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Woody's Winners, NFL Week 3

NFL WEEK THREE: By my count, seven teams are expected to start a different QB this week than they did just half a month ago on Kickoff Weekend. Some replacements are due to injury, but others are due to poor performance, and Woody thinks it’s a bit early in the season for any NFL team to pull that kind of trigger. As a result, I’ve chosen more upsets than usual this week. Just call me “Wild Woody.”

Woody went 10-6 last week, bringing my season total to 18-14. Here are my predictions for Week 3. Enjoy!

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Buffalo (0-2) @ New England (1-1)

This Sunday in Foxboro, some painted nut will be holding up a sign reading “14!” That’s because the Patriots have dealt the Bills a defeat in 13 consecutive match-ups dating back to 2000. After consulting the Smart Pill Machine, I see no reason why this New England fan should be disappointed.  Muskets in hand, the Minutemen will do their duty in short order, and when it’s all over, the field will be littered with the proverbial stack of paid Bills.

Woody’s Winner: New England

FACT: The Patriots have converted only one of 4 field goal attempts this season.

Click "more" to see my picks for the other 15 NFL games in Week 3.

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Atlanta (1-1) @ New Orleans (2-0)

The last three meetings between these NFC South rivals have been decided by 4, 8, and 3 points, all in favor of the Fleur-de-Lis. The Saints may be tuckered out after close back-to-back wins against the Vikings and 49ers, but they’ll have just enough left to swat away two-and-twenty Blackbirds. Woody’s heart is with the Falcons, but his money is on the defending Super Bowl Champions.

Woody’s Winner (in a close one): New Orleans

FACT: The Falcons defense has held opposing QBs to a league-low 52.9 rating, with no touchdowns, 4 interceptions, and 5 sacks.

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Detroit (0-2) @ Minnesota (0-2)

The Vikes have struggled to an 0-2 start, but there’s no better tonic than playing at home against Detroit. Granted, the Lions have looked better on offense (4 rushing TDs) and defense (10 sacks), but they still have a zero where it counts: in the “win” column. And MGM isn’t hiring. One of these two teams will get their first win of the season on Sunday afternoon, and unless WR Calvin Johnson wakes up, it’ll be the one clad in purple.

Woody’s Winner: Minnesota

FACT: In Week 2 against Philadelphia, Lions RB Jahvid Best hauled in 9 catches for 154 yards.

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Cleveland (0-2) @ Baltimore (1-1)

The success of the Ravens’ franchise has helped many a Baltimorean to forget that those nasty old Colts moved away and left them without a team back in 1984. That success has also caused the “new” Cleveland Browns to turn downright green with envy. This year in northeast Ohio, the Indians had a fire sale, and the Cavaliers lost their marquee player. Now, the Brownies are dealing with an injured QB, an ailing RB, and a seemingly absent set of WRs. They’ll be fortunate to see the far side of the 50-yard-line in Ravenville this Sunday.

Woody’s Winner: Baltimore

FACT: The Ravens defense has held its two 2010 opponents to a combined 4-of-29 on third down.

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Dallas (0-2) @ Houston (2-0)

The Cowboys enjoy a Week 4 bye after this Sunday’s game, and it couldn’t come at a better time. Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the hype about Dallas becoming the first team to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium. The hole they’ve dug for themselves is big, too; the Starred Ones are the only winless team in the NFC East. Meanwhile, things are rosy over in Houston, where the franchise won its first overtime game in 8 tries. The Texans won their debut NFL game against America’s Team in 2002, and there’s nothing they’d love more than to repeat that feat in front of their home fans.

Woody’s Winner: Houston

FACT: Through 2 games, Houston is the only NFL team that has yet to fumble the ball.

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San Francisco (0-2) @ Kansas City (2-0)

Frisco was the only undefeated team in the 2010 preseason, but are winless in the regular season thanks to the Saints’ last-second prayer of a FG last week. Coach Mike Singletary not only remained cool and calm in the locker room following the loss, he actually praised his team’s effort. A loss this week would cause his head to explode, which would seriously derail the 49ers chances for a playoff berth… though not all fans would agree with me about that. I’ve incorrectly picked the Chiefs for losses in their first two games. Have I learned my lesson?

