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The Best of Thom Loverro:
Selected Washington Times columns from 1997

Racing may have found its four-legged savior

BALTIMORE - It is a celebration of America's vices, a trio of events where the country rubs elbows with the Guys and Dolls who spend their time looking for the angles and figuring the odds. Horse racing's Triple Crown is a nation's walk on the wild side, and the second jewel in the crown - the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course - might never have been wilder - or better - than it was yesterday.
 
After 10 horses ran for 1 3/16 miles, the winner of the Preakness Stakes came down to simply the rhythm of one horse's head movement. As Free House's head was bobbing up in his stride, Silver Charm's was moving down - and forward - as they crossed the finish line and Silver Charm claimed victory in one of the most exciting Preakness Stakes ever. Captain Bodgit was right behind the duo in the second closest three-horse finish over the 122 years of the Preakness.

"To steal a line from my father, from the Sunday Silence and Easy Goer duel in 1989, this is the best that our sport has to offer," said Joe De Francis, owner of Pimlico and Laurel race courses.
 
With that nose pointed in the right direction, Silver Charm is now poised to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, should he triumph three weeks from now in the Belmont Stakes. And the aura that comes with the prospects of a Triple Crown winner - there have been only 11 - captures the attention of the sports world, which couldn't come at a better time for the struggling Sport of Kings.
 
"I think this is just great for horse racing," said Robert Lewis, one of Silver Charm's owners.
Racing needs a Triple Crown winner, or at least the possibility of one. Competition from other forms of the burgeoning gambling industry has been delivering a slow death to racing and those in the business, such as De Francis, are looking to one form doing the killing - slot machines - to save them.

Maryland racing people are feeling the pressure of slot machines all around them. Slots at Dover Downs and Delaware Park have been a huge success. Slots will be at Charles Town in West Virginia in June, and a push is on in the Pennsylvania legislature to put slot machines in tracks there.

It's inevitable then, despite Gov. Parris Glendening's opposition, that slots will come to tracks in Maryland. That's too bad because they are souless devices that have no place in a theater with such color and drama.
 
On a normal Saturday at Pimlico, about 10,000 people show up. Yesterday there were nearly 89,000. Many of them don't even see the race from their raucous infield parties, but they come anyway because the track is the place where men with cheap cigars and crooked noses - unfortunately, a dying breed - ply their trade, an interactive Guys and Dolls.
 
That's the image of the track. Tell me, what image do you think of with slot machines? Little old ladies losing their Social Security checks, and John Thompson hoping to cash in. What do the losers get for their money? Bells and lights.

Anyone who dropped money on yesterday's Preakness got a lot more than that. The minutes leading up to the horses getting into the starting gate is much like the anticipation in the arena before a heavyweight title fight. The call of an exciting horse race is the best sportscasting in the business. And then once in a while, you have a battle for the ages like yesterday's, when your heart is pumping with each stride of the horse you picked only to have the race end so close that you don't know if you won.
 
Bob Baffert, Silver Charm's silver-haired trainer, didn't know if his horse had won either.
"I wasn't sure," he said. "I looked at the board, but I wasn't sure." Baffert's caution is understandable - his horse, Cavonnier, was on the losing end of a photo finish at last year's Kentucky Derby.
 
He would just as soon not have to deal with another photo in the final leg of the Triple Crown, but his jockey would welcome a few photos before then. Said Gary Stevens: "I'd love to see thoroughbred racing back on the cover of Sports Illustrated and Time magazine."

The last time that happened was 1973, with the great Secretariat. People cried when Secretariat died. The only tears shed over slot machines is when the rent money is lost. The one-armed bandits may eventually find their way to Pimlico, but they should be disarmed on Preakness Day.

May 18, 1997
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In Brave new world, Dr. Johnson still has all the right moves

ATLANTA - It was like Dr. Frankenstein being allowed back in the laboratory. "Bodies!" screamed Dr. Frankenstein to Igor. "I need more bodies!"

"Players!" screamed Dr. Davey Johnson, to his bench. "I need more players!"

Like Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Davey has created a monster that is devouring all of baseball. The Baltimore Orioles consumed the Atlanta Braves in three straight games, finshing them off yesterday with a 5-3 win that came with some experimental moves by Dr. Davey that the Food and Drug Administration might not have approved.

Dr. Davey got a taste of managing again in the National League this weekend in the Orioles' three-game interleague series with the Braves, and by yesterday he was like a food addict at a buffet.

Dr. Davey once called the National League his mad lab during his years with the New York Mets and Cincinnati Reds. When he came to Baltimore last year, Dr. Davey complained about not being able to strut his stuff, with the limited moves a manager can make in the American League game.

But in the bottom of the ninth in the first game Friday night, with the Orioles ahead 4-3, Dr. Davey pulled off a triple switch - Lenny Webster behind the plate, batting fifth; Randy Myers in to pitch, batting seventh; and Tony Tarasco in to play right field, and batting ninth.

"I just wanted to show you all I could still do it," Dr. Davey joked after the game.

But that move just rekindled the mad doctor in the Baltimore manager, and yesterday he was out of control, double switching here, there and everywhere, moving players all around the field, changing his lineup more times than Dennis Rodman changes hair color.

At one point, he may have tried to write Mookie Wilson's name in there.

In the bottom of the eighth, with the score tied 3-3, he brought in Armando Benitez to pitch and bat eighth. He brought Roberto Alomar, who didn't start, to play second and bat ninth, the spot due up in the ninth inning. And he moved Jeff Reboulet from second to shortstop, pulling Mike Bordick.

Bordick had already taken the field and seemed confused as he was walking off slowly.

"It caught me by surprise," Bordick said. "But when I saw Robbie coming out, I knew it was a double switch. It's a good thing that Davey is used to that stuff."

But that was nothing compared to what Dr. Davey concocted in the ninth. In the top of the inning, he pinch hit Pete Incaviglia for Reboulet, and Incaviglia grounded out with Alomar on second base.

When Reboulet, who had been in the on-deck circle, came back to the dugout after being replaced by Incaviglia, the players were thoroughly confused. "Everyone was talking about it, who was going to play where," he said.

With Reboulet and Bordick now both out of the game, the stage was set for a bizarre dramatic moment - Cal Ripken was about to play shortstop again for the first time this year. B.J. Surhoff moved to third and Incaviglia started the bottom of the ninth in left field.

"It was a little different than I remember it," Ripken said. "I'm glad to do it in a fallback situation, but I was just getting comfortable at third base."

Great, now he doesn't want to play shortstop. He's lucky Dr. Davey didn't ask him to pitch next.

As it was, all the moves may have even confused the mad doctor. After sending Incaviglia out to left field, Johnson took him out after three batters, perhaps realizing that in a tie game in the ninth inning he had someone in left field whose hands are so bad they rust when it rains. Dr. Davey moved Jeffrey Hammonds to left field and put Tarasco in right.

"I didn't have a lot of options," Dr. Davey said after the game, trying to explain all the moves. "I was running out of pitching and I'm comfortable with Cal at shortstop and B.J. at third.

"It was good to be able to do some things," Dr. Davey said, but he acknowledged, "maybe I overdid it a bit."

It doesn't matter, because there is something going on with this team that is more sorcery than science.

On Saturday, Chris Hoiles, who strikes out five times and is one strike away from a record sixth whiff, gets the game-winning hit in the top of the 12th.

Yesterday, a ball hit down the left-field line in the bottom of the sixth by Chipper Jones should have scored two runs and given the Braves a 4-3 lead. But the ball went through a small gap just barely as wide as the ball, created when a Turner Field security guard left a gate open. The hit was declared a ground rule double, allowing just one run to score to tie the game at 3-3.

And in the top of the 12th, Webster, with 12 career home runs over six major league seasons, gets the game-winning hit with a two-run homer off ace reliever Mark Wohlers, completing the sweep of the NL champions and giving the Orioles an astounding record of 45-19.

The moves for this Orioles team are being seemingly decided at a higher level than on the field. But that didn't stop Dr. Davey yesterday from showing that he still knows his way around the laboratory.

June 16, 1997
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Tyson-Holyfield II hardly I for the ages;
Challenger's tactics were simply bizarre

LAS VEGAS - Mike Tyson may have wanted a piece of Evander Holyfield, but what he did in the ring at the MGM Grand Garden on Saturday night went too far.

