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.

The week that was

The Big Story – NFL Championship Weekend: The Sunday when the NFC and AFC championships are played is the best sports day of the year. And that’s what we’ve got coming Sunday, when defending champion KC led by football’s best QB (Pat Mahomes) takes on Baltimore and the best running QB (and likely MVP) Lamar Jackson) in Game 1, followed by a rematch of the famed 1957 NFL special playoff game (finally) between the 49ers and Lions to determine who’d represent the Western Conference in the ’57 title game vs Cleveland. Which, oh by the way, is the last time the Lions were NFL champs. Can’t wait.

Sports 101: Name the two players who’ve scored the most TD’s in NFL playoff history.

News Item – Mahomes on the Road: Amazingly Sunday in Buffalo was the first time he had ever played on the road in the playoffs during his entire six-year career. Though a heartbreaker for the Bills, it was actually lucky number 50 for him. As it was his 39th overall road win to make his road winning percentage of 78 percent the best career for any QB in NFL history.

News Item – The New Philly Phold: In Philadelphia it’s hard to top the famed Phillie Phold (which turns 60 this year), when their baseball team blew a 6½-game lead in the final week of 1964 after not being out of first place even one day the entire season. But by going from 10-1 to finish 11-6 and getting smoked by mediocre Tampa Bay in the Wild Card round, the Eagle collapse may have done just that.

News Item – Chip Kelly Hot Topic: The rumor mill is cranking overtime this time of year in the NFL. One interesting item has the local lad and current UCLA head coach on the wish lists of several teams with openings to be their offensive coordinator.

News Item – Jaylen Brown: When he is bad he is often beyond belief awful bad, Exhibit A being his impossible to forget elimination Game 7 disaster at home vs. the Miami Heat. This time it was Friday’s battle of 2024 NBA titans with Denver when:

(1) he was 1 for 9 from three-point land,

(2) had two lay-ups blocked from behind because he eased up instead of dunking it like he needed to and usually does,

(3) down 1 with a minute to go, he clanged two free fouls in a game they lost 102-100,

(4) he stepped into the lane 2 seconds early on a missed Aaron Gordon FT with 17 seconds left to take away a crucial rebound from Boston in lieu of a jump ball that resulted, and

(5) he was one of several guys toasted by Jamal Murray on his way to his killer 35-point night.

The Numbers:

10 – most all-time playoff meetings between two teams in NFL history, which came Saturday when SF won a 24-21 thriller over Green Bay.

16 – after getting two more vs. Buffalo, times Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce have hooked up for TD’s in the playoffs to pass the Tom BradyRob Gronkowski combo for most in NFL history.

Of the Week Awards

Funniest Super Bowl-Worthy Commercial – Uber Eats: Seeing iconic British actress Helen Mirren sitting on a sofa watching playoff action eating cheese balls just delivered by Uber Eats as she yells, “a Jets sweep on third and 11 — YOU IDIOTS!” before throwing the cheese balls at the TV. Very funny.

Why Can’t We Get Guys Like That Award – Nelson Agholor: He may have been a disappointment in Foxboro, but after he scored the Ravens’ first TD in their 31-10 win over Houston they loved him in Baltimore.

Thumbs Up – Dan Campbell: He’s gone from over-the-top gung-ho nut who’ll last two years tops as head coach in Detroit to a guy who’s somehow done the impossible, transforming the eternally awful Lions into the Cinderella story of the NFL.

Sports 101 Answer: With 22JerryRicehasscored the most playoff TD’s in history.Emmitt Smith and Thurman Thomasare next with 21.

A Little History – 1957 NFL Championship Game: Hard to believe, but the Lions were Patriots-like in the 1950s NFL, winning 3 times. The last was in 1957 behind backup QB Tobin Rote (also the QB for San Diego as they demolished the Pats 51-10 in the 1963 AFL title game) with swaggering Hall of Famer Bobby Layne lost for the season. First by bringing them back from down 24-3 to a 31-27 win over SF. Then Detroit crushed Cleveland 59-14 as Rote threw four TD passes and ran for another to avenge a similar 56-10 beatdown by the Browns in the 1954 Championship game.

Final Thought – Predictions:

49ers-Lions: SF should win, but being the hopeless romantic I am, I’m pulling for the upset by upstart Detroit 34-31. I know, dumb. But that’s my story.

