The Rating Game BELLY UP TO THE BAR AS SI'S WRITERS TAKE THEIR BEST SHOTS AT THE MOST OVERRATED PEOPLE, PLACES AND THINGS IN SPORTS--AND CELEBRATE THE MOST UNDERRATED ONES

August 26, 2001

College Football AWARD

OVERRATED
Heisman Trophy

When he first saw artist Frank Elisu's sculpture for the trophy
that would bear his name, the ever-gracious John Heisman--who as
coach at Clemson in 1901 ran up a 122-0 score on
Guilford--insisted that the smile be wiped off its face and be
replaced with a more gridiron-appropriate grimace. That is
precisely the expression that crosses our faces when talk of the
Heisman "race" heats up every August. Intended to go to college
football's "most outstanding" player, this homely, 66-year-old
doorjamb almost unfailingly goes instead to the best running back
or quarterback from a major conference or Notre Dame. One would
hope that being selected as the country's most outstanding
collegian would be an indication of future NFL success. That's
what Andre Ware, Gino Torretta, Rashaan Salaam and Danny Wuerffel
were hoping as well.

This is an overrated trophy named for an overrated coach, a man
renowned for inventing, among other things, the center snap and
the handoff--innovations that don't exactly shout, "Genius at
work!"

Almost as annoying as the Heisman Trophy is the self-important
group that gives it out, the smug Downtown Athletic Club. For a
bunch of guys who hand out what is essentially a lumpy monument
to herd mentality and mass marketing--and a reverse barometer for
success in pro football--these guys take themselves awfully
seriously.

UNDERRATED
Gagliardi Award

In addition to doing some serious headhunting last season as a
linebacker for The College of Wooster, Seth Duerr volunteered at
a recycling center, worked at a shelter for battered women and
completed an independent-study project titled "Determination of
Nitrate Concentrations in Selected Surface Water Areas of
Tuscarawas County, Ohio." Duerr was one of 10 finalists for the
Gagliardi Award, given annually to the Division III football
player of the year. Candidates are judged not only on their
football ability but also on academic achievement and community
service.

Duerr lost out to Pacific Lutheran quarterback Chad Johnson, who,
along with putting up ridiculous numbers in his Lutes career,
spent four years on the dean's list and somehow found time to
serve in the campus ministry, mentor students and serve meals to
the homeless. To read through the list of Gagliardi finalists and
their qualifications is to realize that football needs guys like
these more than guys like these need football.

This little-known hunk of hardware is named for John Gagliardi
(right), coach of Division III St. John's of Minnesota, whose 377
career victories lead all active NCAA coaches and serve as gaudy
vindication of his unorthodox style. Gagliardi's players do not
hit during practice. They do not have playbooks, are not given
film grades. They practice for an hour a day--unless the gnats on
the field are too thick, in which case the coach has been known
to send them in early. Gags's blithe disregard for football's
hidebound traditions has not exactly hurt him: He's won three
national championships and last year came within a gnat's eyelash
of a fourth. No wonder someone said, eight years ago, Let's name
a trophy after this guy. --Austin Murphy

Pregame ANTHEM

OVERRATED
Star-Spangled Banner

O say can this be...the most annoying tradition in modern
sports? Initiated almost 60 years ago by baseball owners wrapping
themselves in the flag during World War II, this display of
patriotism before every game might be tolerable if we had an
anthem worthy of this great nation. Instead, we trot out this
tired tune penned during the War of 1812 by Francis Scott (Off)
Key, an untenable blend of bombs and bombast. Why, Francis, why
did you set your impromptu, amateurish poem, Defense of Fort
McHenry, to music that was shrill and incongruous? To Anacreon in
Heaven was, of all things, a popular British drinking song.

Even passable renditions of The Star-Spangled Banner, be they
lip-synched (Whitney Houston at Super Bowl XXV) or N'Synced,
don't do our athletes or our nation justice. If the idea is to
honor America, two minutes of pregame silence would be a more
flattering tribute.

UNDERRATED
America the Beautiful

What evokes a more pleasing image: Key's tale of bombs, rockets
and a perilous fight or this ode to spacious skies, fruited
plains, purple mountain majesties and amber waves of grain? This
is a lean, clean song that won't scare the wits out of young
children and small dogs. Ray Charles's version is the gold
standard. While nobody can belt it better than Ray, it's
comforting to know that this melody is quite easy even for
less-accomplished crooners to carry, from G to shining C.
--Michael Silver

Julius ERVING

OVERRATED
The NBA Dr. J

As often happens with great artists, Julius Erving had already
done his best work by the time he was discovered by the
mainstream public. After five ABA seasons spent mostly in midair,
he came to the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA and toned down his
game. It wasn't long before even his magnificent Afro was trimmed
down to something more conservative and, dare we say, commercial.
Erving went from serving up a steady diet of acrobatics in the
upstart league to doling out the occasional treat in the
established one, but his new fans--and most of the media--gushed.
They had heard about how spectacular Dr. J was, so they ignored
the fact that as his NBA career progressed, he spent increasing
amounts of time shooting jump shots, and not particularly well.
Erving produced his share of highlights but no more than, say,
Dominique Wilkins. The fans who came late to Dr. J's game didn't
know what they'd missed.

UNDERRATED
The ABA Dr. J

In the early 1970s genius was on display in the mostly
second-rate gyms of the ABA, but precious few people knew about
it, and even fewer witnessed it. When the young Julius Erving
(left) was traded from the Virginia Squires to the New York Nets
in 1973, he remained underappreciated and underexposed, a Long
Island curiosity toiling in the shadow of the big-city Knicks.
Dr. J played to the crowd, waving the ball as if it were a
grapefruit while swooping to the basket like some goateed hawk,
but he also won, leading the Nets to two championships. The
Doctor didn't only make electrifying shots; he also made clutch
shots. It's been suggested that the ABA-era Erving was merely
part of the evolution of the airborne star, a link in the chain
that includes Elgin Baylor, Connie Hawkins, Michael Jordan and
now Vince Carter. That, however, doesn't give the young Doc his
due. He married form and function in a way that no player before
him had. Every highflier who followed him is in his debt.
--Phil Taylor

Sports QUOTE

OVERRATED
Vince Lombardi

"Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." Three things
are wrong with this piece of gibberish attributed to Vince
Lombardi (above): 1) It is meaningless. Turn it around, and the
sense--or nonsense--of it doesn't change. 2) It didn't originate
with Lombardi. It has been traced to Knute Rockne at Notre Dame
and Bob Zuppke at Illinois and was a line delivered by John
Wayne in a 1953 movie, Trouble Along the Way. 3) It isn't
accurate. Lombardi said, "Winning isn't the most important
thing; it's the only thing." I know. I was there when he said
it, after the Green Bay Packers' championship-game victory over
the New York Giants in 1962.

UNDERRATED
Blaine Nye

November 28, 1974, Thanksgiving Day game. The Dallas Cowboys'
rookie quarterback, Clint Longley, who had never attempted an
NFL pass, came off the bench and threw a 50-yard touchdown
strike to wideout Drew Pearson with 28 seconds remaining to
defeat the Washington Redskins 24-23. Dallas right guard Blaine
Nye's postgame assessment of Longley's performance: "The triumph
of the uncluttered mind." --Paul Zimmerman

Track EVENT

OVERRATED
Baton Passing

Sprint relays boil down to nothing more than running fast and
passing a stick. The baton pass is hardly the feat of subatomic
precision that heavily favored U.S. teams sometimes make it
appear. The exchange must be made within a 20-meter zone. It's
really not that hard to get this right. It looks that way only
when you don't practice.

UNDERRATED
High Hurdles

In high school the event was never known by its proper name, the
120-yard hurdles. It was always "high hurdles" or just "the
highs." While everything else in the world seems to look a bit
smaller and less daunting as we grow up, those darn hurdles still
look as imposing as they did on the first day of freshman
track--and those hurdles were only 39 inches high, three inches
lower than the barriers used in college and international
competition.

You stand next to one, noting uncomfortably that it bisects your
spreading gut, and wonder, Can this really be the same hurdle
those guys at the Olympics seem to fly over, clearing 10 of them
and 110 meters in about 13 seconds? You will never get a real
sense of this from watching hurdlers on television. The camera
angles do not convey the barely controlled recklessness of the
event, the real danger in those 10 full-speed leaps of faith.
Hurdlers risk broken arms and dislocated shoulders but make it
look as if they were casually stepping over a curb. --Merrell
Noden

Heavyweight CHAMPIONSHIP FIGHT

OVERRATED
Ali vs. Foreman

Rope-a-dope has entered the lexicon as a strategy that means
"winning by doing almost nothing." That says everything one needs
to know about the Rumble in the Jungle, the strange, almost
surreal, fight in October 1974 that was chronicled in the
documentary When They Were Kings. The film was brilliant; the
fight, won by Muhammad Ali in eight rounds, was not. Ali's
strategy of covering up and letting the heavily favored George
Foreman (who 21 months earlier had knocked down Joe Frazier six
times en route to a second-round TKO) punch himself out was
probably the only one the Greatest could've used to win. Ali's
coy tactic produced great theater but not great boxing.

