With growing concern over concussions, college whistles on targeting, and flap over NFL bad boy Richie Incognito and what it all means, football took a thumping last week. Sacks everywhere.
“Richie Incognito’s a bad seed. A bad person,” ex-NFL lineman Lomas Brown said on national television.
Then, from a studio at National Public Radio, Frank Deford, the Walter Cronkite of sports journalism, used tough prose to blister the NFL as “a savage culture where intimidation (is) common, where bullying (is) the accepted order of the day. You almost (have) to believe that some active players had to already be brain-damaged to so blithely put up with such inhumanity.”
Deford didn’t stop with the NFL. The number of youngsters playing football is down 13 percent in the last two years, he said, according to the National Sporting Goods Association. “And, an HBO Real Sports/Marist College poll, shows that the danger of football concussions would make a third of Americans less likely to let their boys play.”
Closer to home, Kentucky’s hapless football team is on the road this week. There is no joy in Mudville, Lexington or Athens, Georgia.
Mark Stoops is still smarting from another hard-to-swallow “holding, Kentucky!” fiasco. Add on in Nashville – salt rubbed into the wound. Vanderbilt had run up the score.
In Athens, Kentucky will face a team in a furious frame of mind after it botched a win at Auburn on the game’s final play.
In Louisville, Charlie Strong’s team continues its Incredible Shrinking Man saga. UofL (9-1) won again and dropped again in the BCS rankings, to 21st.
This weekend, the Cards play another loser Memphis ( 3- 6). But UofL fans can pick their creampuff . Rick Pitino’s team plays Fairfield in Connecticut as the defending champion’s, uh, footprint grows ever larger over all else.
Then, Bobby Rainey
Amid football’s relative chaos, gloom, decadence in these parts (you choose), a run-to-daylight rising star burned through the fog.
The NFL Fantasy League was abuzz early in the week when a waiver wire pick-up became professional football’s “Who Knew” story.
Already cut by two NFL teams, the Western Kentucky All-American had a mega break-through performance in week 12. As backup to Doug Martin and Mike James, the 5-8, 212-pound Rainey carried the football 30 times for 163 yards including a 43 yard touchdown run and another from three. He scored another on a pass.
Rainey has scored decisive touchdowns for the Bucs (2-8) two Sundays in a row. In his third season, he may have a home in Tampa and more. If he stays healthy, a hefty pay hike could be in store if Rainey returns for what would be his fourth season in the league next year.
NFL player pay rate figures show four-to-five year veterans in the league earn $700,000 a year. Presently, Tampa Bay pays Rainey $480,000.
Kentucky’s upgrade in performance from Michigan State to this week was no surprise. A severe drop-off in caliber of opponent will continue until December 1 when Providence (5-0) visits Rupp Arena.
More important, these vitals: v Ten Wildcats contributed 20 assists against Robert Morris. But 10 points were left at the free throw line, 24 of 34. v From Marcus Lee’s 10 minutes to Andrew Harrison’s 29, John Calipari managed to get double-figure minutes for nine players. v Refreshing, Julius Randle’s determination to be team-first. v Curious, to see if Alex Poythress continues his Tennessee waltz? v Note to Kentucky fans. Don’t give away tickets for the “sandwich game” between North Carolina December 14 and Louisville on the 28th. Belmont visits Rupp Arena December 21.
Who? The Nashvillebased Bruins may be this season’s Butler U., college basketball’s darling for 2013-14.
Reminiscent of Rick Pitino’s 1991- 92 Kentucky team in poise, audacity and refusal to panic, Belmont’s win at North Carolina was stunning, stylish and entertaining.
An NBA executive told a television reporter as many as six NBA teams are tanking. Tanking? Have their teams coast, emphasize not win, games to improve their position to draft Jabari Parker (Duke), Andrew Wiggins (Kansas), or Julius Randle (Kentucky).
“They’re tanking to save their jobs from their own inadequacies not because Julius Randle can score around the basket and [Andrew] Wiggins can catch lobs,” he said.
The notion of tanking caught the attention of Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. “As an American I wouldn’t like to think that an American team would (ever) want to lose or create situations where you would want to lose,” he said. “I can’t even fathom. I can’t go there. I can’t believe that that would happen. Maybe I’m naive and I’m going to go read a fairytale after this.”
COMMENT: Considering the NBA’s track record with greed, Coach K has already been reading fairy tales.
Ball Coach Buzz
• At Ole Miss Marshall Henderson being reinstated was no surprise. Interesting part? Ball coach spin to protect his job
“As is typical with Marshall, things get sensationalized, quite frankly,” Coach Andy Kennedy said. “There has been a lot of different speculation and based on his rights and based on respect for those rights, we can’t delve into anything. But here’s a kid though that has not been arrested, knock on wood, and has certainly owned some of his mistakes.”
In fact, according to public records, Henderson has been pulled over by Oxford police three times. One stop — possession of marijuana and cocaine.
• At North Carolina, the Tar Heels’ shocking loss at home Sunday to Belmont leaves us to wonder if Coach Roy Williams reinstates P.J. Hairston before the Tar Heels host Kentucky? Sitting on the Carolina bench in street clothes, leading scorer Hairston is suspended indefi nitely after three run-ins with authorities.
And so it goes.