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Top Boston Sports Stories of 2013, No. 2: Aaron Hernandez charged with murder 12.31.13 at 10:29 am ET
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Over the final days of the year, WEEI.com will count down the top 13 stories of 2013 in Boston sports. This is No. 2: Aaron Hernandez charged with murder. To see the previous entries, click here.

On Aug. 27, 2012, the Patriots rewarded tight end Aaron Hernandez, one of the team’€™s most promising players, with a lucrative contract extension. The deal would lock up Hernandez until 2018, paying him $40 million over five years.

“As soon as we started talking about contracts, I was emotional from that day on,” Hernandez said at a preseason gala hosted by the team just after the details of his contract were revealed.

“Honestly, it’s hard for me here [at the gala] to stay, keeping my mind off it, and it’s just, like I said, it’s surreal. Probably when I’m done with this conversation I’ll get some tears in my eyes. But it’s real, and it’s an honor.”

But less than one year later, the 23-year-old Hernandez was in a whale of legal trouble, and football and the monstrous contract he’€™d signed seemed immensely inconsequential. On June 26, Massachusetts State Police took Hernandez into custody on first-degree murder charges and five gun-related charges. Nearly two months later he was indicted by a grand jury for the murder of Odin Lloyd, a semipro football player from Boston who hung around with Hernandez. There also reportedly are ongoing investigations into other shootings in Florida and Massachusetts as well as gun trafficking that have links to Hernandez.

New England acted swiftly, cutting the third-year tight end.

“A young man was murdered last week and we extend our sympathies to the family and friends who mourn his loss,” the team said in a statement. “Words cannot express the disappointment we feel knowing that one of our players was arrested as a result of this investigation. We realize that law enforcement investigations into this matter are ongoing. We support their efforts and respect the process. At this time, we believe this transaction is simply the right thing to do.”

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Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Bill Belichick, Boston Sports Stories of the Year 2013, Matt Light
Top Boston Sports Stories of 2013, No. 7: Patriots stung by injuries to Rob Gronkowski, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, other key players 12.26.13 at 9:40 am ET
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Over the final days of the year, WEEI.com will count down the top 13 stories of 2013 in Boston sports. This is No. 7: Patriots stung by injuries to Rob Gronkowski, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, other key players. To see the previous entries, click here.

In any sport, but especially football, injuries are viewed and accepted as an unfortunate part of the game. While every team has to deal with injuries, the 2013 season has been particularly cruel to the Patriots, who have had to endure the absence of some key contributors.

While the Patriots offense struggled to string together impressive performances for most of the first half of the season due in part to lingering injuries to players such as Rob Gronkowski, as well as the release of Aaron Hernandez, who was charged with murder, an improved defensive unit, featuring players such as Jerod MayoChandler JonesVince Wilfork and Aqib Talib gave New England hope.

Over the first five games of the year, the new and improved New England defense allowed an average of just 14 points per game. With players such as Gronkowski expected back later in the season, expectations were high for this Patriots squad, as it promised to have better balance than the last few seasons.

However, these expectations were soon dashed, as injuries to key players on the roster quickly began to pile up.

During the Patriots’ 30-23 victory against the Falcons on Sept. 29, New England lost the anchor of its defensive line, as Wilfork went down early in the first quarter after stepping on another player’s foot and was carted off the field. After the game, it was revealed that the All-Pro defensive tackle had torn his Achilles tendon and would miss the rest of the season.

The loss of Wilfork was a big hit to the Patriots defense, as the five-time Pro Bowler has been an integral part of New England’s stout defensive line since his arrival in 2004.

“I just want to thank everyone for your support and encouragement. … I know what signing up to play football means and I know the rewards and the risks,” Wilfork said in a message to his fans. “This is my job and I will switch positions for now and play the role of patient, but that is only temporary. I have so much confidence in my team and I know that they will do great and I will be right besides them maybe not in uniform but in all other ways. Thanks again.”

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Read More: Boston Sports Stories of the Year 2013, Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots, rob gronkowski
Titans DB Bernard Pollard fined $42K for hit to head 09.18.13 at 11:03 am ET
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Titans safety and noted Patriots villian Bernard Pollard was fined $42,000 by the NFL for his hit Sunday that concussed Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson. On the play, Pollard led with his shoulder but contacted the defenseless receiver’s head. He was not penalized by the on-field officials.

