I Dig Sports
TULSA, Okla. — Surprisingly, Carson Macedo will make his debut at the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals when the 35th edition of the Super Bowl of Midget Racing takes place Jan. 11-16.
Macedo, from Lemoore, Calif., will wheel the No. 21 for Tarlton Racing inside the River Spirit Expo Center as he chases rookie-of-the-race honors.
The World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series regular has traditionally gone to Australia during the winterto drive winged sprint cars and midgets for Dyson Motorsport, but COVID-19 travel restrictions and other factors led him down a different path this year.
“The fact that I’ve never done (the Chili Bowl) has to do just with my priorities in racing and what I want to do long term,” Macedo explained when reached by phone on Monday. “My overall goal is to be a World of Outlaws sprint car champion, so I see that as going to Australia and racing sprint cars and midgets … but mostly winged sprint cars, during the winter, because that is more important to me.
“Not only that, but I really, really enjoy my time over there. Sean and Felicity Dyson, the family that I drive for in Australia, they’re like family to me and I’m very, very close with them,” he added. “The time that I get to spend over there during my offseason months is special to me. I would rather be there with them racing winged sprint cars normally than to be here (stateside) just for the Chili Bowl, even though I do think it’s a really cool race. It just hasn’t been a main priority for me in the past.
“This year, though, with everything going on with COVID-19 and everything else, it has made it really hard to be able to go over to Australia and race. Between that and the fact I have some things that I need to get done in the month of December — just a couple of little medical things that I need to handle — it just made sense for me to stay here this year and it gave me the opportunity to race the Chili Bowl.”
Macedo competed in a full season of midget racing for Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports in 2016, before he turned his focus to winged sprint cars on a full-time basis.
Macedo had a chance to compete at the Chili Bowl once before and turned the opportunity down.
“I think my best shot to do it was back at the end of 2016,” Macedo said of racing in the Chili Bowl. “I raced for KKM for that entire year and I actually had the plans to run at Chili Bowl in January of ’17. But when I realized that I wasn’t going to race full time in midgets again the following year and I was going to go and transition into sprint car racing, it just made more sense for me to stay in Australia that winter.
“I talked it over with Keith and with the Tarlton family, who was actually supporting me to be in a Keith Kunz Motorsports ride that year, I just said that I think it’d be a better decision for me to stay in Australia … and they agreed. So I ended up not running then,” Macedo continued. “Honestly, up until this point, I’ve never really worried about it, but with the opportunity to be here and not going to Australia, it just made sense to take a stab at it this go round.
“The Tarlton family has really, really good equipment with their midget program now, so that got me excited that they wanted to do it.”
Macedo collected a USAC Western States Midget Series victory aboard the Tarlton No. 21 on Oct. 30 at Keller Auto Speedway in Hanford, Calif., and the program has been building momentum quickly.
That has him confident that he can be a threat not only for rookie-of-the-race honors at the Chili Bowl, but for a starting spot in the 55-lap championship feature.
“I really have enjoyed racing the midget for the Tarltons. They have a King Chassis with a Speedway Toyota engine and it’s the best of the best equipment,” Macedo said. “Luckily, it makes it a lot easier for me to do well when I do bounce back and race with them every once in a while. We had a little bit of success out in California racing with the national guys and then won that race in Hanford, so I’m really excited. I think that we have a really good shot.
“It’s actually just going to be a small crew, me, my brother Cole and Drew Warner (son of champion World of Outlaws crew chief Ricky Warner), but we’ll go out and see what we can do for a week.”
The Farmers Insurance Open will be contested without spectators because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it was announced on Monday. The event is scheduled for Jan. 28-31 at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego, California.
“We recognize that COVID-19 requires dramatic modifications to the operations of our annual event,” said Marty Gorsich, CEO of the Century Club, a non-profit organization that operates the event. “We have been working closely with the PGA Tour as well as the county and city of San Diego in our planning. The safety and well-being of everyone affiliated with the Farmers Insurance Open and our community remains our top priority. While we will certainly miss the energy our fans bring to Torrey, we remain focused on delivering a PGA Tour competition that showcases the best players in the game set against the backdrop of one of the most storied courses in the world.”
Tiger Woods, a seven-time winner of the event, usually makes his annual Tour debut at Torrey Pines. Marc Leishman is the defending champion, having defeated 2017 champion Jon Rahm by a stroke.
The PGA Tour had limited fans at the Bermuda Championship and Vivint Houston Open, the first time spectators were allowed at events after the Tour resumed play in June. However, there were no patrons at the Masters Tournament and no spectators at the subsequent RSM Classic or this week’s Mayakoba Golf Classic, the Tour's final official event in 2020.
