Coach's Corner

The fine state of Maryland is not known for much other than crabcakes, Camden Yard, and the setting for NBC's cop show, Homicide. If I missed something and offended a Marylander, I apologize. Deep inside a Maryland state prison, in solitary confinement, sits one unhappy -- temporary -- resident of this, I'm certain, outstanding state. A man capable of great cruelty and viciousness, but still, undeniably, one of the most charismatic sports figures of our time. Crabcakes don't often appear on the prison menu. A ballgame's out of the question. Homicide? Mike Tyson shouldn't be watching shows like this -- anyway, it was an offensive TV set that got him down here in the first place, so I don't think so.

A boxing metaphor states, kill the head (or heavyweight division),the body (the rest of the sport) will die. The reasoning being, the heavyweight division is now and has always been the glamour division -- the most visible part of the sport. If you asked the casual sports fan to name a few heavyweight champs, he'd have no problem. Ask him to name a few lightweights and it'd be a different story. Since Nov. 22, 1986 (has it been that long?), when Tyson -- who began his disastrous reign with such brilliant promise -- KO'd Trevor Berbick in the second round in Las Vegas, this homily's been tested with vigor. Iron Mike, never one to shirk from his duty, has more than done his part to destroythe sport, which gave him a chance to be something other than just another Joe Palooka.

But Mike's not alone. It's more accurate to visualize him as the lead clown at the head of a grotesque parade of lurid jesters. Bruce Seldon is under arrest for allegedly taking sexually graphic photos of a teenager. Michael Dokes is charged with trying to kill his fiancée. Berbick is a fugitive in Florida, runningfrom a rape conviction. Tony Tubbs, Tony Tucker, Pinklon Thomas, and Tim Witherspoon all spotlighted with drug problems. Big John Tate is no longer in trouble for drugs or anything else. He's dead. Riddick Bowe did his best to add much-needed comic relief to this bleak landscape when he abruptly decided he wanted to be a Marine and enlisted in the fabled fighting Corps. A problem arose when Riddick showed up at boot camp with his entourage and had his man Rock, if memory serves, do pushups for him. The Marines survived. With Rock's arms getting weary, Riddick soon de-enlisted. Then the mercurial Mr. Bowe went and tried to kidnap his own family and spoiled the whole thing. Yes, Mike had plenty of help in trying to destroy boxing. In fact, let it be said here for the first time ever, Mike Tyson was an excellent role model.

Looking back over the century, great boxing names leap out. Jack Johnson, the first great black fighter, dominated the time aroundWW I; Dempsey the Twenties; JoeLouis, Joe Walcott, Ezzard Charles,and Rocky Marciano controlled the division from the Great Depressionuntil the middle of the Eisenhower Administration. Sonny Liston's reign was brief before Ali began his courtship of the world. Along with Ali came Joe Frazier, George Foreman, and Larry Holmes. Of course, through the century, the other weight classes had many great fighters and many classic fights. This has continued to be true during the Reign of Ash that was the time of Tyson. It's just that not many of us noticed.

Watching Ike Quartey battle Oscar de la Hoya, the first fight I'd seen since Bite Nite, it occurredto me how much fun I was having. It was a good fight, not great, but the skill level was high, the valor extraordinary, and the stupid heavyweight theatrics non-existent. In a Crown Royal haze, I remembered the days when championship fights were on TV -- free. Pay-per-view, in fact, is one of the myriad reasons for the sport's demise. The great fighters are still there. They've never gone anywhere. A public sickened by the ongoing spectacle in the heavyweight division just stopped caring.

To Tyson's great shame, he and his goon cohorts nearly destroyed 100 years of goodwill. Yes, there is Evander Holyfield, but I pose this question: Would we know who Moses was today if there were nobody to follow him to Israel?

Parting shots: In the column of Nov. 23 I wrote this: "Rick Barnes has inherited a discordant team of spare parts, some of them pretty shiny to be sure, but like the spare-parts bin of a Third World army; most of them just don't fit." Undeterred, I continued, "If this Longhorn team finishes anywhere near .500, Barnes is a miracle worker." I'm only fortunate I didn't offer to eat anything alive. Humility isn't a strongpoint, but I'll say here I've never been more wrong than I was in my underestimation of Barnes and his team. If you'd have told me on the day of that column that UT, a bad 0-2, would end up Big-12champions, I would've consideredyou too stupid to converse with. Yet, there it is:18-11 and conference champion. Barnes did work a miracle. He really did. This guy's going to put UT in the Top Ten. Believe it! Speaking as a paying customer, I've never enjoyed a year more. This year was as much fun as last season was like being stuck with pins.

See it here first: The Coach -- gladly -- eats crow ... or Cow. My radio show's been canceled.


Talk to Coach on Sportsradio 1300AM, 3-4pm weekdays; or write to: Coach36@aol.com

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