OIL, YACHTS AND FOOTBALL
In the everlasting competition to find winning football coaches, three Texas oilmen, boosters of the University of Houston, last week offered the inducement of the year: two oil wells and a 125-foot air-conditioned yacht. The object of Houston's attention was Bud Wilkinson, a Minnesotan by birth, who has won 40 games in a row for the University of Oklahoma with the substantial help of young fellows recruited from the neighboring state of Texas.
The original bid was for just one little old oil well and "a sea-going yacht" undescribed. "I am glad," Bud Wilkinson said, with the serene dignity of a football coach who has tutored a university's football teams to two successive national championships and seven straight Big Seven championships, "that I don't have to comment on anything as absurd as this."
The Houston enthusiasts, whose improving team won 7, lost 2 and tied one last season, were not put off by icy language. "If oil wells and yachts are absurd," said Francis Blair, Houston oil operator, "then this world needs more absurdities.... I still think Bud's the greatest coach in the world, and we need him at Houston." Thereupon Blair was joined in his recruitment campaign by Houston's F. M. O'Connor, another independent oil operator and refinery owner, who offered to put up a second oil well, and Houston's O. J. McCullough, who tossed in his yacht Queen of Texas, a truly sea-going craft that cost $750,000.
January 21, 1957
Bud Wilkinson still seemed to cast a cold eye on such generosity. But in Houston, Oilman Blair's phone began to ring with long-distance calls from all parts of the U.S. Other football coaches are deeply interested in oil wells and sea-going yachts.
NUTS TO THE GIANTS
Jackie Robinson's retirement from baseball was a week-long spectacular, filled, like his career, with surprises, dissensions and sharp exchanges. But all through the week ran a thread of doubt: had Jackie really retired? Well, he had said that he had—but the Giants were offering him $50,000 (but no yachts or oil wells) for 1957 if he would just change his mind. And his brand-new employer (possibly thinking that it would be chock full of publicity value to have one of the company's vice-presidents racing around the National League base paths next season) offered to let Jackie begin his job with a sabbatical year so that he could play. Furthermore, Robinson himself admitted that his No to the New York Giants was as yet only semifinal; the final word had not been given.
On Friday night it came: Jackie Robinson would play no more. And this time the news was buttressed by a statement of satisfaction from what most men consider a very high authority indeed. "It's going to be strange at first, living a normal life," said Rachel Robinson, Jackie's wife. "We'll be married 11 years next month and I've never had him home for more than two months at a time." "Rachel," Jackie added, "has been a different person ever since we made the decision. I've never seen her so relaxed."
FRONT AND CENTER
For 14 years a blond woman has occupied a front row seat in Madison Square Garden when the New York Rangers play hockey there. All the regular fans know her, and many of them make a quick check just before the game begins to be sure she is on hand. The two facts generally known about her are that she is blond and that she is always there. Now that some of the Rangers' games are being televised nationally, she is becoming a familiar figure to many more who assume that she is the wife of someone connected with the team.
Well, she isn't. Miss Sally Lark is an interior decorator from Brooklyn. "My friends used to tell me I would like hockey," she says, "but I was only interested in baseball. They insisted I go with them to the opening game of the 1942 season. So I went and, sure enough, they were right. From that day to this, I've missed only about 10 of the Rangers' home games."
There may be other fans as devoted as Miss Lark, but they have not achieved her anonymous celebrity—possibly because they lack her almost incandescent visibility. For one thing, she is just a shade short of being a platinum blonde and, for another, she subscribes season after season to a seat directly in front of the visitors' penalty box and just to the right of the Rangers'. When an outbreak of violence results in mass penalties, Miss Lark sits quietly as the snarling, sweating players tumble in around her and settle on their benches.
"It's better not to talk to them at first," she says. "They're not in a very good humor. But if a player gets a major penalty he usually has time to cool off before he leaves the box. Then, maybe, we speak."
Hockey players are so heavily padded that they all seem to be the same size and shape. Swirling like bright-colored leaves over the ice, they are nearly indistinguishable except by number. Yet Miss Lark can recognize one instantly, without reference to the number on his back.
"I know all the players, not just the Rangers. After all, there's hardly a man on any team who hasn't sat just behind me in the penalty box or else played with us. We're a great trading team, you know."
Years ago, before glass panels were installed between the game and the spectators, Miss Lark was hit in the ear by a flying puck ("Just a few drops of blood") and, even now, if she wears a hat, she is likely to have it knocked into her lap by some player thrashing about behind her on the penalty bench. Otherwise she finds life exciting but safe in her rinkside seat, with the timekeeper on the left and her guests on the right. She holds a season subscription to two seats in addition to the one she occupies.
