TROUBLE AT A&M
A two-month investigation by the Dallas Times Herald claims to have uncovered evidence of extensive improper payments to football players at Texas A&M under Jackie Sherrill, the Aggies' coach since 1982, and Tom Wilson, who coached the team from 1978 to '81. The paper reported last week that players at the school have received thousands of dollars in signing incentives and bonuses, as well as weekly allowances, performance payments, car deals and other favors from A&M coaches and boosters. Former A&M lineman Gary Rogers is quoted as saying he received some $20,000 from Dallas banker Riley C. Couch III: "It's like this guy would actually go to work for me. I mean as far as money-wise, he was giving me a lot of money.... I would say more than an average person can make on a job in a week." Couch denies the allegations.
The Times Herald tells of envelopes filled with hundreds of dollars being slipped into players' lockers and under dorm-room doors. It quotes Kathy Leonard, a former A&M athletic department tutor, as saying, "[Alumni] had a very organized system for a player being paid. According to his ability, he would be assigned a 'sugar daddy'...[the players] would always joke about it: 'My sugar daddy is richer than your sugar daddy.' " One unnamed former Aggie told the Times Herald that when it came to stars like Earnest Jackson (now of the Eagles) and Johnny Hector (Jets), "The sugar daddies were fighting over them." Jackson says he received no money or favors from alumni; Hector has refused to comment on the matter.
Just as disturbing as the Times Herald's allegations of improprieties is what the paper says were actions by Sherrill to block its efforts to look into A & M's football program. Sherrill told at least some of his players not to talk to certain newspaper reporters, says the paper, and issued a directive barring the release of players' campus phone numbers. The Times Herald says Sherrill induced most of his players to sign secrecy requests, effectively blocking the paper's attempt to obtain their car registration records from the school.
Sherrill told the Times Herald that he knows of no improprieties in his program, and that a current internal investigation has revealed none, though "if I or [any coach] sits here and tells you that there are 100 percent clean sheets [in his program], that guy either has his head in the sand or he's lying." Regrettably, Sherrill has apparently shown little interest in airing A & M's laundry. And the picture drawn by the Times Herald is that of a man who has something to hide.
PUT A SHRIMP ON THE BARBIE FOR YA?
The Great Blunder Down Under—that's what some were calling last Saturday's comically misrun Australia Bowl in Melbourne. Dreamed up by Sydney ad executive Barry Shawyer as a way to introduce American football in his country, the game matched the two worst teams in the Western Athletic Conference, 2-8 Wyoming and 1-9 Texas-El Paso, both of whose coaches, Al Kincaid and Bill Yung, had been fired and were working their last game. Financially shaky, the game, which drew only 19,107 fans to a 75,000-seat stadium, was nearly called off at the last minute after several corporate sponsors, unable to agree on distribution of possible profits, threatened to pull out. Bills went unpaid and the teams, for financial reasons, had to make an 11-hour bus trip to Sydney to catch the flight for home. UTEP still doesn't know if it will ever receive its $55,000 guarantee.
On the other hand, the Aussie spectators seemed to find the new sport—which they kept calling "gridiron"—entertaining, if confusing. During halftime, the PA. announcer, who had come from the U.S., asked the crowd, "Do you understand the game yet?"
"Nooooooo!" came the reply.
"Are you having fun?" he continued.
"Do you like my accent?"
Wyoming's 23-21 victory sent fans swarming onto the field, and most agreed the game had at least been an artistic success. A state government investigation this week will presumably determine how to settle the outstanding bills.
CATCH OF THE WEEK
A Soviet freighter about to leave the Canadian port of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island the other day raised its anchor and found dangling from the end a dark blue 1975 Buick. The Soviets turned the vehicle over to local police, who said they'd been searching for it since it was reported stolen in 1982.
A CLOAK-AND-KEEL MYSTERY
The intrigue began about a month ago, when Tom Ehman, executive director of the New York Yacht Club's America's Cup challenge syndicate, received a phone call from a man in England who said his name was Peter Buck. Buck said he had acquired—and was eager to sell—a blueprint of the winged keel of Crusader, a British entry in the 1987 America's Cup races. Ehman was skeptical; he had gotten similar calls in the past, all hoaxes. Still, just in case Buck wasn't bluffing, Ehman asked him to send a copy of the title box from the British plans.
