And the Hits Keep Coming

* Frankie Strongarm will love the learning. On what Sunday afternoon will the final blow come? Thirty-nine- and forty-year-old quarterbacks don't suddenly announce that they're tired and trot happily off to aerobics class. They usually take a blinding shot from some hungry young blitzer and it's over, just like that. But by then the Broncos may have Elway's successor on the roster, out of BYU or Baylor or Backwater State, and the old pro's guidance in his final weeks or months could become as valuable as the Delphic oracle. Who would Frankie Strongarm rather learn from? A quarterback coach who piddled around for parts of six games with the Colts a 120 years ago or one of the great players of all time? As Bowlen and company must know, if their timeless star does go down one afternoon, he'll get up and help the kid, you can count on that.

And the 29 mil will have nothing to do with it.

At this writing, the Colorado Avalanche is tied 2-2 in its playoff series with the Vancouver Canucks, which means there's a pretty good chance the thing could go seven games. And that's only the first leg on the run to the Stanley Cup.

Great. Keep this up and the city's hockey fans won't be able to buy shoes for their kids or put pork chops on the dinner table. There's no fanatic like a hockey fanatic (or so we're told), which means that shelling out twenty bucks a pop to watch playoff games on the boob tube takes precedence over refilling great-grandma's prescription or paying the Public Service bill. Among puckheads of modest means, there's a lot of Top Ramen coming out of the microwave this week.

Why would Ascent Entertainment Group, the Avs' owners, put first-round home playoff games onto pay-per-view and thus out of reach? Because they're greedy pigs, that's why. Of the NHL's 234 or so "playoff teams," only the New York Rangers (who won the Stanley Cup two years ago) and the St. Louis Blues are also charging their fans for the playoffs. Of course, nothing is free in New York--not the last set at Bradley's, not that second basket of bread in a high-handed Tuscan joint in the East Fifties. As for St. Louis--who knows? Somebody's gotta pay Gretzky's salary. May as well let the fans do it.

But here? In the first year of play? Just months after the Quebec Nordiques fell out of a parallel universe in the frozen north and landed in McNichols Sports Arena? Clearly, the great minds at Ascent have looked into their hearts and found them obscured by their wallets. Some kind of technical screwup in the pay-per-view apparatus (let's hope it was sabotage) "gave" Game One to Colorado's fans for free, which must have driven the Scrooges to distraction. Don't count on that happening again: The Ascent boys have had Heinrich Himmler keeping his eye on things ever since. Not one eight-year-old will slip under the tent flap Thursday night, you can bet on that.

And the thing itself, the game? If Forsberg and Roy and Ricci and the rest rise up and, through some minor miracle, survive all 23 rounds of the playoffs to win the Cup, we expect the suits who own the club will use all the excitement as a diversion while they pick pockets up in the mezzanine.

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