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Today's word count: 1,476 words (5 minutes).

1 big thing: 🏈 The NFL cozies up to betting
Giphy

Starting this season, NFL teams in states with legal sports betting will be allowed to have in-stadium betting lounges and accept sponsorships from sportsbooks and betting operators, per multiple reports.

  • One caveat: There will not be any physical betting windows in the lounges, so they're more "hangout spots for bettors" than an actual "places to make bets."

By the numbers: Five states with NFL teams currently offer legal sports betting of some kind (Indiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania), while six have passed bills but not yet launched (Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee, District of Columbia).

Expand chart
Data: American Gaming Association; Graphic: Axios Visuals

Why it matters: This signals the NFL's willingness to embrace sports betting β€” an industry that it pushed back against for decades. What was once considered a threat to the game's integrity is now viewed by the NFL (and U.S. sports leagues more broadly) as a way to boost fan engagement and increase revenues.

The big picture: Overall, 14 U.S. states/federal districts currently offer legal sports betting, seven have passed bills but not yet launched, 21 have active bills, eight have no bills set for 2020 and one voted not to move forward with legislation this year (Maine, two weeks ago).

2. πŸ’ Weekend MVP: Dave Ayres, Zamboni driver
Giphy

When both Hurricanes goaltenders left Saturday's game against the Maple Leafs with injuries, Dave Ayres came in as the emergency backup β€” and stopped eight of 10 shots he faced to seal a 6-3 win for Carolina.

Why it matters: Ayres, a 42-year-old Zamboni driver and practice goalie, had watched the first period from the stands with his wife. Minutes later, he was skating onto the ice in a real NHL game.

How it works: NHL teams dress two goaltenders and typically would call on a minor league goalie due to injury or other emergency.

  • If logistics make that impossible, teams are allowed to dress and play any available goaltending option, which is why local goalies with ties to the team are often on call.
  • Emergency goalies are available to either team, which explains why Ayres suited up for the Hurricanes despite being working for the Leafs. (Can you imagine if this was a super important game and he was facing his own team?)

What they're saying: Ayres, whose own hockey career was derailed by a kidney transplant 15 years ago, was asked what he'll remember most from the game.

"These guys. How great they were to me. The crowd in Toronto was unreal. Even though I was on the other team, they were so receptive. Every time I made a save I could hear them cheering for me."
β€” Dave Ayres

The big picture: Ayres adds his name to a long and storied list of emergency NHL goalies β€” a list that includes an accountant, a police officer, a bank manager, a grad student, a statistician and a vending machine worker.

πŸŽ₯ Highlights:

3. πŸ“Έ Photos 'round America
Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

LAS VEGAS β€” In the biggest heavyweight world title bout since Lennox Lewis knocked out Mike Tyson in 2002, Tyson Fury scored a pair of knockdowns in a dominant victory over Deontay Wilder that ended in the seventh round when Wilder's corner threw in the towel.

Photo: Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES β€” 21-year-old Jayson Tatum (41 points) became the youngest player to score 40 points in the Celtics-Lakers rivalry, but LeBron James (29-9-8) lifted Los Angeles to the 114-112 win in an instant classic that had everything.

  • πŸŽ₯ Watch: LeBron hit a gorgeous fallaway jumper to put the Lakers ahead with 30 seconds to play (pictured above).
Photo: Patrick McDermott/NHLI/Getty Images

NEWARK, N.J. β€” Alex Ovechkin, 34, became the eighth player to join the NHL's 700-goal club with his tally Saturday against the Devils. The only player to reach the mark at a younger age was Wayne Gretzky, who was 29.

Photo: Kent Horner/Getty Images

SAN DIEGO β€” The last remaining unbeaten team in D-I men's college basketball fell on Saturday as UNLV knocked off No. 4 San Diego State, 66-63.

  • More top-5 upsets: No. 3 Kansas beat No. 1 Baylor, 64-61, and No. 23 BYU knocked off No. 2 Gonzaga, 91-78.
4. ❀️ Kobe memorial: Today at Staples Center
Photo: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

29 days after Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, tragically died in a helicopter crash, Los Angeles will stage a celebration of their lives.

πŸ“Ί Details: More than 20,000 people β€” friends, family and those who acquired tickets through a lottery (80,000 applied) β€” are expected to attend the service at Staples Center, which will begin at 1pm ET (ESPN, NBA TV).

5. 🏈 XFL snapshot: 3 weeks down, 7 to go
P.J. Walker. Photo: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

The XFL's 10-week regular season is 30% complete, and I haven't completely lost interest yet. In fact, I've actually thoroughly enjoyed it. Very curious to see the Week 3 TV ratings, which will be telling...

