THE TRUTH HURTS
A Chicago-born Bostonian grudgingly concedes New York's sports
New York sports fans, never a humble lot, have good reason to
feel they're living high on the hog these days. Not only is the
Big Apple hosting its first Subway Series since 1956, but the
football Giants and Jets are in races for their respective
division titles, and the Knicks and the Rangers are beginning
their seasons with new looks and rekindled hopes. None of these
teams play in a fancy new stadium, yet all command deeply loyal
followings whose loud, abrasive voices can be heard through good
years and bad. All this leads to the question, as painful as it
is to for me to pose: Is New York the best sports town in
That's a tough pill to swallow for most non-New Yorkers, whose
loathing of Big Apple teams is surpassed only by their dislike of
the Gotham media, who carry on as if life beyond the Hudson is
endless Hicksville. But let's be objective about this. What makes
up a great sports town? Loyalty, tradition, passion--a visceral
connection between a city and its teams. Lots of burgs have a
love affair with one sport while behaving indifferently toward
others. Dallas, Pittsburgh and Washington are great football
havens, not great sports towns. Philadelphia is passionate about
its Flyers, not its Phillies. The Lakers own L.A., but the city
couldn't keep the Rams.
Chicago suffers too much from Second City-itis. Its fans politely
support its teams just for showing up. The Blackhawks have been
without a Stanley Cup since '61, the White Sox haven't won the
World Series since 1917 and the Cubs.... Lost in the frenzy over
this year's Fall Classic is the fact that the first Subway
Series--actually an El Series--was held in the Windy City in '06.
But if by some miracle the Cubs and the White Sox met in October
now, it would be a saccharine affair lacking the depth and drama
of Mets versus Yankees. Sox fans--the few of us left--don't hate
Cubs fans. The latter have been so bad for so long that the only
emotion they inspire is pity.
Boston? A great sports town in the best of times, which these are
certainly not. The Bruins and the Celtics are lousy, the new
FleetCenter is sterile, the Patriots came within a whisker of
moving to Hartford and there's talk that Fenway Park, the most
beloved edifice in the city, will soon be torn down.
St. Louis? Riding high, no question. But Rams fans are too new,
Blues fans too fickle and Cardinals fans lack the edge, the
urgency with which New Yorkers root. Autumn in New York? Now is
the time to win. Had Tony La Russa been managing the Mets, with
Mark McGwire, the greatest home run hitter in baseball, available
for pinch hitting duty, do you think he'd have survived the wrath
of the fans, the vilification of the press, if he'd only used him
three times in five games? Not in Gotham. Not this fall. There is
no next year when you're playing in the greatest sports town in
the land. --E.M. Swift
The Five Worst Sports Towns
ATLANTA What's more embarrassing--losing a team to Calgary (the
Flames), adopting the tomahawk chop or cheering John Rocker?
CHARLOTTE Desperate for big league baseball, but its profound
apathy toward the Hornets and Panthers leads to the question:
OAKLAND The A's are sometimes outdrawn by their Triple A
affiliate in Sacramento, the Raiders are threatening to leave
again and the Warriors are so embarrassed they don't even use the
PHOENIX The Cardinals can't draw flies, the Coyotes are in
ownership limbo and the Suns are slipping further from glory
TAMPA The three-year-old Devil Rays and the eight-year-old
Lightning are already prime candidates for relocation.
HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL
Just two weeks ago Emmanuel Academy in Durham, N.C., had one of
the best schoolboy basketball teams in the country. Never mind
that unaccredited Emmanuel had a mere 20 students and held
classes in the basement of a day-care center. Never mind, either,
that the school had yet to play a single game in the three years
it had been around. What mattered was that among those 20
students were 11 Division I basketball prospects.
The hoops juggernaut got rolling last spring when Greater
Emmanuel House of Refuge pastor Artis Plummer and Mike White, an
assistant coach at Durham's Mount Zion Christian Academy, a well
known basketball factory, agreed to develop a program at
Emmanuel. White's involvement attracted four Mount Zion players
to the school, including six-foot senior Jonathan Hargett,
considered the nation's best high school point guard, and other
young stars from around the South. There was just one little
problem: As the school year started, Plummer and White had yet to
secure financing for the team, whose ambitious schedule included
tournaments in Alabama, Louisiana and Nevada. "They knew they
were walking into a situation where there wasn't a whole lot of
funding," Plummer says of the players. "It was one of those
visions that went bad." Indeed. On Oct. 13, White told the
players to return home: Plummer's application for $65,000 in
grants from "private parties" had been denied, leaving the
players scrambling to find schools quickly or lose their high
school eligibility and endanger their college prospects.
