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Monday, July 29, 2002
Tour de Lance: 100 percent pure

By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2

Man, is Lance Armstrong all business or what?

The guy's got a Tour de France to win, a yellow jersey to wear for one final day, and he still agrees to carry The Cooler on his back as he rolls down the Champs d'Elysees? Of course, he did. To a titan like Lance Armstrong, the burden of The Cooler in the final leg is akin to asking him to tuck a feather inside his bike helmet.

Lance Armstrong
Lance Armstrong proudly holds up the Cooler after winning his fourth straight Tour de France.
The Cooler, as my regular band of 10 or so dwellers knows, does not traffic in the art of admiring cycling brilliance. However, there is always room for athletic genius.

And Lance Armstrong would be sort of the Stephen Hawking of athletic genius.

Here's what I know about cycling: I last rode a bike 10 years ago, when my then-girlfriend and I rented a pair in Ireland. I did it strictly because of the It's-What-Boyfriends-Are-Supposed-to-Do code. My butt ached for two days.

Here's what else I know about cycling: My parents called recently. They were cleaning out the basement. My mom wondered if I wanted to keep my 10-speed, last used in, I believe, 1982. She was expecting an emotional attachment, a visceral plea to keep it, sort of in the vein of my outrage when they put new wallpaper on our family kitchen when I was in my mid-20s and, on a visit home, I accused them of robbing me of the heritage of my childhood.

No dice. My answer to my Mom: "Yeah, sure. Sell it. I don't care."

Here's what else I know about cycling: It takes phenomenal aerobic conditioning. What I know about phenomenal aerobic conditioning is this: My lovely and talented wife and I live in a fourth-floor walkup on a hill in San Francisco. The closest market is just on the corner, at the bottom of the hill. Yet, every fifth or sixth morning, when I wake up and head for the cereal, I see that we are out of milk. I will then make a life decision that I can do without cereal that day, even though I am lying to myself. I need that Cap'N Crunch like Mickey Rourke needed a cold one in "Barfly." But am I going to walk down four flights of stairs, down a hill, grab milk, and then walk up a hill and then up four flights of stairs for that milk?

What are you, nuts?

Lance Armstrong
Let's raise our glasses to the man who beat cancer and has never flunked a drug test.
I'd rather have the Cap'N Crunch with warm, soapy water. I don't need back sweat at 9 a.m.

Which brings us to Lance Armstrong. Which brings us to the Weekend Water Cooler. Which brings us to my fantasy of Armstrong, pedaling through Paris, left paw on the handlebar, right paw steadying the neck of the Sparkletts jug on his shoulder.

Is Lance Armstrong doped up? Please. Does his bike helmet sit awkwardly on his outgrown head? Is he prone to 'roid rage, jamming a stick in some Italian guy's wheel as they pass a lovely French meadow?

I know, I know. They say the drugs he takes are not steroids. They say he takes drugs that allow him to take in more oxygen than the undrugged cyclist. And yet he tests clean, all the time.

Not once. Not twice.

All the time, for the love of banana-seat Schwinns!

Listen. I was just in Ireland, where that Mark McGwire-lookalike swimmer chick Michelle Smith has fallen into disgrace. Her country, once, believed she was clean when she made like Aquawoman at the '96 Olympics. Then, one day the dope testers showed up, and she produced a beaker that was half urine, half-Bushmills whiskey, and the gig was up.

Lance Armstrong, All-American boy, has come up clean 100 percent of the time.

After he beat cancer in his lungs and brain, 100 percent.

Which means, basically, that he is 100 percent god.

And 100 percent worthy of our awe.

And 100 percent the man we want to take us to our Weekend List of Five:

1. The whole Robin Williams thing
Who knew Mork was a jock-sniffer?

I mean, all I want to do is see Lance Armstrong get through a Tour de France without once seeing Robin Williams in a pair of bike shorts that tell all.

Now, now. I'm not anti-Robin Williams. The guy grew up in my home county; he's a ticket-holding fan of the San Francisco Giants; and I was as prone as the next fifth-grader to toss out a "Shazbot!" for laughs around the elementary school lunch ground. The man has done some good work.

But let's let Armstrong have his moment without making me think about Robin Williams' back hair. I understand the two are pals, are buds, and they go riding together.

