Despite disclaimers by the National Hockey League that everything is just fine and look at our attendance, up 252,000, the facts indicate that the explosive expansion of hockey has resulted in a decline of interest, at least in Canada, the heartland of the sport. The Canadian Bureau of Measurements, which functions in part as a sort of government-sponsored Nielsen rating, reports that Saturday night hockey, the No. 1 show on Canadian TV for years, has plummeted to No. 7, a stunning switch in the nation's viewing habits. The hockey-watching audience fell 25% to 3,172,000, a decline of about a million people, a substantial proportion of Canada's 22 million population.
NHL officials sluff off the decline as a natural reaction to the excitement of the Russia-Canada hockey series in September, but most observers say it is because the hockey that knowledgeable Canadian fans see on TV now lacks the quality of the hockey they used to see. A Canadiens-Penguins game doesn't have quite the same bite as Canadiens-Bruins, does it?
And as for attendance going up 252,000, the league's figures revealed that during the first six weeks of the 1972-73 season the two new teams, the New York Islanders and the Atlanta Flames, drew 260,000 between them. Simple arithmetic says this means attendance for the 14 other teams fell 8,000. More and more season-ticket holders in the old hockey cities are not using their tickets when their heroes go against the weaker expansion teams. Montreal fans point out that before expansion the Bruins played seven games against the Canadiens in Montreal. This season they play two. Sacrebleu.
Eddie Robinson is an eminently successful football coach who produces winning teams at Grambling College, turns out superior players for the pros and has been the subject of many laudatory articles and interviews, including a much-acclaimed television special by Howard Cosell a few years ago. Yet listen to Robinson on coaching:
"When a coach thinks he's the big reason his team is winning, I think he's silly. The players, not the coach, are the thing. I was offered a couple of coaching jobs last year, but when I confronted them with my proposition, they saw me in a different light. All I asked was that they get me the same kind of players I had at Grambling. I didn't want them to feel I could take average or below-average material and beat somebody. I couldn't come in and turn water to wine. I'm not a brilliant coach. I'm an average coach. But I know the importance of recruiting. I think you could take the best pro coach in the country and put him at a college with inferior material, and he wouldn't win."
When the Paradise (Texas) High Panthers suffered a defeat recently, the community's correspondent for the nearby Wichita Falls Record called the sports desk with the account he had written. "O.K.," said the desk man taking the story, "give me the first paragraph."
"Paradise lost," dictated the correspondent.
TAKING CARE OF ONE'S OWN
The second annual Wiseman Trophy to the nation's finest college football player was awarded last week to Brad Van Pelt, the All-America defensive back from Michigan State. You will recall, of course, the Wiseman Trophy (SCORE-CARD, Dec. 20, 1971). It was conceived a year ago last fall by Bob Freeman, Dick Bradley and Peter Lee, the three wise owners of the Victoria Station restaurant in San Francisco, to rectify what they considered an obvious wrong: the awarding of the 1971 Heisman Trophy to Auburn's Pat Sullivan instead of to Cornell's Ed Marinaro. That the three awarders of the Wiseman were all graduates of Cornell was considered an interesting coincidence.
The selection this year of Van Pelt, who received his trophy shortly before the East-West game, seemed to restore objectivity to the Wiseman, East Lansing being far beyond Cayuga's waters. It is probably only another interesting coincidence that Victoria Station's publicist, Glenn Dorenbush, is a graduate of—what was that school? Oh, yes—Michigan State.
Women sportswriters are proliferating, and players, coaches and other reporters are simply having to adjust to them.
When boxer Mike Quarry became the first fighter to admit a woman to his dressing room, he told Sheila Moran of the New York Post: "Hey, I noticed you about the third round."
When Ted Williams was managing the Texas Rangers, he grumbled at Jeannie Morris of Chicago Today: "What's this shrimp female doing in my dugout?"
Some of the sportspersons say there are advantages to being a woman besides the obvious one. Moran explains: "Men athletes assume you don't know much about sports and are less cautious about what they say." Mary Garber, who has been covering sports for the Winston-Salem Sentinel since 1944, adds a practical reason for employing female sportswriters: "They're less likely to get punched in the nose."
Dressing rooms where athletes are apt to run around nude are a bit of a problem, but Moran turned the tables when she was the only writer able to get into the dressing room of the first girl jockey to ride at Churchill Downs.
Query: Do men make passes at girls who wear tape recorders?
NESTFUL OF EAGLETS
Carl and Peter Marasco are a couple of pro-football-fan brothers who keep embarrassing NFL coaching staffs by predicting with amazing accuracy the way the annual NFL player draft will go. Instead of million-dollar scouting systems, the brothers rely on newspaper and magazine clips, team rosters and common sense to determine which pro teams need what college players and how realistic their chances are of drafting them.
