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On Christmas Eve 30 years ago, the day of his team's playoff game against the Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins receiver Paul Warfield woke in a panic in his clockless home and dialed Time & Temperature to hear, to his everlasting relief, that it was still only 5:53 a.m. In sports oversleeping (hypersomnia) is epidemic (even more powerful than the/ear of oversleeping—hypersomniaphobia?—that wakes some athletes in the dead of night). And so Florida State quarterback Chris Rix was suspended by the Seminoles for the Sugar Bowl last week after oversleeping and missing an exam. His punishment could have been worse: Saint Vitus, the patron saint of oversleepers, was, in A.D. 303, boiled in oil like a popcorn shrimp.
The point is, athletes often speak of metaphorical wake-up calls but seldom respond to actual wake-up calls. In November, before he had played a single game for the Chicago Blackhawks, Theo Fleury overslept in the team's Los Angeles hotel and missed a practice. That same morning Jim Jenkins, the sponsor and roommate paid to keep Fleury, a recovering alcoholic, on the straight and narrow, also overslept. In that instance, of course, life was merely imitating an episode of Seinfeld in which Jerry oversleeps on the morning of the New York City Marathon, allowing his houseguest—a world-class runner—to do the same.
Imagine oversleeping on the first day of a new job that paid a $3.3 million salary. Newly acquired Cleveland Cavaliers swing-man Darius Miles did just that, appearing 95 minutes late on media day last fall—despite the fact that the NBA warns, at its rookie-orientation seminar each summer, about the perils of oversleeping. The Chicago Bulls' Ron Artest overslept and missed that session in 1999, which got him fined $5,000 and sent home.
But then, sleep is its own kind of exile. "Every night I go abroad/Afar into the land of Nod," wrote Robert Louis Stevenson. And the land of Nod—East of Eden—is where Cain was banished after killing Abel. In a manner of speaking a caddie named Miles Byrne never made it back from Nod: After oversleeping at the 2001 Scandinavian Masters and missing his tee time, Byrne was summarily fired by Ian Woosnam. Sometimes it's the caddie who is left, as it were, holding the bag. At the 2001 Canadian Open, golfer Grant Waite was disqualified when he overslept and missed his opening-round tee time. This year, at the same tournament, Waite arrived early, fired a 64 and was the first-round leader.
But the Sandman was apparently sandbagging, for he has since claimed countless other victims. Take Graeme Dott, the world's 14th-ranked snooker player, who required 41 hours of travel to get from his home in Scotland to Shanghai for this year's China Open. Understandably, Dott overslept and arrived late to his first match, for which he was docked two frames, the margin of defeat in a 5-3 loss that left him "suicidal.... I didn't have time to brush my teeth [or] have a shave," Dott told the London Independent, "and for the first couple of frames, I didn't have any underpants on." That's one tuxedo you don't want to rent next.
You might tell your boss you overslept when the truth is far more baroque. But athletes tend to do the opposite. When Dolphins nosetackle Alfred Oglesby missed a training-camp practice 10 years ago, he told coach Don Shula that armed men had kidnapped him and driven him to the Everglades, where he was abandoned. In fact, as Oglesby soon confessed, he had simply overslept, prompting Shula to revoke every Dolphins player's sleep-at-home privileges, which in turn prompted several Dolphins to tape Oglesby to a palm tree after practice. Three months later he was released. (From the team, not the tree.)
The official magazine of the Portland Trail Blazers is called Rip City, a name that evidently was inspired by former Blazer Isaiah Rider, sports' nearest rival to Rip Van Winkle, of whom Washington Irving wrote, "The great error in Rip's composition was an insuperable aversion to all kinds of profitable labor." While Van Winkle bowled ninepins and Rider played basketball, their oversleeping over-under was, on any given night, identical: 20 years.
Previously, when Rider was a chronically tardy Minnesota Timberwolf, that team's general manager-vice president of basketball operations, Kevin McHale, considered buying him the kind of oversized cartoon alarm clock with twin bells on top that dances on the nightstand when it detonates. "You know," McHale said, "the kind that, when they go off, you lose about three years of life."
Instead the T-Wolves shipped Rider to Portland, which shipped him to Atlanta, which let him walk to the Los Angeles Lakers. Some NBA players sleep around. Rider overslept around. After missing the Lakers' bus to the Alamodome, he arrived with a note from the hotel manager, who attested that the operator had failed to give Rider his requested wake-up call. "In my case," said Rider, "I had to get some proof. I'm sure nobody would buy my word."