Category Archives: Sports

Taylor Ward finishes the season on a strong note as the Angels defeat the Athletics.

This season has not been the kindest to Taylor Ward. The way he’s closing it out, though, shows he’s a player who still could be worthy of praise in seasons to come.

“I’ve learned a lot this year,” Ward said this month. “It started off really hot and kind of cooled off. Just puts a season in perspective of how things can go and how it can change drastically.

“Probably take a few weeks off [when the season ends] and then focus on getting bigger, stronger, faster. I think that’s gonna be the biggest thing for me is to continue to workout well [in the offseason] and eat healthy and really just get back to being healthy.”

Ward has been on a tear through September.

He went two for four with a pair of singles and also stole a base in the Angels’ 4-3 win over the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday night.

Through his last 22 games before Tuesday, he batted .325 with an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .926. He had four doubles and four home runs in his 25 hits in that span, contributing 13 RBIs and 13 runs.

His last hitting streak, which lasted nine games and ended Saturday, included his ninth three-for-four game of the season, his 30th multi-hit game of the year, and a two home run game. These numbers pale in comparison with the trajectory he was on in May before injuries slowed him down.

Ward had been having the best start of his career, during a season he opened nursing a groin injury, before a neck stinger May 20 and a mild right hamstring strain June 3 hampered him and eventually sidelined him for almost half of June.

Before going on the injured list, Ward was batting .333 with a 1.087 OPS — he had an MLB-leading 1.197 OPS at one point — and was a solid All-Star candidate. Hitting coach Jeremy Reed still believes an All-Star berth is in Ward’s future.

“I thought he was fully capable of having a spot on that roster,” Reed said this month. “It was one chance that isn’t going to be just one chance. It’s going to be multiple opportunities for having the chance to play in that game.”

Ward’s return from the IL on June 14 wasn’t a full return to form, and as the season continued, fatigue wore him down more.

“Injuries I think took a toll on things, but just trying to stick with the process and continue to trust your ability even if you don’t feel 100%,” Ward said. “You gotta kind of convince yourself that everything is fine. Try not to think about it too much. That was one thing I kind of learned a little bit, just not to worry about it and try to focus on what you need to do when you’re in the box.”

In the two months (June 14-Aug 14) after he returned from the IL, Ward was inconsistent at the plate, batting .222 with a .630 OPS.

“You really spend most of your time trying to figure out what the problem is,” Ward said. “You want to still be yourself, and it’s just small tinkering here and there instead of overhauling something.”

Of Ward’s slump, Reed said: “There’s also some adjustments that pitchers make and then injury and the fatigue and the length of the season, they’re all factors. You see [Mike Trout], you see [Shohei Ohtani], you see the players they are and they go through it. They all go through different stretches.

“It’s really, ultimately about how short you can keep the bad streaks and how long you can stretch the good streaks. It’s just good to see him tap into his full capability for a good stretch and now we need to minimize the other stretches.”

Jo Adell lifts Angels in victory

Angels’ Matt Duffy scores ahead of a throw to Oakland Athletics catcher Sean Murphy during the eighth inning on Tuesday at Angel Stadium.

(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Jo Adell’s RBI single in the eighth inning — which scored Matt Duffy, who reached base after getting hit by a pitch — was the tiebreaking hit and propelled the Angels to a victory over the Athletics.

It wasn’t Adell’s only big moment of the night. In the fifth inning, he robbed Dermis Garcia of a potential home run, leaping up along the left-field wall to make the catch.

He cheered in celebration of the play and received applause from Patrick Sandoval, who had already given up three runs.

Sandoval went 5 1/3 innings, giving up six hits and three runs.

All three of the A’s runs scored in the second inning. But the Angels tied it up with three of their own in the bottom of the inning.

Mike Ford and Duffy got back-to-back hits off A’s starter James Kaprielian. Matt Thaiss drove in the first runner, Ford, on a single of his own. Duffy was driven in on a sacrifice fly by Livan Soto, and Thaiss was brought in on Luis Rengifo’s single.

Soto, who has been having an exciting entrance to the big leagues this month, also hit his first career triple in the sixth.

Anthony Rendon update

Anthony Rendon took live pitches from three Angels minor leaguers, Caden Dana, Chase Chaney and Mason Albright, before Tuesday’s game.

“He swung the bat good, he felt good,” Angels interim manager Phil Nevin said. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow going in. We’ll have some pitchers here that are available to throw to him again tomorrow if he feels up for it.”

The plan is for him to continue taking live pitches as part of his progression.

There are eight games remaining this season.

