For those who spend most their lives sitting in the bleachers or carting sacrifices to the shrine of Bear Bryant, the term "Harvard athlete" hovers somewhere between oxymoron and punchline.
Yet there can be no doubt that the star athlete can and does exist at Harvard. They've never manufactured jocks at Cambridge, and they're not about to start now. "Athletic scholarship" is not in the vocabulary, "first round draft pick" a rare species.
Larry Brown is the starting quarterback for the Harvard football team. He may also very well be the finest right-handed pitcher ever to play for the Crimson. They'd laugh at his running ability if he tried to operate the Wishbone offense at Oklahoma. They wouldn't laugh at his quick sophisticated humor in Tuscaloosa. He's articulate, open-minded, zany, and dedicated without having to refer every five seconds to "his Maker." Larry Brown is the Harvard athlete.
"When I graduated from high school in Norwood everyone asked me 'Why aren't you going out West or down South to play ball?' I wanted to stay in New England near my family, and I was looking for a balance of serious athletics and quality academics. The Harvard baseball team had just finished its third trip in a row to the College World Series, and Harvard football had all that tradition. There was really no choice after I considered the kind of education that I'd receive."
This philosophy is nothing new, athlete in search of education and fame at Harvard, but only rarely is it achieved. Dedicated athletes tend to get sidetracked once they learn that there's more to life than batting practice or crack-back blocks. They lose their interest, they lose their edge. They're no longer jocks out of the Ron "Goodbye Columbus" Patimkin mold.
Brown did not get sidetracked. He had other moods, other interests, all of which enhanced his dedication to sports as well as his performance on the field.
"My family's place in my life has always been right up top. There are ten of us, counting my parents, and the kids range from 7 to 23. There's always someone in the stands.
"I really can't describe the feeling of having my family sitting in the stands watching me play against Yale last fall. It was just my way of paying them all back, in an intangible way, for all the happiness they've given me."
Perhaps you can attribute Brown's success to the fact that though he respects Harvard, he has never really been in awe of the school, academically or athletically.
"If I ever took this school seriously--saying to myself 'You have to achieve this or you have to achieve that.' --I would have flunked out long ago. My number one goal has always been to enjoy myself. Harvard is an experience that only 1500 people a year get to have. As down as I've been at times I never regret coming here."
If you've ever met Larry Brown it's kind of hard to imagine him "down" at all. If nothing else, Brown has lived up immeasurably to his goal of not taking Harvard seriously. He's a flake. He's weird. He's tapioca. Antics during practice that would be frowned upon most anywhere are not only part of his personality, but necessary ingredients in his talent.
He goes one on one with defensive ends. He runs the bases and dives head first into catchers during baseball season. The day before his first varsity start last fall Brown was running receiver patterns and diving on his shoulder. The left shoulder, thank God.
"Once the serious work has been taken care of, like the period we're in now, practice should be fun. If it's not you shouldn't be there."
Whatever, practice gives Brown the needed tension-cutter in the self-competitive, adrenaline--fueled world of quarterbacking and pitching.
Last May, during exams, the baseball team traveled to Holyoke, Ma. for the opening game of the NCAA District One playoffs against Delaware. After six innings Harvard trailed 1-0 on an unearned run. It had been drizzling for the entire contest and Brown was in danger of losing his first decision of the season. The clouds burst in the seventh, the tarpaulin was brought out, and the Crimson batsmen were brooding in the dugout, on the verge of an opening round loss in a double elimination tourney.
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