Aces over

Rockets are glaring all over the sporting map.

We have the Patriots suddenly stripped of the last pretenses of a fading dynasty. Was this the ultimate indictment of Bill Belichick's alleged genius? He was supposed to win this one. In fact, he badly needed to win this year to curb the growing debate over his flawed legacy which now intensifies no doubt to his immense chagrin. He remains out of the money since the disclosure of "Spygate."' Many find that meaningful.

The latest sting won't be lessened by the fact that the minimizing of the Ravens was clearly dumb. When it was over, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady had to depart the field of failed battle amidst the chaos of the Ravens' giddy reveling and both the coach and his resident avatar wore the stunned looks that have "end of an era" written all over them in letters big, black, and throbbing. While it lasted, said era was surely dandy. But nothing lasts forever, eh mates. On the other hand, the avatar's wife, who we are constantly reminded is also the world's highest paid fashion model, can't blame this one on the frailties of wretched wide-receivers.

Some will find most unforgiveable the fact that the firm of Belichick and Brady could have spared us the full-flowering of the "Age of Harbaugh," but booted it. Maybe in the end we'll be charmed by the thesis -- sure to be relentlessly drummed into the consciousness of the entire Republic from now through the Soupey -- that in the triumph of the Brothers Harbaugh, John and James, we have the latest lilting manifestation of the American Dream.

Tough sell, in my book, although John, the elder by 16 months, seems more mature than James, who is totally off the wall. That's mainly why we like John's Ravens over Jim's 49ers in Soupey XLVII. As for the Big Game's other major sub-plot -- the ongoing and quite lame campaign to redeem that legendary thug, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis -- we offer no comment beyond the affirmation that Mr. Lewis is truly a great football player, for whatever that's worth. But what happened a decade ago resulting in two homicides and both indisputably and centrally involving Mr. Lewis remains shamefully unexplained, nor will all the Soupey-hype now on-rushing change that.

On this happy note, we proceed to the Annual NFL Armageddon. Fortunately there are other diversions, some brighter.

Consider that the NHL is back and even if hockey's not your game you should be happy for those who do love it. Early-on the restoration is promising with high enthusiasm among those some call "the suckers," those guileless fans who greeted the game's desperate revival with more of a spirit of forgiveness than the culprits deserved. They are -- both owners and players -- entirely unworthy.

Whatever, hereabouts it's widely seen a joy to have the Bruins back and at first blush the Black and Gold do look gritty and grumpy enough to suggest we may end up conceding the fruits of that infernal lockout were worth the bloody wait. Maybe!

Meanwhile, we still have Lance Armstrong to kick around. The unveiling of a genuine cad is always a bit of a field-day in the moral passion play of sport.

Still further, we have the ongoing and wrenching melodrama of the lovesick Samoan linebacker of the erstwhile Fighting Irish whose weepy tale might yet exhaust even survivors of Downton Abbey.

Plus we'll very soon have -- heaven help us -- pitchers and catchers reporting in mere days to that steaming hotbed of winter baseball fantasy, Fort Myers by the Gulf. These are the best of sporting times. Our cup always runneth over.

So given all that juicy stuff what comes next in this week's little discourse may seem odd; or more so than usual, you might say. But I can't let the moment pass without some words on four fabulous sporting characters all long gone from the headlines who had most in common the timing of their demise. John Thomas, Earl Weaver, Gussie Moran, and Stan Musial died the same week reminding us of things we should remember, maybe need to remember. So, we shall.

John Thomas

This region had been producing great athletes for decades but few had been young men of color. Then in the late fifties along came John out of a staunch working class background and city streets, up through Rindge Tech and BU, where he emerged while still a teenager as the world's finest high jumper.

That he got bested by mere centimeters by the mighty Russians at the Rome and Tokyo Olympiads diminishes his legend not a whit. In the 1970s, John was a colleague at WCVB-TV (Channel 5) where he worked in sales. If his sporting days were long behind him his achievements were fresh in memory and his humility was refreshing. I can testify John Thomas bore his fame nicely. He was a gentleman.

Earl Weaver

Some insist he was the greatest manager ever. I was never sure. Our conversations usually ended in the Orioles' clubhouse with Earl denouncing my idiocy after my having asked a question Earl didn't want to answer. That he would do so in profanity-laden tirades spouted into a TV camera illustrates how fearsome and fearless Earl could be. He was also very smart. He knew I'd edit out the bad words.

He was thereby high among the most delightful cusses I ever met in the world of fun and games; or maybe out of it too. He was only 52 when he walked away from baseball, leaving it the poorer and 82 when he died last week on a cruise ship, no less. How very like Earl. He once declared, "On my tombstone just write, The Sorest Loser Who ever lived." I'll second that!

''Gorgeous'' Gussie Moran

Which is how she was usually headlined when her tennis achievements were reported in the highly sexist sports-pages of post-war America. It's the fate that befell too many female athletes in those days, especially if they had a mind of their own and were a bit, shall we say, "brash" and Gertrude Augusta Moran, straight from Hollywood, was all of that.

In 1949, she became an international sensation when she dared storm Wimbledon in a stylishly tight sun-suit that boldly bared her knees. In no less than the New York Times -- then at its stuffiest -- screamed the headline: "Gorgeous Gussie's Lace-Fringed Panties No. 1 Attraction on Wimbledon's Courts" (unquote). The All-English Club was not amused and much relieved when Gussie got beat in the quarters.

It was -- rather pathetically -- her tennis highpoint. Lost in all the subsequent nonsense was the fact that she could really play the game but never came close to fulfilling her promise. A lifetime of high adventure and poor choices led in the end to abandon and poverty. It was a tale from those times much too typical.

Stan ''the Man'' Musial

When he retired in 1963 Ford Frick, in surely his most lyrical moment as baseball commissioner, said of Musial, "Here stands baseball's perfect warrior. Here stands baseball's perfect knight." It was a helluva measure to be obliged to live up to but somehow the Man managed this impossible trick for all his 92 years.

In mid-America where the game remains truest to its roots he was not only acclaimed the greatest player but the epitome of what one ought to be. Elsewhere the other two giants of his era -- Maestros Williams and DiMaggio -- were more highly regarded and too many savants signed off on that thesis even though Stan's numbers were more impressive overall and he was the most complete player of the three. He, of course, never complained.

For in the, end he was also the luckiest of the three and he knew it; not only honored by all but truly beloved. It was a happy life Stan the Man long led with such dignity and he left it surrounded by his family and still the glory of his times. Who could ask for anything more?