4.27.2009

Five Things We Learned This Weekend: April 24-26

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1. The Raiders are still clueless.
With star recievers like Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin on the board, Al Davis's mock franchise took one of the most shocking picks in the history of the draft, selecting Derrius Heyward-Bey with the 7th pick. Yes DHB has great speed, but how can you pass up Crabtree? On the other hand, I'm glad however. The Raiders will continue to be a laughing stock and Crabtree will have a better chance of winning across the bay in San Francisco.

2. Manchester United is still the best in England.
Down a pair of goals, and Liverpool still holding out hope as Tottenham dominated the first half on Saturday, Manchester United shocked everyone with a handful of second half goals to lead them to a 5-2 win over Spurs. The victory all but settles the title race, and served as a prelude to Ryan Giggs' shocking PFA Award win on Sunday, despite his mere 12 starts for the Red Devils.

3. Derrick Rose's Bulls are the real deal.
The Chicago boy and his Bulls have showed up to play with the champs. Despite a lack of momentum heading into Sunday's fourth game of the series, Rose lead the Bulls to an amazing win in double overtime. With the game winding downing, and down a three in the first overtime, Ben Gordon drilled the shot of his life to tie it. Then, to add to the magic, pranced down the court with the jewels in hand.

4. Zack Greinke is a Cy Young Award favorite.
After overcoming depression and becoming the dominant star we all knew he could be, it's clear that this is Greinke's world and we're all just lucky to be able to watch him pitch. After winning on Friday, the Royals stud has gone 4-0 with a scoreless ERA, punching out 36 in 29 innings. His WHIP over 0.862 is not human, and as of now he has got to up for pitcher or player of the month in the AL, no questions asked.

5. The Sharks were overrated.
Yes they had the best record in the NHL, the most points, blah blah blah. But they've pulled a postseason performance like the Cowboys and Cubs of recent so far. If they can't escape the Ducks, by winning the next two games, then this will hands down be the greatest dissapointment and upset in NHL history.


Photo: obnug

Kentucky Derby Week: Monday

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We're just a handful of days away from the Churchill Downs becoming the epicenter for horse racing, the annual beginning of one of America's most longing desires, seeing the triple crown won.

  • When horses break from the starting gate Saturday, it will be without one of the contenders, Quality Road(above) who will withdraw from the race with a hoof injury. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens remains optimistic at a possible return in the Preakness or Belmont, but that is still in doubt.

"It's devastating," Jerkens, 50, said about missing out on the chance to run Quality Road in the Derby. "I don't know if you could ever get a horse for a race like the Derby with his credentials leading up to it." Quality Road won 3 of his 4 starts including the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.
ESPN


  • As for the atmosphere at Churchill downs, Sunday saw the unveiling of a beautiful statue for the legend that was Barbaro. Cast of bronze, and captured amidst a sprint, Barbaro will always be an emotional and inspiriational part of the sport that we love in the house that thrives with history.
  • Weather for Saturday's race doesn't look good as of now, with scattered thunderstorms and a 40% chance of rain in the Lousiville area

Photo: Boston.com

4.26.2009

Pete Carroll Reacts to Mark Sanchez Getting Drafted

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During Southern California's annual Spring Game, the LA Coliseum's video board broke live multiple times into the NFL Draft to show video of Roger Goodell announcing the name of USC players.

With the fifth pick in the draft on Saturday, the Jets traded away two picks and three players for what would turn into Mark Sanchez. Seconds later, with the feed being relayed in Los Angeles, the reaction was definitely odd. The crowd cheered as if the Trojans converted a 3rd & short on an opening drive, and Pete Carroll never broke focus.

Is this is a big sign of Sanchez's departure being premature in the eyes of the Trojan faithful? Odds say yes.

An hour later, as Brian Cushing was selected ten picks later by the Houston Texans, the crowd erupted, Taylor Mays and several defenders leaped for joy, and guess who was fist-pumping like he just won another Rose Bowl. Yes, Pete Carroll.

His nose wasn't stuck in a defensive playbook. His hands weren't combing through his gray locks, and he wasn't holding his arms crossed. He was genuinely elated.

