Jan 21, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! With Patrick Mahomes advancing to the Super Bowl, the Detroit Tigers have now drafted more Super Bowl starting QBs than the Detroit Lions.

Today's word count: 1,702 words (6 minutes).

1 big thing: 🏈 Setting the scene for Super Bowl LIV

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

After a grueling four months of football, Patrick Mahomes has led the Chiefs out of the darkness and into the Miami sun, where the 49ers football machine awaits them in the Super Bowl.

Some early narratives...

1. "The Gunslinger"

Mahomes is 24 years old, arguably the best player in football and he just toppled Tom Brady as the top seller of NFL merchandise. A star has already been born — now he has the biggest stage in sports to showcase his brilliance.

  • By the numbers: Through four career playoff games, Mahomes has 11 TD and zero picks, giving him the highest QB rating in postseason history since the merger.
  • Go deeper: "You cannot tell the story of Mahomes in 2020 without his head coach, Andy Reid, and vice versa. Mahomes would likely still be special playing for another coach, but the beautiful thing for football fans is that we do not have to find out." (The Ringer)

2. "The Super Bowl of Speed"

Kansas City and San Francisco got here using different blueprints (old coach who likes to pass vs. young coach who likes to run), but they share something far more fundamental: "They're both fast. Really, really fast," write WSJ's Andrew Beaton and Jim Chairusmi.

  • The Chiefs' offense is built around spreading the field and giving its quickest players space to operate, and four of their five WRs ran 40-yard dash times faster than 4.5 seconds.
  • The 49ers' defense is built to counteract these exact types of offenses, with the team spending a first-round pick on a speedy defensive lineman in four of the last five drafts.

3. Starving vs. spoiled

This is the Chiefs' first Super Bowl appearance in 50 years and third overall. The 49ers, meanwhile, will be playing in their seventh and are one win away from tying the Steelers and Patriots for most Super Bowl wins ever.

  • Kansas City major pro sports this century: The Royals have appeared in the World Series twice, losing in 2014 and winning in 2015.
  • Bay Area major pro sports this century: The Giants have won three World Series (and lost one), the Warriors have won three NBA Finals (and lost two), the 49ers have appeared in two Super Bowls, the Raiders have played in a Super Bowl and the Sharks have played in the Stanley Cup Final.

4. Unheralded running backs

  • Raheem Mostert (SF), undrafted out of Purdue and cut by six NFL teams, became the first player to rush for 200 yards and four TD in a playoff game last week. With Tevin Coleman injured, he'll likely be making his first career NFL start in the Super Bowl.
  • Damien Williams (KC), an undrafted Dolphins castoff who was thrust into the starting job a year ago following Kareem Hunt's suspension, has nine career playoff TD, tying Terrell Davis and Larry Fitzgerald for the most in a player's first five postseason games.


  • Kittle vs. Kelce: San Francisco's George Kittle and Kansas City's Travis Kelce are the best tight ends in football and two of the league's most colorful personalities.
  • Reid vs. Shanahan: Andy Reid has more wins than any coach who has not won a Super Bowl, and Kyle Shanahan has a chance to join his father, Mike, as the first father-son duo to win Super Bowls as head coaches.
  • Red-on-red: This is the first time that two teams with red as a primary color will meet in the Super Bowl. The AFC is the designated home team (it alternates every year), so the Chiefs will wear red, while the 49ers will be in white jerseys with gold pants.
  • Flipped the script: The 49ers join the 1988 Bengals and 1999 Rams as the only teams to reach the Super Bowl a year after winning four or fewer games.
2. ⚾️ 2020 Baseball HOF class announced tonight
Ballot: Axios Visuals

Tonight, the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) will announce the results of its 2020 Hall of Fame balloting at 6pm ET live on MLB Network.

  • How it works: Players must receive at least 75% of the vote to be elected, and they're allowed to stay on the ballot for up to 10 years. But if a player hasn't been elected after a decade — or falls below 5% of the vote in any election — he won't appear on subsequent ballots.
  • Projections: Many Hall of Fame voters share images of their ballots or write columns explaining their votes before the results are announced. Based on what's been made public, most projections have Derek Jeter near 100% and Larry Walker hovering around the 75% needed to get in.

Go deeper:

3. 🎾 What to watch: Australian Open 2020
Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Men: When the above photo was taken in the early 2010s, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer were the three best players on the ATP Tour. A decade later, they're still on top — but the next generation is closing in.

  • By the numbers: "The Big Three" have won 55 of the past 66 Grand Slams, but youngsters like Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev represent the best bets to break their iron grip on the sport.
  • What they're saying: "They're coming closer and closer, it's obvious," Djokovic told reporters in Melbourne. "I think they are definitely hungry. They're challenging. They're knocking on the door."

Go deeper:

Photo: Jason Heidrich/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Women: Serena Williams remains one win shy of equaling Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 major singles titles.

