UP THE UMPS
At its very best, officiating of quick-moving team sports is not a very exact discipline. In professional basketball, for instance, application of "judgment calls," such as those regarding the laying of hands on an opponent, can be mysterious, yet in the charged atmosphere of the arena there seldom is a major rowdydow between teams and referees.
Which cannot be said for professional hockey, where officials at times appear to take a worse beating than the performers. To paraphrase the ungrammatical TV commercial, being shouted at and shoved is not a completely unique experience.
The reason may lie in the officials themselves. Basketball referees try to establish a certain consistency to their calls early in a game, brook no lip from anybody and keep control throughout. Hockey officials too often let the game control them, as was readily evident last week in the NHL semifinal playoffs between Chicago and Boston, and Philadelphia and New York.
May 5, 1974
Seemingly unable to establish a pattern in either series, the officials would work their whistles for a span of 10 minutes, like engineers on a runaway freight, then apparently forget that they had ever owned a whistle. Whichever team yelled loudest last got the break next time. The Rangers were butchered in Philadelphia, a fact that received a fine, all-round airing. When New York returned home, it drew 27 minutes in the penalty box to the Flyers' 81.
No doubt the style of game the teams played had a strong bearing on the calls the officials made. But it remains true that the referees were beleaguered men. As the Rangers' Ted Irvine said of Referee Dave Newell after the first game in Philadelphia, "He was scared out there. You could yell at him, swear at him. He didn't call anything." This may be a carryover from the days when the NHL did not mind a melee or two to hype the gate, but it is out of place today. For their peace of mind and safety, let alone the integrity of the sport, the officials ought to take charge and the league should back them. Among other benefits, they might dampen the fire of those flame-eating crowds that, at last look, were not noticeably awed by the dignity of the officials' calling.
It was Cushion Night in White Sox Park last Saturday, a soft promotion, so to speak, following the end of Chicago's hard times, which bottomed out the week before. But Detroit was not cooperating and soon the free seat cushions were flying around the stadium like Frisbees in a tornado. Before the crowd stopped bombing, Tiger Manager Ralph Houk yanked his team from the field, which is a lesson for the Oakland A's. They play in Chicago May 18 and had better wear their helmets at all times. Coffee Mug Night.
"Oft expectation fails, and most oft there/Where most it promises," the Bard wrote in All's Well That Ends Well. And in this case 'twas a far better thing that it did.
The trouble began when Atletico Madrid went berserk before a capacity crowd of roaring, hissing Scotsmen in Glasgow during the first leg of the European Cup soccer semifinals against Celtic. "It was not football, it was Armageddon," said one English critic. Tripping, pushing, body checking and obstructing—committing in fact 50 fouls—the Spaniards raged through the last 25 minutes short three players who had been sent off. The game ended in a near riot and a 0-0 tie, which said little for Celtic. But it also resulted in the banning of six Atleticos from the second-leg match last week in Madrid's Vicente Calderon Stadium, which said a lot for Celtic chances.
Calderon, called the Boiling Caldron of Hate by its own fans, is famed for its violent partisanship. A worried Celtic-management pleaded with its followers not to go to Madrid and suggested that those who did (it turned out to be 1,000) should stick together. In Madrid, the team stayed locked in its heavily guarded hotel except to train. On game night, 5,000 police were on duty with water cannons. Alcohol was barred from the grounds, seat cushions were not on sale and the first two rows were vacant.
And nothing untoward happened. Both sides were on their best behavior as the Swiss referee took an exaggeratedly firm grip on the game, blowing up in the second minute when a Celtic was fairly tackled and delivering numerous finger-wagging warnings. Despite being undermanned, Atletico won 2-0, eliminating Celtic from the cup playoffs and sending a crowd of 64,000, which had whistled, hooted, booed and jeered to its heart's delight, home happy.
All's well that ends well, as the man said.
DOGS IN THE CATBIRD SEAT?
Recall the invasion of the birds in Graceham, Md. (SI, March 25) and some wag's solution to sic 10,000 starving cats on them? Well, don't try it. The people of Quillambamba in Peru did—they were after rats—and the results were a howling failure. Instead of chasing the rodents, the cats sat up all night serenading each other, as if it were alumni week at Dartmouth. We can think of the next solution, but a sixth sense tells us that where the sleepless citizens of Quillambamba are concerned the smart move is to let sleeping dogs lie.
STATIONS OF THE CROSSBAR
If being analyzed is a measure of success, football has arrived, and baseball and basketball and the rest might just as well get off the couch. The latest to have a go at the game is Dr. John P. Koval, a sociologist from DePaul University in Chicago whose findings take a religious bent.
