For NFL players, voluntary workouts are anything but
Pretend, for a moment, that you love your job. It's physically
demanding, but the money's great, there's a ton of time off, and
you can have all the free Gatorade you want. During one of your
breaks, the boss calls and asks you to come in for 12 days of
voluntary training sessions. "We feel these exercises will spark
the company's performance," he says.
O.K., gang, who's coming?
In the NFL, virtually everyone is--to off-season minicamps,
quarterback schools and passing camps that are optional in name
only. Most players aren't thrilled about having to punch the
clock on their own time, but they're not stupid either: If a star
whose work habits and toughness are beyond reproach can get
ripped for skipping voluntary workouts, as Colts running back
Edgerrin James was earlier this month, anyone with lesser
credentials could be risking his career.
June 17, 2001
Even though the collective bargaining agreement obliges veterans
to attend only a single four-day minicamp, coaches often schedule
an additional 14 days of full-squad sessions. "In the NFL,
voluntary minicamp is an oxymoron," says agent Leigh Steinberg,
who represents James. "The collective bargaining agreement
protects players, but only on paper. As long as the coach decides
who starts and who's in favor or disfavor, any player who chooses
not to attend one of these sessions does so at his own peril."
When a player blows off one of these allegedly elective
sessions--because he's unhappy with his contract, has a scheduling
conflict or simply would rather take that fishing trip to Cabo
San Lucas--he's treated like Jim Jeffords at a GOP caucus.
Two-time league rushing champ James, who says he chose to "chill"
in Miami rather than fly to Indianapolis for 12 days of workouts,
got public scoldings from coach Jim Mora and quarterback Peyton
Manning. That's nothing compared with the rebuke received by
Cowboys linebacker Darren Hambrick. Despite leading Dallas with
154 tackles last year, Hambrick was stripped of his starting job
by coach Dave Campo after skipping two of the team's three
voluntary workouts. (Said Campo: "We are going to play guys that
want to be here.")
Yet coaches can't be faulted for trying to carve out competitive
advantages, and even many players believe off-season
participation is key. Giants coach Jim Fassel and Raiders
quarterback Rich Gannon each cited the camaraderie, precision and
fitness forged during last year's heavily attended off-season
sessions as reasons for their teams' successful 2000 campaigns.
Our solution? Go back to the bargaining table. Start by calling
the additional sessions what they are: mandatory off-season
workouts. Agree on the number and dates, and give players
significant sums of money for attending. In the meantime, if
Edgerrin James wants to exercise his freedom of choice, the rest
of us should chill. --Michael Silver
Four Intriguing Alternatives To Team Workouts
Ronnie Lott, 49ers, 1990
After watching TV show about the homeless, Lott blows off
first day of mandatory camp to spend time talking to Bay Area
Kevin Greene, Panthers, 1997
Pro Bowl linebacker in contract dispute bags summer camps in
order to play strongman on the World Championship Wrestling
Gary Zimmerman, Broncos, 1997
Tackle passes up preseason camps and rides his Harley-Davidson
to South Dakota for motorcycle rally.
Randy Moss, Vikings, 2001
Receiver skips voluntary minicamp to play with the Pennsylvania
Valley Dawgs of the USBL; he averages 5.5 points in two games.
THE MINIMUM AGE ISSUE
IS YOUTH SERVED?
A record six high school players declared themselves eligible for
the June 27 NBA draft (page 78). Among their recent role models
who have jumped directly from 12th grade to the league are Kobe
Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Tracy McGrady. With all that success,
it's easy to question why NBA commissioner David Stern last week
came out so strongly for a minimum-age requirement for the draft.
(In the past he's mentioned 20.) "At this point in the
development of our sport," said Stern, "[we need] something that
discourages players from coming out of high school."
It's easier to understand Stern once you know the story of Taj
McDavid, the only high school player with reasonable credentials
to have declared for the draft and not been picked. The 1995-96
South Carolina Class AA Player of the Year, McDavid averaged 26
points and 13 rebounds as a senior at Palmetto High in
Williamston. With prodding from his family, the 6'6" swingman
followed the lead of fellow '96 grad Bryant and applied for the
Palmetto coach Lawton Williams says McDavid was a gifted athlete
with a dubious work ethic who thrived against mediocre
competition. College recruiters were turned off by his poor
grades, which deteriorated further after he committed to the
draft. McDavid allowed an impractical dream to lure him into a
position where he felt he had no choice but to pursue it. NBA
scouts realized this, and on draft night, McDavid heard the names
of Bryant and 57 others but never his own.
McDavid, now 24, turned down all interview requests and keeps an
unlisted phone number. In recent years he's taken some classes at
Anderson (S.C.) College, and a source close to him says he's
given up any hope of playing pro hoops. "He's a pretty good kid
who might have been saved from himself by an NBA minimum-age
limit," says Williams. "I feel sorry for him the way I would
someone who bought a Maserati and drove it into a telephone pole
because he didn't know how to shift the gears." --Tim Crothers
Q How do the Lakers decide which stars get the best seats at the
A Scrambling to be seen courtside is one of the most cutthroat
Hollywood games. Regulars like Dyan Cannon, Jack Nicholson and
Denzel Washington have season tickets and need no outside help.
