THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THUGS

I don't know what kind of pictures you've pasted into your book of golden memories in recent months, but you're welcome to rest a while and look at mine:

Here's Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Greg Lloyd trying to decapitate quarterback Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers. Here's Greg Lloyd with his lawyer; they're weighing the merits of a lawsuit against the league because it fined poor Greg $14,000 for his cheap shot.

There's professional tennis player Jeff Tarango storming off the lawn in the middle of a match at Wimbledon because he thinks he got a bad call. Oh, and that's Jeff's wife decking the chair umpire. Next, there's Jeff playing on center court in an early round of his next tournament, even though he's ranked something like 458th in the world. Clearly, the organizers now see him as a crowd pleaser.

Go ahead. Turn the page.
See that guy? The one throwing two folding chairs into the whirlpool with one hand and strangling a local TV reporter with the other? That's Albert Belle of the Cleveland Indians. Doesn't talk much, Albert, but he hit fifty home runs this season, played in the World Series and finished second in the American League MVP voting.

Good likeness, don't you think?
You have to be pretty sharp to recognize the next two fellows, the ones with the fire suits, space helmets and full-face visors. Stumped? The one on the left is Formula One driving champion Michael Schumacher, from Germany, and the other guy is his chief rival, Damon Hill, son of the late, great Graham Hill. The reason Mike and Damon look a little wobbly in this shot is that they've just run each other off the road at 135 miles an hour. You'd think they'd get used to it: They did it almost every race this year.

Turn, please.
Hey, there's my eight-year-old. Little Charlie. Looks pretty good in that football uniform, doesn't he? You know what? Charlie's only played five games in peewees, but he can already do one helluva touchdown dance in the end zone. And you should hear the bad-ass stuff he says to the kids on the other teams. I don't know where he picked up some of those words, but the other night at McDonald's he was complaining that we didn't name him "Deion." Cute, no?

Whaddya mean, ya gotta go? Come on, let's see a few more. This is really great stuff.

Look at this one. That's New York Yankees pitcher Jack McDowell giving a middle-finger salute to the booing fans as he heads for the dugout in the House that Ruth Built. Black Jack doesn't brook any nonsense, that's for sure. And here's one of my favorites. Guy on the bottom is reliever Randy Myers of the Cubs. Guy on top is the Chicago bond trader who couldn't take it anymore when Myers gave up another home run in the late innings one day this summer. So the guy leaped out of the stands, charged the mound and started whacking old Randy around pretty good.

Man, did they replay that a few times on SportsCenter.
Hey, where d'ya think you're going? We haven't even gotten to the Italian bike racers duking it out during the Tour de France. What a hoot. Or the hockey fight pictures. Got lots of those--with and without jerseys pulled up over the heads. And wait until you get a load of the European soccer riot stuff. Got two awfully good shots of a referee being torn apart by fans in Holland. Just hold your horses a minute, willya? There's an entire section in here on Barry Bonds. And Mike Tyson's mug shots. Hey. Don't you wanna see Mike Mamula give John Elway a concussion in Philadelphia? How about a couple of very special views of George Steinbrenner? Wait. Don't go. Please. I've got that Tonya Harding honeymoon video...

In other words, fans, things have gotten out of hand. Sports can still be matchlessly beautiful to watch, and the athletes themselves are more talented than ever. But our obsessive sports culture grows uglier by the day.

God isn't dead. He plays for the Dallas Cowboys, has 75 million bucks' worth of endorsement contracts and eats stuffed-crust pizza on the boob tube with his boss. God is Tommy LaSorda stamping and shouting in Los Angeles, Dan Reeves fuming in New Jersey and outfielder Vince Coleman setting off cherry bombs out in the crowded stadium parking lot. God is Andre Agassi pulling a "Tennis Sucks" T-shirt over his head--there's an ad campaign for you--as every teenage girl from Flushing Meadow to Seattle swoons helplessly. Meanwhile, the TV camera leers at his girlfriend, Brooke Shields, who's perspiring demurely in the expensive seats.

God's on ice. Pro hockey teams value their "enforcers," but no more than the fans who sling cups of beer at the opposing benches. God rushes the passer. Football loves its thugs--Bryce Paup (twelve thousand in fines), Keith Hamilton (twelve thousand), Mamula (eight thou)--and from the comfort of the broadcast booth, motor-mouthed former quarterback Joe Thiesman speaks up for unlimited maiming: "Don't make wimps out of quarterbacks," he says. "Button up your chin strap and play like a man."

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