THE MORE THE MUDDIER
The NHL will soon be the only hockey game in town. Last week in Chicago, the NHL-WHA merger plan, which was nixed by a single vote in Florida three weeks ago, was brought to life. This time, two vote changes—by Montreal and Vancouver—passed the merger, which for almost $10 million apiece will bring WHA clubs Winnipeg, Edmonton. Quebec and New England into the NHL fold, most likely by next season.
The Montreal Canadiens, owned by the Molson Breweries, had been heavily pressured, mainly by fans in Edmonton and Winnipeg who boycotted Molson's beer. Vancouver switched its ballot because the NHL agreed to change its scheduling pattern and draw up a balanced slate, provided Vancouver would go for the merger.
Instead of nurturing the rivalries—Islanders vs. Rangers, Boston vs. Buffalo, etc.—developed by having teams in the same division meet four times at home, four on the road each season, as at present, all 21 NHL clubs would face off a total of four times, barely often enough to recognize each others' uniforms. Such a schedule might cause less embarrassment for the weaker teams, but for the NHL, says Boston General Manager Harry Sinden, "The balanced schedule will be a giant step backward."
If you happen to be in Stamford, Conn., you might catch sight of a shiny new Jeep. It's a beauty, a real cream puff. It has stripes, CB gear, the right sort of oversized tires, leather steering-wheel cover—the works. Somebody thought up an apt sort of license plate for it, too: NUTOY.
THE ENVELOPE, PLEASE
"For most Americans Feb. 21 was a day like all others. But for college football coaches it was the day to send the tuxedo to the cleaners, dust off the old 'Coach of the Year' speech and arrange for a booking on the Johnny Carson show." So writes Joe Terranova, the Ford Motor Co. marketing researcher from Dearborn, Mich. who watches more than 500 high school game films a year and then, after all the letters of intent and grant-in-aid tenders are signed (Feb. 21 this year), reports on who scored best in the annual scramble for schoolboy flesh.
For the second year in a row Terranova's winner is...Southern Cal. The Trojans landed seven offensive and defensive linemen who average out to 6'5" and 243 pounds—"more pure beef than at Oscar Mayer's Vernon packing plant." Tops among them are 6'5", 260-pound George Achica and 6'7", 265-pound Don Mosebar, the nation's two "franchise" players. "USC will win at least two of the next four national championships," according to Terranova.
The rest of the top 10:
2. Notre Dame: Also got a good haul of linemen and two blue-chip backs, Dave Duerson on defense and Roderick Bone on offense.
3. SMU: "Like Dolly Parton, Ron Meyer's contingent is busting at the seams with talent." Included are Eric Dickerson and Craig James, "two of the top five running backs in the country."
4. Penn State: Lots of big linemen, the nation's premier tight end, Mike McCloskey, a hot quarterback prospect in Todd Blackledge and, of course, a future All-America linebacker, Jeff Hostetler.
5. Oklahoma: "So many thoroughbreds, it's rumored that they'll wear silks next season instead of those mesh jerseys." The names: Stanley (the Steamer) Wilson, Kenneth Jenkins, Darryl Goodlow, Weldon Ledbetter.
6. Stanford: In line with Palo Alto tradition, landed the nation's top quarterback, John Elway, who completed 129 of 200 passes for 1,837 yards and 19 touchdowns in just five games after 3,039 yards and 25 TDs as a junior.
7. Clemson: Andy Headen, 6'5", 215 pounds, is among the nation's best quarterbacks.
8. Georgia: "Melvin Dorsey and Carnie Norris may become the greatest running backs in Bulldog history."
9. Arizona State: "This group of brass-knuckled recruits may be the Sun Devils' best ever."
10. Mississippi: "The last time the Rebels recruited this well, Robert E. Lee sat on his veranda sipping mint juleps, contemplating where he wanted his statue erected in Washington. Running Back Buford McGee has enough press clippings to wallpaper an entire living room."
AND SOME TURTLES LIVE 300 YEARS
As a service to runners, we hereby provide the latest in:
Advice. Don't put marshmallows in your shoes. So says San Diegan Rick Altmark, who notes in a letter to the newspaper On The Run what happened when he did just that in an attempt to cushion his feet while running: "After a few miles the stuff started boiling out of my shoes. It was a mess."
Doomsaying. Dr. Christiaan Barnard, the heart-transplant pioneer, warns in a South African newspaper column that if you run along streets or highways, you may be inhaling "a sewer of noxious gases from car exhaust stirred up by your pounding feet and dragged into your straining lungs with every breath."
Rip-offs. Fred Lebow, president of the New York Road Runners Club, says that some podiatrists are "exploiting the running boom" by charging up to $400 for examination, treatment and prescription of custom-made arch supports that usually cost no more than $150.
Products. A Massachusetts jeweler has designed a silver-tipped "jogging stick" useful for warding off vicious dogs or getting through crowds, and a San Franciscan has come up with a "Jogger's ID card" with space for medical-history information. The latter idea was inspired by an article about two joggers who died—one from an aneurysm, the other when struck by a car.
