The Philadelphia Flyers squelched the Russian Central Army hockey team with a combination of highly sophisticated defense, opportunistic offense and sheer physical intimidation. The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Dallas Cowboys in much the same way. Ignorant admirers of these championship teams tend to think of their force and violence as the only things to emulate, not their sometimes exquisite skills.
This reverence for plain brute strength has become widespread, and not just in football and hockey. Grace and coordination, the hallmarks of the superior athlete, are too often subordinated.
It is therefore satisfying to report that an effort to reverse this trend, at least in college football, appeared last week when the NCAA's football rules committee adopted stricter rules against "spearing" an opponent with the helmet and more stringent penalties against roughing the passer. Theoretically, a defensive player cannot charge into a passer after he is out of the play, but the question of when he is out of the play is up to the officials to determine. Contact after the ball is thrown is condoned so long as it is a continuation of a legitimate effort to get to the passer, but too often the defense takes liberties with that license and gets away with it. On TV, for instance, you will see a quarterback face the rush of defensive linemen and throw the ball before they quite reach him. The cameras switch downfield to the intended receiver and defensive backs racing for the pass. And then, so many times, the cameras return for a shot of the quarterback struggling to his feet as the announcer chortles, "Boy, did Choptank unload on Flipper that time!"
February 2, 1976
The Choptanks of football are seldom penalized for this and (before the new rule) almost never if the pass is completed, because the completed pass is usually worth more in yardage than the penalty from the line of scrimmage. Next season, however, the 15-yard penalty for taking the passer apart will be measured from the point the play reaches. On a touchdown the penalty will be imposed on the subsequent kickoff.
It isn't total protection for the passer, but it does call attention to the problem and may serve to deter uninhibited aggression by the defense. It will also remind officials to keep a closer eye on the situation.
In any case, score one for the good guys.
Basketball, too, was told last week to knock off its tendency to resort to the purely physical. John P. Nucatola, the NBA's supervisor of officials, sent a memo to his referees, with copies to coaches and general managers, telling them to crack down on hand-checking. Hand-checking is not in the same class with walking up and down on a quarterback's chest, but it does introduce deliberate physical control of an opponent to a sport that technically does not permit such action. NBA rules do allow some hand contact between defensive and offensive player, but a foul is called if an official feels the defender is actually restraining his opponent.
Obviously, there is a fine line between touching and restraining, and Nucatola's memo came down strongly on the side of strict interpretation. "Hand-checking must be stopped," the memo read. "It leads to pushing, pushing leads to shoving, shoving leads to elbowing or more violent retaliation. Stop it and stop it now. I don't care if you have to call 100 fouls in a game. If they are there, call them. We must prevent any action which may lead to a rough game...."
Some coaches and players expressed astonishment, even indignation, at the memo, but Nucatola's views remained unchanged. "Under our rules," he says, "a defensive player is allowed 'tactile contact.' I've been trying to get that rule off the books for years. The college rule is clear against contact. Why can't the NBA play the same way? And I don't think it will mean more fouls. The players won't need two games to adjust. They'll need about two plays."
A list of some of the Lion of Flanders' opponents has come to light. The Lion, you will recall, is Jean-Pierre Coopman, against whom Muhammad Ali will risk (so to speak) his heavyweight crown in Puerto Rico Feb. 20. The Lion has already devoured Bernard August, Ermelino Finotti, Ferenc Kristofczack, Kilani Ramdani, Horst Lang, Siegfried Ackers and Liffoko Abibobele. It might be pointed out that Muhammad Ali has beaten none of these.
Unfortunately, the Lion's record is not pristine. He has lost decisions to Rudi Lubbers and Harald Skog and was knocked out by Ireno Werleman. Ali, skulking off to Africa and the Philippines to meet Foremans and Fraziers, has fought Rudi but has yet to confront Harald and Ireno.
AIDING THE ENEMY
One of the oldest college football rivalries is that between Williams and Amherst in Massachusetts. Alumni from the two "Little Ivy" schools are often close friends, and bets among them on the outcome of the big game are common. Williams, which has dominated the competition in recent years, whomped Amherst this past autumn 25-6, and sometime later the Williams alumni office received the following from an Amherst graduate:
"Enclosed, for the fourth tedious year, is my check for $25 to the Williams Alumni Fund. This is getting so regular that I am sunk in gloom at the thought some running back in this year's game may have been partially subsidized by me."
SAY IT WITH FLOWERS
Even among Ilie Nastase's volatile tennis adventures, last week's $60,000 WCT-Atlanta Phoenix Cup matches had to be something special. During a quarterfinal match Nastase had words with Chair Umpire Natalie Cohen. Miss Cohen, one of the few women ever to umpire a men's tournament, was later quoted as saying Nastase's on-court antics cost other players money. The Rumanian star took exception to the remark and was upset to hear that Miss Cohen was scheduled to umpire the finals.
"I don't play if lady umpires," he declared. "I go to movies and have a few beers. I lose maybe $17,000 [the winner's purse] but I don't play if lady umpires. She is one of officials. They can't say things she said in newspapers. She thinks she is good woman. But I don't think she can say these things."
Miss Cohen replied, "I am the umpire for the finals. It was set 10 days ago. Beyond that I have no comment."
