Football is back! Brees, Saints defeat Cardinals

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Football is back! Brees, Saints defeat Cardinals

From Comcast SportsNet
CANTON, Ohio (AP) -- Tour the Pro Football Hall of Fame and see all the bronze busts. Cheer tackle Willie Roaf's induction. Watch Drew Brees produce a touchdown on his only try. Pretty good weekend for the New Orleans Saints. And boy, did they need it. Brees didn't need much time to top off a good visit, smoothly leading a touchdown drive in his only series Sunday night during a 17-10 victory over Arizona in the Hall of Fame game. "Just to be up here and see all those guys get inducted and take a tour of the Hall of Fame, that was really special," said Mark Ingram, who scored the first touchdown on a 1-yard run. "For us to all be here, it puts a lot of things into perspective going into this football season." The game was canceled last year for the first time in 45 years, a casualty of the NFL's lockout of the players. Labor issues also came into play in Sunday night's game -- the seven officials were replacements. It showed. The referee announced the result of the coin flip incorrectly -- Craig Ochoa said the Saints won the toss and deferred, then caught his mistake and said the Cardinals had won the toss. There were some other communication problems as well for the first-time crew. The win completed a good trip for the Saints (No. 9 in the AP Pro32), who needed a few smiles after their offseason dominated by their bounty scandal. Suspended coach Sean Payton got the league's permission to attend a dinner for Roaf and the other five Hall of Fame inductees on Friday night. Payton isn't allowed to have any contact with the team this season as punishment for the team's bounty program. Players got to tour the hall and sat in the back three rows of the stadium for Roaf's induction on Saturday, wearing black t-shirts with his No. 77. It was a proud moment for a franchise that's been overshadowed by the bounty scandal all offseason. "The induction was great," interim coach Joe Vitt said. "Our young players went through the Hall of Fame yesterday and saw a lot of history of the NFL and really took it in. From that standpoint, it was a great weekend." Don't forget that opening drive. Brees was sharp on the 10-play drive, completing 4 of 5 passes for 41 yards with one off-target throw. Brees skipped offseason workouts and minicamp because he was unhappy getting the team's franchise tag. He later agreed to a five-year, 100 million deal. Nothing has changed. "Drew was Drew," Vitt said. "That's the first unit. There's high standards here." The Cardinals (No. 23) are using the preseason to pick a quarterback, with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton competing for the starting job. Kolb got to start the game but had a tough time, throwing an interception on his first pass and leaving after bruising his ribs on the third series. "He has a bruise in his chest and that makes it kind of tough to rotate, move," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "I think he'll probably be practicing sometime this week." Skelton took over and completed 4 of 6 for 32 yards. "You never want to have an injury in the preseason, especially an early game like this, having to play that fifth preseason game," Skelton said. "But he will be OK." The Cardinals finished 8-8 last season, Kolb's first in Arizona. He started nine games and threw for nine touchdowns with eight interceptions while learning a new offense on the fly because of the lockout. Skelton filled in when Kolb was hurt and went 5-2 as a starter. After the opening series for each team, the backups got into the game and things got ragged. The fill-in officials had a few rough moments, too. Ochoa, who has eight years of experience with BCS leagues and 16 years at Division III, flipped the ceremonial coin and announced that New Orleans had won and deferred. As he started walking away, he caught his mistake. "Correction," he said. "Arizona won the coin toss." After New Orleans scored on its first possession, several Saints came in to block for the extra point and gestured to the officials to point out that they had reported for the play. Coming out of the 2-minute warning in the first half, Ochoa announced that the previous play was under review, then corrected himself and said it was not. The officials had trouble spotting the ball after a punt that involved a penalty, repeatedly moving the ball after consultations. The league has locked out its officials and hired replacements in case the labor dispute extends into the season. They've trained them for the last two months. The league used replacement officials for the opening week of the 2001 season before reaching agreement with the union. Notes: It was the Saints' fifth appearance in the Hall of Fame game, their first since 2007. The Cardinals made their fourth appearance, their first since 1986. ... Arizona's Dave Zastudil had a 79-yard punt, a record for the Hall of Fame game. ... Saints rookie Laron Scott had a 67-yard kickoff return. ... Arizona LB Paris Lenon limped off with an ankle injury after the opening series and didn't return.

Arnold Palmer dies at 87, made golf popular for masses

Arnold Palmer dies at 87, made golf popular for masses

Arnold Palmer brought a country club sport to the masses with a hard-charging style, charisma and a commoner's touch. At ease with both presidents and the golfing public, and on a first-name basis with both, "The King" died Sunday in Pittsburgh. He was 87.

Alastair Johnson, CEO of Arnold Palmer Enterprises, confirmed that Palmer died Sunday afternoon of complications from heart problems. Johnson said Palmer was admitted to the hospital Thursday for some cardiovascular work and weakened over the last few days.

