LIKE OLD TIMES
As the rest of the world spun in relative sanity toward Christmas, the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier heavyweight championship fight hopscotched through another world, one of political indignation and public scorn. It touched down briefly at such spots as Orlando and Tampa, South Miami and Toronto and, for the moment at least, appears to have found a resting place in Judge Roy Hofheinz' piece of Texas, the Houston Astrodome. At least it was still to be in Texas when we went to press, if not yet announced officially, and Ali was optimistic enough to render a poem, and, yes, even a prediction—Frazier to fall in 11.
After signing his part of the contract last week—Frazier wasn't to sign until this past Tuesday—Ali then retired to his hotel in New York City to reflect upon the injustice, to him, of having to fight with no more than a few weeks of training and to wax eloquent in dismay over the great mounds of fat that have gathered about his body. He is, by his estimate, carrying 232 pounds, although 240 or 245 might be a more accurate guess.
"If Frazier beats me," said Ali, who has not fought since March 1967, when he unloaded on Zora Folley in seven rounds, "it's still not fair. I won't have time to be me. This won't be me—and if he wins it really can't go down as my best. However I look in this fight—and I'm not saying I'm going to lose—I won't feel bad. But I believe I have enough speed and experience to beat him."
December 22, 1969
Then the champion brightened. He got to his feet and began to cuff the air, hooks and jabs and crosses, almost flooring a maid who escaped by stumbling over a photographer, and he began to recite:
Frazier will conic out smokin',
But I ain't gonna be jokin',
I'll be a peckin' and a pokin',
Pouring water on his smokin',
It might shock ya and amaze ya,
To see the destruction of Fraz-a.
Then, laughing, he began to pack. "I only got to February 16," he said, "so I got to hurry to the gym and start dancing. He's a snapping turtle and I got to start building a turtle trap."
GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
President Nixon's interest in football has been ascribed by pundits to a need to get away, occasionally, from the uncertainties of politics to the clear-cut precision of sports, where you can measure your gains and losses, recognize at once the import of your penalties and advances and know whether you have won or lost.
An athlete of our acquaintance who has been dabbling in politics and is thinking seriously of making it his career sees the question from the opposite end of the bench. He looks upon politics as a simple, carefree life compared to big-time football. For instance, starting at the very beginning there is no need for vigorous recruiting of new players or for paying big bonuses to rookies; politics is always overloaded with newcomers who are not only willing but insatiably eager to fight for a spot in the lineup. They'll even pay for the privilege. And instead of tedious hours of work on the practice field to perfect every detail of an intricate play, in politics one can pull off a matter of tremendous import with a casual conversation or two and a quick phone call. Politics, in other words, is easier to play. The lack of clear-cut rules enhances the fun. In football if you block an opponent from behind you're zapped with a crushing penalty that can nullify a hard-earned score; in politics clipping an opponent from behind is applauded, if it works. You can pass a Christmas pie-in-the-sky tax-relief bill, knowing that it's going to end up incomplete, and all you get are cheers from your constituents for a nice try; on the gridiron you'd be penalized 15 yards for deliberately grounding the ball.
In football you have half a dozen officials and three times that many coaches watching your every move—and often reviewing those moves later on film—so that you can't get away with a thing. In politics you can make up your own rules as you go along. If you should happen to violate those gentle restraints—even if you violate them flagrantly—it takes a big effort to get it called to the officials' attention. And a penalty, if one ever does come, is usually something like a vote of censure, which freely translated means, "That's naughty and don't get caught doing it again."
Our friend is stimulated by the whole prospect of leaving the grim realities of sport for the jollity of politics. He was a superb broken field runner in football—he could run like a thief, someone said—and he feels he can go all the way in politics.
As manager of the Washington Senators, Ted Williams attended the baseball meetings in Fort Lauderdale, but talked rather more about his three-week safari to Africa, where he made a television show, than about baseball.
"I got me a Cape buffalo, a greater kudu and three sable," he told sportswriters, "also a warthog, a puku, a waterbuck, a Grant's gazelle, a reedbuck and three sportswriters who came to the airport to interview me."
These are the words of the pro football scouts:
"That boy Terry Bradshaw is just the opposite of crime. He always pays. I like to have jumped out of my seat when I saw some of the passes he threw. He got the highest grade of any pro prospect I ever scouted. He'll make some club very happy. I wish it could be mine."—Lloyd Wells, Kansas City Chiefs.
"Bradshaw is a big Sammy Baugh."—Jim Lee Howell, New York Giants.
"If Terry Bradshaw is not the best college quarterback in the country, he's one of the top two."—Rommie Loudd, Boston Patriots.
"He's the best college quarterback prospect since Joe Namath."—Gil Brandt, Dallas Cowboys.
