8 Sports-Related April Fools' Day Hoaxes

Co-owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban, is notorious for aggressive and controversial habits.
Co-owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban, is notorious for aggressive and controversial habits.
Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images

Last February, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Brett Myers devised a plan to fool teammate Kyle Kendrick into thinking that he had been traded to Japan for a player named Kobayashi. Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel, Kendrick's agent, and even the team's beat reporters were in on the prank, which was executed flawlessly. Had Myers attempted the same stunt on April Fools' Day, it's less likely that Kendrick would have taken the bait. But as some of the following stories illustrate, one can never underestimate others' gullibility, no matter the date.

1. The Curious Case of Sidd Finch

As sports-related April Fools' Day hoaxes go, George Plimpton's 1985 Sports Illustrated essay about New York Mets pitching prodigy Sidd Finch is the (fools') gold standard. As Plimpton told it, Finch, who wore a single hiking boot, had mastered the art of pitching in a Tibetan monastery and could throw a baseball 168 miles per hour. Many readers initially believed the story, while Mets fans willed it to be true. In addition to the fantastical details Plimpton included in the piece, the first letter in each of the first 19 words of the article's sub-headline provided another hint that Finch wasn't real: "He's a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent life-style, Sidd's deciding about yoga "“ and his future in baseball." You can read the article in its entirety here.

2. Orchestra Steroid Scandal

NPR poked fun at baseball's steroid scandal with an April Fools' Day report on the proliferation of performance-enhancing drugs among musicians in 2005. During the segment, NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman deadpans, "I'm not a music reporter, but I've heard from others that this is a very serious issue and it brings up a whole host of issues related to performance-enhancing drugs." Carter Bray, the principal cellist for the New York Philharmonic, offers some explanation for why his peers might resort to steroids. "I think the public doesn't understand the kind of pressure that orchestra musicians are under to play faster and louder," Bray says. Ever dedicated to providing a variety of viewpoints, even for fictitious stories, NPR quotes a physician about the warning signs that a musician may be on the juice (overdeveloped triceps in the bow arm and descending neck veins, if you're curious). One solution to the problem, according to Goldman, will sound familiar: mandatory drug testing.

3. The 26-Day Marathon

Before there was Forrest Gump, there was Kimo Nakajimi. In 1981, the Daily Mail ran a story about the Japanese runner, who entered the London Marathon, but, on account of a translation error, thought he had to run for 26 days, not 26 miles. According to the fictional story, which included photos, Nakajimi ignored the locals who urged him to stop and was determined to finish the race he thought he had signed up to run.

4. Olympic Genes

The cycling magazine VeloNews has an April Fools' Day tradition of posting farcical stories on its Web site. Last year, an article about the launch of a sperm and egg bank company, PC Olympic Genes, by former U.S. Olympians Davis Phinney and Connie Carpenter drew the ire of readers who didn't understand it was a joke. According to the hoax, prospective parents could purchase Phinney's sperm or Carpenter's eggs for $250,000; for one million dollars, the company would combine Phinney's sperm and Carpenter's eggs. "It's literally a no-brainer for couples who want champion children," fictitious company spokesman Felix Magowan says in the article. "This is absolutely disgusting," one reader later wrote. "I feel for these children who will likely be pressured to fulfill the athletic dreams of their parents. My admiration for these two exceptional athletes is now tarnished." Previous April Fools' Day articles published by VeloNews include a story that USA Cycling was outsourcing its membership services to a contractor in India, and a conspiracy theory that the sunflowers that line the route of the Tour de France are the result of a secret program of genetic manipulation.

5. Soviet Newspaper Plays Soviet-Style Prank

Picture 12.pngIn 1988, the Soviet newspaper Izvestia reported that Spartak, a Moscow soccer team, was in negotiations with Argentine star Diego Maradona, who was playing for the Italian Napoli club at the time. According to the article, Spartak would pay Maradona $6 million to come play for them within the year. An editor later admitted that the story was an April Fools' hoax, the first such hoax ever published by the paper.

6. Hockey Prank Causes Headache for Ombudsman

In 2003, an Ottawa sports radio station announced that CBC television was canceling its scheduled coverage of the Ottawa Senators' first round playoff series due to budget cuts, and would air rival Toronto's games instead. CBC ombudsman David Bazay received hundreds of phone calls and e-mails from angry Senators fans who didn't realize that the announcement was a joke. Bazay didn't find it particularly funny, either. "Frankly, it's silly when there are a lot of other serious complaints that I could have been dealing with," he told reporters. "We have a war going on in Iraq, there's the SARS outbreak. It's just not very productive to spend my time dealing with this type of thing."

