A HIGH TOLERANCE FOR LAWLESSNESS
In 1977, Paul Holmgren of the Philadelphia Flyers, his skates still on, kicked Boston's Wayne Cashman during a melee in a corridor between the teams' dressing rooms in the Spectrum. In 1978 Holmgren tried to kick the Bruins' Terry O'Reilly during a fight on the ice. That same year he hit the Rangers' Carol Vadnais over the head with his stick. For those acts of thuggery Holmgren, one of the most notorious of the NHL's "enforcers," received slap-on-the-wrist suspensions of three, three and six games, respectively. During his five-year NHL career, Holmgren has been suspended on at least five other occasions, most recently when the NHL penalized him last week for punching Referee Andy van Hellemond in the chest during a Dec. 9 game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The token punishment: a five-game suspension and a $500 fine. Jim Beatty, a lawyer for the NHL Officials Association, was properly outraged, calling the penalty "grossly inadequate," while van Hellemond said it left him "so upset I can barely talk."
Under most judicial systems, repeated wrongdoing results in increasingly harsh punishment. Not so in the NHL, which subscribes to a violence-sells-tickets philosophy. The league has been particularly forgiving in dealing with mayhem involving the Flyers, which may have something to do with the fact that Philadelphia owner Ed Snider is one of NHL President John Ziegler's staunchest backers. The Flyers have led the NHL in penalty minutes for 10 straight seasons but receive kid-glove treatment when it comes to serious transgressions, witness the four-game suspension that Defenseman Behn Wilson received last month for slashing the Rangers' Reijo Ruotsalainen across the face with his stick. By contrast, Wilf Paiement, then with the Colorado Rockies, was suspended for 15 games in 1978 for engaging in a stick fight with Detroit's Dennis Polonich. Ziegler also demonstrated forbearance in being notably slow to express disapproval when Snider was reported to have pushed Dan McLeod, a supervisor of officials, against a wall following a loss a couple of years ago to Montreal, and when the Flyer boss, indignant over the officiating in Philly's 1980 Stanley Cup finals loss to the Islanders, suggested publicly that Referee-in-Chief Scotty Morrison "should be shot." During a game at the Spectrum against Buffalo on the day after Holmgren was suspended for hitting van Hellemond, Snider, angered by the officiating, rushed to rink-side, leaned over the glass and gave Referee Bruce Hood the choke sign.
Holmgren said that he hit van Hellemond because he was "frustrated." Apparently impressed by this explanation, Brian O'Neill, the NHL official in charge of discipline (sic), sought to further justify leniency in the case by noting that while Holmgren had been involved in many violent incidents with other players, he had never before assaulted a referee. In other words, Holmgren was, by NHL logic, a first-time offender.
As 1981 draws to a close, herewith is our choice for Banner of the Year in what, for Chicago sports fans, anyway, wasn't a banner year. The prize goes to a sign that was held aloft at a Bears game by a fellow for whom the Sting's NASL championship apparently failed to make up for the shortcomings of the Bears, Cubs, White Sox and Bulls: CHICAGO HAS MORE DOG TEAMS THAN THE YUKON.
CURTAINS FOR WESTERN CIVILIZATION?
Since 1972, when it scrapped the nickname Indians following protests by native-American groups, Stanford's athletic teams have been known informally as the Cardinals. Although the name supposedly refers to one of the school's colors, there were complaints that it also invoked unintended associations with birds or ecclesiastics. Recently Stanford President Donald Kennedy sought to end the confusion by decreeing that the school's teams henceforth will be known as the Cardinal. Not the Cardinals, plural, understand. Simply, the Cardinal.
Describing the color as "a rich and vivid metaphor for the very pulse of life," Kennedy noted in a written statement that the new nickname makes Stanford, "as usual, unique in our own ( Pac-10) Conference, where one finds six mammals (all carnivores save one), a bird, a Sun Devil, and a military figure of some kind, but no other color." Kennedy continued: "We cannot actually condemn those from less cultivated environments who mistakenly pluralize our color by referring to collectives of Stanford athletes as Cardinals. But we should instruct them, as considerately as possible, in the proper use of such nouns of venery. 'Cardinal team' (or, if you must, 'Card gridders, Card netter,' etc.) is acceptable; 'Cardinals' or 'Cards' bad usage."
To say that Kennedy failed to end the controversy is a considerable understatement. His edict disappointed Stanfordites who had plumped for such alternative nicknames as Robber Barons (after founder Leland Stanford) and the Thunderchickens (the nickname of Stanford's defensive front four during its early-'70s football glory years). It also aroused the indignation of Leonard Koppett, sports columnist of The Peninsula Times Tribune in Palo Alto and a sometime Stanford instructor, who pronounced himself appalled by Kennedy's "mindless insistence that a color, and especially the color cardinal, can be made to serve the purpose of a mascot or emblem," and who argued further that "only a creature can be a mascot, and only an object can be a symbol. A color is neither; it is an attribute, and has to be attached to something...if Stanford had chosen, for instance, to be known as 'Puce,' it at least would have avoided a clash with already entrenched tangible images." Putting the issue in perspective, Koppett asked: "If the full intellectual resources of Stanford University, worrying about the problem for nearly a decade, cannot recognize that to be symbolized one must have a symbol and that a color is a color and not a symbol, what hope is left for Western civilization?"
Beats us. But we are encouraged that Western culture has so far survived the Big Red of Cornell, the Orange of Syracuse, the Big Green of Dartmouth and the Crimson of Kennedy's alma mater, Harvard.