The Hidden Hand

An amazing and disturbing and fearless story from Patrick Hruby. Read it before it disappears:

I believe in the fix. I believe in the hidden hand, that sports have a secret, redacted history. I believe that Game 6 of the 2002 NBA Western Conference Finals was a sham, that Spygate was a cover-up of a cover-up, that Super Bowl III was preordained, that Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s heartwarming 2001 victory at Daytona was, in fact, too good to be true, that Michael Jordan’s first baseball-playing retirement was anything but, that powerful forces don’t want me to write this because powerful forces don’t want you to read this.

Driving Bear Bryant

Wright Thompson: TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Something important is being lost. Each rising sun takes a little more from the couple who live in the small brick home southwest of downtown. Billy Varner has been married to Susie for 57 years, and as her life was once spent waiting on him to get home from a job that didn’t know hours or days off, now it’s spent managing his dementia. Each day brings its own reality. On the worst, Billy, who is 76, doesn’t recognize Susie. He’ll dress in the middle of the night and try to leave, his pajamas rolled up in his hand. Regularly, he refuses to believe that his old boss isn’t at home waiting for a ride. Billy was Bear Bryant’s driver, bodyguard and valet, one of the few remaining people who knew him as a human being. As Billy’s memory fades, that knowledge disappears with it, widening the gulf between truth and imagination.

Billy tells Susie that he talks to the coach. Sometimes Bryant visits.

“Coach Bryant isn’t dead,” he’ll say. “Don’t tell me he’s dead.”

“Billy,” Susie tells him, “yes, he is.”

A Doomed Romance

David Carr:

My worry is not about the loss of the earthy smell of freshly rendered pages. A newspaper, even one short on advertising, is a great ad for at least one thing: the paper itself. The constancy of a daily paper — in the rack at the convenience store on Frenchman Street or on the tables of the coffeehouse on Maple Street — is a reminder to a city that someone is out there watching.

A Night To Remember

Jeff Passan: ST. LOUIS – Collin J. Grundstrom, a streaker of considerable skill in the art of persistence and drastically less in that of evasion, was going to get naked Thursday night at Busch Stadium. He was going to get naked because he told his friend he would, and it was his friend’s birthday, and birthday promises are sacrosanct, particularly when they involve nudity and lots of Bud Light.

“I’m gonna streak,” he announced at the beginning of the St. Louis Cardinals-Philadelphia Phillies game to those within earshot of Section 133, Row 5, Seat 4. At first, they chuckled. Then they started to believe him. Which was followed by attempts to dissuade him. And ultimate acceptance that, yes, Grundstrom was gonna streak, and it was only a matter of when.

(thanks, Doyle)

Almost Famous

Andy Netzel: Kevin Kiley glares at Chuck Booms overtop his reading glasses. His eyes double in size and his voice is full of annoyance as a small smile creeps across his lips.

“Excuse me,” he shouts. “Are you Michael?!?”

It’s the fourth time this morning Booms has interrupted one of the listeners calling in to he and Kiley’s morning show on Sports Radio 92.3 The Fan. Kiley is fed up, sort of. He and Booms’ vitriolic back-and-forth feels real, but their listeners expect it.

The rampant bickering often elicits some of the show’s best moments.

“KEVIN IS A MISERABLE HUMAN BEING.” *

The Kiley & Booms co-hosts have been talking about the Cleveland Browns’ uniforms this morning. Last season, the team wore white jerseys and pants every game, even though the home team gets to choose what color to wear. Booms argues this is a crime of the highest offense and blames team president Mike Holmgren.

He says the Browns looked weak. How could they play confidently when their opponents all wore intimidating dark colors? He argues that the brown jerseys were a source of pride that was stripped from the team as it skidded to a 4-12 finish.

Booms cuts off the caller again.

“THE PLAYERS CARE WHAT THE UNIFORMS LOOK LIKE! IT MATTERS.” *

This is standard Booms. He’s not so much a co-host as the guy who butts in on every conversation. Kiley, a former Jets linebacker, thinks his co-host’s assertion about the uniform colors is ridiculous. He also thought the topic was ridiculous when Booms suggested it before the 6 a.m. show went on the air.

