Like a battered prizefighter, Wendover may be groggy and on the ropes - but this hard-nosed little city is a long way from going down for the count.

Sure it took a hard one-two shot during the 1998 Utah Legislature as both lawmakers and the governor spurned its pleas for $3 million to help fund the fiscally troubled Wendover Airport expansion.Granted that Wendover residents are feeling a bit punchy after being peppered with news reports that say their city is teetering on the brink of insolvency.

And never mind that the city is trying to dodge a haymaker of a lawsuit stemming from the $8.8 million airport expansion that could force it to disincorporate.

Wendover figures it still has a few friends left in its corner, and city officials say they're gathering strength to answer the next bell.

"We're not going to give up," City Manger Art Martines pledged Saturday night. "There is a cloud of uncertainty here in the community, but our residents are aware that we're brainstorming and working to find a solution."

If Wendover hollers "uncle," officials there are hoping it will because Uncle Sam has agreed to provide some financial help.

That became a possibility last week when Congressman Jim Hansen stepped into Wendover's corner and began contacting various congressional subcommittees in search of financial help.

Wendover had hoped to get $3 million from the Legislature and use that to leverage a $2.5 million loan co-signed by Tooele County.

That money would finish the expansion, qualifying the city for $4 million in Federal Aviation Administration grants this year and another $1 million in 1999.

If the expansion isn't finished, the grants will be lost, and Wendover will be left holding the bag for some $3 million in construction costs.

Bill Johnson, a Hansen aide, said the congressman hopes to persuade military leaders and Congress that the town's airport runway is worth saving for Air Force emergencies.

The Wendover Airport is one of two emergency landing strips in the west desert available to Hill Air Force Base pilots who fly training mission over the vast Utah Training and Test Range.

County Commissioner Lois McArthur said Saturday that federal help probably would come only in the form of matching money.

Hansen wants Wendover or the county to ante up $1.5 million, she said, to match an equal amount of federal dollars.

But the small city's annual budget is less than a half million, and about three-fourths of that has already been spent for fiscal 1998.

That will place most of the burden on Tooele County, which remains Wendover's main ally in its battle for survival.

McArthur said the commission took time out from a National Association of Counties convention in Washington D.C. last week to visit with Air Force and FAA officials about Wendover's plight.

"It sounds like we may be able to get some help if the county can come up with $1.5 million," she said. "We'll meet Monday to talk about it, and we'll do what we can . . . but we don't have the money to bail the city out at this point."

McArthur also said the commission will talk to Gibbons and Reed, the contractor for the expansion project, "to see if we can work something out."

Martines also said he met with Salt Lake City Airport Authority representatives last Friday to ask for assistance. The Salt Lake facility sometimes diverts small aircraft to the Wendover Airport.

"It's upsetting the state couldn't come up with something," McArthur said.