It was a matter of a tenth of a second, maybe a foot or two. By that smallest of crew victory margins, Penn's heavyweight varsity earned a stunning Adams Cup win over Harvard on the Charles Saturday--and with it, the Quakers shattered the Crimson's 26-race win streak.
The string of victories dating back to a May 1973 loss to Northeastern in the Eastern sprints, the record of five straight Adams Cup triumphs, the tradition of the Shealy, Cashin et al "rude and smooth" crews and of last year's surprise championship boat--all were shattered by the razor-thin loss.
But oblivious to the ballyhoo about the streak, the tradition and the unbeaten season, two crews put on a tremendous show in the grueling race, wailing away at each other like a couple of finely muscled heavyweight boxers pn their prime.
For the record, the Quakers edged the Crimson 6:15.0 to 6:15.1, with Navy placing third in 6:24.2, but the drama that unfolded in the 2000 meters before the finish defies numerical description.
The Quakers surged to a quick lead off the start, but that did not faze the Crimson, as the oarsmen have been left in the wake at the start of most races this season.
Although powerful six-man George Aitken was rowing with an injured back, the Crimson eight caught and passed the Penn boat decisively. After a power 20 at the Mass Ave. bridge, Harvard owned a seven-seat lead.
As the crews entered the third 500 meters, Harvard's strongest leg, it began to look as if the oarsmen would deliver the knockout punch for win number 27 in the streak. But with 800 meters to go, the oarsmen, for the first time this spring, saw an opponent's boat closing.
The Quakers took a flyer just before the MIT boathouse, picking up the pace to an incredible cadence of about 40 strokes per minute, and began moving up on Harvard.
The Crimson also picked up the cadence in response to the challenge, but it did not help. Penn gained and passed until, with 200 meters to go, they had opened a one-seat lead.
Harvard held the line there, but the blue-and-red oarsmen hung on for the stunning photo-finish victory.
"We just duked 'em out about a foot or two apart for the last 200 meters," four-man Warren Perkins said yesterday, "but we couldn't gain on them in the final sprint."
And so the two groups of heavyweights slumped, exhausted, after having duked it out in the final, mad flurry. Penn, reputed to be a strong contender, had proved its worth by dethroning the perennial champ.
In other races, the J.V. and 3V Harvard boats stroked to convincing victories, and the freshman first boat lost its first race of the year.
Rematch at Sprints
But the freshmen and the varsity both get a rematch at the Eastern Sprints next weekend, and you can bet they will be slugging it out with as much intensity as ever.
Will there be any change in strategy? Not really, except for one thing. As cox Jeff Rothstein said yesterday, "What we have to do is respond to their challenge. If we do, it's ours."