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Bumgarner, Giants silence Pirates 8-0 to advance
PITTSBURGH (AP) Brandon Crawford figured the San Francisco Giants needed one run, maybe two, the way ace Madison Bumgarner was dealing. A grand slam provided all that and more, silencing a revved-up crowd and propelling San Francisco into the meat of the playoffs. Streaking in May and slumping in September, the Giants are back to their old resilient selves in October. Hey, it's what they do this time of year. Crawford's slam off Edinson Volquez in the fourth inning led the Giants to an 8-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League wild-card game Wednesday night, sending San Francisco on to Washington for the best-of-five Division Series starting Friday. "We thrive in these situations," Crawford said. "I don't know what it is. We just keep fighting no matter what the circumstance." The Giants won their eighth consecutive postseason game and seventh straight with their season on the line, a streak that dates back to their run to a World Series title in 2012. While much work remains before they can start thinking about the franchise's eighth championship, there was certainly a familiar feeling at PNC Park as San Francisco dismantled the Pirates. "We've been through it before, a lot of this team has," Brandon Belt said. "We used that experience tonight. We know when we get in these situations we're going to have a good ballclub." Particularly when Bumgarner is on the mound. He tossed a four-hitter with 10 strikeouts, needing 109 pitches to put a quick end to Pittsburgh's second straight playoff appearance. Mixing his fastball with a slider and curve the Pirates rarely touched, Bumgarner was in complete control and looked very much like the ace who won 18 games during San Francisco's bumpy regular season. "If you don't want to pitch in these games, you probably need to find something else to do," he said. No chance of that for Bumgarner or the rest of a roster that flourishes once the calendar flips past September. Crawford's grand slam was the first in postseason history by a shortstop - and he wasn't aiming for the fences. With the bases loaded in the fourth and nobody out in a scoreless game, Crawford turned on Volquez's hanging breaking ball and sent it to right. Pittsburgh's Travis Snider waited to play it off the wall. He never got the chance, instead slumping his shoulders as the ball landed a couple of rows deep to give the Giants a 4-0 lead that felt considerably larger. "I was in shock a little bit," Crawford said. So were the Pirates, who never recovered. One night after Kansas City edged Oakland in a thrilling start to baseball's postseason, this one was over by the middle innings. Overpowering one of the NL's best lineups, Bumgarner walked one and threw 79 strikes in his latest stellar October performance. The big left-hander, who allowed only four singles, has thrown 15 scoreless innings in two World Series starts. "We got outplayed tonight," Pittsburgh second baseman Neil Walker said. "Bumgarner went out there, he did what he wanted to do. He put up the strike zone and he made it tough on us." Belt drove in three runs as the Giants padded the lead late. By then the black-clad crowd that began the night in a frenzy was watching in dismayed silence. "We've been there before," Belt said. "It's a lot of fun when you're on the road. ... You know you're doing something good when the crowd goes silent." Volquez was trying to cap his comeback season by sending Pittsburgh to the NLDS for the second straight year, but he couldn't match Bumgarner. The right-hander cruised until the fourth, when a pair of singles and a walk loaded the bases with none out. He'd retired Crawford 19 of the 22 times he'd faced him during his career. It's the 24th that he'll remember. "I tried to bounce it down, back foot, and the ball just kept going," Volquez said. "Bad spot." That was more than enough for Bumgarner. Pittsburgh, fourth in the majors in extra-base hits this season, rarely hit the ball hard. Bumgarner was helped by his defense, too. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval - all 245 pounds of him - flipped over the railing in front of the Pittsburgh dugout to track down a foul popup off the bat of Russell Martin. Sandoval landed on his feet, a perfect symbol of San Francisco's seemingly endless resiliency when October rolls around. Back in the playoffs after winning the World Series in 2010 and 2012, the Giants are looking to continue their every-other-year success. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, was unable to duplicate last year's victory over Cincinnati in the wild-card game that followed a 21-year playoff drought. Playing before raucous crowds at PNC Park, the Pirates pushed St. Louis to a decisive Game 5 before losing their NLDS. This year, Pittsburgh went 17-9 in September while taking the Cardinals to the final day of the season in an attempt to win the NL Central. There will be no extended playoff stay this time after Crawford's grand slam, the fourth in Giants postseason history. Shortstop had been the only position - including pitcher - without a slam in postseason play. "That's crazy," Crawford said. "With all the great shortstops that have played before, that's pretty special. I'm happy to be able to do it." Giants: OF Michael Morse was left off the wild-card roster while he recovers from a strained oblique that has sidelined him since Sept. 20. Manager Bruce Bochy said the veteran would be activated "at some point" in the next round. It's on to Washington for the Giants, where they will face rookie manager Matt Williams and the Nationals. Williams was once a star third baseman for San Francisco. The Giants went 2-5 against Washington this season, getting outscored 41-30. Thu, 02 Oct 2014 03:26:00 +0000
Ravens' Smith: Panthers stabbed me in the back
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Steve Smith took some parting shots at the Carolina Panthers, three days after the outspoken wide received led the Baltimore Ravens to a 38-10 win over his former team. Smith, who spent 13 seasons in Carolina before being cut in March, called into a Charlotte radio station Wednesday and said the Panthers "stabbed him in the back." Smith took direct aim at Dave Gettleman, saying on WFNZ-AM's Bustin' Loose that Carolina's second-year general manager said he was "a shadow of the player I used to be." Smith said the GM said that he "jealous" of quarterback Cam Newton "Yes, it was personal with me and Dave Gettleman," Smith told the station. "Obviously, I did something that got under his skin. And, you know what? I'm not a perfect person. There are people I run into that get under my skin." Smith is Carolina's all-time leader in receptions, yards receiving and touchdowns. The wide receiver said Gettleman also called him a "nuisance" during a conversation with his agent this offseason. Smith said Gettleman told him the team intended to trade him and laughed off the idea of Smith taking a pay cut to stay in Carolina. "It hurts me because the way I play it is basically a justification to try to show people, `Well, we had to get rid of him because he was a nuisance," Smith said. Smith suggested he might have been too competitive for Gettleman's liking. "Maybe I have a higher standard and I want to bring people up there with me and I expect them to work hard just like me," Smith said. "Because the last (thing) I was told you're either getting better or you're getting worse." Gettleman did not immediately return text messages seeking comment. His policy is not to speak to the media during the season. Smith also expressed frustration at his former coach Ron Rivera, saying he "never even spoke to me through the whole ordeal." Smith had seven catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns Sunday in the Baltimore win. Rivera congratulated Smith after the game. Smith said Rivera told reporters he met with him after the game "so he can look a certain way." Rivera said at his press conference Wednesday that he didn't feel the need to defend himself and prefers to focus on Carolina's game Sunday against the Chicago Bears. "I'm not going to address it," Rivera said. "I have moved on and I would like to believe that we have moved on and it's time to talk about the players in this locker room." Thu, 02 Oct 2014 00:37:00 +0000
Players officially file lawsuit against FIFA, CSA over artificial turf at World Cup
A lawsuit has officially been filed by a group of women's international soccer players against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association regarding the use of artificial turf at the 2015 Women's World Cup. The players say that it is gender discrimination to not be playing on natural grass and that men would never have to play a World Cup on artificial turf. The lawsuit was filed in an Ontario tribunal court on Wednesday. "This differential treatment constitutes a violation of section 1 of the Ontario Human Rights Code," the lawsuit reads. NBC Sports obtained a copy of the lawsuit, which can be read here, along with the letter to the registrar. Attorney's also requested to expedite the proceedings due to the short amount of time until the World Cup. FIFA Deputy Director for Women's Competitions Tatjana Haenni said on Tuesday that the 2015 World Cup will be played on turf and that "there's no Plan B." She is in Canada along with an independent group assessing the turf of all six venues to be used next year. [MORE: Complete coverage of the 2015 Women's World Cup Turf War] Players first threatened FIFA and Canada Soccer with a lawsuit in late July, but wanted to give the organizations time to respond. The group says that playing a World Cup on