MAN OF THE GAME
SI senior writer Paul Zimmerman, who has covered the NFL since
1960, recalls former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, who died of
brain cancer last Friday at age 70.
I read the obits of Pete Rozelle, and, yes, he saved the NFL
from self-destruction, and, yes, he was skilled at Washington
lobbying, and, yes, he whipped the TV networks into line, but in
everything I read there was something missing. Pete was at heart
a fan, the best kind, the kind driven by a love of the game.
When he was named commissioner in 1960, Pete was 33, a p.r. man
turned general manager of the Los Angeles Rams. During his
29-year reign, the NFL grew from 12 teams to 28, becoming the
country's richest, most popular sport. He'll be remembered for
those accomplishments, as well as for overseeing the merger of
the NFL and the AFL, creating the Super Bowl and Monday night
football, and introducing revenue sharing to the league.
December 16, 1996
But I'll remember him as I saw him at a party in the '70s. It
was a few days before the Minnesota Vikings were to play the San
Francisco 49ers. I knew that Pete, as a West Coast guy, was into
the 49ers, so I asked him what he thought about the game.
"You've got to love the Niners," he said. "I mean, they can run
the ball." Just two guys talking off the cuff.
In 1969 Pete forced New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath to sell
his part-ownership in the Manhattan nightclub Bachelors III, a
notorious hangout for gamblers and other types deemed
undesirable by the league. Oh, my, the hand-wringing that went
up over that one. One of Namath's teammates, wide receiver
George Sauer, threatened to quit football if Namath were
suspended. You heard the word dictator every five minutes. So I
went to see Pete. What's the deal?
"I saved the guy from getting busted," he said. "The FBI had the
place under surveillance, and when I got Joe out of it, this FBI
guy called me and said, 'You fouled up our whole operation. We
were getting ready to move in.' Well, screw him. I don't want
Joe Namath in an FBI lineup."
Yes, Pete could be rough and a little crude. Once, at a
pre-Super Bowl press conference in the late 1960s, an NFL
spokesman, some facts-and-figures guy, was talking about how
football was becoming the No. 1 spectator sport. Pete was
standing next to the podium, and a couple of old-timer
journalists, Dick Young of the New York Daily News and Jimmy
Cannon of the Hearst syndicate, started pressing the spokesman
on how much of this interest came from the betting public. They
were really working the guy over, and he was going through a tap
dance. Finally Pete couldn't stand it anymore. He threw a hip
into the guy, knocked him about three feet and took over
handling the questions. No "excuse me" or anything. It was time
to get serious. I was sitting next to Dave Anderson of The New
York Times, and we both burst out laughing. "That's Pete," he
That was Pete all right: a powerhouse of a commissioner but also
human. And he loved the game.
WAR OF NERVES
There's nothing like putting. Is it an art? A science? A leading
cause of divorce? Or is it "the great equalizer," which is what
PGA Tour veteran Payne Stewart called it last week at the first
Compaq World Putting Championship in Orlando. That was after
getting, by his description, his "butt kicked for nine holes" by
a 4'7", 75-pound 13-year-old who was not even wearing knickers.
Whatever, this two-day, 72-hole, nothin'-but-puttin' event at
Walt Disney World's Bonnet Creek Golf Club was a gloriously
The winner was Len Mattiace, a 29-year-old PGA Tour player whose
final-day 73, one over par for 36 holes, earned him $250,000 and
the right to call himself "the world's best putter." He isn't,
of course. The format (three games, the hardest of which
required a player who had missed a putt to move the ball two
club lengths farther from the hole than where it stopped) had
little to do with standing on the 72nd green of the U.S. Open
needing to two-putt from 50 feet to win. But the competition was
a test of nerves and touch for the 163 Orlando finalists, among
them 24 PGA, 17 LPGA and 10 Senior tour players. Most of the
rest were rank-and-file amateurs who had emerged from the
thousands who had competed in qualifying rounds at some 1,200
clubs across the country.