Chiefs-Ravens: Another titanic QB battle. I’ll take Mahomes over Jackson until he proves me wrong. Final-minute 24-23 KC win.

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

Elvis leaves the building

The Big Story: After 24 years of mostly excellence Bill Belichick is out as head coach of the Patriots, something that until recently seemed unfathomable. Followed by the choice of Jerod Mayo, which we’ll have more on later.

Old-Timers Sports 101: Name the two QB’s involved in the shocking 1964 QB-QB trade between Philadelphia and Washington.

News Item – Coaches: Whether it was a firing, a push out, resignation or mutual agreements, last week was a landmark for coaches in football. This generation’s greatest pro and college coaches, Belichick and Nick Saban, are stunningly out in Foxboro and Alabama respectively. And they were followed out the door by Pete Carroll after 14 years in Seattle, the highly regarded Mike Vrabel in Tennessee and possibly Jim Harbaugh at Michigan if the (annual) rumors going around are to be believed. All will likely show up on TV or a sideline somewhere again. But it’s a sea change to be sure, which few expected when 2023 began.

News Item – Pats’ Jerod Mayo: The succession plan was already in place and Kraft lived up to it by hiring Mayo to replace Belichick; chillingly, if he hired a coach before he hired a new general manager, the new GM will probably come from the same pool of people who’ve been drafting so poorly for years.

News Item – Michigan Football: It was a good week for football in Michigan. First their U demolished Washington to win the national championship in college football. Then the Lions beat the Rams and their one-time star Matthew Stafford 24-23 for their first playoff win since 1992 while keeping their hopes alive to win their first NFL championship (1957) in 66 years!

And if you’re keeping score on the biggest QB-QB swap since the 1960s of Stafford for Jared Goff: No fewer than five key guys in Sunday’s win came to Detroit directly from L.A. or future draft picks from the deal. Including TD’s in the game from RB Jahmyr Gibbs and rookie tight end Matt LaPorta.

The Numbers:

0 – Green Bay Packers voted to the NFL Pro Bowl game, compared to seven for Dallas, whom GB annihilated Sunday 48-34.

4 – times Celtics get a life Coach Joe Mazzulla told the media he watches the Ben Affleck-directed Boston heist film The Town each week.

Of the Week Awards:

Best Coach B Line – at his Press Conference: “I haven’t seen this many cameras since we signed [Tim] Tebow.

Fun Media Feud – Steven A. Smith vs. Jason Whitlock: It started with the Blaze provocateur calling into question the truth in Smith’s recent book, to which he responded by calling Whitlock a “fat b—–!” Two best shots were Whitlock calling him “Stephen A Myth” andSmith saying, “This is the dude that will have a funeral that ain’t got no pallbearers.”

Worst Sneakers – Giannis Antetokounmpo: Those chartreuse numbers he wore Thursday against the Celtics. You’ve got to be secure to wear a pair of those.

Thumbs Down – NBA Discipline Czar: For cutting habitual offender Draymond Green’s latest suspension to just 12 games. What are they going to say next time (and there will be one), “This time we really, really mean it, Dray”? Booooo.

Sports 101 Answer: Washington got future Hall of Famer Sonny Jurgensen while Philly got Norm Snead, who was later traded to the G-Men for another HoF quarterback, Fran Tarkenton.

Final Thought – Bob Kraft: Let’s just say I’m not optimistic that the decisions made last week were the right ones.

Moving Coach B out puts approval-craving owner Bob Kraft at center stage in the team’s reconstruction. After lucking into Tom Brady way back when and now not having Belichick to shield him from criticism when things go haywire, he’s now the one to look at over what happens going forward. And while it’s not quite the same, hopefully it’ll go better than for similarly credit-conscious Dallas owner Jerry Jones after his battle of egos with Jimmy Johnson led to JJ’s departure from Dallas after winning two Super Bowls. Because it’s 28 years and counting since the Boys have even been back to the NFC title game, let alone the Super Bowl, after the architect of their three SB wins in the 1990s left the building. And while it had to end sooner or later, it makes me wonder if that’s what’s in store for New England as well. Especially when Kraft picked a totally untested defensive guy to lead a 4-13 team crying out for a new age mind to fix the worst offensive team in franchise history.

