INSPIRATION AND SADNESS
As the NFL season kicks off this weekend, the league's most compelling story may be that of 29-year-old John Fourcade of the New Orleans Saints, who has finally earned a berth as a starting quarterback. Fourcade is powerful testimony to perseverance. Over the past eight years he has been released or traded nine times by teams in the NFL, USFL, CFL and Arena Football League. Never was he deemed good enough to be a regular starter. Among the 21 quarterbacks who played ahead of him or were kept when he was cut were such nonmarquee athletes as Joe Barnes, Danny Barrett, John Congemi, Roy DeWalt, Whit Taylor and Joe Paopao.
Fourcade probably wouldn't have continued his seemingly hopeless odyssey if not for the steadfast encouragement of his girlfriend, model Kristine Frischhertz, whom he met during the Saints' training camp in 1986. The following year, when Fourcade hit what he calls his career low point—he was cut by the CFL Toronto Argonauts after the coaches told him that, at age 26, he was too old—she persuaded him to stick with the sport. "Kristine told me, 'You better not quit,' " Fourcade recalls. "She knew I still wanted to play, and she was really behind me."
Fourcade, who had shown his talent at the University of Mississippi, where he eclipsed many of Archie Manning's school records, finally got a break in September 1987, when New Orleans signed him as its replacement quarterback during the NFL players' strike. With Fourcade calling signals, the Saints went 2-1 during the strike. Afterward, he was kept on as the team's third-string quarterback. He moved up to become Bobby Hebert's backup last season and, when Hebert slumped, started the last three games. Fourcade went 3-0, two of the wins coming over the playoff-bound Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles, and earned a two-year, $900,000 contract. With Hebert now sitting at home, having vowed never to play again for the Saints, Fourcade is firmly in place as the No. 1 quarterback as the Saints go into their season opener on Monday night against the Super Bowl-champion San Francisco 49ers.
The tragedy of the Fourcade story is that Frischhertz did not live to share his success. Last month she felt a mass behind her sternum and entered a New Orleans area hospital to have it checked. Doctors found the mass to be a large malignant tumor near her heart. On Aug. 24, they operated to try to remove the tumor, but Frischhertz, 24, died following the surgery. The doctors told Fourcade that the tumor had been largely inoperable, and that even under the best of circumstances Frischhertz would probably have lived only six more months.
"It's so hard—really, really hard—going home, seeing her face in all the pictures I have around the house," Fourcade says. "The good thing is I'm busy with football. If I wasn't, I don't know what I'd do." Fourcade has dedicated his season to her, and will wear her initials, KCF, on the towel that hangs from his belt during games.
The night before Kristine died, Fourcade sent her parents out of the hospital room, and they discussed their plans to get married soon. Early the next morning, he called to wish her well in the operation. "Her last words to me were, 'Be tough. Hang in there,' " says Fourcade. "I'm going to try. I know she'll be watching."
In a story in the May 12, 1986 issue, SI quoted sources close to the Edmonton Oilers as saying that as many as five players on the team were cocaine users. The Oiler front office denied that team members had abused drugs, and NHL president John Ziegler, claiming there was no evidence of drug use on the Oilers, refused to look into SI's allegations.
Last week the Edmonton Journal reported that Oiler goaltender Grant Fuhr had used cocaine for seven years before entering a drug-rehabilitation center last summer. Fuhr admitted to the newspaper that he had abused a "substance"—he wouldn't say what—since 1983 or '84. Oiler president and general manager Glen Sather and Fuhr's former wife, Corrine, both told the Journal that the substance was cocaine. Corrine told the paper that when dating Grant in 1983, she had seen him snort cocaine, and that during their six years of marriage, she had found the drug hidden in his clothes. She said that drug dealers had called their home, sometimes threatening to physically harm Grant if he didn't pay them for drugs he had apparently bought from them.
