Usually only demon statisticians or far-out fans notice when a relatively obscure record is broken. But lots of people were aware a week ago that a 104-yard return of a fumble by Jack Tatum of the Oakland Raiders set a new NFL record, because the old one, a 98-yard return, had been set 49 years earlier by none other than George Halas, the ancient ruler of the Chicago Bears. Well, whaddya know, people said.
But now it turns out that technically Tatum did not return a fumble at all, and the touchdown he scored should not have counted. This is interesting because Oakland won the game from Green Bay 20-14. Mark Duncan, the NFL's director of personnel, explained that the rules make a distinction between a fumble of a lateral by a player who has had possession of the ball and a muff by a player who has not had possession. The defense can recover and run with the ball in the first instance but can only recover without an advance in the second. The Green Bay quarterback had pitched out to MacArthur Lane, but the lateral bounced off Lane's fingers and ricocheted into the end zone, where Tatum picked it up and began his run to the record book.
"In my viewing of the films," Duncan said, "the man did not have possession. Therefore, there could be no return of the muffed lateral." He said several of the officials running the game were in position to make the correct call, but nobody thought to do it. "It never even dawned on them, and they did not realize their mistake until they saw the films. Obviously, we want to eliminate happenings like this. In fact we have a motto around here that goes, 'To err is human. To forgive is against league policy.' "
Motto or no, punitive action has not been taken against the officials, and the new record will go into the book. Don Weiss, NFL publicity man, explained, "However it is ruled, that's how it was scored in the game. The points counted, so the record does, too."
Too bad for Green Bay. But if the Packers feel bad, what about George Halas?
Plans to construct an auto raceway on a dairy farm near Hagerstown, Md. have caused a furious reaction among residents of that quiet section of Washington County in western Maryland. The land was bought by a couple of Washington businessmen who want to build a racing plant that will seat 40,000 and have room for 100,000 more around the track.
Despite local opposition, the developers say, "There is no legal way to stop us." Washington County has no zoning ordinance, although one that designates the area as agricultural is in the works. "They're trying to slip in quietly under the old law," says Allan Powell, a professor at Hagerstown Junior College. Harold L. Beyers, a county commissioner, says, "They're offering trinkets to the natives in order to take their land and peace and quiet, too. But the natives are rebelling."
Bill Young, one of the developers, says the uproar "is all politics. The commissioners think it's a way to get votes. The whole ecology thing has been blown way out of proportion." He added, "If we get turned down on the raceway, we'll build the darndest, lowest-income housing project you've ever seen."
GOOD VS. BAD AGAIN