Should you wish to ingratiate yourself with a Middle Eastern potentate, give him a falcon, the rarer the better. That's what Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau of Canada did last year. While on a tour of Saudi Arabia, Trudeau presented King Khalid with a gyrfalcon from a breeding station in Alberta.
Now the arctic Inuit of Canada's Northwest Territories are preparing to take advantage of this fervor for falcons. Under an unpublicized agreement signed recently by the Canadian federal and territorial governments, the Inuit are exclusively empowered to harvest gyrfalcons for sale to Arab handlers for whatever the traffic in falcons will bear, which in the Middle East is a lot. Reportedly a gyrfalcon can bring $10,000 to the Inuit and $50,000 or more to the handlers who sell them abroad.
The gyr is a magnificent creature with a four-foot wingspan. It was for eight years listed as an endangered species, a status that entitled it to federal protection, but last March it was downgraded to "threatened."
Fact is, no one knows whether the gyrfalcon is endangered, threatened or thriving because no one knows how many there are. "The only numbers we have are sightings by wildlife service officers monitoring peregrines [an endangered species of falcon]," said Ron Raf, a biologist from the Northwest Territories.
Under the agreement the Inuit were allowed to take 50 birds (they had requested 400) in 1981, but the limit was an arbitrary one, set by officials without knowledge of the condition of the species. Fortunately for the falcons, the agreement was signed late enough in the fall that by the time the hunters were ready, the chicks had fledged (left the nest), and none was captured.
One critic of the agreement, Ken Brynaert, executive vice-president of the Canadian Wildlife Federation, believes it was a political offering to the Inuit in exchange for other considerations, such as gas and oil rights on lands in Inuit territory. "This is not a cultural or traditional thing for the native people," Brynaert told David Miller of The Toronto Star. "It's a straight entrepreneurial operation. The Inuit are in it for the big bucks...."
Though the agreement is still intact, the Inuit's 1981 permit has now expired, and before a 1982 harvest can begin, a new permit must be issued. The Northwest Territories Wildlife Service has hired a falcon biologist who will attempt to inventory the gyrfalcons, and with luck his count will be complete before the new limit is set. If a census reveals that the gyrfalcon is in danger of extinction and human predation is a threat to the species, then an aroused public will be required to undo the work of the politicians before irreversible damage is done.
Perpetuating a custom as old as politics and publicity, the mayors of New York and San Francisco had a bet on the outcome of Sunday's playoff game between the Giants and the 49ers at Candlestick Park. Their stakes, however, were a sign of the financial times. Ed Koch of New York came up with two medallions that once hung on his city's crumbling West Side highway. Dianne Feinstein of San Francisco commandeered a surplus cable car bell.
OMAR THE MAGNIFICENT
Question: Which of these television prognosticators had the best record for picking NFL winners at the end of the regular season—Tom Landry or Frank Glieber of KXAS in Ft. Worth, Nick Buoniconti of HBO, Pete Axthelm of NBC or Omar Guerra of KGBT-TV in Harlingen, Texas?
Answer: Guerra, who was right 59% of the time, having picked 133 winners in 224 games.
Guerra is a rabid Cowboy fan who attended the second pro game of his entire life just last week, his entire life to date being seven years. For his services to KGBT-TV, which include a pick and a comment for each game ("They [Cowboys] have too many offensive weapons"), Guerra receives $12.50 a week, but he's not complaining. His paycheck makes him the best-compensated second-grader in Harlingen.
Not many fans traveled all the way from Indiana to California to root for the University of Evansville when the Purple Aces played Pepperdine in the Malibu Classic basketball tournament the week before Christmas. And that may explain why Larry Calton, who calls the Aces' games for WROZ radio in Evansville, felt obliged to fill the void singlehandedly. Or maybe Calton had legitimate gripes against the timer, the scorer, the Pepperdine coach, the Pepperdine sports information director and just about everyone else in Pepperdine's Firestone Fieldhouse that night. "I never heard such language at a press table," said Tim Wilhelm, Pepperdine's associate athletic director.
Not until only 2:51 remained in the game, however, did Calton become a footnote to college basketball history. At that point the Pepperdine center clobbered an Evansville player, and though the center fouled out, the Evansville bench continued to decry the crime. So the bench was handed a technical. Then Calton, who witnesses say had been heckling the officials all night, joined in the fun, and Referee Al Hackney handed him one too, saying as he did, "And that'll be a T on the radio!"
Evansville won the game nevertheless, 77-69, but thanks to Calton, the definition of a bench technical may have to be expanded. Or maybe a new kind of T should be created. How does technological technical sound?
A strike threatened by the NHL Officials Association, which was outraged by an insignificant penalty imposed on Paul Holmgren of the Flyers when he punched a referee in the chest (SCORECARD, Dec. 28-Jan. 4), appears to have been averted. The officials were mollified, at least temporarily, when NHL President John Ziegler agreed to 1) increase the severity of penalties for a player who strikes a referee and 2) appoint a panel (what else?) to study the rules and procedures on physical abuse of officials. Given the NHL's long history of resistance to reform, however, the officials might be well advised not to pack up their picket signs quite yet.
