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40 years ago, Irish-Tide played game for the ages

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40 years ago, Irish-Tide played game for the ages

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) Ara Parseghian still remembers every little detail of that dreary night in New Orleans nearly four decades ago, when two titans of college football met for the first time.

It was a time of jarring social and political turmoil in America: the pain of the civil rights movement still fresh, U.S. troops finally home from an unpopular war in Vietnam, a scandal known as Watergate on the verge of toppling the most powerful man in the free world.

Against that backdrop, Notre Dame and Alabama did something that rarely happens in sports.

They didn't just live up the hype, they blew it away.

The game of the year became a game for the ages.

``It was Alabama vs. Notre Dame. It was the Baptists vs. the Catholics. It was Bear Bryant vs. yours truly,'' said Parseghian, who coached the Fighting Irish for 11 years and now, approaching his 90th birthday, enjoys retirement at his winter home in Marco Island, Fla., right across the Everglades from Miami. ``There were just a multitude of things that built it up. A huge viewing audience was the result.''

Indeed, while ESPN officials were hoping for record ratings in the BCS era when top-ranked Notre Dame met second-ranked Alabama on Monday night, there was little chance of approaching the massive audience that tuned in on New Year's Eve 1973 for those same two teams in the Sugar Bowl, the game that would decide the national championship, a contest so momentous that ABC sent in Howard Cosell to join the regular college broadcast team of Chris Schenkel and Bud Wilkinson.

``At Notre Dame, football is a religion,'' Cosell would say that night. ``At Alabama, it's way of life.''

The game was worthy of even his extensive hyperbole - and then some.

The lead changed hands six times. Notre Dame returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Alabama scored on a trick play. The Crimson Tide missed a crucial extra point in the fourth quarter. The Fighting Irish barely made a chip-shot field goal that provided the winning margin with less than 5 minutes remaining.

Mostly, the game will be remembered for Parseghian's gutsy decision right at the end to call a deep pass out of his own end zone, the ball going to a little-used tight end who managed to make a juggling catch along the sideline before tumbling into the Alabama bench, right in front of the Bear.

``I am laying on my back, clutching the ball, looking up at a bunch of red helmets peering down at me and hearing a bunch of cuss words over the roar of the 80,000 people in the stadium,'' said Robin Weber, the second-stringer who made the catch that lives on in Notre Dame lore.

``I get up from the sideline and flip the ball to the referee and, as I'm looking back downfield for penalty flags, here comes a very upset Bryant storming toward me almost in my face,'' Weber added. ``I see no flags and jump for joy because I know it is checkmate in a national championship game.''

Notre Dame 24, Alabama 23.

While the college kids who will play Monday night know little of what happened at rickety old Tulane Stadium long before they were born - some will acknowledge they're not even sure who won - there is constant prodding from the old-timers.

Especially on the Alabama side.

``People have been stopping me on elevators saying, `I was there at the `73 game. You better win one for us,''' said Barrett Jones, the Crimson Tide's All-American center. ``Certainly we've heard a lot about it. But when the ball is snapped, that's not going to matter.''

It does matter to Bill Davis.

He was the Alabama kicker on that `73 team. He was the one who missed the extra point with 9 1/2 minutes remaining after the Tide reclaimed the lead, 23-21, on a 25-yard pass from Mike Stock to quarterback Richard Todd, who handed the ball off to his halfback going right and then broke free along the left sideline, the Notre Dame defense totally caught off guard when Stock pulled up and threw back the other way.

Now a dentist in the north Alabama town of Athens, Davis no longer remembers if he missed the kick to the left or the right.

Maybe he's just learned to block it out.

``I felt bad about it at the time,'' he said Monday morning in a telephone interview from his office during a break between patients. ``I still do.''

Fortunately for Davis, who followed two older brothers into the Alabama kicking job, he didn't face the sort of Bill Buckner-like scorn that would bedevil others who faltered on the biggest stages. He still says ``Roll Tide'' at the end of phone conversations, still has mostly fond memories of his football career and playing for the man everyone in Alabama calls ``Coach Bryant'' to this day, nearly 30 years after his death.

Davis built a successful business, which he shares with his daughter, and welcomed his first grandchild just last Friday.

``It's a girl,'' he said proudly.

But, come Monday night, he'll be tuned in and pulling extra hard for his beloved Tide. There's still a score to settle.

``If we win,'' Davis said, ``that would put a lot of that other stuff to rest.''

For Parseghian, the `73 Sugar Bowl put to rest his reputation for playing it safe, which he had carried ever since his decision to settle for a 10-10 tie in an another epic game, the 1966 contest against Michigan State.

