Comebacks from illness, comebacks from addiction, comebacks from a broken heart, comebacks from lousy parents… Then, there are sports comebacks, and more rarified still, professional, big-time, sports comebacks.
A great comeback requires a great fall. The further you fall, the better your comeback looks. A true pro-sports comeback demands that the hero be slammed down, usually by way of his own hubris, thence endure trials and tribulations, coming out of the ordeal fundamentally changed and ready to be reborn. To be acknowledged as a gold-plated pro-sports comeback, the hero has to win the championship of his sport. Coming back partway — say, going into rehab, then returning to the NBA and playing out your career on the L.A. Clippers roster —doesn’t count.
Or maybe not. Let me introduce a man who at first glance may seem out of place here, but stay with me. Introducing Marv Albert. Remember Marv? He was a celebrity sportscaster who worked the NBA, World Series, NFL, Stanley Cup championships, Super Bowls, Breeders Cup, NHL, NCAA basketball… The man was everywhere.
And then comes the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Arlington, Virginia. It’s 12:30 a.m. on February 12, 1997, and Vanessa Perhach is visiting. Seven months later, Albert was on trial for forcible sodomy and assault and battery. Conviction carried a five-years-to-life prison term.
According to trial testimony, Albert had been badgering Vanessa, wanting her to bring a man with her. On that night, he asked her to bring women’s underwear for him to wear.
Vanessa arrived alone. Marv said, according to trial testimony, “You’re a bad girl. You didn’t bring anyone for me.” He then turned Vanessa over, began biting her back, 18 to 20 times’ worth, and then forced her to perform oral sex. “You know you like it!”
At trial, Marv put on the standard defense — that woman is a whore — but on the third day, a surprise witness, Patricia Masden, testified that Albert, who was wearing white panties and a garter belt at the time, bit her on the neck and tried to force her to perform oral sex during a 1994 encounter in a Dallas hotel room.
Game, set, match. Albert copped a plea later that day, pleading guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery charges. Hours later, NBC fired him. Humiliation doesn’t get any more public: total media saturation, criminal trial, court transcripts, two witnesses painting a picture of Marv wearing panties, Marv wearing garters, and Marv asking for a three-way with another man.
Around that time, I’d written a story that had a section about transgenders. One of the people I interviewed was a man I’ll call Frank, who was a cross-dresser and construction worker. When the Albert story broke, I arranged to have coffee with him at the downtown Denny’s. I still have the tape recording. I wanted to know what he thought of Marv’s situation.
“First, a lot of people bite and spank with sex,” Frank says. “A lot more people than you think use whips and handcuffs. I saw photographs of the woman’s back, and they appeared to be red marks. I didn’t see hanging flesh or loose skin. That makes me believe that it was a sexual event and not a physical assault.
“Marv likes panties from Victoria’s Secret and he likes garter belts. Other than bad taste, that’s pretty mild. Marv likes guys with big dicks who are having sex with a woman he’s having sex with. This is not a unique fantasy; it’s mainstream pornography.”
“So, is Marv a hero, strong enough to live out his fantasies?”
“Marv is arrogant and stupid. He got what he deserved.”
“It’s not the sex part,” Frank says. “He and the woman were doing this for ten years, so biting and panties couldn’t have been a surprise. And it’s not about lying: if you’re going to cross-dress, you’re going to lie. Keeping secrets, playing with keeping secrets, is a big part of the fantasy. Marv’s problem is that he didn’t understand who he was and where he was.
“He’ll have to learn that if he tries a comeback. Step one in the lesson is knowing: ‘I like to wear women’s undergarments and have three-way sex.’ Step two is knowing: ‘I live in an environment where I will be crushed if this gets out.’ Step three is being very, very careful.”
Well, dear reader, who knows what Marv Albert learned? What we do know is less than a year after pleading guilty Albert was back on TV anchoring MSG’s SportsDesk. In less than two years he was the primary NBA play-by-play man for NBC, and since then has worked NBA games, Super Bowls, and so on.
Tiger Woods has nothing to worry about.