And there’s an unsettling historical parallel with Butch Hobson, who Red Sox GM Lou Gorman elevated far above his capability to be his manager because Lou was somehow afraid he’d get stolen away by another team. Which sounds a lot like Mayo’s story.

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

Huge week for HC of NEPs

The Big Story – Bill Belichick’s Future: After the season ended, what happens to Bill Belichick was the raging local question and would be until the answer comes, which may have happened by the time you read this. So stay tuned.

Sports 101: Name the four teams who’ve never played in the Super Bowl.

News Item – NFL Wild Card Weekend: The biggest national story is the opening of the NFL playoffs. The three most intriguing side stories are these:

Miami at KC: Tyreek Hill’s return to Arrowhead Stadium.

Cleveland at Houston: It pits the team involved in bringing DeShaun Watson to Ohio against the one that not only now has the better QB anyway in CJ Stroud but also has all those draft picks Cleveland gave up for Watson.

L.A. at Detroit: Round 2 of who got the better of that Matthew StaffordJared Goff deal. Round 1 went to L.A. when they immediately won the SB with Stafford. But the Lions are now thriving with the much younger QB the Rams dumped and have a brighter long-term future thanks to the boatload of picks that came with Goff. A win for Detroit tilts the arrow toward them.

News Item – College Football Championship Game: The game between Big 10 Michigan and (not for long) PAC 12 Washington would have been played on New Year’s in the Rose Bowl a generation ago. And while it’s exciting for many, the two things that strike me are that it’s the swan song for the PAC 12 Conference, and UM’s coach is there despite being suspended twice for cheating this season. Oh, and semifinals-losing Texas had a back-up QB (Arch Manning) who made $3.2 million in NIL money as a freshman. Welcome to college football2024.

The Numbers:

7.8 – eye-popping yards per carry average (on 103) by rookie Miami back De’Von Achane.

15 secondbest in the NFL rushing TD’s done somehow by quarterbacks Josh Allen of Buffalo and Jalen Hurts of Philly.

236 – last in the league points scored by the pathetic offense of your New England Patriots.

Of the Week Awards

Shot of the Week – Nikola Jokic: The big fella delivered a 40-footer off glass as time expired to make Denver 130-127 winners over stunned Golden State. Though I ain’t buying Joker’s claim he called the bank, so if it’s H-O-R-S-E Nuggets lose.

Thumbs Down of the Week – NFL and NBC: For its sign of what lies ahead in putting Saturday’s KC-Miami wild card game only on NBC’s pay TV streaming service, Peacock.

Random Thoughts:

Disgruntled Patriots tackle Trent Brown wants to be elsewhere next year. Fine with me.

Speaking of Hayward: While durability is always his issue, if he’s bought out by Charlotte, he’d fit perfectly as an affordable point forward, 3 and D option off the Celtics bench.

Sports 101 Answer: Three of the Super Bowl-less teams — the Lions, Browns and Texans — can end their streaks this month, while Jacksonville missed again.

Final Thought – Coach B:

Here’s what my thinking on Coach B would be if I owned the Patriots.

Biggest Problems

Picking Talent: The player evaluation and draft strategy has been mostly awful since 2014. And the big free agent spending year of 2021 was a gigantic bust. It’s left them devoid of talent, especially on offense.

Strategic Approach: He just doesn’t seem to get how important a dynamic wide receiving threat is in 2023.

Can It Be Fixed? Yes, but it means a personnel chief must come in from the outside.

Biggest Issues Determining Whether Bill is the Guy to Fix It

(1) Is he willing/able to work with someone else picking the groceries?

(2) Can he adjust offensive strategy?

(3) Can he still coach them up?

(4) What’s more important: winning SB 7 or him breaking Don Shula’s record as a Patriot?

Answers:

(1) Doubtful, and who from the outside would want to do that?

(2) Maybe, since he did the same adding Randy Moss and Wes Welker after being run over by Peyton Manning in the 2006 AFC title game. Or if the unemployed Josh McDaniels (who was in Bob Kraft’s suite Sunday) comes back as OC.

(3) Given all the crazy penalties, unnecessary timeouts and questionable game management moves the last few years I wonder about that.

