Hall of Fame
Hall of Fame
Harvard Athletic Achievements
Hall of Fame
Remembering Harvard Athletics
I first salute the people not being inducted into the Hall of Fame tonight, specifically the junior varsity boat, perhaps the second-fastest boat in the country and, during a few practices I recall at St. Paul’s school, the fastest boat in the country! This is a celebration of the entire rowing program under Harry Parker in this era, 2V and 3V included, and attesting to that fact are the numerous oarsmen attending the dinner who were not on the varsity boat but were there to celebrate with those of us who are being inducted.
I secondly salute Harry. The difference a coach can make was driven home in 1974 when, after we beat Yale by 72 seconds over a shortened three-mile course, we traveled across the country looking for fast boats to beat. We wound up at the University of Washington, and if there was a bigger collection of more physically perfect human specimens, I hope I never to run into them in competition. Their student managers were bigger than most of our varsity members. And yet we not only beat them on their home course in a course-record time, our JV had the second-fastest time of the day. The difference was the coaching… it certainly wasn’t the raw material.
We were written about in Sports Illustrated that year with the nickname that still follows us, the “Rude and Smooth.” We rowed smoothly, but we beat the competition by rude margins. And we were not done with rowing when our college years ended. Altogether, the twelve inductees occupied at least 32 slots on United States teams over the years, including the 1976, 1980, and 1984 Olympic teams. And after that, Tiff Wood (who was a member of all three of those teams) started the CRASH-B boat club named the Charles River All-Star Has-Beens. We raced college teams who had a bye weekend for their practice and our enjoyment. Old age and treachery mostly triumphed over youth and skill.
A book was written about Tiff and some other fellow oarsmen by David Halberstam; it was called The Amateurs. And soon Hollywood decided they might make a movie of the book. So they traveled to the Head of the Charles, where we have rowed in a Rude and Smooth boat for the last twenty-five years in a row, including at least one year when we showed up at the starting line. Anyway, these gold-bedecked, open-shirted Hollywood types showed up at our traditional party, hosted for the past twenty-five years by Rick and Sissy Weinberg, and wanted to know one thing: Why did we do it? Why did we gather each year to endure pain for twenty minutes? The Harvard football team doesn’t gather each year and scrimmage each other, they pointed out. They implied that this was crazy. And somehow this really bothered me. Why did we do it? I found the answer in a poem written by Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935) that I had puzzled over in grade school:
Cliff Klingenhagen had me in to dine
With him one day; and after soup and meat,
And all the other things there were to eat,
Cliff took two glasses and filled one with wine
And one with wormwood. Then, without a sign
For me to choose at all, he took the draught
Of bitterness himself, and lightly quaffed
If off, and said the other one was mine.
And when I asked him what the deuce he meant
By doing that, he only looked at me
And grinned, and said it was a way of his.
And though I know the fellow, I have spent
Long time a-wondering when I shall by
As happy as Cliff Klingenhagen is.
Well, okay, the answer isn’t here, but the same problem is posed: Why do we lightly quaff the chosen cup of wormwood? And why are we largely successful, well-adjusted, caring friends and go-to friends of twenty-five years? My answer is that, if we can purposefully endure hardship and laugh it off as a good time (and it truly represents the best of times), then we can take whatever life throws at us. We have confident knowledge of ourselves and perspective on our lives. And I choose this over another Edwin Arlington Robinson’s characters – Richard Cory. Halberstam covered Harvard graduates like him in the book The Best and the Brightest.
And we keep on rowing. As mentioned, we row in the Head of the Charles. We raced and beat Yale, Oxford, and Cambridge on the Olympic Rowing course outside Atlanta, Georgia in 1996. Members of the junior varsity and varsity won multiple gold medals just this past summer at the World Masters’ Rowing Championships. And the end is not in sight.
So, what have I learned from rowing? An Applied Physics major disguised as a jock? Well, just about everything important. You are part of a team, the ultimate team. No one gets to the finish line before anyone else in the boat. You are an amateur and do what you love for the love of doing it, and the money or success or fame or happiness will take care of itself. Know where you are going even if you have to turn around and look occasionally. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but be aware of the current and wind. It’s best if there is only one coxswain in the boat, but Gregg in bow is okay. Pull hard and don’t wash out. Since you make no money at the sport, you learn to rely on others; your parents, your teammates, your friends, your spouse and family… I thank them all. And I have learned that the reason there aren’t more starboard-stroked boats is that there aren’t many good ports good enough to row the seven seat.
And ten three-quarters, and up for the rest of your life.