The Sad End of the Rainbow Man

By Michael LeCompte

We’ve all seen him on sports highlights, he’s the guy in the rainbow colored  clown wig holding a sign with a spiritual message at seemingly every major sporting event. Known as “The Rainbow Man” because of his wig, Rollen Stewart’s strange career as that guy with the sign, began at the 1977 NBA Finals.

Born in 1944 Stewart lived a fairly normal, sports-loving life, until the mid nineteen seventies when he was born again. Then he felt it was important to “get his message out” and decided that nationally televised sporting events were the perfect avenue to do so.

Of course Stewart was hardly the first person to make the comparison between major professional sports in America and religion, but he took his ministry to the extreme, as he personally moved closer to the abyss.

From the late seventies through the early nineties Stewart travelled the country attending nationally televised sporting events. Strategically buying tickets behind home plate in baseball, courtside at the NBA, or between the goalposts at football games, Stewart ensured that TV cameras would find him. His plan worked. He was quickly dubbed “Rockin Rollen” and the “Rainbow Man” by TV announcers and cameramen were instructed to quickly cut away after catching him in a shot.

As he crisscrossed the country Stewart held a variety of signs with religious messages on them, but his two most commonly used were “Jesus Saves” and “John 3:16” (For God so loved the world that he gave his only son,  so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.)

Stewart married and divorced four times as his actions became more extreme and ultimately, unstable. By the time he set off a series of remote-controlled stink bombs at the Masters golf tournament in 1991 the end of his antics was near.

In 1992 Stewart picked up two transient day-laborers with the promise of work and took them to a hotel outside the Los Angeles airport. On the seventh floor he pulled out a gun and tried to get the men into his room. The men fled to safety, but Stewart held a maid hostage in the bathroom while he hung John 3:16 signs from the windows so they could be seen from the airport. Eventually Stewart started shooting at planes and was arrested. The maid was unharmed.

In court Stewart claimed that the rapture was to occur in six days. When he took the stand he explained that “all I was trying to do was make a statement about the end of the world.”

His last statement earned Stewart three life terms (to be served concurrently) for hostage taking and terrorism. His colorful wigs would be exchanged for a prison jumpsuit.

Always a colorful character Stewart was a fixture on the national sports scene for well over a decade and his camera-craving antics have spawned a generation of brightly dressed, sign-wielding fans. The “Rainbow Man” has recently been the subject of a documentary film and in perhaps the surest sign that he achieved pop culture icon status Christopher Walken has portrayed him on Saturday Night Live.

Rollen Stewart is eligible for parole in 2017. Perhaps we have not seen the end of the original super fan. As sports fans we love a good comeback. Maybe one day we will see the return of the “Rainbow Man.”

Mr. Irrelevant

By Michael LeCompte

The first three rounds of the NFL draft have become a spectacle, with the commissioner making the first couple picks amongst much fanfare. Rounds four through seven, though, are an afterthought-to the extent that the last overall pick has become known as Mr. Irrelevant.

While the commissioner calls out the names of a few instant-millionaires in the early rounds it is an elderly, distinguished looking gentleman by the name of Paul Salata who announces the selection of Mr. Irrelevant every year.

Salata, now 89, played at USC as a receiver and enjoyed a short professional career with the Colts and 49ers. He also starred in the 1951 film Angels in the Outfield and in 1955’s Stalag 17.


Following the 1976 draft Salata created Irrelevant Week, which gives the last pick of the draft and his family a weeklong stay in Newport Beach. The week includes a regatta, golf tournament, and roast of the player selected last. The event is also used as a way to raise money for charity and since its inception Irrelevant Week has raised over $1 million dollars.

A parody of the Heisman Trophy-the Lowsman-is also presented during Irrelevant Week. The trophy depicts a football player fumbling, seemingly fitting for the last pick in the draft.


While Irrelevant week is done in jest and for a good cause Salata explains that there should be no stigma attached to being the last pick of the draft. On the official Irrelevant Week website he explains that, “…it’s not a negative to be picked last in the NFL draft; rather, it’s an honor to be drafted at all. The last draft pick’s demonstration of perseverance is a lesson that resonates not only with NFL players and fans, but also with people everywhere.”

