Monthly Archives: December 2019

Detroit Lions’ Darius Slay gets Aaron Rodgers’ jersey in swap: ‘It touched me’

Darius Slay wasn’t happy about the Detroit Lions’ loss to the Green Bay Packers. But he was ecstatic about his parting gift from Aaron Rodgers, the quarterback whose virtues Slay has extolled for years.

After a 23-20 loss, the Lions cornerback found Rodgers on the field and received a signed No. 12 jersey.

Slay proudly showed off the jersey in the locker room and read Rodgers’ message, though he had some difficulty reading the writing.

“He basically just said — because he kind of got sloppy handwriting here — ‘I always loved competing against you. You’re one of the greatest in this generation. Thanks for making me a better player,’ ” Slay said. “Which he is one of the better players in this generation for sure, one of the Hall of Fame best quarterbacks.

“And coming from him, my heart drops. You could hear, ‘doop,’ a pin drop. So for me, coming from (someone like) that, feel great. It’s Aaron Rodgers, so he’s just letting me know I’m one of the greatest, I felt great. It touched me. It touched me.”

Slay left the game briefly and returned with a noticeable limp. He played a few series and struggled to match speed with receivers, including when he gave up a 28-yard touchdown pass to Allen Lazard. He didn’t play the final few series.

“Yeah, just trying to fight man,” Slay said. “I wanted to bring a win for the team, for Marvin (Jones), his family, myself. Just trying to fight. I should’ve stayed down. That last drive was special, but I should’ve stayed down. I don’t know what the results would have been, but I should’ve stayed down.”

Hand-sculpted hockey jerseys a ‘unique’ project for Edmonton artist

An Edmonton artist with an enthusiasm for sports has hit the market with a series of unique, collectible sculptures of hockey jerseys.

“I made this,” Janet Deane said. “How many people do we know in Edmonton who created something from start to finish? It’s not an easy thing.”

It took Deane about 80 hours to sculpt the original mini jersey. It was shipped to a manufacturer in China who then created moulds and hand-painted replicas made from plastic resin.

Along with her business partner, Deane created a company called Sorturii to have a royalty guarantee with the National Hockey League that allows them to use logos and colours of NHL teams.

“I just wanted to make stuff,” she said.

But if she’s going to make something, it’s got to be unique, she said.

Packaged with adhesive numbers and letters in team-specific fonts, each mini jersey can be personalized — perfect for fans of players who rarely get marketed on collectables, or fans who want to remember an event or special date, said Deane.

Deane, 48, has done commissioned artwork — from digital prints to paintings to hand-sculpted trophies — for a long list of players, teams and local charity organizations.

Creating personalized works of art for players to commemorate career milestones has been a thrill, but Deane said she has experienced a lot of entrepreneurial ups and downs that led her to this point in her career, which began at a young age, she said.

“I was selling snails when I was eight years old,” she said.

While she’s done a lot of sports-related art, she isn’t focused on it exclusively.

Deane opened an art gallery at the age of 22 to sell work by university and college students, pitched her products on the business investment show Dragon’s Den, painted art on toenails for charity, and created trophies for international championship events.

Coming up with a unique idea, turning that invention into a reality, and then being able to market it and make a profit comes with unpredictable challenges.

“It’s a cutthroat business.”

Eventually, Deane said she would like to grow her idea into a larger product list that includes more teams and even other sports leagues.

The mini jerseys, featuring the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, are available online and in-store from West Edmonton Coin and Stamp for $39.95.

MLB rumors: Latest on Yankees’ pursuit of Kyle Schwarber; Mookie Betts to Dodgers for Corey Seager? Updates on Francisco Lindor, Dallas Keuchel, Josh Donaldson

It sure has been a fun baseball offseason so far with lots of signings for big bucks and trade rumors galore involving star players.

The latest gossip includes an update on the Yankees’ trade talks with the Chicago Cubs. Also, the Dodgers reportedly are willing to give up star shortstop Corey Seager in a trade with the Boston Red Sox for outfielder Mookie Betts or a deal with the Cleveland Indians for shortstop Francisco Lindor.

As for the remaining top free agents, we have the latest info on the likes of Nicholas Castellanos, Josh Donaldson, Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-Jin Ryu.

Meanwhile, free agents Maikel Franco, Justin Smoak, Julio Teheran and Gio Gonzalez have new homes.

Here is the latest baseball news:

NICHOLAS CASTELLANOS, OF

Status: Free agent.

Age: 27 (28 on March 4, 2020).

2019 stats: Detroit Tigers & Chicago Cubs, 289 average, 615 AB, 100 runs, 178 hits, 58 doubles, 27 HR, 73 RBI, 41 BB, 143 K, .863 OPS, 151 games.

The latest: The Giants and Rangers are possible landing sports for Castellanos as is a return to the Cubs, the team that he raked for last summer following a July trade. The Cubs are the best fit, according to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal. “Someone close to Castellanos said he’s looking for a team where the culture is good, where he can contribute to that culture and elevate it,” Rosenthal said on Hot Stove. “Well, what have the Cubs been talking about for the better part of a year? Culture, urgency, all of these buzzwords. And he certainly elevated them in that regard when he came over in the trade. I suspect he is going to do well (in a contract). Maybe not crazy well because he’s not really much of a defender, but he’s is going to get a longer deal because of his age, and because of a longer deal, the money will be pretty big.”

MIKE CLEVINGER, RHP

Club: Cleveland Indians.

Age: 28 (29 on Dec. 21, 2019).

2019 stats: Indians, 13-4, 2.71 ERA, 21 starts, 126 IP, 96 hits, 37 BB, 169 K.

