FALLEN (SUPER) STARS
A useful rule of thumb for television viewing: Any program that
includes footage of Mark Gastineau writhing in pain after
crashing his bicycle deserves a look. To see that vainglorious,
erstwhile member of the New York Sack Exchange eat asphalt,
check out The Superstars silver anniversary on Sunday (2 p.m.
EST). Despite the reunion flavor of the show, which also
includes a new Superstars competition, an invitation was not
extended to former Superstar O.J. Simpson, for obvious reasons:
Flying to Jamaica for the taping would have interrupted the
lifelong quest to which the Juice has devoted himself. Also, he
suffers from arthritis.
For two decades The Superstars trotted out athletes who were
supposed to be the best and brightest of our sporting
world--many of whom turned out to be nothing of the sort. On the
inside cover of ABC's glossy folder promoting the anniversary
show is a collage of Superstars alumni, the caption of which
ought to read SIC TRANSIT SUPERSTARDUM. There's Simpson, in
happier times, inexplicably bowling lefthanded. Above him is
Steve Garvey, whose carefree smile does nothing to indicate that
later, while engaged to one woman, he would father children by
two others. Beneath the impeccably groomed Garvey is Pete Rose,
awaiting a serve in his too-tight tennis shorts and
anticipating, no doubt, his initiation into the Hall of Fame.
Among the old-timers seen on the reunion show is Joe Frazier,
who nearly drowned in the swimming portion of his inaugural
competition and not so long ago went to the bottom again when he
mocked Muhammad Ali, who suffers from Parkinson's syndrome, and
questioned the choice of Ali to light the 1996 Olympic flame.
The presence of Frazier does remind us of the one redeeming
aspect of the show: Even as it exalted its participants as
Superstars, it stripped them of their dignity by forcing them to
compete in unfamiliar sports. After he sank like a sewer grate
in '73, for example, Smokin' Joe fared almost as poorly in the
baseball-hitting competition, causing Jim McKay to exclaim
melodramatically, "The batting machine has struck out Joe
Contributions to slapstick humor notwithstanding, the show must
be called to account for its role in suppressing the national
I.Q. It was the first and most famous of those execrable
made-for-TV events that came to be known as trashsport. As for
this year's new Superstars, I have the following bits of advice:
Hurdle the high jump bar at the end of the obstacle course
because it'll knock five seconds off your time, and enjoy this
gig while it lasts. If history is our guide, some of you are in
for a bit of a struggle, post-Superstardom, on the obstacle
course of life. --Austin Murphy
Marcus Allen Retires
As bizarre as it may sound, many football fans--especially Los
Angeles-Oakland Raiders fans--will look back on the Hall of Fame
career of running back Marcus Allen with a tinge of regret. For
those fans, Allen, who last Thursday announced his retirement
after 16 seasons in which he ran for 12,243 yards, scored 145
touchdowns and won Super Bowl and regular-season MVP awards,
will forever be remembered for what might have been.
For reasons that aren't totally clear, Allen spent much of his
11-year tenure with the Raiders as the chief inhabitant of owner
Al Davis's doghouse. Before he escaped to the Kansas City
Chiefs, in 1993, he was benched at unfathomable times, berated
at other times and forced to stand by as a parade of runners
were brought in to supplant him. Some of those closest to Allen
believe that Davis had it in for Allen from the start, that
Allen, who joined the Raiders for their first season at the Los
Angeles Coliseum, the stadium in which he had won the Heisman
Trophy while starring for Southern Cal, was regarded by Davis as
a glitzy Hollywood headliner who became bigger than the
team--and, by extension, bigger than the owner.
If that was Davis's reasoning, it was a pathetic misconception,
for the two qualities that elevated Allen to hallowed status
among teammates were his toughness and unselfishness. "I go back
to that quote from President Kennedy, 'Ask not what your country
can do for you, but what you can do for your country,'" says
Ronnie Lott, another future Hall of Famer, who played with Allen
at USC and on the Raiders. "Replace the word country with the
word team, and that's Marcus Allen."
