As the sun finally went down on the last day of the wildest Wimbledon fortnight in 104 years, the sign on the main outside scoreboard of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club read: "Well done, J.P. . . . Bad luck, Bjorn."
Of all the championships, the one just ended, with John McEnroe breaking Bjorn Borg's 41-match Wimbledon winning streak on Centre Court on the Fourth of July, may prove the most memorable.
That's not because the tennis was the best ever, although it was excellent, but because for two continuous weeks the kettle here never stopped boiling and whistling.
It is almost beyond dispute that no Wimbledon has been so controversial, confusing, dramatic and exciting. For richness of plot and variety of incident, these championships offered a sort of hearty, stimulating black coffee after a century of pleasant British tea.
In short, all hell broke loose before the first ball was ever hit, and it never stopped breaking loose until the last volley by McEnroe, when the All England club recommended the young American be fined another $10,000 and McEnroe, in retaliation, skipped the ritzy champions dinner without even sending his regrets.
It was fitting that this Wimbledon ended on Independence Day, because it will always be remembered as the year of the fireworks, as well as the first time any champion declared unequivocal independence from the standards, values and accepted practices of the All England club.
As the years fade, most athletic events are susceptible to alarmingly brief summation: 1981 Wimbledon -- champions, John McEnroe (first) and Chris Evert Lloyd (third).
However, this Wimbledon calls for a chronological post-mortem. So much happened so fast that, unless we recapitulate it, we'll never quite digest it.
Before the first player arrived here, the British government released its Smith Committee Report -- an investigation of Wimbledon's finances that had been secret for a century. The bare fact was revealed that Wimbledon grossed nearly $7 million a year, on average, while contributing less than one-tenth of that to the cause of English tennis.
The BBC took up the chorus with a "60 Minutes"-style documentary that painted the All England club as a group of dilettantish amateurs, barely interested in tennis at all, who used an aristocratic front to make a great deal of money and keep almost all of it for themselves.
Wimbledon had received its first black eye.More were to come.
Before play began, McEnroe ripped the weather, the grass courts, the officiating, and concluded, "There's nothing championship about this tournament except its prestige."
On the first Monday of play -- under brilliant sunshine, which should have been in itself an omen -- the Centre Court umpire had to ask the crowd, with shock in his voice, "Please, ladies and gentlemen, put your shirts back on."
Next door, on Court No. 1, McEnroe was introducing his new stick-it-in-your-ear-Wimbledon policy by smashing rackets, getting penalty points, calling his umpire "an incompetent fool" and calling hallowed head referee Fred Hoyles "an idiot."
For the first time, the AEC committee directly fined a player at Wimbledon, nicking McEnroe, who has won almost $2 million in prizes in the last two years, $1,500. That was just the beginning, as the number of fines for profanity, obscene gestures and other disgraceful conduct ran into double figures by tournament's end. In Fact, McEnroe had to finish with a rush to pass Fritz Buehning on the fine list.
By now, the lid was off.
On court, upsets were the rule. By the round of 16, 10 of the seeded men, including Nos. 4 and 11 had been upset. Who was the enormous beneficiary of this? Why, McEnroe, of course, who reached the final after playing perhaps the most powder-puff schedule in memory, never getting a whiff of a seed, a big server, or a player who had traditionally troubled him. He couldn't lose.
Among women, the same bizarre coincidence recurred as Evert benefited dramatically from the upsets of Andrea Jaeger and Tracy Austin. She also waltzed through the draw, and, in the semis and finals, met a pair of the most nervous teen-agers imaginable -- Pam Shriver and Hana Mandlikova. To lose this Wimbledon, Evert would have had to go into the tank: after years of hard luck, she got all her good fortune in a rush.
Off court, each day brought new surprises.
For the first time in history, a Centre Court crowd "rioted." Or, at least, it showered the court with cushions in a protest when an exciting doubles match was halted for lack of light.
For generation, no one had dared criticize Wimbledon; now, suddenly, it was in vogue and everybody jumped aboard.
Jimmmy Connors and a half-dozen other big names took turns lambasting the officials who, in Connors' words, were "taking the game away from the players" by "cracking down far too much on discipline."
Rod Frawley, the tournament dark horse whose back-door arrival in the semis marked the fifth straight year that an unseeded player had reached the final four, contended the umpires' arrogant policy of ignoring players' complaints and simply calling penalty points after a 30-second delay was "nothing more than blackmail."
After years of locker room mutterings, players began expressing their displeasure with the erratic, chopped up condition of the 16 outside "field" courts. Even Evert agreed with one of her opponents that "Court No. 2 isn't fit to be played on." Gasp.
From that, it was but a step to the next question: why hadn't Borg played on any of the upset-inducing field courts over a period of 33 matches and nearly five years?