A limited number of fans will be allowed for the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Maui, Hawaii, Jan. 7-10, which will be the first event of the new year.
Defending champions Arsenal welcome Newcastle United in the FA Cup third round, while eighth-tier Marine, the joint lowest-ranked team in the competition, landed a lucrative encounter with Premier League leaders Tottenham Hotspur in Monday's draw.
Twelve-times winners Manchester United play host to second-tier Watford, while Premier League champions Liverpool face a tricky trip to Aston Villa as they look to avenge last month's 7-2 league defeat.
The third round, to be played across the weekend of Jan 9-10 (Stream games LIVE on ESPN+), is when teams from the Premier League and second-tier Championship join the competition.
The FA Cup has scrapped replays for this season to help ease fixture congestion caused by the COVID-19 crisis, amplifying the chances of a few additional upsets en route to the showpiece match at Wembley on May 15, 2021.
Third round draw:
Huddersfield Town vs. Plymouth Argyle
Southampton vs. Shrewsbury Town
Chorley vs. Derby County
Marine vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Crystal Palace
Stockport County vs. West Ham United
Oldham Athletic vs. AFC Bournemouth
Manchester United vs. Watford
Stevenage vs. Swansea City
Everton vs. Rotherham United
Nottingham Forest vs. Cardiff City
Arsenal vs. Newcastle United
Barnsley vs. Tranmere Rovers
Bristol Rovers vs. Sheffield United
Canvey Island or Boreham Wood vs. Millwall
Blackburn Rovers vs. Doncaster Rovers
Stoke City vs. Leicester City
Wycombe Wanderers vs. Preston North End
Crawley Town vs. Leeds United
Burnley vs. Milton Keynes Dons
Bristol City vs. Portsmouth
Queens Park Rangers vs. Fulham
Aston Villa vs. Liverpool
Brentford vs. Middlesbrough
Manchester City vs. Birmingham City
Luton Town vs. Reading
Chelsea vs. Morecambe
Exeter City vs. Sheffield Wednesday
Norwich City vs. Coventry City
Blackpool vs. West Bromwich Albion
Newport County vs. Brighton & Hove Albion
Cheltenham Town vs. Mansfield Town
Maradona's time at Sevilla was short, but encapsulated his talent, generosity and inescapable demons
Diego Maradona's laces were undone.
Even when it was virtually done, even when the drugs ban was lifted 15 months after he had left Naples, even as Sevilla FC and Napoli negotiated his transfer, the Italians forced to the negotiating table by FIFA and the Spaniards bankrolled by Silvio Berlusconi's millions, even when it had been all over the media and a plane had set off from Buenos Aires with El Pelusa on board, Sevilla forward Davor Suker didn't believe it. He wouldn't, he said, until Maradona was actually out on the training pitch with them. And that day at last he was, his boots untied.
The things you remember. If there is a detail that has lingered in the mind, an image that those there return to, it is that.
"That first session he went out full of enthusiasm with his boots untied, laces dangling, which isn't a great idea: you fall, you can't hit the ball properly, it's dangerous," then-club-captain Manolo Jimenez tells ESPN. "But not to him. He didn't fall. Instead, there was mastery. He was different."
A crowd had gathered to watch in awe, and that included his new teammates. Diego Armando Maradona, the finest footballer of all time, was actually here at Sevilla Futbol Club. It was 1992, the year of the Expo, the year Spain's first high-speed train reached the city, and now he had too. Seven hundred fifty million pesetas, around $7.5m, brought him back from suspension and back to Spain, the chance for redemption in an unexpected place.
Unexpected but for one thing: Sevilla's manager was Carlos Bilardo, the coach with whom Maradona had won the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. Bilardo had come up with the idea, telling the president that this was worth pursuing, that Sepp Blatter could be persuaded -- turned into an ally, in fact. In the end FIFA pushed Napoli, where he was still under contract, into accepting a transfer. And here he was.
In the office that Sevilla's sporting director Ramon "Monchi" Rodriguez Verdejo, has at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium, there is a photo that he is especially fond of. In it, he appears alongside Maradona in 1992.
"The last monkey," as he calls himself, "the least important person there," a 23-year-old substitute goalkeeper at the time, he stands with the best player there has ever been. "This was a cup game, which is why I was playing and that's why I had the photo taken: I didn't want to miss out on the opportunity," Monchi explained. "To be able to say I was Diego's teammate is something else."
He is even more proud to be able to say that he was Diego's mate, full stop. And he is not the only one.
Monchi did not play with Maradona often, nor did anyone at Sevilla: he spent just one season there, making 29 appearances, and it didn't end as they would have liked, redemption becoming perdition. But if Maradona's time there was fleeting, the fondness wasn't. The warmth remains, at least among those who shared that year with him.
