Articles By Nathan Rush
The best team doesn’t always win the NCAA Tournament. Many of greatest rosters ever assembled failed to cut down the nets in the one-and-done, single-elimination Madness of March. These are the 15 best teams that never won the NCAA Tournament.
1. 1991 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
(34–1, 18–0 Big West)
Coach Jerry Tarkanian
Lost to Duke, 79–77, in Final Four
Vegas was the undisputed, undefeated heavyweight champion of the world in college basketball before falling to Duke in a rematch of the 1990 title game, in which the Runnin’ Rebels humiliated the Blue Devils, 103–73. With three 1991 NBA Lottery picks — national player of the year forward Larry Johnson (No. 1 overall), wingman Stacey Augmon (No. 9) and point guard Greg Anthony (No. 12) — and the reigning Final Four MOP in Anderson Hunt, UNLV was as intimidating as it was dominant.
2. 1975 Indiana Hoosiers
(31–1, 18–0 Big Ten)
Coach Bob Knight
Lost to Kentucky, 92–90, in Elite Eight
Bob Knight and Joe B. Hall nearly went to blows during a 98–74 IU win over UK in December 1974. The Hoosiers were riding a 34-game winning streak heading into their rematch with the Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament. But without a full strength Scott May — who scored two points due to a broken arm, after scoring 25 in the first meeting — undefeated Indiana fell to Kentucky, a team that went on to lose the national title to UCLA in John Wooden’s final game.
3. 1983 Houston Cougars
(31–3, 16–0 Southwest)
Coach Guy Lewis
Lost to NC State, 54–52, in NCAA title game
Texas’ tallest fraternity, “Phi Slama Jama” was led by a pair of future Hall of Famers in shot-swatting big man Akeem Olajuwon and high-flying Clyde “the Glide” Drexler. The middle of three straight Final Four appearances and first of two national title game runner-up finishes was the most painful, as NC State pulled off one of the greatest Cinderella upsets in Big Dance history.
4. 1985 Georgetown Hoyas
(35–3, 14–2 Big East)
Coach John Thompson
Lost to Villanova, 66–64, in NCAA title game
The Patrick Ewing-led Hoyas were runner-up to North Carolina in 1982, national champs in 1984 and heavily favored to repeat as champs in 1985. But the overwhelming edge in talent for Ewing, Reggie Williams, David Wingate and Co. was no match for the magical shooting night of Rollie Massimino’s Wildcats, who shot 22-of-28 from the field to beat “Hoya Paranoia” on April Fools’ Day.
5. 1984 North Carolina Tar Heels
(28–3, 14–0 ACC)
Coach Dean Smith
Lost to Indiana, 72–68, in Sweet 16
On paper, this was Dean Smith’s most talented team, on the court and on the bench. National player of the year Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, Brad Daugherty and freshman Kenny Smith headlined a loaded roster, while Roy Williams, Bill Guthridge and Eddie Fogler served as assistants coaches for a group of Tar Heels that couldn’t even make it to the Final Four.
6. 1993 Michigan Wolverines
(31–5, 15–3 Big Ten)
Coach Steve Fisher
Lost to North Carolina, 77–71, in NCAA title game
The sophomore season of the Fab Five — Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson — produced the same (since vacated) results as their freshman campaign. Michigan marched all the way to the national title game with their signature baggy shorts, black socks and swagger, only to lose to ACC power UNC, after losing to Duke in the championship game the season before.
7. 1997 Kansas Jayhawks
(34–2, 15–1 Big 12)
Coach Roy Williams
Lost to Arizona, 85–82, in Sweet 16
KU had it all, with NBA size down low in Raef LaFrentz and Scot Pollard, clutch shooters in Paul Pierce, Jerod Haase and Billy Thomas, and steady point guard play from Jacque Vaughn and Ryan Robertson. But Roy Williams’ Jayhawks could not close the deal against Miles Simon, Mike Bibby and eventual champion Arizona.
8. 1973 NC State Wolfpack
(27–0, 12–0 ACC)
Coach Norm Sloan
Banned from postseason play
David Thompson and Tommy Burleson led NC State to an undefeated regular season but were unable to go dancing after being banned from postseason play due to NCAA sanctions. When the ban was lifted, the 1973-74 Wolfpack went 30–1 cut down the nets following a national championship.
9. 1974 UCLA Bruins
(26–4, 12–2 Pac-8)
Coach John Wooden
Lost to NC State, 80–77 in 2OT, in Final Four
The next-to-last team coach by the Wizard of Westwood ended UCLA’s streak of seven consecutive NCAA titles. Despite being led by Bill Walton and Jamaal Wilkes, the Bruins were unable to outlast NC State in double-overtime in the Final Four.
10. 1954 Kentucky Wildcats
(25–0, 14–0 SEC)
Coach Adolph Rupp
Elected not to participate
Coach Adolph Rupp chose to take a stand against the NCAA by keeping the unbeaten Wildcats out of the Tournament after Frank Ramsey, Cliff Hagan and Lou Tsioropoulos were ruled ineligible due to a graduation rule that is no longer in place.
11. 1999 Duke Blue Devils
(37–2, 16–0 ACC)
Coach Mike Krzyzewski
Lost to Connecticut, 77–74, in NCAA title game
One of Coach K’s most talented teams was anchored by No. 1 overall pick Elton Brand, sharpshooting senior Trajan Langdon, point guard William Avery and athletic freak frosh Corey Maggette — all of whom went in the top 14 of the 1999 NBA Draft.
12. 1962 Ohio State Buckeyes
(26–2, 13–1 Big Ten)
Coach Fred Taylor
Lost to Cincinnati, 71–59, in NCAA title game
Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek are two of the greatest players in Ohio State history, playing in three consecutive NCAA title games — losing the last two trips as a heavy favorite against in-state rival Cincinnati.
13. 1957 Kansas Jayhawks
(24–3, 11–1 Big Seven)
Coach Dick Harp
Lost to North Carolina, 54–53 in 3OT, in NCAA title game
Kansas’ Wilt Chamberlain was unable to follow in the championship footsteps of San Francisco’s Bill Russell — who led the Dons to titles in 1955 and 1956. The Stilt lost in triple-overtime in what old timers have called the greatest game ever played.
14. 1963 Cincinnati Bearcats
(26–2, 11–1 Missouri Valley)
Coach Ed Jucker
Lost to Loyola-Chicago, 60–58, in NCAA title game
In their fifth straight Final Four appearance, the Bearcats were aiming for a three-peat before the term existed. But back-to-back champion Cincinnati was shocked by underdog Loyola-Chicago in the final.
15. 1979 Indiana State Sycamores
(33–1, 16–0 Missouri Valley)
Coach Bill Hodges
Lost to Michigan State, 75–64, in NCAA title game
The Legend of Larry Bird sprouted from the Sycamores undefeated 33–0 run to the NCAA title game, where Bird vs. Magic made the contest the highest rated college basketball game in history.
Johnny Manziel’s Pro Day at Texas A&M was easily the most-watched in NFL history, thanks to NFL Network’s live coverage and America’s insatiable appetite for all things Johnny Football. College Station hosted a who’s who of Lone Star State dignitaries — including former President George H.W. Bush, First Lady Barbara Bush and Governor Rick Perry (an A&M alum) — as well as representatives from 30 of 32 NFL franchises. But it could have been so much more entertaining. Here are four things we wish had happened at Johnny Pro Day’s big day.
1. Johnny Manziel had worn a Houston Texans helmet
Unlike most prospects who work out in a tee-shirt and shorts on their Pro Day, Manziel wore a matte black helmet and black No. 2 jersey with pads on underneath — because, as he told Gil Brandt, “Isn’t the game played with them on?” Instead of generic gear, the Kerrville, Texas, native should have broken out a Houston Texans helmet. His fans would have loved it, he would have put the spotlight back on himself as a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick and he could have trolled the internet trolls who love to bash him. Plus, he’s already threatened the Texans:
“It would be the worst decision they ever made,” Manziel told The Houston Chronicle, of the Texans not selecting him with the No. 1 overall pick. “I want them to say absolutely, without a doubt, with 100 percent certainty, that I’m who they want. I want everybody from the janitor at Reliant Stadium to the front office executive assistant all the way up to (owner) Bob McNair to say, ‘This kid is 100 percent, can’t miss. This is who we want being the face of our program. We want the Texas kid staying in Texas and leading the Texans.’”
2. Jacksonville Jaguars WRs replaced Mike Evans
As usual, the Heisman Trophy winner shined as the main event in the three-ring circus, completing 61-of-64 passes in the scripted workout, including two dropped “catchable” balls and one caught pass out of bounds. But he was completing passes to his own guys, which included stud Aggie wideout Mike Evans — a 6’5”, 231-pounder with 4.5 speed and the potential to be a top-10 pick in his own right. But that’s unrealistic. What if Johnny Jaguar goes No. 3 overall to Jacksonville and has to play pitch-and-catch with London’s favorite receivers? Manziel probably wouldn’t have completed 95 percent of his Pro Day passes with Jaguars as targets, even against a defense of thin air.
3. Cleveland Browns sent LeBron James to scout
The Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns were reportedly the only two teams in the NFL that did not send a scout, assistant, coach or executive to take a first-hand look at A&M’s Pro Day. Obviously, Chicago has big money locked up at QB and WR. But Cleveland? Not only do the Browns own the Nos. 4 and 26 overall picks, but one of Johnny Famous’ celebrity friends is a former (fictional) member of the Dawg Pound. LeBron James could have represented Ohio. After all, the Heat had an off day on Thursday and King James was obviously watching (and Tweeting) about all the action.
4. Barbara Bush’s dogs were pit bulls, not Maltipoos
First Lady (and First Mother?) Barbara Bush took her family dogs for a high-profile walk on the field at the Pro Day. The two Maltipoos — light brown Bibi and white Mini Me — also sat with President Bush and the First Lady in their golf cart on the sidelines during the on-field drills. But how much more intimidating would it have been had Mrs. Bush’s dogs been pit bulls? Or bulldogs? Or Doberman Pinschers? Barbara Bush’s tenacity is legendary. Will Ferrell as George W. Bush told us all about her toughness during the HBO special “You’re Welcome, America.” Don’t let the Maltipoos mislead you. There’s a reason both her husband and son rose to President of the United States. With Barbara Bush on his side, Johnny Football too could go all the way to the top.
Sex, drugs and rock n’ roll dominate the most shocking confessions in sports history — which range from life-or-death to too much information to inconsequential yet unnerving.
1. Magic Johnson’s HIV announcement
The 32-year-old smiling face of the “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers, Magic was a larger-than-life, five-time NBA champion and 11-time All-Star when he held a press conference on Nov. 7, 1991 to announce his intentions to leave the NBA after discovering that he had contracted HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). The subsequent shockwaves of the news reverberated throughout the world — not just the world of sports — as the seemingly invincible superhero Magic Johnson became the exceedingly vulnerable human Earvin Johnson. Thankfully, Johnson remains healthy at age 54 and has a reported net worth of $500 million.
2. O.J. Simpson’s “If I Did It” book
The O.J. Simpson murder “Trial of the Century” captivated the nation from the Ford Bronco chase on June 17, 1994, until the not-guilty verdict was read on Oct. 3, 1995. As lead defense attorney Johnnie Cochran famously (infamously?) said, “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” But that didn’t stop the Juice from penning a 2006 novel depicting a “fictional” account of the murders ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Rightfully infuriated, the Goldman family took O.J. to court and were awarded the rights to the book as part of their wrongful death civil trial settlement.
3. Tiger Woods’ apology press conference
“Hey, it’s Tiger. I need you to do a huge favor. Can you please take your name off your phone? My wife went through my phone and may be calling you. So if you can, please take your name off that. Just have it as a number on the voicemail. You got to do this for me. Huge. Quickly. Bye.” That was a voicemail that could have been received by any porn star or Perkins waitress across the country following Tiger’s Thanksgiving weekend 2009 car wreck, when his web of lies and mistresses unraveled. Tiger overly scripted apology press conference was tame compared to the shock value provided by leaked voicemails and text messages — not to mention the parade of bleached out bimbos.
4. Lance Armstrong’s Oprah interview
Anyone who follows cycling could not have been shocked by Armstrong’s admission of blood doping en route to his champagne reign of seven consecutive victories (1999-2005) in the Tour de France. But since almost no one stateside follows the sport and Armstrong had been so steadfast in his denial — following a well-publicized battle with cancer and an extremely popular charitable “Livestrong” campaign, complete with trendy yellow bracelets (which happen to be the same color as the yellow jersey awarded the Tour de France leader and/or champion) — many Americans felt cheated and betrayed when Lance gave an unapologetic confession to Oprah in Jan. 2013.
5. Tim Tebow’s SEC Media Day sermon
Through both hype and hyperbole, Southeastern Conference football has been described as a religion by many who worship the greatest college football league the universe has ever been blessed enough to witness. But take a three-step drop back for perspective’s sake and there is actual religion, a subject which Tebow — a devout Christian unafraid to spread the gospel — has never been shied away from. Tebow’s beliefs and values were thrust into the spotlight during the circus of SEC Media Days in 2009, when shock jock Clay Travis asked the Heisman Trophy winner if he was indeed a virgin. Yes he is/was. He is/was waiting until marriage. Given the talent in the Gator Nation, that’s a shocker.
6. Manti Te’o’s dead girlfriend Deadspin exposé
“Never has there been a tale of more woe, than this of Lennay Kekua and her Te’o.” Shakespeare wrote that, I think. Tragically, Te’o’s girlfriend, Kekua, was a catfish story created by Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. She never existed. She didn’t go to Stanford. She didn’t die of cancer. And Notre Dame’s Heisman Trophy runner-up middle linebacker did not honor her through his play on the gridiron. The narrative told and retold by news outlets of note such as Sports Illustrated and The New York Times, was exposed by Brett Favre’s favorite blog Deadspin, in a mind-blowing piece of well-written, in-depth, actually researched journalism.
7. Michael Sam’s Sports Illustrated story
The SEC Defensive Player of the Year isn’t a BMOC self-proclaimed virgin and doesn’t have an AWOL imaginary girlfriend. Nope. Sam is just an ordinary gay man who happens to play football. That’s not so shocking, at least not to most iPhone-carrying, Netflix-watching modern Americans. But Peter King was freaked out. What would Bill Parcells have thought in 1989? King quoted unnamed knuckle-dragging league sources when SI and MMQB broke the news in February 2014, jumping the gun on a story that was groundbreaking but not nearly as shocking as Sam’s slow-motion 4.91 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine.
8. Hollywood Henderson’s Super Bowl party
Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson co-authored, along with Peter Knobler, an autobiography appropriately entitled “Out of Control.” The highlight (lowlight?) of the book is Hollywood’s admission of using a cocaine-laced inhaler on the Dallas Cowboys sideline at the Orange Bowl during a Super Bowl XIII loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. “I pulled out my inhaler. The Orange Bowl holds about 80,000 screaming fans, plus there were about 200 million watching worldwide on TV, and there I was on the sideline taking a couple of major snorts in front of them all,” Henderson said. “We lost that day. I lost that day. I was out of control.”
9. Andre Agassi’s phony ponytail tell-all
Another autobiographical tale, so to speak, was told in Agassi’s book, “Open.” The eight-time Grand Slam champion tennis star, Nike spokesman and Canon camera shooter discussed the dark days of meth use and dating Barbara Streisand. But the most disturbing admission of the rebel from Las Vegas was that his famed punk ponytail was actually a fake attachment to whatever baseball cap he was wearing. He wore wigs during the 1990s while simultaneously being known for his long, crazy hair. Double-fault. No soft tennis clapping for this shocking confession. Hopefully it’s a lie about a lie used as a marketing ploy just to sell books.
10. Will Muschamp’s love of Nickelback
“I listen to Nickelback. Although I couldn’t name a song,” Muschamp said during a Monday press conference on Sept. 30, 2013. This news came after the Florida Gators coach was accused of just such musical treason on ESPN’s College GameDay, when a Tennessee Volunteers fan held up a sign that simply declared: “Will Muschamp Listens To Nickelback.” At the time, we all laughed. That’s funny. Of course no self-respecting, Gator-chomping, jorts-wearing, domestic beer-drinking HEAD FOOTBALL COACH would ever listen to the Canadian band that has sold more than 50 million albums to the lowest common denominator. So what’s worse? Posting a 22–16 record at one of the best jobs in the nation — or listening to Nickelback?
The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is in the books. And as usual, March Madness tipped off with a bang. Cinderellas were busy Big Dancing to the Sweet 16, while traditional powerhouses were belly-flopping and Bracket-busting all the way to Warren Buffett's nearly $60-billion bank account. Since, shockingly, no one has a flawless Billion-Dollar Bracket, here's a look at the other most disappointing moments of the NCAA Tournament thus far.
