The Naval Academy's second 1990 football season opens tomorrow when the Middies travel West into the rarefied atmosphere of Colorado Springs, Colo., for the annual service academy battle with the Air Force Academy.
It's not quite Army-Navy, but awfully close to it. Home Team Sports will televise the game at 2:05 p.m.
It will be the opening salvo for this year's Commander-In-Chief's trophy -- symbolic of football supremacy between Navy, Army and Air Force -- and an automatic bowl bid.
The smaller Merchant Marine and Coast Guard academies also field creditable football teams but do not compete at this level of competition, although some years they would not have been too overmatched.
Because of the high altitude in Colorado Springs and the breathing difficulties experienced by visiting teams, questions were raised in the early '60s following the founding of the Air Force Academy. Some schools, including West Point, had reservations about the fairness of playing there.
One does not hear much about this now, but it's still a real concern for visiting teams. All kinds of antidotes are dreamed up by visiting coaches to neutralize this imagined or real disadvantage.
One of Navy's finest teams defeated the Falcons in the opening game of the series in 1960, 35-3. All-American Joe Bellino won both the Heisman and Maxwell trophies that year during a 9-1 season under coach Wayne Hardin that took the Middies to Miami's Orange Bowl, where they lost, 21-14, to Missouri. In the 1960 Air Force game, Bellino scored three times and Captain Joe Matalavage and Fred Datillo once each.
Mainly because of the long-range scheduling difficulties at that time, the two academies did not meet again until 1966 in Baltimore. The series picked up on a regular basis in 1972. Air Force holds a 14-8 overall winning advantage and the longest streak (eight) over Navy by any service school.
The Falcons defeated the Middies last year, 35-7, on their way to capturing the Commander-In-Chief Trophy and the Liberty Bowl against Mississippi.
One of the nation's rising stars in the coaching fraternity, Fisher DeBerry (48-25-1 at Air Force) will lead the home team into Falcon Stadium before a sell-out crowd of 53,333. Fisher never has lost to Navy.
A perennial leader in the Western Athletic Conference, the Falcons are having their problems this year. Their 2-3 record is below their normal performance at this stage of the season, having lost to Colorado State, Wyoming and San Diego State, the latter, 48-18. They did beat Hawaii before struggling to beat the Citadel, 10-7.
Navy will experience a welcome change in that it actually will outweigh its opponents for the first time this year, though not by much, both on offense and defense. Sophomore quarterback Jarvis Baker will lead a Falcon offense that will average just 202 pounds per man, the largest being guard Ron James at 260, and the smallest wide receiver Jason Crandall at 160.
Once again, Air Force will be attacking mostly through the air. The game is a toss-up with the home field being the only advantage.
Just about everything that has been said and written about the Mids' 28-17 loss to Boston College last week has been registered. Even coach George Chaump has been quoted as saying, "Those were two teams trying very hard not to win."
Not much reference has been made, however, to Navy's strong defense against Boston College's good running attack when the game was still in doubt. The Eagles had run so well against Ohio State and Pittsburgh but were pretty well shut down until Navy's wheels fell off with crucial turnovers.
Defense against the pass was once again another matter. Boston quarterback Glenn Foley hit for 223 yards, three touchdowns and a 61.5 percent completion average. That and the turnovers sealed a Navy defeat in a game it could have won. This had to be a heart-breaker for the coaching staff that had prepared so well for this one, even during a week when their charges were inundated with tests in the classroom.
It was a frustrating day all-around for the Middies. Jerry Dawson's great 68-yard romp of Bill Kushner's punt for a touchdown was the first since Phil McConkney's in 1977. Middie Bob Craig in 1953-1954 holds the career record with two.
But turnovers immediately returned the game's momentum to the Eagles.
The door really opened for them when Alton Grizzard fumbled at his own 5-yard line in the third period.
This Navy team has to put it all together sooner or later. A potentially sound, reasonably good Division I team is unfolding in spots. There is nothing that would heal this situation quicker than an error-free effort at Colorado Springs tomorrow.