A LITTLE CLOUD
The decline of fan enthusiasm for professional hockey that was glaringly evident in preseason exhibition games (SCORECARD, Oct. 16) is seeping into regular-season sales, too. At any rate, the National Hockey League is having a bit of trouble getting rid of tickets. Even such cold beds of hockey as Boston, Montreal and Toronto have noticed the trend. Boston still has its routine sellouts, but whereas in past years all seats were sold days in advance, tickets to a game a few Sundays ago between the Bruins and the New York Islanders were still available two hours before face-off. In Toronto, where Maple Leaf Gardens has been sold out solid for a quarter of a century and a spare ticket was a collector's item, as many as 400 seats have been put on sale the day of a game. Montreal has had gaps of empty seats at the Forum, and officials there were talking about package deals in which a buyer must purchase tickets to three or four so-so games in order to get one for a "good" game.
No one is sure whether the slight sag is the result of inroads made by the World Hockey Association, the deflating effect of the Russia-Canada hockey series or simply the inevitable result of overexpansion. Whatever the cause, it is enough to make hockey executives sit up and take notice.
WHAT ALEX SAYS
Alex Hawkins, the television announcer who had a reputation for being blunt and outspoken when he played for the Baltimore Colts a few years back, did not have anything to say about hockey when Sportswriter Bill Tanton interviewed him in Baltimore recently, but he did say, "All pro sports are in trouble. There are too many teams, too many players, too many general managers, too many coaches." He felt there was a definite decline in interest. 'There used to be a banner flying at the stadium at all Colt games," he recalled. "It said, 'We Love Our Colts.' You don't see that banner anymore. And Baltimore is not the only place where fans are becoming indifferent. I broadcast a game in New Orleans where they announced a crowd of 65,664. They had that many tickets sold, but there were only about 45,000 people there. People don't feel the way they used to about sports and athletes."
Warming to his theme, Hawkins went on: "The most destructive force in pro football today is the Players' Association. There was a time when we needed the association to get salaries up to a decent level. But it has outlived its usefulness. Athletes today are just a bunch of guys going to work. That's the essence of the problem: players have to decide whether they want to be union men or heroes. The public wants heroes, but these guys take it too lightly."
Bob Lemon was fired by the Kansas City Royals for being too old (SCORECARD, Oct. 16), and the Employment Standards Division of the U.S. Department of Labor said it was going to see if there had been a violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. For all you Bob Lemon and Department of Labor fans, there has been a happy ending. During the World Series, Lemon was made a "special assignment" scout for the Royals. "He was rehired at the same salary he was making as manager," says Rex Wayman, area director of the Employment Standards Division, "so we simply have dropped the issue." An un-sour Lemon said, "I didn't really ever leave the organization. I'm very happy the way things turned out."
When Arthur B. (Mickey) McBride died last week at 85, older pro football fans recalled that the man who founded the Cleveland Browns in the mid-'40s was responsible for introducing a now famous term to the lexicon of sport. When McBride ran the Browns, he was also president of the Yellow Cab Company in Cleveland. Players not on the active roster whom Coach Paul Brown wanted to keep around for emergencies were often put to work driving McBride's cabs. Thus the term "taxi squad."
Chile's national basketball team is on tour in the U.S. at the moment, and if you are wondering what a South American basketball team looks like, it looks tired. The Chileans, who are coached by Peace Corps volunteer Dan Peterson, former head coach at Delaware, are following a schedule that calls for 36 games in 39 days. Their itinerary takes them from Delaware through Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, the Carolinas, upstate New York, Illinois, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, Nebraska, Texas, New Mexico, Utah, back to North Carolina, upstate New York and Pennsylvania again and, finally, to Miami. The players range in age from 19 to 33. By the time they get to Miami they'll feel a lot older.
Why so many games in such a short space of time? In a word: money. Funds for the trip melted away in inflation. The number of Chilean escudos that would have paid the expenses of 22 players and coaches last February will take care of only 10 of them now. So the team is obligated to live off its gate receipts—as well as travel every day, get along without practice sessions, play all its games on alien courts and adjust to U.S. basketball rules. And the schedule is hardly a pipe, since it includes such top college teams as Maryland, North Carolina, Illinois State, Marquette, Missouri, UTEP and Weber State.
We admire the Chileans' determination and hope that after they play their final game in Miami in December they will have at least a few days to lie around on the Florida beaches and just loaf.
GROWING OLD UNGRACEFULLY
The high-salaried contracts top professional athletes sign can become self-defeating, especially when a star begins to falter. Machdi Abdul-Rahman, the former Walt Hazzard, found that out last week when the Buffalo Braves asked waivers on him. Since only two of the 17 NBA teams had worse records than the Braves' 3-11, you would think a club that inept could make some use of a man of Abdul-Rahman's still evident skills. Maybe, but apparently not for $100,000, or whatever figure the player's current contract calls for. That high salary tends to mute interest in him by other teams, too.
