A TOUGH EGG—SO FAR
OK, raise your hands if you doubted Glen Sather‘s sanity (never mind his competence) when he swung the Eric Lindros deal last summer—especially after the Rangers’ GM apparently bungled a trade with Pittsburgh for Jaromir Jagr. Wow, lots of you. No wonder: Instead of the NHL’s leading scorer, Sather landed the Big Eggshell, a concussion-prone troublemaker who was bad news waiting to happen.
Now, with the National Hockey League season at the quarter pole, let’s look at the early results.
Jagr, of course, headed to Washington, where his star power (in the words of Boston Globe writer Kevin Paul Dupont) “would lift the franchise’s profile higher than the Washington Monument, finally making hockey the happening game in downtown D.C. Pay no attention to the bald man bouncing that basketball. Cup fever was about to capture the district’s imagination.” Starting this week, the Caps are four games under .500. Jagr, bothered by a bad knee, played in 13 of Washington’s first 20 games and had six goals and five assists. When he’s been on the ice at even strength, opponents have outscored the Caps by six, and there are rumblings he’s not getting along with his new playmates and coach. He did get his contract extended, however, and will make $80 million in the next seven seasons.
On the other hand, the Rangers are first in their division and conference, and Lindros is the brightest new bulb on Broadway. He’s turned boos into leather-lunged cheers, especially while being the catalyst in a crackling grudge match over his old Flyers team and notching a hat trick against lowly Atlanta. In his last 11 games heading into this week, No. 88 had nine goals and six assists. He’s missed no games and is the team’s top bodychecker. And his reputation as a dressing-room cancer? No one’s even hearing whispers about his meddlesome parents. Instead we hear Mark Messier telling reporters, “Let’s make no mistake about it: Eric is our best player and the most important player on the team. When he’s on his game, he’s the most dominant player in the league.”
Sure, that big open-ice hit might still turn Lindros into Humpty Dumpty, but if there’s finally some hope in Rangerland, thank Lindros—and Sather.
KING FOR A DAY
The media whores who followed the activities of Hasim Rahman, the best talker since Muhammad Ali, were taught a lesson last Saturday night. They learned that in boxing it’s the winners who ultimately write and record history, not the trash talkers with the best lines. Lennox Lewis (39-2-1, 30 KOs) proved that point when he knocked out Rahman (35-3, 29 KOs) with 1:29 to go in round 4 to reclaim the heavyweight crown.
At least Rahman, the subject of an ESPN documentary that ran for weeks leading up to the fight, will have plenty of footage to look back on during what he called “the best ride of my life.” For a brief spell, he was the baddest man on the planet.
That’s because when a heavyweight boxer shows glimpses of the Ali persona—the bragging and boasting—sportswriters shower that fighter with more attention than he deserves. Such was the case with Rahman when he knocked Lewis out in South Africa last April. That was the day the press fell in love with Rahman, and it was also the day Rahman fell in love with his titles.
Rahman knew to enjoy his stardom while it lasted. The Lennox Lewis he knocked out in South Africa wasn’t going to break training for the rematch to shoot a movie. Lewis, more focused and prepared this time, posed a serious threat to his titles.
Rahman battled against time to make the most of his championship reign. He was like Richard Pryor in the film Brewster’s Millions as the title character who has 30 days to spend $30 million or he won’t get his inheritance. Instead of 30 days Rahman had seven months before the rematch with Lewis.
Rahman went on a boxing spree, dumping his longtime promoter, Cedric Kushner, the guy who had gotten him the title shot with Lewis. He signed with Don King, a promoter famous for shortchanging his fighters. Rahman defiantly turned down a TV deal with HBO worth millions of dollars. Instead, he bet that a win versus Lewis would sweeten the pot even more.
At the press conferences before the rematch, Rahman held court as if he were doing a bit at the Improv, taunting Lewis with such skill, The New York Times said, he was like “an actor in a movie about a fighter” who becomes heavyweight champion of the world.
The performance continued when Rahman waited outside of Lewis’s dressing room 30 minutes before last weekend’s fight, camera crew in tow, because he wanted to watch Lewis tape his hands, a ritual normally reserved for cornermen, not opponents.
The games finally came to an end, however, when Lewis, on edge and nervous, slammed home a left-right combination that dropped Rahman, revoking his heavyweight championship privileges for good. Rahman ended his stand-up career flat on his back.
Contributors: Stu Hackel, Mitch Abramson Sports Editor: Ward Harkavy