Nigel Mansell's much-bally-hooed return to Formula One racing, however fleeting it may prove to be, demonstrates once again just how desperate the sport has become for excitement, even if it comes off the track. Indeed, that was where the return of Mansell, the 1992 world champion who last season jumped the Atlantic to take the Indy Car title, was announced last week, and that was where Mansell ended up midway through Sunday's French Grand Prix at Magny Cours: off the track with a melted gearbox. Still, the mere presence of Mansell overshadowed yet another victory for Michael Schumacher, winner of six of the seven races this season, who out-dragged Mansell at the start and never looked back.
Since the death of Ayrton Senna in April, Formula One has been searching for a charismatic star to challenge the dominance of Schumacher. Not only had the powerful Williams team lost Senna this year, but it had also lost defending world champion Alain Prost, who retired at the end of last season. Mansell had departed in a huff as the defending champion the year before when team owner Frank Williams brought Prost in at the urging of his partner, French engine builder Renault. Now, here was Renault asking Mansell, a Brit, to carry the tricolore at the French Grand Prix, and here was the Williams team, ready to hug the prodigal son to its bosom.
Before he could accept the offer, estimated at $1 million, to race at Magny Cours, Mansell had to secure the permission of his Indy Car team owner, Carl Haas. It was the cigar-chomping Haas, and co-owner Paul Newman, who had lured Mansell to the U.S. circuit two years ago when Mansell was feeling unloved at Williams. Haas didn't like the idea but held little sway over the actions of his driver. As Williams once told The Times of London, "[Mansell] was terrific in the car, but a very tough man out of it."
The question now is whether Mansell wants to make an extended stay in F/1. Sunday's outing was hardly the triumphant homecoming Mansell or Williams and Renault had envisioned, but there were signs that Mansell is ready to be at least competitive on the circuit he once dominated, and that should be enough to keep Williams and the rest of the F/1 world interested. But will Haas permit Mansell to shuttle between Europe and the U.S. to race in F/1 when there is no conflict with the Indy Car schedule?
"That won't happen," snaps Haas. "One thing is for certain: He's doing all our races. He has a contract."
As he prepared for the World Cup at Argentina's training camp outside Boston, Diego Maradona wore a T-shirt that read, IF I STEAL A SMILE FROM YOU, I WOULD LIKE TO PLAY ALL MY LIFE. In his first two matches Maradona not only stole smiles but also cadged oohs and purloined ahs. At 33, he was still the maestro of the mid-field, orchestrating two convincing victories and steering Argentina toward the final of the World Cup for the third straight time.
Last week, however, Maradona robbed himself of a final chance to rehabilitate his outlaw reputation. After testing positive for five banned substances—one doctor called it a "cocktail of drugs"—he was suspended from the tournament by FIFA, soccer's governing body, on June 29. The next day Argentina fell to Bulgaria 2-0 in what would have been Maradona's record-setting 22nd World Cup match.
For years Maradona's transgressions off the field have overshadowed his brilliance on it. Italy, 1991: suspended from his club in Naples for 15 months for cocaine use. Spain, 1993: released by Seville for, among other things, an "erratic private life," which included, team officials said, frequent visits to the red-light district. Argentina, 1994: accused by journalists of firing at them with a pellet gun. While in the U.S., though, he seemed as bent on shedding his bad-boy image as he had been on dropping 26 pounds from his stocky 5'5", 165-pound frame, which he did while preparing for the Cup last winter in Argentina. "It's been a long time since I felt as good at training," he said after one practice. "It's the result of coherent and responsible work."
It was also the result of the drugs, a medley of over-the-counter stimulants used for weight-loss treatment as well as for colds and asthma. Still, most of his countrymen refused to accept Maradona's guilt; in one poll, 57.6% believed him to be the victim of a conspiracy.
Maradona wanted to leave the World Cup stage a champion. Instead, he left as its most pathetic figure.
Leaves of Grass
As H.L. Mencken might have put it had he hung around the pro shop, "No one ever lost money by underestimating the taste of the golfing public." Or overestimating its appetite for any product even vaguely links-linked. At least that's what the Four Corners Paper Company of Scottsdale, Ariz., is betting. This week Four Corners will release a product called Golf Paper, a heavyweight paper suitable for use as stationery or in desktop publishing and embedded with—we are not making this up—grass clippings from golf course greens.
Says Four Corners president David Gustafson: "There is a definite mystery that comes with knowing the paper you're holding contains elements that were once part of someone's golf round."
Actually, the mystery is why anyone would buy paper speckled with, in the words of a Four Corners press release, "identifiable flakes." Then again, identifiable flakes are no doubt a big part of Four Corners' target market. The company hopes to sell its Golf Paper through catalogs and office-supply stores. "A lot of people thought we were crazy during development," says Gustafson, "but the finished product speaks for itself."
