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The Sports Report: Will the Super Bowl move from SoFi Stadium?

SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Sept. 12, 2021.
(Gary Klein / Los Angeles Times)

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

Sam Farmer on the NFL: The NFL is moving ahead full tilt with the Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium, despite news Wednesday that the Grammy Awards have been postponed because of coronavirus concerns.

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“Every single game we’ve played this year in a full-capacity stadium has allowed us to hone our protocols and prepare not only for game day at SoFi — in what is considered an outdoor building with a roof — but also for Super Bowl week,” said Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s executive vice president of club business and league events.

This is the first Super Bowl in the Los Angeles area since the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills played at the Rose Bowl in early 1993.

“We want to be a role model,” O’Reilly said. “We know we’ve got a platform here, but we also know that we can do things safely and effectively. This is a big moment for us and for L.A., being back there after all these years and we’re really confident in our plan.”

According to a report Wednesday by WFAA, the ABC affiliate in Dallas, the league has looked into the availability of AT&T Stadium, home of the Cowboys, as an alternate Super Bowl site should COVID-19 restrictions in California merit relocating the event.

The NFL’s standard protocol is to have multiple stadium options, even for regular-season games, should one need to be moved. Those contingency plans are routine, no matter the situation.

“That’s not where I’m spending any energy or time,” O’Reilly said. “Our plans for Super Bowl week and the game in Los Angeles are moving forward fully. We’re confident in our protocols for putting on full-capacity games safely.”

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RAMS

Gary Klein on the Rams: Rams running back Cam Akers, who suffered a torn Achilles in July, is on track to make his season debut Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, coach Sean McVay said Wednesday.

Akers was injured before training camp, seemingly sidelining him for the season. But Akers was activated to the roster two weeks ago.

Akers was listed as a full participant for the Rams’ jog-through Wednesday.

“Everybody else was at a jog-through and Cam was full-speed, flying around,” McVay said during a video conference. “So, he’s excited. He’ll be ready to go.”

CHARGERS

Jeff Miller on the Chargers: He didn’t play the first time these teams met this season, a calf injury resulting in Justin Jones going on injured reserve before the game.

Having rebounded from that setback and a recent visit to the COVID-19 reserve list, the Chargers defensive tackle on Wednesday sounded plenty ready to face Las Vegas.

“We’re gonna be physical, violent,” Jones promised. “Everybody’s gonna be flying around. Everybody’s gonna communicate and everybody’s gonna have a day. I feel like it’s gonna be in our favor this week. I do feel that way.”

Jones and the Chargers will have to wait to play the Raiders as long as possible in Week 18. Kickoff is set for 5:20 p.m. Sunday at Allegiant Stadium, the matchup marking the final regular-season game of this NFL season.

LAKERS

From Richard Winton: A federal judge on Wednesday rejected an effort by Los Angeles County lawyers to dismiss Vanessa Bryant’s lawsuit over the handling of photos taken at the scene of the helicopter crash that killed her husband, Kobe Bryant.

Vanessa Bryant sued the county in 2020, alleging that she and her family suffered severe emotional distress after learning that L.A. County sheriff’s deputies snapped and later shared gruesome images of the crash scene where her husband, daughter Gianna and seven others died in January 2020.

U.S. District Judge John F. Walter denied the county lawyers’ motion for summary judgment, which would have dismissed the case, saying that “there are genuine issues of material facts for trial.”

UCLA FOOTBALL

Ben Bolch on the Bruins: Greg Dulcich, who rose from walk-on wide receiver to first team All-Pac-12 tight end, announced Wednesday that he would declare for the NFL draft, meaning the Bruins will lose their top two pass-catchers with wide receiver Kyle Philips making the same move a day earlier.

Lightly recruited out of La Cañada St. Francis High, Dulcich paid his own tuition for two college seasons before emerging as a star with the Bruins. He caught 42 passes for 725 yards and five touchdowns as a redshirt junior last season, his 17.3 yards per catch ranking No. 3 nationally among all tight ends.

Dulcich thanked coach Chip Kelly and tight ends coach Derek Sage for taking a chance and championing him as part of his announcement on social media.

USC MEN’S BASKETBALL

Ryan Kartje on the Trojans: Days after USC’s men’s basketball program returned from its pause because of COVID-19, another of the seventh-ranked Trojans’ upcoming conference games has been postponed.

