AIR OF TREPIDATION
The latest sports tragedy points up the risks of road trips
It sounded so convenient. Two years ago, over burgers and cheese
fries at Eskimo Joe's in Stillwater, Oklahoma State guard Doug
Gottlieb and media relations coordinator Will Hancock sat across
from me and glowingly described the three small planes used by
the Cowboys' basketball team to fly to games all over the
Midwest. "Sweet," Gottlieb called the fleet of two private jets
and an 11-seat twin-engine turboprop, provided to the team by
boosters. In a remote college town like Stillwater, more than two
hours round-trip from the closest major airport, those planes
were a godsend, we agreed, a way to keep from missing class and
At Eskimo Joe's last Saturday night, the band Resident Funk was
playing a set when the music suddenly stopped. The bartender
turned up the volume on the televisions, and the crowd huddled
close to hear the awful news. The Cowboys' turboprop, a
Beechcraft King Air 200, had crashed in a field outside Denver a
few hours after Oklahoma State's 81-71 loss at Colorado, claiming
the lives of Hancock, broadcast engineer Kendall Durfey, pilots
Bjorn Falistrom and Denver Mills, players Nate Fleming and Daniel
Lawson, trainer Brian Luinstra, director of basketball operations
Pat Noyes, broadcaster Bill Teegins and student manager Jared
On Monday federal investigators were still determining the cause
of a crash that underlined again the risks inherent in the
extensive traveling of athletic teams, especially those from
college towns. Chartering small planes is nothing new--the Texas
basketball team, for example, travels in state-owned turboprops
similar to the ill-fated Oklahoma State aircraft--nor is the
trepidation that can come with it. "Dan and I talked just last
week about how flying in that small plane was his worst fear,"
Lawson's brother Austin Jordan said on Monday. "He said he could
feel every bump vibrating the plane, and there were times he'd
get so scared."
Dicey rides aren't limited to turboprops. Last Friday, Michigan
State's 50-seat chartered jet encountered several mishaps during
a five-hour trip (scheduled travel time: 45 minutes) from Lansing
to Columbus for a game with Ohio State. First the deicing truck
broke down while the plane was awaiting departure, then during
the approach to the Columbus airport the pilot had to pull up
because of poor visibility. Eventually the aircraft landed in
Cincinnati, where it sat on the runway for two hours as the
Spartans awaited a bus. "I was 200 percent sure I made a mistake
by flying," said coach Tom Izzo, who says he prefers not to use
turboprops. "We should've bused it, and I think we're going to
start doing that more."
Emotionally exhausted, Cowboys coach Eddie Sutton heaved a long
sigh as he discussed the tragedy in his office on Monday. "They
don't teach you about this in Coaching 101," said Sutton, whose
first granddaughter would be born later that day. "Calling those
families was the toughest thing I've ever done." The school made
counseling available for players and others connected to the
program, and former Cowboys Joe Adkins, Desmond Mason, Brian
Montonati and Alex Webber traveled to Oklahoma State to help
their former teammates cope.
Meanwhile Stillwater mourned. When Resident Funk took the stage
again at Eskimo Joe's on Saturday, the band members asked for a
moment of silence. Then they played Amazing Grace.
--Grant Wahl, with special reporting by Mike McKenzie
SUPER BOWL TV
Stampeding squirrels, smiling corpses, 360-degree panoramas of
Britney Spears: The Super Bowl telecast had more than its share
of nonfootball action. Our picks for the highs and lows.
FUNNIEST AD Budweiser's "What are you doing?" commercial,
featuring overly stiff white guys parodying the beermaker's
overplayed Whassup?! campaign.
FUNNIEST AD IN A VAGUELY CREEPY WAY Pepsi's Bob Dole spot, in
which the dysfunctional politician mocks his Viagra jones.
FUNNIEST AD FOR A COMPANY WHOSE BUSINESS IS AN UTTER MYSTERY The
"Running of the Squirrels," for EDS (top), which is apparently a
high tech company that makes...really good commercials.
SPINAL TAP AWARD FOR COMICAL USE OF DIACRITICAL MARKS To the
newly unveiled accenture logo, which earns an 11 (on a scale of
one to 10) for misguided typography.
BEST TAKE THAT! COMMERCIAL Snickers, for its spot in which a guy
stomps on a big-headed doll that says, "Whassup?!"
