Cassel, the Patriots’ franchise player? Is Gisele down with that?

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On tonight’s edition of “Inside the NFL” on Showtime (9 p.m.), there’s a look back at the 2008 season that includes a retrospective of those who’ve passed away (Gene Upshaw, Georgia Frontiere and Sammy Baugh, for example), Warren Sapp opining about why the Tampa Bay Bucs floundered at the end and missed the playoffs, and Phil Simms and Cris Collinsworth matching wits about the Dallas Cowboys’ choke job.

Then there’s a look ahead as to what may happen in 2009.

Such as, could Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel, the former Chatsworth High and USC player who’s now an unrestricted free agent after leading the team to an 11-5 record, end up playing for the New York Jets?

Mike Lombardi, the “Inside” insider, has it figured out this way: “The Patriots are way to smart, and I’ve talked to people in the organization. They are going to franchise Matt Cassel. He’s an asset and they can control their ability to trade him if they franchise him.”

What would a franchise tag (explanation linked here) mean for Cassel? Ron Borges of the Boston Herald writes (linked here) that Cassel would be smart to take the Patriots’ offer if given a franchise-tag opportunity — and, with Tom Brady coming back, probably become the most expensive guy standing back on the sidelines, staying injury free.

The topic comes up after there’s speculation about what the Jets do if Brett Favre walks away.

“The Jets’ quarterback of the future is no where to be found,” says Lombardi. “And that is what makes the Jets’ job not very attractive for potential coaches. Remember with all these jobs opening, the teams have to recruit the coaches as much as the coaches have to recruit the teams.”

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Charles Barkley poses for a new booking photo

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Yup, this one’s a keeper.

It’s from the Gilbert, Ariz., po-lice station, after the TNT analyst couldn’t yammer his way out of a drunken driving charge. He was pulled over in Scottsdale’s Old Town area for running a stop sign at 1:30 a.m. and then failed a sobriety test, gave some blood and was let go … read more about it here (linked here).

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Compare the photo he took early this morning to the one he posed for in 1997, when he was arrested in Orlando, Fla., and charged with hurling a bar patron through a glass window after the man tossed a glass of ice at him. The case was settled after Barkley was fined and performed community service.

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‘Doc’ Emrick needs no second opinion: He’ll watch NHL game from Wrigley on TV like the rest of us

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Mike “Doc” Emick visited his own doctor today, and they agreed — laryngitis will prevent the Hall of Fame broadcaster from doing the play-by-play for NBC on Thursday’s outdoor NHL telecast betweeen the Blackhawks and Red Wings from Wrigley Field.

It’s in Chicago. So call it the Curse of the Silly Throat.

Instead, Dave Strader, the play-by-play man for the Phoenix Coyotes who does regional NHL games for NBC, will fill in on the telecast (Thursday, Channel 4, 10 a.m.)

“Last year’s game (Pittsburgh vs. Buffalo at Ralph Wilson Field) was a lifetime memory and I couldn’t wait to call this year’s game at Wrigely,” said Emrick in a statement released by NBC. “I’m extremely disappointed but I know Dave will do a wonderful job.”

Hold on: Emrick can’t talk. So how did he issue that statement?

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They ain’t Eubanks and Edwards

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Not that this will matter much to the Southern California TV viewers who’ll automatically look first for Bill Welsh on KTTV-Channel 11 before tuning into the usual coverage of the Rose Parade on KTLA-Channel 5, watching Bob Eubanks and … wait, Stephanie Edwards is back? … call all pedal-by-pedal action.

(It starts at 6 a.m. with the “Backstage” show, followed at 7 a.m. by the “Countdown,” then the actual live parade at 8 a.m, replayed at 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 3 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., or more times than “Everybody Hates Chris”)

But ABC (via KABC Channel 7) is also covering the floating festival prelude to the USC-Penn State football game. Live as well, starting at 8 a.m.

