Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
There aren't that many spots in the city where you can truly get muddy. That's why bikers, hikers and even birders cherish the miles of trail along the Trinity in L.B. Houston Park. Ignore the golf course and tennis courts and head straight into the woods. What you get is a shady (and after a rain, usually muddy) hike that twists and turns through trees, along the river bank and across open meadows. The route is flat, the trailhead is easy to find, and the path itself is often deserted. It's a surprising stretch of wilderness in the midst of urban sprawl.
Placing his first wager at 15 and his most recent one likely before you finish this sentence, Norm Hitzges knows there is no such thing as a sure winner. He can, however, spot a certain loser.
Thats why, despite everything in his prodigious nose and Polish values telling him no, he finally said yes to The Ticket (KTCK-1310 AM).
When I was at KLIF, The Ticket annoyed the hell out of me, says Hitzges, who grudgingly made the intra-company radio move in 2000. I did not want to come downstairs.
Betting on the lesser of two evils, however, was a five-star no-brainer. Joining the shtick-filled, 13th-floor station that delighted in mocking his numerous idiosyncrasies was, in the wake of KLIFs decision to dump sports, a more appealing alternative than sitting silent six months because of a non-compete clause in his contract.
I wanted to explore my options, Hitzges recalls. But it was made very clear to me that if I did that Id have a legal problem.
Six years later, chalk up another winner onto Norms gambling ledger.
Americas first full-time sports-talk radio host at a time when P1s and sound drops were just a twinkle in some program directors vas deferens, Hitzges is these days more prominent, powerful and popular than ever. He raises money for the Austin Street homeless shelter, vacations in the Galapagos Islands and can walk into any bar this side of Cheers and be serenaded with Norm!
Listen carefully; the 63-year-old has even befriended his 13-year-old enemies.
I hear some stuff on The Ticket and think to myself, My Lord, Id never put that on my show, Hitzges says. My tolerance has softened, but I also finally realized these guys have a work ethic as diligent as mine. They just work on different things. Far different things.
Norms ultimate acceptance of radios dark side was made easier after decades living nefariously through sports gambling. For the last 30 years Hitzges on-air Picks of the Polewhich debuted on KERA radio in 75 as an alternative to Jimmy the Greekhave both revved his adrenaline and caused civil war between the little Norms on his opposing shoulders.
As a Christian, Ive been in a moral wrestling match since the day I started, Hitzges says. I understand people listen to me, take my picks and go gamble. But I dont like that.
Seems a strange sentimenthypocritical evencoming from a gambling guru who gives out his weekly selections for free on the radio and at his Web site (normhitzges.com) but charges $30 a month to join a Clubhouse that offers detailed analysis of games and consensus picks gleaned from his network of handicappers. But Hitzges has evolved into a legendary personality grandfathered above accusation, evidenced by pro teams coaches and owners appearing on his 10 a.m. to noon show and tempting league rules by tiptoeing around the fuzzy line between being interviewed by a radio icon and associating with a known gambler.
The business of analyzing sports may be populated with thieves at a higher percentage than any other business, Hitzges explains. I call them scamdicappers. If youre going to bet, Id rather you get real information and real research. Thats what I provide.
To understand Hitzges seemingly twisted rationale, realize that gambling was always woven into the fabric of his family. When his father passed away in 99, Hitzges went to New Yorks Saratoga Springs Race Track. Later, at the funeral, he placed the un-redeemed winning tickets inside Dads jacket.
When he got to where he was going, Hitzges says, I wanted to make sure he had a ticket to cash.
Hitzges says he has never been a bookie, doesnt have an online gambling account and makes his occasional bets through a liaison. While admitting a negative lifetime balanceIm down, without question, he sayshes kept his habit from deteriorating into an addiction.
There are times when Ive said, Wait a minute, youre betting eight games. This is crazy, says Hitzges, whose biggest payday was a $17,000 cash take-home from Lone Star Park in 2001. But this is my hobby. Some people drink $200 bottles of wine. I analyze sports.
A far cry from going 22-1 in the 2003 NFL Playoffs or 19-8 during last years college bowl season, Hitzges picks were 48-53 through September 17, including a horrific 8-23 week that spawned a tense on-air exchange climaxed by Ticket personality Gordon Keith offering to make better picks flipping a coin.
I work on my picks, but sometimes my work is wrong. Brutally wrong, Hitzges says. Im not picking games out of a hat or reading tea leaves. In 30 years Ive had only five losing seasons, so I must be doing something right.