And yet, when all I want is a pure sports moment of Armstrong's brilliance, I am somehow forced to recall that, once upon a bad pitch in a Hollywood studio, Robin Williams wound up playing Popeye.

Free Lance Armstrong!

2. Throwback uniforms: What's the deal?
The Cooler law is hereby laid down: Throwback unis are to be worn only once every two seasons, and no more than once every two seasons.

Oakland A's
The A's throwback jerseys were cute for a while ... a very short while.
Like R. Williams, it must be understood that I am not inherently anti-throwback uni. I get as much of a kick as the next guy seeing the old Phillies jersey and remembering Tug McGraw after the 1980 World Series saying, when asked about his bonus money, "I'll spend it on wine, women and song ... and the rest of it I'll probably waste."

Throwback unis are important. After all, how else can a Georgia man in his 40s answer his son's persistent, vexing question: "Dad, what did Bob Horner look like in tight polyester garb from the late '70s?"

But the Oakland A's are now in the process of wearing the 1972 World Series champion uniforms for a very long time. This is wrong. I was in the aforementioned corner market on Sunday night, when the TV happened to show Art Howe in the dugout, wearing that retro outfit. Cute, huh? No. Not cute. Cute for a day, yes. But when a good man like Artie Howe has to put on that clown suit day after day? Not cute.

Think of it this way: The zoot suit was once cool. Yet, how would you feel if a co-worker showed up in a zoot suit on a Monday morning? And he just strutted around in that zoot suit, like he wasn't wearing a zoot suit. And he swung by your cubicle, talking about the weekend sports scene -- all while wearing a zoot suit. And he asked you if you were up for lunch -- while wearing a zoot suit.

My boy Sully and I once saw an epic rockabilly band out of L.A. called Russell Scott and his Red Hots, where many fans came dressed in rockabilly gear. Sully and I agreed: "Yeah, these cats in rockabilly gear are cool for about three hours a week. The rest of the time, they're freaks, desperately clinging to the past."

Free Artie Howe from the throwback uniform!

3. One more gripe before I get positive
After spending two weeks in Ireland and Scotland, where fresh vegetables are a rumor on par with the sun, I must tip my big American cowboy hat to the Understated Sports Highlight Package from our European brothers.

It didn't hit me until I saw some sports highlights back home -- not just put on by the mothership in Bristol, Conn., by the way -- all accompanied by some horrific, bland, Melrose Place-type guitar licks in the background.

Listen. I like seeing Edgar Renteria hit a game-winning homer as much as the next guy. I just don't need it to be accompanied by a riff that leads off K-Tel's "100 Worst Guitar Riffs of All-Time" -- just a faceless, soulless meandering stream of guitar noise.

If you're going to play music with sports highlights, at least make it good. Maybe some Zeppelin, some Stones, or, in a perfect world, some Russell Scott and his Red Hots.

4. Ozzie: I guess you deserved it, after all
Let's be honest. Upon arrival Stateside, I realized it was Ozzie Smith's big day in Cooperstown. And my first reaction was: Ozzie Smith? First ballot? Is this the Line of Demarcation in Overzealous First-Ballot Votes?

Ozzie Smith
Ozzie Smith was a throwback to another era, reaching Cooperstown with his glove.
It didn't help Ozzie's cause that he once played a particularly yellow role in a brawl with my beloved Giants back in the 1980s. Nor did it help that I caught some of his overblown speech, and I was almost so embarrassed I had to leave the room.

But this website's Jayson Stark presented, eloquently, the argument that Ozzie represented all that is important about baseball beyond our current, nearly pornographic fascination with power and the home run. Twenty-seven outs is what matters, and Ozzie could get you there faster than the next guy. In fact, better than anybody we've ever seen -- including Jose Canseco prowling the outfield grass.

So, Ozzie, all is forgiven. Congrats, pal.

Now, you about finished with that speech yet?

5. Back home
Here is what I've seen since landing in the good ol', loud-as-hell, overblown, traffic-choked, U.S. of A: A fierce brawl at Fenway. The Minnesota Twins, nailing pelts to the wall with a Yankee-like efficiency. Grown men in absurd, retro uniforms. The John Deere Classic on TV.

And an American in Paris, riding free as our finest champion.

These, dwellers, are a few of my favorite things.

It's nice to be home.

And the shower pressure ain't bad, either.

Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle writes the "Weekend Water Cooler" every Monday for Page 2.