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Washington can’t treat meaningless Dallas game like exhibition


Before we close the book on 2015 and ring in the new year, it’s time to check off some items on my “TIDU List” – Things I Don’t Understand:


“Rest the starters” sounds good when you’re playoff-bound with only an inconsequential regular-season finale ahead. But Gruden doesn’t have the ability to sit Washington’s first-stringers as if Sunday was the preseason finale. “There are only seven guys we can keep inactive,” he told reporters Wednesday. Besides, he’s wants to keep the momentum going.

Playing the Cowboys offers enough incentive to win, no matter who sits out.


The NYC Council Speaker said she’s “very disturbed” by the Yankees’ acquisition of the All-Star closer under investigation for domestic violence. Melissa Mark-Viverito accused the team of “condoning this kind of violence,” allegations that Chapman assaulted his girlfriend and fired eight gunshots in his garage. The Nationals ended their pursuit in response.

The Yankees are just gracious, willing to build character in a 27-year-old with a 100 mph fastball.


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HGH or not, opinions on Manning should remain unchanged


Being falsely accused can create a visceral feeling unlike any other, an instinctual reaction that roars the very moment untruths about you reach you. I can only imagine how much worse the experience is when you’re a public figure and falsehoods spread across the world in a matter of minutes.

From that day forward, your story includes an unwanted page. Subsequent proof that the allegations were bogus don’t rewind the tape or erase the memory. Over time, some folks grow fuzzy on whether claims were true. Others simply believe they were accurate, no matter how evidence to the contrary was presented.

Then there are those who never believe anything negative about a beloved celebrity. They contend that the women are lying, the police are crooked, the informants are untrustworthy, the prosecutors are biased or the sources have ulterior motives. To true believers, there’s always a good reason to discount damaging charges.

At least until an accused party drops his vehement defense and finally fesses up (see: Lance Armstrong).

The latest case in the court of public opinion is NFL legend Peyton Manning, who vehemently denies an Al Jazeera report that he used human growth hormone as part of his recovery from neck surgery in 2011. According to the weekend report, performance-enhancing drugs have been used by several other athletes, including Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, but combined they don’t have the same cultural impact as an accusation against Manning.

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James Daniel embraces his role as hoops’ little big man


The nation’s leading scorer in NCAA Division I men’s hoops plays in the hotbed affectionately known as “the DMV” (District-Maryland-Virginia), home to nearly a dozen programs in liberal definitions of “Washington area.”

But he doesn’t attend Maryland or Georgetown. He’s not at George Mason, American or George Washington. Stretching the boundaries south to schools like Virginia and Norfolk State, or north to Loyola and Towson, won’t lead you to him, either.

You’ll find junior James “J-Byrd” Daniel III and his 28.4 points-per-game average at Howard University, where coach Kevin Nickelberry recruited him to anchor a major rebuilding project.

Three years later, the Bison are on schedule. Their 16-16 record last season snapped a streak of seven consecutive 20-loss campaigns. Daniel scored a season-low 19 points in Tuesday night’s loss at Central Michigan, but Howard still has a winning mark at 7-6.

“Unfortunately for the last couple of games more of the load has been on James with so many guys out,” Nickelberry said, referring to injured starters James Miller and Marcel Boyd. Opponents can put more focus on Daniel, who scored 39 against William & Mary, 38 against Radford and 30 in the season-opener at UMass.

“It’s probably going to make him a little better,” Nickelberry said. “You watch him and think he’s senior, but he’s just 12 games into his junior year.”

Daniel, a wispy 5-foot-11, 165-pounder from Hampton, Va., made his presence known immediately by leading all Division I freshmen in scoring (21 ppg). His averaged dipped to 16.7 ppg as a sophomore, with his 3-point field-goal percentage falling precipitously, from .394 to .286.

He returned this year determined to improve his pull-up jumper and decision-making on the pick-and-roll. Nickelberry also wanted Daniel to use his speed and help the team play more up-tempo. More importantly, Daniel came back at all, instead of transferring for more publicity at bigger schools that were interested.

“It’s just the bond I have with the coaches and this team, “Daniel said. “I could tell we were going to have a good group if we stick together. I just really felt we could be special.”

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Defensive players deserve protection, too

panthers-giants-footballBy DERON SNYDER

There is no dispute that the NFL employs double standards, inequities that have proven to be quite profitable. They cater to the majority of fans who prefer scintillating offense opposed to suffocating defense. The crowds gathered in stadiums, sports bars and living rooms want to see teams march down the field or cover it in huge chunks, via long, beautiful passes.

Quarterbacks are bubble-wrapped in protective measures to keep them upright and in throwing position. Linemen routinely get away with holding to give passers more time in the pocket. And wide receivers, who can run unencumbered after five yards, have mastered pick plays better than the Philadelphia Sixers.

