January 02, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) — The Boston Marathon bombing was selected the sports story of the year December 27 in an annual vote conducted by The Associated Press.

Two pressure cooker bombs exploded near the finish line of the April 15 race in an area packed with fans cheering the passing runners. Three people were killed and more than 260 injured, including at least 16 who lost limbs.

Authorities say brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, ethnic Chechens from Russia who emigrated to the United States as children, planned and carried out the bombings in retaliation for U.S. involvement in Muslim countries.

Ninety-six ballots were submitted from U.S. editors and news directors. Voters were asked to rank the top 10 sports stories of the year, with the first-place story receiving 10 points, the second-place story nine points and so on.

The marathon attack received 761 points and 67 first-place votes. It was also second in AP’s national/international story of the year poll.

The No. 2 sports story, Lance Armstrong's admission of doping, had five first-place votes and 517 points.

The top five stories were grim: terrorism, performance-enhancing drug use, legal settlements, murder charges. The first on-field action came in at No. 6 — the Boston Red Sox’s worst-to-first World Series title, though even that was tinged by the city’s heartache less than seven months earlier.

Here are 2013’s top 10 stories:

1. BOSTON MARATHON BOMBINGS: The throngs of spectators lining the streets at a storied big-city marathon were once a wholesome scene of civic pride and friendly support. April’s attack came as a haunting reminder that the crowds at a high-profile event are also a vulnerable target. Bag searches and metal detectors were a common sight at games the rest of the year. As victims persevere on prosthetic limbs, the 118th edition of the world's oldest marathon is set for the spring, with security undoubtedly heightened but runners determined to take part.

2. LANCE ARMSTRONG: The disgraced cyclist was also the No. 2 sports story last year. In 2012, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency stripped him of his record seven Tour de France titles, releasing mounds of evidence that he used PEDs to win them. In January, after years of defiant denials, Armstrong finally admitted it, telling Oprah Winfrey: “It’s this myth, this perfect story, and it wasn't true.”

3. NFL CONCUSSION SETTLEMENT: The NFL’s settlement of lawsuits brought by thousands of former players will cost the league $765 million but won’t end the turmoil over head injuries in football — or the litigation. The retirees, who had accused the NFL of concealing the long-term dangers of concussions, will be eligible for compensation for certain neurological ailments. The league did not admit to any wrongdoing after mediation resulted in a settlement in August.

4. BASEBALL DRUG BANS: Alex Rodriguez’s 211-game suspension was the longest of the 13 announced in August for players connected to a Florida anti-aging clinic accused of distributing banned PEDs. The Yankees’ slugger was the only one to contest the penalty, and the year ends with an arbitrator yet to rule. In July, Ryan Braun, the 2011 NL MVP who had previously denied using banned substances, accepted a 65-game suspension.

5. HERNANDEZ ARREST: On Jan. 20, New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez had nine catches for 83 yards in an AFC championship game loss to Baltimore. Just more than five months later, he was charged with murder. Prosecutors accuse him of shooting a friend to death on a secluded gravel road for talking to the wrong people at a nightclub. Hernandez awaits trial amid revelations of a history of violence by the player.

6. RED SOX WIN: Boston’s 2011 season ended with a collapse and tales of fried chicken and beer in the clubhouse; 2012 ended with a last-place finish and 93 losses. New manager John Farrell and his bearded sluggers embraced "Boston Strong" and tied for the best record in the majors in a turnaround few predicted. With timely hits up and down the lineup throughout the playoffs, the Red Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals in six games for their third World Series title in a decade.

7. RAVENS SUPER: The power came back on, and Baltimore held on. Ravens coach John Harbaugh beat younger brother Jim's San Francisco 49ers 34-31 in the Super Bowl in an unprecedented sibling showdown. But the game will be remembered most for the 34-minute outage at the Superdome in New Orleans. Baltimore star linebacker Ray Lewis rode into retirement with a ring.

