Forget the records it's still Army-Navy When these teams meet, expect the unexpected

December 05, 1992|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA -- The City of Brotherly Love is primed for th 93rd meeting between Army and Navy. Over near the Liberty Bell yesterday there was a pep rally and cheerleading contest to get the fans pumped up. And at The Gallery Mall downtown tomorrow a huge Army-Navy Holiday Festival is planned.

But the game is what this weekend is all about, and today more than 67,000 fans will pack Veterans Stadium and millions more will tune in on television (noon, channels 13 and 7) to watch a game that, regardless of team records, will showcase college football in its truest sense.

"This is college football the way it should be -- athletes who are students, athletes who have great, great character," said Navy coach George Chaump. "It's refreshing to see that type of athlete compete, when you have a lot of respect for the participants."

Electrifying is the best way to describe the atmosphere of an Army-Navy game and, despite Army being 4-6 and Navy 1-9, the same will hold true today. From the respect commanded by the Cadets and Midshipmen during their pre-game march-on, to the fly-by of military fighter planes to the constant roar of the crowd, an Army-Navy game is a truly special athletic event.

"For my first game I didn't do anything different, and I prepared the way I would for any other game," said Navy senior defensive tackle Bob Kuberski. "But once I got on the field my emotions ran higher than in any other game. It was pretty intense."

That first game for Kuberski, a 30-20 Navy loss in 1990, was also the first for Army offensive lineman John Pirog. Despite standing on the opposite side of the field, Pirog had the same chills.

"It was incredible," Pirog recalled. "I was a sophomore and on the PAT [point-after-touchdown unit] and when I stepped on the field my whole body just went numb. I was so excited and even though nobody but my parents had their eyes on me, it seemed like the whole world was watching."

Viewers today are expected to see a competitive game between evenly matched teams. Army is favored by 4 1/2 points and has three more wins this season than Navy, but the Cadets were 16-point favorites a year ago and had four more victories than a winless Navy team, only to leave Philadelphia a 24-3 loser.

It's one of those series where you expect the unexpected. Like in 1989, when Navy's Frank Schenk kicked a field goal with time running out to give the Midshipmen a 19-17 victory for just their third win of the season against an Army team that entered the game 6-4. Or in 1985, when Army finished 9-3 and beat Illinois in the Peach Bowl, but left feeling empty because of a 17-7 loss earlier that month to a Navy team that entered the game with only three wins.

An unexpected move last year was Chaump's use of two quarterbacks: Jim Kubiak to start drives, and Jason Van Matre for plays inside the 20-yard-line. That novel approach worked brilliantly as Kubiak completed 13 of 16 passes for 157 yards, and Van Matre rushed 25 times for 89 yards and scored a touchdown.

"This year we'll play just Jason Van Matre, I guarantee that," said Chaump, joking in part about his team's injury woes at quarterback (six players have taken snaps this season). "We won't switch quarterbacks."

Perhaps not, but don't rule it out. Quarterback Brian Ellis, whose jaw was broken in the second game of the season against Boston College, is back in uniform. He traveled to Rice two weeks ago and held on place-kicks during Navy's 27-22 loss. With several weeks to prepare and knowing Chaump's penchant for pulling surprises, an appearance by Ellis -- a throwing quarterback -- wouldn't be too surprising.

Army has been somewhat surprising at quarterback this season, with coach Bob Sutton having his team throwing the ball more than at any time since the Cadets went to the wishbone in 1984.

"We've thrown, percentage-wise, a lot better," Sutton said. "We came into the season trying to throw the ball more effectively. When we went back to pass, we wanted to be a team to pass when we wanted to and when we had to."

That hurt Army against Navy last year when, after falling behind, the Cadets were unable to get back into the game with a passing attack that ranked last in the nation. Although 58 completions and 110 attempts this season both rank as season bests over the past nine years, Army still ranks 105th out of 107 Division I-A teams in passing.

"It always comes down to our ability to run the ball," Sutton said. "Our passing is good because we can run, not independent of it. We set out to be a good option football team."

Whether Army establishes itself as a good option team, or whether Navy improves on its one-win season a year ago, remains to be seen. But one thing is clear from the coaches: Regardless of what happens, it will be exciting.

"Right now our team has developed into a good football team," Chaump said. "Right now I'd like to think we can compete with anybody.

"[Army] got better as the season got older and, scoring 24 points against Boston College, shows they can move the football. We're mad, and they're mad."

So let the battle begin.

Common opponents

Army and Navy have had four common opponents this season -- and each academy is winless in the meetings:

Opp... .. .. .. ..Army.. .. .. .. ..Navy

Boston Col... .. 41-24.. .. .. .. ..28-0

Rutgers.. .. .. .45-10.. .. .. .. ..40-0

Carolina.. .. .22-9.. .. .. .. .28-14

Air Force.. .. ....7-3.. .. .. .. .18-16

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