VOICE OF EXPERIENCE
Boxing's respected historian and affectionate senior critic, Nat Fleischer, editor and publisher of The Ring, the bible of boxing, surveyed his sport at the year's close and wrote:
"Looking over the year one cannot overlook the damage done to boxing by the hoodlum problem. While boxing is a fine sport catering to millions of fans there are, as in all business, the unsavory elements whose machinations place the entire game into disrepute. There is no form of athletics from which more pleasure is derived by TV addicts than boxing. Yet the sport and those in it are constantly subjected to attack and all because of the few who, though keeping in the background, rule over the boxing domain with an iron hand."
He made tart reference to the International Boxing Club (James D. Norris, president) and "that organization's hold on national boxing," strengthened by the passing of two more clubs which had televised fights nationally. He commended Governor George M. Leader of Pennsylvania "for taking the initiative in combating evils in boxing" and New York's Commissioner Julius Helfand "for his defiance of those who are trying to take into their own hands the regulation of national boxing."
January 9, 1956
And as to the International Boxing Guild, the managers' sodality, Nat Fleischer noted that many boxers had quit the ring during the year for "lack of opportunity to engage in lucrative bouts, since most of the big-money contests went to a chosen few, managed by members of the powerful International Guild."
"The so-called 'big shots,' " he concluded, "have thwarted the progress of boxing in America."
WILLIE IS LEARNING
Three Miami race tracks joined in a-L testimonial dinner last week for a lank-haired young man named Willie Hartack. Among the presents, in recognition of one of Willie's current preoccupations, was a complete skin-diving set including an oxygen tank.
But before Willie could strap himself into his new present for an exploratory trip in southern waters, the quiet little man had other urgent business to attend to. The business was at Tropical Park, where Hartack, a professional jockey by trade, was cheerfully winning more horse races. When the year 1955 came to a close 5-foot 4-inch, 112-pound Willie had managed to run his season score to an amazing 417 winners. Only once before in the history of the American turf had a jockey passed the 400 mark—Willie Shoemaker had 485 winners in 1953.
Willie Hartack is not nearly as concerned with eclipsing Shoemaker's record some day—or even reaching the financial prominence of his more experienced contemporary Eddie Arcaro—as he is with simply winning races. He admits to an excess of nervous energy and says the best way to get rid of it is to do a lot of riding. He does a great deal—usually averaging between six to nine races a day, many of them on horses that Arcaro couldn't be bribed to ride. He takes chances, sure, and some of them have cost him suspensions for rough riding. But Hartack, who rode his first winner in 1952 (his present total: 1,126), figures he is still learning his trade and won't qualify as a full-fledged master for maybe another eight years (in 1964, say). One of the secrets of his success is an almost infallible memory which permits him to recall the racing traits of hundreds horses, both those he has ridden and those he has ridden against.
Veteran trainers, upon seeing Hartack in action for the first time, have been known to shudder. One of them not long ago summed up this explanation "He's got the worst seat on a horse I've even seen—but somehow horses seem to run for him." Hartack's answer to his critics is quick and to the point, "Looks on a horse mean nothing. It's winning that counts, not looks."
Last winter in Florida, Arcaro was asked what he thought of the lad who may some day take his place as the leading rider in the country. "Hartack's a real good jock," replied the Master. "He has good temperament and doesn't get excited. But after you pick out seven or eight of the top riders the thing that counts is who gets on the best horse."
After his phenomenal 1955 year Hartack may well expect to get on some of the best horses in 1956. As a matter of fact, Calumet Farm, back on the Florida circuit for the first time in years with a stable of promising horses, has asked for first call on Willie's riding services. Calumet can be sure of one thing: their horses will get superb rides from a very serious and confident young man.
A STILLNESS IN CHICAGO
Any way you look at it, George-Stanley Halas, of Chicago, Ill., must be regarded as the Alexander Graham Bell of professional football. To be sure, Halas is only 60 years old now, and they have been playing football for money since the turn of the century, when even old Connie Mack had a team, but it was Halas who took pro football out of its sandlot rompers and dressed it up for the paying customers. And now, after 36 years as an owner, coach and onetime player with his legendary Chicago Bears, Halas says he is hanging up his cleats.