Defensive players are in the way, bad guys out to spoil our enjoyment of exciting scoring plays. We don’t mind if they put up some resistance but eventually we want points hung on the scoreboard, preferably through highlight-worthy action that’s routine for players like Odell Beckham Jr.

The Giants’ second-year receiver is the youngest player to grace the cover of a Madden video game. It shows him making a spectacular, one-handed grab like the catch against Dallas that vaulted him to national acclaim last season. Beckham has been a huge star ever since, arguably the league’s most marketable non-quarterback. The numbers support his status as a premier target, especially compared to another high-profile receiver in the NFC East.

In 26 career games, Beckham has eclipsed 140 receiving yards nine times; the Cowboys’ Dez Bryant has surpassed 140 yards receiving eight times in 84 career games.

But regardless of Beckham’s – or any offensive star’s – value in attracting eyeballs, the NFL must look after all players’ safety, no matter which side they play. And I’m certain the outcome would’ve been different in Sunday’s New York-Carolina game if Josh Norman hit Beckham in the head instead of vice versa. There would’ve been an ejection.

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Cousins’ progress goes hand-in-hand with Washington’s offense

KirkProgressBuffaloBy DERON SNYDER

LANDOVER, Md. – Prognostications aren’t worth much and you don’t have to be an “expert” to make one. That said, there were a couple of consensus thoughts regarding Washington as the NFL season began.

For starters, the team wasn’t expected to be very good. Most predictions fell between five and six wins. That forecast has proved a bit low after Sunday’s 35-25 victory against Buffalo. Washington improved to 7-7 and maintained its division lead in the NFC East. Shockingly, a win against Philadelphia on Saturday would clinch the title and ensure one more game this season at FedEx Field.

But the other thing most everyone agreed on was the question mark under center. The belief was any success surely would come on the strength of Alfred Morris and Matt Jones running behind an improved line coach by Bill Callahan. When Kirk Cousins supplanted Robert Griffin III at quarterback, conventional wisdom held that the less Washington relied on passing, the better the team would fare.

Nothing positive would result from Cousins throwing 30-plus times per game.

But as things have unfolded, that theory carried less weight than Dallas being a Super Bowl contender. It turns out that Washington can do just fine with Cousins slinging the ball. He threw for his sixth 300-yard game of the season Sunday (surprisingly, a team record), crisply leading the offense to touchdowns on its first three possessions.

“I don’t think anybody ever cringed when he dropped back, except maybe you guys,” defensive back DeAngelo Hall said, refuting a notion that early-season anxiety rose in direct proportion to Cousins’ pass attempts. “We have supreme confidence in him and feel like – with the weapons we have – we can be dangerous.

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Serena Williams worthy choice as SI’s ‘Sportsperson of the Year’


Wearing a black lace leotard and black stilettos, staring into the camera like the boss she is, Serena Williams sits on a throne with her legs to the side, the right one propped on the chair’s arm. That’s the fill-in-the-blank – powerful, provocative, puzzling, perturbing – Sports Illustrated cover photo that announced her as the magazine’s 2015 Sportsperson of the Year.

As with everything concerning Williams, this has caused a stir. End-of-year lists and rankings are natural starting points for conversation and debate. But most of the hullabaloo in this case arises because Williams elicits such strong feelings, positive and negative, among sports fans.

The other factor is SI listed a horse among 12 candidates in online balloting and the thoroughbred ran away with the readers’ vote.

Forty-seven percent of the voters selected Triple Crown-winner American Pharaoh as the one who “embodied the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement this year.” The Kansas City Royals came in second place with 29 percent of the vote, followed by soccer star Lionel Messi in third place with 6 percent of the vote. Williams was next-to-last with less than 1 percent of the vote; only track star Usain Bolt fared worse.

Horse lovers were furious. “Once again, Thoroughbred horse racing has been denied by mainstream sports media,” editor Brian Zipse wrote on the Horse Racing Nation blog. “Despite an overwhelming victory in the fan vote by American Pharaoh, maybe this sad announcement should come as no real surprise.”

What’s sad is the fact we’re having this discussion. American Pharaoh shouldn’t be in the mix for sportsperson of the year any more than, say, J.J. Watt should be a contender for horse of the year.

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Love him or hate him, Newton can’t be ignored … or stopped


Those who dislike Cam Newton have their reasons. His bright-white smile – as flawless as the Carolina Panthers’ 13-0 record – is a good place to start.

Misery loves company and Newton clearly would ruin the best pity party. The quarterback’s effervescence as he runs roughshod over the league gets on some folks’ nerves. If his smile is “fake,” as was infamously alleged in a scouting report ahead of the 2011 draft, Newton should be up for an Oscar as well as the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award.

