of the biggest and most athletic tight ends in the NFL. He is finally out of Antonio Gates’ shadow in San Diego and is the starting TE for the Steelers and their high powered offense. While he may be the third or fourth option in Pittsburgh, he should get plenty of red zone targets — and consequently touchdowns — resulting in an uptick in scoring. He should finish the year as a top ten tight end and is a great sleeper pick at the TE position.

Ezra Troy

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Top Sports Moments of All-Time: Number One

The 2015 playoff run and World Series win by the Kansas City Royals was true magic.  It almost defies words.

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The Royals Magic was not confined to the World Series.  It started in the ALDS. The Royals were facing elimination, and were down 2-6 in the 8th inning. KC miraculously loaded the bases, and then proceeded to deliver run after run after run. It was truly a victory from the jaws of defeat.

Next, Kansas City faced the Blue Jays.  Toronto was fresh off a drama-filled series against the Rangers.  Again, it would go down to the wire. In Game 6, up 3-2 in the series, the Royals were leading by one run in the top of the 9th. However, the Blue Jays were rallying, and had runners on 2nd and 3rd.  The Royals kept their composure.  They clinched the pennant for the 2nd year in a row.

The World Series is the pinnacle for baseball fans everywhere and the Royals were returning for the second consecutive time.  As a devotee of Bill James and Sabermetrics, I am deep believer in the “true” data of the game.  But there is, as James himself notes, luck in everything.

In Game One, the Royals were down 4-3 in the bottom of the 9th.  It seemed as if all was lost.  Then, Alex “AG” Gordon went deep to dead center tying the game and sending it to extra innings. The Royals ultimately prevailed on an Eric Hosmer sac fly in the bottom of the 14th.

If we jump ahead to Game Four, with the Royals up 2-1 in the series, we witness the Kauffman Magic again. Familia comes in; Mets are up 3-2 in the top of the 8th; runners are on 1st and 2nd. Hosmer hits an easy blooper to 2nd.  It goes right under Murphy’s glove. But in truth, it is the next moment where the Magic happens. Instead of just staying at third, Zobrist keeps running and goes home. Cain goes  from 1st to 3rd as the go-ahead run.  Moose comes up, knocks one to 2nd base.  Murphy misses the diving catch.  Royals take the lead. Next, Salvy comes up, gets a single and the winning run scores.

Finally, there was Game 5 in New York. The series is 3-1 and the Mets are facing elimination. Matt Harvey pitches a gem. The Mets are up 2-0 in the top of the 9th and Royals fans are preparing for a Game Six.  Cain walks. Hosmer comes up to bat.  On the first pitch, Cain steals second.  Then, Hosmer goes the other way for a double and Cain scores.  Now, Perez is at the plate. He grounds to third. Wright throws to first. Hosmer runs home. The first baseman rushes the throw.  It veers off course.  Hosmer is safe.

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The victory by the Royals ended a three-decade long World Series drought dating to 1985. Nothing captured the euphoria better than the World Series parade as Kansas City reveled in truly magic moment.  It was, inarguably, the best sports moment of all-time.

Powers Trigg

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Top Sports Moments of All-Time: Number Two

The late John Facenda from NFL Films called pro football “a 2.5-hour carnival of color, sound and action.”  When it comes to the sounds of the game, no one does it quite like Kansas City.  As they say at Arrowhead Stadium, Decible Up.

What was the genesis of the Arrowhead Advantage?  Its origins can be traced back to at least 1990 when the Chiefs were playing the division rival Denver Broncos.  Fans were so loud that QB John Elway simply stopped playing.

Noise  courses through the veins of the Arrowhead faithful.  It comes almost as a birth right dating to the days of AFL and the fierce battles between the Raiders and the Chiefs.  And on that night in 1990, a national reputation was born.

As every sports fan knows, however, icons are inevitably challenged.  In recent years, new stadium construction called the question on whether Arrowhead remained the loudest open-air stadium in the NFL.

