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Pulling for Jeff

From where I'm sitting, which is about 10 feet away from my TV on Sunday evening, it looks as if the Jeff Garcia love-in may be temporarily stalled in Cleveland. The new Browns QB played like a stud last week in leading the Brownies over the Ravens. He threw for one touchdown and ran for another that was quintessential Garcia (sprint, become airborne, turn into human beanbag for defenders yet still score at corner of pylon). Against Dallas in a 19-12 loss, however, he looked more like Tim Couch. Final numbers: 8 for 27, 71 yards, 3 INTs.

I was bummed to see this for a number of reasons. First, having grown up in the Bay Area, I am genetically programmed to despise the Cowboys. Second, I thought Garcia got a raw deal during his time in San Francisco. He was held up to an unrealistic standard -- much as Steve Young was following Joe Montana -- and had less talent around him than his Hall of Fame predecessors. Sure, he was nowhere near as good as them, but that wasn't his fault. He was, after all, picked up by Bill Walsh out of the CFL and ended up in the Pro Bowl. Fans blamed him for the team's demise, but I saw that as a front office problem. Garcia always played hard.

Finally, I'd like to see him do well just so Terrell Owens will shut up for at least a day or two. Garcia dealt with all of Owens' attacks so admirably, never taking a shot back, that it would be great to see him redeemed. Not that it doesn't burn Garcia inside. A little over a month ago, I flew to Cleveland for the Browns training camp and watched Garcia in action. At the time, he was in a media blackout because of Owens' latest mind-numbingly stupid comments -- no need to rehash them here -- so I didn't talk to him that day. Two days later, however, he agreed to a phone interview. We spoke for 10 minutes about the team and the season. Before finishing, I asked him if the fans and his teammates had been supportive during the Owens ordeal. "My teammates know me, there's definitely respect there, there's been support," he said. Then he paused and I could hear something different in his voice, as if some internal dam he'd been holding up was crumbling. "It's one person talking that has no right to even be talking about anything. I'm working here with a new team. For me to have to defend myself to the media ..." Another brief pause, then he continued, now angry, "It's old. It's so old. It's just done with it. It's ridiculous. Every time I do an interview, I'm asked about the situation. To have to defend myself on a national level. I feel like hanging up the phone right now."

He didn't hang up. And I didn't write about it in the NFL scouting report -- it had nothing to do with the Browns' season preview. After today's performance, though, I just hope I don't' have to read a quote from T.O. along the lines of "I told you so."

Saw Jayson Williams last week at Basketball City, a mega-gym in Manhattan where I spend far too much of my time playing in basketball leagues. Williams was playing on the next court over and, of all things, practicing his midrange jump shot (looked about how I remember it, which is to say, he is a very good rebounder). Bball City honcho Ira Berday, a wonderful guy and shameless self-promoter who calls the New York Post within milliseconds of the arrival of every celebrity visitor, told me Williams has been coming in the last couple of weeks and is thinking about making a comeback (the Globetrotters, of all teams, were mentioned). The most surreal part of the experience was the reaction of many of the players at Bball City. They posed for pictures with Williams as he waited to play, joked with him and, on more than one occasion, I heard someone say to him, "We're pulling for you" or "We support you." I was shocked. This is a man, after all, who shot and killed his limo driver and got off. What, exactly, is there to support or pull for? Remind me again who the victim was here? Have we got to the point where fans are so blinded by the glare of celebrity that, basking in its glow, they lose all sense of right and wrong? Wait, don't answer that.

Over the weekend, I saw Mr. 3000, the new Bernie Mac movie in which he plays a Milwaukee slugger making a comeback. If you have an extra $10.25 lying around (that being the bargain rate for movies in the NYC), there are worse ways to spend it -- such as, say, putting it toward a ticket to an actual Brewers game -- but there are also a myriad of better ways (getting drunk comes to mind). Mr. 3000 will pass your time ably some night seven months from now, when you need a rental or are flipping to HBO. There are about 10 funny moments, a lot more schmaltzy ones and too few baseball scenes. There is a decent Ichiro riff involving a Japanese player who confuses his swear words ("You son of my d---!") and the Mac-Barry Bonds comparisons are overt and at times dead-on. But overall, it's nowhere near as good as it could have been if they'd let Mac loose. Hampering him with the PG-13 Disney choke collar is criminal. The same can be said for his swing, in which he drops his back elbow the entire way through. Angela Bassett, for her part, looks like she has been lifting small automobiles in her spare time. Some serious pipes.

By the way, I was joking about the getting drunk part. There's no way you can do that for $10.25 in New York either.

Last week, Mark Bechtel wrote about his favorite baseball cards. The topic made me think of other sports mementos of my youth, and that made me think of the greatest seminal sports video game (I'm sure Tecmo fanatics might disagree): Julius Erving vs. Larry Bird One-on-One. It didn't matter that it was totally unrealistic -- Bird shattering a backboard, triggering that lovable little glass-cleaning janitor, and Erving draining trifectas -- it was unlike anything a 10-year-old such as myself had ever seen. Two years later, I would spend an entire summer in front of my Apple IIC playing Hardball and waiting on the Euler curveball and timing that Tompkins "Fastball!" But Erving vs. Bird was the ground-breaker.

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A couple of people wrote in in response to Owen's Important Sports Thought last week -- regarding the curse of Colorado pitchers -- to point out that former Rockie Mike Hampton went 14-8 with a 3.84 ERA last year after apparently undergoing a Coors Field exorcism of some sort. A good point, though Hampton's 4.58 ERA and 1.58 WHIP this season looks suspiciously Rockie-esque.

Another e-mail that came into the ol' mailbag was from a different Owen. In response to my Will Ferrell/Pillsbury Bakeoff movie idea, a reader named Owen L. from Austin wrote in to offer some plot points. They ranged from funny (it should have lots of shots of Ferrell with his "ass hanging out of his apron") to a bit nonsensical ("maybe we put him in a bubble like Travolta!"). He finished with, "Are you sure I'm not the Owen that writes you e-mails at all hours? I think it is something guys named Owen do. Believe me."

Let the Owen-off begin!

Anyway, the original Owen's Important Sports Thought for this week arrived in my inbox late on Friday night (I like to think he sent it from a sports bar) and was titled "Too bad it was only Miguel."

"One of the great things about sports is the communal experience it provides. And Manny Ramirez's catch to nullify Miguel Cairo's home run Friday night demonstrates this.

"Because I am certain every man, woman and child who saw the highlight of Cairo crossing the plate, a full four seconds after the out, gesturing skyward as if it was indeed a home run and completely ignorant that it wasn't, all had the same thought: 'What I wouldn't give for that to happen to Barry Bonds.' "

Now, on this matter I have to take exception with Owen. As someone who lives in New York but is not from New York -- which is to say I can't stand the Yankees and see Brooklyn not as "hip" but for what it is, a big expensive suburb -- I was perfectly happy that it was Miguel Cairo. Of course, it might have been better had it been Gary Sheffield.

Til next Monday.