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WATCH: Falcons, Saints join hands midfield in circle of unity before kickoff

The Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints kicked off their game with a unique moment Monday night.

<script>(function(d, s, id) {</span><span>  var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];</span><span>  if (d.getElementById(id)) return;</span><span>  js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id;</span><span>  js.src = "//connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&amp;version=v2.7";</span><span>  fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);</span><span>}(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));</script>With a message of togetherness, the Falcons and Saints lock arms and put the rivalry aside for a moment before #MNF. #Together #ATLvsNOPosted by Atlanta Falcons on Monday, September 26, 2016

After everyone stood for the national anthem, the teams left the sidelines and came together in the middle of the field where they held hands.

The two teams formed a circle around the 50-yard line for a moment of unity and reflection. Some players bowed their heads for a few moments before the teams returned to their sidelines.

>> Read more trending stories

The ESPN announcer said the players decided to do the show of unity in light of last week’s police shootings and the demonstrations that have been going on around the NFL.

“With a message of togetherness, the Falcons and Saints lock arms and put the rivalry aside for a moment before #MNF,” the Falcons posted on their Facebook page.

>> Watch the clip here

Marlins honor Jose Fernandez on emotional night

The boy, only 6, turned to his father as he prepared to write a personal message to Jose Fernandez on the makeshift Wall of Remembrance outside Marlins Park.

“How do you spell love?” he asked.

You spell it the way the Miami Marlins did Monday night.

You spell it in ways large and small, such as the No. 16 every Marlins player wore — and which no Marlins player will ever wear again.

You spell it with a moment of silence and hugs shared by each Marlins player with each Mets player. With a fairytale leadoff home run by the Marlins’ Dee Gordon, who was overcome with emotion.

>> Read more trending stories

You spell it with a pregame team gathering at the mound Jose Fernandez commanded with fire and joy. And you spell it with your index finger, as each Marlins player did, inscribing their personal messages to Jose in that mound.

“Rest with God,” one player wrote.

A day earlier, they were jolted awake with news that Fernandez, their 24-year-old spark plug, had been killed with two friends in a boating accident off Miami Beach.

A night earlier, instead of playing a game, the entire team was bused to the Fernandez family home for an excruciating 45 minutes, trying to find comforting words for a family but knowing no such words exist.

How do you play a game a day after that? One way is the way the Marlins did, blowing out the New York Mets by taking a 5-0 lead in the first two innings. Gordon sparked it while wearing Fernandez’s batting helmet, according to Fox Sports Florida.

But how much relief could it possibly be at a time when manager Don Mattingly said the objective was simply, “just get through the day.”

Everyone wondered how. Owner Jeffrey Loria mentioned Roberto Clemente, Lou Gehrig, Thurman Munson — baseball tragedies that never healed.

“And sadly Jose,” he said.

Loria made it clear Fernandez’s No. 16 will be retired.

“Nobody’s going to wear it, I can tell you that now,” he said. “Nobody will wear that number again.”

Loria called this his “lowest moment.” Someone asked if he’d feel any differently if it were a blood relative.

“It wouldn’t feel any different whatsoever,” he said softly.

He recalled the phone call from team President David Samson on Sunday morning:

“Jose’s been killed.”

“What? What?”

Loria was in New York, sitting in the same chair he once sat in when he fielded another call with bad news.

“That chair is gone now,” he said. “That chair left the house yesterday.”

A few feet away, Scott Boras, Fernandez’s agent, recalled getting his phone call when it was 4:30 a.m. in California before hopping on a plane.

“When you get here it hits …,” Boras said, breaking down.

Mattingly, too, was glassy-eyed in meeting with reporters before the game. Visiting the Fernandez family, he said, had taken him back in time.

“Watching his mom and grandmother yesterday reminded me of my brother, who was killed at 23, when I was like 6 years old,” Mattingly said. “And they shielded me. I was not really a part of all that, what was going on. But now I know what was going on. So I knew the pain.”

The visit was “unspeakable,” Samson said.

“You walk into that house and there was a hole,” he said. “I’m not a spiritual man. It felt like there was a hole above the house and it had taken Jose to heaven and left his people wondering, ‘Where did that hole come from?’”

