Dec 16, 2019

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! Congrats to the Georgetown men's soccer team for outlasting Virginia to win its first-ever national championship. After 13 straight penalty kick makes, this save won the title.

  • 🏀 8pm ET (NBATV): Winners of 18 straight, the Bucks (24-3) host the Mavericks (17-8). Sadly, Luka Dončić isn't expected to play (ankle), but don't sleep on his teammates.
  • 🏈 8:15pm ET (ESPN): The Saints (10-3), who have already clinched a playoff spot, host the Colts (6-7), who are one loss away from playoff elimination. Spread: Saints -9.5.

Today's word count: 1,559 words (6 minutes).

1 big thing: ❤️ That feeling in your chest
Credit: NBC Sports on YouTube

In Newtown, Connecticut, Dec. 14 is a day marked by tragedy. Flags are flown at half-staff, memorials are held, and at 9:30am, the bells of St. Rose of Lima ring 26 times — once for each of the 20 children and six teachers killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

  • But on Saturday, the seventh anniversary of the shooting, "the day of quiet remembrances was punctuated by joyful celebration when the local high school football team won the state championship in epic fashion," writes WashPost's Derek Hawkins.

Watch: With just 3.3 seconds remaining, Newtown High School QB Jack Street connected with WR Riley Ward on a 36-yard game-winning TD, giving the school its first state title since 1992.

"I couldn't have asked for anything more. I love this town, I love everybody. I'm at a loss for words."
— Ward, per the Hartford Courant

Why it matters: Sports aren't going to solve the world's problems, and a football game isn't going to lessen the blow of an unthinkable tragedy. But what happened on Saturday is going to help Newtown heal, in one way or another.

  • Several of the team's players attended Sandy Hook (this year's seniors would have been in fifth grade in 2012), and a linebacker's brother was among among the children killed.
  • For the rest of their lives, they will be linked by tragedy, but now, they will also be linked by victory — and by the chapter they were able to add to Newtown's story.

The bottom line: When I watch the GIF at the top, of a Newtown player embracing his coach, I feel something in my chest. It's like butterflies, but warmer, and gets me choked up in a way that few things do.

  • I don't know what that feeling is — as in, chemically, I couldn't tell you what's happening in my body.
  • But I do know that thousands of people in Newtown felt that same feeling on Saturday night, and that many will feel it forever, even if it's fleeting. That is why sports matter.
2. 🏈 NFL playoff picture
Expand chart
Graphic: Axios Visuals

Five teams clinched spots in the NFL playoffs yesterday, bringing the total to eight and leaving four spots remaining to be filled over the final two weeks.

More from Sunday:

  • Eli Manning got a standing ovation at MetLife Stadium following what was likely his final home start for the Giants (a 36-20 win over the Dolphins).
  • Adrian Peterson had a milestone-filled day, passing Curtis Martin for fifth on the all-time rushing yards list (14,102), while also tying Walter Payton for fourth on the all-time rushing TD list (110).
  • Deshaun Watson joined Dan Marino, Kurt Warner and Patrick Mahomes as the only QBs in NFL history to throw for 70 TD within their first 36 career starts, and his Texans picked up a huge division win over the Titans.
3. 🇨🇳 First it was the Rockets, now it's Arsenal
Screenshot: @MesutOzil1088 (Twitter)

China's state broadcaster CCTV pulled a match between Arsenal and Manchester City yesterday after Mesut Özil criticized Beijing for its mass detention of Uighur Muslims, Axios' Jacob Knutson writes.

The backdrop: Özil, a Turkish-German soccer player, denounced China on Twitter and Instagram for persecuting Uighur minorities in Xinjiang province, while also calling out Muslim-majority countries for their silence.

What they're saying: "Korans are being burnt. Mosques are being shut down. Muslim schools are being banned. Religious scholars are being killed one by one,” Özil tweeted in Turkish. “Despite all this, Muslims stay quiet."

  • Arsenal distanced itself from Özil's comments on Saturday, saying in a statement on the Chinese app Weibo: "As a football club, Arsenal has always followed the principle of not interfering in politics," per FT.
  • The Chinese Football Association told local media: "What Ozil said has clearly hurt his Chinese fans and Chinese people in general. It is unacceptable."

The big picture: This isn't the first time a Western sports team has come under fire for its response to China's human rights abuses.

  • In October, Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey tweeted an image expressing support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, setting off a chain of events that included Morey apologizing and the Chinese government demanding the NBAleague take disciplinary action.
4. 📸 Photos of the weekend
Photo: Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

OAKLAND — In their final home game in Oakland before next season's move to Las Vegas, the Raiders suffered a devastating 20-16 loss to the Jaguars. Some fans booed as the game clock wound down, while others remained in their seats long after, unwilling to fully let go of an era.

Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA — Tiger Woods' memorable 2019 began in April at Augusta, where he won his 15th major, and ended Sunday at Royal Melbourne, where he led the U.S. to victory in the Presidents Cup. The first playing captain in 25 years, Woods was the only player on either team that didn't suffer a single loss.

