DETROIT -- Six pages, single-spaced, green paper, stapled. Flyers coach Terry Murray held the transcript of his afternoon press conference as he stood there in the lobby of the Westin Hotel

You know, the press conference where he said his team, down 3-0 to the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup finals, is involved in ``a choking situation.''

First he said it. Then he read it. And then, not only did he stand by it - he endorsed it. Again. And again. And standing there, talking to him amid the bustle of a busy hotel lobby, you would have no idea how badly things were spinning out of control.

Six pages, single-spaced.

Only one word was heard.


To say that this was an unfortunate choice of words for a coach attempting to rally his team from oblivion would be kind of an understatement.

To fail to grasp what a bombshell kind of word that is in sports - and to fail to understand how there can be little hope of people hearing the context around it once you drop that kind of bomb - is really naive.

And to think that this would do anything but damage him further in a Flyers dressing room where he has few obvious supporters, well, Murray just doesn't seem to get it.

For the record, here is the entire quote. The question concerned the Flyers' lost confidence.

``I wish I could find it,'' Murray said. ``I wish I could find the answer for that. It seems to be that when you get to this time and this place, a lot of strange things start to happen. And the flow of the game, the decision-making, just the play . . .

``To play the game the right way is not happening for us right now. I don't know why. I don't know where it has gone. But many teams have been through this problem before and it is basically a choking situation that I call it for our team right now.

``That can turn around. The one thing about going through that phase is that it is a mental block as much as anything. We've just got to break through to a better performance tomorrow. Get to feel good about our individual play, our team play. If we can get one period under our belt with a good, solid effort and come ahead with the lead, then let us build on it.''

So, there's your context.

It still comes down to that one word.


``It's not a nasty word,'' Murray said.


``It happens,'' he said. ``It's a real thing.''

The lobby in this huge hotel-office-shopping complex, known as the Renaissance Center, was quite a scene. Flyers players ambled through in twos and threes, killing time, wandering aimlessly. Team officials and other members of the traveling party huddled and whispered and conferred as word of the press conference at nearby Joe Louis Arena began to filter back to the hotel.

Then the transcripts, prepared routinely by the NHL for media people, began appearing, sprouting like green paper foliage. And then president and general manager Bob Clarke showed up and acknowledged that it was an unfortunate word. And then Murray showed up, calm and cool in a blue sport coat, and read the transcript himself.

``I'm fine with this,'' he said, genuinely bewildered by the uproar, honestly surprised when I told him that in nearly 20 years of sports writing, I couldn't remember a coach in a public forum using the word ``choking'' to describe his team.

``It's talked about within teams all the time,'' he said. ``I see it discussed in the media all the time. I don't understand what the problem is . . . This is a transitional stage for a team to go through.

``How are you ever going to get better if you can't deal with it and learn from it?" Murray asked.

All of that might be true. The problem is that, in this case, truth is not a defense.

In this case, you're the coach of a professional sports team. They don't have to like you. In a lot of cases, it might be best if they don't like you. But they do have to perform for you. Somewhere, somehow, there has to be some kind of a bond, some level of trust, some understanding that everyone is working toward some greater good.

How this creates that understanding is beyond me.

How Terry Murray survives this is now a question.