NIGHT OF HORROR
After a Monday-night NFL game at Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. in 1976, a 41-7 victory by the Patriots over the Jets, Foxboro Police Chief Daniel McCarthy urged the town's residents to "hope and pray" that no more night games would be played there. McCarthy was upset about a frightening evening during which a fan was stabbed, a police officer assaulted and his gun stolen, and drunkenness and brawling resulted in the arrest of more than 60 people. Thirty-five others were treated at hospitals.
It's a poorly kept NFL secret that hooliganism increases during Monday-night games, which, when played in the East, start at the relatively late hour of 9 p.m. to accommodate West Coast TV viewers. This keeps many families at home and brings out a tougher, younger crowd that spends the hours before the kickoff drinking. Conditions are particularly volatile at Schaefer. Built hurriedly in 1971 to keep the Patriots from being moved out of New England, the stadium is accessible only via U.S. Route 1, which is consequently clogged before and after games with monstrous traffic jams. That keeps people on the scene drinking and carousing all the longer. After the '76 debacle, police began the practice of frisking fans entering Patriot games in an effort to keep out liquor. But beer is still sold inside the stadium, which, after all, is named after a brewery, and little has been done about traffic congestion. And Chief McCarthy's pleas notwithstanding, another Monday-night game was held at Schaefer last week, a 23-14 New England victory over Denver.
It was another night of horror. Because the game hadn't been sold out, a last-minute rush of ticket buyers added to the usual traffic problems, prompting many fans to leave their cars a mile or more away and walk along Route 1 to the stadium. The roadway is poorly lighted, as are the stadium's parking lots, and pedestrians had to dodge cars at every turn. A 69-year-old man crossing Route 1 was fatally injured when he was hit and thrown 100 feet by a car driven by a teen-ager who, police said, had been drinking. Less tragically, many other fans didn't reach their seats until halftime, and when they did, they found youths flinging cups of beer at one another, Frisbees being thrown to and fro at near-decapitation velocity, and fistfights breaking out everywhere. There were at least 50 arrests and more than 100 people were evicted.
As cops swept into the stands to haul away limp bodies, they were booed and doused with beer and mustard. One policeman was kicked in the back during a scuffle and required hospitalization. Some alarmed fans left even before the start of the fourth quarter. Outside, youths rampaged through the parking lots, snapping off auto antennas, kicking in car doors and urinating on tires. (At the '76 Monday-night game a medic administering to a heart attack victim under the stands was urinated on by a passing fan.) Exiting traffic was so backed up that some fans didn't get out of the parking lot for more than two hours. Bonfires were built, and drinking and fighting continued till the wee hours of Tuesday morning.
Though scarcely to blame for fan rowdyism, which is a growing problem in the U.S. and other countries, the NFL and the Patriots could do more to alleviate some of the conditions that encourage it. When questioned by SI's Bob Sullivan, league and club officials at first tried to downplay the Monday-night disturbances at Foxboro. But after Sullivan revealed that he had been at the game and had sat in the stands, New England's assistant general manager, Patrick Sullivan, admitted, "There was a load of people here drunk out of their minds. We got a number of calls from people who said they're not coming back. We'll bring in the National Guard if we have to make things safe." But nobody seems eager to ban the sale of beer, a big revenue producer. Meanwhile, suggestions to illuminate and/or widen Route 1 get nowhere because of bickering over who should foot the bill. As for Daniel McCarthy, he was succeeded as Foxboro's police chief in 1976 by John Gaudet, but Gaudet's words have a familiar ring: "I'd rather not have night football here."
A PASS AT LAST
It was cause for celebration Thursday night when, in the 160th of his team's 162 games, Oakland Shortstop Rob Picciolo drew his first base on balls of the 1980 season. Picciolo is the undisputed champion of non-walkers, that breed of free-swinging, unselective and—sometimes—unfeared batters who seldom draw a pass. Granted, he didn't break the major league record (13) for fewest walks in a season, which is shared by the Giants' Jesus Alou (1965) and the Yankees' Mickey Rivers (1976), but that's only because a player must be credited with at least 500 at bats to be eligible for the record. Because Picciolo shared the A's shortstop job with Mario Guerrero and frequently batted ninth when he was in the lineup, he fell far short of 500 in 1980.
But Picciolo has Alou and Rivers beat in a walk. In his three previous big league seasons, he had a total of 860 at bats, yet walked only 14 times. In '80 he had 271 at bats but didn't draw a base on balls until a 9-4 loss Thursday to the White Sox when, after Chicago Pitcher Rich Dotson had worked the count on Picciolo to 3-1, Umpire Marty Springstead called a ball, prompting cries of jubilation from the Oakland bench. In the season finale on Sunday, a 5-4, 15-inning loss to Milwaukee, Picciolo walked for the second and last time of 1980.
The fact that Picciolo has hit only .228 during his career (.240 this season) helps explain his failure to draw many walks; pitchers don't want to walk a weak hitter, especially with the top of the order looming. That Picciolo bats from a stand-up stance, providing the pitcher with a large strike zone, is also a factor. So is his failure to be more selective about pitches. "I'm too anxious to hit," he says. "I've tried crouching but it doesn't feel natural. The crouch gives the pitcher a smaller strike zone. I plan to work at it this winter and on picking up the flight of the ball and being more patient."
