Super Bowl champions Ray Rice and Torrey Smith met at video game producer Treyarch's studios in Santa Monica this week to settle an argument: Who would win in a Call of Duty: Black Ops II grudge match? Before they sat down to virtually duke it out on the just-released The Uprising DLC Map Pack (that's as close to a neutral field in video games you can get; oh, and if you're over 35, don't be embarrassed if you don't know what a DLC Map Pack is), we had a chance to ask them a couple of questions:
You're probably familiar with the "hometown discount," the millions of dollars that a player entering free agency is supposed to leave on the table so he can exhibit loyalty to the piece of laundry that acquired his rights (often with little or no input from the player in question). You might not be quite as familiar, though, with the "hometown premium." In one sense, the hometown premium could be the extra money a team that's subpar or in an undesirable location has to pay to retain a star player or prevent him from hitting free agency, like the Panthers did with Charles Johnson before the 2011 season. I'm thinking of a different hometown premium. It's the premium that the Ravens and Bears weren't willing to pay to retain Ed Reed and Brian Urlacher, respectively. The one that led to Reed reportedly signing with the Texans on Wednesday, only hours after the Bears announced that Urlacher wouldn't be returning to the only professional team he's ever known. It's a hometown premium that involves money, but it's truly built around respect and desire.
This isn't true in the case of every longtime veteran who has spent the bulk or entirety of his career with one team, but it certainly appears to be true with the cases of Reed and Urlacher: Their teams had to give them more money and show them more appreciation than the free-agent market was likely to offer. All money isn't equal. A two-year, $8 million offer from the Ravens didn't mean the same to Reed as an identical offer from the Texans, because of the context surrounding each opportunity. If the Ravens ever even made Reed that offer, it would have been as part of a noticeable pay cut from his previous salary. It would have been a slap in the face to a player who has given so much to his organization during the past 11 years. That exact same deal from the Texans — the only team that appeared to be looking at Reed in free agency — would have been seen as a token of investment (both financially and emotionally) from the only team smart enough to make a bid for him. You can imagine similar feelings of distrust and then vindication coming from Anquan Boldin's camp, as he produced one of the best postseasons in league history and promptly found his front office threatening to release him if he didn't take a pay cut. Who would you think valued you more — the Ravens or the 49ers?
In case you were too busy lamenting the fate of your already busted NIT bracket, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
LeBron James had a triple double as the Miami Heat extended their winning streak to 24 games, overcoming a 27-point deficit to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, 98-95. "We are legends," James said after the game, in which the reigning NBA champions beat a Cleveland team missing its two best players by three points. "This is a game for the history books, a true shining moment for Heat basketball," he said about a game in which he was dunked on repeatedly by Alonzo Gee. James concluded his postgame remarks by suggesting that a game in which the third-worst team in the Eastern Conference outscored his team by 21 points in the first half would cement his legacy as one of the greatest basketball players of all time.
Future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed has left the Baltimore Ravens after 11 seasons, signing a three-year deal with the Houston Texans. Although Reed has yet to comment publicly on the move, confirmation has come from former teammate Ray Lewis, who was seen doing a flamboyant bird-like dance toward the east, before turning and performing a trio of bull-like dance moves toward the south.
The Chicago Bears have parted ways with star linebacker Brian Urlacher after the team failed to come to contractual terms with the former NFL defensive player of the year. While Urlacher has publicly stated that he's prepared to join another team, he's privately known to have spent much of the past 24 hours listening to Semisonic's "Closing Time" while looking wistfully at old pictures of former Bears quarterback Rex Grossman. Urlacher was later spotted alone in a bar mouthing "You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here" to himself, as a single tear rolled down his cheek.
James Madison defeated the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds, 68-55, in the preliminary round of the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, history, as it always does, found a way of repeating itself, as James Madison moves on to face the red jerseys of Indiana, who've already made clear that, win or lose, they intend to burn down the White House. "But I picked Indiana to win it all," complained President Barack Obama, as the first lady began packing their most valuable artwork into an old Dodge Caravan.
Thanks to Marc Gasol's game-winning tip-in with 0.8 seconds left, the Memphis Grizzlies beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in overtime, 90-89. Watching at home on TV, L.A. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak shouted "Tradebacks!" as Gasol's shot fell in. When told by assistant GM Glenn Carraro that "tradebacks" aren't a real thing, Kupchak protested, "But me want best center. Lakers get best center, yes? Lakers get best center always. Me want, me want, me want!"
