To hear the television commentators tell it, the NCAA tournament
is a contest among 64 clipboard-toting men in coats and ties,
all of them possessing the wisdom of Solomon and the integrity
of Eliot Ness. No head coach of any tournament team is doing
less than an absolutely splendid job. Most of the assistant
coaches are prize fellows too, and for that matter, so are the
head coaches who are no longer around. In the early moments of
the first-round Cal-Princeton game last Thursday, CBS color man
Bill Raftery gave us two paeans to Pete Carril, who retired as
Tigers coach after last season, as well as a minute's riff on
his own high school coach, Joe Palermo, now an assistant at LIU.
Praising the coach is to the commentator what the temperature
roundup is to the weatherman. It's something that has to be
done; it's the automatic. "Give credit to Bill Musselman...,"
said CBS's Tim Ryan as Musselman's South Alabama team lost to
Arizona in the first round. "But give credit to Lute Olson, too
...," Ryan quickly added, so the Wildcats' coach wouldn't feel
overlooked. Call it the double-clutch encomium.
Coaches do such a great job, in fact, that sometimes they don't
even need players. "That's a nice move by [Valparaiso coach]
Homer Drew to get the ball inside," said CBS's Dan Bonner during
the Crusaders' first-round loss to Boston College. Drew may have
diagrammed it, Dan, but he didn't make the pass.
March 24, 1997
Actually, CBS's team is relatively restrained in its praise of
coaches when compared with ESPN's band of butt-smoochers. Dick
Vitale, Digger Phelps and Dale Brown, 75% of the network's
studio team, are former coaches who too often seem to think that
the guys on the sidelines are the only ones worth mentioning.
Phelps isn't too bad. But for Brown, South Alabama's matchup
with Arizona wasn't a chance for the Jaguars to prove
themselves; it was "the biggest game of Bill Musselman's life."
And Boston College's win over Valparaiso wasn't a team victory;
it was a personal triumph for coach Jim O'Brien. "Jim O'Brien, I
love you," said Brown. "They kicked you around. Now go get
yourself a big raise."
Vitale's speciality is making inappropriate comments about
coaches' job prospects. "They tell me [Wake Forest coach] Davey
Odom is Number 1 on the hit list at Tennessee," Vitale
interjected into a discussion that was about neither Wake Forest
nor Tennessee, which didn't make the NCAA field. On another
occasion Vitale suddenly took out one of his screeching
classifieds on behalf of former UCLA coach Jim Harrick, who was
forced out of his job because he lied to college administrators
about misuse of his expense account: "I just hope there's an AD
out there with the guts to give Jim Harrick a chance." This NCAA
tournament has myriad story lines, none of them Harrick.
After Coppin State upset South Carolina last Friday, this was
Vitale's wrap-up: "Fang Mitchell--he's the star of the day."
Wrong, Dick. The star of the day was not the Coppin coach but
his junior guard Danny Singletary, who had 22 points, 18 in the
second half. For the most part the tournament is about players,
not coaches. Still, we have to say that Dean Smith fellow (page
32) is doing a great job with the program at North Carolina.
HOWE WILL HE DO IT?
If Gordie Howe's attempt at a comeback results in his actually
playing in an American Hockey League game for the Syracuse
Crunch this season, he will become sports' Methuselah. Howe will
celebrate his 69th birthday on March 31, one day before he hopes
to make his Crunch debut against the Carolina Monarchs at
Onondaga War Memorial arena in Syracuse. To put this in
perspective: Howe's son Mark, a fine WHA and NHL defenseman for
22 years, retired after the 1994-95 season because he was too
old (40) to take the pounding.
The fact that Howe's comeback is scheduled for April Fool's Day
is pure coincidence, both Howe and Crunch officials insist. Howe
is working out on his own, and he, his wife, Colleen, and Crunch
officials will decide whether he's ready the day of the game.
Team brass, pointing out that the club routinely sells out, says
this is not a gimmick to pack the house. That's not to say it
isn't a publicity stunt.
At any rate, the AHL brass seem queasy about the comeback. "I'd
like to hide for a week," said commissioner David Andrews when
he heard of it. But Andrews said it was a team decision and he
couldn't stop anyone from playing.
Howe, hockey's greatest player until Wayne Gretzky came along,
spent 25 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings (from 1946-47
through 1970-71), retired, then returned at age 45 to play with
sons Mark and Marty with the Houston Aeros of the WHA. He played
seven more years before calling it quits at age 52 after the
1979-80 season. Even during that final season, in which he
played 80 games for the Hartford Whalers, he was a productive
performer who rarely seemed to lag behind the play.
