The first time I faced the life-changing issue of “How to Play Sports Against a Woman” was on a football field at age 10. It was a pickup game, and the other team was short one player, and this freckle-faced girl named Chrissy was the only soul around besides Duke, the German shepherd, and Duke had a bum leg. So we kicked off, and Chrissy caught the ball, which surprised me, since most of us could not do that yet. Then she ran right at me.

And I froze. I remember thinking, “Oh, god, how do you handle this? I mean, do you just sort of tackle her, like, you know, a real tackle, or, well, where do you tackle her anyhow, and, no, maybe you shouldn’t try that, but maybe you should just sort of, you know, trip her, and then apologize.”

In the end, I guess I did a little of everything, and she ran right by me, and I fell into the mud. She also ran by the rest of my team, and scored a touchdown. But the other guys saw me lying there with this guilty look and so they naturally yelled, “You stink! You can’t even tackle a girl!”

I bring this up only to prove that men vs. women in sports is nothing but trouble. And tonight we will get another dose.

Tonight is the much ballyhooed Martina Navratilova/Pam Shriver versus Bobby Riggs/ Vitas Gerulaitis tennis match.

Another challenge of the sexes.

Ah, Chrissy. We never learn. If the men win, they lose

Some people have asked me who I am rooting for tonight. I will tell you. I am rooting for rain.

It is partly because I think the whole thing is stupid, and partly because if I were picking an athlete to represent the entire male breed, I would not pick anyone named Vitas. I don’t know anyone named Vitas. I doubt I ever will. Vitas sounds like German cat food.

Besides, this is all his fault. He made a remark that he would “bet his house” that the 100th-ranked male tennis player in the world could beat the No. 1-ranked woman.

People with more than one house like to do this kind of stuff. But Navratilova got mad. So did Shriver. And Riggs, who could hustle the fur off a sewer rat, smelled a buck in there somewhere.

So now it’s a doubles match. Men vs. women for a $300,000 winners share. Tonight.

Trouble.

You see, this is a no-win proposition for men. It always is. I mean, suppose Riggs and Gerulaitis are victorious? What might people conclude?

1. Men are stronger.

2. Men are luckier.

3. Never bet a man his house.

4. Those vitamins Riggs takes really work.

Not much of a victory here. Besides, if your whole sex is going to win something, you’d like to at least admire the guys who do it, right?

But after Vitas, whom we’ve already discussed, there is Riggs, a bowlegged, 67-year-old con man who thinks women tennis stars go home from Wimbledon and have a pajama party.

Riggs is most famous for his earlier “Battle of the Sexes” match against Billie Jean King. But that was nothing. He once won a bet by playing tennis while chained to a gorilla.

I’m not sure I would want a guy like that on my picture wall. Maybe the gorilla, though. And what if the women win?

On the other hand, what if the women win?

It could be . . . Tennis Wars.

Soon every female with a racket will be challenging her male friends. Loser wears the dress. The words “love you” will take on a whole new meaning, roughly equivalent to “you are zero.”

Imagine. Men and women across the country swiping at each other with their Wilson Pro Grips.

It’s scary. It could spread, maybe to books (“Straight Sets — How to Beat Your Husband”). or even old love songs, like the Anniversary Waltz:

Oh, how we volleyed,

on the night we were wed . . .

Or that song Omar Sharif sings to Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl”:

You are woman,

I am man,

Serve it Even Elvis tunes, like “Heartbreak Hotel”

Well, since my baby aced me

I found a new place to dwell . . .

This is truly discouraging. But it only proves the point I learned in the mud two decades ago — namely, when men play against women, the best men can hope for is not to lose.

Gerulaitis admits defeat will cost him. “I won’t be allowed in the men’s locker room,” he says. Serves him right. Maybe when the other guys see him showering at the YMCA, they’ll know.

Enough. We can’t win.

So let’s hope tonight will be it. The last challenge of the sexes.

Though I am a bit curious what Navratilova and Shriver would do if they won Vitas’ house.

Probably throw a big pajama party.

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