SPORTS NOTEBOOK

Cleveland Team Can Leave, But Not With Its Name

IF there is one image that epitomizes the craziness swirling around pro football these days, it occurred last week in the halls of Congress. John (Big Dawg) Thompson, a zealous Browns fan more comfortable leading cheers in the end-zone bleachers, sat before the House Judiciary Committee in a Browns jersey giving his views on the angst caused by the team's scheduled move from Cleveland to Baltimore next season.

The move was approved by a vote of the National Football League's owners on Friday, but the committee is looking into a proposal that would give the league more authority to block the musical chairs currently being played with NFL franchises. The Seattle Seahawks want to move to Los Angeles next season, the Houston Oilers expect to be in Nashville in a few years, and other moves are rumored.

The good news for jilted Cleveland fans like Thompson is that the Browns will not be able to take their name or colors to Baltimore. They will be reserved for a replacement team promised to Cleveland by 1999 and possibly earlier.

That means owner Art Modell's team must establish a new identity in Baltimore. There has been talk of getting just-retired Miami Dolphins' coach Don Shula to return to Baltimore, where he began his NFL coaching career. Why not angle to get the old Colts' nickname and colors back from Indianapolis as well? In today's mixed-up NFL, Modell could probably make a trade to acquire the Colts' trappings.

For the right inducement - perhaps some draft choices and a bundle of big green - Indianapolis might be happy to choose another team name such as the Racers.

New era in women's tennis

THE shortage of star players in women's tennis may be ending. Germany's Anke Huber, Switzerland's Martina Hingis, and American Chanda Rubin all are capable of creating fresh excitement and drama.

Huber reached last month's Australian Open final. Before that, she played in the final of the season-ending 1995 tour championship event. She lost to Graf and Monica Seles on those occasions, but demonstrated that she's closing in on the women's Big Two.

Rubin reached her first Grand Slam tournament semifinal by beating Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in the longest women's match ever played at the Australian Open, 6-4, 2-6, 16-14, then came within two points of beating Seles and advancing to the final.

Hingis, only 15, has not posted any big 1996 results yet, but she is widely acknowledged to be a superstar-in-training.

Croatian teenager Iva Majoli must be added to this list of talented apprentices. She catapulted to a No. 4 world ranking last week after beating Seles and Sanchez Vicario in Tokyo.

American Jennifer Capriati is in the spotlight this week as she makes her first tournament appearance in more than a year at the Paris Open (through Feb. 17). Although unranked, the 1992 Olympic champion has been granted a wild-card entry. Capriati left the pro tour in 1993 as her life hit the rocks. She has gone through two drug-rehabilitation programs since then. At 19, she could still have a long and prosperous career. In her previous short-lived comeback attempt, she lost to Huber in the first round of a Philadelphia tournament in late 1994.

Besides Capriati, others playing in Paris are Huber, Majoli, and Hingis. Could be interesting.

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