The eight-year pro tweeted his fine this morning, writing:

So @nfl said I did “everything right” but 42k later I still get fined. Wow! It’s called football but they want 2 hand touch. #TitanUp#

In Tennessee’€™s first two games, Pollard has 15 tackles and one interception.

He also was fined $10,000 for a late hit out of bounds in Tennessee’s first preseason game.

Pollard is infamous in New England for his role in a number of key injuries and plays.

As a member of the Chiefs, Pollard delivered the low hit that tore Tom Brady‘€™s ACL in 2008. The then-Texan was preparing to tackle wide receiver Wes Welker when Welker’€™s knee gave out, resulting in a torn ACL during the 2009 season. With the Ravens, his tackle on Rob Gronkowski in the 2012 AFC championship game led to a severe ankle sprain that hampered Gronkowski in New England’€™s Super Bowl XLVI loss to the Giants. And in last season’€™s AFC championship game, Pollard knocked Stevan Ridley out of the game with a brutal hit to the head that also forced a decisive turnover.

Fortunately for the Patriots, the Titans are not on the regular-season schedule this year.

Read More: Bernard Pollard, rob gronkowski, Stevan Ridley, Tom Brady
Ravens DB Bernard Pollard predicts demise of NFL 01.28.13 at 9:39 am ET
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Ravens safety Bernard Pollard, best known in New England for his injury-causing hits over the last five years to Patriots players Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Steven Ridley, said the league’s attempts to make the game safer are likely to lead to its end.

“Thirty years from now, I don’t think it will be in existence,” he told CBSSports.com. “I could be wrong. It’s just my opinion, but I think with the direction things are going — where [NFL rules makers] want to lighten up, and they’re throwing flags and everything else — there’s going to come a point where fans are going to get fed up with it.

“Guys are getting fined, and they’re talking about, ‘Let’s take away the strike zone,’ and, ‘Take the pads off,’ or, ‘Take the helmets off.” It’s going to be a thing where fans aren’t going to want to watch it anymore.”

Added Pollard: “The league is trying to move in the right direction [with player safety], but, at the same time, [coaches] want bigger, stronger and faster year in and year out. And that means you’re going to keep getting big hits and concussions and blown-out knees. The only thing I’m waiting for … and, Lord, I hope it doesn’t happen … is a guy dying on the field. We’ve had everything else happen there except for a death. We understand what we signed up for, and it sucks.

“Like I said, I pray it never happens, but you’ve got guys who are 350 pounds running 4.5 and 4.4s, and these owners and coaches want scout-run blockers and linemen to move walls. At the same time, they tell you, ‘Don’t hit here, and don’t hit there, or we’ll take your money.’ Like I said, I hope I’m wrong, but I just believe one day there’s going to be a death that takes place on the field because of the direction we’re going.”

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Read More: Bernard Pollard, rob gronkowski, Rumor Mill, Stevan Ridley
Top Stories of 2012, No. 1: Patriots lose Super Bowl XLVI to Giants 12.31.12 at 1:50 pm ET
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Over the final week of 2012, WEEI.com has been counting down the top 10 stories of the year in Boston sports. This entry in the countdown is No. 1: the Patriots’ Super Bowl loss to the Giants.

Check out our previous entries:
No. 10: NHL lockout
No. 9: Wes Welker’s up-and-down year
No. 8: Bruins’ early playoff elimination
No. 7: Ray Allen’s departure from Celtics
No. 6: Tim Thomas’ political controversy and sabbatical
No. 5: Celtics’ Eastern Conference finals loss to Heat
No. 4: Red Sox’ megatrade with Dodgers
No. 3: Tom Brady’s MVP-caliber season
No. 2: Bobby Valentine’s nightmare season as Red Sox manager

It wasn’€™t a perfect season that was ruined, but the second time that the Giants ended the Patriots’€™ hopes for a fourth Super Bowl title was equally as heartbreaking.

For the Patriots, hopes were high at the beginning of the postseason. That’€™s because New England won the AFC East with a 13-3 record. For the Pats, especially after the previous year’€™s loss in the divisional playoffs to the Jets, it was Super Bowl or bust.