"To live alongside him was a privilege," Monchi told ESPN. "He was a childhood hero of mine, so you can't imagine what it was like when he became a teammate.
"I remember the first day he came. We're all in the dining room of the team hotel and in walks Diego, and we all thought the same thing: 'He's come to play with me!' 'He's going to be on my team!' Then you get know him day-to-day and he was just incredible."
Almost the first thing they gave him was the captain's armband. Jimenez and the club's other vice-captains Rafa Paz and Juan Carlos Unzue had unanimously agreed. It was just the right thing to do, they thought. A way of integrating Maradona, respecting him, embracing him.
"A recognition of hierarchy," as Paz puts it. "He was way above us."
Yet if Maradona was different -- and there was no escaping the fact that he was -- he didn't always want to be. Beyond the reverence, talk to teammates and there is a recurring theme: how normal this entirely abnormal man was.
"We were nervous, we didn't know what he was going to be like, we idolised him, but from the first minute he came in, he wanted to be just another player," Jimenez says. "We all knew his level, that he was better than us, but as a person he wasn't. There was an admiration for his simplicity, his nobility. It didn't matter if it was a head of state or the kit man, he would treat them the same."
"It is not by chance that everyone says the same about him, that we all talk about his generosity. He rose from poverty but never, ever forgot where he had come from. You'd see him in the street try to help people who were down and out," Paz says. He recalls that initial sense of intimidation: "Not a complex as such, but a sense of responsibility, the doubt that you'll be up to this". But he also recalls it vanishing. He wondered if he could return Maradona's passes in that first session only for the Argentinian to tell him not to be so stupid -- of course he could.
"If he gave you a pass and then you went and lost the ball, he would be the one saying: 'My fault,'" Jimenez notes.
"People think of him as this great individual but that forgets that he was also very much a team man," Monchi said. "He stood alongside his teammates and believed in the importance of that solidarity. He was the first one to stand up and fight for win bonuses for the team even though it was probably nothing to him and survival for me. If there was a problem with our travel, he was the first one to make sure it was put right. He was a 10 out of 10 as person. And we know that as a footballer he was a 20."
At times, he really was, too. Maradona turned 32 in Seville. He arrived overweight and out of the game -- 15 long months without a game, remember -- but he had what Paz calls "a complicity with the ball" that no one else had, an assuredness in every touch. And there were glimpses of the genius.
It all started against Bayern Munich, one of a series of suddenly agreed, lucrative friendlies from which Maradona fought for teammates to get paid what he got paid.
Then, when it came to competitive football, it began at San Mames, a place he said that season "smells of football." The opponents were Athletic Bilbao, the team against whom his Barcelona career had ended with a full-scale fight at the end of the Copa del Rey final eight years earlier, karate kicks flying. There was a wedding in the same hotel the night before; Maradona went down to congratulate the bride and groom.
Maradona brought his fitness coach out, rented the home of a bullfighter called Spartacus, and for a while his teammates believed this could work. Sevilla climbed into the top three, close to the leaders. Against Real Madrid, especially, Maradona excelled in leading them to a 2-0 win.
That day he led Jimenez onto the pitch, too, an anecdote that the club captain insists says much about the man.
"I was injured and hadn't played for 40 days before that and didn't play for 40 after it," Jimenez says. "I had no muscle and could hardly kick the ball 15 metres, but he encouraged me: it was enough for me to stop Michel touching it, he said. He could really motivate you. If it hadn't been for him, I wouldn't have played that game."
Things were not easy, though. And Maradona had his demons, addictions that he could not control. The darker side of Seville's nightlife called to him. Things slipped from him again.
Ortiz: Argentinian people are suffering right now
Ricardo Ortiz explains why Diego Maradona meant so much to so many people.
"The euphoria gave way, and there were obstacles in the way," as Paz puts it.
He missed training, missed games and his team missed him, like their motivation had gone with him. Distance opened, in part because it had to. Distrust grew between the people around him and the club. There was an argument over international duty, Maradona caught between club and country. Teammates increasingly saw that his life was not like theirs; that his life was no life at all, perhaps. The pressure could be overwhelming.
"You dream of reaching the top, of being the best in the world, but it comes at a price and we saw that with Diego Armando," Paz says. "You might dream of being Maradona, but that costs; there's no privacy, every act is watched, and you need huge mental strength to deal with that. We tried to help and we even had strategies to do so, but he had tendencies he couldn't control. He was very strong and there were times he was doing well but others when it overcame him. He recognised his situation and didn't want anyone else to suffer as a result."
