In a college football bowl week marked by a string of memorable upsets, the closest we could come to discerning any kind of constant was this: Five of the last six bowl games were won by the teams wearing white jerseys. The sharp-eyed source of this observation is SI's Kansas City correspondent, Ted O'Leary, who sagely adds, "I doubt that purity had anything to do with it."
THE FIRST BIRDS
No other event on the ornithological calendar is bigger than the traditional Christmas Bird Count supervised by the National Audubon Society. And of the 35,000 men, women and children who conducted the latest Christmas census in 1,500 locations in the Western Hemisphere, none had more hallowed turf to cover than Bob Hahn, a bearded and bespectacled gent who, encumbered with a pair of Swift 8x40 binoculars, a clipboard and pencils, showed up several days before Christmas at the Northwest Gate guardhouse of the White House. "You came to count birds?" one of the three guards on duty asked. The guard looked at his partners, and they all cracked up.
But that's what Hahn was doing, all right. While the White House is hardly a winter paradise for birds, the count there does have a certain historical cachet. Teddy Roosevelt kept a list of the birds he saw on the executive mansion's grounds during his presidency—56 species in all, including 21 varieties of warbler and a pair of saw-whet owls. The Audubon Christmas count didn't include White House sightings until 1969, when the late Fred Evenden, a biologist who headed up the Washington-based Wildlife Society, walked the grounds for the first time, accompanied by a gaggle of reporters and TV cameramen. The only trends Evenden reported as a result of his 11 annual White House counts were "the house [English] sparrow down, and the white-throated sparrow up."
Hahn, a fifth-grade teacher at St. Albans School in Washington, took over the count in 1981. His lists have remained as unspectacular as Evenden's were, with white-throated and English sparrows, pigeons, ring-billed gulls, starlings and common grackles far outnumbering cardinals, blue jays, robins and mockingbirds. This undistinguished cast of characters detracts not at all, however, from Hahn's enthusiasm for the task. In his latest outing, having finally received clearance from that disagreeable species, mockingguards, Hahn strode up the front walk and began checking out shrubbery and trees on the 18 acres that make up the White House grounds. The place was a vision of holiday splendor. Beribboned wreaths hung in the windows, the North Portico was festooned with greenery, and smoke from a burning yule log perfumed the air. Hahn counted 191 individuals and 15 different species, including a rufous-sided towhee, a house finch, a downy woodpecker and, just as he was preparing to leave, a noisy fish crow lumbering overhead. Because of that last sighting, the number of species exceeded the 1982 count by one, but Hahn took an exacting view of the results. "Not bad, considering the time of year," he said. "But not great, either."
In an effort to broaden their exposure, the Los Angeles Lazers of the Major Indoor Soccer League last month offered a free round-trip L.A.-Honolulu airline ticket to anybody 18 or older who attended 17 of the team's 21 then remaining home games. The offer was made only to those buying $8, $12 or $15 tickets, not $6 seats, but even so it was a good deal: Seeing 17 games at $8 each would cost $136, while L.A.-Honolulu round-trip passage goes for at least $ 100 more. Not surprisingly, the offer drew a good response; four home games have been played since it was announced, and 800 people have so far signed up and are in the running for the free flights.
There are a few catches. Parking at The Forum—the Lazers are owned by Jerry Buss, whose sporting empire also includes the arena, the NHL Kings and the NBA Lakers—costs $3. And to qualify for the deal, you must sign in at each game at one of the booths set up in The Forum for the purpose—the booths are decorated in a Hawaiian motif—and show your driver's license and ticket stub. You can simply sign in and leave, but the Lazer management hopes that most people will stick around to watch the games—and become fans.
The Lazers reserved a block of tickets in a special arrangement with World Airways, and it's another condition of the offer that the tickets be used no later than May 15. Since the MISL playoffs begin in late April and run until late May, this means that any new fans the promotion attracts will likely be vacationing in Hawaii during the early rounds. If the Lazers make the playoffs, the team had better arrange to televise its games in Waikiki—or its scheme may end up dissipating the very goodwill it's intended to create.
With a 76-64 loss on Saturday to Texas-San Antonio, United States International University became, in all probability, the earliest 20-game loser in college basketball history. The Jan. 7 defeat put the Soaring Gulls' 1983-84 record at 2-20. Although the NCAA keeps no official records for this sort of futility, the old mark is assumed to have been held by last year's USIU team, which finished at 3-25 but hung in until Jan. 29 before dropping its 20th.
