The lingering ill will between France and Germany dissipated a
bit more on Sunday. For the first time in the 94-year history of
the world's most celebrated bicycle race, a German--Jan Ullrich,
born 23 years ago in the tiny village of Rostock in what was
then East Germany--won the Tour de France. On a brilliant
afternoon, he stood on a podium on the Champs-Elysees and sang
the anthem of his country as tens of thousands of Parisians,
more than a few of them old enough to remember the Nazi terror,
stared at him with awe. His performance was so stirring that the
French seemed to have little trouble embracing him.
Ullrich covered the 2,455 miles of the course, over one of the
Tour's most grueling layouts in years, at an average speed of
24.38 mph, finishing 9:09 ahead of Richard Virenque of France in
what was the largest victory margin in 13 years. Ullrich rides
for a German team, Telekom, as does Denmark's Bjarne Riis, the
1996 champion, who was supposed to be Telekom's leader this
year. In the early days of the three-week event, Ullrich worked
selflessly for Riis, chasing the front-runners, expending his
own energy for the welfare of the team. But during the 10th
stage, through the Pyrenees, Ullrich assumed control of his team
and the race, winning the stage by 68 seconds. He put on the
yellow jersey that night and never came close to relinquishing it.
Ullrich's triumph recalled the 1986 breakthrough of U.S. racer
Greg LeMond, who went on to win twice more over the next four
years and served as an inspiration to Ullrich. Like LeMond,
Ullrich had foreshadowed his victory by winning the final time
trial the year before; like LeMond, he had unseated the veteran
leader of his team; like LeMond, he had become the first from
his nation to wear the yellow jersey in Paris. While LeMond was
all of 25 when he won the first of his three Tours, only seven
winners in the Tour's 84 races have been younger than Ullrich.
Few have been more dominant. "He doesn't know how strong he is,"
says tour rival Marco Pantani of Italy. "This guy has to be from
August 3, 1997
In addition to debating the wisdom of their team's having sent
two prospects and $3 million to the San Diego Padres for Hideki
Irabu and then handing him a four-year, $12.8 million contract,
New York Yankees fans have been at odds over exactly how to
pronounce the Japanese pitcher's surname. Now that Irabu, after
being shelled in three straight starts, earned a demotion to the
minors on Monday, we can understand if Yankees owner George
Steinbrenner is hearing it something like: I-Rob-You.
NO IRISH AYES
The announcement last week that the Fiesta, Orange and Sugar
bowls will join the Rose Bowl to form a Super Alliance starting
after the 1998 season appeared to signal a well-conceived
solution to college football's national-championship quandary.
It would satisfy the desire for a postseason playoff, maintain
the tradition of the bowls, raise the per-team payout to $11.5
million from $8.5 million (the amount now paid to participants
in the three Alliance bowls, the Fiesta, Orange and Sugar) and,
in the interest of the common fan, cap ticket prices for the
title game at $100. But like an official who throws a flag
nullifying a terrific play, Notre Dame is firmly refusing to
sign on to the deal.
Under current rules the Irish are almost assured one of the
Alliance's two at-large berths if they win eight games and
finish in the top 12 in either of the two major national
rankings. But the new deal opens the door for the Western
Athletic Conference and Conference USA, both of which complained
loudly enough to the U.S. Senate to secure a place among the six
major-conference powers in the Alliance (SCORECARD, June 2). If
a team from the WAC or C-USA completes the regular season ranked
No. 6 or higher, it can lay claim to an at-large berth. Another
berth might go to a major conference power that fails to win its
league title but also winds up in the top six. Thus Notre Dame,
even with eight wins and a top 12 finish, could well be left out
on New Year's Day.
"We are being asked to give up the opportunity to play in an $11
million bowl to play in a bowl for $1.5 million," Irish athletic
director Mike Wadsworth says. "You can't ask us to make that
trade unless you're going to make other accommodations. It's
unfair. It's unreasonable."
