THOSE WERE THE DAYS
Sifting through the debris of last week's controversy is
journalistic archaeology, given how quickly things move these
days. You brush the dust from newspaper clippings, and you
wonder, dreamily, whether humans really lived this way. What a
time that must have been, a week ago, when our ancestors said
that Casey Martin could roll over hill and dale in a golf cart
and allowed Nykesha Sales (equally disabled, apparently) to
stand all alone under a basket and score her school-record
2,178th point, teammates and opponents cheering the uncontested
Who was running sports back then? The Make-a-Wish Foundation?
This couldn't happen today, but try to imagine what it was like
a week ago, when the women's basketball coaches at Connecticut
and Villanova conspired to permit the Huskies' Sales, whose
ruptured right Achilles had prevented a more traditional
assault, to score the two points she needed to set the UConn
women's career mark.
It was a feel-good time. Mostly. Some felt that the integrity of
sport had been violated by Sales's gimme basket and that fate is
best left undisturbed. If athletes overcome bad luck, that's the
glory of their games. If others don't, well, how else can
triumph resonate without the sounding board of disappointment?
Those who try to engineer heroism are condemned to sleepless
nights, the cheapness of their records an awful caffeine.
March 9, 1998
Still, this kind of thing was done lots back then. It's in all
the books of that period. Mickey Mantle himself was given one
down the pipe just so he could pass Jimmie Foxx on the career
homer list. Mickey! Those were the days when people thought they
could tell the difference between compassion and competition.
Why, here's a clip from 1979 about somebody named Phil Scaffidi,
a spunky guard from Niagara who had been found to have adrenal
cancer in his junior season. The coach promised to play him "a
minute here, a minute there" his senior season, maybe get him
the Purple Eagles' career assist record if it worked out.
Scaffidi, hollowed out by his cancer, did indeed get the assist
record. It was highly artificial, and the pursuit of it probably
cost a more able athlete some playing time, but if the record's
cheapness haunted Scaffidi the rest of his life, it didn't haunt
him long. He died two months later. Bad luck is the modern way
Who were these creatures who played on earth's ancient fields?
How naive they must have been. How stupid! Records are nothing
against the grinding effects of history. Couldn't they have
guessed as much? Scaffidi is now third on Niagara's assist list.
Sales's record will topple too. You wonder what these people (so
innocent!) were possibly thinking. But that was a long time ago.
Sheffield's Silly Soliloquies
Our vote for spring training's most fun guy so far goes to Gary
Sheffield, whose six-year, $61 million contract has made him
virtually untradable--and is probably the only reason he's still
a Florida Marlin. Sheffield first distinguished himself last
Thursday by arriving at camp 5 1/2 hours late, even though his
winter home in St. Petersburg is only 150 miles away from the
Marlins' Space Coast Stadium in Viera. Of course, Sheffield was
already reporting six days later than most players, having
received permission to work with a personal trainer on his
creaky back. "Everybody doesn't know where I'm at every single
second," Sheffield said when he arrived, four hours after his
lawyer, Jim Neader, said he would be in camp "momentarily."
Florida general manager Dave Dombrowski said he was disappointed
that Sheffield was late because he was looking to him for
leadership. As far as Sheffield is concerned, the Marlins can
look elsewhere. "They didn't give me $61 million as a leader,"
said Sheffield. "I was a guy that was just on the team, and they
gave me $61 million, so I don't think anybody can say you have
to have the responsibilities to be a leader just because we gave
you something." Oh.
About the only good news for Florida in Sheffield's spring spiel
was that he wants to stay with the Marlins. Whoops, hold that
thought. Two days later Sheffield 1) complained about the
treatment, or lack thereof, that the team had given his back
("Nobody here is hands-on with me"); 2) indicated he would not
be 100% by Opening Day and had no intention of playing hurt, as
he said he did last season; and 3) speculated how happy he would
be to play for the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays, going so far
as to opine that a power-hitting rightfielder is "the missing
piece to that ball club." Dombrowski said Sheffield violated
tampering rules with those comments. It's only March. Already
it's been a long season for the Marlins.
NFL Free Agency
BUYING SOME D IN D.C.
Doomsday predictions that free agency would tear the NFL asunder
have proved to be a bunch of bunk. On the contrary, free agency
is the best thing to happen to the league in the 1990s. That's
what the past five years, and particularly the past two weeks,
have shown us. Here are four reasons why.
