Chairmen of the Bored
Once upon a time there were things called extreme sports, in
which boys and girls did cute little tricks on skateboards and
rode bikes down hillsides. How quaint
It's feast time for TV sports gluttons: The baseball playoffs are
under way, the NFL is going full tilt, the NHL season's about to
begin, the NBA preseason is on its way. Yet despite all the prime
(time) cuts on the TV buffet table, our appetite for athletics
remains unslaked. Not long ago those turned off by the greed and
grim solemnity of pro sports could turn to extreme sports like
snowboarding and speed climbing. But now, many of the extremists,
propped up by huge sponsorship contracts, are just as
dollar-driven and take themselves just as seriously. That's why
we're heartened to hear of the extremely extreme sports, in which
competitors compete for the sheer fun of it, and the game itself
is insignificant, irrelevant and still a glorious lark.
Among these mildly sardonic showdowns are the Great Bathtub Race
in Nome, the World Championship Rotary Tiller Races in Emerson,
Ark., and England's World Black-Pudding Tossing Championship, in
which combatants try to dislodge 21 Yorkshire puddings by pelting
them with congealed pigs' blood. Demanding events, to be sure,
and none muddled by salary disputes or anabolic steroids.
Last month 80 competitors from 10 nations went to Germany for the
first world championship of Extreme Ironing, a hot new board
sport that combines the adrenaline buzz of surfing with the
satisfaction of a well-pressed shirt. Challenged to let off steam
in perilous settings--from mountain peaks to rapids--contestants
were judged on the difficulty of their athletic undertaking and
the quality of the creases in their clothing. The victorious
British squad pressed ahead by steering an inner tube through
white water while warbling God Save the Queen. When was the last
time you heard an NFL quarterback whistle while he worked?
October 6, 2002
Blub blub is the plaintive sound of mountain bike bog-snorkeling,
a murky pastime whose world championships are played out each
summer in the vowel-deprived Welsh hamlet of Llanwrtyd Wells. The
rules are so clear even Bud Selig could follow them: Don snorkel,
mount cycle, pedal into six-foot-deep peat bog, turn at white
pole, return to starting line. The tires of the bog bike are
filled with water; the frame is filled with lead shot. Bog-bikers
are so passionate for peat that this year's champ, Gerry Martin
of Dublin, went snorkel-less, coming up every 17 seconds for air.
Competitors at England's Cooper Hill Cheese Rolling championship,
in which the aim is to catch up with an eight-pound cheese wheel
plummeting down a 45-degree slope, are especially upbeat. That
two cheese chasers were hospitalized and 13 others treated by
paramedics at this year's event has done nothing to dim
enthusiasm for next year's. As one well-ripened vet has said, "If
you can't get completely blotto and hurl yourself down a hill in
pursuit of a Double Gloucester, what's the point of living?"
It's not too late to get off your couch and into the fun, sports
spuds. You can head to next month's Punkin Chunkin World
Championships in Lewes, Del., where pumpkins will be heaved over
a soybean field by contraptions made out of everything from tree
trunks to giant rubber bands. Two years ago an air-cannon squad
squashed the competition with a shot of 4,085 feet after a team
that had chucked even farther was disqualified for having used
helium to propel their pumpkin. In extremely extreme sports,
that's about as close to controversy as you get. --Franz Lidz
MIKE WEBSTER 1952-2002
A Life's Work in Steel
SI's Paul Zimmerman remembers the great center in his element
It was a locker room filled with huge personalities--Mean Joe
Greene, mercurial Lynn Swann, Terry Bradshaw, who was always good
for a laugh, and Jack Lambert, who'd take out his teeth and
growl, just to keep you loose. A reporter could fill a notebook
in half an hour with those Steelers during their quadruple Super
Bowl run of the 1970s, but if I wanted to know what really
happened on the field, if I had technical questions, I went to
The center position has had a long run of greatness on the
Steelers. Ray Mansfield had the job for 12 years and holds the
club record of 182 straight games. Then came Webster, then
perennial All-Pro Dermontti Dawson, and now Jeff Hartings, who's
close to Pro Bowl level. In 1975 I talked to Mansfield about a
second-year pro, Webster, who was splitting the job with him. "No
one's learned this offense so fast," Mansfield said. "No one's as
technically perfect. You watch, he's going to be one of the
Webster was as revered for his toughness and durability--177
straight games, a Steelers record 220 overall--as he was for his
ability. It was his badge of honor: You don't miss a game, you
don't miss a practice. That's the tragedy of his life. Who knows
how many concussions Webster sustained in his 17-year career, how
many wallops he absorbed from Greene and Fats Holmes in practice?
