LET'S MAKE A DEAL
With incursions by the USFL presumably the NFL's most pressing problem, the league's owners gathered in Honolulu last week for their annual meetings. Paul Zimmerman reports from Hawaii:
The war party turned into a rummage sale. Proposals for a master plan for dealing with the USFL, e.g., moving up the draft to February or holding a supplemental draft of USFL players, were tabled until the next NFL meetings, in May. Instead, in rapid-fire order:
•The Cowboys were sold on Monday.
April 2, 1984
•The Broncos were sold on Tuesday.
•The fact that the Chargers are for sale was leaked to the newspapers that same day. In a press conference on Thursday in San Diego, owner Gene Klein confirmed the report, though no buyer has surfaced.
Thus, in the space of one week, two franchises were sold, and a third was made available. What's going on?
"Since the merger agreement in 1966 only four teams had been sold, before this week," commissioner Pete Rozelle said in Honolulu. "Sure, I prefer stability. I love people like the Maras, the Rooneys and the Halases. But if you're looking for a trend here, I'm not sure you can find one. Clint Murchison had to sell the Cowboys because he's sick. Gene Klein said he wasn't enjoying being an owner anymore. And it appears that Edgar Kaiser sold the Broncos for profit. That's not really a trend."
"It's a seller's market," said Viking vice-president Mike Lynn, "but that'll end soon. Last season someone told me he was interested in buying an NFL franchise. I said, 'Wait till 1987. They'll be going for bargain prices.' Now I'd move that up to '85 or '86."
Lynn feels that the sums paid for the Cowboys ($60 million for the club, $20 million for its stadium lease) and Broncos ($70 million) may be the top of the market for NFL franchises for some time to come. Competition from the USFL has jacked up player salaries and cut profit margins. Teams that have tried to keep pace by raising ticket prices have found themselves blasted by the fans and the press. Kaiser had increased prices for three straight years, from $12 a ticket for the bulk of Mile High Stadium seats to $19.25. Now that Kaiser has turned a neat profit—he more than doubled the value of his investment in the three years he owned the club—the fans will be even more irate.
Klein, who bought the Chargers from Barron Hilton for $10 million 18 years ago, has grown tired of the bitter warfare in the courts and the agents' offices. He has sued the Raiders' Al Davis, charging "malicious prosecution." Klein maintains that his first of two heart attacks was brought on by Davis' antitrust suit. Davis has countersued. It's no fun being an owner anymore.
But despite the annoying realities, one owner thinks there will always be people willing to pay a hefty price for an NFL franchise. "As long as there are 100 egomaniacs," says Bob Gries, a Browns minority owner, "you'll never have trouble selling a pro football team."
As Colts owner Robert Irsay last week dangled his team before three cities, Indianapolis, Phoenix and its present location, Baltimore, the catastrophic effects on a municipality of uprooting its football franchise were examined by columnist Linell Smith of The Baltimore Evening Sun. She listed the agencies available to provide stricken fans with disaster relief and credited one, the United Nations Disaster Relief Office, with having defined the major disaster categories: Sudden Natural, Creeping or Long Term Natural, Deliberate Man-Made, and Accidental Man-Made. Smith suggested Colt fans alert the UNDRO to the possibility of a fifth classification: "Deliberately Creepy, Man-Made."
LUCK OF THE IRISH
The old story goes that an Irishman named Anthony Clancy was born on the seventh day of the seventh month of 1907. He was the seventh child of a seventh child and even had seven brothers. On his 27th birthday he went to the track. A horse named Seventh Heaven was running in the seventh race, wearing No. 7. The horse was going off at 7-1, so naturally, Clancy put seven shillings on it. Seventh Heaven came in seventh.
Well, Clancy has a modern-day counterpart: rookie infielder Kelly Gruber of Toronto, who hadn't had a hit this spring in 12 exhibition games. With a name like Kelly, though, and uniform No. 17, it seemed almost preordained that his luck would change on March 17, St. Patrick's Day. Sure enough, Gruber got into the Blue Jays' game with Philadelphia that day and batted twice. But he failed to get a hit. That left him at 0 for 17.
GETTING A FAIR SHAKE
Greg Hammond finished second recently in an open 100-meter breaststroke race at the New South Wales Southern Districts Championships in Narooma, a town 219 miles south of Sydney, Australia.
Hammond, 16, was disqualified because, as referee Pauline Gill pointed out, the rules state you've got to simultaneously touch the wall at the end of the race with both hands. That's not possible for Hammond, who was born with only one hand; his right arm ends just below the elbow. So, when the coach of the swimmer who placed third protested, Gill reluctantly disqualified Hammond.
"It's almost funny," says Hammond's father, John. "But really it's unsportsmanlike and quite distasteful. They should take account of the spirit in which the rules were written."
ET TU, DUFFUS?
Radio announcer Rica Duffus of KYW in Philadelphia last week concluded an international news roundup with a report on the breakdown of the Lebanese peace talks. After repeating Druze leader Walid Jumblat's caveat: "Beware the Ides of March," Duffus explained, "That, of course, refers to the assassination of Julius Erving." Perhaps she was thinking of the Boston Celtics, who come to Philly not to praise Erving, but to bury him.
