- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Pardons, pardons, pardons. ‘Tis the season to be issuing pardons. Why, just the other day, President Bush handed out 14 of them, like so many Thanksgiving turkeys - with more to come, no doubt.

Which got me thinking: Who would I give pardons to if I were the Supreme Being of All Sports? Which athletic figures, past and present, deserve to be relieved of their suffering, their regret? The list of candidates, as you might expect, is long, but I’ve narrowed it down to a workable number - 14, believe it or not - who are worthy of immediate forgiveness.

So … by the power vested in me by, well, me, the following are hereby pardoned:

cWally Pipp (posthumous): For sitting out a game with the New York Yankees in 1925.

Over the decades, Pipp’s name has become synonymous with “slacker.” According to legend, he asked for a day off that season because of a headache and never got his job back. Why? Because the rookie who replaced him, Lou Gehrig, went on to play in 2,130 consecutive games.

Subsequent research suggests, however, that Pipp was benched that afternoon because he was in a batting slump. And indeed, he hit just .230 that year, down 65 points from the year before. If anything, he was an iron man, rarely missing a game, and a swell first baseman to boot. He deserves better.

— Ralph Branca: For living with the ignominy of serving up the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” - Bobby Thomson’s pennant-winning homer for the Giants in the 1951 playoff against the Dodgers.

We’ve since learned that (a.) the Giants stole signs that season, and (b.) Thomson may well have known what pitch was coming. It’s time to right a wrong.

— Roberto de Vicenzo: For blowing the ‘68 Masters by signing an incorrect scorecard - on his 45th birthday, no less.

De Vicenzo, from Argentina, was a terrific player who won tournaments all over the globe, including the ‘67 British Open by two strokes over Jack Nicklaus. Yet he’s remembered more for his gaffe than for his golf. This must change.

For one thing, it was his playing partner, Tommy Aaron, who mismarked De Vicenzo’s card; Roberto simply failed to catch the error. For another, De Vicenzo still would have had to beat Bob Goalby in an 18-hole playoff to win the green jacket, hardly a certainty.

— Fred Brown: For throwing that pass to North Carolina’s James Worthy that sealed Georgetown’s fate in the closing seconds of the ‘82 NCAA basketball title game.

CBS has shown that play, it seems, in the lead-in to every Final Four telecast for the last 25 years. What a cross to bear. Forgotten is that the Hoyas nearly upset a team that had two future Basketball Hall of Famers, Worthy and Michael Jordan, as well as Sam Perkins, who scored more than 15,000 NBA points.

— Scott Norwood: For missing a game-winning field goal for the Bills on the last play of Super Bowl XXV.

This has nothing to do with Norwood being an Alexandria native who went to Thomas Jefferson High. This has to do with fairness.

A few pertinent facts:

1. The 47-yard try was almost at the limit of his range. His longest field goal in the NFL up to then was 49 yards.

2. The longest field goal in Super Bowl history at that point was 48 yards.

So Norwood pushes the kick just barely to the right - giving the Giants a 20-19 victory - and this makes him a goat? You’ve gotta be kidding me.

— Latrell Sprewell: For choking Golden State Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo in 1997.

I’m not saying there weren’t other ways to handle it, I’m just saying Carlesimo’s record in his last five seasons as a head coach is 87-187, and he just got fired by the Oklahoma City Thunder after the club got off to a 1-12 start. Latrell probably thought he was doing his teammates - if not the entire league - a favor.

— Brett Favre: For his performance in the 1998 Farrelly Brothers film, “There’s Something About Mary.”

True, Favre makes Bob Uecker (“Major League”) look like Marlon Brando, but some things can be excused. Especially when you throw 462 touchdown passes and, at 39, might be leading the Jets to their first Super Bowl in 40 years.

— Anna Kournikova: For never winning a singles event on the WTA Tour.

I think I speak for all malekind when I say: It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how hot you look in a tennis outfit.

— Joe Paterno: For not retiring in 2004, at the age of 78, when Penn State posted its fourth losing record in five seasons and everybody was convinced he’d lost it.

The Nittany Lions are 40-10 since and figure to play in the Rose Bowl in January. JoePa forever!

— Gary Bettman and the NHL’s Board of Governors: For canceling the 2004-05 season.

It was painful at the time, but the game is better now. Scoring has increased, ties have been eliminated and the salary cap has given small-market teams a fighting chance.

Of course, my vision might be slightly skewed because the local entry, the Caps, have Alexander Ovechkin.

— Seth Greenberg: For not offering Stephen Curry a full scholarship to Virginia Tech.

The sweet-shooting Curry even wanted to go to Tech; his father, Dell, after all, had been a big hero there. But, come on, every Division I coach in America underestimated the kid - except for Davidson’s Bob McKillop, who, thanks to Stephen, went to the Elite Eight last season. So maybe we should cut Seth a break. Besides, he looks like he needs a hug.

(Greenberg won’t be pardoned, though, for not giving a scholarship to Stephen’s younger brother Seth. The latter wound up at Liberty University and in his third college game last week scored 26 points in an upset of Virginia. Few rules at the Bureau of Sports Pardons are set in stone, but this one is: You aren’t allowed to make the same mistake twice.)

— Hope Solo: For criticizing U.S. coach Greg Ryan after he benched her in favor of veteran goalkeeper Briana Scurry in the 2007 Women’s World Cup semifinal against Brazil.

Solo was briefly suspended from the squad and, from all the hullaballoo, you would have thought she was the reason the U.S. lost the match 4-0. But Ryan’s ridiculous decision - Scurry hadn’t played a complete game in months - was the main cause. Let’s face it, Hope was right.

She proved it after Ryan was fired when she helped the team take the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics. If anybody has earned a pardon, she has.

— Ed Hochuli: For botching that call near the end of the Chargers-Broncos game in Week 2, costing San Diego a victory.

As the replays made plain, Denver’s Jay Cutler did indeed fumble, the Chargers did indeed recover and Hochuli should indeed have refrained from blowing his whistle so soon. But 19 years of fine officiating shouldn’t be undone by a single goof.

And anyway, it’s not like either of these clubs is any threat to win the Super Bowl. The Bolts might feel aggrieved if the Broncos nose them out for a playoff berth, but I doubt there’ll be any mass protests on the Mall.

— Just about every major-college athletic director who changed football coaches the past few years: For not hiring Paul Johnson.

Did you see what Johnson did in his first season at Georgia Tech? He took a team picked to finish near the bottom of the ACC and went 9-3, falling just short of the conference championship game. Alas, college football has become so pass-obsessed that ADs failed to recognize the beauty - and lethality - of his option attack.

In Saturday’s victory over archrival Georgia, Tech’s first in nearly a decade, the Yellow Jackets scored 45 points, rushed for 409 yards … and completed one pass. Imagine how many points they could score if they completed two passes.

That’s it for now, but I might have some more pardons down the road - once word gets out and my mailbox gets flooded with petitions. In fact, one just arrived from Chris Webber. Seems he’s tired of all the flak he’s had to take for calling that timeout in ‘93.

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