From Sidelines to punchlines

A different view of sports

Clearing my mind and notebook while having a hard time accepting that the NBA and NHL are again starting new seasons while our attention is supposed to be on football and baseball:

Time to waste

Here are suggestions on how to spend a Saturday when your favorite unranked college football team has a bye week:

  • Play catch with your kid – even if he’s now over 30.
  • Binge watch a TV show you’re too ashamed to admit that you’ve never seen, like Mad Men or Breaking Bad.
  • Throw out your back rearranging the living room furniture for at least the fifth time since you moved in.
  • If you have more than one dog, convince your wife that giving them a bath could double as a fun full body workout.
  • After your wife nixes the dog-washing idea, convince her to shop local at the mall so you can at least sample culinary delights from three food court vendors.
  • Take your car in to the shop to rotate the tires and get an oil change, which will give you at least a guilt-free hour of watching a random college football game.
  • Volunteer to take the grandkids to the library, so you can read magazines you once paid to have mailed to your home.
  • Spend an afternoon fishing, which is always a good excuse to drink beer, get a sunburn and argue with friends before storing the boat for the winter.
  • Enjoy a date night with the wife, but don’t make the mistake of thinking you can get away with a store-bought pizza and whatever movie is on cable.
  • Punt, and spend the day watching multiple games featuring ranked college football teams.

Young gun

Florida Atlantic football coach Lane Kiffen took the bait, and now 11-year-old quarterback Cole Leinart has a scholarship offer from the Owls.

Yes, it’s a bit ridiculous considering Kiffen isn’t expected to stick around FAU for even another five years. But Cole Leinart is the son of former Southern Cal QB Matt Leinart. And Cole already has a strong and accurate arm.

In fact, it was a 30-yard completion for a touchdown that prompted The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman to tweet a video of that throw with a sarcastic quip that he was surprised Kiffen hadn’t already offered to sign the kid.

Kiffen, after all, was an assistant at USC during Leinart’s college career.

They said it

Omaha comedy writer/blogger Brad Dickson: “Good news for Tim Miles. A.D. Bill Moos said if Nebraska wins the NCAA Tournament, goes undefeated and then defeats the Globetrotters he’ll consider keeping Miles for another season.”

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: “Florida Atlantic football coach Lane Kiffin has offered a scholarship to Matt Leinart’s son Cole — a 5-foot-7, 11-year-old sixth-grader. The NCAA is already looking into that shiny new bicycle he’s suddenly riding to school.”

RJ Currie of SportsDeke.com: “The Nashville Predators, knocked out in Round 2 of the 2018 playoffs, raised three banners commemorating last season. I think one of them was for participation.”

Comedian Eric Stangel on Twitter: “I like when I do a crazy amount of research to painstakingly find my perfect fantasy football lineup, then I notice the person I’m playing against hasn’t updated anything since the draft.”

Jim Barach of JokesByJim.blogspot.com: “The NBA is revamping its officiating website to include plays that merited reviews. Or as they call that in the NFL, watching the game films.”

Omaha comedy writer/blogger Brad Dickson on Twitter, again: “I don’t want to read about Ronda Rousey’s “big comeback” to regain her WWE title or her plans for her next WWE match or what she thinks about the upcoming WWE card – I just don’t.”

Janice Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe.com, again: “Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. headbutted a giant cooling fan during the Eagles game. That’s odd; usually he prefers to butt heads with his coach.”

RJ Currie of SportsDeke.com, again: “According to USA Today, Alabama Crimson Tide’s problem is they always blow out the competition and aren’t used to close games. “We feel your pain,” said absolutely nobody.”

Jim Barach of JokesByJim.blogspot.com: “The Raiders have been fined $20,000 for violating the league’s injury reporting policy. Which is the NFL’s way of adding insult to injury.”

Omaha comedy writer/blogger Brad Dickson on Twitter, again: “It’s hard for the ESPN/ABC crew to seem impartial when they spend half the telecast singing the Northwestern fight song.”

Janice Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe.com, again: “Ohio State star DE Nick Bosa says he is leaving school to focus on rehabbing a muscle injury before the NFL draft. Because we all know it takes so much physical effort to read a book?”

Comedian Eric Stangel on Twitter: “Best moment of my day/week/month. Someone just asked me if I was a rugby player.”

Omaha comedy writer/blogger Brad Dickson on  Twitter, again: “Take away  the worst start in 129 years of playing football for Nebraska and this really hasn’t been that bad of a season.”

RJ Currie of SportsDeke.com, again: “Reuters reports 409 Beadnose, a roly-poly brown ursine female in Alaska, has been named Fattest Bear. Judges said she’s the portliest Fattest Bear champ since William The Fridge Perry.”

Jim Barach of JokesByJim.blogspot.com: “Serena Williams’ coach says on-court coaching should be allowed. Although how much coaching can you really give a tennis player? “Hit it harder!” “Hit it over the net!” “Run faster!”

Janice Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe, again: “Marijuana is legal in Canada starting tomorrow. And for a lot of professional football players the CFL just got more appealing.”

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times, again: “Experts say a rare 1792 U.S. penny set to go on the auction block in Baltimore this month could fetch $1 million. In a related story, Steelers holdout Le’Veon Bell is now demanding his franchise tag be paid in 1792 U.S. pennies.”

Mixed feelings

You have to wonder if Oklahoma City Thunder fans can continue to embrace Paul George after the California native admitted he still has thoughts of what life would be like in a Lakers uniform.

“I wanted to play in L.A. That is where I wanted to go,” said George. “Had that trade never went down, had I played one more year in Indy, I would have been in a Lakers uniform.”

Instead, the Indiana Pacers trade George to the Thunder prior to last season. That experience playing alongside Russell Westbrook was enough to alter George’s free-agency dreams, which is why he ended up signing a four-year contract extension worth $137 million.

“Going toward the summer and going toward free agency, I kind of had my mind made up talking with the team, talking with Russ and talking with the front office,” said Paul. “I kind of felt good where we were at.”

But that didn’t stop him from telling ESPN’s The Undefeated this week that he was still disappointed he didn’t get the chance to play out the final year of his contract in Indianapolis. By being traded to the Thunder, he felt like the opportunity to go to the Lakers became more complicated.

“It was 50-50 on deciding whether I wanted to come back home or if it was smarter to be in the situation I am in now.”

It’ll be interesting to see how the fans respond to George when the Thunder play their home-opener on Sunday against the Sacramento Kings.

Headlines

Fark.com: “Competitive pinball is now a thing.”

TheOnion.com: “Texas Rangers asking taxpayers to cover 60% of bribes related to new stadium.”

SportsPickle.com: “The threat of groin surgeries is what really could see kids choose not to play football.”

Fark.com: “Manny Machado called up to the bush leagues.”

TheOnion.com: “Skip Bayless rips Shannon Sharpe’s heart from body during debate on Cowboy’s O-Line.”

Sportspickle.com:  “I don’t know guys. I really think the Steelers should pay $20 million a year for their No. 2 back.”

 Fark.com: “LeBron James finally compares L.A. Lakers to instant oatmeal.”

TheOnion.com: “Sprinter feels like an idiot after finding out about jogging.”

Sportspickle.com: “I always thought there should be more than four teams in the college football playoff. Then I saw No. 5 Notre Dame play football.”

Fark.com: “Hockey team knows you’re in trouble when your home ice is turned yellow.”

TheOnion.com: “Golden State raises 2018, 2019, 2020 championship banners.”

Fark.com: “Soccer club under fire for handing out brothel vouchers to fans.”

Declining interest

Indianapolis Star conducted a poll on Twitter asking Colts fans  why they aren’t inclined to attend games this season, putting the franchise near the bottom of the NFL in attendance as the league nears midseason.

The answers weren’t that surprising considering the Colts are off to a 1-5 start this season despite the return of Andrew Luck at quarterback.

Forty percent replied that the team was “Not good enough.” Another 28 percent decided it had become too expensive, even if the Colts still have season tickets that are lower on average than most of the league.

Nineteen percent said they’d rather watch on TV and 13 percent gave “Other” as their answer.

Baseball rules?

Comedian Eric Stangel on Twitter: “If a catcher is allowed to stand up when the pitch is coming, then the batter should be allowed to sit down.” #EricStangelForMLBCommissioner

Jim Barach of JokesByJim.blogspot.com: “The Astros fan called for interference says he doesn’t understand why it wasn’t ruled a home run. To which somewhere, Steve Bartman is coming out of the shadows saying “Yes!”

