HAMMERS AND KNIVES
Conversation keeps bubbling about the apparent increase in roughness in the NFL this year, even among the players themselves, although some feel that the press has given it too much attention. Of the biggest wave of publicity, that which swirled around the fining of Oakland's George Atkinson and Jack Tatum after Pittsburgh's Lynn Swann was whacked around in a Raider-Steeler game last month, Merlin Olsen of the Los Angeles Rams said, "I'm not too happy with those fines—not that they weren't deserved. But I think they were levied to calm some angry people. All we need are a couple of irate fans to get drunked up the next time Oakland plays in Pittsburgh and have one of them stick a knife in a player's back. Where would that leave us?"
Olsen and other veterans seem to feel that most NFL people have a professional respect for one another, and that cheap shots are occasional occurrences that are best dealt with by the players themselves on the field. Seattle's Norm Evans, who is in his 12th pro season, recalls Fred (The Hammer) Williamson, onetime terror of the Oakland defense, who eventually was sidelined permanently with a knee injury. "For a while," says Evans, "all I heard about was Freddie the Hammer and how mean he was. But then all of a sudden he was out of football."
Some don't believe that this eye-for-an-eye philosophy keeps excessive violence under control. Claude Humphrey, Atlanta Falcon defensive end, says, "If you can get Lawrence McCutcheon or James Harris out of there when you play the Rams, you've got a hell of a chance to win, and that's what it's all about. If Swann has a chance to catch a touchdown pass, why not hit him? It's just football. That's why it's the No. 1 sport. On a Sunday afternoon the fans get to screaming and they want to see somebody get hit." Ken Stone of Tampa Bay says, "From high school on, we're taught different kinds of arm tackling and clotheslining. It's all part of a violent game, and that's what people pay to see."
Those who prefer the daring grace and accomplishment of a healthy Gale Sayers, a healthy Joe Namath or, for that matter, a healthy Lynn Swann, may disagree.
Sparky Anderson, manager of the Cincinnati Reds since 1970, in praising the appointment of Joe Altobelli as manager of the San Francisco Giants, described Altobelli as "one of the best young managers in the game."
Altobelli is 44. Anderson, the old savant, is 42.
With all the dreary things ABC-TV did to the pennant playoffs—the amateurish announcing of Keith Jackson and Warner Wolf, the tiresome banalities of Howard Cosell, the intolerable number of commercials and promotions crammed between each half inning—it was a relief to note some plus factors. With few exceptions, the broadcasting efforts of Reggie Jackson and Tom Seaver made up for a lot of the gaffes committed by the so-called professionals. Some ballplayers are flops on the air; these two have careers ahead of them when they pack it in on the field. Give ABC credit for that.
Evonne Goolagong's pregnancy—she and her husband Roger Cawley are expecting their first child next May—could stir up women's tennis the way Margaret Smith Court's blessed event did in 1971. At that time Court and Billie Jean King dominated the game pretty much the way Goolagong and Chris Evert do now. But when Court went off to the obstetrician's, Evonne and Chris began their rapid climb to fame and fortune, fighting at first for the right to challenge Billie Jean and eventually superseding her. Now the same sort of opportunity is in the offing for bright young players like Sue Barker, Dianne Fromholtz, Mima Jausovec and Natasha Chmyreva, who have been frustrated up to now by the overpowering presence of both Goolagong and Evert. Never underestimate a mother's influence.