In the midst of the season where hickory branches shower the Atlantic coast with waves of crinkled yellow-green, a morning plane heading for San Francisco suddenly changes course 46 minutes into the flight.
Air traffic control communications dissolve into static. The plane has been hijacked by men who may have murdered the pilots or threatened the rest of the passengers with a similar fate. The passengers know that earlier flights have been crashed into buildings and that countless lives have been lost. Faced with this harrowing information, they are not immobilized. They are led by a man who deploys the resources at hand to save the lives of others. He calls his mother, a former flight attendant, not to say a few parting words, but to ask how to take control of the aircraft. He directs other passengers and together they attack the men they have just seen brutally wrest command of the plane. He takes action that we know today saved thousands of .lives. The plane crashes into an uninhabited Pennsylvania field rather than perhaps the nation's capital.
In those decisive moments on board Flight 93, the passengers become Mark Bingham's teammates, and Jack Clark, Bingham's rugby coach at Cal, taught Bingham to protect his teammates.
If you were to spend time around Jack Clark's players, a very clear image of the man they couldn't talk enough about would materialize—even if you'd never met him, or heard him speak. Between cringe-worthy accounts of tough love in practice, stories of his facilitation of former players' success in post-college endeavors, or the vested interest of 70 young students in the life of a man who at once mentors them and keeps his personal life an enigma, you'll see the same look of veneration repeatedly appear in the eyes of Clark's players. Over and over, they will talk about a topic they could never discuss in practice, a topic their coach avoids with a firm, colossal hand. They will talk about the larger-than-life figure that is their coach.
A framed Latin insignia welcomes all visitors to the Doc Hudson Fieldhouse: "Spectemur Agendo."
I meet Jack Clark for the first time as I take a seat across a big, wooden desk from him in the Doc Hudson Fieldhouse.
As I begin to film, I see a hat with the number 12 sitting on a shelf above his desk.
"That's a Joe Roth hat," he says. "Know who he was?"
Joe Roth had been on my dad's "you need to know who they are" list when I was growing up.
In 1975, Joe Roth transferred to Cal on the heels of an undefeated season and 1974 state title at Grossmont College of El Cajon. With Roth at the helm of the offense, the Golden Bears won a Pac-8 title, and led the nation in total offense. Roth played his last year as the only person on the roster that was aware of his own terminal melanoma. He died shortly after the conclusion of the 1976-1977 season.
"We believe in toughness," Clark says. "Not the guy that thinks he's tough, but keep-getting-up-toughness— that kind of mental toughness."
I ask Clark if he played with Roth. As he affirms, he amends my description of their dynamic.
"I protected him."
I continue to film in his office, while he fervently glues himself to his computer screen. As I focus my camera on a frame that houses a personally addressed letter from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I feel certain that whatever is claiming his undivided focus is highly classified. I wouldn't have been surprised if he was hatching the next Argo, but with rugby... or something... from that very desk.
After I finish filming his various awards, honors, medals, photographs, and office adornments, as well as being subjected to a pop quiz on humidors (Him: How many humidors are in this office? Me: 400,000. Him: A humidor is a case where you store cigars. Try again.), I head for the main room in the field house, but stop in my tracks at the sound of a voice that seems like it is accustomed to being obeyed.
"Want to see something cool?"
He wanted to show me his Argo plot. I hurry back to the desk.
Jack Clark is on Facebook.
As he looks at the screen, his face cracks into a smile, which seems just as much a natural expression for him as the focused stoicism he generally exudes.
In the slightly grainy picture, a younger but similarly grinning Clark stands with his arm around an older man with white hair and glasses. Both are dressed up, in Cal colors. Bookshelves are in the background, the kind whose imperfectly arranged contents betray that they've seen more than their fair share of action.
"Know who that is?" A break from the screen to question me.
I had already blown the humidor question, so naturally I cheat and glance quickly at his caption, hoping it will help me out. It's my lucky day.
Casually: "Glenn Seaborg."
Maybe he didn't buy it, because I immediately get a follow up question.
"Know who he was?"
This one I do know. Ah, redemption. Clark had picked up the storied chemist from his home and driven him to the gala that night. In addition to an unending list of accomplishments including the 1951 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Seaborg had been a lifelong supporter of Cal Rugby and Intercollegiate Athletics.
