BALCO site is so near, yet so far from Mids, who deserve a salute


SAN FRANCISCO - If Navy is so concerned about the size of the New Mexico defensive line, the key to victory in tomorrow's Emerald Bowl is just a few miles up the freeway.

There's this lab over in Burlingame, Calif., where they can do something to level the playing field.

That's not funny, of course, but the proximity of Navy's bowl game to the infamous BALCO scandal simply amplifies all that is great about the purer form of college football that is played at the military academies.

The Midshipmen always look undersized and overmatched when they face a major college program, but that's because the Naval Academy is one of the few Division I institutions that still has its helmet on straight when it comes to intercollegiate athletics.

And somehow, coach Paul Johnson has - in relatively short order - brought the program to a level of credibility that proves you can win in Division I without bribing recruits or seriously eroding academic standards.

Admittedly, it takes some judicious scheduling. Navy probably wouldn't be in a bowl game if the Mids had to play Maryland's schedule, but they play exciting football and they do it with so much class and integrity that it's difficult for anyone (but Army, of course) to root against them.

That's why tomorrow's game against the Lobos might seem like a home game, even though it will take place almost 2,500 miles from home.

With the usual apologies to late-night host David Letterman, here's our Top Ten list of Sidney Ponson breaking news developments:

10. As part of plea bargain, Sidney agrees to stop wearing "What Would David Wells Do" Bracelet.

9. Discounts witness statements about beach flap: "I don't own a personal watercraft. ... I am a personal watercraft."

8. O's announce Sidney Ponson Mugshot Night.

7. Jailers reveal Sidney used his one phone call to order pizza.

6. Sidney blasts victim: "If that guy's a judge, I'm a consistent 15-game winner."

5. Agent Barry Praver dismisses alleged assault as just another great example of Sidney's "warrior mentality."

4. Ponson vows to be a better role model for teammate Matt Riley, then books Metallica for jailhouse keg party.

3. In weird twist of fate, ends up with lawyer who won only three of his first 15 cases last year.

2. Reality sinks in: "Eight days in jail ... no workout room ... sweet!"

1. Aruban warden speaks out: "It's not solitary confinement. There just isn't room for anyone else."

Count me in the Andy Reid column. There was quite a bit of debate during the Monday Night Football broadcast about his decision to deactivate top back Brian Westbrook and play quarterback Donovan McNabb for just one drive.

Though John Madden made a good point when he voiced concern about the Eagles needing to play together to establish a new offensive chemistry in the absence of injured Terrell Owens, the Eagles had nothing to play for and can't afford another key personnel loss so close to the playoffs.

Of course, when the Eagles lose the NFC championship game, I'll change my tune faster than a $29 guitar.

My mind was so scrambled from the frequent attempts by Al Michaels to explain the Rams' playoff contingencies Monday night that it was tough to concentrate on the all-new MNF promo for the all-new season of Alias.

I think in the first episode, Jennifer Garner is going to hook up with her CIA contacts in Aruba and spring Sidney.

Sorry, I think that's the second time this week that I've mentioned Jennifer, who I hear is dating Ben Affleck, who I hope is not giving her acting lessons.

I'm not saying Affleck's career has been floundering, but I heard that he apologized to Puerto Rican activist/free-agent first baseman Carlos Delgado recently after the Navy accidentally dropped hundreds of copies of Gigli on the island of Vieques.

This just in: The Cincinnati Reds sign former University of Maryland pitcher Eric Milton to a three-year deal worth $25.5 million.

My take: The Reds would have thought twice about giving him that kind of money if the Expos were getting ready to play in Dayton next year.

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