By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2

It's February, 2004. America is at war overseas, worried about terrorism, staring at a reeling economy and warily eyeing a bitter presidential campaign that promises to disintegrate into a finger-pointing, name-calling mess.

That's why I'm here to give you John Daly.

J.D.: The Antidote to What Ails America.

I'm fresh off a fortnight of Gripping It and Ripping It. I watched Daly win at Torrey Pines, and then damn near win at Riviera.

John Daly
John Daly is all smiles after his recent success on the links.

And I'm here to report that Long John is the medicine we all need. He is the sports world's equivalent of a shot and a beer -- an unadulterated blast of music that if you find too loud ... well, then, you're too damn old.

Plus, he once sported the Greatest Mullet of All-Time. This cannot and will not be forgotten.

He might have tamed the Mullet -- it's now a Bowl Cut/Prince Valiant look -- but we will never forget the Mullet.

For so many years, you gazed upon the splendor of that Mullet and all you could see was the beauty of Daly's message: Business in the front, Party in the back.

So at this fractious time, Daly is the man to unite our country. Didn't the Founding Fathers put something in the original Declaration of Independence about the right to bear mullets? Weren't those powdered wigs in Philly just 18th-century mullets, anyway?

Daly is a big old slobbering family dog. You love him; but when you're not looking and he jumps up on the counter and eats the raw steaks you've prepped for dinner and soils the rug for an encore, you heave him outside for the night.

Daly's done his share of rug-soiling. And it hasn't all been cute, oh-look-what-the-puppy-did stuff.

Too often in his past, he disrespected his sport. We all remember when he hit a moving ball at Pinehurst, giving the revered U.S. Open the old Polo Mallet Treatment. And his two-hour, 10-minute rounds when he's not in contention are childish things that stiff fans and the game.

But let's be honest. Who among us hasn't given the Polo Mallet Treatment to a stack of papers on our desk, if even for one day?

John Daly has feet of clay, and probably some wicked toe-jam in those feet, too.

But we're not here to dwell on the negative.

We need guys like Daly, if for no other reason than his signature logo is a lion's head with what appears to be a rainbow-colored mane. He sports it on jackets, shirts and, in all likelihood, his tidy whities.

I believe the designer of the logo has to be a guy who had just come off one of the great mescaline-peyote cocktail mixes of all-time, a refugee from Dennis Hopper's biker crew in "Easy Rider."

Hey, man. You're like a lion, man. But you're like a lion, with a rainbow mane, man. You're about love, but you're ferocious, and the rainbow symbolizes that love, man. But you're also a little puddy cat, like a tame lion, man. Yeah, man. Say, anybody seen my sacks of mescaline and peyote?

Besides, who doesn't love the Rainbow-Maned Lion?

It's a lion with a mullet.

For clip-and-save purposes, we'll give you Five Things to Love About John Daly. Or, more importantly, Five Things About John Daly That Will Save America.

1. HE TRAVELS IN AN RV

What's more American than a country boy from Arkansas hitting the open road in a 90-foot motor vehicle that has three 42-inch plasma TV screens?

John Daly
But when things go bad, watch out for flying clubs.

He's like the Joad Family, only with $6 million in career earnings.

Besides, RVs produce the greatest bumper stickers.

Personal favorites: "If This Rig's A-Rockin', Don't Bother Knockin'."

Or, for the more domesticated among us: "Pa's Pad When Ma's Mad."

I'd like to believe Daly has these slices of Americana on his bumper as he rolls across our great land.

2. HIS AFFINITY FOR VEGAS

If Daly met up with Trent and Mikey from "Swingers," he wouldn't know what to do -- given Trent's metrosexuality and Mikey's wuss-boy act with women. But knowing Daly, he'd embrace them and say, "Pards, pull up a chair and let's play us some blackjack." Besides, you think Daly goes for that New School, Pirates of the Caribbean, Rock-'n-Roll Grunge tip? Daly's a downtown Vegas guy all the way. He thinks Bellagio is the Italian guy who almost beat him in the '95 British Open at St. Andrews.

Like Daly, America loves Vegas. But true America loves the Elvis Vegas, not the Paris Vegas.

3. HIS GIRTH

If we're not the fattest nation on Earth, I'd like to see the country that tops us. We have to lead the world in Sans-A-Belts, don't we? And who better to represent us than Daly, the man who is to food what his driver is to a golf ball.

When Daly says Grip It and Rip It, he's not talking only about golf. He's talking about his dinner fork, too.

Who among us in America today feels good about his or her weight? Even more telling, how many of us lie about our weight? I have a pal who listed his weight as 199 on his driver's license. He last saw 199 during the first Bush administration.

Let's face it, we're pigs. It's an appealing thing to get fat. It's easy. It's fun. You can eat all day, then chase it with a nap. Once when I covered the A's, Jason Giambi pointed to a sportswriter who was enormous -- 300 pounds if he was an ounce. "You ever think about just letting it go?" Giambi said, nodding to the big man across the room. Clearly, Giambi was in reverie, pondering the possibility.

Letting it go. Damn, that's an appealing option.

Daly has let it go, and beautifully so. When he won at Torrey Pines and was asked how he'd celebrate, he said: "I'm going to go eat me some food."

If J.D. can let it go, so can you, dear reader.

4. COUNTRY MUSIC

Hip-hop might dominate MTV. Rock-'n-roll might dominate the hip clubs of L.A. and New York. But in between, America is country music. George Strait, Alan Jackson and John Daly.

That's right. John Daly.

Too often, we trot out the auld cliché: "His life is like a country song."

John Daly
Daly can grip it and rip it with a guitar, too.

But how many times is the cliché actually true?

We all love the David Allen Coe song, "You Never Even Call Me By Name," which contains the immortal lyrics:

I was drunk
The day my Mom
Got out of prison.
And I went
To pick her up
In the rain.
But, before I could
Get to the station
In my pick-up truck
She got runned over by a damned old train.
And I'll hang around as long as you will let me
Cause I never minded standing in the rain
You don't have to call me darlin',
Dar-lin.
But you never even call me by my name!

Let's look at that song on Daly's terms. Drunk? He's done two stints in alcohol rehab. Mom in prison? His mother-in-law currently faces federal charges of money laundering.

Taking his pickup truck to the station? Or his RV, whichever you prefer. Train wreck? Daly's life has been called far more inaccurate things.

But he's a.) hanging around as long as we'll let him; b.) has stood in plenty of metaphorical rain; and c.) doesn't care what you call him, as long as you don't call him late for dinner.

5. MANIFEST DESTINY

America pushed West under the banner of Manifest Destiny. Think of America like a par-5, then. And when's the last time Daly laid up on a par-5?

John Daly
There's simply nobody else like John Daly on the PGA Tour.

Like this great nation's founders, he always goes for it. If he'd been with Lewis and Clark, staring at a mountain pass or a raging river to cross, he'd have said: "Lewis, give me the fairway lumber, baby."

Sometimes he makes eagle. Sometimes he makes a 17.

The pioneers had plenty of success stories as they tamed the West, but let's not forget that the Donner Party once feasted on human limbs, too.

Sometimes, a Daly decision not to lay up is a Donner Party Moment of sports.

Daly's life is a par-5. And he always goes for it in 2.

Don't you love it?

And ain't that America?

Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle writes every Monday for Page 2.




Brian
Murphy
LAST AMERICAN HERO