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February 1st, 2015

Let Super Bowl XLIX Be the Final I for Roger Goodell

RogerGoodell

For poor little Roger Goodell, it’s been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year.

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a more lamentable season in the history of the National Football League.

The sport’s image — and confidence in the league’s ability to govern itself — took a serious one-two punch this fall when first, NFL’er Ray Rice was exposed on videotape coldcocking his then-fiancée in a hotel elevator, and then when fellow All Pro running back Adrian Peterson was charged with brutally beating his son with a switch.  Commissioner Goodell’s attempt to transcend the off-the-field ugliness was undermined severely by his own missteps — initially by assessing obscenely flaccid penalties to the players, then compounding that with a disastrous press conference performance, in which his attempts at contrition seemed flat, canned and insincere, and his professed strategy to make amends appeared vacuous and ineffectual.

At the same time, NFL efforts to mitigate on-the-field violence failed to dampen criticism and controversy.  As new rules skewed the game towards the offense, offending gridiron traditionalists, the drumbeat calling for fundamental change to the brutal nature of the sport grew louder.  The New York Times Magazine declared that football is “the next tobacco,” vulnerable to multi-billion dollar lawsuits due to long-term damage caused by the sport’s inherent violence.  And prominent public figures raised concerns about the game’s long-term viability: President Barack Obama declared that he would not allow his hypothetical son play the sport, while hoops legend LeBron James announced that his real, flesh-and-blood sons were banned from the gridiron.

And then, as chronicled here last week, Goodell’s annus horribilis appeared to be ending with a pffffffffffftttt.  In a pre-Super Bowl Bye Week intended to hype the Big Game and launch professional football further into the popular stratosphere, “Deflategate” focused the nation’s attention instead on obscure equipment rules, another instance of potential cheating by the New England Patriots, and a lot of manly dudes talking about how they handle their balls.  Even before he had a chance to take action on Ballghazi, the Commissioner was already under attack for his presumed under-reaction, most prominently from Seattle Seahawks superstar Richard Sherman, who called out Goodell for a conflict of interest due to his close friendship with Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

Meanwhile, the nation’s other major sports seem to be on a roll.  Baseball appears to have moved beyond the steroid era; the NBA is experiencing a renaissance with a new generation of young superstars including former Cats Anthony Davis, Demarcus Cousins and John Wall; and college football struck ratings gold with its premiere championship tournament.  And when Kentucky caps off a 40-0 season by crushing Duke in the Big Dance championship game by at least 40 points, college basketball will take its rightful place as our true national pastime.

Hey, you can’t knock a guy for dreaming…

Of course, as I noted a few months ago, the reports of the NFL’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.  Of the top ten rated television programs in 2013, nine were NFL games.  Last year’s Super Bowl exceeded 108 million viewers, and this year could top that.  Ratings for 2014 regular season games this year are up, and fantasy football continues to bring new fans to the sport.  All told, the NFL will bring in a record $9 billion-plus in revenue in 2014, and poor little Roger can cry all the way to the bank when he deposits his $44 million annual paycheck.

Indeed, Goodell has done a brilliant job at one principal task — helping enrich the 32 billionaire and multi-multi-millionaire team owners who hired him and have the exclusive power to terminate his contract.  But just like other American mega-conglomerates that are adjudged Too Big To Fail, the NFL’s core problem might just be Goodell’s laser target on profit.

So is the theory of the very person who groomed and mentored Goodell for the Commissioner’s chair, his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue.  In an explosive GQ piece published this week — appropriately entitled “Goodell’s Season from Hell” — Tagliabue contends that Goodell’s singular focus on making money, as well as his combative relationship with players, have led to the league’s current predicament:  “If they see you making decisions only in economic terms, they start to understand that and question what you’re all about.”

As Tagliabue suggests, most of the players can’t stand the Commissioner.  Poll after poll demonstrates Goodell’s deep unpopularity among his labor force, and NFL’ers have not been shy to publicly rebuke his edicts.

