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4 Extravagant College Boosters

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If you follow college sports, you're bound to hear about boosters. Sometimes they're mentioned in hushed tones as shadowy figures whose contributions to a program might not be totally above board, but they're often just regular fans who like to give their teams some extra cash. (In some cases, lots of extra cash. Wheelbarrows full of it.) In return for this funding, boosters often get access to coaches, practices, and players. Although you often don't hear about boosters until one of them breaks a rule by paying a player or giving a team member illegal gifts, most boosters are upstanding financial backers of their squads. Some, though, go well beyond the call of duty and give gigantic gifts that can help a team or athletic department thrive for decades. Here are a few notable extravagant boosters:

1. T. Boone Pickens, Oklahoma State University

Pickens made a $3 billion fortune in the oil and hedge fund industries, and he's also risen to fame as an outspoken advocate of alternative energy sources. Oklahoma State fans know Pickens as one of the most generous donors of all time, too. Pickens has given over $400 million to his alma mater, and the bulk of his donations have gone to the Cowboys' athletic department. His January 2006 gift of $165 million to OSU was the most generous donation in NCAA history. Even though this gift was later criticized because the cash went directly back into a hedge fund managed by Pickens, it's hard to sneer at what Pickens has done for the school's teams; his total donations to the athletic department total over $265 million. (And after all, someone needs to manage $165 million. You can't just stick it in a checking account.)

So what does all that dough buy you? When Pickens goes to see his beloved Cowboys play football now, he takes a seat in Boone Pickens Stadium.

2. Phil Knight, University of Oregon

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Nike co-founder Knight has made a killing in the sneaker game; he owns 35% of Nike, which gives him a net worth in the $10 billion range. As a Portland native and University of Oregon graduate, he loves the Ducks, for whom he once ran on the track team. Most fans know that Knight has forged a strong connection between Oregon athletics and Nike, if only because of the football team's odd trademark Nike jerseys. He's given more than threads to the school's athletic department, though; he's forked over some serious cash as well. Knight's given around $230 million to the university, most of which has gone towards athletics. He and his wife recently announced a $100 million pledge to another athletic fund at the school. Knight is relatively private about his sports philanthropy, though, and some fans suspect the actual number could be even higher; they often attribute anonymous donations to athletic programs to Knight. On top of that, he's been extremely generous to the university's academic side as well.

Knight's donations don't make him universally beloved, though. Some fans think he might wield too much influence within the athletic department. He's got his own locker in the Ducks' locker room, and he apparently helped influence the school into hiring his pal Pat Kilkenny as its athletic director despite Kilkenny's lack of degree or relevant experience. When Knight pulled his donation from the track program following personal and philosophical clashes with the team's head coach, the coach resigned despite having led the team through a strong season, a move some suspected Knight forced. That's one of the downsides of boosters, though. Get on their bad side, and you're pretty much gone.

3. Ralph Engelstad, University of North Dakota

The late Engelstad sounds like quite a character. He was a self-made man as an independent owner of casinos in Las Vegas and Biloxi, Mississippi, and he periodically fell under criticism for his large collection of Nazi paraphernalia, including a painting of himself dressed in full Nazi garb and murals of Hitler. He also loved his alma mater, the University of North Dakota, and held a special place in his heart for the hockey team. Engelstad was a long-time booster of UND's Fighting Sioux teams, and he provided the funds for a new $104 million arena on campus.

There was just one hitch, though: Englestad was extremely wedded to the Fighting Sioux nickname. As teams around the country started changing offensive Native American nicknames, Engelstad threatened to withdraw his financial support for the arena unless the name stayed. To help make sure the nickname would stick, Engelstad had the school's Sioux logo stuck in thousands of places around the plush new arena. The state's Board of Higher Education eventually agreed to table discussion of the nickname, but at present, the school has until 2010 to convince the state's Sioux tribes to agree to let the nickname stand, or Engelstad's beloved teams might have to change their names.

4. Bobby Lowder, Auburn University

You might think that the most powerful man in Auburn's football program is head coach Tommy Tuberville, but that might not be completely true. Lower, a 1964 Auburn grad, throws around a good deal of weight as well. While most boosters are tied only to a university's athletic department, Lowder, the founder of The Colonial BancGroup, also sits on school's publicly appointed board of trustees. From this chair, Lowder can exercise huge influence over the school's athletics, even if his $20 million or so in financial donations don't rank up there with the big boys like Knight and Pickens. Lowder allegedly has used his influence at Auburn to convince coaches to quit and then exercised some degree of control of the hiring of their successors. When Auburn nearly dumped Tuberville in an effort to lure Louisville coach Bobby Petrino to the sidelines, the school's president and athletic director secretly flew to Louisville to chat with Petrino. How did they travel in secret? By taking Lowder's private jet. Now that's influence. No wonder ESPN named him college sports' most powerful booster.

Ethan Trex co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 

PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

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