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Greg Cote’s Hot Button Top 10: More Messi magic, Canes’ opening week, Spain’s embarrassment & more

GREG COTE’S HOT BUTTON TOP 10 (AUGUST 27): WHAT IN SPORTS HAS GRABBED US LATELY: Our Sunday Hot Button Top 10 feature had been blog-only, but since our blog retired it moved, re-imagined, to online-only. HB10 means what’s on our minds, locally and nationally, but from a Miami perspective and accentuating stuff that’s major, offbeat, damnable, funny or worth needling as the sports week just past pivots to the week ahead. Welcome to the 29th edition of the new HB10:

1. INTER MIAMI: Doesn’t start. Still stars. Messi magic rolls on in MLS debut: Lionel Messi needed a rest and got it, sort of. Didn’t star at New York Red Bulls Saturday night but entered in the 60th minute and scored in the 89th in a 2-0 win in his MLS debut. Inter Miami is now 9-0 since Messi’s arrival and he has 11 goals. All but one of the games have been vs. MLS teams but all have been in Leagues Cup or U.S. Open Cup play. This was Messi’s first league match, and Miami now is within 11 points of playoff place with 11 matches left starting Wednesday night vs. Nashville in his MLS home debut. last-pace .Messi is, palpably, a level above in this league. “I catch myself watching him instead of picking up on my assignment,” Miami defender Kamal Miller admitted. “It’s tough to stay focused when you have such a great presence.”

2. HURRICANES: It’s Opening Week for Cristobal’s 2023 Vindication Tour: It’s Miami hosting Miami (of Ohio) to open the Hurricanes ‘23 season this coming Friday night. The two Miamis have met only once before, in 1987, Canes winning 54-3. Rematch finds UM a big fave again over its middling MAC opponent. It’s a soft opening that should ( better) find The U in command and control. The following week’s visit by Texas A&M will be the first real test as the 2023 Mario Cristobal Vindication Tour, necessitated by last year’s 5-7 debut (full column here), gets underway.

3. DOLPHINS: Football put in its place as serious injury ends preseason early: ;Miami’s 31-18 loss in Jacksonville ending the Fins’ preseason at 1-2 was called off mid-fourth quarter Saturday night by a serious injury to Dolphins receiver Daewood Davis. Paralysis was first feared as Davis was carted off but he later had movement in his extremities. “Hurting but relieved,” coach Mike McDaniel called his team. There was a scattering of boos from Jags fans over the game ending early because some people are dumb and lack all perspective. Miami’s real season opens September 10 at the Chargers.

4. SOCCER: Spain finds way to win World Cup and still be a giant loser: President of Spain’s futbol federation, Luis Rubiales, defiantly rebuffs pressure to resign after forcibly kissing player Jennifer Hermoso as the team celebrated its 1-0 World Cup win over England. All 23 players on the championship team and 58 former players have demanded Rubiales be ousted. Hermoso denies the kiss was consensual; Rubiales calls the matter “social assassination.” Now the Spanish federation has suspended Rubiales for 90 days, a weak wrist-slap. That led the vice president to resign along 11 assistant coaches or staff members. This is on top of earlier discord that saw 15 players complain of an unspecified lack of professionalism under coach Jorge Vilda, who has not resigned but has sharply criticized Rubiales.. So a nation cheers its women players while the men in charge embarrass the Spain. What a mess. The remedy starts with Rubiales being fired.

5. MLB: Rays’ Franco is in a mess that could end his promising career: Tampa Bay shortstop Wander Franco, an all-star this season at 22, has a rising career headed for stardom -- although had a rising career may be more apt. MLB placed Franco on indefinite administrative leave over allegations of sexual relationships with at least two underage girls in his native Dominican Republic, where he also is under police investigation. No charges have yet been filed, but the allegations alone are stigmatizing, and guilt on his part would be career-ending. Perhaps telling, the Rays already have removed signs and banners of Franco from their home ballpark.

6. TENNIS: Djokovic back as U.S. Open gets underway: Novak Djokovic is a narrow men’s favorite over Carlos Alvarez and Iga Swiatek gets the betting love on women’s side as the 143rd U.S. Open begins in New York. Djokovic is back after being banned last year from entering the U.S. because he was unvaccinated. Only three of his record 23 Grand Slam wins have been in this major, where he last won in 2018. New York fans have generally not been kind to him. Let’s see if his return after a year’s absence for being an anti-vaxxer has softened that -- or made it worse.

7: MARLINS: Marlins pick bad time to be Marlins, tumble in playoff chase: The eight-game losing streak to open the second half of the season was a harbinger. Now it’s a 2-8 skid that has Miami down to an even .500 and now 3 games off pace and chasing three other chasers. Entering September, Luis Arraez’s try at a .400 season has proven to be a non-story (he’s now at .351). And, barring a late rally, another fizzling, pretend storyline will be the Marlins making the playoffs for only the third time in a full season.

8. NASCAR: Playoff field set, but look who’s missing: The NASCAR playoff field is set at 16 qualifiers who will vie for the season championship over 10 races. Qualifiers include former champions Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick. Little-known William Byron is the leader; Bubba Wallace got the last spot. Most notable is who’s missing. The sport’s most popular driver and 2020 champion Chase Elliott is out of contention after missing seven races this season and failing to win any of the other 19.

9. COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Bronny James to continue playing despite heart defect: USC freshman guard Bronny James, the son of LeBron, is scheduled to soon return to the court despite suffering cardiac arrest during a workout in July -- which now is said to have likely been caused by a congenital heart defect, or abnormality of heart structure present from birth. Sounds ominous, but a family spokeswoman calls it “an anatomically and functionally significant defect which can and will be treated,” adding, “We are very confident in Bronny’s full recovery and return to basketball.” The kid is 18. The question: Is his love of basketball at odds with what should be a priority on his health and future?

10. FOOTBALL: Disgraced, ousted Northwestern coach is back in the game: Just weeks ago Northwestern fired football coach Pat Fitzgerald over allegations he allowed his program to devolve into years of hazing and racism without the leadership to stop it. Now, the high school his kids attend has brought him in as a volunteer assistant coach. Loyola Academy in suburban Chicago says Fitzgerald passed several background check. Those background checks evidently overlooked the weeks of major national headlines that embarrassed a Big Ten university and got its head coach ousted in shame.

Other most recent stuff from me: Can Dolphins end near 40-year Super Bowl drought? Why fans should believe this could be the year / Messi miracle continues as Inter Miami reaches U.S. Open Cup final with epic comeback / Former Heat coach Stan Van Gundy mourning unexpected death of wife of 25 years, Kim / ‘It’s like a movie’: And the soccer gods somehow gifted Inter Miami with Lionel Messi, amen / Previous HB10 / And my latest podcast: