United States wins Gold Cup, beating Jamaica 2-1 on late goal by Morris

Jordan Morris knew he had messed up big time in the Gold Cup championship game when he allowed Jamaica’s Je-Vaughn Watson to slip past him to score an equalizing goal.

 It came off a corner kick five minutes into the second half, erasing the momentum Jozy Altidore had claimed for the United States in the closing seconds of the first half with a curling free kick from 30 yards.

“It was my guy who scored on the goal so I was trying to make up for it any way I could,” said Morris. “I just had to take responsibility for that but luckily I could put one in the back of the net.”

For Morris, his redemption couldn’t have been better timed. Pouncing on a deflected cross from USA teammate Gyasi Zardes, Morris squeezed a shot inside the right post in the 88th minute for what held up as the winning goal.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Morris. “Every time I step on the field it’s such an honor to represent my country. This game was amazing. Credit Jamaica – they made it very tough for us.”

The USMNT dominated the last 15 minutes of the game in Santa Clara, California. Clint Dempsey had a header glance off the left post in the 75th minute. Then in the 85th minutes, Dempsey took a low free kick from 25 yards out from the left side that Morris couldn’t redirect on frame.

But then a little less than three minutes later Morris made good on another deflection after Jamaica’s Jermaine Taylor failed to clear the ball from danger with a header. Goalkeeper Dwayne Miller couldn’t get to the blistering shot by Morris

“You saw the progression as we went through the tournament,” said Morris. “It’s always tough when you get a group of guys who haven’t played together in a while and get them on the same page. But the coaching staff does a great job … For us I think you saw we got better as the tournament went along and it culminated with tonight.”

The tournament title will give Bruce Arena and his players a boost heading into the final stage of World Cup qualifying, which begins in Sept. 1 against Costa Rica.

But all that mattered Wednesday night was the podium celebration.

Captain Michael Bradley said the team will begin focusing on World Cup qualifying again in a couple of days.

“We’re going to enjoy this right now,” Bradley said.

Added Altidore: “To have us lift this cup means everything.”

Jamaica starting goalkeeper Andre Blake received the Golden Glove award, but he was injured and had to be replaced just minutes before Altidore’s free kick goal.

The U.S. outshot Jamaica 13-6 and had six corner kicks while allowing just three.

King gets more gold, another world record as part of 4×100 IM relay team

Lilly King added another world record to her resume with a little help on Wednesday.

Chosen to compete in the mixed 4×100 individual medley relay team — a relatively new event but one that will be included in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics — King joined Matt Grevers, Caleb Dressel and Simone Manuel in setting a world record of 3:38.56 at the FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.

It’s just the second time the event has been contested at the world championships.


“Before it was just like, ‘OK, it’s just a World Championships event. It’s not an Olympic event, so it’s not that big of a deal,’” King told usaswimming.org.  “But now it is (an Olympic event), so we’ve really been putting a lot more thought into it. It’s more than just who has the fastest swimmers. It’s who has the best strategy. There are many more factors that go into it.”

King wasn’t part of the morning qualifying heats with the breaststroke leg being swam by Kevin Cordes. In fact, the entire quartet was different with Ryan Murphy (backstroke), Kelsi Worrell (butterfly) and Mallory Cromerford (freestyle).

Thqt group also set a world record of 3:40.28. Then King and Co. went out in the evening session and rewrote the record book.

King was the only female breaststroke swimmer in the race.

“It’s pretty cool that we could have had two separate relays and gone 1-2,” said Grevers. “That just shows the awesome depth of the USA. We went two world records today with eight different people. I don’t know how often that happens.”

In the finals, Grevers got the USA out to the lead with a 52.13 backstroke and King kept them on pace with her 1:04.15 breaststroke effort (just two-hundredths of a second off her world record time she posted in the 100 breastsroke). Dressel in the butterfly (49.92) and Manuel in the freestyle (52.17) then brought the gold home.

King will resume her breaststroke rivalry on Thursday with Russian Yulia Effimova when the 200-meter prelims and semifinals are contested. In the morning qualifying, King and Efimova are both listed in Heat 4, so if that isn’t changed it will be interesting to watch the mind games that take place in the overnight hours.

That race will be on the schedule at about 3:30 a.m. Central. The semifinals are schedule for approximately 1:40 p.m. CT.

The finals are scheduled at 2:05 p.m. CT Friday.

Meanwhile, the women’s 50-meter breaststroke qualifying begins around 2:30 a.m. CT Saturday with the semifinals slated for 1:56 p.m. Saturday. The 50 breast finals are scheduled for 12:32 p.m. Sunday.


King rules world, setting 100-meter breaststroke record and crushing Russian rival Efimova

“Yulia Efimova needs to quit wagging her finger at Lilly King. It only further fuels their rivalry in the pool, which obviously is a good thing as far as motivating King.

In the latest chapter of their Cold War swimming showdown, which took place in Budapest, Hungary at the FINA World Championships on Tuesday, King shattered the world record for the 100-meter breaststroke in 1 minute 04.13 seconds.

