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Spond cherishing chance at BCS title

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Spond cherishing chance at BCS title

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) Notre Dame linebacker Danny Spond values every chance he gets to be on the football field.

That might sound trivial. After all, doesn't every player feel that way?

Probably so, but then again, few players have seen what Spond has seen.

The native of Littleton, Colo., was a star quarterback at Columbine High, where a school shooting took the lives of 13 people in 1999. Now a linebacker, he wears jersey No. 13 to honor those victims and has been deeply affected by the school massacre in Newtown, Conn., last month.

In August, he feared he might lose his football career when a migraine headache struck him so severely that he was unable to move parts of his body.

Now he's about to take the field with a national championship at stake.

``This is the biggest stage that we'll ever play on,'' Spond said.

No. 1 Notre Dame (12-0) meets No. 2 Alabama (12-1) on Monday night at Sun Life Stadium, a matchup of storied programs that will collide and decide the BCS national champion. Spond is expected to start for the Irish, who enter the game with the nation's top-ranked scoring defense, just a smidge ahead of the Crimson Tide.

Alabama is favored, which to the Irish isn't exactly a relevant point.

``In our eyes, this is a step down from the Super Bowl,'' Spond said. ``Underdog or if you're favored in these games, that doesn't really matter.''

And if anyone on the field Monday night can speak on what really matters, it might be Spond.

He knows what the Columbine shootings meant to his community, both then and now. He grieved for the victims of the school massacre in Newtown that took the lives of 26 students and teachers at an elementary school.

``I can't express how horrible of an event that is,'' Spond said Thursday, when he was among a small group of Notre Dame players who met with reporters in advance of the title game. ``Going through that ... unspeakable. It's hard to explain. It's hard to put into words. I don't know what to say about it, other than time will heal. It did our community and I know it will there.''

Spond relies on faith and makes no secret of it, using his beliefs to get him through tough moments, on the field and off.

When he was hospitalized in August, football wasn't his concern. Walking was.

Parts of Spond's left side were numb when he was struck by the migraine, which doctors originally feared was a stroke. He walked with a limp after spending about half a week in the hospital, then needed rehabilitation just so he could feel close to normal again. Football was pushed aside.

That is, until he surprised the Irish by coming back so quickly.

``We were just wondering if he would ever be able to function regularly on a daily basis,'' Irish star linebacker Manti Te'o said. ``And then for him to come out - what was it, a week and a half later? - and say `I'm going to practice,' we were like, `Oh, Danny, you can just chill, you know. This is life we're talking about, not just football. Just chill.' But he goes, `I'm going to get ready.'''

So he got ready. He finished the regular season with 38 tackles in 10 games, which doesn't sound all that impressive.

Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco begs to differ.

``Danny Spond is, to me, one of the players of the year,'' Diaco said.

``To watch him battle and fight and stay positive and become the player that he has become for his teammates in 2012, he is a stalwart out there to the field. It's very hard to get a play on him in the pass game or the run game. It's just really been inspirational for me to watch and be a part of. So I'm so thankful for Danny Spond specifically in my life.''

Spond said the six-week wait for this has been easier than some might think, since it's allowed the Irish to prepare and heal.

In short, he knows his team will be ready for whatever Nick Saban and Alabama can throw Notre Dame's way on Monday night.

``They are a great team,'' Spond said. ``They are obviously in this game for a reason and they have proved that in the past couple of years. Coach Saban has built a very strong program over there, so we're preparing for their best. They'll give us their best.''

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Reflections on Rich Tandler and a life well lived

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NBC Sports Washington

Reflections on Rich Tandler and a life well lived

I haven’t felt this way since my father passed last April. I’m not comparing the two, at all, but there were some similarities.

Rich Tandler had life experience. Few people accomplish what he did; total life reinvention. 

Think about that. 

After raising his two successful children and a lifetime in the restaurant business, Tandler created a blog. That blog became big enough to eventually become a full-time job, and over time, put him on television and send him all over the world. 

That’s wild. 

We get so caught up in the “startups” and “disruptors” from Silicon Valley that we missed a true internet success story in Rich Tandler. Our world has become extra cynical. The loudest snark wins, especially on the internet. 

Tandler didn’t trade in those currencies. 

He provided good, quality information. He provided insight and analysis from six decades of obsessing over a football team. 

And fans loved him for it. 

The outpouring from folks that read "Need to Know" or listened to the podcast has been incredible. I’ve been flooded with messages from people, and one overwhelming response is that while they didn’t really know Tandler, they feel like they did.

Well, I was lucky to know him pretty well. And his persona on air was the same way off air. 

Tandler helped me a in a lot of ways. I can be impulsive and have a temper, Tandler would calm me down. Whenever I had something important to say, news to break or a sharp angle of criticism, I would run it by Tandler first. Sometimes, maybe often, I would say too much, and he would reign me in. 

