It was midway through the third quarter, and Army led Navy 7-0. The Navy captain, William Earle Smith, came back to the huddle dazed, hurt, but unwilling to leave the game,
"You all right, Smitty?" a teammate asked. "You sure you're all right?"
Smith nodded impatiently. "Okay. I'm okay. Let's go."
Bob Reifsnyder, a Navy tackle, looked at Smith closely. "He's hurt. Get him out," said Reifsnyder. The huge tackle ran halfway to the Navy bench and shook his fist at Navy Coach Eddie Erdelatz, indicating that Smith's arm was too badly injured for him to continue.
December 10, 1956
"Better take Smitty out," he yelled.
Erdelatz nodded and sent in a new end.
It was then that this young giant, Reifsnyder, took charge of the Navy team and, through his own single-minded determination, aroused it into such momentum against the precise, confident Army that soon the confidence and precision were gone. Time and again he charged into the Army backfield, ruining plays before they started, before Army's rattled Quarterback Dave Bourland could make the hand-offs to his teammates. He tackled viciously, almost as though he were conducting a personal crusade against the Black Knights. He caused the Army to fumble, and he was there to recover for the Navy. He brought his Blue and Gold team to Army's doorstep and gave his teammate, Fullback Dick Dagampat, the key. Dagampat scored. Ned Oldham kicked the point to tie it 7-7. But, more than anyone, Robert Harland Reifsnyder saved Navy Saturday.
He is 19 years old. He is 6 foot 2, he weighs 226 pounds, and he comes from Rockville Centre, N.Y. These are the vital statistics listed in the program.
The program does not tell you, though, that his flat, fighter's nose, his square, cleft chin and some scar tissue around the eyes, make him appear older, maybe 27 or 28. Nor does it say that Bob Reifsnyder has a kind of perception unusual in a boy 19 years old.
There were no tears in his eyes in the dressing room after the game, though many of his teammates were red-eyed. He sat, half-naked, in front of his locker, stowing his equipment. Sure, he was a mite regretful that Rear Admiral W. R. Smedberg III, superintendent of the Naval Academy, had turned thumbs down on the Sugar Bowl. "Who wouldn't be?" he asked.
"But the game. We played a good game. I felt the team did real good coming from behind like that. Sure it would be better if we won, but we didn't. And we didn't play a bad ball game."
He shifted his big frame to pull on a sock. You could see the red marks on his thigh beginning to turn purple and yellow—ample evidence of how bitterly this game had been contested.
"That Morales," Reifsnyder went on. "He played a good game for Army. You could tell him when he hit. Hard and fast. He'd pick you right up and carry you a yard. Nobody else hit that hard."
Smitty came over. Smitty the captain, the one Reifsnyder had urged the coach to take out of the game. His arm was so stiff someone had to help him tie his shoes and knot his tie. His face was red, so were his eyes. He just shook Reifsnyder's hand. "We tried, Bob. We tried." He left. Reifsnyder said:
"I got two more years to play. Smitty...well this was his last game. He feels pretty bad. I can understand. But I got two years left. My mother, father and my girl saw it today. It's kind of like a dream come true. I mean playing in a big game like this with your folks and your girl in the stands. And a good game, too."
Other teammates came over to Reifsnyder's locker.
"Great game, Bob." But the voices were sober, not jubilant. One said:
"They didn't even ask us to vote on it. Didn't ask us."
They were talking about the Sugar Bowl. They were resentful, openly so. They had not yet learned that Admirals do not ask in the Navy. But they were learning.
Reifsnyder, nearly dressed in his uniform, pulled on a powder-blue sweater over his regulation white shirt and black tie. Then he slipped on his uniform blouse. When it was buttoned, you could just see a little of the powder blue sticking out where his lapels made a V.
"Can't see it when I got my overcoat on," he grinned. He had a friendly grin, and it was hard to realize that only 30 minutes before he had been out on the field, tackling and blocking like an enraged man. "Look at the size of that monster," they had said of him in the stands. "Bet he's mean."
Reifsnyder had his overcoat on. "Gonna leave now. Gonna meet my folks and my girl down at the hotel. Got the night off. So long."
And he went out the door whistling, not seeming like a mean monster at all.
The club car was overflowing on the special football train back to New York. Two slightly tight middle-aged men in civilian clothes festooned with Army buttons discussed the game.
"I can't understand what happened after that third quarter," said one. "Just looked like Army fell apart, didn't it?" The other said:
"Yeah, I guess they just got tired."
Navy's offensive effort was a definite disappointment. Usually they are flanker-conscious, pass-minded, imaginative and explosive. Their pinpoint passing was never blended into the stuttering and sometimes nonexistent running attack. Navy had many opportunities to cash in on Army fumbles and miscues but capitalized only once for a touchdown.
Army's attack was more open. Their passing, not impressive statistically, was used strategically to good advantage. The jump pass, diagrammed here last week with the football manikins, was effective, and the "fake-quick-jump-and-throw-deep" was beautifully executed and just missed by a hair. The overhand quick pitchout thrown to a set halfback, made famous by Glen Davis but used infrequently nowadays, was refreshing. This yardage was classed under rushing. The "ride series," especially with Fullback Bob Kyasky carrying, seemed more deceptive than ever and gained huge chunks of yardage, only to be partially nullified by persistent fumbling.
Kyasky, playing his final game for Army, proved himself the best runner on the field. Whether his 22-yard run from deep punt formation with 4th down and three to go from mid-field was planned or not, I don't know, but it certainly was well executed. In fact, it looked too good to be planned. Two Navy sophomores were outstanding performers, Mr. Big and Mr. Small. I watched Mr. Big, Bob Reifsnyder, closely on defense and predict that he will become one of the outstanding tackles in Navy history. A converted high school fullback lately become a tackle, he has all the ingredients of greatness. He is still a mere stripling of 19 and weighs just 230, but wait until he grows up. The little guy, Dick Dagampat, did everything but take the air out of the ball against Army. He recovered a free punt. He blocked with authority and ran with a vengeance. Incidentally, he also scored Navy's touchdown.
If Army could have hung on to the ball they would have won with ease. They seemed to have a better knowledge of where to run and when. For the most part they scrambled less than Navy and seemed to have a better organized offensive plan. Superiority is shown by the fact that Army had the ball for 75 plays to 51 for Navy and gained 237 to 132 yards.