Suddenly Auerbach's voice mellows as he strives to find a good word for the marathon. "I would say that it's the last of the amateur sports—I mean the real amateur sports, where a guy don't even get expenses—and you gotta like a guy like Semple who's associated so wholeheartedly with something where a guy don't get a dime. I've seen runners come over here from Japan three, four days before the race and pay for a hotel room, then run the meet, then get their beef stew and then turn right around and go home. Unbelievable! Now a lot of people laughed at that situation where Jock went after that girl last year, but I didn't. The Boston Marathon is a big part of that man's life. He didn't want a mockery made of something he believes so strongly in."
As foolish as it may seem to those of us whose conception of exertion is a trip out the back door with the evening garbage, the most exhilarating times of Jock Semple's life have been those spent charging across a meadow, plowing through thickets and splashing across a stream, or else, as in the marathon, pounding down a concrete highway. At the age of 14, when he worked nine hours a day at the Singer Sewing Machine plant in Clydebank, he ran his first race in a factory track meet. Two thousand Scotsmen cheered while Jock, clad in a bathing suit, raced to victory in the 100-yard dash. "Big Semple!" they cried. At 14 he had almost attained his full growth, 5'8", so in a land of diminutive people he came to be known as Big Semple of Clydebank.
"I was terrible with the asthma," Jock says. Five-mile cross-country races, he discovered, were tonic for his ailment. "They were a social outin', too. We used to start from the public baths 'n' run through plowed fields, over ditches 'n' dikes, through streams that were swollen up t' yer knees. Oh, it was grand bein' out there in the fresh air every Sa'urday, and sometimes the more prosperous harrier clubs had a clubhouse and they'd have a cup o' tea and a couple o' cakes waitin' when y' came in."
At a suggestion from his father, Jock departed the hard times of Scotland when he was 19 and spent seven years in Philadelphia working as a carpenter in the shipyards and in the construction industry. But it was in Boston—on April 19, 1930—that he experienced a moment of ecstasy that he would not have thought possible. James Semple, an older brother, had settled in Lynn, Mass., and now Jock's mother was visiting in Lynn. So he hitchhiked there to see her, and while he was at it he entered the Boston Marathon.
About halfway through the race Jock found himself galloping along the highway in Wellesley and, to his great astonishment, he held a position near the head of the pack. He was matching strides with the stars—six-time winner Clarence DeMar, known as Mr. DeMar-athon; John C. Miles, the dauntless Nova Scotian: Willie Kryonen and Karl Koski, the flashing Finns. Jock was running ninth, and now, in Wellesley, he was passing the great Hinky Henigan to take eighth place. From the roadside the college girls applauded him, and a lump rose to his throat. Never had he known a moment like this.
His mother was at the finish line to see him come in seventh. "So that was it," says Jock. "I knew I had t' stay in Boston. I got a job as a locker-room boy for $11 a week." In two decades of trying he never again finished as high as seventh, but he always felt it a privilege to run with the dedicated. There were no Kathy Switzers or Gibb dames to sully the day.
The upshot of all Jock's running was that in World War II a Navy corpsman tried to reject him because of flat feet. "What the hell're y' talkin' about?" Jock roared. "These feet cover 3,500 miles a year!" The Navy immediately reversed its decision. And a good thing, too, because, with the GI Bill, Jock was able to get a diploma in 1947 from the Massachusetts School of Physiotherapy and become a noisy institution at the Boston Garden. Besides treating flabby businessmen ("Thank the Lord, a cash customer!" Jock cries when one walks through the door), he served for 18 years as trainer for visiting teams in the National Basketball Association. Though he sat on the visitors' bench, he would root silently for the Celtics, pausing from time to time to chase children off the floor or shout at a critical fan, "Keep quiet!" On one occasion, after a referee had ejected Red Auerbach from a Boston- Syracuse game, Jock could not contain himself. He flew down the court to where Supervisor of Referees Jocko Collins sat and demanded that Paul Seymour, the Syracuse coach, whose team Jock was serving, also be thrown out.
"Collins was furious," says Clif Keane, and at half time, in the corridor outside the Syracuse dressing room, he retaliated. "Collins had hold of Semple," says Keane, "and the two refs, Sid Borgia and Billy Smith, were trying to get their turn. They were at him like three Saint Bernards on a meal. I had to do a Big Daddy Lipscomb and peel them off."
Another night, when the Rochester Royals had blown a close game to the Celtics, Owner-Coach Les Harrison stormed into the Royals' dressing room, ordered everyone but players out and slammed the door with all his might. "At that very instant," Keane remembers, "here comes Jock Semple, singing Roamin' in the Gloamin', or some fool thing, and carrying a tray of cups filled with orange juice." The orange juice went flying, and the tray crashed into Jock's face, slashing open his forehead. "He was all cut up," says Keane, "but he was shouting murderous threats at Harrison. The windup was that the Royals almost had to fight a guy who was half bleeding to death."
Over the years the word spread through Boston that any man who had not been to the Salon de Slobs for "the works" (which consists of hotbox, whirlpool and a rubdown, after which Jock seizes one's head in both hands and makes the neck pop like a cracker being broken) had not experienced the world's best hangover cure. Furthermore, collegiate and professional athletes began sneaking off to Jock whenever their own trainers could not cure their sore muscles or when they wanted to keep ailments a secret from their coaches lest they be benched. Gene Conley, who used to pitch big-league baseball from April through September and then report to the Boston Celtics for basketball, says he managed the transition only because of Jock's tyranny.