Defusing the Rocket
This is an article from the March 28, 1955 issue
After Maurice (Rocket) Richard's suspension last week (see pages 22, 23) the city of Montreal acted as if the Canadian flag had been desecrated by foreigners. Although a more costly penalty had seldom been inflicted on a professional athlete at a more crucial point in his career, it could hardly have come as a complete surprise to hockey fans who were familiar with The Rocket's fire-on-ice temperament (SI, Dec. 6). Since he entered the National Hockey League 13 years ago, the Montreal Canadiens' inflammable right winger has been making headlines for both himself and his bruising, colorful team with tactics that might be frowned upon in Donnybrook.
Until last week's punishment, which set off the roaring Montreal mutiny, hockey officials around the league had indirectly winked at Richard's antics. While other players were being suspended for over-zealous use of their fists and sticks, Montreal's celebrated Flying Frenchman was always suited up and ready to score another winning goal just when it counted most. Once, after Richard whacked some Toronto players over the head with his stick in 1947, NHL President Clarence S. Campbell slapped him with a $250 fine. A few years later The Rocket exercised his muscles in the lobby of a New York hotel by scuffling with Referee Hugh McLean. Campbell obliged the jittery citizens of Montreal by leveling a $500 fine at their hero. The fines, of course, hardly disturbed Maurice Richard. They were paid either by the Montreal club or the donations of fans.
But last week Richard went too far for even President Campbell. It was obviously time to defuse The Rocket. It was also time that Campbell, who has been openly accused by many hockey people of being a mere lackey of the NHL directors, step forward and do the defusing himself. Richard gave Campbell a perfect opening.
No doubt Richard's loss cost Montreal the league championship and very possibly the Stanley Cup, to say nothing of depriving The Rocket of his chance to lead the league in scoring. But it was a simple question of either enforcing the rules of hockey or catering to the passions of a somewhat overworked group of rooters. Hockey is still a game, and it is high time that both Richard and his Montreal partisans realize that slugging a referee is not yet a legal offensive maneuver.
There has been much remorse in Montreal since that black night in Boston when Richard took to battle with the Bruins's Hal Laycoe and slugged Linesman Cliff Thompson. Richard went on the air somewhat belatedly and implored his fans (in both French and English) to lend their support to the team. Of himself he said, "I will take my punishment and come back next year to help the club and the younger players to win the Cup."
Two men who have dedicated their lives to hockey—and who helped build it to the position it now occupies—also had tragic words to utter. Jack Adams, general manager of Detroit, said, "I'm sick, deathly sick and ashamed." Richard's coach, Dick Irvin, moaned, "I have often seen The Rocket fill this place [the Forum], but this is the first time I've seen him empty it."
As the citizenry tried to re-enter a state of normalcy during the regular season's final weekend an editorial in the Montreal Star gave them—and other sport fans elsewhere—some appropriate words for required reading: "But what can we say to explain in decent terms to ourselves the hangover of humiliation that remains?...Montreal today stands convicted of emotional instability and lack of discipline. It can take no pride in what has happened. Nothing but shame remains."
Tomorrow the world
The Pan-American Games reached their halfway mark last Saturday, and most of the early attention centered around the track and field games of the 18-sport program. In particular the talk was about the unprecedented collapse of one fine athlete after another in Mexico City's oxygen-light, 7,600-foot altitude (for a medical and pictorial report, see page 33).
Although the runners in the longdistance races stumbled home in extremely poor times, competitors in the shorter events managed to hang up a dazzling array of records before they toppled just past the finish line. Post-race collapses numbered nearly 30, but new meet records were almost as numerous: 16 in the 22 men's events, seven in the seven women's events.
Unquestionably the outstanding achievements of the games were those of a tall Brazilian named Adhemar Ferreira da Silva and a short American named Louis Woodward Jones. Ferreira da Silva and Jones managed to completely obliterate the listed world records for their events with stunning performances. Ferreira da Silva's mark (54 feet 4 inches in the hop-step-and-jump) superseded by more than a foot the world record set in 1953 by Russia's L. Scherbakov. Jones's 45.4-second clocking in the 400-meter run not only broke a world mark set almost five years ago by George Rhoden of Jamaica, but also moved Jones ahead of Russia's Ardalion Ignatyev as the world's ranking quarter miler.
David Richardson, SI's correspondent, reported from Mexico City that the race to remember was the 400 meters, dominated by Jones and two fellow Americans, Jim Lea and Jesse Mashburn. Richardson cabled: "Mashburn took the early lead, turning in a sizzling 200 meters that Jones still swears was close to 21 flat or good enough to place in most 200-meter dashes. Then Jones moved to the fore, thundering into the final curve like a sprinter. Then Lea came up, and as they squared away in the straightaway it was still anybody's race. The crowd looked for someone to crack as they headed toward the tape, but no one did. Instead, Jones surged ahead and Lea doggedly stuck with him as the trio raced through the finish like 60-yard dash men in Madison Square Garden.
