Commentary

Maddison's flight for the ages over Vegas

More than 44 million people flew to Las Vegas this past year. Robbie Maddison plans on being the first to fly ove Las Vegas this New Year … on his motorbike.

Originally Published: December 27, 2007
By Joe Tessitore | Special to ESPN.com

(Joe Tessitore and Mark Schlereth will host ESPN's New Year No Limits, Monday, Dec. 31, at 11:15 pm ET.)

More than 44 million people flew to Vegas this past year. Robbie Maddison plans on being the first to fly over Vegas this New Year. The motocross star is ready to jump the Rio football field.

You didn't know that the Rio Hotel Casino had a football field? It doesn't. But thanks to Robbie's guts and glory it will on New Year's Eve.

You didn't know somebody could jump end zone to end zone? Neither did anyone else.

"I want to do something no one has ever done," said the very likable 26-year-old Australian.

A 360-foot jump goes beyond the descriptive of something no one has ever done. It starts to head in the direction of can anyone even do it?

The current world record "Maddo" is targeting for a 500cc bike is 277½ feet. Breaking 300 feet is thought of as the magic number in long distance moto-jumping. Three hundred-sixty feet? Unheard of!

Evel and Robbie Kneivel never came close. Freestyle legends Travis Pastrana, Brian Deegan and the "Godfather" Mike Metzger have never even given it a shot. Pretty clear to see why it's the centerpiece moment of ESPN's New Year, No Limits (Monday, Dec. 31, 11:15 p.m. ET).

"I've seen guys like Evel Knievel jumping 150 feet and nearly killing themselves. Well, now I'm jumping double that distance," Robbie said. "That's why we are putting so much preparation, calculating everything, working out all my angles, getting the science of the take off ramp, getting the most powerful bike. Just doing everything we can to make sure I can get over this jump."

Robbie attended Knievel's funeral services in Montana earlier this month, and has publicly dedicated the New Year, No Limits jump to Evel. It seems like he had already dedicated his medical records to Kneivel, too. Ask Maddison about what he has broken during his years of jumping and he'll recite Henry Gray's "Anatomy of the Human Body."

"No one has ever jumped this far and I think there is a reason for it," Robbie says with a youthful innocence.

That innocence belies the weathered warrior. Robbie has punctured both lungs, broken his neck and a dinner partner is always treated to watching him remove his teeth before he eats.

Science and preparation may say otherwise, but for most observers a heavily promoted nationally televised Vegas jump brings about thoughts of potential disaster. We can all thank Evel and his rag doll landing at Caesars Palace for that. It's a thought that Maddison himself doesn't deny.

"You need to forget how crazy it is, how close you are to risking your life, because chances are when it goes wrong, it will really go wrong," he said.

Robbie is going to be hitting the ramp at about 95 MPH. The point of no return is more than 100 feet before that. Once that throttle is opened up, it's on.

"So yeah it's pretty much the deal is done, you have made the commitment, you got to go with what you have decided on," Maddo explained. "It's a pretty scary feeling that this is it and everything you worked at, and everything you estimated is all on the line and you really are backing yourself in there."

The beauty of this jump is the football field itself. It's not a parked row of buses or the vague and vast Snake River. It's a good old gridiron replete with goalposts and yard markers. It's something spatially embedded into every Americans mind.

The field is a distance understood and respected. That's a reason the NFL's play of the year traveled its entirety. This season the San Diego Charges Antonio Cromartie returned a missed field goal from one end zone's back blade of grass to the other goal line. It's the longest play in NFL history at more than 109 yards.

It took the lightning fast Cromartie 14 seconds to complete that distance. Maddison will cover it in just over four.

"In the air for over four seconds, but it will feel like an eternity," he noted. And he plans on traveling 10 more yards than Cromartie.

At the height of his jump he will be over six stories high. The landing ramp, which is a mountain of dirt, starts at four stories off the football field. That's a little taller than the first jump he ever made. At the age of 3, Robbie rode his little BMX bike off the front porch.

He started racing at just 5 years old. That was just a year after he first straddled a motorbike. He enjoyed a childhood that filled up photo albums with his next great motocross win and big air moment.

In 2006 Robbie came stateside. Since leaving Down Under for SoCal he has won over fans and earned respect from the tight knit FMX riders he competes against. He is arguably the most talented and fearless aerial artist of his generation.

To Maddison, fear is something to be conquered -- just like a jump -- or just like rehabbing an injury. He knows plenty about that. This isn't a story of going up and over, but also of coming back and going forward.

Last May, Robbie was jumping the quarter pipe at the RedBull X-fighters in Ireland when his competitive juices got the best of him. While in mid-air he was eyeballing a rival rider.

That bold move was costly -- he just missed the landing. The result wasn't so slight; a leg completely broken in half from the weight of the bike crashing down on top of him.

Since then the hardware he's been familiar with hasn't been shocks and pegs, but surgical screws and rods. Robbie has rehabbed the leg but up until this month he hadn't spent much time back on his bike.

On Dec. 6, he finally revved up for just the second time since the injury. It didn't take long for him to feel comfortable on top of that 500cc liquid cooled single cylinder two stroke engine. Within minutes he was freestyling. He pulled off a cliffhanger, a Superman seat grab, a back flip and at least 20 other fearless wonders.

"You know, being off the bike for so long I was really nervous. I was thinking I want to do the back flip and then thinking you know, maybe I shouldn't," Robbie admitted. "But if you want to jump a football field -- this is nothing compared to that. So it just motivated me straight away and I didn't even think twice."

There have been some bold characters to put forth grand plans in Vegas. Bugsy Siegel mapped out the Flamingo resort. George Clooney as Danny Ocean decoded the Bellagio vault. Something about Maddo's jump feels like a merging of the two.

It has that sexy and dangerous reality with a touch of Hollywood hype and showmanship. It is old school Wide World of Sports spectacle meets new age calculated precision. We're going to find out real early in 2008 if this New Year will truly have No Limits.

Joe Tessitore has been the blow-by-blow announcer for ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights" and "Wednesday Night Fights" since 2002 and contributes a weekly boxing column to ESPN.com.