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All Eyes On Tagovailoa As The Premier College QB

Tua Tagovailoa has already etched his name in football history.  He will not turn 22-years-old until March of 2020, but Tagovailoa has already packed more into his young life, specifically on the sporting stage, than many will do in a lifetime.

He is one of the premier players of college football right now, and in April of 2020, he will be drafted into the NFL as one of the top picks in the 2020 NFL Draft.  He may be the very first pick off of the board if he decides to join the league after his redshirt sophomore season with the Alabama Crimson Tide.

The Heisman frontrunner for most of the 2018 season, Tagovailoa was run down at the last minute in the voting for that particular trophy by the 2018 Premier Player of College Football, 2019 NFL Draft No. 1 overall pick, and new Arizona Cardinal QB, Kyler Murray.  It was not, however, a case of Tagovailoa imploding and losing the trophy. The Hawaii native threw for almost 4,000 yards on the season, completing 43 touchdown passes and rushing for another five on the ground.  Instead, it was a case of Murray picking it up down the stretch to win the award.

Tagovailoa has two Alabama seasons under his belt.  In the first of those years, he won a national championship by sparking an unlikely, and some would even argue seemingly impossible, comeback against Georgia.  In the second, he broke records after records at a school that has been doing this football thing at a very high level for a long, long time.

It all begs the question as to what is next for him on the college stage?

Alabama fans will only be happy if Tagovailoa, as one of the premier players in the game along with fellow quarterback Trevor Lawrence at Clemson, combines his two seasons to make Alabama in 2019 almost untouchable. There is no reason to think that Tagovailoa will not again get close to (or even surpass) the 4,000-yard mark and, given the talent around him, 50+ touchdown passes should not be out of the realm of possibility.

Tagovailoa’s biggest strength as a quarterback, and why he is a premier player, is not a trait that can be defined in any physical test.  While he has outstanding anticipation of a route and touch on a pass, not to mention enough athleticism to keep plays alive, it is his mental acuity for the game that sets him apart.

At the NFL level, it simply does not matter how strong your arm is if you cannot break down a defense mentally, making the correct reads before the snap and the perfect decisions, in a split-second, when the ball is in play.

Tagovailoa is a player everyone should try to watch and learn from both on and off the field.  From his outstanding work ethic, to his commitment to his faith and school, he is someone we can all get behind as one of the premier players in the game to continue his success to the next level.

Story by Steve Wright, Independent Sports Writer

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All-Time Top 25 Premier Players of The NBA

There is always talk about The G.O.A.T.  In this article, we list our All-Time, Top 25 Players of The NBA:

25 – Dirk Nowitzki
The best European import in league history and one of the premier players of his era, Nowitzki was a 7-foot tall scoring machine for the Dallas Mavericks after they selected him with the ninth pick of the 1998 NBA Draft.  A player who could hit any shot at any time, his one-legged fade-away jumper will become the stuff of legend.  Nowitzki led the Mavs to 15 playoff appearances in his 21-year run with the franchise. An NBA champion (and NBA Finals MVP) in 2011, the only thing that stops the 14-time all-star and four-time All-NBA First Team selection from appearing higher on this list is his lack of rings.

24 – David Robinson
The Admiral was a defensive force throughout his entire 14-year run in the NBA.  Robinson ranks sixth in NBA history with 2,954 blocks, using every inch of his 7-foot-1 frame to dominate the paint defensively. Along with Tim Duncan, Robinson formed ‘The Twin Towers’ frontcourt for the San Antonio Spurs, giving opponents little chance of making an impact around the rim. The two-time NBA champion and 10-time all-star was an absolute double-double machine over the course of his first decade in the league.

23 – Scottie Pippen
Would Michael Jordan be where he is on this list without the power of Scottie Pippen?  Pippen is often seen as the Robin to Jordan’s Batman, but that is undervaluing the skillset of the Hall of Famer who was also a seven-time all-star as the Bulls dominated the league in the 90s. While Jordan could take over a game, Pippen was a consistent force on both sides of the ball. He averaged 16.1 points per game while shooting almost 50% from the field for his career. The ability of Pippen to run like a guard, rebound like a power forward, and hit buckets like a shooting guard should never be overlooked.

22 – Charles Barkley
A Hall of Fame power forward, Barkley is best remembered for his ability to rebound the basketball. He was a machine on the glass, averaging 11.7 rebounds per game throughout his career in Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Houston. He was also a member of the USA Olympic basketball “Dream Team” where he won gold medals in 1992 and 1996. A player who could have adapted to the playing style in any era, Barkley never won a ring but he was an 11-time NBA All-Star, and he was named the league’s MVP in 1993.

21 – John Havlicek
Havlicek won eight NBA titles as part of the Boston Celtics team that owned the NBA in the 1960s and 70s.  A 13-time all-star, Havlicek was defined by his relentless hustle on the court and his commitment to being a team player in a sport where self-promotion has become the norm over the years. The seventh pick of the 1962 NBA Draft out of Ohio State, Havlicek was a defensive leader who is still the Celtic’s leader in games played and total points scored (26,395).

20 – Kevin Garnett
Garnett may have spent too much of his career playing for a non-competitive team in Minnesota, but the 21-year veteran plied his trade into becoming an all-time great. Widely considered one of the best power forwards of all time, Garnett is one of just four players to win both the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards. Known for his intensity and his lockdown defensive ability, Garnett was a 15-time All-Star and is the only player in league history to average 20 points, 10 boards, and five assists for six straight seasons.

19 – John Stockton
One of the premier point guards in the history of the game, Stockton spent his entire 19-year career with the Utah Jazz after being selected 16th overall in the 1984 NBA Draft.  His guard-forward combination with Karl Malone saw Stockton rack up the most assists in NBA history with over 15,800 dimes. Stockton is also the all-time steals leader with 3,265 over the course of his career. A 10-time all-star, Stockton averaged a double-double in points (13.1) and assists (10.5), and he was known for his nearing fanatical work ethic that saw him miss just 22 games over 19 seasons in the league.

18 – Elvin Hayes
Hayes was a Jack of all trades player who just happened to be very good at everything on a basketball court.  He ranks tenth all-time in scoring, 24th all-time in blocks, and fourth all-time in rebounds. The amazing aspect of this is that Hayes was playing in the league before blocks were counted as a statistic, so he sits that high on the all-time block list despite playing for five seasons when none of his shot rejections were counted. Hayes averaged 21 points and 12.5 rebounds per game for his career as one of the premier players in the NBA.

17 – Julius Erving
Dr. J was one of the first NBA exponents of playing the game above the rim with his athleticism and ability to dunk the ball while taking off from the free throw line.  Playing for five years in the ABA for the Virginia Squires and the New York Nets, Erving is the greatest 76er of all-time thanks to his success with the Philadelphia franchise in an 11-year stint in the NBA. The two-time ABA champion was an 11-time NBA all-star, and he won the NBA Title in 1983. Dr. J is also the eighth-leading scorer of all time if ABA and NBA scoring records are combined.

16 – Moses Malone
A double-double career player with 20.6 points and 12.2 rebounds per game, Moses Malone showed that a player could be a successful NBA player without a college career. The 12-time all-star and three-time league MVP was named to eight All-NBA teams, and he finally won a league title in 1983. A first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2001, Malone began his career with teams like the Utah Stars and Spirits of St. Louis in the ABA before joining the NBA in 1976. A player that tends to be overlooked as one of the premier players in basketball history, Malone was a physical presence with an endless motor which did everything well.

15 – Karl Malone
Known as The Mailman because he always delivered, Karl Malone formed a formidable guard-forward combination with John Stockton as members of the Utah Jazz. Unlucky to be playing in the same timeframe as one Michael Jordan, Malone was never able to get his hands on an NBA championship, but he was able to achieve everything else in the game. The recipient of 11 straight All-NBA First Team nods, Malone remains second all-time in scoring with 36,928 points.

14 – Hakeem Olajuwon
Hakeem ‘The Dream’ Olajuwon was a 7-foot center out of Lagos, Nigeria who dominated the paint for the Houston Rockets (and then the Toronto Raptors for a year) for 18-years in the league.  A skilled played on both ends of the court, Olajuwon had a unique combination of size and speed that allowed him to be effortless defending at whatever position was needed. The center was an insane shot blocker, but his hand speed also made him a threat to steal the ball. He is the only 200/200 player in NBA history after compiling 200 blocks and steals in a single season. The Dream averaged 21.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game.

