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Mullets Grow. Can Character?

Sadly the drugs aren't why I wear my hair this way.

Sadly the drugs aren’t why I wear my hair this way.

It may be true that “cheaters never prosper,” but in sports this week, they did gain a little ground.

Now, to no surprise, none of Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa even came close to being voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. All have confirmed or alleged use of steroids to thank. (Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Jon Smoltz and Craig Biggio did get the nods.)

And in the world of mixed martial arts, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, crowned just last Saturday with a unanimous win over nemesis Daniel Cormier (even their press conferences become octagons), tested positive for cocaine metabolites and entered rehab.

On the other hand, a baseball signed by six of the eight players involved in the 1919 Black Sox cheating scandal, most notably “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, will go on the auction block beginning Monday for a $100,000 starting price, along with two other items from what may be the most famous gambling gambits of all time: during the 1919 World Series between the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds, eight White Sox players were accused of losing games intentionally for money from gamblers. Although they were acquitted in court, all eight were banned from baseball for life. Their story was the inspiration for a number of books and movies, particularly Field of Dreams.

And finally, the brash-talking, muscle-flexing, mullet-wearing 80s football sensation Brian “The Boz” Bosworth was selected for the College Football Hall of Fame, despite admitted performance-enhancing drug use and an NFL career that was at best injury-riddled and at worst, one of the sport’s biggest flops. Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, currently serving a five-year NCAA penalty for failing to report players’ impermissible benefits, was also allowed in. (Ohio State seems to have recovered, too; they play Oregon for the national title Monday night.)

So what’s the moral? Cheaters have a chance? Football is more forgiving? I don’t know. Mullets eventually grow. Maybe character can too.

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Omaha! Omaha! (The Actual Omaha), and Bo Knows Throws

HOTTY TODDY! (Actually pretty much a hotty all the way around)

HOTTY TODDY! (Pretty much a hotty all the way ’round, we think.)

So yesterday when we discussed the ridonculous amount of major sporting events going on the next few weeks, my guy friends reminded me that I left out an event: The College World Series (or what annual host city Omaha, Nebraska calls “The Best 10 Days of the Year. Or at All, Ever, Really. I Mean, We’re Freaking OMAHA.”)

Beginning Saturday, yes, the finest college baseball teams (even though school ended, like, three weeks ago) will meet in the Midwest to determine who will be the biggest diamond studs.

I’m in the Ole Miss camp myself, because they are the SEC, and also because my Mississippi relatives will disown me if I don’t pull for the Rebels. But no matter who you go to bat for, this field of dreams is worth watching.

Also, while many agreed that Yoenis Cespedes’ 300-foot throw to home the other night was truly one of the best baseball throws ever, I heard many other suggestions to top it. Too many to name actually, but the one that stood out most was Bo Jackson (also an SEC college player, Auburn) in 1989 when he threw out the Mariners’ Harold Reynolds–not a slow man–at home, flat-footed from the warning track. 

The entire Jackson highlight reel below is only-Bo-Knows how awesome, but see “The Throw” at around 1:32.

High Five Headlines: A Crap-Ton of Football. And a Little Men’s Figure Skating.

1–Like most kids, I was a very logical little girl. So I never could understand why our U.S. service academy football teams always seemed like sort of an afterthought. They were America’s smartest, bravest, and fittest young men, weren’t they? So why didn’t we see them in the sports headlines, like, every single day? I didn’t grasp that the academies don’t have as much flexibility in recruiting like other schools, and these soldiers were also tasked with the tiny burden of defending our country and that football might not be their top priority.

Can somebody help me up, please?

I’ve fallen since last season, and I can’t get up. (No, really, lil’ help here?)

Except for one day a year—the annual Army-Navy Game in Philadelphia, when the U.S. Military Academy and the Naval Academy square off in what is considered by many to be college football’s greatest rivalry. Unfortunately, the last decade or so, it really hasn’t been. Navy has won every year since 2004, including Saturday 34-7 over an Army team that has averaged fewer than three wins a season since 1998. Navy’s Keenan Reynolds set a Division I record for quarterbacks when he rushed for his 29th touchdown of the year and will lead the 8-4 Midshipmen to the Armed Forces Bowl against Middle Tennessee State. As for Army, well at least they will always be our heroes, long after their football careers end.