"One fanatic track student followed the spikemarks of the runners around the route and discovered that Jones had not moved his left foot more than half an inch away from the chalked lane line at any point, whereas Lea and Mashburn had veered several times, losing precious inches."
There were other memorable deeds, too. Americans Rosslyn Range and John Bennett each bettered 26 feet in the running broad jump, a distance made sacrosanct by Jesse Owens 20 years ago; Wes Santee was upset by Argentine Juan Miranda in an altitude-slow (3:53.2) 1,500 meters; and another Argentine named Oswaldo Suarez beat, among others, Horace Ashenfelter, Gordon McKenzie and two barefoot Mexican Indians to capture both the 5,000- and 10,000-meter run.
For track purists the happiest moment of the week's track and field competition was the commanding victory of Pittsburgh's graceful 19-year-old half miler Arnold Sowell (SI, March 7) in the 800 meters, the most glittering jewel yet in Sowell's brilliant necklace of triumphs. Track fans shed a tear for 30-year-old Mal Whitfield, twice Olympic 800-meter champion, who finished a tired fourth.
Barely two years ago the sweet-running Sowell was Pittsburgh's high school quarter-mile champion. Last year, as a University of Pittsburgh sophomore, he was the eastern intercollegiate middle-distance champion. Then national intercollegiate champion. This February he became American indoor champion. And now he is the Western Hemisphere champion. To track fans thinking of the 1956 Olympics, tomorrow for Arnold Sowell obviously means the world.
Mr. Peterson, I presume?
A woman reader had just finished the report of a Boston bird-watching expedition led by Roger Tory Peterson, author of A Field Guide to the Birds, in last week's issue (SI, March 21) when she entered the dining car of a Boston-St. Louis train. She was seated at a table occupied by a man and woman who, from their conversation, were plainly the most avid of Boston bird watchers and were, in fact, enroute to Texas to watch birds.
When the lady bird watcher addressed her male companion as Roger, the SI reader could not resist asking: "By any chance, are you Roger Tory Peterson?"
The man turned and beamed.
"No," he exclaimed fervently, "But oh, I do wish I were!"
Few cleavages of American opinion have endured as long or have been argued as bitterly as the ancient debate over the ancient sport of cockfighting. But the argument generally takes place only in courts of law—the chicken fighters have long since been driven to underground operation in out-of-the-way barns or hidden gullies and seldom speak publicly until being yanked into view by unsympathetic cops. Recently, however, one Willie Williams, a man who thinks of cockfighting as Horace Stoneham thinks of baseball, engaged Guy P. Miller, president of the Kansas Association of Humane Societies, in debate in a slightly different atmosphere. Miller had just paid $1.25 (and had suffered to have his wrist stamped in proof thereof) to gain admittance to a sheet iron quonset hut in which Willie openly holds cockfights just outside Wichita.
Willie, a smiling and affable Negro, held the legal if not the moral advantage during the conversation. Kansas statutes prohibit cruelty to animals, but do not specifically mention fowl, and do not specifically prohibit cockfighting. The local prosecutor and sheriff, however, feel that a fowl is not an animal, legally speaking, and prefer to wait for the legislature (next session 1957) to speak out on chickens before making any arrests.
Thus buttressed, Willie admits any and all customers to his Saturday night mains—one of which was in full swing when Miller arrived to find out from personal observation just what was going on. In his capacity as host and promoter, Willie was quickly introduced to the visiting enemy.
"How do you do," said Miller icily.
"Nice to know you, Mr. Miller," said Willie with a wide smile.
"Large crowd," said Miller, looking on critically.
"Yessir, there's lots of people that come out here to enjoy themselves. What do you think of our little club now that you see it?"
"We needn't go into that. My position is quite clear."
"Well, that's all right, that's all right. If you don't want to talk about it that's perfectly all right with me."
After a moment of silence Willie went on: "We clip their heels here. Did you know that a cock's natural spur is poisonous? We use gaffs. It's a clean fight thataway. Now, if we wanted to get nasty we could fight them like they do in Japan—put them in a cage so they could only peck at each other's heads...."
At this point a defunct chicken was carried past from the ring and the conversation ended. Both men, however, went on with their arguments obliquely to other people.
"This is a sport," said Willie. "Every farmer has a bird and wants to see how he'll stand up against competition. I've got a hundred birds myself. If I fight them they're worth a hundred dollars apiece. If I don't, they're worth nothing—not even good eatin' chickens."
Said Miller: "People indulge in this vulgar thing for only two things, money and glory. They should remember that gambling is illegal. I can't have much respect for people who must see innocent animals killed to satisfy their egos. If a cat catches a bird, the act is part of nature. But if humans prompt and instigate killings of animals, it is morally wrong."
