THE COMEBACK PHENOMENON
On Sept. 15 Salisbury (Md.) State College, a Division III school, trailed 33-0 in the first half in a game against Randolph-Macon but won 34-33. That tied the NCAA record for overcoming the biggest deficit to win, held by another Division III school, Wisconsin-Platteville, which came from 33 points behind in 1980 to beat Wisconsin-Eau Claire 52-43. On the same day that Salisbury State performed its heroics, Wisconsin rallied from a 28-7 deficit to beat Missouri 35-34 and Notre Dame overcame a 17-0 deficit to beat Michigan State 24-20. Moreover, Eastern New Mexico, which had been trailing East Central Oklahoma 46-14 with 1:54 left in the third quarter, rebounded to win 50-46 in what was, as far as anyone knows, the biggest comeback ever in NAIA competition. To round out the weekend, the New England Patriots rallied from 23-0 the next day to beat Seattle 38-23.
Dramatic as they were, not all the reversals broke records. Wisconsin and Notre Dame both fell short of the NCAA Division I best-ever comeback set in 1981 by Oregon State, which beat Fresno State 31-28 after trailing 28-0 in the third quarter. And New England's rally was not as impressive as the one San Francisco forged in 1980 when, trailing New Orleans 35-7, it won 38-35 in overtime. But surely there have never been so many big comebacks in a single weekend in football history. And just as surely, there has been a trend in recent years toward heart-stopping comebacks in college and pro football games generally.
The most obvious explanation is the growing popularity of the passing game at all levels of the sport. That was evident in Salisbury State's win, during which Sea Gull quarterback Robb Disbennett tied a Division III record with 16 straight completions. "The colleges are just like the pros—they're passing more," observes SI's college football writer, Douglas S. Looney. "You can catch up really quickly with a passing game. Very few college coaches are living by the run any more." Looney says the increased incidence of big comebacks tends to feed on itself: when teams fall behind now, "coaches still coach and players still play and everybody feels that all things are possible." In the specific case of Notre Dame's victory over Michigan State, Looney cites two other factors: "One, the Irish had the better players, and two, their coach was scared to death he was going to lose his job."
September 30, 1984
A DISTINCTIVE JANE HANCOCK
Peter Vidmar, the U.S. gymnast who won two gold medals in L.A., has been besieged by autograph seekers since the Olympics. So, surprisingly, has his bride of 15 months, who has come up with an inscription that seems to satisfy her new fans just fine: "Donna Vidmar, U.S.A. wife."
A recent item in International Tennis Weekly noted that a benefit gala in Laguna Niguel, Calif. for the Junior Wheelchair Sports Camps was to include a doubles match in which actors Gene Wilder and Dick Van Patten would play with two wheelchair players. That sounded both admirable and interesting. ITW also reported that at the same benefit, "John Newcombe, Roy Emerson, Bob Lutz, Rod Laver and Charlie Pasarell will participate in a doubles match." That sounded both interesting and crowded.
DOWN TO BASICS
Florida State sports information director Wayne Hogan is using satire, a rare tool in a trade that more commonly relies on shameless hype, to tout running back Greg Allen for the Heisman Trophy. In a press release enumerating "things that Allen has not done," Hogan says that the Seminole star hasn't "spoken to any youth group about the dangers of drug abuse. He has not made any speeches before large groups or civic clubs. He has not been called by Ray Perkins or any other coach 'the greatest running back in America—college or pro.' He has not done any television or radio commercials. He has not saved anyone's life." What Allen has done, Hogan says, is "seen several movies...done a lot of running and lifting weights...been out on several dates...[written] two term papers...[and] watched the Olympics."
Lest anybody miss the point, Hogan concludes, "We think the Heisman Trophy winner will be decided between the white lines on Saturdays in the fall."
HERE COMES MR. JORDAN
You think the Chicago Bulls don't expect Michael Jordan, their No. 1 draft choice, to be a boffo attraction? The Bulls have taken out ads in local newspapers declaring that Jordan will be joining coach Kevin Loughery's cast in "his first role since the Olympics." The Bulls dub the production Here Comes Mr. Jordan, that being the title of a classic 1941 film comedy starring Robert Montgomery. The ad includes rave notices from half a dozen critics, ranging from U.S. Olympic coach Bobby Knight ("Michael is a great, great basketball player") to the Chicago Tribune's movie reviewer, Gene Siskel, who gives the former North Carolina star a four-star rating. The Bulls top all this off with a cautionary note for the fans: OPENING SOON 41 NIGHTS ONLY.
