PLAYING REAL GAMES...
You can tell it's almost time for the pro football season to start: everyone is mad at everyone else.
The fans are disgusted with the preseason games in which they get the privilege of watching players perform today who get cut tomorrow. The players are mad at the coaches for making them practice too long in the sun and not letting them play enough in the games. And the owners are mad about all sorts of things—that the fans have the gall to boycott these meaningless summer contests; that players don't seem to try hard enough; and that everyone in their organization is spending too much money.
A lot of the problem is that exhibition games are inferior athletically and bombs financially. About 11,000 spectators showed up the other day to see Tampa Bay play Atlanta; fewer than that appeared in New York to watch the Jets play Oakland. There have been some large crowds, too. But not many.
August 29, 1976
The solution is obvious: instead of each NFL team playing six exhibitions and 14 regular-season games as they do now, make it two exhibitions and 18 regular-season contests.
Count the benefits: the season thankfully would not be lengthened; players would not run as much risk of preseason injury and, with increased revenues, their salaries could go up; fans would much prefer seeing real football and would attend in droves; owners would enjoy immensely seeing the seats filled; and the coaches would have the simple task of cutting away their unplayable talent quicker and playing for real sooner.
...AND SPENDING REAL MONEY
Speaking of disgruntled owners, here comes the New Orleans Saints' John Mecom Jr., who is getting tired of waiting every year for next year.
In a recent exhibition game, his club played terribly until the second half. But Mecom fumed, "Don't give me that stuff about playing a great second half. If that's the case, then we should have been counting only one half of each game for the last 10 years, which means we've been screwing up for only five years instead of 10."
Again, it's mostly the money thing that's irking Mecom, who says that even if his perenially lowly Saints (2-12 in 1975) sell out every home game, the team still will lose $1.3 million. Which is why free-spending new Coach Hank Strain erred when he spent $20,000 on extra goalposts for summer camp and $4,000 on a big TV for his office. Not to mention glow-in-the-dark parking signs for the players.
"Next year Mr. Stram will be on a concrete budget," says Mecom. "Anything he spends over that will have to come out of his own pocket. I had no idea it was going to be like this. I know what it's like going first class, but we've gone way beyond that." Plus, the boss grumps. Stram is going to have to get along better with the club's front office.
Mecom had one parting shot: "Let's don't paint a picture that we have any problems down here." Now, John, how could anyone get that impression?
So you always wanted to be a hockey player? Consider the cautionary tale of Doug Ferguson.
Ferguson was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1973 and was sent first to Richmond, then to the Philadelphia Firebirds of the North American Hockey League. After last season, Firebird Coach and General Manager Gregg Pilling heard the 23-year-old defenseman's plea for a $15,000 salary for 1976-77. Since Pilling thought Ferguson's talents were worth about $12,000, he sold Ferguson to the Maine Nordiques for $250.
Come summer, the NAHL had an intraleague draft, and Maine's general manager, Maurice Ducharme, did not include Ferguson among the 14 players he could protect. So Ferguson was drafted. By the Firebirds. Why? Says Pilling, "I like to have fun in my job, I knew Maine wanted him and I like to make money." Within five minutes after drafting Ferguson, Pilling rang up Ducharme. "You want Ferguson back?" he asked. "Sure," said Ducharme. And so Ducharme coughed up another $250. Why did Pilling do this to you, Mr. Ducharme? "Oh, for the money, I'm sure."
Now Maine has paid $250 twice for Ferguson, who has yet to lace his skates on behalf of the Nordiques. And how does Ferguson feel about all this? Fine, thanks, he's quitting. "Frankly," says the Barrie, Ontario man, who plans a new life this fall as a businessman, "I've had enough of pro hockey."
BE KIND TO SHARKS?
For people engaged in such a seemingly idyllic sport, fishermen certainly do find a lot to carp about. A current dispute is over techniques in sport fishing for sharks. Seems there is a school of thought that the shark ought to get a better break.
Because sharks don't exactly have an image as one of nature's nobler citizens, it's hard for most people to summon up much sympathy. But John Hearst Jr., in Motor Boating & Sailing magazine, writes, "People who have been fishing for sharks learn how stupid the animal is." So stupid, Hearst alleges, that the shark seldom even knows he has been hooked. "The dumb thing will follow a chum slick right up to the boat." At which time the shark is gaffed.
Hearst therefore suggests people shouldn't be allowed to chum a shark to such an unsporting death and says that the rules of the International Game Fish Association should be strengthened to protect the creatures. "The 'sport' in sport fishing," Hearst says, "implies that the fish has as good a chance of getting away as the angler has of catching it."
PILLS AND NEEDLES
The New York State Racing and Wagering Board has just released an "interim" report on the drug problem in horse racing. It weighs¾ of a pound. While it will no doubt prove worth its weight in helping the board decide what drugs can be given and still keep the game honest, those of us who admire thoroughbreds and standardbreds enough to put $2 or more on their noses can be glad that horses cannot read the report or discuss it among themselves.
