Final 4 set to blast off

The Big Story – The Final Four: To paraphrase legendary New York TV sportscaster Warner Wolf: If you had Purdue, NC State, Alabama and defending champion UConn going to the Final Four, YOU WIN! The Wolfpack and Boilermakers kick it off Saturday at 6:09 p.m. followed by the Huskies and Bama.

Sports 101: Name the only coach to officially take three different schools to the Final Four.

News Item – Early Red Sox Update: Yes, Nick Pivetta came up short in the 1-0 Game 2 loss. But by giving up just three hits and no walks while striking out 10, he basically picked up where he left off in 2023 after pulling himself together during a mid-year exile to the bullpen. Ditto for Garrett Whitlock, who exactly matched Pivetta’s effort except he struck out just eight in Sunday’s 5-1 win. Both were the bright spots in the season-opening 2-2 series split in Seattle.

The Numbers:

30 – to 0 run by the UConn during its 77-52 Elite 8 rout of Illinois.

30 – point lead blown by the Celtics in their latest infuriating loss, which came last week, 123-122 to Atlanta.

84, 84, 84, 81 – pitches thrown by Sox starters in their four opening games to make you wonder if 80 is the new 100 in the pitch count department for Alex Cora.

Of the Week Awards

What a Stupid I Yam Award – To Me: My friend and long-time reader Cliff Otto points out Red Sox prospects Marcelo Mayer and Roman Anthony were sent to AA Portland, not AAA as I said. But while I was incorrect, the larger point is they’re not far off from joining the young core and likely will be in AAA by mid-summer.

Survey Question: Whose Press Conference Statement Now Looks Dumber? (1) Red Sox co-owner Tom Werner saying the team was going to go “full throttle to improve the roster” and then doing nothing to do it? or (2) New Patriots head coach Jerod Mayo saying on the eve of free agency they were ready to “burn some cash” before doing almost nothing but re-sign players from a 4-13 team?

Random Thoughts:

Speaking of Warner Wolf, when he was unceremoniously dumped by CBS it was a huge deal in NYC. But the interesting local note was the young turk who took over was one-time UNH wide-out and later WMUR sports reporter Chris Wragge. And, now as Paul Harvey used to say, you know the rest of the story. So where does Bob Kraft blaming Coach B for being the one who didn’t want to spend in free agency stand now after his team went into free agency with the most money in the league and then basically did squat?

Sports 101 Answer: At Providence, Kentucky and Louisville Rick Pitino is the only coach to take three different programs to the Final Four. John Calipari also did it, but UMass and Memphis later vacated their berths due to rules violations. So his only team in the official record is Kentucky.

Final Thought – NCAA Tournament:

Thanks to the one-and-done my interest has waned recently for college basketball. That’s because it took away our chance to see young players who make their mark grow into stars on their way to being seniors as the likes of Lew Alcindor, Patrick Ewing and Christian Laettner did through the years.

It’s what I enjoy most. And since evolving history has disappeared, it hasn’t seemed worth investing time in what the current format yields.

But that’s the glass is half empty. Because when I pulled my head out of the rabbit hole, there’s actually some real history being made in 2024. Like UConn will be looking to cement its place as — dare I say it — a college basketball dynasty?

I don’t throw the D-word around lightly. But if they win Monday it’ll be their sixth title since 1999 and only UCLA has done better than that over a 25-year span.

They’ll also be trying to become the first repeat winner since 2007, when Al Horford-led Florida did it by knocking off Greg Oden and Ohio State 84-75. Before that it was Duke in 1991 and 1992, whose point guard Bobby Hurley is the older brother of Huskie coach Danny Hurley. Beyond that, 11-seed NC State matches the lowest seed ever to make the Final Four. Which they did after miraculously surviving five games to win the ACC Tournament to just get in the tournament. Now they’ll be trying to emulate the similar miracle pulled off by the last Wolfpack team to get to the Finals, when Jim Valvano led NC State to an upset of highly favored Phi-Slama-Jama Houston for the title on a last second put-back by Lorenzo Charles in 1983.

Purdue will be there for the first time since 1980, while folks all over Bama are excited that for the first time the famous football school has made it to the dance at all.

All of that are reasons to tune in at 6:09 on Saturday night. Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

Sox are off and running

The Big Story – Baseball’s Opening Day: After an awful off-season and what was the most subdued spring training in decades, the Red Sox kick off the 2024 season today in Seattle vs. the Mariners. As you can guess, it begins without high expectations in light of John Henry’s reversal of his once free spending ways. Especially in a division where everyone is spending but the Orioles, who, along with Atlanta, have the best young talent in baseball. Sorry to kick it all off with such an optimistic note, but that’s how it stands on Day 1.

Sports 101: It has only happened once in baseball history that the batting average of every player on one team stayed exactly what it was before the game started. How did that happen?

News Item – Ohtani’s Interpreter Fired After Gambling Disclosure: We could be at the beginning of a whopper of a story around the gambling-related firing of Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, on Friday. Conflicting stories have emerged about the $4.5 million wire transfers to pay off Mizuhara’s gambling debts. Nothing has indicated Ohtani did any betting. There are still many holes to be filled in on what could become baseball’s worst gambling nightmare since Pete Rose was banned for life in 1989 if it’s more than just some guy getting in over his head while gambling.

News Item – NCAA Tourney Delivers Usual Thrills: Award winners from Weekend 1:

Best Comeback: Daytona trailed Nevada by 17 before a 24-4 over the final 7 minutes made them 63-60 opening-round winners.

Biggest Upset – Yale Over Auburn: Who had Ivy League champion Yale taking out a SEC power when the 13-seed Bulldogs shocked everyone with a 78-76 win over the 4-seed Tigers?

