REI

Don't get us wrong. We love quite a number of Dallas' outdoor boutiques, the ones selling full lines of Patagonia fashions and some of the coolest shoes known to man. But when it comes time to spring for a serviceable sleeping bag or a backpack, REI's prices and selection are the ones to beat. A few years back we bought some first-rate North Face bags, and nobody could top this warehouse-sized, outdoor category killer. And that didn't include the 10 percent year-end refund, which goes along with the co-op-style way REI does business. Some of the fine, high-end outfitting stores in the area are more likely to meet the demands of back-country winter hikers or rated mountaineers. But for all-around outfitting and camping stuff for the whole family, REI gets the nod.

REI

This may not be the biggest bicycle store in the city, but it is definitely the best place for a serious bicyclist to find equipment and expert advice. The Seattle-based retailer has built a reputation for quality outdoor equipment and carries a good variety of bikes and biking gear suited for the spandex set. They carry clothing for biking in the heat, for wet weather and cold weather, gear more suited to Northern climes, bicycle racks and camping equipment. The staff is knowledgeable and incredibly helpful to novice and expert alike. Besides biking, you can pick up food, gadgets and gear to help you climb mountains someplace outside Texas. And, if your privates hurt when you bike, they have seats that will fix that. We were thankful.

This one was tough. As you'd imagine, there are plenty of worthy candidates on a team that was out of the A.L. West pennant race shortly after returning from spring training. Or was it shortly before heading to spring training? Well, whatever. Palmeiro beat out John Rocker, Carl Everett and Hideki Irabu--all solid additions to the club if you ask us. Despite being just two years shy of his 40th birthday, Palmeiro put up some pretty impressive power numbers this season and managed to maintain his sanity in a clubhouse that went the way of Big Nurse's Cuckoo Ward months (if not years) ago. And if that wasn't good enough, well, the man is in a Viagra commercial. 'Nough said.

If it's anything other than, "It makes me wish television had never been invented," no need to check their pay stub.

Swear to God we didn't want to do this again, especially since we're conflicted now that Mike Rhyner, Gordon Keith and Dave Lane are (very infrequent) contributors to these pages. But what the f-bomb. After all, what other local radio station carries every single sports-related news conference live, in its entirety? Where else can you find a suicidal (fake) Jerry Jones begging, "No funeral," the day after his Cowboys lost to the Houston Texans? Where else can you find Michael Irvin and Troy Aikman each week during football season, willing to dish out a few hard knocks of their own? And where else can you find the Overcusser, who will foul-mouth a millionaire jock to death to see whether he will fight through it or join in the fun? The Ticket gets it (big time--right, Jerry), commingling sports-talk with a little entertainment news (what's the dif?) and other effluvia geared toward men but attracting a sizable audience of women as well; it's guys' night out all the time, and so be it. We're partial to Dunham and Miller and The Hardline--and, frankly, we're vying for our own 7-11 p.m. show, because we wanna get stuck in that revolving door--and are coming around to BAD Radio, which isn't so, well, bad. And we know your dad loves Norm, but he creeps us out just a little bit.

Seriously, you come up with someone better. Lord knows we tried, but every time someone crops up we sorta dig, they skip town--and we know Dale couldn't crawl anywhere, much less skip. Frankly, we wanted to give this to Steve Atkinson, but now that he done moved we're stuck with that Stuart Scott starter kit on 'FAA; look, man, you are not funny. Don't get us started on the guys at Channel 5--it's called humility, Newy, look into it--and Mike D. at Fox might be the "best in the game," only we don't play by those rules. So we're stuck with Dale, the richest man in local sports--A-Rod excepted--and certainly the man with the richest blood stream; dude looks like an éclair these days. But we could do worse than get saddled with a cranky, cagey veteran who's sick to death of being sick to death of disingenuous owners, spoiled-brat players and lousy teams that still overachieve (the Cowboys should have been 2-14 last season, face it) despite having no talent, drive, ambition, discipline, younameit. And how can you not love a guy willing to stick it to Mark Cuban, the only guy with worse hair than Dale? Cuban's got the winning team, for God's sake, and still Dale won't play dead for the guy; Cuban's got balls of gold (24 carat, says his jeweler), Hansen's got balls of steel. In his head.

So the guy dresses like the drummer in a garage band, sticks his foot in his mouth every time a camera or tape recorder is rolling and gets fined the equivalent of the debts of some small countries for his behavior at games. The good news is that he's dug into his deep pockets and financed the comeback of a team that was all but invisible before he came along. The players are good and getting better, and the extra large coaching staff knows its stuff. Even more impressive is the fact they've begun to perform like guys who appreciate the fella for whom they're working. Even if he is a psycho billionaire. Which brings us to...

The poor sumbitch. He's already a sure Hall of Fame inductee, and sometime later this season he's going to usurp Walter Payton's stranglehold on the NFL's all-time leading rusher throne. And yet the guy always has this terrible, foreboding look on his face. But wouldn't you? Wouldn't you perfect that look if you had won three Super Bowls with the likes of Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin only to be later cast in with a lot of nobodies and never-will-bes? Can't you just hear Emmitt when they told him that Quincy Carter would be the starting quarterback again? Wait, what did you say, Jerry? As a final note, we suggest that "Taps" play before and after every Pokes game.

We're actually toying with the idea of renaming this the Mark Cuban Award, or at least giving him a subdivision to call his own. Either way, Cubes is the man when it comes to drawing unnecessary attention to himself. That Dairy Queen thing? Nothing but an appetizer before the main course: Tim Rogers' balls. When Cuban threatened to slice the "fucking nuts" off of the D magazine editor--Rogers wanted to do a blurb on Cuban's fiancee--he locked up a lifetime achievement award in this category. Way to go, Mark, we're proud of you. But when you graduate to kicking the homeless, be sure you give us enough of a heads-up to send Jim Schutze out for a column. We suggest he spend less time playing Mark Soprano and more time helping his coach-GM find a center. Which brings us to...

At press time, there was no word on Manute Bol's religious affiliation, so Shawn Bradley takes the award. (Also, Bol was an inch too tall.) Bradley is entering his 10th NBA season and seventh with the Mavericks. Dallas, if you didn't know it before, you're a lucky town. This guy runs the floor with grace, has soft hands, an even temper and a mean jumper...or something. Actually, he has nothing. And his ability to dunk the ball is breathtaking. That's something you don't see much in the NBA--dunking--so it's good to have a guy who can throw one down. What's that you say? He misses them sometimes? He gets blocked sometimes? Mere details. If he knocked on our door, we'd convert. Or buy him a shot.

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