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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Top 10 Running Backs of All-Time

These RBs are the greatest to ever set foot on the field

10. Earl Campbell

The 1978 Rookie of the Year and MVP, Oilers star Earl Campbell punished defenses in his short career, earning Offensive Player of the Year honors in three consecutive seasons. Campbell topped 1,300 yards and double-digit touchdowns in five of his first six seasons thanks to a vicious running style that saw him run directly into the teeth of defenses—frequently. (He set a record with 373 carries in one season.) Unfortunately, Campbell paid a price for that bruising mentality, putting up just five healthy seasons in the NFL.

9. LaDainian Tomlinson

Today he’s a change-of-pace back for the Jets who’s grooming a successor and chipping in the occasional goal-line carry. But it wasn’t long ago that LT was the premiere running back in the game, scanning the field in his trademark visor and dissecting his opponents for nine straight double-digit touchdown seasons to open his career. He’s also the owner of one of the most dominant seasons in history, when he crushed the single-season record with 31 TDs and 186 total points in 2006. (Listen closely and you can still hear his fantasy owners bragging about it.)

8. Eric Dickerson

It can be hard to take him seriously when you see that Jheri curl, but Dickerson scampered for 13,259 yards in his 11-year career, leading the league in rushing three times and becoming the first halfback to gain 1,000 yards in seven straight seasons. A thoroughbred in the open field—albeit one in goofy goggles—Dickerson still owns the single-season record of 2,105 rushing yards, set in 1984. And the three-time Pro Bowler also came up big in the post-season, with a record 248 rushing yards in one 1986 game against the Cowboys in which he broke off TD runs of 55 and 40 yards.

7. Gale Sayers

The Kansas Comet put up giant numbers in an injury-shortened, 68-game career. Sayers started off with a bang, scoring 22 touchdowns in his rookie season and crossing the goal line six times in one December game, a record that still stands and a performance that none other than George Halas called “the greatest football exhibition I have ever seen.” Oh, and he’s also the best kickoff returner in NFL history with an unreal 30.56 yard average.

6. Marshall Faulk

The most important cog of the Rams’ "Greatest Show on Turf," Faulk is, quite simply, the greatest receiving running back of all time. But although he averaged more than 63 catches per season in his NFL career, the seven-time Pro Bowler could also run, tallying seven 1,000-yard seasons. Remember, this is the player who took home the Offensive Player of the Year award in three straight seasons, most memorably in 1999 when he eclipsed 1,000 yards in both rushing and receiving.

5. O.J. Simpson

We know it’s hard, but put his post-football, um, hijinks aside and you have a legendary back. Wasted as a kick returner and decoy for his first three seasons in the league, Bills head coach Lou Saban finally turned the Juice loose in 1972. O.J. made the most of it with an explosiveness that helped him shoot through the line of scrimmage and into the open field, where his USC track skills took over. Best remembered for notching 2,003 yards in a 14-game 1973 season, Simpson had an NFL best six 200-yard games in his career, most of them coming for awful teams. (He made the playoffs just once in his career.)

4. Emmitt Smith

When you think of Emmitt Smith, it’s hard not to picture the over-the-hill back with gray in his goatee and a grinding desire to take over the rushing record. It finally happened on October 27, 2002 as a Cardinal, but the eight-time Pro Bowler was the heart and soul of a Cowboys team that won three Super Bowls, including in 1993 when Smith became the only player ever to win a rushing crown, MVP, Super Bowl and Super Bowl MVP in the same season. Yet, even though he’s the owner of a record 18,355 career rushing yards, your girlfriend probably still knows him best as a one-time Dancing With the Stars champ.

3. Walter Payton

You may picture Payton as an elusive back with a killer stutter step, but remember, the nickname Sweetness came from his personality off the field. On the gridiron, Payton was a bruising runner—a perfect fit for a blue-collar team and city—who liked to mow over defenders, refused to run out of bounds and essentially invented the stiff arm. Payton, who missed just one game in his career and logged 300-plus carries 10 times, retired as the leading rusher in NFL history (much of it with no offensive line) and was named to both the NFL’s 1970's and 1980’s All-Decade teams.

2. Barry Sanders

The elusive Barry Sanders was just 1,457 yards shy of Walter Payton’s rushing record when he hung up his cleats. If he hadn’t, there’s no way Emmitt Smith tops the record books. The owner of four rushing titles, Sanders was the first running back to notch five 1,500-yard seasons (four of them in a row) and even went two entire seasons (’91, ’94) without a fumble. Short and stocky, Sanders was custom-built for the artificial turf of the Silverdome, able to make quick cuts and turn losses into huge gains. Of course, some stayed losses. Sanders lost 1,114 yards in his career trying to turn small plays into home runs.

