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Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985 after a two-year stint covering college hockey for The Anchorage Times in Alaska. From 1985-90 he covered New York City high school sports, then spent five years as Newsday's beat writer for St. John's and Big East basketball. From 1995-2005 he covered the Giants before leaving that beat to become a reporter, columnist and feature writer focused on off-field topics such as sports media and business. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept. 30, 2005.

Chance of John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman returning to WFAN in 2015? It is high!

John Sterling, left, and Suzyn Waldman will likely

John Sterling, left, and Suzyn Waldman will likely continue to call Yankees games on WFAN in 2015. (Credit: David L. Pokress)

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There is only so much change that Yankees fans can be expected to handle at one time, what with a new shortstop on the horizon for the first time this millennium. So perhaps this will come as comforting news:

Barring a change of heart or health, John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman, both of whom have been around the team since before Derek Jeter was drafted, appear likely to return for at least one more season, their 11th together.

Sterling's position on this matter always has been clear. He said as recently as Monday: "I'm never going to retire. I don't understand why people would."

But the man primarily responsible for deciding whether Sterling stays in his current job is WFAN program director Mark Chernoff, and though he would not say so definitively, he gave no indication the radio duo's immediate future is in doubt.

"I don't really discuss contracts other than to say they are under contract to us for some length of time," he said.

That length of time is not believed to extend beyond 2015, but Sterling is 76 (although he will not admit or discuss it) and Waldman is 68, so this mostly is a year-to-year matter.

The Yankees do not have hiring or firing power over WFAN announcers, but they do have input and do not seem inclined to push for a change.

"I think John and Suzyn, they are iconic," team president Randy Levine said. "The way it works is it's up to FAN first and then they come to us, and like all our decisions, we take a look at it. But I love them. They're friends, they're great people and they're part of the Yankee brand."

Is Levine concerned about Sterling's infamous, sometimes troubling mistakes? "That's part of John," he said, laughing.

Indeed. And it says here that's mostly OK. Of course it would be nice if Sterling waited for balls to clear the fence before announcing home runs -- something for which he remains unapologetic, preferring, he says, to be ahead of calls rather than behind them.

It also would be helpful if he struck a better balance between shtick and game description, and if he let Waldman handle some play-by-play. (Either way, WFAN at some point ought to wedge a younger potential successor into the play-by-play mix to ease the future transition.)

But let's face it: After 26 seasons without missing a game, Sterling is woven into the fabric of Yankee-land, from his goofy antics to his signature home run calls. And like him or not, he will be missed when he is gone.

And let's face this, too: While Waldman herself is unconventional and subject to caricature, she also might be the only possible partner for Sterling at this stage. She is a team player who helps smooth the rough edges of Sterling's miscalls and patiently puts up with his idiosyncrasies.

"They've been together for a long time," Chernoff said. "They know each other's strengths and quirks and are able to work off of that."

Does their long tenure and, as Levine put it, "iconic" status factor into any evaluation of them? "Yes, absolutely it is a piece of the equation," Chernoff said.

Not that Chernoff is a fan of Sterling's errors. "Yes, I'm concerned when that happens," he said. "There is a lot going on in a game, and when I talk to John, I just remind him to focus on where that ball is going."

When the ball does not go the Yankees' way, Sterling is not shy about offering harsh, disgusted critiques.

"Both John and Suzyn will be critical if the Yankees are not playing well, but I love their enthusiasm when it looks like the Yankees are on their way to victory," Chernoff said. "They're an interesting and entertaining listen."

That is indisputable. Over the 162-game grind, give me quirky and unpredictable over blandly professional any day.

With the possible exception of WFAN colleague Mike Francesa, Sterling and Waldman are the most reliable lightning rods in New York sports media, and among its most fascinating personalities.

Sterling said he and White Sox announcer Ken Harrelson, who just turned 73, once mutually agreed to "keel over in the booth."

Let's hope that does not happen anytime soon, but it would be the ultimate bit of Sterling theatrics.