A Line in the Sand
The powers behind two-man beach volleyball, the sunstruck MTV-age sport that last September was added to the Olympic program for the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, are now engaged in another traditional surfside contest: tug-of-war. At one end of the rope is FIVB, the international governing body for volleyball. Digging in and adjusting their shades on the other side are the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP), the beach game's suds 'n' studs pro league, and NBC, which owns the broadcast rights to both the AVP and the Atlanta Games. At stake: the fealty of the sport's best players, "99 percent of whom," says AVP executive director Jeff Dankworth, "currently play on our tour."
FIVB president Ruben Acosta has mandated that to qualify for the Olympics, beach teams (at this point the controversy involves only men's volleyball) must play a minimum of three tournaments per year in the FIVB World Series, an Acosta-created international tour that many suspect was formed to undermine the AVP. Thus, to make the Olympic squad, U.S. players would be required to compete against foreign teams almost exclusively on foreign sand. "Imagine," says Karch Kiraly, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in indoor volleyball and now an AVP legend, "Nancy Kerrigan having to skate in Russia against Oksana Baiul to qualify for the U.S. team."
Acosta's proposal, says Dankworth, is an effort to sandbag AVP players into defecting in order to be eligible for the Olympics. "In essence, he's forcing them to choose between Olympic glory and their tour," says Dankworth. "Now that we've proven how lucrative the sport is, Ruben wants control of it."
Without the AVP stars, however, a beach volleyball gold medal will have the value of a fistful of sand. And the exposure of dressage. At a recent AVP players' meeting, John Miller, NBC sports director of programming, said, "If the AVP's not there, the best players aren't there. And if the best players aren't there, we're not showing it." Ironically, it was the lobbying of NBC sports president Dick Ebersol at an IOC meeting in Monaco that put the sport on the Olympic docket.
Acosta, however, downplays both NBC's role in bringing the sport to the Games and the network's influence over qualifying procedures. "And," he adds, "the FIVB has the best players in the world." If he's wrong—and he is—the inaugural Olympic version of the game on the sand may prove to be little more than a mirage.
On June 29, during the eighth round of the NHL draft, Washington Capital general manager David Poile announced that his team had selected Chris Patrick, an 18-year-old defenseman from the Kent (Conn.) School. Washington president Dick Patrick immediately stood up and said, "I'm happy to tell you that the Capitals have just signed David Poile to a three-year contract extension."
In case you don't know, Chris Patrick, who plans to play for Princeton next year, comes from a long and distinguished line of NHL Patricks. He is the great-grandson of Lester (the Silver Fox) Patrick, the legendary New York Ranger general manager for whom the Patrick Division was named; he is the grandson of Muzz Patrick and the grandnephew of Lynn Patrick, both of whom played for the 1940 Stanley Cup champion Rangers; and he is the nephew of current Pittsburgh Penguin general manager Craig Patrick. Oh, yes, he is also the son of Dick Patrick.
Last Thursday the Manzanillos—Josias of the New York Mets and Ravelo of the Pittsburgh Pirates—became the first brothers in major league history to get saves on the same night. Josias, a righty, pitched two innings to preserve a 3-1 defeat of the San Diego Padres, while Ravelo, a southpaw, saved a 6-4 win over the Cincinnati Reds with one scoreless inning. Not bad for one family.
Then again, considering that the pitchers' father, Demetrio, fathered 38 children (according to Josias), perhaps it was inevitable.
A Seasoned Roster
David Freedman, a graphic designer and serious baseball fan, has put together the All-Herbs, Spices and Flavorings Team for Elysian Fields Quarterly, a journal dedicated to exploring "the unifying romance of baseball." We suggest you read it when you have the thyme:
RHP—Sugar Cain, Mace Brown, Bob Spicer
LHP—Herb Pennock, Pat Caraway
The gods were not smiling on Maradona after his bid for redemption ended in disgrace.
The net effect of the beach volleyball tug-of-war could be a gutted Olympic event.
No number of end-zone dances or group hugs on the ice could have prepared American fans for the over-the-top, adrenaline-fueled explosions of ecstasy that have followed goals in the World Cup. We hereby present a classic sampling.
The Full-tilt Boogie
Scorer turns and sprints madly back up the field.
Scorer runs upfield with arms outstretched, making swooping gestures.
Emotionally overcome, scorer drops to knees, looks skyward and, in frequent cases, makes the sign of the cross.
The Olga Korbut
Like Faustino Asprilla of Colombia, player turns cartwheel after goal.
The Corner Flag Lambada
Scorer dashes to corner and performs salacious hip-wiggling dance.
The Human Sacrifice
Scorer stands frozen, arms stretched to the heavens, and waits for his teammates to swarm over him.
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
New York Governor Mario Cuomo recently signed legislation that will allow jockeys in the state to wear advertising logos on their boots, pants and turtlenecks.
They Said It
Ken Griffey Jr.
Seattle Mariner centerfielder, on his quest for the major league home run record: "I don't worry about the past. The homers will take care of the future. And that will make the present O.K."