Opening Day attendance figures don't really mean much. They temporarily cheer or sadden management, or they provide local sportswriters with something to speculate about on a slow day, but usually they say more about spring weather than they do about the state of the pastime.
Nevertheless, the following numbers from the San Francisco Bay Area caught the eye. Opening Day, World Champion Oakland A's, 17,477. Opening Day, San Francisco Giants, 17,649. Opening Day, San Jose Earthquakes, North American Soccer League, 18,347.
BELTING IT OUT
"It's pretty good, I was surprised," said Tom Bladon, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman. "It's amazing what they can do with all that electronic equipment," said Bobby Taylor, reserve goaltender. "It's the worst record I've ever heard," said Flyers Assistant Coach Barry Ashbee.
So ran the in-house reviews of Dave Schultz' new tune, The Penalty Box, which goes, in part:
Love is like an ice hockey game—
sometimes it can be rough,
Girl you've got me so all aflame—
I never never get enough.
You got me chargin' and cookin',
holdin' and hookin',
Then you blow the whistle on me—
when you gonna let me go free?
A Philadelphia newsman suggested that Schultz kept time by rhythmically punching the orchestra leader.
THE OLD COLLEGE CRUNCH
It is almost 10 years since Walter Byers saw a need for controlling the runaway costs of collegiate athletics. An NCAA study made under his direction revealed that in the decade preceding 1969 costs rose 112%. It is estimated they went up another 70% in the next five years, yet it was not until last January that the membership of the NCAA became sufficiently alarmed to act. It ordered another study.
This sounds like the old bureaucratic brush-off, but it isn't. Last week a special meeting of NCAA Council members, college presidents, faculty representatives and athletic directors approved changes in the NCAA bylaws that, if adopted by the next national convention, will radically alter college sport.
The list of changes is long, but the following samples underscore the seriousness of the situation as viewed by committee members: reduce the total number of grant-in-aid scholarships allowed a school from 340 to 186; limit football coaching staffs to eight (some are composed of as many as 15 or 16 full-time members); permit no full-time recruiters.
The NCAA machinery for converting proposal into law is cumbersome, and some of the delegates to the special meeting seemed resigned to a wait of at least a year before any of their suggestions would be adopted. But under the prodding of Dr. Robben W. Fleming, president of the University of Michigan—who warned in his quiet way that if the athletic departments did not act quickly the college presidents would—the meeting ended with a call for a special national convention early this August. The NCAA, at long last, is talking business about the business of college sport.
It is doubtful that in all the long, shabby history of boxing there has ever been a more disgraceful show than the rip-off in Toronto's Maple Leaf Garden last week. George Foreman, blubbery at 232 pounds, took batting practice against five nondescript heavyweights weighing a total of 1,028 pounds. It was sold, at from $5 to $20 a head, as a fight. Yuk.
ON THE ROCKS
The three-year marriage of NBC and the NHL is foundering, and last week was a perfect example of why. NBC's contract calls for one televised game a week on Sunday afternoon, and the one that NBC's audience was treated to last Sunday afternoon was the first of the Montreal-Buffalo Stanley Cup playoff series. What viewers could have seen, with a minimal amount of cooperation on the part of the NHL, was the final thrilling and historic game of the Penguin-Islander series, which was played Saturday night but, with NHL foresight, could have been scheduled for Sunday. The Islanders' victory capped a comeback from a three-game deficit, the first time that had happened since the Maple Leafs pulled it off in 1942.
"We've been had," was what NBC Executive Producer Scotty Connal had to say.
YOU CAN LOOK IT UP
When we last reported on the subject (SCORECARD, Dec. 2, 1974), ice hockey's earliest appearance was in the background of an etching by Frans Huys, dated between 1558 and 1561. Now, it seems, a 12th-century monk named Stephen, who wrote a life of Thomas √† Beckett for Henry II, beat Huys to it. Stephen described a pond near the wall of London as follows:
"When it is frozen, many young men run over the ice. Some of them have bones tied to their feet and use a stick with a sharp end. They slide as quickly as a bird flying-in the air or the arrow from a bow.
"Sometimes from two opposite points...two young men race at each other and one of them, or perhaps both, falls to the ground after beating each other with their sticks. Many of them incur head wounds and most of them break an arm or a leg...."
Presumably, the puck was introduced later, perhaps when the goalie tired of having young men hurled at him.
The Boston Marathon has finally gotten out of hand. Last week the wonderful old event had a field of 2,078, plus scores of others who came along just for the run, trailing Will Rodgers to the finish line.
Boston Athletic Association officials had tried to keep the numbers down this year by requiring proof from each runner that he or she had completed within the previous year a "sanctioned" marathon in 3½ hours or less. To ease the BAA's clerical burden, the Honeywell Corporation volunteered the services of its $7 million Multics computer system to prepare the huge entry list and print out reports of the results by age, sex, height, weight, state, country and club affiliation.
