THE FATHER OF THE NEUTRAL CORNER
Jack Dempsey, who died last week at the age of 87, personified an era that many Americans regard with nostalgia. A fighter of relentless aggressiveness and fierce punching power, Dempsey beat the daylights out of a much bigger Jess Willard to win the world heavyweight championship in 1919, just as the equally upstart U.S., newly triumphant in a great war in Europe, was flexing its own muscles. Dempsey then retained his title through a good part of the Roaring Twenties, providing a share of the thrills that the public in that high-spirited age seemed to crave.
Dempsey and that other big hitter, Babe Ruth, were the greatest heroes of the '20s in their respective sports because, says Benjamin G. Rader, author of a new history, American Sports, both presented images of "all-conquering power," in contrast to their more scientifically skillful but less popular rivals, Gene Tunney and Ty Cobb. Rader hypothesizes that straightforward, uncomplicated athletic feats had public appeal because American society was then becoming more complex and bureaucratized. Dempsey made an ideal brute hero. "His strength was in the fury of his attack," says Jimmy Jacobs, a fight manager and collector of boxing films who is one of the most knowledgeable ring historians. "Whoever he fought had to be interested in self-preservation. Dempsey didn't answer the bell; when the bell rang, he was released."
Comparing fighters of different eras is a risky exercise, but Jacobs says that taking each man in his prime, he'd make Dempsey the prohibitive favorite against all other heavyweight champions except Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali. Of those three, Jacobs says that Marciano came closest to Dempsey in style. "They were very much alike in that neither ever took a backward step. Each came tearing from his corner like somebody who hadn't been fed for a while. There would have been a problem because the two would have met in the middle and would have had to perform within Marquis of Queensberry rules." Ali's forte was speed; consequently, Jacobs says, Dempsey "would have chased him around like a madman." As for Louis, "Joe could go forward and he could also back up. Against Dempsey, he would have been the counterpuncher." Jacobs refrains from claiming that Dempsey would have won any of the three fights, but he clearly believes that he'd have forced the action in each.
June 12, 1983
Many of the accounts of Dempsey's life make him sound like a dirty fighter. The stories dwell on his propensity to hit below the belt and to stand over fallen foes and whale away at them as they tried to get up. Indeed, it was Dempsey's readiness to go after stricken opponents that resulted in the famous "long count" in his 1927 loss to Tunney. As referee Dave Barry directed Dempsey to a neutral corner after a knockdown of Tunney, the latter had extra time to recover and went on to win what turned out to be Dempsey's last fight. But until that evening, it had been perfectly legal to hit a man struggling to his feet after a knockdown; Dempsey was unique only in the zeal with which he approached the task. It was for this reason that Tunney, who by then was the champion and could pretty much set the conditions under which he would fight, had insisted on introducing a neutral corner rule, an innovation that became permanent in prizefighting. But while Dempsey's fearsomeness in going after opponents made him the father of the neutral corner, it doesn't necessarily mean he was dirty.
"If you speak to people about Marciano or Dempsey or Joe Frazier or any of the guys who were 'fighters' instead of 'boxers,' you'll always find some saying they were dirty," Jacobs says. "Because of the ferocity of their attack, punches landed everywhere: the side, the back of the neck. When you see the films, you say, 'Hey, they never stop.' " But Jacobs sums up Dempsey's fighting style in a way that suggests he's drawing the finest of semantic distinctions. Once inside the ropes, he says admiringly, Dempsey "had very bad intentions."
The highlight, for us, of NBC-TV's coverage of the French Open (page 24) came when announcer Bud Collins was interviewing Chris Evert Lloyd, who had just won the women's singles title for the fifth time. Collins noted that during an earlier press conference somebody had asked her if she was tired of winning the event. "Whoever asked me that, that was such a stupid question," replied Evert Lloyd. Then she rolled her eyes and added, "I think you asked me that, Bud."
