|Thursday, July 27, 1995|
IN HIS CORNER
Long shot from Medfield
How could we not root for McNeeley?
David Letterman: Tell us about the nickname Hurricane. Is that your style of fighting?
Peter McNeeley: When I turned pro in August of '91 at BU's Nickerson Field that week we got hit with Hurricane Bob. And I said if you're gonna be a pro fighter you've got to have a nickname. The fight almost got cancelled by Hurricane Bob. So I became Hurricane Peter McNeeley.
David Letterman: Well, you could have just called yourself Bob.
By LARRY BEAN
Major, the dog, was more cooperative with the British press than he was this day with the photographer from Sports Illustrated.
A couple prints from the photo session with the British newspaper that was here at the McNeeley's Medfield home earlier this month hang on the refrigerator in the kitchen. The SI photographer is going for a similar shot of the underdog, his mother, and his dog.
But Major, who looks to be a mix of lab and shepherd, isn't all that interested in getting his mug in a national magazine. Right now he'd rather search for skunks under the back porch of the McNeeley home than pose for photos with Peter and Peter's mother, Nancy.
Finally, after a few stern commands from Peter, Major agrees to put the skunk search on hold for a few minutes so the photographer can finish his work. Even for Major, this celebrity stuff can get pretty demanding.
Later, after the SI photographer and his assistant have packed up the half dozen cases of equipment they brought and headed to the South Shore Boxing Club in Whitman for another shoot later that afternoon, Peter, stretched out on the couch in his living room, is talking on the phone, answering his third call in the last 15 minutes to the Hurricane Hotline. This one is from his manager/trainer Vinnie Vecchione, or Curley as he's called by Peter and others in the local boxing world.
The day before, McNeeley and Vecchione played host to the press corps from New York City and Philadelphia at a news conference in Stoughton and later at the gym in Whitman. The reporters were in town to finally meet McNeeley in person and introduce their readers to the man Mike Tyson will be making his first post-prison comeback appearance against on Aug. 19 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Some of the reporters had heard the story of how McNeeley has a poster of Tyson hanging over his bed, and now some of the same people who had been relentlessly and ruthlessly sucker punching McNeeley in their column space since the Tyson bout was announced earlier this summer wanted to pay a visit to 9 Laurel Drive and see if the story was true.
"You're not coming in my bedroom," McNeeley told them.
McNeeley pushes the hang-up button and calls to his mother in the kitchen, "Letterman tomorrow night, Ma."
If McNeeley is the least bit excited about the fact that he'll be "doing panel" with Dave in less than 24 hours, he isn't showing it. He could have just told his mother he was doing a guest spot on Cable 8 rather than the top-rated late-night talk show.
"What's that, Peter?" Nancy calls back from the kitchen.
"I'm gonna be on Letterman tomorrow night," McNeeley says as matter-of-factly as the first time.
"Oh really," says Nancy, stepping into the living room. "What time is that on?"
Well, don't forget to take the trash out before you go, you almost expected her to add.
Letterman: The next face Mike Tyson sees in a ring after 3 1/2 years in prison is that of our next guest, say a prayer and hello for the Rodney Dangerfield of boxing, Hurricane Peter McNeeley.
"Howard Stern wanted us on," says McNeeley. "But I didn't want to find my own way down to New York City and get abused by him. See ya later, Howard."
New York press, international press, Sports Illustrated, Howard Stern, David Letterman, not to mention regular appearances in the Boston Herald's Inside Track column ("There was a rumor I was spotted on Newbury Street eating a hamburger yesterday," says McNeeley. "I wasn't. Not that I'm afraid of a hamburger. I do go the George Foreman route." Also untrue was the story that McNeeley was seen at the Tent in Quincy eating sausages. He says that was a friend who was wearing a "Hurricane" sweatshirt). The hands are off the clock on Peter McNeeley's 15 minutes of fame, and rest assured he's savoring every second. Don't be deceived by any apparent indifference to his new-found celebrity status. The thrill isn't gone.
"I was driving around today and I'm thinking, I'm coming home to my house now to meet with Sports Illustrated," says McNeeley.
"A friend of mine was excited because I was in his car talking on the car phone with Vinnie [Vecchione] when Vinnie told me I was ranked 20th in the world [McNeeley has since moved into the top 10 in the rankings of two boxing organizations]. The kid was all excited. He was saying, 'I was there when you found out — on my phone.'"
McNeeley remembers that phone call just as well as his friend does, and he still remembers vividly the morning he was driving alone down the Southeast Expressway a few weeks ago. He was on his way home from Logan after taking the red eye back from Las Vegas, where just a few hours earlier he'd been at a news conference officially announcing his intentions for Tyson.
"I'm listening to Matty in the Morning when the news came on and said, 'Peter McNeeley-Mike Tyson, it's a done deal.' I've got a chill going up my spine right now talking about it."
Leterman: Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?
McNeeley: Medfield, Massachusetts, baby!
The old man was giggling through his near-toothless gums as he scampered back to his two friends waiting behind the back row of the make-shift boxing arena under the grandstands at Foxboro Raceway. In his hands he was clutching a treasure: a program from that June 30 boxing show that Peter McNeeley had just autographed.
"What did you say to him?" one of his friends asked.
"I told him I saw his father fight," the old man answered.
"What did he say?" the friend asked.
"He told me his father was here, to go talk to him," said the old man.
Those three McNeeley fans were among a couple hundred that paid $30 to watch the fighter go through a half-speed, three-round sparring session with Garing Lane that night.
There were other bouts on the card, matches where the boxers weren't wearing head gear and real punches were being thrown, but make no mistake about it, McNeeley was the main attraction.
