January 01, 2015

What was Miami/South Florida's biggest sports story of 2014? Poll. Last chance to vote!; plus Oregon hammers FSU, Ohio State stuns 'Bama & more

1aa1anew15
1) It is THURSDAY, JANUARY 1. Happy New Year, all! Let's make it a great one! 2) In The 
Previous Blogpost (ITPB): LeBron and D-Wade plotting reunion?, Orange Bowl game interest poll, Cats sign Bjugstad, NFL Pix results & more. 3) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also Facebook, Instagram and Vine.

A message from me to you: To all our readers, print and online, to our Blog Family and radio listeners and to our followers and friends on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Vine ... thank you! You made it another great past year and make me look forward to 2015.

More Cowbell!: Click on More Cowbell for my column from last night's Orange Bowl game. I write how Georgia Tech was up to the big stage in its 49-34 win; Mississippi State was not.

1aa1amiami2014WHAT WAS MIAMI/SOUTH FLORIDA'S BIGGEST SPORTS STORY OF 2014?: We do this every year. We asked you last week to name the past year's top national sports story and you did (results below). Now we invite you to select the 2014 Miami/South Florida sports story of the year, from an alphabetically presented top 10 of my choosing. You may vote for your top three (3). I offer no synopsis beyond what's in the poll, because if it needs further explaining, it obviously wasn't that big/impactful/important to you. Remember, you can choose your top three. Ready? Vote!

Your national sports story of year was...: We asked you to vote for the 2014 national sports story of the year from among The Associated Press' top 10, and LeBron James going home was your top choice with 22.2 percent, followed by Donald Sterling's NBA ouster (20.7%) and NFL domestic violence (18.9%).

O MY! OREGON, OHIO STATE REACH TITLE GAME: Ohio State upsets Alabama 42-35 in last night's late semifinal ending at 12:42 a.m. (which is ridiculous). Not sure if Urban Meyer winning feels any better than Nick Saban losing. In the first game Oregon hammers Florida State 59-20. Turnovers killed FSU as much as the Ducks did. Don't eviscerate the Noles too much, though. Champions; 29 straight. Great run. Respect. ..... Original post: What the Free World has clamored for so long -- a College Football Playoff -- bursts from concept to reality today with the two CFP semifinals: Oregon vs. Florida State in the Rose Bowl at 5 p.m., then Alabama vs. Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl at 8:30. The doubleheader will do monstrous TV ratings nationally , and should even fly high in nonchalant South Florida. Here, the large FSU alumni fan base and our natural disdain for Nick Saban assures interest. (Then again, rooting against Nick means rooting for Urban Meyer. LIFE ISN'T FAIR! ESPN polled its 43 college football experts (which is about 38 too many, by the way), and the picks were Oregon over FSU by 31-12 and 'Bama over OSU by (ouch) 42-1. Eventual-champion votes were Alabama 21, Oregon 18, FSI 1 and Urban 0. The asterisk in the headline? Me. I agree with the consensus on the Tide rolling, but think the Seminoles -- undefeated yet maligned -- will upset the mighty Ducks. Can't wait! 

Poll result: Interest in Orange Bowl game was low: We asked your interest level in last night's Georgia Tech-Mississippi State Orange Bowl game, and most voted "non-existent" (49.2 percent) or "low" (23.4%). The rest voted "medium" (18.4%) or "high" (9.0%).

Check back often because we resolve to constantly update and add to our latest blogposts...

November 16, 2014

Canesfan Satisfaction Meter: 47.6%; plus UM falls late to FSU, Stanton deal, new Hot Button Top 10 & more

1) It is SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 16. Click on Random Evidence for today's latest Sunday notes-column package. 2) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Dolphins wad Bills, DSM poll, NFL Week 11 picks & more. 3) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also Facebook, Instagram and Vine.

Click on What Champions Do for my column from the stadium on last night's Canes-Noles game. I write that FSU deserves more credit than Miami does blame. Find our blog gamepost directly below the new CSM poll and latest Hot Button Top 10.

CANESFAN SATISFACTION METER: G10: Results are certified in the latest Canesfan Satisfaction Meter postgame poll, and they show 47.6 percent overall satisfaction in the wake of Saturday night's 30-26 home loss to Florida State putting UM's season 1aa1acsmrecord at 6-4 overall and 3-3 in the ACC. (That's easily UM's highest grade following a loss this season). The CSM, in its sixth season, is your invitation after every Hurricanes game to vote on your overall satisfaction with the team and season in a continuing weekly gauge of how UM football fans are feeling. Criteria for voting is your own, but I suggest you consider the most recent game's performance and caliber of opponent, season as a whole, program's direction and your overall degree of optimism -- all in the context of reasonable expectations. Results are certified official the morning after one full day of voting. In this case that was around 8:45 a.m. today/Monday.

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2014 CSM results

G1: 6.7% (following 31-13 loss at Louisville) 

G2: 35.9% (following 41-7 victory vs. Florida A&M)

G3: 71.8% (following 41-20 victory vs. Arkansas State)

G4: 11.6% (following 41-31 loss at Nebraska)

G5: 73.3% (following 22-10 victory vs. Duke)

G6: 3.3% (following 28-17 loss at Georgia Tech)

G7: 29.6% (following 55-34 victory vs. Cincinnati)

G8: 80.4% (following 30-6 victory at Virginia Tech)

G9: 92.9% (following 47-20 victory vs. North Carolina)

G10: 47.6% (following 30-26 loss vs. Florida State)

Next Poll: Nov. 22 (following game at Virginia)

HOT BUTTON NOV. 16: TOP 10 THINGS SOUTH FLORIDA SPORTS FANS ARE TALKING ABOUT: Our blog-exclusive Sunday feature, an expanded, updated Hot Button Top 10. Hot Button means what's on our minds as the sports week just past pivots to the week ahead:

1aa1ahotbutton1. Hurricanes: UM falls short as Florida State hex continues: Miami led last night all game until 3 minutes remained, losing 30-26. FSU and Jameis Winston did what they do: Being doubted, looking less than great ... then winning. No power shift yet in the ACC. I said yet.

2. Dolphins: Spanking of Bills enlivens playoff hopes: Happy days are here again after Thursday's 22-9 home win over jinx Buffalo. I'd mention Peyton Manning is waiting on deck in Denver, but I'm not a rain-on-your-parade kind of guy.  

3. Marlins: Stanton reportedly close to record extension: Slugger Giancarlo Stanton, 25, is said to be close to signing a $325 million, 13-year extension. Be honest. Raise your hand if you thought Jeffrey Loria, who led the league in being disliked, would ever be the owner to set record for spending.

4. NASCAR: Season champion to be crowned today at Homestead: I'll be down there as Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick race for NASCAR season crown today at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Any would be a first-time champ in latest incarnation of Chase for the Crown format. 

5. Heat: Still trying to decipher team in post-LeBron era: A 5-2 start, now two losses in a row entering today's home game vs. Milwaukee. What we know for sure about the Heat right now is that we don't know anything for sure.

