Remember a few short months ago when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said he expected the Chargers to move to Los Angeles?

Things surely have changed over the past few months. Goodell was live in San Diego for last Saturday’s downtown stadium rally, also known as the kickoff effort to gather signatures for a ballot initiative.

The commish has reversed field in impressive O.J. Simpson-like fashion – that’s the football player version, not the double murderer – since the Rams relocated to Los Angeles in mid-January.

When it became clear Chargers president Dean Spanos and Rams owner Stan Kroenke weren’t going to get along in terms of sharing a Los Angeles stadium, Goodell was suddenly all-in when it came to keeping the Chargers in San Diego.

His comments have repeatedly been pro-San Diego and there are three huge reasons for that: Money, lots of money and huge amounts of money.

The NFL will profit much more if the effort to build the Chargers a stadium passes. (Hey, I had to write a quick hitter on the rally on Saturday — Roger Goodell speaks in favor of downtown San Diego stadium).

Goodell will now continue to have his San Diego cheerleading uniform on during the rest of the process and is even talking about the Super Bowl returning to town if a new football stadium is approved.

Just know it’s never a bad thing when the guy who runs the NFL is in your corner.

“I think the Chargers belong in San Diego,” Goodell said. “I think this is a great community, a great fan base. Everyone has acknowledged that we need a new stadium.”

At least Goodell has acknowledged the Chargers belong in San Diego.

Better late than never.

Kobe Bryant sure knows how to put a punctuation mark on a career.

His final game was so amazing and so dramatic that nobody was talking about the Golden State Warriors setting the NBA single-season record of 73 victories.

The Warriors were relegated to secondary status as Bryant put on one of the best farewell performances you will ever see as he closed out his 20-year NBA career by dropping 60 points against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday.

He was vintage Bryant in the final quarter as he scored 23 points and knocked in the go-ahead jumper with 31.6 seconds remaining as Los Angeles registered a 101-96 victory. It was easy the highlight of the season for the Lakers, who endured a franchise-worst 17-65 record.

The performance was so superb that you had to wonder if Bryant might unretire before he even begins his retirement.

“I’m sure, I’m sure, I’m absolutely sure,” Bryant said of his career being over during the on-court postgame festivities.

Regardless, it was one of those rare sporting events in which you will always remember where you were or what you were doing as it unfolded.

Bryant ended his night with a baseball-pass assist and couldn’t resist discussing the irony of what unfolded in his last game. You know, the fact that he hoisted a career-most 50 shots.

“What’s funny, the thing that had me cracking up all night long is the fact that I go through 20 years of everybody screaming to pass the ball and then the last night, they’re like ‘don’t pass it,’ ” Bryant said.

Bryant won five championships with the Lakers and finishes his career with 33,643 points, which ranks third in NBA history.

He will always be remembered as one of the top players ever – and that would have been true even if he had scored 5 points on 2-of-13 shooting against the Jazz.

But instead he went out the way most athletes don’t get to do. That was by putting on a memorable show.

And it certainly was a performance that will be remembered forever.

Sacramento might be the capital city of California but I’ve never spent any real time there.

I hung out in the airport between flights one time, which certainly doesn’t count as a visit. On another occasion, I flew in and out of Sacramento to cover something in Stockton of all places.

But I do have one visual of what was then called Arco Arena – now Sleep Train Arena – as I spotted it off to the right on the way to the airport.

It didn’t seem like much of a building that day but those Sacramento fans sure loved the barn-like place. And the facility hosts a basketball game for the last time on Saturday night when the Sacramento Kings play the Oklahoma City Thunder.

One of my Friday work assignments included writing about this arena that opened in 1988 — read it here: Kings bid farewell to Sleep Train Arena

The franchise will move into a new downtown arena next season and new memories will emerge. But one thing sports’ fans do well is hold on to those old memories.

So to most NBA fans, probably not that big a deal that Sleep Train Arena has just 48 minutes (barring overtime) of basketball remaining. But it is a major deal to the people of Sacramento.

That’s because it is the end of an era.

 

 

We’ve all run into the guy who brags that only a high school injury prevented him from playing in the NFL.

(Substitute sport here) Or the NBA. Or the major leagues.

Heck, we see guys and gals drive past us on the freeway who think they are part of the NASCAR circuit.

But yeah, haven’t we also heard some Weekend Warrior golfer boast about being good enough to play professional golf?