An unlikely spokesman has emerged as Goodell’s most prominent saddle burr foil. Unlikely, because Seahawk running back Marshawn Lynch doesn’t like to talk much at all.  For years, Lynch has angrily protested the league requirement to participate in press conferences after games and during the Bye Week media circus that precedes the Super Bowl.  It turns out that the bruising runner known as “Beast Mode” happens to be extremely shy. So he’s showed up at his mandatory events with off-the-wall oratorical strategies:  one time answering nearly every question with a monosyllabic “yeah“; another repeating the same answer — “I’m here so I won’t get fined” — 21 times, no matter the query; and then most recently, engaging in a five-minute tirade against the over-intrusive media.

Unfortunately, Lynch has taken his anti-league belligerence one step too far.  His latest signature touchdown celebratory move — grabbing his crotch — is crass, obscene and a horrible model for the millions of young boys watching.  His threat to do the same upon reaching the Super Bowl end zone — despite his pledge to reward a worthy charity — threatens to give the NFL yet another high-profile black eye.

Like it or not, this evening, our eyes will be on Beast Mode’s hands.  For despite all of its faults and problems, the NFL has captured the nation’s attention in a way that is not seized by any other sport, nor indeed by any other entertainment offering in today’s diverse multiplicity of platforms.  For several hours tonight, the nation will sit together as one community in a way that will not happen again for another year, barring a 9/11-like tragedy.

Here’s hoping that if Lynch scores a touchdown, he reaches into his pants and pulls out a “Fire Goodell” sign.  Or better yet, a purple anti-domestic violence ribbon.  Hey, you can’t knock a guy for dreaming…

But in any case, it’s time for the NFL owners to realize that their ultimate financial interests is in the longterm viability of the game.  So even though he’s been a good soldier, and an excellent moneymaker, it’s time for Roger Goodell to go.

I’ve opined ad nauseum in this column about the unique  and compelling power of sport, especially on our impressionable children.  The NFL is doing just fine financially; it’s critical that the league takes steps to prioritize integrity over profit, character over ambition.

Fire Goodell.  And find someone who can restore confidence that the league’s top focus once again is the community fan base that supports it.

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I’ll be firing my own smart-alecky tweets during the big game tonight.  Join me for all the Twitter fun at @RecoveringPol.


UK Hoops vs. Georgia Live Diary

(Britney Howard/ UK Athletics)

(Britney Howard/ UK Athletics)

Happy Super Bowl Sunday everyone! Today’s game in Memorial Coliseum features a top twenty-five match-up between the Kentucky Wildcats and the Dawgs from Georgia. Something these teams have in common is that they are both coming off losses to Tennessee. Georgia lost to the Lady Vols by only nine points last Sunday, while Kentucky was heartbroken by a single point on Thursday. Right now, UGA holds a 17-4 record and has the same in-conference record as Kentucky at 5-3. Georgia’s biggest win came against tenth ranked Texas A&M on January 22nd. But, Georgia’s leading scorer, Shacobia Barbee, is out for the season after suffering a broken bone in her lower right leg against the Vols. Before her injury, she was averaging 11.6 ppg and 2.2 steals along with 6.8 rebounds per game. In lieu of Barbee, Tiaria Griffin will become the team’s leading scorer with 11.2 ppg and Krista Donald leads the team in rebounds with 7.2 per game, eighth in the SEC.

Kentucky’s player to watch today is definitely Makayla Epps. Epps has had eight double figure scoring games in the last nine with 23 points against Tennessee. She went a perfect 3-3 from the 3 point line on Thursday- her career high. She also had a career high four steals in the loss.

In their only meeting last season, Kentucky lost to the Bulldogs in Athens, 58-56 with four of the last six meetings between the two teams being decided by five points or less. In those games, Kentucky is 1-3.

We hope you follow along with us tonight as you pre-game for the Seahawks vs. Patriots. Tip is set for 1 o’clock on the SEC Network.

