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Now the year draws in. Charlie Finley is fading in the west, Joe Namath in the east. The market for athletic talent, professional as well as amateur, is high, but if your son is wondering whether to be a backcourt man or a lawyer, talk to the kid. Straighten him out. The sound of litigation is heard in the land.

This is the time of the lawyer, the agent, the accountant, the politician. Success begins with a dollar sign. Failure is red ink. The Cincinnati Reds don't excite people, because the Reds do their thing on the field. Give us the Olympic Games. Football coaches. The NCAA. Jimmy Connors. The retiring Ali. Jumping basketball stars. Merry Christmas.


The news that the New England Patriots may get to "draft" two players from the San Francisco 49ers (SCORECARD, Dec. 6), to complete the April 1976 trade in which the 49ers obtained Jim Plunkett from New England, caused a bit of a stir around the Golden Gate. In case you don't remember the details, the Pats were supposed to have the 49ers' first two picks in the 1977 NFL draft, but if the draft is not held—a court has declared it illegal, a decision that is being appealed—then the New Englanders can reportedly select any two men they want from San Francisco, excepting only Plunkett and three other players the 49ers are entitled to protect.

San Francisco fans have been grumbling since they heard about that arrangement, mostly because Plunkett had an indifferent year. In fact, local cynics have suggested that the 49ers ought to complete the trade by sending Plunkett back to New England.

A second 49er who has been getting his critical lumps is Placekicker Steve Mike-Mayer, who played without a contract this season because he felt he was not being paid what he was worth. His argument looked strong a couple of months back when he kicked 10 field goals in a row. It sagged when he blew kicks that would have upset St. Louis and Washington and might have helped to beat Atlanta. Two Sundays ago he missed three field goals against San Diego, any one of which would have given San Francisco victory instead of an overtime defeat.

Now Mike-Mayer is uneasy. He still has not signed a contract, and the 49ers have not made him a new offer. "I don't know what to say," he declared last week. "I didn't even hear from my agent for months."


Florida State's junior varsity basketball team was scheduled to play a practice game at North Florida Junior College last week. But when the Florida State players became involved with semester exams, Dick Danford, the North Florida coach, agreed to let the Seminoles send a pickup team instead.

Danford got more than he bargained for. Lining up at center on this scrub team was a big redheaded guy named Dave Cowens, a former teammate of Danford's at FSU on leave from his regular duties with the Boston Celtics.

"I think they slipped one in on us," joked Danford afterward. But Cowens spent most of the game coaching his junior college opponents. "Dave would yell, 'Get the ball, fake left, go right and I'll let you dump it in,' " said Danford.

Cowens' FSU team won 82-62 despite his generosity and despite his scoring only six points. Then, his busman's holiday over with, he headed back to his parents' home in Kentucky to help harvest some Christmas trees.


Tony Dorsett richly deserved the Heisman Trophy, but his alltime career rushing record of 6,082 yards may not be the most glittering performance by a running back in college football history. Ed Marinaro, the New York Jet back who played for Cornell in 1969, and who finished second in the Heisman voting in his senior year, gained only 4,715 yards in his college career, but he did that in 27 games over three years. Dorsett played 43 games over four years. According to statistics released by the NCAA, Marinaro averaged 174.6 yards per game to Dorsett's 141.4. If he had played in as many games as Dorsett—and assuming he remained as strong and as aggressive as Dorsett has—Marinaro's figures project to an astonishing career total of 7,509 yards.


When the six-wheel Tyrrell Formula I racing car was first shown between the 1975 and 1976 seasons, there was some talk of it being a hoax. The two sets of tiny front wheels made it look like a production-line glitch in the Dinky Car factory or one of those things that get covered with pearlescent paint and angel hair in a custom-car show.

But Jody Scheckter and his Tyrrell teammate Patrick Depailler drove their six-wheelers to third-and fourth-place finishes respectively in the 1976 Grand Prix season standings. And now the March racing team has come up with its own version of a six-wheeler, although the March's extra set of wheels are in the back rather than the front. All four rear wheels are driven by the engine, but for aerodynamic reasons (proved in wind tunnel tests) they are smaller than the rear wheels on conventional Formula Is.

The March six-wheeler should be among the fastest cars on straightaways, but its designer, Robin Herd, is cautious about its future as a road racer. His principal concern is not the extra weight (about 100 pounds more than the current March) or mechanical complexity but how the car will corner with what is essentially four-wheel drive. Past four-wheel-drive cars tended to keep going doggedly in the same direction, and tires wore out quickly. If the March's unpowered front "steering" wheels can cope with the cornering problem, the six-wheeler may make its debut at the South African Grand Prix on March 5.

That is, if Grand Prix car constructors and track owners can iron out the differences that threaten to wipe out the entire 1977 season.


