Gimps Of The Gridiron
UCLA has fallen and it can't get up

UCLA's strapping gridiron heroes trounced their rivals last season en route to the Rose Bowl -- but based on handicapped parking permit applications filed by 14 players, it's a wonder they could even walk, much less toss the pigskin. Some discrepancy, surely. The Los Angeles DA certainly thought so, and with opening day of the 1999 season upon us, the result has left the team crippled in more ways than one.

See also...
... by Andrew Rice
... in the Scope section
... from September 2, 1999

According to papers released by the City of Los Angeles District Attorney's office, six UCLA athletes claimed to have undergone back surgery; one more said he was laid up with a herniated disk. Asthma forced another to drive to class every day. Three claimed knee injuries, another a broken ankle -- all so severe they could hardly walk the campus. Finally, one poor jock was suffering from the terrifying Bell's palsy, a nerve disorder that causes facial paralysis. No wonder Wisconsin beat them.

The team's convenient little parking scam unraveled about six months ago when a UCLA campus cop noticed a healthy young man parking his car in a handicapped space. When confronted, the man claimed to have borrowed the car. However, according to Mike Qualls, a representative of the LA City District Attorney's office, the UCLA police recognized the guy as a football player and began an investigation. They compared the football roster to the list of handicapped parking permits granted by the Department of Motor Vehicles. The results have revealed a far-reaching conspiracy.

Apparently, the scam has been going on for quite a while. Police identified running back Ali Abdul Azziz as the ringleader of the group. Azziz allegedly provided the other players with applications and fake doctors' names and signatures. The cops also discovered that Azziz had learned his tricks from former Bruin running back Skip Hicks, who now plays for the Washington Redskins. Ex-UCLA quarterback Cade McNown, currently with the Chicago Bears, has also been shown to have once held a handicapped parking permit. McNown denies any wrongdoing.

So far, nine players have accepted a plea bargain involving a $1,500 fine, 100 hours of community service and suspension from the team for the first two games of the 1999 season. Two other players have been benched until mid-September; they, along with three former players, have requested continuances to consider their legal options. Meanwhile, UCLA starts its season on September 4 against Boise State missing 11 of its biggest stars, something that, for once, qualifies as a real handicap.

Andrew Rice, a frequent contributor to Outside, The Los Angeles Times Magazine and Wired News, has always wondered why it's called football when you play it with your hands.