National Sports Commentary
Woody Paige, a nationally acclaimed sports writer for many years, continues to deliver his special brand of commentary via television, podcasts and writing. My cartoons, illustrations and comments are featured weekly on WoodyPaige.com alongside Woody's finest and other outstanding content by some of the finest sports writers in the country. I cover a wide range of sports topics, with an honest perspective that comes from a background as an athlete (D-I lacrosse and football, All-America), coach (youth, club and HS), several years living abroad, and family (Grandpa Wimer is in Basketball Hall of Fame). Featured on this page is work from 2022 and 2023.
Mikaela Skis Into Uncharted Territory
American Mikaela Shiffrin passed the winningest skier of all time with 87 World Cup victories a day after her 28th birthday.
Remarkable Swedish skier Ingemar Stenmark had set what had seemed an unbreakable record forty years ago. Lindsey Vonn had come close to reaching those heights only a few years ago with 82 victories before succumbing to multiple injuries and retirement.
After passing the Swede, Shiffrin added one more win to push the total to 88 before the 2022-23 season ended. At her young age, who knows how high she can push the record as arguably the best skier of all time?
She's humble and focused, and has for the most part avoided the injuries that are such a constant in the world of alpine skiing. Shiffrin's won World Championships and gold medals at Olympics, so no one knows the motivation she'll need for skiing into the unexplored terrain ahead of her.
But we will all be fortunate if for many more years we can continue to witness the grace, athleticism and absolute mastery delivered by the greatest of all time.
Chiefs Coaches Dictate Super Bowl Scales
Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs claimed their second Super Bowl in four years after a tight battle against the Philadelphia Eagles. A field goal by the Chiefs with 8 seconds left capped a gripping comeback from a 10 point halftime deficit.
Mahomes laid claim to Super Bowl MVP with a masterful second half, in an entertaining duel with an equally impressive Jalen Hurts of the Eagles.
As is always the case with the big game, there were a multitude of side stories regarding factors that tipped the scales one way or another. One was a universal complaint that loose and mushy sod had players slipping all night long. Some claimed that the Eagles were never able to find their footing in order to exert the kind of pass rush and pressure they had been known for all season. Thus, Mahomes found more time to work his magic than he would have otherwise. This argument of course loses some weight when considering the Chiefs had their own challenges navigating the same swampy field.
Perhaps the biggest complaint was a questionable call with 1:54 remaining in the game. The Chiefs had driven inside the twenty yard line, and on a third-and-long play threw the ball incomplete. A somewhat late flag was thrown for defensive holding, resulting in a 5 yard penalty and more importantly a first down. Instead of 4th down and a probable field goal that would have left plenty of time on the clock for a potential scoring drive for the Eagles, the Chiefs had a new set of downs and ultimately the game in hand. For most viewers, the hold/hook seemed minimal, and Mahomes' pass was uncatchable with or without contact. It was a significant call that determined the end of the game, but as most coaches worth a salt will properly tell you, you never lose a game on single play.
The Eagles lost the second half due to outstanding adjustments by the Kansas City Chiefs, particularly on offense. Utilizing a dizzying array of motion and misdirection, the Chiefs had one of the NFL's best defenses on their heels for the final 30 minutes of the game. The Chiefs' final two touchdowns were so well executed (made more effective by overreaction by the Eagles D due to earlier plays), that the receivers caught passes with no defender within 10 yards. Employing effective in-game adjustments is one of the hardest things to pull off in sports, but the Chiefs coaching staff expertly succeed in this and clearly earned their playoff bonuses in the victory.
Ironically, three years ago, it was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who outcoached the Chiefs in their 31-9 victory. This time Andy Reid and his staff found ways to push the balance in their favor.
Bulldogs Roll...Over Frogs To National Championship
Prime Time Buffs
There’s a new sheriff in Boulder town. Deion Sanders has arrived to save University of Colorado football.
The wheels had fallen/flown off a once proud program in dramatic fashion, finishing the 2022 season at 1-11, and facing blowouts in nearly every loss. Poster child for the negative impacts of the new rules (or lack thereof) for NIL and transfers, CU had seen a serious defection of talent in recent years that left the cupboard bare.
Head coach Karl Dorrell was fired at mid-season, so there was plenty of time for speculation regarding the next coaching hire. But you had to search high and low in the state to find anyone optimistic about that outcome. Colorado had whiffed over and over during the past 15 years with its coaches, and a depleted roster was not going to provide much of a lure for a coach to grab the reins. It required courage to even peer over the edge to see how far the program had fallen.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere Deion Sanders made a splash, as only he could. The school found the money ($29.5 million over five years as well substantial funds for a top tier staff) and a commitment to become more aggressive managing NIL opportunities for players.
However, it was still a major leap of faith for Coach Prime to take on a rebuild of this magnitude. He left a comfortable situation in Jackson State where he’d built a 27-5 record over three years, turning around a program that hadn’t seen a winning season in the prior seven years.
The World Cup in the Unlikeliest of Places
Just around the corner looms the world's second biggest sporting event after the Olympics. Outside the United States, it wouldn't be hard to argue the World Cup is even bigger.
