Over dinner with a girlfriend in March 1994, Mike Steely decided it was time to fool some people. And finding the perfect name was the first step.
The Old Testament, then as now, always suggested an air of legitimacy. So Steely and the girlfriend threw around names like Ezekiel Genesis. And the Deuteronomy brothers, David and Donnie.
“But I decided even that would be too much,” Steely said.
Then he stumbled upon Zechariah Leviticus. The Amish running back.
Steely had a name, the imagination to concoct all kinds of compelling story lines and the platform to deliver the tale.
Steely, host of The Sport Animal's Morning Animals show, sprang Zechariah Leviticus on his listeners in March 1994, and Oklahoma football fans were more than ready to embrace the fable.
The Sooners were recruiting an Amish tailback from Pennsylvania who had built up his arms churning butter and building barns. An Amish Marcus Dupree. Bigger, stronger, faster.
Alas, Steely reported, there was no game film on Leviticus, since the Amish believed that captured video would capture your soul.
And Leviticus did not believe in modern transportation. But OU was so enamored, it had made arrangements for Leviticus to travel to close road games (Dallas, Stillwater) by horse and buggy.
“Are you kidding me?” radio callers would ask. “Did OU really bring in an Amish running back?”
On April 1, Steely came clean. Yes. He was kidding. Zechariah Leviticus was an April Fools' joke.
Old Zech wasn't the first. April Fools' long has been with us in the world of sports. Mostly because they work.
We are so quick to believe that which would be stunning, like the Packers moving to New York. Or that which would be outrageous, like the U.S. government declaring war on NASCAR.
Both were April Fools' jokes.
Most consider the greatest sports April Fools' joke to be the tale of Sidd Finch. Introduced in the April 1, 1985, edition of Sports Illustrated, Finch was the creation of George Plimpton's mind.
Plimpton reported that Finch, with a remarkable past, had suddenly emerged in the New York Mets spring training camp as the great pitching prospect of all times, able to throw 168 mph.
Never mind that if someone had shown up with the '85 Mets, firing 168 mph fastballs, the New York press would have reported it long before April, even in those pre-Internet days.
Much of America bought the story anyway.
A week later, Sports Illustrated reported that Finch had retired, preferring to pursue a career playing the French horn. A week after that, on April 15, SI said, gotcha.
But my favorite sports hoax comes long before Sidd Finch or Zechariah Leviticus.
In 1941, stockbroker Morris Newburger and radio man Bink Dannenbaum decided to see what they could get away with. Newburger always had scoured the college football scores, often wondering if some of these schools, like Slippery Rock, even existed.
So on a certain Saturday evening, Newburger called the New York papers, and Dannenbaum called the Philadelphia papers, both reporting a football score: Plainfield Teacher's College 12, Scott 0.
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