The record had been held by Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte when she swam 1:04.35 at the World Championships in 2013.

“My first world record,” King said in a post-race interview posted on usaswimming.org. “I’m very, very excited, and honored to be the only one faster than Ruta Meilutyte. She’s been one of my heroes growing up. I’m just really excited. I don’t know how to put it into words … I was actually freaking out when I got to the pool. I was very nervous, but then I got in for warm-up, and I felt a lot better. I felt really, really confident going into the race.”

Tuesday’s performance means King now holds the Olympic and FINA World Records in her signature event. That’s right: the Evansville native and Indiana University swimmer is second to no one in the history of the sport.

In Monday’s semifinals, Efimova had come within one-hundredth of a second of Meilutyte’s record. Efimova had celebrated her personal-best time by again wagging a finger into the camera. She knew King would be watching.

King did what she needed to do in the semis by going out and posting what was her personal best (1:04.53) to enter as the second fastest of the eight swimmers in the finals. And almost as if she was answering Efimova’s finger wag with some polite trash talk, she revealed that she had yet to shave for the meet.

In theory, shaving body hair can help swimmers go tenths of a second faster. Whether there is any truth to that or not, King was faster Tuesday. As she made the turn first, she continued  to power through the second 50.

Efimova ended up third in 1:05.05, or 0.69 hundredths of a second slower than her semifinal posting. King’s USA teammate Katie Meili took advantage to claim the silver medal, out-touching Efimova in 1:05.03.

Meilutyte was fourth in 1:05.66.

But all that matters to King is that she now holds the world record in her signature event.

“That race is always going to be a showdown, and always an exciting one, especially after the time Yulia was able to put up yesterday, which was very, very impressive,” said King. “It was going to be a dogfight, and I was just hoping I was going to come out on top.”

King ignited the rivalry with Efimova last summer at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro when she called out the Russian and the International Olympic Committee after a second drug suspension by the Russian was overturned that allowed Efimova to be reinstated. Efimova had previously served a 15-month suspension.

King made her feelings known about athletes who have been caught using performance-enhancing substances and did her own finger-wagging at Efimova. Then she went out and set the Olympic record of 1:04.93.

That means King now has two of the top 7 100-meter breast performances all-time.

Her opening split on Tuesday was 29.80 and she closed in 34.33.

The fireworks aren’t over. King and Efimova will also square off in the 200-meter and 50-meter breaststroke events with the finals in the 200 on Friday and the 50 finals set for Sunday. She also could possibly be chosen to swim the breaststroke leg on Sunday in the 400 individual medley relay.

“I love it,” King told USA Swimming. “I think we get a lot of rivalries like this in other sports – football, basketball, things like that. In swimming, we see a lot of really nice people, and people being really nice. That’s great and all, but that’s not my personality. I’m spunky, I’m confident, and I’m not going to not be myself before a race, so that’s just kind of how it works.”


They said it: Indiana’s Tom Allen

Indiana University football coach Tom Allen, speaking with the reporters at the Big Ten Football Media Days in Chicago on Monday, expressed his gratitude to athletic director Fred Glass and former IU coach Kevin Wilson for bringing him back to his home state a year ago to become IU’s defensive coordinator

Allen was named the Hoosiers’ head coach after Wilson resigned at the end of last season because of disagreements with Glass over how the program should be run, including  how he disciplined players and dealt with injuries.

TOM ALLEN:  Excited to be a part of a program that’s gone to back-to-back bowl games. It’s only happened four times in our program’s history. And the ability to build off of that foundation of playing tough, competitive football week in, week out.

That brings me to the point in our program where we’ve been challenged as players and as coaches to break through. As we know, many times we’ve been close. The last time we played in the Foster Farms Bowl against a very talented Utah team, final minutes of the game, opportunity to finish with a win and did not.

I challenged our team with this concept. When I met with our players after I took over, I wrote these three numbers on the board — I did this with our staff as well — 50, 26, 10. And I asked them if they knew what those numbers represented, and they didn’t. So I proceeded to tell them. It’s been 50 years since we won the Big Ten; it’s been 26 years since we won a bowl game; it’s been 10 years since we had a winning season at Indiana.

We’re going to accomplish all three of those, I told our team. If you don’t believe that, you need to leave. Said the same thing to our staff. I love them. I appreciate them. But I want a coaching staff, I want a football team that believes.

… Excited about our staff. Brought in Mike DeBord to be our new offensive coordinator from the University of Tennessee, where he was in that same role there, a man that I trust, that I know has tremendous high character, tremendous person, and excellent football coach. Joining in with Grant Heard to coach receivers; Darren Hiller, offensive line; Mike Hart, running backs; and Nick Sheridan coaching the quarterbacks. A whole new offensive staff that I’m excited about. Tremendous character and leadership. Also great knowledge and a heart for their players, which I care a whole lot about.

Q. You’ve had some time to reflect now on the way you got the job with Kevin Wilson’s departure. What are your thoughts about that, and also going against him in that opener (against Ohio State), which you call it the biggest in Indiana history?
TOM ALLEN: It’s the biggest home opener because we’ve not played a more highly ranked conference opponent to start a season before, and that creates a lot of excitement.