2–Speaking of struggling programs, I usually try not to focus on my local Washington Redskins, but they were the NFL’s top story last week, so…

OK, so Coach Mike Shanahan “shut down” quarterback Robert Griffin III for the rest of the season, ostensibly to rest the knee he blew out in last year’s playoffs. He won’t play at all, while backup Kirk Cousins has taken the helm. RGIII was literally in the national sports news every day the last year—fans and non-fans alike wanted to see the affable, witty, Subway Sandwich-loving Offensive Rookie of the Year return to full strength. He did not. Challenged by his knee, a weak defense and a shaky relationship with Shanahan, RGIII’s sophomore year was middling at best, with a bunch of icky stats I don’t even have the heart to go into.

Then there is the Family Shanahan: Coach Mike, who by most accounts seems to be lobbying to be fired so he can depart his Skins losing legacy fully paid. His son Kyle is the offensive coordinator—therefore having a direct hand in RGIII’s performance. Would he be fired too? Or follow Dad if he quits? Or stay on and try to atone for the “RedSins” of the father? To be continued. Wish *I* could authorize a shutdown.

3—Florida State freshman quarterback Jameis Winston was named the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner by a landslide Saturday over five other players, including last year’s winner Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M) and Alabama’s A.J. McCarron–who I calculate got about 1/16 of the camera time as his girlfriend (you know it by now, say it with me) Miss Alabama Katherine Webb in the audience. Winston thanked his family and coaches ebulliently, noting several times his gratitude for the “truth” being on his side. Winston was cleared last week of potential rape charges from a 2012 incident, and will lead FSU into the national championship game against Auburn January 6. The alleged victim, meanwhile, has had to withdraw from FSU. I’ve said it before—no one knows what happened but the accuser and Winston. There are unscrupulous people out there of both genders. It’s just sad to me that one party is starting a great career, while the other is likely launching one at Taco Bell. But the law has spoken, so we move forward.

4–Sometimes good just isn’t good enough. Head football coach Mack Brown resigned from the University of Texas Saturday, but will stay on to coach the Longhorns against Oregon in the Alamo Bowl. Texas went 8-4 this year, but detractors still have questioned Brown since the program began declining—despite double-digit win seasons from 2001-2009—after its 2005 national championship. Coaches come and go every year, but if you know “Friday Night Lights,” you have some inkling of what football means to the Lone Star State. Brown’s departure is major news because he has had what is, in his words, “the best coaching job at the premier football program in the country” since 1998.

Another reason football fans’ antennae were up over this one was the possibility of Alabama coach Nick Saban coming aboard, and he’s won the last two national championships. But the hope didn’t last long—Saban signed a deal last week to remain with the Crimson Tide for roughly $7 million a year, a raise of about $1.5 million a year and more than that of most NFL coaches.

5—American 2010 Olympic figure skating gold medalist Evan Lysacek will not be able to defend his title at the Sochi Winter Games due to ongoing issues with a torn labrum in his hip. Lysacek hadn’t competed since his win in Vancouver four years ago, but had remained optimistic for Sochi. During his comeback attempt last year, he experienced an abdominal tear, followed by the hip injury, which doctors feared could be permanent if he did not stop.

But in happier news, skier (and Tiger Woods paramour) Lindsey Vonn returned to the snow for practice runs in Colorado this weekend for the first time in the nine days since she reinjured her right knee. She had torn it completely February 5 of last year. Vonn hopes to return to competition next weekend and keep her Olympic hopes alive. She is the defending downhill gold medalist, holds four World Cup titles and is considered the most accomplished Alpine skier in American history.

Justin Bieber Takes my Basketball, U.S. Soccer vs. the Scut Farkus Affair, & Lip-Sync Love for Auburn

1—Two things confused me Friday night at the sports bar. 1) Why was Justin Bieber suddenly singing where my Kentucky-Baylor hoops game had been? And 2) When I checked my phone, how had said Kentucky hoops game leapt from the first half to four overtimes?

Say "uncle," America!

Say “uncle,” America!

Then I pieced it together. It was after midnight, thus the Bieber Fever, when the sports bar in my Millennial mecca of Arlington, Virginia, becomes a nightclub (and I start getting “ma’am-ed”). And the UK men had been playing so late because the #5 Kentucky women’s hoops team had battled #9 Baylor before the guys to win 133-130 at the same Dallas venue.

Yes I, a female sports blogger, saw the score on my phone and immediately assumed it was the #3 UK guys (who lost, coincidentally, to the #20 Baylor men). Shame on me because the ladies put up record-breaking numbers: Baylor’s Odyssey Sims scored 47 points, and UK’s Jennifer O’Neill 43, a career high—and she didn’t even start! Altogether, it was the highest-scoring Division I women’s game in history.