The latest: The Indians still are in a cost-cutting mode after trading ace Corey Kluber, and although shortstop Francisco Lindor has been in a lot of trade rumors, the next to go could be Clevinger, who was 38-18 with a 2.96 ERA over 80 outings from 2017-19. The Dodgers and Padres are showing interest, but the price is “crazy high,” baseball writer Robert Murray reported.

JOSH DONALDSON, 3B

Status: Free agent.

Age: 34 (35 on Dec. 8, 2020)

2019 stats: Atlanta Braves, .259 average, 549 AB, 96 runs, 142 hits, 33 doubles, 37 HR, 94 RBI, 100 BB, 155 K, .900 OPS, 155 games.

The latest: “I think the key number could be $100 million,” MLB Network insider Jon Heyman said. “(Donaldson) is in excellent, excellent position. The (Mike) Moustakas deal for $64 million not only took Moustakas off the board, but it put him on the Reds, who really didn’t need a third baseman. So it left a lot of options for Donaldson in play. It feels like it could be an NL East matchup. The Nats, I’ve heard, are trying hard. They seem to be the team that’s willing to do that fourth year. Whether there are other teams, I’m not sure. We’ve heard earlier on that the Braves probably wouldn’t go to a fourth year, but if push comes to shove and you’ve got the rival in there doing the fourth year … I’m not going to bet against the Nats and the Braves are still in there. The Dodgers have been looking at him, the Twins have been looking at him and the Rangers also, but it feels like an NL battle (between the Nationals and Braves) to me.”

MAIKEL FRANCO, 3B

Club: Kansas City Royals.

Age: 27 (28 on Aug. 26, 2020)

2019 stats: Philadelphia Phillies, .234 average, 389 AB, 48 runs, 91 hits, 17 doubles, 17 HR, 56 RBI, 36 BB, 61 K, .704 OPS 123 games.

The latest: The Royals and Franco have agreed on a one-year, $2.95-million contract that includes $1.05 million in performance bonuses. This signing is expected to lead to the Royals playing Hunter Rozier in right field next season after a 2019 campaign in which he started 99 games at third, 17 in right and seven at first base.

GIO GONZALEZ, LHP

Club: Chicago White Sox.

Age: 34 (36 on Sept. 19, 2020)

2019 MLB stats: Milwaukee Brewers, 3-2, 3.50 ERA, 19 games, 17 starts, 87.1 IP, 76 hits, 37 BB, 78 K.

2019 minor-league stats: Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (AAA), San Antonio Missions (AAA), Carolina Mudcats (high A), 2-1, 5.40 ERA, 5 starts, 21.2 IP, 28 hits, 6 BB, 25 K.

The latest: The White Sox filled a rotation hole signing Gonzalez to a deal for undisclosed terms. Chicago’s other projected starters, at least for the time being, are ace Lucas Giolito (14-9, 3.41), Reynaldo Lopez (10-15, 5.38), Dylan Cease (4-7, 5.79) and Dylan Covey (1-8, 7.98)

DALLAS KEUCHEL, LHP

Status: Free agent.

Age: 31 (32 on Jan. 1, 2020)

2019 stats: Atlanta Braves, 8-8, 3.75 ERA, 19 starts, 112.2 IP, 115 hits, 39 BB, 91 K.

The latest: A return to the Braves or signing with the Angels or Cardinals are the top possibilities for Keuchel. “I wouldn’t be shocked if (the Braves) come back to Keuchel,” MLB Insider Jon Heyman said on Hot Stove. “I do think the Angels make sense. They do have some interest, I would not be shocked there. I’ve heard that he does like St. Louis very much, as a lot of ballplayers do. Great baseball town. So all of those are possibilities. I know the White Sox have been connected (but) I would say they’re on the fringe and less likely than the others.”

FRANCISCO LINDOR, SS

Club: Cleveland Indians.

Age: 26 (27 on Nov. 14, 2020)

2019 stats: Indians, .284 average, 598 AB, 101 runs, 170 hits, 40 doubles, 32 HR, 74 RBI, 46 BB, 98 K, .854 OPS, 143 games.

The latest: The Indians still are willing to deal Lindor after trading two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber in a cost-cutting deal, and according to Mark Feinsand of MLB.com, “the Reds are the latest team to engage about a potential trade,” Feinsand added, ”It’s unclear if there’s any traction, but Reds have been aggressive on (the) trade market before and have trade chips.” The Padres also have looked into dealing for Lindor, MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal added. Lindor is two years away from free agency and reportedly unlikely to get a market-value, long-term offer from the Indians.

MARTIN PEREZ, LHP

Club: Boston Red Sox.

Age: 28 (29 on April 4, 2020)

2019 stats: Minnesota Twins, 10-7, 5.12 ERA, 32 games, 29 starts, 165.1 IP, 184 hits, 67 BB, 135 K.

The latest: Perez’s recent signing with the Red Sox was announced by the club on Thursday. Perez currently is listed as Boston’s No. 5 starter in a rotation that includes fellow lefties Chris Sale, David Price and Eduardo Rodriguez plus righty Nathan Eovaldi, but the club hopes to deal Price in a cost-cutting move this winter. Perez’ new deal is for one year and $6-million plus a $6.25 million club option or $500,000 buyout for 2021.

HYUN-JIN RYU, LHP

Status: Free agent.

Age: 32 (33 on March 25, 2020)

2019 stats: Los Angeles Dodgers, 14-5, 2.32 ERA, 29 starts, 182.2 IP, 160 hits, 24 BB, 163 K.

