Ryan Welton

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Browns should consider cutting Myles Garrett altogether

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I didn’t feel great Friday night.

Maybe it’s allergens, or maybe it’s some symptoms from visiting the chiropractor Thursday. He’s super creative but aggressive, and my body might be ridding itself of all sorts of toxins because of his handiwork. Or it might be that he gave me his cold. It could also be that I’ve been running six out of every seven days for four weeks now, and maybe my sleep-deprived body just wants a break.

We watched “Free Solo” (woo-hoo, Disney Plus!) from the couch tonight with all the lights off and a fire on, and it makes my complaints seem like the ramblings of a lazy man.

But I can actually trace the moment I started not to feel great to the end of Thursday night’s game between the Browns and Steelers, when with :08 left on the clock, defensive end Myles Garrett lost his mind and decided to assault Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph with his helmet. I’m a sports tweeter, so of course, I was part of the immediate over-reaction.

Except that my reaction, even in retrospect, wasn’t an over-reaction.

But what had been an extraordinarily boring game by all other accounts (21-7, ho hum) became incredibly stressful right at the very end.

I started rooting for the Browns the day they drafted Baker Mayfield.

I don’t root for uniforms. I root for people.

That goes for the Oklahoma Sooners, whose 2019 football edition for me has been hard to support. They haven’t done anything bad, but they’re being led on the field by a brooding, humorless quarterback who’s just difficult to get behind. He doesn’t even seem, to me, like he really wants to be here so much as he’s in a year-long job audition for the NFL.

Alas, the people I root for in this case are my fellow Okies, as much as anybody else.

Speaking of whom: when Charlie Kolar caught the last TD for Iowa State against the Sooners, I let out a, “Charlie!”

I had mentioned him to a colleague earlier in the week as somebody to watch out for. Kristi and I had watched him when he was with Norman North a couple years before, and the first thing I noticed were how good his hands were. His sideline routes were terrific, and I thought that surely he was being recruited by OU.

Nope. In my opinion, somebody at OU dropped the ball. I mean, they *did* bring on Drake Stoops, who was on the same high school football team, so it’s not like Charlie Kolar didn’t have Sooner eyes on him.

I won’t recite the Seinfeld routine on rooting for laundry, but I’ve often commented that if my brothers, my nephew, niece, stepdaughter, you name it, were to play a sport at the University of Texas, I would be wearing burnt orange at least the entire time they were there, at least for that sport.

When I pulled for the Toronto Raptors in last year’s NBA playoffs, aside from our honeymoon visit that I say brought the team luck, I was drawn to the entire organization. Led by Masai Ujiri, the Raptors and their quest to globalize the sport of basketball, combined with the guys they had on their 2018-19 team were easy to love.

So, too, were Baker Mayfield’s Sooners, unless you were a Buckeye, I suppose.

With all due respect to the memory of Arkansas legend Brandon Burlsworth, Baker’s the greatest walk-on to ever play college football. Brandon was by a mile the more humble human, but Baker’s skills and grit win out 1 million to one over virtually anybody to play the college game the past generation, aside from maybe Tim Tebow or Vince Young.

When Mayfield was selected by the Browns with their No. 1 pick, that was it. Color me a Browns man.

For what it’s worth, I’ve also watched most of Kyler’s games and root for the Cardinals, too.

But when Garrett ripped the helmet off of the former OSU quarterback, a Bedlam bad-ass in his own right, paternal instincts kicked in.

“Oh, no, you don’t.”

It’s like if an outsider comes in and messes with the kid down the street. Maybe that kid is a rival of your kid, but he’s still from the same neighborhood. He’s one of yours, in the macro, and that’s what Mason was in this case.

“But he started it,” many have said about Mason.

Not true. Garrett’s sack was way over the top to begin with.

In fact, the whole “but, but, but what about …” to me, is like having to deal with whiny children.

But rehashing Thursday night isn’t why I write.

The reason I write is to try to explain why it’s important that the Cleveland Browns get serious about character and culture. Most sports teams pay lip service to it. Periodically, they get lucky when a cancer leaves, such as when Bryce Harper decided not to re-sign with the Nationals.

I don’t hate Bryce at all. In Philly, he’s a good fit. In Washington, he was ultimately a poor one.

The Dodgers had to get rid of Yasiel Puig. He refused to do what his coaches told him to do, and it played a role in L.A. losing the World Series. Why? He wouldn’t position himself where his coaches instructed, and then he’d throw a fit like a teenager when he misjudged a ball.

The Cleveland Browns need to start making plans to part ways with Garrett.

And they need to cut bait with Freddie Kitchens.

Garrett has shown signs all season long of having zero discipline after plays are over. The hit to the face after the play versus the Titans. Ending Trevor Siemian’s season. Todd Haley said Friday morning that this kind of behavior is either coached or glossed over — not that we can listen much to Haley. The former Cleveland assistant proved to be the biggest of asshats during the 2018 season, politicizing a locker room whose chemistry was already poor.

In fact, watching last year’s “Hard Knocks” and the entire NFL season play out, I was struck by just how much politics goes on between coaches in the NFL. There seems to be a lot of back-stabbing and sabotaging, and it makes me wonder how any organization’s culture ever really gets going.

Every assistant is gunning for the head coaching job, and it’s virtually without fail unless the coach has the full command of the room.

Bill Belichick. Mike Tomlin. John Harbuagh. Pete Carroll come to mind.

When Jimmy Johnson coached the Dallas Cowboys, he was famous for cutting even good players for small indiscretions. Now, to be fair, he also let great players slide for big ones. That era of Dallas Cowboys football eventually got out of control fast.

