- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Whatever the outcome of the CFA-NCAA dispute, the athletic powers engaged in it—on both sides—might learn a lesson from tiny Franklin and Marshall. They might accept that the first priority facing them isn't to extract more money from TV. Rather, it's to rescue big-time college sport from its troubled state and put it more squarely in the framework of campus life, where it surely belongs.
BACK, BUT NOT BY POPULAR DEMAND
It's only too true: Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier are fixing to come out of retirement, Ali to fight a yet-to-be-selected opponent in November in Columbia, S.C., Frazier to meet either Scott LeDoux or John Tate that same month in Atlantic City, Cleveland or Las Vegas. The parallel comebacks of the two fighters add a melancholy twist to their famous rivalry: Now they seem to be vying to determine who's the bigger fool.
So let's meet the combatants. In this corner, weighing 244 pounds, is the 39-year-old Ali, who hasn't fought since last October, when he failed to win a round in a punishing 11-round TKO loss to Larry Holmes. Ali's speech is slurred, a possible sign of punchiness. His career was interrupted for more than three years after he was stripped of his title in 1967 for refusing military induction, and for more than two years when he retired in 1978 after winning the heavyweight title for the third time.
And in this corner, weighing 236 pounds, is the 37-year-old Frazier. He hasn't fought for five years; in his last bout, on June 15, 1976 he was separated from his senses while suffering a brutal beating at the fists of George Foreman.
Some athletes, of course, have done well at advanced ages, including George Blanda, Ken Rosewall, Gordie Howe, Pete Rose and, in boxing, Jersey Joe Walcott and Archie Moore. But, except for Howe, none of them laid off for a significant length of time late in their careers. The severe beatings Ali and Frazier took in their last fights, compounded by long layoffs, extra weight and their ages, make them candidates for serious injury. So which of the two archrivals, Ali or Frazier, is going to prove to be the bigger fool? Unlike their three memorable fights in the ring, this one could wind up as a draw.
ROADWORK IN STOCKHOLM
Somehow we find this story of another former heavyweight champion more heartwarming. It concerns Ingemar Johansson, 48, who has no intention, so far as we know, of returning to the ring. Now the proprietor of a motel in Pompano Beach, Fla., Johansson has weighed as much as 280 pounds in recent years, but when somebody bet him that he couldn't finish the biggest road race in his native Sweden, the Stockholm Marathon, he accepted the challenge.
Johansson trained by jogging 90 minutes a day under a blazing Florida sun, paring his weight to a relatively svelte 246 pounds. When the Stockholm Marathon got under way earlier this month, there Johansson was, one of 8,000 entrants seeking to complete a course that wound through city streets and ended in Stockholm Stadium. Still a national hero, Johansson drew cheers from the crowd of 270,000 lining the route, but the most touching scene occurred in the stadium, where spectators politely applauded when Bill Rodgers won in 2:13:26, then waited expectantly for Johansson. It was quite a wait. Finally, there was a roar from the 10,000 people still, remarkably, on hand as Johansson came into view and lumbered across the finish line in 4:40:13. Happy at having won his bet, he puffed to reporters, "It was tougher than I expected, but I never doubted I'd finish. With such fantastic support from the public, I never thought of giving up."
SAY HEY, IVAN LENDL