In order to win it all, does Gonzaga need to lose it now?

“I don’t always choose watching college basketball in late-February and early March but, when I do, I prefer Gonzaga.” –Rankman Let’s up the ante on that two more Bing Crosbys. No one who ever paid a child’s tuition to rival Saint Mary’s has appreciated more what has risen along the bank-shots of the Spokane River. I wasn’t on board for the 1999 squad that cracked its tournament egg en route to a no shame loss to eventual national champion Connecticut. After that, however, you’ll see my deadlined face in a lot of NCAA, press-row, back drops. That was me, in the corner, losing my 2003 religion in Salt Lake City when Arizona drew its last breath against Gonzaga in double overtime. It remains one of the top-five NCAA Tournament games I’ve ever witnessed. That was me, also, chasing down Gonzaga Coach Mark Few in a hallway seeing if he would be interested in replacing Steve Lavin at some hoop-hole called UCLA. (He wasn’t, but Ben Howland was). Adam Morrison, in 2006, in Oakland, crying at half court after his team blew a 17-point lead to UCLA in the regional semifinals? I was close enough to hand Adam a hankie. There I was again, center court, in 2013, when top-seeded Gonzaga was felled by No. 9 Wichita State in Salt Lake City. Knowing that Few was a lost cause, I...

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Tuesday will forever be a diamond-shaped day for love and lovers

Tuesday, of course, connotes a special day for love across the country. Some people think Feb. 14 has become too commercialized, syrupy and over-hyped, but to me these eternal, show-of-love words will never grow stale: Pitchers and catchers report   Years ago, when he played shortstop and center field for middle-earth Orange County, we called it Bobby Valentine’s Day. Anyway, if you love baseball you most likely have YOUR team. Maybe you inherited it from your father, or stumbled upon it honestly. In my day, you most definitely had a baseball card collection of your team. My love of the “California” Angels was largely born of accident, serendipity and geography. In 1966, as I recall these 50-some years later, my bookworm older sister won Angels tickets in a local library raffle. Local is the operative word here. We grew up in La Habra, then a city of avocado trees that was a stone’s throw away from Richard Nixon’s Whittier. La Habra was also located, conveniently, to a spanking new stadium opening in Anaheim. This new stadium would house Gene Autry’s Angels, who had been renting Dodger Stadium while their next-door-to-Disneyland edifice was being constructed. So, there you have it—it all came together. I got the raffle ticket my sister would never use in a million years—my guess is she has still never set foot in a sports arena, stadium,...

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Is this the back-nine for Tiger Woods’ back? If so, then what?

The clearest sign I have seen that Tiger Woods knows his career is in peril did not come with Friday’s news that his balky back will force him to miss his next two scheduled tournaments. It is highly disappointing that one of those events is next week at Riviera Country Club, a course Tiger loves but has never conquered. And hasn’t played since 2006. The clearest sign did not manifest with the 76-72 he posted at the Farmers Insurance Open, or the WD after shooting 77 last week in Dubai. It did not come from his latest narrative-controlling, website post about his lingering spasms. Oh, those are incriminating signs all right. The clearest sign to me, though, was caught on television after Woods’ missed the cut at Torrey Pines. The jaw-drop indicator was Tiger Woods standing in a rope line, patiently signing autographs for dozens of kids. This was NOT Tiger of old, the rock star who exited golf complexes the way Elvis left arena halls. While watching Tiger on TV, finally giving back to his community, it hit me: Tiger Knows. He knows, at 41, that he might never get back to the standard he set. He knows, after playing with bombers Dustin Johnson and Jason Day at Farmers, that he can’t compete in the same way. Tiger realized that, while he may play well again, he can’t...

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As the weekly world turns: Saban, Sark and all the news that’s fit to fib

My degree in “Fake News” from Cal State Fullerton has served me well since 1981.  Four years of studying the “yellow” journalism of William Randolph Hearst, along with other muckrakers, has keenly honed my skills in the art of B.S. detection. The pot-smoking, acid-dropping, hippy-dippy weathermen  professors who taught me how to fabricate sources prepared me like a sous chef for a four-decade career of lying about lying athletes, coaches and administrators. It’s hard to slip anything by me these days, which is why my “Lance Armstrong” alarm went off Tuesday with the news that Steve Sarkisian was amicably leaving Alabama, after one game,  to become offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons. Nick Saban put out a nice statement:  “We appreciate all Coach Sarkisian did for our program during his time here. He is an outstanding coach.” Right. Sarkisian offensively coordinated one game for Alabama—the loss to Clemson in last month’s national title game. Not long ago, Sark was being promoted as the seamless and harmonious successor to Lane Kiffin, the bad-boy brat Saban couldn’t wait to put on a boat to the Gulf of Mexico. And now, a month later, right after signing day, Sarkisian bolts for Atlanta with a letter of recommendation from his old boss? Give me a break. While I was at CSUF,  a guest-lecturer spoke in a class I needed to graduate called:  “How...

