FAREWELL TO PORTAGO
This is an article from the May 27, 1957 issue
No man is gone from the world completely at the moment of death, least of all a man who whirled through life as fast as the handsome young Marquis de Portago. Last week, days after he crashed to his death in the Mille Miglia, he lingered on in echoes—some sympathetic, some dissonant—in the minds of a great many people. Some gave little hint of what they were thinking. At his funeral in a tiny chapel at Cavriana cemetery, Enzo Ferrari, head of the factory whose car he had driven, came face to face with Mrs. Fumi Nelson, Japanese widow of the American who died with him. Ferrari, pale and bent, extended his hand. The Japanese woman smiled formally, made a slight bow and ignored it. The Marquis's beautiful widow knelt, weeping, and laid a wreath on his coffin. The inscription read: "All my love always—Weg."
As the Marquis's body was flown to Paris for shipment to Madrid he was castigated, both for the manner of his life and the manner of his death. The semiofficial news organ of the Vatican, quoting from Portago's now-famous article in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED ("Racing is a vice and as such extremely hard to give up"), added: "The victim is like a drug addict.... [He] teaches that the 'racing typhoid' is...an incurable sickly state." And in New York's Madison Square Garden, Evangelist Billy Graham also quoted the line, "Racing is a vice..." and then cried: "Ladies and gentlemen, sin is a vice that leads us eventually to death. The penalty for sin is death!"
In Europe his fellow racing drivers—a good many of whom were preparing for the Grand Prix of Monaco—defended him, and his philosophy, stoutly. The great Juan Fangio, who knelt at the dead racer's coffin before starting for Monaco, was near tears on hearing that Portago had praised him in print. "I considered him one of the most courageous of all "the racing drivers...a good driver and an excellent comrade." Some of them agreed with his conclusion that racing was addictive. "Like being drunk or being in love," said the expatriate American driver Harry Schell. "You can't quit," said England's Stirling Moss. "Car racing is one of the most difficult things to give up.... [But] if you didn't like it you'd go off your rocker." It was France's Jean Behra, however, who found the words to explain this attitude a little further. "Only those who don't move, don't die. But since they do not move they are already dead."
In New York, the editors of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED opened a letter mailed in Italy the day before the Mille Miglia and discovered a last message from the Marquis. "I am really looking forward to seeing my first article in print. I hope that some day I shall be able to write decently and, although I am sure that my present efforts are amateurish in the extreme, I am, as you know, an optimist. I am hoping to hear from you very soon."
MR. FITZ AT PIMLICO
When Mr. Fitz emerged from an elevator and sauntered across the lobby of the Sheraton-Belvedere Hotel in Baltimore at 8 o'clock in the morning, he looked like a man who hadn't quite made up his mind what he would do with himself that day.
He stopped at a glass display case and examined some figurines of race horses and jockeys and grooms. Taking his time, he walked to the door, sniffed the weather and decided to send upstairs for his raincoat.
Meanwhile, out at Pimlico, in the barns across the infield from the ancient clubhouse, the horse named Bold Ruler, looking—as did Mr. Fitz—as though he had nothing especially planned for the day, nibbled at a rubber-hose-covered chain until it fell down and a groom had to get up from his chair and fix it. He took his time and Bold Ruler watched him with interest.
A little way off, sitting in a folding chair, tense-looking, a tall, lean man of about 35 kept his eyes glued to a stall in which fidgeted the horse named Iron Liege. Man and horse both looked as if they had something to do and it was worrying them—not the doing of it, but the waiting for it to start.
A visitor strolled down the row of stalls toward Iron Liege. The tense-looking man, Wendell Griffin, groom for Trainer Jimmy Jones, sprang out of the chair. "No!" he cried, "Jimmy don't want nobody botherin' the horse! Jimmy don't want nobody fussin' around! That horse is the one's got to go around that track, he's the one got to run that race. Jimmy don't want him bothered!" The visitor nodded and moved away.
