Alvin Kamara Explodes For SIX Touchdowns; Saints Beat Vikings In Shootout On Christmas

By Terrance Turner

Dec. 25, 2020

In an unusual move, the NFL gave football fans the gift of football this Christmas. It would prove to be a memorable matchup. One team was battling to win the NFC South; the other was merely fighting to stay alive and get to the playoffs. But only one team would prove victorious.

This afternoon, the New Orleans Saints battled the Minnesota Vikings in a NFC showdown. The Saints scored right out of the gate: running back Alvin Kamara ran right through the Minnesota defense to score a touchdown. His 40-yard TD run put the Saints ahead 7-0. (No wonder he’s been named to his fourth straight Pro Bowl.)

The Vikings answered back right away with a running play of their own. Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook raced into the end zone for a touchdown, tying the game. New Orleans quickly put together a drive of their own: Jared Cook made a big catch, and RB Latavius Murray’s subsequent catch made it 1st and goal. After a pass interference call on the Vikings, the ball was moved to the one-yard line. Kamara scored again, pulling past defenders to cross the goal line. It was 14-7.

After the Vikings went three-and-out, the Saints took over again. This time, the Vikings defense prevented them from scoring a touchdown. But New Orleans tacked on a field goal to add three points. #23 for Minnesota found the end zone, cutting the Saints’ lead. It was 17-14. But then, Alvin Kamara scored again, rushing to the end zone for his third touchdown of the game. That put the Saints ahead 24-14 at the half.

In the second half, the Saints weren’t as dominant. A costly interception by Brees led to paydirt for Minnesota. The Vikings cashed in on the turnover. Irvin Smith, Jr. caught a TD pass from Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. They missed the extra point kick, though. So it was 24-20 with about 9:40 left in the third quarter.

But then…

With 4:38 left in the third quarter, Alvin Kamara scored his fourth touchdown of the day (!!!). Alvin Kamara is the first Saints player EVER to have four rushing touchdowns in a game, according to Bleacher Report. His historic achievement gave the Saints a 31-20 lead. But the Vikings clapped back with another TD, adding seven points before the third quarter ended.

The fourth quarter commenced, and it was all Saints. New Orleans’ already-explosive offense combusted in the final quarter. Kamara having yet another rushing touchdown. Kamara celebrated in the end zone, holding up his white-gloved hand and counting on his fingers: one, two, three, four, five.

The Saints powered down the field, deftly employing running plays and hurtling towards another 1st and goal. A catch by Burton took New Orleans all the way to the one-yard line. Kamara could’ve run in for another score, but coach Sean Payton elected to keep him out, drawing boos from the crowd. It was Taysom Hill who ended up scoring, with a 1-yard TD rush that made it 45-27.

The Vikings wasted no time getting into the red zone. A series of successful plays took them to 1st and goal. But the Saints defense broke up three consecutive plays. On 4th and goal, the Vikings went for it. Adam Thielen caught the ball in the end zone for a touchdown, but a Saints defender pushed him out of bounds from behind. A shoving match broke out between the Saints and the Vikings, and referees had to physically separate the players. In the end, the ruling on the field was for a touchdown, and two of the Saints defenders were flagged for unnecessary roughness. Those rulings drew boos from the crowd.

The referee ordered a two-point conversion from the one-yard line, but Cousins’ throw to Justin Jefferson was unsuccessful. The score was 45-33…but not for long. Saints Adam Trautman had a dramatic catch-and-run, evading Vikings defenders to reach the one-yard line. And then….the unthinkable happened. Alvin Kamara pushed past defenders to (barely) break the plane, scoring his SIXTH rushing touchdown. In doing so, Kamara ties an all-time record: That is the most rushing touchdowns by an NFL player in one game since 1929.

The Saints won, 52-33. With this win, they clinch their division. Their 52 points are the most that the Minnesota Vikings have allowed since 1963. The Vikings are eliminated from playoff contention with this game. The Saints win the NFC South for the fourth season in a row. They improve to 11-4.

So what was the key to Kamara’s sensational performance? “The O-line, kudos to them. They get the game ball, for sure. They did everything they had to do,” Kamara told Erin Andrews after the game. When asked about that Taysom Hill TD that could’ve gone to him, Kamara smiled. “I wasn’t worried about it,” he said. “Taysom was like, ‘Man, my bad.’ I was like, ‘Nah, it’s all good. We can spread the wealth.” And spread the wealth they did, for a phenomenal win.

In Revealing Documentary, Superstar Influencer Answers: “Who Is Country Cowboyy?”

By Terrance Turner

He’s one of the biggest social media influencers in Houston. He generates thousands of views among more than 76,000 followers on Instagram. He hosts large-scale events at packed clubs. He lives in a luxury penthouse in Midtown Houston. But who is “Country Cowboyy”? In a revealing documentary short, directed by business partner Prinston Hicks, we get the answer.

Darrell Edmond, Jr. grew up in Houston. He loved to entertain people even from an early age. “I always wanted to entertain people using my personality — only because I had so much of it,” he recalls, describing himself as “energetic” and “captivating”. But his surroundings made that goal difficult. Growing up in “the hood” — Fondren and West Bellfort, in Houston’s Southwest side — made it hard to find a niche. “In the hood, if you’re not hood, you don’t feel like you fit in,” he says in the film. “I didn’t feel like I belonged there.”

