Muhammad Ali said last week that before his loss to Larry Holmes, he had taken unusually large doses of a drug called Thyrolar, which is properly administered for thyroid deficiencies (according to the man who prescribed it, Dr. Charles Lee Williams Sr. of Chicago, Ali suffers from hypothyroidism) but is sometimes also used for losing weight (which Ali did, dramatically). Overdoses of the drug can cause dehydration and fatigue, and Ali reportedly admitted feeling abnormally tired even before going into the ring. If all this is true, Ali performed a disservice to the public by neither pulling out of the fight nor notifying the Nevada State Athletic Commission, as required by law, that he was taking medication. But Ali would be guilty of an even greater disservice if the story about taking the medication isn't true. That could mean that he was trying to explain away his punchless performance against Holmes to pave the way for—perish the thought—another fight.
Sig Rogich, chairman of the Nevada commission, was meanwhile concerned about Ali's intake of other drugs. Rogich told SI's Pat Putnam that when one of the commission's doctors arrived to collect the required post-fight urine sample, Dr. Williams let it be known that immediately after the fight he had given Ali a sedative and a painkiller containing codeine; Rogich said that All's urine, a sample of which was taken after a considerable delay, was subsequently found to contain an opiate and a tranquilizing agent called phenothiazine. Although the codeine and sedative Williams mentioned could have accounted for the presence of these drugs in Ali's urine, Rogich pointed out that the commission had no way of ascertaining whether the drugs might have been administered before the fight, a legitimate enough concern in view of Ali's lethargic showing in the ring. As for Ali's failure to notify the commission that he was taking Thyrolar, Rogich said, "Ali will never box again in this state if I have anything to say about it. We'd be the laughingstock of the nation."
THE THIRD-YEAR JINX
October 19, 1980
The NBA has proved notably dynasty-proof in recent years, witness the fact that no team has won back-to-back league championships since (who else?) the Boston Celtics did so in 1967-68 and 1968-69. Indeed, staying on top is so difficult that most of the recent NBA champions skidded to losing records and/or last place in three seasons or fewer. The pronounced nose dives make it almost seem as though the NBA has a third-year jinx.
Los Angeles won the league title in 1972 and by 1975 had fallen to 30-52 and the cellar in its division. Ditto the 1973 champion New York Knicks; by 1976 they had fallen to 38-44, last in their division. The 1975 champ, Golden State, fell to the divisional cellar in 1978 (although with a 43-39 record), just as the '76 title-winning Celtics did in '79. And the Portland Trail Blazers, who won the NBA crown in 1977, struggled last season to a 38-44 record.
If the pattern continues, the Washington Bullets, who won the NBA championship in 1978 and dropped below .500 last season, will hit bottom this season, a fate that will similarly befall the Seattle SuperSonics (1979 titlists) in 1981-82 and the Los Angeles Lakers (1980 champs) the season after that. "It's a strange thing that happens with winners," says Golden State Coach Al Attles, "In building a winner, you spend a lot of time searching for your identity. This works well with young teams with players who accept that they're less important than the team. But young guys become older and impatient and greedy."
Early in a game against Utah State two weeks ago, Utah's defensive linemen, conferring between downs at the line of scrimmage, found that their hands were similarly and suspiciously covered with goo. They complained to the officials, who discovered a foreign and decidedly slick substance on the jerseys of Utah State's offensive interior linemen. Invoking an NCAA rule prohibiting "grease or any other slippery substance applied on a player's person or clothing," the officials ordered the Aggie players to change their jerseys, which resulted in a six-minute delay of the game while the miscreants roamed the sidelines looking for new garments. After the game, which Utah State lost 23-19, Aggie Coach Bruce Snyder admitted that his linemen had applied a "silicone spray substance or something of that nature" to their jerseys, presumably to thwart Ute pass rushers. He said the Aggies had learned the trick from "the pros."
They may not have learned well enough, if Pittsburgh Steeler Center Mike Webster is to be believed. Although Webster denies having resorted to any such chicanery himself, he told SI's Bruce Anderson that some NFL players have used a silicone spray, adding, "It's a metallic dust but it's so fine it's like an oil. It leaves no film. If it's done the right way, no one should be able to detect it."
The Steelers were involved in a slippery-substance controversy in 1973 when, following a 17-9 win over Oakland, they complained that the Raiders had smeared themselves with a Vaselinelike substance—and, for good measure, had also underinflated the footballs and written obscenities on one of them. The NFL later announced that it had investigated those charges but couldn't substantiate them. More recently, it's been bandied about that a prominent NFL quarterback has, on occasion, tried to make himself more elusive to would-be tacklers by spraying his jersey. But the ploy may have backfired. His receivers reportedly have complained that the substance gets on the ball, which makes it too slippery to catch.