When it came time to renew his automobile registration this fall, Ed Badger, who was beginning his first season as head coach of the Chicago Bulls with the avowed intention of making the team a factor again in the NBA, decided to get special plates. He asked for "WIN 50," because winning 50 games in the NBA is a hallmark of success, like batting .300 or rushing for 1,000 yards. But somebody in the licensing office, presumably thinking he was doing the applicant a favor by giving him a lower and therefore more prestigious number, crossed Badger up by assigning him plates that read "WIN 20."

Maybe it wasn't an innocent mistake. Maybe the man in the licensing office knows the Bulls better than Badger does. Off their performance thus far this season, they're going to end up a lot closer to 20 wins than to 50.


Everybody knows the Big Eight is just about the most competitive conference in college football. This season, for example, four of its teams have been invited to bowl games and the battle for the conference title was so close that it may have turned on one play that took place in a game back in October.

Oklahoma State was leading Colorado 10-6 with about a minute to go, but Colorado was threatening. Then a State defensive back intercepted a Colorado pass in the end zone. Exultation. Certain victory. All the back had to do was down the ball in the end zone for a touchback. Oklahoma State would have had the ball on its own 20 and could have run out the clock or, at worst, been forced to punt, which would have left Colorado in poor field position with only seconds to play.

But, in his excitement, the back ran the ball out of the end zone, was hit, fumbled—and Colorado recovered on the one. The Buffaloes quickly scored, scored again seconds later when they intercepted a desperate, last-ditch Oklahoma State pass, and won 20-10. Colorado ended the season in a tie for the conference championship with Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, and it gained the coveted invitation to the Orange Bowl because of its wins over those two teams.

If, however, Oklahoma State had downed the ball, run out the clock and won, it would have won the title outright and it would have gone to the Orange Bowl, instead of to the relatively minor Tangerine Bowl. And Oklahoma's dramatic last-minute win over Nebraska, which gave the Sooners their share of the title, would have meant nothing as far as the conference championship was concerned.


Pro golfers have the life. Imagine being paid all that money for doing what people who work for a living pay to do for fun. And we don't mean only the Jack Nicklauses and the Ben Crenshaws. Judy Rankin, the leading money-winner on the women's tour, won $150,734 this year.

On the other hand, there are James B. Barker and Steve Cain, who tied for 319th and last place in the men's money rankings in 1976 with earnings of $76.85. And Sandy Barnhill, who played in 15 events on the Ladies PGA tour and won $25. That averages out to $1.67 a tournament. And don't caddies get 10%?


Navy's football team, conquerors of Army, got all the ink, but the best won-lost record at Annapolis this fall belonged to a women's team, the first such at the Naval Academy. Men's varsity football was 4-7, cross-country 7-5, soccer 6-3-3, 150-pound football 4-2 and junior varsity cross-country 10-0, but the undefeated women's volleyball team won 11 matches in its very first season and topped that by winning the Maryland state small-college championship.

When the 131-year-old male-only tradition ended at the Academy last July, the 81 female middies (10 have since resigned) were advised that they could try out for men's teams if they wanted to but otherwise would have to confine their athletic endeavors to intramural competition. But Lieut, (jg) Barbara Vittitoe, the women's physical education instructor, persuaded the Navy brass to let her start an intercollegiate women's volleyball team.

It was a brave move, for Vittitoe had never coached the sport before. She attended a few clinics, acquired a copy of Allen Scates' book Winning Volleyball and managed to stay one step ahead of her team of novices (only five of the 15-member squad had played the game in high school). Vittitoe recalls, "People kept asking me, 'Are we going to be competitive? Are we going to win?' Frankly, I had my doubts." But these were soon dispelled, and now the Navy women are taking up fencing and basketball. Will they be competitive? Will they win? "Well," says Vittitoe, "I'm a little discouraged. But then, I remember how awful the volleyball team looked that first week."

At West Point, which also has gone coeducational, there is a good men's basketball team, but the newly organized women's squad is getting the headlines. ARMY WOMEN IMPRESSIVE IN DEBUT blared The New York Times after the Sugar Smacks (West Point cadets call themselves Smacks) beat Skidmore in their first game. "It's about time that women got the headlines," conceded a male military source, who preferred to keep his name top secret.



•Paul Westphal, Phoenix Sun guard: "I'll always remember Tom Heinsohn's pep talks when I was with the Celtics. One time there were 72 bleeps in it—and it was Christmas Day."

•Alex Hawkins, recalling his playing days against Dick Butkus: "Whenever they gave him the game ball, he ate it."

•Richie Hebner, former Pittsburgh Pirate third baseman recently signed by the Philadelphia Phils, on his off-season occupation as a gravedigger: "I'm good at it. In 10 years no one's ever dug himself out of one of my graves yet."

•Henry Ransom, 65-year-old professional golfer, after shooting his age on a par-71 course in Bryan, Texas: "I shot a 65 there last year, too, but I was only 64 then."