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DEFENSE? IT'S OFFENSIVE I woke up this morning and found myself stuck between a truth and a cliche. A really uncomfortable position. Streaming through my consciousness like a flock of startled sheep were the words, “Defense wins championships . . . Defense wins championships . . . Defense . . . wins . . . championships.” With March Madness upon us, check out a random post-game press conference when a college basketball coach is given the microphone. If he makes it through ten syllables without somehow alluding to the fact that “teams that play defense are the teams that win championships,” well, you have found a hoops guru of Faulknerian originality. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the worst thing that could possibly happen to this dreaded mantra of modern sports. Not only did Jon Gruden’s club make Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon look like Richie Cunningham in skull-and-crossbones . . . but THEY SCORED THREE TOUCHDOWNS. Not only did defense win Tampa Bay a championship, but it scored a large percentage of their points. In the good name of Don “Air” Coryell, this is an outrage. Offense first takes the obligatory backseat to its defensive step-broher. Then the oversized daddy’s favorite takes the wheel, kicks the lip-drooping, ball-handling, point-scoring (in heory) little fella out of the Hummer and peels off down the road to Title Town. I don’t like it. I don’t like it because, no matter how many 13-6 NFL games I see, no matter how many 83-77 NBA contests Ñ and don’t get me started on 2-2 ties in the NHL Ñ it’s the scoring that makes me cheer. Bottom line. Offense matters. It’s been neglected in this modern age where the Detroit Pistons’ Ben Wallace Ñ averaging less than 10 points per game Ñ is actually being considered an MVP candidate alongside Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, and Kevin Garnett. Stop this before someone Ñ a shooter, a scoring machine like Bryant Ñ gets hurt. Please! Imagine a sports world with nothing but defense. (Okay, it already exists in international soccer. Imagine a North American sports world with nothing but defense.) Blocked shots and rebounds galore on every hardwood from Cameron Indoor to Madison Square Garden. No such thing as a twisting, turning, linebacker-hopping 60-yard jaunt to paydirt in the NFL. And baseball? You can forget 70 (or 60, or 50, or 40 . . . ) home runs. Pitching wins championships, remember. Leave the hitters on the bus. I want 25 pitchers on my roster. We will NEVER allow a run. Teach five of those pitchers how to bunt, and we’re on our way! “You cannot judge anything on your offense,” says University of Memphis coach John Calipari. “You judge it all on your defense and your rebounds. If you make a play offensively, great, we’ll kiss you. But if you don’t, you can stay on the floor. Nobody on this team is judged by his offense. Don’t believe it . . . it’s a lie.” Is this the same man who recruited Dajuan Wagner, all but assured the 100-points-in-one-prep-game dynamo would only be a Tiger for one season? C’mon Coach Cal. My sports hero of heroes is Ozzie Smith. God bless him, he was the most beautiful player ever to don a leather mitt. But you know my very favorite memory of Ozzie? You remember . . . his HOME RUN that won Game 5 of the 1985 National League Championship Series. The first home run the Wizard hit from the left side in eight years as a major leaguer. Willie Mays’ catch in the 1954 World Series has worn out VCRs from New York City to San Francisco. Did that catch get the Say Hey Kid into the Hall of Fame or was it his 3,283 hits, his 660 home runs? Give offense a break. I want one basketball coach (college or pro, doesn’t matter), to say the following in a pre-game interview: “Our plan tonight is to OUTSCORE the other team. No matter what they throw at us, we are aiming to fill up that bucket like a five-year-old on Easter Sunday in a yard-full of chocolate. They score 90, we’re scoring 91. They score 110, we’re scoring 111. We expect our shooters to shoot, our dunkers to dunk. We will not be stopped.” We, as a civilized people, must bind ourselves to honesty as our moral compass. And yes, good defense tends to trump good offense. But what about choosing the path less traveled, perhaps a different direction toward that same championship light of truth? Wayne Gretzky won four Stanley Cups, and he scored a few goals. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan each won six NBA titles . . . they’re first and third in career SCORING. It’s an ugly mix, truth and cliches. Repeat after me: offense wins championships.

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