They call themselves The Smooth and The Rude, and they flew to Seattle last week to show the world why. It was Harvard vs. Washington in a truly national crew championship. But it was more than that. It was "expletive deleted" versus "Oh, shucks." It was Throwing a Moon at your roommate's girl friend—this being a bit of collegiate exuberance in which one's bare rear is briefly and unexpectedly presented to view—versus "We do a lot of fun things." Harvard is strong on mooning and out West virtue was not rewarded. Poor Washington. Fair Harvard was far smoother, both on the water and with its wit and zany worldliness ashore. And ruder, too.
The big race was the 2,000-meter varsity eights, and at first it was a contest, with somebody in the Washington boat shrieking like a maniac. But at 200 meters, with Harvard just ahead, the Crimson stroke leaned over his gunwale and crowed, "So long, Huskies."
At 500 meters Harvard held its lead, and the Washington coxswain yelled to his men, "They're not gaining on us." But Harvard would be Harvard. "Bleep bleep," retorted its coxswain loudly, and his crew went on to win by open water, capping an undefeated season. Smooth indeed. "But I was truly rude," insisted the stroke, grinning and pleased. The time was 5:55.2, breaking the course record of 6:01. Washington, best in the West this year, was six seconds back.
It was billed as the Intercollegiate Championship Regatta, the first of what is hoped will be an annual event. It was a Washington idea, Coach Dick Erickson's. "We've never had a way of determining a national champion," said Erickson. And he had a point. The IRA regatta, held in Syracuse each spring, has claimed to be the nationals, but its claim was not sound. Many crew powers miss it more often than not—California, Washington and Harvard, for example—because of conflicts with final exams. Then there were the Sprints. The Easterns, won by Harvard this year, produce a strictly Eastern champion, and the Westerns, won by Washington, a Western one. But the twain never met. Enter Seattle, with a late June date to avoid exam problems, and the Eastern and Western champions in attendance. And the way things went during the season made the claim of "National championship" look very good. Wisconsin won the IRA, softening earlier defeats by both Washington and Harvard. But on the way to Seattle, Harvard made a stop and beat Wisconsin again—twice, in fact, on consecutive days. Clearly the Crimson was ready to row for the national championship. Seven schools sent crews to Seattle, but it was all Harvard and Washington—mostly Harvard. The Crimson swept three of four events—the varsity eights, the varsity four with coxswain and the junior varsity eight, the last in 6:00.8, also breaking the course record. Washington salvaged the freshman eights. But it had never seen anything like Harvard, and Harvard seemed to think it was on another planet.
June 30, 1974
There were the nicknames, for example, and their owners. At stroke for Washington was Jim Brinsfield, 6'4" and 198. They call him Blimp, and he explains: "We had a contest two years ago to see who could get over 200 pounds. Each guy who did could pick his own nickname. I picked Blimp."
The Harvard Stroke is Alan ("So long, Huskies") Shealy. Shealy's new ambition, after seeing Seattle, is to fly a plane around the Space Needle, hanging out the window naked, reciting the famous Patton speech. Until he manages that, he will pursue other hobbies, one of which made a Wellesley girl faint dead away last year. Shealy wires up batteries, flashbulbs and firecrackers. He places the devices in dark but not empty rooms. The ladies faint. Their men get furious. They call Shealy "Bomber."
At seven oar for Washington is Fred Fox, who admits to being "the wildest guy on the boat." He does things like placing lots of shaving cream on beds or on phone receivers. Last year he put a plastic cow in the campus pond. Fred Fox's nickname is Larry.
His Harvard counterpart does not need a nickname. His name is Steve Row. Once, while he was trying to sleep, some guy was making noise. So Row ran out, decked the fellow and stood over him with an ax. "Lucky thing I had the ax," he says, "or I might have killed him." Row's nickname is Mad Dog.
Down the line, the six, five and four oars for Washington are Mike Cole, or Imco; Mark Norelius, or Noro; and Dwight Roesch, or Ike. At four for Harvard is Christopher (Tiff) Wood, better known as Moon Man. They all speak fondly of "moon runs" in Wood's Audi with the big windows.
The two crews had taken widely different paths to their sport. Eight of the nine in the Harvard boat had attended exclusive prep schools—Kent, Phillips-Andover, Belmont Hill—and five of them had rowed for four years or more before Harvard. The Huskies were a public high school bunch, and all but one had come from Washington—from Issaquah and Walla Walla and Ellensburg, on the Washington desert. At Seattle and Cambridge the styles of their lives continued to diverge. As a Harvard JV oar put it, "People think we live at the boathouse, but these guys really do." They had seen the Huskie crew's low and homely dorm, its front yard all docks and brown Lake Washington, its basement filled with racks of boats and oars, its main floor filled with dining-room tables and bunk beds, two to a room. And the Harvards could not quite believe this. At Harvard they have suites—one man, one room—carved fireplaces and portraits of bygone Harvards, and on the walls outside enough ivy to start their own league. For all that, however, it was Harvard that seemed to be engaged in a perpetual belching contest.
The Smooth and the Rude. To be rude means to be coarse, to belch, to win a race and say, "You guys stink," to throw moons, to be obvious and unsubtle and uncool. Harvard had its rude regulars, though some were smooth as smooth. There was Three oar, Ed Woodhouse, the smoothest—a football cheerleader with teeth so white and smile so right, with hair so blond, and manner so ingratiating that a group of Japanese journalists, doing a series on U.S. college life last year, picked him as their All-American boy. And there was Blair Brooks, the 6'5" bow, a junior with one foot in medical school and the demeanor of a middle-aged brain surgeon; and coxswain David Weinberg, who after four years of crew and Harvard still seems lost in wonderment. "When it came to choosing colleges, there was really no choice at all," he recalls. "There was the romantic appeal of rowing for Harvard. And of course there was the legend of Harry Parker."
Yes, Harry Parker, a legend at 38. There would always be hope for smooth in Harvard crew, with Harry Parker. He had rowed three years at Pennsylvania and had finished second in the single sculls at Henley. In 1961 he became the Harvard freshman coach, two years later its varsity coach. It took him awhile, but from 1964 through 1968 his crews were undefeated. After that he lost a few, a very few, but here he was again, undefeated, a god to his young men.
"He's one of the most incredible people I've ever met," says Harvard JV Stroke Rick Grogan. "At 38 he can run with any of us. He's not very big, but he's the classic example of 'It's not how big you are, but how tightly you're wound.' He comes up to the ergometer, watches and never says a word. But you see him there and it gives you a tremendous incentive. We'd do anything for him. We'd walk off cliffs for him."
And there Parker was at the farewell banquet, his angular face calm amid lunacy. One of his men lay on the floor, after a great many gin and tonics. Belches reverberated. Three oarsmen ran naked around the dining room, past a waitress who made believe she didn't see. And though Parker's sensibilities must have suffered, he sat and accepted it all. And at the end, not much for words, he got up and made a little speech, saying, "It's been that kind of season. I wish it could go on and on."
"How smooth," someone said, "how really smooth."