The late Red Smith used to remind his more sanctimonious colleagues that sports are just games little boys play. Well, Red's dictum came true with a vengeance in 1983. Little boys and little girls were not only playing games but also playing them particularly well; rarely has youth been so well served.
The ones that caused the most excitement, of course, were the Cabbage Patch Kids. These dolls with the winsome, Ted Koppelish faces were so prized, in fact, that some gullible people went to Milwaukee's County Stadium on a sub-zero day after two disc jockeys announced that a B-29 bomber would drop the little bundles to anyone holding aloft a catcher's mitt and an American Express card. (Ted Simmons was not among them.) The sports versions of these Babes in Toyland were prized, too. Herewith, our own Cabbage Patch Kids.
•BERNIE KOSAR: The 20-year-old freshman quarterback led Miami to the national championship. Tall and gangling, with a heart as big as a cabbage, he completed 201 of 327 passes for 2,329 yards and 15 touchdowns in the regular season. Then, against supposedly invincible Nebraska, he broke the Orange Bowl record by passing for 300 yards (19 completions in 35 attempts and two TDs) and sparked a 31-30 upset.
•TEO FABI: The most cuddly Patcher, perhaps because, at 5'5", he's one of the shortest. He became the first rookie to win the pole at Indy since 1950, driving his March-Cosworth to one-lap (208.049) and four-lap (207.395) records in a year in which everyone was supposed to go slower. This 28-year-old Alpine skier turned CART driver didn't exactly endear himself to Indy loyalists by saying his new car was a cinch to drive and "it's much more important to be in the pole for the race than win." He didn't win Indy—he came in 26th—but he did take four other races and was the CART/Vandervell Rookie of the Year. By the way, this Cabbage Patch Kid's sleek green-and-white accessory sells for $150,000 (battery not included).
•CARRIE STEINSEIFER: Assembled in California, this doll surfaced in '83 with little button eyes and porcelained cheeks. In a washout year for American women, she won the 100-meter freestyle titles the first time she entered the National Long Course championships and the Pan American Games. At age 15, she's still wet behind the ears.
•ERIC DICKERSON: The Los Angeles Rams' 23-year-old rookie halfback was the fastest broken-field runner since Peter Rabbit end-arounded a rake-wielding Mr. McGregor. He reaped the fruits and vegetables of the Rams' one-back attack by leading the NFL with 1,808 yards rushing, a record for a rookie. The Sealy, Texas native also snared 51 passes, 32 more than in his entire career at SMU. One L.A. daily held a contest to give this Patcher a nickname, but the winner, "Sealy Cyclone," never caught on. Neither did many defensive linemen.
•AARON KRICKSTEIN: As a 16-year-old, he arrived at Flushing Meadow complete with knee brace, dark, shaggy hair and a look of quiet contentment. The youngest U.S. junior tennis champ ever was unseeded, but he sprouted nonetheless. Down two sets to Vitas Gerulaitis, he won 3-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 to become the youngest male player ever to reach the U.S. Open's round of 16. When he won a tournament in Tel Aviv, he became the youngest male ever to take a Grand Prix event. Special added feature: left arm bends when he's fired up.
•CHERYL MILLER: USC's 6'2", 20-year-old sophomore forward contains only natural ingredients. "I don't use steroids," she confides. "I don't want to wake up some morning with a beard." She never had much use for dolls either. "My mom would buy them," she says, "and I would cut off all the hair. That was the end of dolls." As a freshman against defending champ Louisiana Tech in the NCAA finals, she cut off passes, blocked four shots, grabbed nine rebounds and scored 27 points. That was the end of the Lady Techsters.
•DEVIL'S BAG: This frisky 2-year-old was syndicated for $36 million, making him the youngest and richest Cabbage Patcher of them all. Undefeated in five races and a leading candidate for Horse of the Year, he set stakes records in the Cowdin and Champagne; only Spectacular Bid has run a faster Laurel Futurity. Devil's Bag was named after a sack that contained unusual powers in a TV adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The colt bolts from the starting gate like Ichabod Crane fleeing the Headless Horseman.
•HECTOR (Macho) CAMACHO: The 22-year-old junior lightweight absorbs jabs better than Mr. Potato Head and is more combat-ready than GI Joe. In fact, as a young cabbage punk in Spanish Harlem, Camacho used to re-create gang wars with the 30 GI Joes he stole from Gimbels. When his mother found out, she tossed the entire infantry into the incinerator. "Next day I come back, I got 34 GI Joes," Camacho recalls. "Got the airplane, got the helicopter, got a starship." In '83 he got the WBC title, too, even though he started the year as the division's No. 4-ranked fighter. Camacho's opponent in the championship bout, Rafael (Bazooka) Limón, couldn't match his artillery, so our Cabbage Patch Kid simply knocked the stuffing out of him.
•MIKE BODDICKER: Camacho gained his tough-guy reputation in Harlem by throwing garbage cans at people; this 26-year-old Baltimore rookie made his rep throwing the kind of stuff you usually find inside. The righthander's outpitch is a foshball, a combination forkball and fish (changeup) that breaks away from lefthanders. It broke so well over his last 17 starts that he went 12-4 with a 2.23 ERA to complete a 16-8, 2.77 regular season. Then he shut out Chicago in the playoffs and three-hit the Phillies in the World Series. (He wound up earning more cabbage from the Fall Classic than he did in the entire regular season.) Boddicker, by the way, was sown and cultivated in Norway, Iowa, where corn is the crop of choice. But who ever heard of a Corn Patch Kid?