This was to be The Year Harvard Got It, but instead everyone else got it—same old sight, an eight-oared shell full of crimson jerseys, moving away. Nothing changed but the Harvard style, or as Carl Sandburg put it:
I have seen/The old gods go/
And new gods come.../
Today/I worship the hammer.
The lines are posted on the varsity bulletin board at Harvard's Newell Boat House, where the gods have come and gone. They called them that last year at Harvard—gods, six great senior oarsmen, replaced now by hammers, "strong oarsmen who can't row," as two-oar Dave Bixby, alias Wart Hog, defines the term. But as Bixby said two Sundays ago at Princeton, "We must be awfully strong, because we don't have much finesse. How else could we row a race like we did today, or have a season like this one?"
Harvard had just won its 10th Eastern Sprints in 14 tries under Coach Harry Parker, its third consecutive national title, and one reporter suggested, "Maybe it's your great depth."
"We don't have any depth," someone replied.
But Bixby said, "We have got Harry."
And now Harry Parker had Bixby, by both arms. It was a great day among many great days for the 40-year-old Parker, and though he rarely reveals emotion, he yelled, "Hey, Hog!" Then he slipped away, and Bixby, who rowed on last year's junior varsity and does not think that all the gods are gone, was stunned. "Harry hardly ever says anything," he said, so at moments like these you feel all warm inside."
In many ways it had been Harry Parker's year, and the year of The Speech. Late in the winter Parker was worried. In October Harvard had finished 12th at the Head of the Charles Regatta—not an intercollegiate event, but 12th! Morale was low at Newell; there was anxiety over the coming season. Parker had admitted to himself the possibility of losing, but it had taken him months to reach that point and now he called a meeting. He stood in the dim yellow light of the tank room at Newell, head down, his jaw set, hands in his pockets, tracing patterns on the floor with the toe of a shoe, searching for the right words from his meager annual ration of them. Finally he said that he knew what was on everyone's mind, that they were following two of the greatest Harvard crews ever, that they were uptight because of it, and that they should forget about everything but the season ahead. He told them not to be afraid of losing, that having fun was just as important as winning. He said, "Let's just set a pace that will make us all' proud."
As the thunderstruck oarsmen filed into the night they began to refer to what they had heard as "the concession speech." "Harry's giving up on us," some said, resentfully. But as days passed, the mood at Newell eased. "Everyone went sort of 'Aaah,' " says senior three-oar Hovey Kemp, the captain. "I think the speech dissolved so much tension. We could really start working, because we weren't afraid to lose now."
Around the country, crew coaches were panting to get at Harvard. So off they went in April to the San Diego Crew Classic, the season's first. And speech or no, on race day the Harvard dressing room was haunted by gods. Kemp was so nervous he hid in a closet. Bixby was ready, he says, "to bite a dog's leg off." And then Harry Parker came in and made another little speech. "I think we can do it, if we row all out," he said. "No one can stay with us then." So they rowed all out, and Parker was right. And that is how the season went, or almost, for it was also The Year of the Crab.