Tyson's bizarre behavior in the third round of Holyfield-Tyson II - biting Holyfield once on each ear to merit a disqualification - changed the face of boxing. Now, the sport will have to add a new measurement to the tale of the tape - length of ear lobe.

"He caught me with a good shot and bit my ear and spit it out," Holyfield said after the fight. "Look at the bite! I'm missing part of my ear!"

It was clear that Tyson was missing a few things as well - his head, his heart and the ability to beat Holyfield - all of which led to Tyson's Hannibal Lecter impersonation.

Holyfield was controlling the fight, winning the first two rounds, and he had already taken the best that Tyson likely could give him and kept on coming.

There is little doubt that Holyfield was on his way to an even easier victory than the first fight, just as he predicted.

What Tyson did in the ring was his "no-mas" version of what Roberto Duran did 17 years ago against Sugar Ray Leonard. Except this was the way a bully and a convict does it, and it only sunk Tyson even lower as a member of the human race. Given his previous status - a foul-mouthed convicted rapist - that is no small feat.

"He was looking for a way out of there," said Don Turner, Holyfield's trainer. "What's the easiest way to do that? By getting disqualified."

Of course, it could have all been a misunderstanding. There were reports that Tyson's trainer, Richie Giachetti, told the fighter in the corner after the second round to "box his ears off," and Tyson heard otherwise.

But no, Tyson knew what he was doing. Like the good family man he is, he was protecting his children.

"He [Holyfield] butted me in the first round, then he butted me in the second round," Tyson said. "Then, as soon as he butted me, I watched him. He looked right at me. He kept going at me again and again. No one took any points away from him. What am I to do? This is my career. I can't continue to get butted like that. I've got children to raise. I've got to retaliate."

But that absurd reasoning doesn't hold up. If Tyson truly wanted to retaliate, he should have known all he had to do was land a purposeful low blow.

The worst that would have happened to him was a one-point deduction. And it certainly doesn't explain the second bite.

Tyson quit, and he did so in perhaps the most cowardly manner in boxing history.

"Things like that happen in the street, but they have no place here," said Holyfield's assistant trainer, Tommy Brooks. "It's completely disgusting."

Tyson may no longer have a place at the MGM. Hotel officials should be disgusted as well after the horrific scene that took place, both in the arena and the hotel and casino, after the fight. Police were able to eventually stop the fighting in the ring between members of both camps - though Tyson took several swings at police officers - and kept the numerous fights in the audience from spreading into a full-scale riot.

But in the casino, there was violence and mayhem. Guests swore they heard several rounds of gunfire, and panic sent thousands of people running for cover, screaming, trampling one another.

"It was the worst thing I've ever seen," one restaurant manager said. "We had people running into our kitchen for cover."

Hotel officials and local police insist there were no shots fired, but a number of guests said otherwise. Police certainly thought so at the time. They had guns drawn, ducking for cover. They closed off traffic in and out of the hotel, and they warned guests not to leave their rooms.

It was a public-relations nightmare for the hotel, already sensitive to the issue of violence at Tyson fights after rap singer Tupac Shakur was shot outside the hotel after the Tyson-Bruce Seldon bout last September.

Tyson has one more fight on his contract with MGM, but they surely can't allow him to ever fight here again, though hotel spokesman Bill Doak refused to comment yesterday on Tyson's future with the hotel. Tyson's $30 million pursewas held up pending a hearing by the Nevada Athletic Commission, which most likely will suspend Tyson, possibly for a year, and could fine him 10 percent of his purse. That's $1.5 million per ear.

And Holyfield, who retained his World Boxing Association title, should never step into the ring with Tyson again. His attorney, Jim Thomas, said they likely won't.

"At this point in time, we do not believe that Mike Tyson deserves the privilege of being in the ring with Evander Holyfield," he said.

There are other options for Holyfield. He could fight the winner of the Lennox Lewis-Henry Akinwande bout next month for the World Boxing Council championship. There is also the possibility of a fight with International Boxing Federation title holder Michael Moorer, who unseated Holyfield during his second reign as champion with a 12-round decision in April 1994.

Tyson? Unfortunately, he may be far from through. His promoter, Don King, who was in hiding yesterday, has strong influence over both the IBF and WBC, and he could use that to get another title fight for Tyson.

