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Original Issue



Remember when the midseason TV ratings for the NFL were in the doldrums and league and network officials said, "Wait a few weeks, things will get better when the cold weather keeps people indoors"? Well, we waited, and the ratings on the whole got worse. Now come the Nielsens for the NFL's nine postseason games, Super Bowl included, and as SI's TV writer William Taaffe reports, the tidings are uniformly bad. CBS, whose ratings during the regular season were down 4.6% from 1981 (regular-season comparisons with 1982 are difficult because of that season's strike), suffered a decline in its five postseason games of 14.9% from 1981-82 and 7.1% from '82-83. NBC, off 12.2% from 1981 during the regular season, was down a sobering 27.3% from '81-82 and 19.9% from '82-83 in four postseason games.

No matter what kind of face one tries to put on these figures, there's clearly trouble in paradise. Let's break down the numbers. All of CBS's games were off compared with 1981-82. Especially weak were the Redskins-Rams game on Jan. 1, which got a 24.9 rating (off 23.8% from the Sunday divisional playoff two years before), and the Redskins-49ers NFC championship game on Jan. 8, which pulled a 30.1 (down 29.8%). One mitigating circumstance was that both games were played early in the afternoon, whereas the corresponding games two years ago were played later in the day, when more viewers normally tune in. This year's Super Bowl, widely touted in advance as a "classic," got a 46.4 rating (106 million viewers), down 5.5% from the '82 game. Of course, as Jack Squirek will gladly tell you, this year's game turned out to be a certified blowout before the half.

It was NBC that really got blind-sided in the postseason. Here's its tale of woe. Seahawks-Broncos wild-card game, Dec. 24: 16.0 rating (down 30.4% from the wild-card two years ago). Seahawks-Dolphins divisional playoff, Dec. 31: 18.9 rating (down 32.3%). Raiders-Steelers divisional playoff, Jan. 1: 22.5 (off 22.7%). Raiders-Seahawks AFC championship game, Jan. 8: 26.3 (off 24.8%). The alarming thing about that last game is that it was played late in the afternoon, whereas the AFC title game two years ago was played early. In other words, the ratings slide in this instance probably would have been worse had this season's game been played in the same time frame as that of '82.

Inasmuch as three of the four NBC postseason games involved Seattle, a team that consisted mostly of no-names, it can be said that NBC suffered from the Seahawk Syndrome. Even the Steelers suffered from Seahawk Syndrome, having been led by Cliff Stoudt and not Terry Bradshaw. NBC is stuck year in and year out with the smaller AFC markets, and the situation wasn't helped this season by the fact that the Jets and Bengals went down the, well, tube, while the Chargers, another supposedly glamorous team, were reduced to playing Ed Luther in place of the disabled Dan Fouts. The big star in the AFC this year was newcomer Dan Marino. That should tell you something about the league's shortage of established stars.

As for the season-long decline, all the talk about lopsided games and lackluster matchups is too glib. You always have blowouts. The fundamental problem may have to do with 1) the glut of sports on conventional and cable TV, and 2) the steady fading of team and player identities owing in part to competition for personnel from the USFL. Says Steve Leff, who handles the Miller beer account for the ad agency Backer & Spielvogel: "It seems to me that the old heroes are going out, and the new heroes haven't become firmly enough established. If that premise is right, then there definitely is an impact from the USFL, because when the USFL pulls out certain people there's a diminution of potential heroes for the NFL. So is this the reason for the poor ratings? My answer is 'sure,' for lack of better proof."

O.K., bumper-sticker fans, here's a brand-new one for you. It's inspired by the litigation in the U.S. District Court in Detroit in which it's to be determined—probably sometime this week—which team winds up with the Lions' star running back, who complicated his life by grandly entering into contracts for this year both with that outfit and with the USFL's Houston Gamblers. The message says: HONK IF YOU'VE GOT A CONTRACT SIGNED BY BILLY SIMS.


Last Friday night at the annual Eclipse Awards dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, a foreign thoroughbred was named Horse of the Year for the first time ever. The horse so honored was All Along, the French filly whose owner, Parisian art dealer Daniel Wildenstein, sees that award as being just the beginning. SI senior writer Clive Gammon recently visited France and reports that Wildenstein is leading an assault on U.S. racing by his country's thoroughbred establishment.

