SI Vault
Gilbert Rogin
March 13, 1961
Vengefully, Floyd Patterson (below) felled Ingemar Johansson last summer to regain the heavyweight title. But in their first fight Floyd had been a Iamb. Now the champion will try to prove that he is an enduring tiger
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March 13, 1961

Will The Tiger Be Back?

Vengefully, Floyd Patterson (below) felled Ingemar Johansson last summer to regain the heavyweight title. But in their first fight Floyd had been a Iamb. Now the champion will try to prove that he is an enduring tiger

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It is not a new story, but it serves to illuminate the curious unreality of Miami Beach, where Floyd Patterson will defend his heavyweight title against Ingemar Johansson Monday night. A guest at the Hotel Fontainebleau—pronounced Fountain Blew in Miami—asked a bellboy the way to the ocean. "I'm sorry, sir," the boy replied, "but the ocean is closed."

In this whimsical setting, Floyd Patterson has trained diligently. He has been working out at the Deauville (pronounced Dough-ville, as in Splitsville or Laughsville)—a hotel which, behold, has an ice-skating rink in the basement and no mortgages and whose doilies carry the legend that the Deauville is, inalienably, "dedicated to the attainment of happiness."

Pursuing his happiness, if not Ingemar's, Patterson has been sparring in the Napoleon Room, Section 3. This is a free-form auditorium with ghastly brass chandeliers and cork walls. It might better be named the Proust Room. Floyd and his sparring partners wear T shirts with musketeers on them, the emblem of the Deauville: the d�cor here is free French. But Floyd is not galled. He even endures the broad in the sunsuit who parades the aisles carrying a poster that proclaims both the number of the round and the fact that the Ritz Brothers are appearing in the Casanova Room. "This is a vacation spot," Floyd says wistfully, "not a place for business." He adds, almost apologetically, "But I came here for business."

After his workout and a cup of tea from an elaborate service, Floyd walks slowly down Collins Avenue through the languorous dark to his rented house. He collects the unfamiliar leaves of tropical plants from the gutters and wrenches fronds from palms. "I'm going to send them home to my wife," he says, as though you had asked an idiotic question. Nature, evidently, is harder to attain than happiness. Here are the blue balloons of Portuguese men-of-war washed up on the tide; the snips of hair which the pastel artists cut from tourists' heads so that the color can be "faithfully reproduced" while the subjects are learning to cha-cha-cha at poolside or going to Mass at the jai-alai fronton. Floyd in Miami Beach is, as in W. B. Yeats's startling vision of the force of actuality, like a real toad in an imaginary garden.

Now 26, Floyd is also a new, dominant man. He has changed powerfully and radically. "I used to be on the outside looking in," he says of his castoff self. "Now I am on the inside looking out." It is a vantage which pleases him. "I'm grown up now. I am a little more hard." Not that he ever allowed himself to be taken advantage of. Years ago, he says, before he was married, he took a girl to the Apollo Theater in Harlem. A group called The Orioles were on the bill, and when they had finished their act the leader wiped his sweaty face with his handkerchief and flung it into the orchestra. "You know what was extraordinary?" Floyd asks. "My girl finished third in the race for that handkerchief. But you know what was even more extraordinary? When she got back to her seat I wasn't there." One day Floyd asked a friend this conundrum: "What is the most powerful license plate there is?" After the friend had guessed "No. 1" or one's initials, Floyd said, "No. It's no license plate at all."

Patterson's change was rung in the solitary deprivation of the year between his first fight with Johansson, which he lost, and the second, which he won. "I make the decisions now," he says. Indeed, he has assumed the executive stance, the command voice. "Don't bother me with details," he told the cameraman who films his sparring sessions. "That's why I have a lawyer." His employees have learned to respect him as he flexes his new authority. Even Julius November, his attorney, is sweet and submissive, hovering like some huge, pale butterfly, in Floyd's company. A friend told Floyd that in certain countries there is a king, who is merely the titular head, and a prime minister, who holds and manages the power. "Yes, yes," said Floyd quickly, "now I am the king and the prime minister, too."

As for Cus D'Amato, whose shadow, like the moon, used to eclipse Floyd's sun—he lives in the same house as Patterson but Floyd neither knows what he does nor seems to care. Not that the old bindings of love and loyalty have been totally broken, but the roles of father and son appear to have been subtly reversed. "I tell Cus," Floyd says patiently, "that some of the people he knows have been using him and taking advantage of him, but he doesn't listen to me. My eyes have been opened."

What does Cus do? He is ill upstairs in his room—it may have been the smoked salmon. Or he goes to the Fontainebleau, where Beau Jack, the old lightweight, shines shoes and, emotionally, shines Jack's shoes. "Is that good publicity for the fight?" Floyd asks. D'Amato comes frequently to training and then sits in the back and does not visit Floyd. November, however, comes lordly to training. "I'm happy to present to you the attorney for Champion Patterson," is the astonishing announcement.

Although the fight is doing badly at the gate—an informed estimate says it will gross $550,000 in a hall scaled for almost twice that much—it is certainly not Floyd's doing. He has thoroughly charmed and won the Beach. He treats his battered sparmates compassionately, autographs almost endlessly, stops shadowboxing and bows low so a little girl can take his picture, greets and chats engagingly with passers-by. One afternoon when Johansson failed to appear for a public workout in the Convention Hall, Floyd pleaded with Trainer Dan Florio that he be allowed to go two rounds so "the people wouldn't be disappointed." Floyd apparently is satisfied that the seating has been integrated in Convention Hall, where the fight will be held. He had forced the promoters to post a $10,000 forfeit that would be payable to the NAACP if the attendance wasn't integrated. Now he is going to donate that sum to the NAACP from his share of the purse. Of course, he remains apprehensive about his unfamiliar role as a Negro in the South, although in many respects Miami Beach is closer to Seventh Avenue than Peachtree Street. But it is still the South, and Floyd is anxious and, understandably, a little forlorn. One night he bought a handful of picture postcards from a rack outside a store and prepared to pay for them with a $5 bill he held in his other hand. When the white saleslady asked Floyd how many cards he had selected, he, bemused and unsettled, handed her the bill to count instead of the cards.

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