Can the Heisman be saved from its financially strapped overseers?
Railing against another infusion of corporate sponsorship into a
sport whose calendar includes the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl and the
Insight.com Bowl seems futile, but there's something
particularly embarrassing about a Japanese automaker
underwriting something so quintessentially American as the
New York City's Downtown Athletic Club (DAC), sponsor of the
64-year-old Heisman, doesn't sound embarrassed about the $1.5
million it will get from American Suzuki over the next three
years for being the Heisman's official sponsor. (As part of the
agreement reached last week, Suzuki also signed a three-year,
$35 million promotional deal with Time Warner, SI's parent
company.) "We needed to develop revenue," said DAC executive
director Rudy Riska, "and we had to market it in a way that it
wouldn't taint the trophy." Lord, we wouldn't want to see the
trophy tainted. Never mind that the 1968 Heisman, formerly the
property of one Orenthal James Simpson, had to be sold at
auction to help pay the $8.5 million wrongful death judgment
against O.J., or that the '72 Heisman, won by Johnny Rodgers,
ended up on the defense table in front of Rodgers during his
1987 trial for assault with a deadly weapon.
The Heisman is now practically all that keeps the DAC
afloat--certainly all that keeps it relevant--so its search for
financial assistance is understandable. But a couple of changes
are in order. The DAC must stop handing out Heisman ballots as
if they were gumballs. This season, as always, more than 800
media members, many of whom never see the candidates in live
action, will decide the winner. Tune out the old-boy network and
give ballots only to those journalists who follow the sport week
in and week out on a national basis, journalists who, heaven
forbid, might determine that an offensive tackle or a linebacker
is the best college player in the nation.
August 29, 1999
Most important, the DAC should line up some nonprofit
benefactor--say the National Football Foundation--to underwrite
the Heisman should the club be in no better financial shape when
its three-year deal with Suzuki expires. Otherwise, next thing
you know, somebody from the DAC will be standing up on a
Saturday evening in December and proudly announcing the winner
of the 7-Eleven Super Big Gulp Heisman Trophy. --Jack McCallum
Minor League Miracle
Jim Morris is the most improbable story to hit the Durham Bulls
since Nuke Laloosh. Less than three months ago Morris was a
35-year-old physics and chemistry teacher at Reagan County High
in Brownwood, Texas. Today he's a few good innings from making
the Show. "I didn't set out to have anything like this happen,
and honestly I didn't think it would work out," Morris says.
"It's hard for me to believe."
Morris, who was also the baseball coach at Reagan County High,
began his journey at the outset of the 1999 high school season
when his players made him promise to attend a major league
tryout camp if they reached the state playoffs. Both sides kept
the bargain. A first-round draft pick of the Milwaukee Brewers
in '83 who threw only 203 pro innings, had four arm operations
and never advanced above Class A before retiring in '89, the
lefthanded Morris drew chuckles from Devil Rays scouts before
his audition on June 19 in Brownwood. Then he threw a 98-mph
fastball. Four days later he was at extended spring training in
After a brief layover with the Double A Orlando Rays, he arrived
at Triple A Durham on July 21. "Somebody told me we were getting
a 35-year-old lefthanded science teacher who throws 98, and my
first reaction was, 'Is this a real guy?'" says Bulls pitching
coach Pete Filson. "Jim topped out at 90 ten years ago, and now
he's back throwing in the mid-90s consistently and blowing
hitters away. That just doesn't happen."
Even the physics teacher has a hard time explaining how he could
add 10 years and 10 mph. What is clear is that the 6'3",
215-pound Morris had used a variety of fastballs and a hard
slider to allow just 13 hits and strike out 12 in 14 2/3 innings
of relief with Durham through Sunday.
There's much sentiment in the Tampa Bay front office, given the
Devil Rays' lost season, to promote Morris to the big club when
rosters expand in September. "There's no question he has the
stuff to pitch in the majors, but he needs to improve his
command and show us he can perform in front of 20,000 people,"
says Tampa Bay general manager Chuck LaMar, who scouted Morris
last week. "You can't help but pull for a guy like Jim, but we
want him to justify putting the final piece in this great story."
Morris, who's known as Old Man River in the Bulls' clubhouse, is
making huge sacrifices to chase his dream. He hasn't seen his
wife, Lorri, or their three kids in nine weeks; he has taken a
50% pay cut from the job he quit as a teacher; and his future is
uncertain. He's driven in part by the realization that this
dream isn't just his own. Morris's former players phone his wife
regularly to check his progress, and last week he received a
letter from a stranger in Florida who wrote that he'd never
attended a Devil Rays game but was so moved by Morris's quest
that if Morris got called up, he would go to the ballpark. "I
try not to dwell on getting to the big leagues because it's
overwhelming," Morris says. "But as far as I've come in the last
two months, I won't say anything is impossible anymore."