(4) For me the wins record is the final exclamation mark to the dynasty, so it tops SB7.

Bottom Line: While I think he’s leaving, if he accepts Issue 1 and brings back McDaniels I give him one last year. As for who has the stature to be Bill’s boss, I give Tom Brady a minority share of the team to nix his Raiders deal and put him in charge of football operations. Then we’re on to 2024.

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

Welcome to 2024

The Big Story – Ahead in 2024: The new year has arrived, so it’s time to look ahead for things you hope happen in 2024 and to give predictions for things that will.

Sports 101: Besides Larry Bird, who was the last Celtic to be league MVP?

News Item – Celtics Deals Cause Havoc Elsewhere: Hard to find someone who doesn’t like the Celtics pickups of Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis. But not so much for teams involved on the other side. While the Celtics won 24 of their first 30, Memphis (10-20), Portland (8-21) and Washington (5-25), where the new C’s came from and Marcus Smart landed in the Porzingis deal, are the opposite at 18-66 in 2023-24.

2024 Predictions:

Speaking of Smart, before 2024 is out he’ll be traded again with the landing spot being rivals Milwaukee or Philadelphia.

We’re confident the now 28-game record-breaking Detroit Pistons losing streak ends sometime this calendar year. Though not sure if it happens this season or the first half of 2024-2025.

Pats keep Bill Belichick as coach and bring in a GM to buy the groceries. They also stick with Bailey Zappe to use their high draft position to put beef in front of him and speed on the outside to make the O more dynamic.

Red Sox finish last again, but Red Sox Nation is too dumb to stop going to games to send the owners the message they need to hear loud and clear: sell or spend or we ain’t coming until you do.

Kristaps Porzingis plays a not-great-for-normal-guys but decent for him 66 games.

Celtics meet Denver in the NBA Finals.

Shohei Ohtani hits 50+ homers in Dodgerland while becoming the most popular Dodger since Fernando Valenzuela.

Things We Hope Happen:

BradStevenssomehowpulls off the rumored trade for big man depth for either Utah’s free agent to be Kelly Olynyk, whose deep shooting is a perfect fit behind Porzingis, or better yet 6’8” Detroit bruiser Isaiah Stewart because he’s a good eventual successor to Al Horford with, at just 22, room to get better as their big off the bench, or with a $15 million contract coming next year, a long-term big money tradeable asset.

Tom Brady passes on the Raiders ownership deal for a similar one for a stake in the Patriots. Bring him home, Bob.

I’m on my knees actually begging Joe Mazzulla to not let Jayson Tatum do that Kobe wannabe garbage isolation at the end of any quarter because he NEVER even gets a good shot let alone scores.

For once let the Patriots not cheap out and spend the money needed to retain Kyle Dugger, Michael Onwenu in free agency and extend Christian Barmore before he becomes too expensive to keep when he becomes a 2025 free agent.

John Henry and Tom Werner give us all a break and sell the Red Sox.

The Numbers:

1987 – the last time the Celtics had five guys score 20+ in the same game as they did in their 144–119 bounce-back win over Sacramento after a bad OT loss the night before vs Golden State.

268 – NBA record consecutive games with a 3-ball streak that ended for Steph Curry when he was 0-8 vs. Portland last week.

Of the Week Awards…

Worst TV Show: I am a survivor of the Irv Cross, Phyllis George, Brent Musburger NFLpre-game show era of the ’70s, but the three bozos on NFL Network Christmas Eve pre-game show are BY FAR the worst I’ve ever seen. High school TV shows are more professional. Embarrassingly bad.

Worst Uniforms: Denver has to be kidding us with those all orange with white helmets jobs worn on Christmas Eve. Nike’s done a lot of bad things to sports but retro Tampa Bay circa 1977 uniforms tops them all.

Yoko Ono Award: Apparently I’m not the only one a little sick of the Taylor Swift/Travis Kelce thing. With KC losing five of their last eight when Kelce hasn’t been his all-world self, folks have started calling Swift “Yoko” in reference to Yoko Ono’s role in starting the downfallof The Beatles.

I could see a coupling between Brady and say, Margot Robbie, being fawned over like they were Monroe and DiMaggio. But a tight end and a girl next door pop star? Come on.

