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Monday, July 25, 2005
Legends should be watched live

By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2

Congratulations, Lance. Bravo, bien fait, and all that.

Now -- will somebody give me back my damn body clock!

Lance Armstrong
Did you wake up to watch Lance? It was your last chance.
Lance Armstrong's epic run to a seventh Tour de France title was can't-miss stuff at The Cooler, an ode to history written by a living legend, but also the much-awaited -- by my Pacific Time Zone derriere, at least -- denouement to a run of must-see sports TV based in Europe. As in: Eight-to-nine-hours-ahead-of-California-time Europe.

It started with Wimbledon's final weekend on July 2 and 3 … moved on to Tiger Woods at St. Andrews on July 16 and 17 … and ended with Lance's final weekend Saturday and Sunday.

Now here's the deal: If you're a true sports fan, you have to see this stuff live. TiVo simply does not cut it when it comes to the Euro Big Three of Wimbledon, the British Open and the Tour. Sorry. TiVo is for wife-pleasing issues, like "Big Brother 6," or "Real World: Austin." But TiVo is a no-fly zone for a true sports fan when it comes to epic events.

There is something fundamentally wrong about not watching a big-time sporting event live. I'm serious. If I have to miss something like Wimbledon because of an early golf tee time, or a sleep-it-off hangover, I'll just go with the "SportsCenter" highlights. The moment has passed, not unlike the passing of that critical first week or two-week window of opportunity before a cute girl at work becomes a cute girl but just a friend at work.

Plus, if you want to TiVo, you have to do the whole avoid-the-Internet thing, and avoid-ESPNews thing. Just last week, I was at a picnic and was chatting with a fellow BBQ-er about Tiger's dominating romp at St. Andrews when a third BBQ-er offered up: "Well, thanks for ruining it, guys. I TiVoed the British Open and was going to watch it while I worked out."

I had 0.0 sympathy for the guy. If you are absolutely hell-bent on TiVoing a massive sporting event, then it is all on you to take every precaution if you dare go out in public. That means avoiding anybody who looks like you, dresses like you, or walks like you. It may mean breaking out earplugs. It means that if you're at a BBQ, and you want to watch the British Open in full-suspense mode, you have to converse only with the guy who is trying to throw a Nerf football but has that unmistakable I've-never-watched-a-sporting-event-in-my-life throwing motion.

It's just my DNA, but I can't roll like that.

So, that means early wake-ups on the weekend way out West. That means Venus and Lindsay and Andy and Roger going at it, while I drift in and out of an early morning haze. That means waking up in a panic and finding out that Tiger is already on the seventh hole -- even though it's 7 a.m. on a Sunday morn. That means repeating that wake-up panic and barely tuning in to OLN in time to see Lance pedal his way alongside the Seine. And it also means: a) Your weekend is screwed because you're in a daze most of the time; b) You are absolutely taking a key afternoon nap; and c) You have to watch in silence, whilst your loved ones slumber around you.

Now, I'm done with the Euro Clock. No more Greenwich Mean Time for me, bud. Bring me "Sunday Night Baseball" at 5 p.m.; bring me a PGA Championship at Baltusrol at high noon on the weekend. Bring me Giants games at 7:15 p.m. on a weeknight; and bring me NFL kickoffs at 1 p.m. in just seven short weeks.

Bring me American Time, my friends. I've done my European TV vacation. I did my time. I was a good sports fan. And I want my snooze button back.

On, then, to the Weekend List of Five:

1. Tonight, Let It Be Lowenbrau
What I loved about Armstrong's pedal into history was his insistence, during the whole buildup to the Tour, during the Tour, and immediately after the Tour, that the thing he was looking forward to most was a four-letter word: Beer.

Lance Armstrong
A cold beer will taste even sweeter, Lance. Trust us.
I swear. His quotes before the race always returned to the "I know one thing about my retirement: It will involve enjoying a beer." And in Sunday's accounts from Paris, he spoke of his impending vacation to the South of France, where he said he will be "on a beach, with a beer, having a blast." The thematic conversation induced two reactions in me:

One, appreciation and respect for the fact that Lance likely has denied himself the nectar of lager during his insane training regimen.

Two, jealousy that Lance will experience one of life's sweetest pleasures -- that first tug on a cold beer when you really, really want one.

Aw, well. I guess the guy earned it a little. A votre sante, big guy!

2. Lance, Part Deux
More random Tour de Lance Thoughts:

-- I will miss the poetry of OLN commentators Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen. Me, I'm a guy whose cycling knowledge pretty much begins and ends with the old Schwinn banana-seat special, circa 1973-74. But these guys brought home le bacon by explaining to me that Michael Rasmussen's four bike changes and two crashes Saturday -- instances where Rasmussen ate merde twice and generally sported the grace of Gerald Ford descending a staircase -- was not a good thing. When Rasmussen got a new bike and looked like he was pedaling underwater, one of the duo, I believe it was Liggett, shouted in a near-panic: "And the bike wasn't prepared! He started in a massive gear!"