Say What? Award: OK, maybe the student section at Oakland University (of Michigan) has a point saying 14-seed OU’s 80-76 win over 3-seed Kentucky was a bigger upset.

Phew … Win of the Weekend: Speaking of major upsets, after being just the second 1-seed to lose a 16 last year, Purdue fans breathed a sigh of relief Friday when they put Grambling away early in a 78-50 romp.

Biggest Blown Call: With all the stupid use of replay these days, why don’t they have one for a crucial play like in the Kansas-Samford nailbiter? The zebras clearly blew the call on a spectacular chase down block by A.J. StatonMcCray on a Nick Timberlake breakaway in a one-point game with 15 seconds left. It robbed Samford of getting the final shot to conclude a 22-point comeback. Instead Timberlake made two gift free throws and KU won 93-89.

Revenge Win: He’ll probably never admit it, but Tennessee’s 62-58 win over Texas had to feel good for Rick Barnes after being fired as Texas HC not long ago.

The Numbers:

7 – magic number over their last 11 games for the Celtics to clinch home court advantage throughout the playoffs.

Of the Week Awards

Bracket Buster Award – Sorry, Charles: That thud you heard was Charles Barkley’s bracket being busted as Creighton ran past Oregon 78-63 on Saturday. Chuck had the 11-seed Ducks somehow making it all the way to the final fame. He also had opening-round 12-seed George Mason loser taking out 5-seed Wisconsin and 4-seed Duke and going to the Sweet 16. Oh, and King Charles went to Auburn, so it wasn’t a good weekend all around for Chuck.

Sports 101 Answer: It happened April 16, 1940, when Cleveland fireballer Bob Feller no-hit the White Sox on opening day, leaving all of Chicago’s hitters with the same .000 batting average every player starts their season at.

Final Thought – How To Enjoy The 2024 Red Sox: First you put a pin in your learned experience from around 1994 to realize they’re not getting within three or four time zones of the World Series. Then focus on watching what happens with their young players to see how good they become by September.

I’m looking forward to seeing if Triston Casas can grow into one of the best hitters, as some believe he can. There’s also the young outfield of Jarren Duran platooning in left, Wilyer Abreu in right and exciting rookie Ceddanne Rafaela, a gifted center fielder who hit .284 with three homers in 64 spring at-bats.

There’s promising second-year hurler Brayan Bello, the first home-grown pitcher since now retired Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester to give any sense of promise. Plus it’ll be interesting seeing if second baseman Atlanta import Vaughn Grissom is the first good team-building move by new GM Craig Breslow or part of the Chris Sale salary dump. And with top prospects Roman Anthony and Marcelo Mayer a step away in AAA this could be the start of a promising young core. Time will tell.

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

Time to dance

The Big Story – The NCAA Basketball Tournament: The overall top seed is defending champion UConn, who begin that defense at the TD Garden in Boston in a regional that oddly has three of last year’s Final Four teams in San Diego State, Florida Atlantic and aforementioned UConn. Overall it’s 68 teams playing at four sites around the country. Let the mayhem begin for what is the best four-day extravaganza American sports has to offer.

Sports 101: From the all-time leader to fifth, who are the top five career scorers in the NCAA Basketball Tournament history?

News Item – Are Pats Preparing to Tank? The new people in charge of Patriots personnel have been underwhelming so far. Which means after re-signing their own free agents from a 4-13 team, they’ll leave free agency with the exact three needs they had when it started: a big play receiver, a left offensive tackle and a real starting QB, not a one-year place filler with a career record as a starter of 18-30.

News Item – Proposed Trade: Given how obvious the Patriots issues are, drawing up the plan doesn’t seem that hard. It’s a two-year rebuild at best, so we’ll let the QB wait till next year and attack it via a trade down from the third overall pick. The following example (not real) illustrates the concept: Pats give up third overall pick to Minnesota and their third-round pick in 2025 for the 11th and 23rd picks this year, Minnesota’s 2025 first-round pick and receiver Jordan Addison. (90 catches for 911 yards and 10 TDs), then use the first-round picks on a O-tackle and big play guy. Then fill the next biggest needs, a guard and run-stopping D-lineman.

News Item – Red Sox Spring Update: You can’t count on spring training records, but the 14-9 start is encouraging. The two most interesting questions so far: (1) Will gifted rookie Ceddanne Rafaela win the CF job or be sent back to AAA? He’s currently tied for the team lead with four homers while hitting .273 with 8 RBI in 43 at-bats; (2) Will they finally put Tanner Houck in a starting role where he belongs? He’s off to a 2-0 start with a 2.40 ERA and 0.87 WHIP in 15 innings.

News Item – Rick Pitino: From his days complaining about no fan support at BU to his excuse-filled stint as Celtics coach to his “it wasn’t my fault” major rule violations that led to his being fired at Louisville, little Ricky is still whining after all these years. This time over 20-13 St. John’s not making the NCAA tournament and then petulantly refusing to play in the hometown NIT.

The Numbers

10 – magic number for the Celtics to clinch home court throughout the NBA playoffs.

Thumbs Up – Celtics: True, the Utah Jazz aren’t very good. But considering the obstacles faced, the Celtics’ 123-107 win over Utah last week earns a shoutout, as (a) it was the final of a five-games-in-eight-nights road trip covering 3,400 miles and (b) it came on Game 2 of a back-to-back, (c) after arriving from Portland, Oregon, at 3 a.m. while also losing an hour due to time zone hopping, and most importantly (d) three of their top six players, Al Horford, Kristaps Porzingis and Jaylen Brown, sat out with injuries. They stayed focused and finished off the road trip with a business-like win.