Freddie Kitchens doesn’t have command of the room, and he doesn’t appear to have either the support or the intestinal fortitude to address problems or problem players — and make no mistake, Myles Garrett is officially a problem for Cleveland. Forgetting the sheer violence of his on-the-field act, Myles single-handedly derailed the Browns’ playoff run.

It’s over. And it was because of Garrett’s incredibly selfish act.

It’s unfair to every other man on that squad. To every person in their organization. And to every Cleveland supporter.

But let’s don’t stop there. This team signed Kareem Hunt, whose character is extraordinarily questionable given that the Browns signed him after video showed him attacking a woman.

Let’s back it up further to when my beloved Sooners allowed Joe Mixon to stay on the team after he decked a woman at a local restaurant. And now he’s the Bengals’ problem. He should have been dismissed immediately.

Barry Switzer was known to have said back in the day that he didn’t think he had to tell his players not to rape, among other things.

And I would argue that as an NFL head football coach, you actually have to communicate everything. All expectations.

Address it or bless it.

And don’t assume.

Myles Garrett cost his team a chance at the playoffs and embarrassed his organization during a nationally televised game. His reputation is permanently stained. Cutting him or trading him would send a proper message to the rest of the team and to every kiddo who idolizes them.

We will not put up with this.

There’s a lot about Odell Beckham Jr’s antics that I dislike, but I would categorize most of it under showmanship. Jarvis Landry, too.

For my taste, Baker Mayfield has talked way too much in his first two years, and a down sophomore campaign is rightfully injecting him with some humility.

It’s the little things that galvanize a proper understanding of what’s expected:

  • Dress codes
  • Curfews when on the road
  • Penalties for being late

This should go for coaches, too.

Players in all sports have long complained that these little things are just about a manager or coach exercising control. Except that it’s the exact opposite. The discipline of details equals big-picture freedom because it minimizes distractions, improves behavior and leads to better chemistry and on-field performance.

And that success begets success.

The first time Myles Garrett got his team a 15-yard penalty for hitting his opponent in the face after the play, my message would have been: Do it again, and we won’t wait for the league to suspend.

Two more strikes and you’re gone.

Freddie has to have the power to do that with full support from John Dorsey and Jimmy and Dee Haslam. I guarantee you that Garrett’s behavior wouldn’t fly at Pilot-Flying J.

The thing is: Cutting your best defensive player loose would be a message to the rest of the team that winning the right way is way more important that winning at any cost. Truth be told, chaotic behavior like what Garrett displayed Thursday night isn’t conducive to winning in any way.

It’s highly counterproductive, and it makes the entire organization extraordinarily unlikable.

Baker got it right after the game by saying Myles’ behavior was “inexcusable.” More players should be saying it.

It’s time for somebody to man up in Cleveland and take control of the Browns organization.

They don’t need a buddy. They need a boss.

They don’t need a buddy. They need a boss.

NBA 2019-20 predictions: Can Toronto repeat? How bad is OKC??

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There was so much change in the Association this summer that watching Tuesday night’s Lakers-Clippers game was like watching a futuristic movie. The Clippers didn’t just look good. They looked bad-ass.

I’m biased. Kawhi Leonard is my favorite player in the NBA, and I think he’s the best player in the Association. He also led the Toronto Raptors to a title last year. For those of you who know me, I rooted for Toronto in association with the honeymoon my bride and I took to the city.

So, to my first question: Can Toronto repeat?

Yes, as Eastern Conference champs.

Pascal Siakam is a budding star, and the Raptors have chemistry oozing from their pores.

  • Milwaukee is still terrific
  • Philadelphia *I think* takes a step back minus Butler

Let me explain that. Yes, I think the Raptors take a step back without Kawhi. D’uh. However, Siakam is so good that the gap is closing. If you remember the Toronto-Philadelphia series last year, that was heavy on Jimmy Butler, who signed with the Miami Heat in the offseason.

I love Butler, and I love the Heat. They’re my sleeper to win the East. Tyler Herro is going to make a run at Rookie of the Year, even with Zion in the NBA. If he can stay healthy.

In the East, I like Toronto / Milwaukee / Philadelphia / Miami as a Final Four.

In the West, I think it’s Clippers vs. Denver for a spot in the Finals.

What about Houston?

As an Oklahoma City Thunder fan, I got to watch Russell Westbrook play for more than a decade. Harden, too. With Chris Paul’s departure, Houston’s defense will be even worse. Houston will go 57-25 and eventually get smothered by Kawhi and the Clippers.

To me, that’s it for the West. And, no, I don’t think the Lakers have a chance. Their roster, top to bottom, isn’t all that great. The Clippers are a wonderfully crafted team: skill guys, niche guys, old and young.

If I had to pick an NBA Finals, give me Clippers – Heat.

My dream is a Toronto – Clippers final. With the Raptors winning.

As far as the hometown Oklahoma City Thunder go, I think as long as Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari are on the team, the Thunder will have a shot to win. Give me 38-44 for a final record.

 

Jalen Hurts Named Sooners’ Starter, But D’Eriq King Is The QB Oklahoma Needs To Worry About

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The Oklahoma Sooners named Jalen Hurts starting quarterback on Monday in breaking news that nobody doubted. The Alabama graduate transfer was a shoo-in for the job, it seemed, over the underrated Tanner Mordecai and the future superstar Spencer Rattler.

Hurts has played in three national championship games and helped the Crimson Tide win the 2017 natty.

But come September 1, Hurts might not be the best QB on Owen Field.

D’Eriq King is coming to town, and he’s got a Dana Holgorsen offense in tow.

Everybody who thinks that Week 1 versus the University of Houston is going to be a cakewalk is grossly mistaken. New defensive coordinator Alex Grinch and the Sooners D will get a stiff test in Week 1 against a proven offensive system and a QB who has a puncher’s chance at a Heisman Trophy in 2019.

