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The Sports Report: Baltimore Ravens get some help from firefighters

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Fireman Avon Bryant is at the truck. (Shawn Hubbard/Ravens)
(Shawn Hubbard / Ravens )

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

NFL

Sam Farmer takes a look at the backbone of the Baltimore Ravens: firefighters.

They are Baltimore County firefighters, the behind-the-scenes backbone of the Baltimore Ravens, playing an essential role for the NFL’s hottest franchise.

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It’s a tradition that began in 1996, when the Cleveland Browns relocated to Baltimore and four local firefighters volunteered their services to the city’s newest team. Soon, they became essential workers, were hired part-time by the Ravens, and grew in number.

“We had to assemble an NFL team in a couple months when we became the Baltimore Ravens,” said Kevin Byrne, executive vice president of public and community relations who has been with the club since 1981. “A few firemen came to us and said, ‘We work basically around the clock for three or four days a week, and the rest of the time we have free. You must need help with something. We’ll help you with something and do whatever you want.’

“They’d bring us the mail from the offices downtown. They’d pick people up at the airport. They’d set up meeting rooms. Volunteer to clean the dirty uniforms. It just grew through the years.”

Baltimore is the only NFL franchise with an entire department of firefighters — 23 men and one woman — who handle every day-to-day task imaginable, from overseeing the shipping and receiving, transporting players to medical appointments, holding up giant panels during games to create shade over the team bench, and fishing the football out of the net after field goals.

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Two companies owned by Stan Kroenke have sued an insurance firm over the cleanup of arsenic-contaminated soil at the sprawling development the billionaire is building in Inglewood that’s anchored by a stadium for the Rams and Chargers.

TKG Management and Pincay Re LLC alleged in a lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles that Chubb Custom Insurance Company refused to pay the bulk of a $5-million policy covering environmental cleanup costs.

The complaint accused Chubb of embarking “upon a campaign intended to delay, hinder, and impede recovery, the essence of bad faith.”

A spokesman for the insurance company and spokeswoman for the stadium development declined comment.

The dispute revolves around 60 acres along the northern border of the 298-acre development.

NFL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

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All times Pacific

Divisional Round

Saturday

Minnesota at San Francisco, 1:30 p.m., NBC

Tennessee at Baltimore, 5:15 p.m., CBS

Sunday

Houston at Kansas City, Noon, CBS

Seattle at Green Bay, 3:30 p.m., FOX

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Conference Championship

Sunday, Jan. 19

TBD at TBD, Noon, CBS

TBD at TBD, 3:30 p.m., FOX

Super Bowl

Sunday Feb. 2

TBD vs. TBD, 3:30 p.m., FOX

LAKERS

Anthony Davis is listed as questionable after sustaining a bruise on his buttocks during Tuesday’s game against the New York Knicks. If he isn’t able to play, Lakers coach Frank Vogel plans to start Kyle Kuzma in his place.

“Obviously he’s a big factor in everything we do so we would have to compete to win a game differently,” Vogel said. “But it’s a great opportunity for Kuzma to step into the starting lineup and play a bigger role.”

KINGS

Adrian Kempe scored two goals and the Kings surprised the Vegas Golden Knights 5-2.

The Kings, who entered the game in last place in the Western Conference, used four first-period goals to set the tone. Goaltender Jack Campbell held off the Pacific Division co-leading Golden Knights by stopping 43 of the 45 shots he faced.

The Golden Knights outshot the Kings 35-5 over the last two periods, but were unable to overcome the four-goal deficit.

Los Angeles’ win, coupled with Anaheim’s loss to Dallas, and allowed the Kings to leapfrog the Ducks out of the West cellar.

Alec Martinez, Ben Hutton and Tyler Toffoli also scored for the Kings. Campbell improved to 2-1-0 lifetime against Vegas.

DUCKS

Ben Bishop made 27 saves in his 33rd career shutout, and Roope Hintz had a goal and an assist in the Dallas Stars’ sixth straight victory, 3-0 over the Ducks.

Corey Perry and Andrew Cogliano returned to Anaheim for the first time since joining the Stars, and both veteran forwards received long standing ovations from the Honda Center crowd.