artificial turf -- what they say is an "inferior surface" is discriminatory. Every senior men's World Cup has been played on natural grass. Recent youth World Cups, including the 2014 U-20 Women's World Cup in Canada last month, have been staged on artificial surfaces. All six venues for next year's World Cup are slated to have artificial turf. Among the players on the list are past and present FIFA World Players of the Year Germany goalkeeper Nadine Angerer (current title holder), U.S. forward Abby Wambach and Brazil's five-time World Player of the Year Marta. Also named in the lawsuit are U.S. internationals Alex Morgan and Heather O'Reilly, Spain captain Veronica Boquete and France's Camille Abily. Its very disappointing that FIFA hasnt really even acknowledged or given us any response to our statement, Morgan told NBC Sports in September. It seems like CSA and FIFA are kind of playing the blaming game. So we would like some sort of response and some sort of explanation, because I feel like it is taking a step backwards so hopefully we get the explanation sooner rather than later. Players have said that they will not boycott the World Cup. A FIFA distributed survey from 2013 showed that 77 percent of players prefer the World Cup to be on natural grass. Every men's World Cup since 1930 has been played on natural grass. Youth World Cups, including the 2014 U-20 Women's World Cup in August in Canada. The lawsuit points out that FIFA spent $2 million to install natural grass over artificial turf in Detroit and New Jersey for the 1994 men's World Cup. Hampton Dellinger, an attorney representing the players, released the following statement on Wednesday afternoon: "Two months ago, attorneys for a coalition of leading players informed officials from the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) and FIFA that forcing the 2015 womens World Cup to take place on artificial turf rather than grass was not only wrong but also constituted illegal sex discrimination. Mens World Cup tournament matches are played on natural grass while CSA and FIFA are relegating female players to artificial turf. The difference matters: plastic pitches alter how the game is played, pose unique safety risks and are considered inferior for international competition. Through public statements and private communications the players and their lawyers have clearly signaled to CSA and FIFA that we want to resolve the turf war through good faith negotiations rather than litigation. CSA and FIFA have ignored these overtures. As a result, the players have no choice but to initiate the legal action filed today. Whatever happens in court, CSA and FIFA have lost any claim to being good stewards of the womens game -- until they correct their mistake. After the spectacular success of World Cup 2011 and the 2012 Olympics, CSA and FIFA could help womens soccer reach even greater heights. Instead, the leaders of CSA and FIFA are embarrassing the game and, even more, themselves. The gifted athletes we represent are determined not to have the sport they love be belittled on their watch. Getting an equal playing field at the World Cup is a fight female players should not have to wage but one from which they do not shrink. In the end, we trust that fairness and equality will prevail over sexism and stubbornness." Wed, 01 Oct 2014 04:16:41 +0000
Michigan QB Gardner to start vs Rutgers
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) After leaving sophomore quarterback Shane Morris on the field following a hit to the head last weekend, Michigan coach Brady Hoke took responsibility for the program's breakdown in communication Wednesday and said Devin Gardner will start against Rutgers. Hoke did not elaborate on discrepancies between his news conference Monday and athletic director Dave Brandon's statement on Morris' injuries early Tuesday. Brandon said Morris suffered a high-ankle sprain and "probable, mild concussion." "From the start, when you're a leader, you always have to take responsibility," Hoke said. "I take responsibility for our student-athletes, and I would take it for their health and welfare. But I'll also make it clear I don't make decisions on the health and welfare, and that shouldn't be the coach's decision." Fifth-year senior Gardner will start on the road in New Jersey for the Wolverines. "We have great belief in what he has done," Hoke said. "I think the leadership that he has demonstrated with a lot of adversity, I think he's done a tremendous job." The decision came two days after offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier opted not to commit to a quarterback, saying coaches would "evaluate the position." Gardner played the remainder of the fourth quarter Saturday after Morris was ultimately removed. He finished 3 for 6 for 39 yards with a rushing touchdown in Michigan's 30-14 loss to Minnesota. Both Brandon