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Good Guys Do Finish First. Even if Overshadowed by the Worst.

Beamer, Benz or Bentley? Mazda.

Beamer, Benz or Bentley? Mazda.

So this week the Baltimore Ravens finally released Ray Rice for literally knocking the flipflops off his fiancée in a casino elevator (and TMZ became a reputable news outlet).

This after months of other NFL suspensions for pot, PED’s, and a little Percocet promenade by a team owner. NOT to mention Roger Goodell et. al. imposing sentences for these infractions that would give you whiplash (2 games-4 games-6 games-8, what don’t fans appreciate? Arbitrary penalties, that’s what.)

So for some relief, I asked my Facebook friends to tell me their favorite football players—no, any athletes—who demonstrate the good, honest, charitable side of sports–and just human nature. And they delivered (pro wrestlers! Woot!).

By the way, I’m focusing only on the fellas here, not because women athletes don’t have legal issues (Hope Solo, come on, honey), but it’s the gentlemen who have dominated the police blotters of late.

So here, in no order, are just a FEW gallant guys who are using their athletics platform (or just plain old good hearts) to make the world a place of shiny, happy people holding hands, not punching women with them:

Grapplers Giving Back
The longtime WWE favorite “Mankind,” Mick Foley, now donates hours lobbying against sexual assault with the group RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). John Cena has granted more than 400 “wishes” for the Arizona Make-A-Wish Foundation, making him the current record holder.

Stop or I’ll Shaq!
Countless NBA players have or support charities—James, Jordan, Battier… But as the kid of a homicide detective, I find it quite touching that Shaquille O’Neal has applied to become a reserve police officer in Doral, Florida—a job he did once before in Miami 2005. That’s 7-1, 325 pounds of serving and protecting.

Feel-Good Football Players
I’ve written before about St. Louis’ Scott Wells and his three adopted Ugandan children. Now I have to give a nod to my Redskins, particularly Darrell Green, whose name was mentioned a LOT today. Not only an amazing athlete and Hall of Famer—maybe the best the nation’s capital has ever seen—but a true philanthropist, founding or supporting children’s charitable organizations, September 11 relief, education efforts and numerous boards and councils.

That said, I find running back Alfred Morris pretty awesome just for driving, still, his 1991 Mazda 626 that he bought for $2 from his pastor. OK it’s been fully restored, but it’s nice to see a player keepin’ it real.

Many friends like Holly Peterson Linder and Michelle Burstion Young pointed out not just one player but the entire Bengals organization not only for keeping defensive lineman Devon Still on the practice squad after being cut, but donating all proceeds from the sales of his jersey to pediatric cancer research. His daughter Leah is in Stage 4 with a 50-50 chance of survival. The good news is at this time his jersey is the highest selling Bengals jersey ever.

Don’t Mess With Widows
As for hockey, a classic name came up today. Mark Messier has served on a number of boards, including the New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund, and the Tomorrow’s Children Fund, as well as helped bring more ice rinks to the city. The NHL created the Mark Messier Leadership Award in his honor.

But most important, says my friend H. Paul Brandes, “Leading the Rangers to their only Stanley Cup in my lifetime should be considered a charitable act in and of itself.”

Children’s Home…Runs
Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw received rousing votes today from Vin Scully cousin Patti Shea and others, and it’s easy to see why. He and wife Ellen raised money to build an orphanage in Zambia and he recently hosted a massive ping pong tournament on the field of Dodger stadium as an ongoing part of “Kershaw’s Challenge.” He has already received the Roberto Clemente Award and the Branch Rickey Award for his humanitarian work – Cy Young is probably next, for, you know, like garden variety pitching and stuff.

The Phillies’ Chase Utley and wife Jennifer work closely with animal causes like the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and encourage people to adopt pets, not buy.

The Rays’ Evan Longoria is a downright superhero here when he saves a reporter from a stray ball.

I also still love how the Mets’ Daniel Murphy missed opening day this year for the birth of his son, despite some announcers’….different (dumbass) views of paternity leave and C-sections.

And finally, my friend Jeff Jackson sums it up: “Real athletes don’t tell everyone the good things they do, they just do it! Derek Jeter!”

Yes indeed, Shortstop, Number 2, Derek Jeter. Number 2.

PS – some of the honorable mentions today: Tiger Woods; Ole Miss’ Deterrian Shackelford; Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf; Brandon Marshall; Russell Wilson; Warrick Dunn; Caron Butler; Andrew Luck; Mary Lou Retton; Joe Torre; Albert Pujols; Serena Williams; Ryan Zimmermann; Ted Williams; Stan Musial; Mario Lemieux; Jacob Tamme; Brett Keisel; Kenny Perry; Vincent Lacavalier; Brooks Laich; Nicklas Backstrom; and duh…OVIE!