Allen was a graceful runner with exceptional vision, balance and
cutback ability. His highlight will always be his 74-yard
touchdown run in the Raiders' Super Bowl XVIII victory over the
Washington Redskins, a play that featured a balletic 360-degree
spin. But the essence of Allen was his signature one-yard spurt
when no hole existed. One of the best short-yardage and goal
line runners in NFL history, the 210-pound Allen had a passion
for dirty work that extended to his nasty blocking. The Raiders'
roster has included hard men like Jack Tatum, Ted Hendricks,
Otis Sistrunk and John Matuszak, but another Raider of that
caliber, retired defensive end Howie Long, calls Allen "the
toughest man I've ever been around."
Says Lott, "The qualities he embodied are really what the
Raiders were all about. He wore those slogans--Just win, baby,
Commitment to excellence--as well as any Raider ever has."
Sadly, this seemed to be visible to everyone but Davis.
NBA's Woman Refs
THUMBS UP, BUT NOT FROM SAM
With so many veteran NBA referees making unwanted news with the
IRS (page 92), it's been a relief for the league that Dee
Kantner and Violet Palmer have made so little news. Since
Detroit Pistons center Brian Williams weighed in with his
enlightened view on the hiring of the two female zebras ("This
is just more '90s' bull---- political correctness"), not much
has been heard about Kantner and Palmer, the first distaff
officials to work in a big league men's sport. For the league,
that's just fine.
"They're as good as any rookies that have come along," says Los
Angeles Lakers coach Del Harris. Portland Trail Blazers
assistant Jimmy Eyen says the strength of the women has been
their approachability ("They're not like most rookies, who are
headstrong because they want to look in charge"), while Denver
Nuggets guard Bryant Stith has been impressed with their grace
under pressure. "They're forced to do a good job because they're
under such a microscope," says Stith, "and they have."
The fact that neither rookie is a part of the old-boy network
was mentioned as a positive by more than one player. "They don't
have favorites," says veteran Houston Rockets guard Eddie
Johnson. Adds Denver forward LaPhonso Ellis, "They don't make
many hierarchy calls."
The consensus seems to be that Kantner, who is also the
supervisor of officials for the WNBA, is the more confident of
the two refs, sometimes to her detriment. "Dee's problem is that
she's a little too familiar out there," says one veteran
referee. Familiar? Well, an Eastern Conference All-Star says
that in one game Kantner rested a hand on his rib cage as he
talked to her. "Why is that?" says the player. "Joe Crawford
isn't going to hold my ribs." Then again, an Eastern Conference
coach says that Palmer allows herself to be overruled on correct
decisions and must "come in with a stronger frame of mind."
One very on-the-record critic of both women is Seattle
SuperSonics forward Sam Perkins. He asserts that Kantner and
Palmer have done "a subpar job." Perkins disagrees with Johnson
and Ellis, saying that Kantner and Palmer "base their calls on
who you are" and in that respect have "taken on the personality
of men refs by favoritism." But even Perkins gives the duo one
grudging nod: "It looks like they're in better shape than the
male refs. They run quicker." That's something Perkins better do
when Kantner or Palmer works a Sonics game.
SEASONS ON THE BRINK
Comments last week about postseason play by two high-ranking
sports executives are deliciously comparable in the unconscious
messages they send. The first is from Dave Checketts, CEO of
Madison Square Garden, the conglomerate that owns the New York
Knicks and the New York Rangers, among other properties. While
discussing the fact that revenue will decline if neither Garden
team qualifies for the postseason, Checketts told The New York
Times, "Missing the playoffs will hurt, but our event business,
Radio City Music Hall and our TV networks are performing very
well." Ah, sports in the 1990s.
Meanwhile, Chicago Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz fumed to the
Edmonton Sun about the interruption of the NHL season for the
Olympics. "I didn't like having one game in February," said
Wirtz. "Our fans want hockey in the winter, not April and May."
Trouble at Texas
Athletic director DeLoss Dodds has put a smiley face on the
losing and the coaching changes that have plagued Texas
athletics of late. But it's time for Dodds to take a hard look
at the way he's running things. It's not just that three major
programs (baseball, which at week's end was 16-22-1 with 16
games left; football; and men's basketball) might finish with
losing records for the first time since 1954-55. It's more the
coaching carousel that is turning round and round (four head
coaches have been fired, been reassigned or have resigned in 21
months) and the suggestion by former coaches that alumni have
far too much sway over Dodds.
