April Fool's Day jokes have been part of sports for generations, ever since Cy Young sent that telegram to Nap Lajoie, saying that Mae West wanted to meet him at Waldorf-Astoria room 310 at midnight — and when he got there, wearing a carnation lapel with a box of chocolates, in the room was Fatty Arbuckle in lingerie!
But seriously, few fields lend itself to April Fool's pranks more than the fields of our sports (or sportswriting — as my victims will vouch, which you'll read below). One time, the Phillies banded together to prank Kyle Kendrick. He met with the manager and a team exec, who told Kendrick he'd been traded ... to a team in Japan. Kendrick then talked to some teammates and met with the media, until a meathead teammate jumped in and said he'd been punked ( but once you see that pitcher's goatee, you realize that really, the joke's on that guy).
Our town's Peyton Manning is known for some pranks, famously making Eric Decker believe that Decker had to pay the hefty bill at a steakhouse.
As my buddy Chris Ballard explained in Sports Illustrated:
The first quality time Wes Welker spent with Manning was in April, when the quarterback invited his receivers to Durham, N.C., for informal workout sessions with Duke coach David Cutcliffe, Manning's old offensive coordinator at Tennessee. After three days on the field they gathered for a final dinner, and each player received an envelope. Welker's contained instructions to play along with what was about to happen, as did everyone else's—except Decker's. In his envelope Decker, a third-year player on a rookie contract, found a bill for the camp for $3,500, broken down to include laundry charges and coaching from the Duke staff. Decker stared, disbelieving. Manning invited me down here and then invoiced me? "I kept looking at it, then looking over at Peyton," says Decker. "It had state tax on here. I was like, What is going on? This is unbelievable. Really?"
At the head of the table, Manning droned on about how he really appreciated everybody supporting the program and how glad he was they all came. Finally, Manning gave up the gag. "He got me good," says Decker.
But then, Welker and the fellows got Peyton back, during the photo shoot for the SI cover. As Ballard wrote:
You can also see how it might be enjoyable to give him a little grief, especially because he considers himself to be prank-immune. Which is why, on the morning of the photo shoot for the cover of this magazine, Decker and Welker pulled aside the photographer and the Broncos' head of media relations, Patrick Smyth, and told them their plan. Then, when Manning arrived for the shoot, the receivers told him to get changed. Manning didn't understand. "Didn't you hear?" Decker said. "We're doing it shirtless."
The quarterback became quite flustered, according to Welker: "He was hedging, like, Maybe a few years ago, but not now. And then he was asking Patrick Smyth about it, and I'm thinking, C'mon, don't back out on me now!" Welker laughs. "Finally [Manning] said, 'No way, I'm just not going to do it. You guys take the photo without me.' It was hilarious."
Perhaps the masterpiece of mischief came from the folks at collegehumor.com. One guy named Amir, knowing his buddy Streeter and girlfriend were at a Yankees game, purchased a "Will You Marry Me" ad on the scoreboard — the cameras catch Streeter explaining to his girlfriend that it's a hoax, and the cameras then catch her slapping Streeter in the face.
So he gets him back. At a Maryland basketball game, Streeter sets it up so Amir is picked "randomly" in the crowd to shoot a halfcourt shot. If he makes it, he wins $500,000. The catch — he has to shoot it blindfolded. So while Amir is in a back room, signing papers for the contest, they announce to the crowd what's going on. They bring out Amir, blindfold him and he heaves a shot — it's nowhere close to going in, but everyone in the arena cheered like he made it. Amir went nuts, running around the court in ecstasy ... until Streeter shows up on the court, and Amir realizes what happened.
Newspapers and magazines get into the spirit, most famously with George Plimpton's piece about this absurdly talented Mets phenom named Sidd Finch, who was too good to be true. Turned out, he wasn't — Finch was made up, but not before Dave Corniea, one of my Twitter followers, started calling the house of his rotisserie league commissioner, trying to get dibs on Mets rookie Sidd Finch. He kept getting a busy signal and "almost rode my bike to the guy's house because I couldn't get through," he explained on Twitter on Tuesday.
This is good from a site called museumofhoaxes.com. In 1981, the Daily Mail in London ran a faux story about a Japanese long-distance runner, Kimo Nakajimi, "who ran the London Marathon but, on account of a translation error, thought that he had to run for 26 days, not 26 miles. The Daily Mail showed pictures of Nakajimi running and reported that he was still somewhere out on the roads of England, determined to finish the race. Supposedly he had been spotted occasionally around town, still running.
I myself like to have some fun on occasion, as Nuggets broadcaster Chris Marlowe found out — I would call his cellphone during his pregame interviews with coach George Karl.
One time, I saw an out-of-town writer pull into the Pepsi Center for a game, so I left a note on his car: "Hey there, my name is Cadance, and I know this sounds super-weird, but I saw you parking and honestly thought you were hot. Like, just my type. Anyway, I know this sounds crazy, but I figured I'd give you my number — call me tonight, it's worth a shot, right?" And then, I left my own number. Sure enough, as I was getting into bed hours later, my phone rang ... and it was that writer's number (perhaps I was inspired by Cy Young).
My masterpiece, though, involved this television reporter from Los Angeles. For story's sake, let's say his name was Brad Bronson. So during the Nuggets-Lakers playoffs a few years back, I took Bronson and some other visiting reporters to 1-Up, the '80s and '90s video-game arcade bar in LoDo. They have an NBA Jam there, and Bronson was going on and on about being really good at the game. So, in front of everyone, I took him on — and beat him by one point. It was a fun win, but Bronson was actually really mad that he lost. Even an hour later, at a different bar, he was saying, "Man, I can't believe you beat me!" And he even threw out some excuses: "I'll be honest, my shoot button kind of got stuck sometimes ..."
Fast-forward to later in the series. We're in L.A., and after a game, I walk into a bar by Staples Center and spot Bronson ... sitting with, no lie, FIVE Laker Girls. So he calls me over, introduces me to the girls, who are clearly enamored by his TV presence. I make a few uncomfortable Chandler Bing-type jokes to these stunning women, and then I left to hang with my buddies in the bar.
My friend William had a girlfriend there, so we cooked up a plan. I had the girlfriend wander over to the table with Bronson and the Laker Girls.
She says, "Oh, um, um, are you ... Brad Bronson?"
Feeling good about being recognized in front of these girls, he says, "Well yes, yes I am."
And she says: "You're the guy who LOST to Benjamin Hochman at NBA Jam!!"
Benjamin Hochman: firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/hochman