WINTER SPORTS NOTE
This is an article from the Aug. 3, 1964 issue
One of the problems that beset the National Football League every winter—aside from what to do with all that money—is that the championship game often is played under frosty, blizzardy conditions that restrict the talents of players in a game designed for autumn weather no worse than brisk. But, naturally, fans of a winning team want to see the championship game in the home park, and that is the way it has been. Now it appears that sport's burgeoning masters, the big TV networks, who have already sickened boxing by overexposure, would like the season to continue through February. The proposal is being given surprisingly bland appraisal by the NFL.
"It's during these months that most of the nation is under snow, and people stay indoors," explains Pete Rozelle, NFL commissioner. "Television would have its greatest audience at this time." In the light of this TV interest, Rozelle is considering the desirability of determining the championship in a "best-of-three series."
"The first game could be played in a league city, as it is now," Rozelle says. "Then we could go south for the second, and, if necessary, third games."
There would be several obvious dangers in such a course. Dilution of interest in the home game, perhaps even the championship, would be a certainty. Injury to a key player in the home game, as has happened, would make the next two games scarcely a presentation of a contender at its best. And the players, who now rest for two weeks before the big game, and are keyed up for it, would be hard put to maintain a peak of desire over a three-game series, especially after a long and arduous season.
It may all be academic. Growing indications are that before too long the American Football League will have established among fans and players that the true pro football championship must be played out between the top teams of the two leagues. AFL and NFL player representatives already are holding meetings to discuss problems common to players of both leagues. Not the least that may be expected of such meetings sooner or later is a players' push for a playoff game between the two leagues.
FETCHIT THE STRATEGIST
The reason Heavyweight Champion Cassius Clay went into training at Miami Beach a week ago Sunday is that he expects to fight Sonny Liston again in the next couple of months. Locale of the fight is undecided, but Los Angeles and New York are out because they cannot abide Liston. Miami is out, too, because it has already experienced a Clay-Liston fight. Louisville, Las Vegas and Baltimore were the first towns considered by the fighters and their backers.
Details of the fight contract were agreed to in Philadelphia at a meeting between Gordon Davidson, the lawyer for Clay's syndicate, and Jack Nilon, Liston's representative.
In preparation for the fight, Clay has taken up with a new companion, none other than Stepin Fetchit, the old movie star, now 62, who in May was a charity patient in Chicago's Cook County Hospital. Remembered for his molasses-slow speech, slumped shoulders and shuffling walk, Fetchit provides something of a contrast to the lightning foot speed and constant chatter of his new mentor.
"For my next fight," said Clay, "I've got some plans that will shock the world. Fetchit is one of my surprises. He helped with my strategy."
The suspicion is that Clay is helping Fetchit, who once said he earned $2 million before declaring himself bankrupt in 1943. The money went for splendid Hollywood mansions, among other things.
"I had one mansion so big," drawled Fetchit, "that when it was 3 o'clock in the kitchen it was 5 o'clock in the living room."
SPARE THE ROD
This year's feature in 12 meters is Constellation's unadorned mast, an 82-foot tube with all the halyards running down its hollow interior. The sharply tapered top third is made of titanium and bends like a whip to adjust the shape of the sail to the strength of the wind. It is a mere flagpole compared to the 175-foot mast of Reliance in 1903, but at the going price of titanium it would buy a Rolls-Royce. Last Friday a faulty clevis pin upset the delicate balance of Constellation's rigging, and the stick snapped. Constellation had but one elastic mast, so Sunday she borrowed one of the unlimber variety and, 15 minutes after setting it in place, met American Eagle, the cocky bird that had gone undefeated in 15 races. Constellation, softly, carrying a stiff stick, beat her.
THRONEBERRY LOSES AGAIN
About the only promotion stunt the New York Yankees used to allow in their staid stadium was an annual two-inning Old Timers Game, played prior to a regular midseason Saturday game. The Yanks would select a theme and the players, and that was that. The fans were asked to come but had no say about the rosters of the two teams. It usually turned out to be as exciting as a rain-out against the Senators.
That is all changed this year. In their continuing effort to beat the attendance-fat Mets (with girl ushers, special suburban nights, Yogi Berra as manager, etc.), the Yanks asked their fans to pick the players this year. For some Met supporters, who saw the ballots for a team of ex-Yankees and one of former Yankee opponents published on the sports pages, the temptation was too much; they decided to try to elect their own fallen hero and former Yank first baseman, Marv Throneberry, to the ex-Yankees' starting line-up. The American Committee for the Election of Marv Throneberry to the Yankee Old Timers Day team (ACFTEOFMTTTYODT—pronounced ac-fit-ee-off-mitty-ott) was formed under the leadership of a few New York-bred staffers of the Harvard Lampoon, and ballots were printed with Marv's name and that of his brother Faye (who played part-time outfield for Boston, Washington and Los Angeles) already inserted in the proper blanks. Despite all this Marv did not make it; he finished well back of the likes of Johnny Mize and Joe Collins. True Yankee fans elected a pair of teams boasting players young enough so that they can still feign playing the game and old enough to provide some nostalgia. They turned what has been baseball's most boring annual ritual into an interesting sidelight for the real game with Baltimore on August 8.