"Baseball is a tremendous grind," he said. "I love it and I get up for every game and so, the answer is I really do plan that I'm never going to retire. I figure as long as my voice is like this, I'm going to get a job on a radio station somewhere."

With Barbara Barker

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espnW, ESPN Radio to host discussion on state of NFL

ESPN announced a collaboration between espnW and ESPN Radio Tuesday night called "espnW Presents: The State of the NFL on ESPN Radio and ESPNRadio.com."

The show, which can be heard on ESPN New York from 9 to 11 p.m., will be co-hosted by Jemele Hill and Cari Champion and feature a discussion involving espnW's Jane McManus, Kate Fagan and Sarah Spain about the Ray Rice episode and other...

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Giants still have four games to improve on 2013

Eli Manning #10 of the Giants and offensive

Eli Manning #10 of the Giants and offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo stand on the sidelines late in a game against the Arizona Cardinals at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014 in East Rutherford, N.J. (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

Cheer up, Giants fans. Big Blue has four more chances to improve upon last season's start!

So things could be worse, as we all found out last autumn. But this also is a good time to remember another thing we learned in 2013: It gets late early out there.

Thus while Rashad Jennings mathematically was correct when he said after Sunday's loss to the Cardinals, "It's a long season; we have 14 more games to go in the regular season," he might not want to count on that.

Remember, the Giants looked like a pretty good team much of last season, winning seven of their final 10 games. But the nagging fact that they lost their first six rendered all of that meaningless.

Now this: An 0-2 start in which they followed a 35-14 loss to the Lions that Tom Coughlin called "a nightmare performance" with a 25-14 loss after which he used the word "nightmare" to describe only the fourth quarter.

That's an improvement, right? Actually, it was, especially on offense, as Coughlin and many of his players noted. But this is not the NBA or NHL or MLB. It's the NFL, and one-eighth of the season already is gone.

What is Coughlin going to do about it before another campaign is flushed away -- and with it, perhaps his job?

"What else do you do?" he said. "You work as hard as you can. You run around like a crazy man."

That was one of several comments that illustrated his exasperation, including a tangent during which he lamented that the team had let down luminaries who were being honored Sunday.

They included Frank Gifford, who was introduced during a halftime celebration of the team's 90th NFL season, and Francis Scott Key, who was unable to attend a recognition of the 200th anniversary of his most famous composition.

"The players were well aware of that, very much aware,'' said Coughlin, who also noted that the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were remembered at MetLife Stadium. "They were excited to play under these circumstances, and very disappointed we didn't give our home fans a win.''

Credit mistakes that included allowing a punt return for a go-ahead touchdown, assorted dropped passes, nine penalties and four turnovers, including a crushing fumble by Jennings with 4:30 left and the Giants trailing by eight and driving.

"It's uncharacteristic of me,'' said Jennings, who stumbled on the play, untouched by a member of the opposing team. "I have to bite the bullet. I know it was a big part of the game and I have to keep moving forward.''

Did we mention that the Cardinals' quarterback, Drew Stanton, hadn't played in an NFL game since 2010?

Despite it all, the Giants attempted to reassure themselves and their fans that things will get better -- presumably meaning at least one victory during a stretch against the Texans, Redskins, Falcons and Eagles between now and mid-October.

"I think we're a better team than last year and I think we'll keep grinding,'' Eli Manning said. Why does he think this team is better? "I think the guys we have out there, the way they're doing things, the way they're playing.''

Said Jennings, "I can see why fans are frustrated -- heck, we're frustrated. We don't expect this. We are better than this, and we know that. But I would say to stick with us.''

Said safety Antrel Rolle, "I believe in my teammates. I believe in what we're doing as an organization and more important, we lost today, no doubt about it, but I saw something in my teammates.''

Fair enough, but what the world will see is 0-2, one-third of the way back to a recurring nightmare.

"We'll be all right; trust me, we'll be all right,'' defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said. Why? "I know my team. We'll come together.''