Archie Bradley’s return

Relief pitcher Archie Bradley was activated from the injured list before Tuesday’s game, nearly three months to the day from when he fractured his elbow falling over the dugout railing trying to get to a brawl between his team and the Seattle Mariners.

“Even in those first couple of days after breaking it, I didn’t think I’d be standing here pitching this season,” Bradley said. “I’m just happy that I was able to recover and be here and be with the guys and close the season in the big leagues.

“When I lay my head down at night, I still think about the season and the impact I could’ve had,” he said. “Not saying that things would’ve been different, but I think I bring something to the table. So it starts with showing Perry [Minasian], show the Angels that I’m still a good quality major league pitcher.”

Bradley, who signed a one-year deal with the Angels, becomes a free agent after this season.

Craig Kimbrel struggles once more in the Dodgers’ loss to the Padres.

Even after being demoted from the closer role last week, Craig Kimbrel blew another game for the Dodgers on Tuesday night.

The embattled right-hander was far from the only culprit in the Dodgers’ 4-3 defeat to the San Diego Padres at Petco Park, in which shaky defense contributed to the Padres’ first three runs and the Dodgers lineup went one for 17 with runners in scoring position.

But it was Kimbrel’s blunders that proved fatal in the 10th: a pair of two-out walks, including a bases-loaded free pass to Jorge Alfaro, that gave the Padres their third walk-off win over the Dodgers this year and fourth in which they scored the go-ahead run in the ninth inning or later.

“I just missed some fastballs and threw some uncompetitive pitches,” Kimbrel said. “Walked guys in.”

To even get to the 10th inning, the Dodgers, who at 106-48 only have a club win record left to chase down the stretch, and Padres, who are 86-68 and still trying to clinch a playoff spot, traded a series of miscues and mistakes.

The hosts opened the scoring in a two-run first inning that was extended when third baseman Justin Turner fell down fielding a potential inning-ending double-play — the only runs the Padres scored against left-hander Tyler Anderson in a strong six-inning start.

The Dodgers tied the score at 2-2 in the sixth after the Padres failed to convert a potential inning-ending double play, turning the sequence too slowly to get Max Muncy out at first base.

The Padres went back in front in the eighth after Chris Taylor dropped a running catch in left to begin the inning and Turner — who came up limping after sliding into second on Muncy’s grounder in the sixth — committed another error with two outs and the bases loaded.

Then, with the Dodgers down to their final out in the ninth, Trea Turner (who had three hits, including a leadoff double in the ninth) scored on a passed ball by Alfaro.

“It was a little sloppy,” Turner said. “But it happens sometimes.”

Something that has happened far too many times this year: Kimbrel giving away a game late, with the former eight-time All-Star now sporting a 6-7 record and 4.02 ERA.

Dodgers pitcher Tyler Anderson throws to a San Diego Padres batter during the first inning on Tuesday in San Diego.

(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

His 10th-inning collapse was almost averted after he struck out Manny Machado with runners on the corners for the second out in the inning — which at the moment felt like one of his best sequences of the season.

“Just a real good battle right there,” Roberts said. “Craig made pitches when he needed to.”

Moments later, however, the old Kimbrel reappeared.

After getting Brandon Drury in a 1-and-2 hole, Kimbrel missed with two fastballs and a curveball all wide on his glove side.

Up next came Alfaro, a burly right-handed hitter with only 10 walks this season and none over 63 plate appearances since mid-July.

“I mean, it’s not a secret,” Alfaro told reporters postgame. “I don’t walk that much.”

Still, Kimbrel couldn’t find the zone. Four times, Kimbrel tried to land a fastball over the outer edge of the zone. Four times, he missed wide again, the last coming in a 3-and-2 count that Alfaro took before trotting up the baseline.

“I just looked at the dugout,” Alfaro said. “I’m like, Oh, s–t, I walked!”

Kimbrel’s reaction couldn’t have been any different.

He shouted in anger. Looked down as he vacated the mound. Then tried to grasp on to whatever confidence he had left postgame.

“I think so,” he said when asked if he could still contribute to the Dodgers in the playoffs. “I think I’ve got some good pitching to do in the next couple days to prove that. I think, actually, I know I can. I don’t think I can. I know I can. Just gotta do it.”

Roberts’ take?

“Like I said, every day is a test,” the manager responded when posed a similar question. “He has to go out there. I’ll keep getting him out there when it makes sense and we’ll make decisions as we get down the line.”

Two Bishop Amat football players have accused the opposing coach of assault. Police are investigating.

 

Two La Puente Bishop Amat High School football players allege they were physically assaulted by La Verne Damien High School football coaches at a game Friday evening — and now head football coach Matt Bechtel has been suspended.