There is always some irritating hacker bemoaning that having a wife and two kids – oh yeah, and a job – are the only things preventing him from playing at Augusta National.

Wait, did I say Augusta National? As in the Masters? As in this week’s big tournament?

Guess what — the common person is part of the big event this week.

Meet Sammy Schmitz, a person who I wrote about during Tuesday’s workday (GoFundMe amateur golfer crashes the Masters)

The 35-year-old crashed the Masters by winning the U.S. Mid-Amateur title and people were so excited that a GoFundMe page for his expenses raised $25,000 in two-plus days before he and his wife called off the cash avalanche.

And get this, the crucial shot in his decisive round was when he made a hole-in-one … on a par-4 course.

Repeat: A hole-in-one on a par-4 course.

What amateur does that?

Even those annoying nobodies who brag about their golf game know better than to try and pull that one.

So it will be interesting to see how Schmitz fares when they tee it up on Thursday and Jordan Speith is a competitor and not a face he’s watching on television.

Schmitz is facing long odds to make the cut. But check out his odds to win the coveted green jacket:

He’s listed at 2,500-to-1 by one Vegas oddsmaker.

Yep, the same odds listed for 1998 Masters champ Mark O’Meara.

Hmmm, let the bragging begin.

Final Four Saturday is typically one of the best basketball viewing days of the entire year.

It wasn’t good for anybody this year unless you were a Villanova fan as nobody wants to see two blowout games on that fantastic day.

But it was all made up for on Monday with a solid basketball game that included one of the all-time great endings.

You see, it’s kind of hard to top winning the national championship with a buzzer-beating shot.

Villanova junior forward Kris Jenkins etched his name into sports history by nailing the winning 3-pointer as time expired to give the Wildcats a spectacular 77-74 victory over North Carolina.

It is Villanova’s first national title since 1985 when the most famous team in school history – led by Ed Pinckney – upset a powerhouse Georgetown squad led by Patrick Ewing in the title game.

This Villanova squad went 35-5 and won its first five NCAA tournament games by an average of 24.2 points. It let a late 10-point lead slip away before Jenkins’ hoop allowed the Wildcats to hold off a strong North Carolina squad.

In fact, the Tar Heels (33-7) tied the game with 4.7 seconds left when senior point guard Marcus Paige made a miraculous off-balance double-pump 3-point shot. That dramatic basket only turned out to a warm-up act.

You’ve got to like the coolness of senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono as he came up court. He didn’t panic and had the court awareness to underhand the ball to the trailing Jenkins.

“Arch made the perfect pass and Kris Jenkins lives for that moment,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright said during the postgame interview on TBS.

Kind of fitting that Arcidiacono landed the Final Four Most Outstanding Player award after that display of teamwork.

“I wanted that shot,” Arcidiacono admitted, “but I have the confidence in my teammates.”

Jenkins, who admits he’s never one to pass up a shot, was making sure Arcidiacono knew he was in close proximity.

“I was like ‘Ryan, Ryan,'” Jenkins said. “Like coach said, he made the perfect pass.”

The flip side was the pain the Tar Heels felt after putting up a strong effort.

Tar Heels coach Roy Williams was among the people struggling with his emotions afterward.

“I’ve been a head coach for 28 years,” Williams said in his interview with TBS, “and the worst thing is on a loss like this I feel so inadequate because I don’t know how to make it better.”

The contest was the first NCAA title game decided as time expired since the famous Jim Valvano-coached North Carolina State team won the 1983 title. On that occasion, Lorenzo Charles grabbed Dereck Whittenberg’s desperation heave to lay in the winning points for a 54-52 victory over a Houston squad featuring Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.

That terrific ending now has company and Whittenburg was one of the millions of people tweeting about the Villanova ending.

“That was a pretty amazing pass by Arch. Reminds me of a pass I made once,” Whittenburg wrote.

Of course, nobody but Whittenburg thinks his play was a pass but that’s OK. The ball got to the right guy at the right time.

Just as it did on Monday.

 

It was kind of fun to post the Matt Bush story on my website the other day so how about we do this again with a subject you won’t see me tackle very often:

Women’s basketball.

Yep, it’s true, I wrote a women’s basketball story during Sunday’s workday. And I can’t deny it because they put my name on top of the article.

So there you go, full-on proof that I don’t ignore women’s basketball.

The topic was Is UConn’s dominance bad for women’s basketball? and that is actually a decent thing to debate.

Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma isn’t so thrilled to have to defend his team’s success. But wow, his team won its first three NCAA tournament games by margins of 52, 46 and 60 points.

The 60-point shellacking of Mississippi State came in the Sweet 16. That is astounding.

The Huskies have won 72 consecutive games and they should advance to another Final Four when they meet Texas on Monday. I suppose I can take out the word “should” since they lambasted the Longhorns by 51 points in last year’s Sweet 16 en route to winning their third consecutive national title.

That was a record margin of victory for the Sweet 16 — and was broken with the 60-point win over Mississippi State.

Anyway, people are now wondering whether UConn’s dominance is a bad thing for women’s basketball. And guess what? Auriemma doesn’t care what you, your doctor, a welder or anybody else thinks.

Here’s his advice:

“Don’t watch. Nobody’s putting a gun to your head to watch,” Auriemma said. “So don’t watch, and don’t write about it. Spend your time on things that you think are important. If you don’t think this is important, don’t pay any attention to it.”

I will have to think about this — should I turn on a UConn game once the Final Four arrives? Is it worth watching if the Huskies rout another Final Four team by 40 or 50 points? Will anyone even remotely give them a game?

Huskies star Breanna Stewart isn’t sure how the players are supposed to respond to this outcry.

And you know what, I don’t blame her. Players play the game and the ones who play for the Huskies just happen to be really, really good.

OK, now don’t get used to me writing about women’s basketball.

I often write between 20 to 25 sports stories a day and I never know what subject may arise.

It is an awesome deal when you think about it as my two favorite things in the world are sports and writing.

Oh, I forgot pizza.

Dang, you’d think I would get a pizza delivered while I’m writing about sports.

Anyway, I got asked to write about Matt Bush on Thursday and wasn’t that quite the unforeseen circumstance.

Bush was long ago designated the biggest draft bust in the history of the San Diego Padres and he took his buffoonery to an even higher level in 2012 when he went on a drinking binge in Florida and nearly killed a motorcyclist.

He went to jail for 3 1/2 years and we figured his whole sorry waste-of-talent chapter was over.

But here he is in the spring of 2016 attempting to make the Texas Rangers as a relief pitcher.

He got out of jail last October and could still fire a baseball 97 miles per hour so he received another “second chance.”

Bush, now 30, tossed two hitless innings in his first spring-training outing on Wednesday. Who knows whether he has forever overcome his demons or if another drinking binge lurks.

Regardless, selecting Bush No. 1 overall in 2004 will always rank as one of the dumbest decisions in Padres’ history. Taking the local boy over Jered Weaver, Justin Verlander and Stephen Drew seemed ridiculous then and still feels just as ridiculous now.

So if you’ve forgotten about Matt Bush and his struggles, here you go: A fresh off-the-presses account that took all of 30 minutes to write. Draft bust Matt Bush making a comeback

You know, because the next assignment was waiting.

I warned San Diego State on these pages back on Feb. 28 that it wouldn’t make the NCAA tournament if it didn’t claim the Mountain West’s automatic bid.

Apparently, the Aztecs didn’t get the message.

San Diego State lost to Fresno State in the conference tournament on Saturday and you can guess what happened on Selection Sunday.

Yep, that solid streak of six consecutive NCAA tournament appearances reached an end.

So the Aztecs will be playing in the NIT — stands for the Not Interesting Tournament — on Tuesday night against IPFW instead of being in Dayton for the First Four.

I really can’t find any fault with the selection committee for not choosing San Diego State. I’m stunned that some other teams got into the field – looking at you Syracuse, Michigan, Tulsa and especially you Vanderbilt – but not surprised that the Aztecs were passed over.

We all know the problems with the resume – start with only one Top 50 win and that oh-so-dreadful loss to San Diego – but the severe drop-off of the Mountain West finally caught up with the league. This is the first time since the conference’s inception that an outright winner of the regular-season crown didn’t make the NCAA field.

Those powerhouse days where Utah, New Mexico, BYU, UNLV assured the league was a Top 6 conference are long gone. San Diego State’s rise and those short stints of Wyoming and Air Force competing for the league crown only enhanced the Mountain West’s strength.

With so few of those 18 wins over Mountain West competition this season carrying any weight, there was no way to counter the sluggish early season issues San Diego State experienced.

And when the Aztecs blew that nine-point lead with 1:04 to play against Boise State two weeks ago, there was only one conclusion: The conference tournament was now must-win for San Diego State.

