American sports fans, from office-pool pundits to bookie-betting
high rollers, wagered an estimated $71 million on the Super
Bowl. A portion of that was put on the New England Patriots to
win, a fact that proves once again the old saw about a fool and
his fiscal savvy. Yet when it comes to backing long shots, NFL
bettors have a way to go to match gamblers in Great Britain.
There, licensed bookmakers operate in almost every town, and
folks seem willing to wager on any sporting proposition--no
matter how high the odds.
Consider, for example, Steve Caldicott of Birmingham, who
recently placed a bet worth $33, at 50,000 to 1, with William
Hill bookmakers that his 3 1/2-month-old son, Jack, will score a
goal for England in the 2018 World Cup final. Of course, if
Italian-born Packer Risi of Lincolnshire has his way, a win for
Caldicott won't mean glory for England. Risi got 100,000 to 1 on
a $16 wager at the same betting house that his toddler son,
Pascal, will score the game-winner for Italy in the 2018 Cup
"Many parents back their children to achieve sporting
prominence," says a William Hill spokesman. "But these are the
most adventurous bets of this type we've ever taken." Indeed,
proud parents place sucker wagers annually that their infants
will someday win a pro boxing title (the aptly named Paul Punter
of Milton Keynes has $36 down at 1,000 to 1 that his toddler,
Kane, will become a champ) or Wimbledon or the British Open.
Then there are those who prefer to bet on their own athletic
rebirth. Several years ago a man weighing 280 pounds wagered
that he would run a four-minute mile by the year 2000. The
British do bet on real sports stars too. One betting house is
offering 500 to 1 on British Olympic sprinter Linford Christie's
becoming a full-time Chippendales dancer.
LICENSE TO SPIT
As major league umpires and player and owner representatives
met in Palm Beach last week in an effort to improve their
relationship, Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos announced
that he continues to stand behind his second baseman, Roberto
Alomar, and will pay Alomar during the five-game suspension the
player will serve in April for having spit in the face of umpire
John Hirschbeck on Sept. 27.
Angelos, a lawyer who has spent decades representing Maryland
steelworkers and other trade unions, has often aligned himself
with his players and adopted refreshingly unownerlike
stances--the Orioles, for example, were the only club that
refused to employ replacement players during the players' strike
in spring training of 1995. This time, however, Angelos's
support is misguided and disturbing. He's giving Alomar a paid
vacation as reward for one of the most disrespectful acts ever
committed on a major league diamond. Alomar should have been
suspended by the American League during last year's playoffs. He
wasn't, and that's not Angelos's fault. But Angelos should at
least give the five-game suspension some financial teeth.
Instead, he, like the league officials who let Alomar off easy,
is showing little regard for the integrity of the game.
STOP THE FIGHT
One two-letter word could have prevented last Friday's Lennox
Lewis-Oliver McCall debacle in Las Vegas: No. No one said, No,
this fight should not take place. Not promoter Don King, not
McCall's handlers, not Lewis's representatives, not fight
network HBO, not the drug counselor McCall was seeing, not
Nevada's boxing commission--which sanctioned the bout for the
vacant WBC heavyweight title--and not the media that would
chronicle McCall's collapse. That agonizing self-destruction
included his refusing to go to his corner after the third round,
his throwing only three punches in the fourth and fifth, his
having to be led back to his corner by referee Mills Lane after
the fourth and his bursting into tears shortly thereafter. Lane
finally stopped the fight 55 seconds into the fifth, awarding a
TKO to Lewis.
McCall, 31, entered the ring carrying way too much baggage, even
for a sport that historically has embraced the most troubled of
athletes. He is currently serving 18 months probation for one
count of possession of a controlled substance; in 1996 alone he
was arrested twice for drug possession. He is being supervised
by a drug counselor and, according to King, monitored by
Nashville police because of his arrest there on Dec. 16 for a
drunken outburst in a hotel, during which he attacked a
Christmas tree. On Jan. 21 McCall was indicted on a cocaine
charge by authorities in Henry County, Va., near one of his
several residences. Police were prepared to serve an arrest
warrant on that charge last Thursday, but McCall was already in
Vegas. McCall did pass both pre- and postfight drug tests.
The next day, McCall, whose $3 million purse was being withheld
at press time pending an investigation, pronounced himself fit.
"I think I'm great, personally," he said. He fled Lewis, he
explained, as part of a Muhammad Ali-style rope-a-dope tactic,
and his tears, he said, were tears of anger. But even the lords
of boxing can see that McCall's behavior in the ring revealed a
tormented soul, and his postmatch explanations were empty,
delivered as they were in a disjointed press-conference soliloquy.
"I believe he had a nervous breakdown, and maybe a reaction to
how he was living outside the ring," said WBC president Jose
Sulaiman. Pity that the show-must-go-on mentality of Sulaiman
and others caused them to overlook the fact that McCall's life
outside the ring gave strong hints that he should not be
climbing inside it.
CAN HE ROLL LEFT?