Fernandez’s services are pending but likely to be at a church near the ballpark on Thursday and open to the public, Samson said. The team is off Thursday and the players “will certainly be able to attend,” he said.

Samson and Loria made it clear the Marlins will map out a long-term plan to honor Fernandez. For now, they will wear a patch on their uniforms beginning Tuesday night.

Outside the ballpark, fans silently and patiently stood in line, waiting to sign the Wall of Remembrance. They included 6-year-old Luis Cruz Jr., who asked his father how to spell love in his message to Fernandez, who lived two blocks down.

Anthony Perez-Florido of Pinecrest quietly added flowers to a growing stack.

“Most of us come from a Cuban background, and this guy told the exact story — what we suffered, what our ancestors suffered through,” said Perez-Florido, who at 24 is the same age as Fernandez. “He almost had to sacrifice his life in order to get here to the United States and he found freedom here, finally.”

All Cubans could relate, Perez-Florido added.

“Any problem you had in the world, when you came out to the ballpark it’s Jose Day, it was the happiest day in the world,” he said.

Monday was the saddest.

It began with a moment of silence. As it concluded, Mets manager Terry Collins embraced Mattingly. Players took the cue, the teams lining up, somewhat like postgame handshakes in the NHL playoffs, except handshakes wouldn’t do. Each Met hugged each Marlin, patting him on the back in the process. A video tribute played.

After players held what appeared to be a group prayer and wrote on the mound, the public address played the Furious 7 song, “See You Again.”

Fitting all the Marlins with No. 16 required the approval of Major League Baseball, then a race against time. The uniform company in Philadelphia worked through the night, flying them down just in time, with “FERNANDEZ” on the back of each.

The evening was toned down. Between innings, soft music played as the center-field video board displayed images of Fernandez, seemingly always grinning, interspersed with tweets and shots of fans holding signs in tribute. Players chose special walk-up music Fernandez liked.

Memories? Everybody had them. Once composed, Boras mentioned how he used to tease Fernandez for having a better earned-run average at home than on the road. He used to tell Fernandez, “I’m going to take your mother on the road, because your ERA is a run and a half lower when she’s in the stadium.”

Loria remembered taking a young Fernandez shopping for something to hold his electronic toys on the road.

“We’re going to get you the roller bags you need so you look like a major-league baseball player,” Loria recalled saying. “We went, and to his credit, he didn’t want the most expensive one there. I had to insist on it.”

Stories helped ease the pain. Although he wasn’t specific, Mattingly said players have “all kinds of resources” to cope. He held a team meeting, during which time there were 38 grown men, all crying, Samson said.

“They’re a unit that lost a leg, an appendage,” Samson said. “And they’re trying to figure out how to get mobile again.”

The shock was still too fresh, the pain too raw, for Samson, who would not refer to Fernandez in the past tense. Maybe time will help.

“Next year, you’re going to see celebrations of his life,” Samson said. “But it’s nothing to celebrate today. There’s just crying. There’s tears. There’s questioning. There’s people trying to figure it out.

“There will be time to celebrate his life. And we will celebrate it.

“There’s a lot to celebrate.”

Pat Narduzzi says personnel changes could come at Pitt

After Pitt's secondary collapse against Oklahoma State a couple of games ago, Pat Narduzzi was asked if there would be any personnel changes coming. At the time, he said no.

However, it sounds as if the head coach is reconsidering after yet another disappointing game by the Panthers' pass defense.

"You might see one or two," Narduzzi said when asked if the Panthers coaches would be making any personnel changes. "I don't know if it will help things. There's always time to shake things up a little bit and we'll shake things up."

Narduzzi also made a point to say that he believes that the coaches have most of the right players on the field. But his admission that there could be changes coming means that they are at least open to trying a few different guys.

So where could Pitt be making some changes? I mean, if it's not the secondary, I don't know where it would be. One that stands out to me in particular is safety. Terrish Webb had a rough game against North Carolina and if you remember back to training camp, the safety spot opposite Jordan Whitehead was one that went right down to the wire with Webb and Reggie Mitchell, a former starter. Giving Mitchell a crack at the starting job might not be a terrible idea.