Woody’s Winner: San Francisco

FACT: 49er opponents have completed 46 of 61 passes this season, for a 75.4 percent completion rate.

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Tennessee (1-1) @ N.Y. Giants (1-1)

Titans and Giants? The gods must be angry. The Titans’ step back last week had more to do with Pittsburgh’s D than their own O. Coach Jeff Fisher’s decision to bench QB Vince Young threw his players for a loop. By the time they recover, the Big Men from Gotham will be well on their way to a 2-1 record. Too bad the G-Men can no longer dance on Jimmy Hoffa, but no matter. When the final whistle blows, Volunteers may be required to clean up all the Tennessee players left sprawled on the field.

Woody’s Winner: New York

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Pittsburgh (2-0) @ Tampa Bay (2-0)

When my junior high school football coach told me that “defense wins games,” I presumed he said that because I played on the offense. Now I get it; how else could the Bucs be 2-0? Tampa’s cannon should be quiet this Sunday as these undefeated teams struggle to score points. Pittsburgh’s just biding its time until Big Ben’s clock chimes, and a Buccaneer cutlass, well, just won’t cut it in Florida in Week 3.

Woody’s Winner: Pittsburgh

FACT: Despite scoring only 2 TDs in 2 games, the Steelers are undefeated thanks to a defense that is +6 in takeaways/giveaways.

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Cincinnati (1-1) @ Carolina (0-2)

Terrell Owens (sore back) and Chad Ochocinco (cracked rib) further the Batman-and-Robin shtick by nursing injuries at the same time, but both are probable for Sunday’s trip south. Considering Carolina’s QB troubles and injuries to Steve Smith above and below, common sense dictates that the Battle of the Big Cats should end with a Bengals victory over Panthers. A little voice tells me that Carolina might pull an upset, but it might be those White Castles backing up on me. Besides, felines look better in stripes.

Woody’s Winner (in a close one): Cincinnati

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Philadelphia (1-1) @ Jacksonville (1-1)

The Philly brass pulled a flea-flicker on everyone by announcing the “Kolb Era” when their plans apparently centered on Michael Vick all along. Announcing Vick as starter in the preseason would have brought out all his haters, but a minor Week 1 injury to Kevin Kolb gave the Eagles all the excuse they needed. Meanwhile, in Florida, David Garrard (who had an impressive 1-to-49 career interception-to-attempt ratio) was benched last week after throwing 4 INTs in 23 passes. But he’s back in teal, the game is sold out, and the Jaguars will play tough for their faithful. Still…

Woody’s Winner: Philadelphia

FACT: The Eagles have allowed 11 sacks this season, 3 more than any other NFL team.

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Washington (1-1) @ St. Louis (0-2)

The Redskins have played well thus far this season, and are 4-1 in their last five road games against the battered Rams. This week, Washington plays “Meet Me in St. Louis” and should find the blues to be to their liking. DC Power will light up the Gateway Arch, and while Sam Bradford has a few victories ahead of him this season, he’ll have to earn them by suffering through games like this one.

Woody’s Winner: Washington

FACT: The Rams defense leads the NFL with 7 forced fumbles this season.

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Oakland (1-1) @ Arizona (1-1)

The Raiders and Cardinals have even records; both teams earned a victory by beating St. Louis, but both were also blown out against better teams. This week’s matchup promises to be the Darren McFadden/Tim Hightower show, since both defenses are weak against the run. The Redbirds are still smarting after being humiliated in Atlanta, while the Mighty Oaks are looking forward to the possibility of a winning record for the first time since Week 3 of the 2004 season. Good thing footballs are vaguely acorn-shaped.

Woody’s Winner (in an upset): Oakland

FACT: The Raiders are 5-2 all-time against the Cardinals. Since 1973, the teams have met in St. Louis, Oakland, Los Angeles, and Arizona.

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San Diego (1-1) @ Seattle (1-1)

RB Ryan Mathews and WR Malcom Floyd are expected to be out when the Chargers head up the Pacific Coast this weekend. For the Seahawks coaching staff that means extra focus on San Diego’s key remaining weapon, TE Antonio Gates. If the Home of Grunge can hold him in check, it’ll be tough for the visitors to get an approval on their MasterCard. Seattle will eke out a win at home, but luckily for the Bolts, their plane tickets home have already been arranged.