1. Lord have Mercer! The Dookies went one-and-done
Coach K and the mighty Duke Blue Devils lost in the Round of 64 for the second time in three seasons — falling to Mercer this year after being upset by Lehigh in the 2012 Tourney. Unfortunately for internet trolls and Duke haters alike, Coach K was classy in defeat, visiting the Bears locker room after the tough loss. "You have a hell of a basketball team," the four-time NCAA champ and two-time Olympic gold medal-winning head coach said. "I love the game and you guys play the game really, really well and your coach coaches it well. If we had to be beaten, I'm glad that we got beaten by a hell of a basketball team. So, good luck to you." That's disappointing.
2. Clock operator in North Carolina loss to Iowa State
Tar Heels joined Blue Devils to cry in their beers on Tobacco Road following a surreal finish to UNC's 85–83 defeat to Iowa State. Cyclones clutch guard DeAndre Kane hit a sweet go-ahead bucket with 1.6 seconds to play. Then all Heel broke loose. The clock operator failed to push the all-important "button that starts the clock" following a panicked inbounds pass. When time-out was finally granted Roy Williams, as the ball reached halfcourt, it was too late. Officials huddled. Coach Roy grabbed his knees and hung his head. Game over.
3. Dougie McDermott's lack of Tourney McBuckets
Sadly, Mr. 3000 didn't teach anyone how to Dougie in this year's Big Dance. The nation's leading scorer and favorite to win every national player of the year award saw his brilliant college career end not with a bang but a whimper. Dougie McBuckets scored 15 points on 7-of-14 shooting, going 0-of-3 from downtown and just 1-of-2 from the charity stripe, during Creighton's 85–55 blowout loss to Baylor.
4. Marcus Smart's sophomoric season finally ends
Oklahoma State's go-to guy famously (infamously?) shunned the weak 2013 NBA Draft in favor of returning to play for the Pokes and roll the dice with the historically strong 2014 NBA Draft. After a disappointing 8–10 Big 12 season that included a three-game suspension following a not-so-Smart physical altercation with a fan in the stands at Texas Tech, Smart's amateur hour is over. The combo guard didn't show the shooting touch NBA scouts are concerned with, going 5-of-14 from the field, 1-of-5 from 3-point range and 12-of-19 from the free-throw line in a 89–77 Round of 64 loss to Gonzaga.
5. Mayor Hoiberg apologizing for Sweet 16 dance moves
After Iowa State took down North Carolina, Cyclones coach Fred "The Mayor" Hoiberg broke it down in the Iowa State locker room with a few dance moves that would make Michael Jackson proud. So why did he apologize to his daughter and son via Twitter? There should be no shame in your game, Mayor. No reason to apologize, even as a formality. Own it, baby. You deserve to dance after advancing to Iowa State's first Sweet 16 since 2000.
6. Nebraska' Big Ten Coach of the Year Tim Miles ejected
There is a coach that should be embarrassed by his moves, these coming on the court. After being picked last in the Big Ten preseason, Miles led the Huskers to their first NCAA berth in 16 years. But the coach appeared to be out of his element, picking up an early technical foul before being tossed in the second half after running out onto the floor to (correctly) point out that the shot clock was not running. "The official came over and T'd me up. I said, 'It's the shot clock. It never ran,'" said Miles. "I'm like, 'I'm just trying to get the game in line, that's a correctable error.' He's like, 'It's too late. You're gone.'"
7. Kansas State walk-on assessed pregame technical foul
Sure, Brian Rohleder only saw 31 minutes on the court for K-State this season. But that didn't stop the sophomore walk-on from costing the Wildcats in a tough 8-9 matchup with preseason No. 1 Kentucky. Unlike LeBron James' NBA pregame dunk contest routine, it is against the rules to dunk during pregame layup lines at the college level. Rohleder, however, threw down a two-handed hammer prior to KSU-UK tipoff. He was spotted and T'd up. Kentucky's Andrew Harrison sunk the free throw and K-State started the game trailing 1–0.
8. Other Gumbel brother fails to identify other Miller brother
You would think Greg Gumbel would sympathize with famous brothers being misidentified as their more famous sibling. How many times do you think Greg has been confused for Bryant? But that personal experience didn't stop Greg from confusing Dayton coach Archie Miller with his more accomplished older brother, Arizona coach Sean Miller. CBS pulled the plug on the interview after it got weird — because it didn't take a "Gumbel 2 Gumbel" detective duo to figure out the obvious error. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
9. Grant Hill's "white on white hate" analysis of Duke
In an interview with Bleacher Report, the two-time Duke national champion and NCAA Tourney analyst introduced a new theory on why there is so much nationwide schadenfreud when his alma mater loses. "The funny thing is — and I played with Bobby Hurley and Christian Laettner and they were despised when we went on the road," said Hill. "But you look into the crowd and it was nothing but white students at the games, so it was white on white hate. It’s sad."
10. Aaron Craft unable to hustle his way to Sweet 16
Does that explain why Craft gets treated like he goes to Duke? Because he's white? Well, it's all over for the hustle-haulic from Ohio State. No more rabid defense or GPA updates. Nope. The Buckeyes' Goliath fell to Dayton's David in a classic in-state Round of 64 showdown that produced an incredible local headline, which went viral immediately. There's plenty of reasons to have loved the college career of Craft. Even in crushing, disappointing defeat, he left us all an enduring Meme of his postgame reaction after missing the potential game-winner.
Everyone loves a good conspiracy theory, especially in sports — and politics and entertainment and mysteriously lost Malaysian Airlines flights. When Michael Jordan unexpectedly retires? Conspiracy. When Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins a race after his daddy died? Conspiracy. When Louisville and Michigan State both get a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament? Double-dog conspiracy. But none of those tongue-in-cheek cheats made this list. These are the top five conspiracy theories in sports history:
1. 1919 World Series — Chicago Black Sox Scandal
“Say it ain’t so, Joe.”
Eight members of the Chicago White Sox — “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte, Claude “Lefty” Williams, Buck Weaver, Arnold “Chick” Gandil, Fred McMullin, Charles “Swede” Risberg and Oscar “Happy” Felsch — were banned from baseball for conspiring with gamblers and gangsters (notably New York’s Arnold Rothstein) to throw the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds.
The plan worked, as the heavily favored White Sox — one of the era’s highest profile teams and arguably one of the most talented squads of all time — fell to the Reds, 5-to-3, in the best-of-nine series.
Strangely, “Shoeless Joe” hit the 1919 World Series’ only home run and led all batters with a .375 average (12-for-32), six RBIs and five runs scores. But Jackson’s implication in the scandal ended his career at only 32 years old, with a .356 career average and three top-5 finishes in AL MVP voting.
As a result of what would become known as the “Black Sox Scandal,” Kenesaw Mountain Landis was named the first “Commissioner of Baseball” in 1920.
2. Super Bowl III — New York Jets upset Baltimore Colts
“We’re going to win Sunday. I guarantee it.”
Joe Namath backed up his famous guarantee with the New York Jets upsetting the Baltimore Colts, 16–7, in Super Bowl III. But since “Broadway Joe” trotted off the field pointing No. 1 to the sky, there have been more than a few rumblings that the Colts took a dive against the Jets.
The legitimacy of the NFL-AFL merger of 1970 was greatly aided by the AFL’s win in Super Bowl III on Jan. 12, 1969. The fact that the game was won by New York — a massive media market with a coverboy quarterback — was icing on the cake. In hindsight, it could be argued that the Jets’ win over the Colts was a triumph worth not just millions but billions of dollars for the league.
“That Super Bowl game, which we lost by nine points, was the critical year (for the AFL),” Colts defensive end Bubba Smith famously told Playboy. “The game just seemed odd to me. Everything was out of place. I tried to rationalize that our coach, Don Shula, got out-coached, but that wasn’t the case. I don’t know if any of my teammates were in on the fix.”
Baltimore had a 13–1 record in 1968 and dominated the Cleveland Browns, 34–0, in the NFL title game. Meanwhile, New York went 11–3 and barely escaped with a 27–23 win over the Oakland Raiders in the AFL title game — thanks in large part to a fluke play late in the fourth quarter, when the Jets recovered a lateral fumble that the Raiders thought was an incomplete pass.
The Colts committed five costly turnovers, including three interceptions by quarterback Earl Morrall. One interception was particularly suspicious. With Colts receiver Jimmy Orr wide open near the end zone, Morrall checked down to running back Jerry Hill only to throw an errant pass intercepted by Jets safety Jim Hudson.
“I’m just a linesman but I looked up and saw Jimmy (Orr) wide open,” said Colts center Bill Curry, currently the head coach at Georgia State.
Baltimore coach Don Sula — who would later coach Morrall with the Miami Dolphins — may have the most damning non-quote of all. Smith wrote in his autobiography, “Kill, Bubba, Kill,” that he believed the fix was in at Super Bowl III. Shula’s response was the classic husband-caught-cheating reply.
“I think it’s too ridiculous for me to comment on,” said Shula.
3. Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston — “Phantom Punch”
“Get up and fight, sucker!”
Muhammad Ali stood over Sonny Liston shouting at him to get up, while ringside photographer Neil Leifer captured the iconic moment in what many have called the greatest sports photograph in history.
Ali-Liston II was originally scheduled for Nov. 16, 1964 at the Boston Garden. But the fight was postponed after a pre-fight injury suffered by Ali. Rumors of organized crime connections to the fight promotion caused the city of Boston to reject the fight. Then, amid continued fixed fight talk, the city of Cleveland followed suit and also denied the fight.
Finally, on May 25, 1965, the heavyweight championship bout took place at St. Dominic’s Hall in Lewiston, Maine, and was refereed by former heavyweight champ Jersey Joe Walcott. The fight did not last long, however. Liston went down in the first round — as rumors swirled that Liston owed money to the mafia and/or had been threatened by the Nation of Islam.
Worst of all, Ali was reportedly overheard asking his corner crew a crucial question about the so-called “phantom punch.”
“Did I hit him?”
4. 1985 NBA Draft Lottery — Patrick Ewing to the New York Knicks
In 1985, Georgetown center Patrick Ewing was a “can’t miss” NBA prospect. Ewing lived up to his advanced billing, as an 11-time NBA All-Star and member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. He never won an NBA championship, primarily due to the greatness of Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon. But Ewing was the centerpiece of 13 playoff teams for the New York Knicks — a team that acquired the 7-footer via the first-ever NBA Draft Lottery.
After watching the footage, several oddities stand out. When putting the seven envelopes into the drum, the fourth envelope is noticeably thrown against the side of the clear sphere — bending one corner of the envelope — while the other six are simply dropped into the bottom of the drum. Then, Commissioner David Stern lets out a stressful deep breath before diving his hand into the drum, passing over several envelopes and drawing what turned out to be the New York Knicks — Stern’s self-proclaimed favorite team. Along with the bent-corner theory, many have speculated that the Knicks’ envelope had been frozen prior to the drawing.
Since the Ewing scandal, the NBA Draft Lottery has cleaned up its act. The ping-pong ball lottery takes place in a room with no cameras, then the “results” are announced by opening the envelopes on television. Stern is nowhere near the event. Who has been involved? The trustworthy employees of Ernst & Young, whose honest oversight experience also includes the fraudulent accounting practices of Lehman Brothers.
It’s all on the up and up. The Bulls received the right to draft Chicago native Derrick Rose, despite only a 1.7 percent chance of “winning” the Lottery. The Orlando Magic won back-to-back No. 1 picks, including Shaquille O’Neal. The New Jersey Nets won the No. 1 pick in Rod Thorn’s first draft running the Nets, after 15 years of Thorn being Stern’s right-hand man in the league office. The Cleveland Cavaliers got the top pick the year the best player in state history (LeBron James) was available and the year after King James left town. The most recent Lottery was won by the New Orleans Hornets — a team owned by the NBA during the 2011-12 season, before being sold to Tom Benson.
If the real lottery were run the way Stern runs the NBA Draft Lottery, no one would buy a ticket. And the right to draft Ewing, Shaq, LeBron, etc., is worth more than the PowerBall.
5. 2002 NBA Western Conference Finals, Game 6 — Sacramento Kings at L.A. Lakers
Tim Donaghy was an NBA referee from 1994 to 2007, officiating in 772 regular season games and 20 playoff contests. But rumors of fixing games caused Donaghy to resign in July 2007. Concrete evidence presented by the FBI resulted in Donaghy pleading guilty to federal charges and being sentenced to 15 months in federal prison.
After being released, Donaghy began telling tales of NBA officiating, gambling and controlling the outcome of games. His legal team even filed loosely veiled allegations against the NBA in U.S. District Court.
Although he does not name team or referee names, it is clear that Donaghy’s attorney is referring to Game 6 of the 2002 NBA Western Conference Finals between the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers.
“Referees A, F and G were officiating a playoff series between Teams 5 and 6 in May of 2002. It was the sixth game of a seven-game series, and a Team 5 victory that night would have ended the series.
“However, Tim learned from Referee A that Referees A and F wanted to extend the series to seven games. Tim knew Referees A and F to be ‘company men,’ always acting in the interest of the NBA, and that night, it was in the NBA’s interest to add another game to the series. Referees A and F heavily favored Team 6.
“Personal fouls (resulting in obviously injured players) were ignored even when they occurred in full view of the Referees. Conversely, the Referees called made-up fouls on Team 5 in order to give additional free throw opportunities for Team 6. Their foul-calling also led to the ejection of two Team 5 players.
“The referees’ favoring of Team 6 led to that team’s victory that night, and Team 6 came back from behind to win that series.”
The referees that May 31, 2002 night were Dick Bavetta, Bob Delaney and Steve Javie. The Kings led the Lakers, 3–2, in the best-of-seven series. A Kings win would send Sacramento to the NBA Finals, where it would face the New Jersey Nets. A Lakers win would force a Game 7 and keep alive the dynasty dreams of the two-time defending champions.
Kings centers Vlade Divac and Scot Pollard both fouled out of the game. Pollard picked up two fouls in 14 seconds, fouling out with 11:34 remaining in the fourth quarter; Divac fouled out with 2:56 remaining. Kings forward Chris Webber picked up three fouls in the fourth quarter, his fifth foul coming with 3:07 to play.
The Lakers led the Kings in free throw attempts, 40-to-25. In the fourth quarter, L.A. went 21-of-27 from the free throw line, while Sacramento was 7-of-9 in the final period. And in a symbolic display of unfairness, Kings guard Mike Bibby was called for a foul after being elbowed in the nose by Kobe Bryant.
After the game, Ralph Nader called for investigation. But Lakers fans smiled all the way to a 106–102 Game 6 win, a 112–106 Game 7 victory and a four-game sweep of the overmatched Nets in the NBA Finals, en route to a star-studded three-peat led by Shaq, Kobe and Phil Jackson.
“I’m not going to say there was a conspiracy,” said Pollard. “I just think something wasn’t right. It was unfair. We didn’t have a chance to win that game.”
The NCAA Tournament is about to tip off. And while only one person will win your office bracket pick 'em pool — probably the girl who makes her picks based on colors, mascots and hot dude-bros, not the nerd alert with KenPom.com bookmarked — everyone can have a funny March Madness bracket team name. Here are 68 names that should get a chuckle from the First Four to the Final Four.
99 Problems, Embiid's Back Is One
When I Think About You I Touch Bill Self
Not In Kansas Anymore
Shock It To Me
Shock and Awe
March Mad Men
Fast Breaking Bad
Ball So Hard University
Definitely In My Izzone
Yes! Yes! Yes!
Boom Shaka Shaka
One Man Wolf Pack
Teach Me How to Dougie
Anthony Benedetto's Wahoos
I Left My Heart in Charlottesville
Church of Bracketology
Stretch Final Fours
Jim Boeheim's Jacket
Horace Grant's Nephew
Rakeem Christmas Present
Two Ferns, One POTUS
POTUS > Clark Kellogg
Billy the Kid is the Man
Greatest Recruiting Class Ever
Calipari's Recruiting Budget
Big Bluegrass Nation
Pitino's 15-Second Drill
Italian Sausage Stuffed Snapper
Coach K's Stool
Jay Bilas Follows Me
F--- 'Em Bucky
Jerry's House Party
Oracles of Omaha
Warren Buffett's Bracket
Full Metal Bracket
Big Dancin' For Money
One Shining Moment
The 2014 NFL Scouting Combine a.k.a. the “Underwear Olympics” may not have gotten as crazy as the Sochi Winter Olympics, but there were still plenty of memorable, GIF-able, troll-able moments at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis — where all the powdered wigs and stop-watch watchers scouted the top prospects going harder, better, faster, stronger. These are a few of the more memorable crazy moments from the Combine.
