Debugging the Bowls
It's time to put the series into the Bowl Championship Series
It turns out we should have been stockpiling videotapes of
memorable football moments instead of sleeping bags, powdered
milk and rounds of ammunition for the family AK-47. The only
major Y2K glitch come New Year's Day was on our television sets.
The computers worked fine and the phones worked fine and water
flowed from our faucets in the usual hot-and-cold style, but the
TV sets of the land served up a succession of bowls that left
fans feeling unfulfilled. Football--important, must-watch
football--was nowhere to be seen as the odometer clicked us into
this less-than-brave new millennium. Sure, there were six games
stretching from 11 in the morning Eastern time until after
midnight. There were zippy end runs, dazzling catches and
late-game heroics. But none of it meant much more than an
afternoon's bragging rights and some of that dot.com advertising
money for the schools.
Wins? Losses? An errant PAT in overtime? Who cares? With the
advent of the Bowl Championship Series last year, passion and
suspense were legislated out of every bowl game except one, the
BCS title game, which this year was Tuesday night's Sugar Bowl.
Gone are the old hypotheticals: "If so-and-so wins the Cotton by
40, and so-and-so loses the Rose, and there's a tie in the
Orange...." Gone, too, are a lot of fans at the lesser bowls:
This year the Gator and Rose bowls had their lowest attendance in
decades. The Rose, every bowl's granddaddy, hasn't drawn so few
fans to Pasadena since 1955. That's because this bowl season
brought just one important question: Florida State or Virginia
Only when the NCAA finally institutes a playoff
system--quarterfinals during Christmas week, semifinals on New
Year's Day, final a week later--will the bowls fulfill us again.
Wouldn't Virginia Tech against Nebraska and Florida State versus
Michigan have jolted us out of our millennial hangovers last
weekend? Maybe Tennessee or underdog heartthrob Marshall would
have survived to spruce up the semis. Or Wisconsin, with Ron
Dayne carrying the ball and Barry Alvarez raising his cane.
Back in the 20th century, Jan. 1 was a whoa Nelly! high holy day
for the college game. Now it's just another day in just another
year in just another millennium. --Leigh Montville
Anthony Carter was driven to become Miami's point guard
The Heat took over first place in the NBA's Atlantic Division on
Nov. 12, and Pat Riley's team has stayed there, even with point
guard Tim Hardaway shelved for six weeks with a bum knee. That's
because Hardaway's understudy has been one of the season's
biggest surprises. Rookie Anthony Carter, a high school dropout
with a panther tattoo and a CBA resume, has earned the favor of
Coach Riley, who plays rookies as often as he buys suits off the
rack. "This kid has some skills," he says of Carter, whose
quickness and strength help offset an ugly jump shot.
After dropping out of Atlanta's Alonzo A. Crim High following his
freshman year--"I was just tired of getting up early," he
says--Carter played in adult leagues for three years. He passed a
GED test, played a year at Saddleback Community College in
Mission Viejo, Calif., and then transferred to Hawaii, where he
averaged 18.4 points and 6.9 assists and led the Rainbows to
back-to-back 20-win seasons. But he hurt his left shoulder in his
senior season, and NBA scouts wrote him off. After a season of
long bus rides and fast food with the CBA's Yakima Sun Kings, the
6'2", 185-pound Carter impressed Riley at a Heat summer tryout
camp. "He's a tough kid," says Riley, "and he said something to
me in the summertime. Not about wanting a job--what he said was,
'I need this. I need this.'" Carter was so happy to sign with
Miami that he didn't even read his contract. He's probably the
only guy in the league who doesn't know exactly how much he's
Carter rode the bench early, but when Hardaway went down, the
rookie went in. Carter was tentative at first, focusing on
assists. "When he drove, he never looked at the rim," says Riley,
who watched opponents foil Carter by refusing to come off other
Heat players to pick him up. "He has now put his eyes on the rim,
and if they're not coming, he's going to lay it up."
"You see him growing right before your eyes," says Miami forward
P.J. Brown, who on Dec. 29 was supposed to get the ball with 22
seconds left and the Heat trailing the Magic 106-105. Instead
Carter drove past Darrell Armstrong for a layup. Nineteen seconds
later the rookie, who had nine assists and a career-best 21
points, made two free throws to cap a 109-106 win.