As a model, Picciolo might consider teammate Rickey Henderson, who bats in an exaggerated crouch and is a paragon of patience. Henderson, the A's leadoff man, drew 117 walks this season, second in the American League to Willie Randolph's 119. And he was so pleased when Picciolo walked against the White Sox that he followed that miraculous occurrence by hitting a two-run homer.
Senior Editor Mark Mulvoy, an erstwhile Boston rink rat who has written and edited hockey for SI for 15 years, takes NHL President John Ziegler to task in this issue (page 50) for, among other things, failing to deal adequately with violence during games. That shortcoming, of which the other pro leagues are also guilty, albeit to a lesser extent, was the subject of House Judiciary subcommittee hearings last week on proposed legislation to make excessive violence in pro sports a federal offense (SCORECARD, Sept. 8). Richard B. Horrow, a 25-year-old lawyer who has worked closely with the bill's sponsor, Ohio Congressman Ronald Mottl, admits that immediate enactment of House Bill 7903 is unlikely but says that the hearings "put the sports world on notice that the Federal Government is at least watching."
That the NHL merits special attention is made clear in Sports Violence, a recently published book that grew out of research Horrow undertook while attending Harvard Law School, from which he graduated last year. In his book Horrow marshals evidence that instead of curbing violence, the NHL encourages it as a way of filling arenas; that each team tries to have at least one player known variously as the policeman, enforcer, hit man, cement head or designated hitter; that this player often deliberately starts fights to give teammates a psychological lift and to intimidate opponents; that under NHL "etiquette" players pair off for fights according to size and position; that during contract negotiations management often dwells on how well a player uses his fists; that teams have offered to give players boxing lessons; that players who fail to stand their ground in fights are often derided or traded; that rules are so lax that even if a player, without provocation, knocks an opponent senseless, the "appropriate" punishment is seldom more than a two-minute minor penalty; and that the NHL has made only "token gestures" to clean up the game.
Horrow notes that the NHL excuses fighting on the grounds 1) that it constitutes an "escape valve" for aggressiveness that might otherwise lead to worse behavior, and 2) that because of unsure footing on the ice, nobody can get hurt in a fight. Horrow points out that neither of these claims is true—to the contrary, fighting and the retaliation it encourages can lead to the more dangerous use of sticks—and he adds that gratuitous violence in the NHL detracts from hockey's inherent finesse and skill.
Ziegler was invited to testify at last week's hearings, as were four other commissioners, baseball's Bowie Kuhn, the NFL's Pete Rozelle, the NBA's Larry O'Brien and NASL's Phil Woosnam. All declined. Ziegler couldn't make it because he was going to Europe to watch exhibition games in Sweden involving the Washington Capitals and the Minnesota North Stars and to smooth out some differences between the NHL and the Czechoslovakian hockey federation.
After Stanford's 31-14 upset victory over Oklahoma, the San Francisco Chronicle's Lowell Cohn went to a Norman, Okla. bar called the Interurban, where he talked to stunned Sooner fans, including a law student named Dave, who told him, "It's kind of unfair. Those Stanford players have academics. But if our guys don't play football, well, what the hell are they good for? We should just get rid of them."
A SPECIAL FAREWELL
Few athletes have retired with as much dignity as the Boston Celtics' Dave Cowens did last week. The 31-year-old Cowens sat in a hotel room in Terre Haute, Ind., where the Celtics were playing an exhibition game, and drafted a handwritten statement without benefit of a ghostwriter. In the statement, which ran in both Boston newspapers, Cowens—a 10-year veteran who was the NBA's most valuable player in 1973, led the Celtics to league championships in '74 and '76 and was their player-coach two years ago—explained that he was retiring because he was hobbled by foot ailments. He added, "I do not believe in taking medication which many others utilize to mask the pain and allow them to play more years and earn more income."
Cowens said he was worried that by quitting only nine days before the 1980-81 opener he might be committing a "fraudulent act" toward Celtic season ticket-holders, but finally concluded he'd have done them a greater disservice by playing. "I'll tell you why it is such a difficult decision to make—because of the financial reward," he wrote. "I have climbed the ladder of success in the NBA to the point where I command top dollar for my services. But the last time I negotiated a contract was five years ago. The only reason I am getting paid top dollar now is not because I am a top talent; it is because I negotiated from a point of strength five years ago...I wouldn't feel guilty about the amount of money I would earn under these conditions if I thought I could play even as well as I did last year. But I can't...."
Cowens also wrote, "My whole reputation has been one of giving maximum effort, and I want to be remembered as just such a player. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not perfect. I've dogged it in practices, performed extremely poorly in games and done my share of complaining. But I've always had the desire to work hard and do my part, more, if necessary. I think every one of my teammates enjoyed playing ball with me. I think one of the basic characteristics of a quality player is being able to complement his teammates, increasing their worth along with his."
We can't say for certain whether Cowens will stick by his decision to quit. But we're sure that he was justified in asking, at the start of his statement, "Why is it that athletes who retire always allow other people to write their career obituary?"
THEY SAID IT
•Brad Dillman, actor, explaining why he prefers golf to tennis: "All tennis courts look alike."
•John McKay, Tampa Bay coach, asked following a 34-27 loss to Cleveland what he thought of his team's execution: "I think it's a good idea."