The pervasive, pernicious ticker destroys the drama of sports
We are so information-obsessed these days that we now live in the
preinformation age. That is, we get our news before we get our
news. Sports highlight shows on ESPN, Fox Sports and CNN/SI all
employ a ticker that crawls across the bottom of the screen,
minute by irritating minute, telling viewers in abbreviated form
what they are about to find out in a form that's abbreviated
enough to begin with. The damned ticker flows undammed, 24/7, on
sports news channels, and it won't be long before these channels
reach the screen-obliterating absurdity of the Bloomberg
Financial Network, on which information boxes and tickers leave
little room for the traditional TV picture. That's fine on a
business channel featuring nothing but talking heads, but it's
not good on a sports highlight show.
Case in point: It's 8:01 a.m., and the opening clip of ESPN's
SportsCenter shows Ray Allen coming off a screen with time
running out and the Bucks down by one. Just as Allen goes up to
shoot, the ticker--dubbed the Bottom Line--flashes by with the raw
data that Milwaukee lost by one, thereby eliminating the drama
that SportsCenter tries to create with its highlights. "Our
research shows that viewers don't get distracted by the Bottom
Line," says Norby Williamson, executive producer of SportsCenter.
Well, this viewer does, and to combat it I have employed two
defenses, neither of which is ideal. The Arm Bar Method requires
shielding the view by lifting the forearm to the level of the
ticker, but that's enervating and perilous to execute while
spooning Frosted Mini-Wheats into the mouth. The Marvin Gaye
Method requires that four-CD box sets be lined along the bottom
of the screen to cover the ticker--ain't that peculiar?--but alas,
they rest too precariously on the edge of the TV table and often
tumble to the floor.
Networks are outsmarting themselves with this creeping menace.
By eight in the morning, any degenerate gambler, fantasy leaguer
or agate-addict who had to know what the Bucks did the night
before will have found out on the Internet or a postmidnight
highlight show. There are still some hopelessly antiquated
viewers for whom suspense and storytelling matter--and to whom
the concept of scooping yourself doesn't make sense. --Jack
LORD STANLEY RULES
Why the NHL's postseason is the best in all of sports
The circus on ice that is the NHL playoffs may not be the
greatest show on earth, but it makes other sports' postseasons
seem tame. Why?
--Because hockey fans, more than those of any other sport, must
brace themselves for the unexpected. This year the eighth-seeded
Sharks toppled the top-seeded Blues in the Western Conference,
while the seventh-seeded Penguins knocked off the No. 2 Capitals
in the East. St. Louis's early exit wasn't novel. Last year No.
8 Pittsburgh beat the No. 1 Devils, and the seventh-seeded
Sabres skated all the way to the finals. In baseball you pencil
in the Braves for the World Series each spring and write the
Yankees in with a pen.
--Because teams earn their upsets in the NHL, the only major sport
in which every round is best of seven. There are none of those
get-lucky five-game series found in the NBA's or baseball's first
round. Upsets don't exist in the NFL. One game? Please.
--Because players sport what Bruins coach Pat Burns lovingly calls
"a playoff face." In the NFL that means a linebacker's wild-eyed
stare; in baseball it means a pitcher's glare; in the NBA it
means a flapping tongue. In the NHL a playoff face comes swollen,
flecked with shades of purple and missing a few teeth.
--Because hockey opponents despise each other. "We hate them,"
Red Wings forward Pat Verbeek snarls of any rival. This is a
compliment. "We like to be hated," says Sharks forward Mike Ricci.
--Because many players are so superstitious, they don't shave
during the playoffs.
--Because in Canada, NHL playoff games arrest the nation the way
the World Series used to take over Brooklyn in the 1950s.
--Because you have Czechs, Finns, North Americans, Russians,
Slovaks and Swedes all battling to become champions of Canada's
--Because the playoffs have taught us names like Jagr,
Nieuwendyk and Yzerman, and because we can scream for a guy
named Yelle and stomp for a guy named Foote.
--Because goals come in an eye blink and one or two can win a
game, which means you should get a discount on your seat since
you only use the edge of it.