  • Go deeper: This embrace between Woods and playing partner Justin Thomas is why we need more team events in golf.
Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

COLUMBUS, OHIO — With his dad sitting courtside, high school freshman LeBron James Jr. (aka. "Bronny") put up 15 points and scored the go-ahead layup in Sierra Canyon's 59-56 win over his dad's alma mater, St. Vincent-St. Mary.

Photo: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

LAS VEGAS — Alexander Volkanovski snapped Max Holloway's 925-day streak as UFC Featherweight Champion, dethroning him at UFC 245 to become the first Australian-born champion in UFC history.

  • More fights: Amanda Nunes retained her status as the greatest fighter in women's MMA history, while Kamaru Usman punished the trash-talking Colby Covington.
5. 🏈 The legend of Joe Burrow

Photo: Adam Hunger/Getty Images

LSU QB Joe Burrow won the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night by the largest margin in the award's storied history, cementing his place in college football lore after a record-breaking 2019 campaign.

Final tally:

  1. Burrow (2,608 points)
  2. Jalen Hurts (762)
  3. Justin Fields (747)
  4. Chase Young (643)

The big picture: From Ohio State backup as a freshman and sophomore, to LSU "game manager" as a junior, to Heisman winner as a senior, the legend of Joe Burrow is like something out of a movie.

P.S. ... Six years ago, Burrow was just a high school kid trying to get his name out there.

Screenshot: @Dave_Berk (Twitter)
6. 📊 By the numbers
Courtesy: Rider Athletics

🏀 29.4 ppg

Rider (N.J.) University's Stella Johnson is averaging 29.4 points per game this season, six more than anyone else in D-I. At her current pace, it will take Johnson less than two months to reach 2,000 career points, which is more points than there are seats in her home arena. Get to know her.

🏈 304 yards

Navy senior QB Malcolm Perry led the Midshipmen to an impressive 31-7 victory over Army — their first win over the Black Knights since 2015 — and broke multiple records in the process, including most rushing yards in an Army-Navy game (304).

💵 +2.5 spread

Pretty wild Sunday night in college hoops. Minnesota delivered No. 3 Ohio State its first loss, Wofford delivered No. 17 UNC its third straight loss and NC State beat UNC-Greensboro by three on a half-court buzzer-beater. Gotta feel for the bettors who took UNC-Greensboro +2.5.

7. Dec. 16, 1930: ⛳️ Jones wins first Sullivan award
Bobby Jones at Pebble Beach, circa 1930. Photo: Julian P. Graham/Underwood Archives/Getty Images

89 years ago today, legendary golfer Bobby Jones was named the first-ever recipient of the James E. Sullivan Award, presented annually by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) to "the most outstanding amateur athlete in the U.S."

Notable winners:

  • 1945: Doc Blanchard, football
  • 1961: Wilma Rudolph, running
  • 1973: Bill Walton, basketball
  • 1976: Bruce Jenner, decathlon
  • 1987: Jim Abbott, baseball
  • 1997: Peyton Manning, football
  • 2008: Shawn Johnson, gymnastics
  • 2012: Missy Franklin, swimming
  • 2014: Ezekiel Elliott, football
  • 2018: Kathryn Plummer, volleyball (most recent winner)

Go deeper: "In the Golden Age of Sport, Jones took his place alongside such giants as Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Red Grange and Bill Tilden. From 1923 to 1929, the Georgia gentleman dominated golf, birdieing his way into this country's heart." (ESPN Archives)

8. The Ocho: 🏐 Netball, explained
A netball court, with the seven position players. Screenshot: Ninh Ly (YouTube)

I spent the weekend watching a lot of netball, and my take is that it's basically basketball, minus backboards and dribbling — and only certain players can shoot.

  • Objective: Score more points than your opponent by shooting the ball into the net.
  • Team size: 7 vs. 7
  • Court size: 100 feet x 50 feet
  • Game length: Four 15-minute quarters (60 minutes)

How to play: There are seven positions: goal keeper, goal defense, wing defense, center, wing attack, goal attack and goal scorer (see above), and they each have a designated area on the court that they aren't allowed to leave.

  • Two shooters: Only the goal attack and goal shooter are allowed to shoot, and they can only shoot within the goal circle (a 16-foot arc around each net).
  • No dribbling: Players can hold onto the ball for a maximum of three seconds, and they can't move their feet (though they can use a "pivot" foot).
  • Passing: Passes must travel at least three feet and they can't be too long either. Otherwise, the opposing team is awarded the ball.
  • Penalties: In most cases, the other team is simply awarded the ball. For major infringements, a "free pass or shot" is awarded and the defending team must stand aside as the opponent either passes or shoots from where they're standing on the court.
9. 🏀 NBA trivia

Nuggets center Nikola Jokić recorded his 32nd career triple-double on Saturday, moving him into a tie for 11th on the all-time list. (Reminder: he's 24 years old.)

  • Question: Who are the four other active players who rank in the top 11 all-time in triple-doubles?
  • Hint: All four play in the West.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 👎 Who is a worse owner?
James Dolan. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Click to vote:

We'll do a head-to-head comparison tomorrow.

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Reader selfies are coming, hang tight" Baker

Trivia answer: Russell Westbrook (144), LeBron James (87), James Harden (42), Rajon Rondo (32)