8. AWESOME AUBURN: The Tigers’ turnaround from a 3-9 record to the national title game was stunning enough. Even more shocking was how they did it. A deflected 73-yard touchdown pass with 25 seconds left gave Auburn a 43-38 win over Georgia on Nov. 16. The play that ended their next game will go down as one of the most memorable in college football history: Chris Davis’ return of a missed field goal attempt more than 100 yards to beat No. 1 Alabama 34-28.

9. TE'O HOAX: Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te’o struggled in Notre Dame’s lopsided loss to Alabama in the national title game Jan. 7. Nine days later, his name became forever linked to a most bizarre sports story. That tragic tale about his girlfriend’s death told over and over as the linebacker starred for an undefeated team? She didn’t exist. Te’o insisted he was duped into believing the woman he never met in person was real.

10. HEAT TITLE: One more free throw or one more defensive rebound, and the San Antonio Spurs prevent Miami from repeating as champion. Instead, Ray Allen made one of the biggest shots in NBA Finals history, knocking down a second-chance 3-pointer with 5 seconds left to send Game 6 to overtime. The Heat won in the extra period and again in Game 7 to give LeBron James another title.

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December 26, 2013

Associated Press

 

Former NBA star Dennis Rod­man arrived in North Korea on Thursday  December 19 to help train the national team and renew his friendship with the North's young leader, Kim Jong Un, a visit unaffected by the recent execution of Kim’s uncle in a dramatic political purge.

Rodman was met at Pyongyang’s airport by Vice Sports Minister Son Kwang Ho. He made no public comments, but told a mob of reporters earlier at Beijing’s airport that he expected, as on previous visits, to meet with Kim and make final arrangements for a Jan. 8 exhibition game in Pyongyang marking the leader’s birthday.

“I know (Kim) is waiting for me to come back. So hopefully we will have some conversation about some things that’s going to help the world,” Rodman said.

His visit comes less than a week after North Korea announced the execution of No. 2 official Jang Song Thaek, an unprecedented fall from grace of one of the most powerful figures in the country.

Jang’s execution marks North Korea’s most serious political upheaval in decades and has sent North Korea watchers speculating over the stability of the Kim dynasty. However, Rodman’s visit — should it proceed uneventfully — could be a sign that Kim is firmly in charge and unconcerned with any potential challenges to his rule.

Asked about the execution, Rodman said that had nothing to do with his visit. He said he wasn't worried about his personal safety in the North, despite the recent detentions of two Americans there, one of whom, Kenneth Bae, has been held for more than two years.

Rodman and Kim have struck up an unlikely friendship since the Hall of Famer traveled to the secretive Communist state for the first time in February with the Harlem Globe­trot­ters for an HBO series produced by New York-based VICE television.

He remains the highest-profile American to meet Kim since the leader inherited power from father Kim Jong Il in 2011.

Known as much for his piercings, tattoos and bad behavior as he was for basketball, Rodman has mostly avoided politics in his dealings with the North. He’s mainly focused on using basketball as a means of boosting understanding and communication and studiously avoided commenting on the North’s human rights record, regarded as one of the world's worst by activists, defectors and the U.S. State Department.

Defectors have repeatedly testified about the government’s alleged use of indiscriminate killings, rapes, beatings and prison camps holding as many as 120,000 people deemed opponents of Kim, the third generation of his family to rule.

Rodman said he planned to return to North Korea in two weeks with a roster of 12 American basketball players, but offered no names.

“I hope this game brings a lot of countries together, because as I said, sports it is so important to people around the world,” Rodman said. “So I hope this is going to engage American people, especially (Presi­dent Barack) Obama, to just to try to talk to them.”

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December 26, 2013

Associated Press

 

Rookie safety T.J. McDonald heard from a former Pro Bowler after he grabbed his first interception of the season.