The latest: At least five clubs are the running for Ryu, and the Dodgers are the favorite to keep the 2019 NL Cy Young runner-up, MLB insider Jon Heyman said on Hot Stove. “It feels like the Dodgers still want him back,” Heyman said. “They played on the really big players in their primes (this winter in runs at free agents Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon) and have come up short to this point. But they are very good at keeping their own stars. Ryu had a fantastic year, so I think the Dodgers are an obvious favorite to keep Ryu. I know Toronto is in there strong, as well. I know the Twins have been connected. I know the Braves have checked in. The Angels are another team that would make sense. So we have at least five teams that are possibilities for Ryu. This one feels like it is heating up and I wouldn’t be shocked if something happens in a week or two. There are teams looking at four years for Ryu and he’s going to do quite well.”

COREY SEAGER, SS

Club: Los Angeles Dodgers.

Age: 25 (26 on April 27, 2020).

2019 stats: Dodgers, .272 average, 489 AB, 82 runs, 133 hits, 44 doubles, 19 HR, 87 RBI, 44 BB, 98 K, .817 OPS, 134 games.

The latest: The Dodgers are willing to part with Seager in a deal that brings them Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported. Betts can become a free agent after the 2020 season while Seager, a two-time All-Star, has two years of team control remaining. The Red Sox reportedly hope to trim payroll and Betts, according to MLB Trade Rumors, is projected to make $27.7 million next season as an arbitration-eligible player. Boston, however, appears “inclined to deal elsewhere on the roster” and keep Betts, according to Alex Speier of the Boston Globe. The Red Sox have been aggressively shopping left-hander David Price, who has three seasons and $96 million remaining on a seven-year, $217 million contract.

Club: Chicago Cubs.

Age: 26 (27 on March 5, 2020).

2019 stats: Cubs, .250 average, 529 AB, 82 runs, 132 hits, 29 doubles, 38 HR, 92 RBI, 70 BB, 156 K, .871 OPS, 121 games.

The latest: Although the Yankees recently have looked into trading for Schwarber, who has been on their radar since 2016, they aren’t close to completing a deal with the Cubs, MLB Insider Ken Rosenthal reported. Schwarber, who has averaged 31 homers in his three full seasons as a big leaguer from 2017-19, would be an upgrade in left field for the Yankees over Mike Tauchman and Brett Gardner.

JUSTIN SMOAK, 1B

Club: Milwaukee Brewers.

Age: 33 (34 on Dec. 5, 2020).

2019 stats: Toronto Blue Jays, .208 average, 414 AB, 54 runs, 86 hits, 16 doubles, 22 HR, 61 RBI 79 BB, 106 K, .748 OPS, 121 games.

The latest: The Brewers and Smoak came to terms on a one-year, $1 5M deal that includes a $5.5 million club option or $1 million buyout for 2021

Club: Los Angeles Angels.

Age: 28 (29 on Jan. 27, 2020)

2019 stats: Atlanta Braves, 10-11, 3.81 ERA, 33 starts, 174.2 IP, 148 hits, 83 BB, 162 K.

The latest: Outbid by the Yankees for Gerrit Cole, the Angels added a two-time All-Star and long-time workhouse signing Teheran to a one-year, $9-million contract, Jeff Passan of ESPN.com reported. The Angels still may add another starter, but currently have a projected 2020 rotation that includes Andrew Heaney, Shohei Ohtani, Dylan Bundy and Griffin Canning. Only Heaney and Canning were in the Angels’ rotation last year, as Bundy was acquired in trade from Baltimore on Dec. 4 and Ohtani was limited to DH duties last season due to Oct. 1, 2018 Tommy John surgery.

EDINSON VOLQUEZ, RHP

Club: Texas Rangers.

Age: 36 (37 on July 3, 2020)

2019 stats: Rangers, 0-1, 6.75 ERA, 11 games, 4 starts, 16 IP, 20 hits, 12 BB, 10 K.

The latest: Volquez, who missed most of the 2019 season with a right shoulder strain, re-signed with the Rangers on a minor-league contract that includes an invite to big-league spring training. A 17-game winner and All-Star with Cincinnati in 2008, Volquez began this past season as the Rangers’ No. 2 starter. He landed on the DL after two starts with the shoulder and didn’t return until September.

Kelenna Azubuike says Carmelo Anthony paid him $3,000 to take his No. 7 jersey with the Knicks

How much is a jersey number on a team worth? Well, that varies from player to player, and Kelenna Azubuike, former New York Knick, realized this the hard way when Carmelo Anthony joined his then team and wanted to take the No. 7 off his back. Azubuike had his sights set on a large sum of cash for the gift of a number, but was let down when the check was finally in his hands.

During the Portland Trail Blazers vs. Golden State Warriors game Azubuike told the story of how Melo snatched his number for a discounted price.

Azubuike set the scene saying, “So he wanted No. 7 and so Donnie Walsh, who was the GM at the time, calls me into his office and he’s like, ‘Carmelo’s telling us he wants your number.'”

He was not just about to hand over then number right then and there and said, “Well he’s gonna have to give me something, he’s gotta pay me something, right?”

Walsh told them to work it out themselves.

“So Carmelo comes in there,” Azubuike continues, “I’m like ‘Bro, let me hold something… I know you’re paid.'”

Azubuike says he didn’t even have the chance to shoutout a number before the next No. 7 said, “I got you, don’t worry about it.”

With high hopes of taking in “at least 20 racks,” Azubuike thought about all those players who paid $50-100,000 for a jersey number swap and was looking forward to a nice payday courtesy of his new teammate.

His friends were hyping him up, talking about Anthony’s contract and how much he was about to get for the number, but it did not exactly play out how they had hoped.

“I walk in the next day and he hands me a check for $3,000, I’m like come on,” Azubuike says.