Aiden Ramos, a 19-year-old running back for Bishop Amat, alleges that the Damien head football coach, along with another coach, ripped his helmet off his head and grabbed his shoulder pads, after he and the coaches exchanged heated words after a tense rivalry game Friday.

Bechtel could not be reached Monday, and a front desk operator for Damien High School referred The Times to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for comment.

Ramos’ dad, Jesse Ramos, told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune that the altercation left his son with a bruise under his left eye, and that a police report was filed Saturday morning with the La Verne Police Department.

On Saturday, a second Bishop Amat football player — who asked to remain anonymous — filed a police report with the La Verne Police Department, The Times has confirmed.

In a statement Saturday, La Verne Police Chief Colleen Flores said her department was investigating a battery at the football game between Damien and Bishop Amat.

“A 19-year-old Bishop Amat student alleges two subjects battered him, and at least one of the subjects involved is a Damien High School Football Team coach,” the statement read. “The La Verne Police Department is actively investigating the incident, and no further details are available at this time.”

In a separate statement released Saturday, the archdiocese said that it had launched an internal investigation, and that one of the Damien coaches involved in the incident had been placed on leave. The statement did not specify which of the coaches was suspended, but sources confirmed to The Times it was Bechtel.

“The Archdiocese has been advised that a report has been made with the La Verne Police Department concerning the incident,” the statement read. “According to Archdiocesan policy, the person named in the report has been placed on administrative leave pending the result of the investigations of the police department and the Archdiocese.”

Damien and Bishop Amat athletic directors Jeff Grant and Joe Hoggatt, respectively, could not be reached for comment.

For the record:

10:55 p.m. Sept. 26, 2022A previous version of this story misspelled the last name of Bishop Amat head coach Steve Hagerty as Haggerty.

Tensions rose Friday evening after a 35-7 win by Bishop Amat against its longtime rival, when Bishop Amat head coach Steve Hagerty refused to shake Bechtel’s hand after the game. Sources told The Times Bechtel confronted Hagerty and it wasn’t long before players and coaches began to attack one another.

Still aggressive, Russell Westbrook has the Lakers in disarray.

It was scheduled as a day filled with opulent optimism, the Lakers supposedly beginning training camp by regaling reporters with a new coach, new focus, new energy.

It was, instead, another day in Russell Westbrook Hell.

He’s still a Laker. He’s still combative. He’s still Russ.

“Whether they want me here or not doesn’t really matter, honestly,” he said.

The Lakers are still hassled. They’re still hopeful. They’re still torn.

“For any player on our team, you have to always be evaluating the roster … if we have to continue to upgrade our roster throughout the season, we will,” said Rob Pelinka, but later added, “Russell Westbrook is a great part of our team.”

For now. Maybe for this month. Maybe until midseason. Maybe not for another second. Maybe this is not the way they want to start a season already filled with angst and bereft of championship hopes.

The two parties have had all summer to figure out a path forward from last season’s nightmare, yet they showed up for Monday’s media day at their El Segundo facility still stuck in a bitter, baffling place.

Westbrook rolled his eyes. Pelinka sighed. Westbrook looked bored. Pelinka seemed weary.

It’s completely nonsensical. It’s beyond a distraction. It’s a total mess.

Westbrook doesn’t seem to want to be here, and the Lakers certainly would like to trade him, but it’s not that easy. He’s making $47 million this season, and he might not even be a starter anymore, so the Lakers would surely have to part with two future first-round draft picks to convince someone to take him. They don’t want to give up such an important part of their future unless they can bring back a star who can help them win now. And that star has yet to materialize.

So Westbrook is here, but sort of, kind of, but not really. And the Lakers are trying to be complimentary — “He’s been awesome, everything I’ve asked of him, he’s done,” said new coach Darvin Ham — but how long is that going to last? Maybe until the final seconds of the season opener when he clanks one?

For the sake of Westbrook and the team, he needs to be gone. But for now, he’s not going anywhere. So even on this supposedly brightest of days, the festive practice facility was beset with a lingering darkness.

Russell Westbrook, listening to a question from a reporter, was at times combative during media day.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

When Westbrook met with reporters, his answers were short, his eyes roamed elsewhere, his patience was paper thin, the following exchange was typical.

He was asked, “How comfortable are you that you can be yourself, the way that you know it, in sort of a team that has other stars and in this system? Or does ‘Russ being Russ’ mean something maybe new this year?”

He responded, “What’s the question?”

“Do you believe you can do that?”

“Do what?”

“Be yourself and play the way that you are comfortable and want to play in this system?”

“I be myself every single day when I wake up.”

