Romania, the only Soviet bloc nation that hasn't boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics, seems satisfied with the security plans for the Games that the Soviets said were unsatisfactory. In Los Angeles last Friday, Haralambie Alexa, president of the Romanian National Olympic Committee, told reporters through an interpreter, "We feel assured that security will be guaranteed.... From what I have seen, everything is covered."
Reporters pelted the Romanian with questions about his country's decision to fly in the face of the Soviet Union's decision to boycott. Peter Ueberroth, the beleaguered president of the L.A. Olympic Organizing Committee, reacted nervously to the questioning, but Alexa, a pleasant, roundish man, handled it with ease.
"We made our own decision to come," he said calmly. "There have been no pressures put on us. Each Olympic committee decided independently. We decided to come."
When a reporter referred to the Romanian move as "heroic," Alexa smiled. "We don't consider that our participation is heroic," he said. "It is our gesture of respect for the Olympic movement and principles." Asked about possible defections from Romania's 179-person delegation, Alexa said, "We'd like to declare in all clarity [that] we'd like to return with those that we are bringing.... [In Romania] our athletes suffer from no restrictions."
When someone asked if Romania had another Nadia Comaneci, he smiled again. "Yes, we do," he said. "Not just one, but several."
HADL'S DUBIOUS DECISION
The USFL is striving for a legitimate place in the pro football sun, but what the Los Angeles Express did last Saturday didn't help matters much. L.A., which had already clinched first place in the Pacific Division, was playing Arizona, which was vying with Denver for the last open spot in the playoffs. Denver's hopes depended on a Denver victory over Oakland Friday night and an Arizona loss to Los Angeles on Saturday. Denver did its part, winning 20-7, but its playoff chances went kaput when L.A. coach John Hadl announced that he would rest his outstanding rookie quarterback, Steve Young, against Arizona, and start reserve Frank Seurer. With Young, L.A. was an eight-point favorite. Without him, L.A. was a 35-10 loser as Seurer and Russ Jensen completed only 10 passes in 35 attempts and threw three interceptions, one of them run back for the final Arizona touchdown.
Denver tried hard in its last regular-season game. It's a shame the Express didn't.
Most communities that put up road signs honoring famous native sons take a distinctly formal approach to the task. WELCOME TO PODUNK, THE HOME OF JOE CELEBRITY, such signs typically say. But Don Meredith, the football player turned TV personality, is a folksy sort who has inspired admirers in his native Mount Vernon, Texas to affect a lighter touch. A sign on I-30 leading into the community of 2,025 inhabitants says, WELCOME TO MOUNT VERNON, A DANDY TOWN.
AN AMERICAN IN PARIS
Among the faces in the crowd of cyclists starting the famed Tour de France this weekend will be a Nov. 12, 1979 FACE IN THE CROWD of our own—Greg LeMond of Washoe Valley, Nev. The 23-year-old LeMond is making his debut in the Tour, but his reputation as a cyclist is such that he is one of the favorites to win the 24-day, 3,900-kilometer event, the first time in the 81-year history of the Tour that an American has been so seriously considered. Only one other American, Jacques Boyer, has completed it in recent years; he's finished 32nd, 23rd and 12th.
In a sport in which Americans have never been a force, LeMond has moved to a dominating position. In 1979, at 18, he won a gold, a silver and a bronze at the junior world championships in Argentina, the first time an American ever won three medals in a world event. In 1981 he began racing professionally for Renault, and in 1982 won the Tour de l'Avenir by a record 10:18. Last year he won the Dauphine Libéré, a grueling series of races up and down Alpine passes, and the world professional road-racing championship in Altenrhein, Switzerland. He became the first non-European to win the Super Prestige trophy, which goes to the overall winner of the European racing circuit. France's Bernard Hinault, a four-time winner of the Tour, has said, "LeMond will succeed me as the best cyclist in the world."
CATALYST FOR ANARCHY
If you like John McEnroe, you'll probably love Mike DeFranco. A 22-year-old junior at the University of Central Florida, DeFranco" had a 20-2 record in singles competition this past season and went into the NCAA Division II tournament in San Marcos, Texas as the top-seeded player, only to suffer a back injury and withdraw in the first round. But DeFranco's gifts as a player—Rollins University coach Norm Copeland calls him "the best Division II player I've ever seen"—are overshadowed by his role as a self-described "catalyst" for turning tennis into "a state of anarchy."
DeFranco was ejected from two national junior tournaments at ages 11 and 12 for screaming and throwing his racket. He has unnerved college opponents by swearing at them and challenging them to fights. During some matches he has strummed his racket like a guitar, danced and exhorted the crowd to join him in song. He once played a dual-meet match in overalls and a baseball cap; before the match he relaxed at courtside with a chaw of tobacco in his cheek. Inspired by his idol, Jimmy Page, the lead guitarist for Led Zeppelin, he showed up at last year's NCAA nationals wearing black fingernail polish, a skull-shaped earring and a Led Zeppelin T shirt.
Needless to say, DeFranco's antics don't always sit well with authorities. Central Florida athletic director Bill Peterson suspended him for two matches this season after he took the court in his Led Zeppelin getup and blue hair and sang, danced and cursed his way through a match. DeFranco dressed more conservatively after that, but he continued to taunt opponents, receiving help in this regard from several Central Florida football players who showed up for home matches to cheer him on and heckle his opponents, even going so far as to switch seats during court changes so they could always be in a position to yell in the opponent's ear.
In defending his behavior, DeFranco says he's merely trying to enliven the sport. "Tennis is very boring," he says. "It's basically a rich, prima donna sport. I'd like to see it more like a rock concert." DeFranco says he'd even like to see free-for-alls on the court, explaining, "I think that would appeal to the American people. They seem to like violence." But he allows that his outlandish behavior on the court also has a more conventional motivation. "It's dog eat dog out there," he says. "I do a lot of that stuff to intimidate. I try to win any way I can."
It's axiomatic in the NBA that fans don't see the same quality of play during the regular season that they do in the playoffs. The players explain that it's simply impossible to perform with full intensity throughout the whole season. But this raises an interesting point. Whereas the average NBA player's salary during the 1983-84 regular season was $275,000, or $3,354 for each of a team's 82 games, the playoff loot was considerably less. The champion Celtics' cut of the playoff pool came to $36,000 apiece, which works out to $1,565 a game for Larry Bird and the others for the 23 playoff games. (Bird earns upwards of $20,000 a game during the regular season.) And members of the Lakers and other teams earned even less for their playoff efforts.
Considering that they receive an average of more than twice as much per game in the regular season as they do in the playoffs, NBA players should, in fairness, do all they possibly can to adjust their intensity accordingly. What we have in mind is increasing that intensity during the regular season rather than decreasing it in the playoffs.
Suppose that pitcher Jim Gott of the Toronto Blue Jays faces second baseman Tim Teufel of the Minnesota Twins. Both names are German. If you translate them into English, Gott pitching to Teufel becomes God pitching to the Devil. And if Teufel belts a gamer off the Toronto hurler, wouldn't the headline have to say PARADISE LOST?
WENDYING THEIR WAY FROM L.A.
Among the various matchups generated by the Olympic Games is a lively one developing between the television networks. For example, in Indianapolis the ABC affiliate, WRTV, usually puts on a half-hour news show every night at 10 o'clock. But during the Olympics, ABC's extensive coverage of the Games will run past 10 and preempt the news show. The network will let its affiliates take a short break at 10 for bulletins, but WRTV and other stations will have to delay complete news programs until the Olympic telecast is over.
NBC has been quick to take advantage of the situation. It has hired octogenarian Clara Peller, heroine of Wendy's "Where's the beef?" commercials, to star in a promo that its affiliates—such as WTHR in Indianapolis—can use during the Games. WTHR will continue to present late-night news at 10, as Peller will remind viewers. In the promo, she and a friend are sitting before a TV set.
Friend: "Oh, they're playing field hockey."
Peller: "Where's the news?"
Friend: "The grass is very green."
Peller: "Where's the news?"
Friend: "They're running back and forth."
Peller: "I don't think there's any news in there."
In case anyone has missed the point, the local station reminds viewers where they can watch the news at 10 o'clock.
Ah, there's nothing like Olympic competition.
SUITS THE CRIME
The Vancouver Canadians spent 23 consecutive days in first place in the Northern Division of the Pacific Coast League. During that time phones in the front office were answered with a cheery "Good morning! First-place Canadians!"
Then the Canadians sagged, lost 15 of 18 and finished the first half of the split-season pennant race in third. Asked how he answered his phone during the slump, general manager Stu Kehoe replied, "Yeah, whaddya want?"
THEY SAID IT
•Tim McCormick, 6'11" center from Michigan, after being selected in the first round of the NBA draft last week by the Cleveland Cavaliers, traded immediately to the Washington Bullets and then traded again to the Seattle SuperSonics: "I enjoyed my stay in Cleveland, it was nice in Washington, but I'm really looking forward to Seattle."
•Jeff Van Note, Atlanta Falcons center, told that his club's draftees had potential: "Potential is a French word that means you aren't worth a damn yet."