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“High Five”: A Jockey’s Triumph, Rainbow Gorillas, Goodbye to a Golf Great

I know I say this a lot, but the reason I write this meager little sports offering isn’t home runs and hockey goals, but the stories that stay with you, get you thinking. Or are just uber-cool. Here are five of the best headlines (out of dozens), and some other notes to know for the upcoming week:

1. Higher Power at the Preakness
Kentucky Derby winner “Orb” didn’t take the Preakness, but the real story Saturday was jockey Gary Stevens. Already a Hall-of-Famer, now-fifty-year-old Stevens retired in 2005 with debilitating knee pain and became a TV commentator. But he returned to the track in January this year after struggling with alcohol, depression, and a sense of loss that only racing could fill. Undergoing an intense physical and psychological rehabilitation program last year, he shed 25 pounds and embraced total sobriety. Riding Oxbow, Stevens led wire to wire for the win.

"Rudy" or "Rrrrow"? Either way, he will be missed.

“Rudy” or “Rrrrow!”? Either way, he will be missed.

2. Venturi Highway to Heaven
I admit I had never heard of Ken Venturi when it was announced the golfer had died of pneumonia complications at age 82. Great people die every day, and 82 is a pretty solid life.

But Venturi was the “Rudy” of golf (though quite a handsome devil). He overcame a severe stutter, suffered repeated just-this-close losses in big tournaments, struggled with lasting injuries from a car crash, and endured a years-long slump that would have most people typing up new resumes. Then in 1964, in 100-degree heat and with life-threatening dehydration, Venturi finally won his first major title at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., nearly collapsing in tears of joy and exhaustion. He became a longtime CBS golf analyst and member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.

PS–2013’s “Congressional” as most call it (officially the “AT&T National,” but I won’t say that until AT&T’s 4G isn’t full of it) with Tiger Woods and his frenemy Sergio Garcia starts June 27.  And on a lighter note, take a look at the video of Belgian golfer Nicolas Colsaerts at the weekend’s Volvo World Match Play, in which his ball lands in, let’s just say, a place that caused some “toilet humor.”

3. Baylor Stars Speak out on Gay Rights…and Wedding Gifts
After years of the speculation that—come on, people, we all do (out loud or in our own minds) about people with certain affectations–Baylor basketball phenom Brittney Griner has publicly confirmed she is a lesbian. Now an alum of the private Baptist school, the Phoenix Mercury WNBA rookie is openly discussing what she feels is the rainbow gorilla in the room of women’s college basketball—don’t ask, don’t tell, just rebound. She claims coaches and other advisors told her not to discuss her sexuality because it would hurt Baylor’s recruiting. More to come in the next ESPN the Magazine.   

Meanwhile, Baylor-star-turned-Redskins-QB Robert Griffin III is getting married July 6, and naturally some fans located his gift registry on Bed, Bath & Beyond. But when the 2013 Rookie of the Year Tweeted a picture of thanks—him standing in front of a mountain of opened boxes—detractors spoke then and did not hold their peace. Obviously a star athlete hardly needs help from the public to furnish a 10,000-square-foot house, so demands for him to return or donate the gifts to charity flooded his phone (as well as jokes—“put a better defense on the registry” said one Skins fan). Whatever he does, I personally want to thank him, at least, for his store choice. As a multi-platinum bridesmaid who once attended a bride registered at Tiffany, a $30 Lazy Susan option is always appreciated.

4. Jayhawks Hatch Fledgling High School Star
Whenever you doubt your kids will emulate you, take heart in this one. The #1 high school basketball recruit, Andrew Wiggins, announced last week he will attend Kansas. The 6-8 small forward (here I demonstrate “small forward” with awkward family photos) can play multiple positions and is as good a defender as offensive player. His father is former NBA player Michael Wiggins, and his mom is Canadian Olympic sprinter Marita Payne-Wiggins. They gave him great athletic genes, but they also ensure he maintains his 3.2 GPA at West Virginia’s Huntington Prep.

But, Wiggins is already a heavy favorite for the 2014 NBA Draft. Like, next year. Which is something to discuss with your kids as this year’s draft starts tomorrow. Should a player be allowed what they call a “One and Done?”—one year of college, then on to the pros? What is the proper balance between money and education? How do you prepare for a future if your original dream fails? Lebron James is doing just fine, and he didn’t go to college at all. But far more professional athletes find that dreams of fame and money lead to bankruptcy, addiction, and worse. Speaking of Lebron…

5. Playoffs Continue on Court, Ice
The Memphis Grizzlies/San Antonio Spurs and the Indiana Pacers/Miami Heat NBA matchups are now underway. Winners of the two series will meet for the finals beginning June 6. Sadly, my hometown Grizzlies (key names: Pau Gasol, Zach Randolph) were declawed Sunday 105-83 (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, once married to “Desperate Housewives’” Eva Longoria), but the teams meet again in the best-of-seven series on Tuesday. The Pacers (Roy Hibbert) will meet Lebron’s Miami Heat for Game 1 on Wednesday.

