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Madden: Good move to block Sanders' return

Saturday, December 28, 2002

Like wrapping paper collecting on the living room floor during a flurry of gift opening, here's a pile of refreshing sports notes that accumulated in my mind during the holiday week.

Kudos to the five teams (including the Steelers) that blocked Deion Sanders' path to a playoff comeback with Oakland by claiming him on waivers. It is the responsibility of each NFL team to give itself the best chance to win. Stopping Sanders from going to a contender fulfills that responsibility. Furthermore, it's great to see a prima donna like Sanders not get his own way, especially when it involves cherry-picking a Super Bowl contender to play for after sitting out all year. If Sanders wants to attempt a comeback, he should sign with a team this coming off-season, then show up for training camp, exhibition games and 16 regular-season games. If Sanders' team is a contender at that point, it will be because he helped make it so. Sanders was a special player. But he should get no special treatment.

The St. Louis Rams will trade Kurt Warner to Washington, thus handing Pittsburgh native Marc Bulger the starting quarterback job. Bulger is simply better than Warner, and St. Louis Coach Mike Martz knows it.

A tip o' the hat to the three geniuses who got into a physical confrontation in a Dormont restaurant this past Monday after an argument over the Steelers' game. The fight left one dead and two others as suspects in his murder, but the Steelers are obviously a cause worth dying for. Or being incarcerated for. I'm sure they watch the playoffs in prison.

Pitt's 38-13 Insight Bowl win against Oregon State was impressive. But it doesn't totally erase the taste of the Panthers' regular season-ending home loss to West Virginia. Going 9-4 is good. But 10-3 would be worlds better. At least, Tyler Palko has a bowl-game touchdown to show for his wasted year of eligibility.

A great moment for women's sports occurred on Christmas when walk-on kicker Katie Hnida of New Mexico became the first woman to play in an NCAA Division I football game. Hnida also became the first kicker in NCAA Division I football history to actually kick the ball short on an extra point -- she booted it into the legs of her own linemen -- but hey, history is history. Sisters are doin' it for themselves! Reality check: This was just another manufactured farce passed off as achievement.

The Dapper Dan Club has been naming a Sportswoman of the Year for four years, and some past choices have, frankly, been manufactured farce. Not so this year. The selection of McKeesport native Swin Cash, a big contributor with the Connecticut women's basketball dynasty, rings every bit as true as the choice of Pitt men's coach Ben Howland for Sportsman of the Year. Cash is legit.

Howland to me after Pitt's rout of Ohio State: "If you like hockey, you should love us." True dat. Pitt plays a tough, mean-spirited defense that would look just as at home in front of Johan Hedberg as it does below a basket suspended 10 feet above a hardwood floor. Pitt's talent and physical attributes aside, you can only play that kind of defense if you want to. The Panthers really want to.

When the New York Yankees win, it's because of George Steinbrenner's money and despite his faulty, ego-driven judgment. Case in point: The Yankees just committed $53 million to two players, Japan's Hideki Matsui and Cuba's Jose Contreras, who have never played one inning of Major League Baseball. Matsui is 28. Contreras says he's 31, but he could be Fidel Castro's twin for all Steinbrenner knows. Don't blame Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman. He's smarter than this. Steinbrenner isn't.

Why didn't the Pirates try to trade for pitcher Kevin Millwood, who went from Atlanta to Philadelphia in exchange for a backup catcher? Atlanta was ditching Millwood for salary reasons -- he'll likely command $10 million via arbitration -- but I'm sure the Braves would have rather sent Millwood to the Pirates, not a divisional rival. The Pirates will have a little cash to spend next year when a few contracts (like Kevin Young's) run out. Why not spend that today and readjust the budget tomorrow? Millwood would have been a huge addition.

The New York Rangers are the biggest joke in sports. The only time Eric Lindros hustles is when he runs somebody from behind. Darius Kasparaitis is a bigger turnstile there than he was here. Bobby Holik's major contribution so far this season is giving Mario Lemieux a cheap shot Thursday. General Manager Glen Sather hasn't accomplished anything since his glory days at Edmonton in the '80s. Paying $75 million for a 13-19-5-1 record should cause heads to roll. Or to be examined.

Pittsburgh amateur hockey has come a long way. You can see tangible evidence of that this coming Friday when Ohio State plays Princeton in a Division I hockey game at Mellon Arena. Four local players are regulars with Ohio State, including top scorer R.J. Umberger of Plum. Umberger, the Vancouver Canucks' first-round choice in 2001, could shoot a quarter into a soda machine.

Mark Madden is the host of a sports talk show from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN Radio 1250.

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