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Falcons player’s wife goes into labor during playoff win

Chipper Jones wasn’t the only Atlanta sports figure anxiously awaiting the birth of a child.

Falcons offensive guard Andy Levitre and his wife, Katie, were also expecting a birth. 

As the Falcons played the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday in the NFC Divisional playoff game, Katie Levitre went into labor while watching the game at the Georgia Dome. 

>> Read more trending storiesKatie Levitre, a former swimsuit model and NFL cheerleader, was on social media during the game, retweeting an NFL video of her husband spiking the football following a touchdown.

After the game, she waited for her husband to go through his usual post-game routine before heading out into Atlanta traffic.

The two were at an Atlanta hospital within hours. Their daughter, Lily, was born at 12:07 a.m. Sunday, about four hours after the game ended.

A photo posted by @katielevitre on Jan 16, 2017 at 10:42am PST

A photo posted by @katielevitre on Dec 25, 2016 at 7:22am PST

Levitre was acquired by the Falcons before the 2016 season in a trade from the Tennessee Titans for a sixth-round draft pick.

Pitt wrestling coach Jason Peters out as head coach

So, um ... this happened:

PITTSBURGH—The University of Pittsburgh announced today a leadership change with the Pitt wrestling program effective immediately. Assistant staff members Matt Kocher and Drew Headlee will serve as acting co-head coaches for the balance of the 2017 season. Jason Peters, the Panthers’ head coach since 2013, is no longer with the University. "We will continue to provide our student-athletes and coaches with our full support as they work to achieve the many goals they set for the 2017 season," said Dr. Randy Juhl, who will assume the responsibilities of acting athletic director at the end of this week. A national search for a new head coach will begin immediately.

The reason for Peters' sudden dismissal seems to be a bit unknown right now. But here's what we know, courtesy of the Pitt News. Some wrestlers reportedly got in some trouble while the team was at the Midlands Championships event a few weeks back. One of those wrestlers, according to the Pitt News, may have been senior Mikey Racciato. And as the article cites, Racciato didn't wrestle this past weekend at the Pitt Duals event (something I wrote in the recap). The Panthers won all three of their duals but Racciato didn't participate.

Peters' involvement right now isn't known. But the fact that Pitt dismissed him so quickly and in the middle of the year doesn't look that great for him.

In the middle of the year. Yep, timing couldn't be much worse. The Panthers are just about to jump into ACC duals and have this mess now hanging over the program. Wonderful.

Compounding the issue, of course, is that Pitt is without an athletics director. Scott Barnes is headed to Oregon State and while Dr. Randy Juhl is the acting athletics director, the school is searching for a permanent hire. The release states that the school's search will begin immediately despite that.

Whoever makes the hire, whether it's Juhl or the new AD, is really inconsequential to me. What I hope most of all is that Pitt goes out and makes a splash hire as they did in men's soccer and (pardon the pun) swimming and diving. The Panthers' wrestling program is in a great recruiting territory and whoever comes here will be in a position where he can have success. The team is currently ranked No. 23 and almost always in the Top 25 mix. Hiring the right coach can help the program take the next step and get them into the discussion as a top ten program.

The good news is that Pitt is in better financial position than they were when they hired Peters. That's not to say he was a terrible hire, only that they have more money this time around. Peters was hired in April 2013 as Pitt's Big East tenure was coming to an end. Now in the ACC, the Panthers should be able to make a quality hire.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Rockets' James Harden surprises fan celebrating 100th birthday

The Houston Rockets’ James Harden had a great night on the court, but it’s what he did after the game that has fans cheering.

After scoring 38 points in a 111-92 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, Harden headed to the stands, where he signed a ball for a very special fan, a woman celebrating her 100th birthday. Harden presented her the ball and sat down to speak to her briefly, according to The Associated Press. During a post-game ESPN interview, Harden said he told the woman how blessed he was to have a chance to meet her.

>> Read more trending stories

The Houston Rockets posted the heartwarming exchange on the team’s Twitter page.