The Nevada Athletic Commission could go a long way toward taking a well-deserved bite out of Tyson with a long suspension. If they don't, Thomas indicated that Holyfield could go to court, either with criminal charges or a civil suit, to make sure justice is done.

"Somebody on the behalf of decency and justice should do something," Thomas said.

Somebody can. There is a tough judge back in Indianapolis named Patricia Gifford, the same judge who sent Tyson to jail in 1992. She should get a tape of Tyson's performance in the ring after the fight, when he took a couple of swings at a police officer. Then she should make a call to Tyson, and request his appearance to answer the question if this is proper behavior for an Indiana parolee.

June 30. 1997
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The Mad Doctor brews winning potion

SEATTLE - Dr. Davey said he had the right formula, but it looked more like a solution for Flubber than for a victory. The formula? Open the Division Series against the Seattle Mariners with three of your starters - your three best hitters - on the bench.

It doesn't matter that sitting down left-handed hitters Rafael Palmeiro, B.J Surhoff and Roberto Alomar had worked the other times the Baltimore Orioles had faced hard-throwing left-hander Randy Johnson this season. This was the playoffs, and to see a team essentially say our best hitters aren't good enough to play was unsettling.

But Davey Johnson, the mad scientist running the Orioles, was convinced he had the right mixture for this particular situation: Jerome Walton for Palmeiro at first, Jeff Reboulet for Alomar at second and Jeffrey Hammonds for Surhoff in right field. He was willing to bear the brunt of the explosion if it blew up in his face.

"That's why they pay me the big money to make these kinds of decisions," Johnson said before the game. "If it doesn't work, then I'll take the fall."

There would be no fall. It worked big time as the Orioles stomped the mighty Randy Johnson and his fearsome fastball 9-3 at the Kingdome to take a 1-0 lead in the Division Series.

Now they will sing the praises of Dr. Davey and marvel at his genius. They might even nominate him for a Nobel Prize, which he might have to share with winner Mike Mussina.
Mussina also was a big part of the success of the formula, striking out nine and walking none, allowing just two runs in seven innings, and getting the mighty Ken Griffey out three times on two weak infield hits and a foul pop. The evidence was there that it would work. Baltimore had won all three games. Randy Johnson started against them this year with its revamped right-handed lineup. But the stakes were much higher now, and Dr. Davey was going to bench 72 home runs and 258 RBI in favor of three hitters who had a combined 28 home runs and 91 RBI.

Heck, Palmeiro alone (38 home runs, 110 RBI) had better numbers than the Dr. Davey's experimental trio.

"I'll bet no one in history has ever started a playoff series by sitting down their leading home run hitter and RBI guy," said general manager Pat Gillick. "But it's the logical thing to do."
The numbers were logical. Palmeiro is just 1-for-21 lifetime against Johnson, Surhoff 2-for-12 and Alomar 8-for-37. And since Alomar, normally a switch-hitter, is restricted to batting just left-handed because of a injured left shoulder, it would only be worse.

"Randy Johnson is the most intimidating pitcher in baseball, particularly to left-handed hitters, so I'm going with my right-handers," Dr. Davey said before the game. "It's a decision I can live with."

The Mariners couldn't live with it, though, and Randy Johnson seemed like the intimidated one. Hammonds walked twice and scored twice. Reboulet delivered a key two-strike sacrifice bunt that put the runners in scoring position for Eric Davis's two-run single in the top of the fifth that gave the Orioles a 4-1 lead. Walton went hitless in two at-bats, but the overall idea worked. Johnson left the game after just five innings, having thrown 100 pitches, giving up five runs on seven hits and four walks.

Dr. Davey's formula was working even better than expected. Orioles hitters lit up right-handed reliever Mike Timlin for four more runs. Johnson brought in Palmeiro for Walton, and he hit a double to center. He brought in Alomar for Reboulet, and he received an intentional walk and later scored when Dr. Davey brought in Surhoff, who drove a two-run double down the right-field line in the top of the sixth inning.

By this time, the only noise coming from the crowd of 59,979 - the largest ever for a baseball game at the Kingdone - was booing for their home team. So not only had Dr. Davey handled Randy Johnson, he had now turned the usually frenzied Seattle crowd against the Mariners. The formula was almost Einstein-like in it's execution.

