Mediocrity is balance of NFL power

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The TV Repairman:

If the Jets zip by the Lions, the Pack stuffs the Bears, the Bengals take a bite out of the Giants, the Colts kick the Patriots (note the snappy action verbs), the Bills get buffaloed by the Vikes, the Broncos and Raiders stalemate, the Cards trump the Redskins and the Dolphins jump over the Chiefs (Free Willy) this weekend, it's Nirvana, gang: Ten teams with 7-7 records, two more at 7-6-1.

Then, if the Saints ground the Falcons and the Seahawks slip on the Oil in Houston, there's three teams at 6-8, three more at 8-6, and this doesn't even include the monumental battle in Tampa where the Rams and Bucs match 4-9 marks.

I was beginning to think that perhaps fans might be losing their fervor what with all these obviously mediocre teams still harboring hopes of ultimate conquest the last Sunday of January, but good ol' DD put us all at rest.

"Fans around the country are into it," assured Dan Dierdorf of ABC's "Monday Night Football" team. "They couldn't ask for more, 25 teams still in it [the playoff hunt], mathematically." Yes, even the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are still in it. Calm yourself, Tiger.

Skeptics might suggest, why not let the Cowboys, 49ers, Steelers, Chargers and Browns conduct a round-robin and then catch up to all the other teams who start over at 0-0 right now just in case there's no baseball ahead.

* "Judgement Day in Monterrey" -- oh-oh, Don King's writing headlines again -- goes on pay-per-view tomorrow (9 p.m.) and can't miss providing sparks with Julio Cesar Chavez, Felix Trinidad and Frankie Randall, bangers all, defending titles against Tony Lopez, unbeaten Oba Carr and Rodney Moore, respectively. A fourth championship fight, pitting middleweights Jorge Castro and John David Jackson, has been getting little hype in the event time constraints are such that it doesn't get any time on the tube.

* Howie Long has had a pretty good year spitting out opinions on the Fox Network's NFL pre-game show "Terry and the Pirates II," but he comes across as medieval complaining about quarterbacks being coddled and "not being treated like any other player on the field" by the officials. Eight QBs have been splattered by mostly illegal and immoral methods utilized by overanxious linemen and had/have concussions to prove it, some going for a pair.

The vicious helmet hits are mounting and they're all directed at the so-called skill-position players. For Long to talk about "the career of defensive linemen being ended [by injury] all the time" as a reason why open season on a quarterback should be maintained is ridiculous. Stick to the funny stuff, Howie.

* Although it's a well-known fact that broadcasts of Redskins games don't come close to being worth $3 million to a radio station, the club will get that much and more on a multi-year deal now that the D.C. sports-talk station WTEM is giving up the privilege. "The Team" nearly went belly up trying to be the "sports leader" in the capital, so it zapped most of its staff and presently is featuring lots of syndicated yap.

* That's an awful rule the Federal Communications Commission let slip by recently, the one saying that by adding six new (non-paying) channels to basic service a cable outfit can tack an extra $1.50 a month on your bill. Recall most of the stuff worth watching is not on basic but basic-plus and two more shopping networks, cartoons, Jane Fonda pushing treadmills, MTV 4 and people frying eggs ain't going to hack it.

Cable systems, by the way, can pick these fillers up for a nickel per subscriber, then whack you a buck and a half, which comes to a 400 percent surcharge for handling.

* Hey, Fox, if you insist on having Jimmy Johnson sitting in front of that fish tank at home during your Sunday NFL show, either put him in a Speedo, snorkeling gear or dress him up in Captain Ahab clothing.

* That huge sigh of relief you just heard is CBS not only extending its contract with the NCAA for college hoops (and other) into the next Ice Age, but dumping its obligation to women's basketball and having its conscience assuaged by ESPN picking it up.

Correction, that's ESPN2 doing the women's tournament, not big brother. The people in Bristol, Conn., haven't gone daft. It's terrific that the Division I Women's Basketball Committee views the change as "a giant step forward."

But exposure is a two-edged sword. Frequent appearances before the public can popularize the game but, at the same time, it can expose the game for what it is, a participation sport rarely deserving of much more than local attention.

Before the signs are prepared and the march begins, be assured that a vast majority feel that women's sports have a place in front of big-time exposure, but it should come in areas where its athletes excel (gymnastics, swimming and diving, track & field, golf, tennis, skiing, etc.).

* Not that I really want to know, but has anyone heard anything about the Bud Bowl lately?

* CBS has a decent boxing match tomorrow, unbeaten Oscar De La Hoya (14-0) testing John Avila (22-1), not that it matters. Our guys, Channel 11 and the boys in Washington (Channel 9) are both showing movies.

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