Just as he was the most intriguing figure in January's national championship football game, former Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips will serve the same function at this weekend's NFL draft, and the newly minted Baltimore Ravens should be right in the middle of all that intrigue.
The Ravens have the fourth pick in the first round Saturday, and could find themselves in position to take Phillips, who comes to the draft table with a world of talent and just as much controversy.
Phillips, widely acknowledged as the best running back in this year's field, is on probation for assaulting his former girlfriend, and his selection likely will touch off a firestorm of protest, the kind of notoriety spurred by a club's move from Cleveland.
"The sky's the limit for what he can do on the football field, but it would be a gamble and a gutsy move," said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper.
Kiper, a Baltimore native, said during a conference call yesterday that the cue to whether the Ravens make the call on Phillips will come two picks earlier when the Jacksonville Jaguars make their choice.
Illinois linebacker Kevin Hardy is believed to be the best at his position in the draft, and the Jaguars are presumed to be interested in taking him, but Kiper has heard that the second-year team has cooled on Hardy.
If that's the case, and Hardy slips past the Arizona Cardinals, who pick between Jacksonville and Baltimore, then the Ravens, who have a more acute need at linebacker, will have to make the choice between Hardy and Phillips.
"Baltimore would love to see Hardy there. If not, they're going to have to make the decision on Lawrence Phillips and that will be [owner] Art Modell's call," said Kiper.
At any rate, the Phillips saga will be an important part of ESPN's blanket draft coverage. The network plans a feature on the running back and has asked permission of his agent to have a camera crew with him in Los Angeles should he elect not to go to draft headquarters in New York.
'X' marks chilly spot
ESPN yesterday announced plans for a winter version of its extreme games competition, to air next January from a yet-to-be determined site.
Dubbed the "Winter X Games," the four-day event, to be shown over 16 hours on both ESPN networks, will air competition in sports such as snowboarding, ice climbing, snow bicycling, and something called super-modified shovel racing, in which competitors ride downhill at speeds up to 70 mph in a "gravity-propelled aerodynamic vehicle."
Where do we sign up?
We hear from Atlanta that NBC affiliate WXIA is planning to give former gymnast Mary Lou Retton up to seven minutes during each day's 5 p.m. newscast during the Summer Olympics.
Retton, who won five medals at the 1984 Games, plans to provide some personal insight into what the competitors are thinking, telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently that, "I'm hoping to get into some of the hot parties. You know, the Olympics is really one long social event, which you don't know when you're an athlete."
Besides her news judgment, what's interesting about Retton's assignment is the amount of daily time she'll be receiving. Seven minutes is at least two minutes longer than most sports anchors at a major-market station receive during an hour-long newscast.
Pub Date: 4/17/96