Palmer ranked among the most important figures in golf history, and it went well beyond his seven major championships and 62 PGA Tour wins. His good looks, devilish grin and go-for-broke manner made the elite sport appealing to one and all. And it helped that he arrived about the same time as television moved into most households, a perfect fit that sent golf to unprecedented popularity.

"If it wasn't for Arnold, golf wouldn't be as popular as it is now," Tiger Woods said in 2004 when Palmer played in his last Masters. "He's the one who basically brought it to the forefront on TV. If it wasn't for him and his excitement, his flair, the way he played, golf probably would not have had that type of excitement.

"And that's why he's the king."

Beyond his golf, Palmer was a pioneer in sports marketing, paving the way for scores of other athletes to reap in millions from endorsements. Some four decades after his last PGA Tour win, he ranked among the highest-earners in golf.

"Thanks Arnold for your friendship, counsel and a lot of laughs," Woods tweeted Sunday night. "Your philanthropy and humility are part of your legend. It's hard to imagine golf without you or anyone more important to the game than the King."

On the golf course, Palmer was an icon not for how often he won, but the way he did it.

He would hitch up his pants, drop a cigarette and attack the flags. With powerful hands wrapped around the golf club, Palmer would slash at the ball with all of his might, then twist that muscular neck and squint to see where it went.

"When he hits the ball, the earth shakes," Gene Littler once said.

Palmer rallied from seven shots behind to win a U.S. Open. He blew a seven-shot lead on the back nine to lose a U.S. Open.

He was never dull.

"I'm pleased that I was able to do what I did from a golfing standpoint," Palmer said in 2008, two years after he played in his last official tournament. "I would like to think that I left them more than just that."

He left behind a gallery known as "Arnie's Army," which began at Augusta National with a small group of soldiers from nearby Fort Gordon, and grew to include a legion of fans from every corner of the globe.

Palmer stopped playing the Masters in 2004 and hit the ceremonial tee shot every year until 2016, when age began to take a toll and he struggled with his balance.

It was Palmer who gave golf the modern version of the Grand Slam -- winning all four professional majors in one year. He came up with the idea after winning the Masters and U.S. Open in 1960. Palmer was runner-up at the British Open, later calling it one of the biggest disappointments of his career. But his appearance alone invigorated the British Open, which Americans had been ignoring for years.

Palmer never won the PGA Championship, one major short of capturing a career Grand Slam.

But then, standard he set went beyond trophies. It was the way he treated people, looking everyone in the eye with a smile and a wink. He signed every autograph, making sure it was legible. He made every fan feel like an old friend.

Palmer never like being referred to as "The King," but the name stuck.

"It was back in the early `60s. I was playing pretty good, winning a lot of tournaments, and someone gave a speech and referred to me as `The King,'" Palmer said in a November 2011 interview with The Associated Press.

"I don't bask in it. I don't relish it. I tried for a long time to stop that and," he said, pausing to shrug, "there was no point."

Palmer played at least one PGA Tour event every season for 52 consecutive years, ending with the 2004 Masters. He spearheaded the growth of the 50-and-older Champions Tour, winning 10 times and drawing some of the biggest crowds.

He was equally successful off with golf course design, a wine collection, and apparel that included his famous logo of an umbrella. He bought the Bay Hill Club & Lodge upon making his winter home in Orlando, Florida, and in 2007 the PGA Tour changed the name of the tournament to the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

The combination of iced tea and lemonade is known as an "Arnold Palmer." Padraig Harrington recalls eating in an Italian restaurant in Miami when he heard a customer order one.

"Think about it," Harrington said. "You don't go up there and order a `Tiger Woods' at the bar. You can go up there and order an `Arnold Palmer' in this country and the barman -- he was a young man -- knew what the drink was. That's in a league of your own."

Palmer was born Sept. 10, 1929 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, the oldest of four children. His father, Deacon, became the greenskeeper at Latrobe Country Club in 1921 and the club pro in 1933.

He had two loves as a boy -- strapping on his holster with toy guns to play "Cowboys and Indians," and playing golf. It was on the golf course that Palmer grew to become so strong, with barrel arms and hands of iron.

"When I was 6 years old, my father put me on a steel-wheeled tractor," he recalled in a 2011 interview with the AP. "I had to stand up to turn the wheel. That's one thing made me strong. The other thing was I pushed mowers. In those days, there were no motors on anything except the tractor. The mowers to cut greens with, you pushed.

"And it was this," he said, patting his arms, "that made it go."

Palmer joined the PGA Tour in 1955 and won the Canadian Open for the first of his 62 titles. He went on to win four green jackets at Augusta National, along with the British Open in 1961 and 1962 and the U.S. Open in 1960, perhaps the most memorable of his seven majors.

Nothing defined Palmer like that 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills. He was seven shots behind going into the final round when he ran into Bob Drum, a Pittsburgh sports writer. Palmer asked if he could still win by shooting 65, which would give him a four-day total of 280. Drum told him that 280 "won't do you a damn bit of good."