But they didn’t win it and so the reality is the Aztecs get included on the list of snubs.

South Carolina … Monmouth … St. Bonaventure … Saint Mary’s … Valparaiso … San Diego State.

I analyze those snubs and I don’t get how Vanderbilt (19-13) is part of the field. A win over Kentucky never did so much for a school.

Or Michigan with its 4-11 record against Top 50 teams. If you really get to play 15 teams of that caliber, you should be able to win more than 26.7 percent of those games if you are truly an NCAA tournament team. I would expect Utah State to go 4-11 – or maybe 5-10 – if it were presented with that many of those games.

All the pumping-up chatter heaped upon Syracuse was sickening last week. The argument was that the Orange shouldn’t be penalized for not having coach Jim Boeheim – suspended for cheating, by the way – at the beginning of the season. Well, Boeheim was there on the sidelines for each of Syracuse’s final six games and the squad went 1-5. Repeat: 1-5. And into the field they go.

And Tulsa. Probably shouldn’t pick on Tulsa because it is exactly the type of school that would normally be on the side of the shaft. Fans of the Golden Hurricane themselves were probably surprised they weren’t passed over. But sorry, never expected Tulsa to make it into the field.

Give me Monmouth over any of those four schools. Then we can debate and argue and pick hairs about the rest of the snubs.

Something tells me always-angry South Carolina coach Frank Martin must have gone ballistic to see Vanderbilt in the field and not his team. The Gamecocks beat the Commodores in their lone meeting.

Wait, lots of team beat the Commodores – 13 losses and somehow Vanderbilt goes dancin’.

I just don’t get it.

Anyway, San Diego State is a 2 seed in the NIT so that lets everyone know they weren’t close to making the field. The NIT traditionally takes the NCAA committee’s First Four Out and makes them the No. 1 seeds.

So that would make the Aztecs team No. 73 or 74 when it came to deciding on the 68-team field.

All San Diego State can do now is show up and play in the NIT. The last time the Aztecs failed to reach the NCAA tournament – in 2009 – they advanced to the NIT Final Four.

And getting to New York is the only way the Not Interesting Tournament becomes interesting.

Taco.Bell.Arena

It definitely felt different not to be sitting in the front row.

 

I did something out of the ordinary on Wednesday night and attended a sporting event as a spectator.

That meant the laptop stayed at home, I wasn’t staring at stats and sifting through play-by-play and I sure wasn’t sitting in the front row.

I did have a pretty good vantage point as you can see from the image above. Boise State’s Taco Bell Arena isn’t like one of those cavernous facilities you find throughout the NBA.

At halftime, a co-worker of one of my brothers asked me an interesting question:

“Does it feel weird for you to be sitting up here and not covering the game from down there?”

He pointed down to where he has seen me sit dozens of times since I moved to Boise. “Down there” being courtside where a player could come diving into my head and the cheerleaders dance and shake just feet from my seat.

Yeah, it did feel weird. I’ve covered somewhere around 350 to 400 college basketball games in my career so I’m accustomed to writing during a game.

That’s all types of games: Blowouts. Overtime affairs. Games decided on last-second shots. NCAA tournament games. Comebacks. Even one NIT game.

Lots of different places: The United Center in Chicago. The Pit in Albuquerque. The Pepsi Center in Denver. The McKale Center in Tucson. The Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City. United Spirit Arena in Lubbock, Texas. Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. The Don Haskins Center in El Paso, etc. And smaller venues like the one-of-a-kind Thunderdome in Santa Barbara and The Pyramid in Long Beach to name a few.

Games at San Diego State where the person next to me couldn’t hear a word I said. Or my first year in Boise where you could hear everything yelled on the other side of the court.

So yeah, it did feel weird.

Kind of makes me appreciate the frequent “cleanest copy I’ve seen in a while” compliments that come from the copy editors.

But I’m guessing my poor carpal tunnels were happy not to be pounding on the keyboard.

Anyway, the follow-up question was how come I wasn’t covering the games this season and that answer only required one word: Money.

On a Saturday, I can make more than three times the money – and sometimes four – by working from home than I would make by covering a game.

Heck, this past Tuesday I made more than four times what a game assignment would pay. Let that sink in – a Tuesday.

Ask an NFL owner if they would rather make $5 million on a Sunday or $20 million. I bet you know what they would say.

Works the same way with me – of course, on a much lower financial scale.