Memorabilia surrounds Clark in his office, which offers a glimpse of a professional life that has been top-heavy with accomplishment, but interspersed with moments of tragedy and some of serendipity. He has faced situations spanning the spectrum of human experience. While Clark keeps his personal life a mystery to anyone who asks (his response to a question about his life outside of rugby: "There's not much there"), there are telling, unavoidable cracks in his all-business career approach. Moments that reveal the personal side, the inner workings, the role Clark assumes and the shoes he fills in the lives of his players, surface in publicly visible spaces. If you examine the fissures that elude the concrete cover of professionalism, you quickly learn that Jack Clark has found himself at the vicissitudes of both triumph and loss.
Jim "Truck" Cullom was a veteran, a Cal football and rugby player, and the longtime assistant coach of Miles "Doc" Hudson, for around three decades.
"He was really a beloved guy," Clark says. "He was the kind of guy who would look after these boys— probably have them to dinner, probably the guy that knew their birthdays."
On an early March day in 1998, Clark gets a call from George Eckard, a former rugby player from the early 1970's, who played for Hudson and Cullom. The adored assistant coach was in the hospital, and according to Eckard, probably wouldn't make it through the day.
Clark's response: what do you think of me bringing the team by?
He immediately gets on the phone to try to arrange a bus. When, he is asked, might he need this bus? In a month, maybe it could be arranged. No, Clark replies, actually he needs it in an hour.
The uncensored discontent at this request turns to silence as Clark interjects to name the dying man for whom his team needs the transportation.
A bus would be at the south end of Memorial Stadium in 45 minutes.
Clark addresses his team shortly thereafter to let them know the change in that afternoon's agenda.
"Truck Cullom is dying. We're going to go push him out to sea."
So Clark walks into Alta Bates with about sixty players. They are greeted less than enthusiastically by the confused staff.
"You forget that there's sixty guys behind you. And I'm walking up to the information desk, and I say, 'Truck Cullom, please.' And the guy looks at me, and then kind of looks around me, and says, 'You know he's in ICU?' I said, 'Yes, he's sick isn't he?'"
The man replies that only family can come in.
"I said, 'We're family.'"
As if those words were the battle cry they had awaited, to the dismay of the hospital staff, the players take off. Some take the elevators, some take the stairs, all finally arriving at the doors of the Intensive Care Unit.
The somber, close-quartered intensity of an ICU is not exactly equipped for group parties, so to speak. Before more than a few guys can make their way inside, a resolute nurse approaches Clark, shaking her head.
"Everything about her was saying no, making sure that she could stop us in our tracks before we got too far in. She said, 'What are you doing?' And I said, 'We're here to see Truck Cullom.'"
The nurse gravely clarifies: "He's dying."
We know, Clark replies.
"She paused for a long time on that."
Surveying the group, she softly relents. "Alright."
They file quietly— or as quietly as sixty large men possibly can— into Cullom's room.
"These aren't big rooms, this is ICU. There's a small sitting area, barely, and there's a bed. They've already got a full room with four or five people there. We're just jammed in there."
They manage to cram 65 players into the room. A small group of immediate family and a couple of Cullom's former players are present, too.
"I could hear his son saying, 'Hey, dad, the rugby players are here.' Nothing. So the boys, we crack into a song, we sing the California Drinking Song. It was good, to sing it sweet and low. When it's over, his son reaches down, and says, 'What'd you think?' Nothing. Pretty soon, you see his lips start to move, and his son puts his ear down to hear what he's saying.
"He tries it, he almost gets it out, then his son smiles as he understands."
Then, Clark says, maybe the third time, Cullom makes sure that his family, a few former players, and Coach Jack Clark and his 65 rugby boys, can all hear some of his last words.
Later that night, Truck Cullom dies.
The ride home is silent. Clark surveys his players, realizing that many of them are too young to have ever come in close contact with a dying person. Their parents and grandparents, by and large, are still alive.
"I start to think that can't have been too easy on these boys. I start to walk down the aisles, and I lean in to the first row of seats, to start to say thank you. The boys put their hands up to say 'Stop.'"
