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Thursday, March 7, 2002
Updated: March 11, 4:32 PM ET
10 Burning Questions for 'PTI' duo

Special to Page 2

If it happens in Washington, if it happens anywhere in the world of sports, Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon have something to say about it. The longtime Washington Post columnists, and current hosts of ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption," are opinion makers, in the know and always ready to speak their minds.

Michael Wilbon
Michael Wilbon
When Page 2's Eric Neel asked them 10 Burning Questions about what a guy should know of D.C. athletes and games, Kornheiser and Wilbon kept it real, kept it fresh, and kept it coming.

1. What's the worst beat for a sportswriter in Washington?

Michael Wilbon: Baseball, because we don't have a team! You have to drive 40 miles to Baltimore to see a team that ain't really yours, so it's got to be baseball.

Tony Kornheiser: But the hardest single beat in Washington ... I don't know if it is the worst ... the one with the most second guessing, by miles, is if you are the Washington Redskin's beat reporter for the Washington Post, because every single person all the way up to the publisher second guesses everything that you write, because the Redskins are that important in Washington. So while that is the most glamorous beat, it is also the most angst-providing beat, every bit as difficult as covering the White House, and maybe even more so, because there are only one or two people that the Post puts on the Redskins, and the White House staff has about five or six.

Tony Kornheiser
Tony Kornheiser
2. So what's the best beat in the city?

Wilbon: Maryland basketball. Because from Lefty Driesell through Gary Williams, there has been everything you could want, and some things that you don't want, including life and death, and I'm obviously talking about Len Bias. It has been played out in a great building, in a great league. The opposing teams you get to see have included Michael Jordan and Ralph Sampson and Tim Duncan.

How far are they going in the tournament this year?

Wilbon: I think they can win the whole thing.

You agree, Tony?

Kornheiser: Yeah, this is the first year that I've looked at the Maryland team and thought that they could actually win it all. They have something that almost no one else in the country has -- they start three seniors and a junior, they've got experience, they've played together for a long time. They know who their coach is, they know how to win close and they know how to win by large margins, and they know how to fight back. You look on paper and you would say that Kansas is deservedly No. 1. But Maryland is deservedly No. 2 right now. They can win it

Gary Williams
Gary Williams
3. Which contemporary athlete best defines Washington?

Kornheiser: In terms of showmanship and power, and clout and influence, and blue smoke and mirrors, beyond what he might do in any given game, it's obviously Michael Jordan. A very important thing happened within the last year in Washington with the signings of Jaromir Jagr and with the return of Michael Jordan. All of a sudden, the best all-time player in basketball is now plying his trade in Washington and the best contemporary hockey player, though he has certainly had a disappointing season so far, is also in Washington.

For many, many years, Washington was not a star city. Under Norv Turner, Washington had virtually no stars. The Bullets, the Wizards, even with Webber and Howard, never made it happen, had no stars. Hockey had no real stars. Now there are legitimate, high profiles in the capital of the United States of America.

Wilbon: The guy that I point to that has been downright heroic in Washington, in a way that none of those stars has been, is Darrell Green. I don't argue with one word that Tony says, but none of them have been heroic door-to-door, day-to-day, community-to-community, for 20 years, like Darrell Green.

4. Who are your top five Washington athletes all-time?

Sonny Jurgensen
Sonny Jurgensen
Kornheiser: Well, we've only been here 20 years, but in the last 20 years, the top five Washington athletes ... well, the top one isn't in the last 20, because Sonny Jurgenson isn't in the last 20, and Sonny Jurgenson looms over everybody.

Wilbon: Sonny would be No. 1 for both of us.

Above Sammy Baugh?

Kornheiser: Well, yeah ... well, I don't know. You know, I wasn't here for either of them. We're trying to get you to explain to Sonny, if he reads this, why we didn't pick him! But I'd say, in the last 20 years, in no particular order, certainly Jordan, and Riggins, and Patrick Ewing in college, and I don't know if I should say Len Bias in college, because I don't think he was ... You (Wilbon) would say Bias. I wouldn't put in anyone from hockey ... and you can't put anyone in from baseball, 'cause there's no baseball here!

Wilbon: I've had longer to think about this because, he went first ... Here's my order. I'm not counting Jordan, because he belongs to another city. I refuse to count him.