There certainly didn’t seem to be any negativity surrounding Kalan Reed, the 253rd and final pick, the Mr. Irrelevant of 2016 as he held up his Tennessee Titans jersey on Saturday night. He may be the butt of jokes for a while, he may not go on to NFL greatness, but the 5’11” 195lb cornerback out of Southern Mississippi just reached the pinnacle of the game he loves, and he grabbed a vacation in Newport Beach along the way.


73-9 vs. 72-10

By Michael LeCompte

This season the Golden State Warriors broke what many fans assumed was an unbreakable record by going 73-9 in the regular season. All season long the eyes of the basketball world were on Steph Curry and company as they chased history. Golden State may have set a new mark for wins, but their dogged pursuit of the record raises many questions about its meaning.

Did Golden State really need the record? and is 73-9 really any more impressive than 72-10?

Before the season Golden State coach Steve Kerr told his team they could win sixty plus games. Players reportedly replied that they could go for the record and a season under pressure-from themselves, fans, and the media-ensued.

Golden State eventually set the record, but at what cost? Curry is now out for at least two weeks with a sprained knee. Perhaps winning 60-65 games and periodically resting superstars down the stretch would have been a more prudent way to sustain a title-defense.

The old mark of 72-10 set by Jordan’s 1995-96 Bulls long-seemed an unbreakable record. It was the basketball equivalent of DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak. It was a feat that required a superstar at the top of their game, day after day, over the course of a long season.

The Bulls capped their 72-10 season by overwhelming Seattle in the Finals for their fourth title in six years (on their way to two more). Chicago already had three titles and was able to stay motivated and hungry enough to be historically good.

Golden State may have beat Chicago’s record, but only by one game. 73 wins to 72 is similar to a tip-in at the buzzer, one team prevails at the end, but not necessarily because they are better.

At this point Chicago’s 72 win season is still more impressive than Golden State’s 73 victories because the Bulls achieved the record in the middle of their dynasty. Golden State may be the defending champions, but they are far from dynastic (especially with Curry’s weak ankles). If they fail to repeat, their 73 wins get overshadowed by the fact that they were a good team with a great year, and perhaps just one title to show for it.

Maybe the Warriors will repeat and go down as one of the greatest basketball teams ever. Maybe not. Bandwagon Warrior fans may want to tap the brakes, though-at least until #30 is back on the court. Even then Golden State will likely have to get through either Oklahoma City or San Antonio in the West and probably Cleveland in the East for 73 wins to mean more than 72 wins with rings.

6 Tips For Staying Young

By Michael LeCompte

Health tips abound these days, the internet is littered with strategies for staying young. These lists are nothing new, though, as athletes and ordinary folks have long been interested in looking, feeling, and doing their best and with living as long as possible. As it turns out one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history compiled his own list of healthy habits decades ago.

Leroy Robert Paige (1906-1982) grew up poor in Mobile, Alabama. He made money by carting traveler’s luggage at the bus depot for ten cents a suitcase, earning the nickname “Satchel” because of what he carried for others.

Caught shoplifting, Paige was sent to The Industrial School for Negro Children in Mount Meigs, Alabama and it was here that he was introduced to the game of baseball and learned to pitch.

Paige had a storied pitching career throughout the Negro League, across Latin America, and finally, in the Majors. His pitching exploits were legendary (such as when he instructed his fielder’s to sit down at their positions then proceeded to retire the side on nine pitches). Sometime along the way of earning 131 professional victories Paige also compiled a personal list of 6 tips for staying young.

Satchel Paige’s 6 Tips For Staying Young

  1. Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood
  2. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
  3. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
  4. Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social ramble aint restful
  5. Avoid running at all times.
  6. Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.
These simple tips may sound like corny, homespun wisdom, but they seemed to keep Paige young and in the game. In 1948 he finally made it to the Majors, becoming the oldest rookie in history when he signed a $40,000 contract with the Cleveland Indians.
Paige continued to pitch in semi-professional leagues until he was 60, finally retiring after the 1966 season.

Webfoots Win It All

By Michael LeCompte

Like so much of modern sport the Division I men’s basketball Championship has simple, humble roots. March Madness wasn’t always even angry, long before the month-long festival of athletics, advertising, and a distracted American workforce that we know today, it was a quick ten day tournament.

