THREE FOR THE ROAD
As an aw-shucks immortal named Dean Smith strolled into a
Carolina blue sunset last week (page 60), it was impossible not
to notice the difference between his resignation and the recent
getaways of three other major college basketball coaches,
departures that left programs scrambling just days before the
start of practice. At Michigan, South Alabama and Arizona State
there were no paeans to the exiting master, no seamless
transition to the succeeding administration. Indeed, each of the
coaches had at least one fatal flaw that cast a cloud over his
--Michigan's Steve Fisher, who was fired last Friday, was
praised by his players for being a father figure, but he
apparently couldn't keep his boosters at arm's length,
especially one Eddie Martin. A 63-year-old retired autoworker,
Martin has allegedly violated NCAA rules by giving cash and
gifts to Michigan players. Fisher told a law firm conducting an
in-house investigation that he was responsible for only a few of
the 32 complimentary tickets Martin received over three years.
Investigators found, however, that Fisher made out 16 passes in
his own name and on at least five other occasions forged the
initials pw to give the impression that assistant Perry Watson
had left the ducats for Martin. On Monday, Fisher admitted to
writing Watson's initials but denied that doing so was improper.
--South Alabama's Bill Musselman stole away to an assistant's
job with the Portland Trail Blazers on Oct. 7, just days after
pledging fealty to a Jaguars team that he had led to the NCAA
tournament last season. Musselman was a master of X's and O's.
He just didn't care enough about the job's peripheral
responsibilities--the recruiting and the schmoozing with faculty
and administrators. "I don't think he liked college basketball,"
says senior point guard Rusty Yoder. "He'd come to practices and
games, and that would be the only time we'd see him."
--Arizona State's Bill Frieder, who resigned under pressure last
month, was a shambling guy who showed up sockless at press
conferences and was in some ways a delightful antithesis to his
buttoned-down peers. Apparently, though, he should have been
more buttoned-down when it came to choosing players. He left his
job hounded by an FBI investigation into point shaving by at
least three former Sun Devils.
While Fisher left Michigan angry but unbowed, both Musselman
("The pressure on a college coach is nonstop") and Frieder
("This is a tough business. You're very vulnerable as a coach")
sounded overwhelmed by the dual burdens of winning on the court
and trying to run a clean program off it. But, fellas, that's
what you're supposed to do. It's what Dean Smith did for 36 years.
HEAD COACH MATERIAL
Craig MacTavish played bareheaded for all of his 17-year career
as an NHL center, and when he retired after last season he had
been the only helmetless player in the league for nearly four
years. Now MacTavish is an assistant coach of the New York
Rangers. In his first game behind the bench a puck thwacked him
on the side of the head. "I didn't get much sympathy from the
guys," MacTavish says. "They were doubled over in laughter."
TAKING A BATH IN MEMPHIS
The Tennessee Oilers needed to sell 28,000 tickets to their home
game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday just to cover the
standard visitor's cut of the gate. But the Oilers attracted
only 17,071 fans to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, the NFL's
smallest crowd of the week, thus failing to generate enough cash
to pay Cincinnati the standard $542,000 visitor's guarantee. In
Tennessee's three regular-season home games, this has happened
The Oilers, who plan to move to Nashville (the stadium, unnamed,
is under construction) for the 1999 season, pay rent of just one
dollar per ticket sold at the Liberty Bowl. Yet because they
have little income other than their $44 million share of the
NFL's TV package, they could lose as much as $10 million this
season. (To make certain Tennessee's opponents are compensated
for the low turnout, the Oilers and the NFL agreed to set aside
$5 million, which will be divvied up at the end of the season.
Teams that don't receive at least $542,000 for a game at the
Liberty Bowl are assured a share of the pot later.) It's enough
to make the Oilers miss Houston. Their average attendance at the
Astrodome may have been a league-worst 31,825 in '96, bottoming
out at a Memphis-esque 15,131 finale against the Bengals, but a
game against the San Francisco 49ers did draw 53,664--more than
the two best totals at the Liberty Bowl this year combined.
Oilers owner Adams, who has raised ticket prices 28.8% over what
the team charged in the Astrodome, recently sent a memo to
everyone in the organization requiring that he preapprove every
expense of more than $200. He's reportedly also considering
relocating the Oilers to Nashville for the 1998 season--a year
ahead of schedule--and playing in Vanderbilt Stadium. The
problem there is that a) Vanderbilt forbids the sale of alcohol
on campus, so concession revenues would be severely weakened,
and b) the lack of skyboxes at Vanderbilt would limit the
Oilers' ability to gouge their richest customers.
