MMA on ESPN. Debate the reversal of course for Disney — the family-corporation that owns ESPN and for years claimed the UFC was too violent before becoming 100 percent comfortable with the violence (and even with renowned bad dude Greg Hardy involved) — but it led to a huge boost in online numbers for ESPN+. It also was a much bigger platform for the UFC, too.
Greg Zeurlein. The Rams kicker made four field goals. That was key of course. He made a 48-yarder with 0:15 left to send the game to overtime, and he made a 57-yarder in overtime to send the Rams to the Super Bowl. In addition to being clutch, Zeurlein crushed the game winner. Seriously. It was a 57-yarder that may have been good from 70-to-75.
Tony Romo. Wow. Right when you think, "OK, we know Romo is the best NFL analyst, what else can he do to impress?," Romo turns in a full game like Sunday's AFC dazzler. Dude was part fortune teller, part Lombardi, part Cosell, part giddy teenager and 100 percent TV magic. He deserves an Emmy for live TV performance for his play-after-play-after-play predictions, analysis and downright joy. He made a great game even better, which is as high a compliment we can ever pay a broadcaster.
GOATs. Brady and Belichick. Belichick and Brady.
Serena Williams. A three-set win over the top-seed at the Aussie Open just continues her amazing march toward another major and against Father Time. Quick, guess how old Serena is? I thought 33-34 or even 35. Nope, she's actually 37. She won her first Grand Slam before Y2K people. Think about that. And now she's three wins away from a record-tying 24th career major. Buckets man.
Adam Long. Wow, how about that young fella? As he walked off the 72nd hole of the 2019 Desert Classic following his twisting 15-footer for a tournament-winning birdie that completed a comeback to topple Phil Mickelson, Long looked at his wife and said, "Holy crap!" Exactly. How about this stat, going into the final round, Long had as many PGA starts as Mickelson — the third-round leader and in the final group with Long — had major championships. His story is a mix between Tin Cup and the opposite of the Tin Man, refusing to give up after turning pro in 2010 after playing golf at Duke. He made less than $600K since turning pro — even playing on something called the Mackenzie Tour — and had not one win on any of the three previous tours on which he played. He made a smudge short of $1.1 million with this win.
Thrilling college hoops on Saturday. Wow. Kansas falling at West Virginia. Duke topping Virginia with two amazing performances from two amazing freshmen. Michigan losing a conference game. UT holding off Alabama. A great second-half rally by Auburn that fell a bucket short against a Kentucky team that looked much more experienced than their roster-listings would lead you to believe. Wow.
Sean Payton. Hey, we get it and we'll get to it. The refs stunk on Sunday and it's an over-arching story-line that we have discussed more than once because when you have two amazing, thrilling and tremendously competitive games end in overtime and the lead story is the officiating, well, that's an awful look. But as much a gripe as Payton has, Saints fans have just as big a gripe. First-and-10 at the Rams 13 with 1:58 left. Run-run-run-FG milks the Rams of both their remaining times and gets the clock down under 1:00. Instead, a slant fell incomplete on first down and a run on second down before the blatantly missed pass interference gave the Rams the ball with 1:41 and a timeout. Which allowed the Rams plenty of time and more importantly a TO to use the whole field and the whole playbook to set up the game-tying field goal with 0:19 left. Uh, guys, this is the second time Payton has mismanaged a late-game scenario in postseason games the Saints should have won.
Andy Reid. The Chiefs got smoked, especially in the first half, and the stats were staggering. Talk about game plans and preparation: Belichick and the Patriots defense held Reid and the NFL MVP to 32 yards and no points in the first two quarters. New England ran twice as many plays and had twice as many first downs and were outgunned 524-290. And to be honest they were out-coached and out-physicalled. Reid is a sure-fire first ballot Hall of Famer, but dude is now 2-10 in one-possession playoff games.
People bellyaching about the NFL overtime rule. Gang, just stop. The tweaks worked Sunday. Seriously. And if you are Johnny Chiefs Fan and saying, "Both teams deserve a chance to have the ball!!!!!" Well, you need to quit your moaning. You want the ball? Stop someone and get the ball. The Pats work the Chiefs in overtime, especially on third down, and Brady proved again he's the best postseason quarterback to ever put on cleats. Dude, it worked fine in the NFC title game because the Rams defensive made a play.
The 5-at-10 clan. We are not used to losing youth sports events. We lost two on Saturday — and one we had no business losing. And that's not the bad part. The flu has landed on Team 5-at-10 on everyone other than the 5-at-10. It's a M*A*S*H unit up in here. And to make it even stinkier, we spent all of Sunday (before the games) getting Pop's house ready to sell. Man, going through stuff like that is tough.
Roger Federer. Tough loss for the GOAT at the Aussie Open, and the question grows louder of how man does he have left?
Calling them out
OK, we get it. The ref blew that call.
No question. No ifs or buts. It was egregious.
But this is sports, and we've been told countless times that one play does not win or lose any game. And we covered the almost as egregious mistake Sean Payton made at his job as the official who missed the call did at his job.
(Side note: When things like this happen in the future, be prepared for the claims of the 'fix' being in as more gambling options invade the sport.)
As for the missed pass interference that would have given the Saints a first down and a chance to run the clock down to nothing and kick a chip shot to get to the Super Bowl.
Well, it was easily the call that is getting the most attention because it came at such a central and critical moment.
But truth be told, the officiating across both games from front to back was dreadful Sunday. The lack of consistency on pass interference — from the ones called to the ones missed to the clear offensive pick plays — is infuriating. And worse, it's completely unpredictable.
In some ways, PI is the modern conundrum that was holding back in the day. It likely could be called on every play. (Side question: Was there a single offensive holding call yesterday? That seemed really strange.)
So here we are, not knowing what is and is not pass interference on either team, and naturally, everyone is looking for a solution.
More replay? Expanded replay? More challenges?
Well, pick a horse and ride because if we are going to do what we can to get every call right, well, games are going to increase in length by at least an hour.
It's strange if you think about it. Those of us who have been campaigning for more automation in officiating and umpiring — especially in terms of strike calls and measuring distance with technology — always hear the "Human error is part of the game."
Well, Sunday human error was evident and talked about everywhere.
This and that
— Happy MLK Jr. Day friends. With that comes the knowledge that there will be no Press Row today. We will be back in the saddle Tuesday on ESPN 105.1 the Zone.
— Lots of NFL talking points of course. Our Thursday picks went 2-2, hitting both games with the underdogs and missing both totals thanks to OT and a crazy 38-point fourth quarter in K.C. So it goes. Also of note here is the eight prop bets that I offered on Friday. Those went 6-2, including a 4-0 sweep in the AFC title game. So there's that, which makes our NFL picks 18-9 on normal plays and 24-11 on total picks since starting this in early December.
— We'll get more into this tomorrow, but the votes for the MLB Hall of Fame class are due Tuesday. According to Ryan Thibodaux's excellent website that tracks revealed Hall of Fame ballots, there are a couple of interesting trends. First, with almost half of the ballots being known, Mariano Rivera is tracking at 100 percent. (He of course will not hit perfection, but could he challenge Ken Griffey Jr.'s 99.32 percent from 2016?) Couple of other items: Roy Halladay is clocking at 92.5 percent, which is staggeringly high in my view; Edgar Martinez is at 90 percent and Mike Mussina is at 81.1 percent. Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds are at 71.1 and 70.6 respectively.
— Super Bowl ticket brokers got the least attractive match-up possible for the Super Bowl.
— James Harden's amazing streak of unassisted points continues to grow. With his 48 points Saturday night — 22 of which came in the fourth quarter and overtime — as the Rockets rallied from a 21-point hole to beat the Lakers, Harden has now scored 163 points in his last three games and none of them have come off an assist. Only Kobe and MJ — each did it twice — have had three-game stretches in the last 50 years with more than Harden's 163 points. Harden has 19 consecutive 30-plus-point games (Only Wilt has longer such streak.
Weekend winners. Share.
Weekend losers. Share.
Speaking of GOATs, Jack Nicklaus is 79 today. Enjoy Mr. Golden Bear. And thank you.
It's International Sweatpants Day.
It's Squirrel Appreciation Day. Foe. I hate squirrels.
It's also National One-Liner Day.
Saturday Night Fever went No. 1 on this day in 1978 and stayed there for 24 weeks.
Rushmore of movie one-liners. Got to be a single sentence. Discuss.