In one of the early issues of this magazine there was an essay about the songs that undergraduates sing to inspire their teams to victory—the eye-opening anthem of Rice, Owls! Awake and Sing, the stirring fight song of Texas Christian, Horned Frogs, We Are All for You, and the classic composition of Clemson, Where the Blue Ridge Yawns Its Greatness. By taking a wry look at such tuneful dedication, the writer ( Martin Kane) was sounding some notes on which we have often rung the changes. Even when it is putting on its most serious front, sport is a rich though demanding field for the humorist. In this week's issue the point is made twice over. On page 24 Artist Roy McKie depicts certain verities of hockey, one of them being that it isn't so much the prospect of seeing the puck in the goal but the Band-Aid on the brow that attracts crowds. And on page 68 Bil Gilbert fouls the line of fishing purists by claiming you can do better angling with a coffeepot than with a casting rod. The lively techniques of both McKie and Gilbert are long-familiar to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED readers, McKie having caricatured half a dozen games and games-men and Gilbert having warned us of his tendencies years ago when he proposed a piece entitled Bears in the Ladies Room and Other Beastly Stories.
One of the reasons sport lends itself to humor is that it is among the least inhibited activities of men. Competitors tend to forget themselves in the name of their quest. Thus, Robert Boyle, describing a football game a year ago between Texas and Pennsylvania high school teams, could call it the best free-for-all "since Frankenstein met The Wolf Man. The teams played as though they were fighting over a bone instead of the ball." Then there was the determination of the New Jersey man Coles Phinizy told of in a story on illegal devices used by hunters. He carried a set of antlers in his car so that he could shoot a doe and then fasten the antlers on its head. Unfortunately for him, in the excitement of the kill he put one antler on backward. And it was 10 years ago that Robert Coughlan wrote a pioneering assessment of pool hustlers and champions, and detailed the ploy of one Onofrio Lauri who was said to use his bald head as a reflector, bending down so that the light from his glistening dome flashed into his opponent's eyes.
We have also learned that the type of people who set off on adventures are, by definition, the kind that have comical misadventures. We often report on the deeds of the first, but it is with considerable relish that we occasionally get to tell about the second, too. It was Gilbert, again, who went on safari in the Mexican "wilderness," but discovered the route was so well staked out by eager Mexican guides that all one had to do was follow the chewing-gum wrappers. And it was Jack Olsen who was sent to Surinam on the theory it was a hunter's paradise, only to find that it is the hunter who gets pursued. But he did fend off the snakes and the army ants long enough to accept the local tourist bureau's suggestion that he see a ceremonial dance by seminude native maidens (this was before every San Francisco bar began offering the same act). Olsen informed our readers that "when you've seen two you've seen 'em all."
So we have offered, and will continue to offer, all the humor we can find in the fields we look into. Occasionally, we will even abet the writer's cause in a small way. There was much mirth in George Plimpton's account of his brief life as a Detroit Lion quarterback, which was published under the headline, Zero of the Lions. But an anonymous caption writer (oh, we know who he is, but we're not telling) provided the last sardonic chuckle. A photograph showed the sad quarterback walking away from his game. The line beneath it read: "Nothing had been expected of Zero, but somehow he had done even less."