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High Five Headlines! The Denver Dumbledores, Aussie Open Closes for 2 Stars, & PUPPY. BOWL. PREDICTIONS!

–1– Unless you are a vampire, or whoever those “Twilight” werewolf dudes in the jean shorts were, you may not be aware the Australian Open is going on because Melbourne is 14 hours ahead of us (or in my Australian travel experience, five glasses of chardonnay and 1 Ambien). It’s the first of tennis’ four yearly Grand Slams (also French, Wimbledon, and U.S.), and although #1 seed Serena Williams stormed through her first two matches—setting an Open record with 61 wins—she fell Sunday to #14 Ana Ivanovic. Ivanovic had been #1 herself in 2008 but has not won a Grand Slam event since.

Serena, as it turned out, had been struggling with back pain. She and sister Venus had already withdrawn from doubles play due to a leg injury to Venus. But experts say Serena, at 32, is playing some of the best tennis of her life. At least the sisters can rest now from a record Melbourne heat wave. Also ousted in unlucky Round 4 was #3 Maria Sharapova to #20 Dominika Cibulkova.

"Lily" whose goal is "not to step on own ears."

“Lily,” whose goal in life is simple yet profound: “not to step on own ears.”

–2– “Really CBS? Brady/Manning—it’s not the moon landing.” – My Friend Camilo.

Yeah, you might have heard there were a couple of NFL games yesterday, like the AFC Championship in which Denver’s Peyton Manning and New England’s Tom Brady, interchangeably labeled “best quarterback,” met for perhaps the last time in their wizened careers (Brady is 36; Manning is 37, which pretty much makes you Dumbledore in football). And they did not disappoint in perfect 60-degree Denver weather. Maybe that’s what threw the Patriots off, that weird yellow sphere-thing in the sky instead of Boston snow. Losing cornerback Aqib Talib to a knee injury after a questionable hit from Wes Welker, a former Patriot, didn’t help, because Manning was the victor, throwing 400 yards and two TDs for the 26-16 win. It will mean the first Super Bowl for cornerback Champ Bailey in his 15-year career (another Dumbledore at 35).

The opposite matchup played out in the NFC Championship between Seattle’s Russell Wilson, 25, and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick, 26. After a stunning National Anthem from Ann Wilson of Heart—a nod to a Seattle music heritage as rich as its coffee—The 12th Man cheered its Seahawks to a 23-17 win, despite a Wilson fumble on the first play of the game that resulted in a 49ers field goal. But the first play has been long forgotten after the last play, when Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman tipped the ball away from receiver Michael Crabtree, in the endzone, sealing the win. What followed became more “Real Housewives” than pro football. Sherman tried to shake Crabtree’s hand, and Crabtree shoved Sherman away by the facemask. Then, while interviewed by Fox’s Erin Anderson, Sherman went off, forcing a confused Anderson to throw back to the announcers when it seemed Sherman might go too far.

“I’m the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you gonna get!”

The two men have taken their beef to Twitter now, which will surely keep us all entertained as we take a week off before the Super Bowl Feb. 2.

–3— It’s bad enough I will be traveling for work Super Bowl Sunday (although it is to Vegas), but I know I must be really busy if I missed the announcement of the lineups for PUPPY. BOWL. X. Yes, last week, Animal Planet announced the 40-odd pups who will tackle our hearts on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 2, three hours before kickoff. Don’t miss Suri the Siberian Husky who “thinks they should cut Miley Cyrus some slack” or Tyga the pit bull, who “knows what the Fox says.” It will also be the first year of the Kitten Bowl, airing on the Hallmark Channel.

–4– Remember hurdler Lolo Jones? Who tripped and fell during the Beijing Olympics 100-meter final, an event she was sure to win? And then finished fourth in the London Games? Now she has another shot at an Olympic medal—as a bobsledder in Sochi. Jones and sprinter Lauryn Williams were named to Team USA Sunday night, two of only a handful of athletes who have competed in both the Summer and Winter Games. Aja Evans was the third choice in the “push” position, rounding out the team with “drivers” Jamie Greubel, Elana Meyers and Jazmine Fenlator.

Will the third time be the golden charm?

Will the third time be the golden charm?

–5– Kevin Durant scored 54 points in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 127-121 win Friday night over the Golden State Warriors. It was the first individual 50-point game of this season, and good evidence that the NBA scoring leader might have an MVP title in his future.

Not doing so well despite starting the week with the traditional White House trophy presentation, were the reigning champion Miami Heat, who then lost three games in a row, including one to the Washington Wizards who at times led by as much as 32 points. They seemed to turn things around by their stop in Philly, though, winning 101-86 after the 76ers beat them in October.