Everyone putted the same holes from the same distances, with no
handicaps. And no windmills. First-round exits included Mike
(Ace Machine) Brown, 27, the national Putt-Putt champ, and
Shirley Stephens, a 61-year-old grandmother from Great Falls,
Mont. The younger generation, however, was well represented by
the 13-year-old, Derek Penman of Salt Lake City, who beat LPGA
veteran Caroline Keggi in sudden death to advance to the second
round, in which he was paired with Stewart. The unflappable
Derek beat Stewart 18-20 for nine holes of the 27-hole round
before Stewart rallied to outputt Derek 62-73 and save face.
"Nah, I wasn't nervous," said Derek afterward. "I guess he has a
step on me, for now."
Nervous doesn't begin to describe the state of LPGA player Jan
Stephenson. On the event's last hole, playing with Tom Kite,
Stephenson took a humiliating 13 on an undulating, 39-foot
layout. The crowd around the green was hushed and other
competitors gawked in horror when Stephenson, in tears, dropped
a sidehill six-footer for the baker's dozen. Kite didn't fare
much better, with an 8. "I've only suffered like this once
before in golf, when I blew a tournament," said Stephenson,
still crying and wrapped in her boyfriend's arms. "That was the
only time I've ever gotten drunk. I think I might get drunk
Putting will do that to you.
The 600 fifth- and sixth-graders at Amber Terrace School in
DeSoto, Texas, were thrilled when Emmitt Smith showed up at an
assembly last week. Smith was the guest of Mark Krasinski, 10,
who had won the running back's companionship in a take-a-player-
to-school contest. And the school certainly did everything to
make the Cowboy feel at home. He was introduced to the assembly
by guidance counselor Chanda Emmitte and by principal Rod Smith.
THE SOUND, THE FURY
The racist outburst on Nov. 30 by former Mississippi state
senator Brad Lott would have sent shock waves regardless of
where it had occurred or who had screamed the words. That the
tirade came from a prominent Mississippian during an Ole Miss
football game at the Oxford campus made the incident all the
With 45 seconds left in Mississippi State's 17-0 win over
Mississippi, Lott, 33, who served in the legislature from 1992
until last January, descended from the stands to a fence 20
yards from the field. For nearly a minute he screamed furiously
at State noseguard Eric Dotson, cursing him and threatening to
"get" him. He repeatedly called Dotson "nigger."
Lott's racist rage was apparently ignited by a 1994 NCAA
investigation during which Dotson, a recruit from Pascagoula
High, said that Lott, a zealous Ole Miss booster, had given him
free meals and car rides. The allegations are one reason that
Mississippi is in the midst of a four-year probation and lost 24
scholarships in '95 and '96.
In the face of public outcry, Lott last Saturday resigned his
seat on the board of the Jackson County Port Authority. For its
part, Ole Miss has formally disassociated itself from Lott. "We
won't accept money from him, we won't communicate with him,"
says Mississippi athletic director Pete Boone. "It's frustrating
because we've come so far, and then an isolated incident makes
people recall the racism in our history."
Even now, Ole Miss has a reputation for hostility toward blacks.
"I'd never been called the n word until we played there," says
Dotson. "At the [Nov. 30] game I saw a woman in the stands
making ape gestures and pig noises at the black players."
The Confederate flag is still waved by many fans at Mississippi
games, and the school mascot is a goateed white man called
Colonel Rebel. "Only a child could do what Lott did, so I don't
take him seriously," says Dotson. "And I feel sorry for some of
the people at Ole Miss because there are good people there. But
in 1992 I came to a game there when I was thinking about signing
with Mississippi. An Ole Miss player fumbled and somebody in the
stands shouted, 'Get that nigger out of the game.' I knew I
could never go to that school."