In 1999, 11 years after he'd retired, he was found to have brain
damage. Doctors say the trauma of blows damaged his frontal lobe.
He ended up as foggy as a punch-drunk fighter, barely able to
function--the condition he was in when he died of a heart attack
last week. He was 50.
I talked to Webster in that Steelers locker room many times, and
he never lied or sugarcoated. And after I'd interview him, he'd
thank me, then smile and point to the crowded section of the
locker room and say, "Better go talk to the superstars." In his
mind he was just a workingman who played center. Many people feel
no one ever played it better.
42 Home runs in his last 99 games for Indians first baseman Jim
Thome, who finished with a club-record 52.
4-32 The Orioles' record since they were 63-63 on Aug. 23.
72 Average age of the members of Augusta National Golf Club,
including 70-somethings Warren Buffett, Arnold Palmer and
Nicholas Brady, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.
69 Percent of female Division I student-athletes who entered
college in 1995 and graduated within six years.
54 Percent of male Division I student-athletes who graduated
during the same six-year span.
5 Major leaguers (the Cubs' Matt Clement, the Rockies' Todd
Helton, the White Sox' Carlos Lee, and the Royals' A.J. Hinch
and Brent Mayne) who left their teams during the last week of
the season to be with their expectant wives.
68-12 Home record of Packers quarterback Brett Favre in
regular-season games he has started at quarterback, the best
home winning percentage (.850) among active quarterbacks.
1 Afghani woman who will compete, in shooting, at the Asian
Games, the first female from that country to do so.
SPORT? NOT A SPORT?
SPORT "To be a true arm wrestling competitor you need a
combination of moves just like you have in collegiate wrestling.
A professional arm wrestler could beat anyone from another
sport." --Gabe Accardi, winner of the 143-pound division at last
month's GNC National Arm Wrestling Championships
SPORT "You have to use your muscles, and it definitely takes a
lot of technique. I once saw a guy break his forearm doing it, so
it's definitely a sport." --Lional Dalton, Broncos defensive
SPORT "I don't want to say it's not one, because those guys are
strong and they might come looking for me." --Tyson Chandler,
NOT A SPORT "It's just messing around. Maybe I think that because
ski jumpers don't have any upper body muscles, and I never arm
wrestle." --Clint Jones, U.S. ski jumper
SPORT "You use strength, coordination and balance. The only
reason it might not be considered a sport is that you use only
one part of your body." --Rulon Gardner, 2000 gold medal
winner in Greco-Roman wrestling
NOT A SPORT "Anyone can arm wrestle. It's like soccer."--Jeb
Putzier, Broncos tight end
A moody NHL star comes back
Alexandre Daigle is on the wing and not the lam now, dashing up
the right flank for the Penguins during the exhibition season.
Pittsburgh could use scoring help, and at age 27 Daigle, who
hasn't played in the NHL in two years, could use a job. Since his
retirement the former No. 1 draft pick has toured France and
Australia, organized a Sheryl Crow concert in his native Montreal
and played hockey in a beer league near his Los Angeles home.
"But," Daigle says, "I played only every third game." The
Senators, Flyers, Lightning and Rangers--the NHL teams Daigle
played for--could have told you that.
Daigle broke into the NHL in 1993 with decent hands, spectacular
speed and financial security thanks to a five-year, $12.5 million
deal with the Senators, but he liked the lifestyle more than the
life. A heartthrob billboard model who potted a solid 20 goals as
a rookie, he never reached his promise. Fans hounded him for his
lackadaisical effort--often blaming it on his off-ice dalliances
with the likes of Pam Anderson. (The "Unofficial Alexandre Daigle
Sucks" web page still gets hits.) In '98 Ottawa sent him to the
Flyers. Two years later he'd been traded twice more and was
coming off an eight-goal season for the Rangers when he skated
away. "I have zero regrets," Daigle says. "I wasn't mature enough
to handle being a pro athlete."