At a meeting of the Midwest Sociological Society in Omaha, Dr. Koval professed to see in football all the trappings of a religious awakening. Where thousands once flocked to touch the robes of Christ, he said, now the pilgrims elbow their way to the locker room "to see the sweaty players and observe how many teeth have been knocked out." They ogle relics—"Imagine people staring at an old football in a glass case"—as more conventional worshipers look for the bones of a saint or splinters said to have come from Christ's cross. And there is ritual in the costumes, the school colors and alma mater hymns, the funny hats, the 50-year-old men in lettered shirts.
Of course, you might call this fun, or plain old-fashioned hero worship.
Considering the seasons they have just suffered through, backers of the Carolina Cougars or the Kansas City-Omaha Kings could hardly be blamed if they should decide to move to Greenland.
Cougar Owner Tedd Munchak apparently would like to. "The fans are becoming totally unexcited," he told Atlanta Constitution Columnist Lenox Rawlings last week. "They are not going to pay $10 or $12 to see people who don't really want to play. The schedule is 82 or 84 games long, and the fans are going to see maybe 25% very good games, 25% lousy games. The players think they play too much.
"I get no personal satisfaction from basketball. I have accomplished nothing. I feel empty about agents, players and management. People in North Carolina have complained I don't show enough interest in the team. I went to our training camp a couple of days on vacation to have a good time and be with the players. I hadn't been there five minutes when a player handed me a note. He had two years to go on his contract, but he wanted to renegotiate. He gave me an agent's name to authenticate it. I don't need that."
To which the numerous backers of the Kings might have said amen, right up until the other day when 70 of them who had hung on grimly for 15 years suddenly emerged at the other end of the tunnel. In an effort to save the franchise when it was in Cincinnati, they had bought into the team in 1958 for amounts ranging from $100 to $10,000. Although receiving only small, infrequent dividends, they held their stock when the team moved deeper into the Midwest and performed under the corporate name of Missouri Valley Pro Sports, Inc. Then, lo, MVPSI sold the franchise to Kansas City interests and the original shareholders learned that for each $100 share they would be getting back at least $1,008.18, with the possibility of even more. That's 10 to 1. Hold on, Munchak. You may buy Greenland yet.
OH FOR A JOHN DOE
Things happen in threes, but frankly we will be happy if the whole shmeer ends right here. First there was the New Jersey policeman who named 11 of his 12 children after golfers (SI, April 22). Now there is Brian Brown, an ardent boxing fan out of Wolverhampton, England, who two months ago named his daughter Maria Sullivan Corbett Fitzsimmons Jeffries Hart Burns Johnson Willard Dempsey Tunney Schmeling Sharkey Camera Baer Braddock Louis Charles Walcott Marciano Patterson Johansson Liston Clay Frazier Foreman Brown. "I was hoping for a boy," Brown explained.
TREMORS ON THE COAST
For the better part of the 20th century, big-time sport and the Pacific Coast were closely enough related in most people's minds as to be almost synonymous. From the oarsmen of Washington to the wrecking crews of UCLA, specialists in winning whatever national championships the University of Southern California had not already nailed down, the commitment was total. But these are unsettled times, and if the citadels of Southern California are standing fast, the less enraptured forts to the north are not. In some schools athletic programs are not only under scrutiny, they are in trouble.
At Oregon State, for instance, it was announced that no grant-in-aid money would be used to support baseball, golf, tennis or swimming, and a committee of faculty, alumni and students recommended that track be cut back severely next year, obviously to save money. Baseball's life was extended recently, but the prognosis is not strong. And at Portland State the student fees committee recommended that its support of the athletic department's budget be reduced from $176,000 to $134,000 and that no fees be used for baseball or football. The college says football will be dropped if it does not break even financially.
The most serious threat to the old ways, however, comes from the University of California, where there is a move among students to place less emphasis on intercollegiate sport and more on intramural activities. "We are not Alabama," said Mike Aguirre, president of the student government. "At Cal we don't feel the same kind of involvement with the sports teams and it may be that we shouldn't compete at that level. The issue is how best to spend our money to meet the needs of the greatest number."
At the next athletic budget meeting this month, Aguirre will propose the abolition of spring football practice, elimination of athletic scholarships except in cases of clear financial need, abolition of recruiting and training tables and transferral of athletic department employees to an expanded intramural program.
Hardly the winds of total change—a spanking breeze would be a more accurate description—but there is something going on.
THEY SAID IT
•Pete Rose, on the new World Baseball League: "Can you imagine playing in Birmingham Friday, having Saturday off and playing in Tokyo Sunday? If you hit .210, you should win the title."
•Cathy Rush, coach of National Women's Basketball Champion Immaculata College and wife of American Basketball Association Referee Ed Rush, expecting their second child: "We're living proof that a referee and a coach can get along."
•Bill Kurtis, CBS anchorman in Chicago, after hearing allegations of drug abuse by the San Diego Chargers: "The way the Chargers played last year the drug must have been formaldehyde."
•Toby Harrah, Texas Ranger shortstop, on how small his hometown is: "The telephone directory has only one yellow page."