Professional soccer in America is perilously in the red, and its only salvation may be foreign attractions. The worst news of the sport's two-year history came this week when the Atlanta Chiefs—called "the league's Rock of Gibraltar" by another team's spokesman—unofficially leaked their decision to pull out of the North American Soccer League.
The Chiefs brought Atlanta its first major professional sports championship this year, and they are one of the best-coached, best-promoted and best-run operations in the league. But attendance was down and the Chiefs have cost their owners, the Braves, some $700,000 in two years. The Braves organization feels the money might better have been spent to elevate the Braves themselves above fifth place.
None of the other teams in the NASL, it is safe to say, is coming much closer than the Chiefs to breaking even. The Chicago Mustangs claim an average paid attendance of around 2,000 for league play, and that estimate may be a trifle inflated. The Vancouver Royals, who lost over $500,000 just this year, are likely to fold, and the Baltimore and Boston franchises may move to Philadelphia and Birmingham.
September 22, 1968
Most of the franchises vow, however, that they will hang in there, with or without Atlanta. And they have found considerable hope, at last, in the crowds drawn this year by visiting foreign teams. Oakland, for example, drew 29,000 to an exhibition against Santos of Brazil. Atlanta averaged over 25,000 in three games with Manchester City and Santos. The Chiefs' surprising (if not absolutely convincing) two victories over Manchester, one of the best teams in Europe, stirred considerable local enthusiasm and an editorial entitled "Soccer To 'Em, Chiefs." The Chiefs are expected, in fact, to carry on next year as an independent, with an expanded international schedule.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Dallas Tornado team reports brightly that soccer balls are completely sold out and many more are on order in the sporting-goods stores of Dallas County. If the game can be preserved until the great population of schoolboys too small for football can learn to play it, and if games with big-name foreign teams can keep the pot boiling, professional soccer may some day be an American sport.
THE WHITE ATHLETE
Grambling College, the black football power, recruited its first white player, Quarterback James Gregory of Corcoran, Calif., the same way it recruits most of its players. A former Grambling man is an assistant coach at Gregory's high school, and he recommended Gregory to Grambling and vice versa. Gregory is expected to see some action at quarterback, but mainly he will be kicking extra points and field goals.
Gregory has been received the same way any player—or any badly needed placekicker—is received at Grambling, the coaches say, and he fits in fine.
So does Rufus Brown, the first white player to receive a football scholarship at Florida A&M. Rufus Brown, however, has earned a racially inspired nickname. In his first practice this fall, the freshman offensive guard found himself in a one-on-one drill. As he held his own commendably in the grunting-and-shoving exercise, one of his new teammates began to shout encouragingly, and the others joined in: "Come on, Rap. Come on, Rap."
"The Russians have just won their 58th gold medal. And now for a rallying word from Richard Nixon."
The first of those sentences is without a doubt unduly pessimistic. But the second one isn't. Nor, most likely, is this:
"It's time-out on the field, and time for the politics of happiness."
Mr. Nixon's presidential campaign has bought a one-sixteenth share of the advertising time—to be taken out in 60-second spots—during ABC-TV's big two-week coverage of the Olympic Games. Vice-President Humphrey's campaign is considering whether or not to buy time on ABC's college football telecasts this fall.
An ABC spokesman says he believes that no politician has helped sponsor televised sports before. ABC had to get approval for the idea from the NCAA, the Olympic Committee and its other Olympic advertisers. The network says that as long as time is available, the door is open to other candidates as well.
ROOTERS OR PIGS
American soccer promoters won't understand this, but a Mozambique soccer team recently took some extreme measures to avoid a crowd. Their soccer fans had been getting out of hand, so the Massinga team met the visiting Nabalane Rangers on a secret site.
However, a few thousand rioting rooters might have caused less trouble. To begin with, the game was delayed 30 minutes while the players filled up holes dug in the field by wild pigs. Then there was a 20-minute interruption because one of the spectators who did show up objected to other fans standing on his father's grave. Then the game was called because of darkness—and the unsettling proximity of the graveyard.
When the players turned up the next morning to finish the game they found the wild pigs had dug in again. The holes were filled, the game was completed and Massinga won. Some say the score was 5-0, others say it was 3-0.
General local sentiment, at any rate, is that it was a dull game.
The new multispike track, shoe in which world records have been bettered four times in three weeks owes its illegality to a catapulted Russian. But maybe it should be illegal anyway. It depends in part on which shoe company you like.
Puma is the company that manufactures the new "brush-traction" shoe, designed especially for a better grip on the new Tartan track surface. Instead of the usual four or six spikes, the new shoe has six rows of small tacklike spikelets across the sole. A size 10, for example, has 68 spikes. The shoe also has comfortable adhesive flaps instead of laces.