Azubuike said the problem was that he had no leverage with the team. He was not a star, he was injured and was not even playing, and said Anthony knew “He had all the power.”

“I blame my boys for the high expectations,” he joked.

Anthony got the number without even putting a dent in his bank account Azubuike got was a few thousand and a funny story to tell during broadcasts.

Melo was unable to wear No. 7 with the Trail Blazers because it is out of circulation for Brandon Roy, and his previous number 15, is retired by the franchise for Larry Steele, who was on the 1977 NBA championship team. Anthon now wears 00 for very specific reasons.

Hand-sculpted hockey jerseys a ‘unique’ project for Edmonton artist

An Edmonton artist with an enthusiasm for sports has hit the market with a series of unique, collectible sculptures of hockey jerseys.

“I made this,” Janet Deane said. “How many people do we know in Edmonton who created something from start to finish? It’s not an easy thing.”

It took Deane about 80 hours to sculpt the original mini jersey. It was shipped to a manufacturer in China who then created moulds and hand-painted replicas made from plastic resin.

Along with her business partner, Deane created a company called Sorturii to have a royalty guarantee with the National Hockey League that allows them to use logos and colours of NHL teams.

“I just wanted to make stuff,” she said.

But if she’s going to make something, it’s got to be unique, she said.

Story continues below

Packaged with adhesive numbers and letters in team-specific fonts, each mini jersey can be personalized — perfect for fans of players who rarely get marketed on collectables, or fans who want to remember an event or special date, said Deane.

Deane, 48, has done commissioned artwork — from digital prints to paintings to hand-sculpted trophies — for a long list of players, teams and local charity organizations.

Creating personalized works of art for players to commemorate career milestones has been a thrill, but Deane said she has experienced a lot of entrepreneurial ups and downs that led her to this point in her career, which began at a young age, she said.

“I was selling snails when I was eight years old,” she said.

While she’s done a lot of sports-related art, she isn’t focused on it exclusively.

Deane opened an art gallery at the age of 22 to sell work by university and college students, pitched her products on the business investment show Dragon’s Den, painted art on toenails for charity, and created trophies for international championship events.

Coming up with a unique idea, turning that invention into a reality, and then being able to market it and make a profit comes with unpredictable challenges.

“It’s a cutthroat business.”

Eventually, Deane said she would like to grow her idea into a larger product list that includes more teams and even other sports leagues.

The mini jerseys, featuring the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, are available online and in-store from West Edmonton Coin and Stamp for $39.95.

Local ‘jersey boys’ give you the shirt off their rack

Josh and Zach Ellsworth grew up in Fairchance, and among their childhood duties was to tend to the grounds of a property off Route 21 in Masontown. They cut grass and helped clean the commercial buildings.

Little did they realize that, as adults, they would establish careers with the company located there, one that mows down the competition.

The Brothers Ellsworth are members of the management team of Stahls, a heat print technology company that specializes in replica sports jerseys. It is a global firm, based in Sterling Heights, Mich., with about a dozen locations in the United States and nearly a half-dozen abroad.

Three of those domestic operations are local, in close proximity to one another: Cumberland Township, Uniontown, and Masontown.

Stahls is one of the few companies to be a licensed provider for North America’s four major professional leagues: National Football League, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League and National Basketball Association. Major League Soccer is a client as well; most college sports teams are not.

The firm made an industry-wide splash the day before Thanksgiving, when it released its limited-edition NBA City Collection jerseys.

It may be under-the-radar, but a peak company operating at an opportune time, the holiday season. Stahls is striving to complete the manufacturing and distribution of jerseys to sports venues, teams and sporting goods stores for on-site and online sales.

“We’re the largest provider of jerseys to arenas and stadiums (nationwide),” said Josh, vice president of dealer and enterprise sales. He nodded toward small stacks of New York Knicks and Rangers jerseys, explaining Stahls is shipping them to Madison Square Garden. “Every venue orders for its teams.”

The Masontown facility is the largest provider.

“This is our only location that does this type of business,” he said.

That location is designated a decorating fulfillment center, where workers take unfinished replica jerseys, hot press a pro player’s number on the front and his name on the back. Manual or machine sewing also may be necessary.

From October through December, three shifts are deployed there around the clock to accommodate pre-Christmas demand. Shoppers generally prefer a star athlete’s name – Crosby on a Penguins 87 jersey, for example – but can request their own surname on the back.

Stahls, according to Josh, also is the largest provider of personalized tops.

A devoted fan, at additional cost, also can request an autographed jersey. “We do the name and number, send it to the team, the player autographs it and the team sends it back,” said Zach Ellsworth, director of fulfillment technology and the younger brother.

At times, speed is an integral element of Stahls’ operation. Like teams embroiled in a tight, high-stakes game, the company has to respond at crunch time.

Take NFL Draft night, when there is uncertainty as to which college player a franchise may choose in the first round. Stahls has to quickly print an appropriate team jersey for Commissioner Roger Goodell to hand to each first-rounder following his selection.

Josh, however, said “it takes two minutes to make a jersey for the draft,” the heat process taking the heat off the commissioner, draft choice and his new general manager.

Speed also is vital when a marquee athlete is traded or signs as a free agent, making the new team jersey coveted merchandise. And a breakout star can become a quick marketing commodity.

Devlin “Duck” Hodges, the Steelers’ backup quarterback sensation, has inspired some late-season orders.

“We actually get the standard Hodges jersey nameplate, and some personalized jerseys that just say ‘Duck’ (instead of Hodges),” Josh said.