Through excruciating gambling defeats, a hip replacement and surgery to remove a spinal tumor thats left him with minimal nerve sensation below the knee in his right leg, what Norm hasnt lost is his passion for radio and wagering. Gambling is why Hitzges studied trends while in intensive care and once phoned in picks from Peru. Radio is why Hitzges says to bet against him retiring anytime soon.
Strange as it is to have my identity tied to a microphone, I dont know what in the world Id do, he says. I guess Id play golf and fish and pick some games, but I do all that now. I am what I am.
That, you can take to the bank. Richie Whitt
Hard to argue against Avery Johnson pushing the Mavericks to the brink of the NBA Championship or McKinney's Hank Haney re-sculpting a swing that allowed Tiger Woods to win four straight tournaments over the summer, but here goes. Over the last four years Southlake Carroll High School's football team has two mythical National Championships, a 63-1 record, a 32-game winning streak and Todd Dodge as its head coach. While we're being brainwashed by Bill Parcells' mind games and monotone game plans, Dodge is suddenly the most creative and productive offensive football mind this side of Texas Tech's Mike Leach. Since arriving in Southlake in 2000, Dodge is 82-11, and his Dragons have won three of the last four state championships, the only loss by one point in the '03 title game. Last year's team set a Texas Class 5A record with 764 points. This year's edition should again be fun to watch and impossible to beat. Argument over, we win.
Quick, name another Dallas Stars player. Didn't think so. Ol' Mo retains his title because he's still a serviceable player and still the face of the increasingly anonymous franchise. Last year Modano was 33rd in scoring in the NHL, a fact we placed right behind Keith Richards falling out of a coconut tree in Fiji on the "Hmm, that's interesting" scale. But, of course, we're too busy scarfing down marijuana muffins at lunch to be bothered by hockey, so screw us. Modano ain't perfect either. He was the prima donna that whined about the inferior amenities during the Winter Olympics and was a non-factor as the Stars were wiped out of the playoffs in the first round. But Jussi Jokinen can score all the shootout goals he wants, and Marty Turco can fall on his face at a time when goalies need to stand on their head; Modano remains. Without him, hockey in this town might already be a memory. And Primo's might go out of business.
If you're an aspiring boxer hell-bent on blood, sweat and tears, get your ass down to old-school Doug's Gym on Commerce Street. For the rest of us--ahhhh--to the paradise with the palm trees. The new Life Time Fitness on Highway 121 in Allen is like a five-star resort, complete with more than enough amenities to serve us peculiar, pampered types who want the oxymoronic experience of working out in total comfort. Ya know: no pain, no pain. There are indoor and outdoor pools. A caf with a full-service bar. A spa resplendent in cosmetic services. Courts for basketball, racquetball and squash. Locker rooms with free towels and big-screen TVs. A computer center. Financial services. Even a rock-climbing wall and water slides for the kids. Oh yeah, and they got some weights up in there too. All that for like $100 a month. So we ask you, why not just live here?
Some of us around here are of the less-Christian persuasion, and we belong to the JCC; kinda have to, though not as much as you did only a few years back. We can tell that from the rather empty addition that recently opened at the JCC--the sprawling new sports facility that includes two indoor pools (one heated for the very young and very old, one built for the more lap-swimming-inclined), a great indoor track and all the high-tech workout amenities you need to keep pace with the hipper gyms these days. Technically, the place is called the "Medical City Natatorium and Fitness Complex at the J," since Medical City was partner in the place, and you'd think with that powerhouse behind it, the complex would be packed. Not so much. We have our theories: Goyim think you need to be Jewish to belong, or they just don't know about the place, since it's being marketed as well as bacon and cheese sandwiches at a Chabad House. Really, people: Sure, it's not quite the same as working out at Premier Club; fewer MILFs, more migrs, but still.
It's like picking our favorite child. Or choosing just one Basia ballad to squeeze onto the iPod. Dallas Desperados quarterback Clint Dolezel threw 11 touchdowns in one game. Area teams swept the Class 5A, 4A and 3A boys' high school basketball championships in Austin. And the Dallas Cup soccer tournament hosted a spunky team from war-torn Iraq. But nothing made us feel more alive--like we'd arrived--than the Mavs' 119-111 overtime victory over the hated Spurs in Game 7 of the NBA Western Conference Semifinals last May 22. The Mavs advanced to the Finals and got within 6:30 of a 3-0 lead over the Miami Heat, but there wasn't a bigger combo of relief/joy than eliminating the Spurs. It started with Dirk Nowitzki's gutsy drive to the basket and three-point play in the last minute of regulation. We were all Dallas in Wonderland. Our star had matured. Our team had finally conquered its nemesis. This just had to be our year. And then, with an assist from Mayor Laura Miller's premature plans for a parade, the biggest collapse since Bob Dole ran out of Viagra.