As a spectator, I found it almost amusing at the differences in reaction of Carroll, but low and behold, Twitter tells a different story.


Congrats @mark_sanchez! We're cheering for you here in the coli!

Twitter


How? When? Where? Of course it's possible that he tweeted while I wasn't looking, but it seems hard pressed to me that his body language showed nothing for Sanchez, yet he tweeted. For someone who was so blatantly against Sanchez leaving, it seems to me that this was pity tweet.

I've always been a cynic about celebrity tweeters, and I must say, that attitude must continue.


Photo: Michael Castillo, The Sporting Globe

USC's Spring Game Lacks Enthusiasm

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While the football world was surrounding the NFL Draft Saturday afternoon, Pete's Carroll's USC Trojans were back in business in the LA Coliseum for their annual spring game.

With the withdrawal of Mark Sanchez to the NFL, spring camp surrounded the quarterback race between redshirt junior Mitch Mustain, redshirt sophomore Aaron Corp(above), and true freshman phenom Mark Barkley, with Corp getting the top line on the depth chart this week.

It was clear why Corp was named number one, and not because of great performance. Throughout the scrimmage Mustain(7 of 12, 85 yds, 1 int) showed just how over-hyped the Arkansas transfer was, when he came out of Springfield High (Little Rock) in 2006. He's got stone feet, all while throwing balls that routinely sailed off target. On no less than a handful of occasions, Mustain needed diving catches or attempts from his receivers to get close his passes.

Barkley (12 for 20, 124 yds, 2 int) on the other hand, while he showed tons of potential, made freshman mistakes and is progressing just like you would expect him to. In the small sample size that a spring game is, I would assume that he would be just as capable of starting for the Trojans mid-season.

Corp (14 of 23, 157 yds, td) was solidly average. He made his throws, did everything he was asked of, and was a somewhat flavorful vanilla.

Despite the Trojans losing 11 players to the NFL Draft, eight of whom started on defense, the D looked solid Satuday afternoon. Taylor Mays is doing his best Brian Cushing/Arnold Schwarzenegger impression in terms of muscles, and Troy Polamalu in terms of skills. Playing as a free safety, Mays continuously crashed off the edge almost as a hybrid linebacker, troubling the trio of quarterbacks all day long.


Nick Perry, and Marshall Jones had big days on defense with 7 tackles each. The Trojans are trying to bolster a new set of linebacker corps with Chris Gallipo(above) taking over for Rey Maualuga in the middle of defense. While Gallipo had four tackles, Steve Smith's younger brother added five.

Marc Tyler (7 for 44 yds) looked like a replacement to LenDale White, while C.J. Gable had the day's lone long run of 45 yards.

Rhett Ellison and D.J. Shoemate had nice outings, and will form a three headed monster at fullback along with Stanley Havili. However the question still arises, how will Pete Carroll keep all of his backs happy? With four running backs who could start just about anywhere, and three talented fullbacks, the corral will be loaded once again at the Coliseum.


Photos: Michael Castillo, The Sporting Globe

4.23.2009

Lure of the Draft: Passion Is a Sight Unseen

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Saturday is the day former student athletes in college football finally reach the big show. But does it really matter when they get picked? Sure in terms of payroll, but do these individuals enter the draft only for money? I hope if that’s the case they are injured within a week and career over.

The passion of the game should be what dominates a player’s decision to enter the draft. If Matthew Stafford is not picked as number one will it be the end of his life? No, it most definitely will not be. The draft is not what defines a player! It is his attitude and thrill of the game that he participates.

Ernie Banks signed with the Chicago Cubs, not drafted, but always held the phrase “let’s play two.” Is this passion what teams look for in a draft? The answer is no. When Matt Stafford gets picked most likely as the first overall pick will he show the same passion as recent rookie of the year Derrik Rose? In my mind, passion is what it takes to excel in whatever game you wish to compete.

