Sunday, January 19

Ease into new year: Postpone big teams for later in season

Starting off with toughest matches a self-defeating practice

Mark Shapiro is a wacky and fun-loving junior who enjoys
romantic candlelight dinners and moonlit walks on the beach. His
column will appear every other Tuesday in Sports.

Hey, Pete Dalis, have you gotten the message yet? The UCLA
football team doesn’t have to start out every season with a roll
call of the Top 25.

While most other competitive schools open with a handful of easy
opponents, UCLA seems intent on starting every year with the
toughest possible non-conference games.

Take 1994, for example, when the Bruins took on Tennessee and
Nebraska in two of their first three games.

Or have a glance at last season’s schedule, when UCLA opened
with Miami and Brigham Young, while the crosstown Trojans exercised
more forethought (unimaginable as it may seem), pummeling perennial
doormats San Jose St. and Houston by a combined 90-17 count.

Next season, the trend will continue as we open with Tennessee
at home and Texas at the Cotton Bowl. 1998? We drew Texas and Miami
in the first three games.

There is nothing wrong with opening against the NE Louisiana’s
of the world. Look at the basketball team and their always
scintillating duel with the Turkish All-Stars, or some other group
of international patsies.

Teams need a game or two at the start of the year to work out
the kinks and get settled. The schedules are set through 2001, but
on the first open date in 2002, why not try a chump?

* * *

I don’t need to talk about the game on Saturday because everyone
already knows we were lousy.

* * *

It’s a shame that UCLA can’t put together a competitive team to
compensate for graduation losses. We have one of the most beautiful
campuses in the world, more available resources than some countries
and an outstanding athletic tradition. Yet we can’t seem to recruit
worth a damn.

The Bruins only got their top recruit this season because a fax
machine failed to send his letter of intent to Ohio State.

Also, a short message to Bob Toledo: Forget about using trick
plays to spice up the offense. How about getting the fundamentals
down first before throwing in the chicanery?

* * *

Now to be handed out alongside the MVP and the Cy Young is a
lesser known award: the Ty Cobb Award for biggest jerk.

This year it came down to the last weekend of the season … and
in an amazing upset, Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar took the

The simple fact alone that he spit on umpire John Hirschbeck put
him in close contention with Albert Belle’s forearm shiver of
Milwaukee’s Fernando Vina. But when he blamed his actions on
Hirschbeck’s alleged "bitterness" due to the loss of his son to
illness, that put Alomar in a league of his own.

The five-game suspension handed down by the American League
(which will start next season instead of during the playoffs) is
absolutely laughable.

* * *

In light of this weekend’s performance at Chavez Ravine, I wish
that the Dodgers had just missed the playoffs entirely.

Playing absolutely gutless baseball, Los Angeles earned the
ignominious privilege of opening the playoffs as the wildcard team
to face the Braves.

I have always been a diehard Dodgers fan, but I really hope the
Braves give them the beating that they deserve. Hey, the same thing
happened last year when the Dodgers underachieved their way into
the playoffs, only to be mauled by the Reds.

In years past, when baseball was still baseball, playing like
they did against the Padres in the heat of a pennant race would
have rewarded the Boys in Blue with a nice set of bleacher seats
for the League Championship Series.

The Los Angeles Times mentioned that the Dodgers’ season was
fate and that they had fought through a great deal of adversity. I
still say it was a weak performance in a clutch situation.

It probably wasn’t fate in Sunday’s decider that caused Mike
Piazza (who would have been league MVP if the season ended last
Thursday) to whiff against a journeyman pitcher with runners on
first and second and no one out in the bottom of the ninth.

* * *

It’s only been four or five games, but I’ve already made my
selection for NFL MVP.

Washington Redskin running back Terry Allen has put a mediocre
franchise on his shoulders and carried them to a 4-1 record, not to
mention first place in the NFC East.

This past weekend, Allen rambled for 101 yards and two
touchdowns in the Redskins victory over the Jets. If he’s not on
your fantasy league team, get him.

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