But the competitors and their friends and relations overran the little town of Hopkinton (pop. 5,981) where the race begins. Toilets and changing facilities were grossly overtaxed and prerace physical exams were abbreviated, according to one participant, to "about four heartbeats apiece." Along the route the five official refreshment stations quickly ran out of paper cups and some, eventually, out of water and Gatorade. Runners were obliged to accept orange sections and unidentified liquids from well-wishers along the way.
But it was at the finish in downtown Boston that arrangements broke down badly. Four-fifths of the field, 1,847 runners, crossed the finish line in a span of one hour and 20 minutes. In one six-minute stretch at around the three-hour mark, 212 runners arrived at the line, and in order to have their numbers recorded, they had to stand in the finishing chute for as long as 20 minutes, hunched over in the cold wind like so many shivering recruits, waiting to be processed. Most didn't even learn their official times. The computer would work them out later, they were told.
The BAA is considering cutting the qualifying time for 1976 to three hours, which it believes would reduce the field to a manageable 1,200. However, it would also change the traditional character of the 79-year-old event from a wild and woolly open race to a highly competitive one restricted to serious runners.
The time for changes of some kind has arrived. The 1975 race was overly woolly, even for as tough a lot as marathon runners. But surely with sufficient planning the BAA could overcome its logistical problems, and the Boston Marathon, with its uniquely democratic format, could be preserved into its 80th year.
The fourth running of the Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash No Rules Cross Country Race from the Red Ball Garage on East 31st Street in Manhattan to the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach, Calif. was won last week by a Ferrari driven by Jack May and Rick Cline in record time—35 hours, 53 minutes. A pickup truck was second, a Dodge Challenger, third.
The Dodge, driven by writer Brock Yates and racer Steve Behr, finished in 38 hours, three minutes because 1) it got lost, 2) it left its food supply and maps on the floor of the Red Ball Garage and 3) it had to hide out for a time in a truck stop when it heard on its citizen-band radio that a Pennsylvania state trooper was alerting his colleagues to a speeding Dodge.
The winning time averages out to about 83 mph. Since the national speed limit is now 55, the race is obviously illegal, from sea to shining sea. But by a tortured sort of logic the entrants are able to maintain that theirs is an act of civil disobedience in the tradition of the Boston Tea Party. It is a protest, they claim, against the federal government's campaign to blame cars rather than bad drivers for accidents, which results, they say, in cars being made so heavy and cumbersome that they are no longer fun to drive. The contestants want to demonstrate that good drivers can drive safely even under conditions of great stress and that the government should concentrate on driver training.
And besides, it's fun.
When a blue-bred champion colt like Secretariat quits racing, he goes off to stud to make a fortune fathering overpriced foals. Nice for the likes of Secretariat. But roughly 35,000 thoroughbreds are born annually and only a few hundred of them are welcome in the breeding sheds when their racing days are over.
Today more and more owners are seeking better fates than pet-food plants for the horses that have served them well. Mrs. Richard C. duPont, for instance, taught Kelso to hunt when he left the track for good in 1966. Kelso, 18, still chases foxes around the Vicmead Hunt Club in Middletown, Md. And after winning Aintree's Grand National in April, L'Escargot, age 12, has been retired from racing by owner Raymond Guest to serve as a saddle horse.
"Animals are unhappy unless they are working," theorizes Investment Broker Andy Hobbs, who raises thoroughbreds on a 100-acre farm in Greenville, Del. Hobbs owned Fan Jet, who won 21 races and $138,555 before he was retired in 1970. In gratitude Hobbs turned Fan Jet out to pasture to live his last years grazing and sleeping and playing with other horses.
But Fan Jet hated it. He bit his playmates and cut his hide in daily attempts to bowl over fences. When the Wilmington Police Department called in January, inquiring about horses that might be available for its mounted unit, Hobbs volunteered Fan Jet.
Ordinarily, quarter horses, Morgans, Hanoverians and mixed breeds make the best police mounts, thoroughbreds being too spirited for city streets. But Fan Jet, after a few false starts, adapted to the new life and earned a place at the Philadelphia Police Academy's mounted school.
In a month or two, says Officer Richard Levin of the mounted training unit, Fan Jet will graduate and be sent back to Wilmington to work the streets. "He is frisky," Levin says, "but nothing bothers him." Nothing, that is, except unemployment.
THEY SAID IT
•Ron Blomberg, designated hitter for the Yankees: "With Bobby Bonds in right field and three first basemen I might as well donate my gloves to charity."
•Marvin Barnes of the St. Louis Spirits, on his coach, Bob MacKinnon: "We have great rapport. He tells me what to do and I do it."
•Red Auerbach, Boston Celtics general manager, on the ABA's three-point field goal: "I think if you give a guy three points for a long shot, then you should give just one point for a sneakaway layup."