By all rights, Dennis Conner should be one of America's most beloved sports heroes. After all, as captain of Stars & Stripes, he has helped keep the America's Cup in American hands by winning two of the past three Cup finals, a patriotic achievement if ever there was one.
But Conner, who is poised to go for another win, when his crew meets Black Magic from New Zealand on Saturday (4 p.m., ESPN) in the first of a best-of-nine set, is not universally loved. In fact, there's a fair contingent of people who would just as soon see the Cup go to the Kiwis as have Conner get a fourth.
"Dennis Conner is a man that people either love or hate," said Gary Jobson, one of ESPN's sailing analysts and an Annapolis resident. "Those who are close to him are immensely loyal, but it takes a lot to get close to him."
In recent weeks, Conner has engendered ill will for his intemperate statements about the abilities of the mostly women's crew he defeated to reach the Cup final, as well as the last-second deal that got him into the defender finals after it appeared that he was going to be eliminated.
Conner is a pronounced underdog in this series, but Jobson said he'll spring an upset.
"I think he's going to pull it off," said Jobson, who will be joined at the mikes by host Jim Kelly and co-analyst Peter Isler. "He has a tremendous crew, and a lot of these people have sailed through this before. It's unique that you take the best sailing crew and put them on the best boat."
Baltimore City residents will have access to programming from the nation's newest all-sports cable channel, the Classics Sports Network, which will debut Saturday.
Though the network, which will launch with an all-day salute to Muhammad Ali, will not appear regularly on United Artists, much of its programming will be available through "Prime Sports Showcase," which does air on UA. Classics has access to film and television archives of the four major team sports, as well as more than 18,000 boxing films.
Channel 2 is dispatching weekend anchor Keith Mills, a cameraman, producer and director to Churchill Downs for Saturday's Kentucky Derby. Mills will report live tomorrow and Saturday, and the crew will collect stories for the unprecedented, 7 1/2 -hour, pre-race show before the Preakness in two weeks.
By the way, Mills has re-upped with Channel 2 for another three years.
A shining moment
Washington Bullets forward Juwan Howard, who left Michigan after his junior year, recently returned to Ann Arbor to receive his bachelor's degree, and "NBA Inside Stuff" hooked him up with a wireless mike for a story that airs Saturday.
But, unless you can get Washington's Channel 4, you'll be out of luck, because Channel 11 won't be carrying "Inside Stuff" (noon) this weekend.
Turner NBA commentator Doug Collins certainly will be missed from the analyst ranks when he takes the Detroit Pistons coaching job after the playoffs, but let's hope he doesn't uncork any more whoppers such as the one he let loose Tuesday night during the Chicago-Charlotte game.
Collins called Bulls forward Scottie Pippen a "team player" who would do anything to help his teammates.
Hmmm. Did Collins, who once coached Pippen in Chicago, develop brain lock, or did he conveniently forget the Scottie Pippen who:
* Begged out of the deciding game of a playoff series because of a headache?
* Whined about the Bulls' reliance on Michael Jordan?
* Whimpered about the addition of Toni Kukoc to the lineup?
* Refused to play the final 1.8 seconds of Game 3 of last season's playoff series against the New York Knicks because the final play was designed for Kukoc and not him?
Come on, Doug. Don't go revisionist in your final days at a microphone.