King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Forget pompous Opening Ceremonies. First scandal, starring Gretzky, is real Olympic kickoff. Plus: Michaels traded for bunny.

Published February 10, 2006 5:00PM (EST)

The Children of All Nations are gathered in Turin. The colored ribbons are at the ready, the French horn music is queued up, the postmodern-lite dancers are painted head-to-toe to symbolize the spirit of friendship as they emerge from Lucite orbs, flashpots heralding their arrival.

The Stealth Olympics begin with Friday night's Opening Ceremonies.

What, you didn't know that?

The great thing about the Olympics is their reliable continuity and sameness -- most sports look pretty much the same from one four-year period to the next, and it's not like Cameroon is going to up and move to Washington and change its name to the Nationals -- combined with their ability to surprise.

For example, this year, the juicy and delicious scandal is being brought to the Olympics, rather than originating there or happening years in advance. You see how the Olympics can find new ways to thrill and delight?

Wayne Gretzky, the grand pooh-bah of Team Canada hockey, says he will travel to Italy Sunday despite being in the thick of a gambling scandal that's rocking the NHL, where the Great One has a day job as head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes.

New Jersey authorities say they've cracked a $1.7 million nationwide gambling ring with mob ties, allegedly run by two state troopers and Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet, who face gambling, conspiracy and money-laundering charges. State police say bettors, including NHL players, placed wagers on football and basketball games, but not NHL games, though an investigation is continuing. The NHL is also investigating.

Gretzky says he doesn't gamble at all and would resign from Team Canada had he placed even a $1 bet, and he's reportedly not the focus of the New Jersey probe. But he's had a bad few days as the scandal moved closer and closer to him.

On Tuesday he acted surprised when reporters asked him about reports that his wife, Janet Jones Gretzky, had bet large sums with the ring. He said through a tight-lipped smile that he knew nothing about it, looking for all the world like a man about to go home and kick his dog.

On Thursday the Newark Star-Ledger reported that Gretzky could be heard on wiretaps talking to Tocchet about how to keep his wife from being implicated. Jones Gretzky issued a statement saying she hadn't placed bets for him, and Gretzky denies any knowledge.

The Great One is passionate about Team Canada, and he's said he wouldn't do anything to embarrass the team or the country. But he's going to Turin, the gambling scandal in tow.

He might be a distraction for the team -- the Associated Press lead on the gamer for the Coyotes' 5-1 loss to the Dallas Stars Thursday night read, "The Phoenix Coyotes played like a team that was distracted."

Then again, distractions sometimes work out nicely. In the 2002 Olympics Gretzky intentionally drew attention to himself by lashing out at the U.S. media and fans following a lackluster early tie by Canada. As Gretzky had hoped, the Canadian players relaxed as the spotlight shifted to the boss, and they went on to win the gold medal.

This time, Gretzky might not mind the media glare moving away from controversial team members Todd Bertuzzi and Dany Heatley, painful as that glare figures to be for Gretzky. Bertuzzi was suspended for a year after breaking opponent Steve Moore's neck in an on-ice attack, and Heatley pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide charges following a 2003 car crash that killed teammate Dan Snyder.

So this time the crazy figure-skating judges will have their work cut out for them if they want to be at the center of the big scandal of the Games. I'm not saying my money's not on them -- perhaps a poor choice of metaphor -- just that they're going to have to bring their A-game.

And we haven't even talked about Canadian goalie Jose Theodore testing positive for hair tonic.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Al Michaels traded for bunny [PERMALINK]

The other shoe dropped Thursday on the Sunday/Monday night football broadcasting story, and by telling you this on Friday, I've managed to get 57 percent of the way to mentioning all seven days of the week in the lead sentence of a column item, something I've always wanted to do, though I wouldn't cheat by just adding the missing days, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday, for no good reason.

Disney let Michaels out of his contract to do football on ESPN and basketball on ABC so that he could join John Madden on Sunday nights at NBC. Disney, which owns ABC and ESPN, effectively worked out a blockbuster trade with NBC Universal.

It's the first trade of a broadcaster since the Atlanta Crackers sent Ernie Harwell to the Brooklyn Dodgers for Montreal Royals catcher Cliff Dapper in 1948.

The Peacock gets Michaels, and the Mouse gets a little more than a minor-league catcher -- though to be fair, Dapper also became the Crackers' manager.

ESPN will be able to rebroadcast NBC's Friday coverage of the Ryder Cup golf tournament in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014, and will have wider rights to air Olympics highlights from now through 2012, as well as highlights of NBC properties such as the Kentucky Derby and Notre Dame football. Also, NBC will air a promo for ESPN's "Monday Night Football" during its "Sunday Night Football" broadcast through 2011.

But the real player to be named later was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

The cartoon bunny was Walt Disney's biggest success to date in 1927, following a series of mixed live-action and animated shorts based on "Alice in Wonderland."

Disney and partner Ub Iwerks created 26 shorts featuring Oswald for Universal in 1927. The pair left the studio acrimoniously in '28, and set up shop with a new character, Mickey Mouse, who could best be described as Oswald the Lucky Rabbit with round ears instead of long ones.

As part of the Michaels deal, the Disney company gets the rights to those 26 shorts, though not the later Oswald cartoons Universal continued to make after 1928.

So do you realize what this means? If Al Michaels had jumped to NBC in 1927 instead of 2006, you'd be sitting around at your job thinking, "How do I get out of this Oswald the Lucky Rabbit outfit?"

Previous column: The D.C. Olympic team

- - - - - - - - - - - -

  • Bookmark to get the new Kaufman column every day.
  • Discuss this column and the sports news of the day in Table Talk.
  • To receive the Sports Daily Newsletter, send an e-mail to

  • By Salon Staff

    MORE FROM Salon Staff

    Related Topics ------------------------------------------