Monday, November 30, 2020

AP college basketball survey: Gonzaga, Baylor stay atop Leading 25; Virginia Specialist, Richmond in

Gonzaga and Baylor remain the top two teams in first The Associated Press men’s college basketball poll of the regular season.

The Zags received 57 first-place votes from a 63-person media panel in the poll released Monday.

The Bears received six first-place votes, with Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois rounding out the top five.

Gonzaga (2-0) was the preseason No. 1 and lived up to the billing by rolling over Kansas and Auburn in Fort Meyers, Florida.

The Jayhawks dropped a spot to No. 7 this week but were ranked for the 222nd consecutive week, breaking UCLA’s all-time record set from 1966-80.

Villanova dropped nine spots to No. 12 after losing to Virginia Tech in Uncasville, Connecticut. The Hokies moved into the poll at No. 16.

No. 15 Virginia fell 11 spots this week after losing to San Francisco.

Richmond entered the rankings at No. 19.

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NFL establishes routine for Full week 16 tripleheader on Dec. 26

LOS ANGELES — The NFL has set its schedule for the league’s Saturday tripleheader on Dec. 26.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will visit the Detroit Lions at 11 a.m. MT followed by the San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals (2:30 p.m. MT) and Miami Dolphins at Las Vegas Raiders (6:15 p.m. MT).

The early and late games will air exclusively on NFL Network while the San Francisco-Arizona gamet will be streamed on Amazon Prime Video and Twitch.

The NFL had five games to choose from when the schedule was announced in May, with teams told only that they would play Dec. 26 or Dec. 27. That means the Cleveland-New York Jets and Denver-Los Angeles Chargers are set for Sunday, Dec. 27.

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Saints trainer Sean Payton does not have a lot compassion for Vic Fangio. Or even for the Broncos.

Did you have some sympathy for Broncos coach Vic Fangio, Sean Payton?

Any sympathy at all, given that the guy was forced to trot out an offense, in an NFL game, without the services of an NFL quarterback?

“Yeah, look, I think it’s tough for all the (teams),” the Saints coach replied. “Look, this is a challenging year. I felt bad for the cardboard fans. But it is what it is.”

So in other words … nope. Not much.

The Saints (9-2) weren’t apologizing for dancing on the grave the Broncos’ offense dug for itself. Or, if you like, the grave the NFL dug instead, given that New Orleans’ 31-3 rout at Empower Field went on as scheduled despite the home team having no healthy, active quarterbacks available.

Jeff Driskel tested positive for the coronavirus this past Thursday, and the prior contact of starter Drew Lock and backups Brett Rypien and Blake Bortles to Driskel earlier in the week also rendered them ineligible to play under the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols. The decision came down Saturday afternoon.

“It was a little weird,” Saints tailback Alvin Kamara said of the Broncos’ plight. “It was a weird day, a weird vibe to the game. But a win is a win.”

The closest thing to sympathy for the hosts came from Saints’ tailback Latavius Murray, who rambled for 124 yards. Murray after the game tipped his cap to Broncos emergency quarterback Kendall Hinton, a practice squad wide receiver and a former college quarterback at Wake Forest.

“I gave them a lot of credit to even have the confidence to step on the field and do what (Hinton) did,” Murray said of the Broncos wideout, who completed one pass in nine attempts and was picked off twice.

“I know it was tough for him. But I have a lot of respect for them. But it’s the kind of season that it’s been.”

The NFL’s decision not to delay the game didn’t just rub the Broncos’ faithful the wrong way. A gift-wrapped win for the Saints tightened New Orleans’ grip on the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, a scenario that irked fans of the Packers, Seahawks and Rams, all battling New Orleans for the top spot.

“Yeah, I don’t think ‘weird’ is the right word,” Payton said. “Look, everything about this season is unique. So we kind of tune out the things we can’t control.”

New Orleans quarterback Taysom Hill proved more empathetic, being a former college quarterback himself at BYU before taking snaps at tailback, wideout, tight end and on special teams as a pro.

Hill, who was making only his second NFL start behind center, said his directive from Payton “drastically changed” on Saturday when the Saints coaching staff found out the Broncos were going to have to field an offense without a natural quarterback.

“I think, going into the game, there was so much uncertainty; (we) didn’t know how this was going to play out,” said Hill, who threw for 78 yards and ran for 44 with two touchdowns on the ground. “Offensively, I’m not surprised that’s the way (the) game went.”

A stingy Saints defense that came in ranked fourth among NFL defenses in sack percentage and ninth in opponent scoring was going to prove a challenge, regardless of whether or not Lock was in the fold. But it was clear from the outset that New Orleans intended to crowd the box and dare somebody — anybody — from the Broncos to try and throw.

Knowing darn well that they couldn’t.

“It was kind of crazy,” said Saints linebacker Kwon Alexander, whose recovery of a fumbled exchange between wildcat quarterback Phillip Lindsay and center Lloyd Cushenberry late in the second quarter broke a weird contest wide open. “(We) knew they couldn’t do too much, especially (with Hinton) being a quarterback for just a game.”

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Broncos Q-and-A: Carried out trains assist fill-in quarterback Kendall Hinton achieve comfort level?

Question: The Broncos didn’t start a quarterback of any kind, choosing to go with the wildcat early on. Agree, disagree or indifferent?

Answer: Disagree.

The main objective in the first quarter for the Broncos’ coaches should have been to get practice squad receiver-turned-quarterback Kendall Hinton comfortable and in some type of rhythm even if that meant an early hand-off or three.

Instead, Hinton’s first snap was on third-and-3 (throwaway), his third snap was on third-and-12 (incompletion) and his fourth snap was on third-and-9 (five-yard scramble). Not ideal.

The other nitpick was having him roll out on his first pass and others throughout. Hinton needed to be kept stationary and worrying about the pass, not the footwork and the pass.

Q: The Saints didn’t score first until the 10:19 mark of the second quarter. What went right early on for the Broncos’ defense?

A: Saints quarterback Taysom Hill’s first six drop-backs ended in two sacks, a three-yard scramble, one incompletion and completions of two and three yards. The pass rush was getting to Hill.

But starting with its third drive, New Orleans decided to take the air out of the football and run it, .. and run it … and run it. The Saints finished with 44 carries, the most allowed by the Broncos since only last year (Buffalo 49 carries).

On their first scoring drive, the Saints ran on the final 10 plays (53 yards total). They did it by using two-tight end or tight end/sixth offensive lineman personnel and ran at the Broncos’ nickel front, which has one fewer defensive lineman on the field.

The Saints gained 4, 14, 1, 5, 5, 2, 6 and 1 yards, all but the first play coming against the Broncos’ nickel package.

Q: The Broncos’ committed three more turnovers, bringing their season total to a whopping 26. What happened on those plays?

A: Fumble — center Lloyd Cushenberry’s snap to running back Phillip Lindsay late in the second quarter was low and went through Lindsay’s legs. The Saints recovered when Lindsay tried to pick it up instead of falling on it. New Orleans started at the Broncos’ 13 and quickly made it 14-0.

Interception — two plays from scrimmage later, on second-and-8 from the 27, was the final turning point. Hinton had good protection vs. the Saints’ four-man rush (threw in 3.28 seconds) and undershot receiver DaeSean Hamilton. Janoris Jenkins returned it to the Broncos’ 41 and the Saints added a field goal for a 17-0 lead. Ball game.

Interception — on the opening drive of the third quarter, Hinton faced second-and-10 from his 44. This was a young guy trying to make a play. Hinton rolled right and with two rushers coming after him, threw off his back foot, overshooting tight end Troy Fumagalli.

Q: Lindsay (knee) and cornerback Bryce Callahan (ankle) were unable to finish the game. Reasons for concern?

A: Yes, yes, a hundred times yes.

Lindsay was grinding away for yards when he sustained his third injury of the season after a Week 1 turf toe and Week 7 concussion.

Callahan’s absence would be huge because he’s been arguably the Broncos’ best cornerback. When he departed, rookie Michael Ojemudia, who was benched after the Atlanta game for poor tackling, joined A.J. Bouye and rookie Essang Bassey on the field.