Syndicated columnist Norman Chad, via Twitter on Dodger catcher Yasmani Grandal’s third inning in Game 1 of the NLDS: “Passed ball, catcher’s interference, error. Is that a hat trick or fielding for the cycle?”

Bigger opponent

Purdue is honoring one of its own at kickoff on Saturday when the Boilermakers play Ohio State. Instead of the traditional pre-kickoff chant of “IU sucks” directed at rival Indiana, the fans are being instructed to vent against cancer.

Tyler Trent, who fancies himself as one of Purdue’s biggest sports fans, is going through his third battle with bone cancer since his freshman year in high school. He now would be a sophomore at Purdue, if he was still enrolled in school. But last year doctors found that the cancer, osteosarcoma, had settled in his lower spine. The cancer first appeared in an arm and his pelvis.

Last month, the Carmel, Indiana native made it known that he would not be able to return to school because of his latest bout with the disease. “My health has taken a turn for the worse and the level of care I now need is too great,” he tweeted.

But he and his family will make it to West Lafayette for Saturday’s game.

NBA longshots

Stefan Bondy of the N.Y. Daily News, via Twitter with the latest NBA opening-night news: “A fan just knocked down a halfcourt shot for $10,000. The Knicks have missed all nine of their field-goal attempts.”

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times, again: “Golden State star Klay Thompson says he’d like to see five Warriors make Team USA. So which happens first: five Warriors on Team USA — or the entire Team USA roster on the Warriors?”

Janice Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe.com: “Kawhi Leonard got a standing ovation in his first game with the Raptors, and seems happy enough now to be in Toronto.  Of course, with Canada’s new marijuana laws, maybe he figures it won’t be long until some of his favorite superstar friends will join him.”

Charles Barkley, making a confession to NBC comedian Jimmy Fallon: “I’ve been 10 years without underwear. And, I feel good about it, Jimmy. I thought they were unnecessary for space in the house. So, I gathered all my drawers together and had a big ol’ bonfire.”

My takes

Rehastagging this week’s top Tweets from @Randy_Beard11

  • Troy Aikman made it clear on Thursday Night Football he doesn’t listen to podcasts. Joe Buck seemed stunned. “You listen to podcasts?” asked Aikman. “Yes I do,” said Buck. Replied Aikman, “I’m going to call you next time you’re listening.” Masters of Chitchat.
  • Former Gamecock Josh Wolff, who is an assistant w/ Columbus Crew, is getting shot as assistant w/USMNT vs. Peru in exhibition in Hartford, CT. Makes me wonder if he’ll be contacted as candidate to replace Mark Berson. He’s only 41 and he’d be a great hire. #bringWolffhome
  • Dolphins’ Drake was shedding tears of relief for OT fumble after Jason Sanders bailed him out w/ 47 yd FG to beat Bears 31-28. Chicago missed FG. But my takeaways: Drake is ex-Alabama player who choked at crunch time; Colts were crazy for letting Gore go. 1-5 Colts, I might add.
  • Georgia and South Carolina have combined for 0 points in first half and are surrendering 29 points to LSU and Tennessee. So scrap my idea of a Fantasy Mixed Doubles Football League.
  • Charles Barkley just surrendered man card. Asked if he had been tempted to play football since Pat Dye wanted him, he said no, you had to be “real man” to play football. So his Auburn nickname, “Round Mound of Rebound” indicates only pancakes Sir Charles knows come with syrup.

 

From Sidelines to punchlines

A different view of sports

Clearing my mind and notebook while noting that one of the biggest disappointments about being retired is not having a working gig during today’s Kentucky Derby:

Stirring it up

Sometimes Charles Barkley is the biggest knucklehead in the TNT studio. He just can’t help himself.

Such was the case after Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors and Rajon Rondo of the New Orleans Pelicans went nose-to-nose while engaged in “some unfriendly chatter” Tuesday night.

During TNT’s halftime show, Barkley suggested Green deserved to pay a price for trying to intimidate and provoke Rondo into fighting.

When Ernie Johnson asked the panel for their thoughts, Barkley said, “I just want someone to punch him in the face. I really do. I just want someone to punch him in the face.”

After the game when Green was asked to respond to Barkley’s comments, the war of words was on.

“He’s seen me a million times,” said Green.” If he feels that strongly about something, then punch me in my face when you see me. If he’s not going to punch me in my face when he sees me, then shut up. It’s no different than someone sitting behind a computer screen and tweeting, “I’ll knock you out, and you never see them in your life.”

Green continued his rant by suggesting Barkley should have the guts to follow through on his threat.

“Punch me in my face when you see me. If not, no one cares what you would have done. You’re old and it is what it is,” said Green. “If you aren’t going to punch me when you see me, then stop talking about it. Period.”

When he initially had trouble putting the microphone back on its base, he looked at the reporters in the room and said, “Drop the mike.” Then he got up and left the interview session.

Meanwhile, Rondo laughed off the incident and said it was essentially gamesmanship between the two. He said he wasn’t trying to “bait” Green, but he wasn’t going to back down, either.

For the record, the Warriors lead the West semifinal series, 2-1, after the Pelicans bounced back for a 119-100 win Friday night. Neither Green or Rondo was much of a factor scoringwise in that game, combining for 15 points. But Green did have 12 rebounds and nine assists and Rondo had 21 assists and 10 rebounds.

So, no title?

For the record, Scott Frost, now the head football coach at Nebraska, doesn’t claim he won a national championship at UCF last season after completing a 13-0 season by leading the Knights past Auburn in the Peach Bowl.

Sure, he understands why UCF athletic director Danny White scheduled a title parade, hung banners around campus and purchased championship rings for the team. Heck, Frost and his coaching staff even accepted the championship bonus checks – and then all bolted for jobs with the Cornhuskers.

Not a bad way of double-dipping on your football salary, if you can manage it.

“All I’ll say is if I had stayed there, I would have had a hard time getting behind it,” said Frost. “I think it was smart by them because it has kept UCF in the media and in the conversation. But you know, like our rings, I kind of wish my ring just said ‘Undefeated Season’ and ‘Peach Bowl Champion.’”

All the media fuss the championship claim has created is reportedly been worth $200 million in publicity for UCF. And it hasn’t cost UCF anything but the expense of the parade, banners, rings and coaching bonuses.

“I do think it was almost criminal how low (the CFB Committee) kept UCF in the rankings, and I think it was intentional,” Frost told USA Today. “But at the end of the day, the playoff system  is that the national champion is the team that wins the playoff.”

So while White sticks to his assertion that UCF has a championship claim because it beat both Alabama and Georgia – the two teams that played for the title in the same stadium in Atlanta – Frost recognizes the Crimson Tide as the true champions.

’Skins game

The New York Times reported this week that several Washington Redskins cheerleaders were forced to go topless or wear only body paint during a 2013 calendar shoot in Costa Rica. Since there was no nudity in the calendar, the real problem is that the women allege corporate sponsors and other men were on the trip and were invited to watch the photo shoots. The story also alleges that the cheerleaders were then required to escort those men to a nightclub.

It took a few days, but the team is now finally, and predictably, pushing back on those charges. Two former squad captains who were on the Costa Rica trip dispute that the team was “pimping us out.”

“Those terms — ‘pimped out,’ ‘escort’ — they just need to stop, because it’s absolutely not what happened,” Rachel Gill said in an interview with NBC’s “Today” show alongside fellow ex-team member Charo Bishop.

The Times, which interviewed five former cheerleaders, stands by its reporting. The women remain anonymous because they were required to sign confidentiality agreements to go on the trip.

While none of the cheerleaders have alleged they were required to have sex, they do claim that the squad’s director, Stephanie Jojokian, used them “as sex symbols to please male sponsors.”

Bishop, however, said she didn’t see anything wrong with the cheerleaders’ roles at the team’s corportate events. She also told NBC that going topless at the photo shoots was, “All optional, voluntary. Some girls were excited to do those things.”

The Times report also alleges that during a 2012 private boat party the men were allowed to shoot liquor into the mouths of cheerleaders with turkey basters” and “handed out cash prizes in twerking contests.”

Team president Bruce Allen said in a statement Thursday that the team is investigating the allegations.

“I can promise that once we have completed looking into this matter, if it is revealed that any of our employees acted inappropriately, those employees will face significant repercussions,” Allen said.

Of course, what’s really needed is for the NFL to get serious about its diminished image and realize that a growing percentage of its fans are female. So where is the side of beefcake?

Right step

Meanwhile, over in the NBA, another step in the right direction toward women’s rights comes the news that the Milwaukee Bucks plan on interviewing Becky Hammon for their vacant head coaching job, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com.

