Sports

McGAHEE'S KNEE BENDS WRONG. SO DOES THE NFL.

Forget about the national championship and the winning streak. Miami running back Willis McGahee lost far more than that in the Fiesta Bowl. In the days after the game, the star sophomore running back had planned to declare himself for the NFL draft, where the Mel Kuipers of the world projected him as the first back taken, in the top 10 overall. Instead, he had major reconstructive surgery to repair ruptured ligaments in his knee. At the minimum, McGahee will miss some, or even all, of next season. At worst, his football career could be in jeopardy.

Those with a bent for irony will remember that McGahee got the starting nod for Miami when Frank Gore went down for the season with a similar knee injury, and Gore will likely get his old job back until McGahee returns. Let this be a lesson to those who lambasted Ohio State freshman running back Maurice Clarett for even suggesting that he might go pro after one season. Running backs live one hit away from early retirement, so Clarett, who made a quick and quiet exit from the postbowl frivolity, must realize that he's better off carrying the ball for a seven-figure paycheck than for the glory of the Buckeyes. "You can always come back to school," he reasoned earlier this season. "I don't think there's a job in the world where you're gonna make $113 million in 12 years." To enter the draft, Clarett would have to challenge NFL rules, which prohibit drafting players who aren't three years out of high school. Paul Tagliabue's bunch has signaled that they'll stand firm on those rules—which seem to fly in the face of established right-to-work principles—and drag the case and any appeals out so that Clarett would miss both the draft and the next college season. Which means that Clarett would be entering the NFL after a year or even two on the sidelines, but with two healthy knees and most likely a sizable judgment against the league in his bank account. If you think that's a worst-case scenario, ask Willis McGahee. —Allen St. John


HOW DO YOU SHUT OFF A MIKE?

The re-emergence of Bill Parcells has resurrected an interesting media conundrum: To what extent should WFAN's Mike Francesa—arguably New York's most influential sports radio voice—recuse himself from covering Parcells, a longtime friend whom he describes as "so close, he's like a family member"? This issue usually hovers as an unspoken element around Francesa's coverage of Parcells, but it came to the forefront January 2—the day Parcells was officially named coach of the Cowboys— when a caller on Francesa's Mike and the Mad Dog show suggested that the broadcaster should refrain from any Parcells commentary because of his conflict of interest. Francesa, whose belligerence, short temper, and control-freak tendencies are rivaled only by Parcells's own, exploded. "It's not a conflict of interest!" he shouted. "If I didn't reveal the nature of my relationship with him, then it would be a conflict of interest. But I've always been upfront about it, so there's no conflict."

Now there's a novel line of reasoning—as if admitting an ethical breach somehow excuses it. Of course, sports talk radio isn't the same as real journalism, and it's probably unrealistic to expect Francesa to simply clam up on a subject as big as Parcells. But his refusal to admit his obvious conflict of interest is disingenuous at best, a serious disservice to his listeners at worst. Then again, it's no surprise to find Francesa showing contempt for rules and ethics—after all, his "close family member" has been doing the same with coaching contracts for years. —Paul Lukas


THE YANKS' MIDDLING RELIEF

In adding Jose Contreras and Roger Clemens to an already crowded fold, the Yankees triggered a comical war of words with their age-old rivals. While Red Sox president Larry Lucchino melodramatically intoned, "The evil empire extends its tentacles even into Latin America" (can an empire have tentacles?), his Bronx counterparts spoke of "whining" and "sour grapes." If general manager Brian Cashman doesn't get his freak on soon, however, Lucchino's going to have the last laugh.

Sure, the Yanks have eight starters lined up (for $56 million per annum), but all the aces in the world won't get them back to the World Series unless they beef up their bullpen. The likely rotation—Clemens, Contreras, David Wells, Andy Pettitte, and Mike Mussina—averaged 6.4 innings a game last year (Contreras's numbers not available), so the relief corps will be facing a sizable workload. And given the Big Five's age and fragility, expect young whippersnapper Jeff Weaver to spend time spot-starting. With El Duque and Sterling Hitchcock as trade bait, that leaves lefty Chris Hammond and righty Steve Karsay as the club's setup men.

In fact, despite a much-vaunted farm system, the Bombers haven't produced a viable reliever since Ramiro Mendoza joined the organization in 1992, nor a dominant starter since Pettitte. Compare that to the current home-grown roster of Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Alfonso Soriano (plus the promising Nick Johnson) and it's obvious that Yankee pitching has major problems at the minor-league level. Even more alarming, Cashman recently intimated that he thinks Randy Choate can replace Mike Stanton as the team's late-inning go-to lefty. The day Choate—whose performance over the past three seasons varied from bad in Columbus to worse in the Bronx—becomes the next Mike Stanton is the day George Steinbrenner starts profit-sharing with the Stadium janitors. —J.Y. Yeh

 
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