But there is simply no way a 69-year-old can compete in pro
hockey. "It's ridiculous," says Hall of Famer Maurice (Rocket)
Richard, 75, who retired in 1960. "He must be crazy." There are
not even any athletic precedents that compare to Howe's
situation. A 72-year-old Swede, Oscar Swahn, won a silver medal
in the 1920 Olympics. But that came in "team double-shot running
deer shooting," an event, we submit, that has nothing to do with
getting checked into the boards by muscular 20-year-olds. In
mainstream sports, the standard for advanced-age performance was
set by George Blanda, who, as a 48-year-old placekicker and
third-string quarterback for the Oakland Raiders in 1975, booted
13 field goals and 44 extra points and completed one of three
passes. Boxing aficionados can point to Archie Moore, who held
the light heavyweight crown until he was 48. Baseball fans might
bring up pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm, who appeared in 16 games in 1972,
at 50. Howe has two decades on all of these athletes.
Though Howe joked about being "poetry in slow motion" and
needing to "sharpen my elbows" to survive, he seems serious
about his comeback. We remind him, though, of words written by
Colleen in their joint autobiography, and...HOWE!, published in
1995. "When he goes out on the ice, even if his back is
bothering him or his knees are hurting him, you'd never know
it," she wrote of her husband's appearances in charity games.
"It's later he pays the price, because sometimes he can hardly
stand up or sit down."
The wrestling team at The College of New Jersey (ne Trenton
State) has for decades been among the nation's small-college
elite, and each March it goes to the mat at the NCAA Division
III championships. Never, though, has a trip to the nationals
given the team as much to grapple with as its visit to Ada,
Ohio, did earlier this month.
On the afternoon of March 7, after the morning session at Ohio
Northern, the wrestlers were traveling in three vans to a hotel
to rest for the evening matches when they came upon an awful
accident. The rear of a small car had been demolished by a
pickup truck. The car's driver, a 16-year-old boy, was bloody
and semiconscious in the front seat. Another victim, a
15-year-old boy, was trapped beneath the car, and a third boy,
also 15, had been thrown from the vehicle and lay on a hillock
30 feet away. Aside from the pickup-truck driver, who was
rattled but physically unharmed, the wrestlers were alone at the
scene. They turned to team member Adam Angelozzi, a 20-year-old
sophomore and certified emergency responder. "I froze for about
10 seconds, then everything I've learned came back," says
Angelozzi decided--correctly--that the victims should not be
moved. In the fiercely windy and below-freezing conditions, he
and several teammates removed their coats and covered the boys.
Senior Paul Eliya tore off his shirt and used it to stanch
bleeding from the head of the driver, whose injuries were not as
serious as those of the other two.
Though teammates had run immediately to a nearby house and
called an ambulance, nearly 20 minutes passed before it arrived.
By the time the ambulance left, the wrestlers, who had spent an
hour at the scene, were too unnerved and too pressed for time to
get any rest. Ninety minutes after leaving the accident scene,
senior captain Dan O'Cone, a two-time national runner-up in the
158-pound class and the top seed in this year's tournament, was
on the mat wrestling. O'Cone lost, bringing an end to his final
quest for a national title. "I won't make excuses for my
wrestling," says O'Cone. "In fact, the accident kind of took the
pressure off. After what we'd seen, I felt privileged just to be
out there wrestling."
As of Monday the driver of the car had left the hospital,
another of the victims had been upgraded from critical to
serious condition, and the third remained critical. "I'm proud
of what our team did," says O'Cone. "Do I feel disappointed at
not winning the title? Well, we might have helped save those
IT SOUNDED LIKE A STRIKE
Now that big league umpires plan to toss players and managers at
the first sign of disrespect (SCORECARD, March 17), the days of
a manager leaving the dugout to offer an ump a pair of glasses
are over. But will anyone dissatisfied with a call at Legends
Field, the New York Yankees' spring training facility in Tampa,
be able to pass up the chance to remind the men in blue that the
number on the door of their dressing room at the ballpark is
also written in braille?
AN MLS Q&A
Major League Soccer--a little cocky after a better-than-expected
rookie season but a little wary about the sophomore jinx--opens
its 1997 campaign on Saturday. A few questions and answers about
the season ahead:
1) Will goalkeeper Walter Zenga feel safer playing for the New
England Revolution than he did for his native Italy, whose
unhappy fans once threw, among other things, a metal spigot at
Yes, but only a little. Perhaps the best measure of the foothold
the league gained last season was the fact that many fans heaped
scorn (if not spigots) upon home-team players who were not
performing well. "At least it means people care about the game,"
the popular yet sometimes-criticized Revolution defender Alexi
Lalas says philosophically.
2) Has MLS turned into a league of weekend warriors?
Yes, but that might be a good thing. In '96, midweek games
attracted an average crowd of 12,424, compared with the 20,086
that came on weekends. Of MLS's 160 regular-season games this
year, 149 will take place on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, up from
104 last season.
3) How will the class-action antitrust lawsuit filed against the
league last month by the newly founded MLS Players Association
affect the season?
