At a Senate hearing earlier this month, former pro hockey player Sheldon Kennedy told his story of childhood abuse by a respected coach in Canada.

"In every case of child abuse -- certainly in my own -- there are people who had a gut feeling that something was wrong," Kennedy said, "but didn't do anything about it."

The inaction of potential whistleblowers like Penn State's Mike McQueary has become a stain on society almost as great as the egregious allegations of sexual abuse ascribed to Jerry Sandusky, Bernie Fine of Syracuse and Bill Conlin of the Philadelphia Daily News. We all want 2012 to be the year for openness, but a reality check proves it may not come so easily.

The good news: State and federal lawmakers are now considering changes to existing laws about the reporting of sexual assault and rape, requiring any adult who observes or learns of these incidents to report them to police.

The bad news: New laws don't necessarily lead to understanding or action.

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The statistics are out on the most destructive Happy Valley riot in 15 years, thanks to ace reporter Sara Ganim of the Patriot-News, and it's not a pretty picture.

Around 10 p.m. on Nov. 9, just after fabled football coach Joe Paterno was fired, students at Penn State University took to the the streets to show their displeasure. The undergrads were furious with the school's board of trustees decision to let Paterno go after 46 years as head football coach of the Nittany Lions.

The school made the move after former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was charged with over 40 counts of sexual child abuse, and two Penn State faculty members were accused of lying to a grand jury about the case.

A total of 38 people have been charged for taking part in the uprising. Of those nabbed by law enforcement, 92.1 percent were students. Eight are dealing with felony riot charges, while the others face misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct or summary public drunkenness, according to Ganim.

Pretty much everyone charged was called out by members of the community. Police received online tips featuring still photographs of suspects. In addition, detectives used search warrants for video of the disturbance from local TV stations.

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Ever since the horrifying allegations against Jerry Sandusky broke in November, it seems the sports world can no longer go a few weeks without another high-profile sexual abuse allegation. Earlier today, Nancy Phillips of the Philadelphia Inquirer broke the story that four people claim to have been sexually abused by Bill Conlin, Hall of Fame baseball writer and columnist with the Philadelphia Daily News.

"In vivid accounts," Phillips writes, "the four say Conlin groped and fondled them, and touched their genitals, in assaults in the 1970s, when they were from ages 7 to 12."

Phillips' detailed (and disturbing) report includes allegations of abuse from within Conlin's own family.

Conlin, visited at his condominium in a gated development in Largo, Fla., by a Reuters reporter, said, "I have nothing to say" and provided contact information for his attorney before closing the door.

The timing of this story -- so closely following the allegations against Jerry Sandusky and Syracuse University's former basketball coach Bernie Fine -- is no coincidence.

Kelley Blanchet, one of the alleged victims, and also Conlin's niece, told the paper that hearing about the Penn State scandal incited painful memories of her own abuse. People knew what happened to her and the other alleged victims, Blanchet said. But parents avoided the police, settling instead to keep Conlin away from their children. Young children hurt by a trusted adult while that adult continues on, free from punishment -- it's all too eerily familiar.

As my earlier column suggested, the nation's reaction to Sandusky and his victims signals a turning point in our "blame the victim" culture. The Syracuse story emerged. ESPN's Rick Reilly received a flood of emails from rape and assault victims who still battle their demons. Notre Dame professor Mark P. McKenna revealed his own painful story on Slate.com. The less isolated the victims feel, the more likely they are to tell their stories.

Meanwhile the cover-ups and denials seem less and less convincing. Conlin, who retired today, even wrote a column about the Sandusky case for the Daily News. Referencing the prototypical story of the bystander effect, the tragedy of Kitty Genovese in New York City, Conlin argued that anyone who claims they would have handled Sandusky better than Joe Paterno, Mike McQueary or Tim Curley should realize, "the moment itself has a cruel way of suspending our fearless intentions."

For Blanchet, now a prosecutor in Atlantic City, and the other alleged victims, this moment has its own cruelty. The statute of limitations has run out, and they can no longer press charges. Making matters worse was the dismissive and tone-deaf reaction of the Baseball Writers Association of America, which released a statement saying, "The allegations have no bearing on [Conlin's] winning the 2011 J.G. Taylor Spink Award, which was in recognition of his notable career as a baseball writer."