Carter will go back to the bench when Hardaway returns in a few
weeks, but he may have played himself into some other team's
lineup. Reliable point guards are as rare in the NBA as bluegrass
music, and Carter will be a free agent at the end of the season.
Miami has no cap room, but Riley may try to use the Heat's $2.25
million mid-level exception to re-sign him. That may not be
enough, though, and Carter might wind up in Los Angeles or
Toronto or Chicago, knowing precisely how many millions he's
Federation of Dunces
WOMEN'S SOCCER BETRAYED
It seems the only people who weren't captivated by the World
Cup-winning U.S. women's soccer team are the oafish and possibly
sexist pooh-bahs of the U.S. Soccer Federation. On Sunday a
roster of rookies and scabs left for Australia, where they'll
represent the U.S. in the Australia Cup. Why? Because the real
world champs spurned the federation's latest stopgap contract
offer: the same paltry $3,150 a month (plus $250 per win per
player) that team members have gotten since 1996. That's a big
step down from the $5,000 per game each player earned during last
fall's U.S. Women's Cup. "When you win a world championship,
you're usually offered more money, not less," says Mia Hamm, who
spent Sunday with her parents in Austin instead of flying Down
This episode is merely the latest example of the soccer
federation's ineptitude and/or bias. In July the federation
announced a harebrained world tour (it never came off), then
threatened to sue Hamm and company when they launched their own
tour of America instead. Federation president Bob Contiguglia
waited until three months after the team's World Cup triumph
before grudgingly offering a new contract to coach Tony DiCicco.
Hurt by the snub, DiCicco resigned.
The federation still hasn't hired DiCicco's replacement, though
the 2000 Olympics are less than eight months away. This dithering
is all the more astounding because the choice is a no-brainer:
Lauren Gregg, DiCicco's top lieutenant. She helped coach the U.S.
women to victories at the 1996 Olympics and the '91 and '99 World
Cups, and guided the under-20 U.S. women to two titles at the
Nordic Cup, the world's top junior tournament.
Inexplicably, the federation's choice appears to be University of
Portland coach Clive Charles, whose under-20 teams finished no
better than third at the Nordic Cup in three tries. Charles was
also an assistant during the U.S. men's spectacular failure at
the 1998 World Cup. Hiring this Gene Mauch of American soccer
would only cement the federation's rep as an old-boy network.
"Lauren would give the team the best chance of winning at the
Olympics," says DiCicco, "and the one-two punch of [winning] the
World Cup and the Olympics could launch the sport to the next
level--a pro league."
As DiCicco and the American women well know, the federation
quashed the last serious attempt to form a women's pro league,
in 1997, but its support will be crucial if such a league is to
get off the ground in 2001. Here's hoping U.S. Soccer doesn't
kick away an opportunity to advance U.S. women's soccer. --Grant
A Toy Gun and a Second Chance
LEON SMITH'S NEXT STEP
This can't be how Leon Smith pictured NBA fame. The Mavericks'
$1.45 million rookie reportedly said as much while he rammed
Vanessa Pondexter's Saturn with his Chevy Blazer last month,
shouting, "F--- the NBA! F--- the Mavericks! F--- the union! F---
the hospital! F--- the $1.5 million! Things were a whole lot
better before all this s---."
Smith, a 19-year-old raised in Chicago group homes, has squeezed
a feature-length film into the six months since he graduated from
Martin Luther King High. He skipped college to enter the NBA
draft; got picked 29th in the first round, by the Spurs; was
traded to Dallas the same day; stormed out of the first day of
the Mavericks' rookie camp; had several shouting matches with
assistant coach Donn Nelson during summer league games; and got
barred from Dallas's practices after refusing assignment to a
European or developmental league. And that's just the prologue.