The quick rise and fall of a basketball factory isn't unique in
high school sports. What sets Emmanuel's circumstances apart is
the quality of the team the school had built in so short a time
and the tenuousness of the institution. "The whole thing was
unbelievably ill-conceived," says Bob Gibbons, basketball
recruiting analyst and publisher of the All Star Sports Report.
"The school had no faculty [until this year]. How did anyone in
his wildest dreams fantasize that these kids would be eligible
for college? These schools are using kids to create an illusion
that they are a basketball power."
Where you've seen her: On Fox's NFL pregame show, dispensing
essential meteorological info such as "There's not much weather
out there today."
Why you've paid attention: Every week, the unabashedly saucy
Barberie, 34, teases and flirts with Terry Bradshaw, James Brown,
Cris Collinsworth and Howie Long. After wearing a string of sexy
get-ups in the early weeks of the season, Barberie showed up
wearing a schoolmarm outfit--and then told naughty boy
Collinsworth he'd have to stay after class. "I don't worry about
being politically correct," says Barberie. "I am what I am. Do I
think you can have breasts and deliver an accurate forecast?
Resume: Selected in January by Fox NFL Sunday producer Scott
Ackerson, who spotted her doing weather reports for the Good Day
L.A. morning program; an occasional actress who has a recurring
role on the Pamela Anderson series V.I.P. as news reporter Foxy
Levin; recently guest-hosted on Live! With Regis; married to
former major league infielder Bret Barberie.
Credo: "My two minutes on the set are not changing television
Motor sports have mostly escaped Hollywood's attention. (Anyone
who's seen Days of Thunder can understand why.) But racing fans
burn rubber where studio execs fear to tread, and in the case of
Driven, a $70 million film set in the open-wheel racing world,
that fan is Sylvester Stallone. "This movie," says Sly, who
wrote, produced and stars in Driven, "isn't about who wins the
race but who achieves certain goals: overcoming fear, pushing
back the hands of time, proving one's manhood."
Stallone, a longtime racing junkie, had planned to do a Formula
One flick, but F/1 officials wanted $50 million for filming
rights. Stallone then turned to CART, which, he says, "agreed in
literally one hour" (for an undisclosed amount). CART gave
director Renny Harlin (Deep Blue Sea) and his crew extensive
access to the seven events at which they shot, including the
Detroit Grand Prix and the Molson Indy in Toronto.
Driven, scheduled to open in April, also stars Burt Reynolds as a
crotchety team owner (asked why he got the role, Reynolds said,
"Because Burgess Meredith is dead") and Gina Gershon as the
ex-wife of Stallone's character, an aging CART driver. Gershon,
an avowed road freak who normally pilots a "macked-out" Cadillac,
insisted on getting a turn behind the wheel of a CART machine.
("I was like somebody's little sister saying, 'I wanna drive,'"
says Gershon.) Stallone also took a spin during a scene in which
he weaves through traffic on the streets of Toronto. "I came
face-to-face with the reality of g force," says Stallone. "I was
going 185, and I realized it's possible for your ears to touch
the back of your head. It's the closest I'll ever come to being
--From Indiana, Kent Harvey, the freshman whose run-in with Bob
Knight led to Knight's dismissal as Hoosiers basketball coach.
--Jim Seacord, of his duties as Providence (N.C.) High football
coach after he allegedly told the Panthers' center during a
September game to "put a gun to your mouth and pull the trigger."
Seacord denies saying it.
--By the NBA, the 'do-rag that Pacers forward Sam Perkins had
worn during a preseason game. The league told Perkins the
headwear was a safety hazard.
--Soccer star Ronaldo, to testify before a Brazilian
congressional commission investigating whether Nike exerted
pressure for him to play in the 1998 World Cup final. Ronaldo
suffered convulsions and was hospitalized before the match,
which Brazil lost to France 3-0. Nike denies the allegation.
--Rights to the domain name danmarino.com, by the former Dolphins
quarterback. The World Intellectual Property Organization, a U.N.
agency that adjudicates domain name disputes, ruled that two
Texas men had registered the site name in May in bad faith and
that Marino's name is a de facto trademark.
--By eBay, offers of World Series tickets, because their resale
for more than 10% over face value is illegal in New York. Some
sellers had attempted to circumvent the state law by offering
"free" ducats with the purchase of a World Series pin, a cap or a
ticket stub for as much as $2,000.
