A DAY IN THE LIFE
Saints and suds: That pretty much sums up the prekickoff
activity in Green Bay on Sunday. Herewith a brief walking tour
of Titletown before the Super Bowl (page 30).
4:03 a.m. A priest at Saints Peter & Paul Catholic Church on
North Baird Street answers a knock at the door. No one's there,
but when he sticks his head outside, he sees that the church's
statue of Jesus is now holding a green-and-gold pom-pom in each
8:42 a.m. Parishioners of Saints Peter & Paul begin to gather
for what looks like a pep rally but is in fact nine o'clock
mass. At a priest's suggestion the worshipers wear Packers
colors, which complement the green-and-gold vestments of the
clergy. There is, however, no prayer for the Pack.
February 3, 1997
9:17 a.m. A woman in a leather Packers jacket poses outside the
First United Church of Christ on South Webster Avenue near a
sign that reads: FOR GOD SO LOVED THE PACKERS HE SENT REGGIE.
9:57 a.m. A stout gentleman in a Packers parka and cheesehead
stands alone on the doorstep of Coaches Corner, a bar on North
Adams Street, watching his breath fog in the 3 [degrees] air and
waiting for the doors to open at 10.
10:15 a.m. Two guys in Packers finery stand outside the Glory
Years sports bar at 301 South Washington Street with a case of
brew to tide them over until the joint, which is part of the
Downtowner Hotel, opens at 11. The bar occupies a room that was
once Vince Lombardi's office.
10:57 a.m. Paul Van, the owner of both the Downtowner and the
Glory Years, examines Vince Lombardi, who is wearing a blue
blazer and an oxford-cloth shirt. Actually, it's a life-sized
mechanical Lombardi that, on a good day, turns his head from
side to side. He sits in a glass box adjacent to the waitress
station. Van's friend Ernie, a tailor for downtown clothier C.A.
Gross Co., had dressed Auto-Vince from specs that still burned
in his memory: 5'10"; 38-inch waist; 46-inch chest; big, big butt.
12:16 p.m. A man dressed as the Lombardi Trophy appears in the
parking lot at Lambeau Field. He is drinking beer through an
extra-long straw and shaking like a 1976 Pinto. "The one
weakness of this costume," says Mark Mehler, who labored 30
hours on his tin-foil-and-cardboard getup, "is that it's cold as
1:11 p.m. Van opens the door to Room 228 at the Downtowner and
says that it was once Paul Hornung's "home away from home," if
you get his drift. Everything in the room has been changed, says
Van, except the mattress.
2:04 p.m. The second shift has just begun at the Fort Howard
Corporation, a paper company near Lambeau Field. The phone rings
at the station of security guard Cletus Schmidt, who is subbing
for a guy who got tickets to the game. "I'm gonna have to work
for him Tuesday, too," Schmidt says ruefully, "'cause there's no
way he's coming back Monday."
3:04 p.m. Van is fretting about Lombardi, who isn't looking
himself today. A 10-year-old kid accidentally knocked Vince's
head off the night before, and the replacement found by Van
suggests a pudgy Bela Lugosi. But Van has reluctantly popped on
the substitute and takes the philosophical approach: "We
couldn't have Vince Lombardi sitting there on Super Bowl Sunday
without a head."
With the score tied 65-65 and 1.3 seconds left in Saturday's
Arizona State-Oregon State basketball game, Fox Sports color
commentator George Raveling, who coached big-time college
basketball teams for 19 seasons, wondered aloud whether the Sun
Devils would call timeout. That drew an immediate response from
Arizona State forward Mike Batiste, who was inbounding the ball
from a spot near Raveling's broadcasting position. "We don't
have any left," said Batiste just before he launched his
inbounds pass. The Sun Devils did not score on that possession
but won the game 78-75 in overtime.
The anecdote answers two questions: 1) Is TV an intrusive force
in today's sporting world? and 2) Why isn't George Raveling
HONG KONG? YOU BET
It's three o'clock of a cold winter's morning at Meadowlands
Raceway in New Jersey, and a smartly dressed man from Hong Kong
is on his cell phone placing a bet. He likes the 4 horse in the
sixth at Sha Tin, a track in his home city, and he's getting
better odds from his bookie back home than he can get here,
where the race is about to be simulcast on a bank of TVs. Some
1,000 bettors, most of them Hong Kong immigrants, have come out
for the night (12:30 a.m. to 5:30 a.m., to coincide with
afternoon in Hong Kong) of racing. "You get the feeling you're
in your home country," says Hansen Chau, a Chinese soap-opera
star who lives part of the year in New York City. "We come for
the excitement and the culture of Hong Kong racing."
Not that the Hong Kongese passion for horseplaying could ever
really be replicated at a U.S. track. Between September and
June, Hong Kong's two thoroughbred tracks stage 75 cards,
drawing an average crowd of more than 40,000. The annual handle
at Sha Tin and Happy Valley comes to some $10.4 billion, nearly
the same amount wagered at the 87 tracks in the U.S. and Canada.
