MAKING DO IN VENEZUELA
This is an article from the Aug. 29, 1983 issue
Senior Writer Pat Putnam reports from Caracas:
One of the best lines out of the IX Pan American Games (page 10) was uttered by an athlete up on his history. The fellow complained that while the rest of Latin America was commemorating the bicentennial of the birth of Simon Bolivar, officials at the athletes' village, 28 miles southeast of Caracas, appeared to be celebrating the centennial of the birth of Franz Kafka. Indeed, Kafkaesque snafus at times made life in the village rough going. When the contingent of 460 Cubans arrived, they were assigned to rooms that didn't yet have beds. The Colombians showed up and were given superfluous keys; their rooms had no doors. The plumbing was a disaster, electricity was a sometime thing and there wasn't much to do for kicks. Another good line came from U.S. basketball player Wayman Tisdale: "We don't have a curfew, and not having one is like punishment."
Still and all, athletes could while away the hours watching TV, and there were few complaints about the good and ample food. The graciousness of the Venezuelan people made the inconveniences more tolerable; in Caracas foreigners asking directions often were personally escorted to their destinations many blocks away. At competition sites, which were generally in better shape than the athletes' quarters, the crowds rooted against U.S. teams but seemed to do so out of pro-Latin and pro-underdog sentiment rather than any virulent anti-American fervor. "They're good fans," B.J. Surhoff, a catcher on the U.S. baseball team, said. "They weren't rooting for us as a team, but they applauded us when we made good plays." Recognizing that things could have been a lot worse, a U.S. coach said of conditions at the games, "What the hell, we're not here on vacation." That may have been the best line of all.
In the early 1950s Americans argued heatedly over the identity of the unspecified contents of a box that Phil Harris sang about in his hit song, The Thing. In the late '60s a mysterious object thrown over a bridge in Bobbie Gentry's hit, Ode to Billie Joe, caused similarly widespread conjecture. Now Indiana's first-year football coach, Sam Wyche, has come up with a teaser of his own. At his instructions, the artist who did the painting for the cover of the Hoosiers' 1983 media guide has depicted Wyche pointing toward something in the distance. What's the coach pointing at? No clue is given, but SI has extracted the answer from Wyche. Please turn to the next page for the solution to this mystery.
AN EVOLVING RELATIONSHIP
Kansas City Chiefs Coach John Mackovic has joined the chorus of people who say that pro athletes are different than they used to be. To show what he means, Mackovic cites the following changes in the way coaches have addressed their players over the years:
"Go over and stand in the corner."
"Please stand in the corner."
"How about if you went over and stood in the corner?"
"How about us talking about you standing in the corner?"
"Why don't I go over and stand in the corner for you?"
GOOD HIT, NO PITCH
A somewhat different lament about the changing nature of the modern athlete emanates from the training camp of the Green Bay Packers, a team that, by hoary tradition, makes rookies sing their college fight songs each evening in the dining room. According to longtime Packer watchers, this year's crop of rookies is the worst ever insofar as carrying a tune is concerned. "It's terrible, terrible," moans Wide Receiver John Jefferson, who's beginning his third year with the Packers after having spent three years with the San Diego Chargers. "We haven't got anybody who can sing." In addition to being dismayingly short of vocal talent, some first-year men are accused of increasing the affront by failing to give 110%. As Tight End Paul Coffman, a six-year Packer veteran, ruefully puts it, "They're supposed to sing for our enjoyment, but they get up there like it's a big joke."
NO BATH WITH THIS POOL
Jay Flood, the swimming commissioner for the 1984 Olympics, has kept busy lately defending the McDonald's Swim Stadium, the new $4 million outdoor pool on the USC campus that will be used for the Games. Ever since the pool was inaugurated last month for an international meet (SI, July 25), Flood has had to listen to griping by foreign swimmers and coaches that the facility doesn't have enough showers or warmup space and that the absence of a roof puts competitors too much at the mercy of the elements; covered pools have been used at every Olympics since 1964. Noting that the pool was built by the McDonald's restaurant folks, one critic objected that competing in it was like "swimming in a French fries box."
Flood says that additional showers and other amenities will be added for the Games, and points out that the pool appears to be "fast," witness Vladimir Salnikov's world record in the 800-meter freestyle in the inaugural meet. Flood concedes that weather can adversely affect performances in an outdoor pool but implies that this was the price organizers were willing to pay to keep their pledge to put on a "Spartan" Olympics. Invoking the memory of previous Games, which were burdened by huge costs, maddening construction delays and, ultimately, tremendous deficits ($1 billion for Montreal in 1976), Flood says, "We're not building a monument. That's our motto. And we got done a year ahead of schedule."
Which brings us to Flood's deft squelch of one of the pool's most outspoken critics, Dave Johnson, coach of the Canadian men's Olympic team. Told that Johnson had complained that the new pool "sets Olympic swimming back 30 years," Flood unflinchingly replied, "We hope so."
