BLOCK THAT HEAD
The head and the face, those seemingly inoffensive parts of the body, are under attack in football. Dr. Joseph Torg of Temple University, an orthopedic surgeon, wants to ban the use of the head as a weapon. Torg, who operates in the morning, teaches in the afternoon and runs Temple's center for sports medicine when he has time, is upset by the current rash of football injuries.
"From injuries this year," he says, "we have in this vicinity six young men who are quadriplegic, one killed and one with multiple fractures of the cervical spine. This is reprehensible. Yet when something like this happens, it's slipped under the rug, forgotten. The people responsible for the conduct of the game have the collective mentality of a herd of field oxen."
Torg complains bitterly about the use of the head in blocking, tackling and running with the ball. "The head must be taken out of the game," he says. "If that problem can't be solved, then the game is unacceptable. God gave us heads for thinking, not to be used as instruments of war."
The face—or really, the face mask—is also accused, critics claiming that it causes worse injuries than it prevents. It protects the mouth, the jaw and the nose, but it may be responsible for fatal or debilitating damage to the wearer's own neck and spine. Says Dave Nelson, athletic director of the University of Delaware, "Dr. Richard Schneider of Michigan recommends taking off the face mask. He claims that when we have a fatality or an extremely serious injury, it may come from a blow hitting the face guard and hyperextending the neck. If we did not have the face mask, I don't think we would have that problem."
The occasion was a figure-skating spectacular at New York's Madison Square Garden last week called Superskates II, a gala show designed primarily to raise funds to send U.S. athletes to the Olympic Games. Great Britain sent national champion John Curry to appear, and the Soviet Union contributed two of its top skaters, Ludmilla Belousova and her husband Oleg Protopopov, four-time world pair champions and twice Olympic gold medalists. There was a brief flurry of concern when U.S. and Soviet red tape tangled up travel arrangements for the couple; their visas finally came through only three days before the Protopopovs were scheduled to leave Moscow. However, they got to New York in time and skated as though there was no such thing as jet lag. It was détente in full flower.
On the other hand, Canada, where anti-U.S. feelings are burgeoning, frostily refused to send any of its skating stars to an event designed expressly to help American athletes. Maybe a little détente with our next-door neighbors is in order.
BENEFITS OF EXERCISE
Four convicts in a Sicilian prison kept themselves in shape by practicing the long jump, reports the Sunday Times of London. Prison guards beamed approvingly. The activity seemed to bolster morale and lessen complaining. Then the complaining came from officials. Because one day the four convicts, confident in their new-found skill, leaped a 12-foot gap between a roof inside the prison and a roof outside and blithely escaped.
The Houston Oilers' glorious revival—13 victories in 17 games over the past two seasons, after having lost 31 of their previous 34—was interrupted a week ago Monday night when the Pittsburgh Steelers beat them 32-9. If the Oilers had won they would have tied the Steelers for the lead in the AFC Central Division; the defeat thrust them back to third place, and last Sunday's loss to Cincinnati just about ended their chances to make the playoffs.
Now some cynics are suggesting that maybe the Oilers were better off when they were consistent losers, since some local fans reacted with bitterness to the decline. When Linebacker Gregg Bingham drove away from the Astrodome after the Pittsburgh game he heard an odd crunching noise. He got out to investigate and found that bottles had been placed under each of his tires.
Disgusted, Bingham drove home and there discovered that someone had driven a car back and forth across his previously well-manicured lawn, leaving a large portion of it a mass of ruts and gouges. "I guess nobody likes a loser," said Bingham. "At least, somebody doesn't. Maybe he lost a bet."
Maybe so, though losing bets has been a rare occurrence for fans of the Oilers who, winning or losing, had beaten the point spread 15 times in 19 games since October of last year. Used to winning, a loser broods. That same evening in Houston a carpenter was charged with the murder of his stepson. The carpenter allegedly had said the Oilers were no good, and the stepson had disagreed. Elsewhere, a woman found her husband, who had been watching the game on TV, dead of a gunshot wound.
BUFFALO √úBER ALLES
Bob McMahon of Philadelphia is an economics teacher who likes to mess around with sports statistics. Recently, he tried to figure out how well Philadelphia ranked with other cities in overall winning percentage and fan support. After poring over endless columns of figures covering pro football in 1974, major league baseball in 1975 and pro basketball and ice hockey in 1974-75, McMahon came up with the winner. Buffalo, so maligned in the past, emerged as the No. 1 sports city in the country in both categories—although it must be reported, sadly, that some recent fan inconstancy has led the owner of the NBA Braves to make noises about moving to Toronto.
Nonetheless, Buffalo was tops. McMahon's attendance figures are in percentages of stadium capacity, and Buffalo's 89.0% was better than Boston's 85.7%, with New York City and Los Angeles tied for a distant third at 73.2%. In performance, Buffalo's three pro teams had an overall winning percentage of .664, well ahead of Pittsburgh's .630. Boston was third at .607. Dead last in both categories was Atlanta (44%, and .383).