Hosted by …

Hannah Storm and Josh Elliot. Yes, the Barbie and Ken weekday morning “SportsCenter” anchors. Recruited to banter, albeit mostly scripted, on what kind of mums have been used to create the rosy cheeks on the toy soldiers’ faces, or how that’s real steam coming out of that fire engine (!), or why Monty Montana was thrown off his stallion again at the corner of Colorado and (fill in the blank).

Why this pair of broadcasters? Because … Robin Roberts and Ted McGinley weren’t available?

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Taking another leap of faith

We admit to watching Robbie Maddison try to break his neck on ESPN on last year’s New Year’s Eve TV programming. He didn’t, and we were OK with that.

Still, ESPN knows a good party buzz device when it can profit from it.

The next edition of the “Red Bull: No Limits” stunt tour takes place Wednesday night when Maddison again tries another crazy jump on his motorcycle, plus Rhys Millen tries to do something that he couldn’t last year.

After the warmed-over Chick-Fil-A-Bowl on ESPN — at about 8 p.m. our time — Joe Tessitore will come on live from Las Vegas to introduce this latest stunt stint.

Last year, Maddison jumped the length of a football field — 322 feet, 7.5 inches — in the parking lot of the Rio hotel. This year, he’s going to try to go more than 120 feet high and land on top of the 96-foot Arc de Triomphe replica in front of the Paris Las Vegas Hotel. He’ll then freefall 50 feet off the Arc to a ramp.

Then he’ll live to tell about it.

“I had some doubts last year whether or not I could jump a football field,” said Maddison in an ESPN press release. “But as I practiced, I got more and more confident and realized I could pull it off, and I did, twice. This year, the doubts are way bigger; the jump has never been done before, but I’m confident in my ability and I believe that as I start training, the dream that seems impossible will become a reality.”

Millen is going to try to do a back flip off an off-road truck that’s traveling a distance of 80 feet. He overshot his landing last year, injuring himself and had to pull out of the event.

“Last year we attempted what was before then thought impossible,” said Millen. “Laws of physics and vehicle dynamics were pushed to the limits with success, but failure came in one small miscalculation. My body can be broken but my mind cannot. This year, people will witness the first ramp to ramp back flip in an off-road truck – ever!”

In 2007, ESPN’s New Year’s 90-minute telecast did a 3.7 rating for more than 5 million viewers. More info: www.redbullnewyearnolimits.com.

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Fox outdukes (fill in competition) for NFL braggadociosness

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Whether or not Howie Long believes Terry Bradshaw is a true scumbag — and we have no empirical data to back it up, except for this rant (at this link) — Fox’s NFL pregame show, as well as the games it carried on its network, ended up beating the competition in 2008.

The fast national ratings released today by Nielsen indicate that for the second year in a row, Fox was No. 1 in game coverage with a 10.5 rating and 22 share, beating NBC’s Sunday night prime-time games (10.2/16), CBS’ head-to-head competition (10.0/21) and ESPN’s Monday night games (7.6/12). Fox notes that prior to last season, no Sunday afternoon NFL broadcaster had ever beaten the prime-time broadcast package since its inception in 1970.

As for the Sunday pregame shows, Fox did a 3.3/8, its best mark in three seasons, while CBS’ “The NFL Today” did a 2.7/7.

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How about nixing the nickname game

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The Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have a new nickname, and added some spice to their disagreement with Tennessee’s running back tandem of LenDale White and Chris Johnson.

After rushing for 178 yards and breaking the Panthers’ single-season rushing record with 1,515 yards in a 33-31 win over New Orleans on Sunday, Williams announced he had created a Web site linked here, that solved the controversy over who owned the “Smash and Dash” nickname.

The site reveals the new name for Williams and Stewart: “Double Trouble.” But not before taking plenty of jabs at White, who had insisted Williams and Stewart had stolen their moniker.