Along about 5:15 (33 minutes before post time), Mr. Fitz sat on a chair in the paddock with his self-appointed body guard, a retired police captain named John Byrne, at his side. The horses had not been brought in yet and only a few people were there. Mr. Fitz still looked like a man who had nothing particular to do, nothing special to say. He was relaxed like any old gentleman who was just sitting around, killing a little time.
Suddenly the paddock was filled with horses. Iron Liege was in his stall now, nervous and prancing, with Wendell Griffin and Jimmy Jones struggling with him. The Derby winner was sweating and kicking the back of his stall, and some people took that as a good sign.
Kathleen Fitzsimmons, granddaughter of Mr. Fitz, told about the religious medal she brought back from Rome. It had been fastened to Bold Ruler's bridle, along with a bit of ribbon from Nashua's Preakness victory of two years ago. Captain Byrne nudged a man next to Miss Fitzsimmons and said: "I've got a medal of my own on the other side of the bridle."
It is the practice of the Stevens brothers, the concessionaires, to send a case of champagne to the winner's barn, and about 15 minutes later the order came to send it on over to Mr. Fitz.
Mr. Fitz was standing there outside the barn, with a glass in his hand, shaking hands with people who came up to congratulate him, when Snag, the groom, walked up with Bold Ruler, who still looked like a horse who had nothing special to do and hadn't been doing anything in particular. "Give him a good drink of water there, Snag," said Mr. Fitz. "Give him some champagne if he wants it."
When Snag had Bold Ruler washed down, he called out, "What blanket shall I put on him, Mr. Fitz?" "Oh," said Mr. Fitz, "don't put anything on him, Snag. Dry him off good and let him go naked."
At 6:30 o'clock, with Captain Byrne carrying a box of sandwiches, Mr. Fitz waved goodby to everybody and walked over to the car that was to take him back to New York. It was less than 45 minutes since the cry of "They're off!" in the Preakness. And, as Captain Byrne helped him into the automobile, Mr. Fitz, for the first time that day, looked like a man who had some place to go, and was in a hurry to get there.
ROWING'S TRIPLE CROWN
A picnic atmosphere prevailed at Princeton's Lake Carnegie last Saturday. The meadow rolling back from the water's edge was dotted with gaily colored tablecloths, covered with sandwiches, fried chicken, potato salad, beer and soft drinks and surrounded by a mixture of Bermuda-short-clad undergraduates and alumni. A normal number of children wandered, temporarily motherless, through the clusters of picnickers, begging sandwiches and ice cream, while their frantic parents attempted to relocate them through the services of an unruffled, immovable straw-chewing constable. The conversation was relaxed and, heard in snatches, faintly funny.
"Of course, you realize I'm the president of the local Audubon Society," said one mustached, monacled oldster to a charming matron in vintage lace. Then he leaned his rakish tweeds on a bone-handled cane and waited for the impact of this revelation to hit home. A camera bug leaned too far over the bank and fell in the lake as he tried to take a picture of the University of Pennsylvania freshman crew finishing a consolation race. The 8,000 people there had come to see Cornell and Yale battle it out for the Eastern Association of Rowing Colleges championship. The week before Cornell had beaten Yale in the Kentucky Derby of crew racing—the two-mile Carnegie Cup. The EARC sprints, like the Preakness in horse racing, cover a shorter distance. It would be the last time these two great crews would meet. The race was perhaps the most thrilling ever staged on Carnegie Lake and, though Navy and Pennsylvania also qualified for the finals, Yale and Cornell made it a two-boat show. The two shells were never more than three feet apart in the 2,000-meter duel. Yale led, slightly, until 10 strokes from the finish when Cornell, stroking a brisk 38, shot through the flag-marked finish line in front by less than 12 inches, one tenth of a second faster than Yale in 6:11.8.
With the Carnegie Cup and the Eastern championship now locked safely away at Ithaca, Cornell is pointing for the IRA championship, rowing's equivalent of the Belmont Stakes. If the Big Red wins this one at Syracuse next month, it will go down in history as the first winner of rowing's "Triple Crown."
