JOHNNY ON THE SPOT
Johnny Unitas was always known as a brilliant quarterback on the field, but off it the old Baltimore Colt has been pushed out of the pocket—as much by bad timing (which he almost never displayed on a football field) as anything else. Unitas is making waves because of a football tip sheet he's putting out this season in association with a Maryland sports handicapper named Mike Warren. To the edgy NFL, currently looking into Houston Quarterback Kenny Stabler's association with New Jersey gambling figure Nicholas Dudich, and constantly fighting efforts to legalize betting on the game, Unitas' venture is anathema. John is paid a nominal fee each year by the Colts for acting as a "special consultant" and is, therefore, technically a part of the Baltimore organization and, by extension, of the NFL.
"We're both surprised and bitterly disappointed," says NFL Director of Public Relations Jim Heffernan, adding that the Colts would be questioned about the situation. Heffernan conceded that at least two other former players, Kyle Rote and Virgil Carter, have lent their names and expertise to tip sheets, but because neither is now affiliated with an NFL team, there's nothing the league can do about it.
Unitas, defending his action, says, "I don't bet, but I follow games and enjoy making picks. As long as I'm doing that, I may as well get paid for it. I'll just be giving out information, not telling people what to do with it. If they want to bet, it's up to them."
September 13, 1981
Nothing much wrong with that, is there? Except that Unitas' participation goes a little beyond that. In the tip sheet's sales pitch, he tells prospective subscribers, "When you're Johnny Unitas, people don't let you get out of touch. I'm invited everywhere. I get to see teams and players and game films other people don't see...getting information you never read in the papers." And he says, "I'll be right often enough for all of us to make a decent living during the season...." Of course, as John says, the subscribers don't have to bet.
As best as can be determined, nine people have been attacked by sharks off Florida this year, three others in the Bahamas. A 19-year-old woman was killed by a shark three miles off Daytona Beach after her catamaran capsized and she tried to swim to shore. In the Bahamas, north of Bimini, what was apparently a mako shark knocked professional diver Bob Marx up out of the water, pushed him backward and grabbed his right arm. Marx, who's been diving for 25 years, pounded the shark's head with his free hand, pulled his arm free and curled up into a ball. The shark swam off, as inexplicably as it attacked. Marx's wound required 150 stitches.
Ordinarily, an average of two or three shark attacks are reported in Florida each year, and two in the Bahamas. What has caused the increase? Marx says that for a week or two before he was attacked, he and fellow divers noticed sharks and barracuda acting oddly. The divers had to poke sticks at sharks to keep them away, and felt obliged to kill a menacing five-foot barracuda, a frightening-looking but almost invariably harmless fish. "I thought all the fish had gone nuts," Marx said. "I'd never seen anything like it."
Marx's comments and the increased attacks led some people to wonder if something aberrant was happening to sharks. Dr. Samuel H. Gruber, associate professor of marine science at the University of Miami, doesn't think so. "I'm out there all the time with sharks," he says. "We track them and put transmitters on them. We've tagged more than 175 this summer. I haven't seen anything I'd consider a conspiracy among the sharks. I'm being facetious, but that's what somebody is trying to say: that something has changed out there to radically alter shark behavior.
"I think what we're seeing is a statistical fluctuation. It's like airplane crashes or beestings or anything like that. There are periods when a lot of them happen, and they don't seem correlated to anything else. It's like if you go to a dice table and throw craps three or four times in a row. That's a statistical fluctuation. It happens, but it isn't considered significant. As a trained observer of sharks, I can't see it as anything more than that."
CATCH AS CATCH CAN
When last we looked, sports publicist extraordinaire Andy Furman had just been sacked as chief tub-thumper for Monticello (N.Y.) Raceway for having tastelessly invited a Ku Klux Klan leader and his henchmen to take advantage of the track's group party plan package (SCORECARD, Aug. 18, 1980). That momentarily brought to a screeching halt a career during which the bumptious Furman had also skirted the bounds of propriety as sports information director at Oral Roberts University (where he hyped a basketball game against the Bulgarian national team by offering free admission to Oklahomans of Bulgarian descent) and as PR man for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers (whose game against the wondrously named Vancouver Whitecaps he promoted by promising free admission to uniformed dentists). Lately the publicity man at Lakes Region Greyhound Park in Belmont, N.H., Furman has been as outlandish as ever, witness the invitation to spend a day at the dog track he recently issued to delegates to the state dog-catchers' convention. The dogcatchers failed to take Furman up on his offer, possibly because of his stipulation that they kindly leave their nets at home.
Last week we invited readers to phone in their opinion on which brand of football they find more exciting—the college game John Underwood prefers or the pro version Paul Zimmerman likes. The tally is in, with 4,651 votes in favor of the college game, 3,557 in favor of the pros. Zimmerman says this bias is seasonal, that college football generates more interest the first few weeks of the fall but that pro football takes over later on. Underwood just smiles pleasantly and says, "I told you so."