Westbrook was more expansive when asked if he thought the Lakers still wanted him. He said he didn’t care if they wanted him, then he elaborated.

“I mean, you all have jobs — sometimes people at our jobs don’t like us or don’t want us there, as you guys can probably attest to on any level job across the world,” he said. “As a professional and as a working man, I have to do my job and do it the best way I know how to be able to support and take care of my family and that’s what I will do.”

Pelinka never said the Lakers didn’t want Westbrook. Yet he noted that in the wake of LeBron James’ recent two-year contract extension, the organization has a responsibility to give James another shot at a championship before he retires. And Pelinka carefully explained that under NBA rules, they will have only one chance to trade those 2027 and 2029 first-round picks in a single deal, so they have to make it count.

“So if you make that trade … it has to be the right one,” he said. “We are committed to doing everything we can to put the best team around LeBron.”

So Pelinka will continue to search. In the meantime, there is some hope that the respected Ham can help transform Westbrook into the kind of unselfish and defensive-minded player that will truly make the Lakers want him again. Ham has apparently already reached Westbrook in ways that former coach Frank Vogel could not.

“Just being able to communicate and connect to me is already just a positive,” Westbrook said. “We talked about many different things and conversed about a lot of different things, which doesn’t have to always pertain to basketball. And that’s something that grows the relationship.”

Then again, Westbrook thought he connected with James and Anthony Davis during last season’s training camp, and he wound up accusing them of being dishonest in their support. Westbrook is now saying that they didn’t play enough games together — 21 total — to properly judge their cohesion.

“Going into this season, just God willing, being able to be healthy and finding ways to be successful … is definitely a conversation,” he said.

It’s hard to believe that playing more games with James and Davis will drastically change Westbrook’s ball-dependent style. Just as it’s hard to believe which Laker is now claiming Westbrook as his best friend on the team.

Yeah, it’s the guy who once called him “trash.”

“It’s true,” Patrick Beverley said. “He was at my press conference. We hit the weights together. And, I mean, not like team weight stuff. We’re in the lab 6, 6:30 in the morning.”

He added, “Obviously you guys think that we have the worst relationship in the world … [but] when you get two people who love winning, two alpha males, and you put them together, it usually works … in order to get to where we’re going to have to get to, man, we have to become great friends.”

So Beverley is trying. And James is trying. And Davis is trying. And Ham is trying. And Pelinka is trying. It’s exhaustive, the number of Lakers who say they are attempting to make this untenable situation work.

The question: Is Russell Westbrook trying?

It will be hell if he doesn’t.

Elliott: John Wall is prepared to take on a leadership role with the Clippers.

John Wall was saying the world will see a dog when he makes his Clippers debut this season, that being the way he describes his defiant, chip-on-his-shoulder nature, when teammate Reggie Jackson started cheering from the back of the gym where the Clippers were holding their media day activities Monday.

“I’m just excited we got John,” Jackson said, and he wasn’t alone in welcoming the five-time All-Star to a team that has an opportunity to be a force in the NBA‘s Western Conference.

Wall’s upside is tremendous: He has career averages of 19.1 points, 9.1 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game, and he’s capable of dictating the pace. Playing alongside Clippers teammate Paul George this summer in pickup games known as Rico Hines runs, he sliced through defenders and proclaimed, “I’m back,” in videos widely viewed on social media.

He was back to being a dog but he’s a different person, stronger for having acknowledged he needed therapy after an Achilles injury, foot infection and his mother’s death from breast cancer late in 2019 led him to consider suicide. He recently recounted his struggles in a searingly frank essay in The Players Tribune, proud to have made it through the darkness and eager to help anyone still finding their way to the light.

“Basketball is my sanctuary, when I step between those four lines,” he said Monday. “I think I’m a better man, a better person, I’m a better father and whatever my role is on this team, I’m just trying to come over here and help them win.”

Best-case scenario for the Clippers, who signed him to a two-year, $13.281-million contract as a free agent: His bark and his bite are as fierce as they were before he missed two of the past three NBA seasons. He sat out all of 2019-20 because of heel and Achilles injuries and missed all of last season after the Houston Rockets went to a younger backcourt and told him to stay home.

“He’s definitely a piece that was needed, and I’m excited,” George said. “I think what he brings and where the value is so huge for us is his transition game. That was like one of the things teams did against us was crash the boards, because there was — really there was no transition game from us. They wasn’t worried about that.

“I think with John, his ability to play and sprint up and down and get going in transition I think kind of keeps teams honest. They can’t crash everybody. He rebounds as well as any guard.”

