It's two weeks to go and counting before the Mids line up in Philadelphia's Veteran Stadium to do battle with Army's Cadets, and emotions are building all over the academy campus.
Behind the scenes, deadly serious members of the coaching staff are into some heavy strategic planning sessions as blurry-eyed offensive and defensive specialists decipher and categorize stacks of notes filling pages of X's and O's made by scouts who shadowed each Army game.
The coaches review scout films over and over again (play by play), talk via telephone to friendly coaches who have played against or seen the Cadets in action, and, of course, run last year's film to find keys to Army basic strategies. A detailed game plan surfaces from all of this and is translated onto the practice field.
Midshipmen high jinks -- without which it would not seem like Army-Navy -- are planned, sometimes with the secrecy that would make the CIA proud.
This year's counter-intelligence planning by the Mids left the West Pointers with egg on their faces.
The Mids deliberately allowed a goat to be kidnapped by Cadets who thought they had infiltrated the security network. It was the worst-smelling of animals that Navy wanted to get rid of, and not the official mascot now secretly hidden in the hinterlands. Want to bet the bogus mascot shows up on the sidelines on Dec. 8 somehow redesigned by ingenious minds along the Hudson?
As these intensive efforts go forward, it offers the opportunity to reflect on some of the outstanding happenings of this historic football series now in its 91st year.
To attempt to select the most memorable game or season through the years would only invite the cruelest kind of rebuttal and deservedly so.
This observer has witnessed many of the great ones since the 1930s and an effort is made here to review a few that most likely would result in little disagreement to their rights of consideration.
The first to come to mind occurred in 1948. An undefeated, untied Army team, one of its best ever and led by All-American quarterback Arnold Galiffa, lined up against a Navy team that hadn't won a game all season while facing one of its toughest schedules. The Mids even lost to a mediocre Columbia team, 13-0, the week before the Army-Navy clash. In addition, the Cadets were trying for their fifth straight win over the Mids. Navy actually scored first when Reeves Baysinger, a graduate of Staunton Military Academy, passed for a touchdown to Bill Hawkins after Pistol Pete Williams' 59-yard run.
Army scored twice on Galiffa's passes in the second quarter to go ahead, but Bill Powers' 37-yard sprint set up the tying score in the third. In the fourth period, Galiffa ran it over from the 10-yard line, but Hawkins' 51-yard drive as the clock was running out tied the score, 21-21, before 101,000 astonished witnesses. Roger Drew had kicked all three extra points.
To this day it still is regarded by experts as one of the great upsets in intercollegiate football history.
A game closely measured with this one, as far as upsets are concerned, happened in 1950 when an Army team undefeated since 1947 went down to the Mids, 14-2, on the strength of Bob Zastrow's strong arm at quarterback and a determined defense motivated by captain Tom Bakke's inspired leadership.
It was the beginning of coach Eddie Erdelatz's nine-year reign as head coach that ultimately led to 50 victories, 26 losses and eight ties.
Many, also, will remember what was probably the most heartbreaking defeat, but one of the Mids' most incredibly courageous efforts. It was in 1946 and the final game of the legendary Doc Blanchard-Glenn Davis era at Army.
The Cadets that year were seriously compared to several pro teams, and came into the Navy game undefeated against the Mids, who were reeling under a 1-7 season. In spite of Heisman Trophy winner Glen Davis' inspired efforts, the Cadets almost ended their season ignominiously with Navy driving down to Army's 3-yard line as the game ended, 21-18.
The usual sellout crowd stood, cheered or cried, their emotions completely drained. Running back Lynn Chewning and the incomparable Bill Hawkins again outshone their more celebrated opponents particularly in the second half. Quarterback Reeves Baysinger's passes to Art Merkel, Pete Williams and Myron Berger had brought Navy back into the game as an aroused defense slowed down Army's fearsome twosome and kept the Cadets out of the end zone.
Historians would have to go way back to the 1904-1914 era to recall Navy's most startling highlights. Over an 11-year period, the Mids won 80 games while dropping only 22, with nine ties, to record practically an .800 winning percentage under four different head coaches.
But Army kept right with them, beating Navy four times and tying them once in 10 games. The game had been canceled in 1909. The 1910 season witnessed Navy's only unbeaten season with eight wins and a 0-0 tie with Rutgers under coach Frank Berrien, a Navy graduate, and captained by Starr King.