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John Tonelli and the Islanders Thaw the Ice After 34 Years

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UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Now that John Tonelli’s return to the Nassau Coliseum ice is near, his emotions are churning like his old piston-driving skating style.

Tonelli, a left wing who was a vital member of the Islanders teams who won four straight Stanley Cups from 1980 to 1983, will have his No. 27 jersey retired at Nassau Coliseum before the Islanders play the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night.

The ceremony is the latest move in a broader effort by the Islanders’ new owners to reconnect with the team’s glory days ahead of the franchise’s move into a new arena for the 2021-22 season. Fans have campaigned for years to retire the jersey of Tonelli, a popular player who was traded away in 1986 after a contract dispute, but the team’s commitment to do it only came in December.

“I am so excited and full of grateful emotion,” said Tonelli, 62. “This is the ultimate reward for me and my teammates.”

Tonelli had endured a longer wait than six of his peers from those four Cup-winning teams. The others — Denis Potvin, Bob Nystrom, Billy Smith, Clark Gillies, Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier — all saw their numbers raised between 1992 and 2001. Their Hall of Fame coach, Al Arbour, and the general manager who built those Islanders teams, Bill Torrey, also have been honored by the team with banners, and another teammate, Butch Goring, will have his No. 91 retired on Feb. 29.

Yet Tonelli’s jersey remained absent, even as his role continued to stand out, especially among teammates who were part of the franchise’s fabled run.



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Buccaneers GM Jason Licht says QB pitched himself to team

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Corrections and Clarifications: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the first day NFL teams could talk to free agents from other teams. It was March 16.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht said six-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Tom Brady pitched himself to the team in a way that made their own sales pitch less essential. 

Licht said he and coach Bruce Arians spoke to Brady on March 18 and quickly realized they were on the reverse end of what they initially expected. 

“We had a great conversation — Bruce and I — we talked to (Brady) for over an hour and a half,” Licht recalled Monday during an appearance on ESPN’s Get Up! “And he made it clear in the conversation that he was very, very interested. It was almost like a recruitment on his part, telling us why it would make sense for him to come to Tampa Bay. The next call we made, we signed him, but it was at that phone call that we realized, that we felt like we had him.”

Brady spent his first 20 NFL seasons with the New England Patriots before leaving the franchise for Tampa Bay. Licht noted of the 42-year-old Brady, who turns 43 in August: “We feel like he could still play for over two years for us, and hopefully that’s the case.”

Licht said despite Brady’s statistical declines in 2019, he expects that to change under a creative coach like Arians and wide receivers receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin at his disposal in 2020. 

“The tape showed to us that (Brady) had plenty of arm. In fact, we thought that he had an ideal arm for Bruce in his system,” Licht said. “He can still throw it deep. We felt like the mobility was still the same as he’s always had, which, he’s never been able to outrun anybody. But he certainly is good in the pocket in terms of eluding pressure and with his poise and his instincts. We did not see a decline in his arm talent whatsoever.”



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5 awful ideas to bring back sports during the coronavirus pandemic

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It’s not a great sign that the sports world has only been shut down for a few weeks, and it already feels like months.

The wait for sports to return is going to continue for much longer — that is undeniable at this point.

And leagues across the globe will face an arguably tougher challenge in deciding when and how to bring back sports. With no available vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, leagues will run the risk of sparking a coronavirus resurgence by holding events in packed stadiums. No league or team wants to be the one to cause another Match Zero.

But on the other hand, sports are a distraction. And people often to turn to sports and entertainment as a means to temporarily escape from a troubling situation. That train of thought has led people to think of ways to bring sports back now — or as soon as possible — even as the pandemic is still in the early stages.

Let’s be honest, though: None of these ideas should ever come to fruition. They’re all awful and reckless, especially these five proposed ways to end the sports stoppage.

