WITH 45 SECONDSleft in the Division II national championship game last Saturday inSpringfield, Mass., fans of Barton College were chanting, "We believe,"which sounded ridiculously optimistic. Barton, a school of 925 in Wilson, N.C.,was trailing 74--67 to Winona State—which, at 35--0, was the only undefeatedteam in the NCAA's three divisions. Earlier in the huddle Barton coach RonLievense had turned to point guard Anthony Atkinson and said, "It's timefor you to take over the game. We need you now more than ever."
And for the thirdtime in as many games Atkinson, the son of a preacher, rewarded the faith ofhis coach and his fans. The 5'10", 155-pound senior scored 10 points in thefinal 39 seconds—capped by a layup at the buzzer—lifting Barton to a 77--75victory. Said Atkinson, "We used everything we learned throughout theseason."
Ah, yes, theseason. Barton came into the Elite Eight with a crunch-time legacy for theages, having played an NCAA record-tying eight overtime games during theseason—and won them all. The Bulldogs made it 9 for 9 in the quarterfinalsagainst Grand Valley State on Atkinson's 30-footer at the OT buzzer. The semiswere a comparative laugher, with Atkinson hitting the winning free throw with1.5 seconds left in regulation for an 80--79 win over Cal State--SanBernardino. "I don't think he's human," said teammate L.J. Dunn.
Atkinson ispreternaturally cool. After a hard-fought win on Senior Night, he took themicrophone to midcourt, dropped to his knees and proposed to his girlfriend,Barton basketball player Veronica Johnson. But even Atkinson—who hopes to playpro ball somewhere next year—seemed amazed with Saturday's finale. After thewinning basket, he put his hands over his head and raced around the court in anuncanny imitation of another championship moment in North Carolina history: JimValvano's 1983 victory lap. Said Lievense, "I don't see how any endingcould be any better—ever."
Of cancer at age 67, Ernie Wright, a three-time AFL All-Star offensive linemanwho played for the Chargers and the Bengals. After his career ended in 1972,Wright (above) helped start a program that introduced golf to underprivilegedkids in San Diego. "He grew up on the wrong side of the tracks," hisson Howard told The San Diego Union-Tribune. "He was able to escape becausehe grew to be 6'4" and 270 pounds and played football. But he knew theopportunities to escape were very limited for others, so he wanted to give backfor his success."
By a Pentagon report, that nine officers—including four generals—be heldaccountable for errors in the aftermath of the death of Pat Tillman. The formerNFL star was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004 (SI,Sept. 11, 2006). Although several soldiers knew immediately that Tillman wasshot by his comrades, the Army maintained for five weeks that he was killed byenemy combatants. The report, which was released by the Defense Department'sinspector general on Monday, focused on how high the cover-up went. It does notrecommend specific punishments, but it suggests that the Army look into holdingnine officers accountable.
As coach of the Mexican national basketball team, former Arkansas coach NolanRichardson. The 65-year-old El Paso native said, "There's been a lot ofpeople in that area that are big time into Mexico [who] wanted to see if Icould somehow maybe get them qualified for the Olympics." Mexico has notmade the Olympics since 1976. Qualifying for the 2008 Games begins later thisyear.
At a strip club while on bereavement leave, Portland forward Zach Randolph. OnMarch 19 the team gave Randolph permission to go to Indiana for the funeral ofhis girlfriend's cousin. The next night, after his teammates beat the Wizardswithout him, Randolph was seen at the Exotica International Club for Men inPortland, where he allegedly left without paying his $106 bar tab. ("He'llpay it next time," the club's manager told the Portland Tribune.) Randolphsaid he simply stopped off at the club on his way to the airport. The Blazerswon all three games Randolph (below) missed, and when he returned to the teamon Sunday, he was left out of the starting lineup.