Then there's cornerback. Unfortunately, the team isn't as deep here with another known commodity available. Both Avonte Maddox and Ryan Lewis have struggled this year and some might argue that Maddox has been worse. Ironically, Maddox was/is the No. 1 guy out of camp and his job wasn't seen as up for grabs while Lewis was fighting to win his.

The problem is that there isn't a Mitchell-like opportunity here. Pitt could try to turn to one of its younger guys like Dane Jackson or Phillipie Motley, the two players listed behind Maddox and Lewis on the depth chart. But both are underclassmen, as are others such as freshmen Malik Henderson and Therran Coleman.

It's fine to clamor for changes, but part of the reason the Panthers have been hesitant to make moves there is simply because those guys are very, very green.

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.

College football player passes out on first flight ever

Sure the Kennesaw State University football team felt like it was floating on air when an interception for a touchdown led the team to victory Saturday, but one player found out beforehand he may not like that feeling.

He found that out on the airplane ride to the game in Pittsburgh. It was his first plane ride and he passed out. And it was filmed by his teammates, who of course tweeted it out.

The freakout by redshirt freshman Keagan Jordan was captured and shared by teammate Xavier Harper, who said it was Jordan's first flight.

It wasn't just the first flight for Jordan, a three-year letterman at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic High School in Fayetteville, it was the first flight in the football program's history. KSU’s football program is two years old.

>> Read more trending stories

So Jordan wasn't the only one.

"There were about 40 on the team that had never flown before, so that was the first experience for a lot of guys," said Mike DeGeorge, the university's sports spokesman.

The pre-passout episode included Jordan clutching his chest, holding onto the seat in front of him for dear life and a terrified, "Oh! Oh! Oh my God! We ain't gone make it!"

All the while, his teammates calming him down by lovingly laughing directly at him and reminding him that the plane hadn't even taken off yet.

And then it did.

The first sight of which was apparently too much for the 6-foot, 223-pound football player to handle — and he passed out.

He didn't know it because he was unconscious, but his comrades rushed to his aid while laughing between yells of, "He passed out! He passed out!"

Here's to hoping he at least got the whole can of soda.

He must have been OK because he played, mostly on special teams, in the 36-28 victory over Duquesne.

DeGeorge said that with the video getting so much attention, it was a good way to remind his student-athletes about the power of the internet.

"That’s the beauty of social media — you never know what goes viral and what doesn’t. We are always preaching to our student-athletes to be responsible on social media, and to be aware of their surroundings, because anything can be caught on camera, and made public. I doubt anyone expected this to explode the way it did," he said.

But Jordan will get a chance at redemption: The team's next flight is Oct. 28 to Monmouth University in New Jersey.

Watch the video in all its glory. The post has earned more than 4,000 retweets:

Marlins players will all wear No. 16 in honor of Jose Fernandez

Every member of the Miami Marlins will wear No. 16 on Monday night, according to the Miami Herald, as an homage to fallen pitcher Jose Fernandez, who was killed early Sunday morning in a boat crash with two other men.

>> Read more trending stories

In their first game since Sunday's shocking news, the Marlins host the New York Mets at 7:10 p.m. at Marlins Park. Sunday's game against the Atlanta Braves was canceled in the wake of Fernandez's death.

>> Related: Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez death: 5 things to know

Adam Conley will take to the mound for Miami, while Bartolo Colon will get the start for New York. Fernandez was originally slated to be Monday's starter against the Mets.

Fans, teammates and opponents alike paid tribute to the life of the 24-year-old pitcher on Sunday. The Marlins' ground crew stenciled his No. 16 onto the back of the pitcher's mound at Marlins Park.

And many other players and teams around Major League Baseball honored Fernandez in their own ways.

‘Standing room only’ tickets for Braves’ Turner Field finale on sale

The Braves are selling “standing room only” tickets for Sunday’s final game at Turner Field.

The tickets for the 3:10 p.m. game against the Detroit Tigers, priced at $20 apiece, went on sale at mid-morning Monday at www.Braves.com/tickets and the Turner Field ticket windows.

Buyers of the “limited number” of standing-room tickets won’t have a reserved seat but can stand in designated areas within the sold-out stadium, the Braves said.