Kornheiser: Riggins is No. 1.

John Riggins
John Riggins
Wilbon: Yes, Riggins is one, Patrick Ewing is two, Len Bias is three. I'll go back to Darrell Green ... and then who is another Redskin? Oh, you know what? You could say Joe Thiesmann very easily.

Kornheiser: I would say Joe Gibbs.

Wilbon: But he isn't an athlete, he's a coach. I'd go Theismann, because he was in two Super Bowls ... you know what, Art Monk. We didn't name Art Monk. You've got to put in Green and then Art Monk, because Monk played in all four Redskin Super Bowls.

Kornheiser: You know, there is another thing to consider: And this is not an individual ... but everybody in this city, when you say the Hogs, everybody in this city knows exactly what you are talking about. The one constant in Gibbs' 12 years was the Hogs.

Wilbon: We forgot somebody ... you want to count this guy. He may have to go two, he may have to go one: Ray Leonard. Sugar Ray Leonard.

Kornheiser: He doesn't have to go one. Riggo is one. But here's the thing -- the stars in this city actually were the coaches. You have John Thompson, Lefty Driesell, Joe Gibbs, and now Gary Williams maybe on the verge of doing something.

Wilbon: Before that, you had George Allen, Vince Lombardi ...

Joe Gibbs
Joe Gibbs took the Redskins to four Super Bowls, winning three of them.
Kornheiser: The stars in this city ... and maybe it has to do with the nature of executive power in Washington ... the stars have been coaches.

Wilbon: Wes Unseld, by the way, is just at 20 years remove.

Kornheiser: Wes over Elvin Hayes ...

5. What would you say is the most over-reported Washington sports story?

Wilbon: The Redskins! But it has to be. I would do the same thing. I would order up the same amount of coverage, but it is just voluminous! I understand why, but as a guy who is from somewhere else, I just go, "My God!" And it is also that way because there is no baseball.

Kornheiser: The big story, if you are asking what happens when stories happen in a major media center like Washington, in our time, is the Len Bias story, which was covered day after day for months, and it was the coverage alone that led to all those changes at the University of Maryland down the road, including Bobby Ross.

Wilbon: Every bureau ... remember, there was another guy, Rogers, who died of a cocaine overdose in Detroit.

Len Bias
Len Bias
Kornheiser: No one cared, comparatively ...

Wilbon: It was the same story, relatively speaking, and it got zilch, because Bias happened where everyone already has a correspondent stationed, from Japan to Australia, and everybody covered it. Yeah, that was the most overcovered story.

Kornheiser: Let's say this, the light shone on that story brighter than any other story in sports during our tenure here.

6. Talk a little bit about Washington sports fans. How knowledgeable are they compared to other big cities?

Kornheiser: They come from every place. They come here for two years to 10 years to 20 years, and they bring their own passion for their own teams here. The only thing for a long time that united them, prior to Jordan, was the Washington Redskins. Are they great and knowledgeable sports fans? Probably not, because they come here for reasons other than sports. This place is not New York, it is not Chicago, it is not Detroit ... it is not even Baltimore. They don't have those kinds of fans.

Wilbon: Sports don't define us; it is not what we live for. People here don't identify themselves by their sports team. I, as a Chicagoian, still take great pride in the '85 Bears and the six Bulls teams.

Hogette
How crazy is D.C. about the 'Skins?
Kornheiser: And I do that for the '69 Mets.

Wilbon: People don't identify, they don't live for it. It doesn't in any way define who they are.

Do Washingtonians root for Baltimore teams or is that considered bad form?

Kornheiser: They are smart enough to know that one says Baltimore and one says Washington. Baltimore people have an aggressive dislike for the Washington teams. And Washington people don't do that, and they certainly do go to Baltimore to watch baseball.

Wilbon: It is unforgivable. If they hadn't done that, we would have a team. If they put all that passion that they spend rooting for the stupid Orioles into demanding a team, it would have been more like Cleveland. Cleveland said, "We don't want to root for the Bengals. We don't want to root for what is close, we want our own f---ing team!" And they got a team because their mayor understood who Clevelanders are. Washington didn't do that. Everybody ... conveniently, because they have so much money and so much time and because there is not great passion or a defining element ... drove their asses over to Baltimore and sucked up to someone else's team. It is bogus. It speaks so ill of Washington. We should have had our own baseball team years ago, but we didn't fight hard enough for it.