Wadsworth says that Notre Dame, which like the other Alliance
members has veto power over the deal, is willing to go along if
the conferences provide it access to the top non-Alliance bowls.
Last year the Irish, who finished 8-3 but were ranked only 18th,
didn't qualify for the Alliance bowls and chose to stay home
rather than play in a lesser bowl such as the Copper or
Independence. Under Wadsworth's proposal, however, any
conference that puts two teams in Super Alliance bowls would
allow a worthy Irish team to fill one of its runner-up bowl slots.
Two years ago the Atlantic Coast and Big East conferences opened
the Gator Bowl, which matches their No. 2 teams, to the Irish.
Other conferences have yet to make similar guarantees,
subscribing instead to a simple rationale: If Notre Dame wants
the advantages of being an independent--its $9 million-a-year TV
deal with NBC, for example--then it will have to accept the
risks as well. But that thinking is selfish and shortsighted.
When an 8-3 Irish team can't play in a top non-Alliance bowl,
that isn't good for college football.
The English play I'm Marrying Ryan Giggs centers on a soccer-mad
family so riven by allegiances to rival teams that Mum and Dad
end up painting each side of their house a different team color.
Though meant to be far-fetched, the comedy hardly underestimates
the power of soccer passions.
The unseen object of Mum's desire is Ryan Giggs, a handsome,
real-life winger for Manchester United. On Aug. 1, however,
Giggs opens a seven-week tour in Liverpool, where hatred of
United runs deep. That's why theater administrators have
demanded that the show be temporarily renamed I'm Marrying
Robbie Fowler after Liverpool's star striker and have also
censored all references to Manchester United. Says a Liverpool
Playhouse spokesman: "We didn't want a riot on our hands."
THE KINDLY BEEST
In 1992, a few months after Fay Vincent was ousted as baseball
commissioner and shortly before the Toronto Blue Jays won their
first World Series, Blue Jays president Paul Beeston cropped up
as a possible successor to Vincent. Beeston wasn't interested.
"I just don't think it's a job for a little, fat, cigar-smoking,
sockless Canadian," he said. The commissionership has been a job
for no one since '92, but when putative commish Bud Selig
appointed Beeston to the newly created position of president and
CEO last week, the baseball world welcomed the fat little
Canadian with open arms.
Beeston, a shrewd but unassuming 52-year-old accountant raised
in the canal port of Welland, Ont., will work in Manhattan.
He'll handle the daily operations of the commissioner's office
as second in command to Selig, who will stay at his Milwaukee
outpost running the Brewers. Beeston is expected to invigorate
baseball's marketing, an area in which he thrived in Toronto,
and will serve as a liaison to the players' union, whose boss,
Donald Fehr, despises Selig. Beeston could help heal the
fractious relationships between owners and players and between
owners and owners. "This is a good day for baseball," said Fehr
after Beeston's hiring.
Since becoming the Blue Jays' first employee in 1976, The Beest,
whose nonstop cigar sucking and refusal to wear socks lend him
the air of an eccentric, has emerged as one of the best-liked
men in the game. Whether or not the appointment of Beeston, who
is one of Selig's closest confidantes, is a prelude to Selig
taking the commissioner's job is unclear. Beeston and several
owners have called for Selig to give up the Brewers and formally
assume the top spot, but Selig won't commit. Others predict that
Beeston will one day step into the commissioner's role, an idea
he rejects. While it's a perfect example of baseball's mishegas
that the game has selected what amounts to a deputy commissioner
without a permanent commissioner in place, bringing Beeston into
the fold makes sense. He's lauded by such opposite-minded owners
as Selig and Steinbrenner, who said of last week's appointment,
"It answered a prayer, for me and for baseball. Paul is sharp,
and he's got guts."