Sports 101 Answer: The C’s last MVP besides Bird was Dave Cowens in 1972-73 when the C’s won a team record 68 games.

Final Thought – Don’t Lean On Them: Does anyone in the NBA know how to set a legal pick? It’s incredible that almost everyone doesn’t, from rookies to 37-year-old Al Horford.How many offensive foul calls is it going to take before they get it? They are at the highest basketball level and no one seems to know your feet need to be set and YOU CAN NOT LEAN!!! The guy coming off the screen is supposed to rub off you. Not the other way around. Jiminy Cricket.

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

2023 in Review

The Big Story – As the year closes, it’s time to look at the biggest stories of 2023 and to remedy Sports Illustrated’s choice of Deion Sanders as Sports Person of the Year by giving five better nominees for that distinction.

News Item – Top 5 Sports Stories of the Year:


Women’s Sports Growth in Business: The WNBA’s Seattle Storm sold for $160 million and an all-women group is putting up $100 million to bring a NWSL expansion team to Boston. These are previously unheard of prices for women sports franchises, so it’s clear the business of women’s sports is finally on its way.

Collapse of Pac-12: The generation of fans who grow up with it may come to love the bloated conference world. But those of us who grew up with schools’ regional identities tied to the conference they played in never will. Stanford in the ACC? USC, UCLA and podunk Rutgers in the Big 10? Creighton in the Big East? Give me a break. The culprit, of course, is money, with the first three schools mentioned being the reason behind the collapse of the once great Pac-8 (then 10, then 12).

Shohei Ohtani the $700 Million Dodger: The final number makes it hard to see how it can match the return L.A. will get back. And you don’t need much imagination to envision how an early injury to an already injury-prone guy can wreck this deal. But I’ll still root for him because he put greed aside to defer all but $2 million of his annual $70 million salary to let L.A. afford more players, which happened less than a week later when the Dodgers (incredibly) also put prized Japanese hurler Yoshinobu Yamamoto under their Christmas tree for a paltry $325 million.

Rise of Gambling in Sports: You can’t turn on any TV sportscast without being overrun by legalized sports betting ads. It’s gone from the ultimate taboo to “it’s all fine with us, boys, as long as you keep sending the cash.”

Collapse of the Patriots Dynasty We now have a clear answer to “Was it more Tom or Bill?,” don’t we? Tom Brady didn’t play in 2023 but clearly he was even more important to the dynasty than most realized.

News Item – Sports Person of the Year:

Brock Purdy: He may not be Brady just yet. But by going from 2022’s last player drafted to beating out the QB who cost the 49ers three first-round picks to get a year earlier, to the MVP favorite, he’s a Brady-like Cinderella story.

Pat Mahomes: The heir apparent to Brady’s passing records won his second Super Bowl.

Nikola Jokic: He led Denver to the NBA title, so he actually did something in Colorado besides promoting himself.

Nick Sirianni: By leading Philly to the SB while somehow adding excitement to the ancient QB sneak with the unstoppable Brotherly Shove, he’s a coach who actually did something besides promote himself.

Notable Deaths – RIP:

Tim Wakefield – 57: He wasn’t the greatest player, but he did earn a special place in Red Sox Nation’s heart.

Jim Brown – 87: The Browns 1950s-’60s fullback was simply the greatest and most indestructible football player who ever lived.

Dick Butkus – 80: No one was scarier or hit harder than da Bears’ MLB. With all due respect to LT, he was the most intimidating player I’ve ever seen.

Bobby Knight – 83: Dan Patrick said it best on his radio show: “I had friends who played for him. I had people who swore by him and swore at him. … This is a coach who demanded poise, composure, but he didn’t have it.” All true, but no one got more out of less athletic ability than the Indiana coach.

Vida Blue – 73: You had to be there to fully get how the A’s fireballing lefty took baseball by storm in 1971 like no first-year player ever has.

Willis Reed – 80: No one has ever put the hopes of his team and its fans on his back like the Knicks captain did in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals. After two days of “will Willis play or won’t he?” fears, he limped onto the Madison Square Garden floor to face Wilt Chamberlain and the L.A. Lakers to energize everyone watching, then scored the game’s first two baskets to crush L.A.’s hopes 90 seconds into the game. I’ve never been more inspired or had a greater day as a sports fan.

