Fate has dealt Jeremy McGown's trip home a knockout punch.
It was all going to be so heartwarming, family and friends from Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma converging on Houston on Sept. 24 for the third time in his Navy career when the Midshipmen took on Rice.
Then, Hurricane Rita intervened, the game was postponed for nearly a month and the reunion would have to wait. Still, it would eventually happen.
Now, it won't happen at all. On the Saturday after the postponement, McGown fractured his left arm in a freak injury at Duke when teammate Irv Spencer "swung around and hit me with a leg whip from behind when I went to break up a screen," said McGown, who has missed the past two games and is not expected back for two more.
When Navy (3-2) plays at Rice (0-5) Saturday, the junior cornerback will be in Annapolis listening to the game on the radio.
Coach Paul Johnson said injured players are not customarily on the traveling squad, so McGown will not be with his teammates. And flights arranged to take non-playing Mids to road games are booked far in advance, so that is an unlikely option.
"This is pretty tough," said McGown, one of Navy's most versatile and intelligent players. "It's already difficult not getting to play and just watching. I'll just get on the phone with my parents and talk about the tailgates and the barbecue."
McGown is highly esteemed by his coaches. An all-state academic choice in football-crazy Texas, he "could play anywhere," according to Johnson. "I wish I could put him in every spot," said defensive coordinator Buddy Green.
He came to the academy as a quarterback, played wide receiver for a time as a plebe and has been a safety, cornerback, nickel back and punt and kickoff returner. He has the best vertical leap on the team and one of the fastest sprint times.
Rice was a school he wanted to attend out of Langham Creek High, but interest was tepid. He ran back his first kickoff as a freshman in a 38-6 romp over the Owls, then returned home for the Houston Bowl against Texas Tech and was named special teams player of the game.
"I always like to go to Rice," said McGown. "I'll really miss the opportunity to play in front of all my family and friends."
Although Rice sports the longest overall losing streak (11) in the country, with Army, Johnson doesn't see this as a "trap" game like Kent State.
"I see Rice as a good football team," said the Navy coach. "Their record is deceiving. They started with UCLA and Texas and they're both undefeated. Nobody they've played has a losing record. If we don't play well, they'll beat us good."
Johnson is still dissatisfied with his team's performance in a 34-31 win over Kent State and said he will remain so "until we play again. I think you have to have a certain set of expectations and standards and I'm not going to lower mine."
With Navy dominating possession time and Kent State throwing 41 times, linebacker Rob Caldwell was in on only four tackles and fell to fifth nationally with a game average of 13.20. He was displaced as the leader by Maryland counterpart D'Qwell Jackson (14.40). ... Rice coach Ken Hatfield characterized his team as "a vagabond" after opening at home last week, the fifth stadium in which it has appeared. Originally, Navy was the home opener. ... Navy has climbed to fourth in the country in rushing with 267 yards a game after gaining 336 on the ground Saturday.
Navy@Rice Saturday, 6 p.m., 1090 AM, 1430 AM Line: Navy by 7