It is saddening, if not surprising, that the National Hockey League, by adding Long Island and Atlanta to its lineup for next season, has moved to dilute the quality of a sport already watered beyond decency. That will make 16 NHL teams—all dependent for players on a Canada of but 21 million people and a scattering of Americans. Not content with this, the NHL is going to add two more teams in 1974. The NHL expansion is preventive warfare against a new outfit called the World Hockey Association, which is threatening to put "major league" hockey into 10 U.S. and Canadian cities, starting next fall. The WHA promises to use a "colorful" puck. Meanwhile, one must expect player raids on the NHL, a thicket of lawsuits, a miasma of chauvinistic blather about the "right" of various cities to have "major league" hockey and, as sure as God made little pucks black, a poorer sport.
Still, while hockey quality is being diluted, its hold in some areas remains intense. Boston, where the Bruins reign supreme (the Red Sox may have their following in season, but the basketball Celtics and football Patriots are second-class citizens in comparison), is the only major league hockey town in the U.S. that also fields—or rinks—a minor-league hockey team, too. The Braves, a Bruin farm that plays in Boston Garden when the Bruins are off in Vancouver or wherever, have been drawing like mad. Early this month they set an American Hockey League record with 14,031 spectators at one game. All of which may help to explain a little about the NHL's urge to create more teams—however diluted—for hockey-hungry fans to watch.
After a brief, glorious moment in the sun when word came that a rooster had knocked off an eagle in a birdo-a-birdo fight (SCORECARD, Nov. 15), the chicken world is right back where it used to be: behind the eightball. The truth came out when U.S. attorneys charged two Ohio men with "possession" of a bald eagle after it was discovered that the bird's broken wing had been caused by buckshot, not rooster kicks. Apparently fearing prosecution for violating laws protecting eagles, the men made up the tale about the ferocious rooster.
Well, to paraphrase Mark Twain, splendid story, splendid lie. Drive on.
This week the omnipresent George Plimpton is in our magazine as a writer (page 40); next week he will be on TV as a quarterback, for the Baltimore Colts against the Detroit Lions. The TV sequence, filmed in a preseason game, does not reveal a near strike by the Detroit players. The Colts were cooperating for the fun of it, or the promotional value, as Detroit had when George was writing Paper Lion, but now Plimpton's ex-buddies wanted to be paid.
"It was a travesty," said Linebacker Wayne Walker. "We guys on defense had nothing to gain and everything to lose. Suppose he completes a pass and makes jerks out of us. Or suppose somebody hurts a knee. We didn't even know if we were covered." Linebacker Mike Lucci said, "It was a real nice day to put in four extra plays. The temperature was about 90 that afternoon."
At first it was hoped Plimpton would quarterback the Lions, but Joe Schmidt, Detroit's head coach, said no. "The TV people weren't thinking about someone getting hurt. When I turned him down, I thought that was it. But then he went to the Colts."
The Lions decided no pay, no play. There was a fair amount of back-and-forth arguing before the producers agreed on a fee of $300 for each of the 11 defensive players. (The Lions tried to get an extra $300 apiece for two injured starters who would not appear in the Plimpton sequence, but the producers were adamant, and the Lions finally split the $3,300 pot 13 ways.)