Just win, baby?

By Big Break ProducerOctober 31, 2013, 1:00 pm

Just win, baby.

Any football fan of a certain age knows that was the famous mantra of late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis.  NFL legends and current Big Break NFL competitors, Tim Brown and Jerry Rice played together for a few years on Davis’ team in the early 2000s.  They even lined up alongside one another for the silver & black in Super Bowl XXXVII (that’s 37, to non-Romans).

They just lost.

Some ten years later, as fate would have it, Brown and Rice have become the first two teams to earn losses in Big Break NFL Puerto Rico, which means from here on in each episode could be their last.  What’s in a mantra?

As Rice and Brown fight to avoid being booted from the opulent Dorado Beach Resort, another player—one who can’t count the Raiders among his three former NFL employers—has grabbed Just win baby by the horns and thrown it to the ground like countless quarterbacks who dared to drop back into his path.

Former defensive end Chris Doleman is developing a reputation for being as mean to his Big Break teammates as he was to opposing offenses.  But take it from someone who was there − things aren’t always as black and white as the Atlanta Falcons jersey Doleman donned in 1994 and ’95.

To be sure, Doleman may not be expecting Christmas cards from fellow blue teamers Brian Cooper and Shannon Fish, and they have earned the nickname “Team Turmoil”.  But, barring something very Big Breakish, their run on the series is now guaranteed to go at least six episodes.  Having interviewed Team Doleman for their entire run on the series, I can tell you there is definitely a kinder, gentler side to the man who once played NFL football with a broken tail bone.

During her interview in episode 3, viewers may have noticed a huge piece of jewelry on Shannon’s right hand.  Yes, everything is bigger in her home state of Texas, but that bling came straight from Pittsburgh, PA.  It was the national championship ring of late Pitt Panthers coach Joe Avezzano, whose son Tony happens to be Shannon’s boyfriend.  He gave it to Shannon to take to Puerto Rico as a good luck charm.

Doleman—who happens to be a University of Pittsburgh alum—has a similar charm, which represents more than a decade of good fortune on the gridiron.  It’s a Pro Football Hall of Fame ring, earned when he was inducted to the prestigious club last year.  It’s a priceless symbol of a career very well spent, and of which Doleman is rightfully proud.  And here’s an exchange that occurred just before our interview the evening of episode 4:

ME: What’s that ring?

CHRIS: Hall of Fame.  (grins)  I’m lonely.

ME: Huh?

CHRIS: There’s only 280 of us.

ME: Aahhh... Nice.

CHRIS: Want to try it on?

I paused.  Heck, I’ll short-arm a NERF if you throw it too hard.  A Pro Football Hall of Fame ring, on my finger?  In my mind, that’s something that has to be earned.  Like the Stanley Cup.  A gold medal.  Or the Claret Jug.  That’s like sitting behind the wheel of your father-in-law’s vintage Jaguar.  You don’t just go around touching things like that without doing something pretty special.

After four seconds of consideration, I realized I’ll probably never be this close to that kind of hardware again.  I took the ring, and slipped it over my fattest finger.  And while it was still about 4 sizes too big, in my wildest dreams it was a perfect fit.

CHRIS: Go ahead and keep it.  Give it back to me tomorrow.

ME (in my head): What time does Positivo close?

ME, out loud (and in my head): That’s quite an offer.  But I do not want to be the guy that loses Chris Doleman’s Hall of Fame ring.  Tell you what, bring it to the interview tomorrow and I’ll just take a picture with it on.

He did.  I took three pictures.

How mean can someone be when he’s willing to let a guy he barely knows hang out with his Hall of Fame ring for a day?  Doleman’s compassion goes beyond hopelessly unathletic TV producers, too.  In January, he traveled to New Orleans during Super Bowl week – to help The Starkey Foundation provide hearing aids to needy residents.  The charity Doleman is playing for strives to make the world better by, among other things, helping at risk youth both at home and abroad.

Of course, what’s ultimately at risk on Big Break NFL Puerto Rico is Shannon’s and Brian’s collective sanity, and a chance to win it all if Team Doleman implodes.  So far, they’re just winning, baby.  Do the ends justify the means?  You may already have an opinion on that.  Is Doleman mad scientist enough to make it work?  Stay tuned.

Other interesting notes from episode 4:

- My personal favorite line from episode 4 was Mark Rypien’s response to his shot at the flop wall, which he admittedly caught a little heavy: “I’ve thrown many touchdown passes that weren’t spirals.  And I loved every one of those.”  (Honesty’s the best policy.)

- James’ holeout over the flop wall is the third such shot in Big Break history.  The others?  Ray Beaufils in Greenbrier, and none other than Will Lowery, whose shot from Indian Wells was replayed in episode 4.

* Watch out in future episodes for another player who had the foresight to bring a specialty club to Puerto Rico, and with much more favorable results.  Keep it here to find out who, and what club.

- Brian’s wedge − the one that sleeps with the fishes − was a 64 degree that he brought along specifically for the flop wall challenge.  You can understand why he doesn’t need it anymore.  In fact, Brian threw it in the pond as a favor to others.  He didn’t want the bad mojo to rub off on anyone else.  Allegedly.

- Emily’s celebration after earning immunity at the flop wall was a reaction to her poor play in the previous episode, and a testament to the intensity of the pressure players face on the series.  When asked about it, almost everyone was fine with that display of emotion.

- Mallory’s Driving Distance Average on the 2010 LPGA Tour was 243.8 yards.  She outdrove Juli Inkster, on average, by one yard.  The drive in episode 4 was into the breeze.

- On the first hole of Sudden Death, Tim’s bunker shot may have looked like the easier of the two for Team Brown.  But as we saw in episode 2, the bunkers on the Dorado Beach East Course can be somewhat unpredictable.  Mallory’s pitch shot was top-shelf.

- Coming into the series, Al Del Greco was widely regarded as the most feared NFL player on the cast.  That could change after this episode.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this blog incorrectly stated that the ring Shannon wore in episode 3 of Big Break NFL Puerto Rico was Chris Doleman’s Hall of Fame ring.  The writer apologizes for the inaccuracy.

Getty Images

Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.

Getty Images

Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

Getty Images

After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.

Getty Images

Z. Johnson may have to pay for the jet home

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 1:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Zach Johnson will have some bragging rights when he gets back to the ultimate golf frat house on Friday after a second-round 67 moved him into the lead at The Open.

Johnson is rooming with Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler this week at Carnoustie. It’s a tradition that began two years ago at Royal Troon.

Kisner joked on Thursday after he took the first-round lead that the perks for the house/tournament front-runner were limited: “I probably get to eat first,” he said.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

There is, however, one running wager.

“Two years ago we, I don't know if you call it bet, but agreement that, if you win, you get the jet and you buy it, so we go home,” said Johnson, who added that because of varying travel arrangements, the wager might not be needed this year. “I didn't pay last year. Somebody else did.”

Spieth won last year’s championship at Royal Birkdale.

Despite the expense, Johnson said he didn’t know how much it costs to charter a private flight back to the United States, but it’s a good problem to have.

“I’d be happy to fork it over,” he smiled.