Every week, I'll excerpt a handful of stories — old and new, sports and otherwise, relevant and merely sublime — that I urge you to read for one reason or another. Send any suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Then he was there. And apologies to the nice woman, but people do not go that nuts when Bon Jovi appears. People were: Going. Nuts. He is not a tall man-I doubt even the heels of his boots (red leather) put him at over five feet ten. He walked toward us with stalking, cartoonish pugnaciousness. I feel like all anybody talks about with Axl anymore is his strange new appearance, but it is hard to get past the unusual impression he makes. To me he looks like he's wearing an Axl Rose mask. He looks like a man I saw eating by himself at a truck stop in Monteagle, Tennessee, at two o'clock in the morning about twelve years ago. He looks increasingly like the albino reggae legend Yellowman. His mane evokes a gathering of strawberry red intricately braided hempen fibers, the sharply twisted ends of which have been punched, individually, a half inch into his scalp. His chest hair is the color of a new penny. With the wasp-man sunglasses and the braids and the goatee, he reminds one of the monster in Predator, or of that monster's wife on its home planet. When he first came onto the scene, he often looked, in photographs, like a beautiful, slender, redheaded 20-year-old girl. I hope the magazine will run a picture of him from about 1988 so the foregoing will seem a slightly less creepy observation and the fundamental spade-called-spade exactitude of it will be laid bare. But if not, I stand by it. Now he has thickened through the middle-muscly thickness, not the lard-ass thickness of some years back. He grabs his package tightly, and his package is huge. Only reporting. Now he plants his feet apart. "You know where you are?" he asks, and we bellow that we do, we do know, but he tells us anyway. "You're in the jungle, baby," he says, and then he tells us that we are going to die.
There is a TV on in a Red Wing coach's office, and one shelf below it a VCR whirls and sighs. Joe Kocur, who is pushing buttons on a remote control, says he didn't see a small classified ad in The Hockey News touting "The Bruise Brothers," a two-hour bootleg tape of every fight between 1983 and 1989 involving Kocur and ex-Wing Bob Probert. Kocur can hardly believe there is such a tape. But, he says, he'd like to see it.
Five days later, courtesy of a reporter, Kocur has the tape. As he fast forwards past fights he doesn't care to see, the combatants swirl on the screen at comic, Keystone Kops pace. At one point he hits Play, and the announcer suddenly shouts, "Kocur's pulling some hair now!"
"Aw, shaaaaddup," Kocur says, scowling sheepishly, hitting Fast Forward, then Play again.
Announcer: "If Kocur's going to be a fighter in this league, he's going to have to avoid turning sideways."
"Awwww, what does he know?" Kocur says, restarting the fast-forward frenzy but hitting the Mute button to kill the voices, too. In a few seconds it becomes clear that the entire tape consists of nothing but fights spliced end to end. For $45, there are 170 fights in all, 84 of them Kocur's.
Most of the time, Kocur watches quietly, looking serious. When other Red Wings players being to straggle into the room, their faces are serious, too. Sometimes they wince.
In time, the crowd grows to nine. And suddenly Kocur pipes up and says, "Hey, did any of you guys see 'Sports Final Edition' last night on TV? They had this story about people in sports who've injured other athletes. And one of the guys was this NFL linebacker that got hurt by Freeman McNeil, this running back for the Jets who had to block him and blew out the guy's knee."
Eyes remain on the screen. But Kocur continues: The linebacker said McNeil called to apologize later, but he said he felt sorry for McNeil, too. Once he saw what he'd done, McNeil was so distraught he could no longer play effectively that day. For that, Jets Coach Joe Walton publicly criticized McNeil's sensitivity.
"In the end," Kocur says, "this linebacker says that, to him, that makes Freeman McNeil a good guy, you know? A real person."
Later, when the office has cleared and the door is shut, Kocur is asked if the linebacker's story made him think. Reluctantly, Kocur says, "Well, yeah. I thought about it."