The dispute over who should be called “Smash and Dash” comes as all four backs have helped their teams to the top of the standings. Williams and Stewart have combined for 2,351 yards rushing and 28 touchdowns for the Panthers (12-4), who are the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. White and Johnson have rushed for 2,001 yards and 24 TDs for the Titans (13-3), the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

Continue reading

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The Cuban New Media Plan doesn’t dance around the fact your newspaper’s local coverage is suffering

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If there wasn’t some way that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban couldn’t benefit from having better newspaper coverage of his team, we doubt he’d have come up with this “co-op” plan that he’s put forward in a recent blog entry (linked here), which we thank the Sports Business Daily to alerting us to about a week after the fact.

Yet, we’ll hear him out. We’ve always been impressed with his forward thinking on most subjects, and his aggressive approaching to fixing things that are broken.

Cuban’s correct assertion is that, “despite the huge volume of sports coverage (on the Internet), the local coverage of teams for the most part sucks.”

Because, in Cuban’s words, “newspapers are pushing themselves to the point of irrelevancy,” a new plan is needed. His shot in the dark: Start a company that pays writers to cover the teams, for the local newspapers, funded by the franchises.

“I know this is in violation of all previous principles of editorial church and state,” he says, “but then again, watching papers going out of business and not even being able to give themselves away means its time to start a new branch of that church. Having the world of professional sports realize the value of locally created content, available in an offline format, might just be a proactive step that saves us a lot of money in the long run
At worst, its a starting point for discussion.”

Dang it, he’s got a point there.

He also rightly points out that “the same problems that are trashing newspaper profitability are creeping up on websites. To have any dependency on independent websites for coverage of our leagues and teams, could turn into a big problem for us if the blogs and websites we think help us, disappear.”

For more of his plan in full, plus reader comments, plus Cuban’s response to some of those comments, click on that link above and just hope there’s no insider trading secrets revealed here.

One reader comment already: “Still, it’s like telling a man who’s falling 140 mph to earth to flap his arms.”

We’re still flapping.

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L.A.’s NFL TV playoffs opening weekend: Dallas must start the next week against Favre, right?

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The Falcons are in the playoffs? And the Cardinals? Against each other?

But not the Cowboys? Or the Patriots? Or the Bears? Or Brett Favre?

Or a team from L.A.?

And Tiki Barber is now a sideline reporter? Is this to get him ready to hype up a Titans-Panthers Super Bowl in February?

We can’t answer most of those things. Yet, if you’ve just crawled out from a cave and it seems as if the balance of power may not have shifted in the NFL, it’s definitely been thrown for a network loop.

The postseason begins on NBC on Saturday with this TV lineup:

SATURDAY:

==1:30 p.m., Channel 4: Atlanta at Arizona (with Tom Hammond, Cris Collinsworth and Tiki Barber on the sidelines)
==5 p.m., Channel 4: Indianapolis at San Diego (with Al Michaels, John Madden and Andrea Kremer)

SUNDAY:
==10 a.m., Channel 2: Baltimore at Miami (with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms)
==1:30 p.m., Channel 11: Philadelphia at Minnesota (with Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and Pam Oliver)

Moving ahead:

Saturday, January 10:
==1:30 p.m., Channel 2: Baltimore, San Diego or Indianapolis at Tennessee
==5:15 p.m., Channel 11: Arizona, Atlanta or Minnesota at Carolina

Sunday, January 11:
==10 a.m., Channel 11: Arizona, Atlanta or Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants
==1:45 p.m., Channel 2: Miami, San Diego or Indianapolis at Pittsburgh

Sunday, January 18:
==Noon, Channel 11: NFC championship
==3:30 p.m., Channel 2: AFC championship

Sunday, February 1:
==3 p.m., Channel 4: Super Bowl XLIII from Tampa, Fla.

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College football bowl TV lineup: Part III

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If all we had was this week’s of bowl games, give or take three, we’d be fine.

New Year’s Day can’t get here quick enough. A few more hurdles to overcome before we get there.

