ANOTHER UGLY EXIT
There are no happy endings with Mike Keenan. When the time comes
for him to go--as it did last Thursday when the St. Louis Blues
fired him as coach and general manager--there's rancor, there's
recrimination and there are lawyers. The Philadelphia Flyers
unloaded him in 1988 after a near mutiny by his players, and
four years later he left the Chicago Blackhawks after a power
struggle with team president Bill Wirtz. When Keenan
orchestrated his getaway to St. Louis after winning the 1994
Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers, he was slapped with a
60-day suspension and a $100,000 fine by NHL commissioner Gary
Bettman for talking to the Blues and the Detroit Red Wings while
under contract to the Rangers. Last week, after St. Louis
ownership ditched Keenan with 3 1/2 years remaining on his
contract, he and the Blues were wrangling over the amount he was
owed and the payment schedule.
Normally, messy goodbyes would hurt a man's job prospects, but
not in Keenan's case. Like former big league manager Billy
Martin, the often self-destructive Keenan is too good a game
coach. Next spring, after the annual quota of firings around the
NHL, some owner will pursue Keenan, warts and all.
Whoever does hire Keenan should reduce his workload by half
because his tenure as St. Louis general manager was a train
wreck. Keenan bloated the Blues' payroll without gaining in the
standings, and his $25 million free-agent spending spree in the
summer of '95 prompted ownership to draw the purse strings. He
never did find the complementary center for right wing Brett
Hull. Last February he traded three mediocre players and two
draft picks to Los Angeles for Wayne Gretzky, a slim price if
the Blues could have kept Gretzky. But Keenan was publicly
critical of the Great One during the playoffs, and after only 11
weeks on the ice, Gretzky wound up taking his free-agent
business to the Rangers.
When Keenan coached New York, he made sure he had captain Mark
Messier as an ally, but in St. Louis, Keenan failed to make the
right friends. He traded two fan favorites, winger Brendan
Shanahan and goaltender Curtis Joseph, bungling those deals not
simply because he didn't get fair value in return but also
because he trampled the emotional link between town and team.
At the press conference announcing Keenan's firing, Blues
chairman Jerry Ritter said that bickering between Keenan and the
self-absorbed Hull had become a distraction. If the Blues had
been a better team than when Keenan took over, maybe he could
have won this battle. With a sub-.500 club and grim prospects,
he didn't stand a chance.
ILL LEGAL PITCH
New Orleans lawyers Dennis Dolbear and Guy Lillian took out an
ad last week in the Florida Flambeau, a Florida State campus
newspaper, peddling their services to young party-hearty
Seminoles fans who will be in New Orleans for the Jan. 2 Sugar
Bowl game against Florida. "If you get in trouble, we can help
you out!" reads the ad, which includes the attorneys' office
phone number. "If you need a lawyer while in New Orleans, call
You can put this news in your let's-kill-all-the-lawyers file,
but you must admit that Dolbear and Lillian recognize potential
clients when they see them: In a recent survey by The Princeton
Review, Florida State (No. 1) and Florida (No. 3) were rated two
of the top party schools in the nation. Of course, they have
something to party about, because those are also their rankings
in the college football polls.
THEIR MARSHALL PLAN
Even after they had led Marshall to a 49-29 win over Montana in
last Saturday's Division I-AA championship game, Eric Kresser
and Randy Moss couldn't help but feel that their national-title
quest had been only partly fulfilled. Last season Moss was a
redshirt freshman wide receiver at Florida State, Kresser a
senior backup quarterback for Florida. Those teams will face
each other in the aforementioned Sugar Bowl, which may determine
the I-A national champion (page 40). "Do we talk about the Sugar
Bowl?" asks Kresser. "How can we not?"