"I think a lot of people who saw that exhibition at Foxboro realized that we weren't going full speed, that we were doing a lot of posing and posturing, trying to look good without hurting one another," says McNeeley. "But then we went down to Louisiana for a week and did some hardcore training down there."
No apologies are necessary. After his exhibition with Lane, McNeeley, with the tape still on his hands, spent the next half hour signing his name on programs, photos and on some custom-made T-shirts depicting McNeeley standing over a fallen Tyson under the caption "Tyson is out."
UNDER THE SCRUTINY of several camera lenses, heavyweight boxer Peter McNeeley tapes his hands in preparation for his daily workout. (Staff photo by J. Kiely Jr.)
Before McNeeley could make it back to his locker room, where he would spruce up a bit before doing some interviews for the local TV stations, the final two fights on the card had ended.
"I'm getting a lot of local support and I really enjoy that," says McNeeley. "I've always had a good support system from the people of Medfield.
"I know a lot of people have knocked me behind my back, they don't think I can do as well as I think I can do. But I'm getting a lot of healthy, positive feedback from the community.
"I'm getting a lot of feedback from people wherever I go, whether I'm in Boston or Medfield or Brockton. Maybe people don't think I can win, but they want me to win. They don't want Tyson to win."
McNeeley read the recent article on Tyson in Sports Illustrated, which asked on its cover — in light of Tyson's rape conviction, "Should we root for Mike Tyson?" McNeeley thought the cover could have made a more definitive statement.
"Maybe instead it should have said, 'A lot of people aren't rooting for him.' A lot of people won't root for him. Maybe he needs a new publicist. I don't know."
Letterman: Are you scared about this? Are you worried about this? What the hell are you doing this for? What's going on here?
McNeeley: I'm not scared one bit. I've been dreaming about this my whole life.
One of the shots the Sports Illustrated photographer took has McNeeley holding the SI issue from the early '60s in which his father, Tom, appeared on the cover. "Long shot from Boston," the caption reads.
Letterman also had a copy of that magazine, and it gave McNeeley a chance to tell the story he must feel like he's told a thousand times now: how, when he was a kid, he found the issue in the back of a closet and gradually came to learn his family's boxing history — about his grandfather fighting the first boxing match in Boston Garden in the 1920s and his father battling Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight championship some 35 years later.
Before eventually stepping into the ring himself when he was a student at Bridgewater State, McNeeley became not only a boxing fan but a student of boxing history, watching the sport's present stars on television and reading about its past stars in books and magazines.
Now he's reading about himself, and collecting most of the clips.
"As you can see, I've got a couple newspaper articles immortalized over there," says McNeeley, pointing across the room to a pair of framed stories, one about the relationship between him and Vecchione, the other on the Tyson fight. The articles sit next to another frame, this one containing a sketch of McNeeley that Leroy Neiman did for his mother, Nancy.
"It all started out here," says McNeeley, holding his hands out to his sides before bringing them together in front of himself. "And now it's coming to a point where I'm going to be a part of boxing history on August 19th. I'm going to be one half of that show."
Letterman: Can you win this fight?
McNeeley: I'm gonna knock him out.
In front of a national television audience or a group of reporters, McNeeley's claims that he'll knock out Tyson are expected.
But what is brushed off as bravado or part of the pre-fight hype process in those forums sounds an awful lot like legitimate confidence when he speaks the same words a little more softly in his living room.
"My confidence level is so high right now that I feel like I'm bigger than the guy. I feel like I'm stronger. I feel like a bull. I sent him a message that day [in Las Vegas] when I shook his hand and pulled him toward me."
McNeeley is still upset about an incident that occurred earlier this year between himself and fellow heavyweight Frans Botha. At a press conference in Worcester, Botha bad-mouthed McNeeley, and McNeeley responded by slapping him across the face.
"I shouldn't have slapped him," McNeeley says now. "I should have punched him."
McNeeley is thinking about trying to intimidate Tyson the next time they meet. He's trying to come up with something to whisper into his ear next time they shake hands, something that will let Tyson know McNeeley has no fear of him.
"I think they're nervous [Tyson's camp] because I'm not nervous," says McNeeley. "That thing with the sparring partners [a report circulated last week that four of Tyson's sparring partners had been sent to the hospital to be treated for injuries], that was a staged event. That never happened.
"As a matter of fact I've heard that his sparring partners aren't allowed to hit him in the ribs.
"What's gonna happen when I bang a left hook into his ribs," McNeeley adds with a menacing chuckle. "I want to dig down deep with this guy. I want to try things that no one else has tried."
Letterman: I hope you knock him out. I hope it goes that way. This is a great story. This is Rocky. This is the film Rocky. If you knock him out, or even if you don't, please come back and we'll talk some more about it.
McNeeley: I'd love to.
Letterman: In the meantime do me a favor. Try to work on your confidence a little bit.
Love to get together again, Dave. Let me check my calendar.
"I don't know what my schedule is after August 19th," says McNeeley. "But I know I have a house down the Cape for about a week when I come back, and also I'm gonna go away. I'm gonna go on a cruise."
In his mind, McNeeley has watched himself fight Tyson a hundred times. Sometimes he wins, sometimes he loses, sometimes he loses but still looks impressive.
"I've probably figured out every possible situation — how about a disqualification or a stoppage on cuts or a technical draw to set up a rematch. All these things have been going through my mind. Basically there's nothing I haven't thought of.
"But I know in my mind whatever happens, happens. Obviously I'm not going to be happy if I lose, but I know there is life after this fight. I don't know what's gonna happen after August 19th. Right now there is no August 20th. But I do know, long range, there is life after this fight."
|These articles appeared in the Medfield Suburban Press on 07/27/95.|