Following the 1938-39 regular season schools from the east and midwest were pitted against the best in the west in an eight team, single elimination tournament.

The University of Oregon Webfoots (their official name at the time, although they were often referred to by the nickname “Ducks”) won the Pacific Coast Championship with a 26-5 record and were one of four teams that comprised the western half of the inaugural bracket.

Oregon played an up-tempo, fast-break game that was somewhat revolutionary at the time, overwhelming opponents with their speed and size. Center Urgel “Slim” Wintermute stood 6’8″ and forward Laddie Gale was 6’4″ On their run to the title the tandem became known as “Tall Firs.”


Oregon won its first two tournament games and then overmatched and outran Ohio State 46-33 for the first National Championship.

Gale went on to serve in WWII and then played for the Detroit Eagles of the National Basketball League (the precursor of the NBA) in the late 1940’s.

Wintermute was Gale’s teammate in Detroit for a few years and mysteriously vanished in 1977 while yachting. (His yacht was found, but he never was).

Oregon is again in basketball’s postseason tournament, but aside from that everything has changed since that first Championship in 1939. The tournament field is 8 times its original size, the student-athlete moniker has been reversed, and players at powerhouse programs dream of the NBA, rather than real-life careers.

It’s enough to make one pine for a simpler time. When a team of “Tall Firs” could win it all. When March wasn’t quite so mad.

The Dean of American Sports Writing

By Michael LeCompte

Long before live twenty-four hour sports coverage on TV, games were broadcast over the radio and sports writing was almost its own literary genre. In an era when fans couldn’t watch games on demand it was up to sports writers to transport their audience to the ball game with their words. The undisputed master of this athletic storytelling was Grantland Rice.

Born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee in 1880, Rice attended Vanderbilt University. A rather unremarkable athlete he nonetheless managed to play baseball and football while earning a degree in “Classics” in 1901.

In 1914 he began writing his Sportlight column for the New York Tribune. His pieces-elegantly written combinations of homespun wisdom and athletic heroics-were widely read and well-regarded.


Rice’s sports writing career was put on hold during World War I when he was deployed to Europe. While oversees he entrusted his entire personal worth (about $75,000) to the care of a friend only to return home and realize he was broke. Rice shrugged off the economic setback, reasoning that he “shouldn’t have set such temptation before a friend.”

Unfazed by his economic troubles Rice embarked on what is perhaps the greatest sports writing career ever. In 1924 he gained living legend status thanks to his literary, biblical description of Notre Dame’s backfield after he watched them run roughshod over Army at the Polo Grounds.

“Outlined against a blue-gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction, and death. These are only aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley, and Layden…”

That introduction to his article and the publicity photo of four football players on horseback that it spawned are now considered to be classic pieces of American sports writing.

In 1930 Rice’s New York Tribune column gained national syndication, carrying his heroic and inspirational brand of sports commentary across the country. From 1924-1954 he also narrated the sports segment for Paramount Newsreels.

Rice also authored many sports-themed poems full of sport-as-life metaphors and heroic athletes standing tall against the opponent of life that remain readable for sports fans today. (Alumnus Football is definitely worth a read)

Although he died in 1954 and his artistic, flowery style of sports writing is largely unpracticed Rice’s legacy as the “Dean of American Sports Writers” continues to be celebrated through the several scholarships and college football awards given annually in his honor.

Hope Springs Eternal

By Michael LeCompte

Major League pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training compounds throughout the southern half of the country this week. Spring training is a seasonal rite as true as the warming of the air or the first flowers peeking out of the cold earth. These southern baseball pilgrimages have a long and storied history, dating back to the early years of the professional game. Back then most teams were located in industrial northern cities and took the opportunity to escape to the south, avoiding the meteorological cruelty of late-winter. However, the very first spring training was also undertaken with the aid of some infamous political connections.

The New York Mutuals baseball club fielded a team from 1857-1876 and were charter members of both the first professional league and later-in their last year of existence-the original National League.

Named for the Mutual Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 in Brooklyn, many of the Mutuals were also volunteer firemen and city officials. Therefore, it is not surprising that the city council readily approved putting up $1,500 to send the team to New Orleans for some late-winter training in 1869.