BARRY'S BACKER GETS BURIED
Commend Eric Levin for his perpetual search for life's bright
side, which these days can be exhausting. "I still have my
health," says Levin with a sigh, "and today, well...I had a good
breakfast." For a man whose company, Pro Access Inc., was
blindsided by Barry Sanders's retirement in July, no victory is
While the Lions' star's sudden decision shocked the football
world, Levin's small Miami Beach sports-marketing firm was
thrown for a giant loss. In June 1998 Pro Access and Sanders
created a licensing and sponsorship campaign called Run for the
Record, designed to capitalize on the hype surrounding Sanders's
pursuit of Walter Payton's NFL career rushing mark. By last
month, Levin says, he had tentative deals with several large
companies to produce Run for the Record merchandise. The NFL had
agreed to split the campaign's projected multimillion-dollar
royalties with Sanders (Pro Access would have taken a percentage
of Sanders's cut) and planned a seasonlong promotional push
devoted to the pursuit of the mark. One final piece--a
1,458-yard season by Sanders, pedestrian by his standards--and
the profitable puzzle would have been complete.
Barring a sudden turnaround, it appears the run for the record
will never occur. Levin's negotiations with potential sponsors
have been shelved, and league support has evaporated. Despite
having had no contact with Sanders since his retirement
announcement, Pro Access is attempting to save the foundering
campaign by working on commemorative Sanders merchandise.
Meanwhile, Levin's shock has given way to a quixotic calm. "In
my heart there's a hope that we haven't seen the last of Barry
Sanders," says Levin, "but tell me--how many more home runs
before McGwire gets another record?"
WHAT'S OLD IS NEW AGAIN
In the chemical war between drug-aided athletes and the testers
assigned to expose them, the athletes--helped by designer
steroids, human growth hormone and other nearly
impossible-to-detect substances--always seem to stay one step
ahead. It's as if the testers have been fishing without hooks,
and athletes have had to be stupid or careless to get caught.
This makes the sudden reemergence of the prehistoric anabolic
steroid nandrolone baffling. In the last seven months more than
a dozen athletes in sports ranging from track and field to
roller hockey have tested positive for nandrolone. The list
includes such big names as 1992 Olympic 100-meter champ Linford
Christie, World Cup star Christophe Dugarry of France and
seven-time Olympic sprint medalist Merlene Ottey, who came up
positive last week on the eve of the world track and field
Nandrolone, a proven performance enhancer that's banned by the
IOC and most other major sports organizations, is ferreted out
with relative ease in urinalysis. The long-lasting oil-based
injectable steroid fell out of favor with the onset of drug
testing in the early 1980s and the development of
harder-to-detect, water-based steroids, which are usually taken
Athletes nabbed for nandrolone have often proclaimed their
innocence with bizarre explanations for how the substance got
into their bodies. There's some evidence, for example, that
steroid-fed beef can raise a person's nandrolone level. Sure
enough, one athlete, bobsledder Lenny Paul of Great Britain, was
cleared when he offered the spaghetti Bolognese defense,
claiming the meat in his sauce contained nandro.
Drug-testing experts believe the most likely culprits in the
nandrolone surge are popular dietary supplements such as
19-norandrostenedione. "I call them over-the-counter steroids,
and as far as nandrolone is concerned, they're all that's
changed in the last 20 years," says Don Catlin, the founder and
director of the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory and a member
of the IOC medical commission. Norandrostenedione and the
better-known androstenedione are readily available in stores and
over the Internet and are legal in the U.S. "The DEA told us the
use of these substances has absolutely skyrocketed in legal,
nonprescription form," says Craig Kammerer, a pharmacologist who
worked with Catlin and now runs his own lab.
Why are athletes using substances that result in slam-dunk
positive tests? It's possible some users don't know what's in
the stuff they're taking. (For instance, Petr Korda, the 1998
Australian Open champion who tested positive at Wimbledon that
year, was cleared after claiming he had no idea how nandro got
into his system.) Yet most athletes are meticulous about what
they consume. "I'm careful about my corn flakes," says 1996
double Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson. Also, as IAAF vice
president Arne Ljunqvist suggests, drug companies may be spiking
supplements with pure steroids. "This would help generate word
of mouth and move their product in a competitive market," says
Penn State epidemiologist Charles Yesalis.
It is also possible that athletes thought they'd found yet
another magic potion, a powder that dissolves in water, improves
performances and can't be detected. In light of the positive
tests, two things are certain: Athletes will stop using nandro,
and they will find something better.