  • The backdrop: Williams, 38, has been within one match of tying Court's record four times, but lost in the finals of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open each of the last two years.
  • 🎥 Highlights: She breezed through the first round (YouTube)

More to watch:

  • Hometown hero: Ashleigh Barty, the reigning French Open champion, is Australia's best chance for a homegrown singles winner since Chris O'Neil claimed the 1978 women's title.
  • Young Americans: 15-year-old Coco Gauff is back and better than ever, and 18-year-old Amanda Anisimova has found solace on the court since her father's sudden death last summer.
4. 🏀 Men's poll: Baylor becomes seventh No. 1
Expand chart
Data: AP; Table: Axios Visuals

Baylor leapfrogged Gonzaga to become this season's seventh No. 1 team, tying the record for most No. 1s in a single season — and it's only January.

  • The rest of the top five looks completely different after Duke (down five spots to No. 8), Auburn (down 12 spots to No. 16) and Butler (down eight spots to No. 13) went a combined 0-6 last week.
  • N.J. on the rise: No. 24 Rutgers is ranked for the first time since the 1978-79 season, and with Seton Hall at No. 10, the state of New Jersey has two teams ranked for the first time since 1990-91 (Seton Hall and Princeton).

The big picture: With so much turnover at the top of the rankings each week, it's starting to feel like this is the "year of the upset." But that's only partially true.

  • Yes, top-five teams have already lost to unranked opponents 14 times (happened six times all of last season) and are beating them at a lower rate than any of the previous five seasons.
  • But overall, ranked teams have won 82.8% of games against unranked teams, which is almost exactly in line with recent seasons.

The bottom line: This isn't the "year of the upset," it's "the year without dominant teams." I'd imagine that hasn't been great for TV ratings since the sport thrives on powerhouses (i.e. Duke last season), but it could make March extra "Mad."

📺 Tonight: No. 13 Butler at No. 9 Villanova, 7pm ET (CBSSN)

5. 🏀 Women's poll: No change at the top
Expand chart
Data: NCAA; Table: Axios Visuals

South Carolina and Baylor still sit atop the women's AP poll, with UConn moving into third after previous No. 3 Stanford lost to Oregon by 32 points. The Ducks subsequently moved up to No. 4, with Louisville sitting tight at No. 5.

📺 Game of the week: UConn and Tennessee will play each other for the first time since 2007, with the Huskies hosting the Volunteers in Hartford on Thursday night (7pm ET, ESPN).

6. 🌍 Photos from abroad
Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND — Mohamed Salah and Liverpool beat Manchester United, 2-0, to improve to 21-1-0 through 22 matches, the best start in the history of Europe's "Big 5" leagues. Second-place Manchester City is 16 points behind them.

Photo: Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images

SAUDI ARABIA — The 42nd edition of the Dakar Rally took competitors from the shores of the Red Sea, around the canyons of the western part of the country, over the endless dunes of the Empty Quarter and all the way to the capital city of Riyadh.

Photo: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

LEYSIN, SWITZERLAND — Here's a mesmerizing photo of American Ty Schnorrbusch competing in the Women's Snowboard Slopestyle at the Winter Youth Olympics.

7. Jan. 21, 1979: 🏈 Terry Bradshaw steals the show

Terry Bradshaw talks with the media after the game. Photo: Ross Lewis/Getty Images

41 years ago today, the Steelers beat the Cowboys, 35-31, in Super Bowl XIII, becoming the first NFL franchise to win three Super Bowls.

  • Game MVP: Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw completed 17 of 30 passes for a Super Bowl-record 318 yards and four TD, and his 75-yard TD pass in the second quarter tied Johnny Unitas for the longest pass in a Super Bowl.
  • The big picture: The Steelers won the Super Bowl the following season and followed that up with two more in the 2000s, placing them in a tie with the Patriots for most Super Bowl wins (6).

Steelers titles (click for highlights):

8. The Ocho: 🏔 Wingsuit flying in the Swiss Alps
Credit: Red Bull on YouTube

Watch the video.

9. 🏀 NBA trivia

Photo: Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Damian Lillard erupted for a franchise-record 61 points in the Trail Blazers' 129-124 overtime win over the Warriors last night, becoming just the sixth player in NBA history with multiple 60-point games.

  • Question: Can you name the other five players?
  • Hint: One is still active.

Answer at the bottom.

10. Everything else
Photo: Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

🇮🇪 McGregor is back: Conor McGregor only needed 40 seconds to knock out Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. Here's the full fight.

🇨🇦 Best thing I saw: Absolutely love this Twitter thread about a Canadian community coming together through hockey to make a young Syrian refugee feel welcome in his new home.

🏀 1-29: Kemba Walker got his first career win against LeBron James last night, as the Celtics handed the Lakers their worst loss of the season. Walker was 0-28 against James coming into the game.

🏒 This is fun: ESPN's Greg Wyshynski explores how the NHL standings would change if the league used a different points system.

📚 Good read: To understand America, look to its college sports (Gerard Baker, WSJ)

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "We almost had the State Farm Bowl (Mahomes vs. Rodgers)" Baker

Trivia answer: Wilt Chamberlain (32), Kobe Bryant (6), James Harden (4), Michael Jordan (4), Elgin Baylor (3)