Clark continues, but each row, each player, declines the gesture.
"I'll never forget walking down that aisle and attempting to say thanks, and every one of them, in their own way, just saying, 'Don't do it.'"
There aren't many dry eyes on the bus.
"They're kind of saying, 'It was our privilege to be there, that's just what we do.' That was the first funeral we went to, and now we go to a whole bunch of them."
This moment may be a defining one for the identity Clark has fostered in his program.
"That's one of the experiences where it's like, this is what a Cal Rugby man does."
I don't remember much about the day that I saw Jack Clark outside of a rugby game for the first time. I remember fragments— high, bowing ceilings of painted stone, picture collages propped on easels at the wooden double doors, an arch of oars clutched by Cal rowers who lined the church's walkway, under which my sorority sister's coffin was carried.
Jill Costello died within a month of her graduation from UC Berkeley. In one of the last weeks during which she battled stage-4 lung cancer, she coxswained the Cal Women's Varsity Crew boat to placing 2nd in the country at nationals.
While I do not doubt that there were a significant number of Cal athletes at Jill's service, I saw a single team there in unison, comprising what easily looked to me like the largest showing of any team at Cal in attendance, besides perhaps, Jill's crew team.
A stream of Cal Rugby players had disembarked from a bus, all uniformly dressed in khaki slacks and blue and gold rugby sweaters. Some of them had personally known Jill, and many undoubtedly would have been there of their own volition as well. But their organization, unparalleled by any other team or group— they silently filed in, led by their coaches; they were all dressed alike; their transportation had been provided so they could attend en masse— spoke to a larger force at work. Coach Clark had decided that the team would attend Jill's funeral.
"(Attending) a funeral," Clark tells me, "is the ultimate form of respect."
"I don't think we do enough celebrating of the good, of the things we've accomplished," he says.
Celebration of the living, I ask, or the dead, or—
We say "both" at the same time, mine a query, his an affirmation, which he follows with an inquiry of his own.
"Why isn't there a statue of Joe Roth somewhere, within our sports facilities? Or Jill Costello?"
Rhetorical, sure, but as the question sits with me, I try and fail to get any closer to an answer.
Clark weaves the practice of remembrance and celebration into his team, his actions, his life.
"A couple years ago, I was asked to select and read a poem at an on-campus poetry reading. I recited the poem, 'Don't quit.' That was the poem Joe read at a rhetoric class a month before he died."
Loosely translated, "Spectemur Agendo" can mean "Known by your deeds."
For just a moment in the midst of a Berkeley apartment party, in a month that is definitely not during the legendary "April Drive," a very foreign state of affairs befalls a group of teammates—that of a brief silence.
"My dad was there," the boy insists, almost perspiring in the exertion of convincing his rowdy group of compatriots. "He saw Coach do it."
Among this bunch of ruggers, especially in the relaxing off-season, during which unruliness, yelling, and general disarray are highly encouraged, and silences are fewer and further between than losses on the rugby field—which is saying something— these reverential respites can only mean one thing. They are talking about their coach.
"If there's one guy I would never want to mess with," an enormously burly guy who no one would ever mess with in a million years will volunteer, "it's Coach Clark."
Coach Clark, his boys will tell you, walks with a limp. Does he still have a bullet in his leg, from that time when he did... what, exactly?
"He was shot, three times, and he still wouldn't go down."
They'll shake their heads in awe, trying to put themselves in Coach's shoes.
"Can you imagine seeing a guy with a gun, about to shoot up a room full of people, and charging straight at him?"
"And then you're shot, and you're shot again, and you're shot again, and you still won't go down?"
While the logistics of a story like this may seem questionable—a rucking drill like that would typically involve 16 players, while the other 50 or so wait for their rep, so everyone dropping to the ground seems potentially unlikely—it becomes a sort of folklore that everyone in the canyon did, in fact, hit the ground. Clark's players fill in the blanks of what he does not discuss.
I ask about his family, and their involvement with his athletic development.
"I think family plays a part, and they were, but I have to admit my coaches probably were those people closest to me around sports."