Tandler loved pointing out mistakes. If the universe gave honorary degrees for pointing out minor math errors in salary cap blog posts, Tandler would have a Ph.D. 

He was smart and he was sharp. Good natured but feisty. 

He could dish it out plenty in a media room full of alphas. And he literally dished it out; Tandler controlled all the plastic utensils and paper plates that every media member used at Redskins Park. When we were running low on forks, Tandler would put out some not too subtle calls to action. 

I think for a while he considered the podcast an annoyance, but somewhere along the way, we had a breakthrough. He realized its potential, and everywhere we went, listeners came up and told us how much they enjoyed it. 

That made an impact on RT. And seemingly overnight, he was all in. That’s when things really started to gain steam. Wherever I am in my career, Tandler played a huge role in it. 

But that kind of doesn’t matter now. We will keep the pod going but it will never be the same. Not better, not worse, but way, way different. Same thing with writing and TV. The show will go on, but it won't be the same. It will never be the same. 

In the hours since I learned of Tandler’s passing, I’ve done some reading. I drank a bunch. And I ended up landing on some YouTube videos. 

The one I kept going back to was Jimmy V’s famous ESPY speech. Before he died, Jimmy V implored us all to think, laugh and cry every day, and that would lead to a good, full life. 

If there was ever a dude that laughed, it was Rich Tandler. 

His belly laugh was contagious, and his wit was superior. There were the wacky Tandler’s Got Jokes, and the sly one liners about players, plays and our road antics. 

It wasn’t all laughter either. Tandler was smart as hell, and he was always thinking about new ways to present content for Redskins fans. 

Seriously, our organization employs an army of young and talented digital-first thinkers. And Tandler generated more web traffic than all of them. He constantly tried to figure out why people would read something, or the optimal time for us to drop a new podcast. 

Where I’m an idea guy, Tandler was all execution. I’m a terrible planner and constantly late. Tandler would be on time and busting my chops about our lack of schedule. It’s just how we operated. 

As for crying, Tandler didn't do it much. I did see him tear up from laughing a few times, and once because it was real windy when we were taping a segment and something got in his eye. 

I’m not much of a crier either. I’m glad that Jimmy V was, but it’s just not me. 

Thinking about Tandler though in the last 36 hours, there have been some truly hard moments. He was kind and gracious. A true gentleman. 

He never took personal shots at the team we cover, or their front office. Plenty do. He would certainly say when things were bad, and say it loudly. He was binary in a world full of context. 

He was a good dude. He was my coworker, my partner and my friend. 

And damn if it isn’t getting dusty in here all of a sudden. 

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Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

The Washington Wizards open their regular season on Thursday night against the Miami Heat. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. 

Here are three things to watch...

Will Howard play?

Just one week ago, it would have seemed near impossible that Dwight Howard, the Wizards' biggest offseason acquisition, would be ready to play in the season opener, but after three solid days of practice, it can't be ruled out. The Wizards plan to evaluate him throughout the day on Thursday to determine if he can take the court in what would be his first live game action with his new team.

Howard, 32, missed the entire preseason and nearly all of their practices leading up to the opener with a strained piriformis muscle. Though reports have been encouraging from his three practices, he is not yet in game shape. Even if he can play, expect him to be limited. If he can't play, Ian Mahinmi will get the start.

Heat are banged up

Miami is not only coming off a game the night before, as they lost in their season opener to the Orlando Magic, but they are missing some key guys. Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Justise Winslow are out due to injuries.

That will leave Miami perilously thin at the guard and small forward position. That happens to be an area of the roster where the Wizards are especially deep, now with Austin Rivers as the backup shooting guard behind Bradley Beal and with first round pick Troy Brown Jr. behind Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr.

That said, Waiters and Ellington being out means Dwyane Wade may get more run and, as we saw in the preseason, he is still very hard to stop. He is capable of a big night, especially given it's so early in the year and he doesn't yet have the wear-and-tear of a long season.

Can Beal reach the next level?

One of the most important indicators of how much better the Wizards will be this season is the continued improvement of their young players. John Wall, Porter and Oubre are included in that and particularly Oubre, who is entering an important season in the final year of his contract.

But the guy who improved more than anyone last year and has a chance to take another big leap this season is Beal. Now with one All-Star nod under his belt, what does he have for an encore? 

If Beal can get his scoring average up even higher from the 22.6 he put up last season, he could enter the All-NBA conversation. And he now has more help than ever with Rivers behind him. Beal should, in theory, be more fresh each night with Rivers taking away some of his workload. 

The Heat offer a good matchup defensively for Beal with Josh Richardson. He is one of the more underrated players in basketball and is a menace on the perimeter.

"I've been a fan of his since I played him in college at Tennessee," Beal said. "He's always been a pest. He's super athletic, sneaky athletic. And I feel like he developed his shot to where you have to respect it. If you go under [on screens], he's shooting it."

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