On Nov. 14 Smith, who was then on the Mavs' injured list,
slathered his face with green war paint, penned two suicide notes
and downed 250 aspirin tablets. After a brief hospital stay he
was put in the care of the player assistance program in Atlanta
run jointly by the NBA and its players' association. But the
program is voluntary, and Smith bolted. He was back in Dallas by
the end of the month. On Dec. 1 he turned up outside Chicago's
Marshall High, where he allegedly threatened Cappie
Pondexter--Vanessa's daughter and his former girlfriend--with a
revolver. Following a night in jail, Chicago police say, he
trashed Vanessa's car, violating an order of protection she had
obtained the day before that barred Smith from having any contact
with her or her daughter.
As with the best Hollywood dramas, however, there's more to
Smith's story than meets the eye. According to police reports,
the gun he allegedly waved at Cappie was a toy, and sources say
the 1999 Saturn he allegedly smashed into was bought with money
from his NBA contract. Smith has since shown a desire to get help
by checking into a Dallas psychiatric hospital. One thing
though--he skipped a Chicago court date to do it, becoming one of
the few people to jump bail to seek psychiatric help.
Now it appears there might be a happy ending for Smith. Players'
association head Billy Hunter and Landon Cox, Smith's coach at
King, have arranged for him to live with former Michael Jordan
bodyguard Fred Sheppard after his release from the hospital this
week. Smith will also start working out with former NBA players,
including Moses Malone--who left Petersburg (Va.) High for the ABA
when he was 19--and Purvis Short. "Leon knows he has done some
very immature things and that he must pay for them," says Cox.
"Fred will be my eyes and ears as we try to help Leon."
BASEBALL HALL OF FAME
Tony Perez already has the numbers. On Tuesday the Big Red
Machine's power hitter will find out if he has time on his side,
too. "People have been calling me, telling me it may be my year,"
says Perez, a seven-time All-Star who hit 379 homers and drove in
1,652 runs in his 23 seasons. "I hope it happens."
Perez became eligible for the Hall of Fame in 1992; in '98 he was
only 34 votes short of the 75% needed for election. Last January
his tally dipped as voters flocked to Nolan Ryan, George Brett
and Robin Yount, who all reached the Hall in their first year on
the ballot. But now Carlton Fisk, Rich Gossage and Jack Morris
are his only strong competition. Perez leads all other eligible
non-Hall of Famers as well as many inductees in RBIs and total
bases. He had more homers, RBIs, All-Star selections and World
Series appearances than Yount. His numbers fall short of the sexy
3,000-hit and 400-homer plateaus, but they are at least as good
as those of Orlando Cepeda, who entered the Hall last year after
being chosen by the Veterans Committee.
Perez seethed in 1997 when Phil Niekro and Don Sutton got more
votes than he did, but this year he has steered clear of the
lobbying efforts of supporters, including the Reds, who sent
pro-Perez letters on team stationery to voters. The man teammates
called Doggie is accustomed to waiting; he'll stay near the phone
in his house in Santurce, P.R., hoping this is the year he has
his day. --Jamal Greene
ENGLAND'S NOBLE JOCKS
Before squaring off against British boxing champion Henry Cooper,
the 21-year-old Cassius Clay called Cooper "a warmup." Cooper
must now call his old foe Muhammad Ali, while Ali should refer to
Cooper as Sir Henry.
Last week Cooper, who floored Ali with a vicious left hook in
the fourth round of their 1963 bout only to be knocked out in
the fifth, joined Formula One racer Stirling Moss as British
knights. The honor will be officially bestowed at Buckingham
Palace when Queen Elizabeth II--or some other member of the
royal family--gives each man a medal and a couple of taps on the
shoulder with a sword.
While 1,998 entertainers, humanitarians, businesspeople and other
"icons" or "beacons" (the official terms for such honorees) were
granted honors including Commander of the Order of the British
Empire (CBE), Officer of the Order (OBE) and Member of the Order
(MBE), only 41 worthies earned knighthood last week. They
included Cleopatra, Mary Poppins and James Bond, or rather the
actors who played them: Dames Liz Taylor and Julie Andrews and
Sir Sean Connery.
Cooper, who was British champion for 10 years, went 40-14-1
between 1954 and '71. Moss finished among the top three F/1
drivers for seven straight years. Other honored jocks included
golfer Laura Davies (CBE), two-time Olympic decathlon champion
Daley Thompson (CBE), Olympic and four-time world champion figure
skaters Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean (OBEs) and former
world snooker king Steve Davis (OBE). There's no money in the
gig, and it carries a lot less distinction than it did in
Lancelot's day, but at least England's sporting nobles are faring
better than America's sore-kneed Sir Charles.
