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The Sports Report: NFL and video game icon John Madden dies at 85

John Madden poses with his bust after enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
John Madden poses with his bust after enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
(Mark Duncan / Associated Press)

Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

Sam Farmer on John Madden: John Madden was so much more than a Super Bowl-winning coach, legendary broadcaster and someone who built a video-game empire.

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He was a regular guy.

“What made him so popular was that he was so genuine and so accessible,” said Al Michaels, who worked in the ABC and NBC broadcast booths with Madden for seven years. “In traveling around the country, John had a great connection with city folk, rural folk, with farmers, with people out there doing the grunt work. He just had this great way of connecting to people and appealing to people.”

It was one of the most endearing things about Madden, who died Tuesday morning at 85. As enormous as he was in the football world, he was disarmingly unimpressed with himself and looked to connect with people on an entirely human level.

I had the extreme pleasure and honor of getting to know him over the last 20 years. Although I wouldn’t say we were close — I’m sure a thousand people were closer to him — John always made me feel as if I were in the inner circle.

We hadn’t actually spoken to each other in more than a year — his hearing and voice were fading — but would exchange brief texts, sometimes about Cal Poly, his alma mater, where my daughter is enrolled. His observations often arrived out of the blue.

“Peyton should be the next commissioner”

“Cal Poly got a win last night !!”

On Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen: “He is an animal!!!”

On Tennessee running back Derrick Henry: “Henry is a one man gang!”

On Titans coach Mike Vrabel: “Vrabel does more with less!!”

Mundane texts from anyone else. These, I now want to frame.

There are more poignant memories, too, especially the heartbreaking one of talking to him on the day legendary Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler died, with Madden speaking in short bursts as if to keep his emotions corralled.

“I’ve always said if I had to win a game, I’d want him as a quarterback,” he said of Stabler in a faint and trembling voice. “When this happens, you just think of all the great times, the wins, the Super Bowl. He was such a big part of that. More than that, he was always a happy guy, always full of life. He enjoyed life.”

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John Madden, NFL icon as coach, broadcaster and video game star, dies at age 85

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UCLA FOOTBALL

Ben Bolch on the Bruins: About five hours before kickoff, the UCLA Bruins learned their Holiday Bowl matchup against No. 18 North Carolina State on Tuesday evening at Petco Park was canceled because of worsening COVID-19 issues with the Bruins.

The late notice touched off anger and conspiracy theories among the Wolfpack, with coach Dave Doeren describing a lack of communication from UCLA regarding the possibility that the Bruins would be unable to play.

“Felt lied to, to be honest,” Doeren told reporters at the team hotel. “We felt like UCLA probably knew something was going on, didn’t tell anybody on our side. We had no clue they were up against that. I don’t feel like it was very well handled from their university. It would have been great to have had a heads-up so two or three days ago we could have found a Plan B. Disappointing.”

UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond posted on Twitter the team had been in position to play until Tuesday, when new testing results prompted the Bruins’ medical staff to determine that going forward with the game would be unsafe.

“I am truly disappointed for everyone who was involved with this game,” Jarmond wrote.

The Bruins were particularly thin at defensive line, with Otito Ogbonnia out while recovering from an injury and Tyler Manoa and Jay Toia posting on social media that they would be unavailable. Additionally, defensive back Qwuantrezz Knight and offensive lineman Atonio Mafi were stuck in COVID-19 protocols.

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Bowl roundup: Houston scores late to beat Auburn in Birmingham Bowl

LAKERS

Dan Woike on the Lakers: Never in LeBron James’ career has it looked quite like this.

James walked onto the floor as a starter, just like he has 1,332 times before, only Tuesday in Houston, he not only had to be his team’s best player.

He needed to be their biggest.

Forced into examining one of the few options that makes the Lakers look drastically different, the team started James at center, firmly committing to the style of play that’s yielded the most positive results this season.

It wasn’t perfect – the Lakers have been anything but – however James and the team finally found a way, beating the Rockets 132-123. James, who has been sensational over the last two weeks, finished with 32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists.

Russell Westbrook, 10-day player Stanley Johnson, Malik Monk and Avery Bradley all joined James in the starting lineup, easily one of the strangest fives he’s ever started a game next too.

Only Johnson didn’t finish in double figures – the Lakers got 24 from Carmelo Anthony – but everyone in the rotation made plays. Monk, in his second game back from the COVID-19 protocols, scored 25. And Westbrook, fresh off a 4-for-20 game, rebounded to make 10-of-17 as he recorded another triple-double with 12 assists and 10 rebounds.

CLIPPERS

Andrew Greif on the Clippers: Coach Tyronn Lue lamented the problems posed by his team’s lack of a backup point guard after Monday’s loss to Brooklyn, and there appears to be no easy answer on the horizon.