UNDERRATED
Holmes vs. Norton

Larry Holmes was always something of an Ali wannabe during his
career, complaining that he was being ignored in favor of the
fading former champ. He had a point.

Holmes was a courageous warrior who continues to be underrated by
the boxing public. His 15-rounder against Ken Norton for the WBC
belt in 1978 (left), rarely mentioned as a great fight (except by
the cognoscenti), is a case in point: Despite a torn left biceps,
Holmes used his jab, one of the best in heavyweight history, to
win four of the first five rounds. "Now it's my turn," Norton
told his corner before the sixth. Awkward but relentless, Norton
took five of the next six. Both men were nearing exhaustion, but
neither backed off--Holmes staggered Norton twice in the 13th,
Norton returned the favor in the 14th, staggering Holmes twice.

Going into the final round, the fight was even on all three
cards. The 15th was something out of the cinema: two gloved
gladiators slugging it out--appropriately enough in the parking
lot of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas--both probably aware that
victory would go to the winner of three climactic minutes. Just
before the final bell Holmes staggered Norton with a huge right
that might have won him the bout.

One judge gave the 15th to Norton, but the other two gave it to
the Easton Assassin. With it came the title Holmes would hold for
seven years and 20 defenses. --Jack McCallum

Baseball PLAYER

OVERRATED
Mark McGwire

Mark McGwire is among the great home run hitters in history,
better than Ralph Kiner, though not in the class of Ruth and
Aaron. The big guy is Cooperstown-bound, first ballot, and
deserves to be, for his dingers. But that's all there is. In the
batter's box he's one-dimensional. The harsh truth is that
McGwire represents all that's wrong with modern baseball and
modern life. He's another specialist. His oversized body--he's
6'5", 250 pounds, strong as a Clydesdale--was enlarged by
supplements I can neither spell nor pronounce. His physique would
make him fearsome in a WWF ring, but it doesn't lend itself to
baseball, except in his designated specialty. Since being called
up in 1986, McGwire has had only five seasons with 500 or more at
bats. He's 37, battling injuries again, hitting .196, and he'll
do well to step in 300 times this season.

There are only two positions for the man called Sack: designated
hitter, not offered in his league, and first base. He moves to
his left slowly and to his right slower still. His arm is
erratic. Can you close your eyes and picture him turning a
graceful 3-6-3 double play? Not easily.

So he's paid to hit home runs, which he has done nearly once in
every 10 at bats. That's an amazing pace. What does he do the
other times? He strikes out every fourth at bat. For such a
powerful man, he hits agonizingly few doubles, only 252 in his
career. His number for triples is so small it's almost quaint:
six.

McGwire has been unproductive in the postseason, despite lots of
chances. He has five home runs for 118 at bats in the playoffs.
On each of those 118 important occasions tens of thousands of
people in various stadiums, and millions more watching on TV,
were wondering only one thing: Will he go yard? It's a crass
question that devalues all that is good and subtle about
baseball, but with McGwire, it is the only question.

UNDERRATED
Stan Musial

It's hard to argue that a Hall of Famer is underrated, but Stan
Musial is. Two men are responsible for that: Joe DiMaggio and Ted
Williams. DiMaggio and Williams are the ultimate baseball icons,
courtesy of press-box seamheads and a bunch of PBS specials. If
life were fair, though, mid-century baseball would be associated
with a triumvirate of every-day players: Joltin' Joe, Teddy
Ballgame and Stan the Man. Yes, Williams had a .344 batting
average over his 19-year career, but he played in only one World
Series. Musial, batting .331 over 22 years, played his
overachieving teams into four Fall Classics. Yes, DiMaggio is on
the shortlist of alltime outfielders, but Musial had the better
career fielding percentage in the outfield, .984 versus .978. In
the 1942 World Series, St. Louis, fronted by a bunch of
kids--Musial among them--beat DiMaggio's exalted Yankees, four
games to one. In '46 the Cards defeated a celebrated Boston club,
with Williams back from the war, in seven.

From a cramped batting stance that looked as if it were made to
slap singles, Musial smacked 475 homers but also led the National
League in hitting seven times. His ability to run the bases shows
up not in his steals but in his triples, 177, a category he led
the National League in five times. He could bunt, to move a
runner or to reach base, he could hit to all fields, he could
foul off pitches at will and struck out about once in every 16 at
bats. His career comprises a staggering 10,972 at bats, 433 of
which came in his penultimate season, 1962, when he batted .330
at age 41. Preacher Roe, the outstanding Brooklyn lefthander,
summarized Stan the Man's greatness in defining his own strategy
for getting Musial out: "I throw him four wide ones, then I try
to pick him off first base." --Michael Bamberger

Tennis PLAYER

OVERRATED
Steffi Graf

Steffi Graf had a terrific career, and since she won an Olympic
gold medal as well as the Grand Slam in 1988, that year may well
be the most distinguished any tennis player has ever enjoyed. So
it has become fashionable to rate Graf the best women's player
ever, and that is ridiculous. Most Grafites are in thrall to her
22 Grand Slam singles titles, a figure that exceeds what Helen
Wills Moody, Martina Navratilova or Chris Evert rang up.
(Although that total ranks behind Margaret Court's 24, almost
half Court's wins came in the Australian Championships, at a time
when few of the best players went Down Under.)

Whereas Court, Navratilova and Evert had stiff
competition--Martina and Chrissie went virtually
head-to-head--Graf caught an easy wave. For much of her career
the best she had to contend with was Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, a
game little terrier, and Gabriela Sabatini, a frail competitor.
Of even more significance, there's this little gap in Graf's
resume the size of the hole in the ozone layer: It's called
Monica Seles. Graf had won eight of the previous nine Grand Slam
titles when Seles surfaced as a champion in 1990. For the next
three years, until she was stabbed by a deranged Graf fan, Seles
won eight Grand Slam titles while Graf won two. As soon as Seles
was eliminated as competition, Graf started winning the big
titles again. Was Graf the best female player of all time? She
wasn't even the best in the heart of her career.

UNDERRATED
Jack Kramer

Disclosure first: I wrote a book with Jack Kramer (left).
However, that may be the point--you practically have to write a
book with Jack to know how good he was. Look him up in the tennis
records, and you'll see he won only the 1946 and '47 U.S. titles
and the '47 Wimbledon. Slim pickings. Just as he was coming into
his own, World War II took him to the Pacific. After the war,
once he'd snapped up Wimbledon and Forest Hills (going 48-1 for
'47), he turned pro and lost any chance to play the sacred
tournaments. On a succession of pro tours he whipped Bobby Riggs,
Pancho Gonzales, Pancho Segura and Frank Sedgman. Players today
travel with their coaches, trainers and managers. Kramer was all
that by himself before arthritis finally ended his playing days.
Big Bill Tilden is the best player of the first half of the 20th
century, Rod Laver of the second half. Kramer has fallen through
the cracks. There's no telling how good he could have been if
time had not been out of joint for him. Without a war and with
open tennis, Kramer might have won as many as 20 Grand Slam
singles titles. --Frank Deford

Sporting EVENT

OVERRATED
Wimbledon

Tennis fans should wake up and smell the coffee the next time
they breakfast at Wimbledon. Unless you are into counting aces,
the tennis there is amazingly dull. Granted, jolly old England
does this sort of thing well, marching out dukes and duchesses,
bowing and curtsying on Centre Court, plying spectators with
cucumber sandwiches and strawberries and cream. The All England
Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club is a magnificent backdrop, even in
the pouring rain. However, if pomp is what you are after, try
Buckingham Palace.

A couple of years ago I kept track of the rallies during a men's
match featuring a couple of bangers. There was not a single point
in which the ball went over the net more than three times. (The
ball was in play at most for a total of 26 seconds.) What passed
for a rally was serve, return, putaway volley. Most points were
serve, desperate lunge, out by 15 feet. Or my favorite, serve,
ace (without so much as a flinch from the returner), as if the
players were using invisible balls. No grace, no flow.

The women's draw is getting almost as bad, with some serves
hitting 120 mph or more. The high-tech rackets have killed the
grass game. When the wooden racket became obsolete, so did
Wimbledon.

UNDERRATED
Rodeo

Every December the old west mixes it up with the gold-chain gang,
and the result is pure Americana, a blend of patriotic fervor,
nostalgia, prayer, danger, entertainment, big money and sports.
The National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas is 10 nights of the top
cowboys on the best livestock competing for the biggest purses.
The bucking events (bareback, saddle bronc and bull) become
battles of attrition, as the cowboys' bodies begin to break down
from the beating the animals dole out. By the last few
performances, competitors with broken bones, separated shoulders
and wired jaws are literally strapping themselves on. The bulls
don't care how tired and sore the riders are, how near Christmas
it is--they only want to buck them off. Then they want to kill
them. The clowns try to prevent that. Bodies get thrown pretty
high in the confusion. If all goes exactly right, the cowboy gets
a paycheck at the end of the day. Usually he just gets applause.
No contracts. No guarantees. No excuses. --E.M. Swift

NFL RECORD

OVERRATED
Jerry Rice

Of all the accomplishments in Jerry Rice's 17-year career, the
least impressive is his record for most consecutive games with a
pass reception, a streak that stands at 225. Rice (left) is the
NFL's greatest receiver. However, he has also spent his entire
career in the West Coast offense, which made the short throw the
equivalent of a long handoff. Nobody benefited more from that
scheme than Rice: If he didn't see 10 to 15 passes a game in his
prime, something was wrong. So laud him for his 13 other league
records, which include career marks for most receptions,
receiving yards and touchdowns. As for the pass-catching streak,
treat it the way the 49ers did every time they announced that
Rice had extended it--as a footnote.

