Newspapers everywhere are repositories of great thinkers without flaw. The Brazilian newspaper, Globo, reported on the country's soccer team in the World Cup with a story headlined, "God is a Brazilian--so we will win." As we now know, the Brazilians then lost to Italy, and so we eagerly await the next Globo to learn exactly when God picked up a new passport.
A lot of Americans believe New York is on the edge of the universe, with a black hole to the east, just as they believe Hawaii is attached to California by a long rope that keeps it from floating away. Some of these Americans are sainted sportswriters, great thinkers without flaw who guarantee that there ain't nuttin' like a Super Bowl.
They'll tell you about the 500 press credentials issued to daily newspapers for America's biggest sports journalism picnic. Go ahead, they'll say, name one thing bigger than the Super Bowl.
How about the quarterfinals of a soccer tournament in a stadium so little they call it "The Candy Box"?
Sarria Stadium has 19,000 seats, with each side of the stadium divided into an upper and lower deck. The lower deck of one side for Monday's Brazil-Italy quarterfinal game was filled by newsmen. Seats were replaced with 22 rows of tables running the 500-foot length of the stadium.
An American newspaperman at the game as a spectator sat on the far side of the stadium. "I looked for the press box," he said, "and then I realized the press box was one whole side of the stadium."
For a quarterfinal game of the World Cup, there were so many reporters in The Candy Box that an American asked a press committee person, "How many credentials did you issue for newspapers?"
"We have 801 here today," she said.
In addition, television and radio stations came from nearly every country in Europe, some in Africa and Asia and most in South America. When Pele is not doing his four-times-a-week column on the World Cup for 51 newspapers in 33 countries, he is a color man on a Mexican television network serving the world, even the United States.
The Olympics and the World Cup, both quadrennial events with the soccer coming midway between Olympiads, are the world's biggest sports stories. More nations enter the World Cup than belong to the U.N. What the World Cup is, in terms of press coverage, is the Olympics without the United States present. This is because the world ends just east of Staten Island.
When Italy beat Brazil in an upset comparable to, say, Leon Spinks beating Muhammad Ali, four U.S. newspapers were here.
At the Super Bowl, great thinkers without flaw are aided in their reporting by a hundred announcements during the game and by hand-delivered reports of each play, along with a zillion statistics and printed transcripts of postgame quotes from coaches and players.
During the Brazil-Italy game, you got nothing. After the game, nothing. If you wanted to know who scored the goal, you needed to watch closely. If you wanted to know the time of a goal, you needed to keep track on your wristwatch (the stadium scoreboard has no clock).
Each newspaperman gets a list of players (last names only), and that's it.
After the game, coaches come to an interview room (limited to 200 reporters, with the rest watching by TV in a hallway) for a deadly interview in which each question is asked and answered in three or four languages.
After five minutes of translations, an answer from Brazil's coach turned out to be, "I didn't see it."
Players are not interviewed at all, except as you might work in a question while a player leaves the stadium. The next day, a sheet entitled "Comments" appears with sentences such as this one on the Poland-Soviet Union scoreless tie: "The match did not have much spectacular nature, Poland, the same the Soviet Union, bend themselves playing a rudimentary football, cold, calculated and excessively horizontal."
On days between games, newspapermen can see players.
For instance, newspapermen wishing to see Italy's players today were welcome to drive 15 kilometers to their hotel, where they lazed around the pool in the midday sun.
However, any great thinker wishing to talk to an Italian was better off by far to put in a telephone call to Sophia Loren, with a special request for her help in filling out next year's tax returns.
"The Italians voted, 19-3, to go on strike against the press," said John Robert Hawkins of the London Daily Mail. "One player is said to have asked an Italian journalist, 'Why do you journalists only ask questions about whiskey, women and bribes?' The journalist is said to have replied, 'Because that is all you know. If we want to know about football, we'll go to the coach of the Brazilians.' "
The Italian players have other complaints, such as denying a report they earned $55,000 each for advancing one round. The accurate figure is $15,000. Some Italian newspapers suggested players lied about the money in order to practice the cherished Italian tradition, for which Loren went to jail, of paying no taxes on some income.
"As you approach the Italians," said Hawkins, "they are friendly enough, but they smile and shrug their shoulders, saying not a word. They are, it seems, members of a Harpo Marx Appreciation Society."
"Is better," said Italian newspaperman Giampiero Masieri, "when they no speak."
"I give my own comment," he said, retiring to a typewriter to work on a great thought.