Wow, that was a fun Sunday. You had fast, faster and super fast. The NFL Combine to NASCAR to arguably the worst Oscars on record. It's enough to make a family-oriented, interweb-based sports columnist's head spin.
Let's start from the top, and from the "Talks too much studios," it goes a little something like this, so hit it.
NASCAR's Super Bowl
Trevor Bayne (21), Carl Edwards (99), David Gilliland (38), Terry Labonte (32), David Ragan (34) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (17) collide between Turn 1 and Turn 2 as Jeff Gordon (24) and Marcos Ambrose (9) drive by Sunday during the NASCAR Daytona 500 Sprint Cup Series auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla.
What a weekend for NASCAR. It was tragic and eye-popping and hilarious and insightful, but in the end, we were left with the fundamental truth in sports: The best are the best for a reason.
Jimmie Johnson won Sunday's Daytona 500, capping the season-opening event with a rather hum-drum closing finish by comparison to the normal level of octane and energy reserved for superspeedways and restrictor-plate racing.
It was a fitting end for a plethora of reasons. Johnson won because his car was best. He finished seven spots in front of Danica Patrick, who dominated the headlines and the limelight leading into Sunday's race and served herself well in the spotlight. She ran near the front all day and finished eighth after getting caught in the late backwash of steely will and willing steel.
It also serves notice that the team to beat is still the No. 48 Chevy and Johnson, considering during Johnson's recent points domination he has controlled NASCAR's highest circuit despite struggling at Daytona. Since his 2006 win there, he has finished no better than 27th at the Daytona 500 before Sunday and finished no worse than sixth in the points race.
Finally, the race put an exclamation point on a weekend that had NASCAR among the talking points across the country for a variety of reasons, good, bad and comical.
NASCAR's push at diversity was at an apex and a nadir this weekend as Patrick represented herself exceptionally well considering the build-up, the focus and the pressure. About 10 laps into the race, it was easy to forget who was driving the No. 10 and focus on how well the No. 10 was being driven. That is the highest of compliments, especially considering the way James Franco started the 500 with his "Drivers and Danica, start your engines." (Side note: Memo to celebs who are invited to participate in the start of major sports events: Do not — repeat DO NOT — ad lib. There is a formula and it has proven to be effective. Whether it's the National Anthem, "Drivers start your engines" or throwing out the first pitch, color within the lines. Deal? Deal. Do not add extra words that you think Francis Scott Key should have included. Do not look in for a sign and try a pick-off move before throwing the first pitch and be very careful cracking jokes in front of 100K NASCAR fans who are ready to get to it.)
On a less-than-stellar diversity item of interest, rapper and business mogul 50 Cent was parading around the pit area. Exposing NASCAR to as many people as possible from all walks of our country is an excellent thing. However, 50 Cent offered a clear a noteworthy commentary on Twitter with "I don't see any black people here." Of course that settled into the background-noise category after 50 tried to kiss Erin Andrews during a Fox interview and the interweb melted. Somewhere Joe Namath is smiling.
There also was the aftermath and seriousness after Saturday's wreck that left roughly 30 fans injured when debris and car parts went flying into the stands.
So where does that leave us as NASCAR leaves Daytona in its rearview? We know the events on the track were expected — Jimmie Johnson is still the MJ at 8000 RPMs — and surprisingly effective — Danica proved she's going to be a factor this year. We know that the Super Bowl of motorsports is starting to be more like the Super Bowl of Super Bowls with the sideline attractions and sideshows.
(Side note: Congrats JJ, who had Jimmie Johnson in the Hit and Miss contest and Danica finishing 9th. Well-played indeed, and e-mail us and we'll talk prizes.)
After church on Sunday, the 5-at-10 was riveted by the events of the NFL scouting combine. Hey, we love the draft, and you know this.
We were mesmerized by the 40-times and the athletic gifts of the offensive skill players that worked out Sunday. We also watched some of the drills Saturday when the offensive linemen and the tight ends went through the paces. (Side note: As this event becomes more and more watched, the NFL is going to need to do something about the "required uniform" — tights — that these guys are wearing. The spandex decision is questionable in a lot of directions, and that's all we have to say about that.)
Here are five guys that made themselves some serious coin this weekend by posting some numbers that were eye-popping and entertaining.
Arkansas RB Knile Davis: After coming back from a knee injury, Davis clocked a 4.37 time in the 40-yard dash and bench-pressed 225 pounds 31 times. He looked the part of of being an every-down back. To put into context the size-speed ratio Davis offers, his 40 time was only topped by one running back. Auburn's Onterio McCalebb posted a 4.34 in the 40 — that was originally clocked as an unofficial 4.21 — and McCalebb weighs 168 pounds. Davis weights 227 pounds.
