STATE OF CONFUSION
Delaware, the first state to ratify the Constitution of the United States, took another historic step last fall when it became the first state in the Union to sponsor legalized gambling on professional football games. As everyone knows, it was a bust. The system was too complicated and payoffs too minuscule. Bettors stayed away in droves. Late in the season, Delaware decided to shift to the old-fashioned "football card" idea, in which, given a list of games with a point-spread line, you try to pick four or more winners and are paid off at prefixed prices (10 to 1 for four winners, and so on).
That was more like it. The handle jumped. And then Delaware blew it again. When it issued its sports lottery card for the last weekend of the NFL's regular seasons, its point spreads differed markedly from recognized gambling lines. Big bettors raced to get down in Delaware. A local bookie said, "I used to be a thief, but I'm giving it up now that the state is making it so easy to steal legally." A Wilmington handicapper said, "Their line is so bad you almost have to bet. This could cost the state a bundle."
So much money poured in that Lottery Director Peter Simmons, presumably fearing that the flood of bets could cost the state as much as half a million dollars in losses, got nervous and called the whole thing off. Bets would be refunded, he said. Gamblers screamed so loudly that the state attorney general overruled Simmons and said all winning wagers would be paid. As it turned out, Delaware survived that mess, at least financially. Its "amateur" line proved a lot better than the professionals predicted, and the state ended up with a meager deficit of about $5,000 for the week. But the publicity was terrible.
January 3, 1977
"They killed themselves," said one Wilmingtonian. "They tried to welsh, and there's no way they're going to lose that stigma." Another said, "They've killed the lottery with this move."
Simmons, who had already decided to leave his Delaware post for a job with a lottery consulting firm, summed it up best when he said, "It has been sort of a frustrating experience."
Although football people still feel strongly about polls, no matter how illogically the teams are ranked, nobody pays much attention anymore to All teams, from All-Pro through All-America to All-East Stroudsburg Interscholastic. For example, the Pittsburgh Steelers point out with bitter amusement that no one on the Steelers' superb offensive line has ever been named to a Pro Bowl squad. Even sillier is the All status of Rice University's Tommy Kramer. Kramer was picked as the first-string quarterback on the Associated Press All-America, but on the AP's All-Southwest Conference squad he was on the second team, behind Rodney Allison of Texas Tech.
For over a month now, the film Rocky has been playing to sellout crowds on Manhattan's East Side. It's the story of a club boxer from Philadelphia who gets a shot at the heavyweight crown. The champion in the film, whose name is Apollo Creed (played by ex-Oakland Raider Linebacker Carl Weathers), is unmistakably patterned after Muhammad Ali, but who is his white challenger? Chuck Wepner? Perhaps.
"My first reaction was to sue for infringement," jokes Wepner, a New Jersey liquor salesman who was catapulted into the national spotlight in March 1975 when he lasted into the 15th round against Ali before being knocked out.
Wepner had trouble getting in to see Rocky. "I was late getting to the 7:40 show," he says, "and the lines were so long I couldn't get in. But the theater manager recognized me and he told me he'd have seats for me at the 9:50 show. I went with my friend Peter Lemongello, the singer, and the manager invited us into his office and we had coffee and food while we waited."
Wepner liked the film. "Sylvester Stallone, the guy who wrote it and who played the challenger, had some real insights into boxing," Wepner says, "especially the training. And at the end, when Creed tells him, 'You're not going to get a rematch,' and Stallone says, 'I don't want a rematch,' that's exactly how I felt after my fight. Hey, I didn't want any rematch either."
I'D RATHER BE IN PHILADELPHIA
About a year ago an economics instructor at Harcum Junior College in Bryn Mawr, Pa. named Bob McMahon analyzed professional sports (baseball, football, basketball and hockey) in major league cities with three or more professional teams and concluded that much-maligned Buffalo was the No. 1 sports town in the country. Its teams had the best overall winning percentage, and its attendance was at a higher percentage of stadium capacity than anybody else's.
Buffalo has slipped this year (McMahon's "fiscal" calendar begins with football, follows with basketball and hockey and ends with baseball), mostly because of the decline of the NBA Braves; the Bills' sagging attendance in football this autumn goes into next year's report. Pittsburgh moved into first place in team performance with a .646 overall winning percentage, and Boston took the lead in attendance with an 85%-of-capacity figure. Kansas City, despite the baseball Royals, had the worst overall team performance, while Cleveland and Atlanta tied for worst in attendance percentage.
McMahon predicts that in his next analysis Philadelphia will be first in both categories. He says that Philadelphians, pouring out to see their Phils, Flyers, Sixers and Eagles, led all cities in actual attendance—4,101,569, to beat out Los Angeles—and he feels the trend, artistically and commercially, is inevitably upward. It should be noted that McMahon divides New York into two parts, the city itself (Yankees, Rangers, etc.) and Long Island (Mets, Jets, etc.).
But Philadelphia the top sports city? How times change.
