Is mankind--or Mankind--ready for some WWF football?
So the XFL is upon us, and with it the promise of a blissfully
violent brand of pro football--more bone-jarring collisions,
fewer rules, no silly delays between bursts of brutality. This
league, in the words of World Wrestling Federation chairman
Vince McMahon, who plans a February 2001 launch, isn't for
"pantywaists or sissies."
Titans free safety Blaine Bishop must be thrilled. Bishop, an
undersized underdog, stands for everything good and noble about
the NFL, the league to which McMahon's venture hopes to provide
a leaner, meaner alternative. Bishop, you'll recall, made a
head-on hit during the Super Bowl and spent several scary
minutes facedown on the Georgia Dome turf before being lifted
onto a stretcher and transported to a hospital. Thankfully he
had only sprained his neck.
This is the danger of football unchained, of equating unscripted
physical destruction with entertainment. Yet as easy as it is to
write off the XFL as another half-baked offering in a sports
world oversaturated with junk leagues, there's something about
this one that throws the frustrated football fan a very
appealing bone. For as dominant and viewer-friendly as the NFL
is, the grand old league has a flabby underbelly: its utter lack
of playfulness. If nothing else, perhaps the XFL will give the
No Fun League a swift kick in the butt by reminding everyone why
football is cool.
February 14, 2000
For an alternative league to work, it has to be ABA-style funky,
and to that end the XFL says it will offer a blend of retro-chic
combat and futuristic technology. Among the concepts: no TV
timeouts, the return of the head-slap and bump-and-run, no fair
catches, and microphones and cameras everywhere. "We won't
stifle our players' individuality," says Basil DeVito, the XFL's
executive in charge of league development. "We feel the NFL has
moved away from the core game that really hooked America. We
envision a basic, more visceral game."
It sounds intriguing, but if the XFL really wants to rattle the
NFL's cage, it should start with two not-so-gimmicky steps: Hire
some African-American general managers and head coaches, and ban
artificial turf. Oh, and one other thing: When a player is lying
motionless on the grass, slow things down, remove him with care
and don't go harrumphing about what a sissy he is. --Michael
With Friends Like These...
Chief Tamarick Vanover's name has cropped up in a pal's federal
To the expanding off-field woes of the NFL (page 56), add news
of an affidavit filed in federal court in Kansas City, Mo., that
links Chiefs kick returner Tamarick Vanover and former running
back Bam Morris to an investigation of a "large scale, organized
and structured" marijuana and cocaine ring. The affidavit,
signed by FBI agent Larry Tongate, was filed on Jan. 25 as part
of a drug distribution case against a K.C. man, Gregory Burns.
Neither Vanover nor Morris has been charged in connection with
the case, but both appear guilty, at least, of tremendously poor
judgment. Vanover is mentioned 13 times in the 17-page
affidavit, Morris twice.
The document calls Burns a major supplier of marijuana and
cocaine in the Kansas City area. In the affidavit, Burns says
he's Vanover's "personal assistant" and an employee of a
Vanover-owned company called T.V. 87. The report, however,
suggests a more troubling relationship. According to the
--In September, Tallahassee, Fla., police recovered a Ford
Expedition from a man named Donnell Benson that had been
reported stolen from a Kansas City dealership. Benson said he
had bought the vehicle from Vanover for $10,000.
--In March 1998, Vanover was with Burns when the latter sold a
stolen Lexus to one of Burns's cocaine customers.
--Nicol Mikijanis, an acquaintance of Burns's, provided the FBI
with "information regarding the [alleged] drug distribution
activities of ... Tamarick Vanover and Greg Burns," as well as
two others. Based on this information, police staked out
Vanover's Leawood, Mo., house. On the evening of April 23, 1999,
they saw a blue Expedition in Vanover's driveway that was listed
as having been stolen in Dallas two months earlier. When the
car, driven by a man named DeWayne Bryant, left Vanover's
driveway, cops stopped and searched it and found marijuana
residue. Morris was in the passenger seat.
Two weeks ago Burns was charged by federal prosecutors with
conspiracy to distribute marijuana and cocaine. He has,
according to the affidavit, "a prior felony conviction for
possession of drugs, prior arrests for drugs and a history of
noncompliance while on probation." He has pleaded not guilty.
Vanover, who isn't talking to reporters, may soon be on a
witness stand explaining his relationship with Burns.
Morris's involvement seems more tangential but could be just as
dangerous for him. After his promising career was twice derailed
by league suspensions for substance abuse, he spent 90 days in a
Texas jail in 1998 for violating terms of probation resulting
from a '96 conviction for marijuana possession. At his
sentencing, state district judge Sue Pirtle warned Morris that
any involvement with drugs or alcohol, violation of the law or
not, could land him a 10-year jail term.
When Morris unexpectedly retired from the Chiefs on Jan. 18, he
said he was doing so in part because he was tired. Fans buffeted
by the latest string of NFL stories might say the same thing.
Are All Bets Off?
