Feb. 28, 1994
Feb. 28, 1994

Table of Contents
Feb. 28, 1994

The Winter Olympics
Auto Racing
SI 40th Anniversary
John Chaney
Point After


Edited by Jack McCallum

Neighborly Attitude

This is an article from the Feb. 28, 1994 issue Original Layout

Sure, winter-sports-mad Norwegians are proud of the Olympic successes of their country's athletes, but they seem to be getting at least as big a kick out of the failures of athletes from neighboring Sweden—who through Sunday had won no medals. After Thomas Alsgaard won the 30K cross-country race on Feb. 14, for Norway's second gold and fifth medal overall, the headline in the Norwegian tabloid Dagbladet read: NORWAY LEADS; SWEDES TIED WITH FIJI.

The Scandinavian rivalry has deep and bitter roots; this time it's a case of little brother Norway—its population is half the size of Sweden's—getting in a dig at big brother Sweden. From 1814 to 1905 the two nations were united. The Norwegians seceded because they felt Sweden had become too dominant. "Now," says Niclas Andersson, a reporter with the Swedish newspaper Expressen, "people are saying we never should have let them go."

On Monday, Pernilla Wiberg finally broke the Swedish drought with her gold medal performance in the women's Alpine combined. And the Swedish hockey team was, as of Monday, still alive, having advanced to the medal round. Still, with the Norwegian medal count standing at 15, including eight golds, the Swedes may have to content themselves with having at least outdone the Fijians: The Fiji team—cross-country skier Rusiate Rogoyawa—is done for the Games.

The Name Game

And now for this week's rock-and-roll sports news.

A Canadian rock group called DropKick Me Jesus has been fighting the Canadian government over its name, which is taken from a 1976 country music song by Bobby Bare that includes the lyrics: "Drop kick me. Jesus, through the goalposts life/End over end, neither left nor right Straight through the heart of them righteous uprights." Canadian musical groups must register their names with the government's Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations to establish themselves as "legitimate businesses." and the government at first refused to grant the DropKickers a license to perform. Said a spokesman: "The name is not acceptable for registration because it invokes violence in a religious context and is considered scandalous and contrary to public policy." Whew! Quite a mouthful about the ol' drop kick, which hasn't been used much in the last half century. Anyway, the government later relented and allowed the DropKickers to suit up.

Meanwhile, back in the States, where a group can call itself anything. Dock Ellis is a popular draw on the Cincinnati club scene. The group chose its name in honor of the former big league pitcher who has admitted that he was sometimes high on drugs on the mound during the 1960s and '70s. Explained lead singer Dan Reed: "Dock Ellis had the greatest sporting achievement of the 20th century, as far as I'm concerned. He pitched a no-hitter on acid."

A Troubled Legend

At week's end it still had not been determined whether Diego Maradona, once the world's best soccer player and now the sport's best one-man soap opera, would play for Argentina in the World Cup this summer. Maradona, 33, says he is fit and ready to go, but his actions over the past few weeks suggest a man in need of help rather than one who should be exposed to the World Cup pressure cooker.

"Someone must make Maradona get therapeutic assistance," sports psychologist Justo Boheck told Clarín, an Argentine daily. And Oscar Mangione, another psychologist who works with Argentine athletes, said Maradona's actions could become dangerous.

Actually, they already have. On Feb. 2 Maradona leaned against his Mercedes Benz 300 and fired a pellet gun at reporters camped outside his luxury compound in Moreno, a suburb of Buenos Aires. Five journalists suffered minor injuries, and Maradona faces charges of inflicting bodily harm. (A conviction carries a sentence of one month to two years, though it is usually suspended.) After firing at the reporters, Maradona went to the gate and warned them that next time he would use real bullets. Later the same day he hosed down a camera crew filing a report from atop a truck. Five days later, after he escaped to the quiet beach resort of Mari-sol. he reportedly helped six other men, members of his entourage, beat up photographer Jose Mateos of Clarín. No criminal charges were filed.

