As we approach the end of 2020, and have two editions left before 2021, thoughts of reflection have dominated my brain lately.
I’ll leave on a motivational note next week during our final chat of 2020. This week, I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge why this might have to be one of your most special holiday seasons. For all we’ve endured during this pandemic-stricken 2020, we’re all survivors. When you sit down to eat that holiday dinner, you are blessed to be among family and friends.
For sports fans, we lost many greats this year. And rather than dwell on some of our sports heroes being called home, I thought I’d share why I’m thankful for a few specific sports legends who have gone to the big stadium in the sky.
This is an NFL column, so I’ll start with a couple of pro football legends.
I never got to see Gale Sayers play football; I was too young. My introduction to the Kansas Comet was in elementary school. Us 1970s school kids might all agree Brian’s Song was the first sports movie that made us cry. The story of cancer-stricken Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo, whose friendship with Sayers sparked friendship via racial integration, then loyalty, and also healing – all behind the common love for football. Until Brian Piccolo died June 16, 1970.
On Sept. 23, Gale Sayers died at 77.
The first NFL game I ever attended was Sept. 19, 1982. I was living in Plantation, Florida, in the same housing development of Steve Crosby, the special teams coach of the Miami Dolphins at the time. Crosby gave me two tickets to see the Dolphins, who beat the Baltimore Colts, 24-20, in the original Orange Bowl. Don Shula was the coach, and I still have the autographed picture he signed for me after that game. By the way, per Stathead.com, the Dolphins were 239-179-5 ATS under his watch.
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) December 22, 2020
On May 4, Don Shula died at 90.
I wrote about this on Oct. 14 in an entire column, so a short mention about an era then-MLB commissioner admonished anything with a scent of Las Vegas, Cincinnati Reds stars Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench had too much love and loyalty to stay away. I still have my childhood autographed pictures from both.
On Oct. 11, Joe Morgan died at 77.
Growing up in Las Vegas in the 1970s, the Convention Center Rotunda usually meant two things when it came to basketball: UNLV Runnin’ Rebels and the Harlem Globetrotters. Those were games I look forwarded to throughout the year. And as much as I enjoyed watching the UNLV’s Hardway Eight of the late 70s, I have to believe my favorite moment inside the spaceship-looking arena was when Fred Neal roamed the concourse and interacted with fans – during the game. Here I am walking from the concession stand, and the king of circus dribbling on his knees, Curly Neal, stopped for some passing drills with me with fans gathered around. Very cool moment.
On March 26, Curly Neal died at 77.
Vikings at Saints, Total 51.5: The Saints have gone over in 9 of 14, including 5 of 7 at home. Minnesota is also 9-5 over this season. Shootout on Christmas. OVER
Browns -9.5 at Jets: Suddenly, the AFC North is up for grabs. With two games left, the Steelers mired in a three-game skid and facing the Colts this week, Cleveland could be tied for the division lead Sunday night. No stopping Baker and the boys. BROWNS
Giants at Ravens -11: Baltimore won’t be contending for the AFC North, that’s a longshot. But it is most certainly in the hunt for a playoff berth and should be able to take advantage of a New York team that has been outscored 46-13 the last two weeks. RAVENS
Falcons at Chiefs, Total 53.5: Five of Kansas City’s last six home games vs. NFC teams have gone over, going back to the 2017 season. Four of Atlanta’s last six trips to AFC stadiums have gone high. The Falcons need to keep up in what will be a shootout. OVER
Eagles at Cowboys +2: I’m not sure what’s gotten into the ‘Boys, but they’ve won two straight with an inspired offense. Dallas has also won its last two at home against the Green Birds. Staying out of the NFC East cellar is at stake. Live ‘dog. COWBOYS
Bills -7 at Patriots: I’d normally be skeptical here, considering Buffalo clinched the division. But a couple of factors here, as the Bills are now holding off the struggling Steelers for the No. 2 seed, and, it’s a hated rival. A chance to crush New England on national TV? I’ll lay it. BILLS
Last week: 4-2