Stephan Curry announced today his submission to the NBA draft this year. Because of his profound scoring record in the NCAA, he will likely be a lottery pick. Personally, I do not see him performing well in the NBA due to his size, but whether he proves me wrong or not, I cannot fault him for the passion he brings to his game. Making that last second shot, hitting that walk off double, and kicking that field goal with no time left is what should drive athletes into performing at the top of their level. It should not be about the money as they move up through the ranks.

The individuals that can perform at this level seemingly deserve what they are paid, but what keeps you going as your ability falters? Jim Edmonds, near the end of his career, signed a contract with the Chicago Cubs last year. With his help he led them to a playoff run, all while he was less than par in terms of his ability. I have seen him hit clutch hits year after year while part of the Cardinals, but as a Cub he showed that will and drive to succeed despite his age. He was paid near the league minimum, but his passion for the game is what brought him to Chicago.

If there is anything else that drives a professional athlete I believe they should reconsider their career decision, but so many athletes these days are stopping their college education to go pro and they miss out on the education that is so important in today’s society. Brian Barton of the Atlanta Braves is near a degree in aerospace engineering a career that has no distinct end in sight, yet he plays the game because it is what he loves to do.

There is no more pure reason behind playing the game than the passion that brings you to the field every day. I feel arbitration hearings should be made useless and for the best athletes to reconsider their reasoning behind playing the game. Because once the free agent market of all professional sports begins to drop, passion is what will bring players to the drafts and free agency markets.


Photo: Charlotte Communities Online

Just what America Needs: Red Sox & Yankees

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It's that time of year again. Break out the beer mugs, and leftover pizza boxes, it's time to play the "greatest rivalry in sports" drinking game.

With the Bo Sox hosting the Bombers this weekend at Fenway, ESPN will once again drop off all of its coverage to show the two teams what we as Americans seemingly only care about. What's American culture like without Chevrolet, Apple Pie, and Jeter vs. Varitek?

Cue Peter Gammon's hour long speeches about the beauty of the game at Fenway, and overplayed loops of Posada claiming that "this is just another game" (he's right, but no one listens). MLB.com itself is promoting favoritism by showcasing the series on its homepage, rather than Thursday's recaps.


Yes, it is still April. But when the Red Sox and Yankees face off, the calendar tends to become less relevant. When the rivals square off for the first time in 2009 with Friday night's meeting at Fenway, you can be sure that the atmosphere will feel more like October.

Ian Browne -- MLB.com


Ok, I apologize, I walked away from the keyboard to puke for a second. But I did swig a little bit of Sam Adams while I was gone, how fitting.

The truth of the matter is, when the series ends, only the fans of Boston and New York will truly care as to who won. While the big wigs of the networks drool, imagining that everyone is on the edge of their seats in the first inning on Friday night when Mark Teixeira "gets his first taste of the greatest rivalry in sports" (POUND IT), true baseball fans will be delved into their own team's performance, not the two most over-discussed franchises on earth.

So while people are supposed to flock to their tubes and watch, and the networks play up the myth that the rivalry is taking America's mind off of our struggling economy, I'll be sitting at home updating my status on Facebook. "Michael Castillo is bored."


Photo: Bleed Red, Wordpress

Bobby Cox: Overrated?

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Few coaches have had the regular season success of late as Bobby Cox. 15 division titles, 1979 wins, a winning percentage of .556, and yet one World Series titles.What's the deal?

The Braves of the 90's were notorious for their pitching depth, Cy Young awards, division titles and October collapses. Cox always had the right arms, and veterans to succeed, so how much of it is his managing? October baseball is less about the stars, but strategy and execution, the tasks that would fall upon Cox's shoulders.

Although the Braves have won the pennant five times under Bobby's control, one would think that he would win more than just a lone ring. But during October, and of late, the Braves struggles could be put right on Cox.

Gone are the days of Leo Mazzone, and division titles, so who else is to blame? Great coaches make teams better, and with a team that has lost its past stars like Javy Lopez, Rafael Furcal and Andruw Jones, Cox should make the Matt Diaz's and Kelly Johnson's of the world better. He's not.

Time's ticking for Bobby.