Woody’s Winner (in an upset): Seattle

FACT: The last five match-ups between the Chargers and Seahawks have each been decided by a field goal or less.

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Indianapolis (1-1) @ Denver (1-1)

Most of Denver's injury problems are on the defensive side of the line, notably CBs Champ Bailey and Andre’ Goodman. As a result, the elder Manning should be able to pass at will against the decimated Bronco secondary. And considering how rude he was to his little brother last week on the gridiron, he’ll have no qualms about airing the football out in the thin Mile-High atmosphere. Don’t be surprised if rookie Denver QB Tim Tebow makes an appearance once the Colts lap the Broncos on the racetrack.

Woody’s Winner: Indianapolis

FACT: Last week vs. the Giants, Colts defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis combined for 4 sacks and 3 forced fumbles.

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N.Y. Jets (1-1) @ Miami (2-0)

This Sunday night, the Jets go on the road for the first time this season, facing Miami in the Dolphins’ first home game of 2010. Both teams focus on the rushing game, and both have a pair of capable running backs. Both also have great success against the run, so the victor of this AFC East game may come down to the home field advantage. With this week’s game being in South Florida…

Woody’s Winner: Miami

FACT: The Jets lead the league with 20 penalties for 183 yards in only two games.

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Green Bay (2-0) @ Chicago (2-0)

This Monday Night Football game celebrates the league’s oldest rivalry. It also features the highest-rated QB in the NFL, only it’s not the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, but Chicago’s Jay Cutler. His 121.2 rating though two games is sheer dynamite, and Chicago’s defense will plant TNT all over to try to blow the Pack back to Wisconsin. Green Bay is favored by most, but Woody’s going out on a limb with this one. I like grated cheese on my Chicago Deep Dish.

Woody’s Winner: Chicago

FACT: This season, Chicago’s defense has allowed only 41 yards on 34 carries for a paltry 1.4 yards per rush.

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Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below, but please be cordial to others; this is all in good fun. Thanks!

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Big Questions
Who Was Heisman and Why Does He Have a Trophy?
Brett Deering/Getty Images
Brett Deering/Getty Images

On Saturday night, one of three finalists will be named this year's Heisman Trophy winner. But before anyone brings home the hardware, let’s answer a few questions about John Heisman and his famous award.

Who Exactly Was John Heisman?

© Bettmann/CORBIS

His name is mostly associated with the trophy now, but Heisman (right) was a player, coach, and hugely successful innovator in the early days of football. After playing for Brown and then Penn as a collegian from 1887 to 1891, Heisman became a coach at a series of schools that included Oberlin, Buchtel, Auburn, Clemson, Penn, Washington & Jefferson, Rice, and, most notably, Georgia Tech.

For What Football Innovations Does Heisman Get Credit?

Just some little trivial stuff like snapping the ball. Centers originally placed the ball on the ground and rolled it back to their quarterbacks, who would scoop it up and make plays. When Heisman was coaching at Buchtel (which later became the University of Akron), though, he had a 6’4” QB named Harry Clark. Clark was so tall that picking the ball up off the ground was wildly inefficient, so Heisman invented the center snap as an easy way to get the ball in Clark’s hands. Heisman also innovated the use of pulling guards for running plays and the infamous hidden-ball trick.

Any Other Shenanigans on Heisman’s Resume?

You bet. When Heisman found a way to gain an edge, he jumped on it no matter how ridiculous it seemed. When Heisman was coaching at Clemson in 1902, his team traveled to Atlanta for a game against Georgia Tech. Although Heisman was known for being a rather gruff disciplinarian, the Clemson team immediately started partying upon their arrival.

When Georgia Tech’s players and fans heard that the entire Clemson squad had spent the night before the game carousing, they prepared to coast to an easy win. When the game started, though, Clemson roared out of the gate en route to a 44-5 stomping.

How did Clemson crush Tech when by all rights they should have been ridiculously hungover? The “team” that everyone had seen partying the night before wasn’t really Heisman’s Clemson squad at all. He had sent his junior varsity players to Atlanta the night before to serve as drunken decoys, then quietly slipped his varsity team in on a morning train right before the game.

What Kind of Coach Was He?