AN OLYMPIC SAGA
One of the biggest winners at the Atlanta Olympics never
competed in the Games. Gabriel Mazimpaka, 22, a distance runner
who went to Atlanta as an alternate on the Rwandan team, crossed
his own finish line last Friday. At Columbia-Raleigh Community
Hospital in North Carolina, Dr. John McElveen performed a
90-minute operation on Mazimpaka's ears that is expected to
correct the hearing loss suffered by Mazimpaka when he was
tortured two years ago during the genocidal conflict between the
Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups in Rwanda.
The surgery, which McElveen did for free, was the culmination of
months of international effort on behalf of Mazimpaka. "Now I
know what the Olympic spirit means," says Mazimpaka, who was to
spend a week recovering at the North Raleigh Hilton free of
charge before he flies back to Rwanda.
Mazimpaka's condition was discovered on July 17, when he
underwent an ear exam in the Olympic Village as part of a free
program sponsored by Atlanta's Miracle-Ear Hearing Center. The
audiologist who performed the exam called Mazimpaka's eardrums
the most severely damaged she had ever seen. That's when
Mazimpaka, one of Rwanda's most promising runners, spoke for the
first time of the horrific ordeal he had undergone, enabling his
coach, Parfait-Dieudonne Ntukanyagwe, to understand why
Mazimpaka had often seemed to ignore him.
In May 1994, according to Mazimpaka, who's a Tutsi, he was
captured by Hutu militia near his home in Kigali. The Hutu
poured diesel fuel, a caustic substance, into his ears and beat
him about the head with their open hands and boards until he
passed out. Though his hearing loss was profound, Mazimpaka did
not realize the severity of the damage. "I tried not to think
about it," he says.
Miracle-Ear arranged for surgery for Mazimpaka immediately after
the Olympics, but before the operation could take place,
Mazimpaka learned that his sister, Fatuma, was ill. As head of
his family, he went home, taking his medical records along in
hopes of getting the operation performed in Africa.
With an income of $70 a month from his job as a store clerk and
with the chaos in Rwanda, Mazimpaka knew there was little chance
of his returning to the U.S. But shortly after the Games, Bonnie
McElveen-Hunter, who publishes Delta Airlines' in-flight
magazine and is John McElveen's sister, read of Mazimpaka's
plight in SI's Olympic Daily. With help from the U.S. embassy,
she arranged for the surgery and free transportation and lodging
for Mazimpaka and Ntukanyagwe. As Mazimpaka recovers, he and his
coach are looking ahead to other competitions, including the
Sydney Games in 2000. "We have had our miracle," says
Ntukanyagwe. "Anything is possible."
Miles between mounds for pitcher Robinson Checo, whom the Boston
Red Sox acquired from the Hiroshima Carp for an undisclosed sum
and future considerations, in the first deal between a major
league team and a Japanese team.
Copies of Hot Rod and Car & Driver Utah Valley State hoopster
David Sawyer, already on probation for alleged thievery, was
accused of stealing from the campus library, leading to his
Members of the 1927 New York Yankees who signed the team photo
that fetched $35,750 at auction from actor and memorabilia
spendthrift Charlie Sheen.
Dollars given to Brazil's national sports teams by Nike for the
right to outfit and promote the Brazilian soccer team for 10
Frankfurters eaten in 12 minutes by 144-pound Hirofumi Nakajima
of Japan to defeat Edward Krachie, 320, of the U.S. in the
International Hot-Dog Eating Federation championship.
HO, HO, HO
John Elway has been very, very good this year, so we asked
little Johnny what he wants for Christmas. His list:
A badass snowmobile for the Colorado hills.
His own personal doctor.
A hole in one.
After three tries, that elusive Super Bowl ring.
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
Chicago Bulls forward Toni Kukoc's entrance into last Saturday's
Bulls-Miami Heat game was interrupted when his pager fell from
the pocket of his warmup jacket.
THEY SAID IT
New York Rangers netminder, on whether any goalies observe the
NHL's limit on the size of leg pads: "Sure, they're all in the