As I mentioned previously, a lot of respect for Kevin. Appreciate what he did for me. This is about the Indiana Hoosiers versus the Ohio State Buckeyes. And we haven’t had a conference opening game since 1982. So that obviously makes it a very, very big game for us.

And the media is going to make a big deal about him being there (as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator) and myself being here, offense versus defense. But it’s really bigger than that. It’s not about me or coaches; it’s about players making plays.
Q. I know with your background you have a passion for Indiana high school football games from your time at North Castle and coaching at Ben Davis, great program. Commissioner Delany just talked about the Friday night games at the Big Ten. There’s going to be three or four in Big Ten cities, one in West Lafayette, none in Bloomington this year, but do you have mixed feelings about that, or are you a little concerned with that, given what it means to Indiana high school football to have Friday nights to themselves?
TOM ALLEN: Yes, I’m very concerned about it. I’m not going to sit here and try and make a big issue in terms of what I think. My history as a high school coach for 15 years is strong. It’s who I am, it’s how I started, and it’s been so many years.
I think that’s a special night. I don’t like playing games on Friday night. I think that’s high school night. But it’s not always my decision, but I’m one of those I’m not going to just not tell you what I believe.

I think that’s a situation where I would prefer that we didn’t. But I understand there may be factors outside of my control for that. But to answer your question, I would like to keep that night special for high school football. That means a lot to me.

Q. You mentioned you had a lot of respect for quarterback Richard Lagow. What has he done in the offseason to grow both on the field and off the field?
TOM ALLEN: I would say, first of all, would be leadership. I’m a strong believer that everything rises and falls on leadership. It begins with us as coaches.

But you have to create it, develop it, enhance it with your team. He’s bought into that. I’ve sat with him. We’ve met. We’ve challenged, given him books to read, to be able to get different thoughts on how to creatively live that out.

And he’s grown. And has just taken position, owning it, taking charge, realizing this is your football team, this is your offense, and holding your teammates accountable. It takes courage to do that. It’s hard to stand up and tell your peers they’re doing something wrong or getting them back in line or whatever, whether it’s on the field or off the field.

That’s something I’ve seen him grow in a lot, just learning our system and allowing him to be able to play with confidence, execute, throw the ball extremely well. Gotta protect it better. And he knows that.

Q. A year ago at this time you were a new defensive coordinator at Indiana trying to get that defense a lot better than it was. You succeeded in that. I’m curious, as you look back on that season, if there were two or three things that were really important to nail down with your team before the season and then played itself out during the season that sort of led to such an incredible improvement in points and yards allowing?
TOM ALLEN: I would say so. First of all, we made such a huge issue of taking the ball away. We had kind of created a culture of — we used that word, different word, we’re not allowed — as a defense we’re not allowed to use the word “turnover.” If I say “turnover,” I have to do 25 pushups as a coach. Players have to as well. We want to be aggressively attacking the football.

So we made such a huge issue of that throughout spring football, fall camp, have a whole mechanism of reinforcing that with reward system, a penalty system, all those things involved.

So we get into our first game down at FIU, and we score on defense in the second quarter. Then we score again on defense in the fourth quarter. And we got a safety. We scored 16 points with two key takeaways on defense.

There’s a video of me getting really, really excited, which is kind of normal for me, but I was extra excited because I knew how big that was. In our very first game, where we’re creating takeaways and we’re scoring on defense, which was emphasized for so long, since the first day I got there, it was huge.

And the second one was against Michigan State. We had a chance to go to overtime, and I challenged our defense to be the reason why. I felt like I hadn’t been in that position very long to get all the negative feedback of if the defense would have just done this, we could have got a stop here or there, we would have done this or that, and I challenged our guys: Be the reason why.

When that game — when it went to overtime, our defense had the opportunity to be the reason why. And two huge sacks to finish out that game was — was — I knew when that happened that things were going to change, in the confidence of our players, in the mindset of our players on defense. And that’s why those were early in the season and they were both huge things that I thought changed the trajectory of our defense.

Q. Tom, you I’m sure don’t mind singing the praises of Tegray Scales who was a big part of your turnaround last year, led the Big Ten in tackles. Where did you see his development last year to make him such a special player for your defense’s improvement?
TOM ALLEN: I would say, first of all, it started in his preparation. He did not have — the year before I got there, the 2015 season, he did not play to the standard that we expected him — even though I wasn’t here, just talking to the coaches and watching him play, that he was expected to play at. So we had to change the way he prepared.

And I challenged him to be a leader. He wasn’t when I got here. He was a great kid, a guy everybody loved and all that, but he wasn’t a leader on our defense.

So last year I really — we had another young man that was one of our captains, Marcus Oliver, who was a really good player, but he was kind of quiet. But Tegray is not quiet. So you can lead different ways, but you have to verbalize your leadership. You can’t just be: Hey, I’m going to lead by example. That’s okay in a certain situation, but not to run the defense, not to be a linebacker, in my mind, to run the team on our side of the football.

