It is saddening, if not surprising, that the National Hockey League, by adding Long Island and Atlanta to its lineup for next season, has moved to dilute the quality of a sport already watered beyond decency. That will make 16 NHL teams—all dependent for players on a Canada of but 21 million people and a scattering of Americans. Not content with this, the NHL is going to add two more teams in 1974. The NHL expansion is preventive warfare against a new outfit called the World Hockey Association, which is threatening to put "major league" hockey into 10 U.S. and Canadian cities, starting next fall. The WHA promises to use a "colorful" puck. Meanwhile, one must expect player raids on the NHL, a thicket of lawsuits, a miasma of chauvinistic blather about the "right" of various cities to have "major league" hockey and, as sure as God made little pucks black, a poorer sport.
Still, while hockey quality is being diluted, its hold in some areas remains intense. Boston, where the Bruins reign supreme (the Red Sox may have their following in season, but the basketball Celtics and football Patriots are second-class citizens in comparison), is the only major league hockey town in the U.S. that also fields—or rinks—a minor-league hockey team, too. The Braves, a Bruin farm that plays in Boston Garden when the Bruins are off in Vancouver or wherever, have been drawing like mad. Early this month they set an American Hockey League record with 14,031 spectators at one game. All of which may help to explain a little about the NHL's urge to create more teams—however diluted—for hockey-hungry fans to watch.
After a brief, glorious moment in the sun when word came that a rooster had knocked off an eagle in a birdo-a-birdo fight (SCORECARD, Nov. 15), the chicken world is right back where it used to be: behind the eightball. The truth came out when U.S. attorneys charged two Ohio men with "possession" of a bald eagle after it was discovered that the bird's broken wing had been caused by buckshot, not rooster kicks. Apparently fearing prosecution for violating laws protecting eagles, the men made up the tale about the ferocious rooster.
Well, to paraphrase Mark Twain, splendid story, splendid lie. Drive on.
This week the omnipresent George Plimpton is in our magazine as a writer (page 40); next week he will be on TV as a quarterback, for the Baltimore Colts against the Detroit Lions. The TV sequence, filmed in a preseason game, does not reveal a near strike by the Detroit players. The Colts were cooperating for the fun of it, or the promotional value, as Detroit had when George was writing Paper Lion, but now Plimpton's ex-buddies wanted to be paid.
"It was a travesty," said Linebacker Wayne Walker. "We guys on defense had nothing to gain and everything to lose. Suppose he completes a pass and makes jerks out of us. Or suppose somebody hurts a knee. We didn't even know if we were covered." Linebacker Mike Lucci said, "It was a real nice day to put in four extra plays. The temperature was about 90 that afternoon."
At first it was hoped Plimpton would quarterback the Lions, but Joe Schmidt, Detroit's head coach, said no. "The TV people weren't thinking about someone getting hurt. When I turned him down, I thought that was it. But then he went to the Colts."
The Lions decided no pay, no play. There was a fair amount of back-and-forth arguing before the producers agreed on a fee of $300 for each of the 11 defensive players. (The Lions tried to get an extra $300 apiece for two injured starters who would not appear in the Plimpton sequence, but the producers were adamant, and the Lions finally split the $3,300 pot 13 ways.)
The four plays filmed with Plimpton at quarterback had no completed passes (no jerks after all, those Lions) but did include a quarterback keeper on which George was crushed by Defensive End Jim Mitchell, who drew a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness. Afterward, in the clubhouse, a battered Plimpton was asked how he felt about his old Lion friends almost sabotaging the show. "There were moments when I wished they had," he said. "They threw defense at me I never saw before."
"I just wanted to let him know he was playing football," Mitchell said.
IF THE CLEAT FITS
Every Saturday and Sunday morning a New Yorker named Dick Curtis ships his wife to the country and spends his weekend in town crashing about in Central Park playing touch football. Last year Curtis discovered that one of his alleged football companions wasn't playing the game; instead, he was using it as an excuse to get out of the house to meet a lady friend. With this as a springboard, Curtis and a couple of writing friends produced a paperback novel called The Touch Team, which has to do with six touch-football players who leave their wives each Sunday morning and, after a brief meeting in Central Park to get their stories straight, wander off to theoretically greener pastures.
Copies of the book have since appeared, and attendance at the real weekend games has risen sharply. Most of the new spectators, it turns out, are wives.
THE TOMBOY SYNDROME
The psychologists keep analyzing sport, and sport keeps taking a beating. Writing in Psychology Today, Marie Hart says, "The woman who wishes to participate in sport and remain 'womanly' faces great stress. By choosing sport she usually places herself outside the social mainstream. But if woman is to be more than mother...we must reward her for sports achievement instead of stigmatizing her for it. A female athlete meets more oppression than most other women in the American way of life. Sport is male territory; therefore participation of female intruders is a peripheral, non-central aspect of sport."