About a third of Hong Kong's 6.3 million inhabitants attend the
races at least once a season, and prime-time television shows
are routinely interrupted for racing broadcasts.
At the Meadowlands, which has been simulcasting since September,
the races don't get under way until after midnight, by which
time bettors have settled into seats, spread out faxes of
betting dope they've received from Hong Kong and started
handicapping. Though the Meadowlands employs a Chinese lounge
singer--who croons in a red dinner jacket--and two
Chinese-language radio stations broadcast animatedly from a
corner of the track's main atrium, the bettors pay almost no
attention; they're here to wager, not soak up the scene. Or the
cuisine. "Let's just say we're not going to put out pork
smothered in orange sauce," says Paul Lee, who's in charge of
marketing Meadowlands events to the Chinese. "If our food can't
compete with Chinatown's, we'll just do the hot dogs."
TAKING THE NFL TO SCHOOL
Beloit (Wis.) College has an enrollment of 1,100 and a Division
III football team nicknamed the Buccaneers. Last fall Beloit
received a stern letter from the NFL demanding that it abandon
its 20-year-old team logo because of the logo's resemblance to
the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' befeathered, knife-between-the-teeth
pirate. The league asserted that the similarity between the
logos might "lead the public to mistakenly believe that Beloit
College is affiliated with the NFL."
Beloit refused to comply; instead it challenged Tampa Bay to
play head-to-head for the rights to the logo. The NFL's Bucs
declined the challenge, saying that they "needed to concentrate
on the teams we have on our schedule," and now league officials
have announced that Tampa Bay, which has not made the playoffs
since 1983, will change its logo to a skull and crossbones.
"Apparently," says Beloit publicist Ron Nief, "they are
concerned that Tampa Bay might be mistaken for a small liberal
A DOG'S LIFE
Rumors persist that Jimmy Hoffa was buried somewhere in the
Meadowlands sports complex. Hmmm, has anyone looked under center
ice of the Continental Airlines Arena?
At Ottawa's new Corel Centre, at least, sotto ice is the resting
place for one dearly departed. Somewhere under the playing
surface is interred Bambi, a collie that belonged to the family
of Randy Harris, a supervisor for Tarcon Ltd., the company that
helped build the Centre. In December 1994, after Bambi was given
a last meal of chocolate chip cookies and put to sleep, Harris
and some of his construction buddies laid her to rest in a hole
about 12 feet deep under what would become the rink. "We wanted
to put her right under center ice," says Harris, "but the
construction plans were changed. Still, she's there. I think of
her looking up at the players and smiling. It makes me feel
TRUE TO THEIR MOTTO
Given a chance to do the right thing and take appropriate
disciplinary action against players who break the law,
administrators at Idaho State, flouting current fashion, did
exactly that. On Jan. 9 athletic director Irv Cross, with the
backing of basketball coach Herb Williams, kicked five players
off the men's basketball team for the rest of the season after
the players pleaded guilty to misdemeanor petty theft for
shoplifting an estimated $1,600 worth of electronic equipment
and other items from a Pocatello department store in November
and December. "It's important that we have a program that can be
respected," said Cross, "not only in this community but all over
The players who were kicked off--senior David Hickman, junior
Dedric Bell, sophomore Rapheal Fondren and freshmen Stephen
Brown and Cedric Robinson--were each sentenced to six months'
probation and community service. (They've kept their
scholarships and continued their classwork.) Idaho State has won
seven of 10 since losing the suspended players' collective 25
points per game, but Cross and Williams were concerned about
more than wins and losses: "Our team motto is WIN--Work hard,
Intensity, No excuses," says Williams. "And going with our
motto, there's no excuse."
Concerned about player safety and a tilted field that favors
offense, the NCAA may soon require that aluminum bats used by
college baseball teams be heavier, inch-for-inch, than current
models. A proposal to that effect will be voted on in July and
would go into effect in 1999 at the earliest. The NCAA depended
upon anecdotal reports furnished by coaches. "The feeling is
pretty widespread that the game is unbalanced to the point that
it's not only in favor of the hitters," says former Texas coach
Cliff Gustafson, the winningest major college coach ever, "but
dangerous for pitchers and fielders." Adds Miami coach Jim
Morris, "Any idiot can see that the ball jumps off an aluminum
bat faster than off a wood bat."
The proposed measure was introduced by the NCAA Baseball Rules
Committee in response to a motion passed by the American
Baseball Coaches Association last June requesting that the NCAA
"develop standards for non-wood bats so that they become
somewhat comparable to wood bats...." NCAA bats may now have a
weight-length differential of five ounces; i.e., a 33-inch bat
can weigh as little as 28 ounces. By comparison, wood bats used
in the major and minor leagues customarily have no more than a
two-ounce differential. The NCAA proposal would limit the
differential to 2 1/2 ounces, meaning that a 33-inch bat would
have to weigh at least 30 1/2 ounces.
What's the significance of this? The lighter the bat, the greater
the swing speed generated by a batter. And most engineers agree
that the greater the bat speed, the greater the velocity of the
batted ball. Hence, greater danger to the fielder.
