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Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee first-year football coach Josh Heupel wrapped up on-campus workouts Wednesday for next week's Music City Bowl and now hopes his players can stay healthy as they head to their various hometowns for Christmas.

Weekend winners

All of us who celebrated the birth of Jesus. Because he gave us the best present anyone could ever ask for. Hope you and your family had a great Christmas, folks.

The Pope. Not to start the week on a super religious kick, but this story from the AP on the Pope's three key words for a marriage — "Please, thanks, sorry" — is truly divine.

Healthy NFL teams, and conversely bettors who stacked their chips on the opposite side of replacement QBs. The Ravens got rocked. The Football Team got fully terrorized. The Lions covered — but they were playing the Falcons and betting on the Falcons as a favorite is a fool's errand. The Broncos were busted. It also makes you wonder how big the line for the Dolphins against the Saints and whomever New Orleans will trot out at QB will get.

Speaking of that, any fantasy owners who had any of the Bengals' offensive stars in the semifinal rounds of almost all fantasy seasons. Man, have a day Joe Burrow, who went for 525 passing yards and four scores. 

Spiderman. Egad, the most recent Marvel release starring Tom Holland as the famed web slinger, surpassed $1 billion — yes, billion with a 'b' — in just its second week. It's a great feature film by every measure. But to get to the billion-dollar mark in less than 10 days — in the time of raging COVID mind you — is simply amazing, Spiderman. 

Weekend losers

The NBA. In what is pegged as its biggest regular-season day of every season, the games were forgettable. On the other stations, the NFL action was excellent. And how the Lakers are this bad defensively — they made Patty Mills look like peak Reggie Miller — is anyone's guess.

The rest of the AFC. While the teams are jockeying for spots and trying to stay or get healthy, the Chiefs have picked up steam and look like, well, the Chiefs. They steamrolled the Steelers, and that was with Travis Kelce on the shelf.

Washington Football Team. Allowing 56 points — especially when you are built around a front seven with a bevy of first-round picks — is bad. Allowing Dak Prescott to be the first QB to throw a TD pass to an RB, a WR, a TE and an OL in the same game is bad too. But the sideline fracas between Jonathan Allen and Duron Payne that almost became slap nasty was embarrassing.

The world's moral compass. As Chas noted earlier, I have not done as good a job of noting some of the major names and headline-shapers who have died over the last few months. We have lost a lot of graceful souls who left the world better than they found it. Bishop Desmond Tutu, who died over the weekend at the age of 90, is certainly on that list, too. And in the modern times, when causes are shaped by too many for the benefit of too few, the loss of noble and righteous leaders is even more impactful.   

Who's next?

Man, anyone else miss the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve? 

Yeah, I know. We were all with family, and yes, NBC offers the classic "It's a Wonderful Life" and TNT plays "A Christmas Story" on a loop. 

But the Hawaii Bowl being on in the background is as Christmas Eve as leaving cookies for Santa and wondering if the kids are really asleep or just pretending at 12:30 a.m.

That cancellation, though, was really only the beginning over the weekend. 

BC backed out of its bowl date with ECU and Virginia pulled out, too. Now an 11th-hour cancellation of the Sun Bowl after a COVID outbreak on the Miami roster is just the latest example of how this latest variant is viciously vacating massive chunks of the sports slate.  

(As for the bowl contest, curious on your thoughts: Should we just wipe that game from the slate or should the team that had to back out be given a forfeit, hence making ECU the winner over BC and Washington State the winner over Miami, for example? Discuss.)

You have to wonder how many sports, leagues, tournaments, bowl games, etc., have followed the Wimbledon lead and looked into pandemic insurance, right?

And it also makes you wonder how much longer the indoor sports like college and pro basketball will continue with the status quo, be it uninterrupted schedules or even the dreaded return of empty seats or cardboard fan cutouts.

Had a conversation about the latest variant over the weekend with the Mrs. 5-at-10 and her momma, and it dawned on me that the continual moving of the finish line on this entire thing is mentally exhausting for me.

Yes, I'm vaccinated and boostered. Everyone in our house has gotten both shots at the minimum. 

But every time I think we're about to move to a step beyond this awful awfulness, here it comes again.

Be safe, friends. And be smart. 

This and that

— If you are a high school hoops fan you already know that the Best of Preps tournament starts today at East Hamilton. If you are looking for arguably the best bargain in sports — a $10 ticket for an eight-game slate — well, now you know that too. 

— You know the rules. Here's Paschall on the Vols getting primed for the Music City Bowl. (And yes, cross your fingers and toes that this one happens.) And more rules we all love, here's TFP ace sports columnist and college hoops hero Mark Wiedmer on the SEC slate being on tap this week.  

— Interesting follow-up on Tyler Summitt, Pat's only child, and what he's doing five years after the scandal that cost him his Louisiana Tech coaching job.  

— Well, picking bowl games these days almost would be easier and more appropriate to pick the games that will be played rather than the team that will cover. So it goes. We're 9-7 heading into what was penciled in as a busy bowl week but that loaded slate is hemorrhaging games left and right. We'll take Western Michigan minus-6.5 over Nevada. There are two bowl certainties these days: Alabama in the playoff and Western Michigan in the Quicken Loan Bowl. This will be a home game for WMU, which is fine, but the more telling details are Nevada lost its coach to Colorado State and its QB, who opted out. 

Today's questions

Weekend winners and losers. Discuss. Here's an early one from Spy for a loser: "Jeff Goldblum's agent. I get doing the apartments.com gig as Brad Bellflower. Hey, gotta cash those checks. But now he's hocking some game app?  Dude was one of the best actors going 30 years ago. Now he's a pitchman for a  game. On a phone."

True or false on a Monday, at his peak, Jeff Goldblum was an A-list movie star.

As for our traditional Monday multiple choice, let's go this way:

Who is your pick with two weeks left to be the NFL MVP?

— Aaron Rodgers

— Tom Brady

— Jonathan Taylor

— Other, and specify.

As for today, Dec. 27, let's review.

Carrie Fisher died on this day five years ago. Hard to believe that was five years ago.

Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf died on this day in 2012. He has an all-time quote, friends. In an interview, Schwarzkopf was asked if there was the possibility of forgiveness for the 9/11 terrorists. Schwarzkopf thought for a moment and said, "I believe forgiving them is God's job. Our job is to arrange the meeting."

The first Fiesta Bowl was played on this day 50 years ago. So there's that.

Rushmore of 'Fiesta' and be creative.

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