Do you swear to tell the … aw, never mind

Do you swear to tell the … aw, never mind

John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review

In the wax museum of bizarre spectacles, these deserve a wing to themselves:

— Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction.

— O.J. in the white Bronco.

— Rick Neuheisel under oath.

Yes, it happened on Wednesday, on the third floor of the King County Regional Justice Center, where King County justice is meted out, uh, regionally. In courtroom 3A – er, justice chamber 3A – Rick Neuheisel took the stand and pledged to tell the whole truth, even if he had to make it up out of whole cloth.

Only kidding. He was sworn in by Judge Michael Spearman without incident.

Unless you count the deluge of frogs raining down from the heavens.

Rick Neuheisel is suing the University of Washington and the NCAA for the $8 million or so still outstanding on his contract as head football coach when he was fired – for lying, the school insists. Lying about, among other things, the little more than $12,000 he won in 2002 and 2003 in two NCAA basketball Calcuttas with some well- heeled chums.

You can see why the notion of him swearing to tell the truth with $8 million at stake is the sort of thing that makes worlds collide.

Luckily, there is a jury of his peers to decide the merits of the case. Well, not peers exactly. Finding 16 fired lying millionaire coaches was impossible, even in King County, so they settled on some regular folks whose entire lunch tab Neuheisel lead attorney Bob Sulkin could cover with what he nets in one billable hour.

This exercise of the absurd has already slogged on for nearly two weeks with the grilling of former UW athletic disaster Barbara Hedges, the free-form rambling of ex-compliance ditz Dana Richardson and the skewering of some of Neuheisel’s betting buddies. But there was really big news Wednesday because Neuheisel himself took the stand late in the afternoon.

And proceeded to finish the day with an attorney-prompted accounting of “This Is My Life,” from birth through Rose Bowl MVP to becoming Hedges’ fatal attraction.

For those in attendance, it was 45 minutes of their lives they’ll never get back. It only seemed as prolonged as a Ken Burns documentary.

There was one particularly Neuheiselesque moment when he acknowledged that he was “unsuccessful” on his first attempt to pass the Arizona bar exam after he graduated from law school at USC.

“Did you fail it?” asked Neuheisel attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.

“That’s another way of putting it,” scowled Neuheisel. “Yes, I failed it.”

And nothing but the truth.

The boring bio was apparently the result of Neuheisel’s team not wanting to launch into the heart of the lawsuit less than an hour before recess, and then have to start again anew – even at the risk of fomenting resentment among jurors for having their intelligence insulted and time wasted.

Today, presumably, he and his lawyers will get into the sad circumstances of his firing – the gambling, the lying, the deceit, the shenanigans.

And some of the stuff Rick did, too.

This is not to say Neuheisel didn’t bring something to the dance. He was earnest, convivial, even a little vain. He leaned forward in the witness box with a forearm propped on the rail, and unlike his skittish friend John Bentz earlier or the NCAA stiffs who testified on video, he swiveled his chair toward the jury and talked to them as much as to his attorney.

You could have sworn three jurors signed letters of intent on the spot.

But there were no real revelations. There haven’t been many all trial, since most of the dirt was in the papers long ago. It did come out that the NCAA had been tipped off to Neuheisel’s participation in the March Madness auction in 2002, but NCAA gumshoe Bill Saum alibied that he didn’t’ follow it up because “I didn’t see any way this could be truthful – there was just no way coach Neuheisel would participate in something like this.”

Saum’s boss, David Price, refused to apologize for telling UW and Neuheisel that they were coming to Seattle in June 2003 to ask about recruiting violations but never mentioning they had the goods on him for gambling – calling it “our best chance of getting the truth.

“I don’t think we considered it to be misleading, given the way we do business,” Price said.

Saum may have been the least sympathetic witness since Mark Fuhrman, dodging candor with a manner even Neuheisel had to appreciate.

“Tell me what point shaving is,” Sulkin asked at one point.

“It’s when you shave points,” Saum gurgled.

So help him, God.

Saum also helpfully answered a question at one point by saying, “I didn’t know what we didn’t know, if that’s what you’re asking.”

If it was, Neuheisel had better change lawyers.

More entertaining was Bentz, who earnestly tried to help his buddy and was doing OK until UW attorney Lou Peterson pointed out that he’d lost $3,920 because the basketball team he’d purchased in the auction lost.

“I didn’t consider it to be a gambling event,” Bentz insisted.

Oh.

Bentz wasn’t part of Neuheisel’s auction “team,” instead joining up with former SuperSonics center and current assistant coach Jack Sikma to lose his bundle. Peterson wondered why Bentz seemed so cavalier about the setback.

“It’s a roll of the dice,” Bentz shrugged.

But not gambling. No.

A day in court is a convincing argument that there are absolutely no heroes or pitiable victims in Rick vs. the Dawgs and the NCAA.

Not the NCAA jackboots who rather than serve their membership find it more useful to ambush convenient targets and blab their guilt to the press before their skewed notion of “fair process” – Price’s term – plays out.

Not the buffoons who have been running the UW athletic department – and upper administration. Not the insane trial groupies – one sidled up in the hallway to confide he wants the NCAA to take the hit here “as payback for the Billy Joe Hobert business.” Say bloody what?

And not Rick, whose lawyer happily brought the fact that his client briefly played in the NFL in 1987 – skipping over the fact that it was as a replacement during the players’ strike.

Or a scab.

That’s another way of putting it.

Copyright c 2005 The Spokesman-Review

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