Meanwhile, we plod ahead with:

TODAY:

== Noon, ESPN and ESPN360.com: Papajohns.com Bowl from Birmingham, Ala.: Rutgers vs. North Carolina State (with Eric Collins and Shaun King)
Official bowl site linked here.
Comment: Used to be called the Birmingham Bowl. Now, the kids all know it as the place to order on-line pizza. That’s thinking outside the bun.

== 5 p.m., ESPN and ESPN360.com: Alamo Bowl from San Antonio: No. 23 Northwestern (9-3) vs. No. 21 Missouri (9-4) (with Ron Franklin, Ed Cunningham and Jack Arute)
Official bowl site linked here.
Comment: We flash back to the 2005 Alamo Bowl, which ended with a multi-lateral play by Michigan that no one seemed to pay much attention to, as players from the Wolverines’ sideline, as well as the Nebraska sideline, came onto the field before it was all blown dead.

TUESDAY:

== 1:30 p.m., ESPN and ESPN360.com: Humanitarian Bowl from Boise, Idaho: Nevada vs. Maryland (with Bob Wischusen and Brock Huard)
Official bowl site linked here.
Comment: The true humanitian thing to do would be eliminate this thing. Boise State had to go undefeated to avoid having to play in this one again.

== 5 p.m., NFL Network: Texas Bowl from Houston: Western Michigan vs. Rice (with Fran Charles, Tom Waddle and Kara Henderson)
Official bowl site linked here.
Comment: Both teams finished 9-3. We’re just not sure how.

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== 5 p.m., ESPN and ESPN360.com: Holiday Bowl from Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego: No. 17 Oregon (9-3) vs. No. 13 Oklahoma State (9-3) (with Chris Fowler, Jesse Palmer, Craig James and Erin Andrews)
Official bowl site linked here.
Comment: Oregon was going to this game whether or not it defeated Oregon State in its season finale. But the Ducks did beat the Beavers, knocking them out of the Rose Bowl and costing the Pac-10 conference millions of extra dollars it could have split by having two teams in the BCS (since USC would have instead gone to the Fiesta). After creating that ugly situation, we wonder what ugly uniform Oregon will pick to celebrate the occasion.

WEDNESDAY:

== 9 a.m., ESPN and ESPN360.com: Armed Forces Bowl from Fort Worth, Tex.: Houston vs. Air Force (with Terry Gannon and David Norrie)
Official bowl site linked here.
Comment: Air Force already beat Houston, 31-28, back in Dallas in September. A repeat performance? We can only hope.

== 11 a.m., Channel 2 and CBSSports.com: Sun Bowl from El Paso, Tex.: Oregon State vs. No. 20 Pittsburgh (9-3) (with Verne Lundquist, Gary Danielson and Tracy Wolfson)
Official bowl site linked here.
Comment: This is the Sun Bowl’s 75th anniversary. Which counts the years when it was known as the Hancock Bowl. We kid you not: The Village People are performing at halftime. Don’t wander away from the TV set.

== 12:30 p.m., ESPN and ESPN360.com: Music City Bowl from Nashville, Tenn.: Vanderbilt vs. No. 24 Boston College (9-4) (with Mark Jones, Bob Davie and Todd Harris)
Official bowl site linked here.
Comment: Basically a home game for Vandy, against an Eagles squad that was one win away from a BCS trip. So close, and so far. It couldn’t have held out for the Hawaii Bowl instead?

== 2:30 p.m., NFL Network: Insight Bowl from Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz.: Kansas vs. Minnesota (with Paul Burmeister, Mike Mayock and Lindsay Soto)
Official bowl site linked here.
Comment: When did this get switched from being played on the Arizona Diamondbacks’ home field? There could be worse places to spend a New Year’s Eve.

== 4:30 p.m., ESPN and ESPN360.com: Chick-fil-A Bowl from Atlanta’s Georgia Dome: LSU vs. No. 14 Georgia Tech (9-3) (with Brad Nessler, Bob Griese, Paul Maguire and Jack Arute)
Official bowl site linked here.
Comment: The official site still refers to itself as the Peach Bowl. But the fast-food joint that offers chicken sandwiches owns the official name. Can I get a peach smoothie with that nugget express, please?

