The battle for this year's Heisman goes the distance
For the first time in a long while, we go into the Thanksgiving
holiday with the race for the Heisman Trophy wide open. Blame it
on Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick. Until he went down
with a sprained ankle on Oct. 28, he was the clear favorite for
college football's top prize. Now we're left sorting through a
roster of candidates that's as baffling as a butterfly ballot.
With only two weeks to go before the Dec. 9 ceremony, how's the
race shaping up?
CHRIS WEINKE, FLORIDA STATE. The front-runner. Weinke has led the
Seminoles to an 11-1 record while putting up monster numbers: 266
completions for 4,167 yards and 33 touchdowns, school records
all. In beating No. 4 Florida last Saturday in front of a
national prime-time audience, Weinke passed for 353 yards and
three touchdowns despite having battled a case of the flu so bad
he was hooked up to an IV on Friday night. "He's the difference
in all our wins," says Seminoles tackle Tarlos Thomas. "He's our
father." Which brings up Weinke's primary drawback: At 28 he's
almost old enough for Thomas to be taken literally. "It's
perfectly legal for him to win the Heisman. It's certainly within
the rules," says Gators coach Steve Spurrier, in as backhanded an
endorsement as you can get. Responds Weinke, "Why should I be
penalized? You should be judged for what you do on the field."
JOSH HEUPEL, OKLAHOMA. The primary competition. Heupel's numbers
(3,018 yards, 17 touchdowns) aren't as gaudy as Weinke's, but he
has played against four of the top 20 defenses in the country,
including two of the top three, and averaged 303 yards in those
games. That's a big reason that the Sooners are undefeated. "We'd
have great pressure coming up the middle, and he'd be
backpedaling and still put the ball on the mark," said Nebraska
rush end Kyle Vanden Bosch after Heupel led Oklahoma to a 31-14
defeat of the Huskers. "I don't know if we've ever played a
quarterback that good." Last Saturday, Heupel threw for a mortal
248 yards and one touchdown against Texas Tech, but while Weinke
is done for the year, Heupel has two more games to pad his stats.
LADAINIAN TOMLINSON, TCU. The spoiler. Tomlinson needs only 16
rushing yards next week against SMU to pass 2,000 for the season.
Of the seven men who have hit the 2K mark, five have won the
Heisman. Still, because he plays in the rarely televised and
little respected WAC, Tomlinson is a long shot. He could,
however, have a Nader-like effect on the Heisman race: Since
voters who back him are more likely to be swayed by stats, he
could cut into Weinke's support.
So there. All we ask now is for a full, fair and accurate count.
Oh, and voters: Please do not leave your chads hanging. --Mark
A Very Premature Look at Heisman Hopefuls for 2001
DAMIEN ANDERSON, NORTHWESTERN Running back is nation's most
prolific rusher (1,914 yards, 22 TDs) after Tomlinson.
WOODY DANTZLER, CLEMSON Versatile quarterback who this year
nearly became first 2,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher in
RUDI JOHNSON, AUBURN Running back has revived Tigers' ground game
by gaining 1,520 yards (fifth in the nation).
MATT LOVECCHIO, NOTRE DAME Quarterback for the Irish: Half the
hype battle is already won.
MICHAEL VICK, VIRGINIA TECH If he returns next season, he's a
lock. (Where have we heard that before?)
U.S. CYCLING AND DRUGS
Maybe we should expect as much in these highly politicized times:
When a troubling accusation is made against the team of one of
the most prominent athletes in the world, it's met with a
politician's favorite defense, the nondenial denial.
French journalists reported recently that Lance Armstrong's U.S.
Postal Service cycling team was under investigation by the Paris
prosecutor's office for use of a little-known--and perfectly
legal--drug during last summer's Tour de France, won by defending
champion Armstrong. The drug in question reportedly is Actovegin,
a Norwegian product made from an extract of bovine blood serum.
It's designed to treat skin wounds, but medical experts say it
also may enhance the performance of endurance athletes in a
manner similar to the banned erythropoietin (EPO).
The USPS team decided the best response to the allegations was to
sidestep the issue. It issued a statement that said, in part, "We
continue to adhere to a zero-tolerance policy concerning the use
of substances banned by [the International Cycling Federation]."
Asked by SI specifically about Actovegin, team manager Mark
Gorski reiterated that his riders don't use illegal or banned
drugs. "I'm sticking to our statement that we haven't broken any
rules or laws," he said.
