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Tyler, Tiger, diamonds and gridirons


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Seguin grows into his role

Here's some items to kick around while waiting for the Bruins to disentangle themselves from the pesky Lightning. With this advice to the faint of heart; it wasn't supposed to be easy.

And for those late-arriving hockey pundits now sneering at the Coach for allegedly burying the bashful budding superstar, Tyler Seguin, all season, may they be further advised the kid did very little to merit any more playing time than he received between October and May. Like all teenagers -- even those with Seguin's immense potential -- the jump from amateur pond-hockey to the bitter trench warfare of the National Hockey League is incomparable. Only the stray Bobby Orr's do it without a hitch.

Yes, Claude Julien is decidedly an old school hockey man. He's instinctively wary of raw kids who presume otherwise. It's the Conventional Wisdom. Punch Imlach or Billy Reay would have buried Seguin in Baffin Bay. Julien isn't quite as reactionary, although under his watch the Bruins have jettisoned a half dozen young prospects in various deals just the past year. One suspects his influence in such decisions was considerable.

But Julien wants to win even more than the frontrunners on the bandwagon who are now lighting up the talk shows with their harsh critiques. When Seguin wasn't playing it was because he wasn't ready. His joyful emergence in the playoffs is a credit to the kid who used the time to grow into a man and the Coach who allowed him to do it.

Those who did not tune into the Bruins until late in the first round of the playoffs can't be excused for not recognizing that.

Move it to October, if you must keep it

In its 15th year, the bloom is off the rose for baseball's ill-conceived and highly fabricated mid-season, inter-league play. Complaints mount in direct proportion to fading interest and falling attendance. It was always just a gimmick and one of Bud Selig's more lame-brained fancies. Given its deep roots and intense traditions, Baseball doesn't take well to gimmicks, something Selig -- even after two decades on the job -- still can't grasp.

But it's the inevitable and unavoidable scheduling inequities that most aggravate the owners. For example, when next month the Red Sox play those NL pushovers, the Padres and Astro's, the Yankees will be meeting genuine contenders, Colorado and Cincinnati. In this year's 18 inter-league games, the Red Sox catch only one indisputable NL Contender; three games with the Phillies, whereas Tampa has 12 games with teams now in either first or second place; three each with the Reds and Cardinals and six with the Marlins. In a tight race the advantage may be decisive.

The only acceptable time for inter-league play is October and the only excuse is the World Series. Fans of the game understand this even if the Commissioner can't.

Power or money or both?

Dick Ebersol had as much influence on the kingdom of sport as any commissioner. But here's betting few realized the importance of his decision last week to quit as chairman of NBC's sports division, a post he'd held more than 20 years. Stormy, iron-willed, tireless, ruthless, and above all -- just plain bloody smart -- the 63 year Ebersol had commandeered the Olympics, turning them virtually into his own fiefdom, and was in the process of brokering still more epic Olympic deals.

But then his fierce and unequivocal judgments have impacted every major game and most of the minor ones too. In only his more recent triumphs he created NBC's Sunday night football and gave the long nomadic NHL a home on his network.

Apparently money is at the crux of his Wagnerian departure. He had been negotiating a contract renewal with Comcast Cable, new owners of NBC, and doubtless seeking a king's ransom. One suspects, however, that power was the greater issue and that Comcast may well have concluded that the imperious Ebersol had just too much of it. No one in the history of the business ever had more, save maybe ABC's even more legendary Roone Arledge. If Ebersol is indeed gone from the scene -- hard to imagine -- you can be sure of this much. That scene will change.

The last roar?

Further on the subject of flaming departures from the grand stage and precipitous falls from grace, we have the curious case of Tiger Woods. It's now been 18 months since he last won a golf tournament and still longer since he's won a big one. In his latest attempt -- the Player's Championship in Florida -- he lasted only nine holes and 42 strokes; driven off by the battered knee on which four surgeries have already been performed and a relentlessly aching Achilles. But those who know him whisper his deeply wounded psyche is an even bigger issue in his stunning unraveling.

At 35, he begins to defy the notion that he has any chance of regaining much of his former invincibility which -- to this point -- few have dared suggest was beyond his reach. He is, after all, the Tiger! Moreover, in all of his confusion, downward spiraling, and utter disgrace he still made $75 million last year, tenaciously hanging on to his proudest distinction as the highest paid jock in the entire universe.

But would he trade all that for a little peace of mind, or better still, his lost reputation? You might wonder, but I don't think there's any doubt.

In golf's international ratings he has just fallen out of the top 10 for the first time since April, 1997. He says he hopes to play in the U.S. Open next month, but makes no promises. In the end, the fall of Tiger may prove to be even more dramatic than the rise of Tiger and destined to be remembered much more vividly.

Lanced

The same may go for Lance Armstrong. Bike riding isn't the big and beloved sport here that it is in Europe. To the objective, it seemed somehow unfair that Armstrong should take the game away from those who loved it best, dominating the most important international competitions more than a decade. Old world fanciers of the sport believed his manner of doing so was ''latter day, ugly American.'' Even his friends rarely disputed he could be arrogant when the mood moved him.

But he was also a cancer survivor, and iron-willed perfectionist, and the sort of reckless and dauntless adventurer Americans have always greatly admired. So when it was rumored that he was also a notorious drug cheat who had used very performance enhancing trick in the book to dominate the game, Americans dismissed it as the pathetic rant of poor losers, sneering, "What do you expect from the French?"

It was so easy to let it slide as long as all of his accusers were Europeans. It was easy to dismiss the claims as mere jealousy, as long as they came from people he'd humiliated in the Tour de France. But now the charges are coming from his own American teammates. Fellow bikers long his best buddies are testifying that Armstrong has always been an All-American juicer and cheat.

CBS leads the posse but the gendarmes of the sport are right behind the TV network. Lance Armstrong may find angry denials and appeals to our sympathy won't be enough this time.

CSI: NFL

Lastly, with the NFL labor dispute more entrenched than ever there's little humor emerging from that ridiculous scene. Moreover, Ray Lewis, the famously fearsome linebacker of the Ravens, is no comic.

But you had to be amused the other day, when Mr. Lewis declared: "Watch how much the crime rate in our country picks up if you take away our game!"

Was he suggesting America's violent criminals so love the NFL's product that having football to watch on TV keeps them off the streets doing crime? Or did he mean that if the NFL's labor force is out of work this autumn that will unleash hundreds more hardened criminals onto our streets to do more crime?

Either way, the notion that pro-football has true sociological significance actually impacting the crime rate in this crazy country is truly a joke!

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