CLOSE
Original image

Better Late Than Never: 6 Delayed Tales

Original image

Is it ever really too late to complete unfinished business? Last week, a 78-year-old woman in Lynwood, Washington was arrested for beating her 84-year-old husband over an affair he had (or at least that she suspected) 35 years ago. Was she angry all this time, or did she find out about it in their old age? The story reminded me of several other instances of unfinished business that took years to resolve.

The Race

Shizo Kanakuri ran the marathon at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. Or, he started the marathon. Before finishing the race, the heat got to him and he stopped. He was so embarrassed at not finishing that he booked early passage back to his home in Japan without telling the Olympic officials. Swedish authorities listed him as missing for years. Kanakuri competed in the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, but the missing persons bureau in Sweden missed that. In 1962 a journalist caught up with him in Japan and found he was unaware of the trouble he had caused. In 1966, Kanakuri returned to Sweden and finally completed the unfinished marathon at age 75. His time from start to finish in that marathon was 54 years, 8 months, 6 days, 8 hours, 32 minutes and 20.3 seconds.

Graduation Day

445_lostclass.jpg

In the racially-charged atmosphere of Virginia in the 1950s, three high schools shut down at the beginning of the 1958-59 school year rather than allow black students to integrate their classes. The students were left to handle their education as best they could. Some moved to other districts. Some dropped out, and still others managed to get into college early. The seniors at Maury, Granby, and Norview were known as the "Lost Class of '59." The schools reopened in February, but most of the senior class had scattered. Last week, after a 50 year delay, 100 of those students received honorary diplomas from their old schools.

The Jailbreak

445_boucher.jpg

Richard Paul Boucher broke out of a Chesapeake, Virginia prison where he was serving time for robbery in 1982. With the help of his wife, he made his way to Georgia, where the two changed their names and raised a daughter who never knew of her father's past. Now 56 years old, Boucher was arrested last week by police in Murray County, Georgia. He had been free for 27 years.

Reluctant Surrender

445onada.png

In 1945, getting the word out to all Japanese soldiers stationed in remote areas that the war was over was not so easy. The soldiers were on guard for treachery and propaganda, and they weren't inclined to believe the news. Cases of Japanese holdouts trickled in through the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Three soldiers finally finished their war in the 1970s! Hiroo Onoda was sent to the island of Lubang in the Philippines and told by his superiors to never surrender and to never take his own life. Onoda faithfully carried out his orders over decades. He led several other soldiers who eventually all left or died. Onada was befriended by a Japanese college student in 1974, in whom he confided that he would not surrender unless ordered to by his commanding officer. The student contacted the now-retired officer, who flew to Lubang to personally order Onada to go home. A few months later, the very last Japanese soldier, Terruo Nakamura surrendered in Indonesia. Shoichi Yokoi had held out on his own in Guam until 1972.

Late Mail

445postallate.jpg

Walter Butler sent a postcard to his girlfriend while he was in action in World War I. She didn't get it, but the two later married, had children, and lived to a ripe old age. 90 years later, in 2007, the postcard was finally delivered to Butler's 86-year-old daughter. Where it spent those 90 years is still a mystery.

Second Chance Romance

240polk.pngIt's not uncommon that sweethearts will reunite and marry many years after they parted in high school. I myself married a high school boyfriend twenty years after we broke up. I found such stories that took place 30 or 40 years later. And a couple even longer.
*
Don Polk of Greeneville, Missouri broke up with his high school girlfriend Wanda when he graduated, and left to fight in the Korean War. That was in 1952. They both married other people and only saw each other briefly at high school reunions. After more than 50 years, they reconnected after their spouses died. Don began writing and calling Wanda, and she kept their letters in the little box Don gave her for just that purpose back in high school. The Polks were married last year.

238frankmaimie.jpgMaimie Meakin and Frank Walker were sweethearts in England during World War II. Her parents discouraged the romance because they didn't expect Frank to survive as a RAF tail gunner. They separated, but never forgot each other. 60 years later, both found themselves single after their longtime spouses died. Maimie, now 86 placed an ad looking for Frank, who is now 88. Friends who saw the ad put them in contact, and they are now inseparable. They are considering marriage.
*
Maybe it's never too late to finish something you started a long time ago.

Original image
davi_deste via eBay
arrow
Pop Culture
Fumbled: The Story of the United States Football League
Original image
davi_deste via eBay

There were supposed to be 44 players marching to the field when the visiting Los Angeles Express played their final regular season game against the Orlando Renegades in June 1985.

