Few movies—and certainly none concerned with sport—have ever come out with such impact as Derby, which is now opening in theaters around the country. Judith Crist has called the film "the first total triumph of the vérité that cinema aspires to," whatever that means, and other critics have waxed almost as poetic. The irony is that Derby is about the Roller Derby, which so many sports fans haughtily look down on as a sham; yet it is this "sport" in this film which tells so many real, harsh truths about America.
Derby is so genuine that it is often hard to believe that it is not staged. Young Mike Snell, who skated into the starring role in the film by asking to try out for the Roller Derby when it played his home town, Dayton, cheats on his wife and his boss before the cameras with as much style as boldness. His wife confronts one of her husband's mistresses in a scene so excruciatingly raw that it is embarrassing to watch. And Charlie O'Connell, the quintessential Roller Derby hero, describes himself and his life in such a way that younger generations will surely forget there ever was a Horatio Alger. Success tales must be "Charlie O'Connell stories" hereafter.
For anyone—particularly anyone satiated with the vintage 1930 "highlight films" that baseball, football and basketball still faithfully produce every year—Derby is a giant step into the real world of sport, and otherwise. If you liked The Knute Rockne Story, you'll hate Derby.
May 2, 1971
CARNIVAL SHOW CLOSES
The mismatch of the century, coming on the heels of the fight of the century, has now, praise be, been averted. The proposal to pit Muhammad Ali, former world heavyweight champion, against Wilt Chamberlain, who never has had a professional fight and has had precious little amateur experience, was at best ludicrous.
The Floyd Patterson-Pete Rademacher championship fight of 1957 was all but laughed out of the ring, but Rademacher was at least an Olympic champion and did in fact knock Patterson down, thereby establishing that he had some slight measure of competence.
It has been suggested that Chamberlain's part in the aborted affair may be forgivable on the dubious ground that he didn't fully realize what he was doing. Or did he? A few years ago he led Cus D'Amato, Patterson's manager, to believe that he was serious about abandoning basketball for a boxing career. But as soon as a more favorable basketball contract was waved at him he abandoned the idea instantly.
The announced reason for dropping the tight—that Chamberlain wanted a tax-free guarantee of $500,000 and that details of such a deal could not be worked out in an hour or so—has a specious ring. It is just possible that Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, forestalled the event by coming up with more money for Chamberlain.
As for Ali, he has less of an excuse. Prizefighting has been good to him. He has no right to drag it down to the level of professional wrestling. He most certainly does not stand in dire need of money. What he does need is a couple of good, stiff fights against experienced, competent opponents before he again goes up against Joe Frazier.
WILT COULD GET KILT
The happily foundered Ali-Chamberlain match brought to mind an incident in the career of Paul Anderson, the 1956 Olympic heavyweight weight-lifting champion billed as "the world's strongest man." On a rig devised especially for him he could hoist 22 men simultaneously. When Anderson then took up professional wrestling he did good business.
So Paul, a big, friendly boy from Toccoa, Ga., decided he would seek the world's heavyweight boxing title. A Charlotte, N.C. promoter signed an obscure opponent from New York. Since Paul was bringing in so much money wrestling, it was decided to give him a bit of an edge in his first bout. The visiting pug was wined, dined and provided with female companionship right up to the time of the fight. The feeling was that by the time he climbed into the ring he wouldn't be able to bend a string of boiled spaghetti.
But before the first round was over, the 300-pound Anderson was stumbling about like a drunken water buffalo. He would swing—and the boxer would easily step aside. The boxer would throw an indifferent left hook, and Anderson would catch it flush on the jaw.
After three rounds Anderson signaled that he had had enough. The world's strongest man was no match for a mediocre, overfed, overboozed and oversexed boxer.
THE CURSE OF DRINK
There are dirty players in every sport, of course, but a rather special kind of mucker has turned up in Issaquah, Wash. He was exposed the other day in a letter to The Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
One W. M., an Issaquah resident, wrote in that after he purchased a hummingbird feeder, his neighbor, a highly competitive type, got one, too. "But," complained W. M., "he completely ignored the prescribed diet for hummingbirds (printed on the package) where it says, 'One teaspoon of the sweet mixture for each cup of water.' Instead, he puts in TWO teaspoons.
