To the citizens of Seattle, many of whom live on the leading edge of the aerospace industry and never know when something like an SST is going to come along and frighten them, there are at least two big, dependable sources of satisfaction. One is Mt. Rainier, on which nobody is ever going to hang a cost-overrun or noise-pollution rap. The other is the heavyweight crew of the University of Washington, which may be the best in the country. Last weekend both were in spectacular form—the snowcapped peak aglimmer in brilliant sunshine, the Huskies invincible in the Western Sprints on Lake Washington.
There are those who say the Husky oarsmen should wear animal pelts and swing clubs rather than sweeps. "Caveman" is the name usually applied to their go-get-'em style. Polish they haven't got, only power, and their victory Saturday over five other Coast schools in the heavyweight eight championship was a perfect example of Husky Primitive.
As coeds from along the Coast bikinied up to the sun, the Washington oarsmen shouldered their Pocock shell across the crowded beach and plopped it into the water. Coach Dick Erickson gave them a parting shot: "Be as hungry as you can. Don't just win; be hungry."
The Huskies had loafed to a qualifying victory the day before and Erickson was worried that overconfidence might breed complacency. It was just that which had enabled UCLA to upset them in the sprints last season. Came the "Ready all, row!" command and the Huskies were off in their inimitable style—the old lurch and wobble. An uneasy roll of water beneath the boat upset their equilibrium, causing a couple of starboard-side men to have what they call "crashes" with their oars—they dipped the sweeps into the water as well as the blades. But since the Silky Sullivan approach has become a Husky hallmark, nobody aboard was particularly concerned. The vision of white-shirted Washington oarsmen swinging up from the rear is a familiar and ominous sight to rival crews. It is, of course, a dangerous way to race; Erickson would not really mind if the Huskies started better. Nevertheless there are coaches such as Jerry Johnsen of UCLA who imply that Washington goes through its act on purpose, that it exploits its come-from-behind reputation precisely to demoralize opponents.
And so the Huskies went scuttling up the 2,000-meter course like a big king crab, with veteran Cox Dwight Phillips whipping them along with his mouth. They simply overpowered boat after boat and at the halfway mark took the lead. As they passed the front-runner, British Columbia, the Huskies did not even have to increase their typically deliberate mid-race beat of 35 or 36. At one point Phillips called out a 20 merely to smooth out some of the caveman stuff. Finally, as the yellow-buoyed finish line approached, the Huskies put on a blitz. Their starts may be mediocre, but their finishing kick is murder. With the command "headhunter ten!" Stroke Cliff Hum sucked in a lungful of crisp north wind and upped the beat. In response the shell all but leaped out of the lake as Washington finished with open water on second-place B.C., which was followed by Loyola of Los Angeles, Long Beach, a thoroughly beaten UCLA and Stanford.
In victory the Huskies had the good taste to pant a little bit; after the previous day's heat they looked as if they had just returned from a quiet jog. They had even found time in Friday's racing to take a "checkoff," 50 fairly relaxed strokes designed to polish technique. To complete Erickson's day, four other Washington crews, including the junior varsity and freshman heavyweights, won their final races. "I couldn't be more pleased," he said.
The Husky coach, who has been described by a friend as "one of the few honest-to-God amateurs I know," is himself a former Washington oarsman. He was a member of the 1958 crew that beat Russia's formidable Trud Rowing Club. By ordinary standards Erickson was too light for the heavyweight boat, but he rowed in it anyway because he pulled more than his poundage. Erickson's love of rowing is such that he will take any opportunity, no matter how trivial, to buff up its wholesome image. This includes his tendency to snatch his pipe out of his mouth whenever a camera lens comes near.
Erickson is always a hard puller. Last winter he joined an amateur hockey team primarily because he likes the competitive fire of the game. When it comes to recruiting, he has the eye of a Rainier eagle. He attends more sports banquets than most football coaches, and swoops in on high school athletes who might have both a willingness to row and a hatred of losing. His present eight is testimony to his scouting.
"We are a very big crew," he says, "but at this point we are not the epitome of rowing perfection." Erickson's men average 6'4" and 195 pounds—big indeed. When courses were generally longer and coaching methods more relaxed, crews often included one or two fairly slight men, but now rowing is a power sport in which a big, if imperfect, crew most likely will defeat smaller, more stylish oarsmen.
The ideal would be a big crew with finesse, and Erickson is trying. In training he puts his young oarsmen out in small shells from time to time to test coordination and sensitivity, reasoning that if they have difficulty in balancing a small boat and synchronizing with only three other men, they will have trouble with seven men in an eight. During the winter he runs a tough conditioning program, and he believes Washington's success may be as much due to that off-the-water work as it is to row, row, rowing the boat. "We are not just a wind-it-up-and-scramble crew," says Erickson. "We wind it up only if we have to."