New Kids on the Block

How about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? As an expansion team, this collection of interior decorators lost 26 straight games before winning the last two contests of their second season in the league. They've had precious little success since: Bucs haven't seen the playoffs since 1982.

Anyone want to talk about the long-term strategies of the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams? How about the St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals? One glimpse of football horror shows like these should be enough to silence the malcontents who say Jacksonville and Carolina got success handed to them on a silver platter.

Besides, isn't it rewarding to see the Dallas Cowboys playing golf and conferring with their parole officers in mid-January? Isn't it nice to find the 49ers haunting the saloons of Pacific Heights instead of the Louisiana Superdome? Dem dynasties, dey dead. Have a nice time on the golf course, George Siefert. And when your number's up, Barry Switzer, find yourself a nice little place in Tulsa and wait quietly for those Sooner games on the boob tube.

In the end of the 1996 season, then, plucky Jacksonville and aroused Carolina got everything that was coming to them--despite the sour-grapes howls of their detractors. The Jags got a nice view of Michael Dean Perry--the symbol of Bronco lassitude--strolling his butt toward the sideline on a crucial fourth-down play that eventually led to a Jax field goal and the win. The Panthers got a glimpse of beaten Cowboys hobbling off into the sunset, which should brace up the Carolinians for seasons to come.

More power to you guys. While others walked the dog, you fought like big mean cats over pro football's big prize.

And now, here's some advice for those thousands of disappointed Bronco fans stuck with non-refundable airline reservations, scandalously overpriced tickets to the Super Bowl and French Quarter hotel rates that would give pause to the emir of Kuwait. First thing, have two dozen drinks on Decatur Street. Then wander off to dinner. It doesn't matter where you go, really. Because almost any place in the Quarter serves an excellent version of Denver's favorite dish. Humble pie.

Spring training...
Before the whacked-out Colorado Avalanche gets well enough to win another Stanley Cup, before the Pack smacks the Pats (say, 38-10), before your Tuesday night bowling league de-convenes for the spring, before your non-hoops-loving spouse files for divorce amid March Madness--before all that happens, pause for a moment to contemplate two words:

Spring training...
No matter what else happens on the planet--murderous strife in Bosnia, twelve-year-olds in New York stealing homers from the Orioles, Kevin Costner thinking about buying the Dodgers--the words "spring" and "training" make one of the happiest marriages in the language. Even if your club has no pitching again this year. Even if Bud Selig's still the commish. Even if Albert Belle throws a tantrum, Ted Turner throws another 8 billion into the Braves and Bill Swift throws a nineteen-mile-an-hour fastball.

Spring training...
The first word signifies renewal, the second useful labor, and together they mean hope. They also mean February. Have you noticed? February starts next week, and that means we'll also soon be hearing two words even more beautiful:

Play ball.

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