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Former Atlanta Falcons All-Pro Bill Fralic dead at 56

Former Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman Bill Fralic, who played for the team from 1985 to 1992, died Thursday following a battle with cancer, according to the University of Pittsburgh.

He was 56.

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After a storied career at the University of Pittsburgh, the three-time All-American was drafted second overall in the 1985 draft by the Falcons.

He started immediately at right guard and went to four Pro Bowls and was twice named to the All-Pro team

After 1992, he played one season with the Detroit Lions. He played in 132 NFL games, 131 as a starter.

>> Notable deaths of 2018

“I enjoyed being around him,” said David Archer, who was the Falcons’ quarterback during Fralic’s first three years with the team. “He was a very intense guy when it came to game day. He was one of those guys who looked at you on game day and you almost felt like I better play pretty well or this guy is going to rip my head off. That’s kind of the way he played, too.”

Fralic was on the 1991 Falcons team that finished the regular season 10-6 and went to the playoffs under coach Jerry Glanville. 

“I was sad to hear that,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said after practice Friday. “I didn’t know he was battling through some stuff.”

Falcons owner Arthur Blank issued a statement Friday:

“On behalf of the Atlanta Falcons we would like to extend our condolences to all the family and friends of Bill Fralic,” he said. “Bill was a cornerstone of the Falcons for eight seasons, while earning four Pro Bowl nods and two All-Pro selections. He was a beloved Falcon, and we will always be grateful for the impact he made here in Atlanta.”

Fralic appreciated a good locker room prank and was a fine teammate. 

“From a teammate standpoint, he and I had many beers together,” said Archer, who currently is the Falcons’ color analyst on radio. “He was a good teammate. He was a good guy that loved to laugh. He loved to play little jokes on guys.”

Fralic knew how to carry out his pranks, too. 

“He had a really cool sense of humor because he was one of those guys who could pull a joke on a guy, or get a guy in an awkward position and make fun of him in the locker room, and he wouldn’t give it away,” Archer said. “A lot of guys would give away the joke, but Bill was really good at keeping the poker face. Then the dude would never knew who did it because Bill wouldn’t give him any indication that he was the guy who did it.” 

As good as he was on the field, he was also very outspoken off it and in 1989 testified in a U.S. Senate hearing about the rampant use of steroids in the NFL, pushing for stricter testing.

Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time, said Fralic’s testimony was “refreshing and believable.”

Fralic, who was 6-foot-5 and 280 pounds, starred at the University of Pittsburgh from 1981 to 1984. He became the first offensive lineman to twice finish in the top 10 of the Heisman Trophy balloting, placing sixth in 1984 and eighth in 1983.

Fralic's collegiate career led to the phrase “Pancake Block” being added to the football lexicon. Pitt publicists used “Pancakes” as a statistical barometer for each time Fralic put an opposing defensive lineman on his back. 

Fralic additionally was named to the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team. 

Fralic’s No. 79 jersey was retired by Pitt at halftime of his final home game in 1984, a 21-10 win against Tulane. He would go on to be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1998.

A western Pennsylvania native, Fralic became the first sophomore to letter in football at Penn Hills High School. He also became a WPIAL heavyweight wrestling champion for the Indians, compiling a 98-7 record on the mat. 

Fralic was a member of the inaugural Pitt Athletics Hall of Fame class that was enshrined in September.

In 1989, he established Bill Fralic Insurance, which became a leader in specialized commercial trucking insurance. Fralic also did radio analyst work for the Falcons and Pitt football.

“Bill Fralic was not only an all-time player at the University of Pittsburgh, but also an all-time human being,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “His generosity, support and concern for others was unmatched. For as hulking a figure as he was, Billy was even larger in his kindness and passion for others. He leaves a wonderful legacy that goes well beyond football at Pitt, Penn Hills and all of Western Pennsylvania. Our hearts and prayers are with his wife, Susan, and all of his loved ones.” 

Memorial arrangements will be announced at a later date.

