Spring is in the air
By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2

Peel back the curtain, dwellers.

Tom Glavine, Mike Piazza
Nothing thaws us out more than March Madness and Spring Training.
It's damn near springtime, and the Sparkletts is taking on a cool, fresh taste -- not unlike a gurgling stream in a fresh meadow, or not unlike the pure flow of an icy lager from a Budweiser tap.

Ah, sweet month of March: Springtime ball on the radio, college hoops kicking into overdrive, and the promise of a Klan protest at the Masters in four weeks time.

What poet hasn't dreamed of such images? And if so, what rhymes with "Grand Wizard"?

The flowers are blooming, dwellers. The sun is peeking through the clouds, and in a scant fortnight, your loyal Cooler Keeper will head to the warm climes of Arizona for his ninth annual Spring Training junket with his best pals. This promises to be a terrible time, filled with ballgames and, perhaps, an occasional libation. Pity us.

Spring is in the air! Driving through the fair burg of San Francisco this weekend, caught our man in the booth, Jon Miller, calling a Cactus League game from Scottsdale. He rolled through the Giants' new 1 through 5 spots in the order -- Durham, Cruz, Jr., Aurilia, Bonds and Alfonzo -- and I nearly had to wipe away a tear. I can only imagine Giants manager Felipe Alou feels the same way. That is, unless, at age 67, he was napping in the dugout. There is no bigger Giants flag-waver than here at The Cooler, lads, but we are aware that the beloved black-and-orange, by hiring the amiable yet senior Alou, could be treading into Ronald Reagan, Second Term territory. Godspeed, Felipe.

Reed Rothchild, Dirk Diggler
It didn't get better for John C. Reilly than hangin' with Dirk Diggler.
March on the calendar! Time, of course to mark our Oscar pool ballots, and to ponder the unanswerable question: Who is John C. Reilly's agent, and how can I get him to book my gigs? The doughy, dog-faced character actor appears in "Chicago," "The Hours" and "Gangs of New York," a trifecta of Best Picture nominees. And to think, we thought the talented man's career peaked as Reed Rothchild in "Boogie Nights."

But such are the fortunes of the vernal equinox! And of an agent who knows how to work the studio bosses.

On, then, to a Weekend List of Five:

1. College hoops: Feelin' it!
How great is this time of year? It's time to rip Pitt for its terrible foul shooting. Time to wonder if Arizona has the inside muscle to go all the way. Time to face Lexington and bow for the 20-straight reeled off by Tubby's Bluegrass Band at Kentucky.

Time to wonder: What's softer, Phil Mickelson in a major with Tiger in his group ... or Roy Williams' Jayhawks heading into the tournament with a 1 or 2 seed?

St. Bonaventure
It could be worse, they could be at a Cavs game.
Also time to wonder: Who goes to the St. Bonaventure game to "prove a point," and who brings his young daughters to the charade? Seriously. Caught a glimpse of the "protest crowd" at St. Bonnie, and saw that some Dad tugged along his two little girls to the game.

"Honey, where are you taking the twins?"

"To the St. Bonnie game!"

"But there is no St. Bonnnie game, is there?"

"No, of course not. But I want my daughters to feel the sting of indignity, to learn at an early age of life's unyielding cruelties -- and plus, I think I've got a 60-40 shot of sneaking in a SportsCenter shot."

It's that time of year, dwellers!

2. The court rush: as devalued as the ruble
We've been on this for a while, and it's no breaking news, but what is going on with our college kids today and Premature Court Rush? Used to be, you'd rush the court if you were a small school who toppled the No. 1 team in the land. If you're Chaminade in the early '80s, you can pull a legit Court Rush when you beat Ralph Sampson's Virginia.

If you're UCLA or North Carolina, however, you don't rush the court unless you win it all.

North Carolina fans
Congrats! You stopped a record losing streak!
Sad, so sad, to see both home courts sullied by bogus Court Rushes. Granted, UNC beat hated Duke. Sweet stuff, yes. But a Court Rush? Kids, act like you've been there before! Especially when your squad is 15-14. Take the win, and sneak the hell out of the joint.

As for the alma mater ... wow. It has come to this. A Court Rush after a win over Washington, a basketball program which, if it were a nude model, would be Kathy Bates. A Court Rush after a win that improves the record to NINE and EIGHTEEN.

I would like to believe that Pauley Pavilion was the site of the world's first Ironic Court Rush. You know, like the sarcastic cheer that goes up at a ballgame from hard-bitten fans who watch their starting pitcher walk 'em loaded on 12 pitches, only to see him finally throw a strike.

I'd love to believe The Court Rush was wholly ironic. The Court Rush mocked everything that Steve Lavin did to this program, mocked all his hair gel, and piss-poor recruiting and the loathsome manner in which he dished out pithy quotes all year, while all around him, Rome burned.

Proud of you, Bruin fans! You've set the standard.