Which makes for this year's location choice a true headscratcher. In the words of former FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, the choice of Qatar is a "mistake." The country is dominated by a flat, low lying desert. No Mistake by the Lake (apologies to Cleveland) this one, as the Cup is going to be the driest and hottest in its history. At least they moved it from the summer, when it was initially supposed to be played, in an average of 105 degree heat.
On top of all this, the infrastructure was in no shape to host such an event, leading to a massive building effort on the backs of an army of migrant workers, since the subject of many stories regarding their mistreatment.
I've never had an opportunity to take in a World Cup, but by most accounts it's not clear which warrants the most serious attention by the fans: the games or the festivities and partying. This will be an issue in a country which severely limits locations for drinking.
As with the recent Olympics in regards to China and Russia, Qatar is using the platform to create goodwill and gloss over human rights violations. This international approach to burnish, called sportswashing can only be accomplished with a willing accomplice, and FIFA steps up in this role regularly. The international governing body of soccer has a long documented history of corruption, a major reason why Russia hosted the last World Cup.
Perhaps it's coincidence, but the present FIFA president, Gianni Infantino recently moved his primary residence to Qatar. Gifts can come in all sizes...
New King of Home Runs in Pinstripes
Aaron Judge moved the needle forward on a record that had stood for over sixty years when he belted his 62nd home run in the second to last game of the season.
It’s a record for the American League that has remained in the hands of the New York Yankee franchise since Babe Ruth slugged 60 in 1929. Roger Maris broke Babe’s record with 61 in 1961. It caused an outcry among purists of the game, as the MLB had expanded from 154 to 162 in the very year Maris surpassed the 60 milestone. For years, the record bore an asterisk in the minds of many.
That minor debate took a back seat to the home run record conversation in the National League in the late 90s. Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds all took turns destroying the previous record of 56 home runs set by Hack Wilson of the Chicago Cubs in 1930 (also the year he drove in an unbelievable 191 runs). It didn’t take long to learn that those three established records would forever be tarnished by proven steroid use.
In the meantime, Judge has made many of the right moves to build his game and with class, focus, and other outstanding elements of his game (at 6’7″ he is the best base stealer in history for a player of his size). When he broke the record on October 4th, many of the purists still pointed out that Babe got his record in 154 games, but they still had to concede that Judge tied the Bambino with 15 games left.
Home run chases always call attention to the attendant strikeouts that can hurt a team. That is certainly the case with Judge, who has struggled hitting in the postseason in the aftermath of the end of the season celebration. For a player in the running for the MVP, now is crunch time and an opportunity to see how heavy is the head that wears the crown.
The Bachelorette Meets the NFL
For the NFL, there are seasons within every season and one of those just abruptly ended for many hopeful NFL players and veterans. The 53 player cut down happened across all teams, down from the 70 plus roster that had already been whittled down over the course of the summer.
Like the moment of truth in The Bachelorette, many nervous players can only sit and watch to see if they were worthy enough to receive a “rose” and move on to the the next show/the regular season.
In the NFL, the “Turk” (one of several names for the role) has the unenviable task of delivering the bad news to the players who don’t make the cut. They will either find the player or call him on Cut Down day, then walk him to the head coach’s office for the final meeting, grabbing the playbook on the way. The Turk essentially hands a “not-a-rose” to the unlucky player.
A silver lining is that many of the players who don’t make the cut get an offer to remain on the practice squad, which isn’t a bad gig, and often leads to full time roles with the team. But for most of the others the day marks the end of a lifelong dream, and a final season.
Bill Russell’s 12th Ring
We lost a legend. Bill Russell, who led the Boston Celtics to 11 titles in 13 years, but did so much more, passed away at 88 years old.
I recall as a child my Dad explaining that although Wilt Chamberlain (my favorite player at the time) was phenomenal and would often win the stat battle, Bill Russell would invariably lead his teams to wins.
This leadership flowed into coaching and his efforts off the court to address racism and poverty. The number of people whose lives he changed or provided invaluable direction for is a massive iceberg with just the tip being touched by the articles and stories in the press this past week.
There will never be another one quite like Bill Russell, but his legacy left plenty of inspiration for us and younger generations to live up to.
Broncos Named ESPN's Sports Humanitarian Team of the Year
The Denver Broncos are on a roll. Signing one of the big prizes in the off-season in quarterback Russell Wilson, while filling a number of other needs through the draft and free agency, the club seems poised to rejoin the top ranks of the league after a 5-year hiatus.
It doesn't take much to get the Bronco faithful pumped for a new season, so this year most likely only a deep playoff run will approximate their typically unreasonable expectations.
This year those same fans have something they can truly be proud of regarding their franchise: the ESPN Sports Humanitarian Team of the Year. Only the second NFL franchise to receive the award (it's been in play since 2013), the Broncos beat out a stellar group of finalists to capture the award for the professional team that made the biggest difference in their community.
Fairly amazing that this franchise, which seemed to suffer due to family ownership infighting over the past several years, was still able to keep its eye on the ball for doing things right in the community. The Broncos had been a finalist three times prior, so this was no aberration. Perhaps a lasting legacy of Pat Bowlen and the culture he created many years ago.
