THE RIDE OF HIS LIFE
After stunning the cycling cosmos in 1993 by winning the world
road race championship in Oslo at age 21, Lance Armstrong was
invited to meet the king of Norway. When Armstrong learned that
the invitation did not include his mother, who was traveling
with him, he angrily declined. Said the audacious young Texan,
"You don't check your mother at the door."
It is this brashness, coupled with immense talent, that has made
Armstrong such a compelling performer. His trademark tenacity
will be crucial as he confronts the challenge of his life. Last
week Armstrong, America's premier road cyclist, revealed he has
testicular cancer, which has spread to his abdomen and lungs. On
Oct. 2 Armstrong felt severe pain in one of his testicles and
coughed up blood. He had been aware of the enlarged testicle for
at least three years, but he had never felt any pain. An X-ray
revealed the cancer, and a CAT scan confirmed it. The malignant
testicle was removed the next day. Armstrong has begun 12 weeks
Armstrong can draw encouragement from the examples of St. Louis
Cardinals infielder Mike Gallego, former Philadelphia Phillies
first baseman John Kruk and miler Steve Scott, all of whom are
in good health after having had cancerous testicles removed. The
recovery rate for this type of cancer is estimated at 97%. And
even though Armstrong's has spread, doctors put his chances of
recovery at 65% to 85%.
In the days since Armstrong's announcement, cycling cognoscenti
have been buzzing with speculation that performance-enhancing
drugs, long a shadowy part of competitive cycling, might have
played a role in Armstrong's illness. Armstrong himself, who has
never tested positive or in any way been implicated in drug use,
has not addressed the question, and Dr. Gary I. Wadler of
Cornell, an expert on athletes and drugs, says there is "no
evidence" linking drugs and testicular cancer.
The most encouraging aspect of Armstrong's announcement was his
clear determination to beat the cancer. "I might have a bald
head and might not be as fast," says Armstrong, "but I'll be out
there. I'm going to race again."
NO HEAVY LIFTING
Four former batboys for the Detroit Tigers have filed a federal
lawsuit charging that the team exploited them. The boys, who
worked for the Tigers between 1990 and '96, charge that, among
other things, they were made to work long hours without overtime
pay. Neither side will comment with the suit still pending. But
considering the way the Tigers, who were last in the American
League in hitting, used their lumber this season, it's clear
that no Detroit batboys have been overworked lately.
A BOMB DROPS ON BASEBALL
Last week the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks signed free-agent
first baseman Travis Lee to a four-year, $10 million deal, which
included a $5 million signing bonus. And a couple of dozen big
league general managers grabbed their throats. After all,
baseball--unlike the NFL and the NBA--isn't used to handing out
megadollars to players before they even set foot in a pro locker
Lee, 21, is a former San Diego State star who hit .385 with one
home run and seven RBIs with the U.S. Olympic team last summer.
The commissioner's office declared him a free agent in August
after the Minnesota Twins, who had made him the second pick in
the June draft, failed to tender a formally executed contract
within 15 days of the draft.
Why didn't they? The Twins, and many other teams, were not
familiar with the 15-day rule, which was passed after the 1990
season by the Player Relations Committee but not, according to
some teams, adequately communicated to them. Still, Major League
Rule Number 4(e) does appear in the Professional Baseball Rules
Book, so teams did have access to it, just as agents did. It's
another example of a rudderless baseball ship crashing on the
The question is whether Lee's signing is an anamoly. "It's
indicative of what teams are willing to pay if forced to compete
for top amateur talent," says Lee's attorney, Jeff Moorad. Well,
he would say that. But Moorad says that the Phillies and another
team, which he would not name, were willing to match the
Diamondback offer and that 21 teams altogether made "serious"
bids for his client, who's considered a can't-miss prospect.
(Lee chose the Diamondbacks largely because of the money and
because he almost certainly will be on their major league roster
from Day One.) For its part, Arizona felt it could afford to
take a chance on Lee; the Diamondbacks don't begin play until
1998, and they want a young star to help jump-start the franchise.
Lee's deal sent shock waves through the sport. In August the No.
1 pick, Clemson pitcher Kris Benson, was signed to a contract
worth $2 million by the Pittsburgh Pirates, and some baseball
executives thought that was too much. Baltimore Orioles
assistant general manager Kevin Malone, whose team offered one
third of what Arizona gave Lee, said that the Diamondbacks'
decision to open the vault for Lee was "insanity" and
"embarrassing." Acting commissioner Bud Selig said he was
"stunned." Remember Oct. 10, 1996. It may go down as the day the
economics of baseball changed forever.