"We know this is wrong. The Audubon Society says that such a loaded mixture is bad for the little birds' livers. But does he care?
"As a result, HIS feeder attracts the hummingbirds while MINE looks like the Boeing Developmental Center after the SST decision. The fact is, the birds stop off at his place and get snockered before they show up at my place—where they don't even want to eat.
"This is unfair. And I intend to start action. Either he cuts down on the sugar content of his feeder or, so help me, I will surreptitiously spike his feeder with vinegar."
AMOUR FINDS A WAY
An international love match with unique significance to the world of trotting horses came to its logical conclusion last week when the French mare Roquépine was delivered of a brown colt sired by the American stallion Star's Pride at the Hanover Shoe Farms in Pennsylvania. When she retired in 1969 Roquépine was the world alltime money-winner and the best racing trotter in history. She had won Europe's Prix d'Amérique three successive times and Roosevelt's International twice. Star's Pride has been America's premier stallion for more than a decade; seven of his progeny have won the Hambletonian.
The matchmakers had to use all their diplomatic skills to effect the mating of this pair, since the French do not look with favor on the exportation of even second-rate breeding stock, let alone a mare of Roquépine's caliber.
The brown foal, who presumably carries his sire's immense capacity for speed and his dam's superb manners and stamina, will go on the auction block at the Harrisburg Sales in November 1972. Bidding undoubtedly will start at $100,000 and may end at twice that figure. So save up.
GANG AGLEY AGAIN
One of the most interesting stories to pop up now that the football season—well, the spring football season—is with us again concerns two old friends, Michigan's Bo Schembechler and Notre Dame's Ara Parseghian.
Sometime early last November, when both had teams rated in the top five, one of their frequent phone conversations went something like:
Bo: "You're lucky, Ara. You can go to a bowl game, and I have to sit home."
Ara: "Well, Bo, I'd rather play you than go to any bowl."
Bo: "O.K., let's play."
Soon after, Father Edmund Joyce, Notre Dame's chief financial officer, and Don Canham, Michigan's athletic director, agreed on the plans.
After Michigan beat Ohio State, Schembechler would ask the NCAA and the Big Ten for permission to play an 11th game, claim to be the nation's best team and challenge Notre Dame.
After Notre Dame beat Southern Cal in its last game the next week, Parseghian would say the Irish were No. 1 and accept Michigan's challenge.
The game would then be played on Dec. 11 in Michigan's 101,001-seat stadium, with tickets costing $10 each, thus creating college football's first million-dollar gate.
One trouble, though. Ohio State beat Michigan 20-9 and Southern Cal beat Notre Dame 38-28.
OIL IN THE ROUGH
What may be the world's richest golf tournament was played last week in Natchez, Miss., known mainly for antebellum homes and steamboat paddle-wheelers.
It's rich, but there is no prize money. The Confederate Oil Golf Tournament, 17 years old, is an invitational affair, and you are not invited unless you are involved in producing oil. Hardly a player is not, or has not been, or is not on the way to being a millionaire. Players are wildcatters, drillers, lease sellers and such. Some 1,000 oilmen attended the tournament this year, about 400 to play golf, the rest to eat boiled crayfish, chink beer and turn a few cards.
This year's winner? That well-known golfer, Newton Burnett, who carded a 152 for 36 holes.
THEY SAID IT
•Joe Frazier, a recent guest at the White House, when asked about his wife's desire for him to quit fighting: "All wives are like that; quit being a fighter, quit being President, or something like that."
•George Blanda, Oakland Raiders 43-year-old quarterback: "I have to keep playing so people over 40 will have somebody to root for on Sunday afternoon."
•Eddie Mathews, now a batting instructor for the Atlanta Braves, on how you help Henry Aaron: "By staying away from him."