For Penn State, it was Classic case of letting kids, and $650,000, have their say

Phil Jackman

August 28, 1991|By Phil Jackman

Reading time, two minutes: With Notre Dame, Miami, Southern Cal and BYU on the schedule besides the usual tough backyard rivals, Penn State certainly didn't need another blockbuster opponent like defending national co-champion Georgia Tech. But being the democratic sort that he is -- even though he made a seconding speech for George Bush at the Republican National Convention of 1988 -- coach Joe Paterno put the Kickoff Classic invitation to a vote.

No, it wasn't the bursar, the comptroller, the budget committee or school president making the decision, but the players, the hired help. "The kids wanted to play," says Joe, "so I said fine.

"I've been at Penn State a long time and they are only going to be here four or five years, so they are entitled to play if they want to. The plus is the fact they are going to have another big game to remember." And the handsome paycheck of about $650,000 doesn't hurt either.

Tonight's Nittany Lions-Yellow Jackets bash at Giants Stadium (9 p.m., Channel 54) starts college football's 122nd season with as an appealing matchup as possible, considering the returning talent and the conflicting styles of the teams.

Tech went 11-0-1 last season, finished first in the coaches' poll and second to Colorado in the AP writers' poll. Penn State has 13 starters back from last year's team, which won nine straight games after opening with two losses.

* In several exhibition games leading up to the Canada Cup getting under way this weekend, 18-year-old top NHL draft choice Eric Lindros has been the best player on the ice for Canada, and that's with Wayne Gretzky skating on the same line. Scary.

Team USA, which opens up with Sweden, is the best squad we've had in the six-country event. The reason is balance. There's Brett Hull and Pat LaFontaine to score, Chris Chelios and Kevin Hatcher to defend, and Mike Richter in net is no slouch. Canada is talking about all the players it's missing (Mario Lemieux, Ray Bourque, Cam Neeley, etc.), but as U.S. coach Bob Johnson points out, "There are 400 players in the NHL and 300 of them are from Canada. That's a huge talent pool."

* When the Maryland Million plays Pimlico (and ESPN) Sept. 8, hurdles will be dragged onto the turf course so that a 2 1/8 -mile steeplechase can be included on the 11-race program. How about a row of abandoned cars, a backyard pool (water jump) and a stand of potted azaleas?

* Good thing Monica Seles has a date to introduce her new clothing line at the U.S. Open next week. Otherwise, she might not have posted for the Grand Slam finale (a la Wimbledon). It seems the flighty one's pooch Astro nearly did a full gainer off a seventh-floor balcony recently and only Monica's cat-quick reflexes saved the mutt. Sense the lingering trauma.

* CBS Sports, in its never-ending quest for knowledge through scientific research, ran PGA winner John Daly out to Stapleton Airport in Denver to see how far he could hit a golf ball (with roll). He crunched one 340 yards on the fly and the ball rolled another 460 for a total of 800 yards. Chicken feed, a virtual pitching wedge.

The longest drive on record belongs to the guy who let fly from Alaska and, 'tis reported, the ball didn't stop skimming along the ice of the Bering Strait until it reached Russia. Thing about the experiment with Daly is he hit the 25-yard wide runway 10 times in a dozen swings.

* College hoops may never be the same now that Sonny Vacarro has given up his basketball consulting job with Nike Inc. He's the guy who lavished piles of money on coaches Jerry Tarkanian, John Thompson, Jim Valvano et al to get teams and kids to wear Nikes and, indirectly, had too much of a say in the administration of the sport.

* One of the complaints you hear incessantly from our millionaire athletes is that they never get a moment's peace from the adoring public. "I'll be eating a meal in a restaurant," they complain, "and someone will come up and ask me for an autograph."

OK, anonymity is the order of the day, right? So along comes this new organization known as the NFL Quarterback Club -- 11 flingers of the football combining with NFL Properties to promote and market the members as a group in a wide range of ventures: bar mitzvahs, supermarket openings, backyard barbecues, flea markets and bake sales.

Said a corporate spokesman: "The promotion and licensing potential of these quarterbacks on one 'team' is virtually unlimited," which, in these times, figures to give fans a warm glow. But, please, no autograph requests.

* With an exhibition hockey game between the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers due up in Las Vegas Sept. 27, can a Super Bowl in Sodom & Gomorrah II be far behind?

When hosting a Supe was suggested to Caesars Palace years ago, a spokesman scoffed. At the time, he probably would have laughed out loud at the thought of a hockey game. Vegas builds things almost instantaneously and is even quicker at dismantling them. Imagine a 100,000-seat stadium full of high rollers with $50,000 lines of credit back at the casinos (as is the case at big fights).

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