Adam Muema’s exits early, “following God”
The San Diego State running back has gone AWOL, as a healthy scratch. Despite being invited to audition for the NFL’s millionaires club, Muema exited early, saying God told him he would go on to play for the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks if he left. “(God) told me to sit down, be quiet, and enjoy the peace,” Muema told the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Michael Gehlken. Hopefully everything works out for Muema, but he’s crazy if he thinks he’ll be taking Marshawn Lynch’s “Beast Mode” carries anytime soon.
Warren Sapp’s reaction to Jadeveon Clowney
Jadeveon Clowney came down from Mount Olympus to run a 4.53 in the 40-yard dash — a time that was unofficially sub-4.5 when first reported. That caused Hall of Fame, Super Bowl-winning, former Defensive Player of the Year turned NFL Network sideline dude Warren Sapp to lose his mind. “There’s something in the steroids. I mean, something in the milk. Something. Cause these kids are way bigger than I ever remember,” Sapp said. Clowney, for the record, weighed in at 6’5” and 266 pounds.
Internet trolls questioning Clowney’s “motor”
After watching the potential No. 1 overall pick tear up the track in Indianapolis, many took to their keyboards — which are presumably perched atop a very high horse — to question whether or not Clowney has the “motor” or “drive” or “will” or “love of the game” or, as the Ol’ Ball Coach Steve Spurrier infamously said, “work ethic” to succeed at the next level. Do you want Jadeveon Clowney on your favorite team? I do.
Michael Sam’s overcrowded press conference
Last year, Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te’o had a three-ring circus in Indy to discuss his imaginary girlfriend and love of phishing. This year, SEC Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam had even more of a crowd on hand to hear his presser, which was a non-event thanks to the prepared poise of Sam — but a crazy crowd all the same. Sam lived up to his “instant hero in the gay and lesbian community” status bestowed upon him by Commissioner Roger Goodell’s brother Michael, who also happens to be gay.
Mike Mayock’s No. 1 pick? Khalil Mack!
Gelled hair Mel Kiper has been yelling about the NFL Draft for the longest, but the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock is the best in the business right now. So when Mayock says he’d take Buffalo’s Khalil Mack over Clowney, that sends shockwaves over the airwaves. “He’s explosive off the edge, he’s tough, he’s twitchy, he’s got a little edge about him,” Mayock said. “He dominated Ohio State like nobody I’ve ever seen dominate them. … You talk about a kid like (Jadeveon) Clowney, who’s just got superhuman abilities, versus this kid. And if I had a choice between the two, I think I’m taking Mack.”
Johnny Football’s height, hands and hype
Johnny Manziel’s larger-than-life persona Johnny Football may stand over six feet tall wearing cowboy boots and a 10-gallon hat, but he’s only 5’11.75” in his underwear. After claiming to be 72 inches “on the dot” prior to being measured, Manziel was a shade under the six-foot mark in Indy. Johnny Football did have huge hands, however, measuring at 9 7/8”. Those big mits match his reportedly size 15 shoes. Look out, NFL. Johnny Extremity is coming to a town near you.
Can't lie archer had the boi nervous— Chris Johnson (@ChrisJohnson28) February 23, 2014
Chris Johnson’s tweets about Dri Archer
In 2008, Johnson skyrocketed up draft boards into the first round after running an electronically timed record 4.24 in the 40-yard dash. So CJ2K is all about CJ4.24 when the NFL Scouting Combine rolls around. Lately, he’s reached 1972 Miami Dolphins’ champagne-popping proportions. When the last 40-yard dash has been run, Chris Johnson almost certainly pops a bottle of Moet. Another year, another retained title belt. Although it was close. Kent State flash ran a 4.26 that had CJ sweating.
Rich Eisen’s personal best 40-yard dash
Sure CJ and Dri are fast. But NFL Network host Rich Eisen must be hailed as the victor of this year’s 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. The Michigan man ran his first sub-six-second 40 since his annual “running of the 40” took over the internet in 2005, when he ran a 6.77. Even in running shoes, however, the 44-year-old Eisen isn’t as fast as 331-pound nose tackle Louis Nix, who beat him by a solid five yards with a 5.42 compared to Eisen’s 5.98. Still, it’s a fun way to close out a crazy few days of football job interviews.
The NFL Scouting Combine (Feb. 22-25) is crossing the finish line on another so-called “Underwear Olympics.” The Combine is just one step in the job interview process leading up to the 2014 NFL Draft (May 8-10). But make no mistake, millions of dollars are on the line during the 40-yard dash, bench press, vertical leap, broad jump, cone drills, Wonderlic test and BOD Pod tests.
With all 32 teams bringing a who’s who of owners, general managers, head coaches, coordinators and scouts to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, some players shrink in the spotlight. But these 15 prospects were workout warriors who aced their tests at the NFL Scouting Combine.
1. Bo Jackson, RB, Auburn – 1985
The two-sport tall tale weighed in at a chiseled 6’1”, 230 pounds before running an unofficial hand-timed 4.12 in the 40-yard dash — a jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring effort that is still a part of Combine folklore.
2. Tony Mandarich, OT, Michigan State – 1989
In hindsight, the most impressive thing the “Incredible Bulk” did was pass his steroid drug screening during the Combine. At 304 pounds, Mandarich ran a 4.65 in the 40, exploded for a 30” vertical and 10’3” broad jump, and ripped off 39 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.
3. Vernon Davis, TE, Maryland – 2006
Davis looked like a body builder or, at the very least, an actor from an Under Armour commercial en route to running a 4.38 in the 40, skying for a 42” vertical, 10’8” broad, and slamming 33 reps on the bench press.
4. Mike Mamula, LB, Boston College – 1995
After all these years, Mamula remains the go-to cautionary tale of the Combine. The BC beast vaulted up draft boards after a 4.58 in the 40, 28 reps of 225 pounds on the bench, a 38” vertical and a 49-of-50 on the Wonderlic Test. Mamula never looked as good in pads as he did in shorts.
5. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor – 2012
The fastest quarterback in Combine history — faster than uber athlete Cam Newton and draft classmate Andrew Luck — RG3 was a track star on the fast track to NFL and commercial superstardom, with a blistering 4.41 in the 40-yard dash to go along with a dunk contest-worthy 39” vertical.
6. Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis – 2012
While the Heisman Trophy-winning RG3 was a high-profile, pretty boy quarterback looking like a million bucks in Indy, Poe was a relative unknown fat boy nose tackle making himself who knows how many millions with his effort at the Combine. The 6’4”, 346-pound heavyweight ran a 4.98 in the 40 and powered through 44 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.
7. Chris Johnson, RB, East Carolina – 2008
Before he became CJ2K, the gold-grilled CJ4.24 was the gold standard official record-holder in laser-timed 40-yard sprints, posting a 4.24 and hitting the first-round finish line in-stride. CJ has not, however, been able to set up a race against Usain Bolt.
8. Deion Sanders, CB, Florida State – 1989
The ultimate showman (and show-boater), Deion showed up fashionably late (and probably fashionably loud) to the Combine, then ran his 40-yard dash only once — in a time between 4.19 and 4.29, depending on whose hand-timed stop watch you trust. But Prime Time didn’t stop running once he hit the finish line; Sanders ran out of the building to a limousine waiting to take him to the airport.
9. Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech –2007
With his draft stock holding strong near the top of the class, Johnson planned on kicking back and watching the festivities. But once the fireworks started, Megatron’s competitive juices started flowing and he decided he wanted to run after all. The only problem? He didn’t bring any track shoes. So Johnson borrowed a pair of spikes from East Carolina’s James Pinkney — then proceeded to run a blistering 4.32 in the 40.
10. Julio Jones, WR, Alabama – 2011
With everyone in the building looking for the “next Megatron,” Julio gave scouts a sneak peak at the new model of NFL wideout — weighing in at 6’3”, 220 pounds before flying for a 4.39 in the 40, skying for a 38.5” vertical and exploding for an 11’3” broad jump.
11. J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin – 2011
In hindsight, the numbers that Watt put up at the Combine were a window into his dominant Defensive Player of the Year future. At 6’5”, 290 pounds with 11 1/8” hands and 34” arms, Watt ran a 4.84 in the 40, soared for a 37” vertical and 10’ broad jump, and threw up a long-armed 34 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.
12. Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma – 2013
A high school quarterback turned college tight end turned NFL top-5 pick offensive tackle, Johnson took an unorthodox route to the league. But the 6’6”, 303-pounder put on an incredible display of athleticism, with a tight end-style 4.72 in the 40, a 34” vertical and 28 reps of 225 pounds on the bench.
13. Matt Jones, QB/WR, Arkansas – 2008
Another change-of-position guy (albeit with far less success), Jones was a 6’6”, 237-pound quarterback with questionable mental makeup but 4.37 speed in the 40. The Jaguars thought he could play wide receiver. As usual, Jacksonville was wrong.
14. Vernon Gholston, DE, Ohio State – 2008
One of the main reasons teams remain skeptical of off-the-charts Combine stats, Gholston was the classic “look like Tarzan, play like Jane.” In shorts and a muscle shirt, Gholston ran a 4.67 in the 40, had 37 reps on the bench and lifted off for a 35.5” vertical and 10’5” broad jump.
15. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina – 2014
The ghost of Gholston haunts every team leery of every physical freak at the Combine. Clowney has a Julius Peppers meets Zeus frame of 6’5” and 266 pounds. After essentially taking off his junior season, Clowney came down from on high long enough to run a brilliant 4.53 — faster even than Johnny Football — and post a 37.5” vertical and 10’4” broad jump. His 21 reps of 225 pounds were a potential red flag, if only because the lower-than-expected number woke the trolls who question Clowney’s motor. No one questions his athletic ability.
Only one team will win your fantasy baseball league, but everyone can have a funny fantasy baseball team name. These are 150 suggestions for the baseball nerds, Internet bird dogs, Sabermetric mathematician-magicians, jersey chasers and MLB Extra Innings subscribers who comprise fantasy baseball leagues around the world.
Costas Stink Eye
Jeter Del Boca Vista
McCann Man Code
CC’s MPH Diet
Short Porch Party
Prince Bigger in Texas
Dead Ted’s Head
Tampa Bay Carly Raes
Willie Mays Hays
JUST a Bit Outside
Kansas City Lordes
Blurred Foul Lines
Blurred Outfield Lines
Wrecking Ball Four
San Diego Rotisserie Chickens
Grand Theft Votto
Cubs Mascot Dong
Balco Black Sox
Ain’t Over Til It’s Over
Deja-vu All Over Again
Vin Scully’s Homeboys
Mr. Kate Upton
Yu Da Man
Dick Pole’s Staff
Jeter’s Gift Baskets
Griffey Jr.’s Tonic
New York Knights
No Crying in Baseball
All the Way Mae
Old Hoss Radbourn
Cobb Co. Braves
Hall of Shamers
Big League Choo
Manny Being Manny
Come Sale Away
Say It Ain’t So, Joe
Bud Selig 401K
Clown Question Bros
Back Back Back
Chris Berman Sucks
Fire Joe Morgan
Ken Burns Baseball
Wrigley Blue Ivy
Kung Fu Pandas
Say It Ain’t Sosa
El Paso Chihuahuas
Atlanta Black Crackers
Bob LOB Law
Crack That WHIP
Outfield Fly Rule
Smoak a Swisher
The Bourn Supremacy
The Price Is Wrong
Thome Don’t Play
Uncle Charlie Hustle
Houston Colt .45s
Hot Pocket Corner
Men of Steal
My Big Unit
Who’s Your Daddy?
The The Angels Angels
California Penal League
Cuckoo for Coco Crisp
Honey Nut Ichiro’s
Ethier Said Than Dunn
Horse Walks Into Aybar
Man Walks Into a Bard
The main event of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, ladies figure skating, is upon us. The sport’s top 30 diminutive divas will soon be toe-looping, lutzing, Salchow-ing and spinning at the Iceberg Skating Palace. Short programs will be performed Wednesday, Feb. 19, with the top 24 skaters advancing to the free skate on Thursday, Feb. 20. All eyes will be on these 10 world-renowned skaters, ranked here by their betting odds from gambling website Bovada.com.
1. Yuna Kim, 23, Korea (Odds: 1/1)
The “Queen” is the reigning Olympic champion, winning gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics with a world record score of 78.50. Kim’s signature jump combination is the triple lutz, triple toe loop as seen in the GIF above. But it is the vivid facial expressions and vibrant arm movements that make Korea’s top Olympian figure skating royalty. Another gold medal would make Kim the first repeat winner since East Germany’s Katarina Witt won at the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics and 1988 Calgary Olympics.
2. Julia Lipnitskaia, 15, Russia (Odds: 6/5)
Young Yulia is poised to become Russia’s first-ever ladies singles figure skating gold medalist, which would also make the 15-year-old the youngest gold medal winner in the sport’s history, as she is six days younger than American golden girl Tara Lipinski was at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. Lipnitskaia is a spinning top with her brilliant Biellmann position and gymnast-style contortions on the ice. The Sochi crowd — which will certainly include President Vladimir Putin — will be on Lipnitskaia’s side as she attempts to spin and bend her way into Olympic lore in front of her home nation.
3. Mao Asada, 23, Japan (Odds: 9/2)
The silver medalist at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics is the only skater with a triple axle (followed by double toe loop in the frame-by-frame breakdown above) in her arsenal. Asada has cut down the difficulty in her routine in favor of a more free-flowing program — with only one triple axle rather than two. Asada will be the 30th and final skater in the short program but will likely be near the top of the standings heading into the free skate.
4. Carolina Kostner, 27, Italy (Odds: 14/1)
Making her third Olympic appearance, Kostner hopes to improve upon her seventh-place finish at the 2010 Vancouver Games and her 11th-place finish at the 2006 Turin Games. Known more for her stylish ice dancing than her technical skill, Kostner has the unenviable task of following Russian ice princess Julia Lipnitskaia in the short program, which is arguably the worst draw of the 30 slots.
5. Gracie Gold, 18, USA (Odds: 16/1)
With a Grace Kelly smile and Gold medal first place last name, Gold has become the unofficial face of the red, white and blue in Sochi. The Chicago native is the USA's Cover Girl, stopping by The Tonight Show and doing People Magazine profiles. She’s the 2014 U.S. Championships gold medal winner and aiming to join Sarah Hughes (2002 Salt Lake), Tara Lipinski (1998 Nagano), Kristi Yamaguchi (1992 Albertville), Dorothy Hamill (1976 Innsbruck), Peggy Fleming (1968 Grenoble), Carol Heiss (1960 Squaw Valley) and Tenley Albright (1956 Cortina d’Ampezzo) as the eighth American gold medalist in Olympic figure skating history.
6. Adelina Sotnikova, 17, Russia (Odds: 28/1)
Although countrywoman Julia Lipnitskaia is spinning her way to the headlines and highlights, Sotnikova is the reigning Russian Championships gold medalist, European Championships silver medalist and a legitimate medal contender in her own right.
7. Kanako Murakami, 19, Japan (Odds: 28/1)
If you believe Japan’s second-best medal hopeful, the island nation’s “very scary” moms are the reason for their success. “It’s not just the coaches who crack the whip but those mothers,” she says.
8. Ashley Wagner, 22, USA (Odds: 33/1)
It’s been a long fall for the 2013 U.S. Championships gold medalist turned skating meme. The thrill of victory and agony of “bull$#!*” scoring from stingy skating judges have become a popular internet juxtaposition joke.
9. Akiko Suzuki, 28, Japan (Odds: 33/1)
The elder stateswoman of Japanese skating, Suzuki finished 11th at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. She teams with Mao Asada and Kanako Murakami to give Japan arguably the top trio of skaters in the competition.
10. Polina Edmunds, 15, USA (Odds: 50/1)
The San Jose, Calif., native follows in the Olympic footsteps of former Archbishop Mitty High School alums Brandi Chastain (soccer) and Kerri Walsh Jennings (beach volleyball) — who have a combined five gold medals between them.
Prior to the Sochi Winter Olympics there were plenty of concerns swirling around the Games of the XXII Olympiad. Whether it was melting snow, stray dogs, dirty water, government spying or a shirtless president on horseback, paranoia ran rampant. Would Vladimir Putin and Co. be able to competently host 2,850 Olympians from 88 countries, plus fans and media?
The games are now midair. And while there hasn’t been a major international incident, there have been some odd moments in Sochi so far. Here are a few highlights and lowlights from the 2014 Winter Olympics at just past the halfway point.
Olympic ring fail
Sochi staggered right out of the gates at the Opening Ceremonies. Although Russian police did sing Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” — which was not quite the Grammy Award-winning Pharrell version, but still — the unveiling of the Olympic rings went all wrong. Luckily, that part of the broadcast was able to be censored out of the Russian telecast.
Bob Costas’ pink eye
Since the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Costas has been anchoring the NBC coverage of the Summer and Winter Games, either late night or in prime time. But this time around, the Peacock Network’s most visible plumage turned pink. Costas came down with a nasty case of pink eye, which spread from his left eye to his right, forcing Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira to step up in place of the spectacled eight-time National Sportscaster of the Year.