But don't expect the current tide to stop. This story will likely strengthen the courage of the victims we have yet to hear from. We can only hope that one day, no victim of rape or assault will fear the silent institution, the shame, or the pointed fingers of those who refuse to listen.

-- Karie Meltzer can be reached at kjmeltzer@gmail.com.

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The world has lost not only a despotic leader who hovered his finger over the launch button for a giant nuclear arsenal. It has, apparently, lost one of the greatest athletes of all time.

North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Il died at the age of 69 on Saturday, bringing to an end a long reign that took his nation into increasing isolation from all but a few Communist-leaning allies, established a remarkable cult of personality that saw him deified by his citizens, and, if the Party propaganda machine is to be believed, compiled an extraordinary record of athletic achievements.

This writer and countless other sports correspondents around the world can only lament the fact that the long-standing enmity between the West and North Korea meant we could not be in attendance on that magical day in 1994 when Kim marched onto the golf course for the very first time.

Despite the minor obstacle of, you know, zero coaching or course experience, Kim used his divine powers -- he was, after all, officially known as both the Glorious General Who Descended From Heaven and the Ever-Victorious Iron-Willed Commander -- to piece together an exquisite round of 38 for 18 holes at Pyongyang’s 7,700-yard championship course.

The feat included five magnificent holes-in-one and it appears that Kim subsequently decided his 31-under-par achievement was enough to solidify his legacy and rarely played afterwards. Perhaps for the sake of our perception of golf’s legend, it is just as well. Jack Nicklaus’ career hole-in-one tally of 20 seems humble by comparison, and had Kim continued at his early pace, he would have surpassed the Golden Bear within a week.

Ten-pin bowling was another pursuit that Kim, believed to stand just over five feet but clearly a physical specimen of unmatched grace, turned to with equal aplomb. Again, it took just one attempt to solidify his reputation as a world class performer, with a perfect 300 game in the mid-1990s.

Fans of Kim must have been disappointed that, in his later years, the sporting prowess slowed down and tales of his exploits were few and far between. However, it must be remembered that as he was by then a severely ill and largely bed-ridden man in his mid-60s. A continuation of his glorious efforts would have been simply unrealistic.

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By then his appetite for sports was largely restricted to coaching and his ailing physical condition could not prevent that razor-sharp mind from being put to good use in the service of his nation. During the soccer World Cup in 2010, Kim, by then so rarely seen in public that false reports of his death -- presumably leaked by those rascals in the West -- combined technology with tactical savvy to deliver messages to North Korea head coach Kim Jong-Hun.

The advice was sent via invisible telephone, which the Highest Incarnation of the Revolutionary Comradely Love (another delightful official moniker) had himself had invented, with the coach telling ESPN: "I get regular information ... using mobile phones not visible to the naked eye."

North Korea’s misfortune (or a dastardly Western plot) at being placed in the infamous Group of Death alongside Brazil, Portugal and the Ivory Coast meant there was little that could be done to prevent them from conceding 12 lucky goals and losing all three games, much to the disappointment of the thousand-plus Chinese fans who were rented to cheer them on in South Africa.

Undeterred, Kim again used his soccer knowledge to the benefit of North Korea during the Women’s World Cup earlier this year. More sound hints were sent to the coaching staff, only for the side to be eliminated from group play after struggling to recover from being struck by lightning, which may have also resulted in five players testing positive for steroids.

Even in the months before his death, Kim was said to have retained a keen interest in watching sports. A huge basketball fan -- he was presented with a signed Michael Jordan ball by then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright more than a decade ago -- he must have been disappointed by the recent NBA lockout.

The Jordan memento was said to occupy pride of place in one of Kim’s 17 luxurious palaces and was a fitting tribute from one sports legend to another.

-- Email Martin Rogers at mrogerssport@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @mrogersyahoo.

