TIED UP AGAIN
Last week it was suggested here that long-awaited progress in the National Football League's interminable labor dispute might come about if a degree of mutual respect were to be shown by players and owners. For awhile such respect seemed suddenly evident: in what sounded like a big step forward the owners assured the players that a reasonable contract would be submitted for their approval, and the players in turn agreed to go back to work—which is to say, play the opening games of the season—while they waited for the new offer to be made.
That's about as far as the respect went. The owners did submit a contract, declaring that the provisions in it were "total and complete," whatever that means. Sargent Karch, the owners' man, said, "We've given them our best shot. I don't see how the players can turn it down."
That Karch was being cynical, or at least unrealistic, is shown by the players' overwhelmingly negative reaction to the "best shot." Even the Buffalo Bills and the Houston Oilers, who earlier had been antistrike, and in the Bills' case antiunion, voted immediately and almost unanimously (85-1) against it.
October 5, 1975
But the players' militant anticontract vote was a bit misleading, too. Top people in the Players Association had made it clear that a vote against the contract was not a vote to strike. Some players may have wanted to strike, but most wanted to avoid such drastic action while expressing their displeasure with the new offer—and go on playing.
It's hard to blame them. A 15-day walkout in an ordinary industry might cost a worker a couple of weeks' wages; a similar strike in pro football could wipe out as many as three games, which means three-fourteenths, or more than 20%, of a player's annual salary. A long strike could take a lot of bread out of a short career. And the owners—despite Commissioner Pete Rozelle's protestations that "there will always be a need for a union" in pro football—don't need or even want a contract as long as games take place and tickets are sold. So the status quo continues—games being played, players being paid—with the sparring going on and on.
AND OUT IN RIGHT FIELD
Baseball isn't in the best of shape, either, on the labor front. (Can you remember when people talked about batting averages and last-minute field goals instead of contracts and negotiations?) Marvin Miller, who runs the Baseball Players' Association, says he is not at all optimistic about a new basic agreement being reached before the old one expires on Dec. 31. "We're getting nowhere," says Miller. "It is becoming perfectly clear that [the owners] want to create a crisis. Don't ask me why." He hints that the baseball owners have been watching the NFL owners and feel they can create splits in the baseball union similar to those that have appeared in football's.
"There's all the difference in the world between the two," Miller says. "If the baseball owners don't see it, that's too bad."
AND IN THE HOOP
You didn't think we would overlook pro basketball's labor news, did you? The situation is normal. "Negotiations have broken down," Coach Tom Heinsohn of the Boston Celtics said not long ago, "and there is no move to reopen talks. Very little has been said about a strike, but we may well have one."
What else is new?
AND BEYOND THE BLUE LINE
Labor disputes in hockey are somewhat different. They usually involve one laborer, a defenseman, say, belting another laborer, perhaps a winger, in the chops. Fighting on the ice has always been a part of hockey, but during the last few years, particularly with the spectacular success of the brawling, aggressive Philadelphia Flyers, it has gotten out of hand. After last season, you will recall, Dave Forbes of the Boston Bruins stood trial in Minneapolis for assaulting Henry Boucha of the Minnesota North Stars and he came to within a few votes on a hung jury of being convicted.
Now NHL President Clarence Campbell has lowered the boom. Last week he levied fines totaling $9,050 against players on four teams for brawling in exhibition games. In exhibition games, please note. And Campbell said further disciplinary action might be taken.
Why the sudden concern? Part of it certainly has to do with fear of more players being prosecuted, since hockey cannot afford to be hauled repeatedly into court on criminal charges. But there is probably another factor.
For a long while the NHL has given tacit approval to the mauling that so frequently stops action and leaves the ice littered with gloves, sticks, players and boredom. Presumably, the league, excited by the presence of television, decided that lots of fights would not be so bad—they would attract lots of TV viewers. But it did not work out that way. Indeed, NBC-TV has dropped its national coverage of the sport.
Perhaps what has happened is that hockey leaders have recognized at long last that the fierce, rough skill of their game is what appeals to the true sports fan, not unrestrained brutality.
Tennis balls began to change color about 20 years ago when a serious attempt was made to introduce yellow as a supplement to, if not a substitute for, white. "But we didn't have the correct brightness," says John J. Wall, an executive of Albany International Corp., the world's largest manufacturer of the felt that is used on tennis balls, "and the idea died after six months."
Albany International, which made enough felt last year to cover 100 million tennis balls, kept looking for some way to make tennis zingier—this was before brightly colored shirts and shorts were permitted on court—and about nine years ago came up with a new imported dyestuff that did the job. Now yellow tennis balls are all over the place, and a new orange ball is becoming popular, too. In time, Wall says, sales of the traditional white ball will diminish to only about 10% of the total market.
Albany has also experimented with blue and green, and a few years back produced a batch of fuchsia balls. "They sold for about two years," Wall says, "and that was that. The colors were not fluorescent enough. The ball didn't shine well."