Deadly serious.

King was leading the nation in touchdowns last November when a torn meniscus sidelined him for the rest of the year.

The website underdogdynasty.com, which covers football in Conference USA, the Sun Belt, the AAC and Independent college football, ranks D’Eriq King as its No. 1 player in the AAC.

They write:
We’ve said it for a while and we’ll say it again: D’Eriq King is the best player in this conference, no question. He was robbed for Conference Player of the Year last year, and deserves more respect from all of college football.

King was one of three players to account for 50 or more touchdowns last year. He did that in 11 games, and might have led all of college football in touchdowns if he didn’t get hurt. Dana Holgorsen’s staff gives him yet another playbook, but that won’t slow him down at all. Holgorsen said he won’t run King as much this year, so his passing numbers should improve. Regardless of what happens, King’s talent is too good to ignore, and we need to give him the respect he deserves.

Check out this pass. This is the type of stuff that killed the Sooners time and time again the past few years, especially against teams that had taller receivers (think Texas and Iowa State):

Let’s check the roster. I’ve got some good news, Oklahoma. Houston doesn’t have any upper-classmen taller than 6’2″ and their one 6’3″ receiver is a freshman.

But to be brutally honest, this YouTube video should scare the devil out of Oklahoma fans. King is a fantastic passer, and Sooners fans know darned well that Oklahoma’s defense of the past two seasons wasn’t really any better than any of the teams you just watched in that video.

There are zero guarantees Oklahoma wins Game 1. The battle versus Houston in Norman on Sept. 1 is basically a Big 12 game from the past couple of years. Winning is surely expected, but by no means should anybody fail to understand how big a test this really is.

This could be a 55-48 type of game.

So, while Monday was all about getting the Jalen Hurts-as-starter news out of the way for the Sooners, OU fans should be getting to know D’Eriq King.

Dude could be the stuff of Oklahoma’s nightmares come Sept. 1.

Photo credit: University of Houston athletics

Is Oklahoma Sooners QB Spencer Rattler Closing In On Jalen Hurts?

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I’ve only begun to dive into Netflix’s QB1 series featuring Oklahoma Sooners phenom Spencer Rattler during his time at Pinnacle in Phoenix. I’m struck by how small he is compared to other big-time quarterback recruits.

And then we see him throw. Crisp.

And then we see the attitude. Confident.

And, damn, if it isn’t like seeing a young Baker Mayfield get after it.

As a Sooner fan, the thing that strikes me the most is how committed Rattler was to Oklahoma from the get-go. His coaches had to tell him to stop wearing his OU gear at practices.

But could this freshman, who didn’t go through spring ball at OU, have a chance to supplant incoming transfer Jalen Hurts as opening week starter? I don’t think there’s a chance of that — but there is a lot of buzz at how Rattler is performing.

This article from the Norman Transcript suggests Rattler is in the thick of the QB race with Hurts and Tanner Mordecai, who is no slouch for the Sooners. The reporting is that while Rattler hasn’t necessarily made ground on Mordecai or Hurts, he has come into his own as far as execution.

OK, then. But could Rattler see playing time this year? I’d bet the farm that he at least gets his four games before taking the redshirt, probably. In fact, I predict we’ll see him Week 1 versus Houston.

Former OU nose tackle Dusty Dvoracek talked with News 9 Sports Director Dean Blevins about Rattler, noting how impressive he’s been in practice.

I think the biggest question I have is whether Rattler is actually redshirted. My current hunch is that he won’t be. We’re in an era of win-now, and if Lincoln Riley thinks No. 7 can help Oklahoma in a Big 12 title game or a national playoff, then Spencer Rattler will be playing when it counts — even if it’s only for a couple of packages.

Photo from Soonersports.com

Rooney & The Era Of Rooting For Players > Teams + D.C. United 0, FC Dallas 2

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One of the things I love about married life is that my bride enjoys road trips, as do I. She also enjoys sports. Double bonus. So, it was an especially awesome treat for me to get to see my favorite soccer player, Wayne Rooney, in Dallas for the Fourth.

The older I get, the less I’m tied to the team of my residence. Or region. Oh, I’m aware of the rules of rooting relative to geography, but given that Oklahoma City probably still has more St. Louis Cardinals baseball fans than Texas Rangers supporters, I’m good with the rules being thrown out the window.

Plus, I’m not obligated to root for whom the masses tell me.

That includes national teams, for the record.

And I’m not obligated to always root for the underdog in the NCAA tourney.

I regularly root for Duke.

And in these NBA Playoffs, I rooted for the world-champion Toronto Raptors, not just in the Finals versus the unlikable Golden State Warriors, but for the entire playoff run. Why? Because they had never won, and my wife and I took our honeymoon to Toronto.

Likewise, I rooted and still root for the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team of my geography, even though I’ve liked them less and less as the years have gone on mostly because of a certain star’s cantankerous personality and his treatment of reporters, who are just doing their job, especially the one guy who’s borne the brunt of it.

I root for players and story lines.

Cleveland has my eye and heart because of Baker Mayfield, and for the record, they were coming off an 0-16 season when I started pulling for them.

There’s more.

I rooted for the L.A. Clippers for years, during the Brand era, because I loved the team’s play-by-play announcer, Ralph Lawler. I’m currently rooting for the Washington Nationals because of theirs, Bob Carpenter, and because they’ve got a neat post-Harper story going.

Allegiance to the wife means I pull for the L.A. Dodgers and the UCLA Bruins. But my fanship of the Army Black Knights came pre-Kristi. Her father was a West Point man. Besides, I just love how Army does things: discipline, preparedness, humility.

I loved the Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker era Wichita State Shockers. Still love the Shockers.