and school President Mark Schlissel issued statements in the aftermath of Morris' injuries, citing a "serious lack of communication" on the field. Hoke said he still would not wear a headset on the sideline. "That's something I've explained a lot," Hoke said. "It allows me to coach guys on the sideline. I've got a guy right behind me who is telling me everything that I need to know. I think it helps when you want to be hands-on." Brandon described plans for more medical personnel in the press box area and examination of sideline policies regarding communication. Brandon's statement acknowledged Morris' likely concussion - after Hoke had said about 12 hours earlier that as far as he knew, the quarterback had not been diagnosed with one. "(We) worked very hard getting it right in the statement," Hoke said. "When you talk about evaluating all the things we needed to evaluate, that was all handled in the statement." Hoke says his relationship with Brandon remains "a relationship that's built on trust, that's built on integrity and built on character." There have been calls from students on campus for both Hoke and Brandon to be removed. Wed, 01 Oct 2014 22:28:00 +0000
LeBron warmly welcomed "home" by Cleveland fans
CLEVELAND (AP) The crowd's deafening roar was so loud LeBron James couldn't hear his name announced. Unsure of whether to walk out onto the floor, he looked around and realized he was the last one left on the bench. Seconds later, James knew he was home. Cleveland fans welcomed the NBA superstar back with open arms and ear-splitting screams on Tuesday night as nearly 17,000 fans showed up to watch the Cavaliers hold their annual scrimmage, a glorified practice that provided a preview of what could become a spectacular season. Wearing the familiar No. 23 wine and gold jersey, the one he swapped for a No. 6 in Miami four years ago, James returned to the court where he took his first steps as a pro. As he waited on the bench to be introduced, James couldn't hear the announcer say, "From Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, No. 23 ... " So James began walking out. "I really couldn't hear it," he said. "The fans were really loud and the PA was a little down, so I really couldn't hear it. I was the last person sitting on the bench, so I guess it had to be my time. But the roar was very well received and I'm grateful to be able to be in this position where the fans welcomed me back like that." This ovation was in stark contrast to the one he got following the last game James in played for Cleveland in 2010. Following a 27-point loss to Boston in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, a game in which he was oddly passive, James was targeted with boos and later questioned about his effort. Two months later, he announced he was signing with the Heat. But all has been forgiven, if not forgotten. For Cleveland fans, the sight of James once again on the Cavs' home floor, soaring to the basket for a dunk or catching an outlet pass from new teammate Kevin Love, was something to behold. "I can't believe this," said 19-year-old Alex Krocker from Bolivar, Ohio. "I've waited my whole life for a Cavs team like this, for a Cleveland team like this. It's crazy." Moments after the opening tip, James, who in a heartfelt letter declared he was re-signing with the Cavs on July 11, reminded Cleveland fans what they've been missing. He was short with his first shot, a fade-away baseline jumper. But he grabbed his own rebound and calmly sank a 3-pointer. He followed that with a two-handed dunk and later drove the lane for one his signature slams, the kind of play that has elevated him to the world's best player. The Cavs gave away 20,000 free tickets for the event and the team announced 16,723 showed up to watch the Wine squad beat the Gold 66-52. James scored 13 points, Kyrie Irving added 10 and Love had nine, but the numbers didn't matter. This was another first in a season of homecoming events for James. Before the Cavs took the court for pregame warmups, James gathered his teammates in a hallway outside the locker room and led them in prayer. He told them to "play hard and play smart. Let's get better today." As they were about to exit the tunnel, James pulled a prank on unsuspecting rookies Joe Harris and Alex Kirk. James told the two youngsters to lead the team out, and when they started toward the court, the superstar held the rest of the Cavs back, leading to an embarrassing moment for Harris and Kirk. "It was a good laugh," Harris said. While the Cavs were on the floor, first-year Cavs coach David Blatt was encouraged by the team's ball movement but knows the defense has a long way to go before it's at a championship level. "Overall the impression was positive," said Blatt, who started James, Irving and Love along with Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters but hasn't committed to his first five. "For me, you have starters and second starters, that's what makes teams good." Blatt has James, and that's all that matters. A successful international coach, Blatt will face his former team, Maccabi Tel Aviv on Sunday in the Cavs' first official exhibition game. It's sure to be an emotional night for Blatt, who has witnessed Cleveland warmly wrap its arms around James again. "It's a very special group of people who live here that appreciate things about people and about life that are admirable," he said. "I'm not surprised at all at how he has been received." Thu, 02 Oct 2014 05:45:00 +0000
