Reading time, two minutes The setup was perfect. Coming home after two come-from-behind victories in the provinces, the Washington Capitals faced the Hartford Whalers, who hadn't won a game in three weeks, with a chance to reach the .500 mark for the first time since before Christmas.
Furthermore, leaving nothing to chance, the Caps, after their morning skate yesterday, checked into a hotel for naps and a pre-game meal just as if they were on the road. The home team had its best in goal, Don Beaupre, while Kay Whitmore, 0-6-2 on the year, got the call for the Whalers.
By now, you've probably figured out that Hartford took the game, 3-2, as the Caps blew a chance to gain sole possession of the fourth and last playoff spot with just 10 games remaining. It's a cliche as old as the game itself, but one worth repeating, so coach Terry Murray did: "The first game back home after a road trip is always tough." Amen.
* Best line heard lately is Woody Allen's, "Manute Bol is so skinny, he doesn't travel with the 76ers anymore. They just FAX him to the next city."
* Baseball's our game; so is football and basketball. When you think about it, hoops is the only American game that has not only been accepted but embraced heartily throughout the world. Ever wonder why?
What better man to answer that question than a gent, who, in his 25 years with the Harlem Globetrotters, 10 as a player, circled the planet maybe a half dozen times. Hallie Bryant, take it away:
"It's the action. There's always something going on. They can see the points being scored and there's a lot of them, but there are many things going on simultaneously. There are no lulls.
"Just as important, spectators are up close. They see the emotions and it's easy to get caught up in them. The game has facets from every other sport and players use the total body. Tactics are constantly changing."
That's why. And if you want further proof, be advised the Trotters visit the Arena Sunday (1:30 p.m.) and, according to advance pitchman Bryant, the show is better than ever as Abe Saperstein's brainstorm celebrates its 65th year.
* Just because the Red Sox knocked the lint out of Jim Palmer's bellybutton with those lightning bolts they were hitting Monday was no reason for ol' Jimbo to quit, was it?
* In the first meeting between a couple of high school juggernauts this season, the behavior of the fans was hardly mindful of the monthly meeting of the Daughters of the Revolution. Consequently, the local constabulary assigned a detachment to oversee things at the return game.
Into the gym marched a squad of Baltimore's Finest, commanded by an officer rich in gold braid. They took up position on the baseline and the contest began. Just seconds into the fray, who is it raging at the officials unmercifully but the police lieutenant.
A ref, the legendary Ron O'Leary, blew play to a halt. "OK, you, gold badge, you're out of here. Out, out." And to the hallway the officer went, n'er to return as the game proceeded without further incident. It matched the time the Big O (for official) marched up into the stands to hang a "T" on a priest.
These are the type stories the gathering was privy to yesterday at "P.B.'s (Paul Baker) Third Annual NCAA Tourney Lottery." Instead of soft, soothing breakfast (?) music at 7 a.m., the resonant yelps of Dick Vitale railing to youngsters at the 5-Star Basketball Camp provided the background.
Experts, local and otherwise, rendered their Final Four picks, topped by Howard Garfinkel (5-Star) decreeing, "Las Vegas certainly can be stopped . . . but not before the NBA finals."
The lottery was at hand. The chance to pick first was won by Harry Horn, who had left due to a pressing business engagement. Someone picked UNLV for him, which might well be in keeping with the way the winner of this contest has been determined in the past. Two years ago, Harvey Kasoff, Mitch's dad, couldn't attend, but he sent his money in with a friend, who selected Michigan for him. Bull's eye!
* Latest installment of the wit and wisdom of Mike Flanagan: "No matter what happens, I'll be there on Opening Day. I don't know if it will be the opening day of baseball or trout season, but I'll be there."