So he embraced it. He bought into everything that I was telling him. He believed in it, and he lived it out.




King rivalry with Russian Efimova heats up again at world championships

 Lilly King saw the finger wag from her Russian rival Monday.

We’ll see who is trash-talking on Tuesday.

During today’s 100-meter breaststroke semifinals at the FINA World Swimming Championships in Budapest, Hungary, the battle lines were again drawn when Russia’s Yulia Efimova and Team USA’s Lilly King each won their semifinal heats with their career best times.

Efimova’s heat was first and she posted a 1:04.36, which is just one-hundredth of a second off the world record time of Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte. When Efimova saw her time, she looked into the TV camera and wagged a finger. She knew King would be watching.

She was.

“I’m always looking at the results from the heat before,” King told reporters later.  “I saw a little finger wag. I saw it. It’s motivating me more, so that’s OK.”

An Evansville native and Indiana University swimmer, King wasn’t quite up to the challenge Monday. In her second swim of the day, she relinquished the favorite’s role she had momentarily claimed in the morning qualifying heats by coming up 17th hundredths of a second slower than Efimova. King posted a time of 1:04.53.

In the morning heats, King was faster than Efimova by 0.40th of a second, swimming a 1:05.20 to Efimova’s 1:05.60.

Tuesday’s finals will be roughly mid-afternoon for those of us in the Central time zone, likely around 2 p.m. The race can be viewed online at fina.org or, if you have a complete cable sports package, on NBC’s Olympic/Sports Channel.

Monday’s finger wag by Efimova was reminiscent of the cold-shoulder war she and King waged last summer in Rio de Janeiro at the Olympics. Only then, King responded by topping Efimova’s semifinal time and then went out the next night and set an Olympic record to win the gold.

At the Olympics King called out Efimova and the IOC for the Russian’s late reinstatement after having served a 16-month ban for testing positive for a performance-enhancing steroid.

King raised the issue when asked about Efimova’s finger-wagging in Rio, which she responded with a finger-wag of her own.

“You’ve been caught for drug cheating. I’m just not a fan,” said King a year ago about Efimova.

Monday’s revival of the rivalry is just the beginning of the fireworks this week. The two are expected to square off in the 200-meter breaststroke finals on Friday and 50-meter breaststroke on Sunday. Qualifying for those events will be a day earlier, in the overnight hours Central time (around 2 a.m.) because Budapest is seven hours later than Evansville time.

Here is the link to the competition schedule:


From Sidelines to punchlines


Clearing my mind and notebook while wondering how well O.J. Simpson will adjust to social media scrutiny:

Kiss and tell, part I

New University of Texas football coach Tom Herman has more than just a hands-on approach when it comes to dealing with players. In addition to shaking hands or giving hugs, Herman kisses his players on the cheek from time to time.

He said he’s done it since he was a position coach, including at Ohio State from 2012-14, and he expanded that affection to all the players when he got his first major college head coaching job at Houston in 2015.

“I think it’s weird that people think it’s weird, first of all,” Herman said during a recent appearance on ESPN. “I tell the recruits, ‘Hey, when you come to Texas I’m going to treat you like my own son.’ Newsflash: I kiss my sons.”

Using a gladiator analogy, he said his affectionate gestures are how he shows players his appreciation and respect.

“What we do is very parental and so for me to do it with our players, it doesn’t seem that foreign … A lot of them don’t have father figures or they have a father who is in and out and doesn’t show them a lot of affection, and that’s sad to me.”

Kiss and tell, part II

Sprinter Gil Roberts, who was on the United States’ 4×400 gold medal-winning relay team at the Rio Olympics, was facing a ban from competition because he failed a drug test in March.

But then he remembered he had been “romantic” with his girlfriend, Alex Salazar, just three hours before being tested. She had recently returned from India, where she was given the drug Moxyong for a sinus infection.

Bingo! The banned substance probenecid was in those capsules and Salazar testified she was taking the medication by breaking open the capsules and pouring the contents in her mouth.

That was a good enough explanation for the USADA, especially since she also said that she and Roberts “kissed frequently and passionately.”

Hockey nightmare

From Scott Radley of the Hamilton Spectator in Ontario) : “Five players from this year’s NHL draft that writers hope never score he winning goal on deadline because their names are guaranteed to require a spelling correction the next day: 1. Andrei Altybarmakyan, Chicago; 2. Eetu Makiniemi, Carolina; 3. D’Artagnan Joly, Calgary; 4. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Buffalo; 5. Jake Leschtshyn, Vegas.

They said it

Greg Cote of the Miami Herald on a sure sign that early July is a slow time for legitimate sports news: “Arguing whether Kevin Durant was really mad at that Peyton Manning joke on the ESPYs.”

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: Bills defensive lineman Adolphus Washington was arrested Sunday for improperly carrying a concealed firearm outside the Splash Park water park in Sharonville, Ohio. Unfortunately for Washington, it wasn’t a squirt gun.”

Janice  Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe.com: “SF Giants are having a Game of Thrones night.  Giants fans would like offense to stop regularly having Night of the Living Dead nights.”

Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, to the NFL Network, on collecting 8½ of his 72½ career sacks against ex-Bear Jay Cutler: “Hopefully the next in line in Chicago will be as equally willing to help me pad my stats.”

Mike Bianchi of the Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel, on reports the Cavaliers “lowballed” GM candidate Chauncey Billups: “If you ask me, $2 million a year to pick up LeBron’s dry-cleaning and make his coffee is more than a fair salary

Zombie glove

On Monday the Houston Astros held a mock funeral for Carlos Beltran’s glove, which hadn’t been used in a game for more than two months at that point. Catcher Brian McCann even wore a black robe to officiate the service.

“They’re just having fun with it,” said the 40-year-old Beltran, who has mainly been used as a designated hitter this season. “I don’t know if (the glove] is retired or not. I bring my glove every day to practice.”

Sure enough, two days later, Beltran’s glove was given a second life when he started in left field. He was called on to make three catches in a 4-1 win over the Seattle Mariners, including the first two put-outs of the game.

And yes, Beltran enjoyed Monday’s “funeral” as his glove was put in a shoe box and was placed on the ground between three headstones. He used his phone’s camera to record it all.

“I love it … They made me laugh,” he said.

While his bat isn’t as lively as it once was, it isn’t exactly dead. He’s had 12 home runs and 19 doubles this season for the Astros.


From TheOnion.com: “Area man lifetime o-for-6,000 on jump hooks.”

From SportsPickle.com: “LaVar Ball finalizes 3-year, 3-son deal to date Kardashians.”

From Oxford (Miss.) Eagle on Hugh Freeze’s firing:  “ESCORTED OUT.”

From SportsPickle.com: “Conservatives turn on Donald Trump Jr. upon learning he had a meeting with Colin Kaepernick.”

From Fark.com: “Chris Christie is so unpopular he was booed after catching a foul ball at a Mets game and giving it to a kid.”


Safety first

Dale Earnhardt Jr. unintentionally had his wife Amy dealing with fan outrage on social media after he told reporters she didn’t want him to race next February at Daytona.

Although Earnhardt is retiring after this season, he qualified for The Clash by winning the pole for the Daytona 500 this year. But he’s also agreed to let Amy have the final word on whether he’ll climb into a race car in 2018 and so far she’s against it.

Even Dale Jr. has acknowledged that Daytona Motor Speedway has a high-rate of racing mishaps, so it looks like the clash on the home front is over. In a Tuesday tweet, Amy wrote: “… My answer is simple. It’s not worth the risk of his health.”

O.J. Simpson will soon be free (and how I survived my encounter with him and his hired muscle)

Newsflash: O.J. Simpson was granted parole Thursday and could be released from the Lovelock (Nev.) Correctional Center as early as Oct. 1.

Yes, the Juice is loose – or at least he will be in about 72 days.

With Simpson back in the news, I couldn’t help but recall my one-on-one encounter with the former Heisman Trophy winner/actor when I was still the executive sports editor of the Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat 13 years ago.

It was December 2004 when I was offered the opportunity to interview Simpson after midnight on a Friday night at a remote social club in nearby Quincy, Florida.

This was 10 years after the murders of his estranged wife, Nicole, and her friend Ron Goldman. And while Simpson had been found guilty in the court of public opinion, he was acquitted during a 1995 trial.

To quote defense attorney Johnny Cochran, “If (the glove)  doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

Trust me, that piece of evidential logic didn’t make me any less nervous when I sat down with Simpson, who was flanked by two huge body guards who could have snapped me in half if so ordered.

But more on that later after we delve into this latest news.

On Thursday, Simpson was up for parole for a 2007 armed robbery in a Las Vegas hotel room in which memorabilia dealer Bruce Fromong was threatened at gunpoint and roughed up by two of the four men who accompanied Simpson to the meeting.

For those robbery/kidnapping charges, Simpson was sentenced to 33 years but had his time commuted to nine years because of a “positive institutional record,” including working to acquire educational materials for the prison, counseling inmates and serving as commissioner of a prison softball league.

Because of the concept of being granted time off for good behavior, the 70-year-old Simpson  would have been eligible for parole no later than Sept. 2022. His age and the fact he had no previous convictions were factors in granting him an even earlier release.

It didn’t hurt that Fromong spoke in Simpson’s behalf at the hearing.

Besides, many of O.J.’s supporters believed his 33-year sentence was a form of delayed justice for the fact that he wasn’t convicted in the Los Angeles murder trial. Indeed, there was no shortage of folks being interviewed on cable television Thursday who would have preferred Simpson had remained incarcerated until his death, which might have been the case if he had been required to stay behind bars until 2040.

With his parole lasting five years, Simpson will not be permitted to drink alcohol during that time and will be subject to random testing to assure compliance. He likely will also face travel restrictions if he’s granted his request to relocate to Florida and any income outside his NFL and Screen Actors Guild pensions would be seized until he has paid off a $33.5 million civil judgment to the Goldman and Brown families.

Now, without further delay, below is the article that was published on Dec. 12, 2004 when I was the executive sports editor of the Tallahassee Democrat. I was at the newspaper for eight years.


