Goodbye-maybe-to the great U.S.-U.S.S.R. sports rivalry
Over the last 40 years, the world has grown accustomed to watching athletes clad in red CCCP singlets and jerseys excel in international athletic competition. Since 1952, when the U.S.S.R. entered its first Olympics, that country has won more Winter and Summer Olympic medals than any other nation.
And Americans have long reveled in the memorable U.S.-U.S.S.R. confrontations, both individual (John Thomas versus Valery Brumel in the high jump, for example) and team ones (basketball in the '72 Summer Olympics, hockey in the '80 Winter Games). The U.S. boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, and the Soviet Union boycotted the '84 Los Angeles Games, but on many other occasions the two countries met on the playing field—and came away from those competitions with grudging mutual respect.
So it is with a touch of sporting wistfulness that one reflects on the possibility that, in the wake of the failed coup two weeks ago, the Soviet Union may be breaking up. When Russian president Boris Yeltsin, an avid tennis player whose competitive instincts were honed on the volleyball courts of his native Sverdlovsk, rallied his countrymen against the leaders of the coup, he may have been unwittingly laying the groundwork for the demise of the Soviet sports machine.
Last week Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee, said, "I think we have seen the red flag for the last time." Indeed, the three Baltic republics—Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia—have already petitioned the IOC to allow them to compete as independent teams in next year's Olympics, and the Ukraine may do the same. IOC director general Franco Carraro says that the Baltic states could even be accepted in time to take part in the Winter Games in Albertville, France, in February.
Actually, the Baltic states are not applying to the IOC for admission as much as they are applying for readmission. The three were independent countries and members of the IOC between 1918 and 1940, when they were annexed by Moscow at the beginning of World War II. Since then, Lithuania has provided the Soviet Union with its best basketball players, including Sharunas Marchulionis, now with the Golden State Warriors, and Arvidas Sabonis, while Estonia has supplied the best sailors and Latvia the cream of the bobsledders and lugers.
While some athletes would welcome the opportunity to represent their native republics, others worry that teams representing the various republics would not be as strong as a united Soviet team. Tatyana Ledovskaya of Belorussia, who won the women's 400-meter hurdles at the World Track and Field Championships in Tokyo last week, says, "It's better to compete for the Soviet Union than separately. Separate teams will be very weak."
Igor Ter-Ovanesyan, the former Olympic long jumper who is now the president of the track and field association of the Soviet Union, holds out hope that the athletes can form some sort of coalition similar to a trade union. "In my imagination we may be able to do something to be united in sports," says Ter-Ovanesyan, who is from Armenia. "I cannot imagine a single republic competing against the United States."
But it is also possible to imagine, say, pole vaulter Sergei Bubka setting his future world records for his native Ukraine rather than for the Soviet Union. And would that be so bad? The Soviets—or, rather, ex-Soviets—may now have a more difficult time assembling gold medal hockey or basketball teams, but that seems a tiny price to pay for freedom.
A Herd of Zebras
Jerry Bergman and sons whistle while they work
What's black and white and refs all over? The Bergman family, of course.
On Labor Day weekend, Jerry Bergman, 61, and his two sons, Jeff and Jerry Jr., were each scheduled to officiate a football game in a different state. Friday evening found Jerry Jr., 29, in Elwood City, Pa., acting as the back judge for a high school game. Two days later in Buffalo, Jerry Sr. began his 26th season as an NFL head linesman at the Bills-Miami Dolphins game. And when the San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants squared off on Monday night at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, Jeff, 36, was set to make his NFL debut as a line judge.
Jeff's recent promotion created the NFL's first-ever father-son officiating tandem. Jerry Sr. is among the most respected officials in the league. He has been chosen to officiate four Super Bowls, more than any of his active peers. Still, the elder Bergman is not without his critics. When a call by him negated what appeared to have been a fumble by the Dolphins' Mercury Morris in a crucial 1975 game with the Bills, Bergman, who lives in Pittsburgh, received 1,500 letters. "An envelope addressed to 'Blind As a Bat Bergman, Allegheny County,' found its way into our mailbox," says his wife, JoAnn.
According to Jeff, his dad possesses the ideal official's temperament: "He's opinionated and stubborn." But this son also rises to the occasion. During a preseason game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Detroit Lions that father and son both worked (they won't work together in the regular season because they're on different crews), two flags were thrown on the same play, prompting this exchange:
"What do you have?" said Jerry Sr.
"Encroachment, defense," said Jeff.
"Encroachment? Defense had 12 men on the field."
"Defense was in the neutral zone. Encroachment."
Both calls were right, but the offensive team chose to take the encroachment penalty. You might say that the rookie earned his stripes.
A Fake Gem
Vic Willis's 1899 no-hitter really wasn't one
If it seems that there are more no-hitters than there used to be, it's because there are. Not only is another gem pitched every few weeks (Bret Saberhagen's on Aug. 26 was the seventh this season), but also the number of no-no's of yesteryear could be decreasing—by one.
According to The Baseball Encyclopedia, Vic Willis, while pitching for the National League Boston Beaneaters, threw a no-hitter on Aug. 7, 1899, a 7-1 victory over the Washington Senators. But baseball historian Richard (Dixie) Tourangeau says otherwise. While doing research on another player, Tourangeau came across a game account and box score from Willis's supposed no-hitter that appeared in the Boston Post. Says Tourangeau, "The story clearly describes a ball hit by opposing pitcher Bill Dineen bouncing toward third baseman Jimmy Collins. As Collins went to get it, the ball hit something and went away from him."