THE COSBIE SHOW
The football coaching staff at Menlo College, a tiny Division
III school located just outside San Francisco, features former
Dallas Cowboys All-Pro tight end Doug Cosbie as head coach,
former San Francisco 49ers fullback Tom Rathman as offensive
coordinator, former All-Pro Niners linebacker Keena Turner as
defensive assistant and Craig Walsh, son of Hall of Famer Bill
Walsh, as receivers coach. Among them, they have played in four
Pro Bowls and own six Super Bowl rings. Together they've turned
the Menlo football program around.
Including an 0-9 record in '95, the Menlo Oaks had gone 2-24-1
since 1993. With an enrollment of 500, Menlo is one of the two
smallest NCAA schools to have a football team--the other is
Principia College in Elsah, Ill.--and it offers no athletic
scholarships. Administrators were considering shelving the
program when Cosbie, a Bay Area native, stepped in. In April,
despite an earlier offer to join the Philadelphia Eagles as an
assistant, he took the job as Menlo's athletic director and
coach, partly because of the challenge and partly because he
wanted to settle with his wife and five kids in the area. Cosbie
hired Walsh and then persuaded Rathman and Turner to volunteer
their time and effort to help resurrect the Oaks. "It was like
The Blues Brothers," Cosbie says, referring to Jake and Elwood
reuniting their band. "Except we didn't have the old Cadillac."
Thus far, Menlo has been humming like a fine-tuned Rolls.
Bolstered by 14 junior college transfers, the Oaks opened the
season with their first shutout since 1988, a 21-0 win over
Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, and are now 4-1 after last Saturday's
31-28 victory over Pomona-Pitzer. Cosbie and his staff run
tightly organized practices and have installed elements of the
49ers' West Coast offense.
"At first, I was like, Why would they come here?" says senior
running back Jim-Jim Grimes. "Now I'm just glad they did.
They've played in the Show. When they tell you something, you
A ROAD TOO FAR
To honor a native son, Klamath Falls, Ore., has renamed a street
Dan O'Brien Way. Nice gesture, but perhaps officials could have
found a shorter stretch of road for the Olympic decathlon champ.
The eponymous street is almost exactly 1,500 meters long, the
same distance as the decathlon's grueling final event, which is
O'Brien's bete noire. In recent decathlons O'Brien has gasped
and slogged his way through the 1,500 and consequently been
unable to break his world record. Says Mike Keller, O'Brien's
coach, "At least they didn't pick a dead end."
The term auto racing academe may sound like an oxymoron, but it
isn't--at least not anymore. Clemson has become the first
university to offer graduate-level training in motor-sports
engineering, and it hopes eventually to develop an
interdisciplinary motor-sports curriculum for undergraduates
that will include courses in the management, marketing and
communications of the racing business. Clemson's foray into
high-octane academics comes at a time when stereotypical grease
monkeys are fast disappearing from auto racing. College-educated
crew members are hotter commodities than talented drivers. The
leading NASCAR team, Hendrick Motorsports, employs six staff
engineers. Bobby Hutchins, an NC State mechanical-engineering
grad and computer whiz, is manager and engineer for seven-time
Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt. "We're forming a second
team," says Hutchins, "and this program's putting out just the
kind of people we'll be looking for. I wish it had been around
when I was going to school."
Although the school's educational purpose "is not to create race
engineers," says program director James Kasprzak, "we are
attracting a lot of people who are interested in going into the
motor-sports industry." Clemson started the program 18 months
ago with five students. The intent was to create a sort of boot
camp for graduate students in mechanical engineering by
assigning them to crucial, tight-deadline projects with racing
teams, particularly in NASCAR. "It puts them in the crucible,"
says Kasprzak, who believes that one project in a racing
environment--students work with the teams in the garage and at
the track--can be worth up to three years' experience in the
automotive industry at large.
The program has already produced one racing engineer, Greg Erwin
of Sabco Racing. Twelve students are now in the program, which
is being funded by a $300,000-a-year grant from Ford and a $2.5
million endowment from Clemson alumnus Robert Brooks, the owner
of the Hooters restaurant chain. Brooks gave the money in memory
of his son, Mark, a Clemson graduate and racing buff who was
killed in a plane crash along with Winston Cup champion Alan
Kulwicki in 1993.