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By Joel Huerto
OneManFastBreak.net

Shaquille O'Neal playfully boasts that he is the last true dominant center in the NBA. He would even gloss himself with nicknames such as MDE (Most Dominant Ever) or Wilt Chamberneezy, an ode to the late great Wilt Chamberlain. But is Shaq right? Is he the last of the prolific big men who commanded double teams on a nightly basis, averaging 25 points per game and walking the path paved by all-time greats like Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing and David Robinson?

Last season, only three centers were in the top 20 in the league in scoring: Dwight Howard, Andrea Bargnani and Brook Lopez. And Bargnani is more of a forward than a classic back-to-the-basket big man who does most of his work in the paint. Howard had the highest scoring average among true NBA centers in 2010-11, but his 22.9 average fell short of the very high bar set by the Hall-of-Famers who came before him.

In the last 10 years, only two centers have been ranked in the top 10 in scoring. One of them, Tim Duncan, prefers to play power forward. Who was the last center to lead the NBA in scoring? It's the man with more nicknames than Apollo Creed ... Shaquille O'Neal. Shaq's 29.7 scoring average in the 1999-2000 season earned The Big Diesel his second NBA scoring title. It was also the same season Shaq won the trifecta: Regular-season MVP, All-Star Game MVP and NBA Finals MVP.

So what has happened to the dominant big men?

"The game has evolved," TNT analyst and former Indiana Pacer Reggie Miller recently said on NBA TV. "The notion that you had to have a dominant center to win championships is not the case anymore."

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Miller added, "Personally to me, the change really started in 1992 with the Dream Team and in '96 with Dream Team 2 because if you look at the European big men they are not as dominant as a Shaq or a David Robinson or a Hakeem Olajuwon. They are more pick-and-pop players. Now that they're in the NBA, that's where the game has started to evolve."

The center position, once thought of as the marquee position in basketball, has become an afterthought. If you scour current NBA rosters and find each team's starting center, some of the names won't strike fear in anyone: Marcin Gortat, Kwame Brown, Jason Collins, Roy Hibbert, Anderson Varejao, Samuel Dalembert and Darko Milicic. Last season's NBA finalist, the Miami Heat, reached the championship series with Joel Anthony as its starting center.

Successful NBA teams such as the Dallas Mavericks, Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics and New York Knicks have built their post-up strategies using hybrid big men such as Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Bosh, Pau Gasol, Kevin Garnett and Amare Stoudemire. They all could play center and play with their back to the basket, but all five would rather face the basket and shoot jumpers.

Former Atlanta Hawks player and current NBA TV analyst Steve Smith believes the zone defense has eliminated the value of a classic low-post player, and added that coaches at the youth level don’t teach post moves to young players.

"No one is teaching the big guys the fundamentals," Smith said, "and we don't glorify a guy rebounding, playing defense and playing down in the post. I think it's a lost art."

Shaq said while he was growing up he had guys like Ewing and Olajuwon to emulate, centers who played the position like it was supposed to be played. But these days, high school big men never develop an inside game because they don't have a template to follow.

Will we ever see another Shaquille O'Neal? "With all due respect to Dwight Howard, we will never see [another Shaq] a guy who dominated from block to block," Miller said. "It's all about highlights now. It's not about dominating. It's about looking good."

-- Joel Huerto is editor/publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter .

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This is the first in a series of Tuesday essays by columnist Patrick Hruby.

Even today, he still has the jersey, red and faded and unremarkable, a reminder of the day his dreams went awry. He wanted to be a quarterback. He always had been a quarterback, and damn good one, too: winning the Heisman Trophy, leading his team to the national title game in the Rose Bowl, appearing on the cover of a video game, beating defenders with his arm and his legs. Teammates described him as a leader, disciplined and competitive, mature beyond his years. Heck, he even looked the part, handsome and clean-cut, with showbiz-dark features and politician-grade hair. On the field and in his gut, Eric Crouch was perpetually under center, the ball in his hands, and when he showed up at the 2002 NFL draft combine, he hoped to be evaluated as such.

Instead, they handed him a red jersey.

No. 13, it read.

RB, it read.