Saturday’s matchup with Stanford in Palo Alto has been postponed because of COVID-19 issues within Stanford’s program, the two schools announced Wednesday. USC and Stanford will work with the Pac-12 to reschedule the conference matchup.

For the Trojans, it’s the third Pac-12 game to be postponed this season. USC has played just two conference games and was set to start its full conference slate last weekend before confirmed positive cases within the program forced a prolonged pause that saw its games against Arizona and Arizona State called off.

UCLA MEN’S BASKETBALL

Ben Bolch on the Bruins: As pop-up events go, UCLA’s basketball game against Long Beach State comes with an unusually exclusive guest list.

Only families of team members will be permitted inside Pauley Pavilion on Thursday afternoon for the Bruins’ first game in nearly a month after a rash of cancellations and postponements forced by the surging Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The virus’ increasingly rapid spread was among the reasons that UCLA decided to bar most fans, according to people familiar with the situation who spoke with The Times on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the rationale. With cases spiking across Los Angeles County, the school did not want to host a potential superspreader event, given the number of breakthrough infections among vaccinated and boosted individuals.

Another factor was the quick turnaround involving a game that wasn’t part of the Bruins’ original schedule, leading to staffing hurdles. Many arena employees have other jobs or scheduling conflicts that would have made it difficult for them to work the game on such short notice.

FIGURE SKATING

Helene Elliott on figure skating: In these uncertain COVID-shadowed times and with so much at stake, it makes sense that several elite figure skaters chose to revive familiar programs at the U.S. championships, where senior level competition begins Thursday in Nashville.

Think of skating to an old favorite program as the equivalent of turning to comfort food as skaters pursue the confidence their familiar music and choreography gave them. Inhabiting a program rather than merely performing a bunch of moves can make the difference between earning a berth at the Olympics next month in Beijing or waiting to see what the world will look like in 2026, when the Winter Games are scheduled to be held in Milano and Cortina, Italy.

Three-time world champion Nathan Chen is the overwhelming favorite to win his sixth U.S. men’s title and second Olympic spot, which would allow him to improve on his fifth-place finish at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. But even Chen wanted something familiar and was leaning toward scrapping his recent programs in favor of his “La Boheme” short program and Elton John medley free skate from 2019-20. He set a personal-best score with that short program and set a record for total score with those programs at that season’s Grand Prix Final.

Jason Brown, who’s expected to join Vincent Zhou in earning the two other U.S. men’s Olympic spots, also went to his archives. Brown, a 2014 Olympian, plans to skate to “Sinnerman” by Nina Simone in his short program and to music from “Schindler’s List” in the free skate. He debuted “Sinnerman” last season with the plan of using it leading up to the Olympics but had put that long program aside.

Karen Chen, who won the 2017 U.S. women’s title and placed 11th at the 2018 Games, brought back her “Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto” long program from last season. She nearly quit the sport after the Olympics but didn’t want that to be her final competitive experience. “I know that it is within my grasp, and I know I am super capable of getting a spot on the team,” said Chen, who was fourth behind a stunning Russian trio at the 2021 world championships.

CLIPPERS

Andrew Greif on the Clippers: Tyronn Lue no longer needs a television to watch his team.

Having exited the NBA’s health and safety protocols, the Clippers’ coach ran practice Wednesday at the team’s Playa Vista facility in person and will be on the sideline in Phoenix on Thursday when the Clippers and Suns meet in a rematch of last year’s Western Conference finals.

Not everything has returned to normal. Assistant coaches Dan Craig and Brendan O’Connor are still out, and several important contributors remain unlikely to play in Arizona. But at the very least, Lue can again be around his roster and observe without requiring an assistant general manager to provide play-by-play over the phone — as was the case during the final two minutes of a Jan. 1 win in Brooklyn, when the television in Lue’s hotel room cut to black just as the short-handed Clippers were closing out an unexpected victory.

SOCCER

Kevin Baxter on soccer: The U.S. women’s national soccer team is returning to Southern California for the first time in more than two years next month when it opens the four-team SheBelieves Cup at Dignity Health Sports Park.

