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7 Silly Civic Wagers on Sports

Does ketchup go well with octopus? Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is about to find out. Kilpatrick is expected to receive a shipment of Pittsburgh goodies, including Heinz ketchup, Primanti Brothers sandwiches and an octopus from Wholey's Fish Market after winning a bet with Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl on the outcome of the Stanley Cup finals.

No such wager on the NBA Finals was widely reported in the days leading up to Game 1 between the Celtics and Lakers, but there's still time for Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to announce a bet. Count legendary sportswriter Frank Deford among those who hope they don't. "It's like teams pouring the Gatorade on the coach," Deford told the Boston Globe before February's Super Bowl. "The first time it was funny, the second time, OK. And then it never ends. It's really time to end this."

Is it time for civic bets to be retired? Take a look back at some of the more absurd wagers from the past 25 years and decide for yourself. Future public officials, take note.

1. Super Bowl XVII: Washington Redskins vs. Miami Dolphins

If Virginia Gov. Charles Robb and Florida Gov. Bob Graham wanted to be lame, they might have wagered crates of apples and oranges, respectively, on the 1983 showdown between the Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins. 300_honeybees.jpgInstead, they got creative. Robb put a Virginia pig named Josephine on the line, an ode to the Redskins' short and big-bellied offensive linemen, who were collectively referred to as the Hogs. Graham countered with 3,000 live Florida honeybees, a nod to the Dolphins' Killer B's defensive unit led by the likes of Bill Barnett, Bob Baumhower and Doug Betters.

Clearing space for running back John Riggins, the Hogs got the better of the B's in the game and the Redskins won 27-17. The delivery of the bees—Graham tripled his original offering and sent 9,000 total—was delayed until April by cold weather. In the meantime, Washington Post columnist Jack Eisen put in writing what many locals were probably wondering: "What f'hevvin's sake does Robb plan to do with a hive of bees, unless they're trained to sting only Republicans?" In fact, Roanoke, Va., city treasurer and beekeeper Gordon Peters housed the bees in a Super Bowl hive display in his "Honey-N-Hive Supply" store. Naturally, Virginia State Sen. Dudley "Buzz" Emick—his nickname predated the wager, believe it or not "“ aided in the delivery.

2. 1986 World Series: Boston Red Sox vs. New York Mets
If only Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn had the foresight to wager the rights to Bill Buckner in his bet with New York City Mayor Edward Koch. After the Mets capitalized on Buckner's infamous error to come back and win Game 6 and ray-knight.jpgthen went on to win Game 7, Flynn sent Koch victory crocks of Boston baked beans and New England clam chowder. Flynn also agreed to fly a New York flag above Boston City Hall for a week, though he refused to unfurl the "I Love the New York Mets: Don't Tread on Me" variety that Koch sent him. That's when this otherwise traditional bet got interesting.

Three days after it was raised, a group that called itself the Red Sox Revenge Squad stole the flag. The group told a Boston newspaper that it would hold the banner hostage until the Mets issued a formal apology "for the behavior of their security force and fans" after Red Sox secretary Jack Rogers was hit by a bottle following Game 7. It also demanded that Koch "dress up in a bunny outfit and scream to the people of New York, "˜Ray Knight (the Mets' third baseman and Series MVP) is my Cabbage Patch twin.'" A cheap imitation flag was raised following the theft and Koch refused to give in to the demands. He issued a warning to the thieves, saying he "salted" the flag with a mysterious substance that causes it and anyone holding it to dissolve in three weeks, "just like the tapes in Mission: Impossible." Koch also suggested that, if caught, the culprits should be placed in the Boston Common stocks. Flynn fired back through a spokesman: "I think New York City should be aware that the punitive treatment applied during the Pilgrim era has gone the way of Cotton Mather." Zing.

