No one knows for sure when Paul (Bear) Bryant will step down as football coach at Alabama. This will be his 25th season there, his 38th as a college head coach. Technically a state employee who under Alabama law must retire at 70, Bryant can legally continue as coach this year and next, since he won't be 70 until after the 1983 season begins. Efforts were made in the state legislature to create a special law that would exempt him from mandatory retirement, but last spring a circuit court judge poured cold water on that by saying such action would be a violation of the Alabama state constitution. Bryant carefully steered clear of the issue, saying, "I want to be treated like any other citizen." Still, he has discussed the possibility of continuing as head coach without salary, while at the same time modestly denigrating his own ability.
"The next coach at Alabama will be better than me," he told Southeastern Conference football writers last week, and he spoke of the problems of coaching football at his advanced age. "We are surrounded by young coaches," he said, employing the regal plural. "They are hardworking people who are continually snapping at our heels. A lot of them started here [he was referring to such SEC coaches as Steve Sloan of Mississippi, Charley Pell of Florida and Jerry Claiborne of Kentucky, all of whom played football under the Bear, and Pat Dye of Auburn, who was one of his assistants] and all of them are doing great jobs. I'm not capable of competing against those guys. I'm too old. I'm not strong enough. I wonder how much longer I can fight them off."
Poignant words from the stag (or bear) at bay, but one can't help feeling it's part of the old Bryant malarkey, buttering up the opposition. Not strong enough? Bear has a 38-5 won-lost record against former players and associates of his who have become head coaches, with 28 of those wins coming in succession. Indeed, he seems to get better and better with age. In his 30s, Bryant's coaching record was 59 wins, 23 losses, five ties. In his 40s it improved to 73-24-8. In his 50s it went up to 88-22-3. And in his 60s it's been 95-12-1.
Too old? As the Bear looks forward to his 70s, he must be muttering, "Come on, you whippersnappers. Let's see you just try to dump the old man."
STRICTLY FOR THE BIRDS
Those of us who are a bit daunted by the space age—computers, biogenetics, interplanetary probes, digital diagnoses and other utterly complex things—can find some cheer in the way the Lockheed Missiles & Space Co., Inc. in Sunnyvale, Calif. solved a nagging problem. Lockheed has a research facility in the Santa Cruz Mountains, some distance from the main plant. The people in the mountain laboratory are hooked up by microwave to a computer in the plant and each day transmit data on what they've designed to Sunnyvale. Microfilms of the designs are prepared at Sunnyvale to be sent back to the lab by messenger the next morning. But while lab and plant are only a bit more than 20 miles apart, they're about 50 miles from each other by road, and drivers making the trip got caught in traffic and were slowed by twisting mountain roads. Transporting the microfilm by auto took about 90 minutes, much too long for people used to missile speeds.
What to do? Well, some genius came up with a marvelous idea, and now each morning a carrier pigeon—you remember carrier pigeons, don't you?—takes off from Sunnyvale, toting the tiny strip of film. He flaps his way in a straight line over hill, dale and highway, and about 30 minutes later delivers the film to the lab, where it's developed into blueprints for the research people.
That's the kind of progress we stick-in-the-muds admire.
FAT AND SKINNY
Fat and Skinny had a race, up and down the pillow case/Fat fell down and broke his face, and Skinny won the race. So ran the old childhood jingle which was popular years ago. It's probably not sung anymore, but supervisors of umpires in the National and American leagues feel there is some substance to the refrain. At any rate, both Blake Cullen (NL) and Dick Butler (AL) are concerned about fat umpires. Says Butler, "We keep after them if they're overweight." Says Cullen, "We want them to have pride in their appearance. It's part of the show. We get efficiency ratings of umpires from the clubs, and it's very difficult to be rated at the top of your profession when obviously you don't give that appearance. Appearance is part of what we're projecting out there."
The AL has a few beefy arbiters but Butler says they just look fat, that in actuality their weight is pretty solid, citing 6'1" Ken Kaiser, a former wrestler and weightlifter, who looks heavier than his 200 pounds. The NL, on the other hand, has several plump umps, the most notable being Eric Gregg (SI, April 20, 1981), who is 6'3" and two years ago weighed 357 pounds. Between the 1980 and 1981 seasons Gregg took off 106 pounds, but, he admits, "I've put 50 of it back on. I know I have to get on the stick again. But I love to eat. I live to eat." On how the added weight affects his umpiring, Gregg says, "The only way it bothers me is going out to the outfield on trapped balls. Then I feel I've lost a step."
