Yes, the Soviet Union is still bad-mouthing the L.A. Olympics, but just one week before the Games opened a team of Soviet athletes landed in the U.S. and took part in an international athletic competition with an American team. The sport was volleyball, the locale was Kodiak Island in Alaska and the Soviet team was made up of eight men from a Soviet fisheries research ship called Shantar, which had put in at Kodiak for repairs. The Russians issued a challenge to any Americans who'd care to play them, and the Glacier State Diggers, champions of Kodiak's city volleyball league, responded. They rounded up a net and a ball and took on the red-shirted Soviets in a five-game match in the gymnasium of Kodiak High School (whose teams, appropriately enough, are nicknamed the Bears).
The Soviets had an American interpreter, but there were few language difficulties. "It was all volleyball," said Jim Kennedy, one of the Diggers. "It was so natural we didn't have to communicate." The few questions that came up were handled for the most part by the phrase "No problem," which the Soviets used more readily than "Nyet." Was the ball pumped up hard enough? "No problem." We'll each call our own fouls, O.K.? "No problem."
The teams were fairly evenly matched, with the Diggers' star spiker, 6'4" Bill Kuiper (who had played at Santa Monica Junior College in Los Angeles), opposed by an equally tall Soviet refrigeration engineer with a long Soviet name ("Call me Sasha," he said amiably). As a crowd of about 40 Soviets and Americans looked on, the U.S. won 15-10, 15-5, 15-13, 9-15, 15-9. Afterward, the Soviets presented the Americans with a trophy—a silver-colored torch with an olive branch at the base—and little flags, one bearing the ship's name and another with a set of hauntingly familiar interlocked rings. Caught unprepared by this generosity, the Diggers scrounged a brand-new volleyball from the high school's supply, autographed it and presented it to the Soviets, hoping the school administration would overlook a little white larceny in the name of international goodwill.
"The governments have conflicts," said Don Kuiper, Bill's father and another Digger, too, "but these were just regular guys." At the end of the match, with everyone drenched in sweat, the Americans made chugalug gestures and asked, "Do you drink beer?" The Soviets grinned and said, "No problem." One of the Soviets later said, "We had our Olympics in Kodiak." That was the only time the Games were mentioned.
Allen Abel, a former sports columnist for the Toronto Globe and Mail, is now that newspaper's bureau chief in China. Ruminating recently about the tribulations of his new assignment, he said, "The Chinese government considers all Western correspondents spies. They think we are trying to destroy the things we are writing about, that we are negativists and the enemy. It's a lot like covering the Maple Leafs."
Former Oriole skipper Earl Weaver was the color commentator on the national telecasts of last year's World Series, which the Orioles proceeded to win. Former Raider coach John Madden was the TV color man for the 1984 Super Bowl, which the Raiders won. Ex-Celtic coach Tom Heinsohn was the network commentator for this year's NBA championship series, which the Celtics won. So all that your favorite team needs to do to win a title is to have one of its former head men work the TV booth, right?
Well, it would probably also help if, somewhere along the line, your boys managed to eliminate a Houston team from the playoffs.
In their NBA playoff appearance in 1981, the Houston Rockets were ousted by the eventual league champions, the Celtics. In the Houston Astros' only appearances in the National League playoffs, in 1980 and '81, they lost to the World Series champions-to-be, the Phillies and Dodgers. The story is the same with the NFL's Houston Oilers. Their last three playoff visits came in 1978, 1979 and 1980. They were eliminated by the Steelers the first two years and the Raiders the third; those teams went on to win the Super Bowl each time.
Houston's tendency to get bounced by the ultimate champ, by the way, extends to the University of Houston basketball team, which has made it to the NCAA Final Four five times and lost to the eventual national champion on each occasion—to UCLA in the semifinals in both 1967 and '68, to North Carolina in the semis in 1982 and to North Carolina State and Georgetown in the final game the last two years.
It was a rainy day in July in Louisville, a very rainy day. More than three inches fell in the morning, and the total for 24 hours was 4.60 inches. Nonetheless, a complete program of harness races went off on schedule at Louisville Downs that evening—with one wonderful, watery result. The eighth race was won by a pacer named Striped Bass. In second place was Nimble Fish. Third was Happy Snapper.
All swimming upstream, no doubt.
"It was a dialectical feeling," former pro basketball star Brian Taylor says now of his decision to leave Princeton after his junior year to pursue a pro career. That was back in 1972, when it appeared that the bidding war between the ABA and the NBA, which meant big bucks for young players, was about to end. "It was the best time to leave," he says, "but I felt bad about it, too."
