Some things they should ask you to pay double prices to see—which would make them only a little less of a bargain. Willie Mays going back under a fly ball. Bob Cousy driving for a basket. Floyd Patterson throwing a left hook. Arnold Palmer coming out of a bad lie. Ray Berry running a pass pattern and Herb Elliott running, period. Buddy Werner coming down a mountain on skis. And an Army-Navy football game.
Saturday afternoon, in Philadelphia, Army and Navy will try to settle this business again, for the 61st time since 1890, and the 100,000 people fortunate enough to have seats will rediscover why this is one of sport's magnificent shows. So will the millions who get no closer to the stadium than their TV sets.
Much of the excitement and color enveloping an Army-Navy game is generated by the two service academies themselves: the traditions, the old memories, the crackling precision of the two groups of uniformed young men marching onto the field before the game. But after the 2,500-man wave of gray which is the corps of cadets, and the blue-clad brigade of midshipmen, 3,800 strong, double-time to their seats, it is the football players themselves who almost always manage to produce something special.
The series stands at 30 victories for Army, 25 for Navy, with five ties. But when the two play, nothing which has gone before is of importance. Records and reputation seem to have not the slightest bearing on the action of the day. Vastly superior Army teams have lost to Navy teams with absurd records; favored Navy teams have been beaten by Army. This year the two teams are of equal stature, and that stature is high. The 1960 game could be one of the best.
November 28, 1960
Before the season began, neither the Cadets nor Midshipmen were considered too promising. Army had lost Bob Anderson, Joe Caldwell and Bill Carpenter, the original Lonesome End; Navy, except for its startling 43-12 victory over Army, had done nothing impressive in 1959, so it hardly seemed to matter that most of that team was back. Yet no one is sneering at either ball club now.
Army lost to Penn State and Nebraska in successive games early in the season, but the Cadets have lost no more. They beat Syracuse 9-6 and distinctly outplayed a good Pittsburgh team, although the final score was 7-7. The Cadets are not big and they are not particularly fast, but like all Army teams they are awfully hard and determined, and in nine games they have scored 210 points to 78 scored against them. Remembering what happened to them last year, they are sure to play with added enthusiasm on Saturday.
Coach Dale Hall has come this far without anything resembling a superstar. He has a tough, punishing runner at fullback in Al Rushatz, who was an Eastern Intercollegiate wrestling champion last spring but who weighs only 190 pounds and is no Doc Blanchard. Quarterback Tom Blanda can be a dangerous passer (he completed 24 of 35 for 235 yards against Pitt) but he is sometimes erratic; his substitute, sophomore Dick Eckert, can run the ball better and is of almost equal value. There is depth at tackle, but no particular standout; only Co-Captain Al Vanderbush, a 215-pound guard who knocks people down on Saturday and then sings guiltlessly in the cadet choir next day, can be included among the country's topflight linemen.
Navy, on the other hand, started well and kept going—except for seven minutes in the third quarter against Duke. The Middies lost that game 19-10, when Duke scored all its points in one brief nightmare of time, but they have defeated everyone else—Washington, the Air Force, Notre Dame—and scored 231 points to 70. If the Midshipmen can beat Army, they will go to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1924.
As with Army, there are only a few individual standouts. Navy men consider 220-pound Frank Visted a superior center, and they point to John Hewitt, a 187-pound junior honor student, as the equal of Army's Vanderbush either at guard or baritone, since Hewitt is a choirboy, too. Navy's young, redheaded coach, Wayne Hardin, can call on two quarterbacks, Hal Spooner and Harry Dietz, who seem to run the ball club equally well, and in Captain Joe Matalavage he possesses a fullback comparable to Rushatz—or maybe even better, except that Matalavage has been bothered by injuries much of the year. All in all, Army and Navy bear a striking similarity, except for one thing. Army does not have Joseph Michael Bellino.
Joe Bellino (see cover) is the 22-year-old son of a Sicilian immigrant who came to America at the age of 16 to work in the factories around Boston, and Joe does not look like a naval hero. In fact, he doesn't look like much of anything except maybe the kid from down the block. Joe is a shade under 5 feet 9 inches in height and in his neat, dark Midshipman's uniform seems trim to the point of being slight. He has dark, close-cropped hair upon which perches a cap that Joe insists is not a size too small for his 6‚Öû head. He has hazel-green eyes and low-set ears that faintly resemble the handles on a jug, and usually he is smiling. It is a nice, friendly smile because there is a nice, friendly boy inside.
