Bill Belichick Is a Charmer; HBO Puts Mayweather-Pacquiao on the Clock

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Today in sports: The New York Knicks reportedly will fire coach Mike D'Antoni right before the Super Bowl and hope nobody notices, a unique baseball bauble is missing, and baseball's new-fangled playoff format is going to have to wait a year.

New HBO Sports president Ken Hershman told the AP that he thinks interest in the hypothetical "fight of the century" between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao has a "sell-by date" of late 2012 or very early 2013. We're not sure he's right about that -- as long as both men are upright, we're willing to pay $49.95 to watch them fight -- but it's probably a smart public stance to take, since both men and their advisors have shown signs of feeling the same way and have made tentative progress on scheduling a fight for this year, either in May or November.  [AP]

Oh, no! Baseball's complicated and expanded playoff format may not be used until 2013, because this year's schedule is locked and there simply aren't enough days on the calendar between the end of the regular season and scheduled start of the playoffs to slip in an extra round of games. Sources say MLB is pressuring the players' association to eliminate a travel day during the Division Series to make the new format feasible. The union apparently wants "concessions on start times" for games played on back-to-back nights, which is going to be a tough, maybe impossible, sell for the networks airing the games. [ESPN]

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If someone offers to sell you a 2008 American League championship ring at an unbelievable price in the next few days, be careful: it might be the one that was stolen from Chicago Cubs pitcher Matt Garza's house in Fresno. Investigators seem to think the bauble, which Garza won as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, was boosted "between the afternoon of January 26 and late [Tuesday] morning," which is a pretty big window. We've never heard of a team giving out conference championship rings, but it's the natural big-league extension of the "everyone gets a trophy" approach to sports that Lori Gottlieb spotlighted in the July/August issue of The AtlanticThe only difference is, this thanks-for-playing ring is made of 14k white gold, contains 48 diamonds of various sizes, one "specialty cut yellow diamond in an 18k gold starburst inlay" and is valued at $30,000. The good news is, Garza remember to have his name engraved on the side.  [The Fresno Bee

Players for the New York Giants and New England Patriots have managed to avoid saying anything ridiculous and/or blindingly provocative during the lead-up to Sunday's Super Bowl game in Indianapolis. Because coach Bill Belichick tends to be abrupt, unsmiling and draped in grey fabric, the natural assumption from people who cover and watch the NFL is that he's up to something. If he is, his players don't know about it. Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker thinks Belichick is happier because he has "a lady in his life," while defensive tackle Vince Wilfork thinks his coach is smiling because he "sees a difference in this team" from the way they played at the start of the season. Quarterback Tom Brady suggested Belichick was happy to play a game in Indianapolis without having to face ferocious Colts' pass rushers Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney. Though Brady admitted, he may have just been projecting. [USA Today]

New York Knicks owner Jim Dolan apparently decided to fire embattled coach Mike D'Antoni after the team lost on Saturday to the Houston Rockets. Making the move quickly would be the smart (and decent) thing to do, but sources say Dolan "wants the least coverage possible, so he’ll do it right before the Super Bowl." More Knicks dysfunction could be a-comin': last Thursday, Dolan was spotted having dinner in Miami with Isiah Thomas, whose five-year stint as the team's president of basketball operations is widely and accurately viewed as disaster by people not named Jim Dolan, who loves the guy, for reasons the New York media hasn't been able to fully explain for eight years now. Over the summer, Thomas said he would "never say never" to replacing outgoing team president Donnie Walsh, who was hired in 2008 to fix Thomas' various huge, expensive mistakes, a challenge given the fact that Thomas was still hanging around, giving advice, and organizing trades, notably last year's deal for  Carmelo Anthony.   [The Daily]

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