At Nebraska, Crouch had excelled in a option offense, pitching and running and throwing, taking hits and giving them. The option can’t work in the pros. He stood six feet tall, taller than Hall of Famer Sonny Jurgensen, as tall as Super Bowl-winner Joe Theismann. Too short to play quarterback. Twenty-two teams spoke to Crouch, and each one thought they knew what was best. We think you might make a good receiver, said the Oakland Raiders. We think you’d be an awesome safety, said the Tennessee Titans. Crouch took it all in, an extended elegy for his athletic identity, one deflating job interview at a time. In return, he said everything he knew they wanted to hear, about fitting in and getting a shot and doing whatever it takes. He had a fiancé and an infant daughter and an uncertain future ahead of him. He was 22 years old. He wanted very badly to belong. So he put on the red jersey, No. 13, and drilled with the running backs. With the defensive backs. With the receivers. And with the quarterbacks as well, just in case. He ran a killer 40.

A few months later, the St. Louis Rams picked Crouch in the third round of the draft, made him a instant millionaire. They asked him to play receiver. He was elated. And miserable. He would spent the next decade trying to get back under center, and his life in football would never be the same.

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In other words: he would never be Tim Tebow.

"I think I could have been a great NFL quarterback," says Crouch, 33, now a playground equipment vendor. "I battled some injuries. I took a lot of bad advice. I played a lot of different positions. If I could change one thing, I would have been pretty forthright about saying that quarterback was going to be my position. I'm going to play quarterback or not play at all."

When dissecting Tebow's wild ascension to national folk hero status and an unlikely perch atop the AFC West, most discussion focuses both on what the Denver Broncos quarterback can do (win games; inspire teammates and Internet memes; give John Elway angina; run -- not scramble -- as if controlled by a real-life version of "Madden NFL's" truck stick) and what he can’t (drop back like Peyton Manning; read defenses like Tom Brady; throw a pass half as pretty as Jeff George and JaMarcus Russell; throw a pass half as pretty as the median frat brother on the average intramural flag team). Mostly ignored, however, is the importance of what Tebow didn’t do.

Namely, the former Heisman Trophy winner did not enter professional football earnestly agreeing to play fullback.

Or tight end.

Or -- gack – strong safety.

Instead, Tebow believed in himself. Shrugged off the helpful position-switching advice -- read: incredulous derision -- proffered by the likes of Jerry Jones and Mel Kiper, Jr. Didn't sweat an ungainly throwing motion that owes less to Aaron Rodgers than Mr. Rogers. Discounted his inexperience with running a pro-style passing offense. He went all-in on what he did best at Florida -- playing quarterback -- and expected skeptical NFL talent evaluators to follow suit. In doing so, Tebow helped create an opportunity that so many other players like him never had, an opportunity that so many others never had the sheer sanguine bullheadedness to demand.

He got his shot. The ball in his hands.

"I love seeing that," Crouch says. "I feel like I was a very similar type of player coming out of college. But I was never given that kind of opportunity. It says a lot about Tim Tebow to say ‘I know I can play quarterback and I want to play quarterback.’ That is brave for a 23-year-old."

Brave for the Broncos, too. Definitely different. Maybe even a little crazy. Traditionally, this is what happens when the square peg of the talented collegiate option quarterback meets the round hole of the pocket passing-oriented NFL: if a player is lucky, he's hammered into the sport's preexisting template with all the subtlety of King Kong playing whack-a-mole; if a player is unlucky, he's discarded from the toy box entirely. In the 1970s, the Miami Dolphins made Freddie Solomon a wide receiver. In the 1990s, the New York Jets made Scott Frost a safety. The same league that treats transcendent athletic ability the way Countess Bathory treated virgin blood couldn’t find a place for run-pass dynamo J.C. Watts, and drove Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward into the NBA's waiting arms.

Beau Morgan, Darian Hagan, Tommie Frazier: talented option quarterbacks all. None played a regular season down in the NFL. Too small. Can’t consistently throw from the pocket. Don’t fit the prototype.

