I've certainly considered myself blessed to have been a TV sports anchor for 33 years (I know, I don't look a day over 34, right?). I must admit, for shear sensationalism, the past week or so has been one of the craziest I can remember. Manti Te'o's non-existent girlfriend, Lance Armstrong's confession, and reports having Tiger Woods trying to convince his ex-wife to re-marry him. Before I offer up my Super Six most memorable sports hoaxes, a few words on the afforementioned subjects.
Manti Te'o: Maybe I'm old school, but when I dated years ago, I always tried to meet my date in person. I was always under the impression that the relationship had a better chance of succeeding that way.
Lance Armstrong: Some have used the words liar, scumbag and cheat, and those are the nice words. As a survivor of testicular cancer, I always admired what Armstrong did for the cause, especially with his LiveStrong Foundation. But from where I sit, this is one mean, dishonest bully- and now that he has parted ways with the foundation, I can only wonder what more good he could have accomplished if he stayed on the bike and off the PED's.
Tiger Woods: Reports have him willing to agree to a pre-nup that includes a $200 million anti-cheating clause. If you need a $200 million cheating clause (or a pre-nup, period), perhaps it's not a great idea to get married.
Now to my Super Six sports hoaxes of all time, and how I was suckered in the greatest hoax ever:
6. Tonya Harding vs Nancy Kerrigan: Seems little Tonya didn't think she had what it took to beat Kerrigan on the ice back in 1994, so she hired a hitman to club Nancy in the leg. Ironically, it's been Harding who has been iced by millions as for nearly 20 years she's been a comedic punching bag.
5. Sidd Finch: He was to have been the next great thing in baseball- a pitcher with such great stuff that he'd make us forget Walter Johnson, Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens. The catch? The "Sports Illustrated" article introducing Finch to the world was an April Fool's joke. Of course the joke was then on "SI" as the publication's credibilty took a beating.
4. The 1919 White Sox Scandal: Favored to win the World Series, the Sox took a beating from the Cincinnati Reds. After the series, it was found that the fix was in- several White Sox players were paid by gamblers to throw the series. Outside a courtroom one day, a little boy looked up at "Shoeless" Joe Jackson and said, "Say it ain't so Joe!". It was indeed so, and it's been etched in the history books for nearly 100 years.
3. Danny Almonte: Who can forget the star little league pitcher mowing them down in the 2000 Little League World Series? Almonte's Bronx team was the toast of the town, and Almonte hung out with VIP's everywhere. The problem? He was 14 years old, not the required age of 12. Almonte apparently tipped off the media when he was found shaving in the clubhouse (I made that part up). We've seen it- in fact I go through it now with watching my 14-year old son play travel soccer, wondering often about opposing players, "Did these kids drive their own cars to the game?".
2. Kevin Hart: This one happened in 2008: A Nevada high school kid held a signing day news conference to announce that he had chosen to sign with the Cal Bears football team over numerous other teams. Soon afterward, the Cal coaches (and every other coach Hart mentioned) insisted they had never offered the kid anything, many of them saying they had never heard of him. Hart was never recruited by any major school, in part because of his less-than-impressive 1.8 GPA. When the dust settled, it was found that Hart staged a fake news conference. I'll give the kid credit for creativity, but you have to wonder why the media never questioned how a player rated a 2-star was heading to Cal. Hart wound up signing with Division II Missouri Western.
1. Rosie Ruiz: The pressure was on this young intern back in April of 1980. I was a month from graduating from college, and the radio station at which I was interning sent me on a huge story (at age 22 with no degree in hand, covering the Boston Marathon was a huge story). As thousands ran from Hopkinton to downtown Boston, with TV cameras and helicopters hovering, Rosie Ruiz crossed the finish line in what was then the fastest women's Boston time ever (2:31:56). As she made her way to a news conference in the Prudential tower, I gave chase and finally cornered her for my big "one-one-one" interview in an elevator. As we ascended to the top of the Pru, I captured my interview and bolted back to the radio station. This was my time to shine, as the station's News Director told me to get on the air and share with New England the exclusive interview. That night I was feeling satisfied and pround. "Heck" I thought, those TV stations in Boston like WBZ and WCVB would be calling me soon to offer me a job." The next morning I picked up the "Boston Globe", and there was the headline: "Rosie's A Fake". Ruiz had jumped into the marathon a few miles from the finish line and faked her own victory. No wonder Jackie Garaeu, who was the race leader in Wellesley and at the 24-mile mark, was shocked to cross the finish line only to see Ruiz wearing the laurel wreath. To this day it's perhaps the ultimate sports hoax, and it was a tough lesson for a young reporter-to-be.
Manti Te'o, Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods. In over three decades of sports reporting, I've learned never to be surprised at anything. I've heard and seen it all- and when a sports hoax appears on my radar, I always harken back to my "exclusive" interview with Rosie Ruiz. Now about Manti's girlfriend...