MR. AVERAGE JOE TOUCHDOWN
A wide-ranging survey on attitudes that Americans aged 14 and over have toward sports was released last week, and the key findings were wholly unsurprising. Conducted by a New York City firm, Research & Forecasts, Inc., and underwritten by Miller Lite beer, which does a lot of sports-related advertising, the survey found that football was the most popular spectator sport, with baseball second and basketball third, and that swimming was the favorite participant sport, followed by football and, tied for third, baseball/softball and basketball. The only one of these findings that seemed mildly unexpected was that so many adults still relished mixing it up on a football field. But it must be supposed that many respondents' definition of "playing football" included touch and, possibly, just tossing the ball around in the backyard.
But an eye-opener or two cropped up in less publicized portions of the 200-page report. For example, 45% of the 1,319 respondents (576 male, 743 female) said that when watching their favorite sport they sometimes felt that, given the right training, they could do as well as the athletes. The figure shot up to a startling 74% among respondents aged 14 to 17 and was a still hefty 25% among those 65 or over. Since the "favorite sport" in question would presumably be one played at the professional or at least the major-college level, these findings seemed to raise a troubling question: Do Americans have an unhealthy capacity for self-delusion?
We're happy to report that an authority we questioned on the subject, Dr. Stanley Cheren, an associate professor of psychiatry at the Boston University School of Medicine, isn't alarmed. Cheren says that one reason many respondents might think they could perform as well as top-level athletes is that they "have difficulty recognizing what it means to be gifted. By and large it's only the gifted who have a sense of 'giftedness.' Other people confuse their own willingness to work hard with what happens in sports and the arts, where the few gifted individuals who work hard achieve in a different way from the rest of humanity." Cheren conceded that it would take a considerable amount of fantasizing for, say, a 55-year-old woman to think she could beat Martina Navratilova. But he says that in most cases this sort of thinking is essentially healthy—"a way of taking a little holiday in your mind" is how he puts it—and is one of the things that helps make viewing sports so widely appealing.
Of course, if that many people think they could perform as well as the big-time athletes they watch, it's scarcely any wonder that, in yet another of the survey's findings, 76% of the respondents said they believed that pro athletes are overpaid. We have long realized that a lot of people felt that way, but we never knew why. Now we do.
WIN ONE, LOSE ONE
North Carolina State's surprising victory in this year's ACC basketball tournament may have cost the Wolfpack baseball team a game. The N.C. State nine, playing at home on March 13, was leading the University of North Carolina Charlotte 7-2 with two out in the seventh and last inning of the opening game of a double-header. With the Wolfpack just one out from victory, many of the 100 fans at Doak Field were directing their full attention to portable radios to hear the account of the closing seconds of the ACC basketball title game between N.C. State and Virginia in Atlanta. Reporters in the baseball press box were watching the Atlanta game on TV, as were N.C. State students in a couple of large dormitories beyond the leftfield fence. And when the final buzzer sounded in Atlanta, with the Wolfpack winning 81-78, a mighty roar erupted from the stands, press box and dorms in Raleigh.
Alas, what should have been a game-ending grounder off the bat of UNC Charlotte Catcher Chuck McGee was entering the glove of N.C. State Shortstop Doug Strange at that very moment. Apparently flustered by the explosion of cheers, Strange started to throw to second for a forceout, hesitated and then tried to get McGee at first. The throw was wide, pulling First Baseman Tim Barbour off the base. Following Strange's error the 49ers scored five runs in the inning to tie the game and added three more in the eighth for a stunning 10-7 extra-inning victory.
Although Strange is too sporting a fellow to hold the Pack basketball team wholly responsible for his costly miscue, he allowed that the fact that "everybody went crazy" at so inopportune a moment had been a contributing factor. "The noise was part of it," he said, proving, one supposes, that insofar as North Carolina State athletics are concerned, every silver lining has a cloud.
In early January the Golden Bay Earthquakes of the Major Indoor Soccer League came up with what seemed at the time like a swell promotional idea. The Quakes announced a "guaranteed victories" scheme in which, for the next two months, every fan attending a home game that Golden Bay lost would, by producing his ticket stub from that game, receive a free ticket to any other home game of his choice.
The Quakes got more than they bargained for—and so did the fans. After the plan went into effect, Golden Bay lost its next seven home games. That meant that a fan who bought a ticket for the first game—at prices ranging from $4 to $9—could have, assuming he continued to redeem tickets after each loss, attended the next six games at no extra charge. Despite the home team's sorry showing—or, more accurately, because of it—the average crowd at the Oakland Coliseum increased over the course of the seven games from 3,700 to 4,300; by Game No. 7, freebies were accounting for 30% of attendance.
The offer expired two weeks ago, but not before the Golden Bay management decided to take a more conventional approach to attracting fans. It fired Coach Roger Thompson, under whom the Quakes had a 9-21 record this season. Led by new Coach Don Popovic, they beat the Kansas City Comets 7-5 in their next game for their first home victory, guaranteed or otherwise, in more than two months.