Sports 101 Answer: With 407 points Duke’s Christian Laettner is the Tournament all-time leading scorer. He’s followed by Elvin Hayes (358), Danny Manning (328), Tyler Hansbrough (325) and Oscar Robertson (324).

Final Thought – A Little History – What a Game! Saturday (March 23) is the 50th anniversary of the most monumental college basketball game in history.

No, not Bird vs. Magic in 1979. That had big TV ratings but the game was boring as Indiana St. was barely in it, Bird played terribly and Gregory Kelser was MVP, not Magic.

This was five years earlier, where UCLA’s never-to-be-matched streak of winning seven straight NCAA titles was ended by NC State in an epic double-OT battle.

With all due respect to Magic and Larry, this game’s stars were better college players, and both played big as UCLA’s Bill Walton went for 29 points and 18 rebounds while David Thompson scored 28 points for NC State. The Bruins let big leads slip away in the final minutes of regulation and the second OT. But after UCLA’s frantic four-shot last gasp, NC State hung in to win 80-77 as the streak finally was ended.

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

Pats re-build underway

The Big Story – NFL Free Agency: While many deals had been agreed upon during the “legal tampering” period that began Monday, today is the first day agreements can be signed.

The Patriots have done a decent job in re-signing needed vets like TE Hunter Henry, though $11 million per for a third receiver like Kendrick Bourne sounds a little pricey to me. They also likely have retained Kyle Dugger by putting the transition tag on him.

And then late Monday they signed their most important free agent, Michael Onwenu, for three years. Keep Anfernee Jennings, and it’s a very successful first week. And now with Mac Jones traded and some logical bridge solutions going off the board (like Russell Wilson to Pittsburgh), signs are pointing to using the third overall pick.

After re-signing those players, they go into the week with roughly $55 million. How well they can fill glaring needs at offensive tackle and high end receiver will give a better focus on what they can do in the draft.

Sports 101: In the Belichick era the Pats used the franchise tag 10 times on nine players. How many can you name?

News Item – Mac Jones Traded: That’s all she wrote for Mac Jones in New England as he will be traded to Jacksonville for a sixth-round pick by the time you read this. His tenure started with his making the playoffs and Pro Bowl as a rookie and ended after he was benched four times in 2023 when he threw just 10 TD passes and 12 picks while going 2-9 as a starter. The only question left is how much of his downward spiral is on him and how much on the chaos Coach B created by making unqualified Matt Patricia OC after Josh McDaniels left for Vegas.

News Item – Top 5 Red Sox Spring Training Stories:

After winning twice over Tampa Bay in the Dominican, the Sox were off to a nice start after their first 17 spring games at 10-6-1.

Promising second-year hurler Brayan Bello was signed to a $55 million, six-year contract extension.

The only pitcher of note added to their weak pitching staff, Lucas Giolito, could already be lost for the season with an injury to his pitching elbow.

No one had more than two homers in those first 17 games.

Believe it or not Mookie Betts will be the Dodgers’ starting shortstop on opening day.

The Numbers:

16 –if you had the under on how many games Ben Simmons would play for Brooklyn you win, as his season is over early (again) after just 15 due to back woes.

100,000 –dollars Minnesota’s Rudy Gobert was fined by the NBA for gesturing that the officials were on the take.

Of the Week Award

Stats of Week: From Boston Globe Celtics beat writer Adam Himmelsbach, who reported that despite having the league’s best record the C’s are just 11-9 in games within 3 points in the final two minutes. Also they’re 1-6 vs. teams with a .600 or better winning percentage since Jan. 1.

Random Thoughts

How much do you want to get rid of a player if you’re willing to swallow $85 million in dead money? Answer: for the Denver Broncos it was about a 14 on a scale of 1 to 10. As that’s their cost to release Wilson just two years after paying a king’s ransom to get him from Seattle.

If tampering is bad, how can you have a “legal” tampering period?

A Little History: Stumbled-On Fact of the Week: From Bob Costas in a YouTube replay interview with Ted Williams: the sacrifice fly rule had not been adopted in 1941 when Williams hit .406. He had six that year, which means he’d have hit .412 if it had been a rule then.

Sports 101 Answer: The franchised players in the Belichick era were Adam Vinatieri (twice, 2001 and 2005), Tebucky Jones (2003), Asante Samuel (2007), Matt Cassel (2009), Vince Wilfork (2010), Logan Mankins (2011), Wes Welker (2012), Steven Gostkowski (2015) and Joe Thuney (2020).

Final Thought – Politics Not As Usual: Not too long ago Fox News know-it-all Laura Ingraham told LeBron James to “shut up and dribble.”So it will be interesting to see what she has to say about Dodgers all-timer Steve Garvey’s right to be in politics now that he just won a spot to run for the Senate from California on the GOP side. Guessing since Garvey is a conservative he’ll likely be having his tires pumped on her show at some point.

But Garvey wasn’t the only sports-in-politics story last week. Texas congressman and one-time Dallas Cowboys linebacker Colin Allred won the Democratic primary and now will challenge Ted Cruz for his Senate seat in Texas. Wonder if for him it’ll be just “shut up and tackle.”

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

C’s on a major roll

The Big Story – Patriots Rebuild Strategy: Withthe NFL’s new calendar year two weeks away from beginning (March 13), the Patriots are on the clock. The first task is to decide what they want to be and who from 2023 should be part of that.

Then the first issues are filling two holes on the o-line, adding team speed, especially on offense, and of course what to do at quarterback. We’ll start with QB today and discuss the others throughout March.

Sports 101: Alabama and Purdue each have a most-in-history three alumni QBs who led their teams to a Super Bowl win. Name those players.