6. College football: Alabama topples No. 1 Mississippi State: Nick Saban's home win, 25-20, will send the No. 5-ranked Crimson Tide leaping into the College Football Playoff ranking's coveted top four, and likely sending Mississippi State out of it. You get a chance to watch the game, Condoleezza Rice?

7. UM hoops: Canes men visit No. 7 Gators Monday: Jim Larranaga's UM men are 1-0 but get their first real test of the newborn college basketball season at top-10 Floirida Monday. Canes footballers just lost to a state rival. Let's see how the hoops guys fare.

8. Panthers: Cats begin four-game road swing: I keep reading how the season is on upswing. Hmm. When last I checked, Florida was 5-9, last in NHL in goals and 13th of 16 teams in conference. Can we raise the bar on "upswing," please?

9. FIU: Golden Panthers win home finale: FIU rallied to defeat Middle Tennessee 38-28 in their home finale to snap four-game losing streak. It was Senior Day. Based on reports, there may have been more Seniors being honored than fans in the stands. 

10. Soccer: Strikers fall short for NASL title: Fort Lauderdale lost at San Antonio last night 2-1 for NASL championship, Strikers' first time in Soccer Bowl since 1980 loss to N.Y. Cosmos in league's original incarnation. I may be only person in America both at the '80 game and aware of last night's.

G10: NO. 3 FLORIDA STATE 30, HURRICANES 26: No in-game live blog last night because of recurring online/connectivity problems from the stadium. ..... Original post: If No. 1 Mississippi State at No. 5 Alabama is today's collball Game of the Day, it's by a whisker over this one as unbeaten Florida State visits Miami at 1aa1acanesfsu8 p.m. in a nationally televised game that has FSU's 25-game winning streak and repeat-championship hopes in serious jeopardy. The Hurricanes are but narrow 2 1/2-point underdogs at Dolphins stadium, due to a combination of Jameis Winston and his Noles not being as dominant as last year, and UM playing its best ball of the season. The timing seems right for the homies. The U rides in on a three-game win streak and has won 13 of its past 14 home games as it tries to end a four-game FSU win streak in this ACC and state rivalry. Miami has not won at home over the Tally gang in 10 years. The sold-out stadium may be filled with nearly as many fans in garnet and gold as in orange or green, but there are reasons beyond the venue to like Miami. Brad Kaaya is having a better season, at least statistically, than Winston. Red-hot Duke Johnson is playing like a running back who means to make a late run at the Heisman Trophy. And UM's once-maligned defense has seemed to coalesce with more of an attacking style. Miami, the way it is playing right now, is a team that can keep pace with Winston in a shootout. And Lord knows FSU is overdue for a loss. I'll be at the game tonight columnizing. It's one of those "event" games that won't feel like work. Can't wait 'til kickoff! My pick was: Hurricanes, 31-27.

Other Collball Week 12 state FBS games:

South Carolina 23, Florida 20 (OT): Steve Spurrier back in The Swamp is always fun, even though this was an off-year meeting in which Spurrier's 'Cocks and his ex-Gators both are sloughing through disappointing seasons. Florida was a 7-point fave but game to me felt even, like no result would surprise. With good reason, apparently.

FIU 38, Middle Tennessee 28: FIU once was 3-3 and dreaming bowl but had spilled to four straight L's and was a 5-point 'dog here. But I rightly gave G-Panthers a decent upset shot in their home finale.

Also: USF def. Southern Methodist, 14-13, and UCF def. Tulsa, 31-17, Friday night. Off this week: FAU.

JUST IN TIME FOR HOLIDAYS, MARLINS' GIVE US THE GIFT OF STANTON: The Miami Marlins, of all teams. Jeffrey Loria, of all sports owners. That is what strikes you first when hearing that Giancarlo 1aa1agstantonStanton reportedly is about to sign the richest contract in the history not only of baseball, but of North American team sports: $325 million over 13 years. It isn’t that some team is offering him that. It’s that this team is. The Marlins, who are routinely among MLB's bottom-dwellers in player payroll. The Marlins, who have led the league in cost-cutting, fan-angering "fire sales." The Marlins, whose penurious business 1aa1adickens
operation has made Loria perhaps the most unpopular owner in South Florida sports history. This is astounding. Not less. It calls to mind (just in time for the holidays) Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, in which Ebenezer Scrooge sees the light and transforms himself from a miser of cold heart to a man of admirable generosity. Scrooge, in the modern reenactment, is played by Loria. And convincingly, as hard as that is (still) for the mind to wrap around. Click on The Gift of Stanton for today's full column by me.

Check back lots because we constantly update and add to our latest blogposts...

November 10, 2014

Dolfan Satisfaction Meter: 40.3%; plus Miami falls to Lions in last minute 20-16; also new Hot Button Top 10 & more

1) It is MONDAY, NOVEMBER 10. Click on Random Evidence for our latest Sunday notes-column package. 2) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Rooting-for-or-against-LeBron poll, state Collball Week 11 & more. 3) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also Facebook, Instagram and Vine.

Our Dolphins-Lions gameblog and postgame thoughts are immediately below the new DSM poll.

DOLFAN SATISFACTION METER: G9: Results are certified in the latest Dolfan Satisfaction Meter postgame poll, and they show 40.3 percent overall satisfaction in the wake of Sunday's 20-16 loss at Detroit putting Miami's season record at 5-4. 1aa1adsm(That's the season best mark following a defeat). The DSM, in its seventh season, is a continuous weekly gauge of how fans are feeling about the Dolphins and their direction. Right after each game I invite you to share your overall degree of satisfaction. Criteria for voting is your own, but I suggest fans consider the most recent game's performance and caliber of opponent, season as a whole, direction the club is heading and your overall degree of optimism -- all in the context of reasonable expectations. Results are certified official the morning after one full day of voting. In this case that was around 9 a.m. today/Tuesday.

2014 DSM results

G1: 96.4% (following 33-20 victory vs. New England)

G2: 12.2% (following 29-10 loss at Buffalo)

G3: 2.0% (following 34-15 loss vs. Kansas City)

G4: 62.3% (following 38-14 victory vs. Oakland in London)

G5: 14.2% (following 27-24 loss vs. Green Bay)

G6: 80.7% (following 27-14 victory at Chicago)

G7: 63.2% (following 27-13 victory at Jacksonville)

G8: 97.4% (following 37-0 victory vs. San Diego)

G9: 40.3% (following 20-16 loss at Detroit)

Next poll: Thursday, Nov. 13 (following game vs.Buffalo)