That game was especially galling to Alabama fans, since the tie didn't prevent Notre Dame from winning the first of two national titles during the Parseghian era. The Fighting Irish stayed atop the rankings ahead of both the mighty Spartans (who had four of the top eight picks in the next NFL draft) and a Tide team that posted a perfect record in the quest for an unprecedented third straight championship (to this day, no team has finished No. 1 in The Associated Press rankings three years in a row).

Seven years the epic Notre Dame-Michigan State tilt, with another national title hanging in the balance and the Irish facing third-and-long from their own 3-yard line, Parseghian decided the prudent call was to gamble. He sent in a formation that looked like a run - two tight ends and three running backs - but signaled a pass to quarterback Tom Clements.

``I knew he was going to be throwing the ball out of the end zone. If he slips and falls, or he's sacked, that's a safety and we lose the game,'' Parseghian recalled. ``Yeah, it was high risk. But that's what we had to do. I didn't want to punt it back to them out of our own end zone.''

Big tight end Dave Casper, who went on to star in the NFL, was the intended target. The Tide had him well covered. But Weber, who was mainly known for blocking, ran right by the cornerback and found himself all alone far heading toward the sideline. Clements delivered the ball perfectly. Weber juggled it briefly before tucking it away and getting knocked out of bounds.

Game over.

``An over-the-shoulder, pure hands catch, on a play I had never before practiced, thrown by a quarterback who had never thrown me the ball, not even in warm-ups in practice,'' Weber said. ``From my perspective, quite simply a sandlot play between two good athletes.''

Notre Dame ran out the clock and celebrated its championship.

Parseghian and Bryant spoke briefly on the field afterward. Later, the Notre Dame coach sent off a letter to his larger-than-life rival, who would pass away 10 years later, about a month after his final game.

``We had great respect for one another,'' Parseghian said. ``Basically, I just told him there were no losers in that game.''

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Drafting a running back early not a cure-all for Redskins' ground game

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Drafting a running back early not a cure-all for Redskins' ground game

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, February 18, 24 days before NFL free agency starts.

Tandler’s Take

The topic for today’s post comes from Twitter:

When I asked for topics for this post, the subject of the running game came up with several of them. And since John brought up the draft, let’s look at that as a potential solution.

Let’s first establish that the Redskins’ running game was not good enough last year. I don’t need to spend a bunch of time on this but here are some numbers. They were 28th in rushing yards and 29th in yards per carry. If you like to weigh more complete metrics, they were 28th in rushing DVOA. If you want to look at a key situation, they were last in the league in yards per first-down rushing attempt. Last year a team gained 100 yards rushing or more 274 times. The Redskins got there five times.

I’m going to leave it at that here since, again, if you’re reading this you probably watched a lot of their games and you don’t need to be persuaded that the running game was largely unproductive. Yes, there were injuries that had the offensive linemen playing snaps just days after being signed and the broken leg suffered by Chris Thompson and Rob Kelley’s various ailments. But the Redskins haven’t ranked higher than 19th in rushing yards since Jay Gruden became the head coach. Rushing game struggles are an ongoing issue.

I am going to work on the premise that those who advocate having the Redskins improve their running game via the draft are talking about drafting a running back in the first or second round. That may be overgeneralizing but that gives me a good-sized chunk of data to work with and still be able to analyze it in the 1000 words or so I am allotted here.

I’m also going to call a 1,000-yard season the minimum that would be expected out of a back drafted in the first two rounds. There are other ways a back can contribute, of course, and we can deal with them separately.

From 2010-2017, there were 45 thousand-yard rushing seasons by players who entered the league during those years (all data via the indispensable Pro Football Reference unless noted). Twelve of them were accomplished by players drafted in the first round. Six came from second-round picks, six from third-rounders, four from the fourth, three from the fifth, four from the sixth and none from the seventh. Oh, and there were 10 thousand-yard seasons that came from undrafted players.

It should be noted that four of those seasons from undrafted players came from the Texans’ Arian Foster. And two each came from LeGarrette Blount and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. So those 10 thousand-yard seasons should not be seen as an indication that there is a treasure trove of running back talent going undrafted every year.

Back to the first and second rounders, the combined 16 thousand-yard seasons doesn’t mean much in isolation. How many backs were drafted in the first two rounds in that time? How many opportunities have they had to post big seasons?

In the past eight drafts, 34 running backs were drafted in the first and second round. That group has had 170 opportunities to post a 1,000-yard season. What I mean by opportunities is the number of seasons that have elapsed since the player was drafted. The six backs drafted in the first two rounds in 2010 have each had eight chances to gain 1,000 yards in a season so they have combined for 48 opportunities (6*8). There were five backs drafted in the first and second seven seasons ago, so there have combined for 35 opportunities, and so on. Through the eight years that adds up to 170 seasons.