3. Hot tip: Euro golf on the Golf Channel
If you're not on to it yet, get into it. European Tour golf, live on The Golf Channel. Never has the global village felt so village-like than at 2:30 a.m. Pacific time on a Sunday, when the final round of the Dubai Desert Classic flickers across your screen.

When I was a younger man, I'd just be tumbling home from the pub at that time, with plenty of bogus phone numbers in my pocket, and I'd have killed for the soothing sounds of the royal and ancient game in the wee hours. Now, I'm a sad and settled-down old man, so I set the TiVo and sawed logs as the Dubai Desert Classic flickered across my screen.

Robert Jan Derksen
The Dubai Classic, brought to you by all temperature Cheer.
What a deal! The only thing missing is Brent Musburger in turban to tell you that you are "looking live" at a place just 900 miles from Baghdad. Thing is, you don't need The 'Burger. Instead, you've got the most underrated man in the booth out there, the Saltine-dry comedy of Renton Laidlaw, a sixtysomething former golf hack turned Euro golf muse.

You know I was all over this. Not only would I have a chance to scan the gallery for my long lost boy Johnny -- the old shoeshine guy from the "Police Squad!" episodes -- but I'd get The Cooler's favorite linkster, Ernie Els, vying for global domination with another win in a country most Americans can't find on a map.

My TiVo diligence was rewarded when a camera shot of the gallery showed three men in traditional Middle Eastern garb, sporting the stark-white sheet-like outfits, the Arabic name of which I cannot produce. You know what I'm talking about. The outfit worn by the outcast Arab in the rush scene from "Animal House."

Anyway, Laidlaw lingers on the shot for a moment, then says: "I always wonder what washing powder they use to have their whites so white." A cohort in the booth chimes in: "Brilliant white, aren't they?" And Laidlaw finishes it off, with understated awe: "I've never seen a dirty white uniform."


The only thing that could have capped it off was The Big Easy winning, but he got clipped by a Dutch dude who -- and I'm serious here -- was not ranked among the top 3,000 players in the world. Three thousand! You have to be a four-star chop to not crack the 3K mark. I'm serious. Hack City, man. Yet, Robert-Jan Derksen somehow produced a 65 under pressure, and won the damn thing. To cap it off, Derksen was sporting a collar-up look, straight out of the preppy party in the 1983 Nick Cage vehicle "Valley Girl." Damndest thing.

Wonder if he'll show up next year to defend in the snow-white garb of the Middle East? And will Laidlaw ask him about his washing powder?

This is why we are sports fans, dwellers.

4. While on the topic of golf ...
Also fired up the TiVo to catch the final few holes from Doral, where Scott Hoch and Jim Furyk tussled. Ye TiVo worshippers can feel my pain here: When you set TiVo, it records the scheduled length of a program. Thus, it shut off at 3 p.m. Pacific, when the tourney was set to finish.

Golf fans
Apparently Happy Gilmore's posse made the trip to Miami.
Thing is, Furyk and Hoch went OT.


I only saw them heading to the first playoff hole when the TiVo shut down. No worries. Turns out I didn't miss a winner, when Hoch and Furyk bagged it and said it was too dark to putt on their second playoff hole. Too dark to putt? Somebody get hold of an 18-wheeler and steer that bad boy up to the green, headlights blaring! These guys are not just good, they're gazillionaires, so let's test 'em on putting in the headlights of a Mack truck. Or, hell, break out the balls with the flashing lights you see on the Infomercials. Push the envelope, lads!

I was tickled to read the A.P. account of the tourney, which said the fans "chanted and heckled the players" as they bailed off the green. This amused me, as it reminded me of the old David Letterman bit where he produced kids onstage to say, "They pelted us with rocks and garbage," in an attempt to give America a new catch phrase.

Ah, sweet memories.

5. LeBron in Gotham?
Caught the halftime of the Knicks-Wizards tilt on ABC Sunday, just in time to hear Knicks "superfan" Spike Lee urge his squad to miss the playoffs. Why?
LeBron James
You better hope Stern doesn't pick the envelopes LeBron.
"LeBron!" quoth Spike.

So let me get this straight: Take an 18-year-old kid. Give him tens of millions. Put him in the most high-pressure, unforgiving, unsympathetic, boiling cauldron in sports. (And this, from a guy who loves the 212.)

Yeah. Good idea. LeBron, given an impossible set of standards, would be out of the league by his 21st birthday, playing for the Ankara YMCA and floating around Europe in five years as the ultimate "What Went Wrong?" feature for Gary Smith over at Sports Illustrated, complete with Joycean stream-of-consciousness prose.

Good fit, Spike.

LeBron: Pray for Cleveland, my man.

Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle writes the "Weekend Water Cooler" every Monday for Page 2.



Brian Murphy Archive

Murphy: Here's to Ew

Murphy: A barren wasteland

Murphy: Tiger gets his Phil

Murphy: All-Star ogling

Murphy: Much ado about nothing

Murphy: Getting faced

Murphy: Fond farewell to an historic hellhole

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