But with a football in his hands and the bulging, muscular posts that serve him as legs drumming down a football field, Joe Bellino becomes something special. At Navy they class him with the legendary Buzz Borries as one of the two great halfbacks in academy football history. With the Army game yet to come, Joe Bellino has already scored more touchdowns in one season (17) and in one game (4) than any Navy football player ever has. He has scored more points in a season (104) and gained more yards rushing (749 in 148 carries for a five-yard average). He has also caught 15 passes for 264 yards, quick-kicked 11 times for a 47-yard average and completed five of 14 passes for 112 yards and two more touchdowns. He blocks and tackles, thanks his teammates for throwing blocks for him and compliments officials when they make a good call. Last year he scored three touchdowns against Army (which no Navy player had ever done before) and even before the 1960 season began he was headed for All-America, as sure as there are missiles on a Polaris submarine. Nothing he has done since has damaged his reputation a bit.
Bellino in action bears no resemblance to Borries, who was tall and graceful and ran with a long, racer's stride. Joe runs like a berserk butterfly that happened to grow up to weigh 180 pounds. Above the waist he is muscular but not big; most of his weight is in those legs, which measure 18 inches in circumference at the calf. As a plebe, he was unable to find a pair of football pants to fit him; finally, they crammed him into what was available and slit the back of the legs. Against Boston College last year, when Hardin put Navy into stockings as protection against the cold, Bellino couldn't get his on. And early this year, when he was afflicted by leg cramps (he had to come out of the Washington game three times), Joe finally decided that all the theories about the cramps being caused by the early-season heat and soft fields and lack of salt had nothing to do with the problem at all. His pants were just too tight. So Joe slit them again, at the back just below the knees, and now his legs are fine.
Some people feel that Bellino is not particularly fast, though the opposition will hardly buy this. It is probably true that Joe lacks the speed of Billy Cannon or Bobby Mitchell or Buddy Young or any of the other famed sprinter-halfbacks. He has run only one race under the clock in his life. That was in Lisbon, Portugal, at the end of his plebe year. He stepped off the cruiser Northampton after 17 days at sea and won a 100-meter dash in 10.9 seconds. More to the point, Joe has been playing football since he was 10 years old and no one has yet caught him from behind.
Tacklers say Joe can go sideways faster than forward, like a frightened crab. He starts as if launched from a catapult, and he changes directions with incredible speed. Some of his longest runs came after he took the ball, jiggled around for a moment in one spot waiting for a hole to open, and then—zip! He uses blockers well, following them, going halfway across the field to find them, maneuvering the defense into position to be knocked out of the play. Yet he also has enough power to blast into the middle of a line for two or three or five yards unaided; it takes a hard, direct tackle to knock him off his feet. "With those big legs, Joe is bottom-heavy," explains an assistant Navy coach. "You knock him up in the air, he's got to come down on his feet."
Bellino can also make a tackler look pretty silly with his peculiarly effective head-and-shoulders fake. Against Duke he faked an end inside, then ran around him. There stood a linebacker, so Joe faked him inside and ran around him, too. And then a halfback was waiting—so Joe faked him inside, ran around him, too, and was finally knocked out of bounds when he ran out of room to fake anybody else.
His finest runs came against Boston College last year (the Boston coach, Mike Holovak, called Bellino's 50-yard touchdown, in which Joe seemed to get away from every BC tackler on the field at least twice, "the greatest do-it-yourself run I ever saw") and against Virginia two weeks ago. In this latter one Joe started outside right tackle on a quick hand-off and suddenly was surrounded by six Virginia men. "All I could see were white shirts," he said later, "and I figured I'd better get out of there." John Hewitt was right there with him and knocked one tackler down; Joe squirmed out of the arms of another and cut sharply to his left. He shook off some more Virginia hands, cruised over behind a blocker coming up from the left side and hit the sidelines. "After that," says Joe, "it was all the way, Suzie." He ran 90 yards for a touchdown.
When the Washington game was over, Jim Owens, the Husky coach, said, "Bellino made us look like we hadn't practiced tackling."
