Monthly Archives: August 2016

Why a Buffalo teacher won’t let go of long-departed Braves

The Buffalo Braves featured some boldface names during their eight-year stay in upstate New York. But in the void left since the city’s oft-forgotten NBA franchise moved to San Diego in 1978 and was re-named the Clippers, Braves fan John Boutet has been determined not to let the memories of his boyhood club vanish into the fog of history.

To this day, Boutet’s email handle — buffalobraves9 — is an homage to Smith’s jersey number.

The Braves packed a lot of notable names into a short span. But Boutet’s enthusiasm for memorializing the team’s time in the city hasn’t always been reciprocated. “It seems everyone with the power to make a hall of fame happen thinks it’s a wonderful idea,” he once said, “but no one has stepped forward in helping me do that.”

Sports fandom can be funny that way — it’s both a communal thing that can forge a deep sense of identity and an individualistic undertaking that evokes highly personal feelings and memories.

“He was out there getting some competitive juices out before the game,” Ron Pollack said.

Pollack was only 16 years old on that March 2 night in 1962, but thanks to his father Harvey, the public relations director and game statistician for the Philadelphia Warriors, Ron Pollack had a front-row seat to history while he charted play-by-play of the game. He saw all 36 of Chamberlain’s made field goals and 28 made free throws. He watched as Chamberlain scored 23 points in the first quarter, had 41 points by halftime, scored another 28 points in the third quarter and then withstood the Knicks’ futile attempt at triple-teaming him to keep the indefensible center from scoring 100 points.

In the fourth quarter, after each time Chamberlain scored, arena announcer Dave Zinkoff updated the crowd of 4,124 with Chamberlain’s point total. Chamberlain didn’t need to be told. He always kept a running count in his head during games.

A career 51.1 percent free throw shooter, Chamberlain made 28 of 32 foul shots that night.

After Chamberlain set the record for points in a game — an NBA record that still stands and might never be broken — Ron Pollack ran his father’s game stories to Western Union to be transmitted to the Associated Press, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the United Press International. And he grabbed a program from the game — it advertised game tickets for $2.50 — and years later had Chamberlain sign it for his son. Chamberlain did, and it remains one of few known mementos from the game.

Another is the picture Harvey Pollack orchestrated. After the game, Pollack stuffed the game ball into Chamberlain’s bag and scribbled “100” on a piece of paper. He had Associated Press photographer Paul Vathis take a picture of Chamberlain sitting on a stool holding the paper to commemorate the accomplishment.

City of Los Angeles celebrates ‘Kobe Bryant Day’

LOS ANGELES — Even as the Los Angeles City Council paused to honor Kobe Bryant and reflect on everything he has done since he arrived in the city 20 years ago it was evident that Bryant’s mind was elsewhere, looking ahead, consumed with what comes next.

Wednesday was “Kobe Bryant Day” in L.A., by official proclamation. And after some awkward bits of democracy — when citizens used the open microphone to decry city expenditures, say “Go Lakers!” and hurl expletives and racial slurs — the council got down to honoring Bryant’s basketball accomplishments and civic contributions in his two-decade career with the Los Angeles Lakers as purple-and-gold clad fans filled council chambers chanting “Ko-be” and “M-V-P.”

Bryant, with his daughters and pregnant wife by his side, watched the video recap of his 60-point effort in his final NBA game, then listened to the speeches. Lots of speeches.

He kept using the word “surreal” to describe the day. He’d been feted at City Hall before, but when the Lakers were celebrating championships. This was a celebration of him.

“It feels different because it is different,” he said as he entered the garage and took an elevator up to the third floor.

When he had his turn at the microphone he conluded by saying:

“It’s not just how they played but how they acted and how unselfish they were,” Krzyzewski said of vets Durant and Anthony. “I’m amazed at these guys.”

Sources told ESPN.com that the Spurs are actively lobbying Nicolas Laprovittola to make the jump to the NBA after the rugged guard’s solid play in the Rio Olympics.