By Randy Beard

It was half-past midnight at Club V-12 and the joint wasn’t hopping. No one was on the dance floor and only a few regulars lingered at the bar.

But back in a dark corner, slumped on a padded bench, was a man who usually draws a crowd wherever he goes.

Just not Quincy on a Friday night.

When Orenthal James Simpson walked in the door an hour earlier with his entourage of four, the crowd increased by nearly one-third.

“O.J. is here,” one man blurted out. “O.J. Simpson himself.”

“This is the first show I’ve done where we haven’t had a large crowd,”  the former football star said after he had finished signing autographs and posing for pictures with about two dozen fans. “I’m disappointed. I think we would have had a larger crowd in Tallahassee.”

With a bigger crowd might have come some bigger controversy. Promoters initially had approached several sports bars in Tallahassee about scheduling a Simpson appearance but were turned down.

Simpson is resigned to the fact that he’s now as infamous as he was once famous because of his 1995 trial for the murders of his estranged wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman.

Though he was acquitted of the criminal charges, Simpson later lost a wrongful-death civil suit and was ordered to pay $33.5 million to his victims’ parents. He continues to fight payment because he insists he’s innocent.

“If you had come up to me and said, ‘You’re nothing but a damn murderer,’ I would have told you that I’m sorry you feel that way but that you’re wrong. God bless you,” Simpson said. “But people don’t say that to me. Everywhere I go I’m treated very well.”

He was treated so well in Tallahassee earlier Friday night that he had to leave two restaurants, Outback Steakhouse and Osako Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar. Too many people wanted to meet him.

“I never got to eat,” said Simpson, who eventually grabbed a bite at a Waffle House outside of Quincy.

The manager at Osaka confirmed that Simpson quickly drew a crowd after he was seated at the restaurant.

“Customers recognized him and kept coming over to get his autograph and have their pictures taken with him,” Shu-huei Su said.. “It wasn’t a problem. He was very nice to everyone, but then he got a phone call and they left. He was only here about 15 minutes.”

Simpson wasn’t given a chance to be well-received anywhere else in Tallahassee, said Gerard Colter, president of operations for TUK Entertainment.

He tried to schedule an autograph session at A.J. Sports, BW-3 Buffalo Wild Wings Grill and Bar and other sports bars with the idea of just having an after-party at Club V-12. But Colter said that whenever he mentioned Simpson’s name, the reception turned chilly.

“I thought places like A.J.’s or BW-3 would be excited to have O.J. Simpson come there,” he said. “But all I heard was that it would be bad for business.”

BW-3 confirmed that it passed on an appearance by Simpson.

“Some people would have been offended,” said general manager Vicki Mola. “We decided we wouldn’t be interested.”

A manager at A.J.’s declined comment.

“The hard-core sports fans were denied a chance to have a memorable experience,” said Colter. “It shows you how small-minded people can be. Tallahassee will never see anything like this again.”\

Colter said the situation was made worse when the Cumulous radio stations in town pulled commercials advertising Simpson’s appearance off every station but 96.1 FM by midweek. Station officials couldn’t be reached for comment Saturday. But Colter said he was told the stations had gotten complaints from listeners.

With limited promotion, Colter said he knew the event at Club V-12 wasn’t going to attract the crowd of 300 or more that he had hoped Simpson’s appearance would draw — or even the 100 he and his partners would have needed to break even.

Trisha Bradley was one of the people who shelled out $20 at the door for the opportunity to meet the former Buffalo Bills player.  Dressed in jeans and an open denim shirt over a white T-shirt , and wearing a large silver cross, Simpson mingled easily at the bar.

“I love O.J.” said Bradley. “He’s such a nice guy.”

Jessica Griner heard about Simpson’s appearance midweek and immediately knew her Friday night plans were set.

“I’m a huge football fan,” Griner said. “He’s one of the greatest running backs of all time, and actually he’s one of the first guys I had a crush on when I was 4. But I didn’t tell him that.”

Asked what she was going to do with the promotional poster Simpson had autographed, Griner said, “I guess I’ll have it framed.”

Carrie — “Just Carrie” of B-103’s “Cash and Carrie” morning show — came toting a shopping bag of four Wilson footballs for Simpson to sign. She also got him to pose for photos, including a couple of him holding up a B-103 T-shirt.

“I’m from Chicago and you’ve got to be a football fan in Chicago,” she said.

Dwight Wilson, who goes by the nickname “Coach,” thought there would be plenty of football fans at the club he co-owns with childhood friend Rudolph Evans.

Club V-12, located off an unpaved road just outside of town, specializes in events like hip-hop concerts and dance reviews. It’s not open every night, or even every weekend, but when it does have an event  Wilson said elbow room can be hard to come by.

“I guess the negativism got to people,” Wilson said.

It didn’t get to Simpson. He was in a good mood and ready to talk football.

He was scheduled for another show Saturday night in Macon, Ga., but said he planned to find a TV so he could watch the  Heisman Trophy presentation. But he was even more excited that his alma mater, the University of Southern Cal, will be playing Oklahoma for the national championship in the Orange Bowl next month.

