TROUBLE IN PARADISE?
The pro football strike has been over for five weekends, but now another kind of walkout is plaguing the NFL: Fans have been staying away from stadiums in vast numbers. On the Dec. 12 weekend, for example, a total of 244,000 tickets to the 14 NFL games played either weren't bought or weren't used. That means a startling 27.3% of the seats remained empty, compared to last season's average of only 6.2%.
Seven games, half the schedule, were blacked out on local TV last weekend because of the large number of tickets still unsold 72 hours before game time. The Dallas Cowboys were blacked out locally for the first time in 44 games, or since Oct. 2, 1977. In Buffalo's three home games since the strike, 82,548 tickets weren't sold—more than for all the Bills' home games the previous two seasons. The Browns averaged more than 24,000 unsold tickets for their first two post-strike home games—10 times the 1981 number—and last Sunday, for the first time since 1962, failed to sell out a home game with the Steelers. When the Kansas City Chiefs hosted the Los Angeles Raiders on Dec. 12, a sparse crowd of only 26,307 turned out, leaving 51,790 empty seats—41,054 of them unsold. The New York Jets drew only 28,147 against visiting Tampa Bay, the smallest crowd at Shea Stadium since the Jets moved there in 1964.
All three TV networks have experienced lower ratings for NFL games. For the first four weekends after the strike, ABC and CBS were down 16% from a similar four-week period a year ago (although the drop was nowhere near as severe in a season-long comparison). NBC was off 4%. And TV can no longer be counted on to automatically provide the megabucks the NFL is used to. The networks and the league have already been negotiating downward adjustments in payments because of games missed during the strike, and the TV people are thinking about discussing further adjustments because of the low ratings during the "second season." The drop in ratings means advertisers aren't getting the bang from the buck they had anticipated, which is a matter of considerable concern for the networks.
Every team lost money during the strike. On the average, the figure was roughly $5 million per club. In its aftermath some teams have been hurt much more than others. Eight of the league's 28 clubs have sustained 82% of the NFL's decline in ticket sales. Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt says, "I won't call it a crisis, but I think it's a major concern when you can't fill the stadium. The teams share TV money equally, yes, but some of them are selling 50,000 tickets while others can't sell nearly that many. If Kansas City, New Orleans, New England, Baltimore and a few others all of a sudden start drawing only 25,000 a game, they won't be able to compete economically. This is a fragile situation."
Signs of what's really in store for the league won't be clear until next spring, when orders for 1983 season tickets start coming in. If those orders are down markedly, there will indeed be trouble in NFL paradise.
At the moment, though, predictions are conventionally rosy. Explanations for the stay-aways are pat. The eight-week strike left fans irritated and confused. Those who aren't angry find themselves unable to get a handle on what a 4-2 record means in relation to the shortened season and tangled playoff system. Tex Schramm, general manager of the Cowboys, says, "Obviously a lot of fans have lost interest in the races."
Browns owner Art Modell says, "This is a temporary thing, but what we have to do is promote again. We can't just open the doors and expect to win back instant support." Mike Lynn, general manager of the Minnesota Vikings, adds that he wanted the season resumed after the strike no matter how few games were left on the schedule so that fans could "vent their anger" this year, express their feelings and get it over with.
Bing Devine, president of the NFL St. Louis Cardinals and a former baseball man, says, "Time takes care of things like this. There's a definite parallel with the baseball strike. Last year the Brewers couldn't even fill their stadium for the playoffs. This year they could have filled the place twice. Just remember: Baseball broke all records for attendance this season, just one year after its strike."
At the Chicago law firm of Holstein, Mack & Associates, a young attorney named Bruce Wolf shuts himself in his office three times each day, pulls a couple of thick law books from the shelves and gets down to work. He stacks the books on his desk, puts a microphone on top of them—the better to position it at mouth level—dons a headset and starts talking. For 90 secords (live at 7:55 and 8:55 a.m., on tape at 5:55 p.m.) he races through a breezy, offbeat, impudent, satirical sports report that's broadcast over radio station WLUP: "Hey, Chet Chitchat here with the lobotomy line on sports! Holy Cow! Holy Toledo! Holy Mackerel! Wholly unsatisfactory N.F. of L. labor contract" and "Today's quiz question—if Steve Garvey and Ed Garvey were brothers, which would their Mom like best?"
