I know. It’s difficult to believe that there were voters who did not put Willie Mays, Honus Wagner, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Ty Cobb, or Babe Ruth on their ballots, but that foolishness doesn’t detract from Mariano’s 100%. Mariano was the best of all time at what he did.

Actually, it is not known whether Lou Gehrig and Roberto Clemente were elected unanimously. They were chosen via special elections, and the results have never been made public.

Also elected this year: Roy Halladay, Mike Mussina and Edgar Martinez.

Interestingly, no true position player was elected this year. The new inductees will be two starters, a closer and a DH.

The also allowed 38 in that quarter!

NBA scoring has gone crazy. The scores are starting to look like the 1960s again. Look at those scores in yesterdays’s recap. There are a bunch of teams in the 130s and 140s, topping out at 149 for the Sixers.

Pro basketball teams averaged more than 118 points per game in the early run-and-gun 60s, but the game had completely changed by the 1998-1999 season, when the average dropped below 92, and very little had changed by 2011-2012, when the average was a mere 96.

But change was in the air. Ever since that year the average has been rising, and it is now above 110 for the first time since the mid 80s. The change has been driven by 3-point sharpshooting. In just the past seven seasons, the number of successful three-pointers per team per game has risen from 6 to 11, while the number of successful two-pointers has stayed steady at 30. (The number of two-point ATTEMPTS has dropped, but COMPLETIONS have not. The reason? The newly accelerated three-point game spreads out the defense, thus making it easier for the two-point shooters to find an opening. Over the same period described, the two-point shooting percentage has increased from 48% to 52%.)

Yawn. Nothing to report. All four of the “first round bye” teams won their games.

The Saints had some trouble with the Eagles, falling behind by 14 at one time, but the other three “bye” teams breezed through.

The Colts were never really in it at all. They just couldn’t move the ball.

The Rams won with a rare strategy – grinding it out on the ground. They gained almost 300 rushing yards, accounting for all three of their touchdowns.

The Pats scored 35 in the first half against a hapless Charger defense. Life will be much more difficult for the Pats next week. They will not be at their cozy home in Foxboro, where they were undefeated throughout the regular season and the playoffs, but on the road, where they were 3-5 during the season.

==============

The Chiefs will be favored by 3 at home in the AFC Conference Championship game.

In the NFC Championship, the Saints are 3.5 point favorites at home.

Alabama contended only for one quarter. The yardage from scrimmage was remarkably even, 482-443, but Clemson had two big interceptions, and converted 10 of 15 third downs.

Major accomplishments:

Clemson became the first top-level college team to be undefeated with 15 or more wins since Penn went 15-0 in the 19th century.

Clemson became the first opponent to beat ‘Bama by more than 14 points in the Saban era (2007-present). The 28-point margin of victory was as much as the next two victory margins added together.

The Chargers and Cowboys also advance.

Tough loss for the Bears. A winning field goal attempt hit the upright. I don’t much care for the Bears, but I’ve been there, and I know how they must feel.

It doesn’t get easier for this week’s winners. All four will be underdogs when they take on the four super teams next week. Opening lines:

Saints over Eagles by 9
Rams over Cowboys by 7
Patriots over Chargers by 5
Chiefs over Colts by 5

These are bad, but I think Babe Ruth topped them all.

The Babe tried to do steroids near the middle of his career. Of course, steroids had not yet been invented, so he decided to accomplish the same effect in injecting himself with ground-up sheep testicles. (He also thought that would give him a bigger bat in the bedroom, if you catch my rather obvious drift. Viagra had not yet been invented either.)

The Babe was great at baseball, but he sucked at PEDs. He made himself so sick that he missed about a quarter of the season and wasn’t his old self when he got back in the line-up, a situation the Yankees attributed to a “bellyache.”

(Investigative journalism apparently had not been invented either.)

See if you can tell which season he did this. Here are his triple crown stats:

1923 41-130 .393
1924 46-124 .378
1925 25-67 .290
1926 47-153 .372
1927 60-165 .356

I’m pretty sure you answered that question correctly, even if you know absolute zilch about baseball.