For coach Tyronn Lue, that means updating his playbook. “I think with John, adding John, his pace is tremendous. That’s going to allow us to get easy baskets,” Lue said. “Guys get open threes, easy shots, him getting downhill, getting to the basket changes our team dramatically. His pace, the way he plays, brings a different dimension to our team.”

As with any discussion concerning the Clippers, the phrase “if healthy” applies to Wall and the overall fate of a team that always seems close to something big but hasn’t turned promise into reality.

Robert Covington, left, and John Wall greet Paul George during media day for the Clippers at the Honey Training Center in Playa Vista.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Wall hasn’t played an NBA game since April 23, 2021, before the Rockets exiled him. Because of that and his injuries, he has played only 113 games over the last five NBA seasons. Earlier in his career, he underwent procedures on both knees and dealt with bone spurs.

Just what the Clippers don’t need: another injury concern. Kawhi Leonard, who missed last season after tearing his ACL during the 2021 playoffs, said he will be “gradually building up” as training camp proceeds based on how his knee responds each day. George missed most 51 games last season because of an elbow injury but has fully recovered.

For now, at least, everyone is fit and ready to go. The Clippers haven’t lost a game yet and they haven’t lost a player to injury yet, and they’re looking on the bright side.

“Very excited for what’s to come this year. Since I’ve been here, I think we have yet to put a full healthy season with everybody in uniform. A lot of optimism there of what we can accomplish when we’re all full strength,” said George, who is starting his fourth season with the Clippers.

“I think this year is definitely a great opportunity to win and win big, and I think everybody feels and senses that. You know, Day One, we’re going to get after it.”

Wall ended his Players Tribune essay with the words, “I’m still here,” a short phrase that packs a wallop. He’s here in the sense that he put aside his thoughts of suicide and found he had reasons to go on. And he’s emotionally here for the Clippers, who need a big dog.

“I just feel like for my whole career a lot of people don’t give me my respect. I don’t know why. It is what it is. Like I say, I’ve got a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “But that’s not the reason why I’m happy to be back. I put in a lot of work. Everything I’ve been through the last two, three years, I don’t think a lot of people could have got through that.”

With its highly regarded freshman class, UCLA hopes to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

UCLA’s last top-ranked recruiting class ushered in an unprecedented era of success. For now, this next one will settle for just getting back to the NCAA tournament.

After missing the tournament for the first time since 2015, UCLA is in position to rebound immediately with the top freshman class in the country. Headlined by the nation’s No. 2 overall recruit, Kiki Rice, and Camarillo star Gabriela Jaquez, the rookie class is UCLA’s first No. 1 group since the 2014 group led by Jordin Canada and Monique Billings that went to three consecutive NCAA regional semifinals and the school’s second Elite Eight.

“The rankings don’t really mean anything when you get here, but it’s really exciting,” Jaquez said. “As long as we stay focused on our goals as a team and what we want to get done — which is win — I think we’ll do it.”

UCLA’s first full practice of the year on Monday allowed coach Cori Close to see just how good her freshmen can become. German forward Lina Sontag suddenly popped with her aggressiveness. Forward Christeen Iwuala’s toughness shined through. Rice flashed her elite floor vision.

Rice could be a game-changing addition to the program, trying to advance past the second round of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2019. The 5-foot-11 point guard was named the Gatorade national player of the year after averaging 15.8 points, 7 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.7 steals during an undefeated senior year at Washington D.C.’s Sidwell Friends School. She is a three-time Team USA gold medalist, most recently starring during the Under-18 team’s championship run at the FIBA America’s Cup this summer alongside fellow UCLA freshman Londynn Jones. In addition to winning the tournament’s most valuable player award, she shared MVP honors with Jaquez at the McDonald’s All-American Game.

Kiki Rice, right, tries to drive past Gabriela Jaquez during the McDonald’s All-American Girls basketball game in March. The two are now teammates at UCLA.

(Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press)

But such a decorated high school resume isn’t enough to ensure a seamless transition to college, where Rice recognized everyone is “faster, bigger and more athletic” and “coaches demand a lot more from you.”

“In high school and AAU, wherever we come from, we’re all used to being the player that never really does anything wrong, doesn’t make mistakes,” Rice said. “I think here, when you step on the college floor, there’s still a period of adjustment, so I’m sometimes not used to getting things wrong or not be able to pick up on them right away.”

The freshmen have strong mentors in seniors Camryn Brown and Charisma Osborne and graduate transfer Gina Conti, a point guard who ranks second on Wake Forest’s all-time assists list and returned for a sixth year after a foot injury sidelined her last season.

Conti praised the new group’s intensity and joy. She noted how the freshmen teach her things in practice and that they’ve already earned her respect, especially Rice.

