All's well that'spostponed
Rancor in theranks of the colleges' football coaches and athletic directors, centeringchiefly around the question of who gets the most out of television, soured lastweek's convention of the National Collegiate Athletic Association in New Yorkand for a time seemed almost to threaten its existence.
There was talkthat the Big Ten, which favors a "regional" system of televisingfootball games as against the "Game of the Week" system (SI, Jan. 10),might pull out of the association and take the similarly minded Pacific CoastConference and Notre Dame with it. The Big Ten didn't get its way and didn'tpull out. No one did—just yet.
In astatesmanlike compromise worthy of U.N., the delegates agreed to refer thewhole problem to a 12-man committee which has until spring to produce a planfor submission to the NCAA's members. Translation: college football'sdead-serious struggle for the big slices of the television pie was not ended,just postponed.
January 17, 1955
George Linn is atall (6 ft. 4 in.), hefty (185 lbs.), good-looking fellow who plays varsitybasketball for the University of Alabama. He's a junior, is engaged in studyingcommercial subjects, and is known on the campus as a quiet and undemonstrativefellow. He comes from Columbus, O. and this fact has afforded him a modicum ofreflected glory—for he lives next door to Notre Dame Quarterback RalphGuglielmi and across the street from Ohio State's Halfback Hopalong Cassady.These few facts would have just about summed him up if they had been recited upuntil one second before half time in last week's Alabama-North Carolinabasketball game. By half time, however, George Linn was a famous man.
George still doesnot know just why he did what he did. He went into the air under his own basketas a North Carolina player missed a last-minute shot, got the ball off thebackboard and twisted as he came down. Out of the tail of his eye he saw a redlight glare on the scoreboard as a signal that the half was ending.Simultaneously, someone in the big crowd watching the game bawled,"Shoot!" This was completely implausible advice, for George wasstanding exactly 84 ft. 11 in. from the North Carolina basket—almost the entirelength of the court—but George did not reason. He just hauled off and threw ashard as he could and then stood wearing an expression which seemed to beginwith startled embarrassment, to shade into genuine disbelief as the ball zoomedthrough the air in perfect trajectory, hit the distant backboard and whooshedcleanly through the distant net.
The crowd in theAlabama gym rose to its feet with an unholy yell. George's teammates leapedupon him as though intent on beating him to death. North Carolina's Coach FrankMcGuire labored to his feet, walked dazedly to the spot George had justvacated, and stood staring down the court and shaking his head. He had reason;George had not only made the longest shot in Southeastern Conference history(old record: 64 ft. 7½ in.) but the longest recorded shot in the entire historyof the game.
The rest of thecontest (won by Alabama 77-55) was an anticlimax; it seemed like a good betthat the rest of George's basketball career would be too. Alabama immediatelyset out to sink a brass plaque into the floor at the spot from which theastounding throw was launched, and the ball was carefully bundled up forshipment to basketball's Hall of Fame at Springfield, Mass. George was besiegedby people who asked, "How did you feel when you did it?" George had toadmit that he didn't feel anything at all. That was probably as good an answeras any, for it was short and George will probably have to go on repeating it tothe end of his days.
The televisionviewer may grumble at the inanities with which he is all too frequentlyassaulted, and in rare instances when he is alone he may even clap his handsover his eyes, put his fingers in his ears or talk back. But generally he justsits and takes it, for he is getting it free and something in his soul tellshim that anything free is a bargain. For years he has listened to fightreferees giving boxers their doleful "instructions." If the fighterslisten they give no sign; they are hearing nothing they have not heard ahundred times before (and the televiewers a thousand), but the referee, awareperhaps of the TV camera and the microphone hanging from the boom, feels calledupon to prove himself a public speaker.
Would fightreferees all quit if they were suddenly forced to keep their mouths shut andsimply referee? Perhaps so—the need for self-expression runs deep in the humansoul. But the question is now academic. It is too late. Science has gone toofar. On New Year's Day it began wiring football officials for sound.
When Rose BowlReferee Edward Wagner called the captains of Ohio State and Southern Californiato the center of the field for pregame instructions, he was (at the instigationof an alert NBC technician) wearing a lavaliere microphone around his neck. Asmall wire, about the diameter of that used in a hearing aid, ran some 20 feetfrom the mike to an NBC man who carried a pack transmitter on his back. This,in turn, picked up the radio signal and boosted it out over the air waves. As aresult, millions of televiewers were listening as Referee Wagner spoke. RefereeWagner did not ignore the opportunity. He made a speech. It was vigorous. Itwas well enunciated. Also it was familiar: it was the fight referee's speech tothe gladiators adapted to football and lengthened by the addition of thebusiness of flipping a coin and choosing goals and all. It was longer too, tobe blunt about it, because Referee Wagner seemed determined to prove thatfootball referees could make better speeches than boxing referees. Can anyfight referee stand silent in the face of such a challenge?
Yank the wiresand microphones out from under those striped blazers, oh, chieftains of thenetwork. Though, to be candid, the televiewer will not protest aloud if you donot. He will listen, numb with boredom, to football referees just as he haslistened to boxing referees for years and years and years. But it will dosomething to him, it can't be avoided, and even a televiewer can be pushed toofar. A day will come—perhaps even a New Year's Day when sales of popcorn, razorblades and canned chicken hang in the balance—when he will leap from his couchand charge across the room, his jowls flecked lightly with foam, and kick histelevision set into splintered lengths of wood and tinkling shards of glass,and then wait, crouched like a gibbon, for the man coming for the next monthlypayment.
It would be hardto say, on the basis of his sixth-round knockout of bald and battered JoeRindone last week, whether Sugar Ray Robinson can come back as a middleweightfighter, or for that matter, since he is a man of moods, whether he reallyintends to try. But Sugar Ray did make it plain that he is still equipped withone of the most flamboyant personalities since the heyday of Diamond Jim Brady,and that nobody is likely to rent the use of it for a dollar less than SugarRay thinks the market will bear. L'affaire Rindone (which drew 11,973spectators to the Detroit Olympia) was most notable, in fact, as proof thatSugar has lost not one whit of his unabashed genius for self-expression.
This seems justenough, for though Sugar at his peak was one of the deadliest gladiators of histime, he will be better remembered by the businessman of boxing for hisunforgivably princely airs—and the fact that he has made the businessmenswallow them. Sugar Ray's orchid-pink Cadillac, Sugar Ray's European tours,Sugar Ray's revels in Paris are only lesser manifestations of Sugar Ray'ssublimely arrogant concept of the world, i.e., that it is Sugar Ray's oyster orought to be. To the consternation of promoters and managers he includes theworld of boxing, too, and though boxers are expected to be serfs he hasrebelliously matched trick for trick in extracting the utmost in purses and hasbeen repeatedly charged with running out on fights when the arrangementsdispleased him.
Hardly had hiscomeback fight with Rindone been announced when it became evident that SugarRay and Promoter Nick Londos were swirling around below the surface in trulysharklike combat. Londos bobbed up first, crying that Robinson had given him averbal agreement but was trying to jack up the price. The Michigan Board ofAthletic Control quickly suspended Robinson "indefinitely." Robinson'smanager protested that Londos was trying to do him out of a guarantee. In theend, however, Londos "just happened" to go to New York and settlethings to Robinson's satisfaction (40% of the gate or a minimum of $6,000),after which the board rapidly reinstated him.
Sugar Ray enteredDetroit grandly, with his manager, two tablemates, a valet, a personal barber,two trainers and his wife and son, and proved his drawing power by jamming theMotor City Gym with scrambling crowds when he trained and, of course, byfetching almost 12,000 people to the box office for the fight itself. EvenSugar Ray was less than expansive about the fight. "Takes two to make afight," he said of his reluctant foe. "I tried everything to make himopen up but he just stood there with his hands up around his head."
After fivelackluster rounds, however, Robinson did manage the grand gesture; he attackedlike a cobra in the sixth and floored his man in less than two minutes. Grandgesture No. 2 followed as soon as he had retired to his hotel room—consciousthat his hair had become somewhat touseled, he sent for Barber Roger Simon whoquickly gave him a comb job, fingered his waves into place, flipped a hair netover the Robinson scalp to hold them in place, and gently adjusted the Robinsonhead under a silver hair dryer.
Phil Rizzuto ofthe Yankees is performing as a television panelist these Friday evenings(DuMont network, 10:30 p.m. EST) on a program called Down You Go, one of themore pleasant and literate half hours around. And if you think Phil has beensigned on (as some athletes have been by other show business enterprises) as asort of staff boob, be advised that Phil is sharp as a tack, looking likewiseand talking as though he had been hanging around Clifton Fadiman instead ofCasey Stengel.
As caught lastFriday evening, the Down You Go panel included Boris Karloff, the professionalmonster, and a couple of cuties named Signe Hasso and Patricia Cutts. None ofthem—not even Karloff—scared Phil. He went after the answers with as much styleas he gives to the fielding of a ground ball.
Phil was first toguess that the phrase indicated by the clue, "very likely to happen to onewho hasn't all his buttons," was "he lost his shirt." When thehint, "a Grimm character," was tossed out, Phil guessed, with logic ifnot accuracy, that the answer was "an umpire."
Although Phildidn't get "the U.S.S. Forrestal" as the answer to the phrase, "agreat hardship," he was there in the clutch when Moderator Bergen Evansasked, "Can anyone tell us something about the Forrestal?"
"Biggestcarrier in the world," said Phil promptly. "Too big to get through thePanama Canal. Displaces as much water as the city of Milwaukee drinks in aweek."
Dr. Evans, acollege professor, was plainly taken aback. "I didn't know that, Mr.Rizzuto," he said.
"It was inall the papers," said Phil Rizzuto kindly, in the gentle, tolerant mannerof the well-informed man.