West Virginia QB Geno Smith: Smith's fine 40 time — he ran a 4.59 — matched Cam Newton's. Of course, Smith's best showing was in the interviews and exchanges, including when asked about matching Newton's 40 time, the 220-pound Smith said, "Yeah, but Cam goes about 260."
Notre Dame TE Tyler Eifert: Already atop the tight end board, Eifert showed better strength than expected and was among the fastest tight ends, running a 4.68 at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds. The fastest tight end at the event was Arkansas' Chris Gragg, who ran a 4.5. Of course that highlights how poorly coached the Razorbacks were considering two of the combine's surprising stars played for the SEC's biggest disappointment.
Tennessee WR Justin Hunter: Here's what we wrote on Twitter (@jgreesontfp) Sunday: "Justin Hunter's math: 6-foot-4 x 4.41 in the 40 x 36 inch vertical = Millions of dollars." And you know what? We undersold Hunter's vertical since he actually had a 39.5-inch vertical.
Texas A&M WR Ryan Swope: He turned in an eye-poppoing set of numbers, running a 4.34 40 and posting a 37-inch vertical. There is a lot of receiver talent in this draft.
Wow, there were seven SEC men's basketball games on Saturday and there were eight overtimes.
Four of those were played by Tennessee, which needed 20 extra minutes to beat Texas A&M and keep the Vols' small NCAA tournament hopes alive. Those hopes hinge on a win Tuesday against Florida, and we'll cover that more tomorrow.
Today, let's look back at a weekend that featured some good college basketball played with great energy. Alas, that's what the college game has left us with — an OK product that is played with great energy because of the constant turnover at the big schools and the power programs.
So as we assess the events, we feel believe...
• UK (19-8) is in right now. That was a monster home win over Missouri, which is a monster Jekyll and Hyde club. That said, UK could really damage its resume with a loss against a Mississippi State team so bad, even Auburn fans are looking at the Bulldogs and saying, "Gross."
• UNC (19-8) is in right now. Beating the underwhelming underachievers known as NC State was much-needed.
• There is no rhyme or reason to the fortunes of the UTC men's basketball team. A home bludgeoning against Greensboro led to an upset of Elon, which makes perfect sense if you're speaking Dutch to a fungo bat while trying to balance your check book in Sanskrit with an abacus that is missing an entire column of beads. Confused? Yep, so are we.
• The events of the weekend — especially Miami laying an egg at Wake Forest — re-confirm that it's the Big Ten and everyone else at this tournament.
• We are less than three weeks from Selection Sunday. (And when we get there, here's saying UT's loss to Georgia a few weeks ago will be even more painful.)
This and that
— When he gets that look — You know he's got that look — Kobe Bryant is as dominant as any player in the NBA. He got that look down the stretch Sunday in a big win at Dallas. Great competitors/shooters like Bryant and Durant and a few others flip the script. You know the script: "No, no, no...(it goes in)... Good shot." When Kobe finds it and everyone knows it, there is no bad shot.
— While they were not among the big WRs movers, former UT stars Da'Rick Rogers and Cordarrelle Patterson acquitted themselves quite notably at the combine. Side question: How much does the UT offense score if Da'Rick stays in school? Seriously. Imagine how much success this group could have had with Tyler Bray pulling the trigger with Rogers, Hunter and Patterson roaming the perimeter. We believe this: if Da'Rick had not ended up in Cookeville, Derek Dooley would still be in Knoxville. This point will be even more painful come draft day when there's a real chance that three of the first six wide receivers drafted were former Vols.
— It's a long season and you have to trust it, but what LeBron James is doing right now is overwhelming. He's averaging 27 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game and he's shooting 56.7 percent from the field and 41 percent from 3. LeBron is the best player in the NBA and posting the best NBA season in a generation. Wow.
— Manti Te'o met with a slew of reporters at the combine on Saturday and discussed a variety of topics. Yes, his internet dating did come up, and Te'o handled the swirling storm as well as possible. Here's hoping this story goes away for a while.
A loaded sports weekend leaves a slew of possibilities for a free-for-all Monday.
Need a few talking points? Fine. Pick any one of the following three and have at it:
— What would UT's record been if the Vols' three-wide set last fall had been Rogers, Hunter, Patterson?
— Do you think Danica will win a NASCAR race this year? If so which one?
— Bigger sports lie: so-and-so runs a 4.4 40 or so-and-so throws in the 90s? Each of those numbers are elite-level performances when they are actually achieved.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...