It is an old axiom of the fight game that the man who controls the heavyweight champion controls boxing. The man today is Cus D'Amato, a party of passion and righteousness whose apocalyptic statements have earned him a reputation as an eccentric and windmill-tilter. D'Amato is certainly an individualist but just as surely no windmill-tilter. He can wheel and deal in the finest tradition and has done so. Otherwise he would not have been able to maneuver Floyd Patterson to the title against the fitful but formidable opposition of the International Boxing Club (James D. Norris, president), an achievement that demanded much more than fervor and rhetoric.
Last week Cus wheeled again. He revealed that the languishing Patterson would make his first title-defense, not for the IBC, but for Emil Lence, a slight, 39-year-old New York dress manufacturer and onetime Brooklyn; fight promoter. Cus was quick to point out that Lence's promotion would be only one of four or five proposed title bouts this year and that other promoters, perhaps Jack Hurley among them, would be involved.
Lence is presently negotiating for a challenger, site and date. The most likely place, New York's Polo Grounds; the date, late in July. The matter of an opponent may prove more difficult. Ideally, it would be Tommy (Hurricane) Jackson, the No. 1 challenger, but Jackson's manager has demanded an exorbitant guarantee ("$250,000, give a pickle, take a pickle") and, in the bargain, Norris has been threatening to match Jackson and No. 2 Challenger Eddie Machen outdoors. But neither Cus nor Emil seems perturbed. Said Cus:
"Patterson will fight anybody in the world beginning with No. 1 [Jackson] and going right down the line until we find someone who is ready. If No. 1 refuses, he forfeits his right, as I see it. But I can't conceive of a manager in a normal state of mind refusing to fight for the title. It's the dream of every manager. It was my dream."
Beyond the title-defenses, Cus has his grand plan to restore competition and vigor to boxing—a design which, when he announced it, brought the old ridicule down on him once more.
It is Cus's hope that by giving the championship defenses to independent promoters he will diminish the IBC's strength. But Cus has strict qualifications for each promoter. "I want," he said, "a man who intends to stay in boxing, not a man looking for a lucrative one-shot. I want a man independently wealthy, so he can turn his boxing earnings back into boxing. I want a man with an aggressive spirit, someone who will take a stand, a man whose personal feeling has been hurt by the way boxing has been run. I want a man who will remain competitive and in constant opposition to the IBC; a man prepared, moreover, to take on one of the network TV shows if and when the IBC is forced to give one up—and this court trial will be a farce if they don't make them give one up. I also want a man who will promise to give a chance to those fighters and managers who haven't had the opportunity to get work because of the IBC and are deserving of it. Now, does that sound like I'm crazy, as they call me? After all, those that control the vehicle can drive it any way they wish."
The electronic age is surely here, but the consequences of the era are not so certain.
Offered in evidence is the remark of a spectator leaving New York's St. Nicholas Arena last week after eye-witnessing a dandy fight.
"Gee," the spectator told his companion, "what a fight it must have been on television!"
UP THE ANIMALS
Ever since the early settlers landed on the eastern seaboard, muskets at the ready, People have been giving Animals a terrible kicking around in the U.S. The buffalo turned up his hoofs even before the invention of the automobile and, in the years since, thanks to hunters, superhighways, gang plows, smog and an expanding People population, even skunks and porcupines have been having a tougher and tougher time of it. But in the last few years, along the Gulf Coasts of Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, it has begun to appear as if People might be facing a startling division of wealth with a newcomer in the ranks of U.S. wildlife: the nutria-coypu or swamp beaver.
The nutria, a native of southern South America, looks, at first glance, like a cross between a muskrat and a beaver; he is a powerful swimmer, weighs in the neighborhood of 20 pounds, his short, round ears, long whiskers, coarse outer fur, a long, black, round seminaked tail and four big, orange-colored incisors. He is a vegetarian who is not particular about his diet. Also, he believes in large families and lots of them. Until he got to the U.S., however, he had nothing but trouble; he was so heavily trapped in Argentina that he was virtually extinct there by 1910, and surviving specimens were incarcerated on fur farms in South America and Europe.
