Wakeup Call: Redskins again refuse calls to change their nickname

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Wakeup Call: Redskins again refuse calls to change their nickname

Here's your wakeup call -- a combination of newsworthy andor interesting tidbits -- for Friday, February 15:

AUTO RACING
When Michael Waltrip drives in the Daytona 500, he'll have a new car number -- 26 -- in honor of the 20 children and 6 adults killed in Newtown, Conn. (AP)

Nice to see that the Gronk of NASCAR, Brad Keselowski, hasn't mellowed any since the end of last season. (AP)

I'd be willing to wager almost anything that Danica Patrick yesterday became the first race driver ever to reference The Bard in a press conference. (AP)

Having seen 78-year-olds drive on the highway, I have to think James Hylton is making the right decision. (AP)

BASEBALL
Youk to the media: Enough with the Joba stuff, already. (AP)

Ah, the dreaded visa issue! Hey, at least Rafael Soriano didn't say it was his father's birthday. Or that his grandmother died. (CSN Washington)

Looks like the PED Police tracked down Gio Gonzalez as soon as his name surfaced in the Miami New Times report. (NBC's Hardball Talk)

Meanwhile, Danny Valencia's going the I-never-heard-of-that-clinicI-don't-take-PEDsI-have-no-idea-how-I-popped-up-on-that-list route. (CSN Baltimore)

It's spring, and all's bright -- even the Phillies' championship chances -- in Ryan Howard's world. (CSN Philly)

Looks like Mike Trout didn't skimp on those six-hamburger meals at Jim's Lunch this winter; he reported to Angels camp at 240 pounds. (Hardball Talk)

The A's are looking internally for a temporary closer upon learning that Grant Balfour will be sidelined 4-6 weeks because of a meniscus tear . . . though I don't quite understand why they need a closer for exhibition games. (CSN Bay Area)

If they decide to look outside, Jason Isringhausen says he's available. (Hardball Talk)

Not Chad Cordero, though. He signed with the Angels. (CSN Washington)

Not exactly hard time, is it, Mark Grace? (Hardball Time)

COLLEGE BASKETBALL
Nobody knew Jim Boeheim was feuding with ESPN's Andy Katz prior to Syracuse's loss at Connecticut on Wednesday. But they sure know it now. (NBC's College Basketball Talk)

You can probably cancel those NCAA travel plans, Temple fans, after the Owls' stunning loss to Duquesne last night. (CSN Philly)

No. 13 Ohio State avoids a stunning loss of its own with a 12-0 run at the end of the game for a 69-59 victory over Northwestern, whom they've now beaten 32 straight times in Columbus. (AP)

Can't really call it all that stunning, but Minnesota knocks off No. 20 Wisconsin. (College Basketball Talk)

Colorado gets its revenge on Arizona. (AP)

COLLEGE FOOTBALL
All that talk about Jadeveon Clowney sitting out the 2013 season to protect his status for the 2014 draft? Forget it, says Steve Spurrier. (AP)

The NCAA says no to Jamoris Slaugher's attempt to return for a sixth year at Notre Dame. (AP)

GOLF
Matt Kuchar holds the first-round lead in the Northern Trust Open. (AP)

And Mariajo Uribe holds the second-round lead in the Women's Australian Open. (AP)

HOCKEY
It's official: Erik Karlsson's season is over. (AP)

So's Manny Malholtra's. (AP)

Daniel Carcillo, meanwhile, is determined that a second knee injury in two years isn't going to end his. (CSN Chicago)

The Devils just keep on truckin', don't they? (AP)

One of the teams favored to dethrone New Jersey in the East, the Rangers, lose to the Islanders in a shootout. (AP)

And they do so without the slumping Brad Richards, whom coach John Tortorella benched in the third period. (NBC's Pro Hockey Talk)

That's three in a row in the good column for the Capitals, and six in a row in the bad column for the Lightning. (AP)

Still no word on whether NHL players will be allowed to participate in the 2014 Winter Olympics . . . (AP)

. . . but Capitals coach Adam Oates -- who says he "didn't even know" Team Canada existed when he was growing up -- hopes the answer is 'no'. (Pro Hockey Talk)

OLYMPICS
Oscar Pistorius is being charged with "premeditated murder" in the death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. (nbcsports.com)

As you would expect, companies that employed Pistorius as a sponsor are backing away from him as fast as they can. (NBC's Off The Bench)

PRO BASKETBALL
LeBron James' stathead streak -- consecutive games with 30 or more points on 60 percent or better shooting -- came to an end last night when he missed a 3-pointer with a minute to go and the Heat up by 10. He'll have to be satisfied with Miami's 110-100 takedown of the Thunder in a rematch of last year's finals. (AP)

For Michael Jordan, the rings are the thing in the LeBron-vs.-Kobe debate. (NBC's Pro Basketball Talk)

The Clippers make it clear who owns L.A. (AP)

According to the Los Angeles Times, Lakers owner Jerry Buss has been hospitalized with cancer. (AP)