2—Auburn topped Missouri Saturday for the SEC title and a berth in the national championship, but fans are still talking about last week’s victory over Alabama. Auburn radio announcer Rod Bramblett’s joyous, “Oh, my Lord in heaven!”  ecstasy over Auburn’s last-second touchdown return has been lauded and played so often, fans have it memorized, including 21-year-old Kaitlyn Reed, who recreates the entire sequence spot-on in this video.

3—The 2014 Men’s Soccer World Cup had its group drawings in host country Brazil Friday, determining which teams will play whom in the first rounds. Team USA landed in Group G, which could be described as something like the movie “A Christmas Story”: the U.S. is Ralphie and pretty much everyone else is Scut Farcus. Group G’s other three teams are #2 Germany, #5 Portugal and #24 Ghana (the U.S. is #14). It’s the only group with two teams in the FIFA top five, and Ghana has knocked the U.S. out of the World Cup before. U.S. midfielder Sacha Kljestan tweeted it as the “Group of Death.”

Here’s hoping the U.S. goes all ‘Roid Ralphie on them: Kricken cracken goldang no good futzipuzz freckle crackle fudge fudge fudgers!!!

4—Speaking of Portugal soccer, you might as well get to know Cristiano Ronaldo now, because you will probably be seeing a lot of him when the World Cup starts next summer. The team captain, he normally plays for Spain’s Real Madrid and is the highest-paid soccer player in the world. He’s also very pretty. Naturally with so many gifts, a museum is being built in his honor.

Museums would be a lot sexier...I mean, educational,  if Ronaldo was in charge.

Museums would be a lot sexier…I mean, educational, if Ronaldo was in charge.

Except he is the one building it. Well, allegedly. Rumors differ, but Ronaldo’s home island of Madeira has announced a museum for the 28-year-old who, unlike most museum honorees, hasn’t done the courtesy of dying quite yet. In some cases he is just donating some trophies; in others, it was his own idea. Regardless, he can certainly back it up with 11 major titles and endless player of the year awards.5—You know of course about Nelson Mandela’s passing. What you might not know was the role sports played in his life and the transformation of his country.

Mandela was an amateur boxer in his youth, crediting the sport with giving him a sense of equality—your opponent was simply your opponent, no matter his class or color. A year into his presidency, his appearance at the 1995 Rugby World Cup final in Johannesburg was considered the moment when South Africa was truly united—they beat New Zealand in an upset after years of being banned from international play. Later he was instrumental in landing South Africa the 2010 men’s soccer World Cup. Rest in peace, Madiba.

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!

A 100th Birthday Salute to Bear Bryant

I can only remember three times ever seeing my father—the biggest, baddest, chain-smoking, neon-orange-blooded, Tennessee Volunteers-loving homicide detective this side of the Mississippi—cry.

One was at the passing of a family friend in a plane crash. Another was when heartworms took our Labrador, Cinder. (Because in the South, dawgs are family.)

Paul Bear Bryant

All man, no myth, lasting legend.

And the third was the death of Tennessee’s (everyone’s, really) football god and nemesis, Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant in 1983, at age 69. He suffered a massive heart attack, just one month after he retired from coaching, predicting he would “probably croak” without it.

I remember sitting in front of the TV when the news came in. Even at age 10, I knew full well who Bear Bryant was—who didn’t? But I did not realize the impact he had on my dad, someone in whom I rarely saw such raw emotion.

Bryant would have turned 100 on September 11, and football fans of current #1 Alabama and nationwide are celebrating his legend this week with parties, museum exhibits, and calls for photos and memorabilia.

If you think you don’t know Bear Bryant, you may recall his iconic black and white houndstooth fedora. His persona appears in ‘Bama grad Winston Groom’s “Forrest Gump” (against Tennessee’s orange-checkered endzones, sadly).

So why did this coach, this man, inspire so much reverence from people like my father, and even from women who wouldn’t know a football from fried chicken?

Like when one bridal party, according to Dallas Morning News reporter Marilyn Schwartz, arrived at the “…seating row that Coach Bryant was on, we kind of stopped and sort of nodded. It was almost like bowing to royalty.” Or that it was my own 75-year-old mother who pointed out to me this week was his centennial?