Fine. But keep an eye on the calendar.

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Who gets the deflated game ball as the Giants' least valuable player after their loss to the Cardinals?

Eli Manning Victor Cruz Rashad Jennings Quinton Demps Zack Bowman Someone else

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Michael Vick won't appear on Mike Francesa's show after all

The Jets' Michael Vick acknowledges the crowd during

The Jets' Michael Vick acknowledges the crowd during the first half of a preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Philadelphia. (Credit: AP / Chris Szagola)

Michael Vick will not appear on Mike Francesa's WFAN show on Tuesdays this season, as he had been contracted to do, a decision that became official Friday.

The Jets' new backup quarterback said Sept. 5 he was leaning against coming on weekly but might do so periodically, to which Francesa responded he was not interested in that arrangement.

Vick did appear Tuesday and answered questions at length; he seemed to imply he would return soon.

Francesa said on the air between Yankees games Friday that the Jets had barred Vick from appearing weekly. The team said earlier in the day that it merely had encouraged him to reconsider.

Responding to an inquiry from Newsday, a team spokesman said in a statement, "We weren't aware of the request initially. Upon learning [of it], we discussed it with Michael and his representatives.

"Appearing on a weekly basis didn't seem so practical in-season, but he is willing to be a guest on occasion and we have no issue with scheduling other players on Mike's show so long as it's in a manner that's respectful of our relationship with our flagship station, ESPN 98.7 FM.''

Francesa said on the air, "Here's the bottom line: The Jets pulled him. You want to say my frosty relationship with the Jets continues? Well, I guess it does, because the Jets pulled him.''

Francesa said he has "no problem'' with Vick or his agent and said the player is welcome on the show. "I think they both acted in good faith,'' he said. "The Jets, of course their story changes, as it always does. Obviously, as soon as they knew there was a deal, they got involved in a hurry and broke the deal.''

WFAN will let Vick out of his contract. "No one wanted to put Vick in a tough spot,'' Francesa said.

Chris Shigas, Vick's spokesman, said, "Michael Vick wanted to remain focused on the season and be respectful to the Jets and its partners. Vick truly enjoyed being on Mike Francesa's show.

"Francesa is a legend in the market and Vick hopes that he will be invited back on air in the future.''

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Who gets the deflated game ball as the Jets' LVP in their loss to the Packers?

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No one played on ESPN Sunday nights more than Derek Jeter

Yankees Derek Jeter #newsdaysports #yankees #brooklynnets #nyyankees #nyc

(Credit: Instagram user longislandsown)

Derek Jeter will appear for the 71st and final time on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball’’ this weekend – more than any other player and 13 ahead of second-place . . . Alex Rodriguez!

Alas, the Yankees’ opponent is the Orioles. It would have been more historically appropriate for his final appearance to be against the Red Sox, the Yankees' most common Sunday night matchup for many years.

Jeter...

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Roger Goodell to have ex-FBI chief investigate NFL's handling of Ray Rice case

Reported on Sept. 10, 2014, a law enforcement official says he sent a video of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee to an NFL executive five months ago, while league executives have insisted they didn't see the violent images until they were published this week. (Credit: AP)

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has appointed former FBI director Robert S. Mueller to conduct an independent investigation into the NFL's pursuit and handling of evidence in the Ray Rice domestic violence incident.

The announcement was made late Wednesday night, just hours after The Associated Press reported that a law enforcement official sent a DVD to an NFL executive five months ago with video of Rice punching his then-fiancee in the face during an argument in an Atlantic City casino elevator.

Mueller's investigation will be overseen by NFL owners John Mara of the Giants and Art Rooney of the Steelers, both of whom are lawyers. The report will be made public when it is completed. Goodell pledged that Mueller, who served as director of the FBI from 2001 to 2013, will have the full cooperation of NFL personnel and access to all NFL records. Mueller is currently a partner in the law firm of WilmerHale and is based in Washington.

