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William F. Reed Jr.
March 03, 1969
The Yale swimming team was peaking for Stanford, but John Nelson's mustache and Robin Waples' sideburns stayed. What went were the Indians as Yale reestablished itself as a major force
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March 03, 1969

Psyched Up, Not Shaved Down

The Yale swimming team was peaking for Stanford, but John Nelson's mustache and Robin Waples' sideburns stayed. What went were the Indians as Yale reestablished itself as a major force

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Round the table down at Mory's, and everywhere else Yale men are supposed to gather, there was a great deal of undue consternation when The Don Schollander Era ended. Undue because Yale still has a foxy coach and a truly unnerving, even eerie, pool. And undue because cool, mustachioed John Nelson, who once stolidly plowed along in Schollander's wake, has more staying power than The Whiffenpoof Song. Said Nelson, "As a matter of fact, I'm irritated about the idea that we won't be able to get along without Schollander."

Happily for Yale, Nelson worked out his irritation at the right place, the Kiphuth Exhibition Pool, and at the right time, last weekend, when Yale swam against Stanford at New Haven. He used strategy to win the 1,000-yard freestyle (in 9:49.2, breaking his own Yale and pool record by a full 14 seconds), pulling out with astonishing speed early in the race, and he simply wore out the field in the 500. Following his lead, Yale upset Stanford 71-42 and, incidentally, accomplished something it never could during The Era. It reestablished itself as a real dual-meet power. "I'm delighted," said Yale Coach Phil Moriarty.

Of course, the Yalies had won their first 10 dual meets this season, to run their winning streak to 47, but this was generally deprecated because, after all, who did they beat? Springfield? Monmouth? Stanford, however, was something else. Less than a week before coming to New Haven, where at least one Stanford swimmer got his very first look at snow, the Indians had defeated USC 57-56 to end the nation's longest dual-meet win streak at 108. This turn of events was almost cause enough to wish that Schollander was back in Yale trunks, even with the slight pot he has developed since quitting swimming and marrying a girl who is, by his own admission, "a great cook."

But no matter who won the meet, Stanford's very presence in New Haven was momentous. It was one of the rare occasions when a swimming team had flown from one coast to another for a little old dual meet. "This is the greatest thing that ever happened to Yale swimming," said Schollander, who, having missed two semesters due to the '64 and '68 Olympics, is finishing up his undergraduate studies at Yale and commuting twice weekly to New York, where he works for Eastman Dillon, the brokerage firm. "Swimming has progressed to where it is a Western sport, and all the big dual meets have been out there. Getting a Western school to come here is a great thing. It might start a whole new trend." If Stanford had known the direction of the trend, it might have stood in Palo Alto.

Moriarty, who has, more or less, been coaching at Yale since he graduated from Hillhouse High in 1932, had been pointing for Stanford all season long. The heck with Princeton and Harvard. Yale wanted Stanford. And the coach's easiest psych job by far was on his captain, Robin Waples, who grew up across the street from the Stanford campus. At Yale's last workout Moriarty told his team, "I think you're the greatest club in the world." As events proved, the swimmers believed him.

Stanford, however, was still savoring the unexpected USC win and couldn't get excited about Yale. "We haven't been up all week," said Olympian Brent Berk, who was supposed to match Nelson stroke for stroke. "We didn't start thinking about this meet until the night before." This attitude obviously concerned Stanford's coach, Jim Gaughran. "Coming off that Southern Cal meet," he said, "which we had been shooting for, I hope we can come up with another like it. I think it'll be a very close meet, unless the landslide starts and the crowd gets behind them."

Each team boasted three Olympians. Stanford had John Ferris, who got a bronze in the 200-meter individual medley in Mexico City, Berk and Luis Nicolao, who swam the 200-meter free for Argentina. Yale had David Johnson, who swims the IM, breaststroker Phil Long and, of course, Nelson, who earned a silver medal in the 1,500 at Tokyo and a gold and a bronze at Mexico City. It was a worthy group and nothing annoyed Moriarty quite so much before the meet as talk about Schollander and what great swimmers each team had lost. "It's not right to talk about what you don't have," he said. "It's what you have that counts." And what Yale had, or what Moriarty really thought it had, was a team that was perhaps only good enough to carry Stanford down to the 4 x 100 relay—the final event.

As soon as the meet began, it was obvious that Yale was going to get a great psychological lift from the capacity crowd of 2,500. The Yale pool is down in the depths of the Payne Whitney Gym, which is known as the Temple of Sweat. It is dark, preternatural and as steep as an operating theater—13 tiers of seats rise almost vertically and the great roar of the crowd seems to push straight down into the water. This, plainly, is good if you're a Yale man, unsettling if you're not. After the first event, the 400-yard medley relay, in which the Yale team of Ed Bettendorf, Allen Richardson, Waples and Stephen Job broke the American record with a 3:28.6 clocking, the din was so terrible that Ferris said later, "I gave up right then."

Indeed, as Gaughran had feared, that startling victory in the medley started the landslide, or, more accurately, the waterfall. Subsequently, Ferris got wiped out twice—by David Johnson, who set a Yale record (1:56.7) in the 200 IM, and by Paul Katz, who went to Seward Park High School on New York's Lower East Side, not exactly a hotbed of swimming. "I was a little surprised that Ferris gave way like he did," said Katz, who set a Yale record (1:54.2) in the 200 butterfly, "but I took over and the crowd carried me from there. The noise was amazing. I've never experienced anything like that."

Still, the most impressive victories belonged to Nelson, a biology major, whose mustache and outstanding ears are reminiscent of Clark Gable's. Nelson is also a photographer for The Yale Daily News. "They sent me out to get a nude," he said after the meet. "Then they were too chicken to run it. That's depressing."

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