Bowled over by the Navy faithful

Mids fans come from far, wide for Poinsettia Bowl

From The Cover

December 23, 2005|By KENT BAKER | KENT BAKER,SUN REPORTER

SAN DIEGO --The pre-game scene in the parking lots of Qualcomm Stadium last night underscore the reason why Navy has become a darling of bowl committees.

Blue and Gold trappings were everywhere, with Colorado State fans huddled in one small section of the massive parking area. The most dominant feature was a large tent where festive Navy fans were whopping it up in preparation for the first Poinsettia Bowl.

Larry Cylc, a high school football coach in Delaware whose sons, Larry Jr. and Joe, are prominent members of the Navy defense, was the spokesman for a group of parents who had traveled far and willingly for the third straight bowl appearance by the Midshipmen.

"I get more excited for these than my high schools games," said Cylc, who lives in Claymont, Del., just south of the Pennsylvania line. "It's just something we made a priority to do. Two years from now [when his sons are graduated], I'll be watching the grass grow.

"Look at this," he said surveying thousands of participants in the warm-up fete. "Everyone from plebes to the old admirals are here."

Cylc said the group traveled largely at its own expense. "But we got a great deal on plane fare and I think a cut rate at Navy's great hotel. We're all having a grand time."

As far as they traveled, their route was minuscule compared with the distance Vice Adm. John Stufflebeem covered. The former Navy football player is commander of the Sixth Fleet headquartered in Lisbon, Portugal.

"I just had the chance to come back," said the admiral. "It's sort of like reliving my youth. When I got to play we did not have this."

Stufflebeem was on some losing teams in the 1960s, but he was good enough as a punter to spend some time with the Detroit Lions under former Navy coach Rick Forzano.

"The only game I've gotten to see was Army-Navy [on Armed Forces television]," he added, sporting a baseball cap. Asked if that was appropriate for an admiral, he replied, "It's a Navy football game. We can do anything we want."

The affair was the perfect forum for two senior Midshipmen, their faces festooned with blue and gold paint. They were a small portion of the 1,500 Navy students at the site.

"We're a brigade spirit team," said Josh Angichiodo, from Cleveland. "We're going to be on the field right behind the bench."

Midshipmen who came to the game had their ticket costs reimbursed by the academy, courtesy of donors who purchased tickets but did not attend.

Said Angichiodo: "And we've got $50 rooms at the Hyatt [a posh waterfront hotel where the team stayed] and we can split it. That is the biggest break I've ever gotten as a Mid. The [Naval Academy] alumni association really helps us."

His companion, Jim Armstrong of Johnson City, Tenn., said: "You don't have to be a player to experience all the joys of Navy football. We [seniors] all came in with [coach] Paul Johnson and football has now become a real big part of the brigade. It's great to see everyone involved."

Kelly Rupp was here with her four daughters and her husband, Marine Corps Col. John Rupp, who teaches at the academy.

"This is a great Navy town," she said. "We have a home here, too, and we want to live here. But we're not staying in it now."

Phil McConkey, the hero of Navy's 23-16 victory over Brigham Young in the first Holiday Bowl here in 1978, has moved to San Diego after living in New York for 20 years.

He got his ticket through the San Diego chapter of the alumni association, a group with 1,000 members.

"We've got a good network out here," said McConkey, who won a Super Bowl with New York Giants. "Once I heard Navy was coming, I knew this game would be successful. I try to get back to at least one game a year [in Annapolis], but it's heaven to have it here."

Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk has already been contacted by several bowls about next year's postseason. With an estimated 21,000 tickets sold to this game through the athletic association and another 10,000 credited to Navy by the bowl, it's obvious why everyone is trying to draw Navy to town.

kent.baker@baltsun.com

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