Last week CBS, Fox, ABC and ESPN committed themselves to spend
$17.6 billion to telecast NFL games from the start of next
season through 2005. Whether those are "edge-of-the-cliff
numbers," as one network executive called them, or whether, as
Sean McManus, president of CBS Sports, says, "We are not going
to lose money on this deal," doesn't matter much to viewers.
What they want to know is, What does this new and bewildering
universe of astronomical numbers, changing networks and yo-yoing
commentators mean to the couch potato? Some answers:
--It means longer Sundays for the bleary-eyed NFL loyalist. The
first game of the CBS or Fox doubleheader will still start at 1
p.m. EST, but the second game will begin at 4:15 instead of
4:00. There will be three more 30-second commercials in every
game, bringing the total to 59, which will be accommodated by
one extra TV timeout. That means there will now be five TV
timeouts each quarter. The ESPN Sunday-night game will start at
8:20, 20 minutes--and a proportionate amount of pregame
mumbojumbo--later than past Sunday-night games.
--It means a more productive Tuesday for the East Coast
workforce. ABC has moved the kickoff for Monday Night Football
from 9 p.m. EST to 8:20, which should allow most games to end
--It means a new configuration in the broadcasting firmament:
While John Madden re-upped with Fox for close to $8 million a
year, Boomer Esiason decided that Monday-night commentating was
healthier than Cincinnati Bengals quarterbacking, and Phil Simms
will almost certainly be the star of CBS's No. 1 play-by-play
--It means more NFL in the off-season. The contracts call for
networks to create NFL-friendly material and also run more
league-produced material (read: puff pieces) like the
NBA-produced Inside Stuff, which runs 52 weeks a year on NBC.
--It means fans who depended on HBO's Inside the NFL for their
midweek dose of football footage better start praying. At week's
end the fate of Inside's 22nd year was in the balance because
HBO was balking at some of the league's demands on running the
--It means a fading from TV screens of old reliables Dick Enberg
and Frank Gifford. NBC's losing the NFL means that Enberg's big
moments will come on golf, the Olympics and Wimbledon, while
Esiason's hiring pushed Giff into the role of pregame host and,
in all likelihood, more face time on Regis & Kathie Lee.
THERE HE GOES AGAIN
Yeah, we know: No one quotes Yogi Berra anymore because his
sayings get repeated so often. But we couldn't resist. Asked
recently how he felt about the Yogi Berra Museum, which is set
to open in June in Montclair, N.J., Yogi replied, "It's a great
honor, I guess. Most people don't have museums named after them."
BILLY SIMS'S SAD SAGA
In the mid-1980s Billy Sims had a Heisman in his trophy case and
$3.5 million in the bank. Today, as Sims prepares to head to
federal prison for failure to pay $14,025 in child support, he
has nothing in the bank and has sold the Heisman that he won at
Oklahoma. "I'm no O.J.," Sims says. "And I didn't get busted
with five pounds of marijuana like one NFL running back [Bam
Morris] did. But if you do the crime, you gotta do the time."
Sims is a poster boy for Blowing It Big Time. An ACL tear in his
right knee in October 1984 ended a career with the Detroit Lions
that included three 1,000-yard seasons from 1980 to '84.
Thereafter Sims seemed set on sabotaging his life. He made what
he calls "high-risk" investments in oil, gas and real estate,
all of which went sour. So did a furniture business and a
grocery store. That Sims would have problems in business was
predictable: In '83, while he was under contract to the Lions,
he also signed with the Houston Gamblers of the USFL, inspiring
a bumper sticker in Detroit that read, HONK IF YOU HAVE A
CONTRACT WITH BILLY.
Friends also say Sims's fast-lane lifestyle accelerated his
financial spiral. He has fathered seven children, from Minnesota
to Oklahoma to his hometown of Hooks, Texas. There have been
rumors of alcohol and drug abuse that Sims, who in recent years
has been unemployed, strongly denies.
A few years ago Sims was found sleeping in his car in Hooks. In
1995, when he was inducted into the College Football Hall of
Fame in a ceremony in New York City, Sims had to borrow money
from his college coach, Barry Switzer, and Hooks resident Bob
White, whom Sims calls "my white father," for clothes,
transportation and hotel accommodations. The lowest point came
that same year, when he sold the 1978 Heisman and other trophies
to White for $40,000; both say Sims has bought back the hardware.
The sold-off Heisman is not the only faded reminder of Sims's
past glory. The dirt road on which he grew up and the wood-frame
house in which he was raised by his grandmother, Sadie Sims,
were briefly the focus of the national media. Howard Cosell
trudged through ankle-deep mud to Miss Sadie's house for a
story. But now the house is boarded up, and Billy Sims Street,
as it was renamed after he won the Heisman, is dotted with
Sims talks about writing a book, though it might not be an easy
sell; sponsors canceled a Sims autograph session scheduled for
Super Bowl week when his impending jail term became public. But
Sims promises to try to turn his life around after he serves his
one-month sentence, which begins on Feb. 27. "I'm really ashamed
of what's happened," he says, "but I'll take my licks like a man
and continue on."