Whither Dan Marino? Or should that be wither? His 38-year-old
arm and 67.4 quarterback rating, lower than Trent Dilfer's,
spurred talk that something's rotten in Miami--him. To QB or not
QB? Maybe the answer's a little BS: The Dolphins offer the globe
to pry the 5'8" Barry Sanders from the Lions, then follow him
and Marino (with a running game, at last) to SB XXXV.
Total revenue of the U.S. sports industry--more than agriculture
and motor vehicle sales combined.
Average annual temperature in cities with teams in the
increasingly U.S.-based NHL, up from 49.3[degrees] in 1980.
Total one-year compensation for NFL commissioner Paul
Tagliabue--more than any player in the league.
Amount that Anheuser-Busch will spend on five minutes' worth of
ads during the Super Bowl.
Weeks since the Bengals made their last appearance on Monday
Former Stanford wrestler Tod Surmon, 26, an Olympic hopeful who
climbed a light pole above 300,000 revelers on the Las Vegas
Strip just after midnight on Jan. 1 only to fall to his death.
"I said to him, 'People are going to be doing crazy things. Be
careful,'" Cardinal coach Chris Horpel recalls of a Dec. 31 chat
with Surmon. "He smiled and said, 'You know I won't.'"
Boxing golden boy Oscar De La Hoya, of sexual assault, by a
woman who attended a Dec. 26 party at his house. Las Vegas
police are investigating the claim, which De La Hoya's lawyer
says is untrue.
Panthers hockey star Pavel Bure, 28, and tennis siren Anna
Kournikova, 18, whose heart was thought to belong to the Red
Wings' Sergei Fedorov, 30.
The NCAA Award of Valor, to defensive back John Berry Jr. of
Williams, who quit football to donate a kidney to his brother,
DeAngelo, a 26-year-old father of three. Berry hopes to run
track this year.
President Clinton, who phoned Arkansas coach Houston Nutt after
the Razorbacks crunched Texas 27-6 in the Cotton Bowl. The
former Arkansas governor said he'd predicted a stop-and-go pass
play that went for 47 yards in the third quarter. "You should
have phoned earlier," Nutt said. "I needed you throughout the
The Brand New Centurions
And the greatest athlete of the 20th century was...who cares?
That's soooo over. It's time to turn to the athletes of Century
21. Here's how some notable performers of the new millennium--at
least through Jan. 2--stack up against yesteryear's.
10-time NBA All-Star with Bulls; won NBA Finals six times; five
MVP awards; named to all-defensive team nine times; NBA's
highest career scoring average (33.4)
24 points in Heat's win over Magic on Jan 2 made him NBA's top
scorer of 21st century; 75% marksman from field and 100% from
line--but just one rebound!
Alltime leader in major championships (18); second alltime in
career wins; PGA player of year five times; NCAA champion in
1961; oldest to win Masters, at 46
$1 million from Williams World Challenge makes him century's
alltime top money winner (doubling total of No. 2 finisher); has
won every tournament he entered in 2000
NFL player of year four times; led league in rushing eight times;
5.2 yards per carry is best average ever; never missed a game in
nine seasons with Browns
Michigan senior threw for 369 yards and four TDs in OT Orange
Bowl win over Alabama; best performance by a quarterback--college
or pro--this century
Missed last-second 47-yard field goal in Bills' 20-19 loss to
Giants in Super Bowl XXV; "You don't get a second chance," said
Norwood. "I let a lot of people down."
Missed OT extra-point try in 'Bama's Orange Bowl loss to
Michigan. "It's a team game," said Pflugner. "Everyone probably
could have done something to make it better."
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
The Yankees filed a lawsuit asking a judge to make their Tampa
spring training field exempt from property taxes because it
serves a "governmental purpose."
out of every bowl game but one.
Joe Frazier's daughter, on her proposed bout against Muhammad
Ali's daughter Laila: "It would establish Laila financially, and
then I would establish her horizontally."