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Column: 'All they had to do was look for the hat'

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Column: 'All they had to do was look for the hat'

There's a very good reason why coaches on NFL and college football sidelines this weekend are dressed exactly like the guys down at your car wash - or maybe it's the other way around.

There are actually 250 million or so rea$ons in the case of the NFL, and who knows how many more for college football teams, since most programs get to negotiate their own licensed apparel deal. It wasn't always like that, of course.

There are hats on the heads of more than half the coaches pictured in both halls of fame, as well as sports coats, ties and even the occasional bow tie completing the look. Some looked so distinct - Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys and Alabama coach Paul ``Bear'' Bryant come to mind - that even decades later, you could identify them just by seeing their profiles.

Not the current guys, though.

``Tommy thought it was important to look business-like, yet he would be the first one to tell you clothes don't win games,'' said Alicia Landry, whose late husband was arguably the best-dressed NFL coach ever. ``But at the very least, the players always knew where he was with a glance. All they had to do was look for the hat.

``Nowadays, and I hardly watch any games, they all look the same to me,'' she added. ``Except for that one coach who always wears his hood up.''

That would be New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, whose hoodie is on of the NFL's best sellers. But make no mistake - that has more to do with his success than his sense of fashion.

``The idea,'' NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said, ``is fans see it on Sunday and buy it on Monday. But most of our coaches would rather wear a golf shirt and windbreaker than a suit and tie, anyway. Besides, these guys are so good they could probably coach in pajamas.''

Don't even think about it.

Next season marks the 20th anniversary of one of the NFL's most questionable decisions: requiring its coaches to choose their sideline wardrobes each season from a selection laid out by the league's official apparel manufacturer, currently Nike. The league gets its royalties, the coaches get a stipend and the rest of us get eyesores, like Rex Ryan in a Jets' sweater vest big enough to double as a tent or Green Bay's Mike McCarthy in a down jacket that makes him look like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man - in green.

The last coach to work the sideline in a coat and tie was former 49ers coach Mike Nolan in 2007. He thought it would be a great way to pay tribute to his father, Dick, who roamed the same sideline from 1968-75. The NFL originally said no because Reebok, its supplier at the time, offered neither a sport coat or tie in its line with the logo. After three years of petitions, Nolan and then-Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio, neither of whom is a head coach today, both got to wear NFL-sanctioned versions.

``No one's asked since,'' McCarthy said, ``but we'd look into accommodating them if it could be worked out.''

Fat chance of that happening.

Dan Reeves, who played for the Cowboys and was Landry's assistant before coaching in Dallas, New York, Denver and Atlanta, was the last coach to routinely don a coat and tie for games. He was grandfathered in on the 1993 agreement, but switched to polo shirts when he arrived in Atlanta in 1997.

``The Smith family owned the team at the time, and when we negotiated a contract, it was part of the deal,'' he said. ``They were dead last in merchandising sales at the time, so I understood. They were trying to get the people in the stands to start wearing the gear ...

``But I got into the habit because of Tom Landry and I kept with it because, I believe, the coat and tie calmed me down. I'd get all riled up and start pulling on the coat or the tie, and then I'd remember how stately and in control coach Landry always looked. So I wonder,'' added Reeves, ``if that wouldn't help some of the guys out there right now.''

If that doesn't work, maybe some of today's coaches should solicit fashion advice from the people they trust most.

Miami Hurricanes coach Al Golden's crisp white dress shirt and a sharp orange tie make him arguably the best-0dressed coach in the college game. He played for the late Joe Paterno at Penn State, himself one of the last throwbacks to the jacket-and-tie set. But when Golden got his first break as a head coach at Temple in 2006, he usually wore a sweat shirt.

One day he got a call. On the other end was his mom.

``Wear some pants and a shirt,'' she said.

Advice well worth heeding.

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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.

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I Am The Prospect: Capitals' prospect Alex Alexeyev is focused on one goal - making the roster

I Am The Prospect: Capitals' prospect Alex Alexeyev is focused on one goal - making the roster

Alex Alexeyev is the third Washington Capitals' prospect featured in NBC Sports Washington's I Am The Prospect series. Click here to check out more profiles from I am The Prospect.

Like most prospective NHL players, Alex Alexeyev dreams of the day he gets to lift the Stanley Cup over his head.

“It’s the best league in the world," Alexeyev said. "In childhood, they (are) always dreaming about raising that Stanley Cup. It’s my dream too.”

Standing at 6-foot, 3.5-inches tall, the 19-year-old from St. Petersburg, Russia, was the Capitals' last pick of the first round in the 2018 NHL Draft.

“He’s an untapped resource," Capitals head coach Todd Reirden said. "I was really impressed with him last year, seeing him for the first time."

Alexeyev's journey to the big leagues began three years ago when he made the move from Russia to North America, earning a spot on the top pair of the Red Deer Rebels' roster in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. It was there in March of this past year that he sustained a "scary" knee injury, almost certainly sidelining him for the time being.

“I was scared and I felt like something (was) definitely wrong with my knee but after some time where I figured out, everyone figured out that it’s not that scary,” Alexeyev said.

Alexeyev rebounded quickly, rehabbing his injury with the Capitals' AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears.