7. Mark Cuban's Fake Fight

MarkCuban.jpgIn 2003, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban got into a shoving match with a phony NBA official during a timeout. Cuban, never one to shy away from controversy, was poking fun at himself for being fined repeatedly for his complaints about NBA officiating. A Mavericks equipment manager restrained Cuban during the fake fight, drawing cheers from the crowd and even a few laughs from the real officials at the game. The Mavericks' players weren't in on the April Fools' Day prank, so Dallas reserve center Evan Eschmeyer rushed to help restrain the man who signs his checks. "It was a good laugh," Eschmeyer said afterward. "I think it's a good thing I didn't go out and punch the guy or we'd probably all be looking at this in a different light."

8. Soccer Star Yardis Alpolfo

In 2003, the Glasgow Rangers published a story on their Web site announcing that manager Alex McLeish had signed a Turkish striker for 10 million pounds. The player, who the report compared to legendary Turkish striker Hakan Sukur, was named Yardis Alpolfo. Perhaps you've already figured out that the name is an anagram for April Fools' Day, but if not, don't feel too bad. Reuters ran with the story before an official from the Rangers informed the news agency that it was a joke.

For more April Fools' Day hoaxes, be sure to visit The Museum of Hoaxes.

Remembering Tom Dempsey, the Toeless NFL Kicker Who Set a 43-Year Field Goal Record

Kicker Tom Dempsey #19 of the Philadelphia Eagles kicks off against the Washington Redskins during an NFL football game at Veterans Stadium November 10, 1974 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Kicker Tom Dempsey #19 of the Philadelphia Eagles kicks off against the Washington Redskins during an NFL football game at Veterans Stadium November 10, 1974 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

On April 4, 2020 former NFL legend Tom Dempsey—who set a field goal record with the New Orleans Saints nearly 50 years ago—passed away in New Orleans at the age of 73. It has been reported that Dempsey, who has been battling Alzheimer's disease and dementia since 2012, contracted coronavirus in March and his death was the result of complications from COVID-19. Read on to learn more about Dempsey's remarkable life.

 
 

Things weren't looking good for the New Orleans Saints on the evening of November 8, 1970, during a televised game against the Detroit Lions at Tulane Stadium. Though Saints quarterback Billy Kilmer had managed to connect with receiver Al Dodd on a 17-yard pass that stopped the clock, New Orleans was still down 17-16 with just two seconds left in the game. Worse yet, they were on their own 37-yard line—leaving 63 yards between them and the end zone.

Saints head coach J.D. Roberts, who had only been hired the week before, huddled with offensive coordinator Don Heinrich to quickly consider their options. There weren’t any. Suddenly, kicker Tom Dempsey, who had joined the team the year before, materialized. “I can kick it,” Dempsey told Roberts.

Dempsey would later recall that he didn’t know exactly how far the ball had to travel or that it would be an NFL record if he nailed it. If he had, he said, maybe he would’ve gotten too nervous and shanked it. But kicking the ball was what Dempsey did, even though he was born with only half of a right foot.

Heinrich sighed. There was no other choice. “Tell Stumpy to get ready,” he said.

 

Dempsey was born on January 12, 1947, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and later moved with his family to California. As a student at San Dieguito High School in Encinitas, California, Dempsey appeared unbothered by the congenital defect that resulted in a partial right foot and four missing fingers on his right hand. Dempsey wrestled and ran track. In football, he used his burly frame—he would eventually be 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weigh 255 pounds—to clobber opposing players as an offensive lineman. When coaches wanted to send opponents flying, they called in Dempsey.

After high school, Dempsey went on to attend Palomar Junior College in San Marcos, California, where he played football as a defensive end. At one point, when the team was in need of a kicker, the coach asked his players to line up and do their best to send the ball in the air. None kicked harder or farther than Dempsey, who became the kicker for the team and performed while barefoot, wrapping the end of his foot in athletic tape.

Tom Dempsey's modified football shoe is pictured
Tom Dempsey's modified football shoe.
Bullock Texas State History Museum

Playing at Palomar prepared Dempsey for a dual role as both lineman and kicker. But his strength, which made him so formidable on the field, occasionally got him into trouble on the sidelines, and he would eventually be kicked off the Palomar team for punching one of his coaches. After the incident, Dempsey tried out for the Green Bay Packers but found the physicality of professional players a little too much for him to handle. Rather than get into on-field collisions as an offensive lineman, he decided to focus solely on the aptitude he seemed to have for kicking. He eventually earned a spot on the San Diego Chargers practice squad in 1968. There, head coach Sid Gillman decided to encourage his choice of position—with some modifications.

Gillman enlisted an orthopedist to help develop a special leather shoe for Dempsey to wear. The boot had a block of leather 1.75 inches thick at one end and was mostly flat. Instead of kicking it soccer-style, as most players do today, Dempsey was able to use his leg like a mallet and hammer the ball with a flat, blunt surface.

The shoe, which cost $200 to fabricate, came in handy when Dempsey joined the Saints in 1969. He made 22 out of 41 field goals his rookie year and found himself in the Pro Bowl. But the 1970 season was comparatively dismal, and the Saints were holding a 1-5-1 record when they met the Detroit Lions on that night in November.

With two seconds left, “Stumpy” (Dempsey found the nickname affectionate rather than offensive) trotted onto the field. At 63 yards, he would have to best the then-record set by Baltimore Colts kicker Bert Rechichar in 1953 by seven yards.

No one appeared to think this was within the realm of possibility—you could almost hear a chuckle in CBS commentator Don Criqui's voice when he announced that Dempsey would be attempting the feat. Even the Lions seemed apathetic, not overly concerned with attempting to smother the play.

The ball was snapped by Jackie Burkett and received by Joe Scarpati, who gave it a quarter-turn. Dempsey remembered advice once given to him by kicking legend Lou “The Toe” Groza: Keep your head down and follow through. He took a step toward the ball and swung his leg like a croquet mallet, smashing into the football with a force that those on or near the field compared to a loud bang or a cannon. It sailed 63 yards to the goal post, which at the time was positioned directly on the goal line, and just made it over the crossbar.

Below, the referee threw his hands in the air to indicate the kick was good, punctuating it with a little hop of excitement. Dempsey was swarmed by his teammates and coaches. Don Criqui’s attitude in the booth quickly switched from amusement to incredulity. The Saints had won, 19-17.

“I don’t believe this,” Criqui exclaimed.

Neither could fans. In an era before instant replay, ESPN, or YouTube, you either caught Dempsey’s game-winning play or you heard about it at work or school the next week. Owing to its fleeting existence in the moment, schoolyards and offices filled with stories about how Dempsey’s boot may have somehow been augmented with a steel plate or other modification to boost his kicking prowess.

No such thing occurred, though that didn’t stop criticism. Tex Schramm, an executive with the Dallas Cowboys and chairman of the NFL’s competition committee, thought the shoe was an unfair advantage that allowed Dempsey to smash the ball like a golf club hitting a dimpled target. In 1977, the NFL instituted the “Tom Dempsey Rule,” which mandates that anyone and everyone has to wear a shoe shaped like a full foot. There would be no more allowances for special orthopedic shapes.

Dempsey appeared to take it all in stride. Shortly after his victorious kick, he received a letter from President Richard Nixon congratulating him on his inspirational demonstration. Immediately after the game, police officers went in to congratulate him by handing him cases of Dixie beer. Dempsey's girlfriend (and future wife) Carlene recalled that he didn’t come home for days due to rampant partying. When he finally settled down, they got married.

 

Dempsey spent a total of 11 years in the NFL, playing for the Saints, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Los Angeles Rams, the Houston Oilers, and finally the Buffalo Bills. In total, he made 159 field goals out of 258 attempts. For the next several decades, he would work as a salesman in the oil industry and manage a car lot before retiring in 2008 and settling down back near New Orleans. Over the years, Dempsey made several appearances at autograph shows, where he was regularly peppered with questions about the one kick that defined his career.

Almost as amazing as the kick was its attrition in the record books. While several other men managed to tie Dempsey’s record, it wasn’t until Matt Prater of the Denver Broncos kicked a 64-yard field goal on December 8, 2013, that it was finally broken—almost 43 years to the day. Some observers note that most of these notable field goals took place in Denver, where the air is thin and presumably more hospitable to kicking for distance. Dempsey managed it in New Orleans—and without toes.

Curiously, Dempsey’s legendary play was actually foreshadowed one year earlier. On October 5, 1969, he kicked a 55-yard field goal in Los Angeles. That was just one yard shy of the record he would obliterate the following year.

6 Times the Olympics Have Been Postponed or Canceled

Sander van Ginkel, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0
Sander van Ginkel, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo have been officially postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan agreed to push the start date back to 2021 after Canada, Australia, and other countries announced they would not send athletes to the Summer Games this July.

The Summer Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world, typically bringing more than 10,000 athletes from dozens of countries together every four years, The New York Times reports.

It's extremely rare for the Summer or Winter Olympics to be postponed or canceled. Since 1896, when the modern Olympic Games began, it has happened only six times—and it usually requires a war.

The Olympic Games were canceled during World War I and World War II. The 1940 Summer Games, scheduled to take place in Tokyo, were postponed due to war and moved to Helsinki, Finland, where they were later canceled altogether. The current coronavirus pandemic marks the first time the competition has ever been temporarily postponed for a reason other than war. Here's the full list.

  1. 1916 Summer Olympics // Berlin, Germany
  1. 1940 Summer Olympics // Tokyo, Japan and Helsinki, Finland
  1. 1940 Winter Olympics // Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
  1. 1944 Summer Olympics // London, United Kingdom
  1. 1944 Winter Olympics // Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy
  1. 2020 Summer Olympics // Tokyo, Japan

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