Some players imbued with patriotic fervor have asked if a red-white-and-blue ball could be produced to mark the Bicentennial. "We made a red-and-blue ball with white seams some time ago," Wall says. "Demand wasn't much, but if the Bicentennial arouses interest in it we could easily turn it out again."
Think of the possibilities. In Davis Cup play, for instance, the U.S. could use the red-white-and-blue ball when it served, the Russians a solid red one, the Irish (do the Irish play tennis?) a bright green.
IT'S THE BERRIES
All right, put down the steak, forget the hamburger, knock off the veal. A vigorous action group called Un-Meat Sports of Akron has taken the bull by the horns and gone to the meat of the problem. Flesh and fowl are not the stuff athletes are made of, says Un-Meat; vegetables are. Meat-eating athletes have an average pulse rate of about 72, Un-Meat claims, vegetarians only 58. Tests at Loma Linda University in California reportedly showed that vegetarians had much greater endurance than meat eaters in running, lifting weights and so on. Vegetarians at Yale did three times as many deep knee bends as meat-eating Yale football players (Yale football players eat meat?). Un-Meat says vegetarian athletes include swimmers Johnny Weissmuller and Murray Rose, basketball players Bill Walton and Connie Hawkins, pro football Linebacker Ray May, major league Pitcher Bill Lee.
Look at the ox, says Un-Meat. Look at the elephant, the workhorse. All vegetarians and all strong as a, well, lion. Look at the great apes, eating fruit and berries and avoiding "dead flesh," as the vegetarians call it. And then look at meat eaters like lions and tigers. What they do most of the time is lie around in the sun digesting their meals.
Uh, hold it, Un-Meat. Maybe you'd better scratch that last argument. Not that we have anything against munching oats or picking berries, but lying around in the sun after a good meal doesn't sound all that bad.
VOLUNTEER AN ANSWER
Over the past 50 years, from 1925 through 1974, what college team has the best regular-season won-and-lost record? Notre Dame? Ohio State? Alabama? USC? Oklahoma? Close, all of them, but the best—believe it or not—is Tennessee. An NCAA report says the Vols (359 wins, 103 losses, 26 ties, a .762 win percentage) are just ahead of Alabama (358-105-23, .760) with Notre Dame (355-108-21, .755), Ohio State (308-110-22, .725), Oklahoma (333-125-27, .714) and USC (341-133-32, .706) trailing after.
Florida has a new tie-breaker rule for high school football. If two teams are tied after regulation play, a coin toss gives one possession of the ball at the 50-yard line and it runs a play. The other team takes over at the new line of scrimmage, and it runs a play. Then the first team gets the ball again, and so on, until each runs four plays. At that point the one that has pushed the ball into the other's territory is awarded one point and the game. If the ball is precisely on the 50, eight more plays are run off. If one team scores (touchdowns only; field-goal attempts are not allowed), the other starts again at the 50. Coaches generally despise the new rule and take pains to point out its weaknesses (in most cases a defensive player would be a fool to intercept a forward pass, for example).
Needless to say, the tie-breaker has caused a bit of confusion, but nothing to compare with what happened when two Miami high schools met in a close-fought game one night in the Orange Bowl. Coral Gables and Palmetto struggled to a 0-0 tie in regulation time. Enter the new "penetration" tie-breaker. Palmetto gained two yards. Coral Gables was held to no gain. Palmetto gained four more to the 44. Coral Gables' ball again. Quarterback Ed Angelo pitched out to Halfback Cyril Brown, who stopped suddenly, whirled and threw the ball back toward Angelo. And the lights went out.
Total chaos. The crowd of 5,800 lit matches and lighters and made torches out of programs. In the dim light from the stands the officials finally located Angelo—in the end zone with the football. "I scored," he said. Palmetto screamed. The officials ruled the play was dead when the lights went out. "We was robbed," Coral Gables moaned.
The lights did not come on again that night (a transformer and a cable had failed, causing fuses to pop all over the place) and resumption of the penetration—Coral Gables' ball on its own 44, five plays to go for both teams—had to be postponed until November. That should give critics of the rule almost enough time to marshal their calm, considered objections to it.
THEY SAID IT
•Howard Stevens, 5'5", 165-pound Baltimore Colt kick returner: "I'm not small, I'm short. If I were six feet, I'd weigh 220 pounds."
•Don Cherry, Boston Bruin coach, asked if he missed Bobby Orr, who underwent knee surgery: "I even miss him on the team bus."
•Gene Upshaw, Oakland Raider guard, after going against the Miami Dolphins' patched-up defense, which was minus Nick Buoniconti, Dick Anderson and Bill Stanfill: "I guess you can start calling it the No-Name Defense again."
•Alex Agase, Purdue football coach, to second-guessing fans: "If you really want to advise me, do it on Saturday afternoon between one and four o'clock. And you've got 25 seconds to do it, between plays. Not on Monday. I know the right thing to do on Monday."
•George Allen, the Washington Redskins' energetic coach, asked what ambitions he still had: "I want to coach a college team and a professional team at the same time."