ALMOST IMPALED ON A SPIKE
Football fans who disapprove of spiking might get a malicious giggle out of what happened—or almost happened—to Michigan Panther Cornerback Fred Logan during a USFL game two weeks ago against the Birmingham Stallions. The Panthers, who finally lost 23-20 in overtime, came perilously close to losing in the last minute of regulation time—thanks to Logan. With the score 20-20, he made a dramatic interception near his own goal line of a pass by Stallion Quarterback Bob Lane. Logan went down, apparently without having been tackled, at the Panther two and, giddy over his big play, sprang to his feet, danced into the end zone and spiked the ball, which Stallion Darryl Mason then pounced on.
At first it was ruled that the Stallions had scored a touchdown, but then the officials huddled and ruled that the ball had been dead when Logan fell at the two. The coaches, Birmingham's Rollie Dotsch and Michigan's Jim Stanley, later agreed that the officials were probably wrong and that the TD should have counted. A mildly chastened Logan said he'd spike the ball again if he made such a big interception. But he added, "First I'm going to make sure I'm down."
REUNION OF TWO FAST FRIENDS
"The art of running the mile consists, in essence, of reaching the threshold of unconsciousness at the instant of breasting the tape." So wrote Paul O'Neil in the lead story in the first issue of SI, dated August 16, 1954. O'Neil was covering a much anticipated showdown in the mile at the British Empire Games in Vancouver, B.C. between Roger Bannister and John Landy, who shortly before had become the first two men to break four minutes in the event. Before a crowd of 35,000 in Empire Stadium, newly built for the Games, and before one of the first international TV audiences for a sports event, Bannister beat Landy 3:58.8 to 3:59.6 in a confrontation still known as the Miracle Mile.
Bannister, a London neurologist who has been knighted by Queen Elizabeth, and Landy, a business executive in Melbourne, have been reunited several times since 1954, including a joint appearance in Vancouver in 1969 at the unveiling of a statue erected outside Empire Stadium in tribute to their famous race. Last week the two were back in Vancouver for a commemorative event that made those in attendance vividly aware of the passage of time. The Vancouver Whitecaps, the local NASL team, are moving in late June into the city's new 60,000-seat domed stadium, and they were playing their final game in now moldering Empire Stadium. At halftime of a 2-1 Whitecap win over Tulsa, a special mile race was held in which four runners broke four minutes, an occurrence now so common that the next day's story in the Vancouver Province didn't mention all the runners' names and times. If the stadium and the mile run had changed, so had the two guests of honor; discussing the statue, Landy said he liked it "better than ever" because "it's still got its hair."
Landy and Bannister exhibited a becoming modesty about their achievements. Landy suggested that interest in his historic race with Bannister had been "a bit overblown," and he declined to make anything of the fact that he ended his career with a better PR in the mile than Bannister did. "People will remember Roger Bannister rather than me," he insisted. "Running is really winning in the ultimate, and he won." For which fact his erstwhile opponent still seemed to be thanking his lucky stars. "Everybody built up the confrontation," Bannister said. "I had great respect for him and knew there was no avoiding it. I just hoped it would be a good race, and then, as soon as it was over, we would be good friends—as we indeed have been."
The question of whether to install lights in Wrigley Field, the only major league baseball park that doesn't have them, is the subject of a continuing controversy that has folks in the Windy City going around in circles. On the one hand, Cubs General Manager Dallas Green apparently believes that lights will make his team better; he notes that "constant adjustment from day to night and back" can cause "life-style" difficulties for the players. On the other hand, Green has indicated on at least one occasion that he would push for lights in a big way only if the Cubs became pennant contenders. Which comes first, the better team or the lights? And you thought the chicken-or-the-egg business was tricky.
Adding to the uncertainty is the existence of a neighborhood group called Citizens United for Baseball in Sunshine (C.U.B.S.) that opposes night baseball at Wrigley out of fear that it would increase rowdyism and noise. C.U.B.S. has purchased 300 tickets for a June 11 game against the Cardinals and plans to stage a "No Lights Day" protest demonstration at the park. Two weeks ago C.U.B.S. Chairman Christy Cressey spoke at a meeting of neighborhood residents and vowed to block the introduction of lights, saying, "Dallas Green doesn't always get his way. After all, he wanted a winning season, and he hasn't gotten that yet."
