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Check-off


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The clock winds down. Time to clear the desk of the last bits and pieces of a long and tumultuous sporting year while awaiting Santa. Some examples.

Timothy

With the ongoing Tim Tebow phenomenon being a fine place to start. There hasn't been a more genuine and refreshing presence to rear in the tortured fun and games world since the equally delightful Mark "the Bird" Fidrych burst upon the scene to lend quixotic grace to the Bicentennial year, 1976.

Not that one should compare Tebow's expressions of religious conviction on the sidelines of the NFL with the Bird's mere flakiness on the pitching mounds of the AL. Their rituals are decidedly different. But the sincerity of both, touched rather nicely by a certain innocence, is beyond dispute. That's the important point.

Back in the '70s, we media-types tried mightily to find pretense, guile, or profit-motive in the Bird's antics. We never succeeded. The process, with its traces of nastiness, is now being visited upon Tebow. If you dare to be different, you must expect it. Here's betting that once again they will not succeed, although when the jock-media grapples with religious issues some are sure to make fools of themselves.

In the end, it was fate that had the last laugh on Fidrych, cutting him down much too young and reducing him to a mere footnote. It wasn't fair. Obviously it's a risk Tebow now also runs and if the team around him regularly performs like the Keystone Cops as it did against the Patriots all of that may become inevitable. But for as long he survives why not play along. Tebow is a treat. They don't come along every day.

Barry

Barry Bonds is free to roam the streets again, or will be after doing 30-days penance being chained to his kitchen table per order of a federal court. It's the price he pays for refusing to admit he was a steroid-cheat. Not clear whether he'll be made to do the gig in sack cloth sprayed with ashes.

Will a restless America feel safe having this Promethean serial felon unbound? Also to be wondered about is whether government sleuths feel justified -- based on the conclusion -- in having probed the desperado nine years and prosecuted him four years while incurring three major court proceedings at a cost of tens of millions of bucks. Don't hold your breath waiting for that answer.

Maybe it's too easy to take pot shots at this manifest folly. It's just that it was always clear there are better ways to penalize the man for his obvious duplicity, which while shameful seems impossible to consider truly criminal. "Revenge" is now at the disposal of the Baseball Hall of Fame electors and you can expect them to go for it. Someday Bonds -- adjudged by many authorities to have been the greatest player in the game's history (for the record, I don't agree) -- will make it to Cooperstown. But it may not be in his lifetime. The electors are angry and Bonds was never popular. Here's hoping it's not mainly his sour disposition that motivates their yearning to get "even."

Bowls

On New Years' Eve in San Francisco the much acclaimed "Fight Hunger Bowl,'' just one of this year's 35 alleged championship college football games, matches a .500 team against one with a losing record. Illinois is 6-6 and UCLA, finished 6-7. Neither team will have its head coach on hand, each having been fired for reaping such mediocrity. Neither team is rated or ranked.

Is it possible some of the meaning and purpose of the traditional post-season Bowl games has been lost?

Harvard's Joe Restic

Joe Restic, on the other hand, represented an entirely different attitude about college sport, a luxury he could afford as head-man at Harvard for 22 autumns. A rugged, upright fellow and veteran of the hard-nosed Canadian football league, Joe hardly brandished the fair Harvard look, nor acted the part. But he was the brainiest and most innovative football mentor to grace that august playground since fabled Percy Haughton. On an illustrious faculty, he held his own. Joe Restic died the other day at 85, a class act to the last.

Mayhem

Consider this. In a 10-day span in early December the NHL lost six premier performers to the dreaded scourge of concussion devastating hockey like some mystical black plague. It's beyond reason.

Going down for the count in just that brief span were the Flyers' Claude Giroux, the league's point-leader and teammate Chris Pronger, perennial all-star; the Senator's Milan Michalek, the league's top goal-scorer; Carolina's Joni Pitkanen and Jeff Skinner, last season's rookie of the year; and the Penguins' Sid "the Kid" Crosby, hockey's Lochinvar oft called, "the face of the game." Two of them are out for the season. The others are out indefinitely. Some worry Crosby, still a kid, may be finished. It borders on madness.

Interestingly, all the latest casualties were felled in routine hockey action. Three were injured colliding with a teammate. None was a victim of gratuitous violence, fist-fights, or heavily penalized hits. Another dozen were sidelined earlier in the season and some 20 more -- including the Bruins' Marc Savard -- are on long-term disability. The problem defies explanation.

And before you rush to the conclusion that it may be a matter of some players being "too soft," keep in mind this much. There may not be a tougher dude playing anything anywhere than Chris Pronger.

Tom terrific

The widespread repudiation of wunderkind Tom Brady for his bush-league sideline rant devouring Coach Bill O'Brien during the Redskins game was much overdue. As more often than not happens in the wonderful world of sport, Mr. Brady may be out-growing his helmet size.

Tiresome tirade

Bobby Valentine's theatrical denunciation of the arch foe Yankees at the Winter Meetings was a classic example of the new Red Sox skipper's well-known penchant for fanciful posturing. It may seem funny now, but just wait. It will become tiresome soon enough as it has everywhere else he's been.

Add some time zones

Do you think in the pursuit of its manifest destiny, the Big East will yet expand to include the Universities of Hawaii, Guam, and the Mariana Islands? This would make for long road trips for U-Conn, Providence, and dear old Rutgers. Then very little in college sport makes sense anymore.

Atonement due

Lastly, there is one of my pet subjects, baseball's Hall of fame. Those wild and crazy kids have done it again.

For years, the exclusion of Ron Santo, the fine old Cubs' third baseman, aggravated many. Serious baseball scholars termed him the best player not yet elected to the place. That may be debatable but his worthiness never was.

Long afflicted with diabetes, Santo's trip downhill took many years and recently the appeals from his admirers were loud and adamant. His eventual election was inevitable, they argued, so why not allow the poor sick man the satisfaction while he was still with us. Last December, he missed by a couple of votes. A couple of days later, he died. And this December -- almost precisely a year to the day later -- they elected him.

No one person or group of persons can be blamed. The electors vary from year to year. It's the system that stinks. It's dumb. What happened to Santo shouldn't happen. But it will happen again to Marvin Miller, who should have been named last year, and Minnie Minoso, who should have made it this year along with the late Mr. Santo. Both Miller and Minoso will surely get elected some day. But not until after they've died. It's not only dumb but cruel. They must stop this nonsense.

In the meantime, the baseball writers can atone -- at least in my book -- when they elevate Jack Morris to the Hall in their annual election the first week of January. Black Jack is easily the best pitcher of his era not yet to have been elected. Correcting that dumb mistake would be a splendid way to begin a new year.

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