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A Sports Poet and I Didn’t Know It…

For today, a little bit o’ verse to sum up last week’s biggest headlines:

I'm here, I'm queer, and I'm gonna make you wish you'd never picked up a football.

I’m here, I’m queer, and I’m gonna make you wish you’d never picked up a football.

Duke beats Syracuse when Coach Boeheim is sent away

Michael Sam’s football prowess overshadows being gay

Jason Collins, also gay, returns to play in the NBA

(Could it be we’re FINALLY seeing opinions on this issue sway?)

American hockey teams are sad Olympics reach final their day

With round-one knockout, Ronda Rousey makes Sara McMann pay

Dale Jr. wins Daytona (and sends first-ever tweet!) after rain delay

And a career-best win for adorable Aussie golfer Jason Day!

Happy Monday! Remember, the Olympics may be over, but pro hockey is BACK and baseball spring training is starting up! WOOT!

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High Five! Denver Upends KC, JJ Sprints to Title, and a UFC Champ–or Is He?

1) Despite two ankles wrapped like “mummy” and not “Manning,” an injured Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos handed the Kansas City Chiefs their first defeat Sunday night, 27-17 at Denver. KC was the last undefeated team in the NFL—a surprising and commendable turn of events for a team that ended last season with a fired coach, a player’s murder-suicide, and a new head coach, Andy Reid, who himself was fired after a long, spotty career with the Eagles.  The matchup was also anticipated because Denver and KC are also in the same division, the AFC West, and are two of the nation’s best teams, both now at 9-1. Denver is still without head coach John Fox, recovering from a successful aortic valve transplant two weeks ago.

Georges St-Pierre

You should have seen the other guy. (Accccctually the other guy looked pretty OK.)

2) In a questionable split-decision, followed by an even more bizarre statement of potential retirement, beloved—and bloodied—UFC champion Georges St-Pierre successfully defended his welterweight title a ninth time Saturday, beating Johny Hendricks. As a normally “GSP”-loving crowd booed, St-Pierre (25-2) was named the winner, then stated he was having personal problems and was going to “go away for a little bit.” Although classy in his speech, a clearly stunned Hendricks remarked how unfair it would be for St-Pierre to retire, and deny him a rematch. UFC president Dana White claimed he does not expect St-Pierre to retire and will immediately seek to line up the two fighters again. “Georges knew he lost, his corner knew he lost, Hendricks knew he won, and his corner knew they won,” said White.

3) Less than a week after No. 2 Michigan State knocked off No. 1 Kentucky, J.J. Mann set off another men’s basketball upset when he sank the go-ahead 3-pointer with 13.1 seconds left to lift unranked Belmont over No. 12 North Carolina 83-80 on Sunday in the Hall of Fame Tipoff. Mann finished with a career-best 28 points. The Tar Heels’ James McAdoo was not far behind, scoring a career-high 27 points with 13 rebounds.

4) Jimmie Johnson won his sixth NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup championship in eight years in Homestead, Fla., Sunday, putting him behind only Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt Sr., each with seven titles. Johnson is the youngest driver to win six titles, reaching that mark 83 days before Petty. He’s also the fastest to six titles, as neither Petty nor Earnhardt did it in an eight-year span. Rounding out this year’s drivers, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Jeff Gordon. Finishing in the middle of the Sprint Cup pack was Danica Patrick in 27th.

5) Finally, congratulations to my alma mater, Centre College, and its field hockey team, which lost in the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA tournament this weekend to Christopher Newport College, 1-0. It was the Lady Colonels’ first appearance in the tournament. Now, is there an American professional field hockey league? Not that I know of. Will you ever hear Shelby Judkins or Kirby Roberts on ESPN? Probably not. But you might see them owning it someday. Or in a boardroom, a corner office, maybe even the Oval Office. As the NCAA commercials say, most student-athletes will go pro in something other than sports. I can’t wait to see what these ladies do. Well done!

Head-On Collision (with a Rock)

dogs

Demanding their union-mandated break, my assistants were of no help in this story.