Julia Lipnitskaia’s spinning
Russia’s 15-year-old ice princess and its 31-year-old rock star Evgeni Plushenko led a gold medal charge in the Olympics’ first-ever team figure skating competition. Lipnitskaia — who met the age qualification of the Olympics by just 25 days — stole the show with her mesmerizing spins.
Ashley Wagner’s meme
While Lipnitskaia was busy winning over even the most hardened of hearts, America’s own gold medal figure skating hopeful made a meme to remember. Call Wagner the McKayla Maroney of the Winter Olympics. She was certainly “not impressed” by her scores in the team competition.
Bode Miller’s raw emotion
After Miller earned bronze in the super-G, NBC reporter Christin Cooper relentlessly asked the alpine skier about his recently deceased brother, Chelone, who was found dead in a van following an apparent seizure last April. There was immediate backlash from fans who thought Cooper’s line of questioning went too far.
Under Armour speedskating suits
Speed skater Shani Davis entered Sochi with back-to-back gold medals in the 1000 meters and a pair of silvers in the 1500 meters. After failing to medal in either event, there was rampant speculation that Davis was slowed by Under Armour’s new Mach 39 speedskating body suits. Apparently, vents on the back of the suit that were designed to allow heat to escape actually allowed air to enter and create a drag on the skaters.
Shiva Keshavan luge recovery
India’s premier luger wiped out, fell off his sled, stayed calm and got right back on to finish an unbelievable run like nothing ever happened. The five-time Olympian is the face of the new Indian Olympic presence, following a 14-month ban by the International Olympic Committee for corruption.
Johnny Quinn’s problems
“…With no phone to call for help, I used my bobsled push training to break out. #SochiJailBreak,” Quinn tweeted on Feb. 8. Two days later, “No one is going to believe this but we just got stuck in an elevator,” he tweeted. Quinn’s bobsled training — and door apparently made of cardboard — was enough to free him the first time. But no amount of Olympic training can prepare a man for a Russian steel cage death trap a.k.a. an elevator in Sochi.
Russia’s disallowed goal
Not quite an Al Michaels miracle on ice but Team USA will take it. During a 3–2 win over Russia in a preliminary round match, a third-period Russia goal was disallowed by American official Brad Meier. The goal would have given the home nation a 3–2 lead. Instead, the game went to a scoreless overtime and subsequent shootout, which launched the star of Team USA’s T.J. Oshie — and his girlfriend, Lauren Cosgrove.
“Even if the judge was wrong, we mustn’t stick labels on anybody,” said President Putin. “We can’t forget that sport takes courage, but also luck.”
The 2014 NBA Slam Dunk Contests lifts off on Saturday, Feb. 15, in New Orleans. The Raptors' defending Slam Dunk Contest champion Terrence Ross, Pacers’ 360 windmill man Paul George, Wizards' John Wall, Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard, Warriors' Harrison Barnes and Kings' Ben McLemore will follow in the flight paths of MJ, Dr. J and Dominique.
With that in mind, we judge all 23 Slam Dunk Contest champions since the ABA introduced the competition in 1976 and the NBA brought it back in 1984.
One-name icons with star power, style and the ability to jump out of the gym — or from the free-throw line, as it were — no one in history has had the hang time or staying power of these four fly guys.
1. Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls (1987, 1988)
“Air” Jordan was an aerial artist who transcended the act of putting a ball through a rim.
2. Julius Erving, New York Nets (1976 in ABA)
“Dr. J” was the originator — complete with an Afro and red-white-and-blue ABA ball.
3. Dominique Wilkins, Atlanta Hawks (1985, 1990)
The “Human Highlight Film” windmilled and tomahawked his way into dunk history.
4. Vince Carter, Toronto Raptors (2000)
“Half Man, Half Amazing” could jump over French dudes and through 10-foot hoops.
There’s just something about watching a sub-six-footer or near-seven-footer take over the Dunk Contest that adds to the spectacle of Saturday night’s three-ring circus.
5. Spud Webb, Atlanta Hawks (1986)
The shortest (5’7”) champ ever beat his teammate in front of his hometown crowd.
6. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic (2008)
Superman’s hand missed the rim on his most famous dunk, but it was out of this world.
7. Nate Robinson, New York Knicks (2006, 2009, 2010)
The only three-time champion in event history was 5’9” of Kryptonite for Dwight.
Big Names, Bigger Air
No matter how great the dunks are it’s always better when there is a name that matters on the marquee. Lately, the lack of cachet has taken the air out of the slam-dunk sails.
8. Larry Nance, Phoenix Suns (1984)
The underrated Nance could get high in his high socks, winning the NBA’s first contest.
9. Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks (2005)
The ATL native paid homage to Nique with a throwback jersey to go with pogo hops.
10. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers (1997)
Remember when Kobe was bald, Brandy was his girl and Adidas was his shoe of choice?
11. Kenny Walker, New York Knicks (1989)
“Sky” Walker could rise with the best of them, rocking Knicks No. 7 before Carmelo did.
12. Jason Richardson, Golden State Warriors (2002, 2003)
One of three repeat champs in history, along with Michael Jordan and Nate Robinson.
Props Plus Hops
The All-Star Game sideshow has featured its fair share of gimmicks, third parties and prop comedy that almost always ends in winning over the crowd and the trophy.
13. Dee Brown, Boston Celtics (1991)
Brown Pump-ed up his Reeboks and covered his eyes with his arm to take the title.
14. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers (2011)
Jumping over a car — the type of Kia he endorses — was Griffin’s modus operandi.
15. Cedric Ceballos, Phoenix Suns (1992)
Ceballos put on a blindfold that he may or may not have been able to see through.
To contest connoisseurs, these are two of the more exciting dunkers. Each had a signature dunk that every kid who ever had an eight-foot goal attempted over and over.
16. Harold Miner, Miami Heat (1993, 1995)
“Baby Jordan” matched his namesake with two Slam Dunk Contest statement wins.
17. Isaiah Rider, Minnesota Timberwolves (1994)
Wild child “J.R.” went between the legs midair in front of the Twin City crowd.
White Man Can Jump
His dad Granny-shot free-throws but Bones could throw down like no one this side of Woody Harrelson — and he remains the only white guy to win it all in event history.
18. Brent Barry, Los Angeles Clippers (1996)
Not quite from the free-throw line, but Barry did take off from near the charity stripe.
Hi and Bye
Who are you? And why are you here? Okay, you can dunk. Nice job. But I still wish the field had more star power. After all, literally every player in the NBA can dunk…
19. Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors (2013)
Wearing a Vince Carter jersey does not make you Vince Carter.
20. Gerald Green, Boston Celtics (2007)
Sure this wasn’t the NBDL Dunk Contest?
21. Desmond Mason, Seattle SuperSonics (2001)
The Sonics? Is that a WNBA team?
22. Fred Jones, Indiana Pacers (2004)
You mean the character from Scooby-Doo?
23. Jeremy Evans, Utah Jazz (2012)
Is that the Ray Bandit who stole sunglasses?
Some of the world's greatest athletes weren't just one-sport players; instead, they excelled in two (and sometimes in several). Of course, some athletes probably should have stuck with their main sport. Here's a look at the top 33 two-sport athletes of all time, ranked in order of their second best sport.
1. Jim Thorpe, track (Best sport: football)
One of the all-time great athletes, Thorpe is a member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame, and has been immortalized via the Jim Thorpe Award — given annually to the top defensive back in college football. But Thorpe was also a gold medalist in both the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.
2. Jim Brown, lacrosse (Best sport: football)
Arguably the greatest running back in history, Brown is a member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame. The 6’2”, 230-pounder is a member of the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame and is considered by many to be the best athlete to ever play the sport.
3. Bob Hayes, football (Best sport: track)
“Bullet Bob” Hayes won the fastest man in the world, winning gold medals in the 100 meters and 4x100 meters at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Hayes then strapped on a helmet for the Dallas Cowboys, winning Super Bowl VI and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
4. Bo Jackson, baseball (Best sport: football)
Only Bo knows what might have been. The 1985 Heisman Trophy winner was a Pro Bowl running back for the L.A. Raiders and an All-Star outfielder for the Kansas City Royals — hitting 32 HRs and 105 RBIs in just 135 games in 1989 — before a hip injury derailed the out-of-this-world athlete.
5. Charlie Ward, football (Best sport: basketball)
Sure, Ward played 11 seasons in the NBA — starting at point guard for the New York Knicks’ Eastern Conference champs in 1999. But most know him as a Heisman Trophy winner and national champion quarterback at Florida State in 1993.
6. Babe Didrikson Zaharias, track (Best sport: golf)
A 10-time LPGA major champion and member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, Mildred Ella — better known as “Babe” — won gold medals in the 80-meter hurdles and javelin throw as well as a silver medal in the high jump at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics.
7. Duke Kahanamoku, surfing (Best sport: swimming)
The Big Kahuna won three Olympic medals in the 100-meter freestyle — taking gold at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics and 1920 Antwerp Olympics, and silver at the 1924 Paris Olympics — as well as a gold (1920) and silver (1912) in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay. But Mr. Hawaii was also the “Father of Surfing,” popularizing the longboard en route to becoming a member of the Surfing, Swimming and U.S. Olympic Halls of Fame.
8. Deion Sanders, baseball (Best sport: football)
A member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame, Prime Time is considered the greatest cornerback in NFL history. A two-time Super Bowl champion, Sanders also played with the Atlanta Braves in the 1992 World Series and played parts of nine lightning-fast seasons in MLB.
9. Gene Conley, basketball (Best sport: baseball)
A four-time MLB All-Star and 1957 World Series champion with the Milwaukee Braves, the 6’8”, 225-pound Conley also won three NBA championships with the Boston Celtics — becoming the only athlete in history to win world titles in two of the big four pro leagues.
10. Danny Ainge, baseball (Best sport: basketball)
The Wooden Award winner at BYU, Ainge won two NBA championships with the Celtics and was an All-Star in 1988. He also had a cup of coffee with the Toronto Blue Jays, playing three seasons from 1979-81.
11. Brian Jordan, football (Best sport: baseball)
A one-time MLB All-Star who played in the bigs for 15 years, Jordan played three seasons (1989-91) as a safety in the NFL before making his debut in The Show in 1992.
12. Jackie Robinson, track (Best sport: baseball)
The 1949 NL MVP and 1955 World Series champ is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame and a civil rights pioneer. But he was also the 1940 NCAA Men’s Outdoor Long Jump champion at UCLA.
13. Lolo Jones, bobsled (Best sport: track)
A pair of Summer Olympic heartbreakers in the 100-meter hurdles — including a fall at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and a fourth-place finish at the 2012 London Olympics — led to Lolo joining Team USA's bobsled team at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
14. Jonathan Ogden, shot put (Best sport: football)
The 6’9”, 345-pound Ogden was the 1996 NCAA Men’s Indoor Shot Put champion at UCLA, before becoming an 11-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl XXXV champion left tackle with the Baltimore Ravens.
15. Jeff Samardzija, football (Best sport: baseball)
The Shark was an All-American and Biletnikoff Award finalist, finishing his Notre Dame football career as the Irish’s all-time leading receiver prior to becoming a right-handed pitcher for the Chicago Cubs.
16. Darin Erstad, football (Best sport: baseball)
The 1995 Golden Spikes Award winner was also the starting punter on Nebraska’s 1994 national championship football team before going on to play 14 seasons in MLB.
17. Joe Mauer, football (Best sport: baseball)
Before Mauer was the 2009 AL MVP and three-time batting champion for the Minnesota Twins, the 6’5” athlete with a cannon for a right arm was USA Today’s High School Player of the Year as a quarterback.
18. Dave Winfield, basketball (Best sport: baseball)
A 22-year MLB veteran and member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Winfield played college basketball at the University of Minnesota — where he helped lead the Golden Gophers to the 1972 Big Ten title.
19. Kenny Lofton, basketball (Best sport: baseball)
A six-time All-Star, five-time stolen base champ and four-time Gold Glove center fielder, Lofton’s first love was basketball. He played point guard for the University of Arizona, making the Final Four in 1988.
20. Tony Gwynn, basketball (Best sport: baseball)
A first-ballot member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Gwynn was a 15-time All-Star and eight-time batting champ with a career .338 batting average and 3,141 hits. But Gwynn was also a solid point guard, setting San Diego State records for assists in a season and career.
21. Marion Jones, basketball (Best sport: track)
Once a golden girl, Jones’ reputation has since been tarnished by PED use and jail time. Before the fall, Jones won three gold and two bronze medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics after a standout hoops career at the University of North Carolina — where she was a member of the 1994 NCAA champion Tar Heels.
22. Antonio Gates, basketball (Best sport: football)
Led Kent State to its first MAC championship and a trip to the Elite Eight in the 2002 NCAA Tournament before becoming an eight-time Pro Bowl tight end for the San Diego Chargers.
23. Jimmy Graham, basketball (Best sport: football)
Played four years of basketball at the University of Miami but just one season of football at The U. No big deal, the 6’6”, 260-pound power forward has evolved into one of the NFL’s best tight ends (or wide receivers, if you're his agent lobbying for more franchise tag money).
24. Tony Gonzalez, basketball (Best sport: football)
Gonzalez round-balled at Cal-Berkeley before becoming a 14-time Pro Bowl tight end with 1,325 catches, 15,127 yards and 111 TDs over 18 seasons (playing 238-of-240 games) for the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons.
25. Julius Peppers, basketball (Best sport: football)
The pass-rusher was a glass-crasher at University of North Carolina, where he came off the bench for the Tar Heels’ 2000 Final Four squad.
26. Walter Ray Williams Jr., horseshoes (Best sport: bowling)
The seven-time PBA Player of the Year also owns six Men’s World Horseshoe Pitching titles.
27. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, football (Best sport: wrestling)
The WWF wrestler was a member of the University of Miami’s 1991 national championship team, where he played with future NFL stars like Warren Sapp.
28. Ed “Too Tall” Jones, boxing (Best sport: football)
A three-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman and Super Bowl XII champion, the 6’9” Jones had a scary 88-inch reach as a boxer — going 6–0 with five KOs in 1979.
29. Herschel Walker, mixed martial arts/bobsled (Best sport: football)
Known for always being in peak condition, Walker started his MMA career as a 48-year-old. The fifth-degree Taekwondo black belt is 2–0 with two TKOs on punches. Years before that he participated in the two-man bobsled competition at the 1992 Winter Olympics, finishing seventh. Oh yeah, Walker, who played several years in the NFL, also won the 1982 Heisman Trophy at Georgia and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
30. Scott Burrell, baseball (Best sport: basketball)
The only athlete selected in the first round of two of the big four sports’ drafts — Burrell went No. 20 overall to the Charlotte Hornets in the 1993 NBA Draft and No. 26 overall to the Seattle Mariners in the 1989 MLB Draft.
31. Chris Weinke, baseball (Best sport: football)
The BCS national champion and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at Florida State hit 69 HRs and drove in 402 runs as a minor league baller after being a second-round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays out of high school.
32. Jameis Winston, baseball (Best sport: football)
Another BCS national champion and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at Florida State, Winston will also serve as the Seminoles baseball team's 90-plus-mph flame-throwing closer.
33. Michael Jordan, baseball (Best sport: basketball)
His Airness is undeniably the greatest basketball player of all-time and arguably the greatest athlete ever. However, in 127 games playing for the Chicago White Sox’s Double-A affiliate Birmingham Barons, Air Jordan hit just .202 with three HRs, 51 RBIs and 30 stolen bases.
The Sochi Winter Olympics are the Games of the XXII Olympiad. They are also shaping up to be a potential dumpster fire on all fronts — politically, socially and athletically. The infrastructure to host 2,850 Olympians from 88 countries, plus fans and media, doesn’t appear to be in place. The government is playing by its own rules, as usual. And there are 17 days to make it through before breathing a sigh of relief for a job, well, done.
Collectively, everyone is rooting for Sochi to stick the landing, so to speak. But these are five things to keep an eye on during the 2014 Winter Olympics:
1. Vladimir Putin
Russia’s President is a real life James Bond villain. The 61-year-old former KGB Lieutenant Colonel rides shirtless on horseback, hugs snow leopards and is rumored to have a lovechild with reported girlfriend Alina Kabayeva, an Olympic gold medalist in rhythmic gymnastics. She’s like Kate Upton if she could put her leg behind her head. Well played, Putin.
There is nothing Putin could do that would be shocking. The man is scheming a $50 billion Winter Olympics in Sochi, whereas the 2010 Vancouver Olympics cost only $7 billion. Brilliant. Putin loves “sport” — he hunts, skates, shoots and scores — so the Sochi stage could provide an opportunity for another surreal photo-op or GIF from the larger-than-life (and terrifying) character.
