Double-A Big Leaguers
One day, if they keep working at it, college football programs like Nebraska's or Penn State's might earn the right to be called the Youngstown State of Division I-A. But first they'll have to play for a national title four years in a row and win three of those games, which is what the Penguins have now done under coach Jim Tressel. SI's William F. Reed filed this report from Saturday's Division I-AA championship game in Huntington, W.Va., where each team featured a remarkable story.
In the giddy moments following Youngstown's 28-14 victory over Boise State, as fans poured onto the field to celebrate a second straight title, Tressel and several Penguin players made a point of going over to shake the hand of DaWuan Miller, the Boise cornerback who was born without a lower left arm. Though he had been beaten on a five-yard touchdown pass—"I just didn't do what I was coached to do on that play," he would say—Miller had also picked off a pass, knocked down two others and made four tackles. Tressel grabbed Miller's hand and said, "Great job, DaWuan...helluva job."
The 42-year-old Tressel loves players like Miller who have fought through tough circumstances. One of his own, senior tailback Shawn Patton, is a prime example. In 1991, after a promising freshman season, Patton was arrested on a sexual assault charge in connection with an incident at a bar. His legal problems left him struggling in the classroom, and he became academically ineligible. But instead of abandoning him, Tressel and others at Youngstown supported Patton's decision to enroll at a junior college in Cleveland, where he kept up with his academic work. Two and a half years later, after having been acquitted by a jury, he re-enrolled at Youngstown. This year Patton set the school's single-season rushing record, and after missing the Penguins' three previous appearances in the title game, he beat the Boise State defense for 140 yards, including a juking 55-yard TD run midway through the final quarter. "He knew he would always be welcome back," Tressel said. "If you make progress in the important areas, sometimes you get paid off in the superficial areas."
Did the coach of a national champion really call football superficial? If any coach has a sense of perspective, it is Tressel. He takes enormous pride in how the Penguins' success has boosted morale in the economically depressed Youngstown area, and he continues to say no when big schools come courting, trying to lure away the man who has won more games during the 1990s than any Division I coach. "I've had offers, sure," Tressel said last Saturday outside the Youngstown State locker room, where the celebration was still going strong. "But I'm very happy here."
Just then he noticed tight end Rob Robes, a senior who had to miss the title game because of an injury, walking by with a cigar in hand.
"What's this?" Tressel asked.
"It's unlit, Coach," said Robes.
"How old are you?"
"I'm 22, Coach."
"Well," Tressel said as he watched one of his young men stride off into the future, "I guess that's old enough."
The last time Larry Donald and Riddick Bowe appeared together at a press conference—while promoting their Dec. 3 heavyweight fight—Bowe hauled off and belted Donald twice in the face (SI, Dec. 12). Now, six days after their real bout, an infinitely less violent affair that Bowe won in 12 soporific rounds, the pair was together again. Would there be a rematch of Odium at the Podium? No, they were there to promote not fighting, and this time Bowe hauled off and...hugged Donald.
The pugilistic love-in took place at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. First, Bowe offered his humble apologies to Donald for sucker punching him, saying, "At the time I was too emotional and let my feelings get the best of me." Then Donald graciously announced that he was dropping the assault-and-battery suit he had filed against Bowe. "I'm glad me and Riddick were able to come together and put this behind us," he said. Then came the clinch.
Once separated, the erstwhile combatants said that they would like to help stop violence in American cities, through an outfit called Neighborhoods Against Crime, by speaking to groups about nonviolence. "It's important to show people that two tough heavyweight fighters can settle their differences in a civilized and gentlemanly way," said Donald.
A worthy goal. Perhaps they can use a tape of their bout as an example.
Sad to See
For years Fletcher Gaines, 73, the most popular caddie at North Carolina's historic Pinehurst golf course (SI, May 30, 1994), followed his man to the ball instead of leading him there. He didn't have a choice. With his cataracts, he couldn't see the ball.
But in September, thanks to more than $7,000 in donations from friends and members of Pinehurst and local residents, and thanks to a local eye surgeon, Robert Martin, who reduced his fee for cataract surgery, Gaines got his vision back. Suddenly, Gaines has the best eyes at Pinehurst, just as he did when he started there back in 1948. "The first day, I couldn't believe it," Gaines says. "I saw the ball bouncin' way down there. I didn't know how blind I was. I tell you what, I can see around a dang corner now."
That's the good news. Unfortunately, now that Gaines has his sight back, he can see just how deplorable conditions continue to be for caddies at Pinehurst. The caddie room is still dark, cramped, dirty and roach-infested. The nearest bathroom remains off-limits to caddies, forcing them to walk 300 yards to a portable toilet in the woods. In 1994 Pinehurst began building a new tennis clubhouse, rebuilt the putting green and practice bunker and moved a cart path. But the resort didn't redo the caddie room, although director of golf operations Don Padgett says there are plans to do so this winter.
If the room ever does get gussied up, the current crop of Pinehurst caddies may never use it. Lew Ferguson, Pinehurst's head pro, says the resort may scrap the freelance caddie setup altogether and go to a system of "employee caddies," who are frequently moonlighting college kids. "I think a couple of these [freelance] guys would make good candidates for that," says Ferguson. Of course, Pinehurst typically has about 50 regular freelancers, which means that the majority of regulars could be left out in the cold, a sight nobody—Fletch included—will want to see.
