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More from Mudville on NHL, NBA, NFL

By David Berl and Jeremy Cohen

Finally, the sport which usually settles its disputes with forearms, fists, and vicious blows (no, Tonya Harding fans, not full-contact figure skating) has broken away from the bargaining table and onto the ice. In honor of the abridged hockey season, we give you an abridged guide to the teams to watch in 1995 - the year of the lawyer in the sports' calendar.

In the Eastern Conference, the Rangers are still the team to beat. With most of the nucleus returning, a repeat is possible, but losing coach Mike "Benedict Arnold" Keenan will hurt the club come playoff time. Rangers' fans, can you say 2047?

As usual, Montreal looks strong, with Patrick "King" Roy in net, Les Canadiens' inability to light the lamp will be their undoing. The rest of the conference is replete with strong clubs, including the Devils, Penguins, and Bruins, but unless Martin Brodeur scores 50 goals from his own cage, Mario Lemieux pulls a Sugar Ray Leonard and miraculously returns, or Cam "an orthopedist's worst nightmare" Neely actually plays more than 20 games, none of these teams have the fire-power to take the cup.

Therefore, the surprise pick for the Stanley Cup playoffs is the Buffalo Sabres, who should get banner years from Pat LaFontaine "of youth", Alexander Mogilny, and goalie Dominik Hasek.

In the Western Conference, the field is wide open, and in this three month marathon which the NHL calls a season, anything is possible. Expect a strong campaign from Pavel "Rasberry" Bure and the Canucks, who will be riding the momentum of their playoff run and the extraordinary skills of goalie "Captain" Kirk McLain.

However, Vancouver is unlikely to reach the Cup finals again, largely due to the abundance of talent in Detroit and Toronto. The Red Wings have more weapons than the Marines, with the dangerous Steve Yzerman and Sergei Federov heading the list. However, just like there is no "I" in Yzerman, there is no "D" in Detroit, an Achilles heel which even lowly "Yes Way" San Jose was able to exploit in last years' playoffs.

Therefore, the pick from Mudville to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup finals is the Toronto Maple Leafs, with Doug "I have less hair than Artis" Gilmour and goalie Felix "the Cat" Potvin leading the way.

NBA Update

The list of players whom the fans and coaches chose to play in this years' all-star game will appear this week, but the balloting represents more of a popularity contest than a fair selection process.

The following teams will not be on the floor in Phoenix next month, but if players were judged on performance alone, they would be in the mid-winter classic.

Western Conference:

At point guard, the steady John Stockton is an obvious selection. Averaging almost two assists more than any other player, Stockton is the perfect point guard, a player who combines sharp passing with a solid offensive repertoire and plays defense like a fly who refuses to go away - not overpowering, but annoying and disruptive.

Joining Stockton in the back court should be Dallas guard Jimmy Jackson. While point guard Jason Kidd has received the bulk of the credit for the Mavs' improvement, the attention should focus on Jackson, who has more offensive moves than X-Lax and the savvy to control games.

At small forward, Phoenix cast-away Cedric Ceballos should get the nod. Languishing on the bench behind Sir Charles, Ceballos had nary an opportunity to display has impressive skills. However, given a chance to become the focus of an offense by Laker GM Jerry "North by North" West, the chizzled forward has put the show back in Showtime and led the Magic-less purple monsters to renewed glory.

Karl Malone, the man who has defined the power forward position for the last five years, is having one of his best seasons ever and certainly deserves a spot on the team. Like a fine wine, Malone has improved with age and is a major reason why the Jazz have the third best record in the league. Last season, the Mailman seemed uninspired, but apparently his lack of energy was nothing a fight with an obnoxious, 350-pound owner couldn't cure.

Starting at center in the Western conference should be the NBA's best player, Hakeem "call me Akeem but spell my name differently" Olajuwon. Though the Rockets have been struggling, their center has remained a scoring, rebounding, passing, stealing, blocking machine. Other than rack up endorsements, is there anything Olajuwon cannot do?

Eastern Conference:

Starting at point guard for the Eastern conference should be budding superstar Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway. Hardaway has had a spectacular year, thanks to an improved jumper (perfected in the off-season filming of another movie) and an uncanny ability to see the court. The Magic has arrived as the best team in the league, and along with its undersized center (Tree Rollins, of course), Hardaway is the major reason for Orlando's success.

Though Reggie Miller has not exploded into a zone (ask John Starks for details), he has been a model of consistency for the vagabond and his Pacers. Miller has taken advantage of the shorter three-point line to lead the solid Pacers in scoring, and it seems that Reggie is conserving his energy and will be ready for Miller time in the playoffs.