The Babe missed the first 40 games of the season, and then totally stunk for three more months. As of September 7th, he was batting .266 with 15 homers.

He finally recovered in early September. From September 8th until the end of the season, he batted .350 with 10 homers in 28 games, slightly above his normal pace. But that was too little too late for the mighty Yankees, who finished 7th! Here are the team’s finishes from 1921 until 1928

1921 1
1922 1
1923 1
1924 2
1925 7
1926 1
1927 1
1928 1

Again, I think the sheep testicle year is pretty obvious.

We have no information about how the injections affected his other mighty bat, but he also separated from his wife that same year, so you can probably make an educated guess.

Given that the Babe was already the best player on the planet before he tried the injections, and therefore had everything to lose, that may have been the most incompetent cheating of all time.

LSU 40, UCF 32

I wish I could say it was that close, but the score is deceptive because of an early 93-yard interception by UCF. That one play represented about a 14-point turnaround. Instead of LSU being up 10-7 at that point with a completion, UCF took an early 14-3 lead. Apart from that play, LSU’s defense dominated the game and UCF could not move the ball in the air. Of course, there was an extenuating circumstance. UCF’s star quarterback was injured and could not play. The second-string quarterback was absolutely not ready for prime time. He was 11 for 30, for a mere 97 yards. That’s a pathetic 3.2 yards per attempt, if you’re scoring at home.

LSU dominated the yards from scrimmage, 555-250.

LSU dominated the return yardage, 111-6.

LSU had 32 first downs, UCF only 17.

Based on those stats, you would expect LSU to win by a score of approximately 48-18 if penalties and turnovers had affected both teams equally.

In other words, the one team I actually root for got their asses kicked. Man, I wish QB McKenzie Milton had been ready to play, but his knee was banged up so badly he may not be able to play next year.

You think of elite male college athletes as guys who probably won’t graduate. This is a new wrinkle: guys who have already graduated.

When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Active undergraduates have to balance football with their class schedules. Guys who have already graduated can take one easy pass/fail course like “Using the Library,” an undemanding schedule allowing them to practice and work out all day every day.

Some of my old college buddies from Jersey used to say: “I got yer ______ right here,” accompanied at the pronunciation of “here” by a pantomimed unfurling of loins. We simple folk, lacking Roger Goodell’s hifalutin’ manners, called it “grabbing your crotch.”

Also during my college years, while in Miami for spring break, I saw the great rock group, Pantomimed Unfurling of Loins, open for the Doors. Oh, wait. I think the 60s drugs have confused me. It was actually Jim Morrison himself who unfurled his loins.

And if memory serves, there was no pantomime.

Final NFL standings

The Eagles and Colts snuck in at the last minute. Both teams are hot.

* The Eagles won 5 of their last six and finished off by pummeling Washington 24-0 while the Vikings were getting their asses handed to them.

* The Colts came back from a horrible 1-5 start, winning 9 of their last 10.

The Chargers got the worst deal. They lost the division on a deep tiebreaker. Based on that same tiebreaker, the Chiefs got a first round bye and the permanent home field advantage, while the Chargers, with the same record, got a mere wild card slot.

As my dad used to say, “them’s the breaks.”

ESPN’s playoff preview

Oklahoma staged a decent resurgence after falling behind 28-0 in the first 17 minutes. Final score 45-34.

The total yardage was darned close: 528-471, but at one point in the game, the tally was 191-0 in favor of the Tide. As predicted, Oklahoma’s Achilles heel was pass defense. Alabama was nearly perfect in the air, with 25 for 28 and four TDs. Oklahoma finished the year DEAD LAST in the nation in passing defense!

Alabama and Clemson will face off yet again, both undefeated this time. They met after the 2015 and 2016 seasons in the finals, and they met last year in the semi-finals, but none of those seasons produced an undefeated champion. In 2015, eventual champion Alabama lost early in the season to Ole Miss. In 2016, eventual champion Clemson had been shocked earlier in the season by losing to lowly Pitt, a team that went 8-5 for the year and finished unranked. In 2017, eventual champion Alabama dropped one to a tough Auburn team.

