Game Is Pressure-cooker For Coaches

NAVY BLUE AND GOLD

December 14, 1990|By Earl P. Schubert

It just wasn't to be - the first Navy winning football season since 1982.

Army's awesome running attack out of its polished wishbone chewed up yardage and held onto the ball most of the afternoon. Still, the Mids were in the game into the final quarter when a Cadet pass interception closed the door, and Army went on to a 30-20 win.

It was over -- all of the hoopla, the emotions, the hopes and the fears, ending in the semidarkness of a quiet Veterans Stadium last Saturday night.

It ended like so many classic battles between these two proud academies.

One was elated and riding the crest of a successful effort, and the other was subdued and downcast. This certainly was reflected in the faces and the demeanor of the players and coaches.

The Middies, of course, will carry the defeat with them, but their whole lives are ahead of them, and before too long their attention and motivations will turn to other things.

The coaches, however, had careers affected, their own professional strategies challenged, and unseen pressures were increased. The pressure on the outcome of this game is like no other. After all, an interested world was watching or listening. But when a coach signs on for this one, he knows what he is getting into.

It still appears a little unfair and unrealistic at times as described in the following true story involving one of the nation's great coaches.

Near midnight of a late November Saturday in 1954, Hall of Fame Army coach Earl "Red" Blaik sat alone in the dark of his Hotel Pennsylvania suite. His younger sister entered to find him staring out of his window into the night, despondent and depressed. He had skipped the Army-Navy festivities.

In response to her worried inquiry as to what may be wrong, he looked up at her and murmured, "What did I do wrong? I feel like I let the Army down."

His 1954 squad that he considered superior to even the great Army teams of the 1940s, and which had led the nation in offense that year, was beaten by an inspired Navy team, 27-20.

It was one of the greatest all-time Army-Navy games, with Mid quarterback George Welsh and the rest of the backfield -- comprised of Joe Gattuso, Bod Craig, Dick Guest and Jack Weaver --operating behind a Navy line anchored by All-American end Ron Beagle, tackle John Hopkins and Wilson Whitmire. It wasn't until 1958 that Army could defeat the Midshipmen again.

So goes the pressure on this game. There are a few horror stories to be told around the Naval Academy on this score, also.

Last week's game, of course, was no exception in terms of pressure, although national rankings were not at stake.

Navy coach George Chaump and his staff certainly must be disappointed, more than the average observer can comprehend. After all, it was his first losing season as a head coach in eight years. His Indiana (Pa.) team went 4-6 in 1982.

But it was also a year of progress at Navy, going from 3-8 in 1989 to 5-6 this season. And, but for a fumble deep in Army territory in the first quarter when the Mids were driving and a pass interception in the fourth under similar circumstances, the final score could have been reversed. But that's part of the game.

Looking back over the season, it can be said that the low point was the homecoming defeat by James Madison. Miraculously, one week later, a new Navy team emerged that almost pulled the upset of the century against Notre Dame.

Coach Chaump determined that his run-and-shoot pro offense had been ineffective and reverted to his wishbone attack, which completely stunned the Irish.

Tied at the half, only the size of Notre Dame finally wore down the Mids after they had scored the most points on the Irish this season. A horribly errant official's call as Navy was fighting back further brought on its downfall in the second half.

It was a vastly different Navy team after the Notre Dame game. The Mids beat good Toledo and Delaware teams with spirited comebacks in the final periods of the games.

A more confident Mid squad was led by quarterback Alton Grizzard on offense and co-captain Bill Bowling and All-American candidate Andy Kirkland on defense.

The defensive secondary, so maligned in earlier games, greatly improved with Chad Chatlos, Chris Cordero, Bill Yancey and Darrell Graham deep; and Bryan Ogden, Mark Ellis, and Brad Brown joining Bowling backing up the line. Kirkland, for example, was credited with 15 tackles alone against the Army.

Except for the crucial Army defeat, the season should be considered overall as a step upward for Navy football, and it must be understood that the Cadets were no ordinary, second-class team at season's end. It had run over Lafayette, battled top-flight Syracuse to the finish, defeated a fine Rutgers team, was edged by Air Force and then upset Southeastern Conference Vanderbilt on the road.

In the final analysis, Navy never really did stop Army's powerful wishbone attack. The Cadet game plan was excellent.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.