Hammon already has been a trailblazer in the league, serving as an assistant coach under Gregg Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs. In 2015, she coached the Spurs’ Las Vegas Summer League team and won the championship.

Despite being undrafted in 1999, the former standout at Colorado State played 16 seasons in the WNBA with the New York Liberty and the San Antonio Stars and was named as one of the league’s top 15 players all-time in 2011.

The Bucks interviewed Hammon for their general manager job in 2017 but she wasn’t a finalist

For the coaching vacancy, Milwaukee is expected to interview several other candidates, including former Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer, former New Orleans coach Monty Williams and former Cleveland coach David Blatt.

They said it

Mike Bianchi of Orlando Sentinel on the report that some Washington Redskins cheerleaders were forced to pose topless during a 2013 calendar shoot in Costa Rica:  “New team motto: “We’re a sexist organization with a racist nickname!”

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: “You can slip us this Mickey anytime: A 1952 Mantle baseball card has sold for $2.88 million — or 384 times the $7,500 he was paid to play that season.”

Janice Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe: “FIFA called out Trump on ethics after he tweeted about not supporting countries who don’t support North American World Cup 2026 bid. Give Donald Trump credit – who else could give FIFA the moral high road?”

TBS comedian Conan O’Brien: “A study reveals that the best way to add years to your life is to exercise, lose weight, and not drink too much. To which all of America replied, “What else you got?”

RJ Currie of SportsDeke.com: “Two ex-cheerleaders who filed NFL discrimination suits said if Commissioner Roger Goodell met with them, they’d settle for $1 each. Or twice their old salaries.”

Dwight Perry, again: “Scientists in Singapore created a robot that can put together an Ikea chair in roughly 20 minute. So now it’s on to even tougher challenges, like assembling a roster for the Cincinnati Reds.”

Age-old problem

Jerry Richardson is clearly not smarter than a fifth-grader.

The 81-year-old owner of the Carolina Panthers is being forced to sell his NFL team because of numerous harassment complaints, including sexually suggestive comments he made to female employees.

One such incident even borders on middle-school hijinks since Richardson allegedly passed a note to at least one woman that sought to determine if she had any interest in having a relationship with him.

“Do you think of me as: 1. Your grandfather; 2. Your second father; 3. Your second husband; 4. Your friend; 5. Your boyfriend; 6. Something else.

 Gridiron grandstanding

When NewArena.com compiled its listing of the top college football coaches, the Big Ten surprisingly came out on top with  nine of the 33 ranked coaches. Ohio State’s Urban Meyer led the way for the league at No. 2, while Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh was No. 5.

Meanwhile, the ACC had the second most coaches on the list with seven, giving the league two more than the SEC. But despite those overall numbers, it’s interesting to note that Clemson’s Dabo Swinney was the only ACC coach ranked among the Top 10.

Alabama’s Nick Saban was No. 1 overall to lead the SEC’s three coaches in the Top 10, including Jimbo Fisher of Texas A&M at No. 7 and Gus Malzahn of Auburn at 10.

But based on numbers, the Pac-12 could claim dominance with UCLA’s Chip Kelley ranked No. 4, Washington’s Chris Petersen at No. 6 and Stanford’s David Shaw at No. 8.

We should also note that Fisher bolted from Florida State of the AC at the end of the season to take the Aggies’ job. If that hadn’t happened, the Pac-12 would have been the only league with three coaches ranked in the top 10.

The list: 1. Nick Saban, Alabama; 2. Urban Meyer, Ohio State; 3. Dabo Swinney, Clemson; 4. Chip Kelley, UCLA; 5. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan; 6. Chris Petersen, Washington; 7. Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M; 8. David Shaw, Stanford; 9. Gary Patterson, TCU; 10. Gus Malzahn, Auburn; 11. Bobby Petrino, Louisville; 12. Mark Richt, Miami; 13. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame; 14. James Franklin, Penn State; 15. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State; 16. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State; 17. Kyle Whittingham, Utah; 18. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin; 19. Mike Leach, Washington State; 20. Bill Snyder, Kansas State; 21. Dan Mullen, Florida; 22. David Cutcliffe, Duke; 23. Ken Niumatalolo, Navy; 24. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech; 25. Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech; 26. Tom Herman, Texas; 27. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern; 28. Clay Helton, Southern Cal; 29. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa; 30. Scott Frost, Nebraska; 31. Mike Norvell, Memphis 32. Matt Campbell, Iowa State; 33. Jeff Brohm, Purdue.

Headlines

TheOnion.com: “Don Mattingly yelling at Marlins for leaving dome open with AC on.”

Fark.com: “Boston Marathon gets to keep some of the prize money because three of the top 15 runners lack Y chromosones.”

Onion.com: “LeBron James credits teammates with providing 4 bodies necessary to avoid forfeiture against Pacers.”

TheOnion.com: “Joe Maddon saves up all his mound visits for one long trip in 8th inning.”

Fark.com: “There are dumb people in the world but until today I didn’t know there were people dumb enough to say, ‘let’s put a Super Bowl in London.”

TheOnion.com: “White Sox promotion puts first 9 fans at ballpark in starting lineup.”

Fark.com: “High school baseball player sues third base coach for telling him to slide.”

Fark.com: “Stay classy, Redskins management.”

TheOnion.com: “No (expletive) chance kid who bought mitt to 400 level getting near foul ball.”

TheOnion.com: “Gym patron just resting for a second until will to live returns.”

Higher expectations

Josh Rosen wasn’t pleased that he fell to the 10th pick of the first round of the recent NFL Draft.

“I thought I should’ve been picked at 1, 2 or 3,” said Rosen, who was selected by the Arizona Cardinals. “I dropped, and I was pissed. I was really, really angry. I wasn’t really showing it. I was trying to keep calm, cool, composed.”

So much for projections that Rosen was the top quarterback in the draft. Perhaps the problem with that evaluation is that it caused ‘Chosen Rosen’s” head to further swell, and then burst when he was drafted 10th.

One team GM said Rosen was psychologically a combination of Jeff George and Jay Cutler, two polarizing quarterbacks who can divide teams. It was a way to suggest that Rosen doesn’t have the leadership skills to last in the NFL

But what he did demonstrate in college was that he can make the quick, short-yardage throws that keep the chains moving in a West Coast offense.

Rosen responded to the criticism he’s heard by saying that he would make it a goal to be a leader. “I’m not going to come in and be an a–hole and think that my s— don’t stink,” he said.

Replacement player?

Ben Roethlisberger may have been merely voicing his desire for more help in getting the Steelers to another Super Bowl when he criticized Pittsburgh for taking Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Randolph in the third round. But by bringing it up during a KDKA radio interview on the Cook and Poni Show, he sounded territorial.

Roethlisberger is entering his 15th season in the NFL and he wouldn’t mind sticking around for another few years. Since Big Ben has had a knack for playing through injuries, starting an average of 14 games a season, he thought the Steelers could have used a lower draft pick on a quarterback and gotten help for another position of need.

“I thought that maybe in the third round, you can get some really good football players that can help this team now,” he said.

Personal note

I haven’t fully decided, but this blog may go into hibernation for a few weeks because my wife and I are in the process of relocating from Indiana to South Carolina.

If I can still manage the time to write, I will. You’ll just have to tune in during this transition, but I shall return at some point.

Personally, it’s a good time to take a break since I was kicked to the curb by Gannett one year ago during one of the company’s many downsizing moves. It came less than two weeks after I was recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists with two 2016 writing awards, including second best columnist in Indiana.

As always, you can always reach me by email at randy.beard@yahoo.com

From Sidelines to punchlines.

A different view of sports

Clearing my mind and notebook while wondering why anyone cares about setting attendance records for spring college football games:

Farewell tour

I once had a pet squirrel, but sadly, no rodent training skills.

All Squiggy learned to do all those years ago in Spartanburg, S.C. was how to eat out of my hand without nipping a finger. I should have tried harder. Much harder.

That was my first thought after reading that Twiggy the Water Skiing Squirrel is retiring after 39 years.

That’s the life Chuck and Lou Ann Best envisioned for Twiggy after they came across their abandoned squirrel.

Chuck, who owned a skating rink, had taught a chimpanzee how to skate, so he at least had experience training animals. While that wasn’t his intent when he bought a remote-control boat for the pool, his thoughts made that leap when friends started kidding him. It wasn’t long after that that he started teaching Twiggy how to water ski.

Voila! The water-loving rodent was an instant hit at outdoor shows, state and county fairs and on television. He even made an appearance on David Letterman’s show.

