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The Jimmy V Classic Reminds Us to Laugh, Think, and Cry

Robbins Nest

By Lenn Robbins

When I was in a very different place and time, I wrote a column about one of the most amazing speeches I’ve ever had a chance to witness:  It was when the late Jimmy Valvano accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award with his “Never Give Up,” speech at the 1993 ESPYs.

Less than two months later, Jimmy V was dead.

The cancer he so courageously and positively fought had prematurely claimed another life. Valvano, a Queens guy who played at Rutgers and coached at Iona, among other stops, before winning an NCAA Championship at N.C. State, was 47.

I was 33, pretty certain I had the world figured out.

The words from that speech that reverberated from heart to head, were, “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”

Valvano said them with such promise, such belief, such sincerity, and such passion that the rest of his words faded – until December of 2018. That was a little more than one year after doctors removed the mass behind my right ear and cancer became an uninvited guest.

The Jimmy V Classic was being played at The Garden and for the first time in memory, I couldn’t go. Jimmy V’s speech was aired and this time it was another part of the speech that resonated:

To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. No. 1 is laugh. You should laugh every day. No. 2 is think. You should spend some time in thought. No. 3 is you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy.

But think about it. If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heckuva day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.

Laugh. Think. Cry. Seems pretty simple on the surface. And you know what? It is.

It’s really easy to laugh, think, cry when you’re in The Garden and college basketball is being played, as was the case Tuesday night in the Jimmy V Classic.

 Texas Tech upset No,1-ranked Louisville, 70-57. It marked the first time in Tech history it upset the nation’s No.1-ranked team. Indiana edged UConn, 57-54, in the second game. The Huskies return to The Garden (and to the Big East) reminded us how electric this sport can be – even in December.

ESPN did a noble job of remembering Valvano and anchor Stuart Scott, who succumbed to cancer in January of 2015. Talk about a couple of guys who could laugh, think and cry. Robin Roberts and Holly Rowe reminded us to never give up.

Look around you. Chances are someone is fighting the fight. All you have to do is follow the words of Valvano. Chances are, it will be a pretty good day.

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And the Heisman Trophy Goes to: You Better Sit Down

Robbins Nest

By Lenn Robbins

  The Heisman Trophy has some very specific rules for its voters. Perhaps the most stringent is this: A voter cannot release his vote before the winner is announced. So, they’ll be no spoiler here.

What there is, however, is one conflicted voter.

Three of the four Heisman Trophy candidates are quarterbacks. Each makes a ridiculously strong case for winning the weighty 45-pound trophy, which is about one-one millionth of the pressure that comes with playing the glamour position at three of America’s most crazed college football schools.

In almost any other year any one of these quarterbacks would be considered a no-brainer to win the 13.5-inch trophy. This is no any other year.

Let’s consider these amateur athlete stat machines, in alphabetical order.

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LSU’s Joe Burrow has had a statistical season for the ages – literally. His completion percentage of 77.9-percent is the best of all time. His passer rating, (you might want to sit for this), is 201.5 which is 11.5 shy of the temperature needed to boil water. Ouch!

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Ohio State’s Justin Fields, in his first season as a starter, threw, (you might want to sit for this) 40 touchdowns and just one interception. Forty-to-one! Yikes! He threw at least two touchdown passes in every game, four TD passes in five games and three or more nine times.

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Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts averaged 279.5 passing yards and 96.5 rushing yards and accounted for 51 touchdowns. His 19 touchdowns rushing and 114 points scored are tied with Navy’s Malcolm Perry for the most by a quarterback. Hurts (you might want to sit for this), rallied the Sooners from 25 points down at Baylor for a 34-31 win, the largest comeback in Oklahoma history. Geez!

At first glance, Burrow’s numbers give him a slight edge (feel free to argue any of these conclusions). But unlike Burrow, who played at LSU last season, Fields and Hurts had to acclimate after transferring, which is no easy task. In fairness to Burrow, LSU installed a completely new offense so all three had a lot of on-the-field adjusting to do.

Each has had to overcome adversity. Burrow started his career at Ohio State but after failing to win the starting job, transferred to LSU. Fields started his career at Georgia but after failing to win the starting job, transferred to Ohio State. Hurts was the started at Alabama, led the Crimson Tide to a national championship, but transferred to Oklahoma after getting beat out for the starting job by Tua Tagovailoa, who almost surely would be in New York if he didn’t suffer a season-ending hip injury.

