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Original Issue

The Beat

Three days after Academy Awards ballots were mailed out, Hilary Swank scored a knockout in the first head-to-head showdown between the two favorites for best actress. Last Saturday, Swank, who plays a boxer in Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby (SI, Jan. 31), received the best-actress award from the Screen Actors Guild over Being Julia star Annette Bening. It's not the first time Swank and Bening have duked it out in Hollywood's awards season. Five years ago Bening was the Oscar favorite for her work in American Beauty, but Swank pulled out an upset win for Boys Don't Cry. This time around the SAG score makes Swank the Oscar front-runner--13 of the last 20 leading-actor SAG winners have gotten love from the Academy as well.

■ Lance Armstrong debuted his weekly show, Live Strong Radio, on Jan. 30 on Sirius satellite radio--and no, he didn't just play Sheryl Crow songs. Broadcasting from his Austin home, the six-time Tour de France champ talked about his training and spun Grant Lee Buffalo's Lone Star Song and the John Butler Trio's What You Want. Armstrong joins an impressive stable of jocks on Sirius. Skater Tony Hawk, surfer Kelly Slater, skier Johnny Moseley and beach volleyball star Kerri Walsh all host weekly shows.

■ Tension mounts when Yankees and Red Sox fans face off with only bragging rights at stake, so sitting them at a poker table might make for compelling TV. Boston chairman Tom Werner, producer of The Cosby Show and Roseanne, is launching a reality series with the catchy title Boston vs. New York Poker Challenge. On the show, which premieres in March on both the Red Sox' and Yankees' cable networks, six supporters of each team will play a winner-take-all Texas Hold 'Em tournament. Open calls were held last month to find non-celebrities who possess what casting director Angela Peri calls the three P's--poker ability, passion and personality--as well as the $5,000 entry fee. The last player standing walks away with the cash and 10 luxury-suite tickets at Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium.

■ The Eagles and the Patriots weren't the only ones in Jacksonville with jumpy stomachs before the Super Bowl. On Saturday, Dolphins quarterback A.J. Feeley and NFL free agent Danny Farmer--along with soccer star Heather Mitts--took a spin on Zero Gravity Corporation's G-Force One, a modified cargo plane that simulates weightlessness by climbing to 34,000 feet and then dropping back toward Earth. They're the first pro athletes to try the stunt; Feeley and Farmer tossed a football back and forth as they floated out of their seats. "I have a horrible fear of flying," Feeley said. "What bigger thrill than to face it head-on?"

■ Rest easy, Red Sox fans: Johnny Damon will still be sporting the Samson look when the season opens. Damon's new book, Idiot: Or How I Learned to Stop Thinking and Beat "The Curse", hits shelves on April 4, and a clause in his publishing contract forbids the Boston leadoff hitter from cutting his hair until his book tour is finished.


Goodyear paid Pistons guard Richard Hamilton to braid his hair in the tread pattern of one of its tires.


6'9", 400-pound Arena Football League commissioner, on what he hears when he steps on his audio scale: "Come back when you're not in your car."




If Twiggy the Water-Skiing Squirrel is so caution-conscious--she and owner Lou Ann Best tour the country promoting water safety--then where's her helmet? Twiggy performs about 20 shows a year with Best, who has been training squirrels for 25 years. "Twiggy is really quite happy with her life," she has said. "She has her own room at home ... and the run of my motor home while we're on the road."