“I don’t get to too many football games, but I go to a lot of basketball (Miami Heat) and some baseball (Florida Marlins),” Simpson said. “Football crowds are different. They’ll climb over seats to get my autograph.

“Usually when I got to a football game, I’m in a private box.”

Just him and a few friends. Just like Friday night in Quincy.












From Sidelines to punchlines

Clearing my head and notebook while coming to grips that Ty Cobb is now a lawyer in the White House …

Most inspirational

I had never heard of Jarrius Robertson, who received the ESPY’s Jimmy V Perseverance Award the other night, but he’s now high on my list of  most unforgettable characters.

The 15-year-old Saints Superfan, who is battling a chronic liver disease, managed to make a lasting impression with his effusive personality when New Orleans players visited a hospital in 2015. His energy and positive attitude has since made him a fan favorite throughout Louisiana.

Because of his battle with biliary artesia, Robertson doesn’t look to be any older than 10 because his growth has been stunted.  He’s had two liver transplants in his young life and even survived being taken off life support when his first transplant in 2004 failed. He was in a coma for a year.

Like I said, his story of overcoming medical  odds and adversity is incredible.

“Jarrius is such an inspirational young man,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “His strength, determination and resolve along with his infectious energy and attitude should be an example that no matter the circumstances or adversity, with a positive outlook and embracing the motto of ‘Don’t give up. … Don’t ever give up,’ there isn’t a challenge that cannot be conquered.”

A GoFundMe account has been set up to help Robertson’s family pay his staggering medical bills. If you can spare a few dollars, I’d encourage you to consider his cause.


For me, after hearing Robertson’s story, it made all the other ESPY honors insignificant. Seriousy, who cares which athletes ESPN viewers think are the best players in their respective sport?

Sudden wealth

Taking time off to start a family with fiancé Alexis Ohanian, a co-founder of Reddit, Serena Williams no longer has to worry about  financial stability.

But becoming independently wealthy took some getting used to, according to Williams. She said that when she began playing professionally she never really thought about the riches  success would bring her from prize money and endorsement contracts.

Thus, she swears she didn’t think twice about driving up to an ATM and trying to deposit her first $1 million check. A teller had to request she come inside to make the deposit.

She said now she wishes she had a photo of the check, but it didn’t occur to her then.

“Selfies didn’t exist back then,” said Williams, who has a net worth of $160 million these days.

A-Rod & J-Lo

Former New York Yankee All-Star Alex Rodriguez has learned through dating Jennifer Lopez that there are different stages of celebrity. He said its been a surprisingly humbling experience.

“You know, when I was with the Yankees and we won the world championship and you’re wearing the pinstripes, you think you are pretty cool,” he told host Jimmy Fallon when he appeared on The Tonight Show last week. “But then when you hang out with Jennifer, people confuse me as a security guard all the time.”


Fark.com: “Mayweather vs. McGregor is the “Kardashians” of sport.”

From TheOnion.com: “New X Games event just driving monster trucks off cliff.”

From SportsPickle.com.com: “6 ways to confront a friend or family member you suspect may be watching NBA Summer League

From TheOnion.com: “13-yearold quietly trying to get through rest of soccer game after getting wind knocked out of him.”

From Fark.com: “Calvin Johnson admits he retired from football rather than continue to play for Detroit Lions.”

Time to focus

The U.S. men’s national soccer team (well, this junior varsity version) has had a much tougher time than expected in Group B play of the Gold Cup.

After a 1-1 draw with Panama, Team USA struggled mightily against a Martinique squad that has a roster of mostly semi-pro players. It took a second goal from Jordan Morris on Wednesday night for us to escape with a 3-2 win.

That puts the United States atop the group standings, but only because it has scored one more goal than Panama entering Saturday night’s game in Cleveland against Nicaragua.

The U.S. shouldn’t have a problem winning its final round-robin game since Nicaragua lost to Martinique 2-0. Still, Brad Guzan can’t afford any more lapses in goal and the U.S. can’t continue to squander a half dozen scoring chances.

To be fair, U.S. coach Bruce Arena went into the group battles planning to experiment with players who haven’t seen much national team duty.

Players like forwards Dom Dwyer and Jordan Morris and midfielders Gyasi Zardes and Paul Arriola have done well enough to be on the field Saturday against Nicaragua.

But with that said, we can also expect that Arena will replace as many as six roster spots for the knockout stages of the tournament, bringing in more experience with the additions of players like Michael Bradley, Darlington Nagbe, Jozy Altidore or Clint Dempsey.

So if Dwyer or Morris want to claim a roster spot for the next round of World Cup qualifying, now is the time to do it.

They said it

R.J. Currie of SportsDeke.com: “Titans cornerback Logan Ryan wed former Rutgers softballer Ashley Bragg. I’m guessing he allowed her to complete a few passes and she let him get past first base.”

Brad Dickson of the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald:The Cincinnati Reds Billy Hamilton was finally tagged out by the Rays after a 6-5-2-4-5-7 rundown between third base and home. The good news for Hamilton is he was credited with completing his first 5K.”