Daigle's interest was rekindled by last spring's playoffs, and
this summer he had daily 6 a.m. conditioning sessions with a
noted L.A. trainer. Five teams invited him to camp, but in
Pittsburgh he joins Mario Lemieux in a fire wagon system that
suits his skills. Last week he scored twice against the Devils
and did it with a smile--hints that he may be ready to meet the
expectations of a decade ago. "For the first time in a while,"
Daigle says, "I don't feel like I want to be somewhere
else." --Michael Farber
Of complications from a perforated duodenal ulcer, Leon Hart,
73, the 1949 Heisman Trophy winner, whose teams also won three
NCAA championships and three NFL titles. Hart, a three-time
All-America at Notre Dame, is one of two linemen to win the
Heisman. The Irish went 36-0-2 during his four years, winning
titles in '46, '47 and '49. Hart, who went on to win three
titles with the Detroit Lions, was at Notre Dame Stadium for the
Irish win over Michigan on Sept. 14. The next day, he entered
-- Of undetermined causes, Ray Hayworth, 98, the oldest surviving
major leaguer and the last living teammate of Ty Cobb. Hayworth
joined the Tigers as a catcher in 1926 under player-manager Cobb
and played 15 years in the majors, including 11 with Detroit. His
survivors include grandson J.D. Hayworth, a Republican
congressman from Arizona.
By the Department of Homeland Security, a request from San Diego
city officials to put the Secret Service in charge of security
at Super Bowl XXXVII at Qualcomm Stadium on Jan. 26. The San
Diego Police Department will handle security at the game.
From Beaver Stadium during the Penn State-Iowa football game,
Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington. The former Penn State star
was booted from the Nittany Lions' sideline for yelling at the
After 23 seasons and 2,502 games with six teams, Marlins
outfielder Tim (Rock) Raines, 43. A perennial All-Star with the
Expos in the 1980s, Raines had 2,605 hits and ranks fifth
alltime in stolen bases (808). Raines played with Tim Jr. last
year in Baltimore, the second pair of father-son teammates,
after Ken and Junior Griffey.
By the English soccer Wolverhampton Wanderers, free condoms to
fans before all matches. The team also opened a health
information center at which fans can get advice on health issues.
Old Century baseball
Computer games based on Pong-era technology are marketed as
classic and retro, but Old Century Baseball is a genuine
throwback: a wooden, pinball-style contraption much like the
arcade games popular in the 1950s. The game--in which players
flip a wooden bat to drive a pinball up ramps into slots marked
anything from home run to out--appeared at the International Toy
Fair last February and is on pace to sell more than 50,000 units
by the end of 2002. (It retails for $129.99.) FamilyFun magazine
named it a finalist for Toy of the Year. "We don't have anything
against technology," says Steve Edmiston, a VP at Old Century
Classics, the game's maker. "But our game forces you to unplug
and talk and laugh." Edmiston and his partners, including former
NFL receiver Mark Pattison, pitch the game as a toy and a
home-decor item; you can buy it at venues ranging from Nordstrom
to Baseball's Hall of Fame. "It looks like it's been around for
a long time," says Edmiston, "and there's something comforting
about that. Every time we came up with something clever for it,
we got rid of it. We wanted people to see the springs." He
assures us he won't switch to aluminum bats.
THE WEEK IN TELEVISION
SATURDAY 10/5 > NBC 2:30 PM > Stanford at No. 9 Notre Dame
Call this the Tyrone Willingham Bowl. The coach of the Irish
hosts the school he led to four bowls in seven years before
leaving for South Bend last December.
SUNDAY 10/6 > NBC 1 PM > NASCAR's EA Sports 500
Talladega Superspeedway--the biggest (2.66-mile tri-oval) and
baddest (speeds of 180-plus mph) track on the circuit often
features big wrecks and Earnhardt victories. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
took home the checkered flag last year; his dad won a record
four EA Sports 500s.
SUNDAY 10/6 > Fox 4 PM > Rams at 49ers
After last week's meek 13-10 loss to the Cowboys, the Rams (0-4)
look more like lambs than ever. The Niners (2-1) are a good bet
to break their six-game losing streak against their NFC West
MONDAY 10/7 > ABC 9 PM > Packers at Bears
Pro football's oldest rivalry (dating back to 1921) continues in
Champaign for the first Monday Night Football game hosted by the
Bears since 1996.