Playing Kansas City on Sunday night minus Callahan should be a scary thought for the Broncos.

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Along with Rapids' playoff dry spell over, Padraig Smith encounters several essential selections going into offseason

The Colorado Rapids ended their four-year playoff drought in 2020. The efforts of a young core signaled bright times ahead after a long rebuild.

How will the club continue to build on what they have? The key word for Rapids general manager Padraig Smith is retention.

“We’re delighted with the group we’ve built; the priority is to bring back a vast majority of that group,” Smith told The Denver Post. “We want to continue to build on the depth that we’ve got on the roster at the moment. We want to add some key pieces on both sides of the ball to ensure that we’re a better team next year than we were this year.”

Depth should be a significant factor in Major League Soccer in 2021. Though the season is slated to start on time, there will be a congestion of international tournaments. That includes the U-20 World Cup, Olympics, Gold Cup, World Cup qualifying and an assortment of national team tournaments for CONEMBOL and UEFA.

Just factoring in the Americans on the roster, Cole Bassett, Sam Vines, Jonathan Lewis, Kellyn Acosta and Seb Anderson could be called away. And the team has several other players who will undoubtedly miss games due to call-ups.

“Being two-deep at every position certainly is a goal. That puts us in the best position to weather not only international call-ups but also the inevitable injuries and suspensions that you’re going to have to endure during the season,” Smith said. “We also want to create an environment where our training sessions are of the highest quality. We want people to know they have to keep their standard otherwise there’s somebody right there chomping at the bit to take their spot.”

Already the Rapids may be better than where they finished in the standings — No. 5 in the West. They missed three home games down the stretch during their COVID-induced layoff. They could strengthen the roster by adding a starting quality center back, a versatile forward and midfield depth.

“For us, it’s doubling down on character and mentality. It’s ensuring that we keep those attributes at the forefront of every decision that we make when it comes to player recruitment,” Smith said. “It’s easy to be drawn into the search for talent, but talent needs to be added and allied to those other attributes. We have an incredibly strong group of players, both technically, tactically and from a mentality standpoint. That’s very important.”

One of those key players in 2020 was goalkeeper William Yarbrough. The longtime Liga-MX backstop started 14 games for Colorado and quickly became a leader. Yarbrough’s loan from León has expired. The Rapids’ other keeper, Clint Irwin, also can walk, leading to some questions in net.

“We’d love to bring Will back; there’s no doubt we felt like we had two of the top goalkeepers in the league last year, battling for that spot,” Smith said. “These things are challenging; international transfers are never simple and straightforward, but we’re already working on a solution to try to bring Will back to the club next year.”

The Rapids are also likely to pick up the options on Andre Shinyashiki and Jeremy Kelly. Danny Wilson, Collen Warner and Steven Beitashour all have options that are probably going to be declined, but that won’t stop the club from looking to re-negotiate. Similarly, Drew Moor is a free agent, but it’s hard to imagine the Rapids will let him walk.

“We have some players that are free agents; we’re already in negotiations with all of those in terms of looking to see who we want to bring back and who we can ultimately bring back,” Smith said. “Our intention is certainly to bring back the vast majority of the group.”

Complicating things further are the roster rules of MLS. The Rapids may look to reward Bassett and Vines with bigger, longer-term contracts for their excellent play. If they do so, they’ll have to push them from the club’s supplemental roster to their senior roster.

The Rapids rebuild has netted them a fair amount of quality players. Now the question is, what can they afford to lose, and where can they add? That’s what Smith will be trying to answer this winter.

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Sunday, November 29, 2020

Saints crush quarterback-less Broncos, 31-3, as Denver is actually upheld thirteen passing backyards

Calling up an undrafted rookie wideout from the practice squad to start a NFL game at quarterback, with essentially no preparation, might have made a good premise for a Disney movie.

But Sunday afternoon, the actual, ugly reality of the situation took hold. The Broncos, starting Kendall Hinton with their four roster quarterbacks unavailable due to COVID-19-related issues, were pummeled by the Saints, 31-3, at Empower Field. Denver fell to 4-7 and finished with 13 passing yards.

