'Being From East St. Louis, You've Got Badness'
Crimson's 120-Pound Super Gnat
"I imagine I could be the smallest player in history," Henry Sandow, a senior halfback on the Harvard football team, says. "For my size, I'm certainly the baddest."
Sandow, the Super Gnat, weighs only 120 pounds and stands just 5'5" tall. Although he has played in just one varsity game, Harvard's 57-0 defeat of Columbia in 1973, and has not suited up for a game yet this year, Sandow has not missed a football practice once in four years here.
Size has nothing to do with his not playing, Sandow will tell you. "I made a lot of mistakes in practice--my major drawback is lack of experience. I've got all sorts of talent...I'm fuckin' bad, man."
Sandow came to Harvard from East St. Louis, Illinois--"a badass place"--not having played high school football.
Sandow really is "bad." He acquired a certain notoriety two years ago by riding his Harley-Davidson motorcycle into the Kirkland House courtyard late one night, and then nearly hitting then-Master Arthur Smithies on his way out. Once back on the street he outraced pursuing police cruisers though Cambridge, running several red lights on the way. "I never got caught." he says.
Another night two years ago, he was going "70 or 80" on Mt. Auburn when suddenly he saw a double parked Volkswagen behind a police car right in front of him. He says he considered jumping the cars. "Even if I had killed myself, it would have been spectacular--not even Evel Knievel jumps police cars." As it was, he barely negotiated, the space between the two rows of parked cars. He so impressed the policemen, he says, that they didn't ticket him, because, the police said, the way he drives he'd be dead before he got to the courtroom anyway.
During break last year, Sandow motorcycled to East St. Louis and back, taking five days to return because of heavy snowstorms. He ran out of gas on the way, and having gone two nights without sleep couldn't push his heavy cycle any farther. He lay down in the snow, ready to die.
"I enjoy seeking my limits," Sandow says. Football, along with motorcyle racing, he says, demands that kind of effort. "Everything you got" has to be concentrated on the task at hand, he says. "Very few things will hold it [the attention] like that."
"What is it that can consume it one hundred percent?" he then asks. Not just football, but "most all athletics" he replies.
Sandow has coxed the lightweight varsity crew for two seasons. This year he switched to the heavyweights. He wrestled his freshman year at 118 pounds for the JV (he says he never weighed more than 112.) He has also been a sprinter on the track team.
But Sandow has a special predilection for football. "I love the game itself--being part of it," he says. "I look forward to playing on scouting teams. It doesn't make any difference to me whether I play in the Rose Bowl or scouting games. When you get the ball, it's all the same difference.
Football also has long term benefits, Sandow says,--"for me, especially. I'm getting discipline and building character. That makes it all worth it. Even if I didn't like it, I'd probably do it."
But Sandow does like football. Most of all, he says, for "knowing that every day for four years I was there...when you work your ass off every day and it's tough." With evident pleasure he recalls being knocked cold while returning a punt in practice, and the time he mistakenly played defensive tackle for one play against Dartmouth's freshman team. He received a standing ovation from the crowd and from the Dartmouth bench.
Sandow says he remembers particular runs in practice sessions as much as plays in the games. Otherwise, he says, he wouldn't have too many memories.
Will he suit up for the Yale game? Sandow flips a coin, and when it lands heads he says "No. If it had landed on its edge, I would dress," he adds wistfully.