Somewhere off the southern coast of Mindanao there may be a cross-handed albino dwarf with pinkeye who can shoot peas, fillet a fish, dance a bolero or fool the seat-belt buzzer better than Kyle Rote Jr. But surely there is nobody anywhere who can do all these things better, practically at the same time, during two days of cold, wind, commercial interruptions and financial pressures. And there is nobody in this wide world who can pray better, either.
At least there were not many contestants able to mount a serious challenge to Rote in Rotonda, Fla. the other day when land developers, oil-filter representatives, one TV network and at least 87 PR guys combined to stage their second "Superstars" competition.
Rote soundly defeated the famous expectant father, toothpaste shill and defending champion, Bob Seagren; the balding, blithesome bard of the bicycle, Dick (No Spokes) Anderson; the one black golfer certain never to be invited to the Masters, Franco ("Get me out of here") Harris; and a fine sportsman, gentleman announcer and prince of a bowler, the Already Legendary Orange Juice Simpson, to win more than $50,000 in prize money, or approximately 35 times what Rote made last year while playing soccer for the Dallas Tornado.
During his week of destiny Rote kept saying how terrific it was to be in "the presence of greatness" and that he understood from all the guys how "being nice was part of getting to the top." And he said, "This is just preliminary stuff to doing the work of God." He was not an unexpected winner (in his seven events he took first places in tennis, swimming and bowling; seconds in golf and bicycling; second to last in the half-mile run and last in baseball hitting) but it was fun to watch someone of relative anonymity, inexperienced in competing for vast sums of money, come in and knock off the $80-trillion-a-year boys. As Austrian skier Karl Schranz said after being asked what he knew about his fellow Superstars: "I know all zese guys except Rrrowt Juneeor, suppo-zed soccer fellow. Who ees zis Rrrowt Juneeor?"
Well, Kyle Rote Jr. is a 23-year-old theology student who is slight of build, fair of complexion, soft of voice and hard as nails. He is also kind, brave, humble, reverent and everything else the Good Book says a man ought and ought not to be—except maybe avaricious. He is about to ask his boss, Lamar Hunt, for a salary that he can eat lunch on. But that's O.K., too. Rote says he will give a lot of his winnings to charity.
Kyle Rote Jr. also has orange sneakers, a cute wife named Mary Lynne, a father who played a little football for SMU and the Giants and a nice sense of humor that bore up well when the real superstars called him Super Baby and kidded him about religion. He was the antithesis of the big names from baseball, football, basketball, tennis, track, skiing and speed skating. Stan Smith, recent winner of a World Championship Tennis event, arrived in a long rabbit-fur coat from Torremolinos, Spain. The Already Legendary O.J. Simpson came from the set of a movie in which he is appearing with Richard Burton. Speed skater Ard Schenk, from Holland, exposed flowing blond locks, a bronze Thor of a body and looks that, if he were a singer or a quarterback, would oblige him to hire the National Guard to keep the groupies away.
Rote meanwhile arrived from St. Michael's and All Angels Episcopal Church in Dallas with his Bible. "What's a Bible?" said shotputter Brian Oldfield.
Rote didn't smoke, swear, drink much, chew or avoid autographs. Not only did he sign his name, he inscribed a biblical verse for little Donald Reninger. "Praise the Lord, what a beautiful person," said Donald's mother.
This happened midway through the second day of the two-day competition, after Rote had piled up such a lead that ABC must have considered sending in Robert Stack from The American Sportsman to blast Rote with a rifle lest the viewers at home get bored. But nobody is bored with Superstars. A year ago excitement was rampant when Jim Stefanich, running backward, tried to beat John Unitas in the half mile and when Joe Frazier came out smokin' for the swimming race and nearly drowned.
This year the sponsors—take note, Billie Jean—invited 48 men (including, one press release said, "Football Great, Bobby Bonds") to four preliminary competitions to find 12 who would meet in the finals for the "Coveted Title of 1974 Superstar." Technically, it was competition in 10 events: sprinting, running, swimming, tennis, golf, bowling, cycling, weight lifting, baseball hitting and negotiating an obstacle course. The athletes competed in any seven of the 10 events, except their own specialties.