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Summer of Lax
ESPN The Magazine

One day's suffering, the old proverb goes, makes us forget all our past happiness. To which I wonder, what of an entire summer of suffering? July, especially, is a big hot void. Baseball is a wonderful sport, to be sure, but it's simply not large enough to carry a season all by itself. It needs help. It needs another sport to cover its back -- to help fill out SportsCenter, to keep your remote-control trigger-finger in shape, to make the dog days not so, er, dogged. And so, I say, it's time to promote a fringe sport to major-league status.

It's time the Big 6 became the Bigger 7.

This is no easy task. You can't just tell people something is gonna be huge (Pearl Harbor); it has to become huge on its own merit (Shrek). But I'm gonna try anyway, darn it, because this year's miserable All-Star break wiped out all memory of the glorious night I turned 21, and I fear the day I met Ron Cey will be the next happy memory to go.

I immediately eliminate tennis and golf. Sorry. They've only had, like, the last three centuries to make it, and though their big events (U.S. Open, The Masters) do carry some crossover appeal, and each has a big crossover star (Williams Sisters, Tiger), each fails to sustain season-long interest. Do you care who won the Kroger Open, or the WalMart Invitational? Do you know who finished second in last year's point total?

It's kind of like Phish: Great in concert, but does anyone actually buy their albums? Survey says: Go away.

Soccer and NASCAR are sensitive topics. They each have very loyal subjects and a dedicated following. Which is a nice way of saying, I'm afraid to incur the wrath of these crazy people. (It would be much more prudent, for instance, to dog Mother Teresa.) That's why I say (most respectfully): Pass.

Next: Bowling, billiards and darts. I admit to fancying The Black Widow (you too, right?) and occasionally tuning into bowling at odd hours when the only other alternative is reading a book or something. Darts, I've never seen televised, which is odd, since it requires the same skill-set as the other two. Therein lies the problem: I'm actually "not bad" in these three sports -- as recently demonstrated when I beat a certain cast member of Saturday Night Live at cricket after consuming a rather insane quantity of hops and barley (I must refrain from sharing further details. They flatter neither subject.) And any sport in which I demonstrate competitive skill in direct proportion to the amount of adult beverages I consume does not deserve your respect. Trust me. Next (burp).

Turning to the miscellaneous section of the ESPN Sports Almanac, where all sorts of kooky sports are chronicled, I scratch, without explanation, Chess, Dog Shows, Fishing, Power Boat Racing, Soap Box Derby, Softball, Triathlon and Yachting. Meanwhile, I grant Pro Rodeo the following: Yes, these cowboys put their hump on the line every time they strap themselves to these angry beasts, and they endure lots of "down there" pain, something not required of, say, Shane Battier. But as pro rider Pete Hawkins once admitted to me: "A lot of my rodeo friends do not have athletic ability." Should have taken the Fifth, Pete. Case closed.

Anything left? Just when I was thinking this was a futile exercise, an excuse to cheap-shot fringe sports, I stumbled upon a winner. It's a sport strangely absent from the sports almanacs. A sport so obscure that when I typed it in as a keyword on ESPN.com, I was routed to the L.A. Lakers home page. The sport I speak of? Lacrosse.

I admit to a certain bias here. I grew up in upstate New York, where lacrosse is king (my high school produced zero college football or basketball players in my many years there, but a whole slew of D-1 lacrosse players). I also know lacrosse failed to take hold in its few shots at the big-time, and that its latest incarnations exist so far off the radar, I can't even conjure up a meaningful analogy. But I also know what an awesome spectacle prime-time lacrosse can be. On the college level, it surpasses baseball and is equal to hockey in quality of play and mass appeal. On the pro level, properly conceived and marketed, it would pass all the same tests that the Big 6 sports currently pass to merit crossover success. Such as ...