Pre-game and post-game ceremonies are planned Sunday. Before the game, former Braves players will be on the field to celebrate Turner Field’s history and throw a ceremonial first pitch. After the game, the Braves plan a “ceremonial final pitch, the transfer of home plate to SunTrust Park, a parade of ‘Braves Country’ states and a presentation featuring Braves VIPs.”

The final homestand at 20-year-old Turner Field starts Tuesday night with the opener of a three-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies, followed by a three-game weekend inter-league series against the Tigers. The Braves will open next season in their new Cobb County stadium, SunTrust Park.

MORE: Here is the ultimate Turner Field bucket list to fulfill before the Braves move

Pitt lineman Dan Matha to make WWE/NXT television debut

An ex-football player is one of pro wrestling’s up and comers

I always expected that if I was writing about a former Pitt football player joining the WWE, it would be former defensive lineman Ty Ezell. Ezell always had WWE aspirations if the NFL didn’t work out and to date, it hasn’t.

But another former Panthers player looks like he’s not only in the WWE, but potentially on a track to becoming a key guy.

Offensive lineman Dan Matha.

Matha, you might recall, was a pretty solid recruit that came to Pitt over Michigan State and West Virginia, among others. Unfortunately with shoulder injuries eating into his career, he never played at Pitt despite being here for three years as a tackle. Matha eventually went to nearby IUP and starred at the D-II level. He got a look in the NFL, but never worked out there.

Seemingly, he dropped off the face of the earth. But Matha was already planning his next career in pro wrestling.

Matha is set to make his television debut in WWE’s NXT circuit in less than two weeks after a promo was run for him during this past Wednesday’s show. He’s been in some NXT matches at events but none televised that I’m aware of.

All of that might sound like nothing if you’ve not heard of it, but NXT is the company’s premier minor league system, if you will. It’s not found on cable TV but despite being only on the WWE Network, has a massive following. In other words, Matha will have many eyes on him in a very short amount of time.

Wrestling fans don’t know what to make of him, either. Many wrestlers toil for years before getting recognition from the WWE. Apparently after a short stint in the Ohio Valley Wrestling training school, he landed a WWE tryout and was quickly signed last fall.

In pro wrestling, that sort of thing doesn’t happen all the time. Wrestlers can be on the independent circuits for years and years without drawing any attention at all, let alone being signed. The WWE does have a penchant for taking athletes from football and giving them a shot, but as a whole, Matha has shot up the ladder much faster than is the norm.

Pittsburgh is known for producing some WWE talent, as this article cites. And not on their list was Matt Bloom, who played football at Pitt in the 1990s. Bloom (aka Tensai, A-Train, etc.) was also 6’7” like Matha and an offensive tackle for the Panthers before going on to a long career in pro wrestling.

Physically, the dude is jacked. Here’s Matha in action lifting, um, a lot of weight quite a few times. We’ll see how much he’s learned in the short time he’s been on the wrestling circuit pretty soon.

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.

Weekly Kickoff: Pitt has chance to rebound vs. Marshall

The Panthers will look to snap a two-game losing streak

Pitt has come close to knocking off two quality teams on the road but lost in the final minutes against both Oklahoma State and North Carolina. Instead of being 4-0, the Panthers find themselves at 2-2 and desperately in need of a win.

They’ll get that chance against the Marshall Thundering Herd this weekend.

Pitt faces Marshall in a night kickoff this weekend as the team gets back to its home field. Seemingly, this is what the Panthers need to get back on track.

No, Marshall isn’t necessarily a gimme but it’s obviously a game that Pitt should win.

The Thundering Herd looked incredibly impressive with a 62-0 win over Morgan State. But since then, they’ve struggled badly. First came a 65-38 blowout loss to Akron. This past weekend, Marshall was routed 59-28 against Louisville.

The big thing here to watch is the status of quarterback Chase Litton. Litton dropped six touchdown passes against Morgan State then added four more against Akron before suffering concussion symptoms. He wasn’t healthy enough to play against Louisville on Saturday and his availability will be something to watch.

Pitt fans will likely be scared by some of those passing numbers and, well, given the state of the secondary, they probably should be. Litton is yet another quarterback they’ll face with the ability to sling the ball all over the field and not only put up 722 passing yards in those first two games but has those ten passing touchdowns. If he’s able to play this weekend, that could hurt.