“A gentle giant off the field and a guy who was fun to be around,” Archer said. “He had a great smile and a great laugh. But was also just an assassin on the field from a blocking standpoint and how he played with his demeanor.”

Family of former Dallas Cowboys player killed in DWI crash awarded $25M

A Texas jury on Thursday returned a $25 million verdict against former Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Josh Brent and the owner of a nightclub in the death of Brent’s teammate, Jerry Brown Jr., WFAA reported.

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Jurors in the civil case in Dallas County found that Beamers nightclub in Dallas was partly to blame for overserving Brent on Dec. 8, 2012, and he left the club drunk and crashed, killing Brown, the Dallas Morning News reported.

Beamers and Brent shared nearly half the blame in the incident -- 48 percent each -- with the other 4 percent assessed to Brown, WFAA reported.

Beamers has since closed and representatives of the nightclub could not be reached for comment, the television station reported.

Brent was found guilty of intoxication manslaughter in 2014 and was sentenced to 180 days in jail and 10 years of probation.

"I'm sure Jerry's looking down and happy," Stacey Jackson, Brown’s mother, told the Morning News after the verdict. She told the newspaper that some of the money will go toward a nonprofit organization dedicated to her son.

There were no punitive damages, the newspaper reported.

Jackson and Brown's estate had sought up to $95 million in damages, mostly from the bar and management company, the Morning News reported. 

Brown, 25, a linebacker, played one season in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts. The Cowboys signed Brown as a free agent in October 2012. The University of Illinois alumnus also played in the Arena Football League and the Canadian Football League before signing with the Colts in early 2012.

Brent, 30 played four seasons with the Cowboys from 2010 to 2014.

Ex-NBA star Dikembe Mutombo flies boy to U.S. to have tumor removed

The foundation of retired NBA star Dikembe Mutombo flew an 8-year-old boy from Africa to the United States so the child could have surgery to remove a large tumor from his face, KABC reported.

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Mutombo first met Matadi in Congo, where the former pro basketball star’s foundation built a hospital, the television station reported. Doctors repaired a cleft lip for Matadi but were unable to operate on the tumor.

"(It’s) very difficult as a father to see a child who is 8 years old who is born like all of us but has not gotten opportunities," Mutombo said.

Mutombo’s foundation sponsored Matadi’s flight to the United States, where doctors at the Osborne Head & Neck Foundation in Los Angeles are performing the surgery for free.

"He is suffering from a life-threatening illness and we are here to help this little boy and Mr. Mutombo's foundation save this little boy's life," Dave Dell of the Osborne Head and Neck Foundation told KABC."Hopefully (the surgery will) change the life of this young man and go back to living a normal life," Mutombo told the television station.Matadi will stay with his father, who accompanied his son to the United States, at the Ronald McDonald house for free while he recovers from his surgery.

1990 basketball card appears to show Menendez brothers in background 

A sports card that has been practically worthless for more than 25 years has suddenly become a sensation in the collectibles hobby.

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That’s because the two men in the background of a 1990-91 Hoops basketball card of Mark Jackson look like the infamous Menendez brothers, the New York Daily News reported.

While there has been no confirmation that the two men pictured are indeed Lyle and Erik Menendez, it is possible that the brothers, convicted in 1996 for their parents' murders in 1989, could have been sitting courtside at Madison Square Garden, Sports Collectors Daily reported.

Neither the brothers nor Jackson have commented about the card.

Twitter user John Rosenberger tweeted Friday that a poster on the Reddit website named Pirate_Redbeard wrote that Lyle and Erik Menendez appear to have been sitting in front-row seats when Jackson's card photo was taken during the 1989-90 NBA season.

Which game was it? The Knicks played 28 home games before the brothers were arrested in March 1990, and no opposing players are included in the photo, so it’s difficult to say.

The Reddit entry echoed an Aug. 9 Instagram post by jgold50, a self-described “collector of random things, mostly mortality subject matter.”