McMahon cautions that the figures are beset by variables. For instance, of the 18 cities studied, neither Buffalo nor Washington have franchises in major league baseball, which, because of its lengthy season, draws at a much lower percentage of capacity than football, basketball and hockey. Nor did McMahon include figures from the World Football League, the World Hockey Association or the American Basketball Association, sticking instead to the older, established circuits.
He split New York in two—the city itself (Yankees, Giants, Knicks, Rangers) and Long Island (Mets, Jets, Islanders)—and found that the city part had the best attendance in the country in relation to performance (73.2% of capacity watched teams play at a weak .427 rate). Oakland (A's, Raiders, Seals) was least supportive (a .581 winning percentage drew only 53.6% of capacity). As for McMahon's hometown, Philadelphia finished sixth in attendance and seventh in performance.
George Allen, whose Washington Redskins have been in three sudden-death overtimes this season and lost two of them, one after a highly questionable call on a touchdown pass, is against such tie breakers during the regular season. "Whatever I say now sounds like sour grapes," Allen declares, sounding like sour grapes, "but I've always voted against it. I think overtime should apply in playoffs, yes, but it's too much during the regular season. It doesn't help the game that much. There are some games where you hate for either team to lose because they both played so well."
Despite Allen's prejudice, the tiebreaker rule has helped the game, but a man is entitled to his opinions. And it should be pointed out that some highly memorable games were ties: the Pitt-Fordham battles in the 1930s, Army-Notre Dame in 1946, Harvard-Yale in 1968. We'll try to forget Michigan State-Notre Dame in 1966.
Just last week, as though to support this argument in favor of standoffs, a high school soccer game in Delaware ended in a tie, and all hands agreed it would have been a shame if it hadn't. Wilmington Christian School and Fairwinds Christian finished regulation play at 1-1. They went through two standard five-minute overtimes without scoring and then a five-minute sudden-death overtime the same way. They went through another sudden-death, and another. And then a fifth overtime, a sixth, a seventh, all the way to 12. Finally, after three hours of soccer, the game, still 1-1, was called and the two schools became co-champions of the Christian League.
Said Fairwinds Coach Tom Smith, "We decided we had proved to be each other's equal. A tie was a good way to end it. We didn't want somebody to win on a lucky shot after all that."
You can almost hear George Allen saying, "Amen."
CALL HIM HENRY
The name of the first prime minister of the newly independent South American republic of Surinam is Henck Arron.
ODD MAN OUT
Sonny Randle, who was fired last week at the end of his second season as head coach at Virginia, was grievously miscast as football warden at his old school. Randle felt his players should be totally committed to the game. His practices were long and hard. He had strict rules governing the team's appearance and behavior away from football. He was upset when he learned that squad members were going to parties; he felt that defeat—his team had many—should leave the players chagrined and with nothing on their minds but a determination to win next time.
"There were certain ideas here that Coach Randle just didn't fit in with," says Tom Fadden, one of the few players who appeared to get along well with the coach. "His basic philosophy conflicted with Virginia's philosophy."
Academic accomplishment and social activity are more important at Virginia than football success. For instance, the 1975 football program contains articles dealing with William Faulkner and Marcel Proust, and drinking during games often takes precedence over such things as paying attention to cheerleaders. Unless, perhaps, the cheer is one described in the football program as going: "Part-y Woo! Part-y Woo! P is for party, A is for all night long, R is for right now, T is for take it slow, Y is for why not. Part-y!"
In this environment, says one player, "Randle's methods came as a surprise. There was a lot more intimidation than people expected." Fadden says, "A lot of people here couldn't accept that. They took it personally."
Randle's record, 4-7 in 1974, his first year as coach, sagged to 1-10 this season, and the team lost four of its games by scores of 66-21, 61-10, 37-0 and 62-24. There were other factors, too, but the final loss, to Maryland, was the coup de gr√¢ce. Even though his contract had three years to run, Sonny was through.
The question then arose: Who would Virginia get to take his place? Who would want the job on a campus that has had 22 losing seasons in the past 23 years? One player says, without conscious irony, "It should be someone who realizes the things you have to avoid to coach football at Virginia."
THEY SAID IT
•Richard Gerstein, Dade County, Fla. State's Attorney, speaking to jockeys at Calder Race Course on the subject of race fixing: "An attempt to influence a rider into fixing the outcome of a horse race won't come from a stranger in a trench coat who looks like he's just stepped out of a Humphrey Bogart movie. It's more likely to come from some person that you know."
•David Dudley, Texas Tech center who was sidelined with injuries for four games, on how much he is missed: "I was really sort of the anchor of the line. When I was gone our offense averaged only 490 yards per game."
•Donald Schupak, co-owner of the Spirits of St. Louis, after 1,144 fans attended a basketball game in the 18,000-seat St. Louis Arena: "You'd think that many people would have come in just to get out of the rain."