OLD KICKERS NEVER DIE...
George Blanda left the Oakland Raiders' camp one day last week while the team was practicing. He simply packed his bag, carried it to his car and drove away without so much as a goodby wave to 26 years of professional football. The Raiders didn't bother to announce his departure, and there were no plans for a retirement banquet or any formal farewells—George Blanda was simply out of a job.
Only weeks short of his 49th birthday, he is the oldest man ever to play in the NFL and its leading scorer (2,002 points), a legend if not an idol, a gruff and stubborn Methuselah who refused to resign voluntarily as the Raiders wanted him to do. He went home to La Grange Park, Ill. to play golf and wait to see if any other team might pick up his option. "They'd be nuts if they did," he snorted, referring to his $90,000 contract, "but if somebody is crazy enough to pick me up, I'll decide then."
It had been clear for a couple of years that Blanda could no longer kick consistently for distance, and this season it was plain that the Raiders were not about to keep him on merely as a fifth-string quarterback. They did not even let him kick once in exhibition games. His replacement is a rookie, a 23-year-old left-footed soccer-style kicker from Germany (and Boston College) named Fred Steinfort. When Blanda was asked about Steinfort, he replied acidly, "What was it Norm Van Brocklin always said—that the immigration laws ought to be tightened?" Blanda had never said hello to Steinfort in camp this summer.
September 5, 1976
So there was acrimony in the old man's departure and that was a shame, but George Blanda was never anything but tough, never one to bathe himself in sentiment. Last week he spoke with characteristic bluntness: "I'm not melancholy about leaving, just a little frustrated that they kept me around six weeks doing nothing and not even telling me. I learned a long time ago that you only have a few friends in this world—your wife and family and a very few friends."
IN HER MAJESTY'S SERVICE
One of the stipulations the city of Edmonton, Alberta agreed to when it bid for the 1978 Commonwealth Games was that it would provide a special royal convenience adjacent to the royal box from which Queen Elizabeth would view the competitions. This seemed reasonable enough, but when the plans for the royal loo in the new stadium were recently made public, they threw the Edmonton city council into a full afternoon of hot debate.
The blueprints called for a facility in a room of fully 550 square feet, to be built at a cost of $50,000. Alderman Ed Leger accused the games' organizers of having "a Montreal Olympic complex." He sneered, "Fifty thousand for a biffy! They have to be out of their bloody minds, unless they can charge admission later to look at the Folly of Edmonton." He suggested that draping a bit of gold braid around an ordinary w.c. should be quite sufficient. Alderman David Lead-beater replied that $10,000 was more than enough, and he cried out, "We're not a colony anymore, you know!"
True enough. But the roots of Empire run deep indeed and, once the shouting was over, the Queen's loyal subjects overcame the antiroyalists and voted to provide the $50,000 facility for Her Majesty's throne-away-from-home.
NEW WORLD ORDER
The success of U.S. and Cuban boxers in the Montreal Olympics has led to an unusually candid—and uncommonly self-critical—appraisal of the new order of dominance in amateur boxing by none other than a former Russian boxing champion, Gleb Tolstikov.
Writing for the official news agency Tass, Tolstikov said bluntly, "The sportsmen of the U.S.S.R., the German Democratic Republic and Poland are living through a certain crisis. Whereas the Europeans conducted their bouts in a calm manner, relying on their superiority in technique, the American and Cuban sportsmen demonstrated a very fast style without detriment to their technical skills.
"They would suddenly go into their highest gear and deliver a large number of accurate and hard blows. It can be said that today the boxing world is led by the schools of Cuba and the United States."
If such candor catches on in official Soviet circles, Tass may soon stun the world by announcing that the Russians did not really invent the telephone, telegraph, radio, roller skates, penicillin, etc., etc., after all.
DOWN AND OUT IN CORPUS CHRISTI
The Seguin (Texas) Toros play in the Class A Gulf States League, and like many minor league teams they are suffering from a grave case of the financial shorts. Not long ago the Seguin management ruled that in order to save food and lodging expenses the team would have to return home after each game of a three-game series in Corpus Christi. The first night the Toros played, lost, boarded a bus and rode the 165 miles home. The next day they made the 165-mile return trip to Corpus Christi, played another night game, lost again.
The bus arrived for the run home to Seguin. Now the players muttered, growled and finally threatened mutiny if they had to make the trip again. They told the club owner they would rather sleep on the beach in Corpus Christi than suffer through the bus ride again. He agreed to let them. The next night the exhausted beachcombers played once more—and lost once more, their 13th consecutive defeat.
HOME SWEET HOME
A couple of weeks ago Minnesota Twins Manager Gene Mauch was asked what value he placed on hometown rooters, and he scoffed, "It's almost an indictment of a team to say that outside stimulation like a cheering crowd has an effect on a club's performance. I've never put any great emphasis on that as a factor in athletic performance." Now Mauch is as intelligent and resourceful as most anyone in major league sports. But here, it would seem, he is probably dead wrong.