The 29-year-old Wolf began his radio career as an undergraduate at Northwestern, and after graduating in 1975, he continued to broadcast occasionally while holding down a newspaper job. A once-a-week stint on WXRT led to a daily spot on that station that he did live from home. After finishing law school (at Chicago-Kent College of Law at night) and going to work for Holstein, Mack, he landed the WLUP shows.
In between broadcasts, which is to say most of the time, Wolf takes care of his legal responsibilities, sometimes missing a broadcast because of them. "I don't want this to turn into a full-time job," he told Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune. "I mean, I've already got a full-time job. Being a lawyer is more than a full-time job...."
Still, each day there he is, microphone on books, telling his listeners that an NFL team scored "much to the delight of the 14,685 no-shows" and, reacting to TV's overabundance of World Series features, "there are eight million stories in the naked locker room."
The "Latest Line" column in the New York Daily News last week listed the point spread for Saturday's Raiders-Rams game as follows:
FAVORITE PTS. UNDERDOG
LOS ANGELES 7½ Los Angeles
Hard to go wrong on that one.
NOT QUITE A HOUSEHOLD NAME
What active coach or manager in pro sports has the best won-lost percentage, based on a minimum of 100 games? The top record among big league baseball managers is Dick Howser's .596 (213 wins, 144 losses), which puts the Kansas City skipper fifth among our finalists. Fourth is Scotty Bowman of the Buffalo Sabres, with a .684 (609 wins, 233 losses, 179 ties). Third is Billy Cunningham of the Philadelphia 76ers (.697, 299 wins, 130 losses). Second is Don Shula of the Miami Dolphins (.719, 199 wins, 76 losses, six ties). And Numero Uno in this competition, the coach with the best percentage, is.... Well, of course, you knew it all the time. It's Don Popovic of the—let's see—the New York Arrows of the—wait a second—the Major Indoor Soccer League. Popovic has an .808 percentage (122 wins, 29 losses). True, Shula and Howser have coached about twice as many games as Popovic has, Cunningham almost three times as many, Bowman six times as many. Never mind. In this competition, Pop's tops.
A WARNING WITH TEETH
This was all in fun, although it sounds a little strange. For Jerry Stewart, football coach at Tucker (Ga.) High, 1981 was one of those nightmare seasons in which his team lost more than its share of one-point games. After it was over, Stewart got a letter from a local man, saying, "You have any more games like that, and I'll shoot your dog." Stewart wrote back, saying, "I don't have a dog." A few days later his doorbell rang, and there on the step was a puppy. With it was a note that said, "Don't get too attached to this." This year Tucker High went 6-5, and at the postseason awards banquet, Stewart's opening comment was, "I'm happy for my seniors...and for my dog, Sam."
PROSE AND CONS
The World Charter for Nature, three years in the framing and recently submitted for approval to the U.N. General Assembly, contains some very lofty provisions. Among them are, "Nature shall be respected and its essential processes shall not be impaired" and "Nature shall be secured against degradation caused by warfare or other hostile activities." Considering the high ideals manifest in the document, it was small wonder that on Oct. 28 the General Assembly passed the charter by a resounding 111-1 vote (with 18 abstentions).
The significance of this vote, particularly to those who have been fighting the Reagan Administration on the environmental front, was that the lone dissenter was the U.S. However, according to transcripts of the debate on the charter's passage, American objections to it weren't inspired by Interior Secretary James Watt or anyone else in Washington. If those misgivings were inspired by anyone, it may have been Strunk and White. The U.S. representatives didn't like the grammar of the charter.
Said U.S. spokesman Robert Zimmerman, "For example, paragraph 13 begins 'Measures intended to prevent, control and mitigate natural disasters....' We submit that neither the United Nations nor man can prevent natural disasters. We think that the intent may well have been 'the effects of natural disasters....' We think that if all the 'shalls' that are in the document could have been changed to 'shoulds,' we would have been much more likely to have gone along."
