When Gordie Howe came out of retirement in 1973 to play alongside his two sons in the upstart World Hockey Association, the word in the National Hockey League was that his return to action was one big publicity stunt. Howe had ended his brilliant 25-year NHL career two years before, had been whisked into the Hockey Hall of Fame and had no business, or so it was said, being on the ice at the ripe age of 45. Howe defiantly proceeded to score 174 goals in six seasons in the WHA, and because of the merger between the two leagues, now finds himself back in the NHL at the even riper age of 51. And if he sticks around until Jan. 1, he will have played in the NHL in five decades—the '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s.
Howe says he has every intention of making it to January—and beyond. Wobbly during training camp and complaining of dizzy spells, the old man was saddened when his team, the Hartford Whalers, shunted his son Marty to the minors. But another son, Mark, plays on the Whalers, and when the season began two weeks ago, Gordie was out there, too, taking a regular shift and appearing on power plays. Still a tough man to budge in front of the net, he has scored two goals in the Whalers' first six games, swelling his NHL total to 788, 107 more than anybody else has scored in league history. Meanwhile, the very NHLers who accused him of engaging in a publicity stunt six years ago have been eagerly promoting his return to the league. And a happy return it has been. Five of the Whalers' first six games were on the road, and the fans at each stop greeted the great man with a standing ovation.
FEELING IS BELIEVING
Tailback Kelly Ellis was a big star at West High School in Waterloo, Iowa, but because he was only 5'7", major football schools weren't interested in him. Now a junior at the University of Northern Iowa, Ellis admits that being short is a handicap for a runner, even in small-college competition. "When I go behind my blockers, I can't see where the holes are," he says. "It's like running blind sometimes." Which raises the question of how Ellis, carrying 40 times in a 38-25 win over Western Illinois two weeks ago, managed to gain an NCAA-record 382 yards. Nothing to it, says Ellis. Noting that in the Panther offense the fullback usually leads the blocking, he says, "I put my left hand on his back and follow him. When I feel him cut left, I cut right."
October 29, 1979
A RUN OF BAD LUCK IN RENO
Steve Hinton, the nation's leading air-race pilot, was discharged the other day from the Reno hospital in which he had been recuperating from serious injuries suffered when his modified P-51 Mustang, the Red Baron, crashed Sept. 16. The accident occurred at the Reno Air Races, the sport's biggest event, which claimed the lives of two pilots last year when their World War II-era AT-6 trainers collided in full view of spectators. And several days before Hinton's accident, the pilot of a home-built midget plane died in another crash.
The accidents at Reno have come at a time when, thanks largely to Hinton, air racing's prospects had appeared to be brightening. Piloting the Red Baron in the Unlimited Class (consisting of souped-up World War II fighters), Hinton had dominated the race circuit, which also includes major events at Mojave, Calif. and Miami, and last August he set a world speed record of 499 mph for piston-engine planes. In recognition of his star quality, Michelob Light recently took over sponsorship of the Red Baron, giving air racing one of its few major promotional tie-ins.
But all that was before the Red Baron's engine blew just as Hinton was finishing his final flight around the 45-foot-high pylons that delineate Reno's nine-mile desert course. The Red Baron was destroyed in the ensuing crash, and Hinton broke his back, left ankle and right knee. Although now on the mend, Hinton says he is unsure whether he will return to the sport, an uncertainty shared by Michelob Light. A brewery spokesman says, "I'd like to say it's all up in the air, but that may not be the best way to put it."
The news out of Fresno, Calif. was intriguing. Assuming that construction of Fresno State University's new 30,000-seat stadium could be completed in time, a college football bowl game would be held there starting in 1980 between champions of the Pacific Coast Athletic Association and the Mid-American Conference. But what would the new bowl be called? Organizers seemed to rule out such obvious names as the California Bowl, in honor of the host state, or the Raisin Bowl, reflecting Fresno's self-proclaimed status as The Raisin Capital of the World. Instead, they invited the public to take part in a "Name the Bowl Game" contest.
The much-ballyhooed contest raised expectations that college football's newest postseason classic would receive an evocative, maybe even a daring, name. The Diabowl (for the Diablo mountain range nearby)? The Wink Chase Bowl (for the game's executive director)? The 200 Miles North of the Rose Bowl Bowl? The Why Were We Left Out of the Poll Bowl (because PCAA and Mid-American champions are not usually nationally ranked)? Well, the contest is over now, and if the 1,003 entries contained any such exotic nominees, they got nowhere. The judges selected—ah, yes—the California Bowl. Wanna bet Raisin Bowl was the first runner-up?
PUTTING FIRST THINGS FIRST
If track and field fans ever agreed on anything, it was that teen-age shotput phenom Michael Carter should stay away from football until after the 1980 Olympics (SI, July 2). The fear was that Carter, who was recruited by SMU in both football and track, might hurt himself on the gridiron and impair his chances for a gold medal at Moscow. Such trepidations only increased when Carter, who had tossed the 12-pound shot 81'3½", a staggering nine feet farther than the previous world record for the 18-and-under age group, suffered cartilage damage in his left knee last summer while lifting weights during shotput training.
