Mids have a streak to settle Navy aims to halt Air Force's 11 in row

October 08, 1993|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

It may not be close to matching the dominance by Penn State over Maryland in football, but the 11-game winning streak the Air Force Academy has over Navy definitely has left the Annapolis brass fighting mad and trying to find ways of reversing the trend.

Navy football historians say a number of these losses were by narrow margins, but that is revisionism. As a matter of fact, there were only three close games (a spread of seven or less) -- a 24-21 decision when the streak began in 1982, a 29-22 victory in 1984 and last year's hotly debated, last-minute, 18-16 victory in Colorado Springs.

The Falcons' average margin of victory has been 17.5 points, highlighted by blowouts of 44-17, 40-6, 35-7 and a 40-0 beating as recently as 1991.

How do you explain such a disparity between service academies with basically the same stringent recruiting codes and tough academic standards?

Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry, who is responsible for the Falcons' past nine victories in the rivalry, and Rear Adm. Tom Lynch, the Naval Academy superintendent, say the main reason is continuity.

"Since I took the head coaching job in 1984, I've lost only four assistants," DeBerry said. "That kind of continuity really helps make a successful program. Basically, we've had the same guys coaching and recruiting for us the last 10 years."

It has been quite a different story in Annapolis, where the Mids last enjoyed a winning season (6-5) in 1982 under Gary Tranquill. The four previous years, they went 31-15-1 under George Welsh. At the time, however, a number of the athletes were enrolled in a less demanding curriculum. The academic majors open to athletes since have been upgraded.

Reviewing recent history, Lynch, who was a co-captain, center and linebacker in the early 1960s, when quarterback Roger Staubach made Navy a national power, said the academy's football woes resulted from constant upheaval in the coaching ranks.

"While DeBerry has had his program intact at the Air Force, we've had three different coaches -- Tranquill, Elliot Uzelac and now George Chaump," said Lynch. "It takes time for a coach to get his system to work."

Air Force sports information director Dave Kellogg said the Falcons may have an edge in recruiting by playing in a conference (Western Athletic Conference) that features a hTC number of traditional high-scoring teams such as Brigham Young, Wyoming, Fresno State, Utah and Hawaii.

"Recruits like the chance to play this kind of freewheeling brand of football," Kellogg said. "And, unlike Navy, being part of a conference brings more exposure."

And then there is the theory that in using the wishbone all these years under DeBerry, Air Force has a distinct advantage over Navy, which plays few wishbone teams.

But Lynch said this has little bearing on the Falcons' dominance in the series.

"Some people believe all three academies, because of recruiting restrictions, should utilize the wishbone," he said. "Well, we used it when Uzelac was here, and we won only eight games in three seasons.

"As far as I'm concerned, it still comes down to blocking and tackling. The teams that do that best win consistently, regardless of what style of offense they're using."

Despite the 2-20 record under Chaump the previous two years, Lynch says the program has turned the corner and Chaump is the right man to get the job done.

"We haven't had any players quit the team, and there has been no sign of dissension," he said. "That's a tribute to George Chaump.

"I did a very thorough review of the football program the past two years, looking to all aspects of recruiting and coaching," Lynch said. "I came to the conclusion that the quality of plebes and sophomores on our present team is as good as it's ever been.

"Even more important, we've got 27 seniors on this squad, and 16 in starting roles. The Naval Academy is all about training future leaders, and these seniors set a great example for our younger players."

Lynch acknowledges that playing Air Force, which has won the past four Commander-in-Chief trophies in the interservice rivalry, still does not match the tradition and commitment of beating Army in the season finale.

"There is nothing comparable to the Army game," he said. "You've got every sailor in the Navy pulling for you, and every admiral and alumnus is pressuring you to win.

"The Air Force game doesn't have the same powerful emotion, but winning this game is very important to our football future. Frankly, we're tired of losing to them."

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