Photo: Mouthpieces Sports

4.21.2009

Rihanna, not Kobe is Andrew Bynum's New Favorite Target

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A couple of months removed from the debacle at the Grammys in February when Chris Brown went Mike Tyson on singer Rihanna, the young superstar is now rumored to be tied with Los Angeles Lakers big man Andrew Bynum.

Bynum missed almost half the season with the Lakers with a leg injury, and after sightings of him at the Playboy Mansion with Playmates, the 7-footer now is a true Hollywood celebrity with Rihanna.

According to multiple sources and eye witnesses, the "couple" have appeared at dinner in Beverly Hills and accompanied each other to the birthday part of Clippers star Baron Davis.

The playoffs are heating for the Lakers and luckily for Rihanna, she'll fit right into the crowd with stars like Jack, Denzel, and company.


Photos: AndrewBynum.org, Riverdaughtfiles

4.20.2009

Crooked Numbers: April 20, 2009

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When the schedule was chalked up in the fall, no one would have thought that the openings of New Yankee Stadium and Citi Field would be upstaged by a tandem of Indians(Mark DeRosa and Grady Sizemore) and Gary Sheffield.

The new palace in the Bronx, or as I call it, Williamsport II, saw 20 home runs in its first series over the weekend, and an astounding 17 in the first three games. While the Yankees claim to have recreated Ruth's Yankee Stadium, what they didn't take into account was wind. Since the new stadium is skewed roughly 45 degrees, the wind no longer howls to the mammoth center field that we used to know, it now blows right into the short porch.

The resulting blunder in engineering, and the now dead arm of Chien Ming-Wang let DeRosa and Sizemore obliterate the Bombers, combining for 4 HR and 13 RBI while batting .361 in the series. Don't look now, but DeRosa's 6 ribbie performance on Saturday puts him just one back from leading the majors.

Down the East River and over to Flushing, the Mets' Citi Field ironically has played the opposite, and makes a strong resemblance to Petco Park in San Diego. That park was built "Bonds Proof," so I would assume that the Citi Field could soon be coined as "Utley-Howard Proof."

But the despite the huge alleys and tall fences, new Met Gary Sheffield didn't take long to say hello to the ballpark on Friday night, clubbing his milestone 500th bomb over the wall in left. It was the first time that such a milestone was achieved on a pinch hit, and added to a homer friendly week in New York.

Jody Gerut opened Citi Field and the week with a leadoff jack(a major league 1st), and Jorge Posada revisited the Orioles 1996 heartbreak, hitting a "home run" into Jeffery Meier territory on what would be a routine fly in a normal ballpark. What an opening week in Gotham.


Photo: Cleveland.com

4.18.2009

Sweet Saturday Chicago: "A Dream Day"

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A decade after the Jordan era and Sammy Sosa's home run chase, and a lengthy seven years after the last time Stanley Cup playoff fever swept over Chicago, the stars aligned for the Windy City on Saturday. Although neither Red Kerr, Ernie Banks, nor Bobby Hull played Saturday, the day will be remembered for a long time throughout the Chicagoland area.

The Chicago Bulls started off the day traveling to Boston as mere underdogs with the hope of taking advantage of a Kevin Garnett-less Celtic squad in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. That, they did.

Behind a Jordanesque performance from rookie phenom Derrick Rose (36 points in his playoff debut), the Bulls fought adversity for much of the second half after squandering a nine-point halftime lead.

Despite the Bulls troubles on the road this season that saw them 15 games under .500, they preserved in overtime to nick the Celtics for Game 1, just the 7th home loss of the season for the C's. "To go into the home of the defending champs in a playoff game and pull that off, it's quite a surprise," said Chicago sports fan, and blogger Matt Clapp.

The Bulls 105-103 win made more waves than just in Illinois, shocking the NBA world, but it was only the beginning in Chicago.

The full day of Chicago sports continued in the afternoon, as Wrigley Field played host for the Cubs' most nerve-wracking game of the season against the rival St. Louis Cardinals.

