The turf is injurious, the fans are obnoxious and the whole place
reeks: We're sorry to say farewell to Veterans Stadium
In all of football there's no stadium more reviled than Veterans
Stadium, home of the Philadelphia Eagles for the past 32 seasons.
It smells like aging sauerkraut. Acid rain spews from its pipes.
Your sidewalk is softer than the Vet's shiny plastic turf. The
Eagles' faithful will hurl anything at visiting teams: invective,
snowballs, one another.
The vet is a hole, all right. And we're going to miss it.
On Sunday the Eagles played their last regular-season game at the
Vet (page 42). As the team stormed out of its dank tunnel before
the start of the sold-out meeting with the Washington Redskins,
some of the players pointed their taped fingers way up to the
stadium's rafters, to the 700 level, a place where running the
faucet while urinating in the sink is considered common courtesy.
"You wanna get those guys involved early because they set the
tone for the entire stadium," says Eagles linebacker Ike Reese.
"You're ahead before you've played your first down."
In the name of progress the blue-collar joes in the 700 level--15
or so rows that ring the stadium like the third circle of
hell--are being left behind by the team and the city and the NFL.
Never mind that all three will be much poorer without them. At
halftime on Sunday members of the 700 club stood in a puddly
corridor, flicking cigarette stubs in the direction of Lincoln
Financial Field, rising to the south. The Eagles' new home looks
shiny, airy, clean. The field will be grass. But will there be a
single nosebleed season ticket at the Linc for $300? Not even
Neither will there be peepholes from the visitors' locker room
into the Eagles' cheerleaders' changing room, as there were for a
while at the Vet. Never again will an Eagles preseason football
game be canceled because the artificial turf is deemed too uneven
and hazardous. It is unlikely that Eagles fans will ever again
celebrate a career-ending injury, as they did during an October
game three years ago while Michael Irvin of the Cowboys, a
despised player on a despised team, lay still on the concrete
turf. Visiting teams will probably like coming to the Linc.
Everything's going to hell.
"The new place?" Don Wilson, a green-chested, bare-chested
700level denizen said during the Eagles' Sunday win, which earned
Philadelphia the NFC East title and assured the Eagles at least
one home playoff game. "I'm against it. You don't got cheap
seats, you don't got real fans."
We have the same worry as Wilson: the death of passion.
Throughout the 700 level you see overweight white men wearing
Eagles jerseys, the names of exceedingly fit black men stenciled
across their backs: MCNABB, STALEY, VINCENT. Transistor radios
are common; cellphones are not. Who would they call? Everybody's
When a fight breaks out in the 700 level, a dozen security guys
in their yellow windbreakers converge at once. It adds to the
spectacle. You always see a few Eagles craning their necks,
watching the action from the sideline of the real game. "We treat
each other politely," says Bob Costa, a 700 habitue. "It's
opposing fans we treat with contempt." The players operate by the
No Eagle, player or coach, is shedding a tear for the final days
of the Vet. The Phillies must play one more season there, but the
football people want out of the dump. Yet for now the dump is the
best thing the Eagles have going for them. They're 11--3 for the
year, 7--1 at home. Late in the game on Sunday, in the highest
row of the 700 level, a fan held up a bedsheet in the weak
December dusk: ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE.
Sure, Eagles fans once booed Santa. This year, all wistful,
they're making nice.
Out of the Woods
Why so many hockey players are picking up high-tech sticks
For future NHL players, eighth-grade shop class is now strictly
an elective. The growing popularity of one-piece composite sticks
has made the time-honored, morning-skate ritual of heating the
wooden blade with a propane torch and shaping it to taste almost
as anachronistic as pregame pepper in baseball. The one-pieces,
the most revolutionary advance in sticks since the Blackhawks'
Stan Mikita began heating and curving his blade in the 1960s, are
made of carbon, graphite and Kevlar. Although there's no evidence
that the new sticks ratchet up the speed of a slap shot (as many
players claim), about half of the league's 640 skaters have
switched from wood in the last two years.
So what's the appeal of the composites, aside from shaving as
much as an hour off an NHL player's workday? Converts point out
that the new sticks are light--Easton Synergies, used by about
270 players, weigh just over a pound, several ounces less than
traditional wood sticks--and easy to flex. Most important,
they're consistent. "Of a dozen wood sticks maybe only seven
would have the feel you want," says Canadiens defenseman Stephane
Quintal, who uses a one-piece made by CCM. "But with the
composite stick each one feels like the last."