The Broncos defense kept the game tight for a half while the Broncos’ offense was non-existent from the get-go. Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman both saw snaps in the “Wildcat” formation on the Broncos’ first possession, and Hinton came in on 3rd-and-3 and threw incomplete under pressure for his first NFL pass. Hinton completed one pass – for the day – and threw two interceptions.

Although Lindsay provided the Broncos with an occasional spark from the wildcat, New Orleans’ defense was not fooled. Denver opened the game with four consecutive punts for the first time this season while the Saints capitalized on an offside penalty on fourth down en route to a touchdown on their third drive.

Denver then added a fifth consecutive punt before a fumble and an interception led to 10 easy points for New Orleans in the last 2:22 of the half, making it 17-0 at the break.

The fumble came on a poor snap to Lindsay, who should have fell on the ball, and when hit, the ball was popped loose and recovered by linebacker Kwon Alexander. Left tackle Garett Bolles saved a scoop-and-score with a shoestring tackle of Alexander, but the Saints would cash in anyways with a second Taysom Hill touchdown run to make it 14-0. The field goal that followed was because Janoris Jenkins intercepted Hinton’s deep pass intended for DaeSean Hamilton.

The Broncos finished the first half with zero yards passing, and just 37 net yards, as Hinton was 0-7 through the air.

A couple of lone Denver highlights occurred in the third quarter, when undrafted rookie cornerback Essang Bassey recorded his first career interception and returned it into Saints’ territory. The Broncos converted that into Brandon McManus 58-yard field goal at the 7:01 mark to make it 17-3. It was a career long for McManus and also set a team record with seven made field goals from 50-plus in a season.

New Orleans pulled away further with Latavius Murray’s 24-yard touchdown run through a gashed and tired Denver defense to make it 24-3 late in the third quarter. Murray added another scoring run, this time from seven yards out, to make it 31-3.

Denver also saw insult to injury added in the second half as both Lindsay (knee) as well as cornerback Bryce Callahan (foot) were both ruled out due to injury.

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ENJOY: Broncos' Essang Bassey obstructs Saints QB Taysom Hill

Broncos rookie cornerback Essang Bassey recorded his first career NFL interception Sunday.

On third-and-12 in the third quarter Sunday, Bassey snagged a deflected ball thrown by Saints quarterback Taysom Hill to give Denver good field position.

The play led to the Broncos scoring a 58-yard field goal to cut New Orleans’ lead to 17-3.

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Saturday, November 28, 2020

Full Week 12 NFL Picks: AFC South bait the line when Titans, Colts fulfill for second time in 3 weeks

Game of the week

Tennessee at Indianapolis

First place in the AFC South on the line between two 7-3 clubs, although the Colts hold the head-to-head tiebreaker (Week 10 win in Nashville). Both teams are coming off huge wins (Tennessee at Baltimore, Indianapolis vs. Green Bay). The Titans, a three-point underdog, take control of the division.

Titans 19, Colts 15

Lock of the week

Chicago at Green Bay

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers needs 165 yards passing to become the 11th player to reach 50,000 career yards. Green Bay (an 8 1/2-point favorite) has a two-game lead in the NFC North, but that’s not saying much considering it is the only team over .500. The Bears can barely make a first down.

Packers 30, Bears 13

Upset of the week

Arizona at New England

The Patriots are a 2 1/2-point home underdog after last week’s loss at lowly Houston. A critical game for Arizona, which is 6-4 and holds the seventh and final playoff spot in the NFC, but is third in its division. New England stays within striking range in the AFC East as Cam Newton outduels Kyler Murray.

Patriots 24, Cardinals 21


Around the AFC

Steelers in rare company. It’s unclear when Pittsburgh will play next because of Baltimore’s coronavirus issues. But the Steelers are already the 16th team since the 1970 merger to start 10-0. Only 11 teams have started 11-0 and nine of those teams reached the Super Bowl (five won the title). The Broncos started 11-0 in 1998, finished 14-2 and won the Super Bowl. Carolina started 11-0 in 2015, finished 15-1 and lost to the Broncos in the Super Bowl.

