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Te'o sees career end with BCS title-game loss

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Te'o sees career end with BCS title-game loss

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) One of the last things Manti Te'o remembers Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly telling his team before the BCS title game was about the importance of four particular segments of play.

-The first two minutes of the game.

-The last two minutes of the first half.

-The first two minutes of the second half.

-The last two minutes of the game.

Of those, only one was not wrought with disaster for the Fighting Irish - and by then Te'o had left the field for the last time as a Notre Dame player.

Overmatched from the very start, Notre Dame's hopes of going from unranked to undisputed this season ended in a crimson-and-white display of precise football. The Irish were beaten by Alabama 42-14 in the title matchup on Monday night, the only loss in 13 games for a Notre Dame team that few thought would be a championship hopeful when the season began.

``I'm obviously disappointed, not necessarily all that we lost, but just we didn't represent our school, our team, our families the way that we could have,'' Te'o said. ``So in that aspect it's just disappointing. But at the same time I'm proud to be a part of this team. What doesn't kill you will only make you stronger.''

Cliche, sure.

But if anyone can live by those words, it's Te'o, particularly after what he endured over the course of his final college season.

Alabama set the tone in the first two minutes, starting the game with an 82-yard march in only five plays to take a 7-0 lead on Eddie Lacy's touchdown run, the first of his many highlights on this night. With 31 seconds left in the half, Lacy caught a touchdown pass for his second score - one that made it 28-0 and had Kelly cracking a joke at his own expense in a televised halftime interview.

``All Alabama,'' Kelly said at the time. ``I mean, we can't tackle them right now. And who knows why? They're big and physical - I guess I do know why.''

Anyone who was watching knew why.

So the first two minutes were all `Bama, the last two minutes of the half went the Tide's way as well, and the first two minutes of the third quarter ended with Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson throwing an interception near the goal line, a sensational play made by Alabama's HaHa Clinton-Dix to come up with that turnover.

Alabama scored on the ensuing drive, and Te'o stood perfectly still as he took a long look at one of the giant video screens in Sun Life Stadium, studying the replay of that touchdown.

It was a pose that Notre Dame repeated way, way too often.

``We just needed to execute better,'' safety Zeke Motta said. ``It was just a matter of execution and playing the right way.''

Missed chances on offense, missed tackles on defense. Kelly didn't pinpoint reasons why for either - months of agonizing over film will tell that story - but some in the Notre Dame locker room insisted that the final score didn't accurately show how far the Irish have come this season.

``They didn't dominate us,'' Notre Dame nose guard Louis Nix said. ``We missed tackles.''

The numbers sure suggested domination.

By halftime, the Irish had already given up more points than they had in any game this season, the previous high being 26 in a triple-overtime win over Pittsburgh.

The most yards Notre Dame gave up this season was 379; Alabama cracked the 500 mark early in the fourth quarter. The Crimson Tide finished with 529 yards, converted 8 of 13 third downs, got five touchdowns in five trips to the red zone and became the first team since Stanford in 2009 to score at least 42 points against the Irish.

``Pretty darn good football team, but not good enough,'' Kelly said, assessing his team as Alabama's victory celebration was wrapping up on the field. ``So it's clear what we need to do in the offseason.''

What they do next will come without Te'o, the senior linebacker who was widely considered the nation's top defensive player this season.

He was a nonfactor early with a couple of missed tackles - rare for him - and that foreshadowed how the rest of the night would go for the Fighting Irish.

``The best thing about this experience is it creates fire, it creates fuel, for both the guys staying here and the guys leaving,'' Te'o said. ``Everybody here tonight will be better because of it.''

Te'o leaves as an absolute surefire Notre Dame fan favorite, for both what he did on the field and how he handled things away from the game.