START HIM UP
Golfer Casey Martin's crossover into pop culture became official
last week when he appeared on CNN's Crossfire, where the rare
circulatory defect from which he suffers
(Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome) was compared by host John
Sununu to an ingrown toenail. Sununu should be ashamed; and
those who scoff at Martin and his efforts to use a cart during
tournament play so that he may pursue his dream of playing on
the PGA Tour are out-of-bounds.
The 25-year-old golfer has taken the Tour to court to gain the
right to ride (SCORECARD, Dec. 15, 1997). Martin, who on Feb. 2
will return to federal court seeking a permanent injunction (the
Tour will argue that it, not the courts, must govern the game),
has said that he would drop his lawsuit should he lose. He said
he would try to walk.
The spectacle of Martin's limping through 18 holes in pain,
risking a spontaneous fracture, is not the sort of p.r. the Tour
needs. It's time that Martin's fellow pros, most of whom have
come out against him, start worrying less about power and more
about spin. By taking a hard line here they risk alienating
fans. Their talk of Martin's potential advantage is laughable.
How many pros would trade a lifetime of Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber
syndrome for a cart ride? The Tour's pose as defender of the
rule of law is equally spurious, given that its ban on carts is
far from absolute. Carts are allowed on the Senior tour and in
the early rounds of the PGA Tour's annual qualifying tournament.
Making a single exception to the no-ride rule need not mean cart
blanche for everyone. An agreement with Martin would stop his
legal challenge and prevent federal scrutiny under the Americans
with Disabilities Act. It would let golf retain its rule-making
power while one brave young man plays golf on diseased legs.
Such a move by the Tour would be good legal tactics, terrific
p.r. and, most important, the right thing to do. --KEVIN COOK
Eddie Futch has always known when it was time to stop. Last
week, at age 86, boxing's greatest living trainer announced his
retirement--after 65 years in the game and 22 world
champions--and though the sport is surely reduced by his
departure, who would second-guess him? This is the man, after
all, who told Joe Frazier, there in the corner before the 15th
and final round of Smokin' Joe's epic third bout with Muhammad
Ali in 1975, that Frazier, his left eye swollen shut, had had
enough. "Sit down, son," said Futch to the fighter he had guided
through so many wars. "It's over. No one will forget what you
did here today."
Nor should anyone in boxing forget what Futch has done. Over
four decades this small, quiet man, a onetime waiter, bricklayer
and postal clerk with a fondness for Keats and Shakespeare,
helped mold the careers of a startling number of boxing's best.
The roll call runs from welterweight king Don Jordan in 1958
through Alexis Arguello and Bob Foster and Mike McCallum to WBC
bantamweight titlist Wayne McCullough in '95. Along the way
Futch trained six heavyweight champs: Frazier, Ken Norton, Larry
Holmes, Michael Spinks, Trevor Berbick and Riddick Bowe. He's
the only man to have "beaten" Ali twice, having been in the
corner when first Frazier and then Norton turned the trick.
Through it all the patient and meticulous Futch always seemed
more like a gentle professor than a fight trainer. "I'm in
boxing," he's fond of saying, "but I'm not of boxing."
The son of a Mississippi sharecropper, Futch grew up in the
Black Bottom section of Detroit. In 1933 he won that city's
Golden Gloves lightweight title, fighting out of the famed
Brewster Gym, where he would sometimes spar with a young
heavyweight named Joe Louis when the bigger man wanted to work
on speed. "When I'm sharp enough to hit you," Louis would say,
"I know I'm sharp enough to hit anyone." Futch's pro career
ended before it began, though, when a physical revealed a heart
murmur. The fighter became a trainer.
It was that process of instruction, of helping "young men make
something of themselves," as he said in his retirement
announcement, that drove Futch. Finally, though, this father of
four, grandfather of seven, great-grandfather of 13 and
great-great-grandfather of six decided that it was time to slow
down, to take time to enjoy his family. Though he admits he will
miss his friends in boxing, he says the decision to retire was
easy. "These days, with the proliferation of weight classes and
titles and the emphasis on money, boxing is getting worse,"
Futch said from his house in Las Vegas last week. "Quality is
disappearing from the sport."
Futch's exit is a prime example. --R.O.
THE RIGHT MAT MOVES
In a span of 33 days during November and December, three college
wrestlers died while trying to sweat off 10 or more pounds in
order to make weight for an upcoming match (SI, Dec. 29, 1997).
The horrific yet widely accepted and unregulated methods of
drastic weight loss that led to those deaths represented the
dark side of wrestling. The actions taken since the last of the
three victims, Michigan junior Jeff Reese, died on Dec. 9,
however, have cast the sport in a bright new light.
