Maybe it was the military setting that inspired it, this strategy of assaulting the NCAA swimming championships with wave after wave of shock troops. After all, West Point is just right for that sort of thing. But it didn't work. Southern Cal attacked, fell back and attacked again. It cheered on its troops with chants that resounded around the U.S. Military Academy's well-scrubbed pool. "We are [clap-clap] SC! We are [clap-clap] SC!" But when it was all over last weekend Indiana had its fifth straight national title, and, as usual, it was the Hoosiers who had the most to clap-clap about.
This is not to say that Southern Cal's strategy misfired with every shot. Frustrated at having been runner-up to each of Indiana's last three championship teams, the Trojans staged their best campaign this time, with Indiana outscoring them by only 390 to 371. The Californians had a mathematical chance of victory going into the last event of the three-day affair, and previously there were moments of triumph such as the 800-yard freestyle relay, in which a gang of lesser-known USC swimmers outraced an Indiana team that included its big three: Mark Spitz, Gary Hall and John Kinsella. It was a tight, splashy race and after anchorman Kinsella was touched out at the finish, a puzzled Spitz hurried up to Coach James E. (Doc) Counsilman with arms helplessly outstretched. "What happened, Doc?" he asked.
One answer was that the Indiana swimmers had all competed in other events earlier the same night while Peter Daland, the USC coach, had slipped a couple of fresh, well-rested troops into his lineup. This was the sort of thing that enabled Daland's team to stay alive by the numbers although it failed to win even one individual event. Meet rules gave relays twice the scoring value of individual races, and the Trojans also won the 400-yard medley relay. In addition, they picked up points on a variety of solid, also-ran performances, right down to the lowliest 12th-place finish. They got a second place from Pan-American Games hero Frank Heckl in one event and a couple of seconds from Jim McConica in others. Hardly an event passed without one of USC's talented freshmen, somebody like Steven Furniss, splashing home with a few more precious points.
The tactics worked pretty much as Daland planned. "The hard way to beat Indiana is to try and knock off Spitz or Hall or Kinsella head on," he said as the meet opened. "There is an easier way. That's to qualify a lot of people and try to win with depth."
April 3, 1972
The only trouble was that USC's depth was not quite deep enough. In a strong field that produced 11 American records, Indiana won six of the meet's 13 individual events—two each by Hall, Spitz and Kinsella. For the veteran Spitz, a premed major, it was the last competition in his college swim career. His Indiana dental school acceptance was confirmed last month, the same day he received the Sullivan Award as the nation's top amateur athlete, an honor that had been bestowed upon Kinsella the year before. Two Sullivans on the same swim team is roughly equivalent to two Heismans in the same backfield, But some would argue that Hall, the world's top individual medleyist, is a better all-round swimmer than either of his more specialized—and celebrated—teammates.
No need to argue. Spitz showed his stuff right away on Thursday, setting a new U.S. record of 1:46.90 in the 200-yard butterfly to lead a one-two Indiana finish with freshman Bob Alsfelder. On Friday he did it again, beating his own 100 butterfly record twice, first in a qualifying heat and then in the finals with a 47.99 clocking, becoming the third man in swim history to win the same NCAA event four straight years. Spitz also seemed pretty well over his old habit—certainly a bad example for an aspiring dentist—of always putting his foot in his mouth. Co-captain this season with Hall and hailed by Counsilman as a model team man, the once-cocky Spitz coolly told reporters, "I'm like an oldtimer now. I seem to get more sympathy from the press." Then he went off to lead the team in "Let's Go, IU!" cheers to counteract those coming from the Southern Cal section across the pool.
Still, none of this offered sufficient relief for the frayed nerves of Counsilman. He was aware that there were other schools in the meet, but Southern Cal was his chief concern. The Trojans had arrived at West Point with a record very nearly as impressive as Indiana's, having finished first or second in all but one of the last 11 NCAA championships. Further, the runner-up status to Indiana was by now so distasteful to USC that one of its swimmers told a newsman in Los Angeles he would rather be on an NCAA championship team than swim in the Olympics. When that remark was quoted at an Indiana team meeting, one Hoosier curled his lip and said, "Then he'd better transfer to Indiana."
The men who prepared the two teams for swimming's big showdown, Daland and Counsilman, are coaching opposites. Daland, who will coach the U.S. men swimmers at Munich, is a reserved sort who keeps his necktie snappily in place and periodically reminds his swimmers to call him "Mr. Daland" by declaring at team meetings, "There's nobody here named Peter." Counsilman is a casual fellow who scratches his bald head as he tries to remember when asked the exact number of Big Ten titles and dual meets his teams have won in a row. (The answers are 12 and 74.)
But despite this nonchalant air, Counsilman runs a program that would be adequate for a college football team—his high-powered recruiting operation (only one of his 18 swimmers is an Indiana native) drives his rivals wild. Disciplined enough to have trimmed his weight from 240 to 180 pounds in the past year, Counsilman only rarely gets tough with his squad. The most recent crackdown came after a rash of motorcycle accidents had banged up several of his swimmers, including his son Jim, a breaststroker, who suffered a broken back.
"If you set too many rules it only encourages the boys to break them," Counsilman says. But now that he has banned motorcycles, the team's fancy has turned to a safer craze, water beds. Half the squad members sleep on them, prompting Steve Borowski, Indiana's assistant coach, to suggest that "at least it keeps them in an aqueous state."
