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Monday, April 7, 2003
Updated: April 28, 1:37 PM ET
Magic Monday: Somebody has to lose

By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2

Final Four Monday is a beautiful thing, dwellers.

It conjures up such awesome memories.

Magic and Bird in '79.

Ed O'Bannon
The Cooler would also like to send his love to the O'Bannon brothers.

Harold Jensen raining in jumpers for Villanova in '85.

And the sort of delirium that inspired someone who may or may not have resembled yours truly to shout out, in a moment of total postgame insanity, "I love you, Mr. Dollar!" to the father of UCLA guard Cameron Dollar, after young Dollar's epic stand-in performance for the injured Tyus Edney, on a Seattle Monday night in April 1995.

I had never met Cameron Dollar, nor had I ever met his father.

It was something of a low point.

But such is the magic of the Monday Night in April.

What a tradition. A Monday night! Such an unglamorous time to decide a national sports championship in America; and yet, the NCAA basketball tourney has made Monday night magic. Hell, it chased the Academy Awards off the Monday night stage. Used to be, you'd flip back and forth between the Oscars and the NCAA final; between Jon Voight's acceptance speech for Best Actor in "Coming Home," and the sheer majesty of Denny Crum's combover in the 1980 Louisville-UCLA final.

And in those days, you had to get up to change the channel. You had to work to get the Voight/Crum Combover double-dip.

Now, the Oscars have been chased away. Tonight, it's all Jim Nantz and Billy Packer and the most potentially sad showdown of Championship Game coaches ever.

Jimmy Boeheim and Roy Williams.

Roy Williams
We can only hope Roy Williams won't wear this shirt on Magic Monday.

The two little trains that couldn't.

Boeheim's been at this so long, he lost to Bobby Knight when Bobby Knight used to actually cash his paychecks.

And Roy Williams? God bless his sweet heart. Seems like the nicest cat around. Seems like if you moved into his neighborhood, he and his wife would show up with baked goods in a basket, and an offer to help you clean out your gutters when he comes back from that road trip to Lincoln.

But he's never won the big one.

Jimmy and Roy. Boeheim and Williams. Zero national titles among them ... and now one of them leaves Monday night with a crown.

The Cooler's question: What about the coach who doesn't win tonight?

Sure, there's going to be a heartwarming tribute to one of the two, and CBS' soft-rock smash-hit "One Shining Moment" -- to be sung on an "American Idol" near you soon -- will feature hugs and glory for either Boeheim or Williams. But how about the guy who loses tonight? The guy who takes the career Oh-fer on Monday Nights in April? That is the guy, dweller, The Cooler bleeds for. We draw out a Dixie cup of Sparkletts for that loser tonight, and we slide a shot of Irish whiskey on the side, the better to numb the pain.

Now, let's get down to some basketball.

(Side question, to be pondered: Who wrote that "One Shining Moment"? Seals and Crofts?)

Too many questions. On to the Weekend List of Five:

1. Final Four: deep thoughts
  • Carmelo Anthony. Has anybody pondered the fact that he is just one vowel away from representing both first names of the patriarch and matriarch of HBO's "Sopranos" household? Is there some sort of deeper Mob thing at work? Jim Boeheim could, if you stretched your imagination, be the long-lost son of Uncle Junior. Same hairline. Something to ponder.

    Carmelo Anthony
    Did we use this photo last week? Yes. Is life still good for Carmelo? Yes.

  • The Cooler is an enormo-fan of the 2-3 zone Syracuse runs. Too often, coaches get caught up in macho absurdity, making their teams play man-to-man when, quite frankly, there is no vise like a 2-3 vise. So old school! Just man your area, put a couple of guards with huge lung capacity up top, and tell your forwards not to give up baseline. Presto -- you're in the Final Four. Just make sure you've got a guy in cornrows named Carmelo scoring 33 on the other end, in case you're worried.

  • Speaking of Carmelo Anthony, he executed a play during the semifinal win over Texas that shot me out of the Strat-o-Lounger. On a fast break late in the game, given the chance to fill the lane and throw something down, Anthony instead laid the ball in off the glass, an old-school layup. No risk of slamming it off the back iron; just a solid layup, straight off of the set of "Hoosiers." He resisted the urge to check the 2003 mantra: WWLD? (What Would LeBron Do?) Instead, he styled it. Like a ballplayer. Nice.

  • Can we all get together and decide what Kirk Hinrich is doing with his hair? Stevie Nash should just go ahead and send the telegram: "Dude. It's been done. Change the wig." But Hinrich has even more of a Prince Valiant thing going; and we're wondering: How does this play in the hot nightspots of Lawrence, Ks.? The other possibility: I've been out of college so long, I've lost track of what constitutes a fly haircut.

    2. Felipe's thugs
    I'm just hoping that geographical bias doesn't cloud The Cooler's judgment here ... but is there a cooler story in baseball than 67-year-old Felipe Alou leading the Giants to a 6-0 start?

