Off the grapevine - The Dallas Cowboys probably deserve their label as America's team. According to reports, 24 percent of all authorized National Football League products carry the Cowboys' trademark. The Pittsburgh Steelers are next, with 16 percent. . . . Penn State coach Joe Paterno has a unique method for running an extra check on possible football recruits. He tries to watch them play pickup basketball, where he can do a first-hand evaluation on a prospect's quickness, balance, and coordination. . . . Although its days as a national power were long ago, Yale is still the college football team with the most regular-season victories, 723. Nebraska, currently No. 1 in the polls, is tenth on the list with 581.
Former Philadelphia all-star forward Chet Walker, watching a recent National Basketball Association game, expressed the opinion that Los Angeles Laker center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar could probably play until he's 45. ''Besides Kareem, there are basically only two centers in the league worth mentioning: Philadelphia's Moses Malone and Boston's Robert Parish,'' Walker explained. ''And the way the NBA schedule is structured, Abdul-Jabbar only has to go head-to-head against Malone and Parish four times in 82 games. The rest of the time it's like Kareem has the night off. While Abdul-Jabbar would't agree with Walker's evaluation, actually Chet's comments aren't too far off the mark.
Kevin Loughery of the Chicago Bulls, who had a lifetime coaching record of 409-440 (including playoffs) going into this season, says the key to winning on the road in the NBA is defense plus making most of your key baskets late in the game. Probably the only way Reggie Theus, the Bulls' all-star guard, can get out of Loughery's doghouse is to upgrade his defense; otherwise his best hope is to get picked up by some other club that's looking for shooting help for a run at the playoffs.
There is so much fresh sentiment among members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America to vote shortstop Luis Aparicio into the Hall of Fame this year that he can probably count on being elected. If Aparicio does make it, look for his arrival to trigger a new wave of support among old-timers for Marty Marion, Pee Wee Reese, and Phil Rizzuto, all of whom also carried magic gloves in the field. . . . Speaking of shortstops, Cal Ripken Jr. of the Baltimore Orioles, the American League's Most Valuable Player for 1983, will spend part of this winter making milk commercials. Don't be surprised if his best customer is outfielder Dale Murphy of the Atlanta Braves, who also happens to be the 1983 National League MVP.
At least one Los Angeles Dodger coach thinks third baseman Pedro Guerrero's MVP chances would go up 20 percent if he were moved back to right field. The theory is that Guerrero's batting average, home runs, and RBIs might all increase by 10 if he had the less demanding defensive job of patrolling the outfield and didn't have to contend every day with sharply hit ground balls. . . .
General Manager Emil (the Cat) Francis, who previously brought the New York Rangers and the St. Louis Blues back to respectability in the National Hockey League, is currently doing the same thing with the Hartford Whalers. Part of the Francis formula is to get rid of players (no matter how good they are) who would like to perform elsewhere and bring in hard-nosed types to take their place. . . . The late Jim Thorpe, a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, will be honored by the US Postal Department on May 24, 1984, at Shawnee, Okla., with a stamp bearing his likeness.
''Pro football is a lot easier on you mentally if you have a reputation as a star or have been a regular for a while,'' said Russ Bolinger, who plays a reserve role as an offensive guard-tackle for the Los Angeles Rams. ''Every year when I go to training camp, there are so many players whose ability is so close to mine that I have to win my job all over again. It was like that during my seven years with the Detroit Lions before L.A. traded for me, and I'm sure it will be that way next season with the Rams. But a starter or a long-time regular can have a poor training camp or a mediocre exhibition season and still know he's going to start. Everybody wants to play regularly and that was my goal too in the beginning. But when you are consistently being asked to block people who are taller, stronger, and heavier than you are, you just hope you last long enough to collect your pension.''