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Open season

While Utah natives hunt ducks, Jazz camp gets off to a good start

Posted: Monday October 4, 2004 1:42PM; Updated: Monday October 4, 2004 2:52PM
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SALT LAKE CITY, UT -- Nothing like a trip to sleepy Salt Lake to act as a sports detox. Out here, no one cares about the Red Sox and the Yankees, their midget mascots or whether Kevin Brown will be able to start in the playoffs. Same goes for the NFL and the NHL. Rather, the big news in this morning's Sunday Salt Lake Tribune, teased above the fold, was "Duck Season Opens with A Bang-Bang." It was, the paper reported, "a beautiful opener" on Saturday, highlighted by "ducks rising in massive clouds" and a "cacophony" of shotgun blasts. It sounded like fun family entertainment for all, with the notable exception of the ducks. They were not enjoying the day at all but rather, "ruthlessly slaughtered by the thousands as they desperately tried to flee from an unseen predator, all the while bleating and flapping in a panic as shotgun pellets tore through them." OK, so that sentence wasn't actually in the story. But there was a cheery quote from local resident Stacie Fuller, who brought her 14-year-old son out for some good, old-fashioned killin'. Said Stacie: "It's kind of like war out here, or the Fourth of July." Which may be the first time someone has ever equated armed combat, a day known for picnics and fireworks and the ritual extermination of slow-moving waterfowl for leisure purposes. Ah, America.

But I digress. I came to Utah not for the hunting -- I forgot to get my assault rifle permit this year and I've been kicking myself about it ever since -- but to visit Jazz training camp, which opens tomorrow. Should be an interesting team; they've added Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur to a disciplined squad that barely missed the playoffs last year (and was minus Matt Harpring for a good stretch). With Jerry Sloan at the helm and a probable starting five of Carlos Arroyo, Andrei Kirilenko, Harpring, Boozer and Okur, they have a lot of talent and, more importantly, a good mix of it. All are team-first guys and the at-times lackadaisical Okur should fit perfectly into Sloan's doghouse, which has a "Searching for Tenant" sign now that Greg Ostertag has moved on.

Which is a shame. Because over the last few years, few things in the NBA were as entertaining as attending a Jazz game and watching Sloan and the oversized center get into a tête-à-Tag. It would usually start with a boneheaded play by Ostertag. This would prompt a verbal tirade from Sloan that I would call "obscenity-laced" except that "laced" implies that the bulk of it was not swear words. If it weren't for those pesky prepositions, I think Sloan could compose whole sentences consisting solely of unprintable words.

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Anyway, Tag would respond by shouting back at Sloan. Not a good idea. Sloan, reddening in the face, would continue his curse-a-thon, pausing only to order Tag's prodigious butt to the bench, stat. At which point Ostertag would throw up his hands in disgust -- as if to wonder what could possibly have inspired Sloan to bench him -- stomp back to the sideline and pick up and fling in disgust the nearest towel/water bottle/cheerleader. Then he'd sulk like a seven-foot-three seven-year-old. It was good stuff, like some NBA version of an odd couple, buddy cop movie. I would suggest the title 48 Minutes, in homage to the Murphy-Nolte classic, but Ostertag never played the full 48 in his life. So maybe 26 Minutes and 3 Rebounds. Regardless, "Wastertag," as some Utah fans called him, will be missed in Utah. For some memorable Tag moments, including a pic of him getting swatted by Doug Christie and a great photo of the big man holding up what looks to be a dead pig, click here.

Speaking of the Jazz, I just switched on the TV in my hotel and who is staring back at me but Utah president Frank Layden, which is an excuse to repeat one of the greatest sports quotes of all time. Talking about a former player, Layden once said, "I told him, 'Son, what is it with you? Is it ignorance or apathy?' He said, 'Coach, I don't know and I don't care." Anyway, Layden's on a local public access show, or that's what it looks like at least, and he's talking about his weight loss. "When I turned 60," he's saying, "a friend of mine told me to go home and make a list of all my friends over 60 who weigh more than 300 pounds. I couldn't come up with any."

I have yet to figure out if Frank is pitching some diet supplement. I don't think he is. But now his wife has joined him. All in all, it's a fairly bizarre scenario. So...

Over to the 49ers game on the Worldwide Leader. Man, is this ugly: 24-0 in the third against the Rams. If one were to teach a class on dismantling a dynasty, the 49ers could be a perfect example. Where have you gone, Barry Joe Montanilow? Hell, Steve Bono would be a savior right now.

It's been a rough weekend for those of us from the Bay Area. Raiders lose, Niners well on their way, A's implode in the pennant race and Giants make a dramatic exit from both the NL West and wild-card races. The way SF went down -- after being up 3-0 in the ninth to the archrival Dodgers -- was particularly painful. Fortunately for me, fellow blogger and L.A. native Josh Elliott called to console me only moments after Steve Finley sent the ball, and the Giants' playoff hopes, flying out of Dodger Stadium. Elliott was gracious in victory. "We are the Chammmpions, my Fuuuhh-riend," he sang. "Woooooooooooh, Woooohooo, hoo!" Here he paused, presumably to pour champagne on his own head, before he finished by saying, "And by the way, that's gotta hurt. That hurts you Ballard. That hurts you."

So now it's 9 p.m. and I've turned back to the Niners game and -- what do you know? -- the boys in red and gold scored. This snaps what I believe was a six-quarter scoreless streak. It's the small victories, boys.

Important Owen, Baseball in DC Edition

This week, my faithfully ranting friend was adamant that the new Washington team should be named the Senators.

"I read that $78 kazillion of MLB's largesse will be put up to protect the value of the franchise in Baltimore. Well, if MLB is giving Peter Angelos a bucket of blood to get this deal through, then MLB can fork over seven figures to the Rangers to get the Senators' name out of hock. It not only will correct the mistake of locating a franchise in Montreal, it will correct the worst nickname in the major leagues. Please, tell me who or what an Expo is or does. It's like naming a team the New York Buildings -- which is something I can at least envision.

"But, if the Senators name cannot be had, then you shouldn't expect anyone in baseball to observe any kind of tradition. Washington Grays? Just what kind of apparel is that supposed to sell? What kind of contrived, cartoony logo can you create out of a Gray? No, we'll get the Washington Xtreme, or the Washington Freedom, or the Washington Spin or the Washington River Dawgzzz or some other ridiculous abstraction, provided the WNBA and the WUSA haven't yet copyrighted every adjective on spec.

"This team must be named the Washington Senators, with the classic pretzel W logo, script Senators on the jersey. It will then be a team that, even if it's dead last like the Diamondbacks or the Devil Rays -- teams whose names still make me wonder if I'm reading a 13-and-under youth soccer league roundup -- at least sounds like it belongs on the same field as the Giants and the Cardinals. God, man, please. This is a city that has held membership in five of the recognized major leagues, going back to 1873. Don't make it sound like just another freaking Sun Belt expansion morass."

Anybody out there got any suggestions for a D.C. name? Or is this the wrong team, the wrong place and the wrong time? Let me know what you think. Until next Monday, may you all shoot down whatever metaphorical ducks exist in your life...

Chris Ballard is a staff writer for Sports Illustrated and writes a Daily Blog every Monday for SI.com.