1) Free agency allows teams that use it judiciously, rather than
as a panacea, to employ it as a hole filler. In 1995 the
Washington Redskins signed, for only $450,000, Terry Allen, who
has turned out to be the second most productive free-agent
running back to date. In '97 they got one of the best cornerback
bargains in Cris Dishman ($9.6 million over four years). Last
week Washington, 28th and 30th in the 30-team NFL against the
rush in the past two years, acquired what it hopes will be an
instant run-stopping wall. Last season's NFL defensive player of
the year, Dana Stubblefield, left the San Francisco 49ers for
the Skins, while Dan Wilkinson, a problem child with enormous
potential, came to Washington from the Cincinnati Bengals in a
trade prompted by Wilkinson's impending free agency. The two
tackles will cost the Redskins about $11.3 million a year, but
if the gamble on Wilkinson's ability pays off, Washington may
have bought itself a division title.
2) Teams don't have to hang on to players who are headaches. In
his four seasons with Cincinnati, Wilkinson, the first pick in
the 1994 draft, was a pathetic underachiever who made it clear
he didn't want to be there. Now he gets a chance to prove
himself elsewhere, and Bengals fans, who were disgusted by the
320-pound prima donna, can look forward to seeing Cincy use the
first- and third-round picks they obtained for Wilkinson in next
3) Players get to discover their market value. Take linebacker
Bryce Paup, a cog in a young but terrific Green Bay Packers
defense four years ago. The Pack couldn't pay big money to
everyone, so Paup signed a three-year, $7.6 million deal with
the Buffalo Bills. Similarly this off-season, the Bills couldn't
pay everyone big bucks, so Paup agreed to a five-year, $22
million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
4) Top free agents haven't flocked solely to the big markets, as
doomsayers said they would. That myth was smashed almost
immediately, when Reggie White went to Green Bay in 1993, and
this year players have continued to be market-blind. The three
biggest-market teams in the NFL--the New York Giants, the New
York Jets and the Chicago Bears--have signed exactly one
big-ticket free agent, center Kevin Mawae, whom the Jets landed
for $3.4 million a year. The Nashville-based Oilers bought the
highest-paid receiver (Yancey Thigpen, $4.2 million a year) and
punter (Craig Hentrich, $1.1 million) in history. The
Charlotte-based Panthers grabbed the best cornerback (Doug
Evans) on the market. And Jacksonville added the most expensive
linebacker, Paup. --Peter King
HBO's City Dump, March 24
HEARTBREAKERS OF CCNY
It's a mystery why Hollywood has never optioned Stanley Cohen's
1977 book, The Game They Played, an account of the 1950s college
basketball point-shaving scandal that centered on City College
of New York. Though the rich, dramatic possibilities will have
to wait for the feature film, this hourlong documentary from
Black Canyon Productions, culled partly from Cohen's book, is an
able, albeit incomplete, treatment of a subject that resonates
The 1949-50 CCNY team seemed to epitomize everything that was
good about sports at a time when everything about sports
supposedly was good. The players weren't hotshot recruits from
thousands of miles away; they were lower- and middle-class
kids--black, white, Jewish, Catholic--from the neighborhood.
They played hard and selflessly, their pass-and-cut style
reflecting the democratic values of CCNY, "the poor man's
Harvard," as it was known. By the time the Beavers won both the
NIT and NCAA championships (it was possible then), they had
captured the hearts of the world's most discriminating sports
Then they broke them. A few months after the unprecedented
championship sweep, New York City district attorney Frank Hogan
began investigating reports that point spreads at college games
in Madison Square Garden had been manipulated by players in
cahoots with gamblers. The investigation got a major boost when
Manhattan star Junius Kellogg told his coach, Ken Norton, that
he had been approached by gamblers, a revelation Norton passed
on to authorities. "I'm sure any athlete would've done the
same," Kellogg is shown in newsreel footage saying during a
rally in Kellogg's honor. But that wasn't the case. Seven CCNY
players soon were found by Hogan's investigation to have shaved
"It was betrayal on a Biblical level," says longtime network
correspondent Marvin Kalb, a CCNY student at the time of the
scandal. The documentary, alas, doesn't elicit that kind of
sentiment from the CCNY players, none of whom (six of the seven
are still alive) would be interviewed. But at a time when point
spreads are as common as weather reports (Bloomberg Radio item)
and point-shaving allegations have proved true at Arizona State
and are under investigation at Fresno State, City Dump should be
mandatory viewing for all athletes.