The passion for one-pieces, which began after Avalanche center
Peter Forsberg used a Synergy in the 2000 playoffs, hasn't
affected the dead-puck era: Scoring has slipped slightly since
1999--2000. Still, the new stick can make players trigger-happy.
"Look at Mats Sundin," Devils goalie Martin Brodeur says of the
Maple Leafs captain who swears by his Louisville composite. "He
used to never take a shot beyond the circles. Ever. With the new
stick he's shooting from everywhere."
Naturally some traditionalists stamp their skates in protest:
Blue Jackets goalie consultant Rick Wamsley, for one, laments
that the game has become a technological arms race. A common
complaint about one-pieces (which retail for about $150, or $120
more than a wood stick): "the puck seems to jump off the blade,
making it harder to control in passing," says Sabres center
Curtis Brown. That's why Brown and several others have begun
using Easton's latest model, the Synergy Si-Core. The graphite
blade of that stick contains silicone, which cushions the puck.
The effect, he says approvingly, is to make the stick feel like
it's made out of ... wood. --Michael Farber
72 Straight losses by the women's basketball team at Division II
Minnesota-Morris, an NCAA record, before a 56--40 win over Crown
College on Dec.10.
80 Percentage of the Bengals' snaps that quarterback Jon Kitna
must take to receive a $1.625 million bonus this year.
79.9 Projected percentage of snaps for Kitna if he runs all of
Cincinnati's plays in the last two games.
$79,400 Annual salary for writing a weekly column in News of the
World paid to Leeds United manager Terry Venables, who last week
banned his players from speaking to the media.
2.0 Rating ESPN2 drew for last Thursday's high school basketball
game featuring LeBron James, the network's highest rating in
nearly two years.
$1 million Amount Olympic and world champion Haile Gebrselassie
of Ethiopia received for setting a world record in the 10,000
meters (27:02) on a road course in Doha, Qatar--in his first race
in six months following a calf injury.
723 Consecutive errorless chances by the Angels' Darin Erstad, an
American League record for an outfielder; the streak ended on
Sept. 22 but went unnoticed until the Elias Sports Bureau found
it last week while updating its record book.
TRAVELS OF A TWO-SPORT STAR
Eight days after Colorado freshman wideout Jeremy Bloom returned
a punt for a score in a 29--7 loss to Oklahoma in the Dec. 7 Big
12 title game, he flew to Ruka, Finland, to ski in his first
World Cup moguls competition of the season. The circuit's
reigning champ took his finals a week early to make the trip.
"I'm so sleep deprived," says Bloom, who found time last week to
read Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to kids at the Denver Rescue
Bloom, who missed the first three World Cup events and has had
just three days on the snow this fall, will spend the next three
months skiing competitively, then make up the semester in summer
school. His future at Colorado is uncertain, though, because the
NCAA forbids him to accept endorsement money, meaning Bloom and
his family have to come up with as much as $40,000 to cover his
costs. "If it wasn't for the NCAA, there's no question I'd come
back next season," he says. Regardless, he will come back on
Saturday, then board a plane on Sunday to San Antonio, where
Colorado plays Wisconsin in the Dec. 28 Alamo Bowl. Bloom, who is
fifth in the nation in yards per punt return, will miss a few
days of practice while in Finland, but, says coach Gary Barnett,
"For three days we can make this work. This team loves him."
FOR THE RECORD
SCOPED The left knee of Tiger Woods, who had fluid around his
anterior cruciate ligament and benign cysts removed during a
one-hour procedure in Park City, Utah. Woods had been bothered by
inflammation in the knee for most of the year. Still, two weeks
before the operation he won the PGA Grand Slam of Golf in Kauai,
Hawaii, by a tournament-record 14 strokes and shot a
course-record 61 in the final round. Woods, 26, should be back on
his feet this week and is expected to return to competition early
ALLEGED By Heat coach Pat Riley, that NBA officials "have an
absolute hatred for me" and "are happy as hell" that the Heat
(6-17) is struggling. Riley made the remarks after a 97-92 loss
to the Knicks last Friday in which New York attempted 21 more
foul shots than the Head did and benefited from what appeared to
be an erroneous out-of-bounds call in the waning moments. This
year Miami has shot 418 free throws to 635 by its opponents, the
largest differential in the league. Riley, who spoke with NBA
officials by phone on Saturday, claims that after a Heat loss
last year in Cleveland ref Steve Javie told him that "it's giving
us [refs] absolute delight to watch you and your team die." Riley
intends to present the league with a detailed case demonstrating
referee bias. Says NBA V.P. of operations Stu Jackson, "The
allegations are unfounded and very disturbing."