THURSDAY 10/10 > ESPN 7:30 PM > Virginia Tech at Boston College
Tech's dynamic running back duo of Lee Suggs and Kevin Jones
brings the coolest nickname in college football (the
Untouchables) to Chestnut Hill.
>> DON'T MISS
Tuesday 10/08 > Fox 8 PM
American League Championship Series, Game 1 How's this for polar
possibilities? This game will involve either the Yankees, who
will be seeking a fifth straight World Series berth, or the
Angels, who have never played in the Fall Classic.
--A Randy Interview
--Charles in Charge
--Paetz Puff Piece
--Randy Moss can be as tough on interviewers (he's notoriously
surly with the media) as he is on cornerbacks (or traffic
control officers, for that matter), so give ESPN's Andrea Kramer
credit for her sit-down with the Vikings' wild child following
his arrest last week. Kramer mixed tough questions ("Are you
violent?" "Can you understand how it appears that you bring some
of it on yourself?") with some softer stuff ("What else would
you like people to know that might change an opinion?"),
allowing a teary-eyed Moss to explain his actions, albeit
unconvincingly. Fine work.
--Here's a news flash: Charles Barkley loves the sound of his
own voice. So much so that the TNT basketball analyst is
expanding his TV act to include cohosting a half-hour interview
show every Thursday before the network's doubleheader coverage
of NBA basketball. Listen Up! Charles Barkley with Ernie Johnson
will have Barkley and Johnson interviewing newsmakers and
celebrities and discussing the issues of the day. Says Barkley,
"We want to reach a compromise between serious and funny." Among
the guests on Barkley's wish list: Bill Clinton, Martha Burk and
Hootie Johnson, Jennifer Lopez, and Dr. Phil, the ubiquitous
Oprah-lovin' psychologist whom TNT is looking to land for the
debut show on Oct. 31.
--Add ESPN's Stacy Paetz to the growing list of ineffectual
sideline reporters. Following Auburn's triple OT win over
Syracuse last Saturday on ESPN2, Paetz opened her interview with
Tigers running back Carnell (Cadillac) Williams thusly:
"Cadillac, buddy, what a great game for you. Talk about three
overtimes, buddy, you must be tired." Yo, Stacy, buddy, you
gotta do better than that. --R.D.
Most Valuable Presence
When the Lakers opened training camp on Oct. 1, Shaquille O'Neal
was recovering from surgery to remove bone spurs from his
arthritic right big toe, and the team didn't know if he would
heal in time for its Oct. 29 opener against the Spurs. Since
O'Neal joined the Lakers in 1996-97, they've gone 283-97, a .745
winning percentage, when he's in the lineup. What's L.A.'s
record in the 80 games O'Neal has missed?
a. 62-18, .775 c. 46-34, .575
b. 55-25, .688 d. 37-43, .463
In his 10 NBA seasons O'Neal has never been on a losing team.
The worst record an O'Neal team has had was in 1992-93, his
rookie season, when the Orlando Magic was 41-41. Only two other
members of that squad are still in the NBA. Who are they, and
where do they play?
This Week's Matchup
Pair the movies O'Neal has appeared in with the description of
1. Blue Chips a. army veteran
2. Freddy Got Fingered b. genie
3. Kazaam c. love interest
4. Steel d. weapons designer
Call to Order Rank these teams based on Shaq's career scoring
average against them, from highest to lowest.
a. Los Angeles Clippers c. New York Knicks
b. Los Angeles Lakers d. Orlando Magic
MOST VALUABLE PRESENCE: c. 46-34, .575
MAGIC MAN: Nick Anderson, now with the Cavaliers, was second to
O'Neal in scoring that year with 19.9 points per game. Current
Spurs guard Steve Kerr averaged 2.6 points in 47 games that
season for the Magic.
THIS WEEK'S MATCHUP: 1. a; 2. c; 3. b; 4. d
CALL TO ORDER: Magic (31.5 points per game in 10 games), Lakers
(29.8 in eight games), Clippers (29.0 in 27 games), Knicks (28.3
in 26 games)
"In his mind he was just a workingman who played center." --A
Life's Work In Steel, page 26