By Hunter S. Thompson
Page 2 columnist

The Super Bowl happened less than three weeks ago, but to football junkies like me, it feels like 22 years. I have blocked it out of my memory now, although on some nights I have agonizing flashbacks that cause me to sweat and babble in my sleep, as if a roach had crawled into my spleen to die.

These moments of total recall always leave me weak. I see Rich Gannon hurling air-balls up for grabs, staggering backwards in the grip of huge speedy brutes -- rangy 300-pound sprinters who run 40 yards in 40 seconds and love to hurt people, especially MVP quarterbacks.

The vaunted Tampa Bay pass rush shredded the massive Raider offensive linemen, leaving Gannon helpless to throw or even think. It was pitiful.

The whole Raider Nation was flogged and humiliated on world-wide TV like a gang of sissies. By halftime, I felt stupid and wrong in every way. It was like dying and going to hell.

Ah, but never mind that wretched game. It is a thing of the past now, for most people. We will banish it from our brains forever, along with the myth of the mighty Oakland Raiders, who lived and died on their once-proud passing game. The Raiders are dead -- long live the Raiders.

Right. And so much for that, eh? For at least two weeks, I thought the lopsided whipping in San Diego was the most painful moment I have ever witnessed in the pain-riddled world of sports&. But not for long. Last Friday, a new champion emerged, and you didn't even have to be a sports fan to appreciate it.

Oakland is, after all, only one city in one country.

The nightmare happened 10,000 miles away in New Zealand, the sailing capital of the world, where a whole nation got their heads handed to them in the feverishly awaited America's Cup races in the treacherous waters of the Southern Pacific ocean. It was a hideous thing to watch, even as an ignorant quasi-curious foreigner.

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I am not a yachting person, by nature, but I have just enough experience on the sea under sail to feel a certain nostalgia for it when I see a big white racing yacht heeled over at cruising speed on the ocean, and I can still tie a mean bowline knot on just about anything in less than 10 seconds.

That is only one of the life-long benefits of putting in some time on the sea, jerking big ropes and lines and sheets and extremely heavy sails around for 18 hours a day with your hands bleeding and all your toes ruptured from sliding around on the deck. Even in retrospect, it is a harsh and painful life, punctuated every once in a while with moments of staggering beauty and wild adventure.

There is magic, for instance, in sailing out of a foreign harbor at dawn, gliding in utter silence across the water and heading out to sea for eight long days and nights on the ocean with no engine and no radio. It is madness, by any nautical wisdom. Only a fool or a desperate man would even think about it ...

... which, of course, didn't faze us.

Yes, the risks were too high and our chances of reaching the next island by dead-reckoning and celestial navigation with no engine and no radio were about one in 44. Still, there were, of course, at least three compelling reasons for getting out of that country immediately, but there is no need to discuss them right now.

So let's get back to the tragedy that happened last week in New Zealand when the defending world champion Kiwi boat blew up on the first leg of the first race, for no explainable reason. ... It was inconceivable. Utterly out of the question. Watching it happen in real time was like seeing the Yankees lose 65-3 in the opening game of the World Series.

The next race on the following day was even worse, ripping the heart out of the entire Kiwi nation and putting them down 2-0 in the best-of-nine series. It was a truly heart-breaking defeat, coming as it did in the final 30 seconds of a three-hour race when they blew a comfortable lead and stupidly allowed themselves to be caught from behind by a slower boat and beaten by a boat-length in a spectacular race by the billion-dollar Swiss yacht, crewed mainly by the same gang of Kiwis who brought the Cup to New Zealand for the first time in 153 years and made them national heroes and undisputed world champions.

They jumped ship about three years ago, when they decided to "test the market" for their special skills and found it so rewarding that they decided to turn pro for real and hire themselves out to the highest bidder -- which turned out to be a Swiss billionaire named Berterelli, who craved the Cup so desperately that he decided to spend whatever it might cost him to hire the finest sailors in the world and seize the prize for Europe immediately from it's temporary home in Auckland. Nothing would stand in his way.

And, of course, the best crew in the world happened, back then, to be from New Zealand. Now they sail for Switzerland, a land-locked nation with no access to any sea. ... That is only one of the distinct advantages of being a billionaire in this world. They can indulge any billionaire whim that pops into their minds, regardless of cost -- and that is what happened in Auckland: A crew of hired mercenaries returned to New Zealand and wiped out the home team on their own turf with out even breaking a sweat.

Whoops. I see I'm wandering off track here and becoming exhausted and unable to focus -- probably because the Cup Races will almost certainly be over this weekend; no team has ever won the Cup after losing the first three races. The Kiwis are finished. The will lose five straight.

And so what, eh? I am into basketball now, keeping a keen eye on Louisville and Kentucky, both locks for NCAA Tourney in March. Hot damn. Yes Sir. That should be enough action to cure any junkie, and I already crave it. Football is dead, long live basketball.

Dr. Hunter S. Thompson was born and raised in Louisville, Ky. His books include "Hell's Angels," "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," "Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72," "The Great Shark Hunt," "The Curse of Lono," "Generation of Swine," "Songs of the Doomed," "Screwjack," "Better Than Sex," "The Proud Highway," "The Rum Diary," and "Fear and Loathing in America." His latest book, "Kingdom of Fear," has just been released. A regular contributor to various national and international publications, Thompson now lives in a fortified compound near Aspen, Colo. His column, "Hey, Rube," appears regularly on Page 2.




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