USIU can attribute its dubious accomplishment not only to ineptitude on the court but also to a quirky schedule. The San Diego-based school, whose undergraduate enrollment of 800 includes 450 foreign students, is one of only two Division I independents on the West Coast (Eastern Washington University is the other) and has trouble getting games with its neighbors once their conference games get under way in January. As a result, it heavily overloads the early part of its schedule. The Gulls will have played 25 games by Jan. 22 but then will play only one game in February.
That isn't the only scheduling oddity at USIU. Because the Gulls don't draw well at home—in contrast to USIU's ice hockey team (SI, Jan. 21, 1980), which attracts crowds of 1,000 or more for home dates against big-name opponents like Minnesota and North Dakota—they journey far afield for competition. This year's team will cover 16,000 miles, and it has already completed, over Christmas vacation, a 12-game, 20-day trip that included road games against such far-flung rivals as Alabama-Birmingham (a 71-56 loss) and the University of Connecticut (a 98-80 loss).
As that odyssey suggests, Gulls coach Freddie Goss, a starter on UCLA's 1965 NCAA championship team, isn't without ambition. "I know one day I'll look up and we'll be on national TV and ranked in the polls," Goss says. If that happens, the Gulls no doubt will have also become college basketball's quickest 20-game winner.
THE CINCINNATI SHUFFLE
Considering recent events, Cincinnati fans can be excused if they refuse to take any football coach's word for anything. They were burned, first of all, when University of Cincinnati coach Watson Brown quit in November to move to Rice. Upon joining the Bearcats a year before, Brown had solemnly told local fans, "I plan to stay here. I'm sure a lot of people have said that before, but that's the way I feel." Then Northern Illinois coach Bill Mallory ruled himself out as Brown's successor, saying flatly that he was staying with the Huskies. So what did Mallory do but up and switch last week to Indiana. The Cincinnati vacancy was eventually filled by Long Beach State coach Dave Currey, who'd earlier been under consideration by the Bearcats but then appeared to withdraw from the running by publicly saying he was no longer "pursuing" the job.
There's more. Two weeks ago Bengals coach Forrest Gregg departed to become the coach of Green Bay. Before he could take that job, Gregg had to be released from his five-year contract with the Bengals, which still had one year to run. He was replaced by Sam Wyche, who had four years remaining on his five-year contract at Indiana. Asked a few weeks earlier about the possibility that he might move elsewhere, Wyche told Hoosier fans: "I have a job to do here, and I intend to do it." Cincinnatians will be watching Wyche closely, you may be sure.
HE BLEEDS FOR THE JACKSONVILLE BULLS
Lest anybody doubt that the USFL means business in its escalating war with the NFL, consider the bandaged hand shown in the photograph above. It belongs to Larry Csonka, who took time out from his duties as director of scouting for a USFL expansion team, the Jacksonville Bulls, to pose, helmet in gnarled hand, for the cover of the Bulls' promotional brochure. Copies of the brochure sent to some members of the press were accompanied by a letter from Mike Tolbert, the team's public relations consultant, which offered breathless assurances that the blood visible in the photograph is real. "Larry cut his knuckle with a razor blade in order to make it bleed...for the Bulls," Tolbert wrote. Is Tolbert less loyal to Jacksonville's new football team than Csonka? It would certainly appear so: He signed his letter in plain old ink.
THEY SAID IT
•World B. Free, Cleveland Cavaliers guard, praising Washington Bullets rookie Jeff Malone: "He reminds me of a young me."
•Dexter Bailey, Xavier of Ohio forward, after starring in the Musketeers' final appearance in their 56-year-old fieldhouse, when asked if he'd always remember the game: "Whether I'll always remember is something I won't be able to tell you for a couple of years."
•Bettina Bunge, tennis player, on what she has learned from her 11 straight losses to Martina Navratilova: "How to shake hands."
•Tom Heinsohn, CBS pro basketball commentator, on New Jersey Nets guard Kelvin Ransey after the 6'2" Ransey drove around two bigger opponents: "If he goes one-on-one against two guys like that, he's going to be in trouble."
•Joe Torre, Atlanta Braves manager and former big league catcher, on recently released knuckleballer Phil Niekro, who last week signed with the Yankees: "First I found it hard to catch him. Then I found it hard to hit him. And finally, I found it hard to manage him."
•Bob Boyd, Mississippi State basketball coach, explaining why he returned to the game after a two-year retirement: "I didn't miss the smell of the gym, the bounce of the ball or the kids. I just ran out of money."