Superman, Vanna Banana and Lynyrd Skynyrd
By Locke Peterseim, Britannica.com
Special to ABC Sports Online

Sock it to me ...

The set-up: Miller gave his pregame assessment of the Packers' strengths and weaknesses when playing in Florida.

The quip: "If [Brett Favre] does have a personal Kryptonite, it appears to be warmth."

The read: Kryptonite is the radioactive ore that formed when the planet Krypton exploded. Immediately prior to Krypton's destruction, its greatest scientist, Jor-El, sent his only son, Kal-El, to Earth in a small rocket ship. Upon landing near Smallville, Kan., the child was found and adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent, and young Kal-El, renamed "Clark Kent," grew up to become Superman, the last son of Krypton. However, despite his immense strength and near invulnerability, one of Superman's only weaknesses is, ironically, exposure to Kryptonite, the pieces of his shattered home world.

Superman
When wide belts were in style ...
Over the years there turned out to be several different colors of Kryptonite, each affecting Superman differently. The most common, green Kryptonite, weakened him and would eventually kill him if he were exposed long enough. Gold Kryptonite would forever remove Superman's powers if he were ever exposed to it. Most strangely, red Kryptonite would cause any number of weird, unpredictable mutations in Superman, such as giving him wings, splitting him into twins, or turning him into an animal. (Blue Kryptonite affected only Bizarro Superman, and white Kryptonite affected plants.)

And before the legions of fan-boy geeks out there get their e-mailers all fired up, yes, we know, the rainbow-colored versions of Kryptonite went out the continuity window in the mid-'80s when DC Comics famously (well, famously in some circles) collapsed its myriad fictional versions of Earth into one reality. During the landmark "Crisis on Infinite Earths," crossover story, plot elements and characters that had become "frivolous" and "silly," such as multicolored Kryptonite, were done away with, and today there is only good old green Kryptonite.

Not that we knew any of this stuff off the top of our heads or anything. Um, we had to look it all up. Really, we did. What, you think we, uh, read comic books or something? Sheesh!


The set-up: Actor Samuel L. Jackson visits the commentator's booth and mentioned that he's in Florida, working on a film with "Pulp Fiction" co-star John Travolta.

The quip: "Say hi to Danny Zuko for us."

The read: We don't want to do this reference, really we don't. We'd rather just avoid writing about John Travolta. We know how it goes -- you start off OK, talking about "Welcome Back Kotter" and "Grease," but before you know it, you're making Scientology and "Battlefield Earth" jokes -- it can't be helped. Sure, we loved Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever" and "Pulp Fiction" and we were as impressed as anyone by his Rasputin-like film career: Hit him with "Two of a Kind" and he gets back up! Poison him with not one, not two, but three "Look Who's Talking" movies and he just keeps coming! Tie him up in a sack and toss him into "Lucky Numbers" and he will not die!

To be fair, Travolta makes some good movies: We're fond of "Get Shorty" and "Face/Off," and he's even in "The Thin Red Line" for a few minutes. (But then so is Woody Harrelson, so we guess that doesn't count.) But does this excuse us from having to hear about his kids and his jet planes every time he's on Leno or Rosie? Does it excuse "Michael"? Or "Battlefield Earth"!? Can anything excuse "Battlefield Earth"?!

Danny Zuko
Danny Zuko, all those years ago.
See. Look what you made us do. We made a "Battlefield Earth" joke, and not even a clever one. We're so ashamed. We're better than that. We should have at least made a "Boy in the Plastic Bubble" joke.

Anyway, Danny Zuko was, of course, Travolta's character in the 1978 film version of "Grease." However, five years earlier he had appeared in a touring company of the musical as "Doody," the decidedly smaller and less-pelvisy role.

There, are you happy? You got your explanation and your odd trivial fact. Now leave us alone with our shame.


The set-up: Al Michaels points out the all-time record for most vowels in an NFL player's name goes to former San Francisco wide receiver Iheanyi Uwaezuoke.

The quip: "That's a name that gives Vanna White carpal tunnel syndrome."

The read: We're going to level with you. There isn't really that much interesting about Vanna White's life. It's about as white bread and dull as you'd imagine. We're talking barely five minutes' worth of "True Hollywood Story" material, if even that. But, we don't want you to go home empty-handed, so here are a few random and useless facts:

Vanna White
The banana.
Vanna's real last name is Rosich and in school they called her "Vanna Banana." "Wheel of Fortune" originally aired in 1975 with Chuck Woolery as host and Susan Strafford as the letter turner. Pat Sajak took over as host in 1981 when the show became syndicated, and a year later along came Vanna. The first letter she turned was a "T." (You're absolutely gripped by this right now, aren't you?)