1) Is it violent? On par with the NFL and NHL, almost. Aggressive play is expected and respected. Lacrosse balls are hard, hyperactive, and cause severe bruising. Defenders repeatedly whack offensive players. But cheap shots are penalized, and headhunting is discouraged. It's good, clean violence that you can feel A-OK celebrating.

2) Is it skilled? On par with the NBA. It requires both footwork and stickwork, agility and endurance. Strategically, it's a notch above NHL and a notch below the NFL in complexity.

3) Is there scoring involved? There is no such thing as a 0-0 draw in lacrosse. Lots of innovative passing and shotmaking too.

4) Would I be any good at it? Not at all. I dislike pain. I am slow of foot. I have zero endurance. My hand-eye coordination: Stinky. I doubt drinking would aid my cause here.

Call your cable operators. Write the editor of your local newspaper. Demand: Lacrosse. Box lacrosse, outdoor lacrosse, lacrosse on the moon -- it doesn't matter. Lacrosse in any form. I mean, do you realize how horrible The Nanny is?

I can't even remember that time when ... wait, what?

***

From the Mailbox: Bad canine jokes

Okay, I didn't exactly get the NBA's "pesky rule" regarding draft eligibility quite right. As reader Clayon Butler pointed out, a player "whose high school class has graduated" can apply for the NBA draft if he renounces his college eligibility. Meaning, even if junior LeBron James took extra classes and graduated this year, he wouldn't be draft-eligible until 2002, when his class graduated. Two things are wrong with this, of course: If a kid is old enough to drop out of high school to work full-time at McDonald's, he should be old enough to drop out of high school and play in the NBA. (The more power that's in an individual's hand to determine his own future, the better.) Two, someone has got to change the rules so that high schoolers can retain their eligibility if they withdraw from the draft by a certain date, or even if they're not drafted. (Again, more power to the individual.)

Of course, I've never actually accused the NBA of being concerned with the individual. I doubt even David Stern would be so disingenuous as to make such an assertion. But that's a rant for another time. Onto yours ...

I almost fell out of my chair when I saw Dane Fife's name on your list [of NBA draft prospects]. He was on the cover of our local newspaper in between a picture of two dogs. The header read: "Great Dane." I played him in football, and he lit us up for 4 TDs in the second quarter. Looks like Dane shoulda stuck to football instead of his permanent place in the DOGHOUSE of IU fans.
-- John Burks

I hate to dog you, bub, but you're barking up the wrong tree with these canine jokes. I'm a cat guy.

Cal Ripken, the "Legendary Out-Machine" broke the All-Star game open last night, making you look like a buffoon. Probably isn't the first time your moronic words made you look like an idiot.
-- Chad Byers

And darn it, it won't be the last, I assure you.

Hey man, I went to high school with Nick Horvath, and yeah, he won't be a first-round pick next year, but he might be a key ingredient in a national championship next year.
-- Josh Oelker

You can't make pancakes without baking powder, and you can't win a national championship without Nick Horvath. How's that? (Of course, if you start with Bisquick ...)

Where would you put Frank Williams in next year's draft?
-- Ryan Penn

Frank might have been the first point guard taken this year had he come out. As it is, even though he stands behind Jason Williams, Chris Duhon and Dajuan Wagner in next year's class of points, he still looks good for late lottery.

You can't leave out Rod Grizzard. His ballhandling is 10 times better than Jason Williams'. Scott, if you and I laced it up, I'm sure we could average more assists than Jason did.
-- Brian689

Um ... You've never seen me play, have you? Let me put it this way: I would not aid your cause here.

I like your comments on Darius Rice, who has been somewhat of a disappointment but has unbelievable talent and versatility, especially for a guy his size. If you were looking to mention little niceties about Rice, how about mentioning his famous uncle?
-- Noah Rosenthal

Uncle Grantland, you mean?

***

The Summer Replacement is a senior reporter for ESPN The Magazine. Now that he's writing about lacrosse, we're begging Gene Wojciechowski to come back soon! E-mail your suggestions and scorn to scott.burton@espnmag.com.



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