BLUE LAWS & RED TAPE
You don't often hear of a world championship fight being held in Erie, Pa., but that's where Roberto Duran of Panama defended his lightweight title a couple of weeks ago against a local boy named Lou Bizzarro. The reason the fight was held in Erie—the reason it was held at all, since the courageous Bizzarro is really not in Duran's class—was because Bizzarro's manager, a local Datsun dealer named Lou Porreco, had a hunch his fighter could upset Duran. Porreco worked out an arrangement with big-time promoter Don King (King made some money on the fight, Porreco lost a bundle), got Duran and scheduled the bout for Sunday, May 23.
Then a complication developed. Two days before the bout a state athletic commissioner, Joseph L. Cimino, wired Erie that he had been advised that the state athletic code (part of Pennsylvania's antiquated blue laws) prohibited boxing matches on Sunday. Therefore, Cimino said, "I have no recourse but to stop the world championship fight scheduled on Sunday, May 23."
But no one in Erie wanted the fight stopped, especially Porreco, who felt it would be unfair to Bizzarro, and preparations for the bout continued. However, Duran and his retinue were waiting for a state commissioner to appear in order to sanction the fight and settle attendant details—the referee, the rules governing knockdowns and so on. Porreco stalled as long as he could. Finally an invented commissioner appeared on the scene. He was Porreco's ace salesman, Bill Stafford. "I figured it was a role that a used-car salesman could play," he explained.
June 6, 1976
Lest people in the Duran camp recognize him, Stafford doffed the toupee he usually wears and, using his outgoing personality and a smattering of double-talk, carried things off perfectly. The Duran side was happy—Luis Henriquez, Duran's U.S. representative, intimated later that he knew all along who Stafford was, saying, "It was unnecessary intrigue." Porreco was happy. And Bizzarro was happy—until the 14th round, when Duran knocked him out.
Basketball fans have been fuming, kind of, because of the way CBS-TV set the time of games in the Boston-Phoenix NBA finals to suit its broadcast schedules. Relax, friends, you can't fight city hall or the networks. Give in, as Lola suggests in Damn Yankees. TV can do anything. Franklin D. Roosevelt brought the wrath of the nation on his head back in 1939, when he switched Thanksgiving away from the last Thursday in November. TV could have done it and not lost a vote. You don't think so? Well, do you know that TV has switched Thanksgiving to Friday this year? In a press release announcing next autumn's college football schedule, ABC-TV says clearly that the Oklahoma-Nebraska and Penn State-Pittsburgh games will both be telecast on "Thanksgiving, Friday, Nov. 26." Hold the turkey, Ma.
DROPPING LIKE FLIES
Have you noticed what a difficult year this has been for defending champions? Jack Nicklaus never really had a shot at retaining his Masters title at Augusta during Ray Floyd's runaway victory. In college and pro basketball the 1975 winners—UCLA, Golden State and Kentucky—didn't even make it to the finals this year. In hockey the 1974-75 titleholders in the NHL and WHA, Philadelphia and Houston, were both routed in four straight. In baseball none of last year's divisional champions except Cincinnati, which was expected to run away with the pennant, is close to first place; Boston, Pittsburgh and Oakland are all well behind and look now as though they'll be watching on TV come October.
One exception to this trend was the Pittsburgh Steeler victory in the Super Bowl. But that was last January and really was part of the 1975 football season. Better keep an eye on them this fall. Muhammad Ali still has his crown, but it is distinctly tarnished. And he has that Japanese wrestler ahead of him.
Maybe it's better not to be a champion. In 14 seasons the Houston Astros have never come close to a World Series, yet this fall they will play in one. On TV.
During a couple of off-days late in July, the Astros will take part in the filming of a baseball movie, tentatively entitled The Best Four of Seven. The Astrodome will be decorated with bunting to create a World Series atmosphere, and about half a dozen players will have speaking parts. The finished film is supposed to go on the air on a Sunday night in October in the middle of the real World Series.
You may ask why Houston was cast in the obviously demanding role of pennant winner. Is it that the Astros have the look of champions, if not the experience? No, nothing like that. It's simply that for moviemakers, the Astrodome is an ideal studio. Plenty of lighting, for one thing, and no worry about delays because of bad weather. Some Houston fans, remembering the Astros' history of failure, have wondered what kind of a movie it will be. The producers reassured them. It's not going to be a comedy.
Bobby Richardson, the old New York Yankee second baseman who has been baseball coach at the University of South Carolina for the last six years, announced at the close of the regular season that he was going to run for Congress on the Republican ticket. Richardson was given a six-month leave of absence from the university but said he would stay with his team through the post-season NCAA championships. The Gamecocks, a national power in college baseball, were runners-up in the tournament last year.
But the NCAA playoffs were to be televised, and so politics reared its irritated head. Dan Fowler, chairman of the Democratic Party in South Carolina, declared, "Richardson is a political candidate. That puts him in an entirely different category from being a baseball coach." Fowler wrote to Carolina TV stations to point out that Congressman Ken Holland, the incumbent Democrat whose job Richardson is after, should be given equal time on TV to match what Richardson got during his team's games. "The exposure on the electronic media is awfully valuable politically," Fowler said. "It's instrumental as a part of American politics."