As the Clippers left Tuesday for a three-game trip beginning in Boston with All-Star forward Paul George sidelined by injury, starting guard Reggie Jackson remained in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, a person with knowledge of the 10th-year veteran’s status said. Jackson entered Dec. 22 and Lue said late Monday there was a possibility that Jackson could miss the entire trip in Boston, Toronto and Brooklyn.

Jackson is one of three Clippers in protocols, joining two-way guard Jay Scrubb and Moses Wright, a center on a 10-day contract who entered Monday after briefly taking part in a pregame workout.
Instead of signing another center to bolster depth at that position, the Clippers (17-17) were nearing a 10-day deal with wing James Ennis late Tuesday, a person with knowledge of the situation said, with a signing expected Wednesday. Ennis should be familiar with the Clippers – he played one minute against them Monday as a Brooklyn Net.

CHARGERS

Jeff Miller on the Chargers: The Chargers activated five players off the COVID-19 reserve list Tuesday, including starting defensive lineman Justin Jones.

They also added four players to the list, including kicker Dustin Hopkins, long snapper Matt Overton and cornerback Davontae Harris, who started Sunday against Houston.

The moves left the team with 18 players — 14 on the active roster and four on the practice squad — on the COVID list.

Also activated Tuesday were backup quarterback Chase Daniel, kick returner Andre Roberts, rotational edge rusher Chris Rumph II and reserve offensive lineman Senio Kelemete.

RAMS

Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth on the Rams: When you’re 40 years old, there are plenty of weeks you don’t feel great going into an NFL game. But Sunday was weird. In 16 seasons, this was the first game I missed for something other than an injury.

But there I was, in my living room, while the rest of my Rams teammates were in Minnesota getting ready to play the Vikings.

I tested positive for COVID, even though I’m vaccinated and received the booster, so I had to sit out this critical road trip. That had me in the strange position of watching my team from afar, and there was some anxious anticipation before kickoff. I got up early and got in the sauna at my house and tried to calm myself down. I texted with some of my teammates — checked in with Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Rob Havenstein and others — then sat around for an hour waiting for the game to start.

No pregame shows for me. I don’t like them. If I watched any of those shows it would be Fox, because I know most of those guys and know they do a great job. It’s not really about them. But those shows create chatter and stress. I don’t think it’s good for players to listen to that. You don’t want to be listening to narratives or having those things dictate your thoughts about the game.

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NFL roundtable: Rams have shot to win NFC West. Is there a vaccine to fix Chargers?

UCLA MEN’S BASKETBALL

Ben Bolch on the Bruins: As UCLA’s basketball team prepares to reboot its season, creeping toward a return to games after weeks away from the court, Mick Cronin has adopted a new nickname.

“Just call me Norman Dale,” Cronin cracked Tuesday during a telephone interview with The Times, referring to the coach in the movie “Hoosiers” who was perpetually confronted by a depleted roster.

The fifth-ranked Bruins resumed workouts Monday with only six scholarship players available, the balance of the team expected to return from COVID-19 protocols by Sunday. Cronin is easing his players back into basketball activities, with conditioning taking precedence over any sort of formal practice.

“There’s going to be people that come back on Sunday that I haven’t seen since Dec. 15,” Cronin said, alluding to a layoff that is about to enter its third week, “so imagine how out of shape they’ll be. Fifteen days of nothing.”

ROSE BOWL

Megan Garcia on the Rose Bowl: The anticipation for the 2022 Rose Bowl game is finally settling in for Ohio State and Utah.

The teams were welcomed by crisp air this week in downtown Los Angeles and are preparing to face off in one of the most iconic bowl games Saturday afternoon in Pasadena.

That is, if it’s not canceled due to the exponential rise of coronavirus cases in California amid the surge of the Omicron variant.

As Ohio State and Utah roll through game plans and practices, California averaged 11,914 new coronavirus cases per day last week, while Los Angeles County reported a 43% increase in hospitalizations over the course of the previous week, according to data compiled by the LA Times.

While the Rose Bowl is still scheduled to be played, several other college bowl games across the country have been canceled due to the rise in coronavirus cases. Most recently, UCLA couldn’t field enough players to compete in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego and Boston College withdrew from the Military Bowl in Annapolis after reporting more than 40 players were unable to play due to a mix of injuries and positive coronavirus tests.

“I have no information that suggests that our game is under threat or anything like that,” Ohio State secondary coach Matt Barnes said. “But I just see how hard our guys work and I know that they deserve a chance to go play in this game. Just looking at the climate around the country and seeing other games canceled, it certainly is concerning.”

ANGELS

Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani, who redefined modern baseball with his two-way play in 2021, has been named the Associated Press’ male athlete of the year.