Another Boston newspaper described Dineen's grounder as "the scratchiest of scratch hits." The only paper to claim the game had been a no-hitter was The Sporting Life, which noted Dineen's grounder as an E-6. A week later, however, the paper printed a correction, blaming an erroneous Associated Press report. Says Tourangeau, "Willis was credited with a no-hitter in the late 1960s, probably when a researcher for The Baseball Encyclopedia came across the AP box."
Rick Wolff, the editor of the Encyclopedia, says Willis's case will be considered this week at a meeting of the Commissioner's Committee on Historical Accuracy. Loss of the no-hitter might even hurt Willis's chances of making the Hall of Fame. A 248-game winner who died in 1947, Willis was considered for induction by the Veterans Committee earlier this year.
Does Tourangeau feel any guilt for casting Willis's putative masterpiece in doubt? "It's not on my head, because the first guy who knew he didn't throw a no-hitter was Vic Willis," says Tourangeau. "Vic was apparently a decent sort of fellow. Up in the big bullpen in the sky, I think, Vic is giving a sigh of relief."
Houston's David Klingler passes for nine touchdowns
Wait just a minute here. Let's not get down on Houston just yet. Sure, the Cougars exploded for a 73-3 win over Louisiana Tech last Saturday. But this wasn't another case of Houston's running it up against an out-manned foe. Louisiana Tech was coming off an 8-3-1 season that included a two-point loss to Auburn and a 34-34 tie with Maryland in the Independence Bowl. With most of last year's defense back, the Bulldogs figured to provide an adequate test for Houston quarterback David Klingler and coach John Jenkins's run-and-shoot attack.
That was the case, at least for a while. The score was 3-3 after the first quarter. At halftime it was—this is no misprint—Houston 45, Louisiana Tech 3. All Klingler did was cut loose for six touchdown passes, an NCAA record for one period, beating the five thrown by Houston's Andre Ware and Florida State's Peter Tom Willis, in 1989.
Unlike some previous victims of Houston routs, Louisiana Tech coach Joe Raymond Peace didn't take any shots at Jenkins. "John and I have been friends for a long time," said Peace. "The score is my fault, not his." Those were admirable words from Peace, considering that Jenkins let Klingler continue to bomb away in the third quarter, ostensibly to get him more work with five new starters.
When Klingler finally retired after three quarters, he had 36 completions in 57 attempts for 510 yards, with no interceptions and nine touchdowns. Of the three backup quarterbacks who shared duty in the final quarter, one was Klingler's younger brother, Jimmy, who completed a 50-yarder in his first attempt. "I'm lucky I'm a senior," said David, "because one of those guys might beat me out."
Aw, shucks. That sort of modesty might win Klingler some support among Heisman Trophy voters, especially those who have been turned off by the overkill that Houston routinely practices. However, the trophy might be won or lost not by anything Klingler says, but by what he does against Miami on Sept. 12. If any outfit has been more arrogant and dominant than Houston's offense over the past four seasons, it has been the Hurricane defense. And last Saturday Miami looked as formidable as ever, whipping Arkansas 31-3.
—WILLIAM F. REED
So you want to take the family to an NFL game?
It does not pay to be a San Francisco 49er fan. Or a fan of any NFL team, for that matter. According to the Fan Cost Index developed by Team Marketing Report, a Chicago-based publication devoted to sports marketing, a family of four spends an average of $151.55 at an NFL game. That covers the cost of four tickets, four hot dogs, four soft drinks, two beers, two souvenir caps, two programs and parking. If the family wants to see the 49ers, whose average ticket is a league-high $35, it can expect to fork over $197.50, the highest FCI in the NFL. The San Diego Chargers are the league's biggest bargain with an FCI of $124.67.
Fans rooting for State U have it a little easier. Another Team Marketing Report survey showed that the college football FCI is $108.86. However, since alcohol is not sold at most NCAA games, that figure does not include the cost of two beers. A family will spend almost twice as much to cheer for Southern Cal ($141) as for Washington State ($78).
Before fans get up in arms over the high cost of games, they should know that FCIs are increasing at a rate consistent with the increase in the national consumer price index, which is up 4.4% over 1990. The NFL's FCI is up 4.7%, while college football's is up 4.8%.
What did Alan Friedman, the publisher of Team Marketing Report, consider the biggest surprise about the FCI figures? "New York fans can consider themselves lucky because of how low Giants ticket prices are, considering how successful the team is, and how every game is a sellout," he says. "The Giants' fans better hope the Giants don't see these figures."
We promise not to tell.
Next: Catch of the Day
The Eastern Michigan football team recently held a Surf 'n' Turf promotion. No, the Eagles weren't offering lobster and filet mignon. Instead, for the final scrimmage of the preseason, fans were given a fish sandwich and a chance to see the new artificial surface in Rynearson Stadium.
Replay: 35 Years Ago in Sports Illustrated
The New York Yankees had just about clinched their seventh pennant in eight years when ace Whitey Ford made our Sept. 10, 1956, cover. We also reported that Ford's teammate Mickey Mantle, who was on his way to the Triple Crown, had inspired a rock 'n' roll song ("I Love Mickey"), a play starring an actor named James Olson and a pancake mix called Batter Up.
Divvying Up the Soviet Olympic Spoils