It is the time for Season's Greetings, and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED would like to join in with a Merry Christmas to its readers and to the athletes and sportsmen who gave them good reading during the past year. And we want to say a special Merry Christmas—wherever they may spend it—to the 38 Hungarian Olympic team members who chose freedom.
This is an article from the Dec. 24, 1956 issue
THE NEW PRO
There were three items on Bill Russell's agenda before he turned professional. He promised President Eisenhower he would represent his country in basketball at Melbourne. He promised to play two final games with the U.S. Olympic team in a Chicago tournament for the benefit of the 1960 Olympic Fund. And he wanted to marry pretty Rose Kathryn Swisher. Last weekend, with all these appointments completed, Russell signed a contract to play professionally for the Boston Celtics of the National Basketball Association, ending one of the most exciting careers in amateur basketball history.
In his long ascent to athletic fame, Bill Russell had to learn everything the hard way. He was still a gangling and growing boy of 6 feet 7 inches when-he arrived at the University of San Francisco, and, as he once explained, "I didn't know anything about basketball." But he repaid the patient efforts of his coach, Phil Woolpert, with hours and days of sweaty, bone-wearying work that turned him into one of the supreme college athletes of his time. When fame was finally his—at Melbourne (where he proved a real charmer) and last weekend in Chicago—he wore it over his 6-foot 10-inch frame with becoming modesty. Basketball—in fact, all sport—is better because of Bill Russell, and without doubt the Celtics will be better with him in the lineup.
A YEAR FOR BUILDING?
Although the Olympians had departed, the news from Australia was far from over—and far from encouraging. The reports had it that the U.S. Davis Cup team was dissatisfied with its practice facilities at Perth, but worse than that was the word that a shoulder injury had drastically reduced the effectiveness of Vic Seixas, the Old Reliable of the squad. Nobody, of course, honestly believed the Americans would lose the Interzone Finals to India, but just the same the stories from down under served as a handy reminder of an unhappy possibility.
Anyway, it's all over now, and following the American 4-1 victory, William F. Talbert, the U.S. nonplaying captain and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S tennis columnist, cabled this report of the matches: "Just before our Davis Cup tie with India someone asked Naresh Kumar, the dapper playing captain of the Indians, if he had made airline reservations to take his team from Perth to Adelaide, where the Challenge Round will be played. Kumar showed an expanse of white teeth beneath his black pencil mustache and replied laughingly, 'No, as a matter of fact I haven't, but I am sure if we win Billy Talbert will let us avail ourselves of his tickets.'
"I am happy to say that this situation did not present itself, although there were some anxious moments for us all in that opening match when Herbie Flam was trying to stall off leg cramps and defeat at the same time. If India's very fine young player, Ramanathan Krishnan, had not also run out of steam in the fifth set—when he led Flam 3-2 in games and love-40 on Flam's service—there might have been a different story to tell. After Flam had staggered and puffed his way to a marathon victory, old Vic Seixas easily beat Kumar; and then the next day Vic teamed with Sam Giammalva to win the doubles and clinch the tie.
"I can't describe how much pressure this took off our boys. (Incidentally, gaining the Challenge Round meant $60,000 to the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association. For that's what the team can expect to bring back from Adelaide, where there is a guaranteed capacity crowd of 17,000 a day. This will pay the tremendous expenses of our trip: six players at $3,000 per man, or a total of $18,000.) Now we can point to the Australians without any distractions. It is a good feeling. We realize we are perhaps the biggest underdogs in the history of this great tennis competition. We feel sort of like a team of Davids going out against Goliath, but psychologically we have a lot going for us: we are expected to lose, so we can be loose and free and shoot the works. On the other hand, the Australians know they must win or be disgraced in the eyes of the tennis world. The pressure is heavy upon them, as the cliché goes.
"The question I must ask and answer before the first ball is hit at Adelaide Dec. 26 is: are Seixas and Flam capable of beating Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall? If developments in practice during the next few days convince me that they are not capable of this achievement and that this Davis Cup battle is almost certain to go the way four of the last five have gone, then it may be incumbent upon me to throw in the youngsters [Giammalva and Mike Green] and mark it off to valuable experience. We have to start building some time. This may be the year."
WHERE WERE YOU ON D-PLUS-2?
During the eight years he spent on the world's championship tennis courts, Art Larsen could never quite live up to the reputations of such fellow Californians as Ellsworth Vines, Don Budge, Jack Kramer and Pancho Gonzales. To be sure, he won the U.S. singles championship in 1950, but he was a soft-stroking southpaw who had to rely on inspired competitive determination to supplement his rather ordinary strokes. Not only that, but as a youth with a flair for center-court dramatics and off-court high jinks, he found himself listed as a "bad boy" in the books of the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association. In Genoa last year he created a minor international stir by slamming a ball at a ballboy in a fit of bad temper. On another occasion he yelled to a Paris mother in the stands, "I can't play with your baby crying," and thereby nearly loosened the seams of Franco-American friendship.