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“Best” Super Bowl ever decided by dumbest overtime rule ever concocted by humankind

There must be a better way (oh, wait, there is) to settle games as stupendously thrilling as Sunday’s Super Bowl in Houston. I know that sounds silly considering, out of 50, it may have been the best one played. This isn’t about the outcome, or sour grapes against New England winning. Yes, I wanted Atlanta to win but, as a kid, I also wanted a Kawasaki 125 one year for my birthday. Didn’t get that either. This isn’t about that. In fact, the better team won. New England’s comeback from 28-3 down should be regarded as one of all-time greatest. Unlike politics these days, in sports there are no “alternative facts.” In my profession, “scoreboard” dictates. Don’t like quarterback Tom Brady because of his model-wife or political views? Tough. He’s won five Super Bowls and can now be considered the best of all time. Don’t like Bill Belichick because he sulks in lumpy, hooded sweatshirts and is tougher to beat information out of than a KGB agent? Too bad. He can now be considered the greatest football coach ever, at any level. What I can argue, however, is that the NFL continues to have the single, dumbest overtime rule in history, and that includes rock, paper and scissors. You mean to tell me, after reporting to camp in July and then battling your jock strap off through months of...

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Updated: In a town suddenly crowded with football teams, UCLA is running a fade pattern

While other college football programs celebrated National Signing Day on Wednesday, UCLA faced a national day of reckoning. The Bruins are in a bad spot politically and practically, by far the biggest “loser” with the Rams and Chargers having returned “home” to gobble up what precious news-hole space remains in our local metropolitan papers. The sports editor of the L.A. Times is now greeted some mornings with more football teams in town than available sports pages.  It would not surprise me in the least if a top editor ordered the Wednesday section be reduced to three pages: Sports: “But that’s impossible! What’s on the back of page 3?” Top brass: “Make it work.” Sports also has the Lakers, Clippers, Dodgers, Angels and two hockey teams to consider. Yet, my weekday paper most days is thinner than the La Habra Star, a paper I delivered as a boy in 1968. So where do you think UCLA football ranks on the priority list? I have it in this interest order: The rest of this article is available to subscribers only – to become a subscriber click here....

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College basketball makes dramatic comeback but still needs to keep the ball rolling

Climb out from your crawl space, open the blinds and let the freezing January sun shine in. It’s safe to watch regular season college basketball again. It has emerged from the primordial, gurgling goo it had become under overbearing, lock-and-key suppression and primitive battle tactics lifted from an old book written by Gen. Stonewall Defense. Scoring continues to soar and, not so shockingly, so does my interest level. Frankly, these days,  I’ve got a little more Springfield in my step. UCLA’s basketball team, once coached by Ben Howland, is averaging more than 90 points per game. These Bruins are more fun in defeat than some of Howland’s teams were in victory. And UCLA isn’t even the highest-flying team in town, losing Wednesday night to USC, which scored 84 points in victory. The entire Pac 12, Arizona included, is a trampoline act. Tuesday night, nationally, schools ranked No.1, No.2 and No.4 all lost. Then, on Wednesday, No. 6 Florida State was blown out on the road by Georgia Tech and No. 8 UCLA fell to its cross-town rivals. Wasn’t that something? One Saturday in December the national scoring average for all D-1 games was 75.43, the highest since 2000 (information provided by the amazing KenPom). And get his: Northwestern might even make its first NCAA tournament. This has been some reverse dribble. Two years ago, this March, I filed an...

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Read all about it (if you can): For some of us, UCLA basketball remains Pac 12’s best-kept secret

Jan. 20, 2017 Chino Hills, Ca. (Monsoon Season) Dear Diary: The guy who said it never rains in Southern California delivered my L.A. Times this morning because it was dripping wet as I fetched it from the driveway–next time I’ll bring a pasta strainer–for almost the sole purpose of reading about UCLA’s big Thursday-night win over Arizona State at Pauley Pavilion. This would have NEVER happened when I was a paper boy! Quick side trip: This reminds of the time, when I was covering the Los Angeles Rams in the 1980s, when legendary assistant coach Marv Goux screamed at me from across Rams Park before practice one day. I figured he was peeved about something I had written about the defensive line he coached for John Robinson. “Chris,” he said quite sternly, “I got a problem.” Me: “Uh-oh.” Him (me paraphrasing now): “I’m not getting my paper delivered on time in the morning. I leave at 6 a.m. and I need it before I leave.” Marv thought, as the Times’ beat writer for the Rams, I should call circulation and get it straightened out. Marv was a chain-of-command guy. Anyway, back to UCLA, we still don’t get much news about “the conference of champions” out here because the Pac 12 doesn’t televise games to many of its fans who subscribe to DirecTV, which is A Lot Of Us. The...