"A Nobel Prize winner is more important than a footballer, but society seeks out enthusiasm, dreams, people to admire, to idolise. He had to take that on," Jimenez says. "It's not easy to live with. We understood that he was different in that sense. People might see someone react badly and think they're selfish, but you have to understand it. Someone touches you, fine. Two people do, OK. A hundred, no problem. A thousand do, and it gets to you. 'Hey, don't touch me.' And then people say they're arrogant, stupid. No.
"I think he was happy, in his own way. He was very happy when he was with the ball, but maybe he needed people very close to him who could have helped him for real," Jimenez continues. "There was a group of us whom Bilardo trusted in and we spoke to him as much as we could, tried to help."
It should never be forgotten that Maradona was ill, Jimenez insists, his mistakes punishing him more than anyone else.
"He had a problem, he admitted that and wanted to fix it. He tried thousands of times and couldn't. There were moments when he was OK. [Wife] Claudia was there with him. But there were bad moments too, and when he got into that spiral, when the problems came, it was hard to get out. He was a rebel. He had good days and bad ones. He did bad things? Yes, but he was a prisoner of his problems, his illness."
As things unravelled, Maradona told teammates he felt like he was being followed, which he was: Sevilla had hired a detective. A divide had opened up, things breaking between the club and the player. His relationship with Bilardo would become strained. Maradona backed away from the group, too.
That was a service, Paz suggests.
"Our daily reality was not his," he says. "We had to accept that. There was a certain reticence between his people and the club. He had integrated, but things were going into a different phase. He told us. He told us if he wouldn't come in, couldn't join us. The situation was beyond our control, and he was the one that said it shouldn't affect us, damage things for us. It had become a little sullied, maybe."
Amid it all, results slipped, too, cause and consequence of the breakdown. At one point there had been optimism, but Sevilla finished seventh and by the end of the season Maradona's time in Europe was coming to a definitive end. The club sought a way to draw a line under it, bring it all to a close. There was a hint of regret.
"There was a slight bitterness that we had not won anything or got a European place," Paz admits.
Yet nothing will ever take that year from them, even as Maradona has been taken too young.
"A dreadful year could not have ended worse, with the loss of an icon and a friend," Jimenez says. "I will always say, 'I played with Maradona,' and for me that's like winning a trophy. To be able to play with him, talk to him, listen to him, have him listen to you -- not everyone can say that. That's a medal. He taught us a lot, in good times and bad."
Maradona departed. What was the overriding feeling like at that farewell meal?
"Nostalgia," Paz says. "The whole group was there, and there was reconciliation with Bilardo too. You can fall out with a player, but he was a special player and they had won the World Cup together. We continued our paths, apart. He left sad that he could not have embraced his city more: he loved it. There was a certain nostalgia in his departing.
"If Diego and Maradona were two people, they were as great as each other. As a human being, as a teammate, I enjoyed those moments with him. As a player, he was the best ever. He played like the angels."
The Knight Riders Group will play "a very broad role" in the USA-based Major League Cricket (MLC), the latest attempt to launch a franchise-led T20 tournament that is expected to kick off in 2022. That brings to three the number of leagues in which the Knight Riders Group have a team, after the IPL and CPL, and they will hold a "significant" stake in the tournament.
The investment in the MLC by the Knight Riders group, which is owned by Bollywood actors Shah Rukh Khan and Juhi Chawla along with her husband Jay Mehta, will be strategic and see them playing the role of "consultant" to help USA Cricket run the six-team T20 league.
The league will be unlike a number of others at least in one way: the six (to start with) franchises will own a part of it. "In the IPL or the CPL, you own a franchise, and that's all you own and operate", whereas in the case of the MLC, "you have a stake in the league", Venky Mysore, CEO and managing director of the Knight Riders, said.
The Knight Riders Group, which owns Kolkata Knight Riders and the Trinbago Knight Riders, was invited by American Cricket Enterprises (ACE), USA Cricket's partner in developing a professional T20 league in America. The result is what both ACE and Mysore have called "a long-term investment in American cricket".
"When they invited us, we said we want to take a deep dive into this, and not just have a short-term outlook," Mysore told ESPNcricinfo. "So they see us as a consultant in many ways, apart from being a big part of the league. They want us to play a very broad role, to help and assist them with all aspects of cricket in the US.
"USA Cricket are looking at a bigger national cricket set-up, academies, develop talent, and all that is complementary to what the T20 league will do as well. In addition, we will be working hard to build infrastructure there, six world-class stadiums in the next few years.
"It will be like a public-private partnership where you have conversations with the city council and they are used to doing it with other sports when it comes to, say, giving you land, or long-term financing arrangements.
