Steve Young's zeal for the game outshone even his records
You can't argue that Steve Young, who announced his retirement
on Monday (page 56), was a better quarterback than Joe Montana.
He wasn't. Montana won four Super Bowls to Young's one, and
though Montana had a better supporting cast with the 49ers in
the 1980s than Young had in the '90s, the title count is the
decisive factor in comparing the two. But Young is closer to
Montana--and to the NFL's other great quarterbacks--than most
people appreciate. Young had a better winning percentage in San
Francisco than Montana had. Moreover, he was the best running
quarterback ever and the most efficient passer ever (a 96.8
career rating, 4.5 points higher than that of runner-up
Montana). On my list of the 10 best pro quarterbacks, I put
Young seventh, behind Otto Graham, Montana, Johnny Unitas, Sammy
Baugh, John Elway and Dan Marino.
It's amazing that Young is on such a list at all. In 1987, when
Niners czar Bill Walsh traded for Young--who had spent two
seasons in the USFL and two more with the hapless
Buccaneers--Montana was 30 and in his prime, and the 49ers had
been to the postseason four years in a row. It was sacrilege to
think that someone could press the great Montana for playing
time, but that's what Young did. Walsh was a calculating
football businessman, and though he'd never admit it, he knew in
'87 that Young was a better player for his system: more accurate
and mobile than Montana, and just as smart and gutsy.
Young's numbers are daunting, but he should be best remembered
for the zeal with which he played and the reverence with which he
treated the game. After Young threw for six touchdowns in the
49-26 rout of San Diego in Super Bowl XXIX, I saw him, not coach
George Seifert, give the Niners their postgame talk. Grinning
like a kid in love for the first time, he hugged the Vince
Lombardi Trophy and rasped, "No one--no one!--can ever take this
from us!" Later, in his hotel suite, I asked him if he had
thought he would come up so big in his biggest game. "No way," he
said. "Six touchdown passes? I've never thrown more than four in
a game, not even when I was a little kid in Connecticut. It's so
cool. I'm in awe of that." In time, history will see Young's
career similarly. --Peter King
June 18, 2000
Minnesota bids farewell to college football pioneer Sandy
Before Martin Luther King Jr. marched on Washington, Sandy
Stephens paraded in Pasadena. Stephens, who died on June 6 at age
59, led Minnesota to the football national title in 1960 and to
victory in the Rose Bowl the next season--the same one in which he
became the first black All-America quarterback. As such Stephens
blazed a trail that would be followed by the likes of Warren Moon
and Steve McNair and made Minnesota a place to go if you were an
aspiring black signal-caller. "I wanted to play quarterback,"
said Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy, who did just that for the
Golden Gophers from 1973 to '76, "and I knew that Minnesota had
pretty much set the trend."
At a time when segregation in the South and bigotry in the North
kept blacks from calling the plays for whites, Gophers coach
Murray Warmath took a chance on Stephens, a four-sport star from
Uniontown, Pa. The experiment wasn't an immediate success.
Stephens debuted as a sophomore in 1959, and when Minnesota went
2-7, irate fans hung Warmath in effigy outside the players'
dorm. But Stephens's teammates rallied behind him. "He was full
of self-confidence, and players responded to that," says Gophers
interim athletic director Tom Moe, a receiver on the '59 team.
Warmath, too, stuck by his man, in whom he saw not just a
natural born leader but also, at 6 feet and 215 pounds, one
tough kid. "He wouldn't put up with any abuse," Warmath says.
"It would've taken one hell of a guy to threaten him."
Stephens's college heroics never translated into success as a
pro. He played briefly for the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL and
subsequently held jobs in banking, real estate and social work.
Recently he served as an analyst on Minnesota football
broadcasts, and for the past several years he had been preparing
a book on the significance of his college football experience.