MOST DISAPPOINTING HIGH-TECH INNOVATION EyeVision, which
promised Matrix-like 360-degree replays but which proved too
rudimentary to be of much value for game action. (On the replay
of Raven Jermaine Lewis's did-he-step-out-of-bounds kickoff
return, CBS rotated the view before the question could be
answered definitively.) Its coolest application came at the end
of the halftime show.
HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE AWARD To halftime show producer MTV, which
used sound clips of the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and the
Beatles to introduce 'N Sync.
BEST LINE Ben Stiller (middle), playing a crackpot halftime
coordinator, to 'N Sync: "O.K., that 'N sucked."
LONELIEST-LOOKING FAN Survivor winner Richard Hatch
CHRIS FARLEY AWARD To wireless company Cingular (bottom), two of
whose ads displayed a disturbing fascination with fat men dancing.
OVERKILL AWARD To CBS, which seemed to run one network promo
every minute. What network is CSI on again?
BEST AD The NFL's moving spot mixing clips of peewee football and
pro games to the tune of Lou Reed's Perfect Day. But what message
was the league sending by including the lyrics, "You made me
forget myself/I thought I was someone else/Someone good"?
In Praise Of Chucks
Long before Air Jordan, there was Chuck Taylor. The best-selling
athletic shoe ever--more than 600 million have been sold
worldwide--the canvas-topped Chuck Taylor All Stars debuted in
1917 and became the sneaker choice for five decades of
basketball players (including the U.S. Olympians from 1936 to
'68) as well as athletes in other sports. As hoopsters began
opting for more supportive footwear, celebs from Bruce
Springsteen to Snoop Dogg turned to Chucks (named after the
barnstorming salesman and basketball Hall of Famer who touted
them to high school and college players) for their street-smart
sensibility. Last week Converse, maker of the All Stars,
declared bankruptcy. A plant in Indonesia will continue making
the shoes, but clearly a footwear era has come to an end.
Word for Word
From songwriter Warren Zevon (Werewolves of London) and
sportswriter Mitch Albom comes one of rock's first encomiums to
the enforcer, Hit Somebody! (The Hockey Song). With backup
vocals by David Letterman (really!), the song has started to get
airplay in several NHL arenas--although Minnesota refuses to
play it because club officials believe it's too violent.
Selected lyrics from the ballad of a bruiser:
Buddy's real talent was beating people up.
His heart wasn't in it but the crowd ate it up
Through peewees and juniors, midgets and mites
He must have racked up more than 300 fights.
A scout from the Flames came down from Saskatoon,
Said, "There's always room on our team for a goon.
Son, we've always got room for a goon."
Hit Somebody! It rang in his ears.
Blood on the ice ran down through the years.
The king of the goons with a box for a throne,
A thousand stitches and broken bones,
He never lost a fight on his icy patrol.
But deep inside, Buddy only dreamed of a goal.
He just wanted one damn goal.
In his final season, on his final night
Buddy and a Finn goon were pegged for a fight.
Thirty seconds left, the puck took a roll,
And suddenly Buddy had a shot on goal.
The goalie committed, Buddy picked his spot.
Twenty years of waiting went into that shot.
The fans jumped up, the Finn jumped too
And coldcocked Buddy on his follow-through.
The big man crumbled, but he felt all right,
'Cause the last thing he saw was the flashing red light.
He saw that heavenly light.
Q Why is the crowd at the Phoenix Open the rowdiest on the PGA
A If the Tour had an Animal House, it would be Phoenix. In 1997,
after Tiger Woods aced the par-3 16th, he was showered at the
tee with beer, cups and empty cans. Last year David Duval was
hounded by the fans (when it appeared he was going to lay up on
a short par-4, someone shouted "next time wear a skirt") and
finally gave the gallery the finger. "Phoenix is not golf," says
22-year Tour vet John Cook, who makes it a point to skip the
event. "It's a circus."
How did a minor Tour stop in the desert become the Happy Gilmore
Memorial? In 1987, when the event moved to the TPC of
Scottsdale, organizers lavished free tickets on local sponsors;
the result was a crowd that was as much frat-house as country
club. Liberal alcohol policies--spectators could buy as many
beers as they could carry--fueled a free-for-all atmosphere. "We
really have never denied it's a party," says tournament head
Organizers have tried to tone things down, particularly after a
1999 incident in which a man heckling Woods was arrested and
found to be carrying a gun. But Phoenix's reputation lives on.