Of course, the desire for a winning season is exactly why Green says he eventually wants lights. Which brings us right back to where we started on this circuitous journey—in the dark.
TOO GOOD FOR THEIR OWN GOOD
After losing, by his estimate, nearly $1 million on the 76ers last year, Philadelphia owner Harold Katz concluded that there was only one way to remedy that situation: He had to improve the Sixers enough that they'd win the NBA championship. Thanks largely to Katz's off-season acquisition of Moses Malone, the 76ers, of course, did win the title, but they may have improved on the court too much, at least as far as the balance sheet is concerned. Katz says Philly cut its losses during the '82-83 season to "under half a million" but would have gotten out of the red if only they hadn't breezed so easily through the playoffs.
"The team was too efficient," Katz says. "If this series with L.A. [the finals] had gone the full seven, we'd have broken even. And if the earlier series [against the Knicks and Bucks] had lasted a few more games, we'd have made money." Katz was quick to add, "But believe me, I'm not complaining. I'm elated to have that kind of a problem."
In whipping the Knicks in four games, the Bucks in five and the Lakers in four, the 76ers played just seven games at home. Had all three of those series gone the limit, Katz's team would have had five more home games, reaping additional ticket revenue of $1.6 million. Even after deducting for the league's and visiting teams' cuts and other overhead, the club would have netted enough to end up comfortably in the black.
Ashley Halsey III, a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, watched Game 3 of the 76er-Laker playoff series on May 29 in the press center at Williamsburg, Va., where he was covering the economic summit meeting. Journalists from the Soviet Union, Kuwait and West Germany were also watching, but their impassive expressions led Halsey to believe that they didn't know what was going on. Then Andrew Toney fired a long pass to Julius Erving, who scored on a dunk. At that the foreign newsmen called out, in what Halsey says sounded almost like one voice, "Doc-torrrr."
LITTLE MEN OF CONSIDERABLE STATURE
It shouldn't be all that surprising that Teo Fabi, who at 5'5" shared with Howdy Holmes the distinction of being the shortest man in the field, won the pole position for this year's Indianapolis 500. After all, Indy drivers, like gymnasts and divers, tend to be on the smallish side. More than that, the shortest kid on the block often does remarkably well in sports of all sorts. Lee Trevino and Gary Player are only 5'7", which ties them with a couple of others as the most diminutive performers on the PGA tour, and they, like Fabi, have spent their share of time at the head of the pack. Two-time National League MVP Joe Morgan is also 5'7", making him the league's shortest player and second only to Onix Conception, a 5'6" in-fielder with the Kansas City Royals, as the shortest player in both leagues. All Morgan has done lately is win the 1982 National League comeback-of-the-year award and knock the world champion Dodgers out of the pennant race.
The fact that one of the smallest baseball players could be one of the biggest stars may reflect an inclination by scouts and managers to employ only those short people who have truly exceptional ability. The same circumstances may obtain in the NBA. One of the brightest performers in this year's playoffs was the league's shortest player, the Milwaukee Bucks' 5'8" Guard Charlie Criss. And Wake Forest is all excited about a newly recruited point guard who's sure to be the smallest major college basketball player next fall. He's 5'3" Tyrone (Muggsy) Bogues, and his signing by Coach Carl Tacy is no gimmick. A gifted dribbler and passer, Bogues (shown in photo) averaged 8 points, 8.2 assists and 8 steals per game last season in running the offense for Baltimore's Dunbar, the nation's top-ranked high school team. In other words, he's just another of the many little guys who have reached the heights.
THEY SAID IT
•Bill van Breda Kolff, much traveled basketball coach, when asked if he was pleased that one of his players, Bill Bradley, whom he coached at Princeton, had become a U.S. Senator: "I'm disappointed. He should be President by now."
•Berl Bernhard, owner of the Washington Federals, the USFL's worst team, after yet another big loss: "I feel like Job. I'd rather be the phoenix rising from the ashes, but the ashes keep piling up."