3. 1988 NBA Finals: Detroit Pistons vs. Los Angeles Lakers

When Walter Moore learned that Inglewood, Calif., Mayor Ed Vincent was offering up a copy of the Los Angeles Lakers' drug awareness video "˜Just Say No' as his half of their friendly wager, the Pontiac, Michigan mayor's blue-collar influence shined through. "At least he isn't offering sushi," said Moore, who offered two weeks' use of a sparkling new Pontiac Grand Prix and some Everlite bulbs (another Pontiac product) in exchange for the privilege to play the video "for the entire Pontiac City Council." Just say yes to watching the video, which features classic verses like this one:

I'm Kareem, the captain of the team,
I don't need drugs, I've got a higher thing,
My sky hook makes the team look good,
But there's a hook we gotta shake from the neighborhood.

Alas, Moore and the city of Pontiac missed out on Kurt Rambis' short-shorts, A.C. Green's killer shades, and James Worthy's amazing solo, as the Lakers prevailed in seven games. Vincent enjoyed his car, which he presumably drove to all of the local sushi bars while continuing to fight the war on drugs. "It's kinda nice," Vincent said. "Has some nice pistons."

4. 1993 World Series: Toronto Blue Jays vs. Philadelphia Phillies
A mayor has yet to wager his first born child on the outcome of a sporting event, but the Philadelphia Zoo did put up some of its extremely rare, yet-to-be-born white lion cubs against a pair of Tasmanian devils in a bet with the white-lion.jpgToronto Metro Zoo. Alan Tonks, a Toronto zoo representative, said the animals involved in the bet characterized each city's respective team. What better way to represent Lenny Dykstra, John Kruk and the rest of the Phillies than with an animal that treats its prey viciously and emits a foul odor when stressed, right? Toronto's zoo won the bet after the Blue Jays won the series in six games and the first white lion born in America was born in Philadelphia the following March. Tandi—the Zulu word for Joe Carter or Love, depending on who you ask—weighed 2 pounds, 6 ounces and became only the 15th white lion known in existence. Philadelphia made good on the bet by lending Tandi and her two sisters to the Toronto zoo the following summer.

As for the Tasmanian devils, they were to be a gift to Toronto from the Tasmanian government. But when the Australian Wildlife Protection Authority learned that the devils were part of a sports bet, they promptly canceled the shipment. "We don't export animals to be part of bets or publicity stunts," AWPA Director Paul Jewell said.

5. Super Bowl XXXIII: Atlanta Falcons vs. Denver Broncos
John Elway's second Super Bowl win and final career game in 1999 was preceded by several civic bets between cellucci.jpgofficials in Atlanta and Denver. Peanuts, buffalo steaks, Coca-Cola, an autographed football, Rocky Mountain oysters, custom-made golf balls, pecans and disposable cameras were all wagered, but they all paled in comparison to the bet between Denver Palm restaurant manager Scott Fickling and Atlanta Palm restaurant manager Willy Cellucci.

Cellucci (pictured) paid off the bet by dressing up in a Broncos cheerleader outfit and working as the maitre d' at Fickling's restaurant in Denver for three hours. Thankfully there's no visual evidence, but Fickling, who would've done the same thing at Cellucci's restaurant in Atlanta had the Falcons won, said the results weren't pretty. "Let's just say that Willy has a midriff issue," Fickling told the Denver Post. "We had the cheerleader outfit custom made—by Denver Tent and Awning Company."

6. 2002 Stanley Cup Finals: Carolina Hurricanes vs. Detroit Red Wings
Perhaps Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was too busy texting his ex-top aide to take the time to figure out that the Carolina Hurricanes play in Raleigh. Kilpatrick reportedly phoned the mayor in Charlotte—a three-hour drive from kwame.jpgRaleigh—to work out a wager before he realized his mistake. "Perhaps by the time the series is over, the Mayor of Detroit will know where the Hurricanes are based," Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker told the press. When the two mayors finally connected, Kilpatrick (pictured) wagered a Michigan cherry tree and a 20-pound octopus, while Meeker put up a North Carolina oak tree.

