While Houston celebrates, L.A. faces a future without NFL football
Every influential voice in the league favored Los Angeles over
Houston in the battle for the NFL's 32nd franchise, and with good
reason: L.A., the nation's No. 2 market, has three times as many
TV households as No. 11 Houston. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue also
didn't want a generation of Angelenos growing up without a home
team, and as Patriots owner Bob Kraft put it, "It's just not good
business not to be in the second-largest city in America."
Still the league gave Houston, not L.A., its landmark 32nd team
last week (landmark because this will be the last expansion team
awarded for at least a decade). In the end Texas billionaire Bob
McNair delivered what neither Hollywood's Michael Ovitz nor
anyone else in L.A. could. McNair, 62, rounded up $195 million
in public funding for a 69,500-seat stadium and promised to pay
for the rest, probably another $200 million. He said he'd build
the stadium with a retractable roof so that grass could grow but
air conditioning could flow. He guaranteed five years of
sellouts. And when he was told quietly by two influential owners
that he still needed to distance his $600 million bid from
Ovitz's $550 million, it was no problem. Throw in a Super Bowl,
McNair said, and I'll go to $700 million. Done deal.
"Everything we asked him to do, he did," said Steelers owner Dan
Rooney, "while Los Angeles had people vying against each other,
an argument with the state over funding, and three stadium sites.
They had real problems."
Five years ago the expansion Panthers and Jaguars sold for $140
million apiece. The Houston deal represents a jump of more than
300%, and that has NFL owners, who'll get $23 million each from
the deal, jumping for joy. "McNair has validated the value of our
franchises," said the Ravens' Art Modell, who should now have no
problem finding a minority owner to bail him out of his cash
crunch. The Jets should benefit, too, with buyers lining up to
pay at least $600 million for them.
What about Los Angeles? Al Davis might still move his Raiders
back to town, and teams with onerous stadium leases--Arizona,
Minnesota, New Orleans--can always threaten to move to L.A. But
if the City of Angels is to become the City of Saints, it must
settle on a stadium site and find the public funding other towns
hand out to lure teams. In faction-riddled L.A., that may be an
impossible dream. --Peter King
Tallahassee Bag Man
Florida State's Peter Warrick was a hero in Tallahassee when he
passed up the NFL draft to return for his senior season. He
became an embarrassment last week when he was charged with grand
theft, a felony, in the mall crime of the year.
Police say that on Sept. 29 Warrick and Laveranues Coles,
another Florida State receiver, got an illegal discount from
Tallahassee department store sales clerk Rachel Myrtil. They
paid only $10.70 for each of two bags of designer clothes worth
a total of $412.38. Coles, Warrick and Myrtil were arrested
eight days later.
Coles, who had previous academic and legal troubles--he had done
150 hours of community service on a misdemeanor charge of
assaulting his stepmother, for one thing--was kicked off the
team by coach Bobby Bowden. Warrick, who apologized on national
television last Saturday before watching Florida State's 31-21
win over Miami from the sideline, has been suspended
indefinitely. His Heisman Trophy hopes are surely dust, but what
about his hopes of rejoining the Seminoles this year? School
rules say he must sit as long as he's charged with a felony.
And what of his treatment by Willie Meggs, the state's attorney
who could have charged Warrick, a first offender, with a
misdemeanor--as Florida State athletic director Dave Hart and
many others expected--but chose grand theft instead?
Meggs insists he isn't being unduly harsh to Warrick, and
longtime Tallahassee defense lawyer Bill Corry agrees. "The
complicating factor is the woman in the store," says Corry. "If
he had just taken some shirts and walked out, it's petty theft.
But when you involve the clerk, who's supposed to protect her
employer from theft, it becomes embezzlement, and that is viewed
as a jail offense."
Corry sympathizes with Warrick. "He probably thought that if the
clerk was willing to do this, it was just a perk," he says,
"like a police officer eating in a restaurant and never getting
a check. But this is serious."
Says Tallahassee defense lawyer Tom Findley, a former federal
prosecutor, "[Meggs] applies the law fairly and equally, but he
is tough. There are prosecutors who would have made it petty
theft. Our state attorney will use his discretion toward the
tough end of the spectrum." Findley thinks Warrick should either
plea bargain his charge down to a misdemeanor or plead no
contest to the felony. "He doesn't want to go to trial on these
charges," he says.
One group of football men--crafty NFL personnel experts--sees a
bright side to Warrick's trouble. "Picture this scenario," says
one. "You're drafting third, and the teams drafting one and two
pass on Warrick. You tell him, 'We'll take you, but your signing
bonus will be minimal. Stay on the straight and narrow, and
you'll get big money later.' What happened to him could help us."