He's a Mormon from Hawaii who spurned USC to sign with Notre Dame. He was one of the biggest sparkplugs for this current revitalization of Irish football, and saw his personal story become one of the more compelling parts of this Notre Dame season - when he mourned the deaths of both his girlfriend and his grandmother by playing perhaps his best game, a 12-tackle show against Michigan State.

He wound up finishing second in the Heisman Trophy race.

The Irish wound up finishing second in the national title chase.

And when it was all over, Te'o showed absolutely no regrets. He was subbed out of the game with about 2:15 remaining, shook some hands and started saying his farewell to the college game.

``Obviously we wish the night could have ended in a different way,'' Te'o said, ``but the season, the year, my career here, I've been truly blessed to be at Notre Dame.

``And I'll forever be proud to say that I'm a Notre Dame Fighting Irish.''

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Do the Caps have the goaltending to win the Stanley Cup?

Do the Caps have the goaltending to win the Stanley Cup?

The bye week and the all-star break are upon us meaning we will have to wait until Jan. 27 for the Capitals to take the ice again for a game. With the season over halfway done and the Feb. 24 trade deadline rapidly approaching, the focus of the season now shifts towards the playoffs.

Washington has certainly done enough at this point to show they are a playoff team, but just how good are they? Are they a true contender or are they destined for an early exit?

Over the next few days, I will examine the team to answer if it is good enough on offense, defense and in net to win a Cup and, if not, what they must do to improve by April.

See Monday's breakdown of the team's offense here.
See Tuesday's breakdown of the team's defense here.

Today’s question: Do the Caps have the defense to win the Stanley Cup?

Team stat
.916 team save percentage (20th in the NHL)

Player stats
Braden Holtby 18-9-4 (18 wins tied for 8th), .897 save percentage (48th among goalies with 15 or more games played), 3.09 GAA (40th)
Ilya Samsonov 15-2-1 (15 wins tied for 18th), .927 save percentage (5th among goalies with at least 15 GP), 2.06 GAA (1st)

It's been a tough year for Holtby. After a difficult start to the season, he seemed to reset and rebound in November. Then December rolled around and he struggled again. His save percentage has now dipped below .900 for the season. He still has gotten a majority of the starts and has put together a decent record on the season, but this does not look like vintage Holtby.

There is no one aspect of his game that you can point to and say, there it is, that's why he is struggling. The fact is that he is playing in front of a defense that has been shaky in terms of turnovers and he has not been able to bail them out with big saves like he has in years past. Deflections and screens seem to be affecting him more than they once did. Whether this is evidence of decline for the 30-year-old netminder of if this is just a bad year is a discussion for another day, but right now his play has not been up to par and he would be the first to admit that.

With Holtby in a contract year, Samsonov was likely brought up a year earlier than perhaps the team would have wanted him to be. The move, however, has paid off as Samsonov has been absolutely brilliant. There are flashes of inexperience to his game, particularly overcommitment when he slides from side to side, but already he has already improved from the start of the season to now and he seems to be every bit as good as advertised when Washington selected him in the first round back in 2015.

When it comes to the playoffs, however, Samsonov is an unknown commodity. We would like to assume his regular-season game will simply translate into great postseason play, but it does not always work that way. Just ask Jose Theodore. The fact is that he is a rookie goalie with zero NHL playoff experience. You also have to consider that the most games he has played in a professional season is 37 which he did last year in Hershey.

With Holtby struggling and Samsonov excelling, there are many who would love Samsonov to take over as the No. 1. But when you have a young goalie who has never in his professional career taken on a full-time starting role, is in his rookie season in the NHL and has no playoff experience, it is easy to see how this can all get very overwhelming very quickly.

There is no question that the play of both Holtby and Samsonov dictates that Samsonov should be playing more, but that probably will not translate into as many starts as you may think after the all-star break as Todd Reirden tries to manage the minutes of the rookie netminder. So long as the team remains atop the standings, there is no pressure to force more games than you need from Samsonov. Having said that, I doubt very much that Holtby will get every start in the upcoming four games the team has against the second-place Pittsburgh Penguins. I would be surprised if Samsonov did not get at least two of those games and one at home.