Wildenstein spoke of the French aspirations in the magnificence of the 18th-century headquarters of the Wildenstein Foundation on the Rue La Boétie in Paris. The scheme he outlined was reminiscent of the spy-novel scenario in which the Soviets build a facsimile of a small American town in the steppes to familiarize agents with the minutiae of life in the U.S. heartland. The French variation on the theme: construction by the Société d'Encouragement, the French Jockey Club, of an American-style dirt track at the national racing center at Chantilly, about 30 miles north of Paris.

"We will train our horses, which are now used only to grass, in the American way, so that they can receive dirt in their faces and become accustomed to left-hand tracks, sharp turns and American horseshoes that grip," Wildenstein said. "It will be marvelous. In a year or two we will be sending horses to win all their best races, the Kentucky Derby, everything. We have much better horses here."

If Wildenstein's words seem a touch nationalistic, it's not surprising. Back in the mid-'70s he named another outstanding filly Allez France so that when she raced in England he would have the pleasure of hearing English bettors yelling her name—which means, of course, "Let's go, France." And building the American-style track, which is expected to be completed this summer, is an idea he nurtured for many years. In the Chantilly offices of the Société d'Encouragement, director Christian de Lagarde pointed to a wall map and told Gammon, "It will be here on the other side of the forest at Avilly-Saint Léonard. It will cost two million francs [about $240,000]." And there was the track clearly indicated. "If we didn't do it, Wildenstein would on his own," de Lagarde said. "If it's good for France, I am for it."

A couple of miles away from where de Lagarde spoke, Yannick Barbot, 20, All Along's groom, showed off his charge in her apple-green bandages and said he was eagerly awaiting a phone call from the Eclipse dinner in New York from Le Patron—The Boss. "Anytime the French win anything he calls right away," Barbot said. Le Patron is trainer Patrick-Louis Biancone, and if Wildenstein's dreams come true, Biancone and other French horsemen will be happily making many transatlantic calls in the future.

Whatever the verdict on the XIV Winter Olympics once they've run their course on Feb. 19, let the record show that an air of confidence reigned in Sarajevo as the Games were about to begin. At the Zetra and Skenderija ice arenas, for example, workers had things so well under control that at one point last week dozens of them sat around TV sets at both sites watching that old Hollywood chestnut Samson and Delilah. We are assured by usually reliable sources that Victor Mature doesn't sound a bit better dubbed into Serbo-Croatian. Meanwhile, the Sarajevo newspaper Oslobodenje was conducting an "Olympic smile" promotion in which just about everybody in town—taxi drivers, waiters, store clerks—was rated for courtesy and friendliness, with the widest smilers getting praised in print. Another Sarajevo newspaper reported that everything was going so smoothly that even the trains were on schedule. But maybe things were going too smoothly. The trains were leaving town largely empty because most folks had become accustomed over the years to their running late.


Mike Reid, the former Cincinnati Bengal All-Pro tackle who has become a successful country songwriter, has been nominated for a Grammy award for best country song for his current hit, Stranger in My House. The song, which is about a troubled marriage, was recorded by Ronnie Milsap, who has been nominated for a Grammy for best male country vocal. Reid says the song was inspired by a spat he had with his wife of four years, Susan, who was a waitress before giving birth to the couple's first child, Matthew Michael, last Dec. 17.

"A couple of years ago, Susan was working nights, and I was working during the day," Reid says. "With our schedules, we weren't seeing a lot of each other. I told her, 'Living with you is like having a stranger in my house.' As soon as I said it, I thought, 'That's a great title for a song.' So I left the room and wrote it down. Then I went back and continued the argument."


Townspeople joined Vučko, the Games' wolfish mascot, in taking it all in stride.


Life can be tuneful for the Reids even when they're not having an argument.


•Melvin Howard, freshman guard on Georgia's basketball team, on his limited playing time: "It's not the sitting that bothers me. It's the not playing."

•Howard Cosell, appraising his career: "I think I've made a difference in my phase of the broadcast industry, but I don't think I've impacted on the world in the manner of Franklin Roosevelt."