Insider Hill knows chemistry reacts with sports success

Bill Tanton

March 09, 1993|By Bill Tanton

No one knows sports from the inside the way Calvin Hill does.

Hill, who will be the speaker at the 30th annual Scholar-Athlete banquet at Martin's West tomorrow night, has been deeply involved in this country's three biggest sports: football, basketball and baseball.

There are people who know more about football than Calvin. There are people who know more about basketball and baseball.

But no one has seen all three from the inside the way Hill has.

Calvin is best known as a football player. He was a star running back at Yale when the Ivy League was still drawing 60,000 to games -- and was still good enough to produce NFL players. He played a decade of pro football, most notably with the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins.

Since 1987, he has been a vice president with the Orioles, hired by the late owner Edward Bennett Williams, who was a minority owner when Calvin was with the Redskins.

Also, Calvin is closer to Duke basketball than people realize, though they would realize why: because his son, Grant, is a star for the two-time defending NCAA champions.

Calvin, who has been watching Grant play basketball since his son was 13, seldom misses a Duke game. The dad is there even when the son isn't playing.

Calvin was at Chapel Hill Sunday when Duke lost, 83-69, at North Carolina. Grant has been out for nearly a month with a foot injury, but his dad goes right on, rooting for coach Mike Krzyzewski's Devils and hoping they can come back and win another national championship.

One thing Calvin has learned -- and about which most people haven't a clue -- is that team chemistry has a lot to do with winning or losing.

"You can't imagine how important chemistry is," Calvin says. "You can measure certain things, like size, speed and strength, but you can't measure a person's heart. You can't measure a person's willingness to play hard every time he goes on the field.

"And you can't measure how an athlete is going to affect the team and its chemistry."

Hill says chemistry is based on a few simple but critical things.

"You want to know if a person is a team player," he says. "Does he trust his teammates? Is that trust returned? Do the players like each other? If a guy is selfish -- if he's a me guy -- the others see it. That hurts the chemistry."

At Yale, Calvin says, the chemistry was great.

"The tradition at Yale is tremendous," he says. "Our quarterback and leader, Brian Dowling, was not a selfish guy. We all respected him. We had a string of 17 straight wins, and chemistry had a lot to do with it."

When Hill joined the Dallas Cowboys, he found the chemistry very different.

"I've always thought we would have been even more successful than we were," he says, "if we'd had better chemistry -- if we'd been more together.

"In professional sports, the organization has a lot to do with establishing chemistry. With the Cowboys, Tex Schramm [the general manager] was such a hard guy. He made you wonder if you really wanted to be in Dallas.

"When I went to the Redskins it was much better. Ed Williams and George Allen made us want to win. They encouraged us and we had a great team."

Chemistry, says Hill, is one of the principal reasons Duke has been so successful in basketball, although it's not the same as it was the past two years. Christian Laettner, Hill says, is the reason for that -- though it's widely known that Laettner is not easy to get along with.

"Christian," says Calvin Hill, "was the dominant personality on those championship teams, but he was like the brother in the family who is different. His own teammates could say what they wanted, but let someone outside the family say something about him and the rest of the Duke players would protect him.

"Duke misses Christian. This season Bobby Hurley ran into a pick [by Georgia Tech's Malcolm Mackey] and was knocked cold. The Duke players say if that had happened last year, Christian would have done something to that guy to show him you don't do that to Duke players and get away with it."

It's surprising to hear Calvin say that in baseball, which may seem to be an individual sport, chemistry is even more important.

"Baseball players spend so much time together," Hill says. "They have a lot more down time than players in other sports."

Do the '93 Orioles have good chemistry?

"I hope so," Hill says. "Johnny Oates is intelligent and he's been in the game for a long time. He understands the importance of chemistry."

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