Merry Christmas, boys and girls. Did Santa Claus bring you what you wanted? Good for you. Some kids had to really sweat out their presents.

This note came Federal Express to the North Pole last week: "Dear Santa. I hate to keep asking you for stuff, but you've always come up large for me. When I needed to get rid of Bobby Carpenter, you shipped him out. And when I asked for Bengt Gustafsson back, you arranged it. (By the way I'm still waiting for Kelly Hrudey to be crushed by a Zamboni. You promised.) But now I need you more than ever. David and I told people this was the best Capitals team we ever had, but it hasn't done diddly. So David scheduled 'a reevaluation' for Dec. 26. You know what that means. I might be out of my job. How's that for a bucket of Christmas cheer? Please, Santa, send me some wins in a hurry. Or else I could be coaching junior, ho-ho-hoing somewhere in the Yukon, eh? Regards, Bryan."

How about that, boys and girls?

Pretty chilly, huh?

There's a happy ending. Bryan hasn't lost a game since; the blade's back in the sheath.

But that's the kind of year it's been. Just when it looks safe to go aboard the boat and sail down to Bimini -- whomp! -- fate bops you right in the labonza. The sporting life in 1987 was one "Slap Maxwell" opening after another.

So a very Merry Christmas to Bryan Murray and David Poile, and all the other couples who muddled through:

Those joy boys, Jack Donlan and Gene Upshaw; Ed Rubbert and Anthony Allen; Pete Rozelle and whoever else was hiding under that desk with him.

Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Honorable mention: Mike Tyson, who says, "I try to catch my opponent on the tip of the nose because I try to punch the bone into his brain." Thanks for sharing that with us, Mike.

Bob Wade and Phil Nevin.

Tastes Great and Less Filling; Strom Thurmond and Spuds MacKenzie. (Given the examples of Chris Mullin, Dexter Manley, Tommy Kramer, etc., is it really appropriate for pro sports and their TV handmaidens to continue selling their souls to beer companies?)

Al Campanis and Ted Koppel; Jim Frey and Don Zimmer.

Bo and the Chiefs; Bo and the Raiders. (Tell Bo, in 25 words or less, why he should play a third sport, and win the new board game, "Bo Has a Hobby.")

Doug Williams and Jay Schroeder.

Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas; special mention: Dennis Rodman.

George and Billy; George and Lou; Tang Ye-lin and Major Banks.

Bet Twice and Alysheba.

Jimmy Connors and Mikael Pernfors; Peter Doohan and Boris Becker; Martina and -- surprise! -- Steffi; Pat Cash and the man he wants to be: a Yobbo, someone in Cash's words who "lies on the beach, vegetates, drinks in the pubs with his mates and weighs 280 pounds." Best of luck, Pat, you ambitious son of a gun.

J.R. Reid and his energetic barber; honorable mention: Brian Bosworth.

Andre Dawson and Eric Show; Alan Wiggins and Jim Dwyer -- not to mention Terry Crowley; Walter Berry and Alvin Robertson; Ed Hospodar and Claude Lemieux.

Kirby and Herbie. (Hrbek, Buy a Vowel.)

Bum Bright and Tom Landry; John Riggins and George Rogers; Bobby Knight and the Russians; Bobby Knight and Dr. Thomas Ehrlich; Bobby Knight and Junior, now with blockbuster bonus chapter.

Gary and Donna; Jim and Jessica; Marion and Sallie. And all they want to do is dance.

Bob Ferry and Muggsy Bogues.

Randy White and Samuel Gompers. Honorable mention: Tony (Thanks, Tex) Dorsett, Mark (Mr. Hess Won't Spit On Me, Will You?) Gastineau.

Tom Kelly and Jim Mora. Are we having fun yet? Special mention: Bobby Ross.

James Cheek and Beanie Cooper; John Thompson and Lew Perkins; Earle Bruce and Edward Jennings.

Denny (Let Him Take It, He Can't Hurt Us From Way Out There) Crum and Oscar Schmidt.

Salt Lake City Trappers and Baltimore Skipjacks. Honorable mention: Paul Molitor and Columbia.

Dick (Do You Know Me? I'm Sportscaster Of The Year On The Moon) Vitale and whatever it is he's saying.

Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis; Edwin Moses and Danny Harris.

Thomas Roberts and Jack Morris.

Mr. and Mrs. John Viola.

John McEnroe and his earring consultant; honorable mention: Vance Johnson.

Larry Mize and Scott Simpson and Nick Faldo. (That's right, they're not a couple, but they're never going to be heard from again either, so let's let it go this time.)

Jack Clark and bandages; Doyle Alexander and September; Ken Dixon and tape measures; Gov. Bill Clements and slush funds; Eric Dickerson and contracts.

Rick Pitino and Ray Perkins; special mention: David McWilliams.

Hector Camacho, of whom publicist Irving Rudd said, "His greatest dream is to die in his own arms," and Hector Camacho; honorable mention: Jim McMahon.

The Mac/McPhersons, Dick and Don.

Edward Bennett Williams and Hank Peters; Raymond Berry and Brian Holloway; Glen Sather and Paul Coffey; Pete Rose and Pete Rose; Lamar Hunt and the 10-6 John Mackovic; Joe Bugel and Jeff Bostic.

Mike (Cy Young) Ditka and the San Francisco Chewing Gum Lady.

Phil Simms and Mickey Mouse; Bill Parcells and Gatorade; January and December, and what a difference a season makes.

Norby Walters and Lloyd Bloom, a couple of swell guys just trying to make a buck in show business.

Al Davis and Irwin Dale.