The NFL may be cutting its own throat by banning a colorful
What are the suits at NFL headquarters thinking? That we're
happy just watching pro football? That all the fun we need is 22
men crashing around and raising a little dust, and then a
pint-sized guy kicking a football? Oooh! Off-tackle! Gain
of...no gain! Attn. NFL: Your game ain't that lively.
Let's face it, this is practically the 21st century, and our
entertainment requirements have been ratcheted upward. We've had
Game Boy and now we have Dreamcast, both of which make pro
football look a little oldfangled. Get my drift?
The players do. While league officials debate important
stadium-clearing reforms like instant replay ("By god, that
touchdown was...no touchdown!"), the players have been
developing exaggerated burlesques to keep us in our seats--Busby
Berkeley routines in the end zone, wild whirligigs over
concussed quarterbacks, congratulatory head-knockings,
chest-thumpings and butt-slappings--all in the grand tradition
of what the NFL calls "excessive celebration." Or in plain
December 6, 1999
The players' favorite new bit, at least until last week, was the
throat slash. This is a magnificent addition to our visual
vocabulary. Naturally the NFL hates it. The league announced
that it will promptly fine the next guy who shows such
provocative and inventive flamboyance.
At least the players understand that their game has long since
left the world of sports and entered the big-money realm of
entertainment. What they're performing is a kind of national
opera, a cartoon kabuki that ought to be encouraged, not
slashed. Would Red Grange have drawn his finger across his
throat? No. Would 15 million people have tuned in to watch him
rumble stoically downfield? Don't bet your $17.6 billion
television contract on it.
So let the players, who are a little more in touch with their
audience than the league's lords are, handle their own shtick.
Let them continue to channel the Three Stooges and caption the
action as they see fit. As matters stand, the NFL is about to be
eclipsed by professional wrestling as the national pastime. Can
it really afford to make itself less lively than it already is?
Can it afford to be dead? Attn. NFL: Can you see what I'm doing
right now? --Richard Hoffer
Boxing can do without a rusty Iron Mike
Mike Tyson does not need Lennox Lewis," claims a Showtime exec.
"[Lewis] needs Mike Tyson." Somebody should bite that guy's lip
off. Lewis is the undisputed heavyweight champ, while Tyson is a
33-year-old convicted rapist who hasn't beaten a good fighter
since 1991. Yet even after Lewis's win over Evander Holyfield on
Nov. 13, many fight folks still consider Tyson the alpha
heavyweight, the one boxer millions of fans will pay to view.
Here's the party line: Lewis and Michael Grant are boring,
Holyfield is ancient and everybody else is a nobody. That's why
boxing needs Tyson, even though he chewed Holyfield's ear rather
than take a beating in their '97 rematch and got $8.7 million for
a no-contest with Orlin (Glass Knee) Norris last month when he
hit Norris after the bell and Norris fell on his patella.
But there are younger, better heavyweights to root for--and
against. Start with Grant, who withstood two first-round
knockdowns and KO'd Andrew Golota in the 10th round two weeks
ago to run his pro record to 31-0. The 6'7", 255-pound Grant,
boxing's Big Unit, would make a hell of a match for the 6'5"
Lewis. Call that bout The Harder They Fall.
Want a Tysonic scary guy? Get to know Ike Ibeabuchi, who's 20-0
with 15 knockouts and may be the hardest-hitting, meanest
fighter around. In 1997 he allegedly kidnapped his former
girlfriend's 15-year-old son and drove himself and the boy into
a freeway overpass at 55 mph. The charges were dropped, but then
last summer Ibeabuchi was charged with assaulting a woman in his
suite at the Mirage hotel in Las Vegas. After he locked himself
in the bathroom, cops subdued him by shooting pepper spray under
the door. Ibeabuchi pleaded not guilty to sexual assault.