The NCAA is right to concern itself with the safety issue. Even
someone whose company stands to lose money if some bats are
rendered obsolete by new rules is concerned about the increasing
velocity of line drives that endanger pitchers and infielders.
"We are sitting right on top of the fence as far as the game
being unsafe," says Jack McKay, a researcher for three decades
at Hillerich & Bradsby, the company that makes Louisville
Sluggers. "We need to watch it closely." But McKay and others
worry that the NCAA research was not adequate to have concluded
that the 2 1/2 ounce differential is the cure-all. Some previous
independent research has shown that a heavier bat, even if swung
more slowly, can produce a higher batted-ball speed. "I'm
concerned about safety as much as the next coach," says Morris,
"but I'm not sure [the NCAA's proposal] is the answer." The NCAA
had better make sure it has its facts straight before it takes a
giant swing-and-a-miss at this issue.
Characters played by John Pinero in the one-man show Vince: The
Life and Times of Vince Lombardi, at the Two Roads Theater in
Hours after he took over as president of football operations and
coach of the St. Louis Rams that Dick Vermeil fired vice
president Steve Ortmayer.
Current NFL head coaches who have played or coached at USC,
after the San Francisco 49ers hired Steve Mariucci (USC special
teams coach in 1986) and the New York Giants hired Jim Fassel
(quarterback in '69).
Dozens of roses sent by Shaquille O'Neal to the grandmother of
teammate Derek Fisher, because Fisher was worried about her
Placekicks and punts in the last 10 months by Adam Vinatieri for
the New England Patriots and the World League's Amsterdam
Some sports logos are all but indecipherable. Can you tell which
teams go with the logos below?
A. Colorado Avalanche (NHL); B. Columbus Quest (ABL); C. Buffalo
Sabres (NHL); D. Cincinnati Bearcats (NCAA); E. Florida Panthers
Power to the People
The Minnesota Twins' recent demand for state funds to build a
rent-free, retractable-roof baseball-only stadium might sound
like an old whine to fans who've heard similar pleas from teams
in cities from Boston to Los Angeles--especially given that the
Twins' home park, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, is barely 15
years old. But the deal the Twins are seeking could usher in a
new era in franchise ownership.
The Pohlad family, which owns 90% of the Minnesota franchise
that has lost some $35 million since 1993, has offered 49% of
the team to the state in exchange for most of the stadium
funding. The Twins would continue to absorb any operating
losses, while the state would share in any profits. Should the
Pohlads want to sell, the state would have first crack at either
purchasing their 51% or finding a new owner who would keep the
team in Minnesota.
Although the Twins have been identified with the Metrodome since
their raucous fans helped them win four home games in the 1987
World Series, the dome was actually built by the state in '82 to
keep the Vikings in town. The Twins were an afterthought, and
the Vikings bought control of the Metrodome's luxury suites for
NFL and major league games. Primarily because of that
arrangement, the Twins rank dead last among major league teams
in stadium revenue.
The Metrodome lease the Twins signed in '88 gave the team an out
if attendance dropped below 80% of the American League average
for the 1995 to '97 seasons and the Twins incurred operating
losses over that period. The franchise will probably meet those
conditions and could legally leave after the '98 season. Yet the
state has been reluctant to kick in the roughly $200 million the
Twins need for a stadium.
Even if the state approves funding, major league owners may well
reject the Pohlads' plan. Public ownership would require the
Twins' books--and perhaps, in this era of revenue sharing, those
of the other American League teams--to be opened to the public,
a development that could expose the creative bookkeeping that
teams sometimes employ to disguise profits. What may doom an
innovative concept to save a struggling franchise is that many
other franchises aren't struggling as much as they suggest.
The NCAA baseball bat controversy (left) is the most recent
twist in the storied history of bats. The first Louisville
Slugger was made for Pete Browning of the Louisville Eclipse in
1884, and 107 years later the Louisville Slugger logo adorned a
cruise missile fired by the USS Louisville in the gulf war. Babe
Ruth swung a mammoth 42-ounce, 36-inch stick in the 1920s, and
43-inch Eddie Gaedel stepped to the plate in '51 with a 17-inch
toy bat. Indian and Yankee Joe Sewell used the same piece of
lumber from '20 to '33; today's major leaguer uses 100 bats a
season. And in 1965 the Giants' Juan Marichal, angry that a
throw back to the pitcher almost hit him, clubbed Dodgers
catcher John Roseboro on the head with a bat, drawing blood that
might have excited vampire bats, which survive on two sanguinary
tablespoons a day.
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
Former Oakland Raiders safety Jack Tatum--whose autobiography is
entitled "They Call Me Assassin"--has applied for $156,000 a
year in benefits from the NFL pension fund, citing mental
anguish he has suffered since delivering the hit that paralyzed
New England Patriots receiver Darryl Stingley in 1978.
They Said It
President of the WNBA, the new NBA-backed women's league, on
cross-dressing Chicago Bulls forward Dennis Rodman: "David Stern
and I talked about it. We're not letting Dennis play in both