    In an era of bluster and noise, Felipe Alou is understated grace.

    In an era where ESPN Classic airs the '97 World Series as Old World nostalgia, Felipe Alou is baseball history in black-and-orange.

    The San Francisco Chronicle's Henry Schulman visited Alou at home over the winter, and found a man who is straight off the pages of "The Old Man and the Sea" -- a wise, taciturn fisherman in the autumn of his years. Except this guy doesn't go by the name "Santiago" -- he actually pens in the name "Santiago" on a lineup card.

    Plus, the man is a flat-out stud. The guy is 67, and has 11 kids, including a 10-year-old. He makes Warren Beatty look like Gilbert Gottfried.

    So, he steers his Giants through a 6-0 start, then arrives at the world's most beautiful ballpark today to throw out the first pitch with his brothers, Matty and Jesus. (Note to those who see a shameless hometown bias: Wrigley is more epic, Fenway more historic, Camden more original. It's just that Pac Bell is the most beautiful.)

    We're a week into ball, and Jeter and Griffey are hurt, so let's just say it: Coolest story in ball -- Felipe and the Giants.

    3. The Royals: Get with 'em!
    A close second: RoyalMania!

    Let the record show, The Cooler is entirely on board with RoyalMania.

    Mike Sweeney is one of the great ballplayers most of America does not know about. Joe Randa flat-out rakes. And they feature an Opening Day pitcher named Runelvys Hernandez.

    Runelvys.

    My boy T.C. has a theory that there are no two funnier first names than "Wolfgang" and "Klaus," and he's probably right. I just need to know: Where does Runelvys fit in? If you're pals with Runelvys, you have to go strictly with "Rain Man" or "R-Dog." You can't go with Runelvys.

    Hell, it's hard to type.

    By the way, if you have time, check out the Royals' pitching staff. Runelvys Hernandez rates as a DiCaprio-esque superstar amid that parade of no-names.

    But The Cooler believes!

    RoyalMania!

    4. The NASCAR thing
    Checked in to the Atlanta Airport Marriott on Sunday night. Noticed a too-dense crowd milling around Bentley's Sports Bar, and the registration desk. Who, thought I, could be chillin' at an Atlanta Airport Marriott on a Sunday night, in this time of recession and war?

    My question went unanswered until I boarded an elevator with a 50ish woman, bespectacled, and what appeared to be her daughter, also bespectacled. I would have thought they had just come from a Sylvia Plath discussion group, based on their eyewear and general, low-key demeanor. Until I noticed Mom's gray jacket, which read over the left breast: NASCAR.

    A fourth in the elevator asked Camille Paglia: "So, who won the race?"

    Replied Ms. Steinem: "Earnhardt." She then gave a thumbs-up, before disembarking on the sixth floor.

    I was dumbfounded! Surely, I thought, this twosome was headed back to the hotel room for an intense discussion on Dickinson's obsession with death. Instead, they appeared intent on checking out SportsCenter, the better to re-live the memories from Talladega.

    This NASCAR thing, apparently, isn't leaving our radar screen anytime soon. Are we, the non-NASCAR American sports fans, meant to embrace this guest that will never leave? Should we welcome it, head-on, for all its comedy and irony and red-neck quotient, not unlike the way some embrace professional wrestling? Or should we recognize that Dale, Jr. and Tony and Jeff are legit national sports idols, to be worshipped and honored through the wearing of fluorescent garb, mostly in T-shirt form?

    At the least, my worries over the high-brow NASCAR fan were assuaged later. In my own strut down to Bentley's, I caught sight of a diner in the swank Ally's American Grille in the lobby. He was at a candlelit table, clearly in a spot reserved for fine dining -- wearing his No. 24 tanktop, and nursing a Coors Light.

    Later, in the elevator, I enjoyed a brief ride up with a couple fresh from the Marriott hot tub -- he in an Earnhardt T-shirt that barely hid his Mickelson-esque breasts, she in a floral bikini that bared the glories of her surgically-augmented breasts.

    I retired for the night, confident that NASCAR's fan base was unmistakably recognizable.

    5. Pat Summitt: I'm on board
    Caught a bit of the Women's Final Four on Sunday night, including Pat Summitt's -- what? -- 50th appearance in the championship game? She's John Wooden in pumps, dwellers. There she was, with ESPN's cameras dialed in to her pregame speech, laying down basketball truths: "Defense and rebounding will win championships, and I haven't changed my opinion on that in 29 years."

    Yo! She speaketh not with forked tongue. Steve Lavin could have done with a couple of weeks at Pat Summitt Basketball Camp. He might still have his job.

    Pat Summitt's team do this, in order: play hard, play defense, hit the glass, and win. Not only that, but Summitt has made the gradual transition from cheesy-frosted blonde to the more graceful and tasteful mellow brunette over the past few years. Much love to her hairdresser.

    Now, go win the championship.

    Either Jim Boeheim or Roy Williams will meet you at the parade.

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