"Eventually their ambition is to host international competitions, including, potentially, the World Cup. So this could be on the agenda. USA has a strong sports culture. It's also the No. 1 media market. Cricket is the second-most-watched sport in the world, so you combine it all, it's got all the ingredients of a very successful product."
Only last week, Greg Barclay, the new ICC chairman, indicated that the USA would likely be one of the places cricket will target in its push for further growth. He had also hinted at the possibility of wresting global events away from India, England and Australia, and that the USA would be "the logical place to start".
If and when it is launched, having been postponed by a year already due to the Covid-19 outbreak, MLC will be the first professional T20 league in America. It is already the latest in a string of attempted professional T20 league ventures in America since the start of the millennium.
ProCricket was launched with much fanfare in 2005 and was headlined by numerous former internationals including Mervyn Dillon, Robin Singh and Colin Miller, but it folded operations after just one season. A planned venture by independent New York businessman Jay Mir called American Premier League was targeted for 2008 but never launched.
The USA Cricket Association then signed an agreement in 2010 with New Zealand Cricket, Neil Maxwell's Insite and Podar Enterprises to start a franchise league by the year 2012 but various administrative issues resulted in another failed launch. USACA later signed a $70 million agreement in 2016 with former St Lucia Zouks owner Jay Pandya, once again aimed at launching a T20 league. However, USACA was under ICC suspension at the time, throwing the validity of the Pandya agreement into doubt and plans fizzled out a year later when USACA was formally expelled by the ICC.
Pandya's "American Cricket Premier League" subsequently filed a lawsuit in May 2019 attempting to block American Cricket Enterprises from pursuing a T20 league in partnership with USA Cricket, but the suit was withdrawn a year later.
"What you are looking at here, is that everyone is aligned," Mysore said. "You have a stake in the league, and the decisions that are made have a bearing on you and the league. You are also looking out for the health of the tournament. Here, we will be party to the decision-making, which is important.
"Normally, the finances flow into the entity that owns the league, whereas here, the stakeholders get a large chunk of it. To that extent, you gain or lose based on the kind of decisions that are made."
From the point of view of the Knight Riders Group, who had also bought a team in the aborted South African Global T20 League - the Cape Town franchise - the aim has been to become a round-the-year entity, something they have made clear for some time now.
"Lots of people say we are the only global brand in T20 cricket, and we take a lot of pride in that," Mysore said. "That was always our vision. The IPL is for two months, and maybe a month leading up to that, but what do you do to keep your brand alive the rest of the year.
"The vision is to build the business at a global level, and own two, three, four, five franchises around the world, and build them on the mother brand of Knight Riders, and use a common template and model about how you operationalise the business, how you do your branding, your sponsorship deals, your merchandising deals, etc."
MLC is expected to be a city-based competition, but while developing six stadia is a big part of the plan, it is likely to start with three venues, according to Mysore: Fort Lauderdale, which has hosted international cricket in the past; a Dallas-based baseball ground that will be repurposed; and one in Morrisville, North Carolina.
"They were very encouraged that UAE was able to hold an eight-team event in three cities, and this is a six-team event," Mysore said. "In five years, they might think about expanding it. That's the broad thought process."
There is talk of at least some prominent names from Test-playing countries being on the radar of MLC, as and when the time for such a thing comes up, but the player-recruitment process will be the same as elsewhere to start with: a draft or an auction, with players from around the world listed. "Then, over time, when the scouting and grassroots programmes kick in, we are hoping more and more local players get involved," Mysore said.
It seems there's little room for brotherly love in the cut and thrust world of competitive cricket.
Certainly it seemed that way in Barbados on Monday when Dwayne and Kemar Smith found themselves on opposite sides in a club game at Eden Lodge on the outskirts of Bridgetown.
Dwayne, the former West Indies player, is 37 now. But anyone good enough to score a century on Test debut (against South Africa; it took just 93 balls) and win the IPL and Champions League double as part of the Mumbai Indians side can play a bit. And here, opening the batting for his side, Errol Holder Stars against C.R.B, he demonstrated the skills that once had Sir Viv Richards suggesting he could see shades of himself in Smith.
The first over of the match - the final of the A&A Auto Parts Errol Holder Ten10 Classic - was bowled by Kemar Smith. While Kemar has not, at this stage, graduated to the Barbados first-class team, he is a good enough off-spinner to have spent a couple of seasons as a professional in English cricket and is a respected player in the Caribbean.
But Dwayne wasn't in the mood to play himself in. Instead, he hit all six balls of the first over of the match for six to leave the pair's on-looking mother, Lorraine Smith, understandably conflicted. Dwayne eventually fell for 46, caught at mid-wicket off the spin of another international player, Ashley Nurse.
