A MOVING EPISTLE
The latest sports money grab hits close to home for one longtime
The letter was like a Dear John note left on the kitchen table.
The house suddenly seemed very quiet. Where were the New England
Patriots? Where was their owner, Bob Kraft? The letter from
Kraft tried to explain.
"As you know, the New England Patriots have announced an
agreement with the State of Connecticut to build a new stadium
in Hartford and begin playing there in 2001," read the letter,
which ran as a full-page advertisement in the Sunday editions of
both Boston papers. "This plan...provides an exciting
opportunity for the Patriots and our loyal fans."
"It's difficult to express how grateful I am to our season
ticket holders," the letter said. "We have always made decisions
with your interests in mind and this decision was no exception."
The letter detailed the various failed attempts at building a
stadium in the Boston area during the Patriots' 38-year history.
The letter talked about modern-day sports economics, about
player salaries and chairback seats and luxury boxes. The letter
tried to make Hartford, the capital of another state, 100 miles
away, seem as if it were a Boston suburb.
No mention was made of the windfall, the fortune, that Kraft
will receive in his new, publicly funded $350 million stadium,
his stately pleasure dome on the banks of the Connecticut River.
No mention was made of the tax-free benefits or of the potential
revenue from the hotel tower and the amusement complex. No
explanation was given as to how--exactly how--the loyal fans,
the season-ticket holders, the ones who had surrendered their
Sunday afternoons for decades, who had sat in abysmal seats in
abysmal conditions, were supposed to pack up that loyalty in the
family four-wheel drive and just change direction.
Take it. Leave it. The deal was done, no matter what. The past,
for Kraft, was an escapable hell filled with Massachusetts
politicians who just didn't listen, who didn't take the rubber
bands off the fat public wallet fast enough. The future was
certain paradise. Too bad for the bystanders. Too bad.
This is 1998. This is professional sports. There always is
another yellow brick road to another Emerald City. Business is
business. The people in Cleveland, in Houston, in Los Angeles,
in St. Louis know. Now the people in Boston know.
"I am grateful for the loyalty you have shown to the Patriots,"
the letter concluded. "Now we can finally devote our undivided
attention to trying to bring a championship to New England."
But not to Boston. --Leigh Montville
Swarthmore's Jeff Doyon encountered the usual runner's woes
during the NCAA Division III Mideast regional cross-country meet
on Nov. 15, but cramped calves and blistered feet aren't why he
finished 220th in a field of 268. Halfway through the five-mile
race, which passed through a cornfield in Center Valley, Pa.,
Doyon saw a deer bounding out of a thicket of cornstalks. "It
didn't seem that strange," Doyon says, "but at the last second
he came right at me."
The deer hip-checked Doyon to the ground, where he banged his
head and lost his glasses. "I was so stunned that I took off my
shoes," Doyon says. "I always do that after I finish a race."
After a few moments he groggily relaced his shoes and completed
the course in a time of 30:55.86, more than five minutes behind
the winner. Before the attack, Doyon had been on pace for his
best time of the year.
If Doyon needs cheering up, he might talk to Randy Todd, a
senior at Lake Worth (Texas) High. On Nov. 7, Todd, a three-time
District 11-3A champion, was in second place three quarters of a
mile into the Region II championship race and heading for a
finish that would qualify him for the state meet--until a
three-year-old boy wandered out of the crowd and into Todd's
path. Todd crashed into the child and fell on top of him.
Neither was hurt, but Todd lost precious time when he pulled the
boy to the side of the course to keep him from being trampled by
other runners. Todd finished 13th, three excruciating spots out
of a state championship berth. "This would have been my first
year to go to states," says Todd. "After the race, let's just
say I wasn't too happy."
NHL Trade Flurry
Entering this season, the Los Angeles Kings' rugged, 6'3",
223-pound center, Roman Vopat, was best known for his part in
one famous trade. On Feb. 27, 1996, he was Los Angeles's most
highly touted acquisition in a multiplayer deal that sent the
king of Kings, Wayne Gretzky, to the St. Louis Blues. Since this
season opened, however, Vopat, 22, has made history as a pawn in
the most rapid succession of trades an NHL player has endured.
Oct. 7 to 28: Vopat, who has yo-yoed between the minors and the
NHL for two seasons, gets into only three of the Kings' first
nine games. He says he spends so much would-be ice time on an
exercise bicycle that he feels as if he's "training for the Tour
Oct. 29: Vopat's Tour de NHL begins when he's sent to the
Colorado Avalanche for the highly un-Gretzkyesque Eric Lacroix, a
winger who has not recorded either a goal or an assist this
season. Vopat heads enthusiastically to Denver and says upon
arrival, "I'm excited for every practice."