Lyle Menendez, now 50, and Erik Menendez, who turned 48 on Nov. 27, are now serving life sentences without parole after fatally shooting Jose and Mary “Kitty” Menendez on Aug. 20, 1989. Both men are currently serving time at the R.J. Correctional Facility in San Diego, according to CBS News.Before the brothers were arrested in Beverly Hills, California, on March 8, 1990, they spent a large amount of their parents’ money, according to court records. The brothers took trips and bought cars. Lyle Menendez bought a chicken wing restaurant in New Jersey, the Los Angeles Times reported in 1994.

Darren Rovell, a sports business reporter for The Action Network, tweeted that the Jackson card was selling on eBay for as much as $30

“This checks out,” Rovell wrote in a different tweet. “Menendez murder happened Aug. 20, 1989. Brothers were apprehended March 1990. Photo was taken at MSG in 1989-90 season and set came out before 1990-91 season.”

Jackson played seven of his 17 seasons in the NBA for the Knicks and coached the Golden State Warriors from 2011 to 2014. He is currently a commentator for ESPN.

By Sunday night, Amazon had eight cards for sale. One seller jokingly referred to it as the “Menendez Brothers rookie card.”

Rob Veres, the owner of Burbank Sportscards in Southern California, told Sports Collectors Daily he sold 130 of the Jackson cards recently. 

“We knew about it a few months ago and bought up a few hundred of them thinking it could be something special if the general public discovered it,” Veres told the collectibles website. “Those cards, along with 100 cards we had in regular stock, gave us a nice quantity. We started selling them at $7.99 months ago and they moved all right, but when the Reddit post went viral and it hit Bleacher Report as well as the hobby sites, things got crazy.” 

Even after raising prices, Veres told Sports Collectors Daily said he was able to sell the cards for as much as $24.99 apiece.

“The mind-blowing stat is the 8,349 page views for this single listing, 7,000 of which have been in the past 36 hours,” Veres said. “I can’t recall ever seeing anything like that.”

It’s not the first time infamous persons have appeared in the background of a photograph. A photograph exists of John Wilkes Booth in attendance at the second presidential inauguration of Abraham Lincoln on March 4, 1865, reported in 2015. Six weeks later, Booth would assassinate Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre in Washington.

The Jackson card now becomes an oddity among sports cards, to be placed next to the 1989 Fleer baseball card of Billy Ripken with an obscenity written on the bat knob and the 1994-95 Pinnacle hockey card of Sylvain Turgeon, which featured future Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane watching from the stands as a child.


Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray apologizes for anti-gay tweets

Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Kyler Murray issued an apology Sunday after coming under fire for years-old anti-gay tweets.

>> On Kyler Murray becomes 7th Sooner to win Heisman

"I apologize for the tweets that have come to light tonight from when I was 14 and 15," Murray, 21, tweeted Sunday, just one day after the University of Oklahoma junior won the award. "I used a poor choice of word that doesn't reflect who I am or what I believe. I did not intend to single out any individual or group."

>> See the tweet here

CNN reported that Murray deleted "many, although not all" of the tweets, which were posted in 2011 and 2012.

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Murray, who beat out Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama and Dwayne Haskins of Ohio State to win the Heisman, also excels at baseball and recently signed with the Oakland Athletics, The Associated Press reported.

Read more here.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray wins Heisman Trophy

Kyler Murray has won the Heisman Trophy, becoming the University of Oklahoma's seventh Heisman winner, beating fellow finalists Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama and Dwayne Haskins of Ohio State on Saturday. Murray gives the Sooners back-to-back years with Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks (Baker Mayfield, 2017), something no school has done before.

>> Watch the news report here

It's the latest award of the week for Murray, who on Thursday was named the AP Player of the Year and won the Davey O’Brien Award given to the nation’s top quarterback.