Nevertheless, Carter reported for football at SMU and won a starting job at defensive tackle. He promptly banged up his ailing knee in the season opener against Rice, which forced him to miss the Texas Christian game. After taking pain-killers, Carter played briefly against North Texas State and Tulane, but two weeks ago underwent what was described as relatively minor arthroscopic surgery at Baylor Hospital. Carter says he has learned his lesson. Rather than risk further injury in football, he will make no effort to return to the game this season. Instead, he will now devote himself exclusively to the shotput.
Carter expects to start running next week, but it is too soon to tell how his injury might affect his Olympic chances. In any case, he blames only himself. He says Mustang coaches gave him the option of skipping football until the Olympics were over but that he decided to play because he enjoys the game. "I know I'm going to hear it from all the track people now," he says, "but I was doing what I wanted to do."
To businessmen who operate in different parts of the country, the welter of conflicting state and municipal tax laws can be bewildering. Although members of pro sports teams travel from state to state to earn a living, they haven't had to worry much about local tax men putting the bite on them.
Now, because of the rising salaries of those athletes, the situation appears to be changing. Recently California, Minnesota and the city of Cleveland have begun holding visiting players liable for taxes on personal income earned within their respective borders, and tax collectors elsewhere are expected to follow suit. As Jeff Cauthen, statewide withholding coordinator for the California Franchise Tax Board, says, "Our authority to tax out-of-state athletes has always been there, but as a practical matter we didn't do it. Now we're getting more aggressive."
California's aggressiveness is partly explained by the fact that it boasts more big league franchises than any other state, and thus has more teams coming into the state on road trips. Last spring, at California's request, major league baseball clubs in other states began withholding California personal income taxes from player paychecks. And California authorities are "studying the possibility" of asking NFL and NBA clubs to do the same.
As interpreted by California officials, visiting ballplayers are subject to California personal income tax for all "duty days" spent in the state, a term that covers layovers as well as game days. A typical National League ballplayer might log 180 duty days during the year, with perhaps 18 of them in California, and if he draws, say, a $300,000 salary, roughly $30,000 would be considered California income. Under California's maximum personal income tax rate of 11%, the state's take, after exemptions, could be as much as $2,000. The player presumably would be entitled to claim a corresponding tax credit in his home state, which might be tempted to recoup such losses by taxing visiting athletes, too. As the shadow of multiple taxation spreads across the playing fields, New England Patriot Business Manager Jim Valek says, "This is crazy. We'll need 15 CPAs to keep everything straight."
EYE TO EYE TO EYE
The Associated Press and United Press International college football polls have arrived at different national champions seven times in the past quarter century, including last season, when they chose Alabama and Southern Cal, respectively. In view of their frequent differences, it is noteworthy that in 1964 the rival polls actually managed to see eye to eye on their final rankings through the first ten places. Last week, even more strikingly, the polls agreed on the first 13 places in the weekly rankings: Alabama, Texas, Nebraska, USC, Houston, Ohio State, Florida State, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Arkansas, Michigan, Washington and Brigham Young. And mercifully, not a peep was heard from either Auburn, the AP's choice, or Pittsburgh, the UPI's pick, about which of them really was the nation's 14th-best team.
But just as the two existing major polls were enjoying a rare moment of accord, along came The New York Times to cloud the picture by introducing its own weekly rankings. The Times said its Top 20 list would be determined not by a poll of experts but by calculations of an IBM 370 computer involving won-lost records, margin of victory and quality of opposition. Because gauging quality of opposition presumably will require at least some subjective judgments, the computerized rankings can't be quite as scientific as the Times implies. Still, any serious effort to take into account the toughness of a team's schedule, something the AP and UPI polls often seem to treat lightly, is welcome.
The Times' inaugural rankings had Alabama, Texas and Nebraska as the top three teams, but thereafter abruptly parted company with the wire-service polls, listing Florida State as No. 4. The most startling difference, however, was that Houston, which occupied the fifth spot in both the AP and UPI polls, was 18th on the Times' list—because of a relatively weak schedule.
THEY SAID IT
•Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback, after nine turnovers helped Cincinnati upset the Steelers 34-10: "I just know the dog's going to bite me when I get home."
•Rocky Bridges, manager of the Pacific Coast League's Phoenix Giants, on his rural Idaho home: "I live so far out in the sticks that when I want to go hunting I walk toward town."
•Jack Elway, San Jose State football coach, on the effect that college life is having on his son John, who is starring at quarterback at Stanford as a freshman: "I really don't see that many changes in him so far. Hell, he never did take out the garbage."
•Hattie Walker, about the possibility that her grandson, Notre Dame's Vagas Ferguson, whom she raised, might win the Heisman Trophy: "I don't have room for it. It'd just be something else I'd have to dust."