Nov. 10: After practicing exuberantly and diligently for 11 days
but not getting into a game, Vopat is shipped to the Chicago
Blackhawks for defenseman Cam Russell, whom the Hawks had been
using sparingly. Says Vopat, "This is a great opportunity for me
to prove I can play in this league."
Nov. 17: Vopat, without a point in three games for the Hawks, is
sent to the Philadelphia Flyers for winger Mike Maneluk, a
longtime minor leaguer whose rights the Flyers acquired from the
Ottawa Senators last year for $1. Through Sunday, Vopat was
pointless in three games with Philadelphia. Says Vopat, "Am I
bad? Am I good? I really don't know. I just hope this is the
last team for me."
High School Football
THE REDWOOD THAT COULD
High school football may be dying out in some places around the
country (SI, Nov. 16), but one school outside San Francisco has
shown that it's possible to rise from the ashes. Two years ago
Redwood High in Larkspur, Calif., the alma mater of New England
Patriots coach Pete Carroll, suspended its varsity program after
a 1995 season in which it finished 0-10 and lost one game 85-0.
This year Redwood's varsity was 9-2 and won the Marin County
Athletic League title.
How did the Redwood Giants do it? Prior to the 1995 season,
Kelley Reid, whose son Gordy was a freshman, started reviving
the school's moribund Pigskin Club, which got the school to
build a new $85,000 weight room and has raised $30,000 over the
past three years through pancake breakfasts, garage sales, car
washes and auctions.
The club's smartest move was pushing for the hiring of coach Jim
Cerf, who persuaded the league to let Redwood High, which had
just two seniors on its '96 team, drop down to a jayvee schedule
that year. "Losing was like a disease," he says. "The kids
needed to know how to win."
The Redwood jayvee finished 6-1 in 1996, and when the Giants
resumed varsity play in '97, Cerf introduced the slogan "expect
victory." Last year Redwood went 6-5 for its first winning
varsity season in two decades, and two weeks ago Giants players
chomped on chocolate victory cigars to celebrate their school's
first outright MCAL football title since '62.
By now the indignities of '96 have almost been forgotten. "It
was embarrassing not having a varsity for a year, but we knew it
would be beneficial in the end," says senior co-captain Gordy
Reid, who proclaims, "Redwood football is back."
As campaigns for college football's postseason awards become
ever more gimmicky, post offices are being deluged with odd
mail. Last fall, for instance, Washington State sent Heisman
Trophy voters envelopes containing a leaf to promote the
Cougars' candidate, Ryan Leaf. This year Duke mailed out combs
to plug the Blue Devils' Outland Trophy hopeful, defensive
tackle Chris Combs. With the deadline for 1998 Heisman voting
set for Dec. 11, postal workers nationwide are praying that
Kentucky doesn't pick up on the trend with a last-minute
promotional push for its candidate, Tim Couch.
Weeb Ewbank (1907-1998)
A COACH WITH NOTHING TO HIDE
Weeb Ewbank, the winning coach in two of the most famous games
in NFL history--the 1958 NFL championship, in which his
Baltimore Colts beat the New York Giants in overtime, and Super
Bowl III, in which his New York Jets stunned the Colts--died on
Nov. 17 at age 91. SI senior writer Paul Zimmerman recalls Ewbank.
The first time I met Weeb Ewbank was in the spring of 1963,
right after he had been named general manager and coach of the
Jets. I was playing rugby in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.
The ball from the game I was in bounced into some bushes, and
when some of the other players and I went to retrieve it, we
came upon a group of naked and half-naked young men. We were
stunned. Then I spotted a little round guy with a crew cut. I
recognized him immediately. It was Ewbank, coach of the 1958 and
'59 NFL champion Colts.
"Just changing clothes," he said. "Just be a minute." Ewbank was
holding open tryouts for the Jets, but the Polo Grounds wasn't
available, and Van Cortlandt Park had no locker facilities, so
his players were changing behind the shrubbery. "Don't mind us,"
Weeb said merrily. "Go on with your game."
Three years later I became a beat writer for the New York Post,
and I covered Ewbank's Jets through his retirement in 1973. When
I started on the beat, I thought all coaches were like Weeb. I
Pro football players, coaches and writers were a big family back
then, and we would go out together on the road. Once before a
game in San Diego, I was walking with Weeb and a few others down
the main drag in Tijuana, and some guy approached us with a
package. "Films?" he said. "Filthy films?"
"Christ, no," Weeb said without breaking stride. "I've been
looking at films all week."
Watching Weeb work with Joe Namath was like watching the
creation of a great painting. Joe Willie arrived from Alabama as
Sonny Werblin's guy, the Jets owner's personal choice. He was an
unbroken stallion, able to put up huge numbers--and
interceptions in bunches. Weeb tamed him, and by the time Namath
led the Jets to their Super Bowl triumph, he had done a 180. To
the outside world he was still Joe Willie the wild flinger, but
the guys on the beat saw his transformation into one of the
game's most meticulous passers.
