A BENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS
"It's not that Jack Benny's cheap," Fred Allen used to say, "it's just that he has short arms and keeps his wallet deep in his pocket." Boy, would Benny have hated to own a USFL franchise. As the league prepares to shift next year from a spring to a fall schedule, owners will have to start paying players in March or, under a collective bargaining agreement with their union, risk losing them. And because none of the networks wanted to cover the USFL's fall season, the teams will have little or no TV money coming in to help pay the freight.
But two teams, Los Angeles and San Antonio, don't look to have payroll problems, considering that they don't look to have payrolls. Both may fold after the season or merge with other clubs. Having regularly fallen 85,000 seats short of filling the 90,000-seat Coliseum, the Express played its home finale, a 21-10 loss to Arizona last week, at Pierce College. The Houston Gamblers will soon lower their stakes by dealing out some front-office personnel. The Baltimore Stars, late of Philadelphia, lost their front office altogether. They were evicted from their digs in Philly's Veterans Stadium.
The question of where to play suddenly looms large for two owners, Tampa Bay's John Bassett and Doug Spedding of Denver. They've dropped talk of seceding and forming yet another spring league, but face possible stadium problems and head-on fall rivalries with the resident NFL teams. Which doesn't rule out detente. L.A. Raiders owner Al Davis says he wants the NFL to have a spring farm system. The USFL might be just what Davis has in mind.
That diminished status has already been conferred on the upstart league by the L.A. Rams' Eric Dickerson. When New Jersey's Herschel Walker broke his single-season rushing record Monday, Dickerson said snidely, "I did it in the majors, and he did it in the minors."
MEAT BOMB HITS THE BIG APPLE
This being the 25th anniversary of the sister-city accord between Tokyo and New York (as well as the 30th birthday of Godzilla), Japanese sports officials felt it propitious to introduce the ancient sport of sumo wrestling to America. And so last week New York City was swept by a sumo tsunami. Kimono-clad giants with nicknames like Meat Bomb and Sea Slug obliged TV cameras by stalking the subways and even sanctifying the sidewalk in front of City Hall.
For the occasion, Madison Square Garden, often home to Hulk Hogan and the hokum of pro wrestling, was hung with a Shinto shrine roof flown in from the Far East. Instead of piledrivers and four-figure leg locks and flying metal chairs, the audience got three days of formal etiquette and channeled aggression. Sumo wrestlers play by the rules.
Despite their silken G-strings, pomaded topknots and barrel-bellies, sumotori are not to be laughed at. They're part of an honored tradition. They develop their distinctive stomachs for a reason: It keeps their centers of gravity low.
Sumo is nine-tenths anticipation; a match's drama comes during the rites that precede it. The two contestants enter the 15-foot ring, face each other and crouch, balancing balletically on their toes. They clap their hands, lift their legs to the side, stomp the ground with their feet. Then each retires to his corner, takes up a handful of purifying salt and casts it in the ring before returning to squat and glare. The opponents repeat the cycle several times, like nervous hockey players circling before the face-off.