Our Year in Sports


Revenge of the Nerds

As the Kubrickian year dawns, creatine-fueled behemoths still work the sports world's glamour jobs, draining 18-foot J's and befuzzing Troy Aikman's cerebellum with punishing helmet-to-chinstrap hits. But with Byzantine salary-cap machinations a front-office staple, a team's odds of earning the "bling bling" are increasingly determined by pocket-protectored, weak-as-kittens bean counters. Shooting guards and linebackers may get the girls and Get Out of Jail Free cards, but capologists are the real muscle behind America's championship squads. Or, when payrolls slip out of whack and you've got a Juwan Howard/San Francisco 49ers debacle at hand, capologists are the goats who reduce loyal fans to paper-bag-on-head woe.

Hail, then, to Kevin Abrams, the 29-year-old Canadian sports-management major who rescued the New York Giants from the twin scourges of salary-cap Armageddon and Kent Graham. Jeers to his Jets counterpart, Mike Tannenbaum, who prematurely balked at Keyshawn Johnson's prospective haul as unmanageable, thereby saddling hapless Al Groh with a trio of dwarfish wideouts. (Hope you enjoy your January vacation, Mike.) Thumbs up to the anonymous Jerry West aide who computed a way to fit Kobe, Glenn Rice, the Big Graduate, and celibate rebounding robot A.C. Green onto the same payroll for one title-winning year. And thumbs down—way down, as Roger Ebert might quip about any Pauly Shore vehicle—to the numbskull accountant who cobbled together the Washington Wizards' roster, an overpriced catastrophe doomed to a multiyear bout with Clipperdom.

Capology's prominence may strike traditionalists as yet another symbol of pro sports' dreary evolution from lightweight pastime to Gordon Gekko-ish conglomerate. The race, after all, is supposed to go to the swift, not to the crew backed by the sharpest C.P.A. But the geekification of bigtime athletics has some pluses, too. There's a certain entertainment value in hearing John Madden stumble over the tongue-twisting phrase "disastrous cap situation." Seeing wizened salary-cap casualties prance about in strange uniforms—Patrick Ewing in Supersonics emerald green, Bruce Smith in Redskins scarlet-and-gold—is not without its charms. And, of course, there is something cosmically comforting about knowing that karma has run its course, that the four-eyed smarties picked last for dodge ball now lord over the jocks' professional fates. —Brendan I. Koerner


Love on the Subway

New Yorkers make the mistake of believing their own bad publicity. How else to explain the 700 cops deployed at Shea for John Rocker's protection, with nothing more to show for their overtime checks than tracking down an errant ball ejected from the stands? While west of the Hudson we're universally viewed as pushy, mean, violence-prone kikes and whops, you have only to drop a glove on the 7 train and nine people of five different races and three sexes will rush to retrieve it before you exit the closing doors.

So why did we buy the hype of brother-on-brother violence, blood in the streets, and stadium conflagrations that were predicted for the Subway Series? Perhaps a fuse was lit by the Rocket's beaning of Mike Piazza during the battle for the Merc Cup (Wall Street's bauble awarded to New York's interleague champ each year). So when the fall's big dance began, outside agitators couldn't have asked for more than Roger's conscious/unconscious/overly emotional/brain-locked (pick one) attempt to finish the job in Game 2 with a shard of bat right out of Steve Yeager's worst nightmare.

Still, that ludicrous moment was diffused a couple of games later by the preternaturally mature Derek Jeter, who cleanly fielded yet another shattered bat head and paused for a theatrical beat before wryly smiling and handing it off to a batboy. We all needed that moment of dark humor, because this series was becoming just too much to bear: No true fan could stand to lose to those scumbags across town, but all of us had friends, coworkers, family, and lovers who would suffer no matter what the outcome.

So while the rest of America greeted our bountiful curse with indifference (as evidenced by abysmal TV ratings), we turned to each other, if not necessarily for succor, then at least without hatred. Joe Torre's face said it all: Throughout the series he looked like a man who'd just spent way too long on a stalled D train—haggard, edgy, exhausted, and just praying for this ride to end. Yet the subway is part of the reason New Yorkers do what seems so hard for so many other Americans—we joke, argue, even despise and disdain each other, but somehow manage to live jammed together with less homicide than history and current events give us reason to expect.

Indeed, the most flagrant fan attack was perpetrated at Yankees.com, where visitors the morning after victory were greeted by a photo (captioned "Yankees Suck") of a man's shaven, spread buttocks (cognoscenti noted his wedding ring) exposing an anus that looked to have spent serious quality time with the business end of one of those broken bats. While love is myriad in its expressions, hate always gets the best lines, so perhaps this Yankee-hating hacker could have expressed even more to his brethren by uploading the same photo with a different headline: "Duh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh YankeeeesWin!" —Bob Baker

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