Readers occasionally inquire how this magazine's staffers hack it as athletes. Well, as a teen-ager in Coral Gables, Fla., Bill Colson used to beat Jimmy Connors at tennis. That was only in practice, Connors having been three years younger and in a different division, but Colson does have tournament wins over Vitas Gerulaitis, Eddie Dibbs, Brian Gottfried, Roscoe Tanner and Harold Solomon. Moreover, in 1967-68, when his high school tennis team took the national interscholastic title, the football team, for which Colson was leading receiver, went 13-0-0 for a mythical national championship.
After Colson there is a considerable falling-off, but we have had our moments. Jerry Kirshenbaum once beat Johnny Weissmuller over 50 meters in the Hall of Fame pool in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "Weissmuller was 63, three decades older than I was, but his stroke was still strong and I had to go all out. Of course," Kirshenbaum adds, "the outcome might have been different if he'd known we were racing."
Myra Gelband has played miniature golf with Ben Crenshaw, generally considered the best putter on the tour. She made a hole in one. Crenshaw didn't. "In fact, he broke the windmill," says Myra. Gilbert Rogin whomped Maurice Richard in Ping-Pong, but the Rocket got revenge. He sicced his No. 1 son on Rogin. Score: Maurice Jr. 21, Rogin 4.
Maureen Connolly stayed with Walter Bingham's family in 1950, when she was 15 and playing in the Pacific Southwest Tournament at the L.A. Tennis Club. The day before that event began, Bingham beat her 6-2. "During a break in the tournament she took me across the street to the house of—trumpets, please—Gary Cooper, who had invited her to use his court," Bingham says. Little Mo—hold the trumpets—beat the 19-year-old Bingham 6-3, 6-4.
Dan Jenkins occasionally played golf with Ben Hogan in Fort Worth: "I beat him out of a dollar once on a back-nine press," Jenkins says. "As for Pro-Ams, I finally retired from them in 1973 after Johnny Miller and I beat Jack Nicklaus and Howard Clark, of American Express, at Marbella, Spain. I made five birdies with borrowed clubs before eight million people."
John Underwood has played pool with Rod Laver, and thinks he won, but it was after a Polynesian dinner he recalls as having been "primarily a series of Navy grogs, and I always do win under those conditions." Underwood also had a contest with Craig Fertig, who once quarterbacked Southern Cal and now coaches at Oregon State, the object being to hit a crossbar T in a fence some 20 yards away with a football. "I hit it three out of five to Fertig's one." Fertig blamed the defeat on an unspecified injury suffered while filming a war movie with Charlton Heston, but the stake was a lifetime supply of vanilla fudge, and Fertig delivers every time he's out Underwood's way.
Clive Gammon won nothing for his grandest sporting accomplishment, but his achievement was nevertheless much appreciated. "At the Admiral's Cup, the ocean race off Cowes, England," he recalls, "Dennis Conner, the skipper of the big American boat Charisma, allowed me to, nay, insisted that I should, take the helm in a workout in the Solent. In choppy seas I am proud to say that I missed the royal yacht Britannia, with the Queen on board, by a full 100 feet."
In the '60s, horsing around with the Boston Bruins in Detroit's Olympia, Mark Mulvoy deflected a Bobby Orr shot past Goalie Gerry Cheevers. In real life Mulvoy is a 6-handicap golfer and former champion of The Apawamis Club in Rye, N.Y.
Which brings us to Frank Deford and Victor the Wrestling Bear. Deford did a story on Victor, and on the second day of their acquaintance was conned into going up against the undefeated bear.
"Victor creamed me," Deford says. "And this is the thing. Up until then, Victor had been very, very kind to me. But afterward, he treated me like dirt. If I went by, he slapped a paw at me. He would grab my Coke. And I have a hunch other athletes would act the same way. Writers have no business" Deford asserts, "playing the athletes they cover at their own games."