Consider Antwaan Randle El. For him, the pressure to conform came early. In high school. Every school wanted the speedy, dual-threat prep star; most, like Notre Dame, wanted him to play receiver. Maybe cornerback. Only Nebraska and Indiana promised him a shot under center. The Cornhuskers subsequently signed Crouch. Randle El became a Hoosier. The staff believed in him, starting with head coach Cam Cameron. You’re a quarterback, they said. You’ll be our quarterback. That was all Randle El needed to know. "When you hear it from everyone, when you’re backed like that, it makes a difference," he says. Three years into his college career, Randle El was on pace to finish in the Big Ten's career top 10 in both rushing and passing yards; nevertheless, he spent the summer before his senior season learning how to run routes, planning a switch to wide receiver, fearing the NFL would otherwise not have a place for him. The grand experiment lasted all of one game, pretty much fizzling after one play. "I’ll never forget the very first play," Randle El recalls. "We had a run-pass check: if you see eight [defenders] in the box, run the go route. Oh my goodness, we worked on that all week. So the defense brings the safety down. I beat the corner and I'm scot free, running down the sideline. The crowd was so loud. It would have been a wrap."

He laughs.

"Our quarterback didn't check to the pass. I played back and forth at quarterback after that."

Randle El was fortunate: when the Pittsburgh Steelers later asked him to line up as receiver, he already knew how to play the position. More importantly, he bought into the switch. He ultimately thrived, playing 10 seasons with the Steelers and Washington Redskins, even throwing a gadget touchdown pass in the Super Bowl. By contrast, Crouch wasn’t able to make the same adjustment. He didn't much want to. And football -- violent and consuming, brutal and demanding -- is a game of want. Playing quarterback got his motor running, his adrenaline flowing. Playing receiver? Not so much. During training camp with Rams, he would leave work dejected, come home defeated. His daughter would wonder why daddy was so sad and silent. Following a gruesome preseason leg injury, Crouch retired, giving back a $395,000 signing bonus. The Green Bay Packers called. We'll give you a shot at QB. The day before Crouch left for training camp, the team signed Akili Smith. Change of plans. Can you play defense? Crouch quit again, came back, learned to play safety, worked very hard on backpedaling. He latched on with the Kansas City Chiefs, bounced to NFL Europe. He found himself Germany, playing for the Hamburg Sea Devils, watching quarterbacks Ryan Dinwiddie and Casey Bramlett warm up. Hamburg coach Jack Bicknell -- who once coached another too-small quarterback, Boston College’s Doug Flutie -- took notice.

Eric, you sure you don’t want to play quarterback for me?

Crouch laughed it off. He didn’t know if Bicknell was serious, couldn’t remember the last time someone asked him that. Not since college. They never discussed it again. "But every day, I thought about it," Crouch says. "Every day, I watched those quarterbacks warm up and thought, 'That should be me.'"

That should be me. In an indirect and vicarious way, Tebow is playing for Crouch. And Randle El. And all the rest. They’re a fraternity, after all, a league of All-American rejects. They know the sting of being shut out, the frustration of not conforming to type, the cruel finality of thanks, but no thanks. In life, it’s one thing to struggle and fail and learn your limitations; it’s another to have them thrust upon you. They know that Tebow getting an opportunity in the first place is unusual; they grasp that Denver actually tailoring its offense to his unconventional skill set is downright miraculous. The NFL is a passing league. Defenders are too fast, too strong. The option is a gimmick. Option quarterbacks are a joke. They’ve heard it all, from scouts and coaches and talking heads, the white noise of the sport. Even now, with the Broncos atop their division, John Elway seems to regard Tebow with all the enthusiasm of a prisoner of war lauding his captors on videotape. "I don’t know if what Denver is doing can work in the long term," says former Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer, a successful option coach at Oklahoma. "There’s a big question mark there." Crouch understands. He has been around the game, attributes much of his inability to stay healthy as a pro to the numerous hits he took in college. Growing up, Elway was his favorite player.

"I get it," he says. "If every team runs the same system and looks for the same kind of player and they’ve been doing it for years, it’s hard to change. If you have $60 million tied up in your starting quarterback and you run an option play and he blows his shoulder out, the owner is going to go, 'What are you thinking?'