Senior Writer Frank Deford offers this postscript to his recent report on Argentina's Davis Cup victory over the U.S. in Buenos Aires (SI, March 14): "I've been covering Davis Cups for almost 20 years, and I continue to be appalled at the way the order of competition is determined. The two captains decide which singles players will be used, and then a couple of politicians pull the names out of a hat—or, usually, a silver bowl, to be fancy. So it was in Argentina that Gene Mayer and Guillermo Vilas came to be chosen for the opening match, and it was the luck of that draw that continued to decide the matter thereafter. This makes about as much sense as having the two World Series managers put the names of their starting pitchers in a hat and then letting a mayor or local Congressman determine the pitching rotation by lot.
"It would be far better if the captains settled their own fate. The visiting captain would be given the first choice. For example, in Argentina, Arthur Ashe could have said that he wanted John McEnroe in the opening match. Or maybe he would have wanted McEnroe in the last of the four singles matches. He also would have been allowed to pass, which would have thrown the pressure on the Argentine captain.
"Under such an arrangement, the captains, not chance, would be in command of the situation. They would be put more on the spot, and speculation about their decisions would create a great deal more interest. So would the second-guessing, which is a proper part of sport. There's something else. Right now, the home-court advantage in the Davis Cup can be considerable. Giving the visiting captain either first choice, which would enable him to lead with his strongest suit, or the right to pass, which would force the home team to show its hand, might even out the competition a little."
SEXUAL EQUALITY AT AUBURN
Who says women's sports aren't catching up to, or in some cases even surpassing, men's sports? Certainly not anybody at Auburn, whose women's basketball team began NCAA tournament play last week—the Lady Tigers beat Missouri 89-76 in first-round action—with a reserve center, 6'7" freshman Pascale Van Roy, who's an inch taller than the center on the men's team, Charles Barkley.
LLONG LLIVE LLOYD
As the NBA regular season winds down, it's looking more and more like the end of the line for the Scott Lloyd Fan Club. That's because it also appears to be the end of the line for Lloyd, a journeyman center who had a 4.6-points-per-game average to show for his six years in the league before being released by the Dallas Mavericks on Dec. 21. The obvious question concerning the Scott Lloyd Fan Club, of course, is why Scott Lloyd? "It was a kind of social statement," the club president, Steve Simmons, a senior at the University of Texas, wistfully explains.
But maybe further explanation is necessary. Simmons is a native of Buffalo, and in 1978, when he was still in high school, he and some buddies for some reason took a fancy to Lloyd, who had just joined the local NBA team, the Braves, after being waived by his original club, the Milwaukee Bucks. The guys started going to Braves games and cheering for their new hero. "It was a special feeling being the only people out of 15,000 screaming our lungs out for Scott Lloyd," Simmons says. "Especially when he was on the bench."
Simmons and some of the other fan club members went off to college, where they fleshed out the ranks of the faithful with new recruits. Lloyd's loyalists continued to follow their man even after he and the team moved to San Diego, and after he was traded to the Chicago Bulls and signed as a free agent with the Mavericks. They showed up at the nearest NBA arena to lend the 6'10" Lloyd moral support whenever he was in town, displayed sheets reading LLONG LLIVE LLOYD, developed their own secret handshake and circulated a quarterly newsletter that reminded members to vote for Lloyd for the NBA All-Star team. When Lloyd played in Italy during the 1979-80 season, club officers called his mother in Scottsdale, Ariz. to keep tabs on him. They included Ron Kaminker, a junior at Penn and vice-president of offensive affairs, meaning he kept track of Lloyd's scoring totals, and Dan Merrick, a Michigan junior and vice-president of defensive affairs, meaning he compiled stats on Lloyd's attempted rebounds; Lloyd's actual rebounds amounted to just 3.0 per game during his career.
Lloyd is properly appreciative of his fan club's unwavering support. "It was embarrassing at times, but it was a fun kind of embarrassment," he says. After the Mavs put Lloyd on waivers, club members hoped he would be picked up by some NBA team or other and, indeed, there was a recent news report that the San Diego Clippers had done just that. But the story proved erroneous, cruelly dashing the hopes of the Scott Lloyd Fan Club, whose devastation over his apparently permanent departure from the NBA is compounded by the fact that it had formally designated 1983 as the Year of Our Lloyd.
THEY SAID IT
•Joe Klein, Texas general manager, after country singer and former Negro Leagues ballplayer Charley Pride, a switch hitter, struck out twice for the Rangers in an exhibition game against the Yankees: "Charley showed us he could hit three ways—left, right and seldom."
•Pete Rose, on Phillie Manager Pat Corrales' plan to spell him at first base sometimes with Tony Perez, depending in part on who's pitching for the opposition: "Tony can have Steve Rogers, Nolan Ryan, Mario Soto and Joe and Phil Niekro, and I'll take the rest."
•Jim Valvano, North Carolina State basketball coach: "I don't like all those TV time-outs. I run out of things to say to my team."
•Mickey Rivers, Texas Ranger outfielder, denying that he'd have problems with owner George Steinbrenner or Manager Billy Martin if, as rumored, he were to return to the Yankees: "Me and George and Billy are two of a kind."