--Because after knocking one another's heads into Plexiglas for an
entire series, the bearded, toothless, sworn enemies line up and
--Because of the Stanley Cup, the world's most storied, most
anthropomorphized trophy. Each member of the championship team
gets a day to drink lager out of Stanley and snuggle up beside
him. Players have been taking such turns with the Cup for better
than 100 years, each reaping his own reward for surviving the
NHL playoffs, which on final thought may indeed be the greatest
show on earth. --Kostya Kennedy
Connecting The Dots
And then there were 25. The NCAA's approval of two more college
bowl games for next season ensures that 50 of the 114 major
college football teams will receive a postseason berth and
further turns the bowl season into dot.com season. Last year the
Citrus Bowl joined the list of dot.com bowls--there are now five
and counting--when it signed up Ourhouse.com after former title
sponsor CompUSA pulled out of a naming-rights deal that had three
years and $9 million left on it. "I'll admit that not one of us
[on the Citrus Bowl executive selection committee] had ever heard
of Ourhouse.com," says Carol Monroe, an exec with the Orlando
game, "but they had such a strong financial backing."
In turn the home improvement E-tailer, which had launched just
six weeks before the New Year's Day game, reaped big rewards. It
has had nearly 3 million new visitors since Jan. 1, 7% of whom
say they learned about the site by watching the Citrus Bowl.
Experts say the amount of exposure received by a title sponsor
roughly equals 100 30-second TV spots, so naming rights allow
little-known sites to make indelible impressions. "The average
guy isn't paying attention to commercials anyway," says Eric
Wright of Joyce Julius & Associates, which tracks how many times
sponsors' names are mentioned and how much airtime their logos
receive on-screen during a sporting event. "But when they're
engrossed in the game, they can't help but notice the logo behind
Banking on bowl power is Jim McIngvale, owner of Gallery
Furniture in Houston, where the galleryfurniture.com Bowl will
debut on Dec. 27. "I'm a marketing man," says McIngvale, who has
also slapped his company's Web address on backdrops at ATP tour
events, Belmont Park and Enron Field. "I saw this as an
opportunity to increase sales by $4 million to $5 million."
The other new bowl, the Silicon Valley Football Classic in San
Jose, has yet to sign a title sponsor, but executive director
Chuck Shelton says nearly a dozen companies have expressed
"serious interest." Rest assured that given the name of the game,
there are more than a few dot.coms in that dash for sponsorship.
When he won the April 15 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct by 4 1/4
lengths, running the fastest Kentucky Derby prep race of 2000,
Fusaichi Pegasus gave evidence of what had long been
suspected--that he's not only the most talented 3-year-old in
the U.S., but also potentially the best colt since Sunday
Silence dueled with Easy Goer in 1989. Not that he is a mortal
lock to win Saturday's Derby. With only five lifetime starts,
Fusaichi Pegasus lacks the hard-boned seasoning of The Deputy,
the whippet-tough bay that won the Santa Anita Derby, and High
Yield, the hard-knocking winner of the Blue Grass Stakes. His
pedigree makes him suspect at 10 furlongs, and he appears to be
flaky, even neurotic in temperament, which engenders doubt about
how he will handle the circus atmosphere of Derby Day. His
abundant raw talent aside, Fusaichi Pegasus has one great
leveler in his corner, a confident Neil Drysdale, one of
America's wisest and most creative trainers.
With an expected field of 20 horses, the Derby will be a madcap
cavalry charge around two turns in rush-hour traffic. Anything
can happen in those two brief minutes--and usually does. In the
end this Pegasus will have to fly to get by High Yield and The
Deputy, not to mention this year's blue-plate, long-shot
special: Captain Steve. But the bet here is that Pegasus will
prevail. --William Nack
MJ AND GENETICS
Jump like Jordan!
It turns out there's a little Michael Jordan in all of us. The
Michael Jordan gene, which describes a family of so-called
jumping genes found in every organism that researchers have
studied, doesn't make you able to leap tall buildings--or even
Patrick Ewing--in a single bound. It's named for its
extraordinary ability to leap from one spot on a chromosome to
another, enabling scientists to identify genetic mutations.
The Jordan gene was discovered seven years ago by a team of
biologists at St. Louis's Washington University, who published
their findings in February 1999 in the journal Development.
Jumping genes, also called transposons, are often given names
that reflect their mobility--Gulliver, Mariner, Vagabond. Jordan
happened to be the favorite player of research fellow Steve
Miller, the discoverer of the gene family whose leaps enabled
Miller and biologist David Kirk to isolate four genes in the
algae Volvox that regulate aspects of cell life. Oh, what a move!
