TRADE-OFF WITH NATURE
The results were about as expected. When the dust had settled over the Mohave Desert several weeks ago, the motorcyclists and the environmentalists were back at the same old standoff.
The event had begun in an eerie silence as 1,000 "expert" rated riders tensed for the mass start of the 155-mile Barstow-to-Las Vegas Hare and Hound race sponsored by the San Gabriel Valley Motorcycle Club. On a signal, the morning burst into a fury of shrieking engines and blinding, choking dust. Quickly, the horde headed for the smoke bomb marking the course. A crew checked the first mile for injured riders and broken bikes, and then the cacophony was repeated as a second wave of 2,000 "novice" riders growled into the desert.
Add to the scene 12,000 or so spectators with their cars and campers and, at the fringes, clusters of naturalists, fearful of the terrible impact of the race on the fragile Mohave. Before issuing a permit this year, the Bureau of Land Management released an Environmental Impact Study that claimed: "To date, 4,675 acres of wildlife habitat have been lost [because of] the Barstow-Las Vegas race. An additional loss of 478 acres is anticipated from this event."
Vegetation-recovery estimates range from one to 10 years for annuals and to as much as centuries for other species. Some areas may never recover. Many animals become candidates for predators and starvation as they search for quieter areas. After previous races animals have been found with burst eardrums, and the BLM report says that whole species are threatened with extinction.
The recent race was a compromise. Clubs like the Brush Busters and the Dustmakers no longer are permitted to ride off in any direction for as long as their fuel holds out. Banning the race altogether might encourage some motorcyclists to go back to their old foraging ways on the desert or join the Hell's Angels on the highways and scare the wits out of all of us. But rather than the mass start, environmentalists suggest compromising further with an "enduro"—a limited number of riders starting a few at a time and running at reduced speeds. This might take some of the fun out of the sport—but it would certainly be a lot gentler on the wilderness.
A man in the audience was curious.
"How many goals," he asked the speaker, Babe Pratt, a Vancouver Canuck official and a former NHL star, "would Cyclone Taylor score in a season in today's watered-down NHL?"
"Seven or eight," Pratt said.
"How can you say that?" the man argued. "Taylor was one of the greatest players who ever lived."
"You've got to remember," said Pratt, "the man is 90 years old."
The stirrings on New Year's Day in and about Walter Jeffords' Faraway Farm on a hilltop near Lexington, Ky. were reminiscent of an accouchement at the court of Louis XIV. My Card, a mare whose three foals that are racing are all winners, delivered a fine filly, a thoroughbred foal by Secretariat. Next day at nearby Walmac Farm, Secretariat's stablemate, Riva Ridge, was father of another filly.
Luck was riding with the owners of both foals. Secretariat's firstborn thoroughbred will be the oldest 3-year-old eligible for the 1978 Kentucky Derby, and Riva Ridge's is right behind. Had they been born but one and two days earlier, they would have been the youngest in the class of '77.
From the owners' standpoint both foals enjoy a further advantage in being fillies. While few colts follow in their illustrious fathers' footsteps—and therefore depreciate in value as their careers progress—because of the dominance of bloodlines in the female of the species, mares remain valuable even if they do not win many races. And as far as that is concerned, it will be two years yet before the horse-racing world will know for sure whether that old maxim holds true—like father, like daughter.
YOU COULD LOOK IT UP
Johnny Rodgers, the Heisman Trophy winner at Nebraska in 1972 and now star of the Grey Cup champion Montreal Alouettes, is one celebrity who sees no need for an unlisted telephone number. You can find him in the Montreal book under "J"—"J.R. Superstar, Ltd."
The story sounded fishy, but the reporter from the Auckland, New Zealand Herald decided to check anyway. Eventually he found himself at a century-old guest house tucked away at the far end of a long beach.
"It's a pleasant place," he wrote, "run by very friendly people who have two well-mannered cats, a frisky dog and the most charming eels one could hope to meet on a Sunday afternoon jaunt from Auckland.
"Mr. and Mrs. F. B. Andrew, the proprietors, and their children, Warren and Rowena, say that they are the most incredible eels they have come across.
" 'They come right out of the water at dinner time to be fed and they just love having their tummies rubbed.'
"The eels confirmed the Andrews' claim and the reporter...spent a pleasant summer afternoon with a dog and two cats in a dinghy chatting with intelligent eels."
Makes you eel good all over.
BLOOD ON THE TRAIL
If the Super Bowl is famous for anything, it is for producing unsatisfying football. With this in mind—and visions of dollar bills dancing in their heads—NFL executives have toyed for years with the idea of making the game a two-out-of-three affair.
The problems are obvious. If the first game is boring, who is going to watch the second—or a third? Can you keep teams up for more than one game? Most importantly, what city will go to the extraordinary trouble of preparing for a third game when there is no guarantee that there will be one?
