Play it Forward: Nov. 19-25

Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:

THIS WEEK’S BEST BET

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: USC vs. Notre Dame, Coliseum, 5 p.m., Channel 7; UCLA vs. Stanford, Rose Bowl, 3:30 p.m., Channel 11:

Brand protection is what’s really at stake for the 84th edition of the USC-Notre Dame rivalry. The Trojans’ image in the community has taken a shot following Saturday’s humbling loss to UCLA in the Rose Bowl where Matt Barkley left with his right arm in a sling. The Trojans’ third loss in four games is a free-fall from the No. 1 spot they had in the AP poll when the season started. That’s the spot where Notre Dame currently sits, thanks to an 11-0 record coming into this game, leading the BCS standings for the first time since the thing was created in 1998.

USC has previously spoiled Notre Dame’s undefeated chances in the final game of the season in 1938, ’64, ’70 and ’80. But  No. 1 Notre Dame’s 27-10 win over the No. 2 Trojans paved the way to the Irish’s last championship, after a win over West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl.

Barkley has already been ruled out for this one because of his shoulder injury, but the great subplot is the evolution of Irish senior linebacker Manti Te’o, who was USC bound coming out of high school until he changed his mind and picked the Irish. Now, he’ll play his final regular-season game at the Coliseum. “There is no next week,” Te’o said after the Irish beat Wake Forest on Saturday. “It’s USC. There is no game after that. If we take care of USC, we’ll be fine. The USC-Notre Dame game is always a battle. So we understand that and we’re going to prepare the way we know how.” Irish coach Brian Kelly said he thought Te’o “should win the Heisman Trophy, provided we continue to win.” USC has won nine of the last 10 meetings, but the ’05 “Bush Push” victory had to be vacated. The last time Notre Dame came to the Coliseum ranked in the Top 10 was at No. 6 in 2006, but the No. 2 Trojans won, 44-24.

Meanwhile, across town, UCLABruins.com had a new home page posted Sunday, as well as a strange situation – it could be playing Stanford twice in six days. Bruins freshman quarterback Brett Hundley admitted that “when the season started, obviously nobody thought we were going to do what we’re doing now.”  That was after he completed 22 of 30 passes in a 10-point win over USC to clinch the Pac-12 South Division title. Not many thought the Cardinal would be in the driver’s seat to win the Pac-12 North Division at this point, either. If they are to play each other in Palo Alto on Nov. 30 for the Pac-12 championship, it likely means the Cardinal has to win this meeting – unless Oregon loses to Oregon State.  If Oregon wins and UCLA beats Stanford, the Ducks would host the Bruins. If there’s a three-way tie for the North title (involving OSU), Stanford would advance to the conference title game played at UCLA, for the right to go to the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl. Make sense?

THE BEST OF THE REST ….

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Five things we learned from USC-UCLA Version 2012

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1. A cream-filled Twinkie defense and a ho-hum Ho-Hos offense does not produce a ding donging of the Victory Bell. But here’s the zinger: Lane Kiffin, still willing to fall on the sword for his team’s shortcomings, admitted afterward that he’s been told by athletic director Pat Haden that no matter how this season ends, he’ll be coming back.

“Absolutely,” Haden told us in a text message Saturday night. “He is our coach.”

Seriously, was he using a smart phone when he sent that reply?

So, no liquidation. No Laker-type drama. But no guarantee that means old man Monte is part of that deal.

It won’t stop any kind of internet speculation on who eventually Haden brings in as “his guy” once the alums are fed up with number-switching, injury-hiding, ball-deflating and any other media angst that goes along with it.

No matter if you’re craving Mike Belliotti or Ed Orgeron, Jack Del Rio or Jeff Fisher, Dirk Koetter or Bobby Petrino, Jim Tressel or Jon Gruden, Andy Reid or . . . Rick Neuheisel? Sorry. The spot is filled.