Despite his constant belly-aching, Bulls' forward Scottie Pippen (yes, as of this writing, he's still a Bull) remains one of the best players in the league. To be sure, Pippen has more whines in him than the Napa Valley, but the fact that with an atrocious supporting cast of Toni Kukoc and a group of players who belong in the CBA the Bulls are over .500 is a testament to Scottie's skills.

Larry "Grandmama" Johnson, who is having his best season ever, certainly deserves the start at power forward. After the Hornets got off to a slow start, Johnson simply exploded, leading the Hornets to the divisional lead. LJ's dominance leaves one wondering what he would do if his back were 100 percent and he didn't play with a long dress.

At center, Shaquille O'Neal is the choice, though teammate Tree Rollins deserves serious consideration. Shaq may not be able drink a little boy's Pepsi, but he can do almost everything else. Overpowering smaller players en route to the league scoring lead, Shaq's game still has one gaping hole, but according to the bag man himself, he "shouldn't be expected to make free throws."

The Inside Pitch

In just six months, the baseball strike has taken away four pennant races, a run at Roger Maris' record, and a World Series. In the next six months, it will claim Cal Ripken Jr.'s historic effort to break Lou Gehrig's streak of consecutive games played as another victim.

However, this battle over salary caps, pension funds, and revenue sharing is finally providing something for fans of the national pastime - a hearty laugh. Indeed, as spring training begins with replacement players, the 53-year-old Phil Niekro will be there, hoping to compete once again after a much-needed eight-year hiatus.

Ostensibly hoping to turn baseball into a geriatrics lesson, the knuckleballer plans to take his Geritol to the mound and take a nap between each inning. If the strike lasts long enough, Niekro could become the first player to collect his paycheck, pension fund, and social security check in the same month.

In a time when baseball fans should be talking about MVPs, divisional contenders, and Danny Tartabull, discussions focus on the NLRB, anti-trust law, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. The baseball strike has made a mockery of the sport, and the next months of court battles, congressional debates, and knuckleballers who were over the hill in 1978 throwing pitches to Fred, your neighborhood gasoline attendant by day, Red-Sox shortstop by night, will only add salt to the wound. An era in which exciting young players from Ken Griffey Jr. to Frank Thomas to Jeff Bagwell promised to take the game to a new level has become a period of absurdity which threatens to harm the great game irreparably.

Super Bowl Preview

If last year's Super Bowl matched David and Goliath, this year's big game might as well be David vs. The Marines. If you believe the oddsmakers, sports reporters, and Mark the happy-go-lucky forensic detective, San Francisco could beat San Diego with their hands glued to their shoes. So why even play this game?

We here in Mudville have a few suggestions that could make the Stupor Bowl much more festive than just another occasion where Frank Gifford gets to dress up and wear make-up.

Bold Suggestion #1: Let Miller challenge Bud in the Bud Bowl.

Thus far, Budweiser has a perpetrated a scandal of Black Sox proportions on the fragile, instant-win-card-toting American people. The games are fixed more often than the neighborhood dogs as they suspiciously only play themselves. This travesty of justice must be put to an end. No more friendly home-brewed matchups of Bud vs. Bud Light. No more "Oops, I hit you? Sorry." battles of Bud against Bud Dry.

We demand that competitive fervor be reinstated into Jan. 29 and that Budweiser be forced to prove their barley against a tough, gritty Miller team, with the winner facing Coors in the final. It is time to put the "spirit" back in Bud Bowl. The prosecution rests.

Bold Suggestion #2: Stan Humphries must play the entire game in pantyhose.

The last time a Super Bowl was predicted to be as one-sided as the Temple of Jerusalem, Joe Namath led a cocky group of New York Jets over a powerhouse Colts team. Broadway Joe even went so far as to guarantee victory. Main Street Stan should glean this lesson: Put a '90s slant on Namath and offer the viewing audience a money back guarantee if the game stinks, and wear women's hosiery instead of game pants.

Bold Suggestion #3: Simply show a rerun of the 1982 regular season game between the two.

Back when three was company and Kotter was still welcome, this game actually meant something. The tension was thick as Dan Fouts and Kellen Winslow engineered a scorching 4137 come-from-behind victory over a young but inalienably talented Forty Niner squad. Besides, the uniforms were far cooler back then.

Bold Suggestion #4: Let each team play themselves.

Let's face it, the pre-game hype just doesn't fire you up. Wouldn't we all order another furlong of hoagie to see Junior "One armed Jack" Seau pay off against Natrone "You know what I" Means? Wouldn't our collective adrenaline rise to see if Deion Sanders could turn Jerry into Uncle Ben? Unfortunately, we may just be stuck watching Gary "Liquid" Plummer try to squeeze the Harmon (San Diego running back Ronnie) in the face of Mr. Whipple, Bobby Ross.

