Take 5: City of Stars, Cardiac Cleveland


Monica Herndon/Tampa Bay Times/TNS

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) dives for a touchdown over Cleveland Browns outside linebacker Jamie Collins (51) in the second quarter on Sunday in Tampa, Fla.

Isabelle Glatts

By The Pitt News Staff

With the NFL season meeting it’s halfway point and the NBA season just underway, there’s a lot happening across the sports landscape. The Pitt News is back to give their best takes on some of this week’s hottest headlines in sports.

La La Land is City of Stars

The Los Angeles Rams are widely regarded as the best team in the NFL right now, and their timing could not be better. In their third season since their return to LA from St. Louis, the Rams are making a huge splash around the league. With a prolific offense that is the highest-scoring in the NFL since the start of last season and a defense that is riddled with star power from the front seven to the secondary, LA lacks weak points.

In a city that has been known for basketball and baseball, with the Dodgers and showtime Lakers reigning supreme for so long, few would have expected a Rams franchise that had been mediocre for so long to move to Hollywood and rise to the top so quickly.

Now the Dodgers will represent the National League in the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, with Game 1 set to commence Tuesday night. Add to that the new NBA season getting underway with an upstart Lakers roster, ready to make a splash with the addition of the best basketball player on the planet — LeBron James.

Even the Los Angeles Chargers, who have flown under the radar thanks to being in the same division as the flourishing Kansas City Chiefs, are off to a great 5-2 start this NFL season. As noted in a previous Take 5, NFL fans could potentially be looking at a “Battle for LA” in this year’s Super Bowl, with each LA team representing their respective conferences.

Sports in Hollywood are flourishing at a higher level than they have in recent history, and this is thanks in large part to the immense star power that is present in Los Angeles right now.

— Andrew Kelly, Staff Writer

Cardiac Cleveland

The Cleveland Browns entered this NFL season as the league’s most irrefutably pathetic organization, having won just one game over the course of the previous two seasons. Each game, you could all but guarantee a Cleveland loss. But in 2018, a curious thing has happened — the Browns have become must-see TV.

It’s not that they’ve made a complete 180-degree turn into one of the league’s best teams like the LA Rams did a year ago. On the contrary, Cleveland still ranks in the bottom half of team offense and defense, and they own a losing 2-4-1 record. But amazingly, four of their seven games have gone into overtime — with one ending in a tie and three decided by late field goals — and two other games decided by four and three points in regulation. The only game the Browns convincingly lost was a 38-14 drubbing to the LA Chargers. Other than that, they’re just a few plays away from being 6-1, 0-7 or 2-1-4.

Overtime is the most exciting aspect of sports and right now, the Browns are churning out nail-biting, extra-time thrillers on a weekly basis. In this rebuilding year, Cleveland’s young players aren’t necessarily showing that they can win, but the lovable losers are showing they have what it takes to tie — and it’s created an entertaining spectacle that football fans can enjoy each week.

— Trent Leonard, Sports Editor

New England, Golden State … Penn State?

Over the past 10 years, there have been some truly dominant American sports dynasties. The NFL’s New England Patriots, the NBA’s Golden State Warriors and the NCAA’s Connecticut women’s basketball team are among the most commonly cited examples. However, nearly everyone you ask will leave out one program that, in my opinion, tops all the rest — Penn State wrestling.

The Nittany Lions have been the most dominant program in collegiate wrestling’s most dominant conference, and it all centers around the best coach in the game — Cael Sanderson. Before I get into Sanderson’s incredible tenure as a coach, I also want to acknowledge his insane career as a wrestler himself.

At Iowa State, Cael became one of few four-time NCAA champs, which is incredibly challenging by itself, but he took it one step further by never losing a single match. Going undefeated in your entire college career is indescribably difficult and rivals Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 points in one NBA game as the most unbeatable record of all time.

In Sanderson’s nine-year career with Penn State, top-tier recruits have flocked to Happy Valley to learn under his tutelage. Six times Sanderson has coached the Nittany Lions to earn multiple individual champions in the same year. The next-closest program has accomplished the feat just once. There have also been seven multi-time individual national champions in Penn State’s dominant run, including Ed Ruth (2012, 2013, 2014), Zain Retherford (2016, 2017, 2018) and Bo Nickal (2017, 2018).

These accomplishments are incredible and while most people don’t follow the sport of wrestling and don’t understand how dominant Penn State has been, it doesn’t take an expert to appreciate and understand that runs like this don’t come often, if ever.

— Jack Clay, For the Pitt News

Shuffling the NBA Food Chain

The NBA appears to be as lopsided as ever. Parity seems to be at an all-time low as the era of the super team has been fully embraced by teams around the league. The rich get richer, and everyone else is left to pick up the scraps.

Despite how lopsided the odds of winning the title are, the league as a whole is much deeper than it seems on the surface. Perennial bottom feeders like the Suns, Knicks and Mavericks have built through the draft to create teams that, despite losing often, provide stiff competition on a nightly basis.

In Phoenix, 2018 No. 1 overall draft pick DeAndre Ayton has teamed up with rising superstar Devin Booker. The Mavericks will feature highly touted Slovenian prospect Luka Doncic, whose guard skills in a 7-foot frame will pair well with the freakish athleticism of 2017 lottery pick Dennis Smith Jr.

In addition to former cellar-dwellers showing real progress in their rebuilding processes, the next generation of young superstars are leading playoff and title contenders.

There is more to the NBA than just who wins the title in June. This is a friendly reminder that there are more than 2,500 NBA games outside of the NBA Finals, so don’t miss out on the exciting talent building the next generation of basketball.

— Stephen Thompson, Staff Writer

Down go the Riverhounds

The Pittsburgh Riverhounds entered Highmark Stadium on Saturday for the first time as playoff hosts. On a rainy, cold night at Station Square in the presence of 5,189 passionate fans, Pittsburgh faced off against Bethlehem Steel FC. In their first-ever home playoff game, the Riverhounds sought to prove that they have what it takes to be deemed a credible professional Pittsburgh sports team.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t their night. Despite a great first half that featured a goal from Ben Zemanski, the Riverhounds couldn’t finish out the game when they had the chance. Bethlehem equalized in the 70th minute with a goal from midfielder Michee Ngalina. The match needed extra time to decide a winner. Highmark Stadium erupted with a goal from Riverhounds defender Hugh Roberts in the 105th minute, as it appeared to be the winner.

However, the Steel weren’t lying down. They tied the game again only four minutes later. Going to penalty kicks, both teams were on target for seven rounds. It was the eighth round that decided the match, and Riverhounds defender Raymond Lee sailed the penalty shot left to seal the defeat.

It was an admirable showing in their first home playoff game, but the weather and the pressure of the Steel eventually outmatched the Riverhounds. Nonetheless, Pittsburgh has the talent and ability to take what they accomplished this year into next season. With the growth of soccer in the United States, the Riverhounds have the tools to make their mark in both Pittsburgh sports and American soccer.

— Ben Zimmer, Staff Writer