The unanimous American League MVP put together a season like no other in the past century of his sport. Almost no one had been an everyday two-way player for many decades — and nobody has been both one of major league baseball’s top power hitters and one of its best starting pitchers since Babe Ruth in 1919.

“He’s doing something we haven’t seen in our lifetimes, but he’s also doing it at the very highest level of hitting and pitching,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said late in the regular season. “He’s doing more than other players, but he’s also doing it better than almost everybody else on that field, and those are the greatest players in the game, his contemporaries. He’s playing their game, but he’s also playing a different game.”

YEAR IN REVIEW

From Clayton Kershaw’s living room to Tokyo 7-Elevens, Times Sports’ favorite 2021 stories

The big lives they led: A look back at those the sports world lost in 2021

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1926 — Merlyn Phillips of the Montreal Maroons scores five seconds into the game at Chicago for an NHL record for the fastest goal from the start of a game. The Blackhawks win the game in overtime, 5-4. It would be matched three times.

1934 — The first college basketball doubleheader is played at New York’s Madison Square Garden. NYU beats Notre Dame 25-18 and Westminster defeats St. John’s 37-33.

1957 — Tobin Rote passes for four touchdowns and scores another to give the Detroit Lions a 59-14 victory over the Cleveland Browns in the NFL championship game.

1961 — Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors scores 60 points against the Lakers at Hershey, Pa., the future site of his 100-point game.

1963 — Chuck McKinley and Dennis Ralston give the United States a 3-2 victory over Australia for the Davis Cup title.

1968 — The Baltimore Colts shut out the Browns 34-0 to win the NFL championship at Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

1968 — The New York Jets beat the Oakland Raiders 27-23 in the AFL championship game.

1979 — Safety Vernon Perry sets an NFL playoff record with four interceptions to lead the Houston Oilers to a 17-14 victory over the San Diego Chargers.

1982 — Alabama’s Jeremiah Castille intercepts three passes to help beat Illinois 21-15 in the Liberty Bowl and send coach Paul “Bear” Bryant out as a winner. Bryant finishes his coaching career with 323-85-17 record.

1984 — Wayne Gretzky of the Edmonton Oilers scores his 100th point in the 35th game of the season, a 6-3 victory over the Detroit Red Wings.

2006 — Texas Tech spots Minnesota a 31-point, third-quarter lead, then rallies for a stunning 44-41 overtime victory in the Insight Bowl, the largest comeback in Division I-A bowl history. The previous record for a bowl comeback was 30 points, set by Marshall against East Carolina in the 2001 GMAC Bowl.

2007 — The New England Patriots complete a perfect regular season, finishing with a remarkable 16-0 record following a thrilling 38-35 comeback victory over the New York Giants. New England is the first NFL team since the 1972 Dolphins to win every game on the schedule, and that one was only 14-0.

2011 — Baylor pulls out an incredible Alamo Bowl victory in the highest-scoring regulation bowl game in history, beating Washington 67-56 in the wildest shootout of this bowl season. Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III isn’t dazzling, but Terrance Ganaway rushes for 200 yards and five touchdowns. The previous bowl record for a regulation game was 102 total points set in the 2001 GMAC Bowl between Marshall and East Carolina. That game went to double overtime and ended with a combined 125 points — which still stands as the overall bowl record.

2012 — Second-ranked Connecticut plays spoiler and streak-buster this time, snapping No. 1 Stanford’s nation-leading 82-game home unbeaten run with a surprisingly easy 61-35 rout. It’s the Huskies who saw the end of their NCAA record 90-game winning streak at Maples Pavilion with a 71-59 loss two years ago, almost to the day on Dec. 30. Stanford loses at Maples Pavilion for the first time since March 2007.

2013 — Peyton Manning is 25 for 28 for 266 yards and four touchdowns before sitting out the second half of Denver’s 34-14 win over Oakland. He finishes the season with NFL records of 5,477 yards and 55 touchdown passes.

2014 — Teenager Mikaela Shiffrin becomes the most successful U.S. skier in the slalom at Kuehtai, Austria. The 19-year-old racks up her 10th career slalom win, beating the records set in the 1980s by Tamara McKinney and on the men’s side by Phil Mahre, who both had nine wins in ski racing’s most technically demanding event.

2016 — Olympic slalom champion Mikaela Shiffrin uses a spectacular final run to win a night race for her third World Cup triumph in three days. Shiffrin is 0.33 seconds off the lead at the final split time before accelerating to win the race by 0.64 ahead of Veronika Velez Zuzulova of Slovakia. After winning two giant slaloms the previous days, Shiffrin continues her dominance in slalom by landing her 23th career win in the discipline.

Supplied by the Associated Press

And finally

John Madden in a classic beer commercial. Watch and listen here.

Until next time...

That concludes today’s newsletter. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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