March 7, 2006
If the Zags hadn't played the conference tourney at home, they might not have survived two near-losses en route to a title. Keep in mind for bracket-picking.
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

Kirby Puckett's popularity with fans in Minnesota is endearingly recounted by Jim Caple and by Twins fans in their own words.

But what made him transcendent? What made him so popular with fans everywhere, whether you liked the Twins or not?

I think I can sum up his appeal -- at least to me -- in three words:

Larger than life.

Here was this player, all of 5-foot-8, built like a bowling ball, but who played with all of the energy of a spry kid half his size, with a smile to match.

Puckett was as natural a reflection of the typical pudgy baseball fan as there was in the game: Perhaps not shaped like an Adonis, but seemingly filled with joy for the game. Just like the fans.

He was able to translate that exuberance into Gold Gloves and a .318 lifetime batting average, or -- if you had to pick one moment -- into one of the most dramatic home runs in World Series history after making a game-saving catch in 1991's Game 6, all for a small-town team.

Actually, Kirby's appeal goes beyond larger-than-life: Puckett was truly beloved for being the plus-sized pin-up that any fan could relate to.

Media Hates Duke?
Call it "K for Vendetta": Coach K thinks there is an widespread media conspiracy to trash his team.

"Wow, it's been sad," Coach K said in the Winston-Salem Journal. "And I think it's been orchestrated. I not only think, I know it has been."

You may now spit out your coffee in response to or in admiration of Coach K's chutzpah.

If anything, there has been a protracted campaign of Duke love for two decades. Do you see Hofstra's Senior Night getting "Full Circle" treatment? Don't think so.

Blaming the media is the last refuge of the desperate coach. (Just ask Bob Stoops.) And it seems so out of character for the normally media-savvy Coach K. I don't doubt his sincerity; I doubt the premise itself.

I rip Duke regularly, but fairly. And there's more than enough counterweight of Duke-lovin' to continue to give the pro-Dukes a clear advantage.

But when nearly 50 percent of users claim they hate Duke, the only fair thing to do is to balance the slobber with the stiletto.

Speaking of which...

As I said yesterday, Duke should be no gimme for an NCAA No. 1 seed. Not unless they win the ACC Tournament. More on that later this week.

Iona: Clinches first MAAC title, NCAA bid since 2001
UNCW: Wins Colonial's NCAA bid; G. Mason on bubble
Charlotte: It's official; city to host NASCAR Hall of Fame
Tony Skinn: G. Mason G suspended 1 game for groin punch
Josh Beckett: Allows 5R in 3IP in ugly BoSox spring debut
"Houston 1836": Controversial MLS team renamed "Dynamo"
WBC Heats Up
WBC cranks can scoff, but there have been few moments in baseball history -- if ever -- when a collection of offensive talent will line up in a double-header like it will today when the Dominican Republic plays Venezuela (1 p.m. ET, ESPN), followed by the U.S. playing Mexico (4 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Suppressing the jingoism, the D.R. vs. Venezuela is the one to watch. Look at the star power in these lineups:

Tejada, Pujols, Ortiz, Soriano, Alou, Beltre. (And that's just the D.R.!) Venezuela features Abreu, Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Magglio Ordonez (plus a 1-2 pitching punch of Johan Santana and Carlos Zambrano).

Last week, I picked Venezuela to win the whole WBC, so it would be nice not to see them suffer a Quickie jinx right out of the gate.

MLB the new GNC?
MLB is getting into the nutritional-supplement business, partnering with a company to sell approved supplements to players.

You have to wonder what the slogan of these not-so-power bars will be. "Won't help like the old stuff!" would be accurate.

C-Week, Cont'd
Tonight's Finals:

Mid-Con! All eyes on Oral Roberts. Last year, ORU came into this title game as the No. 1 seed and left with a loss -- and the ignominious record for team with the most wins to not make the NCAA Tournament. (7 p.m., ESPN)

Horizon! Last year, Wisconsin-Milwaukee became "the new Butler." What happens when they actually play Butler in a winner-take-all? Some team's gotta give. (9 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Sun Belt! Let's be honest: No matter which directional school (South Alabama or Western Kentucky) wins the NCAA invite from this one-bid league, you're picking them to lose in the first round. (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

NFL Labor Update
The owners vote today (or tomorrow) on the union's latest final proposal, if "final" means "we really mean it this time."

In the last proposal, the players wanted 60.2 percent of total football revenue, and the owners rejected the plan unanimously.

This time, the players want 59.5 percent of the revenue, and the chance that the required 24 of 32 owners will vote for the revised plan is about the same that my wife will leave me and I'll rebound with Jessica Alba.

Everyone agrees there won't be any more delays to the start of the new season on Thursday, and that the next step is decertification of the union in 2007.

Let's see how many owners vote for the new plan, so they can say, "I told you so" when everything goes to hell next year.

Quickie Book Club
"Fantasyland": What "Moneyball" did for statistics, "Fantasyland" will do for fantasy sports.

Wall Street Journal columnist Sam Walker builds on George Plimpton's legacy of participatory sports journalism while becoming the first writer to explain successfully the biggest seismic shift in sports fandom of the last quarter-century.

Normally, there is nothing more banal than hearing about someone else's fantasy team. In this case, it's totally the opposite; you will never have a better time following a fantasy team.

In "Fantasyland," Walker has created a wildly entertaining (and fascinating) must-read for any fan who plays fantasy sports -- or any fan who just wants to better understand the mania behind it.

Loyola Marymount:
Had the chance to pull a shocker and beat heavily favored Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference tournament title game, but choked on a bunny at the buzzer.
Today on
Quickie: Live!
Caple on Puckett
Page 2 Index
MLB Players Who Defined Their Teams
Cal Ripken
From hometown kid to HOF'er
Ernie Banks
"Mr. Cub" nickname says it all
Kirby Puckett
Epitome of small market hero
Roberto Clemente
Brightest light for Pirates
Mike Schmidt
But Philly no MLB town

Now this is novel: The Big East had a 10-player all-conference 1st team, befitting the league's opinion of itself. Nova's Foye, Ray headline.

NFL Offseason: Derrick Brooks will stay with Bucs after redoing his deal to offer the team some cap relief. Restructuring is the new holdout!

Good news, bad news for the Suns: They won their 11th straight, but team MVP Steve Nash had to leave the game after rolling his ankle.

Want foreshadowing? Jason Giambi hurt his calf and Gary Sheffield sat out his 2nd straight game (hammy). Yankees too rickety? You be the judge.

This week's example of why the media has no business voting in sports rankings: The single guy from Utah who kept Duke as his No. 1 team.

Coming tomorrow: What happens when a league plays a 12-team tournament and nine or 10 are already locks for NCAA invites? Big East preview coming!

Here's to a full recovery for Southern Illinois cheerleader Kristi Yamaoka, expected to bounce back from that broken neck and concussion.

Don't forget! You can now sign up for the Tournament Challenge. Group name: Daily Quickie Readers. (No password needed.) Brackets coming Monday.

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