UNDERRATED
Gerald Riggs

Gerald Riggs will never be associated with NFL greatness, but for
one season he did something great. The year was 1985, and Riggs,
then an Atlanta Falcons running back, rushed 397 times for 1,719
yards and 10 touchdowns--and he didn't fumble once. No NFL player
has carried the ball as much without dropping it. The league is
filled with defenders skilled at stripping ballcarriers, so
Riggs, who played 10 seasons and enjoyed only three 1,000-yard
campaigns, should be proud of himself. Sixteen years later his
place in league history remains as secure as a football in his
hands. --Jeffri Chadiha

Sports TOWN

OVERRATED
Philadelphia

Unspeakable, even for us screamed the Philadelphia Daily News
headline after Eagles fans cheered as Dallas Cowboys receiver
Michael Irvin lay motionless on the Veterans Stadium turf.
However, in the birthplace of liberty, soft pretzels and the
battery-in-a-snowball bleacher projectile, Philly Phanatics
compound their incivility with fickle support. It was here that
Mike Schmidt, the best third baseman ever, was booed in his
final season, Eric Lindros was all but chased out of town and
Allen Iverson was lambasted on talk radio, even during an MVP
season. Sure, the city swathes itself in green for those eight
"Iggles" home dates. Still, if you want to glimpse the true
colors of its fans, check out the attendance figures for the
Phillies.

UNDERRATED
Indianapolis

Befitting a city that proclaims itself "the amateur sports
capital of the world," high school basketball programs in and
around Indianapolis can sometimes draw 8,000 fans. The Pacers
play to packed crowds (even in down seasons) in the NBA's most
soulful venue. Conseco Fieldhouse complements Indy's world-class
velodrome, natatorium, outdoor track and tennis facility and, oh
yeah, that brickyard-encrusted racetrack on the northwest side
of town. Five blocks down from Conseco, Victory Field is the
best minor league park in the nation. No wonder the Colts
relocated here, where they sell out the RCA Dome. No wonder the
NCAA moved here from Kansas City. No wonder Indy has hosted four
Final Fours since 1980. Now, if it only had a decent sports bar.
--L. Jon Wertheim

Hall Of Fame PITCHER

OVERRATED
Nolan Ryan

When Nolan Ryan was smokin', he was untouchable, as he proved
with a record seven no-hitters. But what about his other 766
starts? Ryan's .526 winning percentage is the third lowest of any
Hall of Fame pitcher, and his 292 losses are the third most of
all time. Nonetheless, Ryan was voted into Cooperstown on the
first ballot and, mind-blowingly, was the top pitcher in the 1999
voting for baseball's all-century team.

O.K., so the fans who voted were numskulls dazzled by Ryan's
5,714 strikeouts, 1,578 more than Steve Carlton, his nearest
rival. Still, if Ryan was the king of the K, he was emperor of
the base on balls. He issued free passes to 4.6 men per nine
innings, amassing a lifetime total--2,795--that's 962 greater
than anyone else's. Should Ryan be in the Hall? Of course he
should. However, the man who belongs on the all-century team is
Ryan's p.r. agent.

UNDERRATED
Whitey Ford

You'd have been laughed out of the press box in the '50s and '60s
if you'd suggested that Whitey Ford (right) was underrated. He
was the man--the best pitcher on the best team--for more than a
decade. Memories are short, though, and when fans voted for
baseball's all-century team in 1999, the Chairman of the Board
finished 12th.

Ford's numbers stand up to anyone's and surpass those of Sandy
Koufax, generally considered the top lefthander in the game.
Nothing against Koufax, but he was a sub-.500 pitcher for the
first half of his 12-year career. In Ford's first six seasons he
was 91-33. All told, Ford was 236-106 over 16 years, a .690
winning percentage that's third best alltime and easily the
highest of any pitcher with more than 200 wins.

So why has history denied him his due? He played for the Bronx
Bombers, who gave him a lot of run support, and unlike Koufax he
wasn't overpowering. He didn't strike fear in opposing batsmen:
All he did was get them out with machinelike consistency. In 438
career starts Ford had 156 complete games, 45 shutouts and an ERA
(2.75) that is lower than Koufax's (2.76). He had pinpoint
control over a good fastball, sharp curve and straight change,
and he knew how to pitch from the time he went 9-1 as a
21-year-old rookie. He also fielded well and had a killer pickoff
move. He was the complete package.

Ford, however, should be best remembered for his postseason
presence. Eleven times his Yankees reached the World Series, and
eight times Ford pitched the opening game. Facing the toughest
matchup year after year, Ford set records for most World Series
wins (10), starts (22) and strikeouts (94). He pitched 33
consecutive scoreless innings over three World Series, between
'60 and '62, breaking the mark held by Babe Ruth. Other pitchers
have put together better seasons and better five-year stretches,
but no one pitched more big games, better, over a longer period
than Whitey Ford. --E.M.S.

Cheap SEATS

OVERRATED
Press Box Seats

Walked into The Jake a few weeks back, first time in my life.
Took a seat beside my 13-year-old daughter way up the leftfield
line, high above the hometown Indians and the visiting Yanks.
Settled in, just beginning to relish the ballgame, the sounds,
the smells and the cityscape beyond the outfield wall when rain
began to fall, and my daughter pointed behind home plate to the
seats behind the plate glass. "Is that the press box?" she asked.

I nodded.

"Can you take me in there?"

I had no umbrella. I had no decent argument. I took her in.

Her eyes went wide at the silence inside, at the big TV sets, the
dry, wide seats and all the elbow space between them. At the
private dining room and the hazelnut cake being rolled on a cart
down the hallway by a woman dressed in formal serving attire.
"This is where I'm going to work," she declared. "Don't you think
it's so much better watching from here?"

I opened my mouth. Opened it to tell her how privileged I too
once felt to enter this sanctum, how powerful as I ate free
cheesecake and looked down on the sunburned scum. How one-up on
the world I felt sitting behind the glass, my ears unmolested by
the annoying crack of the bat and cry of the beer man. Where I'd
never jump, holding my head and screaming in amazement over the
play the shortstop made deep in the hole, because that's a Press
Box Decorum Violation, or laugh at the cynical wit of the guy at
my elbow, because open guffaws are clear-cut PBDVs too. Where I'd
never have to figure out a single statistic, because another
forest had been felled to provide enough pulp for another
21-year-old intern--my daughter in eight years?--to dispense yet
another sheet of paper letting me know Rob Ducey's average in the
month of June against lefthanded pitchers with names ending in
vowels, or that the skipper had just informed the press
conference downstairs, "This was a game when our young guys
really had to step up, and they sure did."

I opened my mouth, but no words came out. Because already we were
back outside, sitting in the drizzle on top of soggy, folded-up
newspapers, wishing we'd brought rain slickers and sweaters.

UNDERRATED
Bleacher Seats

Gimme the nosebleeders. Gimme the rabble passing change for the
fat guy's peanuts at the end of the row and never in the history
of baseball--you could look it up--filching even a dime. Because up
there, where you're sitting a half mile from home plate under a
microwave sun, there's this camaraderie that grips you, this
we're-all-in-this-together feeling. All right, maybe you can't
see whether the pinch runner's left hand touched the bag as he
was hook-sliding into third, but the feeling up there is better
than seeing. Besides, not seeing allows everyone to rant and riot
about everything without a lick of evidence to back it up.

Up there are trivia experts and girls in bikini tops and drunken
carpenters and grandmothers who know facts about the rightfielder
that would make you blush, people who know one another's names
and pet peeves from a decade together in the cheap seats. Up
there I cringe and laugh at the alternately brutal and sublimely
humorous wisecracks they make to their boys--outsiders, like
them--who are stationed in the outfield. --Gary Smith

Rallying CRY

OVERRATED
Boomer Sooner

The fight song experts who wrote College Fight Songs: An
Annotated Anthology were mighty charitable when they ranked
Oklahoma's Boomer Sooner as the nation's 16th best. (The Notre
Dame Victory March was No. 1.) Boomer Sooner is a classic example
of larceny on two fronts. Its "composer," one Arthur M. Alden,
stole the tune from Yale's Boola-Boola in 1905, and a year later
added a riff from North Carolina's Alma Mater, also known as Hark
the Sound. Conclusion: Those Okies are more egregious samplers
than Puff Daddy.

UNDERRATED
Rock Chalk

Kansas's Rock Chalk sounds more like a Gregorian chant than a
cheer, with its eerie, drawn-out a cappella lyrics ("Raaawwwk
Chaaawwwk, Jaaay-haaawwk, Kaaay-Yooouuu"). It's not so widely
known today, but Teddy Roosevelt called it the greatest cheer he
had ever heard, and Kansas troops sang it while fighting in the
Philippines in 1899, during the Boxer Rebellion in China and in
World War II. At the 1920 Olympics, King Albert I of Belgium
asked for a typical American college yell, whereupon the
assembled Yanks belted out the Rock Chalk chant. Listen to it
only once at a packed Allen Fieldhouse before a Jayhawks
basketball game and try not to get goosebumps. --Grant Wahl

Baseball RECORD

OVERRATED
Cal Ripken

Cal Ripken's record of playing in 2,632 consecutive games recalls
what Samuel Johnson said about a dog walking on its hind legs:
The wonder is not in that he does it well, but that he does it at
all. More oddity than achievement, Ripken's record has great
gee-whiz appeal--like the world records for pogo-stick jumping,
pole-sitting and the rest of the feats that keep the people at
Ripley's and Guinness in business--but looking for true
significance in the feat is no more fruitful than trying to
explain why someone would scarf down 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes.
The record is a testament more to Ripken's amazing will and
stubbornness (not to mention the lack of intervention by his
managers) than to his considerable skills.

UNDERRATED
Joe DiMaggio

Conspiracy theorists let out a collective aha! when the New York
Yankees' Orlando Hernandez hit the Seattle Mariners' Ichiro
Suzuki with a pitch in the eighth inning on May 19, seemingly
ending Suzuki's 23-game hitting streak. Hernandez, they deduced,
wanted to make sure Suzuki would not break the record for
consecutive games with a hit, held by Yankees great Joe DiMaggio.
Of course, the theory overlooked one detail: Suzuki wasn't even
halfway to the record. This is the 60th anniversary of the season
in which DiMaggio hit in 56 straight games, and no one has even
made a serious run at it--Pete Rose's streak in 1978 stopped at 44
games, not even 80% of the way to Joe D's mark. That's the
equivalent of nobody hitting 49 home runs in the 60 years after
Babe Ruth put up his 60 homers, in 1927. Nobody before or since
DiMaggio has come within 10 games of his streak. If that's not
enough context to inspire awe, then try this: Ted Williams,
perhaps the finest hitter ever, never hit safely in more than 23
straight games. --Tom Verducci

JOCK POLITICIAN

OVERRATED
Fidel Castro

When it comes to name recognition, Fidel Castro has achieved his
nation's ultimate male fantasy--he is the most famous Cuban
baseball player in history. Sportswriters, short-story hacks, at
least one novelist and all serious Castro biographers have
spilled gallons of ink on the legend that Cuba's Maximum Leader
mesmerized superscout Joe Cambria and was coveted by the New York
Yankees or the San Francisco Giants or the Washington Senators.
All buy into the same conceit: He was a major league prospect.
"Baseball will not bring Castro's regime to an end," read a 1999
editorial in The New York Times, "but had Cambria been more
patient with a developing prospect, baseball might have prevented
it."

Wrong. Castro was a good all-around athlete in high school and
college and proved himself a pretty good basketball player, high
jumper and middle-distance runner. He was indeed a pitcher, but
high school teammates say he had little control on the mound.
Most damning, though, is that in a land that worships the game
and has built a cult of personality around Castro, no one in Cuba
mentions his baseball prowess. Even Castro knows better. He has
survived 42 years of shortages, an army of fanatical exiles and
10 U.S. presidents. But to lie about a subject as serious as
baseball? Now that could get a guy in trouble.

UNDERRATED
Gerald Ford

As if pardoning Richard Nixon and holding the republic together
in the aftermath of Watergate weren't trouble enough, Gerald Ford
(above) was characterized as a klutz during his short term as the
38th president. One stumble down the steps of Air Force One, one
spectator whacked on the head by an errant tee shot
and--wham!--Ford was being mocked mercilessly on Saturday Night
Live by Chevy Chase. The irony is that no president has come
close to Ford in athletic ability. A star lineman for Michigan's
national championship football teams in 1932 and '33, Ford was
the Wolverines' MVP in 1934 and turned down offers to play for
the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers. He became an
eight-handicap golfer, and he was tough enough as president to
shrug off two assassination attempts. When Ford and Chase met,
Chase said, "You're a very funny president." Without missing a
beat, Ford shot back, "You're a very funny suburb." Pretty light
on his feet, I'd say. --S.L. Price

Baseball FLAKE

OVERRATED
Mark Fidrych

A quarter century ago a pitcher named Mark Fidrych made a name
for himself--the Bird--with his oddball exuberance. The rube-ish
rookie packed 'em into Tiger Stadium by sprinting to his
position, landscaping the mound with his hands and talking to the
baseball, like some hardball Hamlet addressing Yorick's skull. A
flake, they called him, the game's most refreshing character
since Dizzy Dean. The truth is, Bird was less kook than canny
clown. He became a merchandising sensation, attaching his image
to everything from T-shirts to 45-rpm records. (We're surprised
he never endorsed a chattering baseball.)

UNDERRATED
Mickey Rivers

Whereas Fidrych was a self-conscious actor, Mickey Rivers (right)
was an unconscious authentic. Unlike the Bird, he wasn't aware
that people found him loopy. The former New York Yankees
centerfielder had his own way of dressing, of walking, of
talking. He never met a word he couldn't malapropriate, and he
scattered non sequiturs like rose petals. "Ain't no sense in
worryin' about things you got control over," he said, "'cause if
you got control over them, ain't no sense worryin'." Mick the
Quick's conversation was so full of twists and turns that no
grammatical road map could help you. "I like playing on this
team," he said during a stint in a senior league. "We actually
been doin' real good. Got a different mix here. Most important
thing is you gotta keep pickin' up in paces. That's why we're
playing contentious play. We got top names, guys can still hit in
the majors, guys been out of the game hittin' the ball, shockin'
it. Don't have no old, old guys. Not sayin' they don't get a good
job done. Fact is, they've been vice versa. So that's incentive
right there. It's been a plus."

It took another genuine article to explicate Rivers. "Mickey
understands that the baseball is just two Cartesian coordinates
going out to infinity," said Boston Red Sox flake emeritus Bill
(Spaceman) Lee. "He doesn't think; therefore he is." --Franz Lidz

Place To WATCH A GAME

OVERRATED
The Venue

When, in this age of technological wonder, will people stop
saying of one sports spectacular or another, "Dude, I was there!"
So what? Sports deliver, you know. Nobody dines in at McDonald's,
and only a sucker is physically present for NFL games, with their
endless TV timeouts. Football fans make up the live studio
audience for a television show. And who ever scalped a ticket to
a taping of Moesha? I refuse to be a human laugh track. I had a
ludicrously expensive ticket to the opening ceremonies of the
1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. To use it, I would have had to
arrive at the stadium, by bus, three hours in advance, submit to
the kind of security check ordinarily reserved for cocaine mules
in international airports and sit stock-still in a plastic chair
with all the legroom of a Delta middle seat through a ceremony
slightly longer than the Oscars. Only then, perched miles above
the action--on the rim of the stadium bowl, like a housefly on a
toilet seat--could I have looked down to "see" Muhammad Ali light
the cauldron. Yes, he would have looked like a single glowing
cigarette in the night, but I could have said, just before my
bladder burst, that I was there.

UNDERRATED
The Couch

The best seat in the house is in the house. Specifically, in my
house, where the "seat" is in fact a 6 1/2-foot leather couch.
Nobody wrestles me for the armrest, or stands in front of me for
three innings, or demands that I cough up five grand for a
Personal Couch License. This year, without paying a cent, I
secured this seat for the World Series, the Super Bowl and the
Final Four. Parking (my rear end) is no problem, beer is
plentiful and reasonably priced, and I never have to wait in a
Soviet bread line simply to take a leak. Without moving, I can
see games from every angle, the expressions on players' faces and
close plays repeated in Zapruder-like detail. When a ballgame
gets boring, I can turn, for an inning, to The Simpsons. When a
ballgame gets good, I need not worry about leaving early to beat
the traffic. You know those billboards that say, "If you lived
here, you'd be home by now." I do live here, and I am home by
now. So I gave away my ticket to the opening ceremonies in
Atlanta and watched on TV--in extreme close-up--as Ali lit the
cauldron. Unafraid, in the comfort of my hotel room, to leak
tears like a pepper-spray victim, I trembled right along with the
champ. It was unforgettable, and I am, all these years later,
proud to say, "I wasn't there." --Steve Rushin

College Football RIVALRY

OVERRATED
USC vs. Notre Dame

The best rivalries generate heat from internecine warfare
(Army-Navy), neighborly sniping (Michigan-Ohio State) or sibling
rivalry writ statewide (Alabama-Auburn). Absent those passions,
the rivalry must be fueled by competition staged at a high level.
That's what USC-Notre Dame had...for a time. From 1928 to '32,
the game decided at least a share of the national championship.
Then there was a long stretch when the rivalry skated by on mere
talent. Then there was the golden age, from 1964 to '81, when the
Trojans and the Irish produced six national champs and five
Heisman Trophy winners. That era gave us the 1974 game in which
USC scored 55 points in 17 minutes and three years later Notre
Dame's green jerseys. Unfortunately, it's been 12 years since
both teams were in the Top 10 when they played each other. The
game still sells out at both venues, and seeing the Los Angeles
Memorial Coliseum filled is still stirring. Unfortunately, all
this rivalry stirs is old memories.

