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Rams star Cooper Kupp comes from NFL bloodline

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Rams star Cooper Kupp comes from  NFL bloodline

Before Cooper Kupp, there was Jake Kupp.

“When I was in the fifth grade, I was dreaming of being a baseball player,” Jake told Serby Says. “We didn’t have any major league teams in the state of Washington. But I loved the New York Yankees. We had a peach tree out in front of our yard, and in the summertime on a hot day I’d go out and lay underneath that peach tree and just dream what it was gonna be like to be a New York Yankee.”

Jake Kupp, a kid from Sunnyside, Wa., wound up being drafted as a tight end in the ninth round in 1964 NFl Draft by the Tom Landry Cowboys before they moved him to guard.

“He probably was the brightest, smartest coach that I played with in my career,” Jake said. “He was really fun to play for.”

It wasn’t always fun.

“I weighed 229 pounds as an offensive guard, and the first guy that I ever played against was [Giants defensive tackle] Roosevelt Grier at 314 pounds,” he said. “I learned how to cut block real fast.”

He played two years there, then one season as a tight end in Washington under Otto Graham before being selected in the 1967 expansion draft by the Saints.

(From left to right) Craig Kupp, Cooper, Cooper’s brother Kobe and Jake.
Craig Kupp

The Saints made Archie Manning the second-overall pick of the 1971 draft.

“[Then-coach] J.D. Roberts wanted somebody that was mature and in the league for a while to be his roommate,” Jake said, and then chuckled. “And I think it was quite the opposite. Archie was probably a lot more mature than I was at 31, and he was 21.”

He played until 1975 and was inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame and named to the franchise’s 25th, 40th and 50th anniversary teams.

Before Cooper Kupp, there was Jake Kupp’s son Craig, a kid from Saleh, Wa., born in 1967.

Cooper Kupp
Cooper Kupp
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“I was in third grade when my dad retired with the Saints,” Craig said. “People would ask me what I was going to be when I grew up. I was going to play pro football.”

As a 6-foot-5 quarterback.

“He would go out in the backyard and punt to himself for hours and hours,” Jake recalled.

Craig was a late bloomer and bounced from Montana Tech to Yakima CC to Pacific Lutheran.

“Archie Manning was my favorite quarterback when I was a little kid,” Craig said. “I loved his ability to run and throw.”

The Giants drafted him in the fifth round of the 1990 draft.

“I had a pretty good arm,” Craig said. “I could put it on a line. I threw a really nice deep ball.”

But he was a project. Bill Parcells was looking for a developmental quarterback behind Phil Simms and Jeff Hostetler. He spared no one.

“I remember one time I was warming up and he goes, ‘Craig, your key is you need to block out 95 percent of the stuff I tell you, and you’re going to be just fine,’” Craig said.

And when he threw an interception one day in practice and made no attempt to make the tackle?

“I had to run laps around the practice field the rest of that practice before I could rejoin the team,” Craig said.

He praises Simms for helping him and recalls seeing Lawrence Taylor in the locker room after he had ended his summer holdout.

“I remember sitting at my locker facing out away from my locker, and I could just tell something in the room had changed,” Craig said. “Something was different. And I looked over my left shoulder, Lawrence Taylor had just walked in the room. He commanded a presence.”

Cooper Kupp and family
Craig Kupp’s brother Randy, Craig, Cooper and Jake.
Carla Kupp

Parcells decided to bring in the more experienced Matt Cavanaugh and encouraged Craig when he was released. He wound up with the Phoenix Cardinals, and played in one NFL game (3-for-7, 23 yards) in 1991.

“I think back things I could have done differently, and decisions that I made, and things that I should have worked on instead of working on other things, I got those kind of questions,” Craig said, “but it does give me an appreciation for what it takes at the pro level, which makes it even more special to see what Cooper’s doing.”

After Jake Kupp and Craig Kupp, there is Cooper Kupp.

“When he was a freshman in high school, he was really super skinny and small,” Craig said. “He was stretching for a first down, he reached the ball out and the pile landed on his shoulder, broke his shoulder. But it was at that point where I think he decided that he’s gonna really get after it and get in the weight room and transform his body.”

There were doubters nevertheless on Cooper’s journey to Eastern Washington, and eventually the Rams.

Cooper Kupp
Cooper Kupp
USA TODAY Sports

“He had aspirations to play at USC when he was younger and Stanford, and he had people tell him, ‘You need to just forget that and you need to set your sights much smaller,’ ” Craig said. “It kind of makes me mad when people do that kind of stuff. They think they’re helping, but it just kind of puts caps on kids’ dreams, and that’s not the way we operate in our family. But I think it did serve a purpose.”

It sure did. And now Cooper (1,489 receiving yards) is threatening Calvin “Megatron” Johnson’s all-time single-season receptions record (1,964) from 2012.

Cooper also leads all receivers with 113 catches and 12 touchdowns.

“I’ve operated out of a space where I don’t think there was a whole lot of room for self-doubt, not believing in where I can get to and what I wanted to achieve,” Cooper told Serby Says. “That’s not to say there’s not struggles on the other side of things, just the battles that anyone goes through with your self-esteem as you go through those things where you’re undersized, you’re slower than everyone, you’re smaller than everyone, as a person feeling like maybe you’re less than or not as good as the guys around you, but the belief in where I get to, I’ve never doubted that side of things.”

When you ask Cooper what anyone interested in building the perfect receiver should take from him, he says:

“The thing that comes to mind is a relentless pursuit to improve.”

Father knows best.

“Whatever he does he wants to do it up the best of his ability, it’s just kind of the way he’s made up,” Craig said. “He really feels like he was born to play football. Just feels like God made him that way and that’s kind of his purpose, at least for now. His whole mentality is: ‘I want to get better every day, even if it’s a millimeter.’ ”

Grandfather knows best too.

“I think it’s his intelligence that really makes him the player that he is,” Jake said.

Good has never been good enough for Cooper Kupp.

“I’m a one-track mind: Once I start something, I have to finish it,” he said. “I gotta go all the way through. It drives my wife crazy because I can tune out anything. Whatever it is I’m focused on, I won’t hear anything, I’m just focused on what I need to get done. It becomes a problem sometimes. I’ve been that way from as early as I can remember.”

Is there another level for him to reach?

“Without a doubt there is,” Cooper said, “because I will never in my life — if I ever say that I’ve arrived or that we’ve arrived as an offense, that we’ve reached the pinnacle, we’ve reached the best that we can be, that’s the day you lose, and that’s the day you walk away from the game. There’s always something to strive for, to push for, and we live that day in and day out.”

His father is 54.

“It’s really been fun,” Craig said. “And it’s rewarding as a dad to see your son put in so much work, be so committed to his craft, and then to be able to continually get better and better and better. It makes a dad pretty proud.”

His grandfather is 80.

“It’s almost like a gift being able to follow my son in his career, and then being able to follow my grandson,” Jake said.

Cooper is 28.

“Growing up, my dad was always just my dad,” he says. “He didn’t talk a lot about his playing days. Part of that comes from just a little bit of his own regrets and how that played out and what he could have done better. But also I think he just wanted to be a dad. He didn’t want anything else going along with it, he just wanted to be there for me. I was the one that chose football. He never pushed me into any sports or anything like that.”

Cooper (114.5-yards per game average) needs to average 119 yards a game to break Megatron’s record.

Says Craig Kupp: “I wouldn’t bet against Cooper.”

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker
USA TODAY Sports

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers

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Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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