Ten losses into what was a winless year, it seemed Navy's football team couldn't wait for the 1991 season to end. But today, following a redeeming 24-3 victory over Army on Saturday, coach George Chaump and his Midshipmen already are looking ahead to next season.
The immediate Navy future would appear to be promising. Just two starters on offense and four on defense are seniors. And with plebes such as quarterback Jim Kubiak, wide receiver Tom Pritchard and tight end Kevin Hickman making huge contributions, the offense should have a good nucleus for years to come.
"I've always believed that juniors and seniors are the ones who should be playing," Chaump said before the game. "We were forced to play our young men. As far as their future, I don't know how good they will be.
I'm not sure how they'll stack up against the young players on teams we'll go up against in the future."
Defense will be the problem area. Losing the leadership of linebacker Byron Ogden (15 tackles Saturday) will hurt a unit that played poorly until the Army game.
Chaump and his coaching staff won't be wasting time in an effort to improve the team. All will be on the road today looking for players. For Chaump, his travels will take him into South Jersey tonight, and then down to the Tidewater area of Virginia tomorrow.
"I'll get a break after the recruiting season is over," Chaump said.
Yesterday at the academy, he was fielding congratulations from the brigade, which came out in force for the bell-ringing ceremony that follows every Navy win over Army.
"There were a lot of uplifted spirits out there and after a frustrating season it was good to see the support out there for the team," Chaump said of the early-afternoon ceremony. "All of the players were elated."
As well they should have been after a solid performance that helped avoid being linked with the 1948 team, which, at 0-8-1, still stands as the only modern-day Navy team to finish a season without a victory.
Navy won by using an offense that alternated at quarterback the throwing ability of Kubiak and the running skills of Jason Van Matre.
"They both did a great job," said Chaump, who used Kubiak until Navy got inside the 30, when he switched to Van Matre. "It was unique in a lot of ways. I've never done that before."
What can't be overlooked is Navy's defense, which held Army 122 yards below the 304-yard rushing average that ranked third in the nation going in. The Midshipmen hadn't held a Division I-A opponent without a touchdown since 1981 in a 3-3 tie with Army.
"We wanted to make the quarterback pitch the ball because we learned our lesson last year [when Army QB Willie McMillian rushed for 195 yards], and we didn't want it to happen again," said Chaump. "We used four different defenses from the start. They did not hurt us with their option game."
Overall Army, a 10-point favorite, didn't hurt Navy at all. The Cadets finished 4-7, their first losing season in four years.
For Navy, it was the second win over Army in three years. And it seems this time the team will be able to savor the moment. Two days after the Midshipmen won in 1989, coach Elliot Uzelac was fired after three straight losing seasons. But Navy athletic director Jack Lengyel has been fully supportive of Chaump, despite his 6-16 record in two years.
"I hope I can keep doing the right things to keep on the right side of the right people," Chaump said jokingly. He then seriously added, "An understanding boss is a great, great asset all the time."
While he's happy his team won, the game still doesn't wipe away the painful 1-10 season for a man who never has had back-to-back losing seasons in his coaching career.
"I just wish we could have come away with more wins," Chaump said. "It was my most frustrating year -- definitely my most disappointing."
Disappointing, yes. But when the players approach their opener at Virginia next Sept. 12, they'll enter the game with the feeling of having redeemed themselves against Army.
"This doesn't do anything but build the confidence for the young players," said Hickman, who caught the first touchdown pass of his career against Army. "You have the cockiness that you can win, and you know you have the ability. We will go forward from this."