Jun 17, 2005
By: JOHN PIESEN
While TV surfing last night, I came upon the Floyd Patterson-Ingemar Johansson heavyweight title fight on ESPN Classic. It was great theater. Eddie Fisher sang the Anthem. Chris Schenkel was a one-man booth. Floyd knocked the Swede out in round five with the most glorious left hook you'll ever see. And Howard Cossell tried his damdest to interview Ingemar, who at the time happened to be laying flat on his back in the center of the Polo Grounds ring. (Remember the opening scene in Bananas).
Patterson thus became the first heavyweight in history to reclaim the crown, and he was the biggest star in sports at the time.
A few weeks later, Patterson, who was introduced fight night from Rockville Center, N.Y., moved to Yonkers, N.Y., hard by the Bronx River Parkway. The residents of the area all claimed they lived in Scarsdale, but it was really Yonkers.
At the time, I was toiling as a greenhorn reporter for the Yonkers Herald Statesman, hanging mostly at Yonkers Raceway with Adios Boy and Adios Harry.
One fateful morning, the editor assigned me to get over to the Patterson house to do a baby story. Floyd's wife had just given birth to their first son.
Notebook nervously in hand, I rushed over to the Patterson home and knocked on the front door. The door opened, and standing there, larger than life, was the heavyweight champion of the world. He invited me to join friends and family in the kitchen.
Pretty heady stuff.
The conversation went something like this:
FP: "Hey, kid, what can I do for you?"
JP: "I'm a reporter for the Yonkers paper. My boss asked me to to a baby story?"
FP: "Fine. Shoot."
JP: "Are you happy to be a father?"
FP: "Very happy. Mother and son are both doing well. They'll be home from the hospital tomorrow."
JP: "Gee, thanks Mr. Patterson. One more thing. When do you go back into training?"
FP: "Next week."
JP: "Can you tell me who will be your next fight?"
FP: "You seem like a good kid so I'll tell you. It's Sonny Liston."
(Quickly a brief history lesson. The biggest story in sports at the time was: Would Patterson Fight Liston? And, here the champ was giving me, some kid he never met, the scoop of the century.)
I thanked Patterson, rushed back to the office, and knocked out the story, which ran on page one in Yonkers as well as in the other eight papers in the Westchester County chain.
I sat back and waited for the adulation.
It never came.
A month later, Patterson was invited to the White House where he whispered the name of his next opponent into President Kennedy's ear. THAT was page one news in the New York Times.
Then soon later, Patterson made it official. He announced he would fight Sonny Liston, the scariest, meanest dude on the planet, a decision which proved disastrous because Sonny knocked poor Floyd cold.
For me, the Floyd scoop did become a career-maker because the sports editor of the Newark Evening News heard about it at a cocktail party, and hired me as night sports editor, which got the ball rolling.
Meanwhile, the Liston fight pretty much ended Patterson's ring career, but Floyd went on to a successful career in the private sector and as a boxing official. I hope he's reading this because I never could thank him enough for what he did for that kid reporter that day.
Back to the present, I got a call the other day from horse trainer Juan Serey. Serey called to thank me for the piece I did on him in this space last week, and to tell me that the New Jersey Racing Commission just decided to give him his license back.
Serey, you'll recall, was the top dog on the New Jersey and New York circuits
back in the '90s before some personal and legal malfeasance brought him down.
It will be no surprise if Serey wastes no time climbing back to No. 1 in Jersey. He
already caught a break this week when owner Mike Gill bailed out of Monmouth,
opening some stall space.
Also, Tim Ritchey decided yesterday to keep his best horses -- notably Afleet Alex
-- at Belmont this summer, rather than sending them to Monmouth. Somewhow I
don't imagine Ritchey would have had a problem getting stalls at Monmouth.
With Ghostzapper and now Giacomo going down this week, Afleet Alex becomes
1-9 for Horse of the Year. In a remarkable coincidence, Ghostzapper and Rainbow Blue
-- the 2004 Horses of the Year -- went down the same day.
It's also remarkable that Afleet Alex is the only 3-year-old left standing (OK, maybe
Andromeda's Hero) after the tortuous Triple Crown campaign.
Noting this situation, old buddy John Pricci suggested this week that the Triple Crown
be stretched from five weeks to nine weeks, that the Preakness be run on the first Saturday
of June, and the Belmont on July 4.
Personally, I think that old John was just looking for column fodder. I don't think they
should tamper with the Triple Crown. But that's only my opinion.
For a good read, check out Steve Haskin's Triple Crown overview in Bloodhorse. Ray Paulick,
the Bloodhorse editor, does his Triple Crown "winners and losers" piece in the same issue,
and makes Oaklawn Park No. 1 for producing back-to-back Triple Crown starters.
John Servis, the trainer of Smarty Jones, came on a Philadelphia radio station sports-talk
show the other day, and said he plans to bring Smarty back for a match race against
Afleet Alex. The host actually bought it.
Finally, a baseball note...
My beloved Pirates lost a one-run game to the Evil Empire Wednesday night bacause the
first-base umpire blew a call.
"I guess the Yanks caught a break there," said the Yanks' TV shill.
That's not the point.
The point is that the bad call decided a big league game, and may turn out to be the difference between the Yanks making the post-season or not.
And congratulations to John Madden for making another $20 million score. With all due
respect to Madden, who's better than most of them, I have yet to find one person who tunes
in a football game to listen to the announcers.
And congrats to Hollywood Park announcer Stauffer, who completed a race call this week
during an earthquake.
"If this is my last call," he said, "...I want it to be my best."
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