In an article to be published in Social Forces, a journal of sociology, two professors beg to differ with the likes of Mauch, and they have assembled a dazzling array of statistics, tables, theories and $4 phraseology to prove they are right. Barry Schwartz of the University of Chicago and Stephen F. Barsky of Temple begin their treatise by quoting from the preeminent sociologist Émile Durkheim, who wrote, "In the midst of an assembly animated by a common passion, we become susceptible of acts and sentiments of which we are incapable when reduced to our own forces." In defining the scope of their own survey, Schwartz-Barsky write, "At specific issue, then, is not the mere presence but the magnitude and comparative importance of the effects which are so well celebrated in Durkheimian theory, namely, the invigorating influence of supportive social congregation." In other words, do teams win more often at home, and why?
To get the answer, Schwartz-Barsky examined the results of 5,000 games in different sports—major league baseball (1,880), professional football (182), college football (910), college basketball (1,486) and professional hockey (542). They found that the home advantage was a decisive factor in all sports, but that it varied greatly by sport. Baseball teams were least inspired by familiar surroundings, winning 53% of their home games. Pro football teams won 58%, college football teams 60%. The figure for hockey was amazing: NHL teams won 64% of their home games. As for college basketball, the sociologists had a complex sample involving teams in the Philadelphia area from 1952 to 1966. These teams won 82% of their home games compared to 58% of their away games.
Putting all this together, Schwartz-Barsky flatly state that their study "confirms the existence of a home advantage in organized sports," that said advantage is more important to indoor than outdoor sports, that the home advantage affects offensive action far more than defensive and that this home advantage is "almost totally independent of visitor fatigue and lack of familiarity with the home playing area; it is mainly attributable to the social support of the home audience."
So the next time someone suggests that you stay home and watch the game on TV, decline politely and remind him firmly that the invigorating influence of your very own supportive social congregation could well help engender a beneficent environment in which your hometown favorites might just become susceptible of acts and sentiments of which they would otherwise be incapable.
WHERE THE PROS ARE
One night last week before 1,500 rain-soaked fans in Gresham, Ore. U.S. professional track and field all but gave up the ghost. Mike O'Hara, who founded the International Track Association four years ago, canceled three upcoming meets and said wearily. "Now I've got to find myself a company or an individual who has the deep pockets and the patience and the belief in pro track. We're not really folding up; we're just going to take a long look at things."
Pro track had never generated a great deal of money. As Shotputter Brian Old-field said in Oregon, "It was kind of inevitable. The fans don't care. The management doesn't care. No one cares." The problem, according to O'Hara, was the ITA's inability to sign the stars of the Montreal Olympics. "You've got to have superstars, and there aren't very many. Dwight Stones is one. John Walker. Filbert Bayi. Lasse Viren. We just haven't been able to add the kind of people we call ticket sellers, the ones with sex appeal."
And why hasn't O'Hara signed up the heroes of Montreal? Because most of them have decided to remain amateur. Why remain amateur? Because, O'Hara claimed, they are making a great deal more money than they could as professionals.
"The numbers are astronomical," said O'Hara. "Some of them are making a lot more now than they ever have before. Right after the Olympics is the perfect time for the European promoters to do their thing, and several superstars are making a bundle over there." Reports from Europe indicate that top amateur performers are going to earn $30,000 to $40,000 in presumably untaxed sub-rosa payments this year. O'Hara scoffed at these numbers. "I hear that would be chicken feed for some of them." he said.
From an Olympics as troubled—and as troublesome—as Montreal's, there will undoubtedly be repercussions for a long time. Last week some of the first post-Games shocks were felt. Members of the Quebec National Assembly began hearings that uncovered some of the more bizarre financial extravagances that helped produce the Olympics' $1 billion-plus debt.
Among other things, it was learned that $1.5 million was spent on walkie-talkie sets for security forces, that 33 cranes were rented at a price that was $1 million more than it would have cost to buy them, and that three engineers were hired from a Montreal construction firm for nine months for the staggering sum of $500,000.
Beyond that, the provincial government is thinking of selling the Olympic Village at a loss of more than $30 million. It cost $85 million to build, and last week an official of the Olympic installations board said that $50 million would probably be considered a fair price.
Then there was the money paid for the silent orchestra and chorus. Under probing questioning, Michel Guay, director of operations for the Olympic organizing committee, admitted that the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and the choirs present for the closing ceremony neither played nor sang a single note, but instead were "lip-syncing"—pretending to produce music while prerecorded selections were played over the public-address system. Sadly, Guay said, "It was a condition of the contracts the committee had to sign with the musicians' guild. Whether or not they were present, we had to pay the same fee." The fee was $500,000.
THEY SAID IT
•Bum Phillips, Houston head coach, explaining a dismal Oiler first half: "It was a time mix-up. We started playing at nine o'clock, and the kickoff was at eight."
•Ken Harrelson, former Red Sox outfielder and currently a TV commentator: "Baseball is the only sport I know that when you're on offense, the other team-controls the ball."