John Gibson stopped 24 shots for the Ducks, who played without leading goal-scorer Jakob Silfverberg.

HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS

Danny O’Fallon, the boys basketball coach at Los Angeles Roybal who set an example with his courage and strength while guiding his team to the City Section Division III championship during his battle with stage 4 colon cancer, died on Thursday morning at a hospital in Santa Monica, his wife, Dr. Chonn Ng, said. He was 49.

O’Fallon continued to undergo aggressive chemotherapy treatment and continued to coach Roybal up until he was hospitalized on Dec. 20.

Last season, Roybal won its first basketball title, causing O’Fallon to collapse on the court while players comforted him in an emotional scene. The team went 19-0 until losing a state playoff game.

USC FOOTBALL

The first USC football player in the NCAA transfer portal this offseason has found a new home, while another player has decided to look for one.

Velus Jones, who served as the Trojans’ primary kickoff returner in 2019, will finish his collegiate career as a graduate transfer at Tennessee, the wideout announced on Twitter.

Offensive lineman Clayton Bradley also entered his name into the NCAA transfer portal this week.

Bradley spent five years dealing with injuries that mostly kept him off the field. The former Servite High linemen started three games as a sophomore in 2017 and played in three more as a junior before a back injury sidelined him.

SOCCER

John Thorrington’s first goal as LAFC’s general manager is to build the best team possible. But if he had a second goal, he says it would be to make that team reflect the diverse community in which it plays.

Lately, however, LAFC has come to look more South American than Southern Californian. The roster Thorrington will take into his third preseason training camp Monday includes as many as six starters from the continent and for that he can thank two prolific scouts, changing philosophies within MLS and a budget that would be little more than pocket change for European giants such as Real Madrid, Barcelona or Manchester United.

Having a dedicated scout in a foreign market is a rare luxury for MLS teams, who generally rely on video, calls from agents and coaches, or word of mouth to find players. Having two scouts there has given LAFC a huge advantage in a market that has become increasingly important for MLS.

“We certainly have been very intentional about focusing in certain key markets in South America and we will continue to so,” Thorrington said.

OVERLOOKED OBIT

From time to time, I like to bring to your attention a short bio of a former prominent local athlete whose passing received little notice. Today, we look back at one that happened early in 2019. Wrestling historian Steve Yohe and reporter Dave Meltzer pointed it out to me, and Yohe was kind enough to write a few words about Dick Beyer.

Pro wrestler Richard John Beyer died in 2019 at the age of 88. To the thousands of local fans watching the KTTV television show every week during the 1960s, he and Freddie Blassie were as important to Los Angeles sports history as Sandy Koufax, Elgin Baylor or Jerry West. If you don’t recognize the name, don’t feel alone. Dick Beyer wrestled under a mask at The Olympic Auditorium as The Intelligent Sensational Destroyer full time from 1962 to 1965, and part time up to 1973. During his career, The Destroyer was never unmasked, and his real name was unknown to the general public, during the old days when everyone was pretending it was a real sport. It may seem unbelievable today, but just the idea of getting to see his face unmasked drove huge numbers of fans to The Olympic Auditorium each week.

Beyer, born on July 11, 1930, got a football scholarship to Syracuse in 1949. He was a star on coach Ben Schwartzwalder football team from 1950 to 1953, and as an offensive guard playing next to Jim Ringo as co-captain, was on the team that went to the 1953 Orange Bowl. He was also recruited by wrestling coach Joe McDaniel to be the heavyweight on the Syracuse wrestling team. He went to the NCAA finals twice, won regional AAU tournaments, and he finished third at the AAU Nationals in 1952.

As if this wasn’t enough, Beyer turned pro wrestler in October 1954. Throughout the 1950’s, wrestling as Dick Beyer, he developed a good reputation as both a worker and legit wrestler. In 1962, he had two WWA World Title matches with Blassie. Through Blassie, word got back to L.A. promoter Jules Strongbow that he was a major talent just waiting to be discovered. Beyer was then brought to Southern California for a major push. To add color to plain looking Dick Beyer, Strongbow told him he was going to wear a mask, and be called The Destroyer. Beyer and his wife Wilma developed a new type of mask made from a special material, that was just used in woman’s underwear at the time. The mask would stretch when pulled and then snap back. The new type mask created the illusion that Beyer was going to be unmasked in every match, and the unsuccessful attempts became each night’s highlight.