That 2017 Auburn team really had its ups and downs. During the regular season they defeated both of the teams that made it to the national championship game, but then lost their own bowl game to UCF! Or maybe that meant that UCF was just that good. As we’ve all noted many times, UCF is the Rodney Dangerfield of college football. No respect, I tell ya. And speaking of UCF, they are 7 1/2 point underdogs vs LSU. I rarely have a sentimental pick in these bowl games, but I will be pulling for UCF.

Not only will we have an undefeated champ this year, but the winner of that final game will finish 15-0, which will be a feat never accomplished in this century or the last. The last time a college team finished undefeated with 15 wins or more was in 1897!!

The early line on the final game is Alabama by 6.

Exercise fanatic Jessica Biel, wet and fit in that cinematic magnum opus, Summer Catch (2001).

Even the casting is ludicrous, and not just because it stars Freddie Prinze, Jr.

The baseball coach, a former left-handed pitcher, is played by Brian Dennehy. How many pitchers do you know who are 6’2″, 350? Although now that I think about it, Sabathia might be close to three and a half bills.

The team catcher is played by Prinze’s fellow member of the Young Shakespeare Society, Matthew Lillard. Lillard swings about the way Truman Capote would have swung if he had tried baseball.

On the other hand, there is Biel in a bikini and appearances by Hank Aaron and Dick Allen, representing some moments at least worth watching. That may make Summer Catch the Citizen Kane of Freddie Prinze, Jr movies. Has this guy ever been in anything watchable? (Doing voices for cartoons doesn’t count.)

Especially against an SEC powerhouse.

What, no bowl game for Rutgers?

Purdue allowed 56 in the first half before Auburn stopped passing, and sent in the fourth string, the cheerleaders, the band and the special olympians to run out the clock with running plays. Auburn used 10 different ball carriers, some of them still wearing their band uniforms, and those awkward uniforms really hurt their game. It’s illegal to grab a face mask, but the rules are inexplicably silent when it comes to epaulettes.

The number of bowl games may have gotten out of hand. Purdue finished the season 6-7, and set the dubious record of allowing the most points in any half of a bowl game. This wasn’t the first lopsided bowl of the season. Earlier in the month, Army set the record for the greatest margin of victory in a bowl game, with a 70-14 shellacking of Houston.

Well, anyway, the big four play tomorrow, but Notre Dame and Oklahoma face some long odds.

1. What is the smallest metro area in North America with a professional sports team?

The trick is “North America.” The Regina, Saskatchewan metro is smaller than the Green Bay, Wisconsin metro, and they have a team in the CFL.

2. Everyone knows that Green Bay is the smallest metro area in the USA with a pro sports team. What is the smallest metro with TWO sports teams.

Buffalo, New York, although New Orleans is very close. The Bills and Sabres are the Buffalo teams right now, but that leads us to a variant on the question. At various times, Buffalo has had a team in all four major sports.

The Buffalo Bisons were a major league baseball team (National League, 1879-85). They employed at least four Hall of Famers that I can recall (Pud Galvin, Jim O’Rourke, Deacon White and Dan Brouthers), but never got closer than 10 games to the pennant winners. They finally disbanded after a disastrous 1885 season in which they finished 49 games out – in a season that was only 112 games long!

The Buffalo Braves were the original location of the franchise that has now become the Clippers. They made the playoffs a few times, but never seriously challenged for a championship. That franchise has now been in the NBA 49 years without a title, or even an appearance in the finals.

The scores here

The revised playoff picture (the Monday game is irrelevant):

AFC:

In: KC, NE, Hou, LA
In if they win next week: Baltimore and Indianapolis
Still holding on to a prayer: Tennessee and Pittsburgh

Tennessee controls their own destiny since they play the Colts. The winner of that game is in the post-season, the loser is out. The Colts won easily (38-10) in their previous match-up.

Assuming that either the Colts or Titans will win (in other words, no tie), the Steelers can’t get a wild card slot. Apart from dreaming of that unlikely tie, the Steelers’ only hope is to win and hope for a Ravens loss, thus giving them the division and the fourth seed.