"On the other hand, if you're not using your players' strengths, then you're probably missing out on a lot of opportunities. I commend the Broncos for doing that. I think they’re doing the right thing. You can try to shape someone into whoever you think they might be. But being open and understanding about what a player's strengths are helps the team. If you see a guy is very good in shotgun, put him in shotgun. If he does well running the option, let him run the option."

Randle El agrees. Look at it like this: every year, a handful of NFL teams are happy with their quarterbacks. Most clubs aren't. They don't have a Drew Brees, can't find a Ben Roethlisberger. Nevertheless, they continue to build and plan and draft as if the likes of John Beck and Chad Henne are minor glitches in an otherwise perfect piece of pro passing software, as if the next Elway is about to walk through the locker room door. Wouldn’t it make more sense for some of those squads to give option quarterbacks like Tebow a shot? Wouldn’t it be smart to take advantage of an untapped collegiate talent pool, and perhaps win games in a different way? Apple didn’t trump Microsoft by beating Windows; they became Silicon Valley’s 21st century standard-bearer by creating the iPod and iPhone.

"We've been knocking on the door," Randle El says. "At some point, we’re going to blow it down. You're going to see about 10 teams that have guys like Tebow, guys that can throw the ball and run it. Even if you get a guy that doesn’t work out, somebody else will take a shot."

Another laugh.

"I could be that next guy. You never know. I'm 32 and I can still wing it."

Once a quarterback, always a quarterback. Earlier this year, Crouch came out of retirement to play for the UFL’s Omaha Nighthawks. His daughter is now 12. He has a 7-year-old son. In addition to selling recreation equipment, he works for a medical device company. He isn’t getting any younger. Still, Crouch was excited. He loves football, loves coaching younger players, sharing what he’s learned about offense and defense and, yes, backpedaling. In his very first game, he tore the meniscus in his knee while making a cut, untouched. His season was over. Another unlucky break. Only that's not what Crouch remembers. He remembers lining up behind center, in the shotgun, 10 years and nine surgeries and one red practice jersey after walking away from the Rams, starting his first professional game at quarterback. Just like Tebow. At last.

Near the end of the season, he shared a moment with Nighthawks coach Bart Andrus, a former Titans offensive assistant. You don't have anything to prove, Andrus told him. You started at the highest level. As a quarterback. You can do it.

"It was a tremendous feeling," Crouch says. "I can't even explain it. I had never really been told that."

-- Patrick Hruby is a culture writer for the Washington Times. His work has appeared in the Best American Sports Writing series. Follow him on Twitter @patrick_hruby and contact him at PatrickHruby.net.

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The NHL made a big splash Monday by deciding to realign from its current six-division/two-conference format to four conferences starting as early as next season. Assuming the union gets on board with this plan, there is a great opportunity here to right one of the great NHL wrongs -- and there has been no shortage of those -- from the past two decades.

It is time to bring back conference/division names that mean something to hockey.

When Gary Bettman became NHL commissioner in 1993, he quickly scrapped the traditional conference and division names, and replaced them with generic geographic designations. No more Campbell and Wales conferences. No more Adams, Patrick, Smythe and Norris divisions. They were replaced with names that had no history, no character, no cachet. Pacific Division? Great, just like the NBA. Central Division? MLB has two of those now.

Instead of accentuating and celebrating the traditions that distinguished the NHL from the other leagues, Bettman chose to strip it of characteristics that were unique to its sport.

The NHL has already gone back to the future with Winnipeg Jets 2.0, so why stop there?

We're open to suggestions, but just to start the conversation, we propose the four new conferences be named for Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Mario Lemieux and Bobby Orr.

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The Gretzky would be the conference with two of his primary old teams (Edmonton and Los Angeles) and the one he coached (Phoenix). The Howe would be the one with the Red Wings in it, and with the Penguins and the Bruins in separate conferences, there would be no conflict with Lemieux and Orr for the remaining two.

If you wanted to get some coaches in the mix instead, how about Scotty Bowman and Herb Brooks? Brooks never won a Stanley Cup, but his impact of the game from the Miracle On Ice alone puts him in this discussion.