And in the world of soccer, I became a Spurs fan thanks to Gareth Bale and a D.C. United supporter, thanks to Wayne Rooney. One play encapsulates the moment he won me over:

That’s the best sports play, the best one-man sports effort I can recall, this side of Marshawn Lynch a la Seahawks-Saints. When I got the chance to go see Rooney play Thursday against FC Dallas in Frisco, I snagged it.

But first, Kristi and I stopped at an In-N-Out Burger somewhere near Dallas, in Denton I believe. As a guy who lived in Texas for more than a decade, my allegiance to Whataburger is real. However, In-N-Out is equally wonderful.

If you’ve never been to Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, Here are three things you should know:

  • They have free parking available and lots of it.
  • Shade is on the west side of the stadium.
  • It’s Texas. Folks are super friendly.

Truth be told, I also root for FC Dallas albeit in a very lukewarm fashion. They don’t have any players that I’m familiar with or who compel me to root for them. I don’t mean it as a total pejorative, but outside of proximity, there’s nothing about the team that would cause me to like them:

  • Their kits are super generic. D.C. United’s kits, especially the two-tone white ones, are beautiful.
  • The stadium is nice but cookie-cutter.
  • What’s their tradition? Minnesota United has “Wonderwall.” Now, that’s cool!

Anyway, we get down there, and Rooney darn nearly gets sent off with a red card in the 33rd minute.

That would have sucked considering we drove to Dallas not just to watch D.C. United but mostly to see Rooney. We weren’t the only ones. Luis Acosta, my second-favorite player on D.C. United got sent off in the second half.

The D.C. United team as a whole isn’t playing well at all, but Thursday’s loss was only their first loss in five matches.

I can’t complain. I took my opportunity to see my team in action and root on one of the sport’s all-time greats. More road trips to Dallas!

Plus, we got fireworks — so I might as well make use of photos I took during the display. Why do we snap photos of fireworks? They almost never look good.

The Sappy Story Behind Why I Started Pulling For The Toronto Raptors

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My first out-of-town date with Kristi was a Texas Rangers game against the visiting Toronto Blue Jays, a team I had grown to despise thanks to Jose Bautista. Drew Stubbs walked it off with a homer in extras, and the Rangers had exacted at least one morsel of revenge.

Almost.

The very next day, Rougned Odor won the hearts of every Rangers fan but obliterating the jaw of Bautista after a dirty slide. In the long-term, it wasn’t an effective move but in the short-term it sure felt good. Kristi and I attended the game before because, I thought, the fracas might happen THAT night, and I wasn’t going to mind being there to witness it.

Does that make me an awful human? Lol.

Sports have been a big part of our adventures the past three years, and we made it a part of our honeymoon, too.

And thus explains why I have fallen completely nuts for the Toronto Raptors.

Our honeymoon started in Buffalo, where we rented a car and drove to Niagara Falls. Much more on that later, but we went from there to Hamilton, Ontario, where Kristi graciously allowed me to stop at Tim Horton’s Stadium, home of the mighty Tiger-Cats. We spent all of about five minutes there. This is something I do. I like to see arenas and stadiums.

But then it was on to Toronto and Montreal.

I’m going to write about our experiences in each city, which is very different from the other. In fact, I got the sense talking to locals in each city that they didn’t like the other. I guess it’s the equivalent of Oklahoma’s OKC-Tulsa rivalry or Texas’ Dallas-Houston.

However, today I explain my fascination for these Raptors and why I’m all-in on #WeTheNorth.

Even before we tied the knot, Kristi and I had made it a plan to spend one evening at a bar watching the Raptors during our honeymoon. It also happened to be a night when the Oklahoma City Thunder were playing Portland, a series they lost. Sad trombone. But we wanted to be strangers in a strange land.

And the Raptors had lost the first game of their series, too, to Orlando, just two nights before. In the eyes of Raptors fans, that first-game-of-the-first-series loss had to be discouraging given all the years their hopes had been lifted only to have them sunk.

After two days of wandering the streets of Toronto and taking in a Blue Jays game, we wandered toward Scotiabank Arena and the legendary Jurrasic Park area for fans. I say legendary because it’s gotten a lot of TV time during the playoffs and because I remember Oklahoma City’s own Thunder Alley.

The vibes were similar albeit Toronto’s is way bigger. And a much cooler name.

Also, this is something you should know about Toronto, Ontario. It’s the fourth-largest city in North America, behind Mexico City, New York City and Los Angeles. It’s clean and sort of European. Definitely cosmopolitan. Gray. Cool.

Stereotypically Canadian-nice.

On game night, we walked into a bar right by Scotiabank Arena called Real Sports Bar. It was a giant sports bar with at least 100 TVs, and I was sure given our lack of a reservation that we wouldn’t be able to get a seat for Game 2 between the Toronto Raptors and the Orlando Magic.

I was wearing an Oklahoma City Dodgers cap. Representing the 405.

The host took us to two good seats right behind the main seating area but in perfect view of all the screens. Not only were the Raptors playing but so were the Blue Jays, who took second-fiddle this night. The Maple Leafs played the night before, otherwise I’m not sure we would have been watching the Raptors.

We asked her if we could watch the Oklahoma City Thunder game after the Raptors’, and she asked if we were from Oklahoma City.

“We are,” I said. “But tonight we wanted to come hang out with Raptors and root on Toronto,” not yet having any emotional investment in the team.

Besides Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, I knew nothing about this team. They were pieces put together without much of an on-the-floor theme, in my opinion. Nevertheless, my declaration was met with an extraordinarily welcoming, “We are glad you’re here. Tonight you’re Raptors!”

Something like that.