Last week we reported that the Boston Celtics' Dave Cowens had announced his retirement with an eloquent farewell to the fans that was published in the Boston newspapers. It turns out that Cowens was no less inspired when bidding goodby to his teammates, which he did aboard the team bus during an exhibition-season swing through Indiana. He told them he had enjoyed playing with them but that, because of various ailments, it wouldn't be fair to them or the public if he tried to continue. The news was greeted by a hushed silence finally broken, uproariously, when Celtic Guard M.L. Carr shouted, "Then get the hell off our bus."
For the benefit of the owners and those other doomsayers who warned that baseball's "competitive balance" would be knocked permanently askew by the advent in 1976 of free agentry, it is hereby noted that competition in the majors has declined to such a shabby state that only three of the 1980 season's four divisional races went down to the wire. It is further noted that when the Astros, Phillies and Yankees clinched their respective division titles at the 11th hour, it meant that eight different teams had won the eight divisional championships over the past two seasons. What's more, one of this year's playoff teams, Houston, was a perennial have-not that won a title for the first time. So much for fears that free agentry would impair competition.
But what about Kansas City, which won the American League West by a noncompetitive 14 games? Well, when free agentry arrived, baseball officials moaned that other teams wouldn't be able to compete with clubs in the largest cities, which can earn higher revenues and, thus, can afford to spend more for free agents. But Kansas City has the smallest population base of any big league team, and it has acquired exactly one newcomer via the reentry draft. Which doesn't mean the Royals are hurting for cash. They drew a tidy 2,288,714 this season and are continuing to spend millions on an extraordinarily productive minor league system. There is, it turns out, more than one way to build a winner.
All right, but what about the Yankees and Phillies? True, each won its fourth division championship in five years, just the sort of success the lords of baseball predicted for big-city big spenders. But New York and Philly have been no more active in the free-agent market than the also-ran Padres or Angels, and astute trading and fertile farm systems have also been integral to their winning. And that success has hardly hurt the game, witness the Yankees' alltime road-attendance record this season of 2,461,240. In fact, attendance was generally robust in both leagues in '80. Seems the owners were misguided in worrying about competitive balance—or about success at the ticket windows.
GOLD MEDALS, GOLDEN ARCHES
The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics are shaping up as the most commercialized non-commercial event in human history. Or, if you prefer, the most non-commercialized commercial event. Come again? Well, the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee has promised to stage a "de-commercialized" Games and, accordingly, has decided to solicit no more than 50 corporate sponsors, far fewer than the number of companies that got into the act during Olympics in Montreal, Lake Placid and even Moscow. Yet L.A.'s sponsors appear to be making up in substance what they lack in numbers. Though only eight have signed up so far, their commitments total a staggering $50 million. This sum includes $15 million from Coca-Cola, $10 million from Anheuser-Busch and $6 million from McDonald's. Big bucks, in other words.
The LAOOC defends these lucrative tie-ins by saying that television revenue and ticket sales alone would be inadequate to obviate the sort of deficits that plagued the Montreal and Lake Placid Games. Yet the organizers also insist that the '84 Games will avoid the commercial crassness of other recent Olympics. "It's a matter of quality," says Peter Ueberroth, president of the LAOOC. "Sponsorship has been overdone in the past. At Lake Placid it was distasteful. By refusing to sign up hairsprays, yogurts and that sort of thing, I think we'll have less chance of losing control. Also, we've been asking sponsors to make a deeper commitment to the community than at other Olympics."
That last point is borne out by L.A.'s novel approach to the problem of facilities. Committed to holding down construction costs by staging events in existing venues wherever possible, the LAOOC is enlisting corporations to build the few facilities it needs. And it has persuaded companies to put the facilities in locations where they figure to give lasting benefit. Thus, in addition to its sponsorship money, McDonald's has agreed to spend $4 million to erect an 11,000-seat outdoor swimming pool on the Southern Cal campus that will be used after the Games by the USC swim team, student body and community groups in the predominantly black neighborhood surrounding the campus. Similarly, the Southland Corporation, which owns the 7-Eleven convenience-store chain, has pledged $4 million for a velodrome on a still-to-be-determined L.A.-area campus. Ueberroth says that other corporations, including at least one in Japan, are also interested in putting up facilities, assuming that post-Olympic uses can be found for them. That is an important consideration because under Olympic rules commercial names cannot appear on sites used for the Games. As a result, the new pool will be known as McDonald's Olympic Swim Stadium—except during the '84 Games.
Budd Thalman, the Buffalo Bills' publicity man, sent out a press release the other day reporting that the Bills' quarterback, Joe Ferguson, had become the club's record holder in career passing yardage. The release noted that Jack Kemp, the former Bills star who's now a Republican Congressman, had fallen to "the second spot, a position that would have pleased him in another game earlier this year."
THEY SAID IT
•Bum Phillips, Houston Oiler coach, offering words of wisdom to new acquisition Hollywood Henderson, who may be getting his last chance in the NFL: "You don't know a ladder has splinters in it until you slide down it."
•Larry Kennan, Lamar University football coach, after Baylor attempted an onside kick with eight seconds left and a 42-7 lead: "Maybe they were afraid we'd run it back all the way, then line up and go for 30 points."