An irritated follower of college football writes: "Who do you like to win the Academy Award in 1977? How about Jack Nicholson? He's performed well in the past, and he'll almost certainly be in a movie next year. How about a little support for Jack? What about the National Book Award? Here's a vote for Truman Capote, assuming he writes another book by then.
"Sound ridiculous? Sure, but that's the way we do things in football. Players are called All-Americas in August, before the season begins, and a select few are named as candidates for the Heisman Trophy before they have thrown a pass, avoided a tackier, scored a touchdown. Note that there is no reference to throwing a block, making a tackle or intercepting a pass—since the Heisman Trophy for the outstanding football player of the year is really limited to those who throw or carry the ball. Defensive players and offensive linemen, who make up 73% of those on the field, need not apply, even if the name is Joe Greene or Dick Butkus.
"Everything is so automatic, so cut-and-dried, so preplanned. Regular-season games are scheduled years in advance, with little chance of utilizing late-blooming rivalries. Bowl games are set up well before the season ends. In fact, this year the Orange Bowl Committee came out in September with a list of maybe a dozen teams, one of which it hoped would play the Big Eight champion (which automatically goes to the Orange Bowl) on New Year's night. Suppose the few teams named all have disastrous years? Or are final scores cut-and-dried, too?
"Why don't they go all the way? Why not name an official All-America team on Aug. 15, the Heisman Trophy winner on Aug. 31 and the bowl game match-ups on Sept. 15? Then publicity could be concentrated on the choices ('Bowl-bound State, with Heisman Trophy winner Footsy Swift and All-America Wide Receiver Sticky Fingers...'), while the rest of us sit back at inconsequential regular-season games and thrill to the splendid play of undesignated and unprepublicized heroes."
Although absolutely complete final receipts for the third war between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier (page 20) may never be disclosed, early returns from theater television indicate that Socko, as Variety might put it, is still Boffo. Of the 350 locations in the U.S. and Canada that showed the fight, three grossed more than a quarter of a million dollars, and most of the others did very well with ticket prices ranging from $10 in such places as Kalamazoo, Mich., to $35 in Anchorage, Alaska. Promoter Don King, who decided that the extravagant prices he had charged for earlier TV ventures had been ill-advised, cut theater prices for Fight III by 20% on the average. And he saw to it that people in most of the theaters had three hours of action on the screen, including a good preliminary bout as well as a karate match.
King, not a modest man, did have far too much of himself in evidence, notably during an interminable speech he gave before the main event, most of which was not heard because of the booing that accompanied it. King should worry. Along with the theater TV here and abroad, he also had the fight on home TV in France and Juneau, Alaska; on cable TV on a delayed basis; as a feature film the following day in a number of first-run movie houses; and on transcontinental airplane flights. And viewers at home will probably get to see the fight early next year on ABC-TV. Whatever the final figures, it seems possible that the ultimate gross may approach the estimated $18 million that the first Ali-Frazier fight drew. Not bad. Not bad at all.
A sports mascot is usually a tethered goat, a chained wildcat or something along that line, or else a hyperactive student in a lion costume who dances along the sideline. But the Cooper City (Fla.) High School football team, nicknamed the Cowboys, has departed from tradition by buying a pig, and the players have taken to calling themselves the Root Hogs, after a drill used during practice. The team, which consists mostly of farm boys, named the pig Big Red, outfitted him with a harness and a five-foot leash and have him on hand at every game.
"The pig psychs us up," says Don Wetz, defensive tackle. "We go over and touch it before running out on the field, and we all scream, 'Root Hogs! Oink, oink, oink! Snort, snort, snort!' "
At the end of the football season Big Red will be invited to the team banquet—where, the unsentimental players say, he will be served as the main course.