That got Republican Party Chairman Dan Ross into the act. "If Fowler wants to keep the South Carolina baseball team from playing on television," he said scornfully, "that's all right with me." One station announced cautiously that it would go ahead with the telecasts if South Carolina made it through the regional playoffs to the College World Series in Omaha, but would scrap plans to interview Coach Richardson and would "not mention his name except when necessary."
Because the regionals—in Columbia, S.C.—and the finals at Omaha are double-elimination tournaments that last for some time, the problem could have escalated with each South Carolina victory. However, Richardson's Gamecocks took care of the matter. In the regionals, after winning once, they lost 10-4 to Clemson and 12-1 to Furman and went home for the summer. And that's the way it was, 200 years from then.
DOCTORING THE NEWS
In an item that appeared here a few weeks ago Dr. Don Lannin, who watches over the Minnesota Vikings, came out against jogging. He said the "bang bang" of jogging was damaging to the hips.
Now another physician from Minnesota, Dr. Lowell Lutter, flatly rejects Dr. Lannin's theory. Lutter, an orthopedic surgeon and a marathon runner, did some research into jogging and hip deterioration. He found that the only report in medical literature covering the effect of running on the hip joint came from Finland, where X rays were taken of 74 distance runners who had been picking them up and laying them down for an average of 20 years each. The X rays showed evidence of osteoarthritis of the hip in 4% of the runners. X rays of 106 other men, who did not run but who were otherwise similar to the runners, showed hip deterioration in 8.7%. Dr. Lutter also consulted the American Medical Joggers Association, which supported the Finnish findings, declaring that there is no evidence that jogging causes hip deterioration.
WHAT'S HE DO?
College athletic directors taken with their own importance might ponder the following. Earlier this spring the University of Utah gave Athletic Director James R. (Bud) Jack a new assignment as assistant vice-president for athletic development. It asked Arnie Ferrin, former All-America basketball player at Utah, former general manager of the now-defunct Utah Stars of the ABA and present assistant vice-president for public service at the university, to fill in as acting athletic director. It promised that a nationwide search for a new athletic director would soon be undertaken.
Six weeks later the university announced the formation of a 10-member search committee. According to Dr. R. J. Snow, vice-president for university relations, the committee's first objective would be "to develop a job description."
Even though Muhammad Ali is the world's greatest publicist he has not been too successful thus far in drumming up interest in that match with the wrestler ("Come on, you guys, take this thing seriously"). But he could pick up a flood of ink if he suddenly insisted on a woman referee for the match. A woman? Isn't that a bit far-fetched, even for Ali? Not at all. There are several women referees in the U.S. The one we are particularly taken with is Mary Wismer, an 18-year-old freshman at East Stroudsburg State College in Pennsylvania. Mary became hooked on wrestling when her older brothers were competing for Wilson High in Easton, Pa., and she was helping out by washing the mats, keeping score and laundering uniforms. She was soon an expert observer and one day asked a coach, Ray Walters, about the possibility of becoming an official. "Mr. Walters thought it was a great idea," she says, "but I wasn't old enough then. You have to be 18."
But after she turned 18 in January she filled out an application from the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, took a three-week course in wrestling officiating at East Stroudsburg given by wrestling coach Clyde Witman, passed a written test with flying colors and received her card from the PIAA. A few things remain to be done before she is recognized as a full-fledged official—interviews, evaluation of her skills in actual matches—but she seems certain to be the youngest and maybe the prettiest referee in the sport.
Only 5'2" and 105 pounds, Mary was obliged to get on the mat and wrestle an opponent during the officiating course, even though she was the only woman among a dozen or so men. "Mr. Witman was worried when I had to wrestle," she says. "There was nobody there my weight. So I wrestled Robert Dalling, the assistant coach. He's skinny. I won, because of riding time [technical control of your opponent], but Mr. Dalling took it a mite easy on me."
THEY SAID IT
•Jerome Whitehead, Marquette basketball player, after a tour to Rio de Janeiro and S√£o Paulo: "It's an unbelievable situation when 25,000 people are booing you and throwing cups and garbage at you. It's like the whole country was Notre Dame."
•Lou Holtz, recently hired New York Jets coach: "We're building a house on Long Island. Yeah, that's pretty optimistic. It's a little like doing a crossword puzzle with a pen."
•Larry Hale, Houston defenseman, after the Aeros were routed in the WHA finals by Winnipeg, whose roster includes eight Swedes: "The first thing I'm going to do is burn my Volvo."
•J. C. Snead, pro golfer, on the gallery annoyance that bothers him the most: "Someone who jingles coins in his pocket. On a cold day especially. It's worse then because they all have their hands in their pockets. It sounds like the checkout counter at the Piggly Wiggly."