"You've got to have more than the run-of-the-mill mechanic from
Joe's Garage," says veteran NASCAR crew chief Richard Broome.
"If you find someone with mechanical engineering education
combined with racing experience, that's ideal."
Amount, in dollars, given Penn State by alum and Carolina
Panthers quarterback Kerry Collins, to endow a scholarship for
Record amount, in dollars, paid by a United Arab Emirates man
for Bint Hamloul, a renowned racing camel.
Intentional walks issued to Yomiuri Giants' Hideki Matsui by
Chunichi Dragons pitchers in season-ending game to ensure that
the Dragons' Takeshi Yamasaki would win Japanese Central League
home run crown.
Members of Argentina's show-jumping team at the Atlanta Olympics
suspended last week by the International Equestrian Federation
for training their horses by taking them over obstacles that had
protruding wire and nails.
Shirts sold in the past 64 years by the sportswear firm founded
by Rene Lacoste, a two-time Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion
known as Le Crocodile, who died last week at 92.
In this year of mad cows and romping royals, an amateur golf
tournament has become the focus of an unlikely media blitz in
Great Britain, as papers from the Times to the tabs have
followed the plight of a mother-and-son twosome from West Kirby
in Cheshire. The good news is that--thanks to all the
attention--the grand British tradition of decency and fair play
has won out once again over the grand British tradition of
snobbery and discrimination.
In August, Audrey Briggs and her 13-year-old son, Laurie,
entered a father-daughter/mother-son tournament at the Burhill
Golf Club in Walton-on-Thames. Audrey, a four-time Welsh ladies'
champion, and Laurie, a 15 handicapper, performed well enough to
reach the third round. But their tournament ended suddenly when
a competitor wrote anonymously to Burhill's club secretary, Dick
Richards, saying that the Briggses should be disqualified
because Laurie is adopted. Richards agreed, telling the Briggses
that the competition "is open only to mothers and fathers with
natural sons and daughters."
Audrey said that no restriction was mentioned beforehand.
Richards replied that while the disappointment of the family
"touched" him, the decision stood. According to Audrey, Laurie,
who was adopted as an infant in Brazil, handled the ouster
fairly well, putting it down to "grown-ups behaving very oddly."
The rest of the nation was not so forgiving. burhill ban
breaches spirit of game headlined The Daily Telegraph, which
also parodied snobbish golfers (above), while the Evening
Standard shouted why the world would be a better place without
golf, above an editorial decrying the incident. In the face of
the storm, club captain Vince Dean announced Burhill's retreat
(meanies in golf u-turn whooped the Daily Record), saying that
"fresh rules and regulations are going to be drawn up and our
priority will be to ask Audrey Briggs and her son to come back
and play next year." Audrey said the Briggses would return in
1997. As for Laurie, the whole fuss still seemed pointless. "My
mum," he said, "is my mum."
RISE OF A CATCHING STAR
He has already made headlines in the Big Apple tabloids, chatted
with Regis and Kathy Lee, and been pardoned by New York governor
George Pataki. What's next for Jeff Maier, the 12-year-old
Yankees fan whose from-the-stands near catch of a Derek Jeter
fly ball turned a possible out into a home run in Game 1 of the
American League Championship Series? Given the arc of instant
celebrityhood these days, here's what might be in store for
Oct. 24, 1996: Shooting begins for USA Network biopic The Kid in
Dec. 8, 1996: Endorses No Excuses jeans.
Jan. 1, 1997: Spotted at Soho eatery with Friends fox Courtney
Feb. 26, 1997: Dates Elaine during guest spot on Seinfeld.
April 1, 1997: Jams onstage at Viper Room in Los Angeles with
Oct. 1, 1997: Hosts party celebrating publication of humorous
autobiography, Catcher in the Wry.
Oct. 25, 1997: Hawks $79.95 reproductions of celebrated glove on
Feb. 3, 1998: Hired by George Steinbrenner as "special
Feb. 10, 1998: Fired by Steinbrenner.
March 10, 1999: Subject of "Where Are They Now?" retrospective
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
The Juanita (Fla.) Babe Ruth League, which is for players 14 to
16 years old, last week held a bikini contest as a fund-raiser.
Associate pastor at Percy Street Christian Church in Greenwood,
Miss., and the man inside the mascot suit for Mississippi Valley
State, responding to critics who have denounced him for
portraying the Delta Devil: "They have to realize that I am in a
devil uniform, but the devil is not in me."