Before each show, Kiley spends about 90 minutes scrutinizing the day’s topics. About 20 minutes before they go on the air, Booms argues about the list, tinkering with the lineup. The uniform subject, he assured Kiley, would get Cleveland callers riled up. Kiley was doubtful.

Now, almost two hours into the show, the phones are still lit up with callers irate about the white uniforms, and most of them agree with Booms.

“THE PLAYERS SHOULD GET TO VOTE. THE PLAYERS SHOULD DECIDE WHAT COLORS TO WEAR.” *

“You’re an idiot,” Kiley shoots back.

“YOU’RE NOT FROM HERE.” *

Cue the commercial.

This is Booms in his natural state. He’s funnier when he’s miserable. And with no major free agent signings by the Indians, a Cavaliers team with a top lottery pick (again) and a Browns offense that scored one point more than the wretched 1999 expansion team, his humor is desperately needed.

But Booms never expected to be in his hometown at this point in his career. He flirted with the A-list. He landed farther down the alphabet.

A rising stand-up comedian in the ’90s, Booms considers Jerry Seinfeld and Brad Garrett friends and early mentors. When he lived in Los Angeles, he was given the stage every week at the Hollywood Improv, where the owner let him go for an hour — 90 minutes sometimes — compared to most comics’ standard 20-minute set.

The skinny kid from Euclid appeared in nine television pilots. His standup act was peppered across cable channels. He landed roles on quickly canceled network shows. He was on the panel of Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect more than a dozen times. He nearly replaced David Letterman at NBC.

“He had all the markers of an overnight success,” says Lee Herlands, who runs the Cleveland Improv Comedy Club & Restaurant and has known Booms for most of his career. “There are a lot of overnight successes who take about a decade to find their night.”

Time and time again, that night never happened.

“There are at least four times in my life when I think I could have become a multimillionaire,” Boom says. And he means it.

And I bet you had no idea how big of a deal Chuck Booms
almost was.

Conjuror of a Device That Changed TV Habits

From Mark Johnson: I’m an avid obituary writer and a big fan of Margalit Fox of The Times. This one is an example of why her obituaries consistently reward the reader. Great quotes. Deep insight. Humanity. All in relatively few words.

Margalit Fox: Eugene Polley, an inventor whose best-known creation has fostered blissful sloth, caused decades of domestic discord and forever altered the way consumers watch television, died on Sunday in Downers Grove, Ill. Mr. Polley, the inventor of the wireless television remote control, was 96.

When Lois Pearson Started Fighting Back

Mike Mooney: Jeffrey Maxwell told the police officers that his house was a mess. He stepped outside and closed the door behind him. He was a big man, 6-foot-5 with nearly 300 pounds poured over a broad frame. He had thick, gray sideburns and greasy, disheveled hair. He smiled at the investigators waiting for him on the small front porch.

It was just before 6 pm on March 12, 2011. Sgt. Ricky Montgomery and four other investigators had come to this modest, modular lake house in Corsicana—50 miles south of Dallas—with questions about a missing 62-year-old woman. When the woman’s house had burned down and her remains weren’t found in the ashes, search teams had combed the surrounding hillsides. There were helicopters with heat-detecting cameras and ever-expanding grids. After a few days, police figured they were looking for a corpse. They brought in cadaver dogs and pumps to drain two nearby ponds, but there was still no sign of the woman. Then, eight days after the fire, a check for $500 cleared on her account. It was addressed to Maxwell and dated from weeks back. When police learned that Maxwell also owned a blue hatchback fitting the description of one seen by a neighbor on the day of the fire, they got a search warrant for the car and drove more than 100 miles from Weatherford to Corsicana to question him. A digital tape recorder in investigator Montgomery’s pocket caught the entire conversation.

“We are talking to several people that knew Miss Lois Pearson,” Montgomery said. “Are you familiar with who she is?”