It is easy to dismiss this name game as simply a matter of semantics, and we do understand that nobody ever refused to buy a ticket or decided to change the channel because the Smythe Division is merely a memory now.

Ultimately the product is what matters, and in 1993, the NHL was hot with Lemieux coming off back-to-back Stanley Cups, Gretzky taking the Kings to the finals and Mark Messier being a year away from ending the Rangers' curse in New York.

But there is something to be said for having pride in the culture of your sport, and the NHL now has a chance to restore it.

The NHL gets itself into trouble when it tries to mimic the NBA, NFL and MLB when there isn't a natural fit. But when it is true to its roots, the results are generally a hit, with the smashing success of the Winter Classic being the prime example.

The NHL has done well to honor people. That's part of the lore of the greatest trophy in sports.

Lord Stanley's Cup.

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For a moment on Sunday afternoon they rose together; two men linked by winning and public obsession even if they are seen as moral opposites. Not long after Tim Tebow drove the Denver Broncos to another miraculous victory in Minnesota, Tiger Woods was storming from two back in Thousand Oaks, Calif., to win his first golf tournament in two years.

Perhaps a year ago, even a month ago, those two names would never have fit in the same sentence. Tiger's game had seemingly disappeared -- maybe forever -- and Tebow was still that quarterback who could run through tackles but appeared impossible to believe as a quarterback. But two hours on Sunday changed everything. Two hours was all it took for Tebow to fire sizzling spirals into the hands of his receivers, pushing the Broncos to score after score in a way that even John Elway, on the Denver sideline, had to applaud. And two hours was all Tiger needed to thunder through the last two holes of the Sherwood Country Club in a way that was very much the Tiger of old.

Suddenly the men who might be the two biggest names in sports had proven something that many thought wasn't possible.

Tebow had won without the Broncos defense and Tiger had won, period.

We are learning every week about Tebow. Something new. Something unique. Something to say that maybe he is indeed the quarterback to lead a team despite a mountain of physical evidence that disproves the theory. His comeback victories against the Dolphins and Jets could be explained away as fortunate byproducts of a great Broncos defense that had grown to fit with the teams’ new, deliberate offense. On Sunday however, with star linebacker Von Miller out and Denver doing nothing to stop the Vikings, it was Tebow who kept leading the Broncos back with throws that zipped through the Metrodome haze.

His throw to Demaryius Thomas for Denver's final touchdown looked as beautiful as anything heaved by Tom Brady or Aaron Rogers or whatever other quarterback Tebow is not supposed to be. And even more impressive was the pass that wasn't completed, tossed in desperation toward the end of the game that nearly landed in a receiver's hands in the end zone despite a ferocious Minnesota rush that knocked him to the ground.

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Tiger had all but disappeared before Sunday. His injuries looked debilitating, his ability to hit the great shots at any moment seemed gone. He was an ordinary golfer with an extraordinary name. Then came Sunday, and Tiger rose to the lead at right about the same moment Tebow was delivering the victory in Minnesota.

There was the approach and the putt for a birdie on 17 that brought the old fist pump and the shadow he cast on 18 -- intimidating Zach Johnson the way he once stalked Mickelson and Norman. A putt later, Tiger held a trophy aloft for the first time in ages.

They are, of course, linked for something other than sports: Tebow for his abstinence and Tiger for his adultery. In many ways they might be as famous for their "No" and "Yes" as they are for all the awards and championships and the acclaim that has come their way. And it is this that has probably damaged them most as athletes. By admitting his virginity Tebow could no longer be looked upon for just his football. He had risen to something else, something too pure for sports.

Tiger, once always lauded for his control and seeming virtue, was torn apart by his sex scandals, stripped of his invincibility and turned into a regular punch line on late night monologues. Injuries might have had more to do with his fall as a golfer than anything away from the course, but it’s hard to imagine he would have tumbled as far as he did without that late-night car crash outside his Florida home.

But on Sunday afternoon, they made new legends for themselves. Tebow passed the Broncos to a win when many thought it all but impossible, and Tiger won an improbable golf tournament the way he used to win golf tournaments every week.