Each of the local Stahls facilities serves different functions, with various sized workforces. The Hotronix heat presses are operated in Paisley Industrial Park in Cumberland, outside Carmichaels, where about 50 are employed. An estimated 20 work in the Uniontown sales office.

Masontown, by comparison, is gargantuan. The DFC has about 130,000 square feet of space in two large, attached buildings.

“We keep about one million garments here,” Zach said.

About 150 work full time there, 85 year-round and 65 seasonal. There is some turnover with production jobs, Zach acknowledged, but there are a number of longtime employees like Faye Paull of Uniontown, who hand sews and has 23 years of service.

Stahls is certainly an established company, one that launched in 1932. It has had a presence in Western Pennsylvania since 1984, and has been in Masontown since 1994, following a relocation from Connellsville. The firm has been producing sports jerseys “since the late 1990s,” Josh Ellsworth said.

He is upbeat about the future.

“Our business is growing,” he said. “This is a healthy market to be in.”

The grass he and his sibling used to cut appears to be greener.

Army vs. Navy: America’s Game

For the 120th time, Army will face off against storied rivals from the Naval Academy at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia in America’s Game December 14th. The last game of the college football regular season will pit two of the best running football teams in the country. We’re reminded every year what a privilege this game is as most of these kids will not play football after they graduate from their academy.

This is the only game in where the players fight on the field for 60 minutes then after, go fight oversea’s to protect our freedom. This is truly a special game not just for me, but for all the soldiers and sailors serving and the ones that have passed; those players represent our country’s best young people and future leaders.

With such a special game brings a special occasion for the highest-ranking officials in the country. Ten sitting presidents have attended the game starting with Theodore Roosevelt in 1901.

This is also a game where both teams are brothers in arms for 364 days of the year, but for the second Saturday in December, you hate the other side. But after punishing each other for 60 straight minutes they shake hands and go over to their traveling classmates to sing each Alma Mater. The goal is to “SING SECOND”

The Squids from 2002 to 2015 won 14 straight games and for a long time, it didn’t look like Army would ever win again. The Squids dominated every match-up, until the last two games of their winning streak, where the only won by a TD or fewer.

But Army found a new sign of life when Saint Jeff Monken came to West Point and became the head coach of the football team. Monken has a record of 40-35, 3-0 in bowl games but most importantly, 3-2 against Navy, winning three straight against the squids and 2 Commander and Chiefs trophies.

But this is a football game, it is bragging rights for 364 days of the year for whoever wins. There’s a win on the line but there is also a trophy to be added to the cases on both campuses. They play for the Commander and Chiefs trophy which is played between Army, Air Force, and the Naval academies.

The trophy itself stands 2.5 feet high and weighs 170 lb, so when you win it the three captains of the winning team receive it and raise it as one. The trophy is named for the U.S. President, who is the Commander-in-Chief of all U.S. military services under the U.S. Constitution. The President has awarded the trophy on a number of occasions.

This year’s game is even more special, as this is the 120th time that both teams will face off. Both teams will again wear custom jerseys for the game. With the Squids being Under Armour and Army being Nike, this has become the game before the game, who has the best uniform.

For Army, the 2019 Army-Navy Uniform tells the story of the soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division and the birth of air mobility during the Vietnam War. The division is unique in that throughout its existence; the Division has served as a Cavalry Division, an Infantry Division, an Air Assault Division, and an Armored Division. They will honor the past by re-telling the story of the “First Team!” A story of valor, courage, and sacrifice. Inspired, humbled, and motivated by the soldiers that came before us, we don their patches, adopt their mottos, and hold their deeds close to our hearts.

The Squids, have produced two Heisman Trophy winners in their history, with Joe Bellino winning the award in 1960 and Roger Staubach in 1963. The uniforms they wore featured a traditional squid blue contrasted with brilliant gold accents, a brilliant look for some of the best teams in the nation during their respective seasons. This era provided the inspiration needed to outfit the current Squids squad for Saturday’s rivalry game.

But this game will be just like others in recent memory. You can throw out the record when Army (5-7) and Squids (9-2) meet as seven of the last eight meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less.

It’s been a massively disappointing season for an Army team that won 29 games over three years, however, an ugly five-game losing streak has turned their season upside down. It is unclear who will line up under center for the Black Knights on Saturday as Kelvin Hopkins Jr. was knocked out of the Hawaii game and with the second and third-string QB’s both injured it may leave them with freshman Jemel Jones at the helm. But expect whoever under center, will have to have the game of their lives if Army wants to come out with a win.

The squids running game is back and the triple option is working the way it’s supposed to, leading the nation with 361 rushing yards per game. The Midshipmen have Senior QB Malcolm Perry leading the charge in the running and passing department with 1,500 rushing yards, 19 touchdowns, adding 1,027 yards and six TDs through the air to earn Offensive Player of the Year honors in the American Athletic Conference

Army will win this game because the class of 2020 is undefeated against Navy (3-0). They will run the option to its fullest extent. Then they’ll be able to hit the play-action pass that has worked all year. This will be a low-scoring game, as the Army defense will take away Malcolm Perry as a runner and will force the squids into uncomfortable situations.

I’m predicting a 24-14 Army win, upping their current win streak over the Squids to four. It won’t be an easy task for the cadets, who are 10.5 point underdogs. But in the typical Army way, we will grind our way to success and we will come out victorious. GO ARMY! BEAT NAVY!

Black quarterbacks in the NFL are changing the dreams of middle-school boys

Daylight was breaking over a rain-soaked football field at a sprawling park in this Atlanta suburb, as car after car pulled up to drop off boys eager to turn their athletic dreams into reality.