The only question that remains is where last night's lineup card should wind up - the National Baseball Hall of Fame or in a science exhibit at the Smithsonian.

October 2, 1997
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In hard-luck Homestead, Indian givers are despised

MIAMI - There's a town south of Miami where no one speaks the name of the American League champions. "They are referred to as the other team here," said Herb Yamamura, owner of the Sports Page Pub and Restaurant. "No one mentions Cleveland."

The people of Homestead, a town of about 30,000 some 45 minutes south of Pro Player Stadium, had some very personal reasons to root against the Indians in Game 1 last night of the World Series, other than the obvious one of pulling for their home team, the Florida Marlins.

Homestead hates the Indians because in the city's worst hour, the Indians betrayed them. When this community was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Andrew five years ago, the Indians added to the pain by abandoning plans to come there for spring training.

"They kicked us when we were down," said Homestead vice mayor Steve Bateman. "It was a cruel thing to do."

That was the final insult to the terrible injury that Homestead suffered at the hands of Hurricane Andrew, which blew through on Aug. 24, 1992, and nearly leveled the town - including the $12 million Homestead Sports Complex into which the Indians were scheduled to move the following spring after leaving their longtime Tucson, Ariz., spring home.

City officials made rebuilding the stadium a priority because now, more than ever, they believed it was important to the economic recovery of the community.

"Within 48 hours of the storm, we went to work to rebuild the stadium," Bateman said. "We worked hard to have it ready for them."

The complex had become a symbol of hope for a city trying to rise from the rubble. They managed to have it ready in time for two exhibition games the following spring between the Indians and the Marlins, but in April 1993, the Indians said forget it. Reneging on their deal, they moved instead to Winter Haven, Fla.

"We were very hurt," Bateman said. "And those feelings still run deep here. We embraced them with open arms. We built this stadium for them, even using their team colors [red, white and blue]."

But it turned out that the Indians' true colors were yellow. Millionaire developer and club owner Dick Jacobs looked at the bottom line, and that bottom line said it would be a long time before Homestead would be back on its feet. At a time when cities in Florida were falling over themselves to get teams to train in their communities, why should the Indians suffer along with Homestead?

So they threw salt in the wounds and informed city officials that the stadium they had built and rebuilt had been an exercise in futility because the Indians had no intention of playing there.

"That wasn't right," Yamamura said. "It really hurt everyone here, and it came at the worst time possible."

Bob DiBiasio, Indians vice president of public relations, disputes the claim that the baseball complex was developed with the Indians in mind.

"Actually, it was built for the Orioles in mind," DiBiasio said. "But when they left Miami and went to Sarasota, Homestead was looking to get anyone to go down there."

But DiBiasio did not argue that the Indians pulled out when things were at their worst.

"We had a deal, but when the hurricane hit, we had no choice," he said. "We had to do something."

They did something lousy. They used the misfortune that had befallen this city to back out of a deal that was a poor baseball move to begin with. The club's business side pushed for the move to Homestead because the city made it such a great deal, offering numerous financial incentives - including paying the expenses of traveling teams.

But it would have been difficult to get teams to visit because of Homestead's distant location, especially minor league clubs to play the Indians minor leaguers at the complex, and the club's baseball people wanted out. So it was Cleveland's good fortune that the worst natural disaster in the history of South Florida came along when it did.

Homestead has been unable to get another team to move to the complex since and has struggled to come up with ways to utilize it. Most recently it was used for a college baseball tournament.

"We haven't had much luck with it," Bateman said.

So there is no doubt where everyone in Homestead stands in this World Series. "This is a Marlins town," Yamamura said.

It's a heartbroken town as well, one looking for a small measure of revenge. For the people of Homestead, it's payback time.

October 19, 1997
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In the semipros, the game’s the thing

The men dress in a high school locker room that is foreign to them but at the same time familiar - with small benches, small lockers, no names and no numbers - the very sort of lockers they used when they were stars at their own high schools. Some players have their injuries taped by coaches, each other or themselves, and some bring their own tools to repair their helmets and other football gear. Scratchy music from a portable tape player plays in the background, and the room reeks of ointment and sweat.