Record labels, talent agencies and movie studios also have a
number of floor seats and usually parcel them out to valued
employees and clients. "If you're popular and you have a hit
movie, you get a floor seat easily," says Chris Tucker, who
finagled a courtside seat for Game 2 of the Finals. "But if you
ain't hot, you're going to be all the way at the top."
Everybody else resorts to trying to use clout with the Lakers'
front office. "There are no automatic tickets," says Tim Harris,
the team's vice president of sales and marketing. "We want to
take care of the bigger celebs, but there comes a point when
we're completely sold out." Still, Harris admits he has some
discretion. "Ed Norton is easy to deal with," says Harris. "You
hear directly from him, not his publicist, and he'll take any
seat. Richard Dreyfuss always sends a handwritten note of
thanks." Often, just getting into a game isn't good enough;
image-conscious celebs will reject seats too far from the action.
"They're like starving men begging for food," says Harris. "But
when you give them a piece of bread, they ask, Is it bruschetta?"
This week Upper Deck will release a 200-card set of golf trading
cards. If you're laughing right now at the idea of kids swapping
a Joe Durant for a Jeff Sluman, here's a thought that should
sober you up: Any of the $2.99, five-card packs could contain a
Tiger Woods rookie card. Although collectible cards featuring
Woods have been released before, Grant Sandground, senior
price-guide editor for Beckett, the sports-collectibles
publisher, says the Upper Deck product will be Woods's true
rookie card. That's saying something, considering how other Tiger
cards have fared.
1996 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED FOR KIDS Though never meant to be a real
trading card, the Woods image, printed as one of nine cards on a
perforated sheet in the December 1996 issue of SIFK, has been so
sought after by collectors that in March one sold for $100,000.
1997 Grand Slam Ventures Champions of Golf Masters Collection
After Grand Slam Ventures went out of business in 1999, many
cards from this set of 62 sat in a warehouse where they were
discovered by chance last year. A mint-condition Woods card from
the set trades for about $3,000.
2001 Upper Deck golf promo To stir up interest in its 200-card
set, Upper Deck printed a series of promotional cards just two
months ago. Already, a mint version of Tiger's card has sold on
eBay for $1,625.
I always figured Reggie Jackson owed me. When I was nine, my
brother and I staked out the lobby of the Sheraton in Boston,
waiting to ambush Mr. October for an autograph. I gingerly held
in my palm the gem of my baseball card collection--a mint 1969
Reggie rookie card. When he finally appeared, Jackson whipped out
a ballpoint pen and scribbled "Reggie" with such force that the
card was mangled and rendered worthless. It remains a bittersweet
That was 1978, the same year the rest of the country received its
own bittersweet Reggie memento--a round, 25-cent patty of
chocolate-covered caramel, peanuts and ego called the Reggie!
bar. Produced by Standard Brands, the Reggie! bar was born out of
a boast. Before joining the Yankees, in 1977, Jackson joked that
if he played in New York City, he would get a candy bar named
after him. Sure enough, after his epic and showy performance in
the '77 World Series, he got his wish. (Voicing what everyone in
Boston was thinking, teammate Catfish Hunter cracked, "When you
unwrap a Reggie! bar, it tells you how good it is.")
Following a nine-year-old's particular brand of logic, I bought a
Reggie! bar and vowed not to eat the damn thing. I tucked the
candy in my closet and never opened the Day-Glo package. Recently
I found a bar listed on eBay, on sale for the desperate sum of
$4.99. I watched as it sat on the auction block for a week and
received no bids. Forget what you owe me for that mauled card,
Reggie. The sweet silence of confectionary obscurity is payment
enough. --Chris Nashawaty
Allen Iverson's rap CD, Misunderstood, which had been scheduled
for release last week. A Universal Records spokesperson says the
delay has nothing to do with last year's controversy over 40
Bars, a song on the album that contains derogatory references to
women and gays, and that Iverson just hasn't had time to finish
the CD because of the Sixers' postseason run.
By NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver Steve Largent, that he will
resign his U.S. House of Representatives seat in November. The
four-time Republican congressman from Oklahoma's First district
says he will run for governor in 2002.
To the Expos' staff as a volunteer strength and conditioning
coach, Dale Torborg, 29, also known as WCW wrestler the Demon. A
former minor league infielder, the 6'8", 285-pound Torborg joined
the wrestling circuit in 1998 after meeting Hulk Hogan on a
plane. Torborg is the son of new Montreal manager Jeff Torborg.
Going on Sale
In October, the Shaq SST Expedition, a Ford SUV that Shaquille
O'Neal helped design. The truck, priced from $50,000, features
22-inch custom wheels, a 580-watt sound system, a TV and a DVD
player. This marks the first time an athlete's name has appeared
on an automaker's vehicle.