Danica Patrick continues to grab NASCAR headlines, but this time she’s really rockin’ it (sorry–it’s Friday).The racing sensation was hit by a rock in the head Thursday night at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway dirt track.

The impact sent Danica to her knees, but she reports she is fine–except for a sore neck from last weekend’s head-on crash in Phoenix. Catch her #10 car on the Speedway  this Sunday in the Kobalt 400, 3 p.m. ET.

 (PS don’t forget to LIKE our Facebook page! We’ll give you our kibble!)

Like Winning? LIKE our New Facebook Fan Page!!!

Felicia sporting hometown rally spirit.

Felicia sporting hometown rally spirit.

Welcome, new Facebook fans! (And if you are not yet, please LIKE our new fan page!) If you are visiting from Facebook, then the answer to my lovely designer Felicia’s trivia question is as follows:

 A “rally cap” is a cap worn inside-out or backwards (all sorts of goofy ways, really) to “rally” a losing baseball (usually) team to a win late in the game.  (A Missouri gal, Felicia proudly models that of the 2011 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals).There are many theories as to the rally cap’s origin, but the most popular is from the 1986 World Series between the Red Sox and the New York Mets, who were trailing in Game 6.As some Mets players tinkered with their caps, Boston first baseman Bill Buckner bungled an easy play, essentially allowing the Mets to win the game and the championship.

Now, ladies, you really, REALLY need to know this one: Buckner’s play (around 1:28 in this clip) is widely considered the worst baseball blunder of all time, despite his otherwise solid 21-year career. He was taunted and even received death threats from fans desperate for a title since losing Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919. But in 2008, Buckner returned to Fenway Park for, at last, Boston’s World Series ceremonies and was welcomed with a lengthy standing ovation.

Meanwhile, Charlie Sheen purchased the “Buckner Ball” at a 1992 auction for $93,000. (Charlie himself had pro baseball aspirations–see my entry on Romantic Sports Movies for more….)

Did I mention to LIKE US??? Thank you!!!

Females and Feelin’ Good

That’s why the lady…is a champ. Sorry, gentlemen. As it turns out women are better drivers, can play thrilling basketball, and can whip your butts. Why?

  • Danica Patrick finished eighth in Sunday’s Daytona 500, the highest finish ever for a woman. She was also the first female to lead (five laps) under the green (“all-clear”) flag.
  • Baylor 6-8 center Britney Griner is nearing the NCAA all-time women’s scoring record.
  • Ronda Rousey (known for model looks and a mean armbar) defeated Liz Carmouche Saturday in the first female fight in the UFC’s (Ultimate Fighting Championship) 20-year history.
  • Cheerleader Ashlee Arnau hit a basketball trick shot that has gone viral as the best play of the week. The William Carey University (Hattiesburg, Miss.) senior tumbled into a front-handspring, picked up the ball, and…oh trust me, just watch it.

I feel so good, let’s keep it going with some more feel-good sports stories, followed by a quick summary of this week’s other important headlines.

Kami Wolk clears a jump with "Hurricane Bay." (Kami Wolk/Brant Gamma)

Kami Wolk clears a jump with “Hurricane Bay.” (Kami Wolk/Brant Gamma)

Howard Versus the Hurricane
When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Howard, a two-year-old pinto “carriage horse,” was abandoned. Stranded in five feet of water, many of his friends did not survive, despite efforts to float hay to them on boats. Enter Kami Wolk, a professional trainer who drove from New Hampshire to help. She rescued and relocated Howard, who now “events” (jumping and dressage) around the U.S. at one of the sport’s highest levels, under the name (of course) “Hurricane Bay.” Are the Olympics in his future? Who knows? But for now he is safe, sound, and a survivor.

Pint-Sized Point Guard
Julian Newman can dribble two balls simultaneously in and out of his legs. He can lead an offense and averages 12 points, 11 assists and 4 steals per game. He is also 11. The 4-foot-5 fifth grader starts for the varsity basketball team at Downey Christian in Orlando. His dad is his coach, but no nepotism here. Newman earns his keep by draining three’s—and making straight A’s. Check out this video of the basketball boy wonder.

