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Don Hutson will never again go long on a chill Sunday in Green Bay. They buried Hogan last month in Fort Worth. Cancer took Lombardi, and Rockne crashed in a cornfield nearly 70 years ago. Nile Kinnick was killed in the Pacific. Frank Merriwell is dead, Dink Stover as well, slim ghosts haunting the Yale Bowl. Never again will Hobey Baker lace up the skates nor Buzz Law await a punt in the autumn gloom with a bloody rag wrapped around his head, as Fitzgerald remembered him. The Polo Grounds are gone and Palmer Stadium is coming down and football, like table tennis, is played indoors.

The gods and the pantheons of youth, real and imagined, vanish into yesterday. The games go on but nothing is the same.

AP reported the other day that when the Iraqi national soccer team was eliminated in a World Cup match and returned to Baghdad, Saddam Hussein's son, a sort of sporting commissar, "had the team imprisoned and tortured and had their hair and mustaches shaved off" and ordered them "caned on the soles of their feet and beaten on their backs at a military base."

Which sure beats fining Albert Belle a few bucks or suspending Steinbrenner or paying Irabu $12 mil to spit at the fans in the third major league game he'd played. I never imagined we could learn much from Iraq but I may have been wrong.

When Wil Cordero of the Red Sox was busted for allegedly beating up his wife, and released on the understanding he'd stay away from her, he is said to have gone right back. Asked by a reporter if he regretted his "actions," Cordero demanded, "Actions? What actions?" The woman, he pointed out, was his wife. Mr. Mara of the Giants, just elevated to the Hall of Fame, employs the notorious Christian Peter from Nebraska. Hey, he deserves a second chance. Besides, he's 300 pounds and can hit.

The Yankees gave Whiten a few days off to be with his wife who'd just given birth. Next thing you know he was being arrested on sexual assault charges in a Milwaukee hotel. "It was consensual," Whiten explained. Oh. They give Gooden another chance and he gets into fights with cabbies on leaving the strip club.

Bruce Smith of the Bills, insulted they're only offering him $30 million or so to sign a new contract, was found asleep at the wheel of his Mercedes at 6 a.m., and was arrested for driving under the influence.

James E. Harris of the Rams was indicted as "the money man" behind a cocaine operation. Steffi Graf's daddy is in a prison hospital being treated for alcoholism while serving his tax evasion sentence.

Spano, the man who bought the Islanders, posted bail in his fraud case. Welch of Salt Lake City resigned as president of the Olympics organizing committee when charged with beating his wife. Quarterback Mark Brunell of the Jaguars, with a lifetime won-lost record of 12 and 14!, signed for $30 million. Van Horn joined the Nets with a contract, "which limits rookie salaries," that will pay him $9.161 million this year.

While Charles Barkley was being sued in Cleveland, he cursed out the plaintiff before the jury was led in. The complaint? Punching out a man in a barroom brawl. Sir Charles was acquitted. But NBA Rookie of the Year Allen Iverson was "charged with drug and firearms possession" and Mensa-member Barry Switzer was caught carrying a loaded gun through Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

Tyson bit Holyfield's ears and Holmes, 47, and Foreman, 49, may meet in a big money bout.

The athletes are bigger and faster and stronger and the equipment better. And sport is diminished.

Long ago when we were young, Dimaggio played for the same team his whole career and so did Ted Williams and Stan Musial. No one could imagine a free-agent mercenary like Messier jumping ship. There were no face masks and you could see the players. Baseball was played in the sunshine. Joe Louis was the heavyweight champ and always would be, much as FDR would always be president. And Ray Robinson fought LaMotta and Zale fought Graziano. Tennis was Jack Kramer and Laver and not Connors and McEnroe. We went to Ebbets Field on free Knothole Gang tickets and in the bleachers you could talk to the relief pitchers and share a baloney sandwich out of your brown bag with the bullpen catcher, who made maybe $7,500 a year.

There were eight NFL teams, six hockey teams, 16 baseball teams. You knew the players. The coach was a man in a fedora and camel's hair coat and win or lose, no one threw Gatorade on him. You'd see Bud Palmer and Carl Braun of the Knicks at Clarke's. Gump Worsley having a beer at the Barge in Sheepshead Bay. Regis High School taught us to remain silent when an opposing player shot a free throw. It was called sportsmanship. And no one danced in end zones or woofed or bumped chests or talked trash. And we lived for the game, loved the sport, and had idols. Oh, but there were heroes then.

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