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Monday Morning Quarterback: U.S. redeems itself on, off court

With the football season fast-approaching, the Monday Morning Quarterback is practicing a hurry-up drill:

Redeem team wins gold

Redemption, in this case, may have more to do with the image of NBA players than their performance on a basketball court. The U.S. team was considered arrogant, aloof and boorish in Athens during the 2004 Olympics, and their play reflected it. But LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and company were not only great teammates to one another in Beijing, but they shared Team U.S.A.’s camaraderie as well. As for having a difficult time with Spain in the final, well, with more international players coming to the NBA, winning the gold in the future will not be getting any easier.

U.S. wins most medals; China has more gold

Those who come from the Vince Lombardi school will no doubt say that winning is the only thing and silver and bronze are just like parting gifts for game show contestants. But keep this in mind: If the old Soviet Union were reunited (as Russia apparently tried to initiate with its invasion of Georgia), it would have won more total medals than either the Americans or Chinese. Like in everything else, the world is catching up and the U.S. might have to revise its expectations going into future Olympics. We’re not always going to have a Michael Phelps around to win eight gold medals alone.

Shawne Merriman has “career-threatening” knee injury

The amazing thing about this revelation is that Merriman — an all-pro linebacker for the San Diego Chargers — hasn’t had surgery yet for two separate ligament injuries that he says could end his career. That was the evaluation of two medical specialists who are not employed the Chargers, whose coach Norv Turner still holds out hope that team physicians can stabilize the knee so that Merriman can play this season.

This may be the greatest failing of Gene Upshaw, a Hall of Fame offensive lineman and executive director of the NFLPA, who died this week of pancreatic cancer. Upshaw helped players earn 60 percent of revenues and watched the salary cap climb to $116 million, but pro football is a brutal sport and next to auto racing, the impact of a catastrophic is the greatest. Players do not have guaranteed contracts because of the high injury rate, negotiating instead for lucrative up-front bonus money. Retired players complain they have been forgotten by Upshaw and the union, and current players face tremendous pressure to play when hurt. And sometimes, that calls into question the ethics of team doctors. The NFL would do well to establish its own medical team of physicians and surgeons and have them evaluate all player injuries.

Texas Rangers dropping like a rock

Wild-card aspirations seem so misguided now because they were based on the Rangers mashing their way to the postseason. They are the Texas Tech of Major League Baseball, but even Tech is supposed to have a good defense this season. Look at the rise of the Tampa Bay Rays; it has been built on pitching, sound defense and timely hitting. And it’s not that the Rangers don’t recognize good pitching prospects — Edinson Volquez (15-5), John Danks (10-6) and Armando Galarraga (12-4) — have combined for 37 victories in 2008. And only Danks (Chicago White Sox) is pitching for a team with a shot at the playoffs. At times it seems like Nolan Ryan is the only Ranger who hasn’t started a game this season. Insert your own punch line.

Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch do the “Bristol bump”

Rivalries and controversy are great for auto racing, although we would stop short of the cheating done by the Joe Gibbs racing team. But while there is nothing wrong with drivers confronting one another after a race, jawing, shoving, even punching or yanking on one another’s helmet, we’d rather not see them play bumper cars after crossing the finish line. That was what Edwards and Busch did in Bristol, Tenn., Saturday night when Edwards bumped Busch and went on to win the race, moving a closer second to Busch in the points race with only two more races before the Chase begins. Busch bumped Edwards to let him know how he felt, and Edwards returned the favor. Hey, guys, learn from Indy-car driver Danica Patrick, who gets in the other driver’s face.