The student takesover
For 20 yearsbefore his death last summer John Blanks Campbell earned the respect ofsports's most critical audience: the American racing fan and the thousands ofmen and women who help to make thoroughbred racing a billion-dollar business.In his capacity as racing secretary and handicap-per of the Jockey Club, JohnCampbell became most renowned for his uncanny ability to forecast what oneseason's two-year-olds would do during their three-year-old years. Hislong-time friend, the late Joe H. Palmer, once said of him, "He knows morein January what a horse will do in April than the average handicapper knowsfive minutes before post time."
It was true, too.Campbell brought out each January a handicap rating of some hundred or morethree-year-olds. It was known as the Experimental Free Handicap—at first just aroster, but since 1940 a true handicap event run at Jamaica during April. In itthe horses carried the weights assigned to them by Campbell, and more oftenthan not the Campbell favorites finished where they were supposed to. His wasan exhausting job of research and study. His fine sense of judgment never lefthim. Some of his judgment and experience Campbell passed down during the yearsto his assistant, studious-looking Frank E. (Jimmy) Kilroe, a 42-year-old NewYorker and graduate of Columbia who did all right on his own as handicapper atthe Chicago tracks and at Santa Anita.
Last week JimmyKilroe, named Campbell's successor in July, brought out his own firstExperimental Free Handicap ratings. Showing that he was a true student of hismaster, Kilroe drove home the point that he wouldn't be swayed by popularitypolls, which, last fall, had almost unanimously selected Nashua as the leadingtwo-year-old of 1954. In the 1955 Free Handicap Nashua gets second billing at127 pounds to his arch rival Summer Tan, in at 128 pounds. Third—just where hefinished in the Belmont Futurity—is Royal Coinage, with 124 pounds. Kilroe sawfit to assign weights to 114 thoroughbreds in all, including 34 fillies and 10geldings.
Like his master,he can't be expected to hit it right every time. But his public who takeexception to Nashua's runner-up position will do well to remember Campbell's1950 rankings. Almost all right-thinking people said Hill Prince deserved thetop spot. Campbell put Middle-ground there. Middle-ground then went out andbeat Hill Prince in the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes.
Permit me,"the toastmaster said, "to quote his famous coach, Frank Leahy, who hassaid, 'You may find a boy who is a better runner than Johnny, another boy whois a better blocker, another boy who is a better tackier, and perhaps stillanother boy who is a better passer, but you will find no boy who has theability to do all these things as well as Johnny.' And so it is with greatpride that I now present to you, John J. Lattner, the Heisman Memorial TrophyAward as this year's outstanding college football player."
These remarkswere delivered about a year ago at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City.Similar sentiments were directed at Alan Ameche of Wisconsin this year. Butthis is a report on John J. Lattner and what has happened to the big, rawbonedNotre Dame star since he accepted the Heisman Trophy and then went on to hearother toastmasters in variations on the theme all around the banquet circuit.By the time he had reached Pittsburgh last winter, there had been twodevelopments affecting his status as the nation's No. 1 college hero. For onething, he had been drafted to play professionally for the Pittsburgh Steelers.For the other thing, many a battle-scarred football pro was fed to the earswith hearing about Johnny Lattner.
At the Dapper Danbanquet in Pittsburgh, one of these pros could stand it no longer. Called uponfor a few remarks, Fran (Punchy) Rogel, the Steelers' fullback, blurted:"If Lattner thinks he's coming to the Steelers just to pick up a big paycheck, he'd better just pack up his bag and go home!"
Rogel, of course,didn't have anything against Johnny Lattner personally, and every Dapper Dan atthe banquet knew it. Rogel was merely voicing a professional warning that anyfootball hero would have to prove himself before being accepted in a leaguewhere they eat All-Americas for breakfast.
Last week JohnnyLattner was back at home in Chicago following his first professional season andit was clear that nobody had had him for breakfast. On the contrary, theSteelers had hastened to sign him again for next season at a salary ofapproximately $11,000—an investment strongly indicated by his selection as amember of the All-Star squad scheduled to play in Los Angeles on Jan. 16 and bythe following figures on Johnny's record for the season: 1) He led the team inpunt returns with 17 for a total of 73 yards. 2) He was first in kickoffreturns with 16 for a total of 413 yards. 3) He was second in scoring with 42points, fourth in rushing with 3.6 yards per try and fourth in pass receivingwith 25 catches for a total gain of 305 yards.
But more eloquentthan the statistics were the comments of Johnny's teammates. Said Bill McPeak,a defensive end, "You get skeptical of big-name players coming into theleague. So many of them are duds. But Lattner is a great football player and agreat guy, too."
"One of thebest rookie halfbacks we ever had," said Elbie Nickel, veteran end. "Heputs out all the time."
As for PunchyRogel, the plain-talking speaker at the Dapper Dan banquet last winter, well,he's still laying it on the line where Lattner is concerned.
He says the kid'sa pro.
There's thisabout a wintry clime,
Yes, this is Nature's law:
When one has ice skates, urge and time,
One also has a thaw.