Last week bills were introduced in the House and the Senate that
would ban gambling on amateur sports in Nevada, the only state
in which it is legal. When those bills come up for debate,
possibly this spring, lawmakers might heed Kevin Pendergast. The
former Notre Dame soccer and football player was convicted of
conspiring to fix the scores of three 1995 Northwestern
basketball games, for which he spent two months in a federal
prison. Pendergast says he never would have attempted to fix the
games had he not been able to place bets legally on them in Las
The NCAA contends that the Pendergast case (SI, Nov. 9, 1998)
proves legal gambling is a threat to college sports. Last June
the federal government's National Gambling Impact Study
Commission recommended banning gambling on college games,
stating that legal betting "fuels a much larger amount of
illegal sports wagering."
"We have a real problem with illegal sports wagering on our
college campuses, and one of the reasons is that young people
receive so many mixed messages from society," says NCAA director
of agent and gambling activities Bill Saum. "One of those is
that it's O.K. to gamble in Vegas on athletics but it's not O.K.
elsewhere, and students don't always see the difference."
As much as 40% of the $2.4 billion wagered annually in Nevada on
sports is bet on college games. But that's just a tiny fraction
of the estimated $380 billion wagered illegally on sports in the
U.S. Given that gap, opponents of the legislation say it would
have no effect on bookies and wouldn't prevent a point-shaving
scheme. "This is a cynical sham that will do nothing but cost
Nevada jobs," says Rep. Jim Gibbons (R., Nev.), who plans to
cosponsor a competing bill that would call on the Justice
Department to investigate the epidemic of illegal gambling on
college campuses (SI, April 3-17, 1995).
It's worth noting that the 1994 Arizona State basketball
point-shaving scandal, in which more than $1 million was bet
legally at Vegas sports books, came to light when one of those
books reported wagering irregularities. In Senate Judiciary
Committee hearings, the NCAA and the bill's other backers will
argue that the benefits of eliminating legal betting outweigh
the loss of a tool for catching match-fixers--not to mention the
loss of gaming-industry jobs and, potentially, campaign
contributions from that industry. Lobbyist Frank Fahrenkopf Jr.,
president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, says the
bill would do little or nothing to reduce illegal gambling on or
off campuses. "This is the NCAA passing the buck," he says. "If
gambling's illegal in 49 states, what makes you think adding one
more state is suddenly going to wake up Americans and students?"
Davis Cup Drama
The Hero Of Harare
When John McEnroe, after years of lobbying, was named captain of
the U.S. Davis Cup team in September, he was quick to mention
little-known Chris Woodruff as a possible team member. An
athletic Tennessean, Woodruff had blown out his left knee in
December 1997 while fooling around kicking field goals, and he
started 1999 ranked No. 1,342 in the world. By year's end he was
closing in on the top 50, showing the form that helped him win
the NCAA singles title in 1993. "That," said McEnroe, "is the
kind of guy I'm looking for."
Early last weekend McEnroe had cause to question that judgment.
With Pete Sampras shelved by an injured hip flexor, Woodruff got
the call to make his Davis Cup debut against Zimbabwe. Beset by
Harare's 5,000-foot elevation, an apoplectic crowd that included
a sinister-looking clown and a severe case of
deer-in-the-headlights syndrome, Woodruff last Friday dropped
his first rubber, to Byron Black, in straight sets. The plot
thickened when Zimbabwe's doubles team knocked off Rick Leach
and Alex O'Brien on Saturday, and a dehydrated Andre Agassi--who
on Friday had defeated Black's younger brother, Wayne--squared
the tie by beating the elder Black. "When they said this wasn't
going to be easy," said McEnroe on Saturday, "I didn't realize
what they were talking about."
Before the U.S. Davis Cup squad ended up scuttled like its
America's Cup counterpart, however, Woodruff--appropriately
nicknamed Country--saved the day. On Sunday he compartmentalized
the pressure, hit winner after breathtaking winner from the
baseline and held off Wayne in four sets.
"You want to try so hard for him," Woodruff said of McEnroe. "He
was such a competitor when he played, so in the back of my mind,
I was just thinking, You've got to do this for him."
Thoughtful and soft-spoken, Woodruff is a breath of fresh air
for American men's tennis, which has no player younger than 25
in the world's top 50. But before he's anointed the Next Big
Thing, it's worth pointing out that he's already 27 and will
likely lose his Davis Cup spot if Sampras shows up healthy for
the next tie, against the Czech Republic in April. Still,
Woodruff's heroics not only ensured that his name will be added
to Davis Cup lore but also salvaged his captain's long-awaited
debut. --L. Jon Wertheim
An Olympic team snub deprived him of the chance to dunk at will
on hapless Angolans in Sydney next September, but All-Star voters
know better, which is why they made Vince Carter this year's top
vote-getter. Whether or not a bum hand keeps the risin' Raptor
from soaring at the slamfest in Oakland, the most exciting jammer
since Jordan will have plenty of opportunity to dunk at will in
the season's second half--and to give hapless Angolans a glimpse
of what's to come in 2004.
Square feet in the master-bedroom suite of the house Penny
Hardaway is building in Windermere, Fla.