In 1988, a year after publishing her autobiography "Vanna Speaks," she decided to add "acting" to "turning" and "clapping" on her résumé and appeared as Venus in the television film "Goddess of Love." After that she mostly stuck to the "Wheel" and appearing as "Herself" on various sitcoms.

Thanks to the "Wheel," White is in "The Guinness Book of World Records" as the world's "most frequent clapper." Her husband is also in the Guinness book, as the "world's most confident lover."


The set-up: Al Michaels asks Miller who came up with the shuffle pass first.

The quip: "Judy Carne."

The read: In early 1968, with mainstream America still trying to figure out what all was going down during the Summer of Love, Dan Rowan and Dick Martin premiered "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" on NBC. A nonstop psychedelic vaudeville routine, the show introduced such comic talents as Ruth Buzzi, Eileen Brennan, Arte Johnson, Henry Gibson, Goldie Hawn and Richard M. Nixon. But of the show's many catchphrases, perhaps the most famous was "sock it to me," as uttered by British goofball Judy Carne (and later by the aforementioned Mr. Nixon).

Judy Carne
The "sock-it-to-me" girl.
Prior to "Laugh-In," Carne had cavorted with Steve McQueen and ended up married to an up-and-coming actor named Burt Reynolds, from 1963 to 1965. According to Carne, Reynolds socked it to her literally, and she left, setting out to find her own stardom with only a small amount of talent but a large appetite for mind-altering substances. "Laugh-In" made her a household name, as each week she was tricked into saying her catch phrase and then smacked with boards, doused with water or dropped through trap doors. By the early '70s, the drugs got the upper hand and she left the show, replaced by another young comedienne, Lily Tomlin. For Carne the next decade brought drug busts, a debilitating car crash and heroin addiction, as chronicled in her autobiography, "Laughing on the Outside, Crying on the Inside: The Bittersweet Saga of the Sock-It-To-Me Girl."


The set-up: Miller theorizes that the length of kickoffs and field goals have been diminished in recent years since the use of an official kicking ball.

The quip: "It's a kicking ball thing, Al. They're in a hidden bag. It's the next Harry Potter episode, 'Harry Potter and the Kicking Ball Bag.'"

The read: Okay, we're still working on it -- we're not going to give up. As we mentioned last week, numerous readers have suggested that "Harry Potter" has something to do with a British children's book and film. So, if it's not a juxtaposition of Harry Morgan and his "M*A*S*H" character Sherman Potter, then perhaps it's in reference to the late, brilliant British screenwriter Dennis Potter. The genius author of the "Pennies from Heaven" and "Singing Detective" television miniseries was born in Forest of Dean, an English town near the Welsh border. (Other authors from the town include an obscure writer named Joanne Kathleen Rowling.) Potter never really wrote children's books, but he did write the film "Dreamchild," a complex dramatic examination of Lewis Carroll and his emotional connection to the girl who inspired his "Alice in Wonderland," one of Britain's most famous works of children's literature.

That still doesn't explain the "Harry" part, but we think we're getting warmer on this one.


The set-up: In late October, San Francisco wide receiver Terrell Owens suggested that his coach, Steve Mariucci, went easy on the Bears because of his friendship with Chicago coach Dick Jauron, causing the 49ers to lose in overtime.

The quip: "By the way, Terrell Owens accused Mariucci of masterminding the 1919 Black Sox scandal."

The read: In the fall of 1919, the Chicago White Sox were living the best of times and worst of times. They were headed toward a World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, whom they were favored to beat easily. But the players suffered from owner Charles Comiskey's penny-pinching ways. He shorted the team on its daily meal money, kept their salaries low and even benched ace pitcher Eddie Cicotte at 29 wins, lest he make his incentive bonus at 30.

So with their skills giving them a wide margin of error in the Series and their dissatisfaction growing, the Sox were perfectly set up for the infamous gambling scandal that shocked the nation, disgraced the game and ended the careers of eight players.

It started in mid-September 1919, when first baseman Arnold "Chick" Gandil told Joseph "Sport" Sullivan, a gambling acquaintance, that it would be possible to throw some Series games. Over the next two days Gandil was joined in the plot by seven other Sox, including left fielder "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, third baseman George "Buck" Weaver and pitchers Cicotte and Claude "Lefty" Williams.

Gandil told Sullivan it would cost $80,000 to throw the Series, and soon after that, Cicotte hooked up with ex-ballplayer and gambler William "Sleepy Bill" Burns -- Cicotte and Gandil told Burns they could throw it for $100,000. To get that kind of money, Burns and ex-prizefighter Billy Maharg approached the notorious gambler Arnold Rothstein to see if he wanted to front the fix money.

Rothstein agreed, and passed $40,000 on to the players as a down payment, while betting $270,000 on the Reds. When word of a possible fix leaked out the odds began to even. In the Series Chicago lost the first two games, won the third, lost the fourth and fifth, then won the sixth and seventh games. Cincinnati won the eighth and the Series.