Before their second son was born a couple of months ago, Mike
and Heather Moyer of Pleasant Gap, Pa., would lie in bed musing
about what to call their kid. They liked the names of
states--folks seemed to applaud the handle they had given their
first son, Dakota, 2. They also wanted to use Jo (Heather's
middle name) or Joe (the first name of her brother, father and
grandfather). "So when he was born, on December 17," says Mike,
"it came together for us." Welcome to the world, Montana Joe
The Moyers didn't choose the name to honor you-know-who, but,
says Mike, "I did like him as a football player, and Dakota has
a 49ers jersey." Mom and Dad have resigned themselves to one
fact about their infant's future. "Instead of Montana Joe," says
Heather, "everybody calls him Joe Montana."
NO-SHOWS HURT THE SHOW
For years U.S. track and field athletes have pined for a vibrant
U.S. circuit--and the media coverage and money that would go
with it. For now that's a remote fantasy. The popularity of the
sport in America has slumped, with meets dying and sponsorship
drying up. Reviving it will require the initiative and
cooperation of a lot of people. The question is, How much will
the athletes be willing to sacrifice?
A discouraging answer was given last Wednesday when, two days
before the Chase Millrose Games in New York, three-time Olympic
gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee and her fellow Olympic
champion Gail Devers, the meet's biggest stars, announced they
would not compete. The decision, the result of a
misunderstanding regarding appearance fees, was made by the
athletes' coach and manager (and, in Joyner-Kersee's case,
husband), Bobby Kersee, who said, "Gail and Jackie wanted to
come. I prevented it. It wasn't about the money. I thought it
was disrespectful of USA Track and Field [the sport's U.S.
governing body] to treat Jackie and Gail the way they did."
Kersee's allusion was to the fact that neither Joyner-Kersee nor
Devers is among the five athletes getting paid to compete in the
USATF's Indoor Series, a slate of three televised meets that
kicked off with the Millrose Games.
By the time Millrose director Howard Schmertz learned that the
money to pay Joyner-Kersee and Devers would have to come from
his budget, not from the USATF's, he was strapped. He scrounged
up $15,000 from a variety of sources and offered it for both
Joyner-Kersee and Devers, but Kersee--asserting that his
athletes had been promised significantly more than that by USATF
for taking part in the Series--refused. "Does anyone ask Michael
Jordan to play for less than he's been promised?" asked Kersee
last Friday. No, but the NBA isn't limping the way track and
field is. And when it was, in the early 1980s, commissioner
Larry O'Brien asked the players to accept a salary cap and a lot
of other concessions, pleading that it was in the long-range
interest of the game to do so. The players acceded, and the NBA
Joyner-Kersee has served the sport selflessly for years, and she
is one of its few marquee athletes. But is this the time for her
to make a stand based on principle, especially that tiresome
"no-respect" one trotted out to justify so much selfish behavior
these days? It's time to make rebuilding track and field the
principle that matters most.
Last week found America's latest 900 number, Jeremy Sonnenfeld,
celebrating his newfound fame. Sonnenfeld, the first amateur or
professional in the 101-year history of the American Bowling
Congress to bowl a sanctioned 900 series--three consecutive
perfect games--traveled to Huntsville, Ala., to accept a gold
"900" ring at the congress's annual national tournament. He also
appeared on Good Morning America and chatted with the BBC.
Steve Lewis, meanwhile, got nothing, except a severe case of the
might-have-beens. The 33-year-old Lewis, of Xenia, Ohio, is one
of three bowlers to have rolled the closest thing to perfection,
an 899 series, and, of those, Lewis came closest of all.
Competing last September in his league in Xenia, he rolled 35
straight strikes, only to leave the 6-pin standing on his last
roll to finish with a 300-300-299-899. He took the news of
Sonnenfeld's feat with grace--after all, he alone knew how
difficult it was.
"Once you get that far and realize what you can accomplish, you
can't concentrate," says Lewis. "I had butterflies, shaky hands
and everything else. It's a sickening feeling. With the pressure
Sonnenfeld had on him, I can't believe he did it."
THE SISTERS MCCARTHY
Amy and Joanne McCarthy have garnered a modicum of local
attention as the starting backcourt for the Illinois-Chicago
women's basketball team, but it's their non-ball-handling sister
who gets the real exposure. "Jenny's so big now I just accept
it," says fifth-year senior Joanne, a 5'7" guard who is the
Flames' leading scorer and the reigning Midwestern Collegiate
Conference woman player of the year.
Jenny McCarthy, a nonathlete who attended but did not graduate
from Southern Illinois, is the 24-year-old former cohost of
MTV's Singled Out and Playboy's 1994 Playmate of the Year. She's
also a big Illinois-Chicago fan, as she showed when she came to
a Flames exhibition game this season and, with Joanne bringing
the ball upcourt, stood and yelled--incongruously, but
Joanne and Amy, a 5'7" junior, recall opening Playboy to see
their own flesh and blood in the flesh. "She explained it to me
as a stepping-stone," says Amy, who set the career assist record
at Moraine Valley Community College near Chicago before
transferring last summer. "It's her body. I know that wasn't
what she was going to do for the rest of her life. I just wanted
to support her."
