Still Smooth, Less Rude

National championship crews return to the Charles to relive their glory days

The Rude and Smooth Boat Club proved that it was up to at least a few of its reputed tricks when it passed two boats in the Senior Master Eights event last Saturday afternoon.

The legendary members of the Harvard heavyweight crews of 1974 and 1975 comprise the eight, and although the lineup changes every year, there’s has been a Rude and Smooth boat at Head of the Charles for the last 25 years.

Most would not dispute the rude reputation of the ’74 and ’75 boats, and none would say they were anything but smooth. Harvard tacked unofficial national championships on to undefeated seasons in both years, building a legend that future crews would strive to mirror.

“The first thing you have to know about them is that they were a very, very fast, very competitive, very capable crew,” said Harvard heavyweight coach Harry Parker. “The term “Rude and Smooth”—their reputation overshadowed their rowing skills.”

The Rude and Smooth dealt with the same national ranking difficulty that recent Crimson crews have had, in that Harvard often does not attend the official Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) National Championship regatta. However, in 1974, after Harvard won the Eastern title, Western champion Washington invited the Crimson to an east-meets-west duel to determine the true national champion.

“People complain that the Harvard oarsmen live in the boathouse, but the members of Washington live in the boathouse,” said Peter Lowe ’74.

On the way to Washington, the Crimson’s two boats stopped to race IRA champion Wisconsin on its home turf, defeated the Badgers as it had in Eastern Sprints and silenced any talk of IRA superiority. Harvard then went on to beat the Huskies and seal the title, with the Crimson junior varsity boat setting a Washington course record, only to watch it broken 20 minutes later by the varsity crew.

“We probably had the first and third fastest boats in the country my junior year,” said Ronald Shaw ’75, who went by Ronnie in his days as the seven seat in the ’74 junior varsity and ’75 varsity crews. “We had such a special time—that’s why we get back together to relive our 15 minutes of glory.”

The 1975 boat was again crowned the national champion, and flew across the Atlantic to compete in the Grand Challenge, the premiere event of the Henley Royal Regatta. Although Harvard fell to the British national team in the final, its semifinal win over the Union Boat Club, essentially the U.S. national team, provided victory in itself.

“There was a little bit of history,” Parker said. “We were racing against basically the makings of the U.S. national crew. In 1974, they were world champions. Two of the members of that crew were in our crew, Al Shealy [’75] and Dick Cashen [’75]. When we decided to go to Henley in ’75, the national team coaches decided to take the remainder of the national team. There was a pretty natural rivalry there, and it was pretty satisfying to win that race. We actually set a course record on that day as well.”

“The most excited I ever saw Harry in four years was in the semifinals when we beat the quasi-U.S. national team,” Shaw said. “We hear this guy whooping and yelling after we cross the finish line. We looked over and there’s Harry—so uncharacteristic because Harry doesn’t show any emotion like that.”

Harvard’s success ensured four years of perfect racing for both Shaw and Gregg Stone ’75, the only exception being losses to the Soviet Union and East Germany at the World Championships in Nottingham, England, in 1975.

Men on the Moon

There’s no question about the smooth—so where is the rude?

Although the nickname is oft attributed to a 1974 Sports Illustrated article entitled “Rude and Smooth and Fast,” Lowe recalls an earlier origin.

“Different people tell you different things,” Lowe said. “The origin is a very simplistic outlook on life which is that certain things are either rude or they’re smooth. This really derived from some hockey players that I knew that lived in Eliot House in 1973. That was their view of the world. I kind of introduced it here with coxswain Dave Weinberg [’74], and we kind of introduced into the lexicon of the boathouse.”

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