So, you tell me: Who would you vote for?

Still unsure?

Burrow led the Tigers to an undefeated season, the SEC championship and the No.1 seed in the upcoming College Football Playoff. Fields led the Buckeyes to an unbeaten record, the Big Ten title, and the No.2 seed in the CFP. Hurts led the Sooners to a 12-1 record, a fifth straight Big 12 crown, and the No.4 seed in the playoff.

Still confused? Me too.

So, just to muddle the waters, a defensive player is among the finalists that will come to New York on Dec. 14th for the announcement.

 Chase Young was the Quarterback Ninja. Only Fields knows what’s it’s like to go against him on a consistent basis. Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (he might want to sit for this) will try to avoid being Chased down when the Tigers and Buckeyes meet in their semifinal.

Young leads the nation with a school-record 16.5 sacks, the most in the Big Ten in 21 years. Young leads the nation in tackles for loss per game (1.91), is second with minus-129 yards on those tackles and is tied for fourth with 21 tackles for loss.

I can’t tell you who I voted for but I can tell you this: it was hard. Man was it hard.

The Fizdale Era Ends But the Dysfunction Continues

Robbins Nest

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By Lenn Robbins

  So much for patience. So much for building from the ground up. So much for credibility.

The New York Knicks believability quotient ranks lower than a late-night ad for an anti-aging potion. There is no one – not the owner, not the president, not the GM – who can ever be given the benefit of the doubt. If their lips are moving, they are not telling the truth.

The most recent betrayal of the fans’ trust came Friday afternoon with the Knicks displaying their mastery of decades-long dysfunction. They fired coach David Fizdale after he ran practice. The team then jetted to Indianapolis although it might as well have flown to Planet Lovetron.

The Fizdale Era lasted a mere season and one quarter. When Mills and Perry hired Fizdale they stressed patience. The quick fix was done. They wanted assurances from Fizdale that understood the Knicks were building a new culture.

“I told them, ‘You don’t have to worry about me because I am in for the plan,’” Fizdale told Marc Stein last year. “The plan is we’re going after particular people who are trying to fit what we are trying to build. And if it doesn’t fall in line, then we don’t go down that road.”

That lasted 104 games.

The 4-17 Knicks are the NBA’s of version of 90 Day Fiancé’.

Certainly, Fizdale didn’t offer much cause for optimism that this marriage could turn. His record in New York was 21-83.

 After the team’s 44-point road loss to the Bucks on Monday night he said, “I think we didn’t come in with an idea we could beat this team from the beginning.” And he described Thursday night’s 37-point home loss to the Nuggets as “sickening.”

 Which might be how Knicks fans might feel about the way Mills and Perry have run this franchise. They bragged about their ability to attract top-tier free agents but got rejected by Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and never had a shot at trading for Anthony Davis.

With no shiny baubles interested in lighting up Broadway, they spent some $70 million in cap space on mid-tier players such as Bobby Portis, Marcus Morris, Taj Gibson and Julius Randle. What a waste.

It also completely torched the stated culture of developing young talent. Last year’s No.1 pick, Kevin Knox, has been anchored to the bench. Second-round pick Mitchell Robinson has been usurped by Gibson.

And this year’s top pick, small forward RJ Barrett, was played at shooting guard and occasionally at point guard, because hey, if that LeBron guy can go from power forward to point guard anyone can, right?

Barrett was hailed as the team’s new foundation leaving him to negotiate that awkward path while not alienating the Portises and Morrises of the world.

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What’s most galling about all this is the way Fizdale’s firing went down. According to reports, Mills and Perry, knowing they were about to ax Fizdale, were seen kibitzing with their dead man walking coach after he addressed reporters following practice.

Let us repeat together: Keep your friends close and your smiling, back-stabbing enemies closer.

“Today marks a culture change for our organization where we reestablish the pride, work ethic and responsibility that comes with playing for the Knicks and representing New York,” read a statement from owner James Dolan when he hired Mills and Perry.

