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Boston Garden Is Going, Going - but Not Gone

WITH a gala farewell celebration last weekend, the city of Boston turned off the lights and shut the doors to Boston Garden. Or did it?

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During the televised closing ceremonies, emceed in part by CBS network anchorman Dan Rather (a curious choice), there was no mention of what was to become of the old building, which sits inches away from its replacement, the FleetCenter. In fact, the Garden could remain standing until a developer is found.

This month the landmark structure is being used in filming a movie, ''Celtic Pride.'' Beyond that, plans are unknown.

When the Garden does come down, it will be done with great care to avoid structural damage to the new facility, which has been praised for its understated look and functionality. Handling the demolition gingerly also will provide monetary benefits, since bricks, seats, and other Garden memorabilia will be sold to the public.

Last Friday's Garden farewell struck some as contrived. Certainly it had far less spontaneous emotion than surrounded the final game in the building, a Boston Bruins-Montreal Canadiens preseason contest played Sept. 26.

When that game ended, numerous retired Bruins, including Stanley Cup champion teammates Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, and Gerry Cheevers took a final turn around the rink. Joining them, with assistance, was Normand Leveille, whose career was cut short in 1982 by a disabling physical condition. Leveille's slow but courageous tour of the ice left many moist eyes. It probably will be remembered as the last great moment in a building that saw a lot of history during its 67 years as an American sports institutio n.

NFL cracks down on TV piracy

The National Football League doesn't want fans watching its games on television when there are plenty of empty seats at the stadium. This has become a problem in Buffalo, N.Y., and the league took steps this week to stop it. On Monday it brought suit against 30 bars, restaurants, and bowling alleys that have been ignoring the league's blackout rules. These rules prohibit games that are not sold out from being broadcast within the TV market of the home team.

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Investigators found numerous establishments in and around Buffalo that were using satellite dishes to show patrons blacked-out Bills' games. The NFL is suing each business $200,000 for alleged violations of federal copyright and communications laws. Based on several similar cases last year, in which the league attempted to send a message, out-of-court settlements for far lesser amounts are likely.

Touching other bases

* It didn't take long for this year's baseball playoffs to produce some peculiar twists. In Cleveland, for example, league officials cut the bat of Indians slugger Albert Belle in half in Game 1 of the Cleveland-Boston series. They were responding to a Red Sox request to check for cork in the barrel after Belle hit a game-tying 11th-inning home run (the Indians went on to win 5-4 in 13 innings with a homer by former Red Sox catcher Tony Pena). Belle had been suspended last season for seven games when h is bat failed an exam, but this time there were no signs of tampering. In Denver, meanwhile, the slugging Rockies went down to Atlanta, 5-4, in their series opener, but in an especially agonizing fashion. The Rockies loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth, but got no runs home and had to watch a pitcher strike out to end the game because they had used all their regular pinch-hitters.

* Pop quiz: Sixteen years ago, this still-active golf pro did something virtually unimaginable on today's highly competitive women's tour: She won five tournaments in a row. Who is she? (Answer at end.)

* It's hard to imagine a college football team with a tougher lineup than Ohio State. They already have knocked off Washington and Notre Dame and now begin a Big Ten slate that starts with Penn State (undefeated a year ago), includes Wisconsin (which just upset Penn State), and ends with Michigan. Ohio State's last national title was in 1970.

* The National Hockey League has found a solution to the major obstacle preventing its top stars from playing in the Olympics. The league will take a 16-day midseason break in 1998 so that selected players can play for national Olympic squads at the Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. The season will resume Feb. 25, three days after the gold-medal game. NHL players not competing in the Olympics will report back for mini-training camps before the 82-game regular season resumes.

* Trivia nugget: The greatest team comebacks in major-league baseball history have all led to one-game playoff victories at the end of the season. (Seattle over California this year; the Yankees over Boston in 1978; and the Giants over the Dodgers in 1951.)

* Faced with losing the privilege of playing soccer at recess unless they brought fair play and sportsmanship to their games, third-graders in Novi, Mich., came up with their own rules. Some of these are worth sharing, now that schoolyard and youth-league games are in high gear: Team players are chosen randomly; teams are for one week, goalies for a day; and players must compliment each other for good effort.

* If the Scholastic Aptitude Test is such a universal yardstick in college admissions, why not use a short version of it to randomly check the progress of student-athletes? The use of a standardized test would circumvent some of the shenanigans used to keep athletes academically eligible, such as enrolling them in easy courses or seeking out lenient professors.

* Quiz answer: Nancy Lopez. Although this mother of three has not won a tournament since 1993, she is still a threat and finished tied for seventh last weekend in the LPGA Fieldcrest Cannon Classic. Her husband, Ray Knight, will manage baseball's Cincinnati Reds.

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