Thumbs Up – Brad Stevens: Adding Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday to reshape the C’s has worked perfectly. Add bringing back Al Horford and Derrick White to town and every trade he’s made as Celtics GM has been a heist.

Thumbs Down – John Henry: He’s currently destroying his legacy as the Sox’ best owner ever. Save the legacy by taking the $3 billion profit you’ve earned and sell to someone who wants to win.

Final Thought: Happy new year to all.

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

Holiday joy for Boston

The Big Story – Xmas Arrives: With the holiday season a time of joy, the focus for the big story is the early success of the Celtics and Bruins. The C’s start this week with the best record in the NBA, on pace to win 65 games. Time will tell if the pace can be maintained, since a tough five-game western swing lies ahead, ending vs. LeBron and the Lakers in the marquee national TV game on Christmas Day. The Bruins are tied with the Rangers for the best record in the East after Saturday’s tough 2-1 OT loss to the New Yawkas. They close the year with a mixed bag of six games, some tough and some easy. As for the other two Boston teams, thank them for great thrills over the first 20 years of the century and leave it at that.

Sports 101: Name the only full-time NFL kicker to be named MVP.

News Item – NBA Scores Going Through the Roof: Something is in the water in the NBA and it’s affecting the scoring. There were six games last Monday night and the lowest total by a winning team was 129 by Denver in a seven-point win over Atlanta. In the others, two had 131, in addition to a 132, 136 and the Sixers crushed Washington 146-101. At the top is Indiana, who won 131-123 over Detroit and are on a 129-points-per-game pace that would be more per game than any team in history.

News Item – Five Christmas Wishes: Five presents under the tree for the New England sports fan.

(1) Coach B steps down and the Patriots get the next hotshot GM from the SF or Philly organizations to shop for the groceries.

(2) John Henry sells the Red Sox. Thanks for the memories but he no longer has the fire that’s needed in the owner’s box to win big.

(3) The Celtics (somehow) find a big under the tree to give them needed depth up front.

(4) Seats with cushions and more leg room in the stands at Fenway.

(5) Trip to the Finals for the Celtics. Not wishing for a championship, because I want to see them earn that on their own.

The Numbers:

12 – all-time Saint Anselm record for 3-balls made in game as Josh Morrisette went for a career-high 44 points in an 84-77 over Franklin Pierce.

18 & 23 – team record losing streaks for the San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistonsrespectively. The Spurs’ streak ended on Friday with a win over the Lakers, but Detroit’s rolled on with Sunday’s 146-104 blowout to Milwaukee.

64 – points scored with no box score-inflating 3-balls by Giannis Antetokounmpo, by going 20-28 from the field and making 24 of his astonishing 32 free throws to go along with 14 rebounds in Friday’s 140-126 win over Indiana.

A Little HistoryGiannis’ 32 Foul Shots: In case you’re interested, Wilt Chamberlain also had 32 foul shots that day in March 1962 when he went for 100 points vs. the Knicks, making 28. Dwight Howard holds the record for most FT’s in a game (twice) when he only made 25 and 21.

Of the Week Awards

Biggest Joke: Warriors Coach Steve Kerr saying they want to “help” Draymond Green rather than “punish” him after his latest cheap shot got him suspended. Are you kidding me? If anyone needs to be sent to his room without supper it’s this dirtbag. You’re enabling him with that nonsense.

Late Xmas Present: Even though it was done in the early 1990’s, if you’re stuck for a present for a real baseball history fan it’s hard to find a better one than a boxed set of the baseball documentary from Ken Burns that originally aired on PBS.

Random Thoughts:

When did playing back-to-back games in the NBA become the equivalent of scaling Mt. Everest in a Speedo and wearing flip-flops?

Earth to Adam Silver: Enough is enough with Draymond Green. Suspend that blight on your game for the rest of the year.

Sports 101 Answer: Paul Hornung (1961) and George Blanda (1970) were kicker MVPs, but it was also for a combo of duties as a running back and off the bench backup QB/savior for Green Bay and Oakland respectively. The Redskins’ Mark Moseley was just a kicker when he somehow was MVP during the strike-shortened nine-game 1982 season.

Final Thought:

Happy holidays to one and all.

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

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