Sam Kagel, the 73-year-old San Francisco labor mediator imported early last week to try to settle the NFL strike, has a reputation for toughness. Upon joining the parties to the strike at the Hunt Valley Inn in Cockeysville, Md., Kagel said, "My tactic is to wear them out before they wear me out." As SI went to press five days after Kagel made that pronouncement—and with the walkout four weeks old—all sides were showing unmistakable signs of wear. Although there were indications on Sunday that the NFL Players Association was prepared to modify its demand for a wage scale and despite speculation that the management side might make new concessions, the strike dragged on. And Kagel, his hopes for round-the-clock negotiations conducted under cover of a media blackout frustrated by hassles over leaks to the press and other interruptions, complained at one point, "This place is like a prison. I haven't been outside."
In the long run, however, prospects for a settlement may have been helped by the so-called all-star game staged by the players' union on Sunday in Washington. The game, played in 55,045-seat RFK Stadium, drew a crowd announced at "eighty-seven sixty," although one dubious writer, surveying the empty stands, quipped, "That's eighty-seven on one side, sixty on the other." The box-office debacle in the first game of what the NFLPA envisioned as an alternative season was a clear-cut public relations defeat for the union. That the game itself was reasonably well played for an all-star event—an amalgam of NFC East and Central players beat an AFC East contingent 23-22—and the mere fact it took place was, in another sense, a setback for the owners. They had sought to block NFL players from suiting up for such games. Sunday's game and another one scheduled for Los Angeles the next night could establish a precedent that, in the absence of a settlement, would encourage other NFL players to participate in such events in the future. And as the Redskins' John Riggins, who took part in the Washington game, said, "The more people who play in these all-star games of ours, the more the owners will realize that football can be played without them."
The result of the NFLPA-sponsored game: The players realized that starting a new league that will win public acceptance is no easy matter, while the owners couldn't rule out the possibility that such a thing might nonetheless happen. It was hard to imagine two more effective incentives to settle the strike.
NOW FOR A WORD FROM THE STRIKE
Once the NFL strike ends, efforts will naturally be made to recoup as much as possible of the revenue lost because of the walkout. One prospect: an attempt to generate extra income by squeezing more commercials into telecasts of remaining games. Under the terms of the NFL's contract with the networks, 24 minutes of commercials per game are now allowed. If the strike reduces the 16-game regular-season schedule to 13 games—a 13-game schedule is still possible under NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle's plan to make up two canceled games by prolonging the regular season—the resulting loss of advertising could theoretically be made up by adding roughly eight minutes' worth of commercials to the telecast of each remaining game. The result, astonishingly, would be that the strike would end up costing the NFL virtually nothing in TV revenues.
Football fans will be happy to learn, however, that adding eight minutes of commercials per game is easier said than done. For one thing, some NFL TV sponsors couldn't afford to wait out the strike and have already channeled their advertising dollars elsewhere. Another deterrent to selling additional commercials is that these would lead to "advertising clutter," which could make individual commercials less effective. Also, some network officials, sensitive to charges that TV intrudes on sports events too much already, say they would strongly oppose additional time-outs expressly for TV. Instead, any extra commercials would have to be shown during "natural" breaks—for example, injury time-outs—that are normally given over to color commentary. Trouble is, there's no way to know, how many such breaks will occur in a game.
But some extra commercials do seem likely. The fact that the NCAA's new TV deal allows 26 minutes of commercials during college games shows that there's nothing magical about the NFL's 24-minute total. It also suggests that NFL telecasts could easily accommodate a number of additional commercials. The result may well be that by subjecting themselves to extra TV pitches for beer, razor blades and the like, the fans would, in effect, be underwriting the strike. Which is probably what they suspected they'd be doing all along.
OR, IF YOU PREFER, JUST KNOCK
Visitors to the suburban Atlanta home of Braves TV announcer Darrel Chaney are greeted in an unusual manner. Upon ringing the doorbell, they hear a tape recording of the crack of bat against ball followed by the excited voice of Marty Brennaman, the broadcaster for the Cincinnati Reds: "It could be, it might be.... It is! It's a grand slam home run for Chaney! Look at Darrel. Look at Darrel Chaney! He's dancing around the bases...."