The two dozen young athletes were all quarterbacks, and, significantly, about half of them were black. They were here to work with a personal coach, the kind of private training that has become a prerequisite for high-level signal-callers, and was once mainly the purview of white boys who aspired to future quarterback glory.

In recent years, an increasing number of young black quarterbacks have become convinced they, too, can make it to the NFL. They are among the leading college performers, more visible atop the recruitment lists put together by high school scouting services, and a growing presence at quarterback training sessions that groom future stars, like this one in Alpharetta.

As some parents sheltered from the rain under a tent with a marketing executive selling a high-tech helmet, the young athletes warmed up at the start of a group class led by Quincy Avery, one of the nation’s hottest quarterback gurus. His sessions are aimed at honing footwork, throwing mechanics, and other basic skills that must be mastered by every big-time quarterback.

“The success of black quarterbacks in the league is changing the perception of young black quarterbacks and what they think they are capable of,” Avery said. “They now know if they are good enough, they will get the opportunity to play quarterback.”

That reality is altering not just the NFL but also the makeup of the quarterback pipeline that winds its way from practice fields to youth travel leagues, through high school and college — and for the few — to the pros. Young black signal-callers like the ones zipping tight spirals across the artificial turf here look at the growing prominence of black quarterbacks in the NFL and they can more readily imagine one day being there themselves.

When Avery started his quarterback training business seven years ago, most of his clients were white. But now that has changed.

“Oh, definitely, my business is seeing many more black clients,” Avery said. “The success of black quarterbacks in the NFL and in college is changing the way we evaluate quarterbacks and how we think about the things they need to be able to do. They need to be able to move and be dynamic with their legs and extend plays. I think that is more important to many evaluators these days.”

Avery’s classes are not cheap — a total of two dozen on-field and classroom sessions can run $1,000 — but parents see it as a small price to pay for stardom. And, make no mistake, nearly every one of the young men here is planning for a shining future in football. The middle-schoolers are eyeing starting spots in high school. Those already in high school are hoping to attract the attention of major college programs. Eventually, just about every one of them, odds be damned, want to go pro.

That is why Celeste Miller, a federal contracts manager, was standing here under an umbrella in the pouring rain watching her 11-year-old son, Christopher, work through the drills. Times have changed, she said, and she thinks her son is in a position to capitalize.

“He is inspired by what black quarterbacks are doing. He roots for them,” she said. “They used to say that black quarterbacks did not have the intelligence or the ability to lead others. But the success they are having in the NFL proves otherwise. Everyone can see that they are more than just good athletes.”

She is putting her money and time behind her convictions. Between the cost of quarterback tutoring, youth leagues and equipment, she said, she spends upward of $5,000 a year and countless hours of her time to help her son become the best quarterback possible. A former Division I point guard, Miller also has volunteered in the past as a wide receivers coach for her son’s teams.

“The skills are similar,” she said with a chuckle. “Creating passing angles, and things like that. They transfer. I enjoyed it.”

Christopher, a sixth grader who stands 5-feet-6 and weighs 128 pounds, has had private coaching from Avery for more than a year. Although he’s young, he already has some of the moves of a star. On the field, he always hangs a small towel from the back of his waistband. His mother carries his business card, which has his picture staring clear-eyed into the camera. It reads: “Christopher Miller aka ‘Smoove.’ ” His social media feeds mention his devotion to church and his excellent grades in school, but they are filled mostly with images of his workouts and game exploits.

He seems to have talent to go with the swagger. He was recently invited to play in the 2019 Football University National Championship, which showcases “the very top of the middle-school talent pool.” The tournament culminates in a mid-December championship game in Naples, Florida. The coach at McEachern High School, an Atlanta-area powerhouse, spotted Christopher playing for the school’s sixth-grade feeder team, and he liked the young man’s arm strength and decision-making, even as Christopher works to improve his speed and quickness.

The coach follows Christopher on social media, as well as other middle-school prospects who catch his eye. Miller hopes that the quarterback training her son is getting now will give him a leg up for the starting job by the time he gets to high school.

“What he is working on now, is making good decisions when the pocket collapses and the play is disrupted,” she said.

Working with Avery has also given Christopher exposure to some of the top black quarterbacks in college. During an offseason minicamp that Avery calls QB Flight School, Christopher was on the same practice field as Justin Fields, the Ohio State star, and Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts, both of whom are leading Heisman Trophy candidates.

“It feels good to see young black quarterbacks who are starting for their college teams,” Christopher said. “I feel inspired by it. It means a lot because they look like me.”

Even as black quarterbacks are reaching unprecedented heights, it remains clear that those who want to join them are entering a competition unlike any other. Beyond a strong arm, quick feet, and proven results on the field, the requisite skills for a quarterback are often subtle, and measured subjectively. What does leadership look like? What makes for a good teammate? What does it really mean to be coachable? Or to have a high football IQ?

So far, not many black quarterbacks seem to get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to those intangibles. Unusual talents such as Russell Wilson and Cam Newton have found success in the NFL. But who is the black equivalent to Colt McCoy, the Washington Redskins third-string quarterback? McCoy, a star in college, has carved out a nine-year pro career despite having, at best, mixed NFL success. Not many black quarterbacks get second and third chances, or the opportunity to have long careers with only middling talent, Avery noted.

“Things are slowly shifting, but it is still hard when so many of the decision-makers are not black,” Avery said. “You just don’t have as many people in your corner who look like you.”

About one of every 1,000 high school students who plays football is drafted by the NFL, a statistic that is likely even more daunting for would-be quarterbacks. Until recently, making the pros was even more improbable for black quarterbacks, who had to battle not just long odds but also layers of stigma and stereotype to reach the game’s highest level.