The two seats to our left were soon taken by two diminutive Asian women who were rabid Raptors fans. I couldn’t get a sense of whether English was their primary language when they asked us if the seats were taken. They weren’t, and we sat next to them for the entire game. I mention them to provide observational evidence of Toronto’s diversity in basketball. When the Raptors-Warriors series starts on Thursday, please look at the faces of Toronto’s fans.

They aren’t merely Canada. They’re the world.

Muslim. Asian. Sikh. Black, white, African, European.

The team’s president, Masai Ujiri, is a 48-year-old Nigerian who’s best known right now for his gamble on a one-year deal for Kawhi Leonard but who is most respected in the basketball community for his ambassadorship of basketball in Africa. In many ways, the Toronto Raptors are the future of professional basketball both on and off the floor — extraordinarily international.

At the bar, Kristi and I ordered some food, some drinks and just observed. I ran across the bar to a sports apparel shop at halftime to get myself a We The North long-sleeved t-shirt. I ran back for the second half. Toronto won in anti-climatic fashion.

And I didn’t think much about them until we got back from our honeymoon. Truly, I spent more time rooting on the Maple Leafs while in Canada because I knew how much hockey meant to the city compared to anything else. And, oh how the Maple Leafs are long-suffering, not having touched Lord Stanley’s Cup since 1967.

Once we got back to Oklahoma City, with the Maple Leafs eliminated, I made it a point to tune in to the Raptors-76ers series.

And I got to learn about Cameroonian Pascal Siakam. And I got to watch former Thunder player Serge Ibaka and former Grizzly Marc Gasol. The three of them together speak Spanish and French on the floor, which I love.

Freddie Van Vleet plays for the Raptors. I was a huge Wichita State fan when he and Ron Baker were together. Loved those teams.

Danny Green, Norman Powell, Jeremy Lin.

I saw first-hand why Kyle Lowry is the heart-and-soul of the team.

And I (and the world) discovered the meme-factory that is Nick Nurse. That man paid his dues. At one point he made $300 a week coaching for the Oklahoma Storm, a USBL team from Enid, Oklahoma. He’s living the North-American dream.

You know who else is? Nav Bhatia, a 67-year-old Canadian immigrant who’s attended every Raptors game since 1995. Everybody talks about Drake, but Bhatia is the real superfan of this team, and if you have an extra three minutes, read his story. It’s incredible.

But just as I was getting to know the team, Game 7 against Philadelphia happened, and I knew I was going to be sad if their run ended because, symbolically, it would also close out what was a logical memory extension of our honeymoon.

I know; I’m a total sap. Sue me.

And then Kawhi’s shot bounced and bounced and bounced, and bounced, and went in. Now, if I told you that I had a premonition of that shot before it happened, you wouldn’t believe me and that’s ok. I didn’t even tell my wife. The premonition was merely that the Raptors were going to win on a long shot that bounced around the rim and went in. The thought lasted about one full second. I didn’t really have time even to communicate it before it happened. But I swear to you that it’s true.

It doesn’t even matter. It went in. Kristi screamed. I high-fived her, and 10-year-old Olivia ran in faux-fear, not understanding what all the hullabaloo was about.

Like it or not, at least for this playoff run, these Raptors were ours.

The Bucks series felt like a long-shot by most accounts, especially after two games.

Then Nick Nurse put Kawhi on Giannis, and the Raptors invented The Wall. Kyle Lowry had his monster game. And then Fred Van Vleet had an even bigger game after the birth of his child.

And then 26-3 happened in Game 6. In the 6ix, which is what Toronto calls itself.

At some point, you start thinking the Raptors are darlings of destiny.

Like this is ordained.

Given everything I’ve seen — Kawhi’s shot, the emergence of Nick Nurse, Jurassic Park, The Wall, what Kyle Lowry and Freddie Van Vleet can do when they get hot — it’s hard not to think the Toronto Raptors are simply starring in a feel-good movie.

And despite not knowing whether Kawhi will come back to Toronto after his one season there, I can’t guarantee that I won’t always root for this team, at least a little. Maybe not if they’re playing the Thunder, of course.

Then again, we don’t yet know just how good, how dramatic these NBA Finals will be.

How does this movie end?

If it’s up to me, it’s Raptors in 7. Kawhi is MVP, and this time the game-winner is all net.

2018 Year in review: Just how close is Oklahoma to a national title?

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For most folks across the country, the thought of another Clemson vs. Alabama College Football Playoff game – a fourth – is pretty dull unless you’re in Alabama or South Carolina. But for those of us in Oklahoma, we get what it’s like. We have our own version of Clemson vs. Alabama.

It’s called Jenks-Union.

And for 21 seasons or so between 1995 and 2016, either the Jenks Trojans or the Union Redskins won the state’s top football class. Year after year it happened until Owasso broke through two seasons ago and Broken Arrow last season. Yet Oklahoma’s top flight of high school football is still relatively boring given its lack of parity. It took everything the Rams and Tigers had to win one game against the state’s best.

I’d still lay all my dollars on either Jenks or Union next year.

That’s what we have in college football right now, with no reason to believe that next year’s championship game won’t be Clemson-Alabama.

Despite the fantastic seasons Oklahoma has had the past four years, having gone to the CFP in three of them, the Sooners are more like Owasso or Broken Arrow pre-2016 than they are Jenks or Union. The breakthrough is going to come, but we’re going to have to be patient and wait out Trevor Lawrence and Tua Tagovailoa.

The 2018 season got awfully frustrating at times until Mike Stoops was dismissed. We got two weeks of decent defensive play, and then the bottom dropped out. Oklahoma gave up 46 to Texas Tech and 47 to Oklahoma State and 40 to Kansas.

Yet we won every one of those games in a stretch of pure grit we haven’t seen since last season when the Sooners did the same thing.