Goodell has insisted that no one from the NFL's office had seen video of the punch until it was distributed by the website TMZ on Monday -- images that quickly resulted in Rice being released by the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL suspending the running back indefinitely.

The AP's source played a 12-second voice mail left from an NFL office number on April 9 that confirmed the video had been received. A female voice can be heard expressing thanks and saying, "You're right. It's terrible."

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Wednesday night: "We have no knowledge of this. We are not aware of anyone in our office who possessed or saw the video before it was made public on Monday. We will look into it."

Goodell and the league have faced severe public criticism for how they handled Rice's domestic violence case. Goodell initially suspended him for two games before the video became public.

AP said the law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, had no further communication with anyone from the league and could not confirm whether anyone watched the video. He asked the AP not to release the name of the NFL executive with whom he communicated lest it reveal the official's identity as the source.

The league has said it asked for but could not obtain the video, which showed Rice punching Janay Palmer, whom he later married, and rendering her unconscious.

In an interview with CBS News on Tuesday, Goodell reasserted that no one in the NFL had seen that video, but after a pause, he added "to my knowledge."

"We assumed that there was a video," Goodell told CBS. "We asked for video. But we were never granted that opportunity."

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Ray Rice video was sent to NFL executive 5 months ago, says source

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is shown before Super

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is shown before Super Bowl XLVIII between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks at MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2, 2014. (Credit: Getty Images / Christian Petersen)

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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has appointed former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller to conduct an independent investigation into the NFL's pursuit and handling of evidence in the Ray Rice domestic violence incident.

The announcement was made late Wednesday night, just hours after the Associated Press reported that a law enforcement sent a DVD to an NFL executive five months ago that showed video of Rice punching his then-fiancee in the face during an argument in an Atlantic City casino elevator.

Mueller's investigation will be overseen by NFL owners John Mara of the Giants and Art Rooney of the Steelers, both of whom are attorneys. The report will be made public when it is completed. Goodell pledged that Mueller, who served as director of the FBI from 2001-13, will have the full cooperation of NFL personnel and access to all NFL records. Mueller is currently a partner in the law firm of WilmerHale and is based in Washington.

Goodell has insisted that no one from the NFL's office had seen video of the punch until it was distributed by the website TMZ on Monday -- images that quickly resulted in Rice being released by the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL suspending the running back indefinitely.

The source played for the AP a 12-second voice mail left from an NFL office number on April 9 that confirmed the video had been received. A female voice can be heard expressing thanks and saying, "You're right. It's terrible."

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Wednesday night: "We have no knowledge of this. We are not aware of anyone in our office who possessed or saw the video before it was made public on Monday. We will look into it."

Goodell and the league have faced severe public criticism for how they handled Rice's domestic violence case. Goodell initially suspended him for two games before the video became public.

AP said the law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, had no further communication with anyone from the league and could not confirm whether anyone watched the video. He asked the AP not to release the name of the NFL executive with whom he communicated lest it reveal the official's identity as the source.

The league has said it asked for but could not obtain the video, which showed Rice punching Janay Palmer, whom he later married, and rendering her unconscious.

In an interview with CBS News on Tuesday, Goodell reasserted that no one in the NFL had seen that video, but after a pause, he added "to my knowledge."

"We assumed that there was a video," Goodell told CBS. "We asked for video. But we were never granted that opportunity."

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Mike Bossy joins MSG as studio analyst for 'Hockey Night Live' and Islanders games

Mike Bossy will be an MSG analyst this

Mike Bossy will be an MSG analyst this season. (Credit: AP, 1988)

There is no road map for the upcoming Islanders season, so why not have a familiar face along to help navigate?

"It should be unusual," Mike Bossy said Monday about his new job at MSG as a studio analyst for "Hockey Night Live" and select Islanders games on MSG Plus. "It should be nostalgic, but on the other hand I believe it should be exciting, too. I guess it depends on how you look at it."

Bossy looks at it both ways.