As for the game, Boise State rolled to a 76-57 victory over Nevada. Senior Anthony Drmic had 22 points and 11 rebounds in perhaps his final home game and moved into third place on the school’s all-time scoring list.

In other words, an easy angle and terrific storyline for a deadline sportswriter to spin.

Instead, I was learning that parking structure etiquette in Boise is pretty poor. But eventually I got dropped off at home well before I’d typically leave the arena.

Somehow that didn’t feel weird at all. Not a bit.

San Diego State clinched the Mountain West regular-season title on Wednesday and it prompted me to dissect the squad.

It seemed a little surreal that the Aztecs were 14-1 in the conference – doesn’t matter if the league is down, 14-1 is hard to do – but I quickly realized the following:

We still have no idea if San Diego State is really any good or not.

I’m thinking we might have moved closer to the answer on Saturday when the Aztecs collapsed against Boise State by allowing the final 12 points to drop a 66-63 decision.

There was no clutch free-throw shooting, there were sloppy defensive breakdowns and … worse … there was no killer instinct against a team missing its top player in James Webb III.

And because of all that, a nine-point lead with 1:04 to play evaporated.

Oh yeah, the 164-game winning streak when leading with five minutes to play also disappeared.

But it wasn’t the worst meltdown of San Diego State’s Mountain West era. I covered the worst collapse back in 2005 when the Aztecs led UNLV by 10 points with 20 seconds to play and managed to choke the game way.

San Diego State thought the game was in the victory column but somebody forgot to tell the Rebels.

UNLV tallied 23 points over the final 1 minute, 45 seconds of regulation and forced overtime on Curtis Terry’s 3-pointer with no time remaining and then won the game in overtime.

Here was the beginning of my story from that Saturday afternoon game:

There were 62 seconds left in regulation when Marcus Slaughter began acknowledging the crowd, waving his arms to encourage the Cox Arena fans to salute an apparent San Diego State basketball victory.

With 28.5 seconds left, Matt Thomas hit two free throws to give the Aztecs a 10-point lead.

What followed was an abrupt collapse reminiscent of the stock market’s steep fall in 1929.

The Aztecs plunged to a new low by disintegrating over the rest of regulation to help Nevada-Las Vegas score an improbable 93-91 overtime victory before 5,897 stunned fans on Saturday.

Kind of funny to recall that the Aztecs were still only getting crowds that filled up half the arena 11 years ago.

But what people also forget is that San Diego State team fell apart after the loss to the Rebels. The defeat was the beginning of a six-game losing skid as the Aztecs lost seven of their final eight games.

That 11-18 season marks the last time San Diego State has compiled a losing record.

So now we get to see how this version bounces back.

Will there be a confidence hit and a hangover that stretches over to future games? Or will there be a much better brand of resiliency than what the 2004-05 squad led by Brandon Heath and Slaughter displayed?

What I do know is the Aztecs (21-8 overall) are now 14-2 in the Mountain West and that is no longer going to be good enough when it comes to the NCAA tournament selection committee.

When thinking it out the other night, I concluded a 17-1 conference mark and two Mountain West tourney wins would sew up an NCAA berth despite the shaky resume that doesn’t have many quality victories.

But that isn’t happening now. San Diego State now needs to play its way into the NCAA field.

Fail to win that tournament and the Aztecs can await on either the NIT or CBI to come calling.

That’s the position the Aztecs put themselves in with Saturday’s collapse.

San Diego State missed seven consecutive free throws during the meltdown. Seven.

That’s no way to win a game.

“If you have seven free throws, you have to be able to make a couple of them,” coach Steve Fisher said afterward. “It’s easy for anybody to say, but sometimes that rim gets tighter and tighter when you miss a couple.”

You have to figure Fisher never thought he’d never see another UNLV-type collapse.

Of course, there also is the infamous NCAA tournament collapse when the Aztecs had Indiana beat in 2006 with less than a half-minute to play and fell apart and lost the game.

The writer who covered the team for the San Diego Union-Tribune at the time came running toward me in the media room in Salt Lake City and he was screaming: “They choked. They f—ing choked.”

And for one of the few times ever, that guy was right.

Now the Boise State game gets added into the category of infamous San Diego State meltdowns. And something Fisher said after the UNLV loss could have been uttered again after the collapse against the Broncos.

“This was a game that you could replay a thousand times and you can’t lose that game, but we did,” Fisher said back then. “Unfortunately, it happened to us.”

And somehow it happened to them again.