Later, Kemar had an opportunity to exact revenge as he came into bat against Dwayne's bowling. Instead, Dwayne bowled him for a first ball duck.
The A&A Auto Parts Errol Holder Ten10 Classic is a competition recognised and authorised by the Barbados Cricket Association and boasts the involvement of several players who have represented West Indies or Barbados.
The first-place Giants (4-7) should know more later in the week when they get Jones moving around, but there is at least optimism that his absence won't be long term. Tests on Monday ruled out a significant tear.
New York plays on Sunday in Seattle. It seems highly unlikely that Jones would be ready for that contest. The following weeks against Arizona or Cleveland are more realistic.
McCoy did just enough in the final quarter and a half to allow the Giants to escape with a 19-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. He completed 6-of-10 passes for 31 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions.
The saving grace with Jones may be -- and every coach seems to say it about him -- that he's really tough. At Duke he had surgery on a broken clavicle, was back at practice nine days later and played three weeks after the injury.
Jones, 23, was injured on a run in the third quarter of Sunday's game. He tried to return later in the game but lasted just two plays. He was unable to drop back and step into a throw.
"Yeah, just felt it on that play and didn't feel like I could get a lot on it really or do what I needed to do to be effective and move the ball and throw it accurately," said Jones, who was admittedly uncertain about the severity of the injury after the game. "Just look to rehab it, do whatever I can to heal it up as fast as I can."
Jones was the sixth overall pick in last year's draft. He's completed 63.2% of his passes this season for 2,332 yards with eight touchdowns and nine interceptions.
But he was playing perhaps the best football of his young career before the injury. Jones had gone three straight games without a turnover.
His absence, even for a game, could be costly for the Giants, who have the same record as the Washington Football Team. The Giants hold the tiebreaker after defeating Washington both times the teams played this season. McCoy, 34, hasn't won a start since the 2014 season.
As the hours and then the minutes ticked down to the unlikeliest of Iron Bowls for Nick Saban, he couldn't help but think about his late father, Nick Sr. -- "Big Nick," as he was called back in their Monongah, West Virginia, community.
The only other time in his career he wasn't on the sideline with his team for a game came when he was a first-year, 22-year-old graduate assistant under Don James at Kent State. Saban's father died suddenly of a heart attack two weeks into the 1973 season at the age of 46.
"I went home for my dad's service when we played San Diego State the third game of the season," Saban told ESPN. "That was 47 years ago. Man, that was hard, and this was, too."
Hard, but not a lot different for Saban, the ultimate creature of habit.
"I did just about everything, really, the same. I just wasn't at the stadium," he said.
That included getting up on Saturday morning long before the sun rose, placing a few calls to staff members as early as 6:30 a.m. and preparing for meetings via Zoom.
Saban set up his Saturday operation upstairs in his spacious bonus room that he uses for entertaining recruits and their families. His wife, Terry, is also quarantining, and she stayed downstairs.
Terry, or Miss Terry, as Saban calls her, told ESPN it was her "first real peek into the 'The Process.'"
"He showered, put on his gray suit and red tie, had a couple hours where he did his notes and then did a few Zoom meetings," Terry said. "I was privy to the X's and O's, but it was more the motivational stuff. ... I actually got teary-eyed at one point and thought to myself, 'Wow, I'm ready to play.'"
Saban's two kids, Nicholas and Kristen, dropped by the house to say hello and pick up their tickets before the game, but they couldn't come inside. Nicholas came onto the back porch, and Kristen high-fived her dad through the window.
She continued her tradition, dating back to Saban's days at LSU, of giving her dad a shiny new penny for good luck. Only this time, she had to slide it under the bottom of the door.
It was a surreal feeling back at Alabama's Mal M. Moore Athletic Facility.
Jeff Allen, Alabama's head athletic trainer, is the only member of Saban's football staff who has been there since Saban arrived in 2007. Allen found himself walking to Saban's office that morning to give him an update on injuries.
"Almost by habit, I walked by his office to give him a report and was like, 'Man, he's not here,'" Allen recounted. "It just didn't feel right, especially in pregame and in the locker room. You sort of got a glimpse of what life would be like without him, and I didn't like it."
Saban never breaks his game-day routine, so some on the Alabama staff were legitimately wondering if they should take Saban's game-day coaching attire to his house along with his normal pregame meal.
But on this day, Saban switched it up a bit.
"[Terry] wasn't into that pregame meal stuff and made hot dogs," said Saban, a notoriously light eater. "That's my favorite, man, with chili sauce. She makes homemade chili sauce."
Saban addressed his staff at 9:15 a.m. as he would normally, only this time virtually, and then the entire team later that morning. And despite being at home, he was wearing his customary suit and tie.