HE WANTS TO BE WANTED
Are you listening, all you inconsiderate sponsors on the PGA Tour? David Graham, who won the 1981 U.S. Open, thinks that the $22 million in purses that you put up for tour events doesn't quite make it and that you'd better shape up if you want to attract the top golfers to your tournaments. Pay attention now, please:
"In case you're wondering why I and other players haven't shown up at the tournament in your area for a while, read on.... The biggest enticement from our standpoint is how well the tournament is run and how well we're treated. And that takes in a lot of small things that might not occur to anybody. Certainly they don't occur to a lot of sponsors.
"Transportation—from picking players up at the airport to providing courtesy cars—is important. It can save us from $6,000 to $10,000 a year, it costs the tournament very little if anything and it tells us we're wanted there.
"Not surprisingly, eating is important. What is surprising is how many tournament sponsors don't think about it. To play well it's necessary to have a good breakfast. If you have an early tee time and have to leave the hotel before its dining room opens, it's nice to be able to get a hot breakfast at the club....
"Players also like a quiet place where they can have lunch in privacy, a place they can take their families if they like. If you play in the morning, it's nice to be able to have a bite to eat and then go practice in the afternoon."
Graham says that when they rate tournaments, players take into account the amenities offered, from free meals to balls (he can't stand "striped" practice balls) to the condition of the turf on the practice tee. His favorites include the Byron Nelson, because "the facilities are good and the buffet is outstanding." Among his least favorite are the Phoenix Open ("I went back in 1982 as the defending champion and U.S. Open champion, and they didn't have a courtesy car for me") and the Isuzu-Andy Williams San Diego Open ("no cars for the players and pitiful accommodations within the immediate area of the course").
Graham expresses these views in the September issue of Golf Digest, for which he writes a bimonthly column. A native of Australia who lives in Dallas, Graham pulls down $500,000 or so a year from that deal, exhibitions, endorsements and the like, and he has won $1.5 million in his 14 years on the tour, including $115,800 so far in 1984. No wonder he's trying to hustle free breakfasts and courtesy cars. And no wonder PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman fined him $1,000 for "conduct unbecoming a professional" for using his column to criticize tournament sponsors. Ordinarily one might defend Graham's right of free speech, but that's hard to do in light of what happened after Beman fined golfers Bob Gilder and J.C. Snead last spring for criticizing the format of a couple of tournaments. On that occasion Graham wrote in Golf Digest that criticizing tournaments and their sponsors "hurts me and everybody else who plays golf for a living." Gilder and Snead, Graham wrote, "might have done well to bite their lips."
A CANINE TURNCOAT IN THE PEACH STATE
As all college football fans know perfectly well, the bulldog is the mascot of the University of Georgia. As those fans also recognize, the Dawgs' big intrastate rival is Georgia Tech. Take those two facts, mix in some entrepreneurship and a bit of rambling recklessness and you have the poster shown above, which is selling briskly—at $4.75 each—at the Georgia Tech campus bookstore. The bulldog is Tuf-as-Hell, whose owner, Bob Nichols, was a standout tennis player at Georgia Tech from 1957 to 1960. As a lark, Nichols had his old letter sweater made into a coat for Tuf-as-Hell, and that gave Norman Arey, Tech's assistant athletic director for media relations and promotions, the inspiration for the poster. "When people see it, they immediately do a double take," Arey says. "It's a perfect juxtaposition, like seeing an Auburn man without a plow or a four-year Georgia man with a diploma."
THEY SAID IT
•Whitey Herzog, St. Louis Cardinal manager, explaining why he prefers Mets pitching sensation Dwight Gooden over Phillie second baseman Juan Samuel, who's hitting .273, with 69 stolen bases, but has committed 33 errors, for National League Rookie of the Year: "Samuel's allowed more runs than Gooden."
•Sam Wyche, Cincinnati Bengal coach, after the team's pet cat, Vanilla, vomited on the floor of his office: "This is something that probably doesn't happen in Tom Landry's office."
•Franco Harris, talking about his first game with the Seattle Seahawks: "After 12 years, the old butterflies came back. Well, I guess at my age you call them moths."
•Duane Schlei, announcer at the Black Hills Greyhound Race Track in Rapid City, S. Dak., after the withdrawal from a race of an entrant named Little Itch: "Ladies and gentlemen, please scratch Little Itch."