Just remember the scene at the end of the game: UCLA fans happily held up their flip phones in the stands at the Rose Bowl to snap pictures of the celebration on the field. USC fans looked down at their 5G iPhones in search for Yelp reviews on where to find the best hotel package deals in El Paso.

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A little rain, a sword-in-the-sod photo-op, and a USC-UCLA tailgate happens …

Staff photo by Hans Gutknecht

Clint Hamblin said he went to Lowe’s, bought a chunk of sod for $3.50, flung it over his shoulder, had his fiancé, Kara, spray paint the UCLA script logo into it, and then tacked it to a piece of plywood.

His friend, Aaron Brink, supplied the finishing touch. Since he recently went out dressed as Prince Charming for Halloween, he happened to have a plastic sword with a gold handle laying around.

Once Brink’s sword blade was planted into Hamblin’s fresh blades of grass, it became a photo op and talking point for those passing by their tailgate party early Saturday morning, hours before the USC-UCLA kickoff at the Rose Bowl.

“The whole thing is stupid,” said Hamblin, a Sun Valley resident, referring to a pre-game storyline that involved UCLA nixing the USC tradition of allowing its Trojan-clad band major punctuate the opening festivities by sticking his sword into the midfield grass to incite the roar of the crowd.

“I love that the Notre Dame people came to USC’s defense. USC even stabs its own logo. It’s not disruptive.”

Added Brink, a Burbank resident and USC grad: “If they won’t let our band do it, then we’ll do it.”

If most UCLA fans walking by the display had a good laugh about it, at least a couple tried to swipe the sword when no one was looking.

“That’s not going to happen,” said Hamlin, head of security at Campbell Hall School in Studio City. He also pointed over to his brother, Doug, a Pasadena police office patrolling the grounds.

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Weekly sports media column version 11.16.12

What’s included in this week’s sports media column:

The Jack Baric “A City Divided” documentary on the USC-UCLA rivalry may not be seen again this week – it debuted Monday – but there’s more planned for it starting next season. There’s also a condensed version of the blog post about the new Michael McKnight book “Intercepted” on Darryl Henley.

And we also had more on the dish putting a fork in it: DirecTV signing with Time Warner Cable to carry the SportsNet/Deportes channels.

What could have been but wasn’t:

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DirecTV-TWC SportsNet deal done — but why so long?

Perhaps it was a coincidence that the Lakers introduced new head coach Mike D’Antoni at a press conference this afternoon at the same time the announcement came across that DirecTV would finally come on board with the new Time Warner Cable SportsNet and Deportes.

Or maybe not.

But why it took DirecTV, which has nearly 2 million subscribers in Southern California, all of October and half of November to reach the agreement — after cable operators such as Charter and Cox and telco companies like Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse came aboard — is a matter of frustration and scrutiny among its customers, or even former customers who have since switched providers out of panic.

Regardless, DirecTV launched TWC SportsNet on Channel 691 this afternoon — right next to the FSW and Prime Ticket channels, covering the D’Antoni press conference — and the Spanish-language Deportes on Channel 458. Both are in time for the Lakers’ game Friday against Phoenix. D’Antoni says he will coach his first game for the Lakers on Sunday from Staples Center against Houston.

Sources at both DirecTV and TWC refused to elaborate on the terms agreed upon or provide any background on the talks after weeks of somewhat sniping in the media as to why each stood by their principles, accusing the other of things such as price gouging or hypocritical business practices.

“I don’t think it was really about the coaching change, because the die was cast over the summer when the team got Dwight Howard and Steve Nash — this isn’t a knee-jerk reaction,” said Ed Desser, the president of Desser Sports Media in Santa Monica who negotiated the Lakers’ 20-year, $3.6 billion deal with TWC nearly two years ago.

“The coaching news may have reminded everyone just how high-profile this team is. It’s an indication of the power and importance this team has in this market.”