GULLING THE PUBLIC
A big cover-up has been perpetrated in baseball, and George Steinbrenner was behind it. On the original cover of the spring training issue of Yankees Magazine, the team's official publication, was a picture of Dave Winfield superimposed on a photo of palm trees on a sunlit beach. Winging about the background are eight seagulls.
Winfield, you'll recall, got hauled to a Toronto police station last August for fatally beaning a gull between innings of a game with the Blue Jays. He was accused of cruelty to an animal, a charge that was dropped the next day.
"Winfield and seagulls were the last things on my mind," claims David Szen, the magazine's publisher. "If Dave had tried to deliberately kill that seagull, it would have been in bad taste."
Don Baylor had been Szen's first choice for a cover subject, but he couldn't find a shot of Baylor that worked against the tropical backdrop. So Szen opted for Winfield—without making the seagull connection. Steinbrenner, of course, did. But by then, 30,000 copies of the magazine were already in the mail, and another 10,000 had been sold at Yankee exhibition games. Nonetheless, at Steinbrenner's behest, the covers of the remaining 15,000 copies were removed and replaced with ones featuring either Yogi Berra or Ron Guidry. "George wasn't exactly upset," says Szen. "He just mentioned that he'd appreciate us checking with him on all future covers."
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
Montana's Class A high school basketball MVP this year is a Crow named Jonathan Takes Enemy. The 6' 2" guard averaged 41 points a game in the state tournament for sixth-place Hardin High, one of three high schools on the Crow reservation. Takes Enemy isn't to be confused with Barney Smarts Enemy, last year's Class C MVP from Plenty Coups High. Hardin's other starters were Greg Pretty Weasel, Joe Pretty Paint, Laramie Bauman and Darin Big Medicine. On the bench was another Big Medicine, Jon, and Barney Old Horn, Craig Cliff, Joseph Buffalo and Solon Moccasin.
Hardin is located 13 miles from the place along the Little Bighorn River where Custer made his last stand. Hardin's coach, George Pfeifer, is a non-Indian who in preparation for 1983 postseason play underwent an Indian purification ceremony. He sat naked in a sweat lodge, a kind of tepee sauna, for the equivalent of four quarters. It worked: Hardin made it to the state tournament for the first time since 1963.
This year Hardin lost 104-102 in the consolation bracket to Park High of Livington, an Anglo team led by Shann Ferch, a second-team All-State point guard. Ferch learned the game on the Cheyenne reservation, where he was nicknamed Casper, after the pale-faced ghost. His brother Kral was the star forward on Livington's '83 Class A state champs. "I didn't want to name my sons Tom, Dick or Harry," says their father, the Park High coach. "Mine's Tom."
HOLZMAN THE ACTOR: LIKED BUT NOT WELL LIKED
When Dustin Hoffman was casting his revival of Death of a Salesman, which opens this week on Broadway, he called in some characters who've played intriguing roles in their own lives: G. Gordon Liddy was in the running for the part of protagonist Willy Loman's crooked brother, Ben; Rita Jenrette read for the role of the "other woman" in Willy's flashbacks; and John McEnroe was a candidate for Willy's ne'er-do-well son. Biff. For Charley, the Lomans' prosperous neighbor, Hoffman, who's playing the part of Willy, and the play's principals talked with former Knick coach Red Holzman. "I really didn't do anything," says Holzman. "I just watched people read."
Holzman and Hoffman became friends in the late 1960s when Hoffman had season tickets behind the Knick bench. Holzman has never acted, and he decided he wasn't ready to trade his playbook—he still advises the Knicks—for a paragraph in a playbill. "On the stage you can't make any mistakes," he says.
It may also have been a case of casting against type. Holzman, who coached the Knicks to NBA championships in 1970 and 1973, wrote in his book, Holzman's Basketball, about growing up in Brooklyn: "[My mother] did not want me wasting my time playing basketball. I read it, ate it, slept it." One of Charley's lines is: "My salvation is that I never took an interest in anything."
In the end, as Willy might say, Holzman the actor was liked but not well liked, and he didn't survive the final cut. Still, Holzman was enthusiastic about having been given a look at age 63. "I'm more of a movie actor," he says. "I would be good as the friend of the hero—you know, those guys in movies always have friends." Why not the hero? "I'm getting past that hero stuff now."
Holzman's preference for roles may be modest, but he's acquired the temperament of a star. Although he was flattered at being considered—especially because Hoffman's first choice reportedly was Gene Hackman—Holzman said in mock indignation, "Wait a minute, how come I was second?"
THEY SAID IT
•Aaron Pryor, former WBA junior welterweight champ, on his return to the ring: "I wasn't retired. I was resting."
•Clint Hurdle, recently demoted to Triple A by the Mets, on his new short haircut: "I'm trying to look like the lead singer in that band, Men Without Work."