That moment you get the game ball from @JHarden13 on your 100th birthday. pic.twitter.com/sRBueSShDW— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) January 19, 2017

Pat Signal: Michael Smith commits to Pitt

Pitt lands a three-star receiver from Florida

PITT IS IT! #H2P #SteelCity17— Pat Narduzzi (@CoachDuzzPittFB) January 18, 2017

For the second straight day, Pitt has landed a football commitment. Michael Smith, a three-star wide receiver from Vero Beach, Florida, has decided to join the 2017 recruiting class. Jerry DiPaola of the Tribune-Review was able to crack the case of the Pat Signal first. Smith himself confirmed it moment ago.

After Talking With My Family, I Have Officially Decided To Commit To The University Of Pittsburgh #H2P #PittIsLit pic.twitter.com/ad20X6vMGB— Michael Smith (@cantguardmike11) January 18, 2017

Michael Smith is a 6’2” 200 pound wide receiver from Vero Beach, Florida. He is graded as a three-star by Rivals.com. He burst onto the recruiting scene late in the process, after a record-breaking senior season in which he caught 24 touchdown passes. In total, he hauled in 66 receptions for 1,556 yards to go along with all those touchdowns while leading Vero Beach to a 12-1 record in Florida’s highly competitive 8A classification.

By virtue of the breakout season, his recruiting profile increased significantly. He chose Pitt over offers from Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Washington State, and Indiana. Perhaps he was sold on Pitt after his official visit, where he got to meet Antonio Brown of the Steelers. His highlights show him to be a big play threat, and one that could see the field early in his career.

Smith now becomes the 21st member of the 2017 recruiting class. He is the third receiver joining fellow Floridian, Dontavius Butler and Darian Street. Smith also becomes the sixth player from Florida in the class, a noticeable emphasis in this staff’s recruiting efforts.

Today marks 14 days until signing day, and Pitt still is after a number of players. There will be two more official visit weekends before February 1, so stay tuned for more updates to sprout up over the next few weeks.

Lady Gaga teases Super Bowl performance with behind the scenes video

On Feb. 5, Lady Gaga will take the stage during the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Less than three weeks before the championship game, Pepsi, who is sponsoring the halftime show, released a teaser video of the pop superstar as she prepares for her performance.  

>> Read more trending stories  

In the behind the scenes video, Gaga can be seen at other appearances, and clips show dancers preparing choreography for the big event. "Bad Romance" is one song fans might expect from Gaga during the show, according to the video.

"This is, obviously, a humongous platform. This is, probably, like, the greatest 12 minutes of our lives," said choreographer Richy Jackson, who has worked with Lady Gaga for at least 10 years. "We're just going to see a humble, appreciative yet showmanship side of Gaga. And we haven't seen her like this because we haven't been on a stage like this. It'll be a new face, a different kind of energy."

"It will be special because I've been planning this since I was 4," Gaga said in the preview. "So I know exactly what I'm going to do." 

Hold on to your hats! Your first look#BTS of #PepsiHalftime as @RICHYSQUIRREL gets @LadyGaga's dancers ready to make us Feb 5th! pic.twitter.com/NlteGrS7Wa— Pepsi(@pepsi) January 18, 2017

Gaga, who recently performed at the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, has teased photos of her Super Bowl preparations on Instagram and said that she and her dancers built a tent in her backyard with a dance floor to practice.

"The thing is, it's such a big world stage in terms of how many people see it," Gaga said in the Pepsi behind the scenes video. "It's been done so many times (that) I think the challenge is to look at it and say, you know, 'What can I do differently? How can I elevate certain little things here and there?"

Last year, Lady Gaga sang the national anthem before the start of the Super Bowl game. She released her fifth studio album, "Joanne," in October.

<iframe src="//storify.com/cmgnationalnews/lady-gaga-super-bowl-teaser/embed?header=none&amp;border=false" width="100%" height="750" frameborder="no" allowtransparency="true"></iframe> <script src="//storify.com/cmgnationalnews/lady-gaga-super-bowl-teaser.js?header=none&amp;border=false"></script> [View the story "Lady Gaga Super Bowl teasers" on Storify]

Pitt defeated by North Carolina State, 79-74

Another game, another loss, amirite?