The mahogany-walled auditorium of New York City's 92nd Street Y is usually a forum for poetry readings and cultural symposia. But last week the commissioners of the three major league sports that still have commissioners got together to address the state of their respective games. The NBA's David Stern, the NHL's Gary Bettman and the NFL's Paul Tagliabue took turns responding to questions from journalist David Halberstam, and their answers were predictably guarded and equivocal on the subject of labor relations. More troubling—and less explicable—was Tagliabue's cavalier response to a query about head injuries in football. Calling the matter "a pack journalism issue," he waved away concern, saying that the NFL has "one concussion every three or four games." After a few more calculations, Tagliabue pronounced a figure of 2.5 concussions for every "22,000 players engaged." His response raised echoes for Halberstam, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his war coverage in Southeast Asia. "I feel I'm back in Vietnam hearing McNamara give statistics," he said.
Tagliabue's numbers still mean about four concussions a week. The latest player to become a statistic is Boomer Esiason, whom Junior Seau knocked senseless during the New York Jets' 21-6 loss to the San Diego Chargers on Sunday. Tagliabue's head has been spared this season's spate of bruising hits; on this issue he ought to be making better use of it.
According to their agreements with the NBA, the expansion Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies each must sell at least 12,500 season tickets by Dec. 31 or risk the revocation of their franchises. At week's end it looked as if both clubs would meet their ticket goals—but barely, and thanks largely to last-minute block purchases by corporations, not to the grass-roots support the league presumably wanted to see those Canadian cities demonstrate. Given that even NHL teams in those hockey meccas aren't selling 10,000 season tickets—and that the NBA's own champion, the Houston Rockets, has a mere 9,150 season-ticket holders—the NBA is showing more than a little hubris in requiring such minimums. Aren't those $125 million franchise fees enough?
Harmony in the Hub
Boston's pattern of racial conflict is as ingrained as its great sports tradition, but last week sports figures like Drew Bledsoe, Mike O'Connell, Mo Vaughn and Dominique Wilkins joined Boston mayor Tom Menino and 5,500 young people at Boston Garden for a rally in support of interracial harmony. SI's Desmond M. Wallace caught up with Jon Jennings, the Celtics' director of basketball development, who conceived the idea for the event with his late friend, former Celtic swingman Reggie Lewis. Wallace filed this report.
Two years ago Lewis, who died in 1993 of a heart ailment, and Jennings envisioned bringing together Massachusetts schoolchildren for a Team Harmony Day to promote tolerance. "People sometimes looked at me, this white guy from rural Indiana, and Reggie, this black guy from Baltimore, and wondered, How could they be friends?" says Jennings, who wears a small pin on his lapel every day bearing Lewis's number 35. "But neither one of us could understand why anyone would think we couldn't be friends."
Growing up in largely white Richmond, Ind., where the only building that could rival the Boston Garden in size was the Alcoa plant where his mother, Alice, worked, Jennings befriended a black fellow named Bernie Price. Years later he and Price were walking together in Washington, D.C., when a group of black teens shouted at Price to stop hanging out with "the white boy." Says Jennings, "Sometimes, when I hear things like that, I wonder if we've made any progress at all. But we can't get discouraged."
At least one participant straggled late into Tuesday's gathering. Jennings, feeling he needed to share the emotion of the day, drove to Jamaica Plain—it lies halfway between largely white Brookline and virtually all-black Mattapan—to stop at Lewis's grave. Standing by barren locust trees, he whispered a prayer to his fallen friend. After that it was easier for him to talk to the young people about how any one person can hate, but it takes two to get along.
Miller (16) and Patton have hurdled obstacles.
MARY ANN CARTER
Someone To Look Up To
A low-rise summit conference took place last Friday in Indianapolis, when 4'11½" Keith (Muggsy) Braswell, a walk-on freshman at the University of Dayton, met up with the patron saint of lilliputian floor leaders, his inspiration and nicknamemate, 5'3" Charlotte Hornet Tyrone (Muggsy) Bogues. "Hey, big fella, what's up?" Bogues asked Braswell following the Hornets' 93-91 loss to the Indiana Pacers. Mindful that the NBA job market for sub-five-foot point guards is limited, Bogues asked how Braswell was doing in school. Braswell, who was valedictorian at the Cincinnati Academy of Physical Education, said he was making out just fine. He couldn't brag on his basketball exploits, however, for he hadn't played a minute all season, but the next night Braswell grabbed two improbable rebounds during the Flyers' 70-65 win over Eastern Kentucky.
Bogues took Braswell into the locker room to meet the fellas—"Hey," asked Larry Johnson, "did Muggsy post you up?"—and get autographs on a gift from Bogues, the pair of size 8½ shoes the Hornet star had worn that evening. As the original Muggsy donned mufti and took his leave, mini-Muggs pondered his new prize. "Guess I could wear 'em," said Braswell, who gets his own 4½'s in the kids' section at Foot Locker. "If I wore eight pairs of socks."
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
One of the groups vying to buy the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers is headed by New York Yankee owner George Steinbrenner.
They Said It
Brother Ray Page
Teacher at St. Anthony High School in Jersey City, on alumnus and Sacramento King guard Bobby Hurley: "He once asked me if Beirut was named after that famous baseball player who hit home runs."