Sports

ON THE RINK OF WAR

So you went to a hockey game and the war broke out, eh? Hockey has taken the early lead among the sports in expressions of support for and protest against the attack on Iraq. It started before the first bombs fell on Baghdad, when the Devils visited Montreal two weeks ago and fans booed "The Star Spangled Banner." The booing intensified two days later—just after the first bombs fell—when the Islanders played the Canadiens. Fans in Florida and Atlanta retaliated by booing "O Canada" when Ottawa came to town.

The embarrassed home teams all issued apologies, both anthems were cheered again, but just when all seemed calm, in walked Don Cherry and Ron MacLean. Sparked by the booing, the co-stars of the hugely popular "Coach's Corner" intermission segment on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada telecast spent their entire seven minutes on March 22 in a wild, unenlightened exchange over whether Canada should have joined the U.S. and Great Britain. Cherry, whose abrasiveness rivals Bill O'Reilly's, blasted Canada's opposition to war, while MacLean, usually Cherry's foil, stood up for his country's independence. Though the pair were reprimanded by the CBC, it reopened debate on Canada's role that spread to the floor of Parliament.

Not to be outdone, Phoenix Coyotes managing partner Wayne Gretzky, who maintains his image as the all-Canadian boy, publicly backed Bush last week, calling him "a great leader" and "a wonderful man" whom he supported "100 percent," while at the same time saying Canadians should support their government's decision. Despite this awkward fence-straddling, Gretzky's statue in front of Edmonton's Skyreach Centre wore a handmade cardboard sign the next day with "U$ Lackey" painted on it. "We shouldn't be worried about what entertainers or athletes or Wayne Gretzky or Don Cherry say," Gretzky back-pedaled, but the damage was done.

Like Gretzky, the CBC (which said it did "not feel Hockey Night in Canada is the appropriate place for discussion on the war in Iraq") hopes to short-circuit the intersection of sports and politics. But as long as nationalist expressions—a U.S. Marine color guard accompanied the anthem before the Rangers-Penguins contest at the Garden last Wednesday—precede games, it is a disingenuous folly to maintain that the two should not mix. —Stu Hackel


MO NEEDS TO STAY IN THE GRAPEFRUIT LEAGUE

Only time will tell if taking a chance on 40-year-old comeback attemptee David Cone turns out to be a boon or a bust for the 2003 Mets. We don't want to sound any premature alarms, but it does need to be pointed out that his dismal 4-14 final year with the Yankees in 2000 and his regaining-dignity 9-7 campaign with the Red Sox in 2001 shared one striking statistic: Cone averaged only a little over five innings per start in each of those disparate seasons. Suffice it to say that any old fans looking to dust off their Coneheads may want to make sure they arrive at Shea Stadium nice and early whenever he takes the mound this year. At least Cone appears to be in good physical condition after a year away from the game, which certainly wasn't the case with Mo Vaughn after he missed a season, but clearly no meals.

Speaking of which, despite all the PR blather to the contrary, doesn't the 2003 model of "The Van" look almost identical to the one from 2002? The other day on TV they were commenting on his new more-open stance and displayed a split screen with him in the batter's box last year on the left and the "improved" spring training Mo on the right; the biggest change was that we noticed less of his gut hanging over the plate now because he was facing front more squarely. His final Grapefruit League numbers: a .245 BA (13-51), with 3 HRs and no other extra-base hits, adding up to a .430 slugging percentage, only a few points higher than that other noted Met power threat, Joe McEwing. Last year at this time Vaughn was angry that former Angel teammate Troy Percivalhad dissed him by saying he wasn't a real leader. "What's Percival won, anyway?" scoffed Vaughn back then. Suggestions for Mo's diet platter: some nice fresh crow. —Billy Altman


JOCKCLIPS

• If only Mo Vaughn would lose pounds the way the Mets are likely to lose dollars. Bankers who inspected a $130 million loan that Fred Wilponplans to use to buy out Nelson Doubleday say the team expects to lose $15 million to $20 million this year, the Sports Business Journal reports. That's a bigger loss than last year's. Of course, it's not known how much of last year's deficit was caused by Vaughn's second helpings at the post-game buffet table. • Chris "Mad Dog" Russo issued the verdict Saturday about the disastrous collapse of the Cablevision-YES talks: It was all the fault of YES. "Case closed," he proclaimed. Not so fast, Mad Dog. Nobody in good conscience can defend YES's Leo Hindery, and Russo aptly shared mediator Richard Aurelio's frustrations, but you can't absolve the Dolans that easily. Look, blame Chamberlain (that's Neville, not Wilt) for Munich, but look who he was dealing with. • Best player in the Final Four? You and the announcers take Texas's T.J. Ford. We'll take Dwayne Wade, not only for his potential as a pro but at this moment in the here and now. Playing off-guard, he still got a rare collegiate triple-double in Marquette's surprising dispatch of Kentucky in the NCAAs. —Ward Harkavy

 
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