Like 9-year-olds with acute ADD, we were all fixated on the firing of SMU basketball coach Jimmy Tubbs. Then--lookie, over here!--we got totally distracted by Matt Doherty. Cool! Sure it's silly and even unfair that Tubbs was sent packing for simply giving players free hamburgers and laundry detergent. But Doherty? We've actually heard of him! He may turn out to be the worst fad since ciabatta bread, but he did play with Michael Jordan and coach at North Carolina and Notre Dame. He gives the Mustangs instant cred, if not immediate success. The impact? Doherty, who boldly calls SMU the "Duke of Dallas," has put the Ponies back on the basketball map for the first time since John Koncak lumbered around Moody Coliseum. New athletic director Steve Orsini says the school has already raised 80 percent of the $13 million needed for a new practice facility. Illegal or otherwise, Tubbs couldn't have pulled that rabbit out of his hat.
Maybe it wasn't Moody Madness, but no denying it was a Love affair. When the Mavericks toppled the Spurs in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals last May, Dallas went all High School Musical giddy over its hoops. A couple thousand fans--waiting for a basketball title in Dallas since Sanger met Harris--showed up at Love Field around midnight to welcome the team's charter plane home from San Antonio. It's the kind of reception usually reserved for the Cowboys arriving or Laura Miller leaving. The Mavs sold out every game in 2005-'06, pushing their sellout streak to 4 1/2 years and 194 consecutive regular-season games. Just as impressive, when Jason Terry got suspended a game for sucker-punching the Spurs' Michael Finley, Mavs fans--even former owners Don Carter and Ross Perot Jr.--showed up at American Airlines Center wearing his No. 31 jersey in unwavering support. Bravo.
It wasn't the most direct or devastating blow, but it was the most notable. And given the pussy-foot punches thrown by Evander Holyfield against Jeremy Bates and by Rangers reliever Scott Feldman against Angels infielder Adam Kennedy, Mavericks guard Jason Terry's quick jab to the jewels of San Antonio's Michael Finley was the most powerful punch of the year. Except, that is, for the fruit-bowl concoction that sneaked up on us at the W Hotel sneak preview party, but we digress. Meanwhile, Terry's sucker slap was so obscure we didn't even catch it live on TV. After a day of the NBA league office studying tape and Finley sitting on an ice pack, however, Terry was suspended for one game. And, somehow, Finley turned into the least deserving Public Enemy No. 1 in Dallas history.
Funny--no, make that creepy--that the most memorable Rangers play of the season almost never happens in a Rangers game. Like Hank Blalock's All-Star Game-winning homer in 2003 or All-Star Game MVP Alfonso Soriano's three-run blast off Roger Clemens in '04, Michael Young's two-out, two-run, game-winning triple in last summer's All-Star Game is again the team's defining moment. On an underachieving team dragged down by the delusions of owner Tom Hicks and the morose managerial style of Buck Showalter, Young again provided one of the few reasons not to give up on baseball and instead waste our lives making appointments for "non-therapeutic" massages on our Blackberrys. He has a better game--but not better highlights--than teammate Gary Matthews Jr. and better stats--but not a better Q rating--than Yankees' shortstop Derek Jeter. Reminding us that it's still possible to be good off the field without a posse and good on the field without steroids, Young is the only reason left to make the trek to Arlington.
Stay with us on this one, because it's tricky. A legendary broadcaster already in the Texas Radio Hall of Fame and someday headed for the Cowboys' Ring of Honor, Sham is these days putting pen to paper at DallasCowboys.com. This award, of course, is as much an indictment of the area's pathetically weak mainstream voices as it is Sham's considerable talent. In a local sports-writing landscape that has deteriorated into a predictably boring Chili's menu, columnists such as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Randy "Big Bill" Galloway and The Dallas Morning News' Tim "Boy, Will Ferrell Sure Is Funny" Cowlishaw routinely roll out painfully obvious "Life: Good; Death: Bad" drivel. Sham, meanwhile, is constructing a nice hobby as an insider with insight. Read Sham's columns, for example, and learn why former Cowboy Larry Allen wears No. 71 in San Francisco (to honor Mark Tuinei). Sham is one of the few journalists with the balls to ask Bill Parcells a tough question and the cred to criticize the coach when he doesn't give an honest answer.