IT'S the time of year when even the most avid sports enthusiast may reach the saturation point: Basketball and hockey playoffs under way, the baseball season a month old, and even off-season football news muscling into the picture - not to mention the annual renewal of golf, tennis, the Kentucky Derby and2 the Indy 500.
This spring's headlines have concerned the gridiron even more than usual, starting with the dilemma of Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers. What to do when the architect of four Super Bowl titles recovers from two injury-filled years while his replacement, Steve Young, evolves into the game's top quarterback? Something had to give, and Montana moved on.
So the man who has arguably been the game's biggest star over the past decade will try to work his Super Bowl wonders in a Kansas City uniform next season. And as he heads into the twilight of his career, two young quarterbacks prepare to launch theirs as this year's top draft choices.
Drew Bledsoe from Washington State and Rick Mirer of Notre Dame are the "heirs apparent," and it was a guessing game until the last minute as to which would be No. 1. It was Bledsoe, who went to the struggling New England Patriots, after which Seattle selected Mirer.
Now for the irony of ironies: This was not the first time a Washington State quarterback was drafted ahead of a Notre Dame rival. It happened in 1979, when Cincinnati selected Jack Thomson and later the 49ers took a young signal-caller named ... Joe Montana.
Another item of interest was that Heisman Trophy-winner Gino Toretta of Miami lasted until Minnesota finally called his name in the seventh round. This isn't as surprising as it might seem, however, as pro teams aren't looking for exactly the same attributes that make great college players. If Toretta needs any consolation or inspiration, he can note that 30 years ago another Heisman winner wasn't picked until the 10th round, yet did pretty well for himself. His name: Roger Staubach. Baseball starts out topsy-turvy
Baseball always has a large helping of surprises before the stronger teams settle into stride and rise to the top over the 162-game season. But things seem even more askew than usual this spring: You could hold a lot of preseason forecasts upside down and come out with the current standings.
Detroit and Boston, teams expected to struggle near the cellar, are dueling for the lead in the American League East lead. Ditto California in the AL West and Philadelphia in the National League East.
Meanwhile Atlanta, an overwhelming choice to repeat its World Series appearances of the past two years, is struggling to play .500 ball in the NL West while Houston and San Francisco enjoy life at the top.
By July 4th or so, many of these races will look a lot more the way they were expected to - but not necessarily all of them. Occasionally a surprise team starts believing in itself and keeps going, and a superior club can hit slumps, injuries - or overconfidence and complacency - and suddenly find itself in trouble.
Could this happen in the NL West? Atlanta is certainly having more difficulties than anyone anticipated, including the defection of star outfielder Deion Sanders in what appears to be a clash of wills with management over his salary negotiations and playing time.
How much this situation is affecting the team's performance is something no one can know for certain. But while the Braves try to get on track, the Giants are beginning to look as though they could be for real, with the addition of free-agent superstar Barry Bonds the big equalizer so far.
Bonds has been spectacular, hitting well over .400 and ranking among the leaders in home runs and RBIs. When lesser players have hot starts, as some do every year, it's often just a matter of time before they cool off. But with a player of Bonds's stature (most valuable player in two of the last three years; he's generally recognized as the best in the game), you have to consider the possibility that he might keep it up, have a career year, and carry the club with him - as he did for the last three years