Heisman worked as an actor in community stock theater during the summer – he consistently received rotten reviews – and allegedly spoke in a brusque, yet bizarrely ostentatious manner. Georgia Tech’s website relates a story of one of Heisman’s speeches he would break out on the first day of practice while describing a football: "What is this? It is a prolate spheroid, an elongated sphere - in which the outer leather casing is drawn tightly over a somewhat smaller rubber tubing. Better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football."

How Did His Name Get on the Trophy?

After leaving his head-coaching job at Rice in 1927, Heisman became the athletic director at New York’s Downtown Athletic Club. In 1935 the club began awarding the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy to the nation’s top college football star. (Chicago’s Jay Berwanger won the first trophy.) Heisman died of pneumonia the following fall before the second trophy could be awarded, and the club voted to rename the prize the Heisman Memorial Trophy Award.

Did He Ever Really Throw that Iconic Stiff Arm?

© Bettmann/CORBIS

Possibly, but Heisman didn’t have the ball in his hands all that much. Even though he was a fairly small guy at just 5’8” and 158 pounds, he played as a lineman throughout his college career.

The famous “Heisman pose” is actually based on Ed Smith, a former NYU running back who modeled for the trophy’s sculptor in 1934. Interestingly, Smith went years without knowing that he’d modeled for the famous trophy. His sculptor buddy Frank Eliscu had just needed a football player to model for a project, and Smith volunteered.

Smith figured Eliscu was just doing some little personal sculpture and remained totally oblivious to his spot in football history for the next 48 years until a documentary filmmaker called Smith to interview him about the Heisman in 1982. Smith initially had no idea what the guy was talking about, but he eventually remembered his modeling days. In 1985, the Downtown Athletic Club gave Smith his own copy of the Heisman, and in 1986 he even received recognition on the televised ceremony. He looked at the four finalists – Vinny Testaverde won that year – and quipped, "Whoever wins the award, I feel sorry for you, because you're going to be looking at my ugly face for a long time." [Pictured Above: Auburn's Bo Jackson in 1985.]

What’s a Heisman Trophy Worth on the Open Market?

Quite a bit. A number of Heisman winners have eventually sold their hardware, and the trophies fetch quite a bit of loot. O.J. Simpson got $230,000 for his, and several others have gone for six-figure prices. The most expensive trophy that’s changed hands was Minnesota back Bruce Smith’s 1941 award; it fetched $395,240.

How Did Steve Spurrier Change the Process?

SEC fans are going to be floored by this one, but the Ol’ Ball Coach did something really classy when he won the Heisman in 1966. Instead of taking the trophy for himself, Spurrier gave it to the University of Florida so the school could display it and let the student body enjoy it. Florida’s student government thought Spurrier’s generosity was so classy that they paid for a replica for Spurrier so he’d get to have his own trophy, too. Since then both the school and the player have received copies of the trophy.

So Heisman Must Have Been the World’s Greatest Sportsman, Right?

Well, not really. Heisman was on the victorious side of possibly the most gratuitously run-up score in sports history. In 1916 tiny Cumberland College canceled its football program and disbanded its squad, but it had previously signed a contract to travel to Atlanta to play Heisman’s Georgia Tech team. If Cumberland didn’t show up, they had to pay Georgia Tech a $3,000 penalty, which was quite a bit of cash in 1916.

Rather than forfeiting the money, Cumberland scraped together a team of 16 scrubs and went to take their walloping from Heisman’s boys. For reasons that still aren’t totally clear – some say it was to avenge an earlier baseball loss to Cumberland, while others claim Heisman wanted to make a statement about the absurdity of the old system of using total points scored to determine the national champion – the legendary coach showed Cumberland’s ragtag band no mercy. Tech went up 63-0 in the first quarter, but Heisman kept attacking until the final score was 222-0. There are tons of hilarious stats from the game, but the funniest is Georgia Tech rushing for 1,620 yards while Cumberland only squeaked out negative-96 yards on 27 carries.

This article originally appeared in 2010.

