THE 49ER CASE
Ever since Lou Gehrig died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 1941, this mysterious and usually fatal neuromuscular disorder has been popularly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. In recent weeks ALS has been gaining further prominence from another unhappy sports connection. As widely reported in the media, three former San Francisco 49er teammates from the early 1960s have contracted ALS. Two of them have died: former fullback Gary Lewis in December, two months after ALS attacked his respiratory system, and linebacker Matt Hazeltine two weeks ago, after a five-year bout with the disease. The third victim, a onetime backup quarterback with the 49ers and the football coach at Western Carolina University for the past 18 years, is Bob Waters.
Waters has a "mission," as he calls it, to get the medical community to examine the remarkable coincidence of three members of the same team contracting ALS. Except for an inexplicably high incidence of ALS on Guam, the disease, which strikes 3.500 Americans a year, has seldom appeared in such clusters. Doctors don't know what causes ALS, and they have yet to find a cure. Waters hopes there is a clue in the 49er case that might lead to a better understanding of the enigmatic killer.
Waters has talked openly about his disease and has tried to get in touch with former teammates so they can be medically checked out. "We'd like to talk to all of them and examine things we did in common," says Waters. "I took steroids back then. We took drugs for injuries and ailments." Perhaps there's even a clue in the herbicide that was used on the 49ers' practice field, Waters speculates. "All I'm saying is, Let's just find out."
Since he became aware of ALS symptoms four years ago, Waters has lost 40 pounds and the use of his arms. Medication seems to have at least temporarily arrested the disease's spread. "It might be that it's progressing slowly with me because I've gotten deeply involved in my job, which is coaching," says Waters. He goes to the office daily; he recently completed several recruiting trips. "I intend to be here coaching next year and the next and the next. I love it. That's why I'm working so hard to get well."
Whatever the explanation for the outbreak of ALS among the 49ers, Waters' admission about his long-ago use of anabolic steroids is surprising. A popular perception is that steroids were first used by Soviet athletes in the late 1950s and spread to American athletes much later; to hear officials of the NFL and the NFL Players Association talk, steroid use in pro football is a recent phenomenon. But here's evidence of a player taking steroids a quarter-century ago. "I came back 10 pounds underweight one year and the team doctor said, 'Here, take these, they'll help you gain weight,' " Waters says. "They were new in athletics at the time. No one had heard of them really, or knew what they'd do." Waters says he took steroids for two years. He doesn't know how many other players took them—Hazeltine, for one, said he never did—but Waters knows he wasn't alone.
BEAR UP, MICHIGAN
The decision may not sit well among football fans in Ann Arbor, but the state of Michigan's Sesquicentennial Committee has scrapped plans to use the wolverine in its logo. Although Michigan is officially nicknamed the Wolverine State, and University of Michigan students began calling themselves Wolverines as early as the 1860s, committee researchers could find no evidence that the wolverine has ever actually lived in Michigan's forests. So the state's 150th-birthday logo will feature a black bear.
LOOKING UP DOWN UNDER
In recent years the Australian Open has been garbage time in the tennis world. Held in December, just as the holidays approached, it drew too few of the best players. But the Open has gotten clever and moved to January. Now any player hoping to win the sport's grand slam—Wimbledon and the French, U.S. and Aussie Opens—must show up in Melbourne. Two weeks ago the cream of the tennis world did precisely that. The draw was sufficiently strong—the injured Chris Evert Lloyd and John McEnroe and the resting Steffi Graf were the only notable absentees—that neither of the world's No. 1 players was able to get a leg up on the '87 slam. Martina Navratilova lost in the finals to an inspired Hana Mandlikova 7-5, 7-6. And Ivan Lendl met a resurgent Pat Cash in the semifinals and was dismissed 7-6, 5-7, 7-6, 6-4.
Cash, an Aussie who single-handedly overcame the Swedes in the Davis Cup final (SI, Jan. 5), lost to the top Swede, Stefan Edberg, in Sunday's stirring three-hour, 40-minute final, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 5-7, 6-3. "It was the best Davis Cup revenge I could have," said Edberg.
