TALE OF TWO CITIES
Both are state capitals, both have populations hovering around 1,500,000 and both enjoy reputations for being dynamic. Until recently, however, Atlanta had it all over Denver as a pro sports town. Hailed in the mid-'60s as the "Camelot of the South," Atlanta landed big-league teams in baseball, football, basketball and hockey. Denver was meanwhile settling for franchises in football and basketball, the latter in the supposedly inferior ABA.
But the fortunes of the two cities have changed. This was underscored by last week's news that North Carolina State's David Thompson, the nation's No. 1 college basketball player, has decided to spurn the Atlanta Hawks and sign with the Denver Nuggets. Having earlier outbid Atlanta for Marvin Webster, the Nuggets will show off their prize catches next season in the new 18,000-seat McNichols Arena, which will also house Denver's newly acquired WHA franchise. And demand for Denver Bronco season tickets is so heavy that the seating capacity of Mile High Stadium will be expanded from 51,000 to 76,000 for the 1976 season. Only in baseball does Denver remain minor-league.
By contrast, the situation in Atlanta is getting bleaker and bleaker. In a two-part series on the city's deteriorating professional sports scene, The Atlanta Constitution has complained that the Camelot of the South has become "Losersville." The Aaronless Atlanta Braves, floundering some 20 games out of first place, are averaging just 8,484 fans a game, a circumstance that prompted announcer Milo Hamilton to wonder on the air, "Is this a major league city?" The Atlanta Falcons hold the NFL record for no-shows—48,830 for one game—and last year's 3-11 record has caused season-ticket sales to slump. Although the NHL Atlanta Flames continue to draw well, they finished in the division cellar last season.
The Hawks' failure to land Thompson and Webster was a shocker. The NBA team had traded away local favorite Pete Maravich for, among other things, the draft choice it subsequently squandered on Thompson. Last season's 31-51 record was the worst since the Hawks arrived from St. Louis in 1969, and attendance in the 16,181-seat Omni averaged 5,008. For trying to sign Julius Erving three years ago—his NBA rights belong to the Milwaukee Bucks—the Hawks were recently slapped with a $400,000 fine by Commissioner Larry O'Brien. After the loss of Thompson, Atlanta businessman Simon Selig Jr., who had earlier announced his intentions of buying the financially troubled team, all but called off the deal.
Further evidence that Pelé's crusade to popularize soccer in the U.S. (page 49) is bearing fruit came during the Brazilian's recent visit to the White House. When President Ford and his guest got around to autographing soccer balls, there was a plentiful supply on hand. Everybody even seemed to know what they were. By comparison, when Pelé paid a similar call on Richard Nixon in 1973, some last-minute scrambling was necessary to come up with one solitary soccer ball. It seems that organizers of the visit had mistakenly ordered two dozen volleyballs for the occasion.
Lest anybody get the idea that the recession has been utterly without benefit, consider the Dakota Dome, a sports complex that the University of South Dakota plans to start building in September. When the project, featuring a domed stadium that will seat 11,000 for football and 19,000 for basketball, was approved last year, the cost was put at $8.8 million, of which $5.2 million was allocated by the state legislature. The remaining funds were to be raised privately, which proved difficult when hard times hit.
Taking another look, architects recently decided that the Dakota Dome could actually be built for $7.2 million. Some of the hoped-for savings come from changing to "optional" such features as an intercom system and a swimming pool, but the lower figure also reflects a severe slump in the local construction industry. Ted Muenster, director of university relations, allows that the Dakota Dome will now be "a Pontiac instead of a Cadillac." When you think of the Rolls-Royce going up in New Orleans, it is nice to find one stadium that has a ceiling as well as a dome.
Informers are held in low repute in some quarters, but the Izaak Walton League of Oregon would like to see the breed prosper and multiply. Alarmed by violations of fish-and-game laws as well as widespread vandalism in public parks, the conservation organization is circulating wallet cards on which citizens are urged to jot down information about any offenses they might witness and then forward the cards to the authorities. Prepared in consultation with the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission and the state police, the cards contain space for description of such things as eye color, complexion, scars, mustaches, trousers (but not skirts) and that old reliable, "peculiarities."
The cards are being distributed mainly to hunters and fishermen, who are asked to appear in court and testify if needed, but are also told, "Even if you don't sign the card, mail it in. It may be helpful." The campaign has been under way for only a month, too early for gauging the impact, but Captain Walter Hershey, head of the Oregon State Police Fish and Game Division, reports that similar wallet cards issued by the National Rifle Association have led to "several convictions in deer and elk cases." Defending the practice, Hershey says, "The citizen has a certain duty to uphold the law."
Acknowledging that there is a stigma attached to informers—or to snitchers, stool pigeons and tattletales, if you prefer—Joseph W. Bennett, an Izaak Walton League spokesman, allows that the true target of the wallet card is the bearer himself. "Just carrying it will make a person more aware of conservation," he says. "It amounts to a pledge to protect the wilderness."
