Hoopsters exemplify purity in atheltics

Mar 23, 2004 5:35 AM

The exquisite beauty of March Madness was in full bloom this week, with the giants cut down and the little guys ”” in stature if not in size ”” blossoming all over the place.

I have spent considerable time in Lexington, Kentucky, the home of the Kentucky Wildcats, and unless you are ready to pass on to the next world you don’t say a word against the Wildcats in that town. The word "fanatics" was invented there, and is life-threatening.

So when the University of Alabama-Birmingham took Kentucky down from its lofty No. 1 perch last Sunday, there had to be abject black doom and despair in the Bluegrass and ultimate joy in Birmingham.

This is something not unusual in college basketball and the NCAA’s proudest production, but rare in football, where national powers are seldom beaten by relative unknowns. UAB had lost nine games this season, and was no one’s favorite except in Alabama going into Sunday’s game. But here they are, basking in adulation and attention this week, at least until the next stop against Kansas on Friday.

So now take your pick as to who can beat Duke, a perennial top choice in this two weeks of championship glee.

You can root for St. Joseph or Xavier, and hope they have divine guidance.

You can be a temporary Texan, and hope they prevail.

You can sit in awe at the shooting displayed by Illinois as it dismantled Cincinnati and its boisterous crew by 24 points.

You can root for all of Alabama, never mind just Birmingham, after the Crimson Tide took Stanford down from its lofty one-loss-in-30 perch.

Or, being in Las Vegas, you can hope for the most improbable scenario of all, that Nevada gets by Georgia Tech and whomever else lies in its way in its inspiring climb toward the top.

That Nevada has a shot is the beauty of this thing.

That and the heart and spirit and speed and skill shown by these kids who are wholesome and energized and motivated and athletic.

Which brings us back again to Goonland and the toothless terrors who occupy its icy reaches in the National Hockey League. And to Todd Bertuzzi, the guy who hits from behind.

Others have commented on the skill of the Russian game, far removed in more ways than geography from its American cousin. It is a game that values skating above fighting, speed against sucker punches.

So it was interesting to read last week what Dave Schultz had to say about Bertuzzi and the game in which Schultz was known as The Hammer, the feared strongman who evened the score ”” as he saw it ”” for the Philadelphia Flyers. He served more penalty minutes in one season ”” 472 in the 1974-75 season ”” than any other man in the history of this street-fighting game, so he is an authority on the subject.

There was no way, of course, that Schultz could defend what Todd Bertuzzi did to Steve Moore, unless he was talking to a blind man. Since he was writing for national consumption and his audience, like him, had seen the videotape, he quickly admitted that what happened in the Vancouver-Colorado match between Bertuzzi and Moore was not a fight, but a premeditated attack.

Having said that, Schultz took a strange turn of logic. He called the reaction to the Bertuzzi incident "the usual knee-jerk outcry for new rules to ”˜clean up the sport.’"

He defended fighting, and called it "the players right to police themselves."

In no other sport do players have the right to police themselves by fighting. They are policed by rules, and because hockey is enjoyed by Americans who like violence it makes itself the exception.

Schultz wrote: "If anything, the lack of fighting, brought about by over-penalization and other attempts to sanitize the game, contributed more to this incident, and numerous other injuries, than any other factor." He ended with this: "Fighting has always had its place in the game. I hope it always will."

Have it your way, Dave. We don’t want you hammering on our door, or face, but we think you’re dead wrong.