Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
How 'bout them Owls? Coach Sidney Green, the former Runnin' Rebel and NBA journeyman player, inherited a pretty sorry bunch back in 1999. In fact, the team hardly qualified as a "bunch" at all: What with all the transfers, he suited up just seven players that year. Hardly surprising, then, when the team went 2-28; if this squad wasn't the worst in Division I, it was pretty darn close. Last year, after further attrition, Green was forced to play his freshmen, and the team actually improved -- to 7-24. For this year, he brought in some talented junior-college players to plug holes. The result: a 16-11 regular season, three hard-fought wins in the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament (including the 76-75 squeaker over Georgia State in the final), and the university's first trip to the NCAA Tournament. In their first-round date with Alabama in Greenville, South Carolina, the Owls refused to lie down, matching the heavily favored Crimson Tide shot for shot for 33 minutes. Alabama finally pulled away and won, 86-78, but FAU's performance earned the program nationwide respect -- and almost cost the team its coach. Green's success at turning around the program made him a finalist for the vacant DePaul job. When the task of reviving that university's once-proud tradition fell to someone else, the brass in Boca Raton breathed a sigh of relief. Now Green will have a chance to defend his conference title and perhaps bring the pride of Palm Beach County back to the Big Dance once again.
Everybody knew the Dolphins' offensive line wasn't very good last year, even with a healthy Mark Dixon. While the team's inability to run the ball was often demoralizing, at least the Fins were a team that could stop the run, right? Umm, no. On December 16, 2001, the San Francisco 49ers exposed the Dolphins' vulnerability to a strong running game with several punishing, clock-eating drives en route to a 21-0 victory. This cemented our selection of Gardener as the one player Miami could not do without. Largely because the big defensive tackle was out with a back injury, the Niners' interior linemen were able to get off the line to put a helmet on Zach Thomas, nullifying his speed and playmaking. This year, the coaches are talking about moving Gardener to defensive end to save his back from the beating he takes playing inside. Not sure we agree: While he's a good enough player to make an impact outside, his true gift is as a run-stuffer. If he's healthy, that's where he belongs. If team brass leaves him there, Thomas will be grateful. So will we.
If the Marlins' ownership had been stable this past winter, Cliffy would already be gone. Of course, had that been the case, he might have had an even better year in 2001. His post-All-Star slump seemed to correlate directly to the failure of the stadium drive and the uncertainty about the team's South Florida future. As it was, Floyd still ended up with excellent numbers, offering a consistent, mostly healthy (hooray!) presence in the three-hole, steady, sometimes spectacular defense. And he was the closest thing these pups had to veteran leadership. This year, by the time the trading deadline rolls around, he'll be ripping screaming liners into the right-centerfield gap for a playoff contender -- here, if the young pitching progresses, Luis Castillo and Charles Johnson rebound, and Alex Gonzalez gets his shit together, but more likely somewhere else.
Our favorite feature of this strip of sand in Deerfield Beach is the absence of cars zipping by on A1A ten yards from your beach blanket. In 1967, the Army Corps of Engineers set up boulder piles on the sand every 30 feet or so to prevent erosion. You can sit on the rocks and enjoy the water, lie on the sand, or dive into the ocean. The sand is broader than most of the Fort Lauderdale beaches, and there are vegetation breaks that separate your shot at tranquility from the busy and polluted street. Part of the strip has condos and guesthouses, but they're small and set back from the shore. The sand is dotted with the occasional tiki hut, and a concrete walking path lines the northern end. The nicest, quietest part of the beach is the southern border, which the lifeguards call south beach, not to be confused with South Beach, which is filled with people, restaurants, and dance clubs instead of sea shells and breaking waves. Metered parking is eight bits an hour.
Hidden behind sand dunes and patches of natural Florida vegetation, this place can easily be missed. After you find a parking spot, which admittedly can be close to a mission impossible during the winter season, lug your sun umbrella, towels, and folding chairs through one of the thick and canopied beach entrances. There, you will understand why Delray is among the nation's favorite beach resort towns. The nearly mile-long, pristine, and wide beach is unusually clean and welcoming, without rocks, piers, or fishermen. Food and nonalcoholic drinks are allowed, but don't feed the sea gulls no matter how cute they seem; they'll turn into pests. There is a recreation area in the beach's southern part where teenagers sometimes pass the football and kite enthusiasts fly their creations in the shapes of birds, scuba divers, and sharks. The beach also offers chair rentals, five volleyball courts, showers and bathrooms, a water sports rental shack, and several exotic diving attractions (be mindful of the resident ray at the 19th-century wreck just offshore). And when the sun hits the water just right here and the ocean turns breathtakingly turquoise, you will remember why you live in South Florida.
"Swim Nude to Prevent Sea Lice Infection." Such was the recent headline in a U.S. Public Health Service professional journal. Skinny-dipping is not naughty; it's healthy, experts say, referring to the rash that generally appears on bodies covered in swimsuits. You see, the microscopic jellyfish get trapped beneath the material and release a skin-irritating venom. If that doesn't scare the pants off you, then forget this advice: Peel off your duds behind the Marriott hotel on A1A, scurry across a private beach (though we have had no trouble running around nude for nearly an hour around midnight on several occasions), and give the moon to the night sky.