Clark is a sports junkie growing up—as soon as one season ends, another begins. He plays football, basketball, baseball, and rugby. At Cal, he plays both football and rugby. By the age of 27, he is the senior vice-president of an investment banking firm, an astoundingly lucrative job he promptly quits in order to coach rugby. He takes an assistant coaching job at Cal beside Ned Anderson, his former coach. Within two years, not only has Clark taken over for Anderson, he and Anderson have switched positions. Clark's former coach becomes his assistant. Clark proceeds to win his first national championship in 1985, his second year as Cal's head coach.
Clark follows up with 22 more national championships in 30 years. Many of his players will go on to attend the best graduate schools in the world, become professional rugby players, or start their own companies.
"I don't think it's possible to start naming prestigious graduate schools where we don't have a Cal Rugby man from there."
But what Clark teaches transcends education; it doesn't stop there. Of course Steve Ellis, head of Bain Consulting, is Clark's former player, class of 1985. Ever heard of TOPGUN? Captain Jimmy DiMatteo, a Cal Rugby man, commanded the "aggressor" component of the Navy's operation for many years. If pacifism is more your pace, Cal Rugby has guys in the Peace Corps and similar operations. Rick Santos followed his Cal Rugby career with a degree from the London School of Economics, and proceeded to found CB Ellis in Asia. Cal Rugby men become firefighters, police officers, teachers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, venture capitalists, private business owners, writers, politicians, Hollywood executives, doctors. Cal Rugby men consistently matriculate and populate the upper echelons across the spectrum of professionalism.
"It's medicine, it's Wall Street, it's education," Clark says.
Anyone endeavoring to understand a data sample so saturated with diversified excellence may have their work cut out for them. There is, however, an obvious commonality between all of these men— they played for Jack Clark.
Whether knowingly or not, Clark becomes the centerpiece of their college experience, the person they think about when they're hanging out with friends, sitting in a classroom, or ready to call it a day. The curiosity and the storytelling are constant.
It becomes an alluring, malleable sort of lore; changing a little each time you hear another rendition. The player who chuckled during film as he watched one of his teammates hit the grass, only to find the tape paused, the light switch smacked on, and an uncompromising coach demanding which one of his players let that snicker escape, because the player who fell took that hit like a man.
When I ask Clark about film study, I discover that this situation also seems exaggerated. First of all, Clark is never manning the light switch himself, so to speak. And second of all, the atmosphere is, by design, one that sometimes involves laughing, side conversations, and most of all, brutally honest feedback. The part that I do find plausible, however, is Clark's lack of any tolerance for bullying, regardless of the innocence behind a player's intent.
What truly did or did not happen, according to the lore surrounding Clark, might not be as terribly important as we think. His players' stories represent what the people who know him as a leader would find a plausible feat of Jack Clark. They know that their coach would take any obstacle on, would unquestioningly run at anyone who threatened a group of innocents, regardless of the cost to his own safety.
So what might really, formally happen in the day-to-day workings of Cal Rugby? In the spring, a week in their world might begin with a series of precisely-timed 90-minute practices, never 91 minutes or even 90 minutes and 30 seconds, before which players are briefed on everything they will be doing. The string of practices is followed by a Saturday game, and finally, film study on Sunday. The sharpest players might realize that every drill they do throughout the subsequent week is a direct product of the topics they discussed in the film room. In Cal Rugby, there are no wasted minutes, motions, actions. The program's constant purposefulness derives from a resolute commitment to a shared set of values, and reciprocally, every action Clark leads his team in performing reflects those beliefs.
Film study, Clark explains, is a collaborative process. Before each film study and after each game, Clark and his chief assistant, Tom Billups, spend hours watching the game film. They capture statistics, make notes, and bring it all to film study.
"It's not the coaching staff presenting it to them; it's us pulling it out of them, using the evidence in the tape."
Film study is not an opportunity for Clark to rattle statistics off to his players, or tell them precisely what needs improvement based on his findings. Clark inverts that coaching model, opting instead to lead his players to understanding their own performance independently and accountably.
"There's a ton of honesty in that room."
Truth, and the process by which it is discovered, remain at the core of Clark's value system.
