Sports Outside the Beltway

Armstrong Says LeMond ‘Not in Check with Reality’

The Lance Armstrong-Greg LeMond feud grew hotter today, as Armstrong vehemently denied LeMond’s claims that he’d threatened him with bodily harm.

Lance Armstrong denied Monday that he threatened three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond, calling the allegation “ridiculous.” “Greg is just not in check with reality,” Armstrong said Monday from New York City. “It’s ridiculous. Greg is obsessed with foiling my career. I’m apoplectic when I read stuff like that,” Armstrong said.

LeMond was the first American to win the Tour de France with victories in 1986 and 1989-90. Armstrong came back from life-threatening testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain to win seven in a row from 1999-2005 before retiring last year.

LeMond told the French weekly edition of L’Equipe Dimanche that he had testified in a recent legal dispute involving Armstrong. “He threatened my wife, my business, my livelihood,” LeMond told the newspaper. “His biggest threat consisted of saying he would find 10 people to testify that I took EPO. Of course, he didn’t find a single one.”

America’s top cyclists have had a public feud since 2001 when LeMond said he was unhappy about Armstrong’s association with Italian doctor Michele Ferrari, who had been linked to doping accusations but later was cleared by an appeals court.

Quite bizarre. LeMond was a legendary cyclist, the first of whom I’d ever heard, but he’s clearly been overshadowed by Armstrong. Not once has Armstrong had more success as a racer, but he’s got the “cancer survivor” story and been a major celebrity, including a widely publicized romance with Sheryl Crow.


Dexter Manley Recovering from Brain Surgery

Dexter Manley, the star defensive end for the Washington Redskins perhaps best known for his drug abuse problems, is recovering from extensive brain surgery.

Dexter Manley, the former All-Pro defensive end for the Washington Redskins, underwent 10½ hours of brain surgery Wednesday and, as expected, is experiencing minor, isolated memory loss.

According to his wife, Lydia, Manley was hospitalized June 16 after police found him “disoriented” in northeast Washington. She said a CT scan showed an enlarged colloid cyst that was collecting fluid and causing increased intracranial pressure. Doctors recommended surgery, and Manley, 48, is now resting in the intensive care unit at Georgetown University Hospital.

His prognosis is for a relatively full recovery, although doctors have told his wife that memory loss is a common side effect of the operation. When asked this weekend to recall his jersey number with the Redskins, Manley answered, “7272,” and he also confused the names of some of his closer friends.

“I guess that’s what the doctors were talking about,” Lydia Manley said. “But he was asked where he was born, and he was right, he said, ‘Houston.’ The nurse said, ‘Oh, you’re a Longhorn,’ and he said, ‘Yes.’ He’s not confused. He’s fine; he’s blessed. He might be a little off, but not that far off. He’s OK.”

Manley, who is 6-foot-3 and about 260 pounds, is expected to be hospitalized for at least another week. “I don’t feel too good,” he said over the telephone. “My head hurts, I’m cold a little bit. When I drink water, I get a little cold. They’ve been poking me all day. Needles and needles and needles.”


Manley, who was banned from the NFL in 1991 for repeated cocaine abuse, had known about his colloid cyst for 20 years. He had collapsed inside a Georgetown department store in April 1986 after an all-night drug spree, and doctors found the cyst after performing a routine CT scan in the emergency room. Surgery, at the time, could have been career-ending, but, according to Lydia, several doctors told Manley that the cyst was only the size of a nickel and that he could continue playing. They recommended a CT scan every six months to monitor the cyst’s growth, but Manley stopped getting checked in 1994 when he left the Washington area and moved to Houston.

Manley was never known for his good judgment. I’m happy to hear that he’ll get yet another chance to get it right.


Yanks vs. Braves: Haves vs. Have-nots

AJC’s Thomas Stinson notes how much has changed in the decade since the Braves and Yankees faced each other in the World Series.

Back in the Bronx for the first time in five seasons, the Braves tonight open a three-game series that will describe for them in most dramatic terms yet how their world has changed. Once the freest spenders in their respective leagues, the Yankees this time will field a team that is being paid more than twice as much as the Braves ($194.67 million to $80 million).