“Things are slowly shifting, but it is still hard when so many of the decision-makers are not black. You just don’t have as many people in your corner who look like you.” — Quincy Avery on black quarterbacks

For most of the NFL’s century-long history, black quarterbacks were seen as not bright enough, or lacking the leadership qualities to play a position often called the most difficult in sports. If they were quick and fast, they were labeled “dual-threats,” which, in the coded language of football evaluators, was not necessarily a good thing. It often meant that they were seen as excellent runners but erratic throwers and, consequently, not the best fit for the NFL.

But many those old perceptions and strictures are fading as black quarterbacks prove they can both run and throw well. If to be a dual-threat quarterback rather than strictly a pocket passer is to “play black,” then even white quarterbacks want to play black these days.

“You almost can’t get on the field anymore if you can’t extend plays,” Avery said.

It is something that T.C. Lewis, 43, understands well. He was an all-state offensive lineman in high school before going on to play at the University of Connecticut. During his day, there were a few black quarterbacks — Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb — but they were viewed largely as outliers.

His 12-year-old son, Julian, is growing up in a different world, one in which black quarterbacks shine brightly in the center of the NFL galaxy. JuJu, as he is called, hopes to one day join them.

He is off to a good start. He caught the eye of Alabama coach Nick Saban at the Crimson Tide’s camp last summer. After watching JuJu go through a series of drills flawlessly, Saban told him he wants him back “every summer,” his father recounted.

JuJu started working with a private coach when he was 8. Before working with Avery, he trained with Ron Veal, another noted quarterback trainer whose pupils include Clemson star Trevor Lawrence.

For now, JuJu’s goal is to be a Division I quarterback, Lewis said. “Really, his goal is to go all the way, but I try to temper that.” Regardless, he said, the success of black quarterbacks in the NFL “has taken my son’s aspiration from a dream to a real possibility. If he made it, it would not be like he had done something that hasn’t been done before.”

Born to coach

The rise of black quarterbacks has helped Avery build his business, Quarterback Takeover, into one of the nation’s top quarterback training outfits in just seven years.

Avery was born into a football family. His father, Wendell Avery, is a former college quarterback who coached both in college and the pros, including a stint as a head coach at Savannah State University, and assistant jobs on teams including Fort Valley State and Alabama A&M University. He spent a year on the staff of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and most recently he has been coaching in the Canadian Football League.

All along, Avery was soaking in the game. “I get it honestly. I grew up the son of a football coach,” he said.

The younger Avery played quarterback throughout most of his youth and high school football career, but he was never viewed as top-tier. At 5-feet-10, he was considered too short to be a Division I quarterback. He ended going to Morehouse College, a historically black college that plays in Division II. But after two years as a quarterback, Morehouse moved him to wide receiver. Still, he always believed he had a keen understanding of what it took to play quarterback.

After graduating from Morehouse in 2009, he essentially forced his way into coaching. His dad knew someone who had previously worked at UCLA and Avery drove to Los Angeles from Atlanta and presented himself at the football office for three straight days. Finally, then-head coach Rick Neuheisel gave him a shot as a volunteer, which grew into a graduate assistant position after Avery proved his mettle breaking down film of the team’s quarterbacks.

“You could watch these guys on film and see where they need improvement,” Avery said.

After two years at UCLA, Avery decided to go into private quarterback training. He moved back to Atlanta and started going to local parks and charging people $20 for a lesson. He promoted himself on social media and by word of mouth. For a while, things were slow, forcing him to live out of his car and take showers at a local gym, he said.

His big break came when one of his early clients, Joshua Dobbs, an Atlanta-area high school quarterback whom he met in 2011, developed into a star. Dobbs went on to play quarterback at the University of Tennessee, and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2017. He is now a backup with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“The business ended up taking off from there,” Avery said.

Among Avery’s star pupils is Houston Texans star Deshaun Watson, who is among the early contenders to be this year’s NFL MVP. They met in 2013, while Watson was establishing himself as a record-setting high school quarterback in Gainesville, Georgia. The two have been close since.

Watson worked with Avery and other coaches regularly during his All-America career at Clemson. Even now, they often train and travel together. After a rare poor performance by Watson earlier this season, Avery met his pupil on the field of Houston’s NRG Stadium. They broke down Watson’s mechanics, going over details about footwork, gripping the ball and even taking a snap. Avery also provided some confidence-boosting advice.

“He’s like a big brother. I don’t even call him coach, I just call him big bro,” Watson told reporters afterward. “He’s a guy that’s from football to life experiences to business to family, he’s like a big brother to me.”

Through the years, Avery has worked with other black pros and well-known college stars. Hurts. Fields. Oakland Raiders backup DeShone Kizer and Los Angeles Chargers veteran Tyrod Taylor are among them.

“Once you build your core group of guys, it kind of goes from there,” he said.

A mother lost a Saints jersey in the Superdome; it was a memento of a dead son

It’s an extra-large souvenir Saints jersey, black with a gold collar and No. 9 on the back, just like many, many others. Jennifer Harper, a Saints fan from Mobile, Alabama, said she recalls packing it away before she left the Mercedes-Benz Superdome’s Section 121, Row 13 after Sunday’s game, which ended with a lip-biting loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

But by the time she reached the parking garage it was gone.

The jersey belonged to Jennifer’s son Bobby Harper, Jr. who died in an automobile accident in January. Jennifer and her family have taken the jersey to every game they’ve attended since then. They drape it over Bobby’s former seat. It’s a way to keep Bobby in their thoughts. Now it’s lost.

But Jennifer hopes that somebody may have found it and will be willing to return it.

