Sports Nut

The Sports Pages: Cleats of Clay

A weekly look at the sports commentariat.

Tennessee inched closer to the Rose Bowl after Saturday’s 34-32 victory over Florida. The Knoxville News-Sentinel’s John Adams writes, “It’s as though the Vols and Gators have reversed roles. In the mid-1990s, when the Gators’ dynasty was in its heyday, they invariably played their best when it mattered most.” This year, with a national championship bid at stake, the Vols outrushed the Gators 242-36.

Texas, which had Rose Bowl ambitions of its own, gagged, losing to Colorado, 39-37. According to the Austin American-Statesman’s Kirk Bohls, the Longhorns started the wrong quarterback. Chris Simms, who piled up four turnovers on Saturday, is “a tragic figure who dashed the hopes of UT fans everywhere with one of the worst performances by a Texas quarterback in a big game ever.”

This is a recording: The Dallas Cowboys beat the Washington Redskins for the ninth straight time. How did Dallas—clearly inferior this season—do it again? By riding Emmitt Smith, who tallied 102 rushing yards. The Washington Post’s Michael Wilbon suggests that the Redskins “don’t have a player who can exert his will on the game like Smith. … As great as he is, [the media] probably still underestimate his greatness in a way an opponent would not.” The Dallas Morning NewsTim Cowlishaw counters, “We know he can do this kind of running against Washington because he always does.”

The Lions (0-11) lost again. The Detroit NewsRob Parker mourns, “If you ever wanted a sign that the Lions are, indeed, destined to go winless this season, you got it Sunday. Take note. Kicker Jason Hanson, the rock for this organization the past decade, finally played like the rest of his teammates. This team is doomed.”

Cleats of clay: Pele’s reputation took a serious hit when his company, Pele Sports & Marketing, was accused of stealing money from UNICEF. Britain’s Observer has the details: In 1995, PS&M signed a contract to organize a charity soccer match for UNICEF-Argentina. The game was never played, but PS&M kept $700,000 it had received. Pele blamed his longtime business partner for mismanaging the company, and last week promised to repay the missing money. Brazilian sportswriter Juca Kfouri told the Observer: “Pele has had problems with his business partners before, but he cannot claim ingenuousness any more. People used to excuse him by saying, ‘Look, Pele is young, he is naive, he had a poor upbringing.’ This is fine when he is aged 20, but at 61 …”

Trade Michael Jordan: It was a rough week for the NBA’s two biggest stars. First, trade rumors surfaced in the NBA involving Michael Jordan.’s David Aldridge suggests that trading Jordan would save the Washington Wizards and MJ “the trouble of having to develop a graceful exit strategy. There is no way he would admit it, but this comeback, if not a mistake, was certainly not the right thing for this franchise.”

Second, Shaq can’t hit his free throws again—he’s shooting just 39 percent over the last two weeks—and refuses to reunite with his shooting coach. The Los Angeles Times’ Bill Plaschke tracked down said shooting coach, Ed Palubinskas, who once sunk 523 charity shots in a row. Palubinskas says of Shaq, “His timing is off, his follow is not there, his height is not there, he’s flailing out there.” But he added, “He is an emotional foul shooter who seems to do his best when he’s at the bottom of the barrel.” (Click here to read Slate’s take on Palubinskas and Shaq’s free-throw woes.)

Muck of the Irish: Finally, Notre Dame fired head coach Bob Davie. (Credit Friday’s edition of Blue & Gold Illustrated, Notre Dame’s alumni publication, with the scoop.) The Chicago Tribune’sRick Morrissey eviscerates Davie and the school’s alumni. First, the coach: “The office of lieutenant governor was made for a guy like Davie. He’s a defensive coordinator, a follower, a student of the game who majored in befuddlement as a head coach. He turned out to be a bad idea, like Caddyshack II.” Then, the alums: “Left to its own devices, the Irish Nation would ask for 4.0 grade-point averages and 4.3 speed, though not in that order, and on second thought, never mind the GPAs.”