As a member of the front office in sponsorship and fan development, he believes the current team is headed in the right direction and has a chance to return to the playoffs.

As a Hall of Famer and four-time Stanley Cup winner, he understands fans' emotions tied to the end of an era.

"I would have to imagine there will be some sadness for those people who have those great memories of the team to see the team leave," he said. "People ask me all the time: The team is moving, what do you think?

"The memories that I have, they're memories, in the sense that whether the Coliseum is here or not I still have those distinct memories of the Stanley Cups and the players that I played with."

The long looks back are sure to resonate more as the season winds down, but Bossy said "it should be fun."

"You combine the nostalgia with the fact we're hoping the team continues to progress, I think it should be full of surprises this year," he said.

Bossy, who splits his time at home in Montreal and working on Long Island, has extensive TV experience, but until now all of it was in Canada and most of it was in French.

So what will it be like being a regular on MSG's Saturday night hockey show, talking not only about the Islanders but - gasp! - the Rangers?

"Not unless I have to," he joked.

But seriously, he insisted he can discuss the Blueshirts fairly.

"I've always been, I feel, very objective in my comments," he said. "There might be some skirmishes with [former Ranger] Ron Duguay if I have to sit beside him on Saturday nights, but it will all be in fun and hopefully interesting."

Bossy would like nothing more than for the Islanders to improve enough to re-ignite their ancient battles with the Rangers, especially with the move to Brooklyn at hand.

"It was electric every time we went to the Garden or the Rangers came to the Coliseum. I think hockey in New York needs a rivalry like that again," Bossy said. "Not taking away anything from the other sports rivalries, but there was nothing like Islanders-Rangers back in the day. I'm anxious for those days to happen again, and if they do, being able to comment on it would be pretty cool."

At 57, Bossy said he "absolutely" has the aches and pains of an aging hockey player, especially in his knees and shoulders. But he said he had aches and pains when he was 17, too.

"So I really didn't think it was going to be any different," he said. "I thought, to be honest, I would feel worse than I do now."

Bossy expects to continue working with the franchise after the transition to Brooklyn, but the details of his role have not been worked out.

Will the move to Barclays Center work? He said the organization can set the stage off the ice, but the players must do their part by performing on it.

All that is a year in the future, though. For this season, Bossy said there is "no doubt" the appropriate way for the Islanders to say goodbye to the Coliseum would be with a playoff run.

"The best way to end this would be for it to be as exciting as back in the happy days, and there have been some great moments in this building, not necessarily just when I played," he said. "I saw this building two years ago when we played Pittsburgh in the playoffs and how playoff-starved the fans are here and they responded exceptionally well. They'd like nothing better than for this team to get into the playoffs and win a couple of series and hopefully get back where we once were."

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Tiki Barber thriving with sports business venture Thuzio

Tiki Barber arrives at The Fresh Air Fund

Tiki Barber arrives at The Fresh Air Fund Spring Gala Benefit at Pier Sixty at Chelsea Piers on Thursday, May 29, 2014. (Credit: AP / Scott Roth)

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Tiki Barber has endured a series of personal and professional setbacks since retiring from the Giants after the 2006 season, but at 39, he appears to have landed on his feet.

His media career still is alive as a host of the national morning show on CBS Radio -- which is based in New York but not yet heard in New York -- and his company, Thuzio, is thriving, having recently raised a fresh $6 million from investors and increased its visibility with ads on CBS-owned WFAN.

Two-year-old Thuzio, for which Barber is co-chairman and founder along with Mark Gerson, books an assortment of appearances for an assortment of athletes -- most often for corporate events that value well-known athletes.

"We quickly saw 65 or 70 percent of our bookings were coming from corporate America," he said last week at the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit. "They're doing events all the time and we were a transparent way to add talent. So our focus over the last two quarters has been corporate America and expanding products."

That includes organizing events. Recent ones have featured Barber's long-ago teammate Michael Strahan, Roger Clemens and Bobby Valentine with his father-in-law, Ralph Branca.