As Edmond moved through high school, his sense of alienation was only compounded by a devastating loss that would change his life forever. In 2011, while in 11th grade, Edmond was at home with his cousin when his father came in. “We was sittin’ in the back room, and my dad walked in. And he said: ‘Yo, I think Trey just got shot.’ So, in that moment, honestly, I saw a bunch of flashes and moments of me and my brother together.”

Edmond says he didn’t really know how to process the fact that his brother was gone. Even now, as he discusses the loss in the documentary, his thoughts tumble out in a multilayered river of words. “My brother, actually — with everything that’s going on right now, and it’s just kinda crazy to say it — it’s still goin’ on to this day,” he says, referencing the ongoing issues with police killings that have led to protests across the country. “Like, this was back in 2011; it’s 2020 now, you know what I’m saying? He was shot by the police. So it was one of those situations, like I said…I just — it was — it just knocked at my door, like, ever so aggressively. I just remember the highlight reel; it was a highlight reel of all of our greatest moments. But one of the things that it forced me to do in the future was to really make sure that I didn’t spend my time in the streets.”

Instead, he spent his time at THE Texas Southern University, located in Houston’s Third Ward. At TSU, D.J. (as he was known to classmates) worked his way to prominence. “What I did was I cut my way into every single social circle,” he says, “and what I mean by that is: literally, I taught myself how to cut hair in high school. So I took that same skill and I leveraged it up to the tops of different social circles. So all types of people, who did all types of different things […] I was able to barter my way up to the top of, you know, the fraternities, the guys going to all of the parties,” he explains. “So I got an opportunity to see how they work, constructing business.”

“It was pretty cool because it was almost like a college lifestyle dream, you know I’m saying? Like the thing that you would imagine in your brain, like: ‘I’m going to college’. I actually lived that. And not only that I got good grades, too. You know what I’m saying? But fair enough, I did wing my way through college, but that’s neither here nor there.” (As someone who took a film class with D.J., I can assure you: he was definitely “winging it”.)

“But I got an opportunity to meet some of the coolest people. Like, I didn’t cross or anything like that, but I knew all of the Greeks. I knew all of the fraternities. I knew all of the people in the band;  I knew all of the football players. I knew all of the people that threw the parties. I knew all of the people in SGA, UPC — all of the top organizations. I was the go-to person for entertainment.” 

“But,” he cautions, ” it wasn’t big enough.”

What he was about to accomplish, though, would be bigger than anything he had ever imagined.

Rockets Trade Star James Harden to Brooklyn Nets

By Terrance Turner

Dec. 23, 2020 (Updated Jan. 13, 2021)

The Houston Rockets were supposed to begin their NBA season at 7:00 pm tonight, playing the Oklahoma City Thunder in Houston’s Toyota Center. But tonight’s game has been postponed in accordance with the team’s Health and Safety Protocols. The NBA released a statement saying that three of the Rockets have tested positive (or inconclusive) for COVID-19. Four others are quarantined due to contact tracing. Additionally, Rockets star James Harden is unavailable due to a violation of Health and Safety Protocols.

Two days after reportedly hurling a basketball at a teammate during practice, Rockets superstar James Harden is now unable to play. ESPN reporter Tim McMahon tweeted earlier today: “Rockets are working with NBA office to review video of James Harden at a strip club. If the video circulating on social media is verified to be recent, it is a violation of league’s COVID protocols, which could put Harden’s availability for tonight’s opener in jeopardy.”

Harden responded to the report on Instagram, writing (in part): “I went to show love to my homegirl at her event (not a strip club) because she is becoming a boss and putting her people in position of success and now it’s a problem. Everyday it’s something different.” McMahon responded by quoting the tweet, adding: “By doing so, he violates the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols, which prohibit players from going to bars, lounges or clubs or social events with more than 15 people.”

Meanwhile, fellow Rockets John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins may also be ineligible for tonight’s game due to contract tracing. This is despite the fact that Wall, Cousins, and Harden have all tested negative for COVID-19. ESPN reporter Ramona Shelburne adds: “James Harden tested negative for Covid-19 on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, league source tells ESPN. The league is still reviewing his situation and eligibility for tonight’s game.” So Harden’s night at the club might cost him a spot on the starting roster tonight.

The club in question appears to be very near Toyota Center, where the Rockets will play in tonight’s home opener. The Houston Chronicle adds: “The venue was listed as private, but several Instagram users tagged The Velvet Room on Main, located near downtown about a mile from Toyota Center.” This isn’t the first time Harden’s partying has posed an issue: he missed practice on Dec. 6 because he was in Las Vegas, apparently at a nightclub. Just days before, Harden was seen maskless in Atlanta, celebrating the birthday of rapper Lil’ Baby. Harden gifted the “Emotionally Scarred” rapper with a Prada bag, filled with Honey Buns, bands of cash, and a Richard Mille. “He got me a Prada bag, ’cause he Prada me,” Lil’ Baby said at the time.

This is far from the only issue between Harden and the Rockets, though. Harden has requested a trade, and he skirted questions about his future when he spoke to reporters this week. But the writing is on the wall: Harden is visibly unhappy in Houston, and he and the Rockets appear headed for an ugly divorce. But how did we get here?

To hear McMahon tell it, the seeds of trouble had been planted years before, with a Rockets culture that often catered to its star. In fact, one former staffer described the Houston Rockets’ culture thus: “Whatever James wants.”

