It looked like a bucket of well-thinned blood sitting at waterside on the straw-covered beach. Coach Dick Erickson of the University of Washington drew a cupful and sipped with mock horror before offering some to a passing oarsman. Despite parching 95° temperatures the rower disdained the potion and strode away. "Don't be afraid," Erickson called after him, "it's Husky-Aid."
Husky-Aid, red Gatorade, you name it. The Husky crews of Washington drank plenty of the stuff last Saturday, and they needed it about as much as an old sot needs one for the road. Rowing with the grace of sampan men poling up a river—until the last 500 meters of the 2,000-meter course, when they simply went—they swept the Western Sprints at Los Gatos, Calif. almost clean, starting at 8 a.m. with the freshman fours and going through to the varsity heavyweight eights at noon. They stumbled only once, in a lightweight race, which upset no one except the lightweights. But for the thousands of rowing enthusiasts from up and down the coast who had come to watch, they put on a display that, if not always a thing of beauty, was invariably awesome. "They leave something to be desired in finesse," said Erickson. Really? Check that with Santa Clara, the regatta's host, or UCLA or Oregon State or California.
Erickson, the orchestrator of Husky performances, is a man who at first impresses one as being all for short haircuts, cold showers and chauvinism. Underneath that surface, though, is the real Erickson, himself an ex-oarsman for Washington who early on earned a reputation for independence. Says a friend: "He never wore long hair or anything like that, but we think of him as Washington's original hippie."
Lexington Reservoir at Los Gatos is an azure chip in the valleys and gullies of the Santa Cruz Mountains some 40 miles south of San Francisco. Once full of mountain lions—practicing Santa Clara crews still occasionally spot a lonely cat there—the hillsides now are left to oak and larch pine and eucalyptus that rise from the edge of the reservoir's waters. Besides catching water, the natural bowl traps heat. It was a setting to make a man nervous—a Ross Macdonald landscape with Lew Archer about to drive in on the four-mile road with its 66 bends that flanks the boat course—and Erickson was uneasy. Washington had suffered a fairly close call against Cal two weeks earlier and needed to prove to itself that it could take the upstarts from Berkeley.
The very notion was something of a novelty. The supply of oarsmen at Seattle has seemed limitless. Big, rangy candidates are forever fighting for seats in the varsity boat. When one leaves for any reason, six dive for his place. Washington won the Western Sprints last year and the year before, and the question was, was Dick Erickson the Harry Parker of the West—Parker coaches Harvard and led last year's Olympic crew—or was Parker the Dick Erickson of the East?
Neither, people from the University of California were beginning to say. Last year, when the Golden Bears were 2-5, that might have seemed foolish, but then along came Steve Gladstone from, of all places, Harvard, where his lightweight crews were undefeated for so long that nobody could remember the last loss. Cal with Gladstone in 1973 was 5-1 going into the Sprints, the lone loss being to Washington. In that race the Bears led to the 1,500-meter pole before being killed by that famous Husky kick.
Unlike Erickson, Gladstone is a stylist. With head cocked, he will sit and watch bladework for hours, picking out and correcting flaws. Using a youthful boatload of sophomores, juniors and a couple of seniors, California gets what it can in the middle of a race and then hopes it somehow can hang on until the end.
Early Saturday morning a brisk tail-wind blew down the course. Being technicians rather than power men, the Californians stirred with newfound hope. A stern breeze usually provides an equalizing factor when a smooth, small crew faces a rough, big one. Erickson even expressed some qualms aloud, while still retaining overall faith in his crew's ability to "...just row our old lurch, wobble and gobble, eat-'em-from-start-to-finish style."
Unfortunately for Cal, by mid-morning the breeze had died to a gentle, cool whisper. Almost unfortunately for the Washingtonians, something went awry with their plan to merely stay with the Bears early and then burn them out in the final 500 meters. For one thing, the Huskies' start, which had been mushy at best all season, suddenly was just short of perfection. Before they realized it, they were rowing at a torrid 38-strokes-to-the-minute pace, unusual for them, and leading. It is a measure of their strength that such a burst did not ruin them later.
At the three-quarter pole they still led Cal by 1.3 seconds. Then, as everyone expected, Washington turned on its superchargers, Cal ended up 6.1 seconds back, Oregon State was third and the Western Sprints were over.
Normally taciturn, Erickson later was as close to euphoria as he will ever get. "This is one of the best groups of men I've had. They're kinda mean, too. We forced it physically, we pulled the boat hard. We rowed the heat. It's a very gratifying feeling." He paused to accept congratulations. "It was a whitewash," he resumed. "We never expect to do this again."
One who hopes they do not is Gladstone. "We averaged 178 pounds to their 194 and pragmatically didn't have the power to beat them," he said. "But we've risen from the bottom to challenger in a year. That for us is a moral victory. It won't be long before we nail those guys." With Cal-Aid?