Kooyong Stadium, the site of the Open, has a grass surface, on which upsets are the norm. One hazard of having the tournament open the Grand Slam cycle is that interest in the slam could end as soon as it begins. That seems to be the case this year: It's unlikely that either Edberg or Mandlikova will win all four majors. But the situation could change next year when the Open moves from Kooyong to a new Melbourne facility that might sport a surface other than grass. Be that as it may, it's clear that with a deft switch of dates the 82-year-old Australian tournament has already taken on new life.
The protests being lodged by golf pros regarding architect Pete Dye's PGA West course seem a bit melodramatic. "It's spiteful, hateful," says Ray Floyd of the La Quinta, Calif., layout. "Awful, artificial," says Tom Watson. "Silly," says Bernhard Langer. The golfers say that they intend to submit a petition to g PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman in order to have PGA West, which debuted on the Tour during the Bob Hope Classic a week ago, forever banished from the schedule.
Come on, guys, knock it off. Skiers don't whine about the Hahnenkamm downhill, bicyclists don't demand fewer mountains in the Tour de France. Sure, PGA West is tough—the USGA rates it the toughest in the country. But you're playing with souped-up balls and souped-up clubs and, really, life can't be one short par-5 after another. With its long, deep bunkers, tight fairways and many water hazards, PGA West is indeed a demanding course; it is also very fair. You'll get used to it. And the $162,000 for the winner of the Hope—Corey Pavin took it home this year—is hardly hateful.
REPEL ALL BOARDERS!
This boat competed in Perth, Australia, last week, but, no, it didn't crash the America's Cup races. It was entered in the 36th world 18-foot skiff championship. All 36 have been held in Australia, where for a century the unstable 18-footers have been the choice craft of speed merchants, thrill seekers and all daft sailors.
Virtually the only requirement for an 18-footer is that it be no longer than 18 feet, so designers have reached for the sky with masts as tall as 40 feet. They place those sticks in hulls weighing only 150 pounds, hang acres of sail on them and suspend the crew 11 feet out on trapezes to keep the boats upright. All of this is in the quest for speed. While the 12-meter yachts have been lumbering around the Indian Ocean at a stately eight to nine knots, the 18s have been buzzing around like pesky mosquitoes, reaching sprint speeds of 30 knots.
And crashing and colliding and capsizing. Team USA skipper Jonathan McKee says the 18s are "another animal altogether, a wild bronco, in a class of their own in the sailing world." McKee, sailing in his first world championship, wrestled his bronc to an eighth-place finish among 22 boats. Trevor Barnabas, an Australian of course, won the event.
The peculiarities of 18s racing have, through the years, made for some colorful scenes in the southern seas. Before three sailors per boat became the norm, skippers added or subtracted bodies depending on wind conditions and how much ballast was needed to keep the boat upright. Crews of 15 were not uncommon in a breeze, but if the wind died, sailors were sometimes ordered off the boat and had to swim back to shore.
Legend has it that the most reckless 18s skipper of them all was Tommy Doyle of Sydney. When his boat collided with another in Sydney Harbor in the 1930s, Doyle led the charge as the sailboat race turned into a maritime boxing match. Doyle's boat went under during the melee, but Doyle boarded the opposition's craft and hung on to the mast for 400 meters before being shaken into the water. Competition among the 18s has become more decorous since Doyle's day, but only by degree.
SHARON GREEN/SPORTS CHROME
Zipping along on a wing and a prayer, sailors of 18s are routinely brave, courageous, bold and a bit daft.
SAM Q. WEISSMAN
THEY SAID IT
•Gene Mauch, California Angels manager, on broadcaster and Hall of Fame pitcher Don Drysdale: "He talks very well for a guy who had two fingers in his mouth all of his life."
•Vida Blue, Oakland-based pitcher who has signed with the A's after playing with the Giants last year: "It's great to work on this side—those daily bridge tolls to San Francisco were killing me."