If the games can't make kids of us all, if under the layers of
contracts and endorsements and other junk we no longer can
locate the sweet core that got us to choose up sides and play in
the first place, sports lose their meaning. In one incandescent
moment, 63-year-old Scotty Bowman touched the heart of the matter.

Bowman, the coach of the Detroit Red Wings, knows hockey better
than any other man alive--almost everyone gives him that--and
last June, when he skated with the Stanley Cup, the soft scrape
of his blades resonated more profoundly than any postgame
pronouncement of 1997. Bowman had slipped out of his brogues and
into his skates following the decisive Game 4 of the finals
against the Philadelphia Flyers, so when the Red Wings took the
traditional victory laps around Joe Louis Arena with the Cup, he
was able to join the joyous medley relay with his own
abbreviated loop. When Bowman took the Cup for a spin, as they
say in Detroit, the decades melted away to reveal the boy within.

"I always wanted to be a player in the NHL and skate with the
Cup," Bowman said of his gesture, which was as meticulously
planned as his line combinations. "If we did win the Stanley
Cup, I thought I might as well go for it. How many chances do
you get?"

In Bowman's case, seven. That total of NHL championships is
exceeded only by the eight of his mentor, former Montreal
Canadiens coach Toe Blake, but for some reason Bowman doesn't
seem to fit in the pantheon of North American coaches. The
problem is, he has lacked a trademark. He doesn't have Red
Auerbach's cigar, Bear Bryant's houndstooth fedora, Vince
Lombardi's locker-room homilies, Don Shula's Mount Rushmore jaw,
something distinctly and immediately identifiable as his.

Although Bowman has done it only once--and odds are he will not
get another chance--his Stanley Cup skate late on a Saturday
night can serve not only as a splendid shorthand for his career
but also as a reminder to us all: In sports, our inner child
should be allowed to stay up way past bedtime.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAMIAN STROHMEYER [Scotty Bowman holding Stanley Cup in front of Detroit Red Wings players]
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
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