Maradona, unquestionably the game's most talented player in the '80s, was already in decline by April '91, when he was arrested for cocaine possession. A series of ill-fated comebacks followed, but he was invariably out of shape or out of favor with his coaches. He did perform reasonably well in November when he helped Argentina qualify for the World Cup, but then, suddenly, on Jan. 26 he went AWOL from Newell's Old Boys, his club team in Argentina, and retreated to Moreno. Journalists pursued him, and the latest incidents, more snapshots from the crumbling career of a global superstar, followed.

Maradona's soccer future is in the hands of Argentina coach Alfio Basile, who has been mute on the subject. Maradona says he is ready to go. "I have all my batteries ready to play in the World Cup," he says. His batteries aren't the issue, however. His marbles are.

Doctored Deals

Here's a tip as you ponder the trades announced before the Feb. 24 trading deadline in the NBA: No deal is a done deal until all the players involved bring a note from their doctor. Or, more to the point, from their new team's doctor.

Two NBA trades this month have been nullified when one of the players flunked a physical with his prospective employer. On Feb. 4 the Detroit Pistons sent forward Sean Elliott to the Houston Rockets for forwards Robert Horry and Matt Bullard and a draft pick, but the Rockets sent Elliott back two days later after a physical turned up a kidney infection. A Feb. 18 trade sent Sacramento King center Duane Causwell to Detroit for center Olden Polynice and forward David Wood, but all parties involved had to go back whence they came when Causwell failed a Detroit physical because of what a Piston spokesman termed "a preexisting condition." The speculation was that Causwell's chronic foot ailments—he has missed parts of the last two seasons with stress fractures in his left foot—were the stumbling block.

Strangely, both players who flunked their physicals were healthy enough to go back and play for their old teams. Elliott returned to the Piston lineup last week, and Causwell was scheduled to play for the Kings on Monday night against the Phoenix Suns. (Meanwhile, Sacramento acquired Polynice for center Pete Chilcutt and a draft choice.) Elliott and Causwell are either healthy enough to play or they're not, and if they are, the trades should have gone through. Detroit coach Don Chancy suggested that the Rockets might have backed out of the Elliott deal because ""they got cold feet."

In any case, the two incidents suggest that the system should be changed in some manner. First, trades should not be announced until all physicals are passed. And second, physicals of traded players ought to be conducted by impartial medical personnel, not by physicians from the traded players' new teams. That would help avoid any finger-pointing as well as the awkwardness of returning traded players to a team that only days before considered them expendable.

A Man of Influence

Between 1945 and '69, far from the eyes and cars of mainstream America, Alonzo Smith (Jake) Gaither won more football games and built more character than just about any other coach in the country. Though Gaither, who died last week at 90, will be best remembered for something he said—"I like my players mobile, agile and hostile" was his line—it was the things he did while coaching at Florida A&M that stamped him as unique.

On the field he advanced the T-formation by splitting his offensive linemen, a stratagem detailed in his 1963 book Split-Line T. In that respect, his coaching was both seminal and Seminole: Florida State's Bobby Bowden was among the legion of coaches who learned from him. And off the field Gaither's quiet, eloquent manner—gleaned, perhaps, from his father, J.D., a well-known Methodist minister in Tennessee, or from the lawyers he heard pleading in the courthouses he hung around in his youth or from four years of debating at Knoxville College—made him a revered figure on A&M's Tallahassee campus, where he was called Poppa Gaither. Florida governor LeRoy Collins, for example, often turned to Gaither for counsel during the civil rights turmoil of the 1950s and '60s. Some of Gaither's detractors called him an Uncle Tom, but the consensus was that he served his own aims by charming white politicians and was, as his biographer. Roosevelt Wilson, put it, a "good lobbyist" on behalf of the college.

Gaither, who survived a 1942 operation that removed two malignant tumors from his brain, preferred to be remembered for what he did between the lines. "I can teach a lot more character winning than I can losing," he said. His record was 203-36-4, including unbeaten seasons in 1957, '59 and '61. If the average fan didn't know him, the pros did: The 42 players he sent to the NFL included Bob Hayes and Willie Galimore.