Well, at least one of the Twiggy’s did. Eight different squirrels have assumed Twiggy’s identity through the years, including several after Chuck died in a 1997 boating accident. Lou Ann nearly retired the act then, but Twiggy had built such a following that it would have been foolish for her to do so. Instead, she re-envisioned the show as a way to promote water safety.

That all ends this year.

After a stop this weekend in Sarasota, Fla., Twiggy’s final tour will end with bookings in Lake Mary, Fla., Indianapolis and Huntsville, Ala. Then  Twiggy and trainer will retire to the good life in a Florida retirement village.

But wait, there’s more.

Twiggy will become a publishing star when Lou Ann starts diving into a series of children’s books.

“I’m excited and scared to death,” Best said. “Physically, doing the physical work and the riding for so many hours on the road, it’s getting harder for me as I get older. I want to write some books.”

For the record, Sguiggy and I became acquainted in 1986 – only 32 years ago – when he fell out of a nest in my front yard.

He became so tame that he’d eat out of my hand months after we released him into the wilds of our yard. We even have a family portrait taken in the driveway with The Wife and our three kids.

But about six months after he moved out on his own, Sguiggy was murdered by a cat and left on our doorstep (I assume for a proper burial).

He would have been better off living a life of fame, fortune and water skiing.

Come to think of it, so would I.

Stolen glory

The University of Central Florida — yeah, it prefers to be called UCF — handed out large rings Saturday to its football players for the self-proclaimed national championship the school claimed after finishing the season unbeaten at 13-0.

It completes  an egotistical march to claim a title the Knights really didn’t win.

Since January the school has held a championship parade, marked the Orlando campus with  title flags, hung a national championship banner at Spectrum Stadium and raised thousands of index fingers.

All in an attempt to declare an athletic version of Stolen Vaor.

But if all you had to do was declare something true, Lamar Jackson would have won the Heisman Trophy for the second consecutive season.

And that would have been more believable.

They said it

Humor writer Brad Dickson on Twitter: “If Bill Moos’ extensions of Tim Miles’ contracts get any shorter they can be measured with a shot clock.”

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: “Patrick Reed has been spotted seemingly everywhere since winning the Masters, still wearing his green jacket. The movie-theatre stop proved a bit awkward, however, when patrons wouldn’t stop handing him their tickets.”

Janice Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe.com: “Quarterback Mark Sanchez has been suspended for the first four games of the 2018 NFL season for Performance Enhancing Drug use. Well, whatever he took, it didn’t work.”

Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: “Did you see where the Jacksonville Jaguars are building a dog park at their football stadium? I’m thinking this might not be such a great idea … I guess those growing number of NFL critics have a point when they say the league has gone to the dogs.”

TBS comedian Conan O’Brien: “Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski bought a stake in a Kentucky Derby racehorse that was named after him. The million-dollar animal bred for its ability to run fast says he’s excited to own a share in a horse.”

RJ Currie of SportsDeke.com: “Note to Notre Dame basketball hero Arike Ogunbowale when she competes on Dancing with the Stars. ‘Don’t wait until the last 10 seconds to score with the judges.'”

Norman Chad of the Washington Post: “If the future of sports viewing is millennials watching 90-second video clips on YouTube, cricket is in a world of hurt.”

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times, again: “Does anyone else find it bizarre that, right after the NFL finally clarified its definition of what constitutes a catch, the Cowboys drop Dez Bryant?”

Pedaling Phelps

Michael Phelps is no longer swimming competitively, but he is still competing athletically – even if he isn’t doing it for all the world to see.

Competing online in Pelotron cycling classes, Phelps has been logging hundreds of miles and burning thousands of calories under an assumed identity.

“I’ve had somebody next to me racing every single stroke of my life I’ve ever taken in the pool. It’s good for me to kinda be able to push myself,” Phelps told Business Insider.

“We got a Peloton maybe last July, last August, and I’ve kinda just been really hammering bike rides when I’m home.”

Now that he’s not beginning every day swimming laps, Phelps said he’s motivated by watching the digital “leaderboard” as he rides at home.

For now, he likes having a secret identity

Different view

Tired of being penalized for helmet-to-helmet hits, Micah Hyde thinks quarterbacks who try to hook up with receivers in the danger zone across the middle are the ones who should be penalized and possibly fined.

“They’re the ones who are throwing the ball right there,” said Hyde. “It’s tough for us to be able to adjust last second to get our head to one side, the other side — up, down. We’re trying to make a play like the receiver is. It’s the sport of football.”

The NFL did tweak the rule book last month so that any player – offensive or defensive – can be penalized 15 yards and potentially ejected if they lower their head to make helmet-to-helmet contact with an opponent no matter where they are on the field.

“It’s a violent game, it’s a violent sport,” said Hyde. “They’re trying the best they can do to make it as safe as possible, but at the end of the day, those bang-bang plays, they’re hard to get out of the sport.”

The previous rule limited penalties to situations when any player initiated contact outside the tackle box with the crown of their helmet,

This is the first of many steps toward the formation of the NFFL –  National Flag Football League.

Midwest synergy

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has joined forces with the Milwaukee Bucks, which makes him the only active NFL player to be a limited partner of an NBA team.

Besides the show of community support for another professional team in the area, the investment comes with some nice perks. Like courtside seats at the Bradley Center, which Rodgers shared with girlfriend, Danica Patrick, Friday night during Milwaukee’s Game 3 rout over Boston in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Rodgers is a huge Bucks’ fan, calling the investment opportunity “a dream come true.”

Hmmm. I wonder how that makes Danica feel?

 Headlines

Fark.com: “Bryce Harper’s bat died a hero last night. Godspeed, Wonderboy.”

TheOnion.com: “Michael Jackson attacks softness, lack of competitiveness in modern blackjack players.”

SportsPickle.com: “Tough break for Browns getting 16 games again – that’s their unlucky number.”

TheOnion.com: “Carmelo Anthony struggles to get rhythm back after making shot.”

Fark.com: “Lance Armstrong settles his lawsuit with the U.S. government for $5 million, a livestrong bracelet and his remaining testicle.”

TheOnion.com: “College equestrian clearly coming to class straight from practice.”

Fark.com: “Michael Phelps shows how to get pot stains off your teeth.”

SportsPickle.com: “America sick of Aaron Rodgers’ cocky behavior after learning he is 1/16th black.”

Lighting it up

In an interview with the Bleacher Report, former NBA player Kenyon Martin said that he believes 85 percent of the league – and not just players – were smoking marijuana during his 15 years in the league.

‘It was a lot of people who you wouldn’t think (smoked),” said Martin, who played in college at Cincinnati.

Another former player, Matt Barnes, said he wouldn’t dispute those numbers based on his 14 years in the NBA.

When it comes to pot use, Barnes said league officials display a certain level of hypocrisy. He claims there were coaches and general managers who were known to regularly smoke weed who managed to keep a straight face when they suspended or fined players for failed drug tests. He said that’s still an issue.

“Some of the people that are cracking whips and suspending us are smoking weed,” said Barnes.

Not surprisingly, the NFL doesn’t get off the hook in the article. Pot use is estimated to be used at an even higher rate in professional football – maybe as high as 90 percent.

Former NFL defensive lineman Shaun Smith said he used to smoke “two blunts before every game” over the span of his 10 seasons in the league.

“Shoot, coaches do it. Personnel does it, people upstairs do it,” Smith said. “Quarterbacks, guys that are your captains, leaders of the team smoke. Everybody has their reason. They do it for their pain.”

Philly closure

Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, who went from backup to Super Bowl MVP when starter Carson Wentz was injured,  has a revised contract that will keep  him in Philadelphia.

At least for now.

NFL Media has reported that the team has agreed to terms with Foles on a 2018 contract that includes an option for the 2019 season. Foles reportedly received a $2 million signing bonus and could earn other lucrative bonuses if he beats out Wentz for the starting job.

Doesn’t add up

Prognosticating 101 states that if one team wins, another has to lose.

That concept was forgotten by ESPN’s team of experts when they got together to predict the records of all 32 NFL teams for the 2018-19 season. They managed to come up with 289 wins and 223 losses. There should have been 256 wins and 256 losses.

None of the ESPN experts are apparently ready to declare any of the league’s teams horribly bad.

(Pause here for a flashback to the 0-16 Cleveland Browns.)

Last year 11 teams finished with six or fewer wins. But this year the World Wide Leader’s brainiacs believe 26 teams will finish no worse than .500 with 19 clubs posting at least nine wins.

You can’t even do that in Fantasy Football.

From Sidelines to punchlines

A different view of sports

Clearing my mind and notebook while just glad Frank Martin’s South Carolina basketball team is still in contention for the NIT after making it to the Final Four last year.