1. Jim Brown

More of a fullback who played halfback, this eight-time All-Pro and three-time MVP never missed a game in his NFL career—though he did cut it short to go into acting. The enormous Brown could just as easily run over defenders as around them, with a scary combination of size and speed that helped him lead the league in rushing in all but one season of his career and rush for over 1,000 yards seven times (he fell short by four yards once)—in seasons that lasted just 12 or 14 games. Brown averaged more than one TD per game in his career, and averaged 5.2 yards per carry, the highest in NFL history.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

U.S. Women Likely To Wear 'Black Widow' Uniforms Against Brazil

A Good Luck Charm? The U.S. women's team is undefeated when wearing all black since the uniforms were introduced on May 14. In that game against Japan, Ali Krieger battled for control of the ball.
Enlarge Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

A Good Luck Charm? The U.S. women's team is undefeated when wearing all black since the uniforms were introduced on May 14. In that game against Japan, Ali Krieger battled for control of the ball.

The U.S. women's soccer team will be looking for a spark when they play Brazil Sunday in an elimination match of the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup. One source of inspiration could be their new all-black uniforms, which the U.S. team reportedly plans to wear for the first time in Germany.

The all-black uniforms (or "kit," as we call it in the global-inflected world language of international soccer... or, um, football), might help the U.S. women rise to the occasion and defeat Brazil, thus proving that they're more mature and focused than the squad that lost its first-ever group stage match against Sweden and squandered a chance to win Group C.

Described by Nike as evoking a Black Widow spider, the black kit will give U.S. spectators something more to talk about besides the Americans' chances against Brazil and its five-time FIFA player of the year, Marta.

The uniforms have been a hot topic. During the U.S. opener against North Korea, a soccer fan here at NPR shot me a note with some of her thoughts about the exciting match (somewhat superfluously, actually; I heard her yelling from down the hall).

Then she added, "I hate to be a girl...but the uniforms? Really? As soon as anyone starts paying attention, they will start complaining about the uniforms. They look so silly."

It turns out that someone had been paying attention, and complaining, already. In April, Jennifer Doyle wrote on her From A Left Wing blog that "This is quite simply the ugliest women's football jersey I have ever seen."

Another NPR soccer fan said, "I agree that the U.S. uniforms are tragic (though Canada's poncho-esque kits are a close second)."

So, I asked Nike media relations manager Tim Yu about the U.S. team's uniforms. And like with most sportswear, it turns out that they're the result of lots of thinking about function and style.

"The kits are made of a new recycled polyester DriFit yarn that is designed to keep players cooler and more comfortable," Yu says — a possibly huge advantage in the heat and humidity that marked many of the early matches in Germany.

The jerseys are made of, essentially, recycled bottles. In an email, Yu said that "each jersey contains around 8 plastic bottles."

Nike says that DriFit is 15 percent lighter than the previous sports fabric, which makes it sound something like the Michelob Ultra of the uniform world.

That all sounds fine. But here's where we get to the part that makes some fans, and fashion observers, uneasy. "The kit is designed specifically for the female athlete, to enhance the range of motion and create a uniquely feminine silhouette," Nike said back in the spring, when it (and U.S. Soccer) announced the national team's new uniforms.

So far, so good. I've heard from other sources that the U.S. players had some input in the design, and it's understandable that they'd want a kit that's designed for their bodies and does a good job of managing heat.

But then, it seems, fans and fashionistas go a little nuts when it comes to this next part. "Capped sleeves and a high neckline with v-neck piping were added to create a striking aesthetic," in Nike's view.

It's unclear how contagious that view is. Several onlookers, Doyle included, have unfavorably compared the team's white "home" kit to a nurse's outfit. There seems to be less outcry against the black "away" uniform, which features "a black bodice and red piping inspired by the beautiful but deadly Black Widow spider," Nike says.

Of course, there may be less outcry just because the black kit has been worn in fewer games. But at least one reviewer fell in love with it.

For anyone wondering if the U.S. will be playing in the full sun when they're wearing black Sunday: It'll be 5:30 p.m. in Germany when the U.S. plays Brazil. That's 11:30 a.m. ET. I might not know all there is to know about fashion, but wouldn't the 8:30 p.m. (local time) game against Sweden have been the time to break out the formal gear?

Whether they love or hate the new uniforms, there's some good news for U.S. fans hoping the team advances to the semifinals: So far, the Americans are undefeated when they wear the Black Widow unis. The last time the U.S. wore the black kit was in June, when it beat Mexico, 1-0. The all-black look was introduced in a 2-0 win over Japan in May.

Still, the U.S. women could be forgiven for hoping history plays only a small role in Sunday's match. Because in the 2007 Women's World Cup, the Brazilians handed them their worst-ever loss, 4-0.

If the U.S. women win Sunday and you decide you just have to have a uniform for yourself, they're being sold through the U.S. Soccer store. A full kit, including socks, will run you $122.37 before tax. A jersey by itself — white or black — costs $71.99. If that seems steep, you have our apologies for passing along the info that they're made from recycled plastic bottles.

