Despite a staggering assortment of hurdles and handicaps, the Montreal Olympics went off as scheduled; despite the absence of athletes from 25 nations, it was a spellbinding feast of extraordinary sporting performances.
Many of the problems exposed in Montreal remain to be overcome before 1980's Games in Moscow. We have—all of us—four long years to solve those problems. If we do not waste time in recriminations, there is no reason to fret that they cannot be solved. Let's get to work on them.
THE MAIN SQUEEZE
August 8, 1976
Bruce Jenner and Sugar Ray Leonard have yet to be counted, but O. J. Simpson is the current No. 1 national hero, if we are to believe the kids. And that generally is quite good procedure in things of this nature.
For its August issue, Ladies' Home Journal surveyed several hundred students in grades five through 12, presenting the youngsters with a checklist of people in all walks, talks and runs of life. Simpson was rated tops in hero qualities by both the boys and girls. He was way ahead of porno star Linda Lovelace, which may be construed as encouraging by sociologists concerned with trends. Or as proof that the kids' fathers didn't vote. Other sports figures in the first 10 were Chris Evert, sixth; Billie Jean King, eighth; Joe Namath, 10th. Ali was 15th and Abdul-Jabbar 32nd.
Demonstrating how big a star O.J. is, he has appeared in an advertisement that starts off, "If I played baseball I'd wear Spot-bilt spikes." Then, to build our confidence, he says, "And I almost did choose baseball over football." Since athletes have been known to endorse products they didn't privately swear by at all, this candor is perhaps refreshing.
But why would we go out and buy baseball shoes recommended by a football player? Hero worship, of course, a condition that often causes our hearts to overrule our heads. But not all heads, apparently. Sadly, one of the 12-year-olds surveyed by the Journal asked, "Who can have heroes? They're just like us."
PUNTERS AND PIGEONS
Promoters extolling the alleged wonders of the new 588-acre Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, N.J.—which, among a variety of uses, will be the home of the New York Giants and site of frequent horse racing (starting Sept. 1 it becomes the metropolitan area's third harness-racing operation)—keep trying to convince dubious New Yorkers how close it really is to the Big Apple.
To this end, Sonny Werblin and Jack Krumpe, the wheels under the project, will release about 10 pigeons on Aug. 17 from the top of the Empire State Building for a flight to Meadowlands. In a test the other day, the fastest pigeon made it in five minutes, 40 seconds.
For humans who might have qualms about jumping off the Empire State Building, trying to flap their way across the Hudson and letting down in the erstwhile Jersey swamp, the six-mile drive from midtown Manhattan will take about 20 minutes. In traffic? That's when you'll wish you were a pigeon.
LUNCH WITH WOODY
What was billed as the Big Ten's annual Kickoff Luncheon in Chicago last week turned out to be Woody Hayes' annual Blast-off Tirade. It was far more entertaining than listening to coaches ramble on about who would start at left tackle.
Hear Hayes as he got going: "...and let me say in front of every coach sitting here, if I catch any of you cheating, I'll turn you in. Did I turn in the team [Michigan State] that cheated in our league? I turned them in. Damned right I did! And I'll do it again if necessary. Because this is about all we've got left in this country—the integrity of our sport."
His reference was to the three-year probation handed Michigan State for recruiting violations, an episode that brought down the coach and athletic director. NCAA officials say they could not recall another time when a school had publicly admitted that it snitched on another. Through all this, Michigan State's new coach, Darryl Rogers, sat as composedly as he could. He later commented, "I've never been to Columbus and I've just met Woody Hayes and I don't think I'm going to like either one."
Hayes went off to a press conference at which the sports editor of the Michigan State student newspaper, Ed Ronders, notified Woody that the paper was going to publish a story this week on alleged football illegalities at Ohio State. Hayes exploded and chased Ronders across the room; Ronders, faster in the sprint, eluded him.
Bob Page of Detroit radio station WJR then stopped by to ask Hayes his gut reaction to Rogers' comments. Woody proceeded, Page says, to smack the radioman atop the forehead with the fat of his hand. At which time reporters started saying they thought they had better amble on back to their offices and thanks-very-much-Woody.
Ohio State opens its season Sept. 11 in Columbus—against Michigan State.
Although some new passenger cars are being sold without spare tires because of the more than three-month-old strike at the major tire companies, auto racing is just beginning to be affected. During Prohibition the big drinkers had plenty of booze, too.
But now the strike is starting to tread on racing, especially stock-car racing, in which a 500-mile event uses up to 500 handmade tires. It is making for an unfair situation, because the guys who have access to plenty of tires are the guys who are going to win.
Drivers short on tires almost certainly will start stretching them out for precious extra laps, not just on the superspeed-ways but on the hundreds of short tracks when the crunch is really being felt. That spells trouble.
SAMARITAN AT SEA?
As the little old lady said after being helped across the street, "It was fine, except I didn't want to go across the street." That is sort of what happened the other day to a sailor from Annapolis, John H. Kelbaugh.