The most recent--and most embarrassing--exhibit is men's
basketball, whose coach, Tom Penders, "resigned" on April 2. On
March 8, the day after the Longhorns wrapped up a 14-17 season,
four members of Penders's team met with Dodds. They expressed
concerns over their development and threatened to transfer.
Dodds concedes that the meeting was set up by Texas alum Bill
Wendlandt, a former Longhorns basketball player as well as the
former AAU coach of Longhorns freshmen Luke Axtell and Chris
Mihm, two of the disgruntled players. "I'm upset that someone
outside the program got access to my players and tried to
undermine me," says Penders.
Further, Dodds waited five days to tell Penders about the
meeting, informing him the day before Penders left on a
Caribbean vacation. After Penders announced that Axtell would be
suspended for academic reasons (Penders said he reached that
conclusion only after consulting with the athletic department's
academic adviser), Dodds said publicly that he didn't support
The demise of John Mackovic, who was forced out as football
coach in November after Texas went 4-7, can be traced to
influential alumni. That's nothing new. "Nobody ever knows who's
calling the shots," says former basketball coach Abe Lemons,
whom Dodds fired in 1982. "A lot of people hide in the
background and just cut you down. Dodds is just a pawn."
Dodds certainly wasn't the only one who screwed up in the
Penders case. Penders's top assistant, Eddie Oran, released
Axtell's grades to an Austin radio station. That action was as
harebrained as it was legally questionable, and Axtell's family
threatened to sue the university. Further, the grades that Oran
faxed weren't even the correct ones. Axtell was later reinstated
by Dodds, though he transferred to Kansas on Monday. Penders
claims to have had no advance knowledge of the faxing, but that
incident was the key factor in his being forced out.
Dodds was beaming at Monday's announcement that former Clemson
coach Rick Barnes will replace Penders. Four months earlier,
Dodds stole Mack Brown away from North Carolina to replace
Mackovic. Nobody said the man can't hire. The question is
whether he can lead a department and stand behind his coaches
once he has them.
SIRING THE WINNER
Ninety minutes after his wife gave birth to their second child
at Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill., last week,
jockey Chris Emigh was back in the irons at nearby Sportsman's
Park. He finished out of the money on Cushion but delivered a
late surge to win the ninth race. His victorious mount's name?
CASH ADVICE FROM TURK
By his own estimate, Derek Sanderson, who during the early 1970s
was the highest-paid hockey player in the world, blew $3 million
on bad investments, cocaine, alcohol, pills and--as myriad
photos from that era will attest--ghastly lounge-lizard attire.
By 1978 Sanderson, who commanded a $2.65 million contract from
the Philadelphia Blazers of the short-lived World Hockey
Association (SI, April 6), was sleeping in New York City's
Today? Sanderson, 52, heads up the sports division for
Boston-based State Street Research, a money-managing firm. As a
senior vice president, Sanderson oversees the Sports Group,
which represents about 100 athletes from every major sport.
"Athletes are easy prey [for financial scam artists] because
they pay attention to their game, not their money," says
Sanderson. That's what Sanderson, once known as Turk, did. But
after bottoming out, he spent most of the 1980s cleaning up his
act--he went to 13 drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinics--and
spent the early '90s sitting behind a desk at another Boston
money-management firm, Tucker Anthony, learning about finances.
State Street took him on last October.
Last month the firm launched the State Street Research Athletes
Fund, a Sanderson brainchild whose assets have grown to $8.4
million. The mutual fund is for athletes and others in pro
sports, from family members to umpires. (No armchair
quarterbacks.) The minimum investment for most is $25,000,
though minor leaguers who aren't making major league bucks can
put up a smaller sum. The fund consists of some 50 blue-chip
stocks and is run with a conservative philosophy, something Turk
may not have endorsed. Sanderson provides this advice, culled
from years of experience: "Do as I say, not as I did."
--That more coaches had the humility of Larry Bird, who termed
talk of his being named coach of the year "a joke."
--That at next year's Masters, Jim Nantz organizes a wienie
roast over that fake fire in Butler Cabin.
--That sympathetic Los Angeles Dodgers fans resist the urge to
take up a collection for poor Mike Piazza.
Different uniforms (two home, two road) that have been worn by
the Diamondbacks, who through Monday had played 13 major league
Different uniforms worn by the Yankees, who through Monday had
played 14,669 games.