Then there's soft-spoken David Tua, the punch-throwin' Samoan
whose only pro setback was a '97 loss to Ibeabuchi. Keep an eye
on Oleg Maskaev too. He boxed in the Russian Army, emigrated to
Staten Island, N.Y., and on Nov. 6 hit Hasim (the Rock) Rahman
with a haymaker that sent Rahman flying out of an Atlantic City
A punch like that might make Tyson look like what he is: the
best fighter of 1989. "I can sell out Madison Square Garden
masturbating," Tyson once said. But Grant, Ibeabuchi, Tua and
even Maskaev might sell out the Garden with a better
show--quality heavyweight boxing--if more fans knew how good
they are. Here's hoping that happens before the last American
fight fan throws in the towel. --K.C.
All Fouled Up
In early-season basketball tournaments the NCAA has experimented
with a rule that gives a team the option of shooting foul shots
or taking the ball out of bounds after its opponent's 10th foul
of a half. The rule, which was designed to keep basketball's
endgame from turning into a tedious march to the free throw
line, instead produced some bizarre--and tedious--finishes.
In Xavier's 81-79 win over Louisville last Thursday at the Great
Alaska Shootout, the Cardinals were behind 80-79 with 26 seconds
left when they started fouling. They fouled 10 times in the next
23 seconds before Musketeers coach Skip Prosser finally allowed
star guard Darnell Williams to go to the foul line with :03 on
the clock. Williams made the first free throw but missed the
second, and a desperation 20-footer by Louisville's Reece Gaines
clanked off the rim. "Well, that was an interesting finish,"
said Cardinals coach Denny Crum. "In all honesty, I'm probably
not a big fan of it," Xavier's Prosser said of the rule.
During a game last Friday at the Puerto Rico Shootout, DePaul
fouled Texas players five times in the final 21 seconds in a bid
to cut into the Longhorns' four-point lead, but Texas coach Rick
Barnes--who later said he dislikes the rule--kept taking the
ball out of bounds. The Longhorns prevailed 68-64. "It's a bad
rule," Blue Demons coach Pat Kennedy said. "A coach would never
opt to shoot."
As Louisville's Tony Williams said after the Cardinals'
hackathon against Xavier, "This should count on our record as an
experimental game since it was an experimental rule and not
really a rule." It's a rule the NCAA should file and forget.
SEX AND SPORTS
Leading Scorers On the Road
Media hounds spent much of last month sniffing through a 97-page
federal indictment of Steven Kaplan, who owns an Atlanta strip
bar called The Gold Club, and 15 others on charges involving
police corruption, credit card fraud, money laundering,
loan-sharking and prostitution. Most intriguing was a passage in
the indictment (whose charges have been denied by Kaplan and the
club's lawyers) stating that "defendants and other persons
transported female dancers from The Gold Club to the Francis
Marion Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina, so that the dancers
could perform a lesbian sex show and have sex with members of a
professional basketball team." That reference to a 1997 sex
party was accompanied by passages alluding to other alleged
encounters between players and members of another entertainment
"In or about October 1994, the defendant, Steven E. Kaplan, paid
monies to female employees of The Gold Club to perform a lesbian
sex show for professional basketball players.... In or about the
Spring of 1996, the defendant, Steven E. Kaplan, and other
persons transported female employees of The Gold Club to
Augusta, Georgia, to have sex with a professional basketball
player.... In or about the Fall of 1997...a dancer at The Gold
Club performed oral sex on a professional basketball player in a
Gold Room, in exchange for monies paid to the defendant."
One New York tabloid quickly pointed out that the Knicks were
the only NBA team in Charleston--for a minicamp before the
playoffs--at the time of the alleged sex party in '97. KINKY
KNICKS PARTY read a Daily News headline. Many New York players
refused to comment on the story, while Latrell Sprewell said,
"This is one you can't pin on me." He wasn't a Knick in '97.
Less ink was spilled on the more basic issue of pro jocks'
fondness for so-called adult entertainment. Is every night a
bachelor party for teams on the road? As anyone who has followed
a jock's posse on a lap-dancing safari can tell you, the answer
might be yes. Athletes often get comped at joints like The Gold
Club because, like models in London and Manhattan night spots,
they attract paying customers by making a club seem trendy.
