FINALLY the penalty flag went down. But by the time it did, Devils coach Georgia Hase had already choked three T-Birds with a towel. Three times a skater had fallen and she'd pulled the old towel trick and the ref just hadn't noticed.

How could the referee not have noticed? Though the crowd in the Salt Palace last Saturday night was small, it was certainly loud. And we were all yelling for someone to stop that Detroit Devil from killing one of the Los Angeles players.Her penalty, when it came, was a $50 fine. "But I'm sure she'll say she's happy to pay it," said the announcer.

Well, that's Roller Derby for you. Though the T-Birds won the first game 56 to 53, the fans thought the Devils had gotten away with too much.

The second game was a bit wilder. Elbows flew faster, punches were traded more freely. The fans demanded more showmanship, having become accustomed to mild mayhem during the first game.

We'd have been bored by plain old fast skating, I guess. One helmeted skater from each team trying to lap the pack, getting a point for each of the opposing skaters passed; the men's teams skating against each other and then the women's, in alternating quarters that's the basic game. And to watch two one-hour games we'd want to see more variety.

We needed to see a few Devils get pitched over the rail. We needed to see Gwen "Skinny Minnie" Miller hitch a piggyback ride around the track on a Devil back. We needed to see T-Bird Ralphie Valladares throw a table on one of the Devils.

No one got hurt, of course. And the good guys, the T-Birds, won the second game, too. But this time it felt more like a win because they'd really shown the Devils who was the toughest. (Tables can be so convincing.)

Some of the adults in the audience, believe it or not, got kind of bored by the end of Roller Derby at the Salt Palace.

But not the 9-year-olds. They ran for autographs and then rushed right out to stand in line to buy a souvenir towel. And one confided in me that Roller Derby had changed his life.

"I used to want to be a marine biologist," said C.J. Record. "I was positive that's what I wanted to be. But now I can't decide between marine biology and Roller Derby coach.

"Which do you think is best?"