 “I’m confident that Steve is the right person to take on this role, and ensure that we return to one of the elite teams of the NBA. He’s got an ambitious plan that centers on building a young team focused on player development, communication and teamwork.”

One problem. The man quoted is a nightmare of a communication and has created a culture of paranoia.

 Fans can’t heckle him. Reporters can be harassed for criticizing him. Former players can be banned for expressing their anti-Dolan sentiments. Decent employees are fired by Dolan for reasons only he can fathom.

This reign of odious ownership has resulted in 12 coaching changes but just one playoff series win. Forget patience and credibility. The Knicks are the most toxic organization in the NBA.

Anyone who enters this planet’s orbit does so at his own peril.

The Knicks Phenomenon: If You Don't Build It, They Will Come

Robbins Nest

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By Lenn Robbins

  The wait has gone unrewarded.

  After Monday night’s utterly humiliating beat down at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks, it seemed that Knicks management had to offer up some thoughts as to what has become of this season where this franchise headed.

  But as they say in a Grade B horror movie, “It’s quiet, too quiet,” on Seventh Avenue. We heard nothing from owner Charles Dolan, or team president Steve Mills, or GM Scott Perry in the wake of a 132-88 loss to Milwaukee.  The words that kept resounding where those of coach David Fizdale, who offered this soul less take.

“Personally, I think we didn’t come in with an idea we could beat this team from the beginning,’’ said Fizdale, who threw himself under the bus with that statement. How did he allow a culture in which a professional basketball team went into a game not believing it can win?

 “That’s what was most disappointing,” continued Fizdale, who threw his veterans under the same bus. “They got whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. We never took a real stand.’’

So, there is no leader in the locker room that was able to implore his teammates to “Man Up!”  Not one veteran, Bobby Portis, who in fairness, has never known what consistent success looks like in the NBA having played for the Bulls, and not Marcus Morris, who has his MA in winning culture having spent the last three seasons in Boston, took a stand.

This 132-88 score looks like something you see in college basketball when the UConn women schedule Dayton and wins 75-37 as was the case earlier this season. This, however, is the NBA. The minimal expectation is that a team will come to compete.

“I felt the [lack of] morale at the beginning of the game,’’ Randle said about the Knicks pregame locker room. “A lack of energy. Our spirit has to be everything.’’

It wasn’t there from the opening tip. The Knicks fell behind 33-15 in the first quarter. They never challenged, which could be the story of the season. They’re 4-17, the worst 21-game start of any season.

   The Bucks are the more talented team, no doubt, led by the breathtaking Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Knicks have yet to find such a player. Kristaps Porzingis will forever be a benign unicorn, piling up impressive stats only to find camouflage when he’s muscled up.

The Bucks also hired a proven coach in Mike Budenholzer. Fizdale came with a lot of questions about his unsightly divorce in Memphis

 The failure of New York to bring these talents to the World’s Greatest Arena, falls on Mills and Perry, who a few weeks ago seemed ready to fire Fizdale. That would be the easy out. But there’s no guarantee the Knicks, over the long haul, would play and harder or better.

Which begs the question: Why would a Knicks fan watch one more game, buy one more overpriced beer in The Garden, gift an RJ Barrett jersey to a son or daughter over the holidays? I have friends around the country who are baffled by this Knicks Phenomenon.

 ‘Why does The Garden continue to sell out when the Knicks are awful?”  There is no sane explanation. Nor is there’s any motivation for the owner to demand excellence when, with the exception of some home playoff games, he wouldn’t make any more money.

If it’s broke and profitable, why fix it?

The Knicks have a coach that can’t impart confidence to his team. The team has no clear-cut leader. The president and GM lurk off stage, waiting for a scapegoat to come along. The owner plays a decent guitar but can’t put the pieces in place for a decent team.

Fisdale saved his most enlightening comment about the Knicks when as about Giannis.

“I watch and listen to him lead his guys,” Fizdale said. “He’s just impressive. The league is in good hands, I know that, when you’ve got a guy like that at the top.”

Can anyone honestly say that about the Knicks?

Everything the Giants Do Must Be the in QB's Best Interests

Robbins Nest

#8 Dan Jones file photo Neil Miller /The New York Extra

By Lenn Robbins

  You know things have hit bedrock bottom when most social media posts and articles about the Giants’ latest meltdown don’t mention the franchise quarterback. Who knows. Maybe that’s a good thing.