At the obscure Grantland Rice Bowl game played last week in a high school stadium in Baton Rouge, with Louisiana Tech and East Tennessee State as opponents, the scouts were on hand in hordes to study the performance of Terry Bradshaw, Tech quarterback, 6'3" and 218 pounds, even though some of them had no chance at all of seeing him drafted by their teams. Tech lost for the first time this season 34-14, as State rushed Bradshaw with all its players and half its band. But the assembled scouts cared nothing for that. Their eyes were dazzled by the brilliance of Bradshaw's splendid performance.
Among them was Don Klosterman, now general manager of the Houston Oilers. His notes reported that Bradshaw is strong, fast, quick to assume his passing position and that he can run if required and has good vision. "Vision is so very important," Klosterman observed. "This is fantastic. He has a very fast spiral on the ball, and he can throw it accurately with terrific speed for 25 to 35 yards—the range for deep turnins. That's the essential thing for a great pro quarterback. With this rush we can evaluate him pretty well. It's hard to throw a pass on a diagonal from the outside in, because the receiver has to run into the ball. Bradshaw hasn't missed one yet."
And so on. Stand aside, Joe.
A QUESTION OF SCHOLARSHIP
Coming up before the National Collegiate Athletic Association in Washington (Jan. 12-14) are some matters that could have serious and perhaps salutary effect on intercollegiate athletics. One is that the NCAA council has endorsed an amendment to the bylaws which, if adopted, will make much more difficult the soaring practice of farming out to junior colleges athletes who do not meet the requirement that they maintain a 1.60 grade average at an NCAA institution. A lot of coaches have been taking these high school kids and putting them in junior colleges (among them, basketball Olympian Spencer Haywood).
Under present rules, if such a youngster maintains a B average for one year he can go on to a four-year school and become immediately eligible for three more years of competition. The trick, of course, is to boost his junior college grades by getting him enrolled in lots of readily available easy courses, including plenty in physical education.
The proposed new bylaw, endorsed by the National Junior College Athletic Association, would provide that the student must either graduate from junior college or present 48 semester, or 72 quarter, hours with a grade-point average of 1.60. Only then would he be eligible at an NCAA member school for an athletic scholarship and for practice during regular seasons and NCAA competition (for two years).
If the student athlete must stay two years in the junior college, it will be much more difficult for coaches to pick out snap courses for him. And the college, for the sake of its reputation, will not be likely to graduate him if he has not taken solid courses.
Best guess is that this new bylaw will be adopted.
THE WAY IT'S GONNA BE
Some of the best minds of Syracuse University's State College of Forestry have been looking into the future, and this is a bit of what they foresee for the year 2050 and even sooner:
•"Legislation will require that all costs for use of publically [sic] owned camping areas will be borne as a social cost in much the same way that education is today. [Like, for instance, spelling.]
•"Outdoor recreation equipment such as motorboats, trail bikes and snowmobiles will have 'silent' motors that can be heard only a few feet away.
•"Three-dimensional color television will be commonplace.
•"Underwater 'campgrounds' will be available to scuba enthusiasts.
•"City parks will be enclosed in all-weather protective 'bubbles' during the winter.
•"Food and water containers used by outdoor recreationists [so help us, recreationists] will be designed to decompose rapidly once they are disposed. [Never end a sentence with a preposition.]
•"Man will communicate with certain forms of marine life for recreational purposes."
And certain forms of academic life will thrive as before.
It will be interesting to see how long it takes the other people in the National Basketball Association, more especially the coaches, to appreciate the hoax being perpetrated on them by Coach Red Holzman of the New York Knickerbockers. Red obviously has decided to play a game different from the one the others are playing. Red's game is basketball played by all five men at the same time; his opponents' game—standard NBA ball these days—is for one, two or, at the most, three men to play at one time while the others stand around and watch.
If this is unfair of Red, it is probably true that the Knicks would still be winning the majority of their games if everyone were playing the same way—team basketball or individual style. That's because the Knicks have excellent talent. But it would be much more fun if the other teams caught on to Red's little gimmick, because that's the way the game should be played. As it is, with the season only a third gone, the race in the East has lost its savor. Except for New York fans, of course.
THEY SAID IT
•Governor Claude Kirk of Florida, on the prospect of a Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight in his state: "You know, there was some talk that Mr. Clay lost his title because of politics, instead of due to fisticuffs. And I'd be glad if we could promote a fight in Tampa to settle this."
•Governor Claude Kirk of Florida, after a few days of angry newspaper editorials and other fulminations on the subject: "It comes as a surprise to me that a man who lacks the courage to fight for his country could have the guts to get into the ring.... I see no reason why an alleged draft dodger should be in a position to lay claim to any title."