When Mike Tysonleft Dapper Dan's boutique sometime after 4 a.m. on Aug. 23, he was carryingthe new custom-made leather jacket that he had come to Harlem that morning topick up. Tyson is one of those impulse shoppers who never know when they'regoing to wake up in the middle of the night and realize they're runningdangerously low on leather coats. "He ordered a jacket, and we told him topick it up anytime he wanted," explained Dapper Dan, New York's all-nightcouturier des pugs.
After months ofheadlines about his bizarre public behavior and his equally unusual privatelife—some of the stories were almost certainly plants to help promote his June27 title fight with Michael Spinks—Tyson was ready to make a fashion statement,and he knew that the salon of the ever-tasteful Mr. D carried plenty of clotheswith writing on them. Tyson had just picked up his $850 white jacket, with thewords DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE¬¨¬®‚Äö√Ñ‚Ä†in gold and black appliquè across the back,when he had the bad luck to stumble on that other noted shops-till-he-dropsheavyweight, Mitch (Blood) Green.
The funny thingabout people who have nicknames like Blood is that they are likely to doanything at four in the morning; you can't reason with them. First thing youknow, Green was calling the heavyweight champion of the world a "homo."Then he fractured Tyson's fist with his eye, which resulted in severalpostponements of Tyson's next fight, which were followed in turn by bouts ofdepression, which may have accelerated his breakup with his wife, actress RobinGivens, and her mother, Ruth Roper. Perhaps Tyson's fashion statement was worthall that to him, but even if he wishes people wouldn't believe the hype, heprobably wouldn't want to do away with it entirely, either. For while his ironfists have led him to an undefeated record in the ring, hype is what made itpossible for him to earn more than $50 million in purses by the age of 22.
As recently as1981, Webster's Third New International Dictionary, a 2,662-page colossus,didn't even acknowledge the existence of the word hype as slang for hyperbole.In fact, hype—in its many forms and under many names—has been with us for avery long time. Among other things, hype is what makes it possible for sportsteams to fill their arenas game after game despite relatively small advertisingbudgets. "Hype is almost intrinsic to the coverage of sports," saysVince Doria, sports editor of The Boston Globe. "We provide the teams withfree advertising on a daily basis. That's what we're there to do."
January 23, 1989
Hype dressesitself up in Armani jackets these days, and it has grown far more sophisticatedsince Gregory Peck appeared in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit in 1956. "Idon't know much about public relations," Peck told another p.r. man."Who does?" the man replied. "You got a clean shirt, you batheevery day, that's all there is to it."
The sportingpress takes an indulgent view of hype, to say the least. When events come alongthat have no intrinsic value of any sort (a partial list of these: the weekbefore the Super Bowl; virtually anything that happens before a majorprizefight; all intergender grudge matches, such as the Bobby Riggs-Billie JeanKing fiasco of 1973), rather than simply ignoring them, the press behaves as ifit were guided by an invisible hand to hype them. This often requires theseeker of truth to suspend disbelief. "Let's face it, the media like talkof all kinds, even if they know in their hearts they're being put on," saysMike Brown, assistant general manager of the Cincinnati Bengals. "The mediaactually seek out some of these stories."
In the mid tolate '60s, when television began in earnest to deliver games into people'sliving rooms—remember when the expression "Live and in color!" reallymeant something?—and later, when news was delivered for the first time in soundbites, the trick for the hypemasters was to make sure their message wasn't lostin the babble. The most outlandish of them was arguably a young publicist namedAndy Furman, who specialized in theme-night stunts. While working at OralRoberts University, Furman conducted such promotions for the Titans basketballteam as Bulgarian Night (anyone of Bulgarian ancestry would be admitted free)and Satan-Worship Night (when Oral Roberts was taking on the DePaul Blue Demonsand all self-avowed devil worshippers were let in at no charge). Furman finallywent one tasteless step too far while working at Monticello (N.Y.) Raceway, in1980, when he fired off an invitation to a local klavern of the Ku Klux Klanproposing that the Klan take advantage of the track's group party plan package.One must assume that the idea was to have more than the usual number of horses'asses standing in the winner's circle, wearing bedding. "All I did waswrite a letter to the head of the Klan and suggest he and his boys take a nightoff and come out to the track," Furman explained shortly before beingfired.
Now hype iseverywhere. It's the Iowa caucuses and the New York Marathon (but not the NewHampshire primary or the Boston Marathon). Hype is a pitching statistic calledthe quality start (but not earned run average). So much of sports has becomehype that it's a challenge to recognize something good and true when we see it.The message on Mike Tyson's jacket actually comes from the rap tune Don'tBelieve the Hype by Public Enemy, which could replace The Star-Spangled Banneras the pre-game anthem for the 1990s.
Suckers, liars,get me a shovel
Some writers I know are damn devils
For them I say
Don't believe the hype...
Don't believe the hype.
GREAT MOMENTS INHYPE #1: It was supposed to be just another payday for a boxer named DummyMahon, nothing special, until a promoter came up with the harebrained notionthat if Mahon, who was stone deaf, were to parachute out of an airplane, thesudden change in air pressure as he fell from the sky might make his ears popopen and restore his hearing. It was felt that such a miracle was just what wasneeded to get Mahon's name in the papers and get ticket sales moving for hisupcoming bout. The press did its part by turning out in force on the day of thejump. In fact, the whole stunt would undoubtedly have been a rousing success ifMahon's chute had opened. Looking at it from the promoter's point of view, ofcourse, the results were mixed. On the one hand, Mahon no longer had a hearingproblem. On the other, the promoter had undeniably violated the first canon ofhype: Never kill your attraction.
At the start ofP.T. Barnum's career as a showman, he encountered rival 19th-century hypemasterJohann Nepomuk Maelzel, who took note, admiringly, of the way Barnum was ableto help promote his attractions by obtaining free publicity. "I see thatyou understand the press," Maelzel told Barnum, "and that is the greatthing. Nothing helps the showman like the types and the ink."
No one has everworked the ink-stained wretches of the sporting press better than Irving Rudd,who, at 71, is one of the few characters left in the publicity dodge who canaccurately be described as Runyonesque. Rudd—also known by his nom de plug,Unswerving Irving—believes there's no substitute for a good hype job."Nothing sells itself," Rudd says. "Even the Bible had to have ap.r. man."
He learned hiscraft in small fight clubs like the Coney Island Velodrome and then became apublicist for the Brooklyn Dodgers, who were owned by Walter O'Malley, a manRudd recalls as having "deep pockets and short arms." After O'Malleymoved the Dodgers to Los Angeles in 1958, Rudd went to work at Yonkers Raceway,a thriving harness track just outside New York City. While driving up to thetrack one day, he noticed that workmen were hanging giant lettering on the sideof the new clubhouse. It's not known if the force of inspiration caused Irvingto swerve, but he certainly rushed to the foreman of the work crew and issuednew instructions. The two men argued briefly, and then the sign was hung, perRudd's orders, so that in letters 3½ feet high, stretching 84 feet, it readYONKERS RACEWYA. Rudd was ecstatic, and when the track's switchboard nearlyexploded with calls pointing out the error, he grew happier still. Within days,virtually every newspaper in New York City had run a picture of this supposedblunder, and wire service shots of the sign eventually appeared in newspapersacross the country. It was as pure a piece of malarkey as Rudd had ever putover on an unsuspecting public.
Rudd learnedearly on that if he could somehow create news—or at least something that passedfor it—he could reach far more people than he could by paying for an ad."Advertising can be very effective, but it's still only an ad," Ruddsays. "If a guy picks up a newspaper and reads a story about a boxer with abionic fist, it becomes a real situation in his mind." The Bionic Fist wasin fact—or, more accurately, in fantasy—another of Rudd's inventions, somethinghe dreamed up to help sell tickets to the 1979 WBA heavyweight championshipbout in Pretoria between John Tate of the U.S. and Gerrie Coetzee of SouthAfrica. After reading that Coetzee had undergone an operation on his righthand, during which eight steel pins had been implanted and smashed bones hadbeen fused, Rudd persuaded Tate's manager to register a protest and demand apre-fight examination of Coetzee's "bionic fist." The story of theprotest was reported without question or qualification in newspapers all overthe world. "The protest went nowhere," says Rudd, "but it made thepapers, it said Tate-Coetzee, and it gave the date of the fight. As long asthese things are somewhat tongue in cheek, and there's some relevancy to reasonand reality, where's the harm?"
No other sportgives Rudd the freedom to simply make up the rules as he goes along the wayboxing does. "Boxing is the last of your freebooting, buccaneeringsports," he says. "Unlike baseball or football, boxing has nocontinuity. Any guy off the street with a Q-tip in his shirt pocket can callhimself a manager." To become a boxing promoter you don't even have to passthe Q-tip test. After carefully studying the record of one of his fighters, DonElbaum, a promoter in Akron, Ohio, once sold advertising for an Italianrestaurant on the soles of the pug's shoes. The theory was that the tomatocan's number—and the sponsor's name—would come up at some point during thefight. This technique never caught on, raising, as it did, troubling practicaland esthetic questions about which way the punched-out billboard mightfall.
Much as he lovesa good plug, Rudd has never taken much joy in hyping the heavyweight division'sseemingly endless succession of not-so-great white hopes, the most recentexample of whom was Gerry Cooney. "He can't fight to keep warm," Ruddsays of Cooney (who, incidentally, was never his client), "but he's a nicekid." The essence of boxing hype, though, is trying to sell the members ofthe public the notion that they're seeing mythic masters of the ring, when inreality they are seeing pugs like Cooney—who earned an estimated $18 million inthe ring despite the fact that he didn't really like to box and never beatanybody of consequence except Ken Norton. "Sometimes it's a sore and tryingthing," says Rudd. "You try to put the best face on it you possiblycan."
Surprisingly,these face jobs often work. "Boxing panders to the worst instincts inus," says Los Angeles Times sports editor Bill Dwyre. "We deal inserious issues, and we want people to take us seriously. If we cross that lineand allow ourselves to willingly be had, if we buy into the myths knowingthey're myths, then we're really in trouble."
GREAT MOMENTS INHYPE #2: In addition to inventing the Bionic Fist, Rudd brought in two witchdoctors to help promote the Tate-Coetzee fight. So when he brought in only onewitch doctor to hype a fight in which Ayub Kalule, a native of Uganda, woulddefend his WBA junior middleweight title against Sugar Ray Leonard in 1981, itactually appeared that Rudd was cutting back. "I called the Ugandan missionand asked if they had any witch doctors," he says. The mission sent BenMugimba, whom Rudd identified for the press as a medicine man from Uganda."This guy from Uganda was the goods," insists Rudd, who does concedethat to help make ends meet during the slack season for medicine men, Mugimba"ran a Gulf station in Kinshasa." Which is in Zaire, by the way.
Rudd dressedMugimba up in a ceremonial headdress and robe for what would be his first newsconference, if you didn't count interviews after the occasional filling stationholdup. Mugimba rattled bones. Mugimba chanted. Mugimba swung a chicken overhis head. Mugimba was hexing away with impressive verve when a radio reporternamed Rock Newman jumped to his feet and stormed angrily out of the room,dismissing the demonstration as a farce that promoted racism. On the way backto his hotel room, Newman was attacked by a huge crow that pecked violently athis head. To escape the crazed bird, he was finally forced to leap, fullyclothed, into the hotel swimming pool.
"Everybodylikes hype, but it's tough to live up to every night," says Magic Johnson,whose very name is a hype. "Some of it's real, a lot of it's not, but youtry to use it all to your advantage."
Coaches do thisall the time, of course. Before he retired this month, Georgia football coachVince Dooley used his weekly press conferences to practice a form of hypespeakknown as "poor-mouthin'." Dooley rhapsodized so poetically about theobscure strengths of upcoming opponents that after a while you began to feelsorry for any of the Bulldogs brave enough to take on such juggernauts. Dooleyonce warned the press, "We've never seen a team kick off quite likeVanderbilt. It has the greatest variety of kickoffs I've ever seen." InDooley's final years at Georgia, he was often referred to in the press as PoorMouth of the South. Herewith, some of his choicest licks.
September 1980,opponent Texas A & M: "This is a real good football team. Mike Mosleyis the best quarterback we've faced since Archie Manning was at Ole Miss."Game result: Mosley passed for 62 yards as Georgia won 42-0.
October 1982,opponent Memphis State: "Their offense can break a big play at any time.They have tremendous speed. If we don't play well, we'll get beat." Gameresult: Georgia handed the Tigers their 15th straight defeat, 34-3.
October 1983,opponent Temple: "Temple has quality personnel. We've noticed on film thatthey have one of the finest snappers in the country." Game result: Georgiabeat Temple and its fine snapper, 31-14.
GREAT MOMENTS INHYPE #3: It was June 24, 1980, and the idea was to celebrate the 50thanniversary of the opening of a Cleveland skyscraper called Terminal Tower. Thestunt was a reenactment of one performed by the Cleveland Indians yearsearlier, in which they dropped baseballs off the top of the building. TedStepien, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers at the time, participated(presumably as part of his ongoing effort to promote his NBA franchise, not tomention his newly established slo-pitch Softball league). Now, Stepien'sstewardship of the Cavaliers, the team that care forgot, was marked by repeatedpublic relations gaffes, but none matched his willingness to drop softballs offTerminal Tower and have six members of his softball team, the Competitors, onthe ground trying to catch them. With an expectant crowd gathered below, gazingat the rooftop, Stepien stood proudly at the precipice of disaster and threwthe first pitch out a 52nd-floor window. That ball smashed into a car 708 feetbelow. The second pitch hit a bystander, badly bruising his shoulder. Stepienfired another ball earthward, this time breaking the wrist of a pedestrian. Thenext pitch hit the street below the tower and bounced 40 feet in the air(calculations showed that the ball was traveling at 144 mph). At that point,bystanders began to flee for their lives, leaving a scene of twisted metal andmangled limbs.
No other eventgenerates the intensity of hype that the Super Bowl does every year, despitethe fact that with a few notable exceptions, the games themselves have beeneither badly played or dull. Last year more than 2,200 media credentials wereissued for Super Bowl XXII, which meant that for each of the men on the fieldfor the kickoff, there were 100 media people there to record his every thoughtand hiccup. The two weeks of interrogation that precede the Super Bowl cancreate a fairly apocalyptic atmosphere, which is how it came to pass in 1971that Dallas Cowboy running back Duane Thomas made his classic pronouncementabout the Super Bowl. Thomas did not speak often, but it was sometimes worththe wait. When asked if this was the ultimate game, he replied "Well,they're playing it next year, aren't they?"
Thomas was on theright track there, but he may have missed the larger point. "Here is thetruth of it," wrote Chicago Tribune columnist Bernie Lincicome a few yearslater. "The Super Bowl is the ultimate game because the press says it is.And the Super Bowl belongs to the press like no other sporting event."
None of thishappened by accident. When the Super Bowl came into existence in 1967, formerpublic relations man and NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle was the unchallengedczar of pro football. Rozelle's two top assistants, Jim Kensil and Don Weiss,were also p.r. men. Though the first Super Bowl was not a sellout and gotrelatively minimal press coverage, by 1973, when the unbeaten Dolphins met theRedskins in Los Angeles, The Washington Post sent 13 staffers to cover thegame. This was a watershed event in the history of hype, the point at whicheditorial overkill became the rule, not the exception. Because of the resultingpress bloat, the following year—and every year since—the players have beenrequired to sit behind little tables with their names on them for interviewsessions several times in the week before the game. "The press conferenceused to be kind of an informal thing," says Dolphin coach Don Shula,recalling a kinder, gentler America. "You'd sit around in the hotel lobbyand that would be the press conference."
Three years ago,the Chicago Tribune and The Boston Globe set a new standard for wretched excesswhen they were granted a combined total of 52 working press credentials for thePatriots-Bears Super Bowl in New Orleans. The Tribune, a paper that at no timehad more than three reporters in Vietnam, sent a crew of 28 to that game. TheSuper Bowl obviously isn't as important to the commonweal as war and peace, butit is the only event in American life besides the world wars upon which Romannumerals have been bestowed. Fred Dryer, then a defensive end with the LosAngeles Rams, got it about right when someone asked him in 1980 if the SuperBowl was as big as death. "Bigger," Dryer said. "At least it comesin a bigger box."
"I find ithard to believe anything is more overblown than the Super Bowl," says SanFrancisco 49er center Randy Cross, who expects to play in his third one thisyear. "It's a lot like a feeding frenzy with sharks."
The extra weekbetween the conference championship games and the Big One is always hardest onlinemen, largely because the press rarely has even the vaguest notion who anyof them are or what they do. But at the Super Bowl it doesn't really matter whoyou are or what you say, as long as you keep saying something. "It's likegoing to the dentist three times a week and having the same tooth filled,"Dolphin defensive tackle Manny Fernandez once said.
When the 49ersplayed the Dolphins in the 1985 Super Bowl at Stanford Stadium, just 30 milessouth of San Francisco, there occurred one of the great hype orgies of alltime. "An amazing number of trees had to die to feed it," says GlennSchwarz, sports editor of The San Francisco Examiner. "It bordered on theobscene." That border may have been crossed the following year when theGlobe devoted massive coverage to the meaningless buildup to the game and thengot caught in what sports editor Doria describes as "an extremely toughsituation" involving a drug story the Globe had but didn't run. The Patshad discovered that several of their players were using cocaine, and althoughthe Globe's Ron Borges caught wind of the story from sources on the team, heeventually agreed to hold it until after the season, which came when thePatriots lost the Super Bowl 46-10. "The one story that was there to be hadthat entire week didn't come out until two days after the Super Bowl," saysL.A. sports editor Dwyre. Which is not to say that Dwyre—or anyone else, forthat matter—invariably sees straight during the blizzard of Super Bowl hype.When the game was in Pasadena the following year, one of Dwyre's reportersspent her day covering the ladies' restroom.
GREAT MOMENTS INHYPE #4: Before the first 1987 meeting between the Seattle Seahawks and theDenver Broncos, Seattle linebacker Brian Bosworth announced that he wanted toinjure Denver quarterback John Elway. During that same week, thousands of Bozbuster T-shirts were sold in Denver—T-shirts manufactured by 44 Boz Inc., acompany owned by Brian Bosworth (who, out of the goodness of his heart, donatedthe profits to charity).
Major mediaevents generate their own kind of hyper-reality, in which no question is sotasteless that it can't be asked. At the World Series one year, a winningpitcher was explaining to the press that his wife had been unable to come tothe game because she was at home feeding their newborn baby. Without hesitatingfor even a moment, someone shouted out, "Breast or bottle?"
And players endup telling their life stories so often that a certain numbness finally sets in.When Oakland Raider quarterback Jim Plunkett made his first Super Bowlappearance, in 1981, one particularly earnest wire service reporter asked him,"For the record, Jim, is it blind mother, deaf father, or the other wayaround?"
The hunt for a"fresh" angle (defined at the Super Bowl as anything that hasn'talready been the theme of a Geraldo! show) often leads to roommates of starplayers, as Cincinnati offensive lineman Dave Lapham found out before the 1982Super Bowl. Lapham roomed with Ken Anderson, then the Bengals' quarterback, andhe was eager to oblige when reporters inquired about Anderson's personalhabits. Lapham told them what a meticulous person Anderson was, mentioning(apocryphally) how "he would even hang his socks on individual hangers inthe closet." This news, of course, spread like wildfire, and before dawnthe story was on doorsteps all over America. "All of a sudden we were theOdd Couple, Oscar and Felix," Lapham says. "He was the neat one, and Iwas the slob."
Quarterbacks aresuch obvious targets during Super Bowl week that John Elway spent almost hisentire stay last year in San Diego hiding in his hotel room, running up aroom-service bill of nearly $600, just to avoid the fans and press he knewwould be in the lobby. When he did emerge for one of the mandatory interviewsessions, Elway was immediately engulfed in a sticky sea of Minicams,microphones and mousse. From the moment he stepped onto the field at JackMurphy Stadium, where the interviews were held, reporters followed him step forstep as he strolled from one end zone to the other, pressing around him in apitched battle for position, so that if he should suddenly repeat somewitticism uttered by his room-service waiter, they could tell their editorsthey got it.
When Elwayfinally settled into a seat in the bleachers, the crowd around him expandeduntil its radius reached fully 40 feet. Then commenced a merciless grilling."What do you think of this crowd?" asked one flinty-eyed interrogator."How come we're all over here talking to you? Why are the defensive guysnot worth talking to?" While this was going on, a radio reporter wasflitting from player to player asking, "If you were a tree, what kind oftree would you want to be?"
Rozelle evidentlybelieves if that tree falls in the forest and there aren't at least 2,000journalists there to hear, it can't possibly make a sound. "The Super Bowl,a few people say, 'Well, it's hype....' " Rozelle said at his annualpre-Super Bowl State of the Game press conference a few years ago. "But Ithink it's tremendous. I've often said if the American public didn't have anentertaining emotional outlet, we'd have trouble. We'd be a sicksociety."
GREAT MOMENTS INHYPE #5: "I'd like to address myself to the five percent of you who aresick," said Evel Knievel, addressing himself, in fact, to the press. "Iknow who these people are, and after I make my jump, when I'm traveling aroundthe country, I'm going to see those sick people, and they're going to look intomy eyes and see my disgust for them, and they will get a lump in their throatsand a knot in their stomachs, and their chutes will not open."
"Uh-oh,"someone muttered, "Evel Knievel has an enemies list."
Less than a monthafter the resignation of Richard Nixon, Knievel had gone to Idaho to jump theSnake River Canyon on his so-called Sky-Cycle—a motorcycle dramaticallymodified so that it was more like a rocket, with fins and a parachute—and130-odd reporters had gone along for the ride. At some point in this endeavor,however, the hype had not only taken on a life of its own, but it had alsobegun to create its own strange reality. On the day of the jump, for instance,the promoters estimated the size of the multitudes around the canyon rim andmade provisions to "evacuate" the press from the launch site byhelicopter because of the massive crowds supposedly choking the exit roads.Almost everyone wrote about these throngs, but they were never there. The statepolice later put the size of the crowd at about 13,000—a realistic estimate—butreporters, faced with a choice between believing the hype or believing theirown eyes, went with the hype almost every time.
An hour beforethe jump, Knievel made his peace with the press, saying he had counted up allthe good things about them and all the bad things about them, and the good hadoutnumbered the bad a million to three. "A million to three?" onereporter grumbled. "I guess the late returns haven't been countedyet."
All of this hasproduced a lot of thumb-sucking in newsrooms and at press seminars. At the APSports Editors' conference in Kings Island, Ohio, in 1985, a panel was convenedto try to answer the question "How much is too much?" The sportseditors of some of the foremost newspapers in America were called upon toexplain their suffocating coverage of major events. "We were all therebecause we had allegedly overdone something," says Dwyre. The debateeventually degenerated into self-justification and ended in chaos when thepanelists finally refused even to acknowledge there was a problem.
GREAT MOMENTS INHYPE #6: "I think Bill Veeck was the founding father of hype," says TimLeiweke, a vice-president of the Minnesota Timber-wolves, an NBA expansion teamthat will begin play next season. "He knew how to create an atmosphere foran event and still not overwhelm the event itself. For the most part."Leiweke hesitates for a moment, then adds mournfully, "Disco DemolitionNight crossed the line."