I totally get it. Oklahoma has to get more physical. The Sooners have to get bigger. OU’s focus has to be on defense.

But with the hindsight that the end of the season gives us, can we muster some appreciation for the resiliency this team has shown for two consecutive seasons? It’s actually amazing that despite periods where it seemed as if none of the Sooners players even knew how to tackle that this squad pulled out win after win after win.

It speaks to the bond they have as brothers. It also speaks volumes about their head coach, Lincoln Riley, and his predecessor Bob Stoops, who was equally known for his gritty teams.

Riley got an extension and some more coin today, deservedly so. He’s running a great program, making tough decisions when the need arises and appears to be as aboveboard as it gets in the sometimes nasty world of college sports.

The truth is: Oklahoma might come in third or fourth the next five, six years in a row.

However, the Sooners are also THIS close to becoming the next Alabama.

I think Lincoln Riley is going to be obsessed with defense this offseason. While we might have to wait a couple years for it all to come together, the 2020-22 seasons look prime for at least one and likely multiple national championships.

Horns Down? The NFL has figured out what college hasn’t

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A few years ago, you wouldn’t have ever heard me say that the NFL was more fun to watch than college football.

The tailgating. The atmosphere. The tradition.

But now, between 74-72 football games and conference rules stifling even the most modest of player celebrations, I find myself at the end of the college football season eagerly awaiting its end — and it’s been like that for at least the past five years. Mind you, when the Sooners make the College Football Playoff, I’ll be gung-ho if but for one more day.

Today’s decision by the Big 12 Conference to penalize Oklahoma if a Sooner player, or coach presumably, makes a “horns down” gesture just cements the conference among a sea of snowflakes in an over-sensitive universe. Of course, the rule-follower that I am, I’m not overtly among those who are suggesting the Sooners as a team do it at the beginning of the game — but the conference has practically begged for it, and I bet we see something a la Georgia-Florida a few years ago.

Lol, this was awesome, btw.

Georgia went on to win 42-30, fwiw.

This isn’t even an OU vs. Texas issue. We both agree.

Are we going to ask Longhorns fans not to chant, “OU Sucks!”? Never. If I don’t hear “OU Sucks,” how am I to even believe it’s Texas?

It’s part of the game. Heck, does anybody remember that once upon a time, Longhorns and Sooners would line up along Commerce and basically drunkenly yell at each other for hours?

My capacity for caring about this topic hasn’t even lasted as long as the writing of this post, except to say this: The NFL figured it out. In desperate need of a PR boost in the wake of Anthem Kneeling ’17, the league decided to let their players have fun again.

They allowed them to celebrate touchdowns.

The horror.

And, trust me: there is plenty of shade being thrown in some of these celebrations. It just takes a little sleuthing.

But besides it being the right thing to do, it’s smart marketing. If we’re going to have to sit through a four-hour 59-56 game, let’s see these guys bring their best celebrations. Heck, get the audience in on it and have a vote for the celebration of the game in the fourth quarter for $25,000 to a worthy charity?

Lighten the heck up already.

Cover photo is from soonersports.com.

Can we agree that Lincoln Riley owns the Oklahoma defense next year?

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They allowed Kansas 544 yards of total offense including 405 yards on the ground.

On the ground, they allowed the Jayhawks 8.3 yards per carry.

The ‘they’ I’m referring to is 1-10 Rutgers, one of the worst teams in all of college football.

It could have as easily been Oklahoma. The Sooners, despite a 55-40 win, allowed Kansas 524 total yards, 348 on the ground and at a 9.7-yards-per-carry clip. Oklahoma’s pass defense was also on par with Rutgers’, given the common opponent.

Oklahoma is 10-1, and Rutgers is 1-10.

Thank God for the Sooners offense because this team — without Kyler Murray and a brilliant offensive mind in Lincoln Riley — could as easily be 3-9.

The downward spiral of the Oklahoma defense absolutely started with Bob Stoops, the third best coach in the history of Oklahoma football. The man has a national championship to his name, and he brought the Sooners an entire era of winning. However, the move toward the spread offense went from 1999 gimmick to plague for the entire Big 12 conference, whose teams never bothered to learn how to defend against it.

And in the past five seasons, Oklahoma has gone from a modicum of aggressiveness to playing a permanent prevent defense against virtually every team, per the strategy of Bob’s brother, Mike and a full staff of coaches who have supported him, including current interim defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill.

So, what’s the big deal, you ask? We’ll just out-score everybody.

You’re right, but that becomes tougher when you play teams out of conference, especially teams from the SEC, Big 10 or an Independent team like Army. The Black Knights, in a 28-21 loss, held the potent Oklahoma offense to 355 yards and four scores, and they did it with ball control.

Where this philosophical discussion becomes tougher to argue is in discussing Alabama. If you were to poll 1,000 pretty knowledgeable college football fans, I think they’d say (aside from Clemson), the two teams that stand the best chance against the Crimson Tide would be Michigan (because of its awesome defense) and Oklahoma (because of our unstoppable offense).

I firmly believe Oklahoma could beat Alabama under close-to-perfect circumstances, but that score would probably look like 52-49. Maybe as many as three or four out of 10 times.

But Oklahoma could also, potentially, lose to virtually any team in Division I on a close-to-perfect day.

The Sooners are an injured quarterback away, a head coaching change away from reverting back to the Blake years. I think it’s super naive not to see that, and it’s not the end of the world if that were to happen. Makes you appreciate the great years, right?

I’m of the firm belief that Lincoln Riley is at once an offensive genius and quite possibly woefully incomplete as a head coach. But he’s got the opportunity to right that side of the ball.

This year, the terrible defense is on Mike Stoops and, largely, too, Ruffin McNeill.