Pitt dropped its fourth straight basketball game tonight - this time to North Carolina State on the road, 79-74.

The Panthers were again sort of a mess in the first half. The struggles, at least, didn't last the entire way through and the team did get a little hotter earlier. But the start was again a slow one as Pitt had 12 points in the first 10+ minutes before finally getting going.

That Maverick Rowan guy is getting to be even more of a pest. He had 21 points and his play in the second half was one of the things that propelled the Wolfpack to victory. Former Pitt recruit. grumble, grumble.

Aside from depth, Pitt's problems are two-fold at this point. The defense isn't good enough and the slow starts continue to plague this team. The Panthers simply are not good enough to spot teams a full 10 or 20 minutes of bad play. Even though they trailed by only one at halftime, they wasted about ten minutes when they could have built up a lead going into the break. North Carolina State wasn't all that impressive in the first half but then they started raining three-pointers in the second half, and that's your ball game. The stagnant starts are beyond frustrating at this point.

The lone encouraging thing for me tonight was seeing the return of Michael Young. Young had his best game in some time with a game-high 25 points on 9-19 shooting. The mask that seemed to hurt him so much in the Miami game was replaced with a better model and it seems to have made a world of difference. Young, too, was probably feeling a little better with some more rest. But it appears he should again be a factor for Pitt, so that's great news, obviously.

Yesterday, I wrote about Pitt's lineup options with Young injured and Ryan Luther out for a couple of weeks with an injury. Of the three options I presented, head coach Kevin Stallings went in a different direction and simply chose to run the starters as much as he possibly could. All of the starters other than Jamel Artis played over 35 minutes and Artis played 34. The bench was a complete non-factor with Justice Kithcart, Damon Wilson, and Corey Manigault playing a combined 18 minutes and registering only one shot.

I don't really mind that strategy, to be honest. Pitt's starters are by far and away the best players with Luther out so playing them as much as possible is fine by me as long as those guys aren't getting worn out. No issues there from my vantage point. I just didn't think Stallings would necessarily go in that direction. But with a close game mostly the entire time, it was also probably difficult to take those guys out.

What I just can't shake the thought that this just doesn't appear to be a desperate team. As I said in the Miami game, Pitt needed that one and they needed this one even more. The bad turnovers, the horrible perimeter defense, etc., are all things the team can't afford to be doing right now. For the life of me, I don't understand the lack of urgency. Now, when you're playing 35 plus minutes a game, you can't exactly go all out every single play. But I just would expect things to be a little tighter, cleaner. Like every possession counts. You don't really get that sense.

One thing that's been brought up quite a bit is the coaching. Many fans believe that Jamie Dixon would have this team in a better position and probably just as many aren't so sure. But a couple of coaching related things stood out to me tonight that I thought were worth a mention.

First, Kevin Stallings' approach, without a doubt, is to let his players play the game. There was a lot of talk in the offseason about Pitt's players being glad to have the shackles off, so to speak. Under Stallings, they wouldn't be afraid to make mistakes for fear of being taken out of the game, etc. That playing a freer style would ultimately make them better. Well, halfway through the season I think we can safely say that's a load of crap. Even the most ardent Dixon haters couldn't reasonably say that Dixon's style would result in worse play. Under this system, the players may feel like they have more freedom but the idea that a looser, more happy-go-lucky system would make this team thrive is just silly at this point. That's not a voice saying that Dixon's teams hadn't plateaued - they had. But I can't with a straight face pretend like this philosophy of letting guys just play is working out.

Perhaps a freer style would work better with a different group of players. But under Stallings where there is seemingly less 'structure', I simply don't see how that has benefited the team this season.

Second, one coaching thing in this game that I found curious was how Pitt approached the final minute of play. The Panthers had just finished giving up another lead and trailed by three points with a little over a minute to play. The emphasis, very clearly, should have been that the team does not need a three-point shot. Instead, Pitt seemed determined from the get go to make sure they would get a three-pointer off. Sheldon Jeter took a three-pointer that was mostly contested and it was a pretty poor shot. The very next trip down the court, still trailing by three, Jamel Artis threw up a three-pointer.