Serious business?

Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles at the Staples Center will feature a new sandlot-style format, pitting Team LeBron (James) vs. Team Stephen (Curry).

Charles Barkley, for one, can’t wait to see who the knuckleheads will be in the bunch, risking injury to try to win game MVP honors.

“There are always a couple of idiots,” said Barkley on Jimmy Kimmel Live. “…There’s always a couple of guys trying to play like its Game 7. You want to say, ‘Dude, this is an exhibition. Calm down!’ They are diving for loose balls and you’re worried about your legs and everything. But there are always a couple of guys trying to get MVP. Those guys are dangerous.”

There may be more than a couple of players taking the afternoon seriously. Not only is the MVP a nice honor, but players on the winning team will earn $100,000 this season – double the pay they received last season.

The losing players only get $25,000 each.

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni will coach Team Stephen. His starters will be Curry (Golden State), James Harden (Houston), DeMar DeRozan (Toronto), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee) and Joel Emblid (Philadelphia)

Toronto coach Dwayne Casey will guide Team LeBron. His starters will be James, Kevin Durant (Golden State), Antony Davis (New Orleans), DeMarcus Cousins (New Orleans) and Kyrie Irving (Boston).

Stat of week

SportsBettingDime.com states that the over-under prop bet for the number of dunks in Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game is 40.5.

Philly fans

If anyone should know Philadelphia sports fans, it’d be Barkley.

The former Auburn player spent the first half of his 16-year NBA career with the 76ers. And while he confessed that he didn’t want to be drafted by Philly, he ended up falling in love with the city and the fans.

So, when Barkley was approached at a downtown Philadelphia hotel by a group of Minnesota Vikings fans before the NFC Championship, he was ready to offer some advice.

“They pulled me aside and said, ‘Hey Charles, if things are going good for us in the game, how do you think we should act? I said, ‘Hey, don’t make a sound. Those people are going to be loaded. They are going to go crazy.”

After all, Philadelphia sports fans are known to overreact whether their teams win or lose. Philly police coated the lamp posts with Crisco to prevent people from climbing the poles and getting hurt. But there are also fans who have been known to punch the horses cops ride when patrolling downtown during big events.

“They came back to the hotel after the game and said, ‘Man, you were right. They were throwing things at us.’ And I said, ‘And y’all lost. Can you imagine what they would have done if y’all had won?’”

They said it

NBC comedian Jimmy Fallon: “Over 65,000 people attended the Super Bowl. The crowd was 10 percent Eagles fans, 10 percent Patriots fans and 80 percent angry Vikings fans.”

Actor Dwayne Johnson, who played football at the University of Miami: “Making it to the NFL was the best thing that never happened to me.”

RJ Currie of SportsDeke.com: “A brawl broke out in a professional rugby game in the country of Georgia, complete with punching, kicking and bloodshed. Then things got really violent: they played rugby.”

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: “Referees ejected an Arizona cheerleader for yelling at opposing players through his megaphone during the Wildcats’ 77-70 basketball win over rival Arizona State on Thursday night. He was reportedly released on his own personal recognizance for 2 bits, 4 bits, 6 bits, a dollar.”

TBS comedian Conan O’Brien: “It’s been reported that they’ll be handing out over 100,000 condoms in the Olympic Village. After hearing about it, Americans everywhere said, ‘Now that’s the show we want to watch.’”

Brad Dickson of the Omaha (Neb) World-Herald on the XFL vowing not to allow any players with a criminal record: “I hope they’re willing to play eight-man football.”

Janice Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe.com after Jamie Anderson won Olympic gold in slopestyle: “Millions of Americans: ‘USA! USA! USA! … What’s slopestyle’?”

Jim Barach of WCHS-TV in Charleston, W.Va., after Hawks forward DeAndre’ Bembry was arrested for driving 128 mph: “He is averaging 4.8 points a game, but that just got him 12 points on his driver’s license.”

 Super moment

This season couldn’t have turned out any better for Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, who once considered handing up his clipboard.

Then starter Carson Wentz tore an ACL in December and Foles was thrust into the starting lineup. The rest is history. He matched Tom Brady’s legacy by leading his team to the championship, beating Brady in the process.

Now he’s suddenly a hot commodity and a fan favorite, giving the Eagles something to think about.

“My safe spot used to be whole food,” said Foles during an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” this week. “But now I can’t go into Whole Foods (without being recognized).”

He said most Philly fans who come up to him end up crying because he helped fulfill a decades-old dream of the Eagles winning the championship.

Foles, who was drafted by the Eagles in the third round in 2012 and spent one season each in St. Louis and Kansas City before returning to Philadelphia this season, has mostly been a backup during his career.

He did start 21 games for the Eagles in 2013-14, passing for 5.054 yards and 40 touchdowns, before signing with St. Louis. But his career path has been on a downward spiral until he stepped in for the Eagles on Dec. 10 against the Raiders.

In seven regular season appearances this season, including three starts, he completed 57 of 101 passes for 537 yards and five touchdowns. In the three playoff games, Foles completed 77 of 106 passes for 971 yards and six touchdowns.

Foles is due to make $4 million in salary next season, but if he’s still with the Eagles on March 18, the team also is on the hook for a $3-million roster bonus.

He wants to stay in Philadelphia and that will put considerable pressure on team management. Imagine how Eagles fans will react if they get off to a slow start next season, knowing they traded the Super Bowl MVP and lost their offensive coordinator Frank Reich, who left to become the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.

Marketing impact

A recent study by picksixpreviews.com asked 224 college football recruits to rank the brands of Power Five schools as if they were each the No. 1 recruit in the nation.

Somewhat surprisingly, Clemson came out on top, underscoring just how much Dabo Swinney has elevated the Tigers in the past few years while winning a national championship in 2016 and finishing second to Alabama in 2015.

Clemson generated the 27th most revenue (($104.8 million) in 2015-16.

Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide, which added another title this season (and has won five of nine), has somehow lost some luster with the latest recruiting class. Alabama ranked only No. 19.

The Top Five schools in terms of brand perception are Clemson, Ohio State, Penn State, Georgia and Oregon.

The factors determining brand impact vary with each recruit but include location, overall facilities, stadium size, fan support, media exposure, playing style, uniforms and coach persona.

Of the Top 25 brands, 17 were from the ACC, Big Ten and SEC and 42 of the Top 65 were from those conferences. If you add in Notre Dame, which competes in the ACC in every sport but football, the Irish ranked No. 15.

ACC: 1. Clemson; 7. Miami; 12. Florida State; 22. Louisville; 27. North Carolina; 33. Virginia Tech; 35. N.C. State; 38. Georgia Tech; 44. (tie) Duke; 50. Virginia; 54. Pittsburgh; 55. Wake Forest; 61. Syracuse; 64. Boston College.

Big Ten: 2. Ohio State; 3. Penn State; 11. Michigan State; 16. Wisconsin; 17. Michigan; 21. Nebraska; 39. Iowa; 41. Maryland; 44. (tie) Purdue; 45. Northwestern; 51. Minnesota; 57. Indiana; 58. Rutgers; 62. Illinois.

SEC: 4. Georgia; 10. LSU; 14. Florida; 18. Auburn; 19. Alabama; 24. Texas A&M; 25. Tennessee; 29. Mississippi; 31. Mississippi State; 32. South Carolina; 34. Kentucky; 49. Arkansas; 52. Missouri; 59. Vanderbilt.

Headlines

TheOnion.com: “Olympic drug-testing official left horribly disfigured after coming into contact with Russian urine.”

SportsPickle.com: “Star curler hoping to parlay Olympics success into dream janitor job.”

Fark.com: “Shirtless Tongen finishes at the bottom of the standings.”

TheOnion.com: “Schnauzers rioting outside Madison Square Garden following Westminster Dog Show defeat.”

SportsPickle.com: “Tom Brady asks his personal trainer for special exercises that can mend a broken heart.”

TheKicker.com: “Kyrie calls LeBron to learn how to properly throw teammates under the bus.:

SportsPickle.com: “Packers preparing to lose Aaron Rodgers after he promises he ‘loves them like family.’”

My takes

Rehastagging this week’s top tweets from @Randy_Beard11:

  • South Carolina upsets No. 10 Auburn, 84-75, despite furious comeback effort by Tigers. That’s three Top 10 wins for Gamecocks.
  • Auburn’s Anfernee McLemore had a gruesome injury late in first half at South Carolina. Gamecocks lead No. 10 Tigers, 46-25.
  • LaVar Ball gets   my vote as Dumbest Dad. Talk about the entitlement syndrome. He’s insisting Lonzo won’t resign with Lakers unless they sign brothers LiAngelo and LaMelo.
  • It seems Shaun White wants his legacy to be sex, drugs, rock and GOLD. But he should have pursued his groupies instead of drummer in his band, Bad Things.”