13 – Jerry West
The most surprising aspect of Jerry West’s career is that he won just one NBA Title during his playing career with the L.A. Lakers. That title in 1972 says as much about the Boston Celtics dominant run as it does about the Lakers, but West was a constant force throughout his NBA career. A 14-time all-star and 10-time All-NBA First Team selection West was known as Mr. Clutch due to his ability to make big shots when big shots were needed. The guard once recorded 46.3 points scoring averaged over the course of an entire playoff series, an NBA record, and you have to be considered one of the premier players ever to have your silhouette incorporated into the NBA logo.

12 – Kevin Durant
A sure-fire Hall of Famer whenever he hangs up his sneakers, the 30-year old Durant already has a resume that makes him one of the best players of all-time. The second pick of the 2007 draft, Durant was named NBA Rookie of the Year in 2008, and the accolades have only continued to build from there. Durant is already a double-digit All-Star and, as of writing, he is a two-time NBA Champion and was named Finals MVP in both of those victories with the Golden State Warriors. Durant is an outstanding shooter and scorer in general, and he averaged over 27 points per game for his career.

11 – Shaquille O’Neal
When he was in his best shape, and when he cared enough to be dominant, then there was no stopping Shaq as he became the most dominant physical force in the league since Wilt Chamberlain. The top overall pick of the Orlando Magic out of LSU, Shaq was a 15-time all-star with a larger than life personality that sometimes hid his basketball greatness. Playing for six teams over 19-years, Shaq was a four-time NBA champion, a three-time NBA Finals MVP, and an eight-time All-NBA First Team selection. His power also broke backboard supports twice during his first year, leading the NBA to increase brace strength for the 1993-94 season.

10 – Kobe Bryant
Love him or hate him and his style of play, Bryant will go down as one of the greatest scorers in the history of the league. Sitting at No. 3 on the all-time list with 33,643 points, Bryant averaged 25 points over his career, and he was an 18-time all-star with five NBA titles to his name. The 20-year Laker was also a 12-time member of the All-Defensive team, and his fall-away jump shot was compared to that of Michael Jordan when Kobe was in his prime.

9 – Oscar Robertson
The Big O was a 6-foot-5, 205-pound point guard when players of that size were unheard of at the position. The 12-time all-star and winner of the MVP award in 1964 became the first player to average a triple-double over the course of a season in 1962. Robinson took the league by storm when he averaged over 30 points per game as a rookie, and his triple-double number of 181 over his career is one that has never been approached since. Robertson is also credited with inventing the head fake and the fade-away shot.

8 – Tim Duncan
A 19-year NBA player, Duncan was the rock which the San Antonio Spurs built a five-time NBA championship team from the turn of the century until well into the next decade. A player with a double-double career average in points and rebounds, Duncan was a beacon of consistency who would have won more titles if not for the Lakers and LeBron. Duncan, unlike some on this list, continued to be dominant until the end of his career, a fitting legacy for the man known as “The Big Fundamental” thanks to his simple and effective playing style.

7 – Bill Russell
The case for Russell as the greatest in NBA history begins and ends with the number 11. As in 11 NBA Titles, the number that Russell won during his career as one of the premier players in the game. An exceptional defender, Russell was not a heavy scorer, but he was able to set his team on fast break opportunities because of his presence in the paint. Russell played in the NBA for 13 years, and in those 13 years, he won more championship rings than you can wear across both hands. The 6-foot-10 center was a five-time MVP and a 12-time all-star, showing what value he had as part of a dynasty the likes of which we are unlikely to see in the sport ever again.

6 – Larry Bird
Larry Legend might not be the most decorated Boston Celtic of all-time, but he is the one that is regarded as the greatest player in the sweeping history of the franchise.  A three-time NBA Champion, and two-time Finals MVP, Bird may not have looked like an NBA player, but he had a skill set that set him apart. Bird averaged over 20 points in all but two of his NBA seasons, and he was named to the All-NBA First Team nine separate times. Three consecutive league MVP awards and an average of 24.3 points over his career, while also excelling as a passer and defender, earn Bird this spot on the list.

5 – Magic Johnson
An assist machine that could also score, Magic epitomized the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s. His battles with Larry Bird are the stuff of legends, with magic averaging double figures in assists for nine of his 13 seasons in the league. It was not just that Magic could pass the ball; it was the no-looks and behind the back passes that led to scores that set him apart as one of the greatest ever. At 6-foot-9 Magic was not created to be a point guard but five NBA titles in 13 seasons show his impact on the game.

4 – Wilt Chamberlain
If Bill Russell did not exist, then Wilt Chamberlain would be No. 1 on this list with double-digit championships to go along with every other insane statistic he produced.  Chamberlain had to settle for just two rings, but the four-time league MVP and 13-time all-star was a freak of nature who forced the NBA to widen the lane in order to stop him from terrorizing smaller players. His 100 point performance against the New York Knicks will never be broken, nor will the 55 rebounds he amassed in one game against the Celtics. Wilt also led the league in assists in 1968, showing there was nothing he could not do while playing basketball.

3 – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
The man that saw slam dunks banned in college so that other teams could compete with UCLA slots in at No. 3 on this list for his sheer dominance on the court.  Somewhat ironically it was that dunk ban that saw Kareem learn the sky-hook, a shot he would use to obliterate teams with over his 20-year career. The accolades are staggering as Kareem was a 19-time All-Star, a 15-time All-NBA selection, and an 11-time NBA All-Defensive Team player. He won six NBA championships and six MVP awards as he finished first all-time on the scoring list with over 38,300 points (at a clip of 24.6 points per game) for his career.

2 – LeBron James
The 2018-19 season may not have been his best, but LeBron hits this list at No. 2 as one of the premier players in NBA history.  The only player close to passing Jordan, LeBron has already climbed to No. 4 on the all-time scoring list and will likely pass Kobe early in the 2019-20 season. He is a four-time NBA MVP, a three-time NBA champion and he won the Finals MVP in each of those victories.  The 15-time all-star has won a slew of individual awards, and his ability to play all five positions on the court makes him almost unguardable when he is at his best.

1 – Michael Jordan
Even with the strong push that LeBron has made for the No. 1 spot over the last decade, there is still no touching Michael Jordan. The ultimate competitor, Jordan was a player who refused to give up. Few could match the Bulls great when it came to intensity, while no one could match him for sheer skill on the hardwood. He might be the most clutch player in the history of the league, and he is a player who was every bit as good as the stories surrounding his legacy.  Jordan averaged 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game on his way to five MVP awards and six NBA championships along with six Finals MVP honors.

Article by Steve Writer
Independent Sports Writer

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NFL Draft Becomes The Place To Be For Sports Fans

The NFL draft has, somewhat inexplicably, become one of the premier sports events on the American calendar.

Despite it being little more than a group of talking heads projecting the careers of players who are selected by teams on slips of paper, the sports-loving public in this country has fallen in love with the NFL draft to the point that it is now a destination event for fans.

This means that the draft is one of those sports events that cities actually compete to gain the rights to host. This competition is a relatively recent development, with the draft having been held in New York City from the date of the first draft in 1965 through to the 50th-anniversary edition in 2015.

Since then, the NFL has held the draft in cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia, and Dallas, with the 2019 NFL Draft emanating from Nashville, Tennessee.

There are several reasons why the NFL draft has become one of the most significant sports events of the spring.  First, the event is perfectly positioned at the point where we start to miss football and crave it back in our sporting lives.  Sure, the NBA and NHL playoffs are in full swing, but the MLB season is still 100 games away from being over and, importantly, college basketball just wrapped up with the fantastic sports event that is March Madness.

Football, however, has been over for a couple of months by the middle of April. While new leagues seem to come and disappear in the spring every couple of years, millions of people across the globe still miss the NFL. That is why an event such as this has grown from a bunch of team executives in a musical hall picking in private to a full-on production that is watched worldwide.

The other main reason that the NFL draft has become one of the most significant sports events is that it manages to hit right down the middle of the football fan demographic. While the divide between college fans and pro fans is not what it once was, there are still large sections of the country, especially in college football heartlands such as the south, where the NFL game is barely followed, but where college football is almost its own religion.

