Making the call
By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist

The assignment is easy: Choose one from each of the following pairings.

The criteria aren't so easy: There aren't any, except the ones I provide.

The stakes are the usual: Humiliation and scorn.

The pairs, dropped in my inbox by dotcom editor-extraordinaire David Schoenfield over the weekend, look like this:

NBA: Iverson or J-Kidd?
Allen Iverson
Everyone can relate to the little guy who thrives in the land of giants.
This is a debate about the soul of the game. Is it in the egalitarian vision and democratic dishing of Jason or is it in AI's Secretariat-sized heart and fearless, give-up-the-body drives to the bucket?

I love Kidd. I love his think pass first, and then making passes only maybe one or two other guys in the history of the league could have thought of and pulled off. He flings passes and the game hovers between five guys like a collective vision, a shared feeling. The way the ball comes off his fingertips -- never lingering too long, never coming to rest -- it's the way Naismith imagined things, I think.

But for all that, if I have to choose just one, I'll take Iverson. What he does night in and night out, at the size, and from the angles, and with the snarl? Un-freakin-believable is what it is. Mi-freakin-raculous. I'm with Willie Nelson on this: My heroes have always been cowboys.

NFL: Randy Moss or Jamal Lewis?
Jamal Lewis
Oh yeah, Jamal Lewis predicted his record-breaking performance, too.
Tough call. 1,372 receiving yards, 15.2 per catch, and 13 TDs through 13 games for Randy. 1,622 yards, 5.2 per carry, and 11 touchdowns through 13 games for Jamal.

Unstoppable jets and lift on the one hand and a relentless hammer on the other. One drops your jaw. The other inspires a steady, admiring nod of the head. One stretches the field so the running game can breathe. The other pulls the center of defensive gravity to the middle so his receivers can break free one-on-one. Tight race. Let's go off the board; let's go to aesthetics: Moss wears that sweet Viking horn on his helmet, the horn of Frantastic and Justice Page, that's good. But Lewis has that poetic bird on his, complete with old-school echoes of Poe's feel for inspiring fear and staring down damnation, that's tit for tat.

Let's go further off the board; let's go to extra-history: Let's see, says here one guy tried to run a meter maid over with his hood ornament a while back. The other? Not so much. Judges? Jamal it is.

MLB: A-Rod (+$96 million) or Manny (-$96 million)?
I'm supposed to think like Theo Epstein here, taking into account the massive price tag that comes with bringing Mr. Rodriguez on board in Boston.

Alex Rodriguez
A-Rod's swing would be perfect for the Green Monster.
I should say that one player can't make that big a difference, even when that player is incredibly talented and productive. I should say that Ramirez is a very, very good offensive player (easily among the top seven or eight in the American League), and that I already have a pretty fair shortstop, and that I could use the money I save passing on Alex to go get some more pitching and maybe a productive platoon player for the outfield, etc., etc.

But I can't say any of that because I don't think like a GM, I think like a fan. I want to see the bold stroke. I want magic time. I want Schil and A-Rod on the cover of the Boston media guide under the heading "Armed and Dangerous." I tend to believe most of what I hear about Manny's attitude and I tend to think Richy Alex should be willing to give up a bit of green to make the Boston deal work, but that's not the point. The point is, it's going to take something grand, something as grand as Rodriguez's quick, long, smile-of-the-gods swing, to knock George out. So call me reckless and give me A-Rod, whatever the price.

College Football: Eli Manning or Larry Fitzgerald?
Sometimes, it's all about the names. Both players are first-round talented. Which guy am I drafting? Depends on whether I need a gunslinger or a set of steady hands more.

Larry Fitzgerald
Question the name, but Larry's got game.
But which guy am I betting on if I'm sitting back and watching from the comfort of my den? It comes down to the names. Fitzgerald is burdened with "Larry," which, Csonka notwithstanding, is kind of square for a football player. It's the name of a tax attorney, maybe. It's the name of your neighbor with the paunch and a light beer in his hand. It's the name of a Shandling, for godsakes. If he succeeds it'll be because he's figured out some way to play out from under that name because that name is a mountain and he's Sisyphus with a big ol' rock.

But Eli, Eli's got it worse. His first name is solid and true; it means faithful. But his last name is "Manning." Manning means high expectations. It means blessed by the gods but cursed by the fates. It means close but no cigar. It means are you as good as your dad? Can you play like your brother? And when are any of you going to be good enough to win it all? Larry's rock is a pebble compared to the weight Eli's got stitched across his back. I'm with Larry. (As I finished writing this, I suddenly thought maybe it was supposed to be a Heisman comparision/pick, and I thought I'd have to start over. Then I realized: Yeah, right, like anybody cares about the Heisman any more ...)

Pop Culture: Catherine Zeta-Jones or Nicole Kidman?
Nicole Kidman
Nicole Kidman is classic.
I'm not going to cheapen this by doing a point-by-point breakdown. I think it's crass to reduce these talented artists to comparitive criteria. I'll just say this: Watch Ms. Zeta-Jones do "All That Jazz" in "Chicago" and Ms. Kidman do "Sparkling Diamonds" in "Moulin Rouge." It's Kidman all the way, right?

Until the next five, these are my calls and I'm sticking with 'em.


Eric Neel is a regular columnist for Page 2.



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