Week 3 scores:

  • Houston Roughnecks 34, Tampa Bay Vipers 27
  • Dallas Renegades 24, Seattle Dragons 12
  • St. Louis BattleHawks 29, New York Guardians 9
  • Los Angeles Wildcats 39, DC Defenders 9

Standings:

  • East: St. Louis BattleHawks, 2-1 (+4 TD differential) β€” DC Defenders, 2-1 (-1) β€” New York Guardians, 1-2 (-2) β€” Tampa Bay Vipers, 0-3 (-5)
  • West: Houston Roughnecks, 3-0 (+4 TD differential) β€” Dallas Renegades, 2-1 (even) β€” Los Angeles Wildcats, 1-2 (+1) β€” Seattle Dragons, 1-2 (-1)

Stat leaders:

  • Passing: Roughnecks QB P.J. Walker is the MVP frontrunner so far after putting up 748 passing yards and 10 TD through three games. The former Temple standout spent three seasons with the Colts but has yet to land on a 53-man NFL roster. That could change soon.
  • Rushing: BattleHawks RB Matt Jones, who was a third-round NFL draft pick out of Florida and saw action in 20 games (including seven starts) for the Redskins in 2015 and 2016, leads the XFL with 224 rushing yards.
  • Receiving: Former Virginia Tech WR Cam Phillips has emerged as Walker's favorite target and already has seven TD receptions through Houston's first three games.

πŸŽ₯ Watch: It took a couple weeks, but the XFL's innovative kickoff format finally produced its first TD.

6. πŸ“Š By the numbers
Photo: Stacy Revere/Getty Images
  • πŸ“… 55 days to spare: With the NBA playoffs still 55 days away, the Bucks (48-8) have clinched a postseason berth faster than any team in NBA history and still have a chance to win 70 games β€” a feat accomplished only by the 1995-96 Bulls (72) and 2015-16 Warriors (73).
  • ⛳️ 25 feet: Viktor Hovland sank a 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole to win the Puerto Rico Open and become the first Norwegian winner in PGA Tour history. ... Meanwhile, in Mexico City, Patrick Reed blocked out the noise to win the WGC-Mexico Championship.
  • πŸ’ $1,300 per year: The average Canadian family spends $1,300 per year on youth hockey expenses (equipment, registration, etc.), and the ballooning costs are benching an entire generation of young athletes, and costs are only ballooning.
7. Feb. 24, 1980: πŸ₯‡ USA wins hockey gold
Photo: Steve Powell/Getty Images

40 years ago today, the U.S. men's hockey team beat Finland 4-2 to clinch gold at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y.

  • The backdrop: Two days earlier, the U.S. upset the Soviet Union in the "Miracle on Ice," but that didn't guarantee a medal. In fact, if the U.S. had lost to Finland badly enough and Sweden tied the Soviets, the U.S. would have finished fourth.
  • The big picture: The Finland game has become a footnote in history, but if the Americans had lost that evening and not won gold, the "Miracle on Ice" wouldn't have become nearly as iconic.

Fun fact ... The famous U.S.-Soviet Union game was played at 5pm ET and shown on tape delay three hours later, so the only people in the U.S. who watched it live were the 8,500 fans in the stands.

Imagine being there for this...

Photo: Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Go deeper: A reporter remembers the Miracle on Ice 40 years later (NYT)

8. The Ocho: 🀠 MadBum's secret life
Screenshot: Rancho Rio (Facebook)

Diamondbacks pitcher Madison Bumgarner has been secretly competing in rodeo competitions under the alias "Mason Saunders" and even won $26,560 in a team-roping competition in December, according to The Athletic (subscription).

  • Team roping is a two-person sport "in which one rider ropes the head of the steer and the other the back legs," and Bumgarner has been roping since his days as a teenager in the foothills of western North Carolina.
  • Why the fake name? That was to keep his adventures from garnering too much attention, "but you're going to ruin that for me," he told The Athletic.
"No matter what hobbies I have, I take 'em serious. That's just my personality. I don't do anything just for fun, per se. I wish I did."
β€” Bumgarner
9. ⚾️ MLB trivia
  • Question: Who holds the record for most home runs in a season in which he stole 50 or more bases?
  • Hint: Comeback Player of the Year in 1996.

Answer at the bottom.

10. πŸ“š If you read one thing...
Screenshot: @PlayersTribune (Twitter)

Read this.

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Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "How?!" Baker

Trivia answer: Eric Davis (37 HR, 50 SB in 1987 while playing for the Reds)