Outside, two maintenance workers line the field at Theodore Roosevelt High School in the District, getting it ready for play.

One elderly man walking around the track at the school asks, "Are they going to play a game here tonight?"

Damn right they are. Washington Chiefs football - providing, of course, the other team shows up, which is just one of the hazards of minor-league football.

In August, Chiefs owner Richard Myles had a game lined up for his team at Richard Montgomery High School in Montgomery County and the opponent showed up several hours late, too late to play.

"I had the Montgomery County executive there for this game," Myles said, "a color guard, all these Montgomery County dignitaries supporting me, and the [other] team's bus broke down. I had to give all the money back. That's how it is sometimes in minor-league football."
On this night, the Durham Bulls do show up, though not in a team bus. The players drive the six hours from North Carolina in their own cars. So tonight, Myles won't have to give any money back. With about 100 people in the stands, there wouldn't be much to return anyway. Again, that's just how it is sometimes in minor-league football.

For Myles, a physical education teacher, these trials of owning a minor-league football team don't detract from his enthusiasm and optimism. "I'm still like a sleeping giant," Myles said. "No one knows I'm here. But I know this will catch on. We've got something good here."
Semipro football has been around since the days of the first game in Canton, Ohio, long before the National Football League became a powerhouse. But unlike minor-league baseball, these small-scale football operations - while sometimes solid, popular teams - are often ragtag ventures, sometimes nothing more than glorified sandlot football.

Several semipro teams dot the Washington area, including the Washington Stonewalls and the Fredericksburg Generals, among others.

Myles and the league his Chiefs belong to - the Minor Football League - are seeking to change the image of minor-league football. The MFL is a league formed a few years back with several goals: to bring more of a sense of professionalism to minor-league football and to support community services. Like the Chiefs - who won the MFL championship last year with a record of 10-2 and who play tonight in this season's championship game - all teams must be nonprofit organizations.

"This is not sandlot football," Myles said. "We provide everything for the guys except pay them. And we are a community-based organization that specializes in youth and community services."

The Chiefs provide players with equipment and uniforms - and insurance - Myles said. These are luxuries not often offered by many semipro teams.

"If it looks professional, then people will come to see it," he said. "We offer family entertainment. The Chiefs help organizations raise money by selling tickets. I try to get local bands to play at the games. The money came from me, my job. Every spare moment, I'm out there trying. I just need a little help."

Myles has gotten help for his venture from some familiar sources. Former Washington Redskins defensive tackle Bobby Wilson is one of the Chiefs' backers and one of Myles' biggest supporters. Myles met Wilson several years ago when he visited the Redskins camp to try to get some players interested in his venture. Wilson said he would come to see the Chiefs play and was impressed with the commitment of the players.

"I saw a desire in the eyes of the guys," Wilson said. "I came out to a practice once after I met Mr. Myles. I watched them practice and found out they weren't getting paid, and I thought that I wouldn't do that. That takes some serious courage, and I want to be a part of it. That's initially how I got into it."

Wilson, a Redskins' former top draft choice who had to retire after five seasons because of back problems and other injuries, helped Myles get some professional equipment, got involved with coaching and set up the Chiefs in an office above his record shop on Georgia Avenue NW.

"I try to help bring a professional look to it," Wilson said. "I think the guys get a kick out of me being out there trying to show them some things that I've experienced at the pros. It's good for them. I'm trying to get guys at the next level. I tell Richard and the other minor-league teams if you got a guy who is an exceptional athlete, let me know and I will try to get him a shot."

Wilson is not the only former Redskin who has become involved with the Chiefs. Last year, former running back Ricky Ervins helped with coaching, as has former safety Clarence Vaughn and former running back Reggie Branch. Former Redskin receiver Calvin Muhammad played several games for the Chiefs last season and this year, and will play in the MFL title game tonight at Theodore Roosevelt High School against the Rochester Renegades. Former Redskin defensive back Rickie Harris is the commissioner of the MFL.

David Lawrence wants his shot. The 20-year-old wide receiver thought he had it when he was a star at Spingarn High School in the District his senior year. But he wound up getting shot, and that ended his plans of playing college football.

The bullet is still near the base of his spine. "They tried to get it out, but if they went in, I could have been paralyzed from the waist down," he said. "I wasn't supposed to play anymore, but I couldn't stay away from the game."