In 1938, however, E. A. McIlhenny (of the family which manufactures Tabasco sauce) brought a few pairs of Argentine nutrias to Avery Island, Iberia Parish, Louisiana, thereby, as things turned out, becoming a sort of Bolivar of the swamp beavers. The hurricane of 1940 knocked over the McIlhennys' "escapeproof" fences, and the nutrias hit for the bayous and marshes. They spread both east and west—eating their way through succulent bulrushes, cattails and aquatic vegetation and producing five litters of five or six little nutrias every two years. Virtually no predators have interrupted their resurgent advance—big alligators will gulp down nutrias if they get the chance, but big alligators are relatively rare creatures.
Trappers prey on them, it is true, but only halfheartedly; pelts of nutrias from warm regions are inferior to those from southern Argentina and bring only a dollar or two; also, the pelt is hard to skin, scrape and stretch. Even so, figures on trapping give an idea of the nutria's amazing spread; 436 pelts were taxed in Louisiana in 1943-44, and 374,199 in 1955-56. The nutria has marched on regardless—demonstrating recently an appetite for rice, corn, sugar cane and the bark of trees, as well as for less valuable feed.
While People generally manage to doublecross Animals, the nutrias have managed to doublecross People. People with weed-clogged lakes have obligingly helped them find new worlds to conquer. The Eagle Lake Rod and Gun Club of Texas is an example. In 1950 four female nutrias and one male were dumped into 1,400-acre Eagle Lake; within four years they had eaten up all the lake's islands of bulrushes and cattails, which provide cover for ducks, and the animals were creating "eat-outs" in nearby farmland. Club members have shot 15,000 nutrias in the last two years. In 1955 Governor Allan Shivers put two nutrias in a lake on his Woodville, Texas farm; the lake is now clean as a whistle and the nutrias have advanced into his cornfields.
Despite these dramatic demonstrations, the nutria has not yet really caused any severe damage in the South. But sportsmen fear it could practically eat the marshes and swamps of the Gulf Coast out from under the duck population. Farmers shudder at what it could do to crops. Perhaps the final solution of the problem will have to come from South America. Unlike some Animals, nutrias will not eat People. But People can eat nutrias. "When roasted," reads a report from Buenos Aires, "it is similar to suckling pig. The flesh is light pink and presents a palatable appearance when cooked and does not [ugh] turn black as in the case of muskrat."
When all the skeet are shot, and still
The urge within him lurks,
He throws his watch into the air—
This way he shoots the works.
CURRENT WEEK & WHAT'S AHEAD
•Not Guilty, But...
Ken Loeffler, charged by the Southwest Conference with illegal recruiting of basketball players for Texas A&M, got both pats and cuffs from school authorities who were asked to investigate. A&M 1) called the charges doubtful and the violations minor even if true; 2) barred Loeffler from any further recruiting; 3) announced he will be kept as coach till his contract runs out a year from now.
Dave Sime finished up the college baseball season (which preoccupied him this spring), switched to the 100-yard dash, ran it in the year's best time: 9.3. But he may not meet Bobby Morrow in the NCAA championships in June; he is likely to be playing baseball for Duke in the college World Series that week.
•A Fabulous Invalid
Tulyar, the costly imported stallion ($672,000) who has been wasting away from an intestinal virus and other ailments since February, now seems on his way to recovery. At Kentucky's Claiborne Farm, Tulyar is eating well, gaining weight.
•The Winner and Still Challenger
Donald Campbell, who set the world speedboat record of 225.63 mph in his jet-powered Bluebird last year, will try for 250 in her this summer. The Bluebird will be shipped to the U.S. from England in June. Attempts at a new record will be made in July or August (according to weather) on New York's Lake Canandaigua.