In recent weeks, the nation’s sports pages have been filled with the great exclamations of jock journalists reviewing the athletic highlights of 1975. What’s been missing, of course, is some appreciation of the events of 1976, which promise to be at least as uninspiring. When this year is over, for example, we’ll recall that the Russians came and—without ever breaking into a sweat—conquered the National Hockey League. Groping for an explanation, NHL president Clarence Campbell muttered: “The timing was atrocious. We should have realized that our players’ deep belief in the spirit of Christmas would distract them from the task at hand. The Russians’ callous indifference to Christ’s birthday gave them an unfair advantage. I demand a rematch in Moscow on May Day, with Ontario Attorney General Roy McMurtry refereeing.”
Campbell’s outburst was soon overshadowed by the spectre of the 1976 Olympic Games. The momentum began to build early in the year, when Quebec premier Robert Bourassa announced that his number one priority would be salvaging the games. (His fellow Liberals privately allowed as how their number one priority would be salvaging Bourassa.) Meanwhile, Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau retreated to his underground bunker outside the city, accompanied by female weightlifter Eva Braun, and proclaimed before closing the lid: “History will show that Montreal was hundreds of years ahead of even the Greeks and their first Olympiad. Tourists had to wait centuries before visiting Athens to stroll among the ruins of the first Olympics. Here, we’ve arranged it so people can walk among the ruins of our Olympics a full year before the games are even held.”
The official opening of the games was delayed because Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were detained at the Quebec border as immigrants without a working knowledge of French. But no one could say that the games didn’t close with a bang. As the last taxpayer filed out of the stadium, casually slamming a gate in disgust, $750 million worth of Roger Taillibert’s French architecture shuddered and collapsed into a pile of rubble. Premier Bourassa looked back over his shoulder and turned into a pillar of his community: he filed an insurance claim for the total amount, which nicely covered the Olympic deficit. Whereupon His Worship Mayor Jean staggered out of his bunker reminding Canadians that he knew all along the games would be self-financing. (Architect Taillibert, boarding an early jet for Paris, was overheard chortling: “It was my greatest architectural triumph since I designed the Maginot Line.”)
The World Hockey Association folded in the fall but president Benny Hatskin concluded:“It wasn’t a total loss. We may have failed to establish roots elsewhere in Canada, but Bobby Hull’s successful hair transplant will stand as a monument of hope to bald men everywhere.”
National Football League commissioner Pete Rozelle publicly denied charges that at least three of the league’s starting quarterbacks secretly harbored sexual preferences ranging from bi all the way up—or down—to homo. “Look,” he said, “in the old days guys used to go both ways all the time, and nobody said a word. It’s a bum rap . . . well, a rap anyway.”
In baseball, the Montreal Expos finished a dead-but-happy last in the National League East: the Expos’, president John McHale defended his firing of Gene Mauch and the subsequent hiring of Karl Keuhl. “Mauch just didn’t fit our image. ' How could a guy who both played and managed in the major leagues possibly communicate with or inspire players who aren’t good enough to play up here? We may not have much, but at least we now have consistency in the organization. I couldn’t hack it in the majors as a player, and neither could my right-hand man, Jim Fanning, or my manager Keuhl. And now we’re molding the players in our image.”
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