Assuming wins next week, Kansas City and New England will get the first-round byes and Kansas City will get the permanent home-field advantage

NFC:

IN: NO, LA, Chicago, Dallas, Seattle
In if they win next week: Minnesota
Still holding on to hope: Philadelphia

The Eagles need a win and a Viking loss. The Vikings may well lose, since they play the Bears, and the Bears will be playing hard, since they can still slip past the Rams to get a first-round bye. That would not be an issue if the Rams played first and won, but the Bears will not have the luxury of knowing the result of the Rams game, because both teams play at 3:25, so the Bears will be out to crush the Vikings. If the Vikings lose, the Eagles can slide in with a victory over Washington.

The Saints will get the home field edge no matter what they do this week. The Rams will get the other first-round bye with a win, but they could still drop out of that seat. (The Bears won that match-up head-to-head, so they would get the first-round bye if the Bears and Rams finish with identical 12-4 records.)

Pro football scores

The Rams and Chiefs both lost, leaving the Saints all alone with the league’s best record – at least until tomorrow.

Here’s one you could have won some coin on: after 15 weeks, the Cleveland Browns still have an (admittedly remote) chance at the playoffs!

The NFC is wide open. The Bears, Saints and Rams are in, but six teams are fighting down to the wire for the other three slots.

Over in the AFC, the Chiefs and Chargers will take one division and the top-seeded wild card. It’s just a matter of which is which. The Texans look quite safe, barring an unlikely concatenation of events. Their magic number is one to clinch the division. The Pats’ magic number is also one to win their division, and their last two games are home in Foxboro against weak teams, so they seem safe. The other two slots, the AFC North and the second wild card slot, are completely up for grabs. There is a team at 8-5-1, three teams at 8-6, and two other teams not yet mathematically eliminated. At this moment the resurgent Colts seem to have the hot hand, having won 7 of 8, including two great wins over Dallas and Houston the last two weeks. (They crushed the Cowboys 23-0.)

Pro football this week.

It was perhaps the most interesting and unpredictable week of the year.

Notable:

The Rams lost

The Patriots lost as Miami pulled of an absolute miracle last-play TD involving a wobbly pass and two laterals.

The Chiefs barely won (overtime)

The Texans and Steelers lost

Tennessee’s Derrick Henry had probably the best rushing performance of the year. He ran for 238 yards and four touchdowns, including a 99-yarder.

Every bowl game, ranked by entertainment value

There are now 80 teams playing in bowl games, which includes just about everyone but Rutgers, so this page is helpful in sorting out which games might be worth watching.

But the more important task is to determine which bowl games have the silliest names.

Examples:

Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl
Cheez-It Bowl
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl

————–
UPDATE:

Here are the Vegas odds on all the bowl games. Some examples:

Alabama by 14 over Oklahoma
Clemson by 11 over Notre Dame
LSU by 8 over UCF
Georgia by 11 over Texas
Ohio State by 6 over Washington

Week 13 in the NFL:

The only Sunday surprise was the Bears’ OT loss to the lowly Giants. The Bears will get a chance to redeem themselves next week with a Sunday night home game against the mighty Rams.

The Pats, Rams, Chargers, Texans and Chiefs all won, continuing their march to good seeds in the post-season. In a match of probable playoff-bound teams, the Steelers lost to the Chargers, but held on to first place in their division.

You already know that the Cowboys handled the Saints on Thursday, but the Saints retained the presumptive #2 slot in the NFC. The Cowboys would be division winners and the #4 seed if the season were now over. (Washington can tie them for the division lead with a win on Monday.)

Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Oklahoma selected for College Football Playoff

OSU finished #6

Oklahoma will face Alabama in the semi-final round, with Alabama favored by 14. While Oklahoma was not undefeated, they did beat every team they played. The played Texas twice, winning one and losing one. On the other hand, they finished 96th in the nation points allowed and 108th in yards allowed. Their real weakness was passing defense, where they finished dead last in the country in passing yards allowed. (Actually tied for last)

Clemson is favored by 11 over Notre Dame.

The final week of the regular season. 

Georgia did not beat Alabama, but they came mighty close. They were leading 28-21 at the end of three.

Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma all won, so it is now clear which teams will be in the top six. Unfortunately, only four of them can make the playoff. Alabama and Clemson are undefeated and are the last two national champions, so they are obviously in. Notre Dame is undefeated, and almost certainly in. Who would leave them out, with their massive national following?

So which team will be #4? The Georgia squad, which just proved it is almost as good as Alabama? Or will it be Oklahoma? Or OSU?

If it were my choice, I would pick none of the above. Oklahoma has no defense. Georgia as a #4 seed would get an immediate rematch with Alabama, and that’s an anticlimax. Ohio State? Well, they are good, but they lost 49-20 to freakin’ Purdue. That’s Purdue, the team that earlier had lost to Eastern Michigan. If you lose 49-20 to Purdue, what is your expected result against Alabama?

Here is what I would do: I would give UCF the #4 seed.

First of all, that matches up four undefeated teams. When will we ever see that again?

Second of all, it gives UCF their chance to put up or shut up. They haven’t lost a game since the Grant administration. They even beat an SEC team last year in a major bowl game. People forget they defeated Auburn, a team which had defeated both Alabama and Georgia during the regular season. (Both Alabama and Georgia had been #1 in the country at the kickoff of those games.) UCF’s defense was dominant in that game. They held Auburn to 90 yards rushing on 44 carries, and sacked the Auburn QB six times! Yet the “experts” ignore UCF because of their weak conference. OK, perhaps the experts are right, but let’s find out. Maybe they will lose to Alabama by four touchdowns or more, but that will probably happen to any other team in the #4 hole anyway, so let’s “see what they got.”

A little girl wrote Curry to say she wanted his shoes, but they aren’t made for girls.

He wrote back to say “I got this,” corrected the problem, sent her a pair of shoes, promised her an early pair from the next wave of shoes, and invited her to Oakland to celebrate International Women’s Day at the Warriors game with him!

Now THAT is customer service (and one great piece of public relations).

This week’s official playoff rankings:

The committee still shows no inclination to let UCF into the playoff club with the other three undefeated teams.

Sagarin’s computer supports that position by ranking UCF 18th in the nation. Four of the teams ranked above them have suffered four losses.

Five Thirty Eight speculates on all the playoff possibilities. The one certainty seems to be that Notre Dame is in, having finished their schedule undefeated.

Clemson seems pretty safe, given that their only remaining game is their conference championship battle against mediocre Pitt (7-5). Clemson is favored by four. Not four points. Four touchdowns.

Assuming a Clemson win, then three of the playoff teams will be Notre Dame, Clemson and the winner of the Alabama-Georgia game (the bookies currently favor ‘Bama by 13.)

The battle for the fourth spot now shapes up to be between Oklahoma and Ohio State, which re-entered the picture after scoring 62 points against last week’s #4, Michigan. Both of those teams will be rooting for Alabama this week, because if ‘Bama loses they could still make the play-off, given that their regular season is considered by some to be the single greatest in the history of college football dating back to 1888!

An Alabama loss, coupled with wins by Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma, is a nightmare for the selection committee. They would then be stuck with Georgia, Notre Dame and Clemson and would only have one more spot to allot to three teams with approximately equal credentials. (That would be Alabama, Oklahoma and Ohio State, all three of which would probably be favorites in one-on-one match-ups against Notre Dame. Alabama would probably be favored by 20 over the Irish head-to-head, yet could end up freezing on the outside of the playoff club, looking in while the Notre Dame team lounges by the fire in their green smoking jackets!)

NFL Scoreboard

Slow news week. Only two teams had byes. It turned out to be the two teams really worth talking about: the Chiefs and the Rams!

The other two power teams, the Pats and Saints, won. Their QBs are amassing records to go with their wins. Tom Brady became the all-time NFL leader for passing yardage for all games (including post-season). Drew Brees holds the record for most regular-season yards, which he set earlier this year. Brees is beating Brady by a wide margin in that category (more than 4,000 yards), but Brady’s post-season record is phenomenal. He has more than 10,000 yards in the post-season, compared to only about 4,000 for Brees.