The Naval Academy football faithful were exposed to a new dimension of frustration last Saturday in the homecoming clash with the University of Delaware.
The dream of a turnaround for the Mids, which appeared so bright with a brilliant 25-7 halftime lead, became a nightmare amid a series of familiar mistakes and questionable offensive strategy.
All of this added up to 22 unanswered points by the visiting BlueHens during the game's final minutes.
Once again, the young Mids played their hearts out and periodically sparkled on both offense anddefense -- only to lose it all against a team now ranked No. 1 Division 1-AA.
To add insult to injury, Navy drove 55 yards in the lastmoments of play to the Delaware 15-yard line only to have a Jim Kubiak pass intercepted by linebacker Bob Wolford. How frustrating can itget?
The wailing and gnashing of teeth, the dire predictions havebeen recorded and the sound of premature "Taps" have been heard all this week in anticipation of a Mid football slaughter at Notre Dame tomorrow. That is, in a lot of places off the academy campus -- certainly not on the varsity practice field.
It's going to be another one of those super, all-out efforts that Navy is famous for in the faceof adversity, and as long as 11 Midscan stand up it will be one extraordinary physical battle. Count on it.
In reality, if there ever was a seeming mismatch, this is it. One can dream of an upset, but 0-7 and dead last in the Eastern Lambert polls against No. 5 in the national rankings? A team that defeated the likes of Indiana, Pittsburgh, Air Force, Purdue and Southern California? Playing at home yet?
Yet, hope springs eternal, and, after all, they are all 19- to 21-year-old athletes out there, prone to all kinds of mistakes, and I neverwill sell an extended Navy effort short. After all, I was there in 1948 when a winless Navy tied Army, the nation's No. 1 team, 21-21.
Whatever the mismatch, this is a great series being played for the 65th time.
What could be going on in the mind of Navy's head coach,George Chaump? This man has relished success all along his coaching career.
He's a coach with successful stops at places like Ohio State, where when he was a quarterback coach when the Buckeyes were Big Ten champs on eight occasions, going to the Rose Bowl six times, and on other occasions to the Orange, Sugar, Gator and Hula bowls.
As an assistant at Tampa Bay under John McKay, the Buccaneers won two NFL Central Division titles, and as a head coach at Indiana (Pa.), and Marshall (W.Va.)
universities, conference championships were won in 1984, 1986 and 1988.
So, in a one-on-one session, let's talk to the coach.
Q. It's been brutal to date and deeply frustrating, Coach, so how can one maintain reasonable sanity and a healthy state of mind when it appears that you are at the center of the adversity?
A. You have to be associated with the quality young men here at the academy to witness the strength of character they project in the face of the adversity. They help me and they help each other. It's an inspirational atmosphere.
Q. Don't the week-by-week defeats undermine or destroy the spirit of the team?
A. We hate to lose more than anybody, but, in spite of the past weeks, the squad is more unified andhas maintained positive attitudes.
Q. Aren't practices discouraging?
A. On the contrary. This team works harder than ever and keepstogether as a close family unit. It's the Navy spirit. You won't find this at most schools.
Q. What about the demands on their time inaddition to the demanding football routine?
A. The average citizen cannot imagine the required daily routine that the midshipmen must follow to keep academically eligible, to obey orders, to maintain marching and other military requirements, acquire tutoring when necessary, and even to take their turn at guard duty.
Gearing up for the two (to) three hours of football practice is a difficult challenge. Yet they come out somehow full of spirit and ready to go, even after having to study at 3 in the morning when possible. The successful football-playing midshipman is no dumb jock.
Q. Then is it the spirit, courage and dedication of the Navy player that keeps you well-balanced?
A. Yes, it is.
Q. How come all of these plebes and third-classmen are starting and making a contribution?
A. They are actuallymaking the team, earning their chance. We have had to make adjustments. It's not easy to make instant players at every position, but theyare learning fast. I am still reluctant, however, to move plebes andjunior varsity players up too fast, but at times this year conditions required it.
Q. What about this next game at South Bend?
A. We're looking forward to it, and we'll be ready.
Navy has been bentthis year but it is far from being broken. A spirit still prevails that simply gains momentum in the face of adversity. This truly is theultimate test of a coaching staff, a team and a campus community.
However, the losing atmosphere of the moment will not be tolerated indefinitely at the academy. Even here the coach's feet are held to the fire at times.
Navy's proud heritage burns brightly along the Severn. Winning is not always everything, associated with the overall successful educational and developmental curriculum designed to prepare our leaders of tomorrow, but it sure beats being embarrassed in themanly art of football over the long haul.
It seems when winning characterizes most of the men's and women's varsity sports at Navy, its supporters are still allowing the football hand to be played out. For the moment.
Earl Schubert, a free-lance writer, is a Baltimore native who lives in Annapolis. A former football coach, he was a secondary school administrator in Missouri and Montgomery County, and worked for 17 years as a senior official in the U.S. Department of Education. His "Navy Blue and Gold" column appears every Friday in the Anne Arundel County Sun.