Sports Nut

The Sports Pages: Snow Dogs

A weekly look at the sports commentariat.

The Chicago papers think the Philadelphia Eagles did the Bears a favor by knocking them out of the playoffs: They spared them from having to play the St. Louis Rams. “The Bears really need to show Donovan McNabb their appreciation,” the Chicago Tribune’s Rick Morrissey writes. “A little something in an envelope, maybe. Or an intimate cocktail party to honor the Humanitarian of the Year.” The Sun-TimesJay Mariotti is even more blunt: “A blessing, I’d call it. By losing their playoff game, the Bears avoided a thorough two-way pasting next weekend in the loudest, wildest and most obnoxious den of doom this side of a bull ring.” (ESPN’s Tom Jackson picks the Eagles to beat the Rams and go to the Super Bowl.)

The Chicago writers aren’t always the most prescient. The Tribune’s John Mullin praises former Bears personnel man Mark Hatley, who drafted the team’s best offensive player (Anthony Thomas), best defender (Brian Urlacher), best receiver (Marty Booker), best defensive back (Mike Brown), and best offensive linemen (Olin Kreutz and Rex Tucker). Hatley’s reward? The Chicago writers ran him out of town before the season started.

Snow dogs: Predictable reactions from the partisans after Saturday’s New England-Oakland fiasco. The unironic headline over Will McDonough’s column in the Boston Globe: “Referee showed strong character.” The Oakland Tribune’s Monte Poole says referee Walt Coleman “probably will do a slow fade from infamy to obscurity. The league supports him now, but he should remember Phil Luckett. Luckett botched an overtime coin flip in the Pittsburgh-Detroit game on Thanksgiving 1998 and has since been demoted to back judge.” But Poole forgets Jeff Triplette, who ended Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Orlando Brown’s career by hurling a penalty flag into Brown’s right eye. Triplette still referees on Sundays.

Are you lonesome tonight? The Baltimore Sun’s Mike Preston gets Elvis Grbac’s flaws exactly right: “a fragile psyche and a low threshold for pain.”

Must-Z TV: Sports Illustrated’s Dr. Z presents his “Fourth Annual TV Commentator Awards.” The best: ESPN’s Chris Spielman and Mark Jones, who called low-level college games, and Fox’s Bill Maas and Sam Rosen. The worst: The top teams at Fox and ESPN. Fox’s John Madden and Pat Summerall are “just sad,” and ESPN’s three-man booth of Joe Theismann, Paul Maguire, and Mike Patrick is the equivalent of “watching a game in a bar and hearing some guy endlessly yapping nonsense next to you.” (In his mailbag, Dr. Z rates the pregame shows.)

Escape from L.A.: The Los Angeles Dodgers traded outfielder/provocateur Gary Sheffield, the team’s best hitter and biggest cancer. How bad did things get? The Los Angeles TimesBill Plaschke says one Dodgers official told him that the team feared during spring training that Sheffield would punch out one of his teammates. During a game last season, after teammate Shawn Green hit his third home run, Sheffield sprinted into the batter’s box, cutting short Green’s ovation. Sheffield’s antics meant the Dodgers could net only Brian Jordan and Odalis Perez from the Braves in trade. But that trade looks like a steal compared to the deal the Dodgers made back in 1998, the TimesRoss Newhan argues. That’s when L.A. dealt Mike Piazza to the Marlins for five players, including Sheffield. Now, all five are gone: “The trade spawned almost four years of tumult and soaring payroll, and now the Dodgers have nothing left from it in the way of personnel.”

Putting a new spin on “taking you to school”: Michael Jordan returned to Chicago for the first time since leaving the Bulls. But the game was a bust, an ugly 77-69 Wizards win, with Jordan committing nine turnovers and hoisting numerous air balls. “Have you ever watched a 4th-grade basketball game?” the Chicago Tribune’sSam Smith asks. “It was like that for much of the game, shots being taken that you hoped would at least reach the rim. The Bulls shot 16.7 percent in the first half. And then they were worse in the third quarter. Veteran Wizards assistant John Bach said it was the poorest shooting he’d ever seen in a basketball game, but Bach has only been associated with the NBA since 1948.”