- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 6, 2003

When that Illinois high school kid “broke” the conference record for passing yards recently — aided and abetted by a dormant defense — the most significant number wasn’t 4,998 (the old record) or 37 (the length, in yards, of his last completion) but 1998. That’s when the old record was set — five whole years ago.

We’re not talking about some mark of Red Grange’s that has survived since the ‘20s, since his Wheaton Iceman days. We’re talking about one that went into the books when Nate Haasis, the quarterback in question, was in middle school.

If only Neal Taylor, Haasis’ coach at Southeast High in Springfield, Ill., had thought about that before cooking up a deal with Cahokia coach Antwyne Galliday late in the game a couple of weeks ago. The deal, as most of America knows by now, was this: We’ll let your team score a meaningless touchdown — Cahokia was already ahead 36-20 and running out the clock — if you’ll let our QB complete a pass to break the Central State Eight Conference record.

Little did Taylor know the fury he would unleash. His corrupt bargain has been discussed with disgust from coast to coast, and his quarterback was so shamed by the developments that he asked that his “record” be erased. All this for what? So a player could lease a record for a few years until the next hotshot came along?

Records, as they say, are meant to be broken, and passing records, in particular, tend to have the life span of a Rob Lowe series. If the Southeast coach had any sense of perspective — never mind the ethical issues — he would have realized that and saved himself and his quarterback a lot of grief.

Unfortunately, everybody in sports wants to be “defined” these days. You hear ad nauseam about “defining moments” and “defining games” and blah, blah, blah. Well, what’s more defining than a record, any record — even the one for most hot dogs consumed in 12 minutes? (Takeru “The Tsunami” Kobayashi, 50, 2002.)

This, as much as anything, is what Taylor got caught up in. The man isn’t guilty of moral bankruptcy as much as he’s guilty of “record worship.” After all, the record wasn’t even for himself, it was for one of his players; and he saw it, no doubt, as some kind of gift, as a reward for meritorious service. The fact that his player hadn’t actually “earned” the record fair and square didn’t even seem to enter into it.

“My intention was just to get Nate’s name in the record book,” he explained.

Alas, instead of being remembered for the 4,969 yards he legitimately threw for, Haasis figures to be remembered for the 37 phony yards his coach tried to tack on at the end. (Thanks to that godless technological advance known as the search engine, which condemns every sinner, large and small, to eternal damnation.)

Taylor is hardly the only sports figure infected with this virus. Why, just the other day, the Redskins’ Bruce Smith was grumbling about losing his starting job to Regan Upshaw in the Dallas game. What really irked Smith, of course, was that he still needs two sacks to break Reggie White’s all-time record of 198 — and how’s a guy supposed to get two sacks standing on the sideline?

“I have goals that I would like to achieve myself — team goals and individual goals,” he said. “At some point in your career, you have to take a stand and be a little selfish.”

In State College, Pa., a similar story is playing out. In his single-minded pursuit of Bear Bryant’s record for career victories, Penn State’s Joe Paterno has clearly stayed too long. Paterno suffered through back-to-back seasons of 5-7 and 5-6 — just his second and third losing teams at the school — so he could break Bryant’s mark of 323 wins in ‘01. Now Penn State has lost five in a row (a first in the Paterno era), Florida State’s Bobby Bowden has replaced JoePa atop the victory list, and the Nittany Lions’ coach is declaring stubbornly, “Whether you like it or not, I am going to be around next year.”

A sad ending, indeed. (Joe Paterno: He put the wreck in record.) But such is the culture of sports. Break a record, the thinking goes, and you’re immortal — until someone else comes along, that is, and breaks your record. They always seem to forget about that second part, and it usually happens sooner rather than later. Art Monk, I’ll just point out, is now fifth all-time in the NFL in pass receptions. (And Charley Taylor, who was No.1 before Art, isn’t even in the top 20.)

It makes you appreciate the records that aren’t passed around like a basket of Halloween candy. You may have noticed, for instance, that Mark Messier just moved into second place on the NHL’s career scoring list, supplanting iconic Gordie Howe. Messier has racked up 1,851 points — a mere 1,006 less than a fellow named Gretzky. Now there’s a record that may last a while, that may be resistant to both time and foolishness.

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