THE 108-POINT NOBODY
They say you can prove anything with statistics, and in the case of North Carolina Running Back Kelvin Bryant, official NCAA figures would appear to show that he didn't exist in 1981. NCAA rules specify that to qualify as a season statistical leader a football player must appear in at least 75% of his team's regular-season games; for the Tar Heels, who played an 11-game schedule, that meant a minimum of eight games. Because of knee surgery, Bryant played in only seven games, but he made the most of his limited participation, to put it mildly, scoring 108 points. The NCAA determines scoring leaders on a per-game basis, and it awarded the scoring title to USC's Marcus Allen, who averaged 12.5 points a game. Because he played too few games, Bryant, with a 15.4 average, didn't qualify to be the scoring champion, which may be fair enough. But Bryant also was excluded from the list of 25 top scorers even though—surely there's an injustice here—he ranked fifth in total points behind Allen (138 points), Georgia's Herschel Walker (120), SMU's Eric Dickerson (114) and McNeese State's Buford Johnson (l10). Absurdly, Iowa State's Dwayne Crutchfield, who scored just 104 points, is listed in fifth place, while Bryant and his 108 points are nowhere to be seen.
Try telling the seven teams Bryant played against that he didn't exist.
HIT OR MYTH
On Dec. 26, ESPN, the cable sports network, tried something new. It set out to telecast all nine opening-day races from Santa Anita. Nice idea, right? That's what the people at ESPN thought, until they began getting phone calls from an assortment of individuals and publications, all insisting that it's illegal to air more than two races on one broadcast—that two races are news but a full card is disseminating gambling information.
Since the broadcast, which was finally cut to eight races for lack of time, ESPN's lawyers, who had already conducted two searches for legal impediments, have instituted yet another. Nevertheless, they have come to the conclusion that no such regulation exists. "There's a lot of folklore and myth connected with horse racing," says Eric Kemmler, assistant general counsel for ESPN. "It's a different subculture. This myth of only being allowed to broadcast two races a day, we can't find it anywhere."
The only reference to the matter that Kemmler could find, he says, was an FCC report that stated that the regulatory body would consider the broadcasting of horse racing on a case by case basis if there were complaints about it.
ESPN intends to telecast more racing eventually, although it has no specific plans so far. "We think it's a nice, distinct feature," says Kemmler. Meanwhile the scuttlebutt from Las Vegas is that the bookies concur. On Dec. 26 their business was up 50% and more.
CHALLENGING A CHALLENGE
In a letter published in SI's 19TH HOLE on Nov. 23, Jim Miller, the NFL Management Council's director of information, complained that an earlier letter (SI, Nov. 9) from an official of the NFL Players Association had greatly overstated profits earned by the league's 28 teams. Charging that the union official's estimates were "grossly incorrect" and based on "nebulous" sources, Miller's letter said that according to a league-commissioned audit, NFL clubs had turned an average profit of $836,000 in 1979 and that, by the best available estimate, profits had declined to barely $400,000 per team in 1980.
Shortly after Miller's letter was published, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, testifying before a congressional subcommittee, cited the same audit in asserting that NFL teams had averaged a $1.75 million profit in 1979 and an estimated $1.4 million in '80.
Asked about the discrepancies, Miller replied that ticket receipts in 1980 had averaged $300,000 more per team than had been realized when he wrote his letter. Beyond that, Miller said, his figures had reflected profits after taxes while Rozelle's were pre-tax figures. "We haven't resolved whether we should use pre-tax or after-tax figures," Miller said. "We should be more consistent."
Left unexplained in Miller's explanation, however, was the fact that his letter had used 1978 "pre-tax profit" figures for purposes of comparison with the 1979 and 1980 profits, leaving readers to infer that the latter two were also pre-tax figures.
"I plead guilty," Miller says. "In that instance, I wasn't being consistent."
THEY SAID IT
•Joe DeLamielleure, NFL offensive guard known as a "blue collar" player because he was born in Detroit and has worked for the Buffalo Bills and the Cleveland Browns: "My only fear is that they'll put a franchise in Gary, Indiana."
•Elisha Obed, former WBC junior middleweight champion, when asked to name his best punch: "I don't know. I never hit myself."
•Hayden Fry, Iowa football coach, when comedian George Gobel said he could run, pass, go to his left and right, but might not make it academically at Iowa: "You'd be right at home with my guys."
•Louis Breeden, Cincinnati Bengal defensive back, when asked why he didn't spike the ball after returning an interception 102 yards: "I was too tired."
•Al McGuire, on gamblers who befriend college athletes: "You must try to teach your players that if there are creeps hanging around, there's a reason. It's like when you bring flowers home to your wife and say there's no reason. There's a reason."
•Don Maloney, New York Ranger wing, revealing his New Year's resolution: "To get as many goals this year as Wayne Gretzky got last week."