Mr. Berl Bernhard, Owner, Washington Federals
I love it.
I love your work of the last two weeks.
You've suggested that if it was raining soup, your players would try to catch it with a knife and fork.
Good for you.
For too, too long, this town has suffered a silence that other cities never know. Other places have Ted Turner popping off. They have George Steinbrenner. Here in the nation's capital, which is the free world's leading supplier of hot air, all we have are Jack Kent Cooke and Abe Pollin. They're fine gentlemen, but when did you last hear them say their players' elevators don't go to the top floor?
Some things like that ought to be said. For approximately 113 years, Pollin's hockey team lost every game it played. It was time for the owner to ask if these guys knew a puck from a burned biscuit. Because he's a nice guy, Pollin never knocked his players. He'd fire a coach now and then, but always with a goodbye speech the fellow could frame and hang on his bedroom wall.
Same thing with Cooke. When George Allen bailed out because he saw the Redskins coming unglued, Cooke didn't say a word. There was Allen calling Edward Bennett Williams a deceitful cold fish. But Cooke, a master of oratory, let this insult of his partner pass without comment.
Sure, it's admirable to bite your tongue.
But when your team has a 1-9 record and has been outscored the last two games by 66-6, as your guys have, it's time to let these clowns know that you can get them one-way tickets on Trailways leaving on the hour.
No more Mr. Nice Guy, Berl.
Time to be Boss.
You've done well so far for a guy who started this season as a soft-spoken, mild-mannered, elegant lawyer in pin stripes. You're a high muckety-muck in the Democratic Party. So you once said you wouldn't have much time to deal with the Federals.
That was in the good ol' days, back in January before your guys played a game. Back then you were new to this cutthroat business and maybe thought it was going to be a walk in the park.
After the eighth loss, 35-3, two weeks ago, you popped off by saying your players lack "the burn to win." You said, "I watched the entire game in agony." You said, "Is it the players? Is it the coaches? Is it the management? We're going to find out."
You also said you may be "given too much to forebearance. You can't always let things go their own way."
What this means, in case the players don't know, is that you, Boss, aren't going to wait much longer before you tell the coaches, players and front-office people to keep a suitcase packed and don't make any dinner plans for the weekend.
It was good, too, that you found time to slam the clubhouse door and talk to your guys for 40 minutes last week. Afterward, you went to a couple practices at RFK. Maybe the coach, Ray Jauch, didn't like you suggesting he give the ball to your high-priced running back more often. Big deal. If I was paying Jauch $575,000 for three years' work and he started out 1-9, I'd be reading him to sleep every night with Lombardi's playbook.
Only one problem, Boss.
When Steinbrenner finishes one of his closed-door meetings, he backs out of the room behind a bullet-proof shield. By then he has told his millionaire hired hands they're being paid big bucks to hit the ball nine miles. You owe it (Steinbrenner says) to the little people of New York, the taxi drivers and construction workers, to be the best. Do it or we'll back the truck up and haul you to Oneonta.
The papers said your closed-door session, Boss, was not so angry. It wound up with sounds of laughter and conviviality coming through the door. Not only that, you told the press you liked what you heard in there.
"They really think they are winners," you said. "I was surprised at their incredible optimism about their ability."
You shouldn't be surprised. Every athlete thinks he's God's gift to sports. Look, Boss. Here is a team that is 1-8 at the time and the players are telling you how really good they are. Any student at a Steinbrenner School of Charm knows that such foolish talk is the best signal you can get that something is bad wrong. Either these guys don't know they're bad or they don't care. If any Yankee dared suggest that one victory in nine games is reason to be incredibly optimistic, Steinbrenner would have ordered Billy Martin to punch that doggy.
You'll learn to do that, Boss. Especially if the customers keep staying away from RFK. Your average attendance, after the opener drew 38,010, is 17,048 with an average no-show count of 8,693. The no-shows are gaining on the yes-shows, which reminds me of another thing.
What is the USFL doing by expanding to San Antonio, San Diego, Houston and Pittsburgh? After an early rush, attendance now averages just over 25,000. Only one of last weekend's five games drew that many. At Chicago, where George Allen crusaded for months to sell tickets, there were more than 8,000 no-shows Sunday when 11,300 yes-shows watched the Blitz win an easy one, 31-3.
But you knew that, Boss, because the Blitz beat your guys.
You were in Chicago to see this latest embarrassment first-hand.
We'll hear from you shortly, I hope.