Now they have come up with a plan to revive the Philadelphia Eagles. They say the Eagles should trade all the players on their roster for 12 first-round draft choices. Because most NFL coaches prefer established pros to newly drafted collegians, the Marascos feel the trades could be swung. And since the Eagles already have two first-round picks, they would be able to select 14 blue-chip players in the first round, which is more blue-chippers, the brothers say, than the Eagles have on the roster now.
"After the first round," says Pete, "there would have to be judicious selections made for the remainder of the draft. We would not concentrate on running backs and linebackers because the drafts the next two years will produce many top players at those positions. We should be able to obtain a few top hands in each of those drafts. In three years the Eagles would be in playoff contention, and in four or five years they could dominate the league."
The Marascos realize that general managers around the NFL will laugh at their plan, but they are undismayed. As Carl says, "I think we have been right too often for anybody to chuckle at us." And, considering the Eagles' performance, what could it hurt?
PICK A POLL
Much was made of the contest between the 2-year-old colt Secretariat and the 2-year-old filly La Prevoyante for Horse of the Year honors (Secretariat won the combined poll conducted by the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, the Daily Racing Form and the National Turf Writers Association), but less excitable members of the racing fraternity felt that either choice was unrealistic. No 2-year-old, they argued, could properly be named horse of any year. It was as illogical as naming a particularly brilliant college junior as Man of the Year. Promise and precocity are not the same as mature achievement, and a 2-year-old colt or filly is essentially promise.
As if to rectify the emotional vote for the well-publicized 2-year-old champion, the racing magazine Turf and Sport Digest in its venerable poll (the oldest of these equine popularity contests) passed over both Secretariat and La Prevoyante to name 3-year-old Key to the Mint the horse of 1972. Now a new controversy rages around why Key to the Mint was picked instead of Riva Ridge, who won both the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes, the two most prestigious races for 3-year-olds. What it all comes down to, obviously, is that races and reputations are won on the track, not in the polling places.
WORST OF THE BEST
George Best (SI, March 27) has been called the Joe Namath of British soccer, but Namath in his most carefree moments never caused the aggravation to team, Queen and country that Best has. A brilliant player, Best is a rebel who likes nightclubs, pretty girls, gaudy clothes and unrestricted fun, and he stiffly rejects discipline.
His latest troubles began late in November when he was charged with slapping a waitress in a Manchester club. He was later suspended by his team, Manchester United, and when he continued to skip practice sessions and ran off to London the club decided it "had no alternative but to place George Best on the transfer list." This meant Manchester United had given up on Britain's most publicized player and would sell him. "Who knows Best's mind?" asked Team Manager Frank O'Farrell. "Certainly no one seems able to get through to him. We are losing a great footballer but the decision is final."
Since Best's market value was put at more than $700,000, no sale was immediately forthcoming. There was talk that he might leave England for a European team, or that he would end up with colorful Chelsea, the club nearest London's bright lights. But Best announced he was retiring. "When I said last summer I was going to quit," he said, "I meant it. I came back this fall hoping my appetite for the game would return, but there was something missing. Therefore I have decided not to play football again and this time no one will change my mind."
So Best was gone, and to make Manchester United's G√∂tterd√§mmerung complete, the board of directors fired O'Farrell, Coach Malcolm Musgrove and Chief Scout John Aston.
ONE VOTE FOR MURPH
The best player never to make an NBA All-Star game is probably Kevin (Murph) Loughery. Eleven years in the league, Loughery has scored more than 11,500 points and has averaged as high as 22.6 for a season. Nobody else has scored so often in a career—or a season—and failed to make the All-Stars. But Loughery's best years came when he was with Baltimore, in the days when the Bullets were stacked with more spectacular players. In fact, Loughery's old Bullet teammate, Ray Scott, is the only other man to score 10,000 points and not make All-Star.
Loughery is now with the woebegone Philadelphia 76ers. He has been averaging almost 20 points a game since he began playing regularly several weeks ago. He's probably not as good as he used to be, but NBA rules require that at least one player from each club be named to the All-Star team. It would be delayed but welcome justice if Murph were the pick from the 76ers.
THEY SAID IT
•Bob Lilly, Dallas Cowboy tackle, on his physical problems: "Lee Roy Jordan says that one time his shoulder was giving him a lot of trouble until he hurt his back. Then his back hurt and his shoulder got to feeling better. Well, since I hurt my knee my heel feels better. And lately my heel has started hurting more so I assume by that my knee is getting better."
•Andy Messersmith, Los Angeles Dodger pitcher, asked what he thought about facing Henry Aaron: "I wouldn't mind giving up career home runs 714 and 715 to Aaron, just as long as the Dodgers win the game 9-8."
•Herb Magee, Philadelphia Textile coach, on why his basketball team is ranked among the top 10 small colleges: "First, because we deserve it, and second, because I'm on the rating committee."