5. The BIG3’s reality show, preseason tournament

At least as of now, this idea seems like it will happen. The BIG3, the 3-on-3 league heading into its fourth season, is looking to hold a preseason tournament after initially holding the participants in a reality-show-style quarantine. The league plans to test all the players and officials for COVID-19, and they will only be allowed to participate if they test negative.

Via USA TODAY Sports:

The 3-on-3 basketball league partnered with media production company Endemal, which has produced the highly-rated reality show “Big Brother,” to create a quarantined reality show and a three-week preseason tournament starting the first week of May. Big3 also plans to open its fourth season of its 12-team league on June 20 in Memphis.

“We can’t control what happens with the virus. Nobody can control it,” Big3 co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz told USA TODAY Sports. “If that has to be pushed back a week or two, that’s possible. But we feel pretty good about being able to be up and running in May.”

As intriguing as it sounds to watch Seven-Time All-Star Joe Johnson in quarantine for two weeks before he plays 3-on-3, there’s just no reason for it. No matter how they frame the precautions, it’s impossible to guarantee the safety of the players, officials and staff members — all for a preseason tournament. The risk isn’t worth the reward here at all.

4. Red Bull’s F1 team was urged to infect themselves

The consensus among the medical community is that those who are infected with COVID-19 and recover will not catch the coronavirus a second time — at least temporarily. So, Helmut Marko, Red Bull’s head of driver development, suggested that his team’s drivers intentionally get infected with the coronavirus, so they can return to competition as soon as possible.

Via The Guardian:

“We have four Formula One drivers and eight or 10 juniors,” he said. “The idea was to organise a camp where we could bridge this mentally and physically somewhat dead time and that would be the ideal time for the infection to come.

“These are all strong young men in really good health. That way they would be prepared whenever the action starts. And you can be ready for what will probably be a very tough championship once it starts.”

Obviously, this twisted, sports-themed version of herd immunity is overlooking the fact that young, athletic people are not impervious to the worst of the virus. A significant percentage of young people — between 14 and 20 percent — requires hospitalization.

Just an awful, awful idea.

3. NBA charity game

The NBA was the first American sports league to suspend its season entirely, which sparked the similar reaction across U.S. sports and the NCAA. But a week after the league’s suspension, commissioner Adam Silver floated the idea of hosting a charity game with medically cleared — either COVID-19 negative or recovered — players.

Via Sports Illustrated:

“Just because people are stuck at home and they need a diversion and they need to be entertained,” Silver said. “…To the extent we were the first to shut our league down. To what extent can we be a first mover to restart our economy.”

Enough has unfolded over the subsequent two weeks to put that idea on hold. There are too many risks when it comes to travel and actually playing this game to make it anything more than an early idea.

2. NFL playing in isolation

The NFL season isn’t due to start until September, so it does have the benefit of time to figure out possible contingency plans. But at this juncture, it’s impossible to say when or even if the NFL will be played.

One idea that absolutely shouldn’t happen is this option floated by ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio:

“Theoretically, it’s possible that the NFL will build in the middle of nowhere a corona-free campus where all players, coaches, trainers, doctors, broadcasters, officials, etc. would spend the entire season sequestered from the rest of the world, with games played on a series of fields from which the games would be televised, with no one else present. (I haven’t heard that this is a possibility, but it’s one that the league definitely should be considering.)”

Unless this campus is stocked with four months worth of food, water and essentials, there’s absolutely no way the league can guarantee that it is “corona-free.” You’d also be asking for something that would require round-the-clock construction during a pandemic for a one-off entertainment project. A facility needed to host all of these teams would be massive — like, on an Olympic-village scale.

Optically, there couldn’t be a worse look for the NFL than this idea.

You’d be investing millions in a vanity project in northern Nebraska while hospitals are desperately short on supplies. There’s just no way this gets considered on a serious level.

1. Premier League season resumes in isolation

In a similar manner to Florio’s solution to the NFL, The Independent reported on Sunday that the Premier League was looking into resuming its season in the midlands and London during June and July … with government backing.

They would hold this in World Cup-style camps and keep the players isolated from their families.

