- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2004

Things to think about while waiting for pitchers, catchers and Mark Brunell to report:

• • • •

Memories have been dredged up lately about the old Washington Coliseum because the Beatles made their American concert debut there 40 years ago this week. I wasn’t on the scene that night — wish I had been — but I have my own memories of the building at Third and M streets NE.

Basically, it was a dump, even in the late 1940s when its name was Uline Arena and its sporting tenants included Red Auerbach’s Washington Capitols of the old Basketball Association of America and a minor league hockey team called the Washington Lions.

Every now and then, I’d visit the arena with a family member or a pal, and what I remember most is how cold Uline’s was because the ice rink chilled spectators through and through. Even in January or February, it sometimes seemed colder inside than outside. When you watched a game, you kept your coat on — and maybe your gloves, too.

The circus played Uline’s a couple times a year, and the smell of sawdust never evaporated. Neither did certain other smells.

The old Caps, who folded in 1951 from a widespread lack of interest, were a superb team that went 49-11 in 1946-47, their first season. One of their stars was Bones McKinney, who later coached at Wake Forest and became a funny TV analyst and after-dinner speaker.

“I remember Uline’s very well,” McKinney said unfondly several years ago, not long before he died. “We’d be practicing, and the rats would come running out on the floor — big ones.”

Tragedy took place there, too. One night during a hockey game, a Washington Times-Herald sportswriter named Carroll Hall was making his way through the crowd when a puck flew into the stands and hit him. Carroll lost an eye.

Like Griffith Stadium, original home of the Senators and Redskins, Uline’s was an eyesore and barely serviceable as a professional sports venue. The last time I was there, around 1980, motorcycle races were being held on the ice. By that time, Abe Pollin had opened Capital Centre, and Uline’s was just an unpleasant memory for older fans. Now the Beatles anniversary reminds us that occasionally something truly important happened there.

In recent years, Uline’s was a trash storage facility until the anguished cries of befouled neighborhood citizens forced the operation to shut down. For many of us, that seemed a most appropriate usage.

• • •

News item: Joe Gibbs, a diabetic, is forced to visit the emergency room of a Florida hospital because his insulin level is too low.

Comment: So he isn’t divine after all.

• • •

Brr! The Orioles’ Opening Day on April4 actually will be Opening Night, thanks to a fistful of dollars from ESPN. The weather should be warmer by then, but around the seventh inning it might not feel like it.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that an afternoon opener in these parts will be pleasantly sunny — although the O’s have been pretty lucky in that regard over the years.

Some years ago, Washington Times sports columnist Morris Siegel was recalling the Senators’ final opener in 1971 as a gorgeous spring day with gentle breezes blowing, blossoms blooming and the paying customers in shirtsleeves.

“Mo, I remember that game,” I said. “It was 35 degrees, the wind was howling and I nearly froze my [burro] off.”

Siegel was a most reasonable man. “OK,” he said. “Make the column read ‘cold and raw.’”

But maybe the nocturnal time frame is a good omen. The only after-dark opener, sort of, that I can remember came in the early ‘50s when the Senators’ debut was rained out and took place a couple of days later against the lordly Yankees as part of a day-night doubleheader. Darned if the sadsack Nats didn’t win both games and, as Casey Stengel would say, you could look it up.

• • •

News item: Freddy Adu, 14, draws great media attention as he begins training with D.C. United.

Comment: Michelle Wie is old news already, huh?

• • •

Not that Toronto Maple Leafs general manager John Ferguson is out of it or anything. With overall interest in the NHL plummeting because of a lack of scoring and league GMs meeting to discuss amending the rules, Ferguson offered this helpful suggestion: “I don’t sense there is a great need for change.”

Hey, Johnny, didja know the NHL no longer has six teams? Or that Maurice Richard has retired?

• • •

News Item: Steve Spurrier shows up briefly at Redskin Park as TV cameras roll.

Comment: How in the name of George Allen did he get through security?

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