In hockey, the Chicago Blackhawks (Patrick Sharp – or as I call him, “Why Wasn’t HE Cast Cast as the New Superman?”) and the Detroit Red Wings (Henrik Zetterberg) series continues this week, along with:

  • Boston Bruins (David Krejci) vs. New York Rangers (Derick Brassard)
  • Current champions L.A. Kings (Mike Richards – also Hollywood worthy) vs. San Jose Sharks (Logan Couture)
  • Pittsburgh Penguins (Evgeni Malkin) vs. Ottawa Senators (Sergei Gonchar)

Now go forth into this good week and conquer, ladies, knowing that your kids look to you, that no one can tell you how to live your life, and that you can conquer anything if you just Don’t. Give. Up.

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A Tuesday High-Five

Due to Sunday’s Mother’s Day festivities (actually my weekly Once Upon a Time/Game of Thrones/Nurse Jackie/Veep wine-and-wings-fest), this report is a tad late. But my sloth is actually good because the Monday sports stars aligned so perfectly.

Let me explain in a new little ditty I’ll be trying from time to time: “High Five”—five quick sports news bits to take into the new week:

Slag-nificent Seven
It’s playoffs time for pro hockey and basketball. But even industry experts bemoan the lengthy “best-of-seven” format—until two major matchups come down to that very seventh game, and on the same Monday night. Sadly for me, New York blanked my Washington Capitals 5-0 in DC last night. But the “Boston Strong” helped the Bruins rally from three goals down and beat the Maple Leafs in OT for a second round berth.

Real Golfers of the PGA Tour
He’s a feisty Spaniard who has never won a major tournament, forced to live in the shadow of…him. The one who hurts the ones he loves, yet still is cheered. The one who wins. Well, Sunday, Sergio Garcia had had about enough of Tiger Woods, claiming Tiger purposely distracted him during a swing. Tiger’s reaction? I believe it went something like this: Ptttttt.

Tied in the last round of The Players tournament in Florida, the two sniped at and about each other both on and off camera. But Tiger won the coveted title while Sergio painfully imploded on the 17th and 18th holes, hitting his ball into the water three times. His undoing had many recalling the movie “Tin Cup” (one of my “Most Romantic Sports Movies” picks), in which former golf pro Roy McAvoy (Kevin Costner) has a similar meltdown while trying to regain his life and love (Rene Russo).

Dwyane Wade and his Victory Garden.

Dwyane Wade and his Victory Garden.

Flower Power
Like golf, the NBA is seeing a serious snark spike, particularly in the Miami Heat/Chicago Bulls playoff series. This week had fights, “flops” (fake falls), technical fouls, and an elegantly-dressed Heat fan using her hand to direct Chicago’s ejected Joakim Noah where to go (and it’s not the locker room).

But the story that raised the most eyebrows Wednesday was Miami player Dwyane Wade’s post-game press conference wardrobe choice—a floral print Versace jacket. Though it cost $2000, jacket comments including words like “technicolor” and “dreamcoat” were inevitable. But with the Heat leading the series 3-1 after last night, florals apparently score.

A Mound of Trouble
Baseball is not immune to verbal jabs—just not between players on the same team. But that’s exactly what happened Sunday, when legendary Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera “shushed” nearby teammate Joba Chamberlain as reporters questioned Rivera. Chamberlain responded that “nobody shushes him!” Of course reporters and bystanders heard and told of the exchange. The Yankees PR department quickly Tweeted out a picture of the two hugging, assuring fans the bro-mance was still on.

Now Serving…Kale. To Linebackers?
The Northwest has long been a haven for the health-minded. Now former Oregon football coach Chip Kelly is bringing this thinking to his new position as the Philadelphia Eagles’ head coach. No more taco bars and “Fast Food Fridays” (a real thing) as the team begins preliminary training. Instead, only healthy proteins ands vegetables instead of red meat and donuts. Bold step for the city that invented the cheesesteak.

OK, go boldly into this new week. Keep in mind other upcoming sports events—the San Antonio/Golden State and Indiana/New York Knicks NBA series continue tonight, and Kentucky Derby winner Orb will run in the second race of the Triple Crown, the Preakness, Saturday.

Crimson Fried

Happy Monday! Having lost an hour this weekend, sung “All That Jazz” at karaoke (crushed it), and helped my dog out of this “accidental elephant” conundrum, I am beat.

Thus today’s post title, an homage to my state of mind as well as football champion University of Alabama’s mascot, the Crimson Tide–part of my previous post asking the classic sports trivia question: What school mascots don’t end in “S”?

"Reportin' sports, sausage style!" says my dachshund news hound, Chester.

“Reportin’ sports, sausage style!” says my dachshund news hound, Chester.

(But like my dog, why does an elephant represent Alabama on the sidelines? Beyond the obvious reason that you can’t stuff a sophomore into a “tide” costume? See below.)