Ewbank won't go down with the Lombardis and Halases because he
didn't often have the players to win with. When he did, though,
he produced. Few coaches ever understood their players or their
times as well as Ewbank did.
I once asked Weeb how he developed Namath and John Unitas with
the Colts. "Everything was there," he said. "I just fine-tuned
it. You know the greatest thing about having a Namath or a
Unitas? They keep you from making an ass of yourself for 10
China's Foulmouthed Fans
A CHANTS ENCOUNTER
Chinese rulers haven't democratized their government, but a few
Western ideas are taking hold. At Beijing's elite league soccer
matches, rowdies are unleashing waves of vulgarity of which any
hooligan or bleacher bum would be proud. Spectators at Workers'
Stadium have become so profane--their favorite derisive chant is
Shabi! Shabi!, a crude reference to part of the female
anatomy--that the press and soccer officials are calling the
problem the Beijing Curse and beseeching fans to behave. "All we
can do is hope that fans can restrain and discipline
themselves," a spokesman for the Chinese Football Association,
told the Beijing Youth Daily.
So far, unruly fans have refused to clean up their act. "We do
it to let off steam," 30-year-old Liu Bin told the Daily.
"People at sports events want to hang loose."
COLOR PHOTO: ILLUSTRATION BY FRED HARPER [Drawing of New England Patriots mascot hiking bag of money]
COLOR PHOTO: GREGG FORWERCK Tradesman Vopat's three-week, four-uniform odyssey left him dazed and confused. [Head and shoulders of Roman Vopat in Philadelphia Flyers uniform]
COLOR PHOTO: AP PHOTO/FRANK GUNN; [See caption above--chest of Roman Vopat in Colorado Avalanche uniform]
COLOR PHOTO: AP PHOTO/MARK HUMPHEREY [See caption above--thighs and knees of Roman Vopat in Chicago Blackhawks uniform]
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK [See caption above--shins and feet of Roman Vopat in Los Angeles Kings uniform]
COLOR PHOTO: TONY TOMSIC [Albert Belle]
COLOR PHOTO [Comb with inscription reading "DUKE'S CHRIS COMBS FOR OUTLAND TROPHY"]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER [Dennis Rodman and Carmen Electra]
COLOR PHOTO: RODNEY AZARMI/WWW.FRIENDSOFTRAVELER.COM [Image from Friends of Traveler web site]
--That Kansas State, Tennessee and UCLA all finish the regular
season unbeaten so that college football analysts will never,
ever, ever have to shut up.
--That all sports fans live as long and depart as close to their
element as 91-year-old Giles Pellerin, who died after suffering
cardiac arrest while attending his 797th consecutive USC
--That the 19 teams that passed on receiver Randy Moss in the
NFL draft are as happy with their first-round selections as the
Vikings are with theirs.
Minutes, per competitor, allotted for unspooling whoppers in the
Biggest Liar in the World competition in Gosforth, England.
Lawyers or politicians who participated in the event; they were
banned for having "an unfair advantage."
Career NASCAR wins, from 1945 to '56, for Louise Smith, 82, the
first woman elected to the International Motorsports Hall of
Straight games in which Virginia hasn't allowed a kickoff return
for a TD.
Players left on the ice after all 12 were ejected for engaging in
a brawl during last Saturday's Capitals-Bruins game.
Length, in years, of the ban on attending games handed down by
the North Carolina Youth Soccer Association to Pattie Pollard
Ash, a soccer mom who slugged a 15-year-old referee at a match
between teams of 10- to 12-year-olds last month.
Rushing yards gained through Sunday by Lions fullback Tommy
Rushing TDs scored by Vardell this year.
Would You Want Albert Belle on Your Team?
Since Belle became a big league regular in 1991, he has hit more
homers (313) and driven in more runs (979) than any other
player. He has also batted an even .300. I'll take some of that
poison in my locker room anytime. Belle may snarl at the press
and move aloofly through the clubhouse, but teammates don't have
to love him to be carried by him. Besides, with Belle on your
team, you'll always be able to proudly say, "Our cleanup hitter
can kick your cleanup hitter's ass." --K.K.
Sure, he swings a mean stick (even when there's no cork in it),
but in his two seasons with the White Sox, Belle was MIA in
April, helping to bury Chicago in a hole it couldn't get out of.
He's also a suspect fielder, occasionally handling flies as
miserably as he handled Hannah Storm's interview request. A team
would be wise to save itself headaches--and the cost of
clubhouse plumbing repairs--by spending its millions on
fan-friendlier Bernie Williams.