Then there are his touchdown celebrations. Calling them “dances” would be an injustice. They’re more like elaborate productions, some of which last 12 seconds, seemingly broken into stanzas. Even some fans who don’t have a problem with rump-shaking in the end zone might agree that Newton’s choreography can run a bit too long.

His college days also cause some resentment, especially among rabid fans of the Southeastern Conference, where football is king, emperor and grand pooh-bah. Newton spent two years as a little-used reserve at the University of Florida before allegations of theft accompanied his departure. He later transferred to Auburn University – about 110 miles south of Birmingham, Ala. – where he was investigated for receiving improper benefits but won the 2010 Heisman Trophy and led the Tigers to a national championship in his one and only season there.

At 26, he’s rich and famous, blessed with good looks, light feet and a rocket arm. His bookshelf contains an NFL Rookie of the Year trophy in addition to the Heisman. Talk that he might need room for an MVP trophy apparently is too much for some detractors, leading to a multitude of recent headlines like “Why Cam Newton Isn’t the NFL MVP” (Rolling Stone), “Cam Newton Isn’t the NFL MVP and it’s Not Even Close” (USA Today) and “Cam Newton Should Not be in MVP Discussion” (Sports Illustrated).

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Streak snapped but Warriors leave us wanting more and more


Cleveland guard J.R. Smith is disappointed that the Golden State Warriors finally lost. He wanted them to remain undefeated entering their game against the Cavaliers on Christmas Day. At least he had a reasonable chance. Had Golden State survived the seventh game of a grueling road trip and handled business in three contests at home, Cleveland would’ve rolled into Oracle Arena to face a 28-0 Warriors team.

That was much more probable than my impossible dream scenario for Feb. 3, when Washington hosts the defending NBA champions. Now, after the 108-95 defeat Saturday night at Milwaukee, Golden State’s best record for its lone trip to Verizon Center would be is 47-1.

We knew the streak had to end at some point, most certainly before February. But it was fun to imagine Golden State chasing down the 2012-13 Miami Heat, who won 27 consecutive games, and then the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers, who hold the record with 33 wins in a row. Those milestones have faded from view but the biggie – the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls record of 72 wins in a season – remains a distinct possibility.

Since the NBA limits each team’s’ number of appearances on national TV, maybe some Warriors games can air on the History Channel. The network would enjoy boffo ratings and could justify the decision as part of its mission, arguing that we’ve never seen a phenomenon quite like Steph Curry & Co.

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Players usually hold their truths; evidently, we can’t handle them

APcoachcriticismBy DERON SNYDER

Do we really want athletes and coaches to be candid when microphones are in their face and pens are scribbling every word? Do we detest the tired clichés and canned answers that we hear coming before a question is completed? Do we actually want unfiltered honesty in the participants’ thoughts on what really happened out there?

We talk a good game. But sometimes it seems like Jack Nicholson should channel Colonel Jessup and shout in our face: “You can’t handle the truth!”

Pure veracity can make us uncomfortable, causing us to squirm mentally as process unordinary responses. Conversely, we don’t think twice when hearing the type of replies that Crash Davis gave Nuke LaLoosh in Bull Durham.

“Clichés are your friends,” the veteran told the rookie. “‘We gotta play ‘em one day at time. … ‘I’m just happy to be here; hope I can help the ball club. … I just wanna give it my best shot and, the good Lord willing, things will work out.’”

When LaLoosh complained that the answers are boring, Davis said “that’s the point.”

Seeing little upside in going off-script, most athletes stay within the safety zone of mundane comments. When a few do venture out, they rarely point a finger at the strategists, leaving that time-honored practice to fans and media. But a pair of star halfbacks – the Minnesota Vikings’ Adrian Peterson and Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott – broke that taboo recently, giving all of us something to talk about.

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Monday Night Football further reveals a crowded, lousy NFC East


LANDOVER, Md. – The majority of Monday night’s football game between Dallas and Washington, was a microcosm of a few well-established themes.

The home team continued to struggle attempting to play well in back-to-back games. The visitors continued to look lost with their star quarterback nursing a broken collar bone. The officials continued to make themselves a way-too-visible part of the game.

And the NFC East continued to resemble an ugly pile-up involving four dilapidated jalopies on a highway full of potholes.

Then the fourth quarter began and something that resembled a good, exciting football game emerged.  The late flurry of action resulted in a lead change, a tie, another lead change, a tie with 44 seconds remaining and finally – unfortunately for the hosts  – one last lead change with nine seconds left.

Dan Bailey’s 54-yard field goal gave Dallas a 19-16 victory, costing Washington an opportunity at sole possession of first place in the NFL’s sorriest division.

The contest ended the way it felt for most of the evening, a downer. Fans were worked up entering the game, a nationally-televised matchup against the hated rival, with much at stake for a change. But the product was buzzkill for three quarters, reminding everyone that these teams, like their division mates, are far from must-see TV.

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