"Just a reminder that he might not have been there physically, but he's always there," one staffer said. "It's like this voice from heaven. He's there, and don't think he's not. That's just the tone he sets, and it's never going to change ... even when he's watching from home."
Per NCAA rules, Saban had to cut off all communication with the staff and team 90 minutes prior to the game. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian stepped in for Saban as game-day coach on the sideline.
"Sark asked me what I wanted him to say to the team in the locker room," Saban recounted. "I said, 'Hey, you can't be me. You've got to say what you've got to say, but here are the three things I would hit on before you go out.'
"I just didn't want to affect his ability to call the plays and make corrections with the offense and all that stuff. I was really impressed with Sark and the job he did, all of the guys. It went as smoothly as it possibly could."
That said, Saban was his usual animated self during the game. He had two TVs side by side with different feeds, the CBS broadcast and then the live feed from different vantage points in the stadium that the coaches use to evaluate and grade the film. The live feed is a few seconds ahead of the TV broadcast.
And while he might have seen his Aflac commercial a few times (yes, the one with the duck), Saban turned down the volume from the CBS broadcast.
"I had it on, but didn't listen to the commentary," Saban said. "I didn't want to listen to them and try to watch both copies of the game. What I didn't realize is that there's a little bit of a delay between what's on TV and the live feed, so I could actually watch the plays twice.
"Sometimes, I'd hear Miss Terry screaming downstairs after the play had already happened."
Always the perfectionist, Saban's take on a play would oftentimes differ wildly from Terry's.
"When there was a bad play, I was cursing the TV. When there was a good play, she was screaming, so we were kind of polar opposites," Saban said. "And sometimes, I'd hear her cheering and would wonder, 'What in the hell is she cheering about?'"
Terry already had a hint of what was coming during the game. She said she listened all week during practice to Saban venting to analyst Charlie Strong on the phone while Saban watched on his monitor from home. Strong is the liaison while Saban watches practice, and Saban's setup at home allows him to see everything, too, in a lot of cases better than he would if he were actually on the practice field.
"Poor Charlie Strong!" Terry said. "I have tried to explain to Nick that yelling things during practice [on the phone] does not help, that he's only yelling in Charlie's ear, not at the players. I explained that if he calmly and succinctly makes his point, that Charlie would be better able to pass it on to the players. He looked at me like I had two heads, but I think it's starting to sink in."
Even though there wasn't much drama in the game, as Alabama jumped out to a 21-3 halftime lead, Terry knows as well as anyone that to her husband, there are two scoreboards -- the inner scoreboard (performing to the best of your ability on every play) and the outer scoreboard (wins, championships, NFL players, etc.). And the only one that counts in her husband's world is the inner scoreboard.
"Yes, I was cheering and clapping and jumping around a bit, but a couple of times it scared me and I froze when I heard a booming, screaming deep voice from upstairs," Terry said. "At first, I thought, 'What the heck was that?' Then I realized Nick was coaching ... coaching the TV.
"Old habits die hard, and I wondered if he threw his coffee cup since he didn't have a headset."
The worst time for Saban was the 90 minutes prior to kickoff when he was cut off from his staff and players.
"I just sat there and kind of watched pregame warm-up on the live feed like a freakin' fan sitting in the upper deck," Saban said. "You talk about weird. That was different."
At one point, during that 90-minute hiatus before the game, Saban thought about doing what he did the day before on Friday.
"I got so tired of being cooped up in here that after the walk-through I got in my car and took a ride by myself," Saban said.
Asked where he went, Saban said, "Nowhere. I just rode around; anything to get out of the house."
As the game ended Saturday, and Alabama had avenged last season's 48-45 loss to Auburn, Saban couldn't wait to reconnect with his team.
Allen walked into the locker room, looked at his phone and saw he already had two missed calls from Saban.
"He was checking on injuries, just like he would if he were here," Allen said. "That's exactly what would have happened had he been here."
It was the same with Saban's postgame speech to the team. He told them via video how proud he was of them for not allowing the distractions of the week to affect them and reminded them how important it was, especially during a pandemic, to have that "So what? What's next?" kind of attitude. Saban then led the team prayer, and they sang the Alabama fight song.
Never one for reminiscing, Saban admitted how much he missed being there with his players and coaches, especially because it was Senior Day.
"Just not being a part of the spirit of the game, especially that game, the Iron Bowl, and what it means to so many people in our state was tough -- and I mean really tough," said Saban, whose team was ranked No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings last week.
Saban, whose positive coronavirus test result came back last Wednesday, said Monday he expects to be on the sideline for this weekend's game against LSU. He said he's yet to have a fever, and other than a runny nose and a little bit of a cold, hasn't had any other symptoms.
