Kobe; Kuechly; 2017 NFL Draft Revisited; Attendance Slump; Zaidi Questions; Powell; Super Pick

There are some times in life when words fail. Today is one of those times.

The horrific tragedy that took the lives of NBA icon Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, plus seven others, is beyond our capability to understand or comment upon.

Bryant was one of the greatest players and fiercest competitors in the history of the NBA. He leaves a legacy that few will approach, much less match.

I’ll leave it to others to revisit a troubling incident from 17 years ago. Suffice to say that Kobe re-dedicated and re-committed himself to his wife and family, and his life on and off the court since has been an inspiration to many.

As one who coached his own daughters for over 20 years, I can identify with the joy he must have felt with Gianna. But I can’t even begin to imagine the unspeakable horror of dying with your daughter in a helicopter crash.

Instead, let’s cherish the smile on his face sitting with her at Laker games, his pride telling Jimmy Kimmel she’d be a star in the WNBA one day, and his incredible final NBA game, in which he scored 60 points.

May he and Gianna, or Gigi as she was known, rest in peace.

2017 Draft Revisited: The NFL draft is always a crap shoot. Despite hundreds of hours spent scouting games, pouring over films, interviewing players and coaches, and gleaning tons of sometimes meaningless information at the NFL combine, huge mistakes are made every year.

I bring this up because two of the players in this weekend’s Super Bowl—the 49ers’ Solomon Thomas and the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes—were among the first 10 players chosen in the 2017 NFL draft.

Thomas, the former Stanford star, was the No. 3 overall pick in the draft. He ascended to that position on the strength of a sensational performance in the 2016 Sun Bowl, making a number of tackles for loss and a key sack to preserve the Cardinal’s 25-23 win over North Carolina in the closing seconds.

Going into the Sun Bowl, Solomon had been projected as a third round pick and, no disrespect intended, that was probably where he belonged. He is a solid backup on the 49ers’ defensive front, but not nearly the high-impact player teams anticipate when they draft a player No. 3 overall.

That Stanford-North Carolina Sun Bowl also had a major impact on the draft position of Kansas City quarterback Mahomes. The North Carolina quarterback, Mitch Trubisky, enjoyed an excellent game against Stanford, completing 23 of 38 passes for 280 yards, showed some mobility, and improved his position in the draft.

A few months later, Trubisky was the first quarterback selected, with the No. 2 overall pick by the Chicago Bears. Mahomes fell to No. 10, where he was snatched up by the Chiefs. After sitting a year behind Alex Smith, Mahomes took over as the starter last season and was the NFL MVP. To date Trubisky has been a decent journeyman for the Bears.

Another interesting note from that draft, and from that Sun Bowl. Stanford All-America running back Christian McCaffrey opted to skip the bowl to avoid risk of injury. He was drafted No. 8 in the first round by Carolina and has blossomed into an All-Pro.

Speaking of Carolina…

Luke Leaves: It got lost in all the Super Bowl buildup, but the best defensive football player I've ever seen retired last week. Carolina Panthers' linebacker Luke Kuechly, five-time first team All-Pro, two-time second team All-Pro, seven-time Pro Bowl selection, and former NFL Defensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year, hung it up after eight phenomenal seasons at the age of ripe old age of 28. During his career he had 1092 tackles (over 9 per game), 18 interceptions and 67 passes broken up.

Kuechly has suffered three concussions, one so devastating he was sobbing as he was taken off the field on a cart. He said at this point he no longer felt sure he could "play fast, play physical and play strong," so it was the right time to move on.

I had the honor of meeting and getting to know him a little bit at two of our bowl games, after the 2009 and '10 seasons, when he was playing for Boston College. His team lost both times (to Colin Kaepernick-led Nevada and to USC in Pete Carroll’s last college game), but both times Kuechly was so extraordinary that he was named Defensive Player of the Game in a losing effort. The man, literally, was all over the field. I think he had something like 15 tackles in each game. He was also a terrific pass defender.

I handed him both of his Player of the Game trophies and interviewed him on the field for ESPN. Such a class act. His photo still hangs in my office.

Kuechly joins a growing list of players who retired young (all before their 31st birthday), presumably for health reasons. Others include former Stanford and Colt QB Andrew Luck, Patriots' tight end Rob Gronkowski, wide receiver Doug Baldwin and LB Cam Chancellor of the Seahawks, Lions' wide receiver Calvin Johnson, and former 49er linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Borland.

Attendance Slump Continues: College football attendance was down this year (even in the football crazy SEC) for the sixth year in a row. Notre Dame’s string of consecutive sellouts ended after 273 straight games—a span of 45 years. Big Ten attendance was the lowest in 25 years. Empty seats appeared even at places like Ohio State, Florida and Clemson.

Attendance for the College Football Playoff and the New Year’s Six Bowls dropped to an all-time low this postseason, year six of the current format.

There are multiple reasons for this decline: the high costs of tickets, parking and concessions; the increasing length of games due to replays and TV timeouts; uncertain starting times; quality of the no-cost home TV alternative; boring non-conference blowouts; concern over concussions and CTE; and the fact that lots of students have big tuition bills to pay and little interest in buying tickets or sitting in a stadium for 3-½ hours.

College athletic directors and marketing types will have to come up with some answers and/or innovative ideas quickly, before this growing problem becomes a crisis.

What is Farhan Zaidi Doing? After letting Madison Bumgarner sign with the Diamondbacks, then signing the formidable Kevin Gausman (he of the 5.91 ERA), Zaidi went one step lower last week, signing Drew Smyly.

Smyly, 30, split last season between the Rangers and Phillies, compiling a 4-7 record with a 6.24 ERA in 25 games (21 starts).

Don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to buy some season tickets to see this pitching staff in action…

Powell’s Misfortune: Dwight Powell, who showed flashes of brilliance but frustrated fans and coaches alike with inconsistency during his Stanford days, has matured into a very effective starting center with the NBA Dallas Mavericks.

Sadly, Powell suffered a torn Achilles last week and will miss the rest of the season. In the eight games prior to his injury, Powell was on fire, making 47 of 61 shots. For the season he was averaging just below 10 points and six rebounds per game. We wish him a full and speedy recovery.

Super Bowl Pick: My head says Kansas City, but I’m going to go with my heart.

49ers 34, Chiefs 31 on a 49-yard field goal by Robbie Gould with 9 seconds left.

Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//gacavalli49@gmail.com

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