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Perfect 10: Cheaters who got caught

Monday, June 09, 2003

By Dan Gigler, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

"Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive," the Scottish poet Sir Walter Scott wrote in "Marmion" in 1808. You would think he was looking at any given American newspaper this past week.

Between Sammy Sosa, Martha Stewart and Jayson Blair, the recent headlines are awash these days with people who have been caught being bad boys and girls. Corporate scandals are enough to make you sick, and let's not even get started on politics. Anytime there is competition in any form, there is bound to be cheating, and sports has a long legacy of fibbers, scoundrels and scalawags who have bent, broken or downright dumped on the rules. The Black Sox, the Boston College point-shaving basketball team, Pete Rose, Gaylord Perry, Whitey Ford, Joe Niekro, George O'Leary, Tonya Harding, the French figure skating judge, Jim Harrick, Alabama football, The Fab Five, Jerry Tarkanian, anything remotely associated with Don King or the Olympics -- the list goes on and on and on ...

Where's the outrage? There isn't enough, and that's not a surprise when maxims such as, "It ain't cheatin' if you don't get caught," and, "if you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'," are ingrained in the popular culture. To that end, here's a list of people who tried to cheat and did get caught.

10. Marty McSorley. An extra quarter-inch bend to his stick in Game 2 of the 1993 Stanley Cup final cost him a penalty, the Kings a goal, and pretty much any chance of Los Angeles taking home a title. The Canadiens never looked back winning the series, 4-1.

9. Philippine Little Leaguers. A decade before Danny Almonte made headlines for lying about his age, in 1992 a team from Zamboanga in the Philippines won the final game in the Little League World Series, 15-4, but the team was then stripped of their title for using overage and ineligible players.

8. Nick Perry. The popular host of "Bowling for Dollars" on WTAE, Perry was convicted of rigging the state lottery's Daily Number drawing of April 24, 1980. The drawing caused a record payout of $3.5 million -- $1.18 million of which was won by eight people involved in the fix.

7. Charles Van Doren. The son of a Pulitzer Prize winner, handsome, affable, and brilliant Columbia English professor was the star of the 1950s quiz show "21," reached celebrity status after he won over $100,000 on the show, an amount unheard of in those days. Under the scrutiny of a Congressional inquiry, it was uncovered that the show had been rigged for Van Doren to win.

6. The Bermuda Incident. The Bermuda what? In the 1975 bridge world championship final, the Italians tried to pull one over on the United States when one of the Italian pairs, Gianfranco Facchini and Sergio Zucchelli, were playing footsies, literally, tapping each other's feet under the table in an apparent attempt to relay information about their hands. An intrepid journalist noticed the scam and tipped off officials, thus uncovering one of the most infamous cheating scandals in the game. That journalist? Former Post-Gazette sports editor and columnist Bruce Keidan.

5. Frank Abagnale, Jr. The basis for the movie "Catch Me If You Can," Abagnale made millions in the 1960s by impersonating a doctor, a co-pilot for Pan Am airlines, and a lawyer. He cashed more than $2.5 million in fraudulent checks around the world before he was caught at the age of 19.

4. Milli Vanilli. The dreadlocked duo of Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan won the 1990 Grammy for Best New Artist only to be found to have not sung a note from their entire album. After a series of suicide attempts, Pilatus was found dead at age 32 in a Frankfurt hotel room in 1998 after overdosing on alcohol and pills.

3. SMU Football. Dozens of schools have been popped by the NCAA for recruiting and academic violations, but as the only team in history to receive the "death penalty," Southern Methodist is the standard bearer.

2. Stella the Fella. Almost 60 years before Rosie Ruiz's comical "victory" in the Boston Marathon, Clevelander Stella Walsh won 41 U.S. championships in track and field for her native Poland, including medals in the 1932 and 1936 Summer Olympics. The only problem, to quote Austin Powers: "It's a man, baby!" Ironically, in Berlin in 1936, American Helen Stephens beat the defending gold medalist Walsh in the 100-meter dash, prompting members of the Polish media to question Stephens' gender. German officials subjected Stephens to an examination to prove she was indeed a she. She was. But after Walsh was killed by a robber's stray bullet in the parking lot of a Cleveland store in 1980, an autopsy showed that Stella was, in fact, a fella.

1. East German Athletes. Steroids and sports have a glorious history together (see: Major League Baseball), but in the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics, Ben Johnson tore the roof off the house when he was stripped of his gold in the 100-meter dash for using anabolic steroids. But those wily East Germans really got the juice flowin' years earlier. After the reunification of Germany, authorities uncovered a systematic doping plan in the files of the Statsi, East Germany's secret police. Over 10,000 athletes received banned drugs as part of the government's policy to show that they could produce more impressive athletes than West Germany's capitalist one. East Germany racked up sports triumphs on par with the United States and Soviet Union.

your cheatin' heart ... names@post-gazette.com

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