Fuhr told the Journal that he has not used the unnamed substance since going through rehabilitation. Meanwhile, Ziegler said last week that his league "has commenced a full investigation" of drug use by Fuhr. Since Fuhr has now admitted to such use, it's not clear what's left to investigate in his case, but then, the NHL's drug policy is the worst in sports, geared not to detection and rehabilitation but to punishment. That's too bad. If its approach were more enlightened, the league might have looked into the allegations regarding drug use on the Oilers four years ago and Fuhr might have gotten help far sooner.
WHO SIN LAST?
As comically bad as the Minnesota Twins have been lately—as of Sunday, they had gone 32-54 since June 1—it seemed only fitting that their starting lineup the other day included Abbott (Paul) and Castillo (Carmen).
In what may send a cautionary message to the nation's million-plus Rotisserie Baseball players, the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission recently suspended its executive secretary, Mick Lura, for a week for his involvement in the Almost All-Iowa Rotisserie Baseball League. The suspension, which cost Lura $1,650 in lost pay, resulted from a state personnel department investigation that showed he had used a computer and a copying machine in his office to keep track of Rotisserie League statistics and that he had attended to some Rotisserie-related business during his working hours. He was lucky that Iowa Governor Terry Branstad didn't have control of the case: Branstad said the commission should consider firing Lura.
Lura admits to a lapse of judgment, but insists that his Rotisserie activities didn't interfere with his job. Nevertheless, he's quitting the league.
CUFFS AND LINKS
Besides offering $1,000 suits, concierge service and complimentary shoeshines, the posh new Bergdorf Goodman men's clothing store in Manhattan has, believe it or not, its own putting green and golf pro. You'll find them in Traditional Sportswear on the second floor.
Store chairman Ira Neimark, who says he has always been impressed by "the kind of man who plays golf," decided to build the sloping, Astroturf-and-sand putting area after reading a survey that said that golfers tend to wear Hickey-Freeman suits (which, of course, Bergdorf also sells). So now, while they wait for their cuffs to be finished, customers can pick up one of several handsome hickory shaft putters and practice under the watchful eye of store golf instructor John Farrell, son of 1928 U.S. Open champion Johnny Farrell.
Although the store opened only last week, several well-heeled customers have already inquired about buying the putting green, which, alas, is not for sale.
Those of you trying to keep your Rolodexes up to date should note that the Detroit Pistons, winners of back-to-back NBA titles, have changed the address of their home arena, The Palace of Auburn Hills, from One Championship Drive to Two Championship Drive.
SI's Anita Verschoth reports from last week's European Track and Field Championships in Split, Yugoslavia, at which the long-powerful East German team made its farewell appearance:
A single, West German-published media guide covered both the East and West German teams in Split, and the cover illustration was unwittingly symbolic. It showed a frail East German runner handing off the baton to a strapping West German. West Germany is about to take the baton from the East Germans in a larger sense: After the two Germanys officially reunite on Oct. 3, the state-supported East German sports machine, with its elite sports schools and thousands of full-time coaches, will essentially disappear, and the West German system of private enterprise will govern sports.
That reality was not lost on the East German athletes in Split. "The issue is no longer political prestige," said Olympic shot put champion Ulf Timmermann after winning his event. "This is the beginning, where you have to establish your worth on the market."
Spurred by both the need to attract club sponsorship and the emotion of competing for East Germany for the final time—"I hope we go down with a flourish of trumpets to prove one more time who has the strong performers in German sports," said East German sprint coach Thomas Springstein—the East Germans took home more medals (34) and more gold (12) than any other team, including West Germany (7 medals, 3 of them gold). The East German women were superb, led by Katrin Krabbe, a tall Grace Kelly look-alike who won the 100-and 200-meter dashes.
Krabbe will be among the last stars produced by the East German sports system, which is already being dismantled. Without that system, the new Germany may not be as dominant an Olympic force as many people expect. "Not everything we had [in the sports system] was bad," said long jump winner Heike Drechsler. "Now so much is falling apart. Germany will have a good team in 1992, but after that I fear for the worst."