After Atlanta mayor Bill Campbell suspended The Gold Club's
liquor license last week, Alan Begner, the club's lawyer,
objected. "We're in the alcohol business," said Begner. "Alcohol
and nude dancing just go together." A day later Superior Court
judge Cynthia Wright lifted the suspension, and what passes for
the good times rolled again at The Gold Club.
NHL OWNER ON THE ICE
The Barbering Of Saville
Bruce Saville, one of the Oilers' owners, had been bugging
general manager Glen Sather for a chance to hit the ice with the
team. When practice goalie Floyd Whitney took a day off last
month, Sather called Saville's bluff. "Be at practice at 9:30
tomorrow or get off my case," Sather said.
In a 75-minute practice stint the next day Saville, 55, a
longtime amateur goalie who plays in an Edmonton old-timers'
league, showed glimpses of competence between the posts. "You
should sign yourself, Bruce," said defenseman Janne Niinimaa.
Saville won't see any official ice time, but his perspective on
his employees will never be the same. "My eyes couldn't follow
the first five shots," he says, "but I heard one whizzing past
The Human Forward Pass
It may have predated the forward pass by two years, but for one
50-yard drive in 1904, Tennessee's aerial attack was football's
finest. Ninety-five years ago last week Sam McAllester, who
would go on to earn distinction as a Chattanooga lawyer, set his
first legal precedent--as a human projectile. McAllester played
fullback for the Volunteer State boys (the team's nickname had
not yet been shortened to Vols), and on that fall day he spent
much of his time being thrown for a gain.
Before that Thanksgiving Day showdown at Alabama, Tennessee
coach Sax Crawford fitted McAllester with a leather belt that
had handles on both sides. On the fateful drive McAllester would
take a direct snap, run to the line, anchor a foot on an
offensive guard's back and wait for Tennessee's backfield
brother act--beefy halfbacks J.A. and J.H. Caldwell--to hurl him
over the defensive line. The lone scoring march of the game
consisted exclusively of such airscapades as Tennessee drove to
the only touchdown of a 5-0 win. (Touchdowns were then worth
After the 1905 season the newly formed American Intercollegiate
Football Rules Committee legalized the forward pass, created a
neutral zone between the offense and defense (the line of
scrimmage, we call it) and, in a far less publicized move, made
it illegal to hurdle a standing player. Before long the
committee outlawed propelling ballcarriers forward and Slung
Sammy, who earned two varsity letters at Tennessee but little
conventional distinction on the field, settled for the less
bumpy life of a Southern lawyer. McAllester remains the only
known player to be a forward pass--the onetime football hero who
went down in history headfirst.
Indianapolis fans booed when the Colts drafted him instead of
Ricky Williams. Then the dreaded Edgerrin James began striking
fear into NFL defenses. Peyton's playmate heads into this week's
Colts-Dolphins showdown with a league-high 1,547 total yards,
seven 100-yard games and several teeth as shiny as that other
guy's Heisman. His versatility might give Indy an edge.
Languages in which NBA games are broadcast to the league's
worldwide audience, which spans 205 nations.
Matches that Andre Agassi, the world's No. 1 tennis player, won
in five tries against No. 3 Pete Sampras this year.
Average home attendance through Monday for the 1-12 Bulls, the
highest such figure in the NBA.
Amount that the Air Force paid to purchase naming rights to next
year's Millrose Games.
Score of the 1940 NFL title game that Sammy Baugh says his
Redskins teammates may have thrown.
Former NFL running back James Brooks, to six months in a
Cincinnati jail for failure to pay more than $111,000 in child
support. Brooks, who took a $7-an-hour warehouse job after
retiring in 1992, disclosed that he can barely read or write. Of
his education at Auburn, he said, "Didn't have to go to class."
British soccer fans seeking tickets to Tottenham Hotspur's match
at Fulham. To help keep enemy rooters out, Fulham salespeople
asked fans trivia questions on their club's history before
selling them tickets.