John McNally, who reached the Hall of Fame under the name of Johnny Blood, thinks he has a solution: establish a triple crown—a three-game playoff in which all three games must be played regardless of who wins the first two. He believes the odds against winning all three would soon give his playoff system the magic of baseball's triple crown (batting, home run and runs-batted-in titles) and of racing's (Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont). To insure that the players would go all out, he suggests a $1 million, winner-take-all pot for the third game, whether it is for the championship or the triple crown.
Blood has strong reasons for wanting to see a triple or a similar plan developed. Like all others who retired from professional football before 1958, he receives nothing from the NFL players' pension fund. The old-timers have sued the Players Association for a fair share, but Blood feels they will succeed only if they present the NFLPA with an additional source of revenue.
It is hard to believe that at the conclusion of an already lengthy season enough enthusiasm would be left for three additional games. But the end Blood seeks justifies a serious look at his means.
WORTH A KING'S RANSOM
Quick: If Ali-Frazier and Ali-Foreman produced the richest purses in history, what matchup in what other sport is suddenly up there with them? Wrong, by the immortal soul of José Capablanca! Fischer-Karpov is the name and chess the game. Bobby and Anatoly stand to split $5 million if they agree to play for the world chess championship in the Philippines this summer. The "ifs" involved are enormous—and most of them are spelled F-I-S-C-H-E-R—but that is what was bid in the Republic for the match last week. Does this mean chess is an inflationary pastime? Five million is 20 times the pot at Reykjavik three years ago and the $250,000 put up then was 10 times more than had ever been offered for the chess championship.
The recession may have come to the men's and women's pro golf tours. There will be two fewer men's tournaments this year than last, and the prize money will be down, for the second year in a row.
The women's prospects similarly are off, although by a smaller margin. With luck and some fast last-minute shuffling, they may even equal the almost $1.8 million combined purse of last year—a fact Jane Blalock, the LPGA's second-leading money-winner, finds significant. She foresees the day when tournaments will match male-female teams, basing her prediction mainly on the performance of Johnny Miller. "He won eight PGA tournaments in 1974," she says, "but he doesn't have the charisma of Palmer."
Maybe so, but the economic pinch is going to have to strangle the men before they share their prize money with the women. It is still $7,882,949.
A Baltimore "Occupant" recently received a letter with a packet inside and a warning: "If you throw this in your wastebasket unopened, a capsule of water will break, spilling into a dehydrated boa constrictor. He will then crawl out of the envelope and crush you to death."
Occupant forthwith opened packet. Out popped a brochure from a St. Louis novelty house. No scales, no sale.
FIE ON THE FIGGER FILBERTS
As if there were not statistics enough in sports, the World Hockey Association has added a new category to its weekly tabulations—pluses and minuses for goals scored for and against a team while a player is on the ice. The idea is to give a better picture of a player's overall worth. If a team scores 28 goals during the minutes a player is on the ice, regardless of who his teammates are, and it gives up only three, the player is plus 25.
Reaction in the WHA after the first several weeks was varied. Bobby Hull was for it ("I think every guy should be saying, 'Let's not have any goals against us as a line.' That's a good way to think"); Frank Mahovlich was against it ("A guy can be checking his man, and somebody else on the line can give up a goal, but the guy who does his job gets a minus, too"); Gordie Howe was indifferent ("Nothing bothers me anymore").
Pluses and minuses, for sure, should not. Even if statisticians can keep such figures accurately—many believe they cannot—there are still too many variables for them to have meaning. A good player with five bad teammates will always come out on the wrong end, a bad player with five good ones, etc. ad infinitum. We have a better idea for statistics compilers. Watch the game. You will soon know who is pulling his weight and who isn't.
WHEN IT RAINS, IT...
Rain falls into the lives of Tacoma, Wash, residents so often that the Chamber of Commerce describes it as "liquid sunshine." It was therefore with no little pride that local businessman Al Rainwater learned that Pacific Lutheran University had coincidentally named its eight-team basketball tournament the Rainwater Classic. He splashed money on the event, and eagerly awaited the opening round on Dec. 27. Alas, the best-laid plans have a way of being washed down the drain. Seems that while it almost never, never snows in Tacoma, it did that day, up to 14 inches worth, and Rainwater was unable to get to the arena. Frozen in his tracks, you might say.
THEY SAID IT
•Marv Hubbard, Oakland running back, after the Raiders lost the AFC championship to Pittsburgh: "Joe Greene comes off the line so fast sometimes you don't even have time to close your eyes."
•Pierre Plante, asked why he picked up a brown hat, one of four tossed onto the ice after his second hat trick of his NHL career for the St. Louis Blues: "I kept this one to go fishing in."
•Larry Wingate, Bowling Green freshman basketball player, asked if he had been nervous before his first game: "Scared, man? I'm from Harlem, and the only thing I'm scared of is rats."