Back on the night of Jones’ two-homer heroics in 1996, the Braves and Yankees were the game’s gold standard. For seven straight years, the teams ranked either first or second in payroll in their respective leagues, but also did so with rosters anchored by everyday players they drafted and developed.

No longer. The Braves’ 40-man roster includes 27 players who were originally drafted or signed by the organization. (John Foster, first drafted by the club in 1999, was traded away but subsequently re-signed with the team.) Though the roster includes 10 free agents, only two of those were signed to major-league contracts (Todd Pratt and John Thomson), and only one of them makes more than $1 million (Thomson at $4.75 million).

New York’s 40-man roster has 10 players originally drafted/signed and developed in the Yankees system. More than a third of the roster (15 players) is composed of free agents, who this season together will earn more than $140.6 million.

Five Yankees will make in excess of $15 million this season. No Brave can match that salary.

“Don’t care. Doesn’t bother me a bit,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “I like a ball game. When it starts, everybody’s even. I love it. I love it. I get sick and tired of playing the same [NL East] team 19 times.”

It is an amazing reversal. Once Ted Turner sold the Braves, along with the rest of his empire, to TimeWarner, it has been run on a for-profit basis with the constrained payrolls that come with that mindset. To be sure, they’ve managed to win division titles despite their changing economic circumstances (a trend that is sure to end this year) but they’ve not been World Serie contenders for years. And, while it’s been awhile since the Yankees last won it all, they’re automatic contenders every year.


Andre Agassi to Retire after Wimbledon and U.S. Open

Andre Agassi has announced, on the eve of Wimbledon, that he will retire after this year’s U.S. Open.

Andre Agassi will retire after this year’s U.S. Open, leaving tennis after two decades during which he collected a career Grand Slam and morphed from “Image Is Everything” brashness to elder statesman.

The 36-year-old American announced his plans Saturday during a news conference at the All England Club, where Wimbledon starts Monday and he is seeded 25th. “It’s been a lot of sacrifices the last few months, trying to get myself right to come back here and enjoy this tournament for the last time,” said Agassi, who has played only one match during the past three months because of back trouble. “It’s been a long road this year for me, and for a lot of reasons. It’s great to be here. This Wimbledon will be my last, and the U.S. Open will be my last tournament.”

He intends to play in four hard-court events in the United States between Wimbledon and the Open, in what will amount to a farewell tour for one of the most popular and successful tennis players in history. “There’s still a lot of fight left in me from here through the Open,” he said.

Agassi has won eight major singles titles — one each at Wimbledon and the French Open, two at the U.S. Open and four at the Australian Open — and is one of only five men to have collected at least one championship at each of the Grand Slam tournaments. All this from someone who was, infamously, more about style than substance at the start of his career, drawing attention for his denim shorts, Day-Glo headband, long hair and earring. And it was all encapsulated by his “Image Is Everything” ad campaign for a camera company. There also was plenty of interest in his two-year marriage to actress Brooke Shields and his friendship with Barbra Streisand.

At one point, he went through a series of injuries and a dry spell so dismal that he dropped out of the top 100 in the rankings and resorted to playing on the minor league Challenger tour. Then came his remarkable renaissance, built in part with the most rigorous of training regimens. In 1998, he made the biggest one-year jump into the top 10 in the history of the ATP Tour by moving up 122 spots to No. 6. The next year, he won the French Open to complete his career Slam.


Ranked No. 1 as recently as 2003, the oldest man to hold the top spot, he made a stirring run to the U.S. Open final last year, the seventh time he was the runner-up at a Grand Slam. “After the U.S. Open last year, I had a lot of reasons to be motivated to shoot for another successful year, but for many reasons that hasn’t been the case, and I wanted to do everything I could just to get back here,” said Agassi, who missed Wimbledon the past two years because of injuries. “And this is where it started for me, my dreams.”

His first major championship came in 1992 at the All England Club, far from his favorite tournament early in his career. After a 1987 first-round loss, he didn’t return until 1991. At the time, one of his justifications was his belief that his outlandish persona and bright outfits were a poor fit for this most traditional of tournaments. Another was that he deemed grass courts better suited to grazing than groundstrokes.