But next year, can we agree that Lincoln Riley owns this?

Photos from trip to Denver, Coors Field, visit to National Ballpark Museum

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This is a blog I wrote months ago about a trip I took last year. Mom died during the summer, so this one got shelved, but not just because of that. This post got shelved because I thought it was important to properly caption every one of the photos I was going to post from my trip to the National Ballpark Museum

This post was going to wait until I was able to deal with all five dozen or so photos I’m sharing in this post.

The two things I love most about sports are the uniforms (what we root for) and the stadiums and parks where sports are played. Much churches, sports venues are the architectural centerpieces of America.

Hope you enjoy this one, and if you can, check out the National Ballpark Museum on Facebook (if you can’t visit Bruce in person!). I can’t imagine a museum I would enjoy more except for perhaps the one in Cooperstown.

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The baseball pennant race is red hot, and no divisions are hotter right now than the NL Central and West. Colorado is leading the West by 1.5 games over the Los Angeles Dodgers, parent club to our Oklahoma City Dodgers. The Dodgers are one of the teams I root for hard, and that goes back to the days of Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey.

But the Rockies are a team I root for, too. Just not right now. There is a pecking order to my bandwagon.

For the record, I am a Texas Rangers fan to the core. Always will be.

But I love sports, and I especially love baseball.

And I was fortunate enough to visit Denver last year and see the Rockies at Coors Field. I was impressed by the city, the stadium, LoDo (lower downtown) and a little museum Kristi and I discovered along the way. She actually discovered the National Ballpark Museum before our trip because she’s good like that, and she knows of my love for baseball architecture.

Denver was adorned this fine weekend by deep blue skies and clean air, cool nights and warm days. I went for a run along some trails near Welton Street, not named for me best that I know, and my only complaint was the periodic smell of marijuana smoke in the air.

Alas, even with dispensaries everywhere, I loved, loved, loved Denver.

Beautiful. Cosmopolitan. Green. Good food, good beer, good people.

Our trip to Coors Field was pretty close to my favorite all-around city+ballpark trip ever.

After pre-gaming at a local sports bar, we visited this ballpark museum, about two or three blocks from the stadium. The National Ballpark Museum is a shrine to ballparks dating to the 1800s, the major leagues and the Negro League. It’s a baseball nerd’s paradise.

And we were lucky enough to get a personal tour from curator Bruce “B” Hellerstein. By personal, I mean it was Kristi and me with Bruce for an hour. The visit might have cost us $10 apiece, maybe $15? Worth every penny and plenty more. (Side note: They are a 501 (c)(3) organization and can accept donations.)

What we were told by the museum host is that Bruce is rarely there, but that when he is, you need to take advantage of his presence and pay attention. Bruce Hellerstein is a walking encyclopedia of baseball history and especially an expert in ballparks. My expertise in ballpark history is pretty novice among experts but expert among novices, if you will.

Bruce is a stud among baseball studs.

My interest in ballpark architecture goes back to childhood, visiting Royals Stadium in 1982 and watching the fountains. Before that, I regularly rooted for the Dodgers in the World Series, and I especially loved the games in Los Angeles as opposed to New York, going back to their battles versus the Yankess in 1977 and 1978. What I’m saying there is that, even as a 7-year-old, I picked my World Series team based on venue. (And uniforms. I’ll save that for another post.)

Fast-forward a few years to when we got Camden Yards and Jacobs Field, and my interest in stadiums increased greatly because I grew up mostly with the cookie-cutter, turf-riddled, multi-purpose stadiums such as Veterans Stadium, Three Rivers Stadium, Fulton County Stadium, Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, Riverfront Stadium, etc.

I was aesthetically deprived until I wasn’t, and then my interest in baseball architecture was greatly heightened. The truth is that this new, early-90s era of stadium architecture was a throwback to early 1900s greatness, not some new innovation.

What’s old became new again.

That’s why it’s especially appropriate that the National Ballpark Museum is in Denver — because Coors Field was architected in the style of older stadiums, especially Ebbets Field and I believe Shibe Park (Connie Mack Stadium).

It has a prominent, rounded front and the entire stadium sits right close to the street.

Coors Field wasn’t ushering in a new era of stadiums. It was a hearty hat-tip to the best stadiums of years gone by.

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That’s all I really have to say about the museum. After rooting on the Dodgers to a 4-0 win over Colorado that night, Kristi went back to the sports bar we first visited that afternoon and split a plate of nachos and a beer and watched some UFC on the big screen with hundreds of other Denver folk. The one thing I remember about the fight we saw was that the loser of the match proposed to her girlfriend on live TV.

UFC fight Jessica Andrade versus Joanna Jedrzejczyk

This is the UFC fight we watched at the bar in LoDo.

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Neither Kristi nor I know much about UFC, so it was the post-match happening that was most memorable.

The things we remember! Anyway, I’m glad I take lots of photos when I visit places. The National Baseball Museum is quite memorable, but there was so much baseball goodness in one spot, these photos will keep the venue and our visit with Bruce in our memories for the rest of our lives.

Or until the next time we visit. And we will!

Now for your perusal, the photos I took from the National Ballpark Museum. Enjoy!

1960 World Series Champion Pittsburgh Pirates

A piece of baseball history from the 1960 World Series champion Pittsburgh Pirates

Fenway Park ticket taker

A piece of history from Fenway Park, home of the Boston RedSox.

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Connie Mack Stadium - Philadelphia

This was Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia.

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14 Classic Baseball Parks

Bricks from the 14 classic ballparks built from 1909 to 1923.

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Crosley Field in Cincinnati, memorabilia

Lots of memorabilia from Crosley Field in Cincinnati at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver.