Last week a teen was arrested after throwing an orange near
Woods as he putted on the 9th green--all limes presumably having
been used in margaritas.
Butch Davis, formerly of the University of Miami, to coach the
Browns. Davis, in a Nov. 30 AP story: "I'm not going to any
other job." In a Jan. 4 AP story, on negotiations to extend his
contract with the Hurricanes: "I'd like to really get it done as
soon as possible." In the Jan. 18 Palm Beach Post: "I fully
intend to be at Miami next year." In the Jan. 21 edition of The
Miami Herald: "It's going to get done. I will have a new
contract, and I'll be the coach at Miami next year."
By the Nevada Gaming Commission, the ban on betting on college
games involving Nevada, UNLV and the state's other schools.
Commission chairman Brian Sandoval says lifting the prohibition
will "help maintain the integrity of college athletics."
According to the commission, sports books are the first to
notice unusual betting action that could indicate a fixed game.
The villains in the upcoming film The Sum of All Fears, about a
threat to detonate a nuclear weapon at the Super Bowl. In the
Tom Clancy novel it's based on, the terrorists are Islamic
militants, but director Phil Alden Robinson told the Council on
American-Islamic Relations that the movie's baddies will be
By Saul Shechter, 76, of Pembroke Pines, Fla., a lawsuit against
the Marlins. He seeks in excess of $15,000, claiming he suffered
permanent damage to his left eye when he was struck in the head
by a balled-up T-shirt shot by Billy the Marlin out of a
"gas-compressed bazooka-like weapon" during a between-innings
Gibson, as the official guitar of the Nashville Predators.
Talk about bad timing: In a scene in Finding Forrester, a high
school teacher giving a lecture on Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven
notes that Poe was obsessed with death and that the NFL Ravens
are the only pro team named after a poem. To which a student
says, "There's a team obsessed with death; always get they ass
kicked." Says screenwriter Mike Rich, "I wrote the script three
years ago. I thought, What are the chances this will backfire?
Well, my apologies to the fine folks of Baltimore."
...Answer: Charles Barkley, Martha Stewart and Survivor host
Jeff Probst. Question: What odd trio of stars will appear on
Jeopardy! on Feb. 6? The show, part of the Celebrity Jeopardy!
series, was taped in Las Vegas last week. When they were
off-camera, Barkley told Stewart and Probst that he was indeed
planning a run for governor of Alabama, an idea Barkley has
toyed with for some time.
...One of the breakout hits at this year's Sundance Film
Festival was Go Tigers!, a documentary about the Massillon
(Ohio) High football team. The film portrays a dying rust belt
town that is faced with losing its storied football program
because of budget cutbacks. At a screening, one audience member
said it was the saddest film she'd seen at the festival,
pointing out in particular a scene in which a town resident says
football has done more for Massillon than textbooks ever have.
"That's the confusion of priorities we see in the film," says
director Kenneth Carlson. Tigers was one of the few movies to
find a distributor at this year's festival and will get a
nationwide release later this year. Carlson intends to hold the
premiere in--where else?--Massillon.
Rank of Super Sunday, behind Thanksgiving, among days of the year
for U.S. food consumption.
Tickets remaining for the Gateway Clipper Fleet's five Implosion
Cruises offering Pittsburghers an up-close view of Sunday's
demolition of Three Rivers Stadium.
Total the Packers say they wound up in the red on their trips to
the Super Bowl in 1997 and '98.
Price for the best box seats for Mets games at Shea Stadium next
season, nearly four times 1996's top ticket price of $17.
English Premier League matches missed by Leeds' Rio Ferdinand,
the most expensive defender in soccer history, because of a
tendon strain he suffered while watching television with his
left leg up on a coffee table.
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
The Manchester United Football Club math workbook provides
prices for official team products and asks kids to solve such
arithmetic problems as, "Jordan has 30[pounds] to spend. If he
buys a pair of shorts, has he enough money for a keyring and a
Spurs forward, on his battles with a sore right hip: "Getting
out of bed was like the evolution of man."