SAN FRANCISCO — One of the main changes in sports since the 1960s is the more extensive press coverage of controversies today.
The sudden return of quarterback Joe Montana, for example, has drawn the kind of attention in recent days that newspapers used to reserve for politics or, say, Hollywood scandals.
And like political writers, many sportswriters covering the Montana story first examined the witnesses and the evidence, then judged the proposition, at least informally: Should the 49er quarterback be playing football so soon after having back surgery Sept. 15?
Here are some of their views, all but Glenn Dickey's expressed in conversation. Dickey wrote his thoughts in his column:
Gary Myers, Dallas Morning News: "Joe is probably more susceptible to injuries than before. (But) if the doctors OK him and if he's wearing a flak jacket, I don't see anything wrong with (his playing)."
Michael Janofsky, New York Times: "The thing I don't see is Montana's great urgency (to play now)."
Glenn Dickey, San Francisco Chronicle: "Pardon my cynicism, but I think Montana is being used, by Coach Bill Walsh and by Dr. Arthur White, with a callous disregard for Joe's future."
Frank Cooney, San Francisco Examiner: "There's no valid reason to second-guess the doctors. If an athlete has medical clearance to play football, and if he wants to play, why shouldn't he play?"
Tom FitzGerald, San Francisco Chronicle: "I remain personally skeptical. The 49ers may have rushed him. But Joe played better Sunday than before his operation, and the doctors say he is in no more danger now than he was before. You have to take their word."
In Candlestick Park Sunday, the St. Louis Cardinals were flagged twice for roughing the passer.
Although many critics considered the calls marginal at best, the first was for a late hit that linebacker Charlie Baker could have avoided. The other was for a shot to the head, which is a penalty every time the referee sees it.
Al Baker, the Cardinals' veteran defensive end who got the second citation, said the hits were unintentional.
"There's not a player on our team who would intentionally hit Joe Montana in the back," Baker said. "Maybe that's why we're 2-8."
Ernest Givins of the Houston Oilers, the flashy rookie wide receiver who was carried off the field Nov. 2 with head and neck injuries, will resume practice today, he said, and is expected to play Sunday.
"Ernie is doing fine," Houston trainer Jerry Meins reported. "It was a scary looking injury, but he passed all the tests right away. He would have played last week except that his neck was still a little sore. He couldn't turn his head to see the ball."
The United States Football League has opened a West Coast office in one of Lawrence Welk's buildings in Santa Monica, where Jane Ellison, general counsel, is in charge.
USFL Commissioner Harry Usher, who lives in Tarzana, said: "I'll be going back and forth to our New York office, where I don't have to be on a day-to-day basis."
The dormant league will take its next shot at the country's only active pro football league in New York Dec. 17, when a federal court will be asked to limit the NFL to two networks.
"We have eight teams now (in the East and South), plus two expansion franchises in Chicago and Oakland," Usher said. "We'll play in 1987 if we get a television contract."
The pass that re-established Raider Jim Plunkett as one of the NFL's finest was thrown to wide receiver Dokie Williams in the third quarter Sunday.
In player language, it was underthrown just right on the fade.
As he sprinted into the end zone while fading toward the sideline, Williams was closely attended by Dallas cornerback Everson Walls.
Plunkett's options on third and seven:
--If he underthrows it too much, Walls sees it.
--If he throws to Williams in stride, Walls gets it.
--If he underthrows it just right, touchdown.
Many passers don't understand that kind of touch pass. Plunkett understands.
Even so, Sunday game against Cleveland at the Coliseum may be too soon for Plunkett to begin his 1986 career as a starter.
At 38, a walking testament to the sewing ability of many surgeons, Plunkett has to be protected from every possible hit, and it seems unlikely that the Raiders can do that continually for six weeks plus three or four playoff weeks in January.
It is just as true today as it was last year or the previous year that Plunkett is the best the club has, and what's more, when physically sound, a match for any active NFL quarterback.
But the Raiders' best chance to make the playoffs this season is to win two of the next three without him.
Bernie Kosar's 401-yard passing performance for Cleveland Monday night was a classic example of what a quarterback can accomplish when never rushed.
At the same time, Dan Marino was throwing magnificently for Miami under constant heavy pressure.
It was the difference in the kind of rush each faced that made them look about even as quarterbacks.