So did Princeton fans, many of whom were critical of his decision. They reminded Taylor, who had been called "the black Bill Bradley," that Bradley had postponed his own pro career to study at Oxford for two years. Taylor, who'd grown up in a public housing project in Perth Amboy, N.J. and had been admitted to academically prestigious Princeton despite very low college board scores, said he'd return to get his degree someday. As the years went by, the promise appeared to be an empty one and Taylor just one more of the army of pro athletes (45% in the NBA, 70% in the NFL) who never finish college.
Then in 1983, after a decade in pro basketball that included two ABA championships with the New York Nets and stints with Denver and San Diego in the NBA, Taylor tore an Achilles tendon and his career was over. Encouraged by his wife and by Princeton basketball coach Pete Carril, he applied for readmission. "I decided to go back because I was so close to graduating, just two semesters away," he explains. "And I was a new father. I figured it was time to sacrifice, to study and work hard. It put me back in touch with reality."
Taylor had to go through standard application procedures, including interviews with the dean. "I didn't know if they were going to let me back in," he says. "When I was accepted, I was almost as happy as when I was first accepted in 1969." He chose a double major in political science and Afro-American history and this spring, 12 years after his departure for the pros, Brian Taylor in cap and gown walked across the Princeton campus with his bachelor's degree in hand. "It's like reliving your youth," he says. "It was really worth my time."
GEOGRAPHICAL DUCK HOOK
The professional golf tour suffers sometimes from jurisdictional-geographical confusion. For instance, although the British Open isn't a PGA Tour event—the tour is basically confined to the U.S. and Canada—The New York Times' TV section on July 21 contained this listing: (7) PGA GOLF: British Open third round, live from St. Andrews, Scotland. But there is even confusion locally in North America. An ESPN announcer reporting from Oakville, Ont. in June said, "Greg Norman is heading toward his second win in the U.S. here in the Canadian Open."
DOGGONE LONG SHOT
At the Biscayne Dog Track in Miami Shores, Fla. on July 25, past performance charts for the 12th race showed that Crime Pays, one of the eight entries, had finished in a dead heat for third place in her last start. Nothing particularly remarkable about that, although dead heats for any position are relatively rare. However, the dog she had tied in that earlier race, PJ's Poster Girl, was also entered. PJ's Poster Girl had been in three dead heats in her last six starts, which defies the laws of probability.
Now, meeting each other again, Crime Pays and PJ's Poster Girl chased the odds-on favorite, See Yall, to the wire. See Yall edged them by a nose—or, rather, by both their noses, for Crime Pays and PJ's Poster Girl finished in a tie for second place, their second dead heat in a row and PJ's Poster Girl's fourth in seven races. They don't make tote boards big enough to post the odds against that.
"SEE REVERSE SIDE"
By the time you're 18, you can accomplish an awful lot, especially if you're 6'5" and 290 pounds, play good football, get along well in school and aspire to be an orthopedic surgeon. Charles Tabor is living proof of all that. A graduate of Independence High in Charlotte, N.C., Tabor is heading for the University of Missouri, where the sports information office makes it a practice to ask incoming gridders to fill out a questionnaire covering their achievements. Four paltry lines are allowed for this purpose, hardly enough for Tabor, who had a 3.762 grade-point average in high school and who hopes to prove that "the old days of the dumb jock have gone by the wayside." He listed his letters in football, basketball, baseball, wrestling and track, his membership in the National Honor Society and the Order of the Patriot and his selection to the Bally and Parade academic All-America teams.
Here Tabor paused to write "see reverse side," where he proceeded to mention, among other things, that he was twice co-captain of his high school football team; a Street and Smith Top 50 All-America; the top vote-getter in the Associated Press all-state team; recipient of a U.S. Army Reserve scholarship; president of the Leo Club; president of the Monogram. Club; a member of the Spanish Club, the student council, and Fellowship of Christian Athletes; and the winner of several player of the week awards from local radio and TV stations. He also wrote that his high school had retired his jersey.
In using information from such questionnaires, the press is free to pick and choose. In Tabor's case, however, his accomplishments are most impressive in the aggregate.
THEY SAID IT
•Jack Donahue, Canada's Olympic basketball coach, noting the sport's relatively low stature in that country: "We lost, and a Canadian official said, 'Don't worry, Jack, it wasn't your fault. The kids just couldn't put the puck in the net.' "
•Pete O'Brien, Texas Ranger first baseman, on rumors that his money-losing club was about to acquire the Yankees' Dave Winfield: "The only way we could have Winfield is if he bought the team and put himself in the lineup."
•Tom Stoppard, British dramatist and longtime cricket fan, after watching a Softball team representing his hit play The Real Thing lose the Broadway summer softball league championship to Neal Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs, 10-5: "I don't think I can be expected to treat seriously a game that takes less than three days to reach its conclusion."
•Brooks Robinson, Hall of Fame third baseman, asked if the series of oldtimer games that ended with the National League edging the American League 13-12 in Indianapolis could be expanded into something like golf's senior tour: "Who's going to come see us? We can't play a lick."