The verdict: Yes, the goaltending should be good enough to win the Cup

I know, you just read an entire analytical article with the ultimate conclusion of "I think so," but goaltending is the hardest thing to predict in hockey. Sometimes goalies get hot and sometimes they don't.

If the playoffs were to start today, Samsonov would have to be the starter. There is no debate. The problem is we have no idea what kind of a playoff goalie he will be. That's what makes Holtby's role so important.

Holtby ranks 5th all-time in playoff save percentage with a .928 and it's not a small sample size (89 games). OK, but won't his poor season translate to a poor performance in the playoffs? Ask 2018 Holtby who was in the exact same situation, supplanted by Philipp Gtubauer as the starter. He came on in relief of Grubauer in just the second game and never looked back with a .922 save percentage and 16-7 record all the way to the Stanley Cup.

Holtby is a goalie who likes to play as often as possible. The playoffs are ideal for him because you play every other night. It suits his game well. What happened in 2018 is no guarantee of success in 2020, but I don't know why anyone would think the Caps are better off getting a different back up than going with the guy who is statistically one of the best playoff goalies ever and who has won a Stanley Cup going into the postseason as a No. 2.

If Samsonov is anything close to what he has been in the regular season, the Caps are in good shape in net. If not, there is every reason to be confident in Holtby as the backup. Samsonov/Holtby as a tandem is about as good a tandem as there will be in the playoffs and there's no reason to change it.

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With Gerardo Parra's World Series tattoo, he'll carry 'Baby Shark' on forever

With Gerardo Parra's World Series tattoo, he'll carry 'Baby Shark' on forever

The Washington Nationals 2019 World Series title run is something Gerardo Parra will never forget.

Earlier this month, Parra covered his left forearm with a tattoo to commemorate the Nationals' championship, but the fan-favorite but his own little twist on it.

In an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Washington, Parra explained the meaning behind the tattoo and the motives behind the design.

"Like I said before, if we won a World Series championship, I wanted to do special a tattoo [to have] for the rest of my life," Parra said. "It's special for me. I had like one month to figure out how the tattoo I wanted to do. We did the trophy, the baby shark inside the trophy, World Series champs."

You can listen to the full interview in the Nationals Talk podcast below.

The design of the tattoo took several weeks of thought, but the actual process of inking it to Parra's skin was quite the process as well.

"It took like 11 hours to do that," Parra said. "But I'm so happy and so glad that everybody likes it, mostly because I love it and I got it for the rest of my life."

Although he was in the nation's capital for less than one full season, Parra left his mark in Washington. Following a rough start in 2019, Parra instilled a light and fun atmosphere in the Nationals' clubhouse upon his arrival. He made 'Baby Shark' his walk-up song in honor of his two-year-old daughter, and it became the Nationals' unofficial rally cry throughout the 2019 season.

Although the season is several weeks in the history books, Parra still plays the song in his home sometimes. As to why? It's just the feeling he gets when it comes on.

"I'm in my home and sometimes I put on the song because my baby wants to listen," Parra said. "My neighbor, he wants to dance to it."

Shortly after the MLB season ended, Parra was offered a deal from the Yomiuri Giants of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league. Knowing his chances of playing in the MLB next season were slim, the 32-year-old signed a few days later for $2.5 million with a $3 million option for 2021. He still hopes to return to Washington for the team's home opener where he would receive his World Series ring, and has self-nominated himself to throw out the first pitch.

So, will 'Baby Shark' follow Parra to his next destination? 

"The guys are waiting for baby shark in Japan. I'll do my best," Parra said. "I want to bring it to Japan. I want to bring it to different cultures, different countries, different cities. We'll see what happens, but I think everything is fine, everything is good energy, and try to make it work there, too."

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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