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Tuesday, January 14, 2003
Updated: June 9, 11:54 AM ET
Kings of the microphone

By Hampton Stevens
Special to Page 2

Ah, the postgame press conference -- that strange combination of Q&A, post-mortem, psychological proving ground and theater of the absurd. In honor of the upcoming Super Bowl, where the press-conference-to-game ratios can reach 30- and 40-to-1, we take a look at the Top 10, in descending order, press conference performers of all-time.

Marty Schottenheimer
Marty Schottenheimer is in touch with his emotional side.
10. Marty Schottenheimer
Nothing says "National Football League" like a man openly weeping -- and nobody weeps like Marty. Sure, Dick Vermeil cries all the time, but Marty starts sobbing if a rookie shows up for practice. True story: When Schottenheimer was with the Chiefs, the K.C. media had a running pool on how long he would take before breaking down. The record was 1 minute, 45 seconds, set the day Marcus Allen retired.

9. Jim Mora
Some think Mora's best moment was when he mysteriously intoned: "You think you know. But you don't know ... you'll never know." Sure, that was funny in an artsy, "New Yorker" sort of way. But for real comedy, nothing beats the two simple words: "Diddly-pooh."

8. Pat Riley
A man with more conspiracy theories than Oliver Stone, Riley, after losing to the Knicks recently, began muttering darkly, claiming all his problems started after a confrontation with ref Steve Javie last season. With astonishing self-pity, Riley claimed Javie said, "It's giving us absolute delight to watch you and your team die," and the oily-haired former winner went on to paint Javie as the instigator of a plot to against him. (No mention of Area 51.) By the way, Pat, it's true. Not the conspiracy part, but that everyone in the NBA, including fans who perversely like scoring, are deliriously happy that your brand of thugball is as dead as Dustin Diamond's career.

7. Dikah. Sausage. Dikah.
Mike Ditka
Rasta-Ditka made the press conference an art form.
Mike was really the first guy to elevate the press conference into performance art; half-standup routine, half-advertisement for Anger Management therapy. Da Coach's reporter-bashing has never been matched. ("What's the difference between a three-week-old puppy and a sportswriter? In six weeks, the puppy will stop whining.") But Ditka outdid himself in N'Orleans, donning fake dreadlocks while introducing Ricky Williams. We thought it was a publicity stunt. Nope, it was a desperate cry for help.

6. George Steinbrenner
Big Stein has had some doozies, including a faux-firing of Billy Martin. But nothing beat 1981's post-World Series apology "to the people of New York" for his team's performance; a masterpiece in which he also claimed to have taken out two drunk ruffians in a hotel elevator. No word on whether he apologized to them. Or Dave Winfield. Or Yogi Berra. Or to the people of New York, for asking, post-9/11, that they buy him a new stadium. Nor has he apologized to Mr. Frank Costanza of Queens, New York, for the Jay Buhner /Ken Phelps trade.

"My baseball people were very high on Phelps."

5. Bobby Knight
Bobby Knight
The General marches to his own beat behind the microphone.
No list of press conference greats would be complete without him. Sure, Knight's best rants were on the sidelines and (almost) hidden on the practice courts. But the General has had great moments at the podium, too. Among his finest --firing a starter's pistol, putting on his "game face," and, a personal fave, pretending to whip Calbert Chaney at the 1992 NCAAs.

4. John Chaney
After a 1994 UMass victory over Temple, the always dapper John Chaney burst into John Calipari's press conference, shouting obscenities and threatening to have his players kick Calipari's butt. Chaney even had to be physically restrained, although it did look a little like Moe being restrained by Curly and Larry: "Hold me back, fellas! I'll moider 'em!"

3. Nolan Richardson
Hours before playing Duke at the 1994 Final Four, Richardson used his pregame press conference to berate ESPN's "Sports Reporters," one of whom had suggested the Blue Devils might have an intellectual advantage over Arkansas. (A reasonable point, given Duke actually graduates its players.) Richardson took this as an insinuation that blacks aren't as smart as whites and went off on a bitter rant. Just a precursor, as it turns out.

Nolan Richardson
Richardson raged when we suggested Duke might have an intellectual advantage over Arkansas.
As Nolan's recruiting got worse, his sense of victimhood became ever greater. Finally, he imploded on Feb. 25, 2002; claiming he was under fire because of skin color, rather than a 13-13 record. "My great, great grandfather came over on the ship!" he bellowed. "Nolan Richardson did not come over on the ship!"

True. At the time, in fact, Richardson was being paid more than a million dollars, and his contract included free use of an SUV and a country club membership. Later he got a buyout worth three million bucks. And he is sick and tired of being kept down by the man!

2. Mike Tyson
Where to begin? The crotch grabbing, the threats, the lisp and wacky syntax? Mike's finest hour was probably after his "boxing match" with Lou Savarese. Asked about Lennox Lewis, Iron Mike gave a quote for the ages: "My style is impetuous, my defense is impregnable, and I'm just ferocious. I want your heart. I want to eat your children. Praise be to Allah."

Hey, I am no Burt Sugar, but I'm pretty sure ripping out someone's heart is against Marquis of Queensbury rules. Nice touch with the Allah thing by the way, Mike. Good PR for a deity that needs it.

And the winner is ...

1. Lee Elia
The former Cubs manager was a one-hit wonder when it came to press conference meltdowns, but he was the "Rock 'n' Roll, Part I" of one-hit wonders, the "Come on, Eileen," the "Rapper's Delight" of one-hit wonders.

On April 13, 1983, the Cubs blew both ends of a doubleheader. The Bleacher Bums booed. After the game, Elia set the all-time, single-day, major-league record for most obscenities uttered in a single press conference.

Just an excerpt:

"F--- those f---in' fans who come out here and say they're Cub fans that are supposed to be behind you rippin' every f---ing thing you do. I'll tell you one f---ing thing, I hope we get f---ing hotter than s---, just to stuff it up them 3,000 f---ing people that show up every f---ing day, because if they're the real Chicago f---ing fans, they can kiss my f---ing a-- right downtown and PRINT IT."

That is a 15.7 percent obscenity ratio; the highest on record. And people say "The Osbournes" is a pioneering show? Please. Elia was f---ing 20 years ahead of his f---ing time. Congratulations Lee! Our f---ing hats are f---ing off to you!

Honorable mentions:
  • Hal McRae wrecks his Kansas City office in 1993 -- all while wearing his longjohns.
  • Tommy Lasorda goes wacky on Kurt Bevacqua.

    Hampton Stevens is a contributor to ESPN The Magazine and Page 2.