A CONTINUING INSPIRATION
Cam Cameron survived the Scylla and Charybdis of college
coaching: He played basketball under Bob Knight at Indiana, then
served as an offensive assistant under Bo Schembechler at
Michigan. But as he prepares for his first season as Indiana's
football coach, he might wonder if he'll ever be free of his
mentors' torments. "If Cam has played for me and then worked for
Schembechler and he can't succeed," Knight says, "then they
probably just ought to shoot him."
SI's Paul Zimmerman, one of 36 Pro Football Hall of Fame voters,
rues one omission at last Saturday's induction ceremony in
Mike Webster, the Pittsburgh Steelers center, made it, and I'm
very happy for him. But once again the greatest center I've ever
seen lost out in the voting. "Dwight Stephenson isn't a man,
he's a bolt of electricity," Freddy Smerlas, the old Buffalo
noseguard, told me while the two were still playing. That was a
surprising thing coming from Freddy, who never had a good word
to say about anybody who tried to block him. "I'm not kidding,"
he said. "He's the quickest thing on two legs. He's like
Howie Long told me that one year his Raiders devised a game plan
expressly meant to nullify Stephenson. The idea was for a
defensive end to crack down on him and keep him out of the
blocking mix. It was the first time I'd ever heard of a game
plan directed at a center.
I mentioned all this at our Hall of Fame meeting in January,
when we voted on candidates. What emerged from the others was a
feeling that Stephenson's eight-year career hadn't been long
enough. That drove me frantic. Was it his fault that in December
1987, New York Jets defensive end Marty Lyons took out
Stephenson's knee on a blindsider, ending his career at age 30?
No. So next January I'll try again to get him in. Maybe then
reason will prevail.
Percentage of major league ballplayers who are African-American.
Percentage of then major leaguers who were African-American in
1959, the first year every team was integrated.
30, 32, 44
Points scored in successive games by the Houston Comets' Cynthia
Cooper, each total setting a WNBA single-game record.
Straight weeks in which Gordon Hartshorn, 58, of Grand Prairie,
Texas, had run a marathon before deciding to end his streak.
Green Bay Packers fans from a waiting list of 33,000 who were
allowed to buy 1997 season tickets.
Years the most patient Packers season-ticket recipient had been
on that list.
Single-day crowd at the European Truck Grand Prix in
Nurburgring, Germany, 62,000 more than attended the Formula One
German Grand Prix.
Today's athletes don't rely merely on ankle tape for support or
ice to heal their wounds. Here are some devices that competitors
in a variety of sports can't do without.
By pulling open the nasal passages, it enhances air flow; a
favorite among NFLers.
Golfers and pitchers tape these on arms to boost blood flow and
cut down on pain.
While not approved by the FDA, DMSO is used by pitchers as an
Golfers believe that they can stave off arthritis by wearing
By putting direct pressure on the patellar tendon, this tight
band can soothe "jumper's knee."
During breaks in play, athletes often relieve their soreness
Electro-stimulators send a helpful charge to the muscles and
THEY GOT LESS
Thanks to the NBA's well-oiled marketing machine, the eight-team
WNBA has created a lot more hoopla than the eight-team ABL,
whose inaugural season ended in March. When the caliber of play
and players is compared, however, the ABL posts up quite
favorably with the WNBA, which as of Sunday was about halfway
through its 28-game season. A comparison of the first-year
Former Division I All-Americas 35 25
Average salaries $80,000 $30,000
Points scored per game per team 78.2 69.1
Field goal 44.0 40.7
Free throw 75.0 70.8
Three-point 35.1 30.2
Turnovers per game per team 19.6 19.1
claimed by league 3,536 8,856
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
NBC Olympic TV commentator and new age composer John Tesh's
latest album, "Victory: The Sports Collection," comes with two
John Tesh sports cards and a catalog enticing fans to buy such
goods as a John Tesh baseball jersey.
THEY SAID IT
Oakland A's general manager, on his team's inept pitching:
"[Outfielder] Jose Canseco asked me if he could pitch. I told
him I'd let him know in the bottom of the first."