I had less of a problem with Artis' shot, but here's the thing - with about 15 seconds or so left, instead of shooting a three, they took the ball to the basket. Why not try that earlier instead? Pitt actually nearly got a break with the late turnover that gave them another chance to tie things up at the end, but that seemed like the players either weren't told not to force a shot, or they simply didn't listen. There was no reason for Pitt to rush a three-point shot, particularly in the case of Jeter's attempt.

I'll have more on this later but at this point, if Pitt wants to make the NCAA Tournament, they're either going to need a pretty deep ACC Tournament run or pull off a few big upsets to really boost their resume. Losing games against the Syracuses, Miamis, and North Carolina States of the world isn't going to do it. From here on out, Pitt cannot simply win the games they should (which, if we're being honest, I don't even know how many of those there are) and lose to the better teams. They'll need some big upsets over some very good teams to get in.

There just doesn't seem to be any hope in sight. Clemson at home? I mean, I guess. But when you see Louisville, North Carolina, Duke, Virginia, and a top ten Florida State team (wut?) still on the schedule, it's hard to have too much excitement right now. The good thing for Pitt in all honesty is that they have that many quality wins still available on the schedule. But at this point, Pitt not only needs to grab a few of those but also win the games against the weaker teams.

And right now, they're not even doing that.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

NBA considers changing game over millennials’ short attention spans

NBA basketball games are shorter than the other major league sports games like football and hockey, but the last minutes of a game can drag on for a considerable time.Commissioner Adam Silver said last week the league is considering making changes so they don’t lose millennials, who are tuning out in the final minutes of the game.

>> Read more trending stories 

“It’s something that I know all of sports are looking at right now, and that is the format of the game and the length of time it takes to play the game,” Silver said to ESPN.com’s Tom Hamilton.

“Obviously people, particularly millennials, have increasingly short attention spans, so it’s something as a business we need to pay attention to,” he added.

During the last two minutes of a basketball game, coaches call time outs, they switch players, and plan for plays that could help them win, but it can turn those final two minutes into 10 to 15 minutes, or longer.“We are going to take a fresh look at the format, specifically in the last two minutes," Silver said. It’s ultimately up to the NBA’s board of owners, but there’s been no word on what kinds of changes might happen or when.

Pat Signal: Jason Pinnock commits to Pitt

Pitt lands a three-star cornerback

Pinnock to Pittsburgh. ✌ #412 pic.twitter.com/VPNj7WViH6— Jason (@Jason_Pinnock) January 17, 2017

Jason Pinnock just announced via Twitter that he is committed to the University of Pittsburgh. Pinnock is a 6’1” 190 pound cornerback from Windsor, Connecticut. He is graded as a three-star by Rivals, while just a two-star by Scout, ESPN, and 24-7. Pinnock was initially a member of the Boston College recruiting class, but de-committed shortly after a Pitt offer. After visiting this past weekend, Pitt was able to close the deal.

In addition to his Pitt and Boston College offers, UConn also offered, but he was receiving high interest from Notre Dame. Many suspected a Notre Dame offer could be nearing, but Pinnock opted to shut down his recruitment today.

Pinnock is a rare recruit for Pitt from the state of Connecticut, or New England in general. Rivals calls him the 8th best player in the Constitution State. He helped lead his Windsor High School team to a 12-1 season in 2016. Pinnock led his team on offense with 59 receptions, 1,172 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. Still his impact on defense was also equal or more important. He posted 7 interceptions and recovered three fumbles and displays great coverage skills in his Hudl highlights.

Pinnock now becomes the 20th recruit in the 2017 class. He joins Damarri Mathis as the second corner in the class. As we saw with this past season, Pitt really needs to add depth and talent to the position. Pinnock will have a chance at early playing time, but a redshirt seems most likely for next season.

We are now two weeks away from signing day, and Pitt still has plenty of work to do. There are two more official visit weekends coming up, and Pat Narduzzi and his staff will need to lock down 4-5 more recruits, at least.

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