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Oregon football is now officially on my off-season conditioning watch list

(UPDATE: Oregon on Wednesday suspended  strength and conditioning coach Irele Oderinde for one month pay and coach Willie Taggart issued an apology to the families of three players hospitalized for overexertion caused by “military training like” off-season work outs.  “I hold myself responsible for all football-related activities,” Taggart said as part of a university-released statement, “and the safety of our students must come first.” )   My first impulse was to scream “Fire Everybody!” Rankman, though, is older now, so he calmly invoked his “10-second rule” and poured a hot cup of green tea. No need to jump to a radical conclusion, yet, on the news emanating from the University of Oregon’s football program. There is already enough knee-jerk reaction in this world–don’t be one of them. Contrary to popular tweet, not every story is black or white.  Let me say this, though, regarding three Oregon players hospitalized after undergoing “military training” like off-season workouts in January: I am officially conducting my own “Sting” operation in the form of one of the singer’s most famous lyrics: Every move you make, every chance you take, I’ll be watching you. I was supportive of Willie Taggart’s hiring in December and generally agree that the Ducks need to get tougher on the field. The one subject that will set me off, more than any other, is any conflating of military training to football...

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All of those in favor of the Chargers bolting to L.A. stand up and say: “Hail Yes!”

What’s all this naysayer talk, in my beloved parking lot of human sprawl, about the Chargers coming BACK to Los Angeles? This is terrific news and I only hope it was in exchange for a Kardashian.  I say to the Chargers: “Welcome home.” Someone hail Joshua, or maybe Herb Albert, to blow his horn.  I do regret that one more team in town will further tax the already overstretched sports staff of my hometown L.A. Times. Sorry about that and if that’s where this negativity is coming from, well, I get where it’s coming from. Bill Plaschke, my former colleague and the paper’s prize-winning (but sometimes a bit reactionary) columnist, sounded like he wanted to build his own wall near Mexico to keep the Chargers out. “We. Don’t. Want. You.” Plaschke wrote in the rarely-executed four word, four period, sentence. What kind of Welcome Wagon is this? My four-period rebuttal: That. Ain’t. Necessarily. So. (Plaschke, it should be stated,  started in the San Diego Bureau of the Times and few objected when he moved up to L.A.) Los Angeles went 20 years without an NFL team and now we have two teams.  That’s fan-tastic. We should embrace this, notwithstanding the politics and the harboring of yet another wing-nut owner in Dean Spanos. Look, we survived Dan Reeves, Jack Kent Cooke, Donald Sterling, Disney owning the Angels, FOX AND Frank McCourt...

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Clemson cleanses 35 years of misery (and jokes) to score epic win over Alabama

TAMPA, Fla.—Clemson waited 35 years to celebrate a national title, so what was one more clock tick at the end of a game that wasn’t put to bed until half past midnight? This wasn’t like 2002, when Miami rushed the field in Tempe thinking (knowing) it had defeated Ohio State, only be told by a ref located in another county it was being called for a pass interference penalty that would prematurely blow $50,000 of fireworks into the Arizona sky. This wasn’t like that because Miami ended up losing that championship, in overtime, and has lived with that awful outcome for 14 years. Clemson’s joy was only deferred so that bookkeepers could settle the final accounting for the bureau of NCAA statistics. It was like waiting on the final paperwork to receive the keys to your new Mercedes. The ACTUAL national title was claimed with one second left, when Deshaun Watson hit Hunter Renfrow on a two-yard scoring pass in the right corner of the end zone. The rest of this article is available to subscribers only – to become a subscriber click here....

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Rankman’s Pick: Clemson the only team that can almost beat Alabama

TAMPA, Fla.–Clemson is the only team on the intercollegiate Google map that could, theoretically, end Alabama’s dynasty in the end-zone of Raymond James Stadium. The world is ready for a college football headline that doesn’t start with “King Saban” or “Roll Tide Roll.” Clemson’s Deshaun Watson is the ONLY quarterback in America with the tool kit to off set the greatest defense in a generation. Watson certainly does not fear Alabama, having taken last year’s game down to a 45-40 wire. Last night, thanks to ESPN replay,  I watched the fourth quarter of the 2016 game in Arizona and came away impressed with Watson’s utter disregard for Nick Saban’s defense. Watson is a throw-run threat who had the Tide defense on roller-skates in the fourth quarter. Even after Alabama scored to put the game away at 45-33, Watson raced his team down the field for another touchdown, with 12 seconds left, to at least give Clemson a shot at an on-side kick. That said, picking against Alabama is a fool’s game. Only guys from Jersey, maybe, would think of it.  I do like Clemson covering the 7-point line and the schools topping the over-under at 51. But Alabama’s defense, at this point, is the most suffocating I’ve seen since the 1985 Chicago Bears. You can’t run or pass against it, which leaves few options. The Tide can get pressure...

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