The Sound of Success
Seven-foot-three Andrew del Piero came to LSU on a tuba scholarship, but decided to join the basketball team as a “walk-on.” But he eventually earned a scholarship, despite having played only a small amount of basketball at Westlake (Austin, Texas) High School (Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ alma mater). Now a senior, his stats aren’t all-star, but he certainly has options for future careers. Scroll to the end of this Youtube video to see del Piero in the marching band—and one fan’s prophetic astonishment.

Steven Camara (bottom right) on "Signing Day." (Mark Brock)

Steven Camara (bottom right) on “Signing Day.” (Mark Brock)

Conquering Cancer and College
Steven Camara had big plans for his future—until the Dunwoody High School (Ga.) football and lacrosse player was stricken with lymphoma at age 13. He tried to play while enduring chemotherapy, at times unable to do a pushup or even climb stairs. But cleared to play as a senior, the 6-2, 225-pound defensive end started all 10 games and finished with 30 tackles and a 3.3 grade point average. He has signed to play with (my awesome alma mater) Centre College (Ky.).

Taking on the Taliban
Death threats have not stopped Maria Toor Pakay, a Pakistani squash player now ranked 52nd in the world. Encouraged by her father, the 22-year-old once played sports, even weightlifting, as a boy–until authorities demanded her birth certificate. As her squash prowess grew, so did the danger of the Taliban. She worried for her family, playing in a room by herself while being educated by her father who, along with his wife, taught young women in an underground school. Her efforts paid off, and she was eventually brought to Canada by former world champion Jonathan Power. Now residing in Toronto, Pakay speaks out for women’s rights and aims to be world champion.

Centenarian Runner Retires
101-year-old marathon runner Fauja Singh, also known as the “Turbaned Tornado,” ran his final race this weekend, a 10K in Hong Kong. The British Sikh, known for his turbans and flowing white beard, is a great-grandfather who began running at age 89 to overcome grief over losing his wife and son in quick succession. He could hold the Guinness record for oldest marathon runner (Toronto, 2011), but does not have proof of his 1911 birth. He finished the race in 1:32:28.

Wrestler Respect in Iran
Perhaps more thrilling than “Argo’s” win, last week, Iran welcomed Team USA in wrestling—a sport both countries fear will be eliminated from the Olympics. The Iranians cheered the Americans (mostly—some media interviews were confiscated) with no animosity reported. In fact, Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs was the star attraction. Iran won, but the respect shown by fans and men from both teams truly demonstrated the power of sports to unite, if just temporarily, even the deepest of enemies.

Finally…

Need-to-Know Basis
If you follow nothing else sports-wise, here are just some of the basics from this past week:
• The Miami Heat are really, really, really good.
• The Lakers…not so much. But a funny Kobe Bryant tweet in response to Dallas owner Mark Cuban’s suggestion Bryant be released was “retweeted” more than 50,000 times.
• At least 28 people were injured, none critically, on Saturday during the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona after a multi-car crash took down a spectator fence.
Indiana is the #1 men’s college basketball team; Baylor is the women’s.
#11 Georgetown defeated #8 Syracuse 57-46 in what could be (due to conference realignments) the last meeting of one of basketball’s greatest rivalries. The Hoyas’ Otto Porter scored a career high 33 points.
Oscar Pistorius posted bail.
• A pitch broke Yankees heavy hitter Curtis Granderson’s forearm in a spring training game; he is out for 10 weeks.
• The “NFL Combine” invites college football players (including Manti Te’o of the fake-Facebook-girlfriend scandal) to perform Mighty Feats of Strength and Speed for coaches and scouts. (Oh, they wear spandex and not much else—it’s a women’s version of the Victoria’s Secret fashion show. Check highlights on daytime ESPN through Tuesday.)
• Washington Nationals’ pitcher Stephen Strasburg returned to the mound after a controversial decision to bench him last season to protect his shoulder after surgery.