 Crying Irish

Notre Dame has had to forfeit 21 wins, including 12 in 2012 when the Irish played Alabama for the national title. (OK, we don’t want to go there, do we.)

The Irish were originally penalized in 2016 for academic violations during the 2012 and 2013 seasons but appealed. That appeal was finally denied this week by the NCAA. The school also received a year of probation and a $5,000 fine.

The infraction occurred when a student-trainer completed coursework for two players and provided improper academic assistance to another six.

Notre Dame suspended five players before the 2014 season, which brought the violations to the NCAA’s attention. Quarterback Everett Golson, who was the 2012 starter, was suspended in 2013. The South Carolina native played one more season in South Bend before transferring to Florida State in 2015.

The biggest impact of the forfeited losses at Notre Dame? Embarrassment, and we’re not just talking the kind of embarrassment from learning about the fake dead girlfriend of Manti Te’o.

Only if the Irish had to forfeit 13 wins from 2012 would this be more meaningful. But as we know, Alabama won that national championship game, 42-14.

Tebow time

Yes, spring training is about to begin, which means more daily reports on Tim Tebow’s attempt to turn an abbreviated NFL career into a cup of coffee in MLB.

“The goal is to get to the Major Leagues, for sure,” said Tebow, who was signed by the Mets last season and had eight home runs in 126 games with the Columbia, S.C. Fireflies and the St. Lucie, Fla. Mets last season while boosting attendances nearly 40 percent for those teams.

“Last year was my first year playing after taking 12 years off, and not playing since my junior year in high school,” the former Heisman Trophy winner at Florida told NBC’s Jimmy Fallon earlier this week.

“Huge transition. Huge obstacle. And of course, no one thinks I can do it. But I love trying to prove people wrong, so I’m excited about the challenge.”

Oh, he battled .226 with 126 strikeouts.

From Sidelines to punchlines

A different view of sports

Clearing my mind and notebook while wishing my memories as a soccer player justified the pain I’m now feeling as I contemplate knee replacement surgery:

Staying on top

There’s a reason why Nick Saban’s Alabama football program is again in the mix for a national championship even if the Crimson Tide didn’t play in the SEC Championship game.

He knows how to stay in front of new trends and rules.

On Friday, Alabama became the first power-five program to announce the hiring of a 10th on-field assistant coach to its staff. Pete Golding has spent the past two seasons as the defensive coordinator and secondary coach at UT-San Antonio. He’s also coached safeties at Southern Mississippi.

Golding won’t be able to participate in Alabama’s practices for a Jan. 1 Sugar Bowl College Football Playoff semifinal against Clemson or a possible championship game on Jan. 8. But he can serve in an off-field capacity until Jan. 9.

“Pete is an exciting young coach, who has an outstanding reputation as both a teacher and recruiter,” Saban said in a statement. “He will be a great fit in our organization with his knowledge of the game and his ability to relate to student-athletes.”

Saban also will need to replace his defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruittt who has been hired as Tennessee’s head coach. He will remain with the Crimson Tide until Alabama’s season is over.

They said it

Dwight Perry of Seattle Times: “The Class AAA Gwinnett, Ga., Braves have changed their nickname to Stripers in honor of the renowned bass-fishing at nearby Lake Lanier. Stripers pitchers, we hear, are already working on their hooks and sinkers.”

RJ Currie of SportsDeke.com “Suspended national team goalkeeper Hope Solo announced plans to run for president of U.S. Soccer. The idea got her so excited, she beat up a couple of relatives.”

Janice Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe.com: “FSU’s Derwin James, a projected early 1st round draft pick, is skipping Seminoles’ postseason. Must have been tough decision, who hasn’t dreamed of playing in Walk-Ons Independence Bowl?”

Comedian Argus Hamilton on Oklahoma QB BakerMayfield’s mea culpas this year for bad language,planting the OU flag on Ohio State’s 50-yard line and grabbing his crotch: “He’s just an apology for sexual misconduct away from earning his degree in government.”

NBC comedian Seth Myers: “According to a new poll, 71 percent of American men believe they face pressure to act interested in sports. “Not us!” said the New York Giants.”

Yankees shortstop Didi Gregoriusin in a tweet to new manager Aaron Boone after the team landed home-run champ Giancarlo Stanton: “Hey, Skip, am I still batting 4th?”

Comedian Steve Hofstetter: “Well, at least now we know the Yankees aren’t signing Bryce Harper. #Stanton

Brad Dickson of the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald  on Warriors star Steph Curry teaching an online basketball class: “This is a little like walking into driver’s ed and learning the instructor is Dale Earnhart Jr.”

Winter wonderland

Have you ever dreamed of stepping on the frozen tundra at Lambeau Field and being paid to play? Even perform?

Now’s your chance. The Green Bay Packers are looking for as many as 600 people to show up at the Mills Fleet Farm Gate on the west side of Lambeau Field on Monday to help with snow removal.

You must be at least 18 and you will be paid $10 per hour. The work to clear the field will begin shortly after 8 a.m. The Packers will even provide the shovels, although I suspect there are fans who would like to have their personal shovel touch such hallowed ground. And if you can’t make it until the strike of noon, your help may be needed throughout the day.

The Packers, who are at the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, host the Minnesota Vikings next Saturday.

But here’s the thing. There may not be enough snow on the field Monday to even make a  few dozen decent snow angels. The current forecast doesn’t predict much snow until Wednesday and Thursday.

 Double duty

Who needs cheerleaders or dance teams? In Saturday’s NFL game between Detroit and Chicago, several players for the Lions celebrated T.J. Jones’ touchdown catch with a Rockettes-inspired chorus line routine.

But yeah, wearing full pads and helmets may have detracted from the performance.

My takes

Rehastagging this week’s top tweets from @Randy_Beard11

Touchdown. Alabama!

Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger completes 44 of 66 passes for 506 yards and 2 TDS against Ravens’ defense that hadn’t surrendered 300 yards this season. Wish I had him on Fantasy Football team. Wait … I don’t play Fantasy Football any longer.

Stanford men join women as NCAA soccer champions. Men win third straight title, beating Indiana 1-0 on overtime goal by Sam Werner of Bozeman, Montana. Who knew Montanans even knew what a soccer ball looked like.

Where’s the Air Force when you need the aerial support? Army beats Navy 14-13 in the snow, but the big story is the two teams combined for 22 yards passing.

Panther noise

Cam Newton finally has someone to deflect attention from his antics.

While few details have been made public about why Panthers owner Jerry Richardson is under investigation by the NFL for workplace misconduct, Sports Illustrated has reported that he’s been accused of an assortment of incidents with employees that are sexist, racist and otherwise demeaning in nature.

Richardson, 81, is the only owner in the team’s 24-year history. He’s well-respected in the league and the Carolinas, where he played for Wofford College before playing two seasons in the NFL with the Baltimore Colts in 1959 and 1960. He used his championship game bonus from 1959 to invest in a Hardees fast-food franchise.

Long story short, he turned one restaurant in one chain to many restaurants in several chains to create a billion dollar empire. He was awarded an NFL expansion franchise in 1993, which began play in 1995.

The team played its first home schedule at Clemson University. I was the sports editor in Anderson, S.C. then and will always have great memories of those early years of the Panthers. I covered most of the team’s home games through 1998.

Before the NFL took over the investigation, the Panthers hired the law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan to investigate the allegations against Richardson. SI reports that Richardson has allegedly made suggestive comments to women employees, including how tight their jeans fit on casual Fridays, and made other inappropriate comments on their physical appearance. He’d even pay for manicures, give unsolicited back rubs and insist on buckling their seatbelts when taking female employees to business lunches. There have also been incidents allegations of Richardson making racially charged comments, including a slur directed at one scout.

He and team have allegedly made payouts with nondisclosure agreements to settle some disputes.

Name game

It burst on the scene in 1976 as the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana.

This year it will be contested on Dec. 27 and feature a monumental matchup between Southern Mississippi and Florida State, which is the real reason FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher took the head coaching job at Texas A&M.

Forgive him. He apparently had never been to College Station, Texas.

Meanwhile, Shreveport is fortunate to host a bowl game that leads the “league” in all-time sponsors. The revolving door of  corporate sponsors includes Poulan Weed Eater, Sanford (writing materials), MainStay Investments, PetroSun (gas), AdvoCare V100 (energy drinks), Duck Commander (hunting) and Camping World (campng supply stores) and Walk-On’s (bar and restaurant).

