- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Hey, Manny, I got it. The So-Long-Swede four. Here's the deal. We run the kid down through the baskets markets—you know, the ACC, the SEC and the Sunbelt and all those other tanktown paradises where they don't know forehands from net-cord judges. We do trade-outs with hotels, limos, the media. Stick ads in all the Baskin-Robbins. Hold press conferences in airports. Get the mayors to read proclamations, order plaques and trophies and humongous multicolored cakes and—get this—ice sculptures. Is this dynamite stuff or what? Then we dress Borg all in white, dim the house lights, turn on some anthem music and round up all the chicks to storm the locker room door. We're talkin' monster time here, pal. Am I right or am I right? Tag it? We tag it Bjorny Does The Bushes, what else? Hey, it worked for Barry Manilow.
And it worked out for Bjorn Borg, or at least for his promoters. So what if the tour turned out to be extremely hoked up, a lot tacky, a bit of a ripoff and inundated with sleaze. This was Borg's swan song in the U.S. Last week it consisted of five one-night stands in five cities. In Charlotte, N.C., Chattanooga, Tenn. and Norfolk, Va. he played Roscoe Tanner; in Baton Rouge, La. and Providence, R.I. he faced Jimmy Connors. This week Borg was scheduled to play an eight-man event in Toronto, and on Monday he's slated to appear in Kansas City for yet another match with the omnipresent Tanner. That could well be the last time anyone this side of the Atlantic sees the best player of the age strike a tennis ball.
It should be acknowledged that this last roundup was planned long before Borg decided—last November or last month or last week or in the last few minutes or whenever it may have been—to retire. These exhibitions, or "exos" in player lingo, were originally intended to serve as preparation for Borg's return to the regular tournament circuit. But when news bulletins of his quitting emerged three weeks ago from all corners of the globe and most notably the mountains of Nepal, where Borg, his wife, Mariana, his parents. Rune and Margarethe, and his coach, Lennart Bergelin, were riding elephants, this particular series of appearances loomed as Borg's final fling on North American courts. So there. You didn't really think Borg had retired and then wantonly squeezed out a few more paydays, did you? Perish the thought. The elephant boy would never forget his commitments.
Moreover, who's to say this leave-taking was any less dignified than Joe Namath hanging on for dear life to his Los Angeles Ram earphones or Ray Leonard preening before the celebrity guests at his famous last bash. Still, as Borg wandered zombielike from airplane to limo to hotel to exo and back again last week, it was difficult to forgive him for double-fistedly backhanding himself into such a vulnerable position: a head-banded cartoon character tap-dancing at age 26 through the carny atmosphere of horridly commercial one-nighters. The announcement at the end of Presley concerts used to be so agonizingly final: " Elvis has left the building." Why, oh why, couldn't Bjorn Borg, the one and only Bjorn Borg, go out like Ted Williams, hitting the home run, instead of like Presley, wallowing in self-caricature?
On Wednesday, just before Charlotte's Winter Challenge, which is how the Borg-Tanner match was billed on some of the sponsoring beer's posters, the villain of the saga mused on Borg's predicament. "Tennis is so year-round these days, so involving," said Tanner, 'that you never get away from it unless you go to the wilderness. You never feel relaxed about not playing. Bjorn's decision must have been a relief to him. He's so loose, so on high."
Indeed, upon arriving from Katmandu by way of Bangkok and his home in Sands Point, N.Y., Borg looked refreshed, healthy, younger than he has since the day in 1976 that he won the first of his five Wimbledon championships. Clean-shaven, his hair clipped, Borg began the tour without either Mariana or Bergelin, whose sharp differences are now public record, at his side. Not that they had disagreed over or influenced Borg's retirement decision. That was his and his alone, and both wife and coach were stunned. According to Borg, after he told Mariana in late November in Stockholm that he planned to retire, "She thought I was crazy. Lennart was a player. He knows about the day that comes when you have nothing more to give."
Before the match in the Charlotte Coliseum, the Charlotte Choir Boys sang the Swedish national anthem. The Charlotte-Pops Ensemble played the theme from Sylvester Stallone. Borg and Tanner entered the court under raised rackets held by the ball boys. "I felt like we were getting married," said Tanner. Borg won in three straight sets before better than 9,000 fans. Later he was asked if he'd had fun. "Well, uh," Borg replied, bewildered. "I had to play the match. I'm pretty pleased."
In the confusion and crush of teen darlings enveloping Borg's car outside the coliseum, one of his police bodyguards was left behind. "I was surprised they mobbed Born [sic]," said the abandoned patrolman, John Horton, "but security-wise, this wasn't much, about 15 police. Now, we'll have about 45 to 50 for Ozzie Osbourne."
On Thursday, black and white limousines rolled out on the tarmac at Lovell Field in Chattanooga. The quarry was whisked away from the crowds to an isolated terminal, where he met the press and was presented the key to the city by Mayor Pat Rose. Then the limos roared downtown, a police escort screaming sirens and running red lights and forcing mere civilian riffraff onto the shoulders. Who was this. Cap Weinberger?
The who was a wide-eyed, gape-mouthed and shell-shocked Borg. The why and wherefore was W.E. Stamps & Associates, promoter of the Chattanooga and Norfolk matches. "You've got to understand Bjorn is a very, very close friend of mine," said Bill Stamps. "We brought him out of retirement at Industry Hills last summer in L.A. [where Borg played back-to-back exhibitions with Connors and Vitas Gerulaitis]. We thought it apropos we put him back to bed, so to speak." Stamps is a former celebrity agent from L.A. He said he wears his trademark Panama "so my people can spot me on court fast." He said he would throw Borg his "only retirement party" the next night in Norfolk. He said he would fly in some "stars." What stars? "Oh, you know, stars." What stars? "Oh, you know, future stars." What stars? "Look," Stamps said. "I'm a celebrity broker. I'll pick up the phone and get some stars. Maybe Donna Mills or Lionel Ritchie. Maybe Rogers will be in the area."