Last season, when the idea of playing at Vanderbilt Stadium was
first raised, there was concern that its capacity of 41,448
would be too small for an NFL team. Now the Oilers would be
thrilled to draw that many.
TAKING A BATH II
When it comes to sparse attendance in an interim home, things
aren't any better at the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum, where the
NHL's Carolina Hurricanes will play until moving into a new
building in Raleigh for the 1999-2000 season. After drawing
18,661 to their opener at the 21,000-seat Coliseum, the
Hurricanes (ne the Hartford Whalers) announced crowds of 6,083
and 6,352 at their next two home dates. Those appeared to be
very generous estimates given the sea of empty seats. But even
if accurate, the two-game total of 12,435 is some 500 fewer than
turned out to see the American Hockey League's Hartford Wolf
Pack play its Oct. 4 opener at the same Civic Center the Whalers
abandoned after last season.
THE ART OF BUNTING
Orioles fan Mark Morais is a bunting fanatic. "When I'm watching
a baseball game, that's my primary passion," says Morais. "How's
the bunting holding up? The next day at work, that's all we talk
No, Morais isn't employed by the Omar Moreno Preservation
Society. He's a sales manager at F.W. Haxel, the Baltimore-based
flag company that provided and tended the red-white-and-blue
drapery that has festooned Camden Yards this fall. That kind of
bunting--which encompasses those semicircular flags known in the
business as full-pleated fans--has been a postseason staple in
major league parks since at least 1886. All eight playoff teams
this season laid down bunting. At Camden Yards, some 155
full-pleated fans have hung since Day One of the postseason.
"Maybe it's silly," says Angela Knight, the Orioles' purchasing
agent. "But bunting makes the whole place look festive."
Like the sacrifice and the squeeze, decorative bunting is a
dying art. There are still election days and county fairs, and
there's always the Fourth of July, but the bunting business
pines for the glory days, when a political rally without 5,000
pieces of red-white-and-blue fabric wasn't a political rally at
all. In old pictures of Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds,
bunting is ubiquitous. Now, in this era of "signage" and
corporate logos, those in the industry can only root, root, root
for their home team to make it to the postseason.
ALL BETS OFF
When Arlington International Race Course went dark after the end
of last Friday's card, horse racing lost another round in the
fight for gambling dollars. The suburban Chicago track once
attracted crowds of 30,000 and horses like Citation, Secretariat
and John Henry. It hosted the first $1 million thoroughbred race
in 1981 and survived a grandstand-leveling fire in '85. This
year, having lost customers to Native American casinos,
riverboat gambling and the state lotteries, Arlington's daily
on-site handle was $612,000, compared with the $1.7 million
average in its peak year, 1975. Three days shy of the track's
70th birthday, owner Richard Duchossois shut the place down.
Duchossois bought into Arlington Park in 1983 in an effort to
save Midwestern racing. After the grandstand burned, he spent
$200 million to rebuild it and has lost about $70 million since
then. "I kept hoping that we'd get light at the end of the
tunnel, that things would happen, so I just kept hanging in
there," the 76-year-old Duchossois said, referring to his
requests for tax breaks and for legislation to permit slot
machines at racetracks. The state government granted neither
wish, and he decided his fortunes weren't going to improve. "No
one has spent more money to help racing than I have," Duchossois
says. "Now I'm up against a wall. It's time to move on."
More than 350,000 other folks entered the Valvoline Big Race
Sweepstakes, yet it's impossible to imagine that any of them
would have been a more appropriate winner than Brian Murphy of
Pangburn, Ark. Thanks to a random drawing on Sept. 2, Murphy, a
28-year-old data processor for Wal-Mart, is now the proud owner
of the Roush Racing Ford Thunderbird driven in four NASCAR
Winston Cup events in 1995 and '96 by Mark Martin. Not a model,
not a replica; it's the actual 750-horsepower, 200-mph machine.
"A lot of folks might have opted for the cash value [$100,000]
instead," says Valvoline spokesman Andy Woods. Not Murphy. "This
is better than Publisher's Clearing House," he said last Friday,
the day before heading to Talladega Speedway to claim his prize
at the Sears Diehard 500. Pangburn (pop. 673) is just 26 miles
south of Martin's hometown of Batesville, and Murphy has been a
big Martin booster for as long as he can remember. "I'm in his
fan club, and as soon as I heard about the contest, I sent in
100 postcard entries," he says. "I never dreamed I'd win the
What does Murphy plan to do with the car--which, because it's
not street-legal, must be transported by truck--when it arrives
in Pangburn next week? "I'm just going to park it in the
garage," says Murphy. "Of course, my neighbor is the sheriff.