Greene Plays Cop
TO CATCH A THIEF, IN RECORD TIME
To the list of life's verities--you can't fool Mother Nature,
you can't beat city hall--we add another: You can't outrun the
world's fastest human. Especially when you're carrying luggage.
Last week at the airport in Seville, 100-meter world-record
holder Maurice Greene was being interviewed by Spanish
television as fellow American Larry Wade, who has run the second
fastest 110-meter hurdles in the world this year, sat close by.
In an episode caught on tape by the camera crew, a man sneaked
behind Wade, took his duffel bag and dashed across the arrivals
Wade yelled, Greene broke off the interview, and the two
sprinters sped off in what proved to be a predictably short
pursuit--about 30 yards. They nabbed the unidentified bandit at
a baggage carousel, whereupon he was turned over to Spain's
"It was a great way to start the world championships," said
Greene, who, apparently unwinded by his exertions, stole off with
the gold medal in the 100 meters six days later.
--That the NFL would forget about Houston and L.A. and put a new
team in a town where pro football hasn't already failed.
--That bidding for the TV rights to next year's Toms River
Little League games doesn't get out of hand.
--That somewhere in the 500-channel universe there were a place
for live, free English Premier League soccer.
Percent of 1999 NFL rookies who said they would take steroids to
become All-Pro, even if it shortened their lives by five years.
New designation of the 13th hole at the Somerset Golf Club in
Locust Grove, Va., which hosted the Triskaidekaphobia Open on
Friday, Aug. 13, and where the final hole will henceforth be
Estimated value of endorsement deals Lance Armstrong has signed
since his Tour de France victory last month.
Price that an Alien Iverson, the No. 1-selling beanbag doll of
the summer, sold for recently on the Internet.
Strikeouts Randy Johnson needs to average in eight more starts to
break Nolan Ryan's single-season major league record of 383.
12 to 16
Percent worse that soccer players, who head the ball during
games, performed on a battery of psychological tests than a
control group of swimmers.
George Foremans in the George Foreman family, after the birth of
the heavyweight's fifth son named George.
Kim Perrot, 1967-1999
Leaving a Legacy
Even as she struggled against the cancer that had spread from
her lungs to her brain, Houston Comets star Kim Perrot worked to
find a way to ease the suffering of others. "When I first
started spending time at the hospital, I noticed families and
children hanging around with nothing to do," she wrote in May in
her regular column in the Houston Chronicle. Soon after her
cancer was diagnosed last February, the feisty 5'5" point guard,
the heart of Houston's 1997 and '98 WNBA championship teams,
began raising money to build Kim's Place--a recreational
facility that would be open to children with long-term illnesses
and their families. To help Perrot reach her goal, in April the
Comets and their NBA counterparts, the Rockets, held a
fund-raiser that took in almost $400,000, which will go toward
the $600,000 construction cost.
Perrot had a clear vision of what she hoped Kim's Place would
be: "Comfortable chairs and couches with lots of games and, of
course, a basketball hoop to get some exercise. I want these
families to have the opportunity to continue to celebrate life
even though they may be fighting an extremely tough battle."
Perrot's own battle with cancer proved to be too tough. She died
last Thursday at age 32. But with Kim's Place, Perrot will give
others a way to celebrate her life.
In the process of hyping his new movie, Mickey Blue Eyes,
British actor Hugh Grant last week talked to USA Today about
many things, including his hair. (File that under More
Information Than We Need to Know.) Mr. Elizabeth Hurley told the
newspaper that a few years ago he got his wavy locks shorn, with
disastrous results. "Unfortunately I looked like a butch
lesbian," said Grant. "It was supposed to be spiky and Brad
Pitt-y. But I looked like a female Wimbledon champion."
Given Grant's past, which includes a 1995 conviction in Los
Angeles on two counts of "participating in a lewd act," one
would think he'd choose his words more carefully. Grant would
not comment on his USA Today remark, but his publicist, Robert
Garlock, said, "The question was asked and answered with tongue
firmly planted in cheek." As for a possible apology, Garlock
said, "Hugh's a comedian. Anyone would take his answer with a
sense of humor, just as with all the quotes in that story."
Female Wimbledon champions and women tennis players in general
aren't likely to consider Grant much of a comedian. And should
he venture near the locker room during next year's fortnight he
may find a title for his next film: Four Weddings and Another
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
The University of Minnesota official who recently retired as the
sexual violence awareness coordinator for Gophers athletes was
cited for soliciting prostitutes twice in the last eight years.
They Said It
Mets pitcher, on where he'll be if he's left off New York's
postseason roster: "Out in the stands, drinking beer and
yelling, 'Get Yoshii in there!'"