BOO BOO WEIGHS IN
Because the scale at the Minnesota Vikings' training camp in Mankato, Minn. only goes up to 300 pounds, club officials were unable to accurately weigh the team's mammoth guard, Curtis (Boo Boo) Rouse. So they loaded the 6'3" Rouse into the team van and rumbled off to a local grain and feed store, where they hoisted him onto a platform scale. The needle stopped at 318. Of the rather unusual weigh-in arrangements, Rouse said equably, "It's cool in the van."
GOING 56 IN A 55 ZONE
The USGA's decision two weeks ago to ban the Titleist 384 Tour ball, the overwhelming favorite of golfers on the PGA Tour, has been the subject of considerable misunderstanding. It was widely reported that the 384, so named by its manufacturer, The Acushnet Co., for the number of dimples it has, was banned because it played too long and straight. In fact, the 384 carries a long way but not any longer than the allowable limit—291.2 yards, as tested by "Iron Byron," the USGA's amazingly consistent mechanical man. The part about it being "too straight" isn't quite right, either. The real reason for the 384's ban was its failure to meet the requirement that balls play as though they were perfectly symmetrical. This failure meant, in theory, that a player could control the ball's course as desired—draw, fade, straight or whatever—by the way he oriented it on the tee. However, there was no indication that any tour player had been able to master the aerodynamic subtleties involved and actually achieve such an advantage.
Then why bother to ban the ball? The answer, USGA officials say, is that the potential for unfair advantage was there and that in the course of enforcing equipment rules, the line has to be drawn somewhere. Manufacturers will naturally try to push rules to their very limits, but Titleist miscalculated and went a tad too far. "We tried to stay within the regulations as we saw them," says Bob Forbush, the firm's vice-president of sales and marketing. "It's as if we were going 56 in a 55-mph zone, and they had radar sensitive enough to pick it up."
Titleist, which sells 54 million golf balls a year and controls 40% of the world market, still has three USGA-approved, pro-quality balls available for sale, and it expects to have a modified version of the 384 ready for USGA inspection in September. In the meantime, the USGA's action gives a bit of a lift to the 384's competitors, including the 392-dimple Jack Nicklaus Muirfield, which is manufactured by MacGregor Golf Company, a firm owned by Nicklaus. A week before the USGA announced its ban, Nicklaus, who himself had played the 384 in four tournaments before the Muirfield 392 hit the market in June, told reporters that with the latter ball he was driving 20 to 25 yards farther than he had a few years ago, and that it may be time for the USGA to do something about the design one-upmanship that was resulting in balls playing too "hot" and carrying too far. When the 384 was banned the following week, Big Jack could scarcely complain. The next day, at the Buick Open, 13 players switched to the Nicklaus Muirfield, which may not play any faster or straighter than the 384, but so far has remained within the 55-mph limit.
HOOSIER MYSTERY (CONCLUDED)
Wyche says that he's pointing to Pasadena, the home of the Rose Bowl. His willingness to clear the air on the subject leaves only the question of how he intends to beat out perennial Big Ten powers Michigan and Ohio State for a Rose Bowl berth with a team that had a 5-6 record last year under Lee Corso. That's one mystery Wyche doesn't clear up.
ANOTHER SOUTHERN LEGEND
Sparks have been flying over a planned movie about the life of Bear Bryant. Before the retired Alabama coach died last January, he granted permission to make the movie, subject to his family's approval, to producer Larry Spangler, who now says, "The movie is about to start humming." But Bryant's daughter, Mae Martin Tyson, recently objected that she and other Bryant kin hadn't approved the script, which she said contains language not in keeping with her father's desire that it be a "family movie." Nevertheless, Spangler has insisted that he will start filming in October, saying at one point, rather testily, "I am not going to let a Mae Martin Tyson stand in my way." Another source of conflict: Bryant's heirs haven't okayed Spangler's choice of the actor to play Bryant. He's Gary Busey, who's preparing for the part by trying to shed some of the 40-plus pounds he has gained since he played another Southern legend in the 1978 movie, The Buddy Holly Story.
Jim O'Donnell, a Philadelphian who lives in Lusaka, Zambia, where he runs the African branch of Sobek Expeditions, purveyors of rafting trips down exotic rivers, is a dedicated sports fan who wears a Phillies cap when meeting visitors at the Lusaka airport and who spends much of his spare time trying to teach Zambian youngsters the intricacies of baseball and football. He hasn't made a great deal of progress so far. For example, he complains that would-be native baseball players insist on sliding into all the bases, including first, even on walks. But O'Donnell takes somewhat perverse pride in one thing he has accomplished. In congratulating one Zambian athlete on a rare good play, he instinctively gave him a high five. It caught on instantly, O'Donnell says, and "has now spread through the land."
O'Donnell now proudly refers to himself as "the father" of the high five in Africa. And he says, expansively, "I think I'll introduce them to spiking next."
THEY SAID IT
•William E. Simon, president of the U.S. Olympic Committee, on the less-than-perfect housing conditions at the Pan American Games: "The athletes aren't complaining. They're all pros."
•Foge Fazio, Pitt football coach, upon learning that Playboy had predicted a 4-7 record for the Panthers in 1983: "I switched my subscription to Penthouse."
•Lou Holtz, Arkansas football coach, whose team is expected to have a sub-par season in '83: "When I get depressed, I just go home and read my five-year contract."