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In the midst of all this current prosperity, Utah Jazz Coach Frank Layden reminisced back to the 1981-82 season, when things were going the other way.

The Jazz lost 18 games in a row just prior to the end of that season, and were closing in on the all-time NBA record of 20 games until a game with the then Kansas City Kings stopped the bleeding."The papers were running box scores surrounded in black," said Layden. "Every day I'd cringe before I'd open the paper. I didn't dare go out in the public."

Now, six years later, the Jazz are contenders. In Layden's opinion, it's because nobody panicked back in '82 and changed the franchise's long-range game plan - to get better through the draft.

"We did what worked for teams like the Dallas Cowboys and the Miami Dolphins," said Layden. "We were patient, and thank goodness we were. Now, we've got some players who we drafted, who have matured, and we're in reasonably good shape . . . I think this is a good team. I think we can play."

The coach, incidentally, thinks it would be a good idea if the Cowboys and Dolphins, who are experiencing downward trends at the moment, would look at the Jazz, and at themselves, and take a cue. "They shouldn't panic now, either," he said. "They should get back on top exactly the way they got on top before. Be patient and use the system."

HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE: Until its woes of the past couple of seasons, the BYU football team's toughest struggle was the 1978 season.

That year, like this year, the Cougars lost to the University of Utah. And that year, like this year, the Cougars were virtually ignored by the national rankings.

The similarity: In 1978 the Cougars tried to exist peacefully with a two-quarterback system, with Jim McMahon and Marc Wilson trading off. In 1988, they've tried to go with both Sean Covey and Ty Detmer.

After the '78 season, Coach LaVell Edwards said he'd never alternate quarterbacks again.

ADD COUGARS: Games against national powerhouse programs like last weekend's against Miami will continue in the future. Miami, by the way, visits Provo in 1990, and in 1991 Penn State appears for the first time on a BYU schedule.

The 1992 schedule is one the Cougars should keep an eye on: They play UCLA, Penn State and Notre Dame that year, plus they play habitual conference contenders Air Force, Hawaii, Wyoming and Utah on the road.

SHE OWNS THE HOUSE: Jazz publicist Bill Kreifeldt advises that the NBA's newest landlord/lady/girl is Athena Onassis, 3 years old, who inherited the Olympic Towers in New York City, where the NBA office is located at 645 Fifth Ave.

Not that Athena is likely to be bugging David Stern for playoff tickets, however, since, according to Kreifeldt, she also inherited a small navy with more than 20 vessels, a pair of 230,000-ton supertankers, mines in Uruguay, homes in London, New York, Paris and St. Moritz, and the private Greek island of Skorpios.

MELLOWING DEPT.: Diana Ditka, Mike's wife, on changes in her Chicago Bears coach/husband since his recent heart attack: "He came home early from practice the other day, and this time he kissed me, and he kissed the dog. Usually, he kicks me and kisses the dog."

IT'S A LIVING: Major league baseball released its salary figures this past week, and it's still good work if you can find it. The average pay for a ballplayer in the big leagues is $438,729 - up 6.4 percent from $412,454 for the 1987 season.

The highest-paying team, for the eighth time in the past 11 years, was the Yankees, who gave out average yearly salaries of $718,670 to its players this past season. The Chicago White Sox had the lowest average, at $226,392.

The only millionaire position was first base in the American League. With high-priced veterans like Don Mattingly, Eddie Murray and George Brett plugged into the formula, the average A.L. first baseman made $1,082,572 in 1988.