2. Toilet Humor
Don’t flush the toilet paper. Try not to bother the person sitting on the toilet next to you, even though there may or may not be a dividing stall wall. Don’t go fishing in the toilet. These are just a few of the key rules when going to the bathroom in Sochi. And it’s just the beginning of the tweets and Instagram photos exposing the underwhelming facilities.
Much has been made of the lack of human and civil rights in Sochi — which, according to Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov, has no gay people in the town of nearly 400,000 people. Despite the propaganda and paranoia, the government is showcasing Russian pop duo t.A.T.u., a pseudo-lesbian act most well known for kissing each other in a school-girl outfitted, wet tee-shirt contest music video 10 years ago.
In December 2013, two suicide-bomb attacks at Volgograd train station — some 14 hours north of Sochi, but still — killed 32 people and injured nearly 100. The state government believes the criminal mastermind in charge of the jihadist group was killed earlier this week. But ominous threats were made by members of the group and, on the day of Opening Ceremonies, a passenger attempted to hijack a plane headed for Sochi. The Olympics are intended to be a peaceful gathering of nations. Hopefully there will be no rogue attacks (especially with toothpaste bombs). But the threat of terrorist activity is definitely a dark cloud lingering over these games.
Team USA’s highest profile snowboarder, Shaun White, injured his wrist training on Sochi’s slopestyle course and immediately withdrew from the event, saying “the potential risk of injury is a bit too much for me to gamble my other Olympic goals on.” White’s not the only athlete who has already been injured on the slopestyle course; there have been broken collarbones and injured knees.
Since Sochi has a subtropical climate, there is concern that the course — which is roughly 656 feet long and includes jumps 18- and 72-feet high — was overbuilt in anticipation of melting. If Putin doesn’t flex his muscles, the toilets don’t overflow, there are no hate crimes or terrorist activity, there could still be ACLs popping and wicked, life-threatening spills taken to cement the legacy of the Sochi Olympics.
The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics are finally here. After months of hearing about Vladimir Putin, homophobia, double toilets, sub-tropic climates, IOC corruption, lack of infrastructure and threats of terrorism, the Games of the XXII Olympiad are hitting the ice and snow for what should be a memorable month, for better or worse. As usual, the USA is bringing a star-studded field of gold medal hopefuls. These are 10 USA Olympians who will dominate Sochi, whether it’s on the medal stand or on NBC’s television coverage.
1. Lolo Jones, bobsled
Nearly 400,000 Twitter followers — plus plenty of NBC cameras — will be watching Lolo Jones’ every move in Sochi. The highest profile brakeman in bobsled history, Jones was also in the spotlight at the last two Olympics; they just happened to be Summer Games. The gold-medal favorite in the 100-meter hurdles at both the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Olympics, Jones had a pair of disappointments that made her one of the most talked-about (and polarizing) Olympians in recent memory. After stirring a minor controversy by beating out bobsled veterans for the final spot on Team USA, Jones hopes her third Olympics proves to be a charm. And although she’s representing the red, white and blue, Lolo wants #Gold.
2. Gracie Gold, figure skating
Some of the most memorable American Olympians have been women’s figure skaters. Names like Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Nancy Kerrigan, Kristi Yamaguchi, Tara Lipinski, Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen are historic. But there may never have been a name more perfect for the Olympic stage than that of 18-year-old Gracie Gold — who will attempt to live up to her last name and prevent South Korea’s Yuna Kim from becoming the first repeat gold medalist in the most-watched event since East Germany’s Katarina Witt (1984 Sarajevo, ’88 Calgary).
3. Ryan Suter, hockey
“Do you believe in miracles?! Yes!” Al Michaels’ iconic call of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” will certainly be replayed in Sochi, probably with Suter’s face on-screen. Suter’s father, Bob, was a member of the Team USA squad that upset the Soviet Union and went on to win the gold medal at the Lake Placid Olympics. Thirty-four years later, a second-generation Olympian is hoping to bring home the family’s third medal. The 29-year-old Minnesota Wild defenseman was an alternate captain and silver medalist at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics — which was only the second hockey medal Team USA had won (silver, 2002 Salt Lake City) since the “Miracle.”
4. Shani Davis, speed skating
The first black athlete in Winter Games history to win individual gold, Davis is the two-time defending 1000-meter gold medalist and two-time defending 1500-meter silver medalist, having taken the podium twice in 2006 at Turin and in 2010 at Vancouver. The 31-year-old Chicago native is already the second-most accomplished long track speed skater, behind five-time gold medalist Eric Heiden. Another strong showing in Sochi would only add to his legacy.
5. Julia Mancuso, alpine skiing
This wild child will undoubtedly wear her trademark tiara on the medal stand in Sochi. If you have a problem with that, you know what? You can kiss her tiara — or “Kiss My Tiara,” the name of her line of lingerie. The 29-year-old snow bunny is not afraid to let the world know how she feels. In fact, she doesn’t appear to be afraid of anything, whether it’s flying down a mountainside or daring to bare her body in the pages of GQ magazine, which she did recently. The three-time Olympic medalist is one the best, brightest and most beautiful athletes in Sochi. She will dominate on all fronts.
6. Mikaela Shiffrin, alpine skiing
Don’t call Shiffrin the “next” Lindsey Vonn or Julia Mancuso, even though the 18-year-old is clearly on the cusp of claiming the alpine throne. The youngest American skier to be World Cup champion is slaloming her way to stateside stardom but is already a one-named phenom in Europe — where “Mikaela” is Madonna in ski boots. And while the Material Girl was known to go platinum worldwide, Mikaela is hoping to go gold in Russia.
7. Shaun White, snowboarding
Shaun White’s band, Bad Things, recently released its debut album. But the red-headed lead guitarist has long been a rock star on the slopes, where the world’s most famous snowboarder is the two-time reigning Olympic gold medalist on the halfpipe. The biggest stop on White’s world tour will likely feature old hits like his “Double McTwist 1260” — the move White used to clinch gold four years ago. Unfortunately the 27-year-old will not be playing some of his new stuff, as promised. White notably withdrew from the slopestyle — a first-time Olympic event in which White has won eight medals (including five gold) at the Winter X Games — citing safety concerns.
8. Sarah Hendrickson, ski jumping
The women will be flying high for the first time in Olympic history, as ski jumping goes coed, so to speak, in Sochi. Men have been ski-jumping in the Olympics since 1924. It’s about time women were invited to the party. The biggest star will likely be 19-year-old Hendrickson, who is coming back from knee injury but is expected to be in tip-top shape at the Olympics. The 2013 World Ski Championships gold medalist will be the favorite to dominate the 300-foot slope at roughly 65 miles per hour. Look out below.
9. Monique and Jocelyne Lamoureux, hockey
The Lamoureux twins may not be as well known as the NHL’s Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, but they might come close in Sochi. The blonde forward tandem starred on the silver medal-winning Team USA at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The duo is aiming for gold this time around. If Team USA has any chance at ending Canada’s streak of three straight gold medals, Monique and Jocelyne will need to light up the nets in Sochi. A gold medal would be the USA’s second ever, having won at inaugural gold medal game over Canada at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.
10. Bode Miller, alpine skiing
A five-time Olympian, Bode was ripped to shreds in the media — and on the late night talk show circuit — for a lackluster effort eight years ago in Turin, when he infamously told the Associated Press: “I got to party and socialize at the Olympic level.” Expectations have been tempered since and the five-time Olympic medalist may have even mellowed at the old age of 36. Hide all the vodka in the Russian Olympic Village and dude bro Bode might just become the life of the medal stand party in Sochi.
The Super Bowl is The Big Game in the NFL. But many of the game’s greatest players never took the field with the Vince Lombardi Trophy on the line. This year, Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey and Seahawks "Beast Mode" running back Marshawn Lynch headline the list of first-time Super Sunday participants in Super Bowl XLVIII. These all-time greats, however, were not so lucky.
1. Barry Sanders, RB, Lions (1989-98)
Playoff record: 1–5
Playoff stats: 386 rush yards (4.2 ypc), TD; 111 receiving yards (5.3 ypc), TD
Best team: 1991 Lions (12–4 record, lost in NFC Championship Game)
Closest call: 1991 (NFC Championship Game, 41–10 loss at Redskins)
After winning his playoff debut 38–6 against the Cowboys, Sanders lost his next five postseason games. Shockingly, one of the most exciting players of all-time was limited to 13 or fewer carries in four of his six playoff contests. The only time No. 20 was given more than 20 carries, he ripped off 169 yards in a 28–24 loss to the Packers. Although Sanders ran wild every year on Thanksgiving Day, he never showed up to the party on Super Bowl Sunday.
2. Deacon Jones, DE, Rams (1961-71), Chargers (’72-73), Redskins (’74)
Playoff record: 0–2
Playoff stats: N/A
Best team: 1967 Rams (11–1–2 record, lost in Divisional Round)
Closest call: 1969 (Divisional Round, 23–20 loss at Vikings)
The “Secretary of Defense” was known for head-slapping opposing offensive linemen, but the two-time Defensive Player of the Year must have been doing some head-scratching after retiring with zero playoff wins — and zero Super Bowl appearances — despite an unofficial total of 173.5 sacks during his Hall of Fame career.
3. Dick Butkus, LB, Bears (1965-73)
Playoff record: 0–0
Playoff stats: N/A
Best team: 1965 Bears (9–5 record, missed postseason)
Arguably the greatest middle linebacker in history, Butkus played for George Halas — the legendary coach whose name graces the trophy awarded to the winner of the NFC Championship Game — and on the same team as Hall of Fame triple-threat playmaker Gale Sayers. Despite looking great on paper at the time and even better in historical hindsight, Butkus’ Bears were unable to make the playoffs, which is the first step toward advancing to the Super Bowl.
4. Gale Sayers, RB, Bears (1965-71)
Playoff record: 0–0
Playoff stats: N/A
Best team: 1965 Bears (9–5 record, missed postseason)
Butkus and Sayers were drafted Nos. 3 and 4 overall, respectively, by the Bears in 1965. But the Hall of Fame duo were unable to translate their individual achievements into team success. Sayers notched a record six TDs in a single game — with nine carries for 113 yards and four TDs, two catches for 89 yards and one TD, and five punt returns for 134 yards and one TD as a rookie — but failed to score even a single Super Bowl trip.
5. Earl Campbell, RB, Oilers (1978-84), Saints (’84-85)
Playoff record: 3–3
Playoff stats: 420 rush yards (3.1 ypc), 4 TDs; 45 receiving yards (9.0 ypc)
Best team: 1979 Oilers (11–5 record, lost in AFC Championship Game), 1980 Oilers (11–5 record, lost in Wild Card Round)
Closest call: 1979 (AFC Championship Game, 27–13 loss at Steelers), 1978 (AFC Championship Game, 34–5 loss at Steelers)
The “Luv Ya Blue” bulldozer was unable to take down the powerful “Steel Curtain” during back-to-back AFC Championship Game losses. In two painful defeats at Pittsburgh, Campbell had a combined 39 carries for 77 yards (1.97 ypc), two catches for 15 yards, and zero TDs. Campbell’s two scoreless games against the Steelers were the only two playoff games in which he failed to find the end zone.
6. O.J. Simpson, RB, Bills (1969-77), 49ers (’78-79)
Playoff record: 0–1
Playoff stats: 49 rush yards (3.3 ypc); 37 receiving yards (12.3 ypc), TD
Best team: 1974 Bills (9–5 record, lost in Divisional Round)
Closest call: 1974 (Divisional Round, 32–14 loss at Steelers)
Another victim of the mighty Steelers, the Juice had better luck than Campbell — with 18 touches for 86 total yards and one TD — but was unable to lead the Bills to victory in what would be his only postseason appearance. The actor and defendant never basked in the spotlight of the Super Bowl but he was seen by millions during his days as Lt. Nordberg in the "Naked Gun" franchise and his starring role in the Trial of the Century.
7. Eric Dickerson, RB, Rams (1983-87), Colts (’87-91), Raiders (’92), Falcons (’93)
Playoff record: 2–5
Playoff stats: 724 rush yards (4.9 ypc), 3 TDs; 91 receiving yards (4.8 ypc), TD
Best team: 1985 Rams (11–5 record, lost in NFC Championship Game)
Closest call: 1985 (NFC Championship Game, 24–0 loss at Bears)
Upon first glance, the single-season rushing yards record holder posted solid playoff numbers. But take off the goggles and you’ll see that Dickerson’s 248-yard, two-TD outburst during a 20–0 win over the Cowboys in 1985 accounted for one-third of his career postseason rushing yards and half of his total TDs.
8. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Chargers (2001-09), Jets (’10-11)
Playoff record: 4–5
Playoff stats: 468 rush yards (3.6 ypc), 6 TDs; 176 receiving yards (7.0 ypc), TD
Best team: 2006 Chargers (14–2 record, lost in Divisional Round)
Closest call: 2010 (AFC Championship Game, 24–19 loss at Steelers), 2007 (AFC Championship Game, 21–12 loss at Patriots)
Infamously sulking on the sideline, injured and wearing in a Darth Vader facemask and trench coat at New England — after just two carries for five yards — was clearly the low point of L.T.’s playoff career. Staying on the dark side, three of his five playoff losses were by margins of three points, one defeat came by four points and the most lopsided was a nine-pointer.
9. Tony Gonzalez, TE, Chiefs (1997-2008), Falcons (2009-13)
Playoff record: 1–6
Playoff stats: 30 catches for 286 yards (9.5 ypc) and 4 TDs
Best team: 2012 Falcons (13–3 record, lost in NFC Championship Game), 2010 Falcons (13–3 record, lost in Divisional Round), 2003 Chiefs (13–3 record, lost in Divisional Round), 1997 Chiefs (13–3 record, lost in Divisional Round)
Closest call: 2012 (NFC Championship Game, 28–24 loss vs. 49ers)
It took Gonzo 16 seasons to finally earn a playoff win. Then, with the Falcons holding a 17–0 lead over the 49ers in the NFC title game, it looked like the future Hall of Fame tight end would be punching his ticket to the Super Bowl and possibly riding off into the sunset as a champion. Nope. Gonzalez came back for a 17th season to end his Super Bowl-less slide. Instead, Atlanta fell to 4–12 record. Sadly, Tony will have to settle for a bust in Canton five years from now.
10. Warren Moon, QB, Oilers (1984-93), Vikings (’94-96), Seahawks (’97-98), Chiefs (’99-00)
Playoff record: 3–7
Playoff stats: 2,870 yards, 17 TDs, 14 INTs, 84.9 passer rating
Best team: 1993 Oilers (12–4 record, lost in Divisional Round)
Closest call: 1993 (Divisional Round, 28–20 loss vs. Chiefs), 1991 (Divisional Round, 26–24 loss at Broncos), 1988 (Divisional Round, 17–10 loss at Bills)
Moon won five consecutive Grey Cups and was twice named Grey Cup MVP in the Canadian Football League. But in these United States south of the border, the former CFL champion was unable to translate his prior success to the NFL Playoffs. Moon’s waning moment came in the worst collapse in postseason history, as his Oilers watched a 35–3 lead evaporate into a 41–38 overtime loss against the Frank Reich-led Bills.
Super Bowl betting — and prop bets, in particular — attract sharks and suckers alike. Those who can’t afford a $4-million, 30-second commercial spot on FOX’s telecast or a $3,000 nosebleed seat at MetLife Stadium, but do have some lunch money to wager on Super Sunday can let a few bucks ride on a few fun bets.
Here’s a quick look at this year’s Super Bowl prop bets, along with advice on where the smart money should play. For consistency’s sake, all odds and lines are courtesy of online gambling site Bovada.lv.
(For the average Joe who doesn’t speak in Vegas tongues, when the odds are –150, you must wager $150 in order to win $100; when the odds are +150, your $100 bet nets $150.)
How long will it take Renee Fleming to sing the National Anthem?
Over 2:25 (+120)
Under 2:25 (–160)
Last year, Alicia Keys sang the National Anthem in a record 2:36, playing solo piano and going up and down the scales to break Natalie Cole’s oft-criticized 2:32 mark. This year, soprano Renee Fleming will become the first opera singer to sing Francis Scott Key’s “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Fleming will be accompanied by the New Jersey Symphony, so it should be a tight performance that sticks to the script. Take the under.
Will Renee Fleming wear gloves when she starts singing National Anthem?
It won’t be that cold, but it will be cold. Expect Fleming to wear gloves.
If Renee Fleming does wear gloves, what color will they be?
Vera Wang is designing a special ensemble for Fleming. Black gloves would seem appropriate.
Heads or tails?
Heads leads 25–22 all-time. It’s tails time to shine.
Which team will win the coin toss?
