Football players must be an awfully inattentive lot. Criticized for his longtime practice of slapping players' helmets and grabbing their face masks, Frank Kush, Arizona State's deposed coach, has explained that he was merely trying to gain their attention because he wanted them to "look me in the eye." Two weeks ago Craig Bray, an assistant coach at the University of Nevada-Reno, slapped a player, Jeff Wright, on the helmet during a 38-26 win over Idaho, after which he said, "It was a way of getting his attention." And last week players at Marshall University told The Washington Post that Coach Sonny Randle had yanked their face masks so severely that they feared somebody's neck might be broken. Randle, a former NFL end, replied, "The only thing I've ever done is get a face mask so I can get his attention...to make sure the youngster is looking in my eyes."
The Chicago Tribune recently quoted a football player at an unidentified Illinois high school as saying, "One of our assistant coaches used to actually foam at the mouth.... He'd grab you by the face mask, hit you in the head and call you everything in the book.... He'd throw you into the lockers and slam you around." A former high school player told of having played for a coach who hit players in the head with a broomstick. The Tribune story about such practices was prompted by a one-game suspension of Ed Thomas, longtime coach at Chenoa High School near Bloomington, Ill., for allegedly elbowing a player in the mouth, causing an injury that required several stitches. Thomas insisted that he had simply given the player "what we call in football a forearm shiver to the chest." He also said, "I got his attention, I'll tell you that."
LINEAGE BE DAMNED
Robert Bowie was governor of Maryland in the early 19th century, and the state has a town (Bowie), college (Bowie State) and track (Bowie Race Course) bearing his name. Then there is great-great-grandson Bowie Kuhn, a Maryland native who is also descended from another of the state's early governors, Joseph Kent. But the baseball commissioner's gubernatorial lineage has not prevented him from fining Baltimore Oriole President Jerold Hoffberger $2,500 for letting Maryland's current governor, Harry Hughes, throw out the first ball at the second game of the World Series.
Hoffberger violated an obscure major league rule that prohibits politicians and movie stars from throwing out first balls during World Series. He said he defied the rule because Hughes was a personal friend (not to mention a onetime pitcher in Class D baseball), and he said he might refuse to pay the fine. In his anger, Hoffberger claimed that Richard Nixon had thrown out the first ball at an American League playoff game in Anaheim; in fact, Nixon merely was an honored guest of California Angel owner Gene Autry. However, the Pirates did have Pennsylvania Governor Richard Thornburgh hold a ball for photographers before a World Series game in Pittsburgh, after which the widow of former Pirate Manager Danny Murtaugh threw it.
The putdown of Hoffberger—and of Maryland's governor—could scarcely have been more awkward if the commissioner's name were Hughes Kuhn.
YAP, YAP, YAP
You've heard of the Ten Most Wanted list, that Who's Who of fugitives the FBI puts out. Well, now there's a Ten Least Wanted list, a compilation of the worst bellyachers in the National Hockey League as ranked by four long-suffering (and anonymous) referees surveyed by The Montreal Gazette. Asked to name the NHL players they consider the biggest pains in the neck, the refs gave top ranking to New York Ranger Phil Esposito, who they agreed was "a notorious crier." One official elaborated, "Espo is a whiner, especially about guys hanging on to his stick in front of the net."
The runners-up in the survey were, in order, 2) Montreal's Doug Risebrough ("a yappy little s.o.b."), 3) Philadelphia's Bobby Clarke ("especially tough on linesmen"), 4) the Rangers' Ron Greschner ("not a yeller, just a smart ass"), 5) Minnesota's Tim Young ("a constant bitcher"), 6) Toronto's Borje Salming ("feels he's a star and deserving of special protection"), 7) Atlanta's Dan Bouchard ("Call him for interference, he goes bananas"), 8) Pittsburgh's Dale Tallon ("He'll always make a situation worse by saying something"), 9) Boston's Dick Redmond ("He'll cry when he's knocked down, and he's a guy who gets knocked down easily") and 10) Chicago's Stan Mikita ("a moaner").
Although Esposito is No. 1 for all-round crankiness, the one with the most nettlesome repartee may well be Clarke, who often can be seen skating around during pauses in the action, head down, muttering to the officials. What he's probably telling them, according to the refs, is something like, "Nobody spends $15 to watch you drop a puck."
OLYMPIC HOOPS & HOPES
U.S. amateur basketball authorities have been meeting with NBA officials in an effort to ensure that this country assembles its strongest possible team for the 1980 Olympics. U.S. Olympic basketball teams are perennially handicapped by the fact that many of the best American players are professionals, and thus ineligible for the Games. What makes matters worse is that, for various reasons, a number of eligible collegians have also sat out the Olympics, the most notable defections having occurred when Lew Alcindor and Elvin Hayes both passed up the 1968 Games.
Among the leading players who declined to try out for the U.S. team in 1976 were Leon Douglas and Robert Parish, both of whom felt that doing so might somehow jeopardize anticipated pro contracts. Similar concerns could arise next year. The U.S. Olympic Trials will be held May 18-23 and the NBA draft in mid-June. Because basketball competition in Moscow runs from July 20 to 30, Olympians would have to wait six weeks before signing NBA contracts. Besides being apprehensive about the possibility of injury, some players will no doubt worry that failure to make the Olympic team—or poor performances if they do make it—could hamper their bargaining power with the NBA.