UNDERRATED
South Carolina vs. Clemson

The South Carolina and Clemson football teams (below) are
sometimes good, seldom great, and it rarely matters when they
play each other. Neither ABC nor CBS has televised their game
nationally, and it hasn't been on ESPN since 1989, yet it thrives
because it has passion, tradition and folklore. In 1961 a South
Carolina fraternity dressed as the Clemson team went on the field
before the game to "warm up" and, after doing calisthenics for a
few minutes, switched to dancing. Furious Clemson students rushed
the field and started a fight that the state police had to break
up. In 1998, when 2-8 Clemson played 1-9 South Carolina, 84,423
fans filled Memorial Stadium at Clemson. After the Tigers' 28-19
win, their fans tore down their goalposts for only the second
time in school history. --Ivan Maisel

NBA DUNKER

OVERRATED
Darryl Dawkins

Loved you, Darryl Dawkins. Loved that Shel Silverstein world
inside your head. Still, just because you christened your dunks
with florid names and hung on the rim after that one throw-down
to rain glass on Bill Robinzine doesn't make you the dunker
that--given your imagination--you should have been.

UNDERRATED
Herb White

"There was a white boy who played for Atlanta around 1970," Wilt
Chamberlain told the Los Angeles Times a dozen years ago. "Never
got off the bench, but in warmups he could dunk better than
anyone I've ever seen." Like most hoops fans, Wilt couldn't come
up with that white boy's name. But we can. Herb White grew up in
Decatur, Ga. By the time he had finished three seasons as a 6'2"
forward at Georgia, White owned a regional rep as the Elevator
from Decatur. The Hawks signed him to back up Pete Maravich for
the 1970-71 season, which White turned into a personal road show.
Pregame he might pitch the ball against the backboard before
rising to spear and dunk it, or show off his "elbow hang," in
which he stuck first a forearm, then the ball, into the basket.
One night, in front of a full house at Madison Square Garden,
White's layup-line levitations so captivated the crowd that he
got a standing ovation. "Compared to the ABA, the NBA back then
was a slow-down, straitlaced league," says White, whose pro
career ended with an ankle injury after that single season. "But
by word of mouth you got to know who the dunkers were, and by the
end of the year everyone pretty much agreed that Claude English
[of the Portland Trail Blazers] and me were the two best." As it
happened, when the Hawks and the Blazers met late in the season,
the two men had a chance to settle matters. "He did a one-handed
360," says White. "Now there's a dunk I could do with two balls,
and I was ready to pull that one out if I had to. But after I did
a 360 two-handed, Claude conceded." --Alexander Wolff

Hopeless OBSESSION

OVERRATED
Red Sox

An object of masochistic adoration fit only for vain and
miserable flagellants like postmodern comic novelists, flinty
Down East spinster schoolmarms and other hopeless faux-brainiac
romantics, the Boston Red Sox play out their useless seasons as
an endless loop of tragicomic self-immolation. The curs'd stage
upon which they enact their stupefying dumb show, Fenway Park, is
no better than a black hole into which the rosy dreams of egghead
fans from Halifax to Hartford have been sucked since the second
administration of Woodrow Wilson.

Yes, they will lose spectacularly.

Yes, they will tear your still-beating heart from your very
breast.

No, the spirit of the malevolent Bambino will not be placated or
exorcised if Pedro Martinez drills him in the ass with a
four-seam fastball.

The Red Sox, in short, are losers. Accept it. Get on with your
life. I did.

UNDERRATED
Minnesota Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings, on the other hand, represent the kind of
low-impact, fan-friendly semiobsession that workaday suburbanites
and apple-cheeked 4-H members can get behind without fear of lost
sleep, recourse to foul language or a stress-induced spastic
colon. A wholesome, farm-fresh rooting interest--that's what Mom,
Dad, Sis and Baby Brother need! Year in and year out, after a
pleasant season's team play, the Vikes lose their championships
and Super Bowls as politely and predictably as Minnesota
politicians lose presidential elections.

They'll get close to the big prize, sure, but in the end they'll
succumb to the paralyzing modesty required by the surrounding
community. To be a standout is to, well, stand out, and per
Babbitt, no one is more suspicious of a show-off than a
Minnesotan. (Former tent-show attraction Jesse Ventura was
elected governor as an act of statewide contrition--voters were
subconsciously punishing themselves for those two years the Twins
won the World Series.)

"Do well!" they say in the Land of 10,000 Lakes! (But never too
well!) Have a nice day! --Jeff MacGregor

Baseball BLUNDER

OVERRATED
Bill Buckner

Fifteen years after Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, the image of
Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner (right) allowing Mookie
Wilson's squibber to dribble through his legs as the New York
Mets' Ray Knight ran home with the winning run has not faded.
Buckner moved to Idaho to escape the ill will that dogged him in
Massachusetts, and sports scribes describe monumental miscues as
"pulling a Buckner." In fact, that misplay obscured what really
sunk the Sox, and it took pitcher Bob Stanley off the hook.
Boston, up three games to two, led 5-3 with New York batting in
the bottom of the 10th. With two outs and no one on, reliever
Calvin Schiraldi gave up three singles to make the score 5-4,
with runners on first and third. Stanley came in to face Wilson
and, after getting two strikes on him, threw a wild pitch. That
let the tying run score and put Knight on second. Remember, too,
that no one would be talking about Buckner's error if the Red Sox
had won Game 7, in which they held a three-run lead. Anyone
looking for a goat in that pivotal Game 6 should be told,
"Stanley, I presume."

OVERRATED
Carlton Fisk

The Red Sox also produced an enduring image in the 1975 World
Series--that of catcher Carlton Fisk frantically waving his
game-winning home run into fair territory as Boston beat the
Cincinnati Reds in Game 6. Fisk's blast tied the Series at three
games apiece, but it might have won the Series if he hadn't made
an error in Game 3. That game was tied 5-5 in the bottom of the
10th when the Reds' Cesar Geronimo led off with a single. Ed
Armbrister followed by laying down a bunt and then colliding with
Fisk as Fisk hurried out to field the ball and try to get
Geronimo at second. After the collision Fisk still had time to at
least get Armbrister at first. Instead, he threw the ball into
centerfield, allowing Geronimo to go to third and Armbrister to
second. At that point even a medium fly ball was likely to score
the speedy Geronimo, so Boston's outfield was forced to play
extremely shallow. With one out and the bases loaded, Joe
Morgan's fly ball over the head of centerfielder Fred Lynn won
the game. The Red Sox railed at umpire Larry Barnett for not
calling interference on Armbrister--and perhaps Barnett should
have--but had Fisk kept his head in Game 3, his Game 6 heroics
might have made Boston the champions. --Kostya Kennedy

Metaphor FOR LIFE

OVERRATED
Baseball

If I have to endure another self-important George Will-Bill
James-Ken Burns spew on the lofty significance of this national
pastime that is past its time, I'm going to hurl. I know, I
know--only by studying the game's nuances can the most striking
connections between baseball and life be found. So let's try
some: incessant spitting and scratching? A metaphor for zoo life,
perhaps. Kicking dirt on an umpire to protest a close call? Kids,
make sure you're taking notes. Obsessed with numbers and
individual accomplishments? If it worked that way in the real
world, no one would haul away the trash. Besides, if there is a
higher truth to be found in numerical precision, why was our last
presidential election settled by the U.S. Supreme Court, which
effectively shut down the ongoing tabulation of votes? (And Al
Gore didn't even get to kick dirt on Antonin Scalia.) The people
who try to sell baseball as life need to get one.

UNDERRATED
Football

Back in the day, people had time to appreciate baseball's
leisurely woven fabric, but there's not much subtlety in today's
world. Let your life unfold in this era of broadband, and you
will get crushed like Ryan Leaf beneath the Baltimore Ravens'
pass rush. So try this on as a metaphor for 21st-century life:
Amid confusion and noise you pound the will out of the guy in
front of you so that your "team" (i.e., company) can advance.
Then you go back to your "huddle" (conference room) and spend
more time talking about your next move than you will making it.
The scrappers in the trenches do the grunt work, but the sleek
showboats take most of the credit. Everybody dresses alike and
gets 86'd the second the boss finds a younger, fresher body.
There is constant fear and a never-ending tension between
pleasure and pain. While most of the discomfort can be eased by
readily available medication, ultimately there is disconnect and
disorientation. At some point every player woozily returns to the
sideline believing he's in Des Moines at 5:10 p.m. with 12 blocks
to go on his paper route. Only in those timeless moments will an
athlete understand football's metaphorical mysticism--what George
Will and his baseball-loving buddies might describe as one's
unconscious desire to return to a pastoral past. --M.S.

PGA tour PUTTER

OVERRATED
Phil Mickelson

It's a terrible thing, being saddled with a reputation as a great
putter when what you really are is a great putter three days a
week. Phil Mickelson (left) won his first PGA Tour event, the
1991 Northern Telecom Open, as a 20-year-old amateur. For three
days he made every putt, and on Sunday he made enough to win. A
reputation was born, and the lefthander is stuck with it. If his
Sunday putting game were as good as people think it is, Mickelson
would have won the 2001 Masters, the '99 U.S. Open and a
half-dozen other events. Had he not three-putted 16 on Sunday, he
might have won the 2001 PGA Championship. Instead, he's the best
player never to have won a major.