But, despite his troubles, Larsen kept trooping along in his own carefree way, an entertaining character to most of his fellow players. With a penchant for enjoying himself and teasing the tennis brass, he would say, "This amateur tennis racket is a good life, and I like it." As a matter of fact, he was lucky to be alive to enjoy the good life. During World War II, Larsen, who had once been a promising tennis prospect on the municipal courts of his home town of San Leandro, was an infantry machine gunner, hitting Omaha Beach on D-plus-2 and campaigning all the way to the Rhine. After the Battle of the Bulge he was never quite sure what had happened to him, but he was separated from his unit for two days. At the end of the war he had six battle stars, two unit citations, a case of badly shattered nerves and a most indecisive future. It was then that James B. Moffet, an old tennis friend from San Francisco, took charge and guided Art through a program of readjustment. Moffet, who is a USLTA committeeman, revived Art's interest in tennis and helped boost him to the top rungs of the game. Whenever Art's eccentricities got the best of him on the big-time circuit, Moffet would shout to impatient officials, "Where the hell were you guys on D-plus-2?"
Through it all Moffet never lost his faith in Larsen or his affection for him. "I've helped a lot of players," he says, "but none of them was ever as grateful as Art. He was always generous, but extremely sensitive. After a match he'd wonder out loud to me, 'Jim, why don't I get more applause?' "
The tennis career of Art Larsen ended abruptly six weeks ago. Riding his motor scooter along San Francisco's Eastshore Freeway at dusk, Art was thrown into a culvert, his skull smashed and the entire left side of his body lacerated. That night in the Castro Valley's Eden Hospital an operation was performed to remove clotting from the brain. For 20 days Larsen lay unconscious, and today, although he can utter a few tragically incoherent phrases, the former champion has total paralysis of his right side and has lost the sight of his right eye.
The cost of Larsen's hospitalization is tremendous, perhaps as high as $100 a day, and far too much for his father, a retired California highway patrolman, to shoulder alone. So a group of his tennis friends have rallied to the support of an idea proposed by Doris Hart and quickly seconded by such people as Don Budge, Dick Savitt, Budge Patty and Jack Kramer. These and others will stage a series of benefit matches beginning on Jan. 11 in New York's Seventh Regiment Armory (tickets and information available at the offices of World Tennis, 82 Beaver Street, New York). In making the announcement a solemn and serious Budge summed up the feeling of men who have known Art. "I think Larsen is one of the best sportsmen of all time. Now I'd like to see a real tennis show—to show the sort of fine gesture that tennis is capable of on behalf of one fine kid who needs our help."
HONOR WITHOUT CHEERS
In the first place, the 1,500-meter swim is not the most exciting event in the world for spectators. In the second place, Melbourne, unlike Sydney several hundred miles to the northeast, is able to control its enthusiasm for swimming. In the. third place, this particular event was only a qualifying heat, and so had to share the crowd's interest with a concurrent competition in platform diving and the public-address system's preoccupation with announcements of illegally parked cars and lost parcels. And yet, for the few who recognized the drama, this qualifying heat was to be one of the most treasured memories of the 1956 Olympic Games.
In an earlier heat, the two 17-year-olds, Murray Rose of Australia and Tsuyoshi Yamanaka of Japan, had battled it out. Rose took first place with a new Olympic record of 18:4.01, with Yamanaka touching only a fraction of a second behind him. The times of both men were within four seconds of the world record of 17:59.5 that Rose had hung up a month before to break the existing record held by George Breen, the 21-year-old American.
Now it was Breen's turn to qualify. It was also time for a competitive round of platform diving, scheduled on the theory that the 1,500—all by itself—is a long and dull race.
As Breen took off from the starting blocks in a field of five, some spectators idly followed his churning progress, fascinated that any man could thrash along so hard for more than a quarter of an hour. But most people followed the divers. The loudspeakers interrupted the diving scoring to give three interval clockings for Breen's heat, yet there was never a hint that George was swimming faster than any man had swum before. He hit the 400-meter mark in 4:37.5. As he rolled on the turn at 800 meters, Breen cast an eye at the clock. It read 9:31, within three-tenths of a second of the existing world record.
For 800 meters Breen churned on, strangely stepping up the pace in the laps where ordinarily he fades a bit. As he touched into the finish, almost a length in front of his nearest opponent, Breen got a desultory round of applause. Then, in a tone of almost utter boredom, the loudspeakers spoke: "The results of the third heat of the 1,500 meters. First, George Breen, the United States. Time, 17:52.19. This is a new world and Olympic record." There was some polite hand clapping, but few real cheers.
George Breen had taken the 1,500-meter record back from Murray Rose and fewer than a thousand of the 5,500 persons in the stadium had seen him do it. When the word got around, a woman in the upper tier of seats complained: "They ought to tell us when things like that are happening!"
The whole world was told, a little later, that Murray Rose had won the gold medal in the 1,500-meter final, with Yamanaka of Japan second and George Breen third.