The Red Wings won the series and Kilpatrick won his tree, but he likely earned little respect from the people of Raleigh. The eco-friendly bet, though, paved the way for future "green wagers." St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman will plant a tree in front of the Xcel Energy Center wearing a Colorado Avalanche jersey before the Republican National Convention in August, the payoff for losing a bet on a first-round NHL playoff series to Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper.

7. 2007 Grey Cup: Saskatchewan Roughriders vs. Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Any bet that involves the loser and winner doing anything outside in Saskatchewan in February is worthy of making this list. In case you've been living under a rock, the Saskatchewan Roughriders beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 23-19 in last year's Grey Cup to win the CFL championship. As a result, Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz had to stand on a street corner in downtown Regina, Saskatchewan, wearing a Saskatchewan jersey and holding a sign that proclaimed the Roughriders as the greatest team in Canada. Katz had previously worn the jersey to a council meeting and donated four sets of Roughriders season tickets to charity as part of the bet. Regina Mayor Pat Fiacco braved the cold and stood next to Katz for at least part of the frigid ordeal, answering questions about who is the better mayor and muttering something about taxes. Only in Canada.

Scott Allen is an occasional contributor to mentalfloss.com. Back in January, he wrote a detailed history of The Bud Bowl.
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Big Questions
Who Was Heisman and Why Does He Have a Trophy?
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Brett Deering/Getty Images

On Saturday night, one of three finalists will be named this year's Heisman Trophy winner. But before anyone brings home the hardware, let’s answer a few questions about John Heisman and his famous award.

Who Exactly Was John Heisman?

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His name is mostly associated with the trophy now, but Heisman (right) was a player, coach, and hugely successful innovator in the early days of football. After playing for Brown and then Penn as a collegian from 1887 to 1891, Heisman became a coach at a series of schools that included Oberlin, Buchtel, Auburn, Clemson, Penn, Washington & Jefferson, Rice, and, most notably, Georgia Tech.

For What Football Innovations Does Heisman Get Credit?

Just some little trivial stuff like snapping the ball. Centers originally placed the ball on the ground and rolled it back to their quarterbacks, who would scoop it up and make plays. When Heisman was coaching at Buchtel (which later became the University of Akron), though, he had a 6’4” QB named Harry Clark. Clark was so tall that picking the ball up off the ground was wildly inefficient, so Heisman invented the center snap as an easy way to get the ball in Clark’s hands. Heisman also innovated the use of pulling guards for running plays and the infamous hidden-ball trick.

Any Other Shenanigans on Heisman’s Resume?

You bet. When Heisman found a way to gain an edge, he jumped on it no matter how ridiculous it seemed. When Heisman was coaching at Clemson in 1902, his team traveled to Atlanta for a game against Georgia Tech. Although Heisman was known for being a rather gruff disciplinarian, the Clemson team immediately started partying upon their arrival.

When Georgia Tech’s players and fans heard that the entire Clemson squad had spent the night before the game carousing, they prepared to coast to an easy win. When the game started, though, Clemson roared out of the gate en route to a 44-5 stomping.

How did Clemson crush Tech when by all rights they should have been ridiculously hungover? The “team” that everyone had seen partying the night before wasn’t really Heisman’s Clemson squad at all. He had sent his junior varsity players to Atlanta the night before to serve as drunken decoys, then quietly slipped his varsity team in on a morning train right before the game.

What Kind of Coach Was He?

Heisman worked as an actor in community stock theater during the summer – he consistently received rotten reviews – and allegedly spoke in a brusque, yet bizarrely ostentatious manner. Georgia Tech’s website relates a story of one of Heisman’s speeches he would break out on the first day of practice while describing a football: "What is this? It is a prolate spheroid, an elongated sphere - in which the outer leather casing is drawn tightly over a somewhat smaller rubber tubing. Better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football."

How Did His Name Get on the Trophy?

After leaving his head-coaching job at Rice in 1927, Heisman became the athletic director at New York’s Downtown Athletic Club. In 1935 the club began awarding the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy to the nation’s top college football star. (Chicago’s Jay Berwanger won the first trophy.) Heisman died of pneumonia the following fall before the second trophy could be awarded, and the club voted to rename the prize the Heisman Memorial Trophy Award.