"There's a pursuit of truth in that room. It is study. We're not there to be entertained, but we're going to laugh, and celebrate some moments. We're there to find out the most important lessons we can use from the contest."
While Clark may look like the kind of guy no one "wants to mess with," he is a far cry from a Bobby Knight in terms of temperament. In fact, at a certain level, the ethos of Cal Rugby hinges on genuine encouragement, a celebration of hard-earned success.
"I attempt to spend more time telling people what they do well than anything else. It's harder with some than others, but it's my preference."
On another level, a heavy dose of honesty figures into the equation.
"When I was an athlete, I craved honesty."
Candid, sincere feedback, combined with performance, is the currency on Cal's pitch. And Clark isn't afraid to turn his discerning gaze on himself.
"I think I am pretty direct with the guys, and certainly use a tone with them that will get their attention sometimes. But there will always be an instructional purpose to everything."
Motivation, however, is typically innate in Cal Rugby men.
"I don't think I've ever had to motivate our best players. I've had to coach them. I've had to coach them hard, and sometimes have them take a look at what they don't do well."
For that reason, Clark tells me, conversations with even his best players can sometimes be uncomfortable.
"It's uncomfortable to try to get better in anything. It's uncomfortable to try to beat your personal best."
Jack Clark's coaching style reminds us that sports teams are opportunities—to build worlds as they should be, in the eyes of one particular leader. In Clark's coaching world, economies can be constructed based on merit and necessity. It doesn't take much imagination to jump from Clark's world on the pitch to vastly different choices that could be made in the larger global community.
But when I ask him how he would define his job, he simply replies that it is "building teams."
‘Team,' it turns out, has a much larger significance than its layman lexicality. Clark's usage underscores another meaning.
"I believe in team, and I believe that team will solve the big problems—that groups of people, shoulder to shoulder, with their nose all pointed the same direction, are going to be how we solve education and poverty and disease."
Even the ultimate cynic, well-aware of any catastrophic convolution of brutalities occurring around the globe, who heard that, then surveyed Clark's 22 national championship banners draping over Witter Rugby Field's latticed wire walls, might not be able to escape a blossoming yet foreign feeling—hope.
Astonishingly, it is not the accomplishments of his players on the rugby field, or his 23 national titles, that he mentions. Actually, we barely talk about this at all, and when we do, it is not necessarily a subject of pontification for Clark.
We do talk about his philosophy on team. "My players," he tells me, "will leave this campus with a PhD in ‘team.'"
"If our players are getting an advanced degree in ‘team,' it's not just that they're getting a leg up. It's important that they can contribute to society. It's important that this is more than just playing ball."
Clark draws a line in the sand for his teams. In moments where he might wax philosophical about the side of this line his players must be on, his speech lacks the peppered verbiage of recycled athletic maxims. He does not profess to instill humility, or fearlessness, or valor, in anyone. But he makes the other side of that line very clear.
His intonation sharpens as he vocalizes the words "entitlement" and "selfishness." When you look at a man who had both obtained and given up one of the most lucrative jobs on the market by the age of 27, opting instead to reify a vision of the way in which his service to a community of young men whose lives he could change would then pay itself forward as those young men would, in turn, effect change all over the world, you see that this line is the space where Clark's own footsteps have ineffably carved a path. You see that this line is demarcated strongest of all by example.
In 2010, the most successful coach in Cal rugby history won his 21st national championship. A few months later, Memorial Stadium renovations forced the rugby team to relocate its matches halfway across the bay, while Witter Rugby Field was temporarily converted into a football practice field.
Clark remained unwaveringly resolute.
"Even if we couldn't have a field to train on, even if we were going to be vagabonds, we could win a championship."
Then in September 2010, he received the following news, which was announced to his players at a meeting at Haas Pavilion:
Such words may never have crossed Jack Clark's mind as within the realm of possibility.
But there they were—coming from the Athletic Department.
"It was undoubtedly, probably, the hardest professional period of my life," Clark says, then quickly adjusts his statement.
"I think there were probably a lot of other people who felt the same way, so rather than ‘my' life, maybe, ‘our' life."
Throughout our talk, Clark refers to Cal Rugby as a "brotherhood" or "the brothers of Cal Rugby"—which, as he transitions to pronoun form, interestingly becomes "we." He includes himself in the ranks of those brothers.