Week of Wonder, Woe

Wow. Normally this week would have been bananas for basketball alone with Rivalry Week and the NBA All-Star Break. But other storylines are even more unbelievable, uplifting, crushing, and creepy (like spiders?). Oh what a tangled, amazing web sports weave…

Finally a Pole You WANT for Your Daughter!
Danica Patrick’s qualifying for pole position (first place start) for next Sunday’s Daytona 500, the “Super Bowl” of racing, is today’s headline on many national front pages, not just the sports sections. Reaching 196 mph, Patrick edged out veteran Jeff Gordon to become the first woman ever to earn a NASCAR Sprint Cup pole—and in its biggest race, no less. But Patrick is not the first woman to challenge the chaps; others have cracked the speed ceiling, most famously Janet Guthrie, who started ninth in two 1977 races.

Patrick was also excited to steer headlines away from her romance with teammate Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (he finished 12th) to Stewart-Haas Racing, her car, and, after a long day, “finally getting a sandwich.”

Ahmadinejad

Better put a tie on for this one, Ahmadinejad.

Top Women’s Teams Tip Off Tonight
There’s no shame in admitting you don’t follow women’s college basketball. It’s a game where finesse makes up for the physical prowess and agility of the men…oh wait, unless you’re watching #1 Baylor’s 6-8 “Most Outstanding Everything” Brittney Griner, who leads the NCAA in women’s dunks—yes dunks—and career blocked shots. And not just regular blocks, but hyperspace-windmill slapdowns that, well, let’s just say if Iran saw the footage, ain’t no space monkeys getting shot into Texas any time soon.

Iran can watch her take on loved and loathed Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma and his #3 Huskies tonight at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2 in the showdown of the season thus far.

B-T-Dubs, on tap for Wednesday: the best rivalry in the NBA, the Boston Celtics (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce) at the struggling L.A. Lakers (Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash), 10:30 p.m. on ESPN.

Olympic Hero’s Murder Charge Stuns World
Oscar Pistorius did not medal at the 2012 Olympic Games, but the beloved South African double-amputee kept pace with able-bodied sprinters and even anchored the 4×400 relay team, earning the nickname “Blade Runner.”

But after a bewildering Valentine’s Day shooting at his Pretoria mansion, the 26-year-old has been charged with the murder of his popular model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, 30. Claiming he thought there was an intruder, it’s unclear what happened between the known gun owner (South Africa is noted for high crime rates) and Steenkamp, who was reportedly shot four times through a bathroom door. Pistorius is currently being held without bail.

The event is another PR hit for Nike, who sponsored Pistorius most recently in sadly ironic ads reading, “I am the bullet in the chamber.” Previous sponsorships with Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, and Michael Vick also soured or were severed altogether. But on the brighter side…

Michael Jordan Turns 50
Nike’s long-running partnership with MJ stands strong (at an estimated $1 billion in sales per year) as the greatest basketball player of all time reached one of life’s biggest milestones Sunday, the big 5-0. I used to work for AARP, so I’m not even going to make the old “time for his membership card” joke. In fact, the avid golfer and former minor league baseball player is nowhere near retirement, currently serving as majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats and endorsing Nike, Hanes, and others.

(Just remember, parents, when your son wants those Air Jordans, they start at around $200, with some styles selling for well over $5000. Maybe best to go with the underwear.)

“Rivalry Week” Does Not Disappoint (Except Kentucky. And Sort of Duke.)
With the gaping void left after the Super Bowl, sportscasters geek out for “Rivalry Week,” when longtime college basketball enmities play out, the biggest ones on ESPN:

• #3 Miami continued its surprise surge past Florida State, and later Clemson, to a 12-0 ACC record.
• #2 Duke regrouped in the second half to beat nemesis North Carolina on coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 66th birthday, only to fall to Maryland 83-81 on Saturday.
• #17 Oklahoma State topped Oklahoma 84-79 in overtime.
• #25 Kentucky lost to Florida and lost their star player, freshman center Nerlens Noel, to a season-ending ACL tear.

Of course, many rivalries don’t make it to mainstream TV, but are just as important to, say, Memphis fans like me, whose blood Louisville has made boil since the 70s. And crowds for my Division-III alma mater Centre College’s  battle with Transylvania University give the fire marshal his biggest night of the year.