He has always been a wonderful lag putter. The more complicated
the putt, the more Mickelson loves it. Triple breaks, major
elevation changes--nothing fazes him. He nestles the ball right to
the hole, taps in, tugs on his visor, grins sheepishly and moves
on. He's still an excellent putter from 10 feet and in during a
tournament's first three rounds. That's why he was third in
putting on the Tour last year. The Sunday problem is on putts
from 30 inches to 10 feet for par or bogey. He looks like a
different putter, and a different man, in those circumstances. He
stalks around, looking overly busy but not purposeful, taking too
much time, and finally decelerating through the ball, his rhythm
out of kilter. Every dominant golfer has been a killer in those
situations. Mickelson is not.

UNDERRATED
Morris Hatalsky

In his prime, in the 1980s, nobody putted better than Morris
Hatalsky. Not Tom Watson, who went a half decade without missing
a gag-zone putt. Not Ben Crenshaw, who oozed putting confidence.
Not Seve Ballesteros, whose victories were rooted in his uncanny
ability to hole must-make putts. Those guys were very good
putters, but Hatalsky was one of the best. Ever. He belongs in a
putting holy trinity with Bobby Locke and George Low.

Off the tee Hatalsky was short and often crooked, and his iron
play was wildly unreliable. But because--and only because--his
putting was otherworldly, he made a damn fine living in his
chosen sport.

From 1980 through 1991, Hatalsky averaged 28.58 putts per round.
The tour average for that same period was approximately 30 putts
per round, which means that over a four-round tournament, he took
six fewer putts than the average putter in the field. Of course,
he spent a lot of those strokes elsewhere--in the rough, in
bunkers, in water hazards--but during those rare weeks when he was
hitting the ball well, he could contend.

His putting stroke was a thing of beauty, rhythmic and
repeatable. He used a mallet-headed putter, a Ray Cook M-1
(though in his final years on the Tour he used one of his own
design, called the Mo-Cat), and his stroke was short, half the
length of Crenshaw's. He didn't fan the blade open as many good
putters do. On the practice green other players would watch him.
Few would ask him anything, though. Golfers know: Certain skills
are nontransferable. --M.B.

NFL QUARTERBACK

OVERRATED
Bob Waterfield

Our football-history IQ stinks. Bob Waterfield (right) is in the
Hall of Fame (he went in with the third class, in 1965), so when
his name comes up today, you think, Hey, Hall-of-Fame player, and
you give him respect. But why? He played eight years for the
Cleveland-Los Angeles Rams. Won two titles. Won one MVP trophy in
a watered-down post-World War II NFL that competed for players
with the All-America Football Conference. Completed half his
passes. Threw 31 more interceptions than touchdown passes. Lost
his job to Norm Van Brocklin in his sixth season. Did this guy
get into the Hall because of his tryst with Jane Russell?

UNDERRATED
Phil Simms

No, this is not only the rant of a former New York Giants beat
man (Newsday, 1985-88). In 1979 San Francisco 49ers architect
Bill Walsh liked a hard-throwing kid from Morehead State (Simms)
better than he liked a gaunt winner from Notre Dame (Joe
Montana), but the Giants beat Walsh to the punch on draft day.
"Not to take anything from Joe," Walsh told me years later, "but
I know Phil could have done the things in our offense that Joe
did." Simms, however, went to the Giants and became a chameleon.
He was Bob Griese most weeks, Dan Fouts a few others. In 1984
coach Bill Parcells sidled up to Simms in the tunnel before their
season opener and told him the Giants would pass, pass and pass
because they didn't have a big-time runner. Simms threw the
Giants into the playoffs with a 4,044-yard season. The next year
he was back to ol' conservative Phil. His play in Super Bowl
XXI--he completed 22 of 25 passes--ensures his place in
history. --Peter King

College Basketball ARENA

OVERRATED
The Pit

If Albuquerque had an NBA team, the University of New Mexico's
University Arena, a.k.a. the Pit, would be a facility of great
felicity. It has all the charmlessness of a professional arena: a
capacity of 18,000-plus, acres of parking and 28,000 yards of
poured concrete circa 1966. Problem is, the Pit is supposed to be
a college arena. On that count it comes up woefully short, and
not only because its floor sits 37 feet underground. Yes, the
nickname is picturesque, and a flat roof stokes the decibel
level. However, SI's decision in 1999 to rank the Pit as one of
the top sporting venues of the 20th century--ahead of St.
Andrew's, the Rose Bowl and (most insupportably) Philadelphia's
Palestra--makes the case for its overratedness an easy one.

UNDERRATED
Allen Fieldhouse

Just as big league baseball is meant to be played in ballparks,
college hoops belongs in field houses. None is more marinated in
tradition than Kansas's 46-year-old Allen Fieldhouse (left),
which instead of Pit-style concrete is composed of brick. I love
the address (1651 Naismith Drive) and the location (middle of
campus), as well as the concession stands wedged under the seats
and the gantlet fans form to high-five the Jayhawks as they jog
from the locker room to the floor. More than anything, though, I
love how Kansas reserves more than 7,000 seats for students, an
astonishing 45% of capacity. Allen is a monument to the truth
that big time doesn't have to be done up slick. --A.W.

Golf COURSE

OVERRATED
Pebble Beach

A perennial leader in magazine golf course ratings, Pebble Beach
Golf Links overwhelms visitors with its coastal beauty and then
piles on the cognitive dissonance by charging $350 per round.
Take away the seals and otters and the occasional Bill Murray
sighting, however, and you have an often poorly maintained course
in which the glorious ocean holes are offset by very ordinary
inland holes. Number 1 is a snooze of a dogleg. Number 2 should
be used for parking. The 12th is a 202-yard par-3 with a great
view of houses. Even the par-3 17th, which looks sensational from
a blimp, looks like an overexposed photograph from the tee; it's
blindingly backlit by sun and sea. Besides, the seagulls eat your
sandwiches.

UNDERRATED
Riviera

A disastrous burnout of the greens at the 1995 PGA Championship
tarnished the reputation of this George C. Thomas-designed
stunner, but Riviera Country Club, a.k.a. Hogan's Alley, has
more memorable holes than London's Highgate Cemetery. The
315-yard 10th is the best drivable par-4 in the world. The
par-3s are unforgettable, particularly the 166-yard 16th, framed
by gaunt sycamores; the 175-yard 6th, with its famous
doughnut-hole bunker in the middle of the green; and the
236-yard 4th, which Ben Hogan called "the greatest par-3 in
America." The first hole calls for a drive off a 75-foot cliff,
and the finishing hole is a 451-yard uphill gut check that
requires two long, scary shots to a pinnacle green backed by a
Mediterranean-style clubhouse that seems to reach into the
clouds--a scene that Maxfield Parrish could have painted. (Bonus
points: O.J. is gone.) --John Garrity

Hockey VIRTUE

OVERRATED
Experience

From the Anaheim Mighty Ducks to the hidebound Vancouver Canucks,
the mantra is "You need experience to win in the playoffs." This
(like the Mighty Ducks) is a canard. Too often, "seasoned" is
merely a fancy way of saying "old." The Edmonton Oilers, who
dominated the NHL from 1984 to '90, won the first of their five
Stanley Cups when their core--Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul
Coffey, Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr and Glenn Anderson--averaged 22 2/3
years of age and totaled only 25 years of NHL experience. When
the Oilers ceded the title temporarily during that seven-year
stretch, it was to the 1986 Montreal Canadiens, who had eight
rookies, including Conn Smythe Trophy- winning goalie Patrick Roy
and 10-playoff-goal scorer Claude Lemieux, and to the 1989
Calgary Flames, who featured 51-goal sophomore center Joe
Nieuwendyk and rookie hellcat Theo Fleury, who combined for 15
playoff goals. Of more recent vintage, the 2000 champion New
Jersey Devils, who played four rookies in important roles,
throttled the more experienced, and sagging, Dallas Stars,
proving that sometimes you do have to truss people over 30.

UNDERRATED
Speed

In the gilded pantheon of hockey virtues--leadership, toughness
and tenacity--speed deserves an honored place. With the crackdown
on hooking, holding and obstruction, speed is not merely a
desirable attribute but an imperative. Plodders like the New York
Rangers, who spin at 33 1/3 rpm in a 78-rpm universe, are being
left behind by dynamic, skating teams like the New Jersey Devils
and the Colorado Avalanche.