Laprovittola, 26, played for Estudiantes in the Spanish ACB last season and told the Argentinean newspaper ITAL La Nueva ENDITAL this week that a few NBA teams are interested in his services.

But the Spurs have a natural recruiting advantage thanks to the presence of Argentina legend Manu Ginobili.

Ramon Foster expects 2021 work stoppage over drug policy

PITTSBURGH — Steelers player rep Ramon Foster used the news of Le’Veon Bell’s three-game NFL suspension over missed drug tests as a chance to foreshadow the players’ bigger fight with the NFL roughly four years from now.

“There are bigger issues than pot,” Foster said.

In fact, Foster is urging players to save money now in preparation for a lockout with the NFL over a collective bargaining agreement that will expire after the 2020 season.

“It’s coming. They’ve hired certain people on their legal team, the NFL has, and we have to be the type of players and union that’s not borrowing money from banks and stuff like that to survive a lockout, a strike,” Foster said. “That can’t happen this time around. We have to be smarter this time around because there are a lot of things we’re going to be fighting for and a lot of things they are going to want and we’re going to want, too.”

Drug testing has affected the Steelers’ on-field product. Wide receiver Martavis Bryant is suspended for the season for multiple failed or missed tests, and Bell had to miss up to three tests to earn a three-game ban (reduced from four games upon appeal).

Players felt in the dark about Bell’s looming suspension over the past month. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said “we don’t always know what’s going on” with the process, and the NFL often does things that “none of us have answers for.”

The way Foster sees it, other sports leagues keep these player issues in-house, but NFL players are “all over ESPN, Fox, the whole nine” when one fails a test.

“Every situation has been different. Not one person has had the same penalty,” Foster said about drug testing suspensions and appeals. “It’s always how the person is feeling who’s handing down the execution. It needs to be refined. It can’t just go through one person.”

Saints CB Cortland Finnegan knows you probably think he’s a ‘dirtbag’

“I never fought (that reputation). Sometimes you’re the bug, sometimes you’re the windshield,” Finnegan said. “And so after the (Johnson fight), it was gonna be known that you were just gonna be the villain, but you just have to work through that. Not everyone sees what you do off the football field. And whatever someone thinks, you just can’t lose any sleep over it. I haven’t lost any sleep yet.

“When you see everything I’ve done in my career and the way I play with emotion and grit and kind of just old school, you kind of think that this guy is one way. Then when you meet him, it’s totally opposite.”

Finnegan, who came out of retirement last year to join the Carolina Panthers and played well as a slot cornerback during their Super Bowl run, pointed out that he has “stayed out of the personal foul business for some years now.” The way he described it, he aims to play the game “fairly, but with a little bit of edge as well.”

Finnegan said he also tries to change people’s opinion of him by “just meeting them and being you.”

Now heading into his 11th NFL season, Finnegan seems grateful, humble and eager to “pay it forward” to younger teammates, as he said several times on Sunday.

“You want to teach them all the little things that you learned, you want to pay it forward because this game has given so much to you. And not everybody does it, but I hope to be the one to do it,” said Finnegan, who was drafted in the seventh round out of Samford in 2006 before playing six years with the Tennessee Titans, two with the St. Louis Rams, one with the Miami Dolphins and one with Carolina.

“My whole dream was to be a firefighter. So I was just gonna play until God said otherwise. But here I am 11 years in, I wouldn’t even think a safety out of Samford would be here,” Finnegan said. “But there was a lot of guys around me that helped me get to this point. So I’m just thankful. Every snap, practice is definitely a blessing because at this age, you don’t get but so many more years to do something you love.”

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings have not come to a decision yet about whether Adrian Peterson will play in the preseason, coach Mike Zimmer said Monday. If the league’s leading rusher does see the field before the start of the regular season, it will be in large part because he wants to get in an exhibition game.

