Only 208 more days until football returns!

Feb 4, 2003 9:12 AM


The withdrawals from football really started to grab hold this past weekend. It didn’t help trying to watch the backwards dance known as the Pro Bowl in Honolulu.

It’s not enough to simply see football players in pads and helmets. They have to be colliding into each other with the fury of crazed sumo wrestlers to create the familiar football buzz.

Neither was there any solace in watching the new game in town, the Arena Football League. Football players flying around a hockey rink doesn’t come close to duplicating the territorial dramatics that a real football game offers.

Moreover, Arena Football seems contrived, maybe even a little phony. Kind of like watching the top PGA golfers playing miniature golf. How much excitement is there in watching Phil Mickelson putt the ball through the windmill?

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m as much a sports fanatic as the next nachos-munching couch potato.

But it’s difficult to get into the spring and summer sports cold turkey. It would help if there were some methadone-like point spreads, over/under totals or 10-team parlays to tide you over.

It’s also difficult to get excited about some of the strange sports (which ESPN 2 always seems to broadcast) when you have no idea of what the competitors are trying to accomplish.

For instance, what is all the uproar over the WNBA lately? Why would anyone want to watch women basketball players?

Now, I have the utmost respect for women and, quite frankly, believe women are physically superior to men. I discovered this fact on my wedding night, and my belief is reinforced every time I find myself at the mall, sitting on the loser’s bench with the other husbands and holding packages while my wife continues her relentless foray into designer shops.

But I digress. For all the hype the WNBA is receiving, it’s still just a token gesture from professional basketball that allows a few chosen women the chance to earn a living while doing nothing productive.

Team handball is a sport that has recently found the spotlight. We were introduced to this sport in the Goodwill Games, or was it the Pan Am Games. Or was it at the Goodwill? Or the Salvation Army?

Never mind, whichever games it was it mercifully came to a conclusion. In any case, it’s not as chaotic as it appears. Refreshing your memory, an unruly mob of athletes lope up and down a basketball court, trying to throw a soccer ball into a hockey net.

Why do we need this, and more important, how do we bet on it?

The cable TV crowd reached rock bottom when it decided to air fencing. Even though this might be the oldest sport, it’s certainly the least understood. It was wildly popular during its infancy, drawing even larger crowds than traditional sacrificial virgin tossing, due to the fact that battles continued until the death of one or both opponents.

Unfortunately, those days are gone. Because modern fencing is more civilized, it’s no longer as swashbuckling. The sport would generate more spectator interest if the rules were relaxed to allow full thrusts and back-stabbing maneuvers.

For instance, the practice of pointing over an opponent’s shoulder and shouting, "Look out! Runaway tractor!" before striking a decisive blow, should be reinstated in the rulebook. And substituting a length of smoked sausage for an opponent’s saber should never be grounds for disqualification.

Finally, we’re on the verge of entering another yachting season. Of course, there are few team entries in this sport. Because of the strict regulations that restrict the size and type of craft, only two countries, Australia and the United States, are usually allowed to enter boats. They need to lift those restrictions so other countries, such as these, can participate:

China: Its 35,000-ton oil tanker, Wen Ho Lee, was prohibited from competition because of simple technicality: instead of crude oil, the ship’s hole was filled with surface-to-air missiles.

Cuba: Every time the Cubans launched a boat, it returned to shore overloaded with refugees. The extra ballast should not have been grounds for disqualification.

Columbia: During every one of the team’s 200 races, the boat inexplicably headed for Miami harbor, dropped off a load of powder, and quickly darted back into international waters. Deviation from designated racing lanes should have been a minor infraction, rather than a cause for shelling by shore batteries.

Barring these sports, we still have the UFC, the Ultimate Fighting Championship. This sport is actually growing in popularity. And why shouldn’t it? When the referee has to take a player’s pulse to determine the outcome, you might have something there.