For Marshall’s sake, they better hope he does go. His replacement, Garet Morrell, didn’t fare nearly as well this weekend. Sure, he was facing Louisville. But Morrell really struggled to do much of anything despite two touchdown passes. On the day, he was 9-21 for only 59 yards and an interception. You have to figure that even Pitt’s suspect secondary should be able to rebound well if it’s Morrell in the game.

While Marshall’s passing game will depend on which quarterback is in there, the running game looks to be solid. It’s a by-committee approach there with four guys carrying the load. Keion Davis, Hyleck Foster, Tony Pittman, and Anthony Anderson have combined for 119 carries and 465 rushing yards.

Defensively, the Thundering Herd have struggled. They shut out Morgan State, but allowed a whopping 124 points to Akron and Louisville. Marshall has had problems against both the run and the pass, but probably struggled a little more in the passing game, allowing nearly 800 yards in the air in both of those games.

It will be interesting to see if Pitt tries to air it out a bit more this week. Nathan Peterman has certainly shown some limitations but facing an opponent that’s been pretty bad in pass defense might mean the Panthers try to pass a little bit more. I’m not expecting a 300-yard game or anything but Peterman could do a bit more this weekend.

The past two weeks have been disappointing. But playing good teams on the road is never easy. A 2-2 record at this point with that schedule, while frustrating given that Pitt had last week’s game won, is entirely reasonable for a program still on the rise. But there’s no doubt that the Panthers need to rebound on Saturday and cannot afford a loss going up against Marshall at home.

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.

MLB stars, athletes pay tribute to Jose Fernandez, dead at 24

Early Sunday, Miami Marlins star pitcher Jose Fernandez died at age 24 in a boating accident off Miami Beach. Fernandez is survived by his family, which includes his grandmother, his mother and his girlfriend, Carla Mendoza, who Fernandez recently revealed was pregnant with their child.

>> Marlins Pitcher Jose Fernandez has died

Fernandez's fun-loving and enthusiastic demeanor, both on and off of the field, left a lasting impression on not only the Miami sports community but also the sports world as a whole.

Several prominent South Florida sports figures and teams tweeted out their condolences to Fernandez’s family and friends.

>> PHOTOS: Remembering Jose Fernandez

The baseball community also took to social media to mourn the loss of a teammate and competitor that they had grown to respect during his impressive, yet all-too-short four-year MLB career.

>> WATCH: Jose Fernandez reunites with grandmother in heartwarming 2013 video

Fellow National League All-Star and Cuban Yoenis Cespedes paid tribute to Fernandez by taping a Mets jersey with Fernandez’s name and number on it in the Mets dugout. The team posted video of the tribute on Twitter.

>> Read more trending stories

WATCH: Jose Fernandez reunites with grandmother in heartwarming 2013 video

Grab the tissues.

In 2013, the Miami Marlins arranged for Jose Fernandez’s grandmother, Olga, to travel to the United States to see her grandson pitch in the major league for the first time in six years.

>> Watch the video here

During an interview, Fernandez talked about how much his grandmother meant to him while he was living in Cuba as a child. He showed off a tattoo he got in his mother and grandmother’s honor.

“My mom doesn’t know as much about baseball as my grandma. My grandma is a baseball freak,” he said. The interviewer than asked if he could send his grandmother a message, what he would say. “Everything that I do is for her. I am going to keep working hard and one day, hopefully, she is going to see me here.”

>> Marlins Pitcher Jose Fernandez has died

He was very frank when asked what she would say to him if she were there: “I don’t think she would be here.”

As he talked in front of the camera, his grandmother and mother walked into the room and completely blew Fernandez away.

>> PHOTOS: Remembering Jose Fernandez

The two embraced for some time. “Oh, my God,” he said.

“I wanted to show her everything I did during the season, because she couldn’t be with me,” he said. He also revealed that it was his grandmother who taught him how to catch a baseball.

>> Read more trending stories

Later, Olga witnessed her grandson with the Rookie of the Year award and saw him play baseball at Marlins Park. During the game, Fernandez joked that his grandmother would probably have some pointers for him after the game.

Fernandez died in the early hours of Sept. 25 after a boat he was riding crashed into rocks in Miami. He and the two other passengers died as a result of the crash.

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