“I’m going to sit down and talk to him about it and if he wants to play then we’ll discuss what we think,” Zimmer said. “If he goes in there, he’s probably not going to get one pass and out. So he’s going to play (for a longer period of time if he does play).”

Zimmer said he has discussed the possibility of playing in the preseason with Peterson, but reiterated he hadn’t settled on anything with his running back. If Peterson were to get some work in the Vikings’ third preseason game, it would also coincide with the team’s nationally-televised opening of U.S. Bank Stadium on Aug. 28 against the San Diego Chargers. But the coach wasn’t terribly concerned with the marketing side of the decision.

Nor did he feel like he needed to see Peterson in a game before the Vikings begin the season on Sept. 11 at Tennessee. “I see him on highlight films every week,” Zimmer said.

Peterson hasn’t carried the ball in a preseason game since he returned from knee surgery in 2012, and his only exhibition game appearance during that time came in 2013, when he played one series in the Vikings’ third preseason game against San Francisco. Last year, as the running back returned from a NFL suspension that cost him 15 games in 2014, the Vikings decided not to put Peterson on the field during the preseason. The team’s offense began the season misfiring in a 20-3 loss to the 49ers, in a game where Peterson gained 31 yards on 10 carries, posting just 10 yards on his four runs out of the shotgun. After that, the Vikings largely scrapped the idea of shotgun runs, returning Peterson to the I formation sets where he’d been most comfortable. Zimmer admitted at the end of the 2015 season the transition might have been smoother had Peterson played in the preseason.

Seahawks undrafted rookie reminds Pete Carroll of Russell Wilson

This isn’t the first time Carroll has made the Boykin-Wilson comparison; shortly after the Seahawks signed him following the 2016 NFL Draft, Carroll said this:

“His versatility and his style of play is so similar to Russell’s. He’s got a big arm. He’s a very creative athlete. He’s got great instincts and great vision. His ability to run and make people miss and get out of trouble is very similar to what Russell does. I thought that the opportunity to have both those guys in the same offense, it gives us a chance — if it works out, and we’ve got a long way to go — if it works out, to maintain continuity with one of the backups.”

While there’s no fear of either Boykin or Heaps beating out Wilson, Super Bowl aspirations can be dashed in the time it takes a franchise quarterback to suffer an injury. Just ask the Cowboys, who lost Tony Romo for 12 games last season and limped to four wins.
As it stands, the Seahawks have no margin for error behind Wilson, who is one of the league’s best young quarterbacks. In fact, CBSSports.com’s Will Brinson recently ranked every backup quarterback situation around the NFL and Seattle was … 31st, ahead of only one team — the Cowboys.

If Michigan State defensive lineman Malik McDowell is being projected as a top-10 draft pick when the 2016 season winds down, it won’t be enough for him to apply for early eligibility to enter the 2017 NFL Draft, the All-Big Ten junior said on Monday.

No, for McDowell, an early exit would require a projection as one of the draft’s top three picks.

“Top 10 ain’t good enough for me,” McDowell told the Detroit Free Press. “I ain’t leaving if I’m (only) top 10. If I’m not top three, I don’t leave. Really. I’m just trying to live day by day. It’s one through three, that’s the only way I’m going. I’m happy, I like it here, I ain’t really in a rush to leave.”

NFL underclassmen like McDowell have until a mid-January deadline to apply for early draft eligibility. McDowell (6-foot-6, 276 pounds) recorded 4.5 sacks for the Spartans last season among 13 tackles for loss. NFL Media’s Lance Zierlein ranked him the No. 2 interior defensive lineman to watch in the nation.

McDowell’s line in the sand isn’t something he or any other draft prospect can be sure of. First, the NFL Draft Advisory Board doesn’t provide official feedback with that much specificity. NFLDAB feedback gives underclassmen one of three draft grades: a first-round projection, a second-round projection, or a recommendation to return to college. As such, if McDowell were to get a first-round grade from the NFLDAB, he’d need more extensive feedback to get even an inkling of where in the first round he might be selected.