The shift to speed began in the late 1990s, when teams with
middling talent (the Edmonton Oilers and the Buffalo Sabres)
gained playoff upsets by playing up-tempo. It accelerated when
young legs carried forwards like the Philadelphia Flyers' Simon
Gagne and Colorado's Milan Hejduk to almost instant stardom. If
the NHL ever gets around to removing the red line, look out: The
race to the Cup might not always go to the swiftest, but that's
the way to bet. --Michael Farber

PGA tour CADDIE

OVERRATED
Angelo Argea

Angelo Argea, the bush-mopped man on Jack Nicklaus's bag from
1963 to 1981, was a Las Vegas taxi driver who got lucky. Nicklaus
admits the caddie master at the Palm Springs Classic (now the Bob
Hope) in 1963 conned him into using Argea (below). Nicklaus
happened to win that week and five of the next six, and Argea
became his rabbit's foot. Nicklaus rarely asks his caddies for
advice, and Argea, a partier who was known to show up late,
didn't offer much. He was on the bag for only three of Nicklaus's
18 career majors--one U.S. Open and two PGA Championships--since
Nicklaus didn't take him to British Opens or the Masters and
often used local caddies at the U.S. Open. Nicklaus fired him in
1981, saying, "Angelo has lost his enthusiasm."

UNDERRATED
Pete Bender

Pete Bender is the rail-thin, hawkeyed golf freak who carried no
less a mess than Ian Baker-Finch to the 1991 British Open title.
Baker-Finch, bless his heart, is lucky to break 80 now. Yet at
Birkdale, Bender made him believe he was Ben Hogan, praising each
shot loudly, making him laugh, turning tension into pudding.
Bender also carried Greg Norman to his 1986 British Open win at
Turnberry. When, on the 5th hole on Sunday, Norman admitted to
Bender how nervous he was, Bender grabbed his belt loop and
smiled. "Here's what we're going to do," he said. "The rest of
the day, you walk next to me." Bender had Norman talking about
his kids, his boats, everything but the tournament, which he won
going away.

Bender has won more than 20 times on Tour, but it should've been
more. Bender begged Chip Beck to go for it at the 1993 Masters
on the 15th hole when he had 236 yards to reach in two. Beck
chose to lay up, saying famously to Bender, "I don't want to
mess up my round." Beck lost to Bernhard Langer that day. Beck
and Bender split two weeks later. "If I could play as well as he
caddies, I'd win every week," says Rocco Mediate, Bender's
current boss. Mediate is suddenly playing the best golf of his
life. "I'd trust my wife and kids' lives to Pete," says Mediate.
"He has this way of making the most tense moment of your life
seem like you're on the range. If he ever leaves me, I'm
breaking his legs." --Rick Reilly

Piece Of EQUPIPMENT

OVERRATED
The Donut

The game of baseball is made up of a hundred rituals, athletic
tics really, that must have more to do with tradition than
performance. They have to, because most of them make no sense
whatsoever. As a fan you might take comfort, to pick one example,
in the familiar on-deck tableau, where the next hitter swings a
few bats, then takes up a warmup bat fitted with a 4 1/2-pound
donut and whales away at the night air. It's a reassuring scene,
inasmuch as it's been going on for about a hundred years. Still,
have you ever asked yourself, What in the world is actually
happening? That donut, for instance, what does it do?

Well, it adds weight so that when the batter faces the pitcher
with his normal (non-Krispy Kremed) bat, he will feel as if he's
shouldering a toothpick and will--presumably--get around on the
mightiest fastball. By this specious reasoning, which is typical
of a game in which managers wear cleats, the more weight the
better. So why not swing a truck axle to get your groove? Why not
swing David Wells? In fact, many believe the better way to
prepare for a Randy Johnson fastball would be to practice with a
much lighter stick, with bat speed as the objective. Baseball,
though, is nothing if not a series of stylized motions, the
pitcher rubbing the rosin bag then slamming it to the mound,
making a powdery poof, and the batter chunking the bat upside
down, the donut sliding neatly off the handle. So it's no use
asking what the point of these rituals is. Better to wallow in
the familiar minutiae that, taken one by one, amount to a
baseball game.

UNDERRATED
The Zamboni

Surely there is no more satisfying piece of sports equipment than
the Zamboni, the ice polisher that creeps onto the rink after
each period of nonstop fury, restoring our nerves as well as a
glassy surface. Not that it was developed for its calming effect,
but is anything more pleasing than its slow sweep, a machine two
Buicks high making mesmerizing loops and leaving a bright shine
wherever it passes? Although those benefits are immeasurable, it
is the utility of the machine that must be appreciated,
primarily. How could they play hockey, how could Snoopy dance, if
the ruts couldn't be smoothed? That was the problem a California
ice-rink owner named Frank Zamboni (What? You thought somebody
made that name up?) solved in 1949 when, frustrated by the amount
of time it took workers to drag, squeegee and spray his ice, he
rigged up a Jeep that could do it all in one operation. Sonja
Henie (below) got a look at the contraption and ordered one for
her traveling ice show. Hockey arenas followed suit in the '50s,
and today hardly a rink worth skating on doesn't have one of the
four-ton behemoths (not Jeeps anymore, baby, but $80,000
custom-made jobs) to lay down that pristine sheen.

Utility alone, however, can't account for its appeal, the way it
has become hockey's equivalent of a halftime show. Something else
about the Zamboni--its hulking size, its implacable disposition as
it grinds up frozen debris--gathers our attention and holds it
fast. Maybe it's purely a masculine idea, but could the Zamboni
be the ultimate dream machine, an exaggerated riding mower, a
huge vehicle you can hop on and artfully maneuver in circles to
do nothing less than dominate nature? Of course it is. What man
hasn't watched the Zamboni tool round and round (top speed: 9
mph) and thought, Damn, if it just had a cup holder.
--Richard Hoffer

Baseball STAT

OVERRATED
A Pitcher's Wins

In 30 starts during the 2000 season, San Francisco southpaw Shawn
Estes won 15 games, tied for 10th in the National League in that
category. Estes achieved this with a mediocre 4.26 ERA (the most
accurate measure of a pitcher's overall performance), which
ranked him 24th among National League pitchers who threw at least
162 innings. If a double play is a pitcher's best friend, run
support is his Baseball Annie. Estes was aided mightily by the
Giants' offense, which generated an average of 7.37 runs in his
starts. Meanwhile, Los Angeles ace Kevin Brown collected only 13
victories in 33 starts despite a minuscule 2.58 ERA, the best
among National League starters. Brown received a reasonable 4.58
runs per start, but the often impotent Dodgers scored three or
fewer runs in 15 of his starts and were shut out in three of
those games. Knowledgeable baseball observers consider a
pitcher's victory total so circumstantial that Brown finished
sixth in the Cy Young voting, while Estes received no votes.

UNDERRATED
The OBP

The object of the game for any hitter is to get on base as often
as possible. That quest is best measured by on-base percentage
(OBP), roughly the number of times a batter reaches base with a
hit, walk or hit by pitch divided by his total plate appearances.
Sure, batting average is a sexier stat--how often do you think a
boy has turned to his father this season and said, "Gosh, Daddy,
do you think Ichiro [left] will have a .400 OBP this year?"--but
to comprehend the influence of OBP on a team's success, look back
no further than last season. Oakland and Seattle finished 11th
and 12th, respectively, in the American League in batting
average, yet Seattle ranked second and Oakland third in OBP. It's
no coincidence that the A's and the Mariners ranked third and
fourth in runs scored, and that Oakland and Seattle finished with
the league's second- and third-best records and that both teams
made the playoffs. --Tim Crothers

Running BACK

OVERRATED
Franco Harris

A highlight reel of Pittsburgh Steelers fullback Franco Harris's
greatest runs would have a lot of this: Franco darts past a
cheerleader; Franco leaps over a Gatorade bucket; Franco jukes a
ball boy. Harris ran for 12,120 yards in his 13-year career
(1972-84). Had he not run out-of-bounds every time he neared a
sideline with a tackler in range, that number probably would have
been closer to 15,000. Harris (right) was a big man (6'2", 230
pounds) with bullish shoulders and minimal fakes, but in the era
of hard-nosed, outta-my-way snowplows like Earl Campbell, John
Riggins and--often enough--Walter Payton, Harris was a unicycle. It
was so blatant that in 1984, when Harris was nearing the alltime
rushing mark, Jim Brown, the record holder at that time, openly
pulled for Payton to be the one to displace him.

UNDERRATED
Freeman McNeil

When people remember Freeman McNeil, it's either for his gutsy
lead role in a lawsuit that brought down the NFL's restrictions
on player movement or for his endless string of injuries. McNeil,
however, was much more than a gimpy crusader. In 12 years
(1981-92) with the New York Jets, he accumulated 8,074 rushing
yards behind some of the worst NFL offensive linemen this side of
Tony Mandarich. He was a thrill ride--Barry Sanders and Warrick
Dunn and James Brooks rolled into one--but he was never afraid to
wedge his helmet into a linebacker's chest. His numbers won't
blow folks away, but McNeil was an artist. --Jeff Pearlman

Female ATHLETE

OVERRATED
Flo-Jo

For one season she transformed herself from a workaday sprinter
named Florence Griffith Joyner into a cultural icon named Flo-Jo.
The year was 1988 and--with slinky racing suits straight out of
Frederick's of Hollywood and long fingernails--she set world
records in the 100 meters (10.49 seconds) and 200 meters (21.34).
She won four Olympic medals and became the most famous female
track athlete in history. In truth she was a one-hit wonder who
became famous for glitz and forever suspected for a sudden
greatness that begged explanation, even upon her death after a
seizure, at age 38.