"Don't call it a comeback, been here for years," Tiger said after Sunday’s win, quoting an old L.L. Cool J lyric.

Maybe he was right. Then again, maybe it was a bright day in a rapidly approaching winter for Tiger Woods. Who knows? Just as we still don’t know about Tebow as a quarterback just yet.

For two hours on Sunday, however, there was every reason to think their sports will continue to be about them.

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So what's the greatest injustice of bowl selection process this year? Oklahoma State getting locked out of a title shot? Nick Saban voting the Pokes lower than third in the polls? Boise State losing three games in four years and getting only a single BCS bid?

Nope. None of the above.

The most regrettable event of the bowl season happened in Bowling Green, Ky.

The Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky gathered Sunday night to celebrate their 7-5 season at an awards banquet. It started at 6 p.m. -- right around the time the team hoped to get good news about a bowl berth.

It was a storybook year for WKU: The Hilltoppers were 0-12 two seasons ago, then 2-10 last year, and now bowl eligible -- plus one win for good measure. They traveled to LSU and went to halftime down only 14-7 to the No. 1 team in the nation before getting blown out in the second half. WKU still won seven out of its last eight. Not bad for the newest FBS team in the country.

WKU brass started working the phones as soon as the team won its sixth game, aware how big a bowl game would be for a senior-laden team that needs all the exposure it can get for recruiting. Senior associate athletic director Todd Stewart says the school put together a marketing plan to send to 11 bowls. The program got great feedback, and hopes ramped up. This was one of the best stories of a depressing college football season.

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But at around 6:30 Sunday, head coach Willie Taggert took the microphone and told the team there would be no bowl this year. Seven wins wasn’t good enough.

"It was very disappointing," says senior running back Bobby Rainey. "It didn't make a lot of sense to me."

UCLA finished with a losing record, fired coach Rick Neuheisel, and got a trip to San Francisco -- to play another team without a winning record.

Western Kentucky was staying home.

And it wasn't because of the supposedly weak Sun Belt conference. The Hilltoppers came in second, and yet the third and fourth place teams both made a bowl.

"We’re very frustrated," says Stewart. "I think if you look at the team's accomplishments, it should be enough."

Football fans lose out, too. Rainey is one of the best running backs in the nation. He ranked second in the country in yards per game with 141.3, and he rushed for 1,500 yards for the second straight season. (The others to do that since 2000: LaDanian Tomlinson, Steven Jackson, DeAngelo Williams, Ray Rice, Garrett Wolfe, Darren McFadden, and LaMichael James.) Rainey will be on somebody’s fantasy team next year, but he won’t be on anyone’s TV screen this December.

He says he might not even watch the bowls. "I'm not playing," he says. "My team's not playing."

So what happened? Looks like WKU wasn't old-boy enough for the old-boy network. It's only the school's third year at the Division I-A level. "[The Sun Belt] only had two bowl tie-ins," says Stewart. "That’s what put us behind the eight-ball. The MAC has three tie-ins and four backups. They have relationships that we didn’t."

(Another theory, by way of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Paul Zeise, says WKU was penciled into the BBVA Compass Bowl against Pitt but got booted for SMU because it was supposedly a better match-up.)

Rainey tries to be classy about it. "Coach told us learn from it," he says. "That's what Western’s gonna do. There will be multiple bowl games. There will be no doubt they’ll get a bid for years to come."

But for 12 seniors, including Rainey, who suffered through a winless season and built a winning program from nothing, there will be no bowl day -- ever. They will be reading about how much wealthier programs like Oklahoma State got jobbed. (Western's athletic budget is $22 million -- about a quarter of LSU's.) All 12 of the Hilltoppers' seniors graduated, so maybe they’ll lay the foundation for success on and off the field.

For now, WKU will best be known by the blob mascot "Big Red," shown here in a SportsCenter commercial, trying to figure out which restroom to enter:

"Big Red" doesn't speak, but he doesn't need to say a word.

Something stinks.

Click here for Pat Forde's take on this season's biggest bowl travesty.

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