Jan 17, 2013, 6:41 PM EDT
With smoke from the rubble of the Manti Te’o hoax grimly wafting over the internet at this hour, we thought it would be a good time to look back on other great internet sports deceptions. These are the people who weren’t: either folks posing as someone completely different, or people who existed only in the imagination of vile tricksters. Let’s now go through the Looking Glass and learn the horrible truth.
1. Jay Mitchell Huntsman. In 1986, Huntsman enrolled at Northern California’s Palo Alto High School — alma mater of Jim Harbaugh and James Franco, which is across the street from Stanford University — claiming to be a 16-year-old orphan from Nevada. Huntsman became a champion cross country runner at Palo Alto, and no wonder: his real name was James Arthur Hogue (pictured), a former high school running champion who was 26 years old. A local newspaper reporter became suspicious of Hogue and did some digging, and learned the truth (that reporter, Jason Cole, is now a pro football writer for Yahoo Sports). Even after being exposed, Hogue moved on and was accepted at Princeton, assuming another identity (Alexi Indris-Santana, this time an orphan from Utah). He ran for the Princeton track team for two years before a former Palo Alto High student recognized him and alerted authorities. He was eventually sentenced to three years in jail. Hogue, now 53, is currently serving a prison sentence in Colorado for theft.
2. Sidd Finch. Created by author George Plimpton as an April Fools’ Day hoax in 1985, Finch was supposedly a rookie pitcher signed by the New York Mets who could throw a 168-mph fastball. But he wasn’t real. The story, which appeared in Sports Illustrated, fooled just about everyone. Finch, wrote Plimpton, had been raised in an English orphanage, was adopted by an archaeologist who later died in a plane crash in Nepal, and learned yoga in Tibet. The Mets were in on the joke and even provided a uniform for the fake photo shoot.
3. Johnny “The Celestial Comet” Chung.. In 1941, college football was dominated by sophomore running back Chung and coach Hop-Along Hobelitz, who were leading Plainville Teachers College of Philadelphia to an undefeated season. Many newspapers recorded accounts of their games, including the New York Times, until it was revealed that there was no such college. The whole thing was made up by stockbroker Morris Newburger and radio announcer Alexander “Bink” Dannenbaum, who had been phoning different papers with reports of Plainville’s fictitious games. The hoax was revealed when sportswriter Red Smith of the Philadelphia Record decided to travel to Plainville to see the team for himself, and of course there wasn’t one.
4. The Athletes of Stadium Ball. I’m going on memory here, so bear with me. David Letterman once said that, when he worked at the student-run radio station (WAGO-AM 570) at Ball State, he broadcast a fictitious sporting event in which two large teams of students were pushing a giant rubber ball back and forth in the football stadium. (This is circa 1967 or so). The team that got the ball over the other team’s goal line first would be the winner. Letterman “broadcast” the fake event on the station, complete with play-by-play and recorded crowd noises, and so many people thought it was real that a large crowd gathered at the empty stadium and tried to get in to watch it.
5. Yardis Alpolfo. It was on April 1, 2003 that Glasgow Rangers soccer fans learned on the club’s official website that manager Alex McLeish had just spent £5 million on a 17-year-old Turkish striker named Yardis Alpolfo, of Galatasaray. All rejoiced, until someone figured out that Yardis Alpolfo is an anagram of April Fools Day.
6. Taro Tsujimoto. In 1974, frustrated by the nature of the NHL draft, Buffalo Sabres general manager Punch Imlach decided to protest by picking a completely fictitious player. So with the 183rd overall pick of the 11th round, Imlach chose Taro Tsujimoto of the Tokyo Katanas, even though neither that player nor the team actually existed. The pick was legal, however, and it wasn’t until days later that Imlach admitted the deception. But by that time several draft publications had reported it, including The Hockey News.
7. Captain Tuttle. Not sports precisely, although he was reputed to be a great athlete. The Jan. 14, 1973 episode of M*A*S*H was nominated for a Writers Guild Award and is generally considered one of the TV show’s best efforts. Hawkeye and Trapper invent a fictional doctor, Captain Tuttle, in order to collect his pay — using the loot to buy supplies for the local orphanage. Eventually the entire camp begins to believe that Tuttle is real, many claiming to have worked with him. His reputation grows to the point where General Clayton wants to award him a medal. A ceremony is planned, and with their deception about to be revealed, Hawkeye and Trapper decide to fake Tuttle’s death. The camp has a funeral for him, with Frank Burns demanding to give the eulogy, declaring “I knew Tuttle best.”
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