Seahawks fans, armed with a new state-of-the-art facility, coined the term the 12th Man replete with a scoreboard sign.  Postseason success aided their noisemaking.  And then, last December, Seahawks’ fans broke KC’s noise record by .1 of a Db.

Kansas City refused to quit.  On September 29, 2014, the Chiefs faced Tom Brady on Monday Night Football.  It was time to take back the record.  Chiefs fans did just that.

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142.2 Db.  Loud and Proud.  My ears may still be ringing –and it is my number two sports moment of all-time.  It just too bad that the late John Facenda wasn’t around to make an iconic call.  “A special game.  A unique game.  A rare game.”  And to paraphrase Facenda, “The fans that support it make it so.”

Powers Trigg

Top Sports Moments of All-Time: Number Three

We have looked at a game-winning kick in Division One football. We have reveled at the all-court mastery of tennis great Roger Federer. For my third greatest sports moment of all-time, we turn to a game that the world calls football (and Americans call soccer).

It is arguably the greatest goal in U.S. Soccer history.  Ghana and the U.S. were level at one apiece. It looked bleak for the Americans. I was, for my part, watching in the Power and Light District in downtown Kansas City. The crowd groaned as once again, Ghana “had scored the goal to break American hearts.” And then, this happened.

“It’s John Brooks.  It’s John Brooks for the Americans. Have they stolen it?”  Sporting Kansas City standout Graham Zusi played a perfect ball.  Brooks converted.  Perhaps more impressive than the sublime finish from Brooks was the reaction from the fans at downtown Kansas City’s Power and Light District.

The euphoria speaks for itself as U.S. soccer popularity continued (and continues) its ascent.

Powers Trigg

 

The Devil is in the Details: A Deeper Look at the Angels Draft Picks

[Editor’s Note:  Our longtime readers know Adam Shemesh and his reputation as one of the best thinkers and writers on what is happening in the game of the baseball.  This piece speaks for itself.]  

In 2009, the Angels drafted Mike Trout, a senior from Millville, NJ with the 32nd overall pick. Little did they know that about 4 years later, he would establish his position as the best player in baseball.

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Their front office was all smiles and the subject of envy for many GMs. But, let’s zoom out a bit and look at the Angels’ first round draft picks from 2010-2014 (to measure the picks we will use WAR, which measures how many wins a player is worth. a

A war of 5 or above in one year is All-Star worthy, 10 and above is MVP worthy):

2010: Chevez Clark (Released),  Sam Bedroisan (0.4 WAR in 3 years)

2011: C. J. Cron (1.5 WAR in 2016)

2012: Forfeited 1st round pick to sign Albert Pujols to 10 year/$240 million (2 WAR per year since 2013)

2013: Forfeited 1st round pick to sign Josh Hamilton to 5 year/$125 million contract (3.3 career WAR as an Angel)

2014: Sean Newcomb- traded to Atlanta for Andrelton Simmons (2.2 WAR this year)

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As you can see, the Angels have done an atrocious job of drafting since they selected Trout in ’09. So bad, in fact, that they got the honor of having baseball’s worst farm system according to Baseball America. It’s not just that- the long term signings of C. J. Wilson, Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols are also to blame. Those three alone are making around $70,000,000 this year. And the fact that the Angels’ have a few of yesterday’s superstars on their team has blinded their higher-ups of the possibility and reward of trading Mike Trout. Trading Trout for a package of prospects and MLB-level talent would be like the Angels exchanging their one lottery ticket for a bundle of smart investments. While they did strike gold by drafting Trout, don’t let anyone tell you the Angels’ front office has done a good job since then.

Adam Shemesh

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Big Man on Campus: Three QBs to Watch this Fall

In The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks, Bruce Feldman writes, “You don’t play quarterback. You are quarterback.”  The QB position, as Feldman rightly suggests in his masterful book, requires a leader.  The success of a young athlete in stepping into that role is determining for team performance.