What had happened?
In what became a nebulous whirlwind of rationale and accountability around the decision to cut rugby as well as baseball, men's gymnastics, women's gymnastics, and women's lacrosse, varying fragments of justification surfaced from the administration.
Cal administrators, including Chancellor Robert Birgenau and Athletic Director Sandy Barbour, contributed to the discussion with varying statements including reasons for the cuts ranging from Title IX compliance to efforts to reduce the $12 million annual support for Intercollegiate Athletics from the university.
In light of the undeniable prowess of his program, it might have seemed like Jack Clark was, for once, the undersized and un-favored opponent.
"The university can call a press conference and have 12 (TV) cameras show up. We were trying to muscle through some social media and stuff. We didn't really have much of a megaphone."
But anyone who has seen his team take on BYU, for example, would probably beg to differ. Tree-trunk limbs, immovable frames, and towering statures against the comparatively slim, outsized Bears would give even an experienced Cal Rugby fan pause. Five minutes into the game, though, and you've seen the pattern that will play on loop for the entire 80 minutes—a superbly-conditioned back carving a laser-sharp path through stunned, gargantuan Cougars, purposefully pounding the rugby ball into the ground for a hard-earned, no-frills try. No, Jack Clark might not have the exact tools, the megaphone, or the biggest players in the game.
So in 2010, Jack Clark took on an uphill battle against the biggest-seeming opponent he'd ever faced—the school he'd proudly attended, represented, and worked for.
"Personally, it was really important to stay out of the weeds of ‘Why?' and just get onto ‘How do we fix it?' The weeds were really difficult to stay out of because it was very emotional."
The reasons for which he was struggling were also unclear. He had to fight an administration for which he'd won 21 national championships. And essentially, he had to do so blindfolded.
"The university has big call centers, and they're calling your donors, and there seem to be at least a couple different stories of what was going on. It was really, really difficult."
But suddenly, everyone knew about the plight of Cal Rugby, as well as the four other teams that were suffering. Clark made it clear: there was nowhere he wouldn't go, nothing he wouldn't do, to save his program. Social Media was suddenly populated by e-activists: "SAVE CAL RUGBY!" formed, trended, expanded. Local and national news outlets picked up the story. If you were listening to the Giants game, you might suddenly hear Jack Clark making an announcement, talking about saving Cal Rugby. Even Stanford football and rugby alumni got on board, saying they supported the health of Cal's suffering sports teams.
Clark describes the close call with relief and humility, accrediting others for the funding that ultimately saved not only Cal Rugby, but the other programs as well.
"Once again, a bunch of really loyal rugby stakeholders stepped up."
Former player Daniel Bird explains the unquestioning faith of the rugby team in their coach and the confidence it inspired.
"I recall our team captain at the time telling everyone that 'Coach Clark has a plan and we don't need to worry.' From that moment on, we were a brick wall."
Everyone, it seemed, had known Coach Clark would prevail. Had he known, too?
"It would be really disingenuous for me to sit here and say ‘I knew...' or ‘I thought...'—I didn't know anything. All I knew was, for a few months, I wasn't going to sleep much."
While Clark is brief and business-like in discussing his life outside of rugby, he helps me through asking about the famed incident during which he sustained multiple gunshot wounds. Clark had already finished playing football, and was, at the time, an international rugby player. The shooting marked the end of his rugby career. After this, Clark's involvement with sports changed forever as he transitioned into coaching.
His rendition of events differed from the stories of their coach's heroism that his players loved so much. He tells me that he was the victim of a violent crime. I tell him that I've heard a different rendition of the story, one in which he was the hero.
His brow furrows and he looks at the grass of Witter Rugby Field.
"There were no heroes that night. Hero is a big word."
Indeed—he invokes it only twice throughout our interview—once to deny his status as such, and the other to describe a former player.
Jack Clark does not use the past tense to describe Mark Bingham's death. He narrates with stoic brevity. His words are heavy with the weight of years of reflection.
In 2001, Bingham, the CEO of the eponymous PR firm, and a decade out of college, was yet another example of Jack Clark's success-inspiring touch.
On September 11, 2001, Mark got on United Airlines Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco. The aircraft was overtaken by terrorists 46 minutes into the flight. Several passengers, including Mark, called friends and family members. But they weren't calling just to say goodbye. They were gathering information with which they would arm themselves. They were discovering the fateful results of the other attacks that morning. They were coming together to attack their attackers, to ensure that their plane would not crash into another American landmark. Under the most terrifying circumstances imaginable, they were forming a team.
Clark speaks of Mark and the Flight 93 passengers with a sobered reverence.
"To be able to think in the moment—the people on Flight 93 used that information, and they made an informed decision that they weren't just going to sit back."
Clark had seen Mark just months before September 11, 2001.
"Mark was at a reunion—the 20th reunion of the 1991 championship team—just in the months before 9/11. We had just seen him."
He bows his head as he recollects.
"He looked happy. He looked content. He was happy to see everyone, and everyone was happy to see him."
Ray Lehner had been in Bingham's class, his teammate for both men's tenures at Cal.
"(Mark) was a great guy and a good teammate. Very much a workman-like approach: show up, work hard, get the job done, go home."
When I ask Clark about his relation to Mark's actions, he hesitates.
"(Mark) is a true American hero. But then, it kind of stops. Because I think we're all conscious of the fact that we don't want to be seen as dining out on what Mark did. Mark did that. We didn't do it."
Senator John McCain eulogized Mark Bingham on September 22, 2001. He credited Mark with saving his life.
Clark's feelings about his former player seem, at first glance, guarded, the product of a painful piece of personal history. But look again, and you see that they are the result of an all-encompassing selflessness, and an unwavering dedication to Mark's memory.
We read, and we hear, "he dies an American hero." Mark's death is, in the words of his coach, an event of the present, an ongoing, repeating event for the speaker, and transitively so for a reader or listener.
Jack Clark doesn't have to say that he will never forget Mark Bingham. His description of Mark says it all.
To say that Jack Clark's accomplishments surpass the realm of athletics, or that of the professional achievements of his players, would not begin to describe his influence. Furthermore, he is the kind of man who would immediately express discomfort at the implication of the former assertion—he would protest that the consistent success of his players both during and after leaving his program could not possibly be termed "his" accomplishment. He insistently separates himself from the success of those into whom he breathes triumph.
How do you describe a man for whom the anxiety of overcoming a Goliath probably does not even approach the anxiety of being accredited for such fearlessness and innovation? How do you describe the job of a man whose players have time and again won national championship after national championship, who have gone on to become professional rugby players around the world, to create their own companies, to run the largest firms in the country? How do you describe a man who molded the minds and hearts of young men who went on to save the lives of other people in the face of their own imminent mortality? This man does not build teams. He builds worlds.
We have our Achilles, our Spartacus, our Joan of Arc, our Mark Bingham, as legends go. We have heroes who will never be forgotten because of their other-worldly spirit, in life and then in death. And sometimes, we have a human being whose actions and influence seem to invert the passage of time itself. We can look at a human being who is powerful to the point of being at once remembered and alive, someone who guides lives, leaders, teams, someone who leaves an indelible mark in the memories of those whose paths he crosses.
Back at Witter Rugby Field, Clark walks me through the motions of a game day. Cal Rugby men, he tells me, set up their own field, hang their own banners, bag up the trash, clean up after the game. They are there not only to pick up their own trash, but everyone else's as well.
"This is our place," Clark says. "And we take care of it."
He glances toward the treetop-dotted mountains of Strawberry Canyon that frame his field with a backlit, emerald glow. He is looking directly at the flagpole on the field.
Today, no stars or stripes are catching the breezy gusts sailing through the canyon base. Part of the game day regimen includes putting the flag up, and at the end of the day, taking it back down. The flag flies only on game days, part of the intricate system unique to Cal Rugby.
"We raise the American flag because we know how to hoist it. And we know how to lower it, more importantly, and look after it."
Jack Clark's world is populated by the people who have touched him. He lives in a house with lots of people in it.
Perhaps even more important are the student-athletes who leave Clark's domain and matriculate into the larger one we inhabit, with their PhDs in Team.
Some of them are ready to save the world.
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