Even if that book never makes it to print, Stephens's legacy
will endure. Said Al Nuness, a black who captained the Gophers'
basketball team in the late 1960s, "Every African-American who
wanted to be a quarterback looked up to Sandy Stephens. He's a
legend among black athletes." --John Rosengren
Imagine Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez crouching behind the
plate in the ninth inning of a sweltering August game but
feeling as fresh as he did in the first inning. Or Devils
defenseman Scott Stevens skating in the second overtime as
though the game has just begun. Or a marathoner breaking the
tape, looking to the clock and glimpsing the impossible: 1:59.
Thanks to new technology that regulates body temperature through
a water-filled pouch inside a hard plastic shell that can be
worn like a glove, such athletic flights of fancy could soon
take off. Designed by Stanford animal physiologists Dennis Grahn
and Craig Heller, who were looking to treat hypothermia more
efficiently, the passive heat exchanger may redraw the limits of
physical activity--a notion Grahn accepts, though hesitantly.
"We are barely in the initial stages of testing," he says. "If
anything, we're in the look-what-we-found stage."
What they've found is a means of removing exercise-induced heat
from the body and thereby dramatically reducing the decline in
an athlete's performance. "We're discovering that for someone
who's physically fit, performance during prolonged exercise is
affected much more by heat-related exhaustion than by metabolic
exhaustion," Grahn says. "It's been a bit shocking."
The original device's shell created a vacuum that drew blood to
the palm. A heated pad then warmed the blood and sent it rushing
to the heart, quickly heating the body's core. While blankets and
hot air might warm a hypothermic patient's body in three or four
hours, the glove could do so in 15 minutes. "The palm and soles
of the feet are our body's primary dumping grounds for internal
heat," says Grahn. Warm the blood at these points, and the body
warms quickly thereafter. "Then we found we could reverse the
effect, cooling the body by replacing the heating pad with
Some of their test subjects were patients of Stanford colleague
Michael Dillingham, who's also the 49ers' team physician. He
asked the researchers if the heat-extraction technology could be
used by athletes. To find out, Grahn and Heller recruited lab
assistant Vinh Cao, a weightlifter, as a subject. Every three
days over a six-week span, Cao, 33, would do nine sets of
pull-ups, resting for three minutes between each set. As
expected, his performance decreased with each set, from an
average first-set high of 14 reps to an average ninth-set total
of seven. But when the cooling device was used for three minutes
after the ninth set, Cao could do as many pull-ups as he had
done in the first set. In a subsequent long-term test, Cao
improved his average set from 14 pull-ups to 44. "It amazes me
every time I think about it," says Cao.
Grahn and Heller think the technology might work best in a shoe,
but at this stage in their research they warn against undue
optimism from those with visions of three-minute miles dancing
in their heads. "Do I think this could significantly raise the
ceiling of athletic potential?" Grahn says. "Yes. Will it happen
tomorrow? Of course not. But the Holy Grail --that's what
everyone's always looking for, isn't it?"
NFL Europe's Club Med
While NFLers certainly have a pretty good gig, the best pro
football team to play for may be the Barcelona Dragons of NFL
Europe. During their 10-week season, which runs from April to
June, Dragons players live in the sun-splashed resort town of
Sitges, a half hour drive south of Barcelona. The Subur, the
players' four-star hotel, sits on a nude beach frequented by
Barcelona's beautiful people. In the Spanish tradition of the
siesta the Dragons are normally finished with practice and
tape-review by 1 p.m., about three hours earlier than other
teams in the league. So a stroll down the beach on any
non-game-day afternoon will reveal about half the players either
sizzling in the sun or lolling in the Mediterranean on paddle
boats. (The other half most likely are on a golf course.)
As sweet as the daylight life is in Sitges, the nightlife is
even tastier. "The clubs here are amazing," says safety Brad
Trout, who was allocated to Barcelona by the Broncos this
season. "They'll go to four or five in the morning almost every
night. The only problem is that some of the clubs are so close
to the hotel that guys have to wear headphones when they sleep
because it's so loud. But no one's complaining."