McMahon’s article asserts that Harden calls the shots on both the playing roster and coaching staff. He also exercised considerable sway on travel and playing schedules, too. If the Rockets had two or three days between games, Harden would likely call for an off day and charter a private jet to party in Las Vegas or another city. He always gets an excused absence from practice after the All-Star break for that very reason.

“If they have multiple days off, everybody knows: James is going to fly somewhere else and party,” a member of last season’s coaching staff told McMahon. “But he’s going to come back and have a 50-point triple-double, so they’re OK with it.” Indeed, Harden had his third triple-double in six games back in January 2019. His 43-point performance led to a dominant Rockets win — one of 53 wins in the 2018-2019 season. The previous year had been even better.

Powered by Harden’s brilliant performances, the Houston Rockets won a franchise-record 65 games during the 2017-18 season. Harden was named league MVP, per ESPN. The Rockets jumped out to a 3-2 lead in the Conference Finals. But thanks to 27 missed three-pointers — and Chris Paul’s raggedy hamstrings — the Rockets lost the last two games of the series in their home stadium! That loss to the Warriors marked the beginning of the end for the Paul-Harden era in Houston.

McMahon reports that the relationship soured leading up to the summer of 2019. Paul reportedly grew frustrated that Harden would disengage from the offense whenever the ball wasn’t in his hands. “Harden quickly tired of Paul barking about his concerns, which included lobbying coach Mike D’Antoni to implement more structure and movement,” writes McMahon. Things deteriorated further when the Rockets lost in the playoffs to the Warriors.

In June 2019, Yahoo! Sports’ Vincent Goodwill reported that the relationship had become “unsalvageable”: “Paul went to Rockets management and demanded a trade, and Harden issued a “him or me” edict following the Rockets’ second-round loss to the Golden State Warriors, sources said. The backcourt mates went nearly two months without speaking to each other during the season, sources said, creating a tenuous environment for teammates and everyone involved with the franchise.” Harden denied the report, saying: “Me and Chris had constant communication, and we’re good.”

Yet Paul was gone a month later. The Rockets were reportedly willing to go another season with its unhappy stars…until Russell Westbrook became available. Harden pushed hard for a deal, saying he’d demand a trade if Houston didn’t make it happen. The Rockets agreed, trading Paul for two draft picks and some swap options. Harden was soon reunited with Westbrook, his OKC teammate (and childhood friend).

Initially, things worked beautifully. In a February game vs. the Boston Celtics, Westbrook and Harden combined for 62 points. That capped a month where they were ranked second and third, respectively, in NBA scoring. Westbrook averaged about 33 points during the month, while Harden averaged 31.9. They’re the first pair of teammates in NBA history to average 30 points and 5 rebounds apiece.

Everything seemed to be working — and then the pandemic happened. COVID-19 forced the league to suspend its season in March 2020. Over the spring and early summer, a plan was formed to return to play. The NBA resumed play on July 30 in the “NBA Bubble” — the sprawling ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Florida. There, the Rockets lost in the conference semifinals to the Los Angeles Lakers (the eventual NBA Champions).

On Nov. 11, a bombshell report in The Athletic revealed that Rockets star Russell Westbrook wanted out of Houston. Why? “Westbrook has informed team officials that he has been uneasy about the team’ accountability and culture,” three Athletic reporters wrote. “Westbrook, sources say, has made it known for quite some time that he would like to see significant changes to the Rockets culture. Specifically, his desire for more team-wide accountability, discipline, and culture have been the focus of talks with team officials.”

ESPN’s Tim McMahon put it more bluntly: “Houston’s casual culture appalled Westbrook. In Oklahoma City, despite the fact that he enjoyed the same sort of superstar privileges as Harden has had in Houston, the Thunder operated with the discipline of a military unit under Westbrook’s watch. The Rockets were a stark contrast,” McMahon wrote on Dec. 16. “With the Rockets, scheduled departure times were treated as mere suggestions by Harden and others.”

“Nothing ever starts on time,” a former Rockets staffer told McMahon. “The plane is always late. The bus is never on time…it’s just an organized AAU team.” But that laissez-faire attitude didn’t sit well with Westbrook. McMahon asserts: “Westbrook didn’t tolerate tardiness.” Case in point: on one occasion in “the bubble” in Florida, Harden waited to undergo testing for COVID-19 until just before the Rockets began watching film. Westbrook grew impatient: “Start the film!” he barked. “Start without him!” Then-coach Mike D’Antoni explained that they’d just have to start the film over when Harden arrived, but Westbrook was still peeved. But that was the way it was…

Once the pandemic began and “the bubble” was filled, Houston’s bubble burst. After yet another player loss (this time to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers), the Rockets were at a crossroads. Westbrook wanted out. Within days of the bombshell Athletic story about his quest for accountability, Westbrook requested a trade. The Rockets acquiesced. They traded Westbrook to the Washington Wizards in exchange for John Wall and a lottery pick in early December.

Now, the may have to do the same with James Harden.

UPDATE: After back-to-back losses to the Lakers — including last night’s 117-100 Lakers win — it may be the end of the road for James Harden in Houston. In a Zoom postgame interview last night, Harden was blunt about the 3-6 Rockets: “We’re just not good enough,” Harden said. “Chemistry, talent-wise, everything. It was clear these last few games from the beginning of the game. [The Lakers] were just aggressive. A veteran team, obviously, a championship team. One of the best teams we have in this league.”

