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Feeling bye-week blues

Special to Page 2

Upon returning to American soil, my thoughts flew fast and furious: How had my boy Johnny made out in the NFL playoffs on his weekend benders to Vegas? Had my boy Johnny evaded the persistent calls of his bookie after laying it all on Florida State? Had my boy Johnny gotten a bet down on Michelle Kwan? And had my boy Johnny taken my advice before I jetted off for my annual European vacation and bet the under on George W. Bush malaprops in his inaugural oath?

Allen Iverson
Allen Iverson scored 51 points Sunday, but his matchup vs. Vince Carter couldn't top watching golf on TV.
(I figured 11 was too high for a 35-word repeat-after-me session with that Lithgow-gone-wrong-lookalike Rehnquist.)

See, after three weeks in the brasseries of Paris, after three weeks in the Guinness-laden pubs of Ireland, what I needed was The Water Cooler to get me back on my feet. I needed the fluorescents. I needed my boy Johnny -- you remember him, the shoeshine guy from the old "Police Squad!" episodes.

Imagine my surprise when I got The Big Redhead instead.

"Oh, my, this water is awful," the world's biggest Grateful Dead fan said, doing a spit-take of the Sparkletts. "Terrible H-two-oh. Horrendous execution of the water bottle placement. This company deserves its low stock price."

"Bill Walton?" I said. "Why, I haven't seen you in person since your speech at Pauley in 1990 made me do the litter-watching-Indian lone-tear-down-the-cheek thing when your number was retired."

"And do you remember Kareem's speech that day?" the 7-footer said. "Awful. Terrible."

"I do, and you're right," I said, accurately recalling Abdul-Jabbar mailing in his "thank-yous, and in the presence of the Wizard, too. Disgusting. "But that doesn't explain what you're doing here by The Cooler."

"Johnny sent me," Walton said. "I'm delivering his Weekend Sports List of Five. He came by the last three Mondays but kept hearing from your secretary -- oh, sorry, your personal assistant -- that you were in Europe. He figured you had become one of those shaved-head Manchester United fans, saving your quid to go on a soccer trip to Holland where you might burn down a hash bar or something.

"Johnny didn't think I'd come back?" I said, incredulous.

"By the way, I toured with the Dead through Manchester, and through Holland, for that matter," Walton said. "Terrible food. Awful showers."

"I'm always happy to see a Bruin," I said, "but why'd he pick you to come by?"

"He told me I was the only thing keeping the weekend sports scene alive in between NFL games," Walton said. "Said between Brad Faxon and some skater named Goebel, he had fallen into a deep, coma-like trance. Said the only thing that kept him going was my witty and irreverent commentary from the Knicks-Pacers game, where, by the way, the Knicks were atrocious."

"Just give me the List, big man," I said. "And by the way: dug you on Charlie Rose with Bill Russell and the Wizard."

"Thank you," Walton said, then added: "And the water on those PBS sets was far superior to the swill you have here, my Bruin buddy."

"Gotcha, B-Dub," I said, unfolding Johnny's List and smiling at the familiar chicken scratch that passes for Johnny's handwriting:

1. Figure Skating, Bro. Figure Skating.

"Dear Murph," Johnny wrote. "Sometimes you get a glimpse of how close we, a sports-loving nation, are to the brink of disaster. All it takes is one January weekend of an idle NFL and I'm watching ice skating, dude. Ice skating! Figure skating! Whatever the hell it is!

It's covering my sports pages and making me realize: There but for the grace of God's NFL go us. Can we put in for that no-bye-week thing in the Super Bowl again? Always produces a great game, and keeps me enjoying my weekend sports. Speaking of which: Shouldn't the pregame show be starting, like, now? Come on! I want my TRL!"

2. Then Again, There's Always Golf in Hawaii.

"I have to admit," Johnny wrote, "if I was ever involved in an international spy ring, and captured by the enemy, the only thing they'd have to do to pry info out of me would be to put me in front of Hawaiian golf scenes. The swaying palm trees. The rhythmic pound of the surf. The lush of the fairways. Drool would form in one corner of my mouth.

I would give all information away, hypnotized by the most gorgeous sights I could imagine, and I don't just mean golfer's wives. Jeez, do those guys make out!"

3. The Epic Vince Carter-Allen Iverson Duel.

"Heard they went at it, Murph," Johnny wrote. "Heard it was like Dr. J and George Gervin going to town. Heard it was just what the NBA needed. Gotta admit: Didn't watch a bucket of it. Was too transfixed by the sights and sounds of ... mmm... golf in Hawaii."

4. As for the Australian Open ...

"Wait a sec," Johnny wrote. "Is it tomorrow here and today there? Or is it yesterday here and tomorrow there, with today somewhere over the International Date Line? Same problem I had in the Olympics: Lost in the time zones, bro.

Just glad to see Agassi is still around, and that Venus is turning heads dressing like a woman named Venus should. I'm just not sure if next weekend's finals are this weekend, or last weekend, or it'll be this weekend here and next weekend there. This is why Greg Norman had to come ply his trade Stateside, dude."

5. And how 'bout that Inauguration?

"A baseball owner in the Casa Blanca," Johnny wrote. "Think he's got a deal with Fox to televise all State of the Union addresses? Think he's got a revenue-sharing plan to save the country? Think he'll wonder which of the Senators will be free agents next winter?

I've got one thought to leave you with, my man, considering the Texas Rangers are all the rage now in baseball and in D.C: A-Rod -- Secretary of the Treasury."

Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle is a regular contributor to Page 2.

hit the cooler 

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