Every December, when the mornings grow frosty and area golf course superintendents set about repairing the greens and fairways I've scarred during the summer and fall, I'm bothered by an old sports injury.

Hey, it's no big deal. There probably are lots of ex-athletes out there, my comrades in pain and glory, who injured their earlobes.

Mine was damaged on a winter's day in 1962, inside the old gymnasium at St. Pius X in Lawrence Park

Back then, before I'd discovered the joys of 26-handicap golf, basketball was my passion. We'd typically play on bumpy outdoor courts until it got too cold. Then it became our mission to sneak into the parish's warm and idle gym.

The building sat at the bottom of a steep hill behind the school. At the crest of that hill, looming there as ominously as the Bates home in Psycho, was the parish rectory. That's where our worst nightmare resided, the stern and taciturn Father Thomas P. Dowd.

Father Dowd loved that little gym. Its floors were always waxed to a mirror-like sheen and its doors were always locked. No one got inside without his permission.

He had founded the parish and that narrow building, with its tin roof and linoleum floor, had been his original church. After being replaced by a larger facility, it became a gym and a de facto shrine. The captain in Mister Roberts had his potted palm tree. Father Dowd had his gym.

Occasionally, the Boy Scouts or the school's basketball team would be permitted to convene there, but most of the time it was closed up tighter than Joe Banner's checkbook.

Still, in the cold winter months, the unused facility called to us like a siren. We knew the risks. If Pop Dowd ever caught us inside, we'd be confronted by his dark-eyed fury and surely issued a one-way ticket to hell.

Typically, we'd approach from below. A scout would be sent to check the doors and windows. Usually we'd have to jimmy open a small kitchen window and quietly, always with one eye focused on the rectory, squeeze through.

Once inside, it felt like the Palestra. The shiny floors. The true bounces. The sturdy baskets. The refrigerated Cokes we'd help ourselves to.

The gym was tiny, to be sure, but so were we. Hard drives to the basket could be dangerous. At one end, you risked crashing into the kitchen. At the other, players often slammed into the front door, landing outside on those rare occasions when it was unlocked.

We'd run and shoot and behind-the-back-pass like the Big Five players who were our idols. The only thing we couldn't do was shout. Pop Dowd's radar would pick that up.

Anyway, on that December day, we must have been a little too exuberant. We were working up quite a sweat when the front door swung open.

There, his black cassock tufted by the wind, his lean, dark figure silhouetted against the equally threatening winter sky, stood Father Dowd.

Most of the kids were quick enough and smart enough to bolt for the window. They escaped, though I'm certain the moment lives on in their nightmares. I, on the other hand, was frozen in fear.

By the time my feet started moving, the priest was in hot pursuit. He collared me just short of the window, grabbed me by the ear, and dragged me outside. There he loosened his grip, extracted a large set of keys, and re-locked the door.

Wordlessly, he led me up the hill and into the rectory. It remains the longest walk of my life.

"Francis Fitzpatrick, you are a hooligan of the worst sort," he intoned as he reached for the telephone. "Let's just see what your father has to say about this."

The rest is all a blur. Except that I remember when my father got me home, the ache in my earlobe was soon supplanted by a more painful sting elsewhere.

And a week later we snuck back inside Father Dowd's gym.

A sheep in Lion's clothing

The student inside the Nittany Lion costume at Penn State football games was arrested this week on a DUI charge.

James Sheep allegedly was intoxicated and driving a vehicle that was packed with more bodies than a clown car. No word on whether he was still in costume.

Joe Paterno said he'll determine whether Sheep will dress for the Rose Bowl just as soon as he stops laughing.

Say what?

If you want to know why most blogs remain the journalistic equivalent of cotton candy - insubstantial fluff - all you had to do was read a recent entry from allphiladelphiasports.com.

In it, the clever blogger posits a scenario that includes both Kevin Kolb as the starting quarterback and the Eagles as contenders.

Those two events will converge when I win the Masters.

Comets crash

In yet another example of America not being ready for successful women's professional sports, the Houston Comets are folding.

The Comets won four straight WNBA titles but couldn't overcome the fact that a great women's professional basketball game is equivalent to a pretty good boys' high school game.

Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068