ALEX LOWE 1959-1999
Death in the Himalayas
He made his name on Rakekniven in Antarctica, Hot Doggies in
Rocky Mountain National Park, Great Sail Peak on Baffin Island,
Kwangde Nup in the Himalayas. In the big-ego sport of
mountaineering Alex Lowe was the biggest name of all. His death
last week in the Tibetan Himalayas left the climbing world in
Lowe and high-altitude cameraman Dave Bridges died on Oct. 4
when a 500-foot-wide, 100-mph avalanche engulfed them on
Shishapangma, the world's 14th-highest peak. Conrad Anker, the
climber who discovered the long-lost body of George Mallory on
Mount Everest last May (SCORECARD, May 10), was also caught in
the slide but survived. The three were trying to become the
first to ski from Shishapangma's 26,291-foot summit.
Lowe, who twice summitted Everest, was famed for his strength,
speed and courage. When a storm trapped two climbers below the
19,500-foot summit plateau of Mount McKinley's West Rib in 1995,
Lowe and three companions rode in a Chinook helicopter to the
plateau and fixed 300 feet of line that led down to the stranded
climbers. One was unable to walk, so Lowe piggybacked him up the
rope to the chopper--an astonishing feat at that altitude. The
same year Lowe and Anker helped the McKinley Park Service
evacuate a pair of climbers stranded at 19,000 feet. Anker
descended with the stronger man. "That left Alex with a
dehydrated, hypothermic, frostbitten climber who couldn't walk,"
says Colin Grissom, then the doctor at McKinley's high-altitude
camp. "So he clipped the guy to his harness and dragged him down
to 17,000 feet. That's a hell of an achievement--the guy would
Lowe's seeming invulnerability made his death all the more
stunning. Says Grissom, "He was the one who could push the
limits and live."
Notah the Brave
Golf's only switch-putting Native American won the Michelob
Championship on Sunday. The victory was worth $450,000 to Notah
Begay III, a Stanford teammate of Tiger Woods and Casey Martin
who's half Navajo, half Pueblo and all guts. "Inexplicable --the
emotions," said Begay after he caught Mike Weir and Tom Byrum
with birdies on 17 and 18 and won a sudden-death playoff. "On
the second playoff hole I felt I was suffocating."
Begay, 27, isn't your typical deadpan tour pro. He used to paint
his cheeks with clay before college matches at Stanford, where
he was No. 2 man behind Woods and a spot ahead of Martin on a
Cardinal team that finished second at the 1995 NCAA
championships. (He was also known around campus as the team's
best dancer.) After bagging the face-painting ritual for fear of
perpetuating a racial stereotype, he knocked around the minor
league Canadian and Nike tours, earning just $3,801 in three
Nike seasons. Nothing clicked, not even the oddball putting
style he devised: He hits righthanded on putts that break right
to left but turns around and hits left-to-right putts from the
left side. "There are demons to fight on the course," says
Begay, who never stops tinkering with his game.
Golf's gods smiled on him at last year's Nike Dominion Open in
Glen Allen, Va. During the second round Begay, who entered the
tournament with $831 in earnings for the year, aced a 208-yard
hole and knocked in a final, crucial eight-foot putt to shoot
59. That made him the third player ever to break 60 on a major
U.S. tour. Even after fading to a sixth-place tie that week he
earned $8,437.50, and he stayed hot enough to finish 10th on the
final Nike money list with $136,289, good enough for an
exemption on this year's PGA Tour.
Begay missed seven cuts and had only one top 20 finish in his
first 21 events this year. Then he rode a third-round 63 to
victory at the Reno-Tahoe Open on Aug. 29. At the Michelob on
Sunday, approaching the tee on the par-3 17th, he knew that by
playing safe he could finish in the top three, climb into the
top 40 on the money list and qualify for next year's Masters.
But as he stood on the tee, Begay decided that wasn't enough.
"We're here to win. I'm going for the flag," he told his caddie,
Don Thom. His birdie got him within a shot of the lead.
An hour later, on the second hole of the playoff with Byrum,
Begay chipped out of tangled rough to four feet, set up
lefthanded and canned the putt, capping a comeback Byrum
characterized as "Notah coming out of the blue."
"I'm experiencing an overflow of emotion and anxiety," said
Begay, who has topped the $1 million mark in earnings for 1999.
For once the No. 2 man was the cardinal Cardinal. Martin
finished third in the Nike New Mexico Classic--virtually
assuring that he'll join his old teammates on the big Tour next
year--and Woods, who took the week off, remained stuck at
SOCCER WILD MAN
The Animal's Out of His Cage
One soccer writer called him "the most maddening, frustrating,
jaw-dropping, hair-pulling, coronary-inducing center forward in
the universe." That was after Brazilian soccer star Edmundo got
in trouble with animal rights activists for allegedly feeding
beer to a chimpanzee, but before he was jailed for manslaughter.
