SI Vault
Edited by Jerry Kirshenbaum
October 29, 1979
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October 29, 1979


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When Gordie Howe came out of retirement in 1973 to play alongside his two sons in the upstart World Hockey Association, the word in the National Hockey League was that his return to action was one big publicity stunt. Howe had ended his brilliant 25-year NHL career two years before, had been whisked into the Hockey Hall of Fame and had no business, or so it was said, being on the ice at the ripe age of 45. Howe defiantly proceeded to score 174 goals in six seasons in the WHA, and because of the merger between the two leagues, now finds himself back in the NHL at the even riper age of 51. And if he sticks around until Jan. 1, he will have played in the NHL in five decades—the '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s.

Howe says he has every intention of making it to January—and beyond. Wobbly during training camp and complaining of dizzy spells, the old man was saddened when his team, the Hartford Whalers, shunted his son Marty to the minors. But another son, Mark, plays on the Whalers, and when the season began two weeks ago, Gordie was out there, too, taking a regular shift and appearing on power plays. Still a tough man to budge in front of the net, he has scored two goals in the Whalers' first six games, swelling his NHL total to 788, 107 more than anybody else has scored in league history. Meanwhile, the very NHLers who accused him of engaging in a publicity stunt six years ago have been eagerly promoting his return to the league. And a happy return it has been. Five of the Whalers' first six games were on the road, and the fans at each stop greeted the great man with a standing ovation.

Tailback Kelly Ellis was a big star at West High School in Waterloo, Iowa, but because he was only 5'7", major football schools weren't interested in him. Now a junior at the University of Northern Iowa, Ellis admits that being short is a handicap for a runner, even in small-college competition. "When I go behind my blockers, I can't see where the holes are," he says. "It's like running blind sometimes." Which raises the question of how Ellis, carrying 40 times in a 38-25 win over Western Illinois two weeks ago, managed to gain an NCAA-record 382 yards. Nothing to it, says Ellis. Noting that in the Panther offense the fullback usually leads the blocking, he says, "I put my left hand on his back and follow him. When I feel him cut left, I cut right."


Steve Hinton, the nation's leading air-race pilot, was discharged the other day from the Reno hospital in which he had been recuperating from serious injuries suffered when his modified P-51 Mustang, the Red Baron, crashed Sept. 16. The accident occurred at the Reno Air Races, the sport's biggest event, which claimed the lives of two pilots last year when their World War II-era AT-6 trainers collided in full view of spectators. And several days before Hinton's accident, the pilot of a home-built midget plane died in another crash.

The accidents at Reno have come at a time when, thanks largely to Hinton, air racing's prospects had appeared to be brightening. Piloting the Red Baron in the Unlimited Class (consisting of souped-up World War II fighters), Hinton had dominated the race circuit, which also includes major events at Mojave, Calif. and Miami, and last August he set a world speed record of 499 mph for piston-engine planes. In recognition of his star quality, Michelob Light recently took over sponsorship of the Red Baron, giving air racing one of its few major promotional tie-ins.

But all that was before the Red Baron's engine blew just as Hinton was finishing his final flight around the 45-foot-high pylons that delineate Reno's nine-mile desert course. The Red Baron was destroyed in the ensuing crash, and Hinton broke his back, left ankle and right knee. Although now on the mend, Hinton says he is unsure whether he will return to the sport, an uncertainty shared by Michelob Light. A brewery spokesman says, "I'd like to say it's all up in the air, but that may not be the best way to put it."


The news out of Fresno, Calif. was intriguing. Assuming that construction of Fresno State University's new 30,000-seat stadium could be completed in time, a college football bowl game would be held there starting in 1980 between champions of the Pacific Coast Athletic Association and the Mid-American Conference. But what would the new bowl be called? Organizers seemed to rule out such obvious names as the California Bowl, in honor of the host state, or the Raisin Bowl, reflecting Fresno's self-proclaimed status as The Raisin Capital of the World. Instead, they invited the public to take part in a "Name the Bowl Game" contest.

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