Bobby would have been 31 years old on Monday, Dec. 9, the day after the 49ers game. At 6 feet, 7 inches tall, with red hair and a full beard, he was a striking figure.

Bobby and his brother Michael, 27, regularly attended Saints home games with their mom and dad, Jennifer said. He was one of those focused fans who could explain the implications of a penalty before the officials announced it.

Bobby was at his parents’ house the evening before he died. The family had eaten king cake. The next morning, Bobby, who was an emergency room nurse, received a call from a friend whose car had broken down.

He volunteered to give her a ride home. As he sped to his friend’s aid, his Toyota Avalon inexplicably veered off of highway I-10, rolled and crashed into a tree.

Jennifer, a retired special education teacher, and her husband, Bobby Sr., an insurance agent, have been Saints season ticket holders for 35 years.

“I bleed black and gold,” Jennifer said.

Jennifer said that, despite the family’s grief, she and her husband encouraged Michael, a chef at Couvant restaurant in New Orleans, to attend the Saints’ NFC championship game two days later — which ended with the notorious “no call.”

Attending the important game in defiance of their grief seemed like the sort of gesture Bobby would have appreciated, Jennifer said. She recalls telling Michael and his girlfriend Chelsea Hale: “You need to go, you need to go.”

“Something just told me to come down here to New Orleans and and go to the game,” Michael said. “It’s like he wanted it.”

Michael and Chelsea took one of Bobby’s Saints jerseys with them to the game, displaying it on his seat like a flag, and a family custom was born.

“That jersey makes you feel like he’s still there in the Dome with you every Sunday,” Michael said.

The Who Dats who share their section understand the symbol, Jennifer said. Sometimes someone “dances” Bobby’s jersey around when the song “Stand Up and Get Crunk” booms through the dome, she said. At Bobby’s memorial, the family collected donations for Steve Gleason’s Team Gleason Foundation, which aids people with ALS.

“Bobby adored Steve Gleason,” she said.

A fellow fan was waving Bobby’s jersey wildly in the last seconds of Sunday’s game, confident that the Saints would win – though that’s not how things turned out. Jennifer remembers folding up the jersey, which was the last one Bobby wore to a game before he was killed, and placing it in the clear vinyl purse the NFL requires.

But when she got to the car, it had disappeared.

“My gosh, where’s Bobby’s jersey?” she recalled asking. “Did you see it?”

According to Hale, Jennifer was wistfully philosophical about the loss.

“She said, ‘Well, I guess I’ll have to buy him another one for his birthday,’” Hale recalled.

But Hale, who is a server at Brennan’s restaurant in New Orleans, had other strategies in mind. First, she contacted the Superdome in the hopes the jersey might have been turned over to the lost and found. But, she said, she hasn’t heard back yet.

In the meantime, she posted an appeal on Facebook.

“Hello everyone,” she wrote. “I am aware of the power that social media platforms can have and I would like to ask for your help. There were a lot of people in attendance and I just wanted to reach out and ask for shares so that maybe just MAYBE someone sees this post and can get the jersey returned to his family. I understand it is a material item and can be replaced but for them it has significant value/meaning … they hold it tight at games and it’s our way of feeling close to him. I thank you all in advance.”

Seen & Heard: Donate your soccer jerseys today!

DROP OFF YOUR JERSEYS TODAY
The Downtown Soccer League is collecting jerseys and soccer shoes as part of its annual effort with the US African Children’s Fellowship to send gear to several African countries. The last chance to drop off is today at PS 234 before 3 in the lobby. The big sorting operation will take place there today from 3 to 5. (Check out the jersey of the kid above, who won a bike as part of a soccer tournament.)

THE NUTCRACKER AT BROOKFIELD
The New York Theatre Ballet will perform a one-hour Nutcracker choreographed by Keith Michael to Tchaikovsky’s classic score in the Winter Garden this weekend:
Friday, Dec. 6 | 7p
Saturday, Dec. 7 | 1p and 7p
Sunday, Dec. 8 | 1p

TWO EXHIBITIONS ON THE CHINESE IN AMERICA
Now through March 22, the Museum of Chinese in America will show two comprehensive exhibitions highlighting the critical pillars of research and work conducted across the U.S. to preserve Chinese immigrant contributions and communities to the American narrative. “Gathering: Collecting and Documenting Chinese American History” brings together, for the first time ever, historical artifacts from 28 Chinese American museums, historical societies and institutions across the U.S.

“The Chinese Helped Build The Railroad – The Railroad Helped Build America” presents the collective journeys of over 12,000 Chinese laborers who were instrumental in building and connecting the Transcontinental Railroad and the resulting backlash against them once their contribution was completed in 1869. “This year marks the 150th anniversary of an ill-recognized milestone in U.S. history: the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, the associated omission of that accomplishment in U.S. history, and the neglected acknowledgment of early Chinese immigrants who worked, sacrificed, and died to make it happen,” said Nancy Yao Maasbach, president of the museum. “By creating a collective voice and bringing together historical museums, societies, and projects from all points in America, MOCA quickens the pace to help redefine Americans’ understanding of U.S. history.” The museum is at 215 Centre St.

JEFFERSON HAYMAN AT STEVEN AMEDEE GALLERY
The photographs of Jefferson Hayman will be on view at Steven Amedee Gallery through Jan. 4. Each photograph is handcrafted as a silver gelatin, platinum or pigment print, capturing a refined interplay of light and shadow. Titled New Amsterdam, the exhibit will focus in part on Dutch-inspired still lives as well as images of the once Dutch colony of New York City. Finished prints are paired with antique or artist-made frames or custom designed Dutch ripple frames hand-made by Jerry Kurian in collaboration with the artist. The gallery is at 41 N. Moore.