Devil Rays employees who got their Marlins 1997 World Series
rings last week.
Snooker players who failed random drug tests administered by the
World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association.
Increase in surfers since 1992, from 1.1 million to 1.75 million.
Value, in dollars, of lottery tickets (all losers) purchased by
Shaquille O'Neal for the $109 million California drawing.
Value, in dollars, of airtime that opponents of Tom Ridge said
should be provided them after the Pennsylvania governor did
three minutes as guest sports anchor on a Harrisburg TV station.
Which Expansion Team Has the Brighter Future?
Forget the 90 games the Diamondbacks are sure to lose this year.
Owner Jerry Colangelo has a rabid fan base and a cash-cow
ballpark, and this master salesman will build a contender by
2000. Tampa Bay has a poorly located leisure suit of a stadium
(Turf? Dome? How '70s!) and notoriously fickle fans. For the
third game of the Devil Rays' first season, 17,000 seats were
empty. It's tough going up against shuffleboard season in St.
Pete. --Tom Verducci
Or TAMPA BAY
While the Diamondbacks were sinking cash into middling middle
infielders and a centerfield pool, the Devil Rays were building
responsibly. General manager Chuck LaMar brought in vets like
Wade Boggs and Fred McGriff to be respectable in '98 but kept
the payroll low ($25 million) and stocked the farm. Tampa will
do its spending in a few years, when the young Rays have matured
into contenders. Meanwhile, Devil Rays fans have the Gulf if
they want to swim. --Stephen Cannella
Monday is Patriots' Day in Beantown, but don't count on a
red-white-and-blue win in the 102nd Boston Marathon. Once
dominated by U.S. men, the race has for more than a decade been
ruled by runners from other countries. Since 1983 no U.S. man
has won, and since '93 only seven have cracked the top 25. It's
not just that the world's getting faster: As a comparison of the
average times of the top five finishers and those of the top
five U.S. men over the past 15 years shows, Americans have hit
Korleone Young, 19, a 6'7" forward from Wichita who played his
senior year at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va.,
announced last week that he will forgo college and enter the NBA
draft. Turn Young's name around, replace the K with a C, and you
have another callow American with big dreams.
Soon-to-be high school grad fretted that people will think kid
who jumps to pros is dumb
College grad had to fight impression he was too intellectual to
do dirty work
Looked snappy in mandatory Hargrave uniform during press
Looked snappy in Marine uniform in early scenes
Turned pro only after "many hours of consultation with my family"
Whacked rival mobster and crooked police captain only after
consultation with Family
Plans to hire an agent to negotiate contracts
Got solid advice from Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), especially
after carrying out contracts
To bury jumpers in the Meadowlands
To bury stoolies in the Meadowlands
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
Calling it "not exceptional," Uli Hoeness, general manager of
Bayern Munich, Germany's premier soccer club, admitted that the
club had hired a private investigator to tail the movements of
midfielder Mario Basler, who has repeatedly violated curfew.
SPRINGTIME ON TOP OF THE WORLD: Temperatures hovering around a
balmy 0[degrees], winds blowing at a soothing 50 mph, perfect
conditions for attacking Mount Everest's 29,028-foot summit. The
monthlong safe-climbing window slams shut each year at the end
of May, though, so for the next few weeks Everest will be
buzzing with daring Alpinists. Here are a few sites to let those
stuck at sea level elevate themselves and join in.
The official site of the 1998 American Mount Everest Expedition
has daily audio dispatches phoned in by climbers updating their
progress--as of Sunday they were at Everest's base camp--as well
as maps, photos and descriptions of climbing gear.
The home page of the Everest Environmental Expedition '98, a
group intent on scaling Everest and cleaning up discarded oxygen
canisters and refuse from previous groups; for $156 you can be a
"sponsor" and have a spent canister sent to you when the
expedition returns to the U.S.
Get updates on Everest Challenge '98, the ascent organized by
Prescott College professor and foot amputee Tom Whittaker
(above), who is trying to become the first disabled person to
reach Everest's summit.
sites we'd like to see
Real-time video of Karl Malone's skull-thumping rampage last week.
Updates on postdraft contract deals offered to the Washington
Houston Rockets guard and, beginning next season, University of
Houston basketball coach, after Michael Jordan asked if there
was anything he could do to help Drexler in his new job: "Send
me your kids."