A change of venue for some of the Jets' training camp practices,
from the team's Hofstra University complex to a field in New York
City's Rikers Island prison. G.M. Terry Bradway says the move
would be for historic reasons: The team practiced on the prison
grounds during the '68 season, which ended with the Jets winning
Super Bowl III.
JOHN MCKAY, 1923-2001
A Natural Star
John McKay's appointment as USC football coach in 1960 helped
usher in the golden age of Southern California sports. Like
Walter O'Malley, who had brought his Dodgers to Los Angeles two
years earlier, McKay realized the significance of the country's
westward migration in the postwar years. Seeing a burgeoning
talent pool, McKay recruited almost exclusively in his backyard.
On his 1967 national championship team, 69 of 78 players came
from the L.A. area.
McKay, who died on Sunday from kidney failure due to
complications from diabetes, at age 77, won three other national
titles with the Trojans, in 1962, '72 and '74. The USC job was
his first as head coach, and he proved to be a natural in the
spotlight. His quick wit and cool demeanor made him a star in a
town full of stars. (Johnny Carson and Frank Sinatra were among
his buddies.) To get his players loose before a big game, McKay
once told them, "We ought to keep in mind that there are over 600
million Chinese who don't care whether we win or lose." Another
time, he jogged onto the field before a game in South Bend
singing the Notre Dame fight song.
At heart, however, McKay was a fierce competitor. After the Irish
routed his Trojans 51-0 in 1966, he vowed he would never again
lose to Notre Dame. He nearly pulled it off, going 6-1-2 in his
final nine games against the Irish. McKay was also a tactical
innovator: With his modified I formation, in which the tailback
started seven yards behind the line and agile linemen pulled out
in front of him to block, he created one of the college game's
most powerful running attacks. It's no coincidence that Mike
Garrett (1965) and O.J. Simpson (1968) won Heismans playing
tailback for McKay.
McKay left USC in 1975 to become the first coach of the Tampa Bay
Buccaneers. Though it took him nearly two seasons to win a game,
he had the Bucs playing for the NFC title in his fourth year, a
feat he took in stride. "A genius in the National Football
League," McKay said with typical deflection, "is a guy who won
last week." --Ivan Maisel
When it comes to Tonya Harding stories, you're never quite sure
how far the envelope will be pushed. So when published reports
last week said the figure skater had gotten breast implants and
was looking to show off her assets by starring in a topless ice
show at a Las Vegas casino, they seemed at least somewhat
plausible. But a source close to Harding says the story is a
little off-base. Apparently a Vegas hotel asked Harding in May if
she would be interested in going topless in a Moulin Rouge-style
revue. Harding said no. As for the cosmetic surgery, the source
says that's old news: She had that done several years ago....
Michael Jordan and his wife, Juanita, have filled out
applications for their three kids (Jeffrey, 12, Marcus, 10, and
Jasmine, 8) to attend Francis W. Parker School, a private academy
in Chicago. However, the Jordans aren't going to commit to the
school until MJ sorts out some issues. Something about a
potential job change....
Winning the Indy 500 has its perks. After his victory, Helio
Castroneves dined with Donald Trump, who offered to set up
Castroneves on a date with Miss Universe, Denise Quinones
August. (Trump owns the beauty contest.) Although the couple has
yet to get together, the hook-up may be weighing on the driver's
mind: One week after his Indy win, Castroneves crashed on the
first lap of the Miller Lite 225 in Milwaukee....
A year ago at this time, John Salley was Shaquille O'Neal's
backup. Last Friday, as L.A. was winning Game 2 of the NBA
Finals, Salley (above) was preparing to host the late-night show
at Carolines comedy club in New York City. Salley has been
working the comedy circuit with the goal of getting his own TV
talk show. Next month he'll shoot a pilot for Fox for a variety
program called The Latest. For his first guest, Salley wants
Bill Clinton, "because he was the first black president." But if
TV doesn't work out, says Salley, "I'll go back to the NBA. I
may be 37, but I'm still 6'11"."
Home runs Colorado's Mike Hampton is on pace to hit this year
after his fifth, on Sunday, which would break the big league
record for a pitcher by four.
Percentage, of 1,037 respondents, who recognized Tiger Woods on a
list of celebrities and newsmakers, making him the most familiar
figure in the Slay Media Access Survey, followed by Julia Roberts
(90%) and Jim Carrey (87%).
Tickets sold by the Class A Brooklyn Cyclones for the 38 home
games in their inaugural season, which begins on June 19; the
home opener will be the first pro baseball game in Brooklyn since
the Dodgers left in 1957.
Round in which the Marlins drafted shortstop Rex Rundgren, 20,
son of rocker Todd Rundgren.
Games the Devil Rays had gone without starting a lefty before
sending Joe Kennedy to the mound last week.
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
Birmingham City, an English First Division soccer team, is
offering personalized funeral packages complete with coffins in
team colors and scattering of ashes at the stadium.
"McKay's quick wit made him a star in a town full of stars."
They Said It
Pirates catcher-outfielder, on Pittsburgh's National League-worst
19-41 record: "I wish someone would shoot me and put me out of my