And this post will also be fairly brief, as I’m treating myself to a couple of much-needed (half-price, off-peak) days on the tide of Chesapeake Bay. Ahhh, the sexy life of a blogger…

Super Saturday!!! Sort of.
Two of basketball’s biggest rivalries played out Saturday, though neither final score would suggest anything more than a yawn of a game. #3 Duke rolled over arch-rival North Carolina 69-53 at UNC, and the #5 Georgetown Hoyas beat the #17 Syracuse Orange at home 61-39. The latter was especially poignant for longtime fans as the game was the end of a 33-year-old rivalry: Syracuse will leave the Big East next year for the ACC.

Far more exciting, yet also a rout, was Baylor’s 81-58 surprise crushing of #4 Kansas (as Baylor alum and my Redskins’ quarterback Robert Griffin III looked on). The two Big 12 teams aren’t really traditional rivals like Kansas and #9 Kansas State.

But unranked Baylor certainly didn’t see it that way – which is what makes college basketball so fun, especially in March. In football just one loss can pillage your entire season. But every day is a new day on the hoops court, and any team can win given the right spirit—thus the “Cinderella’s” you’re going to hear a lot about the rest of this month.

This is critically important as we enter conference tournament week. Any team with 20+ wins at this point has a pretty good shot at getting into the NCAA tourney, but for the larger conferences, it doesn’t matter if your record is 0-20, if you win the conference tournament, you receive an automatic berth. Which brings us to…

Selection Sunday
Ladies, if you want to experience Christmas morning without having to do any of the work, then plop yourself on that sofa Sunday night at 6 p.m. ET on CBS to watch the various bracket assignments made for the men’s tourney, which starts March 19 (sort of—Thursday is the real tip-off, I’ll explain in upcoming tourney tips posts). It’s really sweet to watch the guys’ reactions on live TV. And you can get a jump on Stu from Accounting as you fill out your bracket.

A few more notes for the watercooler:

  • Hockey’s Chicago Blackhawks fell 6-2 to Colorado Friday, ending the longest point streak to begin an NHL season and a franchise record 11-game win streak.
  • Yankees famed closing pitcher Mariano Rivera announced he will be retiring after the 2013 season. It is widely agreed he’s a Hall of Fame lock, which says a lot since not one player was voted in this year.
  • Tiger Woods won his 76th PGA Tour title Sunday with the WGC-Cadillac Championship in Doral, Fla.
  • Light heavyweight Bernard Hopkins, 48, defeated Tavoris Cloud unanimously on Saturday to become the oldest fighter in boxing history to win a major belt.
  • A bench-clearing brawl erupted between Mexico and Canada (yes, Canada) at the World Baseball Classic.

And about that Alabama elephant, he’s called Big Al, and he was born in early days when a fan likened the football players to pachyderms, and the name stuck. Like my dog in my shirt sleeve. But hey, it’s Monday…

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!!!

Put Down the “Big-Un’s,” Al Bundy! (or, Why It’s an Awesome Chicago Sports Week)

Wins, and all that jazz. (Jeff Gunn)

Wins, and all that jazz. (Jeff Gunn)

OK ladies, I know stats may seem dull, but (as I explain here), keeping up with the major ones can go a long way in making sports more fun. And Chicago is having fun right now.

Unless you were like me last night, watching the Washington Capitals’ Eric Fehr score the winning overtime goal after a jaw-dropping, let’s just leave early to beat the crowds comeback (0-3 to 4-3) against the Boston Bruins, you might have noticed a few other astonishing accomplishments by the Chicago Blackhawks. In defeating Minnesota, they nailed a 10-game, franchise-record win streak and extended their streak of “points” to 23 this season, and 29 straight since the 2011-12 season. (Two points are awarded, for example, for a team win.)

(Ladies, an interesting little fact is the Blackhawks’ 23 points are the same numeral as Michael Jordan’s famous jersey. Bet your husband didn’t catch that. See? Kinda cool.)

Speaking of Jordan:

Things were looking pretty good for point guard Derrick Rose when he was drafted number-one by the Chicago Bulls after one season at the University of Memphis. He got to return to his hometown and earned Rookie of the Year followed by MVP the next season, the youngest ever. Then came the ACL tear that has kept him benched for 10 months now.

But tonight, maybe, just maybe, the team Michael Jordan built might just get to see its phenom–oft-compared to Sir Michael himself–return to the court against the San Antonio Spurs. Coach Tom Thibodeau is calling Rose “day-to-day,” but he has reportedly been going full-contact at practices.

Unfortunately the Bulls will meet the NBA’s top team (47-14) at San Antonio. But at least the weather will be a little better–and the Spurs are currently missing their own injured point guard Tony Parker (sound familiar? He’s the former spouse of “Desperate Housewives” star Eva Longoria–now, ironically, the new host of NBC’s new show, “Ready for Love.”)

Maybe Al Bundy will get to strike his famous “Polk High” touchdown stance once again.