She was the center of quite a fuss in Montreal last year, without ever leaving New York. The Canadiens had come south for Stanley Cup playoffs with the Rangers, and the games were televised by special arrangement to Montreal. Every time the camera zoomed in on the penalty box, there Miss Lark would be, apparently planted by the enemy to distract and disrupt the players. Canadians peered at their TV screens, muttered and exploded angrily in letters to the press. They finally calmed down, though, when somebody spread the word around Montreal that Miss Sally Lark was a Ranger fan like any other and not an agent provocateur at all.
TIME OF THE GAME
Friends of Oregon State, who thought time was standing still when Iowa bashed their Beavers in the Rose Bowl, may find it unbelievable, but the actual time of bashing was only 10½ minutes.
Attorney John J. Wicker Jr., something of a human IBM machine from Richmond, Va., uses the Rose Bowl as an example that football is actually one half huddling, one third officials handling the ball, and only 17% actual football playing.
Actual football playing, by Wicker's definition, is what happens between the time the ball is centered and the whistle blows the play to a standstill.
Wicker, armed with stop watch, scratch paper and much statistical data, has been carrying on a personal war to put football back in football.
He started stop-watching 10 games a year five years ago and was shocked to learn those 60-minute "iron men" actually averaged 11 minutes 35 seconds.
Huddles consume about half the time, and this seldom varies, Wicker says. But officials have been known to consume more than three minutes' time, from one game to another, simply by "lining up the ball, talking to other officials and looking up at television cameras."
Wicker pointed out that while the huddles in the Rose and Gator bowls took up approximately the same time (eight seconds difference), Gator Bowl fans saw 13 minutes 26 seconds' worth of football compared to 10½ in the Rose Bowl because the officials did not take up so much time placing and misplacing the ball in the Gator Bowl.
Wicker does not leave these tidbits of information without a remedy for the ailments.
His cure: five-minute quarters with the clock running only from the time the ball is snapped until the referee blows his whistle. That way, he figures, the fans would get at least 20 minutes of the real thing.
"THEN I'LL TURN PRO"
When Ken Rosewall decided to turn pro after the Challenge Round last month, there was strong speculation that his Davis Cup twin, Lew Hoad, might do likewise.
Certainly, the circumstances were the same. Both are young men of moderate circumstances, the same age (22) and with newly-gained responsibilities of marriage. Hoad even has the extra responsibility of a young daughter, a year old.
Promoter Jack Kramer wanted both Hoad and Rosewall badly and of the two probably preferred Hoad because of the latter's greater list of triumphs and tremendous power game. At the last minute Kramer sought to complete his coup by offering the two Australian Cuppers each a guarantee of $67,200 tax-free for two years. Rosewall leaped. Hoad wouldn't budge. Why? Bill Talbert, America's Davis Cup captain, has brought the answer back from Australia:
Hoad is interested in professional tennis, but not this year and perhaps not next.
"I don't think I'm ready," Lew has told Jack Kramer. "When I feel I am, you may come around to see me, or I'll come to see you."
Lew told Kramer he first wanted to build his game to its full potential. He feels if he turns pro now he will be just a fat offering for the wolves—or rather the wolf in the form of Pancho Gonzales, king of the mercenaries.
"Pancho probably would chew me up the way he did Tony Trabert and then I'd be through—finished after a year," Hoad said. "I want to work on my game some more. I want to try to win all the major amateur championships [loss in the U.S. at Forest Hills cost him the grand slam last year]. In a year, maybe in two years, I may feel ready to take Gonzales, who will be older. Then I'll turn pro."
END OF A DREAM
Consider the poor golfer. Like the citizen of a police state he is forever squeezed between his own helpless inadequacy and the persecution of the ruling authorities. In the latter instance it is the U.S. Golf Association which is constantly harassing the duffer with rules and regulations that perpetuate his bondage to mediocrity.
Take, for instance, the 1957 Rules of Golf, on which the ink is scarcely dry. On page 68 there is a new section called "Computation of Par and Bogey." Boiled down to its essence, this section simply stretches par into an even more fearsome yardstick for the man who, year by year, finds the air thicker, the ball heavier and his clubs more unwieldy. Under the new rules the yardage for a par 3 hole has been expanded from 220 to 250 yards, for a par 4 from 445 to 470 yards, and anything over 470 yards is now par 5. As a palliative the USGA has offered the duffer a secondary standard called "bogey," in which holes up to 190 yards are rated at 3, up to 370 yards at 4, up to 540 at 5, and everything over that at 6. Nonetheless, every golfer's handicap will still be measured by par, and so, of course, the handicap has been inflated by fiat, like the dollar.
