Coach's Corner

Hello, anyone home? Last week, Sisyphus. This week, continuing our tour of legends from Greek mythology, is Tantalus, condemned in Hades to stand in water that receded whenever he tried to drink and to never reach fruit whenever he tried to take a bite. Don't press me too much on this Greek stuff. My knowledge is only as deep as Suzanne chooses, after a number of Friday evening cocktails, to divulge to her sportswriter friend desperate for this week's lead.

So we fade gently into the Carolina Panthers and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Surely every living organism in the galaxy knows the already cliché-ridden tale of these so-called expansion teams, as both almost made it to the zenith of pro football's world. Both so close before the water receded, the smell of ripe fruit still lives in the olfactory canals.

Since it became apparent Jacksonville and Carolina would both be major factors in the NFL playoff picture, a corollary story: The high-decibel blast of whining by executives jealous of other teams because of the "unfair" advantages these lucky devils had due to the kindly beneficence of those philanthropic shipping and real estate magnates (always on the lookout for their less fortunate brethren). "Oh poor, poor us," a front-office type says. "Why, any fool could win with all those draft picks and no salary-cap restrictions. Those guys are no better than dirty, rotten cheaters!!"

If a fat old fox, hungry and accustomed to invading the henhouse at will could talk, this is the way he'd sound when one hen finally nipped back. The late Everett Dirksen, the grandiloquent minority leader from Illinois, once observed something about money. "A billion dollars here and a billion dollars there," he said, "and pretty soon you're talking about real money." The league fleeced their new compadres to the tune of $140 million, just for the privilege of being allowed to put a team on the field. In addition, they were forced to accept a drastically reduced share of the television revenue. This is par for the course. The initial rape of the new franchise is a reason why teams in New Orleans and Tampa Bay decades after birth still are dogshit. I said a reason. Another is just bad management.

This time, for that kind of money, the league had to give some value back. The new teams got a generous stock of draft picks and more important, almost no initial salary-cap restrictions. Still, I could talk extemporaneously for an hour on teams and wasted draft picks. I guess we could start 190 miles to the north with the Mavericks.

The success of these teams has nothing to do, as has been widely speculated, with the "watered-down talent level" of the league. It indicates nothing except something rare these days: competent work in the front office.

If you want to talk watered-down, let's talk about the National Basketball Association. Scoring is down, attendance is down, interest is down. Unlike the parity in the NFL, on any given night in the NBA, one-third of the teams have no chance at all of winning unless they're playing each other. How else to explain the overwrought coverage of the Bulls-Rocket game? Front page in the Statesman? Similar treatment in Chicago, a cosmopolitan place where, presumably, they have other things to talk about. This, for one game out of 82. A meaningless, mid-winter game. Except, two good teams -- with glitz and class -- were playing each other. Sadly, this is now so unusual it's become an event. My first prediction for the new century: The NBA, predicated -- from its highest levels -- on greed and fuck-the-paying-customer, is in for a fall.

Perched comfortably in a thatched hut bar, on a remote Caribbean island, 2,000 miles from Dallas, the fans watching the thrashing of the Cowboys were amusing themselves with nasty Irvin/Williams jokes. Nobody had any doubt about their guilt. Now, it appears few in the media feel much remorse about feeding this erroneous electronic lynching. It seems to be an I'm-sorry-but kind of deal. But with their reputation what can you expect? But we'll never really know what happened, will we? But we're only commenting on what we knew.

If that woman called and told me she was raped by two star athletes, what would I do? I'd probably keep quiet about it but on the other hand, I could easily rationalize an if-I-don't-break-the-story-someone-else-will attitude. I can't blame the media for breaking this story. The police? It could have been better handled, but they were clearly overwhelmed by the ferocity of the media feeding frenzy.

I can't stand Michael Irvin. I detest everything possible about the Cowboys. I believed the worst. I enjoyed... shit, I was damn well delighted with another ugly scandal. It's not much, but at least I feel bad about it. These sordid stories are going to get this kind of coverage. It's a reality. Dallas and national columnists -- quick to judge -- have remained mostly mute. No apology. No regrets. The arrogance and self-righteousness of many members of the media too often rivals the despicable people they cover.

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