NFL players endure boot-camp conditioning and endless two-minute
drilling in practice so they'll be prepared for the fourth
quarter, but games are often settled much earlier. Six teams have
averaged less than 20 yards on their game-opening drives, and
only one has a winning record. Conversely, seven of nine clubs
that have racked up 30 or more yards are better than .500. Here
are the league's three strongest and weakest teams when it comes
to starting on the right foot.
QUICK OUT AVG. YARDS/ FIRST TDS/
OF THE GATE 1ST DRIVE DOWNS FGS
Broncos (11-0) 47.8 20 4/2
Packers (7-4) 39.9 18 3/2
Jaguars (8-3) 36.2 19 4/0
SLOW TO PULL AVG. YARDS/ FIRST TDS/
THEIR WEIGHT 1ST DRIVE DOWNS FGS
Patriots (6-5) 11.0 7 0/0
Rams (3-8) 13.3 8 1/0
Ravens (4-7) 18.0 12 1/0
Dennis Rodman married more than an ordinary Baywatch babe when
he tied the knot with Carmen Electra in Las Vegas last week. The
bodacious Electra is also a Playboy calendar girl, making the
Worm the latest in a long line of athletes to exchange vows with
a sexbomb. Here's a look at other sports stars who wedded pinups
and how they fared in matrimony.
Philadelphia Phillies catcher Darren Daulton and July 1986
Playboy centerfold-Hooter's spokesmodel Lynne Austin
December 1989 to May 1995
After Lynne tosses out ceremonial first pitch before
Phillies-Cubs game in 1993, she and Darren kiss so salaciously
at home plate that Philly first baseman John Kruk doesn't watch
for fear he "would have vomited."
For weeks after Lynne files for divorce, Darren has to stare at
bigger-than-life picture of her--in skimpy Hooter's
finery--adorning outfield fence at Phillies' spring training
Tennis star Jimmy Connors and 1977 Playmate of the Year Patti
October 1978 to present
When fan grabs and attempts to kiss Patti at 1980 tournament, Jimmy
defends his maiden by slugging fan in face.
Patti files for divorce in '83 shortly after couple's
three-year- old son informs her, "Daddy has a new girlfriend."
Court forbids Connors to take son to Wimbledon that year. Couple
Journeyman pitcher Bo Belinsky and 1965 Playmate of the Year Jo
October 1968 to July 1973
Bo describes blissful days "cooking Cornish hen and crepes
Suzette. Then we'd watch afternoon game shows and make love."
Vodka consumption leads to fight after fight. Once after Bo puts
a gun to Jo's head, she runs to nearby home of Bo's Reds
teammate Pete Rose, who summons police to intervene.
Rams quarterback Bob Waterfield and Outlaw poster girl Jane Russell
April 1943 to July 1968
Jane says that they had great sex and laughed a lot at their own
"black humor," and that Bob's first kiss (in late 1930s) lasted
20 years. Adopted three kids.
In aftermath of divorce Bob says Jane was once so drunk she
couldn't cook Christmas dinner; Jane says Bob "only came home to
sleep" and was "cold to everyone except my mother."
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
Before they could perform at last Saturday's Cal-Stanford game,
both teams' mascots--Oski the Bear and the Stanford Tree--were
required to take Breathalyzer tests.
Talented teams come and go, but there's one part of the
collegiate sports landscape that remains constant: mascots,
those sometimes lovable, larger-than-life creatures invented to
stir school spirit. If you can't make it to campus, use the Web
to revel in your mascot's bulbous-headed beauty--or to settle
that my-furball-can-beat-up-your-furball argument with a
The FANSonly college sports page has links to sites for nearly
every Division I school. You can find bios of the individuals
playing the mascot, as well as photos of the mascot in action.
The Friends of Traveler, USC's famous Trojan horse, post a
newsletter and a schedule of the white horse's appearances. You
will soon be able to buy Traveler T-shirts and other merchandise
at this site. The money raised will go for Traveler's chow and
Who says college kids are apathetic? Learn the tumultuous history
of the Banana Slug, which became UC-Santa Cruz's mascot in 1986
after student protests to replace its predecessor, the Sea Lion.
While you're at the site, you can see what an actual banana slug
looks like and find out about the animal. This is college, after
Cheerleaders aren't mascots, but they do work closely with their
fuzzy friends. The current issue of CHEERonline magazine includes
a feature by Clay McGuyer, a Universal Cheerleaders Association
sites we'd like to see
Patriots owner Bob Kraft's on-line advice column on how to hold
not one but two states hostage for a new stadium.
Line by line report on Fraulein Forehand's foray back to the top
of women's tennis.
THEY SAID IT
Jazz forward, on a certain outspoken Rockets forward: "Say what
you will about Charles Barkley--when he tells you he's going to
do something, he'll either do it, or he won't do it."