Cooler heads prevail

Special to Page 2

It's a new column and all, so I came to work Monday morning in my finest threads: Deion Sanders chapeau, Doug Flutie Bills gamer, Shawn Kemp-sized Blazers shorts. Threw on some knee-high red socks. Like Tiger, I wear my "Monday red."

hit the cooler 
Brian Murphy

Took up my spot next to the water cooler. E-mailed my office buddy -- you remember him, Johnny the shoeshine guy from the old "Police Squad" episodes -- to meet me there at 9 a.m. We had some serious weekend sports to catch up on.

By the time Johnny sidled up to the cooler, I was busy.

"Whatcha workin' on, Murph?" Johnny asked.

"Some Heisman Trophy origami," I said, furiously twisting a serrated Dixie cup into the shape of the Downtown Athletic Club's epic statue.

Just then, Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick came hobbling down the hallway, flanked by beseeching agents like a scene from a bad "Arli$$" episode -- if that's not redundant.

Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson basked in the glow after taming Tiger at the Tour Championship.
"Yo, M.V.," I shouted, tossing the cup at him. "Put it in your cubicle. It's the closest you're getting to the real thing after Saturday's letdown in Little Havana, chief. I still love ya, kid. And I think you're the hottest thing in college football. It's just that, well ..."

"What?" Vick said, sad-eyed.

"Aw, nothing, man," I said. "But get to the phone, dude. Josh Heupel on Line 1."

The thumping of running feet sounded in the corridor. A flash of purple followed a flash of maize.

"Michigan-Northwestern still playing?" Johnny asked.

"Yeah, something like 121-114 by now," I said. "Like an NBA game ... from 1978."

"Don't look up," Johnny said, "but a certain pear-shaped golfer from San Diego is coming up. Mind the visor."

"Hiya, guys," a grinning Phil Mickelson said. He set his Tour Championship trophy and winner's check atop the cooler.

"Nice work, Phil," Johnny said, eyeing the $900,000 check. "Taking down Tiger and all."

"Gee, thanks, Johnny," Mickelson said.

"Say, Phil," Johnny said, "that putting stroke -- awesome, man. That birdie on 15. The pressure you put on Tiger. You made him crack. Think you could ever teach a shoeshine guy like me how to putt like that?"

"Gee, Johnny, sure," said a flattered Mickelson. "I didn't think you liked me after not inviting me into the office British Open pool last summer. But here goes: You line it up, imagining a line to the hole, you make your stroke like a pendulum ..."

While Mickelson took an imaginary putt on the office carpet, Johnny kiped the check, sliding it into his tattered jacket pocket, right next to his piano tie. "Ah, I get it now," Johnny said. "Thanks, Phil."

"Nice work, J-man," I said. "Never liked the cut of Mickelson's jib, as my man Dennis Miller might say. I'm a Tiger guy. Well, Tiger and Fred Funk."

"Yeah," Johnny confirmed. "I was rooting for Eldrick, too. I like the whole Ben Hogan-in-our-lifetime vibe. Dig Scott Gump, too."

As if on cue, at 9:45 a.m., our office loony, Rip Van Winkle, awoke. He sleeps all week, curled up in a cubicle littered with Doritos bags and Zima bottles. He's clueless -- like he's been asleep all his life.

"Ripper!" we shouted in unison.

"Boys," he said. "What nonsense do you have for me this week? Gonna tell me, what? The Saints beat the 49ers? Oregon State in the top 10? The Rams lose at home?"

"You tell him, Johnny," I said, adjusting my "Beavers: National Champions 2001" button on my Flutie jersey.

I loved getting Johnny into it with the Ripper. He constantly roused the Ripper by insinuating that he must be related to Robert Van Winkle, otherwise known as Vanilla Ice.

"All you need to know from this weekend is the following, R-Meister," Johnny said. "San Jose State's win over TCU was the coolest thing in college football this year, the Raiders appear to be real, the Sixers are unbeaten and already there are plans for a Shaq-Iverson rap-off at the NBA Finals in June."

"Aw, get outta here," Rip said. "No way San Jose State beat TCU."

We both hiked up our shirts to reveal San Jose State jerseys: No. 32, in honor of Neil Parry, the 20-year-old kid who had part of his leg amputated from an injury last month and served as an inspiration for the SJSU kids, who serenaded him with the fight song after the game, late Saturday night.

"Ripper," Johnny said, "sometimes you miss beautiful things in sports by sleeping so much."

"Aw, hell," Van Winkle said. "Better to sleep than to watch the Raiders win."

He sauntered off, ready to curl for another week. Johnny and I checked our watches. Nearly 10:15 a.m. That could mean only one thing: Coffee break in 15.

Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Examiner will find refreshment at the Monday Morning Water Cooler every week on Page 2.

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