"Mark was a member of the brotherhood," Clark says. "It's a lifetime membership, and he and his teammates sacrificed so much together that nothing could ever diminish that."
Well, almost nothing. The coach winces at the mention of Bingham's arrest at the 1992 Cal-Stanford football game for leaping out of the stands and laying a monster hit on the Cardinal's mascot, the Tree. But Bingham, for the most part, lived up to Clark's lofty standards once he left the program. More than once he fended off assailants on the streets of San Francisco, including a scary incident in which he wrested a gun from a would-be mugger. Friends also tell of Bingham's crossing several lanes of traffic to scoop a young girl out of harm's way.
Last Sept. 11 Bingham participated in a shared sacrifice that made the rigors of rugby seem trivial. After boarding United Airlines Flight 93 in Newark, he kept his cool when the plane was hijacked by terrorists, and he is believed to have joined other passengers in preventing their captors from striking a target in Washington, D.C. No one knows exactly what happened in the moments before the plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, killing everyone on board. Bingham's mother, Alice Hoglan, who along with other victims' relatives recently listened to the cockpit recording, is certain that her son had bravely taken one for the team. "We heard enough to convince us that there were some true heroes on board, and the terrorists were frightened," Hoglan says, choking up. "There was an amazing assemblage of take-charge, resourceful people used to acting decisively and as a team, and we heard them urging each other on. It was powerful, fierce and awesome.
"Mark lived vividly and un-apologetically, and he had his share of fun," says Hoglan, "but he was gentlemanly and loyal to a fault, and he was a team player who knew how to motivate and inspire people. I'm really grateful to Jack Clark for at least attempting to whip my son into shape. Playing rugby at Cal was a rich and rewarding experience for Mark, and it definitely helped shape the values he carried with him into adulthood."
As Clark, sitting in his Cal office, contemplates Sept. 11's unfathomable horror, his voice trails off. It has been a trying year for Golden Bears rugby, and not just because of Bingham's death. In December popular senior scrumhalf Dominic Cooke smashed his car into a tree and was paralyzed from the waist down. The coach presides over his empire with a heavy heart. The titles bleed into one another, and he keeps turning boys into men, but to his dismay, everything else is beyond his control. "Mark Bingham was our brother, and we miss him," he says, his booming voice reduced to a whisper. "He left his mark, and it will never be erased."
As Bingham once learned, and as Clark did before him, that's the way it is with scars. How you choose to deal with them—well, that's up to you.