Herbert-Allen magic. If the Chargers can get things figured out this offseason, they will be a big problem for the Broncos and the AFC West because of quarterback Justin Herbert and receiver Keenan Allen. At Buffalo on Sunday, Herbert can tie Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck in 2012 for the most 300-yard passing games as a rookie (six). Allen leads the league with 81 catches. The Chargers’ defense has been a season-long letdown — they rank 11th in yards, but 26th in points allowed.

Allen gets shot. Hat tip to former Broncos quarterback Brandon Allen, who went 1-2 last year bridging Joe Flacco’s departure and Drew Lock’s arrival. Allen was elevated from the Cincinnati practice squad to replace Joe Burrow, who sustained a season-ending knee injury in last week’s loss at Washington. The Broncos claimed Allen off waivers from the Los Angeles Rams in September 2019, but elected not to re-sign him in favor of Jeff Driskel. That hasn’t worked out.

Jaguars’ bright spot. The Jaguars haven’t won since Week 1 (nine consecutive losses) and turn to Mike Glennon as their third starting quarterback of the year. But undrafted rookie running back James Robinson is a bright spot. Entering Week 12, Robinson ranked third in the NFL with 762 rushing yards, yet another example of how quality rushers can be found late in the draft or afterward (like the Broncos’ Phillip Lindsay).


Around the NFC

Staley’s stock rising. At least one veteran Broncos player said last January the defense would feel the impact of losing outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley to the Los Angeles Rams as defensive coordinator. That’s how respected Staley was behind the scenes. With the Rams, his profile seemingly rises every week. The Rams (7-3) are tied for the NFC West lead with Seattle and rank first in fewest yards allowed per game and per play, are fifth against the run, second against the pass and second in fewest points allowed. Staley is a great future head coach who is learning under Sean McVay.

Hendrickson leads Saints. The list of players leading the NFL in sacks are mostly familiar — Cleveland’s Myles Garrett (9 1/2), Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt (nine) and the Rams’ Aaron Donald (nine). But New Orleans’ Trey Hendrickson is tied with Garrett. A third round pick in 2017, Hendrickson has five sacks in the last three games. He had only 6 1/2 sacks in his first three seasons combined.

Pederson on hot seat. So how are things going with the 3-6-1 Eagles? “Is Doug Pederson trying to get fired?” was the Philadelphia Inquirer headline Wednesday. “Pederson has become an irritable, petulant bully, prone to sarcasm, increasingly bitter and petty,” Marcus Hayes wrote of the Eagles’ coach. First, that’s a great sentence. Second, it represents just how bad the Eagles are because of quarterback Carson Wentz’s regression and the offensive line’s inconsistency (40 sacks allowed).

Buccaneers reeling. Watching Tampa Bay’s offensive play-calling and execution recently has been painful. Why not use things like pre-snap shifts/motions to get a read on the defense? Why not prioritize tight end Rob Gronkowski (31 catches)? Why have Tom Brady on a speed roll-out on fourth down (failed play)? Kansas City will send the Buccaneers to 7-5 by late Sunday afternoon.

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CU Buffs vs. San Diego Condition searching report: That has the edge, prophecies as well as 3 factors to watch

Three things to watch

1. Last-second showdown. In a scenario that could only happen in 2020, the second meeting in the history of these two programs was put together two days before kickoff after their scheduled conference opponents (USC and Fresno State) were sidelined by COVID-19. The Buffs won the first meeting 34-14 on Sept. 7, 2002, thanks to a big game from running back Chris Brown (29 carries, 185 yards).

2. Rusty Buffs? CU received an impromptu bye when last week’s scheduled game against Arizona State was lost to the virus. How long it takes the Buffs to shake off the rust against the Aztecs, who lost 26-21 to unbeaten Nevada last Saturday in Reno, could very well determine who comes out of Saturday’s game with the “W.”

