AUBURN, Ala. — There's no particular reason "7 at 7" has been on hiatus for the better part of three months.
You won't hear any excuses on my part. But why waste time focusing on the past? What's done is done. What matters is that it's back. Even better, it will run Monday-Friday for the foreseeable future.
On to the links!
(It's been a while since I had a chance to type that. It feels good.)
1. If for some reason you missed it, set aside some time to read my long-form piece on Pacelli graduate and Auburn starting pitcher Michael O'Neal. The insight from his high school and junior college coaches is incredible, and O'Neal spoke with refreshing candor. Consider it music to the ears of any sports journalist who grows numb to the cliches that are commonplace among athletes and coaches today.
2. I grew up watching NASCAR. Every race I watched, I cheered for Dale Earnhardt Sr. When he died on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, I lost a bit of interest in the sport. Eventually, I came back to it, following it almost as closely as I did prior to his death. One thing I'd been pleased with in the years since his passing is that the No. 3 he made famous hadn't been used in the Sprint Cup Series. That's changed now, as Earnhardt's longtime owner, Richard Childress, has put it back on the track. Behind the wheel is his grandson, Austin Dillon. While it still pains me to see it — as I believe the 3 should be retired from the sport, along with other iconic numbers like the 43 (Richard Petty), 24 (Jeff Gordon) and 48 (Jimmie Johnson) — one can't help but smile to see that Dillon put the car on the pole for Sunday's Daytona 500. As Childress said moments after Dillon's pole became official, "You never dream it being this good."
3. How does it feel to finish just off the medal stand at the Olympics? The vast majority of us will never know. And in a way, it's a feeling impossible to even fathom unless you've experienced it. But The New York Times tries to help the rest of us understand what it's like to be fourth in the world.
4. John Wall sealed the title "dunker of the night" during Saturday's NBA Slam Dunk Contest with a remarkable display of athleticism. The Washington Wizards guard leaped over his team's mascot (named "G-Man," for those wondering), brought the ball back down below his knees and punctuated it with an incredible reverse dunk. NBA legend Magic Johnson was so impressed with Wall's slam that he said it single-handedly "brought the dunk contest back." Others, how shall we say, could beg to differ. In the first year using a team format for the dunk contest, Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver writes that it was a complete and utter disaster.
An excerpt: "The 2014 Dunk Contest will go down as confusing, boring, underwhelming, frustrating and — worst of all — a logistical mess that undercut a very strong group of dunkers."
Cheer yourself up by watching Wall's highlight reel dunk below.
5. It's pretty difficult to rank 30 of anything. But that's exactly what Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe did, as he ranked every manager in Major League Baseball from 1-30 heading into the 2014 season.
6. I'll lead this off with the first sentence of the article I'm about to link to: "Have you ever wondered what Disney movies would be like if they were all recreated and brought to life instead of cartoon drawings?" Thanks to legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz we now have our answer. Really cool stuff.
7. As this space so often does, we'll end on a video. ESPN's E:60 always does great work with its in-depth profile pieces from across the sports spectrum. In the piece below, Buster Olney tells the story of Ben Petrick, a player with talent so limitless that some had him ticketed for the Baseball Hall of Fame before he even saw his first pitch at the major league level.
Just five years later, he was already out of baseball.