Among other things, the Broncos supported the community by:
- Players volunteering more than 900 hours through 745 different engagements
- Launching a gun buyback program in partnership with Denver & Aurora councilmembers and Colorado-based nonprofit RAWTools
- Contributing over $275,000 for Inspire Change programs and initiatives
- Being the only professional sports team to fully fund its own branch of Boys & Girls Clubs of America, giving 14,500+ under-resourced youth a home away from home since 2003
- Supporting 30 local nonprofits via the club's annual Community Grant Program
- Investing in the equity of female youth sports in the Metro Denver area, with an emphasis on launching a girls high school flag football pilot program
- Conducting the Staff Community Service Series, featuring in-person and remote monthly volunteer opportunities for Broncos staff and families
Denver Broncos Sale Hits Ludicrous Speed
The much needed sale of the Denver Broncos finally happened. It was hard not to connect the past several years of struggle for the proud franchise with Pat Bowlen’s decline then passing, as his various family members fought for control.
The sale had a massive $4.65 billion price tag: the most money paid for a U.S. sports franchise, and only a little behind the $5.3 billion sale of Chelsea Football Club.
It’s a stunning amount of money, the kind of figure you might expect a movie villain to throw around.
Rob Walton, of the Wal-Mart family, headed a successful consortium to make the purchase. Plenty of other strong individuals in the group and possibly Peyton Manning also finding a role in the new management structure should provide the start of an interesting new chapter for the Mile High football franchise. And all that new capital can’t hurt.
Meanwhile, the Bowlens can head off into the sunset after nearly 40 years and 3 Super Bowls trophies, benefiting from a mountain of cash that grew from a $78 million investment back in 1984.
Someone Just Blocked Out the Phoenix Suns
A Slovenian cowboy, Luka Doncic, and the Dallas Mavericks improbably sent home the best team in the NBA this past season in a total blow out, 123-90.
Doncic finished the regular season on fire, helping the Mavs secure the fourth seed, and playing at an MVP level. He continued through the playoffs, first routing the Jazz 4-2, then coming back to beat the Suns, 4-3.
In the final game of the Phoenix series, Doncic was unstoppable, putting up 35 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, and two steals in only three quarters. And he does it all with a smile.
The Suns, who had dominated the regular season and looked like the team to beat for the championship, now will face a much longer than expected off-season to think about what could have been. Chris Paul had been a reason for so much of their success, but at 37 it's hard to tell how much he can hold off Father Time's inevitability.
Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see how much the Mavericks will continue to shine as they face a dangerous but banged up and up-and-down Golden State Warriors team for the conference finals.
NFL Quarterbacks Looking for a Fit
Denver Pios Add to their Hardware Collection
MLB Half-Assed Negotiations
NBC Peacock Downhill Ratings Run
Buffalo's New Number for Frustration
Antonio Brown and his Flamethrower
In Antonio Brown's final game with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he removed his jersey and shoulder pads, threw gear into the stands, dashed around the stadium, did some jumping jacks, then disappeared into a tunnel. All mid third-quarter of the second-to-last regular season game against the NY Jets while his team was down by two touchdowns.
Strange behavior indeed, but not completely out of character for one of the most talented players of his generation who has now burned bridges with all his former teams. The Steelers, Raiders, and Patriots have all experienced bizarre actions, verbal abuse, and off-the-field disruptive behavior that led directly to the parting of ways. Now the Bucs in the midst of a potential second Super Bowl run will make that journey without their (arguably) best wide receiver.
We may never truly know what triggered the Brown meltdown, as he claims the team tried to force him to play with an injured ankle (that seemed far from it as he energetically left the field). The Bucs claimed he was upset because he wasn't being thrown to during the game. Additionally, Brown had been on a short leash, playing on an incentive-laden contract; a necessity for any team that signed this talented, yet mercurial individual.
Post striptease, Brown lashed out at the Bucs GM, Coach Arians, and quarterback Tom Brady. Arians had shown significant patience with the temperamental receiver over the past two years, even trying to look past a faked COVID vaccine. Brady was also an interesting target for Brown's ire, as he had once housed Brown during his short stint with the Patriots, and later recruited Brown to the Bucs.
It's clear that Brown's pattern of behavior is enormously difficult to fit into a team environment, and he will likely never see the NFL field again as a player. The football community has responded with reasonable concern for the slightly shifting official story from the Bucs, but they've mostly expressed disappointment for one more head-scratching outburst. There's also been significant concern for Brown's mental well-being, as these self-destructive episodes don't seem to add up.
But take a closer look, and it seems to fit a pattern of how Brown treats people in general. He's had multiple arrests, court dates and other brushes with the law, mostly originating with the horrible treatment of a long list of service providers such as massage therapists, chefs, artists and movers, to name a few. He's settled out of court in nearly every situation.
Soon, Antonio Brown will surely find a public stage to target someone else for more of his bombastic flame-throwing. But the clock may have already stopped ticking for the stage that allowed him for many years to share with the world his undeniable football talents.
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