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If Murphy coaches until he's 65 (he's 48 now) and continues to win games at the same pace, he will break the all-time NCAA record for baseball victories. Just this year, he was named to his second Pac-10 Coach of the Year honor, after helming the Sun Devils to the conference championship and their best season since 2000. The irascible coach, known for his tough dugout demeanor and ball-busting sense of humor, was hired by ASU from Notre Dame 13 seasons ago, and has carried on the tradition of Winkles and Brock to keep our hometown U a national baseball power.
This winning atmosphere is more than we can say for the other men's coaches on the Tempe campus over the past several years. (Women's basketball coach Charli Turner Thorne, with a 203-134 record, rivals Murphy in coaching excellence.) The ASU team has gone to the College World Series 20 times, including this year, when Murphy's team was eliminated by UC-Irvine. Murphy's a tough coach, but it's hard to find a player who goes through his program who doesn't respect and love him once it's all over.
Last season, Mountain View became the first large school to win three state titles in a row since the defunct Phoenix Union won four from 1958 to 1961. The title marked Ernst's seventh as a head coach, including one with Chandler High back in 1976, when he was still in his 20s. Not yet 60, the lanky, professorial Ernst looks as if he's not going anywhere for years to come, a frightening notion for his opponents. His teams usually reflect his own personality rarely flashy, but fundamentally sound and doggedly determined to win, especially against more athletic opponents. Now getting close to 700 wins, which makes him one of the winningest basketball coaches in Arizona history, Gary Ernst does it the right way, demanding a lot from his teenagers on and off the court, and getting it.
But what's going to make the 6-foot-5 Leinart really famous is what he'll do on the football field this year. Even under ridiculous Coach Denny Green, Leinart had a good (now, we didn't say great) first year in the NFL. He set a rookie record for passing (405 yards) in the Minnesota Vikings game. Then (oops!) he went a dismal 13-for-32 passing against the worst team in football, the Oakland Raiders. Overall, he threw for 2,547 yards and 11 touchdowns and finished with a 4-7 record.
But we're telling you the best is yet to come. The Heisman Trophy winner and quarterback of a national championship team was an NFL rookie last year! Leinart is set to take the league by storm his first game this season notwithstanding. He vows he's gotten his Hollywood-itis under control and is focused on playing football for the hometown boys. The other Cardinals love the guy, which is saying something for a second-year player. He's got charisma, but it's more than that. The hardened pros around him, including veteran running back Edgerrin James, realize he's come to play, and that based on his extremely solid performance last year will only get better under a good coach and behind an improved offensive line.
But first, there was basketball star John Amaechi, the former center who, early this year, became the first NBA player to publicly come out of the closet. He was here, he was queer, and we're still getting over it our pride, that is, in having scored such a coup. Okay, so Amaechi (who spent five seasons with four different teams) was already a sports star, but people who don't follow athletics (read: most gay people) hadn't heard of him before he announced that he likes other guys. And, okay, so Phoenix didn't make him gay (at least we don't think so, anyway), and his connection to our hometown is relatively slender: He owns a vacation home in Scottsdale.
But we want to lay claim to John Amaechi (not to be confused with '40s movie star Don Ameche, who also lived in Scottsdale until his death a few years ago), because he's made some strides for gay rights; because he's one of only six professional male athletes to openly discuss his sexuality; and because his autobiography, Man in the Middle, was a bestseller. Plus he's kind of cute. We're proud!
First, it was a contract year for Byrnes, in that he was up for a new one, and because of his huge accomplishments on the field in '07, he expected to cash in. If not with the D-Backs, then somewhere else. Athletes don't last forever, and they have to make the most of a career year. Just before deadline for this item, we heard that Eric's agent and D-Backs management had finally come to terms. Thus, Byrnsie's here to stay which is good because Byrnes is one of those players who adds swagger to a team. For Lou Gehrig's sake, he batted third (Micky Mantle batted third!) practically all season!
But back to the reason for this blurb . . . that unbelievable hair! Byrnes cuts his curly blond locks himself, just washes (we think) and lets them go. He says so all the time when the guys on Best Damn Sports Show Period on which he appears frequently rib him unmercifully about his goldilocks. The look goes along with the jeans with a hole in the knee and the faded T-shirts he favors when not in uniform. This is why, when he takes off his baseball cap, he looks as if he just stuck his tongue in a light socket. Now, Byrnes had a lot of competition for the Best Sports Hair Best-Of around here, notably from Suns captain Steve Nash. But as we gazed at Nash's shaggy mullet all winter a far cry from the shoulder-length locks or the buzz-cut he once sported we decided he didn't measure up to Eric.
