Berry Tramel: April Fools' Day is a sports tradition
From Zechariah Leviticus to Sidd Finch, the jokes keep coming.
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Emboldened, Newburger and Dannenbaum began adding details to their call-ins. Bigger and more lopsided scores, against similarly-fictitious opponents.
Plainfield sported a sophomore star named Johnny Chung, “The Celestial Comet.” Hawaiian by birth, Chung ate bowls of rice at halftime to renew his strength. Plainfield's coach was Hop-Along Hobelitz, who had fashioned a new “W” formation, in which the ends faced the backfield. There even was mention of a possible small-college bowl berth.
The ruse lasted six weeks and was done in by its own success.
A Philadelphia Record sportswriter by the name of Red Smith — yes, that Red Smith, who with The New York Times became America's most esteemed sportswriter — had heard enough of Johnny Chung's exploits that he figured he better go over to Plainfield and check them out.
Of course, Smith discovered that there was no Plainfield Teacher's College, much less an Hawaiian quarterback who ate rice for extra strength.
Newburger and Dannenbaum had to confess, though they did so tongue-in-cheek, with a press release saying Plainfield had to cancel the remainder of its season, after Chung and teammates flunked exams and were declared ineligible.
Noted New York Tribune columnist Franklin Pierce Adams took the joke in stride, even writing an ode to the ruse, lifted from Cornell's “Far Above Cayuga's Waters” anthem:
“Far above New Jersey's swamplands/Plainfield Teacher's spires!/Mark a phony, ghostly college/That got on the wires.”
Almost half a century later, Steely did the same on Oklahoma City airwaves. He actually had pulled one on some Oklahoma listeners even before Zechariah Leviticus.
In 1984, Steely invented Zeb McCracken, a barefoot, banjo-playing running back from West Virginia who was visiting OU. The Sooners eventually lost McCracken when he discovered the school didn't have banjo scholarships.
Most April Fools' can be laughed off. But some can get blood boiling.
A few years ago, when OSU's athletic director's job was open, Steely convinced Barry Switzer to come on the air and play along.
Switzer on air said he had agreed to become the Cowboy AD for $1 million a year salary. OSU asked only one thing of Switzer; he had to renounce all ties to the Sooners.
Switzer agreed to the joke because he figured nobody would believe it in the first place. How wrong he was.
This year, of course, we are safe from the likes of Zechariah Leviticus and Zeb McCracken, since April Fools' Day falls on Sunday, and Steely has the day off from radio.
But beware. You never know when an imagination will run wild, or when someone feels like being ornery, and suddenly Sidd Finch is throwing 168 mph fastballs and Plainfield Teacher's College has a football team.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.
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