FCC will consider petition to ban 'Redskins'
WASHINGTON -- The head of the Federal Communications Commission says the agency will consider a petition to ban the Washington Redskins nickname from the public airwaves. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler says Tuesday that the commission "will be dealing with that issue on the merits, and we'll be responding accordingly." A law professor has challenged the use of the name on broadcast television, saying it violates FCC rules against indecent content. Native American and other groups have demanded the name be changed, calling it a racial slur. Wheeler did not offer a timetable for a ruling on the matter. He has previously said he finds the name "offensive and derogatory," but that he hoped Redskins owner Dan Snyder would change it without any formal action. Snyder has vowed never to change the name. Tue, 30 Sep 2014 22:27:00 +0000
Raiders make Tony Sparano interim coach
ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) Reggie McKenzie believes he put together a roster capable of competing for a playoff spot. When that roster got off to an 0-4 start and wasn't even competitive in two games, the Oakland Raiders general manager decided he needed to fire coach Dennis Allen. McKenzie replaced his hand-picked coach by promoting offensive line coach Tony Sparano on an interim basis Tuesday with the hopes that can spark a turnaround for a team that has lost 10 straight games dating to last season. "Yes, I do believe what we put together this offseason was a roster that could win," McKenzie said. "I'm not going to get into all the particulars of why it didn't work for Dennis. But the bottom line is it didn't work. For whatever reason, not only the 0-4 start but our play did not represent what we were capable of. That's the bottom line." Allen was the first head coach hired by Oakland after Al Davis' death in October 2011. His 8-28 record is the worst for the franchise since before Davis arrived in 1963. His contract was set to run through next season. McKenzie made the decision to fire Allen and then let owner Mark Davis know his plans. Davis supported McKenzie's call but now pressure turns to the general manager whose additions have not led to a better record. Allen is the third coach fired during the season by Oakland since Al Davis arrived. Mike Shanahan was fired after four games in 1989 and Lane Kiffin was let go four games into the 2008 season. "In my analysis, I think we do have players that can play in this game," Davis said. "I just think that there may be some changes in how the schemes are utilized." Sparano becomes Oakland's eighth coach in the past 12 seasons. The Raiders have not made the playoffs or had a winning record since winning the 2002 AFC championship. Sparano had a 29-32 record as head coach in Miami from 2008-11. He took over a one-win team in 2008 and led the Dolphins to an 11-5 record and an AFC East title. That was his only winning season and he was fired with three games remaining in 2011. Sparano said he was still working out particulars about play-calling and other details and would talk to his players on Wednesday about what changes he planned to make. While he was not ready to offer specifics on Tuesday, he did say there would be a philosophy change when the team returns from the bye week to play its next game at home against San Diego on Oct. 12. "We need to make sure we're asking our football players here as coaches to do the things that they do best," Sparano said. "We have some good football players here, a lot of them. They do a lot of good things. We need to let them do what they do best." Allen and McKenzie were hired after the team finished 8-8 under coach Hue Jackson in 2011, falling one game short of a playoff bid. They were expected to steady a franchise that fell into disarray during Al Davis' final years as owner. Instead, the team has only gotten worse, posting back-to-back four-win seasons before getting off to the 0-4 start this year despite adding players like Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, Maurice Jones-Drew, Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown, James Jones, Antonio Smith and Matt Schaub in the offseason. Even worse, the Raiders have looked