News Item – Patriots QB Question: I know Mac Jones was awful last year. But, since this is going to be a two-year rebuild at the least, my general feeling is unless they can get the guy, they are better off filling in as many other holes as they can before bringing in the long-term solution next year. Because having the infrastructure in place first gives young QBs a much better shot at success.

I’m OK with a short-term solution like Baker Mayfield. But, and I know I’m probably crazy, I can live with seeing what Mac can do with actual talent at the skill positions if he wins the job in camp. It nags at me why he was pretty good in 2021 and hadn’t been since.

Maybe because I know what Jim Plunkett became (again) after he was run out amid howling fandom and Mac’s situation is similar. Besides, if he’s bad again, they’ll likely be at the top of the draft to make it easier to draft or trade for a good one.

News Item – Crazy New College Hoops World: With the NCAA Basketball Tourney on the horizon, raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of St. Mary’s College. For those of us who complain that nothing changes among the top teams, tiny St. Mary’s from Morgana, California, (wherever that is) headed to the dance after somehow climbing to be ranked 21st in the country.

The Numbers:

0.9 – assists per game Denver center Nikola Jokic is away from becoming the third player in NBA history to average a triple down in a season with per game averages of 26 points, 12.2 rebounds and 9.1 assists.

Of the Week Awards

Honors – Buddy Teevens: Nice to see Dartmouth will rename its football field Buddy Teevens Stadium at Memorial Field to honor their late coach who died last September from injuries suffered in an off-season bicycle accident.

Thanks for the Memories – Matthew Slater: Upon his retirement after 16 years of stellar play on Patriots special teams and overall leadership. Well done, young fella.

Thumbs Up – Scot Pollard: For news the short-time Celtic came through heart transplant surgery well last week. It followed an arduous search for a heart large enough to support the demands of his 7-foot frame.

A Little History –The Historic 100-Point Game: March 2 is the anniversary of WiltChamberlain’s seemingly impossible 100-point game in a 169-147 win over the Knicks in 1962. Here are a few interesting facts.

It was a “visiting home” game in Hershey, Pennsylvania, with no TV broadcast or any film of the game at all. The notoriously bad free throw-shooting Wilt was 28 for 32 from the line and 36 on (a whopping) 63 FG attempts. Three Knicks players, Richie Guerin (39), Cleveland Buckner (33) and Willie Naulls (31), scored 30+. And, oh by the way, Wilt had 25 rebounds as well.

Random Thoughts:

I don’t know if any NBA team has ever had three guys from the same NCAA championship-winning team like the Knicks have in Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo and Josh Hart from the 2016 Villanova team. That’s kinda cool.

Sports 101 Answer: The six SB winning QBs are, from Alabama, Bart Starr, Joe Namath and Kenny Stabler, and from Purdue, Len Dawson, Bob Griese and Drew Brees.

Final Thought – Spring Baseball Update: A curious side note to the opening of spring training is the plight of Blake Snell. That the reigning NL Cy Young winner remains unsigned in free agency is a surprise to some. But given his asking of $30 million per for nine years, it may be a sign folks in baseball are not always as dumb as they’ve acted since 1976. Yes, he won his second Cy in 2023, but with a measly 14 wins. Big deal. And between 2023 and when he won his 21-5 Cy Young year of 2018 he was 25-26 and never won more than eight games, which came in 2022, when he lost 10 times. So who in their right mind would give this 31-year-old a nine-year deal, especially when he’s averaged just 23 starts his last five seasons?

Well, actually giant money has often been wasted on guys coming off a big season they never matched again. But for once it appears sanity temporarily reigns.

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

C’s on a major roll

The Big Story – The Streaking Celtics: Their winning streak hit 11 games on Sunday as they annihilated nemesis Golden State 140-88 on national TV. So with just 22 games left to play, they start the week with an 8.5 -game lead in the Eastern Conference and 6 up on OKC out west for home court advantage throughout the playoffs.

Next up is the five-game road trip that started Tuesday in Cleveland. Followed by toughies in Denver and Phoenix, who they’ll face again back home the game after the trip concludes. They come through that stretch 4-2 or better, they’ll lock the top spot.

Sports 101: Who has played in the most games in NBA history?

News Item – Sunday’s Record-Breaking Demolition: It’s true 50+-point wins in the NBA are generally a shake-it-off aberration. But to counter Stephen A. Blowhard’s post-game comments about that, this wasn’t, for two reasons.

First, because they’re the first NBA team to ever win by 50+ three times in the same season. That says they’re scary when rolling.

Second, while GS will just forget about it, the Celtics need to learn how to beat the Warriors. Especially Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who’ve had a series of duds to downright chokes vs. GS, including during the 2022 Finals and while blowing a 19-point lead to them in a December loss.

Other notables from the game include holding Steph Curry to just four points, Brown throwing five first-quarter 3-balls in Draymond Green’s face as he dared him to shoot, and the Jays going for a combined 56 points in 47 minutes before being yanked with them up 52 points. Oh, and they did it with Kristaps Porzingis getting yet another unnecessary day off by Uncle Joe.

News Item – Priority Free Agents Moves: NFL free agency opens next week and after releasing J.C. Jackson the Patriots have a most-in-the-NFL $100 million to spend. Here are a few suggestions for how to proceed.

Top Priority – Michael Onwenu: A talent-devoid team can not let its best players walk. Especially when there’s only one other tackle in the Top 100 free agents. Franchise him. It’s only for a year and draft his replacement.

Kyle Dugger: The D’s leader is the other must-keep guy. He’ll probably cost $17 million to make it $37 million combined for both. Do it.

Top FA Target – Cincy OT Jonah Williams: Not great, but the best of free agent tackles. If the O-line is set, they’ll have a better focus going into the draft with the third overall pick.

