Two iconic franchises with history between them, and just history in general: The Leafs and Wings played an alumni game doubleheader at Comerica Park because they had so many darn great players who wanted in.
It was played in an iconic venue, the Big House, that held 105,491 hockey fans that day — not an outdoor game attendance record, but close enough. The elements were punishing, with snow falling and wind whipping and temperatures that actually froze the ball inside the officials’ whistles.
Impossible as it might seem, the game was actually good! Jonathan Bernier saw 43 Red Wings shots sail his way, and Detroit needed a late third-period goal to force overtime. Toronto won in a shootout on a Tyler Bozak tally, sending half the stadium back over the border happy. (It also made the 3.57 million average viewers for CBC’s broadcast in Canada, a regular-season record, quite happy.)
One of the show’s biggest punchlines — which pokes fun at the Jacksonville Jaguars and quarterback Blake Bortles — has become a real-life evolution from bad to good.
The 11-6 Jaguars picked up their first NFL playoff win since 2007 last weekend, dispatching the Buffalo Bills 10-3. Bortles — a notorious underachiever since being the No. 3 pick in the 2014 draft — was the first quarterback in nearly two decades to rush for more yards (88) than pass (87) in the victory. Jacksonville faces the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC divisional-round playoff at 1:05 p.m. ET on Sunday in Pittsburgh.
It’s been very funny, because the team has been the butt of all jokes on the show for two years, and now suddenly here they are winning a playoff game on the back of Blake Bortles, Mande told USA TODAY Sports by phone on Thursday.
Close your eyes and think about the Winter Classic, and this game is what you see: 71,217 frozen puckheads, some of them shirtless, watching those baby blue Penguins jerseys peek out through the consistently falling snow. Seeing the players’ breath. Seeing them battle the elements. In the end, seeing Sidney Crosby win the game in the shootout with the flurries falling, as if Gary Bettman himself had scripted it.
The hype was off the charts for the game, just to see whether the NHL could pull off a rink build in seven days and an event of this magnitude. That it launched both the Winter Classic and Stadium Series franchises is a testament to its success.
Even Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer was among those who typecast Keenum as a just-in-case second-stringer. Zimmer acknowledged recently he didn’t gain full confidence in Keenum until the 11th or 12th game of the season and, when Teddy Bridgewater was cleared to play in mid-November, Zimmer never declared Keenum the starter for more than a week at a time.