DIED Of a heart attack, former Saints defensive lineman Frank
Warren, 43, whose 52 1/2 sacks place him fourth on the team's
alltime list. Warren's 13-year stint with New Orleans was
interrupted when he was suspended for the 1990 season for
violating the league's drug policy. After retiring in '94 Warren
joined the staff of then Saints coach Jim Mora as an assistant.
Two years later he tried to play again, but the comeback was cut
short by heart disease. "He's handled adversity on and off the
field better than any player I've ever known," Mora said of
Warren in '94.
--Of head injuries sustained when he fell to the ice before a
hockey game, Les Costello, 74, the Maple Leafs forward who left
the NHL to become a priest. Costello had two goals and two
assists in the 1948 playoffs as Toronto won the Stanley Cup, but
he quit the next season. In '62 Costello formed the Flying
Fathers, a barnstorming squad of Catholic priests that has raised
more than $4 million for charity. Costello's fatal injuries
occurred before a Flying Fathers game two weeks ago.
Waived By the Magic, forward Horace Grant, ending a six-year
association with the team. Grant, 37, has missed all but five
games this season with a left knee injury. "I don't know why I
would deserve this," he said after his release. One possibility:
Grant's scuffle with coach Doc Rivers, 41, on Orlando's Dec. 10
charter flight. Grant and Rivers have feuded since last year, and
after Grant criticized teammate Tracy McGrady in an Internet
column, Rivers confronted him on the plane. The two had to be
separated. The next day Grant, who has played on four title teams
in his 16-year-career, was let go. "That was the last straw,
absolutely," said Rivers.
Who's winning the battle, Hootie Johnson or Martha Burk? SI's
Hootometer tells all.
A Harris poll found that only 34% of adults think the club is
right to exclude women. Advantage: Burk. HBO's Real Sports
reiterated what SI revealed in July: Burk's nickname as a kid was
Hootie. Advantage: Hootie. The Augusta Chronicle, owned by
Augusta member Billy Morris, moved a profile of Burk from Page
One to page 10 and refused to run a piece urging the club to
admit a woman. Advantage: Hootie.
The Right Choice
DETERMINED By 811 Heisman Trophy voters to be "the outstanding"
college football player of 2002, USC quarterback Carson Palmer
(page 82). File this one under "Even a Blind Pig Finds an Acorn
Once in a While." The notoriously fickle Heisman electorate has
interpreted most "outstanding" to mean various things through the
years. The voters chose Gino Torretta over Marshall Faulk 10
years ago, and Rashaan Salaam ahead of Steve McNair in 1994. This
season they got it right. (SI's take on why Palmer deserved to
win: Hand Him the Heisman, Dec. 9.)
Before collecting his 25-pound doorjamb, the 6'6", 230-pound
senior--who passed for 3,639 yards and 32 touchdowns and led the
Trojans to a 10--2 record--had two obstacles to overcome. The
first was an alleged "Eastern bias" against West Coast
candidates. The second was the groundswell that seemed to build
for Miami's Ken Dorsey and Willis McGahee with each Hurricanes
victory. Accepted wisdom in some circles was that if Miami
finished unbeaten, which it did, then the trophy must
automatically go to one of the team's finalists. "With all due
respect to [Iowa quarterback Brad] Banks, Palmer and [Penn State
running back Larry] Johnson," declaimed The New York Times last
week, "it is a two-horse race."
So it was--for fourth place. McGahee, the sophomore running back,
finished with 660 points, 17 more than Dorsey, who came in fifth,
or, as he put it, "dead last." The Hurricanes quarterback didn't
hide his peevishness at the result and now, in the grand Miami
tradition of drawing motivation from slights--They don't respect
us! It's Us against the World!--Dorsey will go to the title game
against Ohio State with a chip on his shoulder. There's a very
good chance he'll finish this season with his second national
title in two years. Palmer will have the Heisman, and both will
have gotten what they deserved. --Austin Murphy
THE WEEK IN TELEVISION
SATURDAY 12/21 > ESPN2 NOON > DIVISION III FOOTBALL FINAL
Trinity of Texas tries for its first DIII title against Ohio's
tiny Mount Union College, which has won 41 straight, 95 of its
last 96, and six of the last nine titles.
SATURDAY 12/21 > CBS 5 PM, BASKETBALL > INDIANA (8--0) AT
Call it Hoosiers versus McCoys. Kentucky leads the border war
between these roundball-crazed states 24--21. That makes the
Wildcats the only nonconference team to play the Hoosiers more
than five times and still hold a winning record.