The word on Barcelona is spreading. This year several NFL players
reportedly agreed to go to Europe on the condition that they be
allocated to Barcelona. The Dragons draw only about 8,000 fans to
home games at Olympic Stadium, and the salaries for players are
about $1,000 a week, but that doesn't matter too much when you're
playing in football's Eden. "A lot of guys in this league get
homesick pretty fast," says Trout, "but not here. Most of us
could stay in Sitges the rest of our lives." --Lars Anderson
Trouble de Bruijn?
Three weeks after Dutch swimmer Inge de Bruijn, 26, began an
astonishing spree of record-breaking in which she has tied or
surpassed seven world marks, the waters of world swimming are
churning with debate over whether she could have swum so fast
without the aid of drugs. Inky, as she's known to an adoring
Dutch public, equaled and then twice lowered the 50-meter
freestyle record, shaving .12 of a second off the mark of 24.51
set in 1994 by China's Le Jingyi. She also cracked Le's 54.01
for the 100 freestyle--a time de Bruijn herself called
"impossible to beat" just before she swam the event in 53.80. On
May 26 she flew through the 50 butterfly in 25.64, more than a
half second faster than any other woman had.
Her most stunning feat, however, was to stop the clock at 56.69
seconds in the 100 fly on May 27. When Jenny Thompson set the
record of 57.88 at the Pan Pacific Championships last year, she
broke Mary T. Meagher's 18-year-old mark by a mere .05 of a
second. De Bruijn lopped a whopping 1.19 seconds off Thompson's
time. Bob Beamon, step aside. "When I finished the race and
looked at the scoreboard, I thought it said 57.69," says de
Bruijn. "Then I looked again and saw it was 56.69. I thought, My
god, I don't know how I did that."
Neither does a large contingent of coaches and swimmers. They
see in de Bruijn similarities to Irish swimmer Michelle Smith de
Bruin, who had three highly questioned gold-medal-winning
performances at the 1996 Olympics, later tested positive for
andro and was banned for allegedly tampering with a urine
sample. Says 1996 U.S. swim team co-captain Jon Olsen, "I've
known Inky for a long time. She has a beautiful stroke and a
strong body, but a 56? There's no way." Adds Scott Volkers, a
prominent Australian coach, "I can't imagine how you can get a
girl to swim that fast."
The other '96 U.S. co-captain, Josh Davis, however, points out
important differences between Smith de Bruin and de Bruijn:
"Inky has great starts and turns and a beautiful stroke; she was
already a world-class swimmer [No. 1-ranked in the 50 free the
last two years, with two European titles in 1999]; and she's
training under Paul Bergen, one of the top coaches in the sport.
There's no reason to believe her times are tainted."
Bergen credits the new and controversial Speedo Fastskin
bodysuit worn by de Bruijn (and many other swimmers) for
improving her times by as much as .80 of a second, and Mark
Spitz believes de Bruijn's feats are largely the products of a
mental breakthrough. "When Jenny finally broke Mary T's record
last year, it changed the entire psychology of the event," says
Spitz. "Once that barrier was broken, it opened up the
possibility to swim much, much faster. Inge took advantage of
that opportunity." --Phillip Whitten
A SHADE OFF
He narrowly missed his first Tour win in 14 months when he lipped
out a five-foot par putt on the fourth hole of sudden death at
the Buick Classic. Still, it appears former world No. 1 David
Duval may have found his old form just in time for this week's
biggie, the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
Sunday afternoon crowd greeting the Devils at the airport upon
their triumphant return to New Jersey.
Relief pitchers used by the St. Louis Cardinals this season
Road record of teams in the Stanley Cup finals over the past 12
Batting average of Giants outfielder Terrell Lowery before he was
designated for assignment.
Amount the Padres have paid injured Randy Myers since he last
pitched for them, in the 1998 World Series.
--Josh Pulliam, 27, as the Cubs fan who sparked last month's brawl
between the Dodgers and the Wrigley crowd by stealing L.A.
catcher Chad Kreuter's hat. Pulliam is a customer service rep
for NTC/Contemporary Publishing Group, a subsidiary of the
Tribune Company, which owns the Cubs.