Like nearly every minor-league player, Lawrence has a full-time job, working at Hechinger's Mall in the District in Northeast. But he will pay someone to work his shift so he can make the Chiefs' weekly practice. "I've got to make a couple of sacrifices, but it will pay off," Lawrence said. "I've got a little boy I'm trying to support and be a role model for."
Lawrence is hoping that he will get an NFL tryout, but he said he would play even without that chance. "Even if I'm not able to go to the next level, I would still play the game that I love until my body says it's time to quit."

They may be players with NFL dreams or those who have no such illusions, but they all share something in common: football - in their blood, running so deep that they will put their full-time jobs at risk just to play. On this fall Saturday night, they prepare to throw themselves into battle for the Chiefs.
 
While players finish dressing in the locker room, Myles gives a pitch for professionalism. "When we go out there, I don't want any hats on anyone, only helmets," he said. "And put your shirts in your pants."

John Smith, a running back from Silver Spring, added a personal touch to his game outfit. He has written on the tape on one wrist, "I love you, Mom," and "Jesus is Lord" on the tape on the other wrist. "My mother just got out of the hospital, and I'm dedicating this game to her," he said.

Smith, 29, is a security guard at the National Archives and also is studying to be a preacher. He is in his first year with the Chiefs. In fact, he hadn't played competitive football for 10 years, since he played at Sherwood High School in Olney. "I never went to college, but I always still wanted to play football," he said. "Last year, I decided to try it again. I love the game, and I'm glad to get a chance to do it again."

After going over some plays on a blackboard, Myles yells, "Let's go!" But there is no mad dash for the door. Players straggle in and out, some still arriving, as most of the team heads for the field for pre-game warmups.

"Ladies and gentleman, your Washington Chiefs!"

The public-address announcer introduces the team as it runs onto the dimly lit field as darkness falls. The tiny crowd in the high school stands cheers.

But the kickoff is delayed for about 10 minutes while a worker slowly pushes a wheelbarrow full of dirt out to midfield to fill a hole.

Special teams line up, and Durham receives the kickoff of what turns out to be a pretty good football game - at least what can be seen of it in the cloud of dust that stays stirred up in the middle of the field.

The Chiefs quickly fall behind to the Bulls in the first quarter 16-0, and frustration mounts on the field. Players yell at the offense from the sidelines, some complain about not getting the ball, and there is a lot of finger pointing and confusion. Myles, who is helping to coach the team (their head coach, Gerald Grant, suffered a stroke), spends half of his time on the sidelines keeping his players off the field.

The Chiefs are able to rally, though, and take a 28-16 lead in the third quarter. But the Bulls mount a comeback, playing "exciting MFL football" as the P.A. announcer puts it, to regain the lead 30-28 with about two minutes to go.

The Chiefs try to mount a drive, but with about a minute left, quarterback Ed Torrence is sacked on a fourth-down play. The Chiefs argue among themselves and with the Bulls, and as the sounds of sirens echo through the nearby streets and a police helicopter hovers overhead, Washington falls to Durham.

After the game, players on both teams and coaches meet in the middle of the field, kneel down and pray.

As the players head back into the locker room, one Chiefs lineman sits on a hill around the corner, talking to himself in frustration.

Myles might have joined him. It has been a frustrating season for the owner, who was thrown for a loss right from the start because of the D.C. schools shutdown. He had used the field at Cardozo High last year, but, because of the school closing in the District, was only able to hold just one home game this season - this one against the Bulls.

But only about 100 people showed for the game, and at $7 a ticket it's too much of a losing proposition for Myles to stay in the District, though he holds out a slim hope of making a deal to use RFK Stadium next year.

If that doesn't happen, Washington will lose yet another football team, though with much less fanfare than the Redskins made when they moved to the suburbs.

"There is too much red tape in the District," Myles said. "Everyone wants to make it hard for you. I am so disgusted that I am going to have to move the team, because I can't make it here. At least in the county, you get people to come and support you. I will play at Richard Montgomery, right on Rockville Pike, next year. I will still keep it the Washington Chiefs and represent the whole Washington metropolitan area. But I can't afford to stay in the District.”

November 15, 1997
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