“The fact that she’s dedicated, come in early, stay late, do whatever it takes to win and to show that she’s working to improve and do it not only with herself, but bring other teammates with her, I think that’s so powerful,” Conti said. “Especially to have that skill as a freshman is amazing.”

Welcome back

Sophomore forward Emily Bessior and senior Brynn Masikewich have been cleared for full participation in practice after battling knee injuries last season. Bessior, who was named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman team after averaging 7.5 points and 5.2 rebounds, returned to the court with a knee brace after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament.

Sidelined

Sophomore forward Izzy Anstey is recovering from offseason hip surgery and likely won’t be available until Pac-12 play, Close said. The 6-foot-4 forward led the team with 20 blocks last year while averaging 2.8 points and 4 rebounds in 27 appearances.

Fellow forward Angela Dugalić is awaiting knee surgery after suffering an injury while playing with the Serbian national team in advance of the FIBA World Cup.

El Camino College, Valley College in City Section final

 

For the first time since January 2020, the City Section held an in-person Board of Managers meeting on Tuesday at Birmingham High after two years of Zoom meetings because of pandemic restrictions.

Among the discussion items was the announcement that El Camino College and Valley College are the top candidates to host the City Section football finals during Thanksgiving week.

The Board of Managers approved a soccer rule change. If a player gets two yellow cards in a game, the player will no longer be banned from playing in the next game. An ejection will take place only in the current game.

The CIF is moving competitive cheer to the winter beginning in the 2023-24 school year, so City Section schools will need to adjust and the battle for gym time will increase.

University Pathways Medical Magnet was voted full membership into the City Section, making it 91 schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District with sports programs.

The City Section girls’ volleyball championships for Open Division and Division I are expected to be played at Cal State Northridge. A final contract should be signed soon.

The CIF is headed toward a mandatory requirement that each of its 1,619 member schools must fill out a yearly participation survey for athletes and coaches. The 10 sections are in the process of approving the rule. Some 10% to 15% have failed to fill out the form.

So, let me get this straight: Eli Manning, the Super Bowl champion, was a walk-on at Penn State.

 

Eli Manning has some important family history that took place at the Rose Bowl, but he had never set foot in the historic venue until recently, when shooting an episode of “Eli’s Places” that’s focused on the epic national championship showdown between USC and Texas.

“It’s different being from the South and growing up in New Orleans,” Manning said. “The Rose Bowl wasn’t as big or known for me growing up as for a lot of people. The whole history of everything behind it was really interesting.”

The episode, which debuts at 9 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN+, features quarterbacks Matt Leinart of USC and Vince Young of Texas, who forged a friendship after that 2006 Rose Bowl. Young clinched a 41-38 victory with a fourth-down touchdown run in the waning moments.

It was the last game that legendary announcer Keith Jackson ever called and happened on the same field where Peyton Manning made his college football debut, taking the field as a Tennessee freshman in 1994 against UCLA. He was pressed into action after the starting quarterback was injured, and Jackson was calling the game, noting, “Here comes Peyton Manning making his entry for the University of Tennessee. Get used to it.”

Eli was an eighth-grader at the time, had his own football games to play on Saturdays, and didn’t make the trip with the family. Like his older brother, he would become the No. 1 overall draft pick and a two-time Super Bowl winner.

Omaha Productions — named for Peyton Manning’s famous audible — has a host of “Places” shows aimed at telling the inside stories of a given sport, often in lighthearted and amusing ways. Whereas “Peyton’s Places” is focused on the NFL, “Eli’s Places” is zeroed in on college football.

Leinart and Young join Manning at the Rose Bowl in the latest episode and explore the history of the Pasadena tradition. They picnic at midfield, race souped-up chariots — think Ben Hur on a Segway — up and down the sidelines, and dig in on opposite sides of a tug-o-war.

But the “Eli’s Places” episode that has attracted the most attention lately takes place at Penn State, where the 41-year-old New York Giants retiree wears a disguise and tries to join the football team as a walk-on quarterback.

The footage of Manning as “Chad Powers,” who with his flowing locks and wispy moustache is part-Fabio, part-Uncle Rico, has gotten more than 10 million YouTube views.

“I didn’t want them to think this was a joke or be onto something,” he said. “These guys are competing, trying to earn a spot and make an impression. I wanted them to take it seriously and I was taking it seriously. I wanted to go and throw well and thought, ‘Hey, if I go throw well and these guys are open and make some plays, it might help them make a team as a receiver.’ ”

Especially curious — and suspicious — was offensive analyst Danny O’Brien, who was working with the quarterbacks. Powers referred to him as “Danny Boy” and sounded far more knowledgeable than a typical walk-on. Manning wore a wristband to remind him of some funny lines but didn’t wind up looking at it. He was winging it.