The NFL draft ignites both sets of fans, with college football guys getting to see how high their favorite player is drafted (ideally ahead of the first player taken from the rival school) while NFL fans get to find out about and research a new crop of talent coming in from the college ranks.  The NBA draft (at two rounds) is too short. The MLB draft (at 40 rounds) is way, way too long. The NHL draft simply features too many players that you have to be an absolute hockey diehard to have ever heard about most of them.

The NFL draft, however, hits the sweet spot and that is why it is the only draft that is truly event viewing.

Article by Steve Wright

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LA Chargers Make The Premier Fashion Statement

The premier fashion statement in the NFL will be making a long-awaited comeback later this year as the Los Angeles Chargers have announced they will be switching to their powder blue jerseys as their home uniform of choice for the 2019 season.

The iconic jerseys are not only the premier fashion choice in the NFL, but they also represent one of the best uniform color combinations in sports, period. The Chargers will be making the look even more striking as the team will be wearing the equally iconic gold facemask whatever uniform is being worn for their game.

The uniform dates all the way back to the team’s opening season in Los Angeles back in 1960. Since moving away from the powder blue in 1974, the uniform has made sporadic appearances after fans were treated to seeing the color again on the gridiron in 1994 for the 75th anniversary season of the league.

This decision automatically makes the LA Chargers the premier fashion team in the league.  Here are the best of the rest in the NFL when it comes to uniform color schemes:

Oakland Raiders
The silver and black color scheme of the Raiders was the best in the league until the Chargers stole their spot. Instantly recognizable, the Raiders scheme is unlike anything else we see in sports with the bold use of silver and black and the fact that they haven’t changed a single thing about them since the 1960s adds to the mystique.  This is a premier fashion choice in the NFL as much because of what the colors represent, the violence and the intimidation factor, as anything else.

Buffalo Bills
This is not a team that would have featured on this list until recently.
The Bills made a bold choice in blending aspects of their 1970s uniforms with a modern style, and the risk has paid off in as much as now they are one of the best looking teams in the entire league. While other franchises have tried to merge styles like this and failed, the Bills have a look that their fans now need to see mirrored by their play on the field.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Maybe it is just something about the black on a uniform that makes it one of the premier fashion statements in the league.  The Steelers, like the Raiders, make the most of the black in their scheme to create an intimidating and dominating look. While some of their throwback choices, specifically the bumble-bees, have been less than impressive, this timeless look of black and gold needs nothing in the way of changes.

Green Bay Packers
The green and gold of the Packers always look iconic, but it is at its very best when Lambeau Field is frozen over, and a playoff game is on the line.
Simplicity is the key here. The helmet logo that was first adopted in 1961 somehow always manages to stay in style. In an ever-changing world, there is something very timeless about the whole ethos of the Packers franchise. That is why these uniforms will always be one of the top five styles in the NFL.

Awards

Top 25 Premier Players of The National Football League

The Premier Players of College Football will be called onto one of the biggest stages in sports when teams select their picks for the 2019 NFL Draft.  At a minimum, all of them are hoping for picks that will immediately have an impact on team performance.  At best, each team wants an athlete that can impact the game like our Top-25 players to ever play in the National Football League:

25 – Rod Woodson
Woodson is the NFL leader in interception returns for touchdowns. He is a player who seemed to have a sixth sense of where and when to cut when on an interception return, proving to be a spark for the Pittsburgh Steelers every time he got his hands on the football.  An 11-time Pro Bowl player and six-time All-Pro, Woodson scored on 12 interception returns and sits third overall in terms of total interceptions. Woodson is a player quarterbacks never felt comfortable throwing against as he was able to use his physicality to get to the ball before the receiver on countless occasions.

24 – Deion Sanders
As loud and brash as he was supremely talented, Deion Sanders is the best cover corner in the history of the NFL and one of the premier players of all time.  The two-time Super Bowl winner was an eight-time Pro Bowler, and he won the award for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1994. Sanders retired second all-time in both career interception return yards and career interceptions returned for touchdowns. Ironically, Sanders had the talent to lead in both the categories, but he was so good at his job of locking down a receiver that quarterbacks barely threw the ball in his direction for fear of the interception.

23 – Otto Graham
Graham was the best player football had ever seen before the NFL existed.
Graham took the Browns to league championship games every year between 1946 and 1955 and won seven of those contests. With Graham under center, the Browns posted an almost unbelievable record of 114-20-4, including going 9-3 in the playoffs. Perhaps most astonishing, Graham still holds records for the most average yards per pass attempt (8.98) and the record for career winning percentage by a starting quarterback at almost 83-percent.

22 – Randy Moss
Moss may have been the most uncoverable receiver in the history of the NFL. While other players used their route running and cunning to get open, Moss used his freakish speed and 6-foot-4 inch frame (with a 51 inch vertical) to merely be better than any defensive back trying to cover him.
Moss caught 17 touchdown passes as a rookie as the Minnesota Vikings went 15-1. He then bookended his career with a 23 touchdown season, breaking a Jerry Rice record no less, as the Patriots completed the first ever 16-game undefeated regular season. Moss finished his career with over 15,000 yards receiving and 156 touchdowns in the premier league in the sport.

21 – Marshall Faulk
Faulk was the first true hybrid running back/wide receiver who played the running back position. Without his powerful ability on the ground and out of the backfield the Greatest Show on Turf would never have been so successful.  While he never led the league in rushing, Faulk had the hands of a wide receiver. He finished his career with 6,875 yards catching the ball and had more than 19,000 total yards from scrimmage to his name. A seven-time Pro Bowl player and a three-time All-Pro, Faulk won the MVP in 2000 when he had 2,189 yards from scrimmage and 26 touchdowns.

20 – Dick Butkus
The greatest middle linebacker in the history of the game, Dick Butkus had a name that basically meant his only career choice was to be an NFL defensive star and one of the premier players of all time.  Playing nine seasons in the NFL when middle linebacker was a brutal and dangerous position to play, Butkus struck fear in the hearts of both quarterbacks and wide receivers as he was known for his punishing hits. He was named to the Pro Bowl every year from 1965 to 1972, and he showed his versatility as a player by finishing his career with 22 interceptions and 27 fumble recoveries.

19 – Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers is a player who has always had to fight through some level of adversity. After going the JuCo route and only getting a scholarship to Cal when the head coach was watching another player, the nation had to suffer on draft day as Rodgers sat in the green room until the24th pick of the 2005 draft.  Rodgers landed in Green Bay and was able to learn from the great for three seasons before taking over the team. He is a two time NFL MVP, a one-time Super Bowl Champion and Super Bowl MVP, and a seven-time Pro Bowl choice at the quarterback position. At 35 years old and with a new head coach to invigorate his career, Rodgers has plenty of time to climb this list.

18 – Gale Sayers
Sayers is an anomaly on this list of players with long, storied careers in the NFL.  The Kansas Comet played just 68 career games in the premier league of football, playing in only six seasons from 1965 to 1971. What we did see of Sayers though was enough to list him this high on a list of the greatest players of all-time.  During his rookie season, Sayers scored 22 touchdowns in 14 games. In one game on a rainy afternoon against the San Francisco 49ers, Sayers scored six touchdowns as he outclassed everyone else on the field.  A gliding, smooth, and burning runner, Sayers is an NFL Hall of Famer even with his short career arc.

17 – Bruce Smith
The only player in the history of the league with 200 career sacks, Bruce Smith, was an absolute force to be reckoned with from the defensive end position.  His 200 sacks is a record that may stand forever, with no current player within range and few feeling the need to play for the extended amount of time at the NFL level that would be required to break the mark. Smith played for 19 seasons in the NFL, recording 10 or more sacks in 13 of those years. An 11-time Pro Bowler, Smith was savvy, quick, and powerful at the point of attack.

16 – Deacon Jones
Jones is the player that invented the whole concept of sacking a quarterback. Before Jones, a quarterback tackle was recorded as simply that, a tackle.  To get a feel for Jones’ place in the pantheon of NFL defensive ends people have had to rewatch old game footage to come up with his totals. Jones has been credited with 173.5 sacks during his career, enough for third on the all-time list and a number that would have put him top of the pile when he retired. The 6-foot-5, 270-pounder, was a physical freak in the 19060s, perhaps showing how he was able to record 21.5 and 22 sack seasons in just 14 games each in 1967 and 1968.