"It is a crowded space," he said, but Thuzio has developed a niche "because we are hitting places that the typical agent just doesn't hit because it's not worth it to him to go book a $2,000 event, or a $5,000 event . . . We want scale by number of transactions. You can't scale by having to negotiate every single time you're engaging with a guy.

"So we find things they actually want to do and are easy for them to fulfill because it's local, and you can just clip them off, one at a time . . . A sales activation team needs a way to bring in new clients, bring in a high-profile athlete that you know those clients are going to have an affinity to."

Barber said a good example is former NBA star Tim Hardaway, who reached out to the company for guidance.

"He was one of the early adopters to our platform," Barber said. "He does all kinds of things, like boat shows and pickup basketball games for corporations doing things outside the office. He just likes it. And he's making a significant amount of money doing these things on an ad-hoc basis."

Barber said most of his time is occupied by the radio show and Thuzio. He wakes up at his home near the Jets' practice facility in Florham Park, New Jersey, at around 4 a.m., then heads to Manhattan to join fellow hosts Dana Jacobson and Brandon Tierney.

Barber said he is unbothered by the fact WFAN's local morning show featuring Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton is simulcast nationally on CBS Sports Network rather than his national morning radio show. "We're a radio show, and we like being a radio show," he said.

What he is bothered by is the fact the radio show is not heard in the metropolitan area.

"The only thing that we want is to be in New York," he said. "It's an oxymoron. We're a national show but we're not in the biggest market."

CBS Radio had been expected to use the 660 AM signal for national programming after WFAN also took over the 101.9 FM signal, but that still has not happened. WFAN is heard on both outlets.

"I think it's because no one is moving [to FM for WFAN]," Barber said. "I haven't moved yet. I should be at 101.9 but I turn on 660 when I listen to it."

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Former Jets lineman Damien Woody says 'Biggest Loser' was 'life-changing'

Former NFL lineman Damien Woody is a contestant on the "Glory Days" season of NBC's "The Biggest Loser" which includes several former pro athletes.

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Damien Woody never had seen NBC's long-running show "The Biggest Loser" when his agent asked if he would like to be a contestant for the upcoming, athlete-themed season.

But his wife and some of his seven children are "huge fans of the show," which sealed the deal.

"I talked to my family and they began packing my bags and said, 'If you don't go out to California, you're silly,' " the former Patriots, Lions and Jets offensive lineman told Newsday last week. "So here I am in California."

Woody, 36, was limited in what he could say about the show -- spoilers! -- but taping for Thursday's season premiere began in late June, so it seems safe to say he is making progress in lowering his original, nearly 400-pound weight.

"The experience has been phenomenal," said Woody, who plans to return to work as an ESPN analyst when his time on the show is over. "It's the best experience I've had in my life. It's truly been life-changing. I feel great both physically and mentally."

Woody said his family's support for him to leave home in New Jersey for the project "made the decision real easy for me."

Part of the motivation was to be an example to other retired linemen who struggle with their weight. "I wanted to tell my story and the experience that I've had, not only in retirement but even throughout my playing career, the struggles with weight loss, weight fluctuation," he said. "If I touch one person, my job is done."

Woody said that during 12 NFL seasons -- the last with the 2010 Jets -- he "worried about being big and eating a ton of calories." Now, he said, "Being diligent in the kitchen with my nutrition, that's 80 percent of the battle.''

Woody is one of five former pro athletes in this year's cast, including NFL quarterback Scott Mitchell, tennis star Zina Garrison, WNBA player Vanessa Hayden and Olympic gold-medal softball player Lori Harrigan-Mack.

As much as Woody has enjoyed the experience, Thursday night will be the first time the public will share in it, flab and all.

"It is going to be weird," he said. "I'm a pretty private person. I'm putting myself out there on display, but it's for a bigger purpose. People will see my journey and hopefully see something from my journey . . . This is a tremendous opportunity for me as far as my growth as a person. I'm looking forward to everyone seeing it."

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