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: “The Warriors’ Stephen Curry just signed a five-year, $201 million contract.
Yes, why stop at 200 when you can tack on the biggest “and one” in hoops history?”

New York Yankee Aaron Judge on competing in the Home Run Derby: “It’s just another round of BP, but in front of 50,000 people.”

Bob Molinaro, in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, on a friend who said two or three Orioles pitchers should’ve gotten All-Star invites: “They’re more than qualified, he said, to pitch in the Home Run Derby.”

Dressing up

LPGA president Vicki Goetze-Ackerman is bringing a stricter dress code to the tour with a crackdown on sex appeal.

Her edict bans players from wearing:

— Racerback tank  tops unless they have a collar.

— Anything  with a plunging neckline.

— Leggings unless worn under shorts or a skort.

The tour has benefitted through the years from the glamour and sex appeal of  players like Jan Stephenson, Laura Baugh, Paula Creamer, Natalie Gulbis and many others. Lately, its been Michelle Wie who has raised eyebrows from some by playing in shorts and sleeveless  tank tops.

With the new dress code set to be rolled out next week, players have been warned that any violations will bring a $1,000 fine.



About time: Soccer legend George Best to get “30 for 30” tribute

At the risk of blowing my journalistic objectivity, it was an unbelievable thrill for me to see George Best play when I was covering the original North American Soccer League from 1978 to 1985.

So next Thursday at 7 p.m. CT when ESPN airs a “30 for 30” profile on Best, I’ll be tuned in hoping more time is devoted to the brilliance he displayed on the field rather than the disappointments he faced off it.


I became a fan of the Northern Ireland star when I was 16 and first saw highlights of Best at his best when he was playing for Manchester United. By the time he migrated from England to the NASL in 1976 to play for the Los Angeles Aztecs, he had long secured his legend as a player and legacy as a playboy.

When he joined the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in 1978, I somehow convinced him to let me shadow him for a day and a half. Even the Strikers didn’t think he’d give me that much time, but he did.

That’s still one of the coolest memories from my 41-year career as a sports writer (and I covered three Super Bowls,  an Olympics, a World Cup and even sat in a golf cart with Jan Stephenson.)

Alas, I didn’t get to sit on a bar stool next to Best. He ditched me around 6 p.m. during my only night in Fort Lauderdale, apparently having sized me up as an unsuitable wing man.

Still, I came away with a story that wrote itself and memories for a lifetime.

In all, Best played for three teams in the NASL – the Aztecs (1976-1978), the Strikers (1978-1979) and the San Jose Earthquakes (1980-82) – at the end of his career. It was in San Jose in 1982 that I last chatted with him.

But I never quit thinking about him, hoping he would get his life straightened out before it was too late.

I was devastated when he lost his battle with the bottle in 2005 at the age of 59. Even now, I can’t watch highlights of  Best’s most spectacular goals without feeling sad. But I know I’ll be smiling through any tears I have next Thursday, knowing ESPN will be introducing his legend to a new generation of fans.

Even the other greats of the game were in awe of Best.

Johann Cruyff: “What he had was unique, you can’t coach it.”

Pele: “George Best was the greatest player in the world.”

Franz Beckenbauer: “George Best was one of the most talented players of all time and probably the best footballer who never made it to a major world final.”

Calling myself “retired” is still a work in progress

I had planned to work in a newsroom until I was at least 65.

But here I am at 63 1/2 still coming to grips with the fact that I no longer have an internal clock to punch, phone calls to return, meetings to make, interviews to do, columns to write, deadlines to meet, assignments to discuss, staff to manage or stories to edit.

My life changed — my wife says for the better — on May 3. That’s the day I was handed my walking papers as part of Gannett’s latest purge of journalism jobs.

I gave myself a two-month window to find another job as a sports editor or columnist, and now that window is closing.

I was contacted about a few openings, including one that would have returned me to SEC country. If that paper could have waited on me until Aug. 1, I would have taken the job. But with a house to pack and put on the market,  I don’t think I could have gotten there much quicker and still felt good about myself.

Why? Because my wife can’t lift more than 30 pounds after nine surgeries in three years. And frankly I’m still feeling guilty after having dumped all the relocation hassles on her during our last two moves in 1999 and 2007.

So I’ve closed the window and busied myself with catching up on yard work and home repairs that were neglected when I was spending all my vacation time in hospitals.

Alas, the window also has closed on receiving Gannett’s less-than-generous separation pay. I’ll soon learn just how far I can stretch Social Security without tapping into my 401K. But don’t worry. I shouldn’t have to open a gofundme.com retirement account to buy groceries.

If you are reading this, then you know how I’ve spent some of my free time since I “retired.”  As much as I can afford to do it, I plan to continue blogging and I even promise to do it on a more regular schedule once college football season heats up. My focus will be on the Big Ten and Southeastern Conferences, but I’ll check in on the Atlantic Coast Conference from time to time as well.

Having been a  sports editor at three newspapers in three states for 25 of my 41 years in journalism, I’m not ready to put away the laptop yet.