Yet the undisputed high-water mark—what the Seattle Post-Intelligencer would call, in a 1999 article, the city's most significant sports moment of the century-came in 1936, when nine college kids, all Washington natives, won the Olympic gold medal in Hitler's Germany. At a time when Seattle had no pro teams or global identity, the local news media turned the Huskies into celebrities, a source of civic pride. "We didn't think of ourselves as just a crew squad or the University of Washington," says '36 coxswain Bob Moch, now 89 and a retired lawyer. "We were rowing for the city of Seattle and the whole state."
The '36 Olympic final was an epic race. The national champion Huskies had set a 2,000-meter world record in the preliminary on Lake Grunau, but stroke Don Hume, their finest oarsman, had come down with a severe cold. As Washington fell behind early, Moch asked Hume to increase the stroke rate. "And Don didn't do it," Moch says. "His eyes were closed, and his jaw was slack." By the halfway mark UW was in last place, and Moch was about to ask number seven man Joe Rantz to stroke instead. "But then Don's eyes popped open and his mouth clamped shut," Moch says, "and away we went. The boat just flew!' With a full grandstand chanting Deutsch-land! in time to the German strokes, the Huskies nosed ahead in the final 200 meters to win by eight feet.
Nearly seven decades later, the survivors of the legendary '36 crew met in September to scatter the ashes of Hume, their friend and teammate, in the Guemes Channel north of Seattle. See, the ties of a crew run deeper than any lake, whether you're Bob Moch '36 or Sam Burns, class of 2004. The son of a Huskies rower, Burns walked on three years ago and finished second with the UW varsity at nationals last year, behind Harvard. He'll have one final title shot next spring. "This is my last year," Burns says, "and I'm realizing how much I'm going to miss all these guys."
Then he smiles, knowing full well that in a program like this, graduation won't mean the end of anything.