There is a long pause. When he doesn't continue, he is asked, "Would you like to share what you thought?"
Without looking away from the TV or the silent fighting still going on, Joe Kocur says, "No."
From Black Is Best: The Riddle of Cassius Clay, by Jack Olsen (1967)
Suggested readers: People who insist beyond all reason and evidence that Tiger Woods "will face a level of pressure that well surpasses anything any other transcendent athlete has faced in their lifetime"
There were still mutterings and grumbling about Clay's deferment when the whole question was rendered moot in 1966 by a new system of classification under which Cassius was immediately rendered 1-A, catching him unawares and making him scream with public pain. "I don't have nothing against them Viet Congs!" Cassius cried, and within days he was being treated like Public Enemy Number One. Newspaper editorial writers and columnists hauled out some of their strongest epithets and hurled them at the surprised Cassius." He was "a self-centered spoiled brat of a child," "a sad apology for a man," "the all-time jerk of the boxing world," "the most disgusting character in memory to appear on the sports scene," "Bum of the month. Bum of the year. Bum of all time." The governor of Illinois found Clay "disgusting," and the governor of Maine said Clay should "be held in utter contempt by every patriotic American." An American Legion Post in Miami asked people to "join in condemnation of this unpatriotic, loud-mouthed bombastic individual," and dirty mail began to arrive at Clay's Miami address ("You're nothing but a yellow nigger," said a typical correspondent, one of many who forgot to sign their names).
The Chicago Tribune waged a choleric campaign against holding the next Clay fight in Chicago; the newspaper's attitude seemed to be that thousands of impressionable young Chicagoans would go over to the Viet Cong if Cassius were to be allowed to engage in fisticuffs in that sensitive city. Amplified by the newspaper (on one day it ran eleven items about Clay), the noise became a din, the drumbeats of a holy war. TV and radio commentators, little old ladies from Champaign-Urbana, bookmakers and parish priests, military strategists at the Pentagon and brave dogfeet wading across the ricefields of Vietnam, all joined in a get-Cassius clamor.
Early in the Games I realized that there was a story to be written that nobody had been chasing, The Olympics Within the Olympics, Russia vs. East Germany. The fans gave me the first indication. The East Germans sat in a block, low on the backstretch of the massive Lenin Stadium, mostly businessmen and politicians and their families, off on a short holiday. They cheered their own athletes, and were quick to whistle, the European [equivalent] of booing, when something went wrong, but equally loud were the cheers for an athlete from another country who showed well against a Soviet competitor, cutting down the odds that Russia would add to its massive gold medal total. When a Russian athlete did well, the East German fans responded with silence.
The Russian fans were looser, less organized, Muscovites mainly, the privileged few who were lucky enough to be awarded tickets. They were a satisfied group; their athletes won two out of every five medals awarded in the entire Games, thanks to the 65-nation boycott that reduced the competition to a kind of intramural tournament among Iron Curtain countries. They became even blasé about their triumphs, except when the loser happened to be an East German. When Russia's [Lyudmila] Kondratyeva, for instance, beat East Germany's world record holder, Marlies Göhr, in the 100, a mighty roar rocked the stadium.
"Molodyets!" they yelled. "Molodyets!" Literally translated: "Good little boy." Actually, "Attaboy!"
I hunted down my best source on the Russian squad, Igor Ter-Ovanesyan, the famous Ter-O, whose long jump battles with Ralph Boston lit up the US indoor track circuit for so many years, who liked the meets in New York so he [could] go down to the Village afterward and party with the Americans and listen to some jazz. A good guy, clever, fluent in English, and in 1980, one of the Soviet coaches.
"Do you know that the plaza of the Olympic Village is filled with observers?" he said. "Come, let's take a walk."
We walked out of the plaza area toward an open field bordering the practice track, away from all metal. "Never talk to someone here near anything metallic," he said.
"It's bugged? All of it's bugged? Everything!" I said, slow to catch on. He looked at me and raised his eyebrows.