The combined 16 thousand-yard seasons in 170 opportunities comes to a success rate of 9.4 percent when it comes to reaching the bar that most fans would set as the minimum.

A couple of things need to be pointed out here. There are some backs like Giovani Bernard, Shane Vereen, and Christian McCaffrey who do not have any big rushing seasons on their resumes but have been valuable catching passes out of the backfield. And some like Dalvin Cook, who was injured after a promising start last year, and McCaffrey seemed destined to have 1,000-yard seasons in their futures. So all of the backs who have not gained 1,000 yards in a season are not necessarily draft busts or failures.

But here are first-round running back busts, just like there are busts at every position. There were 12 running back picked in the first round of the past eight drafts. Javid Best, David Wilson, and Trent Richardson clearly were disappointments (the former two struggled with injuries). Doug Martin, Ryan Mathews, and C.J. Spiller have had some success but perhaps not enough to justify being first-round picks. It took Mark Ingram a while, but he got rolling in his sixth NFL season. I want to see more out of McCaffrey before judging him and Melvin Gordon needs to continue his upward trajectory. It’s safe to say that even with small sample sizes of data in the books on Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette they were home runs. So was Todd Gurley.

So out of 12 first-round backs in the last eight years, you have three clear busts, three moderate disappointments, four top-level performers (including Ingram) and two TBD.

In any case, it’s clear that just drafting a back early is not a panacea for a struggling running game. Blocking (from both the line and the receivers and other backs), play calling, scheme, and some intangible factors like attitude (as Brian Mitchell will tell you) all play into the success and failure of moving the ball on the ground.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

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2018 NBA All-Star Game: TV and live stream info, rosters, things to watch for dunk contest, three-point contest

2018 NBA All-Star Game: TV and live stream info, rosters, things to watch for dunk contest, three-point contest

The 2018 NBA All-Star Game is here with the annual showcase set for Los Angeles.

Here is all you need to know: TV and live stream info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch:

2018 NBA ALL-STAR GAME

Where: Staples Center
Tip-off: 8 p.m.
TV: TNT
Online with no cable TV: fuboTV (try for free)

ROSTERS

TEAM LEBRON:

Coach: Dwane Casey, Raptors
LeBron James, Cavaliers
Kevin Durant, Warriors
Kyrie Irving, Celtics
Anthony Davis, Pelicans
LaMarcus Aldridge, Spurs
Bradley Beal, Wizards
Goran Dragic, Heat
Andre Drummond, Pistons
Paul George, Thunder
Victor Oladipo, Pacers
Russell Westbrook, Thunder
Kemba Walker, Hornets

TEAM STEPHEN:

Coach: Mike D'Antoni, Rockets
Stephen Curry, Warriors
James Harden, Rockets
Joel Embiid, 76ers
DeMar DeRozan, Raptors
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks
Jimmy Butler, Timberwolves
Draymond Green, Warriors
Klay Thompson, Warriors
Al Horford, Celtics
Damian Lillard, Blazers
Kyle Lowry, Raptors
Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves

PODCAST: ALL-STAR WEEKEND PREVIEW, WIZARDS AT THE BREAK 

Three things to watch...

New format

The NBA switched it up this season by doing away with the traditional matchup between the East and West. The teams were instead chosen by captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry, the two top vote-getters in All-Star fan voting. The idea was to breath new life into the All-Star Game and hopefully make it more competitive. The league also installed a system where the winners each get $100,000, $75,000 more than the losing team. 

All pro sports leagues struggle drawing interest with their All-Star showcases. They are always trying to get ratings up and this is the latest ploy by the NBA. The new format is definitely intriguing, but whether it will have a major impact on the competition itself is hard to tell. We'll see how the fans respond.

RELATED: JOHN WALL GIVES UPDATE ON HIS REHAB

Reunion time

The teams picked by James and Curry will give fans some throwback combinations with former teammates back together again. Team LeBron is full of them. James will reunite with Kyrie Irving, who essentially forced his way out of Cleveland over the summer after the two combined to reach three straight NBA Finals and win one title.

We will also see Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook play together again. They of course teamed up to win a lot of games with the Oklahoma City Thunder before Durant signed with the Warriors. Westbrook will also be reunited with Victor Oladipo, who was traded from OKC to the Pacers over the summer.

RELATED: WIZARDS/BULLETS HISTORY ON ALL-STAR SATURDAY NIGHT

Beal's All-Star debut

Wizards fans will of course be focused on Bradley Beal, who is making his first All-Star appearance. He is Washington's lone representative, as John Wall is still recovering from left knee surgery.

Beal may not get many minutes on a stacked roster of guys who have been in the game before. If that happens, it's probably for the best. Beal is currently fifth in the NBA in total minutes played. He needs the rest if he can get it.

RELATED: LATEST NBA POWER RANKINGS