The home run described by Brennaman actually happened, and it was unquestionably the highlight of Chaney's baseball career. During 11 years in the major leagues, most of them spent as a utility infielder with the Reds, Chaney had a career batting average of .217, with 14 home runs, including that solitary grand slam. It came off St. Louis Pitcher Rich Folkers in an 11-2 win over the Cardinals in Riverfront Stadium in 1974, and Chaney modestly remembers it as "a tremendous shot, 400 feet at least, to right center." Because the ball hit the seats and bounced back on the field, Chaney got it as a souvenir, which he displays on a table at home. As for why he went to the bother of rigging his doorbell to the Brennaman recording, Chaney offers a perfectly plausible explanation, saying, "When you don't hit many homers in the big leagues, you have to cherish one like that."
SINCERELY, W.D. GRETZKY
Few sports stars are more obliging with the public than the Edmonton Oilers' Wayne Gretzky. But there was a moment last spring when Gretzky may have been too obliging. As he recently recounted it, he was sitting with friends in a Toronto restaurant when a woman approached his table and asked for an autograph. He asked her name and lightheartedly wrote, "To [name of woman]. Love and Kisses. Wayne Gretzky." The woman thanked him, took the autograph and left. "About three minutes later," said Gretzky, "the woman—I guess she was about 30—came back and said to me, 'How can you write that? You can't love me; you don't even know me.' She gave the paper back to me, said she didn't want it and left."
"ENTIRELY, ENTIRELY DIFFERENT"
The International Olympic Committee deserves all the praise it has received for reinstating Jim Thorpe's amateur status and restoring to him the two gold medals he won at the 1912 Olympics (page 48). U.S. Olympic Committee President William E. Simon, who lobbied the IOC to correct the 70-year-old injustice to Thorpe, has every right to take a bow, too. But the pleasure derived from the long-overdue resolution of the Thorpe case is tempered by the lack of interest shown by the IOC and the Simon-led USOC in restoring the Olympic eligibility of two other American track-and-field men, shotputter Brian Oldfield and pole vaulter Steve Smith, both of whom are still competing. In contrast to the largely symbolic action regarding Thorpe, the reinstatement of active athletes like Oldfield and Smith would be more than a mere gesture.
Oldfield and Smith lost their amateur standing by competing from 1973 to 1976 on the now defunct International Track Association pro circuit. In keeping with the supposed relaxation of amateur rules in international sport, both were reinstated for ordinary amateur competition by The Athletics Congress in 1979, a move that was subsequently approved by the International Amateur Athletic Federation. However, the reinstatement didn't apply to the Olympics and related competition. Oldfield and Smith were reduced to seeking and obtaining court injunctions against the USOC to win the right to compete in the 1980 Olympic trials—each finished fourth, missing berths on the honorary U.S. team by one place—and the 1981 National Sports Festival. They now have a suit pending against the USOC in U.S. District Court in Denver in which they seek to be declared eligible for the 1984 Olympics, but the USOC has countersued, asking that Oldfield and Smith be enjoined from further "interfering" with the USOC's activities and seeking at least $10,000 damages from them.
Simon, so vigorous on behalf of Thorpe, tries to defend the USOC's jarringly less sympathetic posture toward Oldfield and Smith by saying that theirs is "an entirely, entirely different case" because they, unlike Thorpe, were "pure professionals." In point of fact, Thorpe, Oldfield and Smith were guilty of exactly the same "sin": They accepted money for athletic competition. USOC lawyer Richard G. Kline argues that his organization has no choice but to "conform with existing IOC requirements of eligibility." Wrong again. The USOC has a perfect right to appeal to the IOC on Oldfield's and Smith's behalf. It's altogether possible, of course, that the IOC would reject such an appeal, but the sorry fact remains that the USOC hasn't even made the effort.