Charging bravely ahead, Miss Hart declares that, paradoxically, this antiathletic stigma is primarily a white phenomenon. A black woman can be strong and competent in sport and still not be denied her femininity. Indeed, she can gain added admiration and respect from both females and males. A white woman athlete, on the other hand, has to overcome deep-seated prejudice.
Even if a woman is able to compete vigorously without losing feminine status, Miss Hart warns that she should be aware of the dangers of taking drugs to enhance athletic performance. Male athletes have been warned repeatedly about the side effects of anabolic steroids but, she says, "Little has been published about the negative effects of male steroids on women. They are known to increase muscle size, to change fat distribution and also to produce secondary male characteristics such as increased face and body hair and deeper voices."
Girls, in other words, should be girls.
Not only are muscular girls discriminated against, so are brainy ones. But, hah, they strike back. Susan Solomon, 15-year-old student at Von Steuben High in Chicago, was No. 4 player on the school's chess team last spring when somebody blew the whistle on her by pointing out that state law prohibited coeducational competition in interscholastic sport. Skipping arguments that chess is a game rather than a sport, Susan went right to the top, with the result (checkmate!) that the Illinois House of Representatives has now voted 122 to 11 for a bill that, among other things, tells schools not to bar girls from playing games, or sports, with boys. Things like football are excluded, at least for the time being.
Way to go, Susan, and watch your pawns, Bobby Fischer.
One of the things a good golfer tries to do as he advances into his autumn years is shoot his age—like a par 72 at age 72, for ideal instance. The ultimate along this line may well have occurred in San Antonio recently when, in one foursome, three men achieved this rarity. Dr. C. B. Walters, a 79-year-old retired dentist, shot 39-40—79; Frank Connolly, 76, turned in 36-40—76; and Newton A. Brown, 75, had 37-38—75. The three-way phenomenon did not come easily. Connolly parred the last hole, but Brown had to roll in a birdie putt for his score, and Dr. Walters, trying for a better-than-his-age round, blew a shot on the 18th and got a bogey.
The fourth man in the group, Guy Wilson, didn't have a prayer to make it four for four. A mere tad of 62, he shot an 87.
OVER THE WALL
The most bizarre sponsor of a car and driver in auto racing is a club called the High Wallers, a group of inmates at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem. The High Wallers constructed their car—a 1967 Chevelle for supermodified stock-car competition—themselves and maintain it without using state funds. A professional driver named Art Roth of Portland raced it 22 times this past summer on tracks around the Northwest. "We run on the half-and quarter-mile tracks and on some of the short dirt tracks," Roth said. "We did O.K. We had four seconds, four fourths, a "seventh, an eighth, a 12th and a 13th. The rest of the time we broke down."
When Roth takes the car to a track, five High Wallers go along—the chief mechanic, who makes all the races, and four other inmates on a rotating system. Prison guards, who donate their time, go along, too. Guards also donate their time to supervise the club members when they are at the garage working on the car.
One of the High Wallers said, "The guards here have donated probably 3,000 hours of their own time. We've received about $10,000 to $12,000 for the car from private citizens, firms, manufacturers. We give Art Roth 50% of the purses he wins, but so far he has always given it back, along with some of his own money, for us to put it back in the car." Prison officials will not reveal the records of the High Wallers, whose membership is limited to 30. "They are chosen on merit and their actions while they are in prison," said an official. "We won't talk about why they are here."
"They're really a bunch of good guys," Roth said. "We have no big problems, just little problems once in a while. Some guys think things should go one way, others another way. You know. They're great to work with."
ALWAYS ON TOP
To help enliven broadcasts of Milwaukee Buck games, announcer Eddie Doucette rechristens the team's players with nicknames that soon become commonly known among avid Buck fans throughout Wisconsin. When the Milwaukee center was known as Lew Alcindor, one of Doucette's nicknames for him was The Franchise, as in "The Franchise scores on a skyhook." Now that Alcindor has changed his name to Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Doucette refers to him as The Kareem of the Krop. What else?
THEY SAID IT
•Russ Thomas, Detroit Lions general manager, on why NFL teams are employing more than one quarterback: "The ideal situation would be to have a 24-year-old quarterback with a 35-year-old mind backed up by a 35-year-old quarterback with a 24-year-old body."
•John Schmitt, New York Jets center, on the first time he played against 6'9", 295-pound San Diego Charger Ernie Ladd: "I looked up across the line of scrimmage and there was Ernie Ladd. His eyeballs weighed five pounds apiece."
•Mike Lewis, Pittsburgh Condors center, noting that first-year players in the ABA include Artis Gilmore, Jim McDaniels, Julius Erving and George McGinnis: "I'd like to be coach of the rookies in this league. I'd play anybody in the world."
•Johnny Unitas, during a discussion of longevity in pro football, reminded that George Blanda is even older than he: "That's because he was born before I was."