To Ehman's surprise, two copies of the title box arrived in the mail a week later. They looked genuine. Ehman phoned Graham Walker, chairman of Britain's America's Cup challenge in London and told him, "Graham, you guys have a problem." Walker was sent a copy of the title box and recognized it. He alerted British police, who asked Ehman to keep negotiating with Buck as part of a sting operation.
Ehman obliged and arranged a deal with Buck. A New York Yacht Club representative carrying a $25,000 check was to meet Buck on a deserted fishing pier in Plymouth, England late on the afternoon of Dec. 1. "They told me to tell Buck that the representative [actually an undercover policeman] would be tall, dark-bearded and slightly scarred," says Ehman. "I said that sounded like a description from a cheap spy novel." But the meeting came off, and Buck—who was later identified as John Brown, 27, an employee of the foundry at which the keel was built—was arrested and released on bail while it is determined if charges should be brought.
Ehman was thanked heartily by the Britons for his honesty. "They would have done the same thing in our situation," he said. He added, "We've got a year's head start on them anyway."
'BAMA'S FARM TEAM
Alabama fans are gloating after the Crimson Tide's recent 25-23 football victory over rival Auburn. Their new T shirts read:
For those of you thinking of visiting Anchorage this winter, we pass on some travel notes from sportswriters just back from covering the ever-colorful Great Alaska Shootout. John Schulian of the Philadelphia Daily News reports finding a local establishment called Mr. White-keys' Fly-By-Night Club that serves good, hot Spam nachos. He recommends them over the more popular reindeer sausage patties. For those interested in offbeat nightspots (remember, the sun in Anchorage sets at about 3 p.m. this time of year) Paul Daugherty of the Dallas Times Herald passes along an ad from the local Yellow Pages: GOOD TIMES LOUNGE: ADULT ENTERTAINMENT...30 GORGEOUS GIRLS & 3 UGLY ONES!
Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman was in the chambers of the U.S. Senate a few weeks ago when Senator Edward Kennedy approached him. Braman had met Kennedy before but hadn't seen him in months. Thus he was surprised when Kennedy told him a story that began: "I've never told anyone this, but...."
Braman listened as Kennedy recalled sitting in the Oval Office in October of 1962 with his brothers Bobby, then the Attorney General, and John, then the President, and reading that the Eagles were for sale. Jack and Bobby felt the team would be a marvelous acquisition, given the family's interest in the sport; Jack noted that even after two terms in office he would still be a young man. The President then told Ted to go up to Philadelphia and talk with the team's management. But Jerry Wolman, a construction tycoon, wound up buying the club.
"What happened?" asked Braman.
"The Cuban Missile Crisis," answered Kennedy.
LET'S SEE WAYNE GRETZKY TRY THIS
What would hockey be without ice? Underwater hockey, of course. And indeed, at the bottom of swimming pools throughout France these days, thousands of players are knocking metal pucks around with wooden or plastic sticks in frogmen's hockey—15 minutes per half, six men to a side. The goal is to score goals; the difficulty is holding one's breath long enough to slide the puck up the pool and shoot it between uprights usually set four to six feet apart. According to the French magazine VSD, one of the best players in France, Philippe Van Rechen of Lille, can stay underwater 20 seconds before bobbing to the surface for air. That's considered astonishing in this rigorous sport.
In frogmen's hockey there are three officials (one on the pool deck, two underwater) but no timeouts. Teams are allowed two extra players, who can be shuffled in and out. Players wear flippers, a face mask, a snorkel (to allow them to breathe near the surface) and a glove to grip the stick. The sport was invented in England in 1954 and is known as "octopush" there. But it is more popular in France, where there are at least 250 club teams—and high hopes of winning the second-ever world championships, to be held next April in Auckland, New Zealand.
JEAN MARC BAREY/VANDYSTADT
Although the British invented frogmen's hockey, the French now have them outnumbered.
THEY SAID IT
•Steve Bono, third-string quarterback for the Vikings, on the prospect of someday replacing starter Tommy Kramer and backup Wade Wilson: "If I'm fortunate, in five or six years I'll be the one being booed."
•Hayden Fry, Iowa football coach, allowing that he's not much of a public speaker: "I'm the oratorical equivalent of a blocked punt."