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He had his number

From wire reports The Spokesman-Review

Wayne Gretzky’s decision to coach the Phoenix Coyotes has caused huge waves in the hockey world.

When Muzz MacPherson became coach of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League, there wasn’t even a ripple outside Ontario.

Yet with one simple suggestion, MacPherson carved out his own niche in hockey history.

Only 16 when he joined the Greyhounds for the 1977-78 season, Gretzky wanted to wear the number of his hero, Gordie Howe, but No. 9 was already taken.

He tried numbers 19 and 14, but wasn’t happy.

“If you can’t have one 9, how about two? Wear 99,” MacPherson told Gretzky as described in the book “Gretzky” by Walter Gretzky and Jim Taylor.

Wrong answer

Nelson Skalbania signed Gretzky for the 1978-79 season. Skalbania owned the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association, but was thinking of buying the Houston Aeros.

He called a coach with the Aeros, according to Gretzky in his autobiography, written with Rick Reilly, and asked, “Can Gretzky play pro hockey?”

“Well I’m not sure about his skating,” said the coach, whom Gretzky declined to identify. “I hear he’s not that good of a skater.”

That was enough for Skalbania, who knew better. He didn’t buy the Aeros, and they folded.

Don’t make cut as barbers

Whether any of the Texas-El Paso seniors are cut out for careers as football players remains to be seen. But this much is clear: None will go into hair design if football doesn’t pan out.

Nate Poss, assistant director of football operations, allowed the seniors to give him a haircut in an effort to build unity. When they finished, Poss was left with uneven patches all over his head and had to ask the coaches to clean up the players’ handiwork.

“There were clumps on my back and side, and we took them off before I took these guys to church,” Poss told the El Paso Times. “I didn’t want to look like a total freak.”

Driven to try

Former Raiders receiver Tim Brown reportedly is trying to start his own NASCAR team, with hope of becoming the first African-American owner.

As he told the Dallas Morning News, “Right now, it’s not too cool to wear a Dale Earnhardt Jr. jacket in the neighborhood. We want to make it cool.”

He’s firmly grounded

Edgerrin James of the Indianapolis Colts can say he has been to Tokyo and back – but is he ever glad to be home.

The running back, who carried three times for 20 yards in a 27-21 exhibition loss to the Atlanta Falcons, had threatened to boycott the game because he can’t stand flying.

“I ain’t never flown 15 hours,” he told the Sporting News. “I have the whole off-season to see the world, and I still don’t go anywhere.”

Shot himself in foot

Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz was asked by ESPN the Magazine to share his most forgettable moment and recalled that it came during his rookie season at the team hotel in San Francisco.

“I was pretending I was an FBI guy, hiding behind pillars and stuff,” Smoltz said. “I did an army roll in front of the elevator and came up like I was shooting. The doors opened and my hand was pointed at the GM. He said, ‘Nice move.’ I was so embarrassed.”

An old trick

Columnist Greg Cote of the Miami Herald, returning from vacation, offered a belated congratulations to cyclist Lance Armstrong for winning a record seventh Tour de France.

“Probably good he retired,” Cote noted. “Organizers were so desperate to give somebody else a chance they’d planned to pass a rule requiring Lance to ride one of those 1890s-style bicycles with enormous front wheels.”

The last word

From Jay Leno on NBC: “Record heat all across the nation this weekend, especially on the East Coast. In fact, it was so hot in Baltimore, Rafael Palmeiro switched to injecting himself with Freon.”

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