UNDERRATED
Maureen O'Toole

Her swimwear was never high fashion, and she could have used a
manicure. Maureen O'Toole (left), the greatest female water polo
player ever, wasn't interested in showing that woman athletes
could be feminine. In 1978, when she joined the national team,
women couldn't compete in the Olympics in water polo, but O'Toole
played on. And on. She was six times the world MVP. In 1994 she
retired, but when the IOC added women's water polo for Sydney,
she came back and, six months shy of her 40th birthday, led the
U.S. to a silver medal. Teammates compared her to Michael Jordan,
but O'Toole made it clear she was playing for less famous
athletes. "I want other girls to have opportunities that I have
never had," she said, singling out her nine-year-old daughter,
Kelly. "She can be proud to be an athlete, something that was
sometimes hard for me." --Sandy Bailey

Heavyweight CHAMPION

OVERRATED
Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali was the greatest showman, the greatest self-promoter
and the greatest humanitarian in boxing history. However, much as
it pains me to say this about one of my boyhood heroes, he wasn't
the greatest heavyweight of the 20th century, as he was named by
a five-member panel assembled by the Associated Press. The Ali of
1965-67--when he was floating like a butterfly and stinging like a
bee and making boxing look like the sweet science it assuredly is
not--would have been a match for any fighter of any era. Three
years does not a career make, and after being forced to take 31/2
years off to fight his legal battles against induction into the
Army, Ali returned in 1970 a different fighter. He was heavier,
not as quick and more hittable. Ali never had classic defensive
technique: He held his hands low and relied on his speed to make
fighters miss. Once he lost a bit of that quickness, they missed
less often. An unheralded Ken Norton broke Ali's jaw. Joe Frazier
inflicted terrible punishment in their three bouts. Indeed, Ali's
best attribute later in his career, sadly, was that he could take
a punch.

Yet he rope-a-doped sportswriters with his charm. Even in his
prime Ali lacked heavyweight power, which is why a swarming,
fearless fighter like Frazier (who was knocked out twice by
George Foreman) gave him so much trouble. Of Ali's 27 wins
between 1970 and 1978, only 14 were by knockout, an astonishingly
low percentage for a heavyweight champion. Journeyman fighters
like Joe Bugner, Alfredo Evangelista and Jimmy Young went 15
rounds with him, and Norton and Leon Spinks beat him. Unlike Joe
Louis, who for 12 straight years owned the undisputed world title
and was the century's greatest heavyweight, Ali achieved only
fleeting greatness.

UNDERRATED
Rocky Marciano

Rocky Marciano was the only heavyweight champion to retire
undefeated (49-0-0 with 43 knockouts). He was a savage puncher
with either hand and was superbly conditioned every time he
stepped into the ring. Marciano (below, right) would trade
punches with anyone and knocked out 88% of his opponents, on a
par with Mike Tyson (88%) and better than Sonny Liston (78%), and
much better than Ali (66%). He was one of only three fighters to
beat Joe Louis (in Louis's last fight) and one of only two (with
Max Schmeling) to knock out Louis. "The Rock didn't know too much
about the boxing book," Louis said, "but it wasn't a book he hit
me with. It was a whole library of bone-crushers." --E.M.S.

Golf BOOK

OVERRATED
Golf in the Kingdom

Let's get one thing straight: Golf is not an 18-hole Rorschach
test, nor is it a metaphysical journey during which the
open-minded can commune with God and nature. It's a game, only
slightly more interesting than Ping-Pong or bowling. The pesky
notion that it has a deeper spiritual meaning owes much to
Michael Murphy's Golf in the Kingdom, a book that has developed a
cultlike following since its publication in 1972. Golf in the
Kingdom is a dull tale about a mysterious Scottish golf pro named
Shivas Irons, who shrieks during his backswing and boasts a
library in which copies of the Koran and Ben Hogan's Power Golf
sit spine-to-spine. The first half is a tedious recounting of
Murphy's encounter with Shivas. Part 2 is a collection of musings
about golf's mystical nature that are esoteric to the point of
parody. To pick one example, Murphy, in trying to comprehend the
"inner meaning" of the golf ball, quotes Shivas: It is "a smaller
waffled version of the crystal ball, a mirror for the inner body;
it is a lodestone, an old stone to polarize your psyche." Funny,
I thought it was the little white thing I occasionally skull into
drainage ditches.

UNDERRATED
Down the Fairway

If you think Bobby Jones's golf swing was elegant, wait till you
get a peek at his prose. In his autobiography, Down the
Fairway--published in 1927, a year after he became the first
player to win the U.S. and British Opens in the same year--Jones
intersperses riveting accounts of his triumphs with mournful
confessions about the toll they took on him. He provides plenty
of minutiae about championship golf, but just as memorable are
the glimpses into his well-rounded life. The result is the most
personal account ever written about the strain of championship
golf. Jones begins with an apology, for he was clearly
uncomfortable about having published an autobiography at the
tender age of 25. We are in the era of another 25-year-old
phenom, but while Tiger Woods has built a fortress around his
inner self, Jones was all too happy to give a guided tour of the
heart and mind of a champion. --Alan Shipnuck

Track STAR

OVERRATED
Steve Prefontaine

There's no better way to become an American legend than to
achieve early success and then die young. This was never more
true than in the 1970s: Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison. Steve
Prefontaine (right) was 24 when he crashed his sports car on a
hilly, wooded road in Eugene, Ore., only hours after running in a
track meet. He was a rock and roll iconoclast performing with
spikes instead of a guitar. He ran fearlessly from the front in
his races, and off the track he fought the establishment for
modernization of the ridiculous rules of amateurism. Two (two!)
movies have been made about his life, so Prefontaine's ghost
lives on as a greater runner than the man was in life. It's true
that at the time of his death he held every U.S. record from
2,000 to 10,000 meters, but he hadn't broken through on the
international stage. He was fourth in the 5,000 meters at his
only Olympics, in 1972, and never ranked higher than fourth in
the world in any event. His supporters, who remain numerous,
argue that Pre was about to become the greatest distance runner
in the world. Given the explosion of Africans who have dominated
distance running since shortly after Prefontaine's death, that is
a dubious prediction.

UNDERRATED
Steve Scott

Dozens of times in the last two decades, track nuts and pundits
have bemoaned the absence of a great American miler, always
pining for the glory days of Jim Ryun and Marty Liquori. In fact,
Steve Scott was at least as successful as either of them. From
1977 to '88 he was ranked the No. 1 miler in America 10 times and
was No. 2 twice, a numbing display of consistency. During that
same period he was ranked in the top four in the world six times
and finished second in 1982 and '83. When Scott ran his personal
best of 3:47.69 in '82 (a U.S. record), he missed Sebastian Coe's
world mark by .36 of a second, and Scott's record, unlike any of
Prefontaine's, still stands. Consistency? The man broke four
minutes 136 times, more than any other runner in history. Scott
did all this with minimal natural talent: He was a 1:45 800-meter
runner, far slower than the other premier milers of his era, whom
he beat regularly. Scott compensated by squeezing every drop of
ability from his body, running alone twice a day in brutal
Arizona heat and entering up to 50 races a year. He got
cancer--and beat it--near the end of his career, and the sad truth
is that if he had taken ill much younger and died, his legend
would be more substantial. Like Prefontaine's. --Tim Layden

COLOR PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: COVER DIGITAL ILLUSTRATION BY JOE ZEFF COVER THE MOST OVERRATED AND UNDERRATED QUARTERBACK, RIVALRY, BASEBALL PLAYER, QUOTE, FLAKE, HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMP, TENNIS PLAYER, ARENA, DUNKER, SPORTING EVENT, AWARD PITCHER, GOLF COURSE... AND DOZENS MORE
COLOR PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: DIGITAL ILLUSTRATION BY JOE ZEFF THIRTY-FOUR COLOR ILLUSTRATIONS: SCOREBOARD ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOE ZEFF COLOR ILLUSTRATION: JOE CIARDIELLO COLOR PHOTO: JOHN D. HANLON COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO B/W PHOTO: TIMEPIX COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES COLOR ILLUSTRATION: JEFF WONG B/W PHOTO: HY PESKIN/TIMEPIX COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL COLOR ILLUSTRATION: FRED HARPER B/W PHOTO: MARVIN E. NEWMAN COLOR PHOTO: JONATHAN DANIEL COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS COLOR ILLUSTRATION: MARK STUTZMAN B/W PHOTO: COURTESY OF GERALD R. FORD LIBRARY COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ZOHAR LAZAR COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT ROGERS COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH COLOR ILLUSTRATION: GARY LOCKE COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK B/W PHOTO: STAN GROSSFELD/BOSTON GLOBE B/W PHOTO: AP COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL WITTE COLOR ILLUSTRATION: WELCH GOLIGHTLY COLOR PHOTO: PAUL KENNEDY COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ROBERTO PARADA B/W PHOTO: COURTESY OF ZAMBONI.COM COLOR ILLUSTRATION: JIM BENNETT COLOR PHOTO: TODD WARSHAW/ALLSPORT B/W PHOTO: HERB SCHARFMAN/CORBIS COLOR ILLUSTRATION: TIM BOWER COLOR PHOTO: JAMES DRAKE

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)