Veeck was ownerof the Chicago White Sox in 1979 when a disc jockey at an album rock stationwho abhorred disco music proposed the idea of admitting to Comiskey Park for98¬¨¬®¬¨¢ each fan who brought a disco record to be blown up on the field betweengames of a July 12 doubleheader with the Detroit Tigers. The promotion drew asellout crowd of more than 50,000, many of whom began tossing firecrackers andrecords onto the field during the first game. After the game, the detonation ofthousands of records in a giant container in the outfield touched off a meleeduring which an estimated 7,000 fans poured onto the playing field. A stunnedWhite Sox spokesman later reported clashes between disco and antidiscogroups.
"This is ourgeneration's cause," one antidisco firebrand said. After a 76-minute delayand 37 arrests, the umpires declared the field unplayable, and the Sox had toforfeit the second game.
"Hi, it'sSuzy Chaffee!" says Suzy Chaffee, sounding for a moment as if she can'tquite believe it herself. She's speaking to the maitre d' of an excruciatinglyfashionable restaurant in Santa Monica, the sort of place that's on the cuttingedge of Eurotrash cuisine and hostile valet parking. They know her there, shehad announced, her voice pealing like a bell, as she dialed the phone. "I'mhaving lunch with Sports Illustrated, and I need a table for two!" she nowexplains to the ma‚Äö√†√∂‚àö√útre d'. There's a long silence. Then, in a slightly moresubdued voice, she says again, "Chaffee."
Again there is alengthy pause. An unpleasant kind of recognition has begun to settle in."E-E," she says at last.
Chaffee was oneof the favorites to win the gold medal in the women's downhill at the 1968.Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France. On the day of her race, however, she usedthe wrong wax on her skis and finished 28th. "But I still got thesecond-most publicity of anybody there," Chaffee says, "next to PeggyFleming."
Chaffee had spenther entire life preparing for this odd achievement, studying advertising,photography, cinematography, acting and journalism in school—"all thethings I would need later," she says. "I had to take totalresponsibility for my career. I studied photography so that now I can take anonphotographer and line up a totally hot shot."
It hasn't alwaysbeen easy. Several years ago, when filmmaker Warren Miller was shooting one ofhis annual ski movies in Vail, Colo., Chaffee kept barging into his shots,wearing a skintight bodysuit with 10-foot colored streamers flapping from herarms and legs. At one point she kicked a ski back behind her head in a maneuvercalled a Reuel and got it tangled in her ribbons while she was moving at highspeed. "I thought, Oh, great, I'm going to die doing this for this jerk whodoesn't even give a——," Chaffee says.
She promotedherself so hard that if—within 10 years of the Grenoble Games—you had askedmost Americans which of their countrywomen had the most Olympic skiing medals,they might very well have answered Suzy Chapstick (confusing Chaffee's realname with the one she used in her most conspicuous product endorsement). Whenshe participated in the drafting of a highly critical 10-point reform plan forthe Olympics in 1972, she was confronted by an outraged Avery Brundage, thenpresident of the International Olympic Committee. "You perjuredyourself," Brundage admonished her, referring to the Olympic oath she tookin order to be eligible, which stated, among other things, that she had notbeen in a training camp for more than 60 days in the past year and had receivedno government or private funding. "If you did that, you must give back yourmedals."
"But, Avery,I have no medals," she replied. "I have only principles."
Chaffee hasworked tirelessly for worthy causes. She claims rumors that she was having anaffair with Teddy Kennedy helped get the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 passed bythe Congress. "The gossip got the bill through," Chaffee says. She'ssmiling now, absentmindedly pushing a sun-dried tomato around her plate."One thing I've inadvertently done is be controversial," she says."Unfortunately, people's ears weren't always open to the intellectual side,so I had to lean a little more toward the sex appeal side. If there's one thingI've learned about the hype that's involved, you have to give a little to get alittle."
And with thatshe's off to valet parking. Waiting for her car, Chaffee notices a group ofraffish homeless men who have taken up residence in seaside Palisades Park,just across the street from the restaurant. "They look like they're havingfun out there," she says cheerfully, "camping out on the beach!"She waves, she smiles, then she's gone.
Don't believe the hype.