Incensed, Palmer headed to the first tee and drove the green on the par-4 opening hole to make birdie. He birdied the next three holes, shot 65 and outlasted Ben Hogan and 20-year-old amateur Jack Nicklaus.

Palmer went head-to-head with Nicklaus two years later in a U.S. Open, the start of one of golf's most famous rivalries. It was one-sided. Nicklaus went on to win 18 majors and was regarded as golf's greatest champion. Palmer won two more majors after that loss, and his last PGA Tour win came in 1973 at the Bob Hope Classic.

Tom Callahan once described the difference between Nicklaus and Palmer this way: It's as though God said to Nicklaus, "You will have skills like no other," then whispered to Palmer, "But they will love you more."

"I think he brought a lot more to the game than his game," Nicklaus said in 2009. "What I mean by that is, there's no question about his record and his ability to play the game. He was very, very good at that. But he obviously brought a lot more. He brought the hitch of his pants, the flair that he brought to the game, the fans that he brought into the game."

Palmer combined power with charm, reckless abandon with graceful elegance. Golf no longer was a country club game for old men who were out of shape. He was a man's man, and he brought that spirit to the sport.

It made him a beloved figure, and brought riches long after he stopped competing.

That started with a handshake agreement with IMG founder Mark McCormack to represent Palmer in contract negotiations. Palmer's image was everywhere, from motor oil to ketchup to financial services companies. Even as late as 2011, nearly 40 years after his last PGA Tour win, Palmer was No. 3 on Golf Digest's list of top earners at $36 million a year. He trailed only Woods and Phil Mickelson.

Palmer's other love was aviation. He piloted his first aircraft in 1956, and 10 years later had a license to fly jets that now are the standard mode of transportation for so many top players, even though the majority of them are merely passengers. Palmer flew planes the way he played golf. He set a record in 1976 when he circumnavigated the globe in 57 hours, 25 minutes and 42 seconds in a Lear 36. He continued flying his Cessna Citation 10 until he failed to renew his license at age 81, just short of 20,000 hours in the cockpit.

Through it all, he touched more people than he could possibly remember, though he sure tried. When asked about the fans he attracted at Augusta National, Palmer once said, "Hell, I know most of them by name."

Only four other players won more PGA Tour events than Palmer -- Sam Snead, Nicklaus and Woods.

Palmer's first wife, Winnie, died in 1999. They had two daughters, and grandson Sam Saunders plays on the PGA Tour. Palmer married Kathleen (Kit) Gawthrop in 2005.

Palmer was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997, which was caught early. He returned to golf a few months later, winking at fans as he waded through the gallery, always a smile and a signature for them.

"I'm not interested in being a hero," Palmer said, implying that too much was made about his return from cancer. "I just want to play some golf."

That, perhaps, is his true epitaph. Palmer lived to play.

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In crunch time, Terrell Suggs rolls with Ravens teammates Joe Flacco and Justin Tucker

In crunch time, Terrell Suggs rolls with Ravens teammates Joe Flacco and Justin Tucker

JACKSONVILLE – In Terrell Suggs fashion, the Ravens’ linebacker described what it felt like to have Joe Flacco as a quarterback, and Justin Tucker as a placekicker.

“You want a quarterback with ice in his veins, and you damn sure want a kicker with ice in his veins,” said Suggs, after the Ravens escaped Jacksonville with a 19-17 victory that kept them unbeaten at 3-0.

Tucker delivered again for the Ravens, making four field goals, including the 54-yard game-winner with 67 seconds left to play. Having a kicker as clutch as Tucker, with range well beyond 50 yards, is another reason why opponents dread seeing Tucker trot onto the field. Leave the game up to Tucker, and it’s game over.

“There’s definitely butterflies,” said Tucker, when asked how he feels kicking game-winners. “We get into these situations and we’ve had a good handful of them in my time here. Do they get easier? I’m not really sure. But I can tell you the more opportunities and we have and I successfully convert, the more confidence I have.”

Flacco will never be the smoothest quarterback in the NFL, but he remains one of the most poised. His performance on Sunday (29 of 40, 214 yards, on rushing TD, two interceptions) was all over the map. There was the good Flacco – at one point he set a franchise record by completing 21 straight passes. There was the bad Flacco – two interceptions during the final seven minutes that almost cost the Ravens the game.

But on the Ravens’ final drive, Flacco completed four passes, including a fourth-down pass to Steve Smith Sr. that helped move Tucker into range.

There was a fine line between winning and losing Sunday, and once again the Ravens cut it close. But in that situation, who would you rather have as your quarterback, Flacco or Blake Bortles of the Jaguars (24 of 38, two touchdowns, three interceptions)? Even when Flacco doesn’t play nearly his best, he doesn’t get flustered.

“I would’ve liked to have made it easier for him (Tucker), myself, and all the people back in Baltimore,” Flacco said. “There’s no need to be giving people heart attacks every single week. But if you win you win.”

And once again, having Tucker and Flacco during the final minutes was a winning combination.

MORE RAVENS: Flacco sets new franchise record vs. Jaguars