Murray leads the nation in total yards (school-record 4,945), points responsible for (306), passing efficiency rating (205.7; FBS record is 198.9), yards per pass attempt (11.9; FBS record is 11.1) and yards per completion (16.8; tied). He also ranks second in completion percentage (.709; first among Power Five players).

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The Allen, Texas, product has completed 241 of 340 passes this year for 4,053 yards and 40 touchdowns against seven interceptions. He has also rushed for 892 yards and another 11 scores. He needs 108 rushing yards to become just the second player in FBS history to throw for at least 4,000 and run for at least 1,000 in a season (Clemson's DeShaun Watson did it in 2015 with 4,109 passing and 1,105 rushing in 15 games).

Murray has thrown at least two touchdown passes in 12 of 13 games this season, and has thrown at least three TD passes in 10 contests. He had his school- and Big 12-record streak of eight games with at least three TD passes snapped in a win against Oklahoma State on Nov. 10.

No. 4-ranked OU, which behind Murray leads the nation in points per game (49.5), yards per game (577.9) and yards per play (8.7; FBS record is 8.6), will make its 52nd bowl appearance when it takes on No. 1 Alabama in the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl on Dec. 29.

Read more here.

Atlanta United wins MLS Cup, beats Portland 2-0

The Kings of the South are the Kings of MLS.

>> Watch the news report here

Behind goals from Josef Martinez and Franco Escobar, Atlanta United defeated Portland 2-0 to win the MLS Cup in front of record announced attendance of more than 73,000 on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

>> On PHOTOS: Atlanta United brings home the MLS Cup

No one, from owner Arthur Blank to the players, were shy in the past few weeks about expressing their ambition to win the MLS Cup for manager Gerardo Martino, who is leaving the club, for themselves and the supporters. It was the 17s, as the team nicknamed its supporters, who embraced the Kings of the South nickname and who turned their home into a cauldron of noise throughout the season by setting numerous attendance records.

>> On Atlanta United victory parade planned for Monday

“These are always special moments, to culminate this amazing process we’ve had in Atlanta,” Martino said.

The city pulsed with anticipation throughout the week about the opportunity to break a title drought in the major pro sports leagues dating to the Braves winning the 1995 World Series.

The crowd was whipped into a frenzy early by Blank, who hammered the Golden Spike in the ceremony that Atlanta United performs just before the start of every home game. 

By kick-off, the stadium was packed. Those in the Supporters’ Section swayed back and forth while singing “We Ready” by Archie Eversole, who was on hand to lead the vocals.

The game started slowly.

As expected, Portland focused on defense, trying to absorb Atlanta United’s pressure in order to counterattack.

Atlanta United thought it had a case for a penalty kick in the 16th minute after Martinez appeared to be tripped by Larrys Mabiala, but referee Alan Kelly consulted with the Video Assistant Referee and denied the pleas.

Miguel Almiron put a charge into the crowd in the 29th minute when he attempted a flying side volley off a cross from Greg Garza. His shot, which wasn’t hit as well as he would have liked, was palmed away by Jeff Attinella.

>> On Euphoric fans: ‘We did it. We really did it.’

Atlanta United broke through in the 39th minute on a goal by Martinez. The play started with a sliding tackle by Michael Parkhurst of Jeremy Ebobisse that forced the ball back toward Portland’s goal. Parkhurst said that Brad Guzan told him that when Ebobisse moves toward the ball, he likes to go to his right to set play inside of his left foot. Parkhurst said he saw him starting to do that, so he slid to try to bock the pass.

“Josef did the rest from there and did what he always does and it ended up in the back of the net,” Parkhurst said.

Timbers centerback Liam Ridgewell reached out his right leg to try to stop the ball from rolling past but couldn’t. As he has done often the past two seasons, Martinez pounced. He dribbled to his right and waited on Atinella to commit before taking one more dribble to his right and scoring with his right foot. It was Martinez’s 35th goal this season, extending his MLS record for scoring.

As they have done throughout the playoffs, the Timbers fought back and almost tied the score in the 42nd minute, but Brad Guzan dove to his right to stop Ebobisse’s point-blank header in the 42nd minute.