But he changed his mind, beat Goran Ivanisevic in the 1992 Wimbledon final, and credits that victory with changing the course of his career. “It’s like it was yesterday, 14 years ago. I imagine it’s that way when your child goes off to college. You say, ‘What the heck happened in all these years?’ It feels like yesterday for me, as vivid, as alive as ever.”

Which is why he chose this setting to deliver the news of his farewell. “There’s been a lot of challenges,” Agassi said, “but it’s been 20, 21 years of incredible, incredible memories.”

Indeed. He was, for far two long, essentially the Anna Kournikova of the men’s tour. He was a teen prodigy and making it big on the endorsement circuit but just didn’t seem to have the fire in his belly to do what it took to prepare to actually win significant tournaments. Somewhere along the line, his fair fell out and his resolve magically rekindled. Despite a late start, he turned in one hell of a career.


Theo Bell, Former Steeler WR, Dies at 52

Theo Bell, who played wide receiver and returned kicks for the Pittsburgh Steelers during their second two Super Bowls of the 1970s, died last week from kidney disease.

Former NFL wide receiver and return specialist Theo Bell, whose 10-year career in the league included a pair of Super Bowl victories with the Pittsburgh Steelers, died Wednesday at age 52 after a long battle with kidney disease.

Bell was diagnosed in 2000 with polycystic kidney disease, a condition in which cysts attack the kidneys. More recently he also suffered from scleroderma, a disease which causes a hardening of the skin and damage to internal organs. The scleroderma had severely damaged Bell’s lungs.

Bell, the Steelers’ fourth-round choice from Arizona in the 1976 draft, played five seasons in Pittsburgh (1976-80), then signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent in 1981, and played five seasons with the Bucs (1981-85). With the Steelers, he won Super Bowl rings for victories in Super Bowl XIII and Super Bowl XIV, playing as the team’s No. 4 wide receiver and as a punt returner and on special teams coverage units.

In 10 seasons, Bell appeared in 127 games. He caught 136 passes for 2,375 yards and eight touchdowns and returned 189 punts for an 8.0-yard average.

After his career, Bell, who had been raised in a series of foster homes in California, became involved in a number of charitable endeavors in the Tampa community. The most prominent was the GEARUP program, which originated at the University of South Florida, in which a mentor counsels a group of children from middle school and follows their progress through high school. Bell was particularly involved with Blake High School in Tampa.

At the time of his death, Bell was on waiting lists for kidney and lung transplants, but had been hospitalized for two months and was undergoing dialysis three times a week.

Sad news. Only 52.


Knicks Trying to Find Way to Not Pay Larry Brown

The New York Knicks’ problem with canning Larry Brown is he still has $40 million left on his contract. The team may have found a loophole:

The Knicks contend Larry Brown broke Madison Square Garden policy with his roadside interviews, a decision the team believes could wind up saving them millions.

The Knicks fired Brown on Thursday after one season as their coach and replaced him with team president and general manager Isiah Thomas. Brown has four years and a reported $40 million left on his contract, but the Knicks say the Hall of Fame coach is not entitled to all of it because of his disregard for team policy.

Since James Dolan became owner of the Knicks and Rangers, Madison Square Garden policy specifies that any interviews must be done with a public relations official present — with no exceptions, according to a person familiar with the policy, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because this matter has not been resolved.

After reports surfaced in May that Dolan was considering buying out Brown’s contract, the Knicks made neither Brown nor Thomas available after they worked out potential draft prospects.

Reporters soon began waiting near the entrance to the Knicks’ training facility in Greenburgh, N.Y. On a few occasions, Brown pulled his car over to speak, saying during one interview he felt like a “dead man walking.”

That Knicks owner is a control freak.


New York Knicks fire Larry Brown

From AP

NEW YORK – The New York Knicks put Larry Brown out of his coaching misery Thursday, ending weeks of uncertainty by firing the Hall of Fame coach with four years and a reported $40 million left on his contract. President and general manager Isiah Thomas will replace Brown as coach.

In Brown’s one season in New York, the Knicks stumbled to a 23-59 record — second worst in the NBA and matching the most losses in club history — while Brown publicly feuded with Stephon Marbury and other players.


It’s the second straight ugly ending for Brown, who was bought out by the Pistons last season despite leading Detroit to the NBA finals, winning one title, in both of his seasons there.

