Coach's Corner

The mid-summer drought in traditional sports is on (the Olympics don't count). Also, Monday Night Football will try not to suck so bad; Mike Tyson's a bore, and Sampras and Agassi may be getting too old.

For an Austin-basedsports fan, void of emotional attachments to any local/ regional baseball team, the annual "months of starvation" have arrived. And as always, the transition from a sultan's feast of hockey and basketball playoff games to nothing at all is jarringly abrupt. Today the sports pages of the nation are as barren and desolate as the Gobi desert. A quick perusal of the front page from the weekend sports section confirms that the long, dry trek until September and football has begun in earnest. Numerous stories about a non-event, the NBA draft, take up lots of space. Two stories about the struggling Astros. A large picture of two guys wrestling and a picture of a girl diver take up the center of page one. Another story and a picture about a comedian in the booth this fall on Monday Night Football fills out the rest. Inside, there's nothing but baseball scores and even worse, "news" from the WNBA. My wife, a decent sports fan, spent hours on the couch this weekend watching various track meets and diving competitions. The debilitating malaise of the endless Texas summer -- as bad in its own way as any winter in Buffalo, judging from the glazed look in Kelly's eyes -- has already set in. Sports fans now must subsist on a diet of rats and berries (midseason baseball scores, scattered golf and tennis tournaments, swim meets, and the NBA draft) until the fall monsoon.

Odds and ends: If any additional confirmation is needed on what summer does to the national sports consciousness, look only to the hundreds of thousands of words written and spoken the past few weeks about who will be in the booth for Monday Night Football this fall. A few comments: I guess I'm the only person in the country who thought the fired Boomer Esiason was a good analyst. Boomer wasn't afraid to criticize -- even quarterbacks. He often told us what play was going to be run before it was called in the huddle. I liked him. I also like the standard two-man team in the booth instead of MNF's traditional three-man verbal gangbang. ABC thinks the falling ratings of its Prince of the Airwaves flagship was the fault of its announcers, or more specifically, poor Boomer. This is ridiculous. Find me 10 fans in the country who watch a game because they like the announcers. Okay, find me five. The original MNF triumvirate of Cosell, Meredith, and Gifford have been awash in so much praise the past few months you'd think it's only a matter of nature taking her course until Don and Frank join Howard upstairs at the foot of God. This is revisionist history in action. In reality most people couldn't stand Cosell. The Giffer, as Cosell called him, was ripped, and ripped hard, from day one until he too was ignominiously sacked a few years ago. He was never as bad as the media made him out to be. Only Meredith, who understood the show biz maxim of leave-'em-laughing-and- get-off-the-stage, was spared venomous public criticism. No, Boomer and Al never caused me to switch channels -- but lousy games will do it every time. Last year's MNF schedule (which they announce months before a down is played) turned out to be awful. It was filled with old standbys like Dallas, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Denver, and San Francisco, teams all in a violent free fall from their once reliable perches of excellence. ABC's inflexibility caused it to totally miss Super Bowl winner St. Louis and exciting young teams in Indianapolis and Tennessee. MNF's 2000 fall schedule has seven games featuring these traditionally lousy teams. If they revert back to form, Dennis Miller better be pretty damn funny to keep me tuned in. ABC doesn't need Dennis Miller in the booth to boost ratings. It needs better games. To assure this, they need to leave some room to maneuver as the season reveals itself...

How far has Mike Tyson fallen from my radar screen? A Tyson fight was once an event to plan a weekend around. On Saturday, Tyson fought some palooka named Lou Savarese -- who'd lost four times in his last seven fights -- in Scotland. The "fight," which ended a few seconds after the opening bell, was free on Showtime. I was home, doing nothing. I totally forgot about it...

Here's a bold prediction, which might well be proved wrong within two weeks. The two guys who hoisted American tennis on their backs for the last 10 years, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, winners of almost 20 Grand Slam titles between them, are both running on vapors. Pete, a hard-ridden 28, and Andre, 30, are elderly for top-line tennis pros. Tennis is a young, solitary gunslinger life. To win at this level requires a total commitment to the pain of the game, a commitment both guys know all about. But Sampras just got engaged. Andre and Steffi appear right behind. Everyday examples of what we'd call real life -- a wife who might want some attention, having a family, a Christmas at home -- are for professional tennis players called distractions. Inevitably they come to the realization there's more to life than a first-class ticket to Australia and three hours of practice every day. I think, between the two of them, they might have one Grand Slam title left. Unless you know something I don't, American tennis is in for some hard times.No

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