The effect of chewing tobacco on baseball players' reflexes. A
study in the medical journal Nicotine and Tobacco reports that
ballplayers who chew have more trouble adjusting to changing
visual patterns than those who eschew tobacco.
Golf balls, by former Phillies slugger Mike Schmidt, who tied
for ninth in qualifying for this week's Senior tour Q school,
where he'll join 109 other golfers dueling for eight spots on
next year's circuit. "If I make the Senior tour," says Schmidt,
"I would rank it just a notch below making the Hall of Fame."
Offshore sports books, by bettors who rely on 18th-century
federal laws making it illegal to collect gambling debts. A
California woman who bet with her Visa card sued the bank that
issued it, had her $115,000 debt wiped out and collected
$225,000 in legal fees.
Shave and a Haircut
NBA stars can afford to pay $30 or $40 a week to be like Mike.
Depilatory pikers can opt for a $15 HeadBlade (triple-teaming
the guy below). "I used my background in art and computers to
develop a device that glides over the scalp," says Todd Greene,
who sells his little shaver at headblade.com. "It's like running
your hand through your hair." The hair you used to have, that is.
BIG LITTLE MAN
Laffit Pincay bellies up to immortality
Sometime soon--maybe this week--Laffit Pincay will win for the
8,834th time and pass Bill Shoemaker to become the top rider in
history. That mark will jockey for position with Pincay's four
wins in Triple Crown races and five Eclipse awards as America's
top rider. The 5'1", 117-pound Pincay (above, edging Shoemaker
in 1979) has been so good for so long that he has been a hall of
famer since 1975.
Through Sunday, Pincay, 52, had 12 wins in 57 mounts at the
autumn meeting at Hollywood Park. "He's riding like he's 22,"
says jockey Gary Stevens. Nobody foresaw a revival two years ago
when Pincay decided to move his tack north from Southern
California to the Bay Area. He needed 269 wins to catch
Shoemaker and figured he'd do it in the bush leagues. "I just
wanted to get it over with and retire," he says. "I felt old. I
think it's because I wasn't eating well."
He had waged a 30-year battle to keep his weight down. But in
'97, after years of relying on diet pills and intermittent
starvation, he tried a balanced diet that allowed 850 calories a
day. "I felt different right away," he says. "I had so much
energy I couldn't sleep."
Bleary-eyed but rejuvenated, he stayed in Southern California,
where he rides winners and reminisces with his buddy Shoemaker,
who is confined to a wheelchair but often visits Pincay in the
jockeys' room at Hollywood. "There isn't a better guy to get the
record," says Shoe. "He's the most dedicated rider I've ever
"I'm riding well," says Pincay, who has retired his retirement
plans. "I just wish I'd known about this diet sooner." --Mark
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
The NBA signed a cable deal with the island republic of Malta,
which has fewer people than Tulsa.
The throat slash is a magnificent addition to our visual
vocabulary. Naturally the NFL hates it.
WORD FOR WORD
"When I walked away, I said, 'Every f---ing question was about
gambling!' I had no idea of the magnitude of the interview until
I went down the tunnel and the umpires were coming out and they
were livid.... Maybe Jim Gray was right when he said, 'This will
be the greatest thing that ever happened.' I was always pretty
popular, but it seems like when I'm introduced now, 80 percent
of the people don't stand up, 100 percent do.
"Sure, I'd love to be in the Hall of Fame, but I'm a baseball
person. I'm a teacher. I want to get back on the field. I don't
care how many restaurants or how many radio shows you have, to
make the kind of money managers are making now--and I'd be right
up there with my credentials--it's a hell of a job."
--Pete Rose, on the eve of the launch of his Hall of Fame
Induction Petition at Sportcut.com.
They Said It
Broncos quarterback, asked if rejoining the NFL after a
three-year layoff was like getting back on a bicycle: "It's like
riding a bike on the freeway with cars coming at you."