His father, Tim, played 13 years in the NFL with the St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers as a strong safety. He earned Pro Bowl honors six times. He currently is a secondary coach for the New York Jets.

The 6-foot-2, 219-pound McDonald picked off Saints quarterback Drew Brees on New Orleans’ first play after the St. Louis had to punt Sunday. That set the tone for the game.

The Rams scored on their first play on a 31-yard catch and run by tight end Cory Harkey. St. Louis went on get a 27-16 victory.

“He called and congratulated me,” McDonald said of his father Thursday after practice at Rams Park.

“He told me it was a good play. Him being a coach, he analyzed the play a little bit and whatnot. We talked about it. Hopefully, we can talk about another one pretty soon.

“We always talk football. He’s helping me to be the best football player I can be. I think it’s an advantage for me.”

McDonald, a third-round selection, earned the start at strong safety in his first NFL game. He played on all 70 snaps on defense and recorded seven tackles in the 27-24 win over Arizona.

His progress was slowed when sustained a broken leg Sept. 26 against San Francisco in Week 4. McDonald got “leg-whipped” on the play.

The injury landed him on the injured reserve/designated to return list and kept him out for the following eight weeks. He returned in Week 12 for a home game against Chicago.

“Don’t get me wrong, it was a scary situation,” McDonald said. “I was just getting in the groove of things and I wanted to keep going. I had to put it on pause a little bit. I was definitely hungry to get back on the field.”

McDonald is back and getting into the flow in the Rams’ defense. Before he got hurt midway through the 49ers game, McDonald had 18 tackles and a pass breakup.

He earned his spot in the starting lineup against Chicago. He had six tackles.

However, McDonald noted his return to the field left him scrambling to make up for lost time.

“Coming back mentally, I felt good,” McDonald said. “I feel like I’m taking good steps since I’ve come back. I can’t get back all the reps and game time I missed but I’m going forward.”

Rams coach Jeff Fisher said McDonald has done well.

“Well, he’s just getting better and better,” Fisher said. “In his first game back, he had a little trouble decelerating, which is understandable because of the injury.”

The interception was aided by defensive end Robert Quinn, who hit Brees as he was throwing to tight end Jimmy Graham.

Watching film aided McDonald on the play.

“It was something we had seen on tape,” McDonald said. “Graham came in motion and ran a seam route. We got some great pressure from Rob and the D-line. I was just able to make the play. I didn’t think it would take this long to get my first interception and I hope it doesn’t that long to get the next one.”

McDonald played all 86 defensive snaps against New Orleans. He also saw time on six special teams plays. He finished with five tackles, an interception and a pass defended.

That’s the kind of game defensive coordinator Ray Walton said he expects from McDonald.

“He’s flying around and he’s tackling well with a lot of aggression,” Walton said. “We’re very pleased with him. He’s doing all the things you need to do as a safety.”

As for the first interception, McDonald kept the ball.

“I got it put back, most definitely,” McDonald said.

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December 26, 2013

LAWT News Service

 

Through a partnership between AEG and Chris Paul’s CP3 Foundation, 100 children from LA’s BEST enjoyed a holiday party last night at Lucky Strike L.A. LIVE as part of AEG’s Season of Giving charitable campaign.

In addition to enjoying an afternoon of food and bowling, each child had the opportunity to take a one-on-one photo with six-time NBA All Star Chris Paul. Chris also played Santa and gave each child a gift, courtesy of Mattel Children's Foundation and assisted by his “elves,” cast members from Nickelodeon’s “Haunted Hath­aways.”

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December 19, 2013

Associated Press

 

This is it, the final go-round for the BCS.

The much-maligned system for determining college football’s national champion will be mothballed after this season, replaced by a four-team playoff next season.

As finales go, it’s hard to argue too much about the final title-game participants. Florida State was the only major-conference team to finish undefeated and Auburn had the best resume of the one-loss teams.

That’s the big one, but of course there are 34 other bowls, starting with four on Saturday, that will feature plenty of other good teams, star players and interesting match-ups.