DirecTV chief content officer Dan York said only this of why the deal finally happened: “We appreciate our customers’ patience and are happy to have arrived at an outcome that benefits everyone involved. We know that our customers will enjoy the great programming of these three franchises for many years to come.” Continue reading

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Why the new book on former UCLA star Darryl Henley is called “Intercepted” instead of “The Best and the Brightest”

The recently-released 511-page book “Intercepted: The Rise and Fall of NFL cornerback Darryl Henley (University of Nebraska Press),” the product of years of research by contributing Sports Illustrated writer Michael McKnight, is far from light reading if you’re looking for some more context to the  USC-UCLA rivalry game.

Yet it’s a powerful “fall from grace” page-turner for anyone still trying to put the pieces together on how the former Bruins All-American defensive back continues to serve a 41-year sentence at the low security federal prison in Seagoville, Texas, with no possibility of parole, after a conviction for cocaine trafficking, heroin dealing and a double murder plot that included the assassination of a federal judge and a witness in his case.

Henley, considered with Deion Sanders to be the best cornerbacks in the nation in 1988, was picked by the John Robinson-coached L.A. Rams in the second round of the 1989 draft.

With a four-year, $1.2 million deal, he was the team’s defensive rookie of the year, a starter for four years . . .

Then, craziness.

Long Beach Press Telegram columnist and former L.A. Herald Examiner UCLA beat writer Bob Keisser is quoted in the book: “When I think of Darryl Henley, I don’t think of everything they said about him in the mid-nineties. I think of an 18 year old kid with braces who always had a lollipop in his mouth, running around laughing.”

McKnight’s interviews include former UCLA teammates Karl Dorrell and James Washington, as well as Chris Hale, the former USC cornerback and Henley’s childhood friend from Duarte (Henley graduated from the private Catholic school Damien High).

There’s a brief mention of the 1988 USC-UCLA game, with the Rose Bowl on the line for both the No. 2 Trojans and No. 6 Bruins and best remembered as the contest where USC’s Rodney Peete lead his team to victory after recovering from the measles.

McKnight writes that Henley played “one of his more forgettable games” as Hale “played the game of his life” – including a hit on Henley on a punt return that forced a critical fumble. Fans of that game may remember Henley trying to hand the ball off to teammate Marcus Turner after he caught the punt in the fourth quarter, a turning point in the Trojans’ 31-22 victory. Henley was also deked out of a tackle on a second-quarter touchdown route by USC receiver Erik Affholter.

Most of the this book, of course, is devoted to the converging storylines that led up to Henley’s 1995 legal spiral, where he was once represented by Roger Cossack, the current ESPN legal expert analysis.

McKnight said he began working on the book in January, 2003 and “peeling open a 10-year-old drug trafficking conspiracy, with multiple characters involved, was an uphill climb.”

He knows of so many people who remember Henley as the friendly kid at UCLA rather than the one who got in way over his head.

“That’s why this story is so compelling,” said McKnight. “Darryl isn’t from South Central. He didn’t grow up around this stuff – which is what most folks assume about him.

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Coming Friday: How a “City Divided” by USC, UCLA can be united by a documentary, and cancer research awareness

Former UCLA quarterback and longtime radio analyst Matt Stevens tells his story above about being a cancer survivor and the importance of how Rivals United for a Kure in the days leading up the USC-UCLA football game can help raise money for under-funded cancer research projects.

More information: www.rivalsunitedforakure.org, as donations are being accepted on behalf of USC and UCLA campaigns, trying to see which school can raise the most money that will be used by each schools cancer research centers.

One of those who benefitted from the research: Samuel Godsey, who has fought a rare form of tissue cancer since the age of four:

The documentary “A City Divided,” spearheaded by USC grad Jack Baric, made its debut on Monday before a fundraising gala of Trojans and Bruins, provided a common bond to explain how the city, while united most of year, can enjoy the experience of taking sides for one day every fall when the two football teams renew their rivalry.

