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Breaking the Ice

"I think it will really legitimize our sport for people who have no idea that women play," said forward Sandra Whyte, who played four seasons of hockey at Harvard while earning a degree in bio-anthropology. "The biggest thing, I think, is that they'll be surprised how aggressively we play, how intense the game is, how rough." She narrowed her eyes and smiled. "This is a hockey game. Just like the men. The main difference is that we rely a little more on finesse and passing, whereas the guys try to power the puck a little more."

For Merz, Nagano is the pinnacle. Now 25, she first picked up a stick at the age of five in her hometown of Greenwich, Connecticut, tagging along with her brother when he got up a game with neighborhood kids. "I was hooked," she said. At the University of New Hampshire, she amassed 50 goals and 53 assists and was a member of the first-ever U.S. National Team in 1990, at the tender age of eighteen. She's also played for SC Lyss of the Swiss National League. But the Olympics are the ultimate.

"I can't wait to get there," she said. "This is what we've all been waiting for, what our lives have been all about. If professional hockey comes along in the next couple of years, I'd love to be a part of it. But if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. It will be great for the younger girls coming up--something to shoot for."

Is it enough, right now, to play for love?
"Absolutely," said Sue Merz.
"Absolutely," said Sandra Whyte.

Then co-captain Karen Bye told a story. "You can't believe how exciting it is to see all these young girls at our games. Afterward they come and ask us for autographs, and they say, 'Wow, I can't wait until I can wear a USA jersey like you're wearing right now.' And that always reminds me of when I was twelve years old and I wrote a letter to the United States Olympic Committee asking when women's ice hockey was going to be in the Olympics. And they were kind enough to respond. In fact, they sent me a huge packet on field hockey."

She laughed, then said, "Things have changed. The other night we beat Canada 3-1 up in Calgary, in front of 15,000 people. And now we're going to Nagano, representing our country. We've come a long way."

I don't know about you, but I've never seen a luxury box kick a field goal. Or a ladies' room run a punt back for a touchdown.

New stadiums don't win Super Bowls. Good football players do. Is there a blue-chip free agent in the Western Hemisphere who wouldn't right now want to play for the Broncos in supposedly decrepit Mile High Stadium?

Pat Bowlen and his stormtroopers know all of this. So does Paul "The Mouthpiece" Tagliabue. And Wellington Webb. They know better than ever, in the wake of the Broncos' world championship.

That's why Bowlen, his assorted factotums and his shills in the state legislature are so desperate to shove a May stadium election down the voters' throats. Clearly, they're hoping Denver's Super Bowl euphoria will still be so rampant three months from now that citizens here will not only be glad to cough up $225 million worth of corporate welfare to Bowlen, but, if he so desires, build him his own Berchtesgaden on the slope of Mount Evans.

The pro-stadium forces also know they can win a hurry-up May vote.
November--not May--is the time most people take the trouble to go to the polls. In May, proponents of any questionable issue have a leg up, because it's easier for them to muster their strength from a limited voter pool than it is for opponents. Witness the vote on Denver International Airport: May 1989.

Anyway, before we open our wallets to the fellow in the black leather overcoat, let's cool our heels--and his--long enough for the merits of the Bowlen Bowl to be thoroughly examined.

November will be soon enough. If by then it has been determined that fat cats in skyboxes can also double as all-pro wide receivers, or that Terrell Davis will run faster on some new patch of grass than in what for 38 years has been the loudest, most enjoyable, most visitor-hostile, most consistently sold-out stadium in the NFL, then maybe The Owner should get his way.

Until then, enjoy that championship season. You paid a lot more for it with your decades of sweat and tears than Bowlen did.

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