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Given the criticality of the position, let’s look at three major QB storylines heading into the Division One college football season:

1) Josh Rosen: While the attention he has received lately has not been for his football, the youngster with much to learn has bags of talent. Rosen grew up in the world of USTA tournaments. However, Rosen decided that he wanted to chase his football dream. The rest is history. Amazingly, a kid with a 4.3 GPA, and big time skills (Ranked Number One QB in the country on Rivals), was not offered a scholarship by Stanford. Rosen, instead, elected attend UCLA.

Last season, Rosen made Freshman All-American. He has pro size (6’4), and a Johnny Manizel-attitude to go with it. He has may headlines for his antics. They include putting a hot tub in his UCLA dorm and then posting a picture of it on Twitter. If Rosen wants to win the Hesiman this year, he will need to keep his focus on his classes and his playbook, not his Twitter feed.

2) Shane Buechele: Everything is bigger in Texas. Sadly for Shane Buechele, it is includes big-time pressure to preform on the field. My beloved Longhorns have fallen on hard times. A range of factors are at play from the Mack Brown exit to new facility construction at ins-state rivals. Schools like TCU, Baylor, and Houston are now putting an old fashion whippin’ on the Burnt Orange. It will be up to the Lamar High School graduate to stop it.

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3) Trevor Knight: While you may know him as the boyfriend of Duck Dynasty star, Sadie Robinson, Trevor Knight has a genuine chance to be a major star this year at Texas A&M. Last season, Knight suffered a crushing blow, watching Baker Mayfield win his starting job (at Oklahoma), lead the Sooners to the college football playoff, and become a legit Heisman contender (ultimately finishing 4th). Now, at an A&M program that sorely needs solid QB play, Knight can be a star. While he may not have elite size, Knight has shown flashes of success with the Sooners. Will that translate to College Station? We are about to find out.

The anticipation is building for another another stellar CFB season.  Amid a number of talented teams that have a chance to compete for the national championship, Feldman’s writing rightly makes the case that the QB position looms as the critical swing variable.  It is worth keeping a close eye on these three prospects both for individual team success and early Hesiman balloting.

Powers Trigg

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A Quack and a Growl: A Tribute to Mad Ducks and Bears

The credit belongs, said former President Teddy Roosevelt, to the man that is actually “in the arena.”  TR’s main point in his famous speech is a simple one: if you have never actually done something, then can you really critique and comment on its essential attributes?

George Plimpton, and his literary endeavors, embody this basic idea.  Plimpton is a true renaissance man.  He is always throwing himself into the moment.  Plimpton has done standup comedy at Caesars Palace.  He has played for two NFL teams.  He has tried his hand on the PGA Tour.  He is, in his own words, “a professional amateur.”

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The result of these explorations is a series of some of the greatest books on sports that have ever been written.  Paper Lion, of course, stands out as the most popular and visible example.  In my estimation, however, it is Plimpton’s Mad Ducks and Bears that is the greatest, most underrated sports books of all-time.    

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Originally, Plimpton thought that he was writing a book about offensive and defensive lineman. Then, the book evolved into a commentary covering things like champions who stay in the game too long and rookies that just can’t catch a break.  Plimpton’s gift is that he is exploring some of the pressing issues in sports at the same time that he has you laughing aloud. 

Some of the hijinks include staged golf tournaments gone wrong and incredible tales of rookie hazing. Without spoiling the book, it is classy humor that likely won’t make your Mom blush.  Plimpton’s wit is timeless — and covers all generations. Hilarious has no age.

In addition, Plimpton touches on serious issues, like violence in the game and stories of gruesome injuries.  He discusses knee-jerk treatment of players.  He describes the emotion of Game Day. These issues are all still relevant today.  Young readers also will enjoy hearing them discussed in the context of another era. 

This book is a must read for any fan of football, a TR apostle that champions the “strenuous life” or simply a lover of books on sports. I count myself as all three.  Mad Ducks and Bears offers important commentary on athletic issues of the day and humor that will appeal to readers of all ages. It is, in a phrase, a Plimptonian Classic.   

Powers Trigg

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Top Sports Moments of All-Time: Number Four

We turn from college football to the tennis court.  As long-time readers of the site know, I am fond of the graceful, poised play of the inestimable Roger Federer.  He is one of the great champions of the modern era.  It would be easy to focus on one of his seventeen major championships.  I have decided, instead, to frame up on one of the moments when he made it the final major stage, but failed to prevail.

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4. Roger Federer: Passing Shot at 2008 Wimbledon Final with a Match Point for Nadal

Wimbledon is a true classic.  The All-England Club.  Tennis Whites.  Strawberries and Cream.  In the modern era, it also has produced great champions.  Tilden.  Borg.  McEnroe.  Sampras.  Federer.    

Even the great champions can’t win them all.  Federer has won more than his fair share, but alas he came up short in 2008.  The 2008 final between Federer and Nadal was an all-time classic. With Fed facing a match point against a serving Nadal, Roger pulled a rabbit out of his hat.   

Pure Genius.  In contrast to the Tucker winning kick, this moment didn’t lead to eventual victory.  It showed, however, what made Federer such a great champion in so many majors.  He was calm, cool, collected.  It was the Federer that not only graced (and continues to grace) the All-England Club, but that has defined championship tennis for the last two decades. 

Powers Trigg

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My Top Five Sports Moments

Sports bring us joy.  They make us cry.  They inspire us.  Over the next several days, I will be posting my top sports moments of all-time.  It is impossible for team and geographic bias to not play some meaningful role in my selections.  They are, objectively, all great moments.  And with that litany of excuses, let me begin with #5  

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5. Justin Tucker: Game-Winning Kick at the Close of Texas vs Texas A&M 


After an attempt by Texas A&M Coach Mike Sherman to “ice” the greatest University of Texas kicker of all-time Justin Tucker, my number five moment was set.  As announcer Craig Way brilliantly said, “It is the final play of the rivalry...”  There is little doubt that the Longhorns versus A&M was one of the best rivalries in any sport. The fact that this was the last play of the rivalry made it even sweeter, as A&M moved to the SEC starting in the 2012 season.

Justin Tucker kept his cool in front of an intimidating, deafeningly loud Kyle Field crowd.  Here is the call from Way:

GOOD!  Well, it speaks for itself as the Texas Longhorns “break the hearts of the Aggies one last time.”  It was, in a phrase, a brilliant moment not just in college football, but in the world of sports.

I will be back tomorrow with my fourth top sports moment of all-time.  I know it will “pass” your test for greatness.

Powers Trigg

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The Absurdity of Baseball

[Washington-DC based Ezra Troy gives us a great top 10 list as we move into the second half of the baseball season.  I know many of our readers love the data and analytics side of baseball.  You are probably figuring out that Ezra does too.

Many baseball purists say baseball is all the sports fan has in August.  Of course, some of us love soccer (and the warm up tennis tournaments for the US Open)!  And this year, we also will have the Olympics (assuming Brazil can get its act together and the athletes have somewhere to stay and compete)].     

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Here are ten crazy facts about the first half of the MLB season:

  1. At the All–Star break last season, New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy had hit 5 home runs FOR the Mets. This season, Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy has 5 homers AGAINST the Mets.
  2. Since May 31, when the Cubs had a 35-15 record (best in the MLB), they have gone 18-20, yet they still lead their division by 7 games.
  3. This year, Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon (1.3) has a higher WAR than Giancarlo Stanton (1.0) and Albert Pujols (0.2) combined. Colon also has a higher WAR than Andrew McCutchen (0.7).
  4. Mark Trumbo leads the MLB in Home Runs (28 in 86 games). That is more than he hit all of last season in 142 games (22).
  5. In April, Trevor Story hit 7 homers in his first 6 games, good for one home run every .85 games. Since then he has hit 14 home runs in 75 games, good for one home run every 5.35 games.
  6. The White Sox have turned THREE triple plays so far this year. The last team to turn three triple plays in an entire season was the Atlanta Braves in 1979.
  7. The Marlins (47-41) have their second best record at the all-star break ever. In 1997, they were 50-36 at the break and won the World Series.
  8. The Cubs have all 4 infielders starting in the all star game, just the second team ever to accomplish that feat. The first was the famed Big Red Machine of the 1970’s.
  9. In his final season, David Ortiz has 72 RBI at the all-star break, putting him on pace for 144, the most in the majors since Alex Rodriguez’s 156 in 2007 and the second highest total in his career. He had 148 in 2005, the season he turned thirty.
  10. If the Yankees finish the season with their current winning percentage (.500), it will be the first time since 1992 that they finished a season with a winning percentage at or under .500.