Wide Receiver: This depends on whether they’re going QB at 3. If so, then they must target at least one speed receiver like Calvin Ridley or Indy’s Michael Pittman.

Home Run Pick – Saquon Barkley: Not sure what he’ll cost, but he’s a playmaker who, teamed with low-cost Rhamondre Stevenson, will give the O versatility, unpredictability and insurance against one going down to injury.

The Numbers:

19 – inconsequential points scored by Kyrie Irving in his latest boo-filled Boston visit as the C’s croaked Dallas 138-110 on Friday.

21 – average margin of victory during that 11-game Celtics winning streak.

40,000 – career point milestone reached on Friday by LeBron James as he became the first in NBA history to do that.

Of the Week Awards

Saddest Note of the Week – Jay Dufour: It was the passing of the friend to many, former Central basketball coach and long-time assistant to Stan Siprou at NHC/SNHU. He was a great basketball coach, a wonderful guy and even better human being. RIP my friend.

Game-Winning Miracle of the Week: A desperation heave by Cleveland’s Max Strus to stun Dallas after they’d taken the lead with two seconds left. Since the Cavs had no time out, Max let fly from 59 feet for a miracle 121-119 win.

Sports 101 Answer: With 1,611 the great Robert Parish played in the most games in NBA history.

Final Thought – Mock Drafts: While mock drafts are fun, please don’t be like my college friend John Garner, who emails every

Pats on the clock

The Big Story – Patriots Rebuild Strategy: Withthe NFL’s new calendar year two weeks away from beginning (March 13), the Patriots are on the clock. The first task is to decide what they want to be and who from 2023 should be part of that.

Then the first issues are filling two holes on the o-line, adding team speed, especially on offense, and of course what to do at quarterback. We’ll start with QB today and discuss the others throughout March.

Sports 101: Alabama and Purdue each have a most-in-history three alumni QBs who led their teams to a Super Bowl win. Name those players.

News Item – Patriots QB Question: I know Mac Jones was awful last year. But, since this is going to be a two-year rebuild at the least, my general feeling is unless they can get the guy, they are better off filling in as many other holes as they can before bringing in the long-term solution next year. Because having the infrastructure in place first gives young QBs a much better shot at success.

I’m OK with a short-term solution like Baker Mayfield. But, and I know I’m probably crazy, I can live with seeing what Mac can do with actual talent at the skill positions if he wins the job in camp. It nags at me why he was pretty good in 2021 and hadn’t been since.

Maybe because I know what Jim Plunkett became (again) after he was run out amid howling fandom and Mac’s situation is similar. Besides, if he’s bad again, they’ll likely be at the top of the draft to make it easier to draft or trade for a good one.

News Item – Crazy New College Hoops World: With the NCAA Basketball Tourney on the horizon, raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of St. Mary’s College. For those of us who complain that nothing changes among the top teams, tiny St. Mary’s from Morgana, California, (wherever that is) headed to the dance after somehow climbing to be ranked 21st in the country.

The Numbers:

0.9 – assists per game Denver center Nikola Jokic is away from becoming the third player in NBA history to average a triple down in a season with per game averages of 26 points, 12.2 rebounds and 9.1 assists.

Of the Week Awards

Honors – Buddy Teevens: Nice to see Dartmouth will rename its football field Buddy Teevens Stadium at Memorial Field to honor their late coach who died last September from injuries suffered in an off-season bicycle accident.

Thanks for the Memories – Matthew Slater: Upon his retirement after 16 years of stellar play on Patriots special teams and overall leadership. Well done, young fella.

Thumbs Up – Scot Pollard: For news the short-time Celtic came through heart transplant surgery well last week. It followed an arduous search for a heart large enough to support the demands of his 7-foot frame.

A Little History –The Historic 100-Point Game: March 2 is the anniversary of WiltChamberlain’s seemingly impossible 100-point game in a 169-147 win over the Knicks in 1962. Here are a few interesting facts.

It was a “visiting home” game in Hershey, Pennsylvania, with no TV broadcast or any film of the game at all. The notoriously bad free throw-shooting Wilt was 28 for 32 from the line and 36 on (a whopping) 63 FG attempts. Three Knicks players, Richie Guerin (39), Cleveland Buckner (33) and Willie Naulls (31), scored 30+. And, oh by the way, Wilt had 25 rebounds as well.

Random Thoughts:

I don’t know if any NBA team has ever had three guys from the same NCAA championship-winning team like the Knicks have in Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo and Josh Hart from the 2016 Villanova team. That’s kinda cool.

Sports 101 Answer: The six SB winning QBs are, from Alabama, Bart Starr, Joe Namath and Kenny Stabler, and from Purdue, Len Dawson, Bob Griese and Drew Brees.

Final Thought – Spring Baseball Update: A curious side note to the opening of spring training is the plight of Blake Snell. That the reigning NL Cy Young winner remains unsigned in free agency is a surprise to some. But given his asking of $30 million per for nine years, it may be a sign folks in baseball are not always as dumb as they’ve acted since 1976. Yes, he won his second Cy in 2023, but with a measly 14 wins. Big deal. And between 2023 and when he won his 21-5 Cy Young year of 2018 he was 25-26 and never won more than eight games, which came in 2022, when he lost 10 times. So who in their right mind would give this 31-year-old a nine-year deal, especially when he’s averaged just 23 starts his last five seasons?

Well, actually giant money has often been wasted on guys coming off a big season they never matched again. But for once it appears sanity temporarily reigns.