If you own T-shirts with all of those Independence Bowl logos, you’d have a lot of explaining to do.

Headlines

TheOnion.com: “NFL revokes Roger Goodell’s new contract after he fails physical.”

TheKicker.com: “Winter meetings mostly just people shouting, ‘Not fair!’ at Yankees.”

Fark.com: “Apparently, there is an SEC Cornhole Championship.”

SportsPickle.com:  “Confident  Blake Bortles vows: ‘I will be the worst QB to win a Super Bowl since Trent Dilfer.’ ”

TheOnion.com: “Browns encourage dissatisfied fans to at least stick it out until end of season.”

Fark.com: “Want to see Lambeau Field and get paid for it? Snow shovelers needed Monday.”

Bowl mania

In a separate blog entry, I’ve made my picks for all the college football bowl games. But below are my picks for the games that really matter, which means there is a team from the ACC, Big Ten or SEC involved.

Quick Lane Bowl, Dec. 26, 3:15 p.m. CT: Duke vs. Northern Illinois. MY PICK: Duke.

Independence Bowl, Dec. 27, 11:30 a.m. CT: Southern Mississippi vs. Florida State. MY PICK: Florida State.

Pinstripe Bowl, Dec. 27,  3:15 p.m. CT: Iowa vs. Boston College. MY PICK: Iowa.

Foster Farms Bowl, Dec. 27, 6:30 p.m.: Arizona vs. Purdue. MY PICK: Purdue.

Texas Bowl, Dec. 27, 7 p.m. CT: Texas vs. Missouri. MY PICK: Texas.

Military Bowl, Dec. 28, 11:30 a.m. CT: Virginia vs. Navy. MY PICK: Navy.

Camping World Bowl, Dec. 28, 3:15 p.m.: Virginia Tech vs. Oklahoma State.  MY PICK: Oklahoma State.

Holiday Bowl, Dec. 28, 7 p.m. CT: Washington State vs. Michigan State. MY PICK: Michigan State.

Belk Bowl, Dec. 29, 11 a.m. CT: Wake Forest vs. Texas A&M. MY PICK:  Wake Forest.

Sun Bowl, Dec. 29, 1 p.m.: N.C. State vs. Arizona State. MY PICK: N.C. State.

Music City Bowl, Dec. 29, 2:30 p.m.: Kentucky vs. Northwestern. MY PICK: Northwestern.

Cotton Bowl, Dec. 29, 6:30 p.m.: Southern California vs. Ohio State. MY PICK: Southern Cal.

Taxslayer Bowl, Dec. 30, 10 a.m. CT: Louisville vs. Mississippi State. MY PICK: Louisville.

Fiesta Bowl, Dec. 30, 2 p.m. CT: Washington vs. Penn State. MY PICK: Washington.

Orange Bowl, Dec. 30, 6 p.m. CT: Wisconsin vs. Miami. MY PICK: Miami.

Outback Bowl, Jan. 1, 10 a.m. CT: Michigan vs. South Carolina. MY PICK:  Michigan.

Peach Bowl, Jan. 1, 10:30 a.m. CT: Central Florida vs. Auburn. MY PICK: Central Florida.

Citrus Bowl, Jan. 1, 11 a.m. CT: Notre Dame vs. LSU. MY PICK: LSU.

College Football Playoff Semifinals

Rose Bowl, Jan. 1, 3 p.m. CT: Georgia vs. Oklahoma. MY PICK: Georgia.

Sugar Bowl, Jan. 1, 6:45 p.m. CT: Alabama vs. Clemson. MY PICK: Alabama.

Note: CFP Championship Game is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 8, 7 p.m. CT, Mercedes Benz Stadium, Atlanta. It will be televised by ESPN.

College Football Bowl Games Predictions

 

Celebration Bowl

Dec.  16

11 a.m. CT

N.C. A&T vs. Grambling State, Atlanta, Ga.

NORTH CAROLINA A&T

New Orleans Bowl

Dec. 16

Noon CT

Troy vs. North Texas, New Orleans

TROY

Cure Bowl

Dec. 16

1:30 p.m. CT

Georgia State vs. Western Kentucky, Orlando, Fla.

WESTERN KENTUCKY

Las Vegas Bowl

Dec 16

2:30 p.m.

Boise State vs. Oregon. Las Vegas, Nev.

BOISE STATE

New Mexico Bowl

Dec. 16

 2:30 p.m.

Marshall vs. Colorado State. Albuquerque, New Mexico

COLORADO STATE

Camellia Bowl

 Dec. 16

7 p.m. CT

Middle Tennessee State vs. Arkansas State. Montgomery, Ala.

MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE

Boca Raton Bowl

Dec. 19

6 p.m. CT

FAU vs. Akron. Boca Raton, Fla.

FLORIDA ATLANTIC

Frisco Bowl

Dec. 20,

7 p.m. CT

Southern Methodist vs. Louisiana Tech, Frisco, Texas.

SMU

Gasparilla Bowl

 Dec. 21, 7 p.m.

Temple vs. FIU, St. Petersburg, Fla.

TEMPLE

Bahamas Bowl

Dec. 22,

11:30 a.m.

Alabama Birmigham vs. Ohio Univ. Nassau, Bahamaa

UAB

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Dec. 22

3 p.m. CT

Wyoming vs. Cent. Michigan Boise, Idaho

WYOMING

Birmingham Bowl

Dec. 23

11 a.m. CT

South Florida vs. Texas Tech Birmingham, Ala.

TEXAS TECH

Armed Forces Bowl

Dec. 23

2:30 p.m.

Army vs. San Diego State. Fort Worth, Texas

SAN DIEGO STATE

 

Dollar General Bowl

 Dec. 23

 6 p.m. CT

Appalachian State vs. Toledo, Mobile, Ala.

APPALACHIAN STATE

Hawai’i  Bowl

Dec. 24

7:30 p.m

Fresno State vs. Houston, Honolulu, Hawai’i

HOUSTON

Heart of Dallas Bowl

 Dec. 26

12:20 p.m.

West Virginia vs. Utah. Dallas, Texas

WEST VIRGINIA 

Quick Lane Bowl

 Dec. 26

4:15 p.m. CT

Duke vs. Northern Illinois, Detroit, Mich.

DUKE 

Cactus Bowl

Dec. 26

9 p.m. CT

UCLA vs. Kansas State, Phoenix, Ariz.

UCLA 

Independence Bowl

Dec. 27

12:30 p.m.

Florida State vs. Southern Miss, Shreveport, La.

FLORIDA STATE

 

Pinstripe Bowl

Dec. 27

4:15 p.m. CT

Boston College vs. Iowa. Bronx, N.Y.

IOWA

Foster Farms Bowl

Dec. 27

7:30 p.m. CT

Arizona vs. Purdue, Santa Clara, Calif.

PURDUE

Texas Bowl

Dec. 27

8 p.m. CT

Texas vs. Missouri, Houston, Texas

TEXAS 

Military Bowl

Dec. 28

12:30 p.m. CT

Virginia vs. Navy. Annapolis, Md.

NAVY

Camping World Bowl

Dec. 28

4:15 p.m. CT

Oklahoma State vs. Virginia Tech. Orlando, Fla.

OKLAHOMA STATE 

Alamo Bowl

Dec. 28

8 p.m. CT

Stanford vs. TCU, San Antonio, Texas

TCU

Holiday Bowl

Dec. 28

8 p.m. CT

Michigan State vs. Washington State, San Diego, Calif.

MICHIGAN STATE

Belk Bowl

Dec. 29

Noon CT.

Wake Forest vs. Texas A&M, Charlotte, N.C

WAKE FOREST

 

Sun Bowl

Dec. 29

1 p.m. CT

NC State vs. Arizona State, El Paso, Texas

NC STATE

Music City Bowl

Dec. 29

3:30 p.m.

Kentucky vs. Northwestern, Nashville, Tenn.

NORTHWESTERN

Arizona Bowl

Dec. 29

4:30 p.m. CT

New Mexico State vs. Utah State, Tucson, Ariz.

UTAH STATE

Cotton Bowl

Dec. 29

7:30 p.m. CT

Ohio State vs. Southern Cal, Arlington, Texas

SOUTHERN CAL

Taxslayer Gator Bowl

Dec 30

11 a.m. CT

Louisville vs. Mississippi State. Jacksonville, Fla.

LOUISVILLE

Liberty Bowl

Dec. 30

11:30 a.m. CT

Iowa State vs. Memphis, Memphis, Tenn.