overmatched at times. They fell behind 27-0 after three quarters of their only home game against Houston and trailed by 31 points after three quarters against the Dolphins. In all, Allen had more losses by at least 20 points (nine) than wins. It was performances like those that Mark Davis said he no longer wanted to see in Allen's third season and that ultimately led to his downfall. "To me, that's not what the Raiders are," Davis said. "And we're still trying to get to be what the Raiders are." Davis cited this year's draft class led by linebacker Khalil Mack, quarterback Derek Carr and guard Gabe Jackson as players who could form the foundation. But he was not willing to commit long-term to McKenzie, who has two years remaining on his contract, or Sparano. Davis said he would have more involvement in the hiring of the new coach than last time when he let McKenzie pick Allen. He also said he might reach out to former coach Jon Gruden about a possible return. "That's the future and I'm not going to talk about future coaches," Davis said. Sparano has 12 games to show that he should be that guy. --- AP NFL websites: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL Wed, 01 Oct 2014 00:21:00 +0000
Michigan AD apologizes for mistakes with QB injury
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) Roughly 12 hours after embattled Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he'd been given no indication that quarterback Shane Morris had been diagnosed with a concussion, athletic director Dave Brandon revealed in a post-midnight statement that the sophomore did appear to have sustained one. That capped a bizarre day in which Michigan tried to address questions about the coaching staff's handling of Morris, who took a violent hit in the fourth quarter of Saturday's loss to Minnesota. "In my judgment, there was a serious lack of communication that led to confusion on the sideline. Unfortunately, this confusion created a circumstance that was not in the best interest of one of our student-athletes," Brandon said in a statement released shortly before 1 a.m. Tuesday. "I sincerely apologize for the mistakes that were made. "We have to learn from this situation, and moving forward, we will make important changes so we can fully live up to our shared goal of putting student-athlete safety first." Morris took a crunching hit from Theiren Cockran on Saturday and briefly looked as if he was having trouble standing, but he remained in for the next play and threw an incompletion before coming out of the game. Devin Gardner replaced him, but later on that drive, his helmet came off at the end of a play. While Gardner sat out for a play, as required, Morris went back in and handed the ball off to a running back. Asked Monday if Morris had been diagnosed with a concussion, Hoke said: "Everything that I know of, no." Hoke said Morris would have practiced Sunday night if not for a high ankle sprain. But in his statement, Brandon said: "As of Sunday, Shane was diagnosed with a probable, mild concussion, and a high ankle sprain. That probable concussion diagnosis was not at all clear on the field on Saturday or in the examination that was conducted postgame. Unfortunately, there was inadequate communication between our physicians and medical staff, and Coach Hoke was not provided the updated diagnosis before making a public statement on Monday." Brandon said he has had numerous meetings since Sunday to determine what happened with Morris. He said Morris had been treated for a sprained ankle earlier in the game, and medical staff on the sideline believed that was why he stumbled while trying to walk around after being hit by Cockran. "The team neurologist, watching from further down the field, also did not see the hit. However, the neurologist, with expertise in detecting signs of concussion, saw Shane stumble and determined he needed to head down the sideline to evaluate Shane," Brandon said. As for how Morris went back in after Gardner's helmet came off: "Shane came off the field after the (incomplete pass) and was reassessed by the head athletic trainer for the ankle injury," Brandon said. "Since the athletic trainer had not seen the hit to the chin and was not aware that a neurological evaluation was necessary, he cleared Shane for one additional play." Brandon said the neurologist and other team physicians were not aware Morris was being asked to return to the field, and Morris left the bench when he heard his name called and went back into the game. "Under these circumstances, a player should not be allowed to re-enter the game before being cleared by the team physician. This clearly identifies the need for improvements in our sideline and communication processes," Brandon said. Brandon said Morris was examined for a concussion after the game and wasn't diagnosed with one at that point. Hoke was already facing pressure over Michigan's performance this season. The Wolverines fell to 2-3 after losing 30-14 at home to Minnesota. If there was one major point Hoke seemed to stress Monday, it was that he doesn't have input into whether a player is healthy enough to play. If a player shouldn't be going back in the game, that is the trainer's call. "I knew the kid had an ankle injury," Hoke said. "That's what I knew." Tue, 30 Sep 2014 06:57:00 +0000