Seattle Seahawks (–105)
Denver Broncos (–105)
The NFC has a 31–16 all-time lead. The AFC has won the last two tosses after the NFC went on a run of 14 consecutive coin toss victories. The winner of the toss has a 23–24 record. The Seahawks will win and defer.
Who will be seen first on TV after kickoff?
Erin Andrews (–140)
Pam Oliver (Even)
Of course Richard Sherman’s favorite sideline reporter will be the go-to girl for Joe Buck and Troy Aikman once the game gets going.
How many times will “Beast Mode” be said during the game?
Over 2 (+110)
Under 2 (–150)
All Marshawn Lynch has to do is break a few tackles and/or break a long run. “Beast Mode” will be said three times, at least.
How many times will Peyton Manning say “Omaha” during the game?
Over 27.5 (–135)
Under 27.5 (–105)
Manning’s presnap key “Omaha” was shouted 31 times in AFC Championship Game. But the Seahawks will likely take the air out of the ball, giving the Broncos fewer possessions and fewer chances to challenge Warren Buffet’s title as “Oracle of Omaha.”
The Omaha Chamber of Commerce will donate $1,500 for each time Manning says the word. Money will go to Manning’s “Peyback Foundation,” which was founded in 1999 to “promote the future success of disadvantaged youth by assisting programs that provide leadership and growth opportunities for children at risk.”
The 15 local businesses taking part are Omaha Steaks, First National Bank of Omaha, Mutual of Ohama, Omaha Box Company, Omaha Storm Chasers, CenturyLink, ConAgra Foods, Union Pacific, Northstar Financial, Cox Communications, One Transcription Services, HDR, Oriental Trading, Brix and DJ’s Dugout.
Will halftime show break Madonna’s record for most watched ever (114 million)?
Madonna had already taken over the world with her self-titled debut (1983) and second album, “Like a Virgin” (1984) before Bruno Mars was even born (1985). If Beyonce couldn’t break the Material Girl’s record, there’s no way Bruno Mars will.
What will Bruno Mars be wearing on his head at start of halftime show?
Fur Hat (+550)
No hat (+250)
Isn’t a fedora permanently attached to Bruno Mars’ head?
Will any member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers be shirtless during their performance?
That’s like asking what kind of hat Bruno Mars will be wearing.
What color Gatorade will be dumped on the winning head coach after the Super Bowl?
Any team with respect for its coach should dump water on the man. No one wants a stained, sticky shirt during the ensuing championship media whirlwind.
Who will be Super Bowl XLVIII MVP?
Peyton Manning (11/10)
Marshawn Lynch (15/4)
Russell Wilson (15/4)
Percy Harvin (16/1)
Knowshon Moreno (20/1)
Richard Sherman (20/1)
Demaryius Thomas (20/1)
Wes Welker (25/1)
Golden Tate (33/1)
If the Broncos win, Manning is the MVP no matter how he plays. For the Seahawks, Lynch is the best bet. But please, please, please let Richard Sherman make the speech, boss.
Seattle Seahawks (+3) (+115)
Denver Broncos (–3) (–135)
Over 47 (–115)
Under 47 (–105)
Beast Mode on offense. Legion of Boom on defense. Manning throwing ducks. Seattle will win a low-scoring, close game fitting of the No. 1 seeds in the NFC and AFC.
Big players make big plays in big games. And the Super Bowl is “The Big Game.” (Seriously, using the term “Super Bowl” without league permission is strictly prohibited.) Stars come out to shine in the Super Bowl. This year’s New York (but really New Jersey) setting at MetLife Stadium will only add to the glare of the international spotlight. Over 100 million people will watch the game worldwide. Companies have splurged as much as $4 million for 30 seconds of commercial airtime featuring the lovely Scarlett Johansson.
The combined Q Score of the entire Seattle Seahawks roster may not add up to that of laser-rocket-armed, mustachioed football cop, radio-audibling, ad wizard and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. But the Seahawks’ 53-man roster does boast the most talented and deepest lineup in the sport, which will ultimately earn them the most recognizable prize in all of sports — the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
The Hawks may not have Manning’s megawatt star power but they will soon have blinding bling Super Bowl XLVIII rings. Here are five reasons why the Seattle Seahawks will defeat the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII:
1. Beast Mode
Marshawn Lynch’s “Beast Mode” has been registering on the Richter Scale lately, as the Seahawks’ power back has a combined 50 carries for 249 yards (5.0 ypc) and three TDs in victories over New Orleans (23–15) and NFC West rival San Francisco (23–17). To put Lynch’s violent running style in perspective, he broke six tackles on his most recent “Beast quake” seismic scoring run; Ravens running back Ray Rice broke nine tackles all season (per Pro Football Focus). Lynch likes the postseason as much as his beloved Skittles.
The 5-11, 215-pounder has 109 career playoff carries for 560 yards (5.1 ypc) and six TDs. Expect offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to keep playing “Beast” ball with his human earthquake. Brace yourself, Big Apple. Make sure there are no unexpected lane closures, New Jersey. “Beast Mode” is on its way.
“U mad, bro?” Seattle’s better is better than Denver’s better. The Hawks’ faster is faster than the Broncos’ faster. Hard-hitting strong safety Kam Chancellor will have big-helmet Wes Welker making long-term business decisions coming across the middle. Ball-Hawk free safety Earl Thomas will make the gloved throwing hand of Peyton Manning pay for any cold-weather wounded ducks floating in midair. And, of course, there’s swagger-spewing shutdown cornerback Richard Sherman, who won’t need a boom mic for the Legion of Boom to make noise in the Super Bowl.
“I’m the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like … (insert Broncos receiver here) … that’s the result you’re going to get,” shouts Sherman, who nearly blew up the Internet after blowing up in a postgame interview with FOX’s Erin Andrews after a game-clinching tipped-ball for an INT in the NFC Championship Game. “Don’t open your mouth about the best, or I’ll shut it for you real quick. LOB (Legion of Boom)!”
3. Monsters in the Middle
No matter how good Seattle’s secondary is, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s front seven must stuff the run, shut down the underneath passing game, apply pressure on Manning and make the soon-to-be 38-year-old throw the ball 50 times in the cold. Like most Super Bowl-winning defenses, the Seahawks are stout up the middle — with so-underrated-he’s-now-bordering-overrated defensive tackle Brandon Mebane and middle backer Bobby Wagner.
The svelte 310-pound Mebane commands double teams yet still collapses the pocket — getting leverage, getting low, getting pressure. Wagner is a second-year stud who has recorded a combined 260 tackles, seven sacks and five INTs over his first two seasons as a second-round pick out of Nevada.
This will be a strength vs. strength matchup of the NFL’s top passing offense (340.2 ypg) against the NFL’s top passing defense (172.0 ypg). However, the Seahawks also owned the best scoring defense (14.4 ppg), total defense (273.6 ypg) and turnover margin (plus-20) en route to a 13–3 regular season record. In two postseason games, Seattle has allowed 16 points per game and posted a plus-three turnover margin.
4. Triple-Threat Dynamic Duo
Seattle’s pair of 25-year-old receiver-runner-returners — Percy Harvin (5-11, 184) and Golden Tate (5-10, 202) — is as compact, explosive and versatile as any in the league. Both can line up outside, in the slot, in the backfield or in the Wildcat. Both have huge chips on their shoulder. Harvin missed nearly the entire season after signing a six-year, $67 million contract this offseason. Tate is a pending free agent who hopes to join Harvin’s tax bracket this offseason.
No one in Denver’s depleted secondary matches up well with wideouts like Harvin and Tate. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (6-2, 193) is a long and lean outside-the-numbers corner who runs well against the new-age size-speed combo wideouts (a la Demaryius Thomas). But DRC isn’t the elite type of cover man who can line up all over the field to mirror Harvin or Tate. Champ Bailey was once that type of shutdown cornerback. But at 35 years old and with 15 years of mileage on his tires, Bailey can’t keep up like he once did. Champ is a Hall of Famer, no doubt. Everyone respects his body of work. But he’s not flame-retardant anymore; Bailey’s going to get burnt by Harvin and/or Tate.
5. Father Time, Old Man Winter
Peyton Manning will turn 38 on March 24. Russell Wilson just turned 25 on Nov. 29. There’s a reason only one quarterback — Denver’s 38-year-old John Elway in the final NFL game of his career vs. Atlanta in Super Bowl XXXIII — older than Manning has won the Super Bowl. Football is a young man’s game to begin with. And after a grueling 16-game regular season and multiple hard-fought playoff games, age catches up with even the greatest. Take Elway out of the equation and the five oldest quarterbacks in Super Bowl history are 1–4, with Johnny Unitas winning Super Bowl V and the other four (Kurt Warner, Rich Gannon, Fran Tarkenton and Roger Staubach) suffering losses.
Add the variable element of cold weather and age becomes even more of an issue. This year’s game could be a sloppy affair — at least if you trust the Farmers’ Almanac. The trusted source that dates back to 1818 is “red-flagging” early February in New Jersey, calling for “copious wind, rain, and snow” around kickoff. Manning has struggled in the elements lately. He threw for a season-low 150 yards in a Week 12 loss at New England this season and had three turnovers (two INTs, lost fumble) in a snowy playoff loss in Denver against Baltimore last year.
The weather should be no big deal for Wilson, who has thrived in the scattered showers of Seattle and the windy chill of Wisconsin, where he led the Badgers to the Rose Bowl. Plus, the dual-threat can make plays with his legs, a club Manning certainly does not have in his bag of tricks. Maybe if the Broncos still had Von Miller to chase Wilson? But they don’t have their best pass-rusher. Health — both injuries and age — plays a huge role in crowning a Super Bowl champion. There is little debate that the Seahawks are the younger and healthier team.
Seattle is better from top-to-bottom than Mile High top-heavy Denver, a team with an MVP passer and a stable of fantasy football receivers but little else. The greatest fans in football, the “12th Man” — whose collective jersey has been retired in the Pacific Northwest — will have reason to make some noise after Super Sunday. You might even be able to hear the “12th Man” in New Jersey after the Seahawks win Super Bowl XLVIII — at least once Richard Sherman is done talking.
This weekend’s AFC Championship Game between the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots is also Manning-Brady Bowl XV — or the 15th time Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have gone head-to-head in their Hall of Fame careers. Here’s a look back at the 14 prior meetings between the generation’s finest signal-callers, ranked in order of historical significance, in-game excitement and individual performance.
1. Manning-Brady Bowl IX
2006 – AFC Championship at Indianapolis
Colts 38, Patriots 34
Peyton Manning – 27-of-47, 349 yards, TD, INT, rush TD
Tom Brady – 21-of-34, 232 yards, TD, INT
Tony Dungy and Manning finally punched their ticket to the Super Bowl with a thrilling come-from-behind win in the AFC title game. Trailing 21–3 in the second quarter, it looked as if Bill Belichick and Brady would cruise to victory. But Manning rallied back, leading an 80-yard drive that ended in a go-ahead TD run by Joseph Addai with one minute remaining. Brady’s last-ditch, last-second effort ended in an interception by Marlin Jackson. The Colts went on to win a rainy Super Bowl XLI against the Bears in Miami.
2. Manning-Brady Bowl XIV
2013 – Week 12 at New England
Patriots 34, Broncos 31 (OT)
Tom Brady – 34-of-50, 344 yards, 3 TD
Peyton Manning – 19-of-36, 150 yards, 2 TD, INT
In what was easily the most hyped and arguably the most exciting game of the season, Manning’s Broncos jumped out to a 24–0 lead only to have Brady’s Patriots charge back to take a 31–24 edge late in the fourth quarter — after scoring on the first five possessions of the second half. But Manning wasn’t done, finding Demaryius Thomas for a touchdown to force overtime at 31–31. The game ended with not a bang but a whimper, as a botched punt return set up a chip shot field goal to clinch a New England win.
3. Manning-Brady Bowl IV
2003 – AFC Championship at New England
Patriots 24, Colts 14
Tom Brady – 22-of-37, 237 yards, TD
Peyton Manning – 23-of-47, 237 yards, TD, 4 INT
The first of soon-to-be four playoff meetings between Brady and Manning was a rough one for the true blue horseshoes. Manning threw four picks in the snow — three to Ty Law and one to Rodney Harrison, who also forced a fumble of Marvin Harrison — in a physical game many point to as a catalyst for the implementation of the more pass-happy rules we know and love (hate?) today. New England then went on to win the “breast Super Bowl ever,” book-ending Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” with a win over the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII.
4. Manning-Brady Bowl VI
2004 – AFC Divisional Round at New England
Patriots 20, Colts 3
Tom Brady – 18-of-27, 144 yards, TD, rush TD
Peyton Manning – 27-of-42, 238 yards, INT
The second of soon-to-be four playoff meetings between Brady and Manning was owned by the home team Patriots, who dominated time-of-possession 37:43-to-22:17 — including a 21:26-to-8:34 edge in the second half — in a Foxborough snowstorm. Adding insult to injury, Rodney Harrison sealed the win with an interception in the end zone with 10 seconds remaining. From there, Brady’s Patriots marched to wins at Pittsburgh and against Philadelphia in Super Bowl XXXIX.
5. Manning-Brady Bowl XI
2009 – Week 10 at Indianapolis
Colts 35, Patriots 34
Peyton Manning – 28-of-44, 327 yards, 4 TD, 2 INT
Tom Brady – 29-of-42, 375 yards, 3 TD, INT
The Manning-Brady Bowl skipped a year following the 2008 season-ending knee injury suffered by Brady in the season opener. But the two made up for lost time in 2009. Manning threw a game-tying scoring strike to Reggie Wayne — who made a highlight reel diving catch in the end zone — before Matt Stover’s extra point gave Indianapolis a one-point lead with 16 seconds remaining.
6. Manning-Brady Bowl III
2003 – Week 13 at Indianapolis
Patriots 38, Colts 34
Tom Brady – 26-of-35, 236 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT
Peyton Manning – 29-of-48, 278 yards, 4 TD, INT
Despite Manning’s best efforts — throwing four TDs to four different receivers — the Colts lost a close call following a dramatic 4th-and-1 stop with 18 seconds to play. Willie McGinest stuffed Edgerrin James for a one-yard loss to secure turnover on downs and Brady victory formation.
7. Manning-Brady Bowl X
2007 – Week 9 at Indianapolis
Patriots 24, Colts 20
Tom Brady – 21-of-32, 255 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT
Peyton Manning – 16-of-27, 225 yards, TD, INT, rush TD
The Patriots improved to 9–0 by defeating the 7–0 Colts en route to an 18–0 start to a season that ended with a painful loss to Eli Manning’s Giants in Super Bowl XLII. Touchdown Tom threw three TDs for a record ninth consecutive game, breaking Peyton’s record of eight straight. In a tale of two halves, Indy outgained New England 229-to-114 in the first half, only to see the Pats outgain the Colts 228-to-100 in the second half.
8. Manning-Brady Bowl I
2001 – Week 3 at New England
Patriots 44, Colts 13
Tom Brady – 13-of-23, 168 yards
Peyton Manning – 20-of-34, 196 yards, TD, 3 INT, rush TD
Brady’s first career start came against Manning, the man who would become his chief rival over the next decade-plus. But Brady’s first career TD pass didn’t come until Week 5. But he did go on to throw his first career playoff TD in a Super Bowl XXXVI win over Kurt Warner’s heavily favored Rams.
9. Manning-Brady Bowl VII
2005 – Week 9 at New England
Colts 40, Patriots 21
Peyton Manning – 28-of-37, 321 yards, 3 TD, INT
Tom Brady – 22-of-33, 265 yards, 3 TD
After starting his career 0–6 head-to-head, Manning finally earned his first victory over Brady. The stable of Colts playmakers helped their quarterback as much as they could — with Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne all topping 100 yards from scrimmage. The statement win moved Indy to an 8–0 start in a 2005 season that saw the Colts jump out to 13–0 before staggering down the stretch and going one-and-done in the playoffs against the eventual Super Bowl XL champion Steelers.
10. Manning-Brady Bowl V
2004 – Week 1 at New England
Patriots 27, Colts 24
Tom Brady – 26-of-38, 335 yards, 3 TD, INT
Peyton Manning – 16-of-29, 256 yards, 2 TD, INT
The NFL kicked off the 2004 season with Manning vs. Brady in a rematch of the 2003 AFC Championship Game. The results were the same, despite a solid effort from Manning and 142 rushing yards from Edgerrin James. Indy won nearly every statistical category but was just 3-of-7 in the Red Zone, which ultimately dropped Manning to 0–5 against Brady.
11. Manning-Brady Bowl XIII
2012 – Week 5 at New England
Patriots 31, Broncos 21
Tom Brady – 23-of-31, 223 yards, TD, rush TD
Peyton Manning – 31-of-44, 337 yards, 3 TD
Just when it looked as if there may never be another Manning-Brady Bowl — due to the four (or more) neck surgeries that caused Manning to miss the 2011 season — the rivalry was renewed in style. Manning’s jersey was different but his game was the same. Unfortunately for No. 18, Brady led four scoring drives of at least 80 yards as the Patriots set a franchise record with 35 first downs.