GIVE 'EM BACK, THEY'RE MINE
Last Wednesday evening in New York City, Haile Gebrselassie of
Ethiopia was presented with the Jesse Owens International
Trophy, honoring him as the world's top athlete of 1997. As he
accepted the award, the diminutive, 24-year-old Gebrselassie may
have half expected a tuxedo-clad Kenyan to come dashing up and
snatch it from his hands.
In the last 3 1/2 years, Gebrselassie, the 1996 Olympic
10,000-meter champion, has set 12 world records, indoors and
out, at distances from 2,000 meters to 10,000 meters, and seven
times a Kenyan has broken his mark. His most nettlesome rival
has been Daniel Komen, a wraithlike 21-year-old who last summer
supplanted Gebrselassie as the outdoor-record holder at two
miles and at 5,000 meters and already this year has broken his
indoor marks for the 3,000 and 5,000. Of the Kenyans, against
whom Gebrselassie often finds himself running alone as they
share pacesetting duties in an attempt to break him, he says
cheerfully, "They have helped me to be famous by pushing me. I
am very thankful."
Thankful, perhaps, but far from content. A national hero in
Ethiopia--and, as a result of appearance fees and bonuses for
records, a millionaire--Gebrselassie says his goals for this
summer's outdoor season are to reclaim his marks in the 5,000
and 10,000. Paul Tergat, who finished second to Gebrselassie in
the 10,000 at the world championships last August, broke the
record at that distance 16 days later at a meet in which
Gebrselassie chose to run the 3,000.
Chances are, though, that Komen will be the one Gebrselassie
will be battling most often. Between them, distance running's
dynamic duo has hacked nearly 19 seconds from the outdoor 5,000
record--which stands at 12:39.47--in little more than 36 months.
That's as much as runners had pared from the mark in the
previous 21 years. "The world records are becoming fast,"
Gebrselassie said last week. "I need to do more training." It
looks like it's going to be a hot summer.
BLOOMBERG'S COME-ON LINES
Three times an hour, on evenings and weekends, listeners tuned
to a Bloomberg Radio affiliate in the New York City area are
treated to a sports roundup that provides not only updates and
final results but also the betting lines on games and
information on how teams did against the spread. Typical reports
from last week, for instance, informed the listener that "in
college basketball, UConn beat St. John's 87-58, easily covering
the 8 1/2-point spread."
Though wagering on sports is illegal in every state but Nevada,
Bloomberg executives are unapologetic. "We're not condoning
gambling or making any moral statements," says news director Bob
Leverone, who adds that the network has heard no objections from
the FCC. "We're just looking to distinguish ourselves and give
the listeners something different. It's what we always say on
the air: 'Bloomberg Radio: All numbers, all the time.'"
We've got a number for the Bloomers: 86. As in, eighty-six the
Hot Hockey Start-up
NEBRASKA'S OTHER TEAM
Mention Nebraska to a lot of folks, and the image evoked is, in
the words of Derek Reynolds, a winger on the University of
Nebraska-Omaha's fledgling hockey team and a native of
Saskatchewan, "lots of corn, lots of football." These days,
however, thanks to Reynolds and his Mavericks teammates--12 of
whom come from that country up north where neither corn nor
pigskin is king--there's a new game in town, or at least in state.
On February 21, the Division I Mavs played in front of their
17th consecutive sellout crowd at the 8,314-seat Omaha Civic
Auditorium and skated to a 4-0 win over Alabama-Huntsville.
Against an ambitious schedule, Nebraska-Omaha did better than
expected this season, finishing with a 12-17-2 record. More
impressive, the Mavericks were second in the country in
attendance, behind Minnesota, and will earn $2.5 million for
Nebraska-Omaha this year. Not bad for a commuter school whose
athletic program, which is Division II in all other sports, has
always been obscured by the Big Red shadow cast from Lincoln, 50
miles to the southwest.
Pucks-on-the-prairie had been around since the early 1970s, when
hockey started as a club sport at Nebraska-Omaha, but not until
'95, when then chancellor Del Webster enlisted the financial
help of Omaha business leaders, did hockey go varsity. By
raising $6.5 million, the university was able to start a
Division I hockey program and fulfill Title IX requirements by
creating women's teams in golf, soccer, swimming and tennis.
