RATING THE NATIONAL PASTIME
To judge by the reaction of TV viewers and non-viewers, not even the World Series could undo the damage inflicted on baseball by the strike and adoption of the split-season format. The Nielsen ratings for the first two games between the Yankees and Dodgers, who are based in the two biggest TV markets in the country, were 29.9 and 28.2. That's down sharply from 33.5 and 34.4 for the first two games of the '80 Series between the Phillies and Royals, located in the fourth and 27th biggest TV markets. For the third game, only the three-city "overnight" ratings were immediately available, but the story was the same, e.g., a 17.4 rating in Chicago vs. 23.3 there in 1980.
Granted, last year's Series was telecast by NBC and this year's by ABC, but the ratings decline can't be blamed on Howard Cosell's presence in ABC's booth, tempting though that explanation might be. When the Expos beat the Phillies on Oct. 11 in the final game of the National League East playoffs, far more Phillie fans watched on the team's regular-season outlet, WPHL, than on the local NBC station; the Nielsen figures were 19.6 to 11.9. By contrast, more New Yorkers watched the Yankees' win over the Brewers that day for the American League East title on ABC, Cosell's network, than on the Yankees' station, WPIX. The local ABC outlet drubbed WPIX 21.4 to 9.4.
As CBS publicist Beano Cook, an unabashed Cosell booster but a disinterested observer of the NBC-ABC baseball rivalry, says, "The two biggest liars in the world are the people who tell you they don't watch Dallas or listen to Howard Cosell." Cook also says, "The fallout from the baseball strike has resulted in the kind of World Series ratings that make sponsors reach for the Excedrin."
NEW YEAR'S SCENARIO?
The 11-year-old Fiesta Bowl, which has been played at Christmastime, is now scheduled for Jan. 1, thereby becoming the only New Year's Day bowl without a conference tie-in. The Orange, Sugar and Cotton bowls automatically award a berth to the champions of the Big Eight, Southeastern and Southwest conferences, respectively, while the Rose Bowl matches the champions of the Big Ten and Pac-10. The Fiesta alone will be free to invite any two teams it chooses.
Which raises some interesting possibilities. In most years tie-ins with the powerhouse conferences mean that at least a couple of teams with shots at the national championship—a Michigan, say, or an Alabama or Oklahoma—routinely turn up in the Rose, Orange, Sugar or Cotton bowls. But this season the national championship picture is dominated, at least for now, by schools like first-ranked (in SI's Top 20) Penn State and second-ranked Pittsburgh, both independents, and fourth-ranked Clemson, a member of the only major conference, the ACC, without an automatic berth in any bowl. Unless these teams stumble, they figure to be on the shopping lists of the major bowl committees—all except the Rose's—that pick at least one "wildcard" team. But because the Fiesta invites two wild-card teams, it would be the only bowl that could hope to match Penn State against Clemson—to take one of several such examples—for the national championship.
Could the upstart bowl in Tempe, Ariz. possibly hope to land such a plum? It's still a long shot, but Fiesta Bowl Executive Director Bruce Skinner says, "We're in a good situation." At any rate, organizers of the Rose, Orange, Sugar and Cotton bowls have reason to be apprehensive. Washington State currently has the inside track to the Pac-10 title and teams like Iowa State and Minnesota are in the thick of the Big Eight and Big Ten (page 80) races, and none of them looms at the moment as a strong candidate for the national championship. Yet they could wind up in major bowls, which may just find themselves stuck with less attractive matchups than usual.
IN A SPIN OVER THE WARRIORS
Marquette University, whose basketball press guide for last season was honored as the nation's best by the College Sports Information Directors of America (Co-SIDA), has outdone itself. School publicists have produced a promotional brochure for 1981-82 largely given over to a Monopoly-style board game designed to be used with a spinner or die. The board, laid out to represent a journey through the '81-82 season beginning with Marquette's first practice two weeks ago, consists of 57 squares, the first one bearing the notation "Start: October 15, 1981—preseason practice" and thereafter representing an assortment of setbacks (few) and triumphs (many). For instance, a player can land on a square ordering him to go back one space because of a technical foul on the Marquette bench. Or, on another roll of the die, he might be told to advance four spaces because Glenn Rivers, Marquette's superlative sophomore guard, has just hit a running jumper off an inbound pass with just one tick left on the clock (not unlike Rivers' real-life shot last Jan. 10 that beat Notre Dame 54-52). The winner is the first player to arrive at a large square that says, "Finish: 16th consecutive postseason tournament bid."
POSTAGE LONG OVERDUE
In this magazine's announcement of the retirement of longtime Art Director Dick Gangel (LETTER FROM THE PUBLISHER, Sept. 14), it was mentioned that he had recently designed U.S. postage stamps Of Bobby Jones, Babe Zaharias, Jim Thorpe and Babe Ruth and that these, when issued, would be the first ever of individual U.S. athletes. Well, as you may have gathered from the U.S. Postal Service's big advertising campaign touting them, the Jones and Zaharias stamps, both 180, are now on sale, leaving unanswered the question of why athletes had gone so long unperforated and unappreciated. After all, in the 134 years since it began printing them, the Postal Service has pictured more than 300 people on stamps, including Copernicus, Dante and Victor Herbert, not to mention Sybil Ludington, who alerted the citizens of Danbury, Conn. that the Redcoats were coming, and Dr. George N. Papanicolaou, who invented the Pap test. Insofar as specific American athletes are concerned, however, their immortalization on postage stamps was left to foreign countries anxious to tap the lucrative American philatelic market; thus, the emirate of Ajman issued a stamp of Babe Ruth, Haiti issued one of Peggy Fleming, and so on.