UNBEATEN IN 29 YEARS
Before every meet, Reading (Mass.) High boys' track and field
coach Hal Croft scrawls his prediction of the results on a
blackboard in the Rockets' locker room. Croft's forecasts usually
show Reading losing by 20 or 30 points. "I coach according to
Murphy's Law," says Croft, an English teacher and former Marine
sergeant, but the snafus he anticipates never seem to occur. His
boys haven't lost a Middlesex League dual meet in 29 years, a
257-meet streak whose lone blemish is a 1973 tie with Wakefield
Reading's weapon isn't so much talent as depth. More than 100
boys go out for the team each year, enabling the Rockets to
string together enough second- and third-place finishes to win
meets even if they don't win that many events. "We don't allow
our kids to specialize," says Croft. "If every one of our
athletes is good at everything, we can put him in and expect him
to get a second or a third."
That tactic helped preserve the streak last week against Woburn.
Senior co-captain Riley Ohlson won the high jump with a leap of
6'1" and a few minutes later triple-jumped 42'5 1/4" to place
second in that event, helping Reading to a 78-58 victory and
lifting the Rockets to 5-0 this year.
As for the streak Croft says, "We deal with the kids very
directly. The streak is going to end someday, and we make sure
that before every meet they understand we could lose today."
Only they never do.
A Belgian Surprise
Usually when a pro basketball team goes out on a limb with the top
draft pick, the limb is freakishly long and still trying to
achieve harmony with its trunk. In 1998, for example, the NBA's
Clippers took raw 7-footer Michael Olowokandi and the WNBA's Utah
Starzz picked 7'2" Malgorzata Dydek. Projects, like branches, are
supposed to scrape the sky.
So when the Cleveland Rockers used the WNBA's top selection on
Ann Wauters of Belgium, a green 19-year-old with average height
(6'4") for a center, even her agent, Rolando Groignet, scratched
his head. "In my wildest dreams," he says, "I hoped for her to
make the top five." Wauters says when she heard her name called,
she was more excited about being chosen at all than about being
chosen No. 1: "I was like, Yeah, yeah, I'm in the league!"
The four-round draft was light on post players, which explains
why an unprecedented 13 foreigners were picked, including five in
the first round. Wauters, uncommonly mobile and versatile, has
averaged 12.7 points and 6.8 rebounds in two professional seasons
with France's USV Olympic and was considered the best European
prospect. "I like to play with my back to the basket," Wauters
says. "I can run the floor. I like to defend. I like to, how do
you say, block shots."
Each of the league's previous three top picks made an impact in
her first season--Houston's Tina Thompson was named first-team
All-WNBA in 1997; Dydek led the league in blocked shots in '98;
and Washington's Chamique Holdsclaw was Rookie of the Year in
'99--but first-year Cleveland coach Dan Hughes doesn't expect as
much out of Wauters: "I hope people will allow her to play a
little bit and not have an expectation level that's too
Angered that his alma mater, Oregon, had joined the Workers'
Rights Consortium, a labor watchdog group that wouldn't allow
Nike representation on its board, the company's CEO, Phil
Knight, yanked a reported $30 million personal pledge to Oregon
that would have helped renovate Oregon's Autzen Stadium. His
message: Don't tread on me.
Innings pitched by softballer Courtney Fitzgerald of St. John's
in a 3-2 complete-game loss to Seton Hall.
Padres players who have hit for the cycle in the club's 31-year
Paid attendance at 23,799-seat Charlotte Coliseum for Game 2 of
the Hornets-76ers first-round series.
Price for a snorkel, mask and flippers made by Gucci.
NHL players who earned more than $1 million this season, 272 more
millionaires than in 1990-91.
Kentucky basketball fan Ashley Judd, to CART driver Dario
Franchitti. According to her mother, Naomi, the two have been
affianced since December.
Two assailants in Jamundi, Colombia, by budding Olympic
sharpshooter Bernardo Tobar, 22, as he returned from the
practice range. When the bandits fired on his car, Bernardo, son
of a top Colombian Olympic marksman, shot them dead with his
.22-caliber target pistol.
Three Palma (Calif.) High baseball coaches, for ordering
pitchers to hit Soquel High batters because they believed Soquel
was stealing signs. Said suspended Palma coach Tony Incaviglia,
"It wasn't about retaliating against the kids. It was about
retaliating against their coaching staff."
The famed sloping soccer pitch of Scottish team Hibernian. The
field at Edinburgh's Easter Road Stadium, which is being
renovated, drops nearly two meters from one goal to the other;
winners of the coin toss traditionally chose to attack downhill
for the second half.
Russia's Marat Safin, on the head, by the victory trophy for
last week's ATP event in Barcelona. The hardware snapped in two
as Safin hoisted it in triumph, but he wasn't complaining: He
A Brief History of Sex
A survey conducted by organizers of last month's London Marathon
found that runners who indulged in sex the night before a race
had, on average, faster finishing times than those who didn't.