High Five: Serena Is Thirty-One-derful, Puppies, and Robert! Griffin! The Third! Returns!

From quarterback brilliance to tennis upsets to the Ottoman Turks, what a week it’s been for sports. Here are five of the biggest stories for the office, the other half, and the offspring…

1) The first week of the NFL season did not disappoint–well, unless you’re a Baltimore fan. Here are a few highlights based on headlines you might have heard in recent months:

–The reigning champion Ravens fell, hard, 49-27 Thursday night to Denver quarterback Peyton Manning (seven touchdowns!) and pint-sized powerhouse (and super-adorable) receiver Wes Welker, formerly a Patriots legend.

–The New York Jets defeated Tampa 18-17—not particularly noteworthy except it gives rookie quarterback Geno Smith a 1-0 start after two years of daily discussion over starter Mark Sanchez, who injured his shoulder in a pre-season game. Sanchez versus backup Tim Tebow (traded to New England, now released and seeking a new team); Sanchez and the “butt fumble.” We’ll see what happens when he returns.

Colin Kaepernick threw for 412 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Green Bay, whose Aaron Rodgers is pretty much agreed to be the NFL’s best quarterback. But the better story was Anquan Boldin—traded in March to the 49ers from their Super Bowl opponent, Baltimore. Boldin finished with 208 yards receiving and a 10-yard touchdown.

On behalf of pit bull puppies everywhere, you know who we're pullin' for tonight!

“On behalf of pit bull puppies everywhere, you know who we’re pullin’ for tonight!” (Rudy and Roxy, Humane Society foster pup-leaders) 

–Sunday night’s Cowboys-Giants matchup saw New York’s Eli Manning (brother of Peyton) throw Victor Cruz (the one who “salsas” after each score) three TD passes—yet the Giants fell 36-31 after six turnovers.

But the BEST is yet to come tonight (and yes as a DC resident, I am a tad biased)…

2) That rumbling sound you’re hearing is thousands of Washington Redskins fans geeking out to finally finally watch our quarterback Robert! Griffin! The Third! return tonight against the Philadelphia Eagles, new coach Chip Kelly, and QB Michael Vick (of the pitbull-fighting-ring infamy) in the first game of Monday Night Football.

Griffin was named 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year despite a soul-crushing knee injury in the Skins’ first-round playoffs loss to Seattle. Now after daily media debates, blame-gaming (who decides if a hurt player can play—the athlete, the coach, or the doctor?), surgeries, speculation, and, oh, his July wedding to his college sweetheart Rebecca Liddicoat, RGIII is set to be the Washington starter–and hopefully stay there, but fans and detractors alike wonder if his brashness will re-injure him.

Tonight’s second game features the Houston Texans and AFC Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt (see him “SHUT YOU DOWN!” in a Yahoo! commercial below) versus the San Diego Chargers, who will be without rookie linebacker Manti Te’o of the Facebook-fake-girlfriend scandal. T’eo is out with a sprained foot.

3) Serena Williams, 31, won her 17th Grand Slam title Sunday, defeating Victoria Azarenka 7-5, 6-7 (6), 6-1 to defend her US Open title. The win puts her only one Grand Slam title behind Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert all-time. And she’s done it after two retirements and a near-fatal blood clot. She has now played in 21 Grand Slam finals, winning all but four.

"First Istanbul, now Constantinople, then it's Istanbul..." No wonder they lost.

“First Istanbul, now Constantinople, then it’s Istanbul…” No wonder they lost.

4) As for the men’s U.S. Open final, world #1 Novak Djokovic will play in his fourth straight final tonight at 5 p.m. ET against beloved hottie Rafael Nadal of Spain. It will be the third time the two have met in the final in four years. “Rafa” sat out last year with a hurt knee. Scotland’s Andy Murray won in 2012—and famously Britain’s first Wimbledon title in over 70 years this year—but was eliminated in earlier play.

5) Tokyo beat out Istanbul and Madrid Saturday in a vote for the 2020 Olympic Summer Games, despite worries over radioactive water leaking from the Fukushima nuclear plant. Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe personally promised Tokyo’s safety. Personally, I loved my Turkey visit and would have loved to see Istanbul win—a modern, Muslim city (well, today – Turkey has been occupied by so many cultures, its Hagia Sophia cathedral bears markings of Ottomans, Christians, and even Vikings) with fantastic transit and welcoming citizens. Not to mention the Grand Bazaar’s six centuries of shopping—clothing, spices, art, and…even leeches. Oh well, maybe 2024.

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.