--By Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, 18 Dallas season-ticket holders
with perfect attendance in 1999-00. Cuban treated the fans to
lunch at The Palm in Dallas.
--Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile, who shaved everything but his
eyebrows and head after losing a bet that teammate Pat Hentgen
wouldn't get a hit off Arizona's Randy Johnson.
--The Orioles, from hotels in overbooked New York City on the
night of June 7. Manager Mike Hargrove and most of the Orioles,
who were scheduled to make up a June 6 rainout with the Mets the
next day, had to fly home to Baltimore when they couldn't secure
enough rooms for the team and its entourage within 90 minutes of
Shea Stadium. They jetted back the next morning and lost 8-7.
Jerry from Queens
Sports talk radio host Steve Somers had a little help from a
high-profile cohost, Jerry (from Queens) Seinfeld, when he kicked
off his new 8 p.m.-to-midnight gig on New York's WFAN on June 1.
Here's Seinfeld on sports.
--Hockey: "I don't think there is a puck.... These guys are just
skating around, and they turn the light on and everybody puts
their arms in the air, and they celebrate nothing."
--Hockey uniforms: "Why the shorts? Why shorts? It's a winter
game. Shorts--huge shorts."
--Sports radio: "This is like a gay community, where all these
people who have been rejected from traditional society can
finally congregate together."
--Sports news: "I enjoy the phenomenon of guys wanting to read
about games and see highlights of games that they watched....
Sports reporting is really the opposite of everything else in the
newspaper. You can't wait to hear more about what you already
know about, so that you can go, 'Yep, I saw that.'"
--Former Met Rickey Henderson: "I like Rickey. Rickey Henderson
did not give a damn, and I like that."
Here's Bettin' on You, Kid
Say what you want about women's basketball, but by at least one
measure it has gained a foothold in a formerly male-dominated
domain: Both college and WNBA games are now fixtures at several
Las Vegas sports books. Insiders estimate that some $10 million
was wagered in Vegas on the 2000 NCAA women's tournament,
including $4 million on the final, the most heavily bet-on event
in women's sports history. John Harper, oddsmaker at Las Vegas
Sports Consultants, says more than half of the 45 casinos for
which his company sets betting lines now take bets on women's
Final Four games. Showing slow but steady growth, the
four-year-old WNBA appears in 15% of Nevada sports
books--slightly more than Arena football. "WNBA bets have
increased tenfold since 1997," says Mirage sports book operator
Robert Walker. While Walker reports that men dominate WNBA
betting, Harper has found that women like to wager on their
sisters: "We see a lot of young females who don't bet on
anything else betting on women's basketball games."
Life of Payne
The Golf Channel is telecasting its Payne Stewart biography, but
if we were to make our own biopic about the late 1999 U.S. Open
champion (and had an unlimited budget), here's whom we would
Our hero PAYNE STEWART
Action hero BRUCE WILLIS
Life partner TRACEY STEWART
Lifetime staple TERI GARR
Flop-shot artist PHIL MICKELSON
Foppish HUGH GRANT
Handsome stoic NICK FALDO
Handsome stoic HARRISON FORD
Aussie icon GREG NORMAN
Aussie icon PAUL HOGAN
Friendly upstart CASEY MARTIN
Friends' MATTHEW PERRY
Party boy JOHN DALY
Party boy DREW CAREY
Sagacious caddy FLUFF
Wise old-timer WILFORD BRIMLEY
The incomparable TIGER WOODS
The incomparable TIGER WOODS
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
The Blackhawks reportedly have been approached by a dog food
company about developing promotions around the team's new coach,
Walsh knew Young was better for his system: more accurate and
mobile than Montana, and just as gutsy.
They Said It
Brewers manager, on his team's struggles: "We're pitching in
2000, but we're hitting in the 1960s."