Thirty-six of them showed up. The team couldn’t afford more.

“We didn’t even have money for tape,” Express quarterback Steve Young said in 1986. “Or ice.” The squad was so poor that Young played fullback during the game. They only had one, and he was injured.

Other teams had ridden school buses to practice, driven three hours for “home games,” or shared dressing room space with the local rodeo. In August 1986, the cash-strapped United States Football League called off the coming season. The league itself would soon vaporize entirely after gambling its future on an antitrust lawsuit against the National Football League. The USFL argued the NFL was monopolizing television time; the NFL countered that the USFL—once seen as a promising upstart—was being victimized by its own reckless expansion and the wild spending of team owners like Donald Trump.

They were both right.

Getty Images

Spring football. That was David Dixon’s pitch. The New Orleans businessman and football advocate—he helped get the Saints in his state—was a fan of college ball and noticed that spring scrimmages at Tulane University led to a little more excitement in the air. With a fiscally responsible salary cap in place and a 12-team roster, he figured his idea could be profitable. Market research agreed: a hired broadcast research firm asserted 76 percent of fans would watch what Dixon had planned.

He had no intention of grappling with the NFL for viewers. That league’s season aired from September through January, leaving a football drought March through July. And in 1982, a players’ strike led to a shortened NFL season, making the idea of an alternative even more appealing to networks. Along with investors for each team region, Dixon got ABC and the recently-formed ESPN signed to broadcast deals worth a combined $35 million over two years.

When the Chicago Blitz faced the Washington Federals on the USFL’s opening day March 6, 1983, over 39,000 fans braved rain at RFK Stadium in Washington to see it. The Federals lost 28-7, foreshadowing their overall performance as one of the league’s worst. Owner Berl Bernhard would later complain the team played like “untrained gerbils.”

Anything more coordinated might have been too expensive. The USFL had instituted a strict $1.8 million salary cap that first year to avoid franchise overspending, but there were allowances made so each team could grab one or two standout rookies. In 1983, the big acquisition was Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, who opted out of his senior year at Georgia to turn pro. Walker signed with the New Jersey Generals in a three-year, $5 million deal.

Jim Kelly and Steve Young followed. Stan White left the Detroit Lions. Marcus Dupree left college. The rosters were built up from scratch using NFL cast-offs or prospects from nearby colleges, where teams had rights to “territorial” drafts.

To draw a line in the sand, the USFL had advertising play up the differences between the NFL’s product and their own. Their slogan, “When Football Was Fun,” was a swipe at the NFL’s increasingly draconian rules regarding players having any personality. They also advised teams to run a series of marketable halftime attractions. The Denver Gold once offered a money-back guarantee for attendees who weren’t satisfied. During one Houston Gamblers game, boxer George Foreman officiated a wedding. Cars were given away at Tampa Bay Bandits games. The NFL, the upstart argued, stood for the No Fun League.

For a while, it appeared to be working. The Panthers, which had invaded the city occupied by the Detroit Lions, averaged 60,000 fans per game, higher than their NFL counterparts. ABC was pleased with steady ratings. The league was still conservative in their spending.

That would change—many would argue for the worse—with the arrival of Donald Trump.

Despite Walker’s abilities on the field, his New Jersey Generals ended the inaugural 1983 season at 6-12, one of the worst records in the league. The excitement having worn off, owner J. Walter Duncan decided to sell the team to real estate investor Trump for a reported $5-9 million.

A fixture of New York media who was putting the finishing touches on Trump Tower, Trump introduced two extremes to the USFL. His presence gave the league far more press attention than it had ever received, but his bombastic approach to business guaranteed he wouldn’t be satisfied with an informal salary cap. Trump spent and spent some more, recruiting players to improve the Generals. Another Heisman winner, quarterback Doug Flutie, was signed to a five-year, $7 million contract, the largest in pro football at the time. Trump even pursued Lawrence Taylor, then a player for the New York Giants, who signed a contract saying that, after his Giants contract expired, he’d join Trump’s team. The Giants wound up buying out the Taylor/Trump contract for $750,000 and quadrupled Taylor’s salary, and Trump wound up with pages of publicity.

Trump’s approach was effective: the Generals improved to 14-4 in their sophomore season. But it also had a domino effect. In order to compete with the elevated bar of talent, other team owners began spending more, too. In a race to defray costs, the USFL approved six expansion teams that paid a buy-in of $6 million each to the league.

