Could be a case of 'see no more Evel'
By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist

The World Cup is in its first full week. The Stanley Cup finals just began. The NBA Finals are about to begin. The baseball season is in full swing. Mike Tyson fights Saturday night and War Emblem races for the Triple Crown the same afternoon. But I'm taking this opportunity to write about something really important in the wide, wide world of sports.

Evel Knievel
Easy Rider: Evel Knievel gets back on his hog.
Evel Knievel wants to jump his motorcycle again.

That's right. At 63, he wants to stage one last spectacular leap to open something called the Evel Knievel Xperience Café, which Reuters describes as "an ode to his life and truck stop,'' scheduled for completion next spring in Primm, Nevada.

If you're of a certain age, you remember when Knievel was the hottest thing in sports, influencing so many kids that he was personally responsible for the home down payments for half the orthopedics in the country. Until Knievel, we only thought of bicycles as a mode of transportation or a repository for our baseball cards. Knievel inspired us to reach for the stars, or at least leap for the other side of the alley.

We would lay down a sheet of plywood over a mound of dirt, then race our sting-rays down the alley screaming, "I'm Evel Knievel!!!'' -- feeling free and brave and unbound by mere laws of gravity, just before hitting the ramp and crashing into the cement at 30 miles an hour, painfully ripping the flesh from our arms and snapping our bones as if they were the sticks from our brothers' Ker-Plunk game.

We loved the guy.

While waiting for his jumps, we watched his TV movies, ate from his lunch buckets, played with his action figure and collected his bubblegum cards (which, fittingly, we could attach to the spokes of our bikes).

Of course, our view changed somewhat after his infamous leap in September 1974. Three years before Fonzie provided the impetus to what would become one of the most addictive websites on the Internet, Evel figuratively jumped the shark when he failed to leap the Snake River Canyon.

That failed leap remains one of the most overhyped events in sports history, enough so that it makes Super Bowl coverage seem understated. For weeks, we heard about this upcoming death-defying attempt and eagerly anticipated the big moment. I'm telling you, it was huge, so huge we were all certain it was going to be the biggest sports spectacle ever, even bigger than the Bobby Riggs-Billie Jean King match or the Superstars.

But whether seeing the leap live on closed circuit TV or looking at photos and videotape later, we all had one universal thought when Evel took off:

Evel Knievel
Knievel sits in his skycycle before his infamous 1974 attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon.
"He's on a @$&@*#ing rocket! What a ripoff!''

Remember, this was shortly after we gave up on moon landings because they seemed old hat, so riding a rocket a quarter-mile across a canyon wasn't exactly the death-defying stunt we bargained for. Nor was using a parachute to drift safely to the canyon floor when Knievel failed to reach the other side.

I guess I should have known that leaping a canyon on a regulation motorcycle was beyond the realm of possibility, even if I was just a 12-year-old who still thought excessive radiation made people turn green, allowed them to burst into flame at will or to gain the proportionate strength and agility of a spider.

That was the genius of Evel's hype, though. He had said for years that he wanted to leap the Grand Canyon, but everyone knew that was impossible, because everyone knows how big the Grand Canyon is (after all, we had seen it on "The Brady Bunch"). Few people outside of Idaho, however, realized how big the Snake River Canyon is. So we thought, what the heck, maybe he could jump it with a motorcycle, little knowing that while Snake River may not be the GRAND Canyon, it's still a very GOOD canyon. And very wide.

So when Knievel wound up riding something that should have had Neil Armstrong at the controls, we all wound up more disappointed than we would be for another quarter century with the release of the second "Star Wars'' trilogy.

(A brief aside here. When is someone going to tell George Lucas that he's completely lost it? It's hard to believe that the man responsible for the first "Star Wars'' trilogy, Indiana Jones and the terrific "American Graffiti'' could put such crap on the big screen. The more computer-generated special effects he uses, the more artificial and unreal everything looks. My pet theory is that two-thirds of the time you can tell whether a movie is going to be any good within its first two minutes, and you knew from the opening moments of "Star Wars I and II" that neither movie would be any good. "Phantom Menace'' began with a text crawl that read like it was taken from a NAFTA booklet, while "Attack of the Clones'' lost me with something about separatist movements. And while Natalie Portman is lovely to look at, after two movies, I still don't know what the hell her name is. Say what you will about Carrie Fisher, but you damn well knew her character was named Princess Leia pretty early in the movie. As for those few critics who gave "Attack of the Clones'' decent reviews, I have just four words in rebuttal: Senator Jar-Jar Binks.

(But I digress ...)

Some people say we lost our innocence in August 1974, when Nixon resigned amid the Watergate scandal, but I peg it to one month later with Evel's Snake River debacle.

Evel Knievel
Knievel had between 35 and 40 operations due to injury over his career.
Knievel made other leaps, but after Snake River, it was never the same. His last public stunt was over a bunch of buses at the Kingdome in 1980, and then he effectively retired from the motorcycle stunt business, such as it is.

And now somehow, after all the years and all the injuries -- even after the Kingdome is gone -- Evel is back.

Knievel claims he wants to make this his longest leap yet -- or at least his longest that doesn't involve NASA scientists. Frankly, I'm not sure what, if anything, he can clear at age 63. And if he's older, the rest of us are as well, and considerably more jaded than when we were 12 and dreaming about Laurie Partridge and Marcia Brady. After 30 years, we're not nearly as susceptible to outrageous hyperbole. After "The X Games" and "The Jackass Show," we're not easily thrilled by motorcycle stunts, either.

We won't build ramps in our alleys for this one. At this stage of life, the only thing that could really impress us is if his Xperience Café offers a $6.98 plate of nachos piled so high that not only could Evel not leap it, Refrigerator Perry couldn't eat it.

None the less, I would salute Evel on his return if it weren't for one thing. I haven't been able to lift my arm above shoulder level since crashing my Sting-Ray on a three garbage can leap in 1974.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for He can be reached at



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