 

10 Minutes until Tip: J.C.:  For it to be only ten minutes until tip off, it’s relatively quiet in here considering today is Alumni Day. Kentucky will be honoring the 2009-2010 team at half time today. The 09-10 team really helped lay the foundation for where the Cats are now. Despite being picked to finish 11th in conference, the Cats finished with a outstanding 28-8 overall record and in second place in the SEC . They made it all the way to the Elite Eight with wins over Liberty, #24/25 Michigan State, and #4 Nebraska before bowing out to #12 Oklahoma in the regional finals. A’dia Mathies won SEC Freshman of  the Year that season, Matthew Mitchell won SEC coach of the year, and Victoria Dunlap was named SEC Player of the Year. Since then, Kentucky has went to five straight NCAA tourneys, going all the way to the Elite Eight in three of those. Tip is coming up shortly.


Devonte Fields commits to U of L

Devonte Fields announced earlier this morning that he has officially committed to Louisville.

The defensive end was a former Big 12 standout at TCU. In 2012, Fields was named the Big 12 Freshman Player of the Year, but was dismissed from the team prior to the 2014 season for an alleged misdemeanor assault charge.

Allegedly, Fields pointed a gun at an ex-girlfriend and threatened to “blast” her during a shouting match after punching a window.

After an investigation, Fields surrendered himself to authorities and TCU removed him from the team. Fields was forced to relocate to Trinity Valley Community College, after TCU blocked his transfer to Stephen F. Austin.

Louisville is sure to welcome him with open arms and Fields is pretty much guaranteed a starting spot next year for the Cardinals.

According to Twitter, Fields has haters and doubters. I can’t imagine why.


Former Cat Chris Matthews in Super Bowl

 

Dean Rutz - TNS

Dean Rutz – TNS

 

While watching the Super Bowl today make sure you look out for a Seahawks jersey with #13 on it.

It’s former Wildcat Chris Matthews. He’s the Seahawks backup wide receiver who, quite possibly, is the reason the Seattle Seahawks are in the Super Bowl this year.

The former UK football player is best known for the recovery of an onside kick that eventually led the Seahawks to winning the NFC Championship and securing their place in Super Bowl XLIX.

Here’s the play if you need a refresher.

Why did Matthews choose to don a number that many believe unlucky? According to Matthews, he wears the number 13 in honor of his father. His father had dreams of playing in the NFL, but chose another career to support his family.

So how did it feel to watch his son make a huge play in the NFL? Well, we don’t know. His dad didn’t get to see it.

Matthew’s dad, a police officer, had to work during the game and missed it.

Since today is Super Bowl Sunday, here’s hoping his dad got the day off today – or at least set his DVR.

Today Chris Matthews becomes the 30th former University of Kentucky football player to suit up in the the Super Bowl.

From former Footlocker employee to Super Bowl contender, it seems for Chris Matthews, number 13 might be lucky after all.

@RickiBarkerKSR


Sunday Morning Links

links

 

Alright people, let’s take a moment to bask in the glory of being the only undefeated men’s college basketball team in the country… you good?

Feels awesome doesn’t it?

In case you missed it (probably because you were too busy watching Kentucky dominate) Duke was able to erase a deficit in the second half against undefeated Virginia. A late flurry of 3 pointers was enough to push Virginia out and solidify a Blue Devil win at John Paul Jones Arena.

While the rest of us our going out of our minds with visions of 40-0, Coach Calipari and the team are playing it cool. Cal says that he is more concerned with the players finding out how good they can be. Sole undefeated team in the nation; I think that’s a pretty good start.

While most of you will probably be glued to your flat screens later because of the Super Bowl, Marcus Lee will probably be sleeping somewhere. Sweet dreams, Marcus, you’ve earned it.

Got any predictions for who will win Super Bowl XLIX today? No need. Psychics have already predicted the outcome including one psychic from Kentucky! Psychics around the country peeked into their crystal balls, spoke with spirit guides or whatever else they do and chose the New England Patriots to win. Unfortunately, no one asked the psychics who deflated the Patriot’s footballs. That could save the NFL a lot of trouble.

While we are on the subject of predictions, Groundhog Day is tomorrow and it looks like Punxsutawney Phil might have to climb out of a snow bank to see if we will be experiencing a long winter. My prediction is that, yes, we will. But I’m no rodent or a psychic.