It certainly isn't news that one of the things baseball owners do best is fire managers. Gene Michael's dismissal by the Yankees, after guiding New York to first place in the American League East in the first half of this split season and then getting into a dispute with owner George Steinbrenner, serves to emphasize the point. Michael is hardly the first successful manager to be fired. Jim Frey was given the ax by Kansas City earlier last week, less than a year after he led the Royals to their first American League pennant. You'd think that by finishing first a manager had demonstrated some skill in his job, but don't tell that to the men in the front office. Whitey Herzog, Frey's predecessor at Kansas City, won three straight divisional titles, then was dumped after one losing year. Jim Fregosi won California's first divisional crown in 1979 and was canned earlier this season.
The Yankees are champions at this sort of thing. Yogi Berra won the pennant and went to the seventh game of the 1964 World Series before losing—and was summarily fired. Billy Martin won two straight pennants for the Yanks in 1976 and 1977 and was ousted in midseason-1978. His successor, Bob Lemon (who now succeeds Michael), won the 1978 pennant and was dropped in 1979. Dick Howser took the New Yorkers to the American League East title last year and was bounced after the season. Great place to work.
But it's not just the Yankees. Sam Mele managed the Minnesota Twins to their first and only pennant in 1965 and was out less than a year and a half later. Hank Bauer got the Orioles their first pennant in 1966 and was fired midway through 1968. Dick Williams led the Red Sox to the flag in 1967 and was gone before the end of 1969. Mayo Smith won a pennant and a memorable World Series for the Tigers in 1968 and was dropped after the 1970 season. It's the old story: What have you done for me lately?
Years before the Yankees tied a can to his tail, Billy Martin was fired by the Twins after winning the division in 1969 and by the Tigers before the end of the season the year after he won the division in 1972. Al Dark won a pennant and the World Series for the A's in 1974 but only the division in 1975 and was dismissed. Darrell Johnson won a pennant with the Red Sox in 1975 and didn't last through the next season.
Of the 15 men who have managed teams to a pennant or a divisional championship in the American League since 1963, only Earl Weaver has avoided the experience of being fired soon after winning a pennant, although Dick Williams, dismissed earlier by Boston, did have the consolation of quitting after three straight winning years with Oakland.
Such a business.
REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST
"Big intersectional tilt" was a favored sports-page clichè years ago when, except for Notre Dame and a few other venturesome schools, college football teams played most of their games against teams from their own backyards. When a Georgia, say, went north to play Yale (that really happened! Bulldog vs. Bulldog, in an era when neither dog was clearly top dog), or when little St. Mary's of California, a football power then, went all the way to New York to play Fordham, another power, that was news. The intersectional element gave the early bowl games their glamour: the best of the East vs. the best of the West in the Rose Bowl, for example, even though the "East" team was often from the South.
The rapid development of air travel, particularly by jet, changed all that, and it became common practice for many teams to play two or three games a season with far-off schools. An intersectional tilt became just another game on the schedule.
Now, however, the tide is turning. Flying a college football team thousands, or even hundreds, of miles has become increasingly expensive. Coach Jackie Sherrill of Pittsburgh says that it cost his team $70,000 to go back and forth to the Coast for a game with Washington in 1979. Pitt's share of the take covered that and a little more, but, Sherrill says, "We could have stayed at home and played anybody and made twice as much money as we did going to Washington."
When Penn State flew to Missouri four years ago it cost about $25,000. Coach Joe Paterno says it would cost about $75,000 today, which may explain why Penn State canceled its series with Missouri. Missouri, in turn, terminated games with San Diego State, as has West Virginia with San Jose State. Washington and Miami of Florida agreed to drop their home-and-home series, and Baylor abandoned plans to meet Stanford and Syracuse.
"We'd like to reduce our travel schedule," says Paterno, whose Nittany Lions still have numerous, intersectional games on tap. "We're trying to get things going for an Eastern football conference." Michigan State, which barely broke even after having to spend $68,000 flying out to play Oregon last year, is also looking nearer home for games. It took a step in that direction last season when it booked unglamorous but neighboring Western Michigan for the first time in almost 60 years.
It's an interesting development, and maybe a welcome one, even though it's like turning back the clock. The Notre Dames and Southern Californias will continue to scoot all over the country for games, but perhaps in a decade or so, when a Purdue ventures a few hundred miles south to play a Tennessee, headlines once again will blare: INTERSECTIONAL TITANS CLASH.
THEY SAID IT
•John McKay, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach, wondering whether the injured Lynn Cain of Atlanta would be ready to play against Tampa Bay: "Let me know if Cain is able."
•Hubie Green, pro golfer: "I owe everything to golf. Where else could a guy with an IQ like mine make this much money?"
•Hank Stram, dapper ex-coach and current TV and radio color announcer, denying reports that he has 400 suits: "I'm lucky if I own 200."