What Halas means is that from now on he will employ someone else to coach the Bears while he runs the business end and watches the games from a grandstand box. He says he is tired after all these years, but it was hardly apparent this season when his rejuvenated Bears came within half a game of tying the Los Angeles Rams for the National Football League's Western Division title. Halas still looked like football's man-in-perpetual-motion, stamping up and down the sidelines, racing downfield with the ends on forward passes, angrily berating officials (rival coaches called it "intimidating") when decisions went against him. The sight of these thoroughly heartfelt theatrics, which work the fans into loud and steamy indignation on enemy grounds, has always been the most reassuring sight at Wrigley Field when the Bears are at home.
The Halas saga is already the liveliest part of pro football's growing legend. Back in 1921 when he bought the team—then known as the Decatur Staleys—and helped incorporate it into the infant NFL, Halas had to work as a night watchman in a refrigerator works to make enough money to stay in business. Through the long hours on duty he diagramed the plays which he gave to the team on Sunday morning before the game. Through the week he toured the sports departments of the Chicago papers with his press releases. On Sunday he handed out the equipment, rubbed down the muscles and bandaged the limbs of his teammates, then pulled on his jersey with the famous No. 7 and went out on the field to play left end. In his enthusiasm he once played a whole game with a broken jaw.
While it was growing respectable, pro football had its share of crises. There was the time, for instance, when the Bears, even then noted for their violence, were playing in Rock Island. Halas had had the foresight to dress his team across the river in Davenport and collect his $3,000 guarantee in advance. For safety's sake he stuffed the money in the coat pocket of Brute Trafton, the center and biggest man on the team. As it sometimes will when the Bears are playing, the game ended in a free-for-all between the teams, and before long Trafton was racing headlong down the street with half of Rock Island behind him. When the Bears reached the sanctuary of Davenport, Halas relieved Trafton of the wad of cash. The giant lineman watched in amazement. "If I'da known that," he said, "I wouldn't have stopped till I got to Mexico."
In those early days good crowds were hard to come by. Frequently after practice Halas would divide the team in two groups, sending half to the University of Chicago and the other half to Northwestern to distribute handbills advertising Sunday's game. Then in 1925, Halas gave pro football its single greatest hypodermic by hiring Red Grange, the Wheaton Iceman. The Bears barnstormed the country and proved a point that Halas had learned from Coach Bob Zuppke during his playing days at Illinois: college players are just beginning to learn the game when they graduate.
Grange and Halas were also responsible for another boon to football. During a game Grange wandered aimlessly out of an offensive formation toward the sidelines. When no one followed he tried it again, and the Bears threw him a pass. That was the beginning of the man-in-motion, a maneuver which changed the old T formation from a push-and-tug melee into today's wide-open, razzle-dazzle, free-scoring excitement.
With his earnings from the Bears down through the years, Halas has built himself a number of successful businesses. In the off season he is a full-time executive in real estate, laundry, sporting goods and oil. Jimmy Conzelman, a rival football pioneer, once described him as "the nicest rich man I know." Yet when football season arrives, Halas can concentrate only on the Bears, which he does from 6:30 in the morning until midnight, seven days a week. So there are those who wonder whether he will ever be able to contain himself in a grandstand box while another man—he won't yet say who—runs the team from the bench.
There are indications that Halas wonders too. "We have to keep the same offense," Halas says, speaking of next year. "The new coach has got to know that this is the best offense. Besides, we've got a new thing coming up—something we're not using now that should become a very important part of our offense. ' To help the new coach comprehend all this, the old Papa Bear does admit he will visit practice "on occasions."
With Halas on the sidelines, the promising new crop of young Bears may very well go on to the championship their owner expects of them in the next year or two. Yet, with the boss absent from the playing field something enormous will have gone out of pro football; as if the Empire State Building were suddenly plucked out of the heart of Manhattan.
ONE YEAR LATER
Roger Bannister, the man who broke the four-minute-mile barrier and was thereby named SI's 1954 Sportsman of the Year, is still running—perhaps harder than ever but in new directions. He has just completed his surgical internship at Oxford's Radcliffe Infirmary, a job that put him on call 24 hours a day, he is the diligent president of the Fitness Scheme for the National Association of Boys' Clubs and every so often he has to catch up with his wife.
