From Alte Achter to the Rude and Smooth

The Harvard Entries

School spirit can be awfully hard to find at Harvard. The length of your next paper, not Saturday's football game dominates dinner-table conversations.

Tomorrow, with a few gin and tonics sloshing around your system, you'll have an opportunity to cheer for your fellow student-athletes. And what's the harm in a few healthy huzzas for the Harvard and Radcliffe eights?

Easy enough to do, anyway. Just find the two shells as they go by and give them each a big cheer.

Unfortunately for the once-a-year rowing fan, rooting for Harvard isn't that easy. But don't despair, there'll be numerous opportunities to egg on both the Crimson and the Black & White.

The Harvard and Radcliffe crews will of course be out flexing their muscles, entering a total of 15 boats in the various divisions.

But if you're committed to cheering for Harvard crews, don't stop there. Look a little deeper.

Among the hundreds of club boats entered in the Head each year are several crews with grander connections to Harvard. Some are made up in part or entirely by ex-Harvard rowers. Others, such as the Business School boat, maintain direct ties with the University.

This year, three such special "other" Harvard boats are entered in the Head: the Business School crew, the "Alte Achter" and the "Rude and Smooth."

These club crews serve all kinds of rowers--from former Olympians dedicated to maintaining their skills to less proficient but equally fanatic oarsmen who simply want to relive some of the excitement of their college careers.

While these boats probably won't grab any headlines by winning races, they're deserving of a second look because of their unique backgrounds.

Take the Harvard Business School boat, for starters. It's the easiest one to spot--just look for the dollar signs on the oars.

The B-School Boat Club is a fixture of the Head, having competed in the last eight. The Club is entered in the men's lightweight eight division and is seeded 38th.

Everyone in Captain Wally Obermeyer's boat is an experienced oarsman, among its members are products of the Harvard, Yale and Princeton rowing programs.

According to Obermeyer, "We miss college rowing. We're all experienced oarsmen and women who love rowing and want to continue it in graduate school."

As one would expect from a team of businessmen, the eight rowers had to survive a selection process to earn a seat on the boat. "It was sort of a natural selection," Obermeyer said. "There's a growing interest in rowing at the Business School, so many people wanted to be on this boat."

That number steadily dwindled to its present size, though. "We've been working out at Weld boathouse since it opened this year, at 6:15 in the morning, five days a week. The rowers who've stuck with us are pretty serious. It takes a lot of persistence to get up every morning and work out."

Although serious, the B-School crew realizes it isn't a threat to younger competition. Obermeyer commented, "Due to the time pressures of graduate school and the lack of coaching, we realize that we can't be competitive with college rowing teams. But we try to reach as high a level as possible."

And Obermeyer claims they aren't bothered by the lack of prize money. "When we row, we don't think of money."

Rude and Smooth

Probably the most famous boat in the Head is the crew known as the "Rude and Smooth," made up of members of Harvard's 1974 and 1975 varsity heavyweight crews.

An extremely talented group (five of the boat's members have been on U.S. national teams), the Rude and Smooth is the subject of a chapter in David Halberstam's recent book, The Amateurs.

How did the boat get its name? Crew member Tiff Wood '75 explains, "We got it from a Sports Illustrated article that was written about us in 1974, while we were racing in Seattle.

"Around that time, two sayings were really big: we said 'How rude is that' to describe something we thought was bad, and we said 'How smooth is that' if we wanted to say the opposite. The reporter hung around us long enough to pick up our language.

"He provided us with our first exposure to the media. We weren't used to it, and we had no idea how we were supposed to respond. We went out of our way to gross him out.

"We basically burped and farted our way to stardom.

"Al Shealy, a member of the crew, told the reporter his ambition was to hang naked from a plane circling the Space Needle restaurant in Seattle. I was given the nickname 'Moon Man.'" And Wood isn't an astronomer.

The strategy paid off. They made an impression on the Sports Illustrated reporter, who gave the article the title "The Rude and the Smooth."

It was an appropriate epithet, because despite the crew's rude antics, they rowed smoothly enough to defeat the Washington Huskies, who had been considered Harvard's toughest opponent.

Thus a name was born. Although the crew retains that handle, its members don't live up to their off-color reputations anymore, according to Wood. "We've all calmed down and gotten jobs," he says.

"Rude and Smooth" is a fair description of how the boat has performed in recent years. It won its division in 1979, '80 and '81, but ran into a bridge two years ago.

Wood predicts this year's edition of the Rude and Smooth will do "reasonably well" in the club eights competition. "There's a wide range of conditioning on the boat," he said. "I work out pretty seriously all year round, but some guys haven't been in the boathouse. And we haven't practiced together yet. But we should be something like top five in our division."

Besides racing in the club eights, the crew plans to compete in the championship eights division, the final race of the day.

In that race, the Rude and Smooth is seeded 32nd, immediately following what Wood calls his boat's "closest thing to a rival"--the Alte Achter crew.

The Alte Achter (that's "Old Eight" for those of you whose German is rusty) is a boat of Olympic veterans--the crew competed in the 1972 heavyweight eights competition at Munich.

The boat has compiled a lengthy Head history, having competed in every regatta since 1972.

The Alte Achter's Harvard connection? Six of its oarsmen, as well as its coxswain, rowed for the Crimson.

And if those three, along with the nine Harvard and six Radcliffe crews, aren't enough for you, there's one more opportunity to watch a Crimson boat.

Harvard heavyweight coach Harry Parker will be racing in the senior masters single scull division.

Parker is seeded 39th in the competition--right behind Yale Coach Tony Johnson.

"That's a strange coincidence," Parker said. "In 1973 we also raced in the same event and, like this year, I was seeded right after him [Johnson]. I gained on him, but didn't pass him.

"I have a feeling our placement isn't so coincidental."

Parker said he can't guarantee a triumph over Eli tomorrow. "He's a pretty good sculler, so it should be a good race."

But with so many Harvard boats in the Head, something good is bound to happen.