That may not seem so important to some people, but it utterly disregards a basic urge of golf—the duffer's secret, Mitty-like dreams of one day tying all his best holes together for a round in perfect figures. Such a dream now sadly recedes into the mists of impossibility. The USGA slyly rationalizes its heartless new ruling with the pronouncement that "players have gradually developed an ability to achieve greater distance with the golf ball, by one means or another."
Whom do they think they are fooling? It may very well be that the pros and a smattering of strong young men have achieved this "greater distance"—but what about the weekend toiler of rapidly maturing years? For him there is nothing left but the ignominious term "bogey." Come to think of it, the word also describes those men at the USGA. They're bogeymen. That's what they are.
THE GUILTLESS GUILD
When Julius Helfand declared the New York chapter of the International Boxing Guild out of bounds for managers there was some feeling that the IBG could not long survive outside New York. It has survived, though it has not flourished. Last week it won a boost in the courts. It was found not guilty.
The federal antitrust division had brought a criminal action against the IBG in Cleveland, alleging conspiracy in restraint of trade by boycotting televised studio bouts and conspiring to fix TV fees for fighters. The case did not go deeply into such matters as had moved Helfand to find the New York Guild a "menace" to boxing. The Cleveland case against the Guild ended abruptly when Federal Judge James C. Connell granted a directed verdict of acquittal.
The Government had, in fact, attacked the Guild in an area where it has won a great deal of sympathy. Its ostensible reason for being has been that an organization was needed to protect managers and fighters against the encroachments of television, which killed off fight clubs by the score and never, until forced by the Guild, paid more than a pittance to its performers. Unfortunately, as has happened in some labor unions, the Guild was conceived by and dominated by a few men who hoped one day to be in a position to rule boxing to their own benefit. That was Helfand's beef. This aspect did not, concern the Government in the antitrust case.
Judge Connell, in throwing the case out, indicated that boxing's decline was very much in his mind.
"As has been said," the judge observed, "boxing may be a dying industry. It's a sociological problem. As people move to the suburbs, they want to go to college, and when guys think enough about their nose to put it in a book, they also think enough of it not to put it in the ring."
(Most boxing men agree with the judge that high prosperity and plentiful jobs have cut down the supply of fighters. And TV has eliminated most of the small clubs where they once would have learned their trade.)
"The more I heard," the judge said, "the more I found all the justice was on the side of the defendants. The television people know what they are going to take in and set a minimum. And nobody says to them, 'You're going to be indicted.' By expelling managers who put their fighters on studio shows without audiences, Guild members were trying to protect themselves. I don't know how else they could have done it. Expelling managers was the same as when other organizations expel bad lawyers or bad doctors."
Next day, ruminating on his decision, Judge Connell made a telling point about the ills of no-audience studio boxing from a sporting aspect.
"TV studio fights are bad psychologically," he said. "Men in boxing matches or any sport will do their best when they are cheered. TV eliminates the human element of encouragement."
Charley Johnston, IBG president and manager of Archie Moore and Sandy Saddler, and William (Honest Bill) Daly, IBG treasurer and manager of Vince Martinez, were two of the defendants. They held court after the-verdict and agreed with the judge.
"Boxing is dead under today's conditions," Daly said, with Johnston nodding assent. "There should be a TV blackout where fights originate. That would bring the gate back."
"Why don't you come clean?" a reporter asked. "You know it isn't TV. It's the boxers. You just don't have any."
Daly and Johnston nodded yes, laughed and shrugged. Johnston said the IBG would call a national convention in the next 30 days.
A halo is
His only crown;
He landed farthest
—JAMES F. COGAN
CURRENT WEEK & WHAT'S AHEAD
•Fitness for Undergraduates
More physical education, with course credit, is a possibility for nation's undergraduates. Pittsburgh University's Tom Hamilton, NCAA physical fitness committee chairman, told delegates in St. Louis that unless they work harder on fitness programs, American youth may be in "a sorry state." Among recommendations offered: extension of physical education courses from one to four years.
The NCAA ruled that colleges may pay for one campus visit by a prospective athlete, then put a limit on the total aid a student-athlete may take from all sources. Realizing the rule lumped Government aid (GI Bill, Vo, etc.) with other kinds, the NCAA tried to rescind it, failed, went home grumbling.
•Moscow Is Out
The hockey amateurs selected to represent the U.S. in European matches this winter will tour widely, from Britain to Czechoslovakia, but will pass up the world championship matches in Moscow, Feb. 25-March 5. The State Department frowns on a visit to Russia.
•Have Records, Will Travel
After setting two new world records (in the 400-meter and 440-yard freestyle) Australia's brilliant young Murray Rose announced plans to visit the U.S. in April to "look around some universities," beginning with Stanford and Yale.