Seems he and a buddy were enjoying the briny on Kelbaugh's 28-foot Triton sloop some 300 miles northwest of Bermuda when they spotted a Dominican Republic minesweeper. Because sailors always are checking out where they are, just as baseball players always are knocking imaginary dirt from their cleats, Kelbaugh signaled the ship.
But the Spanish-speaking crew mistook the routine query for a message of distress and hastened toward the sloop. Kelbaugh tried to indicate that there was no trouble, repeat no trouble, repeat...at which time the minesweeper got a bit too close in its daring rescue attempt, bashing the sloop and causing the fore-stay to snap.
Kelbaugh, now frantically trying to make it clear there was no trouble, repeat no trouble, was horror-stricken to see the minesweeper back off, then return for another attempt. But again it smacked the boat, damaging it so much that the mast had to be cut free.
Now there was trouble. And the Dominicans knew it. So they took the sloop in tow, allowed Kelbaugh and his friend aboard their ship and started toward land. The towline broke.
At which time the Dominican crew said something in Spanish approximating, "Oh, the heck with it." Then they refused to go back for the sailboat since they had places to go and people to meet and couldn't afford to dally any longer. Kelbaugh last saw his $16,000 boat drifting, drifting over the horizon.
Now Kelbaugh wants money and he has contacted his Congresswoman, Marjorie Holt. Rep. Holt is asking the State Department and the Attorney General for help; Kelbaugh refuses to discuss the incident (details were provided by Marjorie Crain, Holt's executive assistant). Of course, there's a simple moral for sailors everywhere: don't ever, ever mess with warships.
For those of us who have trouble saying no gracefully, we can go to school at the knee of Muhammad Ali.
Seems that George Lord of Eau Claire, Mich. was in charge of a cherry-pit spitting contest and he wanted Ali to enter. Sorry, said an Ali aide, but while the champ would like to be in the spit-off, it would be against his religion. An "unclean activity," the aide explained.
A MATTER OF TASTE
In lovableness, the piranha ranks on a par with a cornered porcupine and a stick in the eye. Piranhas have absolutely no redeeming social characteristics: they ravage other fish, eat people and even cannibalize one another.
Small wonder, then, that the Florida fish and game folks were exercised when they discovered that 150 red-bellied piranhas had been imported into the state; by law they are prohibited.
By last weekend nearly all the two-inch fish had been recovered, including many of those which had been sent on to other states. Lieut. Colonel Brantley Goodson, chief of law enforcement for Florida's Game and Fresh Water Commission, says his people are getting close to identifying the outlaw importer, and the operator of one fishery that sold the piranhas already has been charged.
Ironically, the motivation for selling piranhas is not big profit. Rather, Good-son explains, what happens is that fish suppliers, mostly South American, find they cannot supply enough of the harmless red pacu, which the piranha resembles. So they fill out orders with piranhas, which sell for about $2 apiece.
Goodson says that about 30 million ornamental fish pass into his state each year through Miami and Tampa; another 60 million are produced in Florida. Monitoring, therefore, is difficult. And there are those anxious to skirt the law because they consider the piranha a novelty pet item, like, say, the electric catfish or a tiger cub. A piranha in an aquarium obviously causes great excitement.
Steve Robertson of Columbia, Mo. was shipped a dozen of the piranhas, and he says that if you couldn't tell what they were, there were clues: "When they chewed each other up, we were pretty sure they weren't vegetarians."
THE ART OF LOSING
Sports information directors at colleges and universities are paid to attract media attention to their school's athletic teams, which in turn will encourage ticket sales. For winners, easy. For losers? Meet innovative Kevin DeMarrais, Columbia's SID.
Columbia has been strong over the years—in fencing, recently in baseball. But in the two sports that count when it comes to revenue, football and basketball, Columbia spells calamity. In DeMarrais' nine football seasons the Lions have been losers for eight; of the last five basketball seasons, losers all.
So DeMarrais has these hints to help other losing SIDs survive: 1) Play as many games as possible on the road. 2) An interesting angle can obscure the facts. "If you have a 5'6" left-handed Chinese quarterback, nobody cares if he can throw or not," DeMarrais observes.
He says it used to be O.K. when Columbia lost a lot because New York had plenty of winners; nobody noticed his school. But recently, he points out, "the Giants, Jets and Knicks have failed as miserably as we have."
This year things are looking up at Columbia. Honest. Basketball will be a sure winner, DeMarrais predicts; football, maybe. So he is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel? "Right," says DeMarrais. "Hopefully it won't be the headlights of an oncoming truck."
THEY SAID IT
•Fred Casotti, Colorado's assistant athletic director, asked if the football team joined in a pregame prayer: "No, we've got so many things to pray for we'd get penalized 15 yards for delaying the start of the game."
•Jimmy Connors, on the difference between Ilie Nastase and Arthur Ashe as a doubles partner: "Nastase calls me an s.o.b. every time I miss a shot. Arthur says, 'Come on, Jimmy.' I don't know if I can adjust."
•Richard Kneip, South Dakota governor, on receiving a racing helmet signed by Indy winner Johnny Rutherford: "Many of my constituents already believe I do little but lead the state around in large circles at dangerous speeds."