After voluntarily giving up coaching in 1969, Gaither stayed on as athletic director at Florida A&M until '73. His retirement speech was characteristically brief and eloquent.

"People keep talking about what I've done for football and Florida A&M," he said. "But A&M and football have done everything for me. God bless you all."

Master of the Mile

On Sunday afternoon at the Massachusetts state high school indoor meet, as 3,000 high school athletes screamed themselves hoarse, Eamonn Coghlan ran his 41-year-old legs into track history. In a specially organized masters mile on Harvard's speedy 220-yard banked-board oval track, Coghlan followed his rabbit, half-miler Stanley Redwine, through the half in 1:59.76 and the three quarters in 2:59.21. Redwine then dropped out, leaving Coghlan to run a deafening gantlet. He stopped the clock in 3:58.15, making him the first runner 40 or older to break the four-minute barrier. Fittingly, Coghlan's feat came 40 years after Roger Bannister first broke four minutes.

The preparation for his landmark effort took a heavy toll on Coghlan, 11 years removed from his still-standing world-indoor record of 3:49.78. In early December he flew to Gainesville, Fla., to train while his wife, Yvonne, and their four children stayed home in Dublin. "I missed my son's rugby season," Coghlan said wistfully earlier this winter. "I missed his soccer season." When his chronically sore left leg began to hurt, Coghlan stepped up his physical-therapy regimen to two hours a day, six days a week and regained some of his speed.

Coghlan had originally planned to use the Harvard race as a tune-up, with his big effort to follow at the USA/Mobil Indoor Championships in Atlanta in early March. But he was finally persuaded not to waste an opportunity on a track as famously fast as Harvard's. "That rekindled my gut feeling to go for it every time," said Coghlan.

It's hard to say whether more 40-year-olds will soon match or better Coghlan's standard, much as the four-minute floodgates opened after Bannister's feat. But this 3:58.15 will always be a wondrous mark to behold.

Doubles Match
Is Mary Pierce, the world's 12th-ranked woman tennis player, copying top-ranked Steffi Graf's move from baseline to hemline? A recent press release trumpets the 19-year-old Pierce's modeling debut: "Mary comes into her own as a person with a captivating fashion layout in the February 1994 issue of TennisMatch magazine." Her own? We'd swear we've seen that dècolletage somewhere before. Compare Pierce's pose (left) to Graf's dip in the April 1990 issue of Vogue. Advantage Ms. Graf.


•Rumors have been circulating for several weeks that Rick White, president of Major League Baseball Properties, has been fired, even though he led baseball's licensing division through its most profitable era ever. Sources in and out of the game say they've heard that White has been let go for "personal reasons," and newspaper reports suggest that he and his lawyers are trying to negotiate a settlement with Major League Baseball. But nothing official has been announced, and baseball spokesman Rich Levin says White still has his job. Calls placed to White's office were not returned. Only this much is clear: Baseball will be losing big if White goes.

•Slide on over, Nancy and Tonya. The real battle in Lillehammer is between credit card giants Visa and American Express. The IOC last week denounced American Express for "ambush marketing," pointing to an Amex ad that promises, "If you're traveling to Norway, you'll need a passport, but you won't need a Visa." However, Visa, as one of 12 corporations that have each paid as much as $40 million to the IOC, does have exclusive rights to provide credit card services at the Games, a fact Visa repeatedly touts in its own don't-bring-your-American-Express ads. While Amex contends that Visa is using the Games to "bash" its rival and points out that American Express has been in Norway since 1916, the IOC is unmoved. Says IOC board member Dick Pound, "It appears to be American Express...corporate policy to try to appropriate the goodwill of the Olympics without in any way supporting them."


This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us

A Minneapolis lawyer, David Anderson, is marketing the Tonya Tapper, a product he describes as a metal baton with a rubber grip to be used as "a nonlethal defensive device."

They Said It

Ed Lynch
New York Met executive: "There's something about Nancy Kerrigan that reminds me of Ryne Sandberg, and something about Tonya Harding that reminds me of Lenny Dykstra."