Harden also expressed a belief that the situation may be unsalvageable. “I love this city. I’ve literally done everything I can,” Harden said. “This situation is crazy. It’s something I don’t think can be fixed. Thanks.” With that, Harden rose and left the room.

One of Harden’s teammates had a lot to say about that. When asked how he felt about Harden’s comments, newly acquired Rocket DeMarcus Cousins was blunt: “Obviously, it’s disrespectful. But everybody has a right to their opinion. You know? We feel a certain type of way about some of his actions. You know, this is — this is the nasty part of the business that kind of gets swept under the rug. You deal with these type of things, and you know, when guys are in positions of being, you know, franchise players and whatever that may be, it’s usually sometimes a nasty breakup. Like I said, that’s all part of the business,” Cousins continued.

A reporter asked Cousins: “As someone who signed here as a free agent, do you feel betrayed? Do you feel like it was unfair to you to have chosen to sign here […] and then have the star player want to leave?” Cousins was equally forthright in his answers.

“Me, personally, I don’t feel betrayed at all. My interest was playing with John Wall to be brutally honest,” Cousins said. “With that being said, the disrespect started way before any interview — just the approach to training camp, showing up the way he did, the antics off the court. I mean, the disrespect started way before, so this isn’t something that all of a sudden happened,” Cousins said. “Like I said this is the nasty part of the business, Cousins said. “It is what it is.”

ESPN’s Tim McMahon asked: “At this point, is there any way that you guys can play with James harden again?” Cousins answered: “I don’t really think that’s a question for us. I think that’s a question for him: will he ever be willing to play with us again? I don’t know. Quite honestly, don’t care.” Follow-up question: “And when you talk about disrespect, what specifically are you talking about?” McMahon asked.

“I just feel like there’s a way about handling business,” Cousins responded. “He can feel however he wants to feel about the organization or whatever his current situation is. But the other 14 guys in the locker room have done nothing to him. So for us to be on the receiving end of some of the disrespectful comments and antics, it’s completely unfair to us.”

“I wasn’t disrespectful to anyone,” Harden now claims. “I just made a comment that the team as a whole wasn’t good enough to compete for a title.” But those comments came days after The Athletic reported that at least two teams are interested in acquiring Harden. The Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers both made offers to the Rockets, per reporters Shams Charania and Sam Amick. But only one of those teams would prevail.

BREAKING (Jan. 13, 2021): The Houston Rockets have traded Harden to the Brooklyn Nets in a massive blockbuster deal. The Rockets will receive four first-round picks and four pick swaps, all of which will come from the Nets — except for a 2022 Milwaukee pick currently owned by Cleveland. Houston will also receive Caris LeVert, Dante Exum and Rodions Kurucs, according to CBS Sports.

Chiefs Best Saints for Ninth Straight Win

By Terrance Turner

Dec. 20, 2020

It got close late, but the Kansas City Chiefs got the win today in New Orleans. The Chiefs edged the New Orleans Saints to win today’s highly anticipated match, 32-29. It was the Chiefs’ ninth straight win. That gives them a record of 13-1 for the season — the best record in the NFL.

According to Sports Illustrated, the Saints won the opening coin toss and gave the Chiefs the first opportunity with the ball. “Patrick Mahomes and company came out with a good play to start the drive, getting a first down quickly. However, the Saints defense was able to counter and get off the field on a 3rd-and-5 after Mahomes couldn’t hit Tyreek Hill. Drew Brees officially returned to the field for New Orleans, but the team’s first drive resulted in a three-and-out after he couldn’t get Tre’Quan Smith for the conversion.”

The second Chiefs drive resulted in their own three-and-out. The Saints had an early interception on Mahomes, courtesy of Marcus Williams. But an illegal contact penalty by Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins wiped that out. Jenkins followed up by making a 5-yard tackle for loss on a Tyreek Hill catch. New Orleans would hold firm on the next plays, forcing a punt after a great pass breakup down field from C.J. Gardner-Johnson on Mecole Hardman.

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees got picked off by L’Jarius Sneed, giving the Chiefs the ball. They cashed in a few plays later. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes found tight end Travis Kelce for a big third-down conversion and then scrambled 13 yards to the Saints’ 11-yard line. Then he found wide receiver Tyreek Hill for a 5-yard touchdown, giving the Chiefs a 7-0 lead.

They would add to that lead later. After a three-and-out by the Saints, the Chiefs took over and scored again. Mahomes connected with Kelce for a touchdown early in the second quarter. That gave Kansas City a 14-0 lead as the quarter got underway. (Kelce’s 10 touchdowns this year tie a career high.) The Saints got the ball. QB Drew Brees found WR Emmanuel Sanders for a 51-yard completion. Three plays later, he connected with Taysom Hill for the touchdown. That TD capped a 7-play, 66-yard drive for New Orleans and put them on the board, 14-7.

With 10:21 left in the quarter, both teams embarked on unsuccessful drives. Both teams ended up having to punt. Andrus Peat got hurt on the Saints drive and limped his way to the locker room. After another unsuccessful drive, Chiefs punt returner Demarcus Robinson got stripped of the ball. It went out of the end zone, resulting in a safety. The score was 14-9 at the half.

In the third quarter, the Saints went 75 yards in 4 plays, per SI. They hit paydirt when Brees hooked up with running back Latavius Murray for a 24-yard scoop-and-score. That gave them the lead, 15-14. But a two-point conversion attempt was no good. So it remained a one-point game in the New Orleans Superdome…but not for long.

