Navy lathers up for 91st meeting with rival Army


December 07, 1990|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Sun Staff Correspondent

ANNAPOLIS -- As midnight approached, Anthony Ardu stood outside with one of those "What am I doing here?" expressions on his face. He was lathered in shaving cream from the neck up, and -- with temperatures in the mid-20s -- the only warmth for the California native's torso was provided by a pair of thin shorts.

"Me cold? Not even," Ardu shouted. "This is too much fun to be cold. My adrenalin is pumping too much."

Ardu, a plebe at the Naval Academy, was not alone. As he spoke, hundreds of future astronauts, nuclear engineers and military strategists ran around in T-shirts and bathrobes, screaming, tossing smoke bombs and spraying shaving cream at any poor soul who happened to be in the vicinity.

It's Army-Navy week at the academy, and everybody who attended this "controlled" event Wednesday night in the academy's Tecumseh Court had a ball. For the men and women who attend Navy -- as well as anyone else associated with either service academy -- tomorrow's football game at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia is one of the most anticipated events of the year.

"This is about the Midshipmen," said captain Tony Watson, a 1970 graduate, as he stood on the front steps of Bancroft Hall watching several Middies bashing an old Chevrolet Citation with a sledgehammer. "This is great. It's a whole week where everyone can come and let all of their frustrations out."

And just how are some of those frustrations vented? Midshipmen are tied up in chairs and bombarded with water balloons. Rooms and entire wings in this otherwise orderly institution are trashed. Belongings turn up missing. One Mid reportedly went so far as to skin a rodent and pin its pelt on his door.

"It seems childish at first, but it really is a lot of fun," Midshipman 1st Class Hugh McFarland said of the weeklong activities. "In my youngster year, the plebes had a meeting and the upperclassmen trashed their rooms. When the plebes got back, they got angry and stormed through the eighth wing and destroyed everything. They were insane, just a marauding group of 300 people."

Not all the behavior is well-received. Earlier this year, a female Midshipman resigned after she was tied to a urinal and photographed during last year's Army-Navy week. The woman went public, and the resulting criticism prompted academy officials to tone down a lot of what goes on.

"With the new activities, you're not allowed to touch anybody unless it's during an athletic event," McFarland said. "If I were to tap someone on the shoulder, technically I could get in trouble. Rules like that never existed before."

They didn't last year at West Point, where McFarland, who attended classes for a semester as part of the Service Academy Exchange Program, was victimized.

"I remember I had papers the first two nights and the upperclassmen there said, 'Don't worry about it, we won't do anything until your papers are done,' " McFarland said, laughing. "Well after I finished, at 11 o'clock at night, an entire class of plebes pulled a basketball pole to our room and climbed into our second-floor window. They shaved half of my body -- one underarm, one eyebrow, half my hair and some pubic hair. I had to shave everything later just to look semi-normal."

Omar Jones, one of five third-year Cadets spending this semester at the Naval Academy, is making himself scarce this week.

"I came back to my room Sunday and there was shaving cream all over the place, the [Midshipmen] wouldn't let me use the phone and my uniforms were gone," Jones said. "But we do stuff, too. The plebes were making this big 'Beat Army' poster out of bedsheets, and we took it. We said, 'If you want your poster [which consists of 96 bedsheets and was hung outside the Pentagon on Wednesday], give us back our uniforms.' They got real nervous, and that night our stuff was back."

Monday night, Jones was among the Cadets who "borrowed" the Navy boat, a ship built on an electric-powered golf cart that is used to circle the field at football games. The Cadets drove the Navy ship through downtown Annapolis, chanting, "Go Army," as they went.

"The people downtown were loving it. We even went to [Rear Adm. Virgil L. Hill Jr.'s] house with it and sang some Army songs," Jones said. "The next day, even some officers came up to us and said, 'That was really good.' "

But don't think it's just the Midshipmen and the Cadets who have gotten caught up in the excitement of the game, which marks its 100th anniversary tomorrow.

Probably the wildest events surrounded the fourth contest, a fight-marred game played in Baltimore in 1893. According to "100 Years of Army-Navy Football," two fans -- a rear admiral and a retired general -- fought in the stands during Navy's 6-4 win and later continued their fracas at the Army & Navy Club in Washington with firearms. Reports about what happened at the club never were issued, but the incident was serious enough to )) lead to the cancellation of the series for the next six years.

Beating Army still is a top priority in Annapolis, but emotions have not run that high since. Though the players look at the contest -- which will be played for the 91st time, with Navy leading 42-41-7 -- as the biggest of the season, they still have a lot of respect for their opponents.

"It's a very important game, especially for the seniors who are playing in the last game of their career," said Navy middle guard Andy Kirkland. "They're a very tough team, and the games are usually played close. We just hope to come out on the winning end."

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