To get you ready, we’ve got a rundown of what to look for:

TOP GAMES

BCS National Championship, Florida State vs. Auburn, Jan. 6, Pasadena, Calif. Duh.

Sugar Bowl, Alabama vs. Oklahoma, Jan. 2, New Orleans. Two storied programs that fell short of their national-title aspirations are still pretty good.

Orange Bowl, Ohio State vs. Clemson, Jan. 3, Miami. Teams that are a combined 45-5 since the start of last season and among the highest-scoring in college football.

Rose Bowl, Stanford vs. Michigan State, Jan. 1, Pasadena, Calif. If you like smash-mouth, defensive-minded football, this is your game.

AdvoCare V100 Bowl, Arizona vs. Boston College, Dec. 31, Shreveport, La. So what’s so exciting about two 7-5 teams? Two All-American running backs going at each other: Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey and BC’s Andre Williams.

TOP PLAYERS

Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State. Won the Heisman Trophy, playing for a national championship. Not a bad freshman season.

AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama. There will be no three-peat as national champion, but he’s been as good a college quarterback as we've seen in a while.

C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama. Collects tackles like baseball cards.

Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona. Second nationally in yards per game, runs like he’s trying to punish defenders for daring to tackle him.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M. Last year’s Heisman winner could be making his last hurrah in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against Duke.

Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State. Arguably the most disruptive interior lineman in the country.

Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State. All-American can turn the simplest of routes into a score.

SPONSORS

Food is king among bowl sponsors for the third straight season.

The 2013-14 bowl season includes seven bowls with food affiliations, from potatoes to pizza to wild wings.

Second on the list are financial companies with six and auto-related companies are third with five.

This year’s bowl lineup also includes a helicopter company, a university, a defense contractor, a department store and a cause (Fight Hunger).

ODDS

The folks at Glantz-Culver have made Florida State a decided favorite over Auburn in the national championship game at 8 1-2 points.

In the other bowls, the biggest spread is the Fiesta Bowl, where Baylor is a 16 1-2-point favorite over Central Florida. Right behind is the Pinstripe Bowl, with Notre Dame giving away 15 1-2 points to Rutgers. Alabama also is a 15-point favorite over Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.

Tightest odds? San Diego State and Buffalo are a pick `em in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and three other bowls — Cotton, New Orleans and Capital One — all have 1-point spreads.

DISTANCES

Florida State and Auburn will have to make quite a road trip to play for the final BCS championship despite being about 200 miles apart.

The Seminoles will cover about 2,200 miles to get to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., and the Tigers have a trip of roughly 2,100 miles to get there.

That’s still not the longest road trip to a bowl. That distinction belongs to Boise State, which will travel about 2,800 miles to play Oregon State in the Hawaii Bowl. Central Florida also has a long trip ahead of it before the Fiesta Bowl, needing to go over 2,100 miles to get from Orlando to Glendale, Ariz.

Tulane has the shortest trip, staying in New Orleans for its bowl, but its opponent, Louisiana-Lafayette, doesn’t exactly have to go far, traveling about 130 miles for the New Orleans Bowl. Rutgers has a short trip over about 45 minutes across the Hudson River — depending on traffic — for the Pinstripe Bowl against Notre Dame and Maryland should be able to get to the Military Bowl in Annapolis in about a half hour. North Texas has a similar drive to play in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

NUMBERS

2-Female officials (Sarah Thomas and Maia Chaka) working the Fight Hunger Bowl, a first for an FBS game.

13-Years since UNLV played in a bowl game. The Rebels will face North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

56-Years since Rice had won an outright conference title before taking the Conference USA championship this season.

624.5-Yards of offense per game by Baylor, most in the nation this season by over 50 yards and second-most all-time to the 624.9 by Houston in 1989.

4,866-Passing yards by Fresno State’s Derek Carr, which led the nation.

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