The Destroyer’s other gimmick was the figure-four leg lock, an unbreakable hold. He offered anyone $100 to break it....and every week it wasn’t broken, he add another $100 to the amount. The reward got up to $5,000, but it was never broken.

The Destroyer ruled Los Angeles wrestling at The Olympic Auditorium for most of four years. On Nov. 7, 1962, he got national publicity by defeating Gorgeous George and shaving his famous hair. The Destroyer battled Blassie back and forth with the WWA World Title on the line, and had sellouts at The Olympic Auditorium against Edouard Carpentier. His matches with Shohei Baba turned the giant into a world wide star. I’ve never met any fan from the period, that didn’t think The Destroyer was Los Angeles’s greatest worker.

In 1963, he made a famous tour of Japan as WWA World Champion, in which The Destroyer became the last man to ever defeat Rikidozan (May 19, 1963) . Later in May in Toyko, he wrestled a 60:01 draw with Rikidozan that drew 12,000, and a 51.2 rating on TV. In a 1965, a Toyonobori match in Tokyo did a 50.1 rating. Even with a population much smaller than America, it was viewed by more people live on TV than any wrestling match in history. He was so popular that the Japanese promoters had him tour every year until his retirement. In 1973, Baba opened his own promotion, and after making a long-term deal with Beyer, turned The Destroyer into a good guy. Beyer stayed in Japan for six years and is still considered the greatest non-Japanese wrestler in Japanese history.

Beyer was liked and respected by everyone in pro wrestling. I’ve never heard any insider say anything negative about him, and for a guy using a mask made out of a woman’s girdle, that is something. Fans today can watch this matches on Youtube and on DVD and see for themselves how special he was as a worker. He has a whole new following today.

On Nov. 4, 2017, the Japanese Government awarded Dick “The Destroyer” Beyer the “Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays”, for a “lifetime spent promoting goodwill and bi-cultural exchange between Japan and the United States.” It was the highest award a non-Japanese could receive from the nation. Beyer has been induced into every major Hall Of Fame, including The Wrestling Observer HOF, the New York PWHF, the Iowa Lou Thesz Hall of Fame, and in 2014 was the third person (behind only Jim Londos, and Freddie Blassie) induced into the Los Angeles HOF.

Beyer died on March 7, 2019 at the age of 88.

TODAY’S LOCAL MAJOR SPORTS SCHEDULE

All times Pacific

Lakers at Dallas, 6:45 p.m., ESPN, Spectrum Sportsnet, 710 ESPN

Golden State at Clippers, 7:30 p.m., Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570

UCLA basketball (women) at Utah, 6 p.m., Pac-12 Networks

USC basketball (women) at Colorado, 6 p.m., Pac-12 Networks

BORN ON THIS DATE

1890: Tennis player Art Wood (d. 1918)

1916: Golfer Bob Hamilton (d. 1990)

1938: Hockey player Frank Mahovlich

1938: Baseball player Willie McCovey (d. 2018)

1939: Decathlete Bill Toomey

1945: Skier Spider Sabich (d. 1976)

1949: Boxer George Foreman

1953: Race car driver Bobby Rahal

1959: Runner Chandra Cheesborough

1964: Synchronized swimmer Karen Josephson

1964: Synchronized swimmer Sarah Josephson

1973: Basketball player Glenn Robinson

1974: Football player Hollis Thomas

1975: Football player Jake Delhomme

1976: Former Angel and Dodger Adam Kennedy

DIED ON THIS DATE

2008: Figure skater Christopher Bowman, 40

2011: Football player Cookie Gilchrist, 75

AND FINALLY

George Foreman knocks out Michael Moorer to win the heavyweight title at age 45. Watch it here.

That concludes the newsletter for today. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, please email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com. If you want to subscribe, click here


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