And even then, there are no certainties.

Seahawks rookie Germain Ifedi: This ‘team knows I won’t back down’

“I love the way he’s approached the game,” Carroll said. “Him engaging in what he needs to do and what he can and can’t do, that’s all we’re figuring out right now. I don’t want him to change anything. I want him to keep battling and keep pushing. I want him to match the passion that he sees from the guys across from him.

“I think he’s the real thing in terms of tough and physical and cares and all that. It’s going to be a bit before he can get his football together, but it’s going to happen, and I want him to be just the guy that he is. He’s hard, tough, cares a bunch, and we just need him to make good decisions is what we need him to do.”

The Seahawks’ offensive line is a work in progress. Bennett and Cliff Avril have given them fits at times during team drills. And the toughness won’t matter if they can’t block anyone. But at this point in camp, the coaches seem excited about what they’ve seen from guys like Ifedi and Mark Glowinski.

From left to right, the starters have been: Garry Gilliam, Glowinski, Justin Britt, Ifedi and J’Marcus Webb. The team is taking a look at veteran Jahri Evans Friday, and if he signs, they could switch some things around. But regardless of who’s on the field, the message from assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable will be the same.

“We’re not here to back down,” Ifedi said when asked what Cable’s advice has been. “This offensive line isn’t going to back down from any challenge, but don’t let it take you outside your game. Still play your game, still do your assignment. Even if something like that happens, move on to the next play, and play the next play like it didn’t happen because that’s what’s going to happen on the field.”

Franchise legend Larry Fitzgerald has already linked his future NFL plans to those of Carson Palmer.

Now the team is putting it in writing.

Arizona has rewarded the two aging stars with one-year contract extensions, the Cardinals announced Friday.

Palmer’s extra year is worth $24.35 million with a $6.75 million signing bonus, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported. The quarterback is now under team control through 2018, while the next two seasons are guaranteed.

When Fitzgerald stated in May that he had “no idea” if this season would be his last, he was merely acknowledging that he has reached the year-to-year stage of a Hall of Fame career.

Although he went on to clarify, via NFL Total Access, that he “still has a lot of good football” left in his body, that failed to quell speculation that he might walk away from the game after the 2016 season.

Friday’s extension, which Rapoport notes is worth $11 million, is a sign that he and Palmer plan to lead one of the NFL’s model franchises through the 2017 season.

Cam Newton, Carson Palmer among QBs who can win first ring

Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
Smith isn’t a buzzy name, but he has won in Kansas City, recording a 30-16 record and two playoff appearances in three seasons. He is very athletic and can run, and he plays within the system. Smith might not be able to elevate a terrible team to contention, as we saw during his earlier years in San Francisco, but with the right players around him, he can rack up the Ws. After all, if Jeremy Maclin had been healthy enough to contribute fully, Smith might have knocked off the Patriots in the Divisional Round last season. If the Chiefs are right, they should be a force on defense, and it’s entirely conceivable that Smith could reach new postseason heights.

Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Dalton doesn’t get enough credit. All he does is take the Bengals to the playoffs. Last season, he broke out with career numbers — 66.1 percent completion rate, 25:7 TD-to-INT ratio and a passer rating of 106.2 in 13 games — and was poised to prove his doubters wrong. Unfortunately, a fractured thumb kept him from having a chance to add a little weight to the win column in his 0-4 postseason record. But that wasn’t his fault. I know people want to see if he can get a team over the hump, but his production in 2015 was definitely Super Bowl-caliber. I think he has a good chance to get the Bengals to the playoffs a sixth consecutive time — but this time, we’ll see the elite version of Dalton carry Cincinnati forward in January.

Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
The first overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft is finally making good on the promise he showed in Cincinnati and Oakland. He is coming off an outstanding season that ended in the ignominious loss to the Panthers in the NFC title game. That ugly performance — 23 of 40 for 235 yards and one touchdown with four picks, two fumbles lost and a passer rating of 43.2 — makes his short postseason résumé look deceptively bad. However, I suspect he was not 100 percent for that game, and I still trust the veteran completely in the playoffs. He’s not fleet of foot, but he’s very smart and knows where and when to throw the ball. Palmer is a very hard worker with traits that translate to success, a good guy who also is playing with one of the best teams he’s had in his career.

Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Newton took a huge leap forward in his career-long upward trajectory last season, serving as the do-it-all offensive dynamo behind Carolina’s 15-1 record and trip to Super Bowl 50. If he were younger and less experienced, or if he didn’t have outstanding work habits, I might be worried about a regression in 2016, but I fully expect the reigning NFL MVP to get even better in Year 6. He needs to improve his ability to throw quick slants and checkdowns and to complete more passes, but he’ll be working with a better receiving corps (with Kelvin Benjamin healthy again) and has an excellent chance to win Super Bowl LI.

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott will miss some workouts during training camp due to a hamstring injury.

Executive vice president Stephen Jones said Wednesday the No. 4 overall pick will “miss some time” with a sore right hamstring, per the team’s official website.

NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported the injury is just a tweak and that Elliott’s move to the sideline is precautionary.

Elliott’s hamstring flared up Tuesday during practice and the running back was unable to finish the workout.

Jones said the team doesn’t have a timetable for Elliott’s return to the field, but the Cowboys will be very cautious with their first-round investment.

The Ohio State product is predicted to have a big role as a rookie. A dual-threat back, Elliott has the ability to carry the load on a three-down basis for a Cowboys offense that wants to get back to its ground-and-pound ways behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.

Big Ben says Martavis Bryant needs to ‘grow up’

Bryant served a four-game suspension last season and will miss the entirety of what would have been his third NFL year. The lanky, speedy wideout was a clear difference maker when on the field. In his first two campaigns the Steelers averaged 29 points per game with Bryant in the lineup and just 22 PPG without him.

“The potential that he had, both on and off the field and you feel for him as a person first, just what he’s going through and get your life right and those kinds of things, that’s first and foremost,” Roethlisberger said. “But, on the football field, the talent that he had, the sky’s the limit.

“He had and has more potential than a lot of guys you’ve seen. Just the things he is able to do, opening it up for (Antonio Brown). Opening it up for guys in the middle. He is a legit threat out there. So that was very disappointing.”

It remains to be seen if Dion Jordan will be back on the field for the Miami Dolphins in Week 1, but he’ll be forced to miss at least the first few weeks of training camp.

The Dolphins placed Jordan on the active/non-football injury list Sunday after the defensive end recently underwent knee surgery, a source informed of his situation told NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport. The surgery wasn’t considered major, Rapoport added, but it’ll prevent the former No. 3 overall pick from passing a physical for a few weeks. Jordan suffered the knee injury during a private workout, Rapoport said on NFL Network’s Inside Training Camp Live.

Speaking to reporters Sunday, Dolphins coach Adam Gase said the Dolphins didn’t know about Jordan’s injured knee until he met with the team. “That was news to us,” Gase said.

It’s the time of year for players to hold out of grueling summer training camp workouts in order to get a more lucrative contract. Antonio Brown is not holding out but the Pittsburgh Steelers star wide receiver is itching for a new deal.

“You have to take care of your guys,” Brown said after practice Sunday, according to ESPN. “If a guy under performs, you get rid of him. If a guy over performs, you take care of him.”

Brown will make $6.25 million in the fifth year of his six-year, $43 million contract. A modest number for a receiver who has an NFL-record 264 catches in the past two seasons. He currently ranks 13th at his position in base salary.

The wideout is represented by Drew Rosenhaus. Rosenhaus, who seems to be on a national tour trying to get his clients new contracts, is expected to meet with the Steelers, per ESPN.

While he waits for a new deal, Brown is preparing for another stellar season in Pittsburgh.