Johnny U great, but Nicholases were better

June 19, 1999|By Gregory Kane

Dear Readers: There's some correcting to be done, and I'm glad to say that, for a welcome change, I'm not the guilty party.

No, these corrections are inspired by serious errors of omission. The first is one that is sure to rankle all true Balti-morons. It has to do with ESPN's Classic Sports channel and its weekly feature "50 Greatest Athletes of the Century." The half-hour show runs every Friday night at 10: 30 and profiles the athletes in ascending order. Last Friday, they did No. 32, who happened to be one John Constantine Unitas, who played for a now-defunct team known as the Baltimore Colts.

So there were 31 athletes this century better than Johnny U, heh? Thirty-one folks with greater physical skills than the guy who could nail a gnat between the eyes with a pigskin at 40 yards? I suppose we could all watch for the next 31 weeks to see exactly who these athletes are, but I'll save ESPN the trouble. Here's my list of the 50 greatest athletes of the century.

No. 1: Fayard "Big Mo" Nicholas, tap dancer extraordinaire who wowed audiences on stage and in film in the 1930s and 1940s.

No. 2: Fayard's younger brother (by eight years), Harold "Little Mo" Nicholas, who is No. 2 only because his older brother taught him everything he knew. In addition to being half of the greatest tap dancing duet ever, Harold, the lucky dog, was Dorothy Dandridge's first husband. The athletic abilities of the Nicholas Brothers in their dance routines has yet to be duplicated, much less surpassed.

Nos. 3 through 50: Who cares?

The second omission comes courtesy of our friends at the American Film Institute. Last year they came up with a list of the 100 greatest American films and, on quite a few selections, simply blew it. ("Rocky" among the 100 greatest films indeed!) This time the AFI didn't omit John Wayne from its list of the 25 greatest male screen legends. They just didn't put him in the top 10, where the Duke rightfully belongs.

Mind you, the competition was stiff. Humphrey Bogart was in the No. 1 spot, where he should be. (Even in the early 1970s, the guy's last name was a slang term, a verb used to define audacity and toughness. The term "Bogarting" meant swaggering in someplace and taking your way.) Also in the top 10, in descending order, were Cary Grant, James Stewart, Marlon Brando, Fred Astaire, Henry Fonda, Clark Gable, James Cagney, Spencer Tracy and Charlie Chaplin.

The Duke can fit in there somewhere. He can take the spot occupied by Gable, who had only his ears going for him anyway -- his ears and his appearance in "Gone With The Wind." The Duke's magnum opus was "The Searchers," a film several directors and a few critics have called the greatest American movie ever made. Wayne was criticized for years as a bad actor, but none of the legends in the top 10 could have outacted the Duke when he played Ethan Edwards in "The Searchers."

The third omission is one made by the critics of the comic strip, "The Boondocks," specifically those who have called for its banishment from the pages of The Sun. "The Boondocks" has been called racist and offensive, which, in these days, makes it a perfect comic strip. Others have charged that "The Boondocks" simply isn't funny. The strip is done by black artist Aaron McGruder, who, according to his critics, occupies a place in their affections only slightly above that of the Anti-Christ.

Absent from the critics' dudgeon are other media entertainment forms guilty of the same things McGruder is being pilloried for. NBC's "Saturday Night Live" has been not funny for over 25 years now. No one wants it canceled. The folks who find McGruder's cartoon offensive said not one word when "talk" show host Howard Stern went on the air and used the N-word repeatedly in a segment done only days after Doug "Greaseman" Tracht was canned by a Washington radio station for making an idiotic comment about blacks being dragged behind trucks.

Only one person has publicly demanded that Stern be fired for his N-word tirade: Radio One program director and talk show host Joe Madison. The voices of McGruder's critics have been noticeable only by their silence in the matter of Stern, proving once again that there is one set of rules for America's foremost potty mouth and another for everybody else.

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