One member of the Mutuals board of trustees, though, didn’t feel that the city council’s offer was generous enough, so one Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall infamy put up $7,500 of his own money to ensure that the team received the best accommodations and training facilities in New Orleans.

The Mutuals returned to New Orleans every spring for the remainder of their existence and while they struggled to attract talented players and to cover operating expenses (they often had to cut western train trips and occasionally even entire seasons short) a tradition of going south to prepare for the upcoming season was born.

Throughout the 1870’s and 1880’s many teams travelled to New Orleans, Arkansas, and by the turn of the century, Florida. According to legend (which is an accepted, if not always reliable source for matters of baseball), Cap Anson, a player-manager of the Chicago White Stockings is considered the “father of spring training.”

Supposedly over the course of the long, cold Chicago winter of 1885 Anson grew concerned after repeatedly seeing one of his starting pitchers out of shape and frequenting the same bar as himself. Soon after the entire White Stockings organization found itself in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The location allowed the team to prepare for the season, while also utilizing the medicinal purposes of the hot springs.

While Hot Springs, Arkansas is now known as the “birthplace of spring training,” teams continued to train throughout Florida and then California, and ultimately, in Arizona after World War II.

As a pleasure trip, whether for medical reasons, or for putting a team together, spring training has endured, just like the game of baseball itself. Every year in late February hope springs eternal in baseball camps across the south as teams prep for the season ahead and dream of October baseball.

Does Peyton Manning Need Super Bowl 50?

By Michael LeCompte

Of all the storylines leading up to Super Bowl 50 the most compelling is the matchup between the two starting quarterbacks. One aged, the other young. One an established star, the other still ascending. One subdued, the other unabashedly flamboyant on the field. Manning and Newton’s contrasting styles and careers beg the question: Who Needs Super Bowl 50 More?

The Super Bowl is a life-changing, career-defining game. Winners carry the title of Super Bowl Champion with them forever. The fame, fans, and money are nice, but the point of professional football is to win. Every player dreams of hoisting the Lombardi trophy on Super Sunday.

Newton is young, brash, and love him or hate him-good. At 6’5″ and 250 pounds he is an exceptional athlete and his dual-threat style is clearly the future of the NFL. Young, mobile quarterbacks have now started the last four Super Bowls (Kaepernik, Wilson-twice, and Newton).

If Newton and Carolina win the Super Bowl, even at 26, it would define his career. It wouldn’t matter if the Panthers ever made the playoffs again with him under center. He would be a Super Bowl Champion and fans would only remember his electric play.

Conversely, Manning is already a Super Bowl Champion and the best quarterback to ever pick up a football (at least statistically where the record book might as well be called “The Book of Manning”). As good as he’s been, though, Manning is playing in his fourth Super Bowl, but with only one ring to show for it.

Is that one piece of gaudy jewelry enough, or is the legacy of the greatest ever tainted by his struggles in the Super Bowl?

At 39 Manning is the oldest starting quarterback in Super Bowl history (yet another record). He’s leading his second franchise and fourth head coach into the big game. At times this season he’s looked like a tired, frustrated old man, yet here he is, hanging on-chasing one more ring.

If Manning struggles yet again in the Super Bowl (a distinct possibility against the Panther’s ferocious defense), then it probably does taint his legacy. The career statistics can’t be argued with, but if it is indeed all about the rings, then Manning needs another.

With a win on Sunday Manning can legitimately take his place alongside Montana and Brady (greats with multiple rings), however, another Super Bowl hiccup leaves him in the Brees and Marino category (great stats, but only one ring and no rings, respectively).

Football games are often a matter of who, or of which team wants it more. Super Bowl 50 might very well be a case of which quarterback needs it more, though. A ring would legitimize Newton’s young career and go a long way towards helping the casual fan overlook his immature antics. For Manning, hoisting the Lombardi Trophy would cement his for now complicated legacy.

Electric Glory

By Michael LeCompte

In 1947 Norman Sas, the owner of Tudor Metal Products and Games, designed a football field to fit over the electric motor from one of his company’s car racing games and electric football-one of the most beloved sports board games of all time was born.

The game consisted of a metal field, plastic players, and a small electric motor. It was simple yet modern, just like the game of football itself, and it hit the toy market just as the NFL was coming into its own as a league. In 1967, the year of the first Super Bowl, Tudor games signed an exclusive licensing agreement with the NFL. The popularity of electric football skyrocketed as young fans could now control the very players they watched on TV every Sunday.