That's where the hair splits. Actovegin is so new that it's not
even in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's registry and
isn't banned by the International Cycling Federation. "The
question is whether that makes it right," says Penn State
epidemiologist Charles Yesalis, an expert on performance
enhancers. "Given all the criticism of drug use in sports, you
would think that the question 'Am I taking this to help me win?'
might be important. From what I've read, there's no doubt this
stuff can help an endurance athlete like a cyclist."
In the last two years, cynics have said Armstrong could not have
so dominated the Tour without doping, allegations that he has
answered with swift and strong denials. The USPS needs an
equally strong response here. Better to say outright, one way or
the other, whether anyone on the team used Actovegin than to
issue a politician's response and give the cynics more reason to
doubt. --Don Yaeger
Every year, college hoops teams begin their seasons by playing
exhibition games against barnstorming outfits with names like New
York Gazelles and Reality Basketball. Some of this year's more
intriguing teams include:
TEAM: Crossfire Ministries PLAYERS: Former Division I college
players. MISSION: Christian activists looking to spread the
gospel. Before games, players and coaches hand out copies of the
New Testament to opponents; at halftime, they preach to the
fans. RECORD: 6-9, including losses to North Carolina-Asheville
and Charleston Southern.
TEAM: London Leopards (left) PLAYERS: Middle-of-the-pack pros
from the British Basketball League. MISSION: Says Bob Donewald,
coach of the self-described Bad Boys of British Basketball: "Our
main goal was to get the team to jell into a cohesive unit."
RECORD: 2-7. Lost to Penn State, Arkansas and Maryland; beat
Virginia 89-88 on a three-pointer at the buzzer.
TEAM: VASDA USA PLAYERS: Mid-level former collegians. MISSION: A
registered AAU team, VASDA--which stands for Value And
Satisfaction Delivered Always--was formed by Legacy Sports
Partners, an agency that attempts to place former college
players in European pro leagues and the CBA. RECORD: 2-19, with
wins against Jackson State and Western Carolina.
TEAM: Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) PLAYERS: 17-to
19-year-old women who play in the Australian Women's National
Basketball League. MISSION: AIS recruits and develops
Australians for that country's various squads, including its
Olympic team. RECORD: 3-5, including wins against Nebraska and
TRAILER OF THE WEEK
Vertical Limit (opens Dec. 8)
King of The Hill
SYNOPSIS: Chris O'Donnell stars as a mountain climber who leads a
risky rescue effort up K2, the world's second-highest peak, to
save the life of his stranded sister. TRAILER STYLE: Breathless
and lightheaded, like experiencing altitude sickness. Spectacular
scenery and eye-popping stunt work are cut together at breakneck
speed and set to staccato action-flick music. WHAT THE STUDIO
WANTS YOU TO THINK OF: Jon Krakauer's mesmerizing bestseller,
Into Thin Air, without all those pesky words. WHAT THE STUDIO
DOESN'T WANT YOU TO THINK OF: Sylvester Stallone's cartoonish
Cliffhanger. PREFAB CATCHPHRASE: "Avvv-uhhhh-LANCHE!!!!" BOTTOM
LINE: Hollywood melodrama jacked up on pure oxygen. Take away the
frenetic pacing and you're left with standard-issue action fare,
including stock characters (like an eccentric but sage mountain
man) and the obligatory psychodrama (O'Donnell's father died in a
climbing accident years before). Still, the cinematography and
the alpine vistas, mostly shot in New Zealand, are arresting. In
other words, it may be familiar, but you can't beat the view.
From the only swimming pool in Equatorial Guinea, Eric (the
Eel) Moussambani, who captured the world's fancy by registering
an agonizingly slow 100-meter freestyle time at the Sydney
Games. According to Moussambani, many Equatorial Guineans were
shamed, rather than inspired, by his performance. The Eel now
trains in the ocean.
Nathan Hall, 21, of Chico, Calif., of criminally negligent
homicide stemming from a 1997 incident on the slopes at Vail,
Colo., in which he collided with and killed fellow skier Alan
Cobb, 33, of Denver. Hall, believed to be the first person tried
in the U.S. for a ski-accident death, faces a maximum of five
years in prison.
John McEnroe, after 14 months as U.S. Davis Cup captain.
McEnroe had lobbied heavily for the job; in quitting he cited
frustration over Davis Cup format, which, he said, prevents the
best American players from taking part.
By St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Indianapolis,
that the NFL move the scheduled 4:15 start of the Dec. 24
Colts-Vikings game at the RCA Dome. The church is across Capitol
Avenue from the stadium, and Father Tom Murphy, St. John's
pastor, says traffic and parking problems caused by the game may
force the church to cancel 5:30 Christmas Eve mass. NFL spokesman
Greg Aiello says the league will not change the time.