“He thought it was odd to have a player call him by his first name and use a nickname before I’d ever met him,” Manning said. “We’re doing routes versus air, and we had a little 15-yard comeback to the right. I go, `Hey, Danny Boy, I’m going to read this like Seam Sluggo and go three no-hitch, pump the slant, look at the seam, get it out to my comeback. How you like that?’ He’s like, `All right, Chad. Let’s go.’ What in the world is going on?’

“Then I started coaching up the receivers. I’m like, `Hey, you’ve got to get 15 yards on this. Don’t go 13, I’d rather you go 17. Don’t be short on me. Let’s get this.’ Lot of confusion going on.’ ”

After the tryout, Franklin called him in front of the group, and to laughter and applause, Manning removed his wig and peeled off his rubber mask.

“I was pretty hot under there,” he said. “I didn’t know it was going to be a full workout. I can throw, I can’t run. I was like, when are we getting to the throwing part?”

Nudge Neilon: Brett Neilon and the USC Trojans squander a game-winning drive.

 

It was a pivotal moment in the most pivotal game yet for USC under Lincoln Riley, the sort of triumphant turning point every title team inevitably needs, but at the time Saturday night, none of the Neilon family had any sense of the significance of a moment now known as the Neilon Nudge.

“One of my favorite plays I’ve ever had anywhere,” Riley said Tuesday.

Brett Neilon was just trying to get to the ball, like he’d been taught. All season, offensive coordinator Josh Henson had hammered into the Trojans’ offensive line to run to the ball and finish through the whistle. So once USC’s sixth-year center disengaged from his pass protection on that crucial, fourth-and-six play, he saw Caleb Williams streaking across his line of sight, tiptoeing between defenders with the ball in his hand. Then, suddenly, the Trojans quarterback could go no farther.

“I didn’t know honestly how close the first down was,” Neilon said. “And I just kind of looked at [Williams]. He kind of looked at me, and so I just ran full speed and hit him. I assumed it was close because there was no whistle. So I assumed the refs thought he might be pretty close, jockeying for position. So I just went, and I hit him pretty hard. Maybe the hardest hit of my life.”

From their seats in the far corner bleachers at Reser Stadium, Mike and Cora Neilon couldn’t make out much of what happened. Mike brought his binoculars like usual, but all they could see amid the aftermath was a pile near the first-down marker.

“It wasn’t until I got on the bus to go back to Portland,” Mike Neilon said, “that people kept saying, ‘Hey, look man, the Neilon Nudge!’ ”

A fourth-down nudge was all the push USC would need to escape Corvallis with a 17-14 win over Oregon State. Five plays later, Williams placed a perfect throw to Jordan Addison for a 21-yard, go-ahead touchdown. The defense responded in kind with a game-ending interception to keep USC’s undefeated start intact.

But it all began with the Neilon Nudge. The purveyor of the play had spent most of his tenure at USC reliably under the radar, quietly doing whatever was asked of him.

During 33 starts as the Trojans center, Neilon had never been the most imposing or the most physical along USC’s offensive line. The four offensive line coaches who cycled through USC regularly complimented his football IQ, his reliability, his leadership. But ahead of his final season, Riley and his staff pushed Neilon to be more than that.

“The thing we’ve challenged him to do is, like, you’re not Rudy. You have some ability,” Riley said last week. “Everyone looks at him, and he’s not a 6-foot-4, 310-pound center. We get that. But you watch the guy in the weight room, he’s strong. He moves a lot of weight.”

Neilon wasn’t the only Trojans lineman there to move Williams when USC needed them most. Right tackle Jonah Monheim arrived a split-second after Neilon. A split-second after that, left guard Andrew Vorhees came flying in from the opposite side.

Social media seized on Neilon; though, he wouldn’t know that until much later, when he finally saw the texts piling up on his phone.

None of the other nudgers seem to have any problem with the viral moment being synonymous with their center.

“Oh, I’m great with that name,” Monheim said.

“We’ve been nudging him around the building,” added left tackle Bobby Haskins, “giving him his own Neilon Nudge.”

On Tuesday, Neilon laughed at the fact his play was being compared to a more infamous push from USC’s past.

“The Bush Push, [that’s] probably more special,” he said, with a smile. “That’s two legends right there.”

The full story of the Neilon Nudge has yet to be written, the full weight of that moment to be determined through the remainder of this season. But early that Sunday morning, when Neilon finally returned to his place around 3 a.m., he couldn’t sleep. USC’s center was still running on adrenaline.

