From the Sidelines

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 4, 1999

L’Observateur / January 4, 1999

A couple of athletes showed what sports should be all about, spreading cheer throughout this holiday season.

While much is written about the Saints’ problems on and off the field this season, what is often overlooked is that the organization is generally among the leaders in the NFL in giving to charities. Over the holidays,quarterback Danny Wuerffel collected $7,400 from his teammates and he and other players delivered turkey dinners to 300 families in the Desire Housing Project in New Orleans.

Another athlete that is a winner both on and off the field is Mark McGwire.

McGwire, who was named the Associated Press’s Male Athlete of the Year this week, recently donated $1 million spread among four charities for abused children.

Other athletes have been in the giving mood as well. Teams that play inbowl games often visit local children hospitals and some players involved in the NBA lockout have been visiting hospitals. Unfortunately, thesestories are all too often buried beneath tales of the sordid side of sports.

Unfortunately, it was not a happy holiday for all those involved in sports.

Five NFL coaches were fired Monday – Philadelphia’s Ray Rhodes, Dom Capers of Carolina, Ted Marchibroda of Baltimore, Dave Wannstedt of Chicago and Dennis Erickson – in what may have been a league record for most coaches let go in one day.

The list of coaches fired Monday included two former coaches of the year – Rhodes and Capers – and three who had led their current teams to the playoffs – Capers, Rhodes and Wannstedt. Erickson had one losing season infour years as coach of the Seahawks. Capers, the only coach in Carolinahistory, had led the Panthers to the NFC championship game in 1996 in only their second season of existence.

What is remarkable is that no general managers were fired and none will probably be let go this offseason even though as many as 11 coaches could change jobs. Too often, all the blame is put on the coaches and not those inthe front office who make most of the personnel decisions. As one famouscoach said, you cannot make chicken soup out of chicken feathers.

Others out of work this holiday season include those involved in the NBA lockout. With a drop dead date for canceling the 1998-99 season set forJanuary 7, one would think the owners and players would be meeting daily to resolve the dispute but that does not seem to be the case.

And with commissioner David Stern and the owners saying that their latest offer will be their final one, there does not seem to be a spirit of compromise in the air. The cold, dark winter in NBA gyms could continuefor months to come.

And if Charles Barkley’s recent remarks that Michael Jordan is not coming back to play after the lockout ends are correct, the NBA will not have a Cal Ripken Jr. to pull fans back like baseball did in 1995.The ramifications of this lockout could be felt for years to come, destroying all the work that players like Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson have done to build up the league.

While the NBA cannot get its season out of the garage, the college basketball season is getting into full gear.

If recent outcomes, like Kentucky’s loss to Louisville, are any indication, look for another wild NCAA tournament come March.

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