15 – Emmitt Smith
Smith is sometimes overlooked on this type of list because he wasn’t the flashiest back in the league even when at his pomp.  Smith may not have been as naturally gifted athletically as some on this list, but his toughness and physicality as a runner made him stand out. He always got stronger as the game wore on, using his incredible endurance to work through games and pound the rock in the fourth quarter. He retired with 18,355 yards and 164 touchdowns, both the most of any back in NFL history.

14 – Brett Favre
Favre may have become something of a comedic figure because of how the end of his career played out, but at his peak, he was the most feared quarterback in the game.  Taken with the 33rd overall pick of the 1991 NFL Draft, Favre was soon traded up to Green Bay where he embarked on a Hall of Fame career. Favre was at his best in the mid-90s, when he led the Packers to a pair of Super Bowls, winning in 1996, and when he was named the NFL MVP for three consecutive years between 1995 and 1997. His tough as nails reputation and gunslinger attitude made Favre a legend in his own time.

13 – Johnny Unitas
Unitas was one of the first star quarterbacks the NFL had ever seen, and he is undoubtedly one of the premier players of all time.  Playing from 1956-73, Unitas retired as a quarterback legend. The 10-time Pro Bowler and seven-time All-Pro just seemed to have a feel for the game and how offensive systems worked that no one before him had managed. One of only four players to win three NFL MVP awards, Unitas led his Baltimore Colts to an NFL Championship game win in 1958 that is widely considered as the game that created interest in professional football.

12 – Joe Greene
“Mean” Joe Greene is on the shortlist for the title of best defensive lineman in the history of professional football.  Greene was the best player on the Steelers “Steel Curtain” defense that basically ruled the NFL for six years in the 1970s. That team won four Super Bowl rings in those six years, with the 6-foot-4, 280 pound Greene simply proving too powerful to offensive linemen to contain on a play by play basis. The 10-time Pro Bowler and six-time All-Pro was also named Defensive Player of the Year on two occasions.

11 – Drew Brees
Drew Brees is the forgotten man of the current era of quarterbacking.
Overlooked in favor of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Aaron Rodgers, the former Purdue Boilermaker has done nothing other than excel in the Bayou. A 12-time Pro Bowl player, Brees began his career in San Diego before almost joining the Miami Dolphins when hitting free agency. Instead, he signed with the Saints, and the match has been perfect. Brees is the fastest quarterback in history to hit the 60,000 and 70,000-yard plateaus, and he has shown no signs of decline as he chases several Peyton Manning records.

10 – John Elway
Elway took an interesting path to the NFL. A two-sport star at Stanford, he spent a year in the New York Yankees system before becoming the No. 1 pick of the 1983 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Colts entering the premier league of football.  Elway, though, never played a down for the Colts. He was instead traded to Denver, a city he would make his own as he played for 16 seasons with the Broncos. Elway led the Broncos to five Super Bowls, winning two, including being named the MVP of the final game of his career in Super Bowl XXXIII. The nine-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro was an athletic player who could beat defenses with his scrambling or his laser of an arm.

9 – Walter Payton
The Chicago Bears picked a franchise changing running back with the No. 4 overall pick in the 1975 NFL Draft when claiming the rights to Walter “Sweetness” Payton.  Payton was a stunning runner with a bruising style that belied his ability to quickly change direction when needed. He was a back who would never run out of bounds on his own accord, instead lowering his helmet to initiate contact with whichever defender was in his way. Playing all but one game of his 13 year NFL career, Payton rushed for 16,726 yards and 110 touchdowns.

8 – Barry Sanders
Barry Sanders was must-see TV throughout the 1990s. After tearing the college game apart as a member of the Oklahoma State Cowboys, Sanders was drafted into the league by the Detriot Lions and was a star from day one.
Sanders was the most elusive, difficult to tackle, and flat our electric player in the history of the NFL. He was a powerful back, one blessed with a jump cut that didn’t even look human, and he consistently ran for 1,000-yard seasons despite playing behind what would graciously be called a poor offensive line. Sanders became the first back in the history of the NFL to produce five 1,500 seasons.

7 – Lawrence Taylor
Taylor had a presence about his play that was terrifying. The linebacker won most battles with opposition quarterbacks before he even stepped on the field, such was the fear that he projected thanks to his pass rushing skill.
Taylor was one of the first defensive players that coaches had to scheme their offenses around. Joe Gibbs of the division rival Washington Redskins would employ a two running back formation against the New York Giants just to give his quarterback an extra blocker and hopefully have time to deliver the ball.

6 – Reggie White
Reggie White was the ultimate example of a player who could flip that switch on game day and became an absolute wrecking ball on the field.
The “Minster of Defense” was a deeply devout and religious man, but come Sunday he would morph into the greatest defensive end the league has ever seen. The 13-time Pro Bowl selection, 13-time All-Pro choice, and two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, White ranks second on the NFL sack list win 198 quarterback takedowns in 232 career games.

5 – Joe Montana
A player who went a perfect 4-0 in his Super Bowl appearances, Montana first flashed signs of greatness while leading Notre Dame to a college football national championship.  After falling to the third round of the 1979 NFL Draft, Joe Cool was selected with the 82nd pick by the San Francisco 49ers. Montana is a playoff legend, with three Super Bowl MVPs and the highest all-time Super Bowl QB rating (cumulative) of 127.8. The five-time All-Pro was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 200.

4 – Jim Brown
Watching old highlight footage of Jim Brown is like watching a grown man playing against high school players.  Brown was a 6-foot-2, 230-pound running back playing in the late 50s and early 60s. This meant that not only was he bigger than all the other skill position players, but that he was often bigger than the offensive linemen blocking and the defensive linemen trying to tackle him. Brown was a freak, too fast for the defensive front seven and too strong for the defensive backfield. He won the rushing title in eight out of his nine NFL seasons and owned every rushing record that mattered when he ended his career.

3 – Peyton Manning
Manning holds a plethora of NFL records after a long career that saw him win two Super Bowl rings and cement his name as one of the premier players to ever lace up a pair of cleats.  His 71,940 passing yards, 539 touchdown passes, and 186 regular season wins are all NFL records. A five-time NFL MVP, Manning is the only starting quarterback to lead two different franchises (Indianapolis Colts & Denver Broncos) to Super Bowl wins. A 14 time Pro Bowler, Manning had legendary battles through the years with arch nemesis Tom Brady and his career numbers would have been even better had he played in an ear without a second dominant quarterback.

2 – Jerry Rice
An unheralded draft pick out of Mississippi Valley State in 1985, Rice fell to the middle of the first round because of a perceived lack of speed despite starring for the Delta Devils.  The rest of the NFL’s loss was the San Francisco 49ers gain as Rice forged incredible partnerships with quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young. Rice was the king of the West Coast offense, with his sure hands and game speed allowing him to pick up yards after the catch at a rate never seen before. Rice finished his 20-year career with three Super Bowl rings, 197 touchdowns, and a mark of 22,985 yards receiving that will never be matched.

1 – Tom Brady
Brady may have made it to No. 1 on this list without his record sixth Super Bowl win last February. That sixth ring, though, seals the deal and makes Brady the best player in the history of the league before he has even retired.
A four-time Super Bowl MVP, Brady is always at his best in the biggest games. The 199th overall pick of the 2000 NFL Draft was the seventh quarterback off of the board behind names such as Tee Martin and Spergon Wynn. Brady is a 14 time Pro Bowler, a three-time league MVP, and has set a postseason record with 30 wins. He also is showing few signs of slowing down as he continues to play in the NFL into his 40s.

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Gronk Leaves The NFL As One of The Best Ever TE

When Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement late last month, he did so as one of the premier players at his position in the history of the NFL.  When talking about the best tight ends of all time, Gronk has to be in the conversation.  At worst, he is in the top five to ever play the position. While at best, he makes a great argument to be the single most uncoverable tight end that has ever put on pads.

The pros for Gronkowski being one of the premier players at the tight end position start with his ability to perform in the clutch.  While Gronk may not have always put up the receiving numbers expected, especially later in his career, if Tom Brady needed a player to make a big play and break open a game he would invariably look for his giant tight end.