Sugar Ray Leonard
Sugar Ray Leonard
7. Quick word associations: Steve Spurrier?

Wilbon: Tony's boy. That is my word association.

Tony, you want in on this?

Kornheiser: High risk, high reward.

George Allen?

Kornheiser: Before my time here.

Wilbon: I don't know why this sticks with me, but "Special Teams" is all I come up with.

Kornheiser: Because he was the first guy to hire a special teams coach in Marv Levy.

Daniel Snyder?

Kornheiser: Wish I had his money -- and his hair.

Art Monk
Art Monk
Wilbon: I don't care about his hair. But billionaire is the first thing I think.

Michael Jordan?

Kornheiser: I'm glad he's playing. I think he has really helped the team, and helped the city, and I think that what Abe Pollin did by building a downtown arena with his own money was a great thing. I think that Jordan has certified that whole effort, and I feel really good about it.

Wilbon: Sporting royalty ... athletic royalty.

What is the best thing about seeing him play now, live?

Kornheiser: He's Michael Jordan! He's still Michael Jordan. There has never been another basketball player, there has never been any athlete in any team sport, that gave any more than Michael Jordan. You buy the ticket, and he gives you full faith and credit for your ticket. He's like the best Broadway actor, in that regard.

Daniel Snyder
Daniel Snyder
Wilbon: Yeah, see, my view of Jordan is that he doesn't belong to Washington. You know what? Here is what I think when you say Michael Jordan: "Poor us ... poor Washington," because Washington missed the golden age of the NBA. Tony used to laugh at me when I used to write this, but it is a fact that Washington did! Because Washington missed the entire generation of basketball from the beginning of Bird and Magic to the end of Michael Jordan, the end meaning 1998 in Salt Lake. We missed it. so now we have to try to recreate ...

Kornheiser: No, no, no ... I don't feel ...

Wilbon: We missed it. And I feel bad for Washington, because I got to see, because I travel and I went to the arenas where it was. I feel bad for all the people here who couldn't see the best in basketball for, let's see, 1979 to 1998.

Kornheiser: Everybody here understands that this isn't the same Michael Jordan, but he is here for awhile, and he is still Michael Jordan, and we don't own him. We're never going to own him. We're just leasing him for a while.

8. Where do you guys stand on the Redskins name issue? Should it stay or go or why?

Kornheiser: Here's what they should do, and I have said this for years ... they should put a red-skinned potato on the side of the helmet and call themselves the Redskins, because the truth of the matter is that the name is offensive, though no offense was ever meant by it. And ownership, from Cooke to Snyder, is going to hold out to keep the name, and if you are going to keep the name, just put a potato on it.

Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan
Wilbon: Take the Indian head off the helmet. Just take it off. If you can take it off the helmet to put the spear on, you can take it off all the time. Take it off. It is the caricature that really frosts people that I have talked to, even more so than the name.

9. Who is the best interview in town?

Kornheiser: Olie Kolzig strikes me as the best. Here is what Olie Kolzig does the best. He is the first guy off the ice who will talk to the press, and he'll stay until the last dog dies.

Wilbon: I'm going to give you five, and they can all be tied for first -- Olie Kolzig, Doug Collins, Michael Jordan, Darrell Green and Bruce Smith. That's my five-way tie for first. I've dealt with all those guys for 20 years or more ...

Kornheiser: You can't get Jordan alone. He's off the list.

Wilbon: You can't get him alone!

Kornheiser: You're the only guy who can get him alone.

Wilbon: That's not true.

10. One last question: Head to head, you two in a game to 21, who wins?

Olaf Kolzig
Olaf Kolzig
Kornheiser: Wilbon, no question.

Wilbon: Our knees are all shot. Between the two of us, we're oh-for-four when it comes to knees at this point, because we actually did play asphalt, hard-surface sports that have left us with no cartilege. Both of us played basketball, and I played tennis and my knees are done. Now if you ask us head-to-head who wins at golf, I'm asking for a couple of strokes.

Kornheiser: Oh, he doesn't get any strokes. He can hit 40 yards past me with every club in the bag!

Wilbon: I'm asking for a couple of strokes. I require a couple of strokes!

Kornheiser: He gets no strokes.