G9: DOLPHINS @ DETROIT: FAILING TO BRING THE MIAMI SOUND TO MOTOWN: Final: Three-game winning streak ends as Dolphins fall to 5-4 and see playoff shot take a hit, a defeat compounded by left tackle Branden Albert's season-ending knee injury. Heartbreak loss as Miami fought from an early 10-0 deficit to take a late lead before giving it up with 29 seconds left. Bottom line? Miami got beat on pass defense as Matthew Stafford threw for 288 yards and Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate both topped 100 yards receiving. Miami also got beat for its red-zone shortco ing, as with settling for three in the fourth quarter from a 1st-and-goal situation. That gave Miami a 16-13 lead but it turned out to be the losing field goal. A hard-fought game by Dolphins, not a shameful loss by any means. But a hurtful loss nonetheless. ..... Fourth quarter: Sure would be nice to have that one timeout Miami used on defense. ... Theo Riddick 11-yard TD pass from Stafford with 29 seconds left. Good coverage by Reshad Jones, but not good enough. ... Miami gets final timeout back after Philbin argues he never called it. ... Fins back up 16-13 on 20-yard kick after Charles Clay drops TD pass in the e-zone. ... DET knots it 13-13 early in fourth on 5-yard kick. ..... Third quarter: Dolphins' first lead at 13-10 as Tannehill-Wallace 3-yard TD pass immediately followed a long Dion Jordan block-field goal return to the 3. Earl Mitchell had the block. ... MIA within 10-6 on 50-yard FG. Lions momentum has been negated. It's a game again. ... Ugh. Dabiel Thomas loses fumble on first possession. ..... Halftime: It's the defensive struggle we thought it would be. Miami has only 103 total yards and must find a qay to spark the offense. Imbalance in the Fins attack so far, with Tannehill at 20 pass attempts and the team only 10-for-18 rushing. Have the conceded the run? We'll see. Miami gets kick to start second half. Feels like Dolphins lucky to be only down by a touch. ..... Second quarter: Miami within 10-3 on 23-yard FG just before half. ... Oy! LT Branden Albert leaves game injured. ... Grimes interception gets it right back for Miami! ... Tannehill intercepted; his own tackle prevents pick-6. ... Tannehill overthrows Wallace on a deep ball ... Lions try another fake punt -- ballsy! -- but Miami stops it. ... Miami's luck so far: Fake punt is sucessful but penalty negates the first down. Penalties hurting. ..... First quarter: Fins O-line is being overwhelmed. ... DET 10-0 on 49-yard Calvin "Megatron" Johnson catch over much-smaller Brent Grimes. Gorgeous deep pass by Matthew Stafford. ... Quick punt for Miami. Ndamukong Suh having his way with Fins OL. ... Koa Misi defensive stop has Detroit settling for short FG and 3-0 lead on drive extended by successful fake punt. Thought Miami defense played well even though Lions controlled ball for 15 plays. ..... Original post: Eliminate Dolfans and Lions fans, extract the partisanship and remove the betting/fantasy factor. This would still be a game that football fans
1aa1adoldetshould want to watch as the second half of the NFL season kicks off. It weighs in both conference's playoff chase. It involves two of the best defenses in the league. And it matches an improving Dolphins offense -- Miami has averaged 30.6 points since Week 4 -- and a Detroit squad getting top weapon Calvin Johnson back. This will be a huge test for Miami's pass defense especially because, apart from the Megatron factor, Golden Tate has been a handful. Should be fun to watch. I'm not convinced the Lions are better than just pretty good. Last time I watched them they were really lucky to beat awful Atlanta by a point in London. Also, erratic Matthew Stafford usually is a decent bet for a pick or two, and I think the Fins' pass rush will bother him. Detroit is favored here by 3, meaning oddsmakers see it dead-even apart from the home-field factor. My pick: Dolphins, 23-20.

Georgia RB Gurley to Dolphins?: NFLDraftScout.com has its 2015 mock draft out, estimates Miami picking 21st, and has the Dolphins selecting Georgia running back Todd Gurley. Click here for the full first-round guesstimates.

THE LIST: BEST DOLPHINS GAMES VS. DETROIT: This is only 11th all-time meeting between the clubs; Miami leads 7-3. Dolphins have faced only the Giants fewer times (7) among franchises that have been around as long. Most indivdiual passing, rushing and receiving yards by a Dolphin vs. the Lions:

Category         Player                    Yards / Date     

Passing            Dan Marino            310 / Dec. 7, 1997

Rushing           Lamar Smith          125 / Nov. 5, 2000

Receiving        Marty Booker          115 / Nov. 23, 2006

Poll result: Heat fans are rooting against LeBron: We asked in the previous blogpost, and "rooting against" beat "rooting for" by a nearly 4-1 margin, 58.6 percent to 15.2.0%. The other 26.2% answered that they are "pretty much ignoring" LeBron this season.

HOT BUTTON NOV. 9: TOP 10 THINGS SOUTH FLORIDA SPORTS FANS ARE TALKING ABOUT: Our blog-exclusive Sunday feature, an expanded, updated Hot Button Top 10. Hot Button means what's on our minds as the sports week just past pivots to the week ahead:

1aa1ahotbutton1. Dolphins: Detroit Sunday, then quick Thursday turnaround: Here's your early holiday gift, Dolfans. Two games -- two important games -- in five days, starting in Motown today, then following with Buffalo here Thursday night.

2. Hurricanes: Idle Canes preparing to host FSU in six days: It's No. 2 FSU here Saturday at 8 p.m. Jameis Winston's lawyers want his student conduct code hearing delayed. UM lawyers counter-propose that the hearing be scheduled for Saturday at 8 p.m. 

3. Heat: Miami, LeBron both win: Heat won last night to improve to 4-2, and LeBron's Cavs also won their last game to go to 2-3. Take a picture of the standings. Might not be much longer that Miami has the better record.

4. College basketball: Canes open season on Friday at home: NCAA hoops tips off in five days, with Jim Larranaga's Hurricanes men hosting Howard after Katie Meier's women face Oakland. Both UM teams are judged mid-pack in the ACC, suggesting March Madness may be closer to March Mildness in the 305.

5. NASCAR: One week until season crescendo at Homestead: Today in Phoenix determines the final four drivers eligible for NASCAR's season title next Sundday at Homestead. Winner will be whichever driver has fastest car, or the most luck avoiding the vindictive non-qualifiers hell-bent on running the finalists into a wall.

6. Alex Rodriguez: A-Rod's latest shame: It was reported The Yankees' fading star, under oath, admitted all about his PED use to DEA agents, while still continuing to publicly deny all wrongdoing. We thought he was cheat. Turned out he was a cheat, and a lliar.

7. Stephen Ross: Dolphins owner puts business over football: Ross agreed to have Miami play a "home game" against the division rival Jets in London next year, denying the team one of eight home games, and cheating Dolfans of the joy of booing their most hated rival.

8. Marlins: Club begins contract talks with Stanton: Giancarlo Stanton, who finds out Thursday if he is the NL MVP, has begun talks with club about possibly re-signing long-term. Hope Jeffrey Loria isn't involved. Writing a check with that many commas must make him nauseous. 

9. Panthers: Hockey team loses, but at least finds the net: Florida lost 6-4 last night to the Calgary Flames. The good news? Cats topped two goals for only the second time all season.

