Empty Field, Empty Titles
Only five of the 12 figure skating medalists from Lillehammer bothered to compete in last week's world championships, in Chiba, Japan. And absolutely no one was surprised.
None of the women who won an individual Olympic medal was there. Oksana Baiul was reported to be recovering from injuries suffered in an on-ice collision during practice in Lillehammer, though she didn't appear to need much "recovery" while skating to the gold medal. Silver medalist Nancy Kerrigan was resting from her emotionally draining winter. And China's Chen Lu, who got the bronze, withdrew from the worlds with a stress fracture in her right foot. As a result, Yuka Sato of Japan, fifth at Lillehammer, easily won her first world title and the privilege of forever answering the question: But whom did you beat?
The three biggest names from the men's competition in Lillehammer, non-medalists Viktor Petrenko, Brian Boitano and Kurt Browning, were also MIA in Japan. So were the golden pair of Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov and the silver twosome of Artur Dmitriev and Natalia Mishkutienok. Two of the top three ice dancing couples also sat this one out: silver medalists Maya Usova and Aleksandr Zhulin and bronze medalists Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean.
If it's so clear that skaters are burned out after the Games, why does the International Skating Union (ISU) persist in holding these sham world championships in Olympic years? Money, naturally. Television fees make the championships worthwhile for the ISU whether the field is world class or minor league. And does the ISU, a notorious black hole when it comes time to disperse those fees, share any of the booty with the competitors whom skating fans tune in to see? Are you kidding?
The title world champion is indelibly tarnished by this pointless and downright lousy competition. In Olympic years it should be scuttled.
Coming to a Head
Coach Jimmy Johnson and owner Jerry Jones, the brain trust of the back-to-back Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys, are headed for divorce court. Johnson will almost certainly coach Dallas throughout next season—that will probably have been confirmed at the press conference Johnson was scheduled to hold in Dallas early this week—but then sail off to his new house in the Florida Keys, abandoning the last four years of his contract. That's what the lacquer-haired coach's closest friends in the football business were saying last week after the Jimmy-Jerry rift became front-page news at the annual NFL meetings in Orlando.
Jones brought this latest trouble on himself. After happening upon Johnson and a few of his friends, including two former Cowboy employees whom Jones had fired, at a party, Jones offered an awkward toast to the Cowboys' success. The response was less than warm, and Jones felt that Johnson and the others had snubbed him. Several hours later, as he held court in a hotel lobby bar, in the company of four journalists and several friends and bystanders, Jones launched into a diatribe against Johnson, taking care to say that it was off-the-record. The theme was predictable: I'm the boss, he's just the coach. I'll fire him if I want to. He works for me. Etc. Etc. Jones had said the same things before.
At nine the following morning Johnson got a phone call in his room—the Deep Throat is still unknown—telling him what Jones had said, including Jones's declaration that he was going to fire Johnson and replace him with former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer. To his credit Jones didn't deny his remarks when The Dallas Morning News broke the story last Wednesday, though he claimed that his off-the-record trust had been violated.
Johnson was expected to give his side of the story, and perhaps his whole take on his long and complicated relationship with his boss, early this week. As of Monday he had reportedly ruled out resigning—"Once he starts planning for the season, he'll go through with it," one confidant said—but he had decided that he would almost certainly depart after the 1994-95 season. He may not get the chance; the possibility still existed that Jones, who has been especially angry with Johnson since the coach indicated in December that he would consider a job offer from the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars, would fire him. That would cause no small backlash in Cowboy country: Quarterback Troy Aikman has already said that he would have been hesitant to sign his eight-year deal had he known Johnson might be leaving Big D so soon.
Two strong-willed, hot-tempered types, Johnson and Jones have always found a way to get along well enough during working hours. But off-field and off-season their tempers have sometimes gotten the best of them. Whatever happens, it's clear that Jones's big mouth and poor judgment have put his feud with Johnson in full public boil, and the damage is probably irreparable.
Skirting the Issue
Maybe you don't like the fact that Dennis Alexio wears a skirt. Maybe you would like to discuss it with him.
Alexio, 35, knocked out Dick Kimber, 32, at 1:29 of the second round Saturday night at KarateMania VIII in Montreal to successfully defend his heavyweight kick-boxing championship of the Professional Karate Commission (PKC). And he did it while wearing a skirt.
Alexio, a native of Vacaville, Calif., has lived in Honolulu since November. He loves Hawaii so much that he decided to honor its people by fighting in a hula skirt made from leaves of the ti, an island plant. Angry PKC executives raised objections, and they fined Alexio $10,000 for appearing in a skirt in Montreal. Said the PKC president Glenn Keeney, "We have a certain amount of dignity." Then again, normal karate-kickboxing attire suggests a pair of pajamas.
Actually, Alexio wore the skirt for only one round on Saturday. When it began to shed leaves, officials feared that both competitors might slip on them, so Alexio obligingly removed the skirt and fought the rest of the bout in a pair of black boxing trunks.
Alexio professes not to care that the fine will cost him a good chunk of his $75,000 winnings. "The respect of the people of Hawaii means more to me than money," he said.
It's only a matter of time before Alexio does Oprah or Montel. Today's subject: Men Who Fight in Skirts.
As President Clinton's Hogs nosed their way into the Final Four (page 14), the success of another presidentially touched team should not go unnoticed. Tiny Eureka (Ill.) College, with an enrollment of 500, won the NAIA Division II men's basketball championship on March 15 with a 98-95 overtime victory over Northern State-South Dakota. Among the faxes received by the Red Devils before their final game was one that included this inspirational message from Eureka's most famous alumnus: "I wish you all the best as you face the tough competition in the coming days. You have what it takes to be victorious; so I ask you, please go out there and win one for the Gipper."
