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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Left Coast is clear for clearing his head

LOS ANGELES -- Picked-up pieces while touring the Left Coast and praying that Keith "I Hate Baseball" Foulke takes the buyout . . .

What was most annoying about NBC's telecast of the Patriots and Colts last Sunday night? Was it John Madden's incessant references to "wham" blocks, or those John Mellencamp Silverado commercials? A close third would be the beer ads with Dick Vermeil and Bill Walsh at pretend press conferences.

Why do I get the feeling that Dustin Pedroia, through no fault of his own, is destined to become the line in the sand in Fort Myers next spring? Theo Epstein and the minions love the little guy. Longtime scouts, people who wear baseball uniforms, and most fans are not convinced. This will be interesting.

Please, tell us the 2006 Patriots aren't going to wind up like the 2006 Red Sox. The Sox, you might remember, beat up on the bad teams (and the National League) in the first half of the season, disguising weaknesses. Then they imploded, in part because of injuries. Now we have the Patriots, who are 6-2 but have no victories against winning teams. The five teams the Patriots have beaten (Bills twice) have an aggregate record of 17-23. We thought the Bengals and Vikings were good, but both are 4-4. And losing Rodney Harrison could do to the Patriots what losing Jason Varitek did to the Sox.

Tom Callahan's "Johnny U: The Life and Times of John Unitas" might be the best football book of all time. It's a slice of the early/golden days of the Baltimore Colts and the NFL. Happily, Callahan is working on another book, following Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi through his final season in the NFL. Plenty of reason to root for a Patriots-Giants Super Bowl.

Kobe Bryant looks strange wearing that new No. 24 at Staples Center. It's like seeing Wilt Chamberlain with a number other than 13. There's a great deal of secrecy regarding reasons for Kobe's change. Twenty-four was Kobe's first high school number and he supposedly tried to get it when he came to the NBA. It also supposedly signifies the second half of his career. One thing's for sure -- it's great for merchandising. There are already as many Bryant 24s as Bryant 8s at Staples Center. Personally, I think he did it to honor Manny Ramírez.

The Boston Garden's new video board is terrific, but something has to be done about the sound system on Causeway Street. It's muffled in many parts of the building and we're missing some good stuff when people speak.

New York Times scribe Harvey Araton took exception with some of the praise heaped at the feet of Red Auerbach when the Celtics icon died. Araton, who penned, "The Selling of the Green" with Filip Bondy in 1992, last week wrote, "This is the realistic view, a variation on the posthumous tributes that ripped a decade out of Auerbach's back pages and portrayed him as a crusading barrier crasher more than a bulldog primarily interested in beating his opponents' brains in . . . The 1980s happened, too. Auerbach's team fell from its progressive perch . . . to being considered by many as the white team in a black sport."

"The 1980s happened, too"? What is that supposed to mean? The 1985-86 Celtics had eight white players and four black players. They also went 40-1 at home, won the championship easily, and may have been the best NBA team in history. Oh, then the team was picked by a black head coach, K.C. Jones -- hired by Red. Enough of the high-brow criticism. With Red, it was about talent, not color. And that's exactly why Auerbach was every bit a "crusading barrier crasher." He went with the best players when nobody else would. No need to apologize for going with the best players in the 1980s.

Are football coaches instructing players to cease and desist with the practice of extending arms and holding footballs over the goal line? It's a gamble that has resulted in a recent rash of fumbles. Steeler Hines Ward was a victim last Sunday and you see it in college games every weekend.

Baseball parity? Seven different World Series winners in the seven autumns of this century.

It's weird to see that TV spot featuring athletes at home. Nomar Garciaparra and Mia Hamm? Aren't these the all-time privacy buffs? And now they're showing off their crib, Deion Sanders style?

Pete Carroll-to-the-NFL rumors are starting again, and Pete dismissed them after practice at USC Monday. Folks here believe Pete is working on a five-year deal that renews itself annually. He's 61-11 as he closes in on his sixth full season with the Trojans. Remember how we tweaked Pete as "undisciplined" because his Patriots were penalized too often? Bill Parcells's Cowboys are the most-flagged team in the league (610 yards) this season.

Bob Lobel reports that Bill Belichick's postgame press conference late Sunday was a true walkoff moment. "It was a walkoff press conference," observed Lobel. "The coach walked off in mid-answer!"

They can call it "The Governor's Academy" all they want, it'll always be Governor Dummer to us.

John Havlicek suffered a lot of loss in one week. He was the only sports figure associated with both Red Auerbach and Joe Niekro. Hondo grew up with Niekro and was unable to attend services for both friends. An Ohio State grad, Havlicek plans to be at The Game. And he has one last story on Red: "You always knew when he'd been in a fight. We'd see him at practice and he'd have a bandage on his left hand and he'd tell us it was from something that happened in traffic on the way to work."

Citizens of Minnesota must be proud when they hear Jesse Ventura on those sports betting ads.

Our Kevin Paul Dupont needs a better lawyer. He gave the Bruins permission to use "Hub of Hockey" for their 2006-2007 campaign. Never would have happened with John "Refuse to Lose" Calipari calling the shots.

Great piece in yesterday's New York Times about Mustapha Farrakhan Jr., the grandson of Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader. Young Farrakhan is a standout high school guard in Chicago being recruited by a number of Division 1 programs.

Bet Tony La Russa shows up at a Patriots game this year. In the history of baseball managers, only Connie Mack and John McGraw won more games than La Russa.

Still trying to figure out what Dave Wallace and Ron Jackson did wrong? Same here. Two of the most decent men who ever wore Boston uniforms. Jackson was replaced by Dave Magadan, who may be a fine hitting instructor, but most hitting coaches are hired by the manager, not the general manager.

Youngest player in NBA history? Try Lakers center Andrew Bynum, who was 18 years 6 days old when he made his debut last season. Now a whopping 19, the 7-footer had 20 points and 14 rebounds in 29 minutes against the Timberwolves Tuesday.

This from Paul Shirley, who was cut by the Minnesota Timberwolves before the start of the season, in November's Esquire: "The Phoenix Suns have a charity auction every year. The year I played for the team, one of the prizes was the chance to accompany the team on a road trip. The winner, a middle-aged man, rode on our charter plane and took part in most of the activities along the way . . . This guy's dress and appearance screamed 'successful-businessman type.' He probably made hundreds of important decisions in his life, met thousands of people, and made a fair amount of money along the way. But it was obvious that all of this was pushed to the back of his mind when he got to meet Amare Stoudemire. Again, I understand the idolization of athletes. But I think idolatry should stop at a certain age. And that age is not 60. This fellow did not agree with me. When he was introduced to Stoudemire, his eyes lit up as if his wife had just given birth to their firstborn. He peppered Amare with questions. He got his picture taken with him. Generally, he acted like an 8-year-old . . . If I wanted to be an ass, I would ask if it really makes sense for a middle-aged man to be awed by a younger man who happens to be really good at putting a ball through a hole suspended 10 feet above the ground."

Just something to ponder next time you button up your XXL Schilling jersey.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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