I had worried about it since waking up Saturday morning. Seven years is a long wait-a third of my life, if you sit down and figure it out-and in all that time. Harvard had not been able to beat Army in a swimming meet. In 1962, when the Crimson won, 51-44. I was a traffic cop in the halls of my junior high school. And Saturday, as a writer on jock types. I was waiting to see if perhaps it could happen again. But I really doubted it.
I arrived just as the first relay was about to start-a pretty good time to get there, because otherwise you just sit and worry even more. We won the relay after a close start, but I made sure not to get too excited, because it was only 7-0 and we might be losing before long. Harvard coach Bill Brooks had convinced me that Army was a powerhouse.
Next thing I knew. Dave Powlison had won the 1000-free with no trouble whatsoever, and I wondered why Army had given so little challenge. But the next event was great. It was the 200-free, a match up of two guys-Toby Gerhart and Army's Jack Frink-who had had a really close race in the same event last year, when Frink won by 0.2 seconds.
When they went off the blocks, things didn't look so good. Frink went ahead right away and seemed to be slowly increasing his lead until he was at least two yards in front with only 75 yards to go. Gerhart looked terribly lethargic, and I was understandably angry. "What's wrong with Gerhart?" I wondered. "Why doesn't he try to catch up?" Then he started to move, and Harvard people began to get excited. I though he might even catch Frink, and then he did. With 35 yards to go. Frink was second and we were on our feet. Gerhart beat him easily, and Harvard was ahead, 17-8.
I had done my first big share of yelling and was feeling rather happy, but then I noticed my shirt. It was all pitted up, and it was only the fourth race. First you have to understand that swimming pools are warm places, that I was very much excited, and that there was a big crowd around, making it really hot. But my shirt was really messed up, and it was my favorite one, and, worse. I had just done a wash. You would never have guessed that I use that extra dry stuff. But it was a sure sign that I was having a good time.
The tension gradually lessened as Harvard ran up the lead. Brooks had also led me, in my naivete, to believe that we'd have to be lucky to win the diving. Yet we were cleaning up in that, too. I started thinking more about my shirt. The guy beside me had left two events before, when it was still exciting. Then, a few minutes later, the people in front of me started leaning forward, even though it had become less exciting. I considered taking off my shirt and throwing it somewhere, but I remembered seeing Ryder do that at a Murray the K Show and figured that wouldn't be too good idea. I was content to keep smelling.
Losing When You Win
As expected, the meet ended soon thereafter. Army finally won the freestyle relay for its only victory of the day, and the Cadets could smile. In his eagerness, however. Army's last man had gone in too early, so the team lost the relay, too. You could have sworn you were at B. C. when the crowd applauded the announcement.
I climbed down to the pool area afterwards, and diving coach Harold Miroff came by with a wide grin and shook my hand, congratulating me. Then I hung around so that I could ask the Army coach what he though of the meet and could see a few Cadets walking around in uniform. And I thought about the profitability of going into the barber business in the West Point area.