The Knicks then gave the Brooklyn native what he called his “dream job” with hopes that he could return his hometown team to the playoffs. But despite a league-high payroll of more than $120 million, the result was perhaps the most embarrassing season in franchise history.

Brown, who missed three games in April because of illness, had only one worse season as a coach, when he went 21-61 with the San Antonio Spurs in 1988-89.

The bickering with Marbury — a favorite of Thomas and Dolan — just added to the chaos. Brown and Marbury clashed when Brown coached the U.S. team in the 2004 Olympics, and the relationship was closely watched from the moment Brown arrived in New York.

In March, Marbury vowed to play more aggressively next season, because playing Brown’s way wasn’t leading to enough wins. Brown fired back that Marbury already had enough freedom and should do what was best for the team, and the back-and-forth continued for four days before Brown pulled Marbury aside to settle it.

Other players said they were confused about their roles with the team, as Brown used more than 40 different starting lineups, easily the most in the league. Thomas acquired Steve Francis and Jalen Rose during the season, but neither made much impact.


Thomas becomes the Knicks’ fifth coach in the last five years. Jeff Van Gundy left early in the 2001-02 season and has been followed by Don Chaney, Lenny Wilkens and Herb Williams before Brown.

Brown coached the Pistons to the NBA title in the 2003-04 season. He missed 17 games the following year with the Pistons because of hip replacement surgery. That led to a bladder problem that required surgery.

Brown is 1,010-800 in 23 seasons as an NBA coach, making previous stops in Denver, New Jersey, San Antonio, the Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana, Philadelphia and Detroit. He also coached four seasons in the ABA and won a national championship with Kansas in 1988.

Larry Brown’s firing doesn’t surprise me. The Knicks aren’t well run and the management has little patience. Last year was a disaster for the team on the court. Off the court looks little better after what the Knicks shelled out for Brown.

Brown on the other hand tends to wear out his welcome where ever he works.(Similiar to the late Billy Martin in baseball without half the drama) but almost always produced results I’m not a big basketball fan, but I had a feeling this wouldn’t be a long-term arrangement.

Some team will land Brown before the next NBA season is half over. You heard it here first.


Internet Makes NFL Scouting Easier, Draft Better

John Clayton argues that the days of superstar undrafted free agents like Rod Smith, Kurt Warner, and Jake Delhomme are numbered.

The NFL always has been a friendly haven for the undrafted player to succeed. Teams build through the draft, but they also need the luck of finding football players who slip through the cracks and make it on hustle and desire. Personnel offices do group high fives when players make the journey from being off the draft boards to playing in the Pro Bowl.

While those undrafted stars defied the world of computerized scouting that spit out reports deeming their size, height and speed numbers deficient, it’s a different form of analysis that is putting bull’s-eyes on their backs. The Internet is toughening the odds for undrafted players to make it.

How is technology affecting the futures of players? It’s simple. The Internet spreads information at an incredible rate. Internet draft gurus not attached to teams build enough quality database information on college prospects that it’s harder for good players to be bypassed. Teams have benefited. They draft smarter and better.


Rarer are the days when undrafted players man the five main positions (defensive end, left tackle, wide receiver, cornerback and quarterback) teams use as the foundation of their franchises. Only 18 start at those positions and none has been developed at those spots since 2002.

So much has been made of the five undrafted quarterbacks who are projected as starters — Warner (Arizona), Delhomme (Carolina), Billy Volek (Tennessee), Kelly Holcomb (Buffalo) and Jon Kitna (Detroit) — but those players were products of different eras to a certain degree. In the 1990s, quarterbacks were harder to find because colleges ran the ball rather than use the spread passing offenses.

NFL teams had to send untested quarterbacks to NFL Europe to develop their skills. Several came back and became quality starters. The Peyton Manning draft of 1998 was the turning point for the quarterback position because it was the first in which more passing quarterbacks were coming from the college ranks.

I would add, too, that the small college draft steals are probably a thing of the past, too. The Emporia States (Leon Lett) and Jackson Universities (Walter Payton) are no longer backwaters now that scouts can easily get game film, stats, and analysis without physically going to all the games.


NFL Pre-Season Rankings 2006

ESPN’s staff has ranked the 32 NFL teams heading into training camp. Not surprisingly, the Steelers and Seahawks are the top two teams. Readers might be surprised, though, to see how those teams are ordered given how the Super Bowl went.