By Michael Vick, why he was carrying a water bottle with a hidden compartmentat the Miami airport earlier this year. The Falcons' quarterback was stopped onJan. 17 when he tried to take a specially modified water bottle through thesecurity checkpoint. After Vick threw it away, screeners retrieved the bottle;police said they found what appeared to be marijuana residue in the hiddencompartment. But prosecutors later said that there were no drugs in the bottle.Vick finally spoke about the incident last week, saying that he was using thebottle to carry jewelry. "They took the bottle," Vick said. "Idon't know what they did with the bottle. I guess they were trying to, I don'twant to say frame me, but at the same time look at what I had to gothrough." Asked about Vick's claims, a police spokeswoman said, "That'sthe first we've heard of that."
After being arrested and charged with DUI, Tony La Russa. The Cardinals'manager was found asleep at the wheel of his SUV around midnight on March 22and failed a Breathalyzer test. The following day he managed the Cards' 2--1loss to the Marlins and received a warm ovation from fans before the game."It was an embarrassment, so I apologize to anyone who is close to me,members of the Cardinals' organization, our fans," La Russa said after thegame. "I regret it, take responsibility, and I'm not sure there is anythingelse I can say."
As Penn State women's basketball coach, Rene Portland. In her 27 years at theschool, Portland won 606 games, but her success was overshadowed by accusationsthat she discriminated against homosexual players. In 2006, after a formerplayer filed a complaint, the school conducted an investigation that found thatPortland created a "hostile, intimidating and offensive environment"because of the player's perceived sexual orientation. Portland, who criticizedthe findings, was fined $10,000. This season Penn State finished 15--16, itssecond straight losing season. "This was obviously a difficultdecision," Portland said. "I am very appreciative of the opportunity tocoach at Penn State."
Of cancer at age 75, Ed Bailey, a five-time All-Star catcher. Bailey, who spentmost of his 14 year career with the Reds and the Giants, had his best season in1956, when he hit .300 with 28 homers for Cincinnati. After he retired, Bailey(left) served as a city councilman in Knoxville, Tenn.
At age 21 after being hit by a car, Jason Ray, who served as Rameses, themascot for the North Carolina basketball team. Ray, a senior from Concord,N.C., was with the team at the East Regional in East Rutherford, N.J. He wasstruck by an SUV last Friday afternoon as he was walking to his hotel from aconvenience store. (The driver of the SUV does not face charges.)
They Said It
LOU PINIELLA, Cubs manager, on what he sees inreliever Neal Cotts, who has a 7.20 ERA this spring:
"I see he gives up runs every time he pitches."
1 Rank among NBA players of Kobe Bryant's jersey salesin China; native son Yao Ming's is the sixth-best seller.
16 Consecutive playoff appearances for the Red Wings,the longest active streak in any pro sport.
750 NHL games coached by the Avalanche's JoelQuenneville, the fifth person in league history to play and coach thatmany.
29 NCAA Division I baseball coaches who have won 1,000games; Clemson's Jack Leggett joined the club when the Tigers beat Maryland onSunday.
12 Georgetown's margin of victory over North Carolinain the East Regional final, tied for the largest in an NCAA tournament overtimegame since N.C. State's 80--66 win over Arkansas--Little Rock in 1986.
22,199,712 The NFL's paid attendance last season; it'sthe fifth straight year the league has set an attendance record and the firsttime it has topped 22 million.
SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE
Belarus's national rowing team was arrested after itaccidentally crossed the Ukrainian border while training.
SHEEDY & LONG (WRIGHT)
GREG WAHL-STEPHENS/AP (RANDOLPH)
NANCY PALMIERI/AP (ATKINSON)
TOP DOG Atkinson led the Bulldogs to an improbable title.
NANCY PALMIERI/AP (ATKINSON)
[See caption above]
JOHN BIEVER (PICTURE THIS)
PICTURE THIS MARCH 22 Ohio State takes on Tennessee in the Sweet 16 in San Antonio.
THE NATIONAL BASEBALL HALL OF FAME LIBRARY, COOPERSTOWN, NY (BAILEY)
MARK J. REBILAS/US PRESSWIRE (PINIELLA)