Those findings are sure to add fuel to the long-running sporting
debate over abstinence versus indulgence on the eve of big
events. A historical look:
1962 WILT CHAMBERLAIN enjoys one of his purported 20,000
assignations on night of March 1, drops 100 points on Knicks
1968 BOB BEAMON sows oats on eve of Olympic long-jump final in
Mexico City, leaps 29'2 1/2" to break world record by nearly
1969 JOE NAMATH gets shagadelic before Super Bowl III, leads AFL
champ Jets to historic 16-7 upset of NFL's Colts
1971 MARTY LIQUORI achieves No. 1 world ranking in mile. American
middle-distance star believed abstinence built up needed prerace
tension: "Sex makes you happy, and happy people don't run a 3:47
1974 MUHAMMAD ALI knocks out George Foreman to win his second
world heavyweight title; during his career, the Greatest
routinely abstained for six weeks before bouts, claiming, "When
you don't have sex for a while, it makes you a great warrior"
1986 Declaring, "If wives and girlfriends can't wait, tell them
to take a cold shower," MIKE DITKA keeps his Bears in hibernation
on eve of Super Bowl XX; Chicago crushes Patriots 46-10 in New
1990 MIKE TYSON suffers first pro loss, to Buster Douglas, blames
defeat on his own philandering
1992 Skier KERRIN-LEE GARTNER reportedly credits "warmup under
the covers" with husband Max for her Olympic gold, Canada's first
in the downhill
1992 Skier ALBERTO TOMBA cuts back on sextracurriculars for 1992
Games--"I used to have a wild time with three women until 5 a.m.;
in the Olympic Village I will live it up with five women until 3
a.m."--and strikes gold in giant slalom, silver in slalom
1994 Brazil soccer coach ALBERTO PARREIRA vows, "It will not be
for lack of sex that Brazil will lose the World Cup"; saucy South
Americans defeat self-restrained Italy on penalty kicks in Rose
1996 Canadian swim coach DAVE JOHNSON has his men and women sign
abstinence pact before Summer Olympics in Atlanta; Team Celibate
earns three medals, sets eight national records
1998 JANET ELWAY maintains safe distance from husband JOHN
before Super Bowl XXXII; after 14-year drought, John scores
first of two NFL titles
1999 Several ISRAELI SOCCER PLAYERS are investigated for
allegedly getting schwerve on before 5-0 loss to Denmark in Euro
2000 Wife and coach of marathoner KHALID KHANNOUCHI says, "After
the race we have a party, but not before"; party-hearty
world-record holder finishes disappointing third
WORD FOR WORD
During the NBA season Oregonlive.com has treated visitors to the
weekly diary of Trail Blazers dancer Marlene. Here's Marlene on:
A dancer's burden: "We are a group of women that people love to
hate.... Why? What did we do? Most of the time NOTHING."
Involvement with players: "We may get to do some charities or
promotions with them, but our relationship is purely
professional. This is a rule that the dancers have, but the
Being courtside: "We're so close that we can even smell all the
Icy Hot and Bengay on the [players'] bodies, we can read all
their tattoos and even get a glimpse of their shoe sizes and
brand names. It is truly a privilege to be on the court like
Boyfriends: "The hard part of being a boyfriend of a Blazer
Dancer...is listening to all the different catcalls and whistles
hurled at their girlfriends.... [T]he counterpart to that is
knowing that their girlfriends will be leaving with them
(boyfriend/husband) when the game is over."
Defeating a hated rival: "I've had this burning passion to beat
the UTAH JAZZ. A victory against them is always SWEET, especially
when there [are] a bunch of technical fouls and fights."
Playoff preparation: "I really have to make a checklist because
once I leave my house in the morning, it's no turning back. I
always try to bring two of everything in case someone else
forgets pants or a top or socks."
Y2K: "I was a little nervous about traveling [on Jan. 1, 2000],
but when I got bumped up to first class on Hawaiian Airlines, my
fears were taken away."
Her calling: "I don't expect people to look at us dancing and
say, 'Wow, she must really be smart!' But one day...maybe a
dancer will be your wife and mother of your children, or maybe,
just maybe, you might become friends with a dancer."
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
Among Michigan State's $1.1 million in expenses for the 2000
Citrus Bowl was $2,250 for a Cher look-alike and $2,150 for
psychics and spiritualists for a New Year's Eve party.
telling viewers what they are about to find out.
The Penguins' Czech forward, explaining why he sat out two days
of practice last week: "I was showing my support for Elian