THURSDAY, NEW YEAR’S DAY

== 8 a.m., ESPN and ESPN360.com: Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla.: Iowa vs. South Carolina (with Sean McDonough, Chris Spielman and Rob Stone)
Official bowl site linked here.
Comment: The former Hall of Fame Bowl based in Birmingham, Ala., it moved to Tampa and became the first bowl in that city since the — we’re not making this up — Cigar Bowl from 1947-1954. Now, known for its bloomin’ halftime show.

== 10 a.m., Channel 7 and ESPN360.com: Capital One Bowl in Orlando’s Citrus Bowl: No. 15 Georgia (9-3) vs. No. 18 Michigan State (9-3) (with Mike Patrick, Todd Blackledge and Holly Rowe)
Official bowl site linked here.
Comment: The former Tangerine Bowl is still trying to be the fifth BCS game, but can’t come up with a stadium big enough. Maybe someday it’ll have the juice behind it.

== 10 a.m., Channel 2 and CBSSports.com: Gator Bowl from Jacksonville, Fla.: Clemson vs. Nebraska (with Craig Bolerjack, Steve Beuerlein and Dan Fouts)
Official bowl site linked here.
Comment: The Gator Bowl Mission Statement: To provide Northeast Florida with the very best in college athletics and related activities in order to maximize positive impact on the area’s economy, national image and community pride. Then why bring Nebraska and Clemson into this situation?

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== 2 p.m., Channel 7: Rose Bowl in Pasadena: No. 5 USC (11-1) vs. No. 8 Penn State (11-1) (with Brent Musburger, Kirk Herbstreit and Lisa Salters; on ESPNRadio with Mike Tirico, David Norre and Erin Andrews, who is made for radio)
Official bowl site linked here.
Comment: It’s Game No. 95 for Pasadena. And we think USC has been in at least 92 of ‘em.

== 5 p.m., Channel 11: Orange Bowl in Miami: No. 19 Virginia Tech (9-4) vs. No. 12 Cincinnati (11-2) (with Thom Brennaman, Charles Davis and Chris Myers)
Official bowl site linked here.
Comment: Gotta admit, we have not seen the Bearcats play one game all season. Is Bob Huggins still the head coach?

FRIDAY

== 11 a.m., Channel 11: Cotton Bowl in Dallas: No. 7 Texas Tech (11-1) vs. No. 25 Mississippi (8-4) (with Pat Summerall, Brian Baldinger, Jeanne Zelasko and Krista Voda)
Official bowl site linked here.
Comment: Tech fans are still grumbling that Graham Harrell wasn’t given an official invite to this game. Local Fox viewers will have to wait until Monday to get their fix of “Mike & Juliet,” “Cops” and “The Tyra Banks Show.”

== 2 p.m., ESPN and ESPN360.com: Liberty Bowl from Memphis, Tenn.: Kentucky vs. East Carolina (with Mark Jones, Bob Davie and Todd Harris)
Official bowl site linked here.
Comment: Can you name the game’s official sponsor? If you said Autozone, you know way too much about this.

==5 p.m., Channel 11: Sugar Bowl from New Orleans: No. 6 Utah (12-0) vs. No. 4 Alabama (12-1) (with Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Chris Myers and Charissa Thompson).
Official bowl site linked here.
Comment: Do the Utes deserve to be here? Ask us after the first quarter, when they’ll be reconsidering why they turned down a bid for the Weedeater Bowl.

SATURDAY

== 9 a.m, ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: International Bowl from Toronto: Buffalo vs. Connecticut (with John Saunders, Jesse Palmer and Doug Flutie)
Official bowl site linked here.
Comment: Didn’t Buffalo already playing a game in Toronto this year ruffle some feathers in the NFL? Turner Gill gets some air time in his campaign to coach a more higher-profile squad down the road.

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