Portland kept applying pressure, but it was Atlanta United which broke through for a crucial second goal.

A free kick whipped in by Almiron skimmed off the top of Martinez’s head and to the foot of Escobar, whose sliding one-timer gave the Five Stripes a 2-0 lead in the 54th minute. It was Escobar’s second goal in the playoffs and third this season. Almiron and Martinez were given assists. Martinez was named the game’s MVP.

“You started to sense that they tossed in the towel a little bit,” Guzan said. “The first goal is always going to be massive one way for another. To get the first one was big. To get the second one, the second one really broke their backs.”

>> Read more trending news 

The title was secured by a dominating series of performances in the playoffs, culminating with Atlanta United’s third shutout in five postseason games. The team finished the season by going 11-2-4 at home during the regular season and 3-0-0 in the postseason with just two goals allowed.

“We never suffered, we were never uncomfortable,” Martino said. 

Atlanta United’s players sensed that the Timbers weren’t going to be able to recreate the road magic that carried them in the knockout round game at Dallas, and the series against Seattle and at Sporting KC.

“I thought we were the better team,” Atlanta United’s Julian Gressel said. “We were in the game more than Portland was.”

Now, Atlanta United is a champion.

“If I had to choose a way to leave somewhere, this is the best way,” Martino said.

Titans RB Derrick Henry ties NFL mark with 99-yard touchdown run 

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry set a team record and tied a National Football League mark with a 99-yard touchdown run during Thursday night’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, The Tennessean reported.

>> Read more trending news 

Henry, who ran for a franchise-record 238 yards and four touchdowns in the Titans’ 30-9 victory against the Jaguars, tied the NFL mark for the longest touchdown run from scrimmage, set Jan. 3, 1983, by Dallas Cowboys star Tony Dorsett against the Minnesota Vikings. 

After the Titans stopped Jacksonville on a goal-line stand in the second quarter, Henry took a handoff at the 1-yard line and broke through the middle. He veered to his left, stiff-arming a pair of Jaguars defenders as he rumbled down the sidelines. 

Henry’s 238 yards rushing broke the franchise record set on Nov. 1, 2009, when Chris Johnson gained 228 yards against Jacksonville. His 99-yard run broke the team mark set by Johnson, who broke off a 94-yard run against the New York Jets on Dec. 17, 2012, The Tennessean reported.

Both Johnson and Dorsett paid tribute to Henry’s effort on Twitter:

Former MLB players Jose Castillo, Luis Valbuena die in car crash 

Two former major-league baseball players were killed in an automobile accident Thursday night after playing a winter league game in Venezuela, the Los Angeles Times reported.

>> Read more trending news 

Cardenales de Lara teammates Jose Castillo, 37, and Luis Valbuena, 33, were returning to Barquisimeto with another former major-leaguer, Carlos Rivero, after a game in Caracas when their car collided with a sliding rock, ESPN reported.

Rivero's chauffeur veered off the road while trying to avoid the rock, according to an article from While Rivero and the driver survived the wreck, a police report said Castillo and Valbuena died after being ejected from the vehicle, the Times reported.

Castillo played in the majors from 2004 to 2008 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, San Francisco Giants and Houston Astros. Valbuena played 11 seasons with the Seattle Mariners, Cleveland Indians, Chicago Cubs, the Astros and the Los Angeles Angels.

Bengals lose wide receiver A.J. Green for the season

The hits just keep on coming for the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Bengals today placed perennial Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green on injured reserve.

»WEEK 14: First look at the Los Angeles Chargers

Green re-aggravated a toe injury in Sunday’s 24-10 loss to Denver. Green initially injured his toe vs. Tampa Bay in Week 8 and missed three games. He returned Sunday but re-injured the toe in the second quarter.

Green finished the season with 46 receptions for 694 yards. He’s the 15th player the Bengals have had to put on IR this season.

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