Early on, Lou Piniella's tactic of avoiding Albert Pujols, and Ryan Dempster's inability to throw strikes provided 2008's fluke All-Star Ryan Ludwick to capitalize in the third inning, giving his Cards a 3-0 lead early lead on.

The Chicago faithful wouldn't be down too long when fan-favorite and team leader Derrek Lee equalized for the Cubs in the bottom of the fifth with a screaming line drive to the corner in left.

After a catastrophic failure from Neal Cotts, Carlos Marmol preserved a 5-4 lead in the seventh, stranding a pair of runners, although an inning later he blew his first save of the season.

Inability to knock in runs by the Cubs, and poor base running on the Cardinals behalf allowed the game reach the bottom of the 11th when the Cubs most prolific clutch hitter came to the dish, and ended it. Aramis Ramirez knocked a Dennys Reyes pitch a handful of rows into the left center bleachers, his fourth walk-off shot as a Cub.

The win ensures at least a split in the series with the Cards, and for the city of Chicago, Ramirez's blast provided a perfect appetizer to a magical night on ice at the United Center.

The Blackhawks flew into Saturday night's second game with the Calgary Flames on a high from Martin Havlat's sudden death winner in the playoff series' first episode on Thursday night, but a little too high.

The Flames came out on fire with a pair of early goals from captain Jerome Iginla and Adrian Aucoin, putting the Hawks on the ropes early. But with the pressure of Chicagoland sports resting upon their wings, Jonathan Toews scored two of three goals in the second period to reclaim the lead.

The ageless wonder, Nikolai Khabibulin, dominated in net for the Blackhawks, stopping thirty shots on the night to shut out the Flames over the last 43 minutes to preserve the win. The win marked first time in a dozen years that the Hawks have won two games in the playoffs, and sends the series to Calgary up 2-0 when the series resumes Monday night at the Saddledome.

The win at the United Center, coupled with a 2-2 Chicago Fire draw to keep them top of the table in the MLS, and a big win for the White Sox, allowed Chicago's Saturday to ended flawlessly.

So what does this all mean? Was it truly one of the greatest days in Chicago sports lore?


"I mean I'm not gonna say I'm happier than when the Cubs clinched the division for example, but it's the first time I can remember 3 of the teams I root for having such big victories all in the same day."
-Matt Clapp. Sharapova's Thigh


"It was a day of excitement, and I was proud to be a Chicago sports fan. I may be a Cubs fan, but I was not sad to see the White Sox represent the city tonight either!" said Jonathan Strok of Arlington Heights, after celebrating at an Illinois State student party to commemorate the occasion.

To sum it up perfectly, Dylan Alexander from Rockford called it "a dream day" amidst his enthusiastic accounts of the Blackhawks capping off the day for Chicago.

Live it up Chicago, savor the glory.


Photo: ESPN- (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

4.15.2009

NBA Playoff Preview: Eastern Conference

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Finally, after months of anticipation, the second season of basketball is upon us. The Eastern Conference has stole a lot of the thunder that the Western Conference has had throughout the decade, and boasts a trio of legitimate title contenders. Sit back, order a pizza and enjoy the court burns of playoff basketball.

No. 1 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. No. 8 Detroit Pistons

Season series: 3-1 Cavs.

Outlook: LeBron James the new dominant force in the East against the old force, the Pistons, in a game that matches up James with Tayshaun Prince. The Pistons have struggled for much of year, and the dramatic change from the trade for Iverson never did take foot in Detroit. The Cavs will need to watch out for the experience and veteran leadership of the Pistons, but Detroit will need the fountain of youth to survive this daunting task.

Prediction: Cavs in 4


No. 2 Boston Celtics vs. No. 7 Chicago Bulls
Season series: 2-1 Celtics

Outlook: The Bulls knew what they were getting when they drafted Derrick Rose last June, and he certainly as done his share to vie for the Rookie of Year, but it's the inside game of the Bulls that could be exploited by the defending champs. Joakim Noah will have the task of protecting the interior of rebounding forces like Garnet who is still battling a knee injury. The mid-season acquisition of Brad Miller could help Chicago, but not enough for the Bulls, who are still a year or two away from seriously contending.