Bell's amazing! He's got a reputation as one of the biggest badasses in the league. He's a tough defensive player who wasn't afraid to throw Kobe Bryant to the floor, even though it led to a suspension. Some call him psychotic! And yet there's not a blemish on that pretty face, not a chip in that Pepsodent grille. Maybe it's because nobody's actually punched Bell in that handsome kisser yet even though every single player he's guarded sure wanted to. Many have had to be restrained by teammates.
On a squad filled with guys who could win the good sportsmanship award every year and who're mostly pug-ugly (Shawn Marion resembles a space alien, Steve Nash looks a little inbred, Boris Diaw's like a lanky leprechaun) Bell stands out. Bill Laimbeer of the old Detroit Pistons "Bad Boys" is the last player we remember who's this consistently mean. Laimbeer was bigger and tougher (he had six inches and 60 pounds on Raja), but we get the impression that Bell's angry at all times on the court. Look at that eat-shit-and-die grimace he's always wearing! If he wasn't so damn good-looking, he'd scare us to death.
But not until he flashed a gold-toothed grin and uttered, "How you doin'?" in that lispy, high-pitched voice. It was Iron Mike! We wheeled around and extended our sweaty hand. We'd always wanted to shake the mitt of one of the great heavyweight champions of all time.
He seemed a very nice guy. This was at a time before Mike had gone to prison for rape in 1992. It was long before he'd dined on Evander Holyfield's ear in 1997.
Ratchet forward to 2003 to present, and here's Tyson training at Phoenix gyms, attending Phoenix Suns games, getting pulled over for a traffic violation (with dope in his car), and filing for bankruptcy, though he owns a Paradise Valley home. Okay, he's a joke now (he's got a large face tattoo, for the love of Joe Louis!), but it wasn't always so.
The product of a troubled youth in Brooklyn, Tyson was fighting as soon as he was talking. That lisp attracted bullies, and soon Tyson became the toughest kid in school (he was kicked out for brawling). He became famous as a professional for knocking out his opponents. He KO'd his first 19 pro challengers inside six rounds. He won 44 of his 58 pro bouts by knockout. Tyson was the only boxer to ever knock out the legendary Larry Holmes. He was the youngest heavyweight champ ever at 20 years old, and estimates of how much he earned during his career top out at $300 million. At 35, his quest for another championship ended when Lennox Lewis knocked him out.
He's retired from the competitive ring but still makes bank doing exhibition bouts around the country. We saw him at a Scottsdale mall several months ago, and he was looking pretty much the same as he did on that L.A. street when he was at his peak except for the face tattoo.
Also, didn't the former two-bit actress (Dirt Nap, A League of Their Own) whose biggest role ever has been as hockey-legend armpiece know her husband's image would be tarnished by the company he keeps at home? Especially when a family member bets on sports.
The good thing is, Jones allegedly bet at least $10,000 on football games, not hockey games, according to New Jersey authorities. The gambling investigation targeted suspended Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet, and we've got to wonder what the hell Jones was doing mixed up in the same sordid mess as her husband's assistant speaking of the company one keeps?
Authorities say Jones violated no laws and may merely be called as a witness against others. Tocchet's admitted to promoting and conspiring to promote gambling in New Jersey in the form of two guilty pleas. Not long ago, he was sentenced to two years' probation. Here's hoping that the Great One keeps his wife on a tighter leash and not in any kinky way because we' d hate to lose him. He's just what the Coyotes need to someday gain respectability.
There were several warning signs that Wade was a timebomb about to explode. He had threatened ASU gymnast Trisha Dixon and soccer player Haley von Blommestein, his girlfriend, over a period of weeks, and Koetter let it go. Wade was too important to Koetter's need for a winning season to suspend from the team before a violent crime was committed. With knowledge that Wade had possibly threatened Dixon's life, ASU allowed Wade to practice three times with the team in 2005 before he brandished a pistol at Brandon Falkner outside a Scottsdale nightclub. One witness said he was holding the gun gangster-style. The weapon discharged (Wade said accidentally), but the result was that ex-ASU football player Falkner was dead. Wade apparently acted in a jealous rage because Falkner had been chatting with von Blommestein minutes before.
Wade was sentenced in Maricopa County Superior Court this summer to 20 years in prison for second-degree murder.