U.S. players, in white, line up for a corner kick against Colombia in a group stage game of the 2011 Women's World Cup. The white jerseys have been criticized as resembling a nurse's uniform.
Enlarge Alex Grimm/Getty Images

U.S. players, in white, line up for a corner kick against Colombia in a group stage game of the 2011 Women's World Cup. The white jerseys have been criticized as resembling a nurse's uniform.

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City line-up £55m splurge on Eto'o and Aguero as Tevez edges closer to the exit

By Simon Jones and Sportsmail Reporter

Manchester City are ready to flex their muscles in the summer transfer window with a sensational £55million double swoop for Inter Milan striker Samuel Eto'o and Atletico Madrid's Sergio Aguero.

City had opened tentative discussions with Inter over a possible swap involving Carlos Tevez and Eto'o last month but that was abandoned as figures, including the wage demands of the Cameroon striker, got too high.

However the latest step in the long-running saga involves an £18m transfer fee which is completely independent of Tevez, and Eto'o is keen to talk.

Summer splurge: Sergio Aguero and Samuel Eto'o could be next through the Etihad Stadium entrance
Summer splurge: Sergio Aguero and Samuel Eto'o could be next through the Etihad Stadium entrance

Summer splurge: Sergio Aguero and Samuel Eto'o could be next through the Etihad Stadium entrance

The two-time Champions League winner hopes to secure one final big contract before his stock begins to drop as he gets older, and was unimpressed when he held discussions with Inter president Massimo Moratti about improving his current deal. He wants a further two years with a salary to match City's offer.

The Eastlands outfit are wary having been in a similar position before when Eto'o left Barcelona, but have been assured he is more serious about the move this time.

Eto'o scored 21 goals in Serie A last season for a struggling Inter outfit and having won all that there is to in Spain and Italy, he would welcome a new challenge.

Last month, he said: 'It is true that I have a few offers, I have a month off now to evaluate all of them and decide what to do. I’m 30, I’m close to my final big contract and we’ll have to see whether I should stay or go.

'My eventual departure is not to try to earn 100,000 or 200,000 euros more. What matters in my career is being happy in a city, playing for a big club where I can enjoy myself.'

Flying high: City secured a a stunning £400m deal involving the naming rights of their stadium and their shirt sponsor

Flying high: City secured a a stunning £400m deal involving the naming rights of their stadium and their shirt sponsor

The transfers will be the first major piece of business for the club following the announcement they were set for a £400m windfall from selling the naming rights to their stadium and extending a shirt sponsorship deal with Etihad.

Meanwhile City's pursuit of Aguero appears more difficult. The club have so far rejected talk they are in for the Argentine, who is also wanted by Real Madrid.

Yet after it emerged Juventus had offered Atletico Madrid £32.5m for Diego Maradona's son-in-law, the Spanish club claimed City had already bid £4.5m more. That in turn has forced Juve to look elsewhere for attacking reinforcements and they are now expected to challenge Tottenham for the signature of Villarreal's Giuseppe Rossi.

Aguero is seen as a natural replacement for Tevez although City still want £50m for their Argentinian talisman.

Out with the old: Aguero is seen as a direct replacement for international team-mate Tevez who wants out of City

Out with the old: Aguero is seen as a direct replacement for international team-mate Tevez who wants out of City

Tevez rocked City in June by demanding he be allowed to end his stay for the sake of his family.

Tevez, who was City's top-scorer last season as they qualified for the Champions League for the first time, issued a statement to Sportsmail explaining his wish to leave the club.

Family man: Tevez wants to move to a club where is family would be settled

Family man: Tevez wants to move to a club where is family would be settled

It said: 'It is with great regret that I have to inform Manchester City of my wish to leave the club. I would like to state that I have great respect for the club, its supporters and the owner, Sheik Mansoor, who has been nothing other than respectful to me.

'I hope that the people understand the difficult circumstances I have been living under the past 12 months, in regards to my family.

'Living without my children in Manchester has been incredibly challenging for me. Everything I do, I do for my daughters, Katie and Florencia. I need to be closer to them and to spend more time with them.

'I need them to be happy because my life is about them now. I need to be in a place where they can adapt. Being captain of Manchester City, qualifying for the Champions League, winning the FA Cup and finishing as top-scorer last season has made me very proud.

'I hope that most of the City fans will understand that I have given them my all on the pitch and that my dedication to the city cause has been 100 per cent on the pitch.

'I hope I have done my bit tLinko help City continue their progress towards their ambition to be champions of England and to advance in the Champions League. I have no doubt that the players and management of City will achieve great success in the future.'

Another player who could be heading through the Etihad Stadium's entrance is Samir Nasri. Reports late on Thursday suggested City and Arsenal had reached a deal that would see the Frenchman follow Gael Clichy to the club for a fee of £23m.

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