--The Redskins, for a comment made by FedEx Field P.A. announcer
Bruce Kelly. While pumping up the crowd before the Oct. 15
Baltimore-Washington game, Kelly said on the loudspeaker,
"Ravens fans suck."
Dominic Valila, 35, has been cleaning the dugouts at Shea Stadium
for 14 years:
What do the dugouts smell like after a game?
Like beer and soda and hot dogs and spit and gum. It's a stadium
How do you clean them?
First we sweep with brooms. Then we take those leaf-blower things
and blow out the area. Then we take power-washer hoses and hose
Once in a while, if it's bad, you throw down some Pine Power. But
that's rare. The dugout is outside, so the wind will blow away
Which is worse: home or visiting dugout?
The visitors, because they don't care about the dugout here. We
used to put a garbage can right by the watercooler, but at the
end of the game there would be one cup in the garbage and 200
cups on the floor.
Which is the dirtiest team?
The Dodgers. They're very stuck-up. I just don't get along with
them, and I get along with everybody.
What's in a dugout after a game?
Sunflower seeds, Juicy Fruit wrappers, Bazooka wrappers, cups and
about a pint of spit. Once in a while you have a practical joker
who takes gum and rolls it up into a ball.
What's the hardest thing to clean up?
The sunflower seeds. They're the worst. There are 250 seeds in
one package, which means 500 shells per pack, and the guys go
through three dozen packs a night. The shells get everywhere.
Sometimes this place reminds me of those bars in the Wild West
with all the peanut shells all over the floor.
What's the strangest thing you've ever found?
I can't tell you that. I'll just say this: women's clothing.
Do you ever keep things you find?
Sometimes a baseball. Sometimes batting gloves--those are pretty
good to find. Once in a blue moon you'll find a glove.
Why are ballplayers so oral?
It's tradition. That's what you're supposed to do at the
ballpark. You're supposed to chew things. --Anna Holmes
A late-night ball: After a 21-game losing streak, the Ball State
football team has won three in a row, including last week's 44-35
victory over Buffalo. That's made the school's most famous alum,
David Letterman, a happy man. The late-night host has had the
team mascot, Charlie Cardinal, on his show and now has a
recurring bit in which he shows highlights of Ball State games.
Meanwhile, with each win, buzz builds that Letterman will
actually make an appearance at a Cardinals game. "Everywhere we
play," says Ball State assistant athletic director Joe Hernandez,
"there are rumors he's coming."...
TiVo, the company behind those snazzy digital TV recorders, has
just hired Ronnie Lott and Joe Montana (right)--not as
spokespeople but as marketing executives. The two former 49ers,
who have already carved out successful postgridiron careers as
venture capitalists, will develop a sports-marketing plan for
Hollywood's striking actors aren't through with Tiger Woods just
yet. As you'll recall, Woods took a lot of heat in July when he
crossed the Screen Actors Guild picket line by going to Canada
to film a Buick commercial. Now Nike has begun airing spots that
feature clips of Woods from events played in the past year. SAG,
however, says that even though Woods didn't shoot new footage
for the ads, he's still responsible for appearing in them and
must answer to the union....
We've had dreams like this: When the Senators' charter from
Philadelphia arrived in Ottawa during the wee hours of the
morning of Oct. 18, Alexei Yashin's girlfriend, model (and
former wife of ex-Ranger Ron Greschner) Carol Alt, was waiting
for him at the entrance to the private terminal with his
Mercedes running and the heater on.
Height and weight of Pistons center Eric Montross, who was
knocked over backward by a chest bump from 206-pound teammate
Jerome Williams during player introductions at a preseason game.
Damage done to the 2002 Olympic cross-country and biathlon venue
near Heber City, Utah, by ravers who broke into the site to stage
Reporters who attended Bulls coach Tim Floyd's press conference
after the Bulls-Wizards preseason game in Chicago, while Michael
Jordan spoke to a media horde in a United Center hallway.
Handguns reported stolen from the home of former Eagles running
back James Bostic.
Number worn by Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Steve Heinze,
making him Heinze 57.
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
Eugene Fleener of Gosport, Ind., was charged with murder in the
shooting death of Daniel Hutchison; the two had allegedly gotten
into an argument in a bar because Hutchison was wearing a Jeff
Gordon cap and Fleener is a Dale Earnhardt fan.
Magic coach, on whether he'd want budding rapper Allen Iverson
on his team: "I don't know. I'm still into the Commodores."