The reigning Women’s World Cup champions, ranked No. 1 by FIFA, will face the 24th-ranked Czech Republic in the second game of a doubleheader on Feb. 17. No. 16 Iceland will meet No. 22 New Zealand in the first game. The U.S. will play New Zealand on Feb. 20 ahead of a Czech Republic-Iceland match. The tournament will then move to Frisco, Texas, for the final games — New Zealand-Czech Republic and U.S.-Iceland — on Feb. 23.

The games in Carson will be the 17th and 18th the women’s national team has played at Dignity Health Sports Park, more than any other stadium in the world, but they will mark the first time the SheBelieves Cup has been played there. The U.S. is 16-0 at the venue, with its last two wins coming over Mexico and Canada in Olympic qualifying in February 2020.

TENNIS

Novak Djokovic was denied entry into Australia and had his visa canceled after arriving in Melbourne late Wednesday to defend his title at the season-opening tennis major, the Australian Open.

The Australian Border Force issued a statement early Thursday local time saying Djokovic failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet entry requirements and “his visa has been subsequently canceled.”

The top-ranked Djokovic flew in after receiving a medical exemption from the strict coronavirus vaccination requirements in place for the Australian Open, where he is a nine-time winner.

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1951 — The Indianapolis Olympians beat the Rochester Royals 75-73 in six overtimes, the longest game in NBA history.

1976 — Ted Turner, a millionaire communications executive and internationally known yachtsman, buys the Atlanta Braves for a reported $10-to-12 million.

1980 — The Rams, behind three field goals by Frank Corral, beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-0 to win the NFC Championship. This is the first conference championship game in NFL history without a touchdown being scored.

1980 — The Pittsburgh Steelers advance to their fourth Super Bowl appearance since 1974 by eliminating the Houston Oilers for the second consecutive year with a 27-13 triumph in the AFC title game.

1981 — John Tonelli ties a New York Islanders record with five goals in a 6-3 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Nassau Coliseum. Mike Bossy gets an assist on all six goals to set an Islanders record. Tonelli scores once in the first period, once in the second and three times in the third.

1985 — Dan Marino passes for a record 421 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Miami Dolphins to a 45-28 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC championship game.

1985 — The San Francisco 49ers holds the Chicago Bears to 186 yards and sacks quarterback Steve Fuller nine times to win the NFC Championship 23-0.

1994 — Nancy Kerrigan is attacked after practice at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit. Shane Stant clubs Kerrigan on the knee and flees the scene. Later that evening, Scott Davis wins the men’s U.S. Figure Skating title.

1995 — Lenny Wilkens becomes the winningest coach in NBA history as the Atlanta Hawks post a 112-90 victory over the Washington Bullets. Wilkens, with his 939th win, surpasses Red Auerbach’s record. Wilkens reaches the record in his 22nd year as an NBA coach, including four as a player-coach.

2005 — For the first time in NBA history, a player leads his team in scoring without making a field goal. Detroit’s Richard Hamilton scores 14 points despite missing all 10 of his field-goal attempts in a 101-79 loss to Memphis.

2011 — Miami of Ohio caps a historic season with a 35-21 win over Middle Tennessee in the GoDaddy.com Bowl. The RedHawks (10-4) are the first team in Football Bowl Subdivision history to win 10 games one season after losing 10. Miami finished a dismal 1-11 in 2009.

2014 — Patrick Maher of Division III Grinnell College breaks the NCAA record with 37 assists in a 164-144 victory over College of Faith.

2014 — Jameis Winston throws a 13-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds left and No. 1 Florida State beat No. 2 Auburn 34-31 to win the last BCS national championship game.

2015 — Patrik Elias has a goal and two assists to reach 1,000, NHL points, and the New Jersey Devils beat the struggling Buffalo Sabres 4-1. The goal is the 399th for Elias.

2016 — Ken Griffey Jr. is elected to the baseball Hall of Fame with the highest voting percentage ever, and Mike Piazza makes it in his fourth year on the ballot. Griffey is on 437 of 440 votes in his first appearance on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot. His 99.3 percentage tops Tom Seaver’s 98.84 in 1992.

Supplied by the Associated Press

And finally

Ken Griffey Jr.'s Hall of Fame speech. Watch and listen here. Mike Piazza’s Hall of Fame speech. 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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