We’re pretty sure it won’t make Steelers fans happy, but the Seahawks open on top after coming up just short in 2005. These rankings were compiled from seven members of’s football staff. Each of the seven ranked the teams from 1-32, and the average of those rankings was used to determine our offseason Power Rankings. Of our seven voters, three had Seattle No. 1, three had the Steelers No. 1 and one had the Colts in the top spot.

The Seahawks lost some key players in G Steve Hutchinson and WR Joe Jurevicius, but most importantly they were able to re-sign the NFL’s reigning MVP, RB Shaun Alexander. Losing Hutchinson will hurt, but don’t expect it to have too much of an impact on Alexander. He might not be able to match last season’s amazing numbers (1,880 yards rushing and 28 TDs), but he’ll be in the neighborhood.

As for the Steelers, they lost some key players this offseason (Antwaan Randle El, Chris Hope, Kimo von Oelhoffen). But assuming Ben Roethlisberger really is ready when the season starts, Pittsburgh will be fine. Big Ben is the key at this point. All the reports are positive, but he obviously suffered some major injuries to his face, and until he gets back on the field we really won’t know what kind of an impact it might have on his season.

A number of teams made big moves from the last time we ranked them (after Week 17). The Cowboys made perhaps the offseason’s biggest move, signing Terrell Owens, and jumped from No. 16 in our final rankings to No. 7 this offseason. The Dolphins, who finished 2005 on a six-game winning streak, moved all the way up to No. 8 (from No. 14) and look poised to challenge the Patriots in the AFC East. Assuming he’s healthy, Daunte Culpepper gives the Dolphins the top-flight QB they’ve lacked since Dan Marino left town.

The top 10:

NFL Pre-Season Rankings 2006 1 (2) 	Seahawks 	13-3-0 	Super Bowl losers have struggled in recent years, but the Hawks appear equipped for another run.<br />
	2 (6) 	Steelers 	11-5-0 	Obviously the injuries to Ben Roethlisberger weren't as serious as they could have been. But as much work as it sounded like he needed on his face, it's not going to be an easy road back.<br />
	3 (1) 	Colts 	14-2-0 	With the versatile Edgerrin James now in the desert, Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai have big shoes to fill.<br />
	4 (3) 	Broncos 	13-3-0 	Between Jay Cutler and Javon Walker, they've brought in their QB-WR tandem of the future.<br />
	5 (9) 	Panthers 	11-5-0 	There's some question about how Keyshawn Johnson and Steve Smith will get along. As much as both guys want the ball, they also want to win and the Panthers should do enough of that in '06 to keep both WRs happy.<br />
	6 (4) 	Patriots 	10-6-0 	Yes, the Pats lost some key players this offseason. But are you really ready to hand the AFC East to someone else with Brady and Belichick still at the wheel?<br />
	7 (16) 	Cowboys 	9-7-0 	Dallas' offseason was all about T.O. If Owens is the player he was in his first season in Philly (77 receptions for 1,200 yards and 14 TDs), Dallas could be very good.<br />
	8 (14) 	Dolphins 	9-7-0 	If Daunte Culpepper is as healthy as it sounds, the Dolphins got a steal in getting him for a second-round pick.<br />
	9 (8) 	Bengals 	11-5-0 	Tough offseason for the Bengals with all the off-the-field issues. On the field it's pretty simple -- Cincinnati's season rests on the health of Carson Palmer's left knee.<br />
	10 (12) 	Redskins 	10-6-0 	Will this offseason's free-agent spending spree be the one that finally pays off for the Redskins?

What’s particularly interesting to me, as a Cowboys fan, is that, not only is a team that finished last year 9-7 and out of the playoffs listed at #7, that’s the case despite three of the NFC East’s four teams ranked in the top 11 (Redskins #10, Giants #11) and the 4th (the Eagles) a respectable #18. Finishing that strong despite playing against one another would be impressive, indeed.


Miami Wins Game 6, Claims NBA Title

The Miami Heat cap off their home sweep of the Dallas Mavericks with a 95-92 win to claim the franchise’s first NBA title. Dwyane Wade added to his legendary finals performance with 36 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists. He was named series’ MVP.


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