If both sides are smart, not at all. The suit claims that MLS's
single-entity ownership system--the league office owns all
player contracts and allocates players to teams--illegally holds
down salaries. Though it poses a formidable challenge to MLS,
the suit will take anywhere from three to 10 years to get
through the courts. Both sides would be wise to avoid acrimony
that could tear the league apart. Commissioner Doug Logan has
already put his positive spin on the situation: "No one sues a
4) Will teams score enough to satisfy the offense-oriented
Hard to say. But one of MLS's goals last season was, well,
goals--and by soccer standards the league got plenty. The league
average of 3.37 goals per game far outstripped the average in
most other major leagues around the world. (Games in Germany's
Bundesliga, for example, produced an average of 2.71 goals.)
Some say the scoring was simply due to a dearth of good
defenders and goalkeepers, but Roy Lassiter of the Tampa Bay
Mutiny, who led the league with 27 goals last year, might
disagree, and most U.S. fans would say, Keep it coming.
5) Does MLS have a counterpart to Dennis Rodman?
Sort of. League MVP Carlos Valderrama and his 'do (imagine a
blond Rodman on Chia Pet megavitamins) return for the Mutiny,
and the second annual Carlos Valderrama Wig Night is scheduled
for May 10 at Houlihan's Stadium. At last year's event, every
member of the regrettably named Kansas City Wiz (this season
it's the Wizards), including coach Ron Newman, wore a Valderrama
rug for a pregame photo. Could you imagine Pat Riley in a Rodman
Phone calls received by the NFL requesting ticket information
for the Los Angeles Z's, a fictional team put together in SI's
Feb. 17 issue by senior writer Paul (Dr. Z) Zimmerman.
Miles that a $2,000 crystal bowl meant as a gift from an Irish
rugby team to New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani traveled before
it was dropped and shattered 30 feet from its intended recipient.
Projected worth, in dollars, of Formula One, the company that
runs Grand Prix auto racing, whose shares are to be offered on
the New York and London exchanges.
Dollars donated by alum Elizabeth Chace and husband, Malcolm, to
endow the Liz Turner '98 Coaching Chair for Women's Basketball
at Brown, created in honor of the university's current All-Ivy
Years Army will have played football as an independent before
accepting membership in Conference USA beginning with the 1998
With Oscar night looming, it's time for another casting call
(SCORECARD, July 8, 1996). With a minor makeover, these
jocks--and one coach--could crash any party in Hollywood.
Bill Parcells? Hell, no, I'm Brian Dennehy.
Mary Slaney? I, Sheryl Crow, wanna have fun.
Robert Horry? Yo, I'm down as Will Smith.
Dan Marino? Babes call me David Hasselhoff.
Mary Pierce? Try Carolyn Bessette. Or Mrs. JFK Jr.
Reading Statman's Work Is a Real Labor
With deadlines looming, reporters covering last week's NCAA West
Regional at the McKale Center in Tucson faced the unique
literary style of Sean Fitzpatrick, an Arizona alumnus who was
responsible for the play-by-play notes on the score sheet.
Fitzpatrick likes to put his own entertaining--and
perplexing--spin on basketball terminology. We hereby present a
few examples of his pun-ishing work from two first-round
games--Navy against Utah and Georgetown against UNC-Charlotte.
Can you guess what happened without the translations?
1) Van Horn gets knocked off the bookshelf on the layin and
2) Palumbo (push) has one more question on Van Horn.
3) Doleac drives to the store for some milk and gets his change.
4) Doleac gets the weak stuff out of the kitchen for a blocked
5) Miller empties the bathtub from 3P land left base.
6) Van Horn is paneful from 6 ft. on the turnaround right side.
7) Booker loses his place in the chapter for the turnover.
8) Shaw with a water fountain J from 3 ft. in the lane.
9) Gardiner plants some flowers on the OR and lurching layin
10) Colson lets the frog jump out of his pocket for the
following 10 ft. J and some change left side.
Translations: 1) Utah's Keith Van Horn makes a layup, gets
fouled by Navy's Hassan Booker and makes the free throw; 2) The
Midshipmen's Mike Palumbo--whose surname inspired the comparison
to Peter Falk's relentlessly inquisitive Lieutenant
Columbo--fouls Van Horn; 3) Utah's Michael Doleac scores a
layup, draws a foul and makes the free throw; 4) The Utes'
Doleac blocks a shot; 5) Utah's Andre Miller drains a
three-pointer; 6) Van Horn banks one in off the glass; 7) Booker
commits a turnover; 8) A jumper by UNC-Charlotte's Versile Shaw
has a high arc; 9) The 49ers' Tremaine Gardiner (hence the
horticultural reference) scores on a follow shot; 10)
UNC-Charlotte's Sean Colson leaps high for a rebound, puts in a
follow shot, gets fouled and makes the free throw.
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
Chicago Bears defensive end Alonzo Spellman, whose eponymous
charity organization educates youngsters about street violence,
spent a night in jail last week after police stopped him for
speeding and he revealed that he had a loaded .380 semiautomatic
handgun in his car.
THEY SAID IT
Pro golfer, on whether he would have caught Bill Clinton had the
President fallen at Magee's house instead of fellow pro Greg
Norman's: "Absolutely not. I would have let him fall on his face."