SUNDAY 12/22 > CBS 1 PM > CHARGERS (8--6) AT CHIEFS (7--7)
San Diego back LaDainian Tomlinson (1,485 yards), the NFL's
third-leading rusher, is in close pursuit of the Chiefs' Priest
Holmes (1,645), who leads the league but could miss time with a
sore right hip. Both teams are fighting to stay in the playoff
SUNDAY 12/22 > ESPN 5 PM > PRINCETON (3--3) AT TEXAS (5--2)
Princeton's backdoor cuts are among college hoops' most enjoyable
sights, but this season the struggling Tigers have often found
the rear entry locked. The powerhouse Longhorns, meanwhile, have
had little trouble finding the basket, averaging 82 points.
MONDAY 12/23 > ESPN 5:30 PM > TEXAS TECH VERSUS CLEMSON,
Tech quarterback Kliff Kingsbury has such a good arm--he leads
the nation in completions, attempts, yards and touchdown
passes--he could heave a Christmas ham for a first down.
>> DON'T MISS
WEDNESDAY 12/25 ABC 8:30 PM
Kings at Lakers
So much for Christmas cheer: Shaq calls the Kings "the Queens,"
and Sacramento has vowed revenge since losing to L.A. in Game 7
of the Western Conference finals. L.A. (10--15) dominates the
rivalry, but the Kings (20--6) lead the Pacific Division.
--A Soccer Story
ESPN lucked out when the Heisman race became so wide-open, and
the network capitalized with a compelling awards show. The best
moments were the live interviews. Maggie Dorsey and Jannie
Jones--the mothers of Miami players Ken Dorsey and Willis
McGahee, respectively--held hands during their spot, while Carson
Palmer's father, Bill, talked about how he'd spent years
commuting from California to New York so that Carson wouldn't
have to change high schools. Player interviews drew surprises
such as Dorsey's take on critics: "I'd like to sit up here and
name names and rip some people apart." When Palmer accepted the
trophy, he said, "My heart's about to come out of my shirt," and
viewers believed him thanks to the network's skillful building of
On the subject of LeBron James, ESPN was not so sharp. During the
high schooler's game last Thursday commentators indulged his
fantasy that he could play in college if he wants. Dick Vitale
talked up the 17-year-old senior's solid grades but failed to
mention that LeBron--who's the subject of a multimillion-dollar
battle between Nike and Adidas--has received free gear and been
feted by sponsors. The NCAA would surely view those as what it
calls "improper benefits"--and make him ineligible.
U.S. Soccer has released Our Way, an excellent documentary about
America's 2002 World Cup run. The film, available on DVD and VHS,
shows the squad's confidence (before its 3--2 win over favored
Portugal, coach Bruce Arena said, "When we win today, I'm not
going to be surprised") and includes candid scenes such as
veteran Frankie Hejduk telling 20year-old Landon Donovan to "keep
those elbows high" and "give them one of those to the
This year the NBA's Christmas Day feast of games includes rematches
of last season's conference finals: the Celtics against the Nets
and the Kings against the Lakers. Last Dec. 25 the Knicks beat
the Raptors 102--94 as guard Allan Houston scored a game-high 34
points. Who holds the record for scoring on a Christmas Day?
a. Wilt Chamberlain c. Michael Jordan
b. George Gervin d. Bernard King
One of the greatest games (and definitely the longest one) in
NFL history took place in the AFC playoffs on Christmas Day, 1971.
The game lasted 82:40 and was in its second overtime when it was
decided by a 37-yard field goal. Which two teams played, and who
This Week's Matchup Pair the women's tennis player with Santa
Claus's traditional name in her native country.
1. Steffi Graf a. Ded-Moroz
2. Anna Kournikova b. Pere Noel
3. Miriam Oremans c. Pelznickel
4. Sandrine Testud d. Sinterklaas
Call to Order Put these baseball players, all with names
befitting the season, in order of career batting averages.
a. Jesus Alou c. Christy Mathewson
b. Steve Christmas d. Ken Rudolph
POINT SETTER: d. Knicks forward Bernard King lit up the Nets for
a Christmas-record 60 points at Madison Square Garden in 1984,
but ex-Knick Micheal Ray Richardson scored 36 to lead New Jersey
to a 120--114 win.
HOLIDAY OVERTIME: The Dolphins beat the Chiefs 27--24 in the AFC
Championship game on Garo Yepremian's game-winning kick.
THIS WEEK'S MATCHUP: 1. c (Germany); 2. a (Russia); 3. d (the
Netherlands); 4. b (France)
CALL TO ORDER: Alou (.280); Mathewson (.215); Rudolph (.213);
curving his blade in the 1960s." --OUT OF THE WOODS, PAGE 26