"I'm realistic about my talent," Edmundo said last spring. "I am
probably the greatest player in the world." Yet Edmundo Alves de
Souza Neto, known as O Animal to soccer fans, has yet to max out
his talent. After his pro debut with Rio de Janeiro's Vasco Da
Gama club in 1992 he was passed around like a hot potato by
Brazil's top clubs because he was all-world in suspensions--for
insulting referees, assaulting opponents and, once, insulting
and assaulting a ref and an opponent in the same game. Edmundo
was a head case, but there was genius in his feet.
After rejoining Vasco in 1997, he scored an astounding 29 goals
in 25 games. That earned him a $2.7 million-a-year gig with
Fiorentina of Italy's Serie A, the richest and probably best
league in the world. He lasted a year and a half in Italy but
was never happy there. So now Edmundo, 28, is back with Vasco.
Last month he scored two goals and assisted on two more in a 4-2
road win over Corinthians in Sao Paulo and then fought with a
heckler in the parking lot. "A coward hit me in the back,"
Edmundo said. "I had to defend myself."
"Frankly," said Sao Paulo's police chief, "I don't know how much
faith we should place in what Edmundo says."
The day after the brawl Edmundo went ape. To celebrate the first
birthday of his son, Junior, he hired an entire circus for the
day. Among the clowns, elephants and acrobats running around his
Rio mansion was a chimp called Pedrinho. The Animal allegedly
fed beer to the animal, a stunt that could lead to a
three-to-12-month jail term if he's charged with animal cruelty
That's not his biggest worry. Last March, Edmundo got a 4
1/2-year suspended sentence for manslaughter. On Dec. 2, 1995,
speeding down a Rio boulevard, he hit another car, dragging it
about 100 feet and killing both passengers as well as a woman
who was with him. He escaped with cuts and bruises.
After losing an appeal in the manslaughter case last week,
Edmundo was ordered to serve his time behind bars. But only at
night--he was free to leave the prison each day. Even that
punishment lasted only a single night, however. Last Thursday
the Superior Tribunal of Justice in Brasilia set the Animal free
pending another appeal.
THE ICEMAN ROLLETH
Until a few weeks ago Jimmy (the Iceman) MacNeil was just a big
Zamboni driver on a small pond--the Brantford (Ont.) Civic
Centre. Now, after years of working before crowds of fewer than
200, he stands at the threshold of ice-resurfacing immortality.
MacNeil, the 38-year-old son of a Zamboni repairman, leads
balloting for Zamboni Driver of the Year at www.zamboni.com.
Through Monday, MacNeil had outpaced 23 other Zamboni pros as
well as celebrity resurfacers Garth Brooks, Richard Petty and
Bill Murray. His closest rival was Al Sobotka, who smooths the
ice at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena. MacNeil led Sobotka by about
2,000 votes and was at least 50,000 ahead of everyone else.
His legend began when he called in to a morning radio show in
Hamilton, Ont. As soon as the hosts found out he was a Zamboni
driver, MacNeil became a semiregular on their program. His fame
snowballed, and now he might be the most celebrated Brantford
resident since Wayne Gretzky. He has been profiled by The Toronto
Star and on Canadian TV, and Walter Gretzky, the Great One's dad,
has plugged MacNeil's candidacy on radio.
Voting ends on Dec. 1. The winner will work the ice at the Feb.
6 NHL All-Star Game in Toronto. It would be a dream come true
for MacNeil, who followed his father into the family business
and says of his job, "I like being in front of the crowd. I like
the cold air on my face."
GARNETT'S JILTED AGENT
See Ya Later, Negotiator
Kevin Garnett's six-year, $126 million contract with the
Timberwolves, signed in October 1997, so drastically changed the
NBA's financial landscape that owners orchestrated the first
work stoppage in league history. They got what they wanted from
last year's lockout: a collective bargaining agreement capping
salaries. In hindsight Garnett's decision to re-sign rather
than wait for a new CBA was a masterstroke: While others from
his '95 rookie class who signed last year maxed out at $70
million over six years, he got $56 million more.
The man who negotiated that deal was agent Eric Fleisher, who
delighted in knowing that his star client would be the best-paid
player in the league for years. So imagine his surprise when the
6'11", two-time All-Star forward fired him in July. "I was
blindsided, absolutely shocked," says Fleisher. "I did more for
Kevin than was humanly possible."
Garnett declined to comment on the split, but sources close to
him say he may have seen Fleisher as "too controlling." Fleisher
blames his former protege Andy Miller, who left him in July for
another agency, W Sports, and whose client list features former
Fleisherites Chauncey Billups, Al Harrington and Joe Smith as
well as Garnett. "Here's a guy I gave a job to right out of
college," Fleisher says, "and for him to do what he did...."