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

Truck Day gets a flat

The Big Story: Even with the Celtics and Bruins taking center stage with football done, the big story is the utter lack of interest in your Red Sox as they open spring training. This is a team that a decade ago sold out 820 consecutive games and looked at Truck Day as an unofficial local holiday. Yet this week, no one cared. At all.

Sports 101: Name the seven former Celtics who later became head coach of the team.

News Item – Celtics Shooting: Thanks in part to their often overpowering offense the C’s have started with the NBA’sbest record. But buried in the credit their 3-point bombing gets is their incredible accuracy on 2-point shots, where, led by Kristaps Porzingis’ 63.2 percent, four guys in the eight-man rotation are above 60 percent and as a team they’re making an incredible 57 percent of their twos. The best the Bird-era Celtics ever did was 53.1 percent in 1987-88 when Kevin McHale’s 60.6 percent made him the lone guy over 60 percent.

News Item – High-Profile NBA Teams Struggle: An interesting story as the NBA season evolves is how teams with Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Luka Doncic and Steph Curry aren’t living up to the results their big names are expected to produce. L.A., Dallas, Golden State and Phoenix have all struggled mightily to just get a playoffs play-in slot, while long-downtrodden Oak City and Minnesota are solidly in the guaranteed slots with young Orlando competing for one. And while the Suns and streaking Warriors may have righted their ships, the question is, are we seeing a changing of the guard?

The Numbers:

44 – NCAA-record rebounds pulled down by Lauryn Taylor for D-II Francis Marion in a win over North Greenville.

64 – wins the 43-12 Celtics are on pace to reach after closing the first half with a136-86 win over Brooklyn.

Of the Week Awards

Clever Headline – San Francisco Chronicle: They led their paper the day after the 49ers lost the SB to KC in Sin City with “Loss Vegas.”

Now I’ve Seen Everything – Eddie House: We know the days of the tie and jacket are gone but seeing that get-up of a hooded sweatshirt under a sports coat Eddie wore sitting in for Scal during last week’s Celtics-Nets broadcast game was a new low. The good news is he was solid analyzing the game.

Thumbs Up – Caitlin Clark: Congrats to the U of Iowa star for passing U of Washington’s Kelsey Plum’s 3,527 career points to become the all-time leading scorer in women’s D-I college basketball. She did it in style by going for 49 points, 5 rebounds and 13 assists in a 106-89 romp over Michigan.

Thumbs Down – NBA All-Star: With the ridiculous final score of Sunday’s defensive masterpiece 211-186, can the NBA All-Star game be called anything but what it’s become — a travesty?

Random Thoughts: The MVP chants Jayson Tatum got in Brooklyn last week are the loudest I’ve ever heard a guy get playing away from home.

Guess Adrian Griffin really was Milwaukee’s problem. After going 3-7 in the first 10 games since his firing, the Bucks have obviously turned it around under Doc Rivers. Including the fired-in-May Mike Budenholzer, their tab for HC’s on the payroll is around $30 million.Here’s my question about Mac Jones: If he can’t play in the NFL, why was he so good his rookie year? Luck or something else?

Sports 101 Answer: The seven former Celtics who later coached them are Bill Russell, Tommy Heinsohn, Satch Sanders, Dave Cowens, K.C. Jones, Chris Ford and M.L. Carr.

Final Thought – The Red Sox: The worst part of the Red Sox dilemma mentioned earlier was not the lack of player moves, unwillingness to spend on talent, phony team-leaked rumors they were in on every free agent from Shohei Ohtani to Tucker Carlson, or the hiring of a not nearly ready for prime time GM. It was hearing earnest but clearly delusional team president/sacrificial lamb Sam Kennedy offer this doozy in defense of the team’s brass on WEEI in January: “If you think for one second that we aren’t passionate, committed, dedicated to the Boston Red Sox, you’re wrong, you’re a liar, and I’ll correct you on it, because it’s total BS.” Sorry, Sam, that’s not true. Expectations are at their lowest for your team since the bottom-dwelling days of the 1960s because ownership simply does not care about anything beyond expanding their sports business portfolio. Thus you’ve got a long haul in front of you.

So Tip No. 1: Calling your customers “liars” is not the best way to go. Tip No. 2: Tell us the truth — that you’re rebuilding, with a target date for when you’ll be ready, so unrealistic expectations built by owner Tom Werner can be adjusted to look at Triston Casas and company with an eye on their growth, not being failures who can’t live up to the 2004 glory days.

Be honest with your customers and then get your act together.

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

3 & counting for Mahomes

The Big Story – Super Bowl 58: With a first three quarters that were nothing to write home about SB 58 wasn’t a game for the ages. But the excitement picked up and drama built throughout its eventful fourth quarter and the second overtime period in SB history, where we were reminded of two things by Patrick Mahomes: Don’t bet against greatness at the end of huge games, and Tom Brady’s hold as the GOAT may not by as long-lived as most think.

Yes, after winning “just” his third title on Sunday he still has a long way to go to match Brady’s seven SB wins. But since there was a 10-year gap for TB between winning his third at 27 and his fourth at 37, the 28-year-old Mahomes can make up a lot of ground before athletic senior citizenship sets in if the winning continues in KC during that time.

In the meantime, enjoy his greatness.

Sports 101: Who holds the record for most career Super Bowl sacks?

News Item – New Day for Kelly: Following the shocker of the week, options to root for locals in college football are down to one school, The Ohio State. That’s because Chip Kelly stunned almost everyone by stepping down as HC of the UCLA to become OC under his old QB during UNH’s Ryan Day era. He took it after Day’s old OC, Bill O’Brien, who not too long ago was OC for the Patriots, stepped down after less than a month to become HC at BC.

Got all that? Well if you did follow the dizzying array of O’s, H’s, U’s and B’s that preceded all the C’s in the last paragraph you probably are an elite Scrabble player.

