More than a few Baltimoreans feel a certain emptiness and a twinge of nostalgia at the death of Bill Riordan.
Riordan, who died Sunday at 71 in Naples, Fla., was controversial, and he had his critics. But the man brought big-time tennis excitement to Maryland from 1963 to 1976 when he chaired the U.S. National Indoor Championships in Salisbury.
"Bill was a promoter," veteran Bare Hills Tennis Club pro Maury Schwartzman said yesterday. "He put on that tournament every February for a week and a lot of people would go down to Salisbury for a few days as a sort of midwinter break. Bill had the best players in the world there, too."
Riordan brought them all to the Eastern Shore -- Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Stan Smith, Chuck McKinley, Arthur Ashe. Riordan discovered Ilie Nastase. He brought along 19-year-old Jimmy Connors and encouraged him to be controversial, which came naturally to Jimbo anyway.
Today big-time tennis in Maryland amounts to a one-night-a-year exhibition featuring Pam Shriver and a few of her friends from the circuit. We wouldn't have that if Shriver weren't from Baltimore and willing to take on all the promotional headaches.
Looking back, we probably didn't appreciate Riordan's annual tournament as much as we should have, although it did sell out the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center. We had so much else here then.
The Colts were the best. The Orioles were regulars in the World Series. Our NBA team, the Bullets, went to the playoff finals. They were considered the most entertaining team in pro basketball with Earl Monroe, Gus Johnson and Wes Unseld. The University of Maryland was winning in football and basketball.
Riordan's tennis promotions -- he held a few in this area, too, at Towson State and at UMBC -- were an important part of the Golden Age of sports here.
* Maryland's current basketball team may be banned from appearing on TV and playing in the NCAA tournament, but there's major tournament action coming to Cole Field House anyway. The NCAA Eastern Regional first and second rounds will be held there March 14 and 16. Tickets at $76 each ($1 for handling) have just been put on public sale. For details call 454-7076 in College Park.
* Talk about lousy timing. The Maxwell Club this week announced the selection of Art Shell as NFL Coach of the Year over Marv Levy -- two days after Levy's Bills humiliated Shell's Raiders, 51-3.
* Local basketball fans are aware that coach Bill Nelson has turned around the Johns Hopkins basketball program since he came to the school in 1986. His team is 11-6 and hosts Franklin & Marshall tonight.
Not enough hoops followers realize that coach Nancy Blank has done the same thing with the Blue Jay women since she arrived, also in '86. Her team, which was 18-7 last year, is 11-4 going into tonight's home game with Lebanon Valley.
Says Blank: "We're already an excellent team but we have to go beyond just winning with individual talent. We have to play well together and enter each game with confidence."
* Wouldn't you think Frank Sliwka would be taking it easy after putting on the 38th Tops in Sports banquet here two weeks ago? He's not. He's already working on the 40th anniversary banquet in '93.
"It's going to be the best banquet you've ever seen," Sliwka says. "We're going to bring back all the past winners of the Babe Ruth Crown. I've already received commitments from a half-dozen of them."
After this year's affair, Sliwka received a congratulatory note from New York Mets boss Frank Cashen, who was at the head table. Cashen wrote that Tops was "top of the heap, best in the country, on top in the world." And Cashen, being in the middle of the New York scene, attends a few banquets.