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Francis bows out; soccer's loyal fans; orange golf balls

It's one thing when a 13-year veteran like Miami's Bob Griese bows out of pro football, quite another when a player widely considered in his prime does. Russ Francis, then, shocked almost everyone when he retired last week after six years playing tight end for the New England Patriots.

The news preceded Ken Stabler's surprise decision to hang up his cleats. Though equally unexpected, Stabler's announcement was not so enigmatic. After all, the "Snake" had spent a dozen years in the National Football League and quarterbacked the Oakland Raiders to a Super Bowl championship. Now, battered as much as he cares to be, he's satisfied to forgo the rigors of another season, one in which the pressure would be on him to get the Houston Oilers going again.

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Francis, on the other hand, is entering what most observers would consider the best years of his career -- and on a team which has Super Bowl potential, even though it's never been there. A prototype tight end with both size (6 ft. 6 in., 242 pounds) and speed, he has gone three years without being selected to the Pro Bowl squad, this after making it during his first three NFL seasons. Consequently, both team and individual goals seem to exist for the man Howard Cosell cals "All-World."

En route to training camp from his Hawaii home, however, Francis decided he had had enough -- enough of football's violence and primitive environment. According to the Boston Globe, he had grown disenchanted with his macho image. What is ironic, Globe reporter Michael Madden writes, is that he "went along with the media's building of that image, but finally, the philosophical clash created by a gentle man playing a violent sport became too much for Francis to bear."

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