More on “A City Divided” coming in Friday’s column. Until then, check out the trailer for the film:

 

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Five things we learned this past weekend: Nov. 9-11

Lakers interim head coach Bernie Bickerstaff argues a call during Sunday’s game against Sacramento at Staples Center. (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

Just a little help staying ahead of the sports world learning curve heading back into the work week:

1. So Phil Jackson can do home games, Mike D’Antoni is cool with the roadies, Mike Dunleavy has the second game of a back-to-backs, Kurt Rambis is available on Sunday afternoons,  Jerry Sloan has every game against the Jazz, Nate McMillan has odd-numbered holidays and Bernie Bickerstaff takes only games involving Golden State or Sacramento, especially when Devin Ebanks is not available. The Lakers just ask Time Warner Cable for more money so they can pay everyone to coach this team, and the deal is done. Oh, wait. You’ve got another plan? D’Antoni, by himself, for four years? And everyone’s on board? Especially Nash, who may not even be around past this year? Let us know when Laker fans start chanting “D’Antoni” when Kobe’s at the free-throw line.

2. Who killed Mike Brown? A series of tweets from Magic Johnson began Sunday as he was at Staples Center for the Lakers-Kings game: “I’d like to address some rumors related to my role in the firing of Mike Brown. I had NO conversations w/ Dr. Buss, Jim Buss or Mitch.” Followed by: “I’m not involved w/ the @Lakers day-to-day, only the @Dodgers.” And:  “The last time I spoke to Dr. Buss, was 3 months ago & we were merely reminiscing about the Showtime @Lakers days.” The grand finale: “If I was involved w/ the firing of Mike Brown, I would own it like I did w/ Paul Westhead.” So there. And what again was the lesson from that Twitter response? Magic can type fast with his thumbs when he feels he needs to defend his untarnished image.

49ers quarterback Alex Smith gets hit bySt. Louis linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar during a run in the first quarter Sunday. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

3. Michael Vick, Alex Smith and Jay Cutler were all knocked out of games in the first half Sunday because of a concussion, and their teams aren’t sure if they’ll be around for next week. Nick Foles, Colin Kaepernick and Jason Campbell aren’t the guys that fans really pay to see. Or start for fantasy teams. What’s Roger Goodell supposed to do? Make sure more people see these things happen in stadiums rather than on TV. The NFL commissioner lamented this past week that high-def TV is one of the biggest challenges facing the league. “HD is only going to get better,” he said. He may have also overlooked that because of TV improvements, the league receives billions more per year in rights fees. Or maybe a better comeback to that was delivered by Seth Meyers on “Saturday Night Live.” Reporting that Goodell said HDTV is hurting attendance at games “since the experience of watching at home is so good,” Meyers added: “‘Is it, though?’ said guys with wives.”

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4. Nice window dressing on the new Pauley Pavilion. We gotta admit, there didn’t seem to be all that much of a change in watching a game from inside the basketball shrine on the UCLA campus. Maybe the seats were new, and a few closer to the baskets underneath. The scoreboard, bright and brassy, still took awhile to figure out what size of numbers to use to tell everyone what the score was in the Bruins’ season-opening win over Indiana State. Structurally, the outside presents a stunning, visual change, with the glass shell over the previous structure, more room to maneuver around and a bigger place to shop for team gear. Otherwise: $136 million for that kind of facelift? Might have found a surgeon to do it cheaper in Beverly Hills.

Getty Images

5. Get to know the legend of “Johnny Football.” Texas A&M freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel wasn’t the clear starter when the season began. But by the time he was leading the Aggies to an upset over No. 1 Alabama on Saturday, his family and the school were scrambling to protect the trademark of his new-found nickname, “Johnny Football.” ESPN.com business writer Darren Rovell reported that in order to keep Manziel’s eligibility, neither his family nor the school can sell products with the “Johnny Football” slogan that connects it to Manziel, but it can at least stop others from doing so. The 8-2 Aggies, in their first year playing in the SEC, jumped up to No. 8 in the latest BCS poll, still four spots below Alabama, heading into a game against (for real?) Sam Houston State, which isn’t even on any national TV carrier. Neither will A&M likely get a sniff at the BCS title game – heck, there probably won’t be any SEC team near it now, as long as Kansas State and Oregon (as well as perhaps Notre Dame) remain undefeated.

