There's a distinct atmosphere surrounding Harvard's cross-country squad, and you can sense it the moment you walk into the track locker room at Dillon Field House.
The Crimson harriers are cocky, cocky as hell. They haven't lost any of their last 29 meets, and now that they've whipped Penn, their only challenger, it's unlikely that they'll lose at all this season.
Cockiness is a tricky thing to define, though. It's more than being good and knowing it. Both Penn and Princeton are good, as is Cornell. They all know it. But they are not loose, Harvard is.
The best example of the dichotomy may have been the "psyche" period before the Penn meet. Penn, as they had let everyone know, was the rising cross-country power in the East. Their freshman team swept Harvard's last fall, and veteran George Lokken was returning.
So the Harvard-Penn meet last week was going to decide Ivy supremacy, and both squads knew it. Penn. however, showed that they knew it, and in the tenuous game of "psyche," such a mistake is similar to throwing up one's hand in a poker game before one is called.
There has been considerable friction between the two squads ever since the Red and Blue declared itself a major cross-country power last fall. The Crimson runners consider Penn a group of storm troopers in running spikes.
Quaker coach Jim Tupenny calls the bearded Harvard team "a disgrace to the Ivy League." It appears to be a natural rivalry. The old do-or-die-for-State school versus athletic nonchalance.
Harvard coach Bill McCurdy feels that quality nonchalance will win over quality discipline every time. However, when his squad sauntered off the bus for the "blood" meet, the tableau was fairly amusing.
Here was Penn, having arrived early, with superstar Julio Piazza warming up with his crew-cut, clean-shaven, square-jawed teammates.
Too Much Hair
And here came Harvard, trucking ever so easily to the starting line. The Crimson runners all had healthy beards. Dave Pottetti, with whom Tupenny is somewhat disgusted had too much hair. Roy Shaw was wearing shades. They looked pretty disgraceful for a college team, and Tupenny was angry.
Penn was undefeated. Harvard was undefeated. The race was over after the first two miles of the five mile course. Piazza was clearly in front, and would win the meet if he could hold off Harvard's Mike Koerner and Keith Colburn. He did, but behind him the Crimson placed four runners-Koener. Colburn, Tom Spengler and John Heyburn-before Penn's second man. Harvard had won easily 21-34.
God Will Provide
McCurdy and his squad often seem to take a "God Will Provide" attitude towards their meets. If Seals, Colburn and Shaw are hurt, Koerner will come through. If Koerner is subpar. Shaw will come out of oblivion to win. The McCurdy secret is depth.
But McCurdy, like Joe Namath, knows that when cockiness is defeated, one looks like a buffoon. It would be a mistake to expect him to take unnecessary chances.