News Item – NBA Trade Deadline Moves That Affect Celtics: (1) After recently bringing in OG Anunoby and the Detroit duo of Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks lastweek to add scoring punch off the bench, the Knicks may now be the Celtics’ biggest threat in the East. (2) While injuries are always the issue for him I like what a healthy Gordon Hayward can do for Oak City off their bench. (3) Not sure how much help new Celtics Xavier Tillman and Jaden Springer are going to help. But I can say I’ve seen Springer play in short stints twice and both times he caught my attention in a good way.

The Numbers:

2 – wins for Doc Rivers in his first seven games since replacing Adrian Griffin as coach of the going-in-the-wrong-direction Milwaukee Bucks.

6 – Celtics alumni traded last Thursday including Hayward, Evan Fournier, Kelly Olynyk, Grant Williams, Dennis Schroder and Marcus Morris — twice.

58 – consecutive Super Bowls this reporter has seen to keep me in the club of people who’ve seen every one ever played.

Random Super Bowl Thoughts:

How in the name of George Halas could the NFL let the fans vote for SB-MVP? It turns the award into the same kind of homer-driven fan boy popularity contest that wrecked baseball’s All-Star Game.

How in the name of George Blanda can you start voting for the award early in the fourth quarter? At that point the score was 13-10 and Christian McCaffrey was probably the MVP. Except there were still 29:57 left to play and double the action occurred as more points were scored during that than in the first 45 minutes.

Really strong game in the booth for Tony Romo, where he was right on the mark a lot. Like saying SF had to go back to the run when they went stagnant in the third quarter. He was right on a couple of go-for-it-on-fourth-down calls, great on identifying pre-snap match-up advantages and on explaining what the motion by others did to get Mecole Hardman open for the game-winning TD catch.

I’m betting that as the joyful Hardman flipped the historic TD ball away, somewhere Doug Mientkiewicz was saying, “dude, that’s not what I’d do with that ball.”

Where are all those folks who said Andy Reid was a horrible coach who couldn’t manage the clock coming down the strength in big games?

As the Bears get ready to take a QB at the top of the draft for a third time in seven seasons, wonder what those in Chicago watching Mahomes do it again were thinking knowing da Bears passed on him in 2017 to take Mitchell Trubisky instead.

Sports 101 Answer: The record for career SB sacks of 4.5 is shared by Charles Haley, who played in five SB’s with Dallas and San Francisco, and Von Miller, who played just two for Denver.

Final Thought – Battle to Save the World: Ifwe face a winner-take-all football game with an alien force for the survival of the planet, which trio are you taking — Bill Belichick,Brady and Gronk, or Reid, Mahomes and Travis Kelce?

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

Big game kicks off at 6:30pm Sunday

The Big Story – The Tom Brady Super Bowl: Even though the great man is retired, Sunday’s Big Game between the Chiefs and 49ers is still sorta the Tom Brady SB without him even playing. It features Patrick Mahomes, who’s likely going to break all Brady’s passing records someday. And after being drafted lower than TB-12’s 199 slot, 2022’s Mr. Irrelevant Brock Purdy is taking his team to the Super Bowl in his second season just as Brady did. So the game’s top storyline is this: Will today’s top QB take another step toward Brady’s seemingly untouchable record total of seven by winning his third SB? Or will Purdy’s Cinderella story match Brady by winning his first in his Year 2? We’ll know on Sunday night.

Sports 101: Only two players have won championships in two different professional sports. Who are they? Hint: One won one of his playing for the Celtics.

News Item – Theo Epstein is Back at Fenway: Everyone is hoping that means as overlord of Fenway Park. But it’s as senior advisor to what John Henry values more than the Red Sox these days, his Fenway Sports Group investment arm. But at a time when co-owner Tom Werner builds ridiculous expectations by saying the rebuild will go “full throttle” this winter and then pass off last week’s signing of 29-year-old reclamation project Melvin Adón as “exciting” after posting a 7.56 ERA with a 2.10 WHIP and .297 batting average against last year in SF because he hits 100 mph on the gun, any news of Theo being close to JH is welcome to a desperate Red Sox Nation.

News Item – Sports Word of the Week: Disgraceful, used to describe the completely unprofessional state of mental readiness and contemptible lack of effort put forth by the Celtics in a 114-105 loss last week to the undermanned L.A. Lakers playing without LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The best evidence for their “who gives a bleep” attitude was their mindlessly turning it over nine times in the first quarter.

The Numbers:

Of the Week Awards

Why Can’t We Get Guys Like That Award – Joe Thuney: The guard the Pats cheaped out on in free agency a few years back, sending him to KC, where he made first team All-Pro this year thanks to leading all linemen with an astonishing 99.1 pass block win rate. Though ironically, the incredibly durable Thuney may miss the SB with a pectoral tear.

Nikki Haley Was 100% Correct Award: As if we needed more evidence of what a fool Vivek Ramaswamy is, now we have his conspiracy theory about the Taylor Swift-Travis Kelce romance being part of a plot that involves fixing the NFL playoffs to make sure her boyfriend’s team got to the Super Bowl so a presidential endorsement of Joe Biden during the halftime show would have the biggest possible TV audience. It’s so idiotic it backs up Gov. Haley saying in the first GOP debate, “Every time I hear you I feel a little bit dumber.”

Thumbs Down – Joe Mazzulla: It’s one thing to back your players against an unfair media assault, but to stand up against their, ah, effort being called “embarrassing” by calling that reaction “disrespectful” to a team that clearly mailed in it should be embarrassing to Joe. While losing the locker room is a way to get fired, a quicker way is to let non-efforts like that utter embarrassment slide.

