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Steve Wulf
March 28, 1988
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March 28, 1988



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The writer wishes to dedicate this story to Danny (the Bag) Norman, winner of the first 127 one-on-one basketball games played with the writer on the playgrounds of Fort Lauderdale. The writer was taller, younger and quicker than the Bag, who was a good shooter, though not good enough to explain 127-0. The end finally came on Jan. 25,1976, at Croissant Park, when the writer sank a 20-footer to win 15-13. He and the Bag stood there a while as the sun set, and then laughed together until dark. They never played again.

Muhammad Ali had Joe Frazier. Frazier had George Foreman. Foreman had Ali.

Nebraska has Oklahoma. Oklahoma has Miami. Miami has the three R's.

Ted Williams supposedly had Marv Rotblatt.

Almost everyone has a nemesis, someone or something that's tough to beat. Alydar had Affirmed. Pete Rozelle has Al Davis. Steve Sax has the routine throw to first. Arthur Ashe had Rod Laver. The Los Angeles Lakers had the Boston Celtics. Now the Celtics have the Lakers. The American League has the National League.

Before we get rolling here, there will be a short lecture on Greek mythology. Nemesis was the goddess of retribution. She was the avenger of pride, the punisher of passion, the equalizer of fortune and misfortune. She was, in short, one tough cookie. Nemesis was sometimes depicted as carrying the wheel of fortune in a chariot drawn by griffins. (Archie had pro football, Alfredo is 1 for 21 off John Henry Johnson, and Merv had Mike Douglas—Merv also made a bundle from Wheel Of Fortune.)

According to legend, Zeus pursued Nemesis. She tried to avoid him by changing into a goose, but Zeus became a swan and caught her. Their child was Helen of Troy, she of "the face that launched a thousand ships."

Even to this day Nemesis takes many forms, including that of a Goose: Rickey Henderson struck out eight of the nine times he faced Rich Gossage in the American League, and when they met again in the 1984 All-Star Game, the Goose fanned him one more time. For the Boston Red Sox, Nemesis is the seventh game of the World Series (1946, '67, '75, '86). For the Moorpark (Calif.) High football team, she is Carpinteria High, winner of 47 straight games between the two schools dating back to 1934. For Bjorn Borg she was the U.S. Open, and for Ivan Lendl she is Wimbledon. She is Saratoga, known as "the graveyard of favorites," for the way she treated Man o' War and Secretariat.

For Mario Andretti, she is the Indianapolis 500. She is cocaine, and she is alcohol. She was heavyweight champ Rocky Marciano fighting Archie Moore in this passage from a chapter entitled "Ahab and Nemesis" from A.J. Liebling's The Sweet Science: "After the bell rang for the end of the [fourth] round, the champion hit him a right for good measure—he usually manages to have something on the way all the time—and then pulled back to disclaim any uncouth intention. Moore, no man to be conned, hit him a corker of a punch in return, when he wasn't expecting it. It was a gesture of moral reprobation and also a punch that would give any normal man something to think about between rounds. It was a good thing Moore couldn't see Marciano's face as he came back to his corner, though, because the champion was laughing."

Nemesis even has her own nemesis: spelling. Many people think it's "nemisis." Here in the office we have a computer service called NEXIS, which has access to stories that run on the major wire services and in newspapers. Just for the hell of it, we asked NEXIS for all the stories in which the word "nemisis" appeared in the last few years. NEXIS found 77, ranging from opera reviews to dispatches on world events to reports on the trial over rights to Mr. Bill, whose "nemisis," you may recall, was Sluggo.

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