10. Soccer: Strikers reach NASL title game: Fort Lauderdale Strikers will visit San Antonio next Saturday in the NASL championship game, the club's first shot at a title since the 1980 Soccer bowl in the original NASL. Holy Cor van der Hart!

Check back a lot because we constantly update and add to our latest blogposts...

July 16, 2014

Dolphins vs. Heat vs. Canes poll extended through today only. Vote now!; plus ESPYs, World Cup in 245 seconds, Kate Upton & more

1aa1amandela1) It is SATURDAY, JULY 19. Thinking of the late, great Nelson Mandela (pictured), who would have turned 96 on Friday. 2) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Post-LeBron Heat outlook poll, Stanton/Jeter/All-Star break, Pouncey's latest woe, Hot Button Top 10, my ill-timed vacation & more. 3Join us on Twitter @gregcote. Also Vine and Instagram.

Word of the day: balter: To dance gracelessly, without particular art or skill, but perhaps with some enjoyment.

WHOSE TOWN IS IT, ANYWAY? HAS LEBRON'S EXIT OPENED THE DOOR?: One of the little-considered 1aa1akingmiamibyproducts of LeBron James leaving Miami is the idea that, if this had become a "basketball town" over the past four years largely because of him ... is it still? (Was it ever?) Do the Dolphins now have a large opportunity to reclaim what once was theirs? I know this poll question is tough for some of you because many of us, me included, follow more than one local team closely and hate to choose. Still, you know your heart and gut feeling must start somewhere. The poll is limited to South Florida's four major pro teams plus UM football. Apologies to others, but this clearly is our Big 5 teams. And, apologies to the Marlins and Cats, but we imagine a three-team race for the crown. So, post-LeBron and moving forward, which of our biggest teams do you follow most closely or care about the most? King James is gone. In his wake, who's our King Team? Vote and say why.

Heat fans still optimistic in wake of LeBron departure: We asked in the previous blogpost, and 70.7 percent of you said you remain optimistic about Miami entering this coming NBA season, versus 15.9% who are pessimistic. The other 13.4% were undecided.

ESPN, NORMALLY LOATH TO SELF-PROMOTE, ROLLS OUT THE ESPYS: I've never fully embraced the ESPYS as necessary annual awards -- sports has too many already -- but here they came again last night, 1aa1aespyswith Drake (pictured) hosting. ESPN leads the league in self-promotion, and the ESPYS are the Worldwide Leader at its preening best. Not many Miami/South Florida athletes among finalists in this year's 34 categories. I wonder if LeBron James, up for best NBA player, would have thanked Miami fans if he'd won? New Heatnik Shabazz Napier was up for best championship performance while with UConn, Serena Williams from Palm Beach was up for best female tennis player; and IndyCar's Ryan Hunter-Reay, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, was up for best driver. Only Hunter-Reay won. An auction benefitting the V Foundation for cancer research was held, in conjunction with the ESPYS, and when last I checked the high bid among 258 items was $46,000 to watch a Mavs game with owner Mark Cuban. (I'd pay at least that much to not sit next to Cuban for two hours). Bargain: For a mere $3,050 you could watch a Heat game with Dan Le Batard, Papi and Stugotz, although I'd imagine Stugotz will scalp his ticket to a broker and miss the game. (For $1.99 you could smoke a cigar with me in my garage, if you bring the cigars).

THE ENTIRE WORLD CUP IN 245 SECONDS: Click here for a 4 minute 5 second video that summarizes the 2014 World Cup. For futbol aficionados, it may be emotional. For casual fans, it may further whet the appetite. For soccer agnostics, it may (hopefully) offer a glimpse of what they've been missing that so enthralls so much of the world.

1aa1akateupton"DEAR GREG...": "Your blog's OK but I feel like it has been a long time since you've had a gratuitously sexy photo of Kate Upton. Can this be remedied?" Dear Reader: That depends. Is there a gratuity in it for me?

Click back often because we update and add to our latest blogposts often...

July 11, 2014

Deutschland! Germany beats Argentina for World Cup; plus Heat add Luol Deng, LeBron-gone poll (vote now) & more

1aa1atat1) It is SUNDAY, JULY 13. Little-considered byproduct of LeBron leaving: All across South Florida and beyond, there are inked-up Heat fans in the quandary pictured at right. 2) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): LeBron and Heat free agency, World Cup & more. 3Join us on Twitter @gregcote. Also Vine and Instagram.

1aa1adengHeat add Luol Deng: Miami has agreed to a two-year, $20 million deal with longtime former Chicago Bull and recent Cavalier Luol Deng, 29, a 6-9 high-minutes veteran forward who has averaged 16 points in his career. He is pictured. Thus far in free agency the Heat has retained Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, and added Deng, Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts. Does not offset the loss of LeBron James, but it's none too shabby, either.

I'm back: We've been cruising the Caribbean the past week, back today. (The LeBron-leaving column linked below was written at sea, somewhere off the Virgin Islands). I'll bore you with vacation details later. For now, thanks for indulging the blog irregularities of the past week.

1aa1ahotbuttonHot Button Top 10: Our blog's regular Sunday feature, the Hot Button Top 10, will appear Monday morning this week.

 

1aa1abrazilwcFUTBLOG! WORLD CUP: FINALLY, THE CHAMPIONSHIP: FUTBLOG! is the official World Cup post of this blog, a continually updated daily dose of the month-long soccer spectacle in Brazil. See earlier posts for earlier results. We are down to the Final at last:

GERMANY (def. Argentina, 1-0): As host Brazil licked it wounded pride, a mighty, marquee-filling South America vs. Europe final went on
1aa1agermanwithout it. Argentina had advanced on penalty kicks over Netherlands after a scoreless draw, while Germany had utterly embarrassed Brazil, 7-1. The Germans, with 11-2 odds of winning coming in, claimed their fourth World Cup championship but first since ever-distant 1990. The Argentines, with 4-1 odds coming in, were after their WC title and first since way back in 1986. Both international powers had been waiting a long time to reign again. Sorry, Brazil, but it was a great finals. Germany seemedc the more solid all-round team coming in, but I stuck with my original prediction that Argentina and Lionel Messi would win it all. Instead, full respect to the Germans, deserving winners. My pick was: Argentina, 3-2.

Third-place match: Netherlands def. Brazil, 3-0.

Final World Cup goal scoring including championship: 64 matches, 171 goals, 2.67 per.

LEBRON LEAVING MIAMI, RETURNING TO CAVALIERS: [Click on Thanks, Not Anger for my column off the news LeBron is leaving ther Heat] Heat owner Mickey Arison's reaction probably mirrors that of Miami fans 1aa1alebronjeverywhere. "I'm shocked and disappointed," said the Heat's owner. James stunned much of the NBA and sports world Friday by revealing he will leave the Heat in free agency after four seasons and return to his hometown of Cleveland. The huge negative is offset only somewhat by the word Chris Bosh (and Dwyane Wade) will remain. James leaves Miami with two championships in four seasons but also leaves the Heat in a lurch, and scrambling to remain a power in his wake. What is your gut reaction to the news of James' decision? The disappointment goes without saying. But is there anger, too? Our poll question could as easily have been worded as this: On LeBron's first return to Miami in a Cavs uniform, what will be your reaction? Say how you feel about LeBron leaving and why you feel as you do.

