Nobody Does It Better

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TAMPA, Fla. - Excellence was performed, personified and defined here, in the most unlikely and desolate of places.

Here on this windswept, sun-blasted University of South Florida soccer pitch, where the mosquitoes are as big as dragonflies and the air is as heavy as Roseanne.

In front of a few hundred hard-core fans, boosters and curious interlopers, Cal rugby achieved more than dominance, more than commitment to a game that attracts as much attention as a pan-handler in Palo Alto.

The Bears came as close to perfection as is possible in collegiate sports.

Cal scored a perfect 10.

It wasn't the game or the score. The Bears suffered a slow start against Army Saturday, and showed a little too much confidence yesterday by allowing Wyoming back into the game early in the second half after leading at the break, 38-10.

But Cal one-upped Nebraska football, Duke basketball and Stanford baseball where wins and

consistency are concerned.

The Bears won their 10th straight national championship yesterday by defeating the Cowboys, 62-16.

Seven classes will leave Cal without ever having not won the national title.

That's a winning traditional unrivaled in college athletics by anyone besides the UCLA basketball teams of the 1960s and '70s, which won the NCAA title 10 out of 12 years.

Does that make Jack Clark Cal's answer to John Wooden?

Well, Wooden didn't build a program with little to no funding from the university. Wooden didn't win 81 percent of the national championships in the history of the game.

Clark stands alone, literally as well as figuratively.

He is the most mysterious member of the Cal athletic community. He makes his own schedule, his own team, his own players.

"He's not around as much when we're on (the road)," senior center Mike Freeman said. "Whenever we're at the hotel, we don't see him. We go out to dinner, and he won't go with us. It's a team thing, and that's the way he looks at it. He wants us to be together as a team. He's kind of standoffish in some ways."

During games, Clark likes to pace back and forth a few yards apart from his team's reserves, occasionally treating onlookers to a obscenity-laced tirade, not directed at anyone in particular, but usually concerning the official or one of his own players.

But anyone who knows anything about the sport knows how important Clark has been to American rugby.

"He is extraordinary," Wyoming coach Rich Cortez said. "He is a dominant personality."

And players, who have to put up with the hardest taskmaster.

"If we didn't have a coach like Jack Clark, we'd still be a good team, but we wouldn't have the discipline we have, we wouldn't be as nearly as refined as we are," Freeman said. "We wouldn't achieve as much as we have."

Clark coached the U.S. national team from 1993-99, and his bearish and vaguely intimidating presence on the sideline has become a fixture in American rugby.

On his own, Clark will never be able to bring rugby to the prominence it enjoys in Europe and in English-speaking countries around the world. Americans understand rugby only slightly better than they do cricket.

And with the reality of Title IX limiting the number of varsity rugby teams to less than a dozen, the chances of rugby becoming an NCAA sport are as good as an American college team beating the Bears.

But Clark has dealt with reality, and built one of the most dominant teams in the history of the sport in the process.

He is resented for possessing more resources than most coaches, but he is largely responsible for those resources. You can bet that the 16 - and soon to be 17 - national championship banners at Witter Field have as much to do with the relatively high level of fund raising that Cal enjoys as it does with its 119-year history.

But best of all, he made it possible for a group of young men who didn't run a 40-yard dash fast enough for college football coaches to win a national championship.

And he gave that gift over and over again.

"They're all special," Clark said of his 17 championship squads. "These teams are all so different in character. These boys were in sixth grade when we won our first consecutive one in '91."

And those same sixth-graders will graduate Cal as four-time defending national champions and members of one of college sports' most dominant, if not most storied dynasties.

As much as he likes to stay on the fringes, Jack Clark is at the center of it all.

"You can tell that he cares about his players a lot, and he loves what he does, and that comes through in everything he does," Freeman said.

It's a rare person who can exist on the fringe and in the middle. No one ever called Jack Clark common.


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