Who’s on First? A weekly sports column

Manning chooses Denver

The courtship of Peyton Manning, which at times looked like something of out a bad reality TV dating show, is over: the four-time league MVP signed a whopping five-year, $96 million contract with the Denver Broncos earlier this week, and was introduced to the media in Denver on Tuesday. Manning told the assembled media that he was “excited” to be in Denver, and that he sees himself “hopefully leading the Broncos to more Super Bowls.” As far as his condition goes, Manning told NFL.com that his workout session prior to signing with the Broncos “wasn’t great throwing” and that he still isn’t quite where he wants to be. However, former Bronco John Elway, now the team’s executive vice president of football operations, told the Denver Post that the team’s medical personnel “feel great” about Manning’s overall health and recovery. However, Manning isn’t planning on taking a couple of years to get back to football’s peak: he wants to “win now.”

The Manning signing didn’t exactly sew things up in Denver, however. Remember Tim Tebow, the quarterback sensation who led Denver to thrilling victories and took the sports (and Internet) world by storm a few months back? He’s now the odd-man out in the Mile High City, with Elway preferring to go with a solid veteran over a young run-and-gun thrower. Elway praised Tebow on Tuesday, telling ESPN.com that he’s “a great kid…if I want someone to marry my daughter, it’s him.” Good enough to marry your daughter, but not good enough to run your offense, eh John? The Manning signing set off another “interest war” of sorts, with teams like the New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots allegedly expressing interest in Tebow.

Rad return

During the days of the Soviet Union, there were plenty of stories filled with excitement and intrigue about athletes defecting from Communist bloc nations to seek peace and sporting glory elsewhere. This one doesn’t have as many spies, KGB agents or missile drills, but it’s important nonetheless: Alexander Radulov, a 25-year-old sniper and 2010 Russian league MVP, skipped out on Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) this week to return to his NHL club, the Nashville Predators.

Radulov, without Nashville’s permission, left the Predators in 2008 to play in his native Russia; due to the fact that he still had a year left on his contract with Nashville, he was suspended indefinitely by the team. Four years passed, but Radulov’s KHL team recently was eliminated from the playoffs, and he expressed an interest in returning to the Predators. The Predators, who have already made some big moves with an eye towards making a serious Stanley Cup push, welcomed back their “prodigal son” after captain Shea Weber indicated that Radulov’s return wouldn’t make any waves in the locker room. Despite four years having passed, Radulov remains on his three-year entry level contract with Nashville, meaning he will be a restricted free agent at season’s end. The Predators have expressed an interest in keeping him in the United States long term, but his Russian club has other ideas. For his part, Radulov told NHL.com that it’s “good to be back” and that he’ll “do whatever it takes to help the team to better.” Let’s just hope, for his teammates’ sakes, that his celebrations have mellowed out a bit.

Soccer player collapses

Let’s face it: soccer players don’t exactly have the best reputation when it comes to falling down on the field and rolling around in (mock) pain. However, when Fabrice Muamba of the English Premier League’s Bolton Wanderers collapsed to the ground with no one near him during a match on Saturday, onlookers immediately knew it was serious. The 23-year-old Muamba fell to the grass during the 41st minute of Bolton’s FA Cup match with Tottenham, and was immediately surrounded by medical staff. It was later determined that Muamba had gone into cardiac arrest, as the medical staff gave the native of Congo CPR and used a defibrillator in an attempt to get his heart beating again.

The soccer and sports world rallied around the fallen Muamba, as “#PrayForMuamba” trended worldwide on Twitter and fellow soccer stars showed their support. After tense hours at a local hospital, doctors were able to get Muamba breathing on his own again. As of Wednesday afternoon, the player was making “encouraging progress,” was able to speak, knew his own name and who he was, and was even able to crack a joke. He is said to be “recovering well,” but has a long road ahead of him. On Wednesday, Muamba’s slow, but steady, recovery was made all the more miraculous by the revelation that he was medically “dead” for over an hour, only to be revived at the hospital after 15 shocks from a defibrillator. Muamba’s Bolton teammates will resume play on Saturday after his fiancée and father insisted that the team carry on. Muamba’s collapse has caused some to call for more stringent and frequent screenings of players in hopes that a similar situation will never occur again.

NFL comes down on New Orleans

When news of the New Orleans Saints’ “bounty program” first broke a few weeks back, everyone waited for the other shoe to drop in the form of discipline from the NFL. Instead of a shoe, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell elected to drop the hammer on the Saints. The league suspended head coach Sean Payton for the entire 2012 season without pay; suspended former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, now with the Saint Louis Rams and considered to be the architect of the bounty program, indefinitely; suspended general manager Mickey Loomis for the first eight games of the 2012 season without pay; and fined the franchise $500,000 and second-round draft picks in the 2012 and 2013 NFL Drafts. Yikes.

That certainly hurts more than any hit a Saint threw on an opponent. Linebackers coach Joe Vitt was also suspended for six games without pay. The NFL’s findings confirmed that bounties were placed on stars like Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. Players sounded off on the punishment on Wednesday, while Saints quarterback Drew Brees said that he was “speechless” and needed to “hear an explanation” for the sanctions. Williams received the harshest punishment, as Goodell said the league wouldn’t even review Williams’ standing until after the 2012 season, meaning his reinstatement is hardly considered a certainty.

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