Two months later newspaper articles began to suggest a cheat, and the next summer, a Cook County Grand Jury, investigating possible fixing between the Cubs and the Phillies, heard testimony that pointed toward the Sox players' involvement in similar activities.

On September 28, 1920, Cicotte confessed and the "eight men out" were indicted. Jackson and Williams also confessed, but in the end all three confessions went missing and a year later a jury found the three men "not guilty." However, the next day, August 3, 1921, the men were all banned from baseball for life. Rothstein was declared blame-free in the scandal.


The set-up: The camera shows the tallest building in Jacksonville, the former Independent Life tower, now the Modis building.

The quip: "It used to be the Operandi building."

The read: In criminology the Latin term modus operandi ("operating method"), or MO, refers to the behavioral patterns of a particular criminal. For example, one might always use the same tools and methods to break into a house or the same process for committing fraud.

Or, if one always does the same old thing, that's moldy operandi. If one greedily spits in the face of one's loyal fans and takes one's team to another city out of spite, that's modell operandi. If one sets out to debunk psychics and healers, that's modus amazingrandi. If one shaves one's head and records old folk and blues music to a techno beat, that's moby operandi. If one milks a silly one-note SNL skit to absurd extremes, that's modus operamandi. And finally, if one's plans seem to twist and loop back on themselves, that's moebius operandi.


The set-up: A Lynyrd Skynyrd song plays underneath a sponsor break.

The quip: "Freebird."

The read: Hands down the hardest song in the world to slow dance to at your first junior high social, "Freebird" was written by the Jacksonville, Fla., band in 1970. By the time it appeared at the end of Skynyrd's 1973 debut album "Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd," it was dedicated to the memory of the late Duane Allman, who died in a motorcycle accident in 1971.

However, the band's own eventual tragedy would give the song even greater poignancy. On October 20, 1977, as the band was reaching the peak of its popularity, Lynyrd Skynyrd's small chartered plane crashed in a Mississippi swamp while en route from Greenville, S.C., to Baton Rouge, La. Killed in the crash were guitarist Steve Gaines, his sister and backup singer Cassie, and the group's lead singer-songwriter and driving force, Ronnie Van Zant.

It was later determined that the crash was caused when, following an engine stall in midair, the flight crew tried to transfer the remaining fuel to the wing tank of the functioning engine, but instead accidentally dumped it all. Like most other planes, large or small, this one did not fly without fuel and quickly smashed to the ground.

The cover art of the band's just-released album, "Street Survivors," featured a photo with flames leaping up around the members and had to be immediately recalled and replaced.

It was rumored that immediately after the crash, nearby Skynyrd fans arrived at the site and, while some of the band were still dying, began to collect souvenirs. And, no doubt, call out requests for "Freebird."


The set-up: Jacksonville is penalized for holding, although Dan Fouts points out that Green Bay was probably offside when Green Bay defensive end Jamal Reynolds was in the neutral zone.

The quip: "Anyone that knows the Starfleet Command manual knows you can't violate the Neutral Zone."

The read: In 2160, following the four-year atomic Romulan-Earth War (a conflict fought entirely across deep-space, with no physical or visual contact between Earthlings and Romulans) hostilities were ended with the Treaty of Algeron, which was established via sub-space radio. In order to preserve galactic peace, a one-light-year-wide demilitarized area was created between the Romulan Empire and Earth's space territory. A year later the Earthlings, Vulcans and Andorians formed the core of the fledgling United Federation of Planets, and Starfleet, the UFP's space force, was inaugurated. The "Neutral Zone" between Federation and Romulan space remained in effect for over 100 years, until, in 2266, the Federation starship U.S.S. Enterprise encountered a Romulan Bird of Prey warship that had crossed the Neutral Zone into Federation space.

Romulans
A Romulan sporting his cloaking device.
Upon this first visual contact, the Enterprise crew, led by Captain James T. Kirk, was surprised to find that the Romulans had developed a "cloaking device" that rendered their warships invisible except when firing. They were also taken aback by the Romulans' physical resemblance to Vulcans. It would later be established that the Vulcan and Romulan species were once one race, with the more aggressive Romulans splitting with the Vulcans as the latter sought inner peace through logic.

Soon after their 23rd century run-in with the Federation, the Romulans joined forces with Starfleet's other galactic enemy, the Klingons. A second Neutral Zone, this one separating the Klingon Empire from the Federation, was later established.

Again, we promise we had to look all this up. After all, what kind of geeks would know this stuff off the top of their heads? Boy, not us, that's for sure! No sirree, bob. Toss us another beer and let's go watch, um, some hockey or something like that …

Locke Peterseim is a senior editor at Britannica.com.

Research assistant: Dave Ihlenfeld


 
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