Random Thoughts: Reminder to folks saying Coach B should take a year off to decompress. Moot now, but that’s what people said Andy Reid should do after he bounced out in Philadelphia. Instead he went to KC, where he’s won less than 10 games just once in 10 years, while winning two SB’s, and he’ll be in the big game Sunday for the fourth time in five years.

Sports 101 Answer: The dual title winners are Gene Conley and Otto Graham. Conley pitched for the champion 1957 Milwaukee Braves and won three times as Bill Russell’s backup with the Celtics. For Graham it was for the Cleveland Browns and Rochester Royals of the NBL, which merged with the Basketball Association of America the next year to form the larger NBA.

A Little History – Otto Graham: He took Cleveland to the championship game 10 times from 1946 to 1955, winning seven times to set the mark TB matched. Except he only played 10 years to Brady’s 23. His winning 81 percent (103-17-6) is the highest winning percentage in NFL history, as is his 8.63 yards career yards per pass attempt. So is Brady the G.O.A.T. or is it Otto?

Final Thought – Super Bowl Prediction: When the young Brady won his first SB he faced football’s best QB in Kurt Warner. That mirrors Purdy’s task and since he’ll get more time to throw from his OL than Mahomes will from his patched up group, I’ll go with the younger Brady version in a, ah, Taylor-made SF win over KC: 27-23. Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

SB sweepstakes down to two

The Big Story – Super Bowl-Bound: After a Sunday filled with great performances and bizarre plays we’ve got our Super Bowl teams.

Despite completing a pass to himself for a 13-yard gain, Lamar Jackson and favored Baltimore were undone at home by KC 17-10, thanks to a terrific defensive effort that got two turnovers at the Ravens’ end zone and a great game from Travis Kelce in catching all 11 balls thrown his way for 116 yards and the opening TD that gave KC the lead for good.

Game 2 was the opposite as the 49ers roared back from down 17 at halftime to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in a 34-31 win. The key play was a 51-yard gain after Brandon Aiyuk caught a ball that ricocheted off the face mask of the guy covering him. And the Lions were undone by the thing most responsible for getting them to the NFC Championship game, the grit to always go for it on fourth down.

See you in Vegas on Feb. 8.

Sports 101: Four people have won a Super Bowl as a player and a head coach. Name them.

News Item – Crazy NBA Scoring Week: Joel Embiid broke Wilt Chamberlain’s single game Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers franchise scoring record by going for 70 in a win over the Spurs, and wasn’t even the week’s highest scorer. It was Luka Doncic with a fourth best in history 73 in a 148-143 win over Atlanta.

But big scoring didn’t guarantee a win, as the Suns’ Devin Booker and Minnesota’s Karl Anthony Towns each had 62 in losses to Indiana and Charlotte respectively when Towns had an astonishing 44 in his first half.

News Item – NBA Trade Deadline Arrives Next Thursday: With the Celtics going well and restricted by ridiculous NBA salary cap rules don’t expect much from them. Lots of rumors, though, where Portland could continue reshaping the Eastern Conference, as after shipping Jrue Holiday here and Damian Lillard to Milwaukee they could give the Knicks, who are 9-2 since getting OG Anunoby, a further jolt by sending Malcolm Brogdon there as rumored. And surprisingly they supposedly have Robert Williams on the block too.

The Numbers

152 – most ever career playoff receptions recorded by aforementioned KC tight end Travis Kelce to move past Jerry Rice as the all-time NFL leader.

Of the Week Awards

Got It Wrong Again Media Report – NY Post: Early in the search it reported the Atlanta Falcons were “desperate” to hire Bill Belichick. It turned out they interviewed 11 different guys before hiring Rams D Coordinator Raheem Morris instead.

NFL Draft Oddity – Jared Goff and Brock Purdy: Sunday’s game between Detroit and SF was the first time in history that a QB taken first overall in the draft (Goff) and a QB who had been taken dead last (Purdy) faced each other as starters in a playoff game.

Separated at Birth – Goff and Ryan Gosling: Speaking of Goff, is it just me who thinks he’s a dead ringer for the Ken doll Hollywood star?

Put It in Perspective Coach B Quote of the Week – Jayson Tatum: who said on Belichick’s departure as Patriots coach. “… It’s a little weird, he’s been coaching the whole time I’ve been alive. All I’ve known is Bill Belichick and the Patriots.”

Random Thoughts:

I’ll remind folks saying Coach B should take a year off to decompress that that is exactly what people said Andy Reid should do when he was bounced out in Philadelphia. Instead he went to KC, whom he immediately turned around. And in his 10 seasons there he has won less than 10 games just once, while winning two SB’s, and is now on his way to the big game for the fourth time in five years.

Sports 101 Answer: The four guys who won a Super Bowl as a player and head coach are Tom Flores, Mike Ditka, Tony Dungy and Doug Peterson.

Final Thought: God love his gung-ho style. But it was ironic seeing the very thing, Dan Campbell used to instill the fight and toughness that got the long moribund Lions to the NFC title game undo them in the end.

It’s not a second guess to say he should have taken the field goal both times he went for it on fourth down in the fourth quarter vs. SF. It’s a lesson to those who blindly follow the analytics crowd, because making it 59 percent of the time on fourth and three or less means that also it doesn’t work four times out of 10. Thus more factors need to be considered, like field position, distance, the score, time left, what an opponent’s strengths are and momentum.

Campbell didn’t do that in a game his team lost by 3 (34-31) when not taking the two chip shot field goals he passed on likely cost his team a chance to go to the Super Bowl. The good news is it’s a live-and-learn world and it doesn’t overshadow the great job he did. Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

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