Pro officials rejected suggestions that they reschedule their draft after the Olympics. But they imply that they will try to hold off signing drafted Olympians until the Games are over. It is hoped that players and their agents will cooperate. There is talk of taking out insurance to protect unsigned players against loss of future earnings, although it is unclear whether this in itself could make a player professional.
Bill Wall, executive director of the Amateur Basketball Association, the U.S. governing body for Olympic basketball, says that from 46 to 64 players will be invited to the Trials. Wall pointed out last week that competing in the Olympics greatly enhanced the NBA prospects of, among others, Spencer Haywood, Doug Collins and Phil Ford. Meanwhile a 14-game U.S. tour by the Soviet National Team is in full swing. Playing against major-college competition, the Soviets last week had a 4-1 record, serving notice that they will be tough to beat on their home court at the '80 Olympics.
These are tough times for Colorado sports fans. The NBA Denver Nuggets are off to a 5-11 start, the NHL Colorado Rockies are in last place in the Smythe Division with a 3-9-2 record, two officials of the International Volleyball Association's Denver Comets pleaded guilty last week to drug charges, and the Denver Stars, a professional rodeo team, have declared bankruptcy. Meanwhile, the football season drags on for Colorado State (4-6), the University of Colorado (1-8) and Air Force Academy (1-9). The NFL Broncos have an 8-3 record but were shellacked 42-7 last month by Pittsburgh, their worst defeat in 11 years. Nor is there cause for unbridled jubilation in fresh reports that the Oakland A's might be moving to Denver; the A's, remember, are a last-place club with a final 1979 record of 54-108.
One positive note for Colorado fans is that a major storm has laid a blanket of snow up to a foot deep on the Rockies. Just in case anybody wants to get away from it all and go skiing.
Atlanta Journal readers were chuckling last week over a yarn recounted by columnist Ron Hudspeth. It seems that a disenchanted Falcon fan had tried to give away two tickets to an upcoming game to strangers at a shopping center but couldn't find any takers. The man then put the tickets under a windshield wiper on his car, hoping that somebody would filch them while he was shopping. He was gone an hour. When he returned, he found six tickets waiting for him—his pair and four others.
CHALLENGING THE BILL FOR BILL
The NBA Players Association said last week that it was taking Commissioner Larry O'Brien's compensation award in the Bill Walton case to U.S. District Court. O'Brien had ordered the San Diego Clippers to give the Portland Trail Blazers Kermit Washington, Kevin Kunnert, two first-round draft choices and $350,000 for signing Walton. The association contends that this was excessive, the same argument it used to challenge O'Brien's compensation ruling in the case of Marvin Webster, who signed last year with the New York Knicks. That award was overturned in court in September, and the NBA has appealed.
The association's position in the Walton case may have been strengthened by the latest news on the injury that has kept the big center sidelined since preseason. Eight orthopedists examined Walton's left foot and diagnosed the problem, variously, as a sprained ligament, inflamed tendon and congenital bone defect. Last week one of them, Dr. Tony Daly, said it turns out that Walton has a stress fracture of the navicular bone. This is the same bone Walton fractured in Portland, an injury that kept him out of action all last season and raised questions about the medical care that the Trail Blazers were providing him. If the quality of that care can now be linked to the injury that is depriving San Diego of Walton's services, it might be all the more difficult to justify a big compensation award to the Portland team.
Meanwhile, Walton's foot is in a lightweight fiber-glass cast, and he is expected to be out of the lineup for at least six more weeks. Answering charges that he has a low pain threshold, Walton said last week, "I enjoy living in a country where people have the freedom to criticize." But he also noted that he once played half a season with a broken wrist and added, "I want to play basketball again. The best positive contribution I can make to society at this stage of my life is as a basketball player."
Eastern Illinois University has a compactly built (5'6", 190 pounds) running back named Chris (Poke) Cobb who rushed for 161 yards in 27 carries Saturday in a 24-0 win over Illinois State, raising his career yardage total to 4,986, an NCAA Division II record. With one game left, Cobb, a senior, could surpass Archie Griffin's total of 5,177 yards and assume fourth place on the all-division list behind Tony Dorsett's 6,082. Cobb obviously moves well enough, but that wasn't always the case, as his nickname suggests. "When he was small," says a brother, Ernest, "he was kind of slow, crawling around the ground and all, and he was called Porky. When he grew up a little bit, we changed that to Poke."
THEY SAID IT
•Ed Farrell, Davidson football coach, after losing to Furman 63-55: "I thought 55 would have been enough."
•Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets, attending homecoming festivities at his alma mater, Maryland ('60), without Miss Piggy: "She heard they were kicking around a pigskin and that all those people were eating hot dogs. She thought the whole thing was sort of barbaric."
•Pete Rozelle, marveling at how little controversy NFL officials have stirred up this season: "They might be waiting for the playoffs."