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Is Tua Tagovailoa ready to become Miami’s biggest star since Dan Marino?

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Editors’ note: Rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will take over as the Miami Dolphins’ starter beginning Week 8 against the Los Angeles Rams, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. This story originally published on May 25, 2020.

Leaps into swimming pools. Emotional moments of jubilation. Tears of joy. Fifteen words delivered by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell — “With the fifth pick in the 2020 NFL draft, the Miami Dolphins select Tua Tagovailoa” — elicited all that plus a belief the moment will change the Dolphins’ franchise forever.

Over the past month, there has been an innate buzz burgeoning nationally, but especially in South Florida, that can be summed up as a Tua frenzy. An 11-minute fan-generated YouTube video provides a visual.

“Tua is far by himself — never seen anything like this buzz from a draft pick here. There’s no close second,” said Dolphins color commentator and radio host Joe Rose, who played for the franchise alongside Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino from 1983 to 1985. “We have a rock star here in Tua. This team has been in mediocrity for so long. It’s lacked the Dan Marino star power, the Ricky Williams star power. Tua’s the next guy in that group.”

Despite the love, it’s too early to crown Tagovailoa. He hasn’t even played an NFL game. Tagovailoa’s arrival is defined by hope and hype.

Even in his first month as a Dolphins quarterback, it is clear that if Tagovailoa lives up to expectations, he will be the face of South Florida sports for a while.

How will Tagovailoa manage the pressure, the buzz, overwhelming positivity, eventual negativity and everything that comes with being hailed as the next big thing in a city starving for its latest sports superstar?

“The great thing for Tua is Dan Marino retired 20 years ago,” Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon said. “So it’s not like he’s following right behind a legend like Aaron Rodgers following Brett Favre or whoever follows Tom Brady. He just has to be himself. He can’t be Dan Marino. Just be yourself and rely on the people around you.”

‘It’s going to be Dolphins town’

A Mount Rushmore of athletes who have led South Florida pro teams probably starts with Marino and the Miami Heat‘s Dwyane Wade, but the initial expectations weren’t as high with either legend.

Wade remembers it wasn’t until after he led the Heat to their first championship in 2006 that he became the face of South Florida sports. He returned to Miami and hopped in his convertible with a buddy. Fans sighted him and rushed the car. He couldn’t drive another block.

“I looked at my friend and said, ‘Yo, this is different,'” Wade said. “I enjoyed it. But I knew it would never be normal in this city from that point on. I had to get used to being a celebrity. The perks were great, but the non-privacy was not so great.”

“Wade County” was born and didn’t slow down. His presence remains large in Miami, but since he retired following the 2018-19 season, there has been an active-superstar void.

Enter Tagovailoa.

“He’s a hell of a player. Miami, especially at the QB position, really needs that. They need a leader. They need a player,” Wade said. “To come in as a young player and win a game in the second half of a national championship game — that shows some grit, that shows some balls. People have to really believe in you. Miami needs that. The Dolphins need that. Even though I’m a [Chicago] Bears fan, I was rooting for them to get him because Miami needs to get back to where the basketball program is.”

Wade’s advice to Tagovailoa centers on how to handle fame; the future Hall of Fame guard says he would often deal with anxiety when he left the house. He felt the need to always be on as D-Wade even when he wanted to just be Dwyane. Wade said even though he wasn’t expected to “save the franchise,” once he became a fan favorite, he had to “figure out how to enjoy what you worked hard for, but keep a level of sanity at the same time.”

Wade is optimistic Tagovailoa will lift the Dolphins to a place they never reached while he was with the Heat.

“If the Dolphins get it going, it’s going to be Dolphins town. We did as much to make it a basketball town as possible, and Miami Heat is there to stay. But let’s not get it twisted: Florida is football. Once they get their s— together, they are going to be big and bigger,” Wade said. “But those Heat guys — Bam [Adebayo], Tyler Herro — are going to battle him for it. He’s got to earn it.

“How you put yourself in that conversation is doing something great, something that people have never seen before, and obviously winning.”

Marino was a ‘rock star’

Tagovailoa passed his first test by eschewing his college No. 13 — Marino’s number in Miami. Instead, Tagovailoa is paving his own path by becoming the first Dolphins QB to wear No. 1.

“I understand No. 13 is retired, and it should be. Dan Marino, he’s the GOAT. He’s like the mayor out there, and I have much respect for him,” Tagovailoa said. “I just want to have the opportunity to go out there and compete.”

Every quarterback who has arrived in Miami has been met with some mention of Marino, and Miami has started 21 quarterbacks since the Hall of Famer retired in 2000. The Dolphins haven’t had a Pro Bowl QB since then, which marks the NFL’s longest streak.

So while the expectations might seem unwieldy for a 22-year-old quarterback coming off a serious hip injury, this isn’t just any NFL city. He’s coming to a franchise that is thirsty for a star QB, and fans have been waiting on Tagovailoa for more than a year.

“When I got down there, the Miami Dolphins were Dan Marino’s town and team. It’s still that way,” former Dolphins great Ricky Williams said. “I was a running back, but no one has even come close to eclipsing the success that Dan had in Miami as a quarterback. Even more so than what I experienced, Tua has the potential to be a big part of what it means to be a Miami Dolphin for a long time.”

Williams had a great run as the face of the Dolphins. Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas and Ryan Tannehill did, too. But none of them have the national pull Tagovailoa has now.

