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Yes, the Soviet Union is still bad-mouthing the L.A. Olympics, but just one week before the Games opened a team of Soviet athletes landed in the U.S. and took part in an international athletic competition with an American team. The sport was volleyball, the locale was Kodiak Island in Alaska and the Soviet team was made up of eight men from a Soviet fisheries research ship called Shantar, which had put in at Kodiak for repairs. The Russians issued a challenge to any Americans who'd care to play them, and the Glacier State Diggers, champions of Kodiak's city volleyball league, responded. They rounded up a net and a ball and took on the red-shirted Soviets in a five-game match in the gymnasium of Kodiak High School (whose teams, appropriately enough, are nicknamed the Bears).
The Soviets had an American interpreter, but there were few language difficulties. "It was all volleyball," said Jim Kennedy, one of the Diggers. "It was so natural we didn't have to communicate." The few questions that came up were handled for the most part by the phrase "No problem," which the Soviets used more readily than "Nyet." Was the ball pumped up hard enough? "No problem." We'll each call our own fouls, O.K.? "No problem."
The teams were fairly evenly matched, with the Diggers' star spiker, 6'4" Bill Kuiper (who had played at Santa Monica Junior College in Los Angeles), opposed by an equally tall Soviet refrigeration engineer with a long Soviet name ("Call me Sasha," he said amiably). As a crowd of about 40 Soviets and Americans looked on, the U.S. won 15-10, 15-5, 15-13, 9-15, 15-9. Afterward, the Soviets presented the Americans with a trophy—a silver-colored torch with an olive branch at the base—and little flags, one bearing the ship's name and another with a set of hauntingly familiar interlocked rings. Caught unprepared by this generosity, the Diggers scrounged a brand-new volleyball from the high school's supply, autographed it and presented it to the Soviets, hoping the school administration would overlook a little white larceny in the name of international goodwill.
"The governments have conflicts," said Don Kuiper, Bill's father and another Digger, too, "but these were just regular guys." At the end of the match, with everyone drenched in sweat, the Americans made chugalug gestures and asked, "Do you drink beer?" The Soviets grinned and said, "No problem." One of the Soviets later said, "We had our Olympics in Kodiak." That was the only time the Games were mentioned.
Former Oriole skipper Earl Weaver was the color commentator on the national telecasts of last year's World Series, which the Orioles proceeded to win. Former Raider coach John Madden was the TV color man for the 1984 Super Bowl, which the Raiders won. Ex-Celtic coach Tom Heinsohn was the network commentator for this year's NBA championship series, which the Celtics won. So all that your favorite team needs to do to win a title is to have one of its former head men work the TV booth, right?
Well, it would probably also help if, somewhere along the line, your boys managed to eliminate a Houston team from the playoffs.
In their NBA playoff appearance in 1981, the Houston Rockets were ousted by the eventual league champions, the Celtics. In the Houston Astros' only appearances in the National League playoffs, in 1980 and '81, they lost to the World Series champions-to-be, the Phillies and Dodgers. The story is the same with the NFL's Houston Oilers. Their last three playoff visits came in 1978, 1979 and 1980. They were eliminated by the Steelers the first two years and the Raiders the third; those teams went on to win the Super Bowl each time.