Veteran winger Teemu Selanne scored the winning goal as the Anaheim Ducks came from behind to beat the Chicago Blackhawks, 4-2, in a battle of Western Conference powers. "I don't feel a day over 55," joked the 612-year-old Selanne, before asking teammate Corey Perry if he could "just borrow some blood for a while, you know, because that's a cool thing that friends do for other friends."
The San Jose Sharks staged a third-period rally before downing the Edmonton Oilers in a shootout, 4-3. Sharks center Logan Couture, who had two goals in regulation before scoring again in the shootout, dedicated his effort to "all the real sharks out there who keep losing their teeth. We don't talk about this problem enough, but it sucks. I feel your pain, great whites and tigers. You, too, nurses and whales. Stay hungry, my brothers."
Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Clint Dempsey was named the U.S. Men's National Team captain for its upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico. In unrelated news, Dempsey's erstwhile teammate Landon Donovan was named captain of his bowling league team, "The U.S. Men's Trashed-onal Team," where he's known as "Lane One" Donovan.
Robinson Cano 2B
Some Red Sox Guy 3B
Bernie Williams CF
Uh, can we also put Bernie Williams in left? LF
If we're cloning Bernie Williams once, we might as well put another Bernie Williams in right RF
A prospect who's overrated because he plays for the Yankees SS
Yogi Berrnie Williams C
A copy of a copy of Bernie Williams DH
Dan Johnson 1B
On Monday afternoon, two notable wide receivers were dealt away in trades that seemed to make little sense for the organizations who were giving away their best wideouts. The Vikings, a playoff team one year ago, dealt Percy Harvin to the Seahawks for a package built around Seattle's first-round pick despite the deal leaving Minnesota's cupboard bare at wide receiver and inspiring their best player to actually describe the trade as like getting " kicked in the stomach. Several times!!!" Then, the Ravens continued their tear-down of a Super Bowl–winning roster by astonishingly dealing wideout Anquan Boldin, who led all playoff participants in virtually every receiving category, to the 49ers for a sixth-round pick. That only led former teammate Torrey Smith to tweet "WHAT!!!" like he was an '80s video-game villain whose lair had been unexpectedly broached. One thing to take away from these deals: Star players will almost always respond to deals involving beloved teammates by invoking the triple exclamation point.
So why did these deals happen? And were they good deals for each of these teams to take? If you understand the former, you'll get a very good idea of the latter.
In case you were busy drinking all of the soda in New York, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Top-ranked Gonzaga completed its perfect run through West Coast Conference play, winning the WCC tournament final, 65-51, over St. Mary's. In a particularly touching postgame moment, Gonzaga alum John Stockton handed down to his son, current Gonzaga reserve guard David Stockton, a pair of his trademark shorts. "Look at the waistband," the elder Stockton said to his son with a wink, as he had written, "now, you are a man," inside them. When asked if he would wear the shorts in the upcoming NCAA tournament, David Stockton responded, "yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaah."
In a showdown of Western Conference titans, the San Antonio Spurs topped the Oklahoma City Thunder, 105-93, at home to maintain a two-game advantage in the race for the top seed. The win was the Spurs sixth straight win over the Thunder in San Antonio. "I know I should keep a tighter leash on my guys when we get down here," Thunder coach Scott Brooks explained after the game. "But I also know that K.D. went to school in the area, and he loves SeaWorld San Antonio. No more, though; we have important non-Orca-related business to attend to here. Next time, I promise you, we won't be all hopped up on elephant ears and the thrill of watching Shamu." Brooks then looked over his shoulder at a disappointed Durant, before adding, "well, probably."
In case you were busy singing John Philip Sousa tunes with your loved ones, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
The New York Knicks overcame a 22-point deficit and a knee injury to Carmelo Anthony to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, 102-97. Anthony, who's day-to-day with knee stiffness, said after the game, "I'm glad we won, but I'm really just glad Pablo Prigioni didn't put up a career night. I'm not at all ready for Prigloonacy."
In case you were out just driving, man, just hitting the open road, here's what you missed in sports Tuesday.
The Houston Rockets tied the NBA record for 3-pointers but were denied the record outright after a flurry of ejections marred the end of their 140-109 win over the Golden State Warriors. Houston point guard Jeremy Lin, who led the way for the Rockets with 28 points and nine assists, said after the game, "It was total Linsanity out there, huh?" before pausing dramatically for effect. "I mean, I've seen some things in my day, but that was totally Linsane." Lin then paused again, before admitting, "Guys, I have a lot of T-shirts to move, so if you could remind people of Linsanity, that would be really great. My cousin is all like, 'Get these boxes out of my garage,' and I'm like, 'Whatever, Tom. You said I could leave them in there as long as I needed,' and he's all like, 'Yeah, but I thought they'd be gone in a week,' and I was all like, 'Yeah, me, too.'"