Prediction: Celtics in 6


No. 3 Orlando Magic vs. No. 6 Philadelphia 76ers
Season series: 3-0 Magic

Outlook: The 76ers could face the same problem as Chicago, but on a more intense level. Orlando boasts one of the league's most daunting trios of forwards led by Dwight Howard, and they favorably match-up against an inside corps of Samuel Dalembert, Reggie Evans, and Andre Iguodala. If the Magic can hold Iguodala, and control the glass like they should, then they should be able to make quick work of Philly.

Prediction: Magic in 4


No. 4 Atlanta Hawks vs. No 5. Miami Heat
Season series: 3-1 Hawks

Outlook: In what will be the most exciting and hotly contested match-up in the East, Atlanta and Miami will slug it out down south. Dwayne Wade has become a scoring machine for Miami, average over 30 a night, and will force the hand of the Atlanta defense. Luckily for the Hawks, home-court advance will be huge, as they swept all three games from the champion Celtics a year ago in Atlanta. Al Horford has played up his level from a year ago and the tandem of Joe Johnson and Josh Smith provide the power to disrupt Jamario Moon and Udonis Haslem. Overall this series has all the makings of a barn burner, it should be very interesting.

Prediction: Hawks in 7


Photo: Boston Globe

Jones-Drew: 31 Million Dollar Man

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After just three seasons in Jacksonville, Maurice Jones-Drew is now the third highest paid running back in the game, a remarkable stat considering he's never rushed for a thousand yards, and has yet to be a featured runner like he will be in 2009.

The extension will show immediate dividends for Jones-Drew, increasing his salary more than fifteen times over, and it outshines deals like those of proven stars like Clinton Portis and Brian Westbrook.

The talking heads have concluded so far that this as a win for the Jags, but I don't necessarily agree. While MJD scores his share of six-pointers, there is no way to tell how he will react to being "the man" in Jacksonville. His yards-per-carry stat has dropped each year, and with teams able to prepare for Drew as the featured back, it would look likely that that number could be hit again, a la Reggie Bush.

Jack Del Rio and the Jaguar office for see a continued growth for MJD, and should he continue to average over four yards a pop, and get in the endzone 15 times, he may be a Pro Bowl caliber back.

"I'm very confident this is the type of young man that will go out and continue to display the things that have made him so popular to begin with," Del Rio said. "He's gonna get plenty of work. We're excited about getting him the ball more often."

ESPN

The opening act for the Jones-Drew show begins September 13th in Indianapolis, time for the scheme to win over the rest of America.


Photo: CNN/SI

Carpenter, Dice-K add to a Star-Studded DL

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The 2009 started with the game's biggest name, Alex Rodriguez, inactive and on the disabled list with an injured hip, so far this has been just the tip of the iceberg. While stars like Milton Bradley, Geovany Soto, and Aramis Ramirez have been dinged with day to day ailments, the nationwide injury bug has begun to hit big names at big prices.

Tuesday night's start for St. Louis' Chris Carpenter was cut short with an elbow problem, and the Cards' version of Mark Prior will be out at least four weeks, once again leaving a strain on a rotation loaded with slightly above average arms like Kyle Lohse and Joel Piniero. The injury to Carpenter puts a dark cast on the Cards quick start, and once agian will allow Albert Pujols to carry the team onward.

While Carpenter's injury is not a bit suprising, and can be blamed on his inability to stay healthy over the last few years, Boston's Daisuke Matzusaka's mild shoulder strain surely will be pinned on Bud Selig's World Baseball Classic. The two-time WBC MVP has stumbled out of the gate for the struggling Sox, with an ERA close to 13.

"Our biggest concern is to keep him healthy and productive," [Terry] Francona said. "At the moment, it doesn't seem like we're there with him. ... It wasn't coming out very crisp. It looks like he needs to be built back up. We want him to be able to be Dice-K."

ESPN

Dice-K's timetable is still unknown, and the season's injuries have truly put a hex in the fantasy baseball world so far.


Photo: Truveo/ESPN

 

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