Navy goat takes cover before game

November 29, 1993|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Staff Writer

These are the times that try a goat's soul.

Bill XXVI, the U.S. Naval Academy's mascot, will be in seclusion by the time you read this. He'll be chewing his rough-grass hay in secrecy before the fabled Army-Navy game, far -- the Navy hopes -- from the prying hands of West Point cadets.

Within a week -- on Saturday -- the Angora goat will be the star of the 100th anniversary celebration of the Navy mascot, accepting pre-game accolades and a cake for the many Bills who trod before him.

But these are hazardous times. His predecessors have been kidnapped from their pens, thrown into cars, and driven north toward the Hudson River. Despite the barbed wire and security alarm at his Naval Academy dairy farm pen, extra precautions are necessary.

Three hundred miles to the north, Bill's West Point counterparts -- the Army's mules -- have suffered similar humiliations in the past. They will be under heavy guard before the game.

Two years ago, midshipmen disguised in Army fatigues subdued the guards, herded the four mules into a van and screeched out of West Point's gates.

Army helicopters roared after them in vain. The Mids were finally nabbed by Pentagon security agents, in a whirl of lights and sirens, as they arrived at the Naval Academy. The threat of federal charges hung over their heads for months.

"I think they're still looking for revenge on that one," chuckled Midshipman 1st Class Richard Paquette of Huntington, N.Y., the brigade operations officer.

"That's why we're looking after him," added Midshipman 1st Class Leah Nelson of Bloomfield, Mich., noting that the birthday celebration might provide an extra spur to nab Bill.

In 1965, Army cadets grabbed Bill XV, assisted by several girls who offered a key diversion: flirting with the Marine guards. Army again struck in 1990, although Navy said that wasn't the real Bill, only a stand-in.

But stealing each other's mascots -- as well as cadets and midshipmen -- is now officially off limits, under an agreement last year between both academies. There are concerns that either the two-footed or four-footed service members could be hurt in the annual high jinks.

The agreement, signed by the commandants, outlines "Rules of Engagement Prior to Army-Navy Competitions," sort of a sports version of the Geneva Convention. The two-page document suggests competitions "with the proper decorum due each service."

Still, there was a similar agreement in the early '60s that didn't prevent a subsequent rash of mascot-nappings. Will this one hold?

"Well, we think so. We're a disciplined unit," said Rear Adm. Thomas C. Lynch, the Naval Academy's superintendent who was a member of the Navy football team that defeated Army in '61, '62 and '63. He paused before adding, "We'll see."

"Nothing is assured in this world," said Lt. Gen. Howard D. Graves, West Point's superintendent and a '61 graduate. "We are hoping they will find imaginative ways but safe ways to demonstrate rivalries."

But Midshipman Paquette suggested that West Point still could be visited by Navy personnel with unauthorized mischief on their minds, saying cryptically: "Midshipmen have been known to disappear during Army week."

First Capt. Howard H. Hoege of Kingwood, Texas, the highest-ranking cadet, said, "With an emotionally charged game like this, it's hard to predict what will go on and what won't go on."

To call the Army-Navy Game another football game is like calling the Cold War a diplomatic squabble or the Hatfield and McCoy feud a neighborhood spat. An admiral and a general came close to a duel over the game in 1893, causing a five-year cancellation.

When Army routed Navy in 1949, Gen. Douglas MacArthur (West Point '03) cabled congratulations worthy of a successful, hard-fought landing: "From the Far East I send you a single

thought, one sole idea, written in red on every beachhead from Australia to Tokyo: there is no substitute for victory."

Defeating the prime rival is the Holy Grail for each school, deeply ingrained from a plebe's first days.

Midshipmen begin their careers in Annapolis by squaring corners and shouting "Beat Army!" At West Point, cadets sit ramrod straight for meals at Washington Hall calling out the number of days "before Army beats the hell out of Navy."

The game is not only broadcast on national television but is aired worldwide to the troops and the fleet over the Armed Forces Radio and TV Network. In the days before the game, good-luck calls and telegrams descend on each team from commanders in the field.

"When you lose the game, you feel like your service is weaker than Army," Midshipman Paquette said.

Even if Navy wins all its other games, "If you lose to Army, you've lost the season," added Midshipman Nelson.

"Every single old grad, every single Army post is watching the game," said Cadet Hoege, noting the pressure on the team. "They're afraid of letting folks down."

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