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While we wait for Soupey

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Notes from the passing parade while waiting for Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno to settle their differences with flintlocks from 20 paces along the East River at sunrise.

And to think some regard pro football as America’s premier blood-sport. If you think Ray Lewis is nasty you should tangle with the average television network junior executive or budding producer loose on the streets of New York.

One suspects the only reason the ongoing NFL playoff wars remain faintly tolerable for Bill Belichick is the fact Eric Mangini no longer coaches the Jets. But, then, if he did, they wouldn’t be there.

Could it be Belichick’s stature as a world-class mentor is rapidly losing steam as Mangini’s failures combine with the crash landings of Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis in Cleveland and South Bend respectively; plus this season’s fizzle of yet another ex-acolyte in Denver along with the shaky debut of his longtime adjutant, Scott Pioli, in Kansas City. Genius, apparently, is non-transferrable.

More bad news for the NHL. It turns out their ecstasy over the recent Bruins-Flyers so-called “Winter Classic” at Fenway Park was premature. While the quaint hockey shtick received rave notices in the Northeast it bombed elsewhere, finishing with a 2.1 national rating, a sharp drop-off from the ratings for last year’s “Classic,” matching the Hawks and Wings.

If the charm of the Fenway thing was indisputable, sports fare doesn’t survive on charm alone while artistic merit rarely moves or shakes the television industry. The NHL desperately needed solid ratings to affirm said charm’s commercial value while proving their great game can strike a note with casual sporting viewers. Alas, it didn’t happen.

The proliferation of meaningless college football bowl games is widely scorned yet the three minor “Bowls” that ran against the “Classic” had a combined rating seven times as great with just one of them, the Capital One gig (Penn State versus LSU), polling three and a half times its numbers. It was downright embarrassing.

Elsewhere on the hockey subject it’s politely observed that the Bruins are going nowhere this season. Your best bet, Bruins fans, is to root for Toronto to finish last thereby delivering the number one draft pick which, hopefully, will turn out to be a player worthy of the distinction that Clan Jacobs is willing to pay for.

Three cheers for that old hoop’s rascal Bobby Knight for (in the contemporary jargon) calling out the vagabond basketball coach John Calipari who serves as this season’s poster-boy for the most disreputable sub-species in sport (although their brother college football coaches are presently giving them a run for their money). The fearless Knight’s latest indiscretion is to have the temerity to scorn Calapari’s appalling lack of integrity and ethics. Bravo, says I.

Specifically, Knight publicly declared of his corrupt colleague: “We’ve got a coach at Kentucky who put two schools on probation and he’s still coaching. I really don’t understand that.” While Knight unquestionably had his issues -- for which he was made to pay dearly -- he also had estimable graduation rates and the cleanest of programs never once incurring the merest of violations. Moreover, he stayed in one place 30 years for salaries considered notably modest and would have remained a lifetime, if they’d let him. You should look it up.

Naturally, the usual apologists for the runaway corruption of college sport including the media hotdogs who delight in hectoring Knight were astounded by his candor and have rushed to denounce him. Far more astounding, one maintains, are their priorities.

Totally unnecessary, on the other hand, was Jack Clark’s mean diatribe denouncing Mark McGwire and other alleged enhancement drug cheats. In calling the fallen slugger a “creep” and a “liar” Clark went too far. Himself a memorably zany character in his playing days there was enough that was suspect in Jack Clark’s act to suggest greater restraint on his part might have been advisable.

Too many people are popping off on this terribly complex issue, about which too little indisputable fact is known. The pathetic McGwire is too easy a target, especially for the likes of a grasping self-promoter like Jack Clark.

Although Clark need not apologize as long as Jose Canseco is stalking the premises of this agonizing issue. Any discussion of ‘creeps’ must begin with Canseco.

Are you too still waiting for David Ortiz to get back to us with more information about exactly what he took and why it got mistaken for performance enhancing elixirs, inducements, or whatever? Papi’s memorable promise was righteously delivered seven months ago. No explanation yet for the delay.

It should be noted that no such willing suspension of disbelief has been extended to any other alleged violators of the steroid canons.

How much more scandal can the NBA weather? That is the question. The gun-toting charge that’s grounded Wizards’ star Gilbert Arenas would have been grounds for a Congressional inquiry had it happened in baseball.

Next question. Has the Heisman Trophy lost its meaning as well as its currency?

News flash! Nick Saban, Football Chair at that august academic grove in Tuscaloosa Alabama, gets a $200,000 bonus for winning the national championship. Is it fair to ask --if for the $4.7 million a year contract they give Saban --did the erudite dons who run that school expect anything less and, if they did not, why do they award him a bonus for doing what they so handsomely pay him to do? Or does the logic of all that somehow elude them? Might you further wonder how much the chair of their English Department gets paid?

The gratuitous violence of the NFL deserves more credit than it gets. The ferocious wipeout of Cardinals’ quarterback Kurt Warner by the Saints’ Bobby McCray probably can’t be termed the turning point of a game the Saints won by 31 points. But the fact remains Warner is their inspiration and the Cards collapsed the moment he got steamrolled.

More to the point, replays clearly show McCray targeting the vulnerable 38 year-old quarterback and blind-siding him when he was well out of the play. It was vicious and needless, yet so quaintly “legal. ”“All in the game,” say lovers of the game. “Sure, pal,” says I. And we continue to wait for the inevitable moment when someone who gets so savagely clocked doesn’t get up.

“Legal” though it seemed McCray’s hit didn’t pass my “smell test.” Had I been one of the zebra’s I’d have flagged it. Asking the officials to be that discerning that swiftly without the benefit of replays is, however, admittedly asking too much.

Might it sour Belichick anymore to have the Colts emerge as champ? He might prefer them to the Jets, one guesses. But then how can anyone root against Peyton Manning. The man is the game’s exemplar; a fabulous performer of truly classical bearing.

Manning’s performance against the Ravens was utterly perfect; not in terms of monumental statistics, mind you, but in the terms that count most which have to do with the surgical precision of dispelling the opponent and controlling the game. It was a work of art.

One suspects Belichick would be the first to appreciate it even if it obliged the painful admission that his own Galahad, Tom Brady, is no longer on the same page with Peyton Manning. There’s no comparison that’s valid. Manning is in a class by himself. As for Brady it would be no surprise if he were to walk away from the game soon.

Lastly, when Randy Johnson retired recently a succession of alleged baseball experts tripped over themselves in the rush to proclaim the highly eccentric and large fellow the greatest lefty of all time; greater even, they all agreed, than Lefty Grove or Sandy Koufax. If I read it once I read it a dozen times.

To which one has only this frustrated response. Have any of these blowhards ever heard of Mr. Warren Spahn?

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