Will Oldfield and Smith also have to wait 70 years for justice? As arm twister Simon and arm twistee Juan Antonio Samaranch, the IOC president, demonstrated in the Thorpe case, Olympic officials can cut through their seemingly impenetrable bureaucratic thicket in a hurry when they so desire. The failure to act with similar dispatch in the case of Oldfield and Smith will have the effect of callously punishing two refugees from a professional track circuit that disbanded, ironically enough, partly because it offered participants less money than so-called amateurs routinely receive in under-the-table payments. And both the USOC and IOC know it.
DO AS I SAY...
Los Angeles Times Columnist Scott Ostler wrote last week about a TV announcer he knows who uses a radar gun to measure the speed of pitches, space satellite weather forecasts to anticipate possible rain delays and a computer printout to keep tabs on such arcana as how certain pinch hitters fare against certain pitchers. The same fellow, Ostler noted, objects to the use of TV replays by umpires because "it would take the human element out of the game."
A GLANCE AT THE POLICE BLOTTER
The University of Texas, whose football team was ranked No. 18 in the Associated Press's weekly poll, was placed on NCAA probation last week for ticket-scalping and recruiting violations. That brought the number of schools in the AP's Top 20 on NCAA probation in football to six, the others being fourth-ranked Georgia, fifth-ranked SMU, 10th-ranked Arizona State, 14th-ranked USC and 17th-ranked Miami. In addition, 20th-ranked Clemson is under investigation for possible recruiting infractions, 15th-ranked Illinois got off Big Ten probation two months ago, and No. 16 LSU recently turned itself in to the NCAA for apparent off-season practice violations. And, oh yes, No. 12 UCLA is on probation in basketball.
During a performance the other evening of Ponchielli's La Gioconda at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, tenor Placido Domingo, suffering from a bad cold, was replaced at the end of the first act by Carlo Bini, who subsequently 1) got involved in several mix-ups in stage directions that drew peals of laughter from the audience, 2) brought the performance to a halt by missing an entrance and 3) was roundly booed when he sang. When other spectators tried to quiet the boobirds, fistfights broke out and some patrons slapped one another with programs, resulting in the ejection of a number of them by security guards. Conductor Giuseppe Patan√® at one point scolded the audience for its behavior and later had to be carried from the podium because his blood pressure was acting up.
Meanwhile, at Madison Square Garden, the New York Rangers were beating the Philadelphia Flyers 5-2. There were no fights during the game, and Philadelphia's Bobby Clarke afterward played the gentleman by offering generous words of praise for the inspired goaltending of the Rangers' John Davidson. To round out a perfect evening, most hockey fans managed to get home without running into any of that rowdy opera crowd.
VINCE THE INVISIBLE
In his weekly syndicated feature, "The Bottom 10," Steve Harvey satirically recognizes the worst college and pro football teams and sometimes celebrates individual losers as well. The other day Harvey conferred a special citation on Los Angeles Rams Quarterback Vince Ferragamo. He noted that Ferragamo had jumped to the Canadian Football League last season "and promptly vanished into obscurity" and had returned to the NFL this year only to disappear into oblivion again, this time because of the players' strike. Meanwhile, in a cruel—to Ferragamo—irony, NBC sought to fill the football programming void during the first three weeks of the strike by televising CFL games.
THEY SAID IT
•Sandy Buda, Nebraska-Omaha football coach, on the Mavericks' 6'5", 257-pound defensive tackle, John Wayne Walker: "He's tougher than nine miles of detour."
•Neil Bonnett, stock-car driver, explaining why he has a 300-hp motor on his lightweight 19-foot fishing boat: "You hook a bass at 100 miles an hour, and it takes the fight right out of him."
•Joe Vitt, former Baltimore Colt strength coach, now with the Seattle Seahawks, discussing his boyhood career ambitions: "I wanted to do two things—be a coach or be in the circus. With the Colts, I had a little of both."
•John McKay, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach, on a preseason pass interception on which rookie Linebacker Jeff Davis scored a touchdown the very first time he touched the ball in an NFL uniform: "The last person to do that was Red Grange. When I told the players that, no one knew who Red Grange was."