The report openly admits that New York State and its cities and towns are feeling a financial crunch and look to racing as one way out. The report goes on to say that racing secretaries and trainers, facing up to expanded calendars that bring more revenue, will be hard put to supply "sound race horses to fill all cards unless certain approved therapeutic drugs are permitted." The drugs specifically in mind are Butazolidin, the pain reliever that cost Dancer's Image the 1968 Kentucky Derby, and Lasix, a diuretic that some say lowers blood pressure. In states that are more liberal in the use of Lasix, there is a "dramatic increase" in bleeders. Even in states with controlled use of Butazolidin, there is "an alarming increase" in breakdowns. Furthermore, the report finds the use of either drug can make the presence of other prohibited drugs harder to detect.
If a horse could read he would also find that on the sly by needle or pill he may be getting morphine, apomorphine, Numorphon, Leritive, Phendimetrazine, Chlorphentermine, cocaine, Aminophyllin and Diantin Sodium. It might be enough to make him think about taking up another game.
AS A PIGEON FLIES
A few weeks ago we told you of a trial flight of pigeons from the Empire State Building to the new Meadowlands Sports Complex in New Jersey. The idea was to show how close the new facility really is to Manhattan and, indeed, the fastest pigeon made it in less than six minutes.
So the other day, with harness racing scheduled to begin on Sept. 1, promoters called in all the press and all the pigeons for the official time trial. Eight of the 10 birds made the six-mile trip in almost a dead heat—one hour and 40 minutes. Two others were slower. Someone suggested that the wayward birds may have been mugged over Central Park; someone else said that a fun-loving pigeon never should be turned loose alone in New York City.
While the gimmick obviously failed to make its hoped-for point, one of the men who supplied the birds, Ralph Serpi, alibied, "Being that the pigeons are young, they fool around."
Despite hitting the off-season banquet circuit with its fare of greasy chicken and pasty potatoes, Minnesota Viking Offensive Guard Ed White reduced his weight from 288 pounds to 253. How?
Says White, "I'd sit there with my celery stalks and glass of water and the waiters always looked depressed. I had to tell everyone I was afraid of contracting Dunlap's disease." Dunlap's disease?
"It's a condition," White explains knowingly, "where your belly done laps over your belt."
By means of an experimental camouflaged infrared beaming device no bigger than a brick, the National Park Service and the Forest Service are now counting the visitors using their woody tracts to determine how many rangers are needed in each area. Just how the device distinguishes between a hiking Sierra Clubber, a wandering moose and a falling tree limb is not clear. In this dehumanizing day, when there is less distinction between real people and deadwood than there should be, perhaps it does not matter.
We are, after all, within a decade of 1984, the fateful year, as forecast by George Orwell, when a Big Brother will be watching everyone. If the Park and Forest Services continue on their present path, by 1984 they will probably have a refined device that can tell a man from a moose, and will have added a voice box to shout instructions to those of us who seek peace in the woods. "Dress up the column! Move it along!" the Voice will shout. "And you there, Second Class Scout Harold Werbley, you left your mess kit back at Station Four."
We dare the parksters and foresters to plant a counter near Walden Pond. Their good intentions notwithstanding, if the ghost of old Henry Thoreau is still around—and we pray God that it is—the evil eye would be smashed to absolute smithereens.
BOY BIKE BACK HOME
Sports reporters are born, not made, although some occasionally are taught how to spell. The Memphis Press-Scimitar recently ran an account of a bicycling incident by 11-year-old Harrel Epps Martin, who can leave future spelling problems to the copy desk to solve as long as he maintains his brisk, sensitive, fact-filled style. Here is Harrel's report:
"On last Thursday night I went to the store. Came back home. Put the Roadrunner on my porch. Went in the house to put down packet. Come back. The Roadrunner was gone. The Roadrunner my five-speed bicycle. I cryed and prayed.
"On Sunday I went to see my Grandmaw. On my way stop to talk with my Corsen Milkey. He ask where the Roadrunner. I said someone stole it. Milkey said my best friend told me he ripoff a bicycle on my street Thu night. I said lets check to see if mines. We went to the boy house. Yes indeed it was my bike only it was green instead of black. He painted it but I knowed it. Ask for it. He would not give it up.
"That brought my mother in it. She ask to see the bike. He said no. If it your bike why you afraid to show it, my mother said. Show me the peuper on the bike. He said he made the bike out of parts he found.
"My mother said OK I will call police. The boy said no no Miss dont call them. I have a record with the police. I will give you the bike. My mother said no, I dont want my son to have a bike that is not his. The boy pleased to mother dont call police. It is your son bike. Take it please.
"Now the Roadrunner is home again. Thank God."
THEY SAID IT
•Garry Maddox, Phillies centerfielder, when asked to describe his first grand slam homer: "As I remember, the bases were loaded."
•Elvin Bethea, Houston defensive end who is playing out his option at the automatic 10% cut in his $90,000 salary: "Anybody could live on $81,000."