Did He Ever Really Throw that Iconic Stiff Arm?

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Possibly, but Heisman didn’t have the ball in his hands all that much. Even though he was a fairly small guy at just 5’8” and 158 pounds, he played as a lineman throughout his college career.

The famous “Heisman pose” is actually based on Ed Smith, a former NYU running back who modeled for the trophy’s sculptor in 1934. Interestingly, Smith went years without knowing that he’d modeled for the famous trophy. His sculptor buddy Frank Eliscu had just needed a football player to model for a project, and Smith volunteered.

Smith figured Eliscu was just doing some little personal sculpture and remained totally oblivious to his spot in football history for the next 48 years until a documentary filmmaker called Smith to interview him about the Heisman in 1982. Smith initially had no idea what the guy was talking about, but he eventually remembered his modeling days. In 1985, the Downtown Athletic Club gave Smith his own copy of the Heisman, and in 1986 he even received recognition on the televised ceremony. He looked at the four finalists – Vinny Testaverde won that year – and quipped, "Whoever wins the award, I feel sorry for you, because you're going to be looking at my ugly face for a long time." [Pictured Above: Auburn's Bo Jackson in 1985.]

What’s a Heisman Trophy Worth on the Open Market?

Quite a bit. A number of Heisman winners have eventually sold their hardware, and the trophies fetch quite a bit of loot. O.J. Simpson got $230,000 for his, and several others have gone for six-figure prices. The most expensive trophy that’s changed hands was Minnesota back Bruce Smith’s 1941 award; it fetched $395,240.

How Did Steve Spurrier Change the Process?

SEC fans are going to be floored by this one, but the Ol’ Ball Coach did something really classy when he won the Heisman in 1966. Instead of taking the trophy for himself, Spurrier gave it to the University of Florida so the school could display it and let the student body enjoy it. Florida’s student government thought Spurrier’s generosity was so classy that they paid for a replica for Spurrier so he’d get to have his own trophy, too. Since then both the school and the player have received copies of the trophy.

So Heisman Must Have Been the World’s Greatest Sportsman, Right?

Well, not really. Heisman was on the victorious side of possibly the most gratuitously run-up score in sports history. In 1916 tiny Cumberland College canceled its football program and disbanded its squad, but it had previously signed a contract to travel to Atlanta to play Heisman’s Georgia Tech team. If Cumberland didn’t show up, they had to pay Georgia Tech a $3,000 penalty, which was quite a bit of cash in 1916.

Rather than forfeiting the money, Cumberland scraped together a team of 16 scrubs and went to take their walloping from Heisman’s boys. For reasons that still aren’t totally clear – some say it was to avenge an earlier baseball loss to Cumberland, while others claim Heisman wanted to make a statement about the absurdity of the old system of using total points scored to determine the national champion – the legendary coach showed Cumberland’s ragtag band no mercy. Tech went up 63-0 in the first quarter, but Heisman kept attacking until the final score was 222-0. There are tons of hilarious stats from the game, but the funniest is Georgia Tech rushing for 1,620 yards while Cumberland only squeaked out negative-96 yards on 27 carries.

This article originally appeared in 2010.

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#TBT
Thin Ice: The Bizarre Boxing Career of Tonya Harding
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Al Bello/Getty Images

In 2004, the Chicago Tribune asked Tonya Harding about the strangest business offer she had received after her skating career came to an abrupt end in the mid-1990s. “I guess to skate topless,” she answered. In 1994, the two-time former Olympian became infamous for her ex-husband’s attempt to break the leg of rival Nancy Kerrigan. Although Harding denied any knowledge of or involvement in the plan—which ended with Kerrigan suffering a bruised leg and Harding being banned from the U.S. Figure Skating organization, ending her competitive pursuits—she became a running punchline in the media for her attempts to exploit that notoriety. There was a sex tape (which her equally disgraced former husband, Jeff Gillooly, taped on their wedding night), offers to wrestle professionally, attempts to launch careers in both music and acting, and other means of paying bills.

