Friday night at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association championships near
Syracuse, N.Y. is the time for Raphael's, a feasting and catering place that
lies close by the state fairgrounds. There, it has been said, many a race has
been won or lost, a claim that can neither be proved nor disproved but one that
last weekend seemed totally beside the point. Wisconsin Coach Randy (Jabbo)
Jablonic, rowing and re-rowing races with the other coaches over beer and
pizza, looked very much like a man who had already won his race. Jablonic, his
friends said, was as relaxed as anyone had ever seen him.
The sight was
perplexing. While it was true the Wisconsin Badgers, strong and well trained,
had been picked to win Saturday's finals on the Onondaga Lake course at nearby
Liverpool, Jablonic had a lot not to be relaxed about. In 71 years, for one
example, Wisconsin had won the IRA regatta but three times. At the Eastern
Sprints earlier this year, for another example, Wisconsin had met the regatta's
only undefeated entry, Northeastern, and had come up short by 2.4 seconds over
the 2,000 meters. Finally, despite weather that had been blustery for two days,
Saturday promised to be perfect, and calm conditions were supposed to favor the
nifty Northeastern oarsmen over the Badgers' big rough-water types.
cavils to Jablonic. He rowed with one of Wisconsin's three winners, the 1959
boat, and this one was better. "This is the finest varsity crew I've ever
coached," he said.
The loss to
Northeastern could be explained. "The four man was suffering the effects of
German measles," said Jablonic, "and we were not in the best lane,
which might have something to do with the loss." Well, it was pointed out,
now the three man was suffering the throbs of an impacted wisdom tooth, and
wouldn't that hamper the crew? No, said Jablonic, not people who had been
running a dozen miles a day up and down hills in snow and zero temperatures
when they weren't bowing their backs in indoor tanks. And course conditions,
serene or stormy, wouldn't make a difference.
Maybe some of the
other boats would. Northeastern was a little better and a little brawnier than
the crew that last year came within an ace of beating the Russians at Henley in
England. Right, but the Huskies of Coach Enrie Arlett had faltered in the IRA
and seemed to have a mental thing about the event. Brown, then. The Bruins had
finished second in the 1972 IRA, they had a boatload of seniors and they felt
they had several scores to settle. Yes, but Brown never wins anything.
Well, what about
Pennsylvania, last year's IRA winner and a notably late performer? Coach Ted
Nash had been saying that after a creaky start the Quakers were improving.
"We've made a lot of progress recently and can only hope Wisconsin and
Northeastern hypnotize each other," he said, and smiled when he said it. In
the past when Nash smiled Penn went faster.
neither smiles nor frowns, and on Friday he contented himself with washing down
his pizza. He has a happy if mysterious ability to get big, easygoing kids to
drive themselves through the upper thresholds of pain, an achievement that he
accepts with perfect equanimity. The Badgers' stoic endurance was the precise
antidote for what was to befall them in Thursday's trials. Inexplicably,
Pennsylvania found itself in a pushover heat; it pushed readily into Saturday's
finals. Wisconsin, as inexplicably, ended bracketed with Northeastern and Brown
in what seemed to be—indeed turned out to be—a preview of the championship
race. The winner, like Penn, would go directly to Saturday while the others
would have to row in one of two repechages on Friday, the first two in each to
make the finals.
The water Thursday
was choppy, the sky lowering. There were two false starts—in one Wisconsin and
Northeastern tangled oars and collided—but once untracked the Badgers moved
away from the fleet. Northeastern Stroke Calvin Coffey figured it was all a bad
dream. His low-slung Donoratico shell had shipped so much water and had got off
to such a disorganized start that he simply lowered the beat from 38 to a
virtual paddle at 28 and coasted in dead last. No sense, he thought, in wearing
out his crew since now there would be the repechage and finals to follow on
The Brown oars,
who never gave up trying while finishing second, were furious at Northeastern's
nonrace and gave the Huskies a hard time on the bus ride back to the crew
quarters in Syracuse University dormitories. On Friday, during their repechage,
Northeastern almost made the Bruins regret their words. Trailing Brown by a
deck or less with 200 meters to go, the Huskies went into overdrive with a
blaze of 40 strokes and shot past the startled Brown boat as though it had hit
a sandbar. They took two casual strokes just before crossing the finish mark
first, then headed back for the boathouse without even a pause, thoroughly
one-upping Brown. Both, however, advanced to the finals.
A fresh and
sparkling sky greeted the survivors on Saturday. The scene along the banks of
Onondaga was one of motorboats and motor homes, of tents and beer coolers and
folding chairs. The balmy weather had brought out the largest crowd in several
years—15,000 estimated—one that ignored a wary, steely-eyed police force and
peacefully played Frisbee and lacrosse while shells in combinations from
two-man to eight slid by.