Moyra Bannister is a lady whose interest in running could be called moderate. For a time, her husband says, she was under the impression that he had achieved sports immortality by running four miles in one minute.
Nonetheless, Mrs. Bannister appreciates the store her husband puts by running and she tries to help him as she can. Her method has been to leave their cluttered, third-floor rooms across from the Infirmary and walk along the towpath of the River Isis. Fifteen minutes later her husband leaves and tries to catch up with her. It keeps him fit.
Now some other arrangement must be made. The Bannisters are moving back to their studio flat in London's Kensington, which will be their home while he is resident house physician at the postgraduate school of Hammersmith Hospital, West London. There he will await the draft, in about six months, for two years of national service as a lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps, very much as Johnny Podres, Sportsman of the Year for 1955, is waiting to be called up for service in the United States Army.
Hammersmith promises to be a relief after internship. Bannister's burdens as an embryo doctor were not lightened by his fame. For one thing, he has had to write an enormous lot of letters—advice to young runners, answers to requests for speeches and to requests for the solution of personal problems. Mrs. Bannister, a vivacious brunette who was born in Sweden, helps with this correspondence, though she would rather be at her own work, which is painting. Since many of the letters come from Commonwealth countries and a surprising number from Africa, Mrs. Bannister sometimes feels that she is "helping to hold the Commonwealth together."
Dr. Bannister's consuming interest is the Boys' Clubs, made up of 2,000 affiliated clubs with a total membership of 200,000 youngsters aged from 14 to 18. As president of the clubs' Fitness Scheme, Bannister helped draw up tests to serve as challenging targets for the boys in strength, speed, stamina, skill and "spring."
This sibilant setup is based on points for performance. In the speed test, for example, a boy gets one point for sprinting 100 yards in 16 seconds, two points for 15 seconds and so on up to 10 points for 11 seconds. In the spring (jumping) tests he gets one point for high-jumping 3 feet 6 inches, 10 points for 5 feet. The skill test calls for throwing a football at a goal measuring 3 by 4 feet or bouncing a tennis ball against a wall and catching it an impressive number of times. Strength involves chinning tests, and stamina offers a choice of a mile run (naturally), a five-mile walk or freestyle swimming. Bannister's point system for the mile gives one for doing it in seven minutes, 30 seconds, and 10 for a mere five-minute mile.
A 25-point total on five tests entitles a boy to a one-star certificate. He gets an extra star for each additional five points. Bannister spends a lot of time signing starred certificates (thousands of them), in demonstrating the tests on TV, writing articles about them and appearing at club ceremonies.
But there is no chance that Bannister himself will return to track competition. He has won his star and has taken permanently to the grandstand. He follows reports of the current crop of runners eagerly and takes quiet satisfaction in the enormous popularity of running throughout the world. As to the coming Olympics, he will be a remote but interested observer. He expects records to fall at Melbourne.
"Men don't get slower as time goes on," he explains.
Roger Bannister himself is moving along at a nice clip, too.
Army's Don Holleder has admitted (SI, Dec. 5) that part of the satisfaction of playing quarterback is giving orders. "If I was still playing end," he said after leading Army to victory over Navy, "I'd have just been doing what I was told."
The North-South game the other night found Holleder back at his old 1954 position, left end, for the North All-Stars (and doing what he was told). Among other things he made a leaping catch, twisted away from two South defenders and scored a touchdown; the only one, as it turned out, the North was to make that day. Holleder was honored as his team's outstanding performer—but they lost 20-7.
And the hero for the winners? None other than little George Welsh, the Navy quarterback who was a gallant figure even in defeat when Navy last played Army. This time he threw 20 passes, completed 12 for 164 yards and one South touchdown, scored another himself and was unanimously named the game's outstanding player.
Of course South beating North was not the same as Navy beating Army, but perhaps it took some of the sting out of losing the big one.
While the rest of the stunned Northerners shook their heads over George Welsh's artistry, Cadet Holleder accepted it as something the Army has known about for a long time. "I've seen Welsh play for four years now," he said. "I know how good he is."
ON MINORITY GROUPS
Among the wonders of the sporting scene is the passionate devotion of various minorities to the sports that flourish without benefit of spectacles or big headlines.
