THE OLD HOME TOWN
There must be something sinister about Lake Erie. The most polluted of the Great Lakes seems to spill its bad reputation on the cities along its shores. Cleveland has been the butt of too many bad jokes, and so has Buffalo. Toledo is usually thought of for only two things—its sometime minor league baseball team, called, aptly, the Mud Hens, and the tired old song about Jones Junior High, the best junior high in Toledo. Now the city of Erie is getting it in the neck. Fred Biletnikoff, the star wide receiver of the Super Bowl champion Oakland Raiders, is from Erie, but he makes no bones about his feeling that his home town is a good place to be from.
"I'll never go back to Erie," Biletnikoff said last week. "They can have it. I just don't like the people. I don't like the way they've treated me. They wanted me back for some special function a couple of years ago, but they wanted me to pay my own air fare and expenses to get there. That's Erie, Pa. A great town. They can drop it in the lake."
John Madden, the ample coach of the Raiders, seems to have none of the bitterness toward his background that Biletnikoff shows. The underpublicized Madden was a smash hit with journalists before and after the Super Bowl for his candor, wit and charm, and some of the things he said merit repeating.
On his childhood: "All I did as a boy was play football, basketball and baseball. I grew up in a family that encouraged sports. My father didn't think kids should have to work after school. He told us to go out and play games. He was an automobile mechanic. We never had any money, but we had a good life. My dad's philosophy was that there's a lot of work in the world and that once a kid goes to work, he's stuck for the rest of his life. So he thought we should play games and have fun as long as possible."
On his attitude toward his own children: "I tell them what my father told me. I think he was right. High school and college years are meant for school and play. There'll be a lot of other years for work. People sometimes ask me what I think about the younger generation. I tell them I have one overriding thought about kids today. They grow up too soon."
On kids going into sports because of the economic advantages, such as college scholarships and professional salaries: "That's true, but it isn't what I mean when I say kids should play. I'm not talking about mastering a sport that will take you to college or give you a job afterward. I'm talking about going out and playing after school for the sake of playing. Games are great fun. I feel sorry for kids who have to go to work early and miss so much of the pleasure and excitement of playing games."
On coaching: "It isn't work. It's a way of life. As Bear Bryant said, 'No one should go into coaching unless he couldn't live without it.' I didn't go into it to make a living or even because I enjoy it. Football is what I am. I am totally consumed by it."
On what he gets out of it: "There are two appeals, as far as I am concerned. One is the experience of competition, the thrill of competition. There's nothing like it. Second is being part of a team. You're part of a group that's bigger than you, and you're in it with people who think it's as important as you do. You're seeking to achieve as a unit, and that's a very civilized thing to attempt, very human."