Daniel Jones did what rookie quarterbacks usually do, but something he hasn’t done in a while. He threw interceptions in Sunday’s 31-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

. #8 Dan Jones Neil Miller /The New York Extra

 It was the Giants (2-10) seventh straight loss and in-house critic Janoris Jenkins should be applauded for pointing out shortcomings in the defensive scheme.  Coach Pat Shurmur’s seat is so hot he might have been the only person in MetLife Stadium who didn’t feel cold.

New York Giants head coach Pat Shurmur file photo Neil Miller /The New York Extra

One of the few players that must be made to feel comfy is Jones. He has shown more than enough to believe he has the skill, temperament and intelligence for Giants fans to feel comfortable they have their quarterback of the future.

His development, however, might be hampered by two factors: The organization for which he plays and the mistakes that he makes.

The loss to the Packers was the first time in three games he did not fumble. It also marked the end of his 110-straight pass attempts without a pick ended.

“Today, they weren’t fumbles, right?,” Shurmur told reporters. “These were throws, they weren’t fumbles. He’s gotta keep playing through it, and keep learning from every scenario. Unfortunately, we’re dealing with some mistakes that you hope you never see it again.”

The Giants thought they had addressed this weeks ago. Offensive coordinator and other assistant coaches have worked with Jones on ball security. There is no magic wand. Either a player learns to protect the ball or he’s out of the league.

The feeling here is that Jones will get it but in the meantime, he’s leaving the door of self-doubt open. He now has thrown eight interceptions and lost six fumbles. Those stats to a quarterback are like rust to iron.

“I feel like I’m making progress,” Jones said. “Obviously there’s still a lot to work on, and I understand that. I feel like I’m improving and the challenge is to continue to do that but do it faster, and play more consistently.”

Consistency has hardly been a Giants trademark of late. It stretches the management to think the Giants would be better off with another season under Shurmur. If a change is made, Jones will face another obstacle – learning an entire new system and staff.

The Giants have to conduct business with one thought in mind: What’s best for Daniel Jones?

Penny Wise, Schiano Foolish: Time For Rutgers to Invest in its Future

By Lenn Robbins

If you’re not familiar with how big-time college football works – and man, is it big business – Greg Schiano’s “list of demands” to return to coach Rutgers reads like a portrait in greed:

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A reported $25.2 million guarantee? The unlimited use of a private jet?

What is this, a new reality show, “Desperate Football Coaches of New Jersey?”

Not at all. This is the cost of doing business in a Power 5 conference, such as the Big 10.

In fact, if Rutgers had agreed to these “demands” about a week ago, it would have gotten Schiano on the cheap. His eight-year, $32 million deal would have put Schiano in the bottom third of Big Ten coach’s salaries. Rutgers drew a line in the sand at six years, $24 million – keep that $8 million in mind.

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That’s right, bottom third.

But AD Patrick Hobbs, who already screwed up his search for a men’s basketball coach, but was fortunate to find former Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell, has been publicly and privately taking a flamethrower to the Schiano negotiation. Hobbs’ hiring of former coach Chris Ash (8-32), who was fired earlier this season, had failure written all over it from Day 1. He MUST make a great hire now.

Some might know that I’ve known Schiano for some 20 years and have a close, respectful relationship. I’ve had had no contact of any kind with Schiano, his family and his representatives since Sept. 30th.

As a long-time college football reporter, it’s been awful not having a successful big-time program in the metropolitan area. Despite Syracuse’s bogus claim of being New York’s college team, it still requires a four-hour drive, often with the help of a snow plow. Not very metropolitan.

There’s no better place to watch college football, and no program more steeped in tradition than Army. But the days of Army playing for a national title are over, and there’s no shame in that. Army has always had a higher calling.

Rutgers (2-9), which plays its final game of the season tomorrow at Penn State (9-2), joined the ranks of the Big Ten in 2014. It joined in name only.

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Its facilities are worse than some FCS programs. Its stadium, something named SHI Stadium, is not even on the list of the 50 best venues in America, according to Bleacher Report and anyone with eyes.

