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Original Issue

Bird Watching

Through the years with the crudest finger in sports

THE NEWS THATHawks forward Josh Smith was recently fined $25,000 for making an obscenegesture at fans in Charlotte makes you want to say, "Athletes today,"right? But Smith was merely carrying on a tradition of vulgarity that dates toat least 1886, when Old Hoss Radbourn livened up the Boston Beaneaters' teamphoto by flashing the ol' one-finger salute. (Old Hoss also let a bird fly thenext year on a baseball card.) In the interim there's been more flipping thanyou'll find at your local IHOP.

• 2005 Redspitcher Danny Graves broke out the double-barrel bird on a heckler inCincinnati. "Obviously, I overreacted," Graves said. The fallout: Hesoon became ex--Reds pitcher Danny Graves. The club released Graves—who saved41 games in 2004—10 days later.

• 2000 Afterlosing a doubles match, Natasha Zvereva gave the strawberries-and-cream set abit more than they bargained for when she raised both middle fingers at a rowdygroup of Wimbledon fans. The fallout: The ump missed the gesture, but thousandsof fans who saw it on TV—and on the back page of the paper—alerted officials,who fined Zvereva $1,000.

• 1995 As he wasleaving the mound to boos at Yankee Stadium, Jack McDowell (right) raised adigit at the fans. The fallout: Black Jack was fined $5,000 and was pilloriedby the media (YANKEE FLIPPER, cried the Post) and the mayor: "There arebetter ways to communicate frustration," said Rudy Giuliani.

• 1993 Afterhearing what he said was racial abuse, Dolphins linebacker Bryan Cox let fansat Buffalo's Rich Stadium have it. The fallout: The NFL fined Cox $10,000—andCox sued the league, claiming its failure to control fans led to a hostile workenvironment. The NFL agreed to crack down on offensive fans, and Cox's fine waslowered to $3,000.

• 1972 A banneryear for the finger: It started in the spring, when Topps released a BillyMartin baseball card on which the Tigers manager was slyly extending his middlefinger (below). In August, Dolphins running back Larry Csonka did the same onthe cover of SI (above). Then, at the Summit Series between Canada and theSoviet Union, Alan Eagleson—who helped organize the hockey tournament—did hispart to slow détente by flipping off the Soviet crowd, which was dotted withRed Army members. (Some claim that one of Eagleson's assistants was the actualshooter.)

Even the fans gotinto the act. During a Monday Night Football broadcast in Houston, camerascaught an Oilers fan napping during a blowout. As the camera zoomed in, heawoke and unfurled his middle finger, prompting commentator Don Meredith tooffer one of the few plausible excuses for such indelicate behavior:"That's his way of saying, We're No. 1."