12. Manning-Brady Bowl XII
2010 – Week 11 at New England
Patriots 31, Colts 28
Tom Brady – 19-of-25, 186 yards, 2 TD
Peyton Manning – 38-of-52, 396 yards, 4 TD, 3 INT
New England started strong in each half, taking a 21–7 advantage in the second quarter and 31–14 lead early in the fourth quarter. Playing from behind all game was good for Manning’s stats. But it was Brady — who leaned on a combined 165 yards and two TDs on the ground from running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead — who had the last laugh.
13. Manning-Brady Bowl VIII
2006 – Week 9 at New England
Colts 27, Patriots 20
Peyton Manning – 20-of-36, 326 yards, 2 TD, INT
Tom Brady – 20-of-35, 201 yards, 4 INT
For a second straight season, Indianapolis improved to 8–0 following a Week 9 win at New England. Brady threw four INTs after entering the game with just five picks through the season’s first seven games. Adam Vinatieri also hit two field goals in his first game against the Patriots as a member of the Colts.
14. Manning-Brady Bowl II
2001 – Week 6 at Indianapolis
Patriots 38, Colts 17
Tom Brady – 16-of-20, 202 yards, 3 TD
Peyton Manning – 22-of-34, 335 yards, TD
Remember when Brady and Manning were in the same division? Those were the days. The Patriots and Colts shared the old AFC East prior to the 2002 Texans expansion and subsequent divisional realignment. Had Brady and Manning stayed in the same division — and history had played out exactly as it did — we’d be prepping for Manning-Brady Bowl XXVI this week.
Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are easily the greatest quarterbacks of their generation and arguably the top two signal-callers of all-time. This weekend’s AFC Championship Game between the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots will mark the 15th time that the 37-year-old Manning and 36-year-old Brady have squared off in their Hall of Fame careers. Here’s a look at some of the notable numbers from one of the most remarkable rivalries in the history of sports:
Record of Manning vs. Brady in AFC Championship Games
This year marks the third time Manning and Brady have played against each other in the AFC title game. Manning’s Indianapolis Colts rallied for a 38–34 win over Brady’s Patriots in 2006. New England beat Indianapolis, 24–14, in 2003. Each time, the winner went on to win the Super Bowl.
Brady’s record vs. Manning head-to-head all-time
Tom Terrific has gotten the best of Archie’s middle son over the years, including an off-the-charts 31–24 come-from-behind win this season.
Brady’s career playoff record
Gisele Bunchen’s husband has started (and won) more playoff games than any quarterback ever. His 25 playoff games (and counting) outrank Brett Favre (24) and Joe Montana (23), while the 18 wins are more than Montana (16), Terry Bradshaw (14) and John Elway (14).
Manning’s career playoff record
Ten postseason wins is good for a tie for ninth all-time with Ben Roethlisberger (10–4).
Combined Super Bowl appearances by Manning and Brady
Brady is 3–2 on Super Sunday, with wins over Kurt Warner’s Rams, Jake Delhomme’s Panthers and Donovan McNabb’s Eagles, along with a pair of losses to Peyton’s younger brother Eli. Manning has split his two chances at the Vince Lombardi Trophy, defeating Rex Grossman’s Bears but losing to Drew Brees’ Saints.
Record TD passes by Manning in 2013 regular season
The previous record-holder? That’s right, Brady had 50 TDs in 2007.
Record total points scored by Broncos in 2013 regular season
The previous record-holders? That’s right, the Patriots scored 589 during Brady’s record-breaking 2007 season.
Career playoff TD passes by Brady
Brady is three postseason TD passes away from tying Montana’s all-time record of 45 playoff TD passes. Manning has 34 playoff TDs.
Combined career passing yards by Manning and Brady
With 64,964 career passing yards, Manning trails only Favre (71,838 yards) on the all-time list. Brady’s 49,149 career passing yards ranks seventh all-time. Manning (491) and Brady (359) have also combined to throw 850 career TDs.
Difference in respective draft positions of Manning and Brady
Tennessee’s Manning was drafted No. 1 overall in 1998, while Michigan’s Brady fell to No. 199 in 2000. They took decidedly different routes but both are in the AFC title game.
Throw another shrimp on the barbie and pour another ice-cold big bloke when Iowa (8–4, 5–3 Big Ten) and LSU (9–3, 5–3 SEC) kick off in this year’s Outback Bowl in Tampa. Oh, and don’t forget to strap on your helmet — extra tight. This time last year, helmets were famously flying at the Outback Bowl, when South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney destroyed Michigan’s Vincent Smith with the hit heard ‘round the world and undoubtedly the best highlight of the 2012 bowl season.
The Hawkeyes are making their fourth appearance in the Outback Bowl, carrying a 2–1 mark in the game — with a 37–17 win over Florida in 2004, 31–10 victory over South Carolina in 2009 and a 31–24 loss to Florida in 2006. The Tigers lost their only appearance in what was then known as the Hall of Fame Bowl, losing 23–10 to Syracuse in 1989.
This is only the second meeting between Iowa and LSU. And if the first contest is any indication, this should be a good one. At the 2005 Capital One Bowl, the Hawkeyes escaped with a thrilling 30–25 come-from-behind win over the Tigers on a 56-yard TD pass from Drew Tate to Warren Holloway as time expired.
Iowa’s season got off to a rocky start with a 30–27 season-opening loss to Northern Illinois. But the Hawkeyes righted the ship and ended the season on a high note with back-to-back wins against Michigan (24–21) and at Nebraska (38–17). LSU may not have known it at the time, but its 35–21 win over Auburn — the “other” Tigers’ only loss of the season — was the highlight of the year. Heartbreaking losses at Georgia (44–41) and at Ole Miss (27–24), along with a beating at Alabama (38–17), made this a disappointing season in Baton Rouge, where there were legitimate BCS expectations.
Iowa vs. LSU
Kickoff: Wednesday, Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: LSU -7.5
Three Things to Watch
Iowa’s O-line vs. LSU’s D-line
Historically, this would be a strength vs. strength matchup of Hawkeyes and Tigers. When you think Iowa football, you think of big nasties like Robert Gallery and Bryan Bulaga dominating the trenches and controlling the line of scrimmage along the offensive line. When you think LSU football, fire-breathing run-stuffers and pass-rushers like Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson.
This season the names have changed but the team identities remain the same. Iowa once again has a pair of All-Big Ten O-tackles in Brandon Scherff (6’5”, 315) and Brett Van Sloten (6’7”, 300) as well as a strong interior with guards Andrew Donnal (6’7”, 305) and Conor Boffeli (6’5”, 295), and center Austin Blythe (6’3”, 300). On the other side of the football, LSU’s D-tackle duo of Anthony Johnson (6’3”, 294) and Ego Ferguson (6’3”, 308) is arguably the best in the nation.
Iowa’s O-line will need to move Johnson and Ferguson out of the way if fullback Mark Weisman hopes to have any success against the Bayou Bengals. Although he finished the regular season with 938 yards and seven TDs, Weisman struggled against several of the elite run defenses he faced this season — with seven carries for nine yards (1.3 ypc) in a 26–14 loss to Michigan State and nine carries for 15 yards (1.7 ypc) in a 28–9 loss to Wisconsin.
Hawkeyes’ Run Defense
LSU trots into Tampa with a stable of running backs, the nation’s 33rd-ranked rushing offense (200.8 ypg) and the 11th-most rushing TDs in the country (34). But Jeremy Hill (1,185 yards, 14 TDs), Terrence Magee (614 yards, 8 TDs), Alfred Blue (317 yards, TD) and Kenny Hilliard (307 yards, 7 TDs) could have some trouble against Iowa’s stout defensive front. The Hawkeyes’s run defense ranks 17th in the nation, allowing 120.8 yards per game on 3.49 yards per carry. Most impressive, Iowa has allowed just five TDs on the ground this season, tied with BCS national championship favorite Florida State for first in the country.
LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry
Iowa’s pass defense might be even better than its run defense. The Hawkeyes rank 11th in the country in yards allowed (182.4 ypg). But Iowa was vulnerable to the scoring strike through the air, allowing 20 passing TDs this season — the most of any team ranked in the top 20 pass defenses. LSU’s dynamic receiving duo of Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry combined to catch 132 passes for 2,289 yards (17.3 ypc) and 18 TDs. Beckham and Landry fill different roles in the passing game. Beckham provides a more explosive threat, with 57 catches for 1,117 yards (19.6 ypc) and eight TDs, while also averaging 26.9 yards per kick return and 10.1 yards per punt return. Landry is as reliable as they come, with 75 grabs for 1,172 yards (15.6 ypc) and 10 trips to the end zone.
Key Player: Anthony Jennings, QB, LSU
The elephant in the room is Jennings, the freshman quarterback replacing injured starter Zach Mettenberger — who passed for 3,082 yards, 22 TDs and eight INTs before suffering a season-ending ACL injury. Coming out of high school in Marietta, Ga., Jennings was rated as a four-star prospect and the sixth-best dual-threat quarterback in the country by recruiting service Rivals.com. The 6’2”, 205-pounder has completed 6-of-10 pass attempts for 99 yards, one TD and zero INTs, while rushing for 49 yards and one TD in limited action this season.
After Mettenberger’s injury, Jennings completed 4-of-7 passes for 76 yards and one TD while scrambling three times for 26 yards (8.7 ypc) to hold on for a 31–27 victory over Arkansas. He’s got time to prepare, a running game to lean on and a pair of NFL wideouts at his disposal. But this Iowa defense will be unlike any Jennings has seen in his brief college career.
Kirk Ferentz is 6–4 in bowl games at Iowa, including a 2–1 mark in the Outback Bowl and a 1–0 record head-to-head with LSU. Ferentz is making a return to bowl season after sitting last year out on the hot seat following a 4–8 campaign in 2012. On the other side, Les Miles is 5–3 in bowls at LSU, including the 2007 BCS National Championship. But the Mad Hatter is riding a two-game bowl losing streak after being embarrassed by Alabama in the 2011 BCS national title game and collapsing to lose a late lead against Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl last season. Miles is one win away from his seventh 10-win season at LSU, which would also be his fourth straight 10-win year. A ninth win for Ferentz would be his best since the 11-win Orange Bowl squad of 2009.
Make no mistake, this will be an old-fashioned heavyweight fight won in the trenches and the turnover column of the stat sheet. A few rookie mistakes from Jennings could put LSU in jeopardy against a disciplined Iowa squad. But barring self-inflicted freshman errors, the Tigers’ talent will likely be too much for the Hawkeyes.
Prediction: LSU 24, Iowa 16
The Landsharks of Ole Miss (7–5, 3–5 SEC) and Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech (7–5, 5–3 ACC) will converge on Music City on the eve of New Year’s Eve. Much like their travel routes — west from Oxford, Miss, and east from Atlanta, Ga. — the Rebels and Yellow Jackets have taken different routes to reach exactly the same 7–5 record and Music City Bowl destination, roughly four hours from either team’s home base.
Both Ole Miss and Georgia Tech started the season 3–0, each with signature victories — with the Rebels winning big at Texas (44–38) and the Jackets taking down eventual ACC Coastal Division champion Duke (38–14). The good vibes abruptly ended, as three-game win streaks were immediately followed by three-game losing streaks for both teams. Ole Miss was devastated by a brutal stretch at Alabama (25–0), at Auburn (41–38) and Texas A&M (41–38). Georgia Tech also fell to the trio of bowl-eligible squads Virginia Tech (17–10), at Miami (45–30) and at BYU (38–20).
The Rebs and Jackets both rallied to the seven-win mark before suffering painful losses in overtime to bitter in-state rivals — as Ole Miss lost at Mississippi State, 17–10, at the Egg Bowl and Georgia Tech lost at home to Georgia, 41–34, in double-overtime of Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate. The outcome of this year’s Music City Bowl will go a long way toward defining the narrative of the 2013 season for the Rebels and Yellow Jackets, both of whom have had up-and-down roller-coaster seasons.
This will be the fourth meeting between Ole Miss and Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets lead the all-time series, 2–1, while the Rebels won the most recent matchup, 41–18, in the 1971 Peach Bowl. Ole Miss is 0–1 in the Music City Bowl, falling 49–38 to West Virginia in 2000; Georgia Tech is making its first appearance in the Nashville bowl that dates back to 1998.
Strangely, the underdog has won the Music City Bowl in 10 of its 15 games, with the biggest upset coming when 10-point dog Kentucky brought Big Blue Nation down the road to beat Clemson, 28–20, in 2006. An SEC team has played in the Music City Bowl in 14 of the 15 years, posting a disappointing 6–8 record — with lowly Vanderbilt and Kentucky combining for four of those victories, while traditional powers Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee combined to go 0–4.
Ole Miss vs. Georgia Tech
Kickoff: Monday, Dec. 30 at 3:15 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Ole Miss -3
Georgia Tech has the nation’s fifth-ranked rushing attack (311.7 ypg), with 3,740 yards (5.63 ypc) and 45 TDs on the ground this season. On the flip side, Tech’s passing game ranks 118th in the country (129.0 ypg), with 1,548 yards, 11 TDs and 12 INTs this year. And there are no Calvin Johnson or Demaryius Thomas-type deep threats at wideout. The Yellow Jackets are reliant almost exclusively on their triple-option running game led by quarterback Vad Lee (489 yards, 8 TDs) and running backs David Sims (846 yards, 11 TDs), Robert Godhigh (694 yards on 10.1 ypc, 6 TDs) and Zach Laskey (458 yards, 7 TDs).
Ole Miss’ rushing defense ranks a middling 53rd in the nation (155.3 ypg), having given up 1,863 yards (4.01 ypc) and a staggering 26 TDs on the ground. But in four of their five losses, the Rebels allowed at least 40 carries for 240-plus rush yards and multiple TDs. In losses to Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M and Missouri, the Rebs allowed a combined 184 carries for 1,037 yards (5.6 ypc) and 13 TDs. In just four games, Ole Miss allowed 55.7 percent of its rushing yards and 50 percent of its rushing TDs for the season.
Georgia Tech’s Key to Victory: Force Bo Wallace Into Mistakes
There’s good Bo Wallace and bad Bo Wallace. The Ole Miss signal-caller accounted for 16 total TDs and two turnovers in seven wins, but just five total TDs and nine turnovers in five losses. Wallace infamously fumbled into the end zone in overtime to seal a seven-point loss to Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl. The junior knows Hugh Freeze’s offense — after following the Rebs coach from Arkansas State via East Mississippi CC — but Wallace can be the other team’s best player when he is not sharp.
The Yellow Jackets are 78th in the country in turnover differential (-3), having gained 19 turnovers (13 INTs, 6 fumbles) but lost 22 turnovers (12 INTs, 10 fumbles). The 19 turnovers forced ranks 75th in the nation. Although 13 INTs is not an impressive number, eight players have combined for the total and the group has made the most of their picks with 255 return yards (19.6 ypr) and two TDs, including a 95-yarder. Four players have two INTs this year, Chris Milton, Louis Young, Tyler Marcordes and Quayshawn Nealy. But the real difference maker could be senior pass rusher Jeremiah Attaochu, who had 15.5 tackles for a loss and 12.0 sacks in 12 games this season. Ole Miss true freshman tackle Laremy Tunsil (questionable to play with a knee injury) will have his hands full keeping Attaochu away from Wallace.
Key Player: Robert Nkemdiche, DL, Ole Miss
The consensus No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2013, Nkemdiche has been a starter on the Rebels defensive line from Day 1. The younger brother of Ole Miss linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche has shown the versatility to line up anywhere along the line. At 6’5”, 294 pounds, Nkemdiche has been a force of nature as an edge-rushing defensive end as well as a 3-technique defensive tackle, applying pressure to the pocket and clogging running lanes — a skill that will be essential against Georgia Tech. Nkemdiche has battled injuries as a true freshman, but his impact has been far more meaningful than his eight tackles for a loss and two sacks would indicate.
Paul Johnson has struggled in bowl games since arriving at Georgia Tech, going 1–4 with the lone win coming against a deflated USC team (sans Matt Barkley) in last year’s Sun Bowl. Even then, the margin was just 21–7 against a group of Trojans that barely bothered to show up in El Paso after their embarrassing fall from preseason No. 1. Johnson went 2–2 in bowls at Navy and was a two-time FCS national champion back in the day at Georgia Southern. Freeze is 1–0 in bowls at Ole Miss, winning last year’s BBVA Compass Bowl, 38–17, against Pittsburgh. The recent history speaks for itself. When teams have a month to prepare for the Yellow Jackets’ unique offense, they are usually up to the task when game day finally arrives. Colonel Reb will be honky-tonkin’ in Nashville after this one.