At the World Golf Village in St. Augustine, Fla., ground on
Murray Bros. Caddyshack, the first in a planned franchise of
golf-themed restaurants owned by Bill Murray and his five
Q How do you repossess an Olympic medal?
A Last week, in a live ceremony on NBC's Today show, U.S. freestyle
wrestler Brandon Slay was awarded an Olympic gold. Why so late?
Because Germany's Alexander Leipold (above, blue, wrestling Slay)
was stripped of his victory after he tested positive for
steroids. Original bronze medalist Moon Eui Jae of South Korea
and fourth-place finisher Adem Bereket of Turkey were bumped up
to silver and bronze, respectively. Leipold and the Germans
promptly shipped back the gold, although, as IOC vice president
Anita DeFrantz explains, the medal was in "unsuitable" condition.
(Had Leipold trashed it? DeFrantz attributes the nicks and dents
to "wear and tear," but adds, "Returning your medal is an
emotional moment.") Getting Slay's silver back was easy--he
FedExed it to the USOC--but it wasn't in great shape, either,
having been handled by hundreds of people since Sydney. Moon's
bronze was perfect, but the IOC sent it to Turkey before the
Today ceremony. So for the show the IOC dug a gold out of its
vault in Lausanne, a silver was borrowed from U.S. cyclist Mari
Holden, and swimmer Dara Torres lent Bereket one of her bronzes.
They may be heavyweights in the tennis world, but at heart,
they're just a couple of giggly girls. As Martina Hingis and Anna
Kournikova (below) prepared for their doubles match at the Chase
Championships in New York last Thursday, Hingis spotted a cute
guy in the stands: Derek Jeter. An intrigued but shy Hingis
couldn't bring herself to talk to the Yankees' hottie until old
pro Pam Shriver gave her a shove. Hingis introduced herself and
chatted briefly with Jeter. When Shriver asked, "So was it worth
it?" Hingis smiled in affirmation. To which Kournikova shrugged
and cattily rejoined, "Alex [Rodriguez] is better."...
Speaking of Yankees shortstops, Jeter and 'N Sync singer Lance
Bass are reportedly considering opening a club together in New
York's trendy SoHo. The duo apparently have investors eager to
back the venture...
And speaking of All-Star shortstops, Nomar Garciaparra is now
dating U.S. women's hockey star Cammi Granato. The couple was
spotted two weeks ago at the Four Nations Cup women's hockey
tournament in Provo, Utah...
Barry Sanders married Lauren Campbell, a weekend anchor for
Detroit's WDIV-TV, on Nov. 11. About 160 people attended the
ceremony at the Detroit Golf Club. Not in attendance was Barry's
dad, William; father and son had a falling out after Barry's
abrupt retirement from football in 1999...
Rodney Peete and his wife, actress Holly Robinson Peete, held an
auction at their Beverly Hills house for their HollyRod
foundation, which assists victims of Parkinson's disease. The
evening's high bidder was singer Natalie Cole, who shelled out
$20,000 for a Super Bowl package that includes two tickets to
the big game and invitations to a variety of Super Bowl weekend
bashes, including Keyshawn Johnson's Thursday-night party and
HollyRod's celebrity fashion show on Saturday.
1) Grand marshal Mike Tyson and the horse he rode in on, at the
Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo Finals in Phoenix. 2) Did you
hear the one about the Tiger and the two elephants? Tiger Woods
feeds a pair of pachyderms while in Thailand to win the Johnnie
Walker Classic. 3) Face-off: A Chinese soldier walks past an
Adidas billboard featuring Kobe Bryant in Beijing. 4) Evander
Holyfield meets his match--actually his wax doppelganger--at the
opening of Madame Tussaud's museum in New York.
6 to 1
Current odds set by Las Vegas bookmakers on the 0-11 Chargers
finishing the season winless; those odds have been dropping
steadily each week.
Games this season in which NFL director of officiating Jerry
Seeman says the Steelers were the victims of bad calls; each was
a Pittsburgh loss decided either in the fourth quarter or in
Age in months of Rylee Curtis, whose parents were turned away
from the 49ers' Nov. 12 game at 3Com Park because they didn't
have a ticket for her.
Touchdowns scored by Winston Churchill High of Potomac, Md., in
27 seconds during a 38-6 victory over Whitman High.
Buccaneers players who have their own weekly radio or TV shows.
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
Dramatist Charles Randolph-Wright has been signed to write and
direct Ball, a street basketball musical inspired by a Nike
Basketball coach at Division II North Dakota, on motivating his
players before last Friday's game with No. 4-ranked Kansas: "I
told our guys, 'They put their pants on the same way we do. They
just pull them up two feet higher.'"