It did little to patch the seams. Teams were so cash-strapped that simple amenities became luxuries. The Michigan Panthers dined on burnt spaghetti and took yellow school buses to training camp; players would race to cash checks knowing the last in line stood a chance of having one bounce. When losses became too great, teams began to merge with one another: The Washington Federals became the Orlando Renegades. By the 1985 season, the USFL was down to 14 teams. And because the ABC contract required the league to have teams in certain top TV markets, ABC started withholding checks.

Trump was unmoved. Since taking over the Generals, he had been petitioning behind the scenes for the other owners to pursue a shift to a fall season, where they would compete with the NFL head on. A few owners countered that fans had already voiced their preference for a spring schedule. Some thought it would be tantamount to league suicide.

Trump continued to push. By the end of the 1984 season, he had swayed opinion enough for the USFL to plan on one final spring block in 1985 before making the move to fall in 1986.

In order to make that transition, they would have to win a massive lawsuit against the NFL.

In the mid-1980s, three major networks meant that three major broadcast contracts would be up for grabs—and the NFL owned all three. To Trump and the USFL, this constituted a monopoly. They filed suit in October 1984. By the time it went to trial in May 1986, the league had shrunk from 18 teams to 14, hadn’t hosted a game since July 1985, kept only threadbare rosters, and was losing what existing television deals it had by migrating to smaller markets (a major part of the NFL’s case was that the real reason for the lawsuit, and the moves to smaller markets, was to make the league an attractive takeover prospect for the NFL). The ruling—which could have forced the NFL to drop one of the three network deals—would effectively become the deciding factor of whether the USFL would continue operations.

They came close. A New York jury deliberated for 31 hours over five days. After the verdict, jurors told press that half believed the NFL was guilty of being a monopoly and were prepared to offer the USFL up to $300 million in damages; the other half thought the USFL had been crippled by its own irresponsible expansion efforts. Neither side would budge.

To avoid a hung jury, it was decided they would find in favor of the USFL but only award damages in the amount of $1. One juror told the Los Angeles Times that she thought it would be an indication for the judge to calculate proper damages.

He didn’t. The USFL was awarded treble damages for $3 in total, an amount that grew slightly with interest after time for appeal. The NFL sent them a payment of $3.76. (Less famously, the NFL was also ordered to pay $5.5 million in legal fees.)

Rudy Shiffer, vice-president of the Memphis Showboats, summed up the USFL's fate shortly after the ruling was handed down. “We’re dead,” he said.

Original image
John Gooch/Keystone/Getty Images
arrow
entertainment
The Time Douglas Adams Met Jim Henson
Original image
John Gooch/Keystone/Getty Images

On September 13, 1983, Jim Henson and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams had dinner for the first time. Henson, who was born on this day in 1936, noted the event in his "Red Book" journal, in characteristic short-form style: "Dinner with Douglas Adams – 1st met." Over the next few years the men discussed how they might work together—they shared interests in technology, entertainment, and education, and ended up collaborating on several projects (including a Labyrinth video game). They also came up with the idea for a "Muppet Institute of Technology" project, a computer literacy TV special that was never produced. Henson historians described the project as follows:

Adams had been working with the Henson team that year on the Muppet Institute of Technology project. Collaborating with Digital Productions (the computer animation people), Chris Cerf, Jon Stone, Joe Bailey, Mark Salzman and Douglas Adams, Jim’s goal was to raise awareness about the potential for personal computer use and dispel fears about their complexity. In a one-hour television special, the familiar Muppets would (according to the pitch material), “spark the public’s interest in computing,” in an entertaining fashion, highlighting all sorts of hardware and software being used in special effects, digital animation, and robotics. Viewers would get a tour of the fictional institute – a series of computer-generated rooms manipulated by the dean, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, and stumble on various characters taking advantage of computers’ capabilities. Fozzie, for example, would be hard at work in the “Department of Artificial Stupidity,” proving that computers are only as funny as the bears that program them. Hinting at what would come in The Jim Henson Hour, viewers, “…might even see Jim Henson himself using an input device called a ‘Waldo’ to manipulate a digitally-controlled puppet.”

While the show was never produced, the development process gave Jim and Douglas Adams a chance to get to know each other and explore a shared passion. It seems fitting that when production started on the 2005 film of Adams’s classic Hitchhiker’s Guide, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop would create animatronic creatures like the slovenly Vogons, the Babel Fish, and Marvin the robot, perhaps a relative of the robot designed by Michael Frith for the MIT project.

You can read a bit on the project more from Muppet Wiki, largely based on the same article.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios