One bright day in the summer of 1970, shortly after Montreal had obtained the 1976 Olympics but in the months just before the city annexed Vermont and then acquired the Vatican to place up on Mont-Royal (the Orange Bowl, after all, seemed so lonely up there with only the Bolshoi Ballet and the Ganges River for company), the mayor of Montreal sat in City Hall and faced down another skeptic. This he does with aplomb, for it is a whole world of skeptics that the mayor endures, and thus he has much practice in the endeavor. The mayor's working philosophy is: "Problems are solved en route," and, of course, since Vietnam this is not the most popular mode of operation everywhere. The mayor is not deterred.
Having warmed up at some length, he waves for effect and declares: "The Olympics will do even more for Montreal than Expo '67. Seventy-six is only a target, and we won't stop. Seventy-six is the means, not the end. Sixty-seven was just taking us into orbit, but the Olympics will take us to the moon [he waves], to Mars! I feel it! I feel it! And I'm not wrong when I feel as strongly as this. There is no challenge too big for Montreal, because, like the Olympics, we are acting with the spirit of Baron de Coubertin, we are acting in a humanistic way. The city possesses an environment, an ambience that can be felt. "Montreal is en route to becoming The City of the world. Twenty years from now, no matter what happens, it will have achieved this position, and it will be referred to in all parts of the world as The City."
Now make no mistake, the mayor of The (incipient) City is a politician. His office is testament to that. There is the portrait of Queen Elizabeth juxtaposed with a crucifix. There are the flowers that adorn the room in bunches, while nestled among them is the mayor's 125-pound bull mastiff, Due, whose elegiac face does not betray the fact that he could eat for lunch, if he were so disposed, all the flowers, the artifacts and the entire Quebec separatist movement. But if the symbols around the man add up to a balanced display, there is no compromise in the mayor. Charles Bronfman, vice-president of Seagrams, Ltd. and chairman of the baseball Expos, observes: "However much he sounds it, the mayor is never a huckster. He is altogether sincere. He has drives that are unusual and dreams that others of us cannot understand."
This means that when the mayor says Montreal is going to sprint ahead and leave crossroads like Paris and New York back with Terre Haute, he is not putting you on. He means it. Also, all those enigmatic celestial references to the Olympics are not being emitted just for florid effect. It is worth recalling that at about this same point in the planning stage for Expo '67, the mayor had already decided to make a permanent exposition of it—though he neglected to let anyone else in on this revelation for some time. Expo '67 is now Man and His World and is still drawing people to Montreal.
After a certain amount of watching His Honor, one instinctively recalls what Cassius Clay used to say after various correct predictions: "If I tell you a fly can pull a plow, hitch him up." The mayor brought a world's fair to Montreal in record time after Moscow reneged on the project. He lured major league baseball into expanding outside the U.S., and happily watched the team prosper and even play well amid predictions of financial and artistic calamity. He took the Olympics away from the U.S. and Russia and left another world power, personified by Charles de Gaulle, put down in a stunning speech after De Gaulle had suggested French Canada might want to, more or less, separate itself from Canada. He built a cultural palace and a subway system in a world where nobody constructs anything that lasts. With a sprinkle of flowers and trees on almost every street, he encouraged a greenhouse of a town to bloom in a place that had been another kind of house for the whole Western world.
The mayor's name is Jean Drapeau. He is small, slight and utterly nondescript except for a silly little mustache, the kind that looked good on Charlie Chaplin. This deceptive appearance assists him when he carries the banner of Montreal into battle against the other cities of the world, for opponents are easily lulled by the mayor's benign countenance. Sometime in this decade, after the Olympic stadium is built, Drapeau surely will try to bag an NFL expansion franchise for Montreal. And when he does, it would be advisable for the U.S. contenders to forget about the visual impression of the bald little guy with the stage mustache and consider the name behind it. Jean Drapeau translates into English as Johnny Flag, a name which rings with the verve and accomplishment that the mayor genuinely possesses. You could see it anywhere and know you were up against something special: STARRING JOHNNY FLAG. JOHNNY FLAG RETAINS TITLE. HERE COMES JOHNNY FLAG. Next week, on the Johnny Flag Show. OTHER ASTRONAUTS HAIL JOHNNY FLAG.
The United States and Canada share the longest unguarded border in the world, but nobody down here has learned to contend with the mayor of Montreal, probably because all along people thought he was just somebody named Jean Drapeau. However, if in a single episode a man can beat Los Angeles and Moscow, win the residual affection of Avery Brundage and absolutely guarantee all the people of the Dominion of Canada that the '76 Olympics will not cost them one cent—then you are dealing with somebody named Johnny Flag.
Los Angeles came into the Olympic fray in September 1968 and, like all good Americans, the Angelenos set out to overwhelm and outspend everybody. The Los Angeles 1976 Olympic Committee was set up in a downtown business suite. It was headed by a multimillionaire real-estate man, and he could call on a committee of civic leaders from law, manufacturing, politics, journalism, public relations and the government. There was a working staff to supplement this force. At Mexico City, Los Angeles gave a brunch fashion show that 350 attended, and Mayor Sam Yorty hosted another reception for 700. Unfortunately, only 70 IOC delegates have votes, but L.A. surely had the caterers' bloc. By May 1970 Los Angeles was able to go to the IOC meeting in Amsterdam boasting that it had a majority of votes; the 1976 Olympics would be in Los Angeles. Curiously, Moscow also claimed a majority.
The Muscovites had taken a different, if predictable, tack. First of all, Moscow did not want to get into the site competition unless it felt sure it would win. This is an old Russian habit. So feelers went out to various Russian consulates and embassies around the world in an effort to find out how the IOC delegates from the countries would vote. It was not a subtle polling—for either party—and many delegates played along and told the Russians whatever they wanted to hear. The word drifted back to Russia: we've got a majority, so go for it. Moscow applied for the Games late in 1969 and was so sure of success that just before the final vote Tass leaked a bulletin that Moscow was the winner. Within a few hours the Russians learned all about the vagaries of the secret ballot.
Opposing a Communist bureaucracy on the one hand and the capitalist giants of Southern California on the other, Montreal decided upon an informal policy. Essentially, the city's Olympic offices were located in the fedora of His Honor. Drapeau worked with one esteemed associate, Gerry Snyder, the vice-chairman of the Montreal executive committee, who had served in a similar vital role with the National League. Aside from Snyder, Drapeau would just temporarily conscript any city employees he needed for a special task. Beyond that, he vamped.