OLD MOVIE PLOT
For the price, which was $50, you could not expect too much in the way of a racehorse. But there was something about Excalibur 2nd that Al Cox liked. A young Chicagoan who is building a small stable, Cox bought the 8-year-old gelding and entered him four days later in a $1,100, 5½-furlong claiming race at Cincinnati's River Downs racetrack.
You know what happened. Excalibur 2nd, going off at 19 to 1, romped home a winner by 1¾ lengths and paid $42.40, $18.40 and $8. Cox's share of the purse was $690. In the daily double, Excalibur 2nd and the surprise winner in the first race—Why Loaf, a filly making her maiden win—paid $1,348.20, second largest in the history of Cincinnati Turf Club meetings at the track. Only 12 tickets had been sold on the winning double. You know who had one of them. Al Cox had one of them.
SENTIMENT IN MAUCH CHUNK
When Jim Thorpe, whose legendary athletic feats won him vast fame but no fortune, died in 1953 there were plans to honor his name forever. Because Thorpe had attended the Indian school at nearby Carlisle, residents of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk, Pa. voted to change the name of their towns to Jim Thorpe, Pa. They placed his body in a 20-ton pink marble mausoleum that cost $15,000. Bert Bell, then National Football League commissioner, started a foundation to build a museum and a heart-and-cancer hospital in Jim's name. As Jim's body was taken to its final resting place, children lined the streets, veterans posted an honor guard, athletic coaches were pallbearers, church bells pealed and all industry paused.
It was not just for sweet sentiment's sake. It was hoped that the Mauch Chunks, suffering a depression common to Pennsylvania coal towns, would become a national shrine and attract both tourists and industry.
Bert Bell died in 1959 and with him the foundation, the museum and the hospital. The mausoleum is situated off a steep, narrow road, without parking facilities, nor even a notice that the great Thorpe is buried near by. Neither tourists nor industry have been attracted.
There is a move afoot now to combine the two towns under the original name of Mauch Chunk.
"All we got was a dead Indian," said John H. Otto, leader of the movement.
Well, the old name is, after all, an Indian name, and as such a certain sentimentality attaches to it. If Mauch Chunk, plain or East, is nothing much else, it is certainly sentimental. Jim Thorpe would tell you that.
It was a testimonial dinner. The honored guest was presented with a horse whose age—between 45 and dog meat—showed clearly in the yellow spotlight. He was given a whitewall tire without tread but with two huge blowout holes. He was given a 1952 automobile in need of paint and major surgery, along with a driving certificate from the Miami Beach Police Department in recognition of his driving accuracy—he once hit four out of five parked cars. He was depicted in a series of testimonials—including an especially loud one on film from Cassius Clay—as a rake, a bum, an s.o.b., and a loser at every pari-mutuel track in town.
Thus did Miami and Miami Beach say farewell to Clure (Scrooge) Mosher, the sportscaster everyone loves to hate (SI, July 16, 1963). The occasion was an "I Hate Mosher" dinner at the Miami Springs Villas to celebrate his departure from Miami to become a sports director for New York's WOR, where he will have a nightly show, telecast New York Jets exhibition games and broadcast West Point football. He has promised, with hand on heart and wallet, that he will faithfully continue to be as fetchingly obnoxious as ever, thus making enemies and influencing people.
As Mosher roasted on the dais, he took notes in preparation for his moment of retaliation. Finally, he was introduced, and as he made his way to the microphone all 500 in the room got up and walked out.
CLEANLINESS CLEANS UP
The squinty eyeballs of racing form readers popped recently when The Morning Telegraph reported that the two racetracks with the greatest percentage increases in attendance and handle were none other than Green Mountain Park in Pownal, Vt. (pop. 1,600) and Memorial Park, Brush, Colo. (pop. 2,400). Green Mountain's average daily attendance was up 85% over last year, its handle up 77%. Memorial Park attendance was up 76%, handle 128%.
Green Mountain's success is attributed to night Thoroughbred racing, a friendly management, scenic surroundings and an immaculate plant where losing tickets, thick as autumn leaves, are swept up rapidly. Memorial Park has been offering better purses for better horses, gives away baskets of groceries between races and has sportingly delayed its own races so that the fans could watch the Kentucky Derby and Preakness on TV.
But Memorial Park, too, is scrupulously neat, and that seems to be the common denominator for the success of the two tracks. It has been a secret long known to tracks like Santa Anita, Saratoga and the old Belmont that their patrons enjoy the sport best in pleasant surroundings. Now the secret is out for all to take advantage of, and we hope everyone does.
THEY SAID IT
•Frank Jackson, Kansas City flanker: "People ask me how I kept in shape in the off season. I was in college at East Texas State studying semimicro qualitative analysis, biochemistry, differential calculus and a comprehensive course in advanced inorganic chemistry."
•Bob Hayes, sprinter, on the assist a University of Miami football player gave him in tying the world record for the 100-yard dash: "That big fellow was standing right near the start with this snake around his neck. All the time I was running I kept thinking about that snake. Maybe that's why I was able to do 9.2."