After that it was only a matter of recruiting the players. Says
coach Mike Kemp, a longtime assistant at Wisconsin, "We sold the
program to them as their chance to be pioneers." Corny but
--That the ABL title series draws more attention than the
hyper-hyped WNBA's training camp.
--That the NHL, which spent $120,000 to check out the
Islanders' buyers, had used some of that to investigate what
went on in those rooms in Nagano.
--That a guy built like Billy Mayfair could beat a guy built
like Tiger Woods in a sport other than golf.
56, 55, 53
Giants jersey numbers worn so far in spring training by Orel
Hershiser, who was issued the first, coaxed Shawn Estes into
giving him the second (Hershiser's old number) and requested the
third to honor Don Drysdale.
Coaching changes by the nine ABL teams in two seasons, the
latest being Sheryl Estes, who resigned from the Colorado
Percent of outs by strikeout in Erik Thompson's 21-K, two-hit
9-1 win for Pine Forest (Fla.) High over Pensacola in a
Price, in dollars, for which the U.S. Virgin Islands bobsled
team sold its three sleds to help repay loans and to avoid the
cost of shipping the sleds home from Nagano.
Designation of the NCAA rule--prohibiting student-athletes from
lending their names or images to commercial products--that kept
five members of the gold-medal-winning U.S. women's hockey team
from appearing on a Wheaties box.
Percent of respondents to a Runner's World on-line survey who
"liked the idea" of U.S. mile champion Suzy Hamilton's nude
appearances in Nike ads.
ARE CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS GOOD FOR COLLEGE BASKETBALL?
Of the major conferences, only the Ivy League and the Pac-10
don't give teams a chance to redeem a lousy season. To those who
say tournaments water down the regular season, tell it to
Fairfield, an NCAA participant last season after going 8-18 and
then winning the Metro Atlantic tournament. The only watering
down going on is tears tumbling down cheeks. --Alexander Wolff
Last season's Metro Atlantic bid should have gone to 22-6 Iona,
the team that played the best during the season. Postseason
tournaments have nothing to do with dreams and tears, and
everything to do with collecting moolah for the conference
coffers. The NCAA selectors don't need a free-for-all to pick,
say, a half-dozen teams from the ACC every year. They should
take only the season's best from the other conferences. --J.M.
The Pacers' 124-59 spanking of the Trail Blazers last Friday
produced the second-largest margin of victory in NBA history and
was the first time a winning team had doubled up the loser. But
blowouts aren't rare during a long season. Here are the NBA
teams--and their counterparts in baseball and hockey, the other
two night-after-night sports--that during the last five seasons
have been best at taking their opponents to the woodshed, as
well as those that most often have taken a night off.
NBA (GAMES DECIDED BY 30+ POINTS)
Routers (with record)
MLB (Games decided by 12+ runs)
[Routers (with record)]
NHL (Games decided by 7+ goals)
[Routers (with record)]
Red Wings 8-2
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
Droppings from pigeons and seagulls have become such a problem
at soccer games in Fareham, a town in the south of England, that
club officials have taken to handing out umbrellas to their fans.
The Triple Crown season started with last week's Fountain of
Youth Stakes in Florida. Sites that cover everything from
history to handicapping will help you make sense of the equine
world whether you're a big fan or just horsing around.
If you don't know the difference between a trifecta and a
quinella, take the Daily Racing Form's Picking Winners 101
class, which schools the browser in everything from placing a
bet to tracing bloodlines.
This page devoted to 1996 Horse of the Year Cigar (below) isn't
just blowing smoke. There are details from his first race in
1993 to his 16-race winning streak to his retirement at the
Ashford stud farm.
This page captures both the racing and social scenes of the
Triple Crown's first leg, with year-by-year Derby summaries and
vital stats such as margin of victory and number of mint juleps
See Secretariat's pedigree, take the Triple Crown trivia quiz
and follow week-by-week profiles of this year's contenders
provided by Blood Horse magazine's on-line correspondents.
sites we'd like to see
Real time video of Nykesha Sales's record-breaking basket.
Kenneth Starr's page soliciting info on Greg Norman's link to
They Said It
BUBBA THE LOVE SPONGE
Four-hundred-and-10-pound Tampa-area radio talk show host, on
New York Yankee David Wells, the hefty lefty who's a daily
caller and occasional lunch companion: "He's fat by baseball
standards. I'm fat by human standards."