Other rotund NL arbiters include John McSherry (6'2½", 275), Lee Weyer (6'6", 258), Harry Wendelstedt (6'2", 230) and Bruce Froemming (5'8½", 200). "McSherry is among our top men," Cullen says, "but any time a man is that overweight, it's too much." Butler, peering over the fence into the other league, agrees: "John McSherry is a huge man and he moves as well on his feet as anyone, but he's too heavy."
So it's agreed. Some umpires are just too fat, right? Froemming, recognized as one of the best umpires in baseball, demurs. "I know I'm overweight," he says, "but I don't feel it. Babe Ruth had spindly legs, Pete Rose isn't built like somebody off Wall Street, but the bottom line is how they hit the ball, how they get to first base. Umpiring isn't any different. I've never felt that because I was overweight it hurt me in my job. I stand on my record.
"When they hired me, I wasn't skinny. Weyer and Wendelstedt were never skinny. They hired a lot of skinny guys but let them go because they couldn't do the job. Those guys look the part, but you put them between the white lines and their bellies were empty and they couldn't think. Wouldn't you rather have the guy that's a little heavy and can handle the job, handle Billy Martin and Dick Williams coming at you, than some guy who looks terrific?"
AFTERNOONS ARE FOR PRACTICE?
How best to take note of this week's historic Texas A&M-Boston College football game, in which Jackie Sherrill makes his debut as the exceedingly well salaried—$267,000 per year—coach of the Aggies? Perhaps by invoking the immortal words of a woman who called a talk show in Detroit last winter at a time when Texas A&M boosters, having not yet hired Sherrill, were dangling similarly lavish sums in front of Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler. A lot of people in Wolverine country were shocked that a football coach would be offered far more than Michigan professors or the university president, which may explain the question posed by the baffled woman: "What does AM stand for?" she asked. "Do they only go to school for half a day?"
A PLETHORA OF JIMMYS
"I'll get this shoe on you if it kills me," said Jimmy Connors, 1982 Wimbledon champion, down on his knees in the chandeliered White and Gold suite of New York's Plaza Hotel. Connors grimaced as he tried to squeeze a size-9½ tennis shoe, his size, onto the size-12 foot of Jimmy Connors of Kearny, N.J., manufacturing manager of Hartz Mountain pet supplies. "I have weird feet, really weird feet," said Jimmy Connors, 1982 Wimbledon champion.
"A few gnarled toes around here," mumbled an onlooker, very likely named Jimmy Connors, too. There are 35 Jimmy Connors listed in the phone books serving the greater New York metropolitan area, and all were invited to attend a news conference last week where the Jimmy Connors introduced the new Converse Jimmy Connors Model tennis shoe that he helped to design, a shoe with "a sleek European look," a shoe that is supposed to "reduce wobble action."
RESERVED—Jimmy Connors read the sign at the roped-off area where the nine Jimmy Connors who showed up sat together. They were given lunch, a short lecture on the biomechanics of the foot, a pair of Jimmy Connors tennis shoes, the experience of having Jimmy Connors, 1982 Wimbledon champion, try to fit his size shoe onto their feet (it fitted five of them, each of whom received tickets to the U.S. Open) and the chance to share stories with each other about the joys and woes of sharing the name. "All the time," said one Jimmy Connors when asked how often he's confused with Jimmy Connors the tennis player.
Jimmy Connors, the one from Kearny, N.J., said, "People say to me, 'I know you're not the tennis player, but are you his father?' " "That hurts," said Jimmy Connors of Yonkers, N.Y.
"Sometimes the name does come in handy," said Jimmy Connors of Mountain Lakes, N.J. "I went to Buenos Aires on a business trip at a time when the President of Brazil was there on a visit. There were no rooms available anywhere. A local man from my company called a hotel manager and said, 'Look, Jimmy Connors is flying down. He needs a room.' The hotel manager gave me his room. Filled it with fruit and flowers. He was crushed to find out I wasn't the tennis player."
Does being called Jimmy Connors improve one's tennis game? "It's an asset," said Jimmy Connors of Syosset, N.Y. "It gives you something to live up to."
"My friends love to play me," said Jimmy Connors of Saddle Brook, N.J. "They love to be able to say they beat Jimmy Connors."
Jimmy Connors, an accountant from Uniondale, N.Y., said, "I'd love to have someone say to him, 'Are you Jimmy Connors the accountant?' "
"I was going to ask him if he was thrilled having lunch with Jimmy Connors the actuary," said Jimmy Connors, an actuary from Murray Hill, N.J.
Is Jimmy Connors their favorite tennis player?
"He's got to be," chorused several Jimmy Connors. "He's got the right name."
After lunch, the Jimmy Connors split. "Goodby, Jimmy. Goodby, Jimmy. Goodby, Jimmy," they said to those near them, and as each reached the door he turned, faced the group and called out warmly, "Goodby, Jimmy."
WORST OF THE BEST
ESPN, the cable TV sports channel, has a series called Best of Notre Dame Football, which appeared on Channel 40 in Chicago this summer. Notre Dame fans, who are in abundance around Chicago, were delighted, of course—until the show went on the air. Then doubts crept in. The first Notre Dame game that ESPN ran was a 28-14 loss to Southern California in 1971. The second was a 45-23 loss to USC in 1972. ESPN rallied the Irish to two wins in a row, but then came a 34-20 loss to Pitt in 1975, a 17-13 loss to USC in 1976 and a rerun of that 1972 rout by USC.
This is the best of Notre Dame football? Five defeats in the first seven games? Irish fans, fighting off memories of the Joe Kuharich era (two wins, eight defeats one season), protested. "Worst of Notre Dame Football," they called the series.
HAS GRETAWITZ EVER RUN IN TENNIS?
Not long ago, a copy of an English-language magazine called Kuwait Track and Field arrived at the Indianapolis headquarters of the U.S. governing body in that sport, The Athletics Congress. Some of the contents of the Middle East-published magazine required a bit of effort to decipher. As recently noted in the TAC newsletter, when the Kuwait magazine referred to the "Oniz prize," it apparently meant the Jesse Owens Award conferred annually on the top U.S. track athlete. Similarly, the Norwegian runner the magazine identified as "Gretawitz" was, in all probability, Grete Waitz. Then there was Kuwait Track and Field's reference to last June's TAC championships in "Tennis." The event was held in Knoxville, Tenn. Another event the magazine mentioned was the U.S.-U.S.S.R. meet in July in TAC's home city. Yep, right there in "Indiana Police."
But it's a risky business to make fun of foreigners' command of one's native tongue, witness a joking suggestion by the TAC newsletter that Kuwait Track and Field's gaffe about Indiana Police made it sound as if state troopers had surreptitiously "taken over the reigns of U.S. athletics." Yep, "reigns."
NOW OCCUPYING THE RAIDERS' SPACE
It won't necessarily fill the void created by the loss of the Raiders to Los Angeles, but the USFL announced last month that it will put a team in the Oakland Coliseum called the Bay Area Invaders. Howard Friedman, the franchise's administrative vice-president, said that the name was selected simply because it "presents an aggressive, 'now-kind-of-thing' image. Beyond that, we're happy to accept anything anyone wants to make of it." We fear that the "now kind of thing" Friedman is referring to really is "Space Invaders," the electronic game that got the video craze going. We further fear that videomania, having thus infiltrated the USFL, could spread like the plague. With several USFL teams still searching for a name, can the Phoenix Galaxians or the L.A. Asteroids be next? Stay tuned, earthlings.
THEY SAID IT
•Richie Hebner, long noted for his poor fielding as a third baseman and first baseman, on his new role as part-time rightfielder with the Pittsburgh Pirates: "I won't have trouble fielding the ball as long as they don't hit it to me."
•Martina Navratilova, multilingual tennis star, playing in the Canadian Open in Montreal, where the public-address announcements are in both French and English: "I don't know which language to protest in."
•George MacIntyre, Vanderbilt football coach, hearing that Herschel" Walker was injured during a Georgia practice session: "What scares me is that Georgia has players who can hurt him."
•Billy Martin, on fracturing a finger hitting a piece of furniture after a bad performance by his Oakland A's: "I'm getting smarter. I finally punched something that couldn't sue me."