The Teflon League
Why off-the-field woes don't threaten the NFL's primacy
As America prepares for Super Bowl XXXV--a game whose best
player, the Ravens' Ray Lewis, was charged with two murders
committed hours after last year's Super Bowl--it is tempting to
view last week's murder-conspiracy conviction of former Panthers
wide receiver Rae Carruth as another in a long line of examples
of the violent, lawless excess among NFL players. Surely such
celebrated cases as those of Carruth and Lewis (the murder
charges against Lewis were dropped after he pleaded guilty to
obstruction of justice), as well as the impending trial of
former Packers tight end Mark Chmura on charges of sexual
assault and child enticement, will strike at the popularity of
an obviously troubled game, yes?
No. Not even close. To understand why the Super Bowl will again
be the country's most-watched sporting event, and to understand
why, despite its courtroom dramas, the NFL is by far the
healthiest league in pro sports, consider a meeting last week of
a nondescript bunch sequestered not in a Charlotte jury room but
in a Dallas hotel conference room.
That's where 32 NFL owners made the sort of decision they've been
making for almost 40 years. The subject: revenue sharing.
Currently the home team and visiting team split game-day revenue
(from tickets, concessions and the like) 60-40. Under that rule a
team like the Eagles, who annually visit top-10 revenue clubs in
Dallas, New York and Washington, take in more money from their
road trips than do the Rams, who make less lucrative jaunts to
Atlanta and New Orleans.
Mindful of the hurdle such financial inequity presents to their
plans for realignment--why, for instance, would the Cardinals give
up their profitable place in the NFC East?--the owners did what
they always do. They made the problem go away, by agreeing to
divide the 40% visiting-team stake equally among all teams at the
end of each season. Minor as that sounds, it recalled the fateful
day in 1961 when NFL owners voted to share forever all television
Such unity of purpose has provided long-term financial viability
to each team in the league, which is why a club from Green
Bay--population 98,000--can win a Super Bowl. It's why two teams
that were a combined 15-17 last year can be playing this Sunday
for the NFL title. It's why your team could be Super Bowl-bound
next year. The lesson of the NFL is this (baseball, are you
listening?): Give the fan a reasonable hope every year, and he's
more likely to view the troubles of a few players as isolated
incidents rather than as symbols of a league in turmoil. --Josh
Five NFL Changes We'd Like to See
Can ban on end zone celebrations. Face it: Bob 'n' Weave hurts
More OT thrills
Institute college overtime rule. Teams, not a coin toss, should
Let the ground cause a fumble! No play should be blown dead
while ball goes bounding away from its carrier.
Give defender touchback when his momentum carries him into the
end zone after he recovers a fumble. Lack of such a rule cost
Oakland a victory against Seattle in December.
Dump "pass was uncatchable" judgment calls on would-be
interference plays. Don't we ask enough of refs without forcing
them into this chicken-or-egg paradox?
What would the new U.S. President do to clean up baseball's
fiscal landscape? "Get rid of arbitration," former Texas Rangers
owner George W. Bush said last week. That's pretty much the
consensus among baseball management about the national pastime's
ugly season, when teams and players who can't agree on contracts
butt heads in front of independent arbitrators. Last week 63
players exchanged salary figures with their clubs in
anticipation of hearings that will be held in Phoenix from Feb.
1 to 21. Here's our take on five high-profile cases.
Derek Jeter, Yankees
Asked for: $18.5 million. Was offered: $14.25 million. His
request was an arbitration record but still fell $2.5 million
below what Alex Rodriguez will earn in 2001. No mediator will be
needed to sort this one out: Expect Jeter and the Yanks to close
a long-term deal before they get close to the arbitrator's
table. Predicted winner: both.
Mariano Rivera, Yankees
Asked for: $10.25 million. Was offered: $9 million. Rivera's
$7.25 million award last year was an arbitration record--and he
lost. The arguments are much the same this time around: He's the
game's best closer, and the Yanks' offer will again make him the
highest paid. Predicted winner: Yankees.
Andruw Jones, Braves
Asked for: $8.2 million. Was offered: $6.4 million. When does a
multimillionaire deserve a 120% raise? When he's 23, the game's
best defensive centerfielder and coming off career highs in
every major offensive category. In a market in which
past-his-prime Kenny Lofton will make $8 million, Jones's
request is a bargain. Predicted winner: Jones.
Pokey Reese, Reds
Asked for: $3.6 million. Was offered: $2.7 million. Last year's
average arbitration raise was $915,000; Cincinnati's offer to
Reese, who won his second straight Gold Glove and stole 29 bases
in 32 attempts, represents a bump of only $750,000. Plus, Jose
Vidro's four-year, $19 million deal with the Expos raised
Reese's market value. Predicted winner: Reese.
John Rocker, Braves
Asked for: $2.98 million. Was offered: $1.9 million. The
controversial closer was back to his dominating self by the end
of last season, when he made a relatively paltry $290,000.