Was it his 25-year Alabama career, racking up six national titles, 13 SEC championships, and 323 wins? President Reagan posthumously awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the highest civilian honor. So many places are named for him in Tuscaloosa, type “Paul Bryant” into your GPS and it will likely have a stroke.

Was it his hardscrabble Arkansas upbringing to which Depression-era Southerners like Daddy could relate, the lore claiming Bryant’s nickname came from wrestling a carnival bear at age 13—and not even being paid the dollar he was promised? He was one of 12 children, and being born into that ready-made football team honed his skills which, paired with his eventual 6-4 frame, earned him a scholarship to Alabama. He played on the school’s 1934 championship team and even played a game with a broken leg (again, against Tennessee. Sigh.)

Was it his loyalty? He was married to one woman, Mary Harmon, served as a Navy Lieutenant Commander during World War II, then after coaching stints with Maryland, Kentucky, and Texas A&M, returned in 1958 to coach the Crimson Tide because, as he put it, “Mama called. And when Mama calls, you just have to come runnin’.”

Or was it his command of the game, his ability to lead players like Joe Namath and Gene Stallings to great football careers of their own? Or to spur society to change, recruiting Wilbur Jackson, Alabama’s first black scholarship player in 1971?

It was all of these, and many other things that made Bear Bryant great. But for me, he gave me that deeper connection with my dad, whose birthday is today—the day before the Bear’s, and whom I would lose only two years after Bryant’s death.

As all good coaches do, Bryant inspired my father and mother—herself a 40-year coach—and they in turn inspired me with the same philosophy as inscribed on Bryant’s memorial at Legion Field:

“If you believe in yourself, and have dedication and pride, and never quit, you’ll be a winner.”

No better coaching than that, on the field, or in life. Happy one-hundredth, Bear Bryant!

High Five! Jellyfish, Johnny Football, and Jerseys That Fit

Welcome back, fans, to my slightly belated Labor Day week edition of High Five—five sports stories you should know for the office, the offspring, and the other half…

1) Don’t Mess with Swimmin’ Women
Through countless currents, storms, sharks, and jellyfish stings to her tongue, 64-year-old endurance swimmer Diana Nyad finally succeeded in becoming the first person (not “woman” — person) to swim from Cuba to Florida without a protective shark cage. The 103-mile journey took 53 hours and a 35-person team to keep critters clear before she set foot in Key West on her fifth try in 35 years. Kinda makes my laps at the community pool seem pretty pitiful…

Tiny dog sold separately.

Tiny dog sold separately.

2) Fan Fashion That Fits
With fan clubs like WOW Women of Washington Redskins and the Baltimore Ravens PURPLE women’s club, there’s never been a better time to be a female football fan—including what we wear. It was fun in high school to sport your boyfriend’s football jersey, but being Mature Grown-Up Gals now, we like our fan fashion to fit. Luckily, the NFL has heard us. Gone are the days of boxy, unflattering jerseys—now Target sells gridiron gear for girls: shirts that are sporty and even sexy. But before you accessorize, remember that model won’t pass muster with the NFL’s “All-Clear” bag policy.    

3) Texas Two-Step Continues
After weeks of uncertainty around his partying and alleged autograph sales, can we finally focus on Texas A&M quarterback “Johnny Football” Manziel’s arm? Maybe. The sophomore served his one-half-game suspension in a 52-31 defeat of Rice Saturday. It was an agreement between the Aggies and the NCAA (which becomes more dubious by the day for seemingly unfair policies, as in my previous posts about player images in video games and the Marine who can’t gain football eligibility). But despite throwing for three touchdowns, Manziel was benched after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Man up, Manziel—the “eyes of Texas are upon you.”

4) Tennis’ Teen Queen
There were no major upsets in the first week of college football, but the U.S. Open saw several, including 17-year-old Haitian-American Victoria Duval—269th in the world—over 2011 champion Samantha Stosur. Unfortunately, Duval, who is coached by longtime prodigy-producer Nick Bollettieri, lost to Daniela Hantuchova in straight sets. Still, the teen relies on God and the inspiration from her father’s near-death experience during the Haitian earthquake as she strives to be the next U.S. tennis sensation. Meanwhile, Roger Federer—owner of 17 Grand Slam titles—fell Monday in the round of 16 to Spain’s Tommy Robredo.

5) Finally, here are two guys so nervous about upsets, they’ve choreographed a pre-game dance to avoid them. Check out the San Francisco Giants’ Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence performing their popular superstitious salsa below.