Newspaper, magazine, radio and television sports departments are plagued by phone calls at odd hours of the night—most often just before closing time in local bars—asking for information on one sports question or another to settle a bet. Hawaii, a latecomer to organized sport in the U.S., seems to have attained a special place of importance in this scheme of things. A phone rang late the other evening in the sports department of The Honolulu Advertiser. Ron DeLacy of the sports staff answered it.
"Listen," the caller said, "can you tell us who the player was that the Los Angeles Rams got several years ago when they gave up 11 players to the old Dallas Texans for one? It's to settle a bet."
"Wait a second," DeLacy said. As he searched through a file for the answer—it was Les Richter—he asked the man on the phone where he was calling from.
"Yeah," the man said. "We had to settle this argument but it's 3 a.m. here. We figured you were the only sports department still open."
Rugby Union is one of the roughest sports in the world, with injuries commonplace. No one was too surprised, therefore, to learn that Mike Blackburn, a hard-tackling London player, was out with a back injury. The only thing was, Blackburn did not get hurt in a game. A Roman Catholic priest, he slipped a disk while taking off his vestments after saying Mass.
Of the three noted baseball people who died within a few days of each other last week, Joan Payson, owner of the New York Mets, and Casey Stengel (page 41) had many friends and admirers in the game. Larry MacPhail did not—or, at any rate, his enemies and detractors were as many as his supporters. How else to explain MacPhail's absence from the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown? Amiable, friendly men who were not in MacPhail's class as a mover and shaker of the game are enshrined there, but the volatile, abrasive, often abusive Larry is not.
MacPhail introduced night baseball to the majors at Cincinnati in 1935 in the course of reviving a moribund ball club that had finished last four years in a row. He moved to Brooklyn in 1938, took the tattered, shattered Dodgers and built them into pennant winners and the most popular team in baseball. He brought night ball and daily radio broadcasts (by the incomparable Red Barber) to metropolitan New York over the vigorous protests of the stronger, better established Yankees and Giants. After World War II he came back to the game as part owner of the Yankees, put night ball into Yankee Stadium, broke the major league attendance record, won a pennant and a world championship—and quit.
His career was short and explosive, like his arguments with Leo Durocher, who got his first managerial job from MacPhail. Larry fired Leo and rehired him with regularity—later he was indirectly responsible for Durocher's suspension from baseball for a year—and he feuded with Branch Rickey, who had been his friend and patron. MacPhail's temper, his truculence, his vivid language, alienated a lot of people. Even so, his impact on baseball was enormous, and he should be in Cooperstown.
Around this time of year, when thoroughbred racing begins to run out of major events, followers of the sport like to scan the lists of 2-year-olds who have displayed some foot to see if they can come up with something that might do well in the 3-year-old classics next spring, particularly those horses that are named with grace or significance. Considering the times we live in, one has to like a colt named Tap the Line, by Sensitivo out of Call the Sheriff. And Love Tale, an evocative name since the filly is by Dusty Canyon out of Indian Heiress. There is also the sentimental Forty Nine Sunsets, by Sailor out of Her Ideal, and the sobering Bitter Taste, by Count the Green out of Hootenany Annie.
One of the best, bringing back as it does memories of youthful days at summer camp as well as the unforgettable races of the sire, is a Greentree Stable colt that won for the first time last week. By Tom Fool out of Sack Race, the youngster is named Snipe Hunt.
THEY SAID IT
•Jim Roberts, of the Montreal Canadiens, asked whether he realized he had scored three goals in eight exhibition games: "I don't keep track. Besides, it's three in seven."
•Billy Cunningham, Philadelphia 76ers forward, on preseason games: "The great thing about the exhibition season is that they don't make you shave on the day of a game."
•Brian Oldfield, world shotput record holder, on professional athletes who earn money openly and amateurs who earn it secretly: "There are the pros and cons of track."
•Roy Jefferson, Washington Redskins wide receiver, testifying before a Congressional hearing, on his $65,000-per-year salary: "People might consider me rich, but I consider myself poverty-stricken in many respects. When you make a lot of money, there is a lot of pressure to spend it."