July 05, 2014

On LeBron's decision; plus Argentina-Germany finals. Which team are you most rooting for to win World Cup? Poll. Vote!

1) It is THURSDAY, JULY 106. In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): World Cup quarterfinals, U.S.-success poll result, Heat free agency, Canes new helmet & more. 2Join us on Twitter @gregcote. Also Vine and Instagram.

HEAT ADD 2. NOW RELAX, FOLKS: LEBRON WILL BE BACK WITH HEAT ... OR WILL HE?: The preceding headline is a 1aa1alebjamessteadfast prediction. You want me to go all Joe Namath? OK. I guarantee it. Click on Relax, Everybody for my recent column on Heat free agency. There is a bunch of noise and misinformation and rumors and tea-leave-reading going on, but when you cut through all the clatter it remains very likely LeBron James will join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in leaving Miami's Big 3 intact, to be augmented by two or three free-agent additions. We should know by today, the day when teams first may sign free agents. Could there be a monumental surprise? Of course. LeBeron couldreturn to Cleveland, the viable option. Or Bosh could sign with Houston. But the odds are far greater Tres Grande, led by leBron, will simply be staying put. Meantime Miami adds power forward Josh McRoberts and small forward Danny Granger in free agency.

1aa1abrazilwcFINAL FOUR. YOU PICK ONE. WHICH OF REMAINING TEAMS WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO SEE WIN THE WORLD CUP?: Maybe your team is still in it. Maybe you're rooting against someone more than for anyone. Maybe your allegiance is to your wallet and a bet. Maybe you're a U.S. fan adopting a team to cheer. I mean, these are four football giants in the World Cup semifinals (matchups below). If you're a soccer fan you must like one of these teams more than the others. Yes? Not asking here for you you think will win. Asking for you you most want to win. Vote for your rooting interest and say why.

FUTBLOG! WORLD CUP: FINAL FOUR: THE SEMIFINALS: FUTBLOG! is the official World Cup post of this blog, a continually updated daily dose of the month-long soccer spectacle in Brazil. See earlier posts for earlier results. We are down to the Final Four:

GERMANY (def. Brazil, 7-1): Titans, both, kings of South America and Europe. Brazil was a 3-1 1aa1abrazil
1aa1agermanbetting favorite entering the tournament, gunning for its sixth World Cup title and first since 2002 -- doing so with the home crowd behind it but without injured star Neymar. Germany, with 11-2 odds coming in, is seeking its fourth WC championship but first since ever-distant 1990. That's eight World Cup wins represented in this powerhouse matchup. It isn't that Germany won. But 7-1? A declaration of World Cup intentions for Germany. And a monumental embarrassment for Brazil.

ARGENTINA (def. Netherlands, PKs): Another cross-continent semifinal between football 1aa1aragebtinsa 1aa1anetherlands
giants. Argentina, a 4-1 near-favorite coming in and powered by the great Lionel Messi, motoring after its third World Cup title but first since way back in 1986. Netherlands playing the clear underdog in this final four, at 25-1 odds coming in and never a champion -- though a three-time runnerup. When your Cinderella is the Dutch, your Final Four is mighty. But Argwntina gets by on penalty kicks after a scoreless draw thorugh overtime.

Ensuing schedule: Third-place match--Brazil vs. Netherlands Saturday July 12, 4 p.m. Championship match--Argentina vs. Germany Sunday July 13, 3 p.m.

HOT BUTTON: TOP 10 THINGS SOUTH FLORIDA SPORTS FANS ARE TALKING ABOUT: Hot Button 1aa1ahotbuttonis a new Sunday feature of the blog (this is our third one) because our Sunday notes-column package in the print edition (newspaper) is on summer hiatus, set to return in August. Hot Button means what's on our minds as the sports week just past pivots to the week ahead:

1. Heat: Decision Week for Big 3: This Thursday is first day NBA teams may sign free agents. It won't be a televised 'Decision' this time, but expect LeBron to be keeping his talents in South Beach.

2. World Cup: Semifinals set: Brazil vs. Germany and Argentina vs. Netherlands makes for a heavyweight final four on Tuesday and Wednesday. I thought they should have canceled rest of tournament when U.S. was eliminated, but that's just me.

3. Dolphins: DE Jordan suspended: Last year's top draft pick Dion Jordan will miss first four games for using a banned substance, a week after center Mike Pouncey's hip surgery will shelve him even longer. Suddenly, Dolphins are losing the offseason.

4. Marlins: Stanton in Derby: The bad news? Playoff hopes are fading. The good news? At least Giancarlo Stanton will be dropping bombs in the Home Run Derby next Monday as part of All-Star Game festivities. 

5. Wimbledon: Fortnight ends: While Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer formed a marquee men's final, the women's final was a no-name affair partly because Serena Williams bowed out early, ill. Reports now are she may be pregnant. I swear, I thought she was on the pill!

6. Competitive eating: Chestnut: Joey Chestnut inhaled 61 hot dogs to win the annual Nathan's crown yet again. Places on Earth I'd least like to be: Chestnut's bathroom the hour following the event.

7. Panthers: Cats waive Jovanovski: As the hockey club attacked free agency, quietly, the Ed Jovanovski era ended. He was a rookie when Florida reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 1996 and rejoined in club in 2011. Now, it looks like the end of the skate for Jovo.

8. Cycling: Tour de France: The once-prestigious Tour de France is underway. The winner will be the last cyclist to not test positive for anything.

9. Golf: British Open: It's coming up next week as Tiger Woods continues preparations for his latest majors disappointment.

10. Horse wars: Gulfstream wins: Gulfstream won near total control over horse racing dates from Calder. That would be big news, if tracks still cared about racing and weren't mostly casinos now.

Honorable mention: Former Dolphin Garo Yepremian is fighting adrenal cancer and a brain tumor. (Click here for my column). Best wishes to one of most colorful characters in local sports history.

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July 04, 2014

World Cup semifinals set: Heavyweight Four!; plus Heat free agency, Hurricanes' new helmet & more

1aa1afourthjuly1) It is SATURDAY, JULY 5. Hope you had a happy birthday, America! You look good for 238. My Boston butt on the Big Green Egg came out fabulous, by the way. 2) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Garo's Biggest Fight, U.S. World Cup success poll, Dion Jordan's suspension, Tannehill's rank & more. 3) Join us on Twitter @gregcote. Also Vine and Instagram.

Heat free agency: We'll have a column on Heat free agency on Sunday and online late today. Despite the agent visits and everything else you hear, Heat remains very confident LeBron James will re-sign to complete the return of Big 3. Main free-agent targets are Trevor Ariza and Pau Gasol or Luol Deng, but Pat Riley is asking significant financial sacrifice from each. First day to sign is Thursday the 10th.

