The University of California coxswain is a 23-year-old senior named Zembsch, Mark Zembsch, which rhymes with, with...well, skip it. Ponder now the equally distinctive oarsmen he leads. Forget about their official nickname, the Golden Bears. Think of them as the Mystic Knights of the Sea, with apologies to the lodge Amos 'n' Andy made famous, and pick them up last Saturday on San Diego's Mission Bay. They have just won that city's ninth annual Crew Classic, the odd early-season regatta that is the only occasion all year in which the big crews from the East and West face each other. Drifting beyond the finish line, the air filled with moans and shouts of joy, Zembsch looks dazed. Suddenly his attention is drawn to something in the water beside his boat, to a pair of human eyes gazing up at him from just beneath the surface of the bay. A plastic bag enclosing a camera emerges, followed by two hands and the wet-suited body of a photographer with a new approach to the subject of crew. For Cal, clearly, no other kind would do.
Ashore, Cal's 21-year-old stroke oar, Dan Louis, is asked, "At what point of the race did you think you had it won?"
"Last Thursday night," Louis replies, and he seems serious. He usually does. At 6'4" and 190 pounds he's one of the country's most gifted oarsmen, a national junior sculling champion in high school and the Cal stroke as a freshman. Freshman strokes are very rare, and now Louis is a junior, someone for underclassmen to emulate. He does tend to be serious.
Louis was talking on Saturday afternoon, and Cal hadn't appeared to have the race won until about 10 minutes earlier. On the Thursday night in question, the situation was somewhat different. Cal Coach Mike Livingston was worried about inadequate preparation. Weather had been a problem for Cal, though it hadn't suffered the chilling cold Harvard had endured in the Northeast, nor snow and high winds, like Washington. And Cal didn't have flu in the boat, as Yale did. What had hampered Cal were freakish hailstorms, and before those a week of final exams. How could the Mystic Knights win? Well, to start with, there was Louis' "Thursday night."
Louis had called a meeting, not attended by Livingston, and asked, "Why do you guys want to win?"
Junior Four Oar Chris Huntington, a rhetoric major, replied with something on the order of, "Win? Not just win. Dominate! When you row, your body is pushed to incredible limits. The pain starts to affect your brain and your willpower. You think that winning isn't everything. But if you think of domination, then, when the willpower starts to fade...." Domination became a key word for Cal as race day approached.
Zembsch said, "It started out as a technical meeting, but we wound up discovering how much we had in common."
"We attained unity, and confidence in one another," said Huntington.
"A synthesis of minds and attitudes developed," said senior Six Oar Chris Clark, who has developed nearly religious feelings for Cal. He had rowed two years at Orange Coast Community College, then transferred to Stanford in 1979, but he was so moved by the sight of Cal beating Washington in a dual meet that he transferred again, to Cal. He knew that as a transfer he would be ineligible to row last year, but, as he says, "I had to race again, and for Cal."
Said senior George Livingston, the coach's younger brother and the five oar, "Suddenly we felt that this boat had a destiny."