I'm hoping he'll look the other way now and then, so I can take
it out for a spin."
Just four weeks before he was to face Mexican countryman Miguel
Angel Gonzalez for the vacant WBC super lightweight
championship, Julio Cesar Chavez put the Oct. 25 bout on hold
because he was suffering from an inflamed left elbow. Chavez,
35, needs surgery, but it seems that the six-time world champ, a
veteran of 102 pro fights and one of the most ferocious ring
warriors ever, is, well, a little squeamish about needles and
scalpels. After undergoing exams at clinics in Mexico and the
U.S., he bolted from a Mexico City operating room on Sept. 27
minutes before surgery. "When he saw the anesthetic and the
doctor, Julio got frightened," says Chavez's lawyer, Salvador
Ochoa. "This is traumatic for him."
According to Ochoa, Chavez should finally go under the knife in
California later this week. That means the bout with Gonzalez is
unlikely to take place until January. Gonzalez has accused
Chavez of ducking him, but at least one of Chavez's peers is
sympathetic. Says WBC strawweight champion Ricardo Lopez, "I'd
rather they punch the living daylights out of me than operate on
Styles of Green Bay Packers caps for sale in the team's
Consecutive home games in which the Pittsburgh Penguins had
scored at least one goal before last week's 3-0 loss to the
Combined won-lost record of Oklahoma State (6-0) and Cincinnati,
the schools where former NFL defensive guru Buddy Ryan's sons
Rob and Rex, respectively, are defensive coordinators.
Days after being elected to the thoroughbred racing hall of fame
that trainer Phil Johnson, 73, was suspended because one of his
horses tested positive for drugs.
Penalty shots stopped in six career opportunities by New York
Rangers center Mike Richter before he finally surrendered one to
Edmonton Oilers forward Doug Weight.
Touchdown passes thrown by the Toronto Argonauts' Doug Flutie
this season, a CFL record.
GRIDIRON TO IRON BODY
When Butch Johnson, 43, a receiver with the Dallas Cowboys and
the Denver Broncos from 1976 to '85, competes in Saturday's
Ironman Triathlon World Championship (2.4-mile ocean swim,
112-mile bicycle ride and 26.2-mile run) in Hawaii, he'll take
part in "probably the hardest thing I've ever had to endure."
From a man who survived Tom Landry's minicamps, those are strong
words. Here's how the 6'1" Johnson's recent workouts and
measurements compare with those during his NFL career.
Football: 5 miles
Ironman: 18 miles
"The legs are the most important thing to a receiver, and they
are the most important in the Ironman."
Football: 1,000-1,500 yards
Ironman: 5,000 yards
"You do it in intervals. People think football players don't
swim. But it helps muscles other exercises don't touch."
Football: Low reps, 300 lbs.
Ironman: 250 reps of 60-100 lbs.
"When I was a player, I'd do heavy weight. I wanted to be big.
Now it's about toning. "
Football: Off and on before the season, 25 miles a day
Ironman: 4-5 days a week, 40-80 miles a day
"I used to ride more for relaxation, but now it's a necessity. I
try to ride one day a week for five or six hours. That hurts."
Football: 31-32 inches
Ironman: 28-29 inches
"That's the swimming right there."
Football: 187 lbs.
Ironman: 187 lbs.
"I feel good knowing I weigh the same now as I did 20 years ago."
"People tell me I'm skinny. I'm not skinny, you're fat.
GET A GRIP
Check this luggage. East Hampton, N.Y., artist Peter Buchman
packs a world of sporting detail into the polychromed
wood-and-clay dioramas in his "suitcase series." The beautified
bags go for as much as $3,000.
WALL OF FAME
What better way to entice fans to buy 1999 Browns tickets than
this 40-by-160-foot mural in downtown Cleveland, which depicts
Browns greats Lou (the Toe) Groza, Otto Graham, Paul Warfield
and Jim Brown? One revision might enhance the artwork: Groza
could be booting Art Modell instead of a football.
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
Mississippi State noseguard Eric Dotson missed last Saturday's
game against Northeast Louisiana because of injuries he
sustained in a fight with a teammate over who was first in line
to have his ankles taped.
CBS golf analyst and 1991 European Ryder Cupper, reacting to
Colin Montgomerie's acerbic pre-Cup remarks about U.S. golfers:
"The thing about Monty is he's not the sharpest knife in the
drawer; he's a few french fries short of a Happy Meal; his mind
goes on vacation and leaves his mouth in charge--but he's really
not a bad guy."