Eventually, around 5 a.m., he decided to text his dad, whom he hadn’t seen after the game. They barely talked about the play, until Mike brought it up himself.

“The best part of our conversation,” Mike said, “was when he told me, ‘Dad, I’m just really having fun.’ It was a perfect capstone to his six years at USC.”

It was too late to get much sleep when they finally hung up. So before long, Neilon left with the rest of USC’s offensive line to have breakfast at Jacks N Joe, where Williams was treating.

No nudges needed this time.

After their embarrassing loss to the Jaguars, the Chargers had a team meeting.

The Chargers lost 38-10 to Jacksonville on Sunday on an afternoon when quarterback Justin Herbert was noticeably affected by his rib cartilage injury.

Linebacker Drue Tranquill called the defeat “embarrassing” and, of the Jaguars, said “they whooped our tails.”

The Chargers are 1-2 and play their next two games on the road — at Houston (0-2-1) and Cleveland (2-1).

Five observations from a strange day at SoFi Stadium:

KEEPING IT IN-HOUSE SO SOON? It’s only Week 3, but the Chargers staged a player-led meeting in the aftermath of their four-touchdown loss.

The gathering was called by defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day, who is in his first season with the Chargers but is a team captain.

“That’s the way you want it to be, especially after a game like that,” coach Brandon Staley said. “All that needs to be said needs to come from them. That’s the way good teams are.

“There’s a lot of pride in that room. … We’ve got a lot of the right guys to be coaching. We’ve got a group that’s still coming together. This was just one game in the NFL.”

Asked whether he was concerned that it was a team newcomer who called the meeting, Staley said: “If it wouldn’t have been him, it would have been someone else. It’s not just him. But that’s the way you want your teams to be.”

Chargers fullback Zander Horvath is brought down by Jaguars cornerback Tyson Campbell in the fourth quarter.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

GROUND GAME SPINS WHEELS: The Chargers’ inability to run the ball has reached the point where they are last in the NFL, averaging 59 yards per game. They finished with 26 yards in 12 carries against the Jaguars.

“Maybe we could have run the ball a little bit more early on,” Herbert said, “but we were down, and so we had to throw the ball and we didn’t catch up. That’s the unfortunate part.”

Coming off a season in which he gained 1,558 yards from scrimmage and scored 20 touchdowns, running back Austin Ekeler has been unable to break loose. Through three games, he has rushed 32 times for 80 yards and caught 21 passes for 139 yards.

Ekeler has zero touchdowns.

“We just haven’t established any rhythm offensively,” Staley said. “Just haven’t blocked at the point of attack or in pass protection well enough. Because of that, you’re not going to see the production from the skill players.”

NO PRESSURE, BIG PROBLEM: The Chargers were unable to affect Jacksonville quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who looked quite comfortable while completing 28 of 39 attempts for 262 yards and three touchdowns.

Lawrence finished with a rating of 115.5, the second best of his young career. He was the top overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft.

The Chargers tried blitzing, but the Jaguars answered nearly every time with superior protection. Only Derwin James Jr. and Morgan Fox — one apiece — were credited with quarterback hits. The Chargers had no sacks.

“We tried to mix up the rush plan,” Staley said. “We just didn’t win enough one-on-ones today. They did, and you have to give credit to them.”

RUN ‘D’ RUN DOWN: The defense also surrendered a season-worst 151 rushing yards, 100 of which belonged to James Robinson. Fifty of those came on one touchdown run in the third quarter.

Robinson’s score converted on fourth and one barely a minute after the Chargers had closed to within 16-10 on a 25-yard field goal by Dustin Hopkins.

“I felt like, in the first half, we hung tough,” Staley said. “In the first half, we gave ourselves a chance. Then, that fourth-and-one run that split us … that really took the air out of us.

“There were a couple of killer third downs that forced us to play a lot more plays. We played over 40 plays (41) in the first half, and I felt that in the second half. I felt like we didn’t have that same energy.”

The Jaguars ran 75 plays to the Chargers’ 58 and had a time-of-possession advantage of 16 minutes 54 seconds.

COMPREHENSIVE FAILURE: The Chargers never led, lost the only two turnovers and committed seven of the nine accepted penalties.

Herbert completed a 54-yard pass to Jalen Guyton and a 45-yarder to Joshua Palmer. Otherwise, the Chargers had no play gain more than 17 yards.

Staley was asked afterward about 2022 perhaps teetering already.

“We’re just three games into a 17-game season,” he said. “That’s how the NFL is. You treat it one week at a time. Sometimes games happen like this. … It’s how you respond tomorrow and the next day and next day after that.”