Jock himself ran in the Boston Marathon for years, but after the 1949 race, at age 46, he decided that his responsibilities as a marathon official precluded proper training. This is not to say he took to a hammock. At 8:30 a.m. Boston Garden is a cold, drafty cavern where workmen sweep the hockey ice and clean up around the seats, oblivious to a solitary, sweat-suited figure, Jock, who pads along a concrete aisle 17 rows up from the ice, circling the arena again and again until he has run his daily mile and a half. Only then does he repair to his place of business, which lies at the end of a dingy second-floor corridor in an office-building annex to the Garden.
There, the door opens onto an office crammed with a couple of old wooden desks, a few filing cabinets and hundreds of musty trophies—bell-shaped, kettle-shaped, lamppost-shaped trophies; mugs, statuettes, loving cups. The morning sun pours through two huge windows that are partially covered by yellow blinds patched with masking tape, and when the MBTA elevated screeches past the windows the glass rattles perilously and the visitor's head throbs. The office leads to another room, one that is shaped like a mail slot and is not much larger. Three rubdown tables, a diathermy machine, a whirlpool and two heat lamps somehow have been jammed into this recess, to say nothing of a steam cabinet and shower stall located on a tiny balcony overhead. Jock Semple's business card says he is a registered physical therapist and, as almost every professional athlete and sporting type in Boston knows, he is one of the nation's few remaining great masseurs, an expert practitioner of the dying art of hand manipulation. In the morning he wedges his lunch—a meatloaf sandwich and a thermos of coffee—behind a radiator to keep it warm, and then the Salon de Slobs, as Jock's one-man clinic has been called, is open for business.
"A lot of characters—old fighters and old runners—go there," says Clif Keane, the caustic sportswriter of
The Boston Globe
. "Jock throws them into a big pot of steam and cooks them. I don't think he goes too heavy for those newfangled machines. Every once in a while, when I wasn't feeling well, I'd go in and let him give me a punch in the back, but the day he grilled a cheese sandwich on the radiator, that was enough for me."
Administering a rubdown, Jock frequently can be found stabbing and grinding vertebrae with one hand while holding a telephone receiver in the other, for he is besieged the year round by marathon pretenders phoning to inquire about the procedure for entering the big race. "One thing you just might do," Jock shouts into the phone, "is try runnin' 26 miles t' see if you can.... Oh, y'know y'can, do ya? Well, then, tell me, what kind of time you plannin' to do the marathon in...? Two-ten! Did you say two-ten?" Jock's face goes red. Dave McKenzie smashed the course record last year by doing two hours, 15 minutes and 45 seconds. "Well, forget the whole thing, 'cause yer not worthy o' the event, and we doon't want t' hear anymore o' yer crap!" Jock slams down the receiver, nearly breaking it in two.
"These screwballs! These weirdies!" he cries at the ceiling. "These MIT boys! These Tufts characters! These Harvard guys! They write me askin' should they put on spiked shoes for the marathon!" Actually, besides the genuine contenders, the field includes a sizable pool of masochistic exercise fiends—business executives, physicians, Ph. D.s and a gaunt magazine editor or two. Happy to accommodate those who train seriously, Jock waves a letter from an Oregon surgeon, a man in his 60s, who reports that in training he has taken two 26-mile runs at altitudes up to 7,000 feet. "He's one o' the few who sends me a stamped, self-addressed envelope for an entry blank," Jock notes. But the smart alecks and fatsos quickly return him to a boil. "Potbellies?" he rages. "You should see 'em. Some of 'em take six hours t' run the course. I once walked it in four and a half!"
Up the corridor from the Salon de Slobs, a door opens into the tidy offices of the Boston Celtics. Seated as usual behind a cigar, General Manager Red Auerbach takes a dim view of the commotion raging down the hall. He is for throwing the whole lot of the marathon people—Semple, the weirdies, the serious road runners, every last one of them—into the loony bin. "What's this race prove?" Auerbach growls. "So you prove you can run a long time, so what? If you're running to keep in shape, run two miles maybe. O.K. But this! Twenty-six miles! You gotta be a nut."
Auerbach is no stranger to the race, simply because until a few years ago the finish line was at the Hotel Lenox, where he resides during basketball season. For want of anything better to do, he would stand at a window or go down to the front door and watch the finishers stagger in. As a professional who has spent a lifetime making a dollar from sports, the sight appalled him.
"I used to stand there saying, 'What the hell is this?' " The trophies and medals that went to the first 35 finishers struck Auerbach as a pitiful day's pay. "And all those other bastards ran for nothing. They ran 26 miles for a cup of beef stew, a cupcake and a glass of milk! It didn't make sense.
"I followed them into the hotel once," Auerbach goes on. "I was curious to have a look, figuring they'd have a special chef behind a great big pile of steaming stew. Well, they were pouring it out of cans. It was canned beef stew! It was goddamned canned beef stew. I couldn't believe it."
Since the finish line was moved in 1965, the road runners have been fed homemade stew in the employees' cafeteria of Prudential Tower. Moreover, Boston AA Meet Director Will Cloney points out in rebuttal to Auerbach that even when the stew was canned it was Dinty Moore's. Snaps Cloney, " Bart Starr says the Green Bay Packers train on Dinty Moore's." O.K., but Auerbach still would like to know why it is that after the marathon winner has practically killed himself running for more than two hours Jock Semple must hit him with a blanket at the finish line, then scoop him up like a sack of oats and drag him into the building for his physical checkup. "The guy runs 26 miles, and here he is, grabbed," Auerbach says. "Semple feels this is his function."