The same trend is evident in baseball and football. The San Francisco Giants are said to be ready and willing, even eager, to get rid of high-salaried Willie McCovey and Juan Marichal, even as they divested themselves of Willie Mays last spring. A somewhat different situation exists in Baltimore, where the age-old love affair between the Colts and Johnny Unitas went on the rocks. Unitas chafed when the Colts benched him in order to experiment with youth and probably would prefer to be an active quarterback elsewhere than second string in Baltimore. And there are teams that would be delighted to take him on for a year or so in hopes of one splendid last hurrah. But his high salary and long-term contract make such a move a fearfully expensive burden, which means that unhappy John and unhappy Colts will most likely have to go on living uneasily with one another.
BUY ONE FOR THE GIPPER
Advertisements are beginning to appear on sports pages here and there aimed at Notre Dame football fans. "Great gift idea!" it cries, and you go on to learn that for only $37.50 you can buy a genuine, original bleacher seat from Notre Dame Stadium. "Installed by Knute Rockne," the ad says, leaving you with a vision of Pat O'Brien personally bolting the seats to the grandstand floor.
All this is the inspired work of John Demand, president of H. P. Demand and Associates, Inc. of Evanston, Ill., whose business ordinarily is fund raising for churches, hospitals, colleges and so on. When the old redwood seats were removed from the stadium in 1971 after 40 years of service, a friend of Demand's who had a lumber company bought them. After looking at them for a while he suggested to Demand that they might be good for fund raising, and they came up with a plan in which anyone who gave $100 to Notre Dame would receive one of the seats. But Notre Dame had just finished a fund-raising campaign and turned down the idea. Another proposal—raising money for multiple sclerosis through Notre Dame Coach Ara Parseghian—also fell through.
After that, there was nothing to do but go commercial. Ads were placed in Notre Dame football programs and, later, in newspapers. Sales were slow at first, but Demand was sure they would soar when the word began to reach the subway alumni, that amorphous body of middle-aged Notre Dame fans who still remember Rockne. "The only thing we're trying to sell is nostalgia," Demand explained. "Once these are gone, they're gone."
THE SPECTRUM WIDENS
The University of New Mexico has two black golfers on scholarship this year, which is unusual if not unique for a major college. Since New Mexico ranks in the top 10 among golf-playing colleges, it could indicate a major breakthrough, one that might lead in the future to a steady feed of black players from the colleges to the pro tour.
HORSE AND HORSE
Everybody knows that alert publicity men beat drums for things like All-America and Heisman Trophy candidates. Praise and favorable statistics are sent to sportswriters and others who vote on such awards, and in a way it is like an election campaign. The latest example is Mrs. Mary F. Jones' efforts to get her Cougar II named Horse of the Year. Even though Cougar II was cautiously withdrawn from the Washington, D.C. International at Laurel last Saturday because of the soggy conditions, Mrs. Jones sent turf writers a report, with specifics on Cougar's biggest moments, the high weights he has carried, compliments he has received from outstanding horsemen and so on, accompanied by a personal note saying, "Imagine me owning a great horse like Cougar II. Because I have been so lucky I want to tell you what he has accomplished thus far in his amazing career."
Mrs. Jones' efforts so annoyed Sigmund Sommer, owner of Autobiography, another outstanding handicap horse, that he announced he would put up $100,000 for a $200,000 match race between his horse and Cougar II. We hope the match comes off. While one race is not the final answer as to which of two horses is better (and in this case neither may be Horse of the Year), ii seems better and certainly more fun than watching the outcome of a poll.
Match races are really what horse racing is all about—my horse can beat your horse—and there has been a welcome trend toward them this year. Last June at Hollywood Park, Fletcher Jones, who was killed in a plane crash last week, sent his Typecast against Leonard Lavin's Convenience in a showdown between two of the finest racing mares in the country (Convenience won), and this week at Cahokia Downs in Illinois a match race was scheduled between Jovial John and Blunt Man, spiced, as the Daily Racing Form put it, by $20,000 in side bets put up by the owners. The horses at Cahokia may be undistinguished, but the owners seem first-rate
THEY SAID IT
•Roy Rubin, coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, after his team lost for the 13th time in its season-opening 15-game losing streak: "I don't think anybody in the world wants to be 0 and anything, let alone 0 and 13. This has given me a tremendous amount of humility. I was always humble, but now I am overly humble."
•Buzz Dunning, Guilford College assistant coach, after Carson-Newman handed the Quakers their 23rd straight loss, on how the winners played: "I would say they were overly aggressive at times, like between two and 4:30 p.m."
•Mike Luttrell, TCU halfback, on his passing record of seven completions in seven attempts over the past two seasons: "My passes are so slow the defender overshoots the ball."