Things appeared to be at an impasse, but Nastase's agent, Mark McCormack, hurriedly sent an associate, Bud Stanner, to help tournament officials soothe the ruffled Nastase and solve the problem. A few seconds before the final match was to begin, Nastase and Miss Cohen came on court together. Miss Cohen took a microphone and Nastase knelt in front of her. She handed him a sheet of paper and he held it up for her to read.
"Mr. Nastase," she said over the microphone, "I offer my apologies for any misunderstanding we may have had regarding any comments attributed to me. My position as an umpire is to conduct each match in a manner fair to all players involved. I have done so for the past 35 years and always will. I look forward to an excellent final singles match." She handed Nastase four slightly wilted carnations. He accepted them.
Nastase then routed Jeff Borowiak 6-2, 6-4 to win the tournament, after which he presented Miss Cohen with a bouquet of flowers and kissed her. Said Stanner, "He was really upset by this. He's trying to build a new image."
The new image lasted all of three or four days. Then, in the $50,000 Baltimore International at Catonsville, Md., Nastase complained about Lineswoman Grace Gardner, got her removed from the match, shouted at other officials, screamed at the crowd and cursed in both Rumanian and English. This time there were no flowers.
A YEN FOR LEO
Now that the Japanese have offered to pay Leo Durocher a substantial portion of the treasures of the Orient to manage a team this year—the assumption being that the Durocher genius will bring his team untold success—it is time to ask how well other Americans have done on the far shores of the Pacific.
The answer is: not so hot. Japanese visitors to baseball meetings in the U.S. this winter indicated a distinct disappointment with the players they have so far received. A newsletter about Japanese baseball says one of the biggest flops was Dave Johnson, who so recently starred at second base for Baltimore and Atlanta. Johnson, who tied the major league record for most home runs by a second baseman (42) when he played for Atlanta in 1973, batted .197 in Japan and drew unwelcome attention by striking out eight times in a row, something no Japanese batter had ever done.
Marty Kuehnert, who represents a Japanese sporting goods manufacturer, says part of the trouble may be that baseball in Japan is now better than Triple-A ball in the U.S. and only a step below American major league standards.
"American players who go over to Japan can't believe that," Kuehnert says. "Most of them are in terrible shape, and a lot can't make the adjustment. They have trouble socially, they don't like the food, they can't understand the language." Only Gail Hopkins, Roger Repoz and Bobby Marcano, hardly household names in the U.S., have really come through in Japan.
But now there may be Leo. He's 70, and the fires in his soul may be banked by time. Even so, he could be the most significant visitor to Japan since Matthew Perry. Shake 'em up, Leo. Banzai!
While Pittsburgh Steeler fans bask in the glow of a second straight Super Bowl victory, Chicago Bear fans mutter in discontent. "Look," a Bear fan will tell you, "in 1969 the Bears had a 1-13 record. So did the Steelers. Look at them now and look at us. And then go look at the players they've drafted since 1969 that we could have drafted."
Because the Bears and Steelers had the worst records in the NFL in 1969, they flipped a coin to see which would get to pick first in the postseason draft. The Steelers won and selected Terry Bradshaw. Chicago traded the No. 2 pick and its right to pick first in the second round. The players the Bears received in return did little to revive the once mighty Monsters of the Midway. Pittsburgh continued to draft and found Ron Shanklin and Mel Blount.
In 1971 the Bears drafted heavily but were trumped every time. They took Joe Moore in the first round, Jim Harrison in the second; the Steelers got Jack Ham in the second. The Bears took Charlie Ford, Tony McGee and Bob Newton; the Steelers then selected Gerry Mullins. The Bears took Jerry Moore; the Steelers followed with Dwight White and Larry Brown. The Bears went for Les McClain and Larry Rowden; the Steelers picked up Mike Wagner.
In 1972 the Bears had two draft choices in the first round; they took Lionel Antoine and Craig demons. The Steelers, picking later, got Franco Harris. And on round two they selected Gordie Gravelle.
In 1974 the Bears went for Waymond Bryant and Dave Gallagher in the first round, both good players; but the Steelers, drafting later, selected Lynn Swann and in the second round chose Jack Lambert. Later, after the Bears came up with Wayne Wheeler, Greg Horton and Clifton Taylor, the Steelers selected John Stallworth.
It can't all be luck.
Part of the Steeler success in the draft is supposed to be the club's penchant for choosing the best available athlete, regardless of what position he plays. Whether this is actually the way the front office approaches the problem is not known for sure, but how about this for evidence: Bradshaw, as a high school javelin thrower, set a national scholastic record of 244'11". Swann, as a high school long jumper, won the California state championship by beating out James McAlister, who later at UCLA jumped better than 27 feet, and Randy Williams, who in 1972 won the long jump gold medal at the Munich Olympics.
And, to finish with the Steelers and their successes, the Los Angeles Times wonders if Swann has set a record for successive bowl appearances. He was in the Rose Bowl (with USC) in 1973 and 1974 and in the Super Bowl in 1975 and 1976.
THEY SAID IT
•Chris McCarron, champion jockey, idled by an injury: "I've gained a pound and a half. I consider that getting fat."
•Bob Hope, pondering an off-fairway shot during the Phoenix Open Pro-Am: "I'd give up this game if I didn't have so many sweaters."
•Homer Rice, on being named head football coach at Rice: "When they said they'd name their stadium after me, I couldn't turn it down."