Clark fell in love with Berkeley the first time he set foot on campus, in the spring of 1976. A standout lineman at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Calif., Clark had planned to accept a football scholarship to USC or UCLA until, he recalls, "I came up here and saw the turn-of-the-century architecture, the stream running through campus, the view from the hills of the Golden Gate Bridge." As good as he was at football, he was even better at rugby. After graduating in 1978, he tried out for Vermeil's Philadelphia Eagles but was cut, so he played for the other Eagles, the U.S. rugby team. In October 1980 he was the lone American starter on a world all-star team that took on the Welsh national squad at famed Cardiff Arms Park. It was the last match he would ever play.
The following month Clark attended a party at the house of an acquaintance in San Francisco and went outside to help break up an altercation. He ended up squared off against a man with a 9-mm Magnum. The assailant, who was under the influence of PCP, fired at Clark, hitting him four times. One bullet shattered his left femur, another the left fibula. At San Francisco General Hospital, heavily sedated and suffering significant nerve damage in the leg, Clark was confronted with the possibility of amputation. One night, while drifting in and out of consciousness, he awoke to a lecture on prosthetic limbs from a hospital counselor. "I called up one of my mates," Clark recalls, "and said, 'I need you to get down here, and whatever you do, don't let them take my leg.' "
Clark hung on, enduring a 45-day stay at the hospital and then more than a year of physical therapy. Eighteen months after the shooting he ran a 10K. "When something like that happens," he says, "you're either going to be a victim or you're not." He found a job as an investment adviser and, on the side, as an assistant to the man he'd played for at Cal, Ned Anderson. The first national collegiate rugby tournament was held in 1980, and Anderson led the Bears to the first of four straight championships. In 1984 he retired and was succeeded by Clark. By '85 Clark was a vice president at Grubb & Ellis, a real estate brokerage. Come 1992, he had the financial independence to devote himself to Cal rugby full time.
The Bears have been playing the English-born sport for 120 years and have had only six coaches during that span. Three years ago Clark gave his players a bittersweet taste of that tradition. On learning that Jim (Truck) Cullom, a former Cal football and rugby star and rugby assistant, was about to succumb to cancer, Clark shuttled his players to nearby Alta Bates Medical Center. They marched past hospital security, ignored a censorious nurse and charged into the dying man's room. Then, Clark recalls, "we broke into the most soulful rendition of the California Drinking Song. When it was over, Truck looked up and mouthed something to his son, but nobody could hear him. He said it again, and then louder the third time: 'Go Bears.' Those turned out to be the last words he ever spoke. That is the Cal rugby experience."
Because of Clark the experience has been altered over the years. When Clark took over as coach, "the rugby stereotypes about drinking beer, singing songs and picking up women were more applicable," says Gary Hein, the fun-loving Cal rugger who won the Woodley Award, rugby's equivalent of the Heisman, in 1987 and '88. "We'd let our boxer shorts hang out during games and take off our jerseys every five minutes so the chicks could look at us." Clark waged war against those images and many others.
"Most of the teams we compete against are built around the traditional leadership model, where a small, charismatic minority leads the majority," Clark says. "I think that's a total crock. In our model everybody can and must lead."
Cal ruggers also clean up after themselves. Many a spectator has done a double take after seeing them, in full uniform, picking up trash on Witter Rugby Field after a home game. "We take ownership of our program," says MacDonald. "We do everything except cut the grass and paint the field."
Several hours before the Bears set up Witter Field for their April 21 playoff match against Ohio State, Clark gathered his players to give them their instructions—what he calls "victory conditions." He said, "When it comes to the early scrums, we need to drill a screw in their brain. We need to tell them, 'Just 'cause you're a big, fit f—-and you shave your head, that doesn't mean you can stand toe-to-toe with our team.' I want them in a house of f———horrors!" That afternoon the Bears rolled to a 62-6 victory to reach the Final Four.
Even on the campus that sparked the Free Speech Movement, few can match Clark's oratorical power. "I've come out of many a room ready to go jump on a grenade for him," says Ray Lehner, Cal's star prop from 1989 to '93. "We'd run till our bodies gave out. Hell, we were running 500-meter sprints the day we flew to Houston for the Final Four." Not surprisingly, Clark often invokes Lehner's '91 team in talks with the current Bears.
In April 2001 the '91 squad held a 10-year reunion that began with a reception outside the rugby field house and ended two days later with a pub crawl through San Francisco. Over the course of the weekend Mark Bingham, a flanker on that team, informed some of his old teammates that he was gay. Bingham had worried that the revelation would jeopardize his standing with his old friends, but most reacted as though he had said, "I hope you don't mind that I drive a Pinto."