The Giants dealt the Patriots one of their three losses on the season in Week 9. In a game that featured no scoring in the first half, the Giants came out strong after the half and put 10 points on the board in the third quarter while the Patriots were held to just a field goal. Despite two touchdown drives and a field goal in the fourth quarter, Tom Brady and the Patriots couldn’€™t overcome Eli Manning and the Giants offense, who put up another 14 points for a 24-20 victory. It was the Patriots’€™ last loss of the regular season.

The Pats trounced the Broncos in the divisional playoffs on a frosty night in Foxboro. Brady threw for 363 yards and six touchdowns, three of which were to Rob Gronkowski.

The Patriots went on to a close win in the AFC championship game against the Ravens. After Brady’€™s fourth-quarter rushing touchdown put the Pats up 23-20, the defense was able to hold off the Ravens for two drives. The Pats forced the Ravens to place their trust in kicker Billy Cundiff. Luckily for the Pats, Cundiff shanked a 32-yard field goal attempt with 15 seconds on the game clock, ensuring another Patriots Super Bowl appearance.

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Read More: 2012 Stories of the Year, Eli Manning, Mario Manningham, rob gronkowski
Top Stories of 2012, No. 9: Wes Welker franchised, phased out, back to form 12.25.12 at 3:04 pm ET
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Over the final week of 2012, WEEI.com will count down the top 10 stories of the year in Boston sports. Our second entry in the countdown is No. 9: Wes Welker’s up-and-down year.

For five seasons in New England, Wes Welker seemingly could do no wrong, and it seemed unfathomable that the Patriots would not want to keep him in Foxboro for as long as possible.

Then came the drop in February’s Super Bowl loss — a difficult but catchable pass that went through Welker’s hands late in the fourth quarter. Instead of giving the Patriots a likely game-ending first down, it gave the Giants the opportunity for their game-winning drive. And suddenly Welker’s true value was being questioned by some. It didn’t help that the Patriots played hardball during contract negotiations in the offseason, electing to place the franchise tag on Welker and settle for a one-year contract rather than agree to a long-term deal.

The $9.5 million, one-year deal ensured that Welker would stay with the Patriots through the 2012 season. After that, who knows?

It certainly is possible that Welker could re-sign with the team after the season, but judging by his consistency and continued success, he might demand a larger contract next year, both in terms of money and years. For now, he is enjoying another tremendous season after professing happiness that he and the team were able to agree on a deal that kept him with a perennial Super Bowl contender.

“There are 9.5 million reasons why I wouldn’t miss any regular-season games,” Welker said during a May 14 appearance on Mut & Merloni, dismissing speculation that he would hold out for a long-term contract. “I don’t think there are any sort of hard feelings on my side or their side. I think we’re all looking forward to the 2012 season and hopefully do some big things there.”

Welker did not exactly do “big things” in the first couple of games this season, but he was not solely to blame. In the Patriots’ 34-13 victory over the Titans in Week 1, Welker’s playing time was limited and he had only three receptions for 14 yards while being targeted just five times (including a drop on third-and-8 in the first quarter). Speculation abounded that he was being phased out of the offense, either as punishment for asking for too much money or so fellow receivers such as Julian Edelman could get more of an opportunity.

Week 2 was better for Welker, as he finished with five catches for 95 yards, albeit in a 20-18 loss to the lowly Cardinals. Still, it was not the 10-catch, 100-plus-yard receiving performance New England fans were accustomed to seeing.

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Read More: 2012 Stories of the Year, Aaron Hernandez, Bill Belichick, Brandon Lloyd
Wednesday’s Morning Mashup: Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski among NFL’s favorites in fan poll 10.24.12 at 7:47 am ET
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Welcome to Wednesday’s Morning Mashup. For the latest news, start at our WEEI.com home page or click here for the top stories from our news wire.

