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Nebraska's Osborne Nears 200th Win

ENTERING Thursday night's game against Oklahoma State, University of Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne is just one victory shy of joining Florida State's Bobby Bowden and Penn State's Joe Paterno as the only active major-college coaches with 200 wins. (The game is on a Thursday night to accommodate ESPN's national coverage.)

As good as Osborne's record is, there have been occasional rumblings about losses to arch-rival Oklahoma and in bowl games. His job, however, seems as secure as any in major-college football, possibly because of Osborne's personality as much as for his record.

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He fits his surroundings well. He exudes old-fashioned Farm Belt ethics and speaks the language of the midlands, as well he should. He was once Nebraska's prep athlete of the year at Hastings High School, then won the equivalent collegiate honor as a star quarterback at Hastings College.

The mission statement he holds for the Cornhuskers reads: ``Work hard, be thorough, be professional. Operate with integrity. Treat fellow players with dignity and respect. Promote pride and confidence in the team. Represent the school well.'' Nothing fancy here.

Osborne has credibility as a leader around the state. He has attempted to increase state penalties against those who distribute pornography to minors, for example. He expresses concern about the direction society is headed and the need to get back to ``absolute'' and ``spiritual'' values.

If Osborne sometimes sounds like a counselor, it's because he sees that function as increasingly important in his profession. ``We probably spend nearly 50 percent of our time trying to deal with the `baggage' the players bring with them to our program,'' he said at a kickoff event earlier this year.

His long service - 32 years in coaching, all at Nebraska - has provided the program with stability and continuity. After a short career as a pro player (he roomed with presidential hopeful Jack Kemp), Osborne became a graduate assistant coach at Nebraska in 1962. Over the next several years he earned his masters and doctorate degrees in educational psychology and was named head coach in 1973 when Bob Devaney stepped down. Osborne's interest in academics is reflected by some of his players, of whom an unsurpassed 29 have been selected academic All-Americas. Baseball's most popular team

From a business standpoint, the Colorado Rockies were the most exciting thing to happen in baseball this season. Eager to show their support for Denver's expansion team, fans turned out in droves, helping the franchise set a major league attendance record with 4,483,350 spectators for 81 home games. This was without the benefit of a new stadium or a winning team, both of which have aided the Toronto Blue Jays, who first broke the 4-million barrier in 1991 and have remained there since.

The Rockies, however, showed great promise on the field, where they were one of the best expansion teams ever and one of hottest teams generally by the end of the season. Eventually, the team's attendance figures will plummet - and not necessarily because the honeymoon with the fans will end. Making a sharp drop inevitable is the Rockies' scheduled 1995 move out of spacious Mile High Stadium (capacity 76,000) into a new ballpark, seating 45,300. That's about 10,000 less than this season's average attendance. Catchy names for places to play

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For the moment, at least, the cleverest name given any major sports arena belongs to the Charlotte (N.C.) Coliseum, which is called ``The Hive'' by fans of pro basketball's Charlotte Hornets. Given that the place buzzes with the National Basketball Association's largest crowds, a league-leading 23,698 last season, hive seems an apt description.

Another engaging alias certain to catch on is ``The Pond,'' the nickname for the new Anaheim Arena, which will house the National Hockey League's expansion Mighty Ducks, who open their season Friday. A colleague who has been inside the arena describes it as ``the Taj Mahal of hockey.''

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