Still, off-the-field concerns often affect arbitrators'
decisions. Predicted winner: Braves. --Stephen Cannella
Amazingly, no fewer than three movies are in the works in which
Howard Cosell is a character. Herewith, the tale of the tape on
the trio of actors who plan to tell it like it was.
PLAYS HOWARD IN Director Michael Mann's Ali (release: December)
MOST COSELL-LIKE PART TO DATE Football coach Bud Kilmer in
Varsity Blues REAL-LIFE COSELL CONNECTION None. "The only thing
that recommends me is my height," says Voight, who's 6'1 1/2",
the same as Howuhd. Paraphrasing Cosell, Voight adds: "I'm just
a journeyman actor picking up crumbs, trying to eke out a bare
subsistence in a perilous trade."
PLAYS HOWARD IN ABC's When Billie Beat Bobby (broadcast: April)
MOST COSELL-LIKE PART TO DATE The amiably inane Joe
Garagiola-esque character in last year's Best in Show REAL-LIFE
COSELL CONNECTION Willard lost badly to Scott Baio in the
obstacle course race in a 1980s Battle of the Network Stars.
Host Cosell, in typically abrasive form, asked afterward, "How
can you explain yourself, Fred Willard?" and then refused
Willard's young daughter an autograph.
PLAYS HOWARD IN TNT's Monday Night Mayhem, the behind-the-scenes
story of Monday Night Football (broadcast: 2002) MOST COSELL-LIKE
PART TO DATE Hyperbolic holy bowler Jesus Quintana in The Big
Lebowski; also played a college basketball coach in He Got
Game. REAL-LIFE COSELL CONNECTION Born in Brooklyn, where the
sportscaster was raised. "He's got the right look, although maybe
a little too much hair," says rival Cosell portrayer Willard.
NO CARDIAC KIDDING
SPORTS & HEALTH
For one fan at the Meadowlands on Jan. 14, the Giants' touchdown
1:57 into the NFC title game was no cause for celebration. Just
after the play, Fred Oser, 56, of Perth Amboy, N.J., had a heart
attack and had to be revived with a defibrillator. His
experience points to an often overlooked fact: As hazardous as
pro sports are to players, they can be just as dangerous for fans.
That was made clear in a study published last month in the
British Medical Journal. Doctors in the Netherlands examined
deaths due to heart attacks and strokes on and around June 22,
1996, the day Holland played France in the quarterfinals of the
'96 European soccer championship. Researchers found that
cardiac-related deaths jumped 50% among Dutch men on the day of
the game compared with the 10 days surrounding it. Tellingly,
there was no such rise among women.
Fans should take note this weekend. "There's no doubt that Super
Bowl Sunday is a high-risk day," says David Meyerson, a
cardiologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "The
stress of watching the game can trigger heart-rhythm
disturbances, spike up blood pressure and cause the arteries to
spasm. In addition a lot of people consume snack foods laden with
salt and fat and drink alcohol in abundance."
The bottom line then, is this: Enjoy in moderation and
remember--it's only a game. --Amy Ruth Levine
What happens to championship hats and shirts made for teams that
lose the big game?
League-licensed Giants and Ravens apparel flooded the sidelines
of the conference championship games two weeks ago even faster
than their bootleg counterparts hit the parking lots. So what
became of the 1,200 pieces of official gear touting the Raiders
and Vikings as conference champs? As it does each season, the
NFL donated the merchandise to charity, this year to a Fort
Lauderdale group called HANDY (Helping Abused, Neglected
Dependent Youth). "It makes no sense to destroy merchandise when
there are people who need it," says Beth Colleton, director of
For the Super Bowl, official apparel-maker Nike has produced an
initial run of celebratory hats and shirts for the Giants and the
Ravens. Once the winner is known, says Mark Hampton, president of
Nike Team Sports, "we'll manufacture 250,000 hats and shirts in
the first six or seven hours after the game," so that merchandise
can hit stores by Monday morning. As for the Super Bowl loser's
pre-produced gear, the NFL will route it to World Vision, a
global relief agency. "I remember watching a PBS documentary on
homeless kids in Romania," says Colleton. "They were all wearing
shirts that said SUPER BOWL CHAMPION BUFFALO BILLS."
Sixers guard Allen Iverson's forthcoming rap album. Originally
titled Non-Fiction, the album, which includes the controversial
song 40 Bars, will be called Misunderstood. The release date has
been pushed from All-Star weekend to June 5.
By the NCAA, contingency plans to move the 2002 men's Final
Four out of Atlanta, because Georgia's state flag incorporates
the Confederate stars and bars. The NCAA said it will decide in
April, after Georgia's current legislative session is completed,
whether to relocate the event. Officials in Minneapolis, this
year's host city, say the NCAA has inquired about the viability
of staging the men's Final Four there in '02.
Horse trainer Neil Terracciano, who was fined $2,000 and
suspended for 60 days by the New York State Racing and Wagering
Board because his thoroughbred Destination Home tested positive
for Viagra. "I have no idea what it does to a horse," said
Cornell veterinarian George Maylin, head of the board's testing
lab. Said Terracciano, who's appealing the decision, "It's a
stiff fine, and that's no joke."
At the tomb of Edgar Allan Poe, in Baltimore, a note
anticipating a Giants Super Bowl victory. For 52 years on Jan.
19, Poe's birthday, a black-clad stranger has left three red
roses and a bottle of cognac at the writer's grave. This year
the bottle was festooned with blue-and-red ribbons and a note,
echoing lines from Poe's The Masque of the Red Death and The
Cask of Amontillado, that read: "Darkness and decay and the Big
Blue hold dominion over all," and "The Baltimore Ravens. A
thousand injuries they will suffer."
on the Scene
World Sports Awards, Royal Albert Hall, London, Jan. 16
It was supposed to be the Oscars of the sports world. Instead,
the World Sports Awards made the People's Choice Awards seem by
comparison both vital and stately.
The brainchild of Austrian ski jumper Hubert Neuper, the second
annual World Sports Awards drew a diverse roster of athletes from
around the globe, including Muhammad Ali, Inge de Bruijn and
Lennox Lewis. The ceremony itself, however, served up a bizarre
mix that had little input from American sports observers.
Penguins veteran Jaromir Jagr, nominated in the Winter Sports
category, was identified as the "top scorer on the NHL's
all-rookie team." White Sox infielder Royce Clayton, there to
present the Athletics award, was praised for his 2000 stats,
among them his .242 average and 11 steals. Four of the five
nominees for the soccer award didn't show, including Arsenal's
Thierry Henry, who lives in London. "I didn't receive an
invitation," he told reporters on the day of the event. Ali did
and was presented with a disturbing birthday cake in the shape of
As puzzling as the cake were the categories. Nominees in Combat
Sports were three boxers (Lewis, Roy Jones Jr. and Felix Savon),
a wrestler (Rulon Gardner) and a 120-pound female fencer
(Valentina Vezzali of Italy). Italian cyclist Paola Pezzo noted,
"It might be fun to put all five in a room and let them have a go
at each other."
Emcee Roger Moore made no fewer than 23 James Bond references on
the night. His planned cohost, Spice Girl Victoria Beckham, was
scratched because, as one organizer put it, "We realized she
wasn't very good at talking." Meanwhile, an award for Least
Relevant Entertainment Segment should have gone to long-lost
rocker Bryan Adams, whose set was interrupted by a tantrum
thrown by his guitarist, John McEnroe. Scripted as it was, it
was the most amusing moment of the night. Make that the most
Too bad the name Tiger Beat is taken: The buzz last week was
that Hearst, publisher of Esquire and Good Housekeeping, has
been working on a magazine devoted to Tiger Woods. Although
Woods's reps denied knowledge of the project, Hearst insiders
confirmed such a work had been discussed. Not everyone is
convinced that a Tiger-zine would be a sure thing. "Let's face
it," says pro golfer Peter Jacobsen, "there's not much to
Tiger's life right now besides winning tournaments. I can see it
now--first issue: 'Why I prefer cotton pique to cotton weave.'
Second issue: 'Should your glove match your shoes?' Third issue:
'Why chicks dig Buicks.'"...
Before he left for the Australian Open, Andre Agassi purchased a
$23 million house in Tiburon, just outside San Francisco. Agassi
bought the 10,000-square-foot mansion--which includes six
bedrooms, eight baths, a home theater, two pools, a helipad and
a tennis court--from cell-phone tycoon John McCaw, who paid $9
million for it in 1996. Agassi had wanted to buy the same
property a few years ago, but then wife Brooke Shields nixed the
Although Boris Becker has settled his divorce case, that hasn't
stopped the rumors from flying. Latest volley: European papers
reported last week that Becker has alleged that a woman who
claims to have had a daughter with him impregnated herself with
his sperm after oral sex in an extortion scheme involving the
Russian mafia. In a statement Becker said, "There has been the
wildest speculation about criminal forces, Russian mafia and
other sensationalism. All that is not true." However, Becker did
acknowledge, "There is a baby named Anna," and said he will
undergo a DNA test to determine whether he's the father.
Hall of Fame votes cast, by John Lopez of the Houston
Chronicle, for Jim Deshaies, the subject of an Internet
campaign to earn the journeyman pitcher at least one tally.
Distance in miles traveled by Brie Rippner from her home in
Chico, Calif., to Melbourne, where she retired five minutes
into her Australian Open first-round match because of a twisted
Field goals made, on 19 attempts, by Division III Bennett
College of Greensboro, N.C., in a 98-3 women's basketball loss
to Peace College of Raleigh.
Amount per second of airtime that Minneapolis Web portal
subjex.com had pledged to pay to any fan who could, "using any
legal means possible," get the site's name displayed on CBS's
Super Bowl broadcast; the offer was pulled when the NFL
threatened to sue.
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
Citing the sport's role in "creating understanding between
people," a Swedish legislator nominated soccer for the 2001
Nobel Peace Prize.
Kings guard and college dropout, on the value of education: "I
wish I'd spent more time on my jump shot than learning to read