Playing in your first All-Star Game, in your team's home city, is a thrill for any player. But James Harden may have to miss it because of the ankle injury he suffered Tuesday. (CSN Bay Area)

PRO FOOTBALL
Pressure is building again for the Redskins to change their nickname, but GM Bruce Allen says a) that's not happening and b) it's "ludicrous" to think that the team is trying to offend Native Americans. (AP)

Even though it looks like Andy Reid wants to bring Nick Foles with him to the Kansas City . . . (NBC's Pro Football Talk)

. . . that's not happening, either. (CSN Philly)

If you're trying to figure out whether or not the Bears intend to keep Brian Urlacher, you'll get no clues from the team's new coaching staff. (CSN Chicago)

Terrence McGee calls it "definitely a difficult day" as the Bills cut him loose after 10 years. (AP)

SOCCER
The soccer aficionados give a tepid thumb's up to Gus Johnson's first call of a Champions League match. (NBC's Pro Soccer Talk)

TENNIS
Serena Williams thinks it's "awesome" that she's one win away from becoming the oldest women's player ever to be ranked No. 1. (AP)

Barbora Zahlavova Strycova is using the "I didn't know a banned substance was in a supplement I was taking" argument to explain her six-month ban by the ITF for doping. (AP)

Brady, Harbaugh found common ground on plane ride back from Michigan

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Brady, Harbaugh found common ground on plane ride back from Michigan

FOXBORO -- What could have been an awkward plane ride for Tom Brady and John Harbaugh was made less so thanks to a high school lacrosse player. 

Brady and Harbaugh shared a private plane back from Michigan where Jim Harbaugh and his University of Michigan program put on an event for National Signing Day. About a year earlier, Brady told a room full of reporters that Harbaugh and his coaching staff should study the rule book and "figure it out" after hearing that they were pretty upset about the unusual formations the Patriots ran during their AFC Divisional Round win over Baltimore. 

They may not have been on the best of terms.

"I was pissed off," he told ESPN's Ian O'Connor before the start of this season. "It was uncalled for. And the rules are deeper than that, and I know the rules, and I stand by why that play shouldn't have been allowed. ... So yeah, that should never have been said."

But on the flight was Harbaugh's daughter Alison, a high school lacrosse player. When Brady took some time to share a few thoughts on competitiveness with her, he and Harbaugh found common ground.

"We had a lot of fun," Harbaugh said of the flight. "I don't know if he's talked about that at all, but we ended up sharing a plane ride along with my daughter and a couple of his people, friends of his. We just had a chance to just talk for a couple hours. And really more than anything, Alison got a chance to listen to Tom Brady talk about competing and what it takes to be great at what you do.

"And one of the funny things about it was, he was so nice to her. He gets off and they go, and we get back on the plane and we're talking, and she says something like, 'Boy, Tom really is a nice guy.' And I look at here and go, 'Tom?' I'm thinking 'Mr. Brady' would have been more appropriate. She said, 'He said to call me Tom.' I got a kick out of that.

"It was good. Lot of respect for him and a lot of respect for what he's accomplished. He's very tough to compete against. The best quarterback that's played, certainly in this era, without question in my mind. That's how I would rank him. And it's just another tough challenge to have to play against him."

Friday Bag: What’s the Patriots' future at running back look like?

Friday Bag: What’s the Patriots' future at running back look like?

Every Friday Tom E. Curran, Mike Giardi and Phil Perry will take your Patriots questions (Curran is sitting this one out) on Twitter and answer them as a joint mailbag -- or a Friday Bag, as they call it. 

Got questions? Tweet the guys using the hashtag #FridayBag.

MG: Q leading off my portion of the always popular, always exciting, always (occasionally?) informative #FridayBag. I think it would be easy to think that way from the outside looking in, or knowing how callous some organizations can be, but I just don’t believe that to be the case here. Players talk. Agents talk. Hell, coaches talk. If the Pats were to operate that way, it would get around the league in a heartbeat. Then why would someone want to play here knowing they’ll be treated even more like a disposable commodity then normal? The flip side to this is actually protecting the player from himself. Guys in the last year of a deal sometimes feel compelled to play through every damn thing so they can at least say “look at me, I’m a warrior!” And on that note, I’d sit Marty Bennett next week in Denver and probably the following week against the Jets if that will help the ankle and whatever else is ailing him heal to the point where he’s a hell of a lot more effective than what we just saw versus the Rams (He was awful). Bennett’s too valuable going forward. 

MG: Lisa, my understanding is teams nominate their player and then it goes to a panel (one that includes the NFL Commish) to decide who wins for the league (It was Anquan Boldin in 2015). Can’t quibble with Rob Gronkowski being the team’s nominee this year. People have no idea how much he does for the community. Heck, we don’t even know the extent of it, but the great Don Rodman of Rodman Car Dealer fame and one of the most incredibly charitable individuals to ever grace this area said that there are few if any athletes who devote more time and effort to charitable works/foundations. I hope he wins. It would mean a lot to Gronk.

