They present almost as stark a contrast as Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello and at times can be just as funny. One is tall, blonde and a jokester, the other is short, slighter of build, with reddish hair, and has a more serious and polite manner.
They are Paul McNulty and Felix Rippy, co-captains of the Harvard men's cross-country team, a squad that will be shooting for an Ivy League championship in the Heptagonals today.
Seldom have two captains been such good friends, had so much in common, and yet been so different. Not only are they different in appearance and personality, they also have divergent political leanings. Rippy is a self-styled "middle-of-the-roader," while McNulty says he's "more than a little conservative," calls his co-captain a "bleeding-heart liberal" and declares that "Felix often has to change his shirt, there is so much blood on it."
Both started running seriously in high school, and while the two now run virtually identical times, Rippy had the early jump. At 13 1/2, the Muncie, Ind., native came within two minutes of breaking the world marathon record for his age group. McNulty's biggest success came in track, where he won the Florida high school mile championship. Rippy and McNulty each captained both their cross-country and track teams in high school.
Rippy was heavily recruited by Notre Dame, Princeton and Stanford, which sent him a letter of intent to accept a scholarship. But he says he believes "that if you were really good all through your life, when it came time for you to pass away, you would die and go to Harvard." So when his acceptance letter 'arrived from Byerly Hall, he headed straight for four years in heaven.
McNulty had similar feelings about the country's oldest university, and it didn't hurt that his brother was then captain of the Crimson team.
The two quickly became friends as freshman, spending a lot of time together on and off the track. But when it came time to pick roommates for sophomore year, they realized, as Rippy puts it, "If we came home from a race and one of us ran poorly while the other ran well, it would be hard to live with the winner puffing out his chest all night."
McNulty packed off to Eliot, and Rippy moved into Kirkland.
Traditionally the harriers have only one captain, because having two can create personality conflicts when dealing with a varsity team of only 12 runners. When it came time to pick captains for the '83 season, Rippy and McNulty realized they would be the only two competing for the job. They went to the team and declared that if they were both elected, it would be like having one captain. The team agreed and named co-captains for the 1983 season.
In some ways it is like having only one captain, since they split the duties of the job, each performing the functions he is best qualified to handle, and never quarreling.
McNulty is the cheerleader. He keeps everyone loose and mentally ready. Rippy attends to what he calls "the more mundane aspects of being a captain. "Together they make sure the team has all the equipment it needs, and act as liaison between the runners and Coach Frank Haggerty. Both lead by example. They stress the success of the team rather than the individual performance.
Both McNulty and Rippy have performed well individually in the classroom, earning nominations from the College to apply for Rhodes scholarships. But though they have pursued different academic paths--McNulty concentrates in Fine Arts and Rippy in History--the two pool many of their extracurricular efforts.
"Whatever one of us does," McNulty says, "the other usually gets into too."
Both spend a couple of hours each week teaching inmates and parolees to read and write. Rippy says it helps him remember that "there are people outside of Harvard who want to learn just for the sake of learning, and not to get into Medical or Law School." Rippy is a Harvard Law School applicant.
Most of their activities are a little less serious, however. They use their differences in personality to play jokes on their friends. Rippy says he "spends a lot of time playing straight man to Paul's jokes," and McNulty adds "we set a lot of people up."
It's often hard to tell when they're being serious. Says McNulty with a straight face, "I'm a much more talented runner than Felix is, but this really hasn't hurt our friendship."
Both trained all summer, and neither has missed a day's workout all season. As captains they complement each other "like bookends," Rippy says. When talking about themselves both end up talking excitedly about the team, the prospects for the season, and about each other. As Rippy says, "The Harvard cross country team is more than just a running experience. It is personal too--going through an ordeal with your friends and hopefully coming out a winner."