"It's hard to explain how much being out there around the players and coaches means to you," Saban said. "And when you can't be out there, it makes you realize how much more you would miss it."
Allen said that could be an ominous sign for the rest of the college football world.
"He may never quit coaching," Allen said with a laugh. "This whole experience only reinforces that."
After initially planning for a limited number of fans to be in attendance for home games, the Oklahoma City Thunder are reversing course and will open the season with the arena empty, the team announced Monday.
"For months, we have worked in close collaboration with Chesapeake Energy Arena, the City of Oklahoma City, local health officials, and the NBA to put into place thorough health and safety measures to allow for reduced seating capacity," the team said in a statement. "However, as we review ongoing and concerning trends in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Oklahoma, we want to exercise an abundance of caution to help control the spread of the virus in our community. Therefore, the Thunder has made the decision to begin the season without fans in the arena."
On Nov. 10, the Thunder announced health and safety protocols for the upcoming season that included a plan to accommodate a reduced number of fans in attendance. The health and safety measures for games would include 6 feet of seating distance between groups, required face masks, contactless self-service ticket scanning and concessions and strict sanitation throughout the building.
Like many states across the country, Oklahoma has seen a dramatic rise in positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks.
"We will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation over the coming weeks to determine when fans will be able to attend our games," the statement said. "We will take all necessary steps to create a safe environment for those who will be in attendance for games as the upcoming season begins, including players, coaches, staff, media and broadcasters."
The 2020-21 NBA season is slated to open Dec. 22.
A total of 59 delegates from 32 Member Associations were in attendance, while delegates from another four Associations were also present as observes.
In addition, the following distinguished guests from sporting organisations also attended the Assembly:
- Luis Mejia, IOC Member and Central American and Caribbean Sports Organization President.
- Francisco Lee, Association of Pan American Sports Confederations (ACODEPA) President.
- Sheri Rose Cioroslan (USA), Miguel Delgado (GUA), Tony Kiesenhofer (CAN), Melecio E. Rivera (ESA), Gordon Kaye (USA) and Jairo Orlando Paez (COL), former presidents of LATTU and NATTU.
The meeting was chaired by the two American ITTF Executive Vice-Presidents, Nestor Tenca and Bruce Burton as part of the transition ahead of the election of the ITTF Americas leadership.
Delivering a warm welcome to all in attendance, both Vice-Presidents hailed the progressive steps taken towards a brighter future for table tennis on the Pan American continent while highlighting the importance of collaboration with governing bodies around the globe:
“This Confederation is the fruit of the work of the leaders of the Americas who, with the support of the ITTF and Panam Sports, prioritised a continental vision over historical regional structures in the conviction that the Americas unit will allow a higher level in quality. The new organisation forces us to work strongly aligned with the ITTF’s strategic plan in the maintenance of the high-quality standards of our Pan American Championships and their Regional classifications, and also pursues the highest development in all the countries that have also limited economic resources, geographic or population limitations.” Nestor Tenca, ITTF Executive Vice-President
“During these pandemic times it is refreshing to be part of something so positive and historic. The ever-increasing success of the Pan Am Games, our Pan American table tennis competitions, and the rising stars from the Americas on the world scene, has solidified our commitment. There are challenges remaining of course, but this AGM and election of officials, represents a critical step towards a promising future. A future where cooperation with Pan Am Sports, ACODEPA, the ITTF, and especially the member associations allow us to fulfil our dreams.” Bruce Burton, ITTF Executive Vice-President
The election process saw Mr Juan Vila, LATTU President and Vice-Minister of Sports of the Dominican Republic elected the first-ever ITTF Americas President with 83.3% of the vote, while Mr Paul Calle, President of the Ecuador Table Tennis Federation was elected to the office of ITTF Americas Secretary General – Treasurer after receiving a 68.8% share of the vote. In addition, the minutes from the 2019 meeting were approved.
Running unopposed, Juan Vila gave an emotive acceptance speech following his election to office, thanking everyone who participated in the process while bringing to attention all the hard work that has been undertaken in bringing the region’s table tennis family closer together in unity:
“With this election process today, we culminate a beautiful journey that offered us great lessons, marked by dreams, doubts, disappointments, sadness and joys, but above all, by a firm faith that the unity of American Table Tennis would be a reality. From today we have the solemn commitment to continue working, following the strategic plan that we have drawn up, aligned with the macro projects of the ITTF. Thank you very much to all of you, great friends for your confidence in my team, a group of men and women who love sport, that we have forged ourselves under the Olympic principles.” Juan Vila, ITTF Americas President