But after Russia's Yuriy Styepanov broke the world high-jump record in 1957 by means of a "catapult shoe" with a raised sole, the International Amateur Athletic Foundation made a rule against unusual shoes. The rule limits spikes in the sole to six.
So the new shoe won't be allowed in the Olympics unless the rule is changed; and Vince Matthews' 44.4 400 meters, Lee Evans' 44.0 400 and 1:14.3 600, and John Carlos' 19.7 200 will probably not be allowed as world records.
The Los Angeles representative of Adidas shoes said as much as soon as Carlos' 200 time was announced last week during the final U.S. Olympic track trials at South Lake Tahoe. The representative turned, grim-faced, to a reporter and said, "This record will never be accepted." Puma and Adidas, formed by the two Dassler brothers of Germany some years ago when their partnership split up unamicably, are the fiercest rivals in the sport of track and field.
The Adidas people maintain that the Puma shoe tears up Tartan tracks and that it isn't necessarily responsible for the fast times. Larry James, for example, ran second to Evans in 44.1 wearing standard shoes. Anyway, they say, you can't change the rules this close to the Olympics.
But the Puma people (who began to test the new shoe secretly nine months ago in Zurich and London) point out that the fiber-glass pole was accepted four days before the 1960 Olympics. They contend that their shoe is safer, as well as faster, on Tartan. And most of the Americans who have worn the shoes are clamoring to use them in Mexico.
The IAAF will consider Puma's request for approval of the shoe October 5. Puma is optimistic and has offered to donate the shoes to any runner of any nation for the Olympics. Adidas is suggesting that Puma can keep its shoe.
This week Jimmie The Greek, the Las Vegas odds maker and self-styled sports analyst (SI, Dec. 18, 1961), opens an oracular new firm, Jimmie (The Greek) Snyder Information Unlimited. The Greek is issuing a weekly newsletter giving his "fabulous selections" on key sporting events and, when the time is ripe, hot stock tips. Something on the order, perhaps, of Marshall McLuhan's "Dew Line."
A subscription will cost $500 a year, and subscribers will receive their letters early enough to take advantage of Snyder's pro football picks—which come highly touted, at least by The Greek himself. For the past four years he claims 80% accuracy in picking the winners of NFL and AFL games. "And that's going against the numbers."
This fall the election will get heavy coverage. Right now, any feeling of pride in Agnew aside, The Greek has Nixon 8 to 5 over Humphrey, adding, "To me it's a walkaway, and if Javits and Rocky would ever help Nixon in New York, it would be a washout."
For the first time in Belgian sport, an athlete has been "set down" for life for competing under the influence of a drug.
Joseph Rombaux, 22, of Bruges, won Belgium's national marathon race last month and was proclaimed national champion. But a routine check of the first five finishers showed that the winner's urine contained amphetamine. Immediately the Royal Belgian Athletic Association stripped Rombaux of his title and his chance for a place on the Belgian Olympic team and barred him permanently from all official meets.
Rombaux has protested that he took the drug without knowing it. The chances of his being reinstated, however, appear to be nil.
And in England last week, Professor Arnold Beckett, a member of the International Olympic Committee's medical commission, said that chemists were working steadily on devising tests for the new stimulant drugs that athletes keep coming up with. The medical committee is purposely not divulging the whole list of drugs it can now find, so that no athlete can be sure that he has found something undetectable.
The medical commission is prepared, says Beckett, to test the top Olympic finishers—if the international federation of each sport so requests—for more than 100 different drugs.
The Old Man of Hoy must have felt very, very old last week. It was climbed by a 7-year-old boy.
The Old Man of Hoy is a 450-foot pinnacle of treacherously loose sandstone, rising sheer as the Seagram Building from Hoy, one of the Orkney Islands of the North Atlantic. Sir Walter Scott called it "rude, bold and lofty." They said it couldn't be climbed.
When, two years ago, it finally was conquered, it took a party of crack English mountaineers three days. Last year another party did it carrying television cameras, which recorded the struggle.
And last week 7-year-old Roy Clarkson and his father, Arthur, 31, of Lancashire, did it in five hours. "It was great fun," said Roy of the Hoy climb. "I'd like to do it again."
But what can he do when he's 8?
THEY SAID IT
•Dr. Harry Philpott, president of Auburn University and former vice-president of the University of Florida, on the high preseason rating given Florida's football team: "Really, all that Gator fans want is a 10-and-0 season, to beat Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl and then fire the coach."
•Steve Ecclestone, Xavier University's sophomore fullback from Canada, seeing his first major league baseball game in Cincinnati: "What are those four priests doing out on the field?"
•Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen, during a discussion about gun control: "I shot a sparrow when I was a boy and I still feel badly about it."
•O. J. Simpson, USC's All-America tailback who gained the national rushing title in 1967 with 1,415 yards, discussing Southern Cal's 1968 outlook: "Our weakness this season could be our running game."