Let's go over this one more time, Ron: The sport was football, the famous half-time speech occurred only in a movie, and you are not the Gipper.
What's the Point?
The NFL's adoption of the two-point conversion last week—the first change in the league's scoring rules during its 74-year history—will not have nearly the impact that some observers have suggested. The two-pointer was on the books throughout the 10-year history of the old AFL (1960-70) and almost never had a dramatic influence on the outcome of a game. In the famous Heidi game on Nov. 17, 1968, for example, the Oakland Raiders scored a touchdown with 3:50 left to pull within one point, 29-28, of the New York Jets. Rather than go for the win right there, Raider coach John Rauch elected to kick the tying extra point. The Raiders went on to win 43-32. In fact, on only one occasion did a team that scored a last-minute TD to draw within one point elect to try a two-pointer for the win rather than to kick the tying point. That happened on Nov. 9, 1969, when the Boston Patriots lost to the Miami Dolphins 17-16 when their two-pointer failed.
Gambling on a winning two-pointer is almost guaranteed to be a nonfactor in the NFL because of overtime and the conservatism of coaches. Asked what they would do after scoring a touchdown to draw within one point with less than a minute to go, most coaches at last week's league meetings said they would kick the PAT and go for the win in OT.
What the two-pointer could add, at least in preseason games, is entertainment value. Tampa Bay Buccaneer coach Sam Wyche said he might experiment with a two-point play using the single wing. And Arizona Cardinal coach Buddy Ryan wants to steal an option quarterback from the Canadian Football League or bring in one from college.
Sounds like fun. Bui the NFL continues to ignore the big reason that the defense has gotten ahead of the offense—situation substitution. Invariably, when an offense is near the end of a long drive, the defense switches players at as many as six positions in and out of the game, both to help control fatigue and to better match up with changes in offensive personnel. Until the NFL limits the number of substitutions a defense can make, don't look to Sunday afternoons for more offense. And certainly don't think that the two-point conversion will change the game in any fundamental way.
A Coach's Priorities
Reflecting on the suddenly bright job prospects of Boston College basketball coach Jim O'Brien, who guided the Eagles to unexpected success in the NCAA tournament, ESPN commentator Digger Phelps on Sunday urged O'Brien to explore all job options and said, "What you have to do as a coach is say, 'When can I hit and run and stay ahead of the posse?' "
We wonder how the recruits who sign with a certain coach would feel about being the hit-and-run victims.
A Family Story
The best family basketball story this season was not the sideline adventures of the Knights of Bloomington, Ind. It was the accomplishments of the Drews of Valparaiso, Ind.
Homer Drew was named the Mid-Continent Conference Coach of the Year after leading Valparaiso University to its most successful Division I season ever. The Crusaders finished with a 20-8 record, second in their league.
Meanwhile, Homer's daughter, Dana, a junior guard at the University of Toledo, was named Mid-American Conference Women's Player of the Year for the second time. Dana, a 5'7" guard, averaged a conference-high 19.9 points and 5.3 assists for the Rockets, despite undergoing anterior cruciate ligament surgery on her right knee in December 1992.
Finally, Bryce Drew, a senior at Valparaiso High, averaged 24.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists to lead Valpo to a 28-1 record and a second-place finish in last weekend's state tournament. Bryce, a 6'3" guard, was named the Gatorade player of the state, an award based on athletic and academic achievement (he has a 3.7 average in the classroom) and is a candidate for Indiana's Mr. Basketball. Like his sister, Drew had a major obstacle to overcome—for the past two seasons he has taken medication to control tachycardia, an ailment that occasionally raised his heart rate to as high as 250 beats a minute. But after undergoing three surgical procedures to correct the irregular heartbeat, Bryce came back strong.
Keep this family in mind: Bryce's list of college possibilities includes, along with big-name schools like Syracuse and Wisconsin, Valparaiso.
There are certain ins and outs that first-year NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has yet to master. Bettman traveled to Los Angeles last week in anticipation of Wayne Gretzky's record-breaking 802nd NHL goal. Late in the first intermission of the game at the Forum between Gretzky's Kings and the Vancouver Canucks, Bettman ducked into the visiting dressing room to use the facilities. When the Canucks left to start the second period, equipment manager Patty O'Neill, thinking he was the last man out, closed the dressing-room door and padlocked it from the outside. A desperate Bettman had to bang on the door and shout before an attendant finally heard him.
Fortuitously, Gretzky waited until 14:47 of the second period, by which time the commish was back in his seat, to score the historic goal.
Lone Wolf Legacy
Philip Tepe, the young man from Lone Wolf, Okla., who taught his town so much about bravery and commitment in the face of AIDS (SCORECARD, May 24, 1993), died on March 17 of complications from the disease. He was 15. A hemophiliac who was infected with HIV during a blood-serum treatment, Philip was a fine athlete who wanted only to keep playing sports. But after teams from several rival schools canceled basketball games against Philip's Lone Wolf school team and even some town residents called for his removal from the team, Philip and his parents helped launch an AIDS-education program. Opposition eased, and Philip not only finished the basketball season but also went on to play on the baseball team.
Philip's failing health forced him to leave school last fall, but he continued to follow sports, especially the fortunes of the school teams. He was not Lone Wolf's best athlete, but he was most assuredly the town's shining star.
Alexio gets his kicks by wearing skirts. Any objections?
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
In response to scuffles between opposing players at several recent high school basketball games, the Marmonte League in Southern California has outlawed postgame handshakes.
They Said It
Chicago Bull forward on Madonna's statement that she wants to own an NBA team: "There would be a lot of girlfriends saying, 'No way you're going to that team.' "