Crosley Field, Cincinnati

Crosley Field, The Illustrated History of a Classic Ballpark

Pennants for the Pirates, Phillies, Braves and Dodgers

Pennants for the Pirates, Phillies, Braves and Dodgers

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Cincinnati Redlegs

Memorabilia from the Cincinnati Redlegs at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver.

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Final Game at Crosley Field: June 24, 1970

Autographed photo from Crosley Field in Cincinnati, the final pitch at the Reds’ stadium before Riverfront Stadium debuted.

Artifacts from Wrigley Field. White Sox, Giants and Cubs

Various artifacts from Wrigley Field, among other ballparks.

Tiger Stadium brochure

Memorabilia about Tiger Stadium in Detroit

Oakland A's Reggie Jackson in Sports Illustrated

Look at those unis! Oakland Athletics on the cover of Sports Illustrated, featuring slugger Reggie Jackson.

Tiger Stadium All Star Game 1971

Memorabilia from Tiger Stadium All Star Game 1971

Michigan and Trumbull

One of the most famous corners in all of baseball, Michigan and Trumbull — home of the Detroit Tigers.

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Stan Musial memorabilia in St, Louis

St. Louis Cardinals memorabilia at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver. This is Stan Musial.

RedSox Magazine

RedSox Magazine – A Monster Of A View – at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver

Boston - 2013 World Series

A photo from Fenway Park where the Boston RedSox defeated St. Louis to win the 2013 World Series

Legends of the Black Diamond

Heroes of the Negro League were memorialized at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver.

Jimmy Fund Night - Fenway Park

Jimmy Fund Night – Fenway Park – an artifact from Fenway Park in Boston, shown at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver.

Yankee Stadium - the House That Ruth Built

Yankee Stadium memorabilia (“The House That Ruth Built”) featured at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver.

We Are The Ship - Kadir Nelson

Book at the National Ballpark Museum called “We Are The Ship,” by Kadir Nelson

Comiskey Park in Chicago - Old & New

Photo of Comiskey Park in Chicago during the final game at “old” Comiskey.

Mickey Mantle New York Yankees

Photo of Mickey Mantle batting for the New York Yankees.

Mickey Mantle quote + photo

Mickey Mantle quote at Yankee Stadium

Tony Kubek & Joe Garagiola

Tony Kubek and Joe Garagiola, the guys who introduced me to baseball in the 1970s.

Bruce Hellerstein talks about Dodgers

National Ballpark Museum curator Bruce Hellerstein talks about this Dodgers memorabilia when we visited in Denver in May 2016.

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Bruce Hellerstein

The curator of the National Ballpark Museum in Denver, Bruce Hellerstein.

Los Angeles Dodgers gear at National Ballpark Museum

This was a big Los Angeles (and Brooklyn) Dodgers section at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver.

Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn Dodgers

The most important figure in the history of baseball is Jackie Robinson. If you haven’t seen the movie, “42,” watch it!

Tony Kubek, Yankees shortstop

A signed photo of Yankees shortstop Tony Kubek, and a newspaper clipping of Tony winning a rookie award.

Yankee Stadium sign, Department of Transportation

This is a sign pointing people toward Yankee Stadium. The sign is from the Department of Transportation and is found at the National Ballpark Museum.

Willie Mays, New York Giants (the catch)

A couple of mini-statues of Willie Mays, depicting “the catch” from Game 1 of the 1954 World Series against the Cleveland Indians from the Polo Grounds in New York.

Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field

The National Ballpark Museum had a little shrine to Wrigley Field, home to the Chicago Cubs.

California Angels, the inaugural year

A look at some really old-school California Angels paraphernalia from the National Ballpark Museum. The Angels debuted as an MLB team in 1961.

Texas Rangers, Arlington Stadium

A banner and a program from old Arlington Stadium in Texas, there is also a signed seat, I believe, from Nolan Ryan.

Seattle Pilots

Look at these collectibles from the Seattle Pilots’ one and only season before becoming the Milwaukee Brewers.

Babe Ruth's called shot

A photo/painting and a statue of Babe Ruth’s called shot at Wrigley Field in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series.

Los Angeles Angels, the early days

The California Angels are now the Los Angeles Angels. However, from 1961-65 they were also the L.A. Angels. This is lots of paraphernalia from the really early days of the franchise.

Kansas City Athletics

Before the A’s were in Oakland, they were in Kansas City. Check out this 1960s memorabilia at the National Ballpark Museum.

Kansas City Royals

A pennant from the early days of the Kansas City Royals and Royals Stadium, found at the National Ballpark Museum.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Memorabilia from the early days of both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels, found at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver.

Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Millers

Memorabilia and paraphernalia from the early days of the Minnesota Twins and the minor league Millers of Minneapolis.

Cubs!

If I remember right, this Cubs logo was painted onto the floor at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver.

Denver Bears uniforms (striped)

Love the striped look of the old Denver Bears, which played from 1885-1954 in its first incarnation and then until 1985 before turning into the Zephyrs.

Denver Bears (1970s-80s look?)

Interesting scripting on these Denver Bears uniforms. I’m betting these are late 70s versions.

Denver Bears memorabilia

More signs and clippings from the rich history of Denver’s Minor League Bears – located at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver.

Baseball Tonite at Bears Stadium

Vintage sign from the Denver Bears, which played in two incarnations in Denver — 1885 to 1954 and then until 1985 before they were renamed the Zephyrs.

Babe Ruth clock

This was a neat artifact from baseball past at the National Ballpark Museum – a Babe Ruth clock. It might be a clock radio?

Reggie Jackson, Mr. October

Reggie Jackson went from great to legend in the 1977 World Series vs, the Dodgers. This presentation at the Ballpark Museum in Denver pays homage to Mr. October.

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