1aa1auhelmet
Hurricanes' new helmet:
It depicts the state of Florida, the peninsula whose outline is as distinctive as any U.S. state, with the 'U' logo where it should be down south.

1aa1abrazilwcFUTBLOG! WORLD CUP: GREAT EIGHT: THE QUARTERFINALS: FUTBLOG! is the official World Cup post of this blog, a continually updated daily dose of the month-long soccer spectacle in Brazil. See earlier posts for earlier results. Today concludes the quarterfinal round. The event might have been called off once the United States was eliminated but, somehow, was not. The four matchups, chronologically:

GERMANY (def. France, 1-0): Europe palpitated as mighty Germany and the

1aa1agermansurging French kicked off the quarters. France enjoyed a redeeming World Cup after a nightmare four years earlier, and had dispatched Nigeria 2-0 to get here, but the run ended. The Germans, who carry the European banner as (arguably) the best non-South American contender, struggled somewhat in getting here past Algeria, 2-1 in overtime, but made an early goal hold up here. I'd chanced an upset. I was wrong. My pick was: France, 2-1.

BRAZIL (def. Colombia, 2-1): The most anticipated of the four games, and not just because



the host
1aa1abrazilcountry would be swooning, but because of volatile, attacking football between the South American rivals. Brazil had yet to thrill its fans with optimum play, and needed luck to get here past Chile, 3-2 on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw. Colombia had been as impressive as anyone in the tournament, at 4-0 with an 11-2 goals differential after getting here past Uruguay, 2-0. The favorites prevailed but at great cost, losing star Neymar to an injury. I had sensed an upset. I was wrong. (Again). My pick was: Colombia, 3-2.

ARGENTINA (def. Belgium, 1-0): Cross-continent duel found Argentina and the sublime Lionel



Messi 1aa1aragebtinsa(my picks to win it all) still seeking to find all of their cylinders offensively, after getting here past Switzerland by a modest 1-0 score. Belgium eliminated the United States 2-1 in overtime but put an impressive, constant barrage on American goalie Tim Howard. Argentina still wasn't amazing with the ball but one goal was all it took. My pick was: Argentina, 3-1.

NETHERLANDS (def. Costa Rica, PKs): Costa Rica gave the final eight its one true Cinderella but fell in 1aa1anetherlandspenalty kicks after a scoreless draw, the Dutch looking like geniuses for a daring goalkeeper change just before the PK shootout. Netherlands was stymied by Costa Rica's offside trap but prevailed when all was on the line. My pick was: Netherlands, 2-0. 

World Cup goal scoring entering the semifinals: 60 matches, 159 goals, 2.65 per.

Ensuing schedule: Semifinal Tuesday July 8--Germany vs. Brazil, 4 p.m. Semifinal Wednesday July 9--Argentina vs. Netherlands, 4 p.m. Third-place Saturday July 12--Semifinal losers, 4 p.m. Championship Sunday july 13--Semifinal winners, 3 p.m.

Poll result: U.S. World Cup run (mostly) a success: We asked, and a plurality of 39.6 percent called it a success without question, while 36.5% called it a success but a "modest" one. Not a success but a decent show drew 16.5%, while only 7.4% called it "closer to a failure."

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July 02, 2014

On Garo's biggest fight. The back story; plus was World Cup a success for U.S? Poll. Vote!; also, Dolphins' Jordan suspended, Tannehill ranked & more

1) It is THURSDAY, JULY 3. For those who are asking, my radio appearances on the Dan LeBatard Show are scheduled to resume on Tuesday July 15. 2) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): U.S. ousted as World Cup reaches quarterfinals, Heat free agency and Big 3 poll result & more. 3) Join us on Twitter @gregcote. Also Vine and Instagram.

Futblog! World Cup quarterfinals preview coming Friday: Apparently FIFA has decided to continue the World Cup in Brazil to its conclusion despite the elimination of the U.S. The nerve! Watch for our blog's round of 8/quarterfinals preview here Friday morning.

ON THE GARO YEPREMIAN COLUMN: I have a 1A column today on former Dolphin Garo Yepremian's fight with adrenal cancer and a brain tumor. You'd click Garo's Biggest Fight if you haven't yet read it. 1aa1agaroyMy email and Twitter response suggests the story has touched a lot of people. I won't reprint it here (you have the link), except to summarize by saying Garo, the lovable kicker from the '70s, has had a tough life but hasn't lost his spirit. The Garo Yepremian Foundation since 2001 has raised money for brain tumor research and now its founder was himself afflicted with a brain tumor. Can you imagine? The photo is from Garo's 70th birthday on June 2. The wide scar above his left eye is from his brain surgery to remove the tumor. I'd invite you to visit the Garo Yepremian Foundation at yepremian.org. From there you can find its Facebook page, where best wishes may be expressed, and where you'd 'like' the page to get updates on his medical situation and health. I thank the Yepremian family, especially Garo, his wife Maritza and son Garo Jr., for reaching out to me with the honor of sharing their story. I was a novice reporter yoo young to have covered Garo in the '70s but met and spoke with Maritza last August in a Washington, D.C. hotel lobby, the day the '72 Perfect Season Dolphins were being honored at the White House. That casual, chance conversation led to my being trusted to share this story, which is filled with pain and loss but ultimately offers the steady beam of light that is Garo's spirit and will. If my column helps increase traffic or donations to Garo's foundation even a little bit, it will have mattered.

WAS THIS WORLD CUP RUN A SUCCESS FOR UNITED STATES?: The question isn't simple. How do you define "success"? We seem to do so differently in international soccer, where we accept the U.S. is 1aa1aussoccernot top-echelon (yet) and so judge more leniently. The American sports mindset most other places is "winning is everything," but on world-stage soccer we seem to be more OK with stuff like progress and effort. Consider: The Dolphins go 8-8, the epitome of right-in-between, of average, and no fan is happy about that. But the U.S. men reach the round of 16 and advance no further in a 32-team tournament -- also sort of in-the-middle-average -- yet the gut reaction to the eliminating 2-1 loss to Belgium seemed to be praise. We applauded heart and grit as we nominated goalkeeper Tim Howard for sainthood. Are our standards too low? Should we be more demanding? The World Cup was filled with images like the one pictured, but peel away the surrounding patriotism and simply judge the team for its performance, by however you define success, and in whatever context you think is fair. Now that the ouster has settled in ... was this World Cup run a success for the United States? Vote and say why.

Chunk of World Cup coming to Miami: Seventy-six players from 22 World Cup teams (though none from U.S.) will participate in upcoming annual Guinness International Champions Cup, featuring eight top club teams competing across the U.S.: Inter Milan, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, AC Milan, Olympiacos, Real Madrid and AS Roma. Dolphins stadium wil host the champion match Aug. 4.

