All Choked Up

Last week Iverson was suspended again for missing a team practice.

Exhibit B: Leaders Gone Astray
Did it surprise anybody in the Lower 48 when Darrell Walker, coach of the hapless Toronto Raptors, recently gave a middle-finger salute to a Utah Jazz fan? Or that Barry Switzer, coach of America's Team, the Dallas Cowboys, recently pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor weapons charge after sticking a .38 revolver into his travel bag last August? Or that New Orleans Saints coach Mike Ditka, so often sentimentalized as a good, old-fashioned disciplinarian, can go ballistic at the press conference following every Saints loss and still be embraced for his rough charms?

Remember the Canadian youth-hockey coach convicted of molesting his young charges? How about our man Luis Rosa? He's the Latin American scout for the San Francisco Giants (and, previously, other teams) recently imprisoned on charges that he demanded sexual favors from fifteen Dominican minor-leaguers in exchange for playing time.

The team owners are another breed altogether. Between the Napoleonic imperialist George Steinbrenner (fearfully called "The Boss") and the unbridled dog owner and apparent neo-Nazi Marge Schott, there's not much to choose from. Right here on this very spot we've got Pat Bowlen, an unapologetic extortionist who says he'll take his ballclub and go elsewhere if the taxpayers don't build him a new stadium. After the grumbling, beaten-up Broncos get knocked off in the playoffs, the fans might feel like taking him up on that.

At last, we have the spectacle of Eddie DeBartolo. Latrell Sprewell may have threatened his coach ("Bitch, you're gonna trade me or I'm gonna kill you"), but the very next day DeBartolo threatened the integrity of one of this year's likely Super Bowl teams--the aforementioned San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers owner stepped down after he was named as a target in a federal investigation focused on former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards. Allegedly, DeBartolo paid Edwards $400,000 to become a "consultant" on a $194 million riverboat casino project planned for Bossier City, Louisiana. Edwards held no public office at the time, so DeBartolo cannot be charged with bribery. But the FBI remains very interested in the case, and the rumors that DeBartolo--head of one of pro sports' most successful franchises--is mobbed up have resurfaced.

The whole scene--spoiled kids, stained mentors and runaway egos--almost makes you nostalgic for the old days, when fighters took dives for lunch money and the White Sox busied themselves throwing the World Series but spit only in the dirt.

Your Denver Broncos are homeboys, all right. Over the last two seasons, Elway and his mates have put together a perfect 16-0 regular-season record at Mile High Stadium, capped off Sunday afternoon by their 38-3 demolition of the San Diego Chargers--despite the absence of star running back Terrell Davis. In sore need of a shot of adrenalin following consecutive losses at Pittsburgh and San Francisco, the Broncs got one Sunday. Home, sweet home.

Still, no one within a hundred miles of Pat Bowlen's ego can forget the one game the Broncos have lost at home. January 4, 1997: Jacksonville 30, Denver 27. Regarded as the biggest upset since David knocked off Goliath, it has eaten away at head coach Mike Shanahan and his stunned troops for a full year. The Jaguars' Natrone Means--a bruising, 242-pound running back in the style of, let's see here, Pittsburgh's bruising, 243-pound Jerome Bettis--shredded the Denver defense with 140 yards rushing. Scrambling Mark Brunell, a quarterback who's a younger version of, hmmmm, the 49ers' Steve Young, passed for 245 yards and two touchdowns.

Sound grim for the long-awaited rematch this Saturday afternoon?
Yes, it does. But don't expect the Jaguars to sneak up on a listless, distracted bunch of Donks this time around. Revenge is a dish best served cold, and the forecast, right out of the homeboys' freezer, is for temperatures in the 20s.

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