WEDNESDAY’S BROADCAST HIGHLIGHTS:
World Series: Tigers at Giants, 8 p.m. (Fox; WEEI-AM)
NBA preseason: Rockets at Hornets, 8 p.m. (NBA TV)
NBA preseason: Lakers at Clippers, 10:30 p.m. (NBA TV)

AROUND THE WEB:

‘™¦ Forbes magazine has the results of a Nielsen/E-Poll Market Research survey of NFL fans that attempted to determined which players are the most and least popular. Ranking No. 1, with a 63 percent appeal rating, is Steelers defensive back Troy Polamalu. At the bottom of the list is Lions defensive end Ndamukong Suh, whose dirty play and off-field issues led to his 19 percent rating.

Other notable names with favorable ratings: Saints quarterback Drew Brees (62 percent), Packers DB Charles Woodson (62 percent), Broncos QB Peyton Manning (59 percent), Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (58 percent) and Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (58 percent).

Players with less-favorable ratings include: Bears QB Jay Cutler (21 percent), Eagles QB Michael Vick (23 percent) and 49ers wide receiver Randy Moss (24 percent).

‘™¦ Left fielder Melky Cabrera is eligible to play for the Giants after serving a 50-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs, but the team is keeping him on the bench for the World Series. At Yahoo! Sports, Jeff Passan looks at the hypocrisy and “selective morality” of the Giants, the team that trotted out Barry Bonds for years and now includes on its roster reliever Guillermo Mota, a two-time offender of baseball’s drug policy.

Said manager Bruce Bochy: “With Melky, we felt when that happened, as far as losing him, the club played very well, and the guys that we had been putting out there have done the job. They’ve earned this, and this is the way we’re going to move forward. It would be, sure, tough for Melky to get game ready, but more importantly, it was how we played and how the guys did out in left field, and they deserve to be out there for the postseason.”

‘™¦ The mother of University of Southern Mississippi freshman quarterback Anthony Alford took exception to a fan yelling negative things about her son during Saturday’s 59-24 loss to Marshall. This led to Lawanda Ann Alford being escorted to jail and charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

Ms. Alford apparently has a habit of this type of behavior. During a baseball game in the spring, she walked onto the field and screamed at an umpire after a questionable third strike call against her son.

ON THIS DAY TRIVIA: On Oct. 24, 1990, the Red Sox exercised a buyout of Dwight Evans‘ contract ending his long and distinguished career in Boston. The right fielder would go on to play one more season in the majors, with which team?

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Read More: Melky Cabrera, Ndamukong Suh, rob gronkowski, Troy Polamalu
Rob Gronkowski crushes competition, wins celebrity Home Run Derby 07.10.12 at 10:46 am ET
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Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has made no shortage of cameos since the end of his remarkable 2011-12 season. On Monday night, he made his latest one as part of the Triple-A celebrity Home Run Derby.

But not only did he just make a cameo, he crushed the competition. In his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., at Coca-Cola Field, home of the Buffalo Bisons, Gronkowski belted 17 home runs over two rounds to claim the championship. A shorter, temporary fence was set up on the field for the celebrity event, but Gronkowski cleared it and then some on one home run that 325 feet over the Bisons’€™ outfield wall.

After hitting five in the first round, Gronkowski crushed 12 in his second round and finished with 10 more than Bills CEO Russ Brandon.

Other participants of the event included Bills running back Fred Jackson, Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly and sportscaster Nick Bakay.

Read More: Buffalo, Home Run Derby, patriots, rob gronkowski
Thursday’s Morning Mashup: Jets CB Darrelle Revis calls Bill Belichick ‘jerk’ 03.29.12 at 7:31 am ET
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Welcome to Thursday’s Morning Mashup. For the latest news, start at our WEEI.com home page or click here for the top stories from our news wire.

THURSDAY’S BROADCAST HIGHLIGHTS:
NHL: Capitals at Bruins, 7 p.m. (NESN, NHL Network)
NBA: Mavericks at Heat, 8 p.m. (TNT)
NBA: Thunder at Lakers, 10:30 p.m. (TNT)
College basketball: NIT final, Minnesota vs. Stanford, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
MLB preseason: Rays at Phillies, 1 p.m. (ESPN)
MLB preseason: Royals at Angels, 4 p.m. (MLB Network)

AROUND THE WEB:

‘™¦ Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis stirred up the Jets-Patriots rivalry Wednesday, calling New England coach Bill Belichick a “jerk” during an appearance on ESPN.

