Coach's Corner

A normally barren, desolate, and cynical worldview took an unlikely twist this weekend: It got worse. And to think on Wednesday the weekend shimmered with shiny possibilities. My NCAA draw sheet was done. This year I was using a system. It wasn't hard to visualize my name on top of the pool results, nor was it difficult to see the Longhorns advancing quickly through the draw. My new golf clubs came in the mail. New technology was going to go where the body would not. I was not, definitely, positively not, going to buy or watch the Holyfield/Lewis fight.

By early Thursday afternoon, as UCLA fell further behind Detroit, things began to unravel. Within hours I was already basically eliminated from the tournament. The Horns saw some snow and came back home. I did watch the fight. Against all better judgment I played golf, hungover at dawn Sunday morning, with an icy gale blowing from the north. With my pretty new clubs bruised and covered with mud, I quit after eight holes.

The loss to Purdue late Thursday night was a terrible blow. I sulked and stewed for too long. Oh my god, it was so easy for me to see UT's way through the bracket and into the Sweet 16. Purdue stinks, and when did they start playing basketball in Miami? A few breaks and Final Four time's here, and where's the party going to be? Reality struck in the familiar form of missed jumpers, clanging loud and often. It was a sad way for UT's two seniors to end their careers.

Kris Clack and Chico Vazquez, both four-year starters, played their guts out for UT. They're tough kids. That said, here's a sad, but true, commentary: Neither Clack or Vazquez are better basketball players as their college careers end than they were after their final games as freshmen three years ago. It's possible that both of their games have, in fact, regressed. Neither was willing or able -- that's hard for me to believe -- to spend the time developing a simple, reliable, garden variety college 15-foot jump shot. They both love to run and gun, and jump and alley-oop, but they could do that when they were in high school. Clack, in particular, seemed to have All-American talent written all over him. But the development never came, and their time is up.

So anyway, I'm out with a bunch of friends at a popular local restaurant on Saturday, getting in one last night of eating out before we're all banished to our kitchens for two weeks of SXSW. Someone says he bought the Holyfield/ Lewis fight. Tequila helps me forget my previous affirmation. The check gets paid. The guys take wives ( "Oh my god, those men are hitting each other") home and we all scramble and speed back to West Lake Hills. We proceed to watch the challenger, Lennox Lewis, a Brit with Ricky Williams deadlocks, pound the living shit out of Evander Holyfield, a man who speaks to God. Everyone agreed -- Big George Foreman and obnoxious Jim Lampley, the AP guy at ringside, and the guys over in West Lake -- that Evander lost and lost big. I did note to the assembled group as the fight proceeded that this was boxing -- meaning any kind of crooked thing can and does happen. Now, sipping vodka, I didn't believe it myself.

Jimmy Young, Ken Norton, and the great Marvin Hagler all have one thing in common: They were robbed -- their carcasses picked cleaner than a dead wildebeest in Central Africa -- in their quests for boxing championships. Norton and Young were, let's put this in the most reflective light possible, probably victims of a misguided and dangerous loyalty to a popular champ. Dangerous because by allowing Ali to continue to delude himself that he was indeed still the Great Ali, he was subjected to years of continued and increasingly violent punishment. The Sugar Ray Leonard decision over Hagler, I said then and I say today, was in the tank. Hagler knocked the shit out of Ray. Why was the Sugar Man the only person not shocked by that decision? I could use this entire column naming the mostly forgotton names of fighters who've been jobbed by outrageous decisions. So Lennox Lewis, if it makes you feel any better, the boat you're in isn't empty.

There's nothing wrong with the athletics of boxing. A few weeks ago Oscar De La Hoya and Ike Quartey put on a great show. Holyfield and Lewis fought hard. Evander had nothing to be ashamed of -- he just got beat. The sport is compromised repeatedly, but not because of the efforts of its athletes. Boxing's undone because it's flat-out dishonest. This fight -- make no mistake -- was fixed. The bank accounts of the "judges" (exactly what qualifications does it take to be a boxing judge?) should be looked at carefully. Don King should be put in jail. But that's hard to do because he keeps fixing juries.

If the athletes can't expect a fair judgement, if the paying customer can't expect a fair fight, if the betting public can't expect an honest contest, if the game can't be rid, forever, of its criminal element, then the circus that is the sport -- and a good one it can be -- gets what it deserves.


Write to Coach atCoach36@aol.com

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