NFL teams out of 31 that were over the $57.3 million salary cap
Days that Rod Boyce and his dogs were lost in the Alaska
wilderness after a wrong turn in a sled dog race.
Straight dual meet wins for Brandon (Fla.) High's wrestling team,
dating to 1973.
Patrol cars and helicopters sent by the LAPD to break up a noisy
birthday party at Jim Brown's house.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates, over complaints by officials of
the Vintage Country Club in Indian Wells, Calif., about his
wearing a T-shirt when he played there. So irked was the world's
richest Callaway spokesman that he reportedly has commissioned
his own 18-hole, Jack Nicklaus-designed course to be built nearby.
By Red Sox legend Ted Williams, 81, a spot in the International
Game Fish Association's Fishing Hall of Fame. At the induction
ceremony, fishing buddy and former broadcaster Curt Gowdy called
Williams "the greatest all-around fisherman I've ever seen."
Egyptian archaeological and environmental treasures, by
participants in the Dakar Rally, which runs from Senegal to
Egypt. The chief archaeologist for the Sphinx and the pyramids
of Giza filed a complaint against rally organizers for leaving
piles of garbage at the race's finish line near the site, and
Egypt's environment minister is suing organizers for damage to
Wadi al-Rayan, a protected desert valley southwest of Cairo
where rally drivers camped.
The view of the ice from the seat of Avalanche season-ticket
holder Jeff Brooks, by handrails in Denver's new Pepsi Center.
Brooks is suing the team for $1,763.
Who Wants to Be a Sports Millionaire?
You do, of course--but if you're more brains than brawn, your best
bet may be ABC's hit Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Here's a quiz
made up of increasingly difficult sports questions that have been
asked on the show (answers below). What do you get for a perfect
score? Not just seven figures but 11: 1-800-433-8321. That's the
number to call to become a contestant. And, yes, Regis, that's
our final answer.
Which of the following is used to row a boat?
A Foil B Oar C Cue D Net
What is the color of an official U.S. major league baseball?
A White B Yellow C Orange D Pink
Boxing legend Muhammad Ali claimed he could "float like" a what?
A Swan B Raft C Ping-Pong ball D Butterfly
By definition, what sport do you participate in if you are an
A Curling B Fishing C Baseball D Cheerleading
Which NBA team did Earvin (Magic) Johnson play for?
A Orlando Magic B Los Angeles Lakers
C Boston Celtics D Washington Wizards
How many goals must a hockey player get in one game to score a
A 2 B 3 C 5 D 6
What sports commentator is legendary for the line "telling it
like it is"?
A Howard Cosell B Frank Gifford
C Dick Vitale D John Madden
How many rings intersect in the official Olympic Games symbol?
A Three B Four C Five D Seven
Which major league baseball team is principally owned by the
president of Nintendo?
A Anaheim Angels B Los Angeles Dodgers
C Seattle Mariners D Toronto Blue Jays
What runner cheated to win the Boston Marathon by joining the
race less than a mile from the finish?
A Julie Krone B Roberta Gibb
C Rosie Ruiz D Zola Budd
What is the given name of golfer Tiger Woods?
A Myron B Barnabus
C Newton D Eldrick
Who was the only heavyweight champion ever to retire undefeated
as a professional?
A Muhammad Ali B Rocky Marciano
C Joe Louis D Jack Dempsey
How much does a player on the losing team currently earn for his
performance in the Super Bowl?
A $10,000 B $33,000
C $80,000 D $120,000
Which of the following objects is needed to engage in the sport
A Log B Horse C Sword D Discus
In what country are all U.S. Major League baseballs currently
A Costa Rica B Haiti
C Dominican Republic D Cuba
Answers: B, A, D, B, B, B, A, C, C, C, D, B, B, A, A
The Round and the Furry
in the most important gathering of fuzzy, pantsless animals
since the breakup of the Banana Splits, all 16 NHL mascots met
in Toronto last Friday for the league's first Mascot Summit.
Rarely in sport--except perhaps at baseball's winter
meetings--have so many clowns gathered in one room.
Participants traded serious talk about funny business. Topics
ranged from pratfalls and pantomime to how to remove nacho
cheese from fur. (Solution: Stick the costume in the wash.) The
session also marked the first time in parliamentary history that
someone said, "I yield the floor to my esteemed colleague from
San Jose, S.J. Sharky." Presiding at the affair was Carlton, the
furry face of the hometown Maple Leafs. "This was a way for all
the mascots to exchange ideas," said the smiling 6'6" polar
bear. "We brought a bunch of our scoreboard videos. We also
talked about rappelling. After all, Sharky got stuck last year."
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
Upon its return from a first-round exit in the African Nations
Cup, Ivory Coast's soccer team was locked up for two days on an
army base; after the players were released, Gen. Robert Guei, the
country's military strongman, told them, "Next time you will stay
there for military service."
If nothing else, the XFL may give the No Fun League a kick in
the butt by reminding everyone why football is cool.
They Said It
Warriors guard, 32, on whispers that injuries and age are
catching up with him: "I don't care. I'm too old for that stuff."