Mishaps. Two joggers were stopped by a patrolman in Avon Lake, Ohio and charged with using roads "where walks and paths are available." They thought the officer was kidding, kept running and were also charged with resisting arrest. A woman was running along a road in Boulder, Colo. when she was arrested for running—literally—a red light. And in Maine one runner was accosted at knife point, another was hit by a car and hospitalized, and a third was arrested for littering after putting an empty can of Energade on a snowbank.
Glad tidings. The Boston Marathon is only two weeks off.
LIVE...FROM NEW YORK
Fans of the downtrodden, take heart. Chico Escuela is attempting a comeback, à la Jim Bouton, at age 41. The former All-Star second baseman who left the New York Mets in 1973 and has lately been employed as a sportscaster on NBC's Saturday Night Live "Weekend Update" team, says his space in broadcasting is safe if his return to baseball ends up in the dirt. "NBC," says Escuela, "been bera, bera good to me."
Escuela is best remembered for his unique fielding tactic of sliding into second base along with the runner and for his personal motto: "Kip your eye on de bol."
The passage of time will ease Escuela's return in at least one respect: few of his old teammates who were featured in the more lurid chapters of his tell-all book, Bad Stuff About the Mets, which sold hundreds of copies in 1974, are still around to harass him.
What do 3.3, 9% and 2.7, 8% mean? Give up? They are the Nielsen ratings and audience shares for NBA telecasts on their last two Sundays of head-to-head competition with college basketball.
One more: Who are Adam Adams, Mark Mike and Rocky Rockett? Clue: they're on the same professional tour as Mark Lye, Wren Lum, Mike Zack and...Jack Nicklaus.
Orrin G. Hatch (R., Utah) took the floor of the U.S. Senate recently to extol the virtues of one of his state's products—college basketball. Hatch crowed because Utah had four teams entered in the NCAA tournament—Utah, Utah State, Weber State and BYU—and said he hoped to see one of them among the final four at Salt Lake City. Alas, the tournament ended last Monday night with nary a Utahan on the court, and Hatch had to do a little crow-eating. During his Senate speech he had said, "I know that all of this may seem like a bit of bragging on my part [but I] feel confident that no other Senator can find four schools in his state that have the support of the fans like these schools."
One other Senator, Richard G. Lugar (R., Indiana), knew a fish when he smelled it. After a few days of quiet research, Lugar got up to debate his distinguished colleague on a subject, said Lugar, "which is close to the heart of every citizen in Indiana—basketball, known in Indiana as 'Hoosier Hysteria.' With great respect for my good friend from Utah, let me just say that it is very difficult for me to imagine a place in the world where basketball is more popular than in Indiana."
Sure enough, out came the facts: Lugar's task force found that Indiana's four biggest basketball schools—Indiana State, Indiana, Notre Dame and Purdue—outdrew the Utahs 12,191 per game to 12,064, and, Lugar bragged, "It is only fitting that following this year's NCAA championship game at Salt Lake City, the site of the tournament finale will move next year to Indianapolis." Presumably, Lugar will remind Hatch this week how much better the Indiana teams did in the NIT and NCAA tournaments than the Utah teams.
It is nice to know that our Senators are not totally obsessed with inflation, oil prices and unemployment. We wonder, however, where Senators Walter Huddleston and Wendell Ford were while this basketball issue was being dribbled around. The combined average attendance for the top four basketball schools in their state—Kentucky. Louisville, Eastern Kentucky and Western Kentucky—was 12,616, better than either Indiana's or Utah's.
IN YOUR FACE, GOLIATH
Hoosier basketball fans have been stretched mighty thin lately. The finals of the state high school tournament, always a big deal in Indiana, drew more attention than usual last weekend when tiny Argos High—276 students, its tallest starter 6'2"—showed up among the final four in Indianapolis. Argos lost in the semifinals to Anderson (1,875 students), but no school that small had loomed so large since Milan (145 students) won the tournament in 1954.
But Argos' achievement pales next to that of even tinier Parkdale, which won the Arkansas State tournament. A Class B school of 100 students—Class B is for schools too small to field a football team—located in a cotton town of 400, eight miles from the Louisiana border, Parkdale went 42-2 over the regular season, then beat Class AAAAA Pine Bluff (2,000 students) and top-ranked Marmaduke (which has only 120 students itself) to become the smallest champion in the state's history. What's more, Parkdale had no one over six feet, which made its 73-62 win over Marmaduke—6'4", 6'8" and 6'3" across the front line—well, almost biblical. And by the way, Parkdale High did not even exist four years ago.
"Anybody can compete if they pay the price," says Parkdale Coach Danny Ebbs. "It doesn't matter how small they are. Hard work can make up for lack of ability." Says the town's mayor, John Sumner Barnes, "This has meant more to the town of Parkdale than anything since...since we've had a town of Parkdale."
THEY SAID IT
•Sparky Lyle, now a Texas Ranger reliever, on his Yankee World Series ring: "I wanted to find out if the diamond was for real, so I cut the glass on my coffee table with it. Then I found out the coffee table was worth more than the ring."
•Joe Axelson, Kansas City Kings president, on the burden of NBA coaches: "The woods are full of general managers, ticket sellers, owners, but not coaches. People who can survive in this league, get on those planes, coach a kids' game and retain their sanity are very rare—just like a day in June."