Army-navy Football: It's More Than Just A Game


This Year Marks 50th Anniversary Of Pearl Harbor

November 29, 1991|By Earl P. Schubert

Tortured Navy football fans ask how can a team register six more first downs than an opponent, hold the ball 11 more minutes, not lose a fumble, out-pass it by nearly 200 yards and still lose, 52-24?

That is what happened to the Mids last week against Wake Forest.

Well, one loses by allowing a 77-yard pass interception for a touchdown, an 86-yard punt return for another, a 38-yard pass reception with no defender within 15 yards of the receiver, and seven touchdowns overall each taking no more than five minutes to execute.

In other words, the young Mids fell prey once again to the "big play." Withtheir inconsistent effort and momentary mental lapses, this highly spirited but comparatively inexperienced Navy team simply has not beenable to play a 60-minute game.

Yet, its potential is so obvious that it only adds to the frustration. Quarterback Jim Kubiak, a freshman, passed for a record 406 yards, 139 of them to another freshman, Tom Pritchard. Navy's lineup on both sides of the ball will return almost intact. This time future success appears to be a reality.

If you were there Saturday at the final home game and thought you heard amuch higher volume of "beat Army" by cheering midshipmen following the singing of "Navy Blue and Gold," there was nothing wrong with yourhearing.

That very special time of the season has arrived for the93rd time. It's Army-Navy time next Saturday in Philadelphia, which incidentally is the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor,which precipitated the life-and-death involvement of so many Mids and Cadets who played that day in 1941.

That game was won by Navy, 14-6, in a 7-1-1 season led by Coach Swede Larson and captained by Bob Froude. The onlyloss was to Notre Dame in Baltimore, 20-13. Among the Mids playing in that 1941 game was Capt. Bill Busick, now executive director of theacademy's Alumni Association, who holds the school's all-time careerand season punting records and is fifth in career punt returns, averaging 9.8 yards.

The Army-Navy series, which Army leads, 43-42-7, began in an era when only a dozen or more colleges occupied most of the press coverage.

Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Villanova, Virginia, Army, Navy, Michigan and Minnesota, along with smaller powers such asLehigh and Lafayette, grabbed the headlines when the game was playedwith comparatively minimum protective equipment, the flying wedge was legal, unpadded goal posts were on the goal lines, jerseys had no numbers and some so-called real men even played without helmets.

Itwas really rugged in those days. In 1909, Navy quarterback Earl Wilson died from a neck injury in the Villanova game, and Army linemen Eugene Byrne tried to stop a Harvard flying wedge and was paralyzed from the neck down. The next morning, he died.

A cry went up to ban football. Col. John Mosby, the famed Confederate raider in the Civil War, called football a "barbarous amusement." Gunfighter Bat Mastersonreferred to football as a "brutal slugging match." Cooler heads eventually prevailed, and the game itself was drastically overhauled.

The Army-Navy games were canceled on several occasions. After the 1893 games, President Grover Cleveland canceled the series because of "excessive rowdyism." They were renewed in 1899. Because of World War I, the games were not played in 1917 and 1918. And in 1928 and 1929 the series was canceled because West Point was allowing college lettermen to enroll and play football, negating the then three-year eligibility ruling. In 1930, the series resumed.

Probably the most violentact between the two schools occurred off the field. In 1893, a brigadier general punched an admiral in the nose after a 6-4 Navy victory.The admiral challenged the general to a duel, and they met at the Army-Navy Club in Washington. They fired away at each other from 20 paces. Both missed.

The Army-Navy game has become one of true classics in this century. Soldiers, sailors and Marines at every American outpost in the world tune in for this game, as do millions of citizens,regardless of their educational backgrounds. The two institutions are considered national treasures, and when they meet in football, no matter their season records, they acquire nationwide attention.

When the Navy Blue and the Long Gray Line enter the stadium next week, they'll be marching in the footsteps of Eisenhower, Halsey, Nimitz, Kinkaid, MacArthur, Bradley, Patton, Marshall and many others.

And how about the players themselves? A Navy and professional football star once described lining up for the kickoff as sheer "shock," a greater emotional experience than anything encountered before or since. Army's Pete Dawkins, the great 1959 All-American and much-decorated Vietnam War hero, likened the emotion and the shock of the Army-Navy football kickoff to the first time he jumped out of a helicopter in enemyterritory under fire.

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