At 9:28 p.m.Chicago time, November 30, 1956, inside the crimson ropes of the ring under thewhite lights of the Stadium, Floyd Patterson became the Heavyweight Champion ofthe World. There was only one such moment, a unique point in time that replacedthe one before it and was replaced by the one after it, the victory thusdestroyed and preserved as the young man and the older one advanced throughtime and the event receded.
Later, inPatterson's dressing room everyone tried to hold the bright moment, to surroundit with words and prevent it from escaping. Floyd smiled at the solid wall offaces and voices; he had not yet merged with the image of himself freshlycreated, for he had not until now an inner conception of his value. SPORTSILLUSTRATED had billed him as "the next heavyweight champion." CusD'Amato had said that he was good and would be a champion and, the manager andfans having created the image, he accepted it and did what was necessary, neverknowing until now that it was true. It was true, and the voices said"Champ!" and "How does it feel?" and "When did you know youhad him?" He was polite, and smiled, and said that he thought he had showedthat he could punch a little.
Patterson's faceis kind and thoughtful. His hands are large and simple and make big fists thatmove with terrible swiftness. Jack London's description of a fighter fits him:"The toughness...the instantaneousness of the cell explosions of themuscles, the fineness of the nerves that wired every part of him into asplendid fighting mechanism."
He is wonderful towatch, for his action has a quality of wholeness, so that, while incrediblyfast, he is easy to see. As a diver in perfect form seems to be in the airlonger than he actually is, as the folds of a matador's cape seem to moveslowly in a perfect pass, so Floyd's movements are retained by the eye, seem tolast longer than the elapsed fraction of a second. This speed and wholeness ofmovement and the ability to see "so many openings that I try to get to allof them at once" give him the incomparable skill that must be seen to bebelieved.
So it is likelythat for a long time to come audiences will see the gentlemen who are now thecustodians of the title coming down the aisle in that almost formal paseobehind the policemen: Dan Florio, the trainer, and his brother Nick, Dan smalland sad and wise, Nick tough and knowledgeable; Cus D'Amato, with the dignityof a Roman senator; and Floyd Patterson, the Heavyweight Champion of the World,who is ready to fight any man alive.
But never againwill they look the same as they did that night, though they stand for theirgroup portrait a thousand times. Their lives were changed forever at 9:28 p.m.Chicago time, November 30, 1956. After that moment they began to livedifferently, dress differently, speak differently, greet friends and strangerswith a new warmth and dignity. They were changed and changing men.
Russell Hoban is already familiar to SPORTS ILLUSTRATEDreaders for the earthy, Daumierlike paintings which accompanied A.J. Liebling'sThe University of Eighth Avenue, and for his humorous short story, TheSweetheart from Luna. He also rendered the memorably satiric illustrations forA Manager and His Fighter. For his latest assignment he was told, "Go toChicago, see the fight and paint and write as you see fit."
THE NEW CHAMPION: PAINTING BY RUSSELL HOBAN SPECIALLY COMMISSIONED BY SPORTS ILLUSTRATED