THE UNGENTLE ART OF PERSUASION
Unlike man's finer instincts, which seem to percolate downward and settle in the bones, arrogance is a gassy thing that rises irresistibly until it finds a point of release, usually the mouth. Last week a pall of arrogance hung over San Francisco and Green Bay, following two incidents involving the general managers of the NFL teams in those cities and the newsmen who cover them.
Joe Thomas, who was brought to the San Francisco 49ers two years ago to be the franchise's savior, has been something less than that. Thomas is a Machiavellian character who had a formidable record of success with Minnesota, Miami and Baltimore, but despite the facelift he has given the 49ers, the team has won but one game this season. That prompted Frank Blackman of The San Francisco Examiner to write a piece laying the blame at Thomas' feet. It was not a flattering article, typified by such Blackmanisms as "The 49ers are Joe Thomas' team and they stink."
Thomas learned of the story before the paper hit the street, and he hit the ceiling. Locating Blackman in a disco, Thomas approached him on the dance floor. According to Blackman, an irate Thomas squeezed him repeatedly on the upper arm and accused him of being "a turncoat." After haranguing Blackman for several minutes, Thomas, shouting, "I'm going to get you for this," was led out by the assistant manager.
November 13, 1978
Thomas later said he would like to see Blackman taken off the 49ers' beat, and owner Eddie DeBartolo concurred. "I'm going to see if there is any legal way we can keep Blackman from covering the 49ers," said DeBartolo.
Thomas has a reputation for highhandedness, so his outburst was not altogether surprising. The shocker came a few days later when gentlemanly Bart Starr, the coach and general manager of the Green Bay Packers, threatened reprisals against four reporters who refused to suppress the fact that the Packers were apparently in violation of the league's so-called stashing rule.
Starr had invited Duane Thomas, the itinerant running back, to Green Bay for the permissible 24-hour tryout with the club, which might have been duly noted and forgotten—Thomas did not make the team—had not Thomas remained for a week of workouts. When he was first asked about Thomas' prolonged presence, Starr protested, "I can't make him leave town. We can't tell him he can't be here if he just wants to continue working out on his own." Despite his statements for the record, however, Starr said privately, "We don't want everyone knowing we're still looking at him."
When it became evident at a news conference that the four reporters had checked with the NFL office to see if it was investigating the matter, Starr was furious. "This is a damned cutthroat business," he said. "There are other bloodthirsty bastards out there trying to get an edge; working out guys in pads with their teams. They're cheating. We don't cheat, but we're going to go to the limit within the rules and we're going to bend them within the framework."
Starr paused. "You can print what you want," he said, "but if you print this, you're not going to come through this door again."
Subsequently, Starr publicly admitted that Thomas had used the Green Bay facilities for the entire week, but that he didn't realize this was against NFL rules.
Two days later he laid down some rules of his own: henceforth all practices would be closed; interviews with players would have to be arranged through the Packers' PR office; one of his regular news conferences would be canceled, and at the remaining news conferences, radio and TV people would meet with Starr first, then he would see the print media people one by one. The entire news conference lasts about 30 minutes, which would allow the writers only a few minutes apiece with Starr.
As in Thomas' case, the Packers' owners have rallied to Starr's defense. In this case, however, the owners are the citizens of Green Bay, hundreds of whom have stock" in the team. The newspapers that printed the Duane Thomas story have been showered with letters and phone calls, some abusive, describing the reporters as villains and traitors.
There is something terribly wrong if newsmen working conscientiously at their craft are considered traitors. And for that matter, Thomas and Starr are not really villains, either; just frustrated men who, for a moment anyway, failed to act gracefully under pressure.
AND IF YOU SEE 700 BLUE LIGHTS, IT'S THE MORMON TABERNACLE CHOIR
Cy Young Award winner Ron Guidry of the New York Yankees often knows when he owns an opposing batsman by the look of fear in his eyes. When it comes to reading eyes, Guidry is a champ from way back. Recently he invited several of his Yankee teammates to his home in Lafayette, La. to go frog hunting, a sport in which the eyes definitely have it. And they can keep it.
It's no wonder that none of his teammates accepted Guidry's offer, after his remarkably descriptive report about what to look for on a frog hunt. To start with, Guidry explained, three men set out in a pirogue in the dead of night: one to hold the light, another to steer, and a third to jump in naked after the frogs.
"If you see two blue lights coming at you." says Guidry, "and the lights are far apart, it isn't a frog, it's an alligator, so stay in your pirogue. Also, if you see four lights coming closer, don't move. It's a frog, all right, but a frog sitting on a water moccasin."
Guidry didn't say whether he would be the one to hold the light, steer the boat, or do the jumping. But it's hard to imagine that anyone who would leap stark naked into a swamp in the middle of the night would let the odd cotton-mouth bother him.
Loose lips may not sink ships anymore, but they almost torpedoed Georgia Tech's football team in its game with Florida on Oct. 28. With a little more than six minutes remaining in the third quarter and Florida leading 10-3, Tech was at the Gators' 37-yard line, fourth down, a yard to go. A Tech substitute entered the game just before the Yellow Jackets lined up in punt formation, and that substitute brought in a play he transmitted to his teammates in the huddle.
Little did the player know that as he spoke, Yancey Sutton, a sophomore linebacker for Florida who has been deaf since childhood, was reading his lips. What Sutton read was, "Fake punt, run left." He raced over to Florida Linebacker James Harrell and Defensive Back Warren Gaffney and warned them, "Run left! Run left!"
The Tech back running left was nailed in his tracks by Gaffney, who was waiting for him behind the line of scrimmage.
The Gators took over and drove to the Yellow Jackets' two, but failed to score and wound up on the short end of a 17-13 score—losing one for the Upper, you might say.
FLYING THE FRIENDLY SKIES
Of the 100,000 species of butterflies in the world, only a few migrate. One of these, the monarch, flutters southward to Mexico City by the millions in late September, its orange, brown and black wings forming a cloudlike effulgence in the sky. This year, 76 monarchs whose life cycle was being studied in a biology class at the University of Delaware did not get their wings until the end of October. By then the temperature was dipping below 50°, which is the point at which the monarch's wings cease to function. Dr. Robert Stegner, whose class was responsible for the butterflies' late departure, posted an appeal for a ride South for the monarchs. Even for a college ride board, the request must have seemed a bit bizarre: 76 BUTTERFLIES; BIOLOGY MAJORS; GOING TO FORT LAUDERDALE UNTIL WEATHER SHAPES UP; WILL PAY FOR GAS.
No ride was forthcoming, but when Stegner heard that the football team was headed for Charleston, S.C. for a game with The Citadel, he got the monarchs on board the Fightin' Blue Hens' charter flight. In Charleston, the monarchs went for the sky, and the Fightin' Blue Hens went for the skillet, losing 21-14.
NOT SO PLACID
There is a hint of trouble in the crisp air of Lake Placid, N.Y., where a lot of construction and paper shuffling is going on in preparation for the 1980 Winter Olympics. Ski Racing magazine reports that the projected budget for the Lake Placid Games has gone from $80 million to $150 million and will almost certainly go higher, and that the Federal Government, whose stake in the event is already in excess of $50 million, will be called upon to kick in more money. The Economic Development Administration, which audits Lake Placid spending, has said there is a need for an additional $14 million to complete construction already under way, and Lake Placid officials have asked the government for the money.
Meanwhile, the EDA has confirmed that it is investigating "apparent irregularities" in the awarding of construction contracts as well as indications of nepotism, overstaffing and expense-account padding. Lake Placid officials privately concede that they may have done some overhiring, but they otherwise defend practices that the EDA calls questionable. To that end, the Lake Placid Olympic Committee called a press conference last week to state publicly that it is acting in good faith.
Typical of the LPOC response to the EDA revelations is the fact that some committee officials have ignored recommendations that they fly economy-class, unless traveling first-class is "absolutely necessary." One Lake Placid source argues, "If our president is traveling with the president of the United States Olympic Committee and the American IOC member, and they fly first-class, is he going to separate himself from them?"
The prevailing view in Lake Placid is that the EDA is engaged in a power play to get control over the Olympic purse strings. And indeed, the investigation—so far anyway—seems to be of nickel-and-dime proportions. But Washington's vigilance should be encouraged. On top of federal outlays for the Lake Placid and Los Angeles Games, Congress last month passed a $16 million appropriation to beef up the USOC's development programs. Maybe all three of those gentlemen should have flown economy.
FIT TO BE TIED
Over the years nearly 17% of all National Hockey League regular-season games have ended in ties. So far this season the figure has been running closer to 25%, and one night four of the six games played were ties. Although the percentage will almost certainly come down as the season goes on, it has been clear for some time that weaker NHL teams are often content to play for a tie. The typical scenario is that such a team plays over its head to hold a rival even, then hangs on in the closing minutes by such uninspired means as dumping the puck repeatedly into the other team's zone.
Some NHL officials defend play-for-a-tie tactics, arguing that home crowds are rewarded with ties that probably would become losses if the NHL had overtime play. It is hard to believe that anybody is really pleased with a tie. At any rate, blatant stalling tactics deaden the very stage of the game—the closing minutes—that should be the most exciting.
An obvious answer is the sudden-death, 10-minute-limit overtime period used during the regular season by the rival World Hockey Association. In theory, a team can still play for a tie in the closing minutes of overtime, but things don't usually work out that way. In the WHA's six-year history less than 5% of all games played have ended in ties.
THEY SAID IT
•Rick Venturi, Northwestern football coach, after his team was beaten 63-20 by Ohio State: "The only difference between me and General Custer is that I had to watch the films on Sunday."
•Jimmy Dickey, Kansas State football coach, asked to compare the 1971 and 1978 Oklahoma teams: "It's kind of like comparing the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. They'll both drown you."
•Wendell Mosley, Texas Southern football coach, describing his team's 22-16 loss to Grambling: "Grambling was 14 points ahead before I could get my headset on."