Unhappy with the prospect of sitting behind Danny Wuerffel for a
third season, Kresser transferred from Florida to Marshall (in
Huntington, W.Va.) in July. A few weeks later Moss, whose
Florida State scholarship had been revoked in May after he
tested positive for marijuana, joined Kresser on the Thundering
Herd. They formed one of the most prolific passing combinations
in college football history, hooking up on 67 passes for 1,466
yards and 22 touchdowns, including 220 yards and four TDs in
Marshall's surprising rout of Montana, which had beaten the
Thundering Herd 22-20 in last year's title game.
While the strong-armed Kresser appears destined for a career in
the NFL--he will probably be drafted ahead of Heisman Trophy
winner Wuerffel--it is the 6'5" Moss, called by former Notre
Dame coach Lou Holtz the "best high school football player I
ever saw," for whom stardom appears certain, provided he stays
out of trouble. An exceptional two-sport athlete who was West
Virginia's Mr. Basketball at DuPont High in 1994, Moss pleaded
guilty to two misdemeanor battery charges during his senior year
for beating a fellow student and was sentenced to 30 days in a
Charleston jail. While serving that sentence in pieces over 18
months, he was given a scholarship by Florida State coach Bobby
Bowden. However, Moss failed a drug test administered in jail
and got another six months. Florida State took away his
Moss was given another shot at college football by first-year
Marshall coach Bob Pruett, who, as an assistant at Florida, had
heavily recruited Moss. "I knew Randy beyond what people knew
about him from headlines," says Pruett. "I believe strongly that
he deserved this chance."
But it was the chance he had squandered that Moss dwelled upon
last week. "Every day I talk to my roommate about the Sugar
Bowl," he said. "I tell him how I should be there for the
national championship. It hurts because I had high expectations
of getting the national-championship ring."
While Moss says he'll watch the Sugar Bowl on television,
Kresser intends to call the Florida athletic department and
request a sidelines pass. "I want to stand with all the former
Gators," he says. "I consider myself half Gator, half Herd."
WOULD HE AFFECT THE PAYROLL?
For 36 years Michael Volpe had been a zealous fan of the
baseball Giants. His allegiance weathered the club's move from
New York to San Francisco and held firm through strikes and
lockouts. But when the Giants traded All-Star third baseman Matt
Williams to the Cleveland Indians last month for what Volpe
calls "three warm bodies"--infielders Jeff Kent and Jose
Vizcaino and pitcher Julian Tavarez--he had had enough. He
renounced his fandom in a letter to San Francisco general
manager Brian Sabean and sent the Giants the caps, t-shirts and
other team paraphernalia he had collected. "In effect, Mr.
Sabean," Volpe, 44, wrote, "I am divorcing you and your team
from my baseball life."
But Volpe, a management consultant who lives in Falls Church,
Va., isn't divorcing himself from baseball. On Nov. 14 he sent a
form letter to the 27 other big league teams declaring himself a
"free-agent fan" and asking potential suitors such questions as,
"What benefits will I ultimately derive from following your team?"
In addition to a note from San Francisco president Peter Magowan
asking him to reconsider, Volpe received a missive of courtship
from Baltimore Orioles publicist John Maroon saying that the
Birds "would be very interested in acquiring your services as
one of our fans." The Florida Marlins, the Minnesota Twins and
the New York Mets also wooed Volpe by mail. That keeps those
clubs in the running with another of his ardent pursuers, the
Los Angeles Dodgers, who sent Volpe a 1996 yearbook and a
playoff scorecard, along with a letter from vice president Fred
Claire promising that the 1997 club will be "even more exciting"
than last season's. "It might be hard to go to the Dodgers after
years of rooting against them," Volpe says of the Giants'
archrival, "but I'm considering it. And the Orioles have made a
very impressive offer. At this point every team has a chance
with this free-agent fan."
THE FLY(FISH)ING NUN
We couldn't let the year close without acknowledging a most
notable anniversary. It was 500 years ago that the first book on
fly-fishing, Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle, was printed.
The book--which offered detailed instruction in all facets of
fishing, from the crafting of equipment and tying of flies to
techniques for landing pike--was the work of Dame Juliana
Berners, an English nun.