While nits were being picked, the Japanese voiced their misgivings concerning the syntax of the charter, which was written in French, one of the U.N.'s two official languages, and then translated—accurately, all parties agree—into four other tongues. Of the preamble, which states that nature cannot be conserved "until mankind learns to live in peace and to forsake war and armaments," the Japanese delegate said, "According to this argument, the existence of armaments is in itself detrimental to the protection of nature. This seems to us illogical: It is not arms per se but their use in warfare which affects nature adversely."
Yet the Japanese found it in their hearts to vote for the charter, as did the British and nearly all the rest of America's friends and enemies. The spokesman for Zaire, which co-sponsored the charter, said, "We have been waiting for three years for a consensus, and it is not our fault if the United States delegation has not been in a position for the past three years to submit its comments."
The U.S. delegation stuck to its grammatical guns. As a spokeswoman for the American mission said last week, "We're not against the Charter for Nature. We're against the language. How can we back a bad document on nature or anything? Unlike some of these countries, we have to answer to our people." For every frowning environmentalist, somewhere out there is a smiling English teacher.
A note from SI's Franz Lidz: "Willie Gault, Tennessee's All-America wide receiver and world-class hurdler, is getting married next June. His best man will be Renaldo Nehemiah, the world-record hurdler, and world-class sprinters Carl Lewis, Stanley Floyd and Harvey Glance will be in the wedding party. Boy, talk about quickie marriages."
THAT'S SHOW BIZ
Of course, you know the San Diego Chicken, the clown in fowl costume who entertains crowds, mainly at baseball games. The Chicken, whose real name is Ted Giannoulas, is big stuff and is making a bundle in appearances all over the country.
You may not know Max Patkin, another baseball clown who began doing his zany, rubber-legged, rubber-faced act in an earlier era when oldtime baseball entertainers Al Schacht and Nick Altrock were still around. Bill Veeck loved Patkin's routine and used him a lot at Indians and White Sox games, but in recent years Max has been performing mostly in minor league parks.
At the baseball meetings in Honolulu earlier this month, both Patkin and the Chicken were in attendance, to keep their lines of communication open to baseball's entrepreneurs and to drum up a little trade. At one point the 62-year-old Patkin and the 29-year-old Giannoulas passed each other on adjacent escalators, Ted ascending, Max descending. Symbolism was rampant. A friend watching said, "Max, look at that. You're coming down, the Chicken's going up. Why don't you get a costume?"
HOLIER THAN THOU
Tim O'Reilly and John McGowan, a couple of good Catholic boys at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, were cheered by St. Joe's 64-56 win over Maryland on Dec. 8, which is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day for Catholics. Curious as to how other saintly teams did that day, O'Reilly and McGowan did some checking around and came up with this remarkable list:
St. Bonaventure 86, Canisius 73
St. Francis (N.Y.) 90, Wagner 75
St. Francis (Pa.) 79, Cabrini 63
St. John's (Minn.) 81, Augsburg 70
St. John's (N.Y.) 87, Fairleigh Dickinson 65
St. Joseph's (Ind.) 90, N.E. Illinois 80
St. Mary of the Plains 92, Sterling 81
St. Michael's 80, Vermont 72
St. Peter's 65, NC-Charlotte 57
St. Thomas (Mo.) 71, Macalester 62
St. Vincent 73, Indiana (Pa.) 56
Because there are a couple of Catholic colleges on the losing side in that list, O'Reilly and McGowan suggest that perhaps Dec. 8 ought to be renamed All Saints' Day. Regretfully, they add two more scores:
Castleton State 83, St. Joseph the Provider 53
Nazareth 64, St. John Fisher 61
Probably forgot to say their prayers.
THEY SAID IT
•Bum Phillips, New Orleans Saints coach, on Bear Bryant's retirement (page 24) after losing four games this season: "I hate to see him take the blame, but he said when things go wrong you've got to start at the top. Of course, I thought he meant the president of the university."
•Frank (Muddy) Waters, fired as Michigan State football coach after three straight losing seasons, on the difficulty of turning a program around: "One problem is that some of our people want to go back to the good ol' days. But we can't go back to the good ol' days because they ain't legal."