The 14 crews facing Harvard, undefeated in 24 straight races, felt a lot like the parson who was chased up a tree by a grizzly bear. "Oh, Lord," the parson prayed from his unsteady pulpit, "if you can't help me, please don't help that bear."
Harvard was grizzly. Princeton had been given a good chance against the Crimson in the Compton Cup regatta. Harvard ate up the Tigers by four lengths. Penn was then given a better chance. It lost by three lengths.
Unbeaten in college competition since May 1963, the Crimson had won the Eastern Sprints heavyweight championship at Worcester, Mass. three consecutive times, and last weekend was ready to make that four. "The only way to beat Harvard," said one hanger-on, "is to get a tail wind and a big-eared crew."
Others were unanimous in attributing Harvard's dominance to Harry Parker's good coaching. "Harvard's material is no better, really," Cornell Coach Stork San-ford said, "but Parker is a real student of the sport, gets the stuff across and is not afraid to experiment."
"Parker," Wisconsin's Norm Sonju said more simply, "is the best thing to happen to Harvard since old Jawn died."
Partly because Harvard had made salad out of the Ivies earlier this season, such heretofore undreaded naval powers as Northeastern and Boston University had been seeded second and third in the sprints. That made sense. Northeastern had lost to the Crimson by a mere second, and the only crew close to the Huskies had been BU.
Perhaps alone among the challengers Northeastern showed no sign of fearing fierce Harvard. "We expected it," said Publicist Jack Grinold of NU's No. 2 seed. It became apparent, moreover, that Northeastern fully expected to win.
"We understand that the traditional crews win this race," Coach G. Ernest Arlett said at a crew luncheon. "But we plan to start a new tradition."
The annals of rowing at Northeastern University extend back exactly three years, and nobody in the varsity boat had seen the inside of a shell before then. But what some folk had failed to properly appreciate was that by hiring Arlett away from Harvard in 1964, NU had imported a powerful dollop of tradition readymade. Steely-haired, black-spectacled, peak-capped Arlett comes from Henley-on-Thames, where his family has been in coaching and rowing for more than a hundred years. A teakettle boils in his office, awaiting visitors.
"I ought to first tell you how I came to America, shouldn't I?" Arlett said last week, a warm smile softening his strong English features. "It was a boyhood ambition of mine, but I never had the get-up-and-go, as you say, to do it. I did talk to Jack Kelly—you know, the brother of Grace—and I was always impressed by the attitude, the desire to win, of American oarsmen I had met at Henley. At last my daughter decided to come as a secretary and I thought, by gosh, if my daughter can do it, I can."
Beginning at Philadelphia's Lower Merion High School, Arlett became Rutgers freshman coach and then small-boats director at Harvard—'sculling being me top love"—before being attracted to Northeastern by the chance to start his own program. "If this hadn't been a good group of boys not afraid of my bark and growl—of which I've got plenty—one or the other of us would have been long gone by now. But they've been all I hoped for. Those who had thought it was going to be a boating party drifted away directly as I put them to work. Despite my grunts and groans the stayers are a pretty happy lot."
Since Northeastern's cooperative students work in industry until 5 or later, Arlett's happy lots never started their practices until 6 p.m. Still, with intense interval training, they managed to log 500 to 600 miles before the sprints. "I just worked them," Arlett says, "and if anybody was off color, we sent him off to student health."
There were setbacks. In a young legend known as the Wreck of the Hecht, Northeastern demolished a borrowed shell its first time on the river. This year it announced it would get on the water on February 7. That day Boston blanketed down under one of the biggest blizzards in its history. Arlett heard a lot about mad dogs and Englishmen.
Arlett, who has been known to take refuge in coachly evasions, was all candor when it came to the sprints. "We had open water with 20 strokes to go against Harvard," he said, referring to their race at the beginning of the season. "Then there was that unfortunate crab. They still beat us by only one second. Now, Harvard have improved, but they'll have to have improved by three lengths, won't they, because we've improved by two?"
A sign in the NU locker room translated that into American. "Kill Harvard," it said, in fluorescent green.
The morning of the regatta was bright and warm, full of sunshine and promise. Trees were still bare-limbed, but so was the crowd of 25,000. Festive, it drank record quantities of beer, threw a record number of beer cans into the water and waited expectantly to find out what would happen to that parson we left bear-limbed.
In brief, the bear climbed the tree and had lunch. Harvard won the first varsity heavyweight heat, its 25th victory in a row, by four full lengths over previously undefeated Cornell. It won the varsity final, the 26th straight Crimson victory, by two full lengths and 7.6 seconds—the second-longest winning margin in the history of the EARC—over fourth-seeded Penn, Northeastern, Cornell, Yale and Boston. Dark workhorse Northeastern won a kind of moral victory. A distant fifth going into the last 200 feet, it put on a sprint that upstaged even Harvard's and finished a strong third, almost catching Penn.
Harvard could know no jubilation or disappointment, only an inward pride in having rowed about as well as Harvard ever has in 116 years of winning crew. "I knew we had it after about 300 meters or so," Coxswain Paul Hoffman said matter-of-factly. Confirmed Stroke Ian Gardiner, a handsome tan-haired Yankee, "The cox leaned forward after about 30 strokes, as he always does when we're winning, and said, 'We're ahead of the field.' "
"You have to credit Harry [Parker] for most of this," Gardiner continued. "He's a psychologist. Concentrating in psychological anthropology myself, I've studied him quite a bit and I still haven't figured out how he does it." Psychological Anthropologist Gardiner searched for a properly clinical term to describe Parker's coaching and gave up. "Harry is cool," he said.
Harvard now dominates rowing, and if you disbelieve this consider the present varsity boat. A new bow and the 2 and 4 men were installed following the Northeastern race. The boat now contains one senior and three sophomores. Don't ask Parker why. He would not admit to choosing tuna fish salad over chicken salad and, in fact, refused to come out front for the trophy presentations.
Gardiner, slightly more demonstrative, counted captured jerseys with a certain silent satisfaction. "Fourteen?" he ended. "Seems like there were 15 crews out there." "Stupid," a girl said, "you were the 15th." "Oh, yeah, that's right," the stroke said.
The bear has a weakness. It loses count of its victims.