TEEING IT UP
Among the 195 women who tried to earn their LPGA playing cards last week at a qualifying-school tournament in Venice, Fla., was 63-year-old former tennis great Althea Gibson, who is attempting a comeback on the links. "She loves golf," says her manager, Ron Freeman. "She accomplished all her goals in tennis [she won five Grand Slam singles titles from 1956 to '58], but feels there's some unfinished business in golf." Freeman is referring to Gibson's rather undistinguished career on the women's pro golf circuit in the 1960s, during which she never won a tournament and took home little prize money.
Over the last two decades Gibson has kept busy conducting tennis clinics, lecturing on fitness and working with New Jersey state sports bodies. She has also honed her golf game, sometimes shooting in the low 70s. Her play was disappointing last week: She shot rounds of 86 and 86 and failed to make the cut. In fact, she finished dead last. "I don't want to talk about it," Gibson said afterward. "I'm mad at my game."
Gibson intends to play another LPGA qualifying-school event, in Rancho Mirage, Calif., in late September, and remains hopeful that she will earn both her card and a share of the prize and sponsorship money that's so much more abundant these days. Realistically, that appears to be a long shot at best, but it would be hard to find anybody who isn't pulling for her.
YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT
Last year Baltimore Oriole catcher Mickey Tettleton said his daily bowl of Fruit Loops cereal was the source of his unexpected power hitting (26 home runs, 65 runs batted in). This season Tettleton has struggled. Through Sunday he had only 12 homers and had struck out a team-record 139 times, prompting wags in Baltimore to wonder whether he has given up Fruit Loops in favor of Special K.
ANOTHER MARVELOUS MARVIN
SI's Austin Murphy reports on last Friday's Kickoff Classic in East Rutherford, N.J.:
The appellation Kickoff Classic proved to be a double misnomer. Southern Cal's sloppy 34-16 win over Syracuse didn't kick off the college football season—Tennessee and Colorado had played to a 31-31 tie five days earlier—and with its 10 dropped passes, seven fumbles and several imbecilic penalties, the game hardly ranked as a classic.
What shining moments it did have were provided by two young quarterbacks. As if to muzzle critics of his work ethic and desire, Todd Marinovich, USC's lefty signal caller (SI, Sept. 3), picked apart the Orangemen's highly regarded secondary like a tweezers-equipped bio major going after a laboratory frog. Marinovich, a sophomore, looked so good completing 25 of 35 passes for 337 yards that after the game he found himself having to assure reporters that he would not be entering next spring's NFL draft.
As hot as Marinovich was, posterity is more likely to recall Friday night as the coming out of Syracuse's Marvin Graves, a redshirt freshman who spent last fall quarterbacking the scout team. When projected starter Bill Scharr quit football last spring, the 6'1", 180-pound Graves moved up to second string, behind Mark McDonald. When McDonald suffered a thigh bruise three weeks ago, Graves took over the offense.
Graves, whose smarts, running ability and arm strength remind some of former Syracuse standout Don Mcpherson, picked up the Orangemen's complex offense "faster than any quarterback we've had," according to coach Dick MacPherson. Even after McDonald returned, MacPherson couldn't resist naming Graves as his starter.
Against USC, Graves completed 15 of 30 passes (five of the incompletions were balls dropped by his receivers) and rushed for a team-high 59 yards. "I kept looking at him, waiting for some sign of fear," said Trojan inside linebacker Scott Ross. "When I saw that, I was going to start talking to him, giving him a hard time. But he maintained his poise the whole game."
Perhaps the nicest compliment came from Marinovich, who asked simply, "Are they sure he's just a freshman?"
Fourcade (11) has dedicated his season to Frischhertz (left).
COURTESY NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
[See caption above.]
Gibson wants to rejoin the LPGA tour.
THEY SAID IT
•Johnny Bench, baseball Hall of Famer, when asked how he felt about Carlton Fisk's breaking his career record for home runs by a catcher: "I was thinking about making a comeback, until I pulled a muscle vacuuming."