On their drive, Mahomes stunned viewers and announcers with a dramatic scoring play. He launched a narrow pass to receiver Mecole Hardman, who caught the ball, planted his foot, and then dragged the other to make the catch. At first it appeared that the catch and been out of bounds, but upon replay it was clear that Hardman — somehow — had made the catch. It put the Chiefs ahead 21-15.

There was a wild sequence in the fourth quarter. Saints defender Cameron Jordan tangled with #77 from the Chiefs and was flagged for unnecessary roughness. The referee later added that Jordan had thrown a punch, which connected. Jordan was disqualified from the game. On the very next play, Mahomes tossed the ball to running back Le’Veon Bell, who rushed in for the touchdown. Kelce surged into the end zone for a successful two-point conversion. That gave them a commanding 29-15 lead.

The Saints would score afterward, courtesy of RB Alvin Kamara. That made it 29-22. But the Chiefs tacked on a field goal (by Harrison Butker) to extend the lead. The Saints countered with another score of their own, but it was too late. The Chiefs won, 32-29.

This was a significant game on several fronts. This was the first meeting between quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees. It was Brees’ first game back in nearly a month — he suffered 11 fractured ribs and a punctured lung (!!!) in the last game he played. And his return was against a quarterback his own kids love.

Reporter Tracy Wolfson said that Brees’ three sons want Chiefs jerseys for Christmas — one boy wants a signed jersey from Mahomes, another a jersey from Hill, another from running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Speaking of Edwards-Helaire, he suffered what looked like a gruesome leg injury towards the end of the game. But it may not be as severe as it appeared: he reportedly has a high-ankle sprain and a strained hip. Edwards-Helaire may be rehabbed in time for next month’s divisional playoff game.

Update (Dec. 21, 2020): Both Mahomes and Kelce have been selected for this year’s Pro Bowl. They are among seven Chiefs to be voted into the game; the Packers and Seahawks also have seven players apiece. Kelce is also nominated for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, which honors players for excellence on the field and for their volunteer/charity work.

Clemson Wins Big In Rematch With Notre Dame

By Terrance Turner

They lost in double overtime in a heartbreaker to Notre Dame on Nov. 7. But the Clemson Tigers tonight avenged their only loss of the season. They won today’s match against the Fighting Irish 34-10. Their dominant performance earned them their sixth ACC Championship. A key ingredient of their winning formula today was the star turn by Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (who missed the first match versus Notre Dame, due to COVID-19).

Lawrence had an interception early, and Clemson went scoreless on the opening drive. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish scored first with a successful field goal drive. Clemson’s defense necessitated another field goal on a subsequent drive. But Notre Dame’s kicker missed the field goal attempt, leaving them with only three points.

Clemson cashed in. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence launched a pass to receiver Amari Rodgers, who took off for the touchdown. That 67-yard reception gave Clemson a 7-3 lead. They extended the lead later, after a daring sequence. Lawrence escapes a sack to run six yards. Then, on 2nd and 4, Lawrence found E.J. Williams for a 33-yard touchdown. Clemson later added a field goal to make it 17-3.

On a later drive, Lawrence acted as blocker! He stopped a Notre Dame safety from tackling Clemson running back Travis Etienne. Then, on 4th and 1, Etienne took off, running footloose and free into the end zone. That rushing TD made it 24-3 at the half.

There were no points scored in the third quarter…until Lawrence got off to the races. With 3:43 left in the quarter and a ball tucked into one arm, Lawrence sprinted 34 yards for another touchdown. His stunning score made it 31-3. After missing two games due to a positive COVID-19 test, Lawrence has stormed back to put his team ahead by four touchdowns. In the end. Lawrence was named the game’s Most Valuable Player after he completed 25-of-36 passes for 322 yards, with two passing touchdowns. He also rushed for a touchdown and a season-high 90 yards, the second-most of his career.

That was pretty much all she wrote. Clemson’s Nolan Turner was disqualified in the fourth quarter for targeting (on a helmet-to-helmet hit to a Notre Dame player). Notre Dame eventually did score a touchdown, but it was for naught. Clemson won 34-10, winning the ACC Championship. Lawrence becomes the first quarterback to win three ACC Championships.

“This team has been through a lot this year,” Lawrence said, adding that “we’ve gotten so much better. I’m really proud of this team.” And for good reason: the Tigers avenged their only loss this season and are now 11-1. This is the 4th straight Clemson Senior class with 50 wins in four years. “Of all the teams I’ve had, this team deserves it the most,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. He added that achieving 10 wins is hard in any season — “but in this season, it’s almost miraculous.”

Swinney added: “It would be a cryin’ shame if the Heisman didn’t attach their name to Trevor Lawrence.”

QB Trevor Lawrence acknowledges the crowd during today’s ACC Championship Game.
Photo courtesy of Twitter.

Ashanti Tests Positive for COVID-19 Ahead of “Verzuz” with Keyshia Cole

By Terrance Turner

Dec. 12, 2020

Photo courtesy of Variety.

Singer Ashanti has tested positive for COVID-19. This forced her to bow out of a planned “Verzuz” with singer Keyshia Cole. Ashanti made the announcement tonight via Instagram, writing: “Hey y’all I can’t believe I’m saying this but I tested positive for COVID-19. I’m ok and not in any pain. I’m actually down to do the Verzuz from my house… we’re trying to figure it all out!!!”