That ability to be clutch links into Gronkowski’s second greatest trait. Gronk, more so than perhaps any player ever, could be open even when he was covered (and sometimes double covered).  His combination of size, speed, and strength, didn’t so much make him a matchup nightmare as a complete matchup impossibility.  You would struggle to find a single game during his entire NFL career when Gronkowski wasn’t a threat to take over with a big play on any snap, no matter who was tasked with keeping him quiet.

Other premier players in their time period are worth comparing with Gronkowski.  Tony Gonzalez caught way more passes, mainly for the Kansas City Chiefs, but he played (and was at his peak) for a much longer period of time.  Kellen Winslow brought the tight end position out of the dark ages, turning it from a purely blocking position into a dual-threat to block or pass.

One of the Gronkowski’s most significant accomplishments is that at his peak he was just as good at blocking as passing.  Gonzalez was more of a pure pass catcher (the Chiefs employed Jason Dunn as a tight end for years for running downs), and Winslow is another who caught passes better than he blocked. Gronk, as athletically gifted as any player in the league, could do everything at a high level when healthy.

Health is about the only negative on Gronkowski’s record. Gronkowski, though always seemed to be able to push through the pain barrier in the biggest games, especially when the Patriots needed his skill the most.

It will be interesting to see what Gronkowski does in retirement.  As one of the premier players in the game, there are many routes open which he could choose.  In his first public appearance since retirement, Gronkowski was part of a team that made dreams come true for four Make-A-Wish kids, showing a side to him we didn’t often see as a player.  Gronk has an ideal personality for events like this, and it would be cool to see what he could do in terms of charitable and volunteer work to add another string to his bow after a remarkable professional football career.

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Wildcats’ John Calipari Is Not Going Anywhere – Today

John Calipari of Kentucky is widely regarded as a premier coach in his sport. Calipari sits alongside perhaps on Coach K (Duke), Bill Self (Kansas) and Roy Williams (North Carolina) as coaches who can lead their blue blood schools and all the expectations that come along with being in charge of a program that simply HAS to be among the best in the country on a yearly basis.

It seems like it would be easy to argue that a college basketball blue blood should never fall from grace. These programs have built in advantages for recruiting and coaching with their combination of money, boosters, alumni groups, and tradition. It shouldn’t take a premier coach to keep them at the top.

That, though, is simply not true. Historically there are six programs (give or take) that would be granted blue blood status. Of those six, UCLA and Indiana (to a lesser extent) are heavily underperforming their status.

It is also hard to imagine a coach leaving one of those key job voluntarily. When you have one of the best jobs in your sport, one where you can hand pick whatever recruits you think you need to reach the Elite Eight (at a minimum) every year, you tend to keep it. After all, what could be better than cementing your coaching standing in the history of a blue blood?

How about the prospect of becoming a coaching legend at two of the premier institutions in the history of the sport?

Calipari is paid very, very well in Lexington. His total compensation of $9.2 million dollars for this season will only increase in the future as he hits specific escalators in his contract. Kentucky knows they have a premier coach and the powers that be at the school know that they have to pay to keep him in place.

What those powers that be cannot have expected, however, is legitimate interest from UCLA to return the Bruins to their glory days.

Calipari also might have been tempted by a change of scenery. After reaching the Final Four in 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2015, the Wildcats have now bowed out at some point during the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for three straight years. While there is no danger that Calipari would have been under any type of job scrutiny at Kentucky, this is a trend that he will need to reverse quickly to justify his monster contract.

UCLA was offering something in the region of $48 million over six years for Coach Cal to jump to the West Coast. Sensing that their premier coach may be intrigued by the offer, Kentucky is set to offer Calipari a lifetime contract that will transition his role from coach to ambassador when the time is right.

The moral of this story is a simple one. Schools realize that coaches that can recruit, develop, and win don’t come around all that often. It also shows that Calipari, or his agent, is a shrewd businessman who knows how to turn rumored interest into the type of contract we would all dream to be on. Being a premier coach really does have its perks!

Awards

Our All-Time Top 25 Premier Players of Soccer & Why

Below is our list of the all-time Top 25 Premier Players of Soccer.  Who’s No. 1?  Some will disagree but we give a brief reason why he’s our No. 1 guy on this list. Counting down from No 25 is:

25.  Jimmy Greaves

Greaves is a hard one to place on a list like this because of his sheer lack of silverware at the top level of the game. The top goal scorer in Tottenham history with 266 goals, Greaves scored 357 goals in 516 matches during his career. He was supposed to be the player spearheading the line for England at the 1966 World Cup before injury in a group stage game took that opportunity away. Even so, Greaves was once described by Pele as the most naturally gifted player he had ever seen.

24.  Roberto Baggio

The divine ponytail is another player whose career is remembered more for one mistake than for his achievements. Baggio may have blasted the crucial penalty over the bar in the 1994 World Cup final against Brazil, but his legacy is so much more than that. A gifted dribbler and passer from attacking midfield, Baggio completely changed the role of midfielders, and creative players in general, in Italy. He opened the door for creative players to succeed in the national team and he won the Ballon d’Or in 1993.

23.  Thierry Henry

Henry is another player that had a hand in redefining how a position was played. When he arrived at Arsenal, playing as a striker in England was for big, powerful brutes. By the time he left the position it was one that managers were trying to fill with graceful artists on the ball. Henry had the ability to cut in off of the left wing and score into the far corner with amazing regularity. He was the key piece for Arsenal in their invincible season where they went the entire season without losing a game. Henry won two Premier Leagues, a Ligue 1 title, two La Liga crowns and the Champions League with Barcelona in 2009. Internationally, Henry won the World Cup in 1998 and the Euros in 2000.

22.  Roberto Carlos

Roberto Carlos is the greatest fullback in the history of the game. While he is mostly known for his free kicks, it’s worth noting he missed far more than he scored. It is his longevity at the top of the game in the professional era that is impressive. He made 500 appearances locking down the left wing-back spot for Los Blancos, winning four league titles and three Champions League trophies. Also, when his free kicks were good they were mind blowing with the best example being his outside of the foot effort against France at la Tournoi in 1997.

21.  Gerd Muller

Muller was a lethal goal scorer for West Germany in the 1970s. It was his goal that stole the 1974 World Cup from perhaps the best Dutch to ever play the game. Muller scored a stunning 68 goals in 62 appearances for West Germany to go along with almost 400 for Bayern Munich. He won the German Golden Boot on seven occasions out of the 11 years he played in the league along with topping the goal scoring rankings at the 1970 World Cup and at Euro 1972. Muller basically invented the ‘fox in the box’ style of striker, seemingly always being in the right place to poke the ball over the line.

20.  Paolo Maldini

Maldini is another Italian defender of astonishing ability. The son of a former club legend, the younger Maldini outstripped his father as he played for a quarter of a century in the famous red and black of AC Milan. Amazingly, Maldini was able to play internationally for almost as long as his club career. Making his debut in 1986, Maldini last played for Italy in 2002. Along the way he picked up seven Serie A titles and five Champions Leagues trophies with the Rossoneri.

19.  Bobby Charlton

Charlton was a driving force behind the Manchester United and England sides of the 1960s and he remains a legendary figure within the game to this day. Charlton was a rampaging midfielder who could always be counted on to drive his team forward and get them on the front foot when needed. After almost dying in the Munich air disaster, Charlton collected the 1966 World Cup Trophy in the same year he was announced as the European Footballer of the Year and the tournament’s Golden Ball winner.

18.  Lothar Matthaus

Matthaus started his career as an attacking midfielder playing with pace and skill as he pushed Germany forwards. Over the course of five World Cups, in which he played a record 25 games, Matthaus gracefully slid down the pitch until he was playing as the best sweeper in the world. He captained his side to the 1990 World Cup, being named World Footballer of the Year at a position so technically different from the one he started playing in that the achievement is remarkable.

17.  Franco Baresi

In the 1980s and early 90s the Italian league was unquestionably the best league in the world. It was where all the best foreign talent played and it was where Italian defenders of incomparable aggression and talent plied their trade. Baresi only knew one way to play the game. He was tough, powerful, aggressive, and ruthless. He wore the AC Milan shirt for 20 seasons, winning the league title six times, the European Cup three times, and the UEFA Super Cup twice. He also was handed the captaincy of his country at the age of just 22 due to his outstanding physical and mental attributes.

