In a SportsJournalists.com message board thread on this week's excellent Adam Schefter profile in the Washington Post, one long-memoried poster recalled a wonderful story from Schefter's days on the Broncos beat, one of the better and meaner sports media pranks of all time.
The actual story in question is scrubbed from the Denver Post's online archives, but still exits in Nexis. Here's one item from Schefter's notebook column of Sept. 22, 1997, after a Broncos win over the Bengals.
In the locker room following the game, Elway displayed a discreet gold ring that adorns his left nipple. The ring remained hidden until his towel slipped momentarily to the side.
Elway's comment: "That's not anybody's business. But if you have to know, it was a gift from my wife."
John Elway did not have a nipple ring. He never said that quote. And Adam Schefter never reported it. So how did it end up in the paper?
A year earlier, Schefter had left the Rocky Mountain News under somewhat acrimonious circumstances, though no one particularly blamed Schefter, a rising star, for taking a substantial raise. According to the SportsJournalists.com poster, the most common theory at the time was that a disgruntled RMN employee, with the help of a friend at the Post, had been able to sneak it in to the column before it went to print. Someone pretending to be Schefter "filed a late note. It said, 'Add to Adam's notebook.' He did this all the time."
When Schefter read Monday's paper, he assumed the item was real and had been added by another sportswriter; it was only when he saw Elway that morning and asked if he "had that nipple ring" that he learned the item was a fake. A puzzled Elway told Schefter he'd already gotten six calls that morning; Mike Shanahan's brother had even read about it over the Internet in Crete. "It was the most bizarre thing," Schefter says. An internal investigation for the culprit is under way at the Post, which apologized, and apologized again, in Tuesday's paper, noting that "Elway wears no such jewelry."