3. MW mainstay. Thanks to the Rocky Mountain Showdown, the Buffs have faced a Mountain West opponent every year since the conference’s inception in 1999. They’ve fared pretty well in those meetings, too, going 17-10 overall. That record is padded with wins against CSU (14-7), however. Against the rest of the MW, CU is an unimpressive 3-3.

Who has the edge?

When SDSU runs

The Aztecs’ biggest strength on offense is unquestionably their ground game. SDSU is averaging 280.3 rushing yards per game (fourth-best in FBS), with senior Greg Bell the, ahem, bellcow at 565 yards and six touchdowns on 94 totes. While the Buffs have only surrendered 245 rush yards in a pair of wins, they are giving up 5.33 yards per carry. That will not get it done against SDSU.

Edge: SDSU

When SDSU passes

We’re a long way away from the days of Dan McGwire, Don Coryell and vaunted passing games of SDSU past. The Aztecs’ mostly ground-bound offense is capable of making big plays through the air, but usually only after establishing the run. Case in point: SDSU has only one more TD pass (4) than interceptions thrown (3). A still young-and-inexperienced CU secondary should hold its own.

Edge: Buffs

When the Buffs run

After submitting back-to-back 100-yard games against UCLA and Stanford in his first two collegiate starts, this much is certain about CU running back Jarek Broussard: the Texas native is the real deal. Now the sophomore faces a stiff test against an Aztecs defense that is allowing just 90.5 rushing yards per game. Nary a running back has topped the century mark against SDSU this fall. Can Broussard be the first?

Edge: Buffs

When the Buffs pass

Buffs quarterback Sam Noyer and receiver Dimitri Stanley have showcased a special connection through two games, with the Cherry Creek product hauling in six passes in both games for 192 yards. Noyer has been efficient overall, completing 63.6% of his passes for 512 yards and three touchdowns. The Aztecs’ secondary is no pushover, however, with its 152.3 passing yards allowed per game third-best in FBS.

Edge: SDSU

Special teams

Aztecs kicker Matt Araiza has been solid, if unspectacular, this season, hitting 6-of-8 field goals with none longer than 36 yards. Evan Price has been similarly effective since replacing James Stefanou. SDSU punter Tanner Kuljian (48.44 yards per punt) is a great field position weapon.

Edge: Even

Post predictions

Sean Keeler, columnist: CU 34, SDSU 30

During a season in which we’re literally making everything up as we go along (including the schedule), it feels like the only sure things in the world anymore are Sam Noyer karate-kicking some defender, the Buffs hanging 30 on someone, and the CU defense hanging on for dear life.

Matt Schubert, deputy sports editor: CU 24, SDSU 20

The Buffs have to invite a Mountain West team to Boulder to finally face a decent defense. Expect a challenge for Sam Noyer and Co., but the Buffs have just enough to outscore a one-dimensional Aztecs attack.

Kyle Fredrickson, beat writer: CU 38, SDSU 35

A fourth-quarter field goal gives the Buffs a 3-0 start behind another impressive game from quarterback Sam Noyer. CU’s bend-but-don’t-break defense does just enough for the win.

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50-something Mike Tyson, Roy Jones Jr. famished to fight again

LOS ANGELES — Mike Tyson stepped onto a spotlighted stage Friday and weighed in at 220 pounds, ripping off his shirt to reveal a muscled torso that could belong to an athlete of half his 54 years.

The former heavyweight champion moved into a COVID-protective glass box and went nose-to-nose with Roy Jones Jr., once the most talented fighter in the world. Jones’ 210-pound frame was slightly less toned, but still clearly in better condition than most of his fellow 51-year-olds.

These two boxing greats are older, calmer men now, but they’re returning to the ring Saturday night intending to recapture a moment of their brilliant past — and they’ve both worked very hard to make sure they won’t be embarrassed in this extraordinary boxing exhibition.

“This is the fun part,” said Tyson, who will fight for the first time in 15 years. “Everything else to get here was hell.”

Their fight at Staples Center is an eight-round sparring session of sorts. It will have two-minute rounds, no official judging and limited violence, although the limit depends on whether you’re asking the California State Athletic Commission or the fighters, who both intend to let their hands go.