16.  Garrincha

Garrincha was a player who was never meant to be as good as he became. Declared a cripple at birth it is hard to believe that the winger would, for a time, be considered the equal of Pele. His disability meant that Garrincha had to play with a unique bow legged style that defenders simply could never seem to figure out. He had an uncanny ability to glide past players before delivering perfect crosses into the box as he played as a pure winger who just wanted to beat his man every time he touched the ball. Garrincha was simply a joy to watch at a time when soccer could be tedious viewing.

15.  Bobby Moore

Booby Moore is still the only player to captain England to a World Cup win. One of the greatest defenders in the history of the game, Moore had an innate ability to know exactly what was going to happen and was always in the right place at the right time to stop an attack. The captain of his country at 22, Moore played 108 times for England and was so valuable that he played every minute of every one of those games. Pele once called him the greatest defender ever, which Scottish manager Jock Stein called for a law against Moore playing because ‘He knows what’s happening 20 minutes before anyone else.”

14.  George Best

Best only played at the top of the game for around six years but what glorious and skillful years they were. Winning a pair of league titles and a European Cup with Manchester United, Best was a tricky and skillful Northern Irish winger who could get a crowd on their feet with his electric dribbling and control of the ball. He was a strong player, one with fast twitch muscles allowing him to do anything he wanted on the pitch. Off the pitch, however, he lived too hard and he flamed out of the game quicker than he should have given his immeasurable talent.

13.  Ferenc Puskas

One of the greatest strikers to ever play the game, the legendary Puskas averaged almost a goal a game for his career at both club and international level. He was the key member of the Hungarian national team in the 1950s that was known as the Mighty Magyars, a team that only lost one game in six years between 1950 and 1956 and that is considered the greatest international team to ever play the game. After moving to Real Madrid, Puskas was the top scorer in La Liga four times and won 10 league titles across his time in Hungary and Spain.

12.  Eusebio

Before Cristiano Ronaldo there was Eusebio. The Black Panther was a prolific scorer and attacking threat, scoring nine goals at the 1966 World Cup in England. Averaging more than a goal a game (320 goals in 312 appearences) when playing for Benfica at the peak of his career, Eusebio had devastating pace at a time where speed in the game was uncommon. When this was combined with his ability to beat a defender on the dribble it is easy to see why he scored so many goals against terrified defenses.

11.  Marco van Basten

The Dutch striker is another who could have been higher on this list had injuries not all but ended his playing days at the tender age of 28. The scorer of one of the most famous goals of all time, a wildly crazy volley against the Soviet Union at Euro 1988, van Basten was part of a Dutch side that oozed class. Winning everything in the Netherlands while at Ajax, including leading the scoring charts on four consecutive occasions, van Basten moved to Italy and won three Serie A titles, two European Cups, and three Ball d’Ors before injuries forced him out of the game.

10.  Zinedine Zidane

A three-time FIFA World Player of the year winner, it is hard to shake the image of Zidane blasting Italian Marco Materazzi with a headbutt in the 2006 World Cup final from your mind. Getting past that legendary moment of hotheadedness, however, it is easy to see why Zidane is regarded as one of the greatest to ever lace up his cleats. The winner of a pair of Serie A titles with Juventus, Zidane was also successful at Real Madrid and on the international stage with France where he won the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championship.

9.  Michel Platini

A player who tends to get overlooked on these lists, Platini was a midfielder for France in the 1980s who could do it all. Winning three consecutive Ballon d’Ors while leading first Saint-Etienne and then Juventus to league titles, Platini was famous for his first touch and composure on the ball. Playing for a French team that historically underperformed in major tournaments, Platini scored nine goals in five games from midfield at the 1984 European Championships to almost win that title.

8.  Alfredo Di Stefano

There are fewer and fewer people alive to talk about the early days of Di Stefano’s career which began back in the mid-1940s. Di Stefano was the first Real Madrid player to define what the team was about, bringing an Argentine flair to the Spanish league the likes of which had never been seen. Di Stefano, a rampaging attacker full of goals, played international soccer for three different countries. His most notable achievement is scoring in five consecutive European Cup finals as Real Madrid won the trophy an astonishing five years in a row.

7.  Franz Beckenbauer

The midfielder known as “Der Kaiser” was the first man to both captain and manage his nation to World Cup title wins. Winning five Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich in his native Germany, Beckenbauer created his own position on the team in a role that had never been seen before. A tall, strong figure, Beckenbauer would routinely pick the ball up at the back and drive forward to start attacks as sort of an attacking sweeper. It is a role we see used by every major team in the game today, some 40 years after it was pioneered in Germany.

6.  Johan Cruyff

Cruyff invented the brand of total football in the 1970s that we see at every level of the game today. That “tiki-taka” passing style that is based on possession and movement to wear down a team and probe for openings was developed by Cruyff (and Rinus Michels) with Cruyff being the advocate on the pitch with his technical style. Cruyff won three Ballon d’Ors between 1971 and 1974 and he made one style turn on the ball so famous that it is now named after him. Eight Eredivise and three European Cups in a row with Ajax show that “Pythagoras in Boots” was a genius.

5.  Ronaldo

Ronaldo is a player that could have topped this list had his career not been destroyed by injury when he was supposed to be in his prime. R9 was a complete player, one who was deadly with either foot and who had a finishing ability the likes of which has never been seen before or since. He is the youngest player to ever win the FIFA World Player of the Year award when he picked up the honor at the age of 20. Ronaldo scored 247 goals in 343 appearances at club level and he is cemented in as the best pure goal scorer of all time.

4.  Diego Maradona

Maradona was the first real challenger to the crown of Pele and some will argue that the diminutive Argentine is actually the greatest to ever play the game. A playmaker of unmatched skill, Maradona had a short stature that led him to play with a balance and skillset that at times seemed to be inhuman in its effectiveness. Leading unfashionable Napoli to a pair of Italian league titles, Maradona also led Argentina to the 1986 World Cup, scoring perhaps the greatest goal the game has ever seen against England in the process. Controversy cut his career short, but this was a flame that burned bright at its peak.

3.  Pele

Pele was heralded as the greatest player in the history of the game before this new crop of players came through to usurp the king from his throne. Playing in a different era, one where defenders were basically allowed to get away with murder to stop an attack, Pele was still able to stand out with his mix of skill and athleticism. Winning the World Cup as just a 17-year-old in 1958, Pele was the hero of the 1970 World Cup as Brazil won their third title in four attempts. His 1,283 career goal total is mind blowing (though many came in semi-formal and exhibition games).

2.  Lionel Messi

The all-time leading scorer in the history of the Spanish La Liga, Lionel Messi has been a phenom since birth. The winner of five Ballon d’Or trophies while building Barcelona into a dynasty, Messi has a level of ball control and vision that is unmatched in history. What knocks the little Argentine down from No. 1 on this list is that he just hasn’t been able to inspire his country to the same level that he has taken the Catalan giants. That being said, his record of 91 goals in a single calendar year may never be beaten.

1.  Cristiano Ronaldo

The debate between Ronaldo and Lionel Messi will continue for generations but it is the Portuguese star who is No. 1 on this list. Ronaldo has been successful in three of the toughest leagues in the world, morphing from the creative young genius at Manchester United to a goal-scoring machine at Real Madrid and Juventus. He is the ultimate big game player, a force of nature who can will a team to a victory with no help, as he did when he led an underpowered Portugal team to the 2016 European Championship title.

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AAF Sudden Suspension Puts Debut XFL In Spotlight

As the Alliance of American Football suspended operations eight games into its 10 game inaugural season there was a feeling that we had seen this all before. While the sports management company behind the league had decided to cut ties and give up like so many before it, there is still a feeling that there is an appetite for more football in this country.

The list of failed league attempts at this point is long and not particularly distinguished. The World Football league, the US Football League, the XFL (version one), the Stars Football League, and many, many more have all sprung up before falling apart after varying degrees of success.

It is easy to see why a sports management company would want to present, develop, and promote the next great football league. The NFL, and college football for that matter, run such short seasons in relation to the other major American sports that there seems to be a huge hole in the market. Plus, football is still big business at the top level.

The problems for these leagues have never been the same. Some don’t have enough funding. Others seem to have the funding but no TV deal. Others had little of anything to offer. The AAF seemed to be heading in the right direction with its solid TV deal, innovative app, and fun rules. It even had good, and steady, TV ratings. It just had an owner who got scared and pulled the plug way too early.

So, is there a sports management company out there that has the financial backing, the contacts, and an owner who has the fortitude to make his league work against all odds?

Yes, yes, and 100% yes.

Vince McMahon has failed at this before. His first attempt at running a football league was the original XFL. While it had some innovations that made it to the NFL after the league collapsed, specifically certain camera angles and set ups, the league was doomed from the start as being too gimmicky in nature for a football fan and not interesting enough for a wrestling fan.

In 2020, Vince is going to try again. Having seen what he has been able to do with the WWE, turning it into a global monster that has made him a legitimate billionaire, only a fool would dismiss the chances of the league gaining some degree of success, however modest that is compared to the NFL.

The XFL is going to be well funded and well organized. It will also be a league where players not eligible for the NFL because of the three year high school graduation rule will be able to get paid professional money to play the game. This is a league that has learned from earlier mistakes, both its own and that of others, and that can hopefully bring a new dynamic to the spring sporting landscape.

These are all positives from a sports management standpoint that will put the league in a good place when play begins in February 2020.

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Premier Competition Back On The Mound

Baseball’s premier competition returns this week as MLB’s Opening Day sees the boys of summer start the season at a time when it is most

certainly not summer weather in most of the country. While the league actually started last week with the Oakland A’s and the Seattle Mariners playing a series in Japan, there is still something about the romance of Opening Day that endures even as baseball wanes in popularity compared to some of the other big time sports.

This is the earliest opening day in baseball history, so early in fact that it clashes with the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. It will be very interesting to see the TV numbers between the two events to see just where baseball ranks with the average American viewer in 2019.

The premier competition in the game also has the biggest stars in the game and it is the offseason contract battles that have defined the start of this MLB season in a way that has never happened before.

Competition to be the premier player with the highest salary is real. Athletes love to have that kudos of being the best paid on their team, the best paid at their position, and, in rare cases, the highest paid player in their league.

In this MLB offseason we saw a couple of deals pushed over the line with frankly staggering numbers attached to them.

One of the benefits of playing a sport with no salary cap is that the ceiling is only going to rise when it comes to contracts for premier players. That is why in the space of just a few weeks we saw Bryce Harper sign a 13 year $330 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies and then Mike Trout ink his name on a deal worth a cool $430 million over 12 years with the Los Angeles Angels.

Throwing that kind of money at just one player on your roster is obviously a monumental risk. Baseball is a team sport where one player can have an immense impact on a game, but it is not a premier competition like the NBA where a single player can effectively take over a game (and certainly not a non-pitcher). If the Angels and Phillies fail to put the right pieces around their investments, then these contracts could easily come with no championships attached.

Trout, in particular, is an interesting case. Wins against replacement (WAR) is a new(ish) metric used in baseball to determine a players individual worth. In 2018, Trout played at a level that was worth around $79 million to his club, suggesting that the deal he signed was an absolute bargain for the Angels. No player in history has posted a better WAR than Trout through age 26, but when his deal expires as a 38 year old player it is hard to see Trout still being a viable option.

It would be amazing if either Harper or Trout could beat Father Time. Even if they cannot, both have the opportunity over the next half a decade or so in the premier baseball competition in the world to win championships and make their contracts worthwhile.

Story By Steve Wright

Larry Fitzgerald e1553453478106

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Larry Fitzgerald is a one of a kind player in the NFL.

In a league where players are often seen throwing tantrums to force trades, specifically at the position of wide receiver which Fitzgerald plays, Fitzgerald is a team-first player of the highest order. He is one of the NFL’s true good guys and he is one of the premier players in the Arizona Cardinals locker room.

Fitzgerald has an ability to never make things all about him, even when he could. He has shown an unusual level of loyalty to the city of Phoenix and the Cardinals franchise in a professional era where every player out there seems to be about claiming the biggest contract in history at their position.

Now, in his later years, Fitz couldn’t command that type of money. In his prime, however, he could easily have held the Cardinals franchise to ransom for his talents.  He never did.

Fitzgerald could also have easily moved on from Arizona to play for a team more immediately capable of winning a Super Bowl. While he has had some quarterbacks in his career that would be classified as good (along with Kurt Warner who was great), he has also been at the mercy of throws from the likes of Brian St. Pierre, John Navarre, and Rich Bartel.

In all, between entering the league in 2004 and the end of the 2018 season, Fitzgerald had caught at least one pass as a Cardinal from 18 different quarterbacks.

The mentors in Fitzgerald’s life, specifically members of his family, gave him such a solid foundation as a person that his football career won’t define who he is. This is a guy who has made the Pro Bowl 11 times, has caught over 100 passes in a season five times, and has had nine 1,000 yard plus receiving seasons.

Yet despite all those numbers, and despite the Hall of Fame bust that will eventually come Fitzgerald’s way in Canton, OH, it is his off field work that has made him beloved in Arizona.

Fitzgerald was selected as a speaker at the Arizona funeral for Sen. John McCain, an amazing example of how the state sees him as one of their premier players when connecting with the community. He is known in NFL circles for his amazing level of sportsmanship on and off the field, while his charity work is up there with any current or former player.

One such endeavor has been the First Down Fund. This well named charity funds positive activities for youth in the community amongst other goals. In a league sometimes lacking for role models, Larry Fitzgerald is a player that every NFL fan can look up to and be proud of.

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Three March Madness Upset Predictions

The greatest annual sports tournament of them all tips off this week. March Madness is exactly that, with the first set of Thursday through Sunday games that take out the field of 64 teams down to just 16 being must-watch TV for any self-respecting sports fan.

It is a time of underdogs and Cinderellas. It is a time where the small schools from even smaller conferences get to rub shoulders with the Premier Players of the sport on a neutral venue. It has always been said that anything can happen in the first couple of rounds of this sports tournament, with the shocking loss of No. 1 seed Virginia to No. 16 seed UMBC, the first ever 16 over one win, finally proving that statement to be true.

If you are filling out a bracket, and you should be doing so, here are three upsets to watch out for over the course of the opening two days:

No. 12 Murray State over No. 5 Marquette

There are two premier players in this matchup that each has the ability to decide which team wins. Markus Howard of the Golden Eagles is a fantastic player in his own right, but the Racers are that rare mid-major team with an absolute superstar on their roster.

Ja Morant is a sophomore who is going to be a top three pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. He averages 34.6 points and 10.0 assists per game, showing the ability to either put his team on his back or to be a selfless distributor from the point guard spot depending on what is required.

It is also of note that Marquette has lost five of its last six games after spending some of the season in the AP top 10. That is not ideal form entering this major sports tournament.

No. 14 Yale over No. 3 LSU

The Ivy League champion is always a team that seems to cause problems for its opponent in the first round of the NCAA Tournament despite usually settling around this seed line.

Ivy Leagues champs are 4-6 in their last 10 first round tournament games, with Yale looking to have a good shot at taking down the No. 3 ranked Tigers here. The season was rolling along for the SEC regular season champs until they were unsettled late in the year by Coach Will Wade being linked to a recruiting incident. That saw Wade suspended from the team and the Tigers just didn’t look like the same ball club in the SEC Tournament as they were bounced by Florida.

No. 10 Florida over No. 7 Nevada

This is an interesting game as the Wolf Pack has a team with so much experience that it feels like their players have been in college for a decade.

Florida underachieved for its talent level all year before getting hot late and playing itself off of the bubble and into this sports tournament. The Gators then took out LSU in a clutch win before only narrowly falling to an Auburn team that has every chance of making a deep run this March in their own right.

This might be as simple as the fact that Florida is the better team in this matchup but they have been playing in a conference that has been so tough this year that their wins have gone under the radar.

 

Brandon Copeland

Awards

NFL Brandon Copeland Invests For A Better Future

We hear stories all the time about pro athletes finding a way to lose tens of millions, and even hundreds of millions, of dollars that they have made during their career. Therefore, it’s always interesting to hear about an athlete that understands how to manage his finances.