NFL has laundry list of verboten celebrations
Dancing Billy "White Shoes" Johnson, shuffling Ickey Woods and the group high-fiving Fun Bunch? Their entertaining touchdown celebrations would be illegal in today's NFL. Though the league rulebook has some very specific examples of what constitutes a penalty, the gray area is as wide as ever. Take, for example, Husain Abdullah's drop to his knees after returning an interception for a touchdown Monday night. It threw the referees for a loop - and caused them to throw a flag. In their eyes, the Chiefs defensive back violated the language in Rule 12, Section 3(d) that states "Players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations while on the ground." But Abdullah is a devout Muslim, who had always vowed he'd fall to his knees if he ever reached the end zone. Critics pointed out that many players have knelt in Christian player and weren't penalized, most notably Tim Tebow, who's one-knee genuflection became a meme. After further review, the NFL said since it was part of a religious expression, and Abdullah should not have been flagged. Highlights from the NFL's forbidden list, who may have caused it and who might get nailed today. -PROLONGED, CHOREOGRAPHED, EXCESSIVE CELEBRATION: It could be said that the "Fun Bunch" - aka Art Monk, Alvin Garrett and the rest of the Washington Redskins receivers in the early 1980s - took the fun out of the NFL. After touchdowns, they would form a circle and time a group high-five. In a 1983 game at Texas Stadium, Cowboys defenders tried to break up a Fun Bunch celebration by standing in the middle of it. A year later, the league passed a rule banning "excessive celebration." Just last week, Antonio Brown of the Steelers broke this rule, and about three others, when he spun the ball on the ground, pretended he was spinning like the ball, then fell to the ground. He was penalized 15 yards and a scolding from coach Mike Tomlin. Victor Cruz of the Giants says he's planning a new Salsa dance to celebrate TDs. -USE OF FOREIGN OBJECTS THAT ARE NOT PART OF THE UNIFORM: Would the white shoes Johnson wore when returning kicks for the Oilers back in the day have qualified as "foreign objects?" Who knows? But give these guys an `A' for creativity and advance planning: Terrell Owens pulling a Sharpie pen out of his sock and signing a ball after scoring. And Saints receiver Joe Horn reaching the end zone, then pulling a cellphone out of the padding on the goalpost and pretending to make a call. -SACK DANCES, HOME-RUN SWING, INCREDIBLE HULK: All are verboten if "committed directly at an opponent." Mark Gastineau of the Jets had one of the first (and possibly the worst) sack dance. It sparked a bench-clearing brawl in 1983 with the Rams and their Hall of Fame offensive lineman Jackie Slater, who said: "One lousy tackle and he puts on a big act. Why don't I dance every time I block him out?" Also forbidden under this category are home-run swings (Neil Smith), incredible hulk gestures (Clay Matthews used to do it. More recently, Packers RB Eddie Lacy cleverly bypassed this by wearing an Incredible Hulk shirt under his jersey) and military salutes (could've potentially put Terrell Davis and the Broncos famous Mile High Salute of the late 1990s in jeopardy). -THROAT SLASH, STOMPING ON TEAM LOGOS: Fred Taylor of the Jaguars got tagged a few times for a throat-slash gesture that was popular, especially in college football, about 10 years ago. Owens put team logos in the rulebook when, while playing for the 49ers, he ran to the star at the 50-yard line at Texas Stadium after a touchdown. Emmitt Smith responded by doing that himself a bit later. Then, Owens caught another touchdown and did it again, and Cowboys defensive back George Teague met him at the star and laid him out. -SPIKING THE BALL OVER THE GOALPOST: It had been one of the last bastions of good, clean celebration - that is, until Saints tight end Jimmy Graham knocked the post off-kilter on a slam last season in Atlanta, causing a lengthy delay. This preseason, Graham was penalized twice and fined $30,000 for breaking the new rule. His reaction: "You can't really have fun anymore." Well, Woods still can. The former Bengals runner is featured doing his once-famous Ickey Shuffle in a GEICO commercial that airs during NFL games. Tue, 30 Sep 2014 20:35:00 +0000
A flawed Ryder Cup system for Americans
