SI Vault
Edited by Jack McCallum
February 14, 1994
The Pell Incident
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February 14, 1994


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The Pell Incident

Charley Pell had trouble finding a soft landing spot after Florida forced him to resign as its football coach in 1984 for myriad recruiting violations. His name was forever linked with corruption, and schools—even Division I-AA Troy State, which briefly courted him for its head job three years ago—didn't want to take a chance on him. A proud man who had been a head coach for 12 of his 20 years in the college game, Pell wouldn't grub around for assistant-coaching jobs, so he drifted into business, which was not his forte. At least seven of his ventures have failed, and he has lost about $1 million over the last decade.

On the evening of Feb. 2, the 52-year-old Pell drove his car into a wooded area not far from his home in Jacksonville, ran a hose from the exhaust pipe through the passenger-side window and sat inside the car with the engine running. However, Pell had also ingested sleeping pills and vodka, and the combination nauseated him. He got out of the car and vomited, and that's where he was discovered by Florida state trooper Malcom Jowers, a friend who, during the good times, used to escort Pell off the field after Gator home games. Pell had left Jowers a suicide note and a map showing where to find his body and, after the trooper found the papers, he rushed to the scene. Had Pell not gotten out of the car, he might have been dead when Jowers arrived.

Because of the note and the map, there has been speculation that Pell staged the attempt. "Not a chance," says Herschel Nissenson, a friend who was chatting with Pell's wife, Ward, at the Pells' home when word came about the suicide attempt. "That wouldn't be Charley's style. He's been under an incredible amount of self-inflicted pressure over the last 10 years. He can't get back into football, he's not really a businessman, and the media think he's the worst criminal since John Dillinger." Nissenson was the national college football writer for the Associated Press until 1991.

Pell, a tackle on Bear Bryant's 1961 national championship team at Alabama, was released from Baptist Medical Center last Saturday. Though his doctors say that the suicide attempt will have no lasting physical effects on him, he is undergoing psychiatric treatment for depression. Nissenson visited Pell in the hospital, where the suicide attempt was only briefly mentioned: "You know, if Coach Bryant were alive, he'd kick your ass," Nissenson kidded Pell.

"Well, he almost got to tell me himself," said Pell, managing a small smile.

No Show, No Snow
Anchorage spent millions in 1988 in an unsuccessful bid to bring the 1994 Winter Games to the Last Frontier. As it turned out, the International Olympic Committee was wise to spurn Anchorage. The city has just come out of an uncommon heat wave, with temperatures having reached as high as 48°, and much of the snow that blanketed the city has turned to slush and mud puddles. The Nordic skiing events would have been in serious trouble, and Alpine competitors would almost certainly have been skiing on manmade snow. Buck up, Anchorage, and get that bid ready for the 2004 Summer Games.

Ice Wars: The Prequel

Long before Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, there was another no-love-lost rivalry in women's figure skating. It involved Sonja Henie, still the sport's biggest name, and Vivi-Anne Hultén, then known as the Flame of Sweden.

To summarize Hultén's position: Henie, the three-time Olympic champion (1928, '32 and '36) from Norway, was a scheming and vindictive competitor who pilfered routines and intimidated fellow competitors. Though Henie had no Shawn Eckardt or Shane Stant in her circle, Hultén claims that Henie ordered border guards to strip-search her en route to the '36 Olympics in Germany. (Bear in mind that Henie, who died at 57 years old in '69, is not around to defend herself.)

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