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THERE SHE IS, Ms. AMERICA
Curry Kirkpatrick
October 01, 1973
Representing your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free—Billie Jean King put down that chauvinist, Bobby Riggs, in a production worthy of Barnum
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October 01, 1973

There She Is, Ms. America

Representing your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free—Billie Jean King put down that chauvinist, Bobby Riggs, in a production worthy of Barnum

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"Australian girls aren't like American girls," he said. "Sissy Bug will murder this Riggs. No way you beat a good player with tricks. If he gets personal, I'll punch him out. He ought to write a book, I Fed Three Wives. I hope Sissy shuts him up good. He's done nothing for the game. If it weren't for women, where would he be? Sissy will kill him, bet you five."

Meanwhile Riggs, who had conned himself into this windfall, may have been promoting himself out of it. Unlike his first sex match at quaint Ramona, Calif., where he trained judiciously, practiced hard and got plenty of sleep, Houston was a binge. When Riggs came to Texas on Sept. 9 he was off booze entirely, but his itinerary included trips to Beaumont and San Antonio to drum up ticket sales. He scheduled appearances on radio and TV, visits to bookstores and cocktail parties and practices in the Bubble where he hustled games against three and four local challengers every night.

He hustled Congressman Bill Archer and heart surgeon Dr. Denton Cooley and a stockbroker who brought his own cheerleaders and a 13-year-old kid. He even hustled Billie Jean's husband, Larry King, spotting him four games and winning 6-4.

Following the matches he would conduct mass interviews with the public, sometimes encountering rough questioning, such as that of one girl with a tape recorder from Fondren Junior High.

Girl: "Are you afraid to play men?"

Riggs: "Who brought you, little girl?"

All the while Riggs spieled for Hai Karate after-shave and Sugar Daddy suckers. He flaunted a shirt with two holes cut out of the chest. And he kept quoting from a song, "Get your biscuits in the oven and your buns in the bed." But the preparation for the biggest night of his life left Bobby Riggs grumpy, hungry and worn out.

"He thinks this is such a lock, he can beat her at half-speed," admitted Lornie Kuhle, Riggs' trainer, at one point. "I think he's right, but...."

Riggs himself contemplated the outcome as follows: "I'm taking so many pills I must have a glass stomach. Billie Jean's banking that I'm not in shape and not serious enough and she may be right. But I saw the girls at Wimbledon and they were so bad it confused me. I know I can play my game. The question is can she play up to her ability under the pressure? Can she stay loose, hit out, be great on the tough points and win? I don't believe it. She'll fold. I make me a 17-point favorite."

The day of the match dawned with all sorts of wonderful rumors: Larry and Billie Jean were getting a divorce. An Arabian sheik with a harem of 60 was flying in from Kuwait. Helen Reddy would sing at courtside. Sinatra was coming. Streisand was coming. Duke Wayne was coming.

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