If a man can make walking with crutches look effortless, well, who else but Mariano Rivera? Here he was, practically gliding across the clubhouse on his new crutches, when he noticed everyone studying his every move.

"I didn't die, you know," he said, feigning annoyance. "I'm going to bust out running in a minute."

And that's when you knew. It would be a few minutes before Rivera would announce his intention to return from soon-to-be-scheduled knee surgery and pitch again next season, but his mood had given him away.

The tears from Thursday night, tears he had never cried in public , were long gone, replaced by the Rivera of old. The smile was back.

At his locker, in fact, he joked frequently as he spoke for 15 minutes, said that all of his hints about retirement were really only a chess game he was playing with the media.

"Who was winning?" someone asked.

"It was a tie," Rivera deadpanned.

No, he wouldn't admit to anything about previous hints of a retirement after this season. Actually, beneath the smiles and jokes on Friday, the Yankee closer was practically defiant in letting the world know he wouldn't allow a tear of his ACL to determine his fate.

"I won't go down like this," he said emphatically. "I can't go down like this."

And once again I was reminded never to underestimate the competitive fire that drives these guys, especially the great ones. And never to believe them when they talk about retirement.

I thought Rivera might be different. I thought the knee injury would convince him it was time to get on with life, raising his family and doing work for his church. I thought his pride, his determination to go out at the top of his game, would keep him from returning at 43 with a reconstructed knee.