"It was time to move on," says Miller, who spent eight years
with Fleisher and says he expects to be sued by him. "I wanted
to diversify, and that wasn't going to be possible in the
mom-and-pop environment I was in."
Garnett's switch could mean millions for Miller when it's time
for a new contract. If Garnett gets the maximum allowed under
the new CBA, he'll receive $267 million over seven years. Top
agents get 4% commissions. You do the math.
He had a lot on his mind--like embodying the American Dream for
his sporting goods company, And1, and paying $105,000 to two
motorists he hit with his car. So Latrell Sprewell blew off the
start of Knicks camp and didn't bother to call the guys who pay
him $9 million a year. What, Spree worry? It's not as if he
attacked his coach or anything.
NFL teams that were outscored by the Red Sox on Sunday, when
Boston clobbered the Indians 23-7.
Postseason homers by Jim Thome, two behind alltime leaders Reggie
Jackson and Mickey Mantle.
Cost to D.C.-area Domino's outlets for their Monday pizza
special: $1 off for each Redskins TD on Sunday.
Episodes of The Mike O'Malley Show, starring ESPN's "The Rick,"
that aired before NBC killed it.
Miami track-and-fielders who play football, including Ed Reed,
who won the Big East javelin title on his first throw.
William McMullen, a football coach at Old Colony High in
Rochester, Mass., who had pretended to be former Notre Dame
All-America Nick Eddy for more than 20 years. The ruse was
discovered when the real Eddy phoned the school.
Brandi Chastain, who lost her starting job during last week's
U.S. Women's Cup because her frantic promotional schedule cut
into her practice time. Chastain was a second-half sub in the
U.S. team's three games, all victories.
Basketball Hall of Famer John McLendon, 84, who learned the game
from James Naismith at Kansas in the '30s and who, as coach of
the ABL's Cleveland Pipers in '62, became the first coach to
resign after a run-in with owner George Steinbrenner.
Ronaldo Da Costa, world-record holder in the marathon, who is
relocating from Sao Joao Nepomuceno, Brazil, to Boulder, Colo.,
after three failed attempts to kidnap him in Brazil.
Loi Chow, 33, a 128-pound jockey who lost a four-round decision
to 129-pound landscaper Margaret McGregor, 36, in the first
sanctioned bout between a man and a woman. Fight fans chanted,
The Tao of Falling
When extreme kayaker Tao Berman paddled over 98-foot Upper
Johnston Falls in Canada's Banff National Park on Aug. 23, the
spectacle brought onlookers to tears. But for Berman the
world-record plunge was an intellectual exercise.
"I never feel fear. This was pure calculation," says Berman, a
20-year-old Oregonian. That equation had some tough variables: A
bad landing would crush his spine and even a good one could
crack ribs, and the waterfall flowed through a crack in the
cliff face barely eight feet wide. Berman grazed rocks on one
side of the falls halfway down, then plunged cleanly into the
water. For an interminable moment his kayak bobbed upside down
in the cauldron. "There was silence, as if everyone stopped
breathing when he did," says Christian Knight, who watched
Berman's plunge from a kayak at the base of the falls. "Then he
rolled up, and people were applauding and crying."
WORD FOR WORD
Stone Cold IPO
"Our creative team, headed by Vincent McMahon, develops soap
opera-like story lines employing the same techniques that are
used by many successful dramatic television series. The
interactions among the characters reflect a wide variety of
contemporary topics, often depicting exaggerated versions of
real life situations and typically containing 'good versus evil'
or 'settling the score' themes....
"We currently have exclusive contracts with approximately 110
performers. Our performers are independent contractors who are
highly trained and motivated and portray popular characters such
as The Big Show, Kane, Mankind, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve
Austin [above, winning] and The Undertaker. We constantly seek
to identify, recruit and develop additional performers for our
business. Once recruited, established performers are immediately
incorporated into our story lines while less experienced
performers are invited to participate in our extensive training
program. Promising candidates are often 'loaned' to small
regional promoters of wrestling events, allowing these new
performers to hone their skills by working in front of live
audiences and appearing on local television programs. The most
successful and popular performers are then incorporated into our
television programming and pay-per-view events where their
characters are more fully developed."
--From the prospectus for the World Wrestling Federation's
initial public offering of stock, scheduled for next week.
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
Basketball Hall of Famer George Gervin does the voice of a
card-playing dog on ESPN's NFL ads.
Middlesbrough midfielder, on being ejected from an English
Premier League soccer game: "What is the world coming to when
you get a red card and get fined two weeks' wages for calling a
grown man a wanker?"