Bold Suggestion #5: Dallas joins the AFC, enough said.

Bold Suggestion #6: Handicap Steve Young.

This week's 21-nun salute goes out to the golf guru who decided that if we all can't play to the same ability, let's subjugate the good guy. Here's the breakdown of the 19-point spread in terms of Steve Young's relative health.

San Diego earns 3 points if the 49er quarterback has to carry n'er-do-well investigative reporter Sam Donaldson on his back the entire game. The Chargers garner 8 points if Steve Young must have Englebert Humperdink's Greatest Hits playing at ear piercing volume in his helmet throughout. The Lightning Bolts will be only four point underdogs if Young is required to bleed internally and will actually be favored by two points if the San Francisco field general is forced to hold a flypaper machete in both hands and chant rhythmically, "OB-1 Kenobi, you're my only hope.

Official Super Bowl Prediction

Anyway, with the fate of the world teetering in the balance, we present the official 1995 Mudville Super Bowl XXIX prediction.

The first quarter starts with a bang as San Diego receiver Mark Seay crumbles to the ground, victim of a errant bullet intended for ABC sideline reporter Lynn Swann. The game soon settles down as San Francisco gets out to a 100 lead at the beginning of the second quarter. Thousands of miles away a Japanese family turns off the television.

Midway through the quarter Steve Young fires a long strike to wide open receiver Jerry Rice who uncharacteristically bobbles the ball. Later, Rice will admit that he was giddy over the realization that next year's Super Bowl will be XXX. Rice's faux pas turns out to be costly as defensive lineman Shawn "my name is an adverb" Lee sacks Young causing a fumble. The Chargers manage a field goal and go into halftime trailing only 103.

Regis and Kathy Lee complete a riveting halftime interview of French leader Francois Mitterand to the tune of a Gershwin medley, and thousands of miles away another Japanese family turns off the television.

The second frame opens with a solid San Diego drive, featuring a hard charging Natrone "Bomb" Means bowling over an overmatched Deion Sanders, leaving nothing but a pile of dust, a few gold chains, and a blue checkered bandanna. Nonetheless, the Lightning Bolts again fail to punch the ball in the endzone and claw back to a 106 margin. On the ensuing series, Junior Seau jarringly tackles rookie fullback William Floyd for a loss causing his own left arm to fall off. Teammate and placekicker John "Chicken Con" Carney offers up his arm as a replacement and the game proceeds.

As the third quarter winds to a close, the Niners lead 179 on a controversial scoring play when, apparently buoyed by Steve's ancestor Mormon founder Brigham Young, a rash of boils and locusts breaks out in the San Diego huddle.

The fourth quarter proves to be uneventful, however, until the final minutes. With defensive coordinator Bill Arnsparger secretly stealing signals of 49er offensive strategies with the help of envious ex-Steeler Lynn Swann on the sideline (the reason for the assassination attempt), the Charger defense holds the Forty Niners scoreless until the two minute warning.

ABC cuts to commercial and we finally see the McDonald's Super Bowl guys having simultaneous cardiac arrests after their 432 consecutive Big Macs.

The Chargers get the ball on their own 12-yard line with 1:46 remaining.

Dan Dierdorf proclaims, "This is the best game I've ever been apart of except for every game I played at Michigan."

Stan Humphries seizes the moment, finally emerging from under the shadow of Mark Rypien, a lonely place indeed. He orchestrates a brilliant touchdown drive mixing screens to Ronnie Harmon with 20-yard outs to the once again remarkably recovered Mark Seay.

As Natrone Means plunges over the glass chin of Ken Norton Jr. for the touchdown with four seconds remaining, the Chargers narrow the difference to 1715. The 35,000 strong (the Californians having left midway through the third quarter) at Joe Robbie Stadium spill their collective beer as, with a two point conversion instituted this year, the game could be sent into overtime. Thousands of miles away a Japanese family turns off the television.

San Diego lines up at the three yard line for the final fateful snap and...

The Languid Metro Atlantic Conference Game of the Week:

St. Bonaventure 67, Canisius 53.

Trivia of the Week

This week's trivia question comes from Super Bowls past:

Who was the Baltimore Colts' holder for Jim O'Brien's winning field goal in Super Bowl V? Who was the long snapper?

Last weeks answer: Pete Giftopolous. Kudos to Jim Parinella and Dan Stine, who sent in the only correct answers.