Redskins

Carville, Matalin enjoy role as Big Easy boosters

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Carville, Matalin enjoy role as Big Easy boosters

NEW ORLEANS (AP) When Mary Matalin heard a baby cry during a Super Bowl news conference this week, she paused midsentence, peered in the direction of the fussing child and asked: ``Is that my husband?''

Matalin, the noted Republican political pundit, isn't shy about making jokes at the expense of Democratic strategist James Carville, who went from being her professional counterpart to her partner in life when they were married - in New Orleans - two decades ago.

This week, though, and for much of the past few years, the famous political odd couple have been working in lockstep for a bipartisan cause - the resurgence of their adopted hometown.

Their passion for the Big Easy and its recovery from Hurricane Katrina was why Carville and Matalin were appointed co-chairs of New Orleans' Super Bowl host committee, positions that made them the face of the city's effort to prove it's ready to be back in the regular rotation for the NFL's biggest game.

``Their commitment to New Orleans and their rise to prominence here locally as citizens made them a natural choice,'' said Jay Cicero, president of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, which handles the city's Super Bowl bids. ``It's about promoting New Orleans, and their being in love with this city, they're the perfect co-chairs.''

Carville, a Louisiana native, and Matalin moved from Washington, D.C., to historic ``Uptown'' New Orleans in the summer of 2008, a little less than three years after Katrina had laid waste to vast swaths of the city. There was not only heavy wind damage but flooding that surged through crumbling levees and at one point submerged about 80 percent of the city.

The couple had long loved New Orleans, and felt even more of a pull to set down roots here, with their two school-age daughters, at a time when the community was in need.

``The storm just weighed heavy,'' Carville said. ``We were thinking about it. We'd been in Washington for a long time. The more that we thought about it, the more sense that it made. We just came down here (to look for a house) in late 2007 and said we're just going to do this and never looked back.''

Matalin said she and Carville also wanted to raise their daughters in a place where people were willing to struggle to preserve a vibrant and unique culture.

``It's authentically creative, organically eccentric, bounded by beauty of all kinds,'' she said. ``People pull for each other, people pull together. ... Seven years ago we were 15 feet under water. ... This is unparalleled what the people here did and that's what you want your kids to grow up with: Hope and a sense of place, resolve and perseverance.''

Carville has been an avid sports fan all his life, and Matalin jokes that he now schedules his life around Saints and LSU football.

An LSU graduate, Carville has been a regular sight in Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, often wearing a purple and gold rugby-style shirt.

In New Orleans, he and Matalin have lent their names not just to the Super Bowl host committee, but to efforts to prevent the NBA's Hornets from leaving when the ownership situation was in flux.

``I was scared to death they would leave the city,'' said Carville of the Hornets, who were purchased by the NBA in December of 2010 when club founder George Shinn wanted to sell and struggled to find a local buyer. ``We were starting to do better (as a community). It would have been a terrible story to lose an NBA franchise at that time.''

Saints owner Tom Benson has since bought the NBA club and signed a long-term lease at New Orleans Arena, ending speculation about a possible move.

Carville and Matalin also have taken part in a range of environmental, educational, economic and cultural projects in the area. Matalin is on the board of the Water Institute of the Gulf, which aims to preserve fragile coastal wetlands that have been eroding, leaving south Louisiana ecosystems and communities increasingly vulnerable to destruction. They have supported the Institute of Politics at Loyola University and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra.

Carville teaches a current events class at Tulane University and he looks forward to getting involved in the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans in 2015 and New Orleans' tercentennial celebrations in 2018, when the city also hopes to host its next Super Bowl, if the NFL sees fit.

Leading a Super Bowl host committee, the couple said, has similarities to running a major national political campaign, but takes even more work.

``This has been going on for three years and it's huge,'' Matalin said. ``It's bigger, it's harder, it's more complex - even though it's cheaper.''

The host committee spent about $13 million in private and public funds to put on this Super Bowl, and the payoff could be enormous in terms of providing a momentum boost to the metro area's growth, Carville said.

``For us - New Orleans - I think this is going to be much more than a football game Sunday,'' Carville said of the championship matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers. ``We'll know how we feel about it on Monday. It's a big event, it helps a lot of people, but I think we have a chance if it goes the way we hope it does, it'll go beyond economic impact. It'll go beyond who won the game. I think there's something significant that's coming to a point here in the city.''

So there's a bit of anxiety involved, to go along with the long hours. But Carville and Matalin say they've loved having a role in what they see as New Orleans' renaissance.

``I always say I'm so humbled by everyone's gratitude,'' Matalin said. ``We get up every day and say, `Thank you, God. Thank you, God.' It's a blessing for us to be able to be here, to live here.''

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NFL implementing significant changes to kickoff rules in 2018 season

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NFL implementing significant changes to kickoff rules in 2018 season

The NFL is not eliminating kickoffs altogether for the 2018 season. But at the NFL spring meetings in Atlanta, Ga., owners did agree to make significant changes to the third phase of football.

The NFL's new kickoff rules begin with having five players on each side of the ball (previously they could line up six on one side). Also, they cannot line up more than 1-yard from the restraining line, which is the line where the ball is placed on the tee. This prohibits the kickoff team from getting a running start downfield. 