Meanwhile in UK Football, some good news. Montclair coach John Fiore says that the Wildcats made a good decision in recruiting New Jersey defensive end Josh Allen. Friday night, Allen committed to UK shortly after a meeting with coaches. According to Fiore, UK football just hit the jackpot.

 

@RickiBarkerKSR

 


January 31st, 2015

And then there was one

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Another day, another 15-point win over an SEC team, right? The Cats cruised by Alabama tonight 70-55 to complete the sweep, and thanks to Duke, become the only undefeated team left in the country. Kick back, grab another, and let’s go over it.

UK’s bigs finally reasserted themselves

Trey Lyles had to sit tonight’s game out due to illness, but that didn’t stop the Cats from putting in one of their more efficient offensive performances of the season. Kentucky made a season-best 59% of their shots from the floor to Alabama’s 46%. After Kentucky’s guards stole the spotlight in recent games, the big men showed back up tonight, combining for 38 of UK’s 70 points. “We finally had some post presence,” Cal raved after the game, giving Karl (at least in the first half), Dakari, Willie, and Marcus Lee credit. “When you’re 8-8 from your post players, you end up playing pretty good.”

Will Trey be back for Tuesday night’s game vs. Georgia? The jury’s still out. “Don’t know if he’ll play against Georgia. He’s pretty sick,” Cal said. “We’re having tests done. He was pretty sick after the Missouri game. It changes us.”

I’m going to try really hard over the next few days to not be concerned about that.

First half Karl > Second half Karl

Karl Towns got a lot of heat from John Calipari this week after a string of bad games, and in the first half, he responded to the challenge, putting up 12 points in 12 minutes on 4-4 shooting. Cal was thrilled as he headed to the locker room. “He looked like the best big man in the country in the first half,” Cal said. “That shows you how good he can be.”

The second half? Not so much. Towns didn’t score a single point in the second half, playing only three minutes before fouling out. As you can imagine, Cal was upset. “Whatever you’re telling yourself at halftime, you better stop.” Cal said. “That second half is just like, come on now. No way. This should have been a 25 and eight night for him, it really should have.”

Karl knows. “You have to keep playing through a lot of things that happen in the second half, no excuses and just keep going,” Karl told reporters afterwards. “I have to make sure I play the same game I played in the first half.”

Knowing Karl, he’ll punish himself with no recreational reading for a week.

Marcus Lee had yet another good game

Marcus Lee put in another solid performance, with 8 points and 5 rebounds in 17 minutes. “Marcus Lee was really good,” Cal told Tom Leach. “When Dakari missed that one-footer, he came and tipped it back in. Those can be demoralizing. Those change the complexion of the game.”

Cal being Cal, he had to find one thing to nitpick: “Couple one-handed rebounds.” By the end of his career at Kentucky, Lee may be known as “One-handed Marcus,” a really unfortunate nickname for a college kid.

Devin Booker warmed back up

Devin Booker had a rough trip to Missouri, but finally got back in the groove. After a few bricks, Booker finally connected and reloaded the shotgun, finishing with 11 points, including three of four threes. If you’re keeping count, he’s now made 25 of his last 38 threes for 68%.

“I thought he played good,” Cal said. “I got upset that we threw a ball to him in the corner and he didn’t have a shot, instead of driving it, he just passed it.”

Fouls made the game unwatchable…again

Not to sound like a totally spoiled UK fan who’s complaining about her team’s 21st straight win, but did the second half drag for anyone else? It’s probably because, yet again, the refs tried to choke all the life out of the game, calling 41 fouls, although it felt like a lot more than that. Cal doesn’t seem too concerned.

“When you have a good team you don’t have to worry about refs. When your team’s not good, you really worry about refs. Say put a fourth out there. Somebody said four times zero is zero. Six times zero is zero.”

Actually, anything times zero is zero. Wait, why are we doing math again?

The BBN repped at Louisville/North Carolina and Duke/Virginia because of course

bbn

At this point, why wouldn’t you want to wear your colors in enemy territory? It’s the best thing ever.