Penn State’s Beaver Stadium (106,572) is ranked No.1 Ohio State’s Ohio Stadium (102,821) is ranked third and Michigan Stadium (107,601), aka, The Big House, is ranked sixth. From Northwestern to Nebraska, Maryland to Michigan, Big Ten football, as its advertising campaign states, is life on the big stage.

Rutgers has tried to survive in the Big Ten on the cheap. Ash won three conference games in three-plus seasons. It’s not all his fault. It’s almost impossible to out-recruit schools with lesser facilities, not to mention far less tradition.

Michigan and Ohio State have set up satellite practice camps in New Jersey for the explicit reason of luring The Garden State’s top recruits. The only coach that has ever won his share of New Jersey recruits is Schiano.

There’s a reason for this: He’s a Jersey Guy. He understands the ethos of the state; how North Jersey and South Jersey have always had an uneasy relationship. The last thing the Rutgers coach can do is alienate either. Schiano did a great job of embracing both.

With Schiano, Rutgers reached its highest ranking ever in 2006 at No.7. It took him six years to build the program. And that was when Rutgers played in the Big East.

The next Rutgers coach will have an even more daunting challenge in the Big Ten. Jim Harbaugh, maybe the closest comparison we can make to Schiano, returned to his alma mater in 2015 with great fanfare. By 2017, after the Wolverines posted an 8-4 record, there were some screaming for change.

Most didn’t realize how drastically Michigan had fallen behind Ohio State, or been caught by programs such as Wisconsin and Iowa. Harbaugh, who is paid $7.5 million, will try to beat Ohio State tomorrow for the first time in his tenure. If he fails, no doubt there were will be ignorant calls for his firing.

While Ohio State was building its program with an influx of recruits and an increase in fundraising under the consistency of six coaches from 1951-2019, Michigan is on its fifth coach since 1989.

 Michigan’s administration has made what could prove to be brilliant decision. It believes Harbaugh is the man for the program and it’s providing him with the support and patience he needs to catch Ohio State. Michigan recently opened the $168-million Performance Center with a $100 million gift from Stephen Ross.

$100 million.

Rutgers balked at the $8 million difference between its offer and Schiano’s “demand.” Perks such as private planes (Wyoming has one, Wyoming!) and golf course membership is standard at Power 5 programs. It helps in recruiting and fundraising. It’s the cost of doing business in the Big Ten.

Over the last couple of days there have been reports that Rutgers and Schiano have re-engaged in talks. If Rutgers ever wants its best chance at becoming a winning big-time program, it will bring The Jersey Guy home. If not, Rutgers should withdraw from the Big Ten and call Mike Aresco at the American Athletic Conference.

The moment has come for Rutgers to state its intentions: Big Ten or Big Bust.

Darnold is Looking and Sounding Like a Franchise QB

East Rutherford, N.J. Sunday, November 24, 2019. NY Jets vs. Oakland Raiders at MetLife Stadium. Sam Darnold had good pass protection all day. (Photo by David L. Pokress/The New York Extra)

Robbins Nest

By Lenn Robbins

Dear Outrageous, Obnoxious, Outlandish Raiders fans.

Thank for you coming to MetLife Stadium Sunday and attempting to turn it into the Black Hole East. You were maddeningly, mind-bogglingly, maniacally antagonistic.

East Rutherford, N.J. Sunday, November 24, 2019. NY Jets vs. Oakland Raiders at MetLife Stadium. MetLife Stadium became the black hole for Raider fans today. (Photo by David L. Pokress/The New York Extra)

When the Jets took their home field, they felt like the visitors.

Those wearing the Black and Silver booed, hooted and hollered their heads off. And the guys in Green and White heard it. They heard it, went back into the home locker room and got heated.

“I’m not going to lie to you, when we came on to the field, we felt disrespected,” safety Jamal Adams said. “We got booed in our own home stadium by the Oakland fans. We came back into this locker room and it was a hell of a talk.”

East Rutherford, N.J. Sunday, November 24, 2019. NY Jets vs. Oakland Raiders at MetLife Stadium. Raiders backup QB Mike Glennon gets pressure from Jamal Adams. (Photo by David L. Pokress/The New York Extra)

Adams should know. He gave the talk and it contained a lot of words not suitable for white collar criminals.