All defenses against Navy are keyed to stop Joe, of course. Duke, the only team to hold him scoreless, had three men dogging him on every play. Army will probably use the entire corps of cadets. It is possible to stop Joe Bellino, but if Army succeeds it may cost them too much in other ways. Bellino thinks this would be a wonderful thing.
The fame that has come to Bellino has changed him not a bit. He kids with the janitors at Annapolis and he kids with Red Coward, the director of athletics, who is a Navy captain. After one game he introduced his brother Sam, who is a garage mechanic, to an admiral. "He made me feel like I was the admiral," said Sam. Joe stops to shake hands with kids on the street who recognize him after a football game, and he will sign autographs until everyone has gone away. His enthusiasm for everyone and everything got him into the one spot that embarrasses him still, the now-famous haircutting bet with two academy barbers.
"It was really blown up too much," says Joe. "I walked into one of the barber shops in Bancroft Hall and sat down in the chair. 'How much you gonna beat the Air Force by?' this barber, Freddie Fernandez, asks me. 'Oh, 30 points,' I tell him. 'You got a bet,' he says.
"Gee, I didn't want to bet him, but he kept insisting, so we bet a haircut. You know, he would cut my hair to his own design if he won, and I could do the same to him if I won, if we beat the Air Force by 30 points. Then this other barber, Leon Ross, asked me how many touchdowns I was going to score. 'About three,' I said. 'You got a bet,' he said. What could I do?"
So Navy beat the Air Force 35-3, Joe scored three touchdowns and the next week, with flashbulbs popping, Figaro Bellino trimmed a few inches off Freddie Fernandez' hair and clipped off half of Leon Ross's mustache. "I didn't really want to do it," says Joe, "but by then I had to. Even the barbers insisted."
The next week Joe received a letter from Duke, offering to bet any number of shaved heads that Bellino wouldn't score three touchdowns against the Blue Devils (SI, Nov. 14). "I wrote them back," Joe says, "and told them I wouldn't bet. That I was going to be used as a decoy and would run with the ball only three times." Bellino also added a postscript: "I would appreciate it if you would keep the enclosed a secret until after the game."
Besides letters to Duke students, Joe also writes regularly to his old friends back home in Winchester, Mass. and always sees them on one of his abbreviated leaves, at which time he also drops off a few more trophies and medals and awards to clutter up the modest Bellino home. "I don't know what I'm going to do with them all," says Mrs. Bellino, who is round and jolly and is not surprised that Joe has remained a good boy.
"He was always a good boy," she says. "He had a paper route after school when he was in just the fifth and sixth grades. When he got paid he'd bring some candy home for his little brother Mike and turn the rest of the money over to me. It wasn't much, but it was a big help."
Perhaps Joe is polite and considerate because his athletic fame is really not so new. He was a swimming and diving star in high school, an all-state basketball guard, an all-state baseball catcher, an all-everything in football. Today he is also the uncrowned three-cushion billiards champion of Bancroft Hall. "There was a guy who ran the pool hall back in Winchester," says Joe. "He'd let us kids go inside and play when things weren't busy, but he made us promise not to smoke or cuss." At Annapolis, besides football and billiards, Joe plays only baseball. He plays it so well (he hit .428 as a sophomore and .320, with 19 stolen bases in 22 games, as a junior last spring) that major league teams have been waving big-money bonus contracts in his face for a year. There was a time when a lot of people thought Joe might resign from the academy and sign a professional contract, but now Joe says no. "Sure, I considered it," he says. "But I'm supposed to serve four years on active duty after I get my commission next spring and I'm going to serve it. Either in submarines or the Marine Corps. I haven't made up my mind yet.
"I guess I had about 70 scholarship offers, but I'm glad I picked Navy. I could have taken engineering someplace else, but the first time I goofed off they would have popped me into home economics or physical education or whatever they think football players should take. I can't afford to goof off here.
"The military end of it? You know," says Joe, as if slightly surprised at himself, "I really like it. I don't mind saluting my superiors—and someday I think it might be fun to have somebody say 'sir' to me."
Bellino's academic standing is slightly below the mid-point of his 810-member class. But in the official class standing, which is determined not only by classroom performance but all those qualities—leadership, character, personality—which the Navy lumps under "officer potential," Joe ranks in the upper third. Next spring he will probably get command of a battalion. "I don't think I'll ever be Chief of Naval Operations," he grins, "but in June I'll be an ensign, and right now that sounds almost as good."