Army loss is the least of pain, gloom at Navy

December 07, 1993|By Bill Tanton

There have been other blue Mondays in December at the Naval Academy, days when the Midshipmen were still licking their wounds after a loss to Army, or when a hard-working football coach -- a Gary Tranquill or an Eliot Uzelac in recent years -- was fired and sent packing.

There has never been one like yesterday, though. The place was literally bathed in gloom.

The academy was 24 hours removed from a memorial service for Alton Grizzard, who was quarterback and co-captain of the Navy team three years ago.

Lt. Grizzard was shot and killed in Coronado, Calif., last Wednesday along with Ensign Kerryn O'Neill, Navy '93, by Ensign George Smith, Navy '92, in a murder-suicide.

As mourners headed for the service at the Naval Academy chapel Sunday, three undergraduates -- Lisa M. Winslow, Autumn Pevzner and Robin Pegram -- were killed in an accident less than a mile from the academy.

The truck in which they were riding was driven by another midshipman, Brian L. Clark. He was taken to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. They were returning from the Army-Navy game played Saturday in East Rutherford, N.J.

Oh, yes, that, too -- the game.

Navy lost that, 16-14, when its field-goal kicker, Ryan Bucchianeri, missed a short one with six seconds left.

Short? They don't come any shorter.

The ball was snapped from the 1-yard line, which made it shorter than an extra-point conversion, even though this one was from off to the right.

The loss of a football game is meaningless compared to the loss of the lives of those six young Navy people within a five-day period. Even the loss of an Army-Navy game.

Still, that's what accentuates Bucchianeri's miss. It happened in an Army-Navy game, the one the Mids wanted to win for Grizzard.

If Bucchianeri had missed that kick against, say, Bowling Green, and if Navy had gone on to beat Army, no one would have given a thought to Bowling Green.

But this was Army-Navy, a game that has been played since 1890, the game that can make or break the season for either academy. This one broke Navy's.

The Mids, after winning four of their first six games, lost their last five and wound up with a 4-7 season.

The lasting memory of it will be of Bucchianeri, a plebe, 18 years old and looking 15, a mere 5 feet 8 and 142 pounds, peering out from that oversized helmet with those terrified eyes -- and then kicking wide right.

So yesterday the sadness was everywhere at Navy as football coach George Chaump sat in his second-floor office overlooking Spa Creek.

"It's hard to believe all the tragedy that's hit this place in the past week," he said.

"Alton Grizzard was our quarterback my first year here. He was a great leader, a great young man. The young woman who died with him was beautiful. She was from where I come from, near Scranton, Pa.

"People have been calling me from all over the country with expressions of sympathy."

There is no future, of course, for Grizzard or the five other young people who died in recent days.

No one knows how Ryan Bucchian- eri's future will be affected by the missed kick Saturday. It's something he'll have to live with for a long time.

Never can I remember people feeling so sorry for a young athlete as they did for Bucchianeri in that situation. It just didn't seem right for all that pressure to be put on a freshman who had only been on the team for four games.

Chaump understood that. He didn't want Bucchianeri to kick either. "I was hoping our fullback, Brad Stramanak, would score on the play before," Chaump was saying.

"We wanted Brad to run up the middle to keep a good angle if we had to kick a field goal, but Brad thought he could get in if he went a little to the right. He was stopped on the 1-yard line."

At the Navy bench, Chaump put his arm around Bucchianeri and asked if he wanted to take a 5-yard penalty to give him a better angle.

"Right there is good enough, coach," said Bucchianeri. Chaump didn't want to argue with the kid and upset him more than he already was.

After the game, when Bucchianeri thought the whole world was crashing down on him, he felt Chaump's arm around him once more.

"Don't put it all on yourself, Booch," said the soft-spoken Chaump. "We missed so many chances to win the game earlier because of our own mistakes. It never should have come down to that last kick."

There are guys in the NFL making $2 million a year who hide in the trainer's room to duck questions after a mistake like that.

Yet there was young Ryan Bucchianeri, minutes after a nightmarish moment that had been seen on TV by 50 million, facing it like a man. Yes, sir, this. No, sir, that.

"He's strong," said Chaump.

Said the man from the New York Times: "That's one of the most impressive things I've ever seen a young athlete do."

Booch is strong, all right. He'll be OK. If only Grizzard and Kerryn O'Neill and the others could be.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.