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Depleted US Team Is Out Of Dizzying Davis Cup

DAVIS Cup tennis must be one of the world's most befuddling sports competitions. Matches between men's national teams, oddly called "ties," are scattered willy-nilly throughout the year, the playoffs seem never-ending, and the cast of players is constantly changing.

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The flaw of revolving-door rosters was never more apparent than it was this past weekend in Prague, where the defending-champion Americans played without their best players and lost 3-2 to the Czech Republic, which advances to a semifinal against Sweden Sept. 20-22. Italy meets France in the other semifinal.

What happened to the United States is a classic example of the Davis Cup quandary: how to get the tennis world to focus on this 96-year-old competition. In Prague, the household names of US tennis - Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Michael Chang, and Jim Courier - were absent because of other commitments. As a result, Todd Martin, MaliVai Washington, Patrick McEnroe, and Patrick Galbraith gave it their best shot, but came up short.

Tennis's crowded calendar makes it practically impossible to engage the best players in the annual round of Davis Cup dates. An added complication this year is the Olympics.

Maybe in Olympic years, tennis should take a break from Davis Cup play. And even if it doesn't, a week-long Davis Cup team tournament or short season might allow players and spectators to give this tennis tradition their attention.

Fridge moves overseas

WILLIAM PERRY was literally the biggest star in football 10 years ago when, as a rotund defensive lineman with the Chicago Bears, he made cameo appearances as a goal-line running back. Whatever happened to the Refrigerator? His stock (but not his weight) took a tumble after the Bears won the Super Bowl in 1986. He's been only a marginal National Football League player in recent years. This spring he'll play for the London Monarchs of the NFL-affiliated World League, which begins its season April 14 in Europe.

Perry's one-yard touchdown run in Super Bowl XX is among the most second-guessed calls in the event's 30-year history. Many observers felt that Walter Payton deserved the opportunity to score Chicago's final touchdown in a 46-10 romp over the New England Patriots. Payton, the NFL's all-time leading rusher, gained 61 yards on 22 carries in the game, but didn't score. He is now the co-owner of a team on the IndyCar racing circuit

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Touching other bases

Pop quiz: What college has been the football attendance leader for the past 22 years? (See answer below.)

The atmosphere in minor-league baseball seems far more playful than that in the majors. Team names reflect this: the Savannah (Ga.) Sandgnats; the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Kernels; the Lansing (Mich.) Lugnuts ; and the Zanesville (Ohio) Greys. Perhaps most whimsical of all, though, are the Amarillo (Texas) Dillas, who play in the independent Texas-Louisiana League.

Quiz answer: the University of Michigan. (It helps that Michigan Stadium seats 102,501.)

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