For those of us who grew up with the lopsided Super Bowls of the 1980s, it seems as if we've had an unusual run. The past few years of Super Bowls have stayed tight, the result in doubt until the very end. It's almost miraculous we haven't had one go to overtime yet, though there have been some some close calls. Despite the early signs of a blowout (and maybe in part because of a brownout), Super Bowl XLVII held the pattern: While the 49ers fell behind 4:18 into the game, and never led, they were only three points down with the ball and a theoretical chance to win, right until Ted Ginn Jr. was tackled returning the game-closing kickoff.
How do you measure the closeness of a game? The final score is one way, of course. But for the viewer — especially the TV viewer who can change the channel — the real test is how long the outcome of the game remained in doubt. One way to figure that out is to ask: When was the last point at which the losing team was within striking distance?
I had just taken my seat on my flight from Atlanta to New Orleans, one of the few Niners fans on a plane where anyone wearing Ravens gear had been given a complimentary drink ticket, when a man wearing a red leather jacket and a different shade of red jeans sauntered up the aisle. He was carrying a red duffel bag. A meaningful percentage of his zippers were gold. He stopped at the row in front of me, looked up at his ticket, and sighed. It was Ma$e. He had been assigned a middle seat.
On any given Sunday (or Monday, or Thursday), your NFL Run & Shootaround crew will be gathered around multiple televisions, making inappropriate jokes and generally regressing to the mean. Catch up on all the NFL action right here.
I don't know if something as unabashedly macro as the Super Bowl could ever be considered a microcosm for anything, but here's what I'd say: It seems almost stupidly fitting, after a season in which the NFL's commissioner displayed an uncharacteristic surplus of political ineptitude, that the league could not manage to keep its own power on. And it seems just as fitting that one of the more entertaining NFL seasons in recent memory climaxed near the goal line, with a quarterback who represents the possibilities of the future ultimately in charge of the game's result. The NFL is great, and the NFL is dysfunctional. It lives in the light, and it lives in the dark. — Michael Weinreb
Super Bowl XLVII was also the final game for one of the legends of an era, Ravens Linebacker Ray Lewis. Lewis, who has seen his share of controversy throughout his career, left the stage with his trademark piety, saying, "Man, I didn't play well enough for us to win, but the team and God really picked me up. Haven't gotten away with anything like that in a loooooong time." Lewis then winked, pointed to the sky, and said, "I owe you one, big guy!" God responded, "Dude owes me more than one. Way more. Man, sometimes I have no idea why I keep bailing him out. But we go way back. I dunno, Pete is telling me to cut him off, but then I see those big sweet eyes, and I just can't help myself."
It’s here. Super Bowl XLVII. The biggest betting day of the year. Hundreds of propositions available to wager on. It’s very sad that my wife getting a Valentine’s Day gift is completely dependent upon what color Gatorade is poured on the winning Harbaugh’s head.
But I’m not too worried, as I’ve been on a Rain Man–esque gambling roll lately. I crushed my theoretical bookie on championship weekend, amassing 472,000 jermajesties* — taking my season-long total to a whopping (and I mean a short, pudgy Italian whopping) 612,500 jermajesties overall. Still a bit shy of our goal of 1 million jermajesties, but that’s what Super Bowl Sunday is for. Follow my lead and let’s go to Disney World together.
(*Obligatory weekly explanation: A “jermajesty” represents the fake name given for a dollar amount in this blog. It’s also the unfortunate name of one of Jermaine Jackson’s sons.)
When I decided to count down the 22 most important players in Sunday’s Super Bowl, I didn’t imagine it was going to be all that hard. I mean, there are 44 total starters; picking half of them should be doable. Then I actually started.
Let me first explain what this list is actually supposed to represent. These aren’t the 22 best players in the Super Bowl or the 22 players I expect to make the biggest impact. This is my best attempt at figuring out which 22 players matter most, and that proved to be more difficult than I’d planned.
Even with some cheating (a few guys at similar positions are listed together, so actually there are 27 players. I'm not sorry), there are some notable omissions that I don’t feel great about. Jonathan Goodwin has been one of the best centers in football this year, but for the purposes of this list, he’s out. Not a single Ravens cornerback is listed, which isn’t to say that Corey Graham and Cary Williams won’t play a part; it’s to say that how San Francisco uses Michael Crabtree doesn’t make one side or area of the field more important than another. Dennis Pitta has been invaluable for the Ravens’ offense since Jim Caldwell took over, but I still think he’s been Joe Flacco’s third most important receiver in the playoffs. With all that in mind, here are the guys who actually did make the final cut.