Via The Independent:

In order to complete the plan, clubs and their staffs would be confined to separate hotels away from their families, just like in an international tournament – albeit with full testing and quarantine conditions. The aim is to reduce the risk of contracting Covid-19 as even one case could derail the whole plan.

For the reasons that the NFL idea won’t happen, it would be just as reckless to go forward with this idea. Like the report said, it would only take one case of coronavirus to derail the idea. And we’ve already seen Premier League players test positive for the coronavirus.

There are ways to limit the risks of contracting the virus, but there is no realistic way to guarantee it. You’d be looking at a money-grab during a pandemic — it’s that simple.



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A Triple Crown Hopeful Emerges and Athlete Workouts Get a J. Lo Cameo

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The day in (no) sports includes (some) sports, as horse racing preps for a Triple Crown like no other. Elsewhere, athletes improvised workouts and enlisted workout partners, including a special appearance by J. Lo.

If you didn’t look too closely, the Florida Derby on Saturday was like a regular Florida Derby. Tiz the Law, the favorite after winning the Holy Bull Stakes in February, sat just off the pace, took the lead at the top of the stretch and pulled away for a comfortable victory.

But a closer look revealed some irregularities. The grandstand was not full of fans; just a handful of people watched along the rail, a reasonable social distance apart. The news media, and even the horse owners, were barred from Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla.

As with most Florida Derby winners, like Spectacular Bid, Barbaro and Maximum Security last year, Tiz the Law was immediately hailed as a Kentucky Derby favorite.

But the Kentucky Derby won’t be run on the first Saturday in May this year; it has been rescheduled for Sept. 5. Tiz the Law’s owner, Sackatoga Stable, which owned the 2003 Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide, has to find a new schedule to get its colt to the race in top form.

The Preakness, originally set for two weeks after the Derby, has been postponed, possibly also to September. The Belmont is still on the calendar for June 6, but given the state of sports, and the world, a postponement seems quite likely. If not, it may suddenly become the first leg of the Triple Crown, fully three months before the other two are run.

Just finding races at all for Tiz the Law may be difficult. The three biggest racing jurisdictions, Southern California, Kentucky and New York, are currently shut down. That leaves Florida, Arkansas and a few other tracks in the United States, for now.

“Maybe we can do a Travers-Derby double,” the horse owner Jack Knowlton told The Associated Press, referring to the late August race at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. “Right now it’s a blank slate. Nobody knows what’s going to happen, where or when, with all that’s going on in the country.”

With no teammates to throw to, Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole instead paired up with his wife, Amy, for a game of catch in their backyard. Texas Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo made a makeshift batting cage in his living room so he could take swings off a tee, joking that his neighbors were going to hate him by the end of his quarantine. The Mets’ Dominic Smith, meanwhile, is using dry swings and visualization to keep his mind sharp, paired with the occasional video game workout.

Max Domi, the Montreal Canadiens center, is working on his dribbling skills while balancing on an exercise ball. Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner is tossing logs for his workout. DANIELLE ALLENTUCK

Some of us have reached the stage of confinement where social media is a lifeline to the rest of the world. And forgive us if some of the time we steer away from the frightening coronavirus news and try to find a smile or two.

For star power, it’s hard to top the double whammy of the affianced Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez playing baseball with her daughter, Emme.

In answer to the burning question, yeah, Lopez throws and catches darn well, although the editor of the video kept in one toss that wound up in the hedges.

Some athletes were using their platforms to take a stand. The Super Bowl-winning quarterback Kurt Warner wondered on Monday why some colleges were bringing athletes back for workouts.

And Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem, a Miami native, in a strongly worded article on The Players’ Tribune, scolded well-off college students who were insisting on going to Florida for spring break despite the virus.

“This moment we’re in … it’s not about you. It’s not about your spring break, or the way you wanna live your life. It’s like, yeah, trust me, bro — I wanna chill, too.”

“But this ain’t about me. It ain’t about you. This thing is about us.”





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