NFL drafts for defense; Babe hits the stage; basketball tidbits

That old expression about needing a program to tell the players certainly had meaning during this week's National Football League draft. ''Who are these guys?'' was the logical question at the conclusion of a first round that produced little in the way of big-name selections, especially of the offensive variety.

One of the few exceptions was wide receiver Irving Fryar of Nebraska, the No. 1 overall choice of the New England Patriots. Fryar may have been the choice by default, since last season's two most heralded offensive stars, Nebraska running back Mike Rozier and Brigham Young quarterback Steve Young, signed earlier with the rival United States Football League.

To prevent further embarrassment to the NFL, the Patriots made sure Fryar didn't get away by signing him before the draft actually began, a procedure Houston followed as well in securing Nebraska guard Dean Steinkuhler with the No. 2 pick. This gave the 1983 Cornhuskers, generally considered one of the college game's all-time great teams, the distinction of having the top two selections in the NFL draft and the No. 1 pick (Rozier) in the USFL.

Thereafter most teams concentrated on introducing casual fans to last season's premier college defenders. In all, 17 of the 28 first-round selections were used to tab players whose speciality is stopping the ball rather than advancing it.

Although already boasting one of the game's top young linebackers in Lawrence Taylor, the New York Giants further strengthened this position by taking Michigan State's Carl Banks with the third pick.

Philadelphia then selected Penn State wide receiver Kenny Jackson before Kansas City began a string of 12 straight defensive choices by drafting tackle Bill Maas of Texas.

For the first time since 1974 not a single quarterback was taken on the opening round. The highest selected this time was Maryland southpaw Boomer Esiason, a second-rounder whom the Cincinnati Bengals made the 38th overall choice. West Virginia's Jeff Hostetler went to the Giants early in the third round.

In another oddity, there was only one running back drafted on the first round , and that an oft-injured Greg Bell of Notre Dame by Buffalo. Babe on Broadway

The one-actor theatrical performance is in vogue these days, with all manner of famous Americans - from Harry Truman to Casey Stengel - capturing the spotlight. It was probably only a matter of time, therefore, until Babe Ruth strode to center stage.

''The Babe,'' in fact, comes to Broadway's Princess Theatre this week in a one-man play starring Max Gail, who gained national prominence as ''Wojo'' on the ''Barney Miller'' television series. Three-dimensional makeup will be used to make Gail look as much like Ruth as possible. To lend further realism to the production, the inside of the theater has been made to resemble Yankee Stadium, and vendors will walk the aisles.

To bring out Ruth's real character, playwrights Bob and Ann Acosta were given access to the private papers of Ruth's agent and friend Christy Walsh. Olajuwon the wader; coaching box

* For a big man, seven-footer Akeem Olajuwon, who has announced he will forego his final year at Houston to play professional basketball, is wonderfully agile, quick, and athletic. Recognizing this, CBS broadcaster Gary Bender asked if there was any sport he couldn't master. ''I can't swim,'' Olajuwon answered. ''Neither can I,'' Bender said consolingly. ''Yeah, but I can wade out a lot farther than you can,'' Akeem shot back.

* Maybe you can't legislate decorum, but the NCAA figures it's worth a try. Beginning next season, college basketball coaches will have to confine their gyrations to a designated area in front of the bench called the ''coaching box.'' The idea, of course, is to keep coaches off the court and from wandering far and wide beyond it. Boxes have been used with generally good results on an experimental basis the last two seasons.

* Today's college basketball players may be faster, stronger, and taller, but they don't necessarily shoot better. From the the field, accuracy has steadily risen since 1964, possibly because of better shot selection and more dunks, among other factors. But the truest gauge of actual shooting touch, it seems, is at the free throw line, where seasonal variables are eliminated. There the figures are basically unchanged. In 1964, foul shot marksmanship stood at 68.3 percent; this year it was 68.8.

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