When the Macmillan Company published The Baseball Encyclopedia in 1969, it opened up a vast new unexplored country to baseball fans, a continent of obscure information waiting to be discovered. One explorer, John Fox of Clovis, New Mexico, has found what may be the ultimate in esoterica, and it may tell you all that you will ever want to know about New Ulm, Minnesota.
New Ulm, Fox says, is the mother of pitchers with infinite earned run averages. An infinite earned run average, he explains, is achieved by yielding one or more earned runs while never retiring a single batter during one's career. Since 1900, 11 major league pitchers have compiled lifetime earned run averages of 1. Two of the 11, Doc Hamann of the 1922 Cleveland Indians and Fred Bruckbauer of the 1961 Minnesota Twins, were born in New Ulm.
Fox says no one else born in New Ulm ever pitched in the major leagues.
Ten years ago, if you had suggested to a top pro or college football coach that by 1976 a significant number of placekicks would be executed by side-of-the-foot soccer-style kickers, you would have been laughed at. Just as you would be laughed at now if you were to suggest that by 1986 dropkickers will be as prevalent as soccer-style kickers are now.
Those calling for a revival of the drop-kick note its advantages: it gives the kicking team an extra blocker, a significant plus; it requires only a simple snap from the center to the kicker, as for a punt, thus doing away with the three-man coordination a placekick requires; the angle of the kick as it comes off the ground is much higher, minimizing the chances of a leaping defensive player getting a hand on the ball.
Coaches object automatically that the dropkick is risky, that it is hard to execute because of the more sharply pointed ball in use today compared to the rounder rugby-type ball used in the golden age of dropkicking more than half a century ago. But people who know drop-kicking, most of them middle-aged now, say that objection is nonsense, that it is simply a matter of practice. "Most coaches today don't know how to teach drop-kicking," says Tom Meyers of Baltimore, a dropkicking specialist 20 years ago. Once you learn the art, Meyers indicates, it's as easy and accurate as placekicking.
Sooner or later, a skilled dropkicking pioneer will make the breakthrough. While we wait for him to appear, the coaches might ponder the fact that the record for the longest field goal ever by a dropkicker is 63 yards. All by himself, with nobody holding the ball.
FLOW GENTLY, SWEET THAMES
Here is another optimistic bit of news from pessimistic England. Two decades ago the Thames River in and near London was filled with sewage, detergents and industrial waste and was virtually without fish. Only a handful of mallards and swans ever visited the river. Londoners had been throwing garbage and other junk into the Thames since pre-Roman times, and after the Industrial Revolution that practice inevitably turned the river into a mass of trapped sludge. Effluent rocked back and forth with the tides, taking weeks or even months to inch its way to the sea. A dead river, in other words.
Early in the 1960s, the government began to attack the problem, regulating what could and could not be dumped into the river. Slowly the Thames came back. Now 86 species of fish, including the glamorous Atlantic salmon, are reported to live in the 25 miles of river between London and the sea, and thousands of water birds use it as a winter refuge.
With the question of whether or not there will be a 1977 draft of college football players by the NFL still in doubt, the related question of just how valuable the draft is anyway continues to be a subject of debate. On the one hand, George Allen of the Washington Redskins has repeatedly traded off high draft picks for tried-and-true pros and has been pretty. successful. On the other, Chuck Noll of the Pittsburgh Steelers built that imposing team almost from scratch by means of efficacious drafting.
Just how good are brand-new players, fresh out of college? Crops vary, as they do in horse racing, truck farms and journalism schools, but sometimes they can be incredibly rich. Consider the 1973 draft. Among those picked were such instant NFL stars as Bert Jones, Chuck Foreman, Isaac Curtis, Otis Armstrong, Terry Metcalf, Cullen Bryant, Ray Guy, Joe Ferguson, Billy Joe DuPree, Wally Chambers, Sam Cunningham, Jerry Sisemore, John Hannah, Greg Pruitt, Harvey Martin and Mike Barnes, and the list can go on from there.
Still—wouldn't you know?—the No. 1 pick that year was a 6'8", 280-pound, can't-miss tackle from the University of Tampa named John Matuszak. Matuszak turned out to be more or less of a bust with the Houston Oilers, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Redskins (not to mention a short-lived visit to the World Football League) before settling in this season with Oakland.
THEY SAID IT
•Pete Maravich, asked why he was taking the news of New Orleans Jazz Coach Butch van Breda Kolff's firing so calmly: "The last time I was surprised was when I found out that ice cream cones were hollow."
•Chuck Mills, Wake Forest football coach: "Some coaches pray for wisdom. I pray for 260-pound tackles. They'll give me plenty of wisdom."
•Jim Colbert, touring golf pro, at the mixed team golf championships that paired men and women pros: "What else is there in life but golf and girls?"
•Edward Villella, the ballet star, asked if his background in boxing came in handy: "Once in a while you have to explain manly grace."
•Dan Issel, injured Denver Nugget center, after his substitute, Marvin Webster, scored 17 points and had 17 rebounds: "What was the name of that guy on the Yankees who got hurt and was replaced by Lou Gehrig?"