“The injuries, it’s too bad, but players do get injured and that’s something that can’t be helped, Capitals assistant general manager, Ross Mahoney said. "But he had a really good first half of the season with the Red Deer and exceptional World Junior Tournament, the under-20 tournament.” 

Since then, Alexeyev was a standout at the Caps' Developmental Camp in June.

“He just looks like he’s at a different level than the rest of the kids both physically and ability to play," Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. "He’s big, he’s strong, he’s got a good skill level, he moves the puck well, he seems to have a good attitude a good work ethic, I’m excited to see him in training camp and see his progression here as the year goes on.

With the loss of Capitals' veteran defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, Alexeyev is focused on making the Caps' 2019-20 roster.

“Alex is a really intelligent player," Mahoney said. "I think he’s got great vision on the ice. He has that ability also to be very patient with the puck.” 

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The Las Vegas Aces have no answer for the Mystics ‘missing piece’ Emma Meesseman

The Las Vegas Aces have no answer for the Mystics ‘missing piece’ Emma Meesseman

WASHINGTON – A year ago the Washington Mystics made it to the WNBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. Top-to-bottom they were a loaded team that finally made the jump led by one of the most talented women’s basketball players in the world in Elena Delle Donne. 

But Delle Donne was hindered, battling through a knee injury throughout the entire playoffs. There was no one to give her relief, which resulted in the Seattle Storm sweeping the Mystics in the Finals. 

A full 365 days and some change have passed. Nearly everyone returned to the Mystics for another go at a championship. The younger players added a year of experience. Expectations are just as high. This year though they believe that they already have what it takes to win a championship; Emma Meesseman came back to the team.

“Emma is the missing piece for us,” Natasha Cloud said after Game 2. “From last year’s to this year’s team she the difference-maker in making us a championship team. She’s putting us on her back… Emma is an All-Star of her own. I’m extremely proud of the player she’s grown into.”

The first leg of the WNBA Semifinals against the Las Vegas Aces in Washington saw different ways Meesseman can be the reason why the Mystics lift the trophy at the end of the season. 

Game 1 she led all scorers with a season-high 27 points. Thirteen of those came in a 26-point third quarter that erased a seven-point lead for Las Vegas. Her explosion allowed the Mystics to surge back into the game. Complementary to Delle Donne’s 25 points, they were a dynamic duo. Las Vegas couldn’t hone in on one of them when they were both on the court. Washington won by two.

Game 2 the Belgian matched that performance. Meesseman tied a career-high with 30 points going 11-for-19 from the field and 5-for-7 from 3-point range. A majority of those (22) came in the second and third quarters to take firm control of the game. Each time the Aces attempted to come back, Meesseman would hit another dagger. Washington won by 12.

“She ain’t missing any shots. That’s the main thing,” Aces’ Liz Cambage said on how they’ve been unable to stop Meesseman. “She came out tonight – [the Mystics] all shot so well tonight.”

Put her in the paint and the flex player posted up and drove against the 6-8 Cambage, or forced her out to clear the lane for other Mystics. Stretch Meesseman out to the arc and she knocked down threes over shorter guards. She’s a Swiss army knife for the Mystics, versatility that is similar to the 2019 MVP Delle Donne.

That comparison is drawn from her own teammates, including Cloud. One that Meesseman believes to be a big honor.

Last year Meesseman missed the season to take a break and work on her game. She was winded after the 2017 season and the toll that it took on her. While away from the WNBA, a lot of her time on the court was with the Belgium national team. There she had to be the team's primary scorer. 

This year in Washington, she’s applied that mentality and aggressiveness to her play. While she’s come off the bench for essentially the whole season, Meesseman has been a huge asset. Now, she’s starting with a big line-up for Washington.

“You can’t just have one or two [go-to players]. We need three or four to win a championship and [Messeeman has] embraced that this last part of the season,” Mystics head coach Mike Thibault said. “She was aggressive, she was looking for the ball, just there is a whole different body language to her about this right now.”

Only twice this season had the 6-4 forward reached 20 points for the Mystics. One was in the penultimate game in the regular season. Granted, she missed 11 games for her national team obligations, but it has been rare to see this explosion. 

"Emma has got a chip on her shoulder. She clearly was watching last year and wasn't happy with the result,” Delle Donne told NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller. “Emma is playing unreal basketball. She is so good, one of the greatest in the world. To add a piece like that and for her to step up like this has been so big for us."

But Meesseman doesn’t see herself as being the difference-maker. She’s just playing basketball and trying to contribute to an already established championship-level team. 

During Game 1’s postgame press conference Meesseman shut down being labeled as the “missing piece.”

“I’m not sure I agree with that-“ 

“Emma, stop it,” Delle Donne said. “We didn’t win Emma. We need you. I’ll take your 27 and 10 any night.”

She still isn't embracing that title after Game 2. Although if you ask the rest of the Mystics, Meesseman is alone in that regard.

Whether she likes it or not, Meesseman is the clear difference in the Mystics roster as opposed to the team that fell short in the WNBA Finals. When league historians look back at the 2018 and 2019 Mystics teams, she will stick out. 

The only question is will the “missing piece” push the Mystics to where they want to go. 

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