Hockey is booming—right now. It maintains an extremely high level of popularity in its old traditional bastions and at the same time wins new followers almost everywhere it goes, even in areas where natural ice is totally alien. It seems a shame, then, that even as it widens its appeal hockey may very well be sowing the seeds of its own decline by condoning the mob-scene brawls and super roughness (page 34) that clutter up the ice in too many games.
Agreed, hockey is a hard, aggressive, body-contact sport, and no one expects or wants that to change. But toughness and drive and occasional flareups are one thing; deliberate brutality and battle royals are quite another. Only a few days after Ted Green, the "bad boy" of the Boston Bruins, had his skull fractured in a stick fight in an exhibition game, the New York Rangers and the Toronto Maple Leafs interrupted their game with another of those tedious mass fights, with officials clawing ineffectually at the participants like the clown referees in professional wrestling.
If the men who run hockey feel that it is desirable to have their sport degenerate to the level of wrestling and Roller Derby, that's their business. But it isn't good business—not in the long run.
A small but cheerful part of football practice at the University of Kansas a year ago was devoted to perfecting the technique of spiking the ball (hurling it to the ground point down) after a touchdown. Pepper Rodgers, Kansas' ebullient coach, called it "the old spikeritis" and was delighted to see his players do it 53 times during the season. But this year a new NCAA rule specifically forbids such post-touchdown displays as spiking the ball, tossing it into the air, kicking it or arching it into the stands. The rule is intended to speed up the game (a player must "return the ball to an official immediately") as well as to save money by keeping footballs from being lofted into the stands.
Pepper Rodgers doesn't like the new rule. He goes along with the part that is against the practice of tossing the ball to the spectators, but as for stopping the old spikeritis, Rodgers says, "It's one more example of how adults react when kids find a way to have a little fun. They take it away from them."
TWO BITS AND $300
Red Rush, one of the Chicago White Sox broadcasters, has finished the season undefeated—and richer by approximately 500 cigars. Since 1959 Rush has been playing a game with athletes. He holds his hand out, palm up, puts a quarter on it and gives his opponent five chances to snatch the coin before he, Rush, can make a fist. Then the roles are reversed and Rush tries to grab the quarter from his rival's hand. Rush's usual bet is a $300 suit against a cigar that he can grab the quarter more times than his opponent can. In 10 years he has lost only once, to Elgin Baylor (Rush also broadcasts basketball games). "Luckily," he recalls, "that day we only bet a cigar against a sandwich."
The closest he came to losing this year was to Ken Harrelson. The Hawk twice snatched the quarter, but Rush rallied in the clutch, took three from Harrelson and that was that.