One nagging worry Counsilman had going into the NCAA meet was Kinsella, who had been struggling ever since a poor showing at the AAU outdoor championships last August. A blocking back on the swim team's strong entry in Indiana's intramural touch football circuit, the beefy Kinsella was once the hardest-working man in the pool. He earned his nickname, "The Machine." "I've been finding it more difficult to work hard every day," he says now. And he was not keen about the added pressure of being entered in the meet's first event, the 500 freestyle. "If John wins the 500, we'll be all right," Gary Hall said. "If he loses, it will affect his confidence—and that could affect the whole team."
Kinsella's plan for the 500 was to go out fast, then hold on against expected strong finishes from Southern Cal's Jim McConica and Tom McBreen, the latter a sophomore with eyesight so bad—he is 20-300 in his good eye—he has to grope for his glasses at the end of each race before he can locate his towel. So much for plans. Kinsella plunged in and he was still pulling away from his USC rivals when the race mercifully ended. His time was a new American record of 4:24.50. USC's 2-4-6 finish of McConica, McBreen and Bengt Gingsjo, a freshman from Sweden, enabled the Trojans to outscore Indiana in the event but Kinsella was understandably elated. "I think everybody now realizes there's going to be good times turned in at this meet," he said. "At least on our side."
By the end of the first day—which also included an American record of 1:51.51 by Hall in the 200 IM—Indiana had a 116-99 lead. The next night the score was 263-227. But then came the payoff of the saturation strategy. On Saturday the Trojans placed three men in the top six in both the 1,650 and 100 freestyle, and suddenly, tantalizingly, they found themselves in the lead 303-287. True, Indiana's strongest events were coming up, but Counsilman might well have wondered at that moment how he had let fellows like Stanford's Brian Job and SMU's Jerry Heidenreich slip through his recruiting dragnet. Job, a junior, set two American breaststroke records, including a 56.83 in a qualifying heat of the 100, an event he then lost to the previous record-holder, UCLA's Tom Bruce. Heidenreich, a senior winning his first NCAA title, did it with a 200 freestyle record of 1:38.36.
Another in this parade of record-breakers was Princeton's Chuck Campbell, a junior who took the 200 backstroke in 1:50.56, outdueling three Indiana rivals including Hall, owner of the old record. A Los Angeles native whose heart is free of any fondness for Indiana—"the press calls them the greatest in the world, and they admit it," he says—Campbell revealed afterward that a Southern Cal jersey was among his prized possessions. "My USC friends gave it to me," he said. "In exchange I promised to beat Indiana." Having kept his word, he made for the Southern Cal cheering section to lend further comfort to Indiana's enemy.
But it was all in a lost cause.
The 100 butterfly won by Spitz on the final night touched off some controversy but, unlike the old days, he was not involved in it. His victory, along with third-and fourth-place finishes by teammates Larry Barbiere and Pat O'Connor, gave the Hoosiers a whopping 39 points to wash out the lead that Southern Cal had enjoyed so briefly. The triumph was marred, however, when two swimmers from Tennessee, a school that likes to celebrate its emergence as an aquatic power by wearing coonskin caps and orange warmup suits, dawdled along behind the Indiana leaders, obviously not trying. The crowd, its sympathies largely with underdog Southern Cal, booed noisily.
The Tennessee swimmers, sprint stars Dave Edgar and John Trembley, actually were conserving their energy for the 400 freestyle relay, the last event of the meet. Edgar, whose earlier victories in the 50 and 100 freestyle made him the only non-Indiana man to take two events, seemed embarrassed when he climbed from the pool following the butterfly. His coach, Ray Bussard, pointed to the tight race for third place in team standings as the reason he had ordered Edgar and Trembley to take it easy in the race. "The only way we can finish third is by winning that relay," Bussard said. "Sometimes you have to sacrifice individuals for the team."
The move paid off as Tennessee won the relay in a record 3:01.12, enabling Bussard's team to finish third overall, two points ahead of UCLA. As for any lift Indiana might have received in the butterfly, Southern Cal's Daland was slow to rile up. "I'd say the Tennessee coach made the right decision under the circumstances," Daland said. One probable reason for Daland's restraint was that even if the Tennessee swimmers had gone all out in the butterfly, the Indiana contingent still would have amassed enough points to virtually wrap up the team title.
After Indiana's butterfly success the Hoosiers added a few more points in three-meter diving. USC had not brought along any divers at all, having elected to fill every available spot on the team with swimmers.
At the end the only way Southern Cal could still win the championship was if Indiana failed to score in the 400 freestyle relay—and the only way Indiana could fail to score at least a few points was if it were disqualified. Spitz, whose position of leadership also is reflected in his being the only Indiana swimmer with a heated water bed, sternly warned the other three members of the relay team against hitting the water prematurely. "It doesn't matter if we finish last," he said. "Just make sure we don't get disqualified."
Indiana took a cautious fourth in the relay—good for 22 points—and the Southern California battalions could only console themselves with how close they had come. The Hoosiers had been in a fight, but in one respect they had a better time of it than any of the school's previous championship squads. "Hey, Doc," one of his swimmers said, after dunking Counsilman in the pool in the traditional victory celebration. "You're a lot easier to throw into the water this year."