National | Sports

Issue: "Spain waves white flag," March 27, 2004

Cheap shot

Among other problems hockey faces as it heads into this off-season, image was not supposed to be one of them. The NHL at one point could have argued that next to major-league baseball and its steroid scandal, professional hockey looked pretty clean. But that was before Vancouver's Todd Bertuzzi sucker-punched an opponent, jumped him, and drove the unconscious player face-first to the ice, breaking two vertebrae in his neck. For the now-infamous attack on Colorado rookie Steve Moore-shown repeatedly on television sports shows-Mr. Bertuzzi received a suspension for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs. But if his Canucks are swept in the first round, the Bertuzzi suspension could amount to less than 20 games.

Hockey's current woes are well documented. Bankruptcies, a weak Canadian dollar, and salary increases are all pushing team owners and the players association toward a labor dispute that could stretch through the next season and perhaps further. The $600 million television deal the NHL signed with ABC and ESPN five years ago that was supposed to save hockey's financial fortunes hasn't increased the sport's popularity. NBC earns better ratings with arena football.

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During the league's expected labor hiatus, perhaps it will find ways to tweak the game to make the regular season more palatable to casual American fans. NHL officials could start by enforcing rules against hooks, holds, and other forms of obstruction that slow the lightning-quick game to a crawl. And with the unwanted attention Mr. Bertuzzi has brought, the league may address retaliatory cheap shots that are so prevalent in the regular season but so absent in the Stanley Cup playoffs. If a no-nonsense style works at the zenith of the sport, why isn't it good enough for the regular season?


Strange things happen every March. Despite ignoring college basketball almost completely, everyone-from your co-workers to your best friend to your mom-becomes a college hoops expert once Selection Sunday rolls around. Anyone who has ever watched ESPN's Dick Vitale shout for joy on television knows Bracket-ology is a real science, and perhaps the most revered of the studies at this time of year. March Madness so nicely fills the void between February's all-star games and opening day in baseball. Of course, everyone's a March Madness expert because there's money on the line. Sports fans wagered nearly $80 million on tournament games in 1999-and that's just in Las Vegas. Millions more are wagered in office pools. But the real monetary cost of bracket betting may come in a loss of productivity, estimated in one study to cost companies between $400 million and $1.5 billion.

Around the horn

Maybe now Drew Henson knows what he wants to do. The former Michigan quarterback and New York Yankees prospect settled on football and now has a new home. Houston selected Mr. Henson, but the Texans sent the quarterback up I-45 to the Dallas Cowboys. Count it a good deal for both the Texans, who turn a sixth-round pick into a third-rounder, and the Cowboys, who get someone they hope will become their next Troy Aikman. The deal works out pretty well for Mr. Henson also, who will now have donned sports' most recognizable motifs: the pinstripes and the star.

Golfer Davis Love III, embarrassed by his outburst at the Match Play Championship, donated the proceeds of his second-place finish to his local church, a Georgia PCUSA congregation. Mr. Love had been criticized for blowing up at a heckling fan on the fifth tee. &quotIt hits you that there are more important things than golf," he said.

A will reveals that John Henry Williams, who died recently of leukemia, wished to chill with famous dad, Ted Williams, rather than being buried or cremated. The younger Williams's body will join his father's in a cryonic deep freeze in Scottsdale, Ariz., at a facility maintained by Alcor Life Extension Foundation. Father and son put faith in a frozen stasis to preserve them until future medical technology figures out how to revive their bodies and cure their ailments. Ted Williams died in 2002.

CBS won't have raunchy coverage at the Final Four, or so network executives say. CBS will run Final Four coverage with a 10-second delay which raises the question: How would a 10-second delay have helped CBS dump Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson's entire performance?


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