Ezra Troy

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What is the Best 30 for 30?

[Editor’s Note:  We get another great story from Kansas City-based Mac Trigg looking at 30 for 30.  Every reader of this site loves this series.  You may disagree with his picks, but you surely agree that 30 for 30 is must-see television.]  

People love the series, 30 for 30.  It brings you into contact with former players, coaches, families and friends.  If you love sports, you love this series.  It raises the question: what is the top 30 for 30 of all-time?

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It is an almost impossible question.  Here is my top five list (in no rank order).  No doubt people will have different opinions and wonder why such gems as Believeland didn’t make my list.  The Comment Section is waiting for you to weigh in.

  • I Hate Christian Laetner: Even if younger kids have never really heard of Christian Laetner, you leave this show understanding why some people hate him more than a bad call by a referee in a crucial game. This show tells you the story of Laetner –a good athlete that many people loved to hate as he became the “face” of the successful Duke Blue Devils.  You will like learning about this Devil in the Blue Devils.  Coach K and Duke continue to be a team that brings strong and differing opinions.  You will get a strong appreciation for that in this episode.
  • The U: The U is a multi-episode look at the Miami Hurricanes.  It gives you a view of both the great Miami teams that dominated college football, but also some of the issues surround college football itself.    Illegal Recruiting.  Hush money.  The U has it all.  (Writer’s Note: This 30 for 30 is not appropriate for kids under the age of 10).
  • Four Days in October. If you have had the chance to go to Fenway Park, you know it is one of the greatest stadiums in baseball.  This 30 for 30 looks at the Curse of the Bambino –the tragic decision by the Red Sox to trade Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees.  Then, it tells you about how the curse was finally broken during “four days in October.”  You don’t have to be a Red Sox fan to enjoy this great 30 for 30 as it brings their amazing run to life.
  • Best that Never Was. You will love this deep exploration of Oklahoma Sooner running back Marcus Dupree.  He was a standout in Mississippi.  He was heavily recruited by big programs like Texas, but ultimately made a last-minute decision for Oklahoma.  He would go on to play in USFL and then for a brief time in the NFL.  Even though Dupree was very good, injuries and bad decisions kept him from being a Hall of Fame running back.  Marcus was a good person, including helping his disabled brother.  He may not have been iconic like Jim Brown, but you will like him.
  • Pony Excess. This 30 for 30 is about the SMU football team. They were dominant in 1980s with running backs like Craig James and Eric Dickerson.  The alumni were very aggressive in getting the best players.  They would recruit girlfriends to attend SMU, give money and cars to players and also provide things to their families such as homes and cash.  You will not believe it.  Finally, the NCAA cracks down on them.  The investigation leads to the so-called Death Penalty which effectively killed college football at SMU for years to come.  In fact, you can argue it is still dead.

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It is hard to pick the “best” 30 for 30.  My family likes them all and we watch them whenever we can.  I could not rank them from one to five because they have different topics and cover different stories.  Can you really compare Lebron James to Tom Brady?  They are both great, but do different things in different sports.

I do know that you will like all five of these 30 for 30s.  Hopefully, readers will leave some comments about their favorites including some that aren’t on my list.  ESPN has an incredible series in 30 for 30.

Mac Trigg

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