"Obviously, they want him to get to the finals," concluded Connors. "It's not fair." A dozen other pros, including Evert, McEnroe, Martina Navratilova and others, joined that chorus to one degree or another.
The All England club kept its stiff upper lip, doling out fines and threatening McEnroe with a $10,000 ticket, plus a possible eventual suspension, if he misbehaved again.
Oh, yes, tickets. McEnroe and Peter Fleming, who eventually won the men's doubles title, were ticketed for speeding. The British press, print and TV, jumped to the conclusion that McEnroe was driving and fried him for it.
He wasn't. So that ignited yet another theater of war: McEnroe against the yellow journalism of Fleet Street.
McEnroe's press conferences -- and he had one almost every day either because of his play or his fines -- turned into shouting matches, with the New Yorker using the finest Bronx expletives to tell the rag writers what he thought of their nosy questions about why his girlfriend, tennis pro Stacy Margolin, had gone back to America.
Finally, McEnroe fled one such fiasco, leaving the conference just moments before the press room turned into a combat zone with several Anglo-American screaming matches, one fist fight and several reporters rolling on the floor. Naturally, that was captured live on TV and regaled England for two days.
All this obscured two classic matches involving former champ Connors. Down two sets to love in the quarters, he came back to beat Vijay Amritraj. Ahead two sets to love in the semis, he lost to Borg in what the 25-year-old Swede called the greatest comeback of his career. Since Borg may be the greatest player in the history of tennis, and since the come-from-behind five-set triumph is his insignia, that's saying a lot for the 0-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-0, 6-4 victory.
By Saturday, fans had been standing in line for more than a week to get 2,000 Centre Court standing-room seats. Scalpers were getting $1,200 a ticket for good seats.
In retrospect, it seems natural that during such a period of extended lunacy, Borg, tennis' man of order, was not going to prevail over McEnroe, the sport's child of disorder. Even in the semis, Borg's great victory over Connors took second billing here to McEnroe's latest eruptions. During his match against Frawley, McEnroe called the umpire "a disgrace to mankind."
Even on the day of the ladies' final, McEnroe was back, getting fined $750 and being recommended for another $2,500 because he allegedly slandered an Indian linesman during a doubles match.
Fittingly, as Borg and McEnroe walked onto court for the "gentlemen's final" (a misnomer if there ever was one), McEnroe took one last opportunity to ignore protocol. He walked out ahead of the title holder, Borg.
After McEnroe had won -- putting 100 first serves in play, volleying like Tarzan, courageously holding his temper in the face of two brutal calls at crucial moments and escaping four set points in the third set, as well as 13 break points in all -- the new champion refused to act like a phoney.
He barely smiled for the English crowd during the awards ceremony, only sneaking a wry crooked grin at his parents and two brothers in the guests' box. At his last press conference, he showed up in a thousand-year-old denim jacket and jeans, looking like a refugee from the rock group the Clash.
Nevertheless, McEnroe showed the intelligence that made him a good student for a year at Stanford, and the principle that last year allowed him to turn down a million-dollar offer for an exhibition in South Africa because he didn't want to support apartheid.
Asked why he hadn't cut and run in midtournament, when he seemed so sadly troubled and internally conflicted, McEnroe said, "Running is the easy way out."
Why had he manfully continued to face up to his problems, discuss the traumas, confront his foes among Wimbledon officials and the British press? "I feel a responsibility to talk about tennis," he said. "I just hope that eventually people will be fair."
McEnroe is already an exceptional tennis player. In time, he may well be an exceptional public person, too. Connors, for instance, has come a great way in a decade, but as an arrogant whippersnapper he never had half McEnroe's current appeal.
In the last analysis, it will take a year, or perhaps several, to find out all the ramifications of this Wimbledon. For instance, it is certainly possible that the All England club will be forced to improve drastically its ridiculous system for getting umpires and line judges: their present good-old-boy-network is the equivalent of trundling out a few idle aristocrats to umpire the World Series.
Though it is too early to tell, this may also mark the changing of the guard at the top of men's tennis.
McEnroe has already won the last two U.S. Opens on a surface less suited to his game than grass. Now that he has won at Wimbledon, he may have the sort of spectacular success that has long been predicted for him on the one rectangle in all of tennis that, tactically, is best suited to him: Centre Court.
It may be assumed that Borg will remain the master of clay, and the personal proprietor of the French Open, which he has won six times. Now, however, the two most prestigious tennis titles in the world -- Wimbledon and the U.S. Open -- are both held by the same man: John McEnroe.
With that as fact, it may be just a matter of time, and not much of that, before McEnroe ends Borg's reign as the ruler of tennis and takes that crown for himself.