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Nobody has ever had a better feel for knowing what the public wanted and giving it to them. He began as an $85-a-month office boy at the Music Corporation of America in the 1930s and within 24 years became president of what was then the biggest talent agency in the country. He represented Johnny Carson, Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor, and helped develop television shows for Jackie Gleason and Ed Sullivan.
In 1963 Werblin and four investors bought the bankrupt New York Titans of the AFL. He renamed the team the Jets and in '65 signed quarterback Joe Namath to a three-year contract worth $427,000. Next he cut a $35 million deal for the fledgling AFL with his pals at NBC. And in the early 70s he saw a sports complex where everybody else saw only a New Jersey swamp; the Meadowlands was his brainchild.
I didn't get the chance to talk to Werblin much about show business or football, but I often discussed with him another of his passions, horse racing. He had become hooked on the sport in the 1930s when Al Jolson used to take him to the track. Years later, after he had made his fortune, he bought a stable in New Jersey and plunged into the horse business.
The best horse Werblin ever owned, Silent Screen, was one of the favorites in the 1970 Kentucky Derby, and I was assigned to spend Derby week with Werblin. I was 27 at the time, less than half Werblin's age, but the experience nearly killed me. The nights wouldn't end until at least two, and the days would begin around six, when Werblin would go to Churchill Downs to check on his horse.
By post time Werblin's excitement was obvious as he fidgeted in his box overlooking the finish line. Soon after the field sprang from the gate, Silent Screen was bumped and knocked off stride. He soon recovered and began picking up ground on the outside until, at the top of the stretch, he took the lead. For a few moments Werblin was giddy as it looked as if his horse might win. Then Silent Screen started to fade. He struggled home fifth, six lengths behind victorious Dust Commander. Up in his box, Werblin stood for a moment, shrugged and said, "Let's go get a drink." It was one of the few times in his life that Sonny Werblin didn't get the thing that he badly wanted.
George Perles should cede one job at Michigan State
The feud at Michigan State between John DiBaggio, the university's president, and George Perles, its athletic director and football coach, exploded again last Thursday when DiBaggio announced that Perles would have to give up one of his jobs. Perles, who has a 57-44-4 record since becoming the Spartan coach in 1983, could either coach for the remaining six years of his contract, DiBaggio said, or he could be athletic director for the remaining 3½ years of that deal. But he could not continue to do both. "I have considered such a dual appointment inappropriate from the start," said DiBaggio. "The jobs are separate and distinct, and a mistake was made when they were joined over my objections."
DiBaggio was referring to the ugly mess of January 1990, when Michigan State's board of trustees, alarmed by thinly veiled threats from Perles that he might bolt to coach the New York Jets, overrode DiBaggio and permitted Perles to be both coach and athletic director.
Having beaten his boss once, Perles reacted truculently to DiBaggio's demand last week, implying that he might defy DiBaggio again. After the Spartans closed a disappointing 3-8 season on Saturday with a 27-24 win over Illinois, Perles said, "Michigan State is my school, but I'm going to stick up for myself like any other human being."