MEMPHIS

Fiesta Bowl

 Dec. 30

3 p.m.

Washington vs. Penn State, Glendale, Ariz.

WASHINGTON

Orange Bowl

Dec. 30

7 p.m. CT

Miami vs. Wisconsin, Miami Gardens, Fla.

MIAMI 

Outback Bowl

Jan. 1

11 a.m.

Michigan vs. South Carolina, Tampa, Fla.

MICHIGAN

Peach Bowl

Jan. 1

11:30 p.m. CT

Auburn vs. UCF, Atlanta, Ga.

CENTRAL FLORIDA

Citrus Bowl

 

Jan. 1

Noon CT

Notre Dame vs. LSU, Orlando, Fla.

LSU

Rose Bowl

College Football Playoff Semifinal

Jan. 1, 4 p.m. CT

Oklahoma vs. Georgia, Pasadena, Calif.

GEORGIA
Sugar Bowl

 

Jan 1

7:45 p.m. CT, 

Clemson vs. Alabama, New Orleans, La.

ALABAMA

CFP National Championship

Jan. 8

7 p.m. CT

Atlanta, Ga.

TBD

Big Ten Landscape: Week Fourteen

BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW CAPSULE

TV: Saturday 6:30 p.m. CT, Fox

WISCONSIN

Record: 12-0

CFP rank: No. 4

Best win: vs. Michigan, 24-10

Worst loss: None

Offensive stars: Leading passer – Alex Hornibrook (2,157, 21 TDs, 13 INTs). Leading rushers – Jonathan Taylor (258-1,836, 13 TDs), Bradick Shaw 96-365, 4TDs). Leading receivers – Troy Fumagalli (38-471, 4 TDs), A.J. Taylor (21-354, 4 TDs).

Defensive stars: Ryan Connelly (71 tackles, 10 tackles for loss), T.J. Edwards (67 tackles, 11 tackles for loss).

Key team statistical rankings: Total offense –  42 (426.0; Scoring offense – 26 (34.8 ppg); Total defense – 1 (236.9 ypg); Scoring defense – 2 (12.0 ppg).

Paul Chryst on Ohio State: “We know we’re going to get Ohio State’s best. And certainly J.T. Barrett’s an unbelievable quarterback. And it’s pretty neat what he’s done throughout his whole career and certainly what he’s done this year … But you’re preparing for their whole team. And certainly our defense is preparing for their whole offense.”

OHIO STATE

Record: 10-2

CFP Rank: No. 8

Best win: vs. Penn State, 39-38

Worst loss: at Iowa, 55-24

Offensive stars: Leading passer – J.T. Barrett (2,728 yards, 33 TDs,7 INTs). Leading rushers – J.K. Dobbins (164-1,190, 7 TDs, J.T. Barrett (130-672, 9 TDs). Leading receivers K.J. Hill (51-519, 3 TDs), Terry McLaurin (26-342, 5 TDs).

Defensive stars: Jordan Fuller (57 tackles, 2 interceptions), Jerome Baker (51 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss).

Key team statistical rankings: Total offense – 4 (529.8); Scoring offense – 5 (43.8 ppg); Total defense – 8 (291.8 ypg); Scoring defense – 20 (19.8 ppg).

Urban Meyer on Wisconsin:  “I know a Paul Chryst team and I know Wisconsin football. And I have a lot of respect for just the way they do their business. I go back to my good friend Barry Alvarez. I think he’s put a template together and has hired remarkable coaches to follow that template and this might be the best of all of them. Coach Chryst does an amazing job. (He and his staff) just keep plugging. They recruit and develop players as good as anybody.”.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Big Ten Championship: Ohio State vs. Wisconsin, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, 6:30 p.m. CT, Fox

 FAB FIVE

  1. Wisconsin (12-0, 9-0): Last Week – W, at Minnesota, 31-0. The Impact – Badgers surrendered only 114 points in nine Big Ten games, an average of only 12.6 per game. But those nine league foes also only had a combined Big Ten record of 29-52. If Paul Chryst can lead his team to the league title on Saturday, the Badgers will be seeded for the national semifinals, but they won’t necessarily deserve it.
  1. Ohio State (10-2, 8-1): Last Week – W. at Michigan, 31-20. The Impact – Despite re-injuring right knee after being bumped by a cameraman before Michigan game, QB J.T. Barrett said he’ll be good to go again against Wisconsin. But the way head coach Urban Meyer is fuming, the unidentified cameraman might want to skip the game in Indianapolis.
  1. Michigan State (9-3, 7-2): Last Week – W, at Rutgers, 40-7. The Impact – Spartans allowed 20.3 points per game, and while that was seventh best in Big Ten it ranks No. 23 nationally despite 48-3 loss to Ohio State. Spartans flipped won-loss record going from 3-9 in 2016.

 4. Penn State (10-2, 7-2): Last Week – W, at Maryland, 66-3. The Impact – Nittany Lions had dreams of a championship season derailed by back-to-back losses by a combined four points. James Franklin’s team will have a shot at winning 11 games in either Cotton or Citrus bowls.

5. Northwestern (9-3, 7-2): Last Week – W, at Illinois, 42-7. The Impact – Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats closed strong, winning their last seven games after back-to-back losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. Likely going bowling in Florida, either Citrus or Outback.

THE PACK

6. Michigan (8-4, 5-4):Last Week – L, Ohio State, 31-20. The Impact – For Jim Harbaugh, it was another season of disappointment against the Big Ten’s high-profile teams – losing 14-10 to Michigan State, 42-13 at Penn State, 24-10 at Northwestern and 31-20 at Ohio State. Early speculation has a possible Holiday Bowl matchup against Stanford, which he coached from 2007-10.

7. Purdue (6-6, 4-5): Last Week – W, Indiana, 31-24. The Impact – Purdue will have to give Jeff Brohm a hefty raise after Boilermakers won three of four games, including beating Indiana, to become bowl eligible. Purdue is likely headed to the Music City Bowl against an SEC school. 

8. Iowa (7-5, 4-5): Last Week – W, at Nebraska, 56-14. The Impact – Hawkeyes never generated consistency with pair of two-game skids in conference action, but did have stunning 55-24 win at home over Ohio State. Iowa was No. 22 in scoring defense, allowing 19.9 points per game.

 9. Nebraska (4-8, 3-6): Last Week – L, Iowa, 56-14. The Impact – Cornhuskers won just one of final seven games, stealing a 25-24 win at Purdue. As expected Mike Riley was fired after loss to Iowa, one of four games in which Nebraska allowed more than 54 points, including final three.

 10. Indiana (5-7, 2-7):Last Week – L, at Purdue, 31-24. The Impact – Hoosiers lost four-year hold on Old Oaken Bucket, but 42-39 setback at Maryland and 27-20 overtime loss to Michigan are the two games that will haunt Tom Allen’s memories from his first season in Bloomington. Hoosiers scored an average of 26.8 points and surrendered 25.4 points per game.

11. Minnesota (5-7, 2-7): Last Week – L, Wisconsin, 31-0. The Impact – P.J. Fleck received a one-year extension to his contract, putting him back on a 5-year plan even though Gophers failed to qualify for a bowl game for the first time since 2012. Minnesota lost four of its final five games, including being shutout in back-to-back games to close season.

 

UNPROVEN

12. Rutgers (4-8, 3-6): Last Week – L, Michigan State, 40-7. The Impact – Scarlet Knights were held to 14 or fewer points in six of last eight games, including pair of shutout losses. Best stretch of season resulted in three Big Ten wins in four weeks, knocking off Illinois, Purdue and Maryland.

13. Maryland (4-8, 2-7): Last Week – L, Penn State, 66-3. The Impact – A Maryland team that began the season with the fireworks of a 57-41 win at Texas ended in a four-game skid, including a 66-3 implosion at home against Penn State. As head coach D.J. Durkin summed it up, “It feels like two different seasons. That Texas game feels like it was eight years ago right now.

14. Illinois (2-10, 0-9): Last Week – L, Northwestern, 42-7. The Impact – Illini were held to 14 or fewer points in six of nine conference games, including last five. Lovie Smith’s young team lost its last 10 games but he hopes starting more freshman (16) than any other school in the country will pay off in 2018.

BEARD’S PICK

(All times Central; projected winner in bold caps)

WISCONSIN 27, Ohio State 23

Last Week: 7-0

Overall:  86-20 (81.1%)

Note: Each week during the college football season, I’ll be updating how things are unfolding in the Big Ten by Wednesday, the SEC by Thursday and ACC by Friday. I covered teams in each of the conferences during my 41 years as a sports journalist and I’m not ready to give it up in retirement.