MG: You never figured you’d have to worry about the offense, did you Steve? But the season-ending injury to Gronk and now the injury to Danny Amendola does concern me. Both of those guys are incredibly reliable 3rd down targets, and in Gronk’s case, he’s usually the first or second option on 3rd down. Bennett hasn’t been able to pick up the slack because he’s clearly not healthy either. That means the Pats and Josh McDaniels will be going through a trial and error period here to best determine how to improve that number and become more efficient. I suspect more will fall on Julian Edelman, but also look for the continued evolution of the two back set with James White and Dion Lewis.

MG: Ambrose, the Pats have remained incredibly committed to the run because they don’t want to find themselves in the same spot they were a year ago, when the run game was so pathetic that neither Miami in the regular season finale nor Denver in the AFC title game paid it one mind. That means rushers pinning their ears back and smashing into Tom Brady at rates no one is comfortable with. So while I won’t be surprise if Brady throws it 45 times, I don’t think they shelve the ground game, at least in the first half. 

MG: Ok Bunk, I stole a comment of yours for the mailbag. Trying to make you famous…yes, I stand by my tweet in which I stated the Ravens and Broncos are bigger threats than the Chiefs or Raiders. Oakland’s defense would give up 40 to Brady. 45 if the Pats needed it. Or 50. I’m dead serious. As for the Chiefs, Alex Smith is not coming into Foxboro and beating this team, even with some of it’s defensive issues. And Belichick will make damn sure that rookie Hill doesn’t get many cracks at touching the football in the return game. Oh, and now the Chiefs best linebacker, Johnson, is out for the year with an Achilles. Should I continue???

MG: History tells us no, David. Brady would throw a fit and argue that he needs to play to remain sharp or iron out this problem or that problem. There’s also the possibility of a bye week looming, meaning he’d go 3 weeks without actually playing in a game. Seems like a good idea in the sense that you don’t risk a 39-year old to a blindside shot, but neither he nor Belichick would ever go for it.

PP: The running back position might be the toughest to project moving forward because there are so many injuries there and there are so many backs who come from nowhere to earn significant roles. I'll say this though: The backs they have on the roster -- not including Brandon Bolden, who has turned into strictly a special teamer after having a difficult time holding onto the football this year -- don't seem to be slowing down. LeGarrette Blount just turned 30 but is in the middle of his best season. Dion Lewis looks strong after two surgeries. James White has taken his game to a new level in his third season. I could see the same group coming back next season, but given the volatility of the position, you know the Patriots will always be scouring for talent there. 

PP: Tom E. touched on this yesterday, Big Wally. Brandon Pettigrew, who was released by the Lions on Friday, might make sense. Otherwise, there's not a whole lot out there. Zach Sudfeld? He's available. Would be an unlikely reunion, but desperate times . . . I think the Patriots will continue to roll out Martellus Bennett at less than 100 percent. I think Matt Lengel could see more work as a blocking tight end as he becomes more familiar with the system. I think we'll see more Cameron Fleming, and we could see more two-back sets with no tight ends. In my opinion, Bennett could use a rest, but I don't think it's coming any time soon. As far as Sarge's question about the hurry-up, I'm not sure we'll start to see more that. It's possible, but one of the benefits with the hurry-up is to keep a defense from substituting to shift matchups in its favor. With Gronkowski or Bennett on the field in a hurry-up situation would have even further highlighted the matchup issues they present. If either one found himself with a slow linebacker on him, the Patriots could have rushed to the line and continued...to exploit...that matchup. Without Gronkowski and without Bennett at full strength, the advantage of the no-huddle is somewhat sapped.  

PP: It's so late into the season, I'm not sure there's much in the way of opportunity for a breakout game this week, Paul. I guess the obvious choice would be Griff Whalen. If he can give the Patriots a pair of sure hands as a punt-returner, that would be a significant enough add that I might qualify it as a "breakout." Bill Belichick made it clear this morning that the team views him as more than just a returner, though, so he could see some offensive snaps in four-receiver sets and provide the Patriots with a presence in the slot. I'd deem a four-catch, 50-yard performance as a "breakout" as well. To me, that's the range of his ceiling for this week. One other name as a potential "breakout" candidate? Justin Coleman. He could be used defensively after being inactive for the last three weeks due to Eric Rowe's hamstring injury. If he's able to help slow down the combination of Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman and Steve Smith, that'd be a breakout in my book. 

PP: The combined record of opponents they've beaten is actually 26-57-1, including the Browns 0-12 mark twice, but now it's out there. 'Preciate you, Dave!

PP:  There's still so much up for grabs in the AFC West that it's hard to determine the likelihood of Patriots playoff matchups and where those games will be. However, without getting into the nitty gritty details, I'll just point out that it's still possible that the Patriots end up on the road in either of these cities in the postseason. On the road, Denver is the tougher matchup. Always has been a brutal place for the Patriots to play, and Denver's defense is still good enough to cause them problems. At home? I'd say, of these two teams, Kansas City would be the one that would provide the Patriots with a slightly tougher test. In my mind, they're a little more balanced and I have more faith in Alex Smith to make plays than I do Trevor Siemien.