 But Verzuz wasn’t down for that, writing: “Unfortunately, we have to postpone tonight’s @Ashanti vs @KeyshiaCole #VERZUZ. Ashanti tested positive for COVID-19 beforehand, and we cannot put anyone at risk in the process. First time this has struck us so close to showtime. We apologize to our incredible audience! Get well soon, Ashanti. Wear a mask, stay inside, and take COVID-19 seriously. It’s truly affecting our community.”

For the uninitiated: “Verzuz” is a music event in which two artists alternate playing versions of their greatest hits. Fans typically determine which singer “won” the battle via comments on social media. Past participants include singers Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight, Monica and Brandy, and Jill Scott and Erykah Badu. Rappers Jeezy and Gucci Mane also took part (albeit in tense and controversial fashion).

Ashanti scored a string of hits in the early 2000s, including several number one singles. In fact, the singer broke records by having three top ten songs (“Foolish,” “What’s Luv?” and “Always on Time”) on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in the same week. She is the first female artist ever to do so.

In 2001, Ashanti was featured on rapper Ja Rule’s “Always on Time” and rapper Fat Joe’s single “What’s Luv?”. In February 2002, “Always on Time” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Ashanti’s first number one single. “What’s Luv?” peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard chart in April. Just two weeks later, Ashanti’s single “Foolish” (which she co-wrote) hit No. 1 on the Hot 100. With that feat, Ashanti became the first female artist to occupy the top two spots on the Billboard singles chart.

That same week (April 19, 2002), Ashanti’s self-titled debut album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart. It sold over 503,000 copies in its first week of release. The album set a Soundscan record for the biggest opening week sales for a new female artist, according to Empire Online. Ashanti eventually sold six million copies worldwide, according to Jet magazine. It won Ashanti a Grammy for Best Contemporary R&B Album.

The Verzuz battle has been rescheduled to Jan. 9, 2021.

Taylor Swift Releases New Album “Evermore”

By Terrance Turner

Dec. 10, 2020

Taylor Swift just released a new album.

The superstar singer-songwriter tweeted today: “I’m elated to tell you that my 9th studio album, and folklore’s sister record, will be out tonight at midnight eastern. It’s called evermore.”

The surprising release (at 11:00 pm CST) comes just five months after Swift’s latest album “Folklore”, which she recorded while in quarantine. Swift acknowledged her rather swift pace today via social media: “I’ve never done this before,” she said. “I’ve always treated albums as one-off eras and moved on to planning the next after an album was completed. There was something different about folklore.” What was different? Why the quick turnaround?

“To put it plainly, we just couldn’t stop writing songs. To try and put it more poetically, it feels like we were standing on the edge of the folklorian woods and we had a choice: to turn and go back or to travel further into the forest of the music,’ Swift wrote. “We chose to wander deeper in.”

“We” likely refers to collaborators Jack Antonoff, Justin Vernon, and Aaron Dessner, who worked on “Folklore”‘ with Swift. Another collaborator, “WB”, is William Broad, a pseudonym for Swift’s longtime boyfriend, British actor Joe Alwyn. It is his contribution that will probably be the most scrutinized — along with Swift’s wardrobe. Tonight she releases the music video for her song “Willow”, which features her wearing a white lace bridal dress. MSN writers Carolyn Gomez and Jasmine Tresky asserted that “you can’t tell me that’s not a wedding dress”.

Gomez and Tresky also pointed out that Swift’s album Lover contains the lyric: “My heart’s been borrowed, and yours has been blue. All’s well that ends well, to end up with you.” Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue — a traditional rhyme that describes all the things a bride should wear on her wedding day.

Adding to this implication is the “ME!” music video where actor Brendon Urie offers her an engagement ring and she rejects it in favor of her new real-life cat. According to Gomez and Tresky, Swift can be spotted wearing an engagement ring in the video. In a comment left by her Vevo account under the “ME!” music video. Taylor wrote, “Oh and there’s a secret in the video I’ve been keeping for months – let’s see who can guess it.”

What’s not a secret is Swift’s passion for her music. In her liner notes, Swift writes: “I loved the escapism I found in these imaginary/not imaginary tales. I loved the ways you welcomed the dreamscapes and tragedies and epic tales of love lost and found. So I kept writing them. And I loved creating these songs with Aaron Dessner, Jack Antonoff, WB, and Justin Vernon.”

“Before I knew it there were 17 tales, some of which are mirrored or intersecting with one another. The one about two young con artists who fall in love while hanging out at fancy resorts trying to score rich romantic beneficiaries. The one where longtime college sweethearts had very different plans for the same night, one to end it and one who brought a ring.”

“Ever since I was 13, I’ve been excited about turning 31 because it’s my lucky number backwards, which is why I wanted to surprise you with this now,” Swift wrote in a letter announcing the project’s track list. “You’ve all been so caring, supportive and thoughtful on my birthdays and so this time I thought I would give you something! I also know this holiday season will be a lonely one for most of us, and if there are any of you out there who turn to music to cope with missing loved ones the way I do, this is for you.”

Pandemic Pandemonium: FDA Approves Vaccine As Cases, Deaths Soar

Photo courtesy of Agence France-Presse.

By Terrance Turner

Dec. 11, 2020 (UPDATED: Dec. 17)

Tonight, the COVID-19 pandemic hit new, disturbing highs. The New York Times reports: “The nation set single-day records on Wednesday for reported deaths, with more than 3,600, and for newly reported cases, more than 245,000.” The Times added: “Three times as many more people in the United States are dying each day now than three months ago, and the number of new cases is six times what it was then.” ABC News confirmed this disturbing case count, adding that the U.S. has broken hospitalization records each day for the past 11 days.

The Times also revealed: “In the past week, just over 30 percent of the nation’s coronavirus-related deaths were reported in the South, and nearly 30 percent in the Midwest.” The pandemic’s toll is also ravaging the West. California, the nation’s most populous state, is facing a deluge of cases. NPR states: “California reported 52,281 new daily confirmed coronavirus cases and 379 new virus-related deaths, according to state data. This brings the state’s total number of cases to more than 1.7 million, with 21,860 deaths since the pandemic began.”

Worse yet, the number of hospitalizations in California has broken records every day for 18 consecutive days. The impact on hospitals is particularly grave in Southern California: there are 0 ICU beds available, per ABC News. NPR confirms that no intensive care unit beds are available

BREAKING (Dec. 11, 8:26 pm): The FDA has approved the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use. An initial shipment of about 2.9 million doses will be sent around the United States over the next week, according to the New York Times. The first week’s batch will be delivered to health care workers and nursing home residents as quickly as possible, all while keeping the vaccine at ultracold temperatures.

This news comes after White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn, to consider looking for his next job if he didn’t get the emergency approval done Friday, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity since he was not authorized to discuss the matter. Dr. Hahn ordered vaccine regulators at the agency to do it by the end of the day.

This rapid turnaround comes after the New York Times reported the White House turned down an offer of vaccine doses months ago. Pfizer sold the U.S. government 100 million doses, purchased by the Health and Human Services Dept. In July, the government was given the option to request 100 million to 500 million additional doses. But despite repeated warnings from Pfizer officials that demand could vastly outstrip supply and urges to pre-order more doses, the Trump administration turned down the offer. The Washington Post cited an official who cited pending FDA approval as the reason for the rejection. But by the time FDA approval was granted and federal officials reached back out, Pfizer had committed doses to other countries, the Post says.

The United States reported 107,248 hospitalizations of COVID-19 yesterday — a new record high. According to CNN, Dec. 10 is the ninth consecutive day that the U.S. has had more than 100,000 hospitalizations. The death toll topped 3,000 yesterday for the first time, according to Johns Hopkins University. (CNN’s Anderson Cooper said tonight that an additional 2,700 deaths were reported nationwide today.) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention forecasts up to 362,000 deaths in the U.S. by Jan. 2. That’s almost the entire population of Cleveland.

At this point, the United States has recorded 291,754 deaths from COVID-19 — more than the number of Americans killed during World War II. That was the bloodiest war in human history, according to Business Insider. (Interestingly, this week marked the 79th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, which caused the U.S. to enter the war. Much like Dec. 7, 1941, Dec. 10, 2020 is a day that may well “live in infamy”.)

But the vaccine’s approval today (Dec. 11) marks a historic development. The FDA announced the news in a press release tonight that explained how the vaccine works. “The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine contains messenger RNA (mRNA), which is genetic material. The vaccine contains a small piece of the SARS-CoV-2 virus’s mRNA that instructs cells in the body to make the virus’s distinctive “spike” protein. When a person receives this vaccine, their body produces copies of the spike protein, which does not cause disease, but triggers the immune system to learn to react defensively, producing an immune response against SARS-CoV-2.”  

Yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration voted 17-4 in favor of an emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. The dissidents were concerned about the effects of the vaccine on 16- and 17-year-olds, according to NBC News. They also have concerns about the impact on pregnant women. Still, the majority of the FDA commission voted yes.

The vaccine “measures reducing symptomatic illness”, thus keeping patients from becoming gravely ill, according to CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen. But she added that it is not clear yet whether the vaccine prevents one from contracting the virus. She told Anderson Cooper that people should still be vigilant: “They should still be wearing a mask. They should still be social distancing.”

While the virus continues to rage, the president of the United States is working overtime to win an election he lost (when he’s not hosting holiday parties). Today, the Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit filed by Texas’ attorney general that sought to invalidate some 20 million votes. The Houston Chronicle reports: “In a one-page ruling, the justices said Texas lacked standing to bring the case and therefore they would not consider it. The suit, brought by Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, targeted Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and alleged that changes made to election policies without state legislature approval were unconstitutional and allowed voter fraud to occur, though he did not offer evidence of that.”

“The State of Texas’s motion for leave to file a bill of complaint is denied for lack of standing under Article III of the Constitution,” the Court said. The Supreme Court — stacked with three justices personally appointed by President Trump — rejected his bid to undo the election. And so ends a monthlong effort, involving some 30 lawsuits, to overrule the will of the people.

Biden Announces Groundbreaking Picks for Defense, Commerce Secretary

By Terrance Turner

Dec. 8, 2020 (UPDATED Jan. 8, 2021)

Today, President-Elect Joe Biden introduced members of his health care team; they included the first-ever Latino nominee for Health & Human Services Secretary (Xavier Becerra) and the request that Dr. Anthony Fauci become Chief Medical Adviser. But he’s also making headlines with a historic choice for Secretary of Defense: Biden has nominated retired four-star Army Gen. Lloyd Austin. If confirmed, Austin would become the first Black person ever to lead the Department of Defense.

Austin, 67, graduated from West Point Military Academy in 1975. He served 41 years in uniform. Gen. Austin was commander in Baghdad of the Multinational Corps-Iraq in 2008. He returned to lead U.S. troops from 2010-2011, according to the Associated Press (source of the above photo). Austin also served as the first Black vice chief of staff of the Army in 2012. (That’s the No. 2 ranking position.) There, he fashioned and implemented a U.S. military strategy to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. He is the first Black general to command an Army division in combat and the first to oversee an entire theater of operations, per Politico.

Austin is also a civilian. By law, a leader of the Defense Dept. must have at lest seven years distance between that position and his military service. Austin retired in 2016 and thus has only four. He would require a waiver to serve. This has aroused concerns in some Democratic legislators — and rather blunt, pejorative criticism from pundits like The Atlantic‘s Eliot A. Cohen and the Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin. But Gen. James Mattis served in the same position with a waiver from 2017 to 2019. And the objection to Austin’s appointment and not Mattis’s presents an optics problem:

Biden defended his choice in an op-ed in The Atlantic: “General Austin got the job done. He played a crucial role in bringing 150,000 American troops home from the theater of war,” Biden wrote. “In his more than 40 years in the United States Army, Austin met every challenge with extraordinary skill and profound personal decency. He is a true and tested soldier and leader. I’ve spent countless hours with him, in the field and in the White House Situation Room. I’ve sought his advice, seen his command, and admired his calm and his character. He is the definition of a patriot.” 

Dez Bryant Out for MNF, But Ravens Continue Wild Ride With Unforgettable Win

By Terrance Turner

Dec. 8, 2020 (first published Nov. 30; updated Dec. 14)

Tonight’s Ravens-Cowboys game started with high drama.

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Dez Bryant was pulled from pregame warmups before tonight’s game against the Dallas Cowboys (his former team). Bryant left practice in order to take a test for COVID-19. (NFL reporter Kevin Seifert says that Bryant had taken a test this morning that came back “inconclusive” after he took the field. That necessitated a follow-up test, which came back positive.)

Less than an hour before game time, Bryant tweeted that he had tested positive for coronavirus. This, of course, would prevent him from playing in tonight’s game. But according to Bryant, he may be out for the rest of the season:

This comes after a dramatic sequence of events for the Ravens. On Monday, November 23, multiple players tested positive for COVID-19 after the Ravens’ loss to the Tennessee Titans. (The players included running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins, who tested positive for coronavirus on Nov. 23. Both players were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, per the NFL Network. The Ravens shut down their facility, the NFL said.)

On Wednesday, Nov. 25, a scheduled game between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers was postponed. The match had been scheduled for Thanksgiving night (Nov. 26). But the day before, NPR reported that the game was being postponed, after at least seven Ravens players tested positive for the coronavirus or were in close contact with someone who was infected. The news was confirmed by team releases.

On Thanksgiving night, word broke that four players — including Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson — had also tested positive for COVID-19. The next day, the NFL made a major decision. On Friday, Nov. 27, the Ravens-Steelers game was rescheduled to Tuesday, Dec. 1. That decision came after more positive tests by players within the organization. (As a result, the Cowboys-Ravens game was moved to tonight, from its original scheduling of Dec. 4.) On Saturday, six more players were added to the reserve/COVID-19 list, per ESPN. That gave Baltimore at total of 17 positive tests.

Ravens’ game versus the Steelers had been rescheduled for Tuesday night, Dec. 1. But additional positive tests mandated another change of plans. On Nov. 30th, the game was rescheduled for the third time, due to COVID-19. This was the first match this season to be rescheduled three times, according to ESPN. (By that point, at least one Ravens player had tested positive for nine straight days, prompting the decision.)

The game was set for Wednesday at 3:40 pm. It was the first Wednesday NFL game since 2012, ESPN says. The game kicked off at 3:40 p.m. because NBC, which is broadcasting the game, wanted to honor its commitment to broadcast a Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting ceremony on Wednesday night, sources told ESPN reporter Adam Schefter. The Ravens lost to the Steelers on Wednesday afternoon, marking Pittsburgh’s 11th straight victory.

Players who test positive must quarantine for 10 days. Two other players were put on the team’s reserve/COVID-19 list that week, which means they either contracted the coronavirus or came into close contact with someone who had it, according to the Ravens’ roster.

The Ravens officially placed three more starters, including two 2019 Pro Bowlers, on that list last Monday. Tight end Mark Andrews, outside linebacker Matthew Judon and wide receiver Willie Snead IV were placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list Monday. Andrews, who is also a Type-1 diabetic, has played every game this season and leads the Ravens in catches (38), receiving yards (454) and touchdown catches (six). Andrews and Judon are both 2019 Pro Bowlers, making it seven Pro Bowlers on the list for Baltimore. As of today (Nov. 30), 21 players have been placed on that list, per the Ravens organization.

Despite all this drama, the Ravens won! The team beat the Cowboys 34-17 in tonight’s game, racking up 294 yards on the ground. Quarterback Lamar Jackson rushed for a 37-yard touchdown, then threw another TD to wide receiver Marquise Brown. RB J.K. Dobbins (who also tested positive for COVID-19) ran in for a touchdown just before the two-minute warning.

Jackson threw for 107 yards and two touchdowns, in spite of his lingering COVID-19 symptoms. “I still can’t really taste or smell, but I’m good now,” he told reporters after the game. “I guess my taste or smell gon’ come back sooner or later…I wouldn’t wish that on nobody, though.”