The World Swimming Championships get under way this weekend in Cali, Colombia, and one can only hope that the American team manages to avoid being tripped up in the laboratory. Apprehension is prompted by the U.S. trials in Long Beach, Calif., where an attempt to conduct the sort of doping tests to be held in Cali ended in acrimony and disarray.
The snafu at the Long Beach meet could be blamed partly on the Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA), which prohibits some two dozen generic drugs plus what it ambiguously refers to as "related substances." Left to puzzle over just what these substances might be, doctors and coaches at the U.S. trials also found that urine specimens were taking as much as 72 hours to analyze. The testing procedure was flawed in other ways, all of which made it awkward when the specimens of two swimmers qualifying for the team turned out to contain "ephedrine-like" substances of the kind that resulted in Rick DeMont's being stripped of a gold medal in the 1972 Olympics. Officials finally decided to scrap the tests, sparing the two swimmers in question from disqualification while greatly vexing the athletes who would have replaced them.
Dr. Robert E. Cassidy, the U.S. team physician, questions whether dope testing is worth all the grief. "To catch the occasional culprit, we're risking disqualification of athletes who may need medication to function normally," he says. Cassidy promises to press for rulings in Cali on the acceptability of a number of drugs, among them Lomotil. The doctor's concern over whether the swimmers competing in Colombia can be given Lomotil is understandable. It is used to combat Turista.
THE GOING RATE
After joining the International Track Association pro circuit a couple of years ago, Lee Evans confessed to having run for pay all along and told, specifically, of pocketing a total of $3,000 for competing in four meets during the 1970 European summer season. Evans, a 1968 Olympic gold medalist and still world-record holder in the 400-meter dash, recalled, "That was a great summer. I was making good money."
Today's amateurs appear, at first glance, to be doing even better. According to a former Olympian who remains a close observer of the track scene, performers of any reputation at all are routinely picking up $800 per meet in Europe this summer. Olympic or European champions, the category that Evans belonged to in 1970, are getting $1,200, while as much as $2,000 awaits "special cases," such as a double Olympic gold medalist or an athlete performing right after setting a world record.
But here as elsewhere, inflation is taking its toll. "You are only going to make enough to keep you through the winter," complains one prominent trackman. He also notes that the business is fraught with uncertainty. "After a meet in Italy," he said, "the promoter turned up at 3 a.m., just when I was beginning to wonder whether he skipped with the loot. He was carrying this socking-great suitcase full of these dirty great notes. They were lire. I changed them fast, man—into something more stable."
BLOCK THAT INNOVATION
As though the designated hitter and the three-point basket didn't shake up the traditionalists enough, here comes the World Football League with (are you ready?) the one-point field goal. As an experiment during its current exhibition season, the league has decreed that field goals kicked from inside the 10-yard line count one point while those kicked from 10 to 30 yards away are worth two. Only three-pointers from beyond the 30-yard line are, well, three-pointers.
By devaluing easy close-in field goals, the WFL hopes to encourage teams to open up their offenses and go for touchdowns. And, indeed, no one-point field goals were even attempted in the league's first four exhibition games—just two- and three-pointers. The only trouble is that the scheme might, in some cases, actually discourage forward progress. For example, with the ball on the opponent's 20-yard line, a team would normally be facing a field-goal attempt from the 27, but this would be good for only two points under the WFL rule. So why not let yourself be thrown for a four-yard loss and go for three?
The WFL's otherwise disastrous first season yielded some worthwhile innovations, notably replacing the extra-point kick with a pass or run "action point." However, it is easy to imagine the latest scheme leading, ultimately, to something like this: a one-yard touchdown plunge counting four points, a 70-yard scoring pass worth 11, a 100-yard kickoff return good for 15. It is even easier to imagine the WFL's experiment quietly dying with the last exhibition game.
Calvin Murphy, at 5'9" the smallest player in the NBA, recently returned from a visit to Japan, where he spent a lot of time shopping for clothes. "Most of their clothes didn't fit me," the Houston Rocket star relates. "Their large size is a small in the States. I couldn't buy many things." But the trip enhanced Murphy's ego, if not his wardrobe. "I felt good over there," he confesses. "I felt very large."
THEY SAID IT
•Earl Weaver, Baltimore Orioles' manager, asked whether an early-season beanball incident might cause bad blood between his club and the Yankees: "I think there should be bad blood between all clubs."
•Joe Garagiola, sportscaster: "I know a baseball star who wouldn't report the theft of his wife's credit cards because the thief spends less than she does."
•John Reaves, the Philadelphia Eagles' seldom-used quarterback, after being traded to the Cincinnati Bengals for two players: "It looks like I finally helped the team."
•Miller Barber: "I don't say my golf game is bad, but if I grew tomatoes, they'd come up sliced."