HONOLULU -- Junior defensive back Gervy Alota remembers the somber scene back at the Naval Academy the day after another heartbreaking, season-ending loss to Army.
"A lot of the guys were emotionally spent and teary-eyed," Alota said. "I couldn't imagine having played my last game with guys like [senior co-captain] Clint Bruce. We'd been together for three years and wanted one more chance. But we didn't hold out much hope of still playing in a bowl game.
"Coach [Charlie] Weatherbie and his staff walked into the dressing room, looking real glum. Then, all of a sudden, they took off their dress shirts, and they were wearing these wild Hawaiian shirts underneath.
"Everybody started cheering. It's like Coach Weatherbie told us from Day One, 'The sun always shines on the Midshipmen.' "
The sun has been beating down on the Mids since they arrived here Wednesday to play California in the Aloha Bowl on Christmas Day.
The players, who are still adapting to the five-hour time change after a 5,000-mile trip, faced a bigger adjustment practicing in the sultry 80-degree weather after the recent cold spell back East. The coaches showed little sympathy.
"Our warm-up drills were extra hard," Alota said. "The coaches made it clear to us that while we're on the field, it's strictly business. At night, we're at liberty to do what we want."
Liberty. It is a treasured word among the Midshipmen, who have little opportunity during their college days to escape the strict discipline of Academy life. But for the first five days in Honolulu, the players have been given liberty past midnight to tour Waikiki, an idyllic beach area steeped in Navy tradition.
"[But] we're not tourists," said linebacker Bruce. "This is a business trip. We're down here to play football, and with final exams out of the way, we shouldn't have any distractions."
And, of course, there is a chance to remove some of the heartache of the Army game.
"I'll never forget losing to Army," Bruce said. "Especially because I missed a tackle and let [Army quarterback] Ronnie McAda run 44 yards for a touchdown when they made their comeback. I'll remember that even if we were playing in the Super Bowl this week.
"But we still accomplished several of our major goals this season -- a winning record (8-3), plus earning a bowl trip.
Both Cal and Navy have been holding morning workouts in preparation for the 10: 30 a.m. (3: 30 p.m. EST) kickoff. Adapting to the early start should prove easier for the Midshipmen, who are accustomed to starting their school days at 6 a.m.
Navy, of course, will be the crowd favorite of the 50,000 expected to attend, with over one-third of the island population having military connections.
"We were a natural choice for the Aloha Bowl, especially with the history ties with Pearl Harbor," Weatherbie said. "We have a great opportunity to show people in bowl situations that we have a strong following. Plus, a bowl game is also a big recruiting tool."
Lenny Klompus, a Baltimore native who is chairman of the Aloha Bowl committee, said the game has enjoyed one of the best advance sales -- close to 40,000 -- since Hawaii played Michigan State in 1989.
Pub Date: 12/21/96