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#TBT
Thin Ice: The Bizarre Boxing Career of Tonya Harding
Al Bello/Getty Images
Al Bello/Getty Images

In 2004, the Chicago Tribune asked Tonya Harding about the strangest business offer she had received after her skating career came to an abrupt end in the mid-1990s. “I guess to skate topless,” she answered. In 1994, the two-time former Olympian became infamous for her ex-husband’s attempt to break the leg of rival Nancy Kerrigan. Although Harding denied any knowledge of or involvement in the plan—which ended with Kerrigan suffering a bruised leg and Harding being banned from the U.S. Figure Skating organization, ending her competitive pursuits—she became a running punchline in the media for her attempts to exploit that notoriety. There was a sex tape (which her equally disgraced former husband, Jeff Gillooly, taped on their wedding night), offers to wrestle professionally, attempts to launch careers in both music and acting, and other means of paying bills.

Though she did not accept the offer to perform semi-nude, she did embark on a new career that many observers found just as lurid and sensational: For a two-year period, Tonya Harding was a professional boxer.

Tonya Harding rises from the canvas during a boxing match
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Following the attack on Kerrigan and the subsequent police investigation, Harding pled guilty to conspiracy to hinder prosecution, received three years’ probation, and was levied a $160,000 fine. (Gillooly and his conspirators served time.) Ostracized from skating and with limited opportunities, Harding first tried to enter the music scene with her band, the Golden Blades.

When that didn’t work—they were booed off stage in Portland, Oregon, Harding’s hometown—she disappeared from the public eye, offering skating lessons in Oregon before resurfacing on a March 2002 Fox network broadcast titled Celebrity Boxing. Using heavily padded gloves and outsized headgear, performers like Vanilla Ice and Todd Bridges pummeled one another on the undercard. In the main event, Harding used her physicality to batter and bruise Paula Jones, the woman who had accused then-president Bill Clinton of sexual harassment.

This was apparently the boost of confidence Harding needed. “I thought it was fun knocking somebody else on their butt,” she told the Tribune. Boxing, she said, could be an opportunity to embrace her self-appointed title as “America’s Bad Girl.”

Harding looked up a boxing promoter in Portland named Paul Brown and signed a four-year contract that would pay her between $10,000 and $15,000 per bout. The 5-foot, 1-inch Harding quickly grew in stature, moving to 123 pounds from her 105-pound skating weight. Following her win against Jones, Brown booked her a fight against up-and-coming boxer Samantha Browning in a four-round bout in Los Angeles in February 2003. The fight was said to be sloppy, with both women displaying their limited experience. Ultimately, Browning won a split decision.

Harding rebounded that spring, winning three fights in a row. Against Emily Gosa in Lincoln City, Oregon, she was roundly booed upon entering the arena. “The entire fight barely rose above the level of a drunken street brawl,” The Independent reported.

Of course, few spectators were there to see Harding put on a boxing clinic. They wanted to watch a vilified sports figure suffer some kind of public retribution for her role in the attack on Kerrigan. Following her brief winning streak, Harding was pummeled by Melissa Yanas in August 2003, losing barely a minute into the first round of a fight that took place in the parking lot of a Dallas strip club. In June 2004, she was stopped a second time against 22-year-old nursing student Amy Johnson; the Edmonton, Alberta, crowd cheered as Harding was left bloodied. Harding later told the press that Johnson, a native Canuck, had been given 26 seconds to get up after Harding knocked her down when the rules mandated only 10, which she saw as a display of national favoritism.

Harding had good reason to be upset. The Johnson fight was pivotal, as a win could have meant a fight on pay-per-view against Serbian-born boxer Jelena Mrdjenovich for a $600,000 purse. That bout never materialized.

Tonya Harding signs head shots on a table
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There was more than just lack of experience working against Harding in her newfound career. Having been a longtime smoker, she suffered from asthma. The condition plagued her skating career; in boxing, where lapses in cardiovascular conditioning can get you hurt, it became a serious problem. Although Harding competed again—this time emerging victorious in a fight against pro wrestler Brittany Drake in an exhibition bout in Essington, Pennsylvania, in January 2005—it would end up being her last contest. Suffering from pneumonia and struggling with weight gain caused by corticosteroids prescribed for treatment, she halted her training.

In an epilogue fit for Harding’s frequently bizarre escapades, there was remote potential for one last bout. In 2011, dot-com entrepreneur Alki David offered Harding $100,000 to step back into the ring, with another $100,000 going to her proposed opponent. Had it happened, it probably would have gone down as one of the biggest sideshows of the past century. Unfortunately for Harding, Nancy Kerrigan never responded to the offer.

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