Calipari still wants more

You can’t blame the guys for getting a bit complacent. Kentucky has trailed only 103 minutes out of 855 minutes the entire season. Aside from a few scares from Ole Miss and suddenly surging Texas A&M, they haven’t really been challenged. Think of the Cats like…well, cats playing with a ball of yarn for a while until they get bored and it drifts too far away and then pulling it back to go in for the kill. In a game it felt like Kentucky was up by 30, it was sometimes a bit surprising to look at the score and realize they were only up by 15. While Cal says he’s okay with room for improvement, he wants his team to hone that killer instinct.

“We shoot 50-some percent, had five turnovers, and there was, we were just a little bit off,” Cal said. “Now think about what I’m saying. I may be wanting these guys to be perfect on every possession, but you know what? I just think we have to keep that standard high of what we’ll accept and what we’re not accepting.”

Standard coach-speak, but I think Cal, like the fans, just wants to see how good this team can be out of sheer curiosity at this point. “This team, the question is, how good can we be. And I don’t know yet. I’m trying to get guys to go to that next level. I’m prodding and pushing and screaming and yelling, go, because I really do want to see how good can we really be.”

Me too.

Even though everyone else is, the team claims they’re not thinking about undefeated

For the first time probably ever, Duke earned a cheer in Rupp Arena tonight. Why? They knocked #2 Virginia off the pedestal to leave Kentucky as the only undefeated team left standing. Calipari said he talked to the team last night to keep their undefeated dreams in check, telling them if they lose, it’s not the end of the world. “We lose today, we’re 20-1. So? We lose in March, your season’s over,” Cal said. “I’d rather them win them all, but if they don’t, they don’t.”

Like a good basketball player, Aaron Harrison claimed the team isn’t thinking about the “un” word. “It doesn’t matter.  It means nothing at all,” Aaron said. “Because neither one of us have won anything or lost anything.”

I’m glad Aaron’s being reasonable, because as the games go on, I’m finding it harder and harder to be.


Watch the highlights from the game

Not included: Ryan Lemond being as Ryan Lemond as possible during halftime. He was on fire tonight.


Marlana Van Hoose delivered the best rendition of the national anthem that you will ever hear in your entire life

That watery feeling in your eyes? Just let it go, man. Let it go.

I’ve heard Marlana sing the national anthem countless times and I believe this was her best. Chills all over Rupp Arena.


Calipari wants the team to go to the next level

“The question is how good can we be, and I don’t know yet,” Calipari said after the game. “I’m trying to get guys to go to that next level,”

You mean, there’s another level?

Oh man. That sounds fun. Kentucky is 21-0, winning damn near every game by double digits, and Cal wants to go to the next level. That’s exciting.

Let’s go!


Calipari says Derek Willis will get his opportunity

Derek-Willis-e1389966540925

Kentucky was without its two small forwards tonight and Derek Willis still didn’t find time in the game. This seemed to be the perfect opportunity to let the Kentucky boy get some clock, but Calipari did not see it that way. He used a nine-man rotation with Aaron Harrison and Devin Booker sharing Lyles’ minutes at the three. Willis watched on from the pine.

Afterward, Cal assured us Derek will get his chance, eventually.

“He’s going to have his opportunities,” said Cal. “Other guys deserved to play.”

I’m sure Matt will get a call or two about this from all of the Willis fans around the state, who were already begging for minutes before tonight. Voice your frustration in the comments section below if ya got it.

#FreeWillis


Look alive, Sam

@Finna_Go_HAM


Trey Lyles is “pretty sick”

TreyLyles

Trey Lyles did not play and did not attend today’s game due to an undisclosed illness. Kentucky may be without the freshman forward again on Tuesday against Georgia.

Coach Cal said, “Don’t know if he will play on Tuesday. He is pretty sick.”

Speaking of pretty sick, it’s pretty sick to be the only unbeaten team in college basketball and two wins away from the second best start in school history.


Anthony Davis wants his followers to know Kentucky is undefeated

Anthony Davis took a break from dominating the entire NBA to send out a 21-0 tweet after today’s victory. He should be a senior right now. CAN YOU IMAGINE WHAT HE WOULD DO TO COLLEGE BASKETBALL?


Kentucky 70, Alabama 55

bama-box-score


Watch the postgame press conference