Rose says he remembers the buzz around Marino being relatively subdued when he arrived. The Dolphins, coming off a Super Bowl XVII loss, were led by their “Killer B’s” defense, and they selected Marino with the No. 27 overall pick when he fell to them in the 1983 draft.

By the end of his record-setting 1984 MVP season, Marino was a superstar.

“When we went to New York, I saw the phone calls we got in our hotel room. I saw what movie stars and celebrities came around. People wanted to be around this guy,” Rose said. “We didn’t have the media and social media that they do now, so it could be a lot more hidden. He was big stuff. He was a rock star.”

Marino is the standard, but Tagovailoa doesn’t have to reach that level to be remembered in Dolphins history. As Moon and Wade have stressed, he just has to focus on being himself.

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Dwyane Wade expresses his thoughts on the Dolphins drafting Tua Tagovailoa and gives some advice for playing in the city of Miami.

Work, gain respect, then build the brand

Moon knows all about highly anticipated arrivals. After five Grey Cup titles in the Canadian Football League, Moon signed with the Houston Oilers and became the NFL’s highest-paid player in 1984.

With stars such as running back Earl Campbell and linebacker Robert Brazile already in Houston, Moon was conscious of veterans believing he was too full of himself. Moon’s response was to work hard, including lifting weights with the offensive line.

“When people came in the building, I was already there. When people left, I was still there,” Moon said. “Yeah, I had a lot of attention, but they saw my work ethic. When I got on the field, they started to see I could really play. What you’re trying to do is gain respect, and I think Tua will get that, too, because of his work ethic.”

Showing that work ethic and building camaraderie with teammates could prove to be more challenging for Tagovailoa this offseason with virtual meetings instead of in-person practices. But Tagovailoa has reached out to many of his Dolphins teammates via text messages and phone calls.

The other balance Tagovailoa will have to maintain is his unique marketability with Moon’s advice “to go in there with your head down and work.”

Tagovailoa, who signed a four-year, $30.3 million contract, has endorsement deals with Adidas, Hulu, Muscle Milk, Verizon, Wingstop, Gillette, Lowe’s, Bose and Call of Duty. He recently signed a multiyear, exclusive memorabilia-and-collectibles deal with Fanatics. He also has a documentary in the works detailing his journey to the Dolphins.

Agent Ryan Williams and Athletes First have handled Tagovailoa’s marketing demands, and he has immediately become one of the NFL’s most well-known young players. The people love the former Alabama quarterback, and that has shown up in the numbers. Tagovailoa is the top-selling NFL player in terms of overall merchandise sales since May 1 across the Fanatics network, which includes NFLshop.com and online team stores — above Tampa Bay’s Brady and Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, the No. 1 overall draft pick.

Moon remembered advice he was given by his agent, Leigh Steinberg, who also represents Tagovailoa: to take things slow on building your brand and try to avoid reading the headlines or social media.

“I just want to make sure that he doesn’t try to get too far ahead of himself. Football is what butters his bread,” Moon said. “If he doesn’t do well on the football field, everything else will go away. Knowing a bit about Tua, he’ll be fine.”

Tagovailoa showed humility throughout his college career. He has a connection to family and a desire to give back.

“I’m honored that the fans think so highly of me. But I haven’t done anything, yet,” Tagovailoa said. “What I did in college can’t translate to the NFL. It’s a clean slate. I’ve got to go out there and earn my respect and earn the trust from my teammates.”

‘The guys in that locker room’

The idea of becoming a star before even taking an NFL snap might be enough to make Dolphins coach Brian Flores’ head spin. A champion of competition and team-first mentality, Flores probably doesn’t care how many jerseys Tagovailoa sells as long as he produces on the field.

“The world will make you think that you’re this superstar. And maybe you are, but it doesn’t really matter,” Flores said last November regarding any particular player’s growing success. “The only thing that matters is the guys in that locker room.”

But there is an element of stardom Wade alluded to with which Flores probably will agree, and that’s winning. The New England Patriots became an NFL dynasty with a star quarterback because of their winning records and Super Bowl titles. The allure of Tagovailoa’s star power will be embraced should the Dolphins become title contenders year in and year out.

Before worrying about the celebrity, the more timely concern revolves around when Tagovailoa will get on the field. Some argue he should be an immediate starter, while others suggest a redshirt 2020 season. The most likely result appears to be somewhere in the middle.

The Dolphins are in Year 2 of a dramatic rebuild, but Flores always wants to win. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, the veteran incumbent, has the upper hand in securing the starting role for several reasons, thanks to his comfort in offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s scheme, his success guiding the Dolphins in 2019 (to five wins), his leadership in the locker room and a lack of a true offseason.

But Tagovailoa is also eager to learn under Fitzpatrick, saying on draft day in April that he wants “to understand the kind of person he is … nitpick him, ask him how he goes about preparing for a defense … and just being able to question him.”

Fitzpatrick vows to be Tagovailoa’s “biggest cheerleader,” but he won’t hand him the starting job in 2020. Tagovailoa probably wouldn’t want it any other way, because when football returns, he will get the opportunity to prove his worth.

Once Tagovailoa hits the field, the hope is he gets to become the greatest version of himself instead of being constantly compared to Marino. That weight is too heavy.

But becoming the long-term face of the Dolphins and South Florida sports? That’s well within Tagovailoa’s grasp.

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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