If you want to say they quit on their teams, fine.
Running backs Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey left their respective football programs, LSU and Stanford, before the season ended. Both are skipping bowl games. That much is indisputable and, if you listen to some people, unfathomable and unforgivable.
Players are taught from an early age: You don’t quit on a play, you don’t quit in a game and you certainly don’t quit on your team. Thirty-two years later, I still regret quitting basketball in high school. Quitting reveals a lack of competitiveness, commitment and character. It could lead to quitting in other facets of life.
So why, in the case of Fournette and McCaffrey, who walked away from their teams with one more game remaining on the schedule, does quitting make sense?
In the interests of self-preservation, Fournette will miss the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Eve while McCaffrey opted out of the Hyundai Sun Bowl a day earlier. Both players are headed for the NFL and have millions of dollars on the line, a price too high to risk injury for some second-class bowl game.
Fournette is projected to be a high first-round draft pick. He has been hobbled by a sprained ankle for most of the season. LSU was 4-0 without him and 3-4 with him. The Tigers have nothing to gain, whether he plays or not, other than winning a bowl game that will be forgotten New Year’s Day.
McCaffrey plays a larger role for Stanford, but he’s not about to gamble with an NFL career for … the Sun Bowl. He’s also expected to be taken in early rounds. Rest assured his father, longtime Broncos receiver Ed McCaffrey, is comfortable with his son’s decision after tapping into NFL scouts for advice.
The most recent cautionary tale was Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith, who was expected to be selected in the first five picks last season before blowing out his knee. He slipped into the second round of the draft and lost an estimated $15 million. He suffered the injury in the Fiesta Bowl during the College Football Playoff.
Look, the NCAA has been making billions of dollars off the backs of athletes for generations. How ironic for Fournette and McCaffrey to be criticized for protecting their bodies, their money-makers, while programs celebrate cash-grabbing bowl games under the guise of college football tradition.
Both players held up their ends. They gave three years on the field and were terrific players. They received an education in return. That’s the deal. They don’t owe their universities anything, especially when neither is playing for a national championship. I would imagine both would have played if a title was on the line, but that's not the case.
The games mean almost nothing when stacked against their futures. It doesn’t make them bad teammates. It makes them wise businessmen. It was an easy decision.
Coaches don’t think twice about leaving the very kids they recruited for bigger, better, higher-paying jobs. Athletes shouldn’t have their “loyalty to the program” questioned when they do the same. Coaches do what’s best for them. The same approach should apply to players. It’s not a one-way street.
OK, so Fournette and McCaffrey quit.
You also could argue that they’re taking the next step toward improving, or toward helping their next team, or toward helping their families. They’re shaping their futures, which is what college is all about. Nobody blamed Bill Gates for dropping out after two years at Harvard.
Jaromir Jagr’s longevity is hard to fathom, but the most incredible aspect of him catching Mark Messier for second place on the NHL’s all-time points list is how far behind he remains from leader Wayne Gretzky.
Jagr’s three assists against the Sabres on Tuesday gave him 1,887 points – 755 goals and 1,132 assists – over his 23 seasons in the NHL. It was the second time this season in which Jagr, 44, had three points in a game. Gordie Howe had only one three-point night after his 44th birthday.
Gretzky had 2,857 career points and would still be the all-time leading scorer based on assists alone (1,963). Only 109 players had more points than Gretzky had goals (894). Only 83 players have had 970 points, or the difference between the top two spots on the all-time scoring list.
“I don’t really count Wayne Gretzky,” Jagr told the Associated Press in a recent interview. “He was from another planet. I don’t think he was from this planet. Whatever he did, it’s unbreakable.”
Jagr made his debut with the Penguins Oct. 5, 1990. The Sabres had nine players (William Carrier, Jack Eichel, Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson, Robin Lehner, Jake McCabe, Ryan O’Reilly, Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen) in the lineup Tuesday who were yet to be born when Jagr started his career.
Most analysts who make up pre-draft rankings have the same four quarterbacks listed in various order. They include Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Cal’s Davis Webb.
Keep an eye on another prospect, Texas Tech junior and Patrick Mahomes. He still hasn’t decided whether he’ll forego his senior year and turn professional, but he’s a player worth watching as the process unfolds. He won the Sammy Baugh Trophy as the top passer in the nation.
Mahomes completed 66 percent of his passes for 5,052 yards, 41 touchdowns and 10 interceptions this season while playing on a bad team. Texas Tech threw the ball all over the place while finishing 5-7. His highlights included 734 yards passing and five touchdowns in a loss to Oklahoma.
He threw for 4,653 yards and 36 TDs as a junior. The best thing about Mahomes (6-3, 220), however, is that he’s a great athlete. The Detroit Tigers drafted him out of high school, and he was a relief pitcher for two years at Texas Tech. He stopped playing baseball after last season to focus on football.
You might remember his father, Pat Mahomes, who played for six teams over 11 seasons in the big leagues. He spent most of his career with the Twins. Pat Mahomes Sr. was arrested for public intoxication last fall. It shouldn’t be enough to scare away Doug Whaley, assuming he’s still with the Bills.
“There’s no time to feel sorry for yourself, but there’s always time to be honest with yourself.” – Broncos coach Gary Kubiak after a 16-3 loss to the Patriots.
.091 – Shooting percentage from three-point range for James Harden, who scored 31 points in a 102-100 loss to the Spurs.
96 – Percent of field-goal attempts made during Week 15, the record for one week in the National Football League. The previous mark was 95.4 percent, set in 2011.
1 – Percent the Bills will make the playoffs, according to a New York Times simulator.
Pro Football Weekly reported Tom Coughlin is a front-runner to replace Rex Ryan. You never know, but it would be surprising if the Bills hired him as a coach. It makes more sense for them to hire Coughlin in the front office serving as a middle man between football operations and ownership. Stay tuned.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, DeMarcus Cousins became the first player in NBA history with 55 points, 10 rebounds, five three-pointers and three blocks in a game when he led the Kings over the Trail Blazers. He also picked up his 103rd career technical foul, adding to his lead over the past five years.
It was good to see Iowa coach Fran McCaffery say he regretted pulling his players from the floor and refusing to shake hands with North Dakota. It would have been better if he kept his wits during the game and immediately afterward. After all, the coach is expected to be the sensible one.