At least two players must be lined up outside the yard-line numbers and at least two players lined up between the numbers and the hash mark. In years past, three players had to be lined up outside the inbounds line with one outside the yard-line number. At least eight players need to be in the 15-yard "setup zone," leaving three players outside of the "setup zone." Before, all kickoff return players had to be behind their restraining line. These changes will place players closer to where the ball is kicked in order to reduce speed and the amount of space on the play. 

Wedge blocks are no longer allowed. Players who were initially lined up in the "setup zone" are the only ones who can now come together for a double-team block. In the past, only 2-man wedge blocks were allowed and could take place on the field anywhere. The purpose of this change is to limit the possible blocking schemes by the kickoff return team. 

No player on the receiving side of the ball can cross the restraining line or block in the 15-yard area from the kicking team's restraining line until the ball is touched or hits the ground. Before, the receiving team could move past their restraining line and block as soon as the ball was kicked. This change gets rid of the "jump-set/attack" block.

Finally, a ball will be considered dead if it's not touched by the receiving team and touches the ground in the end zone. In the past, the ball was dead once it was downed in the end zone by the receiving team. This change means there's no requirement for the kickoff returner to down the ball in the end-zone. 

If that was a lot to dissect, check out the video below. 

In addition to new kickoff rules, ejections are now reviewable. In March, a rule passed that officials can make an ejection after a replay, but not they can also undo an ejection after a replay. 

The league also adjusted the official language for Use of a Helmet rule. 

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5 keys for the Caps to win Game 7 and advance to the Stanley Cup Final

5 keys for the Caps to win Game 7 and advance to the Stanley Cup Final

It all comes down to this.

The Eastern Conference Championship is on the line Wednesday as the Capitals take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in Tampa. Here are five keys for how the Caps can win and advance to face the Vegas Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup.

Score first

Game 7 is in Tampa Bay, the Lightning are deeper offensively and defensively and have a goalie capable of shutting down an offense.

Oh, and the Lightning are 8-1 when scoring first this postseason.

The Capitals are at their best when they are dictating the play. They want to play physical, trap the blue line and counter against the Lightning. None of those are particularly great strategies for chasing a game.

That makes the first goal critical.

The Lightning fans have seen their team lose twice at home already this series and fail to close out the Caps in Game 6. They have watched their team reach the conference finals two straight years in 2015 and 2016, fail to win the Stanley Cup in either year and fail to even make the playoffs in 2017.

Not only does playing with a lead better suit their game plan, but if Washington scores first that crowd is going to get very uncomfortable very quickly.

Gauge the referees

The Caps were very physical in Game 6 and they found success with that game plan. You would expect them to have a similar approach to Game 7, but they need to be careful.

In Game 6, it was clear the referees had put away the whistles. There were a few questionable plays on both sides that the referees let go. In a Game 7, you would hope the referees take the same approach, but they may not.

Tampa Bay’s power play is very good and the Caps cannot afford to give them many opportunities, but Washington will still want to play a physical style. It’s a fine line to walk so the Caps will need to quickly figure out how strictly the referees are calling the game and adjust accordingly.

Win the goalie matchup

In this series, Andrei Vasilevskiy has had two bad games and four good ones. He lost both of his bad games and won three of his good ones. He did not win the fourth, however, because he was outplayed by Braden Holtby.

Vasilevskiy was great in Game 6, but Holtby matched him save for save as both teams battled to get on the board. When the Caps finally did, Holtby shut the door to make sure the Lightning could not climb back. Vasilevskiy allowed just two goals on 32 shots, but Holtby turned away all 24 of the shots he faced for the shutout.

This is Game 7. There is no Game 8 just because you run into a hot goalie. If Vasilevskiy is on his game again on Wednesday, Holtby will have to be just as good if not better to make sure the Caps win.

Beat the fourth line

Playing at home in Game 6 allowed the Caps to get away somewhat from the Alex Ovechkin vs. fourth line matchup the Lightning have found success with. At 5-on-5, Chris Kunitz played 6:55 against Ovechkin, Ryan Callahan played 6:22 and Cedric Paquette played 6:12, considerably less than the 13:04, 13:46 and 13:42 each respectively logged in Game 5.

With Game 7 in Tampa, Barry Trotz will not be able to get away from that matchup. That means Ovechkin will just have to beat it.

That does necessarily mean he has to score a hat-trick. Ovechkin was one of the team’s top performers in Game 6 despite not logging a point as he helped establish a physical tone that ignited the team. But he has to make sure at the very least that his line is not outscored by the fourth like it was in Game 5 when Paquette and Callahan each scored.

Have a short memory

If you have a bad game in Game 1, you know you can bounce back in the series. A Game 7, however, is winner take all. If there’s a bad bounce, a bad call by the referees, a bad play, a missed save, whatever it may be, the Caps have to be able to put it out of their minds quickly.

There is no room for the “here we go again” mentality on Wednesday. The fate of this season will be determined within 60 minutes. If Holtby is not on his game, the Caps will have to battle through it. If Ovechkin has a bad night, the Caps will have to battle through it. If the referees decide they are going to call everything down to the letter of the law, the Caps will have to battle through it.

If something goes against them, they cannot allow it to bog them down mentally as we have seen at times in Game 7s of the past.

Likewise, if things go well they need to put that out of their heads as well. Desperation will grow among the Lightning as the game goes on. This is not the time to sit on a lead or circle the wagons.

Washington can’t let mistakes or success go to their head until the clock hits 00:00.