Breaking Away

Deirdre Murphy is a native New Yorker—born and raised in Manhattan. She’s 41 years old. She used to smoke two packs a day.

Now she’s competing in the Olympics.

For Ireland.

The former Wall Street career woman is now a world-class cyclist, and she’ll be riding in the 126-km road race event in Sydney on Tuesday, September 26. She comprises the entire Irish Olympic women’s cycling team. A dual citizen of the U.S. and Ireland, Murphy is the emerald isle’s first as well as its only female road racer.

This being the Olympics, Murphy has that “chase your dream” attitude about her biking achievements. “All through being a teen, until my mid-thirties, I thought if I could find my passion I’d be really successful. I wasn’t willing to settle for being normal,” she says, without a hint of arrogance. “But I never found the thing I was passionate about—to be above average—until I found cycling.”

Murphy’s biking career started with a 1992 New Year’s resolution: quit smoking and start racing. She began in Central Park, finishing last in her first competition (which happened to be the first bike race she ever saw). But she persevered—and improved—and won a world master’s (over 30) championship and two U.S. national master’s championships.

There were prices to pay along the way, of course—both physical and financial. She broke her bones and quit her job—sacrifices to her training. She also sold her Greenwich Village co-op and moved into a cramped walk-up—more money for racing. Murphy estimates she’s spent some $75,000 for her passage to Sydney.

Even Murphy’s peers consider her Olympic berth remarkable. “Ididn’t start until I was 21, and that’s late,” says Laura Charameda, a retired pro cyclist and alternate to the 1996 U.S. Olympic cycling team. Charameda, who resides in California, has been coaching Murphy via e-mail since March. “She travels around the world, suffering through all kinds of weather to train and race. But she gets to go to the Olympics, something she can live with the rest of her comfortable life.”

Coach of Class

Give Giants coach Jim Fassel credit: Unlike a certain former Big Blue coach, who once referred to a player as “she” (the player had the bad luck of being given a unisex first name), he won’t make jokes at the expense of his players. During a recent postgame press conference, Fassel was answering questions about his decision to fine wideouts Ronald Dixon and Ike Hilliard for sleeping through a Saturday practice when a beat writer jokingly asked whether the two roommates were “sleeping together.” As most of the press corps laughed, Fassel glared at the scribe and snapped, “That ain’t funny to me.”

The laughter stopped and the message was clear: Fassel doesn’t want his press conferences to become fodder for SportsCenter sound bites, as Bill Parcells‘s comment about receiver Terry Glenn did when Tuna was coaching in New England. An honest and earnest man, Fassel definitely did not want be placed in the unenviable position of making a politically incorrect comment, or of inadvertently starting rumors about two of his young players (Dixon is a rookie). Not that Fassel doesn’t have a sense of humor. Earlier in the same press conference, he jokingly chided Giants PR man Pat Hanlon for interrupting him. But during his tenure in New York, Fassel has made it a practice to never publicly question or criticize his players or coaches, and he has frequently defended them, often at the expense of his own image. If the Giants’ 3-0 start doesn’t hold up, and Fassel doesn’t make it past this season—as many expect—his integrity will be missed in the Meadowlands.

Money, It’s Gotta Be the Shoes

Dedicated Uni Watch readers may recall a column last autumn that focused on the footwear stylings of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While every other NFL team was wearing white shoes, the Bucs were wearing black, because, as a team spokesman explained, black provided “a tougher, more menacing look.” But the Bucs have company this year: The Chicago Bears, after more than a dozen white-shod seasons, are wearing black shoes this year.

Why the switcheroo? “It’s just something the team decided to do,” says a team spokesman. When asked if “the team” means the players, management, or what, the fellow unexpectedly circles the wagons: “Look, I talked to our equipment guy, and that’s what he told me to say—’the team decided.’ So that’s it.” And did the Bears, like the Bucs before them, opt for black shoes in order to project a more fearsome presence on the gridiron? “I have no idea,” he says. “It could be style, it could be intimidation, it could just be that they like the shoes.” Whatever the rationale, it hasn’t worked out so far: The Bears are 0-3.

Bored Games

Beyond frustrated with NBC’s manhandling of the Olympics last Saturday, Jockbeat pulled out a watch and timed how much of their broadcast was actual event coverage. The result: from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., only 55 minutes and 55 seconds of the 120 minutes was dedicated to showing actual events. The balance of the two hours consisted of profiles, commercials, and Bob Costas‘s increasingly irritating prattle.

Contributors: Diane Herbst, Brian P. Dunleavy, Paul Lukas, Brian Parks

Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman