There were long hours last week when the Army-Navy football game was not at all important. It would become so again when the nation had begun to rally from the loss of its Chief Executive. A true spectacle of U.S. sport, the game might well serve as both reaffirmation and inspiration to the 100,000 spectators in attendance in Philadelphia and 25 million more watching on television. The effect of President Kennedy's death was, of course, to produce chaos in athletic schedules everywhere. But no institutions were more directly concerned than the naval and military academies. Both wanted to carry on their 64th traditional game on Nov. 30, and waited for the decision to be made somewhere in the Pentagon. On Friday, the Navy and Army teams met just long enough to be told that practice had been called off. At Annapolis and West Point the players knelt and prayed. The next day they took their normal Saturday-before workouts.
Since the Army-Navy series began in 1890, there have been 10 cancellations. Five, from 1894 to 1898, resulted from a 6-4 Navy victory in 1893. So heated did a brigadier general and a rear admiral become, the story goes, that a duel was narrowly averted. President Grover Cleveland thereupon banned the game until 1899. The 1909 game was canceled because of a sudden outburst of collegiate football deaths. In 1917 and 1918 the academies did not play because of World War I. Interservice rivalries over player eligibility resulted in the cancellation of the 1928-29 games. President Herbert Hoover ordered a resumption in 1930.
Traditionally the Army-Navy game embraces the color of a flower show and the competitive urgency of an armed skirmish. It is the only major college football game at which both admirals and generals whoop into the crisp fall air with the enthusiasm of enlisted men on a weekend pass. Few meetings of the two teams have generated more precombat excitement, however, than the one scheduled for this year.
For one thing, Navy is favored to win—and win big. If it does, this will be Navy's fifth straight victory. Annapolis is as unaccustomed to this sort of luxury as West Point is to its own embarrassment. While the series is remarkably close (Army has 30 victories, Navy 28 and five games were tied), most casual followers of the game cling to the impression that Army has always dominated. Army was a tower of strength from 1922 through 1949, when it won 16, lost just seven and tied three. But West Point was seemingly more publicized during those years—through motion pictures and the New York press—than Navy. It comes as a distinct shock, therefore, to realize that Navy has won nine and tied one of the last 13 Army games, has been to three post-season bowl games in that span and has quietly become the persistent national power that Army once was. Now, sadly for Army, the 1963 Navy team is the best ever.
December 2, 1963
With one game still to play, Navy already has scored more points (293) than any predecessor in more than 50 years, and it is rated second in the national polls, the loftiest peak ever held by a Navy team so late in the season. It is a fast, aggressive, explosive team, fully capable of striking from any place on the field because of Quarterback Roger Staubach (see cover), one of the most gifted players of any year, who ignores the clock as readily as he ignores defenders. If there were not such an emotional rivalry attached to the game, Navy could almost name the score.
But emotion is often a great equalizer in football, particularly in this game, where the upset is commonplace. While Coach Paul Dietzel's Cadets clearly lack the ability of the Midshipmen, they have defeated some good teams (Penn State, Air Force), and Navy has been upset by SMU 32-28, and frightened by Duke 38-25. Army's problems in the game are well defined. The team runs better than it passes. If the Cadets can control the ball Staubach cannot get his hands on it. Army should make a game of it for possibly three quarters. Eventually, though. Navy's speed, its agility and Roger Staubach should prevail, with Navy concluding one of its most successful seasons.
For all of its success and its bright future (Staubach is a junior), Annapolis has been a taut ship all season long. Its Spartan atmosphere has provided a perfect cloak for Wayne Hardin, Navy's grim-faced coach, who has beaten Army four straight years but apparently does not want anyone to know it.
Hardin became head coach in 1959 at the age of 32 after serving four years as an assistant to Eddie Erdelatz. He is a red-haired Californian who played at College of the Pacific, but his manner would make anyone believe he was reared on a military post. "I believe in Navy," he says. "When I stop believing in it I'll leave." Hardin has a lightly freckled, round face and agate eyes. His voice is soft, but his speech is rapid. In an age of public-relations-minded coaches, he casts himself as a rock-nosed grumbler who believes that winning takes care of everything. So far it has for him. Going into the Army game, Hardin has won 34, lost 14 and tied one.
There are those among his coaching contemporaries, however, who believe his contribution has not been all good. Hardin's teams have been accused of rough play (this year's team has set an academy record of 631 yards in penalties), of intimidating their opponents unnecessarily and of acting at times with conduct unbecoming future admirals. Hardin used a sleeper play against Pittsburgh last year that some thought was unethical. "That was my fault," Hardin says. "The kid limped too much on purpose. But only the press called it a sleeper. Pitt didn't." He pulled a stunt on Duke a year ago (sending his second-string quarterback in at fullback with a different jersey numeral to throw a touchdown pass) that Duke Coach Bill Murray felt was not entirely wholesome. In the SMU game this year a Navy player, Fullback Nick Markoff, was roundly booed when he returned to the field after an out-of-bounds pileup and threw a shoulder at a side-stepping SMU cheerleader. Hardin insists Markoff was cursed and kicked. There are other versions.
The incidents have not made Hardin the most popular coach in the fraternity, but no amount of censure seems to bother him. Hardin has his own explanations for every accusation against him as well as for every Navy loss. In a recent session he handled a flurry of innocent questions as if he were being asked for his bank statement. Given a choice with normal material, he was asked, does he consider himself an attacking coach or does he build from defense? "Both," he said. How would he describe Navy's current offense? "Diversified." Defensively, does he prefer an aggressive style or containing? "Multiple." How often does Roger Staubach change plays at the scrimmage line? "Never." How often does Hardin send in specific plays from the sideline? "What difference does it make?"
Hardin is frank on only one subject: his own secretive nature. "See," Hardin says, "I don't want anybody to know me. I don't want anybody to know what I think. The less they know about me, the less they know about my teams."
The person whom Hardin wants less known than himself is Roger Staubach. The Navy quarterback has emerged as the glamour player of 1963. His Saturday feats (101 completions for 1,375 yards and seven touchdowns, and eight other touchdowns running) and the national attention he has drawn are almost more than Annapolis can stand.
For weeks the academy has had a ban on Staubach interviews, hiding behind the excuse that a midshipman's routine does not permit them. Says L. B. (Budd) Thalman, the Navy publicity man, whose job is made easier by the ban: "We decided before the season that this kid was going to be in the spotlight and that if we allowed writers and photographers in here all of the time he would have none of the small amount of free time that a midshipman has to himself. So we put the pressure on ourselves."
"More people would like to see Roger Staubach right now than any celebrity," Hardin says, seriously. "If we opened the doors, do you have any idea how many writers and photographers would show up at our practice? A dozen? It would be closer to 5,000."
There have been times when not even that many tacklers could have chased Staubach down. The 6-foot-2, 196-pound second classman from Cincinnati is truly a dazzling athlete. With long, powerful strides, Staubach rolls out with deceptive speed. He throws on the run, or backing up. Trapped, he has a startling quickness and a mysterious sense of the profitable direction.
And it is when Staubach gets into trouble that he is at his very best. Never easy to pull down, he throws with tacklers tearing off pieces of his jersey or clawing at his legs, or he runs. With a cluster of fine receivers like Ends Jim Campbell, Dave Sjuggerud, Neil Henderson and Halfback Skip Orr and the running of Pat Donnelly and Johnny Sai to take the pressure off his passing, Staubach and Navy have weapons to throw away. He is, in the final sense, that splendid combination of runner-passer who can invest every play with unbearable excitement.
Off the field, Roger Staubach is a soft-eyed, high-cheekboned, brown-haired, handsome, devout midshipman who attends Mass almost every morning. His smile is honest and he is unmilitarily gracious. He looks something like a young movie star whose name you cannot quite remember. His father is a salesman, and his mother keeps a scrap-book. Back home there is the usual childhood sweetheart, Marinna Hobbler, who is a nurse. A product of Cincinnati's highly developed Catholic Youth Organization, Staubach grew up in organized sport. "From the time he was able to sit up," says his mother, "he was an active child." Staubach's roots are still in Cincinnati, and he looks forward to the Christmas holidays, when he can relax and play touch football with his old high school teammates.
Wayne Hardin says Staubach will be a career Navy man. If so, he has just made the decision this year. After the Army game of 1962 he was asked about pro football. "It depends on how much I like the Navy," he said then. "I'll make up my mind in the next two years. I would like to try it."
Now Staubach feels—or, rather, the Navy feels—that the remark was unfortunate. And the publicity office is quick to provide a quote that reads, "I'm not here to play football. I owe a lot to the Naval Academy for giving me a wonderful four-year education. If I decide to make the Navy my career I'll try to keep in touch with football in some capacity."
Actually, Staubach could thank the Navy for a wonderful five-year education, for, like 23 other players on the current roster, he attended another school for one year before he entered the Naval Academy. Staubach went to New Mexico Military Institute, it is said with the help of an organization that is known as the Naval Academy Foundation, which also sends potential midshipmen to Colombian and Bullis prep schools. (NCAA rules have permitted one midshipman, Guard Fred Marlin, to enjoy a curious history. In 1958 Marlin played for Western Maryland. In 1959 he was in the Navy. In 1960 he played for the Naval Academy Prep School. In 1961 he played on the Navy's plebe team. In 1962 he was a sophomore. He has another season of eligibility, and by then he will be 24 years old.)
If Roger Staubach decides that he is not a career Navy man and wishes to go sailing on the ocean of a $100,000 pro contract, which almost any owner in the NFL or AFL would gleefully offer, there are just three ways for him to do it. He must get married before his final year begins, fail his grades or flunk his physical. The Navy would frown profoundly on any one of these actions.
No one is likely to learn Roger Staubach's intentions in a postgame interview. At Durham, N.C., after Staubach had led Navy past Duke 38-25 in a game that grew much more theatrical than Hardin had anticipated, a group of well-wishers, relatives, reporters and photographers stared at dressing room guards for an hour while naval brass entered and departed. Finally Budd Thalman announced that he would produce "Rog."
Staubach appeared in his Navy blues with his white cap under his arm and blinked pleasantly while flashbulbs popped. Thalman stood next to Roger, poised to fend off intimate questions. Hardin lit a cigar next to Thalman. The interview lasted eight minutes. It went: Fine game, Roger. Thanks. Tired? Sure am. Were you worried out there? Sure was. You like to run or pass best? I like to pass. You seem to enjoy getting trapped and then running. It's fun when I make a gain. Guess you're looking forward to Army? ("Beat Army," said Thalman.) Sure am. What do you think of all your notoriety, Roger? I like to read the papers after we win. How about during the week? I don't read 'em before we play. Take a lot of razzing from the team? Sure do. It's all in good fun, though. These are all great guys. Why are both of your knees taped? ("New-style uniform," said Hardin hastily. "If it goes over, we'll put it on the market. Heh. Heh. Well, Rog, you're keeping 43 other boys waiting on the bus.")
A photographer moved in about three feet from Staubach, crouched down and aimed up for a portrait shot. Thalman pressed his hand against the photographer's shoulder, smiled, wiggled his finger like a teacher telling a child he has been naughty and said, "Too close." Staubach lingered over a couple more questions, and Hardin said, "Forty-three other boys waiting, Roger. Let's go."
Outside Staubach stopped to sign autographs for four teen-agers. Hardin stepped in. "Write the academy, boys. He'll send you an autographed picture. Let's go, Rog." With that, Roger Staubach disappeared into the custody of his keepers, not to reappear until another Saturday.
The Saturday that may—or may not—transcend all others is the Saturday of Nov. 30. The marching and singing of the midshipmen and cadets always—even in a less tragic time—provides football with its most extraordinary setting. Once the flashing figure of Roger Staubach appears, the question of Navy public relations becomes incidental. For Navy, for Army, and certainly for millions of Americans, Staubach's true measure can be taken only on the field of action.
ARMY'S FUTURE IS STILL AHEAD
Alarmists have hinted that, should Coach Paul Dietzel lose again to Navy, he is through at West Point. If this is true, then the men of Army are throwing up the most effective smoke screen since pre-embarkation days in World War II. After the 28-0 battering by Pittsburgh two weeks ago, the cadet corps turned out almost to a man to welcome the team home. As Dietzel stepped from the bus they burst into cheers, slapped his back and shook his hand. "He may not beat Navy this year," said one wide-eyed cadet, "but next year and years after that Army will be top dog."
There is nothing in Coach Paul Franklin Dietzel's contract that says he must beat Navy, but losing, even with an understanding employer, is a crushing experience. "I cannot accept defeat," he said last week. "Each time it is harder on mc. My saving grace is that I drive myself hardest. I will drive myself to death to succeed."
Success, cither in beating Navy or retrieving Army's lost football prestige, is not as easy as Dietzel had expected it to be when he arrived on the Hudson two years ago. He now admits to having been naive in his outlook. "I confused the situation with what it had been in Coach Earl Blaik's glory days," he says. "I didn't realize how far Navy had widened the gap between the two schools. They have an exceptional program, and they get the good boys and lots of them." Dietzel does not document these program differences. He is, however, emphatic in his intention to wipe them out.
An excellent recruiter, Dietzel has eight or nine exceptional players on his plebe team, and hints that the bumper crop is coming. But not all goes swimmingly. First, there is a growing tendency among student athletes to shun the military life. Then there is the West Point admissions division's preoccupation with eggheads. ("We've gotten so nutty over who has the best German scientists, we or the Russians, that we have gone overboard on the egghead and have forgotten the sound, solid athlete-leader.") Finally, there is the crudest cut of all, the changed substitution rule that deprived Dietzel of his third-platoon Chinese Bandits.
To win against Navy, one rival coach has said, Dietzel will have to accept fully the loss of the Bandits and give up his relentless tactical approach to football, born in the three-platoon era. Army admittedly has suffered severe losses, among them Curt Cook, its best passer, and Tom Smith, its fastest back, and has had to play a patched-up first unit longer than planned. Dietzel, a rival coach says, will have to open up his offense.
Maybe that is just what he will do. Cook was used for the first time against Pittsburgh in what could have been a warmup for Navy. Always charming, even gracious and smiling in defeat, Dietzel says, "No excuses, they were just the better team—today." But do not be fooled. He hates saying the words, particularly about Navy, even more than he loves his Chinese Bandits.