"I don't have any excuses," said George when it was all over. "I've got the record and Murray's got the gold medal. I guess we'd both rather have the medal. This is going to be one of my memories. It's not really the end of everything. I'm going to keep on swimming. So I've lost one, but I still have a town, my folks and my school and a girl at school to go back to."
A DOG'S LIFE
They will tell you down in Tennessee that there is nothing quite so smart as a good hunting dog. No one knows this better than Alton Carver, who values his dog at $400 and was understandably alarmed when he lost him recently. Setting out in his automobile, Carver retrieved the dog and was driving happily homeward when he wrecked the car, burning it to ashes. In the resulting confusion the frightened dog skipped away again.
Carver then collected his father and the family truck and eventually recovered his dog for the second time. On the way home once more he cracked up the truck, and both Carvers had to be packed off to the hospital for repairs. The dog? He walked home.
The personalized golf ball, imprinted with the name of its owner (Ike has some stamped "Mr. President"), is a jolly thought for Christmas giving, but donors and donees should bear in mind that the personalized golf ball, like many another modern boon, can have some awkward side effects. Among the first case histories to be reported:
Man found ball imprinted with name John F. Dowd. Man happened to know this particular Dowd, so stuffed ball in bag, intending to return it to Dowd at first opportunity. Saw Dowd at railroad station, said, "By the way, Dowd, I have a personalized golf ball of yours and will give it to you next time I see you at the club." Man did not happen to see Dowd at club. Saw Dowd at cocktail party, at theater, at supermarket, at gasoline station, said: "Don't forget I have that personalized ball of yours, Dowd. Remind me to give it to you next time I see you at the club." Again man went to club, again did not see Dowd. Saw Dowd at cookout, at bowling alley, at church bazaar. Said, "Dowd, I've been meaning to get that personalized golf ball of yours back to you. Remind me," etc., etc.
Blurted Dowd, "For Pete's sake, go ahead and use the ball and stop talking about it!"
Man offended by Dowd's tone and anyway could not see how, unless he played at night, could do anything so obviously larcenous. Next day Dowd got personalized ball back by mail. It was mashed to a pancake so it would fit into first-class envelope.
KING OF YALE
They were speaking of Mosey King at Yale the other day, and someone recalled the veteran boxing coach's aversion to crossing streets. "Funny," one said, "he was never scared of anything in the ring. He used to celebrate New Year's with a swim in Long Island Sound. But he hated to cross streets. Used to duck his head down and run like he was afraid he was gonna be hit."
Mosey never was punch shy. He had 125 fights in his youth, and, though he took a lot of leather, he was never knocked out. When he came to Yale in 1906 to become boxing coach, he was New England lightweight champion, a protégé of Gentleman Jim Corbett.
In his 50 years as boxing coach, Mosey became as much a symbol of Yale athletics as Handsome Dan, the bulldog. He coached Eddie Eagan, the great Olympic light heavyweight and later boxing commissioner of New York. The playwright Eugene O'Neill was also coached by King.
Although Yale dropped intercollegiate boxing in 1937, the college didn't retire Mosey officially until 1952, when he was 68. Maybe it was the unbreakable habit of half a century, maybe just his devotion to sport, but Mosey continued to work informally each day with undergraduates who enjoyed boxing for exercise. "I wouldn't know what to do with myself if I didn't come to the gym," he said.
Last week, as was his habit, Mosey spent the afternoon in the Payne Whitney gym. He taped up the hands of a couple of young boxers, gave others a few pointers and called it a day.
Outside, he ducked his head and started to run across the street. Before he reached the other side a car struck him, and four hours later he was dead.
I stood down the fairway from my partner
As he hollered "fore" from the tee.
But for once in his life he forgot to slice,
So he hooked and beheaded me.
CURRENT WEEK & WHAT'S AHEAD
Wilt Chamberlain, Kansas' new basketball wonder and heir to Bill Russell's collegiate laurels, is already big box office in the Midwest: Iowa State's 7,800-seat armory is sold out for the Jan. 14 Kansas game, Nebraska has no reserve seats for Feb. 9. Colorado will award first chance at March 2 Kansas tickets to students with perfect attendance at seven earlier home games.
•After the Cup, the Contract
Australia's Ken Rose wall is ready to turn pro and join Jack Kramer's tennis tour (at $65,000 for the season) as soon as the Davis Cup matches are over. His teammate, Lew Hoad, will probably remain amateur for another year.
•From Track to Field
John Landy, third in the Olympic 1,500-meter race but still world-record holder (3:58) for the mile, announced he will retire after the Australian track and field championships at Melbourne next March. Landy said he will get his exercise playing Australian-style amateur football.
•Management Looks at Labor
Daniel Gainey, a regent of the University of Minnesota and a former director of the NAM, labeled the Big Ten's plan to grant football scholarships on the basis of need "too socialistic." Said Gainey, "If they're hiring the kid to play football, they ought to pay him whether his old man's rich or not."