An old man approaches a table of three young men at a Tuscaloosa Applebee’s.
“Roll Tide,” says the old man.
“Roll Tide,” the young men say.
The old man takes a seat. He warns everyone that he’s been drinking. Crown Royal Black. “Smooth as a baby’s ass,” he says. He wants to talk Alabama football, a random drunk guy with stories to tell. The first game that he attended: 1958, against LSU. Bear Bryant’s debut as coach. Blew a lead and lost. Still gnaws at him. Then one of the young men — the biggest of the three, with massive arms and shoulders that extend from his neck like a perfect square — says, “I used to play here.”
“What’s your name?” the old man says.
“Rolando!” The old man turns to his family at the nearest table. “That’s Rolando McClain!”
For a moment, McClain’s face — scruffy and cherubic and subtly earnest — seems to freeze. He knows the range of images associated with his name. Some might remember his résumé as an All-SEC linebacker, national champion and the No. 8 pick in the 2010 draft, by the Raiders. Others think of him only in handcuffs, arrested three times in 16 months in his hometown of Decatur, Ala., two hours north. They remember a smirking arrest shot for the ages.
What they probably don’t know or understand is the remarkable decision that put McClain back here in Tuscaloosa. Just five months earlier, under contract with the Super Bowl champion Ravens, McClain sensed that he was about to self-destruct like Jovan Belcher or Aaron Hernandez or any of the NFL’s many cautionary tales. So he just walked away from football. The sports world is littered with bitter, broke or jailed 35-year-old versions of Rolando McClain. But there are few 24-year-old athletes who would have left the NFL to do what he did: McClain re-enrolled at the University of Alabama and moved back to the town that had once brought out the best in him.
The old man seems to remember it all, every twist and turn. He turns to McClain and says, “I’m glad you’re here.”
McClain seems relieved. “Me too.”
–Seth Wickersham, ESPN The Magazine
The Stanford-Cal sports rivalry has spawned a special kind of animus among legions of Bay Area fans.
But school loyalty be damned when it comes to Josh Huestis and Christian Dean.
Huestis plays basketball at Stanford. Dean plays soccer at Cal.
Yet, they have in common something more powerful than any rivalry: A mother.
Sutton Lindsey gave birth to the boys, 15 months apart, in Alvin, Tex. Unable to care for them, she made the heart-wrenching decision to give them up. They were adopted by separate families and grew up 1,200 miles apart. But there is nothing halfway about their brotherhood.
“He’s my best friend,” Dean said recently.
When Cal’s top-ranked soccer team plays Stanford on Nov. 13, Huestis will be there for Dean.
“I feel bad,” said the Stanford basketball player, “but I have to root for Cal.”
In a family narrative as poignant as it is convoluted, adoptive parents and birth parents worked together in hopes that the boys would grow up as brothers. A challenge under any circumstances, this was made more daunting by the fact that one boy lived in East Palo Alto and the other in Great Falls, Mont.
–Elliott Almond, San Jose Mercury News
At 6-foot-6, 261 pounds, Stanford’s Murphy is an imposing figure. As he demonstrated in dominating fashion against Oregon State in a primetime Pac-12 showdown October 26,NFLDraftScout.com’s top-rated senior defensive end is also powerful, surprisingly athletic and instinctive.
Alternately lining up as a stand-up outside linebacker or as hand-in-the-dirt defensive end, Murphy recorded eight tackles in the 20-12 victory over the Beavers, including 3.5 for loss. Of those, 2.5 were sacks. Murphy also knocked down a pass, blocked an extra point and hurried Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion on two other occasions, helping to limit the Maxwell Award finalist to season lows in QB rating (117.1), passing yardage (271) and touchdowns (one) despite attempting more passes (57) than in any other game this year. For his efforts Murphy was named the Pac-12’s Defensive Player of the Week.
It wasn’t just his conference taking note of Murphy’s performance, however. Talent evaluators on hand for the game couldn’t help but draw comparisons to Houston Texans’ star J.J. Watt for Murphy’s ability to impact the game in so many ways.
Like the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Murphy is at his best attacking the quarterback. While not truly explosive off the snap, Murphy’s long legs help him cover ground quickly and he shows surprising flexibility to dip and close around the corner for a man of his size. This body control and length also allows Murphy to consistently defeat the cut blocks which render most players of his height ineffective. Murphy quickly reacts to cut blocks, showing the hand usage to knock would-be blockers to the ground, as well as the flexibility to sprawl and quickly recover.
–Rob Rang, The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com