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Names In The Game

August 24, 1996

CLEVELAND (AP) _ When NFL teams started their training camps a few weeks ago, longtime Cleveland Browns fan Michael Mercer couldn’t ignore that empty feeling deep inside.

He normally would closely follow roster decisions, catch a few practices and prime himself for Cleveland’s traditional football rivalries.

Now, there was nothing.

So, with nothing in particular to occupy his free time, he went out with his camera and took a photo of nothing in particular.

Now, he is marketing his ``Cleveland’s Professional Football Team 1996 Team Photo″ in cyberspace. His black-and-white photo shows a goal post, a helmet, a couple of sets of pads, athletic shoes and an empty bench.

``I’ve been a Cleveland resident and Browns fan all my life and all those years I’ve looked forward to collecting team photos,″ Mercer said. ``This year, when all the publicity started on the upcoming NFL season, I felt emotionless. I couldn’t get excited.″

``I never realized how many Browns backers there were locally and across the country. So I thought a lot of them might get a kick out of having a 1996 team photo,″ he said.

Mercer, 43, a partner of a Cleveland nightclub, said he has been careful not to mention the Browns by name or to hint at the former NFL team in the photo and caption.

Although the Browns are gone, the NFL holds the name, its records, team colors and legacy in trust for a future team. If all goes as planned, a new version of the Browns will be playing in a new stadium on Cleveland’s lakefront in 1999.

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NEW YORK (AP) _ Nick Bollettieri wouldn’t be pinned down when asked to predict the winners in the U.S. Open. Bollettieri, who has coached such stars as Andre Agassi, Monica Seles and Boris Becker, was asked for his selections by Midge Moore, who runs the Midtown Tennis Club where he gave a clinic Friday.

``But, I wouldn’t bet against Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf,″ Bollettieri said.

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Clark Peterson can’t figure out how someone stole a wrestling ring. Not the kind you slip on your finger, but a 2,200 pound apparatus that has been filled with wrestling greats for 50 years.

``It’s awfully hard to hide something like this,″ said Peterson, an announcer for the Powerzone wrestling matches. ``It would be murder on a car.″

The 50-year-old wrestling ring was reported missing on Aug. 12 from an Oklahoma City apartment complex after promoter Tom Jones noticed the ring and the flat-bed trailer it was strapped to were gone.

The next day, a witness saw the trailer, with the ring still attached, hitched to a car parked in a home improvement store.

He said the Powerzone owners suspect the trailer and the ring are still in Oklahoma City.

In a police report, the missing ring is valued at $10,000, but Peterson said, ``It’s hard to put a price tag on it because of all the greats that have been inside of it.″

Olympic silver-medalist Danny Hodge of Oklahoma and the three Von Erik brothers of Texas are among the grapplers who slammed opponents onto the ring’s mat more than once.

The Oklahoma City-based Powerzone Wrestling Alliance operates in Arkansas, Kansas and Texas, mostly doing fund-raisers for homeless shelters, schools and charities.

``We’re going to have to do a fund-raiser for ourselves,″ Jones said.

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CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) _ An academic test score for the Miami Hurricanes’ top freshman football recruit is being challenged, leaving in doubt his status for this season.

Linebacker Nathaniel Webster, an All-American at Miami Northwestern High School, was removed from practice pending a review of a possible irregularity in his American College Test qualifying score.

ACT officials will give Webster 14 days to present evidence showing that his score should be considered valid.

Webster, who declined comment, will seek evidence from Northwestern teachers and counselors showing that the score was consistent with his academic ability.

``All I can say is we are trying to concentrate on getting him into school by next week,″ said Linda Webster, the player’s mother. ``It will work out for him either way. I’m confident of that. He just ran into a little hurdle, but this kid knows what he needs to do and what he wants.″

The timing is bad for Webster and the Hurricanes because classes begin Thursday. If he enrolls and then his score is invalidated, he loses the opportunity to play this year and the chance to redshirt. He also loses the chance to retake the test.

Miami risks forfeiting games if Webster plays and is later ruled a non-qualifier.

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