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TIME FOR MESI TO ACCEPT THE INEVITABLE

Column as I see 'em:

If it had been a prizefight, someone would have stopped it. Joe Mesi had his hearing before the Nevada State Athletic Commission's medical advisory board on Monday, and he got his butt kicked. All four doctors on hand voted to uphold Mesi's suspension and said he'd be risking his life if he fought again after suffering multiple brain bleeds in a March 2004 bout with Vassiliy Jirov.

Mesi should heed their advice and retire. The more he and his father, Jack, push their case, the flimsier it becomes. At first, they denied Joe had suffered any brain bleeds (subdural hematomas) against Jirov. Later, they admitted to one brain bleed. Monday in Las Vegas, their "star" witness, Dr. Robert Cantu, admitted there had been two bleeds.

Now Mesi and Co. contend that brain bleeds aren't the issue. They say there's no evidence that Joe will be at greater risk if he fights again. I'll side with the four doctors, one of whom has performed three emergency operations on boxers who died from subdural hematomas.

Mesi could press the issue, maybe take it to the courts. But what would he accomplish? Who would host one of his fights, knowing the possible consequences? Who would insure him? His days as a commodity are over. Even here in Buffalo, where a huge, loyal following helped create the Mesi myth, he has become an old story.

One of the Las Vegas doctors said he didn't want to read about Mesi in an obituary. I feel the same way. It's too bad Mesi was stopped short of his big boxing payday, but it's not worth making a killing in the ring if you have to die in the process.

It's time to throw in the towel, guys.

NBC is happy about taking over Sunday night games. ESPN is giddy to get Monday Night Football. But when the NFL announced its new broadcast package, the happiest ones of all were the players and agents. Total broadcast revenue will increase by at least 50 percent when the new deals go into effect in 2006 -- from $2.45 billion a year to at least $3.75 billion. The players get 65 percent of revenues, so you can expect a big bump in salaries in '06. It'll be a great time to be a free agent. Nate Clements, are you listening?

George Steinbrenner should direct some of his ire at his general manager, Brian Cashman. Last offseason, Cashman declined Jon Lieber's $8 million option, figuring he could re-sign the veteran pitcher at a lower figure. He figured wrong. The Phillies swooped in and signed Lieber for three years, $21 million. Cashman then signed Jaret Wright to an identical three-year, $21 million contract. Lieber is 3-0 for the Phillies with a 2.49 ERA; Wright is 2-1 with a 10.05 ERA. It's early, but Lieber, who missed 2003 with an injury, is by far the better pitcher.

Allen Iverson, who carried the Sixers into the playoffs, deserves consideration. So does the Suns' Steve Nash. But Shaquille O'Neal is a clear choice for NBA MVP. Thanks to O'Neal, the Heat will enter the playoffs as the top seed in the East. Despite the wondrous Kobe Bryant, the Shaq-less Lakers won't even make the playoffs. They're behind the Clippers!

That was awfully clutch of Alex Rodriguez, going 5 for 6 in a 19-8 win over the Devil Rays. Let's see him get a big hit in the late innings of a tie game against the Red Sox or Orioles. A-Rod hit .248 with runners in scoring position last year. He was at a robust .200 entering Tuesday's game. Do you think Steinbrenner was targeting his well-paid third sacker when he accused his team of not performing "like true Yankees?"

It's nice to see the Monsignor Martin Association finally came to its senses and allowed Nichols into the league. Apparently, it took three years for the association to alleviate its fears that Nichols might be an even better recruiter than it is.

No, I don't really miss hockey. I miss playoff hockey.
e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com