The U.S. Postal Service was long content merely to issue "generic" sports stamps commemorating, among other things, various Olympic Games, the centennial of professional baseball in 1969 and of the Kentucky Derby in 1974. The only identifiable athletes to be pictured on an American stamp were Barney Biglin and his brother John, professional rowers who happened to be the subjects of a painting by Thomas Eakins that was reproduced on a 5¬¨¬®¬¨¢ stamp in 1967. The stamp was issued to honor Eakins, not the Biglin brothers.
Postal officials can't say exactly why athletes were neglected, nor why they're now being honored. "We simply realized that sports is an area of American life that we had long overlooked," offers Peter Davidson, the service's director of consumer marketing. As that implies, the selection of subjects for stamps has a hit-or-miss quality about it; there are stamps honoring Charles Evans Hughes but not Louis Brandeis, Joel Chandler Harris but not Herman Melville, W.C. Fields but not John Barrymore. In making its selections, the Postal Service is influenced by interest groups and, believe it or not, the thickness of file folders containing suggestions from the public. Thus, in explaining why the Jones and Zaharias stamps were issued before the Ruth and Thorpe, Davidson is reduced to saying, "Our Jones and Zaharias files were really thick."
A Jackie Robinson stamp will be issued next year as part of a "Black Heritage" series, but it's anybody's guess when the Thorpe, Ruth or any other sports stamps might come out. Post office policy provides that, except for Presidents, only people dead 10 years or more can be pictured on a stamp, which means that any Jesse Owens and Joe Louis stamps will have to wait until the 1990s. Strangely enough, Davidson rules out stamps honoring Knute Rockne or Vince Lombardi, explaining, "When people think of sports, they think of players, not coaches." That arbitrary policy may have been undermined at least a little, by issuance of a 4¬¨¬®¬¨¢ stamp in 1961 bearing a picture of a basketball and the surname of James A. Naismith, who not only invented basketball but also coached the sport at Kansas from 1898 to 1907.
Mr. Hayden Fry
University of Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa 52242
Dear Coach Fry:
Just a note to let you know we're flattered to learn that you read SI. We're referring to your public explanation of how you fired up your team before your 9-7 upset of Michigan on Oct. 17. The Wolverines were ranked sixth at the time in our weekly Top 20 and, as we understand it, you found this an omen worth passing along to your players. So in a pregame pep talk you told them, "Now remember, Nebraska and UCLA were both rated sixth by SPORTS ILLUSTRATED the week before we upset them." And, by gosh, your Hawkeyes then stormed onto the field to work the same magic against the hexed Wolverines that they supposedly worked against the Cornhuskers and Bruins.
But hold it, Hayden. You did upset Nebraska and UCLA, all right, but going into the games in question, those teams had been ranked seventh and fifth by us. Probably you were just so busy with the X's and O's that you didn't read those issues of the magazine too carefully. Otherwise you would have had to say that the Huskers and Bruins had merely averaged sixth, and, as omens go, that wouldn't quite make it. We understand perfectly. So perfectly that we wish you good luck this Saturday against (wink) sixth-ranked Illinois.
THE JINX IS UP
Relatively few Heisman Trophy winners have achieved NFL stardom over the years and none has earned induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But what used to be called the "Heisman Jinx" may be a thing of the past. Roger Staubach and O.J. Simpson, the Heisman winners in 1963 and 1968, respectively, are shoo-ins for Canton as soon as they become eligible in 1985. And going into games of Oct. 25, the NFL's four leading rushers were:
EARL CAMPBELL, HOUS.
TONY DORSETT, DALL.
GEORGE ROGERS, N.O.
BILLY SIMS, DET.
Those are the Heisman Trophy winners for '77, '76, '80 and '78, respectively. As for the 1979 Heisman winner, Charles White is a running back for the Cleveland Browns.
SPRING FORWARD, FALL CLASSIC
A British reference book, The Oxford Companion to Sports and Games, characterizes it as "the so-called World Series," pointedly underscoring the fact that the event has never included a team from such baseball hotbeds as Japan, Cuba or the Dominican Republic—or, alas, even Montreal. But the Series is, in another sense, broadening its horizons. Owing to its later-than-ever start, the 1981 Fall Classic spanned the changeover across much of the U.S. from daylight to standard time, a switch mandated to occur on the last Sunday in October. Thus the Yankee-Dodger showdown became the first World Series ever played under four time systems: Eastern Daylight, Pacific Daylight, Pacific Standard and Eastern Standard.
THEY SAID IT
•Gene Michael, who was fired during the regular season as the Yankee manager, asked if owner George Steinbrenner could become a major league manager: "I don't know, but if he does, I want to be the owner."
•Richard Glazer, players' agent, after negotiating a new three-year contract for Cliff Stoudt, who has seen little action in five years as backup to Steeler Quarterback Terry Bradshaw: "My opening argument was that Cliff kept the dry-cleaning bill down."