Amy says that Jenny's manager has suggested that she, Amy, pose
for the camera, and she may indeed follow her big sister's tan
lines...up to a point. "I don't know about Playboy," Amy says.
"Maybe I'll try modeling clothes or something."
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY JEFF WONG [Drawing of people waiting in line at betting window while dreaming of winning athletes]
COLOR PHOTO: ANDREW MCCLOSKEY [Pair of spiked golf shoes]
COLOR PHOTO: ANTHONY NESTE/HBO McCall's handlers should've been concerned before his dazed and confused showing. [Two men holding Oliver McCall in boxing ring]
FOUR COLOR PHOTOS: ANDREW MCCLOSKEY [Sumo wrestler chopstick holder dolls; sumo wrestler golf balls; sumo wrestler key chain; sumo wrestler sake set]
COLOR PHOTO: RICK LABRANCHE [Digger Phelps]
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID WALBERG Sister Jenny was the "Singled Out" girl, but Amy (left) and Joanne double up on the court. [Amy McCarthy and Joanne McCarthy with poster of Jenny McCarthy]
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: CHART BY NIGEL HOLMES [Chart not available--diagram of Madison Square Garden floor with symbols for track & field, dog show, hockey, basketball and circus]
Parsing Mister Phelps Is a Mission Impossible
Digger Phelps says he wants to be President. Of the United
States. Don't laugh. Because if political campaigning is the art
of saying nothing--but saying it with absolute confidence--you
can start ordering your tickets to the Digger Inaugural Ball
Phelps (left) has always been bombastic, but since President
Bush tossed him a political bone in 1992 (Phelps briefly headed
the Weed-and-Seed program, which attempted to raise money for
inner-city projects), he has been taking himself much too
seriously. Recently, while discussing with the Fresno Bee his 11
months working in the White House, Phelps said, "Once I showed
up around Bush, I was the closest thing he had to [Republican
National Committee chairman] Lee Atwater. When [Atwater] died,
there was no one with any street smarts around the President."
With each passing ESPN studio commentary, Phelps seems more and
more bereft of basketball smarts and more and more in love with
the sound of his own voice. As evidence, take this excerpt from
a chat last Thursday between Phelps and ESPN studio anchor Karl
Ravech at halftime of a Cincinnati-Tulane telecast. After Ravech
referred to a recent spate of upsets of nationally ranked teams,
Phelps responded, "I really feel that this is a factor of
November 15th, when everything started this year, in the
preseason NIT, when that started. And what happens now is,
you've got cabin fever, a lot of these teams. And teams aren't
afraid to go out and play each other. The teams that have to win
are winning. That's why Duquesne plays well tonight against
UMass [Duquesne lost 73-71] and why you see St. Louis, they have
nothing else going, why not beat Louisville, this is their Super
Bowl, because they're having a losing season [St. Louis did
upset Louisville 64-62]. I think cabin fever, this is the week
we're seeing half these teams losing over the last 10 days.
Trust me, they'll all be back when it counts. And not many
changes in the polls this week, trust me with that one, too."
Trust Me. Sounds like a great campaign slogan.
Wins by which the Detroit Red Wings' Scotty Bowman, when he won
his 1,000th game last week, led the NHL's second winningest
coach, Al Arbour.
1,043 and 53
Career basketball points and softball homers for Coker College's
Staci Albright, the first NCAA athlete to register a 1,000-50
Consecutive games L.A. Kings trainer Pete Demers will have
worked after Friday's game against Edmonton.
Wins needed by Donna Barton to catch her mother, Patti, a
retired jockey, after Donna got her 1,003rd last week.
Three-pointers scored by guard Jeff Clement of Grinnell (Iowa)
in a 151-112 win over Monmouth (Ill.), an NCAA record.
Length, in inches, of spikes on the spiked golf shoe,
popularized by supersalesman Ernie Sabayrac, who died last week.
You think sumo is all blubber and G-strings? The Sumo Connection
in Oahu has a broad range of trinkets celebrating the sport.
These dolls do more than look cute; they're chopstick holders,
Peer down at your golf ball and meet the glower of a squatting
It's tough to lose your keys when there's a sumo wrestler
Hard day of wrestling? Pour out some soothing spirits with this
In the course of a week in February, 50 Madison Square Garden
workers prepared the arena floor for a hockey game, two
basketball games, two track meets and a canine showdown. They
should keep their work gloves on hand--the circus arrives next
TRACK & FIELD
Plywood running surface on two-by-fours
10,000 gallons of water form inch-thick layer of ice
Insulating layer on top of the ice: inch-thick Homasote board
200 4'X8' maple planks on runners
A messy layer of straw, dung and cotton candy on thick rubber mats
Embedded in concrete: 600 pipes filled with brine, which cool
the surface to 10[degrees]F when ice is needed
The absolute bottom: a permanent concrete slab
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
At the Winston Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway on April 6, the
national anthem will be performed by classical pianist Van
THEY SAID IT
Walt Frazier New York Knicks broadcaster and NBA alltime
All-Star, on his disappointment that Michael Jordan and Charles
Barkley skipped the media session for the league's 50 alltime
greatest players: "All of the guys should be in this room,
paying homage to us."