Oh, and one more thing …

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USC-UCLA got your attention this time around? It should

Why is this year’s 82nd edition of the USC-UCLA football battle for Los Angeles such the big deal this time around?

Where have you been the last three months?

Aside from some fake Twitter account sniping, deflated ball schemes and in-game jersey number changing, Saturday’s Trojans-Bruins scheduled meeting has too much at stake for the first time in a long while to allow for any petty distractions leading up to the noon kickoff at the Rose Bowl.

A BCS 18th ranked Trojans team that began the season in the No. 1 seat by the Associated Press voters with a Heisman Trophy candidate senior quarterback chomping at the bit after two years of NCAA probation matches up with a BCS-ranked No. 17 Bruins team that started off all the charts with a freshman quarterback and new head coach but suddenly has the better overall record.

To the victor, the Pac-12 South title and a road available to playing in the Rose Bowl.

It was Red Sanders, who helped put UCLA on the football map in the 1950s by leading them to their one and only national championship in ’54, who once said about the rivalry: “Beating SC is not a matter of life or death . . . it’s more important than that.”

This week, that’s far more apropos than it has been in the past. If the Trojans and Bruins were on “The Voice,” everyone would be turning their chairs around to see this one.

“This one really did come out of nowhere,” said Garry Paskwietz, longtime editor of the Trojan fan blog WeAreSC.com.

“At the beginning of the season, it just didn’t seem possible that USC and UCLA would be meeting with the winner advancing to the conference title game.

“No matter how each team got here, the fact that this game will include such high stakes for both teams is what makes it all the sweeter. This rivalry is enjoyable under any circumstances but when both teams have something real to play for, it takes it up another notch. The goal is clear and simple goal — the winner moves on, so it’s basically playoff football with the season on the line between the Trojans and Bruins.

“If you’re a fan of this rivalry, you can’t ask for anything more than that.”

Tracy Pierson of BruinReportOnline.com concurs.

“It’s the first time since 2001 that UCLA is ranked higher than USC going into the rivalry game,” he notes. “I think there are also some unique reasons in terms of the two coaching staffs and their programs. 

“For the first time in a while, there’s a perception that UCLA’s coaching staff is legit, and there’s possibly some legit questions about USC’s coaching staff.  I think many people in the city — USC and UCLA fans both — sense that UCLA and Jim Mora have a realistic chance to actually ‘end the monopoly’ — at least be competitive.  While USC fans would certainly like to keep down UCLA’s program for as long as possible, it’s not nearly as fun as both programs being good and the rivalry being competitive every year. “

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Play it Forward: Nov. 12-18

Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:

UPDATED MONDAY, 8 AM:

THIS WEEK’S BEST BET

College football: USC at UCLA, Rose Bowl, Saturday at noon, Channel 11:

If Randall Goforth had a real Twitter account, what would he really want to say about what’s going to happen in this year’s annual renewal of the Bruins-Trojans rivalry? The deflating tweets apparently sent from a fake account attributed to the UCLA freshman defensive back were enough to rile up a couple of star USC receivers, which leads us to believe that the next phony social media story line generated from this meeting will have to do with UCLA’s Tevin McDonald announcing that he’s had un-friended his brother, USC’s T.J. McDonald, on his Facebook page. Lexus Gauntlets and Victory Bells aside, this meeting has a Pac-12 South Division title in the balance, one that UCLA danced away with a year ago despite USC’s 50-0 spanking at the Rose Bowl in the last regular-season game for both teams. No doubt, USC has dominated things with wins in the last five in a row and 12 of the last 1, by an average score of 34-13.The only blip: UCLA’s 13-9 upset over No. 2 USC at the Rose Bowl in 2006, sparing the Trojans from a national title game appearance. Goforth was just a 12-year-old living in Long Beach at the time that happened, and like the rest of the world, had no idea what a Twitter would be.

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