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Picking on Buzas isn’t good idea

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HAD GEORGIA Tech known ahead of time what it was dealing with, it may have changed its mind. How was it supposed to know getting into a fight with Joe Buzas was a bad idea?

A conference call is scheduled for tomorrow, involving attorneys for Georgia Tech, the Salt Lake Buzz and Buzas. At issue is the use of the Buzz nickname. Georgia Tech, which goes by the nickname "Yellow Jackets," says Buzz is the legal name of its mascot. Buzas, owner of the Salt Lake Buzz, likes to quote another famous Georgian, Rhett Butler - he doesn't give a damn."I never backed down to anybody. I think I can beat anybody up," he says.

Truth is, Buzas didn't get to be owner of 82 minor league franchises over the last 42 years by being a nice guy all the time. Riling him up is like putting poison ivy in your underwear. He's that irritating. In more than five decades in baseball, he has done almost everything, and what he hasn't done, he's at least seen. He's played on the major league level, managed and owned minor league teams. He's fielded lawsuits, fought off threats, entertained stars and dignitaries of all sorts. Karl Malone asks him for business advice. Robert Urich visits his luxury suite.

So naturally, when Georgia Tech threatened last year to sue the Buzz over its name, Buzas didn't exactly get the shakes; he got cantankerous. He was shocked, insulted, outraged and generally put off. Asked about the litigation, he handled it like anyone who has ever kicked dirt on an umpire.

"S---- it," he said. "I'm gonna fight it."

Since last year, not much has changed. Georgia Tech still thinks Buzas stole its idea, and Buzas still thinks he has a nickname that complements the team, the city and, of course, his pocketbook. Buzz merchandise is a strong seller, and if you ask Buzas, it's outselling similar Georgia Tech merchandise - even in Georgia.

"That name is imbedded in me and in the community and the state. Why should I give up without a fight?" he says. "I'm not going to back down. They say it's copyrighted. Bull. Where does it say I can't change my name to Smith? How many Smiths are there out there?"

Buzas isn't a neophyte when it comes to controversy. When he owned the Portland Beavers, he fought the city over concessions rights, upgrading the stadium and pretty much anything else he or the city could think of to fight over. One year he learned four days before his team returned from a road trip that the stadium had been rented to the Blazers for a summer league basketball game. The Beavers ended up playing the homestand in Spokane. The next time he saw the Blazers' official who had scheduled the event, Buzas said, "I ought to deck you right here."

Finally, Buzas took his act and headed south. If Portland wasn't willing to pony up the money to get the stadium upgraded, he'd go to Salt Lake, where they were they were promising to build it if he would come. They did, and he did.

This is a guy who, managing in Puerto Rico, became so agitated over a call that he ripped off his shirt and threw it at the umpire. He was suspended the final two weeks of the season. He's also the guy who as a college boxer at Bucknell won three of his four career fights.

"And I didn't lose the fourth one, either," he says. "He never touched me."

You get the idea. Even when he loses, Buzas doesn't lose.

Combativeness aside, he is also also a shrewd businessman. He once bought a team in Reading, Pa., for $1 - the franchise was losing money - and sold it a decade later for $1 million. Even Bill Gates might like to know how to get a million-percent return.

Buzas' philosophy is you don't give away too much of your product for free. That's why you don't often see free Buzz tickets available at the service desk of any grocery store. It's also why you won't find an attendance of, say, 8,000, when 5,000 of them were giveaways.

So maybe Buzas will lose, and the Salt Lake Buzz will be no more. By this time next year, it could be the Salt Lake Saints, Wasps, Wolves, Mountaineers, Snowbirds or even Lionzz, Tigerzz or Bearzz. Just to bother the people at Georgia Tech, he may call them the Yellow Jacketzz. He might end up losing, but don't count on him quitting. Georgia Tech chose the wrong ex-fighter to pick a fight with.