DOLPHINS' DION JORDAN SUSPENDED: Dolphins defensive end Dion Jordan today was suspended without pay for the first four regular-season games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance enhancing substances. "We were disappointed," said coach Joe Philbin. Said Jordan: "I tested positive for stimulants that are banned. I take full responsibility for the test results. I’m very sorry for the impact of this situation on my teammates, coaches, Stephen Ross, the entire Dolphins organization, fans and my family."

OY. TANNEHILL RANKED 23RD-BEST STARTING QB: The proving is hardly finished for Ryan Tannehill. 1aa1artannyTwenty-third of 32 starting NFL quarterbacks is hardly brag-worthy, but that's where 26 anonymous "league insiders" rank the Dolphins' QB in a new survey for ESPN. Click here for the full story and list. The usual Big 4 of Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers tie for first with a rating of 1.04 each. (So much for Brady's supposed accelerated demise). Tannehill is 23rd overall with a 3.32 rating, and included in the third of four "tiers."

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July 01, 2014

Breaking hearts: U.S. eliminated from World Cup in 2-1 loss to Belgium; plus Heat Big 3 poll result & more

1aa1usbel1) It is TUESDAY, JULY 1. Happy new month, everybody! 2) No waffling: Beat Belgium! 3) No radio again today. My return to the Dan LeBatard Show is anrticipated on Tuesday July 15. 4) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): LeBron wants max money, Heat return-of-Big 3 poll, state of U.S. soccer, Futblog! World Cup, Hot Button Top 10 & more. 5) Join us on Twitter @gregcote. Also Vine and Instagram.

Heat free agency update: It began at 12:01 a.m. today. Expectations are that Pat Riley will re-sign the Big 3 and also get every other significant free agent worth having because everybody will agree to play here for free. Updates as warranted.  

1aa1abrazilwcFUTBLOG! WORLD CUP: AMERICANS, ARGENTINES TOP LAST ROUND-OF-16 ACTION: FUTBLOG! is the official World Cup post of this blog, a continually updated daily dose of the month-long soccer spectacle in Brazil. See earlier posts for earlier results. Today ends the round of 16 and completes the quarterfinal matchups. Today's games:

1aa1aamericxa 1aa1abelgiumBELGIUM def. UNITED STATES, 2-1 (OT): The U.S. aimed for its deepest World Cup run since 2002 but it was hard to arguethe denial of that was an unfair result. Belgium dominated on the attack here, forcing an absolutely heroic effort by U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard to even keep it close. America's defense was rendered shaky all day but Howard rose and rose and rose to the occasion. In the end, not enough, and so a prideful U.S. World Cup run ends. I made no pretense of impartiality. "U-S-A! U-S-A!" Or, yes: "Let's gooooo States!" My pick was: U.S., 2-1.


1aa1aragebtinsa 1aa1aswiisARGENTINA def. SWITZERLAND, 1-0 (OT):
 Another big team struggles to win, but does. Without question Arentina and the sublime Lionel Messi were big favorites here and also my personal pick to win it all. Still don't think the Argentines have shown their best yet on the attack and didn't here. I underestimated Swiss, especially on defensive end. My pick was: Argentina, 4-1.

World Cup goal scoring through today's games: 56 matches, 154 goals, 2.75 per.

PREVIOUSLY ADVANCED TO ROUND OF EIGHT / QUARTERFINALS BRACKET: July 4--Brazil vs. Colombia, France vs. Germany; July 5--Costa Rica vs. Netherlands, Argentina vs. Belgium.

1aa1afranceFRANCE (def. Nigeria, 2-0): The French have had a redeeming World Cup after a nightmare four years earlier but would have disappointed if they didn't advance here to the quarters. A goal in the 79th minute and another in extra time took care of that. Nigeria's offensive struggles continued after it managed only three goals in three group matches. My pick was: France, 2-1.

1aa1agermanGERMANY (def. Algeria, 2-1 [OT]): The Germans carry Europe's banner in terms of being the best non-South American bet for the crown, but didn't always look it here. Algeria from my view looked to be in over its head here, especially on the defensive end, but I underestimated the underdogs. My pick was: Germany, 4-1.

1aa1anetherlandsNETHERLANDS (def. Mexico, 2-1): You could argue the country that old-timers still call Holland was the most impressive of any in group play, going 3-0 and leading all flags with 10 goals. But the favored Dutch barely escaped to survive here, equalizing late and then winning on a penalty kick in extra time. A heartbreak for Mexico's El Tri. My pick was: Netherlands, 2-1 (bull's-eye).

1aa1acostaricaCOSTA RICA (def. GREECE, 1-1 [5-3 PKs]): Can two Cinderellas attend one (foot)ball? Costa Rica is the darling of this Cup after winning a pedigreed group that contained three former champions. But lightly regarded Greece was only team to advance with a negative goal differential. Costa Rica remains the Cinderalla standing by prevailing despite playing a man down for a third of the match. My pick was: Costa Rica, 3-0. 

1aa1abrazilBRAZIL (def. Chile, 1-1 [3-2 PKs]): A date with host and favorite Brazil was a most dubious bracket reward for Chile, but the underdogs played valiantly through overtime before falling in penalty kicks. Brazilian fans were not entirely thrilled with their guys' play in the qualifying stage and should not have been here, with relief the emotion more than elation. My pick was: Brazil, 3-1.

1aa1acolombiaCOLOMBIA (def. Uruguay, 2-0): Colombia looked very good in qualifying (3-0, with 9-2 goals differential) and continued its strong run. Uruguay was rocked by suspension of star Luis Suarez in the biting incident, effectively Mike Tyson-ing its chances. My pick was: Colombia, 2-0 (bull's-eye).

Poll result: Opt-outs have not increased faith in return of Heat's Big 3: We asked if the BIg 3 all would re-sign with Miami, and 69.8 percent said yes, including 72.9% in state of Florida. When we asked same question two weeks earlier, prior to opt-out decisions, the yes vote was 69.4% overall, 74.1% in Florida. Results are holding steady, not enjoying the opt-out bump one might have expected. More than one in four, almost one in three, continue to think Big 3 won't be back intact.

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June 29, 2014

LeBron demands max $$. Will Big 3 all be back with Heat? Poll. Vote!; plus U.S. soccer, more World Cup KOs (update II), Hot Button Top 10 & more

1aa1anapier1) It is MONDAY, JUNE 30. Heat rolls its brand new 2014 Shabazz Napier onto showroom floor at introductory news conference today. Wonder if he got Dan Marino's blessing to wear that So Fla-sacred number? Notably today, Pat Riley did not quote from any quarter-century-old James Ingram songs. 2) UM football players and Sebastian the Ibis have been out thanking fans who renewed their season tickets. Cute video resulted. Click here. 3) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Wade, Haslem join Heat Opt-Out Club, World Cup knockout round begins, Dolphins stadium, Panthers draft & more. 4) Join us on Twitter @gregcote. Also Vine and Instagram.