I asked some other local sports pals about their favorite hoops rivalries. Redskins Pro-Bowler Lorenzo Alexander  tweeted that he likes Duke/Maryland and “Cal vs. Stanford, of course,” (he’s a former Golden Bear). CBS Radio, 106.7 The Fan host and George Mason University play-by-play man Bill Rohland recommends Virginia Commonwealth and Old Dominion as a historic “mid-major” matchup.

You’ll hear “mid-major” a lot more come tourney time next month; it means teams not part of the six major conferences like the SEC or Pac-10. Gonzaga, for example, plays in the West Coast Conference, but is currently ranked #3.

Why is this important? Because believe it or not, people are already talking tourney brackets—here’s your chance to get a jump on Fred in Ad Sales. Hopefully these traditional rivalries will withstand recent whiplash-inducing college conference realignments (Like, Tulsa may be joining the Big East. Tulsa. Oklahoma. “East.” Huh?).

If you missed the games, no worries—many of the teams will meet again during their conference championships in two weeks.

Olympic Wrestling Grapples with Future
One of civilization’s oldest sports, wrestling, is on the chopping block for the 2020 Olympic Games. Last week, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) moved to remove wrestling—a sport dating back to the ancient Olympics, Homer’s Iliad, and the Bible—from the lineup, opening the door for sport climbing, roller sports, and wakeboarding. Yes, wakeboarding.

To put it in clearer terms, this is akin to a school system saying, “Meh, why teach reading anymore? They’ll figure it out.”

The IOC board will meet again in May to firm up the 2020 roster. Wrestling will remain in the 2016 Games, but the bizarre combination of the U.S., Iran, and Russia will continue to lobby for it long beyond.

Fun with Fruit
To much excitement (especially for Washington National fans who camejustthisclose to a shot at the pennant last year), baseball spring training has officially begun in Florida and Arizona. The “Grapefruit” and “Cactus” Leagues are chances for players tune up playing each other, college teams, and other National and American League MLB teams. The games are inexpensive and played in small venues, giving fans great views and easy chances for autographs. If you’re still thinking over spring break, I recommend a trip.

The Itsy, Bitsy Spider…Ruins a Golf Round
Swedish golfer Daniela Holmqvist claimed she was bitten by a black widow spider on her ankle as she played an LPGA qualifying round in Canberra, Australia (just where does this woman store her socks?). She swatted the spider away after feeling a sharp pain, then used a tee to carve open her ankle to release the venom. She continued to play, although she did not advance.

The good news for Holmqvist is that she did not make her situation worse—medical authorities advise against slicing open venom wounds “Lone Ranger” style as this can cause blood loss, panic, and infection–and doesn’t help anyway. Also, black widows do not live in Australia; it was likely a “redback” a non-deadly cousin, but still one that packs a wallop. Either way, a tip of my visor to a determined athlete. (And for the record, any animal that eats its men and cleans its house every single day also has my respect.)

In Other Ankle News…
Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, the NHLs 2012 defensive player of the year, is out for the season after his left Achilles was sliced by a skate Wednesday vs. Pittsburgh. Officials determined the tangle and resulting injury from Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke was an accident.

NBA All-Star Week
Taking a hiatus from their regular schedules, NBA teams had a little fun this week in Houston with their annual “break” activities like the dunk contest (won by Toronto Raptors guard Terrance Ross) and the All-Star Game. L.A. Clippers’ guard Chris Paul led the West to a 143-138 victory over the East Sunday night. Although the game is really meant to showcase players’ abilities to fans without pressure, the outcome only fueled discussions about potential MVP candidates, including Paul, Miami’s Lebron James (whose recent stats are too staggering even to get into), and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant.

P.S. Durant starred as himself last year in “Thunderstuck,” a fun family film about an uncoordinated kid who magically exchanges basketball powers with the OKC star.

Goodbye to Buss
Tempering the All-Star celebrations was the death Monday of longtime Lakers’ Hall of Fame owner Jerry Buss, who succumbed to cancer at age 80. Buss was widely adored and presided over 10 of L.A.’s 16 titles. He revolutionized basketball, upping the element of entertainment behind the talents of greats like Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaquille O’Neal.