Memorable Biting Incidents in Sports History

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Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson will star in a one-man show on Broadway titled Undisputed Truth.

It is not a comedy.

You could've won a lot of money back on June 28, 1997, betting that the man responsible for one of the most bizarre incidents in sports history would one day work with Spike Lee on a Broadway production.

But 15 years after he bit the ears of opponent Evander Holyfield during a WBA title bout, that's exactly what Tyson is doing.

During the promotional tour last week, (former) Today host Ann Curry interviewed Tyson about his reasons for doing the play and about his decision to follow a healthier lifestyle.

"You're a vegan?' asked Curry with no hint of irony. 'What changed you?'

Said Tyson, "There's too many prison cells, too many jails, too many lawsuits, too many bankruptcies, too many women, too many venereal diseases, too many everything."

If only he'd been a vegan 15 years ago, Holyfield would've been better off.

Tyson actually bit Holyfield twice in the bout. Referee Mills Lane deducted two points the first time. When Tyson bit Holyfield again in another clinch in the third round, Lane called the bout.

Announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr.'s reading of the decision -- "Referee Mills Lane has disqualified Mike Tyson for biting Evander Holyfield on both of his ears" -- was perhaps the most interesting in boxing history.

Tyson lost his boxing license but was reinstated a year later.

In 2009, Tyson apologized to Holyfield on Oprah. But barring even more bizarre behavior on Broadway, that incident is guaranteed to get top billing in Tyson's obituary.

Almost as shocking as the actual incident itself is that Tyson wasn't the first or the last sports figure involved in a biting incident:

In the 1983 NBA playoffs, a scrum broke out between Atlanta's center Wayne "Tree" Rollins and the Boston Celtics' Danny Ainge. Because Ainge was the smaller man and such a pest as a player, many mistakenly believe to this day he did the biting. But it was Ainge who received stitches and a tetanus shot after Rollins clamped down on his finger.

They never made up on Oprah. Not even on Geraldo.

The next day's classic newspaper headline had to suffice: "Tree Bites Man."

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South African rugby player Johan Le Roux bit New Zealand's Sean Fitzpatrick's ear during a real scrum in 1994. After learning of his lengthy suspension, Le Roux said, "For an 18-month suspension, I feel I probably should have torn it off."

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Ottawa Senators right wing Jarko Ruutu denied biting the thumb of Buffalo's Andrew Peters in 2009 but was suspended for two games and fined $31,700. Makes the price of Kobe beef look like Alpo.

"I don't think if I did something that stupid I'd really be admitting to it either," Peters said.

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Sevilla midfielder Francisco Gallardo celebrated a teammate's goal by biting on his genitals in the ensuing pileup. The teammate's genitals. The Royal Spanish Football Federation suspended and fined him for violating "sporting dignity and decorum."

It's the age-old question. Why did he do it? Because he could.

Said Gallardo: “I am sure I didn’t offend anyone. I don’t think what I did was very noteworthy.”

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An English club rugby player accepted a 80-week ban in 2008 for an incident that left an opponent with "a partial amputation of the right index finger."

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Vancouver winger Alex Burrows appeared to bite the right finger of Bruins center Patrice Bergeron during the first game of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals.

"They didn't see it," Bergeron said of the refs. "But we were speaking French and I [asked Burrows] why did he do that. That linesman speaks French, and he said that [Burrows'] explanation was that he put my finger in his mouth and he had to do it."

Boston's Milan Lucic taunted Burrows later in the series, offering his finger for a nibble.

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Philadelphia Flyers enforcer Daniel Carcillo claimed Boston's Marc Savard bit him during Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals series in 2010.

"Last time I have been bit was in grade school. It's not a good feeling. ... Guys don't bite. Men don't bite," Carcillo said.

Said Savard, "He pummeled on my face. He pulled on my teeth, so I guess that's biting when a guy tried and pull your front teeth out like his."

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Alabama wide receiver Robert Baker caught a touchdown pass on the final play of a 1996 game against Georgia. Alabama won, apparently riling up Georgia Bulldog mascot Uga V, who lunged at Baker in the back of the endzone and tried to bite him. We should probably clarify here that Uga V is an actual canine and not a man dressed up as a dog.

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Philadelphia's Aaron Asham claimed Pittsburgh Penguins' forward Matt Cooke bit him during a fight. "My glove got tangled in his mouth and he bit me, so I lost it," said Asham.

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In 1997, broadcaster Marv Albert bit female companion Vanessa Perhach multiple times in Virginia, leading to a trial on assault charges. Albert admitted at the trial that biting was part of their sexual encounters but that long-time acquaintance Perhach had never lodged any complaints over it.

The plea agreement didn't come until after testimony from a surprise witness, Hyatt Hotels concierge Patricia Masten.

She said in another time and place she rejected Albert's biting advances, telling the court, “I went to grab his hair, and his hair lifted off.”

Albert understandably entered the plea agreement soon after and was given a 12-month suspended sentence.

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Sports isn't the bastion of biting it might seem after reading these examples. In 2011, a Denver woman, Emi Coleman, walked into a store, groped a male customer and bit him on the neck. She then approached a store clerk, asked for a hug and proceeded to bite the woman on the neck, too.

She's included on this list because shopping is more competitive than most sports.

Not sure who's to blame for setting a bad example for Coleman: Tyson, Albert or Barnabas Collins?

Bud Shaw is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who has also written for the Philadelphia Daily News, San Diego Union-Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The National. You can read his Plain Dealer columns at Cleveland.com, and read all his mental_floss articles here.

June 28, 2012 - 9:42am
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