Even the calm, cool, California kid, quarterback Sam Darnold, was jacked. He bullied his way for a four-yard touchdown run that gave the Jets a 10-3 lead in the second quarter. The Jets didn’t look back as they posted their most impressive win of the season, a 34-3 demolishing of the Raiders.

East Rutherford, N.J. Sunday, November 24, 2019. NY Jets vs. Oakland Raiders at MetLife Stadium. Sam Darnold finds the endzone on a QB keeper in the second quarter. (Photo by David L. Pokress/The New York Extra)

“I had someone in my way at the goal line,” Darnold said, “and I just did what I could to get into the end zone.”

This win, the Jets third straight, felt different than the previous two. The Jets beat the hapless Giants and pathetic Redskins in moving to 3-7. The Raiders, however came in with a 6-4 record, breathing down the necks of the Kansas City Chiefs for first place in the AFC West.

They left licking their bruised egos on what surely will be a long flight back to the West Coast.

“We got our butts kicked,” said veteran quarterback Derek Carr, who was benched. “There’s no other way around that. They got after us from start to finish. Hopefully, it’s an eye opener.”

East Rutherford, N.J. Sunday, November 24, 2019. NY Jets vs. Oakland Raiders at MetLife Stadium. Jamal Adams and Brandon Copeland crunch Raiders QB Derek Carr. (Photo by David L. Pokress/The new York Extra)

The quarterback that opened a lot of eyes was Darnold. It was a little more than a month ago that Darnold was haunted by the New England Patriots in a 33-0 loss. His rating that day was 1.5.

The Raiders saw a very different player. Darnold completed 20-of-29 passes for 315 yards with two touchdowns passing, one rushing and no interceptions. His rating was 127.8, or 126.3 better than it was against New England.

East Rutherford, N.J. Sunday, November 24, 2019. NY Jets vs. Oakland Raiders at MetLife Stadium. Sam Darnold scrambles for a gain. (Photo by David L. Pokress/The New York Extra)

This is new territory for Darnold and the Jets (4-7). This is Gang Green’s first three-game win streak in more than two years. Darnold, who missed time early with mononucleosis, is looking more and more like the franchise quarterback the Jets thought they were drafting last season with the No.3 pick.

Darnold also is sounding like a franchise quarterback. He’s tossed out the playoff word lately. Darnold is smart enough to know that almost certainly won’t happen this season. But isn’t it uplifting to hear a Jets QB talking about postseason?

“It’s in the back of my head,” Darnold said, “but I think where we’re at right now, we just gotta keep taking it one week at a time, and if we do that, I think we’ll be all right.”

ICYMI: Luis Robles, BWP Are No Longer With Red Bulls

Robbins Nest

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By Lenn Robbins

Unfortunately, the MLS has taken a page out of the Baltimore Colts managerial playbook. And most unfortunately, the team that gutted its fan base is your New York Red Bulls.

The Red Bulls aren’t moving for now but you could lay worse money than betting it’s just a matter of time before they relocate. In the meantime, the Red Bulls have opted to strip away the face of the franchise.

In a vague Thursday email to season ticket holders entitled, “Roster Changes Announced,” the Red Bulls announced they had picked up the options of 10 players and declined options on six others. Ho-hum.

Just when you were about to click on your favorite Black Friday sale, the second paragraph stated that team had declined the option on goalkeeper Luis Robles.

What?

What!

What?!

No goalie in the MLS was better at what he does and had a more profound connection with his franchise’s fan base than Robles. He is the Red Bulls career leader in every goaltending stat but his true legacy was his endurance.

Robles owns the MLS’ Ironman streak having played in 183 consecutive games. He was the league’s, and the Red Bull’s, Lou Gehrig.

Now he’s gone from the Garden State. Gone, less than two and one-half years after signing a multi-year extension. Gone after leading the Red Bulls to the only three Supporters’ Shields in franchise history, gone after earning MLS Goalie of the Year in 2015.

The captain, yes, Robles has worn the armband the last two seasons, is gone.

Gone, too, is Bradley Wright-Phillips, who until this season was the offensive face of the franchise, a bull of a scoring forward who combined brute strength and deft touch in the box.