Take fencing and squash and water polo and Rugby and pushball—take any one of dozens of others and you turn up fans as warmly partisan as baseball itself can claim. Speaking of baseball, Ford Frick, its high commissioner, is a minority man. Drop in at the St. Andrews Club in Yonkers, N.Y. any winter week and you'll probably find him out on the ice furiously wielding his broom as a curler.
Take soccer, take lacrosse. Who would expect to find their devotees spending the holidays in solemn (not too solemn) conclave in Florida, debating ways and means to spread their gospels? Well, that is exactly how the holidays were spent by dozens of coaches and scores of players. The lacrosse crowd met at West Palm Beach, the soccer folks across the state at St. Petersburg.
Identical conclusions were reached at both conventions: 1) there is no game like lacrosse and 2) there is no game like soccer.
Indoor sessions heard encouraging reports on the growth of both games as participant sports with the greatest gains coming in Eastern colleges and preparatory schools. Both forums were concluded with "bowl" games—the Coconut Bowl at West Palm Beach and the Soccer Bowl at St. Petersburg. Teams were drawn from some 80-odd soccer players representing a dozen colleges and from 70 lacrosse players from 20 colleges.
The suggestion (SI, Dec. 26) that the soccer people consider playing their schedules in the spring instead of bucking the competition of football in the fall drew these sample reactions:
From Glenn F. H. Warner, coach of Navy and chairman of the Soccer Forum: "Eighty-five per cent of the coaches would say such a change would be impossible. You would find the remaining 15% in the smaller schools where the game is just catching on. They could start from scratch. One of the biggest difficulties is the arrangement of schedules. The problem is not a single, soccer-coach problem. It is a director of athletics problem and to him soccer is just a sideline.... I also say it is too hot in the spring to play soccer. I can't imagine 88 minutes of soccer in May."
From Alan Moore, coach at the University of Florida: "I'd say let's try spring soccer where we can. I know there would be difficulties, and I am inclined to agree that in many schools you would be bucking too many other activities in the spring. And in some schools the soccer coach also coaches lacrosse. I know Navy couldn't do it, but let some of the others try to fit it in."
It remained for John D. Talbot, soccer coach at George School near Newton, Pa., to sound the note that rang true for soccer, for lacrosse and for all the other well-loved but spectator-poor minor sports.
"I don't want to sound sentimental," said Talbot, "but I think I would prefer an intimate crowd of 1,000 who cherish the game to the 50,000 and 75,000 who now go to the football games, not for the football, because they may not know or care much about it, but because it is a huge pageant that everybody attends."
At certain times I wonder
Just why I learned to ski;
I nearly always think of it
While wound around a tree.
—ARCHER T. SPRING
CURRENT WEEK & WHAT'S AHEAD
Sportsman of the Year Johnny Podres, who had been turned down by Selective Service because of an ailing back, was reclassified 1-A after a new medical exam. Ready for his two-year hitch whenever it starts, Johnny said brightly, "I'll come out and play ball again." The Dodgers hoped so.
The U.S. Jr. Chamber of Commerce gave the U.S. Olympic team its biggest assist to date when Jaycee representatives at the Sugar Bowl presented a check for $250,000 toward the $1,100,000 needed to send the team to the games this year. In a joint venture with LIFE the Jaycees made collections at football and other games, sponsored dinners and telethons coast to coast.
Department of Justice lawyers had hoped their antitrust prosecution against the International Boxing Club (James D. Norris, president) would begin in mid-January, but Federal Judge Sylvester Ryan said he could not possibly hear the case until April.
Murray Halberg, slender 22-year-old New Zealander with a crippled arm, has suddenly emerged as one of the bright running prospects for 1956. He ran the mile in 4:02.2 in an Auckland meet, thus reviving his promise of 1954, when he won the Penn Relays mile.
Nashua was welcomed to Hialeah by the mayor of Miami who presented him with a plastic key to the city festooned with carrots. Nashua nibbled the carrots politely, rolled in the fresh straw of his new stall, had his coat clipped and set out on a frisky half-mile workout, the first under his new orange-and-blue colors.
A $1 million offer for the New York football Giants was rejected by President John Mara, whose father bought the franchise for $2,500 in 1925. Mara explained, "The offer wasn't even as high as the bid for Nashua and I think our earning potential is higher than Nashua's."