Kevin Fixler
    Sport Matters

23 November 2015

How the Gatorade Shower was Born


He’d been coach Bill Parcells’ whipping boy in the media all week, so when his New York Giants were just two minutes from completing a 37-13 blowout of the rival Washington Redskins on Oct. 28, 1984, nose tackle Jim Burt decided it was time to get even. The 6-foot-1, 260-pound player grabbed one of the big orange Gatorade buckets from a sideline table, sneaked up behind Parcells and giddily dumped it over his head. The unsuspecting victim was soaked from headphones to toes, and Burt had unwittingly inaugurated a sports tradition: the game-ending Gatorade shower.

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17 November 2015

The NFL Pioneers Who Kicked Off Their Cleats


The temperatures in Cleveland had dropped below freezing. Unlike the local children, who were bundled up, one young man dressed only in polyester and wearing a single shoe ran around in the cold. The Browns were ahead and gunning for just their second playoff win in nearly 20 years when Denver’s Rich Karlis stepped onto the field — with a bare right foot and only 5:32 remaining on the clock.

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4 November 2015

Josh Johnson, the NFL’s Emergency Man


Less than a full day after watching the Indianapolis Colts win a close game from the sideline—where he waited in uniform, ready to fill in at quarterback should misfortune befall Matt Hasselbeck, who was already filling in for injured starter Andrew Luck—Josh Johnson was cut. For the second time in a week, in fact. Only Johnson didn’t have much time to feel disappointed, not with the Buffalo Bills on the phone the next day, calling before he could even hop a flight back to his hometown of Oakland, California.

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26 November 2014

Mizzou football commit Drew Lock a rising QB star

Eric Thomas, head football coach at Lee’s Summit High School in Missouri, says he remembers the precise moment he thought quarterback Drew Lock might be something special.

It was during a preseason team camp heading into the 2010 season, under the lights of a college campus and Lock, not even yet a freshman, had the reins of the JV squad for the very first time and was marching the Tigers down the field. Thomas kept calling in the same run-oriented play, but instead his QB continued to go with option two and chuck it for positive gains. Finally at the goal line, a run seemed the natural choice, so Thomas pulled in his new signal-caller and suggested a hand-off. The young kid’s next move? Nod yes, but go throw a touchdown. “That was probably the first time we really realized the possibilities with him,” Thomas tells OZY.

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14 November 2014

In the NFL, Tossing Out the Third-String Quarterback

In the NFL, it’s becoming more evident with each passing season that in the club of elite quarterbacks, if two is company, three’s a crowd.

Even people who have a life on Sunday know that quarterbacks are pretty crucial to any team hoping to make a Super Bowl bid, much less win many games. But in a move that only the most addicted fans may have noticed, a growing number of teams are relying on only two QBs week in and week out, contrary to the standard practice of a three-man unit that served as insurance against injury. All of which raises a burning question as we huddle up for another weekend of pro football: Why the choice to make this potentially crucial player a third wheel?

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4 September 2014

Dr. Marshawn and Mr. Lynch: The two sides of the unpredictable Seahawks star

Marshawn Lynch, one of the best running backs in the NFL, moseys through the door of the San Francisco Bay Area’s Albany Bowl early Friday evening wearing all black: jeans, low tops and an oversized sweatshirt, hood up and tightly fastened with a bow over a backwards black hat. Printed on his hoodie in bright red are big, arced letters reading “LIFEGUARD” with a sizable red cross below them, followed by the large words “OAKLAND,” and “CALIFORNIA” underneath in smaller text.

“It is! It is him!” a waist-high little boy shrieks to his father before running toward Lynch. Others flock to him to offer hugs, dap and handshakes. The Oakland Tech and Cal product, still basking in the glow of February’s Super Bowl victory, disappears momentarily before returning to casually post up on a barstool. A handheld camera and boom mic have since picked up Lynch’s trail and a queue also takes shape so he can fulfill the individual photo requests. A young girl is beside herself, in a daze at standing mere feet from the 28-year-old.

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11 June 2014

Chase Vaughn: One of the 90

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Under almost-cloudless skies, most of the attention is focused on quarterback Peyton Manning as he carves up the defense in 7-on-7 drills before they graduate to full 11-on-11s during Denver’s second week of OTAs. With All-Pro linebacker Von Miller rehabbing his right ACL injury in the foreground, Manning’s barks of “Omaha!” and other directives are drowned out by the noise of heavy-duty vehicles repeatedly reversing, pounding and jackhammering. On a separate field, not far in the distance, the defensive ends work on their technique and positioning before joining the larger group. Three enormous orange, white and blue cranes hang nearby, plugging away on construction of the Broncos’ new $35 million, 115,000-square-foot indoor practice facility.

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28 April 2014

The Age of the 40-Year-Old Sports Star

Most of us have seen it, not just the photo, but the image of Hall of Fame NFL quarterback Y.A. Tittle, bloodied and broken, hunched over on his knees in the end zone in the last appearance of his career. It is an indelible snapshot burned into our brains of mortality and sports at their highest level. He was 38.

Also freshly 38, and just off arguably the most successful season of his 15-year professional playing career, is quarterback Peyton Manning. The league’s first five-time MVP led the Denver Broncos to the Super Bowl in a year that included breaking records in both regular-season passing yards (5,477) and touchdowns passes (55). Manning, of course, sat out the entire 2011 season after four procedures on his neck that included a fusion surgery and another to repair a bulging disk.

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8 October 2013

The book that will change the way you watch football

I’m unable to watch football these days as I used to. I desperately wish I could, but I just can’t. And after you finish reading this book, you won’t be able to either.

The book is “League of Denial,” from brothers Mark Fainaru-Wada (co-author of “Game of Shadows”) and Steve Fainaru (2008 recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting), and it is one that the National Football League probably wishes was never written. The book explores the football factory that was the city of Pittsburgh, why it became the epicenter of the NFL’s concussion crisis, and how an improbable character by chance flicked the first domino to set off a devastating chain reaction with which the league is still grappling. Since assisting these two ESPN investigative reporters with research on their book, I’ve replaced my weekly excitement waking up in anticipation of an autumn Sunday morning filled with football to one of mostly disgust.

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3 September 2013

Are blacks just better athletes? A book review

Since the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, every finalist in the men’s 100-meter, regardless of country of origin, has a lineage that recently stems from sub-Saharan West Africa. In fact, since 1968, the world record holders have all been black athletes, with just 10 non-blacks holding the honor since 1912 when the record was first kept. To boot, dating back to 1980 as well, just one woman without recent Western African ancestry has won the 100, and all competitors in the female final of the last two Games have also been of this same descent.

So are blacks just better athletes?

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