The Red Bulls didn’t want this news to make headlines. The email showed up with no information other than that vague subject line and a split-screen photo with Wright-Phillips on the left, Robles on the right. Above the two players were the words, “Thank You Bradley and Luis.” Below the photo, in much smaller type, were the words, “Read More.”

Clicking on “Read More,” led you to the vanilla, generic first graph, followed by the explosive second graph announcing the end of the Robles Era, and later, the news that Wright-Phillips was gone. That was in the sixth paragraph.

Fans of Where’s Waldo would be impressed.

The legion of dwindling Red Bulls fans won’t be impressed by this latest gut punch.  Despite having a legit soccer stadium in the hotbed of New Jersey soccer, the Red Bulls haven’t been able to build their base.

Red Bull Arena seats 25,000. Despite having the best record in the Eastern Conference in 2018, attendance dipped 7.1 percent in 2019 to 17,281. By April, management began blocking off entire sections of the upper deck with tarp.

Now, Red Bulls fans, no less the casual soccer fan looking for a match, have to question supporting the team in Harrison, N.J., the one that jettisons key players in a Thursday Afternoon Massacre.  

Is Robles, 35, the same goalie he was in 2015? Maybe, maybe not.

He was 13-14-16 with a GAA of 1.52 in 2019. His career stats are 114-71-53 with a 1.29 GAA. The Red Bulls were significantly worse in 2019 than 2018 so making the popular goalie a scapegoat seems ill-advised.

BWP, 34, is a different story. It was painful to watch the oft-injured star hobble across the pitch. He played 24 games, scoring just two goals, his lowest total since 2013, his first season with the Red Bulls when he played just seven games.

We can debate if Father Time has caught up with both players, but that’s like taking a car with transmission trouble to a mechanic and hearing him suggest new tires.

Management has thrown the Red Bulls on the scrapheap. They were hoping you wouldn’t notice.

Time For the Giants to Pull a Strasburg on Barkley

Robbins Nest

By Lenn Robbins

When Marquise Pouncey pounced on Garrett Myles, who had just cracked his helmet over Mason Randolph’s head, the Internet lit up with praise for the Pittsburgh center:

The ultimate team player.

The guy you want next to you if you’re driven into the opposition’s sideline.

The guy that will play hurt and play hard every play.

There were a few comments, however, that were confounding: To summarize, there is a belief that selfless, team-oriented players such as Pouncey, are becoming fewer in the NFL.

Certainly, it is a topic for debate, especially between fans of different generations. Athletes in the 60’s, 70’s, or 80’s might not have felt they had the right, no less the job security, to demand a trade, or seek outside medical opinions about a head injury.

Athletes in more recent decades have fought for better health care, pensions and the more radical ones have held out for an entire season in order to gain their freedom. They market themselves. They take political stands.

What some fans might confuse a player’s outward displays of emotion as an example of decaying team values, others see it as the evolution of the athlete/person that is just as committed to the team as players from years gone by.

Just when it seems as if the team-first players are diminishing (See: Antonio Brown or Le’Veon Bell) along comes Pouncey, or closer to home, Saquon Barkley.

Barkley has been playing with a high ankle sprain suffered in Week 3. Initial estimates had Barkley missing around eight games. He missed three.

Barkley added a dinged up shoulder in the Giants 34-27 loss to the Jets last weekend. He had his worst day as a pro, rushing 13 times for one yard and catching five balls for 30 yards.

The idea of Barkley shutting it down his bruised and battered body was put to him earlier this week. The 2-8 Giants will be playing golf come playoff time so to risk Barkley suffering a severe injury in these finals six games seems unwise, for player and team.

“The mindset of me sitting out and resting me for the rest season is beyond me,” Barkley told reporters. “I don’t agree with it and it won’t happen. I’m going to keep going until I can’t go anymore.”

When is that?

 Is it after this Sunday’s game in Chicago when the Giants face a fierce Bears’ defense? Is it the following week, when the playoff-bound Packers with their improved defense, comes to town? Is it Dec. 9th when the Giants play at NFC East rival Philadelphia whose defense can hit with the best of them?

“To say that I’m not healthy, that’s just an excuse,” said Barkley. “Everyone is banged up, everyone is going through something and I’m not going to let that be an excuse for why I’m not having a successful season. The reason I’m not having a successful season is because I’m not making enough plays for my team.”