“Maybe I don’t know how to go easy,” Tyson said. “I don’t know. I don’t want to say the wrong thing. I don’t want the commission mad at me.”

But for Tyson and Jones, this unique pay-per-view show is less of a sporting event and more of a chance for two transcendent athletes to prove age is a number — and aging is a choice.

“I don’t look at life as age,” Tyson said. “I look at life as energy. You don’t bring your age to the table. You bring your energy to the table. You don’t go meet people: ‘Hey, I’m Bob. I’m 59.’ You don’t do that.”

Tyson still seems surprised by the wave of events that carried him back to the ring. He admits the younger Tyson never would have believed he would be a middle-aged husband and father who needed to lose 100 pounds two years ago, because that headstrong kid from Brooklyn had never thought that far ahead.

“I didn’t even think I would live this long,” he said. “I was just so intense, and just took myself so serious.”

Tyson got back into shape at the urging of his wife, who got him to start doing 15 minutes a day on the treadmill. The 15 minutes turned into two hours, and then expanded to biking, running and eventually punching, along with the adoption of a vegan diet.

“Never eat anything,” he said with a laugh. “Just starve and exercise.”

The momentum started when he posted video of a training session on social media early in the coronavirus pandemic, and his crisp, powerful punches led to millions of impressions and a subsequent stream of increasingly lucrative comeback offers, along with the chance to raise money for charities.

“This is a part of my life that I had pretty much thrown away,” Tyson said. “My last fight, I didn’t have any interest in doing it. I’m interested in doing it now.”

Tyson is referring to his loss to journeyman Kevin McBride in 2005, when he finally wrapped up his singular career in ugly fashion. He became the heavyweight champion at 20 and reigned over the division for five years, but his epic downfall soured him on the sport.

“I want to do it now,” Tyson said. “Most of the time I was obligated to do it from a contract perspective: ‘If you don’t do this, we’ll take everything you have, and you’ll be back in Brownsville.’ They were blackmailing me. It’s a different perspective now.”

While Tyson became an international icon for his brutish, dangerous image and numerous misbehaviors, Jones was widely revered as perhaps the most skilled boxer of his generation. Jones was a preternaturally gifted athlete who dominated his weight classes while still pursuing his passion for basketball.

Nate Robinson was a rookie guard for the Knicks in 2005 when Jones participated in a full practice with the team.

“I was freaking out,” said the 36-year-old Robinson, no stranger to freakish athletic feats as a three-time winner of the NBA Slam Dunk contest at 5-foot-9. “That was one of the highlights of my life, to be able to rub shoulders and hoop with one of your favorite boxers.”

Jones fought regularly throughout the 2010s, but thought he was finally retired two years ago. When he got an offer to be the opponent in Tyson’s comeback, Jones couldn’t resist the chance to fight a legend he never got to meet during a career spent mostly at light heavyweight.

So Jones embarked on his own comeback training regimen.

“It’s been the craziest thing you ever could have imagined,” Jones said. “I can’t believe I’m able to maintain my speed at 51 years old. I’m still faster than 95% of the boxing world, and it shocks me. The aches and pains are there because you’re 50, and they’re going to be there no matter what you do. You just have to have a mental strength to overcome an adversity.”

Tyson and Jones are returning to a new world of boxing fandom and consumption. This show is being promoted by Triller, a video-making app and social media platform, with a fight-night show featuring performances by several rappers, a surprisingly solid undercard and a co-main event pitting Robinson in his professional boxing debut against YouTube star Jake Paul.

Robinson and Paul both seem appropriately awed by the circumstances of their bout.

“You’ve got to remember, I’m 23, and this is the first time that people my age will be able to experience a Mike Tyson fight live,” Paul said. ”I can’t believe I’m a part of it.”

Neither Tyson nor Jones is likely done with boxing after this show. Jones said he hopes to fight mixed martial arts legend Anderson Silva next “if this one goes well,” while Tyson will go wherever this strange trip takes him next.

“Me being here is already a success,” Tyson said. “Me just existing as a human being is a success.”

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