Participating in a word-association game while sitting next to Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, Revis paused after hearing Belichick’s name, and then replied, “Jerk.”

When asked to elaborate, he said it was for “some of the comments he says about the Jets.”

Said Gronkowski: “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that. ‘€¦ I’m surprised.”

Gronkowski then was given the name “Rex Ryan,” and he said of the Jets coach: “Entertainer.”

Revis also took a shot at his own team. When given the term “locker room,” Revis responded: “Disarray right now.”

‘™¦ Knicks guard Jeremy Lin had lunch with the ESPN editor who wrote the offensive headline that got him fired last month. Anthony Federico told New York Newsday that the two spent some time together Tuesday at a Manhattan restaurant after a member of Lin’s family reached out to him.

“The fact that he took the time to meet with me in his insanely busy schedule ‘€¦ He’s just a wonderful, humble person,” Federico said. “He didn’t have to do that.. We talked more about matters of faith [and] reconciliation. We talked about our shared Christian values and what we’re both trying do with this situation. ‘€¦ We didn’t talk about the headline for more than three minutes.”

‘™¦ Nike filed suit Wednesday in U.S. District Court in New York, accusing Reebok of using Tim Tebow‘s name on Jets apparel without permission. Nike replaces Reebok as the official supplier of NFL uniforms beginning Sunday, so Nike apparently wants the Canton-based retailer to step aside and let it capitalize on the demand for Tebow Jets apparel immediately.

The lawsuit claims Reebok misappropriated publicity rights, interfered with business relationships and failed to get Tebow’s permission before launching the new products.

ON THIS DAY TRIVIA: On March 29 of which year did the Bruins beat the Rangers, 2-1, to complete a two-game sweep of the Stanley Cup finals and win their first championship?

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Read More: Anthony Federico, Bill Belichick, Darrelle Revis, Jeremy Lin
The year in Boston sports: Biggest media controversies of 2011 12.30.11 at 9:42 am ET
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The Boston media did its best to live up to its reputation in 2011, creating and reporting on controversy throughout the year. Some of the issues were initiated by the players themselves, via tweets and press conferences. Others were started by former players who have moved over to the dark side.

With that in mind, we present our list of the top 10 Boston sports media controversies of 2011.

10. MLB institutes a dress code for media members

Although the dress code itself was not out of the ordinary, it was significant that MLB was the first professional sports league to police the fashion of its media members when it announced the policy in December. Items on the list of banned clothes include tank tops, short shorts/skirts, ripped jeans, visible undergarments, one-shoulder or strapless tops, clothes with team logos and flip-flops. The dress code came one year after the NFL had a situation on its hands when Mexican TV reporter Ines Sainz was the subject of catcalls from members of the Jets after wearing a tight pair of jeans to a practice.

Baseball Writers’ Association of America vice president Susan Slusser served on the guidelines panel and acknowledged: “I believe the baseball media in general could dress slightly more professionally,” adding partly in jest: “Don’t dress like a hobo and don’t dress like a ho, those are the extremes they’re looking at.” This would be disappointing news to fans of Heidi Watney, but she left NESN anyhow.

9. Rodney Harrison rips Patriots defense on NBC

After Ben Roethlisberger carved up the Patriots secondary for 365 yards on Oct. 30, Harrison, the former Patriots safety who now serves as an NBC analyst, questioned the defensive strategy of coach Bill Belichick and ripped the passive style of the secondary.

‘€œI look at that secondary, and they’€™re playing really soft coverage, that bend-but-don’€™t-break defense,’€ Harrison said. ‘€œI hate that. I think you have to challenge your players more. You have to start blitzing, force the quarterback into making mistakes. I know you can’€™t stop everything. I know they were afraid of their speed. But sometimes you’ve just got to go challenge them. And I just don’€™t see them doing it.’€

Earlier this month, Harrison took his criticism a step further, saying, “They should be concerned, because that secondary is probably the worst secondary I’€™ve seen in the last decade.” Added Harrison of Tom Brady: “He feels like he has to shoulder a lot of the pressure because that defense is so bad.”

Responded defensive lineman Vince Wilfork during a Dec. 12 appearance on The Big Show: “I want to [call the Patriots critics] all the time and tell them to shut the ‘f’ up.”

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