"We're doing nothing against the law," said Willie. "I'm in close contact with my attorney."
Amateur standing (cont'd)
The continuing debate over just what constitutes an amateur athlete has flared up again with the following fresh views on the subject:
By Avery Brundage, president of the International Olympic Games committee: "I think the State Department definitely jeopardized the amateur status of Mal Whitfield, Harrison Dillard, Bob Richards and Sammy Lee when those athletes were sent [on good will tours] to foreign countries.... The efforts of our Armed Forces to assemble athletes for events such as the Pan-American Games is also endangering the amateur status of the athletes involved."
By Mal Whitfield, recently returned from one of the good will tours: "What is the matter with the man? Is he on the side of the Russians? I traveled all around the world for the State Department, trying to make friends for our country.... It just about killed me. When I got back in the U.S.A. I was in bad shape...you saw how bad I looked losing my 800-meter Pan-American championship. I finished fourth and haven't run as slow as that 1:52.5 in years.
"About that amateurism business—it cost me money to go on that good will tour. It took me away from my business and all I got for my time and trouble was mere expenses. But I didn't mind. I was doing it for the U.S.A. We can't let those Russians beat us in track or propaganda."
By Louis G. Wilke, president of the Amateur Athletic Union: "There is no violation of the amateur standing of American athletes involved in a trip made by them in different areas of the world.... Both the Armed Forces and the State Department have been most cooperative with the AAU which has encouraged...sponsorship of trips made by our top American athletes."
"We want to be friends..."
Three American skaters—Ken Henry, Don McDermott and Johnny Werket—entered the World Speed Skating Championships at Moscow. They didn't win but they made a creditable showing, they learned a lot and they brought back a diary.
In most respects it is the usual tourist diary of Russia, full of familiar personalities and incidents. There is the screwball pilot who flies them from Helsinki to Moscow, the guide who knows only what is sanctioned, that wonderful subway, and the joy of cornflakes and orange juice at the American Embassy. There is also some fascinating information about sports √† la russe:
"Big crowd of 50,000 people in Dynamo Stadium. Lucky to get 500 at American meet. Don won third in the 500-meter and there was a big lump in our throats as the American flag was run up. The Russkies applauded Don. None of us were unhappy about our times, we just didn't expect the others to be so good.
"Talked with Boris Shilkov, the Russian star, who speaks a little English. He told us that he was a turbine engineer in a plant in Leningrad. Shilkov never lets up on his training. In summer he cycles, lifts weights, rows and runs. That's the answer. This is year-round business. Hell, we just drop our skates in the closet once the ice goes out and forget about body conditioning. Picked up some good training tips from the Swedes and Norwegians who keep at it all year, too.
"Ken is going to try a new gimmick which the Scandinavians use. Tie two big, heavy bands of rubber around a tree and attach the free ends to your ankles. Pull your legs against the bands in the same motion you would use in skating.... Ken's afraid that if he tries the rubber band routine in America, his neighbors will think he is nuts and his wife will think he is nuttier than nuts. We all did terrible in the 5,000-meter, pretty close to last....
"Sigge Ericsson of Sweden finished first in the 10,000-meter and skated over to teammate, wept on his shoulder.... He is a warm, nervous, humble person.... When Ericsson took his world champion victory skate around the rink the mob went wild and cheered and cheered. Ericsson stopped to give a tiny girl a kiss and for some reason the mob just decided to come out on the ice like flies. The mad Russians chased Ericsson all over the stadium....
"A bunch of Russians grabbed [American Team Manager Richard] Shearman, movie camera and all, and started yelling and tossing him up in the air. He didn't know what to think and was plenty worried. They threw him up in the air at least 10 times and as high as 15 feet. Later we asked someone what the group had been yelling. It was 'We want to be friends with the Americans.'
"Shilkov says all Russians and everybody in Russia skates the International style. Kids in America aren't interested in learning the International style. Mostly because the amateur skating clubs sanction the American pack style of man-to-man skating. The International is man against the clock. In International style you have to learn to use long, smooth strides, keep the body low and in a constantly rolling motion. Your weight is always over the advanced foot. Try to use a long stride in American races and somebody will trip you up. Try to keep your weight on the forward foot and somebody will bump or spill you....
"Seems kinda silly that the Americans are the only ones that skate the pack style, while the rest of the world skates International....
"Went to lots of receptions. Drank lots of toasts.... Nick (the guide) still hammering away at us. Told us with straight face that Yablochkov invented the light bulb, that Popov invented the radio and Zhukovsky invented the airplane. Tired of arguing with him."
I told him the rapier button
Was crooked and out of joint;
Now he lies there as cold as mutton
Having finally got the point.
—Irwin L. Stein