"Massive gear" may be my favorite sports phrase of the summer.

The Giants are playing lackluster ball, as if pedaling a bike in a massive gear!

-- Sheryl Crow eerily resembles Amy Mickelson, all of a sudden. Did Crow study other sports wives and determine Mrs. Lefty sported the best look? Creepy, for some reason.

-- The Roadside Fan Issue is out of control. These guys think running alongside Ivan Basso is some sort of cycling Pamplona, when in reality they're a hangnail from making a world-class cyclist eat more merde. The Over-involved Tour Fan needs a comeuppance, and I'm nominating some lower-echelon rider to reprise the Robert Stack airport strut in "Airplane," when Stack calmly eviscerates every Hare Krishna pamphlet-holder with moves straight out of the Bruce Lee playbook.

-- Has any American athlete drawn more celebrity hangers-on than Lance? For years, it was Robin Williams who drafted off of Lance's celebrity, and now this year Sen. John Kerry, of all people, trailed Lance in the official car in Saturday's time trial. Kerry pretty much immolated any hope he had of an '08 presidential run, by the way. Every Red Stater who feared Kerry was a Frenchman at heart had his or her trepidation affirmed by Kerry posing at the Tour. He may as well have been wearing a beret, burning a butt and reading Camus as he rode shotgun.

3. The Play Of The Year
All of you wrapped up in $800 Million Payroll Yankeedom, or Red Sox Navel-Gazing, or Cubbie Self-Flagellation … come and listen to the story about a team with no Q-rating, no trendy ballyard and no national profile.

In other words, listen to the story of the Oakland A's.

On Friday night, when the A's were in the midst of piecing together a season-changing four-game sweep at Texas, Jason Kendall did something that should raise the hair on the neck of every American ball fan.

In an 11-10 game the A's were leading, with a Texas runner at third base and two out in the bottom of the ninth, Kendall fielded a wild pitch, and seeing a body barreling toward home plate, scooped up the loose pearl, dove headfirst toward the dish and planted the tag, letting steel spikes sink into his forearm, accepting this badge of pain and blood merely as the price of competition.

Jason Kendall
Jason Kendall laid it all on the line for Oakland.
It was nothing short of the Play of the Year. Maybe in any sport.

A's broadcaster Ray Fosse, a former All-Star catcher, was so moved by Kendall's brass he reportedly shot out of his seat in the broadcast booth and roared his approval, pumping his fists.

Kendall walked off the diamond, accepting victory congratulations as if he had gone to the grocery store and bought a carton of milk and nothing more, and wondered what the fuss was about.

This from a guy who, years back in Pittsburgh, suffered a Theismann-esque break of his foot on first base, and took the time to argue the call, even though his foot flopped off his ankle loosely, like a flag snapping in the breeze.

And Friday night in Texas, Kendall did it again. He introduced a couch potato nation to the concept of country hardball. For that, we thank him.

4. Oh, Ricky
Anytime I make a marijuana joke about Ricky Williams, someone rips me via e-mail for stooping to the obvious. And they're right. Nothing is older in smart-aleck sportswriting than the Ricky-Gets-High joke. So I will resist saying that seeing Ricky drive into Dolphins camp in that black Escalade made me think of the VW-van scene in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," when the school bell rings and Spicoli and buds tumble out of a dry-ice machine.

What to make of Ricky? Clearly, he's one of modern sport's all-time head cases, almost beyond Dennis Rodman and into his own class: Quitter? Lost soul? Honest man in search of integrity? Or just a guy ducking a positive drug test?

More important, for you fantasy geeks: Do you draft Ricky? Wait till he serves his four-game suspension, then pick him up off waivers?

More important, for me: What the hell am I doing talking fantasy football at The Cooler?

Moving on …

5. I Miss Dusty
"Sunday Night Baseball" brought a little Cardinals-Cubs to our ball-loving nation, and the dubious feature of interviewing managers midgame brought me back in touch with Johnnie B. Baker, our man Dusty, who skippered the hometown Giants from 1993-2002, some of their greatest years.

Dusty left town on ugly terms with ownership, and Giants fans never got a chance to tell Dusty: "Yo, man. Thanks for the good times."

Now I see him in Chicago, and forgive me for opening up the Dime Store Psychology Wing of The Cooler again, but I see a broken man in Dusty. He endured the unthinkable Bartman Incident in '03, hasn't delivered since then, and as I understand it, gets regularly roasted by Cubs media and fans.

Dusty's a California guy, and we're less angry than your average non-Californian. Seeing him chat with Jon Miller and Joe Morgan, there was nothing obvious about it, but just a gut feeling from a lifelong Giants fan: Dusty needs to come home, sometime soon. He needs a cold Anchor Steam, some Dungeness crab and a cool night at Pac Bell in the summertime.

We all need the comforts of home sometimes, no?

Oh, and Dusty: Can you bring back Barry Bonds, when you come?

All right: Dime Store Psychology Wing now closed.

Along with Euro-Summer, '05. Back Stateside, everybody!

E-mail Brian Murphy at