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A Wide World Web Of Sports

Just a typical day for a sports maniac let loose on the World Wide Web: At the SportsLine USA site, the fan turns his attention to an afternoon matchup between the Toronto Blue Jays and Detroit Tigers. It's the third inning, with a man on second for the Jays. An instant later, the batter Carlos Delgado belts a home run, and Toronto leads 3-1. "Who's this bum C.J. Nitkowski, who gave up the long ball?" the fan growls. A click on his browser brings up the pitcher's stats.

The finicky fan has had enough and moves on to the USA Today Sports site (http://www.usatoday.com/ sports/sfront.htm). The news comes in that 20-year-old golf phenom Tiger Woods has pulled out of the Buick Challenge, and that Mike Tyson has relinquished his World Boxing Council heavyweight crown. Next stop is ESPNET SportsZone. Columnist Stan Isaacs has picked the best pro football players in history to wear each jersey number. The fan has no argument with Isaacs' choices of Joe Montana for No.16, or Jim Brown as tops for 32. But is Roger Staubach really a better 12 than Joe Namath or Terry Bradshaw? No, says the fan, who takes a moment to dash off an indignant E-mail to Isaacs.

As if Monday Night Football and all-sports talk radio weren't enough, beleaguered spouses of sports fanatics now find their partners glued to the PC. The Internet is littered with newsgroups and Web sites that cover sports of every bat, ball, and helmet. The Clubhouse site in Dave's World at NetSpace (http://netspace.org/users/ david/sports.html) provides one handy compilation of pro sports links. And a recent Yahoo! search yielded 510 auto racing sites, 673 for baseball, 1,227 for basketball, 592 for U.S. football, and 708 for hockey.

BANTER. There are plenty of sites from the media that cover sports (USA Today, Sports Illustrated, TV networks). Not surprisingly, even obscure games appear, from canoe polo (3 sites) and curling (17) to jai alai (7) and jump rope (3). At the badminton site (http:// mid1.external.hp.com/stanb/ badminton.html), you can sift through the sport's minutia. Example: "Modern badminton began as poona in India."

Fortunately, many sites are useful for people who like to play and not merely the folks for whom Nike's "Just Do It" slogan means fetching another beer before flopping back into the easy chair. You can visit GolfWeb (www.golfweb.com) to pick up pointers on your swing or consult a database to find courses. Myriad sites let you check out the snow and weather conditions at ski mountains. Outside Online (http://outside.star wave.com), from Starwave, covers everything from backpacking to kayaking. If you're stuck on bows and arrows, the National Field Archery Assn. home page (http://www.smart.net/ ÷stimsonr/nfaa.html) provides a link to archery tournaments, sponsors, and classes.

But much of the sports fare on the Web is aimed at those who don't want to break a sweat, or possibly a limb. These fans can't get stats fast enough, and in some cases use the data to fuel their "rotisserie" or fantasy leagues. And they love the ceaseless banter about trivia or which players are best or worst.

That's the kind of grit found at ESPNET SportsZone from ESPN and Starwave, the most popular destination on the entire Web (save search engines such as Yahoo!). ESPNET polled fans recently on baseball's wild-card playoff system. More than 80% like the system now, compared with 63% when the format was introduced last year. SportsLine USA queried fans about which football coach should be the first to get axed: Rich Kotite of the New York Jets and Barry Switzer of the Dallas Cowboys are among the possible victims.

Both ESPNET and SportsLine provide news, chat, and other services free, then charge nearly $40 a year or $5 a month for premium content. For instance, paying customers at ESPNET get to read columnists such as Frank Deford and Peter Gammons and can access in-depth charts that let them compare every batter against every pitcher in every ballpark. "The Internet is evolving into a new kind of sports bar," says Ann Kirschner, a vice-president at the National Football League.

ONLINE SHRINES. The NFL.com site is an impressive venue for pigskin junkies. You can track every play of every game in progress and gain access to the same stats being fed to the press box. That's a boon to a Cincinnati Bengals diehard who lives in Philadelphia, say, and cannot watch his favorite team. What's more, during the week before a contest, two opposing team players will have an early showdown in a live NFL.com chat session.

Aside from the official league site, many NFL teams have launched their own Web offerings. At Dolphins EndZone (http://204.254. 173.2/dolphins), fans can read postgame reports and injury updates on the Miami team, inquire about tickets, and even admire a cheerleader of the week. In addition, some fans have set up online shrines to their favorite teams. The Unofficial Miami Dolphins Home Page! (www.fiu.edu/ ÷lamatj01/dolphins) lets Dolph fans download images of quarterback Dan Marino and former coach Don Shula.

The National Basketball Assn. (www.nba.com), Major League Baseball (http://www. majorleaguebaseball.com), and National Hockey League (http://www.nhl.com) also have Web pages. The NHL, in fact, recently teamed up with IBM to revamp its site. The new NHL OpenNet site will launch around the start of the season and feature real-time coverage of games, interviews, videos, and access to an NHL information database. The league also plans to sell hockey merchandise, and perhaps tickets, over the Internet.

STAT CITY. It figures that baseball, a sport deep in statistics and lore, would be well represented online. The Internet Committee of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) contains links to ballpark sites, college teams, the minors, softball, and so on (http://www.skypoint. com/÷ashbury/_hhdir/ hhhotlinks.html). The Negro Baseball Leagues Home Page (www.blackbaseball. com) has a feature on Willie Foster, the latest player from the era to make the Baseball Hall of Fame, and recommends other African American stars who deserve to be enshrined in Cooperstown, including shortstop Willie Wells and catcher Biz Mackey.

The Total Baseball Online site, co-developed by Mindscape Online Publishing and Totl Sports, provides an encyclopedic listing of every player to have performed in the major leagues. Related historical sites have been developed for the Braves, Dodgers, Giants, Indians, White Sox, and Yankees. Each site presents statistics in a variety of ways. At the Total Yankees Online site, one table revealed that while Roger Maris set the all-time single-season home run record with 61 in 1961, teammate Mickey Mantle's home-run percentage was better that year. Not every statistic is easily uncovered, however. At the Braves site, I looked up Babe Ruth, who played briefly for the old Boston Braves. Ruth's Braves stats were there, all right, but I had to search elsewhere to locate the Sultan of Swat's complete statistics.

OLD NEWS. Indeed, for all of the rich sports material on the Web, finding what you want quickly can be a challenge. And no matter how the content is presented, it's still far easier to read about sports in magazines or newspapers. Moreover, even on a fine site such as SportsLine USA, information is sometimes out of date. For example, an analysis of hockey's Toronto Maple Leafs suggested that the team would get a boost by signing free agent Wayne Gretzky. Never mind that the Great One had signed with the New York Rangers weeks before I read the report on the Maple Leafs. Even the people who bring you sports sites on the Web deserve to spend some time in the penalty box.

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