If Dame Juliana was, as many scholars believe, also the author
of a 1486 book on falconry, hunting and "fowling," The Boke of
St. Albans, she would be the first woman in print in English on
Still, fishing was, in her opinion, the best sport. "It will be
a very great pleasure," she wrote, addressing her readers in the
true angler's spirit, "to see the fair bright shining-scaled
fishes deceived by your crafty means and drawn to land."
The dame knew her stuff. One of the flies depicted in her
Treatyse, the "stone flye," is still being tied today.
GOODEN'S BAD LUCK
Letwa Gooden has more in common with her famous uncle, New York
Yankees pitcher Dwight Gooden, than a name and a love of sports.
She too has faced career-threatening injury and personal
adversity. On Dec. 10 Letwa's sophomore basketball season at
American International College, a Division II school in
Springfield, Mass., ended when she underwent surgery to repair
ligaments in her left knee. For the 5'4" Gooden, who was the
Lady Yellow Jackets' starting point guard when she went down,
this was the second big setback of her college career: Two years
ago she blew out her right knee, an injury that forced her to
miss the final 17 games of her freshman season and to redshirt
And Gooden's misfortunes have not been confined to the court. On
June 3 her fiance, Percell Davis, was killed when a gunman
sprayed shots into a Brooklyn crowd. Three months later her
mother, Ethel Gray, learned she had skin cancer. "The doctors
say they don't think she's going to make it," says Letwa, whose
father, Edmund, is Dwight's brother. "I don't believe them.
Sometimes you have to place your faith in the Lord's hands."
She's taking the same approach to her basketball career and
still hopes to play professionally, but she admits that
occasionally "I have to remind myself to believe." So did
Dwight, a Cy Young winner at 20, whose career was nearly ended
by injuries and alcohol and drug abuse. Letwa sees her uncle at
family reunions, and she saw him pitch early last season in a
game in which Dwight was, as she says, "hit pretty hard." A few
weeks later his performance was more inspirational: He threw a
Score with 1:24 left in the first half of Princeton's eventual
73-42 victory over Lehigh in men's basketball on Dec. 19.
The 1994 signing bonus, in dollars, that third baseman Josh
Booty will have to return to the Florida Marlins before they
will consider his request to be released from his contract so
that he can play quarterback at LSU.
Points scored by Wayne Gretzky as of Dec. 18, 1983 and '96,
respectively; both totals led the NHL at the time.
Miles that will have been traveled on two road trips by Navy,
which lost to Notre Dame in Dublin and was to play Cal in the
Aloha Bowl in Honolulu on Christmas Day.
Snow caves fashioned last week by three-time Indy 500 winner
Bobby Unser, 62, and a friend in order to survive a perilous
night in the Colorado wilderness after their snowmobiles broke
Everyone has an out-of-touch relative with a bent for buying
precisely the wrong gift. Think how quickly you'd exchange these
Rich Kotite Super Bowl tie
The Grafs on money management
Tickle Me Christian Peter doll
Albert Belle welcome mat
The pilgrims who flock to the Official All Star Cafe in New York
City's Times Square come for the burgers and the buzz, not for
hard sports knowledge. But we're a little surprised that the
saloon's management couldn't at least be up-to-date on the
uniforms of two superstars who are among the celebrity owners of
the joint. Above the entrance loom giant illuminated photos of
Shaquille O'Neal in an Orlando Magic uniform and Wayne Gretzky
in Los Angeles Kings colors. O'Neal jumped to the Los Angeles
Lakers five months ago, while Gretzky was traded in February to
the St. Louis Blues and then signed in July with the New York
Rangers--who play 12 blocks south of the cafe.
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
Treadmills, a swim-therapy pool and massage therapists are among
the options available to pets at The Total Dog, a canine fitness
center that recently opened in Los Angeles.
Atlanta Hawks radio broadcaster, on the low-key social life
maintained by Hawks forward Christian Laettner: "He is the Cal
Ripken of SpectraVision."