Prediction: Ole Miss 35, Georgia Tech 31
Since joining the bowl party in 1990, the Russell Athletic Bowl has been known as the Blockbuster Bowl, CarQuest Bowl, MicronPC Bowl, Visit Florida Tangerine Bowl, Mazda Tangerine Bowl and, most recently, Champs Sports Bowl. The location of the game was Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami Gardens from 1990-2000 before moving to Orlando in 2001.
By any name, in any city, this year’s Russell Athletic Bowl is a great matchup — although Louisville (11–1, 7–1 American) and Miami (9–3, 5–3 ACC) enter this contest with decidedly different outlooks on life.
The Cardinals entered the season with expectations of an undefeated season. But a 38–35 loss to UCF under the lights on Friday night back on Oct. 18 ended the U of L’s quest at a shot at the BCS national championship crystal. Rather than a trip to Pasadena — or, more realistically, rather than complaining about being left out of the big game and settling for a trip to the Fiesta Bowl, where UCF is slotted — the Cards are going to Disney World.
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes are excited to be going anywhere after a two-year self-imposed bowl ban as a result of NCAA violations from the Nevin Shapiro scandal. Miami has not played in a bowl game since losing to rival Notre Dame, 33–17, in the Sun Bowl on New Year’s Eve in 2010. That game was coached by interim Jeff Soufland, who had replaced recently fired Randy Shannon. The U has not won a bowl game since squeaking by Nevada, 21–20, at the MPC Computers Bowl on New Year’s Eve in 2006. Ironically, that was Shannon’s first game as coach after replacing the recently fired Larry Coker.
This will be the 12th all-time meeting between Louisville and Miami. As expected, the Hurricanes have a 9–1–1 series edge. But the Cardinals won the most recent showdown, 31–7, at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in 2006. Miami carries a 2–1 record in the Russell Athletic Bowl, having won in South Florida in 1996 and 1998, but lost in Orlando in 2009. This will be Louisville’s first appearance in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Louisville vs. Miami
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 28 at 6:45 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Louisville -3.5
Three Things to Watch
Two NFL-caliber Quarterbacks
It’s not Sunday yet, but NFL fans will soon be watching Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Miami’s Stephen Morris on RedZone Channel. Both have prototypical size, next-level arm talent and a solid track record of success. As a result, the Cardinals enter with the 18th-ranked passing offense in the nation (302.9 ypg) and the Hurricanes with the 29th-ranked passing offense in the country (274.3 ypg).
Bridgewater (6’3”, 196) entered the season with as much hype as any quarterback this side of Johnny Football, after his coming out party upset win over Florida in last year’s Sugar Bowl. The junior had a solid season by most reasonable standards, completing 70.2 percent of his passes for 3,523 yards, 28 TDs and only four INTs. But Bridgewater did not lead the U of L to an undefeated record and was not invited to New York as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy — his two lofty goals heading into the season.
Although less-heralded, Morris (6’2”, 218) has had a strong senior season, completing 58.7 percent of his passes for 2,868 yards, 21 TDs and 12 INTs. Eight of those picks came in just three games, with four in a 27–23 win at North Carolina, two in a 45–30 win over Georgia Tech and two in a 41–14 loss at Florida State. Morris also delivered a signature win, taking down in-state rival Florida, 21–16, on Sept. 7 to set the tone for the 2013 season.
Sunshine State Speed
The Citrus Bowl seems as good a place as any to hold a track meet. And there is guaranteed to be speed on the field in Orlando. A whopping 39 Louisville players hail from the state of Florida, including 23 from the Miami area — most notably Bridgewater, who played at powerhouse Miami Northwestern High School as the successor to former Miami quarterback Jacory Harris. Obviously, the Hurricanes are loaded with 57 players from the Sunshine State.
Of the many notable athletes who will be playing this bowl game in front of home state fans, the headliners are Miami’s first-team All-ACC linebacker Denzel Perryman, second-team All-ACC wideout Allen Hurns and safety Deon Bush, along with Louisville’s first-team All-AAC cornerback Charles Gaines and first-team All-AAC safety Calvin Pryor. Although they play in different conferences at schools separated by 1,100 miles, many of the Cardinals and Hurricanes grew up together and have some of the same names and numbers in their iPhones.
Head Coaches With Upside
Will this be the final game on the sideline for U of L coach Charlie Strong? Gambling website Bovada had the 53-year-old Strong as the opening line favorite (2-to-1) to take the vacant University of Texas job. What about 44-year-old Miami coach Al Golden? He has been a hot candidate for just about every job opening east of USC. Although both men claim to be happy where they are, there is little doubt that Strong and Golden are two of the hottest commodities in the college coaching game today. Strong has a 36–15 record at Louisville with a 2–1 record in bowls. Golden is 22–14 at Miami and making his first bowl appearance, despite winning (then declining) the ACC Coastal Division title last season.
Key Player: Marcus Smith, DE, Louisville
The AAC Defensive Player of the Year will be overshadowed pregame by the pretty-boy, future-millionaire quarterbacks and hot-shot, rumor-mill head coaches. But once the whistle blows, a stacked Miami offensive line — led by guards Brandon Linder and Jon Feliciano, and tackle Seantrel Henderson — will need to contain Smith, who is a splash play waiting to happen. The 6’3”, 252-pounder from Columbus, Ga., posted 16.5 tackles for a loss of 104 yards this season, including 12.5 sacks for 95 lost yards. Smith also had three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and a blocked kick. He’s not the fastest or the flashiest, but Smith could be the difference in the game.
This year’s Russell Athletic Bowl has it all — with a pair of future NFL quarterbacks, two of the hottest coaches in the game, childhood and regional rivalries being rekindled, and motivation coming from both sides of the spectrum. The question is whether or not Louisville will be disappointed by a non-BCS bowl and pack it in? And whether or not Miami will be “happy to be here” rather than hungry to win? The most likely scenario, however, is that bowl the U of L and “The U” bring their A-games. After all, the leadership at the top — Strong-Bridgewater and Golden-Morris — is as strong as just about any coach-QB pairing in the country outside of Saban-McCarron or Fisher-Winston. Expect a blur of a game with speed and big plays galore. Like going to Disney World.
Prediction: Louisville 38, Miami 35
A New York City triumvirate of Babe Ruth, Frank Sinatra and Jay-Z could not have come up with a better matchup for the Pinstripe Bowl than Notre Dame (8–4) and Rutgers (6–6, 3–5 American). Call your own shot and start spreading the news because Yankee Stadium will be in an Empire State of mind when the Fighting Irish take on the Scarlet Knights at Yankee Stadium in The Bronx.
This will be Notre Dame’s first appearance in the Pinstripe Bowl, which will host its fourth game since arriving on the bowl landscape in 2010. It has been a long fall for the Golden Domers, who lost 42–14 to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game last season. The dip in on-field product was somewhat expected following the unexpected academic suspension of quarterback Everett Golson and the graduation of Butkus Award winning linebacker Manti Te’o.
Rutgers and Syracuse have alternated victories in the brief history of the Pinstripe Bowl. And it’s the Scarlet Knights’ turn again this year. SU beat Kansas State, 36–34, in 2010 and West Virginia, 38–14, last year. RU knocked off Iowa State, 27–13, in 2011 and hope to pull off one of the major upsets of the postseason against Notre Dame this year.
The series history, much like the Las Vegas betting line, heavily favors Notre Dame. The Irish are 4–0 against the Knights, with a 197–17 all-time combined margin of victory — including a 42–0 humiliation in their most recent meeting in 2002.
Notre Dame vs. Rutgers
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 28 at 12:00 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Notre Dame -14
Notre Dame’s Key to Victory: Exploit Rutgers’ Pass Defense
The McCourty Twins are not walking through that door. Unlike the NFL-caliber defensive backs of recent Rutgers memory, this year’s Scarlet Knights have been abused through the air. Opponents of RU have completed 64.1 percent of their passes for 3,737 yards, 31 TDs and eight INTs. Rutgers’ pass defense has allowed an average of 311.4 yards per game — more than the averages of either Louisville (302.9 ypg) or Oregon (294.7 ypg), pass-happy teams with Teddy Bridgewater and Marcus Mariota, respectively, running the shows. The Scarlet Knights’ pass defense ranks 120th in yards allowed. Only five teams allowed more passing TDs — Idaho (40), Colorado State (33), Wyoming (32), UAB (32) and California (32).
That’s good news for Notre Dame team MVP TJ Jones, who has 65 catches for 1,042 yards (16.0 ypc) and nine TDs this season — team highs in each category. Jones is just the seventh Irish wideout to top the 1,000-yard mark in a single season, joining Michael Floyd, Golden Tate, Jeff Samardzija, Maurice Stovall, Tom Gatewood and Jack Snow. Neither Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown nor Rocket Ismail topped 1,000 yards in a single season. Expect ND quarterback Tommy Rees to look Jones’ way early and often against a RU secondary that has been overmatched by less talented wideouts thus far.
Rutgers’ Key to Victory: Chas Dodd Masterpiece
The senior quarterback became more famous for his art than his football after being benched for the better part of two seasons. But Dodd is back under center for the Scarlet Knights, replacing Gary Nova for the final two games of the season — a 28–17 loss at Connecticut and a 31–6 win over South Florida to clinch a berth in the Pinstripe Bowl. Over his first two seasons at RU, the South Carolina native and former Byrnes High School star threw for 21 TDs and 14 INTs. He lost the job to local Don Bosco (N.J.) legend Nova in 2012, attempting (and completing) just one pass.
This season, Dodd had just 46 pass attempts in mop-up duty before taking over for the final two games, throwing a combined two TDs and two INTs with a 1–1 record. If Rutgers has any chance to pull off the upset, Dodd will have to play the game of his life. And he may have to do so without the Knights’ top wideout, sophomore Leonte Carroo, who is listed as doubtful with an upper-body injury. Carroo had 28 catches for 478 yards (17.1) and nine of the teams 21 receiving TDs in only nine games played this season.
Key Player: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Notre Dame’s strength over the past two seasons has been its interior defensive line, most notably Tuitt and nose guard Louis Nix III (a.k.a. “Irish Chocolate”). But with Nix III out for the season with a torn meniscus and out of the college game for good after recently signing with an agent, the burden falls to Tuitt. The 6’7”, 312-pound junior out of Monroe, Ga., may very well be playing in his final game for the Fighting Irish before heading to the NFL. Notre Dame will need Tuitt to be a terror in the trenches against a Rutgers offense with a quarterback controversy and the 97th ranked rushing offense.
Brian Kelly has a 1–2 record in bowl games at Notre Dame, but he was 2–1 at Cincinnati and has also sat out two bowl games — after leading Central Michigan to the Motor City Bowl in 2006 and Cincinnati to the Sugar Bowl in 2009. Prior to stepping up to the FBS, Kelly won back-to-back Division II national championships at Grand Valley State. On the other sideline, Kyle Flood is making just his second bowl appearance in his second season since taking over at Rutgers for Greg Schiano. Last year, the Scarlet Knights lost a heartbreaker 13–10 to Virginia Tech in last year’s Russell Athletic Bowl.
Expect this year’s Pinstripe Bowl to be green and gold. The Fighting Irish faithful will take over Yankee Stadium and the Golden Domers will crush the Scarlet Knights.
Prediction: Notre Dame 30, Rutgers 10
How’d you like to spend Christmas on Christmas Island? Oregon State (6–6, 4–5 Pac-12) and Boise State (8–4, 6–2 Mountain West) will do just that when the Hawaii Bowl kicks off as the only game on television Christmas Eve.
The Beavers are making their first trip to the big island of Oahu and are just the second Pac-12 school to play in the Hawaii Bowl. Arizona State lost to hometown favorite Hawaii, 41–24, in 2006. Oregon State did play in the now defunct Oahu Bowl in 1999, losing to Hawaii, 23–17, on Christmas Day. Coach Mike Riley started his second stint at OSU with a 5–0 record in bowl games from 2003-08. But Oregon State is 0–2 in bowls since then.
This year’s trip to Honolulu snaps a three-year Las Vegas bender for the Broncos, who are riding a four-bowl win streak following three straight wins in Vegas (2010-12) and a memorable Fiesta Bowl victory following the 2008 season. This is Boise State’s second appearance in the Hawaii Bowl, having been upset as 10-point favorites by East Carolina, 41–38, in 2007. In that game, ECU track star Chris Johnson accounted for 255 total yards and two TDs.
In the all-time series, OSU has a 4–3 edge over Boise, although the Smurf Turfers have a 3–2 advantage since stepping up to FBS status in 1996. Most recently, the Broncos defeated the Beavers, 37–24, in 2010.
Oregon State vs. Boise State
Kickoff: Tuesday, Dec. 24 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Oregon State -3
Oregon State’s Key to Victory: Sean Mannion to Brandin Cooks
Oregon State has an NFL-caliber quarterback and this year’s Biletnikoff Award-winning wide receiver. As Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks go, so go the Beavers. When OSU jumped out to a 6–1 start to the season, Mannion threw for 2,992 yards, 29 TDs and three INTs, while Cooks hauled in 76 catches for 1,176 yards (15.5 ypc) and 12 TDs. When OSU fell apart to go 0–5 down the stretch to end the year, Mannion threw for 1,411 yards, seven TDs and 11 INTs, while Cooks had 44 catches for 494 yards (11.2 ypc) and three TDs.
Boise State defensive end Demarcus Lawrence will be charged with applying a pass rush to Mannion. The Broncos’ top defender has been a terror off the edge this season, with 19.5 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. Up front, Lawrence is joined by 300-pound fifth-year senior defensive tackle Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe, who will command attention as a monster in the middle. In the Boise State secondary, cornerback Donte Deayon and safety Jeremy Ioane, a pair of All-MWC selections, will have their hands full stopping the Beavers’ aerial attack. Only a sophomore, the 5’9” Deayon will be put to the test by the nation’s best in the 5’10” Cooks.
Boise State’s Key to Victory: Expose Beavers’ Weak Defense
Oregon State’s defense is one of the worst statistical units playing in a bowl this season. The Beavers rank 94th in total defense, allowing 482.2 yards per game; 95th in scoring defense, allowing 32.1 points per game; and 120th in red zone defense, allowing opponents to score an eye-popping 93.2 percent of the time the ball is inside the 20-yard-line. And it wasn’t just Pac-12 powers like Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State that lit up the Beavers defense. FCS power Eastern Washington scored 49 points in an upset win and Utah scored 48 points in an overtime nail-biter.
Boise State’s offense will be led by junior quarterback Grant Hedrick, who passed for 1,443 yards, 15 TDs and five INTs, while going 4–2 as a starter after replacing injured senior Joe Southwick. Recently, waves were made when Southwick — who had returned from a right ankle injury — was sent home from the Hawaii Bowl for disciplinary reasons. Redshirt freshman Nick Patti was also suspended, although he has been reinstated and will serve as the backup to Hedrick. Capable wideouts Matt Miller and Shane Williams-Rhodes provide firepower on the outside, while senior O-linemen Charles Leno Jr. and Matt Paradis pave the way in the trenches.
Key Player: Jay Ajayi, RB, Boise State
Regardless of who lines up under center for the Broncos, Ajayi will be the centerpiece of the Boise State attack. The 6’0”, 215-pound sophomore out of Plano, Texas, was named first-team All-MWC after posting 226 carries for 1,328 yards (5.9 ypc) and 17 TDs, while hauling in 16 catches for 189 yards (11.8 ypc) and one score. Ajayi had six contests with over 100 total yards and five multi-TD games this season. Only twice did Ajayi fail to rush for at least 80 yards — with a 54-yard, one-TD effort in a 41–40 loss at Fresno State, and a 70-yard, three-TD performance in a 48–7 blowout of Wyoming as his worst outings of a brilliant 2013 campaign.
Longtime Boise State coach Chris Petersen — who went 92–12 in eight seasons, including two undefeated years (2006, 2009) — has moved on to take the top spot at Washington, leaving interim head coach Bob Gregory to coach the Hawaii Bowl. Gregory previously served as the Broncos defensive coordinator and was coaching linebackers prior to being named interim head coach. Former Boise offensive coordinator and Arkansas State coach Bryan Harsin will take over as the next coach of the Broncos following the bowl game. On the other sideline, Oregon State coach Mike Riley appears to have coached his way off of the proverbial hot seat with his second straight bowl trip after a two-year postseason drought in 2010-11.
Both teams are happy to be in Hawaii, for the weather as much as the football. With two high-octane offenses, the defense in this year’s Hawaii Bowl could be reminiscent of the NFL’s Pro Bowl in Honolulu. Expect plenty of scoring, lots of hula dancing and plenty of people getting lei’d on Christmas Eve.
Prediction: Oregon State 42, Boise State 40