Sports

Coach Crusty

"He's a dour, taciturn tower of pabulum." That's the word on new Jets head man Bill Belichick. It comes from a writer in Cleveland, where little Bill was head coach from 1991 to '95.

Back in his rust belt days, the young Belichick warred with the local media from day one, often dismissing questions with a single word or a cold stare. For that, the press blamed the Browns headman for almost everything, including the fleeing of their football team to Baltimore. It didn't help that his squads went 37-45 and he unceremoniously dumped local hero Bernie Kosar. Now that Belichick's a focal point in tabloid central, the past doesn't suggest a bright media future for a man who possesses all of Bill Parcells's crotchety edges but none of his gruff charm.

"If you treat the media like it's the scum of the earth," says Doug Clarke, a sports columnist with Jockbeat's sister publication, the Cleveland Free Times, "when a guy goes back to his computer, how many warm words are going to come out?" Sounds like a lot of bombastic Post headlines are in the offing. Maybe even more than usual.

Especially if you consider one tale from another Browns beat writer who preferred not to be named: Prior to Belichick's hiring in Cleveland, he says, both Giants owner Wellington Mara and former general manager George Young cautioned the Browns against hiring the defensive guru. Apparently, they felt that BB's deficient, uh, people skills would trip him up.

After taking aim at Belichick, it wasn't long before the Cleveland media (and, consequently, the fans) started targetting the team, a situation the beat writer believes led to Art Modell's Walter O'Malley act. "Belichick took over a team that was 3-13 and could have had the media and the town in the palm of his hand. But he turned the entire thing around on himself. If he had had a different personality, I think Modell's Browns would still be here."

 


Midnight Run

Amid an exotic swirl of klieg lights, fireworks, and a cloud of mist that rose off the throng, a gun sounded and kicked off one of the odder city sporting traditions last Friday night. The annual three-mile midnight run through Central Park held its 21st race this New Year's eve, and the scene at the starting gate was of millennial mayhem, awash in a tidal overflow of runners and revelers.

The race commenced at West 67th Street at the stroke of midnight, simultaneous with the tremendous ear-clattering burst of fireworks on the great lawn. The surge of runners pushed its way north up Park Drive, then spilled out onto Central Park West, where an incredulous collection of spectators lined the avenue. Exuberant, drunken, and dressed to the nines, the runners extended sweatshirt—as well as satin—covered arms to slap palms with the sidewalk gawkers, many of whom joined the race. It made for an interesting mix of milers: wheezing, rotund party-animals, late entrants clopping along in wing tips and loafers, and the shambling gait of those who'd had a bit too much of the drink.

Pity the serious runners; heads down and intensely focused in a careful rhythmic stride while the rest of the wild stream of pikers and posers yelled out at random, crisscrossed their paths, and generally made life miserable for the sober. In short, it was as unusual a cross-section of the citizenry as you are likely to find engaged in an athletic event this side of table hockey.

As the race neared its conclusion, a pair of elegant sixtyish women in full-length furs and pearls stood discretely to the side of the route, champagne in hand. They murmured and waved to the runners, as one leaned toward the other and said, "I'd never have thought they'd be able to finish. I can't imagine what it is that makes them keep running."

 


Football's Finest Field General

With the mediocre millennial closings of the Jets and Giants, consider for a moment local football's (if not the entire planet's) all-time winningest coach. In this, his 44th year at the helm, Pudgy Walsh rode the semipro Brooklyn Mariners to a 12-1 record, before losing 10-7 in the national quarterfinals to the Pennsylvania Piranha.

That leaves the crusty retired NYC Fire Department lieutenant's overall record at 455-81 and counting (Walsh recently signed with Disney for a TV sitcom based on his life). "It's his team," says fullback and 17-year Mariner veteran Rich Visco, a Wall Street investor who broke an ankle playing this season. "Other teams come and go, sponsored by Nike and Pepsi. They last maybe a couple of years. Pudgy goes on doing it all on his own."

What keeps him going? "These guys," Pudgy was saying back in October, with a sweeping gesture toward a collection of working stiff/sandlot headbangers. "They do with their youthful enthusiasm." Come playoffs, Mariner opponents have been known to entice NFL castoffs with cash offerings, something Pudgy says he would never do. "I don't pay 'em, I just play 'em."

 


Liberty Medical Ward, Continued

At least one Liberty starter won't be going under the knife in the off-season. Last week's MRI of Vickie Johnson's left shoulder came back with no evidence of serious damage, reports agent Erica McKeon. So unlike most of the rest of the ailing roster—Rebecca Lobo re-tearing her ACL, Teresa Weatherspoon still suffering toe trouble, to name just two—VJ gets a bloodless Rx: six weeks of physical therapy.

CONTRIBUTORS: PAUL FORRESTER, SINCLAIR RANKIN, JOHN STRAVINSKY,

ALISA SOLOMON SPORTS EDITOR: MILES D. SELIGMAN

 
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