The Nationals shut down Stephen Strasburg in 2012. Strasburg was having a great bounce back season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery. Washington knew it had a specials talent in the then 24-year-old. They weren’t going to risk his career.

Seven years later, Strasburg helped the Nationals win their first-ever World Series. He was named MVP. The club likely saved Strasburg from himself.

The Giants need to do the same with the 22-year-old Barkley. They need to do it now.

It’s hard to know whether there are more of less team-first players in the NFL. Fortunate for us, a young-in-age, old-in-soul player wears the No.26 in blue. It would be nice to have him healthy and relentless for years to come.

Jets Are No Closer to Knowing If Darnold Is The Man

Robbins Nest

By Lenn Robbins

10/21/19 Patriots vs Jets at Metlife stadium East Rutherford nj #14 Sam Darnold returns to the bench after a 3 and out in the 4th quarter Neil Miller/ The New York Extra

It has been almost exactly one month since Sam Darnold saw ghosts. One month since the New England Pats, known cheaters, seemingly had 12 men on the field on defense for every play in a 33-0 bashing of the Jets.

Every time Darnold thought he had an open window, it was slammed shut. Every time he thought he had a receiver break free, he was covered. Darnold completed just 11-of-32 passes for 86 yards with no touchdowns and four interceptions.

East Rutherford, N.J., Monday, October 21, 2019. Jets QB Sam Darnold and J.C. Jackson of the Patriots chase the ball in the endzone after it was snapped over Darnold’s head. The play was called a safety. (Photo by David L. Pokress/The New York Extra)

When the mic-up Darnold was overheard saying he was seeing ghosts, Jets Nation went apoplectic. Their second-year quarterback, the third player picked in the 2018 NFL Draft, was a bust, his psyche snapped, they fretted.

Over the last two games, however, Darnold has completed 38-of-60 passes for 523 yards with five touchdowns and just one interception. Not a spirit in sight in wins over the Giants, 34-27, and Redskins, 34-17.

11/10/19 NY giants VS NY Jets at Metlife Stadium East Rutherford N.J. NY Jets #14 Sam Darnold throws in the 1st half today Neil Miller/The New York Extra

Yet the Jets are not much closer to knowing if Darnold will be their franchise quarterback than they were after the Patriots’ game. The Redskins have the 21st worst defense in the NFL. The Giants are even worse. They’re 31st.

“Towards the end of the game, I was talking more about the interception to the coaches and the other players, so maybe that,” Darnold told reporters about his dialogue Sunday. “But I think for us as an offense, as a whole, it’s just another steppingstone in the right direction, so that’s how we’re going to look at it.”

The one thing we’ve learned, and this might turn out to be paramount, is that Darnold didn’t crack, his psyche wasn’t snapped, his confidence hadn’t been confiscated by the Pats.

East Rutherford, N.J., Monday, October 21, 2019. Terrence Brooks (25) celebrates his third quarter interception in the endzone with his Patriots defensive teammates. (Photo by David L. Pokress/The New York Extra)

In fairness to Darnold, the Patriots defense is great. It made Carson Wentz look pedestrian Sunday night in a 17-10 New England win. Maybe every quarterback, save Lamar Jacks on, sees ghosts when playing the Pats.

Maybe, just maybe, Darnold is on his way to being a franchise QB.

“He knows what he likes; he knows what he doesn’t like,” Jets coach Adam Gase said of Darnold. “He’s not afraid to say it.”

Good to know. The question is, can Darnold, who’s not exactly surrounded by the talent Troy Aikman had with the Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin, win a game against a top-tier NFL defense?

Darnold did complete passes to seven different receivers, which suggests he’s seeing more of the field. But we won’t for another month if Darnold has exorcised his demons and is closer to being a franchise QB than he is today.

The Jets play at Baltimore on Dec. 12. The Ravens made Texans’ QB Deshaun Watson look like a scarecrow on Sunday. If Darnold can play as he has these last two weeks, well, that will speak well of his progress.

If not, well, Jets fans are accustomed to seeing all kinds of bizarre occurrences from butt fumbles to Bill Belichick becoming coach for a day. Seeing ghosts is nothing new.