1aa1alebronmaxFree agency update: LeBron reportedly to demand max money: ESPN reports today (not a surprise) that when free agency begins a minute past midnight Monday James will demand the maximum salary of $22.1 million per year from any team that wants him including the Heat. If true, that does not necessarily suggest his re-signing with Miami is in jeopardy, though the Conclusion Jumpers already are out in force. What it does suggest is that the burden would now be on Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to accept deeper cuts with James out of the bargain business.   

1aa1arobinhood1aa1a3musketeersPOST OPT-OUTS, VOTE WHETHER YOU THINK HEAT'S BIG 3 WILL ALL BE BACK WITH MIAMI: Chris Bosh as expected joined Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem and charter Opt-Out Club member LeBron James. So all of the Heat's main guys have now opted out of their Miami conracts and become free agents. In a column -- click All For One to read -- I explore why this is good for the Heat. The literary images here also help explain it. If this poll feels like deja vu, it should. We ran the same question just two weeks ago (June 18). But that was before all the opt-outs. I thought it might be interesting to reprise the question and compare results. Have the opts-outs made you more confident or less that the Big 3 will all re-up with Miami? Vote now and say why.

THE STATE OF THE STATES: I write an unabashedly positive column on the state of U.S. soccer -- both the national team and the support for it. I feel both have turned a corner in this World Cup. The
1aa1aussoccerU.S. team, playing Belgium Tuesday in the round of 16, no longer is the little underdog cowering to the skills of Europe and South America. Likewise American soccer fans no longer are a cult or niche. Team and fandom both have grown up. Yes, support for U.S. soccer in a World Cup is largely patriotism-driven. Yes, I too have heard the jokes about how we'll be glad when the World Cup is over so we can start ignoring soccer again. Nevertheless, a once "foreign" sport is fully in the American mainstream now. Click on TEAM USA to read the full column.

1aa1abrazilwcFUTBLOG! WORLD CUP ROUND OF 16: KNOCKOUT ROUND CONTINUES: FUTBLOG! is the official World Cup post of this blog, a continually updated daily dose of the month-long soccer spectacle in Brazil. See earlier posts for earlier group-play results. We're on to the round of 16 now, with two knockout games each day for four straight days, Saturday through Tuesday.

Today:



FRANCE def. NIGERIA, 2-0:
 The French have had a redeeming World Cup after a nightmare four years earlier but would have disappointed if they didn't advance here to the quarters. A goal in the 79th minute and another in extra time took care of that. Nigeria's offensive struggles continued after it managed only three goals in three group matches. My pick was: France, 2-1. 

GERMANY def. ALGERIA, 2-1 (OT): The Germans carry Europe's banner in terms of being the best non-South American bet for the crown, but didn't always look it here. Algeria from my view looked to be in over its head here, especially on the defensive end, but I underestimatecd the underdogs. My pick was: Germany, 4-1.



To follow: Tuesday--Argentina vs. Switzerland; United States vs. Belgium.

World Cup goal scoring through today's games: 54 matches, 150 goals, 2.78 per.

ADVANCED TO QUARTERFINALS / ROUND OF EIGHT:

1aa1anetherlandsNETHERLANDS (def. Mexico, 2-1): You could argue the country that old-timers still call Holland was the most impressive of any in group play, going 3-0 and leading all flags with 10 goals. But the favored Dutch barely escaped to survive here, equalizing late and then winning on a penalty kick in extra time. A heartbreak for Mexico's El Tri. My pick was: Netherlands, 2-1 (bull's-eye).

1aa1acostaricaCOSTA RICA (def. GREECE, 1-1 [5-3 PKs]): Can two Cinderellas attend one (foot)ball? Costa Rica is the darling of this Cup after winning a pedigreed group that contained three former champions. But lightly regarded Greece was only team to advance with a negative goal differential. Costa Rica remains the Cinderalla standing by prevailingf despite playing a man down for a third of the match. My pick was: Costa Rica, 3-0. 

1aa1abrazilBRAZIL (def. Chile, 1-1 [3-2 PKs]): A date with host and favorite Brazil was a most dubious bracket reward for Chile, but the underdogs played valiantly through overtime before falling in penalty kicks. Brazilian fans were not entirely thrilled with their guys' play in the qualifying stage and should not have been today, with relief the emotion here far more than elation. My pick was: Brazil, 3-1.

1aa1acolombiaCOLOMBIA (def. Uruguay, 2-0): Colombia looked very good in qualifying (3-0, with 9-2 goals differential) and continued its strong run today. Uruguay was rocked by suspension of star Luis Suarez in the biting incident, effectively Mike Tyson-ing its chances. My pick was: Colombia, 2-0 (bull's-eye).

QUARTERFINAL BRACKET: Brazil vs. Colombia July 4; France vs. Germany/Algeria July 4; Netherlands vs. Costa Rica July 5; Argentina/Switzerland vs. United States/Belgium July 5.

HOT BUTTON: TOP 10 THINGS SOUTH FLORIDA SPORTS FANS ARE TALKING ABOUT: Hot Button is a 1aa1ahotbuttonnew Sunday feature of the blog (debuting last week) because our Sunday notes-column package in the print edition (newspaper) is on summer hiatus, set to return in August. Hot Button means what's on our minds as the sports week just past pivots to the week ahead:

1. World Cup: Knockout round: Brazil barely survived, Uruguay's Luis Suarez was suspended for biting and the U.S. reached round of 16, the knockout stage, and faces Belgium on Tuesday. Once again, America, on my count: "Let's gooooo States!"

2. Heat: LeBron leads Opt-Out Club: LeBron, Wade and Haslem all have opted out of their contracts and Bosh is expected to follow suit, all good news for Miami. Opting out is in!

3. NBA Draft: Heat land Napier: Miami's draft-night trade for UConn point guard Shabazz Napier made admirer LeBron James very happy. Isn't that the whole idea heading into free agency?

4. Marlins: Slowly fading: Good news: Giancarolo Stanton will be in Home Run Derby. Bad news: Slumping Fish are now in third place in NL East and four games back as playoff hopes run away.

5. Panthers: Cats draft defenseman No. 1: Aaron Ekblad, 18, a 6-4, 216-pounder from Ontario, is the latest in NHL Panthers' stockpile of young talent. Potential is good. Winning is better.

6. Dolphins: Pouncey's surgery: Center Mike Pouncey had hip surgery and will miss start of season. For O-line, apparently the Incognito-Martin Jinx continues.

7. Wimbledon: Williams sisters both out: ESPN The Mag's annual 'Body' issue is out July 11 and Venus Williams is among athletes artfully naked. Based on her and sister Serena's early Wimbledon exits, their game has been exposed, too.

8. Tiger Woods: Fizzles in return: Tiger missed the cut but said he was encouraged in first PGA Tour event following three months out after back surgery. That's a low threshold for encouragement. 

9. Michelle Wie: Wins first major: Former child-phenom wins Women's U.S. Open, at 24. And speaking of child phenoms...

10. Recruiting: Canes target 9-year-old: Seriously. UM women's basketball team is recruiting Orlando phenom Jaden Newman, 9. What would an improper inducement be? A Happy Meal?

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