GLENEAGLES, Scotland (AP) Paul Azinger is not ruling out a return as Captain America in the Ryder Cup. But that's not what America needs. And neither does Azinger. His reputation only grows each time the Americans fail. Why would he want to risk that when there is no guarantee of reward? With so much focus on a dysfunctional U.S. team, it's easy to overlook that Europe might have been the stronger side, anyway. Azinger was in a Harley-Davidson bar in Florida on Sunday when the Ryder Cup ended. He answered his phone and said, "Dude, why is my Twitter blowing up?" The reaction to such a resounding loss and embarrassing exit in the Ryder Cup was to bring back Azinger in 2016 at Hazeltine. So when Derek Sprague takes over as president of the PGA of America the weekend before Thanksgiving, Azinger should be the first person he calls. Not to hire him. To listen to him. Azinger might be the one person responsible for giving the Americans their best chance in a game that has gone global. His greatest contribution had nothing to do with pods, rather how the team was chosen. He refused to take the captain's job for 2008 unless the PGA of America agreed to toss out its outdated qualifying system in which points were rewarded only to the top 10 at PGA Tour events. That stopped working as the tour became populated with the best players from around the world. And he somehow persuaded the PGA of America to copy the PGA Tour. The new qualifying system is just like the one used for the U.S. Presidents Cup team - based strictly on money dressed up as points. He also asked that the number of captain's picks be doubled to four players. That prompted Azinger to say, "If we win, I'll go down as having the lowest I.Q. of any genius who ever lived." He sure looked like one. His system of "pods" was genius. Three groups of three qualifiers told Azinger whom they wanted as a captain's pick (Steve Stricker was a pick but treated like a qualifier that year). They were accountable for each other as a pod, and ultimately a team. Phil Mickelson referred to it as a "winning formula." It's more about the philosophy than the details. And above all, it's about team. That's what Europe has figured out. The Americans had that under Azinger. They also had it under Davis Love III, except that Europe had better putters at Medinah, and that works in any format golf is played. But to identify the problem with the Americans is to study the team that keeps beating them. That starts with how the captain is selected. Paul McGinley wasn't chosen by a club pro. The 12 players on the tournament committee for the European Tour who put him forward as the captain, the same system that selected Jose Maria Olazabal and Colin Montgomerie. It will change for 2016, but the same principle applies. Getting the players invested started with having everyone under the same flag. The past three captains, one player from the tournament committee and European Tour chief George O'Grady are on the panel that picks the 2016 captain. How did PGA President Ted Bishop decide on Watson? Reading a book. He was coming home from the boondoggle in Bermuda known as the PGA Grand Slam of Golf when he read a book by the late Jim Huber on Watson's remarkable run at Turnberry in 2009, when he was an 8-foot putt away from winning the British Open at age 59. He called Huber about his "out-of-the-box" idea, and Huber loved it. Bishop consulted his officers, called Watson and a year later took a chance. "I think it's important for the people to understand that the PGA of America has an obligation to try to pick and find the captain that we feel is going to put our team in the best position to win," Bishop said when he introduced Watson as captain. "We feel he's certainly the perfect person to do this, based on his playing record in Scotland." It's hard to say which is more dreadful. That he would connect Watson's playing record in Scotland with his ability to lead players half his age? Or that the PGA of America alone decides to should be captain? Why not involve the players? Why not involve the past captains? Europe has a formula that began under Tony Jacklin and has been used in various capacities by just about everyone except Nick Faldo, whom Azinger referred to as the "lone wolf." Faldo brought his own system, and it was the one European loss in the last 15 years. All of Europe seems to be involved in the Ryder Cup. The PGA of America runs this show by itself, and there is a built-in disconnect because it has no involvement with PGA Tour players except at the PGA Championship every year, and the Ryder Cup every other year. There is no continuity in America, even on the rare occasion when it wins. The Ryder Cup is closely contested because the players are great. Even so, Europe has won eight of the last 10. And unless something changes, the gap will only widen. Tue, 30 Sep 2014 14:44:00 +0000
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