Though she did not accept the offer to perform semi-nude, she did embark on a new career that many observers found just as lurid and sensational: For a two-year period, Tonya Harding was a professional boxer.

Tonya Harding rises from the canvas during a boxing match
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Following the attack on Kerrigan and the subsequent police investigation, Harding pled guilty to conspiracy to hinder prosecution, received three years’ probation, and was levied a $160,000 fine. (Gillooly and his conspirators served time.) Ostracized from skating and with limited opportunities, Harding first tried to enter the music scene with her band, the Golden Blades.

When that didn’t work—they were booed off stage in Portland, Oregon, Harding’s hometown—she disappeared from the public eye, offering skating lessons in Oregon before resurfacing on a March 2002 Fox network broadcast titled Celebrity Boxing. Using heavily padded gloves and outsized headgear, performers like Vanilla Ice and Todd Bridges pummeled one another on the undercard. In the main event, Harding used her physicality to batter and bruise Paula Jones, the woman who had accused then-president Bill Clinton of sexual harassment.

This was apparently the boost of confidence Harding needed. “I thought it was fun knocking somebody else on their butt,” she told the Tribune. Boxing, she said, could be an opportunity to embrace her self-appointed title as “America’s Bad Girl.”

Harding looked up a boxing promoter in Portland named Paul Brown and signed a four-year contract that would pay her between $10,000 and $15,000 per bout. The 5-foot, 1-inch Harding quickly grew in stature, moving to 123 pounds from her 105-pound skating weight. Following her win against Jones, Brown booked her a fight against up-and-coming boxer Samantha Browning in a four-round bout in Los Angeles in February 2003. The fight was said to be sloppy, with both women displaying their limited experience. Ultimately, Browning won a split decision.

Harding rebounded that spring, winning three fights in a row. Against Emily Gosa in Lincoln City, Oregon, she was roundly booed upon entering the arena. “The entire fight barely rose above the level of a drunken street brawl,” The Independent reported.

Of course, few spectators were there to see Harding put on a boxing clinic. They wanted to watch a vilified sports figure suffer some kind of public retribution for her role in the attack on Kerrigan. Following her brief winning streak, Harding was pummeled by Melissa Yanas in August 2003, losing barely a minute into the first round of a fight that took place in the parking lot of a Dallas strip club. In June 2004, she was stopped a second time against 22-year-old nursing student Amy Johnson; the Edmonton, Alberta, crowd cheered as Harding was left bloodied. Harding later told the press that Johnson, a native Canuck, had been given 26 seconds to get up after Harding knocked her down when the rules mandated only 10, which she saw as a display of national favoritism.

Harding had good reason to be upset. The Johnson fight was pivotal, as a win could have meant a fight on pay-per-view against Serbian-born boxer Jelena Mrdjenovich for a $600,000 purse. That bout never materialized.

Tonya Harding signs head shots on a table
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There was more than just lack of experience working against Harding in her newfound career. Having been a longtime smoker, she suffered from asthma. The condition plagued her skating career; in boxing, where lapses in cardiovascular conditioning can get you hurt, it became a serious problem. Although Harding competed again—this time emerging victorious in a fight against pro wrestler Brittany Drake in an exhibition bout in Essington, Pennsylvania, in January 2005—it would end up being her last contest. Suffering from pneumonia and struggling with weight gain caused by corticosteroids prescribed for treatment, she halted her training.

In an epilogue fit for Harding’s frequently bizarre escapades, there was remote potential for one last bout. In 2011, dot-com entrepreneur Alki David offered Harding $100,000 to step back into the ring, with another $100,000 going to her proposed opponent. Had it happened, it probably would have gone down as one of the biggest sideshows of the past century. Unfortunately for Harding, Nancy Kerrigan never responded to the offer.

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