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Dec 29, 2006

Through The Binoculars

By: JOHN PIESEN


 I would say that 50 per cent of America's interest in sports is based on gambling in one form or another.

The other 50 per cent is based on hero worship. And that's a subject that needs to be addressed at the outset of this column.

Over the Christmas holiday we were besieged by heroic sports figures on national television.

Let's see how they did.

Four examples.

No. 1:

We were told that the best running back in college football was a young man out of Northern Illinois named Garret Wolfe. We were told he was the next Barry Sanders. Short, fast and explosive. His numbers were off the charts. 2,000-plus yards from scrimmage. No 1 in all the land. Just the best back to come down the yellow brick road in years.

That said, this columnist, like millions of football fans, was counting the minutes to kickoff of TCU-Northern Illinois, the first of 31  bowls.

Alas, when the smoke had cleared, Garret Wolfe had carried 20 times for 28 yards, and most of those 28 yards came in garbage time.

Every play was the same. Wolfe would take the handoff, jitterbug to the line of scrimmage, and get gang-tackled. At which point, the fawning announcers would blame the offensive line for not opening a hole. Or the weather. Or something.

I have to believe the NFL scouts were not coming to the same conclusion.

It will be interesting to see where Garret Wolfe lands on draft day.

No. 2:

I read all week that the Philly Sixers were tanking their season in hopes of acquiring the top pick in the NBA, an Ohio State man-child freshman named Greg Odom.

Sure enough. When the telecast of the Ohio State-Florida game came on, Billy Packer told us non-stop that Greg Odom was Magic, Larry and Michael wrapped into one.

Then the game started and Greg Odom looked to these tired eyes like he had never stepped on a basketball floor in his life. He committed an over-the-back foul in the first minute, and was sent to the bench for eight minutes, by which time Ohio State had built a slim lead.

At that point, Odom came back into the game. But he was thereafter invisible. The Florida kids ran him off the court and won by 46 points. Odom finished with six points and four rebounds. Or was it four points and six rebounds?

Greg Odom couldn't possibly be as bad as he looked.

Could he?

Maybe he'll get better after he signs that $500 million NBA contract.

No. 3:

Sunday's New York tabloids provided the usual Tiki/Shockey butt-kissing. I don't have to explain. You know the drill. Last Game Tiki was all over the back page. And Shockey
The Columnist was telling us that he was psyched for a Pro Bowl performance against the Saints in the biggest game of the year.

Unfortunately, they had to play the game.

Barber got his usual four yards a shot, and looking like any other running back you've
ever seen.

And Shockey?

All he did was just drop three balls, including a fourth and two at the 50 that would have given the Giants a fighting chance.

The last I looked, the Giants have lost six of seven, and are getting chewed up in the New York press. But I'll guarantee you. If they beat Washington on Saturday night, and make the wild card, they will be treated like heros - especially Tiki/Shockey - up to kickoff next week.

No. 4:

We all know the Terrill Owens media drill. Yes, he is a distraction. Self-absorbed. Maybe not the best teammate. But he most certainly is the greatest pass-catcher in the history of the world.

That is until they go out and play the game.

We all saw Owens on Monday against the Eagles. He dropped a sure TD down the sideline. He dropped a first-down throw over the middle. And, on an end-zone pick, he made no attempt to fight the DB for the ball...although he did tap him on the shoulder.

The next we saw of TO he was wearing a Santa hat on ESPN, and blaming everyone but himself.

Obviously, TO will be one and done with the Cowboys so it will be interesting to see who gives him his 20 mill next year.

On the other hand, if you're looking to give credit where credit is due, let's start with New Orleans coach Payton.

You'll recall the situation. The Saints, down 7-6, deep in the second quarter, fourth and goal from the two.

Every NFL or college coach in the world would have taken the three. Not Payton. Showing he has confidence in his offense, he went for the seven and got it. It had to make every other feeble-minded coach in the league mad at him. After all, he broke the cardinal rule of the fraternity.

Look no further than a half-hour earlier.

The Giants, up four, were fourth and a foot at midfield.

Now this is interesting. We had just seen a Fox graphic telling us that Tiki led the league in total yardage over the past three years with something like 10,000 yards.

Now, wouldn't you think that Tiki then would somehow be able to get a half-yard on fourth down.

Of course not.

The Giants punted.

Game. Set. Match.

Speaking of fourth and short, let's turn the page to Jets-Dolphins.

We had been told all evening until our ears bled that Sabin was Vince Lombardi. That the University of Alabama was prepared to give him trillions.

Will the Dolphins match the package?

Oh, the excitement.

On and on it went.

And while Joe and Tony were praising Saban to the skies, the Dolphins somehow were going six quarters without scoring a point.

Then with two minutes left came the moment of truth.

Down 10-7, the Fish were fourth and a half-yard at the Jetski seven.

Make it, and you have an 80 per cent chance to get the TD while taking time off the clock. Brown is one of the best backs in the league. Surely his chances of making a half-yard against a demoralized D-line are pretty good.

And if he doesn't make, it you still have the Jets backed up to their goal line with three TOs in your pocket. Stop them, and you get the ball back at their 40.

But Saban never even considered going for it.

I guess he was afraid the Herald would criticize him if he didn't make it.

I am often reminded of Herman Edwards' famous line:

"You play to win the game."

Really?



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