On Jan. 13 the NCAA, acting on recommendations from its
wrestling and competitive safeguard committees, announced
sweeping and immediate rule changes to discourage weight
cutting. The NCAA banned the use of saunas, rubber suits and
diuretics and moved weigh-in times from 24 hours before matches
to no more than two hours before. Giving a wrestler a full day
to recover from excessive weight loss only tempts him to enter a
dangerously low weight class. The NCAA also established a
seven-pound weight allowance for all participants for the rest
of the season. Additional restrictions on weight loss may be
added at the NCAA's annual wrestling committee meeting, on April
6-10, when investigations into the deaths by the FDA and the
Centers for Disease Control will be completed.
Reaction from coaches and wrestlers to the rule changes was
"overwhelmingly positive," says Bob Bubb, the executive director
of the National Wrestling Coaches Association. "And the changes
came down the line a lot faster than I ever thought they would."
Before the NCAA was restructured last year, rule changes, even
in emergency situations like the one facing wrestling, had to
wait until the April meeting. Now, smaller administrative
committees can act immediately. Says Mike Moyer, the chair of
the wrestling committee, "We knew we had to take emergency
measures not to just reduce the risk but to eliminate altogether
the chances of another tragic death."
Aware of the city's gridiron heartbreak, the Electric Football
League was more than happy to bring this year's vibrating
tabletop Super Bowl to Cleveland, which league commissioner
Michael Landsman praised for its "perfect football weather" and
"cherished professional football heritage."
That said, hard luck is hard luck. On Sunday the "Browns,"
fielded by Steve Graham of Ohatchee, Ala., lost 22-20 to the
"Carolina Panthers" coached by Lavell Shelton of Greenville,
S.C. "Bernie Kosar," however, threw three touchdown passes for
Graham's mixed-era lineup--and didn't once throw the little foam
ball into the kitchen.
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: JOHN CRAIG A viewer will need help finding his way in the bewildering $17.6 billion universe created by the NFL's new TV contracts. [Drawing featuring John Madden, Dick Enberg, Boomer Esiason and Frank Gifford floating in space with logos of television networks and football]
COLOR ILLUSTRATION [Canadian flag]
COLOR PHOTO: RICH CLARKSON Once on top in football, former Sooner Sims has run into deep trouble. [Billy Sims]
FOUR COLOR PHOTOS [Scene from television commercial featuring Mean Joe Greene; scene from television commercial featuring Clydesdale horses; scene from television commercial featuring Bubba Smith; scene from television commercial featuring George Seifert]
B/W PHOTO [Scene from television commercial featuring Joe Namath]
COLOR PHOTO: NEIL LEIFER For six decades the wise Futch lent his gentle touch to champs like Frazier. [Eddie Futch sponging Joe Frazier]
COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN [Dagmar Hase swimming with teacup on head]
Minutes of an Oklahoma State-Missouri basketball game in
Columbia, Mo., called off a TV feed by Oklahoma State radio
announcers after icy conditions kept the broadcasters in
Major leaguers who made $6 million or more in 1997.
Major leaguers with salaries of $6 million before the 1994-95
Ads in Boston newspapers taken out by Mo Vaughn of the Red Sox
to apologize for his Jan. 9 arrest for drunken driving.
Bratwursts cooked per hour on the 65-foot-long, 53,000-pound
Johnsonville Big Taste Grill--the world's largest touring
brazier--to be set up outside the Super Bowl.
Victory margin in Clarksville (Tenn.) Academy's 102-2 girls'
basketball win over crosstown rival Academy for Academic
Percentage of 1997-98 NHL players who are Canadian.
Percentage of NHL players in 1967-68 who were Canadian.
The NFL Quarterback Club, a promotion/charity arm of the league,
has named its alltime top five TV ads. Here they are in order:
Mean Joe Greene chugs a Coke, tosses a kid a jersey.
Stenerudian Clydesdales kick around the ol' pigskin.
Pre-Police Academy Bubba Smith rips open a Miller Lite.
George Seifert and pals tune up on Visa karaoke night.
Joe Namath , bum knees and all, dons Beauty Mist hose.
Germany's Dagmar Hase, who finished second in the 200-meter
backstroke at the world championships in Perth (page 58), says
she improves her "smoothness" by swimming six lengths with a
teacup perched on her forehead in practice. Jolly good, but
where's she keeping the crumpets?
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
A recent Nike press release suggested that the company's new
"form-fitting" uniforms, which provide for "greater range of
motion and improved performance," make it "no coincidence" that
the Denver Broncos are in the Super Bowl.
THEY SAID IT
Former sprint car and midget racer, on the recent sex-change
operation that made him Terri O'Connell: "I not only wanted to
be A.J. Foyt, I wanted to be Marilyn Monroe."