I spent the last two days conducting an experiment in a shopping mall. I made a nuisance of myself to 32 people--young and old, customers and clerks--and took a survey.
Of each person, I asked the same three questions.
The first was: "Can you tell me who coaches the Los Angeles Lakers?"
Twenty-six people correctly answered: "Pat Riley."
Well, to be perfectly honest, 14 of them just said: "Riley." And two of those said: "What's his name, Riley."
A girl who works in an ice cream shop said: "The guy with the hair."
A guy at a Taco Bell said: "Paul Riley."
The second question was: "Who is the coach of the Los Angeles Raiders?"
Twenty-one people got this one right. You wouldn't think 11 average people out of 32 would come up empty on this question, but never overestimate the interest in sports in America.
One old gentleman tapped his temple and groaned: "Oh, I know it, I know it. He wears black sweaters all the time." But I finally had to give him Tom Flores' name, and the poor guy looked as though he had just lost the jackpot question on a quiz show.
Now, I suppose one of my three questions could have been: "Name the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers." But come on, now. At a shopping center in the L.A. area, 33 out of 32 people could have answered that.
I wanted this survey to be at least a little bit challenging.
So, I worked my way to the third and final question, then let 'em have it, right between the eyes.
"All right," I said, "now name me the coach of the Los Angeles Kings."
Well, you haven't heard funny responses like this since Art Linkletter used to talk to kids.
The woman at the perfume counter: "Is that the soccer team?"
The salesman at the Foot Locker: "Oh, man. Why don't you just ask me who coaches the Russian gymnastics team?"
The guy selling stereos: "I ain't into no hockey."
The kid eating at Arby's: "All I know is that rookie they got, Luke RoboCop, whatever his name is."
The kid eating with him: "Their coach went to Vancouver."
The first kid: "He did what?"
The other kid: "He went to Vancouver. They found out he was working for both teams at the same time."
The first kid: "Cool. Like a spy, you mean?"
The other kid: "I forget who they got after him. The assistant coach, I think. Right? The assistant coach?"
Right. Mike Murphy.
Of the 32 people informally polled, zero answered correctly.
That's right. Not one person in a Los Angeles area shopping mall could tell me who the coach of the city's National Hockey League team was.
Oh, I suppose I could have stuck around until I found somebody, but to tell you the truth, the security cops were starting to look at me funny, approaching strangers the way I was. They must have thought I was either a molester or a Moonie.
The fact remains, though, that even the two guys working in the sporting goods store couldn't tell me who coached Los Angeles' hockey team.
Now, I don't know about you, and I certainly don't know about Murphy, but I consider this a distressing situation.
You can't convince me that there is another city in the NHL where the identity of the coach is such a well-kept secret.
And even if there were one, I'll bet somebody in that town could at least come up with the name of one of the team's former coaches.
Quick, turn to the person next to you and ask them to name anybody who ever coached the L.A. Kings. There have been 14 guys since 1967. Come on, come up with a couple of them. Come up with one.
What is the point of all this?
The point is, it's time for all of you to pay a little more attention to your one and only hockey team.
For example, the Kings have a home game tonight, against the Buffalo Sabres. (I'll bet 20 out of 32 people in Buffalo know what their coach's name is.) How about going over to the Forum and checking things out? You'll probably have a good time. They'll sell you a program with the players' names on it, so don't worry.
If you haven't been there before, walk right up, buy a ticket. This is not a Laker game. This is not a Springsteen concert. You just walk right up, slap down some money, then walk right in. You can sit anywhere you want, except in that folding chair on the ice. That's where Nicholson sits.
This would give you a chance to see some of the Kings' new princes. For example, there is Jimmy Carson, who is young and fast and gifted. There is Bernie Nicholls, who is not so young anymore, not so fast anymore, but not to be taken lightly.
There is Luc Robitaille, whose name is pronounced exactly the way it looks. No, I'm kidding. It sounds like Luke Ro-ba-tie. This kid's good. I'm telling you.
And then there are the other Kings. There's, uh, what's his name, the goalie. He wears a really neat mask. Makes him look just like the killer in the "Friday the 13th" movies. Don't worry, he's harmless.
And there's all sorts of other guys who glide around real pretty in circles and skate real fast and look just like the Ice Capades, except that in the Ice Capades, you almost never see Dorothy Hamill go up to the guy in the Snoopy costume and hammer him in the face with her fists without mercy.
I heartily recommend an evening of hockey for you and your family. If you call the Kings and tell them what time you're coming, they'll probably hold off the opening face-off until you get there.
Tomorrow, I'll be in shopping malls asking people who coaches the Los Angeles Lazers, and what sport they play. So long, everybody.