To this day former NFL coach Mike Holmgren insists that an electric football game from his childhood is the greatest Christmas gift he has ever received. Thousands of kids across America doubtlessly shared that sentiment until they turned their electric football sets on and actually tried to play a game. As the field vibrated and shook it was seemingly impossible to make one’s players do anything other than fall over or spin.

Electric football games continued to sell well and to presumably be enjoyed throughout the 1970’s. By the 1980’s, though, video games began to dominate the electronic gaming industry and the original was largely forgotten, relegated to the fields of memory and the basements of nostalgia, played by a select Dungeons and Dragons-like cadre of electric football wizards.

Now, though, thanks largely to our sports obsessed culture and fueled by the internet, electric football is back. The game might not be better than ever, but it is certainly bigger than before.

Much like fantasy sports there are now electric football leagues across the country. Players are referred to as coaches since they control an entire team, rather than any one player on the field. Coaches give their teams custom paint jobs and accessories (such as added weight to the base of linemen to improve blocking ability) and tournaments are held annually.

The Miniature Football Coaches Association (MFCA) is the governing body of competitive electric football and oversees tournaments and the World Championships (July, 29-31, 2016 in Richmond, VA). Rings are awarded at the electric football championships and the sport does have its legends and superstars.

Adrian Baxter, a 43 year old accountant from Maryland is known as “The Walter Payton of Electric Football.” The nickname might not make much sense, but there is no denying the sweetness of his stats (25 tournament wins to date).

The MFCA recently named Baxter “The Greatest Coach Ever,” which presumably puts him alongside the likes of Lombardi, or at least Belichick. ESPN has aired some electric football tournaments and a reality show chronicling some of the prominent coaches from around the country is supposedly in the works.

When speaking of his love of electric football Baxter says that, “it’s something that found my heart at a young age and I don’t want to let it go.”

Electric football is BBZZZING, vibrating, and shaking its way out of basement rec rooms and into the mainstream of sports and entertainment. Electric football sets are still being produced, although not under an NFL licensing agreement, and can be found at most major toy stores for $30-$120.

So often in life things from the past are not really as great as we remember them, but perhaps in the case of electric football they are actually better. How else could a board game become a sport?

George Poage: Man of Firsts

By Michael LeCompte

The upcoming film Race chronicles the golden exploits of Jesse Owens against the powers of racism at the 1936 Olympics. Owens’ story is well-known, yet still heroic. Racially and historically significant it is certainly worth remembering and retelling, however, at the 1904 Olympics (nine years before Owens was even born), it was another African-American, George Poage, who made history.


Poage (1880-1962) grew up in La Crosse, Wisconsin. In 1899 he was not only the first African-American to graduate from La Crosse High School, he was also the class Salutatorian.

Continuing his education at the University of Wisconsin Poage was held in such high-esteem by teammates and University officials that he occasionally coached the Badger’s track squad when their actual coach was away on business.

Poage specialized in the 440 and 220 meter hurdles and in 1904 became the first African-American track champion in the history of the Big 10.

After earning a Bachelor’s degree in American History Poage remained at Wisconsin and began working on a Master’s degree,  while serving as a trainer for the football team and continuing to run track.

In 1904 the Olympics were held in St. Louis to coincide with the World’s Fair. National African-American leaders called for a boycott of the games to protest the segregation of the athletic events and audiences at the Fair exhibits, however, the Milwaukee Athletic Club offered Poage a sponsorship to compete.

Similar to the decision Owens would face 32 years later Poage had to determine whether he should make a statement against the overt racism of the time by sitting out the Olympics or take a stand on the track, letting his performance speak for itself.

Poage ultimately chose to compete and he became the first African-American to win an Olympic medal, taking bronze in both the 200 and 400 meter hurdles.

Following the Olympics Poage worked in St. Louis as a teacher then a school principal. In 1920 he moved to Chicago and was a postal clerk for 30 years. He died in 1962.

From the classroom to the track and the world stage, George Poage was truly a man of firsts. His combination of grace and athleticism resulted in medals and provided the perfect example for Jesse Owens and what is perhaps the greatest American Olympic triumph ever.