New York Jets linebacker Brandon Copeland is one such player and it is his knowledge of the real estate market that has helped set him up for life after football. Copeland was not a player who entered the NFL with high expectations or one of the huge contracts that comes with being premier player. While the 6-foot-3, 263 pounder certainly has the size to play as an outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid in the league, the perceived lack of competition that he faced while playing at Penn saw Copeland go undrafted in the 2013 NFL Draft.

After initially spending time on the practice squad of the Baltimore Ravens, Copeland landed a job with the Detroit Lions in 2015, before moving on to the Jets for the 2018 season. All that bouncing around is part of what made real estate investing so appealing to the Ivy Leaguer.

Copeland’s collegiate experience was one that seems to have set him up well to avoid the money pitfalls of most athletes. The Wharton School graduate spent a pair of summers while in school interning at an investment bank. He also spent his 2017 off-season working on Wall Street. All of those moves were made so that Copeland could learn more about investing, more about real estate, and more about how to use money to make money.

It is real estate which is one of Copeland’s key focus areas when it comes to saving and investing. He opened a company in the real estate sector with his wife in 2018, a decision they came to together after spending time and energy flipping houses for profit. By expanding that hobby into a company, Copeland is able to take care of all aspects of house buying, selling, renovating, and flipping.

Despite his money smarts, it is actually some of Copeland’s relative failures that have pushed him to where he is today. A number of money mistakes in his early 20s, mistakes he share with a teammate with the same issues, have seen the linebacker go back to the classroom to teach a class called Life 101 to students. His class details how he lives on 10 to 15 percent of his NFL salary with the rest of his money dropping into long term investments like real estate.

While we may not all have the disposable capital of an NFL player, we can all learn something from Copeland and his journey. Invest smartly now, using long term strategies, to live better in the future.

Awards

Cleveland Browns games are now must see sports events

That is a difficult story title to type given the futility of the Browns franchise since they reentered the NFL in 1999. Yet when a team goes out and makes one of the biggest trades we have seen in the NFL this decade, the league and its fans sit up and take notice.

The Browns have not had many (any) must see sports events in a long, long time. This is a franchise that has had a high watermark of 10-6 once this millennium (2007) and that has had exactly two winning seasons, the other being a 9-7 record in 2002, since they came back into the NFL. Even last year, a year that had many Browns fans thinking that the team was headed in an upward direction, finished with a losing record as Cleveland took third place in the league with a 7-8-1 record.

That record though was massive for a team that had combined to go 4-44 over the previous three seasons. It is amazing what the perception of having a franchise level quarterback can do for a team, with Baker Mayfield stepping in under center and making a threat to win in every game.

This is a team that had not had a franchise quarterback in the almost two decades since its rebirth. Cleveland was a place where sports events didn’t matter and where NFL talent went to die. That is if they even accepted a trade or signed a free agent contract with the bumbling franchise in the first place.

That perception, though, changed in 2018 and now Mayfield and the rest of the exciting young talent on the Browns roster has been joined by perhaps the best (and certainly one of the most high profile) wide receivers in the entire game.

Odell Beckham Jr. is now a Cleveland Brown.

Beckham, who will be expected to be a LeBron James level of transcendent star in Cleveland, is 26 years old and entering the prime of his career. Even with a battered and worn down Eli Manning throwing him over his first five years in the league, Beckham has been one of the premier players of the game.

In his first five years in the league, the new Brown has the second most catches, the second most receiving yards, and the fourth most receiving touchdowns of any player since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Beckham isn’t just one of the best and most promising players of this generation, he is one of the best of any generation.

The Browns can now roll Beckham out alongside best friend and fellow wide receiver Jarvis Landry as their sports events now have one of the best passing and catching units in the entire league. This means that for the first time in decades (and maybe ever) the words ‘Cleveland Browns’ and ‘Super Bowl’ can be said in a sentence without a drop of irony, which has to be good for the league.

Jason Witten commentor dress

Awards

Premier Players Jason Witten

When Jason Witten retired from the NFL at the end of the 2017 season, he did so as one of the premier players in the league.

His retirement came as a shock to some, even though Witten had done pretty much everything you can (other than win a Super Bowl) during his 15-year career with the Dallas Cowboys.  The daily grind in the NFL is as tough as it comes in sports and Witten had done more than enough to sail off into the sunset and to be eventually called upon for a Hall of Fame jacket fitting.

The funny thing with professional athletes though is that no matter what the body says the itch to continue to play remains.  That is why after a one year hiatus in the ESPN broadcasting booth, Witten announced his plans to rejoin the Cowboys for the 2019 season.

The news is exciting both for Cowboys fans and for fans of good announcing on Monday Night Football. While Witten was far from the worst analyst you have ever heard, and he would be more highly thought of if Tony Romo wasn’t an announcing genius, he was stuck in a situation that didn’t make the most of his announcing talent.

Now, though, we get to see if one of the best tight ends in the history of football can again be one of the premier players in the game after not playing football for 12 months.

Anyone associated with the Cowboys will tell you that Witten possesses those natural leadership qualities that the team seemed to lack in 2018.  If he can still find a way to be effective on the field as a player who turns 37 in May, then there is no reason to think that his comeback will be anything other than a success.

Playing football still tugged at Witten last season.  He is a player with unfinished business and it is now once again his job to go out there and prove that in the NFL premier players never lose their skills.

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Awards

The Premier Player of Tampa Bay HS Football

The Premier Player of High School Football Trophy is an award recognizing top athletes from Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Hernando counties.  The first poll of 20 top athletes from the area was launched November 1st, 2014, for fans to select the recipient of the award.  Ray Ray McCloud III, then a running back for Sickles Gryphons, took home the trophy and went on to play for the Clemson Tigers.

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Awards

The Premier Coach of Tampa Bay HS Football Award

The Premier Coach Award is presented to the Head Coach fans voted as the best in his or her sport via online polls. Candidates are announced about a month prior to the end of the regular sports season. Fans then vote not just for the Head Coach with the best regular season team record, but for the coach they felt led his or her team beyond expectations during the season that brought hope and excitement to them and/or their community.

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Awards

Freddie Solomon Community Spirit Award

Freddie Solomon played his college football at the University of Tampa and went on to play for the Miami Dolphins for three seasons before joining the San Francisco 49ers where he helped win two Super Bowl championships. His career in the National Football League as a wide receiver came to a close after 11 years. Then the Sumter, SC, native known as “Fabulous Freddie”, came back to Hillsborough County to make a more lasting impact. Solomon devoted the next 12 years of his life to the youths of Tampa Bay, working with the Sheriff’s department to teach kids life lessons through football. His efforts impacted more than two decades of youths and his lessons are still carried on in the community. The Freddie Solomon Community Spirit Award continues Solomon’s efforts to help make the world a better place by annually honoring a collegiate football player who has impacted the lives of others through giving and community service.

Awards Process:  Each college football season colleges and universities can submit candidates for the Freddie Solomon Community Spirit Award via an e-mail to editor@premierplayers.com.  The e-mail should contain details of the candidates’ recent community involvement and why the candidate should received the award.  All nominations are then given to The Solomon Family on November 15th to determine which player receives the award which is sponsored by The DeBartolo Family Foundation.

2018 Candidates
Freddie Solomon Community Spirit Award

Gus Malzahn by Kevin C  Cox Getty Images BCS National Championship Auburn v Florida State 2014 DRC 6232 g8r3wi

Awards

The Premier Coach Award

The Premier Coach Award is presented to the Head Coach fans voted as the best in his or her sport via online polls.  Candidates are announced about a month prior to the end of the regular sports season.  Fans then vote not just for the Head Coach with the best regular season team record, but for the coach they felt led his or her team beyond expectations during the season that brought hope and excitement.

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Awards

The Premier Player Trophy

Football, or any sport, would not bring excitement to millions of people each year if it wasn’t for the fans.  Yet, when it came to determining the best players in the country, the fans were mostly left out of the selection process – until now.  The Premier Player